Posts Tagged ‘Mark Twain’

Going Around Again

Monday, January 1st, 2018

Korte

Hymn To The Gentle Sun

“It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,” the Queen remarked.” Lewis Carroll

If I had a dollar for every person who said to me in the last few weeks, “I can’t wait for this year to be over,” I could buy three excellent tacos at the new taqueria in Mendocino.

When people say, “I can’t wait for this year to be over,” I am tempted to reply, “Do you really think the first day of January will be a vast improvement over the last day of December?”

But I don’t say that because I know what they really mean is they hope things for them and the planet and everyone they know will improve in the future, so why not use the beginning of a so-called new year as a way to imagine the end of unpleasantness and the beginning of less unpleasantness and maybe even some really fun things happening?

A year, it turns out, for those who believe the earth revolves around the sun, is the time it takes the earth to go once around the sun. The first day of January is the day many people have agreed is the first day of that revolution, but we might agree that the Winter Solstice is the first day, or the Summer Solstice is the first day. Or, as I like to agree with myself, the day I was born is the first day of my current trip around the sun.

“When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not.” Mark Twain

About six months ago, as part of my attempt to lessen the severe anxiety I was experiencing in my every day life, I stopped following the news. I stopped reading news stories on my computer, stopped listening to news on the radio, stopped reading newspapers, and excused myself when the people began talking about the latest mass murder or war atrocity or something terrible our government was doing or not doing.

At first, I felt ashamed and guilty about not keeping up with the daily horror show, but within a few days of giving up mass media, my anxiety was so vastly reduced, I hardly minded feeling ashamed; and pretty soon the shame and guilt vanished, too.

This experience confirmed for me that at least part of my anxiety was related to consuming ideas and images that frighten or anger or depress me. Given a choice, why would anyone choose to consume frightening, angering, and depressing ideas and images as a regular part of his or her daily life? My answer to that is that most people don’t choose to follow the news, but are entrained to do so, habituated to doing so, which means they are habituated to thinking of the world and human society as relentlessly terrible. Which would explain why so many people are eager for this year to be over.

However, if we continue to absorb the emanations of mass media, we will soon be eager for next year to be over, too.

Am I suggesting you stop following the news in the ways you follow the news? No.

“For years I was tuned a few notes too high—I don’t see how I could stand it.” William Stafford

In a recent letter to my friend Max, I wrote:

We change. Our tastes change. I hadn’t read any prose other than my own work for a couple years and thought I might never again read any prose by other authors (except Kim by Rudyard Kipling every few years), and then I was given two volumes of essays by Kathleen Jamie and gobbled them like a starving person. What a surprise. But reading Jamie didn’t get me reading other prose stuff again. Most contemporary prose is dreadful to my senses. But I was happy to know I might still occasionally find things that feed me.

I have become so sensitive to giant imagery and loud sounds that I will never go see a movie in a theatre again because it might kill me, literally. Even attending symphony concerts is getting harder for me because the music is often too loud for my circuits to handle comfortably, and I have to plug my ears during the loud parts.

Thirty years ago, one of my favorite poets was Mary Norbert Körte. She was a nun for several years when she was a young woman, then left the convent and moved to Mendocino County and became a hippy wild woman poet. For a time she worked on the Skunk Train, the tourist train that runs between Willits and Fort Bragg going through the redwood forests, up and down over the coast range.

I read with her once in Sacramento long ago, and listening to her read, I felt I was sharing the bill with a great genius. The first time I heard her read was many years before that in Santa Cruz, and I thought she was one of the most insightful humans I’d ever heard; and I never imagined I would one day read with her. I have a volume of her poems she wrote when she was a nun, Hymn To the Gentle Sun, and I used to love those poems. Now I don’t connect with them. I wonder what Mary thinks of those poems after all these years?

I am forever disappointing people because I won’t/can’t read books they tell me are wonderful and great. I give these books a try by using the Look Inside feature at Amazon, and if any of them ever pass the two-page test I will buy that book and give it a try, but so far none of these recommended books have passed the two-paragraph test. Which doesn’t mean they aren’t wonderful books, it just means they aren’t for me as I am currently configured.

Maybe you and I are dealing with huge self-defining issues that have shaped our lives up to now. Maybe we had roles in our families, relational roles that continue to play out in our lives. In therapy, I’ve uncovered some of those early defining issues in my life (what Gabor Maté calls coping mechanisms that become traits—things we did to survive that became habits) such as feeling responsible for everyone else’s happiness or unhappiness. Turns out I’m not. Can’t be. But my system was habituated to trying to make other people happy or feeling I was a failure and despicable if someone I knew was unhappy. A kind of less-obvious narcissism. I am responsible for other people’s happiness or unhappiness? That’s plain silly, not to mention tiring.

So follow your bliss, as Joseph Campbell famously said. Follow what you know in this moment to be right for you, knowing you can’t make a mistake. You’re just hiking along the trail and reacting with an open heart and an open mind to what comes your way.

Love,

Todd

High Summer

Monday, July 31st, 2017

High Summer

High Summer photo by Todd

Woke in the middle of the night. I’ve been sleeping well lately, so I wondered why I was awake. Wide awake. And then I remembered I broke my rule about not reading any news in the evening, and I also watched a video blurb about Trump—my first Trump visitation in several weeks. I might as well have had two cups of coffee and chocolate truffles before going to bed.

I haven’t liked a President of the United States since Jimmy Carter. I am aware that Jimmy presided over lots of horrible things done by our government, but I was thrilled by his willingness to talk about the planetary environmental crisis way back in the 1970s, about how we needed to wean ourselves from fossil fuels. And then he pushed through government programs that helped accelerate the solar power revolution. He walked his talk a little.

Our presidents since Jimmy have been consistently dishonest servants of the supranational monsters who began their complete takeover of our government with the election of Ronald Reagan. All our presidents after Jimmy facilitated the transfer of wealth from those with not much to those who already have everything. They all expanded the military and continued the policy of endless war. They all knowingly presided over the killing of thousands of civilians in essentially defenseless countries. They all did nothing to address global warming, over-population, and the environmental crises threatening life on earth. They all allowed our healthcare system to deteriorate and be taken over by the pharmaceutical and insurance companies. They all played golf.

Thus when I watch coverage of Trump, I do not think, as many of my peers do, that Obama or any of our previous presidents were better than Trump. They may have been less obviously narcissistic and dishonest, but they were all hyper-dishonest narcissistic sociopaths chosen for their loyalty to the ruling elite. And whether Trump wasn’t supposed to beat Hillary or not, he hasn’t done much to distinguish himself from his predecessors except by making more noise and saying more ridiculous things.

I notice the stock market keeps going up and up and up under Trump. This tells us that the big banks and hedge fund gangsters who stole more than two trillion dollars of our money with the blessings of Obama, are happy with Trump. Obama did nothing to rein in the Ponzi schemers, but rather helped them make the world’s economic and financial situation nightmarishly worse. Trump is merely following suit.

I also notice the media and way too many members of the shameful Democratic Party are still trying to prove Trump colluded with the Russians to win the election that put him in the White House. I wonder if these dunces will keep trying to prove the Russians determined the outcome of the election until the next presidential election. Probably. As we learned from Bill Clinton and his sexual dalliance with Monica Lewinsky, the folks in power love to distract the masses with childish nonsense while they carry on their nefarious business of robbing us blind and destroying the world while they’re at it.

No wonder I woke up in the middle of the night.

In better news, a friend wrote saying it was high summer. What a fine expression. The Friday farmers market in Mendocino is in high summer mode. We have several vendors selling excellent organic high summer vegetables and fruit—the high summer days lovely and promising. The blackberry bushes of high summer hereabouts are heavily laden with berries and I have been picking berries every day for our smoothies and snacks and cookie batter.

The Mendocino Music festival has come and gone, the big tent no longer starring on the headlands, and the town is somewhat quieter in the aftermath of the annual musical happening. The two highest points of the festival for me were Rimsky Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 2 in A minor. Zowee!

We know several people who are traveling to Oregon for the solar eclipse. I will not be going to view the blotting of the sun’s light by the intervening moon, but plan to sit somewhere outside while the eclipse is happening. I want to participate without travelling far to do so. Maybe I’ll walk to the beach for the eclipse where I hope to feel the moon coming between the earth and the sun, since I won’t be able to see it.

Solar eclipses always remind me of a scene near the beginning of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court when the novel’s hero uses his foreknowledge of an impending solar eclipse to save his life and become a powerful player in King Arthur’s court for the rest of the novel—not my favorite book by Mark Twain, but a fun high summer read.

My favorite novel by Mark Twain is The Prince and the Pauper—a great book to read aloud with friends. I also love big swaths of his Joan of Arc, especially his recounting of her trial at the hands of the dastardly Catholic priests, and I love the first three-fourths of Huckleberry Finn—the ending feels false to me. And I’m a big fan of Twain’s short stories and Roughing It.

In a dream I had about a month ago I was shown the title of a novel. When I woke from the dream, I wrote the title down, waited a moment, and the novel began to pour out onto the page. I have now written five chapters of this dream novel and I think the story will continue to emerge, but I don’t know for certain.

And that’s the high summer news. Sleep well.

Here’s To You

Monday, December 26th, 2016

You You

You You by Todd

“We have not all had the good fortune to be ladies. We have not all been generals, or poets, or statesmen; but when the toast works down to the babies, we stand on common ground.” Mark Twain

I would like to propose a toast to the coming year, 2017. May this be a good year for you and your loved ones, and for your neighborhood, your community, and the world. May this be the year we start to turn things around as a species living on a planet of finite resources and a biosphere overtaxed by greenhouse gases.

It seems to me that sharing is the not-so-secret key to solving many of our problems, both as individuals and as a society—not just sharing the wealth and ride-sharing, but sharing our ideas and feelings with each other.

I was in the grocery store the other day and looked around at my fellow shoppers, and I realized we were all kind of ignoring each other, not in a malicious way, but in the way that has become the habit of people in our society. Even when I smiled at people, most of them were unaware I was looking at them, so they didn’t see the smile I was giving them.

I’m not suggesting you start going around smiling at everyone, unless you want to. I am suggesting that in 2017 we might try to be a little more aware of other people in our lives, people other than our friends and family—just random other people. I have no hard facts to back this up, but I have the feeling that our unawareness of each other is one of the sources of unhappiness in our society—a general sense of disconnect from each other and a disconnect from the totality of our each-otherness.

Now and then I will strike up a conversation with someone shopping near me. A few days ago in the produce aisle, I said to the man hunting vegetables a few feet from me, “Isn’t the red leaf lettuce spectacular right now?”

The man looked at me, and not recognizing me as someone he knew, he frowned. Then he looked at the red leaf lettuce and said tentatively, “Yes, that is some fine looking lettuce.”

“I just had to exclaim,” I said, laughing.

“I know what you mean,” he said, smiling.

Then we went our separate ways. Nothing profound. But I felt good about connecting with him. I liked that we got to exchange smiles. Some minutes later, when I was in the checkout line, I saw the man leaving the market, and he saw me seeing him leaving, and he raised his hand in farewell and I raised mine.

“Always remember there are two types of people in the world. Those who come into a room and say, ‘Well, here I am!’ and those who come in and say, ‘Ah, there you are!’” Frederick L. Collins

I had a friend who ended his answering machine message with, “And remember…be good to yourself.” The first few times I heard his message, I winced at what I took to be excessive schmaltz, but then at some point I stopped wincing at his message and allowed myself to think about what he meant. I came to realize that I was not often good to myself, and that I frequently beat myself up for no good reason. I understood his message as, “Stop treating yourself poorly. You’re a good person. Open up to that idea and see what happens.”

The Buddhist practice of sending thoughts of loving kindness to others requires the sender to first get comfortable sending those loving thoughts to one’s self. When I first undertook this practice, I found it difficult to say, “May I be loved. May I be supported. May my suffering be at end.” I felt I was being greedy and selfish to ask for these things for me.

Why did I need to get comfortable sending myself loving thoughts before I sent loving thoughts to others? I came to understand that the practice was preparing me to be a conduit for sending love. If the conduit is clogged with self-recrimination and fear of being loved and supported, my sending loving kindness to others will be freighted with those fears.

“I would suspect that the hardest thing for you to accept is your own beauty. Your own worth. Your own dignity. Your identity as one who blesses and is blessed in return. Your own calling to learn to love and allow yourself to be loved to the utmost.”  Alan Jones

When I lived in the Berkeley, I would go to Evensong at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco a couple times a month to hear the fabulous boys’ and men’s choirs accompanied by the grand cathedral organ. At the end of Evensong, Alan Jones, the Dean of the Episcopal, would make a brief prayer urging us to open our minds and hearts to the miracles in our lives, and to be merciful to those less fortunate than we.

I was always touched and empowered by the singing and Alan’s words, and I would walk out into the night feeling great tenderness for my fellow humans. My walk down the hill to Market Street was always a processional full of wonder, the ride home on BART enjoyable, the company of my fellow humans at least fascinating and often a pleasure.

Yes, our society and our government are in big trouble, and our precious planet is in even bigger trouble. But we are not powerless. We can be kind to each other and supportive of each other, and we can make a positive difference, each of us, every day, somehow or other.

Here’s to you. Happy New Year!

Screen Time

Monday, October 31st, 2016

news

News photo by Todd

“In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made school boards.” Mark Twain

Dipping into the national news for the first time in some months, I found several articles about the American Academy of Pediatrics rescinding most of their previous suggestions that parents limit the number of hours their infants, toddlers, older children, and teens interface with media-blasting computer gizmos with screens. The pediatricians decided they were being too alarmist about how damaging computers and other television-like devices can be to the brains and psyches of infants and children and teens. Now, say the pediatricians, basing their new guidelines on no credible science, parents should feel fine about children watching as much media garbage as they want.

Never mind the myriad studies proving conclusively that bombardment by projected imagery and incessant sound severely interferes with healthy brain development. The American Academy of Pediatrics has now declared that parents need not worry about their children developing healthy brains, so long as they, the parents, encourage their zombified children to occasionally roll their shoulders, eat fruit, get some sleep, and possibly interact with other actual human beings. Possibly.

“Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” Mark Twain

Also in the news: AT&T purchased Time-Warner for a measly 86 billion dollars. This makes AT&T the biggest media something-or-other in the world. Whatever happened to our anti-trust laws? Oh, that’s right. We don’t have those anymore because they were beneficial to the majority of Americans. What a silly concept. And if you already thought your media choices were largely controlled by anti-creative mega-corporations, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

“I am greatly misunderstood by politically correct idiots.” Brigitte Bardot

I know many people who used to think compulsive television watching was unhealthy, but now they think constantly looking at mindless junk is fine and dandy. That is, they do not consider computers, cell phones, pads, and pods to be televisions. But they are.

No, Todd, texting and playing video games and being connected to the worldwide web twenty-four hours a day is a vast improvement over life before we could carry computers with us everywhere. Life was empty and meaningless and we were all desperately lonely. Everything is so much better now that people have been rendered eternally infantile by being tethered to their phones and television-like devices from morning until night.

Remember when you didn’t know anything and couldn’t find out about anything? Now we can, you know, check on stuff constantly. Sure, most of what we access is mind-rotting junk, but there are good things, too, like Wikipedia and, um, restaurant reviews written by idiots and, um, the weather, and blogs. You have a blog, Todd. Quit complaining.

And don’t forget news and sports highlights. Plus you can read books and watch movies, and now Netflix and Amazon and YouTube and Apple and AT&T are producing hundreds and thousands of new shows, incredibly great shows, the best shows ever to go along with every show ever made since the very beginning of television.

And don’t forget YouTube has billions of videos about everything and everything that has ever been filmed, and everything.

Which is why everything is getting so much better. The environment is being saved, and we have wonderful mass transit that goes everywhere so we don’t need cars, and solar and wind and wave power is totally replacing the need to burn fossil fuels, and our educational system is better than ever, and our government has stopped spending money on war, and nuclear arsenals are being reduced and more and more people have good and meaningful jobs, and our culture is thriving. And it’s all because we can watch new shows and old shows and videos about catching flounder and group sex on our various screens from the moment we wake up until we take some sort of pill to help us sleep.

Social networks have brought us all together and made us more tolerant. We’re so much better informed, too. Racism has vanished, violence has decreased, and look at the people we elect to represent us now. Gads, talk about an improvement.

But best of all, our children are growing up so knowledgeable, so thoughtful and generous and kind. So incredibly kind. Those video games that hundreds of millions of people play constantly, those games are all about kindness and generosity and solving problems with logic and foresight and a deep understanding of the fabulous information the web provides for us with the touch of a whatever.

Thank goodness the pediatricians stopped believing those silly studies saying screen time was perilous to brain development. Look how good everything is now that our children are growing up with those screens virtually implanted in their bodies. All those great games and movies and videos of cats running into walls and people wrecking things and…

“The two most common elements in the known universe are hydrogen and stupidity.” Harlan Ellison

The pediatricians have capitulated to the conquerors. In the past they tried to sound an alarm about the negative impact of screen time on the mental and physical health of children and other living things, but truth interferes with profits and the doctors have been swayed.

When I lived in Berkeley, I helped raise a boy from the day he was born until he was six-years-old. I was his nanny six hours every day. He and I did not watch television when he was with me because I didn’t have a television. He was fine with that arrangement until he turned six and was addicted to watching television for several hours a day while with his parents.

At my house, he and I contented ourselves with reading, drawing, going on walks, cooking, gardening, making music, playing ball, talking, making up games, telling stories, playing with other kids…things like that. But when I went to his house to take care of him, he screamed and cried and broke things if I didn’t let him watch television, so eventually I capitulated to his addiction and then made my escape to Mendocino.

Crazy Money

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

Greed Redux

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser December 2015)

“The lack of money is the root of all evil.” Mark Twain

Just got the annual news from Social Security about how much they will be sending me each month in 2016. Last year, they upped me from 565 dollars to 575, not much of an increase, but this year the powers that be have declared: there was no increase in the cost of living in 2015. Thus zero increase in Social Security for me, though my Medicare payment is going up, so actually less money for me.

For our own government, I mean our own corporate-controlled Congress and President, to claim the cost of living did not go up in 2015 is akin to saying peanuts grow on trees and rain falls upward from the ground. The absurdity of their claim is more than enough proof we have been taken over by a bunch of amoral sadistic poop heads. How, you may wonder, did they come to the startling conclusion that the cost of living did not rise, given that food prices have gone through the roof, ditto rent, healthcare, insurance, you name it. They came to this startling conclusion because they do not count food and insurance and healthcare and rent in their calculations. What, you may ask, do they count? Nothing that matters to most people.

“When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is.” Oscar Wilde

In oddly related news, the San Francisco Giants just signed a six-year deal with pitcher Johnny Cueto for, I hope you’re sitting down, 130 million dollars. That comes to 21.6 million dollars a year. Now in a good year, Johnny will throw about 2700 pitches that count, which means he will make 7,777 dollars per pitch. That means every time he throws a pitch in a regular season baseball game, he will make eight hundred dollars more than I get in an entire year from Social Security. Per pitch. I know, I know. There’s nothing stopping me from getting down to work and making of myself an elite major league baseball player. Okay. So I’m lazy.

“Life’s two great questions: “Why me?” and “What do I do now?” William L. De Andrea

Marcia and I recently spent two nights in Santa Rosa visiting Marcia’s mother, and while we were there I went into a Safeway store for the first time in almost forty years. Yikes. We were questing for a particular soap Marcia’s mother likes and beer. Everything in the store had a price and a club price, and the club price was much lower than the non-club price. Everyone in the market seemed to be in a huge hurry, a life-and-death kind of hurry; as if they thought the store might explode at any minute.

Just for fun, we decided to dip our toes in the future and try the self-checkout line where a customer, theoretically, doesn’t need to interact with a human being to buy things. But they won’t let you self-checkout alcohol in Safeway because you might be a minor and the machine wouldn’t know that, so we ended up going through a regular checkout line.

When we got to the regular checker, he rang up the soap and beer and said, “Run your club card through the slot to get your discount.”

“We don’t have a club card,” I admitted. I was going to say this was my first time in Safeway in forty years, but I thought he might call Security if I said that, so I left things at not having a card.

“You could ask your neighbor?” said the checker, smiling at me and then smiling at the man in line behind us, a fellow buying an eight-pack of bottles of wine.

And before I could ask the checker what on earth he was talking about, the fellow buying the wine reached over and swiped his club card through the slot and our total went down from 22.84 to 18.37.

“Now go get your own card,” said the checker, winking at us. “Just takes a minute at the club registry. Right over there.”

But since we probably won’t be going to Safeway for another forty years, we made a beeline for the exit, and right outside the store we came upon a man and a woman and their two small children huddled in the freezing cold together with three suitcases, the man holding up a sign saying he had just lost his job, they had been kicked out of their apartment, they were hungry and cold, please help.

We gave them five dollars. The woman thanked us, but the fact is our neighbor in the checkout line had just saved us almost five dollars we would have been glad to spend on beer and soap, so why not give the money to these cold hungry people?

“The only way to be absolutely safe is never try anything for the first time.” Dr. Magnus Pyke

We’re giving Bernie Sanders some money to help him run for President of the United States, though I’m fairly certain, no, I’m absolutely certain there is no chance he will be given a chance to win the nomination. So why give Bernie money? Because we think his attempt is a valiant one, and though the overlords have directed their media managers to give Bernie as little coverage as possible, he does speak for a vast majority of Americans, even if many in that majority don’t know he does.

Furthermore, I believe Donald Trump is being used to clog the media so those who need most to hear Bernie will not. Yes, that sounds like a conspiracy theory because anything suggesting we’ve been taken over by amoral sadistic poop heads is labeled a conspiracy theory.

But imagine if Bernie had the money to buy some prime time television hours to talk directly to the American people without Hilary or some other corporate stooge interrupting him. Imagine Bernie having as much money as Johnny Cueto to make his pitch.

Of Onyx and Guinea Pigs

Thursday, October 8th, 2015

Crater Lake Chipmunk

Crater Lake Chipmunk photo by Marcia Sloane

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser October 2015)

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

1972. Santa Cruz. Never enough money. I was working days as a gardener, nights playing music. My girlfriend was a waitress and house cleaner. Rent was cheap but wages were negligible.

So one day my girlfriend said to me, “My brother and his wife are making good money housesitting. If they can do it in Philadelphia, why can’t we do it here? People go away for a night, a week, a month, and they pay us to stay in their house, water the plants, feed the cats, walk the dog, maybe take care of their kids.”

She put an ad in the Sentinel. Something like: Responsible couple with good references will housesit for you. We are clean non-smokers, good with pets, good with plants, good with children.

Truth be told, I was not keen on housesitting, but my girlfriend was tired of our lack of cash and Spartan lifestyle.

A few days later, a woman called in response to the ad. Ellen. She was going away that Friday and returning Sunday. Ellen had a ten-year-old son and a dog. We went over to her house that night to audition. She was large, mid-thirties, we were skinny, early twenties. Her very fat son Perry was sitting on the sofa eating candy and watching television.

We met the dog, a friendly German Shepherd named Georgia. Her parents were purebred mega-champions. Ellen was planning to breed Georgia with another champion and sell the puppies for big money.

“Oh,” said Ellen, “I forgot to mention, Georgia is in heat, so we’ve been keeping her locked in the garage at night because lots of male dogs are coming around. Oh, and the reason I’m keeping Georgia in the garage at night instead of in the house is ever since she went into heat she’s been acting crazy. She barks and growls at the guinea pigs. Oh, I forgot to mention the guinea pigs. Chester and Madge. They’re purebred prize-winning longhaired black and white guinea pigs. That’s their cage on the high shelf. Their special food is in the refrigerator. I sell their babies for big money. Oh, and my most prized possessions, handed down from my great grandparents, are an onyx chess set and four onyx teacups and an onyx teapot. Hand-carved by a famous Mexican artist. They’re on the shelf above the stereo. Oh, and Perry is fine with TV dinners. He likes three or four of them for lunch and dinner. Cereal for breakfast. He has a television in his room, too. Helps him go to sleep.”

I was about to say maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, two complete strangers taking care of a big crazy-in-heat dog. My girlfriend was having second thoughts, too. But then Ellen said, “How does a hundred and fifty dollars plus twenty dollars for food sound?”

Considering I made two dollars an hour and my girlfriend made one-fifty plus tips, this was a dizzying sum so we said yes.

When we showed up on Friday afternoon, several male dogs were hanging around the house. Ellen was dolled up. Her perfume was so strong, I nearly fainted. She gave us the name of the motel in Monterey where she was attending a conference. We didn’t ask what the conference was about.

She served us beer and chips. Perry was eating a TV dinner and watching Leave It To Beaver. Georgia was asleep on the living room rug. Ellen had given her a tranquilizer in ground beef. When Georgia woke up, we were to lock her in the garage.

A horn sounded. Ellen grabbed her suitcase and dashed out the door. Perry looked up from Leave It To Beaver and said, “She’s not going to a conference. That’s Hal. He’s married.”

We made supper. My girlfriend got drunk and fell asleep beside Perry on the sofa. I fed the guinea pigs. Georgia woke up and I locked her in the garage. Perry fell asleep with his head on my girlfriend’s shoulder. At midnight, I woke up Perry and my girlfriend and we brushed our teeth and went to bed.

In the wee hours of the morning we woke to a loud crashing sound and whining and moaning. We got up to investigate. The guinea pigs were fine. The onyx teacups and teapot and chess set were fine.

But the whining and moaning coming from the garage did not sound fine, so I opened the door connecting the kitchen to the garage, turned on the light, and there was Georgia, daughter of registered champions, locked in coitus with the ugliest mongrel I have ever seen.

“Stuck together,” said Perry, giggling. “His penis has kind of a hook on it.”

The ugly mongrel had gotten into the garage by hurling himself through the window-top of the outside door. When the dogs finally separated, we shooed Ugly outside, I nailed a piece of plywood over the broken window, and we brought Georgia into the house and gave her a tranquilizer in ground beef. She was exhausted from her sex with Ugly and fell right asleep.

Alas, Georgia did not stay asleep. While we slumbered, she knocked the hamster cage off the shelf, tore the flimsy door off the cage, and slaughtered Chester and Madge. Then she annihilated the onyx teapot, teacups, and chess set.

The next day and night and day were torture as we waited for Ellen to come home from her conference with Hal. I spent the long hours gluing onyx shards together. But miracle of miracles, when Ellen came home and learned of the disaster, all she said was, “My fault. I never should have left you with Georgia in heat.” Then she handed us a hundred and seventy dollars.

A few days later, we got a check from Ellen for an additional fifty dollars and a note saying she felt terrible about putting us though such an ordeal. Would we consider housesitting for her again? We were the first sitters Perry had ever liked.

And though we were glad to know Perry liked us, we were no longer in the housesitting business.

Ganesha

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

Ganesha

Ganesha photo by Marcia Sloane

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser September 2015)

“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.” Arthur Conan Doyle

Ganesha, also known as Ganapati and Vinakaya, is the male Hindu god with a human body and head of an elephant. His Rubensesque androgynous form is most often represented with four arms, each arm with a five-fingered hand, though some drawings and statues of Ganesha have as few as two arms and as many as twenty. Revered as the remover of obstacles, the patron of arts and sciences, and the deva of intellect and wisdom, he is also the patron deity of writers.

I knew nothing about Ganesha until nine years ago when Marcia and I got together, and Marcia revealed she was a devotee of the chubby multi-talented deity. She owns two small statues of Ganapati, one a handsome two-armed drum-playing fellow carved from wood, and the other an alluring six-armed dancing guy made of brass.

A remover of obstacles is my kind of deity, so with Marcia’s permission I placed her wooden Ganesha on top of my upright piano where he shares the lofty plateau with two statues of Buddha, one a happy standing fatso, the other a mellow lotus-positioned fellow with his thumbs and fingers touching each other in an intriguing mudra. The only other idol atop my piano is a tiny glass baseball player currently stationed in the shadow of Ganesha—my last gasp plea for the removal of the Dodgers from the path of our floundering Giants.

The more I learn about Ganesha, the more I like him, and when we recently removed the obstacle of an unsightly outhouse from a cirque of redwoods viewable from the eastside windows of our house, we decided to look for a large statue of Ganesha to stand in the grotto previously occupied by the ugly pooper.

And lo we were directed to Sacred Woods in Noyo Harbor in Fort Bragg, an impressive yard containing hundreds of statues imported from Thailand and Indonesia by Rachelle Zachary, the owner of Sacred Woods. After a delightful hour of statue shopping, we settled on an exquisite four-and-a-half-feet-tall white-stone statue of the elephant-headed god, hand-carved by a Balinese master, and a few weeks later the weighty objet d’art was delivered to our south-side deck.

Our plan was to have the redwood trees surrounding the proposed location for the statue limbed up before we engaged a trio of strong men to transport the statue to the grotto. However, after two weeks of gazing out the south-facing dining room windows at the magnificent statue standing on the far edge of our ground-level deck, we decided to move the statue just a few feet off the deck from where he was. We had fallen in love with seeing him from the dining nook, which is also where I do much of my writing.

And so I began clearing away the dense grass and brambles and vines and dead fern fronds clogging the ground where we envisioned Ganesha standing in the embrace of two stately ferns, and after a few minutes of work I uncovered a massive flat-topped granite stone butting up against the deck. We briefly considered placing the statue on top of the granite stone, but the top was too narrow and too close to the deck where rambunctious dogs and exuberant children and clumsy adults might unwittingly topple the statue.

When Marcia came outside to see how my work was progressing, I gestured at the mass of dead branches and fern fronds and chunks of old bricks and rotting abalone shells left by the previous owners and said, “The ideal thing would be a little brick pad right in there.”

Marcia nodded, winked at Ganesha, returned to her studio, and as I filled my wheelbarrow again and again with the brittle remnants of the past, I held in my mind’s eye an image of our magnificent Ganesha standing on a small brick pad surrounded by an expanse of gray gravel populated with large stones.

Then something astonishing happened, something a non-believer would call a fortuitous coincidence, and something a devout follower of Ganesha would call His doing.

As I clipped away the last of several dozen dead fern fronds from the lower reaches of a large fern, I espied the corner of a pink brick lying in the ground. Having previously removed several chunks of old brick from the vicinity I thought this might be another such chunk. However, upon removing more of the detritus, I exposed a perfectly level pad made of eight whole bricks.

And that is where our statue stands today, surrounded by an expanse of gravel populated with large granite stones. We have no idea what stood on the brick pad prior to the coming of Ganesha, nor are we certain the brick pad was there before I suggested to Marcia and Ganesha that such a pad should be there. Judging from several other artifacts left behind by the previous owners, I would guess a statue of John Wayne or possibly Ronald Reagan stood where our Ganesha now lords it over the ferns and stones.

I was inspired to write about Ganesha today, remover of obstacles, after a visit to Main Street in Mendocino to view the sturdy white fence recently erected on what is now the end of the sidewalk just to the west of Gallery Books.

A public servant, or as A.A. Milne might have written, a Person Of Very Little Brain, is no doubt behind this blood clot, so to speak, in a major artery of our little town, and as I stood at the ridiculous fence and gazed out over the headlands and Big River Bay, I thought of Monty Python and Mark Twain and the Marx Brothers, for this travesty of a mockery of a sham is a hilarious commentary on how far we humans, collectively speaking, have not come since we climbed down from the trees millions of years ago and sallied forth to people the earth.

Oh Ganesha, Ganapati, Vinakaya—we implore you to help us remove the Dadaesque obstacle on Main Street.

Reversions

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

Reversions

Bird Mansion photo by Todd

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser August 2015)

“Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.” Mark Twain

Something marvelous strange happened with our pumpkins this year. That is to say we are hopeful the strange turns out to be marvelous. Here’s what has happened so far. Four years ago, I bought two pumpkin starts at the farmers market in Mendocino and planted those starts in a raised bed rife with redwood roots, three miles inland from the coast. Those plants were supposed to grow small sweet pumpkins, half the size of bowling balls. I got one little pumpkin. Delicious. I saved the seeds.

When we moved to our new house a mile from the coast, I planted the seeds in a new bed, also rife with redwood roots, and got two little pumpkins. Delicious. I saved the seeds. The next year, last year, I planted the seeds in a bed less troubled by redwood roots, took great care of the plants, and we got six little cuties. Wonderful. Marcia made pumpkin pies and pumpkin soup. Yummy. I saved the seeds.

This year I created a deep rich bed, planted the seeds, and lo, the vines have set five pumpkins, four of which are much bigger than bowling balls. Where did these four mighty pumpkins come from? Why are they somewhat cylindrical? Are they reversions to an earlier type of pumpkin used in creating the hybrid little pumpkin I began with? Why did the reversion take four generations?

My research suggests these pumpkins may not be reversions to an earlier progenitor, but rather a new variety. If we like the flavor of these new pumpkins, I will save the seeds of the biggest and best ones, plant them next year and see if they continue to produce these behemoths, relatively speaking, assuming they turn orange or some other pleasing color. Could this be the birth of Coastal Toddkins? We hope so.

In other news of change, we are on the verge of completing the transformation of the smaller of the two bathrooms in our house into an actual room in which one can take a bath. The outer wall of this small room previously featured a skinny horizontal window near the ceiling that gave no view and was, we assume, for ventilation and nothing more. Replacing that narrow strip of glass with a large picture window gave us a view of a circle of majestic redwoods embracing a not beautiful and not majestic red outhouse with a crescent moon in the door.

This outhouse was there when we moved in and had not been used for decades. And though I wanted the outhouse gone because something about it gave me the creeps, we were not sufficiently inspired to get rid of the thing until we cut the hole in the bathroom wall for the picture window and found we had created little more than a frame for a three-dimensional rendering of an outhouse. I’m sure there are those who would find looking out a new bathroom window at an old haunted outhouse amusing, but I prefer looking at trees, so we gave the outhouse to a family of local homesteaders glad to get the luxurious pooper.

With the outhouse gone, we discovered it had been cradled in the lovely remnant of the burned out trunk of an old growth redwood, the mother of the four huge trees now forming a circle around her. I have subsequently cleared out masses of dead branches from the circle, and now when I look out my office window or out the new bathroom window, the scene is inspiring and inviting. Yesterday I looked up from writing and saw a doe and her two fawns exploring the newly liberated space.

We also excised forty shoes surrounding one of the massive trees adjacent to the outhouse. Filled with dirt, these shoes were once home to non-descript succulents, their desiccated remains tangled in the rotting leather and nylon. Tennis shoes, work boots, walking shoes, loafers, cowboy boots, bedroom slippers; these forty rotting pieces of footwear were a small portion of the several hundred such shoes the previous owners of our property deployed around shrubs and trees, and to line walkways. We hope the forty outhouse shoes were the last of the unsightly buggers, but something tells me there are more dirt-filled shoes lurking on the premises.

The previous owners also left behind seventeen large wooden birdhouses sitting atop posts scattered around the property. Some of the houses were a few feet off the ground, and some were as high as seven feet off the ground. No view from anywhere on our land was free of one or more of these birdhouses. These multi-story homes, featuring porches and shingled roofs, bird mansions really, were rotting and falling apart when we arrived, and when I dismantled them, I found they were filled with the nests of rats, not birds. Many of the mansions held spent packages of D-Con, an edible rat poison, and, yes, I found rat carcasses, too.

And there were large wooden archways standing here and there around the property, nine of them, no view of our two acres free of one or more of these freestanding vine holders leading nowhere and festooned with dying honeysuckle or dead potato vine or struggling wisteria. Oh, yes, and blocking the view from every window of our house was dense shrubbery, hundreds of non-descript bushes marching away in close ranks in every direction, filling the space between the house and the surrounding forest.

I’ve gotten rid of the archways and nearly all the useless water-sucking view blockers, and we have attained spaciousness and light and can now see the trunks of the big trees, fruit trees, and lovely Japanese maples. The rat infestation we were warned about by our neighbors has not yet materialized because we have removed most of the ready-made nesting facilities, and when we moved here we brought our cat Django, an excellent ratter, though our great hunting cat recently died and we will not get a new cat or cats until spring.

Now it’s time to take a bath with a view of trees and sky, perchance to dream of pumpkin pie.

Cherry Tree Myth

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015


BUT SHE HAD WINGS

But She Had Wings painting by Nolan Winkler

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser July 2015)

“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Charles Spurgeon

The Fourth of July has always been a mixed bag for me. As a boy, I loved the barbecue and fireworks party in our neighbors’ backyard. My friends and I ran around in the dark with sparklers, ate potato salad and burgers and corn and watermelon, and a man smoking a cigarette and drinking a martini set off spectacular fireworks smuggled into California from Montana.

But my father always got especially drunk at the Fourth of July barbecue because he imbibed much more hard liquor when he drank in the company of other alcoholics, and he would become vicious, so the fun of running around with sparklers was dampened, and the hours after we got home from the barbecue were about hiding in my room.

One year after the Fourth of July party, my mean-drunk father found a sickly bat clinging to a low-hanging branch of a pine tree, and he broke the branch off and brought the bat home to torture my mother by bringing the frightened creature into the kitchen. My mother screamed at my father to take the bat out of the house, and when he refused, she got a broom and drove my father into the garage where we could hear him crashing around, shouting and cursing, and then he started hammering on the wall. A few minutes later he came into the kitchen, got a bottle of wine, and returned to the garage.

I followed my mother as she ventured into the garage armed with her broom—I was nine—and we discovered my father had nailed the branch to the wall just a few feet from the doorway into the kitchen—the sickly little animal still clinging to the bough.

“Get it out of here,” said my mother, her eyes slits of fury. “It might have rabies. You’re endangering the children. Get rid of it. Now!”

My father took a long drink from the bottle and slurred, “My new pet. Bats are very intelligent.”

And my mother said, “If you don’t get rid of it right this minute, I’m divorcing you. Don’t think I won’t.”

Then she shepherded me back into the house, closed the door to the garage, and locked it. I got up early the next day and went into the garage and the bat was gone, though the branch was still nailed to the wall and would remain there for decades, an armature for thick tapestries of cobwebs.

When I was in my late twenties and visiting my parents at Christmas, I asked my father if he remembered the incident with the bat, and I was only mildly surprised when he accused me of making up the story to fulfill my chronic need to vilify him. So I brought him into the garage and pointed out the pine branch nailed to the wall and asked him how it got there.

“I’ve often wondered about that,” he said, frowning at the branch. “I assumed you did it to spite me.”

“The truth is more important than the facts.” Frank Lloyd Wright

As you probably know, the young George Washington never chopped down his father’s cherry tree, was never confronted by his father about the destruction of the tree, and did not say, “I cannot tell a lie, Dad. I did it. I’ll take my punishment. You may beat me cruelly now. Please do.”

The story was entirely made up by an unscrupulous biographer some years after George Washington died, and this balderdash immediately became the one so-called fact every American could recite about George Washington, the mythic Father of America, with Betsy Ross the purported Mother of America because she was said to have sewn the first American flag at George Washington’s request, though there is no proof she ever did any such thing.

The subtext of the cherry tree lie is that our political leaders are profoundly honest and willing to suffer grievously for what they believe in. And it is this honesty and courage of their convictions that make them so special and worthy of our support. Indeed, so deeply ingrained in our collective psyche is this fundamental falsity that tens of millions of people who should know better, I among them, have voted for and elected heinous criminals to control our government and make our laws, many of those laws designed to rob us of our wealth and our freedoms.

And the Fourth of July always reminds me of this sad truth about our species: we are as gullible as yellow jackets flying into a death trap, the sweet smell of raw meat irresistible to our hardwired brains. We cloak the needless deaths of millions of innocent people and the ongoing ruination of the world in red, white and blue flags Betsy Ross never sewed, red the color of the cherries that never grew on the tree George Washington never chopped down and never told the truth about.

“Truth is mighty and will prevail. There is nothing the matter with this, except it ain’t so.” Mark Twain

This Fourth of July 2015 we made an East Indian potato salad to take to the barbecue at our neighbors’ house two doors down, a vegetarian feast, the earthlings there a mix of people born all over the globe, the gathering a celebration of our independence from the stultifying concept of competitive nations, what Buckminster Fuller called blood clots in the body of humanity. The current Anglo-German strangulation of Greece is a perfect example of the destructive power of the asinine notion that one nation is more important than another.

And we celebrated the harvest of the first wave of vegetables planted in early spring, our potato salad made with just-dug potatoes, the lemon juice from the first lemons grown on our young trees planted two years ago, the cilantro leaves from volunteers springing up among our lettuce—the coconut milk linking us to our fellow earthlings in more tropical climes.

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.