Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Black Ace

From the good captain...

My ongoing correspondence with the Nigerian/Chinese letter scam people:

Dear Good friend,

I am happy to read from you. I am very honest to you and you can be of help to us. I need your understanding in order to make use of this money here. You can recieve this money in your country or neigbouring country freely without any problem, The diplomat will deliver the box to your door step address, because the diplomat cannot be searched. The diplomat will not even know it is money the box contained. I need your help because I want to resign from the US military immediately you recieved the box. I am serious and cannot disappoint you. I want to assure you that all dealings must be transparent and legitimate. I can never involve you in any illegal activities, okay.

I need to know
=Your address
= Your Telephone
=Your Age
=Full legal name
=Your Occupation

I understood that you are currently serving in the State prison. Do you have anybody at home whom you can order to receive this consignment on your behalf and keep it safe until you are out. How long are you going to serve there? I need to know because this matter require perfect and urgent attendance, which does not require delays. But if you are capable of handling every process in this matter, we shall confide our trust in you. Let us know in details.

Waiting to hear from you so that the box will be delivered to you. 

Best Regards,
Capt. Gerrald Giggs King.

Whoohoo Captain! Or can I call you "cap" since we are practically partners now?  Like I mentioned, I am not going to lie to you. I am in the big house. I ain't gonna see sunlight for another 15 or 20 easy. And that's if I don't stick nobody else. The last guy had it coming. NEVER touch another man's chow plate, Never! He's breathing through gills now he never knew he had, get my meaning?

Getting somebody outside to pick up the dough might be a touch problematical. I aint gonna lie to you. When we hit the tire shop, well just say the rubber hit the road. Lula got excited and you know how women get when they get excited, don't you Cap? It wasn't her fault - I mean the tire iron was right there. I knew the bitch was strong but I didn't know she was that strong, you know what I mean Cap? That poor guy, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time but with you being in Iraq or Iran, where did you say you was, I don't have to tell you? The floor of the garage was covered with blood and the poor guy's chiclets. And lots of grease. Mechanics are just plain pigs these days.

We sort of drifted around in the plymouth - Salinas, Mendota, Arvin, Central Valley. You meet a better class of folks. People still take the time to say hello, know what I mean Cap? My kid brother is in Clovis and he can meet you at Ray's Liquor for the drop. Do you got a phone number he can contact you with?

As for my name, it's Lawrence B. Melvin. I am 49. The B stands for Beauregard. The screws don't need to know about our arrangement. Get my drift? Somebody could get hurt.

With Love,


Calipatria State Prison

(p.s. - Am I going to have to pay taxes on the two million? Do you know any estate planners that will work on the cheap?)

All Hallows' Even

When you summon a familiar for the first time, the feelings of awe and power are unbelievable. I remember. I followed the mage's instructions explicitly, creating a magic circle on the floor of the walkup brownstone in Brooklyn with candle wax. (I bet the wax is still there after all these years. The landlord probably didn't have a clue what it was doing there and what it actually meant. Come to think of it, we never did get that security deposit back...)

The four cardinal points and the four animals of the tetragram were properly named on the starry map on the maple floor. Being a poor college student, a plank of douglas fir sitting on cinder blocks served as our altar. On this board lay a ceremonial sword, chalice, wand and a few coins.

Candles illuminated the scene, throwing light on the Desiderata poster on the wall next to the old refrigerator in my frugal one room apartment. My calculus books lay there in a heap on the floor.

I sat cross legged in the middle of my circle and kept repeating the mystical mantra that my Kabbalist teacher had instructed me would aid in snaring the familiar spirit. Yod, He, Vau...


When the djinn spoke, I just about jumped out of my skin. There, sitting on his heels in a silk blouse and striped genie pants was a certifiable, living, breathing, familiar spirit.

"You speak english?" I coughed and stammered, now faced with the tangible consequences of my occult meanderings.

"Why of course, silly," the familiar spoke."It wouldn't do much good if I spoke mandarin, would it?" he said with a sly grin.

I had to agree with him and assented with a tipped nod of my head. "True."

"Well?" The spirit looked at me impatiently, his squinty eyes nearly boring a hole through my knick jersey. "First timer, kid?" he whispered out of the side of his mouth and I must admit I felt a bit embarrassed.

"How did you know?" I blushed.

"Oh, just a hunch. Don't worry about it. We were all rookies once. It gets to be like riding a bike. What can I do for you?

Now I was absolutely flummoxed. I had studied and prepared for this moment for months and had never thought about what I would do if I had ever actually caught one of these guys. Suddenly I felt green and way, way out of my depth. Trying to look as serious and mature as I could, I asked "What's your name?"

"My name is Azrael."

"Well Azrael, will you do anything I ask of you?"

"Within reason, but basically yes," he said with an impish grin.

"Well the first thing I want is for you to clean this dump up a little bit. Then I want two tickets to tonight's Ranger game. And pizza."

In the wink of an eye, the apartment was spotless. Dust was cleaned off the tops of picture frames, the back of toilet was so clean you could serve appetizers on it, even the spot on the shag carpet that had absorbed the heineken spill was gone. It was the cleanest apartment a guy could ever live in, at least a straight man. Sitting on the card table was a piping hot pizza pie, with half pepperoni and extra garlic.

"How did you know about the extra garlic?"

My familiar let loose with a humble cough and said, "Oh, just a good guess." He reached into his sleeveless shirt and pulled out the two tickets to the Garden. "It's mezzanine, but the view is unobstructed. Believe me, even these were a pain in the ass to get. With Brad Park playing so well and the Bruins in town..."

"These will be fine," I said, tearing into a slice and not wanting to appear too discourteous.

"Will there be anything else? You know it is Halloween and I'm getting a lot of calls tonight. The union gets a little pissed off if I don't finish my route. Everybody's a warlock on halloween, sort of like amateur night."

"No, that will be fine Azrael, maybe we'll do this again sometime."

The djinn stared at me and perhaps I'm oversensitive but I thought I detected a slight hint of derision. He disappeared in the flash of an instant.

The Ranger game was excellent. Giacomin pitched a shutout. Gilbert was this close to a hat trick. My date was very impressed with the seats.

I never called him back. It's risky to mess with the dark forces. And I hate to say it but I've had better pizza. He really couldn't get the crust right.

© 2009 Robert Sommers

Friday, October 30, 2009

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Untold treasures

Got this email today and will see how it pans out. A chinese version of the old nigerian letter scam?  I encourage Blast readers to send in their own creative replies to these types of requests and I will post them.
你現可電郵給我:Giggs King@


I found your contact particulars in an E-mail address guide that was provided to us here, as I desperately needed an urgent help to do this deal. I hope my e-mail meets you well. I am in need of your assistance. My name is Capt. Gerrald Giggs King of the Engineering Unit of US Military here in Baghdad in Iraq; we have $15 Million US dollars that we want to move out of the country. My partners and I need a good partner out there, someone we can trust to receive the funds on our behalf. It is oil money and legal.

We have made arrangements with a Diplomatic Courier Service that will move the funds out of Iraq as a Family Treasures, also we have made arrangement to transfer the said fund through Bank of Baghdad depending on what you want.

The most important thing is; "Can We Trust you"? Once the funds get to you, simply take out 20% as your share and keep the remaining 80% for us.Your own part of this deal is to find a safe place where the funds can be sent to, ours is sending it to you safely.

If you are interested I will furnish you with more details upon receipt of your response and contact details. But I can assure you the whole process is simple and we must keep a low profile at all times. I look forward to your reply and co-operation.
Best Regards,
Capt. Gerrald Giggs King.

Dear king, Hot damn. The whole thing just sounds too good to be true. I don't normally respond to this sort of thing but being as you're from the U.S. Army and all, I'm guessing you're okay. Fifteen million sounds like an awful lot of dough, Captain. I get 20%, you get 80%, who gets the last 10%?

I am still trying to make bail after the tire shop caper but don't want you to question my reliability whatsoever. We only can check our emails once a week at the prison but maybe I can cut the guards or trustees in for a piece since soon we will be swimming in the greenbacks. Anyway you can float me a couple hundred until the big payday? For smokes and some clean underwear?

This thing will be hush hush and on the QT. You probably hear this a lot and I don't want you to think I am making fun of you, but your "gig" is safe with me, Captain Giggs. Semper Fi. I am confident that you picked the right fellow. How in the hell did you find me anyway?


Calipatria State Prison

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Amelia and Bob

This handsome couple sauntered by the shop
this afternoon.
Perfectly coordinated, Amelia sews their personal apparel. Just a hint of Buck Rodgers for good measure and
Bob shows he's a good sport in the lovely pink and mint ensemble.

Set off admirably with the black socks for a nice walk downtown. This frisky couple has not had an argument in 32 years. No, come to think of it, Bob says they had one.

Had to get a shot and they graciously posed for me.

Click on a pic for full effect.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Post nuclear shopping

I don't get out and shop that much anymore. Probably no more than 4 or 5 times a year. Having been in the art and antiques business for a long time, people bring me things to either buy or to sell for them.

There is a subspecies in the antiques hierarchy called pickers, a semi itinerant band of dealers who will sell things to you wholesale. Most of us couldn't survive without them. If a picker brings me something often I will purchase it even if it is ugly or totally useless because you want them to keep bringing you things. Because the next thing might be really good. Often I will overpay for things to stay at the head of the line. You have to take care of your pickers.

Leslie and I paid our dues waking up at three in the morning to do the flea markets, something my mother did as well on the east coast. Many of the people we worked with are still at it, and my hat is off to them. It is backbreaking, tiring, dirty, difficult and sometimes thankless work.  Some shows, like the old Westside Show, would get horrible wind storms in the afternoons and shit would invariably fall and break.  We have some serious war stories of these traumatic events.  You work all week to find something to sell and then the vultures come and prey on you on Sunday.

We did pretty well at the fleas for a few years and then my tastes got a little too extravagant and people would beeline around our tent. We then sought out the more elegant world of the expensive indoor shows. But in our heyday we were doing 35 flea markets a year.

I decided to go shopping today. I brought a big stack of business cards so that I could at least try to network if I didn't find anything to buy. Before the advent of the internet, when I was the cocky cross country antique shopper, I would say that you could drop me off with $50.00 in any small town in america with an antique mall and I would turn it into $500.00 in a week. You used to find great stuff anywhere but when the little old lady in Dubuque discovered ebay, everything got sucked out of the stores, stuck online and prices dropped to nothing.   Because now things don't appreciate. There are no market makers and little magic, since all the prices everyone has ever paid for anything is known.  Things go directly to the end user and they quickly lost interest.  Commodities once considered scarce suddenly turned up all over the place.

I was going to flip a coin and see if I should go north or south and stuck on north. I hit the malls in Temecula and found nothing but did have a pleasant visit with Doc and his wife at Temecula Traders, two fine people that have been in the game since christ was a a corporal.  Bought some licorice jelly beans at Granny's but nothing grabbed me merchandise wise.  Hit 4 or 5 different shops but it all looked pretty tired. I am one of those top of the tertiary food chain predators who wants the best of the best.

I passed an interesting pub, The Public House and called up my friend Cam in Salinas for some advice. "Cam, it's 10:30 a.m., I just drove by what looked like a nice bar, should I shop today or go in and drink all day?"

"What town are you in?"


"Try the shots." Now if Cam had been there I guarantee I would have sat there getting toasted all day and be now nursing a seriously major hangover but I marshaled on and kept moving forward in my pursuit of treasures.

I rolled up to Lake Elsinore, only to find most of the old shops closed. I admit I haven't shopped there in at least five years, and the town is hurting a little bit. Like most towns. I went into the only shop that was open, Mora's and was really taken with how nice everything looked and the beautiful presentation when I realized that it was owned by a woman and her daughter that I knew back in my early days. Collector magazine had run some sordid, dire tales of my medical condition several years ago and they wanted to know if I was ok.  Vicki and her daughter Jamie are really nice, has a lovely shop and her son Chad is creating the cool Posada artwork pictured above and I hear doing quite well.

Lake Elsinore was a major destination in the early part of the last century, especially amongst the yids but went to seed somewhere along the way.  The lake has just about dried up. Typical inland empire problems and one of the skankier locales but still full of some very nice people in one of the few affordable places around. Someday, someone is going to do something with that town because it really has a lot of potential.  Great italian restaurant Vincenzo's that I didn't stop by today.

After Elsinore the day was ensnared by one sleazy inland empire town after another. The road signs read Colton and Riverside and Grand Terrace and Yucaipa. La Sierra, Redlands, Beaumont, Banning, Hemet and Loma Linda and all sorts of other places that never quite caught the prosperity bug. It seems the bloom left the those buds long ago. Yucaipa used to be full of shops, now it's down to three. Ditto Riverside. I picked up a few trinkets including a couple of Dresden black minstrel figurines and distributed a number of business cards, hoping that one day someone will bring a great painting in and think of me.  I tried to hit every little shop I could find, even the ones I never stop into, getting a good day of exercise if nothing else.  Grabbed a sandwich near the Mission Inn in Riverside and the only periodical to read was the Black Voice of Riverside newspaper which actually had some great writing and editorials.

So I put on a lot of miles today, mostly fruitlessly but you never know what can happen. I guess the only semi profound thing I can come up with is that the entire area is really hurting, the shops are embarrassingly depleted, and I am lucky to live where I do.  And just how many funky brass cutlery sets were manufactured in Siam in the 40's anyway? When I got into the business my mother told me how well she did in african american neighborhoods and I took it to heart, I used to hit all the thrift shops in San Bernardino and Highland. I went into a few today and even they were really picked over and meager.  Cam can walk into one and pull out a grueby pot, but no such luck for me.

I gave it my all and got bupkis. I had scored in some of these places before but lightning doesn't strike twice in the same spot. Next time I will take my friend's advice and drink.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Nightly Visitor

I have been having a reoccurring dream - last night was the third time this week. I am at an antique show. I am naked or in my underwear. I have scrounged junk to try to sell. No one is buying anything. The customers and dealers are all very young. Many of them are doing quite well. Last night's version had a brown haired cosmopolitan girl asking me about the prominent scar on my chest from my open heart surgery. I am being inspected as if I am another old artifact.

I sense my nakedness but don't have the will or the ability to change it. I have a sense of shame coupled with serious questions of self esteem. Most of the people don't seem terribly concerned. I get angry and throw a particularly patronizing twenty something out of my booth. He turns out to be a very important buyer from New York whom I have alienated. It is my turn to lose.

The dream shifts and I now am driving a car on a high mountain ridge with my brother and father. Through snow and deep ravines. I only remember bits and pieces.

If any of you catch me in my near naked state, either find me a shrink or throw me a pair of skivvies, will you?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

There but for the grace of god go I...

I was talking to a friend this morning about an odd experience he had earlier this week.  My friend, who wishes to remain anonymous, had a downtown meeting with investors in a large American big city.

As he walked over to the appointment he had the occasion to walk by a church rescue mission.  He was startled to see an old business acquaintance lined up in the queue waiting for the handout.

Slightly embarrassed, he approached him and after a brief greeting candidly asked him about his predicament. The poor fellow had a six figure plus income from a major company less than two years ago. He told my friend that he and his wife got into too much of a house and mortgage. When he lost his job things just started to cascade. Now he was at rock bottom. My friend was wearing a three piece suit.  His old acquaintance was living on the street. My friend pulled out fifty bucks and gave it to the guy. Wished him the best.

When my friend brought this up with me this morning, I think we both took a deep breath. Because it could be all of our asses in that line. Many of us are dancing on the edge of the cliff. I read about a young, stable, articulate black man in his twenties that worked for Nordstrom's six months ago and now sleeps under a bridge. He was a handsome guy in his twenties but the light in his eyes had been dimmed. Life had kicked him in the teeth.

This is depressing and I wouldn't write about it except to raise one point. A lot of people feeling the pain on the street right now are not necessarily paranoid schizophrenic alcoholics.  Many are regular and normal folks like you or me who have caught a real bad deck. Uncle Sam gave the banks a break. The rest of the country got dick.

Grateful Dead

Chinacat / Rider jam
Copenhagen c. 1972

Friday, October 23, 2009

Three to get ready and four to fly...

Dupree said, "Judge well it's well understood,
But you got to admit that sweet jelly's so good."

One of the dumber moves in my life was chasing the Grateful Dead around the country for the better part of three decades. How embarrassing! Frivolously wasted lots of time, money and brain cells. Pushed the fun button until it hurt. But heck, viva la mutation!

I started going to shows on the east coast in 1972, saw my first California shows in 1974 at Santa Barbara and the Cow Palace.  Kept on trucking until Jerry's death in 1995.

Dead tours always seemed to coincide with final's week and family gatherings and other important events in my life that I would often blow off. Like jobs and stuff like that. But I literally saw hundreds of shows, many of them just sublimely good. Like many deadheads I used to dream I was at shows and get whole concerts in my sleep. Some of my oldest and best relationships to this day I owe to my Grateful Dead extended family.

Jerry Garcia was a master musician with full control of his tone, time and his space. This band would fearlessly jump into the void and go where mortals feared to tread. You can't discuss or understand the G.D. phenomenon without taking a detour in time back to Albert Hoffman's famous bicycle ride in 1943. Hoffman was the Swiss chemist who worked for Sandoz and first synthesized LSD. He decided to become the first human guinea pig and started coming on during his bike ride. Toto, we're not in Basel anymore. Assuredly.

Colonel Al Hubbard, CIA operative who allegedly turned over 6000 people on to LSD. They called him the Johnny Appleseed of his epoch.

Fast forward past CIA mind control, MK Ultra and Stanford experiments and you run into new associations forming of intrepid folks who felt the beauty and sought the revelations of what was colloquially known as "tripping". Like minded pirates. Felt like walking on the moon for the first time. The Dead were part of a new vanguard that was tempered by the forge of the notorious acid tests. Such an irony that a drug that was intended to be used for the purposes of warcraft actually led the user down a cobbly path to a promethean fire that may have actually liberated a few people. The dead was a place for magic to happen!

Now I am not an advocate, merely a reporter. Don't think I ever touched the stuff myself. And we all know that certain people could not pass the infamous test and were reduced to drool buckets and spent charcoal. Like Diane Linkletter, kids do the darnedest things! Or they sought and were subsequently captured by narcotics to dull the bright edge. L&P they called it in the late seventies. The persian cocktail, as old warrior Hank from Ank used to refer to it. Pitfalls everywhere on the dead highway but if you played your cards right, you could sometimes fill that inside straight or turn over four bullets. Part of the allure of the Dead experience was that it provided a pretty safe forum for kids to get their psychedelic sea legs. And be the best that they can be.

The Grateful Dead created a new living, breathing mythology, in their own lifetime. That's a very rare thing. And when you build the pantheon, guess who ...? I ran into Mickey Hart one night after a show and he told me that his only religion was the Grateful Dead. And I thought to myself, no doubt ... If you get any rank above cardinal there all always benefits to being part of the religion. Youse guys ain't stupid.

People talk about the Stones being the best Rock and Roll band in the world in their prime. Nothing could touch the Dead when they were rolling. They listened harder than any band I ever heard. And took it to another plane on a nightly basis. If you felt like putting a toe in the water.

It wasn't easy being a deadhead, especially as I got older. Lot of people just wanted to get fucked up. Watched some do serious damage to their machinery. I hated little dancing bears and a lot of what I considered was brutally bad iconography, being an art snob. The late Ed Donohue was the first deadhead to put really great imagery on t-shirts. Wish I had kept some of them. I remember being at a New Year's show where a large and frankly very ugly skeletal statue was paraded around and people were madly cheering. I felt like I was in a sick pagan ritual. Or Berlin. But it was the only playground around for what Sturgeon would call Homo Gestalt in his book More than Human, a forum for people to experience the psychedelic group mind. The dead and their denizens found a way to function with a foot in two worlds. I hear it can be a tricky balancing act.

Try explaining that to your parents. Or boss. Or professor. Or to yourself when you find yourself walking in to a Denny's at 2:00 in the morning after spending a day brain baking on the hot asphalt in stinky bright clothes that would sear the retinas of any unfortunate nearby muggles. With work the next day. We looked almost normal but we had a lot on our minds.

There were times that the band turned me off and I took long sabbaticals. Mostly around Jerry's worst druggy periods. Late 80's early nineties wasn't a lot of fun. For me.

The Grateful Dead had several periods, some that I missed, coming on board around 1970 while listening to Live Dead.  The sixties library was dark star cranial space exploration, in seventy they started getting country and folky with American Beauty and Workingman's Dead. The one drummer period moved quicker around the corners and the band got nimble and jazzy in 73 and 74.  I loved Bob Weir 1970-1974, when he was truly one of the greatest rhythm players in the world, and a master of the cowboy stuff.

The most dangerous job in america surely was being keyboard player for the Grateful Dead. Pigpen died of liver problems, Tom Constanten was lost to Scientology. Keith Godchaux died in a car wreck. Brett Mydland O.D.'d. Vince Wellnick tried suicide. And then succeeded. This mortality batting average is collectively worse than American presidents or high wire trapeze acts. Wouldn't bet a nickel on T.C.'s chances...

My favorite keyboard player, never having the pleasure of catching the Pig, was Keith, by far. His lead piano work was so clean and funky and good. I was listening to a 1973 show on the radio this evening and was astounded by one of his leads. It was worth listening to Donna to hear his beautiful accompaniment.

My favorite year for the dead was 1977, both for the shows and the great fraternal scene of deadheads. Winterland was a consistent great party with three thousand of your closest friends.  I won't even begin to talk about the Swing show in 1977, all I know is that it changed many people's lives. Jerry's voice was still great in 77 and he could make it through Crazy Fingers without cracking.

Keith slowed down a lot in late 78 and 79, reportedly got real depressed and sometimes seemingly nodded off on stage.  He and his wife were fired and they brought a new guy in, Brent Mydland. A strange bird with a manson like face that didn't seem to ever blink, his singing and vibe set off danger signs with me. Never got that comfortable with his playing. He did some cool things on a few albums but don't think he had the inner strength to relax and flow that well. His organ playing was not brutal but not exactly sublime - a workmanlike player with a falsetto.  I was what was termed, a Brent Basher. He was, for want of a better term, a buzz kill. His emotional instability rang through like a cosmic nail on a chalkboard.

Imperial Message - Rick Griffin

It wasn't always easy to be a deadhead. After 87, there were a whole bunch of young recruits that would take every drug imaginable and trash hotels. I was embarrassed to leave the hotel at Dominguez Hills after seeing the carnage left behind. Many denizens of the parking lot lacked simple hygiene. The miracle ticket scammers would try to parasitically wind their way from show to show existing merely on fumes, spare change and veggie burritos in the parking lot.  The newbies were taking over and the quality of the experienced changed a little bit.  Of course, that's what they were saying about me when I got on the bus. You should have seen what you just missed.

When Brent went to meet his maker, Bruce Hornsby stepped in. He would play piano and then Vince would play organ. Hornsby was just so brilliant and a pleasure to watch live with his long fingers dancing along down the 88 keys. Immensely talented and from what I saw of him backstage, just a great guy. The dead were pretty ossified by this time and couldn't really play on his improvisational level.

Leslie and I really enjoyed going to Vegas to see the Dead and a great guest artist every august. Santana, Dave Matthews, Traffic, Sting, Steve Miller. Even though it was frigging hot, the Silver Bowl was a gas and it was fun to sit on top and listen to Jerry noodle while looking out on the vast desert.  Jerry was a monster in Vegas, when he was on, it was hold on to your hats.

The key player for me in determining the strength of a show was surprisingly not Jerry but Weir. If Weir was on, into it and real, the show soared. When he was doing a cheesy elvis impersonation, the shows weren't that good. But there were rarely bad shows, only adequate ones, the band so practiced at inhabiting psychedelic space and playing their asses off.  I was talking to my longtime deadhead buddy Vlad Smythe the other day about some of the great Lazy Lightening/Supplication jams of the mid seventies. They were so good because Weir would step up and match Jerry's energy and proficiency and just rip. Now his ratdog stuff is mostly unlistenable.

Anyway, I listen to the Dead station a lot now on satellite radio. But not too much. When I go into dead overload it gets like what a passenger in my car once said after being tormented by my tapes for hours. They likened it to protracted dental surgery.  Or eating so much of a food you like that you never want another bite. Some of the later stuff like Days Between and Picasso Moon and Throwing Stones seemed so bloated and indulgent to me its hard to stomach. Ditto Trucking and Sugar Magnolia. They've become very hard to listen to.

But it's always a pleasure to hear Keith Godchaux. His playing was sort of New Orleansy and effortless and he could play improvisational piano leads that really complimented the band.  Liked his singing on Wake of the Flood, a really beautiful album. As was Blues for Allah.

Even though I was young and irresponsible, I wouldn't trade those great 1977 shows for anything. Thank you Keith Godchaux.  Most of my blog readers have no idea what I'm talking about or couldn't care less. Follow a rock band around? Get serious. Here's to an extended childhood. There will never be another experience like the Grateful Dead.

freejestercarolina'snofundougmonroejerryg vinniedarpinianerniedonpearsontabathafatalmarkhaldermanbobborip?

Get Away Jordan

Hovie Lister and the Statesmen

Burn the Bible?

Nice to know that some things never seem to go out of fashion in the south. South Carolina has been in for its share of ridicule lately and not to be outdone, its neighbor to the north wants a piece of the looney action. On Halloween, Canton, North Carolina's Pastor Marc Grizzard is going to have an old fashioned book burning. Not just any book - the bible, or more specifically any bible that is not the infallible, preserved, inspired, inherent word of god, one hunnerd percent gen-u-ine King James Version.

Plus feel free to toss in anything written by noted satanists like James Dobson, Mother Theresa, Rick Warren, Billy Graham, George Bush, Barack Obama, Sarah Palin and Robert Schuller. God bless you Reverend, you keeping us one step ahead of the alpaca lips.

The book fry will be accompanied by some of that good ol' carolina vinegar chopped pork, sloppy joes and Miss Elvira Finch's lovely rhubarb pie.

Any time you red staters see fit to secede from this here union, we all'l help you fetch yer stuff, hear.

News breaker: Haywood County Assistant Fire Marshal Johnny Glance has informed Grizzard that North Carolina law restricts outdoor fires to “vegetative matter in its natural state,” throwing cold water on Grizzard’s plans to burn copies of the Bible, books by religious authors and music by contemporary Christian and gospel artists on Oct. 31.
“I told him that (burning books) would be against the law,  he said he didn’t want to break the law.”
Glance said that Grizzard plans to destroy the books by other means, possibly by cutting them up.
The county fine is $25 and the state fine can top $25,000.

Ain't no law on cuttin up books, it just don't sound so dad gum good, know what I mean? If Andy Taylor was still back there in Mt. Pilot, he and Barn would know how to handle this'un for sure.

Opernplatz, Berlin - 1933

I truly don't want to bag on southerners, stupid people or christians, this is one guy with a small church who wants to get some press. I think that what rankles is the square jawed intolerance, the ...(self censored) The idea of burning books is so Orwellian. (or is it Bradburian?) The ramifications of cutting books has not been fully explored, to my knowledge. But hands gonna get mighty tired from cuttin... I'll tell you.

You Don't Miss Your Water Until Your Well Runs Dry.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Happy Þorsdagr*

*Thursday. From the old norse Thor's day celebrating the protean god Thunaraz, God of thunder. Yesterday, wednesday, or Wōdnesdæg, we celebrated an anglo saxon god Wodan who apparently bid his final adieu in about the 7th century.

Wodan's day was a bit woeful for me as I pretty much paid up all of my outstanding debts, some that had slyly hung around for several months. Got one left that should be manageable. Now the cupboard is near bare again and I get to start the cycle all over, like most americans do on a monthly basis. Now I have an excuse to be miserable for the rest of the week.

We went to a wonderful dinner the other night at some friends' home. A friend who is a retired professor, food and wine critic and multiple cookbook author (and faithful blog reader) manned the grill and worked up a sumptuous feast which included a delightful salmon over swordfish mousse dish and a perfectly roasted filet mignon. Denis has written several books on the cooking of meat including the new Complete Meat Lovers Cookbook with Bruce Aidells. So he should know his way around a grill and did. Not only do you learn a lot about cooking when you read his book, you get to meet his statuesque Aunt Nora, and his proud Irish uncles back in Sheepshead Bay.

Anyway folks got to talking and we somehow got on the topic of the rises and falls and spectacular crashes in our lives. I parroted the statement that I once heard not to trust anyone who has never fallen on their ass. Most of those types of people were exceedingly lucky once, but somehow figure they are brilliant instead. They lack a certain humility that broadens the spirit and if nothing else, allows one to appreciate dark comedy. I take a certain pride in all of my scars and travails. It was a great dinner. We had one obligatory white wine and then got down to business with some really good reds including an excellent bordeaux.

We lost another business on Main St. this week, the Lace Apron. This hurts for a multitude of reasons, but principally because the owner and all the people who gave it a go put so much effort into making it work. And selfishly, because I went over for one of their delicious little flans nearly every afternoon.

They are clearing out the store this week and I noticed a cop talking to the proprietor yesterday afternoon. Apparently the front door had been accidently left open for two days. Someone notified the gendarmes. She had all this kitchen equipment priced and apparently people came in, and left their money on the table for the sold items. People walked in and out leaving money for two days and nobody stole anything. Or touched the money. Another reason to love Fallbrook.

I have had a lot of positive feedback about my blog this week and I really appreciate it. I was grooving. One of my friends hounds me that I should be doing this for money. 

Now I tried to explain that there is no blog equivalent of Schraft's luncheon counter where I can go and get discovered. There are millions of writers in Blogdonia and I am deeply appreciative that people find the time to peek into my little corner of the universe, oftentimes on a daily basis.

I have had two professional writing gigs in my life. In the late eighties and early nineties, I wrote an occasional article for California Grower, an agricultural magazine.  This enabled me to write off a trip to Israel for an article I wrote on the Volcani Institute in Tel Aviv and to stick around for the Scud War. I wrote several articles for Silver Magazine in the late nineties. Wrote a little science fiction that got published up in Oregon in the eighties as well, some of it pretty damn good, now all unfortunately lost.

All of the media are changing so fast that no one really knows what to make of this blog thing. What I do know is that if it's not free nowadays, it ain't going anywhere. Music, photography, writing, once the cat is out of the artist's bag and flowing through the cyber ether, you just can't stuff the genie back in the bottle. The concept of copy write and compensation has been flushed down the swirling vortex of cyberspace. 

So I might as well just write. Number one, I can't not write, as last month's failed experiment showed and number two, writing daily makes one a better writer. What am I gonna do, sit back on my haunches and wait for Lewis Lapham to call and tell me how brilliant I am and sign me up for Harpers? I'm waiting, Lew.

As technology advances, it reverses the characteristics of every situation again and again. The age of automation is going to be the age of 'do it yourself.'
Marshall McLuhan

I read another quote the other day from, I forget who, about whoever controls the images controlling history. Or something like that. Maybe whomever controls the information pipelines actually has the power, hence the grand rise of google, Corbis and facebook. With the explosion of real time communication, we are also seeing a rise in preposterous viral events like Birther stories, balloon boys, Trade Center conspiracies, etc. It isn't enough to debunk, because perception drives reality and they take on a life of their own. And can change financial markets, cause great numbers of otherwise sane people to start having tea parties, and create a multitude of other end of the world scenarios. And then the next thing you know, the townspeople are running through the shtetl with torches.

I was reading the interview with the Taliban captured correspondent for the New York Times the other day and he said that his captors were enraged by the Abu Graib, Guantanamo stories of U.S./Israeli subjugation of the Islamic world. Which seem to have been grossly overblown at least in scale, but provided a lot of fodder for new generations of budding suicide bombers.

So we have seen a total decline in academic scholarship in the news media, which allows an anti media conglomerate like Fox to assume its mantle in protecting the conservative base from the slanted liberal mainstream. What bothers me is how it elevates intellectually challenged people like O'Reilly and Hannity to an equal position with serious journalists. What did O'Reilly ever do, write for the Boston Phoenix? Inside Edition? Yet he had a jackoff session with Britt Hume last week where he sounded like he was the second coming of Edward R. Murrow. 

We live in a new world of immediacy. Visceral sound bites. Hit and run journalism. Flavor of the month, quickly disposed of to allow for the next wave of incoming flotsam. I can even come back in two hours and change this paragraph and no one will be the wiser. The concept of time and permanence shifts in the new digital age. A few keystrokes and voila, twenty twenty foresight.

This affects my business to some degree. I have seen my peers rush to the altar of modernism only to find that the fads have as much shelf life as raw milk. That is why one of my eyes is continually open to the wonder of the 18th and 19th century and is pointing more to classical style every day. Tried and true.

You can win the rat race but you are still a fucking rat.
Mike Tyson

I remember reading about Malthus in school. Work people so hard that they don't have time to screw. House them in Bauhaus like modern jails and call it the new frontier. Form follows function until it hurts. Clean lines that eventually choke the user like so many prison bars.

I may be a dying swan. The current generation has no use for history. Or the artifacts of same. Ikea baby. Disposable. Shellshocked by continual sensory bombardment. One of the problems with the digital revolution is that it raises several trust issues. Images, sound waves, quotes, everything can be altered in a Wave the dog, Forrest Gump scenario. With the short memory and general lack of interest of humankind, history is whatever we say it is at the moment. It is interesting to see how two viewers can disagree about an act that occurs in the present. How much more so for an event in the not necessarily so distant past, like the Holocaust for instance. I here bye declare that -----------[insert here] never occurred, moon landings, resurrection,Vasco de Gama, what have you. 

So we rely on aggregators of facts, your Huffington Posts, Blue Heron Blasts, Townhall.coms, who all have their own agenda which subtly flavors the content of the raw information stream. Which few of us have time to plunge into or navigate. So we greatly heighten the stupid index. And fall victims to those that would exploit our ignorance.

It is interesting to me that the keyword in the arts and antiques business, from my vantage point and in my opinion, at least for the last ten to twenty years, is regionalism. People are interested in the paintings and furnishings created locally. This allowed several things to occur. Number one it allowed people to connect with their local history, possibly as a prescient reaction to the globally homogenized barrage we are currently experiencing. 

The same thing occurred 120 years ago in England with Morris, Ashbee and Ruskin and the Handicrafts Guild. They celebrated hand made things with an eye on the brutal shadow of the industrial revolution to come. And then were subsequently bulldozed down by the oncoming wave of the mass market.

I read a nonfictional book excerpt once that stayed with me about a guy who was canoeing in the Amazon with four friends and goes through the most horrible traumatic experiences and washes up on a river shore and crawls into a primitive hut and sees that the Flintstones cartoon is playing on a satellite television system. To his misery. Dallas and Dynasty and american consumerism have been like a viral tidal wave that has caused more cultural devastation than any air borne disease ever could. Now we have women in the Philippines sanding there skin pigment off to look whiter.

I wore one of my old tie-dies to the gym to a lot of guffaws recently. And heard a friend bitch about a neighbor's purple house. Because we live in a land that begs conformity and then deals out swift punishment to knock the offending corners off any cultural lawbreakers.

So fellow nonconformists, we might be going to hell in a bucket but at least we can enjoy the ride! I salute you. Let your freak flags fly! Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Afghan Follies

“It would be entirely irresponsible for the president of the United States to commit more troops to this country, when we don’t even have an election finished and know who the president is and what kind of government we’re working with.’’ John Kerry

I got a chuckle from the Wall Street Journal today. Karl Rove brings up Obama administration "wobbling" on Afghanistan. He throws a few jabs at the President, but it's sissy stuff and more for the sake of exercise than anything else.

Rove says that we risk alienating Hamid Karzai, the long time Bush proxy in Afghanistan. Karzai has presided over a government rife with corruption, with both his younger brother Achmed Wali and his Defense Minister rumored to be deeply involved in opium trafficking. Never mind that the guy is dirty, he's our boy, right Karl? Afghani opium kills more people per year, over 100,000, than any other drug according to a new U.N. study. Estimations are that over 125 million dollars have been raised for the taliban in the last three years through the opium and heroin trade.  As we have seen in Mexico, when there is this kind of money floating around, much of the government is usually involved.

Of course, the Republicans have a time honored tradition of cozying up to dictators and crooked strong men that reaches back to Batista and United Fruit. And perfected at the hands of the nimble master Henry K. who only respected democracy so far when it came to Chile.

Neutral observers have castigated the recent election in Afghanistan as being one of the most "fixed" affairs in recent memory (with over a million "disputed" votes) and Karzai has reluctantly agreed to a revote. John Kerry reportedly had a frank discussion with him about straightening up and agreeing to new elections.

Our whole position in the region has been a joke. As mentioned previously in this blog, over 6 billion dollars in our aid to Pakistan never reached their target destination. There are reports that the Pakistani military are financing the Taliban with our money. Drug trafficking goes unabated. The Afghani military is completely ineffectual. Karzai is shown to be a crook. Before we know it, we are in a modern Viet Nam. Does anyone actually think about Bin Laden these days? Are we any closer to catching him and the bastards responsible for 9-11?

General McCrystal wants more troops and an escalation in Afghanistan. Biden says not so fast. Arianna Huffington wants Biden to resign for his insubordination. More likely he's playing a boss sanctioned game of good cop, bad cop with these guys.

With friends like we got in the middle east, who needs enemies? We are trying to shoehorn western civilization into a tribal region where enmity and barbarity have ruled for over a thousand years. Where the natives don't seem to want to invest anything in their own freedom, merely to suck on the tit and blood offerings of Uncle Sam. Let's get out and start looking at fixing places like Gary, Indiana and Salinas before we try to fix the problems of these two bit thieves. I hope that Karzai gets his clock cleaned and the people of Afghanistan get a chance to start over.

Soul Summit - Son of a Preacherman

The wonderful Susan Tedeschi. Not a lot of range and a little bit shot and tired for this one, but a nice "whiskey" voice. Even when she's straining for those unreachable high octaves her voice sounds good and mostly in pitch, like Janis and Aretha and the truly great female vocalists.

Family Phantom

The contact came immediately. It was rather shocking. "Uncle Harry, are you sure that it's you?" "Who else would it be, you numbskull?" It was Harry all right. That voice could cut through concrete. 

I turned to my right and noticed that the gypsy lady had fainted dead away. Poor thing had probably never run into the real thing before.

"Nu, so how's my favorite nephew?" the non corporeal spirit bellowed.

"Fine, oh fine Uncle Harry, but shouldn't we dispense with the chitchat? It's not every day I get to have a conversation with the dead, you know..."

"The proper term is the deceased, my boy," My late uncle's voice boomed as if it was coming from all four walls of Mistress Carmen's tacky psychic parlor.

"Okay, the deceased. Sorry. So tell me, what's it really like?"

"Well first of all junior, that light at the end of the tunnel stuff, they have it all wrong. It ain't heaven and it ain't the oncoming lights of a train."

"Well, then what the heck is it, and just where are you?

"Patience my lad, you know how long it's been since I got to converse with my own flesh and blood?" I squirmed nervously in my chair. The puerto rican gypsy woman's stuporous faint had turned into long, loud snores that could, pardon the expression, wake the dead. "Lets just say that I ain't cloud sitting and I'm not stoking no fiery furnace. What it is, is, well, a job."

"A job? Uncle Harry, you retired more than fifteen years ago on account of that goiter problem. You've pulled all your disability. Why that's i-i-illegal," I sputtered.

"Relax kid, those rules don't apply here. Let me give you the skinny, see."

I nodded my head in no general direction, hoping that my gentle assent could be detected by the familial ectoplasm. 

Harry continued. "Get this, sonny. There's no heaven or hell, at least not at my pay grade. Think of it more like a job with Central Casting. That light you hear about, it's a klieg light. Operated by proud union members, local 427."

The gypsy woman was now face down on the madras bedspread that covered the cheap card table and her drool had formed a small puddle under her nascent mustache. He would have to suggest a little adenoid work when she finally woke up.

"You know when you are dreaming at night, kid, you know how you think you recognize certain people. Well that's what we do, we act in your dreams. Why just last night I had a gig scaring that little Billie brat down the street that was trying to kipe your lunch money. I don't think he'll be bothering you for a while. Little bastard almost shit his pants. Gave the mumzer a little extra."

My jaw dropped in amazement.

"And the sheep counting thing. They were the only animals we could herd over a fence over here. Cramped quarters and all. We tried dobermans and they were biting everything in sight. Honestly, this place stinks to high heaven. If I was to so much as look at a lamb chop again I tell you, I would lose it.

"So we just wait for our call from the producers and are generally ready to perform when the director yells roll. It's pretty much a nightly gig for some of us. Sophia Loren types, mean third grade teachers, nasty bosses, you know the type. Oh and speaking of Sophia, you might want to go a little easier at night, didn't your pops ever talk to you about that going blind thing?"

I blushed and stammered and quickly changed the subject, "How do you get all the clothes and different outfits?"

"Oh, we got some real pros working up here. They got smart and hired Edith Head when she bought the farm. But if you look real careful when we're changing scenes, sometimes you can spot a safety pin or a little duct tape. You got to look real hard."

"You just would not believe what some people are dreaming. Monsters and ex wives and lawyers and broccoli. And sex. Lots of sex. My god, you guys down there, you spend a lot of time dreaming about fornication. It's schmutzig."

"Hey kid, I'm really glad you called. Let's do this again sometime when Mama Leone is awake again."

A tear welled up in my eye. "Just as long as you're okay, Uncle Harry," I sniffed.

"It's a living. That's showbiz. G'bye kid. Sleep tight."

© 2009 Robert Sommers