This book covers the gamut of what goes on in a San Francisco writer’s life and mind. It covers everything about writing, from becoming a writer to getting published to promoting a book to writing itself. It covers the Bush/Gore presidential race of 2000, baseball and football, family, friends, exercise, touring Greece and Italy, Socrates and democracy, homelessness, the environment, arthritis—everything.
Friday, February 11, 2000 – My Novel’s Debut
This is my first journal entry of a new century and a new millennium. What has happened since the new year began? Politics: It’s Al Gore vs. Bill Bradley among the Democrats. I’m leaning toward Bradley, an ex- Senator, ex-New York Knicks basketball player, ex-Princeton graduate. I remember seeing him play in college and the pros. He was a solid ballplayer. I’d be satisfied if either he or Al Gore gets the Democratic nomination. With the Republicans, it’s between John McCain and George W. Bush. Bush was the big favorite until McCain destroyed him in the New Hampshire primary. McCain has momentum going for him now, but you never know in politics.
Our son Ray turned 19 this past Monday. We gave him a large check and took him out to dinner to Delfina in the Mission District. Not bad food, but expensive. The place was extremely noisy.
I found out from Creative Arts Book Company that my novel, Morning Pages: The Almost True Story of My Life, will be published this coming fall.
Friday, February 18, 2000 – Java Beach Coffeehouse
I was in a hiatus mood in 1999. The only thing I worked on was to rework, for the fourth time, an old novel of mine, Highway Sailor. I’ve got to start writing new material. Right now I’m sitting outside of Java Beach Coffeehouse at the western end of Judah Street. It’s warm, there are no clouds, the sky is a beautiful light blue, the air is clean.
I sit facing the Great Highway. Ocean Beach is on the other side of the Great Highway. Two guys are conversing at the table to my left. They’re talking about work. I heard one of them mention the word “tired.” Yeah, work can be tiring, but I like my work of writing.
The Muni streetcar comes to the end of the line where I sit and circles around to head back toward downtown. It keeps coming and going on this warm, T-shirt day. Pigeons, a whole flock of them, just settled on the telephone and streetcar wires. All of a sudden, as one, they start to circle up above, circle, circle, then land back on the wires.
I have written 29 journal notebooks dating back to 1970. It took me a year to start a journal after I began my writing career in El Cerrito on my 29th birthday in 1969. It was my good friend Gerry Dowd who put me up at his place in El Cerrito till I found my own place, which turned out to be a duplex I shared with John Coggen, a New Zealander and grad student in geology at UC Berkeley. John and I didn’t communicate much. He left early in the morning and I wrote at a large desk in my room during the day. That was the beginning of my writing career in good old quiet El Cerrito at 616 Elm Street.
Monday, February 22, 2000 – How I Became a Writer
How did I become a writer? My fourth grade teacher at Selma Avenue School in Hollywood, Miss Snyder, once complimented me in front of the class on my writing. She complimented me on both the content and neatness of it. I felt very proud of her praise.
There were always books around our house, mainly those of my oldest brother Charles, thirteen years my senior. He was like a father figure to me. I looked up to him like I would a hero. He was always buying me and my four brothers books. Reading has a lot to do with becoming a writer. I mainly liked biographies—how a famous person became what he became. I must admit that I never read a biography of a woman. It was men—explorers, presidents, football and baseball players, revolutionaries—that whetted my appetite, and still do.
At around the age of nine I started, on my own, to learn how to type. In our dining room was a small, sturdy table with an old, heavy, black Remington typewriter on it. Next to the Remington was a manual that came from a typewriting class. I’m talking 1949 here. The manual wasn’t Charles’; he typed with two fingers. One of my three other brothers, Dave, Bob, or Maurice, must have brought it home from Bancroft Junior High. I followed the exercises in the manual, one page after another for about half the book in a period of about a year. So there I was, a kid of nine interested in learning how to type. Even though I had no thought of ever becoming a writer at that time, I’m pretty sure that learning how to type led to my becoming one.
When was the first inkling of my wanting to be a writer? I’ll never forget it. It was after a football game my junior year between Fairfax High and Hollywood High, the last game of the 1956 season in which I had played extremely well at quarterback for Fairfax. Joanne Knopf came running up to hug and kiss me as I was walking off the field. Joanne was treating me like a hero. I remember saying to myself, “I’m going to write about this someday.”
My brother Charles must have been a tremendous influence on my becoming a writer. Forty years a journalist, he worked for the Wall Street Journal, El Paso Times, Los Angeles Times, and for the last fifteen years of his life, the Long Beach Press-Telegram. Charles died of a massive heart attack at the age of 63 as he was chasing after a thief. The thief had stolen a purse from an elderly woman who was screaming for help on that fatal day. Charles never told me to be a writer, nor did we ever talk about writing. Being that he was a great influence in my life, maybe it’s possible that I wanted to follow in his footsteps. I remember showing him a paper I wrote for a science class my senior year at Fairfax High. Miss Weiskopf was my teacher. The paper was about alcoholism and I mentioned our alcoholic father in it. Charles didn’t criticize me for divulging a family secret—instead, he complimented my writing. I remember telling him, “You know, Charles, I like writing. I’m surprised what comes out of me sometimes.”
I had an English teacher my senior year at Fairfax, Miss Olsen. I remember two essays she assigned. One was, What would you choose to be in life, an unhappy Socrates or a happy fool? I wrote about being an unhappy Socrates. The other essay was, What would you do if you knew you had only twenty-four hours to live? I wrote a schmaltzy piece about going to Santa Monica beach, making love with my girlfriend (which I didn’t have), and having a feast at the end of the day with my family and friends. And guess what? Miss Olsen had me read both essays to the class. Wow, I was the exemplar, just like I was in Miss Snyder’s fourth grade class at Selma Avenue School.
When did the conscious moment of my being a writer hit me? When was it that I said to myself, “I’m going to be a writer.” It was when a football teammate of mine at the University of Oregon, Ron Demonner, both of us fourth stringers, asked me one day what I wanted to be in life. I immediately responded, “I’m going to be a writer.” Why did I say that? Revenge. I wanted the whole world to know that fourth stringers, if given the chance, could be just as good as first stringers. Ron and I never got much of a chance to show what we could do on the football field for Oregon. I got on the bad side of our backfield coach, Max Coley, when I refused to enter the first scrimmage of the football season. I had woken up late on that warm, sunny, humid Saturday morning, and when I finally got to the locker room, the whole team was already out on the field. For some strange reason I put on my football uniform without taping an extremely weak, swollen knee that I hurt a few days earlier in a football drill. I was kneeling along the sideline when I heard Max call out, “Sutton, get in on offense.” Oh, how I wanted to run into the huddle and show the coaches the talent I possessed, but I held back because I foresaw my future in a flash: a permanently damaged right knee. I stood up and slowly shook my head.
So how did Max react to my so-called defiance of his authority? He came stomping towards me, steaming with rage, and said for the whole team to hear, “Sutton, you’re never going to play in a football game for Oregon as long as I’m coaching here!” He almost kept his word. Except for my getting into maybe forty minutes of playing time in two years, I sat on the bench getting splinters in my ass. I want to say this, though. The first time I ever got to carry the ball for Oregon I scored on a 20-yard touchdown run against Idaho. I have a film clip of that run.
I still didn’t know I wanted to be a writer until I went to Europe after my first year of substitute teaching in the L.A. Public School System. While in London, I looked up my brother Charles’ friend, Clancy Sigal. I had read Clancy’s autobiographical novel Going Away in my last year at Oregon. I found a room a block from his flat. That’s how important it was for me to see him. I observed what it was to be a writer. Clancy wrote every day, read a lot, and was a deep thinker. He lived in a one-bedroom flat with only the bare essentials—chair, desk, bed, refrigerator. That was it. That was Clancy Sigal. An outline of a work in progress covered the wall above his desk with white butcher paper.
What happened between the time I went to Europe at the age of 25 and when I became a writer the day I turned 29? I was both a substitute and a regular teacher in the Los Angeles School System during that period of time. I liked substituting because I didn’t have to plan ahead. If perchance the regular teacher didn’t leave any lesson plans, I did pretty well leading discussions on the current events of the day. During the summer of 1967 I started writing poetry. That was the literal beginning of my writing career. And then guess who called me that summer? Clancy Sigal. He was in New York City. He asked if I wanted to visit him. Visit him? I caught a plane out the next day and stayed with him in an apartment that a writer friend of his—Barbara Probst Solomon—let him have while she was traveling abroad. I roamed the hot, sticky, summer streets of Manhattan during the day while Clancy wrote.
A couple of months later, Clancy came to L.A. He stayed at my place, a small one-bedroom apartment I’d rented on Orange Grove and Willoughby for $110 a month. The thing was, I was going with Sandy Rutherford at the time. When I told him that Sandy and I wanted to live together in my apartment after she graduated UCLA in the winter of 1968, he took it hard. Luckily a friend of his in Santa Monica had an extra room in his house for him to stay.
It was Clancy who read an unfinished piece of mine about a fourth string football player at Oregon. He said he liked it. Little did he know that his encouraging words changed the course of my life.
I landed my first permanent teaching position at Fremont High in South Central L.A. in February 1968. I taught my history classes by the book the first two semesters. My third and final semester I completely dropped all the teaching conventions of assignments, tests, and grades, and gave my students a chance to teach their peers. Most of the time they led discussions on the important events of the day. Every day was a new day, a day of spontaneity. It was 1969—drugs, sex, Black Power, police harassment, and anti-Vietnam demonstrations. It was a time of rebellion in America. I knew I was going to quit teaching at the end of the school year, that’s why I wasn’t afraid to teach the way I did. I took notes every day because I knew I was going to write about my experiment in participatory democracy. Originally I thought I was going to Europe with Sandy to begin my writing career, but our relationship fizzled out. She flew off to Europe and I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area a month after school ended. I started writing my first novel A Class of Leaders on August 20, 1969.
Thursday, February 24, 2000 – Let the Words Pour Out
It’s cold and overcast outside. Lily, our wonderful cleaning lady who comes every two weeks is vacuuming in the hallway. My son Ray is in his room downstairs watching television. It’s his second semester at San Francisco City College. His first semester he got three C’s and one A.
Tonight I’m going to host a poker game. Seven of us Royal Flushers will be here. Don Ellis, my publisher at Creative Arts, will also be coming. Don came to the last game I hosted several months ago. It was a great night. We celebrated his acceptance of my novel Morning Pages with champagne.
The weather report says it’s going to rain today. Oh, how I wish beautiful, meaningful words would rain down on my parade. Yes, I’m writing, but I feel like I’m not saying anything. But you want to know what I found out this week? When I write, and it doesn’t matter what I write, it becomes helpful in the long run. The other day I looked at the first piece of fiction I ever wrote. I hadn’t read it since I wrote it. It was a rough draft of a fourth string football player at the University of Oregon, the same story I showed Clancy Sigal. I wrote it in 1967 and a lot of words and sentences I used in that story were used when I wrote the final version of it a few years ago. Do you know what that means? It means that anything and everything we write is important. Writing things down somehow makes a lasting impression on the mind. What I’m saying is, it’s important to let words pour out of you even if you think they don’t carry great weight.
I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle this morning about a successful young writer, Michael Chabon, who lives in Berkeley. Wonder Boys, a movie based on one of his books is opening this week, starring Michael Douglas. It’s about a novelist who teaches writing at a university but who has writer’s block. In the article Chabon is quoted as saying something that rang true to me. He said a writer has to get into the rhythm of writing at a certain time every day. When I wrote Morning Pages it was written on a daily basis in the morning. I’m out of rhythm nowadays. It has to do with the water aerobics class I’m taking in the morning at the YMCA three days a week. I’ve got to find a certain time, other than the morning, my favorite time, to get a rhythm going.
Friday, February 25, 2000 – My “Friend” Alan
We had a poker game here last night. Jerry, Alan, Harry, George, Ralph, Steve, and me, plus my publisher Don Ellis. I ordered the worst Chinese takeout you could imagine. It was so damn juicy and spicy. It was bad.
I didn’t bluff last night. I didn’t bluff when I didn’t have a good hand. When I did raise, everyone knew I had a good hand and folded.
I’m starting to get doubts about Alan. I started getting them last week when he, Jerry, and I went out to dinner in Larkspur. Alan didn’t have enough money to pay for his dinner, and so Jerry had to pay the remainder for him. Before I left them that night I slipped Jerry $10 to help defray what he paid for Alan. I’ve noticed this tendency in Alan over the years. I talked to Jerry and he’s noticed it, too. When Alan says he doesn’t have enough money, and this has happened many times since I’ve known him, something is rotten in Denmark.
Alan has some very good qualities, such as his creativity, but his not having enough money when he’s out with friends is starting to bother the hell out of me. The man isn’t honest when money is involved. I never asked him how much he makes, but he makes good money as a draftsman for an engineering firm he’s been with for over twenty years. He should have plenty of money, but he’s always complaining he doesn’t have any. He goes on a long trip once or twice a year. So why does he say he’s always broke? It sickens me to even think what I’m saying about my friend, but I’m not blind to reality.
So what shall I do? Should I trust Alan or not? I want to trust him. But I’m losing faith. If I told my ex-therapist Richard Vogel about this, he’d probably tell me to drop my friendship with Alan because of his bent to screw his friends when it comes to paying his share of a bill. I have to admit, though, that most of the time he does pay his share. I reiterate—most of the time.
Sunday, February 27, 2000 – The Great Highway of the Mind
As soon as I finish this journal entry, I’m going to go for a walk along the Great Highway that parallels the beach. William Saroyan wrote a story about a man walking on the Great Highway and then going off on a fantastical trip through the Great Highway of the mind. I really liked that story. No one would understand it like I do, because that’s where I go on my walks, to the Great Highway, located at the very edge of the North American continent.
All you have to do is walk into the salt water, past the small rocks, then out farther you start swimming where you meet a variety of ocean creatures, from whales to turtles to manta rays to sharks. Out there in the Pacific is a whole world that we know little about. There are so many different shaped creatures out there.
I picture myself in the ocean this very second. It’s cold. Small fish are nibbling at my flesh. They want to make friends with me because they see I don’t have anything that can harm them. No hooks, nothing to catch them and eat them. But here comes a shark. I stay where I am and he comes up to me and says, “Don’t be afraid. Climb on, I’ll give you a ride.” I climb on and he takes me through the Great Highway of the Pacific to the Hawaiian Islands. I thank him and pay my fare by hugging him. Here the water is warm, unlike San Francisco’s frigid waters. My hands and feet, on the ride, turned into fins. I’m a man-fish, a creature of the ocean. I descend and finally reach the bottom. I see fish I’ve never seen before. They are big, black, slow-moving. They’re the oddest looking fish I’ve ever seen. They say hello to me. I say hello back. They greet me as if I’m a long lost ancestor. I want to hug them. “We’re all related,” they tell me. I start to cry. They too are crying. And that’s when I have to catch my breath and return to the surface. I stick my head up and see land. It’s the island of Maui. I swim and swim. I see children and adults in the shallow water and wave to them. They look frightened. They turn and run back to the beach. And then I see police cars coming. They get out of their cars, raise their rifles and start shooting. I quickly dip below the surface and swim away. I’m their enemy now. Someday they might catch me and eat me. I don’t want to be eaten, I want to live a long life.
Monday, February 28, 2000 – Memories
I should have started writing five and a half hours ago. Why did I procrastinate for so long? I ate, put away the dishes in the dishwasher, took out the garbage, the compost, the bottles, cans and paper, picked weeds in the front yard, trimmed a couple of bushes, cleaned up outside, read the mail, and here I am typing away this very second.
I just heard the front door open. My wife Joan is home. Ray didn’t go to school today. He woke up an hour ago. He said he worked on a hip-hop album with his friend Eric last night and it took them longer than they expected. What should a father say to his son who has missed three days of community college at the beginning of a new semester? What kind of life is my son leading?
My mind is blank and bland. I have to get out into the world more often. Like yesterday, I stepped outside only once, and that was for three minutes on the small balcony outside our bedroom that overlooks our backyard. I’m stagnating in my daily routine. Every other day I go to the YMCA for a couple of hours in the morning. The other two days I sit at my desk, work on my latest stories, and then go for a walk. I have to talk to people, use my brain, observe, and experience different things. But that’s not the life of a writer. A writer sits most of the day, either writing or revising. He doesn’t get out much because he needs to write, to read, to think. I would really like to do my exercising in the late afternoon. I wouldn’t mind getting tired then. But the three days I go to the Y, I come home tired. I’ve been at this water aerobics thing (led wonderfully by Nancy van Gelder) for almost five months now. I’ve been consistent at it, missing only a few days in that time.
Time. It’s 5:54 now. I started typing at 5:30. Typing is so much different than writing with a pen. Maybe it would do me good to use my pen. No, typing you go twice as fast. If what you type might be a story idea, you don’t have to transcribe it like you do when writing with a pen. I’m not getting anywhere near a story idea today. Saroyan wrote a story a day. Me, I’m lucky if I can write ten stories a year. I’m wandering around in a desert of no ideas. Julia Cameron says to write anyway. She says to write the word “write” a thousand times if you don’t know what to write. So I’ll write. I’ll write my head off. I’ll write about what it is for a father to have his son neglect his college education. What does the future hold for Ray? Does he expect to work and do his music at the same time? I wish he’d take college more seriously. He has to make his own path, though, just like I made my own path. It’s going to have a lot of pitfalls, like any path does. When will he grow up like I did at the University of Oregon? That’s when I would go to the library and study every night. It wasn’t possible during the football season, but when the season ended I got into a rhythm of going to the library and studying there until 11 p.m. Oregon has a new library now. Joan, Ray, and I visited the campus a few years ago. Ray and I found the yearbook and looked at the football pictures of the year I played. It brought back memories. Memories. All I can think about are my football days at Oregon. I’m going to call my old teammate Ben Brown tonight to see if my visiting him in Yuba City this weekend will be okay with him. Why do I want to see Ben? Because I haven’t seen him in over thirty years. We saw each other a couple of times after leaving Oregon and haven’t seen each other since his first son was a baby. His son is now thirty-two. I want to delve into Ben’s wisdom. I want to find out what he’s done. I have a great desire to see him this weekend.
Sunday, March 5, 2000 – Talking with an Old Friend
Yesterday, I drove to Yuba City, north of Sacramento, to see Ben Brown, a longtime friend and teammate of mine. I started out at 9 a.m. and arrived three hours later. I called Ben from a public phone, he came ten minutes later, and I followed him to his very nice and cozy house where he and his wife Evonne live, along with their small, very gentle dog Lou, a thick, white-haired Bichon Frise.
Ben and I talked for six hours altogether. The TV was on a sports channel that had a few basketball games going, but the sound was turned low and we talked about our days at Oregon (1960-63), his two boys (32 and 28) and one girl (26), we talked about coaching and coaches, and what we’ve done since leaving Oregon. I thoroughly enjoyed our time together. We talked about our sports injuries. We remembered things about each other that the other didn’t remember. For instance, Ben taught me how to eat with my mouth closed, and he told me I used to argue a lot, that I always had to get my point across. I told him he was the hardest hitting defensive back of our era.
I can’t go on any longer. I’m tired. I don’t have any energy. I didn’t feel well yesterday. It was a very long day, driving six hours and talking to Ben for six hours.
Thursday, March 9, 2000 – Ben Brown
I’m still trying to get over a bad cold. I’ve been in the house much too long. It’s been hard getting out, because it’s been raining for the past five days. It’s not raining today, so I intend to get out for a little walk along the Great Highway.
Ben and I talked and talked, mainly about sports. He’s been a P.E. teacher for the past 37 years in the Marysville School District. He raised two sons who went on to play college ball, one at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (Greg, a quarterback) and the other at the University of Oregon (Brian, a wide receiver). Ben said his daughter, a cheerleader in high school, was jealous of her brothers because they got so much attention from him. But Ben said he didn’t push the boys, that they were the ones who asked him to teach and coach them. He said he’s most proud of taking his oldest son’s Little League baseball team to the California championship game.
Ben and his wife live in the small, conservative town of Yuba City. I saw a hell of a lot of lawn signs of “Yes on Prop. 22,” an anti-gay initiative. Proposition 22 passed in the election the other day, meaning that a marriage between two gay men or two gay women is not valid in the state of California. It means that there’s still widespread discrimination against homosexuals.
Bill Bradley and John McCain dropped out of the presidential race today. They both lost big on Super Tuesday, when fifteen states held their primaries. So now it’s between Al Gore and George W. Bush to see who our next president will be. Let’s hope Gore beats the hell out of Bush. Bush, a Republican, is beholden to those who are vehemently against abortion and gun control. That’s all we need in this country is more unwanted babies and more guns. That’s what the present-day Republican party stands for, which makes them dinosaurs in this day and age.
So getting back to my old friend and former roommate. Ben and I have always weighed about the same, although I’m a couple of inches taller. In college we both weighed 180. Now we’re in the 205 range. Ben still looks in good shape, except for a little potbelly, something that I also have. What is it with us ex-football players, we all have potbellies. Ben showed me his knee that was replaced about nine months ago. It’s still very swollen with a big cut mark in front of his kneecap. He can walk all right but can’t run or jog. It stems from an old football injury that he aggravated in the eighties when he was jogging on grass and stepped on a sprinkler head. He said he had two arthroscopic surgeries before replacing the knee. They replaced it because there was absolutely no cartilage left. Ben said his knee, just like mine, was the cause of his downfall at Oregon.
Ben told me he played in the Canadian Football League after leaving Oregon. He said he got drafted by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Max Coley’s recommendation. (Max was the one who said I’d never play for Oregon as long as he was coaching there.) Ben said he played a lot for Hamilton (located 60 miles north of Buffalo) the first half of the only season he played, but management wanted him and two other Americans to become Canadian citizens, to which they refused and quit the team. Ben said he had a chance to coach at Oregon, but was married by then, and his wife didn’t want to move to Eugene. Ben has been in the same school system for 37 years and will retire at the end of this school year. He said he doesn’t have plans other than to work in the garden and putter around the house.
Ben brought up something that I completely forgot: a “nuder” that took place in the apartment we shared our last year at Oregon. There were two girls from the university who came to our apartment and the four of us undressed. Ben and I had to agree that we wouldn’t try to have sex with them. We danced with the girls. We took showers with them. That was as far as we got. It was the early sixties. But along came the mid-sixties: psychedelic drugs and “the pill.” The mid-sixties through the seventies, it was a freewheeling time for instant sex. AIDS arrived in the eighties, and that was the end of the line for instant sex. Thank goodness I had a chance to experience the sexual revolution before AIDS took hold.
Ben and I didn’t just sit and talk in his house, he took me out to a nice Mexican restaurant in Yuba City. We met one of his former students who was busing dishes. He was nineteen, my son Ray’s age. His name was Jose. He had plans to work for the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Tuesday, March 21, 2000 – My European Trip
I sit at my desk and think of a million things to do other than writing. Little things, like clearing the fireplace of ashes, giving myself a haircut instead of going to a barber, washing the dishes, vacuuming the carpets, or going to see if the mail has arrived. I’m just not in the mood to write, except here I am, writing. I haven’t written in a while. I’m looking for something to grab my interest. I haven’t been able to do it. I work on short pieces, two, three, four pages long. I want to get into a novel of some type. Could it be a novel about a college football player? I don’t know. I know nothing right now. Wait. I know the time. It’s 11:47 a.m. and I know that Joan and I will be going to Europe in the middle of May. We’ll be going to Greece and Italy. Right now it’s a little scary not having plane tickets or hotel reservations. But if we read up on where we want to go and where we want to stay, things will start falling into place.
It’s such a beautiful day. It’s the first day of spring. It’s been a long winter. It rained a lot in January and February. I’m still doing water aerobics at the Y three days a week. It’s quite invigorating. I’m not going all out like I did in the first five months of this exercise. I’m pacing myself. I’m not so tired during the day because of it.
Ray doesn’t seem to care about his college education. All he does is want to be with his friends, play music, stay up to all hours of the night, and wake up late. He’s missed many days of school. You can’t talk to him because he thinks he knows it all at nineteen. He’s just going to have to face the consequences of his actions. And his actions, in my opinion, are not going to get him through college. For instance, I believe a friend of his is downstairs in his room right now when Ray should be in class at City College. His friends don’t care for his education, which means Ray doesn’t care. He just loves being with his friends. Sorrowful. Absolutely no discipline on his part.
So I’m stuck about what to put my energy into. I’ll just have to write. I’ve got to read Saroyan. He’s the only writer who can get me into the writing mode. Here’s something he wrote that makes me want to write:
As a young writer this advice came to me from somewhere: “Write, and be damned. Write, and let the form be damned. Don’t imagine you are to write with your intelligence, because either you have it or you don’t, and when you do have it, it is always in the feet, not in the mind. Intelligence is a much misunderstood thing. It is not the thing writers write with, so write, and don’t expect to be intelligent, too. Don’t expect to write with intelligence, just write, and don’t expect to write one way and not another, any way will do, or if you can’t do that, go back to other work, go back to a job in an office, a factory, a store, or wherever you imagine you will have a chance.”
Well, I mustn’t think of writing with intelligence, I must just write and be damned. I don’t want to go back to selling costume jewelry or teaching. I want to write.
So what’ll I write? Shall I catch up on all my “Works in Progress” pieces? Shall I just write like Julia Cameron and Natalie Goldberg advise—full speed ahead, no holds barred, write as fast as your fingers will go. That’s what I’m doing this very minute. All I have to do is just write and not worry what comes out of my mind and down to my fingers or about an editor or critic looking over my shoulder. Write and be damned, goddammit. What can I write this very minute? The weather? No. About our upcoming trip to Europe? No. About my first trip to Europe in 1966? Yeah, why don’t I just write about one thing instead of going from one thing to another.
Think of my first European trip when I took a ship. I flew from L.A. to New York. I stayed with my cousin Saul Sutton and his wife Ruth my first week in Brooklyn. Then it was their idea to drive to Bradley Beach in New Jersey. And that’s where I met more relatives and stayed with them. I took out my first Syrian-Jewish girl. We danced most of the night. She wouldn’t even give me a kiss when I took her home. She was the last Syrian Jewish girl I ever took out.
I met my cousin Ben Sutton on the beach one day and that was a godsend because he invited me to stay with him at his apartment in Manhattan. And that’s what I did until I took a bus to Norfolk, Virginia, and boarded a cargo ship that was going to take me to Europe. I was going to work my way over on the Har Meron, a ship that my cousin Steve Shalom had set up for me. Steve was a banker who owned the ship. I worked in the boiler room with another fellow for three days and developed a very bad back. It was the first backache I ever had, and it laid me up for the remaining seven days of the trip.
The captain of the ship, while I was working the first three days, told me I didn’t have to work and that I could eat with the ship’s officers. I told him I was working with the crew and thought it best if I ate with them. Most of the crew was from South America. I worked three days in the hot boiler room, painting with a young man from Israel. We got along well. But then my back started bothering me. No fooling, it truly hurt. I had a very nice cabin to myself and lay in bed and read, read, read (three books), one of which was Saul Bellow’s Mr. Sammler’s Planet.
Seven days later the ship docked in Antwerp, Belgium. As soon as I stepped off the ship my back was better. I guess my subconscious was telling me that I didn’t want to paint in the hot boiler room. I caught a train out of Antwerp the same day to Amsterdam because that’s where Don Freedman knew someone who lived there. Don was a taxi driver in New York City who I drove around with for a few days while staying with my cousin Ben. Don and Ben were friends. I remember driving out to the airport with him and him hustling up customers to drive back to Manhattan. (There was some kind of a strike going on at the time.) Don, by the way, after I came back from Europe, introduced me to a girl who I spent a weekend with. She was a secretary in Manhattan who lived in Hoboken, New Jersey. After I got back to L.A., I received a phone call from her telling me she was pregnant. How could she be pregnant when I used a condom at all times? She had me worried for a while, but I just cooled it and didn’t do anything, and that was the last I ever heard from her. Did she really have a baby forming in her belly? Till this day, I don’t know.
After the train arrived in Amsterdam I called Girard, a friend of Don Freedman’s. Girard was living with another man, Pieter, his companion.
I stayed a week with Girard and Pieter. I slept on their couch. I had trouble sleeping the first two nights because I wasn’t sure about them. They were a homosexual couple. I didn’t know what to think, whether they’d try something with me or not. I wanted to be aware if they did try. I guess you can say I was prejudice. I should have known better. Why would a gay couple want to play around with another man staying in their apartment? It was foolish of me to even think such a thought. Prejudice equals fear. But I got over it in a couple of days.
One day I came across Amsterdam’s red-light district where scantily-clad women sat behind picture windows beckoning you to step inside and have sex with them. After walking around, looking for the most attractive woman, I found her. After we had sex, she took a liking to me. She told me I could come back later that night where she lived and spend the night with her.
It turned out to be a miserable night. She worked late into the night in a tavern downstairs. I got extremely anxious waiting and waiting for her as I lay in bed. When she finally came upstairs, she took a very long time to ready herself for bed. I tried making love to this wonderful woman who had so much energy, working two jobs as she did, that I couldn’t get hard. I was so ashamed of myself that it was the last time I saw her.
One night in Amsterdam I went bar-hopping and walked into this place where women were singing on stage. The thing was, they weren’t women, they were men dressed as women. They had me fooled for a whole hour.
From Amsterdam I went to Paris, where I found a room in a pension. We were served coffee and milk for breakfast. My first cafe lattes. The shower at the pension had only cold water. Brrrrrrrrrrr. I walked around Paris a few days and met an American woman walking along the Seine. She had just graduated from Stanford. We had coffee at a cafe. The next day we got together, went to her hotel room, and had sex.
My next destination was London where my whole life changed. That’s where Clancy Sigal lived. I found a place to stay a block from his apartment. For three days I knocked on his door but there was no answer. As it turned out, he was on holiday, as they say in England, with his girlfriend. I saw Clancy four times. We ate dinner at his place one night and went to a pub the three other times. I was conversing with a real writer who had written two books that I had read and loved. I didn’t know it at the time, but meeting with him was a major reason why I became a writer.
In Copenhagen I met a teacher-friend of mine, Fran Pokras, on my 26th birthday in Tivoli Gardens. In Berlin I ate chicken for breakfast, lunch, and dinner three days in a row. I went to a crowded beer hall one night and all the patrons were singing nationalistic songs as one. It was scary because it reminded me of Hitler’s time. One day I went through a lengthy process of crossing into the gray, empty streets of East Berlin and seeing this man across the street from me at all times, possibly following me to make sure I didn’t do anything wrong. My only memory of Rome was that I got scared out of my wits one night from the loud, reverberating thunder that wouldn’t end. In Barcelona I had sex with a middle-aged prostitute who kept pleading for me to cum. She thought I was on some kind of drug, which I wasn’t. In Athens I philosophized with a few young travelers on the steps of the Parthenon. I got sicker than a dog with the runs in Athens from, what I think, was the fly infested souvlaki that I ate several times at the street corner stands.
It was a trip that transformed me. I grew up on that trip, traveling alone, finding places to stay on my own. I became self-reliant on that trip.
Monday, March 27, 2000 – The Cannon Fodder Squad
Here’s a quote from an article I recently read about author Donald Silverman: “It didn’t take Silverman long to find a [writing] method that worked for him. Rather than work with an outline, he says, or invest too much time thinking about quality or the art [of writing], he just turns on the faucet and lets it run until he has a rough, poorly written draft that he rewrites until it’s been whipped into submission.”
That’s exactly how I write. I turn on the faucet and see what comes out of me. That’s how I wrote my three novels, the first drafts of them, and that’s probably how I’ll write my future novels. But the thing is, how and when am I going to break out of this fallow period I’m in? I have things to write all right, but when I sit down I’m not in the mood. I know a writer has to overcome those moods, but I just haven’t been able to do it lately. I have a novel to finish, Highway Sailor. I have a few “Works in Progress” to finish. And so what do I do? I write this inane stuff in my journal about not being able to write. Write, goddammit. Write! Spite. Right. Night. Flight. Plight. Bright. Sight. Dick Strite. He was a sportswriter who covered the University of Oregon football team for the Eugene Register-Guard when I was there in the early ’60s. He never interviewed me in the two years I was on the team. Why would he? I was a lowly fourth stringer. I thought I was as good as any other running back on the team, but the coaches thought differently. Therefore I sat on the bench. I, along with my fellow fourth stringers, ran the plays of our upcoming opponent and defended against our team’s offense. Today our fourth string would be known as the Scout Team. I’ll give it another name: The Cannon Fodder Squad.
Wednesday, April 26, 2000 – A Great Power
This past Sunday, Joan and I visited our friend Ruth Britton at her condo in Marin County. The three of us went for a walk around Lake Lagunitas. We came back to Ruth’s for a late lunch of chicken, salad, asparagus, wine, and great conversation, all of this enhanced by taking a few tokes of weed. Ruth read a passage from her journal about her arrival in California and why she stayed. She wrote a great first draft, unlike my own first drafts.
While at Ruth’s I got an idea for a short story—about a man who gains a great power. A homeless man stops our hero on busy Market Street in downtown San Francisco. He says to our hero that he would have a great power if he bought a small recording device from him. “How much?” our hero asks. “Five dollars,” says the man. “How will I gain this great power?” our hero asks. “First of all,” says the man, “I need to know if you’re married or not.” “I’m married,” our hero replies. “Good. Have your wife say she loves you into it. If you do that you’ll gain a great power.” “What kind of power?” “I can’t tell you.” Our hero starts walking away. “Where are you going?” the homeless man says. Our hero knows the man is a con artist, but he stops and turns. “Why don’t you use the recorder yourself?” he says. “It seems like you need it more than I do.” “It doesn’t work for a person who’s not married.” “Why are you choosing me to buy it?” “I just got off the bus and was going to offer it to the first married man who crossed my path.” “Where do you come from?” our hero asks. “If I told you,” said the man, “you wouldn’t believe me.” “Can I trust what you’re saying?” “Absolutely. To be honest, I’d actually give you this small recorder, but you’d throw it away if I did. That’s why I’m only asking five dollars for it.” “Do you need the money?” our hero asks. “No,” says the man. “It’s only for your good that I’m asking you to buy it.” Our hero goes for his wallet and hands the man a five dollar bill. “What should I do with it?” our hero asks. “Have your wife say she loves you into it.” “Is that all?” “No. After she says she loves you, and if she really does, then you’re going to have to listen to it every day for a whole month.” “You’re crazy, man.” “Believe me, if you do what I say you’ll possess a great power that you’ll pass on to the world.” “What is this great power you’re talking about?” “All I can tell you,” says the homeless man, “is that you’ll be a very happy man with your newfound power.”
Our hero arrives home after work and has his wife record her voice into it. What he finds out by listening to “Joe, this is your wife. I love you” several times during the day for a whole month is that his work goes much more smoothly, and that he gets along much better with his boss, his co-workers, his wife, and teenage son. The homeless man was correct. Our hero gained a great power. The power he’s gained is that he loves, is loved, and he becomes a better man for it. And somewhere along the line he conveys this message to the whole world.
Friday, April 28, 2000 – Health
Last night Alan Blum had the Royal Flush over to his apartment in Marin County for dinner and poker. I won some money for the second month in a row. Alan put together a great meal of fish, pasta, and salad, plus there was plenty of wine, beer, and pot to go around.
I’m getting anxious to go to Europe. We have less than two weeks till we take off on Alitalia Airlines to Athens via Milan. I think I’ll like Athens a lot. When I was there 34 years ago I saw very little of the city. I believe I was there for only two or three days and got sick with the runs. We’ll be there at least five days this time. Then it’ll be off to Delphi and on to the islands of Santorini and Crete. We’ll then fly from Crete to Rome. We’ll hit Florence and Venice for a few days each, spend a night at Lake Como, and take off from Milan for a flight back to San Francisco.
What have I been doing since April of last year? I’ve been reworking Highway Sailor, revising the galleys of Morning Pages, writing in my journal, and attending my water aerobics class three days a week. The water class tires the hell out of me, but it’s important that I go because it gets my blood flowing and the water’s resistance is building up my strength. In other words, it’s important for my health, for as Mahatma Gandhi once said, “It is health which is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.”
Last night I went to the San Francisco Writers’ Workshop. I read a short piece called “Black Monday.” It didn’t go well. Tamim Ansary, the leader of the Workshop, gave me some good tips to improve it. It’s incomplete is why. I left a lot out. I now have an idea what to do with it.
I made a date with myself today to write as soon as I got home from my water aerobics class, and here I am, writing. It would be good for me to come home and write in my journal after my water class. It’ll get me in good mental shape, just like I’m in good physical shape. I’ve been doing water aerobics for seven months now. Nancy van Gelder is doing a fabulous job of leading the class. She’s a force. “Nancy,” I’ve told her a few times, “you’re going to extend my life ten years.” The reason being, she keeps us moving by giving us a wide variety of arm and leg movements. She’s one of the best instructors I’ve ever had. She’s upbeat, passionate, positive.
Joan and I will take off for Greece at 3:45 p.m. next Thursday. I’m getting anxious. It’s practically all I can think of. I think about my writing, of course, but my head isn’t totally into it. It’s into sharing the adventure with Joan in Greece and Italy. It’ll be an unforgettable trip. I know it. We’ll have a great time. I’m looking forward to it. That’s the word, “looking forward,” instead of “anxious.” Maybe the word is “eager.” Yes, that’s the word, I’m eagerly awaiting the trip.
I just called Creative Arts a few minutes ago after reading around in Poets and Writers magazine. Creative Arts had an advertisement in it. It had its books listed for the upcoming Fall season. I felt my book Morning Pages should have been included in the ad. So I called to talk to Don Ellis, who wasn’t in. I talked to the managing editor, Lissa. She told me to call Richard Silver, head of publicity, next week after he gets back from vacation.
It was Don Ellis who taught me to be aggressive. I told him, after he accepted my book, that he rejected a couple of novels of mine before he accepted Morning Pages, and his reply was, “Why didn’t you call me?” I interpreted that as, “Why weren’t you more aggressive?” So now I’m being more aggressive.
I talked to Alan Blum last week and we discussed my dislike for his not paying his part of the bill sometimes. A couple of times this year I’ve been out with him and he’s come up with, “I don’t have enough money.” I told him he doesn’t respect his friends when he expects us to pay his part of the bill. He didn’t fight me. He actually said he was sorry and wouldn’t do it again.
Saturday, May 13, 2000 – Athens
We’re at the top of the city, the Acropolis, walking around and admiring the Parthenon, the place Pericles built in 5th century B.C. in honor of Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom. It is truly one of the great sites in the world. Why? Because it was built 2500 years ago. It’s right in the middle of Athens, overlooking the whole city. The views are truly spectacular because it’s not so smoggy today. There’s been a breeze, which has cleared out most of the smog.
Joan loves the Plaka District. There are no cars there. There are tables outside tavernas and restaurants and there are plenty of shops. I bought a cap for 1000 drachmas, which equals about three dollars.
After our plane touched down yesterday, Joan came out of the women’s bathroom holding a woman’s bracelet. I thought it was heavy enough to be gold. Joan thought it was a piece of costume jewelry. Today we walked into a jewelry store, had the shopkeeper look at it, and he said it was worth somewhere between $500-$700. It’s going to be our good luck charm for this trip.
We flew into Athens’ airport around 5:30 p.m. and caught a taxi into town. It cost us twelve dollars to drive seven miles in a little less than an hour. The traffic was atrocious! We checked into the Astor Hotel on Karageorgiou-Servias Street. Our room is perfect. It has two single beds next to each other with hard mattresses.
From what I’ve gathered so far, almost everyone we’ve come in contact with speaks English.
We had dinner at our hotel last night for $30, which was expensive for the little we ordered.
It’s hot where I sit at the Acropolis. Shade is a luxury up here. I’ve got to get some sunglasses, the sun’s glare is killing me.
My hip isn’t doing well today, goddammit.
I love the Parthenon. This is the glory of Greece and of Western Civilization. Joan thinks the Greeks should do more to protect this wonder of the world. For instance, they should try to rid of cars that pollute. They can do something about it and I hear they’re trying to do it in small increments. But they need to take larger steps in preserving this monument to mankind.
Sunday, May 14, 2000 – Athens
Joan and I are in the peaceful Agora, where the business of old Athens used to take place. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and all the other great philosophers and writers of Greece used to walk these grounds where I sit and write.
Monday, May 15, 2000 – Athens
Saturday it was the Acropolis. Sunday it was the Agora. Today was the National Archeological Museum.
I got stoned and busted to death at the museum. That’s all you see are stone statues or busts. Mostly all of them are of the Greek gods, such as Athena, Pan, Satyr, Apollo, Artemis, and Poseidon.
Tuesday, May 16, 2000 – Athens
So many things to write about. Our travel agent (Anwar Ahmed of Passepartout Tours); a shopkeeper I’ve talked to a few times and bought a pair of sunglasses from (Michael); our desk clerk (Theodore); the ruins we’ve seen; the Acropolis, Agora, National Museum; meeting two US secret service agents at an outdoor restaurant (Sam and Lawrence); the many cats and dogs who cross our path; the masses of people; and an unending stream of cars.
Last night, at a restaurant in the Plaka, we were served “selection fish,” as our waiter called it—a large platter of a whole fish (head and tail included), shrimp, and skate. A few nights ago we had dinner on the roof of Hotel Astor with a fantastic view of the lit up Parthenon. By the way, breakfast at the hotel consists of hard-boiled eggs, diluted orange juice, canned peaches, coffee, milk, and dry cereal.
Athens—the hustling shopkeepers and waiters in the Plaka, noticing the young, large-breasted Greek women in their tight shirts and pants, the short and stocky men built like marble blocks, the sex channel with women rubbing their bare breasts while the number for men to call is flashing on the TV screen, the blue skies and white clouds on a clear day—Athens.
The Greeks—what kind of people are they? They’re very smart and adaptable. They speak many languages—no language problem for us or any other tourist because tourism is the major business of Athens. The Greeks, I have to admit, are behind the times when it comes to cigarettes and cars. Every Greek, it seems, smokes cigarettes; and their smog-belching cars are ruining their ruins.
While at the Parthenon for a second time we met and talked with Vagelis, a very proud Athenian (his ancestors go back to the beginning of Athens). Vagelis is the head supervisor of the unending reconstruction going on up there.
Thursday, May 18, 2000 – Delphi
Joan and I took a tour bus to Delphi yesterday. Nicoletta, who spoke English and French for us American, English, and French tourists, was our guide. She would talk into the microphone every so often and explain things, such as out of ten million Greeks, five million live in Athens. She said the shrines and crosses on the road signify deaths from car accidents at those very spots. Nicoletta said how the Athenians, when told they could drive in the city center only every other day, went out and bought a second car so they could drive on days they couldn’t drive their other car. In other words, the plan to cut down on smog backfired on the officials.
We arrived in Delphi (about 100 miles northwest of Athens) and walked past the Oracle of Delphi, which is in front of the Temple of Apollo. The Oracle of Delphi was founded in 1200 B.C. and was called the navel of the world. Very hilly country up this way. High elevation. Beautiful blue sky and white clouds. A quiet town. There’s no hustling from the shopkeepers like there is in Athens.
We stayed at the Xenia Hotel last night. It was just the opposite of Athens—so quiet. We didn’t hear one car, nothing, no noise. Great.
Friday, May 19, 2000 – On a Ferry to Santorini
We woke up early this morning to get to the port town of Piraeus. Cristos, our driver, was right on time. I have to hand it to the Greeks—they have this tourist business down to a science. They pick you up on time and drop you off on time. They don’t expect tips.
The showers in the three hotel rooms where we’ve stayed so far are very small. They’re half the size of what we’re used to in the States.
We’re now ferrying out of the port of Piraeus on a very smoggy day. No wind or breeze, hence the car and bus fumes add up in a city of five million. Thank goodness we’re headed to an island where the air is clean.
Saturday, May 20, 2000 – Santorini
We’re on the beautiful island of Santorini. From what we’ve seen so far, it’s one big tourist trap, but an elegant one, unlike the Plaka District in Athens.
We had a romantic dinner last night at Aris Restaurant on a cliff overlooking a beautiful sunset. We’re about to eat breakfast Greek style: coffee, hard-boiled eggs, apples, oranges, juice, melba toast, cheese and ham slices. It’s the same type of breakfast we’ve had since we arrived in Greece a week ago.
Joan and I are happy. The place we’re at for another night is the Phillipion Hotel, just outside the town of Fira. The night was quiet, like Delphi. It was the coolest night we’ve experienced so far.
We have a spacious room, small shower, hard mattress (like a box spring) (the “matrimonio” room as the smoking hotel clerk called it, because of the double bed instead of two single beds next to each other). We have a little balcony overlooking a swimming pool, which we probably won’t use.
On the ferry ride yesterday, we met a young man who has one more year left at Arizona State University. Jeremy was his name. Joan took to him as if he were her son. Very smart kid. He’s going to work this summer on the island of Ios for a Norwegian couple who run a Mexican restaurant. It’s an island for the world’s young—in other words, a lot of drinking, sex, and drugs going on. After he graduates with a degree in Computer Information Systems, he’s going to travel for a year.
Sunday, May 21, 2000 – Santorini
Joan is in a museum and I’m at a cafe trying to write my impressions of this trip.
Santorini—full of tourists. It’s hard to walk on the main street, so we get off it and when you get off it there are no cars, only restaurants, cafes, bars, jewelry and souvenir shops. All a tourist sees is other tourists, shops, and hustlers outside their shops or restaurants, buses going on tours, and more tourists. That’s it.
We went on a tour of Akrotiri yesterday. The people who once lived there were forward-looking people. They were builders of an organized city where there was a water system, toilets, beds, and art. They were quite an advanced society that dates back 3500 years. The people were very short, for one thing. They worked together for the good of the whole. Archeologists are working on the site every day and their work probably won’t end for another fifty years. It will be a great spectacle when finished. Their site was wiped out by a volcano over two thousand or possibly three thousand years ago.
We were taken for the best meal since we arrived in Greece—a place called Popeye’s. We had typical Greek food overlooking the beach. The previous night at Aris Restaurant was pretty good, too. On the whole the meals have been good. Good for you, too. They know how to cook vegetables, rice, and meat. Always the right combinations. Their bread is also good.
After visiting Akrotiri and lunch, we went on a tour of Santos Winery, the only winery on the island. They don’t water their grapes because water is very scarce on Santorini. The grapes pick up moisture from the sea air and fog. The lady who took us on a tour introduced us to an old, black, female dog with big teats named Santos, who, you could tell, was very proud of her surroundings.
I bought Joan a gold ring yesterday for $40. She loved it. The people we bought it from were supposed to repair her bracelet she found at the Athens airport but the person who was to do the work was out of town. It needs a little fixing and it will be a symbol of the wonderful trip we’re on. It’s a good luck charm, just like when we found a ring on a tree branch in Golden Gate Park the day our son Ray was born.
So how am I getting along with my wife? Fantastic. We’re doing extremely well after being together for eight or nine days straight.
Monday, May 22, 2000 – Heraklion, Crete
We arrived in Heraklion, Crete, last night after a four-hour ferry ride on the El Greco Line. El Greco, the 16th century artist, along with Nikos Kazantzakis, who wrote Zorba the Greek, was born in Heraklion. This is the island where the Minoans settled.
We took a taxi to Hotel Atrion. Small room, planes flying overhead, a party going on in a restaurant across the street, and a guy’s loud snoring in the room next to ours. We came to Crete for quiet, and all we get is noise. It was hot, too. It was a hellish night. So this morning we asked for and got a different room.
I’m writing outside of Heraklion’s Archeological Museum. Joan is inside. I’m just not an artifact-type of guy. I like to watch people much more than looking at murals and artifacts. We drove a rented car to the museum. It was like an obstacle course getting here. But we made it, thank goodness.
I mustn’t forget our waiter, Roberto, who twice served us while dining. He told us he works seven months out of the year, twelve to fourteen hours a day, and takes five months off to tend to his olive trees in the countryside.
Wednesday, May 24, 2000 – Chania and Heraklion
Chania is my favorite city so far, better than Athens, Delphi, Santorini, and Heraklion. It’s on the coast, not too busy, and the shopkeepers don’t hustle you to death. It has a great area for restaurants that surround a small harbor.
All we’ve hit are tourist sights. We go where tourists go. We walk, we look in at a myriad of shops, we eat and drink, we say “Thank you” a hundred times a day, we sleep on hard mattresses in small rooms with tiny showers, we watch CNN in English on TV, we sit and people-watch, especially the slim Greek women in skimpy shirts who possess large breasts, we go to museums and ruins, we nod to fellow travelers, we see the Greeks killing themselves as they smoke their cancer sticks and drive their fuming cars, we see the same merchandise in town after town, we eat and drink outside at restaurants and cafes, we see tourists in their touristy garb of short pants, sandals, camera in hand, we hear that damn constant buzz of motor scooters, we are careful when crossing streets, we see and hear the city waking up in the morning, and we hear Greek, French, Italian, German, and Japanese spoken. We’re tourists, coming and going, packing and unpacking, asking directions, we see beautiful sunsets and sites, we take pictures of ourselves in front of these famous sites, we come across sleek dogs and cats, we sleep, we dream, we make love to our spouses much more than if we were at home. We’re on vacation. We don’t work, but we see a lot of work going on around us. Our job is to spend money. My wife and I are a part of a class of people called Tourist.
On our drive of 150 miles from Heraklion to Chania over a mountain road and through a valley and seeing how beautiful the valley was, Joan wanted to stop in a small town. We met a young man whose garden we were admiring. Joan gushed with how beautiful and fertile his garden looked. The young man climbed over a short, wooden fence and picked a yellow rose for her, thanking her for her compliment and welcoming her to Crete.
We’re back in Heraklion. I’m sitting outside the Archeological Museum again while Joan is inside for her second stint. Me, I’m museumed-out, stoned-out, busted-out, and ruined-out.
After Joan comes out we’ll be going to dinner. We figured out the best way to eat and not gain weight, and that is to eat the complimentary breakfast at the hotel and then eat a very late lunch or early dinner like we’re going to do tonight. One meal out, in other words. It’s enough. And order one main dish, not two, along with a vegetable or salad.
I haven’t heard one airplane in Heraklion since we got back around 2:30 p.m. That’s all we heard the first night and the next day because we were told the Greek air force was going through maneuvers.
On the trip from Heraklion to Chania, on the beach where I swam in the warm Mediterranean, Joan, after we left the beach for Chania, forgot her hooded-sweater and felt sad about it. Twenty-four hours later, on our way back to Heraklion, we stopped at the same beach and found the sweater.
Everything is meshing for us on this trip. From finding an expensive bracelet, to catching ferries on time, to meeting helpful people, to seeing the sights, to eating and getting along with each other.
Thursday, May 25, 2000 – Heraklion
We’re at the Heraklion airport waiting to board a flight to Rome. We’re going to miss the Greek people. Almost all of them speak English. Yes, we’re going to miss the square-headed Greek men (I call them blockheads) and the pulchritudinous women. But we’re not going to miss the puffers and smokers, the car fumes, and the hustlers, especially in the Plaka District.
Sunday, May 28, 2000 – Rome
We arrived in Rome Thursday night around 7:00 p.m. We took the train from the airport into the city and then caught a Metro subway to the Colosseum stop. We walked several blocks from the Colosseum (with our baggage on wheels, sweating profusely) and finally arrived at Hotel Lancelot. We showered and went out for a little something to eat. We slept on the best bed in our travels. There was even a decent shower where we could stand in it like our shower at home.
The next morning we visited the Colosseum, where barbaric acts of man against man, man against animal, and animal against animal took place. Our hotel is located three blocks from the Colosseum. We took two free tours that day (but left generous tips), given by two young American men who made it extremely interesting for us. One tour was the Colosseum (we learned that it was built mostly by Jewish slaves) and the other the Roman Forum. The young man who guided us through the Forum performed Shakespeare’s Marc Anthony speech—”Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears…”
That night we went to the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain and had dinner at a small restaurant where the minestrone soup was excellent.
Yesterday, for nine hours, all we did was tour. I think we paid something like $150 each, lunch included. The first part of the tour was Vatican City, then we were taken to a few churches and ended up at the catacombs where they buried the early Christians. The highlights for me were Michelangelo’s painting of the “Creation” on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and Raphael’s “School of Athens,” a mural depicting Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, and other classical Greek philosophers, poets, and mathematicians. I was completely exhausted at the end of the day. All the art, all the monuments, it was just too much to absorb in one fell swoop.
And now, after making wonderful love, eating breakfast, and taking our first cab ride in Rome, we’re sitting outside the Borghese Gallery (famous for its collection of Bernini sculptures) ready to go inside and look at more art.
My wife is happy, as I am too.
Monday, May 29, 2000 – Rome
I feel drained of energy from so much walking and from Rome’s heat and humidity. I feel like a new man, though, with Joan. There’s nothing like traveling to bring back the early romance of our relationship. So here I sit, facing the Colosseum and also facing an unending flow of traffic. It’s a beautiful day in Rome, the puffy white clouds making it cooler than it ordinarily would be, but it’s still very humid.
Rome is ancient sights, museums, churches and more churches, cars, people, scooters, and monuments. It’s a big, crowded city. It’s a beautiful city with unending noise (except on Sunday where there was little traffic and noise). Once you’ve seen one church you’ve seen them all. There were great artists who worked in this city—Raphael, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Bernini. And then there were the Roman dictators who ruined Rome with their barbaric treatment of human beings. The same with the popes. It was the Roman Republic, from 509 B.C. to 27 B.C., that should be cherished in Italy instead of its Caesars, Popes, and churches. That was when the people supposedly ruled. First it was the Greeks, then the Romans, and then for almost 2000 years there was no democracy in the world until the United States was formed in 1787.
Joan went to the Vatican again this morning. She could go to museums every day on this trip. Me, I could write for hours in the shade. This is one of those rare moments when I have a chance to do it.
At St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City the other day, I saw people worshipping icons, kissing the feet of a statue of a man who is supposedly St. Peter. Religion, it’s an opiate, it’s a drug, it’s irrational. It’s incredible that popes, bishops, rabbis, imams, and priests have so much power. They don’t deserve it. No one deserves that kind of power. We, the people, don’t even deserve it sometimes. After all, wasn’t it democracy that put Socrates to death? But churches and synagogues and mosques and the people who attend them regularly, don’t they understand that you can lead a spiritual life without all that pomp and circumstance? Just look at nature and the beauty that we humans have created, and there you see the spiritual working its magic.
A cool breeze wafts through the air. Rome seems filled with tourists. There are so many tour buses. It’s a city on the GO, except for Sunday when people can relax and enjoy life a little.
It’s almost 1:20 p.m. I’ll be meeting Joan at 3:00 p.m. at the Spanish Steps. I hope she’s enjoying the Vatican Museum.
We were so exhausted yesterday when we got back to Hotel Lancelot. We went to bed around 8:00 p.m. This is truly our second honeymoon.
Thursday, June 1, 2000 – Florence and Siena
Those motherfucking motor scooters are like hornets. Their sound never stops. There’s that constant rrrrrrrrrrrrr going on.
We’re staying at Hotel Silla in Florence. Florence is leather, art, and those fucking motor scooters. They kept me up all last night; that’s why we’re changing rooms. Please, God, let the new room be quieter tonight.
To get out of the constant traffic of Florence, we took a bus to Siena today. It took about 30 minutes just to get out of Florence and another 45 minutes to get to Siena. The Italian countryside was a lush green. Thank goodness for Siena—no cars, no motor scooters. It’s just people in the central part of the city. Cars and scooters are not allowed. Joan thinks we’re polluting ourselves to death. We have to come up with non-polluting ways of transportation. It’s necessary—to save our lives and lungs. We have to do it. It’s going to be one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century.
Tuesday night in Rome we ate at Ristorante Tre Scalini, around the block from Hotel Lancelot. David, our waiter, made our stay in Rome a memorable one. He served us the best food we’ve eaten on this trip—exquisite food, part French but mainly Italian, from appetizers to the main dish to dessert. Great dishes all, served on beautiful white, artistic plates. Although the restaurant was filled, the talk of the clientele was muted, which is very unusual. David’s service and hospitality was superb. He even presented us with a bottle of white wine as we were leaving.
So here we are in Siena, to get away from scooters and cars. They don’t allow such things in the city center. From what I’ve gathered, it’s the first city to do this sort of thing. And they’ve been doing it for thirty-five years. Such a civilized city. People don’t want to think of dodging cars and breathing fumes every second. This is what takes the life out of a tourist and city dweller. That’s why we have to make living more livable with transportation that doesn’t pollute or make noise, a transportation system where the center of town should be car-free and scooter-free.
Friday, June 2, 2000 – Florence
It’s hot. I just limped a few miles by myself on a very gimpy arthritic hip (Joan is at the Uffizi Gallery). I’m sitting in the center of Boboli Gardens. I had to pay 4000 Lira to get in. I paid because I don’t like to be around cars and buzzing scooters. I need quiet. And quiet it is where I am right now.
Yesterday we sought quiet and found it in the small town of Siena. Joan was in heaven. We stayed five hours, then headed back for Florence.
It is quiet that we seek ever since we arrived in Europe. And it seems like the quiet areas in Athens, Siena, Heraklion, Chania, Rome, and Florence are where the tourists congregate.
I’m sitting alone, in the shade, a beautiful scene before me of a tall statue of Neptune surrounded by water in a very formal park setting.
That’s what Europe is—it’s old and has its old ways, America is new and has its new ways. You don’t see modern art in parks and museums in Europe, you see centuries and millenniums of old art. Europe is stuck in the old, America is new and vigorous and exciting. Thank goodness I live in America where we don’t have to follow tradition so closely, where we don’t live off the past but in the present. Thank goodness I am who I am, a man who sees beauty in the old but reveres new and exciting forms of expression. Maybe that’s what I’m trying to get at. New expression! Where does it take place more than any place on earth? In America, the land where I live. The land of Saroyan, Ferlinghetti, and Jackie Robinson. The land of Whitman, Toni Morrison, and Joseph Heller. The land of Clancy Sigal, Meryl Streep, Frances Ford Coppola, Marlon Brando and a whole host of artists who inhabit our land.
tGreece and Italy surely have their creative people, but they are restoring the old, which is needed in this world, giving us a picture of the past, but it’s America, the land of the new, that will lead us into the future.
Monday, June 5, 2000 – Venice
Here I sit in Venice, at the busy Rialto Bridge, waiting for my wife to walk into every store in the area. We’ve stopped at about thirty stores since we started out from Hotel Marin (over the bridge from the train station) to where we are now, about one and a half miles away.
The temperature is in the high eighties. It’s been hot every day on this trip. Venice, unlike Florence and Rome, is a city where you can walk without having to worry about cars and scooters. It’s a very beautiful city, as most Italian cities are, but without the worry of being run over.
Venice, like Florence and Rome, is a very commercial city. Their business is unending. In other words, there’s always a constant flow of tourists coming to these cities. The business people, as a whole, must be very well off. In Florence and Venice they know how to dress a window. They’re more dignified than the Romans, from my point of view. And the Italian business people, they’re so unlike the Greeks. The Greeks are the greatest hustlers I’ve ever come across. It turns me off when you look at an item outside their shop, they think it gives them carte blanche to get you inside their shop. The Italians—you can walk into their shops and they’ll leave you alone until you want help. Very sophisticated. The Greeks and Italians are polar opposites.
The weather is hot, which means the women don’t wear as much. They wear flimsy shirts with low necklines. For a breast-watching man like me, Greece and Italy have been Breast Heaven.
The Italians, like the Greeks, must have very close family ties. You don’t see begging or drunkenness, or any sign of crime. Honesty begets honesty. It’s made me more honest, such as paying to get on buses and boats where no one checks your stub. It’s the honor system. And when you see clean streets, you wait till you come to a trash can to throw something away.
The different boat lines on the Grand Canal seem to run non-stop all day long. It’s great to have no cars or scooters around. We both slept very well last night.
Sunday, June 11, 2000 – Back in the USA
Notes of our trip:
(1) While Joan was window shopping or going into the shops in Athens’ Plaka District, or the shops in Chania, or the Spanish Steps area in Rome, or the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, or all of Venice, I stood outside in the shade in hot, humid weather, taking a breather and watching all the people walking by. That was what pleased me most—watching people. My wife walked into practically every shop she passed in every city we visited. It gave me a chance to become a great watcher of all the beautiful women that my eyes happened upon.
(2) We thought San Francisco was fast-paced. But wait till you get to Athens, Heraklion, and Rome. It’s twice as fast.
(3) There were cars and those damn buzzing scooters galore in Europe. We had a taxi driver in crowded Rome who, in fifteen minutes, didn’t stop once till he got us to our destination. It was a harrowing ride done by a true professional.
(4) How did Joan and I get along being in each other’s company for a whole month with very few breaks? It was like a second honeymoon for us, that’s how good the trip was. Except one day in Florence, because of a misunderstanding, we got into an argument. “Go back to the room,” she ordered after swearing up and down at me, right after I swore up and down at her. All this because of a misunderstanding in a cafeteria line. It was like her telling our son Ray, when he did something wrong as a young boy, “Go to your room.” And guess what? I walked back in the stifling heat and humidity to Hotel Silla, got undressed, and read in Joseph Heller’s God Knows, a book I’d been reading on our trip, a book where the narrator is King David of Israel. And here’s a passage I came across after taking pictures of Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia Gallery only a half hour earlier:
…about that stupid statue of Michelangelo’s in Florence that’s supposed to be me: he’s got me beardless, clean-shaven, without a hair on my face—and not only that, he’s got me standing there in public stark naked, with that uncircumcised prick! If that Michelangelo Buonarroti had possessed even the dimmest idea of how we Jews felt about nudity, he never would have put me up there on that pedestal out in the open with my schlong hanging down, and with that homely, funny foreskin no self-respecting Jew would let himself be caught dead with. I never had time like his David did to stand around all day for centuries doing nothing, with just a sling on my shoulders and no clothes on, not even a loincloth to hide my nakedness. It may be a good piece of work, taken all in all, but it just isn’t me. And besides, if Bathsheba was telling me the truth, I have, or did have, a much bigger dick than he does, even without the funny foreskin. Foreskins are always so funny-looking I’m surprised anyone keeps them. That’s the real reason we circumcise; we like to look nice.
No, what we have from Michelangelo, I’m afraid, is not David from Bethlehem in Judah but a Florentine fag’s idea of what a handsome Israelite youth might look like if he were a naked Greek catamite instead of the hardy, ruddy-faced shepherd boy who walked to Shochoh with a carriage of provisions for his three brothers that day and stayed to beat down the detestable boasting of the Philistine giant Goliath.
(5) I went with Joan to many museums and churches in Greece and Italy. We were always in crowds of people except for one day and one night in Varenna on Lake Como.
(6) The Italians eat a lot of starch and cheese. The Greeks eat healthier and heartier food.
(7) Most of the people in Greece smoked. A billboard with a cigarette pack between a woman’s breasts was a prominent advertisement in all of Greece.
(8) E-mailing is becoming a big thing for travelers in Europe at the beginning of the 21st century. We e-mailed our friends and family from every city we were in.
(9) The parks in Rome are like green oases—you wouldn’t even know you were in a busy city.
(10) Unlike the United States, all the cities we visited didn’t have a building more than eight stories high.
(11) At Rome’s Termini Train Station, the Gypsies are ready to pounce on you for your wallet. That’s why there’s so much prejudice against Gypsies. Someone said to me, “It’s their life to steal.”
(12) Here’s an e-mail letter I sent my brother Maurice after we arrived back from Europe:
Dear Bro Moe,
Europe was great. It brought new life to Joan and me. We liked Greece very much. We went to the Parthenon twice because we liked it so much. The food in Greece was good and reasonably priced. The restaurant and shop owners are always trying to hustle you in Greece. The Italians, on the other hand, are sophisticated, they don’t know what hustling is. Athens, Rome, and Florence had so many scooters and cars that it was dangerous crossing the street in those cities. Every block in those cities has some great monument, sculpture, or ruin on it. Their past is very much a part of their culture, unlike the USA. And thank goodness we’re from the New World. We’d probably be selling linens today like our father if we had been born in a Mediterranean country.
What city did we like best? They were all different. We liked and hated them all for one reason or another. Our best hotel room was in Rome. We didn’t hear a sound for five nights. We learned that five million out of ten million Greeks live in Athens. The traffic and noise was unending in Athens. But the Parthenon was the highlight of our whole trip. I also liked touring Rome’s Colosseum and Forum. A guide told us Hebrew slaves built the Colosseum. In Italy, the church bells ring every fifteen minutes to remind the Italians they’re Catholic.
We didn’t see any poverty or any panhandlers in either country. Family and religion are very important in those two cultures, so important that they’re probably antidotes to drugs, crime, and poverty.
Our trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it was exhausting, what with the 80-degree temperatures and high humidity and not speaking the language and having to be extremely aware when crossing the street. Traveling takes a lot out of you. Venice was extremely different from any other city. Picture a whole city without a car or motor scooter in it. Just to walk around Venice was a thrill. Late at night, while in bed, you don’t hear that car hummmmmm that takes over most cities on this planet. It was actually too quiet.
Most of the people we asked directions of spoke English. We didn’t meet one rude person on the whole trip. Next time we travel abroad, we’re going to make it three weeks instead of a month. A month is just too long to be away from home. And one more thing: the first minute we arrived in Europe, at the Athens airport, Joan was coming out of the restroom and found a bracelet on the floor. She showed it to me and we thought it was costume jewelry. A day or so later, we stopped by a jewelry store in Athens and they told us it was 22 carat gold and was worth around $500. Joan took it to a jeweler here in San Francisco and he said it was worth maybe $700.
Friday July 21, 2000 – Arthritis
Earlier this week I finished going over an edited version of my short story collection, The Immortal Mouth and Other Stories. It took me more than a month to do it. Now I’m getting ready for the release of Morning Pages in late September or early October.
Oh, how I wish I could have walked around Europe without pain. How I wish I could get into and out of a car without a struggle, how I wish I could get out of bed all loose and ready for a new day. It’s these arthritic hips of mine, they’re making me feel like an old man. I sometimes wonder, “What if I didn’t play football all the way through my college years, would I have arthritis today?”
My friend Bob Lane, who I talked to on the phone this morning, he’s my age and is going to play in a softball tournament this weekend. My God, if I could do what he’s doing I’d be a very happy man. People who don’t have arthritis don’t know how lucky they are. But that means a person stuck in a wheelchair, like my editor Lynn Park at Creative Arts Books and my writing friend Gale Kaplan who has multiple sclerosis, they think I’m lucky. It’s all relative, I guess. We just have to play with the cards dealt us. There’s no other way around it.
Saturday, July 22, 2000 – Democracy
Who was it who said that democracy is the worst form of government but still the best? I just looked it up. It was Winston Churchill: “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” He was saying democracy was surely better than autocracy, oligarchy, plutocracy, theocracy, or monarchy.
Some people will think me a fool when I say we live in a democracy. Those people will argue that it’s a plutocracy or oligarchy we live in, a government ruled by the very wealthy. Yes, those with great wealth have tremendous influence on how our country is run. Think of all the politicians who are bought off and all the lobbyists who represent wealth and large corporations in Washington D.C. and in every state and city government. Money speaks volumes. Money propagandizes. But, goddammit, as long as my vote counts, I still believe in democracy.
Speaking of voting, Greece, the birthplace of democracy, voted to execute one of the great minds of Western Civilization: Socrates. In a democracy, free speech is a fundamental right, but a vote of 280-221 by an all-male jury in Athens found Socrates guilty for speaking his mind. The second vote for his execution by hemlock, 360-141, was much larger because Socrates, when asked how he should be punished, said he should be given a free meal by the city-state every day for the remainder of his life. The jury didn’t like that he made fun of them.
As soon as I finish this journal entry, I’m going to start reading I.F. Stone’s The Trial of Socrates. Why am I interested in Socrates? It has to do with a man whose name is synonymous with philosophy. He was put to death for airing his opinions in a democratic society. The charges against him were impiety toward the Athenian gods and corrupting the youth. What is it that sparks my interest in this one man? Because Joan and I visited Greece and stood atop the Acropolis and walked around the spectacular Parthenon a couple of months ago. We walked around the Agora, the ancient marketplace just below the Acropolis. It was a thrill to walk in the footsteps of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and all the other great poets, writers, politicians, historians, and philosophers of that time. That’s why people visit Athens, the birthplace of democracy, to walk among its ruins. Was Socrates’ trial a stain on democracy? From what I’ve gathered, Socrates was a fierce opponent of democracy. Why would he be against something that made him what he was, a freethinker? Why would he bite the hand that was feeding him? That’s why I want to read I.F. Stone’s book to find out.
Wednesday, July 26, 2000 – Homelessness
Yesterday I sat down at a table at my neighborhood library and there, sitting across from me, was Steve. I used to work with him at a coffeehouse here in San Francisco. We struck up a conversation and Steve told me he lost his job at McDonald’s, was staying nights at Ocean Beach for the past few weeks, not sleeping or eating well, seeing and hearing things, and reading a book in the library about computers and how they worked to try to get his concentration back. Steve was in serious need of help.
I was willing to help by finding him a place to stay. I asked the librarian if she knew where I could take him for lodging and food for the homeless. The librarian knew I was trying to help a homeless person and she gave me a list and let me use the library’s phone. I called one place and they recommended I call another place, which I did, and they told me to bring Steve in. After giving Steve all the bills in my wallet, we started out for the homeless shelter.
I drove to this place on Polk and Geary, right on the edge of the seedy Tenderloin District. It was crowded and awful in there, because that’s where the down-and-outers were congregated. They were disheveled people, men and women, black and white, native American, Hispanic, practically every one of them smoking cigarettes, probably a lot of them out of their minds due to alcohol and drugs in their systems.
It was so depressing to me that I needed to get the hell out of there fast. I didn’t want to have anything to do with this drug-alcohol-psycho-infested culture. “Let me out of here,” my insides were screaming. “It’s ugly, demoralizing, dirty, and the people have no will to help themselves.”
I left Steve, my old coffeehouse working mate for a month, to swim in that ugly cesspool. I knew that whatever I did to help him wouldn’t do any good. All hope was gone in his young 25-year-old soul. He would be a load to society for the rest of his life.
Maybe Steve will climb out of that mire someday to be a useful human being. I doubt it, I really do. I didn’t have the patience, like 99% of us humans, to see if a miracle would take place. Thank goodness for social workers, taking over what family and friends should do. They deserve medals of honor for doing what they can to help the homeless.
“Good luck, Steve. You’re the first person I ever knew who became homeless. Good luck and God be with you.”
Monday, July 31, 2000 – My Son, My Editor, and Joe Montana
Ray is working with a landscaper this summer. He’s not getting much work and has been hanging around the house too much lately, going to bed very late and waking up in the afternoon. I smelled pot downstairs a couple of nights ago. Pot makes one lethargic, as my son seems lately. What can I tell him that I haven’t already told him? It’ll go in one ear and out the other. He still has to pay $75 a month rent. He doesn’t know it yet, but he’ll get back all that money when he attends a four-year college.
Yesterday I had lunch with my Immortal Mouth and Other Stories editor, Lynn Park. She’s very disabled, having to go around in a wheelchair. She has a bone disease that makes her legs very short. A little more than a year ago she fell forward in her wheelchair on the street and broke both legs above the knee and cracked a kneecap. Awful. We ate lunch at a restaurant down the block from the church she attends in the Potrero Hill District. It was a warm, sunny day on the east side of town. Where we live in the West Portal District, two miles from the ocean, it’s always foggy or overcast in the summer. The whole country is boiling and we on the west side of town are cloaked in Joe Montana cool fog.
Joe “Cool” Montana, along with Ronnie Lott, Howie Long, Dave Wilcox, and Dan Rooney were admitted into the National Football League Hall of Fame this past weekend in Canton, Ohio. It got a lot of hype in the San Francisco newspapers because three of the five inductees played for the 49ers. I heard most of Joe’s and Ronnie’s speeches on radio and TV. As for Dave Wilcox (a 49er from 1965-74), I didn’t hear any of his speech, nor Howie Long’s (an Oakland/L.A. Raider), nor Dan Rooney’s (owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers). It was Joe and Ronnie who took the spotlight in San Francisco. They led the 49ers to four Super Bowl victories. A tremendous accomplishment. Joe gave his usual humble speech. Ronnie praised those from the past who helped him get to where he got, people like Paul Robeson and Marion Motley, two of the early black players in the NFL.
Lynn Park told me a story yesterday of her and her cat named Khat. She loved that cat like it was her own child. Their souls were somehow connected. Khat was dying of cancer. Lynn did everything she could to make Khat comfortable. The last night they were together, Khat couldn’t hold anything in. She heaved and heaved. It must have been terribly painful. Lynn made steak, the last supper for Khat, and Lynn chewed the steak as much as she could and gave Khat bits of it, which she could swallow. In bed the night Khat died, Lynn held her. She wrapped a towel around her and held her in her arms till morning came. Lynn, as you can see, loved Khat more than anything in the world. Tears were coming down her cheeks as she was telling me the story of her beloved Khat.
Thursday, August 3, 2000 – Socrates
I decided to read up on Socrates and find out, like I.F. Stone, why a man of his stature would be put on trial and then sentenced to death for expressing his philosophy in a democratic society? What I have been able to come up with, so far, is that Socrates was against the people of Athens ruling themselves. He thought “the people” were a herd of sheep that should be led by a shepherd. He believed only a few people with knowledge and wisdom should run a government. To him, those few people were called philosopher-kings. But I have a question: Why would Socrates downgrade the democracy he was living in when it allowed him free speech? Or did it? Did he think that Sparta, Athens’ rival, would have given him the freedom to leisurely walk around town and impart his philosophy? Hell no, Sparta was a very regimented society. So why would such a sharp mind like Socrates’ be against the democratic city-state he was living in? Didn’t he realize he wouldn’t have survived under any other type of government? Oh, he did survive under the Thirty Tyrants regime, the head tyrant being Critias, otherwise known as the Robespierre of his time. But Critias was once Socrates’ pupil.
I.F. Stone, a democrat, journalist, and scholar who I admire immensely, is influencing my views. It’s his story of Socrates. I’m getting deeper and deeper into this quagmire of Socrates, a man who never wrote down one word of his ideas, a man who lived 2500 years ago. All we have are the writings of Plato and Xenophon about him. But they were biased toward Socrates since they were his pupils. There is no objective account of Socrates except for maybe Aristophanes, who made fun of Socrates in his play The Clouds. The times were politically charged around the time of Socrates’ trial, because the democracy of Athens had been overrun twice in a short time by tyrants. Plato, Socrates’ greatest pupil, the one who made Socrates famous for his always questioning and making fools of knowledgeable men, was an aristocrat and against democracy. Critias, one of the thirty tyrants, was related to Plato.
Socrates was surely anti-democratic. It’s mentioned quite a bit in Plato’s works. For instance, if you want a shoe made, you don’t go to just any person, you go to a cobbler. If you want to know about farming, you don’t go to just any person, you go to a farmer. If you want to know about government, who do you go to? That’s the question Socrates was always asking. You don’t go to the common man, you go to someone who has knowledge and wisdom of running a government, a philosopher-king. This was always on Socrates’ mind. Here is a quote from Plato’s The Republic: “Until philosophers take to government, or those who now govern become philosophers, so that government and philosophy unite, there will be no end to the miseries of states.” But the question arises in my mind, as it does in I.F. Stone’s: Who is qualified to run a government, the people or an individual? And what if that individual is a tyrant? Most individual leaders were and still are tyrants. There was probably only one philosopher-king in all of history, as I.F. Stone points out, and that was the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. My wife Joan would add one more ruler, Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603). A democratic government, where the people ruled themselves, where they participated, was against Socrates’ or Plato’s belief system.
Sunday, August 6, 2000 – The Atomic Age
Today is a day to remember for three reasons. Hiroshima 1945; Skip Diamond, my good friend who is no longer with us was born on this day; and Don Ellis, my publisher, Mr. Creative Arts Book Company himself, it’s his birthday today. Don is 59, a year younger than me. Skip Diamond would have been 59 today. My hat goes off to Don, who told me to write more in my journal the other day, and to Skip Diamond, my former friend, confidant, and chiropractor who died a couple of years ago of liver cancer.
The atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima 55 years ago, and three days later, Nagasaki. Was it the right decision to completely destroy those two cities? God only knows. Those people who died and suffered from the blast, we, the world, owe them a debt of gratitude, for they were the guinea pigs of the Atomic Age. They bore the brunt of it. I hope we’ve learned that a nuclear blast shall never happen again, under any circumstances.
Wednesday, August 9, 2000 – Positive Thinking
My arthritic hips hurt and pain me when I walk. Last week, masseur Nikolai Shapkin, while working on them, told me the mind is so strong that it can alleviate the pain. “How?” I asked. He said, “If I phone you and tell you your wife died, how would you feel?” “I’d feel completely and utterly depressed.” But then Nikolai said, “If I told you it was a joke, you’d feel relieved and be very mad at me, wouldn’t you?” “Yes.” “That’s how strong the mind is, it will believe anything you tell it, or almost anything. So from now on, Joe, even if your hips pain you when you walk, say to yourself, ‘My hips feel good, they feel great.’ Keep repeating that to yourself as you’re walking.”
Well, I tried Nikolai’s advice for a few days and it’s all bullshit. Pain is pain is pain.
On the other hand, as I watch the first place Giants on TV, I can actually see what’s going on in their minds. They’re not thinking, “We’ve got to win this game.” They’re thinking, “We’re going to win this game.” You can see this positive thinking in their demeanor. It doesn’t happen often when a team exudes such confidence.
Thursday, August 10 2000 – My Wife and My Son
Joan has been busy with her friends for the past couple of weeks, what with going to the Sierra Storytelling Festival in the Nevada City area, going to Laura Simms’ residency for storytellers in Mendocino County, and coming home and being with her storytelling friends for a couple of days. Whew! Such whirlwind activity.
What is bothering me now is my 19-year-old son. He’s called Triple-A four times in the past few months, twice for a bad battery and twice for being locked out of his car. Plus he gets a couple of parking tickets a month. He makes so many mistakes and doesn’t seem to learn from them. It bothers me to no end. Is he stupid? Is he on drugs? What is wrong with him? He’s half asleep most of the time. When is he going to wake up?
Sunday, August 20, 2000 – My Sixtieth Birthday
I’m 60 years old today. I have a slight hangover from last night’s party that my nephew Ray Charles Sutton and his wife Stacy threw for me at their apartment in the Cow Hollow neighborhood.
Sixty! Yep, that’s how old I am. A new life for me is about to begin with the publication of Morning Pages. I started my writing career 31 years ago on my 29th birthday. It’s taken me all these years to get my first book of fiction published.
Joan has been so generous. She bought Stacy a very nice necklace. She bought two birthday cakes for last night’s party. She and Ray gave me a heavy, expensive Giants baseball jacket, the kind that looks like a letterman jacket with leather sleeves and “San Francisco” written across the chest. Joan also gave me two wine glasses today, glasses that reminded us of Venice, when we almost bought six beautiful wine glasses, but didn’t because we didn’t want to carry glass around with us on our travels.
Saturday, August 26, 2000 – Celebrating Saroyan
I just got home from the 4th Annual “Celebrating Saroyan” at the Main Library. I saw a documentary film by Paul Kalinian, William Saroyan: The Man, The Writer, and loved it. Also, for the third time in four years, I listened to Aram Kevorkian, Saroyan’s former lawyer, enchant us with stories about Saroyan and his writings. He believed Saroyan was a genius in that he translated his experiences into art. Saroyan, said Kevorkian, understood humanity—that we are all good, bad, and ugly. He said that Saroyan was against religion because religion teaches one to live for the afterlife and not the present. That’s also my belief.
It is Saroyan who makes me want to sit down and write. No other writer has had this effect on me. He makes me want to write about my life, my thoughts, the way I feel, and anything else that comes to mind.
I haven’t written much in the past couple of years. I was either writing query letters to agents, editors, and publishers about Morning Pages or, after it was accepted, I was getting the book ready for publication. I forget the name of the author who said something like, “Waiting for a book to be published takes a lot out of a writer.” That author was right. Anxiety over my book’s debut has consumed a lot of my energy.
I haven’t had a great urge to write. I say to myself, “I have a book coming out next month and another one next year, what do I need to write for?” So what do I do? I watch TV more than ever instead of sitting down and getting to work at my desk. Yes, I admit it, I’ve gotten lazy since two of my books were accepted for publication. I’m not hungry enough. I’m complacent is what I am. No new ideas are coming to the fore because I don’t sit down and write every day like a serious writer should. Writing is not number one on my list. What’s been taking precedence over writing is water aerobics, the San Francisco Giants, and making sure our house, inside and out, is in tip-top condition.
But then I went to “Celebrating Saroyan” today. Listening to people talk about him and seeing the documentary makes me want to write again. Why? Saroyan loved to write and live and bring the world together. He was truly influenced by his father, a failed preacher, who died early in life in his 30s when Saroyan was only three. Saroyan, in his writings, took over for his father by preaching, not to a congregation but to the whole world, such as what he wrote in the Prelude to his most famous play, The Time of Your Life:
In the time of your life, live—so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches. Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding-place and let it be free and unashamed. Place in matter and in flesh the least of the values, for these are the things that hold death and must pass away. Discover in all things that which shines and is beyond corruption. Encourage virtue in whatever heart it may have been driven into secrecy and sorrow by the shame and terror of the world. Ignore the obvious, for it is unworthy of the clear eye and the kindly heart. Be the inferior of no man, nor of any man be the superior. Remember that every man is a variation of yourself. No man’s guilt is not yours, nor is any man’s innocence a thing apart. Despise evil and ungodliness, but not men of ungodliness or evil. These, understand. Have no shame in being kindly and gentle, but if the time comes in the time of your life to kill, kill and have no regret. In the time of your life, live—so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it.
Tuesday, August 29, 2000 – Peter’s Advice
My body is very tired and achy today. Flu-like symptoms. I overdid it yesterday working in the front yard. I’m not the man I was five or ten years ago. If it wasn’t for my right hip I’d be much better off. I noticed yesterday that I can’t use my legs the way I want to because of my arthritic hip. I had to put extra strain on my back as a consequence. Thank goodness I don’t have a sore back today. I feel sickly, though. My legs and shoulders are sore and I have a bad headache. This calls for a day of rest.
So what does it feel like to be 60 in the year 2000? Actually today is not the day to ask that question, but since it has arisen I’ll answer it as best as I can.
It’s hard to bend down because of these hips of mine. A man I know from my walks on the Great Highway—Peter, a Chinese man from China—said to me the other day, “You should replace your hip, Joe. You’re carrying all that pain around with you when you don’t have to.”
Peter’s words made great sense to me. He believes there’s nothing to worry about if a person has surgery nowadays. “Maybe twenty or thirty years ago,” he said, “but today the techniques of surgery are so much better. Don’t carry that pain around with you. It takes two or three months to recover. What’s that out of your life? You’ll be a new man.”
Peter is right. Why should I live in pain when I don’t have to.
Of course I have Peter talking like an American, but the way he talks makes it difficult for me to understand him. It isn’t because he’s Chinese, it’s his two big, crooked front teeth, along with his drooling, that I strain to make out his words.
I know surgery will not bring my hip back to 100%, but maybe 70% or 80%. Right now it’s like 25%. I keep telling everyone that if it wasn’t for this hip, I’d feel like I was 40 or 50 years old.
Wednesday, August 30, 2000 – The Giants
Tomorrow is William Saroyan’s birthday. He died at the age of 72 in 1981, the same year my son Ray was born.
Tonight, my good friend Alan Blum will be taking me out to dinner for a birthday present. We’ve known each other since 1980. We don’t see each other as much as we used to since he moved from San Francisco to Larkspur a few years ago.
I talked to Alan on the phone this morning. We’re worried about the Giants. They’re losing ground in the pennant race. The Diamondbacks and Dodgers are breathing down their necks. This happened in 1993 when they had a big lead and blew it. I hope it doesn’t happen this year. It would be remarkable for them to get into the World Series. As of today they’re 2 1/2 games up on Arizona and five games up on L.A.
Tuesday, September 5, 2000 – Preserving the Environment
There will never be another September 5, 2000 in the history of the universe. Dates are only important to us here on Earth. That’s it. What about another planet with intelligent life on it? Their calendar is probably as important to them as ours is to us. But so what? I’m torn on this subject. If we didn’t have calendars and dates, I wouldn’t know that I’m 60 years old. That’s known as old age to a hell of a lot of people. Time, time, time. Where does it all go? What about wasted time? I mean, what about a person spending time doing nothing? Sometimes it’s good to do nothing, other times it’s not. That’s how it is and always will be.
I’m sitting on a bench right on the Great Highway trail where walkers, joggers, bicyclists, and roller skaters can exercise their muscles and get their hearts and lungs working. I’ve never written at this site before. It’s a perfect day, clear blue sky, warm, the beginning of San Francisco’s summer. Why am I here? To write. To be out of the house and not be bothered by the modern day conveniences of phone, radio, TV, refrigerator, stove, running water, or computer. I had to get out of the house. There’s so much to do in a house, and believe me, I do it. I can’t read or write in my house because of all those conveniences, plus all that a house needs to stay in tip-top condition, like touch-up painting of walls and doors, or getting stains out of the carpeting. Like author Natalie Goldberg says, “You have to make a date with yourself to write and be there for that date.” Making a date separates the amateur from the professional. We professionals have to write every day. And when we write, we’re here in the present. Or are we? When I write about my life experiences I’m also reliving the past.
To the north from where I sit is Mount Tamalpais and the Marin hills. West, the Pacific Ocean. South, the San Francisco Zoo and the San Mateo hills. East, in back of me, San Francisco’s Sunset District and Twin Peaks.
So here I sit, pen in hand, I want to get deeper in my writing. How do I go about doing that? By digging, by not giving up so easily, by not being lazy. By digging into something like Time and whatever else needs digging into. The weather, the date, my age, where I sit and write, these are all superficial to me. I want to reflect the human experience in my writing. This means I have to dig deep and not just scrape the surface.
A waft of gasoline fumes from a truck just entered my nostrils. Which reminds me that we have a long way to go to make this planet a livable, self-sustaining one. We have to rid of the pollution in the air, water, and on the land. Noise pollution too. Like this woman Patty who Joan and I met last year at her and her husband’s farm in Bodega called The Goat Farm, where they produce cheese from their hundred or so goats. Patty and her husband built an outhouse next to their house where they have worms eating the shit that she and her family produce every day. Wonderful. They’re doing something to improve the environment. Me, what can I do? I can turn the shower off at the Y and at home when soaping down to conserve water in drought-prone California. I can drive less by taking public transportation. Joan and I are very good recyclers of plastic, glass, paper, and compost that the city picks up once a week. We’re better than most people when it comes to preserving our environment. But we, like most people, can always do better.
Monday, September 25, 2000 – An Idiotic Act
The 49ers won their first game of the regular season in Dallas yesterday. They now have one win and three losses. They looked good yesterday, what with Jeff Garcia throwing four touchdown passes and Charlie Garner running for 200 yards. But the big news is that Terrell Owens, after catching each of his two touchdown passes, ran to the center of the field and set the ball down. If that’s not taunting a team, city, and state, I don’t know what is.
The 49ers fined Terrell $24,000 and said he won’t be able to practice or play in the next game. Good. Coach Steve Mariucci and others are saying that Terrell committed an idiotic act and that they will not tolerate such behavior. I’m totally with them.
Tuesday, September 26, 2000 – On the Eve of Being Published
Our author walks into San Francisco’s Main Library and starts up the stairs to the third floor, passing a wall display of oval-shaped nameplates of authors such as Steinbeck, Paley, Roth, Le Guin, Frost, London, Saroyan, Kerouac, Tan, Heller. He hopes that someday his nameplate will be on the wall, for there is plenty of room for more names to be added.
He’s on the third floor now, the fiction section. He sits down at a table to contemplate the future of his soon to be released novel Morning Pages.
Will my book sell? he asks himself. To be realistic about it, it will probably be a very small fish in the great ocean of books. It probably won’t make the slightest dent on the American scene. But then again, who knows? There’s no proven formula for a best-selling book. Most books, even if they’ve had great financial backing, don’t make it onto the bestseller list. Some books make it without much publicity at all. My publisher is small. I can’t get the backing from him that I’d like. The only people who are going to buy my book are my family, friends, and acquaintances. No one is going to pay $14.95 for my book unless I stand on top of the tallest mountain and shout my name and my book’s name for months and months on end. I don’t want to do that for more than a few months. I don’t have the time or the patience for it. I’m a writer, not a salesman.
At first, when he was told his book was to going to be published, he was walking on air for three months. He was as delighted as a baby sucking on its mother’s nipple. But now, more than a year later, his feet have definitely touched ground.
I’m only one person out of six billion on this planet. Who the hell is going to want to read my novel? Oh, I’m sure there will be a few out there who might be interested, but most people won’t even hear of my book, and those who do hear of it won’t give it the slightest thought. What have writers in the past done to get their names out into the world? A lot of them shouted their names from the mountaintop over and over, which means their publishers supported them in promoting their books. A lot of them came to be known by word of mouth. That’s my only hope—word of mouth.
And so our author sits at a table in the fiction section of San Francisco’s Main Library on Larkin and Grove Streets thinking of the publication of his book. He has no idea what the future holds. Will his book be just another unknown or will it take off and become popular? Deep down he feels, like all first-time authors, that his book is as important as any other that’s ever been written. After all, he’s poured his heart and soul into it. He’s given his best shot to show what it is to be a man living in today’s world—a man with doubts, a man of great confidence at times, a man who looks into his past to find out who he really is, a man who lives in the present, a man who refuses to give up his dream of being a published writer. This 21st century man has identified those who have suffocated him in the course of his life, and by writing about them he has cleansed his soul of them.
His first goal was to get published. He’s accomplished that. His next goal is to get the name of his book into the public’s eye.
Monday, October 9, 2000 – My Hip
I’ve been watching too much TV lately, especially sporting events, such as the Olympics, college and pro football, but mainly baseball, especially the division-winning San Francisco Giants. Yes, they won their division, but they lost the first playoff series to the wildcard Mets, three games to one. Their season is over. Even the Oakland A’s won their division, got into the playoffs, and lost to the Yankees three games to two. No more baseball in the Bay Area. I hope this will get me out of my TV seat and into my desk seat. No more worries if Jeff Kent or Barry Bonds will get a hit or if Livan Hernandez or Shawn Estes will pitch a complete game. It’s all over. Goodbye. Farewell. Good riddance. Now I can get down to some real business.
So what is the business at hand? A million things. I want to start writing stories again. I’ve laid off much too long and don’t know how to start or write a story anymore. I just finished going over the galleys of my short story collection, The Immortal Mouth and other Stories, and I’m tired of those stories that I began writing almost thirty years ago. I need to start writing new, fresh stories.
I do water aerobics three days a week at the Stonestown Y. I come home and am bothered by the phone or something else. I want to go to the library, but the two libraries in my neighborhood open around one in the afternoon. That means I have to come home after the Y and be distracted by the phone, TV, refrigerator, and cleaning up inside and outside the house. I plug along. It’s a very quiet life I lead. But I keep on truckin’. I have to. What am I going to do, call it quits at the age of sixty?
Speaking of age, my hip is killing me. I can’t stand the pain any longer. I am seriously looking into having hip replacement surgery. It’s a big operation. I hear it takes a few months to completely recuperate. I’m going to have to get it done because every time I get up and walk I can feel pain in my right hip area. It’s getting worse, too.
What does it feel like to have an arthritic hip? I limp. That’s the number one bad thing that happens. It hurts when I walk, even when I sit and sometimes when I’m in bed. I wonder if I would have chosen to play all the sports I played when I was a kid if I knew I was going to have a hip like this? I guess I still would’ve played, but maybe not football. Because I got beaned playing high school baseball in those days when we didn’t have batting helmets, I would have had to overcome the fear of curveballs. I didn’t have the patience to overcome that fear. I played football because I was a teenager in the ’50s when everyone played high school football. Nowadays there are a lot of sports to play. Soccer, for instance. They didn’t have that sport in the L.A. high schools when I was a student.
My hip prevents me from walking as far as I used to. If I walk too far I’m in real pain the next day. Like today—I don’t know if it’s the rain or my going for a walk yesterday that has made my hip sore. The pain is getting worse with each passing day. I’ve tried everything. I’ve tried pills, an osteopath, physical therapy, chiropractic, water aerobics, massage, and different leg strengthening exercises. Nothing has worked. The only thing that can possibly work is a new titanium hip that they say lasts fifteen to twenty years. I can’t even bend down without feeling a pang of pain. I feel like an invalid most of the time. I’m afraid that someday I’ll be walking down a flight of stairs and fall because of a weak hip. I’ve got to do something about it, and fast.
Tuesday, October 24, 2000 – Hustling My Book
I found Julia Cameron’s address on the Internet so I can send her Morning Pages. You see, her book saved my writing career. If it wasn’t for The Artist’s Way I don’t think I would have ever written a book that would have gotten published. I’m grateful to her for my first published novel.
I haven’t had much time to write lately. I’m so busy trying to find places, people, and reviewers to read Morning Pages. I’m usually out during the day hustling the book. I should be out now, going to bookstores downtown to give them a copy of the book. I’m excited about my book. I feel like a salesman out there, which I like. It’s getting me out into the world, with a goal or purpose. It’s hustling something that’s very personal to me instead of selling costume jewelry like I did for four years.
My book came out two weeks ago. Don Ellis gave me 54 copies to go around the Bay Area to give to bookstores so they’ll maybe order more of my book. I’ve been doing exactly that. I just called the first batch of people I went to almost two weeks ago. Some said they’d order the book. I have my own spiel that’s short and to the point. It goes: “I have a novel here called Morning Pages. The title is derived from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, where she says to write three pages nonstop first thing in the morning for 12 weeks. That’s what the main character does, so he can break out of a writer’s block. The outcome of all this is that he doesn’t even know he’s writing a story every day. And when you string all the days together, the book turns into a novel.”
The Mets beat St. Louis to get into the World Series. The Yankees are on a roll again. This is the fourth time in five years that they’ve reached the Series. This year’s Series is known as the Subway Series. The Mets are down two games to zero. They have to win tonight or else, because if they’re down three games to zero, it’s all over but the shouting. I’m going to the Writers’ Workshop tonight. I can’t get caught up in all the sporting events that are being shown on TV every night. Last night was a Monday Night Football game between the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins. It was an odd game, because the Jets came back from a 23-point deficit in the second half to win the game in overtime. But it wasn’t that exciting to me. Why? I see so many sporting events on TV (especially the last month) that I get desensitized to them. The day before yesterday was the second game of the World Series. A few weeks ago it was the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. And during the Olympics, it was the Giants winning the Western Division of the National League. It was a dream year until they fell to the Mets three games to one. But you can’t cry, you have to have hope for next year. You have to say to yourself, “Wait’ll next year.” The Giants signed Dusty Baker to a two-year contract. That makes him the second highest paid manager in baseball. Joe Torre of the Yankees is number one. Torre makes around three million; Dusty will make around two and a half million. Torre’s on his way to winning his third World Series in a row.
I feel good. My hip is bothering me only slightly. The doctor at Kaiser orthopedics last week told me I should take Motrin to relieve the inflammation. I started taking it and it’s done me well so far. I walked three and a half miles with George Krevsky yesterday. I go to my water class three days a week. I work in the garden. I’m in pretty good shape for a man with a bad hip. The doctor told me to hold off on hip replacement for another year or two.
Thursday, October 26, 2000 – More Hustle
I’m on a roll. I’ve been to practically every bookstore in San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, and down the Peninsula. I’m trying to hustle my book as best as I can by going into bookstores, giving them a complimentary copy, calling them back a week later, and asking if they might order copies of my book. There are other ways, too—by calling newspapers and magazines and setting up book parties in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Eventually I’d like to set up book readings at bookstores. It’s an exciting time for me.
The Mets lost a tough game last night to the Yankees. They trail the Yankees three games to one. If the Yankees win tonight they’ll win the Series. The end of baseball for the year. I’ll be able to get down to business for the first time in a long time. It took up so much of my time this year, especially since the Giants had a new stadium and the best record in baseball.
All I can think of is hustling my book. Yesterday I was downtown hustling it. Hustle, hustle, hustle. That’s me—when I’m into something, I give it my all.
Sunday, November 5, 2000 – A New Publicist
Don Ellis has hired a new publicist. I’m one of three authors she’ll be working for. Her name is Kim McMillon. We had a great conversation on the phone a few days ago. She’ll get me on radio shows and set up book readings around the Bay Area and on the West Coast.
Wednesday, November 8, 2000 – Bush v. Gore
Yesterday was the presidential election. It was so close between George W. Bush and Al Gore that one state, Florida, is holding up the results. Whoever wins Florida will win the election.
Thursday, November 9, 2000 – Summary of Morning Pages
Now, to write a summary of Morning Pages that Aaron Vays in New York wants so he can present it to his editor-in-chief of Sephardic Image Magazine.
Morning Pages is about a writer, Ben Halaby, in the throes of writer’s block. He stumbles across a book on creativity: Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. The basic principle of Cameron’s book is to write three pages nonstop first thing in the morning for 84 days. Halaby heeds Cameron’s advice. And what we see, as the words come gushing out of his pen and soul, is not only the creative process in action, but we get a glimpse of a man turning into his old storytelling self again.
There are two themes running through the book. The first is about writing. How does a writer break out of a writer’s block? It’s Julia Cameron’s theory that makes sense to Ben Halaby, in that there’s an editor or censor sitting on the writer’s shoulder preventing the writer from writing. So how does the writer get this censor/editor off his shoulder? By writing as fast as he can each morning. If a writer writes nonstop without looking back there is nothing to hold him back from getting words down on paper. And this subconscious way of releasing words, any words, when finished after a period of 12 weeks, starts to make sense.
The second theme is Ben’s relationship with his wife June. There’s a thorn in their relationship: June’s friend Tova. Out of a small incident—Tova’s daughter spilling nail polish on the carpet in Ben and June’s bedroom—arises a crisis. Ben shows his anger for a split second at the five-year-old Melosha. After Tova and her daughter leave San Francisco, June receives a one-sentence letter from her “friend.” “Melosha doesn’t want Ben yelling at her anymore.” This is Tova’s thank-you after spending a week as a guest at the Halaby residence. June is torn between her longtime friendship with Tova and her relationship with her husband Ben.
Tuesday, November 21, 2000 – Promoting a Book
This morning Aleza Goldsmith of the San Francisco Jewish Bulletin called to interview me over the phone. She asked me about football, religion, my bar mitzvah, family, Joan, and writing. Another publication, Sephardic Image, is going to come out with an article in early January. The Stonestown YMCA will publish an article about me in its newsletter. I’ve also scheduled a reading there. It’s starting out small, real small—hometown religious paper, an ethnic magazine in New York City, the Y newsletter. Every little bit helps to get the ball rolling.
Thursday, November 23, 2000 – Thanksgiving Day
The presidential election is still up in the air. It just keeps going on and on and on. There might be an end to all this madness either by this weekend or by December 12. In the meantime, each side is going to court to get this or that stopped. The Bush side just went to the US Supreme Court to say that the Florida Supreme Court cannot change the rules of the election. The Gore side says each and every vote has to be counted, not in just two or three counties of Florida but in all the counties. In the meantime, the stock market is going down, down, down. I’ve lost so much money in the last two weeks. A year or so ago my investment was up 50%. Now it’s back down to where it began. All because of the crazy presidential balloting in Florida. Boy, there must be a lot of wielding of power going on behind the scenes down there, what with George W. Bush’s brother Jed being the Governor and his ex-president father who is presently in Florida. Whoever becomes the next president is in for a tough four years, or maybe we Americans will forget this and move on. The Senate is split 50-50. The Republicans in the House hold the majority by nine members. The voting machines can’t even count the right votes due to hanging chads, those little punch holes that don’t fall off. Voting is going to have to go electronic someday. California is already talking about it. And then there will probably be a lot of glitches in that system as there is in the punch card system.
I’ve lived through many unbelievable presidential moments in my life. A president gets assassinated (Kennedy). A president refuses to run for re-election because of an unpopular war he’s waging (Johnson). A president resigns (Nixon). A president gets impeached (Clinton). And now the topper of them all is that a little more than two weeks after the election we still don’t know who our next president will be. I’m still for Al Gore. But it seems, since he’s behind by 700 votes in Florida out of a total of six million, he might lose.
My son Ray is all mixed up. He wants to move out but doesn’t have the money to do it. He says he’s depressed because of this. My son has a tendency toward depression. There are only a few times I’ve ever seen him with a positive attitude. When he was 10-years-old on the Mets, the Little League baseball team I coached; when he was 12-years-old playing for John Fererra’s Star Hawks baseball team; and in his second year playing football in high school when he intercepted five passes and ran all five back for touchdowns.
Sunday, December 31, 2000 – My One Hope
It’s almost midnight and a new year is about to begin. I hope it will be a better year economically and politically. I hope the Giants win the pennant and go to the World Series. I hope it rains in California. I hope we will be able to get along here on earth. I hope my books will sell. I hope I will be able to produce new stories or a novel. I hope for health and happiness in my family. I hope for many things, but if I had to choose one, what would it be? Would it be for peace on earth? Would it be for health and happiness in my family? Or would it be to produce a short story collection or a novel?
My one hope would be to produce a collection of stories or a novel. I cannot control what happens on this planet. I cannot even control health and happiness in my family. But I can control what I produce as a writer. And if I’m productive, it will make me peaceful within. It will also make me a happy and healthy man. What I’m saying is, it all starts with each individual. If I’m happy, healthy, and peaceful, then the world is on its way for all my other hopes to take place.
It’s midnight now. Happy New Year to one and all, not only for this year but for many more years to come.
It took five weeks to decide the 2000 presidential election. Bush got 500 more votes in Florida and became President of the United States.
My orthopedist had me wait another year to have hip replacement surgery. A few years after that, I had my other hip replaced.
My son Ray, who is now 41 in the year 2022, eventually transferred to San Diego State University, found his calling in life and received his B.A. and M.A. degrees in psychology. He is now a therapist in San Francisco, treating mainly teenagers, completely shattering my prediction of him 22 years earlier.
Morning Pages sold 3500 copies out of the 5000 that were printed. Creative Arts Book Company’s publicist booked a dozen readings as far north as Seattle and as far south as Los Angeles and all points in-between.
My story collection The Immortal Mouth and Other Stories didn’t fare as well in sales as Morning Pages.
The reason why my friend Alan sometimes couldn’t pay his share of the bill when eating out, was that he admitted having an addiction to buying lottery tickets.