Thursday, November 23, 2017

One day in Mendocino

I want to tell you about a day I spent in Mendocino with my sister and her husband a few years ago. I guess you could say I spent that day with my sister, her husband, two of my brothers, my mom and my dad. Sort of...

After my oldest brother Ed died in 2000, we buried half his ashes under a new apple tree in our back yard. I kept the other half in a tin box, always intending to scatter or bury them up in Mendocino. 

Thing is, I kind of forgot about Ed's ashes. I didn't forget they existed; I chose to ignore my own intentions to scatter them in Mendocino. They sat in my garage for over a decade. (Don't hate me. Shit happens.)

When my mother died in 2009, my sister and I agreed that we should spread her ashes in the ocean near Mendocino as well, since it was always her favorite place in the world. (Mine too.) So that was the plan, but my sister lived in LA, and getting up to the north coast together proved difficult. It just... didn't happen.

After my dad died in 2010, his crazy second wife sent my sister a non-descript shoebox-size parcel containing eight identical little sealed urns, each holding a small amount of our sainted father. They were strangely ornate, looking like smaller versions of the cube from Hellraiser, I shit you not.

Why she sent eight, when there were only four of us left at that point, I do not know. Anyway.  My sister hung onto those little Dadcubes, having no clue what to do with them.

Then, my brother John died in 2011, and my sister and I eventually committed to getting up to Mendocino, so that we could spread John's and my mom's ashes together. To say John loved Mendocino - while true - really misses the point. John came alive in Mendocino. He blossomed. The place restored him. His seizures stopped. Nobody teased him. He started playing the drums (pretty well), and he worked real jobs sweeping up, first at Mendosa's and then at The Chocolate Moose. And he painted. He painted a lot. Eventually, he had a gallery event that went over pretty well.

So, it was a good plan. Get Mom, John, Ed and my dad up to Mendocino, together. We determined to do it on the first anniversary of John's death, in April 2012.

Dorothy and Paul drove up to our house from southern California, and then the three of us (or the seven of us, if you like) would drive up to Mendocino together. I then had to admit to my sister that I still had half of Ed's ashes in my garage. And there were the eight creepy Hellraiser urns containing our sainted father's remains.

Our simple little plan got a bit more complicated. There was no way we were going to spread my dad's ashes in the same place as my mother. That would be rude, since they didn't exactly get along in life. And I really wanted to bury Ed's ashes under a redwood tree, and not scatter him in the ocean. Ed was the first member of the family to live in Mendocino, and the reason we all ended up there.
In 1977, Ed was taking classes at LA Valley College in Van Nuys. One of his professors, Chuck Jorgenson, owned Ames Lodge, an idyllic A-frame in the woods two miles above the village of Mendocino. He asked Ed to move there, to manage the Lodge for him.

Ed worked as a one-man hotel crew for the next two years, living in the adjoining innkeeper house. While living in Mendocino, Ed often visited the MacCallum House bar. Two of the people he met there changed all our lives. The first was the bartender Louise, a recent transplant from Boulder, whom he'd eventually marry - and divorce 14 months later. The second was a regular at the bar, a retired Navy officer named Donald Carpenter.

Ed's wedding to Louise was in July of 1979. I went up to Mendocino in late June that year, and spent a couple of weeks working at the with Ed. I got to know Louise, and the village of Mendocino. At the wedding, my mother Lee was introduced to Don Carpenter, who was recently widowed. They hit it off, and started a correspondence. Six months later, they got married, on an impossibly hot late-December day in Los Angeles.

Don's extended family was from Burlington, Vermont. They were represented at the wedding by his brother's son, Rink, who worked as an Alaskan fisherman and had a beard down to his belt buckle. He couldn't get over how hot it was in LA in December.

After the wedding, Mom and Don went to Hawaii for two weeks, and I moved up to Mendocino along with my new cousin, Rink, who was more or less my caretaker. I was 15. Rink did not approve of my musical tastes, or pretty much anything else about me. But he was a nice enough guy, and we both survived those two weeks together, a small fender-bender by a young, unlicensed driver notwithstanding.

Don and my mom returned from Hawaii shortly after the new years, and thus began my family's ten year residence in Mendocino.
So we decided that John would go into the ocean with his mother, and Ed and his dad could keep each other company up in the forest somewhere.

Once were up in Mendocino, things went pretty well. We were prepared to complete our two-part plan. Only, we lacked the proper tools...

So we went to Mendosa's Hardware to procure a screwdriver (to pry open the urns), a shovel (to bury Ed and Dad), and a hammer (to smash open the eight little Hellraiser cubes).

First, we went to the beach. It was one of those typically beautiful days on the coast. We walked along the cliffs, not saying much. We stopped to watch some local divers.

And then we put Mom and John into the ocean together, and drank a little toast.

After that, we spent a couple hours in the village and had a nice lunch at Mendocino Burgers behind the bakery. Then we packed up and headed south. We stopped along the way at an Undisclosed Location on Highway 128 along the Navarro River and found a nice secluded spot to bury my brother and father.

We continued driving south, and spent one night in Healdsburg, which included a lovely and extensive night of drinking at Bear Republic.

I totally understand if you didn't make it this far. But it was good for me to write it all down. Here are some photos.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

We are choosing a president, not a friend

Several of my close friends are still Feeling the Bern. That's awesome. Bernie's great. If he somehow pulls a Leicester and gets the nomination, I will campaign for him and vote for him.

However, many Bernie supporters also hate on Hillary to such a degree that they say they would refuse to vote for her if she gets the nomination. They just won't vote, or they'll write in Bernie, or vote for that Libertarian guy, or even vote for Donald Trump.  As recently as March, only 9% of Bernie supporters said they'd consider voting for Trump over Hilary. At last count, it's 20%.

Do I really think most of those people will all actually vote for Trump? No, I don't. He's too much of an ass-hat to win and keep their support through November.

But let's be clear: If you're a progressive / liberal / historically Democratic voter, and you do any of those things, you are effectively voting for Trump. (Remember Ralph Nader in 2000? I do.)

So here's my question to all the Bernie supporters out there: What kind of future do you want for this country? 

 I suggest that we should all vote based on that question. I further suggest the following criteria:
  1. Demonstrated political competence (e.g. results).
  2. Articulated policies and priorities (both foreign and domestic).
  3. Stated positions on issues that matter to you. (For me, those are climate change, the economy and job creation, immigration and civil rights, and healthcare including reproductive rights.)
  4. Likely cabinet and judicial appointments.
  5. Probability of issuing effective or dangerous executive orders.
You can make a reasoned argument that Bernie beats Hillary on those criteria, but the margins are pretty small. But the gap between either Bernie or Hillary and Trump is massive on every one. And that's my point.

Trump fails on #1 and #2 either because he has no political track record to examine, or because he's failed to offer any substance within the rhetoric. #3 is a mixed bag. (You can dig in here or here or here or a thousand other places.) #4 and #5 scare the shit out of me.

(Keep in mind... I'm not even mentioning Trump's general sleazy bully persona, or his specific statements about women, minorities, veterans - including P.O.W.'s in his own party - or our allies and adversaries abroad. I hope that would be enough to convince people not to vote for him.) 

When you elect a president, you also elect a cabinet and other high level policy functionaries, and with political newbie Trump, early evidence suggests that you'll get an equally unqualified cast of supporters.

Meanwhile, Bernie and Hilary both have long careers in public office. Plenty of track record to examine there for both. Hilary is far from perfect, as the long list of scandals associated with the Clinton family would suggest. But when it comes to understanding policy, arguing a position, moving legislation forward, and just doing the daily blocking and tackling of political office, we don't have to wonder. Her record demonstrates considerable political competence.

Notice that my criteria does not include the following:
  1. Superior moral and ethical character. (Bernie's the clear winner.)
  2. Personally likeable, aka "I'd like to have a beer with him/her." (Bernie again.)
I don't know about you, but I've never had a beer with Barack Obama. And I have no secret window into his soul. But I have consistently been impressed with his political competence, policy priorities, appointments, and his use of the pen on executive orders and in signing or veto'ing legislation. Has he been a perfect president? No. Has he been a good president? Absolutely. And I say so because of the results on the first list, not the second. Those are the things that matter.

One more thing: Are you SURE you're not the unwitting victim of a decades-long, well-funded conservative campaign to tear down Hilary Clinton? Or have you made up your own mind, entirely and consciously, on direct evidence? I guess the answer doesn't really matter, but it's good to think about.

So when it comes time to vote in November, ask yourself: Which of the two major party candidates will be more aggressive on climate change, more progressive on social issues, will maintain better relations with our allies and keep us safe while avoiding senseless military conflicts? And which one will act in a manner consistent with your values when making appointments and signing legislation? Bernie and Hillary are pretty well aligned, for the most part. (Yes, Hilary's been far more hawkish, but she's also shown a willingness to revise her position based on evidence. That's not flip-flopping in my book; that's pragmatism.)

Meanwhile, Trump would use the power of the Presidency to push very a different - and at this point, pretty mysterious - agenda. (We don't really know what he'd do. He's been pretty light on policy positions and tactical details so far. We just know it'll be crazy and dangerous and sad.)

If you won't listen to me, listen to Moby: 

"Neither Hilary nor Bernie will save us… Because they are politicians. But I do believe that either one of them would make a perfectly fine president and would be about 1 million times better than president Donald Trump. This election should not be about personalities, it should be exclusively about the issues." [Moby's full post]

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A love letter to Isla Vista

I lived in Isla Vista for a couple of memorable years in the mid-1980’s. Most people just called it “IV”.

IV is a small, densely populated village next to the UCSB campus, isolated by geography, demographics and culture from the nearby cities of Goleta and Santa Barbara, and more importantly, from all the harsh realities of adult life.

Photo from Pinterest

My IV, in the ‘80s, was jam-packed with young, mostly happy, mostly healthy, very decent people.  And so many people. Three to a bedroom in apartments. Two or even three balanced on beach cruisers wobbling down Pardall Rd. Dudes carrying surfboards down Embarcadero del Mar. Crowds of people chatting and studying at Espresso Roma, or drinking beer at picnic tables at Pizza Bob’s. People everywhere, and always dressed as if we had just come back from the beach.

Jim and Andy at the flea market.

The IV fashion sense was a result of the nearby beaches, and the gentle weather, but also an expression of how safe we felt. Being in IV was not quite like being out in public. The whole place felt so comfortable, so intimate.

Mornings in IV were never rushed. Since most of our classes were a 5 minute bike ride away, we never had the stress of carpooling, or fighting for parking spaces on campus. We hopped on our crappy bikes and headed over to Roma for some coffee and maybe a cinnamon twist. And then to class, eventually. Maybe.

If mornings were slow and lovely, afternoons were quietly electric. Everyone walking or on bikes or skateboards. People laughed, flirted, made plans and scrounged for food. We were the world’s most relaxed people, getting even more relaxed as the sun settled down into the Pacific.

My Isla Vista was infused with an easy, subdued joy. You never had very far to go, and never had much to do. There was no Internet, no cell phones, no shopping mall, and no multiplex. We had the Magic Lantern movie theater, which showed art films and old classics. We had a couple of book stores, the world’s first Kinko’s, and Borsodi’s coffee house, which had live music and open-mic poetry in the evening. But mostly, we just hung out at home, in the yard, or on the patio. We talked, studied, played volleyball or hacky-sack, ate, drank, listened to music, obsessed over girls, and soaked up the gentle sunshine.

The Shells, an IV band, at Borsodi’s.

Isla Vista is an historic place. It had been a flash point for political activism in the late 60’s, culminating in riots and the torching of the Bank of America building in 1970. In a perfect expression of our generation’s happy complacency, the rebuilt Bank of America was decommissioned and converted into a dance club. It was actually a pretty fun place, for a while. Despite being big and crowded, there were few fights, no parading of high fashion, no rope lines or bottle service, and no raves. Just preppy/hippy college kids getting drunk on Long Island Ice Teas and dancing to the KROQ-inspired song list.

Truth be told, I was a terrible student in high school. I always took the easiest possible classes and still managed only a C average. Then in my Junior year, I attended UCSB's Summer Juniors Program, which lets about 200 high school students attend the six week summer session while living in Santa Cruz dorm (the one next to the beach).

Jim and Paul at UCSB, Summer of 1981.

After the summer session, I went back to high school motivated as hell to get into UCSB for real. I raised my GPA just enough to get accepted. I didn’t even apply anywhere else. It was going to be UCSB or nothing. As a new freshman, I moved into Santa Rosa dorm, my home for two fantastic years. Paul, my best friend from the Summer Juniors, also ended up in Santa Rosa, and we were roommates our second year.

And then in 1984, Paul and I moved to an apartment on El Greco with our across-the-hall neighbors and new friends Chris and Chuck.

Chuck, blowing bubbles from our apartment balcony on El Greco.

We all really blossomed in IV. There was something so insular and safe and encouraging about the place. Chuck and Chris both had cars, but we hardly ever drove anywhere. You could walk, bike or skateboard wherever you needed to go.

After graduation, I decided to stick around for one last Summer in Isla Vista. I rented a room in a house on Del Playa and bought a sky blue ‘66 VW Squareback. I got a job at a roadside produce stand on an organic farm in Goleta.

Jim's beloved '66 VW Squareback.

After work, my preferred activity was to grab a book and take a little inflatable life raft down to the beach, paddle out past the surf, tie a piece of kelp to one of the oar locks to keep from drifting, and read. I’d often fall asleep. Once, I woke to find my paperback copy of Anthony Trollope’s “The Spotted Dog and Other Stories” floating in the ocean just a few feet away. I fished it out of the water with an oar. I still have it. It is wrinkled and faded and stiff with dry sea water.

When I think of Isla Vista, the first thing I see is the quality of the light itself - quite literally the atmosphere of the place. In the morning, it was always somewhere between clear and cloudy, a high ceiling of less than fog and more than haze. When that lifted, what remained was “cool sunshine” if that's even a thing. Such contradictions are only possible in magic places.

My Isla Vista was a world unto itself. It was our place, and I loved it. It was calm, and sweet, and completely, utterly safe.

I hope it feels that way again someday.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


I have been thinking about this kind of shit a lot lately... About how fragile and lovely and surprising and annoyingly, amazingly uncertain life really is. About how old I'm getting. And about how cool the world actually is...

Yes, yes, there are far too many flag-waving reactionaries, and too much horrid commercialism, and the fact that genetically modified chickens with huge breasts actually exist... gah. Also, far too many kids go to bed hungry. (Why can't we give THOSE kids gigantic chicken breasts? Wait... dammit.)

But I'm hopeful. We are slowly evolving away from our superstitions, I *think*. I actually like our president, most of the time. We're beginning to realize that gay people are not the enemy; they are just people, and deserve our love and respect. And we are - at the moment, anyway - ending more wars than we're starting (though to be honest, if that weren't true I probably wouldn't know).

And tonight I discovered that cole slaw is really good in a spicy chicken burrito. This is news.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

GoGo is a NoGo

So I did a bit of business travel on Virgin America in September, and I signed up for in-flight wi-fi from Gogo. I had a choice of $15 per day or $35 for the month, so I signed up for the month, knowing I'd be on a return flight two days later.

Thing is, the monthly service auto-renews, and (here's the part that bites) GoGo does not send monthly statements, via email or paper, when the recurring charges occur. Every other recurring service I use - Spotify, Amazon Prime, Flickr, DropBox - sends me a statement on each billing cycle. I DID receive an email confirmation when I first signed up, with a very poorly worded statement about automatic renewal in faint grey text. See for yourself...

Another co-worker who traveled with me was likewise misled / fooled, and we each ended up with $139.80 in charges for a service we only used two times, over two days, in September.

In late December, I received a notice that GoGo was raising my monthly rates. ("What monthly rates?") I contacted GoGo to cancel the service and requested a refund for all but the September charge. The CSR I spoke to said it would take 7-10 business days to process my request. When I checked back with them yesterday, they said they had refunded one month's service on Dec 31 (which doesn't yet show on my AMEX statement),  but they won't refund any other charges.

Too bad. Apparently, my $139.90 is worth more than their reputation. Live and learn. Two things I take away from this: Never buy anything from GoGo Internet, and review your monthly credit card statements religiously.


Two hours after posting this blog (and linking from Facebook and Twitter), I received the following response from GoGo:
01/03/2013 05:27 PM
Hello James, 
We chatted yesterday and I've been tracking your refund so I could give you some updates. Today, your two refunds were approved. You'll see two refunds of $34.95 on your statement in about 3 business days. 
If you have any further questions, we can be reached 24/7 at 877-350-XXXX. You can also contact us via Live Chat by clicking while you're in the air or on the ground. 
Fly classy,
Your Friends at Gogo Customer Care
Coincidence? Probably. Still... I'm glad to see that now two of the four months are getting refunded, instead of just one. That seems fair.