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September 25, 2011

That Sound, That Sound!

In August I spent several days in the mountains (as if you didn’t know). I had a new $19 cell phone to let my loved ones know I was still alive when I emerged (Did they care? I pretended they did.). I charged it in the Valley and kept it turned off during my Mountain walk to save the battery. It wouldn’t have worked anyway. Luckily, there are places where ‘back to nature’ means no phone service. Places where if a tree falls on you in the forest no one will have to hear the crack of your skull. Or film it for the seven o’clock news.

So this dumb little phone sat in my pack waiting its turn. I made it to Quincy and turned it on. We have power. Then I realized I had no one’s number with me and none in my head. I hadn’t saved them in the new phone; I’d never called anyone. I thought I knew one number but was only unsure of a couple ciphers. Good job, Odd Job.

Days earlier, I would sit by a babbling brook in measured bliss and recognize in the water sound something mistakable for a cell phone ring. As I reached a paved road, cars would whiz by (nobody picked me up) and the engine could make a slightly ring-ish tone. I got closer to town and the sprinklers on the lawns did the same. A radio in the distance. Little bells to keep away the birds.

Then I really got into town and there really were cell phones. They were ringing all around me, or was it the ice-cream truck, or was it the traffic light signal for the blind, or the electric beeper when you enter a place of commerce, or somebody practicing the hurdy-gurdy? It wasn’t my phone, it wasn’t even turned on, I checked a couple times.

And even when the ring wasn’t the same as my phone, which I didn’t know, I’d hear one ring and pull mine out of my pocket, like a quick-draw artist. I did this for many days wherever I went. The washing machine can make a similar sound occasionally. Better check. Or there’s a mystery chord on the guitar that sounds phone-ringing-ish. Checked.

No one could have called me as no one had my number. But a couple people texted me anyway with odd messages about sleazy encounters. Did I get a dead man’s number? Did I get a death row convict’s number he wouldn’t need again? I don’t want these calls. I don’t want any calls. Later, I slightly changed my stance on that, but just out of the solitude of the high elevations I really couldn’t stand that ding-a-ling.

The shopping centers, supermarkets, airports, when you get back to earth in the hot little tram waiting to chug down the runway and everyone’s cells go off at once like an electronic conspiracy. And the worst, by far the worst, wanna guess? is television. When phones are ringing all over every hour on every channel, but they’re not in the room, they’re fictional. Better check your own phone just in case.

In case of what? How many really important calls do you get? I don’t get any. The last one I didn’t answer, then he called back. Calls from relatives of the old and sick. But life-changing joy-producing business over the phone? What we’re all waiting for, but does it ever come? “Hello this is the Publishers Clearing House, congratulations …” That never happens. Isn’t it more like, “Wanna do lunch?” “Can’t. I’m meeting my other mistress.” “’Kay, seeya.”

Take my blood pressure and heart rate and see the earthquake jumps every time a real, imagined, fictional, or flowing mountain stream phone rings. So I ask why and I get an answer I don’t like. DO NOT ASK FOR WHOM THE PHONE RINGS, IT RINGS FOR YOU.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt:  Are you stressed out too?
Jeff:  Not me, I’m a man of leisure.
Mutt:  I’m a man of Topeka.
Jeff:  Want to hear a good joke?
Mutt:  No, I want to hear yours.
Jeff: One day a Czechoslovakian came to visit his friend in New York. When asked what he wanted to see, the Czechoslovakian replied, "I would like to see one of the zoos in America." To his delight, the New Yorker took him to the zoo. While they were touring the zoo, and standing in front of the gorilla cage, one of the gorillas busted out of the cage and swallowed the Czech whole. Shocked, his friend from New York quickly called over the zoo keeper. He explained the situation and asked the zoo keeper what he planned to do. The zoo keeper got an axe and asked the man, "Okay, which gorilla did it, was it the male or the female." Pointing out the female as the culprit, the zoo keeper quickly split the female gorilla open and found nothing of the Czech. With which the man from New York shrugged and said, "Guess the Czech's in the male."
Mutt:  Oowah.
Jeff:  Another?
Mutt:  To get the bad taste out?
Jeff:  Recently a guy in Paris nearly got away with stealing several paintings from the Louvre. However, after planning the crime, getting in and out past security, he was captured only two blocks away when his lorry ran out of gas. When asked how he could mastermind such a crime and then make such an obvious error, he replied: I had no Monet to buy Degas to make the Van Gogh.
Mutt:  Abba dabba, abba dabba, that’s all folks.

September 14, 2011

What Goes On In The Squaw Valley?

You drive on roads that split the granite mountains. You pass through a stone railroad bridge tunnel. Very suspicious. You follow a non-visible river then turn right off the main road, past the sign advertising an event in 1960. There you enter the Valley. It all seems normal enough. The people riding bicycles are smiling. Why am I so edgy?

On your way to the far end of the Valley, you pass luxury golf-n-ski resorts, luxury in middle-class terms, that is. You pass summer homes designed by architects and a few older ones built by the folks who discovered the Valley generations ago. The original Squaws? Is this thin air safe to breathe?

I walked inside the big hall, took a second to get my bearings, this long-hair comes up to me and, grinning, asks: Did you find yourself yet? Okay, so that’s the way this thing is going to begin. He meant did I find my information packet. Oh, not a philosophical question. Well, yes, that too. I already doubted everything anyone said as possibly metaphorical, double-meanings would be everywhere this week.

Soon the calliope started to play and the mirrors spun right, colored lights flashed, and everyone jumped on a horse and the carousel moved us all forward towards somewhere no one knows. I'm not sure we were truly going in circles. Some folks rode unicorns, which should be imaginary animals, but in Squaw Valley are real. Some grabbed at the rings; I never got that part figured out. Maybe I was on the wrong horse. In fact, it wasn’t a horse at all, or a sea monster, but a darling deer. Highly symbolic.

Just so nobody tries to take my clothes off and pour bourbon down my throat. Wow, I’m dizzy anyway, where's the blur? And as the week progresses a few people start floating off into gravity-less space like the words spinning off in all directions. The big words. Lovely language goes sailing away into the air like eagles, like freed elevators sail in space. Pictures seen with closed eyes fly dangerously outwards too to, presumably, ricochet against the Valley walls.

The merry-go-round is so thrilling, so electrifying that we all laugh for a week. We join hands to dance the hokey pokey while we twirl. And there are voices amidst the circus music. Voices of words you read back inside and outside of Pleasure Island, where we all have come to become proud donkeys. We all bray, but still hear the voices. Familiar as mothers, reading fairy books aloud, putting us to bed, thank you, sleep tight.

I hated leaving the Squaw, the Valley, the Cradle, the Nest. I never wanted off that ride. The voices will always echo in my head and grow like sunflowers up from the words (Ron’s, Karen’s, Gerry’s, Brett’s, Amy’s, Alex’s, all the others). And we can always be donkeys together, I guess, because we put on our disguises when we left the Valley, covered our long ears, noses, tucked in our tails, but we all know each other’s secrets now. That's what it was all about, I think.

You might suspect the lemonade was spiked in order to subject a group of eager scribblers to a giant mind-bending experiment, but you’d be wrong. We brought our own bentness. We subjected ourselves. And it was glorious.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Okay. Here’s the best joke I ever heard.
Jeff: Shoot.
Mutt: A woman goes to the zoo and is completely taken by the beauty and power of the gorilla. She cannot take her eyes off him. He is sleeping against the bars of the cage, and even though a sign says not to, she reaches her hand in to stroke him. Instantly, he awakes and goes berserk, tearing the bars of the cage open to get at her, mauling her to within an inch of her life. Finally, the zoo personnel manage to hit him with the tranquilizer darts. The woman is taken to an ICU, barely alive, but slowly, slowly she pulls through. After four days she is finally allowed visitors. Her best friend arrives. The woman can barely open her eyes. “God, you look like you’re in a lot of pain,” the friend says, and the woman sighs. “Pain,” she says. “You don’t know pain. He doesn’t call, he doesn’t write …”
Jeff: You stole that from Anne Lamott, didn’t you?
Mutt: Word for word, buddy, word for word.

September 9, 2011

Report Card, Summer Aught Eleven

I’m back, back, back on the streets again. (Sounds like I just got out of jail … no, sounds like Tower … of … Power) Whatever it sounds like, truth is I spent the summer in Californ-i-a, and I heard some live music, studied some more and even made a little. Not always sweet music, it was a hard summer personally, but the savage beast was tamed on several occasions.

            Ditty Bops: the girls were adorable, cute almost to a fault, but the songs they sang in such a happy style were often sad love songs. Something amiss with this duo of married women? They were funny and coy, delightful to the end. Then it happened. They skipped off-stage and the crowd went wild for an encore. But they never came out. They didn’t even come out to sign CDs later. Very bad form. Left a sour taste.

            Neko Case: free concert in Stern Grove (the park in the Parkside District, I grew up a couple blocks from there). Last year we were thrilled to see Jovanotti there. Great venue but get there early. Well I knew they didn’t open the park until two hours early so I was there, but I must have missed the memo that said they’d open much earlier this time. The whole place was packed with thousands of fans, so we had to sit so far up on the hill that we couldn’t see or hear anything. I think it was a good concert and that she’s a good singer/songwriter, but I wouldn’t know for sure.

            Sourdough Slim: we drove up in the hills to Fiddletown, not really believing that a Fiddletown existed or that we’d hear fiddles there. At Scofield Ranch we walked into a Western movie set complete with cowboys and cowgirls chatting us up, sitting us down and welcoming us to the best barbecue chuck what am. Then the fun continued with the great Sourdough Slim, relaxed, funny, nostalgic, expert singer and musician, funny, warm and wise. I know I said funny twice, he’s that good. I bought his latest CD and we talked until he had to go back on stage for more. A thrilling evening of joy, even for us not-cowboys.

            Eddie Vedder: I thought Eddie Vedder was a pro. But he was having such a good time in Oakland at the Paramount that he wouldn’t shut up. Not that anyone wanted him to. He played on and on; we almost missed the last Bart train. Ukulele songs, Into the Wild, Pearl Jam, other stuff, it was incredible music against all the rules. One guy, acoustic, even a song without the mikes (chills), warm and fun, the Surfer did an encore that lasted an hour. I told you he just wouldn’t stop. Hope he never does.

            The Producers: this was by far the best musical I ever saw. And I write the things. But only Mel Brooks could put this many laughs in one show. What impressed me even more was the direction at the Music Circus and the acting, which was outstanding. Some people I overheard weeks later were raving about it, saying Sacramento better than Broadway. The unknown protagonists better than the New York stars. I agree. Great. Unforgettable. If I had any mystery disease going in, I laughed it away in there. A shot of good health.

            42nd Street: this was a local Stockton show, amateurish and barely worth the effort. The tap-dancing was weak, the acting, the direction, the playback music, even the theater ain’t nothing special. The protagonist was great however, she was the only star in the sky. Danced, sang and acted like a pro. UOP student, of course.

            Billy Elliot: I was psyched, then what happened? This was the big San Francisco hit of the season. Maybe I was hyped. It didn’t thrill me, even though the dancing and singing was fantastic. No talent show stuff here, these were top professionals displaying their skills. Maybe I couldn’t get into the story, English miners on strike, or maybe I was bothered that the kid, who was a brilliant dancer and perfect singer, was an Asian boy from Los Angeles with a spot-on North English accent. Yes, that did bother me. He’s acting a part, okay, but you don’t get Denzel Washington to play John Kennedy. It stuck out. I didn’t want my money back, it was a pleasant evening, but I felt perplexed.

            Dan Hicks: finally, the moment I waited all summer for. The Hot Licks, the Lickettes, the Lick Men (deal with it, he says). Great band, weird songs, but the star is Dan the Man, droll as a rock in Death Valley, dry as the funniest man on earth alone on a rock in Death Valley. Dan Hicks is so good, such a charming wit, that you could only not laugh if you didn’t speak English (like my seat-mate). I was rolling in hysterics for two hours. I love this whatever-it-is music, but my face ached afterwards from my smile cracking (some people think I am incapable of smiling, they’re wrong). Thank you Dan Hicks. I’ll put you in a book sometime. Oh, already did. Never mind.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: A Polar bear walks into an English 'fish and chip' shop and says to the person taking the order, "I'll have a Cola and ............................................................................... large fish and chips ." The order taker asks, "What's with the big pause?" The bear says, "I dunno, I've always had them."
Jeff: Did you subscribe to Boy’s Life as a child?
Mutt: No, but I do now.
Jeff: Let me tell ya, if you want to make money as a comedian you gotta have the cents of humor.
Mutt: I don’t get it.
Jeff: Read.
Mutt: Once there was a mad scientist who worked by himself in his laboratory. Stop me if you’ve heard this.
Jeff: Get on with it.
Mutt: He was so lonely that one day he decided to clone himself. Everything worked perfectly except that the clone had a very foul mouth. The scientist worked with the clone, but alas, he could not make the clone clean up his language. He got so tired of the clone's language that one day he pushed him off the edge of a cliff. A policeman rushed up to him, and yelled, "You are under arrest! You are under arrest!"
"What for?" the mad scientist asked.
And the answer was …
Jeff: I can see it coming.
Mutt: For making an obscene clone fall.
Jeff: Okay, got one, and it’s a true story.
Mutt: Oh goody, I love true stories.
Jeff: It seems there were three monks who enjoyed raising plants and were trying to keep a flower shop running, selling unique and exotic plant life. One day some children were playing behind the shop and were eaten whole by an extremely rare man-eating plant. The parents, needless to say, were outraged and demanded that the friars get rid of the dangerous plant. The friars refused, so the parents and the people of the town tried several ways to get the friars to consent, but finally they had to ask Hugh, the town blacksmith (undoubtedly the strongest man around), to run the friars out of town.
Mutt: Hmmm.
Jeff: The Moral of the Story, my friend, is : "Hugh, and only Hugh, can prevent florist friars!"
Mutt: Good night, David.
Jeff: Good night, Chet.

September 4, 2011

Walk Away Towards

Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grasses and gentians of glacial meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of nature's darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature's sources never fail.  John Muir

I took a tiny music player on my PCT section hike this summer. Very few people were on the trail. I went several days without seeing another human, which was nice. I’d just spent a week at a big meeting (more later). The other hikers I met were friendly and spaced out on what we were doing and where. No one had much to say. One thru-hiker guy, giddy after his first 30-miler, just spread his arms, “Isn’t all this just … the greatest?!”

Why would you want to be anywhere else? When I got back to Tracy, I had no phone, no television, no computer, no radio, and I was alone in the house for several days. It wasn’t the liberating solitude but claustrophobic and weird: reading books, eating ice cream and checking the clock; it was okay but wrong. I wanted to be back up there in the higher altitudes.

My feet needed a break, but my spirit was still flying. I was proud of myself, something that doesn’t happen all the time. I liked myself, something I wish would happen more often.

You want ecstasy? I know where you can get some. Hard work but huge rewards that last. Not so hard that I should see only a handful of people in 10 days. Where were you?

Here are two of the songs that I listened to over and over, walking tunes. At the beginning of the trip, I was more into the long bluesy tone of the Dylan song, but as days went by the Greg Brown elation took over as the dominant feeling, the yahoo off the mountaintop. Anyhow, two great songs from Further In and Modern Times. Listen.

Two Little Feet  Greg Brown

Two little feet to get me 'cross the mountain
Two little feet to carry me away into the woods
Two little feet, big mountain, and a
Cloud comin' down, cloud comin' down, cloud comin' down.

I hear the voice of the ancient ones
Chanting magic words from a different time
Well there is no time, there is only this rain
There is no time, that's why I missed my plane.

John Muir walked away into the mountains
In his old overcoat a crust of bread in his pocket
We have no knowledge and so we have stuff and
Stuff with no knowledge is never enough to get you there
It just won't get you there.

A culture exploded into knickknacks and memories
Eagle and Bear trinkets, I don't think it's good
Old man what am I trying to say it's a
It's a messed up world but I love it anyway.

Two little feet to get me 'cross the city
My little hand to knock upon your door
My little thing for your little thing
And a big love to lift us up once more to the mountain
Lift us up.

Tumble us like scree let us holler out our freedom like a
Like a wolf across a valley like a kid lost in a game
No time no name gonna miss that plane again
And I'm gonna stay here with you baby and kiss you to a good dream
I'm goin' kiss you
Kiss you like you like it.

I got two little feet to get me across the mountain
Two little feet to carry me away into the woods
Two little feet big mountain and a
Cloud comin' down, cloud comin' down, cloud comin' down.

Ain't Talkin'  Bob Dylan

As I walked out tonight in the mystic garden
The wounded flowers were dangling from the vine
I was passing by yon cool crystal fountain
Someone hit me from behind.

Ain't talking, just walking
Through this weary world of woe
Heart burning, still yearning
No one on earth would ever know.

They say prayer has the power to heal
So pray for me, mother
In the human heart an evil spirit can dwell
I am trying to love my neighbor and do good unto others
But oh, mother, things ain't going well.

Ain't talking, just walking
I'll burn that bridge before you can cross
Heart burning, still yearning
There'll be no mercy for you once you've lost.

Now I'm all worn down by weeping
My eyes are filled with tears, my lips are dry
If I catch my opponents ever sleeping
I'll just slaughter them where they lie.

Ain't talking, just walking
Through the world mysterious and vague
Heart burning, still yearning
Walking through the cities of the plague.

Well, the whole world is filled with speculation
The whole wide world which people say is round
They will tear your mind away from contemplation
They will jump on your misfortune when you're down.

Ain't talking, just walking
Eating hog eyed grease in a hog eyed town.
Heart burning, still yearning
Some day you'll be glad to have me around.

They will crush you with wealth and power
Every waking moment you could crack
I'll make the most of one last extra hour
I'll revenge my father's death then I'll step back.

Ain't talking, just walking
Hand me down my walking cane.
Heart burning, still yearning
Got to get you out of my miserable brain.

All my loyal and my much-loved companions
They approve of me and share my code
I practice a faith that's been long abandoned
Ain't no altars on this long and lonesome road.

Ain't talking, just walking
My mule is sick, my horse is blind.
Heart burning, still yearning
Thinking about that girl I left behind.

Well, it's bright in the heavens and the wheels are flying
Fame and honor never seem to fade
The fire gone out but the light is never dying
Who says I can't get heavenly aid?

Ain't talking, just walking
Carrying a dead man's shield
Heart burning, still yearning
Walking with a toothache in my heel.

The suffering is unending
Every nook and cranny has its tears
I'm not playing, I'm not pretending
I'm not nursing any superfluous fears.

Ain't talking, just walking
Walking ever since the other night.
Heart burning, still yearning
Walking until I'm clean out of sight.

As I walked out in the mystic garden
On a hot summer day, a hot summer lawn
Excuse me, ma'am, I beg your pardon
There's no one here, the gardener is gone.

Ain't talking, just walking
Up the road, around the bend.
Heart burning, still yearning
In the last outback at the world's end.

“It’s a messed up world, but I love it anyway.”

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt:  Pressure’s on after a season off.
Jeff:  You mean we have to be funny again?
Mutt:  Again?
Jeff:  Okay, remember the time we were at the theme park. It was an extremely windy day, and the area sweeper (you know, the person with the small dustpan and broom you see in parks sweeping up the litter) was that small woman, Mary Lou (4'10", 90 pounds), who joked that she would have to put rocks in her shoes when she went outside to work.
Mutt:  Yeah, she used to say, “Now I weigh me down to sweep.”
Jeff:  Was that the same pert and perceptive young lady whose boyfriend is currently prospecting for oil somewhere in the Middle East?
Mutt:  The very same.
Jeff:  I heard she sent him a 'Get Well' card.
Mutt: And did you hear about the constipated composer?
Jeff:  Yeah. He couldn't finish the last movement.
Mutt:  Question: If you dream in vivid colors, is that a pigment of your imagination?
Jeff:  So what happens when you play country music backwards?
Mutt:  I know this, I know this. You get your wife back, you get your house back, you get your job back, you get your car back, etc.
Jeff:  Did you hear about the optometrist who fell into a lens grinder and made a spectacle of himself?
Mutt:  You know, my friend, I’m exhausted from doing nothing.
Jeff:  Me too. I get enough exercise just by pushing my luck.