I learned how to backpack from my father in the 1950s, and in the 1960s I was fortunate to go backpacking with some of the people who had the first recorded ascents of many of the peaks of the Sierras.

There was no giardia in the waters of the Sierras in those days, so there was no need to filter or boil water from the lakes and streams. One of my great pleasures was lying on my belly and drinking directly from a flowing stream. I remember the first time we had to filter Sierra water. I was in my twenties. I was so sad about the loss of purity in those splendid mountains, I cried every time I had to filter our water.

This was also before the advent of lightweight packs and lightweight tents and lightweight sleeping bags, before armies of backpackers swarmed the wilderness. My pack for a week in the Sierras weighed upwards of sixty pounds, and we so rarely met other backpackers, every meeting was memorable.

We were ever on the lookout for edible food that needed only water added to make a viable meal. Forget tasty. Edible. I was a fly fisherman, and in those days so few people visited the places we went, the fishing was always good and we had trout for breakfast and supper.

One day a backpacking friend touted me on a rice dish available in a cardboard box, the ingredients needing only water to turn into some sort of pilaf. I got some, cooked it at home, found it edible, barely, and got two more boxes to take on a backpacking trip.

Our first day we hiked for seven hours carrying our hella heavy packs over two high passes, and we didn’t reach our destination until darkness was falling. Exhausted and having no time to fish, we made our cooking fire and boiled a pan of water to cook the rice pilaf.

Yes. A cooking fire. This was when so few people ventured into the Sierras there was always plenty of dead wood to be gathered for fires, no permits were required, and there was no need to carry a little propane stove. When the water came to a boil, we poured in the desiccated rice grains, stirred occasionally, and twenty minutes later scooped the gruel into our Sierra Club cups.

Oh my God. The pilaf tasted like a three-star Michelin entrée, our mighty exertions and our extreme hunger making the crummy food gourmet.


When I was in my twenties I was a vagabond for a few years. I hitchhiked all over America and Canada, carrying all my possessions in a big backpack weighing fifty to seventy pounds depending on how much food and how many books I was carrying. I also toted a cheap guitar in a flimsy case and played for hours while waiting for rides. I was essentially a highway backpacker.

During the summer of 1971 I found myself in Stowe, Vermont with a few dollars in my wallet and needing work. Stowe is now a swank resort town, but in 1971 it was a small country town. I inquired in the hardware store if they knew of anyone needing a laborer. The friendly fellow working there said he’d make a few calls and to come back in a half hour. To pass the time, I went to the bakery to get a loaf of bread.

The gal in the bakery sold me a big day-old loaf for twenty-five cents. When I inquired about places to camp, she said I could pitch my tube tent in her backyard. I asked if she knew of anyone needing a laborer, and she said there was a guy tending a warming hut on the nearby Long Trail, which is part of the Appalachian Trail, who wanted somebody to cut and chop wood for the hut. She said he came into the bakery every few days to buy cookies and bread, and to complain about the absence of bagels.

The guy at the hardware store didn’t come up with any work for me, so after spending the night in the bakery gal’s backyard, I hiked two miles up a trail that connected with the Long Trail, hiked another mile or so north along the Long Trail, and introduced myself to the fellow tending the warming hut there.

I don’t know how things are run on those trails nowadays, but in 1971 hikers did not camp wherever they wanted along the way and had to stay in these warming huts, which were one-room cabins with a hearth, a woodstove, and wooden platforms for sleeping bags. There was no electricity and the outhouse was unpleasant.

The fee to stay overnight was fifty cents. The keeper of the hut collected the fees, made sure there was plenty of firewood, swept out the hut, cleaned the outhouse, kept the water barrel in the hut full, and had a walkie-talkie in case of emergencies.

The fellow tending the hut was named Bernard. He lived in Brooklyn where he was born thirty-five years before I met him. He spoke with a thick Brooklyn Jewish accent and was a chess master with a high ranking. Tall and bearded, Bernard was volubly unhappy about spending his summer in the mountains. He was there at the suggestion of his psychiatrist who felt a break from city life would help lessen his anxiety and depression and anger.

Within thirty seconds of my arrival, Bernard asked me, “Do you play chess?”

“Not well,” I replied.

“Let’s play,” he said grimly.

A moment later we were sitting on the deck of the hut with a chessboard between us. I asked him to remind me how the horse moved and he gave me a look of dismay. “Please tell me you’re kidding. You must know that piece is called a knight.”

“Now I do,” I said, laughing.

Not amused, Bernard checkmated me with ease three or four times, and said, “You’ll get better.”

He then explained his job included foraging in the surrounding woods for well-aged fallen trees and branches, sawing them up, and splitting them into firewood for the hut. Never having wielded a saw or an axe, this labor was torture for him. He would pay me five dollars a day and cover my food if I would work for him.

I stayed a week, which was all I could take of Bernard. He was desperately lonely and talked endlessly about his mother and father, chess tournaments, his most challenging rivals in the chess world, and his difficulties with women. Fortunately he did not accompany me on my wood gathering expeditions, so I had daily respites from his laments.

Hikers would start arriving in the afternoon. Bernard would collect the fees and inquire of each hiker, “Do you play chess?” Occasionally a good chess player would come along and Bernard would delight in games he always won. He and I played many times and I got a little better, but not so it made a difference to Bernard.

In the mornings, hikers would cook their oatmeal and move on. I would sweep out the hut, pump water from the spring to refill the warming hut barrel, clean the outhouse, and then go forth with saw and axe to gather wood from the surrounding forest. In my absence, Bernard would read, write letters and postcards, and because I was in the vicinity, he walked into town every other day to mail his letters, get his mail, make phone calls, and buy food.

We got to be friends, though Bernard never asked me anything about my life. What he learned about me came from overhearing conversations I had with hikers who were more inquisitive than he. By contrast, I knew so much about Bernard I could have written a long depressing novel based on his anguished life. Working title: Such A Headache I’ve Got.

At the end of a week, with thirty-five dollars in my pocket (a fortune to me in those days) I bid Bernard adieu and left the mountains for another stint on the road.


Through the Fire the title song from our new CD Through the Fire.


More Reality

I was recently on the table of Bibi, our most excellent acupressurist, and as she pressed hot points on various meridians in my left foot, she asked with some urgency, “Are you frustrated?”

I’m sure you’ve had the experience of someone asking you a question that initially catches you by surprise, and then upon further musing the question leads to a valuable insight or two. Well that’s what happened to me when Bibi asked, “Are you frustrated?”

Had she asked, “Feeling a little anxious?” I would have replied, “Is the Pope Catholic?” Or if she’d asked, “A little depressed?” I would have answered, “Am I human and alive on earth in 2023?” But frustrated? About what? And though I couldn’t think of anything off the top of my head I was frustrated about, the word burrowed into my consciousness and eventually opened a rusty door in the cranial archives.

My mother was in many ways the embodiment of frustration. Possessed of an extremely high IQ, a gifted musician and actress, and one of the first women to graduate from Stanford Law School, she subsumed her talents to raise four children with little help from our abusive alcoholic father.

My mother was Jewish. Growing up during the Great Depression when anti-Semitism in America was ferocious, her Jewish parents changed their last name from Weinstein to Winton to improve their chances of survival, and they instructed my mother to disguise and deny her Jewishness, and if possible marry a non-Jew, which my mother did. She then raised her children without letting us know we were Jewish, which I’m sure was another source of stress and frustration for her, as it certainly turned out to be for my siblings and I.

My grandmother Goody, my mother’s mother, was also frustrated. Raised in an Orthodox Jewish family, she, too, was a marvelous singer and actress, but was forbidden from pursuing those arts by her deeply religious parents who equated Show Biz with the Devil. Hence for much of her life Goody felt her destiny had been stolen from her.

What does this have to do with me? Are you kidding? What does this not have to do with me? Yet until Bibi asked me if I was frustrated, it did not occur to me to include frustration in the sum total of neuroses that add up to yours truly.

What is frustration? In simple terms, frustration is a feeling of dissatisfaction arising from wanting something we don’t have. My mother wanted to do something with her talent and didn’t feel she could until her kids were grown. When that day arrived, she became a Special Ed teacher and eventually practiced law part-time. She also wrote children’s plays and was the leading light of an excellent play-reading group.

I was in my mid-twenties the first time I visited my mother at the law firm where she began practicing law at the age of fifty. I was stunned. Who was this serene, thoughtful, funny, brilliant person handling complicated cases with ease and aplomb? Where was my antsy, negative, complaining, beleaguered mother steeling herself for the next blast of abuse from my father? She was transformed! She was, part-time for a few golden years, no longer frustrated.

Recalling these things about my mother and grandmother, I could feel deep in my meridians how I had inherited my mother’s habit of frustration, and I also understood that my decision to dedicate my life to writing and music was in essence the path my mother and grandmother had longed to pursue, and not doing so was the cause of their terrible frustration.

And though I did follow my passion, I, too, was persistently frustrated until I was well into my fifties because what I wanted more than anything was to be so successful with my writing and music that my disapproving parents would finally approve of me, which was never to be.

Now I’m seventy-three. Over the course of the last twenty-five years my primary motive for writing and composing has evolved from yearning to succeed in a big way into wanting to share what I create however I can.

So why did my meridians tell Bibi I was frustrated? Because my desire to be recognized beyond my small circle of friends lives on in my subconscious and rose from the depths when we came out with our new CD Through the Fire. And who rides the horse of such desire? None other than the headless horseman of frustration.

And because frustration is a huge energy drain and gets in the way of enjoying life and doing good work, not to mention messing with my meridians, I have turned over several new leaves since that fateful moment on Bibi’s table.

One of those newly turned leaves is to begin each day with a dance of gratitude for my marvelous friends and for the infinite possibilities awaiting me in my studio and living room and kitchen and backyard and watershed.

I’m happy to report: daily gratitude dancing obliterates frustration.


Really Really You a song from Through the Fire.



Our friend Jeff said to me the other day, “I don’t believe in reality.”

I wish I could remember what I said to him right before he said that, but I can’t.

The moment Jeff said, “I don’t believe in reality,” my awareness of reality shifted. Not that I stopped believing in reality, but I began to see the world differently. How so? Hard to say.

You will recall the scene in the prophetic movie The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodsman and the Lion are standing before the big screen on which is projected the frightening head and face of the supposed Wizard of Oz and they are quaking in fear of him and he is telling them he can’t help them, when Toto, Dorothy’s dog, possibly the sharpest member of the cast, discovers an old man standing in a booth adjacent to the screen, and the booth turns out to be the projection room, the image on the screen an illusion.

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,” says the Wizard of Oz on the screen as voiced by the old man in the projection room.

He might have said, “Don’t believe in reality! Believe instead in the nonsense on the screen intended to entrance you and entrap you and empower me at your expense.”


Yesterday I was on my way into Corners of the Mouth, the worker-owned food cooperative in Mendocino where I shop twice a week, and there were two people, a man and a woman, standing in front of the store gazing into their smart phones. The man said, “Mixed reviews.” The woman replied, “Seems more like a bulk foods place.”

As I passed them I said, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

“Excuse me?” said the man, frowning at me.

“It’s a great store. Full of wonders,” I said, smiling at him. “I’ve been shopping here multiple times a week for seventeen years. Every time I go in I discover something new. The produce is grandiloquent, the employees spectacular, their selection of chocolate bars inspiring.”

The man looked at his phone. “Says the layout is confusing.”

The woman blinked at me and said, “That was from The Wizard of Oz. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

“Right you are,” I said, entering the store and inhaling of the magnificence.

Which is to say, reality seems to be largely what we make of things. Descartes said, “I think therefore I am.” To which I will add, “If you think what is projected on your screen is reality, so it shall be.”


My mother was essentially mistrustful of reality whenever things were going well. In other words, she was always expecting something bad to happen. It was almost as if she wanted something bad to happen. I don’t think she did, but her expectation was so strong it might as well have been the desire for disaster.

I inherited this mistrust of happiness from her, which created in me a lifelong propensity for self-sabotage. I am ever amazed at how this manifests on both the physical and emotional planes in my life, and I’m not kidding when I say I really don’t know how I made it to seventy-three.


My mother said the thing she disliked most about getting old was all her friends were dying. She did not say that what she disliked most about getting old was all her friends were falling and breaking various bones and hitting their heads, but for me that seems to be the era we have entered vis-à-vis our friends, along with some of them dying, too.

As one who has fallen many times throughout my life, though not recently knock-on-wood, I can tell you that in my reality every time I fell I was either needlessly hurrying or not paying close attention to what I was doing, and probably both those things. My most recent injury resulting from needlessly hurrying and not paying attention was to smash my bare toes on a rock protruding from the path I was on, the result of which was a broken toe, an infected toe, a wonky way of walking for some weeks, aches and pains from lopsided posture due to compensating for foot pain, and so forth ongoing.

Why was I hurrying and not paying attention after a delightful barefooted walk on the beach? The short answer is: I’m an idiot.


Why do we needlessly hurry and not pay attention to what we are doing? We might say the answer is different for each of us. We might also say the answer is the same for all of us. For one reason or another we are not content to fully inhabit the present moment. We are entrained to move forward, to keep going, to stay busy, to keep ourselves entertained, our brains stimulated, even if by junk. We don’t know very well how to saunter and to pay close attention to what we’re doing and to what’s going on around us.

Marcia and I take a walk on the headlands south of Mendocino every few weeks, and after a two-mile jaunt we come to the end of the trail overlooking a rock outcropping just offshore on which harbor seals like to roost for several hours a day. Sometimes there are a dozen or more seals on those rocks, sometimes just a few, and sometimes there are none. The seals are light gray and dark gray and various shades of brown, their colors very close to the colors of the outcropping.

Now here’s an interesting thing to me about this outcropping and those seals. We have arrived at the point overlooking the outcropping a hundred or so times in my life, and the first thing I do when we arrive there is to count the seals. And many of those times, my first count misses at least one and sometimes more of the seals. My second count usually includes all the seals, but sometimes it takes a third careful scanning before I clearly see all the seals.


Conception Vessel Seventeen piano/cello duet from Through the Fire


Who Knew?

When I was a little boy and I would tell my grandfather Casey something I thought was terribly important or interesting, he would feign amazement and say, “Who knew?”

The first few times he responded in this way I replied, “I did.” Eventually I came to realize Who knew? was his way of saying, “Oh my gosh,” or “Isn’t that something,” or “How unexpected.”

By the time I was a teenager, I knew that many Jewish people used the expression, and to this day when I encounter someone who comes out with Who knew? (usually with a tone of humorous irony) I feel an immediate affinity.

What does this have to do with our new CD Through the Fire? Well… when we were making the album we had about forty-five minutes of music to present. A standard CD holds about seventy-two minutes of content and we thought it would be fun to fill some of the remaining space with a story or two of mine, one of the Healing stories and…

“Oh please read Of Onyx and Guinea Pigs,” said Marcia, emphatically. “It’s both believable and beyond believable, and it’s so funny.”

So I recorded the memoir in Peter Temple’s studio where we’ve made all our albums and where I’ve recorded all my audio books, and Peter thought the story was fiction, which it is not, though it certainly could be.

Now that Through the Fire is out in the world and we’ve gotten responses from friends and DJs, Of Onyx and Guinea Pigs is by far the most talked about track on the album.

My response is “Who knew?” And the answer is, Marcia did.


a link to a site with all the downloading/streaming/listening options for Through the Fire

and a link to where one can buy the actual CD of Through the Fire


Fascinating Life

Goody (far left) and Casey (far right) and Howard (in the back) with my mother and father, my sister Wendy on my father’s shoulder, my sister Kathy beside me, circa 1952

When I was seventeen I visited my grandparents Goody and Casey, my mother’s parents, in Los Angeles. They were living in a tiny apartment in a seedy neighborhood of old buildings soon to be replaced by newer ones.

This was in striking contrast to how they lived for most of the 1940s and 50s and 60s when they owned a large house with a swimming pool in an upscale neighborhood in Los Angeles. They had a cook and housekeeper, drove expensive cars, and at the height of their riches owned fifty apartment buildings in nice parts of the city, a second home in Palm Springs, and hundreds of acres on the outskirts of Los Angeles awaiting development.

Todd and Casey circa 1954

I remember as a little boy riding around in Casey’s convertible Lincoln Continental from one apartment complex to another where Casey would inspect the premises, confer with his managers, and exchange niceties with his many renters.

Casey was a gambler. One of his famous sayings was, “I wish I had a dollar for every dollar I’ve lost playing gin rummy.” Then he would arch his eyebrow and say, “For that matter, I wish I had a dollar for every dollar I won playing gin rummy.”

He did not read books and spent many an evening at their country club playing Gin Rummy for ten and twenty dollars a point. He would never play golf just to play golf. There had to be money on the game. He once lost fifteen thousand dollars on nine holes of golf, and this was in the late 1950s when for fifteen thousand dollars one could buy a nice house in San Carlos and a big beach house in Santa Cruz.

Goody, by contrast, was an intellectual interested in psychology and art, an avid collector of Asian antiques, and left the moneymaking entirely to Casey. She wrote long thoughtful letters to her friends and grandchildren, and was a fantastic story teller.

Goody at a Hollywood party posing with the very young Red Skelton and the rather young William Bendix, 1940s?

Casey’s son, my uncle Howard, was an even bigger gambler than Casey. A successful entertainment lawyer, he bet on college sports, pro sports, played poker several times a week in high stakes games, and gambled with real estate.

Then came the Big Deal. Casey partnered with Howard and two of Howard’s associates and they bought a huge chunk of land on Wilshire Boulevard, several acres. Today those acres are covered with office buildings and high-rise apartment buildings and the land is worth many billions of dollars.

Casey’s dream was to build an exclusive retirement community and hotel with an adjoining office complex, entertainment venue, and medical center. He mortgaged all his apartment buildings, all his land, everything he owned, and put every penny into this incredibly ambitious project.

Shortly before ground was to be broken on the Wilshire dream, Howard and his colleagues pulled out of the deal and Casey lost everything. I don’t know the details of how and why this happened, but literally overnight Goody and Casey went from being fabulously wealthy to being paupers dependent on my parents.

Even more bizarre, Howard and his wife and kids moved into Goody and Casey’s opulent home, and Goody and Casey became frequent visitors there. Casey talked his way into sharing an office with a low-end real estate shyster and life went on.

Goody was born into a poor family in the Jewish ghetto of Detroit in 1900. Casey grew up in Flint, Michigan where his family owned a dry goods store. Casey attended college on an athletic scholarship. When he and Goody were first married, they were desperately poor for several years until Casey’s real estate deals started paying off.

Goody at 80, circa 1980

So there I was in Goody and Casey’s tiny apartment, seeing them for the first time without their great riches. It was Goody’s sixty-fifth birthday. I said to her, “What a fascinating life you’ve had.”

To which she replied, “If you live to fifty you’ve had a fascinating life.”

Her answer puzzled me at the time. When I turned fifty I recalled Goody’s proclamation and felt I knew what she meant. To be born and survive the helplessness of infancy, to learn to walk and talk and socialize, to grow into adulthood, to experience love and loss and pain and happiness and sorrow, and to reach an age when we are no longer young and the body is no longer capable of doing what it could do so easily when we were ten and twenty and thirty and forty, is to have had a fascinating life.


Good news. We just got our first radio plays for our new CD Through the Fire. A station in Georgetown California and a station in Milwaukee Wisconsin played Really Really You. A station in Bloomington Indiana played Rico, a station in Warren Vermont played Real Good Joe, and a station in Boise Idaho played Rico, too.

Mazel tov!

a link to a site that will give you all the downloading/streaming/listening options for Through the Fire

and a link to where one can buy the CD of Through the Fire