Sunday, April 26, 2009

Leonard Cohen, the Entertainer

I heard Leonard Cohen sing in concert last Thursday in Seattle. It was wonderful. I knew he was a great singer and poet, but I discovered that he is a consummate entertainer as well. He really did it all.

The audience was huge, over 2,000, in an auditorium built like an airplane hanger, and yet the sound was excellent -- warm and rich. Our seats were not near the stage, but we heard very clearly, with no harsh metal tones.

Of course, there is his golden voice, and he knows how to use it. Many people remarked at the energy of this 75-year-old performer. It was a lesson in how to use what you have, and to fore go what you used to do, and to fore go what you could never do.

With such a focus, one can do handsprings at any age.

There was no taste of nostalgia. I know this man -- he would never do that. There was no going back, no reunion of old times.

No, it was all fresh, every song. It was all about The Future, and what comes next. The man is past all fears, and we are too.

A TRUE CANADIAN. When I heard the notes of Cohen's classic, "Suzanne," I heard the sound of Canada.

"She brings you tea and oranges that come all the way from China" -- With that line Leonard Cohen sings the soul of Canada.

This is a little hard to explain. But it has always been difficult to describe the Canadian experience. Will you take my word for it?

We drove down to Seattle in a plush ride, the 60 miles, the four of us. It was Marc "Zappa" Daniel and his girlfriend, myself, and a friend I invited. Such good companions.

At the concert, I told my friend, "Look around, you might see someone you know."

Sure enough, as we walked out, among thousands, we found Charlie Krafft, the renowned artist, and the former mayor of Fishtown. We were very glad to see him, but not at all surprised.

I've been riding on a cloud for days.

It's all about the Future, my friends. It's coming.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Obama is Lucky

The U.S. Navy snipers shot the pirates dead. The American captain, already a hero for saving his crew by becoming a hostage, was saved. It was a job well done and President Obama can take the credit -- he's the commander in chief. Obama has good luck and that's good for all of us.

I was thinking of Jimmy Carter, during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1980, when he launched a secret helicopter raid in a daring rescue attempt. Carter had bad luck. An unexpected sandstorm grounded the choppers in the desert. One crashed, several burned, and the mission was aborted. The hostages remained imprisoned in the embassy in Teheran.

Carter's bad luck lead to Ronald Reagan becoming President. A decent man was replaced by a good-looking actor, and that was bad luck for all of us.

But President Obama has good luck. He didn't talk too much, during the pirate incident or afterward. His defense posture is burnished and strong. Pirates make good enemies, too. They are human. They're in it for the loot -- we can understand that.

It is better to have a pirate for an enemy than a religious terrorist who wants to commit suicide.

But I am a dove on defense, and I hope Obama uses his burnished image to reduce our exposure in the Middle East. I advocate a two-ocean Navy, with one fleet in the Atlantic and one fleet in the Pacific. The Indian Ocean is beyond our capacity to control. Global dominance cannot be our navy's mission. The navy is there now to protect supply routes to our troops, who are fighting in countries where we do not belong. Some say it's not about the oil, but that argument is very labored.

I advocate a more humble and more certain defense posture.

But I'm not a progressive, not by any means. It would be better to call me patriarchal, reactionary, conservative, or traditional. I didn't like the court decision in Iowa granting gender freedom in marriage. I don't agree with that position, and I think I'm smart enough to vote on it, or have my legislator vote on it.

The question of gender freedom in marriage is not a civil rights issue, it is a matter of definition. The law is fair, as it stands now, but it could be changed by legislation.

I oppose gender freedom because it impoverishes our language. To remove all gender distinctions from law reduces our culture to three words -- person, partner, and parent. In this new world, "a person may choose a partner, and may become a parent."
And those are the only words with substance.

Other words become decorative. Words once powerful and meaningful become derivative -- wife, husband, bride, groom, mother, father, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, daughter, son, boy, girl.

Stripped of any legal bearing, these words become no more than something to play with.

Maybe that's what will happen. Maybe it won't be that bad. New words and new distinctions will arise that might be more appropriate. But I take a dim view of this venture. I'll be riding the brakes on this issue.

A LITMUS TEST. A reactionary position on marriage means that I fail the current litmus test, despite my dovish defense posture. That's just how it works.

POLITICS GETS ME AT ALL SIXES AND SEVENS and sometimes it's better if I don't think about it. I have arranged for leave from my job at the hospital. This is such a relief. For the next two months, I will be working for the Census, which hires people now to do preliminary address canvassing.

It's a nice, dull government job. Good pay. No stress. It's just what I deserve -- for now.

I have dreams of living in California, or spending more time there. Seriously. To be in Los Angeles, because it is a capital of media, and a center for arts. I crave the stimulation.

I'm thinking about such a great artist as Leonard Cohen who lives in Los Angeles. I have tickets to see his performance in Seattle April 23. But I like to go all out. If Los Angeles is good enough for Leonard Cohen, then why not me? I don't need to meet him or even know where he lives. Because it's in the air.

I was in Los Angeles last month for a visit, but I need to return and I am working on a plan to do just that.

It could be that I suffer from ambition, and it could be that I am too old to be struggling to make my mark on the world. I should stay in my rented farmhouse on Fir Island -- which is one of the most beautiful and peaceful places in all of North America. Just stay there.

But I am not settled. It's ambition. It might not be a good thing, but I have it.

Or it could be that I am too proud. But if I was in Los Angeles among truly great artists, like Joni Mitchell, Joan Didion, Leonard Cohen, and Tom Waits, then maybe I could be humble again.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A broken tooth leads to redemption

I will tell you about my trip to the dentist this morning. First, I have to back up to the Seder at Patti's house last night. She's Jewish. She's also my landlady and housemate, and so I was invited to her Passover table, an invitation I gladly accepted.

Peter Goldfarb was coming -- this was exciting for me. He brought his homemade chopped liver, and a bit of wisdom. Peter recently sold his B&B, the White Swan, and retired to Mount Vernon.

Marc Daniel came and brought his mouth. Marc has slowed down just a teensy bit, if you notice carefully.

Marianne Meyers came and brought a lovely rice pudding.

But me, I brought crackers, cheese, and wine. It was very hard crackers that I brought -- I shouldn't have. I laid out the cheese until it got soft and buttery, spread the cheese on the cracker, and bit down -- I broke off a piece of tooth.

Darn teeth, they get old and they cost money. My tongue started worrying over this jagged edge in my mouth, but there was a plenty of wine, and Peter Goldfarb makes me laugh, so the evening passed.

We read the story of the Exodus. The youngest boy asked the Four Questions. We had a place for Elijah. Everything was very good. And the company all left by ten o'clock.

I went to bed and I slept poorly. I woke up in a deep melancholy. Tooth loss, children grown up and gone, my lonely life, and so forth.

I figured it was about time for all that. Melancholy is a colorful, natural state -- very different from the boring, fraudulent condition we call "depression."

I got up early and drove ten miles to the Sea Mar Clinic in Mount Vernon. I didn't even bring a book to read. I just waited and dwelled on my tooth loss, and the rest of my miserable life. It was so nicely self-indulgent.

Two hours in the waiting room, no coffee, no breakfast -- just the grim reality.

But I finally got in. They took an X-ray, and the dentist, not Dr. Troutman unfortunately, but the other one, the Korean guy, looked at my mouth and said he would first knock out an old filling and then make a repair.

Everything began to get better. He doused me up good with pain killer, tilted the chair way back, and I almost fell asleep while he worked.

He got that tooth all smoothed out, worry free, with no jagged edges, and I arose from the dental chair like Jesus Christ on Easter morning.

The sun was shining, and I was a new man. Halleluljah.

GARDENING. I have picked up a few small garden jobs here and there. It's strictly "small ball" for me right now. I dream about those plum jobs -- when someone wants me to put in a big garden, and has lots of money and lots of time for such a project -- those are sweet.

But little jobs are good. I spent two hours removing the buttercups from Chris McCarthy's garden on Maple Street. Nasty little buggers.

I spent three hours pulling out ivy on the Benton Street stairs for Jeanne Kleyne.

You know what I dream about? I dream that every single bit of ivy in the whole town of LaConner will be removed -- every single piece from one end to the other. No ivy. None. All gone. Isn't that a beautiful dream?

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Be My Fish Wife

I was poking around in some boxes of old papers when I found this letter written in 1992. Apparently I never mailed it.

Dear Louise,

I want you to be my fish wife.
This is very serious.

I'm going to buy you a pair of fish earrings.
Then I want you to leave your husband and run away with me to Kentucky.

They have wonderful fishing lakes in Kentucky.
We will open up a bait shop on Lake Cumberland.
We'll call it Louise's Bait Shop.

I will change my name to Buster.
You will do all the work, and I will hang out with my buddies and go fishing.

Louise, will you be my fish wife?


Maybe I should have mailed it. How different our lives would be if we had made other choices.

HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY. It's spring in the Skagit Valley and we have an abundance of happiness and good energy. I have a gardening job this week, which means I can take time off from working at the hospital. I have so longed for this. Patient care is a very satisfying and rewarding experience, but it gets stressful on the unit, and my nerves need a break.

Also, my immune system needs to be restored. At the hospital, we are in the presence of some virulent, nasty microbes. The remedy is garden work. Contact with the soil is an excellent way to get on friendly terms with the good microbes that abound on our planet. I am sure this is a good thing.

LET'S ALL DO LIKE THEY DO IN EUROPE. We can be just like the Europeans if we establish national health care, adopt the metric system, and make soccer our most important sport.

Wouldn't that be wonderful? Not so fast. Let me think:

1. We have to change and I believe we're going to have a much better health care system in the United States. There are things we can learn from other countries about this, but it really has to be "invented here" if it's going to be accepted. We are a peculiar people, with our own habits. Any reforms need to be distinctly American. In fact, as a goal, we should aim for health care that is better than anyone else's. Let's be first in the world, why not?

2. Adopt the metric system. Almost everybody uses the metric system, all over the world. Scientists use it. Everything we measure at the hospital is in the metric system. Why not go the whole way, and become all metric, from top to bottom. I don't think this is an issue. Our traditional measuring system is not something we need to hold on to. Let's change and be like everybody else.

3. Make soccer our most important sport. Okay, hold it. This is so NOT going to happen. This is a bad idea. In America, we have the holy trinity of baseball, football, and basketball. I'm not letting go of this one. I will resist any effort to change that. No offense to soccer people, but it must remain an auxiliary sport in our great land. Let the rest of the world do whatever they want.

YOUR FROG HOSPITAL DOLLARS AT WORK. I have been working behind the scenes in continuous contact with media people -- editors, publishers, journalists, and bloggers -- to debate and discuss the tremendous changes overcoming established media.

It's true, I have been highly critical and unsympathetic toward the mainstream press. I have my reasons. My working life has been at community newspapers, of which there are thousands, in every small town, and in most urban neighborhoods.
These are important and essential publications, but the big newspaper people have a long, bad habit of thinking they are the special ones.

I have had too many years of hotshot reporters and editors at the Daily Planet not returning my phone calls. Yeah, it's personal, but if I may speak for others who work at community papers, this is what I will say:

We're still here. We're closer to the ground. And it's time for you big boys to learn from us.

It's a little bit insulting when people in Seattle say "we only have only one newspaper now." I was in Seattle a few weeks ago and visited the office of the West Seattle Herald, a solid weekly. They're doing fine. They cover West Seattle like a rug. A bug can't crawl across the sidewalk without them knowing about it. These people are seriously plugged into the local scene.

This is real journalism. And it's time to show some respect.

It does look like the news is disappearing right now. I predict it will fall by half again. That is, in a few years, we will have about half as many dailies as we have now. Then it will level out.

Meanwhile, Internet news will slowly begin to fill the gap. It will become more substantial, reliable, and accurate. New standards and rules will apply, and somehow people will make money at it.

So, if I can send a message back to Thomas Jefferson -- It's not over, not by a long shot.