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Coming down from the last few weeks of psychological ruffling – Wm. Shakespeare’s query, to be or not to be, is a good little prompt for some philosophical rummaging, and it certainly worked here – seems to have directed things to a more relaxed mode, and the work over there in the editing machines is slow. And rummaging about in other things seems to be the silent dictum. Cleaning up after a fashion, trying to find some order in the long trail of messes that have accumulated in this transient life. Riffling through old files here, I found this, which seems worth posting, somehow pertinent to the news of these days. This was written in autumn, 2004, as I headed back to Port Hadlock, Washington, where on return to the US after a 10 year absence, I’d holed up in a little cottage and plunged into non-stop work, I think as a way to deflect the pain of the loss of my daughter Clara (lost to a kidnapping, a corrupted legal system in Portugal; lost in the vulgar normalcy of our world). The trip was to do screening and make some needed coin, as well as to visit friends I hadn’t seen for some time.

Oct 15 2004:

Finished with screenings in LA (full house for OUI NON – sounds great until I note for you the house has 70 seats, a speck in the vastness of the place), I wandered southward, through Orange County, down to North Coast just above San Diego, to visit friends. I’d lived there a while back in 1977-78, and then visited often in the interim. The changes down there, even since 2002, my last visit, have been profound. The once desert realm just a mile or two inland is now an LA-style sprawl, as far as the eye can see or the soul can cope: condos and houses and cookie cutter shopping malls, chic boutiques, and cars and cars and more cars. The rural areas, once only a few miles from the ocean, now begin only at the edges of the mountains, inland 20 or 30 miles. The funky arroyo where I lived a while in 77 is now a swanky realm of $500,000 duplicate homes, just out of that Beverley Hills by the sea, Del Mar. No more funk to be seen, and where the Mexican laborers – the ones who care for the pools and yards, who do the household cleaning and cooking – find a toe-hold is unclear. A friend informed they live in the few yet-undeveloped ravines left. It is clear that here money has triumphed, though at the cost of what the buyers presumably were purchasing: a slice of So Cal sun and fun, now reduced to LA-South: the not-so-freeways jammed, the beatific beach life now caught in the hustle of managing to make that $80,000 a year which a UCSD acquaintance assured me was the requisite sum to live OK in the area. Naturally the chic streets of Del Mar and Encinitas, as well as the more inward shopping malls, are full of balming cures – yoga and pilate and all the customary fixer-uppers of California: tits droop? we got the answer. getting old? Botox or Viagra? Scripps Clinic, sitting on the bluffs overlooking the vast Pacific outside La Jolla (most expensive/classiest burg of the union it is said) has a kitschy billboard at the north end of Encinitas, a gigantic flower against white and the phrase, “A World of Healing: Scripps.” Scripps is a very high-end check out clinic, a last ditch if-you-have-the-money-we-(may)-have-the-cure end-game joint. You go there to die. Ah, but you get a most unhospital-like place and a handsome look at the endless horizon off to the west. Go west old man, very west. And in classic SoCal manner, if you go far enough West you will get East, and a little Buddha will greet you in deathland way off there in the big Pacific beyond.

Friends were in their particular rat-races. Marshall, star of my silver screen (Slow Moves, Bell Diamond, Bed You Sleep In) is trapped in cubicleville, working for a big IT corporation, whose place now sprawls in classy anonymity across the once-desert east of Carlsbad, which itself has burst from sleepy next-to-Marine-Jarhead-Oceanside, into burgeoning competition for Del Mar. The newly minted swathes of tarmac are lined with industrial and corporate parks, instant warehouses of labor that can’t be outsourced to cheaper places, though they are trying hard. Marshall treads the fiscal waters trying to stay afloat while writing English lingo manuals for esoteric computerese stuff, he’s the interface between zero-one geek and customer. His ex lives in one of the endless houses, this one with swimming pool, vast square footage and a mortgage designed to kill. However Dad had property in once worthless desert, now worth as many zeroes as you care to add. But there’s still a mortgage, which in my book translates from the french, “death-measure.” Pay til you drop, but another variant of the patriotic duty of all Americans, so our President said after 9/11, “shop til you drop.” So Cal is very patriotic, though I would shudder to tally up the personal and business debt. Not to mention ponder the matter of such elemental stuff as “water” which these days mostly is hauled from the far away and dwindled Colorado River. What these new millions will drink soon I wonder. I am told desalinization plants are on tap as the solution. And then, all of this sprawl firmly rooted in the All American premise of cars cars cars, and attendant freeways and tarmac connective ribbons, I wonder what happens when 30 years hence the oil is gone, and in the interim, oil costs (lots) more: present cost of lowest octane fillerup is a mere $2.40 or so at the moment. And due to climb (and climb and climb).

I spent a little time on the beach, shooting some nice stuff, and then fled inland to visit another friend, who has a spread at the foot of Mt. Palomar. Enroute into the so-called “inland Empire” I passed no less than 3 new giant Indian res casinos. Last time I went there, only 2 years ago, there was only one, now there’s four. These are really huge things, buildings erupting from what only a few years ago was a desert of scrub brush, cactus, and sparse ramshackle homes with junker mobiles adjacent. The latter remain, now abutted to sprawling multi-level parking lots and bloated hotels and the sacred casino, horn of plenty born of the apparent American belief that instant wealth is a constitutional right. The guys in Vegas, having exponentially bloated that desert mirage into a million soul city, have managed to insinuate themselves fully into the American landscape anywhere an alleged Native American has a plot of other-law land. California, as well as many other places, now blooms with casinos, where in the name of the social and economic improvement of the local inhabitants, a vast Mafia, in collusion with that other mafia, our wonderful federal and state governments, a wonderworld of fraud is installed, carefully calculated to extract a special tax from the TV besotted mostly lower-end citizenry who verily seem to believe that the horn of plenty lies in the statistical odds of loss. I am sure the casino population is a solid Bush world. I am informed that the investment for these elephantine gambling joints is normally recouped in a year, and from then on it is pure frosting. One wonders if the “profits” from these enormous machines is included in the GNP? I bet so. Barnum is happy in his heaven, rolling in coins like Scrooge McDuck. How very American it is.

My friends have a small horse ranch, at the base of Mt Palomar. Gretchen recently got 3rd best mare in the country, not sure what that means in that world, but given some of the horse country I have driven through in the last month, it must mean something pretty big. Their horse ranch is small and funky, but SoCal, with trees dripping with fruits which the boxful of exotic items I brought to Newport with me attesting to the fecundity of lots of sun and watering. As the billboards I saw enroute down through the San Joaquin valley attested, “Plants grow where water flows.” All of that valley and SoCal are ecologically actually a desert….

Under the press of lots of things to do I left sunny SoCal for the north, and instead of driving slowly as I had imagined to do, the accumulated things-to-do kept the pedal to the metal, my old ’88 Subaru running fine, up through the backside of Orange County, the deserts east of LA, a vast sprawl of yet-to-be chic’ed terrain, though Wal-Mart is paving the way for sure, up past the landing place for the now hesitant Space Shuttle, Edwards Air Force Base, and then on the Pear Blossom Highway where I was tempted to stop and do a live variant of Hockney’s lovely piece (will await HDV), and then up into the Owens Valley from whence came a good chunk of LA’s water supply (see Nicholson in Chinatown for a bit of local lore), behind Mt Whitney, highest mountain of the contiguous states, where the valley has been drained from greenery to desert thanks to the masses to the south. The small towns began again to be small towns, untainted with the urban wealth after passing Mammoth Lakes, a ski resort. I had a $10.99 all-u-can-eat beef rib and salad dinner as the TV brawl began. I bedded down in an Indian run (India Indian, but she was from South Africa she said as I bantered about having been in India a year ago) old motel in Bishop, catching the last half of the 3rd so-called Presidential debate. Bush again deflated, this time in his 3rd reincarnation, this one an ever smiling and joking 50’s throwback, none other than Alfred E Neuman of Mad Magazine renown. Columnists assert this is his just-plain-folks persona, the guy you’d go to an NFL game or a bar with (except he don’t drink he says), a regular good old boy. Personally I find him phony as a 3 buck bill, and certainly no one with whom I would care to spend 2 seconds. He trotted out his threadworn phrases, desperate to shore up the lost credibility of his last two outings. Yep, George has been outed. No, he’s not gay. In outing #1 he was befuddled by the apparent wiring, his direct line to whomever (Rove? Cheney? God?) making for inexplicable pregnant pauses which begot verbal abortions. And the Quasimodo lump was seen, giving some game away. Round two he came out the loud tough-guy slugger, though maybe seeming more the out of control madman, and then he settled down into lumpen civility, if lacking any intelligence. The critics said he was “good” in his last half hour; I thought he was pathetic. Round 3 he came out as smiling Joe, your barroom chat-mate, Mr Regular, regurgitating stale old cliches just like the guy in a bar, looping a dead conversation for the umpteenth time. But smiling all the way, spittle on his lips, making one shiver at the thought that this schizoid creature has been sitting in the White House for 3+ years making mayhem, while still half the nation allegedly admires and respects him. If this is statistically correct, then we have a nation headed to perdition, and fast: Nero fiddled while Rome burned, but at least he had the character to commit suicide when the game was up; I sincerely doubt that our George has the modicum of grace to exit in such manner. Actually, given his performance in these three episodes of As The World Turns, I expect him as I thought possible a year ago, to simply go over the edge and flip out, resume drinking, or snorting, or whatever his last resort m.o. would be. When push comes to shove, George throws a tantrum and then runs. You can run, but you can’t hide, to quote one of his supposedly clever retorts. Whether Kerry held his fire or is simply not up to skewering replies himself, I cannot say. One suspects a fraudulent respect for the institution of the Presidency and our utterly corrupted government held things in check, since bottom-line, Kerry is part of this totally bankrupt system himself. America is in the deepest trough of corruption – moral, ethical, social, economic, political – that I have ever seen. We would have to go back to the 1890’s or so for an equivalent, and even so I think this likely trumps our past. These fake souls we have for politicians and judges and bureaucratic middle-men are pathetic, as shown in the wreckage of their policies and thoughts, sitting in their comfortable upper class realms speculating quite incorrectly on how other cultures and humans think and behave and how they should bow down to our supposed superiority in all matter, never mind the lip-service about multi-cultural values: bottom line, MacDonald’s is better for you than kebabs…. Yes, Mr Tenant, a real “slam dunk.” These people are akin to Hitler, biting off far more than they can chew, filled with themselves and their imaginary powers, hunkered down in think-tanks where thought is an alien form. American universities (which I visit too often) are full of the same, and breed the same detached-from-the-real-world “thinking.” Little wonder as America wanders in the wide wide world it bumps into things in the dark and wonders waaa the hell…? Ignorance is far from bliss.

Driving up the Owens Valley, the landscape a stunning one of autumn trees turned vivid yellow, alders tracing the moisture of creeks running down the vast arid mountainscapes, the late afternoon sun illuminating these bursts of primary colors, tempting me to stop to shoot, I turned on the radio instead, unusual for me. Flicking through the modest selection I got the expect C&W, now a canned corporate kind lacking, like rock, any originative qualities – over produced, slushy lyrics far removed from any real experience. Next was religious stuff, exactly the same, either the country twanged minister reciting chapter and verse from his holy text, fulminating about Caladeans, hell and damnation, or alleged music, lyrics of such tripe “god, cross, died for you and me” to the accompaniment of something that has to do with music as Kincaid has to do with painting, pure unadulterated kitsch posturing as uplifting “religion.” The combination of this Hallmark Card sincerity in the form of purported music, and the Jimmy Swaggart phony sermons stridently serving up alleged morality, coupled with the landscape to make a portrait of an America of appalling provinciality, a perfect mirror for that other world of mullahs, buried against the mountains of Afghanistan, where the same religious fervor and fear evokes a similar deadly response. Here in the USA such a program might sit on the same frequency with a followup program of C&W, the lyrics of which are mostly about picking up pussy at the local bar, and beating beaver for a quicky one-night stand. That these two can share the same station sometimes is a schizophrenia left untouched by the irony-lacking locals who somehow manage, like good little human beings, to couple their fears and their sexual organs in the same breath. Shifting programs, Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh come into range, foaming and yelling their toxic brew of hates, feeding the already boiling social atmosphere with still more irrationality, begging for a Hitler strongman to step in to impose order. Slipping in on the on/off FM range, NPR comes with soothing voices, the horror of Bush’s L word floating across the dried up lakebeds of Nevada as I headed into Reno where another small city had mutated in the last 15 years, like a cancerous growth, sprawling out into the surrounding desert, a gush of suburban settlements all built upon still more casino cash, the American dream writ in spades across the harsh terrain of Nevada, all nicely air conditioned for summer, and heated for winter (it gets real cold in Reno then). The rush of SUVs matches the energy consumption needed to make this place hospitable to present day Americans, busy doing slots, awaiting that call from on high to suddenly anointed millions. Gods Bless America.

I zipped right through, somewhat shocked at what had happened in only 12 years – Reno blooming from “friendliest little city” into bloated semi-LA North rushing headlong into the Nevada night. I felt as if I were in the midst of some rapidly metastasizing cancer called US. Plywood and 2 x 4s, with thin veneers of “class,” quarter million buck and up homesteads built to last 20 years if lucky. Again, the American ethos of move in, wreck the place, move on, seemed to shout as the umpteenth Wal-Mart, Target, Albertsons, and shop-til-you-drop fillerup slid by.

North of Reno, on US 395, after about 50 miles this more or less disappeared, and the old (well, sort of old, depends on the measuring stick) American west resumed, thin in population, up into the Sierra Nevada, ponderosa stands with thick trunks lining the highway, though clear-cuts lay behind, somehow not as brutal and warlike as those in Oregon. The pace slowed down, and Susanville, seemed still unfazed by the bustle further south. No Starbucks in sight. Over the high plateu of the Sierras, large blanched meadows by which stood signs asserting “lake” underlined the 7 years drought, as did a fat plume of smoke to the south. Still though gorgeous, and being a national forest, very thinly populated. I should have stopped for the night but kept moving on, up into Oregon, pausing in Ashland, pretentious little town of “culture” (The Bard is their man, having an annual Shakespeare festival, college, etc.) it’s little downtown an oasis of “culture” imbedded in the redneck of Medford and Grants Pass, places hosting survivalists and such, and that very evening, none other than George Bush, come to the area to speechify in his peculiar manner. Off I-5 parking lots filled with cars and lots of police were to be seen. I am told the man pulled 12,000 in for the night, of whom today’s papers say 4 women were arrested for the evidently illegal matter of wearing T-shirts which said “Protect our Constitutional Rights.” The newspaper said they did nothing else to warrant removal from this rally. Welcome to police state America I guess, where asserting there is a constitution or rights which need protecting is an offensive concept to Our Great Leader and his minions. I fled on, northward in the dark, getting to the coast at Reedsport only to find highway 101 up the coast was blocked at the Seal Caves, nightwork on a tunnel closing it down 8 to 6am. I found a reasonably hidden place and parked and slept in the back of the car. It is getting hard to find places to camp anymore – all the state and national forest campgrounds run $10 or more, never mind the simplicity of your rig. In California along the coast any place that has room for a car or van is heavily posted NO OVERNIGHT PARKING, etc. Valhalla is gone.

As noted on the journey down, given the intensity of the present campaign the absence of bumpstickers and yard displays for Bush/Cheney or Kerry/Edwards is remarkable. Very few the entire route, though in rural areas the occasional and often outscale absurdist Bush/Cheney display, accompanied by gigantic flags, literally Christo does politics in RWandB. I take the giganticism to be a sign of vast insecurity posturing as macho B(u)S(h)[it]. Otherwise I think the lack of outward signs is a fear that to disclose one’s views will result in never talking to your neighbor again. Or of the government should Bush pull this one out. All the signs of imminent jackboots have been on ample display and Americans seem to be showing the same spine our German friends did some 60-70 years ago. I hope not.

Newport now, a gray fog hanging along the coast, and boxes of things for me to cope with in the next 2 days. Then northward on to Portland, Port Angeles, absentee voting and then on the London and Italy on Oct. 25, from where I will watch the election unfold. Should Bush win I think I will not return for 4 years, at least. And if America proves so terminally intent on strength and ignorance, perhaps I will excuse myself from its citizenship.

———————————————————————————————

That was back in 2004. We all know who won (or stole) the election, and know what that has meant. I did not then stay away from the US, but rather returned to live in Portland and then Lincoln, Nebraska, and to travel a fair bit with Marcella. Meantime the country has naturally changed, and what was once a hidden opinion of those crazed and marginalized sorts such as perhaps myself, has edged into the so-called mainstream. Calls for impeachment are broadly heard, even if the corrupted souls who occupy most the seats of our Congress remain deaf to them. And the purportedly apathetic youth, if we are to believe some of our dubious pundits, are actually stirring themselves to action, to put their shoulders to the much needed corrective that America begs for. Unfortunately for me, the closer the possibility of a genuine shift though our political system appears, the more I smell the whiff of gunpowder. I hope I am wrong. I do not envy whomever finds themself in the pilots seat for the coming years – the adjustments America, and the entire industrialized world must go through are drastic and the kind of thing that usually prompts ugly social-political consequences.

[Little note: WordPress doesn’t seem to want to take instructions about type color, size, etc. – I know I am just learning, but when I look at the “code” it says it should be there, but then… And when I open up the site from the web the text is in a nearly unreadable red which so far I can’t manage to change, though it does change if you click the header line. Go figger….]

One Comment

  1. I was in a car ride with you and Manny Farber from San Diego to Los Angeles in 1975. You accidently left a copy of Speaking Directly in the trunk (or one of your films). I’m living in New York now and noticed that you are teaching up the street at Millennium. I was wondering when you will be teaching there again. Your web site is great. Thanks for the inspiration. Remember Jim Goldberg from SD? Thanks, Jim Randall


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