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The Same Woman (Yvonne)

Every few years Andrew meets the same woman and always recognizes her, though she never recognizes him as anyone she’s known before.

The first time they met was in elementary school in 1955. The second time they met was during the summer of 1962 when they were both thirteen. And starting in 1966 they were in a relationship that lasted a year until she—her name was Laura then—left him for someone else.

In December of 1969, shortly after Andrew turns twenty-one, the first draft lottery takes place in America and he draws number 344, which means he no longer has to be in college to avoid being sent to the war in Vietnam. However, one of Andrew’s very best friends, Cal, draws number 3 and is certain to be drafted even if he manages to get into graduate school.

When Cal is denied conscientious objector status, he decides to move to Canada rather than go to prison or Vietnam. Cal has a cousin who lives in Vancouver, British Columbia who agrees to house Cal until he gets settled in Canada. Cal asks Andrew to drive him to Vancouver and they leave California for British Columbia in June of 1970, just a few days after they graduate from UC Santa Cruz, Cal with a degree in Philosophy, Andrew with a degree in Drama.

Funded by Cal’s parents, they rent a big orange van to carry Cal’s books and records and clothing and musical instruments, including two guitars, an electric bass, an amplifier, and a drum kit. They stay in motels, eat in diners, and make the trip to Vancouver in four days.

By 1970 the Canadian government is no longer making it problematic for American draft evaders to move to Canada, so Cal and Andrew have no trouble entering the country.

Cal’s cousin Frank and Frank’s wife Jean live in a small house in a suburb of Vancouver. They are both in their early thirties, Frank a surveyor, Jean a piano teacher, and Jean is pregnant with their first child. They are not thrilled about sharing their house with Cal, but they are thrilled about the thousand dollars a month Cal’s parents are giving them for as long as Cal lives with them.

On the evening of their second day in Vancouver, a few days before Andrew is planning to head back to California, Cal and Andrew go to a pub called Angel Alley in downtown Vancouver to hear a lineup of local musicians. The drinking age was recently lowered to 18 in British Columbia, and the place is mobbed with college kids and hipsters.

Cal, who has been playing guitar and writing songs since he was eleven, is keen to explore the music scene in Vancouver. Andrew took up the guitar after his relationship with Laura ended three and a half years ago, and with Cal as his teacher he has gotten quite good.

So…

After a middle-aged woman does a fair imitation of Judy Collins singing Joni Mitchell songs, and three earnest fellows cover Dylan and The Beatles, a young woman takes the stage with her guitar and stands a few feet away from the microphone as she waits to be introduced.

Andrew looks at the young woman and his jaw drops because as far as he’s concerned she is none other than Laura, the great love of his life who jilted him three and a half years ago and moved to England with her new partner—yet here she is in Angel Alley about to perform.

“That’s Laura,” says Andrew, nudging Cal who is conversing with a gal at the adjoining table. “Has to be.”

Cal turns to Andrew. “Sorry. What did you say?”

“Look,” says Andrew, pointing at the stage. “Tell me that isn’t Laura.”

“Sure looks like her,” says Cal, studying the lovely woman with shoulder-length brown hair wearing a white blouse and black slacks and standing at ease with her guitar. “I thought she was in England.”

“Last I heard she was,” says Andrew, his heart pounding. “Three years five months and two weeks ago. But this is definitely Laura. Who else could she be?”

“I didn’t know Laura played guitar,” says Cal, trying to discern the make of her reddish brown parlor guitar.

“She didn’t,” says Andrew, shaking his head. “But neither did I until she left.”

Now a big burly fellow with spiky gray hair steps up to the microphone and says, “Without further ado, it is my great pleasure to introduce Yvonne Garnier.” 

Loud applause and whistling fill the air as the woman steps to the microphone and begins to play and sing. Her voice to Andrew’s ears is Laura’s voice, a sweet woman’s tenor, and he cannot hold back his tears.

When she finishes her first song, Cal whispers to Andrew, “She’s fantastic, but I don’t think she’s Laura.”

“Why? Because she changed her name?” asks Andrew, certain she is his lost love.

“No,” says Cal, putting his hand on Andrew’s shoulder. “Because this woman has been playing guitar since she was a kid. I’ll bet you anything.”

After a scintillating set of original songs and a few folk classics, Yvonne leaves the stage to thunderous applause and many of those in attendance head for home.

The bartender calls “Forty minutes to closing,” and Andrew and Cal shift their chairs to join the two women and a man—Terry, Sheila, and Chas—at the adjoining table, Terry of great interest to Cal and vice-versa.

“So are you moving to Canada, too?” asks Chas, directing his question at Andrew.

“I wasn’t planning on it,” says Andrew, still under the spell of seeing Laura again. “I got a very high draft number and I’m hoping to get into grad school one of these days, but I am loving it here, so you never know.”

“And he’s gonna visit me often,” says Cal, his eyes full of tears. “Aren’t you, A?”

“Much as I can,” he replies. “Much as I can.”

Now the woman Andrew thinks is Laura emerges from backstage and comes to join them because Terry and Sheila are her best friends, and Chas has been her devoted fan for years.

Chas rises to give Yvonne a kiss on the cheek and Terry says, “Fantastic Evie. You just get better and better.”

“Thanks,” says Yvonne, turning to Cal and Andrew. “Who are these hunks?”

“I’m Cal,” says Cal, shaking her hand. “And this is Andrew. I’m just moving to Vancouver and Andrew drove me up from California.”

“Why don’t you move here, too?” says Yvonne, shaking Andrew’s hand.

“No good reason,” says Andrew, barely able to breathe.

“At least come to my birthday party before you go back,” she says, sitting down to have a beer. “My twenty-first. Day after tomorrow. At my mother’s farm. You’ll love it. Say yes.”

“Yes,” says Andrew, laughing to keep from crying. “Of course.”

But he almost doesn’t go to Yvonne’s party because in the half-hour he spends with her in Angel Alley, he falls in love with her again—or discovers he is still in love with her—and he can’t bear the thought of her breaking his heart again.

The night before the party, he and Cal go out for fish and chips at a place Frank and Jean recommend.

“Using linear logic,” says Andrew to Cal, “I know Yvonne is not Laura. But every cell in my body tells me she is the same person.”

Cal ponders this for a moment. “What do you mean by the same person? They could be twins, but twins aren’t the same person. They may resemble each other, but they have different brains and hearts and personalities and experiences. So what do you mean by the same person.”

“I mean that when we were in the pub with her, I knew she was Laura.” Andrew clears his throat. “I know that sounds crazy because she is not Laura, and I know that because Laura’s mother still lives in San Francisco, not on a farm in British Columbia. And I know that because I called her today to confirm she still lives in San Francisco and to ask her if she’d heard from Laura recently and she said she had, that Laura was still in England with what’s his name.”

“Therefore?” says Cal, smiling at the approach of their waitress with two big platters of fish and chips.

“Therefore she cannot be Laura,” says Andrew, nodding his thanks as the waitress sets the feast before him.

“Anything else I can get you?” asks the waitress, making eyes at Andrew.

When Andrew does not reply, Cal says, “We’re good. Thanks so much.”

“And yet,” says Andrew, staring at his food and seeing Laura/Yvonne playing her guitar and singing, “I know she’s Laura.”

“Did you also know that our very attractive waitress was interested in you? No, you didn’t. Because a big part of you isn’t even here.” Cal sighs in sympathy. “I think you never got over Laura. You never broke the spell. So of course you see her in Yvonne who looks very much like her.”

Andrew closes his eyes. “But it’s not just the resemblance, Cal. Yvonne is two or three inches taller than Laura, and her speaking voice is deeper, and she talks much more slowly.”

“With a subtle sexy Quebecois accent,” says Cal, smiling quizzically at his friend. “So why do you say she’s Laura?”

“I think she has Laura’s soul. Or her spirit. Maybe they’re the same thing.”

“What about the Laura in England?” asks Cal, chewing thoughtfully on a delicious French fry. “Does she share her soul with Yvonne or did it somehow leave her and enter Yvonne?”

“I don’t know,” says Andrew, shrugging. “I know it sounds crazy, but I don’t know how to else to explain it. Yvonne doesn’t just remind me of Laura. She is Laura. And that’s why I’m not going to the party tomorrow. Because the only way to end this madness is to avoid her whenever she manifests in my life. And I hope she never does again.”

“But you love her,” says Cal, frowning. “Maybe this time she’ll want to be with you and not leave you for someone else.”

“Why would she be any different this time?” asks Andrew, still pained by his memory of the moment Laura told him she’d found a new love. “If she has the same spirit, then she’ll act the same way. Right?”

“Maybe she’s changed. Maybe she’s evolving as you’re evolving. Maybe this time she’ll be ready to make a life with you.”

“I doubt it,” says Andrew, sipping his beer. “Though I do love the idea of souls evolving together. And maybe she won’t even be interested in me this time.”

“Oh she seemed pretty interested in you,” says Cal, loving the fish and chips. “That’s why she invited us to her party three seconds after she met you.”

“Maybe I won’t be interested in her this time,” says Andrew, wanting to sound disinterested.

Cal rolls his eyes. “Maybe you’ll grow wings and become a bird.”

“So what if she breaks my heart again?” says Andrew, abruptly changing his tune. “Maybe that’s part of the evolutionary plan.”

“So you are going to the party with me,” says Cal, laughing. “I hope so. And I hope you do fall in love with each other and you stay in Canada and then I won’t feel so alone.”

Yvonne’s mother is named Charlene. Her farm is an idyllic place, ten acres of level ground seven miles north of Vancouver, eight of the acres in permanent pasture, one acre for summer vegetables, the remaining acre occupied by a big old farmhouse and a rundown cottage and a flower garden and outbuildings for chickens and rabbits and pigs.

Charlene is fifty-two with long brown hair going gray. She speaks English with a strong Quebecois accent and has lived on her farm for twenty-one years, having moved here from Montreal when Yvonne was in utero.

“I was a singer, too,” says Charlene to Andrew as she gives him a tour of her farm—the birthday party in full swing at the farmhouse. “But when I got pregnant with Yvonne, I thought, ‘No, I’ve had enough of this struggle. I will go west and live in a quiet place near the ocean. I had some money from my father, so I bought this farm and we have been very happy here.” She smiles as she remembers her first years on the farm. “Of course I sang to my daughter and taught her to play the piano and the guitar, but I never thought she would try to make singing her career as I did. She is more successful than I was, but still she makes her living as a waitress.”

“This is such a beautiful place,” says Andrew, wondering why Charlene singled him out for the tour and not Cal. “How far to the ocean?”

“Two miles,” says Charlene, stopping with him in front of the dilapidated cottage. “Yvonne says you are thinking of moving here. Perhaps you would like to fix up this cottage and make this your first home in Canada.”

“Oh I’m not moving here,” says Andrew, embarrassed by the mix up. “My friend Cal is moving here.”

“Yes, I know,” says Charlene, nodding, “but Yvonne says you are thinking of moving here, too, and if you will do the work on this place, I will give you free rent for two years, and, of course, pay for all the materials. She told me you are handy with tools.”

“I’m a fair carpenter,” says Andrew, intrigued by the cottage. “But I’ve mostly been a landscaper. Built decks and sheds and…”

“Well this is like a big shed, isn’t it?” says Yvonne, beaming at him. “A sophisticated shed with a toilet and shower and kitchen and living room and bedroom.”

“Maybe Cal could live here,” says Andrew, imagining settling down on Charlene’s farm for a while, playing music with Cal and getting to know Yvonne. “Can we have a look inside?”

“It’s falling down,” says Charlene, pushing open the front door of the little house. “You would mostly be building it all over again.”

“I’d need a place to stay while I was doing the rebuilding,” says Andrew, warming to the idea of a Canadian adventure before going to graduate school. “There’s no room for me where Cal is staying.”

“I have an extra bedroom in the farmhouse,” says Charlene, nodding assuredly. “You would be welcome here.”

“But you hardly know me,” he says, taken aback.

“Yvonne says you are wonderful,” says Charlene, matter-of-factly. “That is good enough for me.”

So a few days later, after he drops the van off at a car rental place in Bellingham, Washington, Andrew returns by train to Vancouver and begins a new chapter of his life.

Having brought very few things with him, he moves into Charlene’s farmhouse with a small suitcase of clothing and a knapsack containing notebooks, pens, dark glasses, a few books, a Swiss Army knife, and a camera.

His parents are surprised by his decision to stay in Canada, but understanding, too, and they ship him a box of clothes and shoes. Cal is thrilled with Andrew’s decision to stick around and comes to the farm every day to help with the renovation until a committee assisting American draft evaders gets him a job as a dishwasher and janitor at a college cafeteria, after which he can only help on weekends.

Charlene’s boyfriend Walter, a roofer, outfits Andrew with most of the tools he needs, shows Andrew the best places to buy building materials, and lends his expertise to Andrew when the going gets tricky.

And what of Yvonne? She is delighted to have Andrew living on the farm and staying in her former bedroom. Throughout the summer, she comes for supper a couple times during the week, and every Sunday she spends the day and sometimes the night at the farm.

She is greatly attracted to Andrew, as he is to her, and they spend lots of time talking, playing guitars, going to movies and plays, and walking on the beach. But they rarely touch and never kiss except on the cheeks as French people do when greeting each other and saying goodbye.

As the weeks and months go by and summer turns to fall, the cottage lacks only a new roof to be ready for Andrew to move in. Charlene’s beau Walter does the roofing job with Andrew assisting him, and Walter is sufficiently impressed with Andrew’s skills and strength and amiable nature to tout Andrew to a builder he knows, which results in Andrew being hired for eight weeks of good-paying work that gives him a nest egg for the winter.

Charlene loves having Andrew on the farm and hires him at a decent wage to help around the place a couple hours a day.

Not being in school or working for his father as a landscaper for the first time in his life, Andrew starts writing songs and stories, and he discovers he is much more interested in those art forms than in acting.

On a Sunday evening in early December after the supper dishes are done, Andrew and Yvonne and Charlene and Walter and Cal and his sweetheart Terry gather in the living room to hear Andrew read a short story he’s been working on for some weeks now, The Precipice. This is the first time he has ever shared his writing with anyone other than Cal, and though nervous at first, he grows more confident as he reads.

“That was so moving for me,” says Charlene when Andrew finishes reading. “I was on the verge of tears from the beginning to the end.”

“Really good,” says Walter, nodding in agreement. “Kind of a fable, but it seemed very real, very true. Just great.”

“I loved it,” says Terry, smiling wide-eyed at Andrew. “I know an editor at The Weekly Blitz who might want to publish it. Can I show it to him?”

“I need to polish it,” says Andrew, overwhelmed by the praise. “But yeah, that would be wonderful.”

“You’re amazing,” says Yvonne, gazing at Andrew as if seeing him for the first time. “Will you read it again to us when you finish polishing?”

“I… yeah,” says Andrew, blushing. “It really helped knowing you were listening. I mean… I read my stories out loud to myself, but it’s not the same as reading to an audience.”

“Same with a song,” says Yvonne, wanting to kiss him. “I always think of the audience as the final ingredient.”

The response to his story from his new family of friends ignites Andrew’s writing fire as nothing ever has and he starts waking early every morning to write for a few hours before doing his farm work or going off to a carpentry job. He writes in the evenings, too, if he’s not going somewhere to hear Yvonne sing or visiting with Cal.

Andrew’s parents offer to fly him home for Christmas, and to please them he flies from Vancouver to San Francisco a few days before Christmas, spends seven days in Redwood City with his mom and dad and brother, sees a few old friends, and flies back to Vancouver in time to attend Charlene and Yvonne’s New Year’s Eve party.

The day before the party, Andrew gets a phone call from the editor of The Weekly Blitz, a guy named Joe Ganz. “We would love to publish The Precipice,” says Joe, his voice deep and gravelly. “I can pay you twenty-five dollars. I know it’s not much, but that’s what we pay for feature stories. And I’d love to see anything else you want to show me. We don’t often publish fiction, but this story fits us to a T.”

Which means the New Year’s Eve party is also a celebration of Andrew’s success, and Yvonne asks him to read The Precipice to the fifty or so party goers, many of them artists and musicians and writers.

“Not tonight,” says Andrew, hating to disappoint her. “I’m feeling shy and I’d rather not be the center of attention. If you know what I mean.”

“I do know what you mean,” she says, putting her arms around him. “But I really want you to read that story for everyone. It’s just what we need to hear right now. Please?”

So Andrew agrees, a microphone and amplifier are set up, Yvonne plays a beautiful guitar tune to get everybody’s attention, and exactly an hour before 1970 gives way to 1971, Andrew reads his story to the assembled host.

All the usual clichés apply. You could hear a pin drop. They hang on his every word. Again and again he has to hold for laughs. There isn’t a dry eye in the place. And when he reads the last word of The Precipice, there is a collective gasp and the crowd goes wild.

At midnight there is much hurrahing and hugging and kissing, and when Yvonne and Andrew kiss, they cease to hold back from loving each other, though they do not take the physical loving beyond their kiss.

In the days that follow, Andrew gives himself so entirely to his new life, he forgets all about trying to get into graduate school. He works on the farm, takes the occasional carpentry gig, writes for hours every day, plays music in the evenings with Cal, and he and Yvonne start spending big chunks of time together on Saturdays and Sundays, exploring the city and the coast, and reveling in their friendship which continues to deepen in spite of (or maybe because of) their unspoken agreement not to become lovers.

 ∆

One day in early summer, as the one-year anniversary of his arrival in Canada approaches, Andrew and Yvonne sit shoulder-to-shoulder with their backs against a driftwood log on a gorgeous beach a few miles north of the farm.

“The thing is,” says Andrew, smiling out at the sparkling sea, “I feel married to you. Yet we are not lovers. Which means…”

“Soul marriages aren’t about sex,” says Yvonne, taking Andrew’s hand. “They might include sex, of course, but they aren’t founded on sex.”

“Do you think if we had sex we’d lose our soul connection?” He frowns. “I wonder if that’s why we haven’t. Because we’re afraid we might.”

“No,” she says, shaking her head. “Our souls will always be connected, even if we never see each other again. But I do think we’re afraid that becoming lovers would complicate things. And it would. Sex always changes everything. Don’t you think?”

“I’ve only been sexually involved with one woman in my life, and we started having sex right from the get go, so there was never any question of changing the relationship with sex.”

“I’ve had a handful of lovers,” she says, sounding somewhat bitter about it, “and in every case, the minute we had sex, even really awful sex, they thought they owned me, as if entering my body gave them dominion over me, and I hate that.”

“I think that’s a primal belief among most humans, don’t you? Claiming each other by having sex. I’m not saying it’s right, but I understand why people feel that way. Not just men. It’s not just cultural, it’s biological.”

“It’s learned,” she says, angrily. “Taught to little boys from the day they’re born.”

“What is taught to little boys?”

“That they are superior to girls and should be able to dominate them.” She frowns at him. “You don’t think so?”

“My darling, Evie,” he says, smiling at her. “I have two brilliant older sisters and learned ten thousand times before I was seven that girls are stronger and smarter and more capable than boys in every way except, eventually, in terms of brute strength. And I’ve never liked brutes.”

“So if we become lovers you won’t think I’m your exclusive property?”

“You mean will I be okay with you sleeping with other people?”

“Would you be okay with that?”

“Well the thing is, I wouldn’t want to be in a sexual relationship with you if you want to sleep with other people. But I’d still want to be your friend.”

“How is that not owning me?” She pouts. “You would own the exclusive rights to me sexually if I wasn’t allowed to sleep with other people. Right?”

“No,” he says, laughing. “I just wouldn’t be in a sexual relationship with you. You can sleep with a different person every night if you want. Or two. I just don’t want to be involved in that kind of sexual dynamic with you or anybody. It’s not who I am.”

“Hmm,” she says, pondering this. “Because I really want to make love with you, A, but I can’t promise sexual fidelity.”

“Are you sleeping with anyone now?” he asks innocently. “I won’t mind if you are.”

“I’m not,” she says, pouting again. “I haven’t in over a year. Since a few months before I met you. And every time I’ve been tempted since then, I always think, ‘But I like Andrew so much better than this guy. Why would I ever sleep with this guy if I can sleep with Andrew?’ And then I don’t because I want you instead.”

“I’m flattered,” he says, holding out his arms to her.

They embrace and feel marvelous.

“So let’s make a pact,” she says, kissing his chin. “If we do sleep together and sleeping-together doesn’t last for some reason, we’ll always be friends.”

“Sounds good,” he says doubtfully, “but we can never know in advance if we’ll always be friends. We only know our souls will always be connected, which is not necessarily the same thing as being friends.”

“So how about this,” she says, moving apart from him so she can see his face. “We commit to sexual exclusivity with each other for one year with an option to renew for another year if we both want to.”

“A one-year marriage?” he says, loving everything about her. “Will we live together?”

“Yes. I’ll move into the cottage with you and save oodles not paying rent.”

“But what if we make love…” he says, pausing portentously. “And it’s really bad? Marriage annulled?”

“No,” she says urgently. “If the first time is bad, we have to try to make it better. We have to help each other in every way. Sexually and creatively and emotionally and spiritually.”

“I’m game,” he says, looking into her eyes. “What are you doing tonight?”

She takes a deep breath. “Being with you.”

The morning after their first night together, entangled in Andrew’s bed, Yvonne says, “Laura may have broken your heart, but in the ways of lovemaking she was a very good teacher.”

A few days after becoming Andrew’s lover, Yvonne gives notice she is vacating her apartment at the end of the month and starts moving her things to the farm a carload at a time. What doesn’t fit nicely in the cottage, she stores in the attic of the farmhouse.

After two months of commuting at night to and from the restaurant where she works, Laura shifts from supper to lunches so she can spend her evenings with Andrew. She makes less money, but now she’s paying no rent and can gig during the week, and she’s happier than she’s ever been. Ditto Andrew.

 ∆

In October, they borrow Charlene’s car and drive to California to visit Andrew’s folks, after which they continue on to Los Angeles where Amelia, one of Yvonne’s old friends, now lives and has arranged a couple gigs for her.

Much to Andrew’s surprise, Yvonne loves LA, and on the way back to Canada she says she’d like to live there one day.

“What do you like about it?” he asks, much preferring life on the farm in Canada.

“I love the weather, the people, the energy,” she says, gazing out at the passing scenery. “And if I really want to succeed with my music, that’s the place to be.” She turns to him. “If we got married, we’d essentially have joint citizenship and you’d be free of any hassles about living in Canada and I’d be free of any hassles about living in America. So we could live either place. Or both.”

“Is that a proposal?” he asks, deciding not to tell her he hates Los Angeles, the putrid air, the terrifying traffic, the absence of forests and wilderness, the millions of desperate people.

“Something to think about,” she says, kissing him. “I know you love where we live now, but I’ve lived there my whole life and I’m ready for a change.”

Which is why in the summer of 1973, after two years of living together, Andrew and Yvonne part ways, she to pursue her music career in Los Angeles, he to stay in Vancouver and carry on with his writing.

One evening a few months after Yvonne moves to Los Angeles, Andrew and Cal are in Angel Alley having beer and burgers, and they realize they are sitting at the same table where they first met Yvonne and Terry, who is now Cal’s wife.

And their reminiscence about that fateful evening prompts Andrew to say, “You’re the only person who could even begin to understand what I want to tell you.”

“About Yvonne?” asks Cal, knowing Andrew is hurting terribly from his loss of her. “Tell me.”

“You remember how in the beginning I said she was Laura, not in body but in spirit?”

“I remember.”

“Well I continued to feel that way until about a year ago.”

“What changed?”

“Well… I came home one day and she was on the phone with Amelia, and something was different about her. I couldn’t say exactly what it was, but she was different. Still sweet and funny and loving and wonderful, but different. And I came to realize she no longer reminded me of Laura. A particular kind of energy I have never been able to describe was gone from her.”

“Yet you still loved her.”

“More than ever.”

“So where do you think the Laura energy went?”

“I don’t know,” says Andrew, his eyes sparkling with tears. “Your guess is as good as mine.”         

fin

the song Just Love

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The Same Woman (Laura)

Andrew meets the same woman every few years and immediately recognizes her. She, however, never recognizes him as anyone she’s known before, though she is always pleased to meet him.

He met her for the first time in elementary school in 1955 when her name was Alice. The second time their paths crossed was during the summer of 1962 when they were both thirteen and her name was Sara.

As it happens, she is always his age.

Andrew at seventeen has reached his full height of five-eleven. A basketball player and landscaper, he tips the scales at 170 pounds. The year is 1966, spring is in the air, and being a teenager living in the suburbs of San Francisco, Andrew has fallen under the spell of the counter culture movement that will one day be known as The Sixties.

This being his senior year at Woodberry High, and now that basketball season is over, Andrew lets his hair go untamed and takes to wearing loose-fitting trousers, T-shirts sporting leftwing political slogans such as Power To The People, sandals, and an old suede jacket.

He has taken Drama for three years now and has a big part in the spring musical Once Upon A Mattress. He has applied for admission to Yale because of their renowned Drama department, and to UC Santa Cruz because one of his two older sisters is going there and he has to get in somewhere because the Vietnam War is raging and he desperately wants a student deferment.

And for the first time in his life, Andrew has a girlfriend. Her name is Megan and she is a pompom girl with long blonde hair. Never in a million years would Andrew have pursued Megan. She is very rich, drives a new convertible Mustang, her parents are conservative Republicans, and she and Andrew have almost nothing in common except they are human and go to the same high school.

Megan set her sights on Andrew this past December when he became a starting guard on the Woodbury basketball team, and he was powerless to resist her. His friends are chagrined that Andrew is going with Megan, in small part because she cares more about fashion than civil rights, but largely because she is wholly disinterested in poetry, music, art, and protesting the war, all of which Andrew and his friends are passionate about.

What Andrew’s friends don’t understand is that he has never had any sort of girlfriend, not counting his twelve-day romance with Sara when he was thirteen. And though Megan is not a leftist, she is affectionate, insists Andrew drive her very cool car whenever they go anywhere together, leaves love notes and little gifts in his locker, usually chocolate, and takes him to lunch or dinner at a fancy restaurant almost every weekend.

Andrew’s father has a small landscaping business and Andrew’s mother works in a bakery. Until Andrew’s sisters left for college, he shared one of the three small bedrooms in their house with his younger brother. And until Megan took him to an upscale restaurant for the first time, the fanciest restaurant he had ever gone to was a pizza parlor.

Once Upon A Mattress finishes its two-weekend run on a Saturday night exactly a week before the Senior Ball, which is a huge event in Megan’s life. She is chairperson of the Senior Ball Planning Committee and the frontrunner to be crowned queen of the ball. On the same Saturday as the Senior Ball there is an anti-war march and rally in San Francisco that Andrew and several of his friends are planning to go to.

The cast party for Once Upon A Mattress is held at the palatial Helzinger estate in Atherton, home of sixteen-year-old Marvin Helzinger who ran lights for the play and wants to be a movie producer. Megan wasn’t going to attend the party but changed her mind when Valerie Morris, the female lead, gave Andrew an amorous hug during the final curtain call and Andrew seemed delighted.

A half-hour after Megan and Andrew arrive at the party—Megan glued to Andrew as they makes the rounds of his fellow cast members—Andrew’s friend Cal mentions the upcoming anti-war march and asks Megan if she’s coming with them.

“When is it?” she asks to be polite.

The date revealed, Megan frowns at Andrew and says, “But honey that’s the day of the Senior Ball.”

“The march is in the morning,” he says, nodding assuredly. “We’ll be back in plenty of time.”

“Can I talk to you in private?” she says, smiling falsely at Cal. “Excuse us, please.”

She leads Andrew out the front door of the mansion and halfway down the wide walkway before she stops and says,  “You are not going to an anti-war thing on the same day as the Senior Ball. You could get arrested or your old car might break down. You can’t go. I will not allow you to ruin the most important day of my life.”

“We’re taking the train,” says Andrew, stunned by this outburst from his previously easygoing girlfriend. “The march starts at nine in the morning. We’ll get to Kezar at eleven, listen to some speeches and music, catch the bus back to the train station and be home by three. We’re not rioting, Megan. We’re just marching. Mike and Cal are going, too, and they’re both going to the ball, so…”

“No,” she says, shaking her head. “I can’t risk this, Andrew. It’s too important to me. There will be lots of other marches, but there’s only one Senior Ball. You’ll just have to skip this one.”

Andrew has never had a conflict of any sort with Megan in the five months they’ve been going together. She has never been angry with him, nor has she ever insisted he do or not do something. He wants to please her, but he also wants to march against the war that is threatening his life and the lives of his friends, not to mention the lives of millions of Vietnamese and hundreds of thousands of American soldiers.

“I promise I’ll be home by three,” he says, reaching out to take her hand.

“No,” she says, snatching her hand away. “You will not go to that thing. I won’t be able to sleep knowing you might miss the ball. I’ve never asked you for anything, Andrew, but now I’m begging you. Please don’t go to that march. Promise me you’ll stay home next Saturday and take me to the ball and go to the hotel with me afterwards and we’ll make love for the first time in our lives. Like we’ve been planning for weeks. Please. Don’t ruin this for me. Please.”

“Megan…”

“No,” she says sternly. “If you won’t promise me right now that you won’t go to that march I’m breaking up with you.”

And this is the moment Andrew makes his leap into adulthood. Not having gone through any formal transition from childhood to adulthood, he has been suspended in the netherworld of extended adolescence since he was thirteen.

But now he experiences a thrilling clarity of mind and says to Megan, “Then we’re breaking up. Because going on that march is ten thousand times more important to me than going to the Senior Ball.”

“Then you can go to hell,” she says, hurrying away to her car.

“No,” he says, amazed by this sudden turn of events, “I think I’ll go back to the party.”

As Andrew re-enters the spacious living room filled with happy vibes of triumphant teenaged thespians, Mona Wilson, who did Andrew’s makeup for the play, beckons to Andrew and he hastens to her side.

“Andrew,” says Mona, beaming at him, “this is my friend Laura. Laura this is Andrew.”

Turning to Mona’s friend, Andrew gapes at the lovely young woman and blurts, “Sara? Sara Banducci? Oh my God. I can’t believe you’re here. Did you see the play? I was in that play because of you. Oh my God. This is incredible. How are you?”

“I’m fine,” says Laura, her long brown hair in a braid festooned with white carnations. “Only my name is Laura, not Sara. And though I love the name Banducci, my last name is Rosenstein.”

Andrew looks from Laura to Mona and back to Laura. “I’m so sorry. You look just like a person I used to know.” He gazes at her in wonder. “You could be her identical twin. Down to your dimples when you smile.”

“You liked her, I think,” says Laura, arching her eyebrow. “Didn’t you?”

“Yes,” he says, nodding. “More than anyone I’ve ever known. I mean… we only knew each other for a couple weeks but… and then I wrote to her for a long time but…”

“She didn’t write back,” says Laura, pouting exactly as Sara pouted. “But eventually you got over her and now you have a beautiful girlfriend. So alls well that ends well.”

“Actually I just broke up with my girlfriend,” says Andrew, laughing. “So of course in the next moment I would meet you again, only not really again because you’re not Sara, you’re Laura and… where do you live?”

“San Francisco,” she says, looking into Andrew’s eyes. “Why? Do you want to come live with me?”

“Probably,” he says, reddening. “Do you have room for me?”

“Yeah,” she says, nodding. “By the way, you were great tonight. The whole play was wonderful, but you definitely stole the show.”

“I think he’s gonna be a big star,” says Mona, giving Andrew a hug. “And I’ll do his makeup for his entire career. Won’t I, Andrew?”

“I’ll insist,” says Andrew, gazing longingly at Laura. “It will be in all my contracts that only Mona does my makeup.”

A half-hour later, Laura and Andrew are standing on the patio sharing a forbidden glass of wine and looking into the living room where a mob of happy teenagers are loudly reprising all the songs from Once Upon A Mattress.

“What did you mean?” asks Laura, standing close to Andrew, “when you said Sara was why you were in the play? Was she an actress?”

“She wanted to be,” says Andrew, remembering sitting with Sara at the end of a little pier jutting out into Lake Tahoe. “Whereas I had never really thought about what I wanted to be or wanted to try to be. I was just going along working for my father and going to school and playing basketball. But when she said she wanted to be an actress, I suddenly had a vision of myself I’d never had before, though it must have been there all along in my subconscious. Or my unconscious. Do you know what I mean? It was like the idea of being an actor was just waiting to be awakened. Or awoken. I’m never sure which is right.”

“They both work,” says Laura, taking the wine from him and having a sip.

“What about you?” he asks, entranced by her. “What do you want to be?”

“I’d like to be an actor,” she says, nodding. “I’ve been in a few plays. And I love to write, so maybe I’ll be a writer. Maybe I’ll write a play for you to star in.” She laughs. “Do you smoke pot?”

“I never have,” he says, taking the wine from her and having a long drink. “You?”

“A little,” she says, nodding. “My mom smokes weed on the weekends. She’s a social worker. I have a few puffs now and then, but I don’t want to get in the habit until I’m done with high school. I love getting stoned, but it’s just so sensual, you know, there’s no way I can do anything very linear when I’m stoned, and getting good grades is all about linear thinking.”

“I’m a solid B student,” says Andrew, handing her the wine. “Which is why I probably won’t get into Yale. So fingers crossed for Santa Cruz.”

“Or San Francisco State,” she says, nodding. “That’s where I’m going. We don’t want you getting drafted, Andrew. Absolutely not.”

“No,” he says, shaking his head. “We don’t want me getting drafted.” He takes a deep breath. “What we want is to kiss you. Is that something we could arrange?”

“Yes,” she says, stepping into his arms.

After their first long kiss he declares, “You are by far the best kisser I’ve ever kissed.”

And after their second kiss she whispers, “Would you like to come visit me at my house? Make love?”

“I… yeah, but… I’m… I’ve never made love before so you’d have to teach me.” He nods to affirm this. “If you want to.”

“I do,” she says, dimpling profoundly. “I would love to teach you.”

On the Monday morning following the cast party, Andrew finds a note from Megan in his locker saying she’s changed her mind, he can go to the march and take her to the Senior Ball, she was just caught off guard and upset when she learned the march and the ball were happening on the same day, but she’s over that now and loves him so much she never wants to break up with him. Never.

Her note, however, comes too late to pull Andrew back into his previous life, so he doesn’t meet her for lunch at their usual spot on the patio outside the multi-purpose room, which means Megan has to seek him out near the water fountain adjacent to the library where he is having lunch with his Drama pals.

“Andrew,” she says, interrupting his conversation with Mona and Cal, “can I talk to you?”

“Sure,” he says, walking with her to a place in the sun out of earshot of his pals.

“Did you get my note?” she asks urgently.

“Yeah, I did but… I think it’s good we broke up. I mean… I think you’re a great person, Megan, but we live in different worlds. I’m… I’m really sorry to inconvenience you, but I’m not going to the ball.”

She squints at him. “Did you hook up with Valerie after I left the party?”

“No,” he says, thinking of Laura. “I did not hook up with Valerie.”

“Oh Andrew,” she says, her eyes filling with tears. “I made a mistake. I was wrong. Won’t you forgive me? You can do whatever you want. I don’t want to own you. I just want to be with you.”

Hearing her say this, Andrew knows without a doubt that he would have resumed his relationship with her, would have gone to the ball, and would have lost his virginity with her in some big bed in some posh hotel and been miserably entangled with her for months and possibly years if he hadn’t met Laura and arranged to see her again.

But I did meet Laura.

“I’m sorry, Megan. I… no.”

“What if I go on the march with you?” she says, her jaw trembling. “And we don’t go to the ball? Then will you take me back?”

“Oh Megan,” he says, pained to see her suffering so. “This isn’t about that. This is about who we are and what’s important to us. You know almost nothing about my life, and I know almost nothing about yours. We went on dates and you were very sweet to me and I tried to be sweet to you, but…”

“You met somebody else,” she says, glaring at him. “I know you, Andrew. You wouldn’t dump me otherwise.”

“I did not dump you,” he says, his anger obliterating his sympathy for her. “You did the dumping. Remember? You dumped me.”

On the morning of the march, Andrew and Cal and Mike and Jeremy and Cecily and Beth and Mona catch the train from Redwood City to San Francisco, detrain at Fourth and Townsend, catch a bus up to Market Street, and join the growing throng at 8:30.

At quarter to nine someone taps Andrew on the shoulder and he turns to behold Laura looking great in a purple paisley shirt and blue jeans and carrying a big sign saying Out of Vietnam Now!

“Hey,” says Andrew, embracing her.

“Hey,” she says, blushing. “Come meet my mom.”

She leads him through the crowd to a knot of middle-aged men and women, her mother a pretty gal with curly black hair and large-framed glasses and a New York accent.

“Mom this is Andrew,” says Laura, blushing a little. “Andrew this is my mother Janet.”

“Hello,” says Janet, grinning at Andrew as she shakes his hand. “No wonder she fell for you. You’re only seventeen? You look twenty-two. A handsome twenty-two. You’re coming to visit after?”

“Yes,” he says, nodding. “If that’s okay.”

“Of course it’s okay,” she says, letting go of Andrew’s hand. “We’ll see you at the flat.”

“I’m gonna march with Andrew, okay?” says Laura, giving her mom a quick kiss. “See you at home.”

They make their way back to Cal and Mike and Jeremy and Cecily and Beth and Mona just as the great crowd begins to move forward, the first chant to be taken up en masse End the War Now! Bring the Troops Home! End the War Now! Bring the Troops Home!  

Five hours later, Laura and Andrew leave the hubbub at Kezar Stadium and walk across Golden Gate Park to an old three-story building two blocks off the park where Laura and her mother live in the ground floor flat.

Elated and exhausted, Andrew and Laura revive themselves with guacamole and chips and Laura says, “Shall we go shopping? For some crucial supplies?”

“Aren’t you gonna show me your bedroom first?” says Andrew, taking her in his arms and kissing her.

“Not until we procure the crucial supplies,” she says, pulling away from him and picking up her purse.

“Just what are these crucial supplies?” he asks, following her out the door.

“Food for supper,” she says, locking the door. “I told Mom we’d cook tonight. Spaghetti and meatballs, vegetables, and something yummy from the bakery for dessert. She’s got three friends coming. Oh. And we need to get condoms. Heard of those?”

“I have,” he says, lowering his voice. “In fact I brought some.”

“How many?” she asks, dimpling provocatively.

“Three,” he says, laughing self-consciously. “Cal gave them to me.”

“We’ll need more than three,” she says, taking his hand. “And we’ll get the kind I like.”

Groceries and pie and condoms purchased, they return to the flat and find Laura’s mother and two of her women friends in the kitchen drinking wine and eating crackers and cheese.

“We’ll start making supper in a couple hours,” says Laura, unpacking the groceries. “But first I’m gonna show Andrew my etchings.”

The women laugh appreciatively and Laura’s mother says, “I’ll cook tonight, sweetie. Take your time. We’ll call you when the pasta is perfecto.”

“Thanks Mom,” says Laura, giving her mother a kiss. “I owe you.”

“So much,” says her mother, laughing.

Laura leads Andrew down a long hallway to a bedroom at the opposite end of the flat from the kitchen, a bedroom with a bed not quite as big as a queen but nearly so.

She closes the door and they kiss hungrily as they undress.

And when they are naked and lying down together Laura says, “Now be honest with me, my darling Andrew. How much do you know about a woman’s body?”

“Well,” he says, taking a moment to catch his breath, “I have two older sisters, so I’ve seen the naked female.”

“Yes, but do you know what lies beneath her surface?” she asks, guiding his hand to her sex.

“Not really,” he says, on the verge of his orgasm.

“Oh honey,” she says, caressing his sex and sending him past the point of no return.

“Sorry about that,” he says tearfully. “I… there was nothing I could do. Except let it happen.”

“Don’t ever be sorry for being sexy,” she says, kissing him. “Now here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to explore my body with your hands and your eyes and your mouth, with me as your guide. Okay?”

“Yes,” he says, surrendering entirely to her wisdom and kindness.

Before they sit down to supper, Andrew calls his parents to tell them he’s okay, and when his mother asks to speak to Laura’s mother, Andrew hands the phone to Janet and the mothers talk and laugh.

After supper, Laura and Andrew do the dishes and go for a walk around the block in the cool night air before returning to the flat to resume Andrew’s lesson.

And as they lie in each other’s arms, resting, Andrew says, “Tonight was the Senior Ball. I’m so glad I missed it.”

“Tonight was mine, too,” says Laura, sitting up to look at Andrew. “Guess how many boys asked me to go with them to the ball?”

“A hundred?” says Andrew, feeling so finished with high school he can’t imagine sitting through another six weeks of classes.

“Four,” says Laura, getting out of bed. “I’m starving. Come to the kitchen with me.”

“Shouldn’t we get dressed?”

“If you want to, but my mom sleeps like a log, so…”

Andrew in his underwear, Laura in a skimpy robe, they sit in the kitchen eating cold spaghetti and drinking wine and feeling marvelous.

“Tell me, darling,” says Andrew, affecting a credible British accent. “Have there been many before me?”

“More than five and less than seven,” she says, clinking her glass with his. “One was very good, one was not bad, four were not very good, and I didn’t love any of them, but I liked them, so…”

“That makes me number seven,” he says, feeling jealous of her former lovers, though not very. “Was I good?”

“The best of all,” she says, setting her wine glass down and putting her arms around him. “Because I love you and because you’re strong and beautiful and you get better and better the more we practice.”

“You make me happier than I’ve ever been,” he says, kissing her.

“You know what I think?” she says, closing her eyes.

“Tell me,” he says, loving the sight and the sound and the scent of her.

“I think we should get married in seven years. And if we lose touch before then, we’ll find each other again and be writers and actors together and have two children and a dog and cats and a big garden. Say yes.”

“Yes,” he says, though he knows if they lose touch he may never see her again.

And they do lose touch, though not until they spend a glorious summer together, a summer made of many weekends in her San Francisco flat, and a fall full of amorous visits, he enrolled at UC Santa Cruz, she at San Francisco State.

But then she meets Don, a graduate student from Bristol, seven years her senior, and she is so smitten with him that when Don returns to England, she goes with him.

This time, though, she is the one who writes to Andrew every week for months and months, but he is so hurt by her choosing another over him that he cannot write her back and she eventually stops writing to him and he lives on without her.

 fin

song

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Vietnam

Inside Moves 3

Cold sunny day, I’m having a sandwich on our south deck, sitting next to the clothes drying on the line, the sun brilliantly illuminating my inside-out black T-shirt and Marcia’ inside-out black blouse. And I notice that both pieces of clothing have labels that say Made In Vietnam. Out of curiosity, I take off one of my shoes bought from REI and the label says Made In Vietnam.

I am struck hard by the realization that from 1963, when I was thirteen and went on my first anti-war march, until I published my first novel in 1978, a novel narrated by a disabled Vietnam veteran, that the Vietnam War and the countless repercussions of that terrible conflict had a greater influence on my life than almost anything else.

ash pile

The American military killed millions of Vietnamese people in an invasion and occupation that lasted more than a decade. Sixty thousand American soldiers died during that senseless war. Several hundred thousand more American soldiers were physically and emotionally disabled by the war, and hundreds of thousands of those soldiers committed suicide in the years following their return to America.

Our culture and politics were entirely transformed by the ways in which we, as individuals and a society, reacted to that ongoing tragedy.

 

made in vietnam

Today, forty-five years after the last American troops were withdrawn from Vietnam, many of the clothes and shoes Americans wear are made in Vietnam, and Vietnam is now a popular tourist destination for people from all over the world, including many Americans.

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Wrong Ending

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Four Editions of Inside Moves photo by Todd

“Sometimes the first duty of intelligent men is the restatement of the obvious.” George Orwell

A few weeks ago I had an inquiry about the movie remake rights to my novel Inside Moves. I replied to the inquiry (I do not own those rights) and then burned some sage and prayed to the gods of cinema to please make a second film from my novel. And though a remake is highly unlikely, just the thought of a new iteration of Inside Moves took me back thirty-eight years to the making of the first movie and the many conflicts I had with the filmmakers about how that movie should be made.

The narrator of the novel Inside Moves, Roary, is disabled from wounds suffered while fighting in Vietnam. For the movie, made in 1979, the screenwriters changed Roary from war veteran to a man who attempts suicide by jumping from a tall building. He miraculously does not die from the fall, but is somewhat disabled due to his injuries. I fiercely opposed this change because I felt it undermined the veracity of the entire story, nor is it ever explained in the movie why Roary wanted to kill himself.

John Savage plays Roary in the movie, and though superb in the role, I didn’t find him credible as someone who wants, or wanted, to kill himself. But the moviemakers were shy of bringing Vietnam into the story and they loved the shock value of showing someone jumping from a tall building. To compound the wrongness of their idea, when they filmed that suicide-attempt scenes they blocked traffic on the streets around the tall building and a huge crowd gathered. That crowd appears in shots of Roary’s jump, though in the movie, Roary sneaks into a building, goes to an upper floor, and quickly jumps, so there would have been no witnesses, no crowd. Oops.

One of the things many people love about the novel Inside Moves is the generosity and kindness of Roary and the gang at Max’s bar, where most of the story takes place. And this generous spirit does infuse the movie. However, the screenwriters added an ending in which Roary does something so antithetical to his nature, so opposed to the message of the rest of the movie, I several times beseeched the director, Dick Donner, not to end the movie that way. I also spoke at length to John Savage, and he agreed the ending was terribly wrong. John was certain that when Donner saw a rough cut of the entire movie, he would not use the misguided ending.

But because the people making the film were spending a large part of the production budget staging and filming the ending scenes of the movie, I was not hopeful. I attended the filming of those scenes at what is now Oracle Arena in Oakland, and was deeply saddened by an ending that had nothing to do with my book or the rest of the movie they made.

A couple months before the movie was to be released, I was invited to attend a sneak preview in a huge theater in San Francisco. I brought several friends with me and we sat in the jam-packed theater with hundreds of other people, most of them unaware of what movie they were about to see.

This was my first time watching Inside Moves, and I could barely process what I was seeing. There were times when the audience howled with laughter, and there were moments when I could feel everyone in the theatre deeply connecting to the characters and the story.

Then came the final ten minutes of the movie. In the scene just before those scenes filmed at the Oakland arena, Roary and several characters from Max’s bar are on their way to attend Jerry’s first basketball game as a member of the Golden State Warriors. While the group is waiting for their bus to arrive, Roary encounters Ann, Jerry’s former girlfriend, a hooker, who knows nothing of Jerry’s success. The interaction between John Savage and Amy Wright in this scene is a brilliant enactment of a scene lifted verbatim from the novel. As Roary says goodbye to Ann and joins his pals on the bus, the music swells and EVERY PERSON IN THE AUDIENCE THOUGHT THE MOVIE WAS OVER!

Because it should have been. The audience began to applaud and cheer, and hundreds of people gave the movie a standing ovation. But wait. The movie wasn’t over. Alas, there was an implausible and wrongheaded revenge scene glued to the end of the film. So people sat back down, and all the excitement and good feelings drained from the theatre as the senselessly violent scene played and then the credits rolled.

Filing out, we heard dozens of people saying how wrong the ending was; and many people made that comment in the questionnaires accompanying the screening. Then we went to a pub full of people who had seen the movie, and everyone was talking about the movie—how good it was except for that terrible ending.

And I hoped the director and producers, who were all in attendance at that sneak preview, would see the wrongness of their ending and cut it. But instead they shortened the scene of the bus driving away with the gang from Max’s, and they brought up the announcer’s voice at the Oakland arena while Roary was getting on the bus, to insure the viewer understood the movie was not over yet, lest they miss the violent ending.

So if by some miracle the cinema gods do remake Inside Moves, I hope they allow Roary to be a man transcending the wounds of war, and they end the movie with a message of kindness and generosity, not vindictive violence.

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Heart Bern

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Moving Over Life painting by Nolan Winkler

Dear Todd,

Max here. I’m wondering how you feel about Bernie Sanders supporters at the Convention who just don’t want to let go of Bernie and join the others in backing Hillary Clinton. I feel empathy for them—they’ve wholeheartedly believed in someone and felt represented by him, and now they’re told to drop that and get behind this other candidate who doesn’t embody what they loved. Bernie was an alternative to everyone else, including Clinton. Are they supposed to act like there is no great difference now? Even using the Anything-but-Trump scare tactic seems to ignore something basic: the fact that they genuinely loved their candidate, believed his message, and still feel he’s the best person for the job. But it’s as if they’re being asked to “grow up.” Does it strike you that way too?

How are you feeling about Bernie and everything?

Dear Max,

Pursuant to wresting control of my brain from the negative forces, I have been avoiding news of the larger world for the last few weeks with good results, though I have heard some news about the angry Bernie supporters at the convention. I also got an e-letter from Bernie (I think it went to fourteen million of his closest friends) inviting me to join him in the ongoing political revolution he says his campaign was just the start of; and I picked up a leaflet from the local arm of Bernie Ongoingness in Mendocino.

The gist of Bernie’s message is: now we must work hard for several years to deepen and expand the grassroots movement to get socialist Bernie-type people elected to local and state offices and Congress so we can be ready for the next few tries at the Presidency four years and eight years and twelve years hence. In this way, some day maybe we’ll have Single Payer Healthcare and throw off the yoke of the Wall Street gangsters and corporate overlords who control our government and are swiftly destroying the earth—Hillary and Bill and Barack their current functionaries. This, I think, is Bernie’s way of asking his followers to grow up.

I went on my first march protesting the Vietnam War in 1963 when I was fourteen, and went on my last of hundreds of marches eleven years later in 1974, a year before the United States military finally pulled out of Vietnam. Did all our protesting and organizing actually help end that terrible war? Maybe not. Credible histories suggest the United States was simply defeated and going broke pursuing that war, our troops mutinying.

I mention Vietnam because that anti-war movement was the only time in my life that millions of young Americans persisted for several years in a political effort to change a major policy of our federal government. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that many of Bernie’s older supporters are former anti-war protestors who joined today’s young people who feel disenfranchised by the current economic system and crushed by debt they accrued going to college.

One problem: Bernie’s support of Hillary, which he promised from the very beginning of his campaign if he didn’t win the nomination, now feels to me like something he was always planning to give her. So I think it probably feels that way to many of those angry Bernie supporters, too. Feels different than being asked to grow up and more like being asked to give up. Also feels like a betrayal because Bernie did such an excellent job exposing Hillary as a lying shill of the oligarchy. That he would then endorse her, and do so lavishly, is plain sickening.

Another problem: we are now three generations into the Culture of Instant Gratification and I would wager that a vast majority of Bernie supporters are not going to work hard for several years to deepen and expand the Bernie revolution. The Green Party has existed for twenty years promoting the identical platform Bernie ran on and they haven’t exactly lit the world on fire, politically speaking. Bernie was never tempted to run as a Green because he has always been something of a political loner and didn’t want to insure the election of Trump.

However, if the election were held tomorrow, Trump would win. Was that the oligarchy’s plan all along? I don’t think so. I think their plan was to elect Hillary to insure the continuation of the transfer of wealth upward and endless war. The overlords knew very well that almost any slightly moderate and not too repulsive Republican would trounce Hillary. So they directed the mass media to trumpet Trump into Republican supremacy because Hillary, they felt certain, could beat him because he’s such a buffoon. Right?

Well…it turns out that she is so hated and mistrusted by so many people, and is so blatantly criminal and such a horrid abrasive vindictive person that she probably can’t even beat Trump. Unless…

And that is why I have been avoiding news of the larger world. I would rather fill my brain with the ongoing mysteries of my garden, walking to town, watching the waves roll into Mendocino Bay, helping my friends and neighbors, listening to Giants games, communicating with you, cooking supper, writing, playing the piano, and creating new and improved neural pathways.

I feel sad about Bernie. I think he illustrates that the super individual is what resonates most powerfully with the American people. Bernie proves again that if there is ever to be a political revolution bringing us those things we desperately need, a charismatic such as FDR will have to lead the charge. Remember, FDR was president for thirteen years and would have gone on being our president for another twenty years had he lived so long.

But there’s a problem with charismatics who gain massive support while pushing for serious social and political reform. They tend to get killed when they pose a serious threat to the ruling elite.

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Bernie Brigades

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Calligraphic Bones painting by Nolan Winkler

“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop.” Mario Savio

So I’m driving home from my acupuncture treatment and I come to the stoplight at the south end of Fort Bragg and here are a dozen people on the west side of the highway with signs saying Honk For Bernie, Volunteer for Bernie, Learn About Bernie, and I’m honking my little old horn, and the people are smiling and waving, and the excellent effects of my acupuncture treatment are amplified by a release of endorphins as I imagine Bernie Sanders becoming President of the Unites States and millions of people, old and young, black and brown and white, who have been disenfranchised for their entire lives finally having someone leading the country who wants to help them.

These people holding signs and many of their compadres have been coming out to this spot on the highway for months now, and you can see by their smiles and their confidence that they are not cowed by the lying corporate media saying Bernie doesn’t have a chance. Bernie recently won the Wisconsin primary by a huge margin, though you might not have heard much about that in the mainstream press. But the Bernie Brigades know. They know and they are empowered.

The odds are still not good Bernie will prevail over the entrenched rich and greedy corporate villains supporting his opponent for the nomination, a person of no apparent morals, zero compassion, and a mean streak as wide and long as the Mississippi, but don’t tell that to the thousands of Bernie Brigades all over America. The Bernie Brigades are bursting with true believers, and Bernie keeps winning to confirm their faith in him.

The corporate media still barely mentions Bernie, even when he trounces Hillary in primary after primary, and those same media louts continue to say Bernie only wins primaries in states with mostly white people, which is hogwash. Minority support for Hillary is collapsing because the message is finally getting through to everyone: Bernie Will Be Good For Everyone, Hillary Bad For Everyone except her obscenely wealthy friends.

You think I’m being overly optimistic? Consider where I’m coming from. I haven’t seen a grassroots movement like the Bernie Brigades since the early 1970s. That’s almost fifty years ago. I was young and idealistic and had lots of hair on top of my head in those days. As a young teen, I participated in protests to speed the integration of our local schools, and by golly the schools were integrated. As a young man, I joined the ferocious protests against the Vietnam War, and by golly that war ended.

Yes, the damn warmongers started up more insane wars, but millions of us remember a time when organizing and boycotting and getting out on the street and protesting and making good noise made a difference. Activism worked.

That is what the Bernie Brigades remind me of: the civil rights and anti-war movements of the Sixties and Seventies. And the millions of young people involved in the Bernie Brigades and organizing on college campuses and canvasing neighborhoods for Bernie remind me of that exciting era, too.

We stopped buying grapes and lettuce at Safeway, millions of us did, and the United Farm Workers were victorious because of that successful boycott. Yes, Hillary’s despicable husband undermined much of that progress by pushing through NAFTA and other trade agreements that undermined American labor and rendered our economy moribund for the bottom sixty per cent of the population, but millions of us still remember when our economy was not moribund, still remember a time when our actions had an impact on our so-called elected representatives, and so we hold signs for Bernie, give him money, call our friends and urge them to support the good guy against the rotten sellout.

Meanwhile, the mainstream media couldn’t resist giving the movie star Susan Sarandon a little time in the limelight recently, though she is a staunch supporter of Bernie and artfully calls Hillary a liar and a Monsanto lackey and a hedge funder’s wet dream. I imagine Hillary raging around her castle shouting, “Who let that bitch get on national television? It’s one thing for me to go up against a dumpy white-haired guy with a Brooklyn accent. But Sarandon is regal and charismatic and…argh!”

Yes, for the next few weeks anyway, we Bernie believers can wallow in the possibility that despite everything against him, Bernie will prevail. My more cynical friends like to ask me, “What will you do if Bernie loses?”

“I will go on with my life. Somehow.”

“And you won’t vote for Hillary against the evil Republicans?”

“I will not.”

“Even if Bernie asks you to?”

“I am not voting for Bernie to tell me what to do. I’m voting for Bernie because he might actually beat the monsters and start spending money to help everyone instead of just a few of Hillary’s fat cat friends. Why would I turn around and vote for the monsters if Bernie loses?”

The media dopes asked Susan Sarandon the same thing. “If Bernie loses, will you vote for Hillary in the general election?”

And she said, “I don’t know. Maybe not.”

This flummoxed the “liberal” pundits who are so far right of what used to be called liberal, the term is now essentially meaningless.

What You Can Do To Help?

Give Bernie money. Even ten bucks will help. Call your friends, especially in states with upcoming primaries, and convince them to vote for Bernie. Organize a Bernie Brigade and let your neighbors know Bernie is determined to institute Medicare For All and spend money on America instead of on foreign wars. Hold signs for Bernie at a busy intersection. However you can, spread the word that Bernie will help usher in a new age of equality and fairness and positive change—before it’s too late.

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Four Chairs

four chairs

Four Chairs photograph by Marcia Sloane

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser January 2016)

“All I ask is the chance to prove that money can’t make me happy.” Spike Milligan

Marcia and I recently bought four new chairs for our dining nook, and I think the way we got these chairs and the feelings they inspired will be of interest to people of my generation, those of us born in America between 1945 and 1955 or thereabouts. We were teenagers and young adults during the world-changing era known as the Sixties, which I believe lasted roughly from 1963 to 1975. By no coincidence those are also the years of the American chapter of the Vietnam War.

Exhaustive economic studies have found that my generation, despite the mythos of the Sixties, is the most materialistic generation to ever live on this earth. Whether that is true or not, when I and many of my age peers were in our twenties, we rejected the materialism of our parents and the larger society and chose lives of intentional simplicity, a choice that profoundly shaped my life ever after.

For one thing, choosing to live lightly on Mother Earth separated me from the vast majority of other people in America and made me keenly aware of the hierarchic nature of our social system, a hierarchy based on how much money and possessions a person has. Thus by choosing to have little, I found myself at the bottom of the heap, but because many of us made this choice in the Sixties, I did not feel lost and alone. On the contrary, I felt encouraged and excited about the potential for societal change that material minimalism and egalitarian socialism promised.

Anyway, the Sixties fizzled out, the so-called hippies became ravenous materialists, and those of us who remained true to the ethos of the Sixties found little support for our ideas and proclivities. Had I been even slightly prescient in 1972, I would have bought a few houses in Santa Cruz when a nice two-bedroom home a block from the beach could be had for seven thousand dollars. But I was not prescient and I didn’t buy, so today I do not sit on a mountain of gold.

“I had three chairs in my house: one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.” Henry David Thoreau

Which brings me to how we got our four new chairs. Marcia and I went to Santa Rosa to spend three days before Christmas with Opal, Marcia’s mother, a sneaky good pool player who always says, “Pure luck” after sinking another in a series of formidable shots en route to victory.

For lunch one day the three of us went to the Nepalese Indian restaurant Yeti, and when we were seated in our elegant wood-framed, broad-bottomed, high-backed, royally reddish upholstered chairs at the handsome dark wood table, Marcia declared, “I love these chairs. They are so comfortable. I would love to have chairs like these.”

We inquired of our friendly Nepalese waiter if he knew where one might purchase these enviable chairs, and a moment later the owner of Yeti, a charming man named Narayan Somname, came to our table and said, “Yes, I have more of these chairs in my warehouse in Glen Ellen. How many would you like?”

“Well, er, four,” I said, looking at Marcia to see if she wanted to jump at the chance. “How much do…”

“I will sell them to you for ninety dollars each,” he said, nodding. “They require some assembling.”

We pondered the situation for the rest of our scrumptious meal and concluded we would buy four. We arranged to meet Narayan at the restaurant the next day to give him a check and get the chairs, which he would bring from Glen Ellen, and that is what we did. The chairs came two to a box marked Made In China, the two boxes just fitting in the trunk of our trusty old Camry.

As Narayan closed the trunk, he said, “You may have noticed in the restaurant we affixed braces to the legs because after a year, some of the chairs began to wobble. I will take ten dollars off the price of each chair so you can purchase the necessary hardware.”

We arrived home in Mendocino on Christmas Eve, and after we got the woodstove roaring and our frigid house was habitable once more, I unpacked the chairs and found in each box a piece of fabric wrapped around a couple dozen bolts of widely varying sizes, with no directions for assembling the chairs.

Four hours of cursing and futzing and puzzling and grunting later—did I mention cursing?—the four chairs were assembled and arrayed around our dining table where, for the last ten years, four small uncomfortable folding chairs had served us with the aid of additional cushions for butts and backs.

We sat in our new chairs, Marcia pronounced them marvelous, and I thought they were marvelous, too, but I also felt a little guilty about having such beautiful chairs to sit on.

The next day, writing to my friend Max, I said, “These new chairs make me feel very adult. I wondered if I ever would.”

Max wrote back, “I laughed aloud at this. Maybe all along you merely needed the exactly right chair in order to experience a change of consciousness? Or I should ask: what is it about these chairs, do you think, that causes you to feel very adult?”

I replied, “The previous chairs I bought were small and inexpensive and not particularly comfortable, and there was a Spartan precarious feeling to them. I still feel slightly immoral buying new clothing, though I do buy new shoes and I bought a new piano in 1980. I don’t know. Maybe in so completely rejecting materialism, I got stuck in the mindset of my penniless twenties, and spontaneously buying four groovy chairs feels antithetical to my lifetime practice of owning a few excellent things and making do with minimal everything else.”

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Still Moving

selfport2

Todd self-portrait

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

“The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.” Mark Twain

If you find yourself in the village of Mendocino on Friday August 30 a few minutes before 6:30 PM, and you happen to be walking by Gallery Bookshop on Main Street, I do hope you’ll enter that oasis of three-dimensional books because I will be there talking about and reading from my recently reissued novel Inside Moves. Originally published thirty-five years ago, my first novel has been out-of-print for thirty-two years, and this wholly unexpected revival has inspired in me myriad dreams and memories, some of which I hope to share with whoever shows up to listen.

“Let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.” Kahil Gibran

I wrote Inside Moves in 1975, the year the Vietnam War ended, the novel’s narrator a young veteran wounded and disabled in that war. I was spared from military service by a medical condition, ankylosing spondylitis, and when the book was published in 1978 I wondered if I would be taken to task for daring to write in the voice of someone who had been in combat when I had not. But just the opposite occurred, and I met many veterans who loved the book, in part because they saw themselves in the narrator and felt empowered by his story. Many people with disabilities were also pleased to have one of their own as a narrator, and when the movie based on the novel came out in 1980, though not a box office success, it was quite popular among the disabled and remains so to this day.

The folks who made the movie of Inside Moves, despite my many protests, changed Roary, the teller of the tale, from a man crippled by war to a failed suicide, and I heard from several veterans who were outraged by that change. I remember in particular a man I’d hired to do some hauling for me around the time the movie came out, an immensely strong man who had miraculously survived several harrowing fire fights in Vietnam and had read my book many times. The day after he saw the film, he came to visit me and tearfully asked why they had changed what for him was the most important aspect of the book. I tried to explain as best I could, but he left me saying, “Maybe someday they’ll make it again and get it right.”

 “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” Albert Schweitzer

An original work of art is a wild thing, and once that wild thing goes out into the world, it is impossible for the artist to control what that wild thing will do and how that wild thing will interact with other things in this mysterious universe.

The new edition of Inside Moves was published because when Sherman Alexie, the charming and famous author who chose the book to be reissued, was fifteen, his father gave him a paperback edition of the book and, as Sherman wrote in the copy of the new edition he signed for me, “This book was formative in my life.” In a panel discussion in Seattle celebrating the launch of Pharos Editions, of which the new edition of Inside Moves was among their first titles, Alexie said he has read Inside Moves more than twenty times; and in his introduction to the new edition, he calls the book, “the best novel about basketball ever written.”

Having labored in obscurity for all but a few moments of my life, I find such praise from the likes of Sherman Alexie quite surreal. I’ll take it, of course, and rejoice that my work had a positive impact on such a good and renowned writer, but with my literary career reduced to making photocopies of my last several creations so I can share them with a handful of interested readers, and with publishers large and small universally indifferent to me, I cannot help feeling somewhat removed from the writer Alexie is referring to.

His love of the book reminds me that teenagers adore Inside Moves. During the few years when the book was widely available, I received letters from junior high and high school teachers all over the country telling me that Inside Moves was the first book that many of their students had ever eagerly read and written about. One teacher sent me the first two chapters of a novel that two boys, theretofore troublemakers and non-readers, had written together in the voice of Roary—an ambitious attempt at a sequel to Inside Moves. I do hope the new edition will be discovered and utilized by English teachers, for Roary connects exceedingly well with rebels and outcasts and those who feel misunderstood, which most of us at one time or another feel we are.

As it happens, I did write a sequel to Inside Moves in 1985 entitled Still Moving that was almost but never published, and I doubt very much I have a copy. I wrote that book hoping to restart my faltering career, and I think it likely I destroyed the manuscript some years later in one of my raging attempts to exorcise my unhappy past. I suppose there might be a copy lurking in one of those boxes filled with heaps of my unpublished work, but I fear I would find the sequel dreadful—a reflection of my life at that time.

“One of the most feared expressions in modern time is ‘The computer is down.’” Norman Augustine

Another of the many things that Inside Moves brings to mind is the writing of books before the advent of personal computers. I wrote three drafts of the novel longhand and three typed drafts, and my redoubtable agent Dorothy Pittman showed the book to thirteen publishers over the course of two years (in a time when simultaneous submissions to multiple publishers was verboten) until Sherry Knox, a rookie editor at Doubleday convinced her powerful editor-in-chief Betty Prashker to take a chance on the book. I then wrote two revised drafts in longhand and two typed drafts before the manuscript was ready to be copyedited.

Say what one will, pro or con, about the quality of literature since the advent of writing and editing on computer screens, but the lack of such groovy technology eliminated a good 99% of would-be writers from the field and selected for seriously dedicated wannabes as opposed to everyone and her uncle. Writing a novel in those pre-computer days was a hugely daunting undertaking, and when the writer was done he could not click a mouse and email a PDF hither and yon or self-kindleize or any such thing, and so most people, even many of those who burned with desire to be writers, did not set forth on that perilous path.

In those days before the advent of personal computers and laser printers, I never met a single person who thought she could write a novel without first learning to write a good short story. Today there are millions of people who think they can write novels without being able to write proper paragraphs. The mind, my mind at least, boggles at such monumental delusion, yet the world is awash in unreadable books born of such delusion, many of which are for sale in your local bookstore. What a woild!

“Even in a perfect world

Where everyone was equal,

I’d still own the film rights

And be working on the sequel.” Elvis Costello

“Still writing?” people are forever asking me, even people who should know better. And then they smile wistfully, their wistfulness suggesting they know of my long running lack of commercial success and the hopelessness, as far as they are concerned, of my situation.

“Yes,” I say, smiling bravely. “Seems to be my habit now, kin to breathing and sleeping and eating. And farting.”

“Good for you,” they say, for they wish to be encouraging and positive, though they really think I ought to give up writing and focus on growing especially fat carrots or something along those more edible lines. After all, how many unpublished works does one need to create before one finally…

But what they don’t realize is that I write with the firm belief that my work is so good, so interesting, so timely, and so important, in some unfathomable way, that I must keep writing, and the world will somehow some day be compelled to take notice. One might argue that I am as delusional as those who think they can write novels without knowing how to write proper paragraphs, but I would argue that since I do know how to write proper paragraphs, I am not entirely delusional.

What I do know is that the trouble begins at Gallery Books on August 30, 6:30 PM. Remember: it is never too early to sock away a few Christmas gifts, signed by the author, and it is always a good time to support your local bookstore, that rare and vanishing species of place we really don’t want to do without.

Inside Moves is also available as a downloadable audio book and in various e-formats.

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Worlds Collide

worlds collide

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

“There are only two emotions in Wall Street: fear and greed.” William Le Fevre

In search of good chicken for our once-a-week intake of animal flesh, I saunter into our magnifico Mendocino Market across the street from Mendocino’s blessed post office, my basket laden with the latest edition of the admirable Anderson Valley Advertiser, and I find the lovely little market and deli in the midst of a calm before the inevitable lunchtime arrival of legions of tempestuous teenagers and loquacious locals and inscrutable turistas.

Jeff, the jocular and unflappable co-master of Mendocino’s finest sandwich shop, has a few moments to wait on me, and as he rings up my purchase of four superb legs and thighs, he shares the following story.

“So yesterday, this guy comes in and I know he’s somebody famous, an actor, I’m sure. I’ve seen him on television. Has to be him, but I can’t think of his name. And then he uses a credit card to pay and his name comes up: Timothy Geithner.”

“Wow,” I effuse. “ Former Secretary of the Treasury, master criminal, and most definitely an actor.”

“I know,” says Jeff, smiling. “Amazing.”

“What did he buy?” I ask, guessing Timothy purchased a few bottles of expensive organic wine.

“Couple of chicken salad sandwiches,” says Jeff, nodding. “On a road trip.”

“Wow,” I say, “Timothy Geithner. God of the one percent. Stood right here and handed you his credit card.”

“Yeah,” says Jeff, chuckling, “we’ve got this Recession Special I was going to tell him about, but I decided not to.”

“Armaments, universal debt, and planned obsolescence—those are the three pillars of Western prosperity.” Aldous Huxley

Thinking about Timothy Geithner buying sandwiches in our very own Mendocino Market, I try to imagine being so powerful and important that the President of the Unites States would appoint me Secretary of Anything, but my imagination fails me. However, I do have a vivid fantasy of shopping at Corners and bumping into Timothy Geithner in front of the broccoli and saying to him, “How could you? Have you no conscience?”

And that fantasy and the questions I asked therein, remind me of Obama’s recent appointment of billionaire Penny Pritzker to be Secretary of Commerce, which reminds me of my encounter with Penny’s father, Donald, at a fundraiser in Atherton, California just a few months before he died of a heart attack at the age of thirty-nine while playing tennis at a Hyatt Hotel in Honolulu, the Hyatt Hotel chain being one of several corporations owned by the Pritzker family, Donald the CEO.

Believe it or not, I met Donald Pritzker at the very same gathering where I met Daniel Ellsberg. What sort of gathering was this? And what was I doing there? I’ll tell you. The year was 1972 (Penny would have been thirteen at the time) and Daniel Ellsberg had recently become very famous for leaking the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and thereby seriously messing with Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger and the ruthless rulers running the Vietnam War. I happened to be friends with a guy, a zealous anti-war activist, who had convinced his mother, a minor Pritzker, to host a private fundraising soiree for Daniel Ellsberg, who needed funds for his ongoing legal travails and anti-war activities. When I heard about the soiree, I begged my friend’s mother to let me attend so I could listen to the great hero, and she said, “I’ll need kitchen help.”

So I donned white shirt and bow tie and black slacks and showed up at the snazzy Atherton digs at the appointed hour, at which point it was decided I would ply the crowd with champagne and hors d’oeuvres before Ellsberg spoke and then manage the groaning tables of food and carve the roast beef after Ellsberg spoke. And while he spoke, I could listen from the kitchen with the swinging door propped open a few inches.

There were about twenty people in attendance on that sunny afternoon, the females outnumbering the males two to one, everyone in attendance fabulously wealthy. The women were dressed elegantly, the men wore suits and ties, and the accents of these loud-talking folk were predominantly Chicago from whence the Pritzker clan sprang, though many of them had relocated to California. I remember being struck by how handsome and strong all the women were, and how nondescript the men, and whether it was true or not, I concluded that this clan of Jewish siblings and cousins was a powerful matriarchy, the men mere sperm donors.

I also remember being keenly aware that I was serving people who were used to being served and that I was invisible to them because I was a servant. I had met a few super wealthy people in my life, and it was my impression that extremely wealthy people were void of humor, but I had never before been in the company of so many wealthy and resoundingly humorless people. Or so it seemed.

After the preliminary wining and dining, everyone took a seat in the large living room and Daniel Ellsberg rose to speak. I positioned myself at the kitchen door where I had a view of the daring whistleblower, and just as Ellsberg began, a short bullish man rose from his living room seat and came charging into the kitchen.

“Phone,” he barked at me. “I need a phone.”

This was Donald Pritzker, red-faced and pissed off, and this was 1972, long before the advent of cell phones. So I directed him to the phone on the kitchen wall from which he proceeded to make call after call, buying and selling, cursing and commanding, threatening and cajoling—running his empire—while in the other room Daniel Ellsberg spoke about the ongoing atrocities being committed by our rulers and our armed forces in Vietnam. What a disconcerting dichotomy!

Despite the proximity of Donald’s torrent of vitriol, I managed to focus on what Ellsberg was saying, and I realized he was speaking to his audience as if they had never heard of Vietnam and knew nothing about the war that had been going on for almost a decade, which may have been largely true. These were not people troubled by distant wars. Indeed, they were prime beneficiaries of a most successful imperialism and a booming economy.

Halfway through Ellsberg’s talk, Donald Pritzker snapped his fingers at me and said, “Coffee. I need coffee. With sugar.”

I prepared his coffee and set it on the counter next to him as he growled into the phone, “You tell that sonofabitch he’d better come through or…”

He was purple with rage, the veins in his neck swollen, his knuckles white as he clenched the phone in a death grip—not a happy person.

I returned to my post at the kitchen door just as Ellsberg finished his talk and asked, “Are there any questions?”

No one said a word. Not one of the handsome women and non-descript men raised a hand, and Ellsberg stood there for a short infinity, looking very sad and tired. Finally, the hostess, the mother of my friend who had arranged for me to be present at this strange soiree, leapt to her feet and cried, “Eat, eat, eat!” and the Prtizkers rose to begin their feasting.

  “There is only one way to endure man’s inhumanity to man and that is to try, in one’s own life, to exemplify man’s humanity to man.” Alan Paton

I think of Timothy Geithner and his wife driving south on Highway One, enjoying their excellent chicken salad sandwiches from the Mendocino Market and superb lattes from the GoodLife Cafe, just, you know, having fun being far from the madding crowd, enjoying the view of the shining pacific and the passing fields rife with mustard flowers and the cerulean sky dotted with puffy white clouds. For just a little while, a rare little while, Timothy and his wife forget all about the millions of less fortunate people who are, in essence, paying for Timothy’s fun. Yes, for just a little while, Timothy might be anybody.

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Three Presidents (and a First Lady)

For most of my sixty years on the planet I have been a social recluse. Yet through no conscious intention on my part, I have come face-to-face with three presidents of the United States (and a First Lady).

In 1962 I was in the seventh grade in Menlo Park, California. I was a baseball fanatic and not much interested in politics, though I was fascinated by Fidel Castro and the possibility of nuclear war.

“Class,” said Mr. Arbanas, our perpetually befuddled teacher. “President Kennedy is coming to the University of California to give a speech. Each core class will elect two students, one boy and one girl, to attend. If you want to go, raise your hand.”

We all raised our hands. By secret ballot and the intercession of angels, I was the boy chosen to represent my class. On the morning of March 23, 1962, I boarded a school bus with several other students and a gang of teachers, and we rumbled across the San Mateo Bridge and up through Oakland to Berkeley. We had been advised to bring a sack lunch and binoculars. I was one of those unfortunate children whose mother had no interest in making my lunch. Ever. From the age of five I made my own lunch, the same lunch, every day: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, an apple, and a carrot. This is the lunch I brought and ate on that historic day.

I did not have a pair of binoculars, but everyone else had a pair, so my plan was to borrow. We most definitely needed binoculars since our seats were the very highest in the stadium, the podium on the stage at midfield barely visible to our naked eyes.

There came a great parade of men and women in caps and gowns representing their illustrious alma maters, the day being the 94th anniversary of the charter establishing the public universities of America, which is what Kennedy spoke about. To my twelve-year-old ears and mind, the speeches preceding Kennedy’s speech, and his speech, too, were numbingly boring. I certainly enjoyed my glimpses of Kennedy and his marvelous hair through borrowed binoculars, and I thrilled to his voice, but not nearly so much as I thrilled to the myriad alluring females filling the stands around us.

Near the end of Kennedy’s address, a lunatic classmate threw an orange that struck the back of my neck. The shock of this sudden and unexpected attack caused me to pick up the exploded orange, turn in my seat, and hurl the gucky missile back at my assailant. He ducked, and the mess struck Miss Imbach (destined to be my eighth grade teacher) in the face. For this heinous crime, I was immediately yanked from my seat and marched out of the stadium by someone (I can’t recall who) to wait in ignominy on the bus.

However, my ejection coincided precisely with Kennedy finishing his speech and exiting the stadium ahead of the ceremonial finale so he might escape the ensuing gridlock. In the tumult outside the stadium, I was separated from my escort and swept along in a crowd of people hoping for a glimpse of the president.

And lo and behold, I found myself walking beside President Kennedy. Right beside him. And he was smiling. And he had a big head and fabulous teeth. And here’s the thing, honestly, he seemed genuinely happy, even perhaps enthralled, as he strolled along in the excitement of Berkeley in early spring being President of the United States. Then he looked at me and said “Hello,” or “How are you?” though I might have imagined that. But I didn’t imagine what I said to him, which was, “Thank you.”

I’m not sure why I said “Thank you”, but it may have been because I was grateful he hadn’t started a nuclear war with Russia over Cuba.

Back on the bus, one teacher after another chewed me out for throwing the orange at Miss Imbach. I was threatened with expulsion for dishonoring our school, and told I would definitely not be allowed to go on the upcoming field trip to the beach. But all I could think about was how happy Kennedy had seemed, and how I wished I had said to him, “Can’t we be friends with Fidel?”

The text of the speech Kennedy gave that day, which is both sad and ironic in light of today’s economic and educational meltdowns, can be read at the John F. Kennedy Library & Museum web site.

&

May 1969. I was nineteen and in my last few weeks of college (forever) at UC Santa Cruz. The People’s Park revolt was underway in Berkeley and I was involved in sympathetic protests at our new university in the redwoods. At the height of the carnage in Berkeley, the Regents of the University of California, including Governor Reagan, came to the Santa Cruz campus to hold their annual meeting. Perhaps they thought Santa Cruz was far enough away from bloody Berkeley for them to be safe, but it’s more likely they were just arrogant despots.

So the fat cats had their meeting in the new cafeteria at Crown College, and I went with a gang of demonstrators to mill around outside and voice our dismay at the university’s support for the war in Vietnam and to protest their violent response to unarmed people trying to create a park in Berkeley on vacant land. That’s what I was dismayed about. The more sophisticated demonstrators were dismayed about many other things, too, but I just wanted the stupid war and needless violence to end so I wouldn’t lose any more friends and we could have, you know, a cultural renaissance.

I suppose for the same reason Kennedy made an early exit from the stadium in 1962, Reagan was hustled out of the Crown cafeteria several minutes before the regents’ meeting officially adjourned. We saw the governor board one of the large snout-nosed yellow school buses used to ferry people around the bucolic campus, and we, the people, went chasing after him.

Crown College was a maze of buildings on a steep hillside with more dead ends than through streets, and it was up one of these dead ends that Reagan’s misguided driver turned. We followed en masse and effectively corked Ronald’s escape route with our bodies, and then several of the protestors began to rock the bus. There were some, perhaps, who hoped to roll the bus, but most of us just wanted to scare the crap out of our putrescent governor.

The cool thing was, before the police came and chased us away, we had several minutes of this good college fun, during which I was hoisted onto the shoulders of my fellows and brought face-to-face with Ronald Reagan. His nose and mine were no more than two feet apart, only the glass of the bus window separating us.

I suppose I might have shouted, “Off the pigs,” or “Get out of Vietnam,” or “Free People’s Park,” but I could only muster a hopeless, contemptuous, bewildered smile, because I really couldn’t think of anything to say that would mean anything to him. I could see by his face and demeanor and, if you will allow me, his aura, that he didn’t have the slightest understanding of why we were so upset. To Reagan, we were just hooligans, and to me Reagan was just a mean man of no great intelligence working for a bunch of other mean men and saying whatever they told him to say. He was a puppet. He was the guy who introduced Death Valley Days and sold Borax. He was nobody. He was a rich dupe and he was annoyed we had him temporarily bottled up, but he wasn’t afraid. He looked me in the eye and smiled a sneering smile, and then he slowly shook his head as if to say, “You’ll be sorry,” and he was right because my comrades dropped me like a hot potato when the cops converged on us, and I hit the ground hard before I ran off into the woods.

Okay. So Reagan wasn’t yet president, but he would be soon enough.

&

My dear friends Bob and Patty were married in Sacramento on September 4, 1975. I took the train down from Eugene, Oregon to be in their wedding in an old brick cathedral. The processional was Stevie Wonder singing, “I believe when I fall in love this time it will be forever,” and the recessional was the overture from Camelot. Thirty-five years later I’m delighted to report that Bob and Patty are still happily married.

The morning after the wedding, I was strolling down L Street and nearing the capitol when my way was blocked by a barrier of police tape stretching across L Street and the sidewalk and up to the capitol building. Why? President Gerald Ford was staying at the Senator Hotel on L Street and was soon to cross over to the capitol. Had they not strung up this barrier, I am certain no one would have known or cared that Gerald Ford was planning to cross the street there; but that was only the prelude to a most peculiar presidential event.

I was no fan of Gerald Ford or the mass murderer he’d replaced, but I thought it might be fun to see the president and then tell Bob and Patty I had. There were only a few dozen people on hand to witness Ford’s transit, all of them “caught” as I had been and not there out of any abiding love for Gerald. As we stood behind the flimsy barricade in the growing heat, I noticed a woman dressed as Little Red Riding Hood on the wrong side of the barrier chatting with a state policeman. They spoke amicably for a moment, and then he gestured for her to get back on the spectator side of the tape, and she did so, standing a few feet away from me.

A moment later, Ford came out of the Senator Hotel flanked by several men in suits. They crossed L Street and started along the walkway that transects the lawn to the capitol building. I remember being struck by how big Ford and the Secret Servicemen were, as if they had armor on under their suits. I remember, too, there was nothing festive in this transit, and that when Ford was ten feet away from me, his face looked grim to the point of horror.

Then Gerald abruptly veered away from the tape until he was at least thirty feet away from the nearest spectator, at which moment one of the Secret Servicemen launched himself toward, I thought, me, but actually toward Little Red Riding Hood, who turned out to be Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, a follower of Charles Manson. The big guy wrestled the little woman to the ground as Gerald was literally picked up and carried into the capitol building by his huge henchmen.

Squeaky was sentenced to life in prison for what she allegedly did that day, attempting to assassinate Gerald Ford. She was released from prison in August of 2009 after serving nearly thirty-five years for pointing an unloaded gun in the direction of the president. At the time of Squeaky’s symbolic act, there was hope among Republicans that Squeaky’s and a similarly bizarre attempt on Ford’s life by another woman two weeks later, might improve Gerald’s chances of election, but that was not to be.

The odd thing from my point of view was that in the immediate aftermath of the incident, none of the authorities on hand were interested in speaking to me, though they eagerly recorded the testimony of people standing much farther away than I had been from the flying Secret Serviceman. Perhaps my unruly hair and raggedy clothes and overall counter culture appearance rendered me an undesirable witness. And, yes, whether it was or not, the entire event seemed so obviously staged as to be laughable.

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Three years after my brief encounter with Gerald Ford, I published my first novel Inside Moves (you can download my new reading of it from Audible.com) and the publisher was Doubleday.

My editor was a young woman named Sherry Knox. She and I had spoken on the phone while working on the rewrite, but we didn’t meet in-person until I flew back to New York for the publication party in the spring of 1978. Judging by her voice and her manner of speaking, I assumed Sherry was a highly educated white woman. As I sat in the foyer at Doubleday, I rose twice as white female editors came out to meet their authors, but neither woman was my editor. Then a beautiful black woman emerged from the editorial catacombs, recognized me from my author’s photo, and introduced herself as Sherry.

And I, thunderstruck by the realization that Sherry must have bought my book (about black and white people loving each other) at least in part because she was black, said without a care for political correctness, “Sherry, I never once thought you were black.”

To which she replied, “I’m glad.”

On our way to Sherry’s office, we stopped to pay obeisance to Betty Prashker, the powerful editor-in-chief who lent Sherry sufficient clout to purchase my unlikely novel, and then Sherry whispered, “Would you like to meet Jackie Kennedy? Her office is right next to mine.”

So we popped into Jackie’s office, and there was the former First Lady looking trim and slim in a crisp white blouse and a gray skirt, her eyes shielded by gray-tinted glasses. She was poring over proofs of an enormous glossy coffee table book, probably something to do with the lives of the super wealthy, of which she was an authority. Sherry introduced me. Jackie took off her glasses, smiled a crinkly smile, and shook my hand.

What I remember most about her was that she didn’t sound at all like the soft-spoken Jackie Kennedy I recalled from her days as First Lady. There was nothing soft or slow in her speech, but rather roughness, even harshness, as if she had taken on the accent of greater Manhattan.

“Sherry’s great. You’re in good hands,” said Jackie, her grip impressively strong. “Good luck to you.” And then for some reason she laughed, and I heard the same harshness in her laughter, and I laughed, too, though more out of nervousness than because anything was funny.

Then Sherry took me to lunch at a snazzy restaurant where we were joined by Sherry’s close friend, Olga Adderly, the widow of a great hero of mine, the tenor sax giant Julian “Cannonball” Adderly. And for the entire meal I marveled that both Jackie and Olga had been married to men who were now legends, both men dying at forty-six, which even at my tender age of twenty-eight seemed terribly young to me.

(This article originally appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser in October 2009)