Lone figure at Getty Museum © Robert Sommers 2017

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Quicksilver Messenger Service

Kaddish for Yednitz.

My grandfather Mondko Wainrober (Martin Roberts) with my late uncle and mother
My mother's father in Moldova did what he had to do to survive.

The family lived in a shtetl called Yednitz. To be a jew in this area was a very dangerous proposition.

He smuggled wheat and horses, worked as a furrier and knew that for my family to survive the upcoming conflagration he would have to quickly flee the coming storm.

He made his escape with my grandmother in the 1920's but first had to sign a note to the Romanian government that he would never return. His fellow townspeople were not so lucky. I would not be here today without his resolve.

I mention this because San Diego Jewish World published an interesting story about the town yesterday, In Moldova, a synagogue with a terrible history is for sale on Holocaust Street.

Decimated by Holocaust and pogrom, 17 out of what was once was a community of 7 thousand jews now remain in the town. And they are selling the synagogue where a large number of jews were executed in the horrible pogrom.
The owner who is selling the former synagogue and the adjacent structure said he is skeptical that anyone from the Jewish community might be interested in buying the property if a story about it appears in an Israeli newspaper.
“I don’t think the Jews would buy it. Especially not the Jews, they are cheap,” he said.
It is admittedly a tough read. But even tougher to read is the memorial or Yizkor book that chronicles this murder and more. I link to a page.
“An order was issued that everyone must assemble in the Seminaria. Some came by themselves. Others were grabbed and brought to the assembly place. The large Seminaria yard was overcrowded with people – men and women, old and young, children, sick and healthy people. My father and I were also seized and taken to a yard across from the Seminaria. There were approximately 400 people there. Some, including my father, were freed. The others, the younger ones, were lined up in two rows and led to the yard of Chayim Reuven. We were told that at night we would all be killed. It was true. In the evening we were lined up in three groups. Four solders guarded each group with loaded guns. We were told to start marching in the direction of the cemetery. It got dark. I took advantage of this and escaped from the convoy and somehow reached home. It's hard to describe the joy of the family. That night the son of the barber, Yitzhak Vinokor, came to us. He was also with us amongst the “young ones.” He told us that everyone had been brought to the cemetery where they were told to dig two pits. Then they were put down on their knees beside the open pits. The soldiers fired at them with machine guns right into their faces. Some of those shot immediately fell into the open pits. Others remained laying badly wounded on the ground. Groans and the sounds of people expiring were heard. After a few hours the voices ceased. The soldiers thought they had finished their “job” and left the spot. Vinokor, though he was wounded, still felt capable to get up on his feet. He made his way out of the cemetery and arrived at our house, wounded and distraught.”
...at the head of these hooligan rapists, the sons of the local gypsies, “Katzapes” was the gypsy fiddler Ivanitza, who played the “Hatikvah” at the “bazetzn” of the bride at all Jewish weddings. He pointed out where to find Jewish women and girls so that the “shkotzim” could despoil together with them.
My friend Byron once told me not to bother myself with the anguish of my ancestors and not to concern myself with their travails. "Don't fight your grandfather's wars," he admonished. They are certainly a terrible thing to remember. And an even worse thing to forget.

Autumn Leaves

Night blooms

I will be the first to admit that I am a total fucking mess right now. Although I have been preparing for my brother's passing for over a year, the totality of the event, the enormous pain of the loss, is overwhelming. I am worthless right now, can't focus, can't work, can't put one foot in front of the other, cry often.

For one reason or another I'm not medicating either, no booze, no weed, no nothing. Experiencing the shock full force, not inclined to numb. I have long wondered how I would deal with the sad eventuality and to be honest, I am still wondering.

It's ridiculous really. Not like I'm the lone ranger. I did a search and the best estimation is that 107 billion people have lived on this earth since man crawled out of the garden and eve took a bite out of that damn apple. What percentage of those folks had brothers? Got to figure at least a third of them if not more. 30 billion people or more have lost their brothers and dealt with it. I have to as well.

Years ago we planted hylocereus undatus in the crooks of our butia capitata palm. They quickly encircled the tree. It is putting on quite a show this week.

I took pictures of these two blooms this morning. I didn't measure but I would guess the flowers are eighteen to twenty inches across. Very lovely.

Their magnificence is fleeting, the blooms last not even a single day, and then, gone forever.

The cab driver who picked me up in Toronto at 3:30 in the morning to take me to Pearson Airport was a Falasha, an ancient tribe of Ethiopian jews.

He had done his compulsory military service in Israel but wasn't very happy there, for reasons I don't need to go into now.

I shared my grief with him. My sister Barbara recently remarked how good I am with strangers, its people in my normal circles I have difficulties with. I know every cabbie's life story within minutes.

This one listened to my tale and then somberly told me his, he lost fourteen members of his family in a single bus accident in Africa, on their way to a picnic by the lake.

If you are a human in this life you are going to experience great pain before it is all over.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Ray Price

Thirty eight special

© Robert Williams
Read an article today says that America is shifting to the left, at least on the issue of healthcare.
A new poll suggests the country may be shifting left on this core issue, with 62 percent saying it’s the federal government’s responsibility to make sure that all Americans have health care coverage, while 37 percent say it is not.
Interesting article at 538, Trump national approval at 38.6.

And I saw this figure the other day; for the first time in a long while, Americans who support the idea of a young earth created no more than 10 thousand years ago stands at, 38%.
New polling data show that for the first time in a long time there’s a notable decline in the percentage of Americans — including Christians — who hold to the “Young Earth” creationist view that humankind was created in its present form in the past 10,000 years, evolution playing no part.
According to a Gallup poll conducted in May, the portion of the American public taking this position now stands at 38%, a new low in Gallup’s periodic surveys. Fifty-seven percent accept the validity of the scientific consensus that human beings evolved from less advanced forms of life over millions of years.
red green color blindness test, what number do you see?
© Robert Sommers 2017
Well, hallelujah. And pardon me for asking but do you see a pattern here? The same coincidental percentage number, give or take a point, of flat earthers that believe that Jesus used to ride around these parts on his pet dinosaur as the percentage that makes up the solid Trump base.

You know, the same people that wouldn't care if le grand orange shot somebody walking down Fifth Avenue in broad daylight.

But don't worry, the faithful aren't content to just go after climate change, they have their sights set on debunking evolution too. http://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/316487-new-wave-of-anti-evolution-bills-hit-states

 The 38 number just keeps popping up, seemingly in every poll.

The same number of people who appear to be running the show today. Dicks and hicks in the sticks. I would use my Ken Kesey quote again but I quote it so often I am afraid I will have to pay royalties. Of course 82% of Republicans think the President is doing a fine job, it will be interesting to see what happens with independents the next cycle.

Of course, if the Senate does manage to pass a health care bill and eventually force 32 million Americans out of health insurance all bets are off. I predict a serious payback. Only 12% of Americans currently support the GOP plan. But the legislators will have done their master's bidding and will surely receive a cushy reward down the road.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Dimming of the day - Bonnie Raitt

Family photo

My brother John sent this family photo over today from 1964. Must have been with mom's stuff. I don't recall ever seeing it before and don't remember the exact place where it was taken. Indian statue possibly with unspecified trees in the background. We used to go to Gallup a lot, maybe it was Gallup? Looks cold and maybe a little rainy.

The characters are as follows, left to right, oldest sister Liz, yours truly at the tender age of six, evil stepsister Donna, older sister Barbara, my mother and my stepbrother David. My late younger brother Buzz is standing at the base. Buzz would have just turned five.

Liz was a genius who still inhabits her own planet. I thankfully lost track of Donna somewhere along the way, she converted to mormanism and had a very brutal streak. Barbara was beautiful, I am struck by how much my mother resembles a much later Liz in this photo. Mom favored sherbet shifts and coral lipstick during this time.

David was killed in a motorcycle accident years ago. He was a great guy and really good role model for Buzz and I, good with tools and an Indian dancer at scouts. Later on he became a rock climber, outlaw biker, printer and mountain man.

Johnnie, Laurie and Amie were not as yet born. Amie died in a car wreck in 1983. Later this particular nucleus pictured included Don's brother Vern's kids Rusty and Gail; Vern was an alcoholic and couldn't raise them right. We drove up to Colorado Springs to pick them up.

We may have been in El Paso by the time this picture was taken. We had moved to El Paso from Las Cruces sometime in 1964, Don was working at the missile range at White Sands. The year before we had been in Lancaster, my stepfather then working at China Lake. Had thirteen in the house at one time in El Paso, including a couple more strays.

I remember all piling into a green 64 plymouth fury station wagon with simulated wood paneling for a cross country trip to see Don's kin in Indiana. Don was an alcoholic too, with all these dependents who could blame him? We ate cereal out of little perforated boxes and visited every brewery we could find in Missouri. Ate a lot of pretzels that summer. Stopped at a bunch of Stuckeys and Libbey's cafeterias. And a lot of KFC. Remember eating on the banks of the river in St. Lois, incredible humidity that summer.

Got to the farm in Noblesville with nothing to do but watch apples occasionally fall from the tree. Never been so bored in my life. Don's mom squealed on me for stealing a piece of candy from the kitchen. Knew right then that I couldn't trust her with a secret. Weird old broad with an unnatural love for baseball.

This picture is taken right about when the wheels came off the wagon, right about the time the troubles and real craziness started. I'm sure Buzz and I were plenty rotten kids but I don't think we had what was coming coming.

Anyway we made it through.

Monday, July 17, 2017


Quicksilver Girl

Long Beach Souk

Leslie and I did the swap meet again yesterday in Long Beach. Didn't have much luck and I wasn't feeling well. The stressful week and airplane trips to Canada have left me with a cold and pretty much broke down, not to mention very depressed.

A friend who I hadn't seen in ages said that I appeared to have a black cloud surrounding my head. Oh well, can't do much about the weather, can we?

I didn't have my camera with me but I should have. Took a couple of shots with my phone anyway.

There is a freak show component to the contemporary marketplace that I find both amusing and visually and artistically rich. I know that I sound rather like a repetitive bore when I tell you that I am now a member of the epidermal minority, being one of the oddly uninked. And the merch gets weirder and weirder, but hey, what else can you say at a time when Kid Rock is poised to be our next Senator?

A dealer who was also apparently a sidewalk preacher had this cautionary sign in his booth. Found out that Drew, a dealer that I go back decades with, to Pickwick, a really pleasant fellow, passed away last month from heart trouble. Once we were the kids, now we are dropping like flies.

Cam and I have played a game for years, in whatever show we are exhibiting in, let's find the ugliest painting in the room.

Easy winner yesterday with cranial girl. Of course, our picks are usually the first things to sell.

Those of us that scour markets, estates and shops for shiny objects are a bit like our friends the crows and ravens, vying to be the corvid with the sharpest eye and beak in the murder.

I actually bought a painting too, from a nice Mexican woman. I have always been a sucker for contemporary streetscapes, knew nothing about the artist until this morning.

It was signed Andrea Dern, verso. Turns out that it was painted by Bruce Dern's wife. I found one very decent auction record on her, guess she sells a lot of prints of her flower and rose paintings. Hot diggity. Side street, St. Helena, painted in 1994.

Maybe I will throw it in auction. Never know what you will find at the market.

Friday, July 14, 2017

It makes no difference

Gene Deitch

I asked some of my artist friends if they knew of the work of Gene Deitch. More people should.

Gene was a preeminent artist and cartoonist in the mid twentieth century and he is still going strong at 92. Incredible talent with a kool unique style all his own.

I think I note a little Ben Shahn influence in his work. Both graphically and chromatically.

Gene was one of the jazziest cats of his time and was father to the great underground cartoonist Kim Deitch.

Worked on Popeye and Tom and Jerry and lots of other great stuff.

If you have a minute, google his name and explore his body of work.

I think I posted the Munro video before, it is one of his most critically acclaimed shorts.

Untitled (as far as I know)

Noreen Ring just sent me a picture of her latest fabric creation, sort of fits into my current zeitgeist.

 Lovely work, Noreen.

Ribbon of darkness over me


Thank you Kim Dinardo Smith for donating to Covenant House in David's name.

The Kills- Pale Blue Eyes

Thursday, July 13, 2017

H.B. surfers

♥ "High Flying Bird" ♥ by We Five

Lead singer is Beverly Bivens, native of Santa Ana, California

Surf City

I took a much needed mental health break yesterday and drove to the beach. Tell me I'm crazy but it seems like I need a lot of mental health breaks lately, doesn't it? After a week of genuine hell and successive sleepless nights I figured I could allow myself a day to chill and hopefully get my shit together.

Hurricane Eugene in Baja has been delivering some big surf on the California coast, especially south facing beaches. It was double overhead at the Wedge on Tuesday and was supposed to be six to seven foot tall yesterday at Huntington so my friend Pete and I got in my van and drove up there together.

Pete is a long time Orange County surfer. He is having some health issues of his own and the doctor's won't let him have his car keys for a while so the trip would be good for both of us, we both really needed to be near the water.

And it would give me a chance to see how the new nikkor 400mm 2.8 fl lens would work for surf and action photography. I have learned one thing as I get older and I have said it before; even for a creative narcissist like me, you can't get good at anything without practice and mileage. I know that Bobby Clampett shot a 77 the first time he ever touched a golf club but he was a freak.

I'm no Mozart.

But I can and do get better, I'm a pretty fast learner.

The tip was slow and uneventful. We counted three major multiple car accidents on the way up, two on the way back down. In each one, no less than three cars were pretending to be accordions. I figure it has to be one of those braindeads I often see texting in the car, there can be no other explanation. Young whippersnappers with notions of immortality meet the hard wall and the Pauli exclusion principle, that mean old law of physics that says that two particles can't occupy the same space at the same time. Best to text when you get to your destination.

Shooting surf with the big lens was tricky. I got wore out lugging the tripod, heavy lens and Wimberly to the pier. I was shooting down on my subjects and I was too close to my subjects and never really found my sweet spot in terms of range.

When a person is flying by you on a fiberglass board they are also getting closer to you. Shooting with a prime lens of this focal length has its pluses and minuses. But it certainly has its utility and all the problems I encountered are easily fixed.

Not only did I not need the added range of the nikkor tc 14e II that Pete was holding for me in his pocket, I would have everything nearly exactly perfect if I had merely brought my full frame Nikon D810 camera rather than the 1.53 crop factor of the smaller sensored Nikon D7200.

Is that enough technical jargon for you? How about some pictures? Click on one...

The performance of the lens was perfect, what I expected, fast, sharp and spot on in terms of focus acquisition. Operator could use a little work. Lost a couple shots through a combination of sheer proximity and bad panning technique, cut off some hands. Next time I will nail it.

I can't wait for the Trestles Pro in September. I had such a great time shooting last year, with this new tool I think I can capture something tight and really special. We will see.

If not I will go back to the zoom, which certainly makes it easier to grab things moving towards you.

By the way, blog reader Jerry Hall was a college roommate of mine in Encinitas. He was a very fine surfer in his day, long and elegant, he dominated. Unfortunately he got into a car accident and had to give up the sport he loved the best. Tragic. I love Jerry, what a beautiful, nice person.

Big Mike called yesterday, crying about Buzz. I appreciate that so much Mike, he loved you too. I appreciate all of your good wishes. Pain is going around. Don Leichtling's wife Debbie died of cancer this weekend too. Blast love to her family. That disease is such a horrible beast.

Surf was pretty big but not a lot of barrels. North side of pier. Surfers had fun, we had fun.

Look forward to trying it again one day.

The blog is blowing up in Brazil. For some reason. Or it has been for the last two weeks anyway. My short story, A cup of Joe. Wrote it back in 2009. I wonder how it got virally disseminated? Wonder if they are reading in english or a translation and if the latter, how accurate is it?

My second viral wave in Brazil. Love it, the blast now rolling along in the many millions of hits. Google stopped letting me know after 14 million views or so, whatever that metric actually means... I have a Wainrober cousin in Brazil, a heart surgeon, a bunch of mom's family landed there.

Anyway I always liked that short story. Remember Feeler, my three part short story from years past? John Colombero always loved that one. I think I will finish it this year. Instead of scrambling around New Mexico I will hole up in a dirty motel in Albuquerque with a liter of vodka and finish the damn thing.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Cat Stevens - Oh Very Young

Phoebe Snow - Don't let me down

David Jonathan Sommers

My younger brother, David Jonathan Sommers, has passed away. David דָּוִד means beloved in Hebrew and he surely was. David, known to all as Buzz, was the closest person on earth to me in this lifetime. The personal void of his passing will never be filled. Our grief is searing.

When I last saw him, a little over a month ago, I thought we had many months left, perhaps even a year. Buzz had a multitude of physical ailments that would have long ago crushed a weaker or lesser man, but he bore them all with strength and dignity.

The last words that he said to me on the phone were "come soon." It is quite possible that he knew that the last round of chemotherapy would kill him.

Still we had no inkling that the end was going to arrive so quickly. I merely wanted to spend all the time I possibly could with him and to tell him how much I loved him, not knowing that it would be the very last time.

I flew in to Toronto on Thursday, reaching the hospital sometime after eleven at night. It was supposed to be a "routine" visit. But it had been a bad day for him. The family joked that I was bad luck, that the last time I flew in he was in the hospital too.

He was non responsive when I entered the room but I announced my presence in a loud voice and his eyes fluttered. I would like to think that I somehow penetrated his consciousness and that he had heard me. I can't be sure. His wonderful and loyal wife Julia stayed at his bedside the whole night. I went to their home with my niece Rachel. We talked about the sudden turn but both thought that it was something he had a very good chance of popping out of, since its advent was so quick.

Instead I woke up to a dreadful ring of the phone sometime before six the next morning, three my California time. He had left us.

I quickly got a cab to the hospital and sat next to him, for several hours, his body finally relieved from the long and painful torment of cancer and kidney disease. I kissed his hand and his forehead as the attendants performed the ritual tasks and cleaning. Later we had a ceremony and buried him according to Jewish law on Sunday. His family could not have been more loving and steadfast, throughout the long ordeal. And I have to thank my brother and the universe for waiting for me, for letting me say goodbye. My tears flow like a river.

With all respect to my brother, the entire family, and all of Buzz's many friends, I am printing a copy of the eulogy I delivered for my brother on Sunday, the hardest thing I have ever had to write, and read. It was followed by a wonderful eulogy by Zachary, Buzz and Julia's eldest son.

I’m Buzz’s brother, Robert. I would like to acknowledge my other siblings, Barbara, John and Laurie as well as my wife Leslie and sister Liz who were not able to be here with us today.

I didn’t fly to Canada on Thursday with any inclination that I would be delivering my brother’s eulogy a mere three days later. Not that any of us can ever be prepared for the timing of such an event. We were all lulled to sleep, he certainly had months, maybe even a year left, right? Buzz fought the beast as hard as he could, valiantly, but in the end there was no escape.

David Jonathan Sommers was not only my younger brother, he was also my best friend. Sounds trite but it is true. Although he lived across the continent, rarely a week went by, let alone a day, where we did not speak. His voice was always one of comfort for me, never condemnation, never a note of anything but total support. I can only hope that mine was the same for him.

Buzz was 16 months younger than I and we grew up joined at the hip. I loved my kid brother and remember a beautiful blond haired baby, blessed with a lovely voice, a great giggle and a big birthmark on his chest. He was charming, from the start he was universally liked.

The neighbor girl, Tina Mary Pasarelli, fell in love with him when he was three. It made everybody in the cul de sac in La Mesa laugh when she would loudly pretend that they were married and bossily instruct him to fix one thing or another when they were playing house.

We had a tumultuous childhood, with a slightly crazy mother and the two of us protected each other, there were times it felt like we had to be back to back against the whole world in order to survive. This entailed the two of us making multiple trips back and forth from New York to California with a single suitcase, trying to find a safe branch that we could land on with a modicum of normalcy.

You either are crushed or become very strong when confronted with these sorts of obstacles at a young age, we survived. Buzz developed a cynical wit and a strong degree of skepticism. His street smarts, coupled with his high intelligence, later made him a fine lawyer.

We moved around a lot, I think I counted 12 different schools, but we could always count on each other, for friendship and occasional protection. We grew up in a time when we often had to solve neighborhood disputes with our fists, and we did.

We did a lot of things kids do, or did, played baseball and basketball, swam, built forts, shot slingshots, collected tadpoles. We once accidentally lit a golf course on fire. Buzz loved certain music and it will be very tough in the future for me to hear Cat Stevens, Phoebe Snow or Genesis without shedding a tear for him. Many tears in fact.

There are so many stories between two close brothers that it is impossible to whittle them down. Some must be held tight for the sake of decorum and decency. We had legendary trips to Las Vegas as young men. On one such excursion our promise was to win big or go home penniless and we did just that. After getting our asses kicked at 500 dollar a hand blackjack, we split a hot dog with our last buck and somehow managed to find a fleabag hotel that would give us a free ride to the airport. Buzz loved telling the story of me “borrowing” a newspaper from a bum while we waited, whipped, tail between our collective legs, for the flight back home. Laughing the whole way.

We had a natural and unrehearsed comedy routine between us; once we were sitting at a McDonalds and decided to play a joke on the old couple across from us. Wordlessly, we dropped the food in the trash and ate the wrapping paper while the couple looked on in horror. 

Buzz’s life took its best turn when he moved to the land of our father and tribe’s birth, Israel. Because it was there on the kibbutz that he met the love of his life and his future wife Julia. A woman who saw through his flaws and did not care, the first person who loved him totally and unconditionally. He was blessed. They had three fine children, he was exceedingly proud of each and everyone of them, and he had a family structure and a normalcy that we lacked in our own upbringing.

We had a very successful career working in our family business together, for many years. I handled the construction, Buzz the law and my father the financing. It was an amazing team. The three of us could do what other companies required fifty people to accomplish. We made a ton of money. Unfortunately, my trusting father was fleeced by a predator and we never recovered.

Buzz eventually went into law and he and my dad pioneered mobilehome park conversion. He had a much easier relationship with my dad than I did, at least at that time, and they both had a mutual love for golf, a sport I always abhorred.

You all know the Buzz story, law became second fiddle to his love of cooking and Poway and San Diego County morphed into Canada, a place where he created a new career from scratch and where he quickly rose to the top of culinary game. And as everybody who really knew him found out, under the flinty exterior lived a real softy. He inherited one of my mother’s better traits, he picked up stray people and tried to make their lives better.

Buzz loved his wife and family and dogs above all. An amazing family who never wavered from his side while he fought some of the worst long term medical problems anyone could ever dream of, problems that would have crushed an average person years ago. I never had children of my own but I would be so proud to have kids like Rachel, Zachary and Jake and a wife like Julia, all possessed with the most extraordinary love, support and devotion. He took such incredible pleasure had such tremendous love for his grandchildren Rozzy and Matilda, their father Justin as well as Julia’s extended family.

I have been having a real tough time for months thinking about what the loss of my brother would mean to my life. Now I get to find out and the prospect terrifies me. I know that he had the same impact and importance in many of your own lives and that many of you are also grappling with the thought of living in a post Buzz world.

I wish I had some profound thought to share but I don’t. He simply can not be replaced in my life. I am going to miss the hell out of him. We all move forward.

Many people talk about a loved one going to a better place. I think that Buzz would flash a wry smile at such a proposition, not sure that he envisioned a hereafter. But I am happy knowing that he is now freed from pain and agony. Peace, brother.

Here is a copy of an obituary for Buzz. Please consider donating to a charity he greatly admired, Covenant House, a shelter for homeless youth, and help us honor his memory.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017