Magic is all around us if we take the time to notice.
Hummingbirds are all over Carmel Valley. I see them and hear their clicking song often when I am out walking Rainbow or wandering around the neighborhood by myself. For years I have been looking for a nesting hummingbird who would be willing to pose for a few well-timed photographs.
Our little patio features a ficus tree that has gotten big and thick over the years. I noticed a spirited little bird going back and forth with little bits of fluff a few weeks ago, and it didn’t take too long to figure out what was going on.
OK, I know this isn’t a hummingbird. A few days ago in Ocean Beach I finally got one of the resident parrots to pose for a portrait!
Processed food is bad for you. White sugar and bleached flour are unhealthy substances. You shouldn’t eat them. I understand that these ideas are true. My diet is mostly organic and vegetarian, but sometimes $1.25 for some nice vanilla cookies seems like a good idea, too. If I choose to find a dollar bill flat enough to go into the vending machine and add a nice 25-cent piece down the slot, shouldn’t I at least get a ration of sugar, flour and palm oil in return?
Maybe it isn’t a good idea to eat junk food, ever. I imagine it’s wrong to want the cookies at all. Probably this desire proves that I’m a wretched sugar addict or at least susceptible to cynical advertising. Not only do I know these cookies are poison, I suspect they are produced by abused workers, out of ingredients that are harvested by slave children on plantations that destroy the environment. Picky, picky.
One might think that gobbling the cookies and suffering the toxic effects would be punishment enough, but no. I don’t even get the short-term pleasure of eating food designed to make me happy instead of to nourish me.
Right now it is One Hundred Thirteen Degrees on my patio in San Diego, a mile or two inland from the Pacific Ocean. Isn’t that a little warm for October in San Diego? We’re supposed to have America’s Finest Weather.
Secret police don’t have a good reputation in America. The Nazis, Soviets and East Germans gave them a bad name. Since America is The Only Exceptional Nation, we don’t have secret police. We have “undercover officers.” Our secret police pretend to be students, entrap classmates and help create a climate of suspicion and fear on campus. Why? For a look at what’s going on right now, try these interesting and troubling pieces at teenvogue.com, vice.com, and rollingstone.com.
Today I want to share some documents out of my high school files. They shed a little light on how our government bureaucracies find eager recruits and how they seek to coopt and flatter their critics. This is a curious little slice of history.
When I was a teenage high school student in the mid-1970s, I thought it outrageous that my city would put a higher priority on secret police than it did on textbooks. I figured that teenagers ought to work through the system to be heard. Surely there would be some grownups who would be able to appreciate the corrosive, anti-intellectual consequences of putting “undercover” cops in classrooms. Smart people would be able to stop this expensive, completely unproductive practice.
At the start of the 1975-1976 school year, the LA County District Attorney announced the formation of The District Attorney’s Youth Council. Here’s the press release from September 18, 1975. “Everyone knows that the juvenile crime problem has multiplied in recent years. Perhaps by explaining some of the functions of the criminal justice system to these student delegates, and having them go back to address social science and government classes, we can further some understanding of the law.”
Here’s the DA’s October 8, 1975 letter appointing me to the DA’s Youth Council. Here are DA letters about meetings from October 27, 1975, January 9, 1976, February 19, 1976 and May 7, 1976. It’s worth mentioning that California’s marijuana laws changed dramatically on January 1, 1976, when possession of an ounce or less was decriminalized.
The meeting referred to in the January 9, 1976 letter featured a discussion about “The Presence of Open and Undercover Police in Schools.” Representatives from the DA’s management team and the LAPD were on hand. I think I got to address the group for about 45 seconds – and, speaking as a student-athlete and not as a representative of the counterculture, I told them that secret police were a much bigger problem at Hollywood High than drug use among students. I said it reflects poorly on Los Angeles that it can afford to put “undercover” police in classrooms that don’t have enough books. As I spoke, I noticed some of the parents and teachers in the room appreciated my comments – and absolutely none of the prosecutors or cops were favorably impressed.
The DA’s office sent me a nice letter on May 17, 1976, which is reproduced below. The LA County District Attorney wrote, “Your deliberations have been particularly valuable to me in evaluating the policies and attitudes of this office in regard to juvenile justice and undercover narcotics operations on high school campuses.” That’s nice – I guess my ideas helped the DA conclude that the secret police operations should be expanded on high school campuses!
Here’s an interesting LA Times article from 2006, explaining how the City Youth Council is a nice training ground for future politicians and lawyers. It features some nice students who are looking to polish their skills and their resumes.
Too much wealth and power rest in too few hands. How come the American People don’t rise up and do something about their own oppression? Maybe one reason is that the last couple of generations have been warehoused in schools that frighten them into submissive obedience.
I do not have a terribly high opinion of nationalism. German nationalism did not work out very well for the Germans or for their neighbors. Ukrainian nationalism doesn’t look very appealing to me. Jewish nationalism doesn’t seem to be very good for the Jews these days.
Here’s a nice family photograph from about 1904. These three are Scottish siblings; their names are Janet, Lovie and Juke Allan. Lovie is my paternal grandmother. History fails to record the name of the dog. These three likely would have supported Better Together, the ‘No’ campaign. They were proud to be British. George Galloway, the Respect MP from Bradford West, one of the few British politicians I admire, strongly opposes Scottish independence.
I spent some time in England with Lovie, Janet and other family members when I was a boy, and I was raised in the British expat community of southern California, a dual-citizen of the USA and UK. I also studied law in England in 1982. Many friends tell me I’m more Brit than American, and maybe it’s so, yet I can’t say I ever bought into the myths of Great Britain. For one thing, my dad the natural-born Englishman never had a kind word to say about the British Empire. For another, I actually took the time to read quite a few of Winston Churchill’s books and a number of Churchill biographies – and was properly horrified.
Since the Thatcher years, both Labour and Conservative UK governments have sold out Britain to corporate interests. The British people and British democracy have paid a high price over the last 35 years. The UK has offered unwavering support to the United States and to Israel, no matter how egregious their criminality and no matter how many innocent lives are claimed. It is hopeless. Democracy is broken in the UK. The policies of London are so wrong, so obviously illegal, that the most imaginative thing the Scots could do is break up the United Kingdom from within.
Disunion – the end of the United Kingdom – should be the real legacy of Thatcher, Major, Blair and Cameron. These hopelessly amoral, wretched governments in London have wrecked the country, and on the 18th, the people of Scotland have a chance to pull the plug. Mr. Major argues Scottish independence would be have the “disastrous” consequences of ending the British nuclear deterrent and costing Britain her permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. Really? Thanks John, those are two more good reasons to vote Yes!
Europe Fears Scottish Independence Contagion. If by “Europe” we mean the authority figures within the EU and their corporate backers, one can certainly understand why. Independence movements threaten to disrupt neoliberal control over Europe.
Throughout my life I have thought of myself as an internationalist as opposed to a provincial “my-country-right-or-wrong” type. If we’re going to have a prayer of doing anything about global climate change it’s going to be necessary to cooperate internationally. And yet, today it is apparent that the western world is dominated by corporate interests that rule by force and fiat for their own benefit. Anything that challenges their power is worth trying.
Postscript: The No vote prevailed. Fair enough. Careful readers will notice I did not list Gordon Brown with Thatcher, Major, Blair and Cameron as those who deserve blame for the breakup of the UK. As the vote neared, Mr. Brown gave a magnificent speech. It’s possible that this speech saved the country – literally. It’s a pity old Gordon couldn’t make some speeches like this one when he was Prime Minister. Well done, sir. Let’s have a look at an important, literate, idealistic speech.
Ambitious minds have to struggle for room in a world full of conformists. This is something I have experienced over and over again in life.
Lately I have been thinking about the past a little bit more than usual. Reading Amy Kaufman Burk’s fine book about Hollywood High got me meditating about my own experiences. No doubt I was involved in a lot of stuff that other people would find to be of interest, right? I’ve got a lot of photos and letters and journals from back then myself. Probably I could write a book or two about my teenage years that could be turned into an excellent mini-series. Yes, and a little sincere effort would produce some pretty good literature, too. It’s important to give back something to the community, I’m sure you agree. Plus, it would be cool to make a few million bucks off of my personal experiences without having to do a lot of work.
My academic advisers at Hollywood High told me I should take a lot of math and science classes. They said studying that stuff would discipline my mind. The problem was that the school didn’t offer the science classes I really cared about! That, and the higher math classes conflicted with printmaking and the other fine arts classes that mattered to me.
You might be as shocked today as I was back then to discover that Hollywood High didn’t have a single class about numerology or astrology. You’d think a public high school in the entertainment capital of the world would actually teach their students about the key decision-making tools in The Industry, but no. Like I said, the big world out there tries to crush independent thinking at every turn, but some of us are strong enough to resist.
Unwilling to run with the herd, my thirst for knowledge wasn’t thwarted by people who only think inside the box. The school wouldn’t even give me independent study credit, but I persisted. After months of patient, hard work, you know, the kind that many great scientific breakthroughs are built on, I came up with a theory and an experiment to test the theory.
CB radio was a big cultural phenomenon back in April 1975. It seemed pretty sensible to me that extra-terrestrial life forms had to be monitoring CB radio transmissions. Plus, my careful study of ancient writings carved into the concrete in front of the Egyptian Theater revealed that they had the same numerological structure as the Hollywood High School Fight Song.
In the photograph, you can see I have a microphone. It is hooked up to the school’s PA system and to a CB radio. I’m tapping out a Morse code on the microphone to reach out to the aliens, and periodically I’m using a cassette tape machine to play the three notes of the NBC Chime, which insiders know is a universal greeting used by passing ships in space. My calculations strongly suggested that this formula would result in a flying saucer actually landing on the athletic field. (Steven Spielberg based the key scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind on this, but do you think he paid a penny for the idea? NO.)
As it turned out, my meticulous formulas weren’t correct. That’s OK. Everybody knows that science is advanced by errors as much as by breakthroughs. Probably you know all about the Michelson-Morley experiment, which sought to prove that light moves through an ether, producing waves that are strikingly similar to water currents. It failed, sure, but it made way for Einstein’s theory of relativity. You may also know that the guy who discovered penicillin, Alexander Fleming, had bacteria growing all over his lab, and when he started leaving fungus around too it turned out some of the bacteria wouldn’t grow near the fungus.
You might wonder who the other people in the photograph are. The young woman sitting next to me is Sophia, and the other students all were working for her. They were “serious” students, earning college credit from UCLA doing some independent study in psychology. Among other things, they included me in their final report. That’s fine; I’m glad to be helpful. I still remember the last words Sophia and her colleagues wrote about me: “…his unique view of reality doesn’t pose a risk to himself or to others.” Maybe not, but what about the up-side?
Achieve the Honorable is the title of Amy Kaufman Burk’s novel. It’s also the motto of Hollywood High School. Amy’s book is a sharply-told story about a diverse group of kids during the 1973-1974 school year, which was Amy’s (and my) first year at Hollywood High. Although the characters are fictionalized, the story very much rings true to me. I knew all of these people well, from the hyper-rational Caroline Black to Drake, the silver-lame-suit-wearing pimp of child prostitutes, and the remarkably devoted and empathic school counselor. I also knew the undercover narcotics officer posing as a student and getting emotionally involved with one of his underage classmates. After some drug busts at Hollywood High I joined something called The District Attorney’s Student Task Force and got to meet the LA County DA. I looked him in the eye and asked him why it was that Los Angeles could afford to send a secret police team into our school to entrap students but it couldn’t find the money to make sure all the real students had textbooks. He didn’t give me a satisfactory answer.
Amy’s book has been #1 Top Rated for Gay and Lesbian Literary Fiction in Amazon’s Kindle Store. This is a splendid achievement. Achieve the Honorable is a novel where a group of teens deal with their emotional, physical and sexual development in a highly stimulating – and dangerous – environment. It has a sense of social class and a strong anti-bullying message, too. Still, although these are themes that stand out, to me the story is deeper and even more engaging than the categories we naturally fit it into. Achieve the Honorable is a coming of age story with complicated young characters who end up living up to the spirit of the school’s motto despite, or maybe in part because of the undercurrent of violence and strife around campus.
Aside from being in school together, Amy and I have a couple of other things in common. Both of us lived in the rich and comfortable Hollywood Hills. Both of us had fathers who were professional writers in Hollywood. Both of us were raised in homes with untold thousands of books. Neither of us managed to read every book we had access to. I suppose one key difference is that, while Amy was horrified by the violence and chaos that were all over Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards, I found the whole environment substantially safer and more nurturing than my home life, most of the time. The pimps, hookers and drug dealers looked out for me more than once when I was a kid out on the streets by myself. The only person who ever pointed a gun at me during those years was an officer of the LAPD.
As I savored Achieve the Honorable, it was impossible not to think about what a nice movie it could be!
Here’s my idea for a sequel. Let’s say Caroline Black graduates from Hollywood High school in the Bicentennial Class of 1976 with high honors. There she is, sitting in the front row on-stage at the Hollywood Bowl in her red graduation gown and with her gold tassel. Well done, Caroline! She goes on to get a Ruling Class Education despite leaving a posh private school for girls to attend Hollywood High. Caroline marries her college sweetheart and goes on to have a good life on the East Coast, never losing her commitment to look out for the underdog and her special ability to see the potential in people others have written off. Finally, Caroline has time to write a novel about her first year at Hollywood High. The book is self-published in the new world of Internet distribution and is a nice success.
Then Hollywood comes calling. Caroline is brought back to her two-month magical time as a Possible Child Actress, to the years of being told, by Anorexic Household Names, “You’re so pretty. Why not lose weight?” She also recalls her father’s success in the industry and the writers who worked on movies he photographed. Hollywood offers a fortune for the movie rights, but won’t let her retain any control. Should she take the money?
Let’s say Caroline decides to sell the story and give every penny to Good Causes. Then we can spend some chapters in Hollywood, checking out the story conferences:
Producer: We’re going to have to make a few changes if we want to make any money.
Hack Writer: What do you have in mind?
Producer: Let’s start with this Caroline character. She’s too smart. She plays on the girls’ basketball team.
Hack Writer: Yeah.
Producer: Let’s make her a cheerleader instead.
Hack Writer: OK.
Producer: Look, I don’t really have time for this. Let me give you some ideas and you can get busy.
Hack Writer: Great.
Producer: Try to stay in the spirit of the book. Just don’t write any scenes where two named female characters talk about anything except boys.
Hack Writer: No problem.
Producer: We lucked out on music, too – for dirt cheap we got the rights to some Ohio Players tracks. So put in some stuff about a school dance. Maybe you can work in a theme about Caroline bringing that girl from her old private school to the dance, and that night she can smoke dope, have sex with one of the gang boys and decide she’s straight after all.
Hack Writer: Yeah, that’ll sell. A lot of boys will go to this picture…
OK, so maybe my view of the movie business is still a little rosy and unreasonably sunny, but you get the idea. I mentioned that my dad was a writer – for TV. My mom worked in background and continuity research for movies and TV, and I did some work in the field too. In that spirit, I offer my single criticism of Achieve the Honorable. In one scene, the song Another One Bites The Dust is playing in the background. That Queen song was released in 1980. For late 1973 to early 1974, the proper choice would be Keep Yourself Alive. An alternate choice would be Gary Glitter’s single, Rock and Roll.
The anniversary of Richard Nixon’s downfall gives us a chance to look back on our troubled history. Mr. Nixon was a racist and a crook. At the same time, compared to today’s leaders, Tricky Dick looks like a courageous, visionary genius. This should be food for thought for everybody, regardless of where we might place ourselves on today’s political spectrum.
We have had many corrupt Presidential elections. John Kennedy may have defeated Richard Nixon in 1960 because a lot of cemeteries in Illinois and Texas voted for the Democrats, though there is some debate. Mr. Nixon beat Hubert Humphrey in 1968 because of treasonous negotiations with our battlefield enemies in Vietnam. Ronald Reagan’s campaign copied that strategy in 1980, undermining President Carter by dealing with his foreign adversaries. The 2000 election may have been the most cynical in our history.
Back in ’74, we got a President who wasn’t elected at all: Gerald Ford, who took office 40 years ago when Richard Nixon resigned. Mr. Ford had been appointed Vice President once Spiro T. Agnew resigned for not reporting cash bribes as income on his tax returns.
August 9, 1974 was the last day of summer school at Hollywood High. 40 years ago today, I brought a Sony AM-FM radio to school to follow events. At the time I considered Nixon’s departure to be a great victory for progress, proof that “the system works,” and cause for celebration. Ample evidence of the criminality of Richard Nixon and his co-conspirators can be found in audio recordings made in the White House. Many Californians detested Richard Nixon, rightly I think, for his campaigns for Congress in 1946 and for the Senate in 1948.
I worked as a teenage volunteer for the local Hollywood office of the George McGovern campaign in 1972, even though I wasn’t yet old enough to drive, much less vote. Watergate was a tiny issue, with one flyer reading “Bug Nixon Before Nixon Bugs You.” I still remember how distraught I was on election night in ’72, watching McGovern concede a landslide defeat before a sympathetic local audience. Seeing Mr. Nixon’s two rather somber victory speeches, one from the Oval Office and one from his campaign headquarters, made me queasy to think about the future. Watergate became a gigantic issue shortly after Nixon’s second inaugural. After leaving office a year and a half into his second term, he made quite a few TV appearances in an effort to rehabilitate his image, and he wrote a number of turgid books. President Bill Clinton gave a sentimental, ludicrous eulogy at Richard Nixon’s funeral.
What possible sympathy could we have for Richard Nixon, the lying, Red-baiting, carpet-bombing, conspiring, foul-mouthed racist?
Let’s look at the situation Mr. Nixon inherited when he took office in 1969. Hundreds of thousands of US troops were thousands of miles away from home, fighting an increasingly unpopular war that Nixon had supported from the start. The previous President, Lyndon Johnson, had taken office as a result of President Kennedy’s assassination, and it’s quite clear that Richard Nixon didn’t buy the Official Story any more seriously than I do. Not only that, but the tapes show that Nixon considered the JFK assassination relevant to the politics of his day. What might that imply? Wouldn’t it mean that Nixon took office knowing that Presidential authority had been violently overthrown by what President Eisenhower characterized as “the military-industrial complex?”
When Eisenhower became President in 1953, he made quick work of ending the Korean War. Nixon, on the other hand, ended up taking a deal at the end of 1972 that he could have had in 1969. Why? How come he didn’t do what Ike did less than 20 years earlier? Maybe it was because the office of the Presidency itself had been hugely weakened. Even so, a look at the record of the Nixon Administration and its colleagues in the mostly Democratic-controlled Congress shows many impressive – and progressive – achievements. Not only did the first term of the Nixon Presidency see passage of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, it also saw the President’s diplomatic openings to the Soviet Union and to the People’s Republic of China. Although it’s fair to judge Nixon’s hysterical anti-communism as helping create and maintain poor relations with these countries in the 40s and 50s, by the early 1970s the opposite was true.
So, exactly how is it that Richard Nixon went from a gigantic landslide in November 1972 to leaving office in disgrace less than two years later? Is it because of a domestic political spying scandal, which the President illegally covered up? That’s what history tells us, but is it really true? At the time of Nixon’s resignation, many commentators and participants said that the story was much deeper, more complicated and far more serious than the one we all followed during those final months of that Administration.
I’d suggest that a more plausible reason for Nixon’s downfall was his failure to keep the loyalty of the US military and intelligence communities. He didn’t end the Vietnam War quickly, but even as he dropped more bombs he withdrew ground forces, and finally he cut a deal. It’s also evident that the Nixon-Kissinger negotiations with the Soviets and Chinese were done largely in secret – from much of the rest of the US government. I suggest that means Richard Nixon was more serious – and more courageous – than most of his adversaries have been able to recognize.
Have a look at RN’s second inaugural address. Really listen to what he is saying. Nixon ended the ground war in Vietnam and revolutionized relations with the two biggest real adversaries our country faced at the time. This is a peace speech, backed up by real diplomacy including nuclear arms reduction talks. This address should be seen as a sequel to President Kennedy’s American University speech. I’d suggest that both speeches – and the policies they represented – crossed a few bright lines that our real masters simply will not permit.
For a moment let’s reconsider the Nixon Administration’s domestic goals. The President speaks about decentralizing government authority. Did he want to end welfare? No, that wouldn’t happen until “liberal” Democrat Bill Clinton, more than 20 years later. Nixon proposed a guaranteed annual income for each family unit, to fight poverty and to get rid of the expensive and humiliating welfare bureaucracy. So, our grotesquely racist President actually advocated policies that were far more liberal and kind than all of his successors! It’s too bad he was such a coarse, unappealing, petty man.
Watergate is a wildly complicated topic. One of the more troubling books to look at is Silent Coup, which goes into a lot of detail about the President’s real enemies, as opposed to the political adversaries who made it onto Nixon’s enemies list. For example, it calls out Bob Woodward as a career asset of US Naval Intelligence. The authors present compelling evidence that suggests the Watergate scandal was orchestrated by deep and powerful political and economic groups who were far to the right of the President. While you’re at it, read JFK and the Unspeakable, which is the best single book about Mr. Kennedy’s assassination.
40 years ago, I celebrated Nixon’s humiliation as much as anybody. Today I observe that Richard M. Nixon might have been the last President of the First American Republic.
OK, that’s enough thinking for now. Remember, friends – You Can’t Drink All Day Unless You Start in the Morning!
It is wonderful to have a little time off from deadlines and job duties. Here’s a chance to observe the world a bit more quietly, maybe even think slightly beyond the next few items on the to-do list.
Palm trees get their beards shaved off every summer in Ocean Beach. The dry old fronds are trimmed and mulched on the spot, with machines you can hear for half a mile. These palm trees are not native to California, use up a lot of water, provide no shade, and are nearing the end of their natural life span. I like them anyway. Even so, Ocean Beach would be a nicer place with different trees when these ones have gone to the big palm forest in the sky.
Youngest daughter Lana May was in two dance recitals yesterday, doing her first ballet performance, two jazz numbers and one rousing hip-hop routine. It was splendid to have the chance to watch both recitals and get a big hit of positive energy from dozens of young dancers. Still, it was impossible to escape completely from the Serious Concerns that seem to be permeating our lives beneath even the smooth surface of smug suburbia.
The program was started by the dance school owner leading the audience in Prayer to Almighty God. “Dear Lord, please give this audience the understanding of how much hard work went into all of these performances…” At intermission, a video was offered “in support of our military families.” It showed movies of families receiving charity with the old Bon Jovi song “Ring the Bells of Freedom” playing loud and proud in the background. What are we all so worried about? Why do we need to make a big deal out of Believing in God and Loving Our Soldiers all the time?
Public displays of piety coupled with a big dose of sentimental militarism seem to be a part of more and more events these days. Some of us are lucky enough to get a couple of weeks off from work, but there doesn’t seem to be any escaping the fact that these are twilight times, even at the height of summer. If you are curious about being serious, you can go here to read about reality in Gaza and here to read about reality in Ukraine. In both of these situations the Obama Administration is displaying dishonesty that would make L.B.J. and Nixon blush.
On the other hand, it’s possible that you are more interested in something a bit less serious, like a few wrinkly old men getting back together to relive their youth and make some money.
Sometimes it’s good to take a real break. Serious business always is just around the corner anyway. Soon I’ll start a new law professor job at San Diego Law School, which is being opened this fall by San Francisco Law School and Alliant University. I have little doubt that all our social problems will be solved by some well-trained young lawyers!
For now, let’s take time to notice the flowers and other daily magic all around.
Today is the 84th anniversary of my mother’s birth. Here’s a picture of her along with a couple of cats, taken a little more than a year before I was born. She is 27 years old in this snapshot.
To go with it, here is the text of a letter my dad wrote about the time the picture was taken, a few days before his 29th birthday. I unearthed the letter in one of the last boxes of old family papers. Readers who remember my dad will recognize a familiar voice in the following few paragraphs:
August 28, 1957
A telegraphic rundown of developments on the Hollywood scene would run something like this:
We had our own family added to seventeen days ago: Sindi, with the connivance of a sleek Siamese tom who lives up Laurel Canyon, presented us with four kittens, pale fawn with gray ears, much neck, coltish legs, and an occasional carmel stripe. The ears were never stubby semi-circles and have grown so fast the kittens looks more like bats. What they’re going to look like when they’re grown Allah alone knows but being Siamese and Manx 75-25 they should be Unusual Cats.
I’m nine-to-fiving at NBC and Jo’s still working at the store in Beverly Hills, but today she picked up what should prove to be an interesting (if unpaid) job as assistant to the stage manager on the Players’ Ring production of “Witness for the Prosecution,” which opens on the tenth of next month. It has a virtually all-English cast and is being directed by actor Paul Stewart. A biased source tells me it is shaping up into a pretty good show. I’ll know a bit more about that when Red gets home from her first rehearsal.
And who can talk theatre withtout bringing up “Blood Wedding?” Tru, Red and I saw a real doozy of a production a few months ago, done in a house that must seat all of fifty and has a stage that’s barely larger than a king-size bed. No curtain. Few lights. Brand new translation. It sounded like an anti-poetic re-write of the script we used up north, with all the really good lines blunted and clouded up. Miraculously, they had a lengthy and quite impressive original guitar score, and the Servant was not only a good actress but had a wonderful aquiline expressive face – perfect for the Bridegroom’s Mother, who was actually played by a lady burgher from 18th century Amsterdam who pureed her lips judiciously at every comma and was more out of place than a boozy laugh at a temperance meeting. An effectively violent Leonardo was played by a guy named James Marton whom you may have seen in an occasional movie of tv bit, but the poor guy was at something of a disadvantage having to play to a bride who, though quite a dish, spoke with a thick Swedish accent and topped him by a number of clear inches. In the big lech scene in the forest she dropped to her knees, threw her arms around his legs and laid her head against his collar bone. Mr.Marton’s fire tended to degenerate into a thwarted twitch now and then quite understandably, and the Moon either measured nine odd more inches around the waist than around his bared chest or couldn’t think of any other way to keep his black tights up.
All in all – a bomb.
Well, after nearly two years, Gerald has finally made his L.A. stage debut. Script in hand, on three and a half hours’ notice, doing the Professor in “All The King’s Men” in UCLA’s cavernous Royce Hall auditorium…under the baleful eye of H.W. Robinson. All thanks to a strep throat or something that knocked out the original Professor after two of the scheduled four performances.
Well, I suppose a stop-gap Professor’s eye view doesn’t give the clearest picture, but I was pretty much disappointed in the production as a whole. There were some damn good actors, make no mistake. Stark’s wife, for example. Adam Stanton, though a little out of control and occasionally resembling the hero of a corn show. The fellow who did Jack Burden was the best of the lot…faithfully mirroring every agonized reappraisal in his haunted eyeballs; trouble was he did most of his agonizing between his cue end the ensuing speech, and even then it was lovely camera stuff that never got beyond the fourth row. Drag? My God. I talked to Horace about it later and he said that nothing he could do could implant his picture of the show in their minds. Apparently they thought that philosophy was dry and heavy so they had to play it dry and heavy, and they steadfastly refused to believe him when he assured them that such-and-such a line was a laugh line. When a concerted attack is made on comedy and pace the result is likely to justify the idea that philosophy is dry and heavy, and this bunch, or a good portion of them, decided that Mr. Warren didn’t know a goddamn thing about playwriting. Well, it may not be the best play by an American author since 1929, but God knows it’ll play!
And of course they hate Horace with a passion. He not only insisted that he knew what the show was about better than they did, but he made them work their tailbones off and didn’t
pat them on the back and tell them what a swell job they were doing. I never got the whole story, but apparently Horace had quite a run-in with the guy playing Willie, a jerk of negligible talent and brain-power to match who was, just the same, a good type, and who would probably have given an okay performance if he had listened to the Great Brown Dragon.
Which brings me up to speech #42-A, On The State of Acting in the Entertainment Capitol of the World, a lengthy tirade I won’t bore you with. It has two sub-topics: the lost-soul amateurs lousing up most professional theatre in Greater Los Angeles, and The Method as drawn through the Actors’ Studio sieve, simplified, diluted, narcissized (if there is such a word), and thoroughly deprived of discipline and divorced from any over-all concept of the show being produced. It’s anarchy. You get the impression that most of the actors aren’t actors at all but mental patients undergoing drama therapy.
And yet, of course, if they marched all the phonies, the hangers-on, the no-talent bums and all their ilk out at dawn and drowned ‘em, there still wouldn’t be enough jobs to go around the remaining reasonably talented, reasonably sane professionally-minded performers flooding the local market…
It’s a rough life.
The road to justice isn’t always easy. We all know that. We also know that the road to our office each morning can be treacherous. Late last summer I was cited by the California Highway Patrol for an alleged violation of Section 23123 of the California Vehicle Code. The officer claimed that I used my cell phone while driving without a hands-free device, consciously disregarding the safety of my fellow travelers on Interstate Five.
You can tell a lot about a place by the way the courthouse looks. In southern California there are magnificent old court buildings in Riverside and Orange County. They are architectural artifacts of a time when folks were proud of their public buildings and designed them to be part of comfortable plazas for everybody to enjoy. The local courthouse for my traffic trial is about as elegant as a trailer with a foundation. This bare-bones operation suggests that the locals don’t take much pride in their justice system, however it does seem to function reasonably well under the circumstances.
Now let’s all have a look inside Department A of the San Diego Superior Court. There’s nothing fancy about it, but it is a decent enough location for defendants to confront their accusers. One of the great things about being a licensed attorney is that I get to go in front of the bar and hand my business card to the bailiff. That means my case gets priority along with the other private counsel cases.
I’m sure you have heard the phrase, “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.” This saying has interesting origins that go back more than a couple hundred years. Whatever. I’ve been a lawyer for almost thirty years and I’ve spent plenty of time cross-examining police officers and other witnesses. I know what I’m doing. I know how to argue cases with seemingly difficult facts. I showed up at court ready for action.
OK, so it is true that the CHP officer did see me driving southbound on Interstate 5 in my Chrysler Sebring. It is true that he saw me holding my cell phone in my right hand. It’s also true that he saw me speaking at the same time I was holding my cell phone and at the same time I was driving. All of this is true. I admit it. But it isn’t the whole story. I deny that I violated Section 23123 of the California Vehicle Code. I insist on my day in court. Fair enough.
What is my defense? These are pretty tough facts I’m admitting to at the start, aren’t they? Maybe so. Let’s look at the key language of the law. Section 23123 prohibits “using” a wireless telephone while driving unless it is hands-free. I brought a physical object with me to court to serve as a defense exhibit at trial: the hands-free device in my car at the time I received the citation. What happened was that I got a call while driving. I pushed the answer button and the hands-free device broke, pushing the phone into my hand and also disconnecting the call. I looked up to see the CHP officer gesturing for me to pull over and accept a nice yellow traffic citation.
You be the judge. Do these facts constitute “using” a cell phone while driving? Should I be convicted?
The judge called my case. I indicated I was ready for trial. The judge called the CHP officer’s name. Silence.
“This case is dismissed for want of timely prosecution,” announced the judge.
I walked out of court with my head held high, a winner at trial. Did I achieve justice? Who cares – I won!
As seen from Carmel Valley, California, here is the Blood Moon Eclipse. What is a blood moon? Here is the answer. According to the Experts Who Know, all lunar eclipses are red, so this is nothing special. According to some successful religious book authors, this is part of a lunar tetrad and symbolic of End Times. Astrologers observe that imbalances explode when there’s a blood moon in Libra.
October 7-8 will offer the next chance to see a blood moon, unless End Times come before then. Either way, you ought to live each day as if it’s your last…and one day you’ll be right!