Archive for November, 2018

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Friday was like no other day in my lifetime.  I turned 75, which makes me an official oldster. I was born on Nov. 23, 1943, roughly halfway between the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and the Japanese surrender in August 1945, which made me a “war baby.”

It was a different reality then. Our windows in San Francisco’s Marina District were hung with blackout curtains at night. This was mandatory since it was feared that too many lights could allow a Japanese bomber to pinpoint his location. A submarine net was strung across the Golden Gate, and my parents for years talked about the night a whale got caught in the net and set off alarms all around the bridge.

In 1946, my family moved to the Berkeley hills, where I grew up. That was a long time ago, as I keep remembering when I drive past our old home nowadays. I hardly recognize the place. When I was a kid, our hillside property with all its eucalyptus trees and brush seemed huge. I could build forts and tree houses and go exploring. Since then, our former property has been repeatedly divided, and houses now fill much of my childhood’s adventure-land.

Dinner at Avatar’s —  From left: Lori Granger, restaurateur Ashok Kumar, David Fisher, Patsy Krebs, her husband Jon Fernandez, yours truly, Libby Colman, my wife Lynn, and Libby’s husband Paul Kaufman.

My birthday party Friday started at Avatar’s Restaurant in Sausalito, where the dishes are from India, sometimes fused with recipes from Mexico. I had two curried-sweet-potato enchiladas. Without exception we all came away praising our meals.

Lynn and I celebrating at the No Name.

Sausalito’s No Name Bar, a fun venue for serious jazz, was our next stop.  It’s a cozy spot, and I go there every Friday, often with Jon Fernandez or Lynn, as well as other West Marin friends. 

Friends we first met at the No Name long ago — (from left) regulars Diane Johnson, Paul LeClerc, and Ray Smith —  joined our celebration. Diane showed up from another event with slices of  pumpkin pie, which she topped with whipped cream provided by a bartender. As bars go, it’s an unusually friendly place. 

As we were leaving at the end of the evening, sax player Rob Roth congratulated me, and the Michael Aragon Quartet — with another drummer sitting in for Michael, who took the night off — played ‘Happy Birthday.’

The fact that I’m beginning my 76th year has been causing me to take stock of where I’ve been and where I am. I certainly don’t see, hear or walk as well as I once did. Peripheral neuropathy, which has desensitized areas on the bottoms of my feet, sometimes makes it feel like I’m walking on a corrugated-steel roof. However, I can still get around and carry loads of firewood uphill to the house.

What really bothers me about aging is my declining memory. When I encounter people I haven’t seen in awhile, I often can’t remember their names. Although I was a journalist for 35 years and taught English at Upper Iowa University for two years before that, I frequently can’t think of some word that I want to use in a conversation. It’s extremely frustrating.

But aging has not been a totally downhill slide. I’ve learned my tastes in art, music, books and periodicals, and this results in fewer false starts. Probably some of my decisions are better informed than they might have been years ago. Life is for learning, I’ve heard said.

Ironically, back when Sparsely Sage and Timely was my column in The Point Reyes Light, I referred to myself in it for several years as “the old man” although I was only in my 30s at the time. Now at 75, I’m twice as old as my “old man,” so to speak.

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

A friend I met in Sausalito’s No Name Bar where I go Friday evenings to listen to jazz, poet Paul LeClerc, has again recommended a fascinating book I would not know about otherwise. It’s Cain’s Book by Alexander Trocchi. As The New Yorker once commented, “Mr. Trocchi’s ideas…are set down in prose that is always clean and sharp and often ferociously alive with poetry.”

Poet Paul LeClerc in Sausalito’s No Name Bar.

This is the third book LeClerc has recommended that is set in a low-rent, mostly industrial area along the docks of Manhattan Island. The first two were Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell and Joe Gould’s Teeth by Jill Lepore, which I wrote about in the postings linked above. Much of LeClerc’s interest in that setting stems from his having driven taxis in New York City, where he also worked in bookstores. (He later did the same in San Francisco.)

Alexander Trocchi as a young man with his typewriter .

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1925, Alexander Trocchi in his 20s moved to Paris where he became a life-long heroin addict. He wrote six pornographic novels and edited an avant-garde literary magazine, Merlin. The magazine lasted from 1952 to 1954 when the US State Department canceled its many subscriptions because, according to Trocchi, of an article by Jean Paul Sartre that praised the homoeroticism of writer Jean Genet.

Trocchi then moved to the US, first to Taos and later settling in New York City, where he became a bargeman on a Hudson River scow. The character Joe Necchi in Cain’s Book is a stand-in for Trocchi. Often Joe spends days alone moored on a scow, at night sleeping in a shack atop the deck. Inside the shack he fixes himself with heroin, smokes marijuana and cigarettes, and types manuscripts by the light of kerosene lamps.

On the scow, “I became fascinated by the minute-to-minute sensations, and when I reflected, I did so repetitively and exhaustingly (often under marijuana) on the meaninglessness of the texture of the moment, the cries of gulls, a floating spar, a shaft of sunlight, and it wasn’t long before the sense of being alone overtook me and drained me of all hope of ever entering the city with its complicated relations.”

Alexander Trocchi with his wife Lyn Hicks.

Trocchi neither condemns nor romanticizes heroin addition. He simply shows what it is like. His character Joe lives in an unmoral world where junkies rip off their friends. Joe seduces men and other men’s wives. Women resort to prostitution to pay for their drugs.

And it was all real. When Cain’s Book was published in 1960, notes Wikipedia, “Trocchi was deep in the throes of heroin addiction; he even failed to attend his own launch party for [the book]. His wife prostituted herself on the streets of the Lower East Side.”

Trocchi playing chess with pieces made from used heroin syringes.

“To be a junkie is to live in a madhouse,” Joe muses. “Laws, police forces, armies, mobs of indignant citizenry crying mad dog. We are perhaps the weakest minority which ever existed; forced into poverty, filth, squalor, without even the protection of a legitimate ghetto.”

Growing up, Joe had also been in poverty — but not because of drugs. His mother took care of the house, but his father became a total shirker and stopped contributing anything, he recalls. “Whenever I contemplated our poverty and how it situated me at the edge of an uncrossable gulf at whose far side strolled those fortunate few who had lived their lives in well-mannered leisure, I felt like a tent pegged down in a high wind.”

Yet for all this, Cain’s Book is not a downer. Rather it’s enlightening, making it understandable how some people get hooked on heroin and what then happens to them. Norman Mailer called the book “different from other books: it is true, it has art, it is brave.” In a time when this country is in what’s called “an opiod crisis,” Cain’s Book makes clear that it is possible to become addicted and yet examine oneself through art.

Trocchi died of pneumonia in 1984 at the age of 59.

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

Thanksgiving, Nov. 22 this year, is only a week away, and the flock of wild turkeys that hangs out on this hill doesn’t seem especially worried. However, 10 years ago when this photo was taken, the turkeys seemed much plumper. Must be the drought.

Last week, the fruit on our persimmon tree was starting to get ripe. What could be more cheerful looking?

The setting sun seen through smoke over Inverness Ridge last Friday.

The cheery scenes of fall began darkening last Thursday when the “Camp Fire” 185 miles east of here in Butte County began filling West Marin skies with smoke day after day. As of this writing [updated 8:53 p.m. Nov. 25], the fire had destroyed the town of Paradise and was already the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history.

It is known to have killed at least 85 people with more than 1,275 others still missing. It blackened more than 2,500 square miles before it was fully contained around 7 a.m. Sunday. The Camp Fire razed nearly 14,000 homes.

As welcome as the smoke, a roof rat this evening crawled out from under a planter barrel on our deck to poach birdseed.

An egret walking past our kitchen door a couple of weeks ago. In the past, egrets have shown up around Mitchell cabin infrequently. This bird, however, has shown up several times of recent and twice perched on our deck railings.

 A blacktail buck. My neighbor Dan Huntsman seemed to look this buck in the eye when he photographed it standing between our homes in the sun.

The same buck a few days later resting in the shade on the far side of our house.

This bobcat near my driveway was photographed late last month by my neighbor Dan Huntsman.

There’s more to the animal life around Mitchell cabin than wildlife. Here student riders with Point Reyes Arabian Adventures circle on a nearby hill.

Twice this week raccoons again ate kibble on our deck with a skunk, and as in the past, they audaciously sniffed — and even pawed — its rear end but didn’t get sprayed.

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

Point Reyes Station’s polling place on Tuesday was, as usual, in the Public Safety Building shared by the county fire department and the sheriff’s office.

Tuesday was D-Day for America’s Democrats, who managed to establish a beachhead by taking back control of the House of Representatives. However, the war is not yet over. The Republicans still are in control of the Senate. Il Duce and friends must still be contained.

Toby’s Feed Barn set up a giant-screen television Tuesday evening so the community could watch the election results come in. Booths sold Mexican and Thai food just outside the door. And as the crowd began to gather, singer Tim Weed performed a few songs to help keep spirits high.

Corpses found in Point Reyes Station after the battle.

Measure I, which authorized Shoreline School District to issue up to $19.5 million in bonds, received 64 percent of the vote. It needed 55 percent to win.

Shoreline School District’s trustee election was won by incumbent Tim Kehoe and archeologist Heidi Koenig.

Measure W, which will increase by 4 percent the transient occupancy tax at rental lodgings in West Marin County, needed a two-thirds majority to win and picked up 72 percent. Half of the tax revenue will be allocated for fire and emergency services, and half will be allocated for housing for the local workforce, seniors, and people with disabilities in West Marin.

North Marin Water District board of directors winners: Rick Fraites and Jim Grossi.

Marin Municipal Water District board of directors winners: Jack Gibson and Cynthia Koehler.

Stinson Beach Fire Protection District board of directors winners: Marcus White and Will Mitchell.

Marin County’s new district attorney will be Lori Frugoli, who outpolled Anna Pletcher by 4.05 percent.

A turkey buzzard soared overhead this afternoon looking for election carnage.

Statewide, Democrat Gavin Newsom easily won the governor’s race. Democrat Eleni Kounalakis is our new lieutenant governor. Democrat Xavier Becerra was elected state attorney general. Marshall Tuck appears to have squeezed past Tony Thurmond for superintendent of education with a 0.7 percent majority; the office is nonpartisan, but both happen to be Democrats.

Legislature. The incumbents who represent West Marin, both Democrats, won: State Senator Mike McGuire and Assemblyman Marc Levine.

Congress: Here too our incumbents, both Democrats, were easily reelected, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Jared Huffman.