Huck Finn on Acid

I was just a boy when I went on my first psychedelic drug trip.

It happened during Easter break of 1972 when I was hanging out on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley with a friend and schoolmate from Whittier Elementary. My dad gave me money for the movies and to get Italian sodas at Caffe Mediterranean before he settled into his usual spot in front of Cody’s bookstore where he sold his space age medallions. I went to the Med with my buddy and we knocked back our beverages before heading over to the art house cinema where a line had already formed. People were gathered on the sidewalk when we joined the line, just a couple of little kids on campus among an assortment of college students, street people, hippies, and other fans of the Fab Four, all of us waiting to see a Beatles movie marathon.

A medley of odor molecules filled the air with the aroma of city bus fumes, marijuana and incense smoke, patchouli and body odor, and just a whiff of freshly shat dog shit that came out of a mutt that crossed the graffiti covered Avenue when we arrived, leaving a dump at the curb near our feet. The line started moving closer to the box office and a Hare Krishna dude came up the street—like a freaky doppelgänger of the Candy Man from last year’s Willy Wonka movie—and he’s suddenly dispensing hits of blotter acid to the moviegoing masses while reciting the familiar mantra of Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare.

Instead of promises of rainbows and sighs and groovy lemon pies, or a shower of sugary treats, we are serenaded by a bald religious freak who places tiny squares of LSD-infused paper on the palms of our outstretched hands. I take one without really understanding or caring at all what I’m getting myself into simply because there is no adult to stop me from finding out—and because the motto of the street is do your own thing. That mandate includes kids, when it comes to navigating the same unknown territory, and in this instance we will be guided by a hallucinogenic chemical on a piece of paper stamped with a color illustration of Mickey Mouse as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice from the Disney movie Fantasia.

I doubt I considered the probability that my parents would likely shit a brick if they knew I was taking acid before they tried it. They would most certainly be surprised if they learned I was embarking on a fantastical adventure with Hare Krishna Hare Poppins, even though the fellow wasn’t sticking around to witness the turning on and tuning in to come. My folks knew I was being exposed to all kinds of urban street culture that they couldn’t possibly shield me from in the Berserkly ghetto of the 2400 block of Telegraph Avenue. Of course, they were also testing their own limits and I knew they had been smoking pot for at least a year. I reckon that means they might shit a brick of hashish if they knew I was about to slip through the doors of perception like a naughty boy sneaking into a forbidden room.

My parents sometimes expressed concern about my safety when I was in the world without them and they worried about what I might encounter in the schoolyard during recess. Like millions of parents everywhere, they told me to never accept drugs from strangers or other kids. I’d heard from other kids at school that some drugs were better than others and some drugs were much worse and I felt confident that none of my friends used drugs. Some had older siblings that did and I heard some cautionary tales, especially about heroin which had become a real problem on the streets of Berkeley, but I never saw anyone I knew strung out on smack. I told my parents not to worry about me trying hard drugs like heroin at school because the kids at Whittier were savvy enough to jeer and throw rocks at any junkie or dealer that strayed too near the fence around the schoolyard.

Mom and dad weren’t yet hippies but they weren’t exactly straight either, especially when it came to their opinions about illegal drugs, Nixon, and the war in Vietnam. Both were loosening up more, in different ways, after their recent divorce. At the same time, they were still mainstream enough to be the responsible adults that raised me in New York in the mid-sixties before we moved to California at the start of the decade. People around me were in the midst of rapidly changing and evolving every day and experiencing mental and emotional growth spurts akin to a second childhood. Meanwhile, I’m an actual child, trying to reach my developmental milestones in the usual chronological order while also scrambling over those milestones in an effort to keep up with the childlike adults around me.

I began to question confusing statements made by adults after hearing one say that “smoking is bad” a moment before he lit up a cigarette. It’s difficult to trust the judgment and opinions of people that assert that alcohol is dangerous when you’ve seen them having cocktails after dinner. I was only seven years old and I’d heard the phrase do as I say, not as I do enough times to wonder if adults understood how absurd and unfair it sounded. I needed a word to describe the absurd thing adults say and the word was finally heard at the coffeehouse one morning when I overheard someone say, “People are so full of hypocritical bullshit.” When I asked my mom the meaning of hypocritical she explained it and I knew that it was the perfect word to describe adult logic. I was catching glimpses of the man behind the curtain and beginning to wake up to the reality that the path to adulthood led to a cul-de-sac of contradictions.

Marijuana was one of those drugs that wasn’t supposed to be as bad as the others and I recognized weed from the smell and from seeing adults around me smoking pot and noticing that it effected their behavior. I still hadn’t tried smoking reefer, even after some kids laid on the peer pressure, mostly because I didn’t like the smell of it and the idea of inhaling any kind of smoke into my lungs seemed stupid. Adults frequently did stupid things.

For instance, I recently caught my dad tripping on mescaline in front of Peet’s, the neighborhood coffeehouse I mentioned earlier that stands at the corner of Walnut and Vine, just around the corner from where we lived on Oxford Street. I knew he was tripping on something, even before I asked him why he was acting so strange, and he told me what he had taken. Dad was so disoriented and was having such a bad trip that he was relieved and happy to see me so I could help him find his way home. The walk from Peet’s was particularly challenging for my dad that day because apparently the sidewalk was moving. And, even though I perceived the sidewalk as being more traditionally rigid and unmoveable, I knew the futility of arguing with my father when he was certain about something.

I didn’t know what mescaline was, though I’d heard the word before and assumed it was probably an illegal street drug. My dad scored it from his housemates, a very nice young deaf couple who also happened to be the neighborhood drug dealers, operating out of the house my dad moved into after my parents separated. The house was conveniently located next to the building I lived in with my mother and sister—in the same apartment we lived in together with my dad when we first arrived in Berkeley from Long Island.

At this point I should add that everything I thought I knew about LSD came from an episode of a television show called Dragnet.

Reverend Chumleigh

He was born Michael Mielnik but in the early 1970s most people that lived in Eugene, Oregon knew him as a fire eating, joke cracking, vaudeville performer who called himself the Flaming Zucchini. It was a character he would reprise over the years, even after he rebranded himself at the Oregon Country Faire as the tightrope walking comedic cult leader of the Church of the Incandescent Resurrection.

Ladles and gentimen, I present to you . . . Reverend Chumleigh!

Reverend Chumleigh (actually a trio of madcap-characters-in-one that included Michael and the Flaming Zucchini) was a counterculture vaudevillian that excelled in captivating audiences with his snappy patter, playfully plucked from the Groucho Marx playbook, while engaged in daring acts of derring-do—such as walking barefoot on the business edges of machetes, laying on his back on a bed of nails, and balancing between two chairs while an audience member used a sledgehammer to smash a cinder block on his stomach.

His signature stunt as the Flaming Zucchini was fire-eating, until one fateful summer in 1976, while performing his act in front of a crowd of a thousand peyote-stoned hippies during the midnight show at the Oregon Country Faire, his liver organized a protest march decrying the dangers of hydrocarbons in his body, and he vanished in a huge ball of flame before the amazed fairgoers.

Yeoman Rand

This is Yeoman Janice Rand (aka Grace Lee Whitney), a character that appeared on the starship Enterprise, circa 1966.

She was sort of a glorified space secretary, assigned to Captain Kirk, that served on the bridge of the USS Enterprise. Not exactly a feminist icon but nerd boys like me thought she was the tribble’s pajamas. Alas, her tenure lasted only a year before she was replaced by Ensign Chekov in season two of the original series.

I met Ms Whitney in 1977, in Eugene, Oregon, when she was one of the guests of honor at Space Con Five, which was also billed as a Star Trek Festival. I also met George Takei, her co-guest-of-honor and Bob Wilkins (the creator and host of Creature Features), who was the master of ceremony.

But, the biggest thrill for thirteen-year-old me was being Ms Whitney’s assistant when she was signing posters for fans at Gandalf’s Den, a bookstore and role playing game shop in The Atrium, a building on 10th Avenue in downtown Eugene. My job was to roll and rubber band posters after she signed them and hand them off to the fans.

Afterward, she treated me to an ice cream at Prince Pückler’s, on the ground floor of The Atrium, and then kissed me chastely on the cheek before saying goodbye.

The Eggsnatchur

It was a half a day’s drive from Aberdeen to Eugene in the Grey Elephant and we arrived at around three o’clock in the afternoon, parking our 1956 International Harvester Metro Van in front of a large house at the corner of 12th & Ferry, several blocks from the University of Oregon campus.

The summer heat that day was awful and the van had overheated more than once during the drive. We’d soon learn that our arrival in Eugene coincided with the hottest day on record. August 7, 1972 recorded a blistering temperature of 106° Fahrenheit.

Relieved to be released from the belly of the Elephant, we walked toward East 13th Avenue—my dad and I shirtless while Linda followed behind in the sun dress her sister had given her in Los Angeles.

Turning left on 13th, and staying on the left side of the street, we headed east until we reached a corner store at Patterson Street called Bob’s Superette, where we stopped to buy soda pop, sunflower seeds, and beef jerky. Just after crossing Patterson we passed by a dry cleaners next to a bookstore called Koobdooga and the next house over (an orange and brown American Craftsman house with a yellow porch) was the Eggsnatchur Natural Foods Restaurant run by the guys that were selling honey ice cream at the Renaissance Fair in Veneta last month.

The Mayflower Theater

This 600-seat single-screen cinema opened as the Colonial Theater on September 30, 1925 at 788 East 11th Avenue in Eugene Oregon and was renamed the Mayflower Theater on July 1, 1935. A year later, in 1936, the Robert Morton Pipe Organ installed in 1922 (used to play music from its 377 pipes to accompany silent movies that screened there for a decade) was sold to Riverside Community Church in Hood River, where it remained until 1973.

The first movie screened at the Colonial Theater was the 1925 silent comedy Seven Days, starring Lillian Rich, Creighton Hale, and Lilyan Tashman (above).

A unique feature of the Mayflower Theater was the large glass windows located upstairs next to the projection booth through which audience members could watch films and listen to the muffled dialogue while waiting in line to use the restrooms. They were much appreciated by cinephiles with weak bladders as the line was frequently long because there were only two single-occupancy restrooms.

Almost a half a century after it opened the Mayflower Theater was in decline. When I moved to Eugene in 1976 the seats were rickety and the seat cushions had lost their cushiness. The red curtains covering the walls were dirty and frayed and the auditorium was either stiflingly hot or freezing cold depending on the weather outside.

But this was funky old Eugene just before home video hit the market and in 1977, after the first-run films that played during “normal” hours, there were also movies playing every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening at midnight for the discounted price of 98 cents. Movies like Harold and Maude, A Clockwork Orange, The Last Picture Show, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail came and went and then came again.

Monty Python’s masterpiece of absurdity was a film I’d partly seen with my mother and sister in Berkeley in 1975, but the experience was interrupted when my mother’s housemate, Bianca, freaked out when the Black Knight was being dismembered by King Arthur. She was too sensitive to handle the comedic violence and she guilt-tripped our mother to bail on the film, even though we were enjoying the movie.

“Tis but a scratch.”

In 1977 I finally saw Monty Python and the Holy Grail in its entirety at the Mayflower Theater with two of my Roosevelt Junior High School friends which, in retrospect, was a better time to see it.

Always at risk of closing due to diminishing ticket sales, the Mayflower Theater took a risk on being the first movie theater in Eugene to screen a poorly promoted unknown film that was released on May 25, 1977. The previous year I’d seen a 30-second TV spot for it that blew me away so I sort of knew what to expect. That film was called Star Wars and it became a smash hit that played to packed Eugene audiences throughout the entire year, generating a windfall of unexpected and overdue revenue. Hundreds of people in town returned to see Star Wars multiple times.

I cashed in bottles for nickels to pay for many of those screenings, collected cash trimming cannabis, made two bucks an hour strolling around downtown on Saturdays wearing a canvas sandwich board advertising the Eugene Saturday Market, and doing other odd jobs for people—anything to pay for my cinematic obsession.

By August, after my 13th birthday when I had to pay the adult ticket price, Star Wars was also playing at Cinema World at Valley River Center. I saw it there several times mostly because it was showing on a better screen with better sound and better seats. The first time, the manager at Cinema World didn’t believe me when I told him I was twelve. He said, “What’s your phone number?” I told him and he called my mother and asked her the dreaded question, “How old is your son?” I thought I was sunk but she didn’t miss a beat and said I was twelve. I could tell by the scowl he gave me when he hung up the phone that he didn’t believe either of us, but he let me in to see the show for the 12 and under ticket price.

At an October 31st showing back at the Mayflower there was an authentic looking Darth Vader flanked by two stormtroopers holding court in front of the theater and many people were dressed as other characters from the movie. That cosplay continued to be the norm long after Halloween and from then on there was always a Darth Vader with a stormtrooper entourage.

One very memorable evening early in November of 1977 I was in line at the Mayflower to see Star Wars (again) and there was a Hollywood film crew set up across the street in front of the Dr. A.W. Patterson House at 751 East 11th Avenue—a house that had been a fraternity in the 1960s—and that house would be immortalized in 1978 as the notorious Delta House fraternity featured in National Lampoon’s Animal House.

National Lampoon writer, Doug Kenney with Darth Vader in front of the Mayflower Theater circa 1977.

That night we witnessed a mannequin thrown out of the second-story window of the house and watched as Tom Hulce and Stephen Furst, two young actors we would get to know the following year as Pinto and Flounder, step over the body and walk up the steps.

In December 1978 The Rocky Horror Picture Show was screened for the first time as the Saturday Midnight Flick at the Mayflower, and it played every Saturday night at midnight for a very long time. How long? I don’t know, but it was playing in the winter of 1979, when I saw it for the first time (in drag) with a few girls I knew from drama class at South Eugene High School. The movie was such a successful money-maker for the Mayflower that the manager at the time, John Deskowitz, had a cavalier attitude about the extra work and cleaning cost from all the rice, popcorn, toast, toilet paper, hot dogs, and panties that were tossed around by audience members during the show.

Fast forward to the 1980s and the final days of the Mayflower Theater . . .

This picture was taken in December of 1985 and Back to the Future and White Knights were the last films to appear on the marquee.

Back To The Future, starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, opened July 3, 1985, and I saw it for the first time on August 23rd, 1985, the day I returned to Eugene from misadventures I’ve written about elsewhere.

White Knights, with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines, was released on November 22, 1985.

As for the Mayflower Theater . . .

It was torn down by a demolition crew by order of Sacred Heart General Hospital on Monday, March 3, 1986, one day before a scheduled Eugene Historic Review Board hearing that could have resulted in the building being designated a historic landmark.

Eagle Park Slim

It’s raining today in my corner of California and rain always makes me think of the blues. And the blues, plus the rain, makes me think of Oregon—where I grew up during my teen and young adult years in a city called Eugene.

I was 13 in the summer of 1977 and still listening mostly to The Beatles and The Who, but I was getting tired of all the usual stuff I listened to and was primed for some new music. Billy Joel’s The Stranger had recently been released and it was fast becoming a favorite. Then I discovered Mississippi John Hurt and Lightning Hopkins and was instantly hooked.

Later that same year, a movie called Animal House was being filmed in town and it’s star, John Belushi, met a local blues artist named Curtis Salgado, who was playing a gig at the Eugene Hotel with his band, The Nighthawks. That meeting was the spark that inspired the first appearance of two characters named Jake and Elwood Blues on Saturday Night Live, which spawned a couple of hit singles that were played frequently by radio disc jockeys.

A couple of years later in 1980, The Blues Brothers was a hit movie and the soundtrack for it became hugely popular, especially in Eugene. The film reinvigorated the careers of soul and blues legends such as James Brown, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, and Aretha Franklin, to name just a few.

1980 was the year of the blues and it was also the year that Eagle Park Slim came to town. Slim’s motto was “ain’t no time to hate” and his mission was “peace through music.” He’s one of the many hard-working blues musicians in the country that never achieved fame and in my opinion it’s a damn shame.

Eagle Park Slim was thirty-eight years old when he moved from Colorado to Oregon and he got to work immediately as a blues busker. Slim was a seasoned professional that immediately made himself at home playing on the streets of downtown Eugene and around the university campus. Soon he was booking gigs in coffeehouses and bars and at the Eugene Saturday Market, with just a guitar and a kazoo.

Autry McNeace was born on January 11th, 1942, in Eagle Park, Illinois. He grew up with the blues and started playing at his mother’s club, The Village Tavern, in 1954. I don’t know when he took on the name Slim to go with the name of his city of birth but he was still in Eagle Park in the 1960s, working a regular gig on Sundays at Leo’s Tavern, playing guitar with Little Walter J. & His Hard Working Phantoms.

Slim expanded his territory to East St. Louis and across the river in St. Louis, playing with blues pianist, Johnnie Johnson. During his lifetime, Slim would also play along with Chuck Berry, James Brown, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Sonny Boy Williamson, Percy Mayfield, Ike Turner, Little Walter, Joe Cocker, Keb Mo, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. I’m sure I’ve left out many other famous and well-established artists.

In the 1970s, before he settled in Eugene, Slim moved to Colorado, and Eagle Park Slim & The Mile High Blues Band were the house band at an after hours club in Denver, with a regular gig Thursday to Saturday from 11pm to 3am.

I was fourteen or fifteen when I first met Slim and heard him play the blues and I got to know him better after I graduated from high school, when I was working at Prince Pückler’s, an ice cream parlor with one shop at 8th & Willamette downtown and another on 13th Avenue, across the street from Poppi’s Greek Taverna and Lenny’s Nosh Bar. I worked at both locations and I always treated Slim to a cup of coffee whenever he came into the one of the shops.

The free coffee for Slim continued over the years and our conversations continued when I worked at the Coffee Corner kiosk at 5th Street Public Market in the mid-eighties. My jam on the boom box in the kiosk was usually blues (I was also obsessed with Joe Jackson’s Jumpin’ Jive) and I think he appreciated my musical taste when he sat at table in front of the kiosk. If it wasn’t Slim sitting there it was often Steve Ibach and Teddy “Honey Boy” Roy of The Soulsations, a new group they had formed with my pal Joe Lewis that was swiftly becoming the hottest band in town.

In those days you could go out almost any night and hear the blues played live for free or so cheap that it didn’t matter. There was a Monday night Blues Jam at Old Taylor’s on campus that you could see for fifty cents. I wasn’t hanging out with friends at Lenny’s Nosh Bar I was probably out somewhere else listening to the blues.

And Eagle Park Slim always seemed to be around—a warm presence that made everyone around him feel happy. It’s funny, blues has a rep for making people feel sad but hearing Slim play the blues was more like the antidote for sadness.

I recently called Slim’s long-time friend, Jan Brown, and asked her to share some recollections for this piece I’m writing. She told me she met Slim in 2002 at a bus stop and he was boldly flirtatious, singing a Lou Rawls song to her while they were waiting for the bus. Not knowing he was a professional, she complimented him on his singing voice, and he introduced himself and gave her a flyer advertising his next gig with The Vipers, a group he played with that also featured the aforementioned Steve Ibach from the defunct Soulsations.

Eagle Park Slim and Jan Brown

Jan said she was a busy single mom at the time, and didn’t get out much to hear live music, but she recognized his talent immediately. They rode the bus together and before he got off at his stop he gave her his phone number and told her to give him a call sometime. Later that day, at the adult foster home where she was working as a caregiver, she showed the flyer to a couple of women and they both squealed with excitement. They were both Eagle Park Slim fan girls. So, at their urging. Jan called Slim and went out to see his show. It was the beginning a beautiful friendship and partnership that lasted for twelve years—until they parted amicably in 2014.

Eagle Park Slim & The Mile High Blues Band. Denver, CO. 1975.

I also called Slim’s friend, Randy Layton, who released Slim’s first professionally produced album, Northwest Blues, a 1998 CD that had the appearance of a vinyl record from the 1960s. Randy wanted to give Slim an album to sell when he was busking—one that looked professional—and it was an album that Slim owned outright after the first pressing. The album has 22 tracks that Randy says “was pretty much a compilation of cassettes he gave out in the streets in the early days of busking.” Randy (also an accomplished writer) wrote the liner notes.

Mardi Gras Saturday at the Winter Blues Festival (2012)

A few random things about Slim:

He frequently wore a fedora, like any self-respecting blues man, and quite often a tie-dyed shirt with dress pants. Like a true Eugenean, he loved his tie-dyed shirts and he had a multitude in his closet.

He usually arrived to his evening gigs by taxi. Often a friend would drop him off at a street corner when he was busking. If he was playing at a bar and you offered to buy him a drink he might accept a snifter of brandy.

At home, he had a poster of Jimi Hendrix on his wall and another picture of Jimi in the window near the recliner where he always sat. Jan says that Slim revered Hendrix.

One last thing of interest I should mention. Eagle Park Slim is remembered by many in Eugene as the first person they met when they arrived. And most of those people will tell you how much they loved him, and talk about the impact he made on their experience in Eugene. And Slim loved them back. And, most of all, he loved Eugene.


It’s a year later and I just found my notes from the January 2022 call I made to Jan Brown. I might roll some of this stuff into another revision of this piece but for now, here’s the raw material, if anyone is interested:

Slim mentored a young musician named Andy Strange who would later have a band called Andy Strange and the Strangetones. Slim was very proud of Andy.

Slim loved the ladies that danced at his shows.

Slim and Jan never lived together but they were in a relationship for awhile. Whenever she left after visiting him he sang “Hate to See You Go” or “Baby Don’t Leave.” Sometimes he called her his wife because he didn’t want to call her his manager, though she did a lot with helping him with booking shows. Jan learned how to use a computer from helping Slim put together flyers and book shows. Jan said it gave her a purpose. “He gave me a reason to learn to use a computer.”

Slim was cautious about playing in Springfield. Once, he and Jan were looking into booking a show in Springfield and they were walking through downtown and he said, “Don’t hold my hand.” He had experienced some racism in Springfield and was cautious about appearances.

He always liked to play with his band on his birthday.

Slim had one son, who lives in Denver.

He was always excited when he was on television. He’d bring over some black velvet cake to share and some chicken wings from Dairy Mart.

His influences: Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Chuck Berry, Joe Cocker, Keb Mo, The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

He recorded “Baby Don’t Let Me Go Homeless” with Keb Mo and was payed in classic fashion through Western Union.

He didn’t like to fly, prefering travel by train.

He was a Rodney Dangerfield fan and memorized his jokes. He named Jan’s cats after ex-girlfriends and she named her chijuaja Rodney Dangerfield.

He had pocket bottles of brandy, loved fried chicken.

Slim died in his sleep suddenly during a heatwave in August 2016. He was under a lot of stress from moving and his heart just gave out on him. He’d had two heart surgeries that gave him an extra ten years than what he was expecting and had a pacemaker placed nine months before he died.

All of the songs he wrote came from his daily experiences and feelings and he made most of his money, just enough to get by, through busking.

He loved the rain but he loved the sunshine too because that’s when people came out and he loved to be around people and watch people. He loved to tell stories about the places he played.

Slim at the Oregon Country Fair in Veneta (July 10, 2011)

Happy New Year!

Good news!

yOS 2.021, the obsolete year running in the chronometer of your biological operating system, was updated to yOS 2.022 at precisely midnight on 31 December and installed at 12:01 in the morning of the first day of January, replacing the old year with a new year.

But, is it really a new year?

Users should be aware that downloading and installing yOS 2.022 may not result in a better or more efficient operating system.

In fact, it’s possible the yOS 2.022 update will be incompatible with the chronological operating systems of many people, particularly individuals that frequently tell others to live in the present moment. These people may be resistant to the new update as they are running presentism software and they function in a world wherein neither the future nor the past exist.

Likewise, persons running eternalism software, which allows them to experience time simultaneously and operate in a reality wherein all points in time are equally real, will likely have issues with the update.

These potential issues have prompted some people to suggest that, if time is a construct humans invented to prevent everything from happening all at once, the words Happy New Year should come with a trigger warning, like the words, Merry Christmas and Make America Great Again.

Those critics claim that calling out Happy New Year to someone is a vocal form of chrono-harassment and adds insult to injury to all self-proclaimed slaves of time that have been subjected to cultural conditioning to perceive time in a linear fashion.

This update is not a restart, a reset, or a reboot.

And, if users believe they can change fundamental functionality?

Previous yearly updates have proven the premise that promises can be broken. Be prepared for possible glitches, crashes, energy drains, overheating, application instability, and problems connecting.

The “new” year will not contain any anthropomorphic features, despite reports of a decrepit man passing a figurative torch to a cherubic baby.

May you experience the continuance of a year.

“Don’t Bogart that joint, kid.”

“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.

Café Frida is a new art gallery and cafe hot spot in Santa Rosa.

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

(707) 308-4344

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A conversation with Danielle de Picciotto and Alexander Hacke

The following is a work-in-progress from an hour-long conversation I had with Danielle de Picciotto and Alexander Hacke at Sam Bond’s Garage in Eugene, Oregon, on 29 August 2015.

Alex and Danielle are performing soon but they’ve arrived early to speak with me. We’re sitting at a table in the backyard and I awkwardly explain that I want to write an article that will speak to an audience of people that could use a bit of validation to tap into their own creativity and go with their artistic instincts. It’s something that Alex and Danielle are very qualified to speak about, since they’ve been deliberately living as nomadic artists for a half a decade. My first question is to ask them how long they’ve been on the road.

Danielle Well, we gave up our house five years ago.

We’ve been touring for almost fifteen years doing projects we’ve always initiated ourselves. But, we’ve been without a home for almost five years.

Alex We’ve been nomads for five years, y’know, not natives.

I’ve been there. I had a counterculture upbringing and was also a nomad for almost five years.

Danielle It’s a long time—five years.

Yeah, it is. Especially for a kid. And this book you’ve written focuses on the first eighteen months?

Danielle Yeah . . .

Are you starting to feel the burn-out yet? Constantly moving from place to place without a home base.

Danielle Well, there’s been a lot of ups and downs, in a way. The first two years we were very enthusiastic and very excited about it. Then we had two years of being very depressed about it and fighting with that sudden realization what it means not to have a home. I think now, at the moment, we’ve become capable of dealing with all those issues and just kind of being neutral to the whole theme but I [she glances at Alex] for one would like to settle down again, because I have the feeling that for my work it’s important to be able to be in one space for a longer amount of time—to be able to concentrate on the work instead of traveling. I really enjoy traveling but I have the feeling, if I don’t settle down again at some point, my work is gonna become superficial.

I imagine that settling down would also give you a gestation period to create a new works of artistic expression.

Danielle Exactly! Right.

Alex For me, in the beginning, I was a skeptic. I didn’t know whether I could handle the process or if I could handle living without a homestead, because I’ve been traveling all my life, I’ve been touring all my life since I was fifteen or something, but I always had a place to come back to and since 2010 I didn’t have that anymore. And in the beginning I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to handle it. And then there came this euphoria, like two years, y’know, I was in a state of euphoric epiphany like [shouts out “woo-hoo!”] I can do anything! I don’t need anything, I’m free. Y’know, that was really great for awhile. And, then . . . and then it just takes a toll on you physically if you don’t give your system a chance to switch off to recuperate if you don’t have that certain spot where you just go back to and recharge your batteries. You’re always in a state of having to be alert and polite and operating within the parameters you are given when you are traveling and you are relying on people to be hospitable and when you rely on having commissions that bring you to certain places.

It sounds like you’re also ready to settle down again.

Alex I’m about ready to, y’know. I would like to build my alters and my shrines and basically that interior decoratoring . . . I miss that a little bit.

Danielle We’re quite different, too, in the way that Alex is a rare thing, a real Berliner. He was born and raised in Berlin, so Berlin is kind of a scene like New York where a lot of people move to, especially when the wall was there, especially men (because of the army) so he had a home, a place where he was from. But he started touring early on.

What about you? Are you rooted to a specific place?

Danielle I never had a home because my father was in the army. I was born in Tacoma and three months later we moved so I don’t have any place that I can identify with from the start. The place I lived the longest was Berlin, which was kind of like my adopted home. So, for me, it’s kind of been a state that I’ve been in all my life— except when I was in Berlin—that I was traveling and I can adapt very fast. Alexander is used to traveling but he always had that home. So, it’s interesting to see how it affected us differently.

Alex, did you find that when you left Berlin at fifteen—each time you left and came back—that you came back to a changed city that wasn’t the home you remembered? Or, did you always feel you had come home?

Alex Well, the city I born in doesn’t exist anymore. I was born and raised in West Berlin and the city is not there. There’s a new city now which is the new capital of the new united Germany which is the city that came to be after 1990 which is a very different one from the city I spent my formative years.

Danielle It’s like living in a different country, actually—it’s incredible. It’s like living in a different country and you haven’t moved.

Alex We all had to . . . natives and everyone that moved there . . . we all had to adapt in the way that there is a completely new set of rules from that point on. At the end of the Cold War when the Wall came down and West Berlin didn’t have any hinterland, y’know, it didn’t have any suburbs. You could only go so far and you’d get to the Wall and that was the end of your plate. And, when the Wall fell, there was suddenly suburbs from little villages that were around with people that would come and frequent the city over the weekend and it was very different. And I didn’t adapt to it very well, personally, in 1990 when all that started. I kind of secluded myself even more.

Danielle [to me] Did you go to Berlin in the eighties?

No, my first trip to Europe was in 1991. Even though I traveled extensively that first year and worked in Switzerland for several years after, I never made it to Germany. I always had my usual haunts in Paris or Amsterdam and various cities and villages in Italy that kept me from going to new places. My perception of Berlin comes exclusively from German movies I’ve seen—specifically the films of Wim Wenders.

Alex Wim Wenders is a good example. That Berlin, that you see in Wings of Desire, that Berlin is definitely not there anymore.

Danielle That’s the Berlin I moved to—I saw the movie when it came out and the week after I moved to Berlin. I actually moved there from New York (in 1987). So, when I moved to Berlin it was kind of like, this is incredible, this is the kind of dream you have of an island where there’s only artists and musicians and everything is really really cheap. I got an appartment that cost $35 for 800 square meters and it was not dangerous and there was as much culture and art as there was in New York and I was just dumbstruck. I saw it a couple of years before the Wall came down and it was such an ideal situation for anybody that is interested in culture, it’s really hard adapting it to becoming basically a normal German city. I mean, it’s still a party city and a lot of things going on, but basically it’s adapted to modern times. And, once you’ve experienced something like that, it’s hard to get used to anything else because it was just so incredibly perfect.

My experience of being a nomad as a child and later as an adult is complicated. I cherish my unconventional and wild experiences but it’s created a longing . . . I suppose an eternal search for a place to place that feels like home. So, I’ve been searching for decades, trying out different cities and towns to see if they were a fit. I lived in Eugene in my teens and the first few years of my twenties. Then I moved to California. I tried on New York for a few years. Now I’m rooted in California again. But, in the past I always left places because something in my life wasn’t working and I figured the best way to shake things up was to change my environment by moving to a different town or city. Why did you both leave Berlin?

Danielle One of the reasons we left Berlin was that we really couldn’t deal with the gentrification anymore.

People like us are still basically underground artists and we don’t do things because of money, although we’ve been doing our art for thirty years now, and Berlin—which is a party city that wants to attract tourists—is concentrating more and more on mainstream stuff. We don’t do that so that’s one of the reasons we left.

Gentrification seems to be the direction most big cities are moving in.

Danielle Yes, we’ve noticed that almost all of the big metropolitan cities are like that—New York is crazy in that way and so is Los Angeles—and I think we’ve noticed that we feel more comfortable in smaller places because they’re still more individual. So we like Eugene a lot; we like Houston a lot; we like Joshua Tree a lot. We feel more comfortable in smaller places because it’s not so much about big corporate companies and we think that we might be able to identify more. And, in the beginning we didn’t think that way. We thought, okay, New York, LA, London, Paris, and then we went there and everywhere we went people were saying “this is terrible, we’re leaving!” And we were like, omigod, everybody’s leaving, and we saw there was this huge movement of everyone leaving because they hated it so much.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed that there’s this huge flow of people going from New York to LA right now. The people in LA are freaking because the New Yorkers are coming.

And many Californians are moving North to Oregon and Washington.

Danielle Exactly!

Alex Or to Colorado—to Denver.

Danielle Denver’s a nice place, too. So, we’ve tried out all sorts of different places. Not for very long, though, because we wanted to just get a whiff of different places to see where we wanted to stay a little longer, and we noticed we like the smaller places better, even though we’ve grown up in big cities. We’re city slickers.

So now that you’re hip to the dissatisfaction people have with gentrification I imagine other artists are telling you that they’re also having a similar experience of not wanting to do their art just for the money.

Danielle Yes, it’s all about money and that’s the problem. I mean, if you look at Berlin it’s all being gentrified in a way…

…in a way that is pushing artists out?

Danielle Exactly! It’s being renovated and the rents go up and only certain people can afford paying the rents and buying things and everybody that can’t and doesn’t even want to . . . I mean, I think some of those prices are obscene and I wouldn’t want to pay them. Even if I could, a one-bedroom apartment in New York for $4,000 [she shakes her head].

Alex And that’s a global thing—the eradication of the middle-class. Either you’re filthy rich and you live the life or you are underground and you’re young and you’re wild and you don’t care and you live in a squat somewhere and then you can find great spaces and people that will help you like a Detroit kind of feel. But, that works when you’re young, y’know.

Danielle I actually think it’s being erased. I think it’s gonna end up like Hong Kong in the end effect. Those big cities…they’re gonna try and erase everything.

I’ve noticed a certain homogeneity in gentrification that seems to value exclusivity. If that’s the case, as independent or avante garde artists, do you feel you’re welcomed into that millieu or are you treated merely as a curiousity?

Danielle No, we’re people that question things with our art. Gentrification doesn’t love that.

You’re shit disturbers.

Danielle [laughing] Exactly!

Alexander In the true meaning of the word, we’re not avante garde, y’know, because the avante garde are the ones that are sent first before the actual guard, before the actual army comes in, so we’re not forerunners of something that comes afterwards, basically we’re questioning, we’re more like dissidents, y’know—we’re running away from the army that is behind us.

Well, I see that, for sure. It seems to me that you are coming forward to spread this sort of message to get people to look at gentrification and consider other options. So, in that way I see you both as being avante guard.

Danielle I think we are in that way. I think we’ve always been five years ahead. I started getting really restless in ’95, ’cause I was like: Something is changing when industry moved into Berlin. Suddenly, things are changing and this is not gonna go in a good direction. And then, ten years later—that’s when you could really feel that they were becoming so powerful that they just didn’t care about the artists.

Which seems at odds with the global perception of Berlin

Danielle Right? Berlin lives off it’s reputation of being an artist’s city. And now they’re living off it and the artists aren’t earning anything from it, so it’s sort of become this mass media thing. So, I do think we’re avante garde in that way that we’re saying, “Y’know, we already said it five years ago and now everybody is starting to complain that it’s happening everywhere.” I don’t even know what you can do about it in big cities, because it’s the money and it’s the power of those corporate companies, it’s so big that I think the only thing one can do is for us to go to that smaller place where the eye of those corporate companies hasn’t focused yet and try and build a really strong force of people who are not gonna give in to . . . Starbucks, for instance.


Danielle de Picciotto is a musician with Crime and the City Solution with a recently released solo album called Tacoma. She is also the author of We Are Gypsies Now: A Graphic Diary.

Alexander Hacke is a musician best known as a member of the post-punk industrial band Einstürzende Neubauten.

They continue to tour the world and perform together . . . gypsies now and for the unforeseeable future . . .