Archive for December, 2014

See’s

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

sees

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser December 2014)

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” Charles M. Schulz

Marcia and I are standing in line at See’s Candies in Santa Rosa, two days before Christmas 2014. See’s Candies is owned by billionaire Warren Buffet and has more than two hundred outlets throughout the west, most of them in California. Some of my earliest memories are of chocolate caramel lollypops from See’s. Hard as rocks and long lasting, those delicious teeth-rotting suckers were two for a nickel when I was a little boy—gateway drugs to a lifetime of chocolate addiction. Warren Buffet did not own See’s when I was a boy, and when he bought the business from the founders, he was wise enough to retain the winning formula: rich chocolate candies sold by matronly women in shops reminiscent of small-town bakeries.

We are in line here at this inopportune time of the year—the holiday season now synonymous with a mass fixation on buying warm clothing and useless crap—because Opal, Marcia mother, was given a gift certificate for one pound of See’s chocolate candy, all creams, please, and we said we would pick the pound up for her on our way to get takeout pizza for our supper with her tonight.

Santa Rosa, for those of us with weak psychic shielding, is a gigantic madhouse of malls and snarled traffic—a testament to stupidity, greed, and bad city planning, though people from Los Angeles find the place bucolic. And where is the pinnacle of madness in this insane city? See’s Candies.

As we wait our turn in the brightly lit shop with its black-and-white color scheme, we are accosted by a small hunchbacked lady in a blue granny dress with matching bonnet and thick-lensed glasses that magnify her bugging eyes and give her the look of an albino goldfish. With creepy urgency she asks, “When you leave here, if you’re going anywhere near the Flamingo Hotel, could you give me a ride?”

I defer to Marcia, not knowing where in Hades we are or in what direction the pizza parlor lies or that the Flamingo Hotel is only two blocks away.

“We’re going in the opposite direction,” Marcia explains. “Sorry.”

“No need to apologize,” says the woman, turning to another recent arrival and repeating her request for a ride, to which the recent arrival says, “We’re not from around here. We don’t know where we’re going.”

The line is not moving. The three matronly women behind the counter are boxing chosen chocolates and wrapping the boxes in reddish orange wrapping paper that stands out like neon against the pervasive black and white. See’s is a full-service last-minute gift-fulfillment center for people who can’t think of anything else to get friends who already have too much of everything, but never enough chocolate.

An enormous woman is ordering large quantities of many kinds of chocolate candies. She tells her matron she does not want her candies boxed because, well, I only catch part of her explanation because she is speaking under her breath and glancing around furtively, ashamed to be so obviously ordering hundreds of dollars of chocolate candy for herself—helpless in the grip of her addiction.

Meanwhile, the weird gal in the granny dress keeps letting people go ahead of her in line because she wants to be waited on by a particular matron who clearly dreads the coming of the albino goldfish. When Goldie finally gains the counter, she makes a great show of buying four pieces of candy, demands a large handful of the club mix for her free sample, and writes a check for four dollars and fourteen cents before resuming her quest for a ride to her apartment two blocks away.

We finally reach the counter and meet our matron from whom we purchase four dark chocolate raspberry creams to go with Opal’s one-pound of mixed creams and a box of dark chocolate molasses chips. At the cash register Marcia says to our matron, “What a busy time of year for you.”

“Yes,” sighs our matron. “And I thought this would be fun.”

“I guess it could be,” says Marcia, “if the customers are nice.”

To which our matron responds with a sweetly sorrowful look that speaks of innumerable customers who are neither nice nor fun.

“For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: It might have been.” John Greenleaf Whittier

Over pizza in Opal’s commodious apartment, I regale Marcia and Opal with the true story of how, if not for my great grandfather’s inferiority complex, I would be heir to a huge candy fortune. Here is the story.

My father’s mother’s mother, the novelist Katharine Grey, married at nineteen. Shortly thereafter, her husband left her pregnant in Oakland and ran off to join the Alaskan gold rush circa 1897. Nine months later, Katharine gave birth to my grandmother Helen, and not having heard a peep from her husband (who had vowed to come back rich within six months) bought a big sturdy wagon, piled it high with the fixings for making candy, and set sail for Alaska with her newborn child.

Upon her arrival in Skagway, she paid a man with two strong horses to pull her and her baby and her wagon full of candy fixings to Dawson City in the heart of the Klondike where she opened a candy shop and started making money hand over fist. Several months later, Katharine’s starving penniless husband came staggering into her wildly successful candy shop, and after partaking of a hearty meal, told his resourceful wife that the Klondike was no place for a woman (other than a prostitute) and insisted they return to Oakland. Katharine revealed her enviable profits to her hubby and suggested they would be rich if they kept the candy business going for another year, but her husband was humiliated by his failure to find gold juxtaposed to his wife’s remarkable success, so they returned to California.

Thus whenever I see a See’s, I imagine the sign says Katharine’s.

East of Eden

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

for East of Eden

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser December 2014)

“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” John Steinbeck, East of Eden

We recently watched the movie version of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Our main motivation for renting the movie was to see the village of Mendocino as she was captured on film in 1954. Mendocino exteriors were used to represent Monterey circa 1917, and if you’ve ever been to Monterey and Mendocino you’ll wonder why anyone, let alone an acclaimed filmmaker, would do such a thing; and if you’ve never been to Monterey and Mendocino you won’t give a hoot.

Directed by Elia Kazan from a putrid screenplay by Paul Osborn, the movie is a big mess, though the first half-hour of the film does feature some neato shots of the village in a time before many of the streets were paved and when there were still several buildings on the south side of Main Street. The space now occupied by Out Of This World was a bank in those days and a scene takes place therein, a scene in which, incredibly, two different women who own whorehouses are congratulated by the teller for their “nice deposits” and for being “in the right business.”

Wooden planks cover the stretch of sidewalk just west of Gallery Books that sixty years after the film was made still slopes steeply down to the street, several unmoving people with fishing nets occupy an alley near Crown Hall, and James Dean sits on the curb in front of where Dick’s bar is today, that hallowed curb unchanged since those famous buttocks lingered there.

Indeed, seeing James Dean traipsing along Main Street sporting a 1950’s hairdo and wearing 1950’s clothing (when the story is supposed to be taking place in 1917) is beyond surreal. Historical and geographical veracity meant nothing to these filmmakers, so if that sort of thing is important to you, avoid this movie. Nevertheless, we enjoyed seeing our village appearing so sunny and empty, vacant lots abounding—the population of Monterey in 1917 imagined by the filmmakers to be hovering somewhere around twenty-nine.

There’s more beauty in truth, even if it is dreadful beauty.” John Steinbeck from East of Eden

East of Eden, the movie, is very loosely based on the second half of John Steinbeck’s verbose allegorical novel that reimagines the myth of Cain and Abel, among other things. Steinbeck said of his novel East of Eden, “It has everything in it I have been able to learn about my craft or profession in all these years. I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for this.”

As much as I love Steinbeck’s short stories and some of his earlier novels, I fear his writing powers were on the wane when he wrote East of Eden, an overblown, preachy, poorly edited work, brimming with moralistic platitudes Steinbeck previously spared his readers.

“Sometimes a man wants to be stupid if it lets him do a thing his cleverness forbids.” John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Much has been written about James Dean’s performance in East of Eden, largely because James Dean only made three movies before he died in a car crash at the age of twenty-four, after which he became a cultural icon, his name synonymous with disillusioned youth. The bad reviews that greeted his performances when he was alive were quickly forgotten and replaced with posthumous raves and a posthumous Academy Award for his role of Cal in East of Eden, an award that says much about our idolatry of the dead and little about Dean’s acting ability.

“When a man says he does not want to speak of something he usually means he can think of nothing else.” John Steinbeck, East of Eden

I am curious to know what James Dean was aiming for with his performance in East of Eden. At the beginning of the movie, he seems to be imitating a petulant five-year-old trapped in the body of a Hollywood heartthrob. A few scenes later, he exhibits symptoms of brain damage resulting from a severe blow to the head. And then he acts like a sullen idiot who, despite his mental deficiencies, knows more than anyone else in the movie. Did Dean and Kazan hope to portray Cal as emotionally damaged as a result of his father telling him his mother was dead when she was really alive and making nice deposits in Mendocino, er, Monterey? Was Dean forever falling silent and doing crazy violent things to show the effects of the father, played in monotone by Raymond Massey, never loving his son? Or was Dean just a cute guy with nothing much to say?

“A kind of light spread out from her. And everything changed color. And the world opened out. And a day was good to awaken to. And there were no limits to anything. And the people of the world were good and handsome. And I was not afraid any more.” John Steinbeck, East of Eden

The real star of the movie is the prototypical girl-next-door played by a relentlessly upbeat Julie Harris. Talking a mile-a-minute, bathed in golden light whether day or night, she strives valiantly to make up for the movie’s massive deficiencies with rivers of earnest blabber about good and bad, love and hate, truth and lies—and she does so in scene after scene with her face about four inches away from the adorable mug of James Dean. Indeed, so close are their faces in dozens of scenes, that when Julie and James finally kiss, I sighed with relief that the inevitable collision was a fait accompli.

“Perhaps the less we have, the more we are required to brag.” John Steinbeck, East of Eden

The movie East of Eden begins with something called Overture. We know this because overture is spelled out in huge letters that clog the center of the screen for several minutes and obliterate the lovely shot of the village of Mendocino (ostensibly Monterey) seen from the south side of the mouth of Big River Bay. Yes, while cloying pseudo-modern 1950’s orchestral music sets the scene for 1917, a giant graphic turd—OVERTURE—hangs in the sky and blocks our view of paradise. And so the stage is set, the style and pace of the movie established, the trouble about to begin.

Choosing Names

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Mementos NolanWInkler

Mementos by Nolan Winkler

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser December 2014)

“I only like two kinds of men: domestic and foreign.” Mae West

Our dear friends Nick and Clare Bokulich, Nick the noted fermentologist, Clare the renowned musicologist and daughter of local viola legend Marion Crombie, recently sent us this pregnancy update. “Had one of those crazy 3D ultrasounds and they were able to see all of the organs and blood pumping through the veins and everything! It was completely overwhelming and exciting all at the same time. And we found out it’s a boy!”

After digesting this exciting news, we wrote Clare a brief email with names for boys we think go well with Bokulich. I suggested Felix and Noah, Marcia was partial to Benjamin (Ben).

Clare replied, “I like all of those, too. Nick and I are pretty hopeless on agreeing on names, though, so we’ve decided to give ourselves a break and not worry about it until after he’s born (though suggestions still welcome!) because there’s just so much else going on right now and we figure that after the kid’s born we’ll have nothing better to do than stare at him and think of names.”

And that reminded me of a short story I wrote when I was twenty (now lost) that was my first story to garner handwritten rejection notes (as opposed to form rejection letters) from editors at two different prestigious magazines. Both editors said they loved the story but were sorry to say they only published well-known writers. The story was entitled The Name and was based on the true story of how my friend Grover got his name.

“Each one of us is in the midst of myriads of worlds. We are in the center of the world always, moment after moment.” Shunryu Suzuki

Grover was born in eastern Kansas in 1931. He was the seventh son and ninth child of hardworking Methodist wheat farmers. Grover’s father was over fifty when Grover was born, and several of Grover’s siblings were already married and had children of their own. Tractors were just displacing teams of horses for plowing the fields, and Grover’s father and brothers and mother worked from sunrise to sunset, six days a week, to make a go of farming—Sunday reserved for church and socializing and resting up for the coming week of toil.

Naming their last-born child was of no pressing importance to Grover’s parents, so he had no official name until he was six. He answered to Baby and Sluggo for the first five years of his life, and it was only when he was about to start school that his parents decided to give him an official name—Ernest favored by Mother, Grover favored by Father.

Inspired by Grover’s vague recollections of why he chose one name over the other, my short story imagined a scene in which Mother plied the boy with pumpkin pie while lobbying for the name Ernest, and another scene in which Father took the boy for a ride in his truck to get an ice cream cone—a great adventure! On the way to and from the soda fountain Father made the case for the name Grover, pointing out that Grover Cleveland had been President of the United States, twice, and Grover Cleveland Alexander was a great baseball player, whereas Ernest was a name better suited to a sissy than to a big strong farm boy.

“There are several kinds of stories, but only one difficult kind—the humorous.” Mark Twain

Recalling the story of how Grover got his name, I was reminded of another naming story told to me by a former prison psychiatrist whose first name was Edward. One of the men Edward ministered to, a mountain of a man who had spent many years in prison for manslaughter, came to see Edward shortly before his release.

“Doctor, you helped me so much,” he said reverently. “If I ever have a son, I’d like to name him after you.”

Edward replied, “I would be honored if you named your son after me,” and thought no more about it.

A few years later, Edward received a phone call from a frantic nurse calling from a hospital in San Francisco. The former inmate had begotten a son and the newborn’s birth certificate required a first name. However, the name chosen by the former inmate was deemed inappropriate by whoever was in charge of that sort of thing at the hospital, and now the very angry mountain of a man was threatening to destroy the maternity ward if the name he wanted for his child was disallowed.

“He says he wants to name the baby after you,” explained the nurse. “He said you told him you would be honored if he named the baby that.”

Edward collected his thoughts and replied, “Why would anyone object to naming a boy Edward? The name has served me and thousands of other Edwards, kings included, very well for hundreds of years.”

“He doesn’t want to name the boy Edward,” cried the exasperated nurse. “He wants to name him Doctor.”

“Well, if I were you,” said Edward, recalling the size and emotional disposition of the man in question, “I would grant him his wish and trouble him no further.”

“It is only in literature that coincidences seem unnatural.” Robert Lynd

I am currently in the throes of writing Book Three of a fictional saga called Ida’s Place. Set on the far north coast of California in the mythical town of Big River, the cast of artists and eccentrics grows larger with each new volume. Thus I have given names to a good many characters of late, with several more characters about to enter the fray. Fortunately, one of my great pleasures is choosing names for those who populate my fiction, though, in truth, they invariably choose their own names before I can consciously intervene.

Which is why I appreciated Clare writing, “…we figure that after the kid’s born we’ll have nothing better to do than stare at him and think of names.” I have no doubt the boy’s name will come to them from him.

Multiple Thanks

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

flower

Flower pen and ink by Todd

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser December 2014)

“All the successful parents I have observed seem to possess one common quality: that of being able to visit with their children.” Marcelene Cox

The week before Thanksgiving, we pre-ordered our organic, free-range, successfully psychoanalyzed, thrice-blessed, kosher, Pulitzer-Prize-winning turkey from Harvest Market and then drove to Santa Rosa to spend a pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving with Marcia’s mother Opal at Spring Lake Village, a groovy retirement community where Opal has lived for many years.

Weary of institutional food, no matter how good the cooks, Opal was raring to go out to eat, so for supper we went to an excellent Thai restaurant and for lunch the next day, after a hearty breakfast in the Spring Lake Village bistro, we went to Opal’s favorite Chinese restaurant. You see the pattern: one meal leading to the next, with brief intermissions for billiards and sleep.

We are thankful for Opal, who is just a kick.

Upon bidding Opal adieu after twenty-four hours of fun, we timed our drive back to Mendocino so we arrived at Libby’s in Philo for a supper of the best Mexican food this side of anywhere. The joint was jumping and we marveled at the equipoise of Libby and her staff of tulkus reincarnated as unflappable bi-lingual waitresses. I had the carnitas—divine—and Marcia had the chile relleno. Yum city.

We are grateful for Libby and her fabulous restaurant and only wish she would open a second Libby’s in Mendocino so that we might grow fat on her beans and rice and chips and salsa.

“There are only two questions to ask about food. Is it good? And is it authentic?” Giuliano Bugialli

We arrived home to an invitation to join three friends for a vegan Thanksgiving feast at which our aforementioned turkey would not be welcome. Thinking fast, Marcia came up with the brilliant idea of attending the vegan feast, cooking our turkey the day after the official day of Thanksgiving, and feasting on tryptophan-rich flesh for days thereafter.

The vegan feast featured borscht, roasted chunklets of potatoes and yams, Marcia’s delicious lentil nut loaf, a big green salad, Brussels sprouts, something with cheese I couldn’t eat because dairy gives me flu-like symptoms, and a wild mushroom dish I couldn’t eat because chanterelles and hedgehogs make me violently ill.

Implausible but true: Because I am allergic to chanterelles, Nature reveals them to me in enormous quantities (both black and gold) whenever I venture into the woods. In related digestive news, eating gluten-rich food causes me to swell up like a stuffed turkey. I am also severely allergic to alcohol—a serious bummer because I love the taste of good wine and fine whiskey and that first long gulp of ice-cold beer.

“To be a good cook you have to have a love of the good, a love of hand work, and a love of creating.” Julia Child

I was to bake the turkey and make mashed potatoes for our more traditional Thanksgiving feast, and Marcia was to concoct her delectable cranberry sauce and one of her legendary green salads. So on the day following the vegan feast, I dug up one of my late-planted potato plants and found two small potatoes thereupon. Based on that output, I calculated the twenty remaining potato plants would provide enough spuds for a big batch of mashed potatoes. But after digging up a second plant and finding zero potatoes, I sped to the village and found spectacular Yukon Gold potatoes selling at Corners for a mere dollar-a-pound.

There would be no stuffing (dressing) this year because…well, here’s the story. We’re not sure why, but several months ago we began to receive the magazine Bon Appëtit, a food magazine for rich people and for those who enjoy fantasizing about eating like rich people. Bon Appëtit is obese with ads for staggeringly expensive cooking tools including a diminutive knife made in Switzerland that sells for a mere seven-hundred-dollars and should go nicely with your thousand-dollar crock pot and your forty-thousand-dollar artificially intelligent polar vortex oven.

Marcia and I do not subscribe to any magazines (other than the Anderson Valley Advertiser, which is technically a newspaper), yet we receive Bon Appëtit, National Geographic (more ads than articles), Mother Earth News (virtually unchanged in thirty years) and Sierra (the magazine of the Sierra Club featuring ads for automobiles and expensive foreign travel.) We theorize these magazines come to us because of clerical errors caused by mutant logarithms.

In any case, when Bon Appétit arrives, we give it a skim, feel mildly deprived for a minute or two, and then recycle the glossy thing. However, in this year’s Thanksgiving issue—featuring mashed potatoes made with more butter than potatoes, and turkey stuffing (dressing) that sounds suspiciously like paella combined with duck liver chow mein—there was an article about the best (their words) way to cook a turkey, a way resulting in meat so delicious that those who eat such meat become instantly enlightened yet still feel fine about owning seven sterling silver omelet pans of various sizes and personalities.

The Bon Appëtit way to cook a turkey is called spatchcocking, a process involving the removal of the turkey’s backbone. This absence of a backbone allows the chef to flatten the entire turkey for baking in a big (platinum highly recommended) pan thing, which flattening allows all the flesh of the bird to rest (be) at the same altitude, or something. This flattening also allows for much faster cooking of the totality of the bird, and much faster cooking, according to Bon Appëtit, results in super tender flesh.

So I tried spatchcocking. I felt brave and daring wielding my cleaver and cutting out the backbone. I felt suave and sophisticated as I baked the flattened bird on a bed of vegetables, basting frequently with a medium of my own invention composed of water, wine, and things I can’t remember that synergized with the inevitable juices of the simmering bird. And the result? Well, as with traditionally baked unspatchcocked turkeys (breast down), the white meat was perfectly cooked long before the dark meat was done, the total cooking time was twenty minutes longer than advertised, and the meat was tender and delicious, though not discernibly more tender and delicious than turkey meat from unspatchcocked turkeys crammed with stuffing (more delicately known as dressing) and cooked for many hours.

Even so, this spatchcocking experience inspires me to cook our next turkey in the way we cook chicken, in pieces simmering in a superlative basting medium. As of this writing, we are enjoying a monumental soup made from the carcass of the highly evolved eleven-pound being who lived and died so we may live.

Holiday Shopping Reminder

Saturday, December 6th, 2014

idas2-cover-sm
Dear Reader,
I promise this will be my last holiday shopping reminder for 2014. A graduate of the self-taught course How To Sell Excellent Esoteric Original Literature and Music All By Yourself With No Advertising Budget, I have learned that reminders to the wonderful people who read my blog are important, but should be used sparingly to avoid annoying those rare beings who might patronize my art. And you are one of those rare beings. With the Winter Solstice fast approaching, I hope you will come visit Under The Table Books and do some window shopping and possibly purchase an item or seven. http://underthetablebooks.com/index.php
Of special note this year are the first four cards of our new line of large Solstice Cards (good for both Solstices). Just three dollars each with envelope. Or you can get all four for just ten dollars. What a great alternative to the usual hoo ha. If you go to see them, click on the smaller images to see them large.
http://underthetablebooks.com/drawings/solstice.php
Another new creation we’re thrilled about is Ida’s Place Book Two: Revival, the second volume in the Ida’s Place saga set in the mythical town of Big River on the far north coast of California with a large cast of unforgettable characters involved in all manner of dramas and intrigues. Each coil-bound copy signed and lavishly numbered. http://underthetablebooks.com/words/pubs/revival.php
Reaction to Book Two has been wonderful so far, and Book Three is now underway.
If you haven’t read Ida’s Place Book One: Return, you can read the first three chapters on my web site and see if you want to give the larger opus a try. As Alex MacBride wrote, ”I had forgotten what it’s like to enjoy a book so purely and unambiguously and happily and want nothing more than to keep reading. I love it. It gave me a kind of reading-joy I haven’t had much since I was thirteen and fourteen, a tingling sort of excited comfort—moving along eagerly but resting at the same time, happy to be in the book’s world.”
If you have read the Ida books, we hope you’ll consider giving them as gifts to unsuspecting friends and relatives. http://underthetablebooks.com/words/pubs/ida.php
natureoflove
Our other brand new creation, just now starting to get airplay on a few tiny public radio stations here and there around America, is nature of love, solo piano, two songs with words, and two poems. “A thrilling mixture.” says Max Greenstreet  Downloadable from CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon, etc. Or gettable from me for just ten dollars at http://underthetablebooks.com/music/natureoflove.php
My other CDs and the two CDs of tunes I made with Marcia playing her gorgeous cello can be found at. http://underthetablebooks.com/music/index.php And are downloadable from iTunes, CD Baby and Amazon.
My award-winning casebound collection of dharma stories Buddha In A Teacup is now just ten dollars. http://underthetablebooks.com/words/pubs/buddha.php
And my other award-wnning novel of stories Under the Table Books is a mere seven dollars for the beautiful hardback! http://underthetablebooks.com/words/pubs/uttb.php
Remember: No matter how much you order, shipping is only five dollars.
Come visit. Come listen to readings from my works on the Listen Page. Peruse the Art in the Art section. Listen to music samples in the Music Section. Have fun.
Until next year, thanks for being you, and please share this notice with friends if you are so inclined. For those who don’t want to use a credit card online, just send me a list of the goodies you want and I will calculate the total and any applicable sales tax and let you know how much to send via check to my p.o.box.
Muchas Gracias,
Todd

 

Power Over

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

No Illusions.No Replays Nolan Winkler

No Illusions. No Replays. painting by Nolan Winkler

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser December 2014)

“Every closed eye is not sleeping, and every open eye is not seeing.” Bill Cosby

When my mother asked me what I wanted for a high school graduation present, I said I would like to take my girlfriend to see Bill Cosby perform at the opera house in San Francisco. The year was 1967. I first heard of Bill Cosby in 1964 when I was working as a counselor at a summer camp for kids from East Palo Alto. One day, as I was imitating my fast-talking uncle Howard to entertain my group of ten and eleven-year-old boys, one of my charges opined, “You sound like Bill Cosby.”

“Yeah,” said another boy. “You sound just like him.”

After camp that day, I went to Discount Records in Menlo Park, bought Bill Cosby’s album Why Is There Air?, and listened to the routines over and over again until I could do them a la Cosby, much to the delight of my friends. Bill Cosby did indeed sound just like my Uncle Howard—a linguistic mystery given that Uncle Howard was a middle-aged white Jewish guy from Los Angeles and Bill Cosby was a young black guy from Philadelphia.

I never bought another Cosby album, but I did see him perform at the Circle Star Theatre in San Carlos and then at the San Francisco opera house for my senior graduation present. The Pair Extraordinaire opened for Cosby on both occasions and I bought two of their records—Carl Craig singing jazzy ballads to the accompaniment of bass player Marcus Hemphill.

What I remember most vividly about Cosby’s opera house performance was that I no longer found him funny, but rather brilliantly sad in the manner of Marcel Marceau, the great French mime. Indeed, much of his performance was mime, and I felt he was trying to express emotions with facial expressions and physical mannerisms that no words could properly convey.

Then I lost track of Cosby for thirty years, not being a television watcher, and next heard him sounding repulsively Republican in his chastisement of black people for not trying hard enough to lift themselves out of poverty. Millionaires who blame poor people for their poverty are repulsive to me, and I was saddened that Cosby had become an elitist bigot. And then I thought no more about him.

“Women don’t want to hear what you think. Women want to hear what they think, in a deeper voice.” Bill Cosby

Dozens of women have now come forth and accused Bill Cosby of drugging them and raping them, trying to rape them, or coercing them to have sex with him—the alleged sexual assaults taking place continuously from the 1960’s until just a few years ago. Several of the women initially made their claims years and decades ago, but were ignored or lambasted for coming forth with their stories, and many more of the women are making their claims public for the first time, emboldened by the claims of others. Cosby’s lawyers call the accusations ridiculous, and Cosby, as of this writing, refuses to discuss the accusations.

“We’ve got too many young girls who don’t know how to parent, turning themselves into parents.” Bill Cosby

The sickening scenes described by Cosby’s accusers are reminiscent of the many stories I have heard from women and men who entered the theatre world, the movie business, the New York publishing world, and the music business with great expectations and soon came to critical junctions in their career paths when they were promised advancement in exchange for submitting to the sexual dominance of someone higher up the pyramid of power. In most of the stories, not submitting to the higher-up ended or precipitated the end of the career of the aspirant. In some cases, submitting to the demands of the higher-up did the aspirant little or no good, while in a few cases submission did open doors to greater opportunities.

As one disenchanted screenwriter put it, “The movie business is all about power over. You may not always have to let them fuck you physically, but you always have to let them fuck with what you write or they will wreck your chances forever.”

My own experiences during the several years I was active in the movie business and in New York publishing confirmed the stories of my fellow aspirants, as well as that screenwriter’s assessment of how the movie business works. In the context of those male-dominated power-over systems, the accusations of Cosby’s accusers ring loudly and tragically true.

“There are two sides to every story, and sometimes three, four, and five.” Bill Cosby

Many years ago when I was running the Creative Writing Department for the California State Summer School for the Arts, I led a group of thirty aspiring young writers, actors, dancers, musicians, and visual artists in a series of two-hour-long workshops. I divided the performers into mixed gender groups of six, elucidated a creative challenge, and gave the groups very little time to create, practice, and refine their creations before they performed them.

For instance, I gave the groups fifteen minutes to create dramatic scenes revolving around mysteries, the scenes climaxing in songs and ending with the groups forming tableaus that resolved the mysteries. I expected rough stuff at best, and was stunned when each group performed a compelling scene with sophisticated dialogue leading seamlessly into a catchy song with clever lyrics that carried the narrative to a revelatory climax ending in an ingenious tableau.

Had I not watched these groups swiftly and cooperatively create, rehearse, modify, rehearse, and then perform these scenes and songs and tableaus, I would never have believed that works so polished and complex and beautifully synchronized could have come about in so short a time. Yet these groups of inspired women and men created brilliant scenes and songs and dances with astonishing ease, over and over.

For the final creative challenge, I divided the thirty artists into three groups of ten and gave them a half-hour to create clans. Each clan would have a name, a purpose, a creation myth, a history, a code of ethics, a motto, a clan song, a clan dance, and clan gestures, with these clan attributes to be revealed in some sort of artful performance. The results were nothing short of miraculous and proved to me that in the absence of an ossified hierarchy, creative genius flourishes.