With shelter-in-place and physical distancing measures for humans extended indefinitely around the world because of the Covid-19 pandemic, statues are celebrating the absence of their fleshy cousins in public places.
6 March 1984
An old grizzled drunk from a television western stumbles out of the tube and staggers smack into the middle of a milieu of vagrants one might encounter in a Bukowski novel. It’s Uncle Ray, rolling into the courtyard with a shopping cart stuffed with clothing and other items of unspeakable origin.
“Uncle Ray, is it true you’re an undercover agent with the CIA,” I say.
Ask me to guess Ray’s age and I’d say he was born sometime between the beginning of the William Taft presidency and the year they started putting toy surprises in Cracker Jack boxes. I figure he’s something north of seventy, with an extra decade or two of hard living in his back pocket.
“I’ll never tell,” Ray says, but that’s a lie. Sometimes you can’t stop Ray from telling.
Uncle Ray claims to have served in both the second world war and the Korean conflict and some say he’s a war hero. Others regard him as a sage, a holy fool, a royal pain-in-the-ass, and a mad saint. Most agree he’s a person squarely in the back row.
“If you’re looking for Hershel, he’s not here.” Ray’s face lights up when I mention the name.
Hershel is Uncle Ray’s guardian angel and Ray is drawn to him like a homing pigeon. Whenever Ray staggers into the courtyard, from sickness instead of drunkenness, Hershel is there to escort him to White Bird Clinic to get treatment. If saints exist, they are mere samaritans compared to Hershel Bloom.
“Nah, I’m not looking for Hershel,” says Ray. “Is Lenny here?”
I raise my eyebrow. Lenny hates Ray with a passion usually reserved for drunken frat boys and Ronald Reagan. Ask anyone that was around the day Lenny Nathan shook his finger with rage at Uncle Ray and yelled, “You stay away from my place or I’ll kill ya!” The old derelict is definitely not looking for Lenny.
“Not yet,” I say. “But, he’s on his way soon.” Ray grunts with satisfaction.
Someone calls my name. It’s Sally, announcing my lunch from the kitchen of Lenny’s Nosh Bar.
“Gotta go, Ray,” I say.
As I get up to leave, Uncle Ray is looking forlorn and gazing mournfully across the courtyard at Poppi’s Greek Taverna. I suddenly realize exactly who he is looking for and the reason he’s in the courtyard. He’s here for his chicken and chocolate fix from Poppi, who feeds him on the regular from the back door of the restaurant. Provided he’s sober. If Ray shows up in the courtyard drunk, she gives him a cup of hot black coffee and tells him to go away and come back when he’s lucid.
Inside, I ask Sally what time Lenny is arriving.
“Anytime now,” she says. “Are you worried he might read Uncle Ray the riot act?”
“Well, yeah, but Lenny told me to stop in later today,” I say. I tell Sally I saw Lenny at the store earlier in the day as he was unloading his basket at the register and I saw the ingredients he was buying and made the logical deduction. I tell her how the conversation went down.
Me: ”Making brownies?”
Me: “. . .”
Lenny: “Marijuana brownies.”
Me: “Yeah, I figured as much.”
“So you’re here for an off-the-menu item,” she says. I give her a big grin and nod my head. She whistles and says, “Brave man.”
“Not really,” I say. “Are they super strong?”
“Oh yes,” she says. “Lenny gave me a pot brownie the first night I worked the counter. I was on probationary status and I have never been so stoned in my life.”
“Trial by reefer,” I say. She laughs.
“The next day he called and, before he could say anything, I apologized all over myself and asked how badly I’d done. The whole shift was a blur.”
“How badly did you do?”
“I dunno,” she says. “Lenny just chuckled and said ‘yeah, that was pretty good shit’ and officially gave me the job.”
I notice Uncle Ray through the window, standing a respectful distance from Lenny’s. He’s lighting a cigarette, which is gripped tightly between straw-colored fingers, and his hand is trembling.
“I think Ray is waiting for Poppi to show up and open the restaurant,” I say, as I head over to the booth next to the jukebox.
“Someone should probably tell Ray that it’s Tuesday,” Sally says.
“I’m sure he knows it’s Tuesday,” I say. “I sure do, because it’s ninety-nine cents for hot fudge sundaes all day at Puckler’s today, and it’s going to be a mob scene tonight. I’m heading over after I eat.”
“I’m not talking about your ice cream parlor orgy across the street,” she says. “Tuesday is also the only day of the week Poppi’s is closed. Ray is waiting for Godot.”
She’s right, I completely forgot about the significance of Tuesday. Beyond my own selfish connection to the day. So, I set my sandwich on the table and head for the door to break the bad news. Dan Schmid is already on the job, standing in the doorway of the restaurant. Dan is around because he works as the cleaner at Poppi’s every Tuesday, an eight-hour job that requires him to thoroughly clean everything in the place, from kitchen surfaces and appliances to all the curtains covering the windows.
“It’s Tuesday, Uncle Ray,” Dan says. “Sorry, amigo, the joint is closed today.”
Dinner plans thwarted, Ray seems ready to launch into one of his cantankerous rants against a cruel world that has conspired against him since the end of the second world war.
“There’s nobody around to cook up some chicken for you,” Dan says. “But, I can get you some hot chocolate.” Ray grunts and seems mollified. Dan goes back inside the restaurant to fetch Ray’s hot cocoa. I turn to Sally.
“How did you know,” I say.
“It’s not the first time Ray has shown up for chicken and chocolate on the wrong day,” she says.
Imagine, if you will, an empty town square. A solitary mime stands, within this public space of your imagination, with an expression of unbearable sadness on their face—gesturing to a single teardrop drawn upon their white-painted cheek.
Waiting for a crowd of people that exists only in memory.
As people around the world observe draconian rules of social distancing, millions of starving street artists and live performers around the world are being denied access to those people that acknowledge their performances by awarding them with the crumpled bills and dirty coins in their pockets.
Inevitably, it falls upon forward thinking humanitarians to come up with creative solutions to mitigate the loss of income from their craft. To this, we must ask the question:
Should we enlist mimes, as essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, to fashion physical distancing barriers in the air to protect us from people that refuse to obey the invisible defensive perimeters around our bodies?
I submit an unequivocal yes; and these are the reasons why I think mimes can serve a useful function in the larger world outside our sheltered bubbles of social isolation:
Even though mimes are notoriously misunderstood attention seekers that actively try to draw a crowd, they are also masters of building invisible and impenetrable walls in the air that encourage distancing.
Also, mimes are low-risk as transmitters of viruses because they do not speak and, therefore, they do not emit virus-infused micro-droplets from their mouths.
Mimes are very affordable and will not burden tax paying citizens. Furthermore, they can survive on just a few coins tossed into their hats; all the food they need is created out of thin air, so they can subsist solely on coffee and applause. They also provide their own natural face masks.
These are just a handful of reasons why I think that failing to make use of this valuable resource is absolute folly.
For, as we all know—a mime is a terrible thing to waste.
“Don’t Bogart that joint, my friend” was a phrase I heard fairly often in the 1970s, usually spoken slowly in a fake Southern drawl, and the phrase became popular in the American counterculture after it was featured in the 1969 film, Easy Rider.
Composed by Elliot Ingber, a guitarist in Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention in the mid-sixties, and Stash Wagner of The Fraternity of Man, the band that recorded the song for the soundtrack, the title and refrain gets its name from the actor Humphrey Bogart.
🎶 Musical Interlude 🎶
Now, I dunno if Bogie actually partook in the reefer, but he had a habit, in cigarette smoking scenes in tough guy roles in his movies, of leaving a gasper dangling from his lips without taking a drag. That act of wastefully letting a cigarette smolder, without inhaling the smoke, inspired the expression among pot smoking counterculture wits.
I was eight years old the first time I heard it.
The year was 1972 and I’d recently arrived in Bandon, a small coastal town in Oregon, after traveling the backroads of America in a bread truck for a few months with my dad and his girlfriend. We landed at a hippie crash pad and stayed with people we had just met; fellow freaks with an open door policy that was still part of the hippie homesteader etiquette esthetic in rural areas of the country.
That night, in the living room, after a shared meal, our host produced a mystery joint he had received from a friend in the mail. He lit the joint and passed it around to the group and, when it came to me, nobody thought to say, “No, you can’t have a toke because you’re just a kid.” Bear in mind, this was a time of testing mainstream values and almost everything was permissible.
I took a drag and let the joint hang from my lip. That’s when the phrase was uttered and explained.
Passing the joint, I felt the room spin, and promptly passed out.
Rocker Tommy Tutone, a 20th century singer who famously sang a pop song about a girl named Jenny Jenny that played incessantly over the airwaves in America and abroad after it was released in 1981, has finally apologized to the woman he infamously doxxed in the early eighties by revealing her phone number to the world back in the olden days before the Internet existed.
Tutone (shown above left with his psychotherapist) admitted that he “may have been a bit of a stalker back in the day” and further admits that he “probably acted inappropriately” with a girl with whom he “had a schoolboy crush on.”
After releasing the hit single inspired by a phone number scrawled on the wall of a men’s room in a cheap bar, the pop star released a video on Music Television, a fledgling new television network which had also launched the career of a new wave band called The Buggles.
“I’ve paid my debt to society,” Tutone says, speaking to me via Skype from the penitentiary where he’s been serving time since he was caught by police, crouching by the window outside of Jenny Jenny’s house and spying on her while she was entertaining another gentleman.
“I can’t wait to get out of prison and show Jenny Jenny I’m a changed man.”
Tutone is up for parole this week and he’s confident he’ll be released by Valentine’s Day of this year. Tommy told me he “planned to rush straight over to her new house with flowers and chocolate.”
I reminded him that he’d gotten rich ruining the reputation of an innocent woman by telling strangers “for a good time call 867-5309” and it wouldn’t be prudent to just show up at her front door.
“Oh, I’ve learned my lesson,” he assured me “and I know it’s maybe not cool to just drop by unannounced, but, hey man, I’ve tried and tried calling her at least a hundred times and it’s weird—I think she might have disconnected her number.”
If you liked this piece of ridiculous nonsense, please consider following 336 Journal on Facebook and the author, Richard La Rosa, on Twitter.
Felicia Sonmez, a newspaper reporter with The Washington Post, tweets a reference to a story about Kobe Bryant that broke years ago. She does so on the day he dies in a helicopter crash with several others, including his own thirteen year old daughter. She wrote:
The backlash is swift from the public on social media, and it is overwhelmingly negative from fans of the basketball player. Verbal abuse and threats—the usual shit show of public outrage—but what follows is much worse:
“National political reporter Felicia Sonmez was placed on administrative leave while The Post reviews whether tweets about the death of Kobe Bryant violated The Post newsroom’s social media policy. The tweets displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues.”
~Washington Post Managing Editor, Tracy Grant.
Undermined the work of her colleagues? How so?
Somnez is referencing a real case, already written about, with a body of factual evidence and a long history of reportage. Her tweet doesn’t even qualify as a biased opinion—It’s a factual headline.
Sure, maybe it would be more appropriate if Felicia Somnez had the foresight to have shown some (shall we say) class and restraint, by waiting at least a day before tweeting that messsage, to allow Kobe Bryant’s family, friends, and fans, to express their grief at his death.
A respectful silence.
But, is it social justice that Felicia Sonmez is placed on administrative leave as punishment for her tweet? Smacks of censorship followed by exile to the shame box without pay, to me.
And I wonder…what’s next: The Gulag? The firing squad?
The court of public opinion is still having its day with Felicia Somnez. Lynch mobs have assembled, death threats delivered, and the rotten tomatoes and sharp stones of invective are being hurled at her from the mouths of self-righteous and outraged people.
As for The Washington Post…
“Democracy Dies in Darkness” is the motto scrawled under the newspaper’s title.
WaPo just switched off the lights in their own house.
~Richard La Rosa
*** *** ******
Aly Wane, a peace activist with Syracuse Peace Council in New York, wrote these compassionate and well-balanced words on Facebook on the subject of Kobe Bryant that I think are well-worth a read.
My friend Shey called me yesterday to say he’d heard a rumor that the fledgling coffeehouse and art gallery in town, Café Frida Gallery, was finally opening on Thursday, January 16, and he was going to check it out. I said I wouldn’t miss it and true to his word he rang me this morning saying, “I’m here and it’s happening!”
So I headed over to meet him at the same place where I used to spend many days at my writing studio and literary salon in the SofA Arts District of Santa Rosa at 300 South A Street, in the space formerly occupied by Atlas Coffee Company, which had permanently closed in October 2018.
Two months later, Mario Uribe, an artist with a well-established studio and gallery in the arts district, took over the space and began the long process of turning it into his vision of the sort of cafe he wanted to operate in the neighborhood.
It’s been a year in the making, during which time I’ve lamented the loss of an artistic and cozy place to hang out with my friends and converse on meaningful subjects. I’ve been searching for that special place to go and gather with others and make human connections in the real world and Café Frida Gallery is just the sort of place I would want to create if I had the means and the motivation. A place I could also kick it with a book or write when I wasn’t with others.
As soon as I arrived at the café I could tell I was in my home away from home. The joint looks swell and there’s a chill vibe in the air with jazz music playing over speakers, art on the walls, and a single bookshelf filled with art books—from various indigenous artists around the world to books containing works by old familiar names like Picasso, Hockney, and Parrish.
Mario is working in the café today, along with his son-in-law, Mamadou, and their friend Alex, shown below.
Mario’s daughter, Andrea, is also here today and she tells me about the large portrait on the wall that Mario painted of Frida Kahlo standing before a field of giant-sized orange and white calla lilies and flanked by local hero, Luther Burbank, and her legendary husband, Diego Rivera. The artwork overlooks a cozy lounge area that appears to be able to seat three or four people in comfort next to the bookshelf.
A long table in the center of the café seats 10-12 people; perfect for conferences or just a random assortment of writers tapping away on their laptops. There are outlets to plug in power cords for eight laptops but you can bring in your own power strip if you need more. In fact there are power outlets everywhere in the café.
Eventually, the food menu will expand to reflect the culinary identity of an actual cafe but for now there’s a small nosh menu with savory and sweet pastries from Dawn Zaft’s nefariously yummy Criminal Bakery. A plethora of teas. And, naturellement—an espresso machine playing all your caffeine favorites.
Currently, a sidewalk sign stands near the building facade by the walkway during business hours to guide passersby strolling on A Street, as the café is tucked behind the 300 building and to the right of the courtyard as you walk down the access path I’ve always called Atlas Alley. A more permanent form of signage for Café Frida Gallery is in the works.
Check it out for yourself. There’s seating for thirty-three with some extra standing room inside and even more seating in the courtyard. Currently, and through mid-February, the café is open from 8 am to 3 pm Thursday-Sunday.
Café Frida Gallery
300 South A Street #4
Santa Rosa, California 95401
Steve Cutts has released his latest short film today, a music video called The Turning Point, which was commissioned by Wantaways, a solo project by Melbourne musician, Ken Seto.
The video flips the script and explores a world wherein it is anthropomorphic animals that are responsible for climate change and the destruction of the human species, not humanity.
Check it out and stay tuned for more words on the subject…
It’s a cold autumn afternoon and the unrelenting rain that’s been falling for days has me wallowing in a pit of melancholy. I override my nesting instinct and trudge over to Lenny’s to warm up with a bowl of matzoh ball soup. I might catch a flick at the Bijou later but the need for sustenence in the form of comfort food is foremost in my mind.
Bob is sitting in a booth when I arrive, sipping coffee and reading a book of poetry by Ezra Pound. Scott and Gary are in the next booth with Curt. Bob looks up at me and nods. I say hello to Molly at the counter, she gives me soup, and I take the seat across from my mentor.
On the jukebox, Sam Cooke is singing about a place, somewhere up in New York way, where the people are so gay, twisting the night away. I laugh, my mood beginning to shift, as I recall aloud a moment the other night when I was hanging out with Joe and we heard the same song; which inspired a lively debate on the questionable fashion of wearing chicken slacks.
“Sam is giving us a delightful example of semantic noise” Bob says when the moment comes back almost a minute into the song. “Like when Hendrix sings, ‘scuse me, while I kiss this guy. We know we’ve misheard the lyric but something in our mind convinces us that we’re hearing the truth.”
“We want to believe Sam is singing about dancing in chicken slacks,” I say. “It’s funnier and more absurd.”
“Especially, after he’s just sung about a man in evening clothes,” Gary says.
“It makes sense,” Curt says.
“It’s sensible,” Scott adds.
And then we start merging instances of semantic noise with Freudian slips (when you say one thing but you mean your mother) and the alchemical mixture of soup and witty banter has chased away the dark wet clouds overhead.
We completely fall apart when Sly & The Family Stone plays next.
The image I used for this piece is a still from the 1941 movie Hellzapoppin’ with two swing dancers from Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. The group was formed in the 1920s by Herbert “Whitey” White and disbanded in 1942 after its male members were drafted into World War II.
The incomparable Slim Gaillard and Slam Stewart are the featured musicians, with Slim on guitar and vocals and Slam on standup bass.
I have a habit of transcribing recorded conversations and passages from books as a way of gleaning a more in-depth understanding of a subject. There’s something about transcribing for me that aids in the digestion of certain concepts that enter my brain in that specific manner.
There’s a chapter in Kurt Vonnegut’s book, Cat’s Cradle, wherein the narrator asks a “vacantly pretty” woman of twenty named Francine Pesko—who is introduced to him by a Dr. Breed as the secretary for a Dr. Nilsak Horvath, a famous surface chemist “who’s doing such wonderful things” with films—the question: “What’s new in surface chemistry?”
“God,” she said. “don’t ask me. I just type what he tells me to type.” And then she apologized for having said, “God.”
“Oh, I think you know more than you let on,” said Dr. Breed.
“Not me.” Miss Pesko wasn’t used to chatting with someone as Dr. Breed and she was embarrassed. Her gait was affected, becoming chickenlike. Her smile was glassy, and she was ransacking her mind for something to say, finding nothing in it but used Kleenex and costume jewelry.
Since Cat’s Cradle was published in 1963, we can say that Miss Pesko’s attitude was not unusual for the era, but the excuse just doesn’t hold up for me when I think of my grandmother, who was a medical transcriptionist in 1963 and forty-one years old at the time.
My grandmother soaked in the knowledge she gained from transcribing and decades later, when I was an adult, she would rattle off medical facts in conversations that made her sound like she, herself, was a seasoned medical professional.
I’m very much like my grandmother in that way. In fact, I consider myself a knowledge junkie. And, I don’t understand how people can affect an attitude of willful ignorance about things with which they are in daily contact.
There’s no excuse to remain ignorant when most of us have access to a tremendous body of knowledge at our finger tips.