Posts Tagged ‘1967’

Olden Days

Monday, February 26th, 2018

still I'm still here

Still I’m Still Here painting by Nolan Winkler 

A friend recently (2018) sent me an article about a small vacant lot zoned for a single-family dwelling in Palo Alto, California, just a little plot of land, selling for seven million dollars. In another article about a housing development the San Francisco Giants are financing in San Francisco near their ballpark, the big excitement about the project is that 40% of the 1300 units of housing will be rented to working-class families only earning 80-150 thousand dollars a year.

Hmm. I have never been a big fan of science fiction. As a teenager I enjoyed I, Robot and a few other classics, but in general sci-fi has never been my cup of tea. For one thing, we can’t go faster than the speed of light, so we’re stuck here. Why can’t we just accept that and fully embrace the here and now and figure out how to live sustainably on this planet instead of dreaming about going to other planets we will never get to? For another thing, who can relate to a reality in which a family with an annual income of 150 thousand dollars is thought to be working class? In that reality would a homeless person be pulling down fifty grand a year?

In any case, these nutty financial figures got me thinking about my youth in Palo Alto and San Francisco, when seven million dollars would have bought you two hundred nice houses and their lots in Palo Alto, and a hundred grand a year would have made you filthy rich in San Francisco. Yes, I know, inflation and all that, but not really. According to our government, and you’ll know this if you depend on Social Security income as I do, there is no inflation to speak of and hasn’t been any inflation for the last decade. (Oh, that’s right. They don’t count food prices or rent or much of anything in their calculations. I wonder why not.)

When I attended Woodside High School, my pals Rico and David and I put out a mimeographed counter-culture magazine called Lyceum. We had several dozen subscribers and sold copies at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, and when, after eight issues, we folded up shop because David and I were going off to college and we’d run out of things to say, Rico reported we had amassed a profit of eighty dollars. We decided to celebrate by taking three lovely young women for a day and evening of fun in San Francisco.

The year was 1967, the month was June. Our budget was eighty dollars. For the six of us. The three writer editors dressed as wannabe North Beach poets, the three lucky women, under the command of my girlfriend, wore saris. By the end of our long day, the gals would regret that clothing choice. We took the train from Menlo Park to San Francisco, took the bus from there to Chinatown, and after a splendid meal in a Chinese restaurant, we wandered around for a few hours shopping for volumes of poetry and gaudy scarves.

Exhausted by our wandering, we had lattes and biscotti at Caffe Trieste in North Beach and then went for all we could eat supper at the Spaghetti Factory. Well-stuffed, we waddled across North Beach and saw The Committee perform. And though I didn’t understand most of what those witty people said or why the audience found them so riotously funny, I felt sophisticated and worldly and adult and hip. Then we caught a bus back to the train station and rode home triumphantly out of money, our eighty dollars covering everything the six of us did and saw and consumed on that day.

Over the ensuing fifty years, I have only twice earned more than a hundred thousand dollars in a year, my average annual income being in the fifteen to twenty thousand dollar range, some years less, rarely more. I have scraped by, so to speak, yet whilst scraping by I lived in a beautiful room in a big house right on the beach in Santa Cruz and my rent was thirty-five dollars a month, and I lived in a lovely house in Ashland, Oregon, my rent sixty dollars a month. And fairly recently I lived in a nice house in a quiet neighborhood in Berkeley before the erasure of rent control ended the era of reasonable rents. And Rico lived for many years in a prime location in San Francisco and paid 270 a month for a spacious two-bedroom flat.

When I dropped out of college in 1969, I didn’t worry about money, though I had almost no money. The reason I didn’t worry was that in those days it took very little effort to earn enough money to rent a room and buy enough food to eat, and by very little effort I mean a few hours a day earning a couple bucks an hour covered my expenses. A visit to the doctor was ten bucks, and if he or she prescribed antibiotics, a few dollars more. For some years I made my living playing the guitar and singing in taverns and cafes. Ten bucks and a hearty meal and free beer plus tips amounting to another ten bucks all for a few hours of strumming and singing. Three such gigs a week meant I was making around sixty dollars a week. I was rolling in dough!

I was able to pursue my writing and music because things, the necessities of a decent life, did not cost much. Money was important, but not all important. Today, however, when a loaf of bread is seven dollars and brown rice is $2.50 a pound, and when we visited Portland and saw vast armies of homeless people living in the streets, and when I stand in line at the grocery store and watch the high school kids spending ten dollars for a bottle of pop and a bag of chips and a candy bar and my friend’s daughter pays 1200 a month for space in a house in Berkeley she shares with five other people, I wonder what the young Todd I used to be would do in today’s world to survive and still be able to work at writing and composing music.

I have no idea what I would do if I was twenty today and embarking on my life as an artist. Everything I did in my life was predicated on being able to live on next to nothing. I travelled by hitchhiking or bus, I never went to Europe, I rarely ate at restaurants, I didn’t own a car or have health insurance. I just got by. And that was enough for me so long as I had time to make my art. But what if I hadn’t been able to live on next to nothing. What would I have done?

What’s New?

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Hungry For Color note card by Todd Walton

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

“Life is full of obstacle illusions.” Grant Frazier

A recent San Francisco 49ers game ended in a tie with the St. Louis Rams, the first professional football game to end in a tie in four years. I’m still not used to the Rams being the St. Louis Rams because they were the Los Angeles Rams for all of my youth and for decades thereafter, which made them our dread rivals along with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Los Angeles Lakers and all things Los Angeles. The Lakers, by the way, are called the Lakers because they were originally the Minneapolis Lakers, Minnesota having lakes whereas Los Angeles has viaducts; but the Los Angeles Viaducts would have been a silly name for a basketball team, so…the Dodgers were originally the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the Golden State (Oakland) Warriors were originally the Philadelphia Warriors, and soon the San Francisco 49ers will be playing their games in Santa Clara and…nowadays professional sports franchises move ever more frequently from city-state to city-state at the whim of their billionaire owners.

This year, for instance, the Brooklyn Nets played their first games with that moniker having been moved to Brooklyn from New Jersey by their new multi-billionaire Russian owner who just built a billion-dollar sports complex in Brooklyn to house his new team. The Nets are the first professional sports franchise to call Brooklyn home since the Brooklyn Dodgers fled to Los Angeles in the 1950’s, and now New Jersey is without a professional basketball or football or baseball franchise. Oh well.

Anyway, that 49er’s game ending in a tie took me back to my senior year of high school when I was the goalie of the Woodside High soccer team and we were playing Sequoia High for the league championship. The year was 1967 and a long time before soccer would become the major American institution it is today. There were no such things as soccer moms in those days because there were no soccer leagues for children to be driven to. In fact, very few American high schools in 1967 had soccer teams, soccer being of such little interest to most Americans that we never had more than a handful of spectators at our games, and most of those were girlfriends of the players.

When we played for the league championship against the perennial champion Sequoia, there were perhaps fifty people in the stands, most of them the fathers and mothers and siblings of Sequoia’s many Mexican players, the large Mexican population of Redwood City being the basis for Sequoia’s perennial dominance of a soccer league otherwise composed of white kids, most of whom had played soccer for a few years at most, while the Mexican kids had been kicking balls around since they began to walk.

Miracle of miracles, and largely due to our stifling defensive play, that championship game ended in a 1-1 tie, and in those days penalty kick shootouts were a thing of the future. Ties happened and that’s just the way it was. I do remember that most of my teammates and all the Sequoia players were angry that the coaches wouldn’t let us play on until one team or the other scored a winning goal, but our anger quickly morphed into relief. After all, we probably would have lost had the game continued, and what was wrong with being co-champions? Nothing. Nowadays every sport from the peewee leagues to the pros has elaborate protocols for coming up with a winner in the event of a tie at the end of regulation, and I’ll wager this latest 49ers tie will set off a flurry of demands for rule changes to eradicate tie games in professional football forever.

It is never too late to be who you might have been.” George Eliot

As I was musing about why tie games have become so unacceptable in America, I happened to catch a few minutes of a radio program featuring the president of the California Teachers’ Association and two other well-informed educators talking about the educational holocaust created by Bush’s No Child Left Behind, a program Obama has continued under the new name Race To The Top. This asinine system has severely damaged an entire generation of students (and teachers) by teaching the kids absolutely nothing while insisting they memorize and regurgitate masses of useless information in order to be tested on how much useless information they can memorize and regurgitate. These millions and millions of brilliant young people were not taught to write well or how to think critically or how to create art or how to invent things or how to solve problems or how to play musical instruments, and most importantly, as far as I’m concerned—and this relates to our new cultural taboo against games ending in ties—students were not taught to work together, to help each other, to cooperate, to share, and to undertake group projects that end in ties with everyone winning.

Race to the top? The top of what? The societal pyramid, right? And doesn’t that imply that if a tiny percentage of the people race to the top of the pyramid (or more likely are born there and jealously guard their lofty domain) that many more people will be on the bottom of the pyramid or near the bottom? Most people? Of course it does. We have the newest fangled gadgets and phones and computers and cars, but we have a fundamental design flaw in the organization of our society, a flaw we teach and preach as the law of the land. Race to the top, sucker, and you’d better get to the top or you will lose, no tie games allowed.

“Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end.” Henry David Thoreau

One of the things I greatly appreciate about living in Mendocino is that most of the full time residents I’ve gotten to know could care less about racing to the top of any sort of social or economic pyramid or heap, and that’s one of the reasons they’ve chosen to live here. After abiding for eleven years in Berkeley where such racing and clawing and competing is endemic and exhausting, I am greatly relieved to live somewhere where I am liked or disliked for who I am rather than for who I know or where I live or how much money I have or don’t have. That racing clawing competing energy visits Mendocino on weekends and during the summer months when folks from the Bay Area come up to recreate or occupy their second (or third) homes; and whenever I find myself in the line of such unfriendly psychic fire, I escape post haste and thank my lucky stars I don’t live in Berkeley anymore.

“When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.” H.G. Wells

Speaking of what’s new, one of the best things to become established in America in my lifetime is the popularity of bicycles and bicycling. When I moved to Sacramento in 1980, my main means of transportation was a bicycle, and so few people rode bicycles in those days that I was soon known in midtown and downtown as “the guy who rides a bike.” Seriously. I’m not kidding. I walked all over town, too, and dozens of times I was greeted by complete strangers with, “Hey, where’s your bike?” or “Hey, it’s the bike guy.”

“You know what I always dreamed of? That with the greenhouse effect, one day Estonia can be what Los Angeles is right now. I always thought when the end of the world comes, I want to be in Estonia. I think then I’d survive.” Carmen Kass

Speaking of bicycles, things, as in the projected changes in the earth’s climate, based on actual measurable data, are not looking good for the survival of humanity beyond another couple of generations unless we dramatically fantastically and heroically shrink our carbon footprints to almost nothing, and soon. “Oh, dear,” we Americans collectively respond to the irrefutable information about what’s happening on earth at this very moment, “but how can we reduce our carbon footprints even a little if the powers that be won’t provide us with groovalicious mass transit and spacious sturdy solar electric cars made from recycled plastic and inexpensive renewable energy and stuff like that? How can we change the way we live if someone else doesn’t provide convenient and excellent alternatives to the way we’re living now?”

The answer is that we, you and I, are extremely intelligent and resourceful people, and there is no doubt whatsoever that we can figure out myriads ways to dramatically fantastically and heroically shrink our individual and collective carbon footprints to a perfectly reasonable level if we set our minds and hearts to the task. Not only that, but we are so resourceful and creative that we can dramatically reduce our carbon footprints and have fun at the same time. To get your imaginative juices flowing in that direction, think about walking, bicycles, insulation, potluck dinners, ride sharing, solar power, wind power, buying local, thermal underwear, driving less, candlelight, darkness, vegetable gardens…

And think about what Thomas Hedges just reported for Truthdig:

Since 2000, Germany has converted 25 percent of its power grid to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass. The architects of the clean energy movement Energiewende, which translates to “energy transformation,” estimate that from 80 percent to 100 percent of Germany’s electricity will come from renewable sources by 2050.

Germans are baffled that the United States has not taken the same path. Not only is the U.S. the wealthiest nation in the world, but it’s also credited with jump-starting Germany’s green movement 40 years ago.

“This is a very American idea,” Arne Jungjohann, a director at the Heinrich Boll Stiftung Foundation (HBSF), said at a news conference Tuesday morning in Washington, D.C. “We got this from Jimmy Carter.”

Indeed, the only thing stopping Americans from inventing and implementing wonderful new carbon-lite lives is our unwillingness to believe that such changes are truly necessary.