Sculpture Dedication

It’s the day after the dedication of the Clay County Veteran’s Memorial. Good crowd, nearly 1000. They were knocked out by Sandy Scott’s bronze eagle. Well they should be; she did a great job. Yes a military band played, someone sang the Star Spangled Banner, and there was 21-gun salute.

My observation? While I’m not big on over-zealous patriotism–which can sometimes lead to nationalism, which often leads to war–I am big on vets. They make the sacrifices, the rest of us enjoy the freedoms–at least in wars where freedom is actually threatened. This is not terribly common right now, since corporate greed plays so much into the smaller wars. But then it always has.

But yeah, I’m fond of vets. I will always oversee monuments to honor them. No, I’ll probably never utilize highly contemporary or abstracted work in this process. Why? Vets don’t understand that stuff, or even care for it. I prefer to give them sculpture they respond to, and enjoy. To me it’s the only way. I’ll save the contemporary work for other installations.

Clay County Veterans Memorial / Reunion

Have to attend the dedication for the Clay County Veterans Memorial this afternoon. I was the consultant on the sculpture–a 12′ bronze eagle by Sandy Scott. Lovely fall day for it. Sure I’ll enjoy myself.

Later, a walk in the country with my wife. Incredible weather. Great things can happen in autumn fields with a blanket and a bottle of wine.

Last night was the last night of the high school reunion. Freaking riot. A former cheerleader dragged me onto the dance floor and kept rubbing her body against mine. Very amusing, but I more or less behaved. The best thing was seeing so many old friends. Some people change, some do not, but the love remains the same. After-party at Johnny Butler’s later on: ample beer, music, laughs. Stayed until 3:00, and by god that was enough.

Last West-Coast Signing / Farewell Seattle / Reunion

Finished my last signing Thursday night. This was more of a seminar, so they filmed it for public TV. Lasted two hours. Exhausted when I finished. Ten signings in ten days. Giving so much to the crowds each time sure takes it out of you, as any performer knows. But as I mentioned before, the crowds often give back, and that helps greatly. Freaking done-in nonetheless.

My last day in Washington was just fine; went for a walk with a friend in the foothills of the Cascades: old-growth cedar, rain and moss. Dan Akkerman, a true shaman. Visionary, in tune, always one step ahead of society. He studied silver-smithing at KU and Miami, and now works on rocket launches in southern Russia. Go figure that one.

We celebrated the last signing with bourbon and oysters. Damn good way to go out. Miss Seattle already, except for the traffic and rain.

Came home to my 30th high school reunion. Sure that stuff’s a blast: everybody acting like a teenager again. Me? I never stopped. Awful lot of drinking and dope-smoking. Yeah, I’ll hoist the odd drink, but the other stuff I just watch from aside. There are some decadences from the 70s that I think are better left in the 70s. Got too much life to live for all that disorienting nonsense. Great reunion though. Embraces with dozens of people. Fascinating hearing all the stories. And, as always, a toast for those who have passed.

Seattle B&N / Fishing Boats / Harmonicas

My first night in Seattle I stayed with my brother-in-law, Lee Oskar. He was the harmonica player in War (Cisco Kid, Low Rider), and remains one of the finest harp players in the country, if not the world. From Denmark originally. Insisted I have Egg Beaters with him in the morning, then showed me his new studio. His stories of first coming to America in the 60s are fascinating: NY, San Francisco, LA. Then hooking up with Eric Burden and later War.

Did an interview on Seattle Public Radio, KUOW. Great interviewer, Megan Sukys. Morning traffic to the studio, as in all these meccas, was a f—ing nightmare. If that’s the price of paradise, they can keep it. One thing about Seattle: damned good coffee.

Went down to Fisherman’s Terminal to look for my old halibut boat, the schooner on which I worked for a season in Alaska. The boat had moved though, changed ownership, and was now in Westport. Ballard was different too: now it’s hip. When I lived on the boat there in the early 80s, it was just a place for fishermen. Well, everything changes.

Passed the day writing in a cafe beside the Sound. Went for a jog along the shore, out by one of the old lighthouses. Watched the tugs and freighters pass. Sun was out. Sound a sparkling blue, Olympic Range in the distance like something out of Tolkien. Lord!

Signing a great success. Large crowd. Barnes & Noble near the university: “Largest Barnes & Noble west of the Mississippi.” Sure I love independent bookstores, and do a lot of them. But the B&Ns are always good to me too: free cappuccinos. All I can drink, and I can drink a lot.

One more signing tonight, in Edmonds, then home.

Portland Art Center / Ken Kesey

You can’t pass through Oregon without thinking about Ken Kesey, the Merry Pranksters, Tom Wolfe, Neal Cassady, and all those other cats. Sure their odyssey didn’t really begin here, it began in San Francisco, after Kesey left Stanford, discovered acid, hooked up with the lunatics who floated around City Lights, and hooked up with more lunatics at Haight/Ashbury. But what lunatics! Still and all his thinking life began in Oregon, when he was an undergraduate at Eugene, and it was here that his best works were set. It was also to here that he returned to run his small farm, hide from the limelight and lunatics, and try to find sanity again. I believe he did before he finally died, some four years ago. Must have been quite a guy.

Portland was great: the rain, the big rivers, bicycles everywhere and rose bushes as big as trees. The Portland Art Center was even better. It’s run by a dude named Gavin Shettler, and man does he do a great job. Amusing, dedicated, and disciplined all at once. Rare package. He’s a Kansas City boy by way of Oregon, so we had a lot in common. He brought in a great crowd. I did the performance, made them laugh, made them sad, gave them things to think about. Also did my best to give them hope and inspiration; believe I succeeded. As usual, they gave right back. That’s what I dig about speaking: the vibrational exchange.

I’d love to stay awhile in Oregon, go to the coast, Coos Bay and the dunes, then later Hood, and some serious hiking in the Cascades. No time this trip. The next signing’s in Seattle. In fact two of them, and a radio interview. After all it’s a book tour, not a vacation. Damnit.

Ashland / Artists / Bloomsbury Books

Ashland, Oregon is in the southwest section of the state, in line with the Cascade chain of volcanoes, not too far from the coast. It’s home to what is probably the best-known, and best-produced, Shakespearean Festival on the West Coast. Beautiful town, beautiful theater, in a breathtaking valley ringed by mountains. My mom lives here, and one of my brothers, which was one reason why I asked to be booked for a signing. Also a great art community.

Yeah this is the heart of Granola country, but you’ve got to love Oregon for that. Everyone’s so hip, and enlightened, and so freaking considerate. Different from California and yet not. The same thing exists there, it’s just buried under layers of overpopulation.

My talk was in the library, then the signing at Bloomsbury Books after. As in Marin, as in Palo Alto, this was a great crowd too. Abstractionists, realists, ceramists, sculptors, you name it. Talented people just looking for a gallery owner to be straight with them. Well if there’s on thing I love, it’s eliminating the BS factor and the snobbery.

Spent time with my mom and brother later. Took his crotch rocket for a ride; some kind of Suzuki with a jet engine. Topped out at 175; I was content to go half that speed. I mean it ain’t my bike to get killed on. We spent a great day together doing chores, playing jokes and telling stories. She’s 80; could pass any time now, but I think not. Believe I’ll come back next summer with my family to visit. Perhaps take in Taming of the Shrew while we’re here. That would be just fine.

Hammett / London / Book Passage / Marin

In San Francisco I can’t cross streets like Turk or Polk without thinking about Dashiell Hammett, his time here, his drinking here, his initial detective work, and then that great novel. I can’t go to North Beach without thinking about Kerouac, or his drinking here, and his eventual novel. Likewise, I can’t go to Marin County without thinking about London’s Wolf House, his drinking all over this freaking city, his time in Oakland, his many works, then the way the Wolf House burned just as it was nearly finished, and how London died shortly after. At least he found love before he died though.

When I come to San Francisco, I think about the many writers who came here before me. Sure I dig on the art scene, the rebel galleries in SoMa as opposed to the more predictable ones over on Geary, and all the different artists I’ve addressed at the signings. I think about that. But because I’m first a writer, I think about the novelists. Then I have a drink with a friend, but only a couple. I’m not into the self-destructive thing anymore, rather the constructive thing.

Point Reyes, Stinson Beach, Mount Tamalpais. I couldn’t come here without hiking, or wading, at each. Afterward there was my signing at Book Passage in Marin. This is one of the most renowned bookstores on the West Coast. I mean David McCullough has signed here, as has Amy Tan, as has Zadie Smith and Jimmy Carter. But what I really dug was how after my talk was done, and I’d signed the books, and the crowd had left inspired and smiling, the events manager took me aside and said this was one of the best signings she’d hosted in a long time. A very long time.

Damn. That was a good note on which to leave for Oregon. I mean, damn!

San Francisco / Haight / Petaluma

Stayed in Petaluma with my brother-in-law, Brian Griffith. Great dude, he’s morning host on KRCB, one of the Public Radio stations in the Bay Area. He lived in LA for a long time, working as a producer for Westwood One Radio. But when he couldn’t take LA anymore, he came north to this town. Incredibly charming place; a short drive from San Francisco, but a quiet respite from its traffic and pace.

My signing Saturday was at SomArts, an art center near the Mission District. Huge old warehouse structure, with a gallery for regional artists, and an enormous space for installations. The current show is a series of installations on the themes of Voodoo, the effects of Katrina on New Orleans, and missing children of New Orleans. Haunting. By turns both dark and light. And when it came to the subject of the missing kids, disturbing. The photos of them.

Had lunch afterward in Haight/Ashbury with an old friend, Jeff Novak. Brilliant businessman who’d rather be a writer or pastry chef. He came here from KC seven years ago. Loves it and yet not: the insane traffic, the cost of living, the transitory nature of the city. In some ways it lacks a sense of community the way LA does, but maybe the views, the architecture and art scene make up for that. Also the food. Loved walking through Haight: the ghosts of Janis Joplin and Jerry Garcia, the head shops, the nouveau hippies, and the panhandlers. Dope dealers everywhere, especially in Golden Gate Park. Didn’t dig that, but people will what they will do.

Later went down to one of the yacht clubs for the view of the bay. Watched a wealthy couple pulling out for an evening cruise, with their chef and crew and 100-foot vessel. Do I think I’ll ever own a yacht? Neah, I’ll settle for a sailboat.

Walked out on the Golden Gate to dig the views of the Pacific and the fog coming in, then later along the docks in Sausalito. Finished with a sushi dinner in Petaluma. Brian said it was the best sushi north of the bridge; I believe he was right.

Imperial Valley / Steinbeck / Palo Alto

Left LA via 101. To me that’s the only way to go north, unless you have time for Route 1, which I didn’t. Love driving through the Imperial Valley, stopping at the missions, going for walks on their grounds, getting a sense of their tranquility, their history, and that bizarre attempt to convert the Indians to Catholicism.

I also dig the valley because it always makes me think of Steinbeck’s stories: the orchards, the old farmhouses that haven’t changed in 100 years, and the older parts of the small towns: that particular California architecture that is made up of stucco, arches, and tile roofs, with often a palm tree nearby. Incredible. Have to live here someday, if I can just learn to deal with f—ing traffic! Neah, maybe not. I’m a Midwesterner. Occasional sojourns will suffice.

Signing in Palo Alto was great. Pacific Art League an incredible organization, with scores of dedicated painters and ceramists. Very cool gallery as well. Fine crowd with lots of relevant questions. They loved the talk, which really is a sort of performance piece, but then most signings are. One of them took me for a walk on University after. We dodged into a sushi joint full of professors and students; had to be the most scholarly sushi joint I’ve yet eaten in. I couldn’t afford Stanford when I went to school, but it’s always interesting to savor its atmosphere. I did, said my thanks, and headed for San Francisco. Have to give a signing there this afternoon, but first, a walk along Van Ness.

Farewell Malibu / LA Actor / San Diego

Had to split Malibu yesterday. Unfortunate, as I’d begun to feel settled. A lot of people bad-rap Southern Cal because of the cosmetic surgery, the air of falseness, the overall frenzy of showbiz. And there’s a great deal of truth to all that. But there are also a lot of incredible people here who are just as generous and sincere as anywhere else. All you have to do is penetrate the protective veneer with which they surround themselves. Do that right, and they open right up–almost in relief. Sure there’s a lot of loneliness here, more than most American cities, but I don’t know that that’s necessarily anyone’s fault; it’s just a result of our overly ambitious drive.

Had a bite with Bill, the film editor I’d mentioned earlier, wished him luck, then headed off to have coffee with a young actor, Ted Porter. He’s the nephew of an old friend, and landed a role this year in the Geena Davis series, “Commander in Chief.” He plays a Secret Service agent who keeps an eye on possible assassins. Lord what a break. He was offered a screen test while doing what so many actors have to do here: wait tables.

Wonderful guy. Great attitude. Hasn’t been jaded yet by the harsher aspects of LA, or the biz. I hope he never is. Of course we talked about the biz, and the mystery of who makes it (not that there’s necessarily happiness or wisdom with that), and who does not. Conclusion? Nobody really knows. Like the Sphinx, it’s a mystery. We finished our cappuccinos, I wished him luck, and left the hubub and struggles of LA for the hippie heaven of Hermosa Beach.

Had lunch there with an old friend who goes back to junior high. Johnny. Great guy, guitarist and song-writer. Trying his luck out here. I really dug Hermosa: everyone on bikes or inline skates, old hippies hanging out, nouveau hippies hanging out, and the occasional string bikini. All these beach communities are fascinating. You can almost feel the essence of the late ’60s in the shadows. But the overcrowding. It does get old. If they could just eliminate every other house it would be more civilized, but it’s too late for that.

Finally, around 3:00, I split for San Diego. Had a signing there at 7:00, and I was trying to beat the traffic. In futility it turned out. There’s never any beating the traffic here. San Diego was great, as always, but I just did an in-and-out. No time for Coronado Island or any of that. Now? On to San Francisco. Palo Alto tonight.