Jun 22, 2011

I ran into my old friend Bernard coming out of Java Beach this morning. He looked exuberant. He had coffee in hand and was singing something. We said hello. I asked what he was singing.

He went right into it. “We all come from the goddess. And to the goddess shall return, like a drop…. of rain, flowing to the ocean….”

He sang it again —a little too loudly for that time in the morning, but that’s Berns — and when he got to the word “drop”, he made a conductor’s gesture, with thumb and forefinger, as though to enunciate the word. “‘like a drop’, then hold it a beat. ‘of rain.’ ”

What’s that? I asked.

“A little pagan thing.” He sang it through still again.

“Catchy tune. I didn’t realize you'd gone back to your old pagan ways”

“Trying to,” he said. “Last night was the summer solstice. There was a little ceremony down on the beach at Taraval.”

We sat down, he told me about it.

“Three, four hundred people. Circle around a fire. You sing songs. Pray for a good crop. Acknowledge the four corners. Make a wish. The idea is to clear stuff out. Make room for the new. That kind of thing.”

“And the wreath goes around”, he added.

What’s that?

“Symbol of the cosmos. Universe, atom. We’re all electrons, right? Earth around the sun. Circle of life. The seasons. I suppose you could say ‘the vagina’ as well. Although that’s more my interpretation.”

‘Blessed be’. I said.

“You always have to be sarcastic. But I understand.”

I defended myself but he waved it aside. He doesn't like it when you don't take his interests as seriously as he does. He also considers himself somewhat of an expert on the subject. Many years ago he wrote a story for the New York Times Sunday Magazine about pagans. But the piece never played. If you have about 10 hours Bernie could tell you his whole sordid history with The New York Times and why they wouldn’t take a piece they’d assigned on Neo-Paganism and on which he’d spent about six months. He always claimed that was when he realized the true distance between New York and California.

“Was there a lot of wild sex?” I asked.

He shook his head.

“It’s not about that,” he said marmishly. And a little disingenuously considering the tales he’d told me of pagan annual gatherings up at Harbin Hot Springs. He’d once caught a bug in his privates after being in a pool full of coupling couples. His wife has always assumed he went biblical with some of the witches but he assured me that was not the case. “Do you think I would jeopardize an assignment with The New York Times to get laid by people I was interviewing? Plus the really voracious people were not pagan. You want to steer clear of those. There's a lot of pretenders in the pagan community.”

“Well what then? Did people take off their clothes at least?” I asked.

“Oh yes. Of course. I would say there were between 50 and 100 people who went into the ocean.”

"Last night? In that cold?"

“You feel better,” he said.

“Did you do that?”

“No, my wife did though.”

“Just took off all her clothes and dove right in.” In appearance, his wife looks not unlike the Woman of Willendorf. But blonde and very funny.

“Up to her waist”, he went on. “Mostly women went in the ocean. All shapes, ages. A few men. Who were mostly older. The men were definitely older.”

“But not you.”

He shook his head.

“How did your wife like it?”

“I don’t know you’d have to ask her. But I think she would tell you that it was very cleansing.”

I never understand how metaphor can be so powerful, how people can walk into 55-degree surf and think they’re cleansed of anything except their wits. I said that.

“I know,” Bernard said. But that’s you.”

And then he went off on the sociology of the evening.

“Starhawk wasn’t there. None of the old guard. That was sad. And what was her name who used to live down in Santa Cruz, who was always railing against Christianity, wondering why anybody would want to worship 'a little dead man on little dead sticks'. Her name won’t come to me. But anyway Starhawk’s the best, of course. Nobody knows more about this stuff than she does. No one is more talented in teaching ‘the ancient ways’.”

Bernard paused. “I don’t know what’s happened to her. It’s just mostly a lot of kids now.”

He went on.

“Explain to me what it does for you again,” I said. “What’s the appeal?”

“Oh,” he said with a sigh, as though if you have to explain it you’ll never understand. “Of course, it’s all silly and serious at the same time. It's not about ideas, that's what I like. You don't have to pose or be cool or be smart or be whatever you're being at the moment....I don't know it's really just about giving up everything...." He paused to let somebody get by.

"But I have to say when we were standing there, all the naked bodies in the firelight, skin the color of limestone, and everyone is singing, just a single note really. And as you start your voice automatically synchs with the voices around you, high C, was it, you're all on the same note and there’s something very interesting about that. It’s just for a moment but I found that very interesting.”

“Connected to the universe,” I said.

“I suppose.”

Bernard was anxious to go. But he wanted to add something.

“Apropos of nothing,” he said. “Or everything. Every once in a while I look down, I’m on a wire at the very top of the tent, and it’s just so far above the crowd and you could fall, there’s no net, and you’d be done for, but you don’t even care about that. You don't care about anything. With all that's happening. You know what I mean? You're just losing touch with life, you can sense the other side and suddenly you lose your drive, your appreciation, and that’s when the pagans can help you. They’re sweet people, the ones I’ve known. It’s all much simpler. You don’t have to be anything. That's what it is, you just don't have to be anything.”

He made a little moue, shrugged his shoulders and turned away, back humming his riff.

Jun 10, 2011

So let's say you're mentally unstable, you're a sick bastard, and you're finally up and at 'em at 9 a.m. with your breakfast of champions, listening to the Rush because how else can you waste time, how else can you torture and burn the little animals inside you.

Meanwhile, he's on his daily rant about the immorality of liberals, and how the president has this insidious plan to keep the recession going, and the fat man is being particularly vicious and vile, and insistent, a human gopher, and you finally feel guilty for listening, you do, you have to admit that, but then you're back to daydreaming — about getting through Mr. Snerdly to say to the Rushbow, "Thank you for taking my call, mega dittos from the belly of the liberal beast, thank you for all you do. I just want to know, is it true, as has been reported in various places, that you're gay? I have no argument if you are. But you seem to have such disgust for gays....

And if I could ask a follow-up: have you had sex with any of your four wives?  Your third wife says no, and claims that at one point you were into child pornography. Is that true and has anyone told you that you were separated at birth from Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter?"

But before you've refined that question, while you're deep into a 140-character novel about the murder of a talk show host, something terrible happens. You thought  you heard him say, "Mamet".  But that can't be right.  You turn up the radio and then you're hearing somebody talking about their new book.  Wait!  This isn't David Mamet. Is it?  It couldn't be.  Does David Mamet have a brother.  Are there any other public Mamets.

No, this David "Second prize is a set of steak knives"Mamet and he has just written a book about his transformation from liberal to conservative. And he's decrying political civility. And he's doing it on this program.

And then you listen to David Mamet, whose work you've largely enjoyed, some of it is brilliant — no Pinter, but he had some interesting takes on America, and suddenly you feel like the Donald Sutherland character at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the day is lost from there....

Jun 9, 2011

While everyone is concerned with Mr. Weiner's schnitzel, and whether tweet flirting is evil or merely strange crude, the scandal echoes down through the daily lives of Mr. Everyman — and woman — down and down,  right down to 18th Avenue and Moraga in the Outer Sunset District.  Which is known for block after treeless block, after cement driveway, on top of sand to which it will return.  Once upon a time, Irish; now Chinese: monochromatic, the city's somnolescent ward.  There are some streets so lifeless, so lacking in definition on a cloudy day that you'd think no one could possibly live there.  And they don't.

This from a police report:

"A wife reported that her husband’s co-worker has been speaking with him on the phone to discuss work issues more than usual in the past 2 months. The wife discovered the co-workers phone number in the husband’s cell phone and suspects that they might be having an affair. The co-worker has been calling their residence looking for the husband. On 6/9/11, the co-worker sat in her car in front of the house for several hours. Then she rang the door bell. The wife did not answer the door. The co-worker then left a back scratcher for the wife at a neighbor’s house."