Skits n Skates - July Vacation Report
A scene from the Tassajara July 4th parade. Thanks to Tom Reichert for these four photos - two in the middle and one at the end of this article.
Clay and I had a swell time on our recent trip to Tassajara and Southern CA.
He'd been at his mother's family reunion in Atlanta, mainly in the water of Lake Altoona. I drove to meet him up at SFO, arriving there an hour and a half before he was scheduled to arrive and two hours before he'd been rescheduled to arrive according to the United flight info monitor.
I ran into the security wall - you can't go to gates anymore I learned, unless you're doing something exceptional like picking up someone under thirteen years old. Clay's plenty savvy and didn't need me to be at the gate. There are places to sit and read and eat outside of the secure area, but it's more fun to get in there. So I went to the United counter and, thinking carefully about his age and making sure not to give incorrect information, said that my son, whom I was meeting, was a dozen years old. I got a special pass and a note and showed the pass and gave the note to a woman at the beginning of the baggage line where I took off my shoes and belt and removed my wallet with lone surviving credit card, spiffy red cell phone, folded piece of paper and pen (with thin shaft suitable for scratching inside ear) and put them all into a container, and passed the metal detector test.
Once seated in an overpriced and under-qualified eating establishment, I set my just-purchased San Francisco Chronicle in front of me. I reached for the small, silver, oval case I kept my reading glasses in. Not in that pocket. I frisked myself. Nowhere. Remembered it hadn't been there at the metal detector. I can read without them with some difficulty which differs according to the light and how much I've slept. But there was time and I wanted the glasses and it's fun to walk about so I went back out to the non secure area and to the top floor of the parking lot, the one with the sky for a ceiling.
Soon I was back down in the terminal bowels showing my pass to a woman at the entry to the secure area who said that won't do - I'd have to get another note. Back to the United counter to learn that you can't get two security clearances in a day without talking to the FBI. I said I'd be happy to talk to the FBI, but if that was too much trouble I was sure my little boy would find his way to me in the busy airport. The female United employee looked concerned, possibly imagining a five year old, and told me to wait a minute and soon returned with a new pass which I showed to the woman at the entry to the secure area. She said it wasn't signed. I returned to the United counter and got it signed. The cheerful, hard-working employees joked with me about having to take my shoes and belt and all off again and quizzed me as to why I was going through twice.
I mused over a report I'd heard on Air America about inconsistencies in security operations at airports. As I remember it, pilots, stewardesses, and passengers have to go through the same security line, but the people who check us don't, and the people who are cleaning the toilets and selling food and stuff also don't have to. I might have some of this wrong, but there were those who did and didn't go through security. That was the Boston airport they were talking about on the radio. As I walked back to the restaurant to order oatmeal, poached eggs, and tea, I tried to remember if they'd said it was that way at all airports in America or just in Boston. Anyway, I had an image of our airports having thick, strong, well-guarded walls in front that one could walk around without much trouble if one had a mind to do so.
The arriving flights info monitor said Clays flight would now arrive fifteen minutes before the last rescheduled time I'd seen. Had they caught a tail wind mid flight that blew them in a little faster? And what time was it? One thing that airports have in common with gambling casinos, and I relate to them in a strangely similar way, is no clocks. At least I can't find any. I've heard that there are no clocks in airports because they're afraid of getting sued by someone who missed an important meeting or lost all sorts of money because of the airport's faulty clock. I guess they haven't told the folks at Sprint who fearlessly display the time on their cell phones, at least on mine. Almost never having worn a watch, I almost forget this also timepiece in my pocket which made up for the clocklessness around me. I don't remember this in other countries' airports though I've had a timeless feeling walking around in their vast spaces. I got an idea. Maybe Sprint could get a contract to do airport clocks. Everybody in airports is concerned about time and it seems terribly selfish of them, the airport authorities, and paranoid of them and cowardly and irresponsible of them not to post the time prominently displayed all over. No wonder trial lawyers get a bad rep. So Sprint could just put satellite fed clocks everywhere and make a bundle of money and if one goes wrong at some time that causes someone to loose a billion dollars, then Sprint would have to say they're very sorry and won't do it again.
And then there was Clay coming out of the gate, his sheep-dog hair covering his eyes. I didn't think he'd see me but he did and came running up to me and… bam! - slugged me in the stomach.
At the baggage ride Clay said he'd been surprised to see me at the gate and I said I would have had to wait outside for him if he wasn't a dozen years old. He looked at me, insulted, and then I explained to him what a baker's dozen is.
Southward toward Tassajara. After wandering around the many-doored Winchester Mystery House in San Jose (with its infamous curse on the workers that, if Madam Winchester died, they'd be out of a job), it was off to a late day with Monterrey youth at a skateboard park, a coffee shop with teens cruising by outdoor tables and calling enticingly to each other, fierce Hackensack matches, and down the street and around the corner, Spiderman II, the later which I didn't inform Clay that I didn't find as entertaining as he and so many critics did.
We drove on. Every time we stopped to buy gas or whatever, he'd get out and go zooming around on his skateboard. He thought I was paranoid because I tried to disassociate myself from him when he did so. He was right. I feared public scorn.
Tassajara was pleasant and harmonious as always. Clay and I got right into the swing of things, him knifing vegetables in the kitchen and me washing guest dishes. Actually, Clay went straight to the Narrows and waited till day two to show up for work, something which was fine with the authorities. This is the first year since Clay was nine that he hasn't worked full time. At least he tried not to and was successful for a bit. He's more independent now so he'd no hesitation of going down the creek alone and making new friends at the pools and slides of the Narrows. But before long, drawn by his love of camaraderie and young people who know more about drugs and sex than him (not that there's any of that going on there), he was working the evening dining room shift, which starts at four, and which brought him back to full time employment. I remember when he first discovered the joy of working with others, you couldn't keep him out of the kitchen. Not long after he'd started helping out there, he came up to me in the dish shack crying because he said they wouldn't let him work in the afternoon (remember, he was nine). I went into the kitchen and talked to someone and came back to him to explain that he couldn't work now because his shift was still on break. That was sweet. And every year he's had to again convince some kitchen workers who hadn't worked with him there before that he knows how to use knives.
I wish he'd work this way at home. Tassajara casts a spell on him He's gone to evening zazen since he was ten. Also, this year, about half way through our stay, he started doing the morning zazen schedule in addition to the evening. Before he's just done that the last day. Pardon me for bragging. He has plenty of faults which I'll enumerate later, but I've seen very few boys work as young as him. I can only think of one right now. His older brother Kelly actually started working two years younger than him, at seven, and like Clay, without being asked to, just wanting to join in. But I've never seen a boy sit zazen as young as Clay did. Not consistently. Ken Berman was a full time student at 15 and Leland Smithson at 16, that's what I remember. But thirteen, I ain't seen that before. And again, no one asked him to or even encouraged Clay to sit. I've really enjoyed seeing both my boys fit in so well at Tassajara in the summer. I've seen girls do these things, but not boys. Maybe I've begot mutants. Neither of them were taught any overbearing work ethic at home. Not at all, though their parents are industrious. Usually if a kid in my care refuses to do something I just do it myself. Kelly was much better at working at home. Clay will do something in that regard if he absolutely has to or if I threaten him.
I remember once Kelly at a very young age spilled some milk in the Zen Center snack kitchen. I told him to clean it up right away and he said "No!" rebelliously. I said okay, that then I'd do it. That was met with mild protest from a couple of peers till I explained that I'm Neillian, as in A.S. Neill who founded Summerhill and who believed that children should learn things in their own time. He said that children were naturally selfish and it distorted them to try to make them unselfish. Neill was really against telling kids to say thank you. He said they'd learn to say thank you by hearing others say it and doing it when they started wanting to. For seven years I sat in front of my house in Sebastopol and dolled out candy to trick-or-treaters on Halloween and I remember the parents calling from the street, "Say thank you," and then the child or children saying "thank you." There was no learning curve at all. It just repeated itself over and over and over through the evenings and through the years. And in his own time Kelly became superb at cleaning up, saying thank you, and a great deal more.
I've always been skeptical about encouraging kids to sit zazen and go to some Sunday school facsimile though I guess any poor kid that's around me has to listen to me ramble on about Buddhism and whatever I'm into at the time. I remember Kelly saying to me after I'd made some particularly cogent point, "Ah Dad, that's just one of your philosophies." Clay says, "Thank you. That was fascinating. (And putting his earphones on) Now back to Modest Mouse." So why did Clay get into zazen? Maybe one factor is that since he was a baby I have sat zazen next to him when he was falling asleep and after he was asleep. As he became verbal I'd tell him a story and then sit. If he fell asleep while I was reading and I tried to run off without sitting, I'd frequently hear, "Sit zazen, Daddy." When Elin would read him to bed I'd also get a call (often over the intercom in my office) to come and sit zazen.
Clay says he's not a Buddhist (in fact he ridicules Buddhism) and is just doing the work and sitting because that's what's happening. It's true, he has no visible bodhicitta, none of the thirst for enlightenment that seems to propel most grown or almost grown students. He tends to bond with the young students and they're doing it so he does it. It reminds me in a round-about way of Suzuki saying that the best way to come to practice is to have it forced on you like having your family put you into a monastery or following your father's footsteps - something that would have meaning in Japanese culture, especially older Japanese culture, but also today. I think Suzuki may have been quoting Dogen but he'd seen it in his own experience as well. I remember wincing when I heard that but I think the point is that if one is just doing the practice out of duty or just going along that one will have fewer compulsive and idealistic thoughts running through the noggin, like ideas about enlightenment and attainment. So there's less to drop.
Rest assured that if you talk to either of my sons they will just tell you in their own way that I'm a bad influence and that, whereas their problems are my fault, whatever good qualities they have are their own doing and were cultivated in spite of the obstacles created by this parental unit. Still we have fun and I have left on them only modest psychological scars and no legally damning physical ones.
The weather at Tassajara was blessedly cooler than usual. Our friend Dennis, who was there handy-manning for the same ten days as we, said maybe we should say Global Weather Change instead of Global Warming. It was perfect - fine for swimming and my favorite, creek-walking. Clay and I walked down the creek to the narrows but I was so into stopping, looking around me, and thinking about the past, and he was so into zooming on, that we were quickly out of earshot of each other. He said he kept slipping and tripping which made him angry so he left the water and took the trail. I just plopped along and at one point jumped onto a rock with a snake that looked just like a rattlesnake without a rattle. I guess it was a king snake but it could have been a rattler who lost its rattle. I've seen, much to my dismay, rattlers on rocks in creeks, rocks surrounded by water that the venomous snakes had to swim to. Horrors. The head of this critter was pretty triangular. Its tail was thin and didn't look quite right. I meant to look at some books in the library when I got back to Tassajara but forgot. I can still do it on the Internet. I'm seen rattle snakes many times. I used to catch them and drive them up the road and let them out. They're pretty docile, but you don't want to jump on top of one.
Clay and I took a hike to the Wind Caves on a day off and the most unusual thing happened there after we'd eaten and were sitting in the shade, me reading, him listening to music. I heard an approaching sound that I conjured in my mind to be two dirt bikes coming up the narrow path from below. But as it became too loud for that image to explain it, I visualized this growing din to come from a helicopter floating overhead, its sound being thrown down into the canyon by whatever strange laws of sound physics that were in play. I looked up at Clay in his adjoining cave-let. He who had been enjoying the view with Bob Marley, removed his earphones, and, hearing what I heard, had a look of bepuzzlement on his face. There was no time for either of us to say anything before our query was answered as the noise rapidly grew louder and closer and as from below a massive wall of bees arose and flew right before our faces up, up, up and over the cliff above our heads and was gone, the ominous buzzing trailing off into the distance. Sighs of relief. "Glad they didn't come in here," said Clay in a fervently shared understatement. I'd seen bees swarming in a ball, but never flying fast like that in a sheet. I said it seemed like fifty feet wide and at least twice that long, but the shock of it ruled out any accuracy of measurement. "Tens of thousands," said Clay. A unique experience.
Clay and I voted on whether to continue on to Church Creek Ranch and creek it back to Tassajara and he out-voted me to return by the trail we came on which would undoubtedly take much less time. I think he was against it because he'd gotten so mad slipping on rocks and falling in the creek a few days before. Lucky for us both. When we returned, we only had time to wring out and hang up our pre-soaking laundry and go to dinner. If we'd done what I wanted we would have come rock-hopping back in bleeding and exhausted as it got dark - like what happened last year when we went up Tassajara creek for six hours - till it was a few feet wide on a high plane with impenetrable poison oak and brush on both sides - and kept on going, at times crawling through scratching branches of fallen trees, until Clay sagely suggested that if we didn't turn around, he feared we'd be spending the night out there. Sometimes I lack good judgment and am grateful for those around me not so inflicted. Incidentally, that walk took us past some incredible swimming holes, one with a cable leading up to the top of a giant boulder and waterfall. I wondered who had put that old rusted cable in (that cut my hand). Surely there was some closer access than Tassajara or Church Creek.
The July 4th parade was pretty wacky as it was last year. There were a few students who made up a snaking dragon, an impromptu band in the back of a pickup, strange cardboard box masks of sociopathic politicians, humorous peace signs, bamboo spirits, and Kokaku's mudmobile with various designs and admonitions wiped and painted on it and Clay atop with with bandana tied to his head drumming on a stainless pan and sitting behind a piece of plywood with the words painted on it "Clay is better than mud." Those not in the parade lined the road and shouted praises. I felt the parade aptly expressed a celebration of freedom of expression and freedom from divinely ordained kings who force their nation to go to war for eccentric purposes, both dear to the hearts of our nation's revolutionary founders.
That night there were thirty-eight skits followed by a dance at the yurt way out at Grasshopper Flats that no one else my age made it to. I didn't get there till toward the end cause I'd gone back to finishing up guest dishes after the skits were over, and if there was anything wild going on it ended before I got there.
As for the skits, they get better and better as the years go by, and they were pretty tight because there were so many - a lot of them weren't skits but songs and poems. I liked it when Meiya played her evil twin sister Maya. Dennis and I enjoyed some of the show from the edge of the upper garden while enjoying our 2nd annual July 4th bottle of clandestine red. As for Clay's and my contribution, I wrote a song for the occasion in the hours before called Dissolving Me which Clay had never heard. He scoffed at me when I suggested he hear it before we perform, an attitude I've found in good musicians through the years. Anyway, while Clay beat away at some upended containers and resonant boards that he'd turned into another nifty drum set, I sang the tune while playing some minimal base notes on the guitar. Wish I could put down the sounds but here's the words:
Here by the Tassajara Creek
Beneath an elder alder tree
Massaged by late day breeze
Oh - before the song I did a Rosanne Rosanadanna type SNL News commentary, using Gilda Radner's wacky formula. Clay and his drums were situated most comfortably on a rug on the gravel walk above the assembled students and guests. I looked this over and shook my head disapprovingly and scolded him and said that he shouldn't be on the rug, that he was breaking a very important rule of society and I didn't want to break any of society's rules and had agreed to - Dare to keep kids off rugs. And I went on about that, in the vein that the dear late comedienne did, saying I didn't know why it was so important, but it was something that we were supposed to do so I was doing it, or daring to do it, trying to be a good citizen daring to keep kids off rugs. But, I went on somewhat peeved, when I was a kid we always used to play on rugs and it had been that way for, I suppose, thousands of years until this new movement to keep kids off rugs.
And then Clay cut me off and said condescendingly that it wasn't "Dare to keep kids off rugs," it was "Dare to keep kids off drugs," and went "Oh" and then after an embarrassed pause, "Never-mind."
And then Clay improvised a little coda and said I always do things like this, that yesterday it was dare to keep kids off slugs and before that it was dare to keep kids off bugs and he repeated to me, enunciating clearly, that it was drugs we had dared to keep him off of and then I told him, okay, no more caffeinated sodas.
Bye the bye, my home in Sebastopol had a sign on the front door that read, "Dare to stop the war on drugs." I wouldn't put anything like that on a car. For cars I prefer bumper stickers like (and I really saw this once and tried to get one but it was too late) Parity Pay for Highway Patrol.
Dare I continue? Sure. At last years Tassajara July 4th festivities, our skit was more complicated. It started with Clay playing and singing a little song on the guitar - I really like the sound of a sixth cord he used - where he goes, "She is Mary, he is Charlie, she is Melissa" and on like that calling out people's names and then I walk by and he goes, "He is David. He is stupid. He is ugly, He is a hypocrite," and stuff like that and I tell him to stop it or he knows what will happen to him and he gets all scared and pleads, "No, not eternal hellfire and damnation!" and gets all freaked out and then Sonya came up and whispered something in his ear and he gets really indignant and starts yelling at me that he's just learned that there's no concept of eternal hellfire and damnation in Buddhism and that I've been lying to him and I've ruined his life, he'll be tormented forever and I say I had to figure out some way to control him and that's just what priests have done through the centuries. Then he says he's going to tell everyone my little secret. I can't remember what that was about - something silly having to do with women's underwear or something. And then I sang a song called Everyday is a Good Day.
One more skit. There were skits at morning work meetings leading up to skit night on July 4th that were as good as the skits on that night, skits that encouraged people to get their skits together. This year Clay and I did a surprise parting skit at the morning work meeting the day we left. There were about eighty students there. All our stuff was in the car and all of Dennis' in his truck. The first thing at the morning work meetings is that new people say hello and the second is that those who are going to leave that day say goodbye. So we said goodbye and then there was an announcement and in the pause before the next announcement, sweet little Clayton started to cry. People looked at him with concern.
"Don't cry Clayton," I said. "We'll be coming back to Tassajara next year."
"It's not that," he said, trying to control his sobs. "It's you and mommy." Sympathetic oohs came from the circle.
Unsympathetically I barked at him, "Now just because it's your fault that your mother and I got divorced, is no reason for you to be a whining crybaby!"
At this Clay started screaming that he hadn't realized it was his fault and that "I hate you. You're a fat, abusive, alcoholic, wanna-be priest! You're horrible! I'm staying here!"
I go, "Oh, okay, bye," unconcerned, and turn and walk off. After two seconds he says, "Wait, I've got to get my CDs!"
He catches up with me, we turn and say, "Goodbye!" and everyone said goodbye to us and we were off. Hey, it's not just a monastery, it's a fun place.
And incidentally, Clay came up with the final wording of the line about it being his fault while we were trying out different offensive accusations for shock value.
Up top Dennis and I enjoyed the annual departing Tassajara panoramic view bottle of beer. Later there was the first annual Carmel Valley latte at that place almost next door to the Stirrup Cup. I wanted a paper and wanted to pay for the tab but they didn't take cards or have papers so I went down to the convenience store and flashed my ATM card to the guy behind the counter and, holding up a newspaper, asked him if they had cash back. "Six dollar minimum," he nodded. So I got some orange juice and water and beer for the trip and he rung it up as I held the newspaper and I asked for twenty dollars cash back and he said, "No cash back," and I said that that was the whole point and we went back and forth without connecting on that. So I said, "Okay, I give up. I'll get the cash at the ATM at the service station down the street. And he said, "You're taking the paper. I didn't charge you for the paper." I said. "Well charge me for it," and he said, "Six dollar minimum." I said, "Listen, I came in here for two things: the newspaper and cash back. Do you think we're having a communication problem?" "Do you want to pay cash for the newspaper?" he said. At that point, I looked at him and realized that he was quite likely from a place I'd spent quite a bit of time the previous fall and with this exchange I felt transported back to that exotic land. "Are you from India?" I asked. "Yes sir, I am," he said. I nodded and smiled in approval.
After a nostalgic lunch at Nepenthe in Big Sur (with cost of expansive ocean view included in the bill), there was a failed attempt to get into Esalen to show Clay around. Don't know anyone there anymore though. I used to have a lifetime pass given me by dearly departed director and co-founder Dick Price, but in the mid eighties on the way to Tassajara I lost that wallet forever to a theater floor. Anyway, they're hard asses at Esalen. Must get a lot of folks like me dropping names and saying they just want to look around. Next time I'll come prepared.
As we drove off there was a colorful older woman hitchhiking and I did a Uey [How do you spell that? It's cool talk for a U-turn.] to go back and get her. She'd been attending an Enneagram workshop and she didn't drive and there was no convenient mass transit from Esalen. She entertained Clay and me with Enneagramatic analysis and we gave her a tour of satellite radio and we ended up taking her all the way to La Jolla where she lived though she had no idea of how to get from one place to another so after an hour of driving around looking for something familiar she tried to put us up at the Banana Bungalow which was just like some backpacker place you'd find in Thailand but no one under 18 could stay there so she put us up at a nice motel. Nice of her.
The following week Clay and I lollygagged on beaches, mainly Venice Beach, him boogie and skim and skate boarding, and me briefly getting wet and then reading, wandering about, getting a bit of a burn, drinking margaritas, people-watching. We also went to La Jolla Shores on the way to LA and Zuma Beach on the way out. Venice was not so good for the water but was great for skate boarding with no helmet rule, a police station within view, and all sorts of kids for Clay to hang with. We saw some great free rap contest where a white guy who seemed to be from NYC trashed all the fast rappin' black guys and it was sort of frightening and neat because they're trying to see who can insult the other the fastest and coolest and rhyminest and this East Coast guy was just dynamite and it was neat because everyone, including the guy who lost to him according to audience response, laughed and high-fived him. Clay and I and I small interested crowd watched as some really hostile black guy was verbally tearing up this younger Hispanic guy, telling him whose territory it was and getting really threatening and nasty and the other guy finally started to get more of a word in and after a while what had seemed like a fight in the making evolved into them rapping insults at each other and everyone laughing and being good-natured. I wasn't sure what I'd seen but it was pretty cool. Watched guys built like our governor pumping iron. The famed, turbaned, roller-blading, electric guitarist serenaded folks at the Sidewalk Café.
I'd met a couple of ZCLA board members who were guests at Tassajara and one of them, the esteemed Tom Reichert, arranged for Clay and me to stay at the ZCLA which is in the Korean section of town. I hadn't been there in years. It was delightful and comfortable and they had zazen and service in the morning and oryoki breakfast, something I hadn't done since maybe '88 and which Clay had never done but which he took to like a turkey to straw. [Oryoki - cloth wrapped, nested bowls and utensils used in ceremonial Zen meals, older than its descendent tea ceremony] The first morning at ZCLA we joined in on communal work and the second was a most enjoyable chat under the shade of trees with Wendy Egyoku Nakao Roshi, their abbot. Check them out at www.zencenter.org.
One day Clay and I went to Zenshuji, the Soto Zen temple for Japanese Americans, and, after saying hi to Bishop Akiba, head of real Japanese Soto Zen in America (the rest of us are sort of post-Soto changelings) - I think he's called Bishop. Maybe Sensei or Roshi. I didn't know so I introduced Clay to him as Akiba Sama, a very polite form of address. There Clay and I met up with Kazumitsu Kato also known as Wako Kato and Dr. Kato. Check out his interview. He was the priest who was taking care of Sokoji when Shunryu Suzuki arrived in America and he met Suzuki at the airport. Dr. Kato is still writing and gives regular talks at Zenshuji. He was the first and he's the last of the Japanese priests who were here with Suzuki. All the others that I can think of have died. We had a warm, friendly talk and lunch. He gently pointed out two mistakes from the interview - one that I'd said he was running Sojiji (instead of Sokoji) when Suzuki came to be abbot. Sojiji is one of Soto Zen's two large training temples in Japan. And two I'd misspelled his name. Oops.
After lunch Clay and I went to the La Brea Tar Pits which is pretty neat and which actually has another name. There was real tar coming up into the lawn in a few places. And there are giant ground sloth statues on the grounds.
We visited a friend at a studio where they do post production work on TV ads, rock videos, and movie previews and, upon entering, I signed a disclaimer without reading it that according to my friend attested to the fact that this business didn't exist. Then we met with three other buddy engineers who work with movies mainly and had sushi and talked, confident in the knowledge that we are all much saner and cleaner inside and out than we used to be. That evening ended amidst a pride of polished classic cars, their owners, and admirers. Randy Newman's I Love LA played from a passing Cadillac convertible.
One day we visited an old Fort Worth friend in Hollywood, Shirley Hillard who's made paintings, crafts, craft centers, plays, movies, musicals, and is now working on some wonderful children's books. She also served us Buffalo burgers. Not far from her condo, Clay and I walked around looking at the stars on the pavement and then got a map and went looking for their homes, the high point of which was seeing the Osborne's. But we didn't see Ozzie or any of his family. Clay kept hoping to catch someone famous drive out of a driveway and I told him it does happen if you're in the area and told him of the three actors I've had chance encounters with down there.
One was a famous dwarf actor I met on a bus there a long time ago. I recognized him and we had a nice talk. Don't remember his name. The second was a famous American Indian actor. I recognized who he was right away but had to ask his name and don't remember it now. He had an old convertible. He picked me up hitchhiking and said he'd drive me where I wanted to go for a drink. How about more than one drink? I suggested. I happened to be staying in a fancy, for me, hotel room at the time. I was working for state government and traveling with my boss, the late and most beloved Col. Jack Dugan who was at the time the deputy director of the California Conservation Corps. We each had our own room. I was hitchhiking because he'd left me stranded somewhere so he could do something secret and there ain't very good mass transit there. Jack walked into the hotel and had a note to go to the bar where I introduced him to my new friend and we thanked Jack, generous to a fault, for the drinks he was buying us as I'd put them on his room tab. He joined us.
The third star I met by accident deserves his own paragraph because I've run into him three times. I would rather have run, I must confess, into someone else, like Sally Fields, but I should not be ungrateful to fate for any small gifts. The first time I saw him was my first night in LA, at an all night hamburger place on Sunset Strip I believe. I had no place to stay and was just wandering around all night. I did have an offer from a wild looking group in a limo to come with them and a guy in back said, "Come in here with me honey and I'll suck your peepee." But I said no thanks and didn't go with them and ended up at one point next to this movie star. It was Jack Palance. He was sitting several stools away from me with no one between us and he was concentrating on his meal. I didn't bother him or stare at him because I believe in using good manners. The second time that I was next to Mr. Palance was in an elevator at the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas in the mid eighties. It was just the two of us. Not at that time, but later, recalling being in that elevator with Jack Palance would make me think of Dave Berry, the humor columnist from Miami whose brother I met several times when he attended the Presbyterian Seminary in San Anselmo, CA. The reason I think of Dave Barry when I think of the second time I met Jack Palance is that I read a Dave Berry column ten years or so after the second encounter with Mr. Palance where Dave Berry tells about standing next to Barbara Bush in some photo op. What Mr. Berry did was to say something to Mrs. Bush about a previous time that he had coincidentally been next to her. He said something silly that didn't quite work and she tried to be gracious I think and it was all a bit awkward. I wanted to write Dave Barry about my similar experience but I've always been bad at corresponding. I hope he's not upset with me about that. Anyway, my second experience with Mr. Palance was just like Dave Berry's second experience with Barbara Bush except that Mr. Palance is probably not generally as gracious as Mrs. Bush. But I did say something to Mr. Palance on this second occasion with the same sort of angle that Mr. Berry had used with the former first lady, but probably with a more poignant sense of attending discomfort. He was really tall and strong looking. A lot of actors are short. Not him. As we rode up alone in the elevator I decided to break the ice and said, "Hi. I remember you. We sat next to each other at a diner on Sunset Strip in 1966." Mr. Palance is not, I believe, hard of hearing because he was talking to someone before he got into the elevator. Of course I could have been speaking into his bad ear, but, regardless of what his aural capacity is, he just stared straight ahead as if he were pretending he didn't hear me or as if I did not exist, or had done something terribly wrong that deserved the grave punishment of ostracism. And this from someone who was not at that time a total stranger. We continued up many more floors in the tall hotel, the air icy and my gulping audible, and he exited before I did. I was going to the top floor to hear my mother's boyfriend play the piano. There I entertained my mother and her boyfriend during one of his breaks with stories about Jack Palance and me. I didn't expect to ever meet Jack Palance again, especially considering the way things had gone between us the second time we'd met, but in 1999, when I was in LA for a booksigning, I was doing some task at a Kinkos in Hollywood and found myself standing in line behind, yes, Jack Palance. It was like a scene from The Way We Were, sad and yet with its own internal beauty. We'd had our times in the past but now was not the time to bring that up. I knew the right thing to do. I stood there and let Jack go. And now wistfully I think, maybe someday Jack and I will meet again. Maybe there will be a young boy calling "Shane!" Who knows? The winds of fate blow mysteriously.
So Clay and I didn't notice any stars except for at night at Tassajara at the outdoor bath laying back and looking up. That's one of the best things to do there - look at the stars at night. Except that the Sycamore tree next to the outdoor men's tub is getting big and covering the sky. And the kerosene lamps there are too bright and hamper night sky viewing. We're always dimming them but then are afraid that people will trip and fall. I talked to staff about putting in dim solar foot lights that wouldn't interfere with the sky but that's something new and if you want something new you're going to have to pay for it with time, patience, research, and persistence. I talked to the gardener, a most delightful woman, about taking the tree out and found out that it was a lost cause - it's the opposite - they want more trees for shade like on the women's side. The daytime shade-seeking guests greatly outnumber the nighttime star-seekers. But you don't have to be in the baths to see the stars. The first half of our stay there we were in G2, the garden cabin, convenient - right next to the zendo, roomy, with its own toilet, adjoining the laundry area, and the second half we were in the hill cabins, excellent for leg development and star gazing. Woah can you see the milky way from there. And the occasional July shooting star.
One other thing about the Coleman lanterns, the outdoor kerosene lighting at Tassajara. It's time for them to go, them and then the glass kerosene lamps in the rooms. It was nice and there is something romantic and nostalgic about it, but it's polluting, inefficient, dangerous, and time to get rid of. There are many styles of solar powered outdoor lamps that would provide better light and not put those awful fumes in the air. Most people wouldn't notice the fumes but they are there. I wonder if we could get someone in there with some sort of air quality tester. They might come up with a report that would lead to overwhelming support for this transition. After more than six years at Tassajara, I developed an allergy to kerosene that popped up in Japan. It may be the result of the fact that I used to bring six or eight glass kerosene lamps into my tiny dorm room to heat it while I stayed up for hours studying with no ventilation.
On the last night of our vacation, we stayed at the Motel 8 in Buttonwillow on US 5. It's cheap and baking hot and we went from our comfy beds of TV viewing - lumberjack contests, amazing dog obstacle course competition, Comedy Central, Charlie's Angles, Catch Me if You Can - to the pool and spa and nearby Starbucks and Denny's till it was time to go home. And home we went, listening to XM Satellite Radio - Industrial Metal, Al Frankin, Reggae, uncensored comedy, you name it, we've got it all. And we've got each other. Clay lapsed into a dialogue with himself, one side parodying a middle school gangster foo [that means fake] talking to a nerdy, square kid. I wasn't surprised that he could do the wanna be gangster kid, but was blown away by his square nerd who was really bright and clueless to his anachronistic speech with terms such as swell (see opening sentence to this piece), and leaping lizards! (how did he know that Orphan Annie line?).
Nice trip. I did get angry in Santa Monica (where we dined, rollercoastered, walked and skate-boarded the pier) at a Union 76 employee about the pay toilets where I was buying gas! and, though the dining room crew scraped the plates better than in the past, I did get morally indignant once when a serving spoon full of polenta came to the dish shack. I can't remember anything else negative. I detoured through the delta on 12. The sunset was magnificent. Before us were the hills and vineyards of Napa and Sonoma. The trip was coming to an end. And now it's just a hodgepodge of fading memories.
That's me, DC, sitting on the porch of the dorm at Tassajara waiting for the parade to start.
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