Friday, August 22, 2014


The grapevine word:

Pierra Lafond has reportedly sold Montecito Wine Bistro a.k.a. The Casket and it is slated to become a pizza parlor.

Needless to say:  if true, a great development for Montecito.



London, England

The plan was that there was no plan; the ready, fire, aim approach that was my life then.  

I was nineteen, out of high school, not yet in college, putting it off a year. 

The date was 1974, the setting, London.  My family lived in the British capital, transplanted five years earlier from southern California. 

We'd come over for a three-week vacation and never returned, swapping sunny blue skies for clouds and rain at little more than my father’s whim.  

Maybe he suffered mid-life crisis.  That phrase wasn't yet fashionable but he was mid-40s, three boys to feed, entrepreneurial—and I suppose he saw this as his last chance at grabbing a hold of life before life grabbed a hold of him.

As I look back now, it should have been more traumatic.  The house and all material things I had known as a child, boxes of baseball cards (Pete Rose as a rookie, Mickey Mantle as a 1962 MVP, worth thousands now) junked.  

My father sold the house, gave the dog away, and held a garage sale.  

Goodbye ranch house and neighborhood with friends, traded for a Knightsbridge apartment over the Scotch House (woolens and cashmeres) with an inverted view of a shopping arcade's rain-stained glass roof.

Our old neighbors maybe wondered if my father had ground his wife and three sons into pig meat.  (No one called the police.)

It was a rough year.  If you needed a pint of milk or a loaf of bread past 5:30 in the afternoon, you were plum out of luck.  

Soon, enterprising Pakistanis and Indians (“uncivilized barbarians," they were called by the Brits) would open late-night convenience stores (till nine o’clock), and be victimized in bad neighborhoods by “Paki-bashing” skinheads in Dr. Martin boots.

As the dark, rainy months unfolded, my father's entrepreneurial project disintegrated. 

A new business idea began to germinate in his mind, as conceived by my mother. 

There were always a dozen such conceptions in his head as he fought the clock, so no one took him too seriously.  

Thursday, August 21, 2014


AN EAR IN  PROVENCE:  Short Bedlam Book about a search for the bit of ear Vincent Van Gogh cut off.

AND/ORISM:  European microstate fever.

BEDLAM AND BREAKFAST FOR TWO:  Joint insanity, akin to the French phrase Folie a Deux.

BIG MAC:  Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of trance-channeling.

CATCHING THE KLEPP:  Institutionalized.

CONCENTRICITY:  Magnetic lay-lines and highly concentrated energy. 

CULT OF LUNA-SEEKERS:  Moon worshippers.

DASH OF RED:  Needed for every painting.  (A Winslow Homer thing.)


DUNG HILL:  Mythical battlefield fought over by the French Foreign Feces and Nerdy's Turds.

DYMPHNAMANIACS:  Fans of lunacy.

DYNAMICS OF INCLUSION:  The gate is open for all to join.

EXITSTENCHTIALISM:  If you’re here, get out.

GHEELIZATION:  An insane epiphany.

GODEVIL:  The schizophrenic Supreme Being.

IDEAS OF REFERENCE:  Symptoms of insanity.

LUNAKEY:  A limited-edition key in silver and moonstone that unlocks creativity and madness

LUNA-SEEKERS:  Followers of the full moon.

MONTECITO MELLOW:  The state of being, in Montecito, particularly on Butterfly Beach or at Lucky's Bar & Grill.

MESTED:  Touched by metaphysical electro-shock therapy.

NUTS-CUBED:  Minimalist art, especially pertaining to Donald Judd and the minimalists of Marfa, Texas.

SHRINK-WRAPPED, LOOKING FOR A LABEL:  Not getting what you need from a psychotherapist.

SURREAL-SQUARED:  Icelandic art.

VAN GONE-VILLE:  Arles, France.

WE MOON BUSINESS:  The Luna-Seeking Motto 

WHO-CARISM:  An enlightened state that may come when you reach the age of 50 or visit Marfa, Texas, preferably both.

WOO-WOO-VILLE:  Sedona, Arizona (and other places that revolve around crystals).

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


September 2008

Years ago, my father sculpted a bronze bust of George Bernard Shaw, who once said, “Progress begins with the unreasonable man.” 

(Another way of saying it takes a crank to get things started.)

It is the creatively mad, the unreasonable right-brainers—inventors, scientists, designers, artists, poet-musicians, storytellers, writers—who produce anything of value in this world.  

These are the visionaries and eccentrics whose ideas and concepts evolve to practical application.  

The art of espionage, an arena I know well, is a good example. 

The CIA was created by imaginative Ivy-Leaguers and their protégées who, taking a lesson from eccentric British tutors, understood the need for a spy service.  They created a truly secret agency and recruited brainy, flamboyant people-persons, to cultivate human intelligence networks and collect crucial information.  

The same persons would not scrape through today’s security selection process.  

And that’s because, sooner or later, all creations end up in the hands of left-brainers, who proliferate until right-brainers are stifled into submission, and whose ever-growing rules and regulations soon devolve into a system of rote mediocrity, leading to vast expense, over-sizing, abhorrence of original ideas, and, ultimately, decline.

Creativity and madness is a dancing star.  When it collapses, only a black hole remains…

“Black holes suck,” says Van Stein.
Thomas Van Stein
We’re sitting in the bar at Piatti, Montecito’s upper village, dry martinis—a big, bright Oak Moon overhead, which the artist just painted.  

“Are you saying it’s the hole, not the donut?” says Van Stein.

“I’m saying I think we forgot someone.”


“Ernest Hemingway.   I’m getting sensations in my left hand—another electromagnetic summons.  Hemingway wants in.  Did you know he went mad in the end?”


“He thought the FBI was following him everywhere.”  I sip my martini.  “His wife and friends assumed he was nuts and checked him into the Mayo Clinic’s psych ward, which diagnosed paranoid depression.  They introduced him to Old Sparky, a dozen sessions.  It erased his ability to write.   That’s why he shot himself in the head with a double-barreled shotgun.  The irony is that Hemingway was right, not crazy. FBI agents secretly tailed him everywhere he went.”


“J. Edgar Hoover had a burr up his butt about Hemingway from World War II when the U.S. ambassador in Cuba authorized him to cultivate a spy-net in Havana, which he called The Crook Factory.  Hoover was so incensed about having his turf stepped on, he ordered G-men to discredit everything Hemingway did.  The FBI director never got over it—and went ballistic in 1960 when Hemingway met with Castro.  So when Hemingway settled back on U.S. soil, in Sun Valley, Idaho, the FBI settled on him.”

“Is that where he killed himself?”

I nod.  “Ketchum.”

Van Stein grasps it.  “We’ll catch him in Ketchum.”

“This may never end.”

“I know.”

And so we continue, a journey without end; for once launched, a surreal bounce, like life and the moon, is forever in motion.

As for defining the tenuous line between creativity and madness, the answer is this:  

When high creativity is not properly channeled (with pure focus) into an artistic outlet, it changes to boredom, which builds a bridge to insanity.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Painting:  Thomas Van Stein
Private Collection of RE

February 2008


One month later, in prelude to imminent moon rise (and second total lunar eclipse in six months), Van Stein and I head for the hills: 3,000 feet above sea level behind Montecito Peak; a view of Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean one side, a hundred miles of Dick Smith Wilderness the other.  

I close my eyes, allowing the stillness to consume me, heightening my other senses; for a moment, I understand why Native Americans believe the wind speaks their names.  

“Robert…” This is Van Stein, not the wind, as windy as he may be.  “Time to go.”
An hour later, I stroll Butterfly Beach garbed in a red fleece I’d bought at Patagonia for Alaska.  

Behind me, Van Stein paints a small sketch of the sun setting, and I (walking with my dog, Reilly) unwittingly become (Winslow) Homer’s dash of red in Van Stein’s deft reflection of blissful aloneness. 

I’d invited some pals, a few neighbors, and my imaginary friend, to party beneath the Full Storm Moon.  (Dynamics of Inclusion.)

But it is cold and dark and nobody shows up but us.

Monday, August 18, 2014


Painting:  Thomas Van Stein
Hangs at…

January 2008


Next morning we drive in lashing rain to Captain’s Coffee for cappuccino and local color, painted boldly on this institution’s ceiling panels, each panel its own visionary universe.  

Keep Homer weird, says a bumper sticker on a car parked outside.   

Next, a diner for eggs and biscuits smothered in gravy.  

It is Sunday and everything is closed except an old movie theater showing National Treasure at three and six o’clock.  

Back at spit’s end, bald eagles congregate, perhaps to commiserate the mis-state of the union.  You can get as near as five feet to these stern-looking creatures, rain-drenched and none too pleased about it.  Not six feet away, one eyes Van Stein, turns, lifts its back end and spurts steaming green eagle dukey.

Van Stein paints the Aleutian Mountains, adapting to weather that changes every five minutes, and at two-thirty I venture to the Homer Theatre, where half the town turns out for the matinee (the other half is coming at six).  

My imaginary friend, who reconnoitred while I movied, awaits me in the slushy parking lot.  We navigate through puddles and snow banks to a bar named Kharachters, whose patrons celebrate Homer’s motto:  A drinking village with a fishing problem. 

Draft beer for my imaginary friend; George Dickel bourbon for me.  

Immediately, Fred and Willy engage us.  

Fred, everyone’s image of a rugged Alaskan with beard, plaid flannel shirt and suspenders, has been drinking most of the afternoon and seems stoned on guanja.  

He sidles up to me, pool cue in hand, about to miss another shot.  “Hey there, you silver-tongued rascal, do you think we’re all crazy up here?”  

Either word has gotten around this small town about my big mouth or he knows what they are.  

“Of course,” I say.  “And that’s why we’ve come.”  

Willy nurses a long whiskey, which is to say a little whiskey and a lot of water.  “This way I can make it last,” he says earnestly.  “I’m done with shots.”  

Willy likes to sit at this bar for hours and hours, will probably close the joint—and reopen it next afternoon, so he drinks alcohol as if it’s dispensed from an IV drip.  

A bulletin board posting behind Willy identifies him as Mis-manager of Homer’s port.  

“It’s a joke,” sighs Willy.  “We had a problem with a police chief, getting the city sued, but he’s gone now.  It’s a long story.”  

We have to be gone, too, farewell to a bar so true to its name.

After a lonely dinner at Land’s End (the cross-country skiers had skied off), featuring salmon and halibut cryogenically preserved since the gold rush, we head to Duggan’s for draft bitter and an old jukebox.  

Exiting, Van Stein cannot resist spinning a propeller near the door, which rings a bell, causing a character named Digger to run forth from the pool table, hooting, “That means you buy everyone a drink! I’ve been waiting all night for somebody to do that!”  

Digger gets his beer and we move on to Downey’s, Homer Red beer, and Neil Young crooning Harvest Moon from a jukebox while Dex, a local dude in a boony hat, plays pool with his imaginary friend.  

A guy down the bar throws back Schnapps, offering shots to anyone who wants to join him.  

The management evicts us at midnight.  A plan to re-visit Kharacters is circumvented by the advent of clear sky with shiny Full Wolf Moon.  

So back to spit’s end, where Van Stein reels in the moon while, in the distance, killer whales converse in whistles and squeals.

Nest day, we retrace our tread to Anchorage; Captain Cook feels like an old friend.  

At Orso, bourbon at the bar until our table is ready and the salmon is wild.  

Afterwards, a taxi to Chilikoots:  musky, dank, a touch of skank.  Draft bitter in hand, we roam Koots’s nooks and crannies—a carnival of grunge, pierced bodies, tattoos, bouncers with Mohawks, and a room of women’s panties dangling from the ceiling. 

Leaving Van Stein with my imaginary friend by a fireplace, I take a bar stool far across the long room.  

Ten minutes later they prance over.  

“Something wrong?” asks my imaginary friend.   

“Not a thing.  Sometimes I just need to be alone.”

Alaska is a good place to be alone, a good place to understand aloneness. 

My self-Gheelization.  

Sunday, August 17, 2014


January 2008


I should have slept well, having been awake for so long, but I cannot find a comfort zone and finally arise to pitch-blackness at seven o’clock.  

That’s how it stays for the next couple of hours, me watching the dark from inside a Starbucks built into the corner of an office building with voyeuristic glimpses through glass partitions of a mezzanine and work cubicles lit with white mercury vapor.  

Van Stein joins me for cappuccino before we amble to Hertz to organize a getaway.

The clerk at Hertz is aloof and non-communicative as she fingers her keyboard.  

A second question, then a third, causes her brain to freeze, and we must wait for it to thaw before, wordlessly, she recommences computer-generated paperwork for releasing a Ford Escape to our custody.  

Escape from Anchorage is precisely the point.  

Especially after Alaskan Salmon Hash in the Captain’s breakfast room turns out to be potatoes with slivers of salmon that must be mined like gold.

We escape onto Route One, due south.  Our mission:  Traverse the Kenai Peninsula to the Homer Spit.   

Chugach Mountains open our collective spirit to the elements.  

Traffic is light, conditions clear along the highway, each turn another Christmas card.  Moose appear near the road; a road sign advisory: cars have killed a hundred and forty moose in the past six months.  

Other evidence (cars sunken in the snow, abandoned) suggests moose have killed four vehicles.  

There is no hurry this day; we long ago resolved that most of the fun is motioning toward a destination, not arrival.

We stop to stretch in Soldotna, later pass an orthodox church, in a town called Niniichik, that looks like a smaller version of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.  

“Have we crossed into Russia?” says Van Stein.

In fact, the Kenai Peninsula was Russia’s first settlement and trading post in Alaska, 76 years before the Russians sold the whole oil rich territory to the United States.
Homer Spit is a sliver of land jutting four-and-half-miles into Kachemak Bay; the second longest spit in the world.  It comes alive in summer with ramshackle mini-boardwalks, but in winter is bleak and desolate, littered with abandoned fishing boats and empty buses from another era.  

A lone bald eagle perches atop a flagstaff; stars & stripes flutter beneath it, a breeze from the bay. 

We roll onward, to Land’s End Resort, which is deluged with participants from a cross-country ski expedition.  Nonetheless, we nail a three-bedroom condo with kitchen, living room, fireplace, and picture window views across Kachemak Bay of the Aleutian Mountains.

Darkness falls early.  Van Stein dashes off a quick painting before we head back to the heart of Homer, a restaurant called Café Cups, decorated on the outside with large, colourful mad hatter teacups.  

Surreal weird.  

Inside, it bounces; a local crowd that recognizes an unknown face when they see it.   

Sitting down, looking around, we realize this social hub sits on the fence between creativity and madness.  Their wine list is presented on the back of an original oil-on-board; their walls explode three-dimensionally with colourful art and crafts. 

But best of all is what they serve:  steamed clams in garlic broth, Alaskan Crab legs (no butter or cocktail sauce needed), wild salmon and halibut.  So many schools of halibut matriculate in Kachemak Bay they qualify for university status.

It provokes me to announce that Alaska is one large mental institution, akin to Gheel in Belgium.  

I am overheard, apparently, because on her way out a few minutes later, a woman hands me a portrait she has sketched of me captioned with these words:  I find everybody’s mad.  

Saturday, August 16, 2014


January 2008


Five moons later, in January, when no one in their right mind visits the last frontier.  

(Eskimo proverb: Glorious it is when wandering time is come.)

This trip almost doesn’t happen. Two nights before departure, Van Stein suffers a mini nervous breakdown in Lucky’s after Charlie Chaplin’s ghost spills half a glass of red wine over his new linen jacket, shirt and blue jeans.   

He abruptly departs with a manic expression and maintains radio silence for the next twenty-hour hours, after which he sends a terse text saying he’s caught a cold and “wavering on Alaska.”   

But with military precision, Van Stein arrives at my Tree House 4:30 next morning.  He was exhausted, he explains, and shouldn’t have been allowed out.  

We pull off I-101 for Starbucks coffee and an ATM machine, but its camera takes one peek at Van Stein attempting to withdraw cash and freezes into lock-down.

Ninety minutes later, an eight o’clock flight to Seattle, first leg.  

“Can either of you name any famous Alaskans?” I ask Van Stein and my imaginary friend as we wait in the lounge.

Neither can name any.

“You know why that is?” I pose.

Neither knows why.

“Because fame doesn’t matter to Alaskans,” I say.  “The two most famous Alaskans aren’t even Alaskan.  An Internet website lists Jack London as a famous Alaskan, though he wasn’t born there.  And neither was Joe Juneau, a gold prospector who founded Alaska’s capital city.”  

“So why doesn’t fame matter in Alaska?” asks Van Stein.

“Because up in Alaska people grasp the vastness of everything, and in comparison, their own insignificance, and by extension the insignificance of people in general, so if people don’t really matter, fame is futile.”

“But he’s famous,” says Van Stein, pointing to a portrait emblazoned on the tail of an Alaskan Airways jet.  “Nanook.”

“Who the hell is Nanook?”

“Nanook of the north, an Eskimo leader.”

My imaginary friend consults her smart phone and Googles Nanook.  “Fictitious,” she announces.

“You see,” I say to Van Stein, “you’re not going to get away with your bullshit this trip.  We have a brain.”

“Nanook was in Mork and Mindy,” says Van Stein.  “Don’t you remember?  Mork used to say ‘Nanook-Nanook’.”

“Nanook is a mythological figure,” corrects my imaginary friend.  “From the Inuit.”

“Exactly,” says Van Stein.  “That’s where Mork was from.”

“No,” says my imaginary friend, studying her smart phone.  “Mork was from Ork, and the face on that tail represents Joe Q. Eskimo.”

I’d bought Into the Wild, a book by Jon Krakaur, and I conclude during the flight that its protagonist Chris McCandless was mad—perhaps suffering an as yet unidentified mental malady that combines ego and death wish, with a dash of hatred for authority—probably the “lone-nut” formula so popular with assassination-solvers.  

One thing I’d learned in my research preparing for this escapade:  governmental authority and nature are two different animals; you can often get away scofflaw-ing the former, but ignore the latter at your peril.

We fly into sub-freezing Anchorage, a city that takes its name from “anchoring” steamships—and home to half of Alaska’s 670,000 inhabitants.  

The Wolf Moon is already up (a dull white ball, not quite full) hanging orb-like in the blue sky over the Chugach Mountains.  In our wallets we carry calling cards I’d just printed:  Luna-Seekers, with this motto: We Moon Business.

We climb into a taxi and pepper our cabbie with questions about Anchorage.  He seems to know nothing about anything, but smiles and nods (self) indulgently in place of providing simple answers.   

Urban Anchorage, we soon see, is a mishmash of strip malls and contemporary eyesores.  

What is it about we humans that compel us to choose nature’s most beautiful settings for constructing the most hideous buildings in which to work our bones or rest them?  

We had witnessed this phenomenon in Sedona seven months before.  It is even more disconcerting here, a city that should pulsate, as Alaska’s largest, but instead is eerily still and quiet.  In other words, a lot like Reykjavic, but without the Icelandic capital’s glacial chic.

Once ensconced on the 17th floor of Hotel Captain Cook, Van Stein preps his palette; my imaginary friend and I trek around downtown, two parallel roads, 4th and 5th Avenues, lined with drab, ugly shops bordered by dirty snow and ice.  Most of the retail stores have the look of thrift shops, with their goods clustered haphazardly in display windows, lacking any design sense.   

A large J.C. Penney anchors the shopping experience.  

Monstrous hotels built by Hilton, Sheraton, and Marriott outline downtown, otherwise dominated by office buildings—concrete, steel and glass—emblazoned with names like Conoco Phillips, Exxon Mobil, and BP.  (These folks don’t much care about ruining rural settings in pursuit of oil so why should they care how monstrous their office blocks and hotels look?)  

Stray one block from 4th or 5th and you’re obstructed by one of many multi-story car parks that surround the center as if they are some kind of modern-day fortification to repel an invading horde.
The Crow’s Nest is a three-diamond 20th floor restaurant atop Captain Cook with commanding views of the city.  

Problem is, even with three mountain ranges, this gateway to Alaska has all the charm of a petrochemical plant.  Anchorage is where natural beauty meets urbanity at its most grotesque.  This city should be called The Grid:   it is mapped out on a grid more tightly framed than Manhattan.  Its natives are Gridders.  

We’d already had several brushes with them—the cabbie, a pair of receptionists, the concierge and assorted shopkeepers—all uniformly numb and dull and indifferent.  Nobody knows nothing, either oblivious to their own environment, or they do a great job feigning ignorance.  

It explains why many Americans who run away from their misdeeds wind up in the last frontier:  not only is it remote, the locals are either genetically or behaviorally reticent.

Friday, August 15, 2014


Painting:  Thomas Van Stein
Private Collection of RE

August 2007

Two weeks after collecting Nietzsche, we roll through San Marcos Pass into Santa Ynez Valley and pull into bucolic Los Olivos. 

A full lunar eclipse is less than twelve hours away. a rare event that Van Stein will paint in the presence of my imaginary friend and myself.   We have chosen this site for its big sky, and the likeliness of clear conditions.

Arriving about four-thirty, we venture on foot for wine tasting at Epiphany Cellars:  a few drops of chard, a little grenache, a splash of syrah.

Van Stein paints at a lavender farm while I and my imaginary friend hang at Mattei’s Tavern, an old stagecoach stop, for pinot noir and endless dialog about gods and dogs, semi-colons and midgets.  I notice my imaginary friend is without a wristwatch.  

“I never wear a watch,” she says; her reasoning is so sound I consider shedding my own time-manacle.   When I check the time, I realize we’re late for Van Stein’s pick-up.

Outside, the sky has darkened.  

My imaginary friend looks up.  “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.”

“I haven’t heard that since I was a kid.”

The artist is absorbed with rising Sturgeon Moon when we roll up.  

Next stop, Old Town Santa Ynez, and Grappolo, the finest Italian in Santa Barbara County.  Zuppa di pesce, angel hair pasta with tomato and basil, pizza with shrimp and garlic, followed by affogato:  vanilla ice cream and whipped cream swimming in a shot of espresso, dusted with cocoa powder.

With full moon rising high by half-ten, we return to Los Olivos, and a site we’ve staked, near Mattei’s, for the lunar eclipse.  It is very dark, precisely why we’re here.  

“In the thirties,” says Van Stein, “people like Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, and Carol Lombard would stop here for a beer on their way up to the parties at Hearst Castle.”  

Only their orbs remain.

Van Stein erects his easel and preps his palette.

The moon will eclipse at one fifty-one, beginning with a sliver of darkness upon the lunar surface.  Science tells us this is the earth’s shadow.  

In olden times, civilizations perceived the moon, during a lunar eclipse, as disappearing, and they prayed, even made sacrifices, for its safe return.  

Christopher Columbus used this to his advantage when stranded in St. Anne’s Bay, Jamaica; the natives had stopped supplying food because of poor treatment by his sailors.  Columbus met with the natives just before the moon was due to eclipse and warned them the Gods were unhappy by their stance, and would therefore remove the moon.  Almost immediately, for Columbus timed this well, the moon began to eclipse.  The natives grew frightened and promised to recommence supplying food if only the Gods would return the moon.  Columbus excused himself to “meet with the Gods” in private, soon reappearing to say the Gods would agree to such a deal.  The banquet that followed has been known ever since as Ruse-giving.

The only living thing that takes umbrage in Los Olivos to moon’s disappearance, aside from us, is a lone canine, whose barking-–an alert to the local population of 1,000 that something strange is occurring, penetrates a silence accentuated by chirping crickets.

“It’s so eerie,” says Van Stein, looking up at the partially eclipsed moon.  “Like a hand crawling across.  Or ink blotting it out.”  The artist beckons us to sit upon two beach chairs.  “I’ve set everything up.”  

In between my imaginary friend and me, a small table laden with candles in all colors, each representing a spirit orb collected from our odyssey.  Van Stein lights the candles.  He had forgotten spare batteries for his hat flashlight, so he is forced, for the very first time, to paint by candlelight.

In between brush strokes, Van Stein snaps a photo of my imaginary friend and me, consults the image.  “Orbs,” he says, with nonchalance for, by now, they appear in almost every photograph he takes, in ever increasing numbers.

Nearby, Nietzsche’s sad compositions wail from the car CD player.  We can feel his presence.  Along with Dymphna, Vincent, Dali, Jimmy Dean, and Big Mac.

“The earth is stillest, the quietest at three in the morning,” says Van Stein.  “It’s a good time to meditate, a good time to create.  Mozart used to write in the middle of the night.  Throughout history, battles would begin at three in the morning with bombardment. Three is the earth number, and also the trinity–-body mind and spirit…”

“Larry, Moe, and Curley?” I add.

At three o’clock the moon completely eclipses and it instantly turns from black to deep red-–a moon on fire.    

“Do you realize what this means for lunatics?” says Van Stein, eyes ablaze.  “Temporary sanity!”

In the absence of a bright moon, thousands of stars suddenly illuminate; a stunning Orion, a profound Pleiades-–meteorites shoot this way and that, flashing and streaming in all directions.

“Did you see that one?”

“Ohmigod there’s another!” 

It is a night of dancing stars.

Nietzsche is replaced by Joseph McManners, whose angelic voice enhances the surreal bounciness of this experience.

If the stars would only take me, up into the sky…

I check out Van Stein’s painting by candlelight.  He’s doing his plein-air nocturne thing, but the result is far from realism.  This picture is deeply esoteric.

“What’s that?” I ask, pointing to a wooden structure in his painting.

“You mean the gate?”  He throws a backhand wave.  “It’s right over there.”

Now I see it, having earlier been focused on moon and stars:  a crude Shinto torri beckoning us into a new adventure.  (Later, Van Stein consults a symbol dictionary to discover this gate resembles an old hobo sign meaning There are more tramps on this road.)

Thursday, August 14, 2014


Check out the new website.


Death Mask

1. Nietzsche adored his father, who died when Friedrich was only five, compelling him to later write, “Black clouds billowed up, the lightning flashed and damaging thunderbolts fell from the heavens.”  

2. Maybe, for Nietzsche, that is when God died; or maybe it was six months later when he looked out his bedroom window to see a white spirit rise from his father’s grave and enter the nearby church, organ music playing, then returning to the grave with something beneath its arm; for when Nietzsche awakened from this dream, his brother Little Joseph, not quite two years old, suffered a stroke and died.

3. It was in Leipzig in 1866, while at university, that Nietzsche contracted syphilis after visiting a brothel.  

4. Perhaps Nietzsche felt stronger for it, but anxiety, migraine headaches, nausea and poor eyesight compelled poor Fritz, at age 35, to relinquish his chair as a classics professor at the University of Basle and seek a quieter, calmer place for the full-time writing of experimental philosophy. 

5. Thus Nietzsche found Sils Maria, where walking–and the electromagnetic power of the Engadine valley–gave him solace and inspiration, supplemented by hashish oil, which contributed to his very deep thinking. 

6. On June 3rd, 1889, while standing on the Piazza Carlo Alberto in Turin, Nietzsche suffered a nervous breakdown when he saw a man beating a horse; sobbing, he rushed to embrace and comfort the horse, placing both arms around the nag’s neck.  

7. Nietzsche was led back to his room nearby, and when he awakened from a nap, Fritz believed he had succeeded God (whom he’d already declared dead) as ruler of all mankind–-suggesting also that he could control the weather.  

8. Nietzsche’s doctor, a close friend, was summoned and, upon arrival, arranged for Fritz to be smuggled out of Italy–-to Basle, Switzerland–for fear the Italians would forcibly confine him.  

9. Throughout the journey by train, Nietzsche sang, danced, shouted and asked that women be brought to him; Swiss doctors soon declared him insane.  

10. The mediocrity of man, along with syphilis microbes mulching his brain, and hashish oil and chloral hydrate (which Nietzsche took for sleep), had driven the philosopher mad; and, faithless, since God for him had long since died, Nietzsche spent the last ten years of his life casually strolling a lunatic asylum, before transcending from the chaos of his life into a dancing star.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


August 2007


It is pouring rain when I awaken.  I can hear it tapping against my window, blowing in from the lake.  I peer through curtains for a glimpse of this moody morning:  low cloud cuddling high mountains, dark, gloomy, wet. 

Few know that Nietzsche was a composer before he became a philosopher.  I discovered his complete works on two CDs at Nietzsche Haus.

As we roll out of Sils Maria, we listen quietly to Nietzsche’s compositions for piano and choir.  

The rain pounding our windshield feels like Friedrich’s teardrops, a poignant accompaniment to the sad strains of Miserere.

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin
Against thee only have I sinned and done evil in thy sight
So that thou may be justified when thou speaketh
And be clear when one thou judgeth
We are in Italy, nearing Lake Como, when I look up to the clouds and see Nietzsche’s face.  One can read an awful lot into clouds, but this portrait is striking.  

“Look up there,” I say to Van Stein, pointing.

The artist lurches forward from behind, follows my finger.  “Ohmigod!”

Mazey leans across for her own peek.  “But that’s… that’s him!”

Yes, Ms. Neuro-psychologist.  Wouldn’t it make a lovely inkblot?

“It looks just like his death mask,” says Van Stein in awe, reaching for his sketchpad to document our collective ideas of reference.

“Thank you,” I say.  “I thought I was hallucinating.”

We had answered Nietzsche’s summons, called his bluff, but it was no bluff, and now he is looking down upon us, the newest recruit to our gang of mad geniuses disguised as orbs.

It is mid-afternoon when we roll into Nice-Cote d’Azur Airport and bid farewell to JL and Mazey.  (We’d begun this road trip as Mazey’s patients, finished it with she ours.)  

Van Stein and I are weary, but punch drunk from having accomplished our esoteric mission.   

We manage a seat between us in the sardine-packed EasyJet cabin.  When a flight attendant conducts her final check, she sneers:  “I knew the Americans would get the only empty seat in between.”

The artist and I exchange puzzled glances:  A compliment or an insult?

Neither.  We needed a seat for Nietzsche!  

This propels us into manic dialog over miniatures of Bells whiskey, alarming fellow passengers as many as three rows away.  The subject is Nietzsche’s walrus moustache.

“You know, when Nietzsche speaks, you can’t hear him. The sound is completely muffled.  And it’s not like a lip-reader can help.”

“As for kissing, out of the question.  No woman could handle that without choking to death.”

“It’s a defense mechanism.  Having experienced the joys of syphilis, which he contracted as a young man, and which ate through his brain like an apple, turning it to mush, driving him to madness and ultimately killing him, Nietzsche determined the best defense against mankind, more specifically, womankind, is an impenetrable moustache, the biggest ever grown.”

“What about eating?  He couldn’t eat soup or drink coffee.  Spaghetti is out of the question.  Maybe a frankfurter?”

“You’re telling me his moustache is a Bratwurst Engulfer?”

“Was he hiding bad teeth?”

“Did he have a dentist?”

“How many nits were living that thing?”

“One million, thirty-nine thousand and sixteen.”

Somebody notifies the pilot.  

Our flight attendant arrives to check us out.   “Landing cards?”

“Yes, please.”

She hands us three.  

I look at Van Stein.  “Three?” I mouth.

“She can feel his presence,” whispers Van Stein.

I fill out a landing card for dear Friedrich, using the old Bedlam Bar address.

Immigration barely notices our antique German philosopher as we enter the UK, and soon we spill into a balmy Marylebone evening, met by Reek Pisserin and a pair of Iranian orbs in Hardy’s, grilled halibut, too much pinot noir.