Hey Nineteen

March 25th, 2015

young todd with beard jpeg

Todd 1969 photo by Richard Mead

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser March 2015)

Hey Nineteen, that’s ‘Retha Franklin

She don’t remember Queen of Soul

Walter Becker and Donald Fagen

Digging around for photos of my grandmother, I came across a black and white picture of me taken in 1969, a still shot from a student film made during my second and final year of college at UC Santa Cruz—when tuition was next to nothing. My decision to quit college was made easier than it would be today because housing in 1969 was cheap, work was easy to come by, and the economic obstacles to experimenting with being an artist were minimal, certainly compared to the economic realities of 2015.

In the photograph, my thick brown hair is going every which way, my kinky beard full and black, my black-framed glasses the same ugly frames millions of myopic young American men wore at that time. I am wearing a black suit and tie because in the film I play the part of a violin teacher, my student such a terrible player that his squawking music drives me first insane and then causes me to have a heart attack and fall to the sand.

For reasons never made clear to me, the violin lesson is taking place on a beach, the blond violinist short and fat and wearing only enormous white diapers. After I fall dead, the grinning violinist walks into the ocean and disappears under the onrushing waves. I saw the three-minute film several times in one night in the filmmaker’s dormitory room, a couple dozen young men and women gathered to eat chips and salsa and drink cheap wine and watch the opus.

The consensus, heavily influenced by the ingestion of illegal substances, was that the movie was a work of surpassing genius and the filmmaker destined for international acclaim. I have no idea where that filmmaker is today, but on that night, he was hailed as a god.

My roommate played the part of the diapered violinist in the film, and was in reality a tone-deaf violinist. When he practiced in our room during the day, everyone in the dormitory would flee to the library or forest or cafeteria. And on those few occasions when he dared played at night, angry people would pound on our door and threaten to kill him if he didn’t stop.

One of those angry people was a pre-med student living alone in the room directly below us. A clean-cut fellow with black-framed glasses, he always wore pressed beige slacks, a white dress shirt, a striped tie, and a beige sweater. He rose at dawn every day, showered, shaved, dressed, and then rushed to the cafeteria to wait for door to open so he could eat breakfast at seven, after which he would race to his Organic Chemistry lecture and lab.

I was often playing Frisbee in front of the dorm when this hardworking fellow returned from a long day of pre-med travails, and he would sometimes stop to watch us flinging the disc and say, “Don’t you guys ever study?”

One night at a dorm party, he got very drunk and grabbed a young woman who screamed bloody murder as she fought him off, and it took four of us to pull him away from her and subdue him. The next morning, he rose early, donned his uniform, and was first in line at the cafeteria.

Some months later, this dedicated pre-med student did not emerge from his room for breakfast or to attend classes. Nor did he emerge the next day. His door was locked and he did not respond to entreaties to come out. The campus police were alerted and they opened his door with a master key. The poor guy was sitting at his desk, unmoving, his Organic Chemistry textbook open in front of him. He was not dead. He was simply sitting there, his mind on hiatus.

The police took him to the campus medical clinic and from there he was taken to a hospital. Two days later, his mother and father arrived to get his things. His mother reminded me of the mother in the television show Leave It To Beaver—perfectly coiffed and with every stitch in place. His father looked just like him, only thirty years older, and wore the same pants and shirt and tie and glasses. Some of the guys helped them load his things into their car while a buddy and I played Frisbee.

The next day, two new guys moved into his room. One of them was a fanatical chess player, the other a jazz buff. They were both Sociology majors, rarely went to class, and thereafter John Coltrane and Herbie Hancock became staples of the quad.

It’s hard times befallen Soul Survivors

She thinks I’m crazy, but I’m just growing old

Walter Becker and Donald Fagen

I was under the spell of Nikos Kazantzakis for my two years in college. I read all his novels, and Zorba the Greek three times. To culminate my absorption of Kazantzakis, I was slowly working my way through his epic poem The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, a massive work divided into twenty-four rhapsodies and consisting of 33,333 seventeen-syllable verses.

The messages I kept getting from Kazantzakis were: Get faraway from academia, follow the dictates of your heart and intuition, beware the overly-analytical, strive, sweat, make love, make music, write, travel, gather stories, and become a master of at least one thing, two or three if possible.

I finished reading that gigantic poem a month before I was to return for my third year of college, and I wept as I read the last few pages. Odysseus, the Odysseus Kazantzakis imagined, had been my constant companion for two years, and now he was dead. The book had been a bridge for me between childhood and adulthood, as had those two years of college. Now it was time to hit the road and, as Kazantzakis suggested, see what kind of trouble I could get into.

Goody’s Song

March 18th, 2015

Goody jpeg

Goody photo by Todd

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser March 2015)

The truth is not ashamed of appearing contrived.” Isaac Bashevis Singer

As recently reported, Marcia and I are getting more airplay for our music on KVRF, a radio station in Palmer Alaska, than we’ve had anywhere else in these United States, and our song getting the most play recently is “Goody’s Song” with lyrics based on a poem by my grandmother.

In 1979 I turned thirty, moved to Sacramento, bought a fixer upper, my novel Inside Moves was being made into a motion picture, and my second novel Forgotten Impulses was about to be published. In the midst of this hoopla, my grandmother Gertrude, known to friends and family as Goody, sent me a poem she hoped I would turn into a song. I loved Goody, and she had just lost her husband, my grandfather Casey, so I said Yes.

Her verses rhymed, sort of, but were syllabically inconsistent from one line to the next, and she used several gigantic words that simply would not sing. Nevertheless, I made a few feeble attempts to set her poem to piano music, and then gave up.

“I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done.” Lucille Ball

Two months later, I got a call from my brother Steve who lived near Goody in Menlo Park. “So,” he began in his no-nonsense way, “how’s Goody’s song coming?”

“Er, uh, oh, yeah. Goody’s song. I’ve been so busy that…”

“She doesn’t have long to live,” said Steve, not buying my excuses. “It’s all she talks about. Write something. Soon.”

So I dug up Goody’s poem and spent an hour at the piano searching for chords and a melody to carry her heartfelt lines, gave up again, went for a walk, and had a revelation. The song was not a piano song, but a guitar song, a lament worthy of Tammy Wynette. The words would need to be simplified and the rhythm of the lines made consistent, but the gist of the poem would remain.

I returned home, got out my guitar, and taking liberties with the original poem came up with:

I made a terrible mistake when I left you.

But what can I do about it today?

Ran at the first sign of trouble,

Now you’re telling me to stay far away.

I was so lucky when I met you,

Now I just can’t seem to forget you.

Please take me back, help me find that loving track.

What was I thinking of

When I made so little of such a great love?

I was a terrible fool to have left you.

What can I do about it today?

I ran at the first sign of trouble,

Now you’re telling me to stay far away.

But I’ve learned my lessons,

Won’t you help me out of this mess I’m in?

Please take me back, help me find that loving track.

What was I thinking of

When I made so little of such a great love?

I ran and ran and ran and ran,

Now I want to run back to you.

A month later, after five takes in a recording studio with a drummer, guitarist and bass player, Steve and I went to Goody’s apartment to play her the song. But before we rolled the tape, Goody made a speech. Picture a diminutive eighty-year-old woman, four-foot-ten in high heels, with curly silver hair and a twinkle in her eyes. Born to orthodox Jews in Detroit in 1900, her father a cantor, her mother the breadwinner selling groceries from a little shop, Goody had always wanted a career in show business and never stopped believing that one day, somehow, she would be discovered and become a star.

“I have a premonition about this song,” she said solemnly. “Even before I hear it, I know it will be great.”

Because Goody was a fantastic joke teller, my brother and I thought she might be setting us up for a punch line, but not this time.

“This song is the fulfillment of my dream. The spirit of my father lives in this song. It will be a beacon of hope for generations to come.”

We played the recording and Goody wept as she listened, and we hoped she was crying because she liked it.

When the song ended, Goody proclaimed, “Now if we can just get this to Johnny Mathis, all our troubles will be over.”

“You know, Goody,” I said, glancing at my brother, “this is not really the kind of song Johnny Mathis tends to record.”

And without missing a beat, Goody said, “Well, then that other guy who’s always on Merv Griffin. Mac somebody.”

“Mac Davis?” prompted my brother.

“Yes,” said Goody. “Get it to him and all our troubles will be over.”

“My one regret in life is that I am not someone else.” Woody Allen

Goody died six months later, having outlived Casey by a year. We tried and failed to get the song to Mac Davis and Bonnie Raitt and several other famous recording artists, but “Goody’s Song” became a staple in my repertoire and an audience favorite. And every time I sang the song and told the story of how it came to be written, someone would ask if I knew who it was Goody wanted to run back to, since she wrote the poem when she was in her late seventies.

I didn’t know the answer until thirty years later when Marcia and I recorded “Goody’s Song” for our album So Not Jazz, the version currently getting airplay in Palmer Alaska—Todd playing guitar and singing, Marcia enriching the song with her fabulous cello playing.

Goody wanted to run back to Goody—the Goody she was before she surrendered to the cultural imperatives of her generation, married, had kids, and suppressed her desire to be an actor and a singer.

“Goody’s Song” is downloadable from iTunes and Amazon and CD Baby. You can purchase So Not Jazz from Todd’s web site UnderTheTableBooks.com or from Marcia’s web site NavarroRiverMusic.com

Meeting Spock

March 11th, 2015

leonard_nimoy

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser March 2015)

“My folks came to the U.S. as immigrants, aliens, and became citizens. I was born in Boston, a citizen, went to Hollywood and became an alien.” Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy, known to hundreds of millions of people as Spock, died recently at the age of eighty-three. My brother was a huge fan of Star Trek, the television show, and is a gifted impersonator of movie and television celebrities. In high school, he founded the student club STUD—Star Trek Underground Devotees. STUD meetings were essentially showcases for my brother to perform his original wacky versions of Star Trek episodes in which he imitated with uncanny verisimilitude every member of the crew of the starship Enterprise. His Spock was virtually indistinguishable from Nimoy’s Spock.

I could do a credible Bones, the chief medical officer, and a pretty good Scotty, who ran the impulse engines powering the Enterprise, but my Spock and Kirk lacked nuance. When my brother was so inspired, he would enact hilarious scenes involving the entire Enterprise crew, and keep his audience, however small or large, laughing for the duration, his imitations nuanced and then some.

“The miracle is this: the more we share the more we have.” Leonard Nimoy

In 1967, my freshman year of college at UC Santa Cruz, I became enamored of Senator Eugene McCarthy who was running for President of the United States against Lyndon Johnson. He was pro-farmer, pro-labor, anti-corporate, and vowed to get us out of Vietnam as soon as he was elected. I joined thousands of other college kids in America and became Clean For Gene, which for young men meant cutting our long hair and shaving our mustaches and beards, and for young women meant wearing bras and donning skirts and dresses instead of jeans and halter tops. You may recall it was Eugene McCarthy’s strong showing in the New Hampshire and Wisconsin primaries that prompted President Lyndon Johnson not to seek re-election.

When Johnson withdrew from the race, Robert Kennedy entered and soon made famous the idiotic rallying cry, “There is light at the end of the tunnel.” Though not politically correct to criticize Robert Kennedy, who was assassinated shortly after winning the 1968 California primary, those of us who were devoted to Eugene McCarthy loathed Bobby Kennedy for entering the race against our hero.

But before that California primary vote, we Clean For Gene college kids worked hard to turn out the vote for our man. To that end, the McCarthy campaign asked us to come to Los Angeles and canvas neighborhoods to explain to voters why McCarthy was a better choice than Kennedy.

I traveled with a carload of fellow fanatics to Los Angeles where we spent a few days walking precincts for Gene. We were young, naïve, and full of hope, but more than this we did not want to get drafted and sent to fight an unwinnable war in Vietnam and die for a bunch of morons serving the military industrial complex. If McCarthy won, we would be safe to keep exploring the counter culture paradigm that came to be known as The Sixties, or so we hoped.

Hundreds of recently shorn and nicely dressed young adults convened at the McCarthy For President headquarters in Los Angeles and were asked to fill out questionnaires to determine where in that great sprawl of humanity we might best be deployed. Because I spoke fairly good Spanish, I was assigned to a predominantly Latino precinct. But before they turned us loose on the voters, we went through an orientation process in which several smart people explained the campaign literature and gave us tips on how to entice suspicious people to open their doors to us. And for inspiration, the orientation session climaxed with Leonard Nimoy dashing in to give us a pep talk and shake our hands before we hit the streets.

Leonard Nimoy had been a staunch Eugene McCarthy supporter from the beginning of the campaign, but Leonard, in his own way as highly intelligent as Spock, knew that Kennedy entering the race meant McCarthy had zero chance of victory. Nevertheless, he gave an earnest pep talk and thanked us profusely.

I then had a hellacious time—hilarious in retrospect—canvassing a Mexican American neighborhood where every single person I met was deeply committed to Robert Kennedy because Roberto was hermano of the deceased demigod John F. Kennedy. Thus the following drama played out dozens of times on that seemingly endless day.

Todd knocks on the door of a well-kept little house. The door opens. A man or woman frowns at Todd and says, “Si? Que quiere? No hablo Ingles.”

“No problem,” Todd replies in Spanish. “I speak Spanish. Here are brochures written in Spanish extolling the virtues of Eugene McCarthy, a friend of the farmer and the immigrant, a great man of peace, who is running for President.”

Thinking Todd insane, the man or woman reverently intones the name Kennedy and turns to look at a wall on which hang three large framed portraits, one of a hypothetical Jesus Christ, one of a hypothetical Virgin Mary mother of Jesus, and one of John F. Kennedy.

Persistent to a fault, Todd explains why McCarthy is vastly superior to Kennedy. The man or woman listens politely, says Gracias, and closes the door.

“I consider myself more spiritual than religious.” Leonard Nimoy

Returning to McCarthy headquarters the next morning, my cohorts and I filled out questionnaires otra vez, sat through another orientation, and once again Leonard Nimoy dashed in to give us a pep talk. Perhaps it was my dread of walking another precinct where everyone worshiped Kennedy, but Leonard’s pep talk struck me as hollow and disingenuous, and I was seriously thinking of giving up politics and going to the beach or catching a flick, or both.

Then some other exhausted dweeb called out, “Hey Leonard, do some Spock.”

And with great sincerity, Leonard responded in a voice half-Leonard and half-Spock, “This is not about me. This is about you doing whatever you can to make a positive difference in our society.”

Tons of Books

March 4th, 2015

buddha

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser March 2015)

“Life is a long lesson in humility.” James Barrie

When I was a kid we used the word tons to mean lots. I have tons of baseball cards. You have tons of friends. This week, however, I really did move tons of books, eighty big heavy boxes, of my self-published opuses Buddha In A Teacup and Under the Table Books, from the warehouse where I was paying to store them, to our house, which now resembles a UPS shipping center.

Thus concludes a humbling chapter in my publishing history. I have now published seven books with big publishers in New York, three books with medium-sized publishers, and I have self-published two books indistinguishable from books published by big time publishers. Most recently I brought out coil-bound photocopy editions of my novels, a most enjoyable way to go.

I published Buddha In A Teacup in 2008 and had three thousand case bound copies printed, that’s hardback without a dust jacket. I just brought home the last four hundred copies. Not bad for word-of-mouth. The book won the American Indie Award for Fiction, the Bay Area Independent Publishers Award for Fiction, a Silver Nautilus Award, and was a runner-up for the prestigious Ben Franklin Award.

In 2009, I published Under the Table Books and had two thousand case bound copies printed. I just brought home 1400 copies. This book also won the American Indie Award for Fiction and the Bay Area Independent Publishers Award for Fiction. All those awards and three dollars will get me a latte at Moody’s.

Things I learned from self-publishing books: no newspaper or magazine in America will review self-published fiction. Only bookstores run by people who think you have a strong local following will carry self-published fiction. Most people believe self-publishing is proof you have a screw loose.

“I know not, sir, whether Bacon wrote the words of Shakespeare, but if he did not, it seems to me he missed the opportunity of his life.” James Barrie

Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Beatrix Potter and tons of other famous authors self-published their fiction.

A few weeks before last Christmas, Marcia and I were in Santa Rosa and came upon a man sitting at a table on the sidewalk selling coil-bound photocopies of a children’s book he’d written called something like Melvin the Christmas Dragon. And I said, “Forget about bookstores. I’ll have a book stand.”

“There is something in humility which strangely exalts the heart.” Saint Augustine

Ten-years-old in 1959, I wanted more money than the twenty-five cents a week my parents gave me to complete what I felt was an insanely long list of chores. To earn extra money, I pulled weeds for a woman who lived two doors down. She paid fifty cents per bushel basket of weeds pulled. Unfortunately, her weeds were not large and it took me hours to fill that basket. I couldn’t wait to turn twelve so I could start babysitting. Twelve was the age you had to be in our neighborhood to babysit. My older sisters made a dollar an hour babysitting and came home with tons of money from watching television and snacking while the little kids were sleeping.

In the meantime, I wracked my brain for ways to make money. One day I saw some kids selling lemonade and making tons of money. We had tons of lemons on our trees, I knew where my mother kept tons of sugar, and water was free. I would make tons of money with a lemonade stand! I announced my plan to my parents. Dad gave a ten-minute lecture on the stupidity of magical thinking. Mom said, “The lemonade will cost more to make than you’ll make selling it. Besides, I don’t want you making a mess in the kitchen.”

My friend John lived across the street and had a mother right out of Leave It To Beaver. Almost everything I said made her laugh. I proposed to John that we go into business together. John did not need money—his parents gave him as much as he wanted—but he was excited about going into business with me because I was ten and he was eight.

John’s parents, quantum opposites of my parents, thought selling lemonade was a fine idea. John’s father said, “I have just the thing. A big barrel.”

So we went into business. We painted the barrel white and decorated it with red and blue stars and circles and half-moons. We made a big pitcher of lemonade, added plenty of ice cubes, secured a large supply of paper cups, and set up our stand at the mouth of John’s driveway. We charged ten cents a glass. We worked from eleven in the morning until late afternoon four days a week for most of that summer.

Because John’s parents paid for sugar and paper cups, and John’s mother made the lemonade so we wouldn’t wreck her kitchen, we made tons of money. Well, several dollars anyway.

“Miracles are not contrary to nature, but only contrary to what we know about nature.” Saint Augustine

After four days of driving back and forth from Mendocino to Fort Bragg and severely taxing the springs of my old pickup with tons of books, I finally got the last of those incredibly heavy boxes stacked in the last remaining available space in our house—Marcia’s closet. To celebrate, I made a cup of cocoa and checked my email. Nothing. But then something came through: a most excellent publisher wanted to bring out a paperback edition of Buddha In A Teacup. I pinched myself, rubbed my eyes, and read the email again. I wasn’t imagining things.

I had wanted to bring my books home for the last two years but never had the emotional fortitude until now. Which reminds me of what Mr. Laskin says at the end of Under the Table Books. “I refer to it in my book as chumming for synergy. There is nothing the universe appreciates more than action. Do you know why that is? Because action is the mother of the whole kit and caboodle.”

Palmer Alaska

February 25th, 2015

palmer alaska max

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser February 2015)

“I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.” Henry David Thoreau

When Marcia and I got together eight years ago, we embarked on a fascinating process of making a studio album with the help of Peter Temple, the recording savant of Albion. I played guitar and piano and sang, Marcia wrote and arranged and played gorgeous cello parts for our original tunes, and the late great Amunka Davila supplied tasty percussion. The project took several months longer than I thought it would and used up most of the money I’d set aside for such creative endeavors.

We were happy with the results, the CD entitled When Light Is Your Garden, and when the manufacture of the album coincided with the birth of my books Buddha In A Teacup and Under the Table Books, we decided to go on a tour of the Northwest and see if we could sell some product and have fun while we were at it.

We gave concerts in bookstores, libraries, restaurants, and private homes from Mendocino to Lummi Island, our enthusiastic audiences ranging in size from three to sixty people. By the time we returned to Mendocino, our songs had changed dramatically, we had added some jazzy instrumentals to our repertoire, and we decided to make a second album entitled So Not Jazz. When that CD—more of a live affair—was finished, we gave one final concert together at Preston Hall in Mendocino, took our bows, and settled down to life without the stress of performing together.

Marcia returned to her classical music pursuits, and I embarked on a piano journey that has resulted in five CDs—43 short piano improvisations, Ceremonies, Incongroovity, nature of love, and Mystery Inventions (bass and piano duets)—with a sixth piano album in the works. That is the back-story, as they say in Hollywood.

So here I am with boxes of seven different CDs. No longer a giver of concerts, I nonetheless want to share my creations with the world. The contemporary course of action is to make little videos with the songs as soundtracks and post those videos on YouTube with links to download and streaming sites. I don’t know how to do any of that (I’m the president of the Advanced Techno Doofus Society) and I don’t have the money to pay someone to make little movies for me, though I have lots of good ideas. Our tunes are downloadable from iTunes and Amazon and CD Baby and other sites, but the challenge is convincing people to take a listen and possibly purchase the albums or individual songs.

My main course of action has been to try to get radio airplay. Not Internet airplay. Old-fashioned radio airplay. To that end, I have used the Interweb to search out the playlists of DJs all over America, and when I find one of those extremely rare people open to playing music by someone other than the hyper-famous, and that person spins music kin to ours, I send them a letter and a likely CD, wait a few weeks, follow up with a query, and monitor their playlists for a few months to see if he or she plays us.

In the past seven years I have sent my/our music to approximately three hundred DJs and music directors at dozens of itsy bitsy teeny-weeny yellow polka dot public radio stations. I have discovered that if a station runs Democracy Now! for their national news, they might possibly be home to DJs open to our music. If they play National Public Radio, forget about it. As for the larger commercial stations, only corporate product need apply.

So far, my hundreds of hours of research and courtship have garnered a handful of DJs across America who play our albums on a semi-regular basis, including Tom Cairns KHSU Arcata California, Jim Roettger WMRW Warren Vermont, Cindy Beaulé WFHB Bloomington Indiana, Peter Poses KRFC Fort Collins Colorado, and Carol Newman KMUN Astoria Oregon. Alas, our own KZYX grants us a spin only once every seven blue moons, which makes me sad, in a local sort of way, but such is life.

The recent good news is that in my ongoing quest for likely DJs, I found the playlists of a fellow in Palmer Alaska, population 5,900, home of the Alaska State Fair, and his musical choices gave me hope. I sent him my piano CD Incongroovity. Months went by. He fell off my list of playlists to check. Then last month I did my annual visitation of the last fifty DJs I’ve sent music to, and lo, Mike Chmielewski KVRF Palmer Alaska had played several cuts from Incongroovity! I sent him a thank you email and shipped him our other CDs. And verily he has been playing our music like crazy, and by that I mean two or three songs a day.

True, we are not being heard by a great many people, but our tunes are wafting out into the pristine Alaskan air, night and day, and for the likes of me this is mightily inspiring. Every artist wants to be seen and heard and appreciated by someone else. The thought that Marcia’s gorgeous cello solo floating atop my rhythm guitar on “Samba For Mooli” might cause someone doing the dishes to stop scrubbing for a moment and allow those dulcet tones to tickle their fancy is gigantically pleasing to me.

So I shout to Marcia when I discover we’ve had another play in Palmer, “Honey, we’re still going strong in Alaska.”

Todd and Marcia’s CDs are available from UnderTheTableBooks.com and are widely downloadable, too.

Outage

February 18th, 2015

Django In Dark

Todd and Django In the Dark photo by Marcia Sloane

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser February 2015)

“Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.” Robert Heinlein

The power was out in our neck of the Mendocino woods for nearly five days last week. Can we blame PG&E? I do. With the money they’ve stolen charging millions of people ten dollars a month not to have stupid, er, smart meters, combined with the billions of dollars they spend annually responding to multi-day power outages all over the state, they could easily have afforded by now to bury all their power lines and be done with outages forever. But that’s not how monopoly capitalism works.

“Knowledge is power.” Francis Bacon

Marcia, prescient wonder that she is, long ago chose the first four of those five days of outage to go jaunting to Santa Rosa to visit her mother Opal, indulge in cuisine not to be had hereabouts, shop for things unavailable in these hinterlands, take a workshop on musical improvisation from Joe Craven in Ukiah, catch Joel Cohen starring on cello with the Ukiah Symphony, and visit various far flung friends—leaving me in the dark with the cat.

Marcia returned for the final twenty-four hours of outage and made the best of the absence of electronic distractions—email, Internet, lights, hot water—to clean her office. Intimidated by her sensible approach to our altered circumstances, I decided to clean my office, too.

Attacking a mountain (no exaggeration) of paper on one of my tabletops, the mountain wedged between a large round rock (who put that there?) and a large glass former peanut butter jar crammed with dubious pens (where did those come from?) I found most of the mountain made of material sent to me by insurance companies urging me to buy Medigap insurance from them, and several hundred more pages of material sent by various government agencies to help me make sense of the material sent by the insurance companies—further proof of why Single Payer (socialist) Healthcare would be such a better way to go.

“The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.” Edmund Burke

Weary of office excavating, I ventured out into our storm-ravaged yard and discovered a large redwood branch had fallen from on high and seriously compromised a stretch of our deer fence, while another much bigger branch had torn off a chunk of our woodshed roof. Not good. On the brighter side, a large section of old wooden fence bordering the western edge of our property had been blown to smithereens by the tempest, something I’ve wanted to do since we moved here.

As I cleaned up the fence fragments, our neighbor, a chain saw savant, came over to see if we needed his services (we often do) but this time, miraculously, we did not. I spent another hour clearing the driveway of fence shards and tree branches, then suffered an energy outage and went inside to take a nap by the fire.

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln

I was just drifting off to sleep when Marcia reported that a friendly recorded woman at the PG&E outage number said the outage would either be over by midnight or there would be a new guesstimate at midnight of the duration of the outage. Marcia then suggested we cook supper (on our woodstove) before it got too dark.

I’d been cooking on the woodstove (we also heat our house with wood) for four days, so I was up to speed in that department. I brought in a pile of small and medium-sized kindling to enhance temperature control while I cooked, and ere long, just as darkness fell, we were gobbling a scrumptious meal of sautéed vegetables, Basmati rice, and one of Marcia’s superb green and purple salads.

Sipping her wine, Marcia opined that a day without electricity was a welcome respite from the usual order of business, and I agreed that a day without electricity was not a bad thing, but that five days (unless one intentionally goes wilderness backpacking) was perhaps not such a good thing, though certainly profound.

“Experience hath shown, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.” Thomas Jefferson

There was a time when a power outage meant the coming of deep regenerative silence. Not anymore. Now a power outage means people around the hood fire up their gas-powered generators (without mufflers) and simulate the sound of a major construction site in downtown Manhattan. Ah country living.

At nine o’clock, the stars fantastical in the absence of porch lights, the phone rang and a nice recorded man said that PG&E hoped to restore our electricity late the following evening. I asked him if he would like to smell my armpits after four days without even lukewarm water for a shower (our hot water heater is electric) and he thanked me for my patience and said he was sorry for the inconvenience.

“Power doesn’t corrupt people, people corrupt power.” William Gaddis

Marcia suggested we drive into downtown Mendocino, get some ice and potato chips and a chocolate bar at Harvest Market and see what was happening in our beloved burg. So we hopped in the car and coasted down the hill, noting various uprooted trees and bushes along the way, and found the amply stocked grocery store with lights blazing, only a few shoppers availing themselves of the cornucopia.

We bought our goodies and then toodled up and down the streets of Mendocino—every house and business sans lights, save for the town’s three drinking holes: the Mendocino Hotel, Dick’s, and Patterson’s. Those holy places were ablaze with light—their bartenders busy quenching the thirst of outage-weary sojourners.

And for some reason, seeing those booze joints jumping while everything else was shut down brought to mind that famous Sixties slogan: Power to the people, right on.

Mowing

February 11th, 2015

Mowing Two

Mowed Down photo by Todd

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser February 2015)

“In wildness is the preservation of the world.” Henry David Thoreau

A friend called last week to ask if I was aware of the recent carnage wreaked on the Mendocino headlands from Ford House down to the land above Portuguese Beach. She said giant bulldozer mowers had mowed everything, except the very largest shrubs, down to bare earth. I said I would take a look.

“All those lizards and bugs and flowers and grasses just gone,” she said. “The official word from the state park people is they did it to control non-native species, but we know they did it to make sure there’s no place for homeless people to lie down or take a pee. No more privacy, no more wildness. I’ve been crying about it for two days.”

I walked to town the next day to check out the mown headlands. On my way I passed a favorite field that had just been mowed, and my first thought was what a pity the lovely vetch and clover that had been on the rise would now not bloom to feed the bees and bugs and birds. My second thought was how spiffy everything looked—civilized. The house attached to the newly mown field has been empty and for sale for two years, the price steadily dropping from the absurd to the upper reaches of plausible. Did the realtor think mowing the field would make the place more saleable?

“Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.” Albert Einstein.

I love the wildness of the unkempt headlands, as do birds, lizards, snakes, gophers, rabbits, bees, bugs, birds and people who like to pick blackberries in August and September. Seeing the south side of Main Street mowed down to the bare earth was a shock. I’ve written poems and scenes in novels set here among the wild grasses and poppies and renegade callas and wild roses that abound on this particular swath of headlands, or did abound until they were rendered unsequestered carbon by the whirring blades.

Now the place looks like a raggedy golf course or a field waiting to be plowed and planted with Brussels sprouts, kin to the coastal fields north of Santa Cruz. If not for the inconvenient water shortage hereabouts and the headlands being public property, condominiums could be built here with ample parking and lights blazing day and night. Damn that water shortage and the socialist conspiracy known as state parks. Hell, with a big desalinization plant, we could have a casino here. After all, Mendocino was once the site of a Pomo village, so…

 “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” William Shakespeare

Except we like that the only human construction rising on these slaughtered fields will be the music festival tent that comes and goes every July. We like the vetch and mustard and brassica, the poison oak and poppies, the seed birds, the bunnies, the lupine, the blackberries and rambling roses, some of which will come back eventually, now that the mowers are done and gone—assuming they don’t come back for another several years.

We doubt the mowing was done to eradicate non-native species. They mowed everything, native and non-native. I think they mowed to make the place inhospitable to homeless people and people who like to pee outside rather than suffer the slimy stench of the shameful public bathroom bunker, and because they, whoever ordered the mowing, are mean-spirited dummies.

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” Albert Einstein

On the bright side, we now have the opportunity to watch how Nature goes about re-wilding land that humans have trashed. Nature works fast around here, left to her own devices. True, she might reseed the new mown fields with Pampas Grass and Scotch Broom and eucalyptus, invasive non-natives all, but reseed the fields she will. I say lets help her by broadcasting a hundred pounds of wildflower seeds out there. Why not?

“At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed.” Frederick Douglass

A stone’s throw west of the scalped fields we come to a multi-acre expanse where all is grasses and mustard and lupine bushes and renegade brassica, with no large shrubs to hide behind—a place where homeless people rarely venture to rest and pee. No, this is acreage upon which valuable turísticos tread to reach the scenic shorelines whereupon photogenic waves crash, and from where whales may be espied spouting. Here in this fairly bland ecosystem (bland compared to the one that just got mowed) a tiny section of the headlands has been cordoned off with flabby orange plastic fencing for the purpose of (so says the sign) Native Habitat Restoration.

This privileged chunk of native habitat seems to be mostly mustard, a few native and non-native grasses, and vetch. What’s really going on is the footpath tracing the edge of a precipitous cliff is about to collapse into the sea, and the aforementioned dummies are hoping to delay a trail collapse resulting in the death of a tourist or two. To call this operation native habitat restoration is plain silly, especially considering the destruction of fifty times as much native habitat right over there.

Meanwhile, the myriad creatures displaced by the mowing, those that weren’t killed, are adjusting to the new reality. Earthworms continue doing their thing, snakes and lizards and rabbits have moved to safer ground and keep up their relentless search for sustenance. Ditto bees and butterflies. Gophers carry on as if nothing has happened. The homeless and the desperate pee elsewhere for now. Locals continue to walk their dogs here, and their dogs continue to sniff and pee and poop and bark.

Seeds, native and non-native, are already germinating in the scarified soil. Life, such as it is, goes on.

Reboot

February 4th, 2015

twins

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser February 2015)

“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” Herman Melville

Female-led Ghostbusters reboot gets summer 2016 release date.

Report: Disney is considering Chris Pratt for an Indiana Jones reboot.

Fantastic Four reboot: What do we think?

We think remakes and reboots and sequels and prequels indistinguishable from the previous reboots of remakes have taken over the movie industry along with movies so similar to hundreds of other movies they might as well be reboots or remakes. What’s going on here? We live in an era of cinematic redundancy on an epic scale, and the messages being repeated ad nauseam are so primitive and shallow and false, one wonders, “When was it the Not Very Bright Children took control of everything?”

Who cares? I do. I think our movies and books, those that the corporate overlords allow to reach large audiences, intentionally purvey what our overlords want us to believe and think and feel. There is method to this mad redundancy, and a purpose, which is to keep us captive in what Iain McGilchrist calls “a hall of mirrors wherein we just get reflected back into more of what we know about what we know about what we know.”

 “No man was ever great by imitation” Samuel Johnson

Original art is subversive to the dominant paradigm, and the controlling stockholders in the current dominant paradigm are especially keen on squelching anything that might upset their iron grip on the collective consciousness. Thus they employ their news media to heap praise on the unending flow of wholly unoriginal literature, cinema, and music spewed into our bookstores, movie theatres, radio stations, and our always-on computer pad phone things.

Why? What do they, those in charge of the faucets of media, think will happen if original art is allowed to flourish? What they think will happen is what will happen: they will lose control of our beautiful minds, and human society will change in ways antithetical to the dominant paradigm.

It is not generally known or remembered, but in response to that brief artistic and social revolution known as the Sixties, the most powerful multi-national corporations in the world bought up every independent publisher in America, fired every last open-minded editor, and instituted a system of selectivity that would make the most fascist of dictators envious. Control what people read and watch and you control the foundations of modern culture.

“Men often applaud an imitation and hiss the real thing.” Aesop

As I was pondering this whole reboot phenomenon, I found on Dave Smith’s valuable Ukiah Blog Live, a link to a delightfully animated lecture called The Divided Brain by the above-quoted Iain McGilchrist, a psychiatrist and brain expert. To my mind, his lecture clearly and concisely explains the reboot mania. To grossly oversimplify his lecture: our culture and society have been taken over by those who are entirely controlled by the dominant functions of the left sides of their brains, and, as a consequence, we have become a society and culture dominated by left-brain dynamics.

McGilchrist debunks many of the popular ideas about differences between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, and he is adamant that the two sides need each other to function optimally. He also has a nifty explanation for the importance of the frontal lobe in mediating the collaborations of the left and right halves of the brain.

I highly recommend this animated lecture (you can find it on YouTube) and suggest you may want to pause the flow occasionally because McGilchrist presents a great deal of information in a short amount of time. I will not try to recapitulate his many startling facts and observations, but I will list some of his characterizations of the two halves of our brains.

Left brain: narrow sharp focus on what is already known, prefers simplified models of reality, chooses virtual over real, static, isolated, fixed, decontextualized, ultimately lifeless.

Right brain: sustained broad focus, openness to what is not yet known, interested in the living rather than the mechanical, changing, evolving, comfortable with what is never perfectly known.

McGilchrist concludes his lecture by quoting Einstein—“The intuitive mind (right brain) is a sacred gift, and the rational mind (left brain) is a faithful servant.” McGilchrist then responds to Einstein’s insight by saying, “Our society now honors the servant, but has forgotten the gift.”

I would argue that we have not so much forgotten the gift as it has been wrested away from us by our punitive system of education (left brain), our highly controlled media (left brain) and an economic system that pretends to support innovation but is primarily interested in refining what we already have in place (left brain) while intentionally inciting our deep-seated fears (left brain) to keep us from taking creative risks (right brain).

When I walk around downtown Mendocino on my errands or in search of a sunny perch, I will often encounter people—young, middle-aged, old—who seem to be looking for something they cannot find. They peer down alleyways, frown at buildings they fear to enter, exchange troubled glances, and stumble on until they grow tired and return to their vehicles or find a place where they can sit down and eat something.

I imagine they are doing battle with the left sides of their brains. They have come here, knowingly or unknowingly, to escape their left-brained realities in hope of finding a right-brained reality. Intuitively, they know their spirits are being strangled by mechanized redundancy, and their inner voices have directed them to this place whose name was once synonymous with counter culture.

Of Cats and Food

January 28th, 2015

Django Yoga

Django Yoga photo by Marcia Sloane

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser January 2015)

“The story of cats is a story of meat, and begins with the end of the dinosaurs.” Elizabeth Marshall Thomas from The Tribe of Tiger

We have one cat now, a twelve-year-old shorthaired gray named Django. We almost lost him eighteen months ago to complications arising from his extreme obesity—he weighed over twenty pounds—and in order to save him we became draconian masters feeding him half as much as we used to and splitting that lesser amount into four meals a day to encourage stomach shrinkage. The results have been good. Django has lost nine pounds, is noticeably more energetic and agile, and our veterinarian recently declared him fit as a fiddle.

However, there is a new development with Django. Accustomed to eating much more than he needed for the first eleven years of his life, Django now feels hungry all the time except when he is sleeping. He would, I gather, prefer to feel how he used to feel: fat. To that end, he has become a big talker, if you know what I mean.

Django asks to be fed by persistently reciting in cat language the famous line from Oliver Twist, “Please, sir, I’d like some more.” Telling him to be quiet has no effect whatsoever when those hungry excess fat cells get the best of him. Fortunately, we have found that if we pet Django for a few minutes and explain in soothing tones why he has to wait a little longer for food, he is often mollified. This suggests that he is not so much hungry as insecure about not being fat anymore.

“If you want to save a species, simply decide to eat it. Then it will be managed—like chickens, like turkeys, like deer, like Canadian geese.” Ted Nugent

In other food news, in case you hadn’t noticed, the price of eggs has skyrocketed. Why? Food prices should be going down along with the plunging price of gasoline. But they aren’t, just as our utility bills are not going down, though they should be, too, since a large percentage of California’s electricity is generated by power plants burning oil. But I was speaking of eggs.

Egg prices have gone way up because Proposition 2, passed by sixty percent of California voters, mandates that all eggs sold in California must come from chickens that have enough room in their cages to fully extend their wings and turn around. Predictably, the egg barons are suing the state for unusual kindness to hens because such kindness means the egg barons must replace their current commercial henhouses in which egg-laying chickens cannot spread their wings and turn around, especially with ten hens jammed into a single cage—a common practice in the industry.

“There is no sincerer love than the love of food.” George Bernard Shaw

It was reported today that Max Scherzer, a very good pitcher of baseballs, has signed a seven-year deal with the Washington Nationals for 210 millions dollars. That comes to thirty million a year, a million dollars per game, and approximately ten thousand dollars per pitch. His record-breaking deal is also cleverly structured so Max will pay almost no income tax on the gargantuan fortune.

Also in today’s news was an article stating that by 2016, the wealthiest one per cent of human beings on earth (wealth measured by dollars) will have more wealth than the combined wealth of all the rest of the people on earth. That staggering news was juxtaposed poignantly with news that nearly a third of the people on earth now survive, somehow, on less than a dollar a day.

A good head of lettuce costs $3.49.

A little can of kidney beans costs $2.85.

A large gluten-free blackberry muffin costs $4.25.

A small package of faux crab sushi costs $6.95.

Organic almonds are now seventeen dollars a pound.

Organic brown rice is three dollars a pound.

“Once, during Prohibition, I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water.” W.C. Fields

Walking up the hill from downtown Mendocino, a quartet of chicken legs secreted in a little ice chest in my knapsack, I come to a field rife with gophers and stop to admire a gorgeous orange tabby sitting still as a statue as she peers down at an entrance to the gopher kingdom, otherwise known as a gopher hole. The sight of this patient hunter reminds me that Django used to be quite the hunter of rats and mice until a broken tooth and a snaggletooth conspired to make it nearly impossible for him to eviscerate his kills, and so he became even more reliant on his humans for sustenance. In the wilds, Django would not have survived past his prime, and the same can be said for me.

The dry gopher-ridden field also reminds me that the drought is not over, not here or anywhere in California—the vegetable and rice and almond basket of America. I shudder to think how high food prices will go in the coming months should the meteorological consensus prove correct and the effects of the drought worsen. As if to echo my fears, a big shiny water truck rumbles by on its way to deliver water to someone with a dry well in January. Oh the things we take for granted.

I arrive home to Django singing multiple choruses from Oliver, though his next meal will not be served for another two hours. I put away the groceries, give Django a tummy rub and promise to feed him at five. He gives me a doubtful look, hunkers down in a pool of sunlight, and begins to assiduously clean himself with his tongue. I look out the window and watch in dismay as a dozen robins gobble my recently arisen Austrian Field Peas.

“You don’t have to kill and eat those birds,” I say to Django, “but couldn’t you at least chase them away?”

He gives me an ironic smile and resumes his toilette.

Trillions

January 21st, 2015

31 In The Field of Gold

in the field of gold by Ellen Jantzen

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser January 2015)

“All the waste in a year from a nuclear power plant can be stored under a desk.” Ronald Reagan

Yes, those were the words spoken by a man who was Governor of California and President of the United States, a man revered by millions of People With Small Brains. I stumbled upon that example of Reagan’s snotty idiocy while hunting for cogent things people have said about waste, and though Reagan was rarely cogent—and the world might be a better place had he, in his youth, sat for a few hours at a desk under which was stored a year’s waste from a nuclear power plant—his remark struck me as an apt preamble to the problem I want to discuss with you.

“Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.” Henry David Thoreau

Not so long ago, when Americans in relatively large numbers (one per cent of the population?) still actively protested the dastardly wars sponsored by the imperial supranational overlords—before voluntary servitude to cell phones won the day entirely—I attended a big peace march and rally in San Francisco at which the brilliant historian and political scientist Michael Parenti spoke.

Early in his remarks, Parenti enumerated the good that could be accomplished if money spent to build the latest species of fighter jets for the American arsenal was spent instead on education, healthcare, and helping those living in poverty. And I noticed that the moment Parenti intoned the words billions of dollars, the crowd lost all interest in what he was saying and he might as well have been speaking to five people instead of the fifty thousand gathered to protest the wasteful stupidity of war.

Since then—my Parenti epiphany—I have confirmed on numerous occasions that while many people can hang with discussions involving one or two million dollars, any sum larger than that has little or no meaning to most of us. Why? Because money is real and important in our lives, and real money to most people is much less than a million dollars.

When we enter the realm of billions—a billion is a thousand million—we might as well speak of neon gorganzalids. Huh? Neon whats? The imperial overlords are well aware that we cease to pay attention when talk turns to hundreds of millions or billions of dollars, and not paying attention is what they want us to be doing while they rob us blind, year in and year out.

“Why waste time learning, when ignorance is instantaneous?” Bill Watterson

In 2008, when the worldwide Goldman Sachs-created toxic derivative hedge fund Ponzi scheme bubble burst all over the world, the imperial overlords ordered their operatives at the Federal Reserve to spend an initial trillion dollars to prop up the collapsed financial regime (while doing nothing for the unwashed masses) and thereafter ordered the Federal Reserve to spend a hundred billion a month to re-inflate the bogus stock hedge fund derivatives bubble. You’re getting drowsy aren’t you?

That’s my point. Government-condoned financial thievery of epic proportions goes on every day in America, thefts totaling at least ten trillion dollars in the last seven years, and we the people have no concept of what those thefts mean in relation to our collective and individual lives. You and I could sure use seventy dollars or seven hundred dollars or seven thousand dollars—wouldn’t that be nice?—but millions and billions and trillions…snore.

Add to the stolen ten trillion another trillion a year spent on the military and…Huh? Sorry. Dozed off.

“After a certain point, money is meaningless. It ceases to be the goal. The game is what counts.” Aristotle Onassis

On the other hand, sports, sex, food, violence, death, and the breasts and penises of famous celebrities and fashion models, these are things we are hardwired to be interested in. Penelope Cruz in an itsy bitsy bikini. Tom Cruise wearing skimpy underwear. See? You woke up. The overlords know this and have structured modern mass media to inhabit your television computer tablet phone as a never-ending stream of lurid high-definition images and videos of sports, sex, food, violence, death, breasts, and penises, or the bulges therefrom.

The media moguls keep the titillating deluge raining down on us day and night so you and I will pay no attention to the men behind the curtains (referencing The Wizard of Oz, Judy Garland version) robbing us of billions and trillions of…your eyes are closing.

“Free will is an illusion. People always choose the perceived path of greatest pleasure.” Scott Adams

The perceived path of greatest pleasure. Hence, Las Vegas. Hence the election of Ronald Reagan and so many others of his kind to positions of great power over us. Hence the dominance of amoral bankers and hedge fund criminals who do grasp the terrible significance of redirecting trillions of dollars representing the collective wealth of the earth into the coffers of a relatively tiny number of Incredibly Greedy People.

What if those trillions had been wisely used for the good of everyone? Hard to imagine. Indeed, our minds boggle when we begin to imagine what our world might become should those stolen trillions ever be spent on reversing the current trends. Yes, our little hardwired breast and penis and food and sex and sports-loving little minds boggle when we try to envision a future in which all the clichés about freedom and equality and sharing the wealth come true. And that’s just how the overlords want our minds to be. Boggled.