October Nineteenth


     Fall is fallen. The red trees are red and not faking green. The yellow trees have slipped in overnight and tower above humans chastened by diminished daylight.   It is not light at ten or nine or eight in the evening. It is not light at six in the morning. Our world is getting closed down.

     Two more weeks of electoral insanity, to be followed probably by lawsuits and recounts and insults and assaults. I have friends who have lost half their imagined wealth in the space of a year or two.   Our world is getting closed down.

    So the screen gets darker at the top and darker at the bottom and the light in the middle seems wider, perhaps.  Maybe that’s why ceremonies get more complex in Winter.  The light side of the year is all wacky fun and the dark side is severely ceremonial.    The dark is narrower and wider.  You have to stand back, all the way behind the last row of seats, leaning against the back wall, watching the little figures in the light and listening for their words.  It all means something, no doubt.  We await the reviews, the steam geysering out from the vents, the newsies dodging the delivered bundles, the playwright ripping open the edition to find the page.  It’s two in the morning and the reviews can’t be good.  The damn thing tanked in the third act.  People were slipping out the doors, giggling, right past the playwright still leaning against the back wall, no longer taking notes.  There was a stab at spirited applause, but it fell short and actors were left at the last call ducking their way back under a falling curtain to the silence of people standing up and looking for the exits.

      Or, there could be a Democratic victory and both houses of Congress and the battered but now powerful Executive Branch could line up and force the McCaniacs and Bushmen and Palindromes back into their huts for a moment while the foolish, well-meaning and left-leaning leftouts try to figure out what to do. You wonder at the Obama Dilemma.

     Cheneybush have so returned secret power to the presidency that The Kid would have to think once or twice about relinquishing what they’ve left him.

      Faust for President.

Seattle Slow Show

The Secret State

It’s months later now, of course. I’ve gone off track and let the months go by, too busy and too ??? scared to continue on with this project. I fret about what pictures to use, got to make sure not to have them so big that the writing slides off the page to the right, worried about how it looks, how good the writing is or isn’t. Where will I get the time, what the hell is the actual idea anyway? It’s trying to see the show in Seattle at the Moore from almost a year into the future. Everything is the same and everything is changed and everything I think is wrong and everything I know is probably right. All the responses are so intelligent and thoughtful and stupid and silly. The friendships that have been made on this blog seem to be developing in a way more interesting than I’d ever hoped.

So. The Seattle show was where I sat on stage and because I didn’t have to learn lines and had no costumes to change beyond a hat or two, was free to kind of think while at the same time keeping track of what was going on, what my next line was, what the audience was laughing at, what lights and sound were doing, what my partners were saying and doing and so forth. There’s nothing like being able to follow a couple of three things at once to make performing a little easier. My recurring thought was that this might be the last time I ever did this, ever sat on a stage with my three partners of nearly forty years, the last time to go through the odd experience that it all is. For. Ever. Bye-bye. Old guys go away now, young guys no more. Young Guy go away now, sleeping on stage in Seattle.

On stage, I get into a kind of mood where what I seem to want to do is slow everything and everybody down. My sense of humor has to do with going very slowly. My partners are fast, blindingly fast in a couple of instances, so this show – because it featured so much individual writing – gave me the best opportunity I’ve ever had with The Firesign Theatre to test my ideas about timing and the aching slowness I tend to practice. The audience was fine with me and the really good part was my School Menus and Billy Flamnigan of Art of the Insane and Dr. Me and my new Nick Danger and Bebop all paid off. I was – in Seattle – starting to enter into the odd state of talking to a thousand people or so and getting into a kind of pulse of laughter with them. We all got into the timing and that’s where I’m happiest, both on stage and in a recording studio. So, I guess I started to get a little happy on stage at the Moore and at the same time, overwhelmed with kids and FST politics, starting to imagine the future. I hadn’t been looking much ahead, that’s for sure.

So, to pick up the story, after the second Portland show, the Big Blonde and the dogs and I drove the hundred and fifty miles back home to Mystery Island to get ready for the Seattle show on Sunday night. The place is not completely sold out yet. Doc Tech and Lil and Bunnyboy and Cat, everyone shows up, including hundreds of friends from Tacoma. The Mooreís an old roccoco theater with a stark drop down from the upper balconies. Jeff (our stage manager) tells stories of Eddie Vetter, singer for Pearl Jam, climbing up on his stacked amps on stage and scaling the plaster-frieze walls up to the first balconies. Jeff actually manages the larger and more beautiful Paramount Theater, up the Seattle hills, where FST had its reunion show in 1993.

So, before the show, we left the Island of Mystery and drove across the Galloping Gertie Bridge and took the kids to the Frisko Freeze in Tacoma, a drive-in rite of passage for anyone from the area, but particularly for Stadium High School people like Oona. She and I try to stop there the moment we get off the freeway on our eleven hundred mile drive from the south. This is to be the greatest fun for me of the whole tour. The four kids, all born and raised across the Galloping Gertie bridge in nearby Gig Harbor, have never been to the Frisko Freeze and it turns out that they really like the steamy meat pies called burgers. We park in our usual place (The same exact place where the Big Blonde always parked with her Stay Dumb High School friends) and we eat our burgers and fries and tartar sauce. The Suburban is filled with everything good. Everything is good. Four kids and two happy adults and at least twelve burgers, a couple of meat pies for cold eating back home.

I don’t have a picture of the Freeze of our own in the files, but here’s a link to a guy who does:

Frisko Freeze

It takes a half hour on this Sunday to get up to the Big City. To these kids, Seattle is a huge place, and itís beautiful this afternoon. We take pictures of each other in the old brick alley in back of the Moore.

ah, show business ???

That’s Ben on the left, the soulful twin and next to him is Danni who’s ten and then there’s Nick who’s thirteen here and finally Carter, the incisive twin. The Sound is down the hill, behind the kids. We’re right above the Pike Street Market where grown men throw fish at each other. We’re above the Pier where we played in ’94 in August and the sun didn’t go down until ten o’clock and the show started at eight and all Jeff’s light cues were for naught and I stood on stage at one point and looked out and I could see every form of transportation known to man. It was like a travel poster from the fifties touting Washington State, Land of Transportation. I could see cruise ships moving in the sound behind the audience, planes above, helicopters at eye level, cars and trucks zooming along the elevated freeways. Now, over ten years later, it was winter, dark came at five in the afternoon and the Firesign Theatre had had ten or so years since its Reunion in this same city. It had been, I thought, one hell of a ten years when I thought about it, which I started to do on stage that night.

Ten years before, we hadn’t been speaking to each other for several years, the boys and I. I’d become a solitary writer, most recently slave to the Grateful Dead, when Peter and Phil and David came up with the idea of us getting together to do something. We enlisted the help of Richard Baker and he teamed up with a big national booking company and we did the show at the Paramount as a kind of demo to see if there might be a National Tour. The promoters packed the Paramount. In fact Eddie Vetter was there, along with the babes from Heart (or at least one of them, I get a little addled after shows) and suddenly everyone hyped themselves into believing that we could do a twelve-city National Tour and make money for everyone. What had happened on stage at the Paramount was a double surprise for me and for Oona. The first thing was the huge affection shown by the audience. We were pretty terrible on stage, under-rehearsed and barely getting along and the audience didn’t care in the least. They applauded and cheered everything we did with complete glee. Everyone just wanted to have a good time. This was an eyeopener for me. I’d forgotten about the fun parts of FST life, the just wanting to have a good time part. The second revelation came when I’d walked on stage the afternoon before the show and asked if there was a lighting director I could talk to and Jeff Payne said to me, in his dour and sincere way, that he was it. He and Oona and I contrived a light plot so quickly and he fit in with us so amazingly that he’s been FST’s stage manager ever since. So, ten years later, here we were again and this time his kid Dylan was assisting him and my life was flashing before my eyes. My God, Jeff’s kid. My God, our kids. We didn’t get Alan, our usual soundman but he’d recommended Mike who, it turned out, is from Tacoma and fit in immediately. Back in ’93, when we embarked on the National Tour, it seemed as if we’d never survive.

The problem was hype, of course. The actual FST audience numbered far less than the expectations and several shows had to be cancelled and – while the four of us got paid – the promoters lost money. The four of us fought per usual and at the end, it seemed nothing could get us together. Except, a year later, there we were on the Pier in Seattle watching Modern Life pass before us in Arctic summer sunshine. And in ’97, when I finally called Peter up to make some kind of peace and propose that we approach Rhino, we entered into a five-year maelstrom of three records and several DVD’s and our PBS tv special and two trips to the Grammies and a couple of west coast tours and ???. In other words, Seattle was kind of at some kind of core in the swirlings of chance and laughter and tragedy that rings the Firesign Theatre even at this late date. And backstage, before the show in the old Moore Theater, I started to think that this might be it. I wandered down the old steep staircase from the tiny dressing rooms, down onto the backstage, cold and lit as if for a noir movie, listening to Nick and Dylan sharing the concerns of all male fourteen year olds; skateboards and hip hop, thinking about the cold city that hates us but is somehow central to our life, wondering if my stunned Republican friends will show up. Wondering if buying the kids house was the right thing to do, wondering if Oona had any limits to her astounding love for the people she loves, wondering if this could be the last time I feel the amazing click of satisfaction in me when the Firesign Theatre suddenly locks into some shared timing and the audience goes with us and suddenly I’m part of something that is just so fine that the only thing better, I sometimes think, would be sitting in my Suburban filled with burgers and french fries and chattering kids and Momo the dog-puppy and realizing that Childless Me was no more. I’m sixty-five, nearly, and never had kids, me and the Big Blonde. Now we suddenly do, for what it’s worth, for whatever amount of time and money we can throw into it, and it seems to me that I couldn’t be more prepared, as prepared now as I would have been unprepared thirty years ago when it might have/should have happened. The kids in our little house sleep everywhere, one or another in little cubby-holes they’ve found in our hundred-year-old farmhouse on the beach. Nick now has his own (the Playboy Club) in rafters upstairs and Danni has the Lincoln Bedroom (where the Griswolds once slept) to herself. The twins can be anywhere, although lately Carter’s been appropriating half the bed and Ben has built himself a fortress of pillows that he shares with one or another of the dogs.

I’m a person who comes from an unhappy family. I’m a person who’s in a comedy group that’s considerably more complicated that an unhappy family. And now, I’ve got these people sleeping in cubbies and playing xbox all day long when it rains and fishing for crabs off the dock when it doesn’t, and building model clay trains and chattering and wanting and hopefully seeing that there is a life where you get to go to college, at the very least, and where fun is the object. That’s our job, me and the Babe, and I can’t say we don’t enjoy it. In Seattle.

After the show, each of the kids has the same basic opinion. They each focus on the hilarious mistakes that were made on stage, how human we four were. They don’t see or care that most of those mistakes are made-up, part of FST’s standard bag of tricks. They just plain love that about the show. And the burgers were good. And they got to hang out backstage.

And out on stage, the show improves. I’m slowing down. I’m thinking. I’m realizing that the year will go on, that we’ll do the things we love, that the desert is calling ???


Next, down to California, to San Jose and Marin and the Southland.

Not Insane or We Can But Hope

Not Insane
Funny Friendships

It was the first Christmas without the beloved Waddell, our deaf cattle dog with the huge heart. The guy was seventeen years old when he went, in the Fall. You could have laughed, you could have cried. You might as well take your pick because my considered opinion is that you might as well take your pick. Itís been one of those half-years, in other words. A fifty-fifty kind of a half-year. Here’s a thought – and it’s not much of a thought : Iíve spent so much of my life in a world that most people never experience and that experience is of being – in whatever small degree – famous-because-of-your-job. I make records. Most people donít. I think Iíve been living in a world of Protective Insanity, a Protective Insanity Program, long past the point that anyoneís looking for me, trying to get me, so that I donít actually have any reason left to hide in an innocuous ranch bungalow in, say, Ajo, Arizona under a false name with some goofy fake credit cards, pretending to be insane and hiding from enemies who are all dead and gone. Years ago, I coined the phrase ìNot Insaneî and most people donít know that the original speaker of those words, a description of himself, was a babbling crazy person I was improvising on a radio show. Itís been one of those years, now I think about it, an insane sort of time.


Christmas was fun and all about salt dough, with kids in the house we made diorama after diorama and animal after animal, shaping and painting and cooking and fixing.

With kids in the house, every meal becomes a huge project, every skill is loudly discussed and tried. Many friends were in the little house and The Big Blonde and I even got a Christmas for ourselves a few days after the calendrical one.

We went skiing and that was wonderful and then in late January and early February, we were to set off with the Firesign Theatre to do six shows up and down the West Coast of this Troubled Nation. Itís comedy, stupid. Thereís nothing harder than being funny when you donít feel very funny. Did I mention that I thought life was catching up to me? Did I mention, in the stunning words of Lucinda Williams, that Everything is Wrong? We were getting caught by life, me and The BIg Blonde and by late January it began to be evident to even us that there were a whole lot of people in our life who didnít particularly like us and who, in fact, wished us harm, the big incidents with the Firesign Theatre coming a year before. I think thatís why Oona and I find ourselves watching cartoons on Nickleodeon and Cartoon Network (Adult Swim) to the exclusion of nearly everything else. Weíve somehow abandoned the normal comedy of the airwaves. And we canít stand to go to see movies or rent them or even watch them unless Preston Sturgess made them. Sheís so tall that she needs to go to a Hollywood screening to see a movie so as to get her feet up on the seat in front of her. I used to say it was because of 9/11, that weíve become hung up on anime, but thatís drifting into the past now. Our actual life has sort of caught up with us without the benefit of global tragedy. Fooli Cooli.

We used to watch television sitcoms, so much in fact (at one time I was under contract at Sony to develop them) that I have even come up with a clever theory, dear to at least my heart, about them. Here it is: sitcoms are completely about forgiveness, and worse, they are about handling forgiveness with humor. Each one of them involves situations, if not actual plots, that have to do at their root with the forgiving of outrageous actions by outrageous people and the laughter evoked thereby. Their exact opposite are anything with initials approximating CSI, or ER or so on. These are stories that are at best about revenge and at worst about pathos and while there may be moments of humor in them, those moments are not their reason. If your family treated you the way Raymondís family does him, youíd murder them. He forgives them and we laugh. If your friends were like Willís and Graceís, youíd never talk to them again. Somehow, to them, itís funny and they talk. Itís not much of a theory, Iíll admit, but in real life, itís a skill thatís hard to come by, this forgiveness, this mutual laughter. Will and Grace, Special Victims Unit.

People who inflict pain are hardly ever forgiven, especially as people get older, nor is humor the usual result. Great, time to go on the road and make people laugh. I was mixed and mixed up, to be sure. Hmmm ??? wait a minute. Sitcom. Story about two older people, a comedian and an artist, who have a niece who has three kids and she and her husband have got into meth amphetamines, husband tries to run over wife, husband goes to jail, nobody – including the wealthy grandparents of the wife – makes any house payments and suddenly in January, three little kids are going to be thrown out of their house, living on battered wife welfare with a guy now moved in who has no job and seems to be only connected to meth, witchcraft symbols scrawled on the garage walls and he doesnít make any house payments either. The whacky Hollywood Aunt and Uncle buy the house at the last minute and for six months, no one living in the house or the Wealthy Grandparents help out with the house payments and then the Aunt and Uncle are told by the Meth Mother that they have committed horrible acts, are spying on Meth Mom and The Junkie and are forbidden to talk to the kids, whom theyíve had for most of the last summer, fall and winter. The horrible acts were – and this will be our pilot episode – when the Meth Mom and Junkie let household garbage pile up ten feet high along the garage wall – because they couldnít pay the garbage bills and couldnít actually take the rotting bags to the dump – were told to do it, when one set of Wealthy Grandparents showed up with a pickup, the Junkie stayed in bed. The Whacky Aunt told the Wealthy Grandpa (her brother) that he should have awakened the bastard and made him help and he replied that he did not have the authority to so do. The Whacky Aunt called the Junkie and the Meth Mom and opined that The Junkie should have got up. In retaliation, the children are forbidden to talk to her. Or me. Thatíll be our pilot episode, and Iíll get it written up any day now. With humor. And forgiveness. It needs a good title.

Portland was stormy in late January. A big wet one followed us down from the north and we stayed at a dog-friendly motel that was just horrible, one of those motels given over to basketball fans too drunk to drive home, although the best moment was talking to a family of Indians all piling into their car carrying the cutest damn corgi you ever saw. Normally, Oona researches hotels and books wonderful ones, but weíre too rushed this time because – right up to the last fifteen minutes – weíre buying the kidsí house out of foreclosure, abandoned by their meth parents, jail and assault and meth surrounding the poor little tykes. Two twin boys of eight – Oona calls them ìThe Dudesî – and a ten year old girl. Theyíve been with us since August, half of every week and all of Christmas. Oonaís yelling at the scumbag mortgage company foreclosing their little house for hours on end and spending every other hour trying to enlist the help of feuding relatives. So weíre late and weíre behind.
After a few days of rehearsal in Seattle, the show is pretty much set. Weíre carrying scripts and a good deal of the traditional pressure of memorization and costume changes and so on is off. The four partners and their families are inmeshed in the usual psychodramas and confusions, but once onstage, the old friendliness, the old forgiveness, begins to blossom, bit by bit, by pistil by stamen, metaphor by metaphor. The two shows in Portland are so well attended that we actually make some extra money over our guarantees. John Webber and Brian Westley labor mightily with the merchandise and sell quite a lot. Taylor Jessen is co-ordinating everything, very comforting to have him. Jeff Payne is back with us, and that’s the best news of all.

The theater in Portland is called the Aladdin, and itís a place where we played in 1999 for three awful nights of internecine fighting among the group, but where The Austin’s stayed at a nice dog-friendly motel that we were now hoping would appear to us at any time soon and didnít. We quickly booked something close to the theater, the only place friendly to dogs thatís close. Where did that old motel go? Gone. Not funny. Still, how bad can it be, we figure. Weíre only staying the one night.
And weíre playing for only two nights this time but the theater is small and vaguely depressing, renowned in the history of Portland for being the movie theater where, for years, ìBehind the Green Doorî played. Itís dirty and cramped and the backstage reminds us of nothing so much as our motel, but we escape the infighting and head for frenchfries and beer at the little bar next door to the theater, a nice, even cozy, place and the waitress had seen the show the first night, sheíd had fun and so speeds our order through the crowd. The guy at the bar next to us is a telephone line worker, no teeth, odd, young and drunk. Doesnít know us from any other idiot. And everyoneís an idiot, by the way, thatís his story. Talk, talk, talk. Guys at the bar start recognizing us, especially the dazzling Big Blonde. The other waitress has on no clothes. We drink beer and realize that itís nice that people like the Firesign Theatre so much, no matter what. No matter how many clothes they have on. Thereís a weird car out front, covered with civilization and Oona has me stop and she takes my picture with it.

On the morning of the second show, we check out of the Horrible Motel and head for the Portland Art Museum and the works of Charles Edenshaw and Childe Hassam. The parfleches, the bead work and basketry of the Columbia Basin, just a wonderful museum. The dogs sleep cheerfully in the Suburban under the leafless trees alongside the cute old buildings and grassy swales of downtown Portland, the cutest damn downtown anywhere. We have a really good time. Oonaís been painting oils over the last year and Hassam in particular has a lot to say to her. Sagebrush, for instance. But mostly we drag slowly past every beaded bag and painted parfleche and textile and basket displayed. The Columbia Basin Old People really knew what they were doing when it came to arting up useful objects.
No one from Portland that we know showed up to either show. Steve Sandoz is unfortunately firmly and completely dead. But the dogs know the neighborhood around the theater from the three nights in ë99. They expected a much better motel, having bragged to Molimo, the new puppy, but humans couldnít find it and settled instead for the Motel of Bad Trailblazings. Each dog (there are four of them at the moment, Molimo replacing the unfortunately deceased Waddell) and I walk and pee (well, they pee) and dump (only they dump) on the grassy strips surrounding the Home of the Unfortunate Trailblazers. What, we wonder, would Lewis and Clark and the exhausted travelers of 1803 make of the stunning collapse of the basketball team named for them? Itís sad, and the Lakers are losing as well. Still, the dogs are cheerful. Thereís nothing like a puppy to cheer everyone up. Heís taken to sleeping on the dashboard while driving.


Next, the Seattle show.


Off to the Fair Again

Hi. It’s just me – and the Big Blonde, of course – and we’re going
to the fair now and as well breaking a long silence. The two
events – going and silence – must be connected, because I just put them in the same sentence. So there. I must be in charge.

A lot’s happened in the past Fair Year (the mysterious year that stretches from Fair to Fair, from Could-Still-Be-Summer to My-God-It’s-Almost-Fall.) And actually, we’ve already been to the fair once. We took nieces and nephews and neighbor kids the other night in the pouring rain and all they wanted to do was eat and ride on rides and shovel money into the grasping hands of the carnies who man the gyp booths. And have fun. Cold, pouring down rain, seven to ten year-old kids. You get the picture. My grand-niece held my hand as we strode through the wall of neon foods. My twin grand-nephews clutched their stash of posters and gyp trinkets as if gold, holding hands with Oona. Nick the kid rode the toughest rides and supervised us all, since seventh grade gives you a responsibility, it turns out, one deeper than I’d remembered.

But now, for our second day, we’re going with adults alone and the darker secrets of Modern Living or even the farming secrets of the Pig Palace will not elude me. As for the world of gyp and fear, believe me, I’m up to date on the Octopus, the Whirl of Death and the Shoot-Something-That-Looks-Easy-But-Isn’t in a futile attempt to win the giant Spongebob doll. I’ve been there. I’ve had fun. But now is the second day and the fair calls. The Mystery calls. If you need me, I’ll be somewhere in between Egg Artistry and the Swine Gate.

Because our fair is far to the North of the lower forty-eight, it is a late fair compared to the Southern ones and, inevitably, it’s all about Halloween. This year, the giant pumpkins take up a quarter of the Hall of Agriculture and one of them weighs – get this – over eleven hundred pounds. The odd thing about it – the great whitish, yellowish thing subdued by its own immense weight so that it seems to melt into the concrete floor – is that its Grower disqualified himself from the annual competition because he had discovered a tiny flaw, a hole in the thing, a hole so small that Judges might easily have overlooked and so awarded him the Grand Prize. He said that he’d won so many other years before that he’d decided to give Others a chance or two. The new winners, in the nine hundred pound range, also looked collapsed under their own immense weights, their ribbons adding little to their gravitational demise.

We got to the fair around three in the afternoon and the attendant populace seemed stunned in the sunlight and warmth, under the great mountain Tahoma in the Puyallup Valley. At four o’clock the teeners began to arrive in force and the Midway began to resound with the chilling shrieks that make the fair more than what it is. There is something comforting in this, I realized. The fair without the sex and screaming is not really a fair. It’s just an exhibition.

As I’m sure I pointed out last year, the fair can seem to be largely a sexual ritual of some kind. Among the staid exhibits, but especially among the Whirling Dingdongs of Death, swirl the voluptuous bodies of teenage baby girls with virtually no clothes on, topped with cowboy hats, or garish pirate hats or other souvenir headgear. Their boyfriends -shaved heads, multiple earrings, dressed inevitably in baggy black -clutch feverishly at them, steering them toward night and neon light and screaming fun. This year they’ve all bought the skintight bellbottom jeans cut so low that they, much like the Giant Pumpkins, seem drawn toward the earth with some huge sexual finality. Their outthrust naked stomachs, their breasts exposed in Target tops, the sleeves gathered high on their little shoulders to bare more flesh. The day is warm and school is finished for one more monumental day. Pregnancy lies only dimly ahead. The sun is going down into the Magritte-green sky and the twisting neon lights of Fear and Death hoist themselves up into the coming darkness. The night is young.

We visit slabs of bees and cases of slugs devouring equally slimy boleti, slugs of the Northwest, mushrooms of the Northwest and reach finally the Grange displays, a whole
hall of sloped agricultural layouts, each Grange responsible for filling five hundred or so square feet of space with neatly organized displays of their fruits and vegetables, their
agricultural heritage fast disappearing under the mighty surge of suburban sprawl seeping out from Seattle and Tacoma. Our local Grange in Mystery Island is the Gig Harbor Grange, an old creaky building now bounded by a golf course and a traffic light, once a lonely outpost at the head of Wollochet creek, where salmon now need human protection to spawn. The grangers have bravely lined up carrots and plums and apples and found a theme to wrap it all around and at the top have placed mason jars of bright green and yellow and red jams and jellies so that lights shine through them in a beautiful display of something so touching I can barely look too long. I sit down on one of the log benches and scribble notes, avoiding the glances of huge fat white guys in black tank tops who are desperately trying to organize their kids into a move on the sluggish indoor pool where the Demonstration Chinook Salmon swim aimlessly over the copper bottom of tossed pennies. In the Old Days, copper was one of the most valuable things in the Old People world. Big beaten sheets of it were made into three-partioned artworks of immense value and meaning lost to us now, like the teeth of beavers lost.

We eat fried clams and halibut and chips, we drink Doctor Pepper without fear, we have a corn dog and a scone, we ingest the curly fries, all on the way to the Halls of Hapless Animals, lined up in rows, caring little for us. There are rabbits of every description, birds so many that their cages form an avian weir to herd and trap humans. Game birds painted by opiumated Chinese. Bunnies and squabs and cavys and nice 4-H dogs lying peacefully on benches to be viewed, their owners sitting beside them ready to answer questions.

(Unlike them, Molimo and KK, our two puppies, sleep in the Suburban in someone’s front yard in Puyallup, a few blocks away, where for five dollars your car, with puppies, sitssafely under the watchful eye of nice people from some school or
other. ) Percherons in beautiful stalls turn their gigantic butts to us, cows ignore us, goats eat in spite of us, llamas do not spit even at us, even once.

We traipse to the Hall of Hair, also known as the Hall of No Eye Contact or the adjoining Hall of Sewing, Lounging and Pain Relief. Divorce is ripping our adult ranks, did I mention we were adults? Don’t we have problems? Well, I guess we do. Last year’s Barbie is this year’s divorcee.

We are nearing the Hall of Modern Living and in fact we have entered the all too human area of the Great Fair. Healing creams and wellness crystals and lounge beds and massage pods and Saunas and hot tubs, tv knives, fair hair, stop smoking, heal, rest lounge. Hedonism seems to be the order of the day, care for the self. There seem to be no booths for Calvinism, for restraint, for punishment or discipline or pain.

Outside, the huge grandstand has filled with humans and Styx or something like it plays loud and the huge crowd of bell-bottomed and tattooed hedonists scream and lights flash. It is dark. Then it is very light. Kick drums boom, Munch-like screamers scream. It is dark. Then it is very light.

In the Hobby Horse Hall ( the Hall of Tristram Shandy) comes a great moment, one in which the full power of the great Fair Mystery descends upon me like a Giant Neon Screaming Hammer of Shrieking Delight. It’s a huge hall of compulsions, filled to the brim with people’s need to collect Hello Kitty paraphernalia, the pressing need to fill a whole case with watches, or bees or stuffed penguins or polar bears or miniature automobiles, or – in the past -shoulder pads. That wonderful board of shoulder pads is gone now, but Garfield is alive and well, thousands of him crammed yellow into the case next to the Elvis memorabilia. There are the rocket guys, the telescope guys, the ham radio guys and most of all, those kings of Nerds, the Model Railroad Guys. Out in the middle of all these cases of dolls and guys, the N-Gauge railroad makes a big oblong loop. The little trains roll through the little scenery. As usual, I stand and stare too long. The Big Blonde is already over among the dollhouses.

The dollhouses are deep, as usual, but I’m about to turn back to the beloved trains when my eyes are whacked over their little eyeball heads by the Best of Show winner, a stunning three-quarters-of-an-inch-equals-one-foot model of an old country train station. The left half is as it was eighty years ago and its right as it is today, that is in complete and derelict disrepair. In the pristine left-hand half, a lonely miniature child sits crumpled on a bench, weeping and awaiting, presumably, some miniature human or other picking him up and taking him somewhere. On the right-hand side, the side of the modern world, an old man supported by a young couple points across the modeler’s timeline divide and remembers something we cannot hear, probably because sound based on three-quarter inch to the foot ratios tagged to decibels and frequencies would be beyond quick.

A little card tells you only that on a disturbing model day eighty years ago, a lonely orphan took the train to his new home. Above are many telephone wires and bulbous crows. All it needs is music, but scaled music would be pitched very high (or low) and gone in a second. Or last forever. It all depends on where you start.

In other words, scaling is a deep subject. Things can be hidden in the spaces between scales, simply because there must be spaces between scales, otherwise there would be
only one scale and this cannot be true. The grand-nephews and nieces’ father is in jail, meth is suspected, murder is accused. The little ones cling to the Big Beautiful Blonde’s hands in the rollicking fair night. The scales are of divorce, of murder, of accusations and fear, of little kids who need help, of the love that knows no reasoning, of fun, of this fair, of this summer, of this fall. The Big Blonde knows that these kids need to remember this awful year as the year they had a lot of fun at the fair, on one whacky night at least. A scale away, the adults are divorcing and arguing and posing and whining. She and I have fun no matter what scale we’re in. We know where to look for fun. We have our picture taken in the black-and-white booth and, as every year, the woman who runs the booths remembers us. We laugh and chat. It’s the fair. We should have jammed the kids in the booth the other night and had their picture. Next year we’ll remember. Next year.

In my long unpublished novel called Beaver Teeth, the ending sequence involves a madding ride on what can only be a model train commandeered by Squilimuk Indians that’s driven down into a narrow gorge called Gorgeville on the Squilimuk River, between the two warring towns of Beaverteeth and the City of Midden, the site of the Imaginary Casino, (where Imaginary Creek flows into the big river.)

When we drove to the fair for the second time, we went right through this place, although it has different names. A railroad runs through it, of course, and the afternoon we drove, I saw sun on the Great Mountain misnamed Rainier reflected in the great standing swamp pool with dead snag old cedars poking out above the bright green algae. I saw my ending for the first time, truly. I saw where I’m going and where I’ve been, both in the book and without. Not bad for the Fair Mystery, because we hadn’t even got there yet, but thinking about it later, which is now, it all seemed to me to do with scale.

We closed the place down. We drove home below half a moon, as if the Chainsaw Sculptor of the Night had neatly cut it down the middle. It was only half the fair, the adult half. I looked back on the kid half with more pleasure than I’d thought, back there in the other scale, in the pouring down rain.


OK, I want to direct your attention to a couple of things: one is the Firesign Theatre Blog, the Fireblog where several of my long stories reside. There is no discussion group function, it’s a read-only site, but it links back here where the chatter is. Tom O’Neill and Brian Westley have done a beautiful job building it and I want to see it flourish, but it will probably never have any contributions from the Other Members of FST, sad to say.

I hope youll become a member of this site and contribute writing of any kind, long or short. We have so many talented people who write and photograph and paint and link for us here, but I’d like to mention especially that Robert G. Margolis has an odd and wonderful story in progress in the Discussion section of the preceeding Mary Two Names posting. Heís decided to keep it there and not continue it on this posting. All the discussion groups on every Home Page Story are filled with interesting writing, jokes, gossip, pictures, links and meanderings from all of us who contribute here and we’d all love it if more join in. We have no rules and no themes, we’re just a kind of blog community based on nothing more than conversation and art, such as it is.


Back in the Big City of Long Goodbyes

Never the same


     He went back into L.A. feeling wary and alert. What he saw there, after all these years, just amazed him, no matter how wary and alert he’d thought he was. It was another city than the one he had known. Towers and fortresses crowned every hill. Valleys he had walked in that were once filled with liveoaks were now lined with stacks of apartments. The huge city boiled with movement. The lines of cars on the freeway stopped and started, their tail lights like a red wave. The streets were full of people. It was hot in L.A.

     N. was as dead as dead can be. He looked at himself and there he was, dead as a doornail, however dead that was, deader certainly than a dead dormouse or a dead doormat in front of a door. Iron was a dead thing and nails were made of iron, so, when he thought about it, he thought that he was, in fact, as dead as a doornail and not as a dormouse, for instance. A dormouse might miraculously spring to life, since the thoughts of both mice and men do not exclude miracles. The door mat, he thought, was a dead end. Dead as a doormat didn’t sound right, picturesque as it was. Dead as a dead end was good, in a way, but kind of redundant.

     “In this city I’ll bet all the detectives now are smart modern leggy babes like in movies and books. I’m not only invisible here, but considered dead. There was a day in this town when the name N. meant something. There were a couple of movies made, even. You’re too young. A guy with a flat-top in Florida had a comic strip about me. A comedy troupe made a record album about me. There was a TV series that lasted two seasons. I was N. and I had some reason to be proud of it. Now I’m nothing. I’m dead as a doormat or something.” 

     “Dormouse,” she said helpfully.

     “That doesn’t sound right,” said N. “Anyway, you get my meaning.”

     “I catch your drift,” she said. “I’m smart. I get it. I’m pretty typical of today’s modern efficient leggy gal detectives,” she said in all seriousness. “I’m not all that different than most of my colleagues.” She crossed her long legs at the ankles.

     Her ankles were like something he had forgotten but which, once remembered, became all- important, all-consuming even. The rest of her, as detectives like to say, wasn’t bad either.

     “You’re not a lesbian as well, are you?” he asked. “I only ask because increasingly girl detectives in books and movies are and while it doesn’t seem to mar their efficiency or legginess at all, it might cut down on the success I would have if I asked you out to dinner, if you see what I mean.”

     She looked at him for a minute. “God, you’re amazing,” she said with a laugh. “Men detectives just got eaten up by their own … what? Numbers? Multiplicities? Complexities? There were too many of you or there were too many movies about you?”

     “Something like that, from what I understand,” he said glumly. “Are you a lesbian or not?”

     “You never know. I might be a lesbian who liked stupid guys, why cut down your chances?”

     “Want to have dinner?”

     “Not if you’re paying. You couldn’t get close to picking up the tab for me. I’ll take you to dinner, little buddy. C’mon. And mark my words …” She got up and looked at him carefully. “There’ll be no fucking, pal. Get that straight.”

     “God forbid,” said N. with a silly smile on his stupid face.



Ornaments and Electricity, A Christmas Story

Odd Christmas, but still ???

It’s too late for Christmas, I know. The ornaments are taken down and the electricity is put to greater uses than just studding little colored lights into the night. The model villages are back in their boxes, the little freight trains wrapped in tissue paper. Although the days are a bit longer, winter seems to stretch ahead forever. I’m beginning to long for Spring, but I’m still drawn to the Christmas behind me. Maybe it’s because there are no little lights at Spring, no ornaments but eggs, no uses for electricity but those of everyday. What the hell happened to Christmas?

I wonder if Christmas is the antidote to increased and increasing speed. Suppose the dragging out of all the ornaments and the hanging and plugging-in of all the little lights slows Time – is meant, in fact, to slow Time. The anticipation of Christmas is what always gets to me; that somehow there will be this respite, this Holiday, this suspension of everydaydayafterday. When the tunes of the Holidays slip subtly into my hummings – even Adam Sandler’s wonderfully stupid Chanukah song – and I find myself adrift in wishings for snow on the ground not up on the mountain to ski on but around my house, on my porch, on my roof, so deep that the little lights I’ve strung outside shine through it with magical significance; when I actually begin to seriously consider the bizarre religion from which the holiday ostensibly springs, the true insanity of the consideration, even, of Virginal Motherhood; when I combine Goths and fir trees and Palms and Kings and stars and reindeers into something that I look forward to, then I’ve lost it again that year, like every year before.


The Christmas Story

So Big Jesus says to Little Jesus one day in a place outside of Ajo on the Res line, he says Dude, why do we celebrate, on this day of all days, this feast, this eating, this mass, this hunger for companionship and snow? Why?

And Little Jesus sits back and looks at the sea of longnecks on the table before them and listens for a careful minute to Los Lobos on the juke and thinks to himself that it’s nearly December and looks at his brother and says; Dude. It’s because we are the twins with no Father.

Bullshit, says Big Jesus and towers himself up into a whirling hobobo of a wind of hell and flies halfway down the Alamo Wash and back and sits down and lets the air whirl around him, knocking over several longneck bottles. Bullshit, he repeats.

Well, says Little Jesus, Mom always said so and I’d like to point out in her defense that we didn’t see much Fatherly presence when we were kids.

Every dude in a brown dress in the big white plaster and mud church was called Father, says Big Jesus defensively.

Not the same thing, says Little Brother. The Electricity was our Father, that’s what I think. And like the Hopi dolls and the ones made by O’odhams to look like the Hopi dolls and like the white man with his little Christmas villages with the moving ski feature and adorable snow-covered houses and carolers and so forth and the Zuni guys with the little turquoise animals and all the little bundles and precious things that look like other things and mean something to somebody, the Electricity is good at running through them, whether through wires or mysterious Old People secret methods, and lighting them up literally and figuratively, much like our Father did with Mom the Virgin.

I don’t think that’s funny, says Big Jesus. It’s stupid to think of Mom as a model railroad and Dad as electricity.

I don’t mean it to be funny, it’s not funny. It’s sad to have no father says Little Jesus. There is a big pause.

I guess we are each other’s father, says one or the other of them, it doesn’t matter which.


There’s more on the Fireblog at Fireblog

State Fair Barbie Goes to the Fair

better resolution

Elsie and I went to the big Western Washington State Fair in Beaverteeth and had the time of our lives. I particularly enjoyed the big jolly fistfight in the Swine Building after Elvis kissed Barbie. It was a miracle that Elvis won the race as well, seeing as how that bad guy who seems good – the one with the sweeping blonde hair – how that guy and his pals took advantage of Elve. I enjoyed the three musical numbers I had, singing and playing the standup bass behind Elvis, especially the one where I look goofy and the camera comes in and takes what ís called a close-up of me. I’m the guy in the bandanna with the big buckteeth. Elsie says you can’t miss me. I also enjoyed how Elvis won the race, but it was really best at the start when that bad girl with the black hair cut straight across her forehead waved her bra to start the race. I’ve seen a lot of pictures of her tied up and real naked in barns and other rustic environments and I’ve got to say, I enjoy looking at her just as much as I enjoy looking at Barbie, fully clothed in her State Fair Barbie outfit.

But thereís more to the Fair than just singing and fighting and racing, and the thrilling competition for Elvis between good girls in sleeveless plaid shirts with the shirt-tails tied so as to show off their adorable tummies and bad girls, tied up with gags in their mouths and perched up on five inch heels and gripped in leather corsets, that’s for sure. I’ve been going to the damn thing for many a year and I’ve had a lot of thoughts over those years and one of them is the one that sums up most of the others and that ís the thought that thinks that a Fair, no matter how you look at it, comes down to pretty much one thing; and that thing is, in a word, exhibition.

Everybody and everything at the State Fair is an exhibit of one kind or another and I’ll explain what I mean by first pointing out that the opposite of exhibition has got to be inhibition. Inhibition wouldn’t make for much of a Fair. I suspect you’d see a lot of people with glasses and books and cardigan sweaters milling uncertainly around the fairgrounds with nothing to look at, all of them nervous about each other, muttering clever comments to themselves about how stupid everyone else is. It wouldn’t be much fun, whereas at the Fair of Exhibition, just about everyone female is dressed in low-slung bell-bottom jeans with factory-bleached white areas emphasizing the sexually desirable parts to seem as if actual working people might have worn the jeans at work and (you can’t get more complicated clothing than you see at the Fair) as for men, well, the sheer overwhelming amount of mullet haircuts has diminished, as have the amount of hatbackwarders, but there ís still a comforting amount of noserings, tattoos and shaved heads. None of these people are like Elvis and Barbie; they don’t race, they don’t fight, they don’t sing. They just go to the fair to see the exhibits but they’re not unaware of the fact that they are, as well, on exhibit. And the exhibitions are what the fair, besides the food, is all about.

One of the best things about the Fair is: The Hall of Modern Living, or, as I call it, the Hall of No Eye Contact. Hereís how modern it is; about a third of the exhibitors wear microphones and they demonstrate, they slice and they dice and so the experience is slightly what we call out my place surreal. For instance, there are two girls, the Vita-health girl and the Mop girl, no one in front of them, talking to each other quietly although they are thirty feet apart. They have on microphones. They are wired. It’s the Hall of Modern Living. Don’t talk to me about modern. I’ve been there. The John Birch Society is set up next to the Gutter demonstration, where water flows down a roof and into a gutter and magically, no branches or moss even goes into the gutter. If you make eye contact with any of these people, you are doomed. They’ve got you. You have to be strong to look away, to not answer, to keep moving, to not respond. The Hall of No Eye Contact is Exhibitors Gone Wild, no holds barred, nothing restrained. You are the hunted.

Barbie bought the State Fair Hair at the fair this year. It’s a hell of a kind of pony tail but it sticks way up high and it exactly matches the original hair that Barbie went to the fair with. She also bought the dachshund purse, the one that not only looks like a dachshund but is the same exact size. State Fair Barbie, comes with adorable dachshund purse. Pilot Jeff sold separately.

One of the best things about the Fair is: The midway, the neon, the shrieking and wailing of the doomed customers, the grinding of oily old machines held together by the presumably limited skill and interest of people who might be able to make more money back brewing meth in severely depressed rural areas were it not for the needs of exhibition. You’re going to want to see the cases of preserves, the hall of grange artwork, the huge geometric arrangements of fruits and vegetables, the giant pumpkins, sagging under their own immense orange weights. The crossbows, the fish receiving coins, the Army corps of engineers, (the Army Corps of Dioramas,) the flood plain demo diorama, every year. We ate fried oysters and french-fries at the seafood stand. You know you’ve got good food coming when you notice that most of the customers are Nisqually or Puyallup people. The corn dogs were good this year, the scones excellent and the burgers large and smothered with Walla-Walla onions. The hall of quilts and sewing, the many artworks and paintings and sculptures included a couple of the finest Art of The Insane pictures I’ve ever seen, just like that guy Flamnigan on TV.

It’s the Fair, in other words. Get there or be square. They’re trying to tell me that Elvis is dead, but he isn’t, not when you can go to the Fair. Look out for Barbie, but the best thing is that every year, when the huge clouds turn orange overhead and the lights of the Insane Rides pop out and the darkness descends and the shrieking idiots are flung upward hundreds of feet in the air and the big moon rises, Elsie and I go to the lineup of photo booths and we wait with all the teenage bad girls – the girls who have rings in places you don’t want to know about, whose heads are shaved in ways unthought by normalcy, whose hair is colored as if by the midway itself – and we squeeze the two of us into the booth and draw the curtain and insert the dollar bills and have four black and white pictures taken of ourselves. We wait outside, joking with the bad girls and after a while the strip of photos comes out and there we are, the two of us.

Elsie and Elmer in the booth

I should mention the deep things, too. There’s the huge model of the volcano that towers over the fairgrounds, showing what will happen to us if it blows, when it blows. And there is the always unspoken, the end of summer near, the eating of the corn, the drying of the stalks, the pumpkin vine dies away and leaves the orange thing. The leaves begin to blow, the maples’ edges look dark red and then, too quickly, yellow. Death is upon us. And so we find ourselves back at the Fair of Inhibition, the Fair of No Location, (the Fair of No State, stateless in fact, a thing unexpressed, a thing of no qualities.) Another year. Another fair. Four more black and white pictures. Elsie looks cute as can be and I look older, but ok, I guess. When we get out the strips of pictures from years past it’s fairly obvious that Elvis and Barbie are not only alive, but photographable.

And you know, next year I’m not even going to the fistfight. I want to spend more time with the rabbits and pigeons. That’s where the action is. Enough striving, enough competition. Exhibition, that’s what it’s all about. Did you see the size of the feathers on that pigeon’s feet? Wow. Blue ribbon, red ribbon, green ribbon. Who cares? Not me. We drive home to Mystery Island over the many bridges and the moon shines over the water and summer is not quite gone.


Home now ???