Mercury Goes Direct

April 18th, 2000

I awoke with a chuckle, and Chris noticed this from the breakfast table. The whole energy of the universe changed direction this morning. The rain stopped. The stock market rose dramatically after a Microsoft-induced plunge. Time to boogie. I bid my new family a fond farewell.

I took advantage of the opening in the force field and made my way north to Huntington Beach, where I have a standing invitation at the home of my childhood friend Geri Woolls. I unpacked my suitcases and reorganized them in her living room. Her brilliant teenage son Joseph builds computers but doesn’t like school. I’ve heard he is a terror, but he is always friendly to me. This time he has a new girlfriend, Sarah, and she played the guitar for me. I am honored. The kids are vegetarians.

Long term friendship adds a philosophical perspective. This, too, shall pass. We loved each other long before the current predicaments arrived in our lives, and we will love one another long after they fade from memory.

Geri laughing.

Rain

April 17th, 2000

The day after the fair it rained three inches. I took this as a sign of approval from the universe for the good deeds of the fair participants who had enjoyed gloriously sunny weather all day. I prudently avoided the highway, where, according to the local news, 75 traffic accidents per hour occured on April 17. Instead, I roosted at Glenn and Chris’ apartment and began to type up my journal, and it’s about damn time.

Earth Fair in San Diego

April 16th, 2000


The Earth Fair at Balboa Park in San Diego. Thousands attended. The local newspaper briefly mentioned it in the back pages and featured the Avocado Festival on the page one. The Earth Day organizers do not expect to be popular with the media, which as everyone knows, is owned by the corporate despoilers of the planet and their close cronies.

At the booth where I sold my art prints, CDs, t-shirts and posters, I met at least a dozen people who owned a copy of the original Living On The Earth. I am hoping we will all meet again on April 27 at In Harmony Herbs and Spices, when I will have the new books to sign.

The most dada moment was an organ concert in the middle of the fair. The Spreckels Organ Pavilion is three stories high, and full to the top with literally thousands of organ pipes. The entire building is a huge resonating cabinet. It has the same funereal air of the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, also built during World War One in memoriam. There is an urn at the highest point of the facade. The organist amplified this effect by choosing his most macabre selections—Requiem in D, themes from Phantom of the Opera.

Below this immense singing headstone danced merrimakers in dreadlocks to lyrics of defiance intoned to back beats. The fair opened with a parade, featuring Clingons from Star Trek, Horned Warriors from the Society for Creative Anachronisms, a six foot frog on the back of a pick-up truck, and a gaggle of ecstatic Krishna devotees, complete with a cow-drawn surrey bearing their gods in effigy. Festival booths offered a bedazzlement of environmental horrors to be ameliorated with contributions, an assortment of relatively healthful victuals, and environmentally conscious consumer goods, such as mine. The place fairly reeled with music besides the giant organ, a reggae band, and a rock band—I counted at least three folk singing acts, and three radio stations broadcasting pop hits during my stroll, and, between the live bands, the sound tech cranked up some sort of techno rock.

There was a moment of respite at noon, when Robert Nanninnga, the ringmaster, introduced a series of speakers, including Earth Day Mom Carolyn Chase, the honcho of All This. The most passionate and interesting speaker turned out to be a gentleman from the Sierra Club, dressed in green for the occasion, offering visions of the wild mammals of San Diego County making their way to the sea through tunnels under the highway and creek corridors through the tony residential districts. It was good to pause for a moment and consider the proposed beneficiaries of all of this speaking and doing. Imagine being a coyote in San Diego County, or anyone else without a steady job or a trust fund.

I got up and said my little piece. Happy Thirtieth Anniversary. 1970 was a year of critical mass for the environmentalist ideals of the 60’s- the hundredth monkey effect kicked in and manifested as publications, organizations -The Mother Earth News, The Whole Earth Catalog, Living On The Earth, Earth Day. Now, in 2000, the environmental ideals of a century are coming into fruition. The green car. Whole cities with recycling programs. Environmentalism is a practical application of the spiritual ethic of compassion for all beings. It is accomplished through a rhythmic series of minute decisions. Hundreds of small decisions made on a daily basis equal a life that makes a difference. What we buy, how we dispose of waste, voting and for whom we vote, small contributions to big causes, teaching by example. Please buy my book. Thank you very much.

My wonderful friends Glenn and Chris worked with me from dawn to dusk, and the success of my booth is due in no small part to their efforts, as well as help from dancin’ John Noble of In Harmony Herbs and Spices in Ocean Beach, where I will be signing books on April 27 at 3 PM.

Garlands of Love

April 15th, 2000

I visited my brother and his wife in Irvine. Twenty years together, and more in love than ever, they are about to adopt a Chinese baby girl. They have already decorated her bedroom with ballerina teddy bears. They are both survivors of nightmares, making a fairy tale come true. I bask in their sweetness. They love the wedding song on my CD.

I float south on mighty 405 to La Jolla. The coast recalls Spain, the Mediterranean. Glenn and Chris, who I have met only by phone and e-mail until now, instantly become family. They have created a party in my honor–Chris’s sumptuous meal, a gathering with Jodi, Glenn’s sister, the owner of In Harmony Herbs and Spices, and her partner John. Merriment, ease, inspiration shared. Stories of people and places remembered in common. I sleep well, if briefly, that night in my comfortable inflatable bed, complete with purple flannel sheets and the purple down bag I bought from Heather and David on Maui in the 1970’s after they had hiked with it through the Himalayas.

Cardboard Boxes

april 14th, 2000

The day had come to pack up and head south. Somehow it took hours to repack and get my luggage in the station wagon. I followed Steve’s suggestion and put our dog-sitting charges in the back yard before I left to minimize the chance of another doggie accident on the white carpeting. While packing the car I met a neighbor, cartoonist and songwriter Robbie Lane, who had lived in Marin County in the early 70’s when I was at Wheeler Ranch. He ended up saving the day when one of my canine charges escaped the back yard, preferring to fertilize someone else’s lawn. One thing I could not do was leave the house with one dog missing. She was recaltricent, but, with Robbie’s help, I got her back into the house. Robbie offered to introduce me to Denise Kaufman, who I had seen perform as part of the 60’s Bay Area girl band Ace of Cups, and who now teaches yoga to Madonna.

Next stop, Susie Heldfond, who I have known since birth, I think; our fathers performed surgeries at the same hospital until they retired fifteen years ago. An artist, an actress, a beauty, and married to a fabulous jazz pianist, Theo Saunders, Susie feels more like a blood relation than a friend. I adore her. I leave a box of art prints in her living room.

She is not alone in my cardboard invasion. I drive to Orange County and retrieve three more boxes–t-shirts and posters–from the home of my best friend from the twelfth grade, Helene Halperin. She is a sort of secret bohemian, meaning she works a straight job, and then takes outrageous trips to cultural and natural shrines around the planet. I love her extreme intelligence, acute powers of observation, ready wit and extraterrestrial giggle. It was she that introduced me to Fellini films and European styles when we were in high school. In those days she would paint brown eye shadow under her eyes “so I would look as if I had lived.” She wore Replique perfume and tailored suits. Today she looks almost exactly as she looked then. She does not believe me when I tell her this.

I spend the night at the home of another beloved friend from my teen years, Geri Woolls. She ends up with a box of t-shirts in her living room. I am relentless, but my friends love me anyway.

missing jamie

April 12th, 2000

Visiting Los Angeles used to be far richer for me before my writing and life mentor, James Leo Herlihy, packed up his goods and went home—just a year before the AIDS cocktails became available. Dispairing of his health, he took his own life. He had hospiced and eulogized many of his close friends in the years preceding, and his lover, Bill Lord, was the first AIDS death I’d ever heard of, in 1980. They all must be having one hell of a great party now.

I met Jamie on television, on the David Frost Show, in 1971. I was there (high on mescaline) promoting Living On The Earth. He’d just had a book published called Season of the Witch. He gave up writing novels soon after. He said that, at the time he wrote The Midnight Cowboy, America was asleep, and needed trajedy to shake it awake. But an overabundance of shock from the Vietnam war had blasted us awake, Jamie felt, and what America needed next was comedy, and that wasn’t his bag.

That is not to say he wasn’t a very funny man. He was endlessly, spontaneously witty, without ever losing a profound sense of compassion for humanity. A Pisces, like Anais Nin, whose confidante he was during the last twenty-five years of her life. He must have made her laugh, too. I mean, check out the finale from a letter he wrote me in 1979 (I pasted a photo of him over the middle of the letter in my scrapbook):

“Lovely Alice Bay,

“You’re a superb luminous, life-supporting example of utter scrumptuousity. I am thinking of resigning as head of your fanclub in order to devote fulltime to lobbying for you in Washington.”

He was not always so flattering in the mind-expanding discussions we had when I visited him on his hilltop in Silverlake, and I was grateful for that. When I announced I would be singing in public, he put me through a rigorous series of acting exercises. (He acted in films and off-Broadway in addition to directing and writing.) One visit, I was astonished to find a photograph of Marlene Dietrich’s face fifteen feet high at one end of his living room. “That’s the size I’m accustomed to seeing her,” he told me. I drew a portrait of him that day—his face occupying most of the wall of a room, with the Blue Angel lounging on a sofa in the foreground.

In 1989 came this, one of the last pieces of writing I received from him.

I found a web page from the University of Delaware on Jamie’s life and works.

matathon

April 11th, 2000

In Silverlake, overlooking its famous reservoir, I visit The Launching Pad, the communal household of Hoshi Hana, Jeff Bean, and Christiane Cegavske, three artists in their late twenties, all graduates of San Francisco Art Institute. Hoshi Hana is creating a photographic book of body tattoo art, and is preparing to go on the road with a band called the Secret Chiefs as their projectionist. Jeff shows me three of his tantric pop-up cards, with cardboard figures reminiscent of Tibetan tanka dieties or Kama Sutra playmates, only they move! The ultimate valentine, I think. Christiane has a room full of haunted dolls who have starred in her stop motion animation films. They had a houseguest, too, a beautiful young tattoo artist from Tokyo named Aiya. We share a homemade vegetarian meal, and then spend four hours matting 170 of my art prints. They are all experts at this. Their preferred CDs are ethnic/electric/hypnotic. We listen to Les Nubiennes, an acid jazz act from Paris, fronted by two African girls. I insist on photographing ChristianeÂ’s amazing room, and she graciously accedes.

cat sitting

April 10th, 2000

I am the catsitter for Kim Cooper, the editrix of nasty Scram magazine, the first ‘zine to be distributed by Hearst, due in no small part to Kim’s superior writing skills. Kim is in Europe for ten days, and unable to celebrate the tenth birthday of Evel, the world’s most affectionate cat. He looks scary, but he just wants to kiss you. I bought him a bag of organic catnip and sprinkled it over him while singing Happy Birthday. I knew this would please Kim, and it put Evel in to cat ecstacy. Kim, in spite of her big city media jobs and masterful sarcasm, has a plot in the community organic garden these days, only a half block south of Sunset Strip. I water it for her every other day.

I met Kim while teaching at Heartlight (alternative) School in Canoga Park in 1982. I was hired on the strength of my publishing career as the school registrar, but ended up teaching art to the K through 2 group, jazz dance to the girls who didn’t want to play baseball, Spanish One to the high school kids, and one music class for all of the students, of which there were thirty aged four through eighteen. We made a recording of my send-up of Kenny Loggin’s tribute to the school, Welcome to Heartlight, and sent it to Dr. Demento. I was the only staff member willing to recognize that, at sixteen, Kim was more intelligent and more well read than anyone working at the School. We have remained friends ever since.

bohemians

April 9th, 2000

What are bohemians?

Before the hippies and the beatniks, there were countercultures, and this was the appellation. I have decided to use this word to include all generations of this particular social phenomenon, but in doing this I have to create a definition.

I think there are three defining characteristics of a person I would describe as a bohemian:

  1. An ethic that values compassion over profit or convenience.
  2. An ethic that values freedom of expression over conformity to an exterior norm.
  3. A fascination with the relationship between the physical and non-physical aspects of the universe.

After that, everything is up for grabs. People come in endless variety, which is one of the aspects I appreciate most about being alive.

Ciudad de Nuestra Senora, La Reina de Los Angeles

April 8th, 2000

I wanted to be in a city closer to nature, is what Anais Nin wrote in her diary in explanation of her move to Los Angeles after World War Two.

Los Angeles has a reputation for crowded freeways, Hollywood phonies, toxic air and hundreds of miles of seemingly undifferentiated suburban sprawl. This is not undeserved. However, my personal experience of Los Angeles centers on its other, much more appealing aspects.

The look of the neighborhood of my birth is of rounded forms, in the flowering shrubs and trees, Spanish architecture, pools, lawns, wide shady streets. Even Watts, now known as South Central, the famous ‘hood where violence often erupts, has this look. Ferral parrots–escaped pets–eat the tiny dates from the decorative royal date palms. Squirrels, racoons and opossum roam even downtown neighborhoods. The California chapparrel–the biome covering the mountains of the upper Sonoran desert of which LA is a part–is fragrant with herbs year ’round and brilliant with wildflowers in spring. You can still commune with nature on a day hike in the Santa Monica mountains or along the wide, golden coastal beaches.

Los Angeles is a place for doers. The artists who choose to perch here in the smog and mayhem move with purpose. They participate in big projects to be seen by huge audiences, both locally and internationally. While the acknowledged center of highbrow culture in the United States is New York City and the low brow center is Las Vegas, America’s middle brow cultural center is Los Angeles. Network television, major recording labels, commericial movies–LA knows its audience, or “market”, as it is called locally.

That is not to say that LA does not have a bohemian tradition as well. Health food and yoga first caught on here in the’twenties. My grandmother, ever the Lady of Fashion, followed the example of the movie stars of her time. She was sharp as a tack when she passed on at ninety-six. LA was where my mother studied modern dance with Lester Horton in the ‘thirties, where West Coast jazz filled my ears in the ‘fifties. LA is still the home of Pacifica Radio Station KPFK, the voice of the left in Southern California for several generations now. The very first Renaissance Pleasure Faire was a fundraiser for KPFK, and I was there (at age fourteen, playing a guitar shaped like a lute). At the Faire I met Art Kunkin, publisher of the LA Free Press, who gave me my first paying job, doing graphic layout, in 1966.