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December 27, 2013

Dear Faithful Readers

Dear Faithful Readers … both of you,

Like every year I have some lists to post. I don’t want to, but I am required to do so by international conventions, treaties, accords, and my blogger contract. I’ll put them all in one post this time. Hope you don’t get indigestion. Oh, go ahead, eat up.

You are more than welcome (what does that mean?) to respond with lists of your own. These are not complete, they’re mine. Here are my favorite films seen in 2013:

Another Earth
Blue Valentine
Bobby Fischer Against the World
Cedar Rapids
Diaz: Don’t Clean Up the Blood
Drag Me to Hell
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Gran Torino
Hugo Cabret
Italian for Beginners
Killer Joe
Margin Call
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Moonrise Kingdom
Never Let Me Go
Ruby Sparks
Sugar Man
Synecdoche, New York
The Boat that Rocked
The Company You Keep
The Disappearance of Alice Creed
The Ides of March
The Iron Lady
The Lady
The Way
This Must Be the Place

Here are my favorite books read in 2013:

A Visit From the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
Civilwarland in Bad Decline, George Saunders
Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson
Grace (eventually), Anne Lamott
Mountain Sage, Elizabeth Stone O’Neill
O Jerusalem, Laurie R. King
Pastoralia, George Saunders
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard
Pirate King, Laurie R. King
Red Moon, Benjamin Percy
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Laurie R. King
The Canary Trainer, Nicholas Meyer
The Final Solution, Michael Chabon
The God of the Hive, Laurie R. King
The Good Rain, Timothy Egan
The Last Skin, Barbara Ras
The Lost Years of Jesus, Elizabeth Clare Prophet
The Plot Against America, Philip Roth
The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop., Robert Coover
The Wilding, Benjamin Percy
The Women, T.C. Boyle
What I Didn’t See, Karen Joy Fowler

Here are the musicians, writers and others that I mourn from 2013:

Alan Myers (Devo)
Alan O’Day
Alvin Lee
Ann Rabson
Bob Brozman
Bobbie Smith (Spinners)
Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland
Bobby Rogers (Miracles)
Bobby Slone (Kentucky Colonels)
Claude King
Cleotha Staples (Staples Singers)
Colin Davis
Cowboy Jack Clement
Damon Harris (Temptations)
Deanna Durbin
Don Shirley
Donald Byrd
Enzo Jannacci
Eydie Gorme
Faith Petric
George Duke
George Jackson
Gordon Stoker (Jordanaires)
Hugh McCracken
Jack Greene
James DePreist
Janos Starker
Jason Molina
Jim Hall
JJ Cale
Jody Payne (Willie Nelson band)
Joey Covington (Jefferson Airplane)
Leroy 'Sugarfoot' Bonner (Ohio Players)
Little Willie Littlefield
Lou Reed
Louis Killen
Magic Slim
Marian McPartland
Marshall Lytle (Bill Haley & His Comets)
Mulgrew Miller
Neil Smith (AC/DC)
Noel Harrison
Patti Page
Patty Andrews
Peter Banks (Yes)
Phil Ramone
Philip Chevron (Pogues)
Ray Manzarek
Richard Street (Temptations)
Richie Havens
Rick Huxley (Dave Clark Five)
Roberto Ciotti
Shadow Morton (writer of Leader of the Pack)
Slim Whitman
Tony Sheridan (original Beatle)
Toshi Seeger (Pete’s wife)
Van Cliburn
Yusef Lateef

Allen Arbus
Annette Funicello
Dale Robertson
Dr. Joyce Brothers
Eiji Toyoda (100)
Esther Williams
Franca Rame
Jean Stapleton
Joan Fontaine
Jonathan Winters
Julie Harris
Les Blank
Margherita Hack
Nelson Mandela
Otto Sander
Ray Harryhausen
Roger Ebert
Ruth Asawa
Scott Carpenter
Sir David Frost
Stan Musial

Albert Murray
Amy Wallace
Barnaby Conrad
Bernard Waber
Carolyn Cassady
Chinua Achebe
Christopher Koch
Daniel Hoffman
Dena Epstein
Don Payne
Doris Lessing
E.L. Konigsberg
Elmore Leonard
Jack McCarthy
Jack Vance
John Hollander
Louis D. Rubin, Jr.
Oscar Hijuelos
Paul Kane Dufault
Paul Williams
Philip Slater
Richard G. Stern
Seamus Heaney
W. Watts Biggers
Wanda Coleman
William Harrison

So who gets their picture posted this year? The only person on any list that I really met. liked, and talked to at length at a fund-raiser for the Resource Center for Nonviolence about 30 years ago – Toshi Seeger.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Happy Holidays, Your Jeff-ness.
Jeff: Same to you, jolly good old chap-ness. Got any good ones for the new year.
Mutt: No, fresh out. I am becoming increasingly worried and concerned that there isn't enough anxiety in my life. Plus I'm still not sure if I understand ambiguity.
Jeff: Hey, the world's full of apathy, but I don't care.
Mutt: Don't be redundant by repeating yourself. Twice.
Jeff: I have a twin brother; he's identical, but I'm not.
Mutt: Listen, amigo, if the cops arrest a mime, do they tell him he has the right to remain silent?
Jeff: What do you get when you cross the Atlantic Ocean with the Titanic?
Mutt: Oh boy, I don’t know.
Jeff: Half way.
Mutt: This is true. A boy was bagging groceries at a supermarket. One day the store installed a machine for squeezing fresh orange juice. Intrigued, the young man asked if he could be allowed to work the machine, but his request was denied. The store manager said, "Sorry, kid, but baggers can't be juicers."
Jeff: Wow. That’s awful.
Mutt: Every one a winner.
Jeff: And Best Wishes to you too.

December 7, 2013

Mandela & Mom

The death of Nelson Mandela made me think of Mom. We did some things together when I was a kid, but there were usually other brothers involved, or she just didn’t have time for an outing because she worked hard. When the boys all moved out, I’d go back home to visit, and me and Mom would go out for a walk around the Crystal Springs Reservoir or do something else. In the summer of 1990, she announced with a giggle of excitement that we were going to see Nelson Mandela who had just been released after 27 years in prison. She’d bought tickets for the two of us on the field at the Oakland Coliseum.

Willie Brown, flamboyant San Francisco mayor, spoke. Ron Dellums, radical representative, spoke. Harry Belafonte sang. They tried to make a cause-effect connection between the anti-apartheid movement in the U.S. and the changes the ANC demanded in South Africa. They passed the hat. Then the Great Man came to the microphone and stunned us with his presence. He explained the suffering of his people. He asked us for help. He thanked us. He repeated One Person, One Vote. He warmed our hearts. Then he left.

The cheering crowd was silent walking back to their cars. Mom felt like she’d witnessed an historical event. I was glad we’d done it together. I get my progressive politics from my mother. I get other things too, like my love of the Sierras and walking, libraries and baseball.

Did Mom need to be present when Mandela came because of her childhood in multi-racial Berkeley? Of course. And her college friend Bev who fell in love and married a black man in about 1950, who was disowned by her family and had only one friend left in the world, only one person attending the wedding, Mom.

Was my experience that day enhanced because, as you read below (way down), I spent the summer of 1975 in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) during the civil war that lasted twenty years? Of course. The social make-up of that country was similar to neighboring South Africa at the time, but the future would be almost the opposite. Zimbabwe in 2013 still has no peace (see Robert Mugabe); South Africa is an example of prosperity and multiethnicity … thanks to the man who would be, a few years later and for a few years only, President Nelson Mandela.

So thanks Mom. I can say I was there. We were there.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt:  Hey Jeff, you ever eat Scottish-Asian food?
Jeff:  I know where this is going.
Mutt:  Where does McDonald's get its burgers from?
Jeff:  Macau.
Mutt:  Okay, how did Hitler tie his laces?
Jeff:  Ummm.
Mutt:  In little Nazis.
Jeff:  Hilarious. How did the dentist become a brain surgeon? Give up? His drill slipped.
Mutt:  Okay, how many sides does a circle have? Two: an inside and an outside.
Jeff:  You didn’t give me time to answer. What are half-sized quartz watches?
Mutt:  Pintz watches?
Jeff:  I don’t get it.
Mutt: You told it.  Okay, what are tired Army clothes?
Jeff:  Too easy. Fatigues. What city has the largest rodent population? You won’t get this.
Mutt:  Ummm.
Jeff:  Hamsterdam.
Mutt: What cruises down the riverbed at 60 mph?
Jeff:  A motorpike with two side carps.
Mutt:  You’re good. What did Godzilla say after eating a four-cylinder Datsun?
Jeff:  No idea.
Mutt:  "Gosh, I could have had a V-8!"
Jeff:  What did the alien dandelion say to the Earth dandelion?
Mutt:  "Take me to your weeder!"
Jeff:  Then what did the guitar say to the musician?
Mutt:  "Pick on someone your own size!" Got you.
Jeff:  Shut up.
Mutt:  You shut up.
Jeff:  You shut up.

November 18, 2013

BIG C omplaint

A friend of mine died of cancer recently. Can you say the same thing? Probably. It’s not the first time for me; I’m getting fed up with it. Too many people I know have cancer, have had cancer, will have cancer. I even had a small tumor removed this week. I’m fed up, enough already!

But it won’t be enough, will it? It will continue and get worse (see Fukushima Dai-ichi, btw, how’s that tuna sandwich?). Who’s next? You, me, the lottery? It’s not but it seems contagious like the flu. One cough and you’re done for. Like the Black Plague, half of Europe dead in a couple years. What, why, how? Give us a break.

This blog post is not going to be very good because I can’t answer my own questions. I can’t explain why so many people I know have cancer. One rumor is Chernobyl, 25 years later. Another is diet (now food is toxic?), then there’s smoking, and don’t forget stress, which often comes from work because we want it all and we want it now (and that’s not working out too well). So what if we take all the fish from the ocean, the oil from underground, cut down all the trees, huh? Gotta provide a better life for the kids.

We in the developed world got that already, and …. How’s the sacrifice of our ancestors and the rape of the earth made our lives better than when we were kids – cell phones and videogames? Technology as the answer to all the problems caused by technology? Is it consume, reproduce and die like salmon? Sadly, I digress. Back to cancer (or rather not).

I have no explanations or solutions to propose. Nothing. I feel like when I got lost in Disneyland as a kid. I turned around and my parents had disappeared. I’m tired of people disappearing. Sick and tired. Stop!

I know there are typhoons and earthquakes, tornadoes, volcanoes erupting and droughts and floods and fires all over the world. It’s hard to steady one’s ship and keep it on course, if you know your course. No hope then? Oh maybe, a couple years ago a friend of mine was cured of an incurable disease. How about that? Age of Aquarius, we're still waiting.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Hey, Jeff, thanks for bailing me out, or coming to pick me up rather. A harrowing experience. I got arrested yesterday by the Batkid. The charge was being a criminal mastermind threatening the well-being of the citizens of Gotham City, but then the cops and I chatted, and they dropped the mastermind charges.
Jeff: Yeah, well. They also arrested a man for passing himself off as the comedian named Seinfeld. The charge was playjerism.
Mutt: Oh, I heard lots of stories like that in the joint, the big house, the crowbar hotel.
Jeff: You were in jail for half an hour. It wasn’t even a real jail. Plus, the Batkid is five years old. [Good luck, Miles!!!]
Mutt: Okay, but they arrested a woman for causing an accident while on her cellphone. She was charged with driving while intalksicated.
Jeff: I heard that they arrested the barber for running a clip joint.
Mutt: They arrested the Pfizer pharmaceutical rep for hitting a pharmacist because he wouldn't buy their popular pill. He was charged with Viagravated assault.
Jeff: They arrested the former chewing gum manufacturer for unlicensed ex-spearmints.
Mutt: Yeah, and they arrested the hock shop owner for indecency. He was selling pawnographic materials.
Jeff: And they arrested the Chrysler salesman and he couldn't a-Ford bail.
Mutt: They arrested the owner of a threatening bull. He was brought up on charges.
Jeff: Had enough?
Mutt: Of time in the slammer? Definitely. The can, the cooler, the brig, the calaboose, the poky, the hoosegow, the pen, the clink …
Jeff: Stop!

November 6, 2013

A Sign I Can't Read

I was having a hard day, not because it was 20 miles between highway 3, Scott Mountain Summit, where I’d camped and highway 93, Carter Meadows, my proposed destination—Siskiyou County, Northern California—but because it started with several miles straight up hill; then it leveled; then it went up some more. ‘It’ being the trail. Yeah, this is a trail story, sort of.

I knew there were fires up ahead (usually are), but I needed to get to Etna, California, to rest a couple days. You know when you need a break or you will break? So I was climbing—left knee going wah wah wha—and determined to get to the next road, an illusion of safety perhaps, a way out. I crossed a ridge at lunchtime, and the smoke got a lot thicker. The fire was near enough to smell; then my eyes watered; then I started to cough. I was climbing into hell.

I met only one guy all day coming the other way. He was my age, taller, stronger, with a much larger pack that looked home-designed, very neat. He said he was sure glad to get out of the smoke he’d been walking through for a week. He said he could finally breathe; I said I have minor respiratory problems.

I knew the trail wasn’t officially closed, though people were evacuating. The Russian Wilderness fire, the Marble Mountain Wilderness fire, the Etna fire, these were not right next to the trail, I’d heard, but one can’t help wondering as the smoke gets thicker and thicker. All afternoon I kept telling myself that flames would not appear around the next bend, up the next rise. Plus I absolutely had to get to the highway because that was the plan. All this weighed on my mind as I walked through the dark forest completely alone.

Out of the blue, all of a sudden, without warning, right beside me on the left, ten feet away, a tree branch comes crashing to the ground. A six foot long branch fell out of a tree and slammed to the ground right as I passed. I screamed, of course. Stopped a few feet ahead, looked at the branch—it was dry; lots of trees are diseased or burnt these days—and then I started laughing out loud, really loud, alone with the spirits. I echoed as I laughed for a while at the absurdity. What just happened? Why me? Who is trying to communicate what? Of all the times to fall …

I got to the highway, and friendly Sheriff Chris Callahan drove me to Yreka. The smoke continued clear to Oregon and the Etna wildfire would continue, he explained, until it rained. There was even a freak landslide blocking the only road the fire fighters could use to get to the blaze. Almost as bizarre as a tree limb falling right next to a lone hiker as if some joker were throwing it at him from above. BLAM!

Maybe the tree was thinking, “If I fall in the woods, and nobody’s around to hear me, do I really exist?”

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt:  For the love of Mike, it’s Sir Jeffery, the supreme wit.
Jeff:  Hello Mutt. Can I tell you a sad story about my girlfriend?
Mutt:  I already don’t believe it. You’ve never had a girlfriend.
Jeff:  Yeah, well. Penny was a hard working, conscientious girl, who lived on her own. Her dream in life was to go on an ocean cruise around the world. So she scrimped and she saved until finally, one day, she had enough money to go on her ocean cruise. She booked passage on a cruise liner - first class all the way. The cruise started off in a grandiose scale, dancing and parties every night. But Penny was a cautious girl, so she never drank, but just danced the night away.
One night, after they had been at sea for a week, Penny was walking back to her cabin, when the heel on her left shoe broke throwing her off balance. If that wasn't enough, the ship chose that moment to tilt to the left. As a result, Penny was thrown overboard. A hue and a cry were immediately raised, and after about five minutes they found Penny. Hauling her aboard, the ship's crew realized that it was too late, poor Penny was dead.
Normally, they would have done a burial at sea, but as I said before, Penny was a very conscientious girl, and had written a will. In it, she specified that she wished for her body to be cremated, and kept in a jar on her parent's fireplace mantel. Her wishes were fulfilled, which just goes to show you that a Penny saved is a Penny urned.
Mutt:  That just goes to show me I should have gone to the races today.
Jeff:  If you want I’ll tell you how I met Penny.
Mutt:  Shoot. Take me out of my misery.
Jeff:  I was dining in a fancy restaurant and there was a gorgeous redhead sitting at the next table. I had been checking her out since I sat down, but I lacked the nerve to talk with her. Suddenly she sneezes, and her glass eye comes flying out of its socket towards me. I reflexively reached out, grabbed it out of the air, and handed it back.
“Oh my, I am so sorry,” the woman said as she popped her eye back in place. "Let me buy your dinner to make it up to you.”
We enjoyed a wonderful dinner together, and afterwards we went to the theater followed by drinks. We talked, we laughed, she shared her deepest dreams and I shared mine. She listened. After paying for everything, she asked me if I would like to come to her place for a nightcap and stay for breakfast.
We had a wonderful, wonderful time. The next morning, she cooked a gourmet meal with all the trimmings. I was amazed. Everything had been so incredible.
“You know,” I said, "you are the perfect woman. Are you this nice to every guy you meet?"
“No,” she replied, "You just happened to catch my eye."
Mutt:  Do you know the expression ‘too much information’?
Jeff:  Let’s go to the races anyway. I feel lucky.
Mutt:  I feel woozy.

October 31, 2013

Gathered at the River by Denise Levertov

Gathered at the River by Denise Levertov

for Beatrice Hawley and John Jagel

As if the trees were not indifferent…

A breeze flutters the candles but the trees give off
a sense of listening, of hush.

The dust of August on their leaves.
But it grows dark. Their dark green
is something known about, not seen.

But summer twilight takes away
only color, not form. The tree-forms,
massive trunks and the great domed heads,
leaning in towards us, are visible,

a half-circle of attention.

They listen, because the war
we speak of, the human war with ourselves,

the war against earth
against nature,
is a war against them.

The words are spoken
of those who survived a while,
lying shadowgraphs, eyes fixed forever
on witnessed horror,

who survived to give
testimony, that none
may plead ignorance.
Contra naturam. The trees,
the trees are not indifferent.

We intone together, Never again,

we stand in a circle,
singing, speaking, making vows,
remembering the dead
of Hiroshima,
of Nagasaki.

We are holding candles: we kneel to set them
afloat on the dark river
as they do there in Hiroshima. We are invoking

saints and prophets
heroes and heroines of justice and peace,
to be with us, to help us
stop the torment of our evil dreams. . .


Wind threatened flames bob on the current . . .

They don’t get far from shore. But none capsizes
even in the swell of a boat’s wake.

The waxy paper cups sheltering them
catch fire. But still the candles
sail their gold downstream.

And still the trees ponder our strange doings, as if
well aware that if we fail,
we fail also for them:
if our resolves and prayers are week and fail

there will be nothing left of their slow and innocent wisdom,

no roots
no bole nor branch,

no memory
of shade
of leaf,

no pollen

October 26, 2013

Neal Kicks the Bucket

Have no fear, Neal is not dead. He just kicked the bucket.

When Neal was a teenager, about 13 or 14, in the so-called ‘stupid’ years because that’s when you tend to misunderstand cause and effect relationships, Neal was in the backyard looking after his squirt little brother, Noel. Noel was about 3 or 4, sitting in the sandbox, drooling. Neal was often called on by his working mom to look after Noel, but he disliked his brother because he was a baby.

Neal wanted to be a football star, kicking was his specialty. He was, in fact, dribbling a volleyball and bouncing it against the outer wall of the house. If anyone had been inside at the moment, he would have been in big trouble.

Then he got bored, but he had no intention of going down to play in the sandbox with his little squirt brother Noel. Then he spotted it. Noel had left a plastic bucket of sand outside the sandbox on the near side. He was inside the sandbox gurgling and shoveling sand up and down like an idiot.

Neal made a plan. He would take a running start and place-kick the bucket so that the sand would spray all over Noel like a sandstorm. He could see it all before it happened. The running start, the plastic bucket full of sand, the tidal wave on his brother’s head – the perfect plan.

Neal shifted his weight back and then forward on his left leg. Then he took the five or six steps to the bucket. Then he put all his weight and muscle into the kick. Then he screamed. Noel looked up in his direction. What’s your problem? Noel went back to shoveling sand.

A plastic bucket full of sand may as well be full of cement. It’s not powdered sugar or fairy dust. It is extremely heavy. Perhaps the sand was even wet. Neal rammed his foot into the bucket and the most it did was topple over on its side. No spray. Only a scream of pain. Neal would have felt the same thing if he’d kicked with all his might the side wall of the house. His big toe started to swell inside his tennis shoe.

When his mother came home, Neal said that everything was fine. When she saw him limping, he said he’d gotten a splinter in his sole, but had taken it out. That was a lie; his big toe was broken. Neal tried to hide his pain and the swelling and discoloration for several weeks, until his toe partially healed. Getting out of gym class was particularly challenging. Things inside his shoe eventually got back to normal.

The price of a practical joke: that’s what Neal learned from this episode. He’s now in his fifties, and every so often his big toe on his kicking foot still hurts like hell. It reminds him that, although his dear brother, Noel, is in his forties, Neal would still like to dump a load of sand on his head.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: An electrician was out late one night and met his wife in the kitchen as he sneaked in the front door.
  His wife asked, "Wire ya insulate?"
  He replied, "Watts it to ya, I'm ohm, ain't I?"
Jeff: Not electrician jokes again!
Mutt: That wasn’t a joke.
Jeff: I know. Okay. A manufacturer of electric light bulbs was talking to the owner of a theater. "I'd like to supply you with bulbs for your marquee," the manufacturer said, "and it won't cost you a penny. It will enable me to realize a lifelong ambition."
  "If I accept the free bulbs," the curious theater manager asked, "will you tell me about this ambition of yours?"
  "Certainly," the man said. "It's just that I've always dreamed of seeing my lights up in names!"
Mutt: Mine was better. If electricity comes from electrons, does that mean that morality comes from morons?
Jeff: You would know. Say, did you hear that in Baltimore, the Psychic Friends Network has filed for bankruptcy. They say they never saw it coming.
Mutt: Hey, Some people are wise, and some, otherwise.
Jeff: And I wanted to be a mime, but I talked myself out of it.

October 5, 2013

Annual Quiz Winners

Hello Fans,
The response to this year’s quiz was terrifyingly terrific. Literally or figuratively thousands of you responded, all wrong of course. I'm keeping all the prizes. The most popular answers were that all those bigshots listed were alien spies or that they all spoke of the pompetous of love or both. I’ll give the correct answer in a second, but let me tell a story first.
I was in Yreka, California in late August trying to get to Tracy, California. Seems simple enough, they’re both on Interstate 5, about a 5 hour drive. But I had no car. When I got to the local bus station, an hour walk on sore feet, they said I could take a Siskiyou Stage bus to Weed. I was a bit suspicious of a town named Weed in the cannabis heart of the West. I got traveling clothes at Walmart. After 8 hours in Yreka, I got the bus to Weed.
The Greyhound station was smaller than my living room and on the outskirts of town. So what? The fat Jackie Gleason guy chewing an unlit cigar said he’d sell me a ticket but the bus came through at 11 pm, an 8 hour wait. Then I’d have to wait over 5 hours in the Sacramento station, most of the night, to get the morning bus to Tracy. I took the ticket and walked around town in 100 degree heat,  sore feet and giardia. Weed, named after Abner Weed, had a nice lumber industry museum that nobody had visited in weeks. It was air-conditioned. The volunteer docent wanted to talk. I also sat on a bench in the shade outside the crafts store and strolled all the aisles of the supermarket without buying anything. Then the whole town closed and it got dark. Then several hours later the bus came. Does it sound like I’m complaining about public transportation services in Northern California? I had nothing but time, 30 hours in all. O.k. yeah, I wanted to get home.
In Sacramento I asked if there wasn’t a faster way to get to Tracy. Yes there was. Go through Modesto. I’ll take it. Got to Modesto at 5 am, leaving at 8:30. Except that the bus station was closed and overrun with the homeless. It was interesting to be the only person who was actually traveling amongst about 100 roaming, ranting, awake and prowling unfortunate souls. Most asked me for a cigarette, and everyone checked the trash can next to me hoping there’d be a half sandwich sitting on top.
It was a bit like being in an open air insane asylum. Not as scary as you’d think, no one seemed threatening (though I'm sure they had it in them). Everyone conserved some dignity. One young woman sat next to me and spent half an hour on her skin care, her mirror hanging on her shopping cart. I mostly sat reading my book, but also talked to a few of the inmates (outmates?) with pleasure. Finally it got light, the station opened, I got my ride and home. Sunrise amongst the homeless Modestoans was something I won’t forget.
O.k., you guessed it. Everyone on the list was homeless at some time in their lives. Some for a short time, living in a car or sleeping in the park, some for years. Be kind to the homeless, they may be next year’s stars.
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Burl Ives
  • Carmen Electra
  • Cary Grant
  • Charlie Chaplin
  • Colonel Harland Sanders
  • Daniel Craig
  • Danny Bonaduce
  • David Letterman
  • Debbie Reynolds
  • Djimon Hounsou
  • Don Imus
  • Dr. Phil McGraw
  • Drew Carey
  • Eartha Kitt
  • Ella Fitzgerald
  • George Eads (CSI)
  • George Orwell
  • Gordon Parks
  • Halle Berry
  • Harry Houdini
  • Heather Mills
  • Hilary Swank
  • Jack Kerouac
  • Jaco Pastorius
  • Jean-Claude Van Damme
  • Jean-Michel Basquiat
  • Jennifer Lopez
  • Jewel
  • Jim Carrey
  • Jim Cramer
  • Jim Morrison
  • Joan Rivers
  • John Drew Barrymore (father of Drew)
  • John Garfield
  • John Muir
  • John Woo
  • Kelly Clarkson
  • Kelsey Grammer
  • Kurt Cobain
  • Lil’ Kim
  • Martin Sheen
  • Patti Smith
  • Rose McGowan
  • Sam Worthington
  • Shania Twain
  • Sly Stone
  • Steve Jobs
  • Sylvester Stallone
  • Traci Lords
  • Troy Donahue
  • Tupac Shakur
  • Tyler Perry
  • Vachel Lindsay
  • William Shatner
  • Woody Guthrie

Oh, wait, there’s a name missing. I was traveling by thumb and 10 cents a day through the Middle East (not Middle Earth, though I was reading the Trilogy) in 1978-79, and more nights than not I slept in the fields or behind the train station. Once I slept under a truck, for two weeks I slept every night on trains. The benches in the parks aren’t that uncomfortable. All for poverty and adventure. I didn’t eat out of trashcans, but I did accept handouts a lot, lived for days and days on Arab bread alone, slept in garages and storage rooms, once on an office desk. The cops mostly left me alone. In Greece a German woman put 5 marks in my hand while I was napping on top of my backpack. I bought ice cream. Then I took the ferry to Italy and the rest is his-story.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt:  Show me the first president's dentures, and I'll show you the George Washington Bridge.
Jeff:  Show me a famous composer's liquor cabinet and I'll show you Beethoven's Fifth.
Mutt:  Show me where Stalin's buried and I'll show you a communist plot.
Jeff:  Speaking of criminals, Arthur Winchester lives in a small town where everyone calls each other by his or her first name. In fact, everywhere he goes, Arthur is greeted by calls of "Hey there, Arty." "How's it going, Arty?" or "How are the kids doing, Arty?"
            One fine afternoon, Arthur decided to go shopping. So he went to Pop's Grocery store and got everything he needed. Then he went to the counter to check out and chatted with Pop for a while. Finally Pop rung up Arthur's bill and Arty paid gladly. But when Pop was handing Arthur back a dollar bill as change he dropped it and it fell to the floor. Pop's son, who happened to be there as well, picked it up, but before he could hand it to Arty, Arty suddenly got outrageously mad and grabbed Pop's son by the throat and squeezed and squeezed until Pop's son dropped the dollar.
           Then Pop's wife picked up the dollar bill. Again, Arty got very angry and grabbed her by the neck, throttling her and shouting, "Give me my dollar! Give it to me now!" Finally, she dropped the dollar.
            Then Pop picked up the dollar. Arthur then grabbed him by the neck and strangled and strangled, shouting for his dollar bill until Pop too let go of the dollar and Arty was able to get it and go on his way.
            The whole town was buzzing for months about the headline in the next day's paper: Arty chokes three for a dollar at local grocery store.
Mutt:  Good night and have a pleasant tomorrow.

September 21, 2013

Annual Sunset Intersection Quiz

Time again for the annual quiz. The question's the same as last year: What do these people have in common? Send in your answers on the comment page to collect valuable prizes.
Benjamin Franklin
Burl Ives
Carmen Electra
Cary Grant
Charlie Chaplin
Colonel Harland Sanders
Daniel Craig
Danny Bonaduce
David Letterman
Debbie Reynolds
Djimon Hounsou
Don Imus
Dr. Phil McGraw
Drew Carey
Eartha Kitt
Ella Fitzgerald
George Eads (CSI)
George Orwell
Gordon Parks
Halle Berry
Harry Houdini
Heather Mills
Hilary Swank
Jack Kerouac
Jaco Pastorius
Jean-Claude Van Damme
Jean-Michel Basquiat
Jennifer Lopez
Jim Carrey
Jim Cramer
Jim Morrison
Joan Rivers
John Drew Barrymore (father of Drew)
John Garfield
John Muir
John Woo
Kelly Clarkson
Kelsey Grammer
Kurt Cobain
Lil’ Kim
Martin Sheen
Patti Smith
Rose McGowan
Sam Worthington
Shania Twain
Sly Stone
Steve Jobs
Sylvester Stallone
Traci Lords
Troy Donahue
Tupac Shakur
Tyler Perry
Vachel Lindsay
William Shatner
Woody Guthrie

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt:  Did you see that picture the boss put up?
Jeff:  What about it?
Mutt:  Look at the last one with the hat and glasses. It's a self-portrait, dude! It's him.
Jeff:  Yeah, remarkable resemblance. You're right.
Mutt:  Damn  right I'm right.
Jeff:  Then if you're so smart maybe you know this: If a word is misspelled in the dictionary, how would we ever know?
Mutt:  How do you spell 'misspell'?
Jeff:  Like the dictionary.
Mutt:  Ok. Why do we say something is out of whack? What is a whack?
Jeff:  Ooway, got me there. Why do 'slow down' and 'slow up' mean the same thing?
Mutt:  Why do 'fat chance' and 'slim chance' mean the same thing?
Jeff:  Why do 'tug' boats push their barges?
Mutt:  Why is it called 'after dark' when it really is 'after light'?
Jeff:  Why are a 'wise man' and a 'wise guy' opposites?
Mutt:  Why do 'overlook' and 'oversee' mean opposite things?
Jeff:  Why is bra singular and panties plural?
Mutt: Yeah, and if love is blind, why is lingerie so popular?
Jeff:  If work is so terrific, why do they have to pay you to do it?
Mutt:  Good one. But that grumpy cat is still scaring me.
Jeff:  Me too. Let's fly.
Mutt:  Can we do that?
Jeff:  It's a free ... no never mind.

September 5, 2013

I'd Rather Walk

On the thru-hiker bench next to the gas station at Castella, California with Sheepdog and El Jefe, joined by people nicknamed Peter Pan, a woman, Mr. Green, Starfox, Chikchuk, Birdhouse, Tapper and so on, we watched the RVs and Motorhomes, 5th Wheels and Bus-sized contraptions pulling jeeps and SUVs behind, and someone commented (me), “Work hard and  be rewarded,” since it takes a life of work to afford those monstrous toys. Then we, in the name of all our PCT comrades, said one by one, “I’d rather walk,” “I’d rather walk,” “I’d rather walk.”

When we’d had our fill of milk and cookies (I had only one box of Lorna Doones), or beer and smokes, we slowly got up, one by one, shouldered our friendly packs and made for the 5000 ft climb back up to the alpineland, high-altitudeland, the cloudland, rocky peakland, timberland, motherland, wonderland, where you can only go on foot, Castle Crags and the Trinity Alps, in this case.

“I’d rather walk,” to me stands for the wisdom of human beings to choose. Don’t hike [insert whatever] unless you like it. Do things that last. Can happiness be bought? Is bigger better? Newer better? A promotion, a lottery win, a new lover the answer to your yearning? When your phone is also a geiger counter or your car parks itself, is that progress? We can opt out of the phony world presented by the ad-powered popular PR-ess and go back (or forward rather) to pastimes that touch both the earth and us. Learn to swim and sell the jetski. Pull the plug on that maxi-screen and play the dulcimer or read a book in a foreign language. Garden. Knit. Sing in harmony. You want to relax, sit, lay around doing nothing? It’s a lot sweeter when you earn it, like we did, after a twenty-miler. And look, you do not need another garage full of stuff, it'll just make you feel guilty. As Greg Brown said, “We have no knowledge and so we have stuff, and stuff with no knowledge is never enough … to get you there.” But I digress.

I had a good walk this summer, cut a bit short by fires, a trick knee and giardia, more testing of my physical/mental limits and perhaps less ecstasy than other years, still important, fundamental. John Muir, the Sierra Saint, in his journal from his first summer in the mountains said,

Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, inciting at once to work and rest! Days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God. Nevermore, however weary, should one faint by the way who gains the blessing of one mountain day; whatever his fate, long life, short life, stormy or calm, he is rich forever.

Rich forever.

A record-breakingly fast kid named Broken Toe told me, “If you come to the mountains to find yourself, meet people, or for an inspirational experience, you’re doomed. The only reason to hike is if you love hiking. You gotta love hiking.” True I’m sure, very true, but I met people, got inspiration and a bit of self-knowledge in the bargain. With, I might add, no carbon imprint, no electronic circuitry, no celebrity news, no deodorant, no politics, just good old walking – the best preventative and curative medicine, especially against the dis-ease called angst.

See you next year, mountains, don’t burn everything please. I need the green. We all need the green. To walk in.

Happy trials on happy trails, Martin
Mutt and Jeff are on vacation in Atlantic City; they'll be back soon.

April 27, 2013

What Just Happened, part II

I’ve been waiting to update my previous post for some good concrete political news from Italialand. There’s finally news, but is it good? is it concrete? This long period without a government is like purgatory, living under the limbo bar, suspended animation, like traveling where you never seem to arrive but spend every day in waiting rooms watching the clock. Or like walking on ice, unsteady, sure to fall, to break thru and drown and freeze at the same time. Okay, you get it.

Remember the 30% x 3 + 10 split that came out of the last elections? Since the anarchistic 5 Star Movement seems unwilling to even speak to any of the others, that leaves 30 + 10, left and center, which is not enough, or the dreaded 30 + 30, the left and right together to form the government. The insane election law prevents new elections from changing the equilibrium, so that’s not a realistic option, although all parties threaten: If you don’t do as I say, we’ll call new elections and that’ll teach you!

Our 88-year-old president, Giorgio Napolitano, a true blessing for the country, was re-elected for a second seven-year term in a desperate attempt to impose a compromise. It might work. It’s full of traps and paradoxes. The left-wing leader, Nichi Vendola, is right when he says that the same people who created the problems can’t fix them. Napolitano is also right when he says that there’s no alternative. So every group gets the in-or-out call (out is lots easier), and those who are in have to form a coalition with their worst enemies. That is tough to stomach.

Imagine writing new political ethics laws together with Berlusconi, the tax-cheat, the briber, the judge corrupter, the sex criminal, the perjurer, the mafia’s favorite politico, accounting books doctor, embezzler, media fair-play cheater, prostitution ring leader, etc. ad vomitum. Imagine sitting across the table from him, the grinning demon, listening to his filthy jokes, looking at his thick make-up and fake hair waiting for it to jump out at you. If that’s what it takes …

So, go figure, the Democrats self-immolated in parliament (because all the leaders hate each other’s guts) and the odd one-man Right Wing seems almost saintly now. People can’t remember that, apart from the Monti technical government, the rulers who caused the current crisis are the ones who are protesting the loudest against it now. Berlusconi says the country’s gone down the shithole, as if he wasn’t shoving it there himself for nearly twenty years. Oh, I forgot, he also paid some senators 3 million euros each (30 pieces of silver, adjusted for inflation) to vote against their democratic Prodi government and bring its downfall, so he could slither back to the top. “Money can’t buy me love.” As if.

Is it in the definition of politics to make pacts with the devil? Enrico Letta, Mr. Clean, is working out the details as we speak. What will be the final cost for us? Nobody knows. What I want to know is if someone can turn things around before I have to sell my house. Because, while politics may be Italy’s favorite game, it’s connection to people’s real lives is finally becoming clear: a million new unemployed last year, a thousand businesses close every day, 50% youth unemployment. We’re spending our life savings to pay the grocery bill. Welcome to a worser world.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt:  Question: Why do supermarkets make the sick walk all the way to the back of the store to get their prescriptions while healthy people can buy cigarettes at the front?
Jeff:  I’m answering a question with a question: Why do banks leave vault doors open and then chain the pens to the counters?
Mutt:  Why do we leave cars worth thousands of dollars in our driveways and put our useless junk in the garage?
Jeff:  Why does the sun lighten our hair, but darken our skin?
Mutt:  Why is it that doctors and attorneys call what they do 'practice'?
Jeff:  Why is the man who invests all your money called a broker?
Mutt:  Why is the time of day with the slowest traffic called rush hour?
Jeff:  Why isn't there mouse-flavored cat food?
Mutt:  Why didn't Noah swat those two mosquitoes?
Jeff:  Why do they sterilize the needle for lethal injections?
Mutt:  If flying is so safe, why do they call the airport the terminal?
Jeff:  Why don't you ever see the headline 'Psychic Wins Lottery'?
Mutt:  Enough questions?
Jeff:  About twenty too many.
Mutt:  You’re moaning today, but you’ll be re-telling them tomorrow.
Jeff:  Oowah!

February 26, 2013

What Just Happened?

I’m writing this not to explain Italian politics to my faithful readers on the day after the weirdest election in history, but I’m merely trying to understand it myself. An election with no winner? What happens now?

I’ll begin by reminding myself that Italian representative democracy really began after WWII, and that each government rewrites the rules to their advantage (cheats), so that there’s very little democratic tradition to build on. Something like the U.S. at the time of William Henry Harrison. A troubled youth.

Italians have the highest tolerance for chaos I can imagine. No functionable government, a problem? Nah. Another election (150 million euros)? Sure, bring it on. They enjoy the comedy, the sport, the endless barstool debates. They joke about Berlusconi (on trial for numerable serious crimes, including pedophilia and running a prostitution ring). He’s the most famous/infamous Italian politician, and he acts like a class clown. Or a trickster actually, from ancient folktales. Making and destroying our world.

Why would anyone vote for the old man who failed as Prime Minister and then supported the Monti government only to betray it? His ties with organized crime are undeniable. He called the judiciary “worse than the Mafia” on the eve of the election. He justified bribery as a “necessary practice.” His billions are hidden in offshore accounts to avoid paying the taxes he promises to cut but actually raises. Etc. etc., so many scandals they don’t count.

I don’t know a single person who will admit to having ever voted for Berlusconi. I’d like to talk to one, to find out why. What they hope he will do that he hasn’t done already. How they view his counter-reform program, taking everything public apart piece by piece. Nobody, yet some 10 million people voted for him. He won big in Sicily. Aren’t they ashamed, you ask? I’m afraid not. But everyone was shocked, the polls all wrong. The egg-faced Democratic candidate, Bersani, had been celebrating his victory for weeks before the vote.

Somebody proposed a two-party system once. Didn’t fly. So when four parties who cannot get along each get roughly a quarter of the vote, what happens? More chaos. The Battle Royal. Big Time Wrestling. Entertainment.

Parties? Are there political parties in Italy? I suppose the Democratic Party is a normal political party, though somewhat of a dinosaur, which means career politicians. That’s another thing that this election meant. A stiff middle finger at all career politicians. So Grillo’s 5-star Movement plan is to have young ordinary citizens run the country for a while on the theory that they can’t do any worse. But parties? A single person is not a party. A tycoon (Berlusconi), or a technocrat (Monti), or a comic (Robin Williams, uh, sorry, Grillo), cannot be, by definition, a political party, yet they are. That’s something that maybe needs a little work.

As does the idea of right-wing conservative versus left-wing liberal. Lost in Italy. Berlusconi and Grillo want Italy out of Europe, for example. The Northern League wants three northern states to secede from the country. Or at least they say they do. That fiery rhetoric gets lots of votes, but they were in power for nearly 20 years and didn’t cut the country in two. No more taxes gets lots of votes too. Berlusconi promised to return last year’s property taxes. With what money, you ask, who cares, we all know he’s lying. The others charged him with trying to buy votes, which he’s always done anyway. Like reality television, we know it’s all staged and like it because it’s so “real”. The truth is lost in overlapping smoke screens. Or maybe there is no truth back there. How should I know?

Grillo’s success is largely anti-political. They’re all rotten. Kick ‘em out. Majority and minority equally guilty. Yeah, well, true and not true. I read the 5-star program and liked many points, but I didn’t vote against governing the country. As John Wayne would say, “It’s a dirty business, but somebody has to do it.”

So I continue, as a foreigner, to be non-plussed by Italian ways and means. Or self-mutilation. Or love of carnival anarchy. Mussolini, who Berlusconi praises frequently, said, “it’s not hard to try to govern the Italians; it’s pointless.” Or words to that effect. Plus tomorrow everything'll change again. Still I have a lot of questions.

Oh, by the way, what’s the REAL reason the Pope quit?

Happy trials, Martin Pedersen, reporting.

Mutt:  Speaking of which, did you hear about Walt Disney?
Jeff:  Did he run for political office or the papacy?
Mutt:  No, but he didn’t die either. He’s in suspended animation.
Jeff:  I have a question.
Mutt:  Just one?
Jeff:  Yeah. What do you do when you see an endangered animal that is eating an endangered plant?
Mutt:  Okay. What's another word for thesaurus?
Jeff:  When companies ship Styrofoam, what do they pack it in?
Mutt:  When it rains, why don't sheep shrink?
Jeff:  When sign makers go on strike, is anything written on their signs?
Mutt:  When you open a bag of cotton balls, is the top one meant to be thrown away?
Jeff:  Where do forest rangers go to "get away from it all"?
Mutt:  Why do people who know the least know it the loudest?
Jeff:  Why do they lock gas station bathrooms? Are they afraid someone will clean them?
Mutt:  Why do they report power outages on TV?
Jeff:  Why is the word abbreviation so long?
Mutt:  Why isn't there mouse-flavored cat food?
Jeff:  Would a fly without wings be called a walk?
Mutt:  I think that’s enough.
Jeff:  I’m going to vote again.
Mutt:  Again?
Jeff:  Sure, come on, it’ll be fun. I’m voting Mickey Mouse.
Mutt:  Goofy for me. Whoopee!