When I was in high school some friends and I sometimes went to a racetrack about halfway between Shaker Heights and Akron. We weren’t old enough to bet, but one of us–Dudgie we called him, though how we spelled it in our minds is uncertain–looked old enough, so we picked horses whose names we liked. I will never forget Happyfellow Bob.
I went to the Casbah a few months ago, my first time out alone after my life changed last October, to hear, as I’ve put it, God, Dave Thomas as Pere Ubu, about which not too much could be said. Tonight (actually, three nights ago now) I went just to hear music, three bands, two with interesting names, and a third whose name I couldn’t remember talking about it beforehand. The interesting names were Kitty Plague and The Digital Lizards of Doom. That latter name in particular was my reason for driving down from Escondido to this dive bar near the San Diego airport.
This is not a music review, nothing like that, just a few impressions from an old guy who heard Hendrix, Cream, Butterfield, and Janis live back in the day. So I’m not complaining about volume. Kitty Plague, a power trio like Blue Cheer, made me think of the Ramones and the Dead Milkmen, and produced a wall of sound more powerful than Phil Spector could have pulled off. I liked them, painful as it was to listen, or want to have liked them, a third my age probably but who’s counting. I was told some of their songs were humorous. I tried not to leave the room. And, to tell the truth, I would go hear them again, particularly if I could get a t-shirt with their name on it. (I saw one tonight, but someone was already wearing it, and it would have been too small for me.)
From three we went to nine on stage, Unsteady, a band I hadn’t heard of but reportedly with a long history in San Diego. But I haven’t been our much the past few decades. They were billed as a ska band–a genre I don’t quite get, something like working class white reggae, but maybe something else–but didn’t sound so ska to me. A trumpet, a trombone (!), and two saxophones in the front row, a keyboard player with a hat the reminded me this was the night of the last day of Comic Con (a Wonder Woman showed up, and a guy in a costume I didn’t understand but clearly a costume). They were loud too, but it was easier to stay in the room, and hear the lyrics. The trombone player looked about my granddaughter’s age, and I pictured her up there, a different kind of life.
I remember the first time I saw Jimi Hendrix–sort of by accident, I’d gone to Winterland to hear James Cotton or Albert King, who can remember for sure. I was quickly in awe, and amazed that he could make all that sound without a rhythm guitarist. But he didn’t do it without a bass player and a drummer, to keep him grounded, or at least to remind him where to land. The Digital Lizards of Doom was a single guitarist up on stage with some equipment not clear to me. Even if he hadn’t started with a bad joke he would have had trouble. He didn’t fly like Hendrix. He did fill the room with sound, and I tried to appreciate it, but I thought Kitty Plague did it better. I didn’t stay for his whole set, so maybe I missed something, but driving home I remembered that Happyfellow Bob didn’t make us any money.
Sarai Austin, poet and writer, mother, sister, and wife, died suddenly and unexpectedly four months ago, October 16, 2016. Besides friends and family members and all the detritus of a normal life she left behind a lot of writing, mostly poetry. There are a lot of poems.
We were a bit reclusive these past years: I went to work, and she did too, finishing, in the carpentry sense, decades of writing work. There was no urgency we thought, but she wanted to get it done, and given that writing is only finished when you stop, what we have is what she gave us.
Like Emily Dickinson, whom she mentions in her long poem Cowboys (“I have been asking for a cowboy hat all year / …every occasion, I ask for a cowboy hat/ and The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, /but no one ever takes me seriously.”) she didn’t publish much, though not for lack of submitting manuscripts to magazines and little presses at fifty bucks a pop, a brutal and foolish business to someone not directly involved. Publishing has changed in the internet age, particularly poetry publishing, the door moved and the locks changed. She went back to the writing itself, and a few small chapbooks she laser-printed and folded and stapled in her studio down the path to the other side of the backyard of our 118-year-old house. She loved the house, she loved her studio, and she loved her work.
So, here’s a website, www.saraiaustin.com. She secured the domain and did some design, but I’ve taken it over. The layout is mine (I’m learning as I go), the words are all hers: I haven’t changed anything, not on purpose anyway, not even the spelling of Sassafrass, the title of her chapbook of blues poems, nor have I softened any of the moments in her poems that are no more flattering to me than I deserve. (She might say I’m making it all about me, but they’re not all about me.)
I hope she would like this website if she could, like that some of her poems are out now, available to more than the small audience of small press literary judges and recipients of her small batch handmade chapbooks. There’s also a selection of photos. There will be more poems later, as I go through what she left.
In truth, the real reason I worked this website was so that I could have access to these photos and poems wherever I have an internet connection, but I doubt I’m their only audience. I’d be remiss if I weren’t partial, but the more I read and reread her work (she didn’t show me everything, and I’m finding new stuff as I go) the more I appreciate this aspect of the person I lived with for 27 years. I hope—I expect—some of you already or will love these poems too. It’s not language poetry, it’s not poetry I would or could write (though she told me if she died first I’d probably steal it), it’s not political except in the way that the personal is always political, but maybe it’s what poetry is supposed to be if it’s supposed to be anything: wrought from the lived experience of the poet, in this case of a woman born at home on a farm on the banks of the Mississippi, living the second half of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first in America—Missouri, Arizona, Utah, California—married twice but a long-time single mother, a mentor and friend to other writers, and, of course, to me. I miss her, but I hope it’s not too foolish to say she’s still here, in these words and in these photos, in the memories of all who knew her, and of those who meet her here for the first time.
I remember when it showed up at my door, in La Jolla, on Fay, over a thousand dollars left inside the screen door when no one was home. It’s a slight exaggeration to say it was too heavy to steal.
I set it up in my workroom, later my daughter’s room for the two years she came to live with us, then with me, and learned Tiny Pascal on it. Built Knight’s Tour in that and other languages, including Z80 assembler, and even Basic. Put Forth on it, or tried to.
At a party once I’m told I promised it to a friend playing space invaders or something like that if she got a high enough score.
I remember a plane crash somewhere and a power surge that damaged the video memory. At one point I took it for repair to a place with a name that included “Fast Idiots.” Liked them.
Since it had extra graphic capabilities (compared to the TRS80) I did some fancy (for me, then) graphics stuff, putting randomly colored rectangles on the screen, overlaying each other in a loop.
Took it on “vacation” with me in the back of one of my VW bugs when I visited my ex-wife her husband and my daughter in her new house near Half Moon Bay, ran the graphics program and watched it from various locations around the two-story living room.
I moved the thing in a box to a garage in PB at some point, then to our house in Escondido, where it sat in a shed with the hot water heater for a bunch of years until today. Now it looks more like an American Pickers find than the start of my programming career. But plugged in, the light and fan come on, so it’s not completely dead.
Don’t know how to use it anymore, don’t have software for it, not sure about the connectors on the back, but loath to send it to the electronics recyclers, where it probably belongs.
I’ve been watching the Republican National Convention some this week, not intensely, but it’s a straight shot from my cubicle to the big tv in the breakroom where it’s been non-stop MSNBC, CNN, and occasionally, when the wrong person passes through, Fox. I’ve been watching, not so much for the speeches, which are for the most part horrifying, but for glimpses of Cleveland, the city where I grew up.
I remember the first convention I remember, the 1952 Republican convention in Chicago. I was 9. We were on vacation in California, in a motel that still exists near the San Francisco zoo. There was a small black-and-white TV. I liked Taft, because he was from Ohio, and it seemed a little like a sporting event. I remember it as a ballot fest, so I must have known about those, but I looked it up and it was apparently one ballot, some cigars, and a recount. Ike got the nomination and I never liked a Republican again. I should thank him for that. He was, as it turned out, not that bad by Republican standards, far better than any Republican president that came after him.
Later that year, still 9, I took the Shaker Rapid downtown to Public Square, which has been on TV a bit this week, to an appearance by the only presidential candidate I’ve ever seen in person, if you don’t count Eldridge Cleaver, another story. Maybe it was a weekend, maybe I played hooky. Anyway, I went by myself. A 9 year old could do that then. It was peaceful, a speech, some literature and campaign buttons I showed off in class the next day or so, and back home on the Rapid. All the way with Adlai. A smart guy, though Ike, I think, was no dummy. And now Cleveland has had to witness this.
Writing is harder than I ever remember, even this account, days I went through myself, recently, or nine months ago, depending on the draft; or perhaps it’s hard because they’re my days and I’m trying to write sense into life. It’s not that dramatic. I went to my 50th college reunion. That’s where this starts. And crashed my car along the way.
It was a swell trip.
In the cliché parts of my life seem to be associated with the cars I drove. Not that the cars defined the parts but, like songs on the radio, happened at the same time. My first marriage was a 1965 red Mustang her father bought us. We drove it to Vancouver, testing escape, and to San Diego. She took it when she left. Later I had VWs. My first was a 1958 bug with a dented fender and a leaky piston which taught me to work on it. I remember dropping its engine in a parking lot of student housing at UCSD, but not where it was the last time I saw it. These were my grad student days, a soft life of study, beach walks, and subsistence. The year I spent at UCLA I bought two VWs, a 1963 bug with a splintered wooden front bumper which got me back and forth to campus and San Diego and, towards the end of the year, a 1960 van, which took me to Tennessee, Cleveland, Chicago, Milwaukee, El Paso, San Francisco, Mendocino County, and back to La Jolla before its second engine died. This was my vagabond time and my second marriage, a kind of vagabondage in place. For a while I ferried these two cars up and down the state, travelling by bus sometimes to pick up the one that wasn’t where I wanted it. I remember push-starting the bug on a street in Berkeley as my not yet second wife watched me leave on a trip to San Diego where we’d meet up later. They were a bit unreliable, these VWs, and so was the dented Datsun my second wife left me when she moved on. A little better was the old Volvo I drove back and forth to the hospital while she was dying. I owned that car just about that long (the friend I bought it from said I’d be surprised how many others I’d see on the road), traded it in on a Nissan Pulsar, my first new car since the Mustang, which broke two hundred thousand miles before giving out in the dark on the Del Dios Highway well into my third marriage and a few months before the “cute little house” we lived in burned with so many others in the Witch Creek fire. I replaced that car with another new Nissan, a green Sentra, that I drove to our new old turn of the century house in town, a block down the hill from an even older house owned by a Stanford classmate I didn’t know and close to the house where Steve Thurlow grew up. I managed to keep that car alive for almost a hundred thousand miles. Until this.
A reunion binds time. A fiftieth reunion binds a lot of time, careers, life-expectancy, expectation. It’s one of those milestone moments, an inflection point—like the first Kennedy assassination while my class was at Stanford—by which things are marked as before and after. Wrecking my car did not define the moment, not by itself.
I wasn’t expecting to see many friends: I’d entered with one class—the reunion class—but graduated, a year early, with another. Most of my Stanford friends—not that there were many—were in that class, were dead, or had indicated via the class book that they weren’t going. Dave, the only old friend I did see, was from my graduating class, attending for his Stanford-in-Germany group reunion and perhaps because he just likes these things. For a while I thought my granddaughter might be there, marching in the band for the opposing school in the football game that weekend. That wouldn’t happen, but I wanted to go anyway. I like these things too.
I heard from another old friend before I went, a classmate from my entering class I’d wondered about for years He emailed in response to my page in the class book, which I’d thought made me seem more interesting than I felt. We’d lost touch in the intervening half-century; he’d become famous, I hadn’t. I was curious how we’d greet each other, but that wouldn’t happen either.
The way things turned out—another story, not this—I went alone. And since I was going alone I’d make it short, one full day, two nights in the cheapest motel I could find online, attending the class party but skipping the football game, where my granddaughter wouldn’t be marching.
I drove. I don’t know if that was a mistake in principle, but it could have worked out better. I’d made the trip between San Diego County and the Bay Area many times, in many different vehicles, in two old Volkswagens, on a too small Suzuki motorcycle, in a few Nissans, and that Mustang. I don’t even use a map, except to decide where to cut over to 101 if I go up on 5.
So up in the morning, through LA (not fun), up 5, across on 152, up 101, through San Jose, then the Bayshore. I got a couple of phone calls along the way, one from someone claiming to be a cop who said someone had been arrested with my debit card number in his possession, and another, somewhat later, from Dave, who wanted to know if I wanted to meet him and his wife for dinner.
Here’s what happened. Right there, on the Bayshore, past the newish stadium for the Santa Clara 49ers, in hard traffic for the Seahawks game, just over the line into Palo Alto, a moment of inattention and into the back of another car. The crumple zone worked: only the front end of my car had damage but it was enough for the insurance company to total it, though I didn’t know that right away. My photograph of the other car shows a Lexus too new to have a license plate, with bumper damage I’d be tempted to ignore.
We were near an exit, San Antonio Road I think, and my car could still move, so we pulled off the freeway and exchanged information. After the other driver left, off the freeway, next to some convenient shrubbery, I pissed and made phone calls. To Wawanesa, to my wife. I returned Dave’s call, saying I couldn’t make it to dinner. Bless him, he offered to come get me. As dark descended a tow truck came to take my car to the East Bay overnight before it went to a body shop in Sunnyvale. I unloaded my car, partially—I tend to take too much on a car trip, because it’s easy, until something happens—and as the tow truck left, stood by the side of the road with my suitcase and backpack, waiting for Dave to pick me up to take me to my motel.
The drive to Redwood City, over streets and roads familiar but strange, was perhaps the most social time of the weekend; wish I’d made more of it, but I just wanted to get to the motel and get settled. Passing through Palo Alto I thought of places I’d lived, movies I’d seen in town (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 8-1/2, From Russia with Love). We passed the tall tree by San Francisquito Creek, across from the Stanford Shopping Center, on the border of Menlo Park, that gave Palo Alto its name, though not everybody knows that. I lived a block away from that tree for a while. I was checking things off in my head. Baskin Robbins, Bill Smith, Joan Radius, St. Michael’s Alley. All mostly gone, I wouldn’t see any of them.
The motel, pretty low end but, I assumed if I thought of it, clean enough, was run by a young Gujarati, surprised I knew the difference. The motel was the kind of place where the satellite tv was flaky and the inmates propped their doors open with waste baskets. I had a bed, and power for my devices, happy enough. David and Hilda left me there, and offered to come back in the morning to take me to campus to register and have breakfast at the alumni center before my walkabout.
After another phone call home, settled, but restless and a little hungry, I went out in the night to walk a few blocks of El Camino Real, glad to be in the cool night air, on the Peninsula, and alone. Somewhere on a side street is the movie theater where some friends and I saw one or two Beatles movies, Help and/or A Hard Day’s Night. More checking off. This night it was furniture stores, bars, wafting Norteno music, and a Taco Bell I left before finishing my lukewarm burrito.
The next morning Dave and Hilda picked me up and took me to campus. While they ate I went to reunion registration, while I ate they went off to their first lecture of the day. I was more interested in place than voice, in space than time, in nostalgia than continuing education. At least that day. My walk was like anyone’s walk in a place not seen for decades, full of changes and interruption, the old scabbed over with the new. I wanted to pick at those scabs. I walked what I like to think of as west, though it’s really mostly south, towards Stern Hall, Burbank House, my home dorm for two years. I have some memory of blue boxes at the pay phone, a Beniamino Bufano statue of a dolphin in the courtyard, someone pissing off the third floor landing late at night, Hearts and Liar’s Poker in the common room, paying Mike W. a can of beer a page to type my papers my first quarter, though I don’t know how I could have managed that at my age then, Bug, Pigpen, Joan Baez on a record player down the hall (her voice through walls didn’t work for me, but I got a free ticket to a concert at Palo Alto High School where I sat so close to the stage I looked straight at her bare feet. This was the first concert I went to, ever. I saw her again later in Berkeley, with Bob Dylan, some drama there, while I held a dorm mate’s Uher in my lap, maybe the same guy who played her records and gave me the free ticket, Pigpen’s friend, down the hall. It was a similar story with Jimi Hendrix not so many years later, Purple Haze a mess on AM Radio, then a three-band bill at Winterland, I went to hear someone else and never left). The building was still there, and the Bufano, but there were keypad locks on the doors, I couldn’t peek inside.
Around back, from the direction I came, was some graduate student housing, built because the cheap off-campus places we used to know are all gone in one way or another, Emerson, High Street, even East Palo Alto. I passed those buildings, not interesting because new, and passed some law school stuff where, at a loss for the familiar, I asked some women waiting for something which way to the bookstore. They pointed. I said is the student union still there? And the bowling alley? They said bowling alley? You’ll have to tell me about that sometime.
Then there was the Post Office, on my left, where I used to get a little mail, and the plaza beyond, with Mem Claw, dry from the drought, the place where I was when I heard JFK had been shot, coming from a lecture at the back of Quad on, I think, Nabokov. Folding time. A crowd gathering, listening to a loudspeaker, my first thought was about some children kidnapped in Berkeley that had been news earlier. I wrote a story for my writing class that weekend, “The Year There was No Thanksgiving.” The teacher, Scowcroft I think, had been my mother’s classmate at the University of Utah, though we didn’t know that. He wrote on my typescript “You recovered quickly” and I thought he meant something about my grade. I wish I still had that story, lost, probably, in the fire the year I bought the car I crashed on the Bayshore this trip. I don’t remember a thing about it other than the teacher’s note, the title, and the fact I got it in on time.
Just beyond was Tresidder, the student union building (I’ll skip the Old Union where memory mostly embarrasses me). I heard Alan Watts speak there once, in a small upstairs room, and John Hawkes (the writer, not the actor). I sang a song to a hootenanny audience upstairs there, badly, in the room where I’d heard Watts. Moving on.
Before I got to Tresidder I stopped in the bookstore, in the same place as it used to be, but a bit different inside. The books had been moved out of the way, replaced by caps, sweatshirts, and coffee mugs, all of which I bought before I left the Peninsula, including two red “Nerd Nation” mugs (I thought the slogan was cool) and, after some scouting, a book to take home to Sarai.
Tresidder’s downstairs dining area was changed too, commercialized, outsourced. I worked in the kitchen for a while, shelling eggs and passing food through a little window, still there, if it’s the same window. This was the year I returned after graduation, a Peace Corps training washout; I saw my Peace Corps girlfriend through that window once, though I think she didn’t see me.
Just beyond Tresidder was the spot I’ve since thought of as where I lost my religion, walking past the Firehouse with a copy of Practical Mysticism at least metaphorically in my pocket, staring at the beyond of the trees in the middle distance, thinking do I go with the stories I’ve been told, or do I leave them aside. Clearly, I thought, no other religion would do, it’s all or nothing. I chose nothing, and haven’t looked back. That’s my story, as told to myself. But despite the personal importance of that moment I didn’t walk that way this day, didn’t even think of it.
Now I was in a hurry. I needed to call Sarai at 9am to assure she woke in time for her day (she called me first, at one minute till), and I wanted to do that from the “shore” of Lake Lagunita, so I passed Flo Mo (Florence Moore Residential Hall) quickly. I’d spent a lot of time there, hashing, ate meals there, listened to boxing matches on the radio by the cafeteria line after hours. It didn’t look at all familiar, though it may not have changed. I didn’t walk around the side on the path I used to take to work where I remember seeing—well, I won’t describe that, it does nobody any good, a woman who looked like a young girl, my age at the time, dead now, but innocent then, more so even than I, being romanced in a car by a guy who was looking for a draft exemption, got it by marrying her, and, when that exemption was removed, after we’d moved, separately, to San Francisco, wanted me to hitchhike to New York with him. I said no, and that story ended.
It was also at Flo Mo I remember my friend and fellow hasher, Mike W., son of a Calgary rabbi, saying, one evening, to a slice of Canadian bacon, “I don’t believe that stuff, I’m eating this!” Another time, around by the kitchen entrance, I gave a ride on my scooter to a study partner, not quite girlfriend, who slipped off the back: no harm no foul, but she was pregnant at the time by her boyfriend back home, and wouldn’t get back on.
Lake Lag was dry. I stood on the shore, made my call, looked across. I remember water, and a sour smell. Bonfires before Big Game, before bonfires were banned. I read the Alexandria Quartet here in a cheap paperback edition, not many years after it was first published. There was water then. This time I didn’t circumnavigate, but turned back, towards Quad, via Tresidder and the Old Union courtyard, where I once studied under a pomegranate tree with yet another failed love interest, who now lives in France.
I stopped in the underground men’s room on the corner of Quad, a curious feature, missed a call from my insurance company which I returned sitting on Quad with a view along the columns in front of Mem Chu. Postcard Stanford. After that call (more pleasant than I expected) I walked over to Mem Aud to catch some of my friend’s friend President Hennessy’s presentation. This is the place where my strongest memory is Roadrunner cartoons from the balcony at the Friday Night Flicks, and listening to James Baldwin speak, though I did that from the KZSU studios downstairs. I listened to Hennessy and a panel of experts for a while, high in the balcony, and then went out, made a phone call for a rental car to be picked up later, then went to see if KZSU was still there. It was, though the walls had been rearranged and the 5-cent coke machine was gone. I put a lot of nickels in that machine when I “worked” at the station, reading pieces off the teletype, playing folk albums and, later, running a live folk music show with a friend whose father produced tv shows I knew before I knew her. (I met him once, and some of his actors, shook a few hands, remained calm.) A couple of albums with “Stolen from KZSU” in big letters on the front burned in the Witch Creek fire. I had a chat with a woman who seemed glad to see someone who worked there 50+ years earlier, and failed to find out that my elusive friend was to be interviewed there in the afternoon.
And that was the end of my walkabout, though not the end of my day. I walked over to the class tent for lunch, and wandered through, like everyone else, staring at name tags in hopes of recognizing someone. The only one I recognized was Joe Belfiore, not even in my class and not from his nametag, which I didn’t see, but familiar from Microsoft presentations. Perhaps it wasn’t him. He was walking by with his kids, on the way to his own reunion events.
Friends were scarce. I knew that before I came. I cared, but didn’t care. I remembered some people who were in the class book, and some who weren’t. I tried to contact the rabbi’s son from Calgary, who’d worked for HP, written books on gambling, and designed crossword puzzles for the NY Times. No luck there. My housemate from the class of ’64 was there, the one who, with his wife, rescued me the previous night, picked me up in the morning, and drove me to pick up my rental car that afternoon. At the class panel, for me the most interesting part of the day, I met my Escondido neighbor, from a block away up the hill, whose house is even older than ours. Not that we’ll socialize at home. And there was my elusive old friend, famous now, geek famous, the best way, we didn’t see each other but we exchanged emails in what turned out to be, in his words, a “virtual meetup.”
the rest of the day
Before and during the class panel I exchanged phone calls with the body shop, that didn’t have my car, then did have it, then said the insurance company would probably total it and I better come down and take what I wanted out of it or wait until Monday. I wanted to go home before Monday, so the time between the class panel and the class party was filled by finding Dave and Hilda, getting taken to the car rental place (in Redwood City, near my motel), driving to Sunnyvale to the body shop, taking a few salvageable and personal items out of my car, and driving back up El Camino to the Stanford campus for the party. Another look-at-nametags event. Don’t know what I was expecting, I knew no one I knew was there (though I vainly looked for my elusive friend again). The DJs music was from our high school years (All Shook Up, Little Darlin, Great Balls of Fire), good but wrong, a setlist for a different class, though who would know but us. The Stanford Band made a quick hit, probably going from party to party. I stood behind them, with a beer. The Band got the way they are after our class graduated; we got more traditional half-time shows; but the new incarnation is something to be proud of, except perhaps for those who still call the team the “Indians.” Finally, after quite a few circuits, I sat down alone at a high table, between one of the bars and the music, and let people stop to talk with me. That worked, actually. Among the people who stopped by was one of the presenters at the class panel who’d described a revelatory moment in the Haight-Ashbury about a block from where I was living at the time. I mentioned that in our chat, and envied him for living in Barcelona.
Afterwards, not quite drunk, I drove into Palo Alto to look for the site of the High Street house, a two-story Victorian warren many of us lived in for a while. There was a band in the attic and a beehive in the outer wall of the enclosed porch I slept in and couldn’t get out of without going through someone else’s room. There was a payphone off the kitchen that I used to call a not yet famous Bill Graham in my most successful moment as a band manager. It was a nice place to live, and cheap, helping to stretch out my Peace Corps severance, but it’s paved over now, a parking lot for some tech company; I wasn’t even sure I was looking at the right corner.
I drove back to Redwood City, emailed my friend, tried to watch tv, went to sleep, got up, packed up, and drove back to campus expecting breakfast again at the alumni center. I hadn’t read the schedule; they were setting up for brunch and a celebration of President Hennessy. I watched a man from a class earlier than mine complain, then took another walk, to the bookstore and through the Quad and back to my rental car to head out of town, stopping in East Palo Alto to try to find the house we used to live in, Dave, and I, and the son of the Calgary rabbi, and the guy I thought might have become the Grateful Dead’s manager but wasn’t, and some others too various to mention, Rick, Stanley, Bill, Dick. Poker games in the basement, Mogen David, heavenly blue morning glory seeds, the first time I heard Bob Dylan songs, sung on record by the Mamas and the Papas. I think that all happened there. A bottle of whiskey on top of a wardrobe, barely touched and left behind.
Then the drive home, past Facebook, across the Dumbarton, then back the way I came, past Casa de Fruta, down the Central Valley, through LA with jammed traffic and a dead GPS, taking longer than I wanted.
A few weeks later another Stanford friend emailed, my “best friend” for a while I guess, at least as I remember it. I’d known him and his recently late wife almost since the time they met, about the time he and I met in a Blair Fuller’s writing class. His wife and my first became close too, when we all lived in San Francisco, and even later. Warren lives in Oregon now, still works occasionally, and was going to be in Los Angeles and could we get together. I met him at his hotel, the Queen Mary in Long Beach, an interesting place I’d not been to before. Then we drove to West LA or thereabouts, near where I lived in my UCLA year, to see another old friend, one who’d lived in the East Palo Alto house and been a drummer in bands with us. Ed (we called him Rick back then) has motor-neuron disease, which makes him look goofy and prevents him from talking with his own voice, but doesn’t affect his memory or his mind, certainly not more than the years have for all of us. We spent a few hours, the three of us, talking about old days, names of other friends, things I didn’t know or didn’t remember and by now have forgotten again. He used an iPad to type and talk, though we started reading his typing before the digital voice kicked in. Finally, we had to leave. An LA day, lost in traffic on the way back to Long Beach, then my drive home, late and sorry, but a good day nonetheless, rivalling the trip to Palo Alto though without the scenery, or the crash.
You’re done when you stop. It was good to spend time again with these places and these people, dead and alive, named and unnamed in this account, but you’re done when you stop, and, for a while at least, this is better.
Lost two phones in one day. Well, “lost” is a relative term. I was carrying two, one, a Nokia Lumina 1020, for its camera and for what a phone used to be used for. It had my Cricket SIM card. The other, my Nokia 520, for music, since it had a slot for a memory chip, which I appreciated since the 1020 was getting a bit full.
I’d been experimenting with Windows 10 on both these devices (I wrote “machines”, which they are–why did that seem wrong?). I doubt this had anything to do with anything. I like Windows 10 (build 10166, currently the latest) on the 520–a bit sluggish, but it’s an underpowered phone and an unfinished OS. So I decided to try it on the 1020. (Impatience had something to do with it.)
To be fair, the 1020 was having problems–“issues,” as we would say where I work–already. Bluetooth wasn’t working. I couldn’t connect it to my Band, had to use the 520 for that, and that works only where there’s wifi connection since the 520 doesn’t have a SIM, and apparently the band needs Bluetooth and internet to connect. Partly to see if it would make Bluetooth come back, and also because I was impatient, I put the 1020 on the Windows 10 mobile fast ring and got that installed. But that didn’t improve things, and in fact made things worse, I don’t remember exactly how. My wife complained my phone went straight to voicemail (at least it went to voicemail) but that may just have been my inattention.
So I set the 1020 aside, took out the SIM card, and opened the 520. It had Windows 10 build whatever on it, and was a bit sluggish, as likely from being underpowered as from the beta software. But I screwed up the SIM transfer and broke some of the connectors on the SIM card carrier trying to fix it. So now the 520 works fine, game, email, internet, music, just not as a phone.
Trying to fix things
I tried to fix the 1020 by rolling back its software, various things, I forget all the details, but including using the Nokia Windows Phone recovery tool. In short, that didn’t work. It seemed to, allowing me to restore a saved image and all, but when I got done the phone function didn’t work. I know a phone’s supposed to be a phone, and even though to me the 1020 was more a camera and a screen for Facebook and Netflix and a game machine (Pegs and Holes an obsession), I wanted to fix it, if I could.
I trolled around on the internet, found a similar problem from another phone user (on a 920 I think) that suggested an antenna might be loose (and I thought, that might explain the Bluetooth problem also) and easy to snap back together. I’m not much with a screwdriver (worse with a soldering iron). I tend to break things when I take them apart. But I thought I’d try. I went to Home Depot to get some Torx screwdrivers for those tiny star headed screws that hold these phones together, found some disassembly instructions on the internet, and took the thing more apart than I felt safe with.
Of course, as it turned out, that little adventure didn’t lead anywhere, and now the Nokia Recovery tool has trouble finding the phone at all.
So next I tried to fix the 520. I love that phone, its size and its price. And its expandable storage. And you can still get them. But it was my working machine (not phone without the SIM), and I felt reluctant to take it apart.
What had happened to it was that I got a SIM card adapter jammed into the slot (the 520 takes a micro SIM, and my SIM from Cricket is a nano SIM–makes me think of coffee sizes at Starbucks–and I was careless). It took work to get it out, and it didn’t come out safely.
So there I was, phoneless in fact. Attentive reader of this blog will remember I had a Nokia 920 also, but that phone’s in use by another member of my small family now.
I did, eventually, order a part to replace the broken SIM carrier on the 520 (it was $2.99, including shipping from England in an envelope with a Customs declaration on it) but I fear it will require soldering, another chance to fumble.
Give me bad code to fix any day.
I got the 520 as an AT&T Go Phone, from the Radio Shack on the corner before it became a Sprint house. I decided to replace it–my backup phone I called it–with a Lumia 640 Go Phone, this time ordered from the Microsoft Store. I think I paid about the same in both cases, around $80. Still I knew it wouldn’t have the camera the 1020 had, not even close, so I thought I’d at least look at the used phones on Amazon. I took the risk on an unlocked 1020 priced a bit under $200, kind of a bargain. I was phoneless for a weekend, then both phones arrived on Tuesday.
Inventory: So now I have a working 1020, a dead 1020, a 640, and a 520 which sort of works and runs the latest beta build of Window 10 mobile. I also have a Moto-E, but I’m not sure that’s actually a phone.
Now the Xbox is gone, replaced on my desk by a Raspberry Pi, another mystery. But this is two stories, not really related. The Xbox went, after 15 months, to my grandson in Seattle, though shipping it up there felt a bit like an old cliché. After Build 2014 I tried to accept the Xbox into my life. I liked the (idea of the) Kinect, and the fact that it seemed to recognize me (though there was no other user to compare). I did have trouble getting over the fact that I had to pay extra for some things (an Xbox Live subscription to watch Netflix, which could already watch on my computers or my Rokus) but the terms changed and I tried it out. Using a controller instead of touch or a keyboard and mouse took some getting used to. In short, the Xbox worked, but it took up space, and I didn’t see the value in it, except for the Kinect, which I liked more in the idea than the application. So I thought I should try using the Xbox for its original purpose so around Christmas time I bought a couple of games at a Microsoft sale, Forza and Call of Duty: Ghosts. That’s what I ended up with. There was a buying frenzy, overwhelming the site, waits of I don’t remember how long when IE seemed to freeze. I wanted Forza because it’s not a shooter, and there weren’t many of those, but the Call of Duty was just what was available when my mouse click actually worked. It’s nice that Forza shows you how banged up your car is at the end, from hitting walls mostly, I didn’t catch up enough to hit other cars. I longed for a steering wheel. The cars were nice, but the goal of not hitting stuff was rough. Call of Duty: Ghosts was a surprise. I felt at home, literally. The scenery, the vegetation, even the houses of the opening sequence (after the story that probably connects somewhere beyond my reach in the game) were familiar San Diego suburban generic. Poway maybe, or Rancho Penasquitos, or possibly the fringes of my home city, Escondido. At first I wondered if there were versions based in different places, to make more users feel at home, and then I wondered if the locale was actually real, not generic, and if so where it was actually set. I liked that, but I had trouble walking with the controller, getting up and running straight, jumping, evading cars fleeing down the Poway-like street. Again I could have used a steering wheel. I didn’t get to a point where I got to shoot. I spent a couple of weekends before my grandson’s birthday trying to bond with the Xbox, then packed it up and sent it on. Even including the Kinect. I hear he likes it.
Setting up the Raspberry Pi was another adventure. The hell of Linux, or Oracle, or anything else that takes more configuration than sense.
This seems to be the time for these memories, so here goes:
The first time I saw the Dead was the first time anyone saw them, with that name in performance, December 10, 1965. I’d heard of the Warlocks, but not heard them. It was at the second San Francisco Mime Troupe benefit put on by Bill Graham, his first event at the Fillmore Auditorium, which he’d just discovered. “My” band, the one I “managed” (the Vipers, misreported as the VIPs in Ralph Gleason’s story), was there, as was Big Brother, Quicksilver, the Airplane, etc. When I read about the event in Herb Caen’s column I called Graham from the payphone in the house I lived in in Palo Alto (I was not intimidated, he was not yet famous) to volunteer. He said we can’t just have anybody, but invited us up to audition the afternoon of the event. There’s more to that story but that’s enough. Each band took a table, along one of the walls, with the dance floor in the middle. Ours was on the right, about half way back, I remember the angle. That night Bill Graham announced the Warlocks’ new name.
It’s good to have the internet to check things. I used to think this next event, which happened 8 days later, was before the Mime Troupe benefit: a Ken Kesey Acid Test (the fourth, according to the Wikipedia chronology) at the Big Beat in Palo Alto. (Tom Wolfe wrote about it, but he wasn’t there: When I got far enough in his book to know that I stopped reading.) A big dark room, the Dead on a stage at one end, an all-woman band, the Witches, on a stage at the other. Non-stop music. Witches and Warlocks. Light show on the walls. That’s how I remember it. I didn’t drink the Kool-Aid that night.
Not long after that, two more Acid Tests, both in January of 1966, one at the Fillmore (not yet firmly a Bill Graham venue), shut down early by the cops. I remember the Hell’s Angels, and ice cream, but that may be another event. I sat on the floor against the back wall, waiting for the friend who drove us there to lead me out. There’s a tape of this at Concert Vault labelled, incorrectly, as being at California Hall. Then there was Longshoremen’s Hall, the Trips Festival. I don’t remember as much as I’d like to, a lot of milling about, but I remember Pigpen and Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, a song whose lyrics perhaps don’t stand the test of time and cultural shift, but I know I listened hard.
For me, in fact, the Grateful Dead was Pigpen, Ron McKernan. Most Deadheads, born too late, never heard him live. He was the first of the dead Dead, 1973, a member of the so-called 27 club, which includes his friend Janis, and Jimi, Amy, Kurt, and Robert Johnson.
A year after the Fillmore events I was in a band, with some of the same people I’d “managed” earlier. I played blues harp, like PigPen. We played here and there, around the periphery of San Francisco, where we lived. I won’t mention what made the band implode, but I didn’t do it. Anyway, one place we played, perhaps near the end, was the Santa Venetia Armory, not far from where Philip K. Dick may have lived at the time. The Sopwith Camel was supposed to headline that night but they didn’t show up and neither did much audience. Something to do with an east coast snowstorm. Who did show up was the Dead, last minute substitute, we didn’t know until we got there. While we all milled around inside before the doors opened to the tiny audience my wife of the time got Pigpen to light her cigarette. This was a long time ago. For me the thing about that night was that I played blues harp on the same stage on the same night as one of my harp heroes. And that, I think, was also the last time I saw the Dead live.
The rest of my story, the bits I tell people now and then, though not necessarily all at the same time: when he was still in high school in Palo Alto Pigpen would come to the dorm I lived in at Stanford to listen to music down the hall with a guy I didn’t know well: Holy Modal Rounders, the Fabulous Wailers, stuff like that. I was told that story, and believe it. This one’s clearer: at the Matrix one night, a famous blues harpist, Little Walter I think (if so it was August 1966, before the Santa Venetia show) performed. The audience was small, perhaps only me and Pigpen, and Little Walter wasn’t happy with his backup band (one of the then famous SF bands, I don’t remember which one, and wouldn’t name them if I did), his own another band stuck at the other end of a plane flight in bad weather in Texas or some place. I sat behind Pigpen, a little to the left. We both paid attention.
Approximately a year after the Santa Venetia show our daughter, my only child, was born. We brought her to our home four blocks down Waller from the Dead’s house on Ashbury. We weren’t particularly quiet people in those days and we tried what we thought was a novel solution to the baby sleeping problem: we played the Dead’s first album in her room, she slept, we went about our business. This may have been my idea. When she was older she did the Deadhead thing, followed the band to concerts across the country, and met her future ex-husband, a story I know no more about than necessary. From this I got grandchildren, and for that I’m grateful.
And that’s it for me, my time in the 60s for today.