Any Port In A Storm

Earthquake make a big mess!

Loma Prieta earthquake damage – Marina District, San Francisco • 1989

On October 17th, 1989 at 5:04 p.m. my 15 month old son Jordan and I were playing with colorful blocks on the floor of the living room of our house in Mountain View, California when the house began to shake, rattle and roll. I picked him up and ran outside to the backyard lawn where our cats ran a series of wild circles around us at high speed. We could see undulating waves rippling through the lawn. When it finally subsided we went back in the house and found that a five gallon water dispenser had fallen over, flooding our dining room floor. Many art objects and ceramic and glass containers had fallen to the floor and shattered.  A large pot of water that was boiling for pasta had jumped off of the stove top and crashed to the floor. 

Just weeks before I had demolished and removed a brick half chimney between the kitchen and living room which had been poorly supported on a base of 2” x 4”s that began four feet above the floor inside of a closet, an earthquake hazard which could have sent several tons of bricks crashing down on Jordan and me. When we bought the house a few years earlier, the first thing I did was to bolt the house to the foundation, as only gravity had been holding it down since it was originally built in 1925. Jordan, who had just learned to speak in sentences looked at the scattered, shattered chaos after the temblor and said “Earthquake make a big mess!”

At the same time the World Series baseball game was going on in Candlestick Park in San Francisco – a cross-bay contest in which the San Francisco Giants were playing the Oakland Athletics. 10 days later play resumed, the longest game delay in World Series history. In all 63 people were killed and 3,757 people were injured by the Loma Prieta earthquake. Jordan thought that the cats racing around the yard might have had something to do with causing the quake. We were very lucky to only have a big mess to clean up.

Whose Fault? • Collage I made after the Loma Prieta earthquake

I Know Everything! – Honolulu! Honolulu!

Duke Kahanamoku

When I was a young child I liked to shout these phrases at my brother Peter – To let him know the vast, unquestionable extent of my knowledge coupled with the alliterative sound of a distant city where the tropical Kona winds blew. While I was proud to be the smartest boy in the world, I’m not sure how “Honolulu” fit into the overall web of wisdom, other than knowing it annoyed my brother when I said it. My mother had been there as a child, taking wave riding outrigger canoe trips with Olympian medalist and world surfing ambassador Duke Kahanamoku. My father had been there during his days of trans Pacific sailing as a Navy chaplain during WW II, so the name of that fair city was a matter of family knowledge to me from an early age. I mostly liked the way it rolled off of my tongue, completing my universal knowledge with repeated sonorous vowel sounds.

Duke Kahanamoku surfing

Let the Cauli-Flower! Let Onion Ring! Let the Brussel Sprout!”

This was a bit of vegetable wisdom I often saw written on the side of a panel truck in the early 1970’s, penned and painted on the vehicle by my high school friend with the Scottish name,  Anwyl McDonald. When I was first getting to know him he asked me “What is your Foreign Policy?” wondering how I treated friends, which one of the most direct and incisive questions that a friend has ever asked me, especially at that very early stage of our friendship. He was a visual artist, a good musician and had a pet chicken that was chained to a small house that it could drag around his yard. We worked on a stop action animation video movie for our history class for Stan Seaburg, entitled “Two Simple Harmonic Motions” which had very little to do with European History, but was much more memorable and engaging to me than the Russian Revolution ever was.

Let the onion ring!

Magnetic mask, and uncharged mass, and gumbo soul, a living whole.

This poem was given to me in a hand written note by Anwyl Macdonald in 1969. I believe he was trying to describe how a fish feels when it is swimming.

Fish and water weeds

Walked I down by oceanside. By the rising of the tide. Feet are tired on underside. Walk I now to streetcar ride.

This is a fragment from a poem written by the wonderfully named Alpha Goto (now a minister in Hawaii) for Dorsey Hine’s 8th grade English class at Terman Junior High School. She had introduced us to the poetry of e.e. cummings and asked us to use his playful, sometimes reversed sense of the English language in creating our own poems.

e.e. cummings self portrait

Should I get married? Should I be good? Astound the girl next door in my velvet suit and Faustus hood?

Charlie Haas recited this memorable Gregory Corso poem during a poetry workshop he was leading at Gunn High School in 1969. Charlie went on to become a novelist and screen writer, publishng The Enthusiast and working on Gremlins 2 and other films.

Gregory Corso

Here’s a book of Malt Liquor Mantras.  – Jay Field


You have to be yourself, otherwise people won’t know who you are. – Doc Watson

My first experience ever on the internet was in the very early 1990’s with my friend Jay, who has had a long career balancing on the bleeding edges of the IT and educational worlds. The first website I ever looked at featured a western writer named Charles Hancock who had written a book of poems entitled “Malt Liquor Mantras.” We read some of his poems, but we were sipping chardonnay, which was clearly the wrong choice of drink to accompany his work.

A decade later I was at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in golden Gate park with thousands of other music fans listening to Doc Watson, an American guitarist, songwriter, and singer of bluegrass, folk, country, blues, and gospel music. Watson had been blind from an early age but was one of the best flatpicking guitarists of all time. He was clearly getting on in years when we heard him, though he was still a superlative player and singer, and I asked my brother in law David, a software engineer, how old he thought Watson was. To my surprise, he took out his phone and told me that he would look it up right now. I had never before seen a smart phone connect to the internet, and moments later he told me that Doc Watson was 85 years old. It was a revelatory moment, as it was the first time that I had seen the knowledge of the world held in someone’s hand.

Doc Watson

Any Port in a storm!

This ironic and humorous bit of nautical and drinking advice was offered up by my brother in law Alan, when someone offered us drinks from a bottle of Gallo Fairbanks Port, a low quality mass market version of Portofino, a fine, sweet Portuguese desert wine, while we were playing music outdoors in the foothills of the Sierras at a music festival. Alan is a world class oenophile and probably knows the location of the Godly vineyard where the Grapes of  Wrath were grown, pressed, bottled and stored for eternity.  As Pope John XXIII said, ”Men are like wine – some turn to vinegar, but the best improve with age.”    

The best Ports are made in Portugal and over a hundred varieties of grapes are sanctioned for Port production, though typically only 4 or 5 are used. Vintage Ports can be aged from 10 – 40 years, and fetches a far higher price than the Gallo Fairbanks plonk we were offered. The wine received its name, “Port,” in the latter half of the 17th century from the seaport city of Porto at the mouth of the Douro River, where much of the product was brought to market or exported to other countries in Europe. Port became very popular in England in 1703, when merchants were permitted to import it at a low duty, when a war with France deprived English wine drinkers of French wine. Port remains popular with older ladies in England today because of its “medicinal” qualities.

I have only been caught in storms at sea twice and found both instances to be disturbing and terrifying.  Fortunately in both cases the captain was able to find a nearby port to give us shelter from the storm. I was in a small open ferryboat, crossing very rough waters between the Spanish islands of Ibeza and Formenterra, when huge waves suddenly appeared and began to break over the bow of the boat, soaking everyone and flooding the craft just as we made it into the refuge of the breakwater at the edge of harbor. The second instance was in a much larger ferry, crossing the English Channel between Calais, France and Fokelstone, England in the midst of a terrible storm. The ship was tossed about like a child’s bath tub toy and the bathrooms and decks were soon slick with vomit from hundreds of sea sick passengers. When we finally made it into port I felt like emulating the Pope, who traditionally thanks God and kneels down and kisses the ground when he returns safely from a sea or air voyage.

Douro Valley – Home of Port wine • Portugal

Not a cough in a carload!”

Eva Gardner with her friend • A matched pair

When I was young, back at the dawn of American Television in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, advertisements for cigarettes were broadcast constantly, all delivered with the purpose of making smoking seem like a suave, sophisticated and stylishly necessary feature of normal adult life. In the 1950’s Julie London, an actress and singer, crooned the sultry Marlboro song  “You get a lot to like with a Marlboro,” appealing to women smokers. In 1963 their advertising campaign changed and featured the rugged individual Marlboro man cowboy featuring a symphonic sound track using Elmer Bernstein’s theme from the movie The Magnificent Seven, with cowboys dashing across the western plains on horses as they smoked. Four of the actors who played the cowboy hatted Marlboro man died of smoking related cancers.

The Kent cigarette jingle promised “You’ll feel better about smoking with the taste of Kent – Kent with the Micronite filter.” Micronite was advertised as “A pure, dust-free, completely harmless material that is so safe, so effective, it actually is used to help filter the air in operating rooms of leading hospitals.” Micronite turned out to be Kent’s trade name for asbestos, one of the most deadly carcinogenic compounds known to man.

Tareyton cigarette’s advertising featured smokers with black eyes who proclaimed “I’d rather fight than switch!” a testament to a brand loyalty that had not yet gone up in smoke. At the dawn of the Woman’s Liberation Movement, Virginia Slim’s cigarettes were marketed only to women and featured the tag line  “You’ve come a long way baby!” Camel cigarette’s ads proclaimed “More Doctors Smoke Camels.” Further fabricating health claims, Lucky Strike ads stated “Just what the Doctor Ordered.” Camel also suggested that people should smoke Camels “For Digestion’s Sake.”  Viceroy featured a dentist stating “As your Dentist I would Recommend  Viceroys.” Old Gold cigarettes proclaimed “Not a Cough in a Carload.”

The animated prime time cartoon “The Flintstones” was sponsored by Winston cigarettes and at the end of episodes the stone age stars Fred and Wilma Flintstone could be seen lighting up Winston cigarettes.

My mother would  occasionally give me a quarter and ask me to go to a vending machine in our apartment in Manhattan and buy her a pack of cigarettes when she was having a friend over for coffee. My father smoked a pipe in the house which may have contributed to my childhood respiratory issues. 

I loved to buy candy cigarettes and pretend to smoke them with my friends. In the summer when we shucked corn my mother would collect the corn silk and dry it in a brick hollow above our fireplace. She bought me a corn cob pipe at the general store in Charlemont, Massachusetts and let me smoke the corn silk after it dried. My friend Stevie and I took the idea a step further and smoked pine needles that we had crushed and rolled up into cigarettes using toilet paper as our cigarette papers. Later we stole Salem menthol cigarettes from his mother and smoked them in their barn. We later bought pipe tobacco and smoked that in our corn cob pipes. Enough of our parent’s and their friends smoked that we never had to purchase cigarettes, but could steal a few to smoke while we play Gin Rummy and Oh Hell. Later we graduated to rum Soaked Crook cigars, a brand that was soaked in sweet rum and bent into a series of wavy curves. 

Tobacco smoking was first taken up by the indigenous people of the islands of the Caribbean. It was originally thought to have medicinal qualities and was brought back to Europe by Christopher Columbus.

At my high school, in Palo Alto California, there was a bare mound of dirt at the back of the campus which was officially declared to be “Off Campus” and was designated as “The Smoker’s Hill” (know just as “The Hill” to students, ) where anyone could smoke. I sometimes would have a cigarette there, though I only smoked “O.P’s” (other people’s cigarettes.) At the end of the year I bought a carton of 10 boxes of Marlboro’s for three dollars and handed out free packs to everyone who had given me cigarettes over the year.

In the late 1960’s, when it was clear that smoking caused cancer there were bumper stickers that declared “Kissing a smoker is like licking an ashtray.” During my freshman year at Stanford many people smoked in the dining room over coffee after dinner. During my sophomore year I went to an overseas campus in Tours, France. We befriended many young French University students there and refusing a cigarette from one of them was considered a grave insult. After 6 months of smoking the harsh black tobacco of Gauloises and Gitane cigarettes I returned to America and never smoked again.

Breakfast smoking in France

Art is nothing if not illusion. It involves pretending – Substituting a likeness for the thing itself.

Al Jackson painting with his assistant

I heard the novelist Robert Stone say this in an interview. It is truest in the art of acting, where the actor is pretending to be someone else, often extremely convincingly. It is true much less in the art of music, where sounds can directly convey drama, colors, moods and emotions.  For me the purpose of art is to discover, represent, celebrate, build upon and magnify what ever magic, wonder, order or disorder we perceive to exist in nature and in ourselves. Sometimes we need to peer at life through a microscope and other times we need to try to look at life from the point of view of eternity, as difficult as that may be.  The variable lenses of art allow for either approach.

Art is a perpetually moving target of mediums, techniques, ideas, notions, clarity and illusions. All art can really do is to inspire us. Art and life are like opera: there will be high notes and low notes and sometimes an unhappy ending. While we can try to collect the scattered jewels of person epiphanies from the light and darkness inside of our worlds, inspiration can come from anywhere. As Orville Wright said when he was perfecting his first airships; “Learning the secrets of flight from a bird was like learning the secrets of magic from a magician.”

Jorge Otero

If Can, Can. If No Can, No Can.

This iconic bit of native Hawaiian Pidgen wisdom is displayed on a large sign outside of a restaurant in Hilo, Hawaii. It is a very common phrase that means, “If it’s possible, then great! But if it’s not possible, well that’s fine, too,” to which one might respond “Eh, hozzit goin bruddah?” Initially created by Native Hawaiians and Chinese plantation workers who intermarried, Pidgin was further influenced by other immigrant cultures such as the Portuguese, Japanese, Filipinos, Koreans, and Americans. Today, this islander language is a blend of Polynesian and Asian grammar with a strong English vocabulary. I had to learn to understand it when I was in Hawaii one summer in the early 1980’s working for an art professor who had grown up on Kauai. On the mainland at his university job, he mostly spoke standard English, while on his Hawaiian home island he spoke only Pidgen, which linguistically confused me until I adapted to the native standards.

If you get right with God you’ll get right with people.

If you get right with people you’ll get right with God.

Michelangelo • God detail from the Sistine Chapel

I heard these two different ways of dealing with God and Man when I was a student in France when I was 19 years old. The first one was declared by Mademoiselle De Renaissance, a brilliant and warm hearted French teacher who was a practising and believing Catholic. The opposing view was immediately bounced back to her by Dan Kelly, another student who at the time was a disciple of the 19th century German philosopher, cultural critic, composer and poet Friedrich Nietzsche – the man who first declared that “God is dead.”

I have always tried to navigate a middle path between these seemingly opposed routes to getting right with the world, attempting to render to man what is man’s and to God what is God’s.

Lucas Cranach • Father, Son and Holy Ghost

Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence.

Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance.

Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence.

Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.

I heard Yoko Ono make these reflections on the seasons in an interview and they were an inspiration for creating Halloween costumes with my friends Roberta and Eric, my wife Karen and myself; all dressing  seasonally as Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring for the annual Halloween costume party at Struggle Mountain, an intentional community in the hills above Palo Alto originally founded by Joan Baez in the 1960’s. The following year we opted for a darker theme and dressed as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The Four Seasons • Roberta, Karen, Erik and Mark

We’re living in the Post Truth Era.

The Q-Anon Shaman & subversive MAGA seditionists attack democracy and the rule of law -January 6th, 2021

This sad catch phrase for present political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion, disconnected from facts or the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are completely ignored, came to the front and center of American national life under Orange 45 during and after the 2016 presidential election. In the past four years I have come to understand how fascism arose in Japan and Italy in the 20th century and countless other times previously in the decades and centuries before the present era. Populism, ignorance and stupidity come to the fore early and often whenever demagogues arise and smart, progressive and enlightened people are suddenly ignored, shut out or shouted down.

The recent seditious, violent over running of the capitol, attempting to undo Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ election victory was a clear demonstration of the tidal wave of anger and stupidity that has flooded America in the last four years, igniting the flames of bigotry, hatred and intolerance which were lit by Agent Orange himself.

Vagabonds, brigands, sheep stealers, thieves – The black Macfies – That’s your legacy and heritage!

Kiloran Bay • Colonsay • Scotland

I was buying some groceries for dinner at the only store on the tiny island of Colonsay, 50 miles off of the west coast of Scotland. It was home to my ancestral Scottish Celtic clan of the McAfees, and when I mentioned my heritage (my grandmother was a McAfee) to the proprietor of the store, he was not impressed and let me know exactly how he felt. The last chief of the Macfie clan was murdered on a small island off of the coast of Colonsay in 1623, while hiding from pillaging brigands of the Macdonald clan, desperately hiding beneath seaweed, when his place of concealment was given away to his pursuers by the cries of seagulls. The clan has been without a chief since than.

McAfee in Gaelic means “Son of the Dark Fairy” – a testament to the thinness of the webs between the worlds of man, matter, fairies and spirits in that veiled, magical, mystical corner of the world.