Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Monday, March 20, 2017
The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
G is for Gumshoe by Sue Grafton
Three books, each with connections to my recent road trip to Slab City, the squatter’s village in Southern California.
Kerouac is the godfather of all the “young male on a spiritual quest” novels. His Dharma Bums has extended sections taking place in parts of rural Southern California with hoboes, drifters and free-thinkers in the 1950s. Along with On The Road, it has infected young minds with the idea of hitting the road to find spiritual revelation. It is a noble intention and Kerouac's main character, Ray Smith, is a true believer even if his grasp of Buddhism is somewhat child-like in its simplicity. The important thing is that these two books inspired millions of young men to leave civilization, hit the road and explore America. Whether that blueprint is a good or a bad thing depends on your own “Dharma.”
Chris McCandless was one of those young men. His story of leaving civilization and ultimately perishing in the Alaskan Wilds is the subject of this popular book and the equally successful Sean Penn movie of the same title: Into the Wild. McCandless stayed in an “outsider” area around the Salton Sea before his ill fated trip. That settlement was later destroyed, parts of the movie were filmed in nearby Slab City (with a young Kristen Stewart.) I wouldn’t be surprised if McCandless had read and was inspired by Kerouac’s books.
Sue Grafton, the highly successful mystery writer, was also intrigued with the Slab City. Her 1990 book “G is for Gumshoe” devotes several chapters to Slab City and nearby areas. Her journal about the writing of the book mentions several visits. I read the book at the suggestion of my frequent commentator Oroboros and was suitably impressed. Grafton’s impressions of the Salton Sea area certainly synced with mine. It is formula fiction: high on description and action, low on anguished ruminations; the heroine is a woman who acts impulsively, sometimes to her own detriment. Grafton, with a background in TV writing, knows how to keep a story moving along.
Friday, March 17, 2017
The Reader - Week 11
“You must have been having a sweet dream,” Jennifer said while buttering toast, “You were smiling in your sleep.”
“A dream about an old friend,” said Andy, “A dear friend, someone I don’t see anymore.”
“A not so-rude-awakening. A sex dream?”
“Yes, it was a sex dream.”
“What happened?” said Jennifer.
“She’s been in Hawaii for twenty years now. She works in the Honolulu Zoo,” said Andy, “She was always a critter person… It’s funny that I had a dream like that. We were never lovers.”
Jennifer put down her toast.
“I meant, what happened in the dream?” she said, “No, don’t tell me. But do, tell me about this ‘relationship’ that wasn’t sexual.”
“I, uh… the joy of being physically near someone, a woman that is, without the… the fear,” said Andy.
“Are you afraid of me?” Jennifer said, smiling, but Andy could sense that she was serious. “Is that why you drank so much last night you passed out?”
“That sometimes happens,” said Andy, “I guess I am.”
The sound of toast crunching.
“When you were young, did you ever sexually awaken someone?” said Jennifer.
“What kind of question is that?” said Andy, “What do you mean, awaken?”
“When I was nineteen, I went to a party with some people I knew at the community college I was attending. It wasn’t much of a party, in a basement of one of the guys in my humanities class who still lived at home. I had never dated in high school, I didn’t like boys when I was young—they were rude and loud. I read books. Jane Austen. Anyway, at this party was Ted, a guy who seemed different than the others. He was talking about things I had never heard of—meditation, nirvana, yogic energy—all that new age garbage. I don’t remember how Ted brought up the subject, but he said that by passing ones hands over, but not touching, a person’s body from the feet to the head, you could increase that person’s psychic energy, bringing them to a higher level. There was a bed in the middle of the basement, where the guy who was throwing the party normally slept. I don’t know what came over me, I suppose I thought Ted was full of b.s., so I said ‘Show me,’ and I got on the bed. He began to move his hands—slowly—a few inches above me, starting at my feet and slowly going up to my head. And then he did it again. And again. And again.”
“Did it work?” asked Andy.
“I don’t know about how much psychic energy he generated, but I was awakened. Lord, I was awakened.”
“Just then his girlfriend (who I didn’t know about), came down the stairs and that was the end of that, as far as he was concerned. They went into the laundry room. I got up and went outside and cried.”
“Why did you come home with me last night?” said Andy.
“It may sound stupid, but I’m still waiting for Ted to come back; to finish what he started.”
The Reader is serial fiction, published every Friday.
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Explodo Boys - #5
Traditional country tune, a cover of Hazel and Grady Cole’s Tramp on the Street.
Vocals: Jimmy Derbis, Paul Peterson, Richard Lewis. Mandolin: Tom Pendzimas
Monday, March 13, 2017
Signs of the Times
Almost any trip to a different culture will expose one to new graphics and signage. Palm Springs and its environs are no exception. Although all the cities in the desert valley have strict signage regulations (to tell the truth, the uniformity of the streets and highways in the area is pretty boring), there are still remnants of unique graphic displays—some from the past, some for the better, some for worse. I found this different kind of menu (an early version of ‘free the nipple?’) in the Palm Springs Historical Society’s exhibit about the wilder days of Palm Springs in the 1950s:
Palm Springs is full of intriguing graphics, including its numerous commemorative "stars" on the city sidewalks.
I think that Jody Reynolds made the cut for being a businessman in the area, rather than for his One-Hit-Wonder status.
The Ruddy Store in the Palm Springs Historical Society’s complex offers a glimpse of the packaging graphics of the past:
The local cinema promotes the mid-century modern craze that remains active in the Palm Springs area:
“Angel View” Resale Stores are just thrift stores gussied up to make them palatable for the Golf-Set, this one has its own angel view in the sky above:
Once outside of the cities proper, things are looser, with eclectic graphics everywhere.
The menu cover (right) from the Ski Inn in Bombay Beach reflects the area’s past glory days when it was a playground for the young and beautiful, a far cry from the charming, if funky, little bar that now sits, forlornly, a few blocks away from the moldering waterfront.
Westmorland, south of the Salton Sea, is in the Imperial Valley agricultural area.
It has a “famous” Date Shake store. It is full of locally grown products, including a wide variety of dates. You can’t miss it—its generic signs throughout the valley announce its presence long before you see it:
The most offensive signage I saw was from The Mattress Showroom. Its ads are everywhere—on TV, in the newspapers, and on all of its delivery trucks, which act like portable billboards. Featuring a wide-mouthed pitchman, I began to think that mattress sellers were the biggest retailers in the area:
On a more personal note, I found this book in the Angel View that had been augmented with not only the previous owner’s underlining, but also peppered with polemical post-its:
But by far most intimate missive I found was this post-it with a price quote that was in a brochure for facelifts (left behind by a previous occupant of our VRBO):
Now that I think of it, I could use a little nip and tuck myself!
Saturday, March 11, 2017
Wanda Gág Day!
Once again, it is time to celebrate the life of the inspirational artist Wanda Gág, born this day in 1893. Here are some images from her scrapbook, when she was young and full of life. While Wanda had many formal shots taken for her books and other promotional use, these seldom seen images are of a more personal nature in her college days at the Minneapolis School of Art. They are more light hearted than the formal poses, featuring her home-made clothes and, of course, cats.
An early shot of Wanda (on the right) with her girlfriends (in drag) performing a mock wedding ceremony:
College days and kittens:
Rooftop of her New York apartment, circa 1919:
Wanda as a farmer (with pipe), college days:
More college snapshots:
Friday, March 10, 2017
The Reader - Week 10
Andy was still asleep, but smiling, when Jennifer got up. After a trip to the bathroom, she went into the kitchen and began to make coffee. As it was brewing, she saw a stack of papers, stapled into small booklets, on the desk that was near the kitchen table. She picked up the one that was on top and began to read:
The longest hour of the week.
The six-year-old sat in discomfort on the steel folding chair in the church basement. Upstairs, the grown-ups were contemplating their sins (some of which were sins), while listening to the earnest but uninspired pastor conjure up examples of depravity, which was the lot of all who strayed from God’s Holy Word. Downstairs, the boy was trying to occupy his mind with something interesting while his teacher went on about his sins. Meanwhile, back downstairs, the boy had discovered that the chair he was sitting on had a star-shaped perforation on its seat. If he scooted back all the way, he could see almost the whole thing. He put his finger on the seat and began to trace the outline of the star with his finger, made greasy by running his fingers through the Wildroot in his hair. The grease left a faint iridescence; micro-rainbows that engaged his attention fully.
The final song was always What A Friend We Have in Jesus, sung by Mrs. Johnson, a quavering grand dame of the congregation. She had been alive a long time, thought the boy. If Jesus was her friend, did she know him? Was she that old? The child suddenly became acutely aware of a need to pee. Mrs. Johnson began another stanza. He was really uncomfortable now. Finally, he heard the sounds of the congregation above begin to shuffle out, and Mrs. Johnson dismissed the class. He ran to the bathroom.
Later, at home, the boy’s mother asked him about what he had learned in Sunday School that day.
He drew a blank for a minute, thinking about the chair. Then he smiled and cheerfully said: “What a friend we have in Jesus!”
Jennifer poured herself a cup of coffee and, shaking her head, spoke aloud:
“What kind of a nut have I just spent the night with?”
“Hi,” said Andy, walking into the kitchen, “I see you’ve found my homework… and my pajamas.”
“I didn’t think that you’d mind, since you slept in your clothes,” Jennifer said, “And I used your toothbrush.”
“No problems with any of that. Sorry I conked out on you.”
“I guess we’re still virgins, huh? What’s for breakfast?”
The Reader is serial fiction, published every Friday.