Dec 25, 2009

The caretaker from down the road, an old surfer, suggested we all go out to the point, to look at the sunset. My wife has been in love with this man off and on for many years and so off we went.

We passed the cottage where big-wave Dave used to live, until he did what he always said he would — he finished his 40-foot sloop and set sail around the world. We walked past the pool where the wealthy heiress, now in her 70s, swims nude on full moon nights with lovers she finds among the local tradesmen. We went past the caretaker's own house, which has been condemned because it sits on 60 feet of mud and is gradually sliding off the hillside. "Like ice cream slipping out of your palm," as the caretaker put it. His face is volcanized and red as corundum. Even his voice is sunburned.

The others went on through the gardens and up the path to the point beyond. I stayed back, by the caretaker's house, to see where the shifting has caused door frames to slant, picture windows to break, and a stone fireplace to crack; and to consider a soil expert's conclusion that even without an earthquake the whole property would slide away within 10 years. And when it happened, not over weeks or days but with no warning, in minutes. The caretaker has refused to move; his wife and son have left. Now he's weighing whether to follow them to an apartment up in Carmel or else ride the fault line.

Of course he'll stay. After all these years he has no choice. Otherwise, he would have no identity. The hillside is his, the trails down to the beach — he built them all, along with fir patches and the lean-tos where he keeps his kayak and surf boards. The beach itself is his, the kelp beds, the rocks, the abalone, even the spectacular view. It's all his. Asking him to give that up would be as though you asked a millionaire to give up every last bit of his fortune, along with the ability to make more.

Eventually, I followed the others along the path, which runs through a small eucalyptus grove and a lemon orchard, and then up a steep angle to a fork. I had forgotten the way and went to the right, through a gate. The path is well supported, edged with large stones. It's all the caretaker's art. At the top of the ridge the main house stands, a simple boxlike design in the 'barn tradition' you find here. The place belongs to one of the country's great entrepreneurs and sportsmen but he hasn't stayed here in many years. Instead, he gave it over to a one-time mistress.

She lives alone and everyone on the point will tell you she is 'strange fiction.' She was once her lover's pilot. She raced cars, sailed boats and took up surfing in her 30s. Her father was the president of an Ivy League university. She majored in physics. Meanwhile, her sisters are rumored to be insane. She herself is schizophrenic and last year changed her name to include the words, "Aphrodite Mary harmonic." She has told people that she is now a Baptist fundamentalist. Someone else told me she had become a Mormon.

She has no children and rarely sees another person. I have seen her perhaps three times in 16 years and not for a long while. She came across as very polite but distant.

I reached the top of the path and stopped to marvel at the simplicity of the house and imagine what the views must be like. All the windows were covered with curtains. You wouldn't think anyone lived there. Then out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something: a figure. A woman. I thought it was a statue. It was nearly transparent. For a moment I wondered if it wasn't a hologram, or one of those street magicians that stand stock still at Fisherman's Wharf, waiting for a passerby to trick.

It was as though you came across a deer in a clearing and didn't know if you'd been seen. We both held absolutely still. Perhaps, we were each other's apparition.

She wore plastic surgical gloves, a plastic smock with a hood, white pants covered in a smokey plastic, clear goggles. She held a book in her right hand. It looked like a bible. Her left hand hung in mid-air as though about to turn a page.

She stood on a deck, outside a sliding glass door. The door was closed. I remembered that someone said the house smells like cleanser. She is terrified of bacteria.

She and I remained absolutely still. For a minute, then two. A long time. Long enough to take her in, long enough to be taken in. Long enough to feel comfortable in the not-knowing, to become as familiar to each other as two statues on a rampart. Finally, I called out, "I'm sorry to disturb you but did some people come by this way?"

She looked up. Very calmly. She pulled up her goggles. I thought of Amelia Earhart. "I haven't seen anyone."

Thank you, I said.

"Merry Christmas to you," she said and then regained her pose.

Dec 19, 2009

Jason Reitman, who you would think had made Up in The Air all by himself, was on Fresh Air the other day talking about the enormous attention to detail he had demanded while making the film. He sounded like the young writer who fiddles endlessly with the form of a first paragraph and never develops the substance of a worthy conclusion.

That's the one problem with Up In The Air. Form doesn't quite lead to substance. It's a brilliant film in many so many ways, albeit a little movie in big pants. Clooney is great. Farmiga is even better. She is one more proof that there is nothing sexier than a mature woman. And there are several scenes that make you proud to be in middle age in general.

All that and a fresh eye, but in the last frame the engine cuts out. It made me think of the very last bit of voice over in American Beauty.

Perhaps, it's the fault of the novel that the film is based on, although in that case Mr. Reitman should have come to his own conclusion. As it is the ending leaves the dialogue between artist and audience unfinished and yes, contrary to the la mode need of anything unfinished and unresolved, that ending doesn't suffice.

The problem with Clooney's Mr. Bingham is that he is never able to land, even in the end when he needs to refuel himself, and become something other than a pretender in his life. This is not The Wings of Desire: this is a hero who cannot overcome what, at his point in life, should be an easier obstacle to overcome. And so without character becomes caricature.

Dec 15, 2009

And so the health care debate has become the symbol of the nation's dysfunction. All the branches of government have been implicated, along with the media, political parties, the unions, the special interests, the Catholic Church, Rick Warren's church, the education system, liberals, and the economy.

But isn't the real culprit here the American public itself. You. Us. That man in the street. That woman in the next car. The clerk, the mechanic, the doctor, the insurance agent, the captain, the neophyte, the man with the gold watch, the intern, every last one of us. To blame. Why? Because we cannot think critically, cannot focus, cannot separate ideas, cannot look at the problem from a distance. We are finally selfish, lazy and good for nothing. Tuned to the sound of nothing at all.

And so now you have this horde lynching the president, from a cherry picker in the square, the way they do with pickpockets in Iran. Because he's not Christ, because he can't do everything himself. It's disgraceful what we've done. It's disgusting what we've become.

Dec 14, 2009

He's 15. I'm thinking, he should be a bookie, but how the hell's that gonna work. I give him the $127. He won it in a pool they hold down at Steve's cafe in Redwood Shores. The kid doesn't really care. I bring home the sheet every week; he picks winners; I take it back. Two weeks ago he was tied going into the Monday night game. He would have won $150 if the Saints' field goal kicker hadn't missed late fourth quarter. Ball sailed right, from 35 yards, and we're saying to each other, "how the fuck do you miss from 35 yards. I could fucking kick it from 35 yards." Then this week he wins it clean, but close. The way the card works is if you're tied after Monday night then the one that comes closest to the total number of points in that game wins. Final point total, this was the Cardinal-49er game, was 34. Kid had 37. Next closest had 38. I get my chicken teriyaki sandwich and Rich asks me if I'll take a hundred dollar bill or do I want it in 20s. I take the C note. I bring it home. The kid is happy, but not jumping up and down. He's into a Warrior's game, somebody on his fantasy team. I'm thinking, you know what, he doesn't give a damn about school; you have to hook him up to battery cables to get him to study for 10 minutes. He could care less. So what the hell. We'll go Vegas. We'll try it for a year. Rent one of those empty ass condos in the new MGM Grand. They got rooms where the shag is lonely 'cause no one is ever gonna stay there. Not in this life. The cockroaches 'll come home before that happens. It's all over-built so we'll just take up some headquarters. Do a lot of pool time, babe time. I knew a guy once who was a doorman at the Grand. Earned $175K a year — opening doors. He loved it. Loved the life, the sodom and gomorrah of it, the whole thing. We could do it. Plus the kid's brother is becoming a sports writer. He writes great and he knows more about football than anybody. So we'll all go. Hang out. Maybe do some college games. Maybe get into the ponies. Do the over and under on hamster races, who gives a shit. Hell, we're packed. We're gone.

Dec 9, 2009

This morning, on a crumb-filled table in a Pete's Coffee, in Burlingame, there was a Daily Post. The lead was, Parents Come Out Against Trick Play. The story was about a Pop Warner football team in Palo Alto that won a championship game by a strategy on a par with asset swaps. In this case the exchange was dishonorable play for a win.

Here's how the play works. From the sidelines the coach calls out to the quarterback that the ball needs to be changed. On a perfectly sunny day, no less. Now there's a moment of confusion. But since it's the coach calling who is to be respected by definition — and because a good coach, the likes of Vince Lombardi or Red Auerbach, demands honor above all — the boy comes toward his coach.

Remember that these kids are 11 or 12. And remember that this would demand some practice and indoctrination. Here's what happens....

Dishonorable play for a win... Some parents were outraged. But they were quickly dismissed, with these kinds of arguments...

"This program has been going on for 56 years. What's the problem? Nobody's ever said squat about anything we do here."

"Parents that object don't understand the game and their kids aren't any good anyway. This is a competitive league; they oughta just go play soccer."

"Do you know what Al Davis would say? He would say, 'win, baby, win.' So what's your problem?"

Dishonorable play for a win... But then this is one of those places where, roughly speaking, cleverness has no limits, moral imagination has no cache, and winning something even so minute as this is the only salve for success in the material world.

All I could think of was Coach Greg. Greg Isom who took the San Francisco Seahawks to any number of championships. You could say he's the Tony Dungy of Pop Warner in the Bay Area. It would break his heart to see such a thing, to think that kids would be taught how to win like that, to think a coach would humiliate a player like that.


Below that story, there was what sounded more like true-crime: "Stolen RWC limo becomes doctor's home." RWC is Redwood City.

The story was about a stretch limo that appeared to have been abandoned. Police were called, came to investigate and saw through the window a bag of groceries, a sleeping bag and a manuscript. An officer was able to read a name and telephone number on the ms. He took out his phone and called.

Suzanne Caadium answered and said she would come for her belongings. She arrived shortly and when asked how she got in and out of the limo explained that she had found the car, with the keys in it, on October 24th, the day that the limo had been stolen. It appeared stolen and she used it temporarily for shelter. It also came out that she was a Stanford grad.

Ms. Caadium was arrested. But then what happened and who is Suzanne Caadium?

It is Dr. Caadium and she's 32 according to her website, which includes a photo of a girl who looks younger than 32, with short brown almost curly hair, full lips, and a mischievous smile. She looks smart but not from Stanford. I think of Stanford women as blond with thighs from race horses, and always a little naive. Always a little gee-whizzed by life. This girl does not look naive. Sweet but not naive. Her blog begins with this autobiography...

I have a rich life story along with a strong education and a high creative drive, all of which allow me to provide consultation in a number of areas. Ultimately, I play the roles of healer, teacher, and philosopher in my work.

I call myself a consultant, from the Latin consultare meaning "to discuss" from which we also derive words such as consul and counsel. Otherwise known as a Professional who provides advice in a particular area of expertise. I offer holistic advising and support in matters of political policy, medical education and other industries who seek the truth. By holistic, I mean that I use a broad perspective and a synthetic understanding of human nature in all of my work.

She lists her educational background....

Stanford University School of Medicine
Doctor of Medicine, June 2006

University of Nevada, Reno
Bachelor of Science, Dec. 1999
Major: Cell and Molecular Biology

World School of Massage and Holistic Healing Arts
Individual modules in massage therapy and communication
And then her professional positions....

Resident Physician, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science,
University of California, Davis, Sacramento, CA

And then there are awards and publications. But no indication of how she might have wound up in a stolen stretch limo in RWC, which is neither upscale or down, but a 'tweener of a suburb.

Dr. Caadium's website also includes a screenplay proposal. Here is part of it.

Screenplay Proposal: “2/5/8: my stint as World Leader Pretend”; 6500 word raw outline

A story about a revolutionary physician who took a militant stand against conventional medicine in order to explore more meaningful concepts around healing as a shaman. In the midst of her consciousness-raising, she becomes astrally attuned and links consciousness with a lot of people in high circuits. With her unique philosophic approach to human cooperation and conflict resolution, she becomes involved with political matters on a surprisingly high level for a young mother at 31. In 3 short weeks of psychically consulting everyone from Hillary, Obama and Ron Paul she gets linked with high officials in nations throughout the world.

Over a matter of days around February 5, the heroine makes a mad dash to save her children from an abusive step/father while running from renegage forces in the police and military who stand to lose power from the negotiations, while working through divinity training through her shamanism. The effects of exposing those waging the war as fundamentally opposed to world peace when it was completely worked out otherwise has been severe. What does the government do with a political rebel preaching logically about ecohappiness and getting the Resignation of George W. Bush. Subsequent weeks were spent fervently creating policy for a new world based on sustainable ecologically sound human coexistance while trying to escape persecution by a psychotic ex-husband, jealous ex-boyfriends, sadistic family member and crazy house mates.

more to come, perhaps. (For more information, I would contact the Daily Post newspaper, or the Redwood City Police.)

Dec 2, 2009

The better part of midnight, I'm coming home with wine and bread. For those in need, on a drizzly night and drear. I step over the legs of a man asleep under a bus shelter bench. You wouldn't come outside unless you had to. I cross the street. The blinds on the crab restaurant window are falling. Everywhere curtains are drawn. I walk on.

I notice a woman in the distance, walking toward me. Same side of the street, a hundred yards away. She's screaming something. I walk faster. At 40 yards, she's blonde, shirt no sweater, hair tied up, in her 20s maybe. Just out of graduate school, I'm guessing. And before that, private college. Private everything. It's in the way she walks, the way she screams, the tone of voice, she's heard powerful authority figures up close.

She stops by a man sitting on the curb. Now I understand: they're together. He's wearing a white button down shirt and jeans. He's long legged, hair cut short. Like the nerd babies down at EA Sports. He's sitting on the northwest corner of Kirkham and 46th. Under a street light thick with mist and moths. I slow down to take in the drama. “What are you doing?” She's screaming. Over and over. “What are you doing?” The emphasis is on doing. “What are you doing?” The man doesn't answer but the body language says, “I’m leaving you. I’m done.” His head is bent over, legs spread, arms resting on his knees, fingers clasped, as though an IED just went off. He's trying to figure out who lived, who died.

And you know right away from looking at them, from hearing her screaming and his anger. His horror. You know what must have happened. He was betrayed. That was the IED. The images of her, maybe just in his imagination, have detonated. He has seen her underneath her lover, he has seen her responding.

Do you remember that scene in Visconti's 1960 film, Rocco And His Brothers? Alain Delon and Annie Giradot. Do you remember the scene when Rocco finds his mistress in the arms of his younger brother, Alain Delon. Rocco takes immediate revenge. While hoods hold Delon, Rocco takes the girl, by force, but there is a moment, more nuanced in some film versions, where after resisting the Giradot character gives in. She responds to Rocco. Fully. Delon is faced with the cruelest fickleness and promiscuity. He is condemned to hopelessness and cynicism forever....

I'm thinking of that as I approach the couple. The girl notices me and says something. He looks over his shoulder and says it doesn't make any difference who hears since, 'you've already woken up half the neighborhood'. I walk past, I don't look at either of them. 'I don’t see you', I'm thinking. 'I have no idea what you’re talking about. I don’t want to know.'

And yet I do. I want to know everything. I want you to tell me everything, from the moment of conception. I may be able to help. I've played all these parts myself...

But of course we let people have their dramas by themselves, even in a public place. Still, I would like to make a stage play out of it. Improv Everywhere. Actors popping out of trunks, appearing out of the shadows, coming up out of the manholes, like they did in those train stations in Europe. But these are twilight zone actors. They can actually play the different roles in these people's lives. Including the lover. And Nina Rota in the background.

Act 3 will be years later. They'll see each other again and they'll remember that night on 46th and Kirkham, in the damp and drear. "Was it 46th or 45th?" "No, we lived on 46th..." It will be awkward to remember such a thing. There'll be regret. Each will remember it differently. One or the other will be defensive. She will apologize still again, even as she wonders about his secrets. They will agree it was an untimely end. They will finally agree it might have been a mistake to react so definitively....

So I cross the street like a whippet on a leash and head down toward the ocean.

“I didn’t do anything,” she's saying. Over and over and over. “I didn’t do anything.” The tone is so plaintive, so genuine with apology. And every other word is 'think' or 'want.' ‘I wasn’t’ cheating on you,' is what I'm hearing. 'Not like you think? Did you think I wanted him? Did you really think that? Yes, I was lonely and you were off in your anger and who knows where were, where have you been, there are questions I could ask you.... but I didn’t want him. I don’t want him. It was nothing. It was just something that happened. I didn’t care about him. I don’t care about him. I’m sorry. Just stop for a minute.’

All of a sudden, he starts yelling. And now you can hear the wound itself. I linger by a parked car to hear better. I try to see through the car, but the windows are tinted. I go back a few yards in their direction. I'm thinking, 'well maybe I can do something'.

But what?

I could go up to them. I could say, "Do you know anything about the blue Morpho butterfly? Yes, well it lives in the Amazon rain forest. It's the most beautiful butterfly you've ever seen. The shade of blue is exquisite, unimaginable. If you saw it it would take your memory away. Literally, it does that. Here's something else. It defends itself by having such a bad taste that all its enemies know to avoid that taste. it's in their genetic memory. And here's something else, the Morpho lives for just a month. That's all. One month. All that beauty for just one month."
"And that about sums it up," I would say to them. "Just a different shade of blue. Don't you see. You're on the flip side of something fabulous. Don't give it up. That's all. Okay, then. Back to your fighting. "