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Ghosts of Fallen Towers by
(121 Stories)

/ Stories

I hated the Trade Center towers. They went up while our movement came down — too tall, monolithic, ugly, twin monuments to Wall Street and American capitalism. I guess Osama bin Laden hated them, too.

How do you remember what you never forgot?

The phone rang at 7 a.m. and Eric’s girlfriend called from Greenwich Village and told us to turn on the television. Grumpy, we rose and gathered around the electronic hearth in time to watch the towers fall in a horrifying cacophony of sirens and screams and an unfathomable roar, one-by-one in interminable succession, the last-struck first, the first-struck last, according to the laws of physics.

We huddled all day and all night before the television, a large map of the Middle East spread on the kitchen table. Feverish, we clung to sanity by trying to understand the immeasurable, incomprehensible event we had witnessed.

How do you remember what you never forgot after you learned post-9/11 that…

Saudis flew the 9/11 aircraft;

the Bush-fronted Cheney administration, all members of Project for a New American Century — Cheney, Rumsfeld with his perennial smirk, armchair hawk Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleeza Rice, Bill Kristol — heard the chatter and waited, seized on the horrifying slaughter to renew Middle East influence lost since the 1973 OPEC embargo;

the flaming horror provided the flim-flam to implement the Cheney hopscotch from Afghanistan to Iraq, a leap designed to destroy Saddam’s fragile, unified, secular nation and regain control of its oil;

the accidental success of Bin Laden’s attack led to the Bush Doctrine (America can launch preemptive attacks on any sovereign nation);

established Homeland Security, rife with the ring of fatherland uber alles;

fostered the 2004 National Security Act and the Patriot Act leading to an unchallenged increase in domestic eavesdropping and metadata;

strengthened the precedent established in Korea and Vietnam to wage uncontained, undeclared war;

sanctioned the contracted privatization of U.S. military and logistical deployment, spawning Blackwater and giving suck to Erik Prinz.

This list rolled off the top of my head. I could go on.

But the sadness, oh the sadness. Learning of lives lost, of illness descending on the brave and undeserving, families fragmented, fear exploited. And the rage, not just at Islamic terrorists, but at the sanctioned terrorism of U.S. government powerbrokers who picked up the ghosts of the fallen towers and ran with them. Time brings all history forward with it, like the chains of Marley’s ghost. Nothing forgotten, all recalled.

#  #  #

Senior Moments by
(121 Stories)

Prompted By Senior Moments

/ Stories

Sure, I have senior moments. I just booked a plumber to fix a toilet…on my birthday. I often leave the house with one-third of the necessary accoutrements. I have a schematic on my closet door showing me how to put my pants on in the morning. All that and more. However…

I look back along the gently curving corridor of my life...

I have many more precious senior moments that are not about forgetfulness; they’re about life lived, people loved, journeys risked and taken, desires pursued, skills developed, experiences recalled, pleasures treasured, comprehension fermented into occasional clots of wisdom.

Science, mechanics, history, literature, and myriad civilizations worth of accumulated knowledge serve as my allies and companions. I’ve hugged people, dogs, cats, cows, chickens, goats, donkeys, horses, elephants, and kangaroos. I’ve laughed at bad comedy and cried at tragedy. I’ve raised kids and watched the mirthful ghost of a spirit dance through the ceiling as an elder died. I can look back along the gently curving corridor of my life and see reflections from infancy, childhood, adolescence, youth, adulthood, and old age.

I can smell the sweet, warm breath of cows, the freshness of new mown hay, the stink of a dead woodchuck. I can hear the soothing sound of a ball game playing on a radio in the next room, the staccato syncopation of afro-Cuban drums.

I’ve built houses and cherry wood cabinets, cut timbers for mine shafts, repaired broke down trucks on freeway off-ramps. I’ve hauled plywood, tossed lumber to a second floor, tiptoed along roof rafters with no net, fought forest fires and watched my own creations burn.

I can feel the sharp metallic air of an autumn morning, the silence of snow at twenty-six below, the murderous shriek of one-hundred mile-an-hour winds, the soft rose and purple light of a Hollywood sunset.

I carry vivid sense impressions of standing under the blinding glare of stage lights and feeling a wave of laughter hit my chest. I’ve felt the clash and thunder of rock and roll of my own making surround me on stage, I’ve felt the strength of my hands, arms, and chest flow from the unseen signals in my brain to the dark, rich tones of an upright bass.

I’ve stood above the roaring river of a press room as it shoots a speed-blurred ribbon of newsprint into bundles of a morning edition that I helped write. I’ve smelt the ink-fresh odor of a newly published book. I’ve been annointed by professors in the arcane robes of academia. I’ve looked out at the open, appreciative faces of students and loved them for their curiosity and courage.

I can remember the grace and precision of my childhood handwriting, the finger-busting word production of courier on onionskin, the mind-blowing mastery of MS DOS codes.

And over the decades, I’ve learned to connect history and memory to my current senior moment. Burning Buddhists, Gulf of Tonkin, Ho Chi Minh, Robert McNamera, 9/11, Donald Rumsfeld, Che Guevara, Daniel Ortega, Dick Cheney and George Bush, Rolling Thunder, Shock and Awe, resistance, rebellion, revolution, insurrection, mystery and desire all connected, all within reach. I embrace them, bound in precious volumes and arranged in the arsenal of my senior moments.

#  #  #

Rain on Eucalyptus* by
(121 Stories)

Prompted By Dating

/ Stories

Berkeley was warm and full of rain. I’d never felt a warm winter. I’d never seen needles of rain in January, silhouetted against the gray-green of eucalyptus. I’d never sat in my shirtsleeves on the back porch of a January day. Weeks before, I had sat on a rock in the hot sunshine of the bay, drunk on Christmas champagne and eating oranges. My head was awhirl with the maelstrom of the tour, its full and complete cessation allowing me space to think about where we had been, what we had done. All of it was about us, all of us. Now, I was alone.

Sometimes dates aren't dates and aren't full of sweet nothings.

I wanted to drive up Route One, clear my head. The coast north of San Francisco had become full of atmosphere for me, from trips I had taken with my cousin on my first expedition west, after my freshman year at Harvard.  Then, the voyages north felt like freedom. I wanted to feel that freedom again. I borrowed my cousin’s Volkswagen bus. I planned to visit friends who had emigrated from their Pullman apartment in the Haight to a shack in the Mendocino pines.

A big Pacific storm battered the coast. No matter — I was game for the trip north. Shrunken by the cold winters of Boston, I was in love with the warm, wet benevolence of the California rainy season.

The summer before, my cousin — in a zealous campaign to commit suicide by clambering up glacier-sheared granite faces in Yosemite – had rolled the VW bus off the outside of a curve in the oak and brown foothills of the Sierras. In seconds, the bus transmogrified from cube to parallelogram, blowing out all the side windows

Miraculously, physics and the whimsy of trajectory had spared the front of the bus. My cousin and I popped in a new windshield and the thing still steered straight, so we put it back on the road.

When I was about to leave, my cousin asked me to do him a favor. His current girlfriend knew a girl who wanted a ride north. According to Eric’s girlfriend, this girl had to get out of the city. She had some friends up in Mendocino. She knew of a place we could crash, halfway up the coast, in Point Arena. My brain lit up with images of the two of us lying naked in a cabin in the sequoias while rain washed the wilderness into a blur beyond the window panes.

Kathy was a living with a bunch of people in a rambling, unpainted fisherman’s house perched on the hillside overlooking a Standard Oil refinery. Her pad was draped with potheads and generally unmotivated freaks, but my cousin knew them all, and that’s how I met Kathy.

The day we were to drive north, the wet, windy warmth of El Nino softened the silhouettes of hillside fisherman’s shanties and blurred the belching dragon of the nearby refinery. I pulled the VW to the curb and honked. Kathy appeared on the upstairs porch of her rickety hillside castle. All arms and legs, she loped down the outside staircase like an Afghan hound. That struck a familiar chord.

She had a guy in tow, a ruddy monster with a surfer’s sunburn and bleached blond mop. He might have made some cash diving for abalone, or maybe he was a dope dealer. Who knew? It seemed remarkable that the guy wasn’t in Vietnam, but anything that kept anybody from killing or dying in that war was all right with me. Still, was I supposed to drive this boyfriend or whatever all the way to Mendocino?

Kathy climbed aboard. “He’s not coming,” she whispered.

The galoot hooked a hoof around Kathy’s long neck and pulled her head through the open window. He pressed her face to his squat, sunburned puss and smacked her on the lips. “Be good.” He was trying to sound sweet. He pushed Kathy’s head back inside the bus.

“Don’t forget to feed the cats.” Kathy arranged a knapsack at her feet and pulled an orange hooded fisherman’s slicker around her narrow shoulders. Professional garb. Her boyfriend’s.

“Don’t do nothin’ I wouldn’t do.” The boyfriend or whatever glared at me.

I chose to leave it alone, staring instead at the weather through the windshield and bobbing my head to the rhythm of the wipers. I didn’t want to raise this guy’s hackles. I had been hit plenty by cops, and sucker-punched more than once.

The surfer-fisherman-doper stepped away from the distorted bus and I lurched us into motion. This guy had put the whole deal with Kathy on a different footing.

“Jeez,” I said. “You two look pretty cozy.”


“Been together long?”


We drove in silence over the camel-hump arches of the Richmond-San Rafael bridge, past the federal pen at San Quentin, past San Rafael Rock & Sand where a sway-backed quarry building hunkered in a gravel pit like a latter-day Noah’s ark. We pulled onto the freeway and pushed north, the wind billowing at our tail.

Rain lashed the windshield and blew past the open windows in a warm haze. We whined north into the rolling winter-green hills around Santa Rosa. I poked questions at Kathy, but it was like butt-bumping a frog.

“So where you from?”

She tucked long legs beneath the orange slicker.

“Originally, I mean. Nobody’s born here,” I continued.

Kathy looked out the window.

“Actually, I lied. My cousins were born here.”

“Oklahoma,” she said.


“I was born in Oklahoma.”

Ah. She was starting to loosen up.

“Oklahoma. I’ve never been there.”

“Don’t go.” She leaned her chin on her knees.

“Who…me?” I turned to look at her. “Don’t go? Don’t go where? I mean, I’m not going anywhere. Well, actually, we’re going somewhere … through Gualala, around the corner at Point Arena, all the way to Mendocino, right?”

“Whatever. Just don’t go to Oklahoma.”

“Oh.” Hmmm, I thought. Quite a sense of humor.

She shrugged and stared through the windshield. “There’s nothin’ there.”

From where I’m at, when one actor drops his or her lines, the other actor has to improvise. When the other actor recovers, it’s usually possible to stumble back to the script.

Kathy was no actor. She had dropped her lines without knowing or caring, so I slipped into improvised monolog mode. I expounded on my theatrical adventures, the show we had done on all those campuses, the marvels of commedia dell’arte, its medieval “street” origins, the anti-war ruckuses we had joined.

I rapped about the pigs who broke windows at the U. of Wisconsin where the makers of napalm tested their concoctions.  I riffed on draft cards, tac squads, light shows, cop harassment, and a burning ROTC headquarters in Ohio. I invoked the names of Otis Redding, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendryx, Angela Davis, Che Guevara, Huey Newton, Allen Ginsberg, Martin Luther King. I was rocking out while the road wound beneath us.

Kathy stayed silent.


Late that afternoon, we cruised into Point Arena. The storm had not abated and, with the sun going down, it was getting cold in the lopsided bus. At that time, Point Arena was still a hardware town, supplying ranchers and loggers and fisherman. A movie palace, a firehouse, the fisherman’s cooperative, and a flapjack café loomed out of the rain-swept landscape. A Rino brand gas station sold fuel out of old hand-crank pumps. The concrete architecture harked back to WPA construction projects of the 1930s.

“So where’s this place?” I asked. “Where we can crash.”

“My friends told me that the name’s on the mailbox.”

“Wow,” I said. “A whole sentence.”

Kathy stared at me. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing,” I said. “I’m just a little cranky, what with the cold and the wind and the rain and the noise of the engine and the overwhelming silence of the person sitting next to me. Sorry.”

“That’s okay,” she said. “I’m sorry, too.”

She did seem pretty damned sorry. But what did she have to be sorry about? Some great, past, unforgotten tragedy? A loss? The plight of the world? I didn’t pry. I craved companionship, not angst. I had enough angst of my own. “So what’s the name?” I asked.


“No. I mean on the mailbox.”


I stopped in front of the café. “You want something to eat?”

Kathy shook her head. “Let’s just get there,” she said. “It’s getting dark.”

“What, like the witches are gonna come out?”

Kathy said nothing. I had to admit, Point Arena didn’t look particularly friendly. I didn’t take lumberjacks to be sympathetic to longhairs, peaceniks, or draft-dodging commie freaks. I had gotten the dirty hippie treatment plenty of times; it was rarely conducive to good humor, good digestion, or romance, of which I was hopeful.

I pulled the earrings out of my left earlobe, tucked my hair under an old navy watch cap, jumped out of the crooked bus, and pushed my way into the café. A woman with a pale complexion and a waitress’s apron gave me a head-to-toe appraisal.

“I’m looking for the Tucker place. Can you tell me…?”

“Just north ‘a town.” She squinted at me. “They friends of yours?”

“Friend of a friend.” I could feel my hair begin to creep out from under the watch cap.

“They ain’t there. The Tuckers. They been rentin’ the place to a buncha hippies.” She picked up a coffee pot. “You know that, dontcha?”

“That’s okay,” I replied. “We’re just staying the night. We…”

The lean lady floated to the far end of the counter to fill a trucker’s cup. She muttered as she poured.

The man glanced at me. A trucker’s pot belly pushed at his plaid shirt and stretched his suspenders. A purple, polka-dotted engineer’s cap sat high on his forehead.

I waved.

The trucker stared.

“Nice hat,” I offered and backed out the door into the wind and climbed into the bus. The twisted VW door screeched as I pulled it shut.

“Just north of town,” I repeated.

Kathy said nothing.

I ground the crooked bus up the hill. The structures thinned, the highway darkened and turned hard left toward the coast.

“There it is!” Kathy nearly raised her voice. “Tucker.”

The Tuckers, whoever they were, had converted an old farmer’s water tower into a home. The top floor boasted chest-high portholes that looked out on the sea.

“Wow,” she exclaimed. “They said it was a tower. What a trip.” She leapt out, crouched by the door, produced a key, and disappeared inside.

I followed. A circular wrought-iron staircase wound to the second story where a flat-black, conical fireplace hung suspended from the ceiling.

I dragged in the sleeping bags and packs. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. The place was totally cool. We were alone together. There were no interfering brother or sister hippies to be found. So much for village gossip, I thought. The fireplace worked, the kitchen was full of pots, pans, bottles and cans, the rain was lashing at the portholes, and Kathy was mine, all mine. Silent, perhaps, but mine, nevertheless.

“It’s really cool,” she said, looking at me for confirmation.

“It sure is,” I replied, meeting her gray eyes. My confidence was boundless. We built a fire together. I cooked omelets on the stove. She toasted sourdough bread over the open flames in the fireplace. Things were looking up. Communication was possible.

We lit candles, smoked a joint. Kathy shed her clothes for a flannel nightgown. A gallon of Red Mountain burgundy roosted on the kitchen counter.

After dinner, we sat on the floor, the gallon of Red Mountain between us, and stared into the fire. Silently.

“Some trip, huh?” I said with bravado, took a swig from the jug and handed it to her.

“Yeah,” she said, putting the jug back on the floor, untasted.

I made advances.

Kathy backed away.

I nuzzled.

She stiffened.

I bared a shoulder, grasped a flannelled flank.

“Stop it.”

I stopped.

Kathy retreated like a snail to the shelter of her sleeping bag. She assumed a fetal position and covered her head. “G’night,” she mumbled.

I said goodnight. I fed the fire, drank burgundy, and brooded. Hadn’t I driven her up here?  Shit. We had toasted our journey with wine — Well, I had toasted our journey with wine — in front of a crackling fire but now I sat alone, my cold ass growing colder as the sea-wet moisture invaded the tower’s flooring. Why me? I asked. Or more accurately — why not me? Wasn’t I an intrepid revolutionary? Wasn’t love supposed to be free? And free-flowing?

After all the war stories I had told her — twelve weeks on the road, liberating campus radio stations, leading chanting students into war-research facilities — surely she understood the significance of the moment, of every moment in the revolution. This was one such moment, never to be repeated in the ongoing cosmic chaos. An intense and beautiful moment in the ugliness of a world at war. And speaking of war, dammit, wasn’t I a soldier in the war at home? Didn’t she like me? Didn’t she get it? Girls said “yes” to guys who said “no.” That’s what the bumper sticker said.

Soon, changes would begin to come down – not just for me, but for everyone. As the war ground on, women — not girls — had declared a new war at home. They demanded to be heard at strategy meetings. They had shouted down the sexism in their ranks. “Vietnamese women and girls fight alongside the men and boys in their guerrilla war,” they called out to the men. “Those Vietnamese women, aren’t they your heroes, too? We fight alongside you in our own streets. And we don’t need to be your heroes – or your heroines. You need to recognize that we are your equals.”

When the river rises the dam will break. But the time had not yet come. I was still running on the fumes of male supremacy, twisting around the knots and sinews of an old power structure in my guts. Back then, I wasn’t ready to admit that I had driven through the warm California rain in a lop-sided VW bus with a person whom I regarded as an opportunity, when, really, she was a forlorn young woman who had wanted nothing more than a ride north.

#  #  #

* Excerpted from a novel-in-progress and close enough to the truth. — cd

How Shall I Kill Him?* by
(121 Stories)

Prompted By Guns Then and Now

/ Stories

How shall I kill him? Poison knows ancient success, the weapon of choice for women, Shakespeare, and Russians. Guns are all-American. What shall it be? Poison? A gun? Maybe I should be thinking access — and egress — first, not weaponry. The West Wing boasts a dining room, a long cold room when empty. Could I morph into an eagle in one of those Americana paintings on the wall? Jab one of the arrows grasped in my talons into his back? No. His back and neck are too thick from all that golf. He wouldn’t even register the jabs. How about running a Go Fund Me drive on Facebook to raise money for a membership to Mar-a-Lago? Ridiculous. Let’s get real.

I’m a white male, went to a fancy school, I’ve been an actor. I’ve created characters before. I can do gauche. I could shape-shift into a cynical hedge fund guy, a greedy, exploitative record producer, or a former cocaine dealer who cashed out and went into straight business. I could open a Lamborghini dealership in Beverly Hills and cater to the same banished Saudi princes I’d sold coke to. A nod and a wink and I’d be part of the Mob-a-Lago.

Okay, with a preliminary access plan germinating, I need egress, most important — I’m certainly not going to sacrifice my life to liquidate this fat pustule. I call on a few old friends. Given their past victories and current enthusiasm, I trust their assurances. Post-production, they will be waiting for me. Thus assured, I can turn back to weaponry.

Poison is out: I have only the most elemental knowledge of chemistry.  I’ll buy a 3-D printer, download plans for a plastic pistol off the web, purchase a box of plastic bullets from Speer, and build una pistola.

With my newly coined mob credentials, I can maneuver an invitation to a Mar-a-Lago dinner with the Fat Boy. I will need to choke down the putrified steak or antibiotic chicken but then I will be able to approach his table during the mingle period between dinner and dessert. Or, luck might allow me to secure a seat across the table from him for as long as I can stand it. Then I’ll draw the plastic gun out of my cummerbund and shoot him in the throat. I’ll only have an instant to watch him grab his neck and choke on his blood, finally speechless. I’ll have to leap quickly to dodge the blood spurting across the while tablecloth, gorifying his shirt front, tedious red tie, and the people around him. Then I’ll make a dash for the mezzanine and out through the glass doors to the balcony, where a helicopter, arranged by a coterie of aging Weathermen who used the same technique to sweep the psychedelic guru Timothy Leary out of prison, will secret me away.

They’ll have to violate federal airspace, hovering above the tile roof while I evade the disinterested Secret Service, race up the stairs to the mezzanine, and emerge onto the balcony unscathed. There, I’ll leap into the waiting ‘copter and we’ll flutter below the radar to Key Largo, where I transfer to a smuggler’s cigarette boat. The driver and navigator will proceed so swiftly, the sleek craft will leap from wave crest to crest, landing me 90 minutes later at the remote end of Veradero beach, just outside Havana. Thanks to my willful, calculating rage, the advent of the 3-D printer, and a love for Key Largo, I should survive to know with satisfaction that I have killed the worst President in history.

#  #  #

*This post excerpted and revised from a desperate screed I wrote during the dark days of 2019.

Humbug, or Sightless in the Circus by
(121 Stories)

/ Stories

I’ve worn glasses since I was a kid. I was a vain and insecure adolescent, but I didn’t much give a damn for wearing glasses. They gradually become a fact of life, like zits. Nobody called me four-eyes or kicked sand in my face. Besides, I liked to see the world clearly after a year of pre-prescription blur.

I didn’t much give a damn for wearing glasses.

I tried hard contacts when they first came out, but I kept losing them under chairs and tables or dust would get under them, so I’d pop them out and stick them in the watch pocket of my Levis. When I needed to see again, I’d swish them around in my mouth and slide them back onto my eyeballs. That kind of ocular abuse didn’t seem viable in the long run, so I reverted to glasses.

When I toured with the Pickle Family Circus, we’d be on the road for six to eight weeks, traveling in a vehicle caravan up and down the coast from town-to-town. I had an old Chevy station wagon that accommodated a tidy, solo futon, a cooler, a duffel bag and, of course, my axe. A musician never lets his axe out of sight. My amplifier and costume rode in the truck with the rest of the circus gear.

We’d pull into town on a Thursday, drive to a pre-determined spot (we had an advance person), assemble the bleachers rack-by-rack with boisterous teamwork, lay down a bright blue canvas floor with a big red star, circle the one-ring stage, rig the trapeze and backdrop, and assemble the bandstand hopefully under the shade of a tree. We’d surrounded the whole spinning cirque de Pickle Family with a red-and-yellow canvas wall — they don’t call it a circus for nothing — and call it a night.

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, we’d unleash our unique brand of circus on unsuspecting but respective audiences. Sunday night, we’d strike the circus rig. The band might play in a local joint, or we’d hunker down for the evening at the now-empty circus site. The next morning we’d take off to visit nearby friends or head to the nearest national park to camp, relax, and explore.

When I lost my glasses on the second week out, there wasn’t much I could do about it. We didn’t stand still long enough for me to acquire another pair, even if I had a prescription.

At first, I panicked. From my underwater POV, reality became indecipherable, from the cars and semis whooshing past, to the road signs, the audience’s faces, to the notations on my music charts. But it’s difficult to stay uptight when you’re traveling around with a bunch of talented, hard-working freaks who improvise around impossible circumstances as a way of life.

I could make out the performers easily enough. They did their acts underwater in my own personal sea, but I knew the characters and their routines. If I didn’t know a tune, I’d just slide up close to my music stand and squint. I knew all my fellow performers by their clothes, hair, voice, and body language, so recognition wasn’t a problem.

Touring by nature assaults you with too much information about your fellow artists. Accordingly, my undersea myopia forced me into a blissful ignorance. If only I couldn’t hear, I thought. But then I couldn’t play, so I had to settle for the myopia.

All went well until one Sunday night after we’d played the weekend in a Corvallis, Oregon fairground. It had been a full moon weekend. When you are in the theater, you become aware of phenomena that might explain the ever-changing mysteries of performance. Granted you’re performing off a script or, in this case, a tightly choreographed 90 minutes of circus acts with music. So, when shit happens you look for why. We took the waxing moon as an explanation.

The whole weekend had been weird. The audience felt unpredictable and restless. Props broke. A juggler twisted an ankle. A drunk caused trouble on the midway, a rare circumstance when the midway consisted of fund-raising booths for daycare centers, organic farmers, and environmental groups.

Regardless, the weekend ended, and a small group of us started out for Humbug Mountain State Park, and a beautiful spot I had discovered the year before. We began climbing into the foothills, four cars in caravan, me in the lead, squinting my way along the path to Humbug’s sublime alpine, creek bed Nirvana. Even with the north country’s long summer days, darkness descended as the canyons steepened around us.

Once away from the flatlands, the road signs thinned but I zero’d in on the familiar park signs that flared in the headlights. I became so intent on using my mole-like sniff-and-recall navigation technique that I failed to notice that the headlights behind me had disappeared.

I pulled off onto a gravel turnout and waited. Had one of my compatriots broken down? Had I driven blithely uphill, numb to the horns and flashing lights that might have signaled distress? Had they turned left when I had taken a right fork? Had I taken the wrong fork? Beset by doubts, I turned around. I knew they hadn’t driven past me.

I groped my way down the dark mountain, my headlights the only sign of life. I had passed a roadside bar, the last commercial establishment before the Humbug National Forest imposed its wilderness on the world. Maybe they had stopped there.

Not a car had passed me going up the grade. Gliding downhill through the darkness, my mind began playing tricks on me. I had been abandoned on the mountainside like Oedipus. Had I been abandoned to prevent me from sleeping with my mother? I didn’t want to sleep with my mother.

Had they all driven over the side of the mountain, like three blind mice, following one another’s taillights into oblivion? Like Oedipus, I was blind. Besides, losing one’s glasses doesn’t compare to sleeping with mom or gouging out your eyes. I had to get a grip.

Through a stand of pines, I caught a glimpse of a large, orange fireball, floating in the distance. Was I hallucinating? Had the nuclear holocaust begun? Was I being tracked by aliens who could prey on my sightless condition to kidnap and dissect me?

The glowing orange ball disappeared behind a ridgetop. As I squinted after it, searching through the haze of my naked vision, I nearly sideswiped the bright yellow VW bug owned, driven, and lived-in by the vivacious roustabout, Zoe. And there they were, the tiny caravan of compatriots, gathered along the rail of an uphill turnout, oohing and aahing at the fuzzy orange moon.

So caught up were they in their moonlight reverie, it hadn’t registered on them that I had disappeared.

Bathed in the bright light of the full June moon, all was forgiven. Reunited, we made our way into Humbug, past the padlocked ranger’s gatehouse and on to my creek side campground, empty but for us. We pulled up, lit a barbecue pit, ate, drank, laughed and tumbled into our various makeshift mobile beds.

From that point on, I resolved never to drive blind again at night. I never did sleep with my mother, but I did discover that — after weeks without glasses — my vision had sharpened considerably to the point where my subsequent visit to the optometrist felt like surrender. Glasses. Never leave home without them. Humbug.

#  #  #

Recycling Tongva by
(121 Stories)

Prompted By Recycling

/ Stories

I live just west of Maaw’nga, a village of the Tongva Chumash tribe. This community extends north from Puvungna — Long Beach — to the largest Tongva village, Yaanga, in what is now downtown Los Angeles. The Los Angeles River runs through Yaanga. To the north and west lies the protective arm of Cahuenga Mountain, northernmost peak of the San Bernardino mountains. In the crook of Cahuenga’s arm sits my village, Maaw’nga and the HOLLYWOOD sign.

The neighborhoods are beginning to welcome Paayme Paxaayt back into their lives.

A one-hour drive eastward on a concrete freeway from my village, Mount Baldy rises out of Tongva territory in the San Gabriel mountains. The top of Mount Baldy has been considered the focal point for cosmic energy by the Tongva people for a thousand years.

Last year, a Shasta region habitue and steward named Robert Bobcat Brothers watched the high-altitude flight of an Osprey and sensed that the high flying bird was following a powerful trajectory. It was heading in a straight line southward from Ashland Mountain toward Mount Baldy.

Bobcat surmised that The Osprey’s Path may reveal a power band that begins with Ti’lomikh Falls on Oregon’s Rogue River, home to a sacred salmon ritual and the origin story of the Takelma people. The band of power then continues in a straight line through the granite masses of Mount Ashland, Mount Lassen, and Mount Shasta and hundreds of miles southward to Mount Baldy in Tongva land. “We had no idea there was a straight-line connection between all these special places,” Bobcat wrote, “but the ceremonies felt powerful. Discovering this deep Earthly connection between sacred sites reaching over 600 miles, we are inspired to learn more about how we can honor and use this gift in the best way for all beings.”

In addition to the power band revealed by the Osprey’s path, the heart line of my regional Tongva land extends westward from the watershed of the San Gabriels, across the Los Angeles basin, and out to sea. The heart line includes the four Channel Islands. Paayme Paxaayt, the river artery feeds the Tongva heart line; we call it the Los Angeles River.

Like the freeways that divide the land with concrete, the main artery of the Tongva world, Paayme Paxaayt, has been filled with concrete. As with cholesterol in animals, cement is impossible to remove from the heartland’s arteries. The river has been clogged has been with a 51-mile scar,” Marissa Christenson, chairperson of Friends of the Los Angeles River has said. When it was encased in concrete, the river’s place in the ecosystem was incarcerated. It could no longer flow freely, to oxygenate and nourish animals and people. The heart line became barren and needy and, in turn, its villages became barren and needy. “So,” Marissa Christenson continued, “we have all sorts of different wounds to heal in Los Angeles.”

Healing is a good way to think about recycling. Healing Paayme Paxaayt, the Los Angeles River, begins with cleanup of the detritus of a century. The river has been imprisoned in concrete from one side; its concrete serves as a wall from the other side. Slowly, people and animals are regaining access. With them, they have brought indigenous vegetation and the universal signature of human presence, pathways. Now boots, boats, and bicycles move along the river, moving around rather than breaking down the concrete. The neighborhoods are beginning to welcome Paayme Paxaayt back into their lives. I’d call that recycling, wouldn’t you?

#  #  #

One man, one computer by
(121 Stories)

/ Stories

People nearly always separate artists from their work — unless they’ve had to eat or sleep with one. Then, art and the artist tend to merge, often with nauseating consequences. Sometimes you have to work with them. Then, separation is impossible. That being said, let’s look at the collaborative arts.

Sometimes you have to work with them. Then, separation is impossible.

Actors can be terrible people. Dedication to the art form or to the thoughts and feelings expressed in film or theater allow decent people to muster the grit to perform. And theater, with its cruel potential to magnify bad acting, can reduce even the most egomaniacal thespians to attempt equitable give and take. But at its core, stagecraft requires arrogance, myopia, courage, or a blend of all three. It doesn’t necessarily require intelligence.

And I’m just talking about actors. I must give honorable mention to incompetent or draconian directors (they’re often both); kudos to set designers who don’t give a damn if you fall off their set; stage managers who can be cold, humorless micromanagers; and producers — very few of them have ever acted; I’ll leave it at that. So, you get a lot of jerks in the theater.

Music as a collaborative form usually offers less leeway for jerks than stage or film. You can either play or you can’t. Music breeds humility because its demands begin early and continue. You must learn to play your instrument, read music, and practice diligently to keep your chops up. Clams — mistakes — show up as glaringly as black notation on white paper. Yes, you can find real a-holes in any ensemble, but music’s technical demands often serve as a great leveler…onstage.

Offstage, actors are usually a harmless lot. Noisy, egotistical, always “on,” they traffic in fear, which can render them into fussy, detail-oriented whiners full of complaints about costumes, dressing rooms, and other actors. But theater camaraderie breeds forgiveness and, despite the inevitable conflict that theater people promulgate among themselves, actors and companies do, in fact, eat together and sleep together with varying amounts of pleasure and success.

Offstage, musicians can be tedious bores. The work of making music tends to limit people’s life experience. Most likely you’ve begun to as a child, and, while the other kids play, you practice, a crippling discipline that can rob practitioners of their childhood and any possibility of learning the most rudimentary social skills. You can’t go far without your instrument (unless you’re a singer — a different breed of musician altogether) and traveling on tour doesn’t leave much room for worldly development.

The only jokes musicians know are about chick singers, drummers, and bandleaders and they can fill an entire break between sets with odious Q & A quips including:

“There’s a hundred chick singers buried up to their necks in sand. Why?

Answer: There wasn’t enough sand.” Or…

“What do you call a drummer who just got dumped by his girlfriend?

Answer: Homeless.”

The shorter the joke, the longer the ritual groan that must follow. The only solace is that sooner, rather than later, the break will be over and one will be rescued by the music.

The only other topic of conversation among musicians involves acronyms that describe the finer points of instruments, amplifiers, or recording equipment. Classical musicians gossip about the snake pit of classical music society (too many players, not enough orchestras) or quibble over various interpretations of a Chopin sonata. In short, many a fine musician closets a real-life snooze.

But the real terrors are the solo artists — the writers and painters who have no one to check their egos and their demons except when they— and we — are fortunate enough to be wrangled by an agent or manager. Left to their own devices, writers and artists can be monsters. Gauguin deflowered Polynesian girls for rest and relaxation. William Burroughs killed his own wife, a woman much smarter than he, and got away with it. He claimed that killing her forced him to write his bohemian claptrap. Jackson Pollock was an obnoxious drunk who killed himself and two women in a high-speed joust with an oak tree.

Having made the transition from collaborative artist to a lonely writer I can offer up two reasons for the transition: one was a mutual resolution I repeatedly made with my theater partner to work with puppets in any future productions; and two, a mantra that emerged full-blown one night after a particularly frustrating performance — one man, one computer. One man, one computer.

Radio by
(121 Stories)

Prompted By Remembering Radios

/ Stories

A war surplus electronics store on Boylston Street, a tangle of vacuum tubes, oscilloscopes, braided copper wire with color-coded insulation, servo motors, magnets, armatures, old ammunition boxes, rolls of brittle electrical tape and finally, a chunky, dust-covered, black Hallicrafters short-wave receiver.

This is the one, my old man says.

This is the one, my old man says, and pulls it off the olive drab metal rack. I can tell it’s heavy. He leans back against the weight as he trundles to the counter with the big black box and sets it on the cluttered counter with a grunt.

Plug it in, Sal, he tells the guy behind the counter. Let’s see what we have here.

“You got it, John. Sal uncoils the power cord and plugs the receiver into the power strip on the back wall. The dials light up yellow-green. The speaker hisses and my old man spins the tuning dial. A garble of tones dip and dive like birds in flight, a far-off voice clouded by static. “And that’s without an antenna,” Sal says.

Yeah, not bad, my old man says. We’re getting a signal right off the terminals.

I notice the small nickel-plated earphone jack at the lower right-hand corner of the radio. Good, I think to myself.

How much you want for it? My old man asks.

Gimme fifteen bucks, Sal says.

How about ten, my old man says.

Can we get some earphones? I ask.

Twelve bucks and I’ll throw in the earphones, Sal says.

My old man looks down at me. Deal, he says. It seems he and Sal know each other from some unspoken, faraway place.

Sal walks back into the dark recesses of the shop and comes out with a set of earphones. They have a phone plug that will fit right into the nickel-plated jack on the Hallicrafters. Years earlier I had learned to sneak a flashlight into my bedroom to read late at night. Now, with the earphones, I’ll be able to listen to the Top 40, too.

I carry the earphones and my old man humps that big, old Hallicrafters back to the MTA. Boylston, Arlington, Copley, Kenmore, I inhale the stale, familiar subway air of the subway, back into the daylight on Commonwealth and into my father’s messy Boston University lab. Back home in the cow-and-apple countryside, we set up the Hallicrafters on my bedside table and hang a long wire out the second-story window for an antenna.

Now, long after everybody goes to bed, I can lie in the ethereal, greenish-yellow glow of the Hallicrafters’ dials. I can slip on the headphones and let Carl Perkins, Fats Domino, Brenda Lee, the Platters, Little Richard, Bill Doggett, Eddie Cochran, Sarah Vaughn, and a myriad of other stars in the brand-new galaxy of rock and roll and rhythm and blues, teach me all about love and life in nineteen fifty-five. But wait…

#  #  #

The silver knob on the left, at the bottom of the tuning dial brought the Hallicrafters to its real intention — accessing all the frequencies on the planet. At night, the Heaviside layer, a stratum of ionized gas above our stratosphere, reflects radio waves. My old man explained that the waves radiated into the sky can bounce off the Heaviside layer and back to Earth beyond the horizon, allowing for transcontinental radio communication. Soon I was listening to French and Russian radio stations, tuning into news reports from Cuba, Argentina, and Brazil. My Hallicrafters was bringing the world to my bedside.

The Portrait of Dorian MacDOS by
(121 Stories)

/ Stories

1962 — Wonder. Worked a summer job in the meteorology department at MIT, entering delicately penned weather data from 1876 to 1954 onto punch cards. I would then take a stack of cards to Wes, the wry, sarcastic grad student who studied with Tom Lehrer and was assisting my neighbor, Professor Hurd Willett, a world-renowned authority on long-range weather forecasting, in tabulating the minutiae I had gathered. Then he would fire up a large, gray IBM computer the size of the WOPR in “War Games,” feed the cards into the machine, generating a shuffling racket at the decibel level of a textile mill running at full capacity, and adding another statistical line on a graphic.

I can’t stand the sight of my cell phone...

1984 — Intrigue. I returned from a tour playing jazz to meet my first Apple computer, a Macintosh 128 K. It was booted up by a floppy disk that would load a word processing program. On the tour, I had begun to write short stories. I had moved to Hollywood, so the screenplay had to follow. Now I could write fiction and dialog onto a glowing screen and copy, cut, and paste words and paragraphs and outlines. Then I could print my writing with a dot-matrix printer. I also bought a music notation program that fit on several floppy disks. Once you loaded the program, you could peck out music notation and print it out on a dot-matrix printer. It could also beep melodies and even harmonies.

1988 — Awe. A screenwriting partner named Ray and I used something called a modem that turned one end of a telephone line into a binary stream to invade the card catalog of the Santa Monica public library. We felt sneaky. The modem made a funny, cartoon-like bouncing noise as it connected with the Universe.

1991 — Deviant behavior. I sent a 1000-word assignment about the first landfall of Christobal Colon to my producer at Philips Interactive. It took 45 minutes for the document to download, byte-by-byte over what was called the World Wide Web.

1993 — Pride. Although the world had divided in two — there were Mac people and PC people, I learned DOS to use the linked computer system at my new job as a curriculum writer and editor at a civic-education organization. Soon I was able to operate on a need-to-know basis in DOS, then go home and write on my new Mac SE. The SE featured two floppy disc ports.

1993 — Horror. I listened to a terrible grinding sound as a fatal combination of keystroke commands destroyed the first draft of a long short story. Grim with tears of determination, I found that rewriting the whole story from scratch produced better work.

1996 — Reluctance. An aggressive nerd, son-of-a-board member at my civic-education organization urged us to develop a web site that would connect to the world-wide web, now commonly known as the Internet. We couldn’t see the use-value. Besides, it sounded like a time-consuming experiment that would demand a steep learning curve. We learned. Fast.

1998 — Surprise. One day, I noticed a guy standing on the sidewalk talking to himself. He looked pretty well-dressed for a lunatic. When I drew closer, I saw that he was speaking into a small cell phone. It fit into the palm of his hand and didn’t even have an antenna.

2000 — Embarrassing irony. First off, no Y2K. Duh. I wasn’t scared of the Cuban missile crisis, either. Besides, it wasn’t the Cuban missile crisis, it was the Soviet missile crisis and it only happened because Eisenhower didn’t like Cuba’s revolution and neither did our beloved Camelot hero, Bay of Pigs liberal JFK. I digress. I’ll begin again.

2000 — Embarrassing irony. I was editor of a service-learning newsletter we put out quarterly. I tackled desktop publishing to help out our swamped layout and tech guy, Andrew. I was constantly baffled by the technical demands of the program. So, I’d call in Andrew. All he had to do was stand over me as I demonstrated my unsolvable problem. Problem solved. This happened too many times to be a coincidence.

2006 — Full circle. Fast forward from 1998. Walking to Wilshire for lunch, I noticed a homeless woman with a shopping cart screaming into her cell phone. She sounded intense, pissed off at somebody. As I approached, I saw that she didn’t have a cell phone.

2012 — As a faculty member at California State University, I had to learn Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint, and a constantly shifting set of student-interface programs like Moodle and Canvas. Despite the limitless possibilities these programs threaten me with, I stick with a Need-to-Know approach.

2021 — Delirium tremens. I can’t stand the sight of my cell phone, but I feel naked without it. My eyes ache from near-sighted focus on a relentless series of screens glowing with cyber oscillation. I refuse to read instructions for the digitized machinery that overwhelms my covid-entrenched home. I fight daily for survival against the chairs that afflict my mind, body, nervous and circulatory systems and joint flexibility. As in Oscar Wilde’s portrait, [cyber] technology has decimated me. Nevertheless…

As a person who stubbornly maintains that I have stuff to say, I remain intrigued by technology’s wondrous reach.

# # #

Organize your Cave* by
(121 Stories)

Prompted By Inequality

/ Stories

©emory douglas

My family left the federally funded G.I. housing project in Jamaica Plain, Boston when I was three years old. All kinds of people had visited us there, friends of my parents. Scientists and academics, union organizers, they came from China, Yugoslavia, and the Netherlands.

"We must all swim in the same sea. Right?”

We said goodbye to them all when we moved to a small New England town. There I came of age with the Kimballs, the Whitcombs, the Channings, and the Browns.

The first black person appeared in my school when I was in eighth grade. On his first day, the bus driver refused to let him board. Hearts pounding, my friend David and I rushed to the front of the bus and threatened to report the driver to the school principal. Grudgingly, he backed up and opened the door for the stunned child who had remained standing dumbfounded and confused beside the road.

The boy’s name was George, and he was the son of a military man stationed at nearby Fort Devens. He was the only black child in our school. Despite our ministrations, he only survived his brief tenure through shyness and solitude.

In high school, I attended a peace camp sponsored by the Quakers. This was during an intense, anti-nuke, ban the bomb era. World peace and civil rights formed the causes celébré of the time. Resource people from India and Mississippi spoke of non-violent resistance, and I soaked up the blues of Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Lightnin’ Hopkins from the guitarists who came north for New York for the two week country interlude. I began studying black history through the blues.

At 19, I joined a community action project in a Philadelphia neighborhood fragmented by race and bound by poverty. We struggled to bring our rage at injustice into this other America, but our only allies were the black women who would reach out to anyone who might help protect their children from the racism and economic violence that laid siege to their lives. We could not hold them.

After I graduated from a college that still segregated its students through gender apartheid, I argued my way out of military service and joined a theater company that threw itself into direct confrontation with a system that allowed the war in Vietnam to smother a war on poverty.

This theater company created a minstrel show that hurled racism back at our own race, class and culture. We produced a commedia performance that twisted our profitable imperial conflagration in Southeast Asia into a bawdy and darkly ironic farce. Moliere with napalm.

One day, Bobby Seale and “Li’l” Bobby Hutton (he was 17 and 6’3”) of the Black Panther party visited the theater company’s studio to explain the Panthers’ Ten-Point program. I was struck by how differently Seale and his young colleague saw the world. I knew they were right, but I was unused to the view through that lens.

“Most white people do not want black people to have power,” Bobby Seale told us. “They’re like children raised in poverty, who grow up thinking there’s not enough to go around. Not enough love, not enough money, not enough power. They can’t shake that childhood fear, that poverty paranoia, no matter how much money they have, how much luxury or comfort they live in, or how much status they command. Racism comes out of that same poverty paranoia.

“Now over the centuries the white man has learned how to use racism as a power tool. When you hold that tool in your hand, you don’t want to give it to anybody else. In our community, we have very little access to power tools. But if we want to protect our community, we have to exercise power.”

L’il Bobby took over. “And since they won’t give us any, we got to take the power. And we got to back it up with guns. Guns treated right, you understand? As tools. Tools for survival. Tools to deliver our message — stop killing black people. Stop murdering us. We want whitey to pay attention.” L’il Bobby grinned. “And there’s nothing that gets whitey’s attention like black people with guns.”

Bobby Seale took over again. I was struck by how easily they spoke in concert, in a swinging call and response. “But we also believe that exclusive black power just separates us and isolates us. Black power implies black economic power. We would have to establish a separate but equal black economy. If you study economy, you know you cannot extricate yourself from an economic system. You gotta interact with it.”

We sat listening, transfixed by this man. He spoke in strong, definitive tones, without pauses. He carried anger in his eyes, in the taut lines of his cheekbones, in his jaw, but he spoke with the ease of a person who is sure of his audience.

“So why are we here?” Bobby Seale didn’t wait for an answer. “As I said, we’ve seen your work. And we know you can travel light. So, we have come here to discuss the possibility of combining forces.”

L’il Bobby jumped in. “You might not know this. Most of you don’t. We’re trying to reach out to the white community and all people. We are not separatists. Like the Viet Cong says, we must all swim in the same sea. Right?”

We all nodded. Yeah, L’il Bobby was right. So right. And we felt at one with these two men.

Bobby Seale continued. “Any separation of the black radical movement from the white radical movement is arrogant and self-defeating. It plays into all that old Machiavellian shit — divide and conquer. We have two fronts we must fight on — racism and capitalism. The two are intertwined and we must destroy both. We can do that together.”

The whole room broke out in applause. Everyone stood, talking to each other, asking further questions of big Bobby Seale and little Bobby Hutton. I wished we had music to play. It would have been right. We decided together that we would write a series of portable puppet shows, the Gutter Puppets, that would talk about the Black Panther Party for Self Defense and its Ten Point Program.

Two days later, Martin Luther King was killed on a motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee where he was to speak to the city’s striking black and white sanitation workers.

Two days after that, L’il Bobby Hutton was shot dead after he had surrendered following a shoot-out with the Oakland police department. Nevertheless, we persisted, and by June, the Gutter Puppets presented their first show featuring Big Black Panther and Li’l Black Panther in “You Got to Organize your Cave,” and “The Upstream Hog.”

A lifetime later, the murder of George Floyd loops back upon us through the testimony of witnesses. Nearly a year after his death, we must still cross and recross the boundaries set up by racism, to lean into its cold, careless wind.

Centuries old, these obstacles continue to roll across our landscape, beating against the consciousness we have desperately, eagerly accumulated. We are different. We are one. Change is possible. It’s time to listen, to learn, not as sympathetic observers, but as allies.

#   #   #

*Segments of this post are excerpted from a fictional work in progress. Although the scenarios are fact- and memory-based, please allow for poetic license. Tks! — cd

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