Category Archives: Biography

Her Name Was Lola…She was a Dancer

Alex and Dante

 

Alejandro and Dante Loading Up for Shows

Today in Playacar, Mexico was shopping day. Stand-up comic roommate Ted Holum and I walked across town into Playa Del Carmen and replenished the cupboards. Teddy’s a month younger than me, so he’s the kid in our odd coupled family. We share an apartment here. We share the same stages too.

He’s the old pro really. I am the green “gringo” from San Francisco taking a bite of show business by way of playing the stages and bars at the resorts along the Caribbean here in the Yucatan. They are all targeted to tourists. We do our show in our English. The language we speak translates well to people from the United States, Canada and England.

Ted’s strictly stand-up. I’m a juggling comedy act and so the English kind of have something to hang onto while trying to fathom the mystery of the American mind playing with comedy via the mother tongue that they know.

I’ve survived the first action packed week. Six different shows, six different nights, six different resort stages, six different supporting staffs, and as you might imagine six different results. First night was like learning to swim. You have to trust the water, learn to float, trust. Night two kind of other problems arise not anticipated after the first night. By the third night I’m realizing this isn’t going to be an easy gig. On the fourth night I finally hit the ball and almost knock it out of the park. Hey! I connected pretty good even if it was right over the middle of the plate.

I’ve got the shows running order figured out. I got the piece I improvise. I got the closer. I got pretty much the whole enchilada dialed in. And then there is the utter unpredictable nature of each room, each night and each resort.

Alex

 

You Got to Love this Guys Face…

I come from San Francisco. It is foggy, but its California, we don’t have this thing called humidity. Humidity is what other parts of the world have. I have not spent my career juggling in sticky, hot, wet, slick a sn_t weather. It makes juggling different. Let’s put it that way. Unpredictable perhaps another word that comes to mind.

Anyway, off for work around 6. Back from the show about 11. We get the show. We get one free meal. We get to talk the Alejandro. He is 29. He is a gem of a human. He’s got the eye for the ladies. He has girlfriends. He finds it impossible to believe I am married. He finds that possible I suppose, but finds the whole idea of being married impossible, and therefore I am performing the biggest most amazing trick and I haven’t even done a show.

One week down. I’ve got the night off and tomorrow I start a second six night run. You would be incorrect to make any assumptions about this gig. It takes a certain skill beyond anything you might present on stage. And then you know there is being suddenly thrust into a live version of the Odd Couple. One last clue…I’m the neat one.

Iguana

Iguana in the neighborhood

 

 

Sustainable Comedy and the Folly of Capitalism

For years, economists have posited that prosperity requires growth, with environmental damage as the regrettable but unavoidable consequence. A growing number of critics are now challenging this equation, though, calling for a radical revamping of the economic system.

                             Nils Klawitter

touring vehicle

My Cowboy Cadillac and the Place I’ve Called Home for Near Four Decades

I’ve drifted the American West as a juggling act for much of the last four decades. Crossing vast landscapes, pulling into isolated towns, spying all manner of misguided enterprise or not. A good drifter knows how to pull off the paved highways and roll out into the wild lands on the dirt tracks. Time stills the pace of the modern world and in its place the chirp of bird, the dusk, the breeze, the silence. Surrounded as we are by so many man imagined systems, especially the concept of money and the economy in all its shapes and forms, what we are awakening to is the inadequacy of capitalism’s various configurations. Large scale businesses have proliferated until we sense the festering clash of purpose between their zeal for profit and humanities need for survival. It is out here in Nevada where I have placed my latest novel, Hot Spring Honeymoon, and it is here where the struggle of a small community being overrun by the globalized economic system that the story plays out as comedy.

British economist Tim Jackson. In his 2009 book “Prosperity Without Growth,” he outlined a “coherent ecological macroeconomics” based on a “fixed” economy with strict upper limits on emissions and resources.

HOT SPRING HONEYMOON

“Let me have a look,” the scientist said examining the side of Keefe’s head. “How do you feel?”

“I see things now I didn’t see before. I hear things I never listened to.” Keefe said. “My ex-wife looks at me like I’m nothing but a piece of vulture bait.”

“You think something’s wrong?”

“There’s always been something wrong with me. But, since I got bonked on the head I see an eternity of beauty in a thimbleful of whiskey. I love this hot spring; know what I’m doing now. It seems to come natural to me…And I got to tell you, man to man, I’ve never seen anything in my whole life that has riled up my thirst more than the sight of that woman they call my ex-wife.”

Children at the Brink

I was running with the wind again. Headed north with Lacey riding shotgun. We had dinner in Ashland Saturday night. Sunday stopped in Eugene for breakfast. I’d been the producer of the street performing program at the Eugene Celebration for a bunch of years. Downtown Eugene has gone from bad to worse in the last few years.

After breakfast north to Portland and stopped to have a visit with one of my oldest friends. He’s holed up on the Northeast side just off Sandy. My friend likes to think outside the box, he prefers to live outside the box, and working from this scaffolding makes a curiosity, a kind of unbridled romp far from the familiar fields.

Evening shared more time with a husband, wife and their two teen daughters. On my way to see our youngest now at Seattle University it was like a taste of warm ups for what was about to come.

The progressive teen of the Pacific Northwest is a roving Burning Man Festival. They are playful souls. They bet with imagination. They read books, good reads.

They recycle. They eat good food. They like to juggle. They draw. They hook up and get tight with their sweethearts. They know that authenticity is the coin of the realm.

These are the souls we are handing our world off to. They are good loving people. They love the world they’ve been born into. The same as you and the same as me, and they want to do, to do whatever it takes, to turn the world around.

The obstructive class of status quo types that have the world by the throat… they will always want just one more bite of the apple, make one more close, one more deal, one more day before they let go.

My bet is with these feisty types up in this corner of the country. Come high tide, black ice, or snow storm they’re going to try to steer away from the catastrophe.

If you hadn’t noticed, Scientific America published a story this week. The article was unequivocal. Climate change is irreversible. The world is going to get much hotter. An extinction event could be baked into the cake.

We apparently can’t help ourselves. We can’t fix every problem. We can’t win every war. There are things beyond our reach. So, when was it we gave up and became fashionable not to try?

 

Click on the pic and go to Amazon to get the ebook for $1.00

Connect with me and I’ll sell you a print version for $15.

 

Free to Play the Game

Couple of Old Dogs Caught in the Act

To celebrate the first day of the rest of my life I had oatmeal. For dessert I took my supplements and finally to get the start of the day off to a rollicking hilarious start I just completed ninety minutes on my recumbent bike.

Add to my writing chores I also continue to perform. The show is mix of circus arts stunts, most of it juggling, some interactive audience material, and then the odd nut of this or bolt of that. It isn’t just standing up in front of an audience.

Three shows per day are physically and mentally challenging. It is fascinating how some days our mouth just doesn’t work. We can’t get the words out. We blow the rhythm. When we improvise in a situation our inventions can land with a dull thud.

For the longest time it seems static. It seems that who we appear to be on stage is much the same as the person we were last week, two months ago, or even two decades ago. I think where things get tricky is when our act is derived from a point of view that might be entirely against what we might really seem to be. Power solo juggling acts often are too often based upon wise-cracking, smart aleck, juvenile points of view. There is nothing wrong with that! But, it will only get you to that same place and it will take you no further.

There/Then Here/Now Where does the time go?

That’s what all this oatmeal eating is about. It is about doing what is necessary to stay in the game, to remain on stage, in front of audiences. But, performing isn’t art unless you act like it is and do something about it. What we can do is keep our minds open to not just what we’ve been, but what we are. Vaudeville is legend for trapping an entertainer in the act. It becomes a straightjacket that they cannot escape from.

Flying a plane is a skill taught by a teacher. Creating a show is an accident, a coincidence, a lark that lands on a good idea that is played out over time. Then, one day we reckon with the reality we are at an entirely new circumstance and that if we want to treat ourselves to the full thrilling creative ride that is a life in the creative arts that we must shed our skin, climb out of whatever and all of what we’ve done and begin again.

Most of what stops most of the people I know from remaining on stage is created out of the fear of letting go of who they were. As the lyric in the song says, “The road gets rougher, it’s lonelier and its tougher…”

BANKRUPT HEART 

“So, Mike, tell me when was the last time you were talked down off of a limb you climbed out on, you know what I mean? According to my understanding on these matters, a man has to do what’s in here,” Nick pointed to his temple, “and down there,” he pointed somewhere south of his belt buckle, “they both get to have a say so, they get to speak their piece about what a man has to do, and then, once its settled, just let the chips fall where they may.”

            “You know, Nick, I’d say of all the men I’ve counseled, Ry is among a handful that has never needed any coaching. Of course, he wasn’t in circulation, and even since he has been back out, he hasn’t been able to jump off that bridge, at least not yet.”

            “Well, I’d say the time has arrived. And this could be it.” Nick said. “Now, the only question that I see remaining to be answered is, if our friend here has the god-given courage to act upon the truth running through his veins. And I don’t mean tomorrow, or two weeks from now, I mean right here, tonight, at the reception.”

                        

 

 

Running South to Tucson

In the Realm of the Sun King

My time in Tucson has been spent with my friend Mark McMahon. Casa Marco’s pad was out on the very furthest reaches of East Tucson out on the end of Speedway.

I rolled with this rig and slept in his front yard. We’d hike Saguaro National Park. That’s a favorite place. The coyote and javelina owned the joint we borrowed it. The roadrunners, cactus wren and ravens laughed at us. Tarantula’s creeped out of their holes at night to inspect us.

The five acre compound is lush. Mark and I walked mornings and sunsets. Middle of the day we tried to move the ball, take care of business, try to have a little something to show for our efforts at the end of the day.

My first time in Tucson in 1974 I visited a city of 100,000 people. Now it is 10 times larger. Do the math. Things have changed. Everywhere has changed, but even still Tucson has changed more.

Upon a Ridge viewing Sunset

We go south to Bisbee. We go explore Patagonia. These small places haven’t changed. They remain much the same. People come here and try to make a life. Some do and stay and others don’t and move on.

Birdwatching in Patagoniais sublime. Late winter, early spring my favorite. After a long day of hiking I was resting off the tailgate of my truck. Above Turkey Vultures numbering in the thousands appeared above soaring in from the south. As the light of day was fading they came to roost in the rare cottonwoods. I’d never seen anything like it before.

For the next hour this enormous flock of birds circled and landed in the trees that thrive along the banks of Sonoita Creek. Arriving on the same day I arrived turned the visit into one of the accidental thrills of my life. It is a treasured memory. A warm day in winter hiking in the desert can be just what the doctor ordered.

As I’ve sung to myself so many times, “I ride, I run with the wind, I chase the sun, to the end….” Thank you Casa Marco’s… it’s been a good ride and still is…

BANKRUPT HEART

Dawn was pristine. The air crisp, clean, the sky empty, the sea was true, chasmal…blue. No chop on the water; no cloud in the sky. Limantour Beach was alone, still, breathless. Not another soul had set foot here this morning, but for Ry and Finn. It was the first day, the New Year. They walked barefoot in the sand at the surf’s edge, acquainting their thoughts to the booze-soaked resolutions they’d taken the night before. The least waves arrived.  The Pacific was in repose between storms.  The surf’s soundtrack was a languid slow curling muffled splashing that reverberated up and down the beach.

Even When I Look Back I Still Don’t Get It…

Looking too good….

I’m not sure when it happened. I think they slipped them into a five pack. I’m talking about my polka dot bikini briefs. I don’t think I was brought up to accept things like this.  I do remember when men’s fine clothing consisted of such things as: gabardine, linen, silk, and merino wool. Now things are manufactured in some space age chemically treated for higher performance fabric and desecrated with the companies logo emblazoned across the garment.

I’m just grateful to have enough hair to still be in the game. I still have options. Compared to the world wide financial crisis I understand it is a minor thing, but didn’t someone say it was the little things that count?

Background Singers in Costume....

So far today thehigh   pointis that I ate my oatmeal, took my supplements, and got a good 90 minutes done of the exercise bike. I’ll hobble through the rest of the day remembering when I could basically eat anything as compared to now when I’m reduced to eating almost nothing.

I had a drinking problem and that is now cured. I’m drinking a lot more water. Someplace in all the advice books and columns I’ve read it said that it would be good for me. I think when you read that something is good for you and then you try it and it isn’t as good for you as the things you do that aren’t good for you that you wonder who rigged this game?

But, these are things that keep us going isn’t it? We are shocked to learn that managing ourselves is like a magic act. We find out we never are quite sure where our enthusiasm has gone for the doing the right thing. It just completely vanishes. It’s not like all of us are out to do the wrong thing. Most of us are prone to just not doing the best thing of all.

I'm on the outside looking in....I wanna be, I wanna be back on the inside....

There is still so much I’d like to know, and when compared with how much I still want to forget it isn’t really much of a contest. Someone said I don’t have that many regrets because I’ve never really been honest with myself. I can’t say for sure if I agree with that or not.

I’m still struggling with the fundamental truths of life. Things like why did these five sailors find Sunshine performing dog so captivating? How come when I tell someone I was a member of a show that presented tightrope walking they don’t believe me? Or, that I got to meet Little Anthony and when I told him I played the ukulele he winced. And finally who thought bringing me all the way to Japan only to stage my juggling act at the World Exposition should be done in front of a bright pink parade float? Perhaps the biggest and most perplexing question of all is what kind of man goes all the way to Japan and decides to go public wearing a neck scarf, leg warmers and polka dot shorts as a costume?

Men in tights or The Royal Lichtenstein Quarter-Ring Sidewalk Circus Your choice, what will it be?

I’m trying to get my affairs in order. According to the calendar I should have been grown up by now. I’ve been advised not to hold my breath. My astrologer told me today would be a good day to buy sox. Wish me luck…

Polka Dots are Protected Speech...

“Rosalind’s two-tone magenta beaded dress was dramatic. Where she was buxom and bursting were sewn fine beads and sequins, bejeweling her natural endowment. The skintight floor length dress was slit up the side of her leg well above her knee. She was a woman with a forceful full figure accentuated ever the more by a petite waistline. Rosalind oozed bare legs and sculpted broad shoulders. She was a celestial apparition of unblemished, tanned, ambrosial skin swaddled in a veneer, a gift wrapping. Rosalind was an unfettered tantalization, a provocation, a bombshell, rare was the man with the puckish virtuosity to join the quest to puzzle out her surrender to their libidinous call.”

Bankrupt Heart Copyright © 2011 by Dana Smith

The Land Yacht… When Dreams were Big and Fuel was Still Cheap

Road Dog Deluxe

I found my Streamliner in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was the ultimate. I mean it was the full fantasy. In 1974 I was on the back lot at Circus Vargas. We had jumped over from St. Louisto see the show in Springfield, Missouri. They’d come off a mud lot and the trucks and trailers that arrived had been pulled off the last lot with tractors. Most rigs had buried their axles at the hubs into the mud. The center ring circus stars were the backstage mechanics who had to pull repack the bearings on their trucks and trailers between shows while preparing to jump to the next stop.

The new acts traveled in whatever they could scratch up. The families who had spent their lives in circus, the families that had come from families that had spent their lives in circus traveled in a rather distinctive manner. They pulled Airstream trailers with these massive Cadillac’s. These were the 500 cubic inch motors of this era.

Most circus shows worked east of the Mississippi and for good reason. West of there were mountains. West of there were long distances between towns. West of there were small populations. It was hard to scuff up enough people to make a show worthwhile.

Pulling an Airstream with a Cadillac on flat ground was not too hard on equipment. You don’t break down as often. You don’t fry transmissions. Motors don’t give it up going over a mountain pass.

I had plenty of years to consider how I wanted to do it. Dodge king cab diesel pickup truck with dual rear wheels was off the shelf perfect. Streamliner travel trailer looked good on her bumper. I already owned a proper towing hitch.

Big Bad Dodge Pulling a Classic...take that Shakespeare

She served me well while I owned her. Wasn’t a long affair, but it was a grand and elegant stop along the road called life.

Sold her to a collector out of Austin, Texas, he took ownership in Tucson, Arizona. When I bought the Dodge diesel was still under one dollar and fifty and when I sold her a gallon was running five bucks! Pretty much ended the heavy duty era of my touring life. I tried holding on for a spell, but unless it was a high dollar multiple week contract the trailer couldn’t come, didn’t pencil out.

Still it isn’t like I had to have that setup for the rest of my life. It wasn’t like I was going to need to vow devotion to a trailer. She came, did her little dance in my life, and at the right moment she departed, and a time and place of my choosing. Wasn’t more than six months later that I swapped out my Dodge Cummins Diesel for a Toyota Tacoma. Six diesel turbo powered cylinders for four naturally aspirated combustion chambers.

As a fellow performer reminded me once, “It isn’t what you have, it’s what you can tell someone you had.” So, there you go. If you’ve been thinking about running the highway with a rig and trailer like this I’d be careful. Be sure you know how far and how often you’ll need to pull her somewhere. Rig like this will eat you out of house and home in this day and age…

BANKRUPT HEART                THE SECOND NOVEL

Ry turned down the alley. He walked out onto the pier. There were fishing boats, some worn by work, others painted fresh. There were Purse Seiners and Long Liners mixed together with commercial sports fishermen boats. Across the way near the warehouse, the bigger vessels in the fleet were tied up at the docks. He counted two trollers. The next one looked like a Gillnetter and last, a ship built for fishing far offshore. Ry leaned on the rail. Tied up below was a Monterey Fisherman, a capable sea-going vessel. It was not big. Time had taken its toll. Hard for a one-man show to make a go of fishing.  Ry knew a few who still tried. Hard to make ends meet. Fuel bill, cost of bait, cost of ice, and a slim catch could eat up a man’s profits. A few seasons of that and a fisherman has no choice but to throw in the towel. Ry inhaled. The sea air was ripe with salt, the stink of fish, and a wisp of diesel fumes. Scoma’s, one of the oldest fish joints in the wharf, was set back out here above the bay water on the piers.