Posts Tagged ‘Woodside High School’

Olden Days

Monday, February 26th, 2018

still I'm still here

Still I’m Still Here painting by Nolan Winkler 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Into the Mystic

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

into mystic

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

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” Chief Seattle

On several occasions during the summer when I was twelve-years-old, I felt certain I was on the verge of understanding how everything fit together, and I do mean everything. I would find myself sitting or standing very still and feeling all the countless separate parts of reality coalescing and clicking together; and with every passing moment I would become more and more excited as the myriad fragments fell into place in relation to each other and in relation to the entirety of everything else. And I felt sure that if I could only hold still a few moments longer without being interrupted, the mystery of life, of the universe, would be solved for me, and ever after I would live in a state of blissful knowing. Yet every time I felt I was only a few seconds away from such a complete understanding, something would interrupt my reverie, and the exquisite construct of the totality of everything would collapse.

I could not, as far as I knew, intentionally precipitate such reveries, though I tried to do so many times that summer. I would go off into the woods far from other people and sit absolutely still for hours on end, hoping my stillness would incite the myriad separate parts to begin their coalescing, but that never happened. I did have marvelous experiences sitting so still in the woods, but those glorious occasions when I nearly grasped my own grand unified field theory only came unbidden and when there was a high probability of being interrupted.

One evening that summer, standing under an olive tree not far from our house, I was so certain the last piece of the vast puzzle was about to fall into place, I held my breath so as not to disturb the grand finale. But then my mother shouted, “Dinner’s ready!” and the miraculous vision shattered.

I was in a foul mood when I came inside to eat, which prompted my father to ask, “What’s wrong with you?”

Before I could think better of speaking about such things to my father, I tried to explain how close I had been to a moment of comprehensive understanding, to which my father replied, “That’s just infantile magical thinking. You might as well say you believe in God, and you know how ridiculous that is.”

I knew it was folly to say anything in response to my father when he got on his atheist soapbox, so I held my peace as he lectured me on the idiocy of my thinking and feeling. Little did I know that my father was a preview of the many people I would encounter in my life, and whom I continue to encounter, who consider my experiences of the mystical nature of life either hackneyed spiritual crap or delusional nonsense.

“Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon.” E.M. Forster

When I was fifteen, I made the B basketball team at Woodside High School, though I was not a starter. Indeed, on our twelve-man team, I was the twelfth ranked player and rarely got into a game. Every day, following an hour of exercises and drills and practicing plays, our starters would scrimmage against the second five, with I and the other third-string fellow subbing onto the second-string team.

One day our coach sent me into the scrimmage, and for reasons I have no plausible explanation for I was overtaken by a power transcendent of the usual power that animated me. Suddenly the other players, many of them taller and bigger than I, seemed small and weak and slow moving, and I moved among them like a speeding giant. Prior to that scrimmage I had never been able to leap high enough to touch the ten-foot-high rim, but on that day I could reach above the rim. I snatched rebounds away from our tallest players and scored with an ease that was, in today’s vernacular, sick. I shot from near and far, made dozens of shots without a miss, and so thoroughly dominated the game that even those starters who had previously looked down on me were full of praise for my playing.

After practice, our coach called me into his office, and when he was convinced I had not ingested some illegal substance, said he was going to put me into tomorrow’s game against Sequoia as a reward for my extraordinary play that day. I thanked him and spent a restless night anticipating my first chance to shine in a real basketball game.

True to his word, our coach put me into the game midway through the first half, and I immediately grabbed a rebound and took a shot. But when my shot missed the mark, our coach took me out and never played me again. I was disappointed, of course, by the brevity of my playing time, but I was also aware that whatever extraordinary power had possessed me the day before was entirely absent on the day of my debut. Nor did that power return to me again until the very last day of basketball practice that year.

To end the season on a dramatic and competitive note, the coach created six two-man teams and we had a tournament to determine which duo would be crowned champions. I was paired with the other lowest ranked player, and we were expected to lose to all the other teams. But that transcendent power came into me again and we demolished our opponents, including the team composed of our two star players. We won so easily, much to the chagrin of our coach, that the biggest star of our team gave me the ultimate compliment by saying, “What are you on, man? I want some.”

What was I on? Fools Crow, the revered Lakota holy man said (in the inspiring book Wisdom & Power) that there is an inexhaustible source of spiritual power ever present in universe, and that those who consciously or unconsciously empty themselves of ego may invite this spiritual power to work through them. Fools Crow said he used prayer and ritual to make of himself a hollow bone to be filled by this spiritual power with which he accomplished his healing work. And that’s what I think was going on those times when I played basketball so much better than I had ever played before; I was filled with spiritual power and became an instrument of the unfathomable universe.

 “There is nothing in the world that is not mysterious, but the mystery is more evident in certain things than in others: in the sea, in the eyes of the elders, in the color yellow and in music.” Jorge Luis Borges

One of my favorite stories about the Mbuti people of the Ituri rainforest in the Congo is that Christian missionaries found it almost impossible to convince the Mbuti to believe in, let alone worship, a punitive God because the Ituri forest, which the Mbuti believed to be the most important of all gods, provided them with such abundance and so obviously loved them. I think of this story whenever I encounter people who consider my belief in the mystical nature of existence to be hackneyed spiritual crap or self-delusion.

Yesterday, for instance, I began to write an email to a friend I hadn’t heard from in several months, and two sentences into my missive I received an email from that very friend. What made this seeming coincidence even more remarkable to me was that my two sentences were specific questions, and my friend’s email began with detailed answers to those specific questions. Is this proof of the mystical nature of existence or is it merely, as Buckminster Fuller suggested, that most of what goes on in Universe is inexplicable because we lack the technology to see or hear or measure most of what is going on in this and contiguous dimensions? Imagine what a surprise it must have been to discover radio waves? Who knew?

“Love is metaphysical gravity.” Buckminster Fuller

When I first moved to Mendocino, I would go to Big River Beach almost every day to marvel at my good fortune and celebrate having had the courage to make the move. One day I was sitting with my back against a big log and gazing out at the breakers, when into my mind came the face of a woman I hadn’t seen in twelve years, a woman I had been smitten with during my last year of living in Sacramento. Her name was Ida and she worked in a bakery and I had spoken to her a grand total of five times, three of those conversations consisting of Ida asking me, “What can I get you?” and my replying, “Two blackberry muffins, please.” The other conversations were a bit longer because I ordered coffee, too.

Which is to say, I didn’t really know Ida at all. But every time I saw her, I felt a powerful jolt of recognition and love, and I liked to think, whether it was true or not, that she felt a similar jolt.

In any case, I hadn’t had a conscious thought about her in over a decade, yet here I was on Big River Beach seeing her vividly in my mind’s eye and wondering what might have happened if only I’d had the courage to speak to her at greater length and perhaps ask her…

After a delightful little snooze, I packed up my knapsack and headed back to the parking lot, and just as I was about to walk under the Big River bridge, a little girl came running toward me, shrieking with delight as her mother pursued her, her mother being Ida.

The Double (Illustrated)

Friday, July 16th, 2010

(Dave Smith posted an illustrated version of The Double on his marvelous Ukiah Blog Live, and I liked his version so well I decided to replicate it here. However, I just got nicked for a bunch of money for using a cartoon and images I did not have licenses to use, so several of the illustrations have been removed. This memoir originally appeared in The Anderson Valley Advertiser and was posted many moons ago on this blog.)

I still find it hard to fathom that there are men walking the earth who resemble me so exactly that even their close friends can’t tell us apart. But ever since I was a teenager, and until quite recently (I’m approaching sixty), I have had several remarkable experiences of being taken for someone I am not. These were not incidents of mistaken identity at a distance. No, these were encounters with people—complete strangers—who saw me up close, studied me, spoke to me, and swore that I was the person they thought I was—a person they knew intimately. And when I told them I was Todd, and not Mike or Paul or Huey or Jason, they thought I was either joking or lying. Furthermore, they told me I possessed this other person’s voice and physical mannerisms to such an uncanny degree, that if I was not the person they believed me to be, I must be his identical twin—or his ghost.


I was a junior in high school—1966—when I was first mistaken so completely for someone else. I was coming out of Discount Records in Menlo Park, California, when an immaculate two-door 1956 Chevrolet, black top, gray bottom, pulled up beside me, and the driver rolled down his window to say, “Hey, Mike. Listen to this. Something doesn’t sound right.” Then he gunned his engine. “See what I mean? Carburetor?”

“I don’t know who you are,” I said, shrugging politely. “And I don’t know anything about cars.”

“Mike?” he said, incredulously. “You’re not Mike?”

“I’m sorry. No.”

“Wow. You look just like him. Clothes and everything. And you sound like him, too.”

My outfit—blue jeans and T-shirt and high-top tennis shoes—was not particularly original in that era, and so I thought no more about this encounter until a week later when I came out of a guitar shop in Redwood City, and another 1956 Chevy, baby blue bottom, white top, white wall tires, pulled up beside me.

“Mike,” said the driver. “Can I come by a little later? Fucker’s missing. Listen.” And then he revved his engine, too.

“I’m not Mike,” I said, shaking my head. “Apparently I look like him, but I’m not him.”

The guy shut off his engine, got out of his car, and confronted me. He was big, and he scared me. “What the fuck you talkin’ about, Mike?”

“I’m not Mike,” I said, holding up my hands in surrender. “And I don’t know anything about cars. Nothing.”

He squinted at me. “You trippin’?”

“No, I’m…not Mike. My name is Todd.”

He frowned deeply. “You’re not Mike DeCamilla? Sequoia High?”

“Todd Walton. Woodside High.”

His jaw dropped and he gazed at me open-mouthed for a long time, as if waiting for me to…become Mike.

“Somebody else with a car like yours, only a different color, thought I looked like Mike, too. Black top, gray bottom.”

“Saxon,” said the guy, nodding. “He told us about you. Mike and me and…we thought he was…fuck, man, you not only look like Mike, you sound like him. Exactly.”

In retrospect, I wish I had asked this guy to introduce me to Mike, but I was so intimidated by him, I didn’t think to ask. And the next person who thought I was Mike was the last person I would have asked to introduce me to Mike.

I was in Discount Records, a favorite hangout of mine in the early days of Folk Rock, a place away from our parents where three of us could cram into a listening booth and blast Buffalo Springfield until the clerk banged on the glass and told us to turn Bluebird down.

I was flipping through the Jazz records, looking for a new Herbie Hancock, when a young woman with bleached blond hair, heavy makeup, and big blue eyes brimming with tears, approached me and whispered, “Mike?”

I shook my head. “I’m not Mike. Some people think I’m Mike, but I’m not.”

“I knew you’d be here,” she said, her jaw quivering. “In the Jazz section. I knew it.”

“I’m not Mike,” I said, wanting to console her. “Is he…your boyfriend?”

She gaped at me, shocked. “How can you say that? How can you be so cruel?”

“Because I’m not Mike,” I said, smiling sadly. “I’m Todd. Do you see that guy at the counter buying a record? That’s my friend, Dave. And he will tell you that I am not Mike. You want to go ask him?”

Then she, too, squinted and frowned at me. “You look exactly like him,” she said, nodding. “But now I can see you’re not him. Sorry.”

Shortly thereafter I grew a mustache and was never taken for Mike again.


Nine years later—1975—I was living with my girlfriend in a garage in Eugene, Oregon. We were poor as church mice.

I love that expression for all its implications. Anyway, one evening we decided to cut loose and go to a café and split a cup of cocoa. This is not fiction. In the year I lived in Eugene, my girlfriend and I went out twice, and going for that cup of cocoa was one of those times.

We entered the student-run café, ordered our cocoa, and sat at a small table, feeling quite decadent to be spending a dollar on cocoa when we might have more prudently spent it on groceries. But we were young and impetuous and wanted to have some fun. Business was slow, only a few tables occupied.

“That guy keeps looking at you,” said my girlfriend, glancing sidewise at a man sitting with a woman across the room from us.

I turned to look at the man, smiled at him, and then said to my girlfriend, “He seems harmless enough.”

“He’s weird,” she said, whispering harshly. “He’s staring at you.”

My girlfriend and I were not on the best of terms, our relationship doomed for the umpteenth time, this cocoa date a last-ditch effort to inject a tiny bit of levity into a life of poverty devoted, for my part, to the practice of learning how to write. And so I took her complaint as part of her ongoing assault.

“Just ignore him,” I said, sipping our cocoa. “Please?”

“Paul?” said the man, calling to me. “Paul.”

“Oh, great,” said my girlfriend, rolling her eyes. “Now he’s talking to you.”

I looked at the man again—early thirties, fine leather jacket, expensive shoes, black curly hair—only this time I didn’t smile, and the poor guy jumped in his seat as if I’d struck him. Then he turned to the woman he was with, a striking brunette, and looked at her with terror in his eyes.

“Let’s get out of here,” said my girlfriend. “This is totally freaking me out.”

“Can we finish our cocoa?” I was furious. “I can’t handle the garage right now.”

“We could go to the library,” she said, plaintively. “Look at art books. Read the paper. Play the card catalogue game.”

So we got up to go, and the man and woman jumped up and hurried over to us.

“Paul,” said the man, reaching out to me. “It’s Jeff. And Rachel. You know us, don’t you?”

“My name is not Paul,” I said, instantly convinced the guy truly believed I was someone he knew—someone named Paul. “My name is Todd.”

“Why?” he asked, searching my face. “Why did you change your name? So we couldn’t find you?”

“I’m very sorry,” I said, looking first at him and then at Rachel, “but I didn’t change my name. I thought about it, but I never did. I’m Todd, not Paul.”

And Rachel said, “That’s exactly what Paul would say. You are Paul, aren’t you? The way your hands move when you talk. Your eyes. You’re Paul.”

I shoved my hands in my pockets. “I am not Paul.” I turned to my girlfriend. “Would you confirm that, please?”

“He’s not Paul,” she said, sneering at me. “He’s definitely Todd.”

But Jeff and Rachel were still not convinced. So we stood there for a short infinity while they struggled to accept the apparently unbelievable proposition that I was not Paul.

Finally, Jeff said, “I’m Jeff Kovacs. We lived together, Paul and Rachel and Andrea and Colin and Fritz and Sarah and I. In Ithaca. New York. You…Paul disappeared five years ago. No word since. You, Paul…it destroyed us. And if you’re not Paul, you’re his identical twin.”

“When was Paul born?” I asked, bringing forth my driver’s license. “I was born in 1949. I’m twenty-six.” I handed Jeff my license. The photo, in which I resembled a mafia hit man, was two years old.

“Oh,” said Jeff, looking from the license to me. “You’re not Paul. I’m so sorry.”

Rachel took the license and looked from the mug shot to me. “Even so, you could be Paul.”

“I’m so sorry,” said Jeff, bowing his head. “Seeing you is like seeing him again.”


In 1979, I was visiting my sister in Los Angeles. She lived at the end of one of those narrow little canyon roads in the hills behind UCLA, and just down the hill from her place was an outdoor sculpture studio adjacent to a lovely Spanish hacienda—red-tile roof, turquoise window frames, bougainvillea climbing the white walls. The large stone sculptures were the work of the woman who lived there, Anna Mahler, the oft-married daughter of the famous composer Gustav Mahler. My sister said that Anna enjoyed her neighbors visiting her sculptures, so I went down to have a look.

As I was engrossed in looking at the sculptures, Anna, a handsome woman of seventy-five, came out of her house, gave me a startled look, and said, “My father. You look exactly like my father when he was a young man.”


On a funnier note, some years later (circa 1985), I was walking down a dimly-lit hallway in a Sacramento restaurant en route to the men’s room, when a woman came toward me, stopped suddenly, and gasped, “Oh my God, you’re Huey Lewis. Oh my God. I am such a huge fan. Oh my God. It’s you.”


“I hate to disappoint you,” I said, feeling oddly flattered, “but I’m not Huey Lewis.”

“I totally understand,” she said, placing her hands together and bowing to me. “You must get hassled to death. Could I get your autograph?”

“I’m not Huey Lewis,” I said, shaking my head. “Bad lighting.”

“I won’t tell anybody,” she said, coming closer. “May I kiss your hand? The Power of Love is my favorite song in the whole world.”

“That’s great,” I said, allowing her to kiss the back of my hand. “But I’m really not Huey Lewis. Truly.”

“I understand,” she said, turning my hand over and kissing my palm. “But this is the chance of a lifetime for me.”

“I’m not Huey Lewis,” I said, pulling my hand away and darting into the men’s room.

When I came out of the john, the woman was waiting for me, and she had another woman with her. And this other woman emphatically shook her head and said, “That’s not Huey Lewis. That’s Elliot Gould.”


Most recently, whilst pondering the peaches in Corners of the Mouth, Mendocino’s finest grocery store, a woman with long white hair sashayed up to me, smiled mischievously, and gave me a very friendly hug. “Jason,” she said, with mock indignation. “When did you get back from India? Why didn’t you call me?”

“I’m not Jason,” I said, looking into her eyes. “And I’ve never been to India, and I’m pretty sure you and I’ve never met.”

She took a step back, held her breath for a long moment, and said, “I’m sorry. I thought you were Jason. You look just like him. You even have his body.”

“Well,” I said, selecting my peach, “I apparently look like lots of people. Or lots of people look like me.”

“Now that,” she said, pointing at me and laughing, “is exactly what Jason would say.”

Todd Walton only looks in the mirror when he shaves and right before he brushes his teeth. His web site is