Posts Tagged ‘James Thurber’

Satire

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

14zoom

Homage to Kokopelli photograph by David Jouris

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser January 2015)

Satire has to be done en clair. You can’t blunt the edge of wit or the point of satire with obscurity. Try to imagine a famous witty saying that is not immediately clear.” James Thurber

Reading about the murder of twelve people and the wounding of eight others at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and the continuing violence as the murderers have taken hostages in two locations in Paris, I recall Satan in Mark Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger saying, “No sane man can be happy, for to him life is real, and he sees what a fearful thing it is.”

“Satire works best when it hews close to the line between the outlandish and the possible—and as that line continues to grow thinner, the satirist’s task becomes even more difficult.” Graydon Carter

When I was in the Eighth Grade, I was momentarily seized with the satirical urge to claim I was God. You may remember how it was before the onset of high school. Having finally gotten the hang of childhood, and for a few glorious months before being knocked senseless by puberty and being placed at the bottom of the teenage heap, we experienced a brief epoch of self-confidence, which for me took the form of satirizing everything and everyone.

“Yes,” I proclaimed to one of my fellow junior high satirists, “I’ve used the name Todd up to now, rather than God, so the world wouldn’t know who I really was until the time was right to reveal the truth. Now that time has come. Let us sally forth and spread the good news. Want to be my first disciple?”

Yes, I was conflating God and Jesus, but so have lots of people.

In any case, after making a silly show of publicly blessing a dozen or so giddy disciples, I tired of claiming to be God and resumed my obsessions with baseball and girls. But satire once loosed upon the world is not so easily withdrawn. One day after school, I was cornered by three large boys intent on punishing me for daring to claim I was God and/or Jesus.

“Think you’re God, huh?” said the largest of the three, punching my shoulder. “Hurt, didn’t it? If you were God, wouldn’t hurt, would it?”

“I’m not God,” I said, gladdened to see a posse of disciples coming to my rescue. “I was joking.”

“Not funny,” said another of the boys, taking a swing at me.

I ducked, his fist hit the cinder block wall, and off I ran.

For the first two years of high school, several of my chums persisted in calling me God. Among these chums was a delicious young woman who greeted me every day with, “Hey, God. What’s going on?” in a sleepy sexy voice that always made me glad I’d been a satirist in junior high. On the other hand, I continued to be confronted by outraged Christians who felt I should be punished for mocking their beliefs. To defuse their righteous indignation, I would sincerely apologize for having been an idiot in my long ago youth, beg their forgiveness, and exit before I started to giggle.

“Satire is focused bitterness.” Leo Rosten

Speaking of bitterness, I recently read most of the stories in The Complete Stories of Evelyn Waugh, a thick collection of bitingly satirical short stories, and found I most appreciated his few stories in which satire played a part but was not the point. No matter how brilliant the writing, and Waugh was a brilliant writer, when every person in a story is a caricature and every plot twist the result of cruelty or stupidity, I could care less.

“Music is my religion.” Jimi Hendrix

When I got to college in 1967—UC Santa Cruz in its infancy—I made the erroneous assumption that my college comrades and I would be free to say whatever we thought and felt without fear of reprisal. We would, I imagined, delve deep into myriad questions and mysteries arising from our studies and shared experiences, and as the result of such delving our wisdom would grow by leaps and bounds.

A few weeks into my college life, I attended a dance in the Stevenson College dining hall and found myself boogying with a gang of exuberant gals and guys from Los Angeles. We had a wonderful hilarious time, and after the dance retired to the groovacious dorm room of one of the gals, the décor a triumph of paisley, a grandiloquent lava lamp center stage, and heaps of glistening bud to be smoked.

Someone took the Beatles (Rubber Soul) off the turntable just as the boys were getting warmed up, and put on a record by a discordant Los Angeles band I’d never heard of, the drummer rhythm deaf, the guitarists out of synch, the bass player hopeless, the singing god awful. After the first cut, I commented that they sounded like The Grateful Dead meets Sonny & Cher in a dark alley on a bad night. I might as well have declared to a sect of violent Christian fundamentalists that Jesus was a homosexual snake oil salesman.

The knowledge I gained from the anguish and vitriol my insensitive remark aroused has served me well, for I never again made the mistake of saying anything critical of the music beloved by those playing or listening to that music. I learned then, and have confirmed a thousand times since, that a person’s favorite music is sacred to them. To defame the sacred is dangerous, especially nowadays when so many people are willing to use violence in the service of whatever they deem sacred and therefore inviolable.

Blackberries & Firewood

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

a9-Promise of Spring

Promise of Spring photograph by Ellen Jantzen

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser August 2013)

“Looks can be deceiving—it’s eating that’s believing.” James Thurber

A few days ago, Marion Crombie, our musical neighbor and fellow fruit forager, reported that two of the most promising and easily accessible stands of blackberries hereabouts have begun to fulfill their promise, so the next morning Marcia and I set forth with our knapsack full of glass jars (with lids) to harvest the luscious berries pursuant to making blackberry jam.

This is that marvelous time of year around here when the garden is producing copious edibles, the local apple crop is coming ripe, the plums have peaked but are still hanging about, and the berries—huckle, black, rasp and boysen—are profuse upon their vines. We managed to pick three quarts of black beauties in an hour or so, and with five apples cut up in the mix and using only one-third of the sugar called for in the jam recipe, we cooked up three quarts of the best blackberry jam money can’t buy.

“As an instrument of planetary home repair, it is hard to imagine anything as safe as a tree.” Jonathan Weiner

Yesterday, with the Mendocino air by turns muggy and cold and muggy and cold, the huge green dump truck from Frank’s Firewood arrived from Boonville to deliver two cords of seasoned tan oak destined for our wonderfully efficient Norwegian woodstove. The driver of that well-known truck is Neil Vaine, a master backer upper and superior dumping strategist, accompanied on his rounds by his trusty pooch, a handsome dog with a sweet disposition and a love of riding hither and yon with Neil.

The two cords had to be dumped a good fifty yards from our woodshed, and I look upon that great mass of yet-to-be-released solar power as hours of invigorating hauling and stacking that will ultimately result in thousands of hours of comforting heat when winter is upon us and the rains and cold keep us inside more than out. I am well aware of how lucky we are to live where we’re allowed to heat our homes with firewood, and luckier still to live in a place where firewood is available at all.

I love building fires and feeding them and watching the flames, and I have loved all that since I was little boy. When I was six-years-old, my father taught me how to build a campfire without the use of paper or lighter fluid. He showed me how to build a spacious little structure of tiny twigs around which and on top of I would lay slightly larger pieces of wood, and so on, while being careful to leave an opening for the match to reach those underlying twigs. For some years thereafter it was a point of pride that I make my fires in the fireplace at home or on backpack trips without resorting to paper to ignite the kindling. Nowadays I have no pride when it comes to using old newspapers to start the fire, though now and again I will build a fire without paper just to prove I can.

“Why, if a fish came to me, and told me he was going on a journey, I should say, “With what porpoise?” Lewis Carroll

Speaking of abundance, this used to be the time of year when we would frequently partake of delicious and nutritious locally caught salmon, but now we have drastically reduced our intake of fish in response to the ongoing meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan that have permanently poisoned the Pacific Ocean, with millions of gallons of radioactive water being released into the ocean every day from those dangerously crippled reactors because the Japanese lack the technology and sufficient money to stop the radioactive bleeding. Where are you when we need you, President Obama, Senators Feinstein and Boxer, billionaires Gates and Buffet, along with the rest of the entire supposedly civilized world?

Yesterday I read an excellent and terrifying article online from which I learned that a huge mass of radioactive contaminants dumped into the ocean from the Fukushima plants is fast approaching the west coast of North America, this on top of the enormous amounts of radioactive molecules that have already reached our shores and spread through the air around the world. And then I did something I rarely do; I read the comments from readers at the end of that online article, most of which contained the line, “I’m glad I don’t live on the west coast,” and many of which contained the shocking (to me) sentiment that the radioactive onslaught would “serve those rich people in Carmel and Malibu right.”

“Food is an important part of a balanced diet.” Fran Lebowitz

Today I stop in at the GoodLife Café and Bakery and purchase a loaf of excellent gluten-free bread, and the thought of a piece of toast made from that yummy bread lathered with our homemade blackberry jam propels me up the steep hill to home, my daily walk to and from the village of Mendocino the centerpiece of my current fitness regime that now also includes hauling and stacking firewood.

As I climb the hill, I rejoice about the abundance of fresh blackberries and our ample supply of firewood while simultaneously feeling sad about the ongoing catastrophe at Fukushima and the radioactive tides approaching our shores. I wave to a smiling friend driving by and try not to think about the corporations of mass destruction holding sway over the United States and much of the world. I stop to marvel at a hummingbird visiting the fanciful blooms of a fuchsia and think about brave Bradley Manning, one of the great heroes of our time, being sentenced to thirty-five years in prison for trying to do something about the out-of-control military-industrial complex that has made of the entire world a battle field.

“There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.” Gore Vidal

I think we humans made a terrible mistake when we stopped living in or near villages, and by near I mean within a couple miles. I have the feeling that if humans are to survive and thrive on earth beyond the next little while, pretty much all of us will have to become villagers again, and even those who live in large cities will live in village-like neighborhoods within those cities. I think we will also have to become an egalitarian society again if we are to survive and thrive.

When were humans egalitarian? Haven’t there always been people who had much more than other people? Actually, no. Having much more than others made no practical sense for most of human evolution. Have you seen the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy? A purely egalitarian band (mobile village) of Bushmen, who have never left the Kalahari and never encountered non-Bushmen, come upon a glass Coca Cola bottle dropped from an airplane, and the Bushmen assume that this amazing thing came from the gods.

This glass bottle, duplicates of which the Bushmen cannot fashion out of animal skin or ostrich eggs or bones or wood, becomes the source of conflict among a people who cannot tolerate conflict because conflict seriously endangers their survival. And so it is decided that the man who found the evil thing must travel to the end of the earth and throw the thing into the abyss so it shall nevermore disturb the peace of these peaceful people.

I think the reason that little movie was so hugely successful all over the world is because we saw ourselves in those hunters and gatherers, and we saw most of the world’s problems in that Coca Cola bottle. Yes, people all over the world loved the idea of solving our biggest problems by getting rid of the sources of those problems, those sources being inequality coupled with the manufacture of things harmful to the earth and all her children: nuclear power plants and genetically modified organisms and pesticides and gasoline-powered automobiles and guns and bombs and poisonous chemicals and power plants that burn fossil fuels, to name a few.

And as I veer off the main road to check on a promising berry bush, I am fairly certain the gods are not the crazy ones.

“We must risk delight.” Jack Gilbert

I arrive home to a letter from a friend containing a poem by Jack Gilbert entitled A Brief For The Defense, which is about the mystical and unfathomable and beautiful and horrible and ecstatic and painful experience of living amidst the sorrows and joys of life. Gilbert wrote: “We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world. To make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the Devil. If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down, we should give thanks that the end had magnitude. We must admit there will be music despite everything.”

Mean Spirits

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

rangda

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser May 2013)

“Unless you become more watchful in your states and check the spirit of monopoly and thirst for exclusive privileges you will in the end find that the control over your dearest interests has passed into the hands of these corporations.” Andrew Jackson

Yes, I read the unattractive little slips of paper that come with our monthly PG&E bill, and I have no doubt PG&E hopes most customers will toss these little slips without reading their tiny print. Why? Because most of the little slips announce rate increases for things customers should not have to pay for. There is a government entity called the CPUC, which stands for the California Public Utilities Commission, that is supposed to protect the consumer from unnecessary and unjust rate increases, but the CPUC does not protect us because they are in bed with PG&E, literally, and approve anything and everything that PG&E wants to do.

Last month’s bill contained notices of public hearings at which PG&E customers can express their thoughts and feelings about PG&E’s latest proposed rate increases that will garner the private utility company 1.2 billion dollars by raising our electric bills 5.2 percent and our gas bills 15.3 percent. But wait. Because of the nationwide fracking insanity, America is now exporting vast quantities of natural gas to Japan and elsewhere, so PG&E should be lowering gas bills, not raising them, and that same cheap gas is making the generation of electricity cheaper, too, so our electricity rates should be going down, not up. But that won’t stop the CPUC from approving PG&E’s request for rate increases. And what are we going to do about this crime?

Well, I wrote a letter to the CPUC reminding them that they are supposed to be serving the public, not facilitating PG&E’s thievery, and that the rate increases are outrageous and uncalled for. I also sent a copy of my letter to our governor Jerry Brown and asked him to make a fuss about PG&E’s latest proposed theft. No responses so far, and I won’t hold my breath waiting for any. You can write letters, too, or attend public hearings, but that won’t do any good.

Then with this month’s bill came a notice of Phase Two of PG&E’s proposed rate increases, which seems to say they will raise our electric rates even more than the previously noted 5.2 percent—something more like 8 percent. Why? Because they are greedy and amoral and want more and more money all the time and there is nothing we can do to stop them. In many California communities PG&E has a suffocating monopoly on the delivery of electricity, and in the absence of any sort of help from our government, the public is helpless to resist.

“Well, if I called the wrong number, why did you answer the phone?” James Thurber

In related news, my phone line went dead on Friday evening, while Marcia’s phone line remained vibrantly alive. Why me, Lord? In any case, since the blessed line ceased to work on the weekend I had to wait until Monday to report the outage to our friendly local MCN (Mendocino Community Network) through which Marcia and I get our phone and internet service. Within a few hours after my call to MCN, a cordial fellow arrived to check our lines and determine that the problem was not my fault. He said that AT&T, the owner of the telephone lines, would have to fix the problem since it was AT&T’s line that was not hooked up properly.

So a few hours later, a taciturn AT&T guy arrived and I told him which number was dead and which was alive, and he nodded and checked the connections in the box on the side of our house and went away and came back and climbed a pole and went away and came back and spent about two hours doing whatever he was doing. Then he announced there was nothing wrong with Marcia’s line, which we already knew, and that it was my line that was dead.

“Yes,” I said, trying to remain calm. “That is what I told the fellow from MCN, and he confirmed that. And that is what I told you when you arrived.”

“Well,” he said, shrugging, “MCN put in an order for me to check the number I checked, and since you’re not an AT&T client we can’t fix the other line until MCN puts in an order for that other number.”

“But I told you which number was dead and which was live,” I said, doing a little jig of annoyance. “And you acknowledged that information and then spent two hours looking into the situation, so I don’t see why you can’t…”

“Somebody, probably me, will come back tomorrow or the next day,” he said, shrugging. “But since you’re not an AT&T customer, I can’t fix the line until MCN puts in an order for the other number.”

And I thought to myself Herein lies the problem with monopolies and the privatization of essential services, which was followed by the thought I wonder if this some sort of punishment for changing our local service to MCN and not continuing to pay the usurious rates charged by AT&T for that same local service?

The sad truth is that PG&E can triple or quadruple our rates any time they want to, and we would have no choice but to pay them unless we want to live without electricity. Indeed, we recently paid a large initial ransom and continue to pay a monthly penalty for not having a Smart Meter radiating us twenty-four hours a day, and our rates were increased to pay for the Smart Meter program (and our rates did not go down after all the radiation devices were installed.) Remember: PG&E is a private company, not a public utility, and therefore we should not have to finance their infrastructure costs on top of paying our monthly energy bills; but we do.

In the case of telephone service, I doubt that AT&T likes sharing their lines with little locally owned companies that provide excellent service for much less money than AT&T charges for similar service. Sadly, when we dared switch to MCN for our local phone service, AT&T punished us with huge fees for stopping service at our previous residence, transferring service to our new residence, and hooking up with MCN. We had no choice but to pay those entirely arbitrary and exorbitant fees if we wanted to avail ourselves of the much more affordable local and long distance phone service, as well as groovy fast internet, all from MCN.

Alas, we do not have an MCN equivalent to provide us with greener and less expensive electricity than PG&E provides, and that is because PG&E and Southern California Edison spend many millions of our dollars every year influencing legislators and running entirely false ad campaigns to make sure alternatives to their monopolies have little chance of succeeding, and they do so with the collusion of the CPUC and the legislature and our governor. Can you say corporate oligarchy? Or if that is too abstract, how about a king and his vassals plundering the peasants whenever they feel like plundering?

“The use of solar energy has not been opened up because the oil industry does not own the sun.” Ralph Nader

In my most recent yet-to-be-published novel, one of the main characters is the co-founder of a worker-owned cooperative that installs solar panels on the rooftops of a very sunny California town at no cost to the rooftop owners. When we meet our hero, he and his cohorts at Sky Blue Solar Farms have installed state-of-the-art solar panels on nearly all the rooftops of the medium-sized town. The profit split for the sale of the surplus solar electricity back to the grid is 50% for the homeowner, 30% for the township, and 20% for Sky Blue Solar Farms; and the township has grown so rich from the sale of surplus electricity that they now provide the citizenry with fabulous free public transportation, a superb and absolutely free community college, a vast community farm growing superb organic fruits and vegetables and grains, excellent free health clinics, and, of course, a booming economy—all of this made possible by simply changing the laws governing the production and sale of electricity that currently hold sway in California and do not allow such wonderful fictional things to come true.

But such fiction would swiftly become reality if we could change the current laws that serve the greedy few and penalize the rest of us. That, I think, is the most frustrating thing about so many of the obstacles to a transformative technological and societal and ecological revolution: the solutions are readily available but the kings and their vassals are loathe to relinquish their mean-spirited monopolies.

Apes

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

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

“Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not; a sense of humor to console him for what he is.” Francis Bacon

Sometimes it helps me to remember we are apes. Before the advent of clothing and tools and weapons and religion and cars and nuclear power and nations and money and vast social and economic inequities, we were naked apes looking for sustenance, shelter, safety, and love. We foraged for food, made nests for sleeping, and hung out in groups large enough to dissuade leopards. We had mates and children, we changed locations when our favorite foods grew scarce, and we socialized with family and friends every day. We did not, I think, have long terms goals. We lived wholly in the moment because we didn’t have anything other than the moment to live in. We had nothing to carry, nothing to hide, nothing besides each other.

Okay, so that is a gross oversimplification of ape reality, which is not without violence and danger and sorrow and death; but thinking of myself as an ape in a group of excellent and sympathetic apes living in a jungle full of tasty leafs and fruit helps me grok why so many people are unhappy today and why our so-called advanced society is so incredibly stressful and dysfunctional and stupid and wrong. We have not only lost our collective connection to the earth, we have lost touch with what really made us happy when we were apes—each other.

“Humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility.” James Thurber

I remember a moment in July of 1976 when I suddenly thought, “This is the happiest day of my life.” I was not thinking about happiness at the time, nor was I aware, until that moment, of being particularly happy. I looked around, wondering what could possibly have inspired such a thought, and what I saw unseated all my previous notions of what great happiness would look like: a dozen males and females and children (in Medford, Oregon on a very hot afternoon) sitting and standing around a picnic table on a scraggly lawn in the dappled shade of a towering elm, eating watermelon and spitting seeds.

I was a landscaper and had given up writing for a time. I didn’t have a girlfriend, didn’t have much money, and I was living in a funky bunkhouse next to the house of my boss and his wife and their kids. Oh, yes, now I remember it was the birthday of one of my boss’s kids, and we were drinking beer along with eating watermelon and spitting seeds, I and a couple other landscapers and their wives and my boss and his wife and a couple of their kids, including the birthday boy who was turning fourteen.

Why was I so happy? Looking back on that unexpectedly magical moment on that very hot day, I think my happiness came from our just being apes, eating fruit and spitting seeds and hanging out and talking and laughing and enjoying the moment without much thought or care for what might happen next.

I’ve had other happy days since that hot day in July in Medford in 1976, but I’ve never again been struck so forcefully by the thought, “This is the happiest day of my life,” which brings me to that unanswerable question: what is happiness?

“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’” Kurt Vonnegut

Long ago I read the transcript of a speech given by Kurt Vonnegut about the happiest day of his life. In the tradition of apes, I will relate to you what I remember Kurt told us in his speech rather than locate the transcript on the interweb and copy his words verbatim. What I remember is that Kurt began speaking about the happiest day of his life by first telling us about the happiest day of his grandfather’s life and then about the happiest day of his father’s life.

The happiest day of Kurt’s grandfather’s life was when Kurt’s grandfather was a young man. He and his best friend were walking through an Indiana cornfield on a hot summer day when a freight train came chugging along and stopped in the middle of the cornfield for no apparent reason. Seeing the train idling there, Kurt’s grandfather and his friend were filled with desire to climb onto the cowcatcher and have a ride, the cowcatcher being a big V-shaped steel bumper mounted on the front of the train’s engine. So Kurt’s grandfather and his friend ran through the corn and hopped onto the cowcatcher, the train started moving and picked up speed, and for many miles Kurt’s grandfather and his best friend sailed along through the corn, happier than they had ever been.

The happiest day of Kurt’s father’s life, if I’m remembering correctly, was his wedding day when he was in his early twenties. Kurt’s father had a friend who worked at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (the gigantic track where they hold the famous Indianapolis 500) and as a wedding gift to Kurt’s father and mother, this friend let them onto the speedway in their regular car to zoom around and around the track, which zooming filled the newlyweds with joy.

And the happiest day of Kurt’s life was the day he was discharged from the Army.

“If you want to be happy, be.” Leo Tolstoy


Happiness (a short story from Buddha In A Teacup)

Gerald is turning the soil in the narrow bed of earth that runs the length of the south-facing side of the old house he rents—October more than half over. He intends to plant snow peas where the sun and white walls conspire to keep the ground relatively warm throughout the winter months.

He is not conscious that it has been seven years to the day since he learned of his wife’s unfaithfulness to him for all of their eighteen years of marriage. He is divorced now and has grown accustomed to living alone. The discovery of his wife’s secret life shattered his confidence in himself and in his closest friends—two of them being his wife’s lovers. He sold his law practice after finalizing the divorce and has been unemployed ever since.

His days are spent reading, taking long walks, listening to music, writing letters to friends, and sitting still. His money is nearly gone. He has no intention of practicing law again, though he has yet to decide how he will earn his living.

His shovel sinks into the dry ground, and as he turns the soil it crumbles into tiny fragments, leaving only the smallest of clods. Six years ago the soil here was dense clay, but hundred of buckets of kitchen compost and the labor of ten thousand worms have made the soil rich and pliable.

Recalling how difficult this task was a few years ago, Gerald smiles at the ease with which he now readies the bed. He rakes the ground until it is essentially level, and creates a little dam at the slightly downhill end of the bed. Now he kneels, and using his index finger, draws an inch-deep channel in the dirt some ten inches out from the wall of the house.

He reaches into his pocket and brings forth a packet of snow pea seeds. The planting instructions promise bushes thirty inches tall—self-supporting. But Gerald knows the vines will be much taller than thirty inches and will require support to keep from sprawling. He wonders why the seed sellers boast that the bushes will stand on their own when they never do, and he smiles again, happy to know the gangly plants will need his bamboo poles and string.

He drops the pale green pearls into the rough channel—one pearl every three or four inches along the way—and covers them with the rich soil. Now he stands and treads on the row, pressing the dirt down upon the seeds.

The bright blue hose is nearby, the water running noiselessly onto rust red chrysanthemums—wild children of a housewarming gift from a thoughtful friend.

As he takes up the hose from the mums—survivors of a dry summer and his occasional neglect—he remembers his wife and the sorrow of their parting. Now he presses his thumb into the mouth of the hose and sprays the water onto the new bed of peas—the grayish soil turning black—and he remembers his wife’s ecstatic face as they mated on sun-dappled sheets.

The bed becomes a pool with spray dappling the surface—a rainbow appearing in the mist near Gerald’s hand.

Whales & Predictions

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

“The grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.” Allan K. Chalmers

Sunday. The second of January 2011. My wife Marcia and I are sitting on a bench overlooking the Pacific Ocean a few miles south of the village of Mendocino, the pale blue sky decorated with flat clouds, grays and whites, the celestial artist in no mood for billowy today. The sea is relatively calm and several pods of whales are passing by close enough for us to see them clearly without binoculars, their impressive water spouts presaging glimpses of their even more impressive enormity, our excitement at seeing them giving way to ongoing joy that the leviathans (my favorite synonym for whales) are right there, sharing the world with us, and saying hello so delightfully.

We have come to this promontory above the deep to give back to the ocean some forty pounds of stones and shells we’ve collected over the last five years for the decoration of windowsills and table tops; and as we throw the pretty gifts into the depths, we send with them our hopes and intentions for the year ahead.

The news of late has been full of predictions by economists and financial prognosticators about what may befall the national and global economies in the coming year, with the dopiest among them predicting an economic recovery, the centrists predicting a general flatness in the growth graphs, and the doomsters predicting the slopes becoming so steep as to render the pyramid an obelisk. Intellectually, I side with the doomsters, and I certainly urge everyone to avoid the stock market like the plague, but I have a hunch the master manipulators, the people with their hands on the big valves, may do several things along the lines of artificially raising and lowering oil prices to keep the Titanic from submerging completely, not that the bottom two-thirds isn’t already underwater.

Locally there is palpable relief that marijuana was not legalized, the buzz being that pot prices remain high for quality boutique bud, and thus cash will continue to flow around the county, though not into the coffers of our bankrupt local government. Despite the boon of illegality, if one may call it a boon, Mendocino real estate is putrefying, with many houses being taken off the market because they’ve been on so long the perception is they must be haunted or toxic not to have sold, when, in fact, they are merely grossly overpriced. Selfishly, I hope prices tumble so the likes of us can actually buy something for the purposes of truck farming and survival in the coming era of ten-dollar-a-gallon gas, but that scenario may not take hold until 2013.

That said, the presence of so many whales and a splendiferous Red-tailed hawk swooping by not ten feet in front of us, fill me with hope that 2011 will bring myriad opportunities for fun and possibly profit.

Throw high risers at the chin; throw peas at the knees; throw it here when they’re lookin’ there; throw it there when they’re lookin’ here.” Satchel Paige on Pitching

And speaking of leviathans, I would be remiss if I did not include among my predictions an early surmise concerning the upcoming baseball season and the fate of our World Champion San Francisco Giants. Savor those words with me, will you? We Are World Champions. Yes. So. I predict our team, having fulfilled the dream of generations of fans, will play with such ferocious confidence to begin the new season that before they are felled by a mid-season identity crisis, they will be so far ahead of their nearest rival in the division that timely psychotherapeutic intervention will save them from total collapse, we will win the division, claw our way into a showdown with the Philadelphia Phillies, beat those overpaid jerks in six games, and face the Yankees in the World Series, wherein Jonathan Sanchez will pitch a no-hitter, not a perfect game, but one featuring fourteen strikeouts, five walks, and two hit batsmen, to win the seventh and deciding game.

“There is, of course, a certain amount of drudgery in newspaper work, just as there is in teaching classes, tunneling into a bank, and being President of the United States.” James Thurber

I am perhaps overstating the case to call my contributions to the Anderson Valley Advertiser newspaper work, but I do sometimes like to fancy myself a reporter, having always identified with Jimmy Olsen, cub reporter, and not the man of steel. Could I be worthy of a press pass? And I very much appreciate Thurber’s take on the varieties of human labor because having made my living as a landscaper as well as a pen pusher and a teacher and a musician and an arborist, my experience has been that each form of work requires focus and determination; and the more we practice, the better we get.

My experience of drudgery has been limited to work I did not want to do, which, blessedly, I have largely avoided in my life. I do not consider physically repetitive work—chopping wood, shucking peas, juicing apples, washing windows, digging ditches—drudgery, but rather forms of movement necessary for the completion of tasks, movements I can think of as dances when I get into the swing of things.

“The only way to abolish war is to make peace heroic.” John Dewey

The continuing absence of a large anti-war movement in our country is both troubling to me and understandable. I went on my first anti-war march in 1963, when I was thirteen. I marched up Market Street in San Francisco with my father and a small contingent of Doctors Against The War. I carried a handmade sign that said Get Out Of Vietnam. There were several hundred demonstrators and several dozen vociferous hecklers calling us commies and traitors—Vietnam still unknown to most Americans. By 1966, however, getting into college was as much a way to avoid jungle combat as it was a means to getting a well-paid job, and most teenage boys in America knew this and were unhappy to be so threatened.

I think it is important to recall that the Vietnam War was a purely American endeavor, a war our government hoped to win entirely. But we lost. And when America withdrew from that demolished country, the supranational overlords were mightily displeased and decreed, “Never again.” Never again would the mass media report what actually goes on in corporate-sponsored wars. Never again would the corporate propagandists describe America fighting alone for freedom and democracy, but rather the lie would be about coalitions of democracies (NATO and Coalition Forces) fighting dark, dirty, desperate insurgents and terrorists in order to bring democracy to oppressed people who just happen to live on top of vast oil reserves or where it would be good to route a pipeline.

And there would be no draft, no declaration of war, no serious debates in any congress or parliament, no substantive information or truth told to the benumbed population; and the people would, indeed, be numb and dumb and desperate and confused, so much so that the fates of strange brown-skinned people living far-away wouldn’t mean anything in the swirl of trying to keep our heads above water as the Titanic (there’s that big boat again) floundered in such treacherous economic seas that a single serious health challenge could send a person or a family into poverty and homelessness.

Yet until the wars are curtailed and eventually ended, we will never free sufficient resources to solve the environmental and social problems already eclipsing the cost of imperial conflicts. Surely the overlords are aware of the oncoming disasters; or do they imagine that endless and interconnected wars will ultimately provide the framework for controlling the flow of resources in a world of social and environmental chaos?

“The artist spends the first part of his life with the dead, the second with the living, and the third with himself.” Pablo Picasso

The bulletin boards and fences in the commercial sector of the village of Mendocino are shockingly empty of content these cold winter days, vast swaths of empty space awaiting flyers advertising concerts, firewood, yoga classes, art classes, food classes, classes on giving classes, and families of four with two dogs and three cats looking for a commodious place to rent, can pay approx 700 a month, partial trade for weed pulling and folk singing. Oh not yet, my darlings, but soon such bargains may come your way if the fences on Ukiah Street and the walls of Moody’s java haven prove to be valid economic indicators.

And the one and only bookstore in our village offering new books (not mine, alas) for sale is so quiet the place might be a library; and I fear such stores will soon go the way of the dodo, weakened by Amazon and finished off by Kindles and their digital ilk.

Yet even as I predict the demise of bookstores, I simultaneously predict that quite soon the making and selling of good old bound pages covered with symbols decipherable by those who can still read will once again become the way of literature. But why in the face of such overwhelming digitalization do I predict the resurrection of the Old Way? Because I have an inkling, a hunch, a premonition, that the moment is fast approaching when we will collectively wake to find that all the newfangled digital gizmos no longer work, and that the gazillions of bits of ethereal data assembled by everyone for the past thirty years have vanished into thin air—memory clouds entirely dissipated. And thus we will have no choice but to resort to, and take pleasure in, real things.

Todd has yet to Kindleize or iPadize his books because he is a techno doofus, otherwise he surely would.