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.

Living Out of Suitcases

April 5th, 2000

Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like where your stuff is.

So what do you bring for eight months of driving through twenty-three physical states and untold metaphysical states, while updating a web site, performing live music, selling four kinds of merchandise (each with its own display), teaching a few classes, running a small business, and making occasional forrays into wilderness? If you are a Taurus, the answer is Everything. So, I am now perfectly equipped–for developing upper body strength.

The biggest challenge is remembering where a specific thing is, and not to space anything out when I change crash location. I acquired six suitcases, each a different color, all with wheels and pull-out handles. They have names by now: “The Tool Shed”, “The Steamer Trunk”, “The Costume Department”, “The File Cabinet” and “Supplies, Supplies!” I tried to put things of like use together and inventoried each bag.

The coolest item I bought for the tour is an inflatable bed that travels in a small duffle bag. I never have to wonder whether I have a comfortable bed anywhere I go. And, of course, I fitted it with purple flannel sheets. This is not a tour of motels. This tour exits only through the generosity of my fellow artists, who are putting me up in their homes as I travel North America. Somehow I am blessed with an absence of allergy to pets, a willingness to help out with the dishes, and a sincere appreciation of even rather humble circumstances.

How do you know if hippies have been staying at your house?

They’re still there.