18 May 2022

“You can't defeat fascism with flower power.”

The following conversation is excerpted from my forthcoming novel. It takes place on October 31, 1970 in Berkeley. The twelve participants have just returned from a an anti-war rally in San Francisco. It is meant to capture the mood and typical arguments that young leftists had at the time.

“That rally was a bummer, feels like the peace movement is dying.” 

“I wouldn’t go that far, there’s growing opposition to the war among all demographics. Activism is what needs a kick in the ass.”

“It’s time for revolutionary purity. Reforms are well-intended but not a solution. The enemy is imperialism, once it's defeated we’ll have socialism in this country and --"  

“Are you talking about armed revolution?”

“You can't defeat fascism with flower power.”

“Let’s not get into this right now.”

“And why not?”

“This is you against the world, or at least everyone in the room.”

“Did everyone notice the dispute between the gays and the organizers?”

“Yeah they didn’t want to let some cat named Don Burton sing.”

“Is he gay or something?”

“He is and I guess he wasn’t registered to perform or something.”

“Is that why they were chanting something while that Indian dude was speaking?”

“Yeah, I heard that they were gonna keep on unless Don was allowed to sing.”

“There’s still — even within the movement — so much homophobia.”

“I don’t know that what happened today was a case of that, but you’re still right.”

“The Indian guy was good though he —”

“Not to me as a woman he wasn’t. Didn’t you hear that bullshit where he complained about women’s lib? He even told the libbers not to come to Alcatraz and tell their women that they’re oppressed.”

“Yeah, fuck that guy. I mean I’m all for Indian rights and support what they’re doing on Alcatraz but there’s no excuse for —”

“See, this is the problem we can’t keep everyone together on all the issues. We need to support all oppressed people whether women, gay, Indian, Black —”

“Right on. Factionalism is killing us.”

“But don’t you think we need to prioritize? Can we fight on all these fronts at the same time? The war is the main — ”

“No, no, we can’t NOT fight for everyone at the same time that’s what this revolution is all about making — ”

“Is it a revolution, though? It didn’t look like one today. Hell, Nixon still has widespread support, the war continues and there are — ”

“Of course it’s a revolution, it doesn’t happen over night. We have to keep the faith. We’ve got a lot of support and it’s growing. Sure there’s some infighting but basically blacks, Indians, gays, Mexicans, everyone is fighting for equality and justice.”

“Justice is a pipe dream. For God’s sakes they’ve go Angela Davis in jail.”

“So we rally for her. Make sure she gets a proper defense. No rest until she freed. We’ve got to free all political prisoners. Especially Angela.”

“Why especially Angela? ALL political prisoners need to be freed.”

“But Angela is a symbol and so important to the movement.”

“And think of how great a victory it will be when she’s freed.”

“Right on.”

“But when is she going to be freed? Can she get a fair trial?”

“People are eventually going to see that she’s being railroaded.”

“Those people better include the jurors.”

“I liked that there was that South Vietnamese student who spoke.”

“Yeah, I dug what he said about Nixon committing ecocide and genocide.”

“Like the Weathermen say, we’ve got to bring the war home. All this talk is not — ”

“I agree to a certain extent but I don’t think the Weatherman’s idea of violence is sustainable. It’ll just bring the pigs — ”

“Exactly, like the Beatles said, we’ve got to give peace a chance.”

“Some pretty good speeches today. I’m just so bummed that the turnout wasn’t better and there wasn’t more spirit among the people.”

“The turnout bothered me but not as much as the lack of spirit it —”

“The spirit was fine, but people are — ”

“A lot of people are burning out ‘cause the movement is too diffused. Every group has to say something and be represented and the focus gets lost. Do we really need one of every group to have their say about every issue? I mean come on why — ”

“But we do, we do need every different kind of voice heard.”

“Well then why wasn’t there, like today, a Jewish speaker or for that matter an Arab or someone from fucking Mars.”

“Why be silly about it Aaron? We get as many under-represented people as possible speaking, especially those who have suffered from this oppressive society.”

“Yeah but — ”

“You can’t have a revolution without all voices heard, you can’t —”

“I keep hearing everyone talk about the revolution but I just don’t see it. When and where and how is this revolution coming about?”

“It’s building, I mean seriously, Tina, do you think revolution happens in like two years? It takes time to build. People have to stay together and keep fighting.”

“I don’t know, I already see it falling apart.”

“That’s because we’re going about it the wrong way. We spend too much time on reform, we need to get the working class behind this because they don’t even recognize their own oppression. Reforms are just a way of gaining more privilege.”

“I think Cordelia has a point there, too much of the movement is led by privileged white people, we need to get everyone but most especially the workers who don’t even realize how oppressed they are to see the necessity of revolution.”

“Power to the people isn’t just a slogan it should be a way of life. All people need to participate and especially the blacks, and latinos and gays and women and what have you.”

“And the prison movement, the prison system is so fucked up and there like lots of political prisoners, Huey and Angela are examples.”

“I worry about over-doing this shit about prisoners being an oppressed group. I mean a lot of these people are murderers and rapists and people who did some seriously fucked up shit. I’d say that’s like the majority of prisoners.”

“I hear where you’re coming from but the prison system is further brutalizing criminals, it’s making bad people worse and maybe people who were’t all that awful are fucked up by all the shit they have to put up with.”

“Yeah some people for sure belong in jail but there’s a lot of brothers and sisters who were busted for something like selling pot and — ”

“Or they were framed by the pigs.”

“Right and there are like way too many I mean like a disprop — what’s that word?”


“Yeah disproportionate number of negroes —”

“You mean blacks.”

“Right, sorry, black people in prisons.”

“The whole fucking system is racist.”

“It’s run by Gestapo pigs and that’s why we can’t fuck around, we’ve got to fight fire with fire.”

“Fred Hampton pointed out that it makes more sense to fight fire with water.”

“We’ve got to be doing something the whole establishment is racist and chauvinistic. Blacks and women get it the worst."

“I gotta be honest here and don’t judge me too harshly but I’m kinna confused by the whole women’s liberation thing. I mean like sometimes I’m made to feel bad just ‘cause I’m a dude.”

“Well that’s your trip if you feel bad, maybe you’ve got a reason to feel bad. I mean do you treat women like sex objects?”

“No, hell no. I mean when I meet a chick who I’m attracted to I can’t help but think of her in terms of sex, that’s just natural that’s nature.”

“But how do you treat her?”

“I mean I suppose I’m nicer and maybe I flirt.”

“But do you just think about fucking her or do you want to get to know her as a person?” 

“Yeah and do you respect her and her views and opinions like you would a male friend?”

“Well, yeah, but it’s different. I mean I —”

“You’re clearly confused. Maybe you and I should talk later.”

“Cool, cool, thanks. I don’t want to be a chauvinist or anything.”

“You’re open to listening so that’s far out.”

“We need to call out all men on the patriarchal bullshit that is keeping women down.”

“Hey, we’re not all —”

“I’m tired of that argument. Men either open about their bullshit or they pretend to be the exception. “It’s not me,’ they say. All men need to own their shit and realize that —”

“No Tina you can’t lump all men together, that’s not fair. Some men are really powerful allies just like a lot of whites are powerful allies to their Afro-American brothers and sisters.”

“I don’t know, man — ”

“We fight amongst ourselves too much.”

“Yeah it’s a distraction, it keeps us — ”

“It’s a moral imperative that we end the war, that’s the first priority. That’s where our energies should be focused.”

“I think we can focus on more than one thing at a time.”

“We have to.”

“Justice, that’s the key word. Equal justice for all and that includes the people in Vietnam.”

“I dunno it gets really complicated.”

“But it shouldn’t be that’s thing. It should be simple. We oppose the war and fight for equal rights and equal justice for everyone. We stand together.”

“Wish it were that simple.”

“Anyone want to go to a Halloween party? I know of a couple.”

“Are they costume parties because I don’t have anything.”

“I don’t either.”

“There’s one I was going to that’s at Chuck’s house, anyone else know Chuck?”

“I do. Talk about chauvinists….”

“Really, Chuck, yuck.”

“Did you just say ‘Chuck yuck?”

“Still a party at his place might be okay.”

“There’d be too many jocks.”

“Fuck that.”

“Deena and Craig are having a party but I’m pretty sure it’s a costume thing.”

“Yeah that’s the other one I was thinking of.”

“Who are Deena and Craig?”

“Fuck it. Let’s have a party right here. There’s already, what, twelve us. We could probably make some calls and get another dozen.”

“Far out.”

“Hey, the pizza’s here.”

12 May 2022

The Author Enjoys a Trip the Ballpark and the Local Nine Wins

Photo by author

I must have a different brain from the one I had ten years ago. It used to be that I’d go to between fifteen and thirty baseball games a year. One season I went to thirty-nine. I went to my first of this year yesterday and as much as I enjoyed it doubt very much that I’ll got to more than two more between now and October. I’m more of a theater and museum guy now. I never miss a Cal football home game and catch most of Cal’s women’s basketball team’s home games. If I lived in anywhere near London I’d go to as many Arsenal home matches as possible. I still love baseball but a lot of that love is out of nostalgia. I’ve been going to games for sixty years. Early in life I mostly went with my Dad and that evokes special memories. Later in life I’ve taken a nephew and my oldest daughter. Of course I’ve gone to a lot of games with friends, some of whom are — as they say — no longer with us. I’ve also gone on dates to the ballpark, some with the woman to whom I am now blissfully married. But for the most part I feel more at home with the people I attend plays or the museum with than your typical baseball fan. Maybe this speaks to some kind of evolution on my part or simply a different way of viewing the world. Besides, attending a game has gotten expensive. This is equally true of all professional sports and many college athletics as well.

One thing that’s ruined baseball for me is my ever-increasing love of soccer (more properly known worldwide as football). Matches are compact, ending in just under two hours, excepting cup ties which go into overtime. There’s also not the constant stopping and starting that has become so annoying to me in other sports. There are no time outs, no commercial breaks until half time. I also love the game itself more than any other. It’s beautiful to watch. Plus it’s the sport I was best at so I can better appreciate it. I love the English game with it’s grand traditions, fierce rivalries and storied players. I lost touch with baseball and although aI know of virtually everyone on the Giants roster, new few opposing players anymore. Time was when I could rattle off the starting line-ups for most major league teams as well many of the pitchers and a few of the reserves. I still love reading about the history of the game but today's version is less appealing.


It was chilly but sunny at the yard. I had good seats behind first base. They were far enough from the field (row 32) that I was in the shade so I didn’t have to deal with sunscreen or sunburn. I took a stroll all the way around the yard before the game and then again in the middle. Both walks were pleasant. The Giants won comfortably, 7-1 which guaranteed a good day. The win was especially nice because before hand I’d convinced myself that the locals were going to lose. After all they’d won four in a row (couldn't last, I reasoned) and they were facing their opponent’s best pitcher. The Giants’ hurler was a mediocre journeyman. Anticipating a loss makes a win all the sweeter.

But I wasn’t overly invested in the result. I needed a day out. I needed to get away from the writing desk and do something different.

It was a fun and relaxed atmosphere, especially after the Giants assumed a big lead. It’s nice to be around thousands of people who are in good spirits.

The park itself is beautiful, nestled right against the bay. Indeed it is considered by many the most beautiful baseball park in the majors. The views are spectacular. It was also unusual for me because I haven’t gone to a day game in probably over a decade. I’d forgotten just how nice the park looked swathed in sunshine. It is pastoral and bespeaks the old days.

I was blessed with a smooth, fast and easy commute home, returning to my abode exactly one hour after the game ended. Nothing can take the joy out of a pleasant visit to the ballpark like an uncomfortable commute with overly-crowed trains boarded after long waits. When the team has lost and you suffer a bad return trip it’s like double jeopardy.

The best part of coming home was chatting with the missus and telling her about my day and in turn hearing how much she’d enjoyed a bit of solitude. Was glad to have provided it.

09 May 2022

Impersonal Friends, If Your Being Dishonest, Pretty Incredible and Sensible Tragedies -- It's Time for More on Words and Language

Yesterday I heard someone refer to another person as “a personal friend of mine.” Personal friends are the best. Impersonal friends I can do without. I suppose people have friends within their profession, but isn't she or he still a friend to you "personally?" I should think so. 

Today I heard someone say, “I’m going to be honest with you.” That’s refreshing but then we are left to assume that the speaker normally lies. I’ve also heard some people say, “if I’m being honest….”  So many questions. What if you’re being dishonest? Why is this stated as a hypothetical? Are we left to guess as to the veracity of what you normally say?

I’ve also heard people preface a sentence with “honestly, I think that…” Again, why the “honestly?” Is this to differentiate from all the times you lie?

Another use of “personal” I sometimes hear is on public transportation when an announcement at the end of the journey suggests that people look around for their “personal belongings.” Screw the belongings that are associated with work, you can leave those behind, but your “personal” belongings, those that have meaning to you, they’re what you should look out for. And what if your toting around someone for a friend? Shouldn't you check for that too?

I remember when in school a teacher saying that he’d had “just about enough” of someone’s nonsense. I took that to mean that he could handle a bit more nonsense. After all, he did not say, “I’ve had enough” only "just about."

Again I heard someone say that they “couldn’t find the words” to express how they felt about someone. Look harder. There are lots of words. Surely you can find a few to slap together that will express how you feel. That's what words are there for. Then again you often hear people say that they are "speechless" then they go ahead and speak. Make up your mind.

Since I’m writing again about words and language allow me to remind everyone that “a lot” is two words. Can't be stressed enough.

When you sign off an email with “best” what do you mean? Best wishes? Best regards? Or something else entirely, such as “I best be going?” Using only “best” is lazy and I do not approve. I also do not approve of “yours.” Stick a “truly” at the end of that or even a sincerely. Speaking of “sincerely” is it used to assure the recipient that you were sincere in everything you wrote? If so they might as well start the email with “If I’m being honest with you.” If I’m replying to an email I tend to follow the leader. If the sender went with warm regards I’ll give them the same. However if I’ve started the correspondence then the onus is on me. With friends I’ll use “your friend” or “cheers” or “warm regards.” If I don’t know the best person well or at all I generally stick with “warm regards” or “best wishes.” I like “all the best” too and will use it with friends and strangers alike. I’ve occasionally gone with “love” if for some reason I’m writing to one of my daughters or nieces or nephews. I don’t tend to email the wife as we share a home but if I did I'd definitely go with "love." 

I once again heard about a “senseless tragedy.” Still waiting to hear something described as a “sensible tragedy.” In the same vein you often read about a “needless loss a life.” Is there ever a “needed loss of life?"

I’ve often written to people who are under stress or in a bind that “I’m sending good vibes your way.” People seem to like that. The truth is that I have no idea how to send vibes, good or bad. But it is a clear case of the thought being what counts. I never send "thoughts and prayers" because I don't pray. I suppose I could send "thoughts" but that's a little weird.

I saw a tweet today in which the tweeter referred to something as “kind of incredible.” I’m against virtually all uses of “kind of.” It’s especially egregious when placed in front of a powerful word like “incredible.” Something should be either — in a person’s mind — incredible or not, no need to quality it or diminish it. Another example of this I see a lot is “pretty amazing.” I can accept “pretty good” which I take to mean something was okay but not one hundred per cent satisfactory but, like “incredible,” something is either “amazing” or it isn’t. While we’re at it let’s curtail the use of “sort of” by about ninety-nine per cent. It’s usually used in speech and it is — not sort of, not kind of, not pretty — annoying and useless. “Sort of” belongs in the bin with, “ya know” or most uses of “ya know what I mean?” (If I don’t know what you mean, I’ll bloody well tell you.)

05 May 2022

I'll Be Sporting a New Look if....


Here's the thing, I'm building a time machine so that I can return to the 1970s and buy these fabulous clothes at Seventies prices. I'll be sure to Instagram myself in them. Now if I can just find that socket wretch I can get started.

03 May 2022

This Post is Dedicated to the One I Love (My Lovely Missus)

I love this song from the Mamas and Papas. When I was a teenager I had a massive crush on Michelle Phillips who sings lead on Dedicated. I've often wished I had a time machine with which I could go back to the Sixties and hook up with her. But I'm so happy with the love of my life (I had the sense to marry the woman of my dreams) that I'd never actually go. 

When I visited the video on You Tube today I noted -- unsurprisingly -- that I'm not alone in my affection for the song and to many others it has an especially deep meaning. Here's a sampling of  comments that people have left:

I came back from Vietnam and my wife would sing this song to me at night when i woke up screaming. Memories are not always good. Been tough since she died. I miss her more than i can say. Goodnight baby.

I lost my mam last month. She battled stage IV cancer for 7 years. This is the song she asked to be played at her funeral. I miss her more than words can say 💔

My mom died in 1966 when I was 8  years old. When this song would come on the radio I knew that it was from her. I'd listen to it every night  before going to bed. That was her goodnight kiss.

When a song you’ve heard 100 times still gives you the chills. . . .

If you ever need to teach a music student how vocal arrangement and dynamics works – this is the song. Michelle Phillips start the song so softly, and then John, Denny, and Cass come in with those powerful vocals and beautiful arrangement. Still makes my hair stand on end after all these years. What a classic composition and performance.

It's like a voice from heaven when Michelle opens this song.

Always brings a tear. So good, and moving. Michelle's gentle voice gives me goosebumps.

Que bonita, Michelle no cabe duda que bien dicho esta, "disfruta de la juventud" que cuando se llega a viejo no hay vuelta atrás!!! 
Saludos desde México

The vocals on this song! The harmonies, mein Gott. Just stellar. Up there with anything the Beatles or the Beach Boys ever did... in terms of vocal arrangement.

Odd. Michelle is singing the lead in this song and doing it beautifully and most of the  comments I see are about her looks and how great mama Cass' voice was.  I would have thought some people would actually acknowledge that Michelle could sing and that she was a big part of their sound.  She wasn't just a pretty face.

Now I´m 68 years and I remember I made my first steps kissing a girl during this song. I think I have a bit tears in my eyes.

This was my mom and Dad's Song... They loved to dance this... RIP DAD I MISS YOU!!!

Le souvenir est trop fort et mes larmes sont infinies . Nous n'avons pas d'image, seulement le son, c'est tellement dommage. MERCI POUR CE SOUVENIR TRÈS PUISSANT. c'est le meilleur de ma vie.

Whenever I listen to this song I think of soldiers fighting in Viet Nam and thinking of their loved ones back home.   Sad and haunting song, beautifully composed.  Plus, Michelle Phillips  looked like an angel on Earth in this video.

30 April 2022

Dumb Expressions, Diversity Everywhere, Our Trip into Sausalito

Photo by author of Alcatraz taken during ferry ride

Yesterday I heard someone say: “long time no see.” I don’t understand the enduring popularity of this “phrase.” Is it that difficult to say, “haven’t seen you in a long time”? Or is it that “long time no see” is so damn cute? Long time not want to hear.

Then there’s “no can do.” I’ve been hearing this one since I was a child too. There’s no excuse for it. How about, “I can’t do it” or even “I can’t” or even simply “can’t.” No can tolerate this one.

The hilarious question: “working hard or hardly working?” is long past its expiration date too.

As a child I was always baffled by this one: “age before beauty.” Huh? Did that mean an older person should go before a beautiful one? Isn’t it potentially insulting? I think this one is fading out of use. Good riddance.

Heard it again this morning while watching a footie match. Commentator said, “I was just thinking in my head.” It’s as bad as: “I thought to myself.” Let’s be clear, one can only think to themself and one can only think within their own head. Try to do otherwise and if you succeed, let me know.


I saw a tweet today in which someone had a collage of twelve famous actresses past and present and asked which three you’d choose if you were cast a movie. Among the twelve were Bette Davis, Cate Blanchett, Katharine Hepburn and Whoopi Goldberg. I looked at the replies and noted the various choices people made as well as comments regarding great actresses who were not included — apparently there have been more than twelve great actresses that have graced the screen. There were also several comments about the lack of diversity among the twelve as only two people of color were included. This gave me pause. What is the obligation of the person creating such a tweet? Can you not merely name your twelve favorites? Do you have to include a certain number of actresses of color and if so, how many? There were two of twelve. Would people have complained if there were four? Should half the list been women of color? What is the right amount? Certainly there need be some. One person objected to the fact that there were no Asian or Indian actresses. Should you be expected to have one Asian, one Indian, at least two African-American actresses? How about Latinas? There should be at least one. How about LGBTQ actresses? Again, at least one. Someone else pointed out that most of the actresses were from the last fifty years of film. Should each decade of Hollywood history been represented? There were no Jewish actress. Can the author of the tweet be rightfully accused of anti-semitism? And why just Hollywood?  There were no French, Scandinavian or Italian actresses. No Jeanne Moreau, Liv Ullman or Monica Vitti. So let’s see where we are, we need two African American, one Latina, one LGBTQ, one Indian, one Asian, one Jew, at least two representing different countries. We’re up to nine so I’m guessing the last three can be regular straight American white ladies — but we need to have them from different eras. Then we’re all set. Have fun making your list. 

But seriously folks, it is an issue. If you’re asked who your favorite authors are you better include some women and some African Americans, not to mention representatives of other minority groups. And having just one of each is going to seem like tokenism. If you create a poster for a reading program in schools you better have an equal number of boys and girls and representatives of as many ethnic groups as you can and don’t forget a kid who uses a wheelchair. I don’t say this is wrong, but it is predicable, just as seeing nothing but white kids being depicted in text books was the way it was when I was a kid. We’ve made great progress in making sure all groups are represented (less progress in making sure there’ll all treated equally and all have the same opportunities in life — but one thing at a time). But do we need to worry about the fact that all of Bob’s favorite singers are white? Do we need to vilify someone on Twitter for creating a list that reflects their interests but doesn’t celebrate diversity? How far do our obligations go? Should the people who directed their ire at the list of twelve actresses have directed their ire at a greater evil, one that is more pernicious or threatening? Surely picking on one private citizen's montage of twelve actresses is not the best use of one's time. 


Took the ferry into Sausalito Thursday with the missus. There is something wonderfully satisfying about being on the water. It's calming, almost to the point of being re-assuring. The movement of the boat, the waves, the salty air, the briskness of the wind. Wonderful therapy. Sausalito is a nice little town that boasts incredible views of the bay in general and San Francisco in particular. There are restaurants aplenty, many of which serve seafood (yummy, my favorite). Of course many of these fine eateries are priced for the tourist trade which is to safe they are more expensive than comparable restaurants that are by landfills or factories. We found an inexpensive Mom and Pop fish and chip shop. Reasonably priced and delicious. We strolled around soaking in the views and slurping down gelatos. There was a bookstore we stopped in -- I can never resist them -- that was well curated. I actually managed not to buy anything. We encountered people throughout our journey. During our walk to the BART station, riding the train, queuing for the ferry, on the ride itself, in Sausalito, on the ride back, again on BART and during our walk home. None of them spit on me as did one gent earlier in the week as I detailed in the previous post. Indeed, all our encounters with fellow Homo sapiens were quite pleasant. That's usually the way it is. Nice day.

27 April 2022

Expectorate is Directed at Me, Authorities Intervene at My Request, Another Tale of the City

I was spit at yesterday.

Strolling home from my haircut I passed an older gent who was sitting on a bench talking a mile a minute. I was lost in thought so didn’t quite pick up what he was on about. However I got the sense that he was talking to no one and everyone and much of his language was, shall we say, salty. This is not unusual in Berkeley, nor for that matter in most cities of any size in this country.

I arrived at a large intersection (University and Shattuck for those of you who know the city) just as the light turned red. I’d have over twenty seconds before I could continue on my way home. I don’t know what possessed me to, but I looked back which happened to be in the direction for the rambling old man. At that he sprang to his feet cussing a blue streak at me. He was probably in his sixties, African-American, dressed rather nicely for someone who suredly was suffering mental/emotional distress. He was bearded and missing a few teeth and medium height and average weight. I thought it risky to turn my back to him but also reasoned that I shouldn’t make direct eye contact.

The old gent called me every name in the book and I — wisely, I believed — said nothing. Finally he spit at me. Somehow I can still see that spittle flying in my direction, missing me by centimeters. I’m used to street people cussing at me but I draw the line at being spit at. It’s a health risk. The proper thing to do, I decided was to inform the police. 

As I got out my phone the spitter returned to his bench but continued to direct his ire at me telling me to go ahead and call the police, “I don’t care,” he insisted.

While I waited for an officer, a young man came up to me and in Northern European accent told me he’d seen the incident and was sorry about what happened. This seemed to enraged the spitter who again rose and approached my new friend directing invectives at him and again at me. We backed up making sure to be safely out of spitting range.

An officer soon arrived and I described what had taken place. The gendarme asked what I’d like done. “Isn’t that your call?” I asked, confused by his question. The copper told me that I could prefer charges and the spitter would then be placed under arrest. I said that I didn’t think that being arrest was going to benefit anyone, least of all the deranged old man. The lawman said he could evaluate him to see if he needed “services.” This sounded infinitely more reasonable.The man clearly needed help. Spitting at strangers — especially those who are innocent of any wrongdoing — is a sure sign that someone has serious mental issues that need addressing by a trained professional.

The policeman took down my information (name, ID, phone number) then approached the spitter. By this time a young woman was talking to my assailant and he seemed — from a distance — calm. 

I went on my way satisfied that I’d done the right thing. I was not shaken by the incident, I never felt physically threatened over frightened. As a life long city dweller I’ve seen all manner of individual and heard probably anything awful thing that one person can say to another. I’d never been spit at before but as I remained dry it wasn’t ultimately upsetting. I’m one hundred per cent sure I did the right thing in not asking for his arrest and I’m glad that the local constabulary are willing and able to perform mental health checks and pass those who need it on to those who can help them.

The rest of my walk home was incident free, which is generally how one prefers their walks. 

25 April 2022

World's Oldest Person Dies, But What a Life

Kane Tanaka

The world’s oldest person died last week
, Kane Tanaka of Japan  had reached the ripe old age of 119. She was born on January 2, 1903, ten months before the Wright brothers first manned flight and a few months before construction began on the Panama Canal and six months before the first modern Olympic Games were held. She was born in the same year as Joan Crawford, Johnny Weismuller, Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Pretty Boy Floyd, Robert Oppenheimer, and Dr. Seuess, all of whom pre-deceased her by at least thirty-eight years. The year she was born Adolph Hitler was a teenager, Franklin Roosevelt was twenty-one. Zelda Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Marlene Dietrich, Ernest Hemingway and Humphrey Bogart were toddlers. Women did not have the vote. Theodore Roosevelt was in his first term as United States president. 

Ms. Tanaka was nine years old when the Titanic hit an iceberg. She was eleven when World War I started. During her teens that war ended and there was a revolution in Russia. Not only was Babe Ruth still playing when she was a teen, he was still a pitcher and played for the Boston Red Sox. Also during her teens King Tut’s tomb was discovered, prohibition went into effect in the U.S., the NFL and ACLU were founded, Charlie Chaplin’s first feature, The Kid, was released, Sacco and Vanzetti were found guilty, radio broadcasts began.

When young, Ms. Tanaka could have conversed with American Civil War veterans who were still only in their seventies and Native American survivors of the Battle of Little Big Horn (aka Custer’s Last Stand) who were in their sixties.

She was twenty-three when Queen Elizabeth II was born — plenty old enough to be her mother. In fact she was old enough to have given birth to Betty Friedan, Rodney Dangerfield, Mickey Rooney, Ray Bradbury, Charlie Parker, Judy Garland, Betty White, Anne Frank and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

If she’d been a U.S. citizen she could have voted for Calvin Coolidge in the 1924 presidential election — or his Democratic opponent, John Davis. Then again she could have voted for Progressive Party candidate Robert La Follette — I would have.

If her memory was in tact in her last days, she would have remembered the Roaring Twenties, the publication of The Great Gatsby, the Great Depression and the Reichstag Fire. 

By the time World War II ended she was already forty-two. When she turned sixty-five and became a senior citizen, Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were still alive, the war in Vietnam was still raging and the Watergate scandal was still over  four years away. (She was already seventy-one when Nixon resigned as a consequence of that scandal.)

Ms. Tanaka turned 100 before the U.S. invasion of Iraq and five years before Barack Obama was elected president.

This remarkable woman was around for a lot of human history, from the first flight, to the moon landing from the birth of the Model T, to the electric car. The entire existence of the USSR was within her lifetime, including the fourteen years before it came into being and the thirty years since its dissolution. Within her lifetime there was Russia's war with Japan and their invasion of the Ukraine with two World Wars in between as well as numerous civil wars, violent revolutions and "police actions." Virtually the entire history of the cinema has been within her lifetime, as well as all of television's history and the coming of the World Wide Web.

Ms. Tanaka is officially the second oldest person ever, trailing only Jeanne Calment who lived to the age of 122 -- from 1875 to 1997. I intend to give them both a run for their money.

19 April 2022

An Interesting Squirrel Encounter and Reflections on a Toddler's Birthday Party

A campus squirrel, photo taken by author

Yesterday morning during a walk I came across a squirrel. Admittedly this is not unusual. As is the case with most squirrel encounters, this particular rascal was on a tree at the time of our meeting. He (or she) was at just below my eye level and had stopped to observe me. As is my want, I in turn, stopped to look at the animal, me being a long-time squirrel fancier. It should here be noted that your typical squirrel will typically give a human a few second long look -- if that -- before scurrying on its way. But this one held its ground — so to speak. Said squirrel was watching me as if with great curiosity. It showed no fear.

I tested the waters and moved a few inches closer to the squirrel which I’ll heretofore refer to as Kelly (a name chosen because of its suitability for both males and females). This is the point where you can pretty much guarantee that a wild animal will take flight — save perhaps a bengal tiger and other large carnivores which might instead initiate pursuit. In any event Kelly didn’t move a muscle. I risked inching yet a bit closer. At last Kelly, shall we say, blinked. But even at that s/he did not flee. Instead Kelly merely made her/his way around to the other side of the tree and continued observing me only now from a different angle.

This was most curious. 

I again moved a few inches closer to my furry friend. (I should here insert that I talked to Kelly the entire time, asking after her/his health, recent activities and what s/he thought of the stand-off we were in.) I should further add that at no point did Kelly respond, the power of speech not among this remarkable squirrel's skillset. Surely now, I thought, the squirrel will bid me adieu. But no, Kelly held firm. Much to my astonishment Kelly not only did not depart the premises but leaned forward as if in attempt to smell me.

Here in Berkeley one is used to aggressive squirrels on the university campus where they are notorious moochers. Campus squirrels (as they are known) have learned two things: humans are no real threat, humans often offer snacks to cute four-legged creatures. But this was not a campus squirrel. Our encounter took place on a leafy Berkeley street in a leafy Berkeley neighborhood. In terms of squirrel-human encounters this might as well have been on a lonely peak in the Sierra Nevadas. So Kelly’s boldness was surprising. 

I greatly regretted that I didn’t happen to have any walnuts in my pockets. I had nothing to offer but my friendship. Squirrels prefer nuts. 

Inevitably Kelly realized there were no snacks forthcoming and s/he’d seen and heard as much of me as could possibly be of interest. My friend at last departed — but not hurriedly, mind you. It was as if Kelly had other matters to attend to. For that matter, so did I.

Now twenty-four hours later I wonder at the odds of meeting Kelly again. I may take another stroll down the same street, this time with treats on hand. Maybe a friendship can develop. Who knows?


Saturday last I attended the third birthday of my youngest grandniece. Upon arriving (we were first on the scene) most other adults paid their respects to the honoree and then left her to her own devices which principally entailed playing with her peers. Some I’m sure never did acknowledge her, merely dropping their gift in a pile then finding a fellow adult to chat with, later joining in the singing of happy birthday but otherwise not giving a thought to the birthday girl. I saw one bloke arrive late and immediately head for friends not offering so much as a how-do-you to the person whose birth we were celebrating.

Such it is with so many social occasions. Weddings, retirement parties, memorial services et al are often excuses for old friends and relatives to gather and chat heedless of the occasion. In Saturday’s case the little cherub’s birthday was the raison d’être for people to see one another and catch up. 

Of course I bantered a bit with my nephews and select others but also made a point of hanging with grandniece who I (with the missus) often babysit and have an excellent relationship with.

I like toddlers. They’re not trying to convince you of anything. They don’t bullshit you and only offer the most obvious of lies. If they exaggerate it’s clearly for effect. They’re not trying to sell you anything. They don’t argue over politics or sports. Best of all they like to have fun, are generally amusing and easily amused. They like hugs and running about aimlessly. They also tend to be incredibly cute and laugh easily and heartily. Sure they’re prone to crying, often over trivial matters, but they don’t then sink into depression. It's as if at a young age they realize that life is too short for that sort of nonsense. 

I was a toddler myself once though I remember little of those days. I know from old photographs that I was particularly cute. I’ve been told I was especially playful and fun. It was a good time in life, free from responsibilities. There was so much to discover. Everything was taken at face value. People are nice to you when you’re a wee one. You’re held, can sit on laps and are constantly complimented. Meals are provided. You’re not expected to do any chores. You’re often the center of attention but can take naps in the middle of the day without judgments. 

It’s better than being a baby when you can’t walk, don’t have words and are incontinent. It’s better than being school age when suddenly you’re confined to a schoolroom for several hours a day for most of the year. There you are forced to learn what you’re told not what you’re necessarily interested in.

Then, of course, you enter your teens and face all the attendant woes, struggles, complications and worries. No the toddler years are the best.

I’ve got to remember to tell grandniece the next time I see her.