Archive for August, 2010

Revenooers

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

“What at first was plunder assumed the softer name of revenue.” Thomas Paine

A mile inland from Highway One, the Comptche-Ukiah Road becomes a two-mile straightaway traversing rolling hills of pine and huckleberry and manzanita. There are no speed limit signs on this straightaway, no reminders of the legal maximum, and this absence of warnings combined with the sudden end to constrictive curves at either end of the straightaway tempts many a driver to go really fast.

The house we rent is set back a hundred yards from the straightaway, the sounds of passing cars and motorcycles muffled by intervening trees, with traffic after midnight rare. Of late, the California Highway Patrol has been a daily presence on the straightaway, the rise and fall of the road over hill and dale creating a perfect spot mid-straightaway for a CHP vehicle to sit by the side of the road and snag the unwary zoomster. This turnout is invisible from either direction until just before you come upon the gravel outlay, and by then there is simply no denying how fast you’re going.

I have lived on the straightaway for five years now, and this is the first time in my residency that the state gendarmes have roosted here so frequently. Whatever for? “The primary mission of the California Highway Patrol is the management and regulation of traffic to achieve safe, lawful, and efficient use of the highway transportation system.” Oh, really? Then why post one and sometimes two officers and their expensive chariots day after day on this lightly traveled country road far from the madding crowd? Surely these centurions are needed more desperately elsewhere? Isn’t the state bankrupt? Aren’t services being cut and curtailed everywhere? What’s all the fuss about a road that carries almost no one anywhere? I’ll tell you what’s the fuss: revenue.

When I lived in Sacramento, I had a neighbor who worked for the California Highway Patrol. He did not drive a patrol car, but toiled in the hive of the vast bureaucracy supporting the army of thousands of road warriors employed in managing the aftermaths of collisions, assisting folks lost and stranded on our highways, and bringing in boatloads of revenue to feed the ravenous coffers of the state.

My neighbor, a forklift operator in a CHP warehouse, arrived home from his job every day at 5:19, save for Fridays when he would stop for drinks at a local bar favored by patrolmen and their ilk. I know this because I was often in my garden when my neighbor emerged from his battered Volkswagen, gazed fondly at his faux Rolex, and Monday through Thursday proclaimed, “5:19 on the nose.” We would exchange pleasantries, and he would sometimes say, “Watch your speed this weekend. Big quota increase came down this morning.” Translation: patrolmen have been ordered to greatly increase the number of speeding tickets they issue.

Thus I imagine the current generals of the CHP receiving the orders from their desperate higher ups to command their buccaneers to go forth and bag whatever galleons come their way, and make no mistake about it, bagging speeders is the only reason the CHP is lurking on the Comptche-Ukiah straightaway. Drivers beware.

“The only difference between a taxman and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin.” Mark Twain

These daily sightings of black and white pursuit vehicles put me in mind of those other government revenooers, the valiant auditors of the Internal Revenue Service. I have been audited twice in the course of my long and genteel pauperdom, both audits triggered by dramatic (a relative term) spikes in my income resulting from movie options of now ancient novels, spikes that lifted me for shimmering moments into a realm where my government gleefully claimed half my earnings, as opposed to this more familiar realm I occupy where I barely make enough to tax at any rate.

I suffered through my first audit in 1981, a series of meetings with people in frightening little cubicles, people who honestly didn’t know what they were doing. Having for the first time in my life earned more than a few thousand dollars in a year, I knew perfectly well I had done nothing wrong, yet I was made to feel suspect for achieving a modest success. Never mind the clearly documented reasons for the sudden influx of dollars, the revenooers smelled a rat, and they deduced I was that rat. Happily, the audit resulted in the startling discovery that the government owed me money, plus a little interest, but I still felt mistreated.

The second audit took place seventeen years after the first and involved an investigator coming to my house to go through every scrap of paper I had relating to my income for the year in question, 1995, and the years immediately before and after that questionable year. I was on crutches at the time, having blown out my knee. I had long since spent the money earned in that halcyon year subject to audit, I was lonely and pissed off and approaching the muddy bottom of a veritable Grand Canyon of a depression, and so was not at all in a good mood.

The poor Internal Revenue Service agent had just come in the door when I barked, “Look, I’m afraid of you, though I haven’t done anything wrong. So tell me in plain English why I’m being audited.”

A stout lad of twenty-five with a full black beard, the agent set his portable computer (pre-laptop) on my kitchen table, opened his briefcase, withdrew a manila folder, opened the folder, scowled at the top page, and said, “Abnormal income spike and you issued seventeen 1099’s.”

“I sold a novel and somebody optioned the movie rights to another novel. The multiple 1099’s were issued to people I was long overdue rewarding for helping me with my work through thick and thin, mostly thin.”

“I have no problem with that,” he said sincerely. “Please don’t be afraid of me.”

Seven hours later he said, “Well, my boss is not going to be happy. A whole day spent for nothing.” He shrugged. “He was guessing drug dealer.”

“Oh, right,” I said, rolling my eyes. “A drug dealer is going to report a big upswing in his income and issue 1099’s to his cronies? Puh-leez.”

“Good point,” said the young man. “Even so, ninety-nine days out of a hundred I bring in considerably more than my salary.”

“So why not go after the real crooks? The corporations. The rich people with phony shelters and Ponzi scheme hedge scams? Why waste your time going after self-employed artists making peanuts?”

He smiled a knowing smile. “The corporations and rich people have the best accountants and tax attorneys money can buy. Their tax returns are hermetic masterpieces. You artists fill out your own ledgers. By hand. Do it yourselfers. You’re…vulnerable.”

“There shall be eternal summer in the grateful heart.” Celia Thaxter

In the company of poor people and rich people and everybody in between, I have heard it said a thousand times, “I wouldn’t mind paying taxes if the money was spent on something I believed in. But most of our tax dollars go for bombs and guns and corporate tax breaks and paying interest on the national debt to people who already have all the money and seem hell bent on ruining the world as fast as they possibly can.” Or words to that effect.

Well, I’ve got good news about where some of our tax dollars are being spent. On my way home from the village yesterday, the sun broke through the fog at Big River beach for the first time in weeks, so I drove down there to stroll the sand and count the unleashed dogs and get my feet wet. And lo, the big portable handicapped accessible lavatory was back where it never should have not been, full to the brim with public piss and poo, the powers that be seeing fit to give a little something back to the huddled masses. I’m guessing at least through Labor Day. Amen.

(This piece originally appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser August 2010)

Todd’s web site is UnderTheTableBooks.com

Psychic Leeches

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

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

The other night I caught the last twenty minutes of a spiritual talk show. My initial positive reaction to the guest speaker morphed into disaffection when I realized he was one of those guru types who believes he knows everything and nobody else has a clue. He also had zero detectable sense of humor, which always makes me wary, even when someone is talking about the collapse of the global ecosystem, which is what he was talking about, among other things. Then he said something about alien abductions and aliens invading earth disguised as humans in order to take over the planet and wipe out all the Homo sapiens because we’re destroying the earth and these beings from other planets want Earth intact because she’s such a rare and groovy planet in the vastness of space.

Alien takeovers are not my cup of tea, so I turned off the radio. I wanted to dismiss the guy as a wacko, but instead recalled a passage from Carlos Castaneda’s posthumously published book The Active Side of Infinity, which I recommend as a novel if you can’t buy it as a memoir, and who knows, maybe it is the truth. No matter. The passage I recalled was of Don Juan giving Castaneda a glimpse of a huge slug-like alien that had, indeed, invaded the earth and feeds on stress-induced human emotions, notably fear and sorrow and rage and anxiety.

And that reminded me of the Mayan shaman Martín Prechtel’s fabulous talk on Grief and Praise in which he says, and I paraphrase, that the spirits of the dead are nourished and vitalized by our tears. He means this in a positive way, for in the Mayan view we are in reciprocating relationships with the spirits, which is how multi-dimensional reality maintains its balance. Don Juan, on the other hand, assured Castaneda that these alien psychic leeches are definitely malo.

“It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.” Oscar Wilde

I used to think a psychic leech drew energy from us and gave nothing good back. I thought psychic leeches were typically hysterics or dead beats or drama queens, depressed, selfish, greedy, and exhausting to be with. Little did I know.

Some twenty years ago I was invited to join a small meditation group. There were six others in the group when I became a member. We met every other week in our host’s commodious living room, a fire burning in the hearth. We sat on the floor in a circle and meditated for an hour, after which we shared thoughts that had arisen during the communal silence. And then we would have supper and socialize.

The group became extremely important to me; these twice-monthly meetings providing me with a rare few hours of sanity and calm in my otherwise insanely unsettled life. Occasionally someone would invite a guest for a time or two, and if this guest then wished to join the group as a permanent member we had to be approve them unanimously. Within six months of my joining, two members left us and two new members were added.

One of the original members, I will call him R, only attended every second or third gathering. I found when R was not present my experience in meditation was always noticeably deeper. Indeed, in his absence, I felt the group often shared a remarkably deep communion. By contrast, when R was there, though our experiences were not unpleasant, we plumbed no great depths.

On a cold November evening, I arrived to find that R was in attendance and had brought a guest. A friendly woman of fifty, D was, by her own admission, overjoyed to be with us. Eager to please, she had brought a lavish feast of sushi and teriyaki salmon to thank us for allowing her to attend.

We arranged ourselves in a circle, our host performed a brief welcoming ceremony as was his custom, and we settled into quiet. And I immediately felt as rotten as I have ever felt. I had never in my forty-some years had a headache, but now my head was throbbing, my bones were aching, and it was all I could do not to groan in despair. Was there a gas leak or something toxic burning in the fire? When neither proved to be the case, I reviewed my recent food intake for possible sources of food poisoning.

I opened my eyes. Everyone was sitting perfectly still. Was I the only one feeling so miserable? And though I had no logical reason for thinking D was the cause of my distress, I knew she was. Never mind that beatific smile on her face, I was certain she was making me violently ill. Yet despite this intuitive certainty, I insisted to myself that I must be experiencing what meditation teachers say every practitioner eventually experiences: the painful truth of egoistic suffering.

By the end of our meditation, I was a sweaty mess. During the sharing-our-thoughts phase I said nothing, nor did anyone else say much, save for D who gushed about this being the happiest night of her life, and R saying that D’s presence had decided him not to quit the group because he was finally happy with the group dynamic.

I found it impossible to stay for D’s feast and had to restrain myself from screaming bloody murder as I ran out the door. The cold air was a salve, and after a few minutes in the winter chill I laughed aloud at my stunning shift from misery to joy. Indeed, so enormous was my relief, I told myself my misery couldn’t have been caused by D and must have been caused by…me.

I went to bed that night a few hours earlier than was my habit and slept like a stone for fifteen hours. I woke in the early afternoon feeling totally discombobulated. Did I have the flu? That would explain why I felt so horrible during meditation. Yet I had no symptoms other than exhaustion. Oh, well, I told myself. These things happen, though they had never happened to me before.

D was at our next gathering, gushing about how happy she was to be in our circle, how this was her dream come true. And, yes, she’d brought another fabulous feast. We took our places in the circle. Within a few minutes my head began to throb and my bones to ache. So I jumped up, grabbed my coat, and ran out the door, murmuring, “Not feeling well.”

I was absolutely entirely totally freaked out. I was also sad, for now I would have to quit the group. I didn’t want to be the lone vote against D. The others seemed fine and chummy with her. Too bad for me. I’d had a good run. Don’t cry over spilled milk. Ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe. Etc.

The next morning, as I was rehearsing my resignation spiel, the host of our group called and invited me to go for coffee. We settled down in a cozy café and I was about to announce I was leaving the group, when he asked, “What do you think of D?”

“Um…I…she…”

“Made you sick,” he said, completing my thought. “Made everybody sick, except R.”

I was so relieved to learn I was not alone in my suffering I could have kissed the guy, only he wasn’t my type. “How does she do it?”

“She’s a psychic black hole.”

“A psychic black hole? You mean…”

“I’ve encountered a few others,” said my host, a seasoned psychotherapist, “though none so extreme as D. Seems impossible until you experience it. Friend of mine holds group therapy sessions at Esalen, and he says these kind of people are drawn there like flies to honey.”

“But what’s actually going on? I didn’t just feel drained, I felt invaded and poisoned. My bones ached and I was half-dead the next day.”

“That’s what’s going on,” he said, nodding. “The poison renders you defenseless so she can suck your life force. Or something like that. Defies belief, but it happened to you, right?”

To our collective relief, R was the only person who voted for D to become a permanent member. Terribly offended by our rejection of his friend, R quit in a huff, after which a year of marvelous communion ensued.

Two times in my life since then I have experienced what Ross Perot famously declared of Clinton’s NAFTA, “that giant sucking sound” as my life force was guzzled by beings who appeared on their surfaces to be regular old human folk. Do I believe psychic leeches are aliens? Well, that depends on your definition of alien. From another planet? I resist that idea. Surely we have all the ingredients for growing emotional vampires right here at home. Tibetan Buddhism refers to these beings as hungry ghosts. No matter how much they consume, their hunger can never be appeased. But why was R immune to D? Perhaps he and she were fellow aliens, or at least vultures of the same feather.

(This article originally appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser, August 2010. Todd’s web site is UnderTheTableBooks.com)

Getting Well

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

“Programming our intelligence with illusion and fantasy of there’s something wrong with us and enough isn’t enough and too much isn’t too much then turning us loose on ourselves and the world.” John Trudell

My folks are no longer alive, but the shame I feel for doing what I love still surfaces now and then to remind me of how terribly jealous my father was of his own children and how angry my mother was about having her creative ambitions so painfully thwarted. The famous quote by Carl Jung, “Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on children than the unlived life of the parent,” elucidates a big part of my mother’s influence on me, while Jennifer James sums up my father with, “Jealousy is simply and clearly the fear that you do not have value.”

My parents were relentlessly verbally abusive of me, and on a few terrible occasions my alcoholic father resorted to physical violence that severely injured me. When I was eleven years old, he nearly killed me. I blocked all memory of this most vicious assault until my fortieth year when a vivid movie of the attack emerged from the archives of my memory. Watching that old footage sent me racing into therapy for the first time in my life.

Therapy saved me, and that does not overstate the case. My savior was a down-to-earth woman who could read in my facial expressions and physical mannerisms the unspoken text of my self-doubt, and she would bring my attention to these physical cues so I might become aware of them and explore the deeper feelings they were attached to.

Of the many discoveries I made in therapy, the most overwhelming one was that I was so entirely acclimated to being told I was worthless, I created most of my relationships to support my parents’ foundational message: no matter what you do, Todd, it isn’t good enough. Which meant I wasn’t good enough. For anything or anyone. So why go on living?

“If you have no critics you’ll likely have no success.” Malcolm X

Having known many struggling artists, I am well aware that my back-story (as they call the past in Hollywood) is hardly unique. Indeed, I have yet to meet an artist whose memoir could truthfully begin, “My parents lovingly supported me in all my artistic pursuits.” This is not to suggest that abuse and the resultant self-loathing are prerequisites to becoming an artist, though certainly such emotional history typifies the lives of many American and European artists, especially those artists creating things that don’t fit neatly into the stifling little boxes maintained by our corporate-sponsored academic/cultural mafia.

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy! 
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
 the meat it feeds on. 
William Shakespeare

When I lived in Berkeley I was in the habit of listening to the radical pinko radio station KPFA. Shortly before the most recent American invasion of Iraq, in anticipation of a huge anti-war demonstration, one of the radio hosts invited two of the demonstration’s organizers onto his show to talk about the upcoming march. To my chagrin, though not to my surprise, these two fellows spent twenty minutes of the half-hour show arguing about which of them was the more authentic (for lack of a better word) radical. As I listened to these two “revolutionaries” demean each other and recite extensive proof of their radical pedigrees, I recalled an old friend saying, “The Right has nothing to fear from the Left because we would much rather fight amongst ourselves than actually unite in any substantive way.”

A related phenomenon is that of outsider artists and musicians (outside the mainstream) attacking and undermining each other rather than joining forces ala The Impressionists to collectively bring their creations to a larger audience. As a former devotee of open mike nights (vaudeville enacted in pubs by anyone wishing to perform), which I’m guessing grew out of the egalitarian poetry and folk music scenes of the 1960’s, I have experienced love fests wherein every performer of every imaginable level of talent was resoundingly applauded for simply having the courage to perform, and I have suffered through hateful competitions where the audience might as well have been a mob thirsting for blood, applause begrudged, the more talented the performer, the more openly despised she was.

My favorite thing to do at open mikes, in either scenario, was to interview my fellow performers, to learn their back-stories, and to ask them what they hoped to accomplish with their performances. And I was fascinated to discover that virtually everyone who came to these open mikes—old and young, hopeful amateur and fallen professional, men and women, talented and tone deaf, told tales kin to mine and containing the same essential elements.

1. Missing or disapproving parents

2. An abiding sense of being different, not fitting in

3. Finding solace in their art

4. Idolizing social and artistic renegades

5. Criticized and rejected for their art and lifestyle choices

6. Fierce determination to succeed and prove the naysayers wrong

7. Choosing poverty over giving up or compromising their art

8. Substance abuse to numb the pain of failure and rejection

9. Lousy relationships

10. The dream/belief they will be discovered by someone who makes of them a star

Based on my open mike experiences and interviews, I eventually wrote a screenplay for a musical comedy/tragedy entitled Open Mike, though #10 (see above) has yet to befall my opus.

“Depression is rage spread thin.” George Santayana

When I turned fifty I was at the lowest point in my career as a musician and writer, and I sank into the deepest and longest lasting depression of my life. After a tortuous year of living under what felt like the gravity of Jupiter, and desperate to understand what was happening to me, I came upon a book of essays by the psychiatrists Sylvano Arieti and Jules Bemporad with a title that minced no words: Severe and Mild Depression. One of the essays by Arieti presented a case study of a novelist with a life so like mine I gasped at every sentence.

Prior to his most severe depression, this novelist only exhibited mild symptoms of depression when he was between novels, at which times he would quickly launch himself into writing a new novel. Thus he, as I, managed to outrun and subsume his depression by pouring his energy and attention into his novels for thirty years until exhaustion and failure finally caught up to him. Furthermore, his sustaining fantasy, and mine, was that he would eventually write a novel so great and successful that he would be lifted out of his dreary life into a realm of exquisite happiness wherein his previously rejecting mother and/or father, as well as their embodiment in his wife or lover, would at long last love him.

Reading Arieti’s words, I had an epiphany. I must henceforth give up the unreasonable hope of winning the approval of people incapable of approving of me, for they will never approve of anyone, least of all themselves, and I must learn to accept myself for who and what I am here and now, and not for what I fantasize about becoming.

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do and damned if you don’t.” Eleanor Roosevelt

Without question, the most hateful critics of my writing and music have been fellow artists. Before I got well, to the extent I have, I maintained relations with several angry and deeply bitter artists to whom I gave money I could ill afford to give, and praise, often false, I hoped would soothe them. Our rules of engagement were that I would support and encourage everything they did, and never dare offer suggestions about their music or art. In exchange, they would feel entitled to denigrate me, and to spit on any of my creations I was foolish enough to share with them. These relationships were such obvious re-enactments of my relationship with my father and mother it seems laughable I was unaware of the parallels, but before the veil is lifted we are blind.

After many years of working hard to reform my psychic operating system, I thought I had successfully exorcised the last of these destructive folk from my life, but a few days ago I was made aware of one such person I had overlooked. Having just released my first CD of solo piano music, 43 short Piano Improvisations, the culmination (so far) of forty-five years of piano practice and exploration, I received a letter that ranks among the most sickening and cruel attacks I have ever experienced. This letter was not a critique of my music, but reviled me for daring to make music at all, and as such recalled my mother’s rage and my father’s sense of worthlessness they both so diligently impressed upon me.

“Fortunately,” I wrote to my assailant, “I am finally well enough to trust my own judgment about what I wish to share with others, so that your most unkind words will not deter me.”

Todd’s CD 43 short Piano Improvisations is available from iTunes and UnderTheTableBooks.com

(This essay originally appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser August 2010)

What’s In A Name?

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

(This essay was written for The Anderson Valley Advertiser August 2010)

“Fate tried to conceal him by naming him Smith.” Oliver Wendell Holmes

As I answer the ringing phone, I am distracted by my cat chasing his tail and do not hear the brief telltale silence presaging a stranger seeking money. “Hello. This is Doralinda Kayamunga of the NRA calling for Mr. Tom Walsmar.” I hang up, though in retrospect I wish I’d thought to ask Doralinda how she got Tom from Todd and Walsmar from Walton.

My childhood friends delighted in calling me Toad Walnut, and did so with such frequency that their teasing ceased to rankle. Please note: their playful distortion of my name was intentional, whereas the thousand and one subsequent manglings of Todd and Walton result, as far as I can tell, from endemic mass idiocy. I have been called Tom, Toby, Tad, Ted, Tony, Don, Rod, and Scott hundreds of times in my life, usually in combination with Watson, Walters, Weldon, Waldon, Walsmar, Wilson, Welton, Waters, Waldo, and most recently Watton.

For goodness sake, my name is not Jascha Heifetz or Ubaldo Jimenez or Ilgaukus Christianoosman. In England, Walton is as common as Smith. My surname derives from Walled Town, and in medieval England nearly all towns were walled towns. In those long ago days, a person might be known as Roderick of Walled Town or Sylvia of Walled Town, and over the ensuing centuries, William of Walled Town became Bill Walton of UCLA and the Portland Trailblazers.

I’m sure that you, at one time or another, have had your name and/or names misread and mis-said, but I have yet to meet anyone with a name as simple and straightforward as mine who experiences such persistent moniker mishandling. My wife, Marcia Sloane, her first name frequently spelled Marsha by even her close friends, and her last name often presented minus the E at the end, posits that the very simplicity of Todd Walton is the cause of people mistaking my name (s) for others. She has yet to convincingly explain why simplicity breeds confusion, and in support of my theory of rampant idiocy I remind her that when she recently gave a talk at the Unitarian, both the Beacon and the Advocate referred to her as Marika Solace.

Perhaps the most egregious distortion of my first name came in 1967 at the outset of my first year of college at brand new UC Santa Cruz. Dazed and confused, I dutifully followed the orders in my freshman orientation packet and went to consult with the advisor assigned to me, a nationally renowned sociologist I shall not name. This mean little man would soon be locally renowned as a middle-aged sex fiend preying on gullible undergrad females. To that end, he made sure only females landed on his list of advisees. So why was I on his list? Because some administrative dweeb transcribed my name Todi, and this horny old fart took the misspelling to be an Italian (or possibly Finnish) girl’s name. Needless to say, he was extremely displeased when a sweaty boy and not some svelte female darkened his door. After a brief and icky meeting, he grimly suggested I find other counsel. Todi, indeed.

“And we were angry and poor and happy, 
and proud of seeing our names in print.
” G.K. Chesterton

When I published my first novel Inside Moves, I did what all first-time authors do; I visited myriad bookstores to see if they were carrying my book. In several of these stores, my book was shelved in the hobby section, the resident geniuses having read the title as Inside Movies. When the book and subsequent film provided me with a brief stint of notoriety, I was asked to provide congratulatory blurbs for other books. And on the back cover of one of these books I was Tod Wilson, author of Night Moves. On another, I was John Walters, author of Forbidden Pulses, my second novel being Forgotten Impulses. What a woild!

“Proper names are poetry in the raw.  Like all poetry they are untranslatable.”  W.H. Auden

In 1973 my mother offered me her doddering and essentially worthless Ford LTD so I could move with my girlfriend and our paltry earthly possessions from Palo Alto, California to Eugene, Oregon. We got as far as Sacramento when the old car began to shimmy like my sister Kate. By some miracle, we managed to pull into a wheel alignment garage moments before the car could shake into pieces. As it happened, we had just enough cash to fix our coach, but the mechanic said he was booked solid for three days.

And so, resigned to crashing on a friends’ floor for the duration, I despondently signed the estimate sheet. But when the mechanic saw my signature, his eyes widened and he blurted, “Walton? You’re a Walton? Walton’s mountain? John Boy. The Waltons. That’s our favorite show in the whole world. That show…that show is the story of our life. You’re a Walton?”

I had never seen The Waltons, but I’d heard of the popular television show and been called John Boy by countless cretins, so I vaguely knew what this fellow was talking about. I also knew that the creator of The Waltons was named something like Hammer, and the stories were based on his family’s history. However, since Hammer lacked the grace and elegance of Walton, he decided…

“I gotta tell my wife,” said the mechanic, nodding hopefully. “Could you…if we did your car this afternoon could you hang around so my wife can meet you?”

“Sure,” I said, struck by the happy realization that for the first time in my life there might be some advantage to being named Walton.

And though I felt compelled to explain to these good people that I was no relation to the fictional characters they worshiped, they would hear none of my disclaimers. I was a deity to them, and all because I hadn’t followed the lead of many of my cohorts and changed my name to Rainbow River or Jade Sarong.

The mechanic’s wife presented us with a special pumpkin pie “just like the Walton’s have for Thanksgiving supper.” She spoke of the Waltons in the present tense, for they were very much alive to her.

This blessed nonsense culminated in the mechanic donating all parts and labor to our exodus from the golden state. Then he fervently shook my hand and declared that meeting me was one of the best things that had ever happened to him. Yet neither the mechanic nor his wife seemed stupid or deranged. Indeed, they struck me as intelligent and resourceful people, their only shortcoming the inability to distinguish a television show from what they imagined to be a docudrama set in the Deep South about people related to me.

When I asked if I might know their last name, the mechanic said, “Oh, it’s a common old name where we come from.”

“Still,” I said, having finally surrendered my fate to the largesse of satirical angels, “I’d love to know your last name?”

“Knuckles,” said the mechanic and his wife, speaking as one.

“Knuckles?” I echoed. “I’ve never heard of anyone named Knuckles.”

“Dime a dozen where we come from,” said the mechanic’s wife. “And every last one a cousin.”

“Tigers die and leave their skins; people die and leave their names.” Japanese Proverb

That is, if the name left is actually your name.

Marcia and I just took possession of our two new CDs. The first, So not Jazz, features Marcia on cello and yours truly on guitar and piano. The second, 43 short Piano Improvisations, is just that: forty-three musical haiku. Our wonderful UPS delivery person brought the myriad boxes to our door, and as we gaily opened them to make sure the CDs were, indeed, ours and not those of a Fresno Reggae ensemble (which happened the last time we made a CD) I noticed the boxes were addressed to Todd Watton and Marcia Sloane. Oh, well. Just a silly typo. Todd Watton. No problem.

Yes, problem. A few days after we sent out the first batch of our CDs, my brother, a highly adept computer and Interweb person, emailed me to report that all forty-three of my piano improvisations and all nine of my collaborations with Marcia were showing up on iTunes and several other digital download sites under the purview of Todd Watton. Web crawling logarithms were gobbling the misnomer and spreading it hither and yon throughout cyber space, and good luck replacing that leading T in Watton with the L we so very much wanted to be there instead.

We contacted the manufacturer and they promised to do what they could to rectify the situation. We are moderately hopeful the erroneous moniker will be thoroughly expunged from the electronic highways and biways, but we won’t hold our breaths. Fortunately, I subscribe to the philosophy that the occurrences composing so-called reality are not random, but only seem random because we lack sufficient data to explain why the occurrences are occurring. In honor of this philosophy, I have coined the word confluencidental, and I hope one day this grandiloquent word will be granted entry into the Oxford English Dictionary and possibly into the yet-to-be-established Buckminster Fuller Hall of Fame. But again, I digress.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” William the Spear Shaker

Ultimately, when my body dissolves into the mother of all molecular whirlpools and my life essence goes wherever life essences go, my names will only live as long as it takes for the people who remember me to die, for the books I’ve published to turn to dust or flame, and for the recordings I’ve made to become unplayable. Thereafter, Todd Walton (or Tom Walsmar or Toby Watson or Todi Watton) will only be remembered if things he or she made—songs, poems, stories—take on lives of such vibrancy that future generations will feel compelled to keep those creations alive. And should such miracles transpire, the names attached to those creations will surely be irrelevant.

I once met a guy who claimed to have written a famous song stolen from him by the person who got famous and rich for writing the song. I have no doubt this guy honestly believed he’d written the famous song the other person got the credit and money for writing. But I never liked that song, so I didn’t really care one way or the other.

Todd and Marcia’s new CDs and songs are available for sampling and purchase at UnderTheTableBooks.com.