31 December 2008

Carousel of Happiness

Once upon a time there was a wonderful 17-year-old red-headed boy from Texas who was raised up right so when his country was at war, he wanted to do the right thing. Even though the war was so wrong, he was too young to know that. He didn't want to kill anyone, though, so he joined the Marine Corps and trained in Australia as an interpreter in Vietnamese.

But, just because he had a good heart didn't mean everyone else did. So when he landed in Vietnam, they put a rifle in his hand and sent him into the middle of the Tet Offensive.

He told me later the only way he retained his sanity in the middle of that hell was, at night when he was in the foxholes, he had the mechanical works of a music box in his pocket, and he would play it, and imagine a merry-go-round where the people killing each other across the trenches and their families could come together in peace and enjoy each other and the sunny day, rather than turning each other into hamburger, just so the United States could control the oil in the Indochine Peninsula, or whatever game the big boys were playing this time, using these kids as pawns.

Even hell will end, eventually, and for Scott Harrison, he found himself in San Francisco, volunteering for Amnesty International of the US, where he found his they-broke-the-mold wife Ellen Moore, and together they pursued his dream of an Urgent Action Network to rally support for Prisoners of Conscience around the world who were being tortured or in danger of losing their lives. With pluck and skill, they moved to Colorado, built a house at Nederland, and set about 30 years of work as pioneers in the battle-field of human rights.

But having lived through Vietnam, Scott had his nightmares, his guilt, his need to do something with his hands. And so he began carving. The rabbit was the first, and then .... they came. The St. Bernard. The Ostrich. The Bear. The Mermaid. The little girl dancing for the top. He carved and carved, and they began to emerge from those nightmare foxholes of the late 1960s into his basement, and then into a warehouse, in Nederland. Last count, there were 38 or 39 of them, many sponsored by local folks at $1,000 a pop for their nameplates on their animals. On the world's first "green" carousel -- which will be powered by the sun, in the main, and actually contribute energy to the grid.

For nearly 20 years, he has carved and painted his full-sized carousel. And as he has moved forward, it was the if-you-build-it, they-will-come scenario. The Seagram's Company in Peoria donated first-growth lumber from an old brewery for the floorboards. Scott found the works somewhere in the northwest. A real Wurlitzer has appeared. And so it goes. He's now donated the carousel to a not-for-profit foundation, who has just broken ground on the building where this treasure will live. Before the donation, Scott and Ellen had it appraised by Dewy Smith, a folk art expert, who said it was worth $1.5 million. If you have seen them in person, however, you know the whole kit and kaboodle is priceless.

Now retired from Amnesty, they both move forward, Ellen teaching HUMAN RIGHTS: PROMOTION AND PROTECTION, AN NGO PERSPECTIVE at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and archiving oral histories with the founders of Amnesty in the US. Scott, as with other non-profits, searches for the funds to fund the building and open the Carousel of Happiness in Nederland, at the Gateway to the Rockies, for generations of people to enjoy. When I think of heroes, they are two of the first to come to mind.

http://www.carouselofhappiness.org/about.html, for more information, a video and tons of pictures of the animals. (These photos courtesy of Grace Harwood, Images of Amazing Grace, Oakland, California.)

22 December 2008

“The world is a beautiful and terrible place. Deeds of horror are committed every minute and in the end those we love die. If the screams of all earth’s living creatures were one scream of pain, surely it would shake the very stars. But we have love. It may seem a frail defence against the horrors of the world, but we must hold fast and believe in it, for it is all that we have.”

--P.D. James, The Private Patient

20 December 2008

A posting from the Gay Center of the World:

Ignorant, bigoted people, do your best, but we will win

Two stories above me on the roof of the new Packard Lofts on Broadway, as I pedal pedal pedal at the Downtown Oakland "Y", a green and white flag fights with the rain and wind, wrapped around its flagpole, struggling to breathe free. This flag is supposed to be a rebuttal to the most famous Oaklander -- Gertrude Stein -- who supposedly said of this town, "There is no there there." Just as straight people normally misunderstand gay culture, that is NOT what at all she meant, and if you read her entire remark, you understand perfectly. Stein was born in a grandiose Victorian near 25th Avenue and 13th below what is now Highland Hospital. While she was an expatriate in Paris, the house burned to the basement. The majority of her family and friends had long since moved to Europe. The Great Earthquake destroyed the San Francisco she had known as a young person. So when she went to her beloved neighborhood of memory, there were none of the markers of land and experience that had constituted the world of her childhood and the basis of her memories of Oakland. She remarked on this, saying, "There is no there there!" It was a sadness and longing for homeland behind that remark, a cry of the heart that many know so well.

As I pedal pedal pedal along on my exercycle road to nowhere, I note the green and white banner has now shed enough of the rain it is soaked with, and has begun to free itself from the flagpole. I think about the way what women say is so often ignored, or twisted, major parts left out, the meaning distorted or totally misunderstood. For instance, what Virginia Woolf actually said was, "To write poetry and fiction, a woman must have 500 pounds a year and a room of her own with a lock on the door." To any woman involved in the creative process, each and every one of these elements is fundamental. But that lock on the door is invariably left out of the quotation, and quite often the money as well. But for Woolf, a victim of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of her older brothers, nothing could have been more requisite to her creative process than the freedom provided by her own money and the means to prevent men from creeping up on her when she was writing (or sleeping).

The "There" flag has now freed itself from the post, and is attempting to fly, but still is stick wet to itself. And, pedal pedal pedal, speaking of distortion, omission, and dismissal of women, it is best not to get me started on the Oakland Black Panthers. But since you have Google, maybe you should check out the real Panthers who made the whole thing work (including writing the Manifesto), i.e., Dr. Angela Y. Davis, Elaine Brown, Kathleen Cleaver, Erika Huggins.... Oh, but this is another track for another day.

I have thought long and hard about what the hell is the problem with so-called straight people (many of whom are on the down-low) and gay people, and now I think I understand it. Discounting totally ignorant, bigoted, arrogant fools who are just frigging mean-spirited about anything not in their little narrow worlds (which only demonstrates that we make our own hells on earth), I think there's a huge huge huge misunderstanding about gay people among those straight folks who can't afford an expensive haircut, a catered wedding, don't work in the entertainment industry, and haven't got enough sense to get it that their favorite teachers, Ms. Eikenberry and Ms. Alexander, weren't just roommates. Are you ready? They just don't know us. They live beside us. We teach their children, write their books, sing their songs, connect their wireless service, fix their cars, bag their groceries, take pictures of their kids at graduation, and whatever else you got. But they don't know us. And even if they did, they still claim to have a problem. So I thought more. And watched the flag dry itself and unfurl.

I believe the majority of people who are against "gays" in this country have an image of us in their heads which has as little to do with who we really are and how we love as Foster Farms caged deformities have to do with free-range grass-fed Rosies.

I think there are a whole lot of folks out there who base their ideas about being gay on homosexual prison rape. And they equate the two. But here's the truth. That's like equating heterosexual rape with straight marriage. Prison rape and straight rape are about brutal power, like Bush kissing Barbra Streisand at the Kennedy Honors, when he knew bloody well she hates his guts, or giving the German Chancellor an uncalled for shoulder rub at the G-Eight Conference.

The majority of rapes, both in prison and out, are committed by straight men. (Have you noticed? Those dicks have taken over the airwaves, literally, and are apparently the most important parts of the American anatomy. [Maybe you've noticed as well -- those dicks apparently don't work. They need constant drugging to enlarge them, to make them "flow", to work at all.] In fact, over 80 percent of all sex crimes are perpetrated by straight men, okay?)

Back to my point, now that the "There" flag is flying fully and freely over my recumbent exercycle in all its green and white glory: Gay love and gay life are as full of dance and song, light and life, loving touch, sweet notes left on the bathroom mirror in soap, remembered snatches of golden days, deep worry and concern for our loved ones as those of anyone (and of course we do it all with soooooooooooooooooooo much more style!). In fact, we have the same sorts of problems, as well. "Aren't you going to pay the rent this month? When are you getting a job, for chrissakes?" "Isn't it your turn to take out the compost?" "No, I don't want to go on some damn Olivia cruise. We need to paint the house this year!" "Could you please scrub your toes, damnit?" "No, I did the laundry last time, it's your turn." We don't force each other to have sex, we don't rape our children, we don't "recruit" straight people (who wants an amateur to practice on you?) And do I need to point out we're paying more taxes than the straight married folks?

Chickens in cages in dark places stacked on top of each other are not healthy living things. Brutalized men crowded into prisons for years on drugs and bad food are not healthy living things. That they treat each other brutally doesn't make them gay. It does make them crazy. And uncivilized. Elephants in zoos are not health living things. (Separate issue. Men who screw farm animals are not gay, just for the record.)

How do I know we'll win? Because we will. Because the kids get it. The majority are not anti-gay, any more than they think Senator Obama's race was a reason to vote against him. They just try to figure out their own destiny, as individuals. Yes, there are vicious rapists among them, like the kids who nearly killed a lesbian woman in Richmond last night in a gang rape because they saw the rainbow flag on her car. (And I sincerely hope those boys rot in the hell of Pelican Bay.) But the vast majority of young people believe you should find your own sexual destiny, your own life partner, and move forward without judging other people. While there is a lot of honest struggle among the under-30s, they mostly are into live and let live. (What a concept.)

So just a question for anyone still reading this who is against gay marriage. Do you really honestly believe you have more of a right to be married in the United States than Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner? National treasures both, who've contributed enormously to whatever culture there is in this country, and together 30 years? Or Elton John and David Furnish? I mean, really. The almighty dick is not going to fall off if gay marriage is legalized in the United States. And it will happen. We have been here for millenia, and we will dance on the graves of those who live in hate. Trust me.

Just a footnote. A hundred years after Gertrude Stein left Oakland for Europe, Oakland has the largest percentage of lesbian home ownership of any city in the United States. So if she and Alice came home now, I think they would have been most pleased with the there here now.

17 December 2008

Guns vs. Butter

Here we are again, the same old question. We can borrow trillions of dollars from foreign nations and risk thousands upon thousands of the lives of our young people in pursuit of an illegal, un-winnable, and absurd war, but when Sen. Clinton proposes universal healthcare, or Pres-Elect Obama proposes rebuilding our failing infrastructure or fixing the toilets in our elementary schools so the kids don't risk epidemic disease going to public schools in the supposed richest country on earth, the republicans shout, "Oh, heavens no! We can't. The Economy!!!!"

So, Desi, 'splain it to me, please. Why is it good for the economy to dig a hole (war) and fill it up (with the body and bones of civilian people who we've murdered) but it is not good for the economy to build houses for the homeless, provide in-home assistance for the disabled and elderly, educate, really educate our children so they can think and make reasoned judgments, as the framers of the Constitution hoped for, rebuild our failing bridges, solve our energy problems, and otherwise strengthen our people and our physical plant in this country. I mean, here's a thought. Drug treatment and job therapy for people instead of prison?

If you want to make yourself entirely nuts on the subject, may I suggest http://armscontrolcenter.org/? But this is not rocket science. There are 80 billion, that's billion with a "b" (which rhymes with a "p" and that stands for pool, friends, trouble, folks, we got trouble...) there are 80 billion landmines in the world. The majority of which we built, bought and planted. Can we grow a good tomato? Not so much. But we can plant a landmine that will blow the legs off a small child playing soccer in a field next to the school in their village in virtually anywhere in the second or third world, thanks to the United States. If you want to help, http://www.banminesusa.org/, in honor of her Royal Highness, Diana, Princess of Wales, Tender of the True Flame, etc.

Change? Change would be from guns to butter (not that butter is all that great for us, either! I've long said forget oil. It's when we run out of sugar that this country will screech to a stone halt). Schools. Real education. Drug treatment for aging homeless Vietnam Veterans. Hey, there's an idea. Health care for everyone, including the vets of Iraq and Afghanistan. Shall I go on? I could list a thousand things we could do with this money before I spend the money we give out to Dig Hole Fill with Bones, Inc. every year. As Dr. Helen Caldicott has shown until she is blue pink and purple in the face, there's plenty of money to do the things we should be doing. We just have to quit making our economy run on fear. Prisons. War. Police. Oh, and get me started about the police. If your car gets stolen, you will receive a telephone call from the police three, maybe four days hence. If you park your car illegally, however, it will be three, maybe four minutes hence that they ticket you. And, as happened recently to one friend who sassed the cop for this very thing, you will lose your license for a month for fighting with a meter maid.

Am I ranting? Oh, I daresay. But I promise, if someone could please tell me what the difference is, why doing useful, helpful, important things is "bad" and evil insane immoral things is "good" for the economy, I'll shut up about it. Why oh why is it good for the economy to murder innocent people and squander our resources, but bad for the economy to rebuild our schools, factories, homes, small businesses? Can anybody anybody out there please clue me in on this?

<[p>And just a note. ANOTHER thing I was very disappointed in President Clinton about, refusing to sign the landmines ban. If you want more info about that, http://www.commondreams.org/views02/1021-04.htm. Somehow, I suspect he thinks there's a moral offset because he's working on global AIDS. Nope. Not in my book. He let us down by not keeping his pants zipped when he knew the neocons were after any little thing, and he let us down by refusing to sign the landmines ban.

Note: My ole pal Kathy Reilley figured out the reason Adsense keeps sending me Wal-Mart and Sam's Club ads (neither of which I shop at or endorse): They sell both guns AND butter! Of course!

15 December 2008

मुसिंग्स ओं सोल्स्तिस

About 10 years ago, I found an eight-inch Miwok pestle grown into the rootball of a fallen giant in the forest at the Vedanta Retreat at Olema. Miwok used these to grind acorns for flour, they say. And the miracle of finding such a thing after the hundreds of years it had slept inside the soil of that rootball did not escape me. But I spent the next two hours looking for the mortar that went with it. Then I returned to the Retreat House and showed Swami Prabuddhananda the pestle. I asked him if I could keep it, and he responded, "Oh, if you must."

Then I told him of a day in the mountains in Colorado when I was sitting with my feet dragging in the water on either side of the point of a small island in the stream. In the midst of that, I understood the connectiveness of all things, matter and energy flows, essentially the whole of everything. I saw the whole of creation, of eternity, of the way that planets are atoms and solar systems molecules, snowbanks are sandunes. And even though it had been 25 years before, the absolute magic of that moment stayed with me. I was still trying to get that back. Just like I was trying to find the mortar. I couldn't see how it was possible for me ever to be satisfied if that were my character.

He said a couple of things. First, that the Miwok probably didn't carry their mortars, but just used rocks with hollows in them in situ. Why would they carry something that was all around them on the ground? The pestle, on the other hand, was a tool and valuable, because rare. So they would have taken that with them. That it was important to know what was which and not to carry the heavy mortar when you don't need to.

Second thing he said was that enlightenment comes and goes. And that I had probably been enlightened many times in my lifetime, but still hadn't gotten to the point of realizing that like everything else, it wasn't something I could hold onto. But I could use that experience to inform my perceptions of everything going forward. And so I try, lugging along the mortar, sometimes, and sometimes the pestle, sometimes enlightened, sometimes too in the dark to light the candle in my hand.

When I typed the Title on this blog, it translated my words, "Musings on the Solstice" into sanskrit letters. I have no idea what they mean. But I'm satisfied that this is what it is. May enlightenment catch up with you today, and may you be so enlightened that you don't try to hold onto it! Om Shanti Shanti Shanti.

17 November 2008

Dr. Jane Goodall’s Impassioned Suggestions: “What We Must Do to Care for the Animals We Love”

Dr. Goodall, Dame of the British Empire, who recently shared The Leakey Prize with Japan’s beloved primatologist, Dr. Toshisada Nishida, has a new book out, written with Marc Bekoff, detailing what Huston Smith calls “The Ten Commandments for the future of advanced life on our planet.” The Leakey Prize, fyi, was established in 1990 “to reward intellectual achievement and express appreciation for research performed with courage and perseverance in the fields of ape and human evolution,” a most important endeavor in view of the number of human primates who refuse to evolve even to the point of accepting 18th century science.

I trust I am not violating their copyright by simply enumerating these for you, in hopes that (a) you will read the book; and (b) contribute to or volunteer to work with Dr. Goodall’s group, http://www.janegoodall.org/; the Leakey Foundation: http://leakeyfoundation.org/; or to one of my personal favorites, the Great Ape Trust of Iowa: http://www.iowagreatapes.org/:

The First Trust: Rejoice that we are part of the animal kingdom.

The Second Trust: Respect all life.

The Third Trust: Open our minds, in humility, to animals and learn from them.

The Fourth Trust: Teach our children to respect and love nature.

The Fifth Trust: Be wise stewards of life on Earth.

The Sixth Trust: Value and help preserve the sounds of nature.

The Seventh Trust: Refrain from harming life in order to learn about it.

The Eighth Trust: Have the courage of our convictions.

The Ninth Trust: Praise and help those who work for animals and the natural world.

The Tenth Trust: Act knowing we are not alone and live with hope.

Coda: After all is said and done, silence is betrayal.

The Ten Trusts was published by HarperOne, a Division of HarperCollins, New York ($14.95US).

02 September 2008

We must not become a nation of cowards....

My friend Rosie is part of a family from Cambodia who purchased the Monte Vista Grocery on Piedmont Avenue a decade or so ago. She is short, beautiful, feisty, with a wonderful scamp of a daughter, Chrissie, and an elegant attitude toward life. I loved each member of her family who worked there, and often stopped to chat over the wonderful produce and reasonable prices.

We had spoken quietly of Pol Pot, Cambodia, and the nightmare they left behind, and I sometimes wondered what memories troubled their sleep. The entire family, although walking each day on the bones of a past so unspeakable I couldn’t begin to fathom what they had seen. Yet each was a smiling, pleasant, fun, energetic person to know.

One day Rosie introduced me to her beautiful mother, who spoke little, if any English. We nodded and smiled, held each other’s hands. We looked into each other’s faces, and knew if we could, we would be friends.

After her mother withdrew, over the vegetables I asked Rosie, “So where is your dad, Rosie?”

“Oh, he died,” she said, matter-of-factly, in the way people of great sorrow speak in even tones to protect themselves from intrusion.

“He did? What happened, Rosie?”

She looked at me to make sure I wanted to hear what she had to say. “They put him in the army.”

“But, what happened, Rosie?” I stumbled along where angels would fear to tread. “What happened to your father?”

“Well, they wanted him to kill a bunch of people, so he quit eating.”

I looked down at the boxes of beautiful fruit and vegetables that, because of these people, I had my easy choice of each day. I tried to remember how many millions of skulls they found in the killing fields of Pol Pot. “What happened to him, Rosie?” I asked, looking into her eyes.

She looked at me as though I were more stupid than the eggplant I had in my hand. “Well, Mugsy, if you stop eating, you die.”

“You mean, he starved himself to death rather than murder innocent people?” I felt my definition of courage rewriting itself in tears on my heart.


She went back to unpacking the grapefruit. I knew I was upsetting her, but I had to ask one last question. “But Rosie, how many soldiers did that?”

“Oh, a lot of them.” We looked at each other through tears. I touched her hand, and went on to have my purchases weighed by a woman whose children had died in her arms of starvation. She’d been listening and handed me a tissue. “Have a nice day,” she said, as I left.

“You too, my friend,” I said, “You too.”

Can you possibly imagine United States solders choosing to starve themselves rather than kill innocent civilians? I am embarrassed to say it is beyond my imagination. And I believe that’s part of why we are so ineffective and defenseless against these rogue terrorist groups. We can’t begin to comprehend actually dying for our country. Even the soldiers we send to wherever this season’s “over there” is don’t actually believe they will die. We don’t even get it that these small rogue non-governmental groups are that serious. But they are. Deadly serious. We can't comprehend it because we don’t even know what that kind of courage is.

Football is the perfect metaphor for the United States vs. the rest of the known world.

When I was in Sorrento, I saw a large group of people leaning against a wall, intently watching something down below, in the churchyard. I wandered over, and saw it was a soccer game, including, from the looks of it, a grandmother and a bunch of teenaged kids. She was pretty well holding her own. It’s like this, all over the world, people of all ages put on their tennies and shorts, gather up their friends, and go outside to play soccer. If no friends are available, they kick the ball against a wall, happy and heartful in the endeavor.

Well, except in the United States. In the United States, football is mostly a corporate advertising opportunity, a spectator sport, another chance to market. Our players wear armor, and go out onto the field where they try to maim and cripple the other side, succeeding so often that major drugs are involved. We can’t even use a round ball, for god’s sake; we have to have this weird-Harold dead pig football and these ridiculous rules that really make no sense to anyone. (And change just as soon as you learn them.)

The involvement of actual people in football is mainly tailgate parties, eating themselves silly in the parking lot of the arena out of the backs of gas-guzzling vehicles often painted and decorated in the colors of their teams. Customizing costumes and organizing cheers are the other participation opportunities. Of course drinking oneself silly in the process is all part of this ritual.

Of course there are wingnut soccer fans all over the world, and professional soccer has a lot of the organized fan insanity surrounding it.

We are far more dedicated to and intent on our football than our system of government, our Constitution, or our Bill of Rights, the foundation of our country, which we profess to love so much. But we don't show it in any real way,other than sticking "God Bless America" bumper stickers on our trucks. We are in no way the people our founding mothers and fathers were, who came here in little wooden boats to a land with no electricity, no cell phones, no indoor plumbing. The soldiers of the Revolutionary army violated the very tenets of war for their time. British armies stood in the battlefield, while our guys hid behind rocks and trees and shot them as they stood. A new kind of warfare. Just as suicide bombing is a new kind of warfare. The British didn’t understand what was happening until it was too late. We must learn more quickly if we as a nation are to survive. And we must show a new kind of courage.

These are dangerous times. The threat to the United States is not from beyond our borders, but from within. Our wonderful Amy Goodman and her crew were in a house in Minnesota covering the convention when the police broke in and held them for hours with assault weapons, telling them they were being held not for anything they had done but because of what they might do. And when actually taken in, no charges were filed against them, they were told, because they hadn't done anything wrong. See www.democracynow.org for more information. Our own government is turning this country into a police state, and altogether too many US citizens think that's just fine. Our prisons are full of people we have thrown away because there's no work for them, and no value put on their lives. The independent press is imprisoned and bullied and locked up, and we ignore it. We lock ourselves away in our homes, afraid to walk down the street. We imagine invasions where none is threatened, and hand over the keys to our country to those who are not intelligent, who are corrupt, and who use our fear to manipulate us until accepting their violation of US and international law. Why? Because we are becoming such cowards that we will not stand up and face the bullies.

While we've worried about some phantom threat from overseas, Enron, Haliburton, and the neocons have made off with $3 trillion of our money, plus much of our 401k retirement funds, and now they also want our Social Security funds. The banks and lending institutions have put hundreds of thousands of us into bankruptcy, after they rewrote the bankruptcy laws to remove our protections. Our homes, all across the country, are in foreclosure. Families are being tractored off their farmland in record numbers, not seen since the Great Depression. Our urban jobs are vanishing, like water on a hot pavement. The public utilities have been privatized, so we now pay ridiculous amounts of money for telephones which work sometimes, break often, and are easily tapped. Our civil rights have been used as toilet paper in the White House. And still we babble on about President Clinton's "values" and say we don't "trust" Senator Obama.

Part of the problem is the number of citizens who have come here or been born only a little while ago, and have no personal memory of how it could be different, true, but the greater part is that we have become a nation of cowards. We are ignorant, some willingly, some not. We are afraid of the dark. And we well should be, because the darkness of ignorance is closing in all around us.

One time I went to hear the Tibetan Monks chanting in the ballroom at UC Berkeley in the evening, and afterward, I went to have tea with friends. They dropped me off at the entrance to the underground lot where my car was parked, around midnight. As I walked down the ramp, I noticed my Toyota was the only car in the lot.

As I walked further underground, I began hearing footsteps behind me, many many footsteps. As someone who has been through a brutal rape, I was stone terrified. My car was too far away to run to. The footsteps quickened. Inside, I heard a quiet voice, "Turn around and face your fear." And I had no choice. So, as I stood at the bottom of the ramp in the night, I turned, trying not to faint, trying to keep my wits about me.

And there they were. The chanting monks. All 13 of them. They came down and surrounded me, talking over each other, smiling, patting me on the arms and shoulders. They were happy to see me, because in their tours they rarely got to speak with individual people. We stood there talking (as though my weak knees would have allowed me to move) for quite some time, and then they gave me a package of incense and a tape of their chanting. At some point, I noticed the van they were headed toward. They all walked me to my car and helped me into it.

And so I say to you, my friends, please, for the love of god, turn around and face your fears. What awaits you cannot possibly be worse than those phantoms you are frightening yourselves with.

©2008 by Mugsy Peabody. All world rights reserved.

Note: You can hear the monks, Ravi Shakar, and others chanting the age-old om mane padme hung at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vjg5hU3MfIw&feature=related. If you would like to learn more about the Cambodian Genocide, please consult the Yale University Cambodian Genocide Project at: http://www.yale.edu/cgp.

15 August 2008

More from Piedmont Avenue.....

Most folks, when they think of Piedmont Avenue, envision something like Mille Fiori, a flower stand which has been on the Avenue since I moved here nearly 30 years ago. An area of “cute shops,” “great places to eat,” the home of Fenton’s ice creamery and Piedmont Theatre, L’Amyx Tea Bar and the Piedmont Grocery. For me, it is more multifaceted. When I go for my walk, I so often find another, far more interesting, textured community. I've included a slideshow of photos from walks on the Avenue. If anyone knows who the kid dancing in the window of Ferrari's is, please email me! I love it that my neighbors are the sort who leave out shoes for the homeless; quite often I find shoes, jackets, or other warm apparel for them. Free books are left on top of the return bins at the branch Library on 41st Street. Often the restaurants in the area leave bags of bread, bagels or muffins on top of newsracks for those without food.

The sidewalk and pavement pieces interest me because I'm always fascinated by what we "set in stone" when we have the opportunity. I think it speaks well of my neighbors that one choose to memorialize a complex symbol of love, and someone else cut Lewis Carroll/ Jefferson Airplane/ Grace Slick into concrete. All best to that impulse! (Production Notes: The "headless horseman" shot was made with my Samsung telephone at La Baja Taqueria, a place dedicated to Jerry Garcia, replete with original posters from the Hashbury 1960s. (BTW, Baja Taqueria has a great little Bluegrass jam from 8-10 every Monday night, hosted by Tom Lucas. No cover.) Although the quality as a photo is not to the standard I hold for myself, the painterly quality makes it somewhat more interesting, and in the spirit of the grateful dead, may they all rest in peace. The others were made using a Nikon digital.)

07 August 2008

Piedmont Avenue Tales

Like the storied path to Canterbury, Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, is a street of dreams. They all come here, alone or in company, on foot, in a car, on the bus, or pedaling a bike. In the end, it is a street everyone travels, whether the workers from Kaiser Permanente’s MacArthur/ Broadway facility, the bankers, shopkeepers, lawyers and dentists, acupuncturists and chiropractors who work on the street, or the musicians, writers, and artists who spring forth whole from California College of the Arts. With its wide vistas, deep grass, and old-growth trees, Mountain View Cemetery, at the end of the Avenue, is our park of choice for walking the dog, portrait photography, or a simple Sunday morning stroll. The Cemetery was designed 140 years ago by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed Central Park.

Like Chaucer’s pilgrims to Canterbury, they each have their own errands, dropping their kids off at St. Leo’s and Piedmont Elementary, stopping at Peet’s for coffee or a burrito at La Baja Taqueria, hitting the ATMs at Wells Fargo or Citibank, getting their hair cut or their toes painted, or just enjoying a quiet lunch at Bay Wolf, Cesars or Ninna’s. Walking, talking, enjoying the sun until they resume the chores of their days.

One such pilgrim was my neighbor Earl, a retired Navy guy and actor who was the only person I ever knew who actually ran away with the circus. He was an “advance man” for a mudshow, so he disappeared on us for the summer each and every year, to travel from small town to town, meeting the Rotary and Masons, Eastern Star and scout masters across the Midwest and South. He would rent the field, arrange the licenses and permits, oversee the printed posters and advertising; he was also in charge of the folks who sold tickets from phone banks. In the fall, he’d come back, full of stories as a ripe cob is crowded with kernels of corn.

One story Earl told which still haunts me is about the day in a small town in Alabama when the lion got out of his cage into a fairground full of people enjoying the sun along the midway.

I’ll always see him in my mind’s eye, leaning back in his chair at the dinner table, soaking in our eager attention, pausing and grinning to build suspense, a natural actor and storyteller.

“In the mess tent, when word came,” he said, “they left their forks hanging in mid-air. Every man, woman, and child of any age knew it was their duty to put their bodies between the animals and the paying customers.”

He looked at each of us, the drama of the moment sinking in. “They ran to their quarters and grabbed sheets, table cloths, towels, blankets, capes, any large piece of fabric.” We leaned forward, food and drink forgotten, scarcely breathing.

“The lion tamer grabbed a fork, and took the biggest raw steak he could find out of the ice box. They all ran across the fair grounds, from all directions, until they finally caught up with the errant cat. Then, the tamer began walking backward, the steak extended on the fork. The troop aligned themselves on both sides, in a row, forming two walls of fabric.”

He wet his throat and rinsed his teeth with his wine. His lady Shirley chimed in, “Cats can’t tell the difference between cloth and a solid wall.”

He studied her face before going on, in that way that people have who’ve been together for a very long time. “Oh, did you want to tell the story?" She didn’t respond.

”As the tamer and the lion passed, they would run to the head of the line, holding up their fabric, and so on and so on, a moving wall of cloth, shielding the public from the cat, the cat from the public, until, finally, they reached the lion’s cage, where the tamer tossed the steak inside. The cat lumbered up the steps, and they locked the door behind him.”

Shared silence. Hairs on the arms beginning to lie down again. Second coffees and the lovely banana cream pie Shirley had baked were handed round.

Good people around the table, great stories of brick-and-mortar life, a home-baked pie, the cat on the window sill taking it all in, while we pondered how it would be to live in a community where we knew our duty so absolutely that we would leave our forks hanging in the air when called to fill it.

Note: The website for Mountain View Cemetery is www.mountainviewcemetery.org for those interested in this fascinating place.)

©2008 by Mugsy Peabody. All world rights reserved.

07 July 2008

Sita, 1989-July 2008

The little guy had cancer, and this afternoon we went to Cheshire Cat, totally against her wishes and her will, to get a blood test. It was the worst possible result, and I came home without her. I'll write more later.

21 April 2008

Since you liked the old Tigger story, here's another from that era. In 1980, I wrote "Honk If You Think She's Jesus," which was published in Pulling Our Own Strings, Feminist Humor& Satire, University of Indiana Press, Gloria Kaufman and Mary Kay Blakeley, eds., which was picked up by the Book of the Month Club. MP


Susan Pasteur Caanan watched Colonel George Armbruster cut his steak while her husband, Lt. CoL. Harry B. Caanan, beamed under George's 467th retelling of Harry's brilliance in the cockpit. "If," Susan wondered, "ole Harry can find Hamilton Field in the middle of the night with a 4-1/2-ton jet, why can't he ever find my clitoris?" Like many of Life's Compelling Questions, this had no apparent answer.

George's wife, JennyMarie, smiled and squeezed Susan's hand. George was now pounding on the table to emphasize points in what Susan called his "America: love it or go shoot yourself" speech when the California earth began to shake.

Susan looked up at the Sears five-arm chandelier, and she realized it meant to loosen itself and plop itself firmly on her head. She considered whether a coma might be a viable alternative to her life as an Air Force wife, and as she wondered, the chandelier came loose and plopped itself firmly on her head.

When the 5.7 earthquake ended, an Enlightened Susan found herself still alive and still awake. JennyMarie said, "This happened to my Aunt Bernice once. . . such a lovely woman, too!"

"JennyMarie, living next door to you is like living with Dale Evans," Susan said.

"Oh, you're so sweet. She's always been one of my favorite thinkers."

Susan immediately found herself driving across the Golden Gate Bridge in her little green MG. She then found herself at the San Francisco Women's Halfway House and Enlightenment Parlor. Susan was very pleased to find herself. She'd been looking for 28 years.

Enlightenment, in any case, is as great a burden as naturally curly hair — and in Susan's, the chandelier was so heavy, she immediately reached that State of Being in which one says absolutely nothing Unenlightened. Small talk, of course, doesn't have to be dull. But this is America, after all. You can't just go around dropping Universals in people's tea.

So when Andiron L. answered the Halfway-Enlightened door and Susan said, "The impact of truth is a direct factor of the length of time during which it is disclosed," Andiron spent considerable time pulling on her earlobe.

But, seeing no guns, knives, or other threatening characteristics, Andiron finally said, "Say, listen, Sweetheart, why don't you just come inside and rest for a bit?" Andiron L. made one of two assumptions people normally make about Enlightened people — that Susan must be completely stoned out of her mind.

Susan put her pack down in the room with a 15-foot ceiling, 11 windows, 27 women, 2 cats, 3 kids, and a large overstuffed Indian print pillow on the floor in the corner next to the marble fireplace. A stained glass window above the fireplace announced, "My consciousness is fine—it's my pay that needs raising."

After watching for a few minutes, Susan smiled mystically and got up to stand in front of the blackboard on which were written Shana Alexander, Caroline Bird, and Rita Mae Brown's latest books and the editorial address of WomanCabbie, a magazine about the capitalist/sexist/bullshit/oppression of women driving cabs. Susan wrote:

Truth = Impact/Time of Disclosure

Then she sat down on the pillow and resumed reading The Further Fattening Adventures of Pudge, Girl Blimp, a comic book she found on the mantle.

"Hi," a woman squealed. "I'm Janelle."

Susan ran her fingers through her short-cropped auburn hair and looked at Janelle. Then she looked at the other happy, bright, smiling faces. "Sound off, Mouseketeers," Susan said.

No one could think of anything to say that was supportive, so Andiron poured Susan a ceramic mug full of Red Zinger tea. Andiron was white with a dark brown Afro. She wore jeans and a long-sleeved dark print shirt under a the-shirt advertising the First Annual Handicapped Gay Eskimo Small Press and Beer Can Recycling Conference.

The women decided to rummage through Susan's daypack to discover who she was, a process she watched in bemused silence. "Strangers are only friends you haven't misunderstood yet," she told them.

Andiron said, "Well, Susan Pasteur Caanan, apparently you are married and live in Bel Marin Keys, CA 94934. So are you leaving your old man or what?"

"Probably beat her," Janelle said. "Look at that bump on her head." Susan blinked.

"Would you like to stay with us?" Susan didn't know what forces deposited her in the Halfway House in the first place, but as any Enlightened person could see, she would stay until she left. So she blinked again.

"Listen," Andiron L. suggested, "she's apparently blown away by whatever just came down, and she is bumped on the head, so why don't we give her a couple of organic aspirin and let her space for a while?" Everyone agreed this made sense, since it did. They returned to raising their consciousness so they could understand why Janelle's woman lover and new role as an independent leather craftsperson made her feel like the same piece of shit her husband and five kids had.

A woman named Cassandra suggested it was because there wasn't much market for leather Tupperware or soap dishes, but this was shouted down as nonpositive support.

"Eventually one discovers one should not necessarily do those things one believes will make a real difference in one's life," Susan finally said.

"Why not?" a tearful Janelle asked, cosy from an evening of gratuitous hugs and attention.

"Because there is no external which can make a real difference in one's life. However, this possibility is often the positive force which helps one deal with the daily realities," Susan answered.

The women, notebooks in hand, had begun scribbling. They actually had no idea what Susan was talking about, but it sounded Important.

"So I shouldn't have fucked Maria," Janelle said, looking up from her notes.

"I guess that's what she's saying," Andiron said.

"Bullshit," Maria said.

"Bullshit is sexist. Cowshit?" Cassandra offered.

"No, then you'd have to say 'roostershit,' 'ramshit,' and 'eweshit,' " Andiron L. said, pouring Susan another cup of tea. After the meeting, she took Susan to a bedroom on the second floor. It had a poster that read: Those who spend their lives in closets smell of mothballs.

Susan stared at the poster, then let her daypack fall wearily to the floor. Andiron sensed Susan's loneliness, so she brought her sleeping bag in and slept next to Susan on the floor. Susan was beginning to like Andiron L.

When they awakened, Susan asked Andiron, "How many feminists does it take to change a lightbulb?"

"Dunno," Andiron grinned.

"Six," Susan said. "Four to discuss the political ramifications, one to provide daycare, and one to change the lightbulb."

  

Days passed, as they will whether or not we manage them, and Susan became the guru of the SFWHHEP. Wednesday nights became the time to gather at Susan's wisdom welL. Though things she said often seemed strange and out of con, they made the women feel better. Soon, Wednesday Nights were moved to the Unitarian Church, where it was easier to accommodate four hundred persons.

Lt. Col. Harry Caanan eventually found himself in Dr. Luther Sang-Freud's office in Mill Valley. He, unlike Susan, had not been looking for himself, so he didn't really notice. Dr. Sang-Freud was saying, "Vell, my boy, you zee, often ve cure cases of amnessia, the affliction your voman zeems strugglink mit, by recreating ze circumzdances in substance identical mit doze vitch caused ze original difficulties," and puffed on his briar, wondering if this yahoo would finish paying for the redwood hot-tub.

"Sir, I don't really follow what you're saying," Harry said, knowing a great deal more about the outside of a jet than the inside of a thought.

"My boy, you obviously don't watch many 'B' movies."

Harry shook his head.

"Look, Bozo, what you do is, hit her on the head with a chandelier."

For this, Harry paid $150.

The May Seminars began with "Susan on Friendship." From the Indian print pillow, she was staring at her Birkenstocked feet, stroking her auburn hair, and saying, "A real friend is someone who loves you in spite of your shortcomings. An enemy is someone who tells you they love you in spite of your shortcomings. And then catalogues them for you. Sometimes in a crowded room at the top of their lungs. Always for your own good." She paused to give the 3,000 note-takers time to catch up.

"There are men who are unwilling to pay for their lover's abortions unless they are absolutely sure the pregnancy was 'their fault.' In the vernacular, such people are referred to as 'assholes.' Many times, women pay for other women's abortions. They do not ask, 'Are you sure it's mine?' These are referred to as 'friends.'"

The crowd cheered. The cameraperson zoomed in for a close-up. This entire guru role embarrassed Susan, for she had the humility of a truly Enlightened person. But the SFWHHEP was taking care of her, so she continued.

"Sometimes assholes and enemies move out of town. And sometimes friends move out of town. I don't know where enemies and assholes move to. But friends move to Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, or Sacramento. None of these is San Francisco. When enemies and assholes move, this is called 'Far Out.' When friends move, it is called 'Far Away.' These are not the same."

Susan noticed a young Mark Twain type in a white suit and Earth Shoes sitting next to Andiron L., who looked pissed. This was because Mark Twain was Media Venture, her ex-old-man, who knew damned well men weren't allowed in Parlor Seminars. (This wasn't Susan's decision.)

No one noticed the other man there, Harry Caanan who was hiding behind a light boom in back of the auditorium. This was unfortunate, for Harry fully intended to hit Susan firmly on the head with the Sears five-arm chandelier he had cleverly concealed in a Safeway grocery bag.

Susan continued, "When you are angry and yell and throw things, people say you are acting like a Child. When you are angry and talk calmly and drink alcohol and can't sleep because your stomach hurts, people pat you on the shoulder for being Adult. When you act like a Child, people you don't like go away and they do not come back. When you act like an Adult, you get an ulcer and a sore shoulder, and people you don't like adore you. So you get angry all over again and again. This does not make you feel Better. Adults do not normally live as long as Children for this very reason."

Harry, meanwhile, was hiding in the curtains at the side of the stage. No one was paying any attention to Harry, which is how he managed this.

Media Venture leaped to his feet exuberantly. "I can sell her, I can sell her!" Media was not a pimp, though this was precisely what every person there thought. Even Harry.

But finally Media escaped the pile of screaming, kicking note-takers long enough to explain that he was a public relations man who owned his own counterculture advertising agency, which employed 52 percent women in executive/creative levels of power. And that some of his best friends were lesbian. Media explained he had a new slot for a guru account, since the U.S. Department of Silly Awareness Groups had created 175 new licenses for Silly Awareness Groups in 1979, over the dead bodies of Nalf Rader and his Citizens Against Silly Awareness Groups (CASAG).

While everyone was shouting at Media, Harry saw his chance. He aimed the chandelier straight at Susan's head, and as he was about to launch it, harpoon-fashion, Andiron decked him with a karate chop. Then she deposited him on the auditorium steps with a broken chandelier and a good deal to think about.

Susan watched these proceedings from a brown study atop her pillow. She was not pleased. She knew, given the opportunity, this was not the most fun she could have on a nickel.

In fact, it took her two days, back at the urban ranch, drinking tea and eating 9-grain wheat toast—while Media outlined his Plan for Susan Pasteur Seminars, Inc.—to quit trembling. She had watched so many "B" movies since marrying Harry that she had won Dialing for Dollars eleven times, and she knew exactly what Dr. Sang-Freud had told Harry. Eventually she relaxed.

In six months Susan became an overnight sensation. Media told her that Pasteurized Wednesday Nights, now telecast nationally from the Halfway House, brought in $83,000 a week in donations alone. And Susan was the only person in history whose name Barbara Walters actually pronounced correctly. The Pasteur, Inc. offices at Ghirardelli Square on San Francisco Bay employed 43 men and persons. Pasteur owned seven white Dodge vans with drop-down side doors to display "the line." School kids wore little gold-plated chandeliers around their necks and carried ring-binder notebooks full of Pasteurized quotations. There was a TV tape, a cassette, a ten-minute DVD, and a full line of jogging wear. Bumper stickers, posters, and buttons from Maine to San Diego pleaded for the Pasteurization of America. The Lt. Col. Harold Caanan Fan Club in Georgia was composed of retired Air Force officers whose wives had left them for Susan, the Rev. Sun-Moon-and-Stars, or other Silly Awareness Groups.

Indeed, the masses, looking for packaged answers, found Susan Pasteur the Kraft cheese of their precut world. They paid through the nose to see her (dressed in white fisherperson's clothes imported from Greece, sitting cross-legged in front of a portable fireplace) speak from her giant Indian print pillow. Fully half the country was hitting itself over the head with chandeliers in search of Enlightenment. No few wanted to sleep with her, too.

Susan, Andiron, and Media were on a PSA jet to LA to meet with an agent who wanted to do a movie of Susan's life, starring Joan Baez, Golda Meir, and Candice Bergen, when Susan said, "Knowing when to end something is the hardest thing in the world."

"Certainly," she thought, "it's too bad I can't just say I want out of this fucking zoo. She continued, "Once, an art teacher told me I had overdone a watercolor and ruined it. He said, 'It takes two people to do a good watercolor—one to paint and the other to shoot the artist when the work is finished.' A good deal of living is like this."

She was staring at the beautiful girl sitting across the aisle from her, next to a tall New Englander. The girl's head was swathed in bandages, with blond tufts of hair, clear blue eyes, and an angelic smile.

Media said terrifically, "Susan, that would make a great quote for the new steno pad line. 'Knowing when to quit' —no, that wasn't it. Or how about the new promo brochure?" He whipped out his pen.

Susan continued looking at the beautiful girl. This was because the girl had hypnotized her with the crystal pendant she wore—quite deliberately.

Andiron said to Media, "Shut up, Asshole." Andiron, being a true friend, had figured out how to tell what Susan actually meant by what she said, no matter how Enlightened it sounded.

"Some things go on," Susan said. "This is because they are Good Things. Why some things are Good and some Bad, no one really knows," she continued. Media scribbled. "Andiron," she said, taking the woman's hand, "do you know Janelle has taped everything I've said since I came to the SFWHHEP? She has an entire closet full of everything I've said, including 'pass the maple syrup' and 'wonderful, but a little higher and to the left.'"

Media said, "No shit, really? That's terrific!"

Andiron said, "Steady, Big Fella—before you start toting up interest and capital gains—I rewired Janelle's tape recorder so the 'play' button is the 'record' button, and the 'record' button is the 'play' button. So every time she plays one of those tapes, she erases it."

Susan said, "Isn't she beautiful?", looking at the girl across the aisle and holding Andiron's hand. The stewardess, wearing an "I've been Pasteurized" button, asked them if they wanted anything to drink for the 23rd time. The young girl sat down in the aisle when the stewardess left and put her head in Susan's lap.

"What is she, about fifteen?" Andiron guessed. Andiron thought she was another of the thousands who were convinced that Susan could heal them just by touch. Susan nodded, stroking the girl's head. "Sixteen in November, a Scorpio," Susan said. The middle-aged New Englander turned out to be her father, and he button-holed Venture in hushed tones. They went off to the bar together.

Susan said, "Sometimes people say 'it didn't Work,' or 'it did Work.'" She stroked the girl's head. "People do not say 'it Played,' or 'it didn't play,' unless they are talking about a phonograph record." The stewardesses sat in the seats behind her, taking notes in their Pasteur steno pads.

"This is interesting because it tells us people think more highly of work than of play. People who think more of play than of work are called 'Children' or 'Artists' or 'Hippies' or 'Crazy.' There is not a lot of difference. People who think work is more important than play are called 'Adults.' This is another reason Children tend to live longer."

"My name is Meredith Hyding," the girl said.

"I know," Susan said.

Meredith explained to Susan, "The reason things often end badly is because the communication to take them through ending well is not there. If the communication still existed, things probably wouldn't end at all."

Susan smiled. "I was wondering about that."

Then Meredith, who had recently been hit by a falling lighthouse in Braintree, Mass., hit Susan over the head with her carry-on bag, in which there was a Sears five-arm chandelier. Meredith told Susan it was time to quit the business and seek personal happiness, since being happy was the only truly Revolutionary, Enlightened thing anybody could do. She told Andiron and Susan to spend the next month or so gnoshing hotdogs and watching Winnie the Pooh movies at Disneyland. Susan soon became convinced that Meredith was far more Enlightened than she had ever been.

By the time PSA landed in LA, Susan had appointed Meredith her successor, the father had hired Media to take care of business, Meredith agreed to see the agent about Susan's movie, and the stewardesses forgot to bring their drinks because they were too busy writing down what both Meredith and Susan said.

When Susan and Andiron walked through LA International, they passed two security guards hand-cuffing Harry to a row of Fiberglas chairs. Susan told them to release him. Then she told him she was in love with Andiron and wanted a divorce. Harry hit himself over the head with his chandelier and immediately accepted the wisdom of this. In fact, he became so aware that he left the Air Force, married Janelle, hit her over the head with his chandelier, and became an organic carpenter in Taos, New Mexico—where he donated all his above subsistence earnings to the Pueblo Indians. They, being already Enlightened, graciously accepted them.

Susan and Andiron opened a restaurant overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Big Sur, California. The dining room is dominated by a very large, framed poster of Meredith Hyding in a hot, steaming bubble-bath. The slogan says, "Anybody who pays $250 to be told they're okay really isn't."

They remained happy for quite some time.

Copyright © 2008 by Mugsy Peabody. All world rights reserved.

15 April 2008

The Cat, The Potted Palm, and the Naked Lady

Thirty years ago, I wrote a story called "The Cat, The Potted Palm, and The Naked Lady," published in Issue No. 4, "Straight from the Gut," Ken Kesey's "Spit in the Ocean" Magazine (Winter, 1978, Lee Marrs, ed.). In honor of that anniversary, I open my blog here with that story. I liked the story well enough, but of course could have had no idea that three decades later, one line of that story has spread throughout the world, and has even been translated into Arabic, Serbo-Croatian, Chinese, Japanese, and Tibetan. There are calendars and bumper stickers, coffee mugs and posters, buttons and catfood bowls. Tigger was a real cat/person, with a large following of her own, and all this attention would have pleased her. I brought her home at six weeks on a Greyhound bus, tucked inside my jacket, and she honored me with her presence for 21 years. She remains one of the best people I've ever known. MP


By Mugsy Peabody

"After all, a dog is a dog, and a bird is a bird, but a cat is a person."

I never figured out why they always die. I brought them home immediately, brought them belatedly, repotted them, left them in their original pot, watered them, droughted them, put them in the sun, in the shade. In desperation, I even put them in the refrigerator, put them in the shower (light cream rinse only), and under the bed. No matter what I did with the 6" Potted Palm, it died dead at once.

After changing my toothpaste three times, I decided they must be Scorpio loners, so I put them on the top shelf of the closet and ignored them. If possible, they died more quickly. Eventually, I had a tiny graveyard in the garden, Arlington Local. The neighbors began complaining about zoning, driving me to the People's Law, Dope & Free VD Test Library to research the plantricide laws of the state of california in and for the county of san francisco. I found out a good deal about victimless crimes, and in the course discovered that most of my complaining neighbors' waterbeds were not only x-rated, but illegal, immoral, and that wasn't oregano growing in their back yard either. But still I found nothing pertaining to my systematic genocide of an entire species of Palm.

When my landlord filed his position paper on Arlington Local, I screamed, "You know what you are, you're a cunnilinguist!"

He smiled. "I didn't know you knew, French and Latin, San Diego State," and returned to vacuuming the hall, whistling.

There never was an Annette Funicello/Bobby Darin movie without palms. Thirties and Forties movie stars always draped themselves around such greenery. You never saw Joan Crawford/Bette Davis/Lena Horne without the proverbial potted palm belching in the background. So when I migrated to california, naturally, I had to have one. I actually had about 34, to the amusement of friends and interested others. I am presently convinced that there are only three in california, two of which are 68 years old and owned by Living Plant Rentals, Inc.

(If you've been wondering what happened to all those kids who migrated to san francisco barefoot in the wake of the flower child, well, a number of us are still here, working and not working; living and dying; getting stoned and staying straight, and trying to raise suicidal palms. Those who stayed collected everything everyone else left when they went back to wherever after the diggers quit digging and governor raygun suggested the solution to the logging companies/sierra club feud was to cut down all the trees except those along the scenic highways.)

I was one who stayed. I collected a drafting table, a hamster tank, three pairs of tennis shoes, a doll's house, two televisions and several boarders who didn't work, and TA DA, a potted palm with a will to live! ! ! !

Which doesn't make me Joan Crawford. But if you think about it long enough, you know why Tigger and I live alone, having gotten sick of six consecutive communes and several dozen collectives, all doing Good Things for at least three weeks. And I ran out of room for yes to, "Say could you use a genuine fill-in-the-blank . . ., at least until I get back from. . . ."

Well, Aunt Martha, Tigger is a cat. (She's sitting out there in Watercress, Iowa, asking, "Who's this Tigger, who's this Tigger . . . , because my Midwestern relatives are totally convinced that I am Living in Sin. Oh, lord, if they had any idea just how hard Good Sin is to find! Especially in San Francisco, where 70 percent of the men not only could but often do look better in your favorite dress.)

Tigger is a cat, although she wouldn't like me saying that. As the lady on the tube said, people are so silly about animals. After all, a dog is a dog, a bird is a bird, but a cat is a person.

Tigger has her own sense of things. I put newspaper beneath her kitty litter and under her food bowl. Now she carefully covers up her food dish when she's finished eating. She likes music, often sitting on the Surrealistic Pillow and riding around, though she doesn't think much of the Fountains of Rome. And she likes to sit on my shoulder like a parrot (which is fine as long as she keeps her mouth shut). But, more than anything, she likes to eat Potted Palms. Which she says is her caviar (and my interior decorator's waterloo). Which is how she got into show business, and I nearly ended up in a strait jacket.

Slouching toward Bethlehem one day, she evaded my Maginot Line and ate an entire leaf of P. Palm. (I name everything, according to F. Fern.) P. Palm was howling and swearing a green streak and F. Fern was dialing the SPCP when I decided something needed to be done. I took a terribly frightened P. Palm off to the plant hospital around the corner: Theda Barr's Psychic Parlor and Plant Hospital. She promised me Palm would recover, especially if I paid her $43.00 (food stamps accepted). I mentally added $30.00 for an hour with my shrink, which would follow the worrying I was doing about where to get the money and/or stamps, and went home, where I finally ordered Tig up against the wall. She may be the famous one in the family, having modeled for underground comix, but that didn't give her the right to bully the others. Especially not $43.00 worth.

"You've sponged off me long enough! Goddamn it, I'm not made of money, you're going out and get a job!" I had saved that speech from my Haight-Ashbury daze.

"Doing what? You know how hard it is to get modeling jobs."

"Well, do something, cat food ads, maybe. But you've got to come up with $43.00 by Thursday."

Her sense of integrity was mortally offended. "I'm an Artist," she sniffed. But I explained that I didn't like working either as I packed her portfolio and her dr. dentons. We hopped on the Sacramenna bus down to the J. Walter Thompson Agency, who, it turned out, was only doing radio cat food ads these days. But Tigger showed them her equity card and did her stuff. The entire swimming pool production number from Footlight Parade and a complete Judy Garland concert. Then, wringing wet and high on reds, she recited "The Owl and the Pussycat" and the "Cremation of Sam McGee." They said they'd call us. But the receptionist told us it was because of the Equal Opportunity Employment people being on their case lately. So they had to get a siamese, manx, or Persian. It's tough to be a WASP in show biz these days, she confided.

But we no sooner got in the door when she called us back. Dyna-kitty was doing a whole new promo and liked Tigger's headshots. So I packed her into a cab and she chased back down there with a whole case of stage fright. I suggested a joint would be easier to carry, but she felt she had to do it straight, muttering about Artistic Integrity and The Method. So I muttered back about Paying the Rent and Buying Catfood.

I'd finally managed to relax into a hot tub of old confession magazines ("Lucy Tells the Truth about Liza and Desi, Jr.," "Did the best Seller Win? Or just Peter out?") when the phone rang.

It was my friendly neighborhood friend from Fresno with her annual entry into our Worry Contest (a traveling trophy).

"I think I've got you this time," she said. "I was just sitting here worrying about what to do with the siamese in case of nuclear attack. . . should I take them with me to the shelter, or just open all the cans of cat food. . . "

I wrapped the trophy while I told her about my problem with Tig. She said she'd been planting wild birdseed and the cats like that better than house plants. It was the first viable solution anybody had presented, so I immediately dashed down to the pet store.

"Do you have wild birdseed?" I asked.

"Birdseed, that's all we have, parakeet, finch, or canary," the man said. "And you might want to put some clothes on."

"Canary's fine," I said, "and do you have some potting soil?" "What the hell you going to do with the birdseed, lady?" he asked.

"Grow canaries," I said, rushing out. Buying dirt always bothered me anyway. Something about paying for something you can find anywhere. If you have a jackhammer.

I ran upstairs past the landlord who was now spackeling the holes the piano movers had left in the wall and collected an old pan and spoon and charged back downstairs with a sign from my last demonstration that said: "Free dirt and all political prisoners."

"You might want to put some clothes on!" he shouted.

The nearest thing to a tree on my block is a gas pump with a sign that says "post no bills," so I ran on down the street until I came to a concrete tub with a tree in it. I don't know where they captured said tree, but they had him all tied down with wire and rope so he couldn't get away. I straightaway filled the pan.

"Put it back."

I looked at the tree. Probably an out-of-work actor from Wizard of Oz, I thought.

"Put it back, okay?"

I told him about trying to buy steer manure at sears for my boss so he would understand that I knew BS when I saw it, showed him my sign and told him about Tig and what a brotherly thing it would be to do for P. Palm, but about that time the pet store man came chasing around the corner which was when I remembered I hadn't paid for the birdseed. I looked over my shoulder as I turned the corner to see the pet store man untying the tree. Soon they were beating feet behind me. . . da da da, da da da, da da da da da • • • (think William Tell Overture) da da da, da da da, da da da da da. . .

After I bolted the door, I resumed my meditation in the tub. Lucy never did say why Peter was the better Seller, but the story had a lot of nice pictures of Fred and Ethel Mertz in it.

Then I decided the birdseed was priority, since the box was already sprouting from being dropped in the tub when I got the spoon for the dirt out of the draino can. I wandered out to the kitchen and gathered up an old tv dinner tray and the dirt and planted the burgeoning seeds before anything further could happen to them. The doorbell rang then, and I was so nervous I spilled the remains of the box all over me. I answered the door before I realized I still had no clothes on. Oh, hell, if it was good enough for the Emperor, it was good enough for me. Of course it would be my landlord at the door instead of those guys from Palestine selling The Robe.

I have to admire san francisco chinese landlords for their composure. Even though he was backing through the window across the hall, spilling spackle from his trowel. "Look, you've got to get rid of that old refrigerator on the back porch," he said, standing-on the fire escape. "The public health was just here and they say it's got to go or they're going to fine me $200."

"Can I finish planting my birdseed first?" I asked. He ran down the stairs, muttering to himself in Cantonese.

Tigger came wandering up the stairs with a check for $300 and four cases of cheese-and-liver-flavored dyna-kitty. I helped her carry the check in. We locked the door and I finished planting the seed, which had now grown a full two inches, including the half box spilled all over me, making me look like a soon-to-be Birnham Wood. Tigger stored her royalties in the pantry and opened a can for herself. "Here," I said, putting the birdseed next to her food. "Salad. So don't you ever touch P. Palm again. Understand me? I've got enough trouble with the health department and the landlord right now without the SPCP on my back."

"Is there any thousand island?"

"Only if you paw in blood to leave Palm alone."

She was in such a good mood, she gave in. It seems she'd also been offered a role in Deep Coat, an x-rated movie about a Persian with her claws in her ears – although the cosmetic transformation from Maine Coon to Persian would have her in make-up for hours each morning. "I do have to let my hair grow," she said, "but otherwise I can fake it."

She tossed her National Organization of Cat Women card down the trash chute before I could discuss the ethics of the part with her, but we do have to make our own mistakes in life, and besides, the doorbell rang just then.

Tigger answered it, hoping for her first autograph seekers. "Just a minute," she said, and came back to the kitchen. "Look, I have a feeling you might want to hide. The landlord and some tree and another guy are out there, and I don't think they're going to be too impressed with you standing there looking like the Revenge of the Canary Seed Grass Person." She handed me a blanket, although at the rate the grass was growing, bark might have been more appropriate.

Tig went back out and stalled 'em, letting them scratch her ears while I hid. Finally they gave up their searching, searching, and decided to use the tree's willing branches while available to remove the old refrigerator. Which is how I ended up bruised, naked, and out of breath at the Good Will.

"Nothing in here but a tree with an old blanket on," I heard a voice say.

"No, it's moving. Probably not a tree."

Why the police believed any of this, I'll never know. But they took me to a greenhouse where I was striped of my foliage and then taken home in a big green garbage bag with holes cut in for head and arms.

Tee martoonies later, I sat Tigger and all the houseplants down for a good ole heart-to-heart-to-stem talk. Tigger decided we might go for relationship counseling, but I thought perhaps Theda Barr might help us learn how to get along. I thought P. Palm would be more open with a Palmist as a counselor. It was always so hard to get a plant to open up -- although I'd had considerable practice with some of the losers I'd been dating.

So we trundled down to the California Street Psychic Parlor & Plant Hospital, and I explained the situation to Ms. Barr, with a minimum of clumps of potting soil being thrown at Tigger, and she suggested a medium session. We pulled the drapes and dimmed the lights. Eventually, with paws, branches, and hands on the table, we began to hear strange noises. "I'll be calling you-ou-ou-ou-ou-ou-ou." It was coming from P. Palm. Tigger, looking amazingly Northwest Mounted Police-ish astradle the chair, was echoing this madness. I stared at Ms. Barr in amazement.

"I'm going back to being an honest stock broker," she said. I just nodded, wondering if such a thing were actually possible.

"Oh, Nelson," P. Palm sobbed, "It's what you always do. You always get on that darned horse and upstage me!"

"But, Jeanette, what do you want me to do??? It's in the script," Tigger protested.

"You always have an excuse for what you do, don't you? And you say you love me…"

I suddenly felt so alone, sitting there with a medium who gave massages and my two best friends, a cat and a plant who turned out to be Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy in their former lives. I might not be Living in Sin in San Francisco, Aunt Martha, but there were worse things that could happen.

Honestly, I must say, things have somewhat settled down now. It's a good deal noisier in the apartment, what with Tigger and Palm singing duets all the time, and the poor landlord wandering the halls talking to himself, but Palm gave a concert last week at the Boarding House with a cameo appearance by Tigger, and I can finally get some writing done, since they're now able to pay my rent.

Copyright © 2008 by Mugsy Peabody. All world rights reserved.