At an art gallery in a courtyard entryway in Santa Fe we spotted a rustic garden bench. My other half, some say the best of the two halves, we were inspired, the bench a Southwest relic, was still providing useful service, the durable wooden bench was simplicity itself.
Brainstorming. I volunteered to build a bench something like this piece, once finished we could place next to our front door where we could take off or put on our shoes.
We went to a salvage lumber distributor in Richmond. There we searched through stacks of planking and came upon two thick short redwood slabs we thought would be right for the project, they were the right size and for sale at a fair price. We struck a bargain.
Peroba is the name of the company, I’ve shopped here before. Two years back, I’d bought bay-laurel planks to rebuild a planter box around an abandoned California live oak. When we bought the property back in 2009 it was a small tree that had been temporarily set in the front yard by the previous owner, they’d been running a nursery operation out of the place, and this was one of their unsold trees we’d inherited by default. The immature live oak did what trees so often do it became a bigger tree. This evergreen live oak had by now outgrown the wooden and steel strap container it had been planted in. Building a larger planter box would solve an eyesore in the front yard and it would also help to maintain the proper soil height at the tree’s trunk.
When I’d last visited Peroba they’d just received a huge trove of wood planking and beams from a two-hundred-year-old Brazilian barn. The barnwood had been weathered by time, it was hard and heavy, easily the heaviest boards in the store. Brazilian barnwood is expensive, I was out of my league, forget the cost, it would have been a waste to have such an inexperienced woodworker trying to build with such rare Amazonian treasure. I was at a museum, that the boards were fine works of art, and me I’m like a janitor, the guy who turns the lights off at closing time. The clerk at the store wasn’t sure what species of wood this barn was made of. It could literally have been any one of many thousands of different kinds of rainforest hardwood, the material had an otherworld quality— foreign, an object that spoke in its own tongue, it was mesmerizing, entrancing— all these many hundreds and hundreds of boards stacked into perfect rectangular piles, floor to ceiling 20 feet in height.
Peroba is a dynamic marketplace, the South American barnwood now long gone. The shop also market salvaged logs. The warehouse is full of long and thick planks with live edges— there is walnut, mahogany, cherry, ash, oak, madrone— there is a vast trove of different species here. Much of the fresh sawn wood comes by way of woodsmen that bring trees purchased from private landowners. These are old trees that have fallen or are about to fall. Then, there are the grifters, the poachers— a mature western red cedar is so valuable many are cut down in the dead of night and by morning have been cut into sections and carried off. The fight to end illegal logging especially western red cedar has become impossible to stop.
It turns out both my wife and I share a common element. At least based on work provided to us by our Feng Shui guide, our consultant listed the five elements— wood, fire, metal, water and earth. Both of us have an affinity for wood, and as it so happens of the five elements, we are both wood. Somehow, in some very tangible way my sawing, drilling, and sanding produces harmony and peace. We halfway believe our relationship is improved by our being around wood— maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, we seem to both want to believe there’s maybe something to all of this, something that exists on these other levels. Isn’t that human in some sense— there are so many ways our physical world influences our inner world.
Cork oak trees come from the Iberian Peninsula (so does the loyal but obstinate donkey); it is estimated that there are perhaps as many as 5000 cork oaks in California. I’d never spent much time around cork oaks, once you know what they are they’ll get your attention, they’re quite stunning, the bark is unusual, it is the bark of the cork oak tree that is used to seal a bottle of wine. There are six cork oak in our yard. The three in the front have foot wide trunks, stand 20-30 feet tall, by my reckoning they’re 50 years old— that’s a fair guess, the trees have a lifespan of 250 years. In our backyard we lost one in a windstorm but there are two younger trees that are doing fine— they’re not more than teenagers now. They’ve a lot of growing up to do.
There are more cork oak trees in this neighborhood than I’ve found anywhere else here in the valley. I’ve printed a map out of the nearby streets and have been marking anywhere I find a cork oak growing. By my count I’d estimate there about 100 cork oak right around here where I live. This is an ongoing investigation and once I’ve a good tally I’ll post that number.
The largest cork oak trees in this neighborhood is one I look forward to seeing on my daily walk. Like the California live oak the cork are evergreens, come spring not all but some leaves turn yellow and fall.
Why I don’t find cork oaks in the adjacent towns is odd. I keep thinking there must be more around. We hire a company to trim our trees, the foreman is a cork oak tree fan, considers them to be a prized tree. The foreman said there are plenty out there.
I’m hoping to talk to the local municipal gardeners. Often, they’ll know the backstory. About a century ago this area was part of a ranch, the land was sold and subdivided. I’m guessing the original settlers may have introduced cork oak trees right here around this block. If so, it is likely squirrels would have spread the acorns. That’s one possible theory.
I pet the friendly dogs in the neighborhood, try to entice the cats to say hello. If I’m in the garden and around the trees I try to pat them too, I speak to the trees, keep on an eye on them. I like to be encouraging— you look great today, your shade that you cast is just glorious, hope your enjoying yourself, this is a fine garden you’ve found to live in. I’m happy for you, plan on keeping you happy and healthy—
Consciousness isn’t just about what passes through a mind. I like to believe a tree knows something about how to set down roots in soil, how to transport water up through its trunk to give its branches a drink to go with the sunlight it is catching. Just because the tree isn’t talking out loud doesn’t mean it doesn’t speak. As far as I can tell my job is to put myself in a tree’s shoes and do my best to consider what kind of life they are having. They’re like offspring, I’m always hoping they’ll get a little bigger, hope their life turns out good, that they’re happy.
I find I’ve family and friends that are doing much the same. This is good work and fun. It sure as heck beats having to trap out the gophers. Sometimes a man has got to do what a man has got to do— keeping the trees happy and giving hell to those pesky varmints.
Building a bench, appreciating a tree and trapping a gopher. I’m two for three right now, that gopher is smarter than you, me, and that cork oak tree all put together—
Last week I hit rock bottom. Slaughtering children by assault rifle in Uvalde tipped me over. The last two decades prior to the pandemic I’ve been teaching circus arts. I’ve also been performing for young audiences in support of summer reading programs.
My kid is no kid anymore, but because of her, because she reminded me back while she was still a child that dad could still see the world through a child’s eyes if only I would play pretend with her, all I had to do was try. A little girl saved her father’s life.
A juggling show is many things and often it is a comedy show appropriate for young and old alike, in the vernacular of the festival business it is a multigenerational attraction, entertaining for the grandchild and grandmother alike.
To qualify for work at the Los Gatos Jewish Community Center in the summer circus arts program I’d be fingerprinted, and a background check would be run out of Sacramento. This is important work, I’d be an instructor to children ages 6 through 12, and you need to be sure you’ve got the right person for the job. The same background check was performed in Arizona.
My whole life I’ve been involved in the performing arts. Show business is my turf, my habitat, where I do my work, and has been the central organizing activity of my professional life. When there is frustration, heartbreak or tears because one of my students has hit a wall, feels like they are failure, that they’ll never amount to anything those are the moments when I can see myself through their struggles. It is also when I know to step up, because I can lend a trusted hand and help a young person anxious with self-doubt, frustrated, feeling inadequate, somehow thinking that they are not enough, that’s a teachable moment, helping a student to not judge their progress, to let go— to have the courage to just try.
Circus arts instruction is the continuous process of helping children see who they are and to be willing to just try without any expectations, trying is everything and success is not the only part, that learning a new skill isn’t about one minute, one hour, one day or one month— learning is a constant doing— we never stop pressing ahead into the unknown of our practicing and what ten thousand joys and sorrows our efforts may reveal to us. Practicing without expectation, without greed, if you keep looking for evidence of progress you often end up fueling doubt and discouragement, if you let go and leap into the mystery, you’ll be shocked by what you will find waiting.
Treating young readers to a juggling show at the local library is one way to motivate the new citizens. These humble institutions are the backbone to our country. The first humans because language was as so basic were forced to organize in small tribes, no more than seventy people, and it was only when their language skills increased were they able to build a more complex interdependent social order.
Library summer reading shows are presented free. Most of our audience consists of the little new citizens investing part of each day in learning how to read. But there are parents, grandparents, and neighbors in the audience too. The programs are free, borrowing books from the library is free, most of the libraries know it is best not to sell soda, ice cream or popcorn.
I worked in the Berkeley grammar schools too. I taught physical comedy and circus arts in after school programs. From 3-5 PM I tried to engage students that had been in classes all day long. Many children with both parents working had nowhere to go. Compared to summer camp where my students arrived rested after a night at home with their parents this was an entirely different level of challenge. You can’t help but feel for these kids, I mean come on put your feet in their shoes— managing yourself, keeping your hands to yourself, paying attention, not chattering and distracting your classmates, after being in class all day isn’t easy— it’s impossible. I loved all those kids and all those children just wanted to go home and be with their mom and dad.
When a child at a summer reading program is having trouble managing themselves, I will interrupt and ask the audience, especially the father’s in the crowd— how many of you dad’s how many of you are still having trouble managing yourself— I raise my hand and most of the men raise their hand in response— see that, it’s not so easy to sit still, watch the show, pay attention— learning to manage yourself helps us all then we can gather in these larger groups and have fun together— but it means paying attention and being a well behaved member of our audience— all you have to do is just try as hard as you can—
In Glendale, Arizona I performed in the amphitheater adjacent to city hall. Some years back the mayor seeing my sidewalk show at the Glitter and Glow Festival suggested to her event coordinator that my variety show might be perfect for this large venue. The following year I brought in two sensational performers and we filled the seats for three back-to-back shows. Liabilities for shows with fire and performing dogs means having the right insurance. That’s just standard operating procedure. Lengthy discussions are undertaken every year over how many police officers will be needed. Different kinds of programs attract different audiences, but there is always risk, and remember this event was ungated, there were no fences, anyone can come to this free civic event.
In Washington DC and in legislatures across the United States gun laws going against popular opinion were being relaxed. One result is metal detectors are common now. Bags are searched, many are required to be patted down.
Special event producers have always had to come up with a security plan, when the planning is inadequate, and trouble breaks out the violence can be devastating. The Alameda County Fair, Gilroy Garlic Festival and Southplains Fair in Lubbock, Texas all suffered the nightmare scenario when a gun carrying attendee opened fire at their events.
A rural branch library has no money to spend on security. The funds are just not there. An institution open to the public depends on the fabric of our society remaining stable. Our civic life requires that citizens behave responsibly. But we are not that country anymore— our civic life has taken a dark turn and all of us can feel it— anyone, anywhere at any moment may stop talking and start firing bullets from military assault weapons, and hoping you’re not in the wrong place at the wrong time is not a strategy for building a more perfect union.
It is reported that there are now 20 million military style assault weapons in the hands of American gun owners. I know of one or two, and one individual has been having a hard time of life of late. Do I know if or when he might snap— of course not, I’m not a mental health professional, but there it is, and here we all find ourselves.
Decades ago, the National Rifle Association took a turn and used their funds to influence elections in the United States. Only a few million members belong, but it is this group that the Republican Party added to their coalition, a group that vows no compromise, ever, that gun ownership is absolute. Like the Club for Growth, they grade each politician on their vote, and whip members to support their cause— if you don’t give them your vote your career will soon be over.
Republicans have added voting rights, women’s health care, immigration and gun safety to a list of issues that are off-limits. All legislative action is blocked. All of us can feel it now. Everyone in the majority, all these issues have their constituencies and all show that there are large majorities favoring Congress respond. Doing nothing and generating frustration is even part of the strategy, doing nothing is seen as a win, and compromising is a loss.
It is painful to arrive for summer circus camp with the world in this state of tension. One facility where I teach has a skilled and talented staff that each morning monitors the incoming teachers and students coming to class. These are dedicated professionals, good souls to a one, all working for the common good, none out to make a fast buck, trying to strike it rich, they are there because they believe in what they are doing.
Our nation has turned into an intractable combative nation none of us recognize, a nation held hostage by a gun lobby that has fomented political stalemate. Russia and China are delighted, if they could just break our country apart, if they could discredit liberal democracy, prove the rule of law can’t work, then they can come for us, take our freedom, oppress us, autocrats want to subjugate its citizens.
Our children deserve better. We have no choice, we must change course, and if you won’t or can’t, perhaps it is time to reconsider what has happened, where did our best-self vanish to— I’m just a simple ordinary person— California born and raised— the arc of justice is slow— we’ve gone offtrack— taken those two steps backward— it’s time we step up— for the love of our children and for the sake of the world it is time
Our nation is in shambles. When we have no laws to prevent nineteen elementary school students from being riddled with bullets from a military assault weapon that renders the bodies unidentifiable, when a nation gets to this point in its history we are in a state of emergency. DNA samples of the mutilated bullet riddled bodies of the children were needed to identify which tissue belong to which mother and father. That is beyond mass murder, call it what it is— genocide.
Citizenship in the United States is infected with toxic individualism. We can see the infection— the illness has become institutionalized in our collective character. Bullying at school, isolated and online, lack of parental supervision, a complex stew of unfiltered content a lonely and confused young person struggles to sort through without context.
Signs of the malignancy— democracy’s fragility has been laid bare. Financial system regulators looking the other way while reckless bankers collapsed the financial system, murderous cops, sexual assault of children, Boy Scout leaders’ misconduct— the list is long the, the predators prowl upon the innocent.
Toxic individualism begins by disengaging— psychological self-isolation is the first step. The endemic pathology requires alienation. You feel like you don’t belong, and these other’s, the upstarts are taking away what is rightfully yours. The anger toward the other is the gateway, permission to do what is necessary to take back your self-esteem and your freedom. The toxicity isn’t absolute, the behavior in many forms is mild, the conduct steals the fabric of nation’s peace, its racialized complicity empowers, there are more extreme versions of this emptiness and illness.
Trolls on social media sites have been platformed where once they were marginalized. The American Nazi Party’s marching through Chicago was inconsequential, their message incoherent, their ability to recruit new members, to argue, to persuade, manipulating the mainstream media was ineffective. Decades ago, there was a consensus that our institutions would guard against such hate groups being amplified.
Whole ideologically driven disinformation portals riddle the internet. There are radical rightwing conservative broadcast networks that run full-time disinformation operations (Fox and Sinclair). After Putin invaded Ukraine the FCC was barely able to bring itself to shutdown Russian Television— a Russian propaganda outlet should never had been granted a license in the first place. What passes for mainstream broadcasting are executive producers under pressure from their corporate owners to backoff overt criticism of its wealthy advertisers. Generous funding by military industrial corporations on Sunday morning political talk shows guarantees a roster of sympathizers will be booked to discuss the issues of the day while avoiding overt criticism of either their enterprises or special interests. To be accurate proving such pressure exists remains circumstantial, the C-suite executives like organized crime boss operations remain all wink-wink, nudge-nudge, preserving plausible deniability. Again, our nation’s executives in many instances have shut off their moral compass.
In and of itself perhaps picking partisan supporters as guests by way of threatening to fire your executive producers isn’t illegal, perhaps it isn’t even immoral, perhaps it is more accurately described as a desecration of our civic soul. Free and fair elections are for suckers. Equal protection under the law is for billionaires. The death penalty is for those people, not your people.
Toxic individualism is rooted in doing your own thing. You do your thing, and you don’t permit others to do theirs. Christian prayer is fine, worship at the synagogue is not. White nationalists don’t send synagogues prayers the most toxic of this kind send pipe bombs.
It is Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel and Steven Kerr that have stepped up to the podium. The lack of leadership by elected leaders intimidated by their constituents has stood politics on its head, we are trapped in a tyranny manifest by a flaw in the mechanics of our representative democracy. There are two senators representing Wyoming’s population of 580,384 citizens, California’s 40 million citizens get two. The two conservatives from Wyoming are part of the voting block from the red states and it is this coalition that has brought the nation to a gut wrenching halt.
The Republican minority use of the filibuster halts any legislation. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas answers to nobody, there is no ethics panel to review anything a justice may or may not do short of impeachment, and there is no chance a red state supported justice is going to be held accountable and impeached. Ginni Thomas should be hauled before a Grand Jury immediately to account her seditious conduct.
Republicans bound by party over country, they twice refused to convict the leader of their own party for crimes he was proven guilty of. They failed to do their duty, they abdicated, their oath of office was ignored, unable to explain themselves they change the subject, their best propagandists respond with disinformation.
Billy Graham Junior cheers Russia’s strength while putting down our President as weak. Fake evangelist Jerry Falwell Junior goes to Florida to spend lost weekends in Miami Beach watching while his wife has intercourse with their cabana boy.
The leading cause of death among American schoolchildren is by bullets from guns. Children are terrified. This last year dedicated to running a fair and open school board angry constituents were tolerated while they yelled at their local school boards about vaccinations, masks and course curriculum concerns. Beto O’Rourke dares to confront his own Texas governor over his permissive gun culture legislation and he’s immediately shutdown by the mayor of Uvalde telling the candidate— “You are out of line…” The overweight mayor is fiercely anti-immigrant and a build the wall advocate. He is also a white mayor with a Hispanic population that outnumbers whites by 80%. Why would that be?
Toxic individualism in a world this complicated, this populated when what is needed is healthy cooperation, a sense of duty to country, willingness to sacrifice for the common good, these are the qualities of character needed now.
The Republican Party is done with democracy, they are hell bent on seizing and holding onto power. Seventy percent of the country remains stunned and in denial, we are sleepwalking into a rude awakening. The World War II Japanese internment camps are likely to be revisited. Journalists, political activists, and environmentalists are all likely to be attacked, jailed and persecuted. If you go along to get along, you’ll do alright, until you are not doing alright, until they come for your business, your daughter, your vote. Autocrats always behave the same way and while they are seizing power they try to convince their supporters that it is only the other that they will target.
Recognized by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site for the extraordinary ruins left there by our first people of North America some 1200 years ago Chaco Canyon is a true treasure to all of humanity. Toxic individualism drove some morally deficient visitor to blast holes with a gun into ancient rock art that dates to 8000 years before present. Desecrating the rock art of our first people, denying future generations the opportunity to see these artifacts as they are and have been for the last many thousands of years brings into focus how broken so many of our citizens are, how terribly deluded, destructive and dangerous they are to the human project. Democracy is at risk, civilization is threatened, and likely it is a minority of detached males in our world that have literally put an assault weapon to the world’s head.
The children of Uvalde deserve to be remembered for being the slaughtered innocence that has finally forced America to come to its senses and put a halt to such madness. It is time for the killing of our children to stop. America’s soul is shattered, it is up all of us that still know right from wrong to step up and put our nation back on the civilized path.
As dinner party’s go this one turned out to be out of this world. The mix of characters worked swell, the invited included both curveballs and straight shooters— this the odd woven with the even. There was even an expectational tardy arrival of our party’s Hickey Boggs from The Iceman Cometh along with his second player— Larry Slade the syndicalist anarchist.
By paternal drive I was sent at subsonic speed into Seattle’s undercover natural wine scene. Sure, there is biodynamic wine, there is organic wine and then there is this all but impossible category to pin down that enthusiast’s refer to as “natural wine.” This is the best of the best or depending on your taste the mother of all disasters. Robert’s Rules of Reality (just back off buster I’m allowed to create my own reality) clearly state there can exist no such mapped location— fads, sensations current trends are all mere phantoms— natural wine like our favorite gods come scattered across the firmament, they are unbound and hidden everywhere.
Non-interventionist winemaking will never scale, the wild eyed ‘vineyardistas’ are in pursuit of an experience that the mainstream wine industry has all but relegated to the past. Too many pragmatic winemakers have lost the capitalistic chutzpa to bring this quixotic narrative back to life. Natural wine is the small is beautiful-keep it simple stupid answer to mind numbing sameness. Mistake number one is the conventional wine industry overuses the yeast strain— saccharomyces cerevisiae— favored by winemakers for its predictability— this mindset has ensnared the industry into producing wines that are too often too similar.
Let the nation of Georgia be an example. Long before they’d become trapped in the Soviet Union’s nation building racket, before Rome had tried to subjugate them, before all that grasping at empire some very enterprising non-aligned apolitical Georgian’s gave winemaking a try. Like you know 8000 years before present. That’s not just trying that’s inventing—
Aged in clay vats, the rot from the grapes, the feral yeasts from the fields where the fruit was grown by the magic of fermentation transformed the Georgian grape juice into world class wine. Figuring out how to do this trick reliably was man’s first trick. Second, was getting the next batch to taste as good. Third, was improving the taste because by now you’ve made some good and bad wine and if you’re going to make wine at all you might as well try and make the good stuff.
That returns us to this moment in oenological evolution, what my spirit guide tells me is located at the tip of the nose, our meditation teacher calls it the present moment, to be precise it’s just under that too prominent pug sniffer and if you can breathe in and breathe out without labeling just experiencing the air moving through your nostrils without adding anything else, you’ve pretty much now know where I found myself fixated Saturday night and this without me having to screw the whole thing up by adding anything extra. For fun the debate of whether the corkscrew represented the whip used to make the cart or the horse go was eagerly bantered back and forth.
We’ve got this problem as advances in technology trample age tested tradition. All this extra stuff we’ve acquired in the last eight-thousand years— turns out most of these improvements are superfluous— don’t need them, don’t want them— and if you dig being true to the method of making natural wine— you wouldn’t use these newfangled interventions— to the natural wine apostle’s you’ve broken faith and turned your back on what the ancients of Georgia have passed down to mankind.
Participant’s imagining there is money in the natural winemaking racket need to hang up their cleats and take a seat on the bench. Thinking you can bottle natural wine as if you were running a printing press— business planning that imagines getting more from a winemaking style that is so capable of producing spectacular failure— the natural winemaker is always rolling the dice, coaxing a grape into a reliable bottle of wine is no sure thing. The standout feature of natural wine is that any batch or bottle can turn out flawed. Each case, every bottle is on its own journey, enough makes it through, some never will. Trying to engineer the problems out of the inherently volatile ingredients only makes matters worse— all these modern-day interdictions if that’s the road you walk will render the final product something other than natural. Imagining you can do better than just taking what Mother Nature has handed you only seals your fate on this conventional road toward the modern globalized wine industry— this is mission creep— tannic deep dark red wine to bright yellow buttery oaked chardonnay will be the hill you plant your broken winemaking dreams on.
Here’s the thing to know if you lose your way and end up a landowner. You want to get a plot of dirt— better still forget the soil— make it slate, limestone or volcanic ash. Plant your best vines, don’t do anything to help the little devils, and when they’ve ripened, you’ll pick, crush and then wait while the grapes become wine. Sure, there are issues of the peel of grape skin coming in contact with the juice, yes, and sometimes not always the minimal use of sulfites, they’re added to prevent premature oxidation— Conventional winemakers in comparison will add up to 10 times the amount of sulfites, and forward leaning sulfites in wine are a tell— sulfites steal what is right and true. The natural winemaker makes every effort to not add or take away anything, there are virtually no interventions, the wine stands on its own, right or wrong, good, bad or until bankruptcy papers are filed.
Out in the vineyard you’ll want sunlight to do its thing, hope to hell it rains now and again, pull a few weeds, pray the pests stay the hell away and that at the end of the year hope to find other growers like yourself agreeing that this new vintage coming up in the clay vats has turned out to be a pretty good year.
With the right weather and a good grape struggling to mature in miserly soil you’ve got a decent chance of making something authentic, something with its own voice, something that stands on two grape stained feet and speaks for not just for itself but for Zarathustra and his crowd. What is being attempted here is to make something that is honest and expressive of the place and time it is from. Rather than doll the wine up the natural winemaker wants to pour you a fated faithful glass filled to the rim with a field of truth.
I’ve learned grapes enjoy struggling— Freud would call these obstacles to happiness neurosis— that these obstacles add up to a quirk— a specific quality of nature you’ll be able to taste, this is the unfiltered and unfettered nature of this endeavor.
And now knowing all of this you have some perspective of the six obsessed members of a Seattle sited dinner party as this half-dozen plunge into the dapple lighted natural wine abyss.
Our Capitol Hill host, Alana Smith had set the table, prepared dinner— if the meal were munitions, we’d say the food was on target and laser guided— including down to the fresh cut flowers and white and blue printed linen napkins.
Four of us enjoyed tongue loosening cocktails, Ian mixed Negroni’s, of course they were crafted with Millennial preferred mescal— gin drinking is and always will be a Boomer choice— even good gin is booze to distance oneself from like running boards, buggy whips or Studebakers.
Matt a local on Capitol Hill now, once a Boise kid and Nick from Eagle Rock in LA, the last two for supper—the pair from the play by O’Neil were dug in a few blocks away imbibing, comparing tasting notes, squeezed into a corner booth at this local pizza joint— Blotto’s on Capitol Hill is by the way true, fresh and fun— go now— hope you can get in.
The pair from Iceman were picking the mind of the other, Nick was serving Matt the hot scuttle on the happenings in the wine scene in LA— it’s sick, it’s fucking slaps. Matt was hipping Nick to the Northwest natural wine distributors and how his preferred wines are hard to find, when he can find what he is looking for they are flying off the shelves in the local shops, and people do notice, his distributor thinks natural wine scene is— totally lit.
Hickey and Larry arrived well oiled, mildly repentant, unless you know Matt running behind isn’t meant to offend, his zeal for all things human burns time off the clock, that’s just how enthusiasm works. Nick pulled three bottles from his backpack— Matt presented one he’d had ringed with his hand about the bottle’s neck, our host had plenty more, the catalyst for this evening’s conversation were within arm’s reach, anything on this Saturday night was possible, our natural wine séance would commence departing outbound on a mission to make contact the other world.
Uncorking a prized bottle is akin to spelunking an unmapped cave, you plunge into the thing without helmet or headlamp, a true risktaker comes to pour wines they’ve never tasted before, until now, and at this moment among friends. It is a small but significant experience— one of the better ways to live a best life.
As accidents go this grouping of souls was not a mistake— not a drop of wine tasted by any of us was thought to be off base. There was no funk, mouse, skunk or stink. There was more than luck involved. At least three had encyclopedic knowledge of the wine’s we were opening. Most cast their fate and wallet to the whim of trial and error— unless you are a pro, unless you are tasting regularly, taking notes, have a good nose and near photographic memory. Lucky for the six we had three that have gone near broke on the journey to possess such talents.
La R’Vole was the first bottle to be uncorked, from Beaujolais by Michel Guignier, this a simple (the conceit is that nothing is so simple) drinkable Gamay. You begin here and embark toward something more, something better, that’s the idea, you don’t want to peak too soon.
The dining table was set, there were roasted trumpet mushrooms, steamed artichokes, Yukon golden potatoes smothered in roasted garlic and tomatoes, fennel and carrot salad, asparagus with goat cheese, thick hand cut sourdough toast and olives and radishes.
Nick Delozier (Larry Slate) born in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, started out a pipefitter, the younger Nick didn’t reckon he wanted to end up doing his whole life punching a clock, there was the pull of other worlds to explore. Like anyone stuck where he’d come up as a kid, he figured there had to be more to life, took a shot on LA, second time was a charm, found a job that paid and then some, the natural wine enthusiast stages real estate when he isn’t laying the groundwork planning to go full time marketing what he loves most— natural wine. That is no sure thing. Bearded, stocky, red headed, a man that is kind of spirit, Appalachian lilt to his voice, Southern mannered, tattooed, and tattooed by a lot, I’m talking he didn’t go light on the ink, but that’s how passion works, spins people off on their path, sometimes it ends up looking like a Tennessee raised tattooed wine lover— there are worse turns of fate. Copeland’sFanfare for the Common Man may well have had a man of Nick’s character in mind when composing this masterpiece.
Matt’s partner Liannabelle, this the Peruvian born muse a Tinkerbell sized laugh riot. Nicknamed El-Bell, the fiery loving petite one that always plays bigger than she appears had survived a week in Tracy, California. The monotony of tract home hell had brought on fitful pangs and homesick blues, grateful to be back in the mashup of Seattle’s architectural eclectic, funky and trendy scene that is Capitol Hill. El’s a city girl now, there are no same-same suburbs in her future, only plans to dodge being stuck in them.
Matt and Nick poured— La Tour Sarazine, the winemaker is referred to by his initials JYP. This is a white wine— Muscat Blanc and Jacquère grapes grown in the French Alps by Jean Yves Peron (JYP). Again, this second glass held its own and then some. JYP’s are hard to come by in Seattle and trickier still in San Francisco or Oakland. It’s all about your local importer, what they know and what they can get their hands on, natural wine doesn’t grow on trees and doesn’t arrive on container ship.
I’m like Ian who had joined the table to eat, drink and be part of this thrall— both of us know a mere fraction of what Matt, Nick and Alana have stashed away inside their heads. Amari’s are an Ian favorite, often described as intentionally bitter tasting, this is a much in demand classic Italian aperitif, bitter is not at all an accurate characterization for those that have acquired the taste— a well-balanced Amari will provoke and persuade. Like a Ferrari, divorce or caviar they don’t come cheap, they do come rare, hard to find, a second bottle is often impossible to put your hands on— but all of this is redeemable, the Italian aperitif is a simpler, smaller, easier class of beverage to become fluent in.
Other Worlds— a natural wine shop will open one day once city hall, building inspectors, liquor license authorities sign off. Atop the bustle that is Seattle’s Capitol Hill soon local natural wine enthusiasts will be able to go to the shop at Pike and Madison. The spry entrepreneur Matt Lucas suffers no illusions, he full well knows this effort will require every known sacrifice, getting the Other Worlds open is one thing, making his passion for natural wine work as a durable business, keeping the shop out of the red and into the black, and forget all those get rich quick schemes, Matt is hoping for something more modest, something tangible, something that he can be proud of, he seeks to build integrity into this wine shop, something that remains true to the product— the wine and its merchants work best as a matched pair.
To finish off the evening our host Alana had saved a favorite bottle to share. It was a Sylvain Pataille, his Fleur de Pinot, this is his Marsannay Rosé. Mr. Pataille has been making a spare no expense Burgundian, this a dry version since 2002— two decades of trial by error. For our last tasting we would enjoy the winemaker’s sage like 2018 vintage.
Our waiting concentrated minds. Uncomplicated— no, it was anything but, this one goes on and on, it is why you chase such an expressive wine. It is remarkable in its directness— it is easy to understand— it must be difficult to make and expensive too. Like an epic hike it is in the doing, the telling part misses the mark, still if the bottle was a girl that you were sweet on, she’d be the best love you’ve ever chased, the best you will ever hold in your arms— when you are not sure what to do, vow to never let go— squeeze hold like your whole life depends upon it— wine and love, bitter or sweet, until death do we part— wine can be like that— life! Beyond the wine’s length on the tongue there are the changes it will put you through, until you must admit this one— this bottle, has more and more to say—
The dinner party had nowhere to go, further would have clouded the mind, Mr. Paitille had somehow found a way to bottle the last word.
This is the story of the extended dialogue. It begins in Echo Park at a poker game in 2002. Robert Nelson drove me over from Venice in his passion red Morris Minor— passion in any color was Robert through and through. Playing that night were a handful of street performers. Sean Laughlin and Lee Ross were at the table. Sean, I knew from working sidewalk shows in Fisherman’s Wharf, Lee from festivals we played in Halifax and Edmonton.
Traveling through Nevada in 2016 I reached out to Sean and stopped over at his century old digs in Silver City. In 2019 on the road for performances in Canada I’d stopped in Ft Collins, Colorado for shows at the street pitch in Old Town. Lee was south near Boulder and came north for a meet up.
I had forgotten about the three of us playing poker in LA, sometimes there just isn’t enough bandwidth to keep all these accidental interactions sorted out in your head.
Each of us have met with much success in show business. Sean had been working cruise ships out of Australia, he’d come up with a double act, the other half of the act was a woman, they were business partners on stage and romantic partners off.
Lee had worked New York City, Paris and other corners of the world. Cirque de Soleil had cast him to play the part of ringmaster in their Australian unit. Lee was tapped for the part based off his improvisational skills and comic madness— Lee goes over the falls, jumps from the highest building and socks you with his humor in the belly. Lee is one funny fucker— if he was one of our nation’s founding documents he’d be categorized as an original.
All three of us have honed improvisational comic skills. All three of us have set routines. We’ve got bits, gags, and time-tested one-liners. We’ve performed our shows 1000’s of times. We have worked all over the world. On any given night any of the three of us could have been the best act on the bill— yes, the three of us can knock a building down with laughter.
After decades in the business, after signing one contract after another, stopping over to play some street pitches for fun, to meetup with our peers, after decades of this work along came the pathogenic crisis and our access to work came to a grinding halt.
Last week traveling east from my place in San Francisco up to Silver City, Nevada and then further east to Salida, Colorado it was on this 1200-mile drive that my memory jelled, and I connected the dots.
In the last years I’ve been writing novels, there are four obscure seldom read but superb works of fiction, none have been acquired by a major publishing house, but that is a marketing challenge and not a creative failure. Locking up and having our output sputter to a halt is another malady altogether.
Lee about the same decade plus was working in Hollywood— he sold a few scripts, produced a few shows, and is in the hunt to do more.
Sean’s father passed (Travis T Hip) and his Berkeley born son inherited the property in Silver City. These are complicated bones some refurbished to perfection while other parts remain unfinished, much still to do, there is a legacy and fortune to honor here.
Where to live is a question— the three of us have no sure answers. How best to use our heart’s is another— passionate physical comedians talking heart power is a rant inside a poem peppered with false hopes, dead ends and Eureka moments a mother would die knowing about.
The question of our going into rehearsals and preparing to go back onstage is part of our conversation. We’re all Broadway Baby’s, the whole lot of us born in a packing trunk— our parents worked at the 5 and 10, just so someday we could be in a great big Broadway show— oh…………….
Down the list of what is next— what to do about scratching up money, how to get more fat hat’s, and where we might get all this spare laughter— what we would do with the involuntary guffaw treasure— yeah we kick the past, present and how we’ll deal with our monthly nut— making the nut is part of the grind— we run our tread thin— to the bone— once you’ve scraped up a living from what you can find on a sidewalk— once you’ve tasted cheap paved thrills there is a confidence that drowns the second guessing and promises you’ve made to your landlord that you of all people to doubt are better than good for the rent.
Sean was none too keen about signing up for another run on a cruise ship. Terms included being under contract for almost four months, and during the run to remain safe from Covid the artist would not be allowed to go ashore. If you worked the gig you remained aboard the entire time— that’s not necessarily music to the ears of a world class performer who is otherwise accustomed to having prior to this moment all manner of adventure, leisure and self discovery. Clipping our wings isn’t something we’d sign up for.
Lee has been ensconced in an entirely different puzzle to sort through. Done with Boulder, no longer able to see any sense in simply holding onto doing more shows on the pitch on the mall he moved up to the mountain town of Salida, Colorado. Where the two of us intersect in the present is our work as writers. Lee has been producing scripts, some written with a partner, then trying to get the projects into the hands of producers who might acquire the rights.
The market for new fiction and screenplays has been undergoing change, turmoil isn’t even the beginning of how to describe what is underway, it is seismic, tidal— today’s marketplace resembles nothing like what a novelist or screenwriter confronted two decades earlier.
Three of us have long been buskers. All of us have told ourselves time and again if we ever got down on our luck, we could pitch the act back up on a sidewalk and scuff up a few bucks. It is a common conceit among sidewalk show-makers. The question is how hard we’d have to hit bottom before we’d return to pound out shows on the pavement— at some point in a life there is located a point of no return, that for many practical reasons remounting the act to work on a sidewalk will meet neither the moment nor the requirements of an evolving showman. Still, it’s this letting go thing that’s hardest of all.
Considering how we’ve all ridden the rough and tumble, up and downs of show business, just when you figure this is it, that’s all she’s wrote, you get a call, you toss your hat into the ring, and once more you yoke your show to a contract and a year later look back at another good run.
Whatever comes next— what we build from scratch— no more hanging on to yesterday— this is the present moment point of departure for this group of three men plotting next chapters. What binds us to this conversation is we know we’ve two other’s who can appreciate the fix we’re all in.
So maybe we do a show maybe we don’t, maybe we stay right where we are maybe we go somewhere else, most of what looks fixed and bolted down turns out to be fungible, going off on a lark is part of what sidewalk showmen do with the rest of their lives.
Like back in the poker playing party days, I forged ahead with love— met my wife— had the sense to marry the woman— I put one piece of my life into order. I’m the older guy here among the poker players and they’ve been lucky at cards and somewhat less lucky at love, not that there has been any shortage of opportunities, but getting in and staying in is something else, something you got to work at, and the work of intimacy— ain’t for sissies— it takes guts kid.
What the three of us do know is that we hold a pretty good set of cards. We’d all like to make good and all three are willing to bet their life on it. Two of the three are considering potentials to form partnerships, it is in their nature to love and be loved— good thing if you can find it, form it and keep it on track.
Two of us have traded in our suitcase and have a steady place to live, not that this has been easy or that we have any knack for being in the same place, but damn it we are giving it a go, we pretend we’re just like everyone else even if we’ve never lived anywhere for long since decades ago when we were still just a couple of wise cracking talk backing boys.
Of the one of us that hasn’t gone all in on a spot— and I’m privy to no inside information here— what I know is my gut tells me there is a move to be made and this last busker is ready to trade in his suitcase for a place he can call his own— these things happen even when you believe that they never will or that you are the one drifter that will just have to keep roaming the wide world until the end of your days.
That’s us in a nutshell, or maybe just the nut with no shell. We do a show or not, we love as we can and finally talk ourselves into sticking around. End times for vagabonds— this is the look and how it is done. I’d bet two weeks from now all of this could change— they both raise me and call— they want to see the cards I’m holding in my hand— sure thing Poncho
“But for the environmental impacts of cultivated meat, according to an independent study from the University of Oxford, cultured meat could be produced with up to 96 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions, 45 percent less energy, 99 percent lower land use, and 96 percent lower water use than conventional meat. Many more independent studies show that cultured meat can help fight the climate crisis. So it’s not a question of if; it’s a question of when.”
Rolling east next week— it’s the road and it’s out there waiting mile after mile to be devoured. Over the years I’ve kept in touch with people, some are friend’s others are business contacts. If I had not been so frequently back to one place or another it might have not been practical to cast my relationship’s net so far.
Out of sight and out of mind, many don’t put in the time to keep in touch. Back before the digital revolution I’d call or send a letter. I traveled with a Smith-Corona manual typewriter, good supply of envelopes, typing paper and stamps. As I mapped out the year, I’d send notes ahead of my traveling through for shows to my support network.
Anticipating a return to a favorite venue, an enticing town, a backwater along a river— there are mental images that wet the appetite.
I get how when we are one place, we might not have the space in our head to remember all the details of the second place. If you tour the list crowding the imagination is long. In Winnipeg there was this after-hour’s joint, the sofa outback under the building’s porch roof, this was where the cast drank beer disguised in paper sacks, fooling nothing and nobody, this was a modern day speakeasy, the cops could be kicking the doors down at any moment, the performers swept up and taken away in paddy wagons.
Comfort zones come from sleeping in the same bed. You want to force yourself to get out, stay with friends, pitch a tent, get a room, stay at a musty hotel. You can become too attached to your dog— our gardens can entrap us— staying home becomes a debilitating habit— it’s a form of adventure surrender. Everything is in play when you unexpectedly drop on by, disrupting comfortable stuck friends is a form of liberation— they should be thankful— a few are, some never will be.
The touring act dropping in for a day or two provides a degree of discomfort, this is healthy, the host will survive and only after you leave will appreciate how fortunate their lives are for having you stop by and scramble their calendar. How long are you going to stay? That is the key question. Two day’s is a brilliant conceit, just long enough.
Knocking about town to town is a skill set of its own kind. Getting comfortable in faraway places, not feeling out of sorts, once your wandering mode is as natural a state of being as your being in one place mode you’ve really made your mark— you’re a wanderer in a kingdom that is all your’s.
The vagabond, gypsy and busker have suitcase efficiencies and spartan shave kits that will spark envy of sedentary types, the itinerate artists are perfecting the high art of traveling with only what is necessary, anything that is not needed gets or donated— travel light move quick.
Then comes the turn, that could be the date on your schedule, sometimes it is measured by the furthest distance from where you are from the place you call home, this is when in your mind’s eye the thought of getting back begins to take hold. If you are in a hurry to get back, this is not the interior state I’m marking. If you are returning with the same sense of ease and expectation as you were when you were leaving, that’s what I’m talking about.
Cooking for yourself is easier in your own kitchen, many meals cooked off a tailgate have little to recommend them other than the terrific view you might enjoy. Doing dishes hunched over a bucket on the ground, little discomforts will keep many harnessed to where they claim to belong.
One such helper is a woman named Becky. Growing up in Nashville she’d become friends with a juggler, he stood out, but he was young and employed as a chemist. Decades later while I was working at 5th and Mill in Tempe, Arizona we met, conversations ensued and an invitation to stay in a room above the garage was offered, “anytime you’re in town, please come on by…” And so, I have. It was only years later I realized this young juggler she met in Tennessee was my colleague— Robert Nelson.
Crawford Bay, British Columbia there is a fine friend I see that lives here when he’s not living in Banderas Bay, Mexico. Another lifelong friend an hour further west in the Slocan is there too. This is a region of the interior known as the Kootenay’s. These are deeper more complex relationships, one extends back to my teens, met Virginia in 1967. The other Angus I worked in Vancouver BC with doing shows in English Bay. Conversations are thick with history.
Returning the favor, a magician friend out of Phoenix in May will be my guest, rarest of all events is catching a gypsy in domestic relapse. I’ll show him the oddest of sedentary proof— he’ll get the chance to sleep in a guest bed and eat vegetables from our garden.
Sunday I’ll be in Silver City, Nevada hosted by a showman. Wednesday arrive in Salida, Colorado again hosted by a showman. World renowned, both in the grip of learning to belong somewhere.
Friday night I’ll pick up my wife at the airport in Albuquerque. Then, Saturday we’ll spend the day in Santa Fe with one of my favorites, she’s an abstract painter and has been for most of half a century. Abstract painters are hilarious, fun loving, like to laugh and live sun up to sundown with a passion all of their own.
What is on my mind are the Pueblo People of the Southwest. We will go to Chaco Canyon, then further west to Canyon de Chelly. This is the Navajo Nation, where the Dine’ people live.
Maybe a hot spring dip here and there, some long hikes and stargazing for sure. Will be home in time to harvest the cabbage and green beans. There is a doctor’s appointment, teeth cleaning and soon after a trip up to Seattle to see the kid, as if turning 30 isn’t insult enough, the kid is a fully realized woman I have thought of as my child. It’s all catch and release, every bit of everything we do, from shows to sleepovers, to growing vegetables or visits with good souls. We come and we go, some of us will never come back while other’s return time and again.
Casting my fate to the wind I confronted the last most credible year of my life— I had turned out to be a 29-year-old cornered by a demanding profession, the quest to find success in show business had left all matters large and small, both onstage and off devoured by the rapacious appetite of my most insecure self. Drowning in my own shallowness turned into trying to repurpose my time— I tossed a life preserver to my foundering soul and signed up for sailing lessons. I had no clue if this was even something I would like.
Lessons were taught in a classroom and on an 18’ sloop rigged keelboat. After passing all the tests both on the water and off, I was qualified to charter a boat— I could go sailing on my own. Sailing solo seemed to matter— listening to the wind, feeling the direction of the breeze on my ears, making visceral contact, relearning how to be present without suffocating my feelings with words— to see and sail by my wits with the wind.
Sailing on the Oakland Estuary, this was where the new sailor practiced. There was no plan to do anything more. There was no motor, no running lights, no electronics, no accommodations for eating or sleeping— there was just a boat and water, wind and sail, and this fragile younger newly minted beginner trying to reintroduce himself to the missing person I had become.
Until I’d taken lessons skilled sailors aboard larger sailboats had not attracted my attention— I’d hardly taken notice, my curiosity had gone missing.
In 1980 the Nordic Folkboat was a common sight on the San Francisco Bay. Fashioned of wood, 24 feet in length, the hull was constructed by lapstrake planking, the cockpit was an open design and the sailor sat low to the water— it was an advantaged position from where the helmsman could read firsthand how the boat was working with the wind and water.
Racing had no appeal, what I liked most was knocking about on my own terms without a care, playing with whatever wind and sea state I might encounter. The sage Folkboat helmsmen wore khaki— pants, shirt, and cap— khaki was the rule. In 1980 aviator style sunglasses were fashionable among this group. If a jacket was needed men would wear barn coats fashioned of waxed canvas with chocolate corduroy collars.
Not ready to toss my youth away I resisted the khaki sheik raging fashion of the time. Polyester was only in its infancy, but brighter colors and tighter stretchier fabric was easier to move around on while sailing in a cramped cockpit. All these choices— what to wear, what sunglasses to sport, all was subliminal— I wasn’t going GQ so much as unwilling to toss my youth away and join the khaki craze— it would have been a uniform indicating I’d become a member of the Sears & Roebuck house of worship, — cementing my sobriety and celibacy to a fateful unquenched misery.
The socially in the know sailor is by nature smitten with the fine figured opposites found sipping white wine along the waterfront cafés. Among the vital maneuvers even a beginner sailor can refine is the nonchalant docking of a boat near such a drinking establishment so that you might pause to go fishing for the love and affection that incessantly goes missing in a boatman’s life. There is no such thing as luring a sullen moody above the fray catch while clad in khaki— this is as true now as it was then, it is this invincible khaki clad cotton constructed barrier to a more amorous life that must be avoided lest you toss away all hope of finding what instinct insists you must have in abundance.
Beer drinking on hot days— when one arrives after sailing the helmsman and crew will regal the day’s romp on the water. A thirty-something anoints the end of a sail with beer brewed bravado— these are peak experiences— no other cohort of desperate lads can mount a more well played winding down of the day. Distracted, suffering from a lack of affection and then once sated the landlocked misunderstood mariner returns first to the sea and then the saloon. Heartbreak runs rampant among this kind.
By 2001 my footing straddled both sides of my aging self. I could still finish off the day buying a round in a pub, but the lines controlling both a boat’s sails and a man’s interior tethers were afoot. My sailing skills had advanced— the newcomer to the sport was no more.
Not appreciating the magnitude of the task, with a kind of blithering innocence I undertook the task of fully restoring a derelict wooden sloop. Between 2001-2007 I made seaworthy a 25’ sailboat— the class of boat was named the Golden Gate. Not only had I the pleasure of knowing every fastener, every board, every piece of bronze I had also sparked the unanticipated deeper cultivation of pieces of my most difficult to repair character. From the boatyard where I would labor, I developed my focusing skills, breaking tasks into incremental pieces— fix one thing then the next— doing whatever is required for as long as it takes— getting it right was more of the point than the time it excised from my charade filled exploits as a land-loving sunburnt Romeo of a kind. Fixing a wood boat with tools and by hand had moved both man and his future forward— fixing the boat had indeed also help fix this sailor.
My wooden sloop had been owned by the bass player for Huey Lewis and the News. Even prior to this glancing blow with rock and roll fame several other owners had sailed this boat to best boat of the year and season’s championships. Built in Sausalito in 1959 Maestro had earned much notoriety as one of the swiftest of all the 17 Golden Gate’s ever to sail on the bay. Flush decked this is a sailor’s sailboat— her personality on the water and in the wind marked her as one of sailings most capable craft. With the wind in her sails Maestro again and again said to her helmsman that something was right with the world and this right feeling you knew to your core, this boat spoke to you through the varnished tiller in your hands.
I bought her, fixed her, lived on her, sailed her and sold her. Maestro was shipped off to Moss Landing, her new owner would sail from this fishing harbor in Monterey Bay.
I thought I would hear from Maestro, she was too palpable, so capable, so tangible, my hands were stained with her varnish and paint, blisters on my palms were still healing from the hours of swinging a caulking hammer. After I had dedicated to Maestro my best— just like that she was gone and in her place was fit a new boat— a fresh brand-new uncharted course. This four-decade long boat alliance was far from over, there were still too many lessons to be learned, too many ways I could go lost or be found— a sailboat enables the sailor to remain closer to the interior pieces of his soul, the right boat will share their spirit, you will know your boat and your boat I am convinced will come to know you.
The likelihood of our correcting the current trajectory the human species is on appears to be no sure thing. As Benny explains in Guys and Dolls─ Nathan, I cannot believe that a number one businessman like you has fallen in love with his own fiancé─
One of the hallmarks of this social media instant communications era is avoiding sounding like an alarmist, don’t punch the panic buttons, handle the hot potatoes the way you would your IKEA furniture assembly instructions, there’s no reason to become upset. If you work in journalism, you’ll want to deadpan the delivery, just give your readers the facts.
As threats to humanity go, I thought the crisis at Fukushima’s tsunami destroyed nuclear power station to be a pretty good wakeup call— right— hello anyone else— oh I see it looks like it’s just me. Meltdowns before taking your wedding vows or at a nuclear reactor tend to concentrate the mind. Instead in Japan what followed were the laconic desultory vocal stylings of nuclear engineers all proffering lozenges of atomic energy pablum, that there was little reason to be alarmed, there was nothing to see here, that we should all just get back to what we were doing, the world moved on even if Fukushima remains a colossal environmental life on earth threatening unfixable disaster, this is the poster child for never-ending catastrophe’s.
A few more years and a few more problems appear to need addressing. Apparently the modern way to handle something is to ignore it for as long as you can, then promise to look into it, then do some good looking, and then drop the whole thing until you are reminded you were supposed to be looking into the thing, by then its almost acceptable to just say there’s nothing anyone can do about it now.
By now we’ve all become familiar with the phrase─ wet market─ you buy a live animal that is slaughtered then and there and is prepared for you to take home. Covid-19 can be traced back to Wuhan’s now shuttered wet market— they know precisely which booth— between 2017-2019 some 48,000 wild animals were purchased— customers were sold raccoon dog, hog badger or red fox— a fearless shopper lugged one nasty looking creature known as this beast known as a hog badger home and made a meal of the virus infected meat. These are termed zoonotic diseases. In my personal operating manual, the one installed by God, it is otherwise known as common sense, the things I ought not to do includes eating wild raccoon dog or hog badgers for supper. This isn’t even a close call. You don’t want to eat monkey brains or day old road killed squirrel stew. Just don’t do these things.
Next week we will celebrate the pandemic’s second anniversary. Every time I drive past the feedlot halfway between San Francisco and LA I’m reminded of how this has to be a potential pathway for a high speed zoonotic outbreak. Factory farmed meat can’t be anything other than a potential zoonotic threat. People that like a good steak don’t want to face this potential threat. Selling a well cooked pork chop is profitable and there’s the rub right there. Another decade on we will have laboratory meat grown in stainless steel vats, the food will be safer, there won’t be a need to use antibiotics, there will be no effluent to worry about, lab meat used as directed can still cause coronary artery disease, but what the hell that’s way down the list of things to be worried about.
What is ahead in the lab meat business is likely to be a more hygienic meat production system. Pigs won’t grow up in confined in impossible to turn around in cages. Instead pig cells will be grafted and then using 90% less land and water will be cultivated into the best bacon you’ve ever tasted.
In our current predicament we’ve several genocidal maniacs tyrannizing the world. I guess I got used to ignoring these miserable curses on humankind. Since 2016 I’ve had to get up in the morning to check on what that guy had done while I had been sleeping. I’d become sick of the whole chaos operation, it was transparent, decidedly authoritarian and lacking in any kind of coherence.
In Ukraine this week we’ve seen the Russian military attack two nuclear power stations. Russian dictator Putin has been fingering his stockpile of thermonuclear weapons, Syrian soldiers have arrived to fight for Vlad and there’s reason to be concerned about chemical weapons being deployed— nothing but the very best people.
Here we are waiting, we know another is coming, another variant is going to make its next move. We are hopeful creatures, we are eager for the next good chapter and ready to forget this lousy last one. We have no choice in this moment, might be we have a chance to catch our breath, if we can get things to smooth out, maybe we can drill on down into our humanity and give voice to our better angels. The battle has been joined, the fight is on, I’ve put my bet on our winning, we prevail ultimately while all kinds of not winning happens until then.
Need to feel better about the world, go to the World Central Kitchen— https://wck.org throw a few bucks their way. We’re going to get through this, and feeding Ukraine’s refugees is where we start, from there we build out a better world than the one we’ve got. Here we go
The list was long, the time horizon a decade plus but at long last our number was called. If you have patience, if you can stick to it, hang in there, wait, pay your yearly waiting list fee, then keep waiting you have to believe eventually you’ll get in.
South Beach Harbor is adjacent to major league baseball’s San Francisco Giants stadium─ current name on stadium is Oracle Stadium. Depending upon your personal preferences this could be either your heaven or your personal berthing hell.
Berthing our sailboat serves many masters. Most of all it gives us a place to stay when we come to the City. South Beach is now after a 14 year wait our very own San Francisco pied-à-terre. This mad about sailing family originally signed up during Barack Obama’s first year in office. Obviously, it must be counterintuitive to even think of owning a boat in the midst of a global financial crisis but that’s who we are, the well positioned survivors of Wall Street’s version of an economic Armageddon.
My dog Lacey was still alive when we signed up for the long wait, God bless that little dog’s tail, if the Vatican would consent, I’d sanctify her little canine soul─ so what the, the little dog’s loving soul was boundless, a kinder animal would be hard to come by. The two of us were still banging out 500 shows per year, a slip in South Beach would be rarely seen, perhaps photographs would have to suffice while I was on the road.
Sweet Seas arrived from Alameda into our possession in 2008, the single most expensive toy purchase of our lives. First, we berthed her at Pier 39 in San Francisco, this was always going to be temporary, soon after we moved her to Sausalito, better and enchanting but also inconvenient and sociologically offkey to the tune we hummed─ of course we loved Sausalito, but it’s also a tourist trap─ affluent plus-plus-plus only types are the only kind that can afford this exclusive town’s real estate, and sure we may be card carrying credit worthy’s but we’ve found the unstratified East Bay milieu more soothing to our world view.
I am East Bay to the bone, born in Oakland, more about that, just saying our Vice President was born among the glory that is the Left Coast’s version of Brooklyn. Berthing our boat in Emeryville was a deft stroke of insight, practicality, and deli-sandwich luck. I can spot a native East Bay born and raised male by haircut, slang and the beer they drink.
Life threw us a few screwballs. The wife was off to Australia for work, I was soon contracted for shows in Mexico. What caused us problems was we had purchased a home, it was too big, wasn’t long before the custom Joseph Esherick digs began to overtake our lives and demand too much of our tool time. Being tied to the home and chores wasn’t a good fit, saw the chance, sold the place, plan was to temporarily liveaboard in Emeryville─ one year turned into nine of the best years of our lives. This was my second stint living aboard, my wife’s first go at such a spartan life─ she loved everything about marina life─ birds and manta rays, sunrise and sunsets, the play of tides, possibilities tantalized, but for a few challenges whatever inconveniences we suffered were accepted as a worthy price to be tied so close to nature.
I was doing three months on and three months off in the Riviera Maya, Eileen was working remotely and joined me, then she took a gig in LA, that ended her being with me in Mexico, and it made my being away for 12 weeks too high a cost to pay to keep our marriage on track.
Somewhere in all this was the planning to sail to Avalon, to spend the summer bumming around harbor to harbor up and down the California coast. Our sailboat needed upgrading, that busied the days. Everything from the new and classier toilet to purchasing new sails, and not just new ordinary sails but high-tech space-age technology sails demanded my every attention.
By the summer of 2019 I was off for shows in Canada, then a romp down the coast to Los Angeles, this time not as skipper but as crew two-handed in September, then a four-handed romp to Cabo San Lucas with another couple in December. New Year’s Eve little did we appreciate that our celebration in Avalon would be our last taste of the before time’s.
Upgrading dock lines is a first chore. Brightwork needs attention, sanded yesterday, and put first new coat on today. I’ll put another nine coats on, of course sanding between each coat, gives me an excuse to keep an eye on the dock lines, inspecting the lines for chafe, for those that don’t know much about boating is preventing your boat from sinking or breaking loose and going on an unintended adventure, these are two of the more basic watches that a good mariner must stand and guard against.
Then there is the dance of meeting new sailors. They come in all shapes and sizes, all ranges of experience, each with their own possibilities and foibles, each with the infinitesimal chance that they may become new friends. Because South Beach Harbor in San Francisco is such a particular place, with such a specific zip code, there are fewer sailboats here preparing for extended cruising. Fishing, sailing, motor yachting, all for the day, sometimes overnight, this is what my eye tells me is here. Of course the intoxicated dreamer’s haunt this harbor, this is as nature and sailing intended seeing into what you can do with all those tomorrow’s to be. What can we do with the wind and a dream, when can we go, what will we see, how can this change us─
As decades go this one has come out of the blocks hobbling. The world keeps throwing curves when we’re desperate for a fastball. It was with some measure of reassurance that I read that a CBS poll had found 80% of folk asked were against banning books from schools and libraries. You’ll take your good news where you find it.
All of 11 years old I’d fallen for iambic pentameter, and poems were produced as I tapped out the ten syllables to each line. I liked rhyming patterns, I experimented. A Roget’s Thesaurus fell into my possession, I used new found words to punch up my poems. My boredom with school had to do with impatience, to do with daydreaming. School work was sloppy, my poems were precocious for a preteen truant. Teachers tried but I was hard to get through to, my middle school English teacher thought I’d plagiarized my work, maybe my sister was ghost writing for me, the teacher and I had nothing for each other, well there was the mistrust.
Four years later my feisty Jesuit English teacher was fascinated with narrative and treasured how story in novels and feature length films stirred imagination. Hud the film starring Paul Newman, Melvyn Douglas and Patricia Neal was a coming-of-age event in my life. Womanizing, whiskey drinking, and foot and mouth disease drove the film’s fateful plot. I had never been exposed to a story with an anti-hero as the protagonist. The way Patricia Neal’s character could see right through Newman’s character─ how she had half a mind to have an affair with Hud, but she chose not to, encountering Hud’s dark character in adolescence affirmed the terms of engagement that were underway within my secreted self.
The Last Picture Show released in 1966 cemented Larry McMurtry’s impact, my imagination has never abandoned his influence. I gave the director Peter Bogdanovich too much credit, it was later I had realized that the power of a McMurtry scripted film is to do with the talent of the writer.
For some years I banged around small time West Texas doing juggling shows at schools, fairs and festivals. If a place was drying up, a building’s paint was blistering off from a scorching sun, this is where I preferred to incubate, progress in self-understanding was possible here.
Fort Stockton, Texas, a wiser up and comer walked it end to end. Filmmakers don’t have to shoot West Texas with black and white film, the region is monochromatic as is, it’s all dust and dirt, the brush is subsistent, water ain’t, you would be hard pressed to find a better edge of civilization to view the abyss from.
Fort Stockton makes no apologies for what it is and what it isn’t, it can’t be improved and if you stay, you’ll have to quell your lust and cravings for this stagecoach stopover. I feel Larry McMurtry’s melancholy in this town’s bones, the agency of his prose echo off the slow rolling big rigs heading east and west on state Highway 285. McMurtry elevated desolation against gleaming beauty, the adolescently cruel and curvaceous Cybil Shepherd’s character Lacy Farrow was a revelation, Jeff Bridges Cybil Shepherd obsessed Duane Jackson was my stand in stunt double.
The long drive and weary Fort Stockton arrival is purifying, what aches here is time forgotten human habitat, a place to pass through on your way, this isn’t a place to come stay, this is a corner of Texas you’ll want to be sure you bring your escape plan.
Fortunes are found in West Texas. Wind turbines send power to markets in Houston, Dallas, and Austin. The Permian Basin is nearby. Many a fortune has been won and lost here. If you like rattlesnakes, there are plenty, wind you’ll find even more.
I’ve played University of Texas, El Paso, hustling my supper by juggling, this I’ve done across the decades. El Paso’s signature consists of a diverse and multicultural hearty stock of citizens true to the cause. This is Beto’s turf. There is a sizable majority here, diverse from all corners of want and wander, a people ready to turn the page on the hard right, a border town knows the score, immigration is fact based, New York Post headlines are insult and unfounded.
My mother-in-law believed in her daughter’s pick of the pack from all the hounds pursuing her. If there is any benefit to being born an artist, it is witnessing the mother-in-law’s that come to the tight and penniless corner you are impaled upon. If art is gender sensitive, it is also open range, something feral, an intuitive animal. My mother-in-law wanted a heart driven man to love her daughter, she knew there was hell to pay, might as well stand up for passion, a more pragmatic path would devolve to an unhappy marriage. That first marriage ended on the rocks, even art can’t save something that’s gone wrong.
Truck break downs are no fun, but an unscheduled Texas stayover has always cut my way. Rear bearing on an axle on my ’67 Ford pickup went lost in a rainstorm at the Louisiana border. Spent time in Anahuac getting to know four walls. Found a shop that could cut the bearing off the axle where it had seized on, and a machinist who could press the new bearing onto the half shaft. Five-hundred and forty-four miles later I was down and out on my luck in Fort Stockton. This time it was an ignition problem, everything was right, did the work as it should be, but some demon was set loose outside San Antonio and mechanical misery ensued.
Parts of my yearning soul ached to be home, another part was in no hurry, motor didn’t leak oil, getting the engine back in tune was within reach, had the right tools, took my time. Once I had made the necessary repairs, I rolled further west pretending I was going to catch the sun. The mountains of West Texas cast a shadowy grey-bluish silhouettes upon the horizon, there are more than forty mountain ranges all on this western side, they got emptiness on loan out here, all for a handful of people scattered across the landscape, loneliness is affirmed here, it is a pristine view, near the famous portal to oblivion.
There is a sense of entering and exiting such terrain. This is the endmost edge of the Western High Plains, to the north is the legendary Llano Estacado, a place described as 85% sky and the rest grassland. West and south by highway I place the demarcation of this lost world at the entrance to the Barilla and Davis Mountains. Once here you’ll have a hard time imagining such a place as Fort Stockton back there, must be all made up, can’t be real, must be something so actual as to make a good day go bad, and a bad day the closest shave with the end of time as you’ll ever have to face. It’s worth a look, sometime if you’ve got any to spare, and it will be just as good when you put this encounter behind you. I wish I could promise you more, but I have learned the world as we find it will have to be utilized to move souls by poets, storytellers and the now and again just passing through these parts homeward bound itinerate showman.