These carefully crafted essays are not jazz-related, but fragments of an unwritten memoir. They are recollections of people, places, events and interior landscapes from my formative years, in no particular order
Some are also affectionate tributes to my mother and father.
“Manage Your Expectations” 2014
This was the admonition I often received before Christmas, part of my parents’ machinations to balance out Christmas with my birthday nine days later on January 3. By age 8 or 9, I was consistently let down by Christmas gifts: they were never what I wanted, off brand, or even hand-me-downs.
The year they conspired for Mother receive a fancy camera (that never worked very well), I received her old Brownie camera as a gift. Jeez, one year my sister got a fucking horse!
But this was often set-up for a pretty decent birthday haul. Some of the best presents I recall were genuinely unexpected surprises: * an HO-scale model train set, mounted and running; * a 13-function folding camping knife with fork and spoon (more about this ill-fated gift, anon); * a cool transistor radio.
My ninth or tenth birthday with the brand new HO model train.
My sister, Robin, left.
I remember there was a treasure hunt to find the
radio, probably organized by my mother. After finding small gifts
along the way, and given the clue that my final gift was in the freezer,
I was so disappointed I didn’t even want to look. But urged to follow
through, that’s where it was.
The bright red transistor radio
with stylized brass-colored grill work over the speaker fit perfectly in
my palm. Its flimsy faux-vinyl case quickly deteriorated but the radio
lasted years. Of course, Ed was running his Electronic Sales retail
store at the time, so there was no way he didn’t acquire it discounted,
promo or demo.
I recall listening on Sunday afternoons when
“Emperor Bob” Hudson counted down the Top-20 hits. His shows always
ended with a sexy female voice-over: “Get off the freeways, peasants. The Emperor is on his way home.”
Young Walter Mitty Receives a Gift
contrast, the multipurpose knife I received one birthday was an
uncharacteristically imprudent gift for a seven year old. First, it
was way too large, about five inches long with a 4” blade. The giant
fold-out fork and spoon were large even for an adult mouth. Perhaps
they had ordered something smaller, or gotten a great deal on it and
decided to give it anyway, or that I would eventually ‘grow into it.’
don’t recall ever making much use of its more advanced functions:
scissors, file, corkscrew, bottle and can opener, saw and fish scaler,
leather punch, fish gutting blade, and auxiliary leather punch. But the
knife brought out in me a primal desire to play the hero. Acting out
this desire inappropriately several times, resulted in its confiscation
for months or years until I was “more responsible.”
confiscation came when my friend Vincent Jilly was loosing a tussle with
his older brother and screaming bloody murder. I tossed the knife
threateningly in their direction (no doubt this was something I’d seen
on TV or in movies, though this was the furthest thing in the world from
a throwing knife.) I had no desire to hurt anyone, just dramatically
effect events. The knife was returned to me about a year later.
Confronting the 'Bad Guys' on Knott's Train
about age nine, with malice aforethought, I did take said weapon on a
visit to Knott’s Berry Farm. My intention was to stage a confrontation
on the Steam Train ride (a full-sized train and cars) when the ‘bad
guys,’ who invariably halted the train, came aboard and ‘robbed’ it. I
knew it wasn’t real, but I wanted to play too. I didn’t know what would
happen, and had no intent to hurt anyone, just grab attention.
brandished the knife at one of the actors as he moved past my seat and
he easily wrenched it from my hand. I recall only faintly the fog of
subsequent events: being given a stern talking to by an official in a
dimly lit office: crying and being unable to explain my actions.
grateful that my sister now recalls the event as fun: hat I revealed
the knife to her, and my intent to participate. Not that I spoiled the
afternoon, as I so often did.
To this day I remain unable to
explain myself, except that I had a burning desire to play the hero and
put myself in the action by changing the script. Or that the knife, in
general, unsheathed primal feelings I couldn’t contain.
own that rusted old knife. I view it through a strange mix of
emotions. It is a talisman of incomprehensible urges and my faint
youthful grasp on reality: Walter Mitty with a 13-function fantasy.
Invitation to Rebellion, Spring 1967
Walking in my new neighborhood recently on the borderline of Berkeley and Oakland, I realize I’m very close to where my cousin Eleanor (Ellie) Pine lived when I visited her at age 15. It was a brief and seemingly uneventful trip that also included a visit to another cousin: Charlie, a student at UC Davis. Yet in retrospect the events described below were the platform that launched my personal, political and cultural rebellion.
My Cousin Ellie When I visited her in Spring 1967 Ellie was an Art student. She drove a tiny old unreliable English car, a Morris Minor. Several times we had to push start it, and jump-starts required special precautions due to its peculiar “reversible polarity” electrical system. During my first ride in the Morris we were accompanied by my aunt, also in town the first night or two of my stay.
On Skyline Drive for a scenic view of the East Bay, the Morris stalled. We attempted a push start on the nearest downhill grade: the driveway of Lawrence Nuclear Research Laboratory. It restarted, but only after my aunt got an attack of the giggles: being both terrified and tickled to be stuck at the secure front door of a nuclear weapons lab.
Over the next few days, Ellie delighted in showing me her artistic,
Bohemian life in the Bay Area. One night she took me to a double
feature of baffling, surrealistic Ingmar Bergman films. Afterward she
asked if I’d like to go out with her friends to discuss the films -- I’d
never heard of such a concept. We went to a coffee house and I probably
ate something sweet, while quietly observing her intellectual
acquaintances discuss matters incomprehensible to me.
Over the next few days, Ellie delighted in showing me her artistic, Bohemian life in the Bay Area. One night she took me to a double feature of baffling, surrealistic Ingmar Bergman films. Afterward she asked if I’d like to go out with her friends to discuss the films -- I’d never heard of such a concept. We went to a coffee house and I probably ate something sweet, while quietly observing her intellectual acquaintances discuss matters incomprehensible to me.
Next day Ellie took me on a long scenic drive around the Bay, with a running travelogue. Uncharacteristically, 2/3 of the way she picked up a hitchhiker, who turned into a ‘hook-up’ for her. In fact she later confessed her chagrin for being promiscuous, saying she’d gotten her feelings hurt even though she’d seen it coming. It all struck me oddly because Ellie was a big-boned, very plain girl.
She took me to a day of her classes at the Art Institute of San Francisco, trying to tempt or interest me with a demonstration of silk screening and explanation of how etching worked. Though I doubt she would have admitted wanting to shock or titillate, in a figure-study class there was a beautiful female modeling nude, which flustered me.
My last night Ellie felt obliged to plan, cook and serve a large meaty meal, since that’s what I was used to at home. Firing up the antique stove in her small flat, she followed an elaborate recipe for fancy French lamb chops in a rich mushroom sauce. Though I still had my childhood squeamishness about mushrooms, I ate heartily. She wasn’t eating meat, so at her urging I finished off the remaining chops. As you might guess, the whole mess came up in the middle of the night. Then I was off on the second leg of my trip, to cousin Charlie a ‘student’ at UC Davis. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d already overheard a sibling spat on
the phone between my cousins: he was disgusted with her artsy-fartsy
lifestyle, she with his “Edwardian pretense.” This seems pretty silly
today because both were probably still supported by their parents.
Battling siblings: Ellie and Charlie, early teens, above
Yet it was clear that my cousins, only five or six years my senior, exercised adult rights and privileges not yet available to me, nor even imagined.
My Cousin Charlie My brilliant cousin Charlie Pine (I was still unlearning his boyhood nickname, “Cappy”) was a certified genius. First-born of my father’s sister, he was a math whiz and quick wit who excelled in most subjects. His off-the-charts brilliance was an unspoken rebuke and his stellar academics an unattainable standard against which I fell far short. He’d always run circles around me in our personal encounters, benignly tolerating my relative slowness. Then he earned a math scholarship to Harvard!
(But I’ll give him this: during one of my earlier visits to the Pine family home in Phoenix he’d driven me out into the desert one night trying to catch over-the-border radio: Wolf Man Jack’s husky, “ya gonna love it ta death, baby!” I didn’t appreciate the totally hip geekiness of that until much later.)
Meanwhile, Charlie had caught a bad case of Marxism in the East and come West, probably to confront Governor Ronald Reagan’s repression personally. But his political radicalism was as yet unknown to me, described euphemistically by my folks, “he wants to put his number skills to work helping society.” But in truth he was among the millions of students radicalized by movements for Civil Rights, Free Speech on campus, and against the Vietnam war. After his first arrest at a protest demonstration he proudly called his mother.
All I remember of Davis is a dim, smoky apartment: Charlie and his buddy chain smoking, having intense political discussions I couldn’t follow. What did stick in my mind were his comments about my father’s wealth, and how well “uncle Eddie” was doing between book income and investments. Something like: you don’t need to worry because your father’s got money, you can do whatever you want; take advantage of it. I think he meant: do radical politics.
By contrast, I was sinking academically in high school and poorly adjusted. Which I believe was cause for a pop evaluation and surprise IQ test I received about that time. One morning I was more stoned than usual after smoking grass before school when ordered to a counselor’s office for a battery of tests. I was also “holding” as we called it: I had two baggies of very fine, very illegal marijuana in my pocket. No doubt I performed poorly on the test, being high, distracted and paranoid. But afterward, the academic expectations of my folks eased somewhat.
First, it was news to me that my family was even mildly wealthy. My folks coyly concealed it under their build-or-fix-it-yourself ethic: making their own cabinetry, clothing and horse corrals, doing haircuts and auto repairs at home, or shopping at Pennys, Goodwill, and day-old bread stores. They even squeezed a tiny income stream from our acre of avocado trees. My dad put the ‘p,’ the ‘s,’ and the ‘y’ in the word parsimony.
L to R: My grandfather, Kurt “Pap” Radlauer, cousin Cappy, and my father, Ed Radlauer Phoenix c. 1961
But after that visit to my cousins, it gradually got in my head
that I really did have a family safety net under me and probably could
do whatever I wanted. My parents’ subsequent response never
contradicted that notion.
I left Davis with a handful of protest newspapers and literature from SDS: the radical but not communist, Students for a Democratic Society. It fueled a taste for books like Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book! and Revolution for the Hell of It. In the subsequent year youth-driven rebellion erupted worldwide: French students triggered a general strike, the Prague Spring provoked Soviet repression, and American campuses lit-up with disorder over Vietnam and civil rights. I was not immune.
High School Rebellion, Agitprop and Expulsion, 1967-69 I was already smoking pot in 1967 and soon found LSD, consuming both regularly, including at school. I flaunted hippie couture: navy bell-bottoms, Marine dress jacket with Peace symbol, and sometimes a kerchief on my neck and rakish, almost-cowboy hat. I led a running battle with school authorities over the length of hair and sideburns.
In 1969, my junior high school year I ran for class president on a ‘protest’ ticket to ‘represent the disenfranchised,’ but mostly for agitprop. Neither I nor anyone else really knew what my campaign stood for. But we all knew: I was against whatever the hell was going on around here. And, oh yeah, that war over in Vietnam that I might be drafted to fight or die in.
I flew my freak flag high, acting up and acting out, testing rules to the limits. I was accused of being an “SDS communist” who was going to burn down the school, and denounced by a history teacher whom I’d neither met nor taken a class from. But I played the game, had fun, received special dispensation to bring a rock band on campus and generally raised hell. But I didn’t win, and after that my friends and I got even wilder.
Late that academic semester -- just about two years after visiting cousins -- I was thrown out of high school for outrageous political conduct (by a Mormon school principal named Romney, incidentally). In retrospect, my rebellion was triggered in part by the trip described above.
Reflection, 2014 When I visited my cousins they were about age twenty, and both had essentially formed their personalities and lives as they would remain. Ellie chose a commitment to art, Charlie (now Charles) to political activism. I moved to the Bay Area in 1970 and never left. I’ve always been drawn to artistic women and was married to one for a while.
Eventually settling in Portland, Ellie produced distinctive, intriguing and beautiful art in every possible medium all her life, with little recognition outside her personal sphere. Art simply flowed from her at all times, engaging her mind and spirit. Her working career, relationships and marriage were subordinate to the muse. Sadly Ellie was weighed down by a heavy burden: diabetes and obesity, the result of genetics and lifestyle, that caused her death in the early 1990s.
In my humble opinion, Charles, Charlie, cousin Cappy became infected by a rigidity that sealed him in a personal and ideological sarcophagus. Politics short-circuited his genius, and he remained frozen in amber, working as an activist in Davis, California for decades. When he married some 35 years later, he went to China to select and court a perfectly nice, intelligent, pretty, and ideologically correct wife to bring home and wed. They live happily in Oakland.
My activism and revolutionary politics were exhausted after ten or fifteen years. I gradually found other useful purposes in life, but have remained nonconformist and leftist, and worked the phone banks for both Obama campaigns.
Certainly there was more to the etiology of my rebellion and anger as a young man, but that’s another story. I’m even willing to entertain the notion that, had the dominant protest paradigm at that time been today’s Tea party and gun rights, take-back-my-country rhetoric, I might just as easily have been swept onto a different path.
And indeed, I have used family money as a safety net. It has allowed me to choose creative paths, though at times limited my emotional growth and independence. But on balance the safety of family money freed me to seek gratifying pursuits in life.
I believe I might have recently spotted the two-unit building
where Ellie lived on a cool, tree-lined block.
remodeled, I thought to recognize the facade and layout: two doors, one
leading to a walk-up flat.
Forty-seven years ago there might have been a
Morris Minor parked in front and a young artist upstairs just spreading
her wings to soar into a life of art.
The Prince of Escalona 2010
My sister Robin and I loved to visit Escalona School where my father, Ed, was principal when we were maybe 7 or 8. (We went to school elsewhere, closer to home.) I believe he was the schoolʼs first principal and our early visits took place while the classrooms and offices were still under construction and incomplete. There was a skeleton staff, but the place was nearly empty.
The most fun was playing with the internal phone system; a very special treat. With a four digit code I could call up Robin over in, say, the Nurseʼs Office. Or she could call me at Fatherʼs Principal Desk. We did a lot of playing the grown-up roles of running a school, etc.
What I recall even more vividly was that on rare occasions I visited the school when it was in some kind of summer session or odd parent-teacher day or other. For what reason we were taken I canʼt remember; maybe my school was out that day, and my mother working, or taking baby Dan to the doctor.
Inevitably I was an unfamiliar face so it was natural that at some point another kid would ask, “who are you?” or “where are you from?” or “whatʼs your name?” Stating matter-of-factly that I was Principal Radlauerʼs son was usually met with scorn or ridicule.
Like saying I was a magic being from outer space: “Iʼm Supermanʼs son and I have a ray gun in my pocket.”
Since Edʼ style was to be out and about on the grounds and available to his students, Iʼd say, “OK, go ask him if you donʼt believe me.” When my True Identity was confirmed I could see the change in other kidsʼ eyes. They seemed to perceive a cloak of power descend upon my body. I was instantly transformed into something like Royalty: admired, apart and perhaps even a little feared. Hail the Prince of Escalona; Heir to the Throne; Dauphin of the Playground; a person of unique status.
Usefully, it was proof against teasing, sharp practice or bullying. But I played it cool; didnʼt throw my weight around . . . Noblesse oblige. If it drew unfavorable comment or insult behind my back, frankly, I didnʼt care. Iʼm only a visitor in these lands.
(I donʼt recall how often my sister Robin might have visited Escalona or what her experience was but Iʼm curious to know.)
Oddly this sensation was magnified one summer when I was enrolled by Ed in the summer session there. I suspect I was between 4th and 5th grades, but might well have been even younger, when I was placed in a class for 5th about-to-be-6th graders. This upward placement was because my school was academically (and socio-economically) well beyond Escalona, and many of the kids were probably there for remedial catch-up.
I recall the first day or two in the classroom was taken up with a lot of repetitious nonsense about what was expected regarding attendance, discipline, the Rules and Regulations. The Riot Act was read right up front, and . . . was there a system of demerits? Consequences for poor schoolwork or behavior were to be serious and unpleasant. Names would be taken and asses kicked. Hard.
The first couple of days I kept my head down and stuck to my knitting, went virtually unnoticed in the class. The aura of princely power might have been there, but I wasnʼt feeling it, plus I was taken aback by the harsh tone of the classroom regime.
But I was soon aware that the schoolwork, particularly the reading, was easy; material Iʼd mastered long ago. Simple, little-kid stuff.
So around the third or fourth day I was, frankly, bored. One particular assignment was so elementary to me that I quietly asked the teacher -- and I believe these were my exact words -- “do you have something harder?”
The instructor fixed me with an intense, jaundiced eye. Was I jerking his chain? A comic? No student in the school had ever asked him that! Skeptical, he queried me to confirm that I wasnʼt bluffing, did in fact know the material, and left me with something like, “weʼll have to see.”
Before that first week of summer session was over I was informed by Ed on the ride home that I wouldnʼt need to come back to Escalona summer school.
I sensed that he seemed amused (perhaps secretly pleased) that his own academically-middling son was far above these older, struggling, underprivileged kids. A bunch who probably werenʼt the pick of the litter anyway. I was done. Released. We would find something else for me to do that summer.
Princes donʼt march with the infantry. Perhaps I was Heir after all.
I Married an Artist!!
I had the exhilarating experience of being married to an artist for over a decade. She was a creative dynamo who produced art copiously in many media. Seven years after our divorce, I hope the statute of limitations allows me a few gentle observations.
At all times she was producing art or preoccupied with her next creative project: bronze sculpture; painting, drawing and assemblages; pottery and ceramics; color gardens; tile and mosaics. Then she photographed and wrote about it all.
Her home and garden were exuberant works of art featured in magazines and on TV. A seamstress assisted with her custom wardrobe. The plates at her table were fashioned by her own hand (but woe unto the husband who accidentally broke one washing it).
Never not Making Art She was never not making art: always scribbling in a sketchbook on a plane, train, or even a music concert. If a restaurant table had paper on it she’d pull out colored pencils for us to doodle with together, sometimes saving a pleasing scrap. At a mountain pond or rocky shore she’d recruit me rearranging stones in purposeful ways.
She and her lifestyle were artistic creations supported by her successful landscape contracting business. She installed gardens from $50k up, preferably incorporating her original artwork, custom designed with the client. I watched her best customer gradually spend over half a million on gardens and art.
She got me involved in the art, making it easy to work or play in ceramics, glass, or concrete. We worked together on collage books, and I assisted in her design and production of garden elements in metal, tile and cement.
Her writing was full of brilliant ideas, but hopelessly unstructured: chain-of-consciousness riffs and run-on sentences. So I edited and wrote with, or for her: e-mail, business letters, publicity and hype. Her first book.
I always let her have all the credit, happy to bask in the reflected glory of a Garden and Art Diva, I had my own gig. (But she hated it when I called her the Martha Stewart of Berkeley, an image I can’t shake to this day.)
Even our wedding reception at an arty local restaurant featured a show of objects we had created together. Wall-mounted shapes symbolizing our union: pears, hearts and strawberries fabricated of metal mesh, festooned with colored paper, string, ribbon, fabric and sweet messages celebrating our love.
She was a mystic, believing she had psychic powers, and had communed with the spirits of Monet and Matisse, from whom she drew inspiration.
Kidnapped for Art As an artist she didn’t act the Diva with me (I wouldn’t stand for it), but she was headstrong. I often found myself kidnapped to her various projects without warning or consent: “I need you to help me pick Calla lilies. I’m going to cast them in bronze.” An hour later we’re at a bronze foundry. I’m assisting her modelling in wax. “Here, you do one,” she says. A month later what I had made in wax, was bronze. (In the divorce I claimed it as an original work of art, which had been priced to sell for $3500.)
One afternoon I arrived at the house surprised to find the street almost completely blocked by a gigantic crane truck. She had hired a 125 foot crane to lift several-ton boulders over the house and into her latest home garden addition. Another time, driving us home from a vacation in her Ford work van, she diverted our course to a nursery then took an hour or two acquiring plants for work and home, requesting my assistance. She did this TWICE in the same afternoon! (I didn’t help much the second time.)
If it does not sound churlish, her Art is not above criticism. Mostly figurative, it is self-consciously naive, the imagery presented very flat. Even her sculptural figures are strongly two dimensional. As in classical Egyptian or Japanese art. There are reams of art theory to defend that choice, and she did. But I always suspected it also concealed a lack of technique for three dimensional portrayal.
Nonetheless, she’s a deeply intuitive artist, drawing as much from her internal imagery as the world around her, a playful celebration of color, lacking in too much modern art. Her gardens are dense explosions of color, brilliantly manipulating space and focus.
Gardens and Art She’d long been traveling to the great Art gardens of the world, and we visited several. Some were vast, centuries old, integrating art, sculpture, architecture and design as she aspired to do. Her greatest hope was to someday create a destination garden of her own. A foundation dedicated to celebrating color in the garden, and of course her Art, a la Nikki de St. Phalle.
The surrealistic Las Posas y Casa de Edward James in Mexico was memorable. Las Posas is a botanical garden, jungle fantasy and sculptural construction, its tropical pools meandering through 15 acres of abstract edifices, towers and follies. Its a mad, whimsical profusion of concrete forms, the obsessive creation of which took decades. (However, the eight-hour drive across central Mexico in a rental car both ways -- with military check points -- left me with hemorrhoids for years.)
Gardens, Art and Business My wife paid me well to help in production work for her business, and I gradually became deeply involved in the office work too: billing and estimating, rudimentary bookkeeping, and producing her publicity materials. Polishing her artistic images to a high gloss in Photoshop, I digitized and organized her considerable graphic assets for publicity and promotion, composed brochures, and built a web site.
Her landscaping business had stellar gross revenues, topping a million one year. But she never reported an income anywhere near that thanks to extensive deductions, some of which seemed a little close to the line to me. Yet audited by the IRS one year she was clean, much to my relief and surprise.
She mounted a couple of spectacular demonstration gardens at the popular San Francisco Flower and Garden Show. Each was an outlay of over $50k in labor, materials, plants and new art. She was delighted to win Best-in-show her first year, but quite put off by mere Honorable Mention for an equally over-the-top effort a couple years later.
While the garden shows were artistic and marketing triumphs, financially they were reckless, failing to draw new clients or sell expensive sculpture as intended. Afterward the plants, materials and art were simply folded into her ongoing elaboration of her own garden, a few items peddled to existing clients.
Fueled by her compulsion to make art and show people what she could do, the lavish expense of each dazzling new project was justified as a sound business investment. But on balance she lost money and continually expanded her debt. With stellar, gold-plated credit, the Bank loved her: she was never late with a payment, refinanced often, and they kept extending new loans.
Fortunately, we had always kept separate accounts. She had paid for all this on her own, and supplied a good portion of my income as well. When she divorced me, I absolutely refused to assume a penny of her considerable debts. She was already in possession of the significant assets -- the house and a quarter million worth of bronze -- and her lawyer was way more vicious than mine, leaving me nothing, but no debt either.
I wish her well and hope she achieves her destination garden. She deserves it.
Had I stayed I would not have realized my own goals as I have in recent years. I loved living in a high-end art project, but holding that tiger by the tail became exhausting when: I Married an Artist!!
MY MYSTERY MISSIONS WITH RUTH AND ED 2013
In 1988 or ‘89 I decided I wanted to share a couple of ‘mystery missions” with my mother and father, Ruth and Ed. This was a game and tradition they enjoyed: surprising each another with an outing, destination undisclosed, designed to delight the other. My mission with Ruth was a great success. With Ed not so much.
Ruth’s mystery mission: Elephant seals at Ano Nuevo Beach
This was a day-long mission. My then girlfriend Valerie and I picked her up at San Francisco airport, and we drove south, along the Coast on Highway 1. This must have been late winter or early spring as the Elephant Seal season peaks in March-April.
The drive was lovely and Ruth was delighted with the destination, about a half-mile walk through sandy dunes to view the seals from a safe distance, with a Park interpreter to answer questions and enforce safety. Lots of pictures were taken.
Mother took a very nice photo of Valerie and me. Though that relationship ended within the year, the photo framed with others hung in the back hall for 25 years.
After Ano Nuevo, we went to Duarte’s in the nearby (formerly Italian fishing village) Pescadero for the Sunday all-you-can-eat Chioppino feed, a long-standing tradition. (Crab and seafood in a traditional tomato/wine-based stock.)
Then we drove her to the airport for a return flight that same evening. It was a successful mystery mission for all concerned.
Ed’s mystery mission: recording the Santa Rosa Dixieland Festival
Ed’s mystery mission was, in a word, unsuccessful. My plan was to let him see me recording live jazz for broadcast at a nearby Jazz festival. (And there was precedent of him being delighted in one of her broadcast-related missions.)
He got in town the night before, and we took him to dinner. He’d already met Valerie, so that was no hurdle. He stayed at a cheap hotel I’d booked for him in San Francisco. Maybe a little too cheap, as he had some choice remarks about the very snug bathroom arrangements. Ed was fascinated enough with his view of the homeless dumpster action across the street to later write about it.
Early on a Saturday we drove to the venue about 40:00 north of the City in Valerie’s car with the equipment well concealed. Ed actually figured out the destination on the freeway just before our exit when he spotted a sign for the Santa Rosa Dixieland Festival.
I would normally begin set-up at 10 or 11 am, and record music from about noon into the evening -- taking a break here or there, and hour off for dinner. We were joined by my partner in crime, also named Ed. Ed M. was a guy around 60-ish, an electronics and recording geek, former Ampex employee who was happy to join my Tom Sawyer act. He supplied most of the equipment (recorders, mics, cables, stands, mixer) in order to get in on real-live recording sessions.
But Ed R. must have found the prospect less than enthralling. Before my set-up was complete, partner Ed M. came to me saying he had a pressing personal emergency at home and simply HAD to leave, apologies etc.
Father was clearly eager to bail from this mission, saying he thought it better to return to SF with my partner rather than tarry 12 hours until I was done recording and packing up . . . that he’d seen what I was doing, and took pride, but that he’d really would prefer to depart with Ed M.
Though I never queried either of them about it, I much later deduced that Ed R. probably bribed Ed M. to get him to bail, so he’d have a ride out . . . soon.
I know he appreciated the effort, but I planned the wrong mystery mission.
Ed on-air with Dave, KCSM-FM, c. 1984 San Mateo. CA
WHY VICTOR HUGO? 2010
This is the way I recall an incident from when I was between 8 and 10.
Mother is way up high on a stool, or chair, vacuuming the high, dusty bookshelves in my bedroom. The lower shelves contain toys, kids books, etc. But the upper shelves are for the thick grown-up books belonging to my Mother and Father, such as their old college textbooks, literary anthologies, novels. She is methodically removing vacuuming and replacing each book.
But as she approaches a particular thick blue-grey volume I’m becoming flustered and fearful. Because I’ve concealed a forbidden treasure in that volume: pages of pornographic pictures I’d found somewhere. (I forget where I’d found them but maybe they were something of my father’s that I had found and wanted to squirrel away.)
The vacuum cleaner, which I’m holding up for her so that the hose can reach that high, is loudly roaring my approaching doom at the discovery of my sin. It drowns out the sound of my crying.
She tugs. “Lift that hose UP,” my mother shouts down at me, but then notices my tears and asks, “What’s wrong?”
“Stop!” I manage to blurt through my sobs and gasps, “Don’t look at those books!”
She looks down at me. Notices my upset. Turns off the loud vacuum cleaner. Steps down to my level.
She’s perplexed. “Why not?” I can’t speak through my agitation. Blubbering with upset, fear and embarrassment. I finally manage to say something like, “Bad pictures.”
At first she’s confused trying to settle me down. I say something like, “naked pictures.”
Then it dawns on her. “Oh, you mean . . . cheesecake pictures? Girlie pictures?” I nod.
“OK, OK,” she says soothing me. It seems at first she wants to calm me rather than yell at me. Not angry. Maybe I’m not about to be punished, “I think you’re a little young for that. Just show me where they are and we’ll throw them away.”
I point in the general director of the high shelf -- and she’s back up there searching behind the volumes, finding nothing. Until a tall, thick volume falls open. And she’s shocked.
Because I’ve cut out a large hunk of middle pages gutting and defacing the large and seemingly unused (perhaps even forgotten) tome, creating a hidden compartment. This is something I’ve seen in a movie -- perhaps “The Moon Spinners,” with Haley Mills or a “Hardy Boys” mystery serial -- for concealing secrets, contraband. Treasures.
Now Mother IS angry. “You’ve ruined this book. You’ve DEFACED it!” she admonishes. “You know better,” she cries. “You know not to tear or write in LIBRARY books, right? You KNOW better.”
The large volume seems to hold great significance to her. “WHY VICTOR HUGO?” she moans, I love this book! Why?”
Now I am ashamed, and embarrassed all over again. Upset and weeping. I’m perceiving that, in ruining this object, I’ve badly compounded what had been to her a relatively innocent sin. I am wholly speechless as she laments with displeasure and disgust.
I don’t know who Victor Hugo is. It was just the largest, thickest, most unused-looking book I could find. To conceal my secret in. I didn’t see the harm, even if I knew it was wrong. I thought it wouldn’t be found. I’d even forgotten it was there.
“How can I trust you if you do things like this?” I have no words for my embarrassment, my shame.
“Are there any others?” she asks. “No.”
Mother doesn’t even seem concerned about the girlie pics. It’s DEFACING the Victor Hugo anthology that is a far larger transgression
Gradually she simmers down, and so do I. “Well, we’ll have to talk to Father about this.”
Uh-oh. I can’t calculate the possible ramifications. Nonetheless this seems to signal the matter is closed for the moment. No immediate punishment follow and I recompose myself as the matter fades. The noisy, dusty vacuuming continues until I’m assigned other chores.
Nothing ensues. No punishment. No comment. No talk from Father, no further mention of the defaced volume of Victor Hugo. Or girlie pictures.
* * *
Not long after this my mother hands me an empty cigar box. “Father says you can have this. Anything you want to keep private you can put in here and nobody will look.”
The message is: its OK for little boys to have some secrets, but its not OK to ruin other people’s possessions, especially books. If you respect other people’s privacy they will respect yours.
But I also receive the lesson that its OK for boys to look at pictures of naked women.
A few years later in my early teens I will keep a good sized collection of men’s magazines in a clothing drawer, which my parents must know are there. But they’re never mentioned nor interfered with.
A yoga instructor was using seasons as a metaphor and it got me to reflecting on turning 62 next week.
I’m clearly in my Autumn. It is a season of rich colors, when the labors of Spring and Summer provide a bountiful harvest. Yet one feels the approaching chill of winter.
All the more reason to savor the late warmth of the season.
MY MOTHER IS AN ARTIST 2010
My mother was an artist in many media. But she didn’t look like an artist.
In her later years she appeared to be a conventional grey-haired 80-something lady in a funny sun hat. Like a grandma off to Reno for the slots, or out to a Denny’s breakfast with other widows of a certain age, complaining about their daughter’s worthless ex-husbands or bragging on their successful sons.
But no. Until nearly the end she was busy writing, weaving artistic baskets, attending classes, composing in Photoshop, writing in her journal or planning the release of her 251st book.
Her artistic creativity started long ago. Back in college at UCLA with ceramic masks and sculpture. These objects were in our home when I was growing up. From earliest memory they were powerful images in my psyche.
Here, in the form of a critic's review, is an introduction.
Primitive Visage I (Mask)
This is the hirsute countenance of a glowering Wild Man; the powerful jutting brow enlightened by Nietzsche or Jehovah; bulging eyes contain a dash of . . . is that surprise or fury? When I was small it was a little scary.
The bristling vengeful Old Testament beard is rendered in needle-edged stippled ceramic sharp enough to tear flesh. The color is flat mud; the darkest brown can get before it becomes black. It reflects no light. But in fact it glows darkness and mystery. The impenetrable face is a fortress of judgement.
Primitive Visage II (Squatting Man figurine)
To further embarrass, shock and condemn us there he squats: the very same confrontational primitive, his masculinity unclothed. His over sized simian hands and feet are splayed apishly.
All the lines and angles of converge toward his maleness, also unashamed. Karl Marx naked, glaring, posed as the Wild Man of Borneo
His Cro-magnon otherness is emphasized by the mild emaciation and nacreous purpurescent glaze of his skin. The body language of this primitive says our clothed bodies are even more naked than he.
This cheeky modernist vase has just escaped from a Picasso still life. A cool pale blue finish almost powdery to the touch (or eye) suggests modesty, but cannot conceal its resolutely Avant-garde stance.
Its sleekly fluted, yet blocky lines do not want to pour liquid. I wouldn’t put flowers in it for it says plainly, “I’m not for that.”
The gloss black deco handle will not accommodate your fingers; this object could only fit the hand of one of Pablo’s unfortunate many-visaged ladies.
In fact, you’d better not touch it or you’ll be sucked into the topsy-turvy Cubist room from whence it was borrowed.
Horse Head Bust
The only piece in this
collection larger than a bread box, its restful bulk is fleshy and flesh colored.
To me it seems feminine in some undefinable manner. Restful.
Contained. The shape of a sleeping baby viewed from some peculiar
The power is muted, held in abeyance, occupying a vague
yet definitely equine form. The wildness is momentarily domesticated,
craving unity and distance simultaneously. And the head is bowed
earthward as if offering the top of its head for a master’s reassuring
Mysterious Green Figurine (maquette)
The murky color of algae, is this an Ondine arising from a lake?.
Or is it a Fallen Angel condemned to forever be a melted, unformed thing: faceless, female, alien, sexless?
Why does the shape of its head suggest a question mark? Is it entering, or leaving its veiled chrysalis. Does it know? Does it care? Can it weep?
Its frozen grief seems beyond tears. Will it never tell me why?
Cups Shaped Like Pitted Olives (not shown)
Greens again. Rather dark olive greens . . . did the college offer an abundance of green glazes? and why such moody shades of this optimistic hue?
These asymmetrically organic tumblers might seem unremarkable, almost childish. Ovoid gourd forms, but squashed in on two sides as if grabbed up by the hand of their maker while still moist and plastic. Brobdingnagian pitted olives become steins for Troglodytes.
Odd that I still recall them after all these years.
Light and unconcerned this is an untroubled mask. I‘ve long suspected it was secretly a self-portrait, intentional or not. The light white finish adds to the bright optimism. Though somewhat flattened, the fine crackling of the glaze adds dimension, depth and texture.
Appearing somewhat androgynous it seems to look inward as well as outward. This is a face untroubled by the past or future. (There are other ceramics in this collection, quite striking, omitted for now.)
The Artist as Young Woman
These ceramics surprise me as they were done by an essentially girlish, somewhat naive, and as yet unformed, young woman. Unlike a mature artist with a consistent theme or style, these works are wildly diverse as she tries various genres, samples exotic ethnicity and surprises herself with what emerges from the experiments.
This young artist a surprising source for imagery of such strength and mystery. We aren't dealing with a progeny of Greenwich Village bohemians or red-diaper intellectuals. She’s not the product of an artsy-fartsy Northeastern prep school.
She's from Wyoming for chrissakes. Decent, high-plains, red-blooded Midwestern stock. Her unimaginative mother was frank and dour. Her father a Protestant scout master with a taste for model trains, car camping in Yosemite, and woodworking.
But isn’t this part of the contradiction of creativity? That what emerges from an artist transcends its source.
The Artist as Young Mother
married before leaving college. She was soon learning the domestic
arts of child rearing, knitting and sewing, fruit canning and household
bookkeeping -- not to mention the related fine arts of penny pinching,
family scheduling, pet care, rudimentary large animal husbandry . . .
and husband management.
Her strong drive to work in many spheres
simultaneously -- including employment outside our home and taking up
the creative writing for children she was called to -- forced my mom to
become fiercely organized and self-disciplined. And she continued to
dabble in the plastic arts, paint, pastels and clay while introducing
them to my brother, sister and I. By her early 30s, a decade or so into
her marriage, my mother was becoming a successful writer publishing
books for kids.
Authors, educators, parents with children, c. 1962.
ASHES RESTING 2012
Together my mother and father’s ashes now lie intermingled on one of the hillsides where they lived their partnered lives . . . and in my heart as well.
In bucolic isolation they built a house of art, music, self-expression; never a dull moment, and rarely a careless one. For over a half decade they were lovers, contestants, partners: each a soloist and ensemble player; both played lead and backup.
The all-too-human flesh of the most determined among us weakens and fails. So will we all.
But none could wish for more satisfying, productive or complete lives than theirs. Few could expect a richer cavalcade of horses and guitars, trucks and electron tubes, barbeque, avocados, books and basketry.
And at the end they were grateful, facing the void clear-eyed; finally ready to surrender the cares of life to others.
Their ashes rest now on a gently sloping hillside they chose together.
Proceed with caution. The last segment leaves most with a chill.
Rapists, Molesters, and a Murderer I Have Met 2014
Though I have lived a relatively sheltered life, between age 13 and 23, I had occasion to meet several men who turned out to be criminals, sexual predators or worse.
Not until decades afterward did I realize that Mike Brown, a friend of mine from late in my high school years, had probably committed several rapes during our acquaintance. Mike seemed like a nice enough guy, and fancied himself a ladies man. His thick mane of shoulder-length black hair and tight jeans may have made up with the ladies for any deficit in his conversation or less-than-dazzling intellect.
OK, I admit, Mike was a bit of a punk. On his belt, in a case, he wore a legal six inch hunting knife. His only other notable feature was consumption of about four or more 16 ounce Royal Crown Colas daily.
But we were just stoner buddies. My major assets were usually having my mother’s car or father’s truck available, and a need for weed that Mike was willing to occasionally manipulate. I now suspect that more than once, he managed to keep me unaware while he forced himself on a female, necessitating rapid exit from a situation. His excuse was usually something like, “she got weird,” or “her parents are coming home.”
Once, sans vehicle, we stayed the night with a young lady (whose parents were out of town) and her companions. I was striking out and didn’t expect sex, thought we were just crashing. But Mike woke me in the early morning saying we had to leave fast before her parents arrived. Peculiarly, the girls were not there as we departed in haste.
During the long hitch-hike home, Mike was skittish about cop cars, once even diving over a berm off the highway as CHP approached. He brushed off my “what's up?” saying that he had warrants and cops didn’t like him.
A few years later I visited Mike in Renton, Washington where he was living with a beautiful woman, but working a shit job. As far as I can tell he had become a stable and responsible citizen. We gradually lost touch. It wasn’t until decades later, maybe 10-20 years ago, that I reconstructed in my mind what were probably a couple of his crimes to which I had been proximate or accessory.
YMCA in Orange County
The YMCA in Orange County in the 1960s was chock full of child molesters, though I never had direct contact with any. During a couple summers of YMCA activities there was evidence everywhere, rumors, gossip.
For one thing all swimming by boys was done in the nude: swimsuits were not allowed in pools operated by the “Y.” This was claimed to be healthier and natural. (As for Christianity -- the “C” of YMCA -- it was barely noticeable other than the usual Sunday morning homilies. I encountered more energetic proselytizing in the Boy Scouts, or a camp run by the Quakers.)
One summer I went on a nine-day Y-sponsored excursion: a car camping caravan through the natural wonders of the Southwest. We were assigned in groups of six to a counselor/driver. The problem was the overall leader: I’ve forgotten their terminology but he was equivalent to Scoutmaster.
Scoutmaster had his own RV, powered up at the campgrounds, lights blazing into the night. There was a boy, a ‘special friend,’ who stayed (slept?) in the RV. The boy was wan, moody and aloof. Even to my 13 year old mind, this stunk to high heaven. Raising the subject was slapped down, hard.
I sensed my counselor stifling his discontents and knowledge of this crime. He was not only powerless, but trying to survive bad logistics, and pack-abuse by a half dozen pissy, obstreperous 13-year-olds lacking interest in the natural wonders of Zion, Grand Canyon or Death Valley, myself included.
It’s possible, if memory serves, that the poor child in question left the trip early ‘due to illness’ or some such excuse. But as I say, those are my observations, I was never hassled.
Richard Allen Davis
This meeting occurred two decades before the abduction and murder of Polly Klass, for which Davis has been convicted, and awaits execution.
The Davises were a sweet, respectable, and well-liked extended family in the bucolic rural community of La Honda where I drove the San Mateo County Bookmobile once a week c. 1974-75. One afternoon the Davis brood included their adult son, Richard.
Richard stood out. About my age, he was large, tall and over-sized, with medium length curly hair and beard, wearing jeans, boots and a light army coat. His gaze was chilling and the locals regarded him oddly askance. He might have inquired about or applied for a library card. I don’t recall; but I do remember interacting with him.
Afterward I was informed that everyone suspected him of murdering his girlfriend. She’d been killed and stuffed in a chest. Richard Davis had been the prime suspect. But he’d been tried and exonerated -- except in the minds of the La Honda community.
Twenty years later in the early 1990s, when the notorious Polly Klass abduction and murder was in the news, it gradually dawned that Richard Allen Davis was the murderer among the molesters and rapists I have met.