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More Three Dot Journalism


My buddy Miller ran into Herb Caen at the Saloon in San Francisco some years back. He (Miller) had a tendency to “project” back in the day, and seeing Herb on the town flanked by two thirty year-old hotties was more than he could resist. “HERB — you NUT!!” he yelled, two feet away from the famed scribe and loudly enough for the packed bar to take note. Herb smiled calmly and without breaking unhurried stride replied “You’re pretty crazy yourself ..” Miller’s Cubbies are in the playoffs again, beginning tonight against the Giants. Herb, for the record, was from Sacramento .. no more a “San Franciscan” than Miller. “Sometimes we’re all hypocrites,” to quote Meadow Soprano talking late-night in the kitchen to a drunken Tony. So in this spirit and that of three-dot journalism ..


How about that Conor Gillaspie, replacement third baseman for a guy (Eduardo Nunez) already replacing a traded favorite Giant (Matt Duffy.) The guy made an incredible catch in their final regular season game against the Dodgers, flipping over both railing and massive TV camera. And then he squares one up in Queens the other night — over the right field fence — in the ninth inning of a do or die wildcard match as the team rode Madison Bumgarner’s formidable shoulders into the playoffs. If you can’t appreciate this moment in a world of chaotic nonsense, then I can’t help you. (Except, of course, if you aren’t a baseball fan, which is perfectly acceptable and would account for your indifference.) “Enthusiasms” as DeNiro, playing Al Capone, notes in DePalma’s “Untouchables” before punctuating his point over some guy’s head with a baseball bat. They call it “squaring one up,” I believe, because it aptly describes what’s necessary to hit a round ball — traveling an unknowable path at a hundred miles an hour — with a round bat. Which reminds me of another get together around the same time as the Miller-Herb story and at Vesuvio, a bar just down the hill from the Saloon. There was a group of us, including three-time Academy Award Nominee Tom Myers. Tom and I were discussing the Ted Williams – like swing of Giants first baseman Will Clark. Another young woman, typical of the type who moved to San Francisco back then, interjected with “Yeah .. but you know it’s just baseball. I mean if you got a hundred people together who were pretty good at sports, one of them could hit the ball like that ..” I’m not sure what my facial expression reflected in that moment .. all I recall is Tom grabbing me with two hands and saying “OK .. steady big guy .. steady ..”


While I’m on the bar theme and writing in this non-sequitur, stream of nonsense fashion, here is a short list of names I’ve created over the years for the assortment of regular characters frequenting Specs’ tavern at 12 Adler: Monkey Boy, Forrest Whittaker Junior, WSM (World’s Saddest Man) and J’sus Christ the Lord. (Actually that last one is credited to Paul Tognotti .. as it relates both to the guy’s appearance and, I think, the speech Linus gives toward the end of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”) I’m sure there are several more I’m missing but those four, and the individuals so assigned, are novel-worthy.


This is where Herb would throw in an anecdote about something one of his oft-quoted San Franciscan buddies heard while waiting on line in Safeway, or drop a restaurant owner’s name to assure he continued his well-known tradition of never picking up a tab. I know no such luxuries, though I certainly know a few others. That said it’s been a hard summer and into the fall, and I’ve seen some shit. Enough to know that, as my buddy Dave (as well as Iggy Pop and several others) once noted “I don’t want to take any more.” Or any more than necessary, I suppose. Here’s to Conor Gillaspie, Joe Panik (native New Yorker,) Brandon Crawford, some other dude and an early Thursday morning NYC pizza slice shot that’s bound to bring back a few smiles in years to come. Enjoy it while it lasts boys and well beyond. Here’s tae us; wha’s like us? .. Damn few, and they’re a’ deid.

Forgive It All


No news is good news, and a cursory check of recent headlines would seem to back this. Kooks running amok. Some dude in France runs down eighty-plus revelers in his truck. Cops shooting people and people shooting cops. Turkey in turmoil. Britain divided. And two of the most unlikable candidates in U.S. presidential history. I’ve been avoiding both headlines and something called a “heat dome” which has settled over New York City by retreating to San Francisco. Here it is July-cool with frequent fog in the evenings and easily accessed dry summer heat just a short drive away. Yes, the city has changed but I still know a few folks. I took off to Tahoe for a bit as a birthday-gift and it was even nicer up there. This is the lesson learned: you can alter neither the world nor the headlines, so manage your own. Be very good to those closest to you and gentle with those beyond. And, whenever possible, avoid traveling on the weekends.

I ran into a bear up at Tahoe. “Ran into” might not be the most accurate way of putting it — he (going with gender-assumption here) clawed the screen off the open side window of the cabin while I lay sleeping on the couch just below. This sort of thing wakes you up in a hurry. He then stuck his head in the window, up on all fours against the side of the house. When he pulled back for a split second I reacted quickly and slammed the sliding window shut left to right. This was enough to frighten him off and I don’t think it was until that instance, seeing him moon-lit and scurrying away, that I put together what had happened. I did some research the next morning and discovered that maulings by black bears are very rare, unless you get between a mother and her cubs. But none of this matters when an animal of this size sticks its small-refrigerator-sized head inside your personal domicile and snorts a few times.

Prior to traveling to Tahoe I’d caught Mudcrutch at the Fillmore in San Francisco. Mudcrutch is Tom Petty’s reunited pre-Heartbreakers band and the cover of their second album shows two bears squaring off. Or perhaps it’s two guys in bear suits. In either case, this bear theme was carried over to the posters made for the event at the famed venue, and I’d brought mine up to Tahoe to put up on the cabin wall. So it all ties together .. album cover, poster, bear sticking head in window. Maybe he just wanted a closer look at the artwork. Mudcrutch is a solid band and Petty is a good songwriter. Some people tend to underrate Petty, likely because he’s had strong commercial success and he’s from the (American) south. I tend not to like these people, nor do I care for the type of music “they” generally prefer. (Think David Byrne in a big suit making choppy motions up and down his forearm.) But that’s OK and to each his own. Life is too short and you never know when a bear is going to stick his head in the window.

Great Apes and Average Folks

I think I’m sophisticated ’cause I’m living my life like a good Homo sapien” – Ray Davies

I thought I’d take a more blog-like moment to write about the incident that took place at the Cincinnati Zoo last weekend when a three year-old boy wandered from his parents’ reach and fell twelve-plus feet into a moat at the gorilla enclosure. He was promptly made welcome by Harambe, a four-hundred and fifty pound silverback gorilla and pride of the zoo’s exhibit. After assessing the situation and watching Harambe briefly drag his new friend through the water with ridiculous rag-doll ease, zoo officials deemed it necessary to put the animal down. There was ample cell phone video of the lad’s brief but memorable face-time with the great beast but thankfully none of the shooting. I would hope that, at the least, it was executed by a competent marksman in as humane a fashion as possible.

There’s been much discussion about the matter .. more than there would have been twenty years ago when nobody had a video camera in their phone. When it comes to zealousy there are no more passionate practitioners than parents and animal rights activists. I have no qualms about the way the zoo handled this unfortunate matter. Watching the moment when Harambe — be it affectionately or otherwise — decides to relocate the boy is enough to see that he could have pulled off his head or other appendage with the ease in which a child removes an unlit candle from a birthday cake. There has been backlash against the parents and questions about how they let this happen. But where three year-old boys are concerned, one quick glance from Mom toward the cotton candy cart or Dad at the stems on Blondie heading to the giraffe exhibit is enough to do it. When I was about that age I got my arm stuck up in a vending machine reaching for some shiny object while my grandmother was getting her groceries bagged at Safeway. She was mortified at having to call the store manager over to soap up my arm and unlock the machine. Looking back now, she didn’t know how good she had it.

So yes, this was the preferred outcome. The parents got their child back safely and a tragedy of more epic proportion was averted. This said, I’d like to speak both selfishly and on behalf of the Gorilla Community. I prefer gorillas to most children. They have a consistently appealing appearance that conveys a calming, zen-like solemnity on the observer. Kids are typically unpleasant to look at for everybody but their parents and become even less so when they open their mouths. Yes, I know, this is an untenable and misanthropic position. But a random sampling of ten gorilla head shots and those of ten kids will validate it. And if the ten random kids are accompanied by their parents (say, at the zoo,) thereby forcing one to ponder the long and unfortunate road ahead? Forget about it. I wouldn’t pay twelve bucks to watch a human family interact and I doubt that most gorillas would. Conversely, I’d offer twenty or more to have a lot of human families removed from my sight-line. As much as I find zoos distasteful, I could watch a gorilla sit on a rock in the warm sun all day. But I can’t say the same about any human, short of perhaps the Dalai Lama .. and even then it would take some consideration on my part.

Think for a moment on the kind of deal Harambe got. He was snatched from his natural environment and brought to Cincinnati — a city with marginal cultural appeal and a lousy baseball team. Yeah, he was provided with free room and board, but it was the jungle equivalent of a crappy studio apartment with an insulting excuse for a moat surrounding it. If he wanted to splash in the water he had to do so in front of a bunch of gawking, pointing, trolls. Zoo-goers are far from the finest humanity has to offer and they almost always bring their offspring. This was what replaced his view of the lush expanse of God’s creation. Then one day the monotony is broken when a three year old child appears in his moat. Harambe goes over to investigate and is rewarded with a bullet to his head. So yes, I’m glad this child survived unharmed and was reunited with his parents, but regardless of how this went down, the gorilla wasn’t coming out alive. There are over seven billion humans on the planet and  little more than a hundred thousand gorillas. From a percentage standpoint, this was a much more significant blow to their population. The evolutionary chain was in full view that day in Ohio .. but make no mistake about this: ours too is a closed-end experiment. We may have a few dozen generational cycles ahead but we’re going down, and in what amounts to a second-hand tick on the cosmic clock. The most we can hope for is a few more sunny days ahead and that one of our progeny’s progeny doesn’t end up in the human exhibit at some latter-day equivalent of the Cincinnati Zoo.

Dr Everything L.B. Alright

My system broke down upon returning to New York. I say “system” because I believe this is how it works, much like a car with a small, untreated mechanical concern eventually necessitating complete overall. Somebody told me the that I “think too much” recently, and while this is undoubtedly true, the opposite approach can kill one, too. Unless of course you’re blessed with the rare but fortunate condition of genuine stupidity .. but this is nothing to bank on. I sat next to a guy on the Jet Blue red-eye who hacked, open-mouthed, for the entire cross-country trip while not making a single effort to cover himself. Spittle flew everywhere. Eventually I draped my sweater over my head like some nutty, cross-country Arabian sheikh relegated to coach. I won’t mention my hacking co-traveler’s nationality, lest I label myself xenophobic racist on top of over-thinker. But let’s just say his mother never taught him to cover his mouth when he coughed, and whether this is a cultural or personal trait I don’t trust it. I stared daggers at one point when his droplets literally sprayed my TV screen from across the aisle but he simply stared back at me with a look that said “soon you will know this sickness, too.” All of which probably wouldn’t be relevant had my system not been vulnerable .. specifically my brain. I sincerely believe there are times when you literally can’t get sick, no matter what kind of germ incubator you’re trapped in and how many virulent, airborne particles you’re breathing in. But this wasn’t one of those times.

Merle Haggard died shortly before I left Northern California and Prince after I returned east and was in the throes of this brief illness. I wrote recently that there are “a lot of people dying of late,” but the reality is closer to an observation I made at a friend’s funeral when I wasn’t even thirty. “The older you get, the more dead people you know.” I brought up David Bowie with my niece while driving her to middle school when I was back in San Francisco and she (understandably) asked “who was he?” This is the true advantage of youth — not the effortless vigor or having your entire life in front of you — but the not being familiar with as many dead people. I can recall my grandmother being upset when Jack Benny died and making the comment “he was always thirty-nine.” I didn’t get the reference then, but I do now and am sad that Jack is no longer around. This is the converse of youth; with age you not only mourn the dead of your generation, you actually go back and acknowledge the passing of those from previous ones. Or I do anyway, but this likely speaks to the over-thinking thing and my niece will be too busy grieving Taylor Swift’s long and slow decline to ever give a shit about the Thin White Duke.

Getting back to Prince .. bummer. I sincerely believe that music can bridge gaps between those who share nothing else in common. Of course the reverse can be equally true and people can be driven even further apart by their divergence in musical taste. But Prince bridged more gaps than he widened. You needn’t be into his electronic funk, religious pontification nor symbol-for-name offshoots. Perhaps, like the young rockheads who yelled “fag” when he opened for the Stones at the L.A. Coliseum in ’81, you were never a fan of his sexually ambiguous, leather-bikini-brief-wearing style. (Although, unlike Bowie, “androgynous” wouldn’t be the first word I’d assign to the cat.) But if you ever played, attempted to play, or simply appreciated someone else who could play an instrument, Prince was hard to deny. This medley clip of the lad strapped only with a purple acoustic guitar is evidence enough. He was the exceedingly rare example of a narcissist who added more to the world than he subtracted. Five-foot-two and perennially in heels, the man knew he loomed large. Watch his 2007 Super Bowl halftime appearance for example of a guy with ice water in his veins who could still connect with an audience of a hundred million. Enough on the adulation. All his foibles, true or otherwise, being exploited in the wake of his death (an opiate addiction as result of his Jehovah’s Witness hip surgery aversion, etc.) only add to the remarkable reminder that he was like the rest of us; vulnerable to complete system break-down. But when it came to his music and how he put it out there — however and whatever it took to put it out there — he was unique and one bad man.

Horace and Steph

A decidedly liberal buddy of mine was recently Facebook-reprimanded by a Bernie Sanders supporter for his defense of Hillary Clinton with this observation on his artistic potency: “Not enough fangs to be fifth-cousin to a vampire.” This, I’m afraid, is what the Trump candidacy has brought us to. The Republican Party has become so whacked-out that Democrats have taken to preying upon themselves. Perhaps it’s all part of some grand scheme and right-wing conspiracy. Let them have this election and take over everything in four years after they’ve eaten their own. I find myself moving with troubling expediency toward the George Carlin world-view that I’ve mentioned numerous times in the past. The drain-circles are getting smaller and faster and the only appropriate response would seem to be rooting them on. Something has clicked in me over the last year and it’s not unlike the curtain being pulled back on a less intelligent and compassionate version of Oz’s wizard. The rockhead to genius ratio is no different than it was on the third-grade tetherball court and any illusion I had that age might improve things puts me squarely in the former group. Your children aren’t special. Merle Haggard is dead.

Thank God for professional sports and Louis CK. One of the upsides of spending much time in Northern California of late has been watching the Golden State Warriors play basketball. I’ve been to two Warrior games this year, one on each coast, and watched a bunch on TV. What Stephen Curry does on a basketball court is the antidote for all of life’s bullshit ambiguity. Anyone of the mind that sports are frivolous pablum for the masses need only keep this in mind: it’s simple. All you need to do is make the ball go through the hoop. Just watch this guy do what he does for a few minutes and try and deny its beauty. “Ah yes,” some of you may be inclined to observe, “but what does it mean in the grand scheme of things?” It means everything. Not the wins and losses, not the political bickering, not the micro-lessons in the produce aisle on avocados and where they come from for your precious bundles of joy. But what Steph Curry does, in the moment and with a basketball. It means everything.

Of course if you still crave the great, ambiguous milieu, there’s Louis CK’s “Horace and Pete” which just wrapped a few weekends back. I was listening to an interview with Garry Shandling in the wake of his recent death and, to paraphrase him, it all comes down to art and heart. This applies to CK’s recent, brilliantly flawed, visionary effort. The finale peaked with a kind of peculiar and pointed emotion just at the moment CK’s character Horace is hit with a personal epiphany. And then, before we can discover what it is and not unlike the Soprano’s finale, a cut to black. As Edie Falco, playing his sister, later observes about Horace: “He was nothing, really. He was, uh, no kind of man. He was just some guy.” True enough, but within that description lies a Steph Curry jump-shot; all the world’s promise and all the world’s heart.

Feel Free to Flip

Lots of folks dying of late (or “passing” to use the often-invoked and sanitized metaphor suggesting life as a freeway with the dead going by us in their cars.) More specifically, lots of famous folks dying. This is usually what we mean when me make the observation, and celebrity has taken on this added dimension of making the rest of us pause for a moment to note that the clock is ticking after checking our Twitter feed. Garry Shandling was the latest, just yesterday. He registers significantly with me, not only because he wasn’t all that much older (sixty-six) but also because he created the greatest television show in history. I make no qualifications for that last statement and I’m a student of some pretty good ones, The Sopranos and The Phil Silvers Show among them. ‘The Larry Sanders Show’ was so good that you could extract the performances of Rip Torn and Jeffrey Tambor, run them as their own shows, and they would qualify for the top ten. Lesser minds misinterpret comedy solely as a vehicle to make us laugh but The Larry Sanders Show was much more than this. The laughs came because it was true and familiar and human; because it’s the only place to go with things before we start crying and look like a bunch of pussies. Which leads me to another great Garry Shandling line, while hosting the Emmys in 1999: “The Sopranos has a character named ‘Big Pussy.’ This, coincidentally, was my nickname in high school.” I was a fan of Shandling’s comedy but nothing came close to ‘Sanders’ for me. I must have expressed this to more than a few people, because I received a flood of texts yesterday alerting me to the news. If all I’ve done in this life is to turn a few more heads in the direction of that program, it wouldn’t be all for not.

Shifting non-sequitur gears here, I’d like to make an observation about those ‘funny’ ring-tones some people choose for their cell phones. I’m not talking about merely choosing a different ring, but the odd sound effects of barnyard animals and the like. Goofy AHH-OOOGAH horns. This kind of thing. I’ve spent my share of time in various medical facilities in recent years and amid folks getting all manner of serious news. Nothing punctuates the gravity of a nurse telling a patient that the doctor has spotted something in his test results that he’d like to speak to him about than a single, loud sheep’s “BAHHHHHHH.” Really, is this what things have come to? And then the oblivious phone owner tapping the screen and answering with a dull ‘hello?’ Indignities are mounting all around us, multiplying by the day. Can you picture such audible punctuation after Lou Gehrig’s “luckiest man on the face of the earth” or FDR’s “a date which will live in infamy”? We’re getting stupider and the circles smaller and smaller.

On the other hand, “The People vs OJ Simpson” is one of the better things to come along in quite a while. The FX mini series walks a dizzying tightrope, blending spot-on parody with historical context and cultural sensitivity. It’s good on so many levels, the least of which not being John Travolta’s portrayal of smarmy celebrity attorney Robert Shapiro. It’s a real shame that several of the principals from the case didn’t live to see themselves depicted. You have to admire what Travolta’s doing here, apparently resurrecting his career for a third time as he simultaneously plays off his own real-life image as a Hollywood straight-man sending out hotel riders demanding a male masseuse and tin foil with heavy curtains covering all windows. The show offers a rare combination of satire and illumination, skewering racial groups and ego-laden individuals alike. It refuses to insult its audience’s intelligence on the matter of who killed whom, yet manages to present a nuanced interpretation of what was going on back then (and likely still is today.) It’s also worth watching, as my buddy Tom Myers points out, to watch Nathan Lane’s portrayal of ex Marine F. Lee Bailey while knowing that, unlike some of the others, the 82 year-old lawyer lived to see it. Put it on your must-see list, right after ‘The Larry Sanders Show,’ in its entirety.


It’s time to stop judging politicians by what they say. Clearly, these people will say whatever’s necessary to garner support and win elections. Instead, I suggest that we start paying attention to how they say it; their word-choice, pronunciation and inflection. Obama, for example, has pronounced “Pakistan” with a long-sounding first “a” (ahh) and “i” (eee) since his 2008 election. What’s wrong with the traditional “pack” pronunciation favored by the rest of us? Perhaps it’s a reflexive reaction to the grating, nasal inflection used by many in his home base of Chicago. He also prefers “ISIL” over “ISIS” in speaking about the fun-loving jihadis making so many headlines these days. It may be a more technically accurate label, but in differing from the favored choice of most media outlets it can also sound elitist or snooty. “We discovered today that a faction of ISIL has been hiding out in Pah-kee-stahn ..” Does he not realize that there are legions of knuckleheads out there assuming we’re fighting a brand-new enemy in some newly-discovered country? This is America — keep it simple. Which, coincidentally, is the unofficial campaign slogan of Donald Trump. Here’s a guy who doesn’t mince words. Unfortunately he doesn’t possess a particularly wide range of them, either. When Trump locks into a word at one of his rallies, he really sticks with it. It’s typically an adjective like “huge” (pronounced “huuuuge”) or “tremendous.” “There was this general, see? .. and he was a rough guy .. rough guy. He was fighting this tremendous battle .. had just a tremendous problem with terrorism. Let me tell you folks, we’re going to win this thing and it’s going to be huuuge ..” Interestingly, “folks” is a term that has made its way back into political discourse on both sides of the aisle. Obama uses it frequently .. “now, some folks have more money than others ..” but Trump likes it, too. I find it too homey for my tastes and never trust a word used by all politicians.

Policy aside, Bernie Sanders seems the best orator on the circuit now. It helps that his primary competition, Hillary Clinton, is prone to coughing fits. But mostly it’s because Bernie is unhampered and untempered in his remarks. His entire thrust is that he can’t be bought and isn’t beholden to special interests. Every time he wants to re-align the topic in a debate, it’s with a refreshing kind of “I can’t believe we’re talking about this shit” quality. Bernie’s message, that the entire system is corrupt, isn’t a new one. But the longer things go on, the more the message seems relevant. He’s also got a slightly over-the-top mad professor quality to him which can be effective while stumping but risks crossing over to Howard Dean territory. Bernie’s pissed, and while there’s just cause for it, it doesn’t always jibe with those favoring the Cool Hand Luke presidential approach of Obama. He’s also got the most disheveled appearance of any current candidate, which I respect. Heck, look at Albert Einstein .. the guy couldn’t iron a shirt to save his life but was a real all-star when it came to putting on his thinkin’ cap. Unfortunately, superficiality counts, and while enlightenment might extend to electing a black man, woman, or Jew, many can’t see clear to someone who doesn’t tuck his shirt in. We’ll put an idiot in there before someone who looks like Michael Moore or Jim Tomsula.

Personal grooming isn’t the only superficial element to a candidate’s appeal. Physicality plays an unfortunate role as well. Chris Christie was facing an uphill battle from the beginning, and not just because his name sounds like somebody stuttering. While obviously unfair, there is perhaps some basis for such prejudice. Woody Allen, as Cliff Stern, had this advice for his niece in “Crimes and Misdemeanors”: “While we’re waiting for a cab I’ll give you your lesson for today. Don’t listen to what your teachers tell ya, you know. Don’t pay attention. Just, just see what they look like and that’s how you’ll know what life is really gonna be like.” If you take this entire snippet and substitute “a Trump presidency” for “life,” I think you’d have an effective counter to any platform he might run on in a national debate. Seriously .. if Trump has gotten this far with the electorate, how far-fetched is it that some of them could be swayed by simply pointing out what the guy looks like? As reviled as Bush and Obama are from opposite ends of the political spectrum, at least these guys clean up well. What’s going to happen the first time Trump exits Air Force One in a wind-swept country? And those eyebrows and the way his lower teeth expose when he talks. This is one crazy-looking dude. Actually, on this basis, none of the front-runners hold much appeal. Hillary counters Sanders’ nutty professor look with a kind of permanently-constipated expression to compliment her pantsuit ensembles. The charge of “sexism” will undoubtedly be leveled for any comment on her appearance but this is the highest office in the land. And Ted Cruz .. an apparent intellectual giant, but thankfully with a mug that betrays much of what others who have crossed paths with him have said. God (if Ted can invoke the Deity’s name then it’s good enough for me) works in mysterious ways.

While the above may read as tongue-in-cheek to most, it isn’t an entirely inaccurate depiction of some aspects of political appeal and mechanism. The divide in this country is huge, to put it in Trumpian terms, and widening by the day. Opposing views within like political affiliation — say, those debating Sanders vs Clinton on Facebook — are the modern equivalent of what one used to see in the general election. By the time the Big Vote arrives, it’s more like each side is fighting an outside force .. an invader. The only thing that seems to bring us together is a genuine outside attack, and that common good will vanishes as soon as policy is instated. How pathetic is that? We need someone to take a big swing at us from somewhere else in order to achieve a very temporary sense of all being in this together. It’s enough to make someone vote for any of them.

Horace and Pete

Louis C.K., the culturally-iconic comic, writer and performer, has always been hit or miss for me. I’ve enjoyed him most when he’s riffing on the soulless expanse of social media and modern technology or the inane sanitation of language. He does a great bit on the pointlessness of having a phrase like “the n-word” when everybody mentally substitutes the word anyway once you say it. But he loses me with some of his more self-loathing takes on middle age and near-clinical meditations on the true nature of his sexual id. It doesn’t matter that the guy is smart and truthful; this is the idiosyncratic nature of comedy. It either clicks or it doesn’t, and I find myself laughing out loud more when watching Norm MacDonald. All of which I’m sure C.K. could live with, given his lofty position atop the showbiz heap and ability to call his own shots. Which brings me to his latest creation, the near perfectly-imperfect “Horace and Pete,” now available on his website, for five bucks.

There are a dozen launching points one could choose in discussing the show, so let’s start with that last one first. There was no forewarning from C.K. and this was obviously a conscious decision on his part. Anyone can scrap an advertising budget, but getting an assembled cast and production staff to remain quiet about what they’re doing takes some planning. It just “arrived” on his website with an email to subscribers along the lines of “check this thing out that I made.” There is no means of enforcement for the five dollar charge; only the honor system and understated request that you not “be a dick” by stealing it. Losing the middle man bonds audience with endeavor. For a fiver you’re on-board and connected; not giving it a chance would be like buying an expensive cup of coffee then leaving it on the counter. There’s a blurb on his website about what to do if you “hate” something he is offering and want a refund. His own system is at work .. simple, but given the scope of his influence, quite effective.

So what do you get for the ticket? If you were one of the first to sign up, it’s jarringly current. There’s mention of the Iowa Caucus and Donald Trump skipping the Republican debate — both occurring within days of the show’s launch — in the opening moments. The setting is a hundred year-old bar in Brooklyn populated by a group of dedicated day-drinking alcoholics and a smattering of non-regular hipsters and wanderers-in. The easiest thing to describe about “Horace and Pete” is how it might be sold at a network pitch meeting. Various reviews have used “Cheers meets ..” and then “Eugene O’Neil” or something equally dark after the hyphen. But this doesn’t do it justice and a large part of the point is that there was no pitch meeting. C.K.’s subject matter is a clever mix of the psychological, political, familial and inter-personal. There’s a fine line separating means of delivery from content. The show was delivered un-sold; what to make of it is left to its audience. At its core, it’s a transcript of some of C.K.’s inner dialogues via a group of talented actors (Steve Buscemi, Alan Alda, Edie Falco, Jessica Lange etc.) It avoids some of the more self-absorbed tangents of his stand-up routine or FX series “Louie.” It’s a particular treat seeing his typically sharp thinking delivered from abstract perspective. “Horace and Pete” feels like theater, complete with miscues and rough spots, highs and lows. Marc Maron commented on his podcast that you can now add “playwright” to C.K.’s list of credentials, and I wouldn’t disagree.

The show is also about how we fail to connect, and C.K.’s character Horace is perhaps the least-connected of the bunch. C.K.’s acting chops are a step behind the other main players, but this, too, draws us in on a meta level. We’re familiar with his comic persona and aware at every turn that he’s created this. It has his stamp all over it. When his character is accused of being an inept failure as a subsequent-generational heir to his hundred year-old family business, he answers simply and honestly “I don’t care.” It can be read as like ambivalence toward any “message” one might derive from the production. The questions raised in “Horace and Pete” are both compelling and mundane. They are not easily answered. How they’re delivered feels as salient as their interpretation. As Alda, in a great reverse-casting role as a profane and racist bartender (making ample use of the un-sanitized ‘n-word’) notes: “racist is what you do, not what you say.” When he later weighs in on the ensuing legal battle over the bar’s future, his perspective and history feel equally valid despite his skewed, misanthropic angle.

I’m not sure where C.K. will go with this show. It’s labeled “Episode One” but feels complete unto itself and impressively current and real. Any exploration of topics raised in the pilot — if that’s in fact what this is — would seem like overkill. All I really need to know about Horace is transmitted in this sixty-seven minutes. Alda is spot-on, and Buscemi, well, Buscemi. I’d like to see C.K. continue as a dramatic writer to see where it takes him. He has the chops and, most impressively, the ambition, stature and vision to follow up on them in a uniquely independent way. It’s a rare and potent combination.*

*Louis C.K. did, in fact, reveal in an email to his website subscribers days after the show was realeased, that it’s an episodic series with more to come. Despite the above, I’ll be interested to see where it goes.

Funk to Funky

And it was cold and it rained so I felt like an actor” – Bowie

So David Bowie died. This was the send-off news from San Francisco where, of late, it seems I’m spending about half my days. I read a few mandatory ageing drama geek postings — “David Bowie didn’t die, he just returned to his home planet” — but this wasn’t the point. Sure, Bowie bridged that gap between high school theater productions and football fields, appealing equally to androgynous adolescent thespians and rock-headed defensive linemen. But he also registered with normaloid nobodies like me, alone and spinning the bedroom vinyl. He was cool to look at in all his Thin White Duke glory, but what struck me was how incredibly consistent this cat was. Diamond Dogs. Young Americans. Five Years. Modern Love. Panic In Detroit. The man could flat-out write a tune, paint a picture, set a mood. And the way his voice could kick in to overdrive with a chilling break when needed .. “smiling and waving and looking so fine ..” Maybe he was from another planet .. but it always sucks having this asserted by mere and geeky mortals after the cool ones go. Better to just listen to what he left behind.

As they pulled you out of the oxygen tent
You asked for the latest party
With your silicone hump and your ten inch stump
Dressed like a priest you was
Todd Browning’s freak you was

Works for me. And they’re getting some rain out there. San Francisco that is, not David Bowieland. Turns out this El Niño deal is one of the few meteorological metrics that doesn’t disappoint. As the late-great not-so-Bowie-like Chris Farley once pointed out, El Niño is Spanish for “The Niño.” It’s also Northern Californian for “washing excrement from San Francisco streets” which can only be a good thing, even for those doing the depositing. West Coast rain is different from East Coast rain. I’m not going to go into any further detail, but this is the sum total of accumulated wisdom from my decade-plus, bi-coastal experiment. I’ll get arguments from some on a molecular level, but it’s also about how it falls, where it falls, and what it falls on. Speaking of which and keeping in line with recent postings .. sublime exit from The Man Who Fell To Earth. As Roger Kahn wrote in his great work on the Brooklyn Dodgers, “The Boys of Summer” : “You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat. Losing after great striving is the story of man, who was born to sorrow, whose sweetest songs tell of saddest thought, and who, if he is a hero, does nothing in life as becomingly as leaving it.” And so it was with David Bowie, if not this disjointed and rambling blog entry. That’s OK .. I think I’ve got a few more in me.

Kirk … Chow.

Ed Greenman died last week. He was my next-door neighbor Kirk’s father and a mainstay on Via Navarro — our block growing up in Greenbrae, California. We had a house on the other side of us, too, but the Greenmans will always fill my sole definition and mental image for “next-door neighbor.” An ex-Navy man with a shaved head long before the hipsters or movie stars who weren’t Yul Brynner started doing it, Ed cut an imposing figure on the block. He was over six feet tall and spoke with a kind of unplaceable drawl that suggested he was in no hurry to get the words out because he figured you weren’t going anywhere until he finished talking. One of my more enduring images of the man is that of him standing on the front deck to call Kirk for supper while we shot baskets in the McCormack’s driveway up the street. It’s a two-word impression that I still do to this day because of its power coupled with economy of language. “Kirk … chow.” This was all that was ever necessary .. Kirk’s name as a heads-up and the reason he was being alerted. It was never yelled nor spoken with particular urgency, but the voice carried and point was made. Never, in all of those hundreds of hoop-shooting sessions, was a second call for dinner required. “I gotta go” was Kirk’s immediate reaction, even if he was four letters into a game of HORSE. So powerful was it that I used it as my first-ever email address: The significance was largely lost, however, and most folks just assumed I was Asian.

Ed had a flare for the creative. He built a porthole into the deck above their backyard swimming pool with a ladder leading up to it. This was but one of hundreds of examples of his unusual sense for design and decoration, but it stuck with me as a little kid. There was something supremely cool about using that ladder to access the upper level instead of the more ‘adult’ deck stairs and nobody ever told you it was too dangerous, either. Once, when my dad was clearing out the basement of his old family home on Leavenworth Street in the city, Ed noticed a box of dials in our garage. The basement was where my grandfather, a talented and self-taught engineer, started our family business .. and the dials belonged to various film processing machines and other equipment he’d built himself. The box was being thrown out and Ed asked if he could have its contents. The next week these same dials with their now-polished brass housings and newly-shined surfaces were mounted on the wall in the Greenman kitchen. This was a revelation to me as a kid, that something beautiful and interesting could be salvaged from old junk. Ed was also a master at making model ships with intricate masts and painting old, collectible lead soldiers. He had a glass cabinet displaying the latter in the living room, and he’d made that, too. His woodwork was precise with attention to detail and fine finishing. My father was a gifted woodworker but unlike Greenman he had no patience nor sense of economy with materials. Both were talented; but with my dad the point was the therapeutic process and forging ahead to completion of an entire room or substantial and functional piece of furniture. My father’s finished products never failed to impress, but he went through a mint in materials getting there. Greenman could use the scraps left behind to construct something from nothing, and the results often astounded.

Ed played the bagpipes, intrigued, in part no doubt, by my Scottish mother’s heritage. While it isn’t the most mainstream instrument, I’m sure there are a fair number, globally and outside of Scotland, who take it up. The difference with Ed was that, as with most things, he stuck with it. I recall my mother telling me about his wanting to play ‘Amazing Grace’ at his nephew’s funeral .. a young man who’d died tragically and prematurely in an automobile accident. “I botched a few notes in front of everyone,” he said afterward, “but went back on my own later and played it right for him.” This image of Mr. Greenman as a lone piper, out there at his nephew’s grave site and hitting all the notes on his second attempt, stuck with me.

The Greenmans moved south, some years back, to Fallbrook in San Diego County. Mrs. Greenman died in 2003 and Ed stayed in the house. I never visited, but have no doubt that it was decorated with many personal touches, like the home in Greenbrae. There is a sense of pity that one has for some older people, living on their own after a spouse dies .. but it was never the image I had of Ed Greenman. He kept the tradition of sending my folks a Christmas card every December with a brief update, and I enjoyed reading these in recent years, returning from New York. This was Ed .. solid, substantial. In alerting me to his dad’s death, Kirk explained that his plan had been to move in with his father at the start of the new year, to help him out and see if they could make an eventual move, together, to Oregon. He was still getting by on his own, however, and the description of his final day on this earth after eighty-seven some years, from what Kirk could put together, filled me more with envy than sadness. There were a few loads of laundry in the machine; evidence of his self-sufficiency and while not on par with his other more intricate skills, an ability that many men of my father’s generation never acquire. The exercise bike had been recently used; this wasn’t a man prone to flab or inactivity. And an unfinished container of yogurt was on the kitchen table. This was Ed Greenman at the end: doing laundry, exercising, having breakfast .. getting things done. He’d carried his habit to San Diego of putting an American flag up outside the house each morning. It wasn’t typical behavior in the liberal confines of Marin County, but fit him perfectly with neither irony nor heavy-handedness. It was this flag that a Fallbrook neighbor who’d been checking in on him of late noticed still displayed on the deck after nightfall .. something that Ed wouldn’t allow .. and was all the alert necessary to assure that he’d be found promptly. It was all very quick, dignified, and even considerate. ‘Graceful’ is another word that comes to mind. An exceptional run and fine exit. Somewhere a lone piper plays ‘Amazing Grace,’ flawlessly, note for note.