Archive for June, 2009

Under the Table Books

Friday, June 19th, 2009

The Awesome Potential of Word-Of-Mouth

I have just published my magnum opus Under the Table Books. Were I a member of the cultural elite of this or any other nation, Under the Table Books would now be the talk of the international literary scene, translation rights would be selling like hotcakes, A-list movie stars and directors would be vying to collaborate with me on screenplays for a trilogy of record-breaking films based on the novel, and downloads of the audio book would be shattering records and straining the capacity of the internet.

But I’m not a member of the cultural elite. Within the framework of the linear logic of the human realm, the probability of Under the Table Books garnering even a single review in a lunatic fringe alternative weekly is close to zero. Indeed, within the framework of the linear logic of the human realm the probability of any recognition for Under the Table Books beyond a small circle of friends and fans is virtually zero. And yet…

The book exists and is well wrought and heartily touted by authors of credibility and renown. Dozens of copies have gone out into the world. People have read and are reading the book. The tiny consensus so far is that the book is a marvel, a treasure, a page-turning gem of remarkable originality. So I ask you, why shouldn’t word spread from one human being to another that Under the Table Books (with beguiling illustrations by the author) is a work of genius, a harbinger of a sexy humorous thrilling future for material minimalists and the mystically inclined, a phoenix rising from the ashes (compost?) of a literary scene that started rotting the day the multinationals bought up all the New York publishers, a monumental work of creative tenderness destined to change the course of art and love and human society, a singular achievement of wholly original visionary Yes!?

No reason at all. And here’s the most beautiful part of all. You can be at the forefront of this seminal shift in the cosmic flux. Yes, you. Imagine getting a copy of Under the Table Books, reading it cover-to-cover, relishing every word, every turn of phrase, every nuance, every dizzying run of words, and being joyfully overwhelmed and excited and positively transformed. Imagine yourself calling or writing to not one but all your friends and relatives and telling them that you have just had an experience akin to seeing God, flirting with Him, bedding Her, and experiencing the literary equivalent of an amazingly long and totally groovy orgasm or multiple orgasms that leave(s) you refreshed and inspired and happy, deeply happy, for the first time since, well…ever!

Now imagine that all your friends and family members, including people who haven’t read an actual book in eons, imagine all of them reading the book, loving it, and telling all their friends and family members that they, too, have just had a juicy and mysterious and transcendent experience every bit as thrilling and life-affirming and life-changing as any experience they have ever had.

You see where I’m going with this? In a matter of no time (in geologic time anyway) Under the Table Books could very well become the literary sensation of the century! And you could be one of the founding mothers or fathers or sisters or brothers of that sensation. You. Wow.

Or not. For within the framework of the totality of all universal principles (most of these natural laws unknown to us) and the instantaneously reactive and impeccably comprehensively wise universe, Under the Table Books may not be in line for such enormous public notoriety. There’s truly no telling what may happen with anything, let alone my latest novel.

But we do know that Universe Nature God wanted Under the Table Books to be birthed, and birthed she is—a beautiful baby, indeed. And I, as proud parent, say sincerely, “It is my extreme pleasure to introduce Under the Table Books to you.”

Myriad Blessings and Thanks,

Todd

I Will Play Chico

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

I Will Play Chico

a cinematic poem

I want to make a movie, a modern variant of the Marx Brothers.

My brother will play Groucho, you will play Harpo, and I will

play Chico. The movie is a classic comedy mystery chase love

story. We race around being ourselves in myriad situations—

basketball games, delicatessens, hardware stores, museums

pizza parlors, schools, post offices, gas stations, taquerias,

coffee houses, traffic jams, ice cream parlors, prisons,

art galleries, trains, psychotherapists’ offices, hotels

noodle joints, laundromats, sporting goods stores,

bistros, police stations, zoos, churches, houses,

hotels, corporate headquarters, jungles—

and everywhere we go we encounter

men who are so outraged by our

being ourselves they will stop

at nothing to try to kill us.

Now and then during the movie we take time out from being

pursued by these outraged men to perform for gleeful

audiences of women and children and a few unusual

men who are not enraged by our being ourselves;

and during these breaks in the chase, I play

the piano, you play the harp, and my

brother strums a ukulele. We read

poems, sing soulful songs, tell

funny, poignant stories, and

paint lovely pictures of a

tender new society free

of cruelty and jealousy.

In the end we are captured and jailed and charged with

the crime of being ourselves. The trial takes place in a

spooky courtroom presided over by a judge wearing

a mask and hood. We are sentenced to death and

are about to be executed when all the women

and children and a few unusual men we’ve

met along our way rise up to save us.

And in a fabulous song and dance

finale, the men who wanted to kill

us for being ourselves wake from

their trances and understand

that without us they would

have nothing to hope for.

Todd Walton

audiobooks available

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Audiobook editions of two of Todd’s works, Inside Moves and Buddha in a Teacup, are now available for sale and download at Audible.com. Now, you can hear these books in their entirety and in Todd’s own voice.

Think

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

(This piece was originally published in the Anderson Valley Advertiser under the title “John Trudell and Me”)

John Trudell made an appearance at the Caspar Community Center a few weeks ago. I have listened to his provocative CD DNA a number of times, and I have admired him in the movies Thunderheart, Smoke Signals, and most recently as Coyote in Dreamkeeper. His impromptu 90-minute talk reiterated much of what he says on DNA, with one fabulous (for me) digression about Obama. This digression stated almost word-for-word what I have been saying to people for some months now, but coming from Trudell such intuitive analysis was greeted with applause rather than the snorts of derision that tend to greet my elucidations of “what’s really going on here.”

Trudell is big on thinking. As he says again and again, when we’re believing, we’re not thinking. When we limit ourselves to believing something, we close our minds to the possibility that the thing we believe in may have changed or disappeared. Trudell is skeptical that we have a democracy in America. If we believe we have a democracy, we will be closed to the possibility that we never had a democracy or that our democracy may be swiftly turning into something else.

In his digression about Obama, Trudell asked us to consider the possibility that Obama was installed as president by the ruling elite to further their ongoing agenda, just as Bill Clinton was crowned in order to complete the stalled works of his predecessor George the First. These works included the passage of NAFTA, the dismantling of Welfare and other aspects of the social safety net, the hastening of deregulation (of everything), and the demolition of unions. Trudell did not say what he thought Obama was installed to do, but he asked us to think of the economic meltdown and the government response to it as part of a larger plan, a plan that is working precisely as it is intended to work. He does not think the meltdown and the ensuing breakdown of our local and state governments are merely the repercussions of “some bankers making mistakes.” He thinks the overlords have installed Obama to oversee the next steps of their plan, though he did not specify what he thought those steps might be.

So I’ve been thinking about everything with new zeal, feeling validated by Trudell, and this morning my wife Marcia said something that crystallized much of what I’ve been thinking about. We were talking about the seemingly moronic proposal by the governator and his Republican minions to close our state parks. Such a plan makes no economic sense in the short or long term. It will hurt low-income vacationers. It will hurt local economies nurtured by state park use. And, Marcia said, it sets the stage for the privatization of the parks.

Think. All those wonderful state parks left unattended. Here come the armies of the newly impoverished to squat therein. What can be done? Call out the gendarmes. No gendarmes available due to budget cuts? Call out the National Guard and then privatize the parks. Lease them for, oh, a hundred years to private companies who will manage/protect them with private security forces. Entry fees will have to be exclusively high and those entering cannot be on any list of any sort of suspect. And then to pay for all this (to protect the park for future generations, of course) luxury homes must be built, tennis courts and a golf courses installed, with chic bistros riverside and lakeside and oceanside so the campers/residents won’t have to travel beyond the walls to dine. There will, of course, be high walls encircling the enclaves, er, parks. Far fetched?

Not at all. Consider the latest leaks reported in the mass media. It now appears Obama won’t have enough support in Congress, even among Democrats (imagine that?) to include a public option in any healthcare proposal. In which case, the healthcare situation will worsen and create more recruits for the army of the poor, as will the firing of eighteen thousand California public school teachers, a firing that will leave most inner city schools in California understaffed and essentially unmanageable, except as de facto jails. Oh, yes, and Obama himself has just announced he wants to cut over 300 billion dollars from Medicare and Medicaid, thus impoverishing many thousands more.

Meanwhile, there’s no budget shortfall for the military. In the absence of decent paying jobs, military recruiters are swamped with volunteers and we are swiftly growing a huge and robust military for wars abroad and quelling unrest at home.

As Trudell said several times during his talk, “I’m crazy, okay. I’m just talking. I don’t know anything. I’m just saying…think.”

School just got out for the summer, the kids shouting their goodbyes from the school bus trundling through Mendocino. And a year from now, school, what’s left of it, will be getting out again. If you believe the economy and our schools will be better than they are now because the experts on NPR and in the mainstream media say the economy seems to be stabilizing and a recovery is on the way, you are, to quote John Trudell, not thinking.

Going After Nathan (a short story)

Friday, June 5th, 2009

            My mother tells people I’m in the insurance business, which is certainly true, though not in the way most people think of insurance. The one time I was arrested and prosecuted for assault, the district attorney called me a two-bit hoodlum. The man spoke from a place of extreme ignorance, for I am neither a hoodlum, nor two-bit. And if you interviewed the people who pay me a little something each month, you’d find them all quite satisfied with my services.

            In the neighborhood where I currently reside, and which prior to my arrival was plagued by robberies, vandalism, drug dealing, graffiti, and litter, there has been a drop to almost zero in all categories of crime. What the cops couldn’t do in thirty years, I did in six months, and I’ve kept the peace here for five years. Established businesses have flourished, new businesses have opened, house prices have skyrocketed, and the area is now considered one of the hippest spots in the entire metropolitan area.

            How did I accomplish this? I became a tax paying resident of the neighborhood and introduced myself to the citizenry by frequent and consistent visibility in the business sector, otherwise known as the village. Through my demeanor and actions, I demonstrated my muscle, in the larger sense of that word, and then I discretely informed business owners of the services I was prepared to provide for a reasonable percentage of their profits. And most importantly, I gained the respect of the citizenry by swiftly dispatching the most troublesome local miscreants.

            I am, in essence, the privatization of law and order. Indeed, I am so effective, new businesses tend to sign up with me before I have to make my sales pitch. The word-of-mouth on me around here is nothing but good. Even the real estate agents give me a cut when they make a sale.

            To what end, you ask, am I working? Surely I’m not merely collecting a few bucks from every player. Surely I’m dealing drugs or infecting the community in some other way. Surely I’m a criminal worthy of your contempt. Yet here are testimonials to the contrary.

            Ben of Ben’s Bagels wrote and posted the following flyer on the front door of his establishment. I did not ask him to do so. This was a spontaneous act of gratitude. “Thank God for Herb. Before he moved here, I had my windows smashed every couple of months, sometimes twice a month. I was robbed at gunpoint three times. People were afraid to come into this part of town. The cops couldn’t do a thing. Now I’m finally making a decent living and the neighborhood is a Mecca. People come from all over to hang out here. It’s a dream come true.”

            Mr. Liu of Good Tea effused to my superiors, “Oh, Herb. The best. We used to keep door lock. Business bad. Now we open all time. Have new garden in back with fountain. People all come. Better make reservations on Saturday and Sunday. Very big crowds come.”

            As I said, I work on a percentage basis. Ben started paying me next to nothing. Now I make a grand a month from him, a grand he’s happy to part with because he clears ten times that now. I, in turn, give half the take to my umbrella organization, and another quarter to my employees. The rest is mine.

            What we have determined, my organization and I, is that the elimination of crime is by far the most profitable use of this sector of the city. We had more trouble with the police about this than with the various so-called criminal elements. Nowadays the police have absolutely nothing to do around here except hassle me. Ironic, no?

            My father, who died a broken man trying to live by the laws of a society that spits on his kind of decency, used to say, “I wouldn’t mind paying high taxes if the money went for anything I could believe in. But it all goes for war and to pad the pockets of the rich.”

            Well, I guarantee you the money people pay me goes to things they not only believe in, but to things essential to their safety and well-being and success. And when business is not so good, I am far more understanding and forgiving than any bank would ever be. I’m here. I see what goes on day to day. The cops don’t live here. The bankers don’t live here. I live here. These are my neighbors. As Jacqueline at New Dawn Books likes to say, “You’re our samurai, Herb. Blessings on you.”

            Which is not to say it’s all a honeymoon. When Rambling Rose Nursery is jammed with people all weekend long and Carl says he can’t pay me because he’s not making any money, I take him for a little walk. I make a little speech. That usually suffices. If not, gates forget to be locked, things disappear, something goes wrong with his truck. Suddenly, he has money for me.

            Or we get some bad boys cruising the area, looking to sell some dope. We usually can handle the situation ourselves, but if we identify a larger force behind the dealers, we refer things to my manager and he makes the appropriate calls on our behalf. That usually does the trick. If not, we might tip the cops to what’s going on. And if they’re not interested, maybe then, and only then does someone have to get hurt. We do not like to use guns. But since every punk and psycho goes heavily armed now, it is sometimes a necessity to reveal our hardware.

            I tell you all this as background to the story of Nathan, who works for me. A good boy, recruited locally, with great potential, Nathan is tall, handsome, a former football player, an avid reader, and a decent amateur guitarist. When I first met Nathan he was dealing pot to high school kids, walking around in crummy clothes, and calling anybody driving a new car a fascist. He smoked more dope than he sold and unquestionably contributed to the highly negative atmosphere permeating our village.

            For my first few months here, however, Nathan was of little concern to me. I had to shut down a large meth lab run by some extremely unfriendly chemists. I had to persuade five well-entrenched meth dealers to leave the area, and I had to establish working relationships with local business owners—all of them highly suspicious of me at the outset. And my most arduous task was getting the frigging cops off my back so I could operate with some impunity.

            Meth almost always involves larger forces than its local manifestation, and this is where my umbrella organization with its extensive resources and highly placed connections comes in handy. Compensatory deals are made when possible, and failing there, expeditionary forces are deployed to remove impediments with as little public fuss as possible.

            The meth lab, for instance, employed sixteen people, seven of whom were unwilling to voluntarily relocate out of the area. These seven individuals are no longer with us. Yet not a whisper of their disappearance reached the police or the press. I was present for the elimination process, and though I am not a fan of violence, I must admit I found the silent efficiency of the strike a thing of terrible beauty.

            The dealers left by command of their superiors. Their fates are largely unknown to me. I say ‘largely’ because I know where one of them is—he works for me. The other four, I assume, have gone to jail, to their maker, or to street corners elsewhere. The two crack houses in the vicinity both mysteriously burned down.

            And so as my attention turned to the punks and petty criminals, Nathan became a larger concern to me. He avoided me at first, but eventually we had a little talk outside the bagel shop. I told him, among other things, that I had no objection to him dealing pot, but I would not allow him to continue selling to minors. Nor would I tolerate his continued public belligerence. It was bad for business. If he wanted to carry out his trade in a quiet, discreet, professional way, pay me the requisite commission, and behave himself in public, he would find me smiling favorably on him. If not, fate might prove cruel.

            He called me a fascist, but I knew he was impressed by me. Nathan appreciates confident people. His parents are wimpy intellectuals who’ll do anything to avoid conflict and nothing to resolve it. Everyone in the neighborhood was aware that I was the force driving the local renaissance, and this fact was deeply intriguing to Nathan. I appeared to be a throwback—I have a penchant for the oversized clothes of the 1930’s—and I speak as I write. I don’t waste time. I’m effective.

            So he tested me. He continued to deal to minors and the engine of his Toyota froze up. He went into Heidi’s Flower Shoppe and called her a fascist, and when he came out, some crazy street person hit him in the nose. Broke it. When he got home, his stash was gone.

            Then, because Nathan was extremely naive, he confronted me on the sidewalk in front of Ben’s Bagels. He is, as I said, tall and muscular and young. I am middle-aged and stout. However, I have black belts in two complimentary schools of karate. I waited for Nathan to make the first move—he shoved me—and then I cracked his rib, making sure not to break one that might injure his heart.

            He disappeared for several weeks. My clients were universally appreciative. Business was picking up. I eliminated several other sources of drugs flowing to the school kids and dealt decisively with the graffiti issue. Indeed, I had almost forgotten about Nathan when he drove by and took a shot at me. I saw him coming, sensed his intention, and ducked into Jerry’s Shoe Repair—the bullet shattering Jerry’s front window.

            In my early days with the organization, I would have immediately hunted Nathan down and killed him. But age has endowed me with a modicum of wisdom. Murder is messy and should always be avoided until every other option has been exhausted. Besides, Nathan embodied precisely what my organization looks for in a recruit: strength, determination, intelligence, and charm. Nathan, for all his shortcomings, was charming.

            With Jerry’s cooperation, I put the cops onto Nathan. The poor kid was about to be sentenced to seven years in the slammer for aggravated assault (he had a previous arrest for dealing dope) when my organization intervened on his behalf. All charges were dropped and he came crawling to me with his tail between his legs.

            Nathan has worked diligently for me for four years now. I consider him my right hand man. He has taken to wearing overlarge clothes from the 1930’s, too, though he likes his suits darker than mine. He drives a vintage 1957 Chevrolet, light blue with a white top. He sells pot to an older crowd, securing his weed from three local growers we have excellent relations with. These growers are, after all, no different from any of the other business folks in the area, except the Feds consider their product illegal.

            My organization likes to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit, so as long as Nathan does what I require of him, and he pays me twenty per cent of his profits, he can have any side business he wants so long as it does not conflict with our larger purpose.

            And now we come to the fulcrum of this tale. My operation, as I knew it would, has proven extremely lucrative. Whenever this happens, upper management, as in every bureaucracy, takes special notice. Along with commendations and rewards, including a celebratory junket to Paris (in April no less), an audit was conducted.

            Our kind of audit is not to be confused with an IRS audit. Hardly. My books are already checked on a weekly basis. Even the slightest error can bring a reprimand. No, an audit in our organization means that my district is visited, studied in great detail, and evaluated by a team of savvy upper echelon types. They report to management, and then management consults with me, after which decisions are made about what changes, if any, are to be implemented.

            The maximization of profitability without jeopardizing long-range stability is the foundational rule by which my organization functions and flourishes. And so when it was determined that my village is now sufficiently crime-free and has become a powerful magnet for affluent pleasure seekers, certain adjunct cash producing ventures were to be skillfully introduced into the scheme of things.

            I made the case that it might be too soon to make any large changes. I suggested waiting another year. I was lauded for my caution—the high-ups like that in a district manager—but it was nevertheless decided that a dozen high-class female escorts would be introduced into the social whirl of my purview. They should appear to be self-employed artists and live three to a house, the purchase and renovation of which I will oversee.

            Secondly, a high-end liquor and wine shop will be opened next to Green Leaf Natural Foods, featuring organic wine and booze costing three times what spirits cost in the less ritzy parts of town.

            Thirdly, and always highly problematic for me, is that the percentage I take from my clients shall be increased from eleven to fourteen percent.

            The final change is that I have been assigned a new right hand man, an up-and-coming young guy who needs a year under a seasoned manager before being given his own district. It was further determined that Nathan must either enter the employ of the larger organization and go through the requisite training, or I’ll have to cut him loose.

             When I informed Nathan of this fork in our road, he said he needed time to think. He said he would let me know on Monday, but Monday arrived and I had no word from him. That was four days ago. My new man arrives tomorrow. There is enormous pressure on me to find Nathan and resolve the situation before he reveals—either intentionally or unintentionally—the details of our operation here. That he has not kept his word to me requires that I have what my organization calls a Serious Discussion with him (once I locate him) followed by his having an even more serious discussion with two of my superiors. If, at the end of these discussions he is deemed untrustworthy, he must be eliminated.

            If I don’t find Nathan by tomorrow, I must inform my boss of that fact, and Nathan’s fate—his end—will be sealed. This is the hard side of the business, though one could make the argument it’s no harder than any of the pre-industrial initiation rites a boy underwent to become a man. He had to be tested severely. He had to prove himself brave enough to assume the responsibilities of manhood.

            I have left messages for Nathan with Ben, with Jerry, with Liu, with everyone in the neighborhood. I have searched for him. I have made him the number one priority of my life because I like him, and because I’m concerned about him, and I want the people of my district to know how I feel. I may even have jeopardized my position here by so obviously seeking Nathan—for if he disappears will I not be suspect?

            What makes this all the more poignant for me is that it echoes my own experience when I was Nathan’s age. I was majoring in Anthropology at a good college. I was eager to succeed. My professors said I showed great promise. Then my father died and my mother, who was very ill, along my little brother and sister, were evicted from their house and became instant paupers. I, of course, had to leave school and find work to support them.

            The state, the so-called protector of its citizens, had already destroyed my father, and now it was hell-bent on finishing off my helpless mother and siblings. I took two full-time jobs, but when I still couldn’t make enough for us to live on, I started selling weed and liquor to my former college pals and their friends. Soon my family had enough money to get by. I even started putting money away with the intention of buying back my mother’s house.

            But then I was arrested and sent to prison. I fought for my life. I fought to keep from being raped. I fought and fought, but finally understood that to fight alone was futile. So I allied myself with a man allied with other men, and when I got out, finding no so-called legitimate employment for the likes of me—none—and my mother in terrible straits, I made a call to a friend of my prison allies. And the very next day I was contacted by a recruiter. A month later, I joined the organization. Three years after that, I had to kill somebody or be killed.

            I did not want this to be my life. Oh, I’ve heard the pundits say we have a choice. I’ve heard countless stories of people climbing out of the gutter and succeeding in the so-called legal way. And I say to them, “I know your legal way and it tramples the weak.”

            My organization doesn’t hound widows out of their homes. The state does. My organization doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t. The state does.

            Nathan is like so many people in this hypocritical culture. He wants to believe that if he acts a certain way, looks a certain way, speaks a certain way, things will work out for him. Granted, there was a time when for a particular class of people this may have been true. But it is no longer the case.

            Nathan knows this. He knows his choice is to become a timid rabbit who survives by keeping a low-profile and scraping by on the margins, or to become a strong wolf who survives by joining the pack, proving himself in the hunt, and taking by cunning and strength what he needs to survive and thrive.

            He has lived as a rabbit, and now he has tasted the life of the wolf, but only tasted it. I have sat in his house listening to him strum his guitar and sing his plaintive love songs. I have walked on the beach with him and gotten drunk with him and chased women with him. I have watched him grow out of his sullen, self-defeating persona into a young man of promise. But does he have the courage to test himself in the greater world without me?

            In many ways, he’s the son I never had, the son I always wanted. But for all the tender feelings he inspires in me—hope and admiration and love—I know if I am to be a good parent I must release him with no great fanfare, no sentimentality. Truth is the finest gift we can give anyone—the truth about this life, this hard hard life, which is ultimately sad and too short, but full of beauty if we are open to it, if we are not afraid to acknowledge the presence and necessity of death.

            So to finish my story that is an echo of Nathan’s, on the day before I was supposed to do the job—take somebody out—I ran away. I got in my car and drove fast for the border. But something made me stop and walk out into the desert. I took off my clothes and lay down in the sand and waited for the answer to my question, “What should I do?”

            After many hours, after a huge snake crawled over my belly, after the windblown sand scraped my skin raw, after the sun traversed the sky and left me burned, after my mind was empty of fear, empty of thought, the answer came. “Do what is best for the greater community.”

            “The what?” I asked, not sure I’d heard correctly. “The greater what?”

            “Do what is best for the greater community.”

            And that’s what I’ve done. You may say I’m delusional, that I’m merely making excuses for the inexcusable, but I know what I heard, and I know what I do. Every morning before I get out of bed, I ask myself, ‘Is my community better today because of what I did yesterday?’

            So Nathan, listen to me. When I can’t answer, ‘Yes, our community is better today because of what I did yesterday,’ I’ll take myself out. 

 

 

Outer World

Friday, June 5th, 2009

 

Marcia and I just returned from three weeks in the outer world. We gave nine house concerts, two bookstore performances, and visited a couple dozen bookstores from Mendocino all the way to Lummi Island, Washington and back, with layovers in Arcata, Coos Bay, Astoria, Seattle, Bellingham, Port Townsend, Portland, Medford, Ashland, and Sacramento. Our concerts were a mix of guitar/cello duets, cello solos, songs, and short stories. We had audiences as large as fifty, as small as five. Since I rarely go anywhere outside of the Big River watershed, this was a monumental and highly stressful journey for me. For Marcia it was pure fun.

Here are some of the things I discovered en route.

1. Nearly all the independent bookstores that don’t have some sort of café component are going out of business. Astoria’s most popular bookstore is a commodious joint called Godfather’s, a kind of coffee saloon with books surrounding an enormous bar, and Village Books in Bellingham has a great café above the store that keeps the cash flowing when book sales falter.

2. Bookstore owners tend to be highly suspicious of authors hawking their own books, especially books not published by multi-national corporations i.e. the New York houses. This preference for mainstream guck strikes me as ironic, but then again bookstores have to carry what they think people want to buy, and people usually want to buy what the multi-national corporations promote through their strictly controlled mass media.

3. The New York Times Bestseller List is owned by Barnes & Noble, and Barnes & Noble decides which books go on the list.

4. The economic meltdown is happening in a big way in Oregon and Washington. We drove through many neighborhoods in small towns and large towns where half the houses had For Sale signs out front, often with the asking price affixed to the sign.

5. As you drive through Oregon and Washington, whether on the coast highway or the interstate freeway, clear cuts are everywhere to be seen. Whole mountains are scraped clean of their forests, then sprayed with horrible poisons to kill all life save for the kind of tree the lumber companies want to grow back on the scraped land. These poisons are then washed by the copious rains into the soil and rivers, rendering most of Oregon and Washington highly toxic, however green and bucolic the countryside appears.

6. One wonders what all the talk of the Greening of America means in the real world. Seattle and Portland are both obscenely oversized and dysfunctional urban areas with no thoughtful planning evident, and the outlying areas of these overpopulated cities are wastelands of auto-centric sameness. We looked for but found little evidence of green or solar anything except in extremely affluent neighborhoods.

7. Many towns throughout Oregon, Washington, and California only have chain stores. Talk about ugly and depressing. In some towns there are official Historic Districts, and therein one might find a few non-chain stores, an actual bookstore (as opposed to a mirage), and possibly a non-Starbucks coffee house. Historic means Before the Chains destroyed America.

8. In small towns everywhere, often in the absence of any other sort of food-getting place, stand little buildings offering drive-thru coffee and stale cookies and/or biscotti. These diminutive buildings are called variously: Drive-Thru Espresso, Espresso Depot, Espresso Express, Espresso Stop, Espresso Unlimited, Espresso Extreme, etc. Time and again we would see these boxcar-like structures and realize they were very possibly the cultural apexes of the towns we were driving through.

9. Cell phones make of the world a surreal place. We do not have a cell phone, and so in order to make phone calls to friends we had to find pay phones. The surest bet to find a pay phone is at an official rest area on the interstate. Otherwise, pay phones are a vanishing breed. On a number of occasions I asked people where we might find a pay phone, and it was as if I had asked them to succinctly elucidate the meaning of life.

10. At these official rest areas along the interstate in Washington, free coffee is provided to weary travelers. The coffee we sampled at two of these rest areas had to be the worst coffee I have ever tasted. I would not have known it was coffee if they hadn’t said it was coffee. Perhaps this is intentional so people will be inclined to patronize Espresso boxcars.

11. You cannot pump your own gas in Oregon. This provides thousands of jobs for surly men and women who would otherwise be fired for surliness from some other job.

12. No one seemed to notice that we were gone for three weeks. It seemed to me we were gone for several months, but not a single person said, “Where have you been?” or “Haven’t seen you in a while.” This, perhaps, is the most important thing I learned from our odyssey. That no matter how profound my personal experiences, no matter how enormous the changes wrought on my psyche and spirit by all the incredible things that happened to us, no one really cares.

13. And why should they? The world is large. Humans are everywhere, and it is the rare human who doesn’t make a mess of things upon this fragile earth. Cars and television and cell phones and computers have separated us from the earth, and the evidence of that separation was everywhere as we traveled from here to Canada and back.

14. Is there hope for the future? Sure. Why not?

Todd’s book Buddha In A Teacup just won the 2009 National Indie Award for Excellence in Short Story Fiction.