Journalism/Criticism/Literature Bucket List Check-Off

My first published review was of Tom Robbins’s debut novel, Another Roadside Attraction. I am proud to say I got it pretty much right, claimed the guy would become wildly popular and have a flashy career.

So when I read that Robbins stated he found his voice when he wrote a 1967 review of a Doors concert for the alternative paper in Seattle, I had to track it down and read it. I mean, a favorite part of my career was spent doing the exact same sort of piece for the exact same sort of outlet!

So this afternoon there it was, in Wild Ducks Flying Backward: The Short Writings of Tom Robbins.

Yes, that would be doors. But, my God, what doors are these? Imagine jewel glass panels, knobs that resemble spitting phalluses, mail slots that glow like jack-o’-lantern lips — and not a welcome mat in sight. Enter if you dare, my children, exit if you can.

The Doors. Their style is early cunnilingual, late patricidal, lunchtime in the Everglades, Black Forest blood sausage on electrified bread, Jean Genet up a totem pole, artists at the barricades, Edgar Allen Poe drowning in his birdbath, Massacre of the Innocents, tarantella of the satyrs, bacchanalian, Dionysian, LA pagans drawing down the moon.

That’s that voice, alrighty.

I like to dream that, had I been Music Editor at the Helix in ’67, I would have had the insight to run that as is — evocative, funny, worthy of Jimbo and the Boys.

Moral Confusion About Isolation in the Wilderness

When I was growing up, my favorite of our sheepherders was also a true hermit at heart. His name was Vernon — Vern — and in the winters he ran a cattle ranch in Texas where he had to interact with all sorts of people all the time. I don’t know how he fell in love with the (I agree, irresistible) landscape of my father’s ranch near Livingston, but he arranged to be a solitary sheepherder in a mobile cabin with a couple-three dogs all summer long. What I most remember:

He was an exceptional cook who did dynamite lunches for my Dad and me that beat anything we could get in town. We brought him groceries a couple times a week.

He had extraordinary rapport with Shepard dogs. He had an unusual combination of barks and whistles where it seemed like he was speaking to them in a secret language.

He treasured being alone. My mother and I went out to her relatives in Oregon for a couple weeks each summer. My Dad, lonely, decided he would make it a regular thing to visit Vern for lunch each day. First day, fine. Second day, okay. Third day, tense. Fourth day — Vern was nowhere around his mobile cabin. Message received.

He was a master at rifle maintenance. His guns were in perfect condition — gleaming with oil. When he decided to retire, he offered to give one of the nicest items to my Dad as a gift. Dad, a bit socially inept, wanted to pay for it. “You’ll take it,” said Vern, “or I’ll keep it!”

The foundation of his solitude, his enjoyment of being a hermit, was his self-reliance. He shot all his own meat. He couldn’t keep a garden because he had to keep moving with the sheep, but he raised as much veggies as he could.

This is a person with a noble hermit soul.

This is not anything like a hermit.

This is a creepy psychopath parasite thief. Similar examples with murderous impulses (when somebody shows up at the home they’re robbing) are among the most disgusting killers. That this confusion even results in a book is a bleak sign of the times.

Food Bummer of the Week

My current feeding system has a mid-afternoon snack and I was very pleased to discover yogurt was recommended. I’ve loved yogurt since I discovered it in high school, if it’s the right kind (Greek-style is a big turn-off for me). Lowfat French Vanilla is the standard, with fruit — most often blueberries.

Then I ran across this weird warning: “yogurt is loaded with way more sugar than you would expect.” Oh, nertz. I checked it out, and yes, it was rather more than you might expect, but a fave brand, Stonyfield, seemed to have it reasonably under control, so I stuck with it and all seemed well.

Recently a new batch of Stonyfield arrived with an announcement on the front “Now with 25% less sugar.” Should be pure good news, right? Well, turns out that according to my palate, it now has about 25% less flavor and personality. I’m not going to change anything, but it shows that avoiding sugar has its swirls and snarls like anything else.

Marathon 2017

Every year, a bit after 10 AM, I walk down to where the course turns onto Beacon Street to see the firsts in each category.

Highlight (as always): The leaders, radiant with vitality, know they have a strong shot at winning if they are in that position at that stage of the race. I tear up every time.

Lowlights (this year): Windy. A stranger, seeing my Cubs cap, assumes I’m a diehard fan and starts yakking up about the team. When I explain the cap is more about attending a few games with the journalist friend (Mark Caro) who gave me the headgear, the stranger gives me this look that suggests it’s weird, even wrong, hell — immoral to wear a logo if you aren’t proclaiming your love-object to the world.

Yes, Boston has taught me everything I know about how not to be a good sports follower.

William Hjortsberg — Somebody You Should Read, Hear?

Official site of one of the writers who fundamentally changed the character of my home town.

The musts? These —

Alp (belongs with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Catch-22 and more playful and funny than either)

Grey Matters (forgotten even among his fans — sure as hell deserving of the next lost-marvel-of-science-fiction revival)

Toro! Toro! Toro! (the “bullfight novel” the ghost of Hemingway wishes he had written)

Falling Angel (at least this was seen right away as a noir as sharp and inventive as Grey Matters in sci-fi was not)

Nevermore (unclassifiable as Alp and as much, if darker, fun).

MOVIES:

Angel Heart (a perfect adaptation of Falling Angel)

One I’d most like to see made: Morning of the Magicians

 

The High Days —

 

Gatz 1

Paradise Players production of Twelfth Night in Emigrant, MT, 1974 —

 

Feste the jester is “Gatz” — in the middle. Grand artist Russell Chatham who designed the sets, in white shirt in back.

 

Followup on the Park Hotel

There were three or four other permanent renters — all seniors — who were able to swing a little more independence than the Old Folks’ Home. They all seemed so alone and low on resources, though. One particular fellow, who spent much of his daytime sitting in the comfy chair in the lobby and said little, had a name that remains one of my all-time faves:

Nobel Summers.

A Wise Old Cowboy Once Said …

As a child I heard a number of then-cryptic or opaque remarks from adults that stuck with me and seem more and more apt.

One came from an ancient ranch-hand who was a permanent resident in one of the rooms of my father’s hotel. He had been around in the late 19th century when there still was something of a Wild West and a Frontier. More than anyone I knew, he seemed diminished by having to spend his days in town and sleeping in a couple small rooms. But he couldn’t even walk down stairs any more. He spent a lot of time sipping cup after cup of weak coffee at the cafeteria counter.

During slack times when I was working behind that counter, the old dude would reminisce about the “Open Spaces” and his years helping herd cattle and sheep. He was especially fond of afternoons when he could be utterly alone — no sign of human activity as far as he could see. That was the real Open Spaces.

He knew that was less and less possible. One day he said something strange:

“When there’s no more Open Spaces, all that will be left is pounding on each other.”