Archive for October, 2012

Yard Sale

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser October 2012)

We just had a big yard sale to move along the myriad things we did not wish to keep in our new life in our new house. This was my fourth such undertaking and Marcia’s first time trying to sell stuff we no longer care to possess. I keep wanting to call the event a garage sale because the things were first stored in our garage, but the category heading in the newspaper where we ran our ad was Yard Sales, and the sale did take place in our yard, so…

Because the universe is mysterious and seemingly a bit sadistic, as well as loving and miraculous, Marcia came down with a bad flu cold a week before the event and was just starting to feel better as the blessed day dawned, whereas I was just entering Zenith Flu Cold Symptom Time as the alarm clock sounded at 6 AM on the dreaded day. Oh, joy. Had we not advertised the bloody sale in the newspaper I might have stayed in bed battling exhaustion and sleep deprivation and tides of snot, but such was not the case, the hordes would soon be descending, and so I rose from my warm nest and went out into the frigid dawn to help Marcia empty the garage onto our driveway.

Oh, I forgot to mention that the aforementioned possibly sadistic and certainly ironic universe had, just two days before the event, seen fit to break our two-car garage door, a folding fiberglass contraption running on Rube Goldberg-like tracks, so that after the cacophonous death of the machine, the bottom of the door was left hovering some four feet above the ground, which necessitated our doing variations on the limbo as we brought forth weighty boxes of goodies. And as we ducked and bent and schlepped, I wondered if I would live to see the opening bell—9 AM—without collapsing from over-exertion while under the influence of the aforementioned afflictions.

But long before 9 AM (circa 8 AM) the so-called Early Birds began to arrive, though we had specifically requested in our ad No Early Birds, Please. We should have said, Early Birds Will Be Shot At With Live Ammunition or Early Birds Will Be Attacked By Slavering Hounds, but we didn’t, and so they came, the first few deflected by our stern renderings of wishful thinking such as, “We don’t open until nine. Please go away,” and “We’re not open yet.” By 8:20 there were twelve of the patient scavengers—and for some reason I thought of the Disciples—standing on the very edge of our property, impervious to our entreaties to go away.

And then we came upon several Really Heavy Things in the garage and before I could censor my addled brain, I heard myself calling out, “Could a couple of you strong people lend us a hand?” and after that, what could we do? The sale began at 8:30, with several boxes of things still to be laid out on the various tables and benches and shelves we had assembled the day before, with Marcia still hanging clothing on the fence and I continuing to pile old tools on a big sheet of plywood straddling two sawhorses.

Two of the Early Birds were a husband and wife team desirous of books and CDs. In a matter of few minutes, they had set aside sixty-five books and a dozen CDs, which massive quantity (two-thirds of our stock) prompted me to hurry away from the tool table to inform them, “Books and CDs are fifty cents each.”

“Perfect,” said the wife, watching her husband swiftly examine the selected volumes. “We’ve got that covered.”

And as I watched the husband riffle through the pages and make sure the covers were clean and the spines intact, I realized these two were not buying books to read, but to sell. Indeed, we would eventually learn (from another husband and wife book-buying team) that those early bird book buyers had an online used book business, their inventory largely furnished by early bird assaults on yard sales. Thus books we had been unable to sell to used bookstores brought us pretty pennies thanks to the new reality of buying and selling used books online.

My favorite parts of the day were those glorious moments when shoppers found objects they had been wishing fervently to find, yet hadn’t (probably) thought they would ever find for a couple bucks at a yard sale. For instance, one of the items on sale was an electric shredder mounted on a wastebasket, something Marcia hadn’t used in a decade, a perfectly fine piece of equipment for small scale shredding operations. One or two people picked the thing up and pondered how their lives might be with or without such a device, but no one bought the shiny apparatus until the very end of the sale when I was overseeing the dregs and stragglers and Marcia had abandoned me to go play her cello at a wedding and make some real money.

A woman sped up in a little sports car, jumped out and pointed at the shredder. “Oh my god,” she exclaimed, “does that work?”

“Yes,” I said wearily. “For paper, not leaves or wood.”

“Oh my god,” she repeated. “I dreamt last night about getting a shredder and shredding all the piles of papers on my desk and on the floor in my office that have just been in my way.” Then she stomped her foot. “How much do you want?”

“Two dollars,” I said, though I would have happily given it to her gratis.

“Sold!” she cried, as her dream came true.

Earlier in the day, as I was beginning to despair of ever ridding myself of a massive black metal four-drawer legal-sized filing cabinet that had been my catchall and servant for thirty-five years—a slowly rusting object I had decorated in the style of De Kooning with shiny red paint to cover the rust and dents and scratches—another such cosmic collision occurred. No one, I repeat, no one had given that rusting hulk a second look for the first four hours of the sale; and then, lo, it came to pass that as I turned away from selling three old Frisbees to a very tall man (for a dollar), I espied a very short man with large biceps standing before the filing cabinet and frowning the frown of one who is trying to remember where he’s seen this very object before.

So I dashed to his side and said, “I decorated her with those red flowers to cover a bit of rust, but she works splendidly and I’ve left plenty of files inside each drawer.” I then demonstrated the silky ease with which the gargantuan drawers opened and closed, and watched with pleasure as the man tried each drawer, too.

“There is superficial rust here and there,” I disclosed, “but a light sanding and a little paint and…”

“How much?” he said, his frown deepening.

“Ten dollars,” I ventured.

His eyes widened and he nodded. “I take.”

Then I dollied the old thing to the tailgate of his pickup truck, he lifted her into the bed, handed me ten dollars, nodded again, and vanished.

Another high point of the yard sale was when Marcia sold (for only five dollars) a very nice and fully functional electric keyboard to a young couple with a six-year-old son who was literally hugging and kissing the keyboard and begging his parents to buy it for him. The husband was cradling their other child, a month-old baby girl, and smiling in wonder as his son danced around the keyboard.

“What a beautiful baby,” I said to him. “And what a handsome son.”

“Oh, thank you,” he said softly. “I have my prince, and now I have my princess.” He kissed the slumbering babe. “We stop at two so my wife can go back to school and we give them good life.”

At which moment, a crusty old man approached me with a big basket brimming with things he’d found to buy. “Good yard sale, man” he said, handing me a wad of money. “Really good.”

“What, pray tell, makes it so good?” I asked, marveling at the entirely subjective nature of reality.

“Good stuff,” he said, winking. “At fantastically low prices.”

Zero Population Growth

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser October 2012)

“The chief cause for the impending collapse of the world—the cause sufficient in and by itself—is the enormous growth of the human population: the human flood. The worst enemy of life is too much life: the excess of human life.” Pentti Linkola

Decades ago I joined an organization called Zero Population Growth, a group founded by Paul Ehrlich dedicated to educating people and elected officials about the dire need to take political and educational action to combat overpopulation in America and around the world. I liked the name of the organization because it said clearly what we wanted to do: intentionally reduce the human birth rate so human population would begin to decline and the earth might be saved. However, some years ago during a time when Republicans controlled both Congress and the White House, funding grew scarce for organizations espousing such radical ideas as limiting population growth, and in order to survive, Zero Population Growth changed its name to Population Connection.

Did the name change help? Apparently so, because the organization lives on and continues to do valuable work. The Reporter, the magazine of Population Connection, dedicates one issue per year to an extensive Congressional Report Card wherein the battle lines are clearly drawn and readers are shown a Congress very much under the sway of ignorant morons who routinely vote against any legislation to fund or enhance family planning or birth control both here and abroad. Ignorant morons doesn’t quite do these particular hominids justice. Evil malicious poopheads would be more accurate; and it is both fascinating and sad to see that the vast majority of these EMP’s are from the South and Midwest; which is not to say that the South and Midwest are hotbeds of ignorance and misogyny and the rest of the country is enlightened, but to suggest that the South and Midwest are hotbeds of ignorance and misogyny.

Say what I will about there being little difference between the Presidential candidates on most matters of importance, Population Connection sees a huge difference between the candidates regarding freedom of choice and access to family planning, safe and legal abortion, and birth control. As stated in the most recent issue of The Reporter:

“There’s really no such thing as a low-stakes election, but it’s clear that for family planning and women’s health advocates, this one is going to be especially pivotal.”

“Over the next four years we could see as many as three new Supreme Court appointments, which could decisively settle the direction of the court for the next twenty to thirty years.”

“As high as the stakes are for women and families in this country (USA), they’re even higher for the 222 million women in the developing world who have an urgent need for contraception. The current House of Representatives has already made numerous attempts to ban U.S. funding for the United Nations Population Fund and reinstate the Global Gag Rule.”

What is the Global Gag Rule? The Global Gag Rule, created by alpha evil malicious poopheads during the reign of Ronald Reagan, ordains that nongovernmental organizations receiving U.S. government assistance cannot use that funding or funding from other sources to inform the public or educate their governments on the need to make safe abortion available, provide legal abortion services, or provide advice on where to get an abortion. Obama repealed the Global Gag Rule on January 23, 2009.

“A crowded society is a restrictive society; an overcrowded society becomes an authoritarian, repressive and murderous society.” Edward Abbey

Speaking of population, today is my birthday. I was born in San Francisco at 6:33 AM on October 17, 1949 at St. Luke’s Hospital. In that same year, my parents bought a steep hillside lot in Mill Valley and hired some out-of-work artists to build the little house where I spent the first four years of my life with my two older sisters, my parents, and a cat. The lot and house cost my parents seven thousand dollars, which they borrowed from my mother’s parents. My father commuted to San Francisco by bus and my mother walked with her little kids to and from the grocery store in the village. In those days, Mill Valley was not yet the domain of the super wealthy, but rather a haven for artists and those who wanted to live a rural life on the edge of civilization. Goodness me, how population growth has changed all that.

My parents were both born in California in 1922 when the entire population of southern California (everything from San Luis Obispo south, including Los Angeles and San Diego) was less than 150,000 people. Today there are roughly twenty-five million people in southern California. When I was a boy, the Santa Clara Valley, now known as Silicon Valley, was sparsely populated and given over entirely to farms and orchards, the rich topsoil there over fifty feet deep. Today there are several million people living in Silicon Valley and most of that miraculous topsoil is covered with pavement and buildings.

I was the third of four children and I am fairly certain that if my parents had been born in 1952, rather than 1922, and been the same people, they would have considered it their moral responsibility to give birth to no more than two children. I am very glad they had four children so that I and my siblings got to be alive and experience the miracles of life, but that does not make me any less a believer in the need for men and women, for the good of the world, to limit the number of children they have to two or less.

A front-page article in today’s news proclaims that Romney surged ahead of Obama in the latest national polls, with huge gains among women voters; and I thought to myself, That can’t possibly be true. How could even one woman in America vote for Romney, let alone a majority of women voters? And then I remembered that Romney is a Mormon, and that devout Mormons believe it is every Mormon’s duty to have as many children as he or she can because each new Mormon he or she creates helps him or her accrue credits toward winning a place in a sector of heaven closer to God than if he or she only creates a couple of Mormons or none at all. No wonder Romney wants to keep women ignorant and disenfranchised and vulnerable to stupid violent men—his policies precisely reflect his religious and moral beliefs.

But the big question is: why would any woman vote for a man and a political party dedicated to destroying the earth and systematically mistreating women? The only answer that makes any sense to me is that women who would vote for their oppressors are deeply confused and psychologically damaged. But just because that’s the only answer that makes any sense to me doesn’t necessarily make it the right answer.

Long ago, when I still thought I might one day beget a child or two, I dated a delightful woman I will call Tina. Smart, funny, thoughtful, sexy, and very much in love with me, Tina and I shared a fabulous few weeks of getting to know each other; and I found myself thinking Maybe Tina and I will get married and spend the rest of our lives together.

Then one night, in the afterglow of groovalicious lovemaking, Tina said, “So listen…I’m totally madly in love with you and want to marry you and hope you feel the same way about me, but I have to tell you I want at least five kids and I can’t invest any more time in you if you’re not up for that.”

“Five kids?” I said, hoping she was joking but fairly certain she wasn’t. “Why five kids?”

“I just have to. It’s what I was born to do and I’ve always known that. Have lots of babies and be a mom.”

“Right, but…how about having one or two children and adopting three or four?”

“No, they have to be ours.”

“But…why?”

“If you don’t know,” she said sadly, “I can’t tell you.”

That was the end of my relationship with Tina, though we stayed distant friends and every year at Christmas for many years she sent me a card containing a brief update on her life. When she was in her late twenties and fed up with being a swinging single in Manhattan, Tina met and married a wealthy fundamentalist Christian stockbroker, and thereafter her Christmas cards contained photographs of her growing family. The last photograph I received from Tina shows her eight children, ages eighteen, sixteen, fourteen, twelve, ten, eight, six, and four, having a snowball fight in front of an enormous mansion—a gang of healthy happy looking young people.

For my part, I did not beget any children, but have been lucky to be a helpful uncle and friend to several children who are now of an age to start having children of their own. They are all wonderful people and deeply concerned about the state of the world, and as far as I know, they are each consciously determined to have two children or less should they have any.

Inventing Ourselves

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser October 2012)

“You don’t have to suffer to be a poet.  Adolescence is enough suffering for anyone.” John Ciardi

My last few trips to the village of Mendocino have coincided with the lunchtime release of the children from the high school on the hill—dozens of young ones wandering singly and in groups down into the miniature commercial district to buy food and drink and to escape the air of confinement and regimentation that is so antithetical to the spirit of the young.

Some of the kids wander as far as Big River Beach to smoke pot or sunbathe or commingle with scruffy older boys and girls, some of whom are homeless, some simply at loose ends as they haunt the beach and headlands, waiting for Godot. But most of the high school kids go straight to their chosen food sources—Mendocino Market & Deli (across the street from the post office), Harvest Market, Frankie’s, the bakery, Moody’s, Mendo Burgers—purchase their goodies and boomerang back to campus where they scarf their food and socialize until the bell tolls for them to resume what we hope is meaningful education but fear is mind-numbing incarceration.

Watching this lunchtime parade of teens often puts me in mind of my own time in high school (1963-1967), a death-defying adventure in communal insanity, the insanity of puberty in America and the desperate search for a workable way to survive the frightening world of our parents and their fellow adult imbeciles who seemed hell bent on destroying the planet before we had a chance to write a good song or get laid.

I think it must be the costumes the Mendocino teens are trying on these days that most remind me of my own high school experience—that search for the perfect apparel to capture the essence of who we hope to be. Look! Here are three lovely young women walking shoulder to shoulder, each clutching a cell phone—a full-blown hippy, a quintessential geek, a scantily clad prostitute.

Hippy: So is your mom picking you up after school today?

Prostitute: Yeah, I have to get my fucking braces tightened.

Geek: I totally hate dentists.

Hippy: Can I like…get a ride with you?

Prostitute: If there’s room in the car, but she’ll probably have my sister with her cello and my brother with his trumpet and probably the dogs.

Hippy: Forget it.

When I went to high school, girls were not allowed to wear pants or shorts or short skirts or lingerie or sexy stockings, nor would they have been allowed to wear belly shirts had such things existed in those days—all of which the Mendocino girls are fond of wearing. But girls in my day were allowed to wear long skirts and fanciful blouses, the myriad forms and combinations of which ultimately became the signature attire of female hippies. Indeed, the rebellion against boring and constrictive clothing was a large part of the creative expression that defined the Sixties; and if clothes make the person, then hippies were certainly made, at least in part, by their looser and more colorful clothes.

 “Don’t laugh at a youth for his affectations; he is only trying on one face after another to find a face of his own.” Logan Pearsall Smith

When I was sixteen I was on the basketball and soccer teams, and I was also in plays and hung out with artists and musicians and poets, many of whom were among the first hippies, which meant I was a jock artist thespian hippy, though my standard mode of dress gave no hint of these affiliations. I wore blue jeans and mono-colored T-shirts and dirty white tennis shoes and a dull gray plasticized rain jacket; and I gave little thought to my appearance until one day I was having lunch with a bunch of gorgeously attired girls and boys of the artist musician poetry drama crowd, and Mona, who could (and often did) give me an erection with the merest glance, said, “Dear Mr. Odd, why so persistently dun? Wouldn’t you like to be just a little more peacock? Hmm? Please? For Mona’s happiness?”

Mona’s words struck deep (and that’s really how she talked, being one of the first truly gone potheads of my generation). I wanted to please her and I very much wanted to be more peacock than dun. Thus I was distracted for the rest of the day thinking about clothing, missed easy lay-ups during basketball practice, and was off my feed at supper, consuming a mere four thousand calories instead of my usual six thousand. I eschewed my homework for rummaging around in my closet, and finding nothing there I snuck into my parents’ bedroom and rummaged around in my father’s closet, something I had never done before.

To my surprise and amazement, at the end of a long line of conservative suits and ties, I came upon an old suede fawn-colored jacket with leather buttons and big pockets. I took it off the hanger, put it on, and felt embraced by angels. Wow! How had this amazing garment come to be among my father’s possessions, being so unlike anything I had ever seen my father wear?

“Hey, Dad?” I called, carrying my prize through the house. “Where are you?”

“He’s in the garage,” said my mother, transfixed by Perry Mason.

I opened the heavy gray door leading from the kitchen into the garage, a place of chaos and danger and probable tetanus where my father was standing amidst the rubble, soldering something.

“Hey, Dad,” I said, always more than a little afraid of him, “is this yours?”

He turned to me and his scowl gave way to a sheepish smile. “Oh, that old thing. That was my father’s smoking jacket. From the 1930’s. I had it cleaned, but…I never wore it. You want it?”

“Yes,” I said, wanting that jacket more than I had ever wanted anything since I’d wanted a bow and arrows (with real steel tips) when I was ten.

And the next day when I wore that old suede jacket over one of my father’s faintly pink dress shirts, I felt properly attired for the first time in my almost-an-adult life. I felt suave and creative and on my way to where I was supposed to be going, though I had no idea where that was. I felt strong and sexy and daring and unique, and less afraid than I usually felt. To my surprise, boys rather than the girls were the most overtly complimentary and envious, several asking me where I had purchased such a groovy thing, because they wanted one, too.

But the crowning moment came when I presented myself to Mona at lunch and she put down her Anais Nin (Delta of Venus) and took off her big red-framed glasses and wrapped her arms around me and gave me a phantasmagoric open-mouthed kiss and whispered, “Imagine such bed sheets.”

 “I never expected to see the day when girls would get sunburned in the places they do now.” Will Rogers

Teenage boys need little (or nothing) to arouse them, sexually speaking. When I was in high school one of my greatest challenges was getting from one class to the next without revealing my persistent erection. This, I think, was the real purpose of binders, shields to be held over our midsections as we moved along the crowded halls to that next desk under which we could conceal our tumescence. For as I said, a mere glance from Mona, or from any number of other young lovelies, would render me brain dead and ready to procreate; and that was in an era when school rules severely restricted the amount of flesh a young woman’s outfit might reveal.

Today there are numerous young women patrolling the streets of our hamlet who, with only the slightest alterations to their ensembles, might easily be mistaken for escapees from a Victoria’s Secret bra and panties photo shoot, which displays of pulchritude, for an old fart like me, are simply wonderful to behold and make me smile and sigh, innocently, of course, in much the same way I smile and sigh when I espy an osprey winging by overhead with a fat fish clutched in her talons or when I catch a glimpse of a mint condition 1956 turquoise Thunderbird or…that sort of thing.

And for those teenaged boys who must survive their long and tedious high school days sitting and standing in such close proximity to such generous displays of so much luscious female flesh, my sympathies run as deep as the deep blue sea.

City-States

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser October 2012)

My brother, a successful Internet Technology person living in San Mateo, recently wrote, “I know the Bay Area is back because for about three years no one was going out to dinner and a concert, so almost no one was playing at Yoshi’s; it was almost all spillover comedy acts. Now, all the ancient jazz/funk/smooth jazz/new age artists are performing at Yoshi’s again, and come to think of it, we just saw Liz Story there a few months back. The aging Yuppies, or as I like to call us, the sachems of the lower-reaches of the 1% are back in the tall cotton. Unfortunately it’s still not very recovered at all for the other 99%.”

My brother’s observation of those important economic indicators—going out to dinner and a concert—reminded me of something else he hipped me to a few years ago: the Worldwide Centers of Commerce Index, a remarkable and telling project funded by MasterCard. This fascinating study culminated in a multi-dimensional ranking of the top seventy-five city-states in the world, and has not, as far as I know, been updated since 2008. Nevertheless, if you are interested in how the giant multinational corporations develop their global game plans, I highly recommend you hop on a fast computer and check out the Worldwide Centers of Commerce Index. The revelatory information in the study confirms everything Buckminster Fuller wrote about how the supranational powers operate on spaceship earth.

Long before the rise of large and powerful nations came the rise of powerful city-states. Venice, for instance, known for several centuries as the Republic of Venice, was one of the most powerful city-states in the world during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Venice was a great center of commerce and art and war (notably the Crusades) for five hundred years, from the 12th through the 17th Centuries. Today we think of Venice as a quaint old city in Italy with gondolas plying canals, but at the height of her powers Venice was not an Italian city; Italy was essentially subservient to Venice. As a consequence of that greatness, the ambitious and talented flocked to Venice to make their fortunes, which is the main point of Mastercard’s Worldwide Centers of Commerce Index. To wit: the groovier the city-state, the more talented, creative, ambitious people will be attracted there; and those are the people in today’s world that the supranational corporations seek to capture.

According to the 2008 index (compiled before the economic meltdown that has so drastically altered the global financial situation and before the Fukushima nuclear disaster rendered Tokyo radioactive) the top ten city-states in the world were London, New York, Tokyo, Singapore, Chicago, Hong Kong, Paris, Frankfurt, Seoul, and Amsterdam. The San Francisco Bay Area was ranked twenty-eighth and rising fast. The seven criteria used to judge a city-state (each criterion composed of many sub-criteria) were: 1. Legal and political framework  2. Economic stability  3. Ease of doing business  4. Financial flow  5. Business center  6. Knowledge creation and information flow  7. Livability.

The authors of the study write with unbridled enthusiasm about an interconnected society of high-tech culturally exciting city-states taking maximum advantage of the resources and financial possibilities of the world through their interactions with each other, while the land and people outside the city-states are seen as extractive realms where money and manpower and natural resources and farmland are mined for the benefit of the city-states and those folks smart or lucky enough to be, in the words of my brother, among the sachems of the 1%.

This is how the world actually works—global feudalism—and the myriad wars around the world are being fought to serve the interests of those city-states, not in service of nations. This was Buckminster Fuller’s insight that he so desperately wanted people to understand, that the supranational rulers use nationalism to manipulate the masses in the service of the city-states. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are fought for the benefit of the city-states and their ruling elite, not to protect America or to promote democracy. Bucky believed that if people could learn to look beyond the primitive glare of nationalism, they would have a clear view of this superstructure of city-states; and with this clear view the people would cease to support the wars and destructive practices of resource extraction that enrich the city-states and impoverish the rest of the world.

As Bucky wrote in Critical Path (published in 1981), “Long ago the world’s great religions learned how to become transnational or more effectively supranational. Next the world’s great ideologies learned how to become supranational. Most recently the world’s largest financial-enterprise corporations have become completely supranational in their operation. Big religion, ideologies, and businesses alike found it intolerable to operate only within 150 walled-in pens (nations). Freeing themselves by graduating into supranational status, they have left all the people in the 150 pens to struggle with all the disadvantages of 150 mutually opposed economic policies.”

Indeed, when we use the city-state model to look at various aspects of American society that seem ridiculous and counter-intuitive using a “what’s-good-for-America-as-a-nation” model, the ridiculous and counter-intuitive suddenly make perfect sense. For instance, if the vast majority of Americans want and need Single Payer Healthcare, and such a system would save the nation and her people trillions of dollars, why don’t we have that system? Because such a system is not in the best interest of those city-states based in America. The resident corporations provide good healthcare for people of value and importance to the elite of those city-states, while everyone else is either irrelevant or a source of money extracted through exorbitant healthcare costs.

When one examines the upcoming Presidential election in light of the city-state model, we see that Obama is a product of the Chicago city-state hierarchy and a devoted servant of all American-based city-states, especially New York, while Romney was developed by the city-state of Boston with deep ties to New York. Now, a month before the election, it appears that the city-state elite want Obama re-elected, for he guarantees less unrest among the disenfranchised than would the Republican candidate and he is also a fantastic salesman of the wholly erroneous nation model that keeps 99% of humanity enslaved to the corporate elite. But no matter who wins the election, the city-states will be served by one of their high-level operatives.

One of the most interesting things to me about today’s city-state system is the enormous expense (hundreds of billions annually) that goes into enhancing the physical connections between city-states, including airlines, airports, high-speed transportation, and high-tech hotels and resorts for visiting sachem. With internet technology making it possible for people to communicate instantaneously with each other anywhere on earth, one would think that the need for concentrating people in particular places on earth would no longer be necessary; yet just the opposite is true. In the hierarchical systems dominating global commerce today, those who wish to succeed in any of those systems must live in a city-state where those systems are based.

I had a taste of this your-body-must-be-here phenomenon some decades ago when I embarked on a career as a screenwriter. After a motion picture was made of one of my novels, numerous doors in the Hollywood hierarchy were briefly open to me. Los Angeles and New York are the two American city-states where the movie industry hierarchy is concentrated, and when I met with several Los Angeles-based movie agents in my quest to find a representative, they were all eager to represent me, on one condition: that I move to Los Angeles or New York—to live anywhere else was unacceptable.

“But why must I live in Los Angeles or New York?” I asked the most powerful agent to give me an audience. “My work is writing screenplays. I can fly in for…”

“Your work,” she deftly interrupted, “is to establish personal relationships with the people here who have the power to get movies made. If a hot producer wants to meet with you, I have to know you can meet with him today, in an hour if necessary. If someone with clout gets interested in you and he’s giving a party and calls me and says he wants you at that party, I have to know you will be there, and pronto. You can write the greatest screenplays ever written, but if you are not based here and developing strong relationships with important people, you will never get a movie made. Not in this system. Can’t happen.”

“But I had a movie made,” I protested, the thought of trying to survive in Los Angeles or New York far beyond my powers of comprehension, “and I wasn’t here.”

“Based on your novel,” she said with a condescending nod. “Which did zilch at the box office. But if you want to live somewhere else and write novels, I will be happy to represent your published works. However, if you want to be taken seriously as a screenwriter, you must live here or in New York, and preferably with a presence in both places. Otherwise, you are simply not worth my time.”

So here we dwell in Mendocino on the outskirts of the great city-state of San Francisco/Silicon Valley, home to Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Visa, Pixar, Genentech, Hewlett-Packard, and Lucasfilm, to name but a few of the newer giants in the corporate oligarchy; and we most certainly owe much of our relative prosperity to our proximity to that fabulous concentration of wealth and power.

Walking To Town

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser October 2012)

“Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.” Steven Wright

Last night by the fire, our new (old) house enshrouded in dense fog, I said to Marcia that I didn’t feel we were on the land where this house sits but rather on a boat, or possibly a raft, floating somewhere on the ocean of existence. I was not yet anchored anywhere except in my own interiority, except I didn’t use the word interiority because I didn’t think to use it until today when a letter came from my friend Max that said, “While it’s fun for me to say I’m on the Riviera, I notice this: in a certain way I am always in a room and inside my interiority when you and I are talking to each other. Wherever I may go, I’m always coming from that same place.”

Speaking of interiors, yesterday we had one of those spatial breakthroughs that amaze and gladden the spirit. On the east-facing wall of our new living room, two feet above the top of the doorway, sat a massive room-spanning shelf, a single piece of old growth heart redwood sixteen-feet long and a foot wide and two inches thick—an amazing slab of wood. And because the shelf was there and so massive and commanding and impressive, we kept trying to figure out what to put on it. We tried statues, books, driftwood, stones, gongs, drums, and pottery, yet nothing seemed quite right. But we had to find something to go there. Didn’t we?

Well…yesterday morning I woke to the epiphany that the massive shelf was actually a gigantic energy-clogging, dust-collecting, enemy of our psychic and aesthetic freedom, and so I conferred with Marcia and we decided to take the impressively massive thing down, which we and our carpenter-in-residence Jamie Roberts did—no easy feat. Then we scrubbed away the dust and cobwebs on the liberated wall and stood back to take a look. What a fantastic change! Now the room seems much larger and definitely happier, while the wall, I’m sure, is hugely relieved to be free of that burden.

Then yesterday evening—after an incredibly busy day of carpenters and roofers and painters swarming all over the house—two burly men, Spanish-speaking metal scavengers, showed up with their enormous blue pickup truck to take away various metal things we have removed from the house, the largest item being an old cast iron bathtub that weighed well over four hundred pounds. The two fellows mused for a moment over the tub, and then, as easily as I might lift an average-sized cat, they picked the tub up and slid the behemoth into the bed of their truck. And then, confronted by an incredibly heavy old woodstove, they lifted the massive thing as if it were nothing more than a chubby child; and my hernia ached as I looked on in awe at their prodigious strength.

As I was overseeing the various Herculean efforts of these two good men, I communicated with them in my extremely limited Spanish until one of the fellows, tiring of my linguistic deficiencies, said in perfect English, “So…where did you learn to speak Spanish?” I tried to answer in Spanish and he graciously helped me find the proper words. When I said I had gone to Mexico and Central America in 1970 as a Spanish translator for a marine biologist, the fellow translated my claim for his companion, who retorted in rapid fire Spanish something to the effect of, “If this guy was the translator, they must have had some very interesting adventures.”

“


I have two doctors, my left leg and my right.” G.M. Trevelyan

One of my favorite things about our new house is that we are only a mile from the village, and in our first week here I have twice walked to town to do my errands. On the way to town, I descend some four hundred feet in elevation, which means that on the way home I ascend those same four hundred feet. Going to town today took me fifteen minutes, the return trip forty. I am in abominable shape, aerobically speaking, and I am hopeful that several walks to and from the village each week will eventually ameliorate my sorry condition. Today in my knapsack I carried home four bananas, two big carrots, a chocolate bar, a bag of ginger powder, a notebook, pen, pocketknife, and a half-pound of mail, the sum total of which nearly killed me. At one point I was walking so slowly I thought I must be kidding, but I was merely trying not to have a heart attack.

 “Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” Henry David Thoreau




How wonderful I feel strolling into town after my downhill ramble, my little truck left at home while I get my errands done and get some exercise, too. I enter Zo to make a few photocopies and find Jan presiding over his remarkable machines, and I feel I must tell him that I walked to town, which seems to please him, for he knows the steep first mile of Little Lake Road very well, being a bicyclist who climbs that hill with great regularity.

Copying done, I emerge into the fog and do a double take because…no truck! I am once again a vagabond as in my youth, a wanderer possessed of only what I can carry. I traverse the two long blocks to the post office, send a package to Kentucky, a letter to England, fetch the meager mail, and head for Corners of the Mouth in the little red church where the vegetables are always superb and the choices of chocolate as wide as the Mississippi.

But wait! I cannot buy my usual twenty pounds of vittles, for I am on foot and in terrible shape, and the space inside my knapsack is greatly limited. Therefore, I tell myself, I will only buy what we most desperately need, which, thankfully, is nothing. But instead of nothing, I purchase the aforementioned four bananas, two big carrots, a chocolate bar, and a bag of ginger powder (Marcia’s making ginger snaps), and as Garnish rings me up, Sky is nearby replenishing the fruit bins and finds a perfectly edible but less than perfectly gorgeous Golden Delicious apple, which she offers to me as a perk for being such a good customer.

Thus burdened and gifted, I head for home, cross Highway One, and make the mistake of trying to go too fast on the first steep rise, which renders me out of breath and nauseated. So I slow way down to the aforementioned barely walking at all until my heart stops pounding and my vision clears and I am no longer in danger of throwing up, after which my climb goes wonderfully well, however slowly.

Eventually, many minutes later, I trudge past the elementary school and leave the road to climb a steep trail through the woods to avoid the treacherous curves of Little Lake Road, which trail brings me to a little clearing where I come face to face with a magnificent buck and a beautiful doe, neither of whom seems the least bit afraid of me; and when I offer them the apple gifted me by Sky, both deer nod enthusiastically, I kid you not.

Home again at last, the sun finally banishing the fog, I enter our new (old) house feeling absurdly triumphant for having done so little, and as I peek into Marcia’s office she looks up from her work and says, “What? Back already?”