Posts Tagged ‘Winston Churchill’

Ant Cows

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

todd and pup

Todd and Pup photo by Marcia Sloane

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

“Ants are so much like human beings as to be an embarrassment. They farm fungi, raise aphids as livestock, launch armies into war, use chemical sprays to alarm and confuse enemies, capture slaves, engage in child labor, and exchange information ceaselessly. They do everything but watch television.” Lewis Thomas

You got that right, Lewis. This year, with five yearling apples trees and five apple trees we revived from near death when we bought this place three years ago, the biggest challenge to our trees is ants and the aphids those ants raise on the clover, so to speak, of the tender apple leaves just now emerging along with the onset of blossoms.

Large apple trees can tolerate mild infestations of aphids and the ants that milk them, but small trees, and especially babies with only a few limbs, can be killed by voracious aphid hordes. There are solutions, organic and non-organic, some less temporary than others, but ants are supremely creative about circumventing efforts to stop them from getting the aphid milk they so highly prize. Thus eternal vigilance is necessary in the fight against their insatiable addiction to sustenance.

Yes, I am anthropomorphizing ants, but that’s because I take their assault on my trees personally, which I should not, but I can’t help it.

“Ants have the most complicated social organization on earth next to humans.” E.O. Wilson

Our neighbors just had a baby, a human baby, and for the next several years they will have to guard their child a thousand times more vigilantly against the exigencies of life than I must guard our apple trees against ants and aphids. A few generations ago this young couple would have had a multi-generational network of family members and neighbors and friends to help them raise their child, what used to be known as human society, but today they will be largely on their own. I intend to make myself available for baby care duty, and I will be happily surprised if they take me up on my offer.

“Sacred cows make the tastiest hamburger.” Abbie Hoffman

Speaking of cows and aphids and ants and society, I want to be excited about Bernie Sanders running for President of the United States, but excitement eludes me. Would it make a difference if I thought Bernie had even the slightest chance of winning? Maybe. Or should it be exciting enough that he will possibly force the debate with Madame Hillary a few notches to the left of right of center? Not really. I’m too old. I’ve seen too many smart people expose the sordid underbelly of the ruling elite only to find that almost no one watching the contest knew they were looking at an underbelly and the thing was sordid.

Bernie Sanders calls himself a socialist. That’s kind of exciting, someone running for President of the United States and daring to use the word socialist as a self-descriptor in 2015. On the other hand, by declaring he is a socialist, and given the IQ and emotional development of the average American voter, Bernie might as well have said, “I am a communist and if elected President everyone will live in dire poverty.” Words are tricky, especially in a society of semi-literate people with severely impaired vocabularies.

“Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.” Winston Churchill

Ants are socialists. Their incredible success as a species springs from their super socialism. I, too, ideologically speaking, am a socialist, but I am not running for office. However, I have some advice for anyone who is a socialist and thinking about running for elected office: use a different word. Use the word sharer. I am a sharer and believe that sharing our wealth, social responsibilities, and economic opportunities will always provide the most benefits for most of the people all of the time. Or something quotable and broadly unspecific like that.

I was thinking about why socialism, and for that matter sharing and equality, get such a bad rap in America? And while I was pondering this large issue, I read an article about Alexander Guerrero, a young man who defected from Cuba in 2013 and shortly thereafter signed a contract to play baseball for the Los Angeles Dodgers, the enemies of our San Francisco Giants.

The Dodgers signed Guerrero, who arrived from Cuba without a job, to a four-year contract worth twenty-eight million dollars, including a signing bonus of ten million dollars. He has never played Major League Baseball. He is apparently quite the hitter and has already hit two home runs against the Giants, but is seriously iffy in the outfield. And that is when I understood why socialism and sharing and equality get such bad raps in America.

Sharing and equality are not the American Way. All or Nothing is the American way. Rags to riches is the American way. Socialism is complicated and requires work and commitment and diligence and integrity and believing every person in our society is as worthy as anyone else, that we really are equal and should have equal opportunities and be treated equally under the laws of the land.

Most Americans, hearing of a penniless guy showing up from Cuba and being given ten million dollars, do not frown and say, “Wow, that seems crazy. Think how many people could be raised from poverty into a minimally decent life for twenty-eight million dollars.” Most Americans will say, “Damn, why not me?” or “Good for him!”

“One for all, and all for one!” Alexandre Dumas

Back here in the land of non-millionaires, the socialist ants are threatening my apple trees and I am trying not to take it personally. The ants are not doing this out of malice, but from a wise assessment of how to get the most out of a ready source of nourishment. And the better I understand them, the easier it will be to kill them.

Iraq

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

dreaming in the grey light nolank winkler

dreaming in the grey light painting by nolan winkler

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser June 2014)

“One of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror.” George W. Bush

Shortly before George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003 to topple our former ally Saddam Hussein, a Sunni strong man, George invited a few learned English-speaking Iraqis to Washington to talk to him about the country he was soon to invade. One of the Iraqis explained that it was essential George understand the ancient enmity between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims that underpinned every aspect of political and social reality in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. To which our commander-in-chief famously replied, “There’s more than one kind of Muslim? I didn’t know that.”

Today, eleven years after George made his remarkable confession (remarkable for a President of the United States) and a rapidly escalating civil war engulfs Iraq, understanding the ancient enmity between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims is, indeed, essential to making even a little bit of sense of what’s going on in Iraq. The supranational corporations have manipulated this Sunni-Shi’ite enmity for a hundred years whenever such manipulation would enhance their sucking trillions of dollars worth of oil from Iraq and other oil-rich kingdoms of the Middle East.

A few years before George H. Bush, launched the first Gulf War against Saddam Hussein in 1990, National Geographic magazine ran a lush spread of photos of the beautiful thriving country of Iraq, including flattering portraits of the handsome Saddam and his beautiful wife. The text of the article hailed Saddam as a forward-thinking benevolent leader who had masterfully used billions of petro dollars to vault the formerly impoverished cradle of civilization to the forefront of modernity. In Saddam’s Iraq, women were college professors and doctors and business owners, and though Saddam was a devout Sunni, more and more Iraqis were casting off the shackles of Muslim orthodoxy, both Shi’ite and Sunni, to embrace the exciting possibilities of secularism and equality.

“Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.” George W. Bush

For the eight years Bill Clinton was President of the United States, from 1992 to 2000, Bill knowingly approved thousands of aerial bombings of Iraq by our unchallenged air force targeting power plants, water pipelines, water purification plants, schools, hospitals, bridges, roads and all basic infrastructure. Yes, Bill knowingly bombed the once thriving country of Iraq back into the stone age before George W. Bush’s puppeteers began promoting the lie that there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and the toppling of the World Trade Center, and further cooked up the myth that Saddam possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction, both fictions used to justify the second invasion of Iraq.

I am reminded of these sad and terrible facts as I read about Iraq today and recall marching against the first Gulf War in 1990, our signs reading No Blood For Oil, and marching again in 2003, our signs still reading No Blood For Oil. Both wars were spearheaded by the Bush family, and because the Bush family fortune was deeply enmeshed with the Saudi royal family via Chevron Oil, I thought Chevron would be the ideal corporate target for a boycott to give some teeth to the anti-war movement—a boycott I could never convince any anti-war leader or group to promote.

Now there are cries from reactionary politicians and pundits who want the United States to act militarily to prop up the incredibly corrupt and inept Shi’ite government the United States installed in Iraq. These not-very-bright politicians and pundits are urging Obama to strike from the air to…what? How will more death and destruction resolve the enmity between the Sunnis and Shi’ites that was, according to that 1980’s National Geographic article, fading away as Iraq emerged into modernity and peace?

How corrupt is the current Iraqi regime? Here is one example reported by Alexander Reed Kelly. “By 2014, the going price for command of an Iraqi army division was reported to be around one million dollars, payable over two years as the purchaser recouped his investment via fees levied at roadblocks and other revenue streams. Little wonder that when called on to fight the disciplined and ruthless ISIS, the Iraqi army has melted away.”

 “The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measure it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success.” Daniel Moynihan

According to Noam Chomsky, the invasion of Iraq in 1990 by the United States and Britain to dislodge Iraqi troops from Kuwait, an invasion resulting in the slaughter of tens of thousands of Iraqi troops, was entirely unnecessary. Crippling sanctions against Iraq were working and the United Nations was preparing to oversee negotiations to peacefully resolve the border dispute between Kuwait and Iraq that had inspired Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in the first place.

But George H. Bush urgently wanted a war and so rushed to attack before non-military tactics might have defused the situation. While refreshing my memory about this moment in history, I found an online video made in 1991 of Noam Chomsky and Gore Vidal discussing the invasion of Iraq that had just occurred. In the course of their conversation, they reminded each other that shortly before the invasion, the national media was buzzing with stories about Neil Bush being sued (and nearly being indicted on criminal charges) for his part in the Savings & Loan debacle that cost American taxpayers, according to Vidal, as much as the entire cost of World War Two!

By using war to divert public attention from his Ponzi scheming son and the massive crime perpetrated by bankers who were then bailed out by Congress (foreshadowing the economic meltdown of 2008 and the government’s bailout of the perpetrators) President George H. Bush was using a strategy employed by despots for thousands of years. Domestic improprieties got you down? Create a foreign threat, preferably from a country that isn’t really a threat, and make a patriotic fuss about going to war to protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of pleasure.

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” Winston Churchill

In 2003, when the anti-war movement in America vanished within days of the United States invading Iraq for the second time, I came to the conclusion that the disappearance of even symbolic resistance to the illegal war and occupation was directly connected to the unwillingness of any anti-war leader or anti-war organization in America to undertake a boycott of Chevron Oil.

I think such a boycott was never undertaken because the war in Iraq was the first major military operation launched by the United States that was obviously about securing and maintaining a constant supply of cheap gasoline for our cars, and we, the people of the United States, even so-called peaceniks, wanted and still want cheap gas more than we want anything else, even peace and freedom, even a habitable planet.

Community Property

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

Long Way from Home

Long Way From Home Nolan Winkler acrylic and crayon on paper

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser May 2014)

“Ah, yes, divorce…from the Latin word meaning to rip out a man’s genitals through his wallet.” Robin Williams

The advertisement caught my attention because it was not one of the usual ads that play during every baseball game for the entire 162-game season. I listen to Giants games on a small silver radio that accompanies me to the garden for day games and stands nearby while I do dishes during night games. The ads rarely vary and the sponsors repeat their ads dozens of times per game: Chevron with Techron, Budweiser, Speedy Oil Change, Wells Fargo, Ford Motors, Bay Alarm, Dignity Health.

But this was an advertisement for a law firm, and not the law firm that advertises during games to attract people who need help dealing with the IRS. No, this was an advertisement for a law firm specializing in divorce, and the gist of the ad was: Do you own a business? Want a divorce? We specialize in divorces for men with businesses who don’t want to lose their businesses or business assets as a result of divorce. With offices in Palo Alto, San Francisco, and Santa Clara, our success rate is second to none. Call us today to protect your business and personal property!

I was thinning baby carrots when I heard this ad, my little radio dangling from a branch of an apple tree, the Giants in another tight game with the Dodgers, and I thought to myself Did I just hear what I think I just heard? An ad for a law firm proclaiming they help men, specifically men, defeat the community property laws that are supposed to govern divorce proceedings in California? Yes, I did.

I suspect a programming error caused that ad to be aired during the game because I had never heard it before and haven’t heard it since. But what a remarkable proclamation, not remarkable because there is such a law firm, but remarkable because they publicly and proudly admit to specializing in helping men get the best of their wives, right here in the progressive gender-liberated city state of San Francisco.

“He taught me housekeeping, so when I divorce I keep the house.” Zsa Zsa Gabor

Perhaps you know women, as I do, who were married to wealthy men who accrued that wealth during those marriages, yet gave little or nothing to their wives in divorce. True, these women were instrumental in their husbands’ successes, raised their children, did most of the housework and shopping and cooking, provided sex and companionship, and had part or full-time jobs outside the home to pay the bills while their hubbies built up their businesses or established medical practices or completed their MBAs or cooked up lucrative hedge funds, but in the end the women got nothing and their husbands kept everything. And if you are such a woman, I imagine you sometimes wonder how things would be today if you hadn’t been robbed by your ex-husband and his attorney.

I worked in a Palo Alto day care center in the 1970’s in which twenty-three of our twenty-five little kids lived with their single mothers. The center was created to provide childcare for single mothers with full-time jobs, and nearly all our mothers had put their ex-husbands through college or medical school or law school or graduate school or years of starting up a business, only to be discarded when those husbands started earning big bucks and decided to purchase spanking new wives.

Some of our single moms were nurses, some were secretaries, some were sales clerks, and some worked two jobs to pay the rent and feed and clothe their child or children. Very few of our mothers had gotten more than pittances in their divorce settlements, though I knew that should not be the case, theoretically, in California.

After hearing the umpteenth story of one of our struggling mothers slaving as a secretary to put her husband through college and law school while also raising their two kids, only to have her husband divorce her and marry a shiny new trophy wife within a year of landing his high-paying job with a big law firm, I asked my mother, an attorney, “How can this be? I thought California was a community property state and wealth accrued during marriage is, by law, the joint property of husband and wife.”

“Rich people are supposed to pay higher taxes, too,” my mother replied drolly, “but their accountants and lawyers have no trouble getting around that. In contested divorces where facts are easily disputed, the best lawyers usually win. And if one of the contestants has a good lawyer and the other contestant has no lawyer, and the one with the lawyer is merciless, then there’s really no contest.”

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill

When my first marriage ended in divorce in 1994, I gave my ex-wife the house I had owned outright for several years before we got married, though California divorce law said I did not have to give her anything. Even my most open-minded friends thought I was crazy to give away my only possession of any monetary value, a large California Bungalow built in 1910 on a big lot in a good neighborhood and appraised at 400,000 dollars. But after months of anguishing about how to get on with my life, I felt in my bones that giving my ex-wife the house was exactly what I needed to do.

Some years after my divorce, during a rough passage when I had no money, I experienced a moment’s regret about giving away the house, but my regret vanished when I recalled how deeply relieved I was to be free forever of that collection of rooms in a place I no longer wanted to be, and how glad my former partner was to accept my gift and install her new husband therein.

War On Global Warming

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

War Warm

Photo by Marcia Sloane

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

“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” Winston Churchill

You have no doubt heard the sobering news that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached 400 parts per million, a concentration last seen on earth three million years ago. This means that widespread climatic disasters of heretofore unimaginable magnitude are now a virtual certainty and there is little hope of keeping global temperatures from rising to deathly levels, and soon. Indeed, many scientists think there is no hope of keeping earthly temperatures below those deathly heights.

But if there is any hope of turning things around, only a concerted global effort will do the trick, with everyone on earth doing his and her part to help reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide. However, as of this writing most people and governments and corporations have shown little or no interest in working to reduce the production of greenhouse gases by swiftly and dramatically reducing our dependency on fossil fuels, which entirely underpin our systems of energy production and transportation and agriculture and manufacturing and just about everything that goes on in the so-called civilized world.

Why not? Why aren’t people and governments and corporations working day and night to turn things around when our very existence depends on such a turnaround? I think it is because the imminent threat to our very existence has not been made clear in terms we, all of us, both understand and resonate with. Saying that some invisible gas has reached 400 parts per million doesn’t mean anything to most people, just as saying the bankers and Wall Street crooks recently stole trillions of dollars from the American people doesn’t mean anything to most people. Parts per million of what? How could people steal trillions of dollars and not get caught?

“Western civilization is a loaded gun pointed at the head of this planet.” Terence McKenna

As a watcher of movie trailers on my computer, I have noticed over the last few years that nearly all the new huge budget movies are about people with super powers or super weaponry fighting super dark forces threatening to destroy the earth. In Harry Potter, Star Trek, Avatar, Star Wars, Oblivion, After Earth, Superman, Iron Man, Spider Man, Thor, The Avengers, Transformers, GI Joe, on and on, the super violent good guys battle super violent bad guys, with the fate of earth literally hanging in the balance. I have zero interest in seeing these movies, but isn’t it fascinating that they are by far the most popular movies of our time? I visited a web site that ranks the most successful movies ever made, and with few exceptions the top one hundred movies are all about super people fighting super forces of evil.

I was complaining to my brother about the virtual non-existence of any American movie made in the last many years that I care to see (not counting documentaries) and in my complaint I mentioned the overwhelming redundancy of these good versus evil super hero war movies. To which my brother replied, “Well, that’s the dominant myth that has been running the world, so to speak, for thousands of years—wars of good versus evil fought by larger-than-life male heroes and anti-heroes. We have been entrained for thousands of years to look at everything through the mythic lens of war, which is why we are so easily manipulated into supporting the War on Drugs, the War on Terrorism, the War on…”

And then it hit me: the way to get people to actively participate in reducing greenhouse gas emissions is to declare a War on Global Warming. We must change the terminology, anthropomorphize global warming and climate change and make them our enemies. Remember the millions of victory gardens Americans planted to help win World War II? Why not revive the victory garden concept and add to it victory solar power cooperatives, victory car pools, victory mass transit, victory city planning, victory insulation, victory everything. The War on Global Warming could be the next big thing in American and global politics.

“Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.” Gary Snyder

My fellow Americans, I am here to tell you that the enemies of the American way of life, of life itself, need carbon to fuel their anti-life forces and super heat the planet to kill us all. But if we can cut off their carbon supply, they are doomed. Don’t you see? Those evil forces feed on carbon. If we deny them their food, they will be powerless against us. And if you elect me to Congress, I will make sure that the War on Global Warming is fully funded. Heck, we spent at least six trillion dollars fighting useless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The least we can do is spend that much to defeat the anti-life forces threatening our existence today.

How much is a trillion dollars in terms of our War on Global Warming? For a trillion dollars we could put twenty-thousand-dollar solar energy systems on fifty million houses, and for three trillion dollars we could solarize the entire nation and reduce the cost of electricity to such a low level that electric vehicles and electric transportation systems and electric heating and cooling systems would render the use of fossil fuels obsolete in America. We gave the too-big-to-fail banks several trillion dollars to bail them out in 2008-2009, so don’t tell me we can’t find the do-re-mi to solarize the nation and completely revolutionize the economy.

“What’s the use of a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?” Henry David Thoreau

I pitched my War on Global Warming idea to my savvy friend Rico and he said, “Several problems. First, in all those popular super hero war movies and in all media driven real wars we see our enemies. Your global warming anti-life forces are invisible. That’s a big problem. Second, in all those movies and in real wars, the main thing we do is kill each other. That’s what excites people, men especially. Men love weaponry, firepower, jets, tanks, explosions; and all those things require fossil fuels that cause global warming. Hate to burst your bubble, pal, but solar panels and car pools and vegetable gardens and walking to town and riding bikes and insulation and recycling and buying less and buying local just aren’t very sexy. Know what I mean?”

“I do. But what if we characterize the anti-life forces as carbon-sucking vampires? Young people would love that.”

“Can we see the carbon-sucking vampires? Can they kill us directly or only by sucking on our tailpipes and furnaces? Can they be killed with some sort of death ray or light saber or by muscular men blowing things to smithereens?”

“Well, no, but…”

“Then it won’t work. People need to see the enemy, or think they see them. And they need simple solutions. Kill bad guys before bad guys kill us.”

“So how do you think we can make the War on Global Warming work?”

“It has to be sexy,” said Rico. “And in America sexy means lucrative. Can people strike it rich fighting global warming?”

“Well, in Germany the government makes it easy for regular people to sell surplus solar energy for nice profits, and some solar and wind cooperatives…”

“I’m yawning,” said Rico. “This is not sexy. I’m losing interest.”

“What have they done to the earth? What have they done to our fair sister? Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her.” Jim Morrison

I still think it’s a good idea, the War on Global Warming, but perhaps women will have to take the lead on this one. Remember how in Lysistrata the heroine convinces the women of Greece to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands and lovers until the men agree to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the big war raging at that time? Perhaps if we could persuade millions of American and Chinese and European women not to have sex with their husbands or lovers unless those men take an active role in the war on global warming and…

But the problem there is that women consume as much energy as men and are just as reluctant as men to make changes in their lifestyles and to actively work to reverse…

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” Walt Kelly

How about this? What if we create a volunteer army of people dedicated to reducing the emission of greenhouse gases? An army of global coolers with a motto—It’s so cool to be a Cooler—displayed on T-shirts, bumper stickers, billboards, and featured in the catchy chorus of the Global Coolers theme song. Weekly meetings and educational forums and potlucks and tree plantings and solar barbecues and acoustic dances and parades and solar panel installation work parties will be held to making cooling the planet enjoyable and exciting, and to bring Coolers up to speed on the latest technological, political and economic strategies available to accelerate both personal and societal actions to combat global warming.

And here’s the really cool part about this volunteer army: members will wear totally cool turquoise and burgundy pants and long-sleeved shirts and windbreakers, and totally groovy sun hats with fabulous insignias that identify wearers of such clothing as Coolers, soldiers in the local national global army dedicated to reducing the emission of greenhouse gases pronto. The army will be funded by every Cooler and Cooler-friendly business tithing ten per cent of his or her or their income to the cause, along with generous grants from Google, Microsoft, Oracle, myriad movie stars, groovy billionaires, and eventually the governments of the world.

Indeed, being an active Cooler will be so sexy that women will feel silly being with any man who is not a Cooler, and men will feel weird being with any woman who is not a Cooler. And, of course, nobody in his or her right mind is going to run for elected office if he or she isn’t a renowned and heroic Cooler with the requisite groovy clothes and hat, a totally solar home, an electric car or no car, and so on. Thus the Coolers will take over local state national and global governments, enact appropriate legislation and…voila, just like that we turn things around.

My Big Trip, Part Three

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

Le Moulin de la Gallete by Pablo Picasso

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

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” William Shakespeare

My friend Scott made a good part of his living as a rehearsal pianist for musicals running on Broadway in the 1970’s and early 80’s, and he had all sorts of theater connections that gave him free admission to virtually any show on or off Broadway, a privilege he invited me to take advantage of multiple times on each of the ten trips I made to New York between 1976 and 1983.

In 1976, the reigning Broadway sensation was the play Equus with Anthony Perkins having just taken over the leading role from Richard Burton who had taken over the role from Anthony Hopkins. Scott knew the stage manager of the theater where the play was running and arranged for me to be among a few dozen audience members who sat on tiered benches onstage as a living backdrop to the play.

We were shown to our seats a few minutes before the curtain went up and told not to fidget, not to pick our noses, and not to make any noise. “You are,” said the man directing us, “a Greek chorus echoing the action with your silence, and you are also a jury listening carefully to the evidence being presented. And please remember that several hundred people can see you, people who have paid good money to watch this play and not to watch you scratching your butt. Have fun.”

I wish I could say that seeing and being in Equus on that Broadway stage was one of the great theatrical experiences of my life, but I found the play simplistic and boring and not in the least mysterious, the performances ho hum, and the vaunted nude love scene a brief and ugly tussle. However, I did not share my feelings about Equus with Scott because he was a devout Broadway loyalist, which meant he believed that if a play was a hit, the play was good, and if the play was a flop, the play was bad.

Now in the same week that I sat through Equus, Scott and I attended one of the early preview performances of Trevor Griffith’s play Comedians, recently transported from London and directed by Mike Nichols with the young Jonathan Pryce reprising his role from the London production. And seeing that production of Comedians truly was one of the greatest theatrical experiences of my life and would dramatically influence my plans for the future.

When the third and final act of Comedians came to an end, I leapt out of my seat shouting, “Bravo!” and applauding madly, though the audience reaction was otherwise tepid. Scott stayed sitting during my outburst and was obviously embarrassed by my behavior, but I didn’t care. I had just seen a superlative performance of a remarkable play and I wasn’t about to keep my feelings bottled up. Mediocre Equus had elicited a standing ovation and multiple curtain calls for its stars, so why shouldn’t I rave about this brilliant new masterwork?

Well…when we emerged from Comedians, Scott took me to a nearby bar filled with people who had also just seen Comedians and I eagerly asked several of them what they thought of the play; and they were all oddly coy and noncommittal, and I couldn’t for the life of me understand why.

“What the hell is going on?” I asked Scott. “That play was sheer genius. The writing, the acting, the direction, the levels of meaning, the…”

“Todd,” said Scott, sighing, “the play hasn’t been reviewed yet so…”

“So what?” I asked, flabbergasted. “You wait until the New York Times says it’s good before you think it’s good?”

“No,” said Scott, gulping his beer. “But…sort of. I mean…it’s subtle and very British. It was a hit in London, but that doesn’t mean it will translate that well over here.”

“Are you insane?” I gaped at him. “We just saw it. What did you think of it?”

“I…I don’t know,” he said, shrugging. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Jonathan Pryce would win a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in his role in Comedians, but the critics otherwise damned the production with faint praise and the show closed after 145 performances. I, however, was demolished in the best sort of way by Comedians and decided two things as a result of seeing that incomparable production: I was going to write plays again, and I was going to live in a city so I could get more involved in theater. By then I realized New York was not going to be that city, not yet anyway, for I lacked the psychic stamina to survive there—but I hoped Portland or Seattle might suffice to get me started.

“It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link of the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.” Winston Churchill

Two weeks later, having recharged my batteries by taking the train to Boston and spending a few days goofing around with my pal Jerry and attending a few of his scarier classes at Harvard Law School, I returned to Manhattan and immediately went to see Comedians again. To my delight, I thought the play was even better the second time, the cast now well practiced and sure of their characters. I was in seventh heaven watching that play and felt more certain than ever that I wanted to try to write plays that might touch people as Comedians touched me.

I was in love again with mastery, with originality, with courage, with everything that had made me want to be a writer in the first place; and for the remainder of my time in New York I was in a state of enchantment. For though I knew very well I might never succeed as a playwright (or as a writer of fiction), the experience of seeing that masterful production of Comedians filled me with a desire to try. I knew if I lived frugally, I had enough money in the bank to grant me a year of freedom from working at anything besides writing, and I intended to dedicate a good chunk of that year to writing plays.

The sad truth about our culture, and perhaps most cultures, is that for every masterpiece that somehow manages to gain an audience, there are thousands of awful things filling our stages and bookstores and movie screens and galleries. Why this is so I do not know, I only know that it is so. Which is why those rare new masterpieces that somehow manage to sneak past the cultural gatekeepers are so important, for without them we only have the masterworks of the past to deeply nourish us—and we desperately need the blood of brilliant new work to keep our culture alive and vital.

“You are what your deep, driving desire is.

 As your desire is, so is your will.

As your will is, so is your deed.

As your deed is, so is your destiny.” Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

I was bored to tears by the new art on display at The Museum of Modern Art, but never mind, they had Picasso’s massive and marvelous Guernica to gaze upon and Van Gogh’s magnificent Starry Starry Night approachable to within a few inches, and Henri Rousseau’s supernatural Lion and the Gypsy lit to perfection, so I visited these and a handful of other favorite paintings in that collection several times and felt wonderfully empowered by them. And I went to the Guggenheim to marvel up close at Picasso’s Moulin de la Galette and Modigliani’s fabulous Nude, and I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art again and again to gawk at their five fabulous Vermeers.

I had lunch with my brave and eccentric agent Dorothy Pittman on two occasions and we had a stirring time imagining selling one of my novels and then another and another. She said she would hunt for a play agent for me when I had a play to show around; and dear Scott got me into seven or eight more shows to fuel my drama dreams, though none of those plays could hold a candle to Comedians; and at last I realized I was done with New York for the time being and ready to embark on the next leg of my big trip.

So I took the train to Philadelphia and spent three lazy days visiting friends in Bala Cynwyd and Narberth and sleeping for twelve hours a night, recuperating from the physical and emotional toll of Manhattan. Then I continued south by train to Virginia and stayed with my pal Rico who had recently moved out from California to work for the federal government.

One night Rico and I were reminiscing about high school and wondering about the fate of our fellow inmates, when I was reminded of Mark Russell, my great friend I hadn’t seen since the early days of high school when he and his family moved away to where I wasn’t sure. So I did a little telephone sleuthing and came up with a phone number for Mark’s parents in Connecticut. I called them and they gave me a phone number for Mark in South Carolina. Then I called Mark and a woman with a sultry South Carolina accent answered the phone.

“Hi,” I said, “my name is Todd Walton and I’m an old friend of Mark’s. Is he there?”

“Hold on a minute,” she said softly. “I’ll fetch him.”

A few moments later, Mark came on the line, his voice two octaves deeper than when we’d last spoken thirteen years before. “This is unbelievable,” he said, laughing. “I was just thinking about you. I was throwing the ball for my dog and wondering where Todd is now.”

“I’m in Virginia and I’d love to come see you, if that’s a possibility. I could get a motel room nearby or…”

“No, no, we’ve got lots of room for you,” he said, chuckling. “Come on down.”

So on a dark cold night in early November, I stepped off the train at the little station in Camden, South Carolina and looked around for an older version of the Mark I remembered from 1963—a clean shaven young man much shorter than I. But the only person waiting there was a tall man in a trench coat sporting a bushy brown beard.

“Todd,” he called to me. “I’d know you anywhere.”

“Mark,” I said, shaking his enormous hand. “I would never have guessed you were you.”

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