The Second Stoa


A Stoa is A Long Line of Columns at the Edge of the Market,Where Old Philosophers Give Their Opinions. Our First Stoa contains Ionic Columns Numbered from 1 through 25. You can visit it by clicking here: The Stoa. This Second Stoa contains previous Ionic Columns beginning with #26.




The most recent column below was cycled here on

July 10 2012




Table of Contents

(Linked: to Go to Any Column, Just Click on the Date Below It)



10 July 2012


22 June 2011


14 February 2011


21 January 2007 


26 October 2006 


28 March 2006


26 November 2005


13 October 2004


 8 MAY 2004


3 June 2003


11 March 2003



"Home Is the Sailor..." Part Two

July 26th, 2008

In the morning the car we had ordered (for driving around the country) was brought. It was supposed to be a (something or other of which we had never heard) but it turned out to be a Fiat. A bright green (sort of between lime green and chartreuse) little car, and I was very pleased. I used to drive a Fiat before our Dictatorship, backed by Detroit, prevented them from being imported.

Good gas economy! Great handling!

We loaded up and began our Odyssey.

Unfortunately, Greeks do not give good directions. The man who handed over the car said: "It's easy, here's the shift, you pull up and back for reverse. Bye!"

After about eight tries at getting it into reverse we prayed to Hephaestos, and the car went into reverse. We pulled out and headed south, as Brauron was not too far away.

There are great Archeological Site signs all over Hellas, in Brown and in Greek and English, which is a different color from all the other signs. Still, it took a while to find it. There was a museum on the way that we thought might be it, but it was closed. Finally we did find it

It is not really a developed site, which was good. We were able to meander around while the caretakers weed-whacked the growth. The ruins of the small temple were the very first that we had visited. The area where the 'Little Bears' lived and learned was nice, and the sort of quad where they no doubt danced and exercised looked like a good space for little girls. There is a certain amount of stonework still standing, so you can get an idea of what it was like. Really nice Doric columns.

There were plenty of prickly pear cactus growing in the ruins, and fig trees.

After a pleasant stay at Brauron we headed further south, to Cape Sounion, which you see in lots of pictures. The temple of Poseidon is one of the big view sites, and being on a promontory surrounded by the Agean, you can't miss it. They light it up at night.

In the pictures it looks huge, but that is an illusion of the Ionic columns. Diana noted that it was not much bigger than the place that one of the Troth members is building in the southwest.

The brochure told us there was a substantial temple to Athena there as well, but try as I might I could not find it. Then I discovered a man giving a lecture to some of his students, and when he finished I asked him about it. It turned out he was a compatriot of Stephen Miller, at Nemea, and was the man who was in charge of measuring the stuff at Nemea. He pointed downhill to a far less impressive set of ruins (practically nothing there), but Diana said we had to get going.

I had parked in the lot, the car facing the cliff. It would not go into reverse. Diana began to have visions of having to hover over space and push me backward. (She doesn't drive shift.) We prayed to Hephaestos some more, with some more pleas to Hermes to make sure we didn't go over that cliff. Finally the car moved backward, and we headed for our next destination.

Diana was the navigator for the trip, and she was sure she had the ring road system down pat. Only somehow we got off, and before we knew it, we were plunging across Athens, which is a lot like Los Angeles, only faster and with fewer rules.

People drive wildly in Greece. There are many motorcycles and motorscooters, and they all rush to the head of the pack when everyone stops at a traffic light. Then they all take off fast.

We saw our only accident that day, in Athens, when a scooter went down.

Our destination for the day was Napflion, which had an inexpensive hotel. We crossed the Korinth canal, then found the exit, (we were back on modern highways), which happened to be the same exit for Nemea.

We drove two lane roads past Mykenae, Tyrins, and finally arrived in the thriving beach town of Napflion. But after an hour we still could not find the hotel. Diana finally gave in to my importuning and used the rented cell phone.

"Oh, it's easy," came the reply: precisely what everybody said for the whole trip. But we did negotiate a number of one way streets, find the Hotel Economu, parked, and piled out.

It was a sort of hostel, but being an old married couple, Mr. and Mrs. Economu had given us a room with a private bath and toilet.

There was no guard door inside the elevator, but from the hall wiindow we had a view of the full moon and the fully lighted, really huge, Venetian Castle. We had not known that Napflion was the first capital of Modern Greece, or the role it had played in the Greek War for Independence. We learned the first of many lessons we had not expected about that wonderful country.

They have these little, curious air conditioners, and when you check in they give you the controller, somewhat like a TV remote. I was happy with the temperature, but Diana wanted refrigeration.

Fortunately, there were blankets.



Copper Bar


July 25th, 2008

"Home Is the Sailer..." Part One

Thus we begin a series about our trip to Hellas, otherwise known as Greece.

Let me preface this by saying that you should understand how far away Hellas is from California. There is a ten hour difference. Thus, to call home, we had to wait until about 10 PM, by which time folks in California were beginning to get up and stretch. --Look at it another way. We got on an airplane in San Francisco and it took us 17 hours to get to get to Athens. That is several meals and a very long time to sit in a cramped seat doing nothing. Of course we were flying the cheapest we could, or we would not have been able to afford it at all, even with 12 years of saving for it.

Did I mention that our first item on the agenda was for Diana and I to run in the Nemean Games? That requires the body to be stretched and limber, which is exactly what it was not by the time we got there.

No mind: Diana is an experienced traveler. (I had never been over the US borders before, much less across the Atlantic.) She budgeted time for us to collapse and recuperate for a day, as well as doing some stretches.

We landed at the airport outside Athens and began looking for a bus headed for Rafina, which was not easy to find. We lugged our luggage all over the place before she finally got good directions and a bus came. It was a local, and for the next hour or so we were treated to a ride through what appeared to be the seediest outskirts we could imagine. But as we got accustomed to the landscape, various things began to settle into our jet lagged brains.

The first was that the landscape looked pretty much like California. Everywhere was a profusion of Oleander and Trumpet Vine, and other familiar plant life. The second was that it was not really possible to tell whether a building was going up or coming down..

The Greeks build vertically. Put in some concrete piers, link then with floors and a stairway (alarmingly without rails) and you can later fill in walls. There are clusters of iron rebar sticking out of the tops of the piers like rusted tentacles. I learned later what that was about. --And all the houses were in bright pastels.

Eventually we got to Rafina, a beach town much like we used to have in the US: except, of course, that we were on the Agean, where the water is brilliant blue, except where it is shallow and becomes brilliant turquoise. And it is so clear that you can see the bottom as if through glass.

Diana cautioned me that this would likely be the best and most expensive hotel in which we would stay. We took showers in the Euromod glass shower, only it leaked all over the place. Greek bathrooms assume that water will get everywhere, so they have drains in the floor.

We went down to find dinner and we were clearly tourists on our first stop. The very aggressive waiter lured us in, told us we would make something special, and delivered a huge oval platter piled high with many kind of fried fish, all whole, except for the calamari.

Diana happily gobbled red fish and white fish and all kinds of things, and I stuck to the squid and shrimp. I am scared of bones. Diana will eat bones and anything else that isn't moving. But between us we could not finish it all.

When the bill came it was --gasp-- a hundred Euros!

It wasn't THAT good.

On the way back to the hotel Diana went wading in the Agean. She said it was warm.

Uh huh.

I just wanted to sleep, despite the desire to actually swim in the Blue Agean.

By the time we hit the bed, we were out cold.




Christmas at Clearlake


The County of Lake, California, is an interesting and peculiar place, a place of great beauty but also a place of deep avarice, a place with a wide spiritual dimension but with it a sense of narrow vision. You can find all the kinds of humans here, if you look, and you can find a good many animals as well: which, as I grow older, seems a better recommendation.

The City of Clearlake is looked down upon by the City of Lakeport. Lakeport is newer, shinier, cleaner, and has a richer populace: this notwithstanding,, it also has a fine selection of Victorian homes, many in an excellent state of preservation, cared for by inhabitants who love them and who have the money to take care of them. It was in Lakeport that Lily Langtry got her divorce!

The City of Clearlake is presumed to be the dumping place of California's derelict drug users, and that is simply not true. There are druggies mixed in with the poor people, but I suspect there are just as many mixed in with the rich: they cover it better, that's all.

Christmas in the County of Lake is a time of Commerce, just as in the rest of America. The Christmas spirit (outside of specific times and places in specific churches or other charitable institutions) is manifested in colored lights and sales sheets, in profit tallies and purchase reports.

As in the rest of America, people do not ask: "What did you give?" they ask: "What did you get?"

But for all my cynicism about what Mark Twain called "The Damned Human Race," there still shines through, as my other hero, Charles Dickens, so aptly point out, a special something at this season, and when it shines from the environs of the poor it seems to shine all the brighter.

This year in the City of Clearlake there was a positively stunning Christmas light display. It was not complex, it was not expensive looking, but it was more beautiful than any other I saw in my travels. It showed what wonder can be made with simple materials and attention to detail, what one can do if one has spirit and is willing to put in the work.

It was a blue forest.

We've all see trees lit up with little white lights, the legacy of decades of Disney esthetics (with which I find no great fault), but this was different. Someone had gone to the great trouble of winding and wrapping a grove of trees with tiny, dark blue lights, and they were not very small trees at that. Their shapes in the darkness gave the impression of walnut trees, or perhaps planarded sycamores. Given the County's history of agriculture, I'd bet on the walnut trees. They are leafless at this time of year, and I have not been back in daylight to check the species.

Let me emphasize that they were not lighted with the haphazard lazidazical manner one usually sees these days. The lights were evenly spaced and placed, and showed one the true shapes of the trees, except that one was seeing them as blue lights. Thickly covered they were, and pretty much up to the top.

A mysterious, mystical, beautiful blue forest of light.

I commended it to everyone throughout the whole of the time that it was on display, and should the person or persons who accomplished this wonderful confection stumble across this humble tribute, let him, her, them at least take my compliments and admiration.

Not far away, perhaps a couple of miles, there was another display, near the trailer park where my son and his wife and children live. I could not fully see it because it was up several blocks from the exit which I drove, but the top of it was quite prominent. It looked a great deal like the lights that used to be run between the smokestacks of steamships in the old days. White lights representing the gaiety of cruise ship people decked in diamonds dancing the fox trot or, at this season perhaps, the turkey trot. Maybe even, if they were of a sufficiently romantic nature, a tango.

This set in play the eternal inner dialogue which it is the nature of the writer to host constantly, a what if, and a perhaps sort of dialogue, an imaginary dialogue between imaginary people, which is the bedrock of the scene, the narrative, and of characterization. I began to consider just how such a display had come to pass, and before mine inner eyes appeared the Christmas Lighting Pageant by which the thing had been decided upon and achieved.




"All right,, everybody," said Mrs. Shaugnessy, "everybody has coffee who can drink coffee, everybody has a beer who wants it, and everybody has some of the Kosher cookies Mrs. Schultz was nice enough to bake for tonight. Everybody looks comfortable, so let's get this show on the road! I hereby call to order the first and only meeting of the Noble Street Committee for the Decoration of the Neighborhood at Mid Winter. --Is it ok to call us that?"

There was a general assent, as the denomination of the season as Mid Winter did not manage to offend any of the divers belief groups represented in what was, even for California, a pretty diverse neighborhood.

"Well, good! I guess the first order of business then, for the new families, is to explain why we are having this meeting."

She took a deep breath.

"We all like to do some kind of display at this time of year. It's traditional! But this is America in the Twenty First Century, and the fact is, none of us is rich enough to do the kind of display we would like to do. Moreover, towards the end, it got too competitive! Everybody tried to out-light everybody else and, that one year, the transformers caught fire and the whole neighborhood was in the dark for three days at the height of the holidays."

Mrs. Shaugnessy was very proud of herself in avoiding, most scrupulously, the 'C' word.

"Across town there was an old couple that had spent years and years collecting plastic lighted statues and such, but on Social Security they couldn't afford the electricity to power it. For a while, neighbors chipped in, and I think the city even made a contribution for a while. But in the end that, too, faded. That's why our street formed a committee to do one, big, light display for the holidays. Each year it's in a different yard, at a different house, and we all come together to decide what the theme will be. Then we all help put it up, and we all help pay the electric bill. We think we do the best show in town, and, also needless to say, we work hard to make it something that represents all the religious groups represented on our street, and to be sure it cheers everyone and offends nobody's beliefs."

There was a murmur of approval around the room and people munched and sipped. Mr. al-Khazaali tasted the cookie that Mrs. Schultz had made and gave her a shy smile of approval. Mrs. Schultz blushed.

"I think it safe to say," said Mrs. Shaugnessy, "that a Nativity scene is not on the agenda."

There was a somewhat louder murmur of approval, though there was also a rather sad exhalation from the Washingtons, where were African American and Baptists. They had left Arkansas when their house was burned down by the Ku Klux Klan, back in the first days of the Civil Rights Movement, and they had good reason to appreciate the peculiar and welcoming ways of California, even if it meant leaving the Christ out of Christmas.

"I thought," offered Mr. MacTavish, who was a Presbyterian, "that perhaps we could do the Golden Gate Bridge and a history of the Gold Rush. They have those lovely gold colored lights now for the tree, and it would be warm and friendly, you know, like the song: 'Open your Golden Gate,, you make no stranger wait..."

His voice died out at the obvious displeasure being displayed my Mr. and Mrs. Wingfeather.

"The Gold Rush brought unspeakable horrors to all the tribes of California," said Mrs. Wingfeather, with great and restrained dignity.

"Our people were hunted like animals by the Mountain Men who came down from Oregon to steal our lands, while others were taking the gold," said Mr. Wingfeather. "Many bands were wiped out completely, with no compassion at all. It was genocide."

"We certainly should not do a display that condones genocide," said Mr. Schultz, firmly.

"No, of course not," said Mrs. Shaugnessy.

Everyone looked at Mr. MacTavish as if he were wearing a swastika on his arm.

"Perhaps," said the elderly Mrs. Washington brightly, "we could make a display of the rising sun! It doesn't mean for other people what its does for Baptists, and its pretty universal as a symbol for hope!"

That brought a round of smiles, but then the venerable Mrs. Takashi, who was perhaps the oldest person in the room, spoke up with quiet modesty.

"It would, of course, be very beautiful and hopeful. But some people might see it as the symbol of Japan, and here, where there are many old and retired people, it might kindle unpleasant memories."

Mrs. Takashi had phrased what she said with the utmost care and politeness, so it was a matter of some ambiguity whether the unpleasant memories might be of World War Two, or of the interment camps which she and many other Japanese Americans had endured in that ugly time when concentrations camps had been the fashion on both sides of the conflict.

"Maybe," said Mr. Shaugnessy, speaking up for the first time, "we could do children's stories. I remember when I was a boy, back before everybody got so concern with guarding the trademarks, that there used to be Disney displays in all the department store windows. Animated figures doing fanciful things to make the children laugh. I remember one window had the big bad wolf and the three little pigs...."

"No pigs!"

He was cut off mid sentence by the combined voices of the Schultzes and the al-Khazaalis, who looked at each other in surprise to have spoken as one; and then firm agreement, and then some uneasy pleasure.

"How about an electric bonfire!" said Starberry Wintergreen," who as NeoPagan, and who, once she had explained in detail to the whole neighborhood (many times) what witches really do, had been regarded as safe and lovable, if somewhat flaky, and a reasonable source of advice on home remedies.

"Huh?" came the general response.

"Well, you know," she said, "the bonfire around which we dance at the solstice to see us through the longest night of the year... Well, I mean, most of you don't dance naked around a bonfire at the Winter Solstice, but lots of people celebrate with a big fire...."

"I think it might confuse people," suggested Mr. MacTavish.

"And worse," said Endora Ironwill, who was the other witch on the street, but of the Dianic sect, "it would look like we were celebrating the Burning Times, and the burning alive of millions of innocent women!"

Endora Ironwill had the singular capacity to throw cold water on almost any endeavor, but she was a lawyer and had stood up for the neighborhood on any number of occasions when it was threatened by city or county government. She wasn't much fun to be around, but she was very highly respected, which everyone thought she preferred.

"Flowers!" suggested Linda Greenway, who knew more ways to cook spinach than anybody could imagine. She was a strict Vegan. "We could make big, lighted flowers!"

That idea enjoyed some discussion until it was realized that flowers would be very much out of season, unless they were poinsettas, and that to render them would require the purchase of many more lights than they could afford.

"Gift packages!" Mr. MacTavish tried again.

"Isn't the season already over-commercialized?" asked Starberry Wintergreen. "Wouldn't that make us look just like one of the big stores? Wouldn't that be caving in to greed?"

And so it went. Themes were suggested, themes were rejected.

Mrs. Gonzales offered to make Mexican chocolate, a safer bet than her offer of tacos in the previous year, which had been rejected because they contained lard. Mrs. al-Khazaali surprised everyone with boxes of imported rathlacoum (which, she explained, was popularly called 'Turkish Delight' in the West), and it was a big hit until it was noted, by Endora Ironwill, that the candy contained pistachios, and that she was allergic to nuts: an allergy which Mr. MacTavish shared.

Fortunately, neither of them went into seizures.

By midnight brains were exhausted and nerves were frayed. The older members of the committee were beginning to yawn and stretch in their seats: all except Mrs. Takashi, who was much too graceful and polite to consider such antics. It was beginning to look as if there would have to be a second meeting, a prospect of infinite dread.

Then Dolly Varden, who had said not a word but who had eaten a great many cookies and drunk an awful lot of coffee, spoke up.

Dolly was young, plump, and pretty. Nobody knew how she supported herself, but the popular supposition as to the matter was not borne out because she never seemed to have any gentlemen callers. She was likable, but nobody in the neighborhood accounted her as having anything between her ears but possibly cotton candy. It was thus quite a surprise that her suggestion of a theme was, at that late hour and under those circumstances, so roundly embraced by everyone in the room.

Two neighbors whose yards adjoined each had a tall flagpole, which made it all possible. Bright white lights were strung between them, then stretched down to either side, giving that elegant impression of a fabulous cruise ship crossing the ocean under the bright stars of winter: which was, of course, a bit out of season, but everybody was willing to ignore that for the sake of the historic recreation of the event.

And thus it was, thanks to Dolly, that the Noble Street Committee for the Decoration of the Neighborhood at Mid Winter presented its glorious light display for the year:


"The Sinking of the Titanic"


--And the band played on....


--Moth & Rust

January 21, 2007



Life In Totalitarian America: Part One

Totalitarianism: A system of government that is centralized and dictatorial and requires complete subservience to the state


An Encounter With the Secret Police


I was on my way to the health club today to see if I could, once again, put the broken pieces of my body into some semblance of order. Working out relieves pain ever so much better than any kind of drugs. It not only opens the tissues to oxygen, it releases those blessed little endorphins that are thousands of times more powerful than even the most dangerous medicines. And the good feeling lasts longer, and you don't have to take more after four or six hours.

I turned right on the street just before my club. It is a two lane road with a couple of provisions for left turns, including one left turn lane that is marked with those little white bumps that make noise when your tires pass over them.

Ahead of me was a boxy white vehicle, something that looked like a cross between an SUV and a pickup truck, with maybe a little of dog catcher profile through in. As it came to the above described left turn lane, it pull off the road to the right. I figured the driver might be lost, might be checking directions; something reasonable. I proceeded forward to pass him, in mine own lane, the one he had just vacated.

As I came almost abreast of him he started to pull out, aggressively, forcing me to move left across the white bumps to avoid a collision. I was really upset about that. It was an unsafe, dangerous move on that driver's part, and I honked my horn, an appropriate response to warn of danger. The driver could, after all, have pulled back into traffic without looking over the left shoulder, as required by law, to see that the lane was clear. Sometimes people carelessly do that.

I managed to get back into my lane as the driver slowed: then the lights on the car began flashing, left right, left right: a decidedly unorthodox way for lights to flash. It took me a moment to realize that this flashing was perhaps something official. It wasn't after all, the usual blue and red flashing of a police car...

But then I saw, in my read view mirror, that the driver was a man dressed in a police uniform. I pulled over.

He came forward and rapped on my right hand window for me to open it. I unhooked my seat belt, leaned over, and did so.

"Didn't you see that emergency vehicle coming toward you in the other lane?" he asked.

"No," I responded. "I did not see any emergency vehicle. I saw you pull over to the right, assumed you and a reason, and started to pass you."

"You went over the double yellow line to pass me. That's against the law!" he said, and he was being, I thought, rather belligerent.

"I did not go over the yellow line," I said. "You pulled out and forced me over the white lane dividers, right next to the place where you had pulled out. I honked at you because I was upset with such bad driving."

"Let me see your license and registration, and your proof of insurance!"

I had not trouble producing my license and my registration, but the print on the proof of insurance was tiny and it turned out I did not have my reading glasses with me, so I had to ask his help. It was not the current card, but as we've been with the same company for thirty years or more he didn't seem to find that a problem.

"Have you put in for a change of address on your insurance?" he demanded.

"No," I said. "We have two houses. The bill for the insurance goes to the one in Berkeley, where my wife pays it. The car is registered at my address here in Lake County. The bill for the registration comes to me here. It's cheaper that way."

He went back to his vehicle, presumably to 'run' the government's dossier on me. When he came back he tried again.

"When an emergency vehicle is coming, you have to pull over, whether you see it or not!"

"What kind of emergency vehicle was it?" I asked.

"It was a white Ford Taurus with a red light in the front window."

Now, frankly, I find it difficult to believe that one could avoid seeing a car coming toward one on a two lane road with a bright red light in the front window. Further, one does not normally conceive of an unmarked white Ford Taurus as an 'emergency vehicle.' In fact, such a vehicle is likely to be... Another Secret Police Car.

Now, there may indeed have been such a vehicle present. Since I didn't see it, didn't notice anything out of the ordinary as I drove, my inclination is to doubt it. Rather, if the vehicle was there, it seems likely to me that the light was not on.

In fact, that this was some sort of scam, some sort of set up.

If the officer had said I had crossed the white dividers, it would have been one thing: but he did not. He said I had crossed the yellow lines, which I had not done. It smacked a little too much of a rehearsed, and possibly oft-delivered, little speech.

Moreover, his manner, far more intimidating that that of most officers in such a situation, suggests that he intended to confuse me and make me believe that his version of what happened was the true one. That would work well with people who are not observant; the sort of driver who does not pay attention to his or her surroundings.

The poor and the elderly are great subjects for such intimidation and abuse. They have been trained for generations that you can't fight City Hall. They lie down and take it.

I guess I look both poor and elderly these days: but I'm a trained observer by virtue of my several professions, and I think the officer came to the conclusion that I was not going to lie down, and worse, than I would make a pretty credible witness. He did not give me a ticket, for which I am grateful to Hermes.

But a question arises.

I have been assured by local judges that our police are not on any kind of quota system. They give the tickets that they give, and there is no incentive for giving more or less. The don't get paid any more for giving more tickets.

One would think that drivers here are bad enough to supply all the opportunities an officer would need for giving out tickets. It should be possible for the government to make the maximum amount of money from this kind of invented crime to be happy and to not need to play scams.

So why would officers do such a thing?

Just suppose... And I know this will sound crazy, given all the crime we see on the media these days.... Just suppose... That things are getting better.

Suppose there is not enough crime to go around?

Suppose that drivers are actually getting better, in general, and that the number of infractions of traffic laws has declined?

We all know how easy it is to manipulate statistics to make things look like anything the manipulator wants. We keep hearing how crime is going up and up and up...

But suppose that is not true?

Surely the government and the media would not lie to us, would they?

But if that were the case...

Might it not be that we are somehow, incredibly, overstocked on policemen?

Oh, I don't mean the guys and gals who are out there laying their lives on the lines daily. I mean... Well, how about the Secret Police?

We are told that we need them in the war on drugs, but I have it on good authority that all the drug dealers and other hard criminals know which cars are which, and therefore the presumed invisibility is kind of pointless. They're not sneaking up on anybody but...

The poor and elderly?

It would really be a shock to discover that we have too many, rather than too few, police officers.

Worse, it would be a shock to them. I am sure they don't feet superfluous.

But Parkinson's Laws apply equally well to any profession. "Work expands to fill the time allotted." "People rise to their level of incompetence, then stop." "Each person who is promoted must replace him/her self with two more, to show how important she/he was in that position."

There are more. You really ought to read Parkinson.

I have an acquaintance who is a policeman, and he is a good guy. He struggles constantly between those shift where all the bad stuff happens and those shifts where he is buried in paperwork. I have heard from many officers how much good they could do if they were not weighed down by the burden of reports: but they also understand the necessity of those reports, and though they gripe, then do they job.

I don't know any Secret Police socially.

Our forefathers framed the constitution in such a way as to avoid such abusive institutions, and the equally odious practice of having Secret Informers who could not be held responsible for their actions.

Somehow our government, through sophistry, has gotten around the safeguards put in place by our forefathers.

When I was young, the very idea of Secret Police conjured images of Communist Totalitarianism or the Third Reich. The idea of Secret Informers brought to mind the Reign of Terror after the French Revolution. That the American Sheeple have been led by the nose to accept these evils as everyday necessities brings to mind that wonderful phrase "The banality of evil."   

Moth N. Rust

26 October 2006


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Can Anyone Remember Last Week?


The radio this week is chock full of excitement about the new AT&T yellow pages which may (or according to the ads, may not) be arriving any day now. --Well, this is what passes for excitement these days in the wonderful world of advertising.

Contained amidst the brass bands and cheering crowds is the datum that the old, SBC yellow pages will still work until the new AT&T yellow pages arrive. --So, what? -- the ink is supposed to dissapear, or the numbers all go blank or something if we don't get the new book?

The important part of the ad is camoflaged by the flapping flags: SBC (which stands, I think, for Southern Belle's Consortium), which gobbled up Pacific Bell, is being gobbled up by AT&T (which I think stands for Athletic Tarmagents & Tarbabies). Thus the Phone Company becomes ever more ingested into the amoebic entity of yet another giant corporation.

But wait!

It has not been many years since the biggest business news story in America was the break up of the country's most conspicuous monopoly, affectionaly referred to a Ma Bell.

Those who can remember the Olde Phone Company will recall what it was like dealing with a monolith which saw itself as Always Right. How impossible it was to get through the tangle of its bureaucracy to accomplish such ends as gaining access to a phone number or correcting errors in billing. There was even a movie about how the most evil of the evil secret agenies (as in a James Bond movie, or a Maxwell Smart TV show) was really the Phone Company, which held unlimited power to do with as it would. --It was this perception of the Phone Company that provided our beloved legislaters with the fuel needed to break up the monopoly in the public interest.

The idea was that healthy, capitalistic, competition would benefit consumers. (We used to be citizens: now they think of us as existing to consume the products they make.) --That if the Phone Company lost its monopoly, local phone companies would have to compete for our business and therefore lower prices.

This happened just about the time that everyone discovered the Internet, and that it became obvious there really was no such thing as 'long distance.' Telephone messages travelled at that point via electricity, which travels pretty much at the speed of light. Now telephone messsages are likely to traval via fiber optics which uses light, which travels at... Well, the speed of light. While it is true that there is more conduit between Beijing and New York than there is between Brooklyn and Yonkers, once the pipe has been laid the distance (in light speed) is not appreciably greater. It makes no sense to charge more for miles, because the conduit has to be maintained locally, not globally. (And the message is likely to move via satellite rather than via underwater cable.)

I think it pretty much worked. It certainly worked well for me. After a few years of shopping around, I found that I was no longer paying for long distance minutes; the whole thing became a simple, one price, package. And hey, I don't do that many long distance calls anyway (they had found a way to bill me a higher rate for 'messsage units,' which meant long distance rates for short distance calls, but that is another level of flim-flam, and topic for another column, and besides, the new rate they offered got me past that hurdle).

The introduction of the cell phone, however, allowed the whole cycle of 'long distance' and 'pay per minute' charges to be reinstituted.

And that's ok, I suppose. Most cell phone use if vanity. The practical use of the cell phone ("Hey, my car just ran off the road and I'm a hundred miles from a telephone! Help!") is quickly subsumed into the endless, costly chatter of people invading one another's rare and precius moments of silence to announce the inconsequential occurrence of yet another Once In A Lifetime Sale on carpet cleaning (the company of which I am thinkiing has one sale after another, so it is doubtful anyone has ever paid full price) or blip in the landscape of Almighty Fashion, where each stumble on the color of a pebble is treated as an 8.7 earthquake. (Cell phones themselves are mainly fashion accessories, designed to impress others' with one's access to high priced technology: they can be had in any number of truly boring fashionable colors.)



Here, right in the middle of writing this article, I got a call from SBC, telling me that she had good news for me; that they were lowering my phone bill because I don't make enough long distance calls to warrant the ten cents a minute I have been paying....

"But wait! I have a flat rate," said I. "All my calls are zeroed out."

"Oh," said she, "but now you will only be paying six cents a minute, so..."

Well, she kept on and kept on, but I kept coming back to reality, that I was not paying as much as her new 'lower rates,' were going to cost me on a per minute version. When I asked her if she knew what my current rate was, she said: 'That's right!'

"What are the base charges?" I asked.

"You're only paying $5 a month plus six cents a minute, not the ten cents you were paying before."

"But I wasn't paying ten cents a minute before. What is the base rate of the telephone use, in addition to the long distance charge?"

"You're only paying $5 a month plus six cents a minute for long distance," she repeated.

"That was not the question," I said. "This is beginning to sound like double talk."

"Have a nice day, Sir," she said politely and hung up.

Simply put, she was trying to sell me a higher priced service under the guise of it being a lower priced service.

She was counting on my not really knowing what I pay for phone service, on my not asking questions, on my not having the figures handy, and on the general gullibility of an American people trained primarly to buy stuff, not to consider what they are buying.

Consumers. Cogs in a machine in which 'product' is designed to be bought and destroyed.

But that's another rant.

The center of this column is memory, and the part it plays in human activity on our little planet.

At the beginning we noted the ad mongers whipping up joy and jubilation over what looks, from this distance, to be the re-invention of the telephone company monopoly. What was broken into pieces for the benefit of the public appears to be in the process of being mended, glued back together, for the benefit of the private sector. What appeared to be the triumph of capitalism now appears to be in danger of being dealt a deadly blow by the forces of corporatism.

In listening recently to a "Footnote" podcast, I heard a discussion of the corporation as a monopoly granted for the purpose of providing benefit to the public. It was noted that the usual thing is for a government to call in the corporation on a regular basis and ask: "What have you done of late for the public benefit?" --It was also noted, I think in the same podcast, that Mouselinni had defined Facisim as "that system in which the government and the corporations are united." --It is possible, of course, that such a system might result in benefit to the public, but the evidence would indicate that it doesn't work that way.

Memory is the lubrication that slides us back and forth in time, allowing observation of things that happen from a point of view not cemented in the present.

There was a time when memory was viewed as an especially American treasure. We rallied to "Remember the Alamo!" and "Remember the Maine!"

Now the best we can do is: "Remember our Armed Forces, they are fighting for YOU!"

There is a substansive difference in the kind of memory that keeps current affairs in one's thoughts and the kind that recalls the past, allowing one to make comparisons between events that went before and events that are currently in progress.

Can you, gentle reader, remember Ronald Reagan asking the Russians (and rather politely, if firmly, I thought) to "Tear down the wall"? How does that tally with the demand of George (the Shrub) W. Bush to put up a wall on the Mexican border? It required memory to put those two events next to each other and consider their possible meanings: a memory we have not seen revealed in the media.

While memory is a natural faculty in homo sapiens (and many other species), its value is increased with training, and by being linked to observation. We have all encountered those experiments in which a number of people observe the same event but then provide differing descriptions afterwards. Only part of the experiment should be viewed as observational: part of the process involves how much the individual remembers of that which was observed. If one is not trained to fix what is observed in memory, the observation immediately begins to blur, to alter in accord with one's personal tendencies of interpretation.

This experiment is usually cited as an example of the failure of observation in humans; but we know that human beings can, by fairly simple means, train themselves to observe well and correctly; it is a standard part of most police training, for instance. In some cultures observation is considered 'enough' for education, i.e., if you see something done once you should be able to do it yourself without asking questions or repeat viewings.

People in the Twentieth Century (the latter half of which seems to have been devoted to the destruction of educational techniques) thought that it was impossible for Homer to have recited the Iliad and/or the Odyssey from memory; but study of Bosnian-Herzegovinian epic poets shows that not only can a poet recite such an epic from memory, he or she can recite such a lengthy epic from memory after a single hearing!

The arguement has been made, and with some justification, that memory began to decay as a faculty with our dependence on writing and other means of recording data beyond the life of the individual. Certainly writing gave us a means of extending the possibilities of memory; but it did not remove memory for human culture as an important factor. People memorized such simple bodies of data as multiplacation tables right up to the time when the schools 'allowed' them to bring calculators into the classroom. The invention of the 'open book' test preculded any neceessity in academia for storing data in one's individual brain.

Accessing data from externally stored media was seen (or at least we were told it was seen) as a logical extension of writing: if one could look up the spelling of a word in the dictionary, why could one not use a calculator to solve math problems rather than using one's own stored data?

But isn't an important part of intelligence the data which is contained in our memory, for use by our intellect in achieving the process of wisdom?

Think of a house without books, a house which has a computer and which therefore has access to a great chunk of the written material kept in trust by the Human Race. (Of course, as we all know, the data stored on the Internet never seems to include the individual datum for which one is searching, or if it does it is stored on the back of the door in a downstairs water closet which is no longer in use and which has had a file cabinet pushed in front of it....)

Now think of the power going out.

With the fall of a single tree across the power and phone lines, the whole of technolical society is obliterated from usefullness, and you are dependent again upon your memory.

The arguement is not that the technological storage of data is bad or unsuitable, it is rather that such storage is an extension of writing per se, and that both are extensions of memory, which is an extension through time of observation.

Through most of human history, observation and memory have been our most valuable assets for survival, both as a species and as individuations of that species; so they are the very things we take care to pass on to our children, the greatest necessities, the most important of our treasures. Yet, as the Bad Old Twentieth Century came to a close, we observed, and some of us remember, that a war was prosecuted against both observation and memory.

Now why would I say a thing like that?

If observation and memory are of such great value, then they are indeed treasures far above gold and jewels; and we can still see, with some clarity, how some people relate to gold and jewels. They are not content to have some, they want to have all. Gold and jewels are objectifications of power. Observation and memory are power itself!

History is not about dates, it is about things that happened, and the results of those things happening. As Santayana said, "Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it."

Suppose you made a profit on what happened? Suppose people didn't like what happened, or that you made a profit on it?

If they don't remember what you did to them, you are free to do it again!

If you don't remember that the Phone Company monopoly was a bad thing, then crushing all the little phone companies to build another monopoly won't even occur to you. If you don't observe all the dusty electric tooth brushes sitting at the back of closets from forty years ago, you can be pursuaded that the electric tooth brush is a new idea, and they can sell you another one. If you don't have any data about the tin profits that kept the United States bleeding in Viet Nam for 19 years, then maybe you won't question the motivations that send more young Americans to die in Iraq, which just happens to be rich in oil.

I can't tell you the exact technique by which the destruction of the American Memory was accomplished. I think it may have to do with teachers who started to say: "Never mind that right now..." instead of answering questions. It probably caught hold when they stopped requiring students to learn poems (one of the easiest means of improving memory). There was a time, not long ago, when at least one boy in each and every class could recite Poe's "Raven" from memory, and be proud of it. --I can only tell you that a recent study indicated that the memory of the American people, as a whole, goes back no further than three months.

Not enough time to remember checking in at airports without searches and fear. Not enough time to remember a balanced federal budget and even a surplus. Not enough time to remember that education was the single biggest issue of the Civil Rights movement. Not enough time to remeember all the bad things people fought to undo, and which other people want to bring back because there is some profit in it for those some.

Not enough time to remember grandparents living at home, helping parents survive their children and helping those children survive their parents, their memories a storehouse of accrued wisdom that only became discernable with temporal distance.

The Masonic Order has traditionally placed a high value on techniques for the remarkable improvement of memory. Most of the founding fathers of the United States were Masons, and if you look at a roster of the world's leaders, you may be surprized at how many of them belong to that distinguished fraternity. One wonders how much those poltical leaders owe to an improved and remarkable memory, and how precisely aware they are of its value.

Magic has been defined as 'science we don't yet understand.' The Masons have often been viewed as a magical order. One can certainly understand the near supernatural awe which a truly excelent memory must inspire in a person who has neither had the opportunity to improve his or her memory, or who has had, through some social circumstance such as bad education, her or his memory devolved.

Think about the magic of the Masons next time you are assaulted with sound bytes and fragmented images on your television. Consider, if you can, the long term consequences of ever more compressed time sequences in entertainment. It used to be that sixty minutes of television included ten minutes of commercial message; now that sixty minutes contains twenty minutes of commercial, fully a third of it.

Ask youself what you can remember, and how long your memory goes back. And ask yourself how often you have been duped by some salesperson simply because you did not have, in your fluid, random access organic memory, the data you needed to rationally consider the details with which that salesperson was dazzling you.

Now consider observing things more closely, figuring out how much money you can save by that careful observation, and contemplate just what you can do for yourself by starting to learn how to memorize a poem. There's a good chance, if you went to school in the United States, that you will have to develop the technique for yourself: you probably were not taught to observe or memorize, though you probably have some idea of how to cut up books and magazines in order to make a scrap book.

I might suggest you start with "The Raven." 



Moth N. Rust

28 March 2006



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Lemon Pie and Snickers: An Unfortunate Series of Breakfasts


My late sister Marion used to say that if one was a writer one was compelled to write: it was not a choice, not a luxury, not a learned skill, but an almost tragic obsession. Over her divers desks she displayed two signs. One read: "Who ever told you not to be a plumber," and the other "I'd rather drive a truck." --So, if you are reading this with the idea that it will delineate the charm and wit of a family of writers who live lives of indolent grace, working when they will and netting fabulous amounts of money for no more than scribbling down their thoughts in a casual manner: read no more! You had better go to the works of writers more fitted to that sort of life, such as Scott Fitzgerald or Lady Barbara Cartland.

Here you will find, instead, the gloomy prospectus of a life predicated on the principal that publishers (by which in this case we mean people of little or no artistic sensibility but possessing a great capacity for making money from the artistic sensibilities of others while maintaining those others (by which, in this case, we mean writers) at a level of subsistence such as would humiliate the average family of the most economically backward Fourth World county on Earth) generally hold the reins of life and death for the creative wordsmith, and take considerable delight in watching said wordsmiths suffer the agonies of the damned: by which in this case we mean breakfasts almost past the capacity of the imagination to endure.

And it is not only breakfast, but other meals as well! --However, for the sake of brevity, we shall here concentrate on breakfast.

--Not that breakfast for a writer is always a culinary or pecunary disaster.

Sometimes when a member of the profession has done well, he or she will be so kind and gracious as to treat others of the profession to a sumptuous morning repast. Such as the case with Mac, perhaps better known to the general reading public as Richard McKenna. When his marvelous book "The Sand Pebbles" went to the top of the best seller lists, and movie rights were discussed, Mac took us all out to breakfast at the local diner.

It might be well to note here that 'all of us,' was not actually all of us.

All of us constituted the writers in attendance at the Milford Conference of Science Fiction writers, held each year in Miford Pennsylvania by the dynamite ( which is meant to be takenn in this context as explosively talented) team of damon knight and Kate Wilhelm, at the charming Victorian home (The Anchorage) which they had inherited, as I recall, from an aunt. Others who lived in Milford in those days included Judith Merrill, Walt and Lee Richmond, and Virginia Blish, who was not only a talented writer but who later became a talented agent. I still remember the Anchorage fondly, and somewhere have a picture of Harlan Ellison writer "Repent Harlequin, said the Tick Tock Man," Harlan leaping into the air to demonstrate his athlectic prowess by jumping and climbing to the suspended platform of the grand staircase, and Arthur C. Clarke picking his nose. --Sadly, as damon later told me, the Anchorage burned to the ground.

No, in this case 'all of us' was constituted by those who had stayed up all night 'kippeling,' by which is meant the practice of reciting poety aloud, with everyone who knows the poem joining in. Mac had, in fact, kept his sanity in his years in the military by reciting poetry aloud in the engine room of ships similar to the one from which his great novel derives its title; and, if anyone could stay the course with him all night, he would buy breakfast.

Breakfast, however, was a special one: as in keeping with the book, it was a dozen eggs, cooked any way one wanted. With that the diner served hash browns and toast and coffee, and we could also have side orders like orange juice and jam.

So you see, it is not always doom and gloom that accompanies a writer's breakfast: although, when I was reminiscing with another writer from those days recently, he noted that the dozen egg breakfast, so laden with deadly cholesteral, was likely a major contributor to Mac's premature death of heart failure.

More usually, however, breakfast is a breakneck business as one attempts to avoid interruptions and get to one's writing, or at least to the publicity concerning it.

How well I remember a certain morning in Phildelphia when we had all had a rousing good time at one of Harriett and Steve Kolchak's fabulous parties, held biannually in conjunction with Philcon, the long running science fiction convention put on by the local club. The sun was barely up, so we were still indoors, avoiding the daily poisoning of the atmosphere by the miasma that rose each night from the Schuykyll River. Of course we all had dreadful hangovers, and nobody could face such things as eggs or toast, so Avram Davidson, a man of brilliant and subtle wit as well as a unique persepective from which to tell his stories, suggested that I make up a big pitcher of Bloody Marys, The logic had something to do with hair and dogs, but I was too groggy to understand, and proceeded to root about for the tomato juice and vodka.

Unfortunately, by the time I had it made everyone had decamped and headed across town to the convention, leaving me with the questionable duty of drinking the whole pitcher for breakfast, and then rushing across town on foot in order to be on my first panel.

This was far from being my first unfortunate breakfast, but it was a memorable one, and one certainly brought about by the fact of my being a worker in the writing profession.

Another involved hosting a large number of people from Texas and Arizona at our house in Berekeley, and discovering that I had to be up and ready to go at a very early hour.

I think my sister Marion avoided the breakfast dilema for most of her life by the simple evolutionary trick of being born a Morning Person; but I have no doubt her natural talents contributed to her successes; and there is no arguing with the fact that she was the most successful member of the family to date! --Marion got up at four in the morning and wrote steadily for several hours. Before she became a full time writer she would get up (back on the farm) and daintily make her way to the barn (still her her negligee) to milk the cows. This possibly introduced her to the fact that nobody would be up at that hour to disturb her thoughts, and she continued the practice to the point of becoming prolific.

Most of us are Evening or Night People, and on the particular morning on which I had to confer with numbers of people from Arizona and Texas I felt the need to put something in my stomach before rushing out of the house; for I knew that I would have no money with which to accompany people to restaurants, nor time to come home for food. I therefore rushed to the refrigerator, sure there must be something left over; and there was. My hungry gaze was greeted by a big bowl of cold broccoli crowns, and naught else.

Thus, breakfast that morning consisted of cold broccoli and a glass of sherry, which is what there was to drink.

Of course, one puts on a brave face and makes it seem that one is partaking of a particular gourmet treat, which in a sense it was. Not dissimilar to ortilonos, where one picks baby pigeons out of the shell as they hatch, sautees them in butter, and coverinig one's face with a napkin so that others will not see the ecstacy, holds them by the head and bites off the body to crunch them up.

But one does what one can when the money is short.

And, when the book is sold in April, the contracts actually signed in August, and the cheque not yet arrived in November, the money is usually short. --And that, keep in mind, is a good and speedy relationship with a publisher who actually likes the writer. Try waiting twenty years for a cheque! (I just received a pittance from the sale of rights to a story that was signed, sealed, delivered and published when the Soviet Union was still on active duty; but I was grateful that it did, in the end, come through.)

For me, the great difficulty is not the money, which is little enough, but the time.

As a Night Person I awake slow and groggy: unless, of course, there is an emergency, in which case I go into high gear, which means that I can make swift decisions and handle problems as if I were awake, which I am not. (And worse, it brings out that part of the human character which is mercifully buried deeply in most of us: the Inner Dictator.) It is therefore imperative that breakfast, for me, be simple and ceremonial; by which I mean, in this case, accomplished in the same way each day though an habitual and ritual method not requiring any intellection and creativity. The complexity of pouring cereal into a bowl, sloshing cold milk over it, and then the endless chewing, is simply too much!

Fortunately, after I fell off the roof I got fat, and that introduced me to a solution to the problem of Out of Control breakfast preparation: Slimfast, the Drink.

While still somnolent I can grind the coffee, put it in the one cup machine, take down one each of the huge number of vitamin tablets that maintains my body in a semblance of life (I can't take anything with iron because of the Elf blood from my mother's side of the family); take a can of Slimfast from the refrigerator, drink it with the vitamins, then have the coffee. By that point my mind is sliding into gear (on an ideal day) for the writing on which I am working, and I can head for the word processor, and, when all is right, the world dissappears until I come up for air sometime around Tea Time.

There is nothing dreadful about discovering that the only comestables in the house are the remains of a lemon merangue pie and a Snickers bar, if one discovers the fact at tea time rather than at breakfast. One can go out and hunt for food (in this connection I recommend "Stalking the Wild Asparagus" and other books by Euell Gibbons, which were mainstays back on the farm in years when the money was scare and the pheasants and frogs even scarcer) in whatever manner one finds amenable; but if one has to face the pie and candy at breakfast, then a whole host of worries destroys the delicate fabric of one's fantasy and the purity of one's perorations on the page becomes putrescent: which in this case is taken to mean that one can't think about writing when one's stomach is growling from the prospect of eternal emptiness.

Having got this far in life, and solved the problem of breakfast (and we will leave out that Honeymoon story in which the Brides attempted to serve the Grooms a dish made mainly of liver) we were pleased to note that Slimfast, bought at the right store, was also about the least expensive breakfast one could buy.

What more could one ask?

Well, warned you, this was not a cheerful and graceful story. I warned you right there at the beginning!

The problem appeared first when Americans became infatuated with a high protein, high fat, low carbohydrate diet. In other words, emotional backup for the bad, unbalanced eating habits which had put them into pudginess in the first place. (Americans, in general, were a good looking group until they began to eat pizza next to their computers and dine out on burgers three times a day.) Such a diet will cause weight loss, it is true: but it is very... uncomfortable... for people with a prediliction to posterior pain, which in this case is meant to indicate hemorhoids.

The Slimfast company jumped on the bandwagon and reduced the sugar in their product (which served, before, to diminish one's appetite) and replaced it with something that ruins the taste and which, research suggests, may even be dangerous. Worse, they have raised the price!

And then, there is that cheque which has not yet arrived.

So this morning I awoke, (well, almost awoke, which is normal) and staggered about doing my chores. I walked the dog, fed the cat and the rooster, did not feed the goldfish because you are not supposed to when the temperature gets down around freezing, and made my coffee. I got out my vitamins, went to the fridge; and remembered that I am completely out of Slimfast; and a lot of other staples as well!

I have been buying what the shelves contain of the Old Slimfast, the Good Slimfast, but I am out of money for the moment, and there may not be any more. What to eat?

I found the remains of last night's peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I took the vitamins with Kool Aid. I ate the P B & J, and was still hungry. I decided on toast, with cinnamon and sugar. But that used up all the coffee, and I had to make another cup.

And there was all that chewing!

I sank into a grim despair. I brought in a couple of armsful of fire wood, and realized that if I did not write immediately, then the eczema which breaks out on my hands, arms, feet, and less mentionable parts of my body when I do not write for long periods of time, would cause open sores and bleeding, even before I had to face another complex and interminable breakfast!

And so it comes to this. As I finish writing this my son, Jonathon Charles, called to invite me to another Thanksgiving Potluck Feast. He asked what I had to contribute.

"Three cans of anchovies," I replied.

I could hear his wife in the background suggest that they would do just fine without my having to bring anything.

"I'm not sure where three cans of anchovies would fit into the menu," he noted gracefully. "Just bring yourself."

So tommorrow will dawn, and I will face breakfast with three cans of anchovies and a can of greens: which in this case is understood to be seasoned mustard greens, which will be improved greatly by the Southron custom of adding sweet pickle juice, which I have in the refrigerator in a jar, saved most specially for just such a contretemps; by which, in this case, is meant....

Aww, go look it up in the dictionary!


Moth N. Rust

26 November 2005



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A Little Distortion Is Worth a Thousand Lies


It used to be my custom, when visiting the great City of San Francisco, to provide my lunch by stopping at a little health food store on Market Street and purchasing an 8 ounce plastic container of a certain brand of yoghurt for which I had a fondness; plus some sort of ostensibly healthy thing to drink, sometimes juice, sometimes a soda in a flavor not available in the usual places. I would then go out to one of the benches that were provided along the street and, with the plastic spoon which the store provided at no additional charge, eat this simple meal.

In those halcyon days it was an article of faith that yoghurt was good for you, probably would help you lose weight, and maybe even extend your life. (Yes, there was still a residue from that story in the 1920s about the people in remote parts of Tibet who lived on yoghurt and lived past 100 years of age. The report left out a lot, needless to say, and relatively few people in America lived past 100, despite wholesale consumption of yoghurt. Nobody much asked if American yoghurt was the same thing as Tibetan yoghurt.)

Yoghurt was good, flavored with fruit, October days were warm, there were few homeless people, and life was pleasant, no matter what task had brought me to The City.

Then, with that unfortunate curiosity which marks the hopeless copy addict (we read anything that presents itself, thus losing years of our life on hopeless drivel), I read the label.

I can't give you the exact figures after so long, but it said something of the order that one serving contained 250 calories.

In those days we counted calories, not sugar in grams, not fat in grams, not protein or fiber or transfatty acids. Just calories.

250: well and good.

But I read further, looking at the other side of the label. (I told you, I'm addicted, and there was not even a used newpaper on the bench.)

The 8 ounce container contained, it was purported, 4 servings.

I am not real good at math. In fact, I no longer believe in it since exeperiment has proven the Pythatorean Theorum to be dead wrong and useless to anyone who does not accept it as an article of faith (and to many who no doubt try to have faith). But be that at it beezles, even I could do that sort of math.

If a serving was one quarter of eight ounces, which is two ounces, and one serving equalled two hundred and fifty calories, then the whole eight ounce container equaled one thousand calories!

I was not (in those days) overweight. That is to say, I had no trouble fitting my costumes for the stage. For an actor, that is the definition of overweight: not some abstract scandal-prone tabloid ideal. If you fit your costumes you are OK. If the costume mistress tells you the waist will need to be taken out, or worse, that you will need a new costume: then you're fat!

I sat on that bench in the warm Autumn air and shivered. I might not be fat, but I knew plenty of people who were stickinig to 800 calorie a day diets. One little cup of this yoghurt could plunge them into the doom of obesity!

Who on earth eats a two ounce serving of yoghurt?

Nobody, that's who!

The so-called nutritional information on the label, information required by law, had been distorted by separating the relevent numbers by a distance of perhaps two inches: but it was an important two inches.

Over the years I have watched this sort of distortion, the next best thing to an outright lie, maintain its honored place in miscommunication; though sadly, that very tasty (and probably very fattening) yoghurt has vanished from the shelves of any store that I can find. (The company now sells a version with more gelatin and less fat, but it's just not the same.)


When I lived for a while in Hollywood my charming room mate and I needed coffee in the morning. We were both pretty broke, as actors tend to be, and coffee required exotic utensils of preparation, like a coffee pot. It was at that historical juncture, while Alfred Peet still had only one little shop in North Berkeley and Seattle had not yet gone coffee mad, that General Foods introduced its International Coffee line.

I am sure there must have been places in Hollywood to find Cappuccino, but we didn't know where they were and we could not have afforded them in any case. We were very grateful to buy an expensive little can of instant orange and coffee flavored sugar drink and have something hot and tasty to wake us in the morning.

Eventually the accounts turned around and we bought a filter coffee maker, and a tea pot with which to boil the water. I am not sure what kind of coffee we got, but we got coffee. Yet we held that Orange Cappuccino in fond esteem, and it has always stayed in my memory as a very happy flavor and a stimulent for remembering a warm and hazy time.

Last year one of my daughters-in-law fetched home a can of that Orange Cappuccino, and I had a cup, and commented that it was very pleasant stuff, and that I still liked it. For Christmas she gave me a can, and I was delighted.

Now, these days my costumes still fit me, but I have had to get some new pants. Working out has not been enough to hold back two inches around the waist. So I cannot, with impunity, indulge in this sinful pleasure very often; and, as one can now get really good coffee almost anywhere, it is more like eating from a box of chocolates than having a cup of coffee. But I do love chocolates.

And yet...

That perverse addiction to words is still with me, a much more powerful addiction than caffienne or nicotine, or even chocolate. (For those who worry, take heart: the evidence is that fewer and fewer people become addicted to the printed word every year. There is suspicion that in a decade or so the average Amercan won't be able to read anything; from a Totalitarian point of few, a great improvement over the current situation in which, as a result of constantly declining teaching skills in a school system more concerned with turning out consumers than citizens, it is apparant that most Americans simply don't.) --One night as I waited for the water to boil, I read the label.

First I read the ingredients:

Sugar (I expected that), nondairy creamer (partially hydrogenated soybeal oil, corn syrup solids, sodium casienate (from milk), dipotassium phospate, mono- and di- glycerides, soy lecithin) instant coffee, sodium citrate, less than percent of natural and artificial flavor.

As you no doubt know, the ingredients are listed in the order of content, that is, what there is most of is first, what there is next most of is next, and so on. Because the ingredients in the nondairy creamer are listed in parentheses, we only know that as a lump substance they are represented in greater quantity than dipotassium phosphate; but we can be sure that there is more dipotassium phosphate in the product than there is/are mono- and di- glycerides. Moreover, we can be sure than there is more dipotassium phosphate in the can than there is instant coffee.

Reading the recipe I could only think: Yum! Just like Mama Rosa used to make down at the Cafe Polluto!

I then turned to the preparation instructions, which told me (and I have always followed the instructions) to put 4 teaspoons of the dry mix into a cup and add 6 to 8 ounces of boiling water. Being poor, I am sure we always used the full 8 ounces back in Hollywood.

For a 'richer creamier recipe' we are told to make the drink with hot but not boiliing milk.

How substituting milk could make the recipe richer and creamier I am not sure, but it certainly does make the drink itself richer and creamier. It is just possible there is a misprint involved, or, more likely, one of those ad writers who never learned to read.

Below that we learn that 8 ounces of 2% reduced fat milk adds 120 calories, 4.5 total fat, and 12g of sugars.

Adds to what? I wondered.

I turned the can and looked at the 'Nutrition Facts' on the side opposite the ingredients and away from the recipe.

I learned that a 'serving size' of this product is one and one third teaspoons, or 16 grams.

But wait!

If the recipe calls for four teaspoons for a cup of liquid, then a serving of this product is about one third of a cup! That's less than three ounces!

An espresso cup, or demitasse, holds about two ounces. One could reasonably divide this cup of liquid into four demitasse or espresso cups; but it is called a cappuccino, not an espresso, and the picture of a cappuccino cup on the can would lead us to believe that it is meant to be served in a larger quantity than the 'Nutrition Facts' located elsewhere on the can tell us.

Besides which, it doesn't tell us that this recipe 'serves four.'

Besides which, I don't think I have ever met anybody who ever drank this stuff from anything but a plain old coffee cup. Its tasty, but it ain't elegant.

We learn further down that this 'serving' has 70 calories and 20 Fat Calories.

If we calculate roughly 3 servings per cup, then a cup of this treat contain 210 calories or 60 Fat Calories.

Yet further down we learn that Total Fat is 2g or 3% of one's Personal Daily Value based on a 2,000 caloriie diet. So, a cup contains 6g or 9% of that DV.

Saturated Fat is 0.5g, or 3%, which comes out to 1.5g or 9% of the DV.

Sodium is 100mg, or 4%, which means a cup full has 300mg, or 12% of that DV.

(Well, hey, diabetics ought to stay away from this sort of product in any case.)

Total Carb is 11g or 4%, which comes out to 33g or 12% for a whole cup.

Sugars 9g or 27g for the whole cup.

Protein is 1 g, but hey, if you want to increase your protein intake, a whole cup give you a whopping big 3g!

But wait!

Suppose we made it with milk!

Even reduced fat 2% milk.

That brings our cup of candy up to 190 calories, with 10.5g of Total Fat and 21 g of Sugars.

They don't tell us how much protein the milk adds, but I am sure there must be some.

I hasten to clarify that I am not telling you all this in order to dissuade you from buying this product. On the contrary, I like the stuff and I would hate to see it dissappear from the marketplace the way my favorite fattening yoghurt dissappeared.

What I am saying is that the advertisers have distorted the true nature of the product in such a way that 'Truth in Advertising' has become, here as in countless other public relation campaigns, a meaningless slogan. The information printed on the package, which is supposed to help us make decisions about whether this is a suitable product for our pleasure or our well-being, has been distorted into the next-best thing to an outright lie.

If you don't worry about getting fat or dying of sugar shock, this may not be a danger to you. But it is, and will be, a danger to the producer of the product. When the customer begins to doubt the honesty and veracity of the seller, then the custom will likeley be taken elsewhere. If the seller is deceiving you about the content and size of a serving, then maybe the seller is also deceiving you about the safety of good old dipotassium phospate.

Say, didn't I read an article recently about phospates posing a danger to the bones of the elderly?

Well, that's maybe another article, and likely subject matter for another writer.

But, if Americans are so easily deceived by the manipulation of information about a simple cup of coffee, is it any wonder the politicians have such an easy time bleeding the sheep?

Right now I am feeling like having a nice hot cup of 190 calorie, 10.5g of Fat, 21g of Sugar, really tasty Naturally and Artificially Flavored Coffee Drink Mix. --And wondering why Mama Rosa never put any Sodium Casienate in her Cappuccino.


Moth N. Rust

13 Ocotber 2004


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What We Used To Call "Tailgaters"


Statistics tell us that somthing on the order of 92 percent of all auto accidents involve one car following too close upon another. I seem to recall folks in my Grandfather's generation muttering, or sometimes yelling, out the window of the car things like: "Why don't you just drive on over the top!" For people who had pickup trucks this became "Come on up on the tailgate!" Sometime in the latter half of the Twentieth Century tailgate became generic for the back of a vehicle, especially when the line between car and truck got blurred, first by station wagons and then by hatchback cars, and finally by Sport Utility Vehicles. (Well, yeah, I am simplifying a little.)

Just when we started calling the person who drove dangerously, or only annoyingly, close a Tailgater I am not sure. I am pretty sure it was current by the Sixties, at least in California. I am sure of that because I recall the usage in the driver instruction book I studied to get my license changed to a California driver's license. There were laws governing this practice, and they were simple and practical ones. One calculated one car length for each ten miles per hour of speed, and that was the distance to be maintained in order not to be 'tailgating.'

Under California law the person who rearends (that is, who crashes into the person ahead) the next vehicle is automatically at fault, and guilty of the crime of tailgating. It is a pretty simple crime to avoid committing, but because people just won't cease to committ the crime, a lot of automatic revenue accrues to the courts. And people get outraged, and fight the law, and have fought the law, and now they have managed to get it changed.

The new version defines tailgating not by what is being done but by the results of the action. If you rearend somebody you were guilty of tailgating: but until you hit them you were not.

I have some grave doubts about this kind of lawmaking. It serves not at all to prevent accidents, it only penalizes those who are involved in them. And, because there are no longer any standards of behavior against which the crime can be measured, people feel themselves free (and by law they are) to indulge in driving behavior that is not just dangerous, but downright insane.

Picture a Hummer coming up behind you in your Volksbug at (let us be charitable and say the maximum speed limit, say 65 MPH) and hovering there six feet from your rear bumper. Should something go wrong (like a big rig truck switching into your lane withhout looking or without signalling) that Hummer is not going to be able to stop, and you are going to be driver jam as you squish between the rear end of the big rig and the hard nose of the Humner.

The vile practice was and is so prevalent that one could not expect the police to pull over and ticket everyone doing it. The law had become unenforceable, and that is probably why it was changed. ("Hey, how come the cop didn't pull over the other twenty people doing it? That's selective enforcement!") I think it safe to say that the majority of Californians (I will not speak to other peoples in other lands) drive in this dangerous way.

And why?

It seems to be an emotional imperative, most likely a behavior learned from parents and even, sometimes, driving instructors. (I know one woman who learned from a police driving instructor, back when the law was still clear.) It profeteth the driver not at all, though there seems to be a belief that if one gets close enough, the driver ahead will be so annoyed or unnerved as to move out of one's way: a particularly dumb idea when there simply is no where to go.

And even if the driver ahead should move aside, there is always another driver ahead of that one. There is a bumper sticker (some people still affix them) that reads: "I may be slow, but I'm still ahead of you!"

Now at sometime during the time when the police gave up policing the practice, another thing happened. Another usage was coined for the term tailgating, and that was the practice of loading a possibly portable barbecue pit into the back of the increasingly popular pickup truck and throwing a Tailgate Party in the parking lot of the stadium before a football or baseball game. Beer, barbecue and baseball was an idea whose time had come; especially when you looked at $5 or more for anything served in the stadium. --So ok, the garlic fries are really good, but that's way too much to pay for a glass of beer or a hot dog, neither of which is any different from what you can eat at home.

Let's not even consider the calculated hysteria that has convinced Americans to pay for clothing advertising teams of millionaires or products, both of which used to give away those shirts and hats so that you would graciosly attach your name and personality to their endeavors like any other celebrity. (You have been demoted from celebrity to billboard, and you are paying for the privilege of being a billboard: something real wrong there, folks!)

Thus, the formerly pejorative term tailgate (as a verb) moved from being a pejorative describing a dangerous and downright stupid driving practice to a positive verb describing a kind of party that only had the possibility of stupidity and danger: depending on how much of the beer you illegally brought from home and consumed with the barbecue.

(As a sidebar, did you know that the word barbecue orginally described a kind of bed, that it is not American in origin, that it was first introduced to the United States in Boston, of all places, and... Well, you get the idea. And hey, it brings it all around to put the barbecue back in the bed of the truck, ahead of the tailgate, now doesn't it?)

Well, anyway, when you describe somebody as a tailgater these days you are likely to be refering to skill in either giving or attending parties; and most of us don't think that is such a bad thing to do.

Which leaves us with the need for new coinage to describe those idiots who drive cars with no brakes, who drink or smoke themselves into semi-oblivion, who head immediately for the fast lane and once there begin to loudly complain about all the bad drivers on the road, by which they mean the person directly ahead, who is drivng fifteen miles over the speed limit (at 80 mph) and who hasn't got the sense to get out of the way no matter how close to the bumper you get!

You see these folks (the majority of California drivers, I am sad to say) on the freeways, on the streets, on back roads, on twisty turny mountain roads. You see them on obscure logging roads, angry because that driver ahead, wrestling with twenty tons of strapped down freshcut trees, won't get out of the way on that one lane dirt road.

They travel, always, in packs, for that is the nature of the perversion. Once past the decent driver, they speed up and rush to the rear of the next car on the road, shoving their nose up the tailpipe of the car ahead, the driver of which already has his or her nose firmly up the tailpipe of the next vehicle in advance. And thus they travel, ten cars crunched together like little ducks in a row, though there may be miles and miles of asphault empty behind and before the pack.

It's like that poem by Ferlenghetti. We can paraphrase it in description: thus they travel, nose to butt, nose to butt, nose to butt.

And thus we have our new descriptor, which to all but a peculiar few will likely seem a pejorative. We used to call them tailgaters, now we call them buttsniffers.

I tried it out on a Highway Patrol Officer at the County Fair last year. I was having one of those chrome things made that proclaims a message around your license plate. It says: "Kindly
Remove Your Nose From My Butt."
The officer laughed and said it was a good description, but he didn't know how it would go over with the judge the next time he was called upon to give evidence.

It seems to me a natural, and I do hope it catches on.


Moth N. Rust

8 May 2004

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The Circus Was In Town!


When I was a small boy we always went to the Shrine Circus. For one thing it was a lot cheaper than Ringling Brothers, and for another there had been a disasterous circus fire where many were killed, and the Shrine Circus was in an auditorium rather than a tent. There was also the fact that the proceeds (an ambiguous word) went toward the building of a hospital for Children, which was an excellent cause in the days when Polio annually ravaged children across America and cast a pall of terrible fear over every summer.

I have still never seen 'The Greatest Show On Earth,' in any format but brief appearances on television. An odd thing, considering my sister Marion's devotion to the circus and life-long desire to be a trapeze artist. But I have been to circuses, and they have always hovered at the edge of my consciousness.

Of those early circuses the chief thing I remember is that we were never well-off enough to go to the side-shows or the menagerie; and the fact I persuaded my grandfather to spend the outragous sum of seventy-five cents to buy me a live pet chameleon. The circus sold the little lizards (you may not believe this, but it is true) as lapel ornaments. they came with a small gold pin and a little loop of string attached to it as a leash. It was thought quite charming to have a little color-changing lizard on one's lapel.

My grandfather warned me that it would only die, but I was convinced that good care and love would keep the chameleon alive. I also got the twenty-five cent package of dried chameleon food.

I tended and loved that little lizard but, as the sellers must surely have known, they do not thrive on dried bugs. He wasted away and finally perished. When he was not moving I took him out the 'the big tree' in the back yard (an oak of considerable size for those climes) and lovinigly placed him on the bark, instinctively hoping that Holy Nature might revive him. She did not.

It did not occur to anybody in those days that a small animal life was of any value. That it was anything more than disposable property. It was many years before the influx of ideas from the East about the sanctity of Life (something America missed in the teachings of Jesus) and the awakening of the California Cosmology caused Americans to reconsider the nature of Life and the part which Humankind might play in it.

That consideration is still slow to spread, and in most of the world is not at all possible as yet.

But the Circus, as a living art form, a form which was severely endagered by the advent of television (there was a weekly TV show in the 1950s called Super Circus which exposed us to all the best acts via the small screen and robbed the big top of much of its grandeur): the Circus has survived, evolved, and at the beginning of the Twenty-First Century has re-invented itself.

The trained animals are mainly gone. If you are good enough to train tigers, you are working in Las Vegas and your pets are coddled and cared for, not exposed to the rigours of the road. There are plenty of exceptions, to be sure, but the new vision of the Circus is one of human daring mingled with threads of narrative and artistic effect applied to enhance the skills of human daredevils.

The most familiar manifestation of this 'new circus' is, of course, the Canadian-based Cirque du Soleil, a troup which has proved that exposure on television does not have to be the death of the art form but rather a publicity technique. Not only that, but each season's unique offering is recorded on video and made available to the public, serving as souvenir and whetting the appetite for the next season's show.

Twenty years ago it seemed as if only the stalwart band of civilian circus supporters who volunteered their time to keep the circus alive stood between this art form and oblivion. Small family circuses survived, but on the margins, and mainly seemed to come north from Mexico. But in the wake of Cirque du Soliel, a curious phenomena has occurred. The re-birth of the family circus in the new mold.

Up here in the country we are accustomed to playing host, every couple of years, to one of the traditional small circuses. But this year we got a new entry, Circus Chimera, set out in the new format; and I am pleased to report that it was a pleasure and a delight.

I should qualify here that there are two aspects to the enjoyment of a circus. One is the pleasure which one takes in the performance; the other is the reaction to the circus which the small people who are our 'excuse' for attending may have.

It other words, it can be the greatest possible fun, or it can be a nightmare ordeal.

My grandson Byron is now 15 months old, and on some days seems to be hitting the Terrible Twos. But by and large he is a combination of good cheer and enthusiastic exploratory energy. He can wear out his parents lickety split (when was the last time you heard that?) and me almost as fast. (The great advantage to being a grandparent is that you can hand the grandchild back.) He loved Circus Chimera, and stayed awake and attentive well into the second half. (He went under during the spectacular roller board display; but then, when I was his age, I couldn't figure out what was so interesting about that act either. After all, the guy was only rolling back and forth fifteen feet in the air with five levels of rolling objects between himself and the platform. To a kid that looks pretty easy.) The biggest problem he had was that sitting on the lap of an adult his view often got block by great big adult blockheads moving in the way: so his adults have to move back and forth and switch him from lap to lap to make sure he could see everything.

When he could see it, he loved it, paticularly the aeriel acts, over which there were a number; though sadly, no trapeze.

The company of Circus Chimera numbers about a hundred, and those hundred, in true family style, do everything. They put it up, and design and sew the costumes, and they double up on acts. The tent was made in Italy, but everything else is pretty much home made.

With this true ensemble effort it is no surprize to discover that it is hard to point to 'star' turns. The affore-mentioned roller board artist, Fridman Torales, appeared also in an aeriel act where he hung upside down, walking back and forth in metal triangles fifty feet above the floor, suspended only by his ankles. (One of the few actual flaws in the performance was that this act had poor sight lines from where we sat. Nonetheless, Byron was utterly captivated, even with partially block vision.)

Hernan Nuñez did a marvelous balance act, theatrically enhanced by the device of trying to impress a young woman in a cafe. Later he reappeared accompanied by hooded figures with torches, carried in shirtless, then bound and lifted high above the ring where he did incredible feats of strength while sailing around and up and down. This medieval sequence seemed a little out of sync with the rest of the show, but was so effective and stunning that the audience missed its cue to applaud, simply sitting stunned by Nuñez's performance.

Byron was enthralled by the Chimal Family teeterboard team, watching astonished as people were hurled into the air to land on shoulders and chairs. He was also quite taken, earlier, by Alex Chimal's brilliant high-speed juggling, accentuated by flamenco dancing. Byron's dad, Jonathon, juggles, and Byron had been watching him earlier in the day: so he was well prepared for Chimal's handling of many more balls and torches and such than one could even hope to count.

A special word needs to be added for the company's only clown, Tom Dougherty. I remember a comedian (or somebody) once asking: "Did you ever know a kid who didn't hate clowns?" This is a sad commentary on the state of clowning, or maybe on the state of everyday reality. But we must remember also Robert Bloch's note than the most frightening thing in the world is to open one's back door to put the garbage out at midnight and discover a clown waiting.

I think that children are often unprepared for clowns, and hence frightened.

Tom Dougherty has removed the fear factor from clowning without removing the classic technique. No white face, but mildly funny clothes. He uses gestures and sounds and wonderful broad communication to involve the young audience in a way that is aggressive but not threatening. He reminds me of the European theater clowns more than American circus clowns; but he is much more entertaining than his European compatriets usually are.

With the clown an increasingly endangered species, it is good to see Dougherty keeping the style alive while evolving it to fit today's peculiarly sheltered lifestyles.

I could go on and on, but there are two acts which deserve special praise, even though both occurred after Byron fell asleep in his Daddy's arms.

The first is the reinvention of the simple gymnastic couple act by Sergei and Aurika Sergeeva. This kind of act is usually a filler, no matter how good it may be. I have worked with some excellent people doing this act, but they were never given more than filler status, which always seemed a shame. The Sergeevas have revisioned the act by adding a simple, large cube, a frame of some sort of shiny metal, which they manipulate and finally spin and juggle in a number of spectacular ways. More, however, the ring is lit from above by lights of different colors, and the result, a simple but splendid effect, is that the spinning cube suddenly appears to be made of pulsing neon lights in complimentary colors. It was so simple, yet so effective, that it left everybody gasping with its sheer beauty, athletic prowess aside. I never thought I would see this kind of act take stage from Spanish Rope, double Aeriel Perch, and other such clearly dominant displays. If anything stood out beyond everything else, this was it.

And then, at the end, Alina Sergeeva, possibly the daughter of the above gymnasts, did a hula hoop juggling act that was so perfect and precise that one looked at this little girl and thought of Olympic medalists. Again, the kind of act that is usually filler but which, performed with such excellence, became a star turn in a show where everybody is a star.

I don't think I mentioned the 'Globe of Death' motorcycle act, with the cyclist roaring around his presumably helpless girlfriend who stands fearless, or the remarkable ensemble display with, of all things, jumpropes combined with gymnastics; but it was all great fun, and I heartily recommend it.

We sat in the bleachers, like most people, but I discovered that my back, still recovering from the broken ribs, didn't like that. Kimi, not far from delivering the next baby, had trouble too. Most of the seat have backs to them, so if you anticipate back strain, go for the extra amount. (We tried for an upgrade, but it was too late once we were in: this is not a giant, computer run Circus, it is a family affaire.)

Circus Chimera is not entirely without animals. In the midway one can enter a tent with various lizards, spiders and snakes behind glass. There was also a miniature horse, happily grazing on the fairgrounds clover. And there were pony rides, which gave Byron his first two circles around the ring before he panicked. (He seemed to be interested in going back for more, but by then it was too late.)

The local appearances of Circus Chimera are being made to benefit the Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose.

Here's a link to the website of Circus Chimera, so that you can find out if and when it will be around your way and maybe buy tickets in advance.

Finally, I am happy to say that they do not sell doomed chameleons, though you can buy a big plastic snake if you've a mind to. His parents got Byron an inflatable plastic hammer instead, with which to bonk Daddy in the time-honored tradition of clowns back at least to the Middle Ages. We also got a little key chain picture viewer with Byron, Daddy, and Grandpa staring into the camera from the bleachers. --Mommy has a talent for hiding from the camera. (Jonathon, who is a photographer himself, was astonished at the way the man took everybody's picture in the whole tent, then found everybody, individually, in about 20 minutes; offering the little key chain with a personal photograph inside.)

The Shriners did actually build that hospital for children, and I have seen it with mine own eyes. It has grown obsolete and been replaced by a better one, just as I have grown obsolete and they are working on a newer, better one. --And summer is no longer a time for fearing Polio.

So I guess the world just might be getting better, despite the best efforts of the wicked to drag us back to the Bad Old Days. And the Circus is there to prove to us that people, individuals, families, can still do amazing things, live, before our very eyes, and give us much reason to laugh and cheer.


Moth N. Rust

3 June 2003 

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How I Flew Through the Air

With the Greatest of Ease


I have been pruning the Wisteria at Greyhaven since we bought the place in 1971 or 1972: I am no good with numbers (they all look alike to me) so I never get that straight (the year). At that time the front of the old house was covered with wisteria, as was the back, and in addition there was a thick coating of ivy on the front and big, spring-blooming pink roses on the back.

The house was not in good shape as the old gentleman who owned it had suffered from an illness that made him shake and his wife was deceased. The medications they gave him for his illness led to depression and he killed himself on Christmas Eve, or maybe it was Christmas Day. We bought the place on probate and began to make what repairs we could afford, which was not nearly enough.

The second year there I used all my income from the Second Annual Dickens Christmas Faire to buy us a new furnace, thereby adding heat to the possible ammenities.

Amongst the improvements which we could make was the pruning. It is not a thing good for an old shingle-covered house to be crusted in ivy and wisteria. The wisteria grows fast, reaches the roof all too soon, and the ivy sends in its tendrils under the shingles and begins to pry apart the structure with only slightly less speed. The wisteria does much the same for the roof shingles, and though both protect the structure from weather damage, they do quite enough damage on their own to counteract this positive effect.

During the time sequence in which I began the job of removing the excess growth, I was writing a play in sonnets; and I remember quite precisely the moment when, snipping at ivy on the front lawn, the play sprang into my head with the lines:

"How like the ivy does my evil creep,

Insidiously reaching in its shoots,"

--Well, the rhyme for shoots was roots; but the actor who delivered the line pronounced roots to rhyme with puts rather than boots, (as I do, and had thus conceived the rhyme) and he found it somewhat odd to pronounce shoots to rhyme with it, a word that he pronounced usually to rhyme with boots. But he was a wonderful actor, and he made it happen.

I do not remember how long it took me to get all the ivy and wisteria off the front of the house, which is roughly three, well-disguised stories high. (It is built on a hillside: or rather, as is the usual case it California, not so much built as sailed on our mobile soils.) The entrance is on the uphill side, and the entryway forms a split level, with stairis leading up and down; so it appears to be two stories. --I do remember clambering around on the steeply pitched left roof as I pulled the ivy roots out of the overhanging boards of the roof above (the third story from the front, but the fifth story from the back), and hoping desperately there were not leaks there.

Eventually I decided to paint at least the woodwork of the front of the house, and to pick out the artistic detail of that woodwork with contrasting colors. As Mom was living at the top at that point, I chose a pale blue for the major color, almost a pale sky blue, and white for the more forward details. --Not exactly flashly in a town where the color-of-the-moment was mustard, and it was not uncommon to find houses of all colors together. --Visualize San Francisco's famous 'Painted Ladies,' so precious to the post card industry.

Painting the underside of the eaves required a ladder of greater length than we possessed: indeed, a ladder of greater length than any I had climbed since I had painted the devious pressed metal ornamentaion on the tops of three-story tenement houses in South Philadelphia. But another show came along and my money went for an extention ladder, alluminum rather than the wooden kind that I has used in Philadelphia, and with a cross-piece attached to give it more stability.

Another distinct memory is that of dirty, icy water pouring down over my whole body as I sprayed and scrubbed the underside of the eaves in preparation for the painting: hanging on to the ladder (which didn't quite reach high enough) with one hand, scrubbing with another, and spraying with the hose with another. --Well now, wait a minute! I don't have three hands! Maybe it was the hose in one hand, the brush in another, and my foolish confidence, tempered with stark terror, that kept me balanced on the top of the ladder.

No matter.

I got the top part of the house painted, lugged the ladder around primarily by myself (that may have contributed to the hernia I later developed) and worked my way down, painting things blue and white.

Eventually I realised that if the front of the house were to look good, I would also have to paint the trellis.

I call it a trellis because that is what we called such contraptions in my youth. The catalogues of gardening ornament these days tend to call anything that reaches over an arbor: but an arbor, in my youth and throughout the history of English literature, has traditionally referred to an enclosure with seating; so the term specifically does not refer to a trellised archway unless there is a seat under the arch.

At Greyhaven the trellis falls between the definitions. It is primarly a free-stading latticework, but it is supported by cross-members which attach to the house, and which cover a deep storage area and the door to the kitchen, essentially a half-story below the front door and the lawn. Thus it is possible that one could put a bench or seat there, making it an arbor; but in point of fact its design suggests that it is the proper location for the trash cans.

One brings the trash out the kitchen door, puts in it the cans, then, on trash day, the trashman comes down and empties the cans into his truck and returns them to their proper location. --Or at least, that was the way it was when the house was built in 1912 or thereabouts, and even the way it was when we moved in, in the early 1970s. The decay of American Society now dictates that the householder must lug the cans up to the street at the pleasure of the trash collector, and on schedule, then return them on his or her own to their proper location.

Worse, the trash collection agency mandates exactly what kind of trash cans may be used. (Just who is serving whom here?) And that mandated size of trash can will not go up and down the narrow cement stair that goes from the kitchen door to the sidewalk and up the slightly wider stairway to the street. Nor is there any room to widen that little stair!

Meanwhile, back at the center of this narrative, the trellis is the proper support and reason for the presence of the wisteria. But the wisteria, being presumably planted around the time the house was built, had to be removed from the trellis in order that I might paint it. And at the time of the painting I was familiar with wisteria only in its full flowering, massively growing glory.

I did not know how long it takes for a wisteria plant to bloom when excessively pruned. (Years!) How much mass the plant must have in order to produce its spring exultation of blossoms.

So I pruned it back severely, keeping as much of the original growth as I could, and I painted the trellis white, which looked quite nice, and I fertilized the wisteria.

Time passed.

The wisteria at the house of our neighbors, which covered a proper arbor over the front terrace, bloomed in splendor. Our wisteria sent up new shoots, crept toward the top of the house, required pruning, but did not bloom. For years!

Dearly loving the plant, Kelson and I made a Japanese archway at the entrace of the Tea Garden at Rhinoceros Lodge, and planted by it three wisteria plants, a blue, a purple, and a white. That was in 1987. Two years ago the first of the plants finally bloomed. --To give you some idea of the time involved.

Now the traditional pruning of wisteria takes place after the bloom, in the springtime. One cuts it back severely, but leaves the big, strong basal growth untouched. The flowering takes place at the ends of the pruned side vines. The new growth is removed, in our area usually around June. The new growth provides strength to producue the blossoms the following spring, and sometimes there is even a second flowering after the pruning.

I learned a lot trying to get the once massive wisteria at Greyhaven to bloom again, but the primary thing I learned was just how fast the sucker can grow! In one season it climbs the house from the top of the trellis right up to the roof, and if you leave it a second year it will be on the roof and tearing away at the shingles.

The trouble is, I am aging just a little. Having had one hernia operation, and having pulled muscles in my groin rather badly, I am not in any condition to lug that three story ladder around by myself. I must depend on my sons, or anybody else who happens to be living at Greyhaven, and I have to catch them in the right mood.

Thus last year, 2002, I missed the Window of Maximum Opportunity, and the Wisteria shot up, ready to take off the fairly new roof.

But a chance accident changed things.

My daughter in law, Kimberly, is expecting a second child, and after our visit to Greyhaven for the New Year's Ball, she discovered that she had left her pre-natal vitamins there. The weather was beautiful, what I think of as California's Indian Springtime, and it seemed a chance too good to miss. We took along the two Antique Roses I had been working with, to plant in the Greyhaven garden (they were climbers, and designated for the second trellis on the front of Greyhaven, a slight redwood trellis reaching up to the top, on which Climbing America was inadequate in height: not surprising, as I had ordered Climbing Royal Sunset and got the wrong rose).

Things worked out beautifully. Both sons, Ian and Jonathon, were there, and it required only the slightest bullying to get them to move the ladder to the front of the house. Jonathon went off with Diana to a board of directors meeting, and Ian watched over me, fearful for my life and offering over and over to do the job himself. Kimbely, now a Certified Nurse's Assistant, stayed with us to watch the infant Byron.

But Ian has never taken much interest in gardening, and wisteria, as I hope I have demonstrated in the foregoing narrative, takes a firm and practiced hand. Up the ladder I went, near to the top of the house, and with parrot beaks and pruning shears, I began the annual ritual of Shiva that brings new life by pruning away the old.

Down came the tendrils from the top, untwined from the redwood trellis reserved for roses and tossed out over the front yard rose garden, where Ian gathered them and set them aside.

At a certain point the ladder is too far from the house for the vines to be within reach. At that point one goes up two flights of stairs to the little windows that look out on the front walk, and, removing one's shoes to provide the secure traction of bare feet, one goes out on the little roof that protects the front door. One can hold on to the window frames and from there reach over to the redwood trellis and remove more wisteria vines and any deadwood from the climbing roses for which the redwood trellis was installed. During this part of the procedure Ian stood within and tried, once again, to pursuade me to let him do it.

That done, it was time for the really major part of the pruning, which required me to go out through the window of Astrid's room, directly over the white trellis: stand on the top of the trellis, and prune the massive growth at the top of the trellis.

Keep in mind, I've been doing this just about every year since 1972. Keep in mind also that I did remember that one of the cross members on which I was to stand, and which was fastened to the house, had come loose the previous year. So I was being very, very careful. I put my boots back on, climbed out, and began to hack away, despite Ian's assurance that he could do it.

Now to understand what comes next, we have to go back to the house as it was in 1972, when we moved in. Our neighbors next door were very nice, but very standoffish folks. Between the houses runs a six foot chain link fence (it runs all the way around our house, so I guess the previous owners had put it up) and the fence between the houses was covered in small-leafed ivy, complimented toward the back by more wisteria and a small-flowered yellow-colored Banksia Lutea rose. A stand of zonal geraniums (the plain red kind with which people all over America are familiar) grew rankly to six feet on our side, and there were assorted plants besides.

Somewhere in the intervening years, as we struggled to keep the place afloat, those now-moved neighbors planted two trees. One was a pine, a living Christmas tree, which grew to the height of the roof in what seems like a remarkably short time. The other, planted just opposite the white trellis, was a Chinese Elm; a beautiful tree to plant on a lawn with plenty of space around it, but not one to plant in the narrow space between two city houses.

The space between the houses grew dark. Just about everything on our side died, except the Banksia Lutea at the back. It climbed the pine tree and made a pleasant display on our back, third floor deck in the springtime.

Then our neighboring house changed hands.

The new owners, a very pleasant older couple, took down the pine tree. This left a corridor of light in which the Chinese Elm, with the rapacity of a boa constrictor, and much the same appearance, expanded. Instead of growing up it grew went, reaching all the way between the houses. It's thin, tendril like branches filled the space between the houses, making it very dark indeed, and worse, it showered its leaves on our rooftop where we could not get to them to clean them away without grave danger.

The gentleman next door passed away. We asked the lady if the tree could be taken out. She said she liked to see the leaves outside the window when she was doing dishes. One could hardly blaim her, for indeed, or house on that side had by this point grown somewhat less that visually appealing. But she did consent to some professional pruning each year, which stayed the composting of the leaves on our roof a little.

As time went on, the thick trunk of the tree made its way entirely to our side of the fence, like a huge red snake sprouting thin-leaved mini-snakes along its sides.

Then Diana made a curious discovery.

The leaves which our neighbor was looking at from her kitchen window were not the leaves of the Chinese Elm, they were the leaves of a study Pittosporum tree growing from below. There should be no problem with removing the Chinese Elm, and everybody would be happy once the costs had been figured out.

This was the situation as I finished pruning the wisteria, standing atop the white trellis, outside Astrid's window, approximately fifteen feet above the cement flooring outside the kitchen door, and looking up at the rotting wooden gutters that were rotting because of the leaves falling into them from the Chinese Elm.

The Elm had grown well across the space between the house, and its weeping branches now tangled with the last of the wisteria. It seemed to me that I could prune away some of that Chinese Elm with some benefit, and later get some more with a step ladder from below.

I reached out with my parrot beaks, leaning just a little...

And the member on which I stood shot back and out from under me.

I have a very distinct memory of swaying forward, back, forward, back, forward, and then letting forth a very undignified sound from my throat as I became airborne.

I have really chaffed under the yoke of poverty that has kept me from returning to my hang-gliding lessons. I have really suffered because my body, like that of my sister, is so unsuitable for a career on the flying trapeze. I have even wept that I have never come across any faery dust that would let me fly, sans aeroplane, to Never Never Land.

At that moment of becoming airborne, none of those things flashed into my mind. I remember desperately grasping for that damned tree in the hope of breaking my fall. I may have even got some. There were certainly branches under me below.

Ian, of course, tried to catch me. But his hand missed my pants leg as I plunged, and that is probably a good thing. Had he got me by the ankle it is doubtful he could have held on in that position for long, and I might very well have gone down head first to the cement. Had he even altered my course the damage might have been worse.

Have I mentioned the white, wrought iron fence with the spikes on top that runs around the garden? The one that grandson Evan pulled over when he was but tiny, and which punched a hole in his skull, leading to three neurosurgeons for six hours? That is just to the front of the trellis.

The fact is, I flew through the air with the greatest of ease, but as in all flight, it is the landing that is important.

I did not so much fly as I plummted.

Ian reasons that in order for me to have landed as I did, I had to do a full sommersault with a half twist while I was still in the air. That is much better gymnastics than I expected of myself!

My next memory was of being on the ground. I was in a lot of pain. I began immediately wiggling my toes and fingers, trying to determine the extant of the damage. I think I was yelling as well.

Ian was immediately by my side.

"There is a branch sticking in my back," I said. "Pull it out!"

"We shouldn't move you," he began, but I was really hurting.

"I've wiggled my fingers and toes. Just pull the damned branch out!"

He pulled it. I was more comfortable.

But I discovered that my neck was affecting the pain in my chest. I lifted my head slightly and it eased.

"Put something under my head," I said, and Ian, knowing what I pain I am to argue with, did as I requested. That made it a lot better.

"Kimi is dialing 911," he advised, and then, very swiftly, there were sirens and paramedics and stretchers.

"Hi, I'm Rudy, your paramedic," I think I recall as a nice young man took stock of my predicament. "Fifteen foot fall onto concrete stairs," he advised another.

It took me a moment to convince them that I needed a pillow under my head to ease the chest pain, but they did it, got me into the ambulance, and we were off. Rudy apologized for the potholes in the street, which caused much agony as we bumped along toward the trauma unit, and I assured him I would speak to the President about it: but I have not been able to fulfill my promise because the President and I are not on speaking terms these days.

At the hosptal is was discovered that the call advizing them of my arrival had not come through. That was all right, they were on top of it and did a wonderful job. I did not refuse the morphine.

At once point I heard someone ask: "Is a quince a plant or a fruit?"

"A quince is a fruit that grows on a bush or tree," I advised. "They are often grown for the ornamental value of the flowers, but the fruit makes an excellent jelly, or may be baked with lamb or by itself as a desert."

"Patient is cooperative," someone said, and laughed.

Later they put me in a room with Kimi next to my head, and told me they would be keeping me for a while. They wanted to make sure the collapsed lung was all right. If it was not, they would have to put tubes in to reinflate me.

They also told me I had four broken ribs.

I understood, even hurting as I did, that I was very lucky. I had not broken my neck, I had not broken my back, I had not broken my hip, and I had not landed on the iron spikes of the fence to be impaled.

Four hours later I asceded to more morphine as they sat me up for another Xray. That was the single most painful moment of the whole thing: but not long after the doctor told me I was 'just fine' and that I could go home. The lung would not need re-inflating and would attach again. I was to breath deeply and carefully, because the big danger of broken ribs was pneumonia, which killed lots of people: which is why they don't strap broken ribs anymore. It keeps you from breathing.

My sister Marion wanted desperately to be a trapeze artist, but her build was not right for it and her heart gave her problems as well. The closest she got to becoming one of The Flying Wallendas was to write what those of us in the family generally think of as her best novel, The Catch Trap. After I read that book I developed a passion for the flying trapeze as well. But I think that having had my very small experience of aerial gymnastics I am probably going to swear off high places for a while, or at least any kind of flight without a net; thereby being the second candidate from our family who will never make it to join The Flying Wallendas.

It is now March and the pain of the ribs has diminished enough to allow me to notice that I also managed to re-separate the shoulder: the shoulder which was nearly all right from the previous year's swimming accident.

January and most of February were spent at Greyhaven, in the care of Diana and Ian. Now I'm back at the Lodge, in the care of Kim and Jonathon. The latter two have finally pursuaded me that it is ok to use one of the wheel chairs provided by the stores if we go shopping. I've always felt they were for people who really needed them: but now I have met the damaged, and I am him.

This is really playing havoc with my new career in sports!


Moth N. Rust

11 March 2003

E-Mail me at :"".

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A Curious Consistency in

My Holographic Vision


I'm working on a Mac.

I know that may be a social disability, but that is how it is. I have worked on a PC (still do for certain applications) and I don't find a lot of difference, except for the terms of description, which give me a pain in the ass. Though both sets of descriptors are ostensibly English, neither of them really is.

But that's beside the point.

When I got the Mac (a generous gift from a generous friend, which enabled me to go on the net and do cool stuff like this website) I got Netscape.

Netscape 4.7 to be exact.

It has worked well for a few years, but last winter I got it into my head that it would be good to have access to the much vaunted use of the net for radio broadcasts. Up here on the mountain the weather seems to play a big part in what my radio will receive. I conceived that the net would give me access not only to a greater selection of stations, but the prospect of receiving broadcasts which the weather patterns might make impossible.

I asked advice, and eventually I downloaded the highest level of RealAudio which I could get for free. (My budget is nonexistant these days, and as things continue to break down, and need fixing, it becomes ever less likely to be adequate.) I tried it, and my computer crashed.

After much consultation with computer wise friends, I downloaded a 'better' Netscape. It was 6. something-or-other, and it worked just fine. It even gave me the option of a real pretty and colorful screen setup.

It worked for more than a month. The music, for which I had converted in the first place, came in poorly for minutes at a time before breaking down. I was informed by a techie somewhere that if I wanted to send money, the 'new version' would probabaly work. (But wait, shouldn't the old version have worked, if not as well? If the old version doesn't work at all, why on Earth should I send money and trust that the new version will work better?)

I am not sure just how long the new Netscape worked, because when one is pleased with something one does not start taking notes. But, eventually, it stopped working. maybe a little after a month.

Let me describe the problem in detail.

I hit the button, it comes up on the screen, and then everything freezes. A mad little ticking and flashing occures in the uppermost, normally unoccupied, corner of my screen, the 'working' icon replaces the curser, and the computer just sits there. The message at the bottom of the browser tells me that the page is loaded. No amount of clicking changes anything.

I have to reboot.

My friend and advisor said that my best bet was to go back to my old, 4.7 Netscape. Which I did.

But, I think it was in late August, a couple of the sites which I visit ceased to work. A robot message assured me that my browser was not technologically adept enough to handle all the new 'improvements' which the website had made to itself.

My buddy noted that Netscape 6.something-or-other had not been very good, and that it had been replaced by Netscape 7, which had fixed a lot of the problems and was an awful lot better.

Dutifully, I downloaded 7, installed it, and it worked just beautifully; although I did note that it seemed a bit slower than 4.7.

7 touted its radio station. I thought "Ah, at last I will hear music!" but that proved to be a bait and switch deceit. Turns out the radio station will only work if you buy the very latest RealAudio, for money.

See the part above, about poverty.

But, it did work, and it had the beautiful Toy Factory image, and again I was happy.

But today, as I was listening to the radio (the real one, not the one on the net, which has never worked) I heard about a website which had some musical information, and I came to the back of the house, entered the URL, and...

I hit the button, it comes up on the screen, and then everything freezes. A mad little ticking and flashing occures in the uppermost, normally unoccupied, corner of my screen, the 'working' icon replaces the curser, and the computer just sits there. The message at the bottom of the browser tells me that the page is loaded. No amount of clicking changes anything.

I have to reboot.

It feels like just about the same amount of time has passed since my last experiment in downloading a new Netscape.

I went to the Netscape website, (using trusty 4.7) which had lots of interesting stuff, including a Help section. The Help section had lots of answers to Frequently Asked Questions, most of them way over my head. I eventually made my way to a form by which I could actually ask a question about my problem. But the form required that I answer a lot of technical questions, most of them beyond my knowledge.

There was a helpful popup to tell me how to get the information, but it was written for people using a PC with the very latest version of Windows, and it did no good at all for this guy working on a Mac.

Worse, the form alloted only 500 characters to a complete description of the problem, which didn't begin to be adequate. I did my best, but there simply is no way to describe the problem in that short a space.

Of course, for $20, payable by credit card, you can communicate with a live techie who may understand why the thing crashes after what appears to be a set amount of time.

And that got me to thinking about television.

When we moved up here to the mountain, about 15 years ago, we had a little black and white television with rabbit ears. The weather affected reception, but in general we could get Channel 4, Channel 5, Channel 2, Channel 7, Channel 50, and sometimes other channels as well. The right weather gave us Sacramento or San Jose.

Time went on and we got a really good color TV, VCR, and an antenna on the roof, with a rotater.

But the television reception got weaker and weaker and weaker.

Channel 7 was the first to dissappear completely. It was a slow fading over a year or two, but it went and now there is nothing where Channel 7 used to be. Channel 50 was next to go, and that gave me a clue. First it began to broadcast Cable material in addition to its regular stuff; then one slowly came to understand that one would get better reception if one had the cable. Then the regular reception started to fade, and now it is gone too.

I remember when the idea of the Cable Television was first introduced. People asked: "Why would I want to pay for television reception when I can get it for free?" The answer was: "Because on Cable Television there won't be any commmercials!"

Uh huh.

Now Channel 5 and Channel 2 have begun to fade.

Channel 4 alone remains a strong and visible presence. But last year the Network abandoned Channel 4, buying its own station that, curiously, doesn't come in at all up here on the mountain: unless you have the cable.

Fortunately, Channel 4, even without the Network, has some of my favorite shows, and certainly the personalities I prefer. (For those of you in California, I like Joey Altman, of Bay Cafe, all the news staff, and I love Bay Area Backroads, with Doug McConnell.)

Because it has to fight for its share, Channel 4 is trying a lot harder, maybe even desperately, and that produces good television. I am wondering if maybe the reason the reception remains so clear is that it is not committing itself to the cable.

A man of my acquaintance assures me that the networks are planning to go completely to the cable, doing away entirely with broadcast television, in just a few years. From where I view, it appears that most of the stations have already begun the process.

Which leaves an increasingly large audience unaddressed. Or, in more grossly economic terms, a lot of people who will not be on the receiving end of advertising that was once spoon fed them four to six times an hour.

So what has television to do with 'upgrades' of Netscape?

Well, television is moving toward a pay only relationship with its viewers. Having gotten people really hooked on the medium; got people so hooked that they are willing to pay to watch commericals, the powers that be are apparently ready to start elliminating alternatives, even if it means not advertising to those who don't have enough money to pay for cable, or are simply unwilling to pay good money to watch endless commercial messages.

Is it just possible that the powers of commerce in Cyberspace think they are ready to begin a similar process? So far Cyberspace has paid the bills largely through advertising, just as television used to. (The normal ads, and now those truly annoying popups.) But with the crash of the dot coms, and the ensuing burst of the Silicon Valley bubble, it may be that some folks are ready to risk the whole bank on the chance that there are enough net addicts to pay for what they have so far got for free. (Only it has never, ever been free: the fact that you have to endure the commercials is a form of payment, in case your schools neglected to tell you.)

And what has all this got to do with holography?

It was Samuel R. Delaney who noted, for the benefit of the non-scientist, that a hologram is not like other kinds of pictures. Rather, if you cut a hologram in 4 pieces you don't get four parts of a picture, but 4 pictures with less area. In essence, by being able to see part of the picture, you can see almost the whole picture, just in a different smaller size. It was Delaney who postulated the concept of holographic vision, i.e., the ability to look at a part of the picture and see the whole thing.

Am I seeing an almost whole picture through holographic vision when I observe the consistencies of practice between the diminishing public service of the television industry in its attempts to draw just a little more blood from us poor turnips; and the way that my Netscape crashes my computer, almost on schedule? I don't know.

But I think maybe you, gentle reader, might want to engage your own holographic vision and start looking for whole pictures where you think you are only seeing a piece of it.

Maybe the conspiracies are only cobwebs.

Maybe the giants are only windmills.

But then again, they might be giants. 


Moth N. Rust

20 October 2002

E-Mail me at :"".

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---Just a word about the graphics of this page. The gorgeous paisley background was found somewhere by Mr. Bagel, in the days when I didn't know HTML from LSMFT. He installed it, and I am really happy with it. I leave it to you to decide whether that makes me an Aging Hippie or a Victorian Gentleman addicted to hanging around is Houses of Ill Repute.

The equally opulent gold diveder bars I found by myself while surfing the net. (Imagine me, who didn't learn to swim until he was 35, surfing in Cyberspace!) They were made by Dorothy, and you can find many more of her elegant concoctions by pushing the button below.