The arts


This week’s  journey started out when Sausalito poet Paul LeClerc and I got to talking during a break in the jazz one Friday evening at the No Name Bar. As noted in my July 8 posting, he recommended I read Joseph Mitchell’s 1938 book Joe Gould’s Secret, so I did. Not surprisingly, the author’s style turned out to be extremely engaging, for Mitchell was a longtime writer for The New Yorker. Much of the book had already appeared in that magazine. Whenever that had happened, Gould received some much-desired publicity.

— Poet Paul LeClerc (in white hat) at the No Name Bar

As I wrote last time, Gould was an unemployable eccentric who frequented the dive bars of New York City. Sometimes he called himself Professor Seagull. He claimed he’d learned the language of seagulls and had translated various poems into “seagull language.” He survived on donations of money, food, and clothing.

To justify his having no job and no money, Gould told people he was busy writing “the longest book in the history of the world.” He called it An Oral History of Our Time and was constantly recording in composition books conversations he was overhearing. The “secret” was that there was no such book, only a bunch of his notebooks, as Mitchell (below right) would discover. Gould was eventually hospitalized with a variety of physical and mental problems and died with people still looking for a copy of his Oral History.

— Los Angeles Times illustration

The story fascinated a college student named Jill Lepore (left), and one semester she joined the hunt for Gould’s missing Oral History as part of a thesis. Her paper became the genesis of her 2015 book titled Joe Gould’s Teeth. With its 77 pages of footnotes, it’s probably better researched then any other book I’ve read. Appropriately, Lepore, now 52, has become a professor of American History at Harvard as well as a staff writer for The New Yorker.

Lepore depicts Gould in far less flattering terms than Mitchell did. “Joe Gould was a toothless mad man who slept in the street,” Lepore writes, also noting that he sometimes “bunked in flophouses.” She also describes Gould’s obsession with sculptor Augusta Savage and his behavior toward her after she rejected his marriage proposal. Gould became so distraught he had to be hospitalized, and upon his release, he began stalking her.

This gets us to a stunning revelation that explains the title Joe Gould’s Teeth. Gould over time was admitted to several psychiatric hospitals, and “it was likely at Central Islip [hospital in New York] that Gould (above) lost his teeth,” Lepore concludes. “‘The first thing they did with all patients was take out all their teeth,’ wrote the psychiatrist Muriel Gardiner recalling her residency at a mental hospital in New Jersey at the time. This was on the theory, she explained, ‘that mental illness of any sort was always the result of a physical infection.'”

Lepore subsequently notes: “In New Jersey, Gardiner found the care of patients in the state mental hospital appalling. What most distressed her was the removal of their teeth. ‘I read their charts,’ she later said, ‘and some of them literally had had teeth, tonsils, appendix, uterus, every organ that you can live without removed for no apparent reason except they were schizophrenic…. None of them had ever got better.'”

That medical quackery explains the title Joe Gould’s Teeth. Oddly enough, Lepore merely refers to it only twice briefly and well before the conclusion. It’s almost as if that cruelty were incidental to her account and not the focus of the book’s title. But since Lepore writes for The New Yorker, I won’t second-guess her style.

Inverness Park’s Richard Blair and his wife Kathleen Goodwin have a new book, which consists of top-notch photography documenting life in San Francisco from the 1960s to the present. Although a couple of Richard’s subjects are well known, the quality of his photography makes each come alive in new ways.

Much of what makes Richard’s photography great is his combination of timing and perspective. Here’s the Transamerica Pyramid as seen through a tower of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Golden Gate Bridge as seen looking up from Fort Point on the San Francisco shore.

A variety of artists painted the murals inside Coit Tower during 1934 as part of a public work project.

Most of Coit Tower’s murals can be seen on the main floor, but, as Richard notes, “A rarely seen section on the second floor, where space is tight, can be viewed as part of a tour.”

An exotic, jungle-like elevated walkway at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.

A highlight of a drive through Golden Gate Park is the elegant San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers on John F. Kennedy Drive.

Hippie days recalled — A pyrotechnic display last year illuminated the conservatory during a 50th anniversary celebration of the Summer of Love. During that summer back in 1967, “music was in the park with the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane providing the soundtrack,” Richard writes. “We were stoned on pot or acid, and life was good (if the Vietnam War didn’t get you).”

Party time in Mission Dolores Park — “The largest concentration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LBGTQ) people in the world lives in San Francisco,” Richard notes. “Their freedom is a wonderful thing that everyone can enjoy, whether they are gay or straight.

“LGBTQ people are a major contributor to the city’s economy. Because of San Francisco’s tolerance we are getting a lot of the world’s talent!”

A dancer at Carnaval San Francisco. Photo by Kathleen Goodwin.

As it happens, all the other photos in this posting are by Richard Blair although his wife Kathleen Goodwin also shot some of the notable images in San Francisco, City of Love, including this one.

Marian and Vivian Brown were identical twins born in 1927 who grew up to be frequently pictured in the press and on television sporting identical snappy outfits and coiffed hair. They accompanied each other everywhere and would often eat dinner at one of the front tables in Uncle Vito’s restaurant near the top of Nob Hill. Marian died in January 2013, and Vivian died 22 months later.

An old man heads across the street in Chinatown.

San Francisco, City of Love does an impressive job of documenting the city’s fascinating people and special places. The book is starting to be available in bookstores, and at Toby’s Feed Barn, and can also be ordered from <http://blairgoodwin.com/BlairGoodwin/SF__City of__Lovehtml/>. 96 pages, $9.95

 

A bohemian resident of Sausalito, poet Paul LeClerc, 71, is a regular customer of the town’s No Name Bar, which I visit every Friday night with Lynn or a friend to listen to the Michael Aragon Quartet perform stunningly good jazz.

After I got to know LeClerc (above), he began encouraging me to read Joseph Mitchell’s 716-page book Up in the Old Hotel, a combination of factual stories and fiction (each identified as such). I rather suspected the coincidence of our names is what inspired him to recommend the book, but in any case, I took his advice and read it.

For almost 60 years, Mitchell (at left) wrote for The New Yorker, and several sections of the book first appeared in that magazine. All are set in the 1930s and 40s. Here Mitchell chats with restaurateur Louis Morino outside Marino’s Sloppy Louie’s restaurant near the Fulton Fish docks in New York City. (Photo by Therese Mitchell)

In ‘McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon,’ the opening section of the book, habitués of this saloon and other joints in lower Manhattan, provide characters for Mitchell’s story. In Shannon’s Irish Saloon, for example, he encounters Arthur Samuel Colborne, who describes himself as “the founder and head of the Anti-Profanity League.” A street preacher, he claims his league has passed out six million cards urging people not to swear.

Colborne chastises people on streets and in bars for using not only obscenities but also words such as hell. “It might not be one-hundred-percent profanity, but it’s a leader-on,” he tells Mitchell. “You start out with ‘hell,’ ‘devil take it,’ ‘Dad burn it,’ ‘Gee whiz,’ and the like of that, and by and by you won’t be able to open your trap without letting loose an awful, awful blasphemous oath.”

When Mitchell offers to buy Colborne another beer, the old man declines, saying, “I seldom have more than two, and I’ve had that. Nothing wrong in beer. Good for your nerves. I’d have another but I want to get home in time for a radio program.” Colborne later acknowledges having drunk beer heavily on at least one occasion, and Mitchell writes, “He was the first beer-drinking reformer I had ever encountered.”

‘Joe Gould’s Secret’ is probably the best-known section of Up in the Old Hotel. Gould (above) was an unemployable eccentric who sometimes called himself Professor Seagull. He claimed he’d learned the language of seagulls and had translated various poems into “seagull language.”

He survived on donations of money, food, and clothing. To justify his having no job and no money, Gould told people he was busy writing “the longest book in the history of the world.” He called it An Oral History of Our Time and was constantly recording in composition books conversations he was overhearing.

In reality, there was no such book, only a bunch of his notebooks, as Mitchell would discover. Gould was eventually hospitalized with a variety of physical and mental problems and died with people still looking for a copy of his Oral History.

Paul LeClerc, who brought Mitchell’s remarkable book to my attention, lived and worked in and around New York City for about four years, driving taxicabs and working in bookstores. He’s familiar with McSorley’s Saloon and the Fulton Fish Docks area where most of the book’s tales take place. When he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, he continued to work in bookstores.

In this 2015 photo by Peter Fimrite of The San Francisco Chronicle, LeClerc is filling his tank at Bridgeway Gas in Sausalito, the most expensive station in Marin County. “I live in town and I don’t drive that much so the price isn’t as big of a deal,” LeClerc explained.

At the time, the station had temporarily raised its prices to almost $8 per gallon. David Mann, the owner, “provided an unusual reason for the surge,” The Chronicle reported. “He doesn’t like complainers.” The newspaper quoted Mann as saying, “Yesterday, some guy asked me, ‘How high are you going to go?’ I said, ‘As high as I need to go to get you to stop complaining.’”

Mann, like LeClerc, is a bit eccentric (as am I), but certainly not on the scale of the Up in the Old Hotel’s eccentrics.

The book is available through Point Reyes Books and, of course, via Amazon: Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell, Vintage Books, 2008

It’s not common, but every so once in a while I’ll spot in my bookshelves some intriguing volume I had forgotten ever buying. Last month I made one of those happy discoveries when I ran across The Secret Paris of the 30’s. It’s by the great French photographer Brassaï (1899-1984).

Brassaï’s photographs are engaging in a variety of ways, including the text he wrote to go with them. This photo circa 1932 is one of many shot in late-night settings. Titled “A Happy Group at the Quatre Saisons,” half the scene is in the mirror.

Other photos in the book include prostitutes and madams in brothels, dancers behind the scenes at the Folies-Bergère, police on the street, bums living under a bridge, an opium den.

He also documented gay and lesbian nightlife. In describing a lesbian bar called Le Monocle, Brassaï writes, “I was introduced to this capital of Gomorrah one evening by Fat Claude, who was a habituée of such places.  From the owner, known as Lulu de Montparnasse, to the barmaid, from the waitresses to the hat-check girl, all women were dressed as men, and so totally masculine in appearance that at first glance one thought they were men….

“Once in awhile one would see butchers from the neighborhood — rather common in appearance, but with hearts full of feminine longings — surprising couples. They would waltz solemnly together, their eyes downcast, blushing wildly.”

Photography closer to home: As I’ve often noted, raccoons are nightly visitors on our deck.

The raccoons have been showing up in search of food for so long they have worn two  paths to our steps, as was evident on a frosty morning last weekend.

Other critters have begun to use the raccoon trails during the day. Here’s a bobcat on one of them. Photo by Lynn Axelrod

To round out this set, here is the Michael Aragon Quartet playing jazz last Friday evening, as they always do, in Sausalito’s No Name Bar. Aragon is the drummer. Predictably the performance was excellent as it’s been for three decades, but the surprise for barkeep J.J. Miller came when I told him about a street in Rohnert Park which is also named “No Name.” I just discovered it myself a week ago. One possible reason the street isn’t better known is that it’s only one block long.

From bobcats to cathouses, from byways in Rohnert Park to jazz in Sausalito, this blog covers the waterfront. Be sure to stay tuned for more.

 

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Leah Garchik on Monday wrote about designer Christina Kim interviewing famed restaurateur, author, and sustainable-farming-advocate Alice Waters. The interview took a somewhat surprising turn, Garchik noted, when “at one point, the conversation turned to tablecloths in Switzerland.” Now there’s one hell of an obscure digression.

But the culinary world is full of surprises. On Tuesday when I dropped by Toby’s Coffee Bar for my daily mocha, the blind Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli could be heard on the bar’s radio singing Time to Say Goodbye (click). It was a haunting duet with Sarah Brightman, but what impressed me was how skillfully barista Diciderio “DC” Hernandez could whistle along with it. Wow! I can’t even carry a tune whistling.

Rounded stingrays, the most common rays on California’s coast. National Geographic photo by Norbert Wu.

Odder but grimmer: Did you read where 156 people in Orange County were attacked by stingrays in just three days last month, 73 of them on Dec. 29 at Huntington Beach? Stings from the rays’ tails are painful and can get infected but are seldom fatal. Lifeguards said there are far more stingrays around than usual, apparently because of low tides and because unusually warm water this winter is drawing them back to shore .

Victims are usually stung while wading in shallow water, and the easiest way to avoid them, lifeguards note, is to shuffle one’s feet, which stirs up muck and scares them away.

Another odd story: Chronicle columnist Willie Brown, former mayor of San Francisco and speaker of the California Assembly, is well remembered for championing civil rights, economic reform and other liberal causes. However, his brief nod to burlesque and porno filmmaking seems to be mostly forgotten.

So let me remind you that Brown (center) as mayor deemed July 13, 1999, the official day of Tempest Storm, the “queen of burlesque,” (at left). He then went on to deem July 28, 1999, the official day of porno actress Marilyn Chambers (at right). Chambers starred in Behind the Green Door and other pornographic movies while Storm was known as a striptease dancer.

Perhaps President Trump will someday name a holiday after his former porno inamorata Stormy Daniels.

Three months ago, I resumed updating this blog weekly after a 14-month hiatus caused by eye problems. My renewed blogging seemed to be going well when almost a month ago, I suddenly found myself unable to post new material. Thanks to diligent work by webmasters Janine Warner, who used to be a reporter at The Point Reyes Light, and her husband, Dave LaFontaine, an online-journalism prof at USC, the problem has now been corrected.

What had gone wrong? In trying to figure out what had sabotaged this blog, I took note of what else was getting hacked and who appeared to be doing the hacking. When I looked at what the news media were reporting, the likely culprit became clear. Based on timing alone, I’d have to say this blog had been targeted by the Kremlin.

Vladimir Putin (upper left) was no doubt miffed by the coverage he’s been receiving in SparselySageAndTimely.com. You may be skeptical because you think Putin is unlikely to be reading this blog, but bear in mind Kremlin computer systems scan the entire Internet for him.

And that’s the whole post-truth explanation for why much of this posting is a week or two late.


Our fact checker nose.


This year’s yuletide in Point Reyes Station has been colorful, cold and wet. The annual Lights of Life celebration was held Dec. 2 and was highlighted by the lighting of the town Christmas tree, which is located between the Wells Fargo Bank and Palace Market parking lots.

As always it was a festive event, but this year it also had a somewhat sad cast, for the old tree will be cut down next month.

The tree is on Wells Fargo property, and people at the bank told me it is dying and that they’re worried about dead limbs falling on the public. The pine looks basically sound to me, but I’m no arborist.

Harmony Grisman, played a guitar as usual, and led a crowd beneath the tree in singing Christmas carols.


A few blocks away, the Dance Palace Community Center  held its annual Holiday Crafts Fair from Dec. 2 to 4. Dozens of craftsmen showed off their work. Women at two tables sold holiday-themed treats to raise money for Tomales High student scholarships.

Fairgoers inspected bowls and vases by Inverness ceramicist Molly Prier (right).

At a nearby booth, Point Reyes Station jeweler Kathy Hunting offered an array of pins, necklaces, and other jewelry.


Elsewhere in West Marin, a Holiday Art Fair and silent auction was held in the San Geronimo Valley Community Center on Saturday on Dec. 2.

The Bolinas Winter Faire was held Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Dec. 2 to 4.


 

 

 

Plutocracy, a new musical show by Bolinas composer Dale Polissar, will premiere this month with two performances in West Marin: in the Bolinas Community Center  at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21, and at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 23, in the Dance Palace in Point Reyes Station.

v3 Plutocracy with info

Debuting as a “semi-staged concert performance” with five singers and a narrator, Plutocracy imagines what happens when the head of a global oil corporation dies and, to everyone’s surprise, leaves control of the company to his young hippie poet son — with a powerful CEO uncle determined to stop the boy.

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Polissar’s previous musical satirizing the George Bush administration, By George, It’s War!, got standing ovations at the Throckmorton and other Marin and Berkeley venues. Popular Marin choreographer and dance teacher Doree Clark, who choreographed By George, is also choreographer for the new musical, which is produced and directed by the composer.

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Polissar studied composing at Stanford University, has had choral works performed by major choruses, and plays clarinet professionally with such artists as pianist Si Perkoff and guitarist Bart Hopkin. He has written and produced three political musicals, and he proudly states that “in addition to musical honors, my resume includes three arrests for civil disobedience.”

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About Plutocracy Polissar says, “It touches on many contemporary issues, but above all I hope it is engaging and entertaining — in the great tradition of American musicals — with songs that are sometimes fun, sometimes very moving.”

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The cast includes several Marin singers and actors — Beth Carusillo, Madeline London, Daniel Patrick, and Bob Scott — as well as, from the larger Bay Area, Tim Mayer and Peter Webb. “Plutocracy will play at two other Bay Area venues in November: at La Peña in Berkeley on Nov. 6, and at the Noe Valley Ministry in San Francisco on Nov. 18.