Friday, August 14, 2015


Never in the history of the United States has reform been so badly needed. But when a chicken or a sheep gets elected to Congress, he turns into a monkey soon after settling into all the perks designed to sustain the status quo.

“What do you suggest?  Term limits?”

A short-term fix, not a cure.

“Then what?”

When people suffer a long train of abuses by those who govern them, it is their right, their duty, to throw off such government.  Do you know where that comes from?


From July 4th, 1776.  The Declaration of Independence.  We had bold forefathers.  What happened to the descendants of such bold forefathers?  Do they not value the freedom and liberty over which much blood was shed?  

“You think it’s time for another revolution?”

Attaboy!  Our forefathers requested this of us if ever we found ourselves over-governed and oppressed.

“But how?”



Start here.


California.  It always begins with bee’s knees…


One dynamic person.  Robespierre in France, Lenin in Russia, Fidel Castro in Cuba, Lech Walesa in Poland…

The pen’s nib refuses to budge.  I ease my grip and allow it to continue, automatically…

One dynamic person gets into a car and drives east.  Word gets out and others join.  Soon there are twenty cars in the convoy. It continues to grow, organically.  

The mainstream media, owned by conglomerates, chooses to ignore this event. When it grows bigger, they finally report, but with ridicule.  Their negativity notwithstanding, the story goes viral on the Internet through Facebook and YouTube.  Soon, new convoys are launched, from the States of Oregon and Washington.  

Revolutionaries in Nevada and Arizona join the original convoy and, within a day, 20,000 vehicles are on the road, heading for our nation’s capital.   By the time the original convoy reaches Fort Worth, Texas, it has doubled in size t0 40,000.  

Mainstream television news has no choice but to make it their top story. They dispatch helicopters to film from the sky.  In homes, all over the country, people tune into images of four long convoys, crossing the southern, middle and northern United States.  The U.S. Government panics, federalizes the National Guard in Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota, orders them to construct roadblocks.  The U.S. Air Force first warns and then fires upon the main convoy.  This attack is shown on live TV.  Blood is shed.  There are casualties.  Endless replays—on the Internet and TV—cause many more tens of thousands of persons to jump into their vehicles to meet existing convoys or create new ones.  

The U.S. military backs off, partly because military personnel become unwilling to fire on fellow Americans.  

The convoys merge and converge on Washington DC, whose inhabitants are in disarray, many fleeing the capital in fear for their lives.  By the time the people reach their Capitol, it is empty, ready to host a fresh start…

“Are you foreseeing events?” I ask aloud.

Where I now reside, time, as you think of time, does not exist.  Suffice to say:  I have seen the future, and it works.  

I wait a long while for the nib to continue writing.

Finally, I move the magic pen myself.  But it has run out of ink.

Above me, the ceiling fan begins to whir.

Thursday, August 13, 2015


“You’re not here anymore.  Why do you care?”

My hand remains still for so long I think maybe this strange dialog is over.

Finally, it begins to move.



A passion for truth and justice.  A passion for knowing the facts.  I’m not talking about school.

“I know that about you.”

Know what?

“Your passion for un-learning.”

I think it was Picasso who said that he could not truly paint until he discarded everything he had “learned” from art teachers.

“I speculate that you had ADD or ADHD,” I say.

I don’t know what I had.  But I’m glad no one tried to do anything about it. What I did have was the most wonderful life, un-learning and getting to the truth of anything I chose to investigate.

“How does it feel to be, uh, not here anymore?”

I am here.

My hand pauses.  

You mean dead?

“I guess I do.”

You have a problem saying dead?

I consider this.  “I feel a bit weird talking out loud and then seeing this pen move all by itself.  How do you do that?”

Happens more than you may think, to many people everywhere, and they don’t even know it.  They are closed to it.  They think they are receiving their own impulses and ideas!  There is so very much that living people neither perceive nor understand.   

“I’m having a hard time understanding this myself.”

You went looking for me.  You found my pen. You un-learned a bunch of conventional baloney.  You opened yourself for contact.

“What happened after you died?”

A long while passes before my hand glides across the page.

My last words were “No, No. I can’t…”  And then I could.  I could immediately see through the Nazi party in Germany, and the Fascists under Mussolini in Italy, and Stalin, the tyrant that he would become, totally perverting the ideals of Karl Marx—and I realized they were far worse than all the muck I’d ever raked in my own country.  But I still believe revolution is the only way to change.  Would you like to know an anecdote that best sums up why the status quo needs to be overturned and society be given a fresh start?

I lift the pen and shake my tingling wrist.  “Yes, please.”

Atop a cage with five monkeys, hang a banana on a string and place a stairway under the banana.  Soon, a monkey will aim for the stairs toward the banana.  When he reaches the first step, douse the other monkeys with cold water.  Another monkey will make the same attempt, with the same result.  Soon, when another monkey aims for the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent him so that they won't get doused with water.

I turn the page and connect nib to paper.

Now put the cold water away.  Replace one monkey from the cage with a new one.  The new monkey sees the banana and attempts to climb the stairs.  To his shock, the other monkeys beat the applesauce out of him.  Next, remove another of the original five monkeys, replacing it with a new one.  The newcomer goes for the banana, is attacked.  The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment, with enthusiasm.  Then replace a third original monkey with a new one, followed by a fourth, then the fifth.  Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked.  And most of the monkeys that beat him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs.  Neither do they know why they are participating in beating the newest monkey.  Finally, having replaced all of the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys will have ever been sprayed with cold water.  Nevertheless, none of the monkeys will try to climb the stairway for the banana.  Why not, you ask?  Because in their minds, that is the way it has always been! That is the U.S. Congress today.

I put the pen down to rest my aching wrist.  But it tingles, pushing me to continue.

Never in the history of the United States has reform been so badly needed. But when a chicken or a sheep gets elected to Congress, he turns into a monkey right after settling into all the perks designed to sustain the status quo.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


I lift my hand, not because the ink stops flowing, but because my wrist needs a rest.  

After a half-minute, I return the nib to paper.

Nothing happens.

“Sorry,” I say aloud.  “My hand was tired.”

I take a deep breath and ground myself.

My hand begins to move again.



He had those bankers pegged, called them “buzzards.”  And he hated Wilson, too, called him “Coiner of Weasel Words.”

“Who is TR?”

Teddy Roosevelt.  I’ve never seen such joy as Teddy had.  That’s what Washington lacks today.  Joy.  And gladness.  And reform?  Where are the reformers? So much to reform, no one willing.  And where are the muckrakers?

My hand pauses.

The system no longer works and no one is willing to expose or reform it.  The USA is in a downward spiral into the abyss, and America’s enemies laugh at our folly.  Trust me, I see them.

The pen stops, and starts again.

Sorry.  Sidetracked; was writing about The Schoolmaster.  Early on, The Money Trust put their stock in Wilson—and their hopes.  First they made him Governor of New Jersey, a mere stepping-stone, because from that moment they began filling a bank account for his presidential campaign with money. Big money.   The first check, one thousand dollars, came from a director of National City Bank.

My wrist tires again, but I push it to continue.

Money from seven Wall Street financiers accounted for two-thirds of Wilson’s campaign coffers, yet he campaigned as the candidate against The Money Trust.   A lot of bull!  As soon as The Schoolmaster got elected, what did he do?  He paved the way for currency reform.   This was their innocuous cover phrase for giving away the whole store to Wall Street bankers. Yes, sir, at the stroke of that weasel’s pen, the USA’s monetary supply got transferred to Wall Street.

“But didn’t it have to pass Congress first?” I ask.

Ab-so-lute-ly.  Congress was blindsided and bamboozled.


A congressman who was also a banker initiated the bill in the House of Representatives, and a senator who was also a banker shepherded it into the U.S. Senate. Most senators didn’t even have a chance to read the so-called currency bill.  It was raced past them in four-and-a-half hours!

My hand pauses.

What I fail to understand is, a hundred years later, nobody seems to notice.  Nor care.  And no one has ever tried to return the USA’s money supply to the USA—to the people—where it belongs.  The creation of a “central bank” was supposed to prevent panics and depression…

My hand stops, starts again…

A bogus rationale.  For who gets the government to bail them out when, decades later, the economy balls up due to the policies of their own devices?

“Wall Street bankers?”

And how!  And where does the money go?  Into their own pockets!  Big bonuses.  Who gets bonuses for failed policies?  Why does Congress stand by and do nothing? And why do the American people stand for this? Horsefeathers!

“You’re not here anymore.  Why do you care?”

My hand remains still for so long I think maybe this strange dialog is over.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


My hand begins to move.

But it is not I moving it.

Astonished, I look to read what has been written.

The unknown is the province of the student; it is the field for his life’s adventure, and it is a wide field full of beckonings.

“Huh?” I say aloud.

Again, my hand begins to slide across the page, leaving a trail of blue ink in a cursive not my own.

Beckon forth.

“Is this...?” I say.  “Are you…?”

My hand moves, haltingly, before I can complete my question.

Call me Stef.  All my friends did.  Good evening, sir.

I do not know what to say next, so amazed am I by this extraordinary encounter.  “Good evening, Stef,” I finally manage.

My hand moves again.

I have seen the past, and it is full of shame.

Excuse me?” I say.

They did it right beneath my nose.

“Who did what?”

The Money Trust.  Reality is money; I’ve come to understand this, even without a head for business.

“What does that mean?”

It means simply this: Whoever controls the money, controls policy, governance, and the people. True power is the absolute control of credit.

“What is the Money Trust?”

The Federal Reserve Board.  Its name, itself a misnomer, devised to deceive.  From inception, a smokescreen for its true initiators: Wall Street Bankers, presided over by America’s sovereign, J.P. Morgan. 

My hand pauses.

I still can’t believe I did not see it.

“See what?

That the Money Trust was behind this Act while select politicians pretended it was supposed to protect the people from their shenanigans.  In that sense, it was a true act!

My hand involuntarily underlines key words with a flourish.

“What act?”

The Federal Reserve Act, of course, signed into law with smoke, mirrors and much haste, just before Christmas, 1913.  I wasn’t paying attention.  If democracy had been eroded before then by city bosses, that Act nailed it dead—and I had to die to figure it out.


My hand takes off.

At the time, I thought it was a good idea that the United States should give its money supply to a private central bank, a protection from the old robber barons.  But I did not know who truly was behind the central bank, nor did anyone else.  It was concealed from us, by design.

“And the people behind it were…?”

The same Wall Street bankers and financiers responsible for the Panic of 1907. Now I clearly see:  The Money Trust caused the panic to ball-up everything and contrive the need for a central bank, which they conspired to create and control.

“Sounds like conspiracy theory.”

Applesauce!  No theory.  Facts.  A true conspiracy.  The phrase conspiracy theory is designed by powerful conspirators to make sheep perceive truth-seekers as crazy.

“But how did they conspire?”  The page is full so I turn to the next.

In secret, of course!  They used aliases and codenames, while traveling and consorting, to shield their involvement in the creation of a so-called “Federal Reserve.”


Main culprits:  Paul Warburg, a German banker who emigrated to the United States, Henry Davison, who came from J.P. Morgan, and Senator Nelson Aldrich  (father-in-law of John D. Rockefeller), who had been in cahoots with J.P. Morgan to posture himself as a banking expert.  It began at a secret meeting they convened on Jeckyl Island, attended by three other powerful Wall Street bankers.

“Where is that?” I say aloud, scarcely believing that the great Lincoln Steffens is automatically guiding my hand and leaving a trail of ink with the century-old pen I had just purchased.

Georgia.  They could not meet in New York with everyone watching.  So they traveled south, separately, stealthily, to create a blueprint for hijacking the United States Treasury, and with it, the country.  Everybody—including me—was made to believe this new entity was supposed to watch big bankers, monitor them.  Baloney!  It was akin to putting coyotes and bobcats in charge of a chicken farm and a sheep ranch.  This is what the United States has become ever since—one big chicken farm and sheep ranch.  All they needed was the right president to sign it into law.  That would be The Schoolmaster.


Woodrow Wilson.

I lift my hand, not because the inks stops flowing, but because my wrist needs a rest.  

After a half-minute, I return the nib to paper...

Monday, August 10, 2015


As mentioned earlier, Lincoln Steffens did not approve of saloons, which he blamed, in part, on the ruination of U.S. cities.  

He believed they created an environment for back-room politics that led to graft and corruption.

But he was no teetotaler, according to my friend Thom Steinbeck, son of John.  

“My father told me Lincoln was a good Lutheran.  He liked the bottle as much as anyone else—but he kept it in the barn.  He didn’t like anyone else to know of his fondness for drink.”

So, in deference to Lincoln, I do not return to Sade’s, but cut into Surf N Sand Wine & Liquor on Junipero to peruse its ample shelves for a period potion.

I don’t know if Lincoln Steffens ever sampled absinthe when, fresh out of college, he visited Paris.   

But the Green Fairy sings to me when I happen upon a bottle of Le Fee, which claims genuineness, right down to wormwood, an herb known to induce hallucination. 

Conveniently, the bottle comes with an absinthe spoon attached.  All I need is a wide-mouthed, stemmed glass, and brown sugar cubes, easily accomplished at Bruno’s Market and Deli nearby.

Just like my hero, Lincoln Steffens, I’ve already determined to drink in the privacy of my room.  

I follow the prescribed ritual:  water over sugar cube, which melts into my emerald-green potion.  

Once it clouds into opaqueness, I moisten my lips. 

This libation should be savored slowly—not least because it is 136-proof.

Dusk slips into the darkness as I look out my window, onto Ocean Avenue, which has quieted.  

The shops have closed, their customers and salespersons dispersed into an evening scented with burning pine.  

I contemplate Lincoln Steffens and try to imagine Carmel in the early 1930s, which, the Great Depression aside, seems an elegant period in American history.

When my drink is done and night has fallen, I rise and head out again, armed with my digital camera.  Back to The Getaway, to capture any trace of what once was.

It takes but a couple of clicks to produce the image I know will appear:  One large orb.

Is it Lincoln Steffens?

Maybe.  Who really knows?

Orbs have never been scientifically explained.  They are likened to ghosts and spirits, but not in a haunting sense.  

Their presence provides feelings of wellbeing:  we are not alone.  

A few more clicks—and Lincoln (if it truly be he) is no longer alone...

The whole crowd—everyone who ever showed up at The Getaway—comes out to party.  

My work done, I return to the Inn, its restaurant, for a pizza with wild mushrooms and truffle oil, and a glass of fine point noir.

Then back to my room.

I have a folio crafted from Russian leather that spent two hundred years on a seabed, sunk there aboard a ship.  When divers salvaged this leather, it was, to their amazement, beautifully preserved. 

I place the folio with its creamy white ruled paper in front of me and fill my new, if very old, fountain pen with blue ink—as much a ritual as the preparation of absinthe.  

Then I press the gold nib firmly onto paper and squiggle a couple of loops.  

The ink flows smoothly.

I note the date and write, Lincoln Steffens, Carmel.

I sit back, clear my mind, and draw a few deep breaths before putting pen to paper.

My hand begins to move.

But it is not I moving it.

Astonished, I look to read what has been written.

The unknown is the province of the student; it is the field for his life’s adventure, and it is a wide field full of beckonings...

Sunday, August 9, 2015


Carmel is a quaint carnival of gift shops and art galleries.  

I stroll its streets, searching for the spirit of Bohemia. 

It is elusive, these days.  

The costive, snobby residents appear to regard visitors, who fill the streets and deliver revenue, with disdain—and I do not detect an actual artist among them.

Just as San Francisco’s Bohemian Club with its redwood grove ninety miles up the Russian River has been corrupted by the kind of corporate executives and politicians Lincoln Steffens strove to expose, Bohemia is populated these days not by artists and writers, but high-end corporate retirees.  

Steffens would have moved elsewhere.

Carmel’s commerce is its shops.  

Some have turned their hobbies into installations, celebrating and extending their passions to others.

The last holdout, for what once was, is a hole-in-the-wall dive bar:  Sade’s.  

Hard booze for cash money.  

And if Frank the owner is tending bar, snip that cigar and light ‘er up—he could care less about no-smoking statutes, an anarchistic spirit old Steffens would have applauded, even if he scorned saloons.

This is where I seek refuge with my buddy, Jim Beam, to guzzle, puff, and pontificate.

Not just any old cigar, but a Monte Cristo No. 5, from Havana; a gift from a friend, smuggled from London.  

With what, I wonder, did Lincoln Steffens rake the muck?

The answer comes swiftly:  his pen, of course.

“Visiting?” asks a female barkeep.

I shrug.  “Looking for something.”

"Looking for what?"

I pull on my cigar and blow smoke.  “Lincoln.”

She smiles.  “You found it.”


“This is Lincoln Street we’re on.”

Poetic, yes.  The right answer, no.  “That’s not it.”

Abraham Lincoln?”


“Then what?”

“Lincoln Steffens.”

“Does he come in here?”

“Maybe.  But you wouldn’t notice him.”

“Why not?”

“Because he’s been dead for almost eighty years.”

“You looking for his grave?”

I shake my head.  “His bones are in a family crypt up in San Mateo County.”

“So why aren’t you there?”

“He lived here when he died.”

“What did he do?”

“He raked muck.  I’m looking for his rake.”

She studies me, amused.

“It would be a pen,” I elucidate.  “Where, around here, would I find Lincoln’s pen?”

She twirls this around her brain until a reply rolls off her tongue.  “You could try Bittner.” 


“Not a who.  A shop.  A few blocks up Ocean Avenue.”

“I’m not looking for a new pen.  It’s got to be a hundred years old.”

“I think they sell vintage pens.”

I always trust bars to provide a signal—especially over a stiff drink and a smooth cigar.  And I tip well for good advice.  In this case, well, a Lincoln.

And five minutes later I’m standing in Bittner, a small pen shop with much to see.

“Any old pens?” I ask.

I can feel Bob’s passion as he unlocks a glass display case and sets a tray of yesterday’s pens on a desk between us.

“It’s got to be before 1930,” I say.

Bob picks up a thick Waterman fountain pen.  “This was the finest pen of that era,” he said.  “Used by captains and kings.”

I shake my head, smirking.  “Lincoln Steffens would never use anything as pretentious as that.”

“Did you day Steffens?” asks Bob.

I perk to this. “You’ve heard of him?”  

Finally, somebody in this town knows something about its heritage.

“We bought a bundle of pens at a local auction sometime back.  They came in a cardboard box with the word Steffens handwritten on it.”

My heart skipped a beat.  “You still have them?”

“Only one left.”  Bob plucked a small black pen with gold filigree from the tray.  “Late 1800s.  Noname.”  He says this with a hard e.

“What’s that?”

“No name.  A generic fountain pen.” 

“Yup,” I say.  “That’s what Lincoln would have used.”

Bob dips the pen’s gold nib into a jar of blue ink and scribbles, offers it to me.  “Here, try it.”

I do the same.  The flow of ink feels good, as if taking on a life of its own. “How much?”

“Four ninety-five.”

He’s talking hundreds.

“Can you give me a better price?”  I already know I will walk out of Bittner with this pen in my pocket.

“Three ninety-five.  And I’ll throw in a bottle of ink and a dropper.”

“A dropper?”

“That’s how you fill this kind of pen.  With an eye-dropper.”

Bob takes me through it:  unscrew the pen, draw ink from the bottle with the dropper, carefully fill the pen’s capsule with ink, and screw it up.  

“Carry it upright,” cautions Bob.  “These things leak.”  

Saturday, August 8, 2015


In 1927, having just turned 60, Steffens became weary of travel and desired to put his life as a muckraker into context.  

For this, he sought an ideal location to write his memoirs:  Carmel, California—not far from San Francisco, his birthplace.

In the early 1900s, Carmel-by-the-Sea welcomed artists, eccentrics, and bohemians (albeit the wealthy variety) and became known as Bohemia.  

When Steffens arrived for a look around, he immediately dubbed it his “forever” place, far from the corruption he muckraked in the cities and the revolutions he covered as a journalist.  

Steffens bought a cottage a stone’s throw from the ocean and moved into it with his wife, Ella, and young son, Pete, aptly pegging his final home The Getaway, whose living room played host to a “constellation of luminaries” (said one guest)—mostly artists and authors, including Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and Sinclair Lewis.  

(Hemingway famously lost his early manuscripts after Steffens, staying in Lausanne, Switzerland asked to see them; Hemingway’s wife, Hadley, dutifully packed them in a valise for carriage with her by train, and the valise was stolen when she went for a walk.)

Steffens said about his new home:  “It is a refuge for any poor s.o.b. in a jam.”

I had given little thought to Steffens in the thirty-plus years of my own worldly travels and muckraking. 

Then one day, during a stream of random Internet surfing, I happened upon my old inspirer, discovering, for the first time, his connection to Carmel.  

References about this were fleeting. 

Not even one photograph of The Getaway could be found on Google Images.  

I realized if I wanted to know more, and I did, I would have to visit Carmel, see it, and feel it.  

And since Carmel is but a four-hour drive from where I reside, I swung into gear and rolled up I-101 into Monterey County, turned left at Salinas, and curled into to the coastal cutesy community of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

First stop:  The Pine Inn, built in 1889, Carmel’s first hotel—and closest to the Steffens house.  I took a modest room with a street view, a window, and a fan.

Second stop:  The Carmel Heritage Society, where volunteers knew nothing of Lincoln Steffens’ presence in their town. 

The library, nearby, proved a better resource, providing The Getaway’s precise location:  

Aim for the ocean, turn left off Ocean Avenue onto San Antonio (last street before the beach), fourth house on the left.  (Houses in Carmel-by-the-Sea are not numbered.)

A mere couple of minutes by foot, there I stood before a handsome yellow cottage with a white picket fence and, embedded upon a large stone, a plaque honoring the memory of its best known occupant.

Friday, August 7, 2015


When I became an investigative reporter almost forty years ago, my journalistic hero was Lincoln Steffens, the granddaddy of American investigative reporting from the turn of the nineteenth century.

Steffens was the man to whom President Theodore Roosevelt was referring when he conceived the word muckraker.  

Thereafter, along with his handpicked team of reporters, Steffens wore TR’s moniker as a badge of courage.

In-depth exposes scribed by the muckrakers and published in large-circulation national magazines—such as McClure’s—became the scourge of Wall Street, feared by the corrupt and adored by the man in the street. 

Steffens continually exposed democracy as a sham, revealing how bankers and captains of industry had hijacked the democratic process while exploiting America’s labor force.

During his early years as a swashbuckling muckraker, Steffens liked to believe the pen was mightier than the sword; that social change could be affected through the printed word.  

But after half-a-century on this earthly plane, he changed his mind, becoming a fervent supporter of revolution, espousing that only revolution could turn the status quo topsy-turvy and set things right.

The original muckraker grew up in Sacramento, in a large Victorian house later sold to the State of California for use as the Governor’s Mansion.

Some saw Steffens as a traitor to the privileged moneyed class into which he had been born.

But what turned Steffens into a campaigning renegade was school—or, more precisely, his inability to learn in a classroom environment.

Steffens, I am convinced, suffered from attention deficit, which had not, back then, been identified as a disorder.  Like many afflicted with ADD, Steffens was born with an intense desire to learn—but not what teachers wanted to bang into his brain.  

Steffens yearned to know what was really going on.

As we know now, persons with ADD do not fare well in typical classroom environments.  

These are the daydreamers, whose brains cannot be conformed to rote learning.  

Society, today, strives to put such persons "on track" by prescribing Ritalin and other medications that strive to “focus” their minds into submission.

Normal people generally stop learning by the time they reach the age of twenty and enter the groove in which they remain until retirement.

Conversely, ADD sufferers (or enjoyers), do not learn much until they’ve had two decades to process the world around them—and then they never stop learning.

Such was Lincoln Steffens, whose desire to learn was never quenched.  

He believed that most people needed “un-learning” before they could venture into reality in general and truth questing in particular.  

(Or, as the exasperated Wall Street giant J.P. Morgan said of Steffens, “Knows what he wants, and—and—gets it.”)

Upon completing his autobiography, Steffens hoped to title it My Life of Un-learning.  (His second choice was In Wonderland.)  

Harcourt, Brace & Company favored The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens (1933).  

It became an instant bestseller, hurtling Steffens into a second career on the lecture circuit.

A mentor of mine recommended this tome to me forty-five years after its publication. 

It inspired me into a life of un-learning, of journalism, and of never settling for the status quo. 

It should be required reading for every student of journalism.

Sadly, the term muckraking is these days negatively associated with supermarket tabloids. 

Moreover, mainstream media generally eschews investigative reporting as too expensive and potentially litigious.  

Plus this:  Today's television networks, weekly newsmagazines, and daily newspapers are largely owned by assorted corporate conglomerates—the same folks Lincoln Steffens sought to expose in his reportage.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015


I study the smiling apparition closely.  

“Dad?” I gasp.  

“Hi, kid.”

“What…?  How…?”  

“Sorry we never had a chance to say goodbye,” it says.  “That’s death for you.  How’s your mom?”

“Handling it okay.”

“A stoic woman.”

“I know.  She misses you.  She sometimes dreams about you, and when she wakes up, for a moment she thinks you’re in bed next to her.”

“I am.  Your brothers?”

“Everybody’s fine.  Right after you died the economic system collapsed, just like you thought it would.  But we’re okay, discovered a few new restaurants you’d love.”  I suddenly realize the inanity of these pleasantries, given the extraordinary company.  “Dad, I really wish you could see Olivia’s paintings.  I think, of anyone, you would be blown away by her creative talent, what she produces.”

The apparition shakes its head, eyes twinkling.  “I always knew.  Remember that ugly bulldog puppet I had when you were kids?”

“I do.”

“And how with each of my grandchildren, when they were about three years-old, I’d produce it out of nowhere and make it snarl at them?”

“I remember.”

“And they’d squeal and run, and sometimes cry.”

I nod.

“Olivia was the last of my grandkids.  So that was the last time I pulled out the bulldog.  I snapped it at her as I did all the others.  You remember what she did?”

“Sort of.”

“She didn’t jump back and run, she didn’t cry.  Olivia pulled her arm back and punched that bulldog smack in the nose.”

“I remember now.”

“She was the only one.”

I smile.  “That’s Olivia.  Bloody-minded.  She’s still a daily challenge.”

“It’s a good thing.  She’s going to save the family one day.”

“From what?”

The apparition shakes its head mischievously.  “And you?”

“I’m bloody minded, too,” I say.  “I think my epitaph should be:  I stood up to everything and everyone.  And that’s why I’m laying here.

“I’m proud of you.”

“Thanks, Dad.  I bought a painting a year ago that reminds me of my childhood, and of you, a small oil-on-board.  Makes me smile whenever I look at it.”

“What is it a picture of?”

“The ferry crossing from Balboa Island to the fun fair in Newport.  Remember we used to go there almost every summer when I was a kid?”

“I remember well.”

“We rented a house one summer, for a week, I think.  And you returned to LA for a few days mid-week for work.  And I missed you.  I kept looking forward to you coming back.  And one day, I’m on the sand of the little beach, near the ferry, and I have a feeling or something, and I look up, down the promenade, and there you are, about fifty yards away, smiling right at me.  You were leaning against the wall of an amusement arcade, waiting for your sons to notice you.”

“I’d been standing there a few minutes, watching you boys play.”

“I felt such love in your smile, and your happiness at seeing us.  And I realize, remembering your expression, that you loved us as much as we loved you.  I was so excited, I ran straight to you, and you scooped me up in your arms.”  I pause, eyes welling.  “I hadn’t been to Balboa in years and years.  I returned there last year, took the old ferry across to Newport, and visited the same little beach.  From it, I looked where you had stood almost fifty years ago, and I imagined you standing there again, smiling.  Then I saw this little art gallery, and in the window was the painting that took me back to my childhood.  It was great childhood, Dad.”

I turn to look at the apparition, but all I see is an empty leather chair.

My cigar has long since burned out and, glancing at my watch, I’m astonished to see that over an hour has passed; it is now near midnight.

I unlatch the door to the terrace and step out, look straight up to the big night sky; a star gaze.  

It’s all up there, out there; you’ve just got to swing away from earthly lights, all the clutter, beam your mind far out into the cosmos.

Experiences of the mystical kind are hard to process.  

The easiest of such phenomenon is mind exploration during sleep, otherwise known as dreaming.  

The hardest interpretation is that one’s mind is disordered, otherwise known as psychotic delusion, or crazy.  

Somewhere in between is the trance-channel, or mediumship, where otherwise sane and conscious persons are able (so they claim) to communicate with spirit entities.

All things considered, I like to think one stormy night, through sheer tenacityy, I transcended a dimension for an old-fashioned bull session with Papa, the legendary novelist, and re-connected, for a golden moment, with my own.