Cover Stories

July 29th, 2015

idas2-cover-sm

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

“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.” Groucho Marx

I recently got a letter from my editor at Counterpoint Press, the daring publishing company bringing out a paperback edition of my book Buddha In A Teacup in early 2016, saying he would soon be sending me samples of their cover ideas. So I held my breath for a few days and recalled my book cover adventures with publishers of my previous books. This helped temper fantasies of a superb cover for Buddha In A Teacup. Indeed, after reviewing my history of book covers, I decided to hope for legible.

Inside Moves. Published in 1978 by Doubleday, my first novel had a basketball subplot and the cover sample featured a small airborne man holding what might have been a basketball, but also might have been a bowling ball. This ambiguous athlete, wearing slacks and a sweater, was floating through the air surrounded by gothic-like letters with enormous serifs. At a glance, the letters seemed to spell INSIDE MOVIES. I expressed my concerns and the ball problem was addressed, but the confusing lettering remained and the book was often shelved in the Hobby section of bookstores.

Forgotten Impulses. Published in 1980 by Simon & Schuster, my second novel was originally entitled Mackie, which remained the title until a month before the book was to be printed. The cover for Mackie featured a spectacular oil painting of a woman wearing a sunhat and kneeling in her vegetable garden, the roots of the plants growing down through layers of soil to entangle the name Mackie. Alas, my editor called at the proverbial last minute to say Sales felt Mackie lacked punch. Could I come up with a meaty sub-title? My brother, who came up with Inside Moves, helped me come up with Forgotten Impulses, and Sales dropped Mackie entirely and went with Forgotten Impulses. The hastily assembled new cover was composed of garish yellow gothic-like letters on a red and blue background.

Not that it mattered much. Simon & Schuster took the book out of print a few days after it was published.

Louie & Women. My third novel was published by Dutton in 1983 and featured a poorly rendered painting of a short buxom naked woman standing at a window. Filling most of the window frame was a painting of a wave—a painting within the painting. On the bed in the foreground of the room lies a pair of large white men’s jockey-style underwear. I strenuously objected and my editor said, “Well, the thing is…Sales has decided to kill the book before it comes out anyway, so…”

“But why?”

“They don’t think it will sell. Sorry.”

Ruby & Spear. My fifth novel was published by Bantam in 1996 and the cover shows a black man going up to dunk a basketball into a hoop with a half-ripped net. This cover was so antithetical to the spirit of the story, I called my editor to express my disappointment and she said, “Well, the thing is…Sales has decided to take the book out of print.”

“But the book hasn’t been published yet?”

“I know,” she said sadly. “Sorry.”

The Writer’s Path, published by 10-Speed in 2000, is a large collection of my original writing exercises. The proposed cover design was hideous and featured misleading subtitles that made the book sound like a touchy feely book for people trying to access their inner artist. The cover was changed from hideous to blah shortly before publication, but the misleading subtitles remained. Sadly, the hideous proposed cover was put up on all the online bookselling sites and remains there to this day. Nevertheless, the book sold ten thousand copies entirely by word-of-mouth. 10-Speed did absolutely nothing to promote the book, and then, in their great wisdom, Sales decided not to do a third printing because, after all, the book was selling itself.

“Everything in life matters and ultimately has a place, an impact and a meaning.” Laurens Van Der Post

Shortly before the cover designs for Buddha In A Teacup arrived from Counterpoint, my editor wrote to say he had presented the book at a sales meeting and the response was positive. However, the consensus was that my original subtitle—tales of enlightenment—was inadequate because it did not say the short stories are contemporary. So I came up with Contemporary Dharma Tales, which he liked.

Ere long, five cover designs for Buddha In A Teacup arrived via email, and just as I was about to unzip the big file to peruse them, another email came from my editor saying they had selected two finalists from the five and I should ignore those five and look at the two. But I looked at the five, loved one of them and disliked the other four, and then with trembling mouse opened the file containing the finalists. And lo, the one cover I loved was one of the two finalists. My wife and several friends agreed with my choice, I sent in our votes, and…

Will the final cover be the one we want? Will the book have a long and eventful life in print? Time will tell.

In the meantime, I am about to finish writing Ida’s Place Book Four: Renegade, the fourth volume of a fictional epic set in a mythical Here and Now, the covers for the Ida books exactly how I want them because I create them myself with the help of Garth the graphics wizard and Ian the master of the color copier at Zo, the finest (and only) copy shop in Mendocino. Coil bound copies of the Ida books, lavishly numbered and signed by the author, are available from my web site until that glorious (mythical) day when some prescient publisher presents them to that great big world on the other side of the tracks.

The Ida’s Place books and the original self-published hardback of Buddha In A Teacup are available at Underthetablebooks.com

Brutalizing Greece

July 22nd, 2015

Passion Play Nolan WInkler

Passion Play painting by Nolan Winkler

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

“Greece should go back to a national currency to have more autonomous decision-making with regards to it own economy, which it needs if it wants to pave a more sustainable path.” Jennifer Hinton, co-author of How on Earth: Flourishing in a Not-for-Profit World by 2050

Near the top of the list of horrible things I’ve witnessed in my life are the beatings of small weak defenseless people at the hands of big strong brutal people. We had two big vicious bullies at my elementary school, and when I started Third Grade, I was sick with fear for days after I saw those two brutes pummel a little boy. And the more I read about what the international hedge fund criminal banking consortium and their elected lackeys Merkel and Obama are doing to Greece, the more I feel the same disgust and hopelessness I felt when I watched those giants beating that little boy.

“The Greek government should nationalize the banks and encourage people to start credit unions.” Jennifer Hinton

Mainstream American media outlets are reporting on the Greek financial crisis in the same way they report on everything: falsely. Yes, the situation is somewhat more complicated than how points are scored in baseball, but not much more. Greece had a corrupt government further corrupted by entanglement with Wall Street bankers and investment firms, specifically Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs. Lloyd got the Greek government to borrow billions of dollars to invest in the great stock and toxic asset bubble that burst in 2008. Rather than punish Lloyd or the corrupt Greek bankers and the corrupt government officials for their folly, the international banking system demanded that the Greek government pay off the astronomical debt by cutting pensions, raising taxes on everyone except the rich, selling public property and public utilities to multinational corporations, and forcing Greece to borrow more money to keep paying the interest on the money owed to the criminals who had ruined their economy.

That’s what happened. Today Greece is in a deep economic depression because hundreds of thousands of doctors, computer programmers, engineers, college professors, and other well-educated and employable people fled the country rather than stay there and starve under the heel of the vicious bullies who keep beating the crap out of Greece, though Greece is already supine and literally in its economic death throes.

“Greece should keep for-profit interests from buying up its common wealth.” Jennifer Hinton

Sadly, as Robert Reich reminds us, “People seem to forget that the Greek debt crisis—which is becoming a European and even possibly a world economic crisis—grew out of a deal with Goldman Sachs, engineered by Goldman’s Lloyd Blankfein.”

Lloyd Blankfein is the current CEO of Goldman Sachs, an American Wall Street banking and investment firm that is the headquarters of the supranational financial overlords. Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton are the current darlings of Goldman Sachs, which suggests, barring a Bernie Sanders miracle, that Hilary will be the next President of the Unites States. The Republican candidates are so silly and/or terrifying that it should be no great trick to scare the voters of America into voting for Hilary, who will campaign on a platform of…wait for it…helping the beleaguered middle class, never mind about anyone lower than the shrinking middle; they don’t vote much anyway.

We will be told that Hilary will appoint better Supreme Court justices than her Republican opponent, she will be better for women’s rights in general, and that she really cares about the people of America. If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you and I’ll give you the name of my very good friend who will build you the tollbooth after your check to me clears. We will not be told that Hilary has been chosen by the international oligarchy currently destroying the earth and forcing the Greeks and anybody else who defies them to suffer and starve and die needlessly for lack of basic human services and decent medical care. And if you don’t believe that, you live in a different dimension than I do.

“The Greek government should encourage not-for-profit enterprise in every sector to prevent the extraction of profits from the real economy and encourage social entrepreneurs and innovators to start up their own not-for-profits. These enterprises would help alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Greece, create a more stable economy and keep the financial surplus in the real economy.” Jennifer Hinton

During recess at the beginning of Fifth Grade, I happened upon those two big bullies beating the crap out of a kid who had just skipped Fourth Grade and was now in my class. He was half the size of the bullies and was being badly beaten, while a gaggle of boys and girls stood nearby watching in horror and feeling helpless.

I liked this kid who was getting beaten up. He was funny and smart and he laughed at my jokes. So because I liked him, and maybe because I’d had a recent growth spurt and was feeling cocky, I grabbed one of the bullies by the arm, pulled him away from the kid and said, “Leave him alone,” which inspired the bullies to start pummeling me. I, however, was a fairly large kid and started swinging wildly at those big idiots and one of my swings connected with one of the bully’s cheeks and he yelped like a dog when you accidentally step on his tail, and the next thing I knew four of my pals were fighting the bullies with me, and lo and behold the big meanies ran away.

If only there was some way for us, you and I and a few hundred million other people, to come to the aid of the Greeks against those big greedy sadistic idiot money monsters. I’m not talking about helping Greece pay off the criminally created debt. I’m talking about helping them start anew after the bullies finally leave them alone.

Cherry Tree Myth

July 15th, 2015


BUT SHE HAD WINGS

But She Had Wings painting by Nolan Winkler

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

“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Charles Spurgeon

The Fourth of July has always been a mixed bag for me. As a boy, I loved the barbecue and fireworks party in our neighbors’ backyard. My friends and I ran around in the dark with sparklers, ate potato salad and burgers and corn and watermelon, and a man smoking a cigarette and drinking a martini set off spectacular fireworks smuggled into California from Montana.

But my father always got especially drunk at the Fourth of July barbecue because he imbibed much more hard liquor when he drank in the company of other alcoholics, and he would become vicious, so the fun of running around with sparklers was dampened, and the hours after we got home from the barbecue were about hiding in my room.

One year after the Fourth of July party, my mean-drunk father found a sickly bat clinging to a low-hanging branch of a pine tree, and he broke the branch off and brought the bat home to torture my mother by bringing the frightened creature into the kitchen. My mother screamed at my father to take the bat out of the house, and when he refused, she got a broom and drove my father into the garage where we could hear him crashing around, shouting and cursing, and then he started hammering on the wall. A few minutes later he came into the kitchen, got a bottle of wine, and returned to the garage.

I followed my mother as she ventured into the garage armed with her broom—I was nine—and we discovered my father had nailed the branch to the wall just a few feet from the doorway into the kitchen—the sickly little animal still clinging to the bough.

“Get it out of here,” said my mother, her eyes slits of fury. “It might have rabies. You’re endangering the children. Get rid of it. Now!”

My father took a long drink from the bottle and slurred, “My new pet. Bats are very intelligent.”

And my mother said, “If you don’t get rid of it right this minute, I’m divorcing you. Don’t think I won’t.”

Then she shepherded me back into the house, closed the door to the garage, and locked it. I got up early the next day and went into the garage and the bat was gone, though the branch was still nailed to the wall and would remain there for decades, an armature for thick tapestries of cobwebs.

When I was in my late twenties and visiting my parents at Christmas, I asked my father if he remembered the incident with the bat, and I was only mildly surprised when he accused me of making up the story to fulfill my chronic need to vilify him. So I brought him into the garage and pointed out the pine branch nailed to the wall and asked him how it got there.

“I’ve often wondered about that,” he said, frowning at the branch. “I assumed you did it to spite me.”

“The truth is more important than the facts.” Frank Lloyd Wright

As you probably know, the young George Washington never chopped down his father’s cherry tree, was never confronted by his father about the destruction of the tree, and did not say, “I cannot tell a lie, Dad. I did it. I’ll take my punishment. You may beat me cruelly now. Please do.”

The story was entirely made up by an unscrupulous biographer some years after George Washington died, and this balderdash immediately became the one so-called fact every American could recite about George Washington, the mythic Father of America, with Betsy Ross the purported Mother of America because she was said to have sewn the first American flag at George Washington’s request, though there is no proof she ever did any such thing.

The subtext of the cherry tree lie is that our political leaders are profoundly honest and willing to suffer grievously for what they believe in. And it is this honesty and courage of their convictions that make them so special and worthy of our support. Indeed, so deeply ingrained in our collective psyche is this fundamental falsity that tens of millions of people who should know better, I among them, have voted for and elected heinous criminals to control our government and make our laws, many of those laws designed to rob us of our wealth and our freedoms.

And the Fourth of July always reminds me of this sad truth about our species: we are as gullible as yellow jackets flying into a death trap, the sweet smell of raw meat irresistible to our hardwired brains. We cloak the needless deaths of millions of innocent people and the ongoing ruination of the world in red, white and blue flags Betsy Ross never sewed, red the color of the cherries that never grew on the tree George Washington never chopped down and never told the truth about.

“Truth is mighty and will prevail. There is nothing the matter with this, except it ain’t so.” Mark Twain

This Fourth of July 2015 we made an East Indian potato salad to take to the barbecue at our neighbors’ house two doors down, a vegetarian feast, the earthlings there a mix of people born all over the globe, the gathering a celebration of our independence from the stultifying concept of competitive nations, what Buckminster Fuller called blood clots in the body of humanity. The current Anglo-German strangulation of Greece is a perfect example of the destructive power of the asinine notion that one nation is more important than another.

And we celebrated the harvest of the first wave of vegetables planted in early spring, our potato salad made with just-dug potatoes, the lemon juice from the first lemons grown on our young trees planted two years ago, the cilantro leaves from volunteers springing up among our lettuce—the coconut milk linking us to our fellow earthlings in more tropical climes.

Bubbles & Blobs

July 8th, 2015

3 skips to each stone

Three Skips To Each Stone painting by Nolan Winkler

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

“In the San Joaquin Valley, pumping now exceeds natural replenishment by more than half a trillion gallons a year.” Marc Reisner

As I was walking home from town today, it occurred to me that nothing can prepare us for what is going to happen very soon in California, because nothing like what is about to happen has ever happened before. Forty million people did not live in California the last time, if there ever was a last time, so little water flowed in our rivers. Millions of cows were not being raised here, and millions of acres of water-hungry crops, including alfalfa to feed those millions of cows, were not being grown here during previous mega-droughts. Yes, there have been a few longish droughts in the last century and a half, but nothing like the current drought.

Shortly before he died in 2000, Marc Reisner, author of Cadillac Desert, the great opus on water and politics and greed and stupidity in the American West, suggested that when the current chronic drought eventually took hold in California, tens of millions of California residents would be forced to move elsewhere. He predicted most of them would move to the wetter eastern side of the Mississippi River.

Meanwhile, California farmers are up in arms because state water controllers are telling them they cannot have their usual allotments of water because there will soon be no water to allot. Curtailment is the official word for when a decrease in the expected amount of water is imposed on a farmer or city. The state recently issued hundreds of new curtailments, one of which severely limits San Francisco’s allotment of water from the Tuolumne River that supplies a large part of San Francisco’s water. How will San Francisco replace that allotment? They won’t.

Here’s an interesting factoid. If every American abstained from eating meat one day per week, more water would be saved than the annual flow of the Colorado River in a high-flow year. By the way, California’s allotment of Colorado River water is soon to be curtailed. Here is what Marc Resiner had to say about that:

“If the Colorado River suddenly stopped flowing, you would have two years of carryover capacity in the reservoirs before you had to evacuate most of southern California and Arizona and a good portion of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. The river system provides over half the water of greater Los Angeles, San Diego, and Phoenix; it grows much of America’s domestic production of fresh winter vegetables.”

It would take several years of normal (whatever that is) or above-normal rainfall in California to replenish our surface water supplies and superficially ease the drought, though no computer models by any meteorologist suggests such replenishment will occur in the foreseeable future. But the Central Valley aquifer, which is nearly gone, will take centuries to replenish should the state ever be inundated with water and snow again.

And check this out: scientists have been puzzling over the 2014 discovery of what one report referred to as a “warm patch of water” off the coast of California and Oregon thought to be linked to the “weird” weather being experienced across the United States. This warm patch is more than 1500 kilometers in every direction and over a hundred meters deep. Meteorologists have never found such a “blob” in this part of the ocean and they are certain there is a link between this blob and the persistent high-pressure ridge keeping Pacific storms from reaching California and Oregon and Washington.

A recent study links this “warm Pacific puzzle” to the big freezes in the eastern United States in 2013 and 2014, but several scientists hasten to add there does not seem to be any obvious connection between the blob and global climate change. Huh? However, the blob and its devastating effect on human society in California and the American Southwest is “a taste of what the ocean will be like in future decades.”

As one politic scientist opined, “The blob wasn’t caused by global warming, but it is producing conditions that will be more common when such things are caused by global warming.” Why are we not reassured?

Then there is the global financial bubble that good old Greece and a bankrupt Puerto Rico are about to burst. As the world’s stock markets and fragile economies wobble in the face of myriad debt defaults, the Bank for International Settlements has issued a report warning that low interest rates not only undermine economic health, but by allowing greedy amoral banksters to take trillions of just-printed dollars at zero interest from our so-called government in order to keep the stock bubble inflated, when that bubble does burst, any day now, central banks will have no means to counter the ensuing economic collapse because the main counter measure is to lower interest rates. Oops.

Which is to say, we are in the eye of a perfect storm. We’re running out of water, the financial markets are on the verge of collapse, and if there was ever a time to plant potatoes, this is that time. If you plant potatoes now, you should have a good crop in October. Plant several kinds in case you incur the wrath of the potato gods against one of the varieties you’ve chosen.

Other measures to consider now are buying several cases of canned beans, a couple big bags of rice, before rice gets insanely expensive, and a good supply of olive oil. Along with your potatoes, plant lettuce and kale and chard.

If you live in Los Angeles or inland California, you should quickly look into buying a house east of the Mississippi while prices there are still reasonable and your house in California is still worth something. When twenty million hyper-thirsty Californians try to relocate to Missouri and Iowa and Tennessee and Pennsylvania, real estate prices there are going to soar. And it won’t be a short-term bubble.

Well, that’s all for now. Gotta take a long shower, wash my car, water the lawn, grill some steak, and top off the swimming pool before I hose the dust and leaves off the driveway and drive to the store to get some snacks and stuff. Ciao!

We’re In It

July 1st, 2015

presidio medium

We’re In It  ⓒ Copyright David Jouris (Presidio Dance Theatre)

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

“So make sure when you say you’re in it but not of it, you’re not helping to make this earth a place sometimes called Hell.” Stevie Wonder

We’re in it. Those thousands of articles about the coming consequences of global warming, over-population, and environmental pollution? Those consequences are here. Yes, things are going to get worse, but unprecedented climatic events are not coming sooner or later, they are here. Hundreds of millions of people are starving or about to starve. Insecticides, pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers will not one day wreak havoc on the world, they are wreaking havoc now, big time. The oceans are rising and acidifying. We’re in it.

There is a drought in Brazil that we know is the direct result of humans cutting down too much of the Amazon rainforest, yet the cutting down of that rainforest continues at a frightening pace. Brazil’s agricultural sector is suffering terribly from the water shortage and Brazil is building archaic fossil fuel power plants to replace the loss of electricity from hydroelectric sources because the nation’s rivers are drying up.

NASA recently released the results of their satellite assessments of the world’s aquifers. The most depleted aquifer on earth is the one beneath California’s Central Valley, and the second most depleted aquifer is the Ganges Brahmaputra aquifer. California’s drought may last decades, and the monsoon that feeds a billion people in India and Pakistan and Bangladesh was late again this year and will provide less than the minimal amount of water needed by farmers in those badly overpopulated countries.

Scientists have also proven conclusively that the collapse of honeybee populations worldwide is caused by the use of insecticides containing neonicotinoids, yet the supranational chemical-pharmaceutical companies responsible for producing these poisons refuse to remove them from the market. With the exception of a few European nations, national governments are apparently powerless to force these poison-manufacturing corporations to do the right thing.

“No water, no life. No blue, no green.” Sylvia Earle

I went to the farmers market in Mendocino last Friday and was surprised to find local egg producers asking eight, nine, and ten dollars for a dozen eggs. This seemed exorbitant to me, so I passed. But when I went to buy eggs at Corners, where last week I was shocked to find a dozen eggs selling for six dollars, the price had risen to nearly eight dollars.

Yes, the new state law requiring bigger cages for mass-produced chickens and chickens confined for the purpose of mass producing eggs has caused an increase in egg prices, but that doesn’t explain why local free range chicken eggs have nearly doubled in price in the last year. Inquiring of a few chicken owners I know, I learned that feed prices have skyrocketed due to less production of key grains due to the ongoing drought. We’re in it, and one-dollar eggs could be the new norm, and eggs, as you know, are key ingredients in myriad foodstuffs, so…

In other local climate change news, this past winter was the first in my nine years in Mendocino when we did not have a single night of freezing weather, the lowest temperature being thirty-four degrees, with only a week or two when the temperature got below forty degrees. Oh joy, sing the millions of mosquitoes and fleas and earwigs whose eggs did not freeze to death this past winter.

Speaking of Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, thousands of people have died of heat stroke there in the last couple weeks, with temperatures topping 115 degrees for several days in a row. Crops are wilting in the fields and animals are dying along with humans. We’re in it.

 “We are in danger of destroying ourselves by our greed and stupidity. We cannot remain looking inward at ourselves on a small and increasingly polluted and overcrowded planet.” Stephen Hawking

So yesterday I’m coasting down the hill in my little old pickup on my way to the commercial sector of Mendocino, and I’m thinking about The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich, a book I read when it came out in 1968 and naively hoped would change the world, when a snazzy new sports car speeds up behind me and the driver starts madly revving his engine. I check my speedometer and see I’m going five miles an hour over the speed limit, this being a school zone.

I can see in my rearview mirror that this older male driver is apoplectic and wants me to pull over so he can speed by, but I’m only going a half-mile to town and I don’t want him careening recklessly through our neighborhood full of children and people walking their dogs, so I keep my speed at thirty and try to ignore the guy, but he starts swerving out into the oncoming lane as if he’s going to pass me and then zipping back in behind me and riding my bumper.

Thirty seconds later, we reach the stop light at Little Lake Road and Highway One. I am first in line at the red light with Insane Man right on my tail hysterically revving his several hundred horsepower engine. When the light turns green, Insane Man hits his horn and keeps honking as we cross Highway One and cruise into town. Now Insane Man rolls down his window, sticks his arm out and shakes his fist at me, flips the bird, and by reading his lips I determine he is saying many unkind things about me.

As fate would have it, when I turn left, Insane Man turns left. When I turn right, Insane Man turns right, and now I’m getting mad because Insane Man keeps almost crashing into me and shaking his fist at me, when all I’ve done is drive to town a little faster than usual.

I park in front of Zo, the best and only copy shop in Mendocino, and as Insane Man speeds by he screams, “Die you motherfucking scumbag!”

And by a remarkable coincidence, his words echo my wish for him.

Trust

June 24th, 2015

Question & Reply

Question & Reply painting by Nolan Winkler

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

“You must trust and believe in people or life becomes impossible.” Anton Chekhov

Trust is a tricky thing. Long ago, I held writing workshops for groups of eight people meeting for two hours once a week in my living room, each course lasting eight weeks. At the outset, I would reiterate what I had explained to prospective participants when they called to sign up for the process: we would be doing my original writing exercises and there would be no lecturing or criticism or analysis of anything we wrote, by me or anyone in the group, and no one had to read aloud anything he or she wrote unless he or she wanted to.

Of the hundreds of writers who participated in these workshops over the years, nearly all believed there would be lecturing and analysis and criticism and judgment of their writing, despite my proclamations to the contrary. And almost all believed if they did not read aloud what they wrote, they would be made to feel stupid and ashamed.

By the end of the first session, there were usually two or three participants trusting they would not be criticized or shamed when they read or did not read aloud what they had written. But there were always people who needed three or four sessions to fully trust they would simply be listened to when they read what they wrote, and so they had to wait a long time to find out that being listened to by a group of non-critical people can be a deeply illuminating and inspiring experience.

And it was only when everyone in the group fully trusted that no one would criticize or be criticized, that we truly became a group and not eight individuals separated by fear and mistrust doing writing exercises. Everyone in the group would feel this momentous shift when the last doubter surrendered to the embrace of non-judgmental group mind. Talk about synergy! Talk about people taking chances, going deeper, and discovering things about their expressive talents they would never have experienced without trusting that anything they wrote was allowed.

“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” William Shakespeare

I make a part of my minimalist living selling my books and music and art. Customers can buy things from me using their credit cards via my web site or they can send a check to my post office box or they can bump into me at the farmer’s market and give me cash. I have a policy, established two years ago, that I no longer send or deliver orders until I have the money in hand. Had I established this policy ten years ago, I would be thousands of dollars richer than I am today.

Why did I continue to trust people after numerous people did not pay me for goodies received? Because I prefer trusting people to not trusting people, and I was embarrassed to imply to my friends that I didn’t trust them. But the fact is, since most of my customers are my friends, most of the people who stiffed me, knowingly or unwittingly, were my friends. I think poverty and forgetfulness, rather than malice and greed, were behind most of the stiffing, but still.

Yet it wasn’t until a very close friend ordered several hundred dollars worth of books and music CDs to give as Christmas gifts, and I gleefully sent off the big package to her before I received her check (money I was counting on) and then I never got her check, though she claimed it was immediately cashed yet was unable to confirm who cashed it, that I finally installed my policy of having the money in hand before shipping the goods.

And, yes, I have since lost sales to friends infuriated with me for not trusting them, which is why I say trust is a tricky thing.

“Trust, but verify.” Ronald Reagan

When I moved to Sacramento in 1980, my neighbors told me that our neighborhood was so safe no one ever locked their doors and there had never been a theft of anything for as long as anyone could remember. And so I never locked my house or my car and I left my bike unlocked on the front porch, and for several years what my neighbors told me proved true, and life was groovy.

Then one night somebody stole a neighbor’s Volkswagen. And in a twinkling, everything changed. Everyone started locking their cars and locking their doors. I continued to leave my bicycle on the front porch unlocked, but then it was stolen, and thereafter I kept my bike in the locked basement accessed through a padlocked gate.

And the unexpected result of this rash of thefts, this new economic reality, was that my neighbors began to mistrust each other and me, and there were fewer block parties, life became less casual, and people spent more time indoors. It seems that once mistrust becomes the overriding modus operandi, it permeates everything.

Then I moved to a working class neighborhood in Berkeley and my neighbors told me there hadn’t been a theft of anything in the hood for as long as anyone could remember, at least fifty years. And until rent control ended and the dot com explosion rendered Berkeley unaffordable for most of my neighbors, our neighborhood was blissfully safe and crime free. But once the street was gentrified, robberies became commonplace and gloomy mistrust descended and life sucked.

Then I moved to Mendocino, and the first joke I was told by two gregarious locals who sat with me in the café and paid for my tea was, “Why do you lock your car in Mendocino? Because if you don’t, someone will leave a bag of zucchini on your front seat.”

So far no zucchini, though I never lock my truck.

Just Old

June 17th, 2015

if my head sinks beneath the sea site

If My Heads Sinks Beneath The Sea painting by Nolan Winkler

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

“Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind; it is not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees; it is a matter of the will, quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep springs of life.” Samuel Ullman

A friend suggested that the reason I find contemporary American movies and books and plays and music to be largely junk is that I am just old.

Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, David Crosby, and many other older musicians aver that contemporary popular music today is inferior to the popular music of their day, but that’s just because those guys are old.

Every writer I know over fifty decries the deplorable state of writing and editing today, but that’s just because we’re old. And when older poets recoil at the poetry of younger poets whose verses are rife with clichés, void of subtlety, and might be lyrics to rap songs, they are recoiling because they are just old.

If you ask young people about the movies of today, they will name dozens of films they think are light years better than movies we thought were great when we were younger. Young people are certain I cannot see and hear and understand what they are seeing and hearing and understanding because my eyes and ears and mind are just old, and they might be right about that, though I don’t like to think so.

My mother plugged her ears and shouted, “Turn that off!” when she caught nine-year-old me listening to Ray Charles. Maybe Mom was just old. She liked The Mills Brothers and Artie Shaw, and so did I, but she didn’t like Sam and Dave and The Beatles and Buffalo Springfield because she was stuck in the musical aesthetics of Tommy Dorsey and Jack Little.

“Every age has its storytelling form, and video gaming is a huge part of our culture. You can ignore or embrace video games and imbue them with the best artistic quality. People are enthralled with video games in the same way as other people love the cinema or theatre.” Andy Serkis

I am sixty-five-years-old at last count. Depending on your view of things, I am middle-aged, old, or real old. Yes, contemporary cultural aesthetics are in constant flux, and yes, I am not enamored of most of the latest fluctuations. However, my estrangement from American culture did not begin when I qualified for Medicare and Social Security. No, my disaffection began when I was in the prime of my life, otherwise known as my twenties and thirties, and coincided with the lightning-fast conquest of America’s publishing industry by a few massive, politically conservative, morally bankrupt multi-national corporations.

To echo Allen Ginsberg, I saw the best minds in the publishing business fired by soulless corporate operatives and replaced by Yes people who only follow orders from the unimaginative number-crunchers above them, those orders being: publish books exactly like the books we already know sell lots of copies. Do not buy anything that might be too sophisticated for a poorly educated ten-year-old. Buy nothing remotely original. And only consider things sent to you by literary agents who agree to follow these same orders.

That merciless corporate blitzkrieg of America’s publishers began circa 1972 and the conquest was complete by 1980. Call me a conspiracy nut, but I think this takeover was part of a conscious effort by the ruling elite to snuff out the fires started in the counter-culture renaissance known as The Sixties, with the election of Ronald Reagan a direct result of their coup d’état.

Publishing was not the only branch of our cultural tree thoroughly infected by the corporate fungus during that same decade. Record companies, movie studios, magazines, newspapers, radio stations, and television networks were also conquered and gutted by the same multinational consortium, and we have lived in a culture shaped and controlled by this mind-numbing corporatocracy ever since.

I don’t hold this view of history because I am just old, but because I experienced this cultural takeover firsthand when I was a young and successful writer and screenwriter. When I refused to acquiesce to the new cultural guidelines imposed by the recently installed corporate managers, my career was effectively ended.

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” Alan Watts

Before I was just old, I founded the Creative Writing Department for the California State Summer School for the Arts. Every summer for five years, my faculty and I would greet the fifty young writers we had selected from many hundreds of applicants, and we would invariably discover that all these bright young people were starving for something to read other than Anne Rice or Stephen King or To Kill A (expletive deleted) Mockingbird. I use the word starving because the nincompoops running our schools in collusion with the corporate overlords intentionally deprived those young people of varied, original, challenging and nourishing literature.

One of our first acts of compassion for these bright young people was to give them long reading lists of our favorite novels, short story collections, plays, and non-fiction works, as well as the names of hundreds of excellent writers and poets, most of those authors dead or just old. And for this simple gift of sharing the names of books and writers we admired, we were looked upon by our young peers as angels descended from heaven to end the vapidity of their cultural experiences.

Now that I am just old, I sometimes delude myself, just for fun, by imagining another totally neato renaissance happening in my lifetime. Or maybe, as a friend who is also just old opined, “The renaissance is always here, but like a whale, she dives deep for food and we can’t see her most of the time unless we happen to be watching when she comes up for air.”

Late Spring

June 10th, 2015

36 and Counting site

36 & COUNTING painting by Nolan Winkler

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

“No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.” Hal Borland

Nature brought us a treat two weeks ago, a young doe, resident to these woods we own a small part of, sauntered by the north-facing windows followed by two tiny fawns, their smallness amplifying their cuteness. Since then, the doe and her fawns have returned several times, the two babies larger each time, their movements ever more graceful and assured.

A couple days ago, I went strolling in our woods and unwittingly surprised the doe and fawns, the little ones leaping away with astonishing agility and speed, their mother standing between me and them and giving me a look that said, “My nest is near, please don’t come any closer.”

I think I know where her nest is, in a dense copse of thirty-year-old redwoods on the edge of our property, but I will not go looking there and risk permanently scaring her away. We made a decision when we bought this place to leave the land on the north side of our house as wild as can be so the deer and other critters will want to hang out there, and so far that seems to be the case.

“You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming.” Pablo Neruda

On the same day we first saw the fawns, I was sitting in my very high chair at my very high desk at which I sometimes stand to work, when something out my south-facing window caught the corner of my eye, and before I could turn to see what it was my brain fired off the word kitten, for the thing was small and gray and moving with the uneven gait of a baby cat just learning to trot. However, the thing was not a baby cat, but a baby opossum, and though I would not call the adult version of that animal cute, this baby was hella cute, compact and fluffy, the nose already Durante-like in proportion to the body, the tail just getting going in its growth to becoming long and thick, the little animal still more kitten-like than rat-like as are the adults, rat-like in a Dr. Seuss sort of way.

My enjoyment at seeing the baby opossum immediately turned to fear for the baby because our cat Django is a large, persistently hungry, skilled and ruthless killer of baby mammals, especially baby rabbits and baby rats, and I imagined this tiny marsupial would be just Django’s cup of tea, so to speak. So I leapt from my chair and dashed into the living room where I found the voracious beast sound asleep on his tuffet, and I breathed a sigh of relief, though the fact is opossum are a scourge of my vegetable garden, rooting as they do for earthworms in the well-nurtured soil. Go get him, Django!

“Spring being a tough act to follow, God created June.” Al Bernstein

We had a foggy cold May, germination in my vegetable garden pathetic, the baby plants remaining nascent and wimpy for weeks on end from lack of sunlight and warmth—neighbors and friends pale and gloomy and cranky and depressed. Humans, clearly, are solar-powered. Don’t forget to take your Vitamin D.

On the first of June I flipped the pages on our two wall calendars, and as if the weather spirits had been waiting for the name of the month to change, the fog vanished and the sun came out and has been out every day since then—our baby vegetables waking from their suspended animation and stretching their fog-beleaguered limbs to the great giver of life to say, “What took you so long?”

Now every day is like waking to the next frame of a time-lapse nature movie, tomato plants doubling in size overnight, dormant perennials bursting forth with colorful blooms, hummingbirds zipping around the garden in blissful hysteria, zealous bees working the clover, everybody making up for lost time— neighbors and friends rosy and cheerful and kind and effervescent, the gals in the post office giggling, the bank tellers ebullient, the high school girls half-naked again after a month of suffering under hoodies and leggings.

“Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love!” Sitting Bull

We denizens of Mendocino are used to fog and long stretches of foggy days, but May is not usually a foggy month here, not in the nine years I’ve lived here, and not in the experience of several old timers I queried about the odd weather. But one longtime resident, a student of redwood ecology, suggested that our especially foggy May was a reaction to the continuing drought and extreme heat gripping inland California.

To paraphrase him: there have been many droughts in the last several thousand years, some lasting decades and possibly centuries, yet the redwood forests survived. How did they do that without much rain? They survived because of fog, which is what occurs vastly and persistently when hot dry inland air meets the cooler moister ocean air. Redwoods steep in the fog that refreshes their thirsty foliage and coalesces into drops that fall into the spongy duff or trickle down the trunks into the root masses.

Does this mean many more foggy days lie ahead, more than usual? Will May be a foggy month again next year as the great drought persists? We shall see. In the meantime, June is doing a splendid imitation of May, the blackberry bushes between here and town are so dense with blossoms I can already taste the blackberry jam we’ll make from the bounty, and the apple trees seem to have enjoyed cool foggy May, their branches full of young fruit. Still, the ground is perilously dry and we will want to water our younger fruit trees deeply a couple times this summer if we can possibly spare the water.

LA Jewish Money

June 3rd, 2015

Goody, Red, and William

My Grandmother Goody with Red Skelton and William Bendix

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

“The argument that all Jews have a heartfelt investment in the state of Israel is untrue. Some have a heartfelt investment in corned beef sandwiches.” Judith Butler.

The Mendocino Film Festival took place these past two weekends and the little town was jumping with out-of-towners, some in the movie business, some wanting to be in the movie business, and some who enjoy watching movies on screens larger than postcards and wall calendars. Endemic rural funk collided with visiting urban slick, and being highly susceptible to ambivalent ambience, I avoided the commercial sector of town for most of the days the film festival was underway.

Didn’t I want to see the movies? Not really. The good documentaries are already, or soon will be, available to watch in the peaceful atmosphere of home, the fictional shorts shown at the festival are usually several years old and I’ve already seen the good ones, and listening to filmmakers pontificate about their creative processes makes my stomach gurgle, so no.

Which is not to say I don’t enjoy the film festival coming to town. I was involved in the movie business for several years in my salad days, and the vibe in the town when the film festival is underway brings back loads of good and bad memories from those tragi-comic years. For instance, on Saturday, in search of a good chicken to bake, I entered the Mendocino Market, a most excellent deli and sandwich shop across the street from the post office, and was greeted by an ambience I am deeply familiar with: LA Jewish Money.

I am Jewish, genetically speaking, and throughout my childhood I spent part of each summer with my Jewish grandparents, my mother’s parents, in Los Angeles. My grandparents were in the real estate business and many of their friends were in the real estate business and show business, those two enterprises conjoined since the birth of the film industry in Los Angeles in the early 1900’s. LA Jewish Money was the primary fuel of the American movie industry in the twentieth century, both in Los Angeles and New York. Indeed, LA (and New York) Jewish money has been the primary fuel for all of show business, with much of that money coming from the fantastic profits accrued from buying and selling and developing real estate in the greater Los Angeles area (and Manhattan and Miami.)

Thus long before I became professionally entangled with Hollywood, I had listened to and partaken of hundreds of conversations in which Jewish men and women discussed life and business with a vocabulary and style and energy that evolved over decades of first and second and third generation American Jews settling in Los Angeles to partake of the land and movie gold rush that made Los Angeles into the vast city state it is today. Jewish money financed most of the movie studios, record companies, Broadway plays, television networks, television shows, and magazine and book publishers in America from 1900 until today—Facebook and Google the inventions of smart Jewish boys.

“A story to me means a plot where there is some surprise. Because that is how life is—full of surprises.” Isaac Bashevis Singer

Which is to say, when I walked into the Mendocino Market and found myself in the midst of a dozen gregarious young Jewish men and women, the men overweight and excited and funny, the women stylish and clever and droll, the air rich with frying pastrami accompanying those Los Angeles movie peeps buying bushels of cookies and wine and beer and chips and potato salad and pickled herring to go with their sandwiches, everyone talking loud and fast and sarcastically, I not only understood everything they were saying to each other, I recognized these young Jewish movie people as the great grandchildren, figuratively speaking, of the cohorts of my Jewish grandparents.

“Jews have a tendency to become comedians.” Sacha Baron Cohen

So if Jewish movie people are so smart and funny, why are American movies today so uniformly stupid and unfunny and downright bad? I think the answer lies in the word business. Artists tend to have little or no interest in business. And most good artists who become big successes have a businessperson taking care of business for them. If you are of my generation, you will remember when Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro were major goddesses in the record business, but you may not know it was David Geffen who managed their careers and gave them the wherewithal to succeed. Business. LA Jewish Money.

Ergo: a good movie is a work of art, but the people in charge of financing and producing movies are concerned with profitability, not art. Thus a good movie is both a work of art and a miracle to emerge intact from the meat grinder of the ultra-commercial uncreative imitative movie business. This, I think, is the greatest irony about the movie industry and American culture in general. Smart people, very smart people, are responsible for the flood of dreck and mediocrity that is our culture today. Or maybe it isn’t so much ironic as tragic and pathetic and annoying.

“Jews don’t care about ancient rivalries. We worry about humidity in Miami.” Evan Sayet

When Dick Donner, born Richard Schwartzberg, was directing the movie of my novel Inside Moves, he kindly allowed me to hang out on the set in Echo Park in Los Angeles for a week during the shooting. While I was there they filmed several scenes lifted unchanged from my novel, and one of those scenes was an emotional tour de force performed by the gifted actors Amy Wright and David Morse.

At scene’s end, the spellbound crew and cast members and show biz visitors to the set burst into applause and the air was filled with shouts of Bravo, to which Donner responded by slowly shaking his head and saying, “Not if we want to get a distributor.”

Because the name of the game is show business, not show art.

Lost To Time

May 27th, 2015

Compound India ink on paper by Nolan Winkler

Compound drawing by Nolan Winkler

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

“Our soul is cast into a body, where it finds number, time, dimension. Thereupon it reasons, and calls this nature necessity, and can believe nothing else.” Blaise Pascal

We just watched the movie Wild based on a memoir by a woman, played in the movie by Reese Witherspoon, who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail through California and Oregon to overcome her anger and sorrow about her mother’s death, and to end her addiction to heroin and frequent rough sex with nasty strangers. If ever a movie was made to convince people, especially women, never to go backpacking, this is that movie. From the beginning of her hike until the finish, a terrified Witherspoon runs a gauntlet of small-brained rapist alcoholics, though before she hit the trail she couldn’t get enough of those guys. If you enjoy stilted dialogue, confusing flashbacks, uninspiring views of wilderness, and a cute woman groaning as she hikes and flees from small-brained rapist alcoholics, you’ll love this movie.

“People today are still living off the table scraps of the sixties. They are still being passed around—the music and the ideas.” Bob Dylan

In the summer of 1965, when I was fifteen, I went on a backpack trip with my fifteen-year-old pals Pierre and Nathan. Pierre’s parents drove us from Menlo Park to the end of Palo Colorado Canyon Road in Big Sur, we bid them adieu, and spent five glorious days hiking through the rugged wilderness to Pfeiffer Big Sur Sate Park.

Emerging from the wilds at the end of Day Five, we hitchhiked north from Pfeiffer about ten miles to a place named something I can find no reference to on contemporary maps or in descriptions of the Big Sur coast, all traces of the racist moniker lost to time. This rare piece of flat land on a coastline of steep slopes held a farmhouse and outbuildings inhabited by scruffy men and women, dirty children, cats, dogs, and chickens.

Why did we go there? Because Pierre was hot on the trail of Sheila, sixteen, who lived in the farmhouse with her mother Joan, the boss of the place. Joan was six-foot-five, curvaceous, muscular, and drop dead gorgeous. She had two other children on the premises, an eleven-year-old son Brian, already six-feet-tall, and a four-year-old daughter Desiree. She also had two husbands living with her, twin brothers with dreamy smiles and neatly trimmed beards, both a foot shorter than Joan.

Joan told us she was throwing a big party that night and we were welcome to partake. Shortly thereafter Pierre vanished with Sheila, many more scruffy men and women arrived, and wreaths of cannabis smoke graced the air. Sensing my unease, Joan’s very tall eleven-year-old son Brian said he would take us to an ideal camping spot far from the madding crowd.

“But first have some food,” said Brian, wise beyond his years.

So Nathan and I stayed for spaghetti and meatballs and cucumber salad, but eschewed the marijuana-infused desserts, mescaline punch, and LSD. Brian then led us up a steep track to flat ground high above the farm. Fog rolled in, darkness fell, and having hiked twenty miles that day, we crawled into our bags and slept like logs for twelve hours.

Waking to a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean sparkling in the morning sun, we hiked down to the farm to get Pierre and make our way north to Carmel where Nathan’s mother would meet us and take us home.

We found the place a trampled mess and Joan in the kitchen, inspiringly topless, making scrambled eggs. When we asked where Pierre was she said, “He’s with Frank in Carmel.”

She wrote Frank’s address on a scrap of paper and Nathan and I set off hiking north along Highway One where not a single car went by in either direction for what seemed like hours. Finally a badly wheezing Datsun stopped for us and the longhaired driver asked, “You at Joan’s party last night? I can’t believe I missed it.”

He then gave us a vivid secondhand account of the party at which, his source reported, a renowned LSD chemist shared his finest with famous writers and musicians and everyone else, the mescaline was mythic, everyone had sex with everyone, and mass enlightenment ensued.

Our ride ended in Carmel Highlands from where we hitched into Carmel proper and called Nathan’s mother from a pay phone, her estimated arrival time four hours.

We had no trouble finding Frank’s house, but we had trouble with Frank. A sallow fellow with lank hair, he stood defiantly in his doorway proclaiming, “Pierre is ill and going to be living with me from now.” He explained that while tripping together, he and Pierre had discovered a deep cosmic affinity spanning many past and future lives.

Returning to central Carmel sans Pierre, Nathan and I were photographed by dozens of tourists who felt certain we two filthy teenagers with backpacks must be that new kind of human they’d heard so much about: the hippy.

Nathan’s mother arrived, we drove with her to Frank’s house, and when Frank tried to stop Nathan’s usually mild-mannered mom from rescuing Pierre, she shouted, “He’s fifteen! You want to go to prison for a very long time?”

So Frank allowed us to collect Pierre and we rode home with our comrade lying comatose in the back of the station wagon. Two days later, Pierre told me he remembered having sex with Sheila, but thereafter everything was a blur, which was probably a good thing.

Seven years later, in 1972, I told this story to a hippy guy from Big Sur. He knew Joan’s place by the name of which there is no record today, and he told me that party was now legend and considered by many people to be the Beginning of Everything.

Nowadays, circa 2015, most of the inhabitants of Carmel and Big Sur are wealthy non-hippies—the politically incorrect place names from olden times erased to expunge the grunge, and oh Kerouac was it ever grungy at Joan’s place in 1965.