Tag Archives: Busker

The Lunch Bucket Card Carrying Men in My Family

lunch bucket

Card Carrying Sandal Wearing Lunch Bucket Raised Man-Boy

I grew up in a lunch bucket household. The men I knew carried union cards. They drank beer, smoked cigarettes and loved Kenny Stablers stylish Oakland Raider leadership. They voted straight D ticket right on down the line.

Oakland wasn’t much of a port unless you call the Army Depot a port, but that was for the boys in Viet Nam. The Warehousemen, Longshoremen, Teamsters, Stevedores… they were on the Embarcadero in the City moving cargo in and out of town by truck, train and ship.

Then, the world changed. We got lots of stuff. Boy did we get stuff. We also got NAFTA, we got China into the WTO, we got stuff happening around the world while we hollowed out the working stiffs world here.

Arugula eating Whole Foods shopping people working at the highest high tech companies within the confines of some of the sweetest zip codes in North America were thought the wave of the future, not just the future they were the ever present stakeholders in our go-go everybody’s an investor economy.

Then, the thud and dud of the financial sector, the end of retiring on selling houses to each other, and the reality that those lunch bucket friends of ours are pissed off. I thought it spot on that R’s discussing cuts to capital gains taxes and inheritance taxes had to be blowing it out of their …. Lunch bucket workers want jobs, wages, benefits, and paid vacation. Few if any of us need capital gains tax relief.

So, here is my bottom line. Fair trade right? Not free trade. We need to set policy so that the lunch bucket types get a living wage, some medical, dental, and a school that doesn’t cost them an arm and a leg and their first born donated to the bank they got their student loans from.

Not so difficult to grip hold of is it? Clean streets, decent infrastructure, good schools, get on with the renewable energy revolution, stay the hell out of foreign wars, and could we cut the crap out of beating up on women? Right? Simple enough…

Those of us with the lunch bucket history? We drink less whiskey than our ancestors and we don’t smoke anymore. We drink wine. We watch our cholesterol. We like football but are worried about the concussion thing. And if the people in Washington don’t snap out of it and start doing the lunch bucket crowds business we’ll go there and bang a few heads together until they remember who we truly are.




Hat Snatching Owl’s and Brawling Burro Truths…

image The owl soared across the street to the limb of a cottonwood. The animal perched, balancing on one foot, with Mr. Garrett Harwood’s hat clasped and dangling in her clutches in the other.

Hot Spring Honeymoon

Owl attacks joggers and steals their hats…

Headline from The Guardian, Reuters in Portland, Oregon

I concocted a confrontation between an owl, a burro and an old man in 2012. Some background. I took out on the road with a circus in 1974. We traveled with a bear, fox, pheasant, monkey, dog and miniature horse.

I spent six months tending to the horse. A young stallion that I took from his mother had no choice but to hook into me; the world was too empty- too cold otherwise.

I spent one decade plus performing with an Belgian Shepherd and another decade plus with a Jack Russell Terrier. Sunshine and Lacey devoted their lives to the work we shared.

What I know about the animal kingdom has been derived from 10,000 performances and countless hours spent in a performing duo pair bond with two dogs and a miniature horse.

Garrett searched the ground. No hat. The owl screeched. Garrett startled. He looked from where the call had come from. The animal was in the tree. She had his best hat.

I was plenty sure when I built this scene that what I had imagined was within the realm of possibility. I not only have had two dogs in my act for the longest time I juggled fire while balancing a live chicken on my head.

Two decades plus with dogs and a near decade with a chicken and you get to know things about the animal kingdom that might slip by the casual observer. You know what an animal will do and what guides their understanding of the world they live in.

Bambalina (the burro) was disgusted. Her adversary was pathetic, spineless, not even a worthy opponent, and say what the world will  about the animal kingdom, rare if ever does an animal fight simply for the sake of a fight.

The Guardian’s story about this pesky owl in Salem, Oregon is a literary affirmation. An interested reader now knows by proof of fact that the writer is with regard to the animals portrayed in his work an authority on the subject.

Bambalina and the owl traded a knowing look. They knew a man was no match in a real brawl. Garrett slunk back. The old man turned and trotted away. He was not her equal. He ran for his life.

Once I formed the outline to Hot Spring Honeymoon and began to write Bambalina’s character her voice flowed. She required few revisions. Her ‘burro personage’ from word one rang true.

How and why that is has everything to do with the animals I trained and have shared so many years of my life with. So, besides having concocted a sexual farce (another bit of nature I have some experience of) there is also the reward a reader will find in discovering the truths to be learned about the animal kingdom, a lifeforce man is so inextricably woven into.

This is the realm of the interdependent nature of mind. Where we see mankind in a dog, and a dog sees the canine in us. I’ll leave you with one last piece of burro truth.

His burro approached. She didn’t care about anything but Fletcher. He tugged on the crushed straw western hat, yanked it out of her teeth. “You know I’m going to have to give you a whipping for this?”

No he’s not. Bambalina had heard that sorry act so many times, but Fletcher McCrea was all bark no bite, and it is why she remained faithful to this man. The sarcasm and snide commentary was part of something bigger than both of them. image

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Breathing is Now a Privilege… Hands Up Mother….

This Land is Your Land

We are no longer a freedom loving country. We are something else now. “Corporations are people my friends, and they are pissed off.”

Our counterinsurgency has gone domestic. We are the enemy now.

The police are dangerous. If you are arrested and it doesn’t go so well that is too bad. Our own security is threatened by our own security forces.

Privatized prisons and two million incarcerated felons who may never vote again are tossed on the scrap pile of democracy. Freedom’s costs keep skyrocketing.

We go to war in some far corner of the globe while here on our streets justice is a maniacal police officer who may use whatever force he deems necessary to bring his man down and then whatever is left of him in for questioning.

In case you haven’t noticed our national narrative is imploding. We need markets we do not need democracy. We need free trade we do not need freedom, that is so last century.

Equal justice under the law like universal health care is a luxury we simply can’t afford. Edward Snowdon knows this. Our human rights whither and wilt, the capitalists invade Washington, lobbyists spend their days purchasing what is left of our constitution. None of this is a secret.

Where to start trying to fix this mess? I say a few less dead black guys might be a good first step. A few more bankers thrown into those nifty privatized prisons might be a good second step. How about we bring Snowdon back and give a hero’s welcome? Can we stop with the enhanced interegation’s? It is not clear anyone can make an omelet out of these broken dreams.

Beaujolais Nouveau


Nothing welcomes this traveler home better than autumns release of this years newest youngest wine… Beaujolais. It is a chance to check on whether this last summer was as delicious as I remember.

Beaujolais Nouveau was lost on me until November 2001. That year I drank from a cask of Beaujolais at Nizza La Bella a neighborhood joint on San Pablo in Albany. It was all so complicated.

What happened is that I tasted youth and time. I drink wine it is as simple as that. It tastes good, it doesn’t taste good. Seldom does wine taste of youth. Rarely do I find myself thrown back upon an August nights full moon lighting a mountain ringed river bottom.

Beaujolais is like that. You can count the mere weeks since you last tasted the very same night that the grapes like you were still clinging to the vine. August nights of love and romance and it is so fleeting, so sweet and like everything vanishes into the next moment and becomes past until this youthful wine jolts you back into the prime of all primes those sultry late August end of summer nights.

Beaujolais is for me sentimental and I am if nothing else entirely too sentimental. I am a flaming sentimentalist. And gullible. I believe in keeping love and hope alive and as I plunge into the work that is winter. A winter so soon upon us there is at least this last fling to have with Beaujolais.

She is so silly. A puppy all floppy ears and ready to play while I am bundling up and hunkering down. I am reminded of imperfection and I am accounting here at the end of the year for all the glorious imperfections I have been allowed to get by with.

I will never drink Beaujolais Nouveau with any kind of gravity. I will never take my affair as anything other than a passing fling. But, that is what she is this wine. She is nothing but a one night stand and she was never meant to be anything else. To drink her and to love her for what she is and then for the rest of your autumns, all those years later as you part reluctantly with  glory of the past year you may ring the minds memories one last time of that summer the gods allowed to slip through your fingers like sand.

The Idiots Guide to Discovering Surefire Laughs

Edmonton Streetfest 2014
Edmonton Streetfest 2014

This Doesn’t Just Happen…

This is one way to be ready when a moment like this is gifted to you by laughter’s angels

“People are always trying to figure out who I am in my novels. I seem to be drawn to playing extremely fertile women who know next to nothing about birth control. That’s a man pretending to be a woman right there.”

I have been hitting my glass ceilings, picking myself up off the floor, feeling boxed in, while doing what I can to escape limitedness of my imagination. There are several pathways being used to produce a new way forward and they need to be orchestrated by a conductor who knows what the composition ought to sound like when played to laughter’s unbridled romp into the present moment.

I have been writing new material for the show. I’ve been thinking conceptually about what I want to say. I have been on stage negotiating this material with my audience while alternating back and forth between the new and old material. The new material comes without all those hooks and handles where the older material is surefooted. There are in the tested show material reliable notes that I might hit just the right tone as I wend my way from start to finish.

The degree that I go off old script and into new script is where I reap the whirlwind. Sometimes you are able to seize the audience and take them with you, sometimes they are reluctant guests, and sometimes stubborn and lethargic. Lesser energetic audiences require veteran composure. We are so burdened with simply holding our audience we haven’t much space to discover where those fresh new hooks and handles might be located.

I can fit a funny line here and there into any show. It is another thing to leap off into a longer unguided journey of ‘hookless and handleless’ material. Where the laughs might be located is only approximate to sometimes nonexistent. This is the classic rat in maze moment. We go one way then another trying to escape from the labyrinth of our expectations and our preconceived blueprint of where we feel an audience might allow us to take them.

For the last 24 shows I’ve advanced and retreated while working on the first 10 minutes of 20-25 minutes of material I have written. Now, I’ve jettisoned one third of the first 10 and now I am preparing to introduce another 15. I have another 26 shows to work on this puzzle. Of course this all part Virgo energy and part rat in maze.

Creating a cognitive framework allows me some means of measuring my progress and forces me to go against fears grain. You really must put your shoulder into your material or you’ll get stuck doomed to repeating the older material and never quite getting around to dealing with all the difficulties inherent in breaking in new material.

Finding laughs is not for the weak or timid. You have to be willing to stomach the unpleasant feelings. The result of these experiments is a reliable and well tested routine. I am a soloist’s team of rivals. I am writer, producer, director, and performer. Those tough nuts can be tough to crack. This is my work.

Passing on the tradition
Passing on the tradition
Hot Spring Honeymoon Front Cover
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Available Everywhere on Earth… Really

“Bambalina made me smile and laugh… She may have been one of the best characters in the book and that says a lot since she is a burro! I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for fun yet heartfelt read.”

It’s the Good Life

good life


“Romance… it gives a man something to do while he’s waiting for the only thing he really wants.”

A performer is just that. We earn our money by presenting whatever it is we have learned to do. Sometimes it is as simple as memorizing lines, and at other times it is the result of years and years of physical stunt training.

Our reputation hinges on our consistency. If all we had to do is walk on stage and execute the physical stunt then all our practicing would focus on just that. If we are comedy juggling act then we have to expend as much effort on being at the top of our comic game.

New comedy takes effort and time and practice and ultimately with all of that something might emerge that is repeatable and worthy of becoming part of our show. Stunt training is often a much longer process. We’ll work for months, sometimes years on a trick only to learn once it has made it into the show that it isn’t getting the kind of reaction we had imagined it would.

Every juggling act I know has wasted vast quantities of their precious time on tricks that never make the cut. Yeah, I know, everything accumulates into some positive contribution to what is ultimately presented. But, really the truth is that often what we’ve been working on amounts to a failed experiment and it’s time to get back to the drawing boards.

Living a lifetime on stage is to be caught in the world of performance pressure. We all have pressures, but the pressure to be a consistent top level performer is a particularly stressful life. I am sure a great janitor, a custodian of the finest caliber, can quietly fall off his game for a night. A performer in front of an audience has to face the spectacle of all the mistakes, the diminished emotional energy and general unsatisfied audience’s unfulfilled expectations. Ouch….

After decades on stage it never gets easier. You may find yourself in a polished sure thing vehicle, but if you are a creative you’ll have to move on from that pristine material and explore, and it leads inevitably to the very nature of what it means to be a survivor. I am such a creature.

I am breaking new material in down in the Riviera Maya region of Mexico. I am playing a string of resorts six nights a week. Remaining in the game, finding a path to being on stage, and reliably executing a practice and creative regime that supports this work I do is to say the least a challenge. Except for one night a week I’m swinging for the fences, looking to connect with my audience, send the ball over the outfield fence, and be the winner of the game. That one day off is golden…




Edmonton 1985-2014 Thirty Fabulous Festivals

Edmonton 2014


This 40 Year Veteran Street Act Scuffing Up the First Audience of the Day

Saturday morning 11:30 show was mine to do. Alan Plotkin using a telephoto lens from “World Headquarters” took this shot. He didn’t bring me much luck the day before and discretion being the better part of valor stood off so as not to jinx the delicate art of gathering the first audience of the day. Forty minutes later the show ended with an audience surrounding this veteran busker.

I am here for the 30th anniversary. If you want you can read about the festival here: http://edmontonstreetfest.com/30-years-of-memories/turning-thirty-the-birth-of-a-busking-festival

I sold my first copy of Hot Spring Honeymoon after the show to a woman in the audience!


The Old West is Waiting



stealhead, river running, and hay farming as far as an eye can see

The dirt road winds down the mountain into Troy, Oregon on the Grande Ronde River. Size of community is a mere handful of good souls. Groceries fetched by driving 50 miles north to Lewiston, Idaho.

The outpost captures my interiors yearning for serenity, solitude and majesty. Troy has all of this.

One of many way stations on my journey to the Edmonton International Street Performers Festival; we stopped along our drive north in Oregon to visit Lakeview, John Day, Baker and Troy. Onward to Moscow, Idaho and then Nelson, Slocan Park and Halcyon Hot Springs in British Columbia. Then, we drove through Banff National Park to Rocky Mountain House and finally here at the Edmonton.

We stopped along the road to understand the state of the rural American West. Towns, far and near, are all wearing their fateful choices as best they can. Moscow, Idaho is thriving on the spirit of the alternative cultures passion for good books, music, food and community. Moscow is an outpost for progressives in the north. Lakeview, Burns, and John Day ache in sorrow. Saw mills all shut down. There are no saw logs to cut. Homes are shuttered, downtowns empty, and the next boom yet to arrive.

I’m stunned. Why do we let these small towns wait? Can’t we mount a campaign to build the renewable energy here? Why not? Men and women are all waiting for good work and no work could be more useful than transforming the workers of extractive industries into workers making a livelihood in the future renewable industries.

Save the lives and the land in one fell swoop. Why doesn’t America dare to dream to go where we have never gone before?

Trouble in Nevada

Fletch's cabin small

Hot Spring Honeymoon

Just Enough Trouble to Call it Fun

Life imitates art. The recent standoff between the Bureau of Land Management and Clive Bundy is a more radicalized version of the politics I hinted at in Hot Spring Honeymoon. The free grazer movement depends upon more magical thinking than my character Garrett Harwood. My character is more or less disposed to free trade, less regulation and lower taxes. He’s a privatizer type and wants everything left to the private sector. He’s plenty angry but he influences things by means other than at the end of the barrel of a gun. I’m heartened by what I’ve heard on talk radio shows. Most folk as I’d anticipated prefer to see their community remain whole and healthy. People want their freedom but they’d prefer working from within the law. Garrett Harwood is a businessman and his temper while hot runs more or less to the civilized side of the road. He is not a secessionist and not a member of a militia. We do have a bulldozer in the book. There is also talk of “second amendment remedies,” but for reasons of comedy my villain only needed to quarrel and fistfight. I wanted a more nuanced conflict than this latest headline would allow. I prefer a man that still believes in democracy and capitalism. Once you draw down to the level of wanting everything your way and not any other way you have left the room of reason and are floating around a few French fries short of a happy meal…

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.



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 in the neighborhood