How History is Made

When Ephraim arrived at his hotel in New York, the sidewalk had been cordoned off, limos were parked at the curb, and ominous, dark-suited men in dark sun glasses abounded. Ephraim knew that a conference of the leaders of Jewish organizations was being held in New York that week. When he asked himself who would warrant such security, he answered, “Netanyahu!”

When Ephraim asked the desk clerk if he was correct, he was told, “I’m sorry, sir, but we keep the identities of our guests confidential.” Some hours later, when Ephraim asked the concierge the same question, he received the same answer. “But their body language,” Ephraim told me, “confirmed my reasoning.”

That wasn’t all. Neither the evening television news or the morning papers reported Netanyahu’s presence in New York. They maintained the fiction that he was in Israel, where, as it happened, an invasion of Gaza was about to launch. “It shows,” Ephraim went on, “the media can not be trusted to tell us what is happening in the world.”

I don’t know how many times Ephraim told his story. I don’t know to how many people he passed along his lesson. But the next time I heard him tell it, he added that his cab driver’d said, “I think it’s Peres.”

When I got home, I Googled “New York City Shimon Peres.”

It was Peres. But I only have the word of the New York Times and Wahington Post for it, and we know who they’re in bed with.

Plus, the guy telling you all this still thinks Oswald shot Kennedy.

From the Vault

Since I may be getting into my daily life, I ought to provide some background. So here’s something I wrote two years ago. The first editor who saw it didn’t think it would play outside of Berkeley. The next one was sure it would, but hasn’t found the right mix with which to surround it yet. But not wanting to deprive my faithful readers any longer, and knowing he won’t mid…

Café Society
The Wrench (not quite itsw actual name), my coffeehouse of choice, occupies the ground floor of a two-story, red brick hotel which, when I arrived in Berkeley from Philadelphia in 1968, housed a laundry. The cobbler, hardware store and gas station that had been nearby have been replaced too, by designer women’s clothes, a unisex beauty salon, a Pilates studio. Peet’s was already in place, but Chez Panisse had not arrived. The neighborhood, then too undistinguished to be named, is the Gourmet Ghetto now.
The Wrench faces east. A bulletin board announces that a relaunched Sopwith Camel can be heard, spiritual transformation obtained, peace still fought for. The fire engine red San Marco espresso machine draws greater interest. It is the ceiling of this Sistine Chapel, its deliveries masterpieces of viscosity, strength, and flavor. The barristas, Bartolo, thirty years in residence, and Leon, with tenure slightly less, adorn the steamed milk of the favored, whether “Maestro,” or “Chiquita,” with chocolate roses and breasts. News of marriages and children pass above the biscotti jars. The one-pint tip glass fills.

For decades, I came to the Wrench weekend and holiday afternoons. But since my retirement from the practice of law, I arrive mornings, usually before eight. The sidewalk offers tables; but most action, though still not free of inconvenience from the elements, is within. The back room’s glass roof admits rain. Its windows do not close, so the fog chills; and when it lifts, the rising sun glazes the eyes of the seated. The view this costs is of a supermarket’s parking lot. The front room has its own flaws. One of the four heavy wood tables, strung single-file along the south wall, is too near the door; one is cast aslant by a lopsided floor; one is perversely small and one dimly lit. Four additional tables stand perpendicular to it, before a mirrored wall. At three of these, a bank of folding chairs links the seated too closely, and the fourth reposes directly across from the hotel clerk’s ringing phone. Music from a Spanish-language station caters to the staff, rather than the jazz or classical which would suit the clientele. If you do not mind edges to your bagel, these toxicities bemuse.
The Wrench is tres Berkeley. Customers include an anaesthesiologist, cartoonist, contractors (two), fine artists (several), folk musicians (several more), high school teacher, mathematician, mime (retired), photographers (several), plumber, professor emeritus (anthropology), psychotherapists (several), river rafting guide (retired), roadie (formerly of the Allman Brothers, now homeless), union organizer, yoga instructor. I can identify delegates from Brazil, Bulgaria, Ethiopia (or Eritrea), Israel, Poland, Syria. A Thai waitress, Vietnamese grocer, Chinese auto mechanic get theirs to go. I can count four octogenarians named “Sam,” all with Greek fishermen’s caps. I hear “Guten tag,” “Bonjour” and “Buon giorno.” Robert Reich stands behind an obese woman with matted hair, bare midriff, and flip-flops.
As coffeehouses go, the Wrench is of the social persuasion. By offering only two electric outlets, it deters the roosting of the silent, studious, lap-top dependent. The chatter level dissuades attempts at chess or go. (But not the two scholars who translate Homer to each other.) There is a morning crowd, an afternoon’s, an evening’s; overlap occurs. Groups as large as twenty congregate; others confine themselves to trios or quartets. A minority customarily solo. We learn each others’ schedules and habits. If our favored tables are taken, we know upon whom to keep an eye and when to grab up cup and pounce.
I read; I write; I stare out the open door at passers-by. I accept recollection’s jolts or the encounter that will generate conversation. Memories of marches, three-on-three games, hot tub parties surface and fall away. This week’s discussions included the Oakland A’s, Billy Collins’s poetry, and the social consequences of growing up haole in Hawaii.

The first coffeehouse I entered in Berkeley, back when less milk steamed in the entire city than now hisses within a mild ramble from the Wrench, was the Mediterranean, on Telegraph. My youthful forays into Philly’s Guilded Cage had not prepared me. The Med’s bill de fare, posted on the wall, clubbed me dizzy. I had no clue what to order, which required cream or permitted sugar. I was certain an error would mark me as a narc or F.B.I. informant. The bearded, black turtle-necked assembled, huddled together as if plotting to storm the Winter Palace. I clutched a spoon to wield in case the nearby Hell’s Angel, full colors flying, lunged for my throat.
But time has transformed me as well as my surround. Berkeley now seems more threatened by mountain lions than Hell’s Angels, and real estate more frequently discussed than revolution. I have become proudly bi-lingual when it comes to “short double espresso” and educated to more than choice of beverage. I came to the Wrench, as one comes to many things in life, from chance and circumstance, experience and process of elimination. Then, with fit established, as with wife and home, I ceased to wander.
Without an office or the links profession forges, the Wrench provides a new community. It called for shifts in dress and speech and eliminated entire channels of concern; but it more than supplied what I sought. (I am not alone in this regard. “The Wrench is my church,” I heard Pug, who fenced for Columbia and fought in Vietnam, explain to his grandchildren one Sunday morning.) People find companionship, encouragement, affirmation of belief – even romance – all good reasons to look forward to rising for another morning when reclining at night. Patrons display art, announce gigs, and publications. Sections of the Times and Chronicle pass hand-to-hand. Hugs happen.
The Wrench hosts memorial services too. I have known those who passed from lung cancer and heart failure and their own hand. I see those who labor with pace-makers and the ravages of chemotherapy. Arrivals became dependant on canes, then walkers – then ceased. A friend visiting from across the bay told me of the hip, young people filling the cafes on Columbus Avenue. “You mean we aren’t the hip, young people any more?” I said.
That was years ago – and is still difficult to swallow. But once down, an expanded vision may follow. As one may find a new place to repair heels and soles and learn to bridge the gap left by each departed pal, one may focus on the table at which one sits, shuffle aside the attendant discomforts, and focus on the wonders that remain.


This comes from an e-mail correspondent. I forwarded it to several friends, all of whom withheld their comments, except for one who replied, “BAH!” Still I think it is worth looking at from time to time. Take from it what you will. There is no passing grade.

Handbook for the Good Life

1. Drink plenty of water.
2. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a beggar.
3. Eat more foods that grow on trees and plants and eat less food that is manufactured in plants..
4. Live with the 3 E’s — Energy, Enthusiasm and Empathy
5. Make time to pray.
6. Play more games.
7. Read more books than you did in 2013 .
8. Sit in silence for at least 10 minutes each day
9. Sleep for 7 hours.
10. Take a 10-30 minute walk daily.

11. Don’t compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
12. Don’t have negative thoughts or things you cannot control.
Instead invest your energy in the positive present moment.
13. Don’t over-do. Keep your limits.
14. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
15. Don’t waste your precious energy on gossip.
16. Dream more while you are awake
17. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need..
18. Forget issues of the past. Don’t remind your partner with
his/her mistakes of the past. That will ruin your present happiness.
19. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone. Don’t hate others.
20. Make peace with your past so it won’t spoil the present.
21. No one is in charge of your happiness except you.
22. Realize that life is a school and you are here to learn.
Problems are simply part of the curriculum that appear and
fade away like algebra class but the lessons you learn will last a lifetime.
23. Smile and laugh more.
24. You don’t have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.

25. Call your family often.
26. Each day give something good to others.
27. Forgive everyone for everything..
28. Spend time with people over the age of 70 & under the age of 6.
29. Try to make at least three people smile each day.
30. What other people think of you is none of your business.
31. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your
friends will. Stay in touch.

32. Do the right thing!
33. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful.
34. GOD heals everything.
35. However good or bad a situation is, it will change..
36. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
37. The best is yet to come..
38. When you awake in the morning, thank GOD you’re alive.
39. Your Inner most is always happy. So, be happy.

Last but not the least:
40. Share this to everyone you care about, I just did.

I Just Finished (2)…

…for the third time (not counting the Classic Comic), Moby Dick. The first time was at camp the summer the movie came out, and all I remember is thinking a lot of time was spent on blubber. (I already knew how the story came out, which, at the time, seemed the point of books, after all.) The second time was in the 1970s, and I have no idea what I thought then. This time I was struck — and surprised — by how funny it was. Walking down the street, at the Spouter Inn, bunking with Queequeg, enjoying Mrs. Hussey’s chowder, meeting the Captains Peleg and Bildad… It’sa lotta laffs.

He’s one interesting narrator, Ishmael, if that’s even his name, “Call me…” not exactly being the same as “I am…” (And by “interesting” I don’t even mean his ability to report conversations he could not have overheard or thoughts to which he could not have had access.) Since the Pequod was the first whaler he shipped on, his account of its voyage reflects knowledge gained from so many others, he could not be spinning this tale until some decades later. And in between trips, he must have spent a lot of time ashore in libraries and museums. He studs his narrative with references to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, Romans, and Cartheginians. He name drops Pythagorus, Euroclydan, Elephanta, and Mungo Park. He is well versed in the history of whaling, whale anatomy, the whale in literature and art, and the symbolic import of “whiteness.” And this is revealed by a brief skim of the first couple hundred pages.

But to me, the most noteworthy thing remains that humor. It is not unrelenting. As he nears his calamitous end, Ishmael’s tone and rhythms become suitably biblical and Shakespearean in their solemnity and power. Still, the presence of humor, while telling a story that he knows will end in the destruction of an entire company of men with whom he has been in service, including one who’s become his closest friend, seems instructive.

Maybe the lesson is that, after experiencing a multitude of decades and all that surviving them brings, the ability to reflect upon them without having been entirely stripped of good humor may be a valuable thing.

Anybody got a good biography of Melville to recommend?

We interrupt this program…

The blog I was planning for today has been temporarily (at least) postponed due to my realizing, if I added 110 words, it might fetch cash money. So what to do instead…?

Do people want to actually hear about ordinary days? From what I understand of Facebook and Instagram, could be… So…

The Wrench (not its real name) Cafe was so crowded this morning, I had to sit outside for a while. Then when I’d scored a table, a later-arriving regular asked to join me. It is a courtesy of the Wrench that people ask and no one refuses. When another table opens, the visitor usually departs. If you are working, the visitor is usually maintains silence. If you wish to chat, that usually becomes available too. We went with silence, signaled by my keeping Pandoa on (tuned to Bill Evans, after opening with Dave Alvin) and a yellow pad in front of me.

Last night, my brother Larry, the best selling author in the family (“Oogy: A Dog Only a Family Could Love”) was interviewed for 30 minutes on an internet radio show whose purpose seems to be the refurbishing of the public image of pit bulls. If anyone is interested and the show maintains its archive, I can provide a link.

I think that’s about it. See what happens when these entries aren’t planned in advance?

The Grannie

In 1937, when Leo McCarey won the Oscar for Best Director for the comedy “The Awful Truth,” he said, “Thanks, but you gave it to me for the wrong picture.” McCarey preferred “Make Way For Tommorow,” for which he had also been nominated. It has been called “the most depressing movie ever made,” but I had never heard of it until alerted by The Amazing Milo’s indispensible monthly guide to TCM’s showings

Good film. Tears await. But my first YOICKS! moment came when the ill-fated Beulah Bondi, as the sweet, frail, white-haired, tottering grandmother who has lost her home, says, “Well, I’m 70…” Seventy! I thought — and I’m 72!!!

Bondi was always playing grandmothers. She played Bobby Driscoll’s a decade later in “So Dear to My Heart,” one of my favorites before I was ten and started going to moview on my own. (“The Monty Stratton Story” was its only rival. Boy, I must have been a sucker for lumpy throats.)

Before MWFT had gone much further, I’d Wikipedia-ed her. Bondi was forty-eight in 1937. She lived another 44 years, making films most of the way and, no doubt, never getting cast much younger. She never married; no soignificant others are noted; and one hopes the archtype she was selected to represent for America amused her slightly.

For Your Consideration

July 25 marks the 73rd birthday of S. Clay Wilson, one of the most influential visual artists of the second half of the 20th century. Among the first wave of underground cartoonists — later branching out into illustration and gallery art — his virtually unrestrained rampages with sex and violence — but humerously, always humerously — won him praise from R. Crumb and Robert Hughes, William Burroughs and Sir Kenneth Clark. He was compared to Hogarth and exhibited with Bosch.

On November 1, 2008, under still mysterious circumstances, Wilson sustained frontal lobe damage and a broken neck. He survived but remains unable to care for himself. He and his wife Lorraine, herself disabled, live in a small apartment, dependent on Social Security and contributions to The S. Clay Wilson Special Needs Trust. If you can spare a check — or just a card, for Wilson enjoys having mail read to him, the address is POB 14854, San Francsico 94114.

For a taste of Wilson, my interview of him, which I believe is the last he gave, is on-line at

My Back Pages

My old blogs from my pre theboblevin days are available at, should scholars or the FBI be interested. But from time-to-time, I will re-air one here. Here’s one from 2011, then called AT&T:

It’s been months since the demons of 21st century life have driven a blog from me. But they’ve struck, goddamnit, again.
Because I am phasing out of my law practice, I called AT&T to (a) reduce my services (and, hopefully, my bill) and (b) arrange installation of an extension with my office number in my home. I negotiated smoothly through the phone tree (“To insure customer satisfaction, your call may be recorded,” “If you… push 1,” “If you…push 2″) and reached a human being who helped me, lickety-split, with (a) but, initially, didn’t give me a snow ball’s shot at (b). “Is your home in the same zip code?” she inquired further. “No.” “How far away is it?” “A mile or two.” “That may work,” she said. “I’ll have a technical expert call you.”
The next day, a woman called from Houston to declare the extension impossible per se. “We do not place home extensions in offices,” she said. “Cool,” I said. “But I want an office extension in my home.” “Our records show 510-848-3818 is a home,” she said. “That very well may be,” I said, “but that is not my number; and if the woman who gave it to you made the changes in services I requested upon it, you may have two dissatisfied customers complaining to the FCC, not one.” I gave her my correct number. “Oh, that’s a business listing,” she said. “Your extension can be arranged. Let me connect you with a technician.” After two rings, I was back in the phone tree, being warned about recordings, being provided numbers to choose. This time I ended up out on a limb with a young man who had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. When I explained, he expressed doubt that I could have my extension. “Never mind,” I said. “I’ll call this woman I just spoke to.” I dialed the number she had provided – and was back barking up the same sycamore. This time I reached “Melissa.” “I really hope this call is being recorded,” I said, “so just how dissatisfied I am can be appreciated.” I then recounted what I’d been through, letting dissatisfaction seep venomously into every syllable. When I had concluded, she said, “That extension should be no problem. I’ll put you on hold for just one minute.” After having waited through inexorable semi-classic semi-music for eleven, I hung up and went home.
At this point, I know I am expected to express the life lesson to be drawn from this experience. I am at a loss as to what that might be, except: Swear a lot; slam down your receiver frequently; threaten congressional action. And never forget, they may not be worth fuckall as a phone company, but they run a hellova ballpark, with terrific garlic fries.

I Just Finished…

…A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East by David Fromkin, an excellent book, delivering the inspirational message, if I may partially para-phrase, It took Western Europe 1500 years to get its shit together after the fall of the Roman Empire, so what can you expect in a region “where there is no sense of legitamacy — no agreement on the rules of the game — and no belief universally shared…, that within whatever boundaries, the entities that call themselves countries or men who claim to be rulers are entitled to recognition as such.”

It also strenghtened my growing belief that nations may not have been such a good idea in the first place. In a sense, they boil down to tribes squabbling over patches of dirt, and until we recognize that we are one tribe (people) on one patch of dirt (Earth), we may not make it till next Tuesday, let alone that millenium-and-a-half
Fromkin is pointing toward.

LSD in the water supply may be the remedy of choice.

[And a tip of Jimmy Hatlo’s hat to S. Friedman for recommending this book — and to Adele who, back when we were courting, caused my jaw to drop when she declared during one Olympics, “I don’t believe in nations.]


At Wh.ole Foods, I got into a discussion with a woman who had almost run over my foot with her grocery cart while I was getting the almond butter. I don’t how she made the transition but her announcement “I went to high school with Wilt Chamberlain” commanded my attention. Once we had established I was from West Philly and she was from Wynnefield, I decided to impress her with my knowledge of ’50s high school basketball, “Let’s see,” I said, “Wilt played with Johnny Sample and…” “He didn’t play,” she said. “He dropped the ball. That;s not playing. We stoipped going to the games. Who wanted to see him drop the ball? And then he wrote that terrible book that everyone in Philadelphia hated.”

She was a feisty, zesty seventy-seven-year-old, and everyone is entitled to write their own history, is how i figure.