Monday, December 24, 2012

Nollaig Shona Dhuit

Here we are with a Christmas Eve all our own.  It's remarkable to consider that the most pressing issue is when to have the Monopoly game.  The accumulated stress of the past few weeks seems to have been dispatched.  Number One Son is fooling around with Minecraft, I am posting here, and Doctor Professor Wife is away with Number One Daughter buying more things to eat.

It's quiet here.  There's only the occasional whimpering of Tamaroa and the scraping of his nails on the backdoor as he tries to convince one of us to let him out.  He can forget it.  Between he and Kona it's been a revolving door of dogs all afternoon.  They want out, they bark a little, then they scrape on the door to come back in.  The fifteen minutes later it's out they want.  Not gonna do it.  I want to enjoy my inertia.  It's well earned.  Go lie down you damn fool hound!

Now and again I here a dog outside barking, and both of ours rush to the back door and start scraping away at it.  Futilely.  

We're not driving anywhere either, until Boxing Day.  We don't have to suffer the brutality of people convinced they are late as they fly down the highways an byways of coastal California.  No giant SUVs piloted by crazed parents, driven mad by family pressures and their jobs so that they have forgotten the amazing feeling I am experiencing now.

Our travel comes in a couple of days when we head into the hazy south of the Golden State for a New Year's visit to the Land of Dreams.  By then it usually happens that traffic is light.  It's between holidays and no one is rushing home yet.  If luck holds, we'll face no terrible weather in the savage Tehachipis, where they never should've built a road.  It's rugged country and driving that stretch of I-5 is no pleasure.  There is magnificent, day dream inducing scenery but I can't look at it except in brief glances if the car in front of us is many lengths head.  I have to mind the other drivers all going as fast as possible hoping not to be caught by the CHP.  It feels endless even though it isn't really far at all between Grapevine and the northwestern reaches of the LA Basin, our destination.  I have a brief flicker of hope as we pass the Anheuser Busch brewery in the north end of the San Fernando Valley.  It reminds me that cold beer awaits at Mother in Law's house.  There is after all a small immediate reward for the six hours of I-5.

Once there, I deliver myself into the Hands of Fate as determined by my children, my wife, and other members of her family who inhabit or are visiting the region.  I can count on BJs pizza with it's excellent beer, Islands where I can get a decent fish taco, and good home cooking at Mother In Law's house.  Kids will be entertained, coffee will be consumed, movies watched in the dead of night after kids have gone under, weight gained to be lost after returning to our East Bay Suburb . . . all in the service of happy holidays for everyone.  Every ounce of extra weight, every "BLORT!" that issues from my distended midsection, every minute of Southern CA sunshine will be worth it.

We are as lucky as the day is long to be able to look forward to all of that.  Here's hoping everyone can have times when stress, strain, fear and disillusion is replaced by hope, encouragement and happiness, and that those times go on and on and on.

Peace and Merry Christmas to all! 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Back to the Present . . .

. . . which for some of us isn't so merry despite the holiday season, to put it mildly.  I refer to the families in Newtown, CT who have recently lost so much so suddenly.  Like millions of others I simply can't imagine having to endure that kind of pain and desolation.  It was bad enough just to read about children being murdered.  It's incomprehensibly sad.

In fact, to my mind, it is beyond the capacity of the "news" media to report on it.  I have not watched a single news report or listened to a single in-depth report on the incident.  I can't stand the thought of watching lingering shots of weeping families and earnest teenagers holding candles at vigils; of the camera lingering on a stricken relative while the person completely breaks down during an interview that the interviewer won't stop and the cameraman won't stop filming.  There is something simply perverted and obscene about the making public of grief on that scale.  There is no reason for any of us to witness that.  I already know that these people are in the depths.  There is nothing to be gained from wallowing in their misery by means of a news broadcast.  The media should leave the poor people of Newtown alone to bury their dead, grieve and try to start the next phase of life.  The only things worth knowing are how the crazy little bastard got the guns and ammo, and what that situation means for all of us.  None of that needs to be gleaned from the public display of private grief.

On a related note, why is there not an outpouring like this every time a child gets murdered in this country or anywhere else?  Children and teens are killed all the time in the inner cities and other impoverished areas of the country, yet the news media only seems to take note when a nice middle-upper middle class suburb takes the hit.  I understand it's partly the massacre aspect and the gruesome contrast with daily life in a place like that.  I also think that there's a twisted voyeuristic streak that calls for as much of this as they can wring out.  Still, if it's horror perpetrated upon the innocent that really turns on their lust for ratings, there's a war in the eastern Congo that's been going on for years that provides regular copious doses of combat with child soldiers, rape on a mass scale, and the murder of innocents.  We really only get word of that if we listen to NPR or the BBC occasionally.

Children get killed in wars all over the world, but it seems to be taken for granted.  Children are killed in East and West Oakland, South Chicago, South Central LA, the Bronx, or any of the countless rough areas in our society, but do we ever have hour upon hour of vampiric coverage or much in depth examination of it?  No, we don't.  Not like this.  There's something wrong with that.  As usual with a rant like this, I don't have a lot of suggestions for anything that might change it.  It would take someone in charge of programming to decide to change the pattern and I bet if they did, and did it with sensitivity of thought and some restraint, it would be popular and respected.

Then again, what do I know?  Maybe we are living in an idiocracy that has taken us far beyond the hope of such a thing.  We are a nation of wretched slobs, living for our next dose of bread and circuses, whether it comes on Sunday morning or sometime in the 24 hour news cycle, washed down with beer and chips and bean dip.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Why the early Sixties?

Well, as Don asked, why the nostalgia for the mid-Sixties, pre-1968 when everything went to hell?

It's a good question, which I can't answer.  I can only attest to the feelings for the era.   I've often said that if I could go to any period of time and have the resources to enjoy it to the fullest, I'd go to San Francisco in 1947.  I'd see the beginning of TV's road to dominance over radio.  I'd see the end of the great Pacific Coast League where the quality of play was so high it was often thought of as a third major league.  I'd hob nob with a young Herb Caen, and sip martinis and good scotch among the wealthy as well as who passed for hip in those days.

I'd be there for the great poetry reading at Six Gallery in 1955 and listen Ginsberg recite "Howl" for the first time in public; a poem written when he lived in Berkeley with Kerouac, or so I once read.  I'd wallow in the glory days of North Beach; the beginnings of City Lights Books, The Hungry I for Phyllis Diller's early stand up routines among other things; Vesuvio where I'd hang with Jack Kerouac while he got drunk and blew off his visit to Henry Miller in Big Sur.

I'd also witness first hand how segregated SF was at the time.  The Sunday Chronicle today had an article discussing a bunch of guys who get together every year to celebrate their youth in SF.  He made a point of mentioning their whiteness; all Italian and Irish boys who went to Sacred Heart and St Ignatius and Riordan high schools, the on to USF.  All good Catholic boys.  Willie Mays had well-chronicled difficulties buying a house in a posh district when he arrived with the Giants in 1958.  That's an indication of how different the world was then.  Allegedly, that wouldn't happen now.  Allegedly.  I've seen it happen with my own eyes in El Cerrito in the early 90s.  I saw and heard an older Asian woman tell my younger Black friend that there was no apartment available in a place where a vacancy was being advertised.  Maybe it would've been different if he'd been sports hero.  Right.  How much better would that have been?

Could I, a product of Berkeley in the Sixties and Seventies, tolerate the narrow world of SF and CA in general in the immediate postwar era?  For all the nostalgia I feel about things I never actually experienced, could I really enjoy myself while all that injustice was taken for granted and accepted?  Perhaps I would find a way to justify it in enjoying the "bizarre" behavior of those who decided that being different was their mainstream.  People like Don Sherwood.  The occasional Lenny Bruce show could be on the agenda.  It could be that I would justify everything by telling myself that at least I go to see rebels like Lenny Bruce, and I hang out with the Beats.  That would be tantamount to saying "You know, some of my best friends are Chinese!" in order to show that I don't discriminate against Asians. 

Are the beginnings of change in that thinking the reason why I am so captivated by that world?  I think that may be.  The people that most fascinate me from that era are the ones who bent the agenda somehow.  The events that I read about most enthusiastically are the moments of protest.  It's the breaking out from the uniformity that I want to see, as well as the good life as experienced by those who set the pattern.  Yes, I definitely want to have my cake and eat it, along with a martini or two, and some straight Camels, all while cruising along Highway 1 in my 1955 MGTF 1500 with a beautiful wealthy Asian woman doctor, just to frighten and dismay people along the way.  Hey, we'd have fun on those surfing beaches way down south, on our way to Mexico. 

Sunday, December 09, 2012


How does one write when angry?  Well, I have written under the influence of anger, but usually when the anger is political anger.  I have never been able to write personal anger out of my system.  I suppose it could be said that it helps but it never seems to dissipate anger I feel, especially when I feel it toward myself.

I had a plan to fire off a nice entry tonight about caroling Cub Scouts and what fun they had in doing a good thing.  I can't bring it out.  I went from being in a good mood to being angry and depressed.  "Why" doesn't matter and I wouldn't discuss it here anyway.  It's more the phenomenon itself that chiefly interests me here, and the question that then arises as to how much of what I express is fueled by anger of some sort these days.  To what extent does happiness or contentment drive me to express feelings as opposed to what anger drives me to, or away from?

It's late or I would try to detach enough to explore further now, but I must sleep and perhaps in sleeping find release from what robbed me of my positive creative groove.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Goodbye Dave, and Thanks for Everything

The death today of Dave Brubeck brings images to my mind which might or might not be memories.  I grew up in Berkeley in the Sixties and Seventies, and my church was right across the street from UC and just a couple of blocks west of Telegraph Avenue.  Hipsters, and those trying hard to be hipsters (in the early Sixties sense of the word) abounded.  Interesting things happened at that church, many of which involved music.  I think some of these moments remain in my memory, not as distinct events, but as impressions and feelings.  

For a year in 1960-61, when I was a mere toddler, we lived in Berkeley the first time as my father went to Okinawa for a tour.  The Marines didn't allow accompanied tours for some reason, so we stayed with my Mom's folks in a large house in North Berkeley.  I recall jazz being played by one or two of the boarders on their record players.  I recall one of them playing "A Little Bit of Luck" on her clarinet.  I also remember going to church at St. Mark's Episcopal.  At the time, the choir was renowned for the quality of its performers, and even cut records.  They truly were at the top of their art.  Even as a little shaver I was entranced by the solos, and the grand feeling of Christmas hymns and carols as the brass choir and vocal choir rose to the occasion.

We left in 1961 then returned in 1965 after my father retired from the Marines and took a job in San Francisco.  Of course, we attended St. Mark's where my parents had met and from which much of the family social life derived.  I think this is the period where so much of these images originate.

In no particular order and with no particular connection, I see a grey haired man, about 50, in an olive green blazer with a black turtleneck, in a house among evergreen trees in the Berkeley Hills.  There's a choir party going on, and Brubeck is on the turntable which is playing (in stereo!) through a tuner that only has an FM dial.  There's a black baby grand piano in one corner with sheet music on the stand, and some "hi-fi" magazines stacked on one side.  It sits on a large dark blue and burgundy persian rug, over a hardwood floor.  

The adults mingle and drink and smoke, and I wander along the row of built in bookcases, filled with books by Mailer and Roth and Donleavy and Kerouac.  There's books of black and white photos of buildings, and Japanese ladies covered in tattoos.  There's weird little objects in the vague shapes of humans, but more streamlined, carved out of ebony.  There's a few of those little Chinese puzzles where you take them apart and for the life of you can't put them back together.  There's framed prints on the walls of places in Paris, of steamship lines, and Picasso paintings.     

The light is slightly dimmed except for just next to the small table top lamps on either end of the sofa.  It's raining outside and it's about 4PM on a Saturday.  I can smell the juniper and wish I could go out and play with the friendly little mutt that trails after me.  There's no TV, so I stare at the pictures of tattooed Japanese ladies.  Wild laughter from several people flares in the kitchen upon the delivery of some punch line.  Someone wonders aloud about which weekend the Choir will go to Forest Farms, a summer camp in Marin County, for the annual Choir weekend.

Someone turns off the hi-fi and gets on the piano.  There's vaguely naughty lyrics being sung accompanied by guffaws and shrill laughter.

I am sitting in a small European coupe and noticing how different it feels from my parents' Plymouth Belvedere.  There's classical music playing on the radio.  KDFC, perchance?  I think it's Nana's car (our grandmother) and I ride home in it, excited to be in it instead of the Plymouth, but sorry to be going home. 

Weirdly, I can't conjure up anything to do with food.

Through it all, the sounds of Brubeck and Guaraldi and Tjader.  Occasionally, Pete Seeger comes through.  Hipster adults talk to me in amused ways, but don't seem to really know what to say to me, or how. 

It's all vivid enough so that if I were living alone, I might try to recreate these feelings in my home.  It might or might not work, but it would be fascinating to do it, and at the very least I'd have all that wonderful music to fall back on.

Good night Dave, wherever you are.

Monday, December 03, 2012

How long, O Lord, how long?

Tamaroa, our Taiwanese mountain dog urchin, we think has figured out that if he paws at the door long enough, snacks will come his way.  He's been suffering from tape worms and is hungry even more than a dog usually is.  That thought boggles the mind.  The pestacious little bugger and his mate Kona get snacks at night if they go out and relieve themselves when the house shuts down for the evening.  Tamaroa is trying to work that bolt to the nth degree right now.  He's staring out the sliding glass backdoor and pawing at it, then looking back at me.  He is coal black and tough to see against the outer darkness.  It ain't the end of the night, and I ain't letting him out.  He gets another biscuit if he does a little placer mining later on.  Other wise forget-

Aha!  He's finally gotten the clue.  I am not letting him out for the 38th time in the last half hour so he's slumped down on the floor to wait us out.  Good move, you pestiferous pi-dog!

Meantime in the background I hear my daughter telling her older brother to "Get your skinny butt outta here!" in reference to the bathroom where she's finishing drying off after her bath, and her brother saying, "I just saw myself in the mirror, and I'm so beautiful!"  Neither of them is ten years old yet.  Crikey!

What hath God wrought?

Dogs are the least of our concerns.  Certainly, these two dogs are the greatest despite their hijinks in service of goodies, which are not unlike the hijinks of their two human puppies, after all.