September 28






Big Blonde on the left, me on the right.  This is a detail from the Bil (that’s right, one ‘l’) Stout album cover of Firesign Theatre’s “In the Next World, You’re on your Own.”


Thanks to RobberG’s suggestion, I’ve opened a new section in the sidebar to the right with stories and I’ve started with “The Precipice of Angels.”  I hadn’t looked at it in a long time and I’ve been so much writing about the American West lately that I’d forgotten that the kind of Euro style to it works.  You’ll notice that I’ve drifted away from Good Writing.  That last sentence is, as I’m sure John McCain would say, a doozy.


It’s suddenly Summer up here on Mystery Island.  After three months of pretty constant rain, the sun is out again.  It’s been three weeks in a row of great weather.  We’re insane up here. Let the country collapse in sub-prime despair.  Let the credit cards not work. It’s nice outside.  By the way,

“You can put all the lipstick on John McCain you like,

  He’s still John McCain.”

I said that.

Now we start again

     Well, it’s been a while but I’ve finally posted Chapters Nineteen and Twenty of Beaver Teeth over on the right there, for anyone interested, and I’ve revamped this blog and sort of learned how to work this new format and I’m returning to the older blog format where I can post Beaver Teeth stuff over on the right and return to more frequent postings ala a normal blog.  Not that it’ll ever be normal, because I get into these stuck areas where I don’t post for months because I’m worried about something or other.  Lately it’s been the progress of Beaver Teeth.  I’ve been working on this novel since the early Nineties of the lamented last century and there are some twenty chapters to go, but the re-writing has become more burdensome and necessary as I actually confront what I’ve got myself into.

     But, on the other hand (where is that other hand and what is it doing?) I’ve finally reached some conclusions and I’m finally moving ahead.  I’m happier, that’s for sure.  Thanks to everyone who reads this blog for the patience.

     Erin, the guy who theoretically manages this blog for me, is going to get the posts we’re still missing up if I nag him enough.  At least the old ones are back, listed as Manila, for reasons no one needs to know.

     One thing missing is the ability for anyone to post pictures directly to the comments and I’ll try  to figure this out pretty soon.

     First, we’re going camping for a week.

Addendum to Beaver Teeth

These three discussion messages were the first on Beaver Teeth and I’ve been rearranging things on this page and can’t figure out how to include them in the new discussion group, so I’m keeping them here. And Zen, by the way, I’d love to hear what you or anyone else thinks about B-Teeth. That’s the reason I’m posting it, to try to get it out into the conversation.

We Three Kings of Tacoma Are by Phil Austin


by Phil Austin

( Prolegomenon and copyright info)


Not too many years past, in that region of the Pacific North where people have settled, wisely or not, around the base of the great volcano Tahoma, and specifically in the misspelled city of Tacoma, in the State of Washington – and on a dark and stormy night – the sodden figure of a drunken man fell to its knees in the humble neighborhood near St. Bart’s mighty old dark brick church set high up one of the seven hills above the twisted mystery of the lower Puget Sound. This drunken man on his knees did not pray, but belched hugely and vomited copiously into the welcoming gutter and then he breathed mightily and sat down on the icy curb. It was late in the month of December. He fumbled in his stained garments for a cigarette, the butt of which was found and lit only by using up three old greasy wooden matches. The matches each sputtered blue sparky fire into the Tacoma night.
A lonely car sped by, its tires splashing up a freezing surge of water, spraying this horrible, but by now smoking, man. He solemnly cursed each car that passed, as best he could.

“Fuckin’ Cavalier!” he would shout at a Chevy Cavalier. “God damn fuckin’ Invicta! Cock-suckin’ Toyahto!” and so forth. He gave the finger to each. “Man, ooooh MAN!” he shouted out, for no good reason, in a loud tone of gloom and drunkenness.

Then a little old car passed by, a little old hippie wagon, he thought, but he couldn’t quite remember the name for it and so he let it pass. There was a dog inside, he could see, and an old man driving and perhaps the face of a young woman with troubling eyes.

His name was Schrobberbeeck and he was drunk and filthy. He had on clothes, and that’s about all you could say about them. He had a beard, did Schrobberbeeck, but it wasn’t much of a beard. He sucked grimly on his damaged cigarette and water from his sickened shoulders dripped down into the old brickwork gutter. From inside the dimly lit and secret sanctuary of St. Bart’s he could hear the shaky little choir practicing the familiar songs of Christmas. Sad colored lights of the season blinked valiantly, strings of them having been draped over the old church by sober worshipers. The portico leaned at an angle somewhat canted to that of its steeple. The night was dark and darkening yet.

A little thing of light from far away shone down the hill and it came closer and got bigger. It was a flashlight approaching and behind it was Schrobberbeeck’s old friend Pat, sloshing up to him in the dark night. Pat (as Pat himself had often enough said) was a large Negro of a man and while he was as poor as was Schrobberbeeck, he was unlike his friend in that he was not a great drinker. He preferred decent marijuana, did Pat, and the twelve-dollar wines of California in what he liked to think of as moderation. Pat’s life was marred to a great extent by a mysteri-ous past and he counted himself a tragic figure for reasons never quite revealed to his friend Schrobberbeeck nor to much of anyone else. He walked with a great limp, did Pat, a crippled limp in fact, and and he tended to cars for a little living, he washed them and he sometimes parked them and for whatever reason, on this night, he was in a state of transcendent grace and triumph, which was lucky enough given Schrobberbeeck’s sad condition of damnation and drunkenness and defeat.

“It is Christmas again, Schrobberbeeck you fucking asshole!” Pat shouted out. “And it is time, my old friend, for the Three Kings to walk! Let them stride out into the heart of this dark and Holy Night! Is this not true? This night, this holy night, set aside for the celebration of the birth of Our Lord! In this land! Even here high above the mighty fucking Puyallup River!”

Pat’s words rang out into the freezing night. As if in response, somewhere down in Tacoma, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle roared to life. Frigid shafts of milky light struck down through shattered little clouds. The iced moon shone out briefly and then was gone.

Schrobberbeeck hiccupped gamely. He vomited again, a small but virulent vomit.

“Lord, but it smells like Hell itself out here, Schrobberbeeck, old son! God himself would be proud of such a stink!” And Pat hoisted his drunken friend up onto feelingless feet and so propelled him into some ceremonial and hopefully useful action. He had to do this pretty much every year because he needed money every year, and so needed Schrobberbeeck, however drunken his condition. Besides, it was exactly the season of forgiveness and of drunkenness.

He needed Schrobberbeeck on every blessed Christmas when he and Schrobberbeeck and their friend Crab Man would then, upon his urging, carefully remove the sacred symbols of their kingship from the secret places where they had been hidden all the year long, mostly tucked away in the rafters of Schrobberbeeck’s sagging garage on the alley in back of his downtrodden little house on Alder Street. These holy symbols were hidden there because Schrobberbeeck was the only one of the Three Kings who actually lived in a house, such as it was, and had therefore a garage, such as it was, and therefore a fit place in which to hide things away.

In the blessed season, the three of them would find up there the marvelous silver star of heavy-duty aluminum foil atop its long telescoping aluminum pole, once a fixture of some North End swimming pool; they would produce again their cardboard crowns and swords, wrapped in regular-strength aluminum foil by innocent third-graders at the Longfellow school and stolen from them with no regret; they would carefully lift out the manger, cleverly fashioned from a supermarket cart never returned to the Thriftway market, filled with glittery paper for straw and, as in every year, Pat would not have to blacken his face in order to portray the Dark King. The joke was as good this year as it was every year and, as in every year, the Crab Man and Pat laughed, although Schrobberbeeck, being too drunk on this night, did not.

Crab Man was so-called because he eked out a smallish living selling crabs to idiots and tourists down on Ruston Way, lurching from bicyclist to roller blader with a portable tray full of evil-smelling old dead crabs on not much ice. He worked out of the back of an ancient GMC Suburban decked usually with signs reading: “Crabs, One Dollar. Fretch Shrimp.” Crab Man was as stubborn and secretive and clever and sideways as a crab and pretty much a confirmed smoker of cocaine, although he did not exactly admit to it. He needed money, for whatever reason, and more than once had resorted to easy burglaries in neighborhoods accessible to his ancient vehicle, or so the police of Tacoma will be happy to tell you. He had long stringy hair and a devilish moustache and beard and he was one of those people whose frayed jeans seemed to cut across worn-in old high-heeled cowboy boots at exactly the right place. Crab Man was known to be attractive to certain women of the town, in other words, and that made of his life a living hell, as he was quick to point out to his two best friends, who, if he had to name them, would have been Pat and Schrobberbeeck. For the most part, Crab Man lived in Schrobberbeeck’s decrepit front room on a couch whose springs had seen one or two many thumps from one or two many rumps. When he needed to deal seriously with the annoying women of the town, he would take them to the trailer he theoretically owned, the old aluminum one parked down by the Puyallup River, under tall alder trees filled with roosting crows, because he was technically an Indian and the river land was Reservation Land. He was only about a quarter Puyallup, but that was more than enough, as he often said, certainly more than once.

It turned icy cold and crisp and finally began to snow on the Christmas night that these Three Kings, decked in their sacred symbols and pushing their manger on supermarket wheels, set out to sing their Christmas carols in this year in the city of Tacoma, which is a place of temperate enough climate – with albeit much rain – that snow is almost always a novelty. For it to snow – good snow, snow that stuck – could be counted almost a miracle in this place and especially on this night.

The three sad figures, after some years of practice, could sing “Silent Night” pretty well. They could sing “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” both the versions sacred and profane. They could sing “Adeste Fidelis,” although they had not one idea between the three of them of what any of it meant. They made quite a sight in the slump of thick snow that fell over Tacoma at rush hour, in the darkened night. They wore fake beards and robes that held many patterns popular with bathrobe makers and their great silver star glinted brightly above them when Pat twirled it on its long pole. It was more snow than Tacoma may have ever seen and it came down slowly, without wind or storm. It came down for hours that night. It snowed and then, amazingly, it snowed some more.

And these were flush times for Tacomans, the year had been a prosperous one and the goods and services, the fish and lumber, the cameras and carwashes, the meats and the motors and the glassware, the everything and the everything else had all done pretty well and the fattened people of the town sat before their glowing TVs and contemplated at least this one Christmas without need.

Not only pedestrians but slowing cars gave money to the Three Kings this year in amounts they had never before imagined. For a while they stood amazed on the corner of Division and Tacoma and sang “Jingle Bells” at the top of their lungs, but the traffic was piling up to see them and give them money and so – at the polite request of Sergeant Ng of the Tacoma Police – they moved down onto Pacific Avenue, that important boulevard, under the gentle wash of an amber streetlight that bathed them with what could have been a holy light, the way it cut neatly down through the falling snow. There, too, people seemed eager to give them money. They were wished “Merry Christmas” time and time again, and they would shout it back with the good cheer that naturally comes as coins and bills pile up in your manger, making it so heavy that it could not be wheeled, but had to be dragged from place to place. They drank from bottles concealed in their robes and Crab Man left briefly at about nine-thirty and returned with a gram of cocaine that kept each King awake and alert, singing and full of cheer.

It was almost midnight, certainly quitting time for the Three Kings, and Schrobberbeeck could barely refrain from counting all the coins and bills right then and there when a big dark stretch limousine pulled up, its many tires crunching in the snow, and a rear door opened and a voice issued out. It was the voice of a man, a deep-voiced man. He had long hair dyed three colors down to his waist and was wearing an expensive black three-piece suit of elaborate design. Half of his head was shaved and dyed a purplish color. His shirt was open and necklaces were draped around his throat. His fingers were studded with rings that flashed fire brighter than Schrobberbeeck’s wooden matches into the night. On his feet were high-heeled boots covered with the skins of animals never before seen in Tacoma and which Pat immediately thought were worth more than he on the open market. Pat was not on the open market, which was the way he put it, ever aware of his troubled ancestry.

“I am an Enslaved-American, not an African-American. I am a child and grandchild and great grand-child of the survivors of slavery. We are adapted to slavery as naturally as a woodpecker is adapted to pecking wood. And here we are, genetically ready to please, in a country full of mother-fuckers comically dead set against what they seemed to be absolutely committed to a hundred and fifty years ago, to the point that this very nation would not have been worth fighting over were it not for our Enslaved Negro labors.” This was the way Pat talked when he had some decent marijuana and a bottle or two of Pinot Noir from the Napa Valley. (If Schrobberbeeck joined him in smoking marijuana, after a pause, he would ask if the woodpeckers were absolutely committed as well and after a decent pause, Pat would just laugh like hell.)

“You’ve got a point, Mr. Man,” said the Rock-and-Roll Person from Seattle, after Pat had regaled him with something close to his usual Enslaved-American speech. “We’re free tonight because of you. What’s your name?”
“I am the Dark King,” said Pat with some dignity.

“Well, here, Kings of Men, have a cigar or three,” said the man, offering them several expensive-looking cigars in his bejeweled hand. “And a Merry Christmas to you.”
“That is not a rubber cigar, is it?” asked Schrobberbeeck suspiciously.

“No, it isn’t, not at all,” the tall man laughed, his little eyes twinkling against the velvet of the luxurious velvet seats. “It’s a damn illegal Cuban cigar, my friend,” he said. The exhaust of the limo billowed out, as if any more of a theatrical effect were needed; the three Kings next to the long black limo in the snow, lit from above by a great shaft of amber streetlight flickering down through the fall of unusual snowflakes.

“Let’s hear you boys sing it, though,” said the great man in the great car.

The Three Kings looked one each at another and smoked at their cigars and then dutifully sang the profane version, hoping for more largesse from this strange man. To be sure, they weren’t exactly sure of all the lyrics. They sang:

“We three kings of Orient are,

Tried to smoke a rubber cigar.

Something, something …

It expl-o-o-ded …

Now we’re something …

Something something.”

“Well, that’s close enough,” said the Rock-and-Roll man meditatively. He reached back in the limo and pulled out a little leather bag, heavy with some important weight.

“Merry Christmas, you three idiotic kings,” said the man, sadly.

     “She doesn’t want to see me.” He stared straight for a moment and then he said, “So I’m going back to Seattle.” The door closed and the great white limousine plowed into the fresh snow in the street, leaving four snakes of blackened tracks twisting off into the holy night.

When the Three Kings looked into the leather bag, they found money, both in bills and some coins, some rare coins as well, some little gold and silver bars and several rings and a necklace worth perhaps some thousands of dollars, thought Crab Man, who did not mention that fact to the others. Still, it was a lot of worth. Schrobberbeeck produced a wooden match. It sputtered blue fire into the night and three cigars were re-lit. They were rich, although Crab Man hoped to be richer.

They headed for the American Wigeon Tavern on Broadway. They would get drunk there and eat prime rib sandwiches with au jus and horseradish, they shouted, but instead, they got lost in snow so heavy they could not find their way in their own city. Christmas seemed far away, the snowfall was so great. Tacoma itself seemed far away. The wind picked up and began to howl and the snow began to drift and there were no cars or passersby on the whiteout streets of the town. They pushed their shopping cart in vain, its straw falling out on the snow. They contemplated automobile theft. The streetlights went out, as did all the lights in town, one by one. The streets were deep in snow. They did not know where they were or where they had come from. For a while, they thought they saw light coming from the gutters of the snow-buried streets. From there, from beneath, they heard a great sound like the magnificent humming of more bees than anyone might ever imagine.

They tried the handles of the doors of cars left foolishly on the unfamiliar streets. They came upon a kind of hippie wagon on Yakima, near Division and the Frisco Freeze. Its little lights shone out into the night. When they tried the door, it was locked, but inside the car they could see that in the back seat there was a woman and a newborn baby who had been wrapped in a leather jacket with a skull embroidered upon it.

The woman and her new baby were set out comfortably enough. The car’s heater had once been working and the interior must have been just warm and the Holy Spirit itself seemed to smile right up at them as they stared through the frozen windshield. A large golden dog laid with its head upon the womanís lap, the baby beside. The old man tried once more to start the car.

“One more step and I’ll shoot you with the gun I have,” shouted the old man at them, but the engine refused to turn over. The Three Kings looked so funny in their stupid tinfoil crowns that the woman laughed in spite of herself. “You won’t do us harm,” she said, in a firm manner. “But if you don’t help us, my baby will freeze solid.”
“Don’t you have anywhere to go?” yelled Pat, scraping ice away and tapping on the window.

“We have nowhere to go and we have nothing to eat,” shouted the old man. ìHo, ho, ho.î

“Well, you can’t let her stay out here,” shouted Pat.

“Go away,” the old man yelled.

ìWe came to ask you the way,” shouted Schrobberbeeck, suddenly inspired from he knew not where.

“This is the way,” called the Old Man, simply. “Come in,” he said to them, making sure they saw his lips move. The doors became unlocked then.

There was a big yellow dog in the car. The woman wore a blue robe with a hood and the old dog lay its head on her knee as she nursed her little child. The little child laughed at them, through his suckling. Schrobberbeek knelt down in the snow, suddenly, not really knowing why he did and so did Pat.

The old man tried to start the car. The little engine turned
but did not turn over. “It’s no use,” the old man said. “Out of juice. We have no money.”
“What do you eat then?”

“We have nothing to eat.”
The three Kings looked at one another and then, without even consulting each the other, they gave the old man and the woman and the smiling suckling child everything they had, including the bag the strange rock and roll man had given them. The woman smiled gently.

“God will reward you,” said the old man. “Ho, ho, ho,” he said, most gently.

The Kings trudged home through the freezing snow.

“Couldn’t the child have been God himself?” asked Schrobberbeeck.

“Don’t be stupid,” said Crab Man. “God has good cars and can clothe himself, even as a child he could.”

“But he was born poor, in a stable, in a manger – whatever that is. I don’t think it was in a supermarket cart.”
“But that was long ago.”
There was a long pause in the freezing cold. “Why, then, did we give them everything?”
“I wish I knew. I wish I knew.”

They found the bar and inside the patrons laughed and sang. They stood outside, with nothing to their names.



Again, the next year, it was Christmas. Pat was very ill, laid out, sick in bed at the motel opposite the PickQuick Drive-in out on the great road across from the willows by the creek along the road that serviced the great docks of Tacoma. His two friends had gone out without him and yet they sang that they were the Three Kings. He lay in his bed and thought feverishly about the last year when they found the woman and the child and the golden dog and the old man in the hippie wagon and had given them every-thing they had been given.

Pat now felt certain that the little person had been God himself. Since that time, Pat had become a different man. Here is the way, the old man had said. His two friends, Schrobberbeek and the Crab Man seemed to have already forgotten the incident. “How strange, how strange,” they would say, but he could tell they didn’t even really remember.

But Pat had changed his life. He knelt before the statues. He followed after them, he went on the rounds, he forgot his tending of cars. He sang pious songs and tried to atone for his previous sins. He began to freeze himself and hurt him-self for reasons of crazed piety. His leg dragged. He spoke to people about sin, now, something he would formerly have laughed at. People at St. Barts thought he had gone crazy.

He had been longing and looking forward to this Christmas. He kept the star and he made it better. He told his friends he would only go with them if they would give their earnings to the poor, of which there were still too many in Tacoma.

“We are poor enough for all of them,” said Schrobberbeek firmly.

“Any idiot can make a star,” said the Crab Man.

Pat kept the star, with which they found God last year. He would not let them take it.

Pat was dying. Now death came to him. He could see the star, propped up above the clock radio that glowed greenly in the night, playing out its scratchy carols. The moon came out and climbed up the sky. Pat prayed for one more night of life.

He climbed out of the motel bed and fell and rose. He grasped the star and turned it toward the holy moon and he sang:

“We Three Kings of our star are

We have come here from places afar.

We went and searched and searched and failed

We went and searched o’er hill and dale

And there this star stood still

And there we entered with good will”

He cried and cried and turned the star. The child came to him through the snow although it was only rain. The child had a map of the world and an old pencil and a sweatshirt that said Seahawks on it. He was sweet and Pat recognized him at once.

“I have seen this child before,” he murmured. His motel room was filled with the smell of daffodils, although it was far from their season.

“Hello, Pat,” said the little child. “I have come to you since you can no longer come to me. Sing your song again. Sing the part, though, about the exploding cigar. It cracks me up.”

As Pat sang, an apple tree outside burst into flower in the night, as if it had snowed indeed.

“Come with me,” said the little lad. “We have a house now, and a carport and you must come with me.” Pat went with him and the golden dog followed behind. He saw spring in the Puyallup Valley and the crocuses and daffodils were in full flower in the driving and freezing rain of winter on the dark tide flats.

“How beautiful it is,” said Pat and he died.

When Schrobberbeeck and Crab Man came back to look in on him with some guilt, they had collected only enough coins and bills to have gone to the tavern and drunk and they were as drunk as Two Kings might be, but their pockets were empty. They looked in the window and Pat was dead.

When they opened the door to the motel room, it smelled inside strongly of flowers, as if it were spring too early.


In the next year Schrobberbeeck became fearful. He was afraid, or so he said, of God himself. He was frightened of Christmas, though, and that was the truth of it. It was Pat’s death, in that last year without snow, that did him in. Now he went to church every day. He was not of the faith, but he went to St. Bart’s every day. He feared truly the coming of Christmas. He missed his dead friend Pat and he missed the Crab Man, for that guy could make him laugh like no one else, but his fear kept him in his old shack. His car died there and he never left except to go to St. Bart’s or to Wright’s Park where he would look at the statues, many of whom, he said, had begun to speak to him. And he would venture out at night to steal.

Crab Man now associated with the devil himself. He had got a job hauling equipment for a metal band and so he was rich and it was said that he worshiped Satan. He was the one who said this, actually. He told a story of crabbing, the wind whipping up a hundred-year storm and taking his clothes away and in this naked state he was blown upon a Satanist in Mason County, where such things are said to be common, and the Satanist, thinking he was the Devil himself, taught him the workings of the book of the Devil. The book was called the Black Ambrosius. He would not crab at night, in fact he would not leave his trailer at night. And he and Schrobberbeeck drew apart and did not see one another. It was said that he was rich and he was not the only one who said it.

Schrobberbeeck was drunk, however, this did not change. And he stole. This did not change. This Christmas, as in the one two years ago when they had seen the child, it snowed like a miracle. He feared Christmas, afraid of some holiness, some awful miracle. The snow piled up and up, the moon was full and night was still and the stars were out in the black-blue sky above. He had decided to walk to midnight mass, in order that the Church might ward off the mystery. He did not take the star this night.

He set out clutching a flashlight although the moon was so full and bright the light was not needed at all. The bell called out in the thick white night. He was frightened. Not another soul was out. He cut through the park. The Christmas night wanted something from him.

Frightened as he was, he looked for the statues in the snow, the deep snow. These were his friends now, the statue of Nietzsche, the statue of Puget, the Mother of Christ, the statue of Vancouver, the statue of Ole Olafson, the statue of Babe (the Blue Ox,) the statue of the Unidentified Man, the statue of Mrs. McPherson, the statue of the Spirit of the Pacific, the statue of the Dead of the Great War, and as well all the little weeping statues in the roadside shrines for the accidental dead crushed by automobiles or fortune. But where were they on this night? All gone, every one. He froze with terror.

He saw a little figure running through the snow. A little woman, weeping. He had seen her before, on her pedestal, she might have been Jane Austen, she might have been Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, she might have been the Spirit of Temperance or the Spirit of Pacificness. But he ran to the Woman of Absolution, he ran to the Mother of the Christ. Seven tin swords were driven through her heart.

“Dude,” she said, looking up at him, panting for breath.

     “Dude. You’ve got to carry me! I’m exhausted because I am too small to negotiate my way on foot through the depths of this snow. If I were to acquire a little hippie wagon or even a mini-van I wouldn’t need your help, if I could afford the gas and if my feet could reach the pedals. But I know you, I’ve seen you, you must help me. Carry me, Mr. Schrobberbeeck.”

The bell tolled too many notes through the thick white night.

“Holy Mother I cannot pick you up,” he cried out in fear and trembling, awaiting the mystery, awaiting his end.

“Listen, pal,” she said shortly. “I must make it to my son’s mass at the Pond, his big Christmas party and I will be late because I was made late. This evening, as I was preparing to attend my Son’s feast – plenty of time to get there even in this stupid snow – a pitiful man came to me, to pray to me. He was a fisherman, he said, and had fallen in with a defrocked priest who had taught him the ins and outs of the Black Ambrosius. He prayed for my help and he was so piteous that I stayed to help him.”

“He is saved then?”

“Yes. Hurry, carry me now.”

His heart rose and his care dropped away and he picked her up and ran with her, light as a feather, through the beautiful snow.

His steps seemed to sail, to fly. Over a long stretch of slope and snow, he saw a moving cross, dimly seen, heading a little parade that struggled up the hill through the park and toward who knows what. It was an unholy parade, perhaps, but he stopped for breath he did not know he had and he could see around the procession, the statues in human form gathered around the central float and up upon it was certainly God himself, so far as he knew.

“Put me down,” she said. ìI will not be late for my son’s feast.î She looked back at him.

     “Forgive me,” she said enigmatically, her tiny self then turning and trudging through the snow. A small music, something about reindeers perhaps, drifted up to him from the parade.

     He could not go on without seeing something, he thought, although he was clearly not invited. He crouched behind a tree and stared. He saw all the statues, but in their human forms, all gathered around the windblown float that came up last in the parade, upon it a great figure of a man, bearded with age, clothed all in red and white. The littlest Mother stood up next to the saint, whose large being graced that float. His heart was as big as the storm that had been. Around the figure were all his mothers, not as solid statues, but as living things: The Mother of Five Wounds, the Mother of Imaginary Reindeer, the Mother of Red Roses, the Mother of Daily Bread, the Mother of Refuge, the Mother for a Holy Death, the Mother of Ho Ho Ho, the Mother of Devotion, the Mother of the Woods, the Mother of Seven Sorrows, the Mother of Jolly, the Mother of Rest, the Mother of Lovers, of Purgatory, of Invention, of Giving. As Schrobberbeeck watched, from far away, he saw that Santa’s heart might burst like a grape the way heíd heard Christ’s had. He shouted out then, a shout as loud as that he’d shouted at cars but two short years ago.

He shouted out “Hey!” And then, “He is forgiven!”

All the heads of all the paraders snapped around but they could not see Schrobberbeeck, hidden as he was behind a tree, and the float lurched forward somewhat, drawn by a small lawn tractor, and then suddenly there was a loud crack and the ice broke on the Pond where they all stood and the ice was thin and covered with snow so they had not known the danger when they paraded and then the float tipped perilously and Santa was thrown off, clutching at tinsel and everyone ran out in a circle from the sinking tractor and float. Ice cracked, music drowned, little screams and shouts echoed up the slope. Santa’s heart, so far as Schroberbeeck could see, did not break.

Why this made him happy, he did not know. But he was content and went on to Mass and prayed and knew not why. He made his way the long way around. Snowplows had begun their work. He slept peacefully, not so drunk after all.

The next day all the statues were back in their places, made of their familiar materials, far from being human flesh. A groundskeeping crew – after hauling the float out of the pond – found Crab Man, his hands grasping at the bars of the black iron grate that enclosed the little Lady of the Seven Sorrows. A yellow snake lay beside him with its belly slit open, terrible to behold. Crab Man was as dead as the Dead Ambrosius himself.

Schrobberbeeck became a different person. He lost all fear and awaited solemn moments. He longed for more mysteries. He looked out for them and they were his friends. Outwardly he seemed the same. He lived in his horrible broken house on Alder Street and he drank and he stole. These things were in his bones and not even the strongest emotion of his soul could change that about himself.


Putting the X back in Xmas

“A member of St. Nicholas Catholic Church portrays Jesus while riding a lawn mower during the parade.”
The picture above and its caption appeared in the local weekly, the Mystery Island Slack Tide, a newspaper that at times rises to sublime heights of comedy proofreading, so insane and so often that I haven’t saved the mistakes over the years. This is typical of me, a person who cannot even remember simple jokes. Sometimes humor is best served by avoiding the obvious, however, and the Slack Tide’s Hilarious Headlines would be best served up in, say, Proctor’s Planet. But, proofreading isn’t the entire point here, there are deeper matters afoot.

Point being, as the Big Blonde Babe often says, point being the picture. You just can’t get something funnier than this picture on any number of levels. And look at the look on his face. When I first peered at him, I thought he might be slightly smiling behind the Insane Fake Beard, but now I think he’s uncomfortable, unsure of himself, perhaps hovering between a peremptory wave to his wife and daughter and a horrible sense that time is passing at an incredibly slow rate. And this Jesus has on a gold bracelet or watch and, best of all, sunglasses. The fact that he’s dragging a cart full of depressing Spring flowers makes it unseasonal for Christmas, but what the hell. It’s Jesus and the holiday is, if nothing else, named for him.

In other words, for most of us, of course, The Holiday has nothing to do with Him at all. It’s a cheerful Native Festival based around a yearly potlach-modeled gift/blackmail wealth distribution system, featuring a kind of display of ancient music forms with incomprehensible lyrics and legendary figures with or without red noses and features best of all, the worship of the real hero, the reason the whole thing should be called Santamas anyway.

Why it’s Christ’s mass, we’re not sure, most of us. But if you ask us about Santa, we’re with you. We know why it’s Santa’s mass. Every credit card in our depleted wallets knows why. I think that’s one reason that the picture is so disconcerting. If Santa were riding a lawn mower, we would immediately understand. They got the wrong guy on the mower and our Member is understandably confused, perhaps, as are we.

As well, we are assured that the person pictured is not Jesus Himself, but a Member portraying Him WHILE RIDING A LAWN MOWER. That’s the key point, the proofreading point, the editing point. A point worthy of capitalization.

Is The Member portraying Jesus while he, himself, is riding the lawn mower, or is he portraying a Jesus who is Himself riding the lawn mower? It’s not a minor point. This opens up a world beyond proofreading. Followers of Jesus will be quick to point out that He can do many more miraculous things than simply riding a lawn mower, in other words it’s perfectly plausible that Jesus might have ridden one, nothwithstanding the tremendous disparity in Time between the supposed death of Jesus and the commercial availability of the lawn mower. Think of the few things your santa-pagan brain knows about Jesus: water to wine, loaves to fishes or vice versa – whatever – and that whacky coming back from the Dead and not even mentioning the virgin birth thing. He might have created a lawn mower from a frog, he might have transported himself into a Future where a Time Traveler a little too large for the lawn mower still rode one. You can’t win this argument, and don’t bother.

On the other hand there’s the perfectly plausible argument from the even-handed Absent Proofreader that we’re merely looking at a guy dressed up as Jesus who is PORTRAYING Him while at the same time trying to drive a lawnmower downhill in front of townspeople while dragging a cart behind, blinded by the sun and wearing essentially a dress and a false beard and a wig. This in itself would be a considerable accomplishment, and the Slack Tide’s photographer has understandably not caught the intense pressure that would be felt by the innocent Member who is – at the same time – portraying someone who essentially commits suicide for the pleasure of a Guy who theoretically fathered him without actually penetrating Mom.

It’s all fraught with problems, it’s all deeper than it looks. In defense, over the years, I’ve come up with an antidote to the problem of Jesusers feeling slighted by Kwanzites, or Hebrites, or Pagites or Musites horning in on a holiday they consider theirs by virtue of an accident of nomenclature. My Holiday Peacemaker is called; “Let’s Put Jesus Back in Christmas.” And my plan involves simple lyric changes: When you peruse the following list, you’ll probably want to come up with some of your own.

“It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Jesus”
“I Saw Mommy Kissing Jesus”
“Jingle Jesus”
“O Come All Ye Jesus””
“O Little Town of Jesus”
“Walking in a Winter JesusLand”
“Here Comes Jesus, Here Comes Jesus,
Right Down Jesus Lane”
“Jesus We Have Heard on High”
“Deck the Halls with Boughs of Jesus”
“God Rest You, Merry Jesus”
“Silent Jesus”

Gather the kids, round up the neighbors, write in the changes on the sheet music and set out for some caroling.

Got a lawn mower? Ride it. ’tis the season.


The Last Shows

Big Blonde Smaller

The joys of being in a comedy group are few, but they are indeed precious and seem to be worth more to me these days than I ever thought they should. I was beginnning to feel that forty years of being in mine brought with it a stack of troubles hardly matched by any joys. By this time in the little tour, the show had reached the last of its evolutions. Things were set, almost rehearsed. And many more people than expected showed up at San Rafael to a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building shaped like an arc, with long rows of seats and no intersecting aisles, so if a person is late to the show and has been assigned a seat near the middle of the theater, he has to step apologetically over the many knees and shoes of quite a lot of people, destroying as well the view of quite a lot more behind. I suppose this is evidence that Wright had some small, Grecian sense of humor.

There is a large pond, a small lake, outside this Ark. Above broad lawns, Mt. Tamalpais looms the horizon and ducks settle down at sunset on the pond. Winter sunset, cars come in and park and people stand in brief lines and then stand around for a while looking for people they know and then they find their seats, sliding sideways to reach them for what seems an eternity. Backstage, there is no easy access from the dressing rooms which sit a floor above the stage on the right, to those on the left. Oona and I stake out the right stage for ourselves, after we learn that everyone else has moved into the left hand side, near the catering tables. We are briefly alone, isolated from the infighting. And the infighting has been intense. It’s hard for people to understand, even when they’ve been told a million and a half times, that people who do comedy are just as unhappy and fretful as anyone else and that they’re quite capable of bringing that worry and fretting to the creation of comedy. The Firesign Theatre, after forty years of working with itself, is more than especially prone to this behaviour, since none of the four members has permanently left the group. We’re stuck with each other, at this late date, and the horrifying prospect of people in their sixties and seventies continuing to engage in internicine fights with one another was hard upon me and the Big Blonde at this stage of the proceedings. That’s why I wanted to contrast such things with what happened to us after this show – which went very well, by the way – and on the general theme of friendships. Three people came to the show, each of whom contribute mightily to this blog, and as well Taylor Jessen and I were there, working on the FST show. With the addition of Oona, it meant that for a couple of quick minutes, there were six Blogofunknown contributors staring at each other. Mark Trail is huge, the man is at least, big. and he and Bernie and Len and Mark were pronounced – by Oona – to be “nice guys,” which is a huge compliment coming from someone surrounded by the Firesign Theatre. I was just bonkered for a couple of minutes. I’m most interested in writing and over the past couple of years, I’ve so enjoyed reading these guys and their stuff that I was momentarily starstruck. Taylor was up to his ears in aftershow duties, counting t-shirt revenues and so forth, and none of us got more than a few minutes with each other, but I want to say right here that I thought this meeting more than made up for anything negative I’d been feeling. I headed south, after this show, feeling much better about writing and humor and history than anytime in recent memory and if we’d had Rich and Richard Brown and the Intrepid Margolis family with us, we’d all have been staring. I realized that this blog had just released me, had just blasted me, and the ten or so of us who’ve hung in with each other here in this little blue world had indeed become friends. It’s just a literary group hug, but there it is. It makes me feel better, that’s for sure, and I left San Rafael that night a happier person than when we’d driven in a few hours before.

Out to the parking lot, carrying our stuff, and I’m thinking about how a dozen years or so ago, I’d been in the Bay Area by myself – O had to work down in Hollywood – and I’d had to stay up north in order to attend a Grateful Dead Concert in order to solidify my and the producers’ ties to the group, since we’d convinced them to go along with us on a comedy movie that would star the entire band, but which was originally designed to star John Candy about a man who goes to a Dead Concert. Menno, the producer, and I drove to the Oakland Venue with Bob Weir, Menno having driven – or was I driving, I forget – to Weir’s house to pick him up and then made it on the Earthquake Highway’s to Oakland. I sat with Senor Garcia before the show and I still have guitar string he took off his guitar as we talked. I got to stand out on stage and talk to Phil Lesh and look at his rig and his stack, I got to meet and talk a little to The Lyricist, but mostly I got to sit almost in the middle of the entire band as everyone came into Jerry’s black tent set up on stage left, and discuss exactly what they were going to do. The conversation was kind of:

Mickey: So, what’ya think?

Lesh: That thing in A, right?

Garcia: Well, I’ll do that D thing and then …

Weir: Faster…

Garcia: And then we’ll get into that other thing.

Bill: Do we want that thunk thunk thing again?

Mickey: Like the rehearsal?

The crowd outside is on their feet, screaming with anticipation, huge human scarecrow masque figures tower and sway over the crowd, and inside this little medieval soft cloth tent, I’m listening to:

Weir: I was thinking that we should …

Garcia: I want to do that in E.

Lesh: I can do that. Do you remember?

Hart: That’s what rehearsals are for.

Bill: We should do it.

Quick clasped hippie hands, I skoot for the sidelines, Menno and I stand under Lesh’s amps. We are in the dark and I watch an audience in its light and the band in theirs as the two meet and my head gets knocked forward by airpressure generated from the fingers of a guy with whom I not only share a first name, but who – a few months later – I will make sit in a plush suite at the Fairmont for two hours while I read aloud a screenplay I’ve written. He and Garcia and Weir, my little audience. A movie script is a long document and I’m supposed to be a comedy writer, in other words, I was hoping I could get a few laughs out of this little audience, or at least a grunt or two or three of approval. It was a performance, but all I had was a voice and my considerable reading skills and a hundred and ten pages of writing I wasn’t at all sure about. I got the job done, they laughed, they sat and listened and said they liked it. I’d sit on the floor sometimes in front of them, and read, or I’d get up and wander around, reading from a script like some guy in a Preston Sturgess movie who thinks he’s got the greatest idea for a screenplay in human history.

Me: We don’t have a title for it.

Garcia: We should call it, “The Dead Sell Out.”
It didn’t get made, but that’s seldom the point, down in Hollywood. You wrote it, that’s what counts, and it may be made into a story or a novel, or it may be sitting in a cardboard box in your garage in a water-stained cardboard box, but still, you wrote it.

And the Dead did.

And the Firesign Theatre did.

And doing something is better than not doing anything, and that’s why Oona is this month’s winner of the Blogofunknown “Genius” award, for being smart enough to realize that if we didn’t just charge in and start pushing and spending, these kids would be spending their nine and twelve and fourteen year-old Glorious Summer of Freedom in houses in which obese people smoke, in which families have been shattered and true uncertainty reigns. Watching them in Hollywood is fun, as they turn a little browner every day, each one of the little porkers visibly losing weight. Wrapped in towels, they stare at the high-speed world of “Need For Speed” in all it’s fender-smashing glory, adeptly tapping the controls, watching, intent, learned. They spend hours in our little pool and Oona has become the self-styled “Swim Nazi,” she and I both realizing why we had spent all that time on swim teams in our own youths, as we teach and watch all four kidz get that feeling for the water and for speed and grace that have enriched our lives. It passes on, it turns out, and now I realize why I got that brief national record when I was fourteen, me and my three buddies on the relay team – the Mealiffe twins and Hal Coulter and me, (the slowest of the four) – that broke the – get this – national record. I have authority with the little bastards because of this and besides, she and I still look like a million bucks in the water. We both hated competition, but we loved the grace and the flow and the ease that comes with water familiarity and watching the kidz get it ??? well, you can imagine how good we feel. They were good in the Suburban on the two day trip down and they got to go to Universal on the rides and Esther, the Sainted Esther, took them and her kids to Zuma beach for the day, but mostly they are in our pool and thank Submariner we’ve got such a thing. Ah, Hollywood. Ah, Fresno. Ah, Tacoma. We’re going to go to the Redwoods on the way back and I’m going to get to watch them look up at the Gigantic Trees and hopefully we’ll get to camp at least one night at Gold Bluffs beach where they will see the huge Roosevelt Elks and maybe see the Giant Whales swimming and where they will see what a wild beach is really like.

And so at night, coming out of a theater somewhere near the Bay, I’m remembering after that concert in Oakland, that night, as we looked for a place to eat and drove – Weir, Meyjes and I – to Berkeley to a restaurant that turned out to be closed, and talked to Garcia who was alone in a huge black limo idling in the empty parking lot. He didn’t go with the rest of us to – I swear, Denny’s in Mill Valley – and we drove away and I’ll never forget this lonely man, this genius, idling alone with his driver – and there is, as is said in the style of Rudyard Kipling, no greater loneliness than this, my children, my beloveds.

I’m not lonely, as it turns out, as my life turns out. I’m the opposite, pretty damn full. Full up. Full of it. Fullness itself, that’s me. And busy.


The State of Jefferson and Old Friends and New Friends

I like this one, but then I like them all

This painting is by Oona Austin and it ain’t half what she does.

We drove down from Mystery Island, Island of Mysteries, after dropping the kidz back with their Hopefully Clean Mom and her Hopefully Employed Boyfriend and tearful farewells in which the message that we had to go to work in order that we might pay their (now our) mortgage may or may not have struck a rational chord. When you’re eight, life extends five minutes ahead of you and about two days behind. Most of what adults have to say, good or bad, does not fit comfortably in that frame and so can safely be ignored. Off we go. We drive away from their little house that hopefully will not fill up with Meth manufacturing or witchcraft, in which the hopes and fears of all the years will not come in one night, in which – the only real hope we’ve got – some vague memory will cut through years from now that those people – that Philip and that Oona – were pretty much fun and always told me I was smart and yet a lot of fun but that I was smart and that it was fun to be smart.

The Big Blonde has not fully understood the huge burden she’s taken on (I’m writing this a year later) and she thankfully starts concentrating on the Firesign Theatre show, now that she’s sat through three of the shows without doing any of her usual jobs. She’s been so busy with the kids and buying their house out of foreclosure that she hasn’t been a part of this show. For years she’s either stage managed, directed, lit, merchandised or some other huge job for the FST tours and this is the first one where she’s a little like me, sitting on stage being reflective. She’s free to just think for a minute and as we drive down through Oregon, into Jefferson, heading for our favorite and usual motel at Mt. Shasta, she starts to turn her attention to the fact that we’ve got three California shows to do: the first at the Heritage in San Jose, the second at the Marin Frank Lloyd Wright theater in San Rafael and the third at the Cerritos Center in Los Angeles. She’s made notes and we laugh and talk down Rte. 5 through south Washington and North Oregon and into the imaginary State of Jefferson before we hit California truly, which is about Redding or Red Bluff.

Oona, of all the people married to one or another of The Four of Us, is the one allowed by All to walk into the middle of our sacred life, our writing. Melinda, who thankfully married Mr. Proctor, feels free to direct us in our limited acting skills and she and Oona have formed a team over the last ten or fifteen years to try and bring us into some kind of performing mode that seems reasonable by Normal Human Standards, but only Oona dares face us down on writing choices. We’re all so verbal and she’s used to movie sets and the result is usually her hopping up and down in place, usually on stage at an afternoon rehearsal:

“Yes, yes, yes, yes,” she’ll say, literally hopping up and down in place, “but here’s what I want you to think about. Couldn’t you …? Why don’t you …? It’s just stupid and criminal that you don’t …” and so forth. For some reason that I think only I understand, everyone listens to her, everyone fills in for her, her love for the four of us so obvious that her points get made. She’s something to watch, that’s for sure.

Volcano Shasta and the hills of Jeffersonia

Entering Jefferson, the Twilight State, its State Mascot the rusted Moodonna, the Iron Governor, who presides over a State House filled with bales of hay, heading for yet another spooky volcano, in this case Shasta. The Evil Volcanos line the Pacific coast, of course, from the Cascades down into the Sierras, each one of them more wonderful, more beautiful, more stately, more placid, more evil than the next. Only St. Helen’s has blown in living memory and if Tahoma or Lassen or Mammoth Lakes or Hood ever goes, we probably won’t survive, the lot of us tectonic travelers. The Bombshell and I stay regularly right under Shasta at a motel we’re booked into so often that we’ve made friends with the staff to the point of exchanged xmas cards and knowledge of families and friends. Meg, who works in the office, just had knees replaced and Connie, who works in the restaurant just lost her mom. Meg always gives us 214 and the dogs run in the thick snow out in back among the big trees and below the stunning white mountain. We always go to Lalo’s restaurant and get the same wonderful shredded beef tacos and talk to Lalo a little about his other restaurants in Weed and – I forget – not Happy Camp, but somewhere near and then eat back at the motel. We fall asleep watching the weather channel, happy if we’re heading north and anxious if we’re heading south. We make this almost twelve hundred mile trip at least six times a year and it’s become a large part of our life. We have side trips, like Gold Bluffs beach, when we have the time, but we’ve come to think that, in a way, we live in the State of Jefferson. We often fantasize that we’ll buy the abandoned Shamrock Bar and Restaurant outside of Yreka (it seems to be on Easy Street) and we always call Barry and Peg Conner (or they call us because they not only live in LA, but also have a home in Grant’s Pass Oregon) as we pass Moodonna and we all think how happy we are up north and how conflicted we are down south, down there in the film business and all it’s attendant concerns, the main one being that none of the four of us has made enough money in it to quit and move permanently north. The mystical State of Jefferson means a lot to us, and Oona and I regularly price land north of Shasta and think how much we like that country. We’re overstretched though, with two homes twelve hundred miles apart, the kidz up north and work down south, a love for the desert of Sonora and the mysteries of south Utah, the tenthousand east feet of the Sierras and ???. ah, well. We travel a lot and we love Shasta, whether it blows or not.

The Bay Area is a mixed problem, I always think. I used to live there, I grew up in Fresno where, when you say “The City” you don’t mean Los Angeles, two of our best friends in the world – the Alexanders – live in Tiburon, the Firesign Theatre has done many shows there and in fact lots of people think we’re a product of KPFA wheras in fact, we’re out of KPFK and the densities of the South. We head first for a beautiful theater in San Jose.

The best thing about this performance is the appearance – in line in the autograph signings we do at the end of shows – of two people I haven’t seen since high school, veterans of the first grade at the Fresno State Experimental Elementary School; (Dr.) Les Naman and Jack (formerly Jackie) Globenfelt, now director of a prestigious theater in Carmel, California. First grade. Yikes.

(This is actually our class in second grade and I’m not in it, of course, but there they are, there we are. Can you find Jack and Les? I can.)

I’d been corresponding with Jack for a while and he’d been nice enough to send me pictures of our gradeschool days (see above) and share a bit of his interesting life with me, but still, I was completely flummoxed to see them. First grade. Yikes. Do I need to repeat it? First grade, Yikes. I’m sixty- four and they’ve got to be about the same. What the hell happened?

First grade friends are much like third-grade friends and although my whacky mother made me skip the second grade and moved my third-grade ass to a new school, I still get the willies seeing Les and Jack. And today Oona and I got the full third-grade treatment because on the first day after the ten days of Spring Break in which we’ve had the kids – the boys only – for the entire time, we volunteered to chaperone the third and fourth-grade class field trip to the Most Depressing Museum in the Northwest. Let me ask you this: when’s the last time you rode on a school bus for an hour going and an hour coming back? For me, it was this day, a year or so after the performance at San Jose in which I was performing for two people, it turns out, two guys who used to play out Winnie the Pooh stories with me under the hedges that surrounded the Elementary School of the Insane in Fresno, California in the late Forties of the lamented Last Century.

Our twins, Ben and Carter, got us up at six, off to school, onto the school bus with sixty or so kids and ten or so adults. Up in the morning and off to school, the teacher is teaching the golden rule ???. or so said Chuck Berry back in the days when Les and Jack and I were first-graders. Except, what happened to teaching the golden rule on the same day that Nick, our teenager, had to go to a school that, the week before, had been the subject of national news stories in which four kids were booked on suspicion of plotting to burn down the school and murder teachers and students? Nick and I had been on the internet, got Sara Green who writes for the Seattle Times to tell us everything she knew, were vaguely reassured that at least this day would be safe for him, but still ???.you’ve got to worry that the doing to others as they might do to you might have dire consequences here in the Bush Age.

The object of the field trip was the Naval Undersea Museum on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, about an hour away from the Minter Creek Elementary School, and a more grey, windowless, spooky environment couldn’t have been dreamed up by even Artists of the Insane. Like all museums, however, it had a couple of surreal moments and these were my favorites: in a room devoted to the onship life of the poor trapped submariners, between the sinkings of Japanese ships, presumably, you sleep in something called a Berthing Compartment. In the demonstration of what a submariner might store in his tiny womb, there lay a copy of Tony Hillernan’s “Skinwalkers.” Great reading for a berthing. And in another corner, in the section devoted to the wives and families who wait in fear that something might leak in their husbands’ and fathers’ compartments, was a notice that read, in bold type, “After the euphoria of homecoming, husbands and wives face the intricate task of re-establishing relationships” and another detailing the “7 emotional stages of deployment.”
Wow. After the euphoria of murdering your classmates, you face the difficult task of re-establishing relationships. And we got back on the bus and third-graded our way back home, presumably the eighth or ninth emotional stage of deployment. Don’t get me started. Stop me.

I suffer from Turing Syndrome, which I define as the inability to ignore your own revelations.

The cure is to listen to Ben and Carter. Here’s Ben: “The sky is right up to my face,” and Carter: “I can’t get any happier.”
The school bus glides through the tunnel in the tall green trees, the kids shriek and laugh with Oona, Les and Jack are sitting with me, I think, behind Donna the bus driver. We are kind to one another, in my berthing compartment, back in Fresno, pulling the honeysuckle flowers off the vines that cover the fences around the school, biting off the tips and drinking the sweet nectar and inside the classroom there’s a big model of an Anasazi village and a teacher upset that I’d brought a rubber lizard to school, earnest college students observing us little guys, a tape recorder where I first learned that my voice and my ability to read could get me onto the radio. Under the watchful eyes.

Not underwater. Thinking, though.

We took the boys first-time snowboarding the week before. We got up on the mountain twice that week. The snow was wonderful. The Bombshell, as you can see, was happy. The kids flew down the hill and almost learned to turn. The water was frozen, the skinwalkers were absent, the revelations were immense, the sun shone.


Next post I’ll continue on with the last two shows.


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.