The 6 W’s

Keep working on the 5 W’s, Sylvie suggested after she’d asked if I’d written anything in my diary yet, in the little pocket notebook she’d given me, and I said no, nothing. Who, what, when, why, and where, she said. That’s what people want to know. How about how, I asked. Sylvie’s conference now over, we had one more night in the Ocean Beach bungalow. We could stay on longer, Sylvie said. But I felt pressed up against the ocean here, Highway 8 spilling into our backyard, the town crushed with twenty-something teenyboppers, the yachts and ships and sailors and tourists, the rich and homeless mingling for a spot to be seen and unseen, Cagetan and Sot lurking about, though I didn’t mention that. How about we make our way north, I said, visit Refugio for a time, drop in on Salty and Penina. You think they’re not pushed against the water? I talked to Salty on the phone today. He said they never go to the beach on the weekends anymore, only on weekdays. We’ll pick them up, get a boat, sail out to the islands. Thus it was planned. We would leave tomorrow heading north to Refugio, but arrival uncertain, since we’d be taking our time and remain open to other sorties and such. Meantime, we went out to sit on the front porch, me with a beer and Sylvie with a wine cooler, and she saw my diary sitting on the railing where I had left it open to dry in the sun. What happened, she wanted to know. Oh, yeah, turns out there’s a 6th W: Wet.

“The 6 W’s,” is episode 65 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.

Now I Out Walking

Somewhere between my time travel stay at Tin Can Beach and being abandoned by Tilde in the Venice canals, I’d lost my cell phone. I had not missed it because no one ever calls me, nor did I ever call them. Occasionally I got a text from Sylvie giving me the score of some obscure baseball game. And I also sometimes spaced out playing any number of chess puzzles in an app I’d downloaded. But my use of the cell phone was sporadic, and most of the time I didn’t bother leaving the phone on. Walking away from Tilde’s folks’ place on the canal I thought of calling Wormy, but I couldn’t find my phone. I figured he was probably off time travelling on the Vespa anyway, and wouldn’t pick up. I crossed Speedway, continued north on Ocean Front, and cut over to the Boardwalk at Muscle Beach. North of the Venice Breakwater, where the beach is wider, deeper, I walked down to the water. I dropped my kit just above the water line and stripped down to my swimming trunks and walked out into the surf, close enough to keep an eye on my stuff up on the beach, far enough out to get a good washing. I slipped off my trunks and scrubbed them in the sandy salty foam, keeping just my head and shoulders out of the water. The trunks nearly got away from me in the surf. The beach was not crowded. I got the trunks back on and dove under a few small waves and swam out just beyond the break, turning and treading water, looking back at the beach, up and down the coast, out to sea, thinking about my trophic level in the food chains, walking about, in the water, up on the beach, in the Walter Group, in the Army, in the Church, in the library, in schools, on the streets, walking through the Los Angeles Basin with the hobos tramps and bums, with the blue pink and white collar workers, rich and poor sick and skaters bikers surfers and hodads, police preachers thieves detectives buskers, moms dads and kids, dogs cats coyotes racoons rats mice pigeons and opossums, work shifts, job gigs, sleeping on the beach, hiking up through the canyons, onto the Santa Monica Mountain trails, hiking through downtown, sleeping under an overpass, the traffic sound ongoing like the surf, day and night, night and day.

“Now I Out Walking” is episode 55 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.

Brigid

Knowing the chance of my seeing Wormy again slim, I stayed on through the weekend at his Orange Orchid Tiki Bar, working the back room, enjoying the festival carnival. I slept in the backyard in my cowboy bedroll, with Wormy’s dog, Brigid Kildare, nestled against my legs. But in the early morning, Brigid did her dog thing, up early eating and drinking then hopping through the fence into the ice plant on the dunes and over and down to the beach where she must have rolled around on some dead gull or crab, come back wagging and nuzzling me to get up and follow. And she had rolled in some beach tar. The tar pads that stick to your feet walking the Southern California beaches are too often blamed on the oil business, the tankers docked off El Segundo, the water pipeline connected to Standard Oil, now buried under the beach and ocean, the old wood twin pier deconstructed, the rigs and drills up and down the coast dating back to the late 1800s. And the oil concerns have made a muck of maritime stuff over the years. But the tar Brigid had found and rolled around in this morning like as not was natural, floating up and washing in from natural petroleum seeps in the ocean floor. Whatever, Brigid was a smelly mess of rotting fish, dead bird, and sticky tar. I got up and walked her back down to the beach where we both got a stimulating morning wash in the salty waves, the air clear, a slight offshore breeze, a thin, faint fog already lifting as the sun came up over the dunes, orange shafts of smeared light flaring through the lazy billowing smoke puffs from the stacks of the oil refinery. Ah, she draws my ire, she does, when she does like that, comes in smelling of a red tide, Wormy said, as I explained where we’d been, Brigid now warming up deep in my bedroll.

“Brigid” is episode 50 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.

Used to It

Revving up the time travelling scooter I pulled away from Tin Can Beach and 1954 and the veterans I’d met and spent a few days and nights with hanging out and drinking beers listening to stories they’d brought back with them from Korea. I drove into the traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway heading north in present time. I thought I might continue north on Hwy 1, camping out nights, and see what more I might experience along the way, moving back and forth in time as suited my mood. I had thought about spending some more time with the veterans, maybe even putting up a shelter of my own on the beach. The cold water in the morning a short walk away provided the kind of wake up call one yearns for without knowing what exactly it is until you’ve hit the water a few mornings running. There are two ways of jumping into the ocean. One, you wade in, gradually getting used to the cold temperature until you’re out far enough to dive under a wall of white water. The other way is how I learned and preferred. You start at the top of the berm above the water line and dash down toward the water high jumping the waves until you’re deep enough to dive under one, come up, and keep swimming out, fireflies buzzing on your skin, biting, until they all wash off under the waves and you’re suddenly used to it. But Tin Can Beach was rife with disadvantages. My second night, sleeping in my bedroll in the sand outside the vet’s hut, we were wakened by a woman’s scream out on the beach followed by the sound of someone running clumsily through a pile of tin cans. We got up and walked about a little ways up and down the beach, but it was dark and quiet and still, and what we’d heard was apparently not that unusual. We went back to sleep, and in the early morning were again wakened, this time by an early surf fisherman who had stumbled across the body. It took the cops almost an hour to finally show up. One of them questioned us, but they knew the woman, and they already had a warrant out for her partner in crime. The interview cop wanted to know our addresses for his notes in case the authorities might need to get ahold of us later, and as we all tried to explain this was it, Tin Can Beach was our address, he shook his head and said, I don’t get it. I don’t get how you guys get used to it, living like this. We got to talking with him. Turned out he too was a Korean War veteran. Funny how we all seem to turn down different roads he said, but no one laughed. It wasn’t that kind of funny. But you get used to it – a war, sleeping out, incarceration in a system job, ticketing people, retreating far from some madding or smug crowd, time travelling. And I didn’t want to get used to it, used to anything.

“Used to It” is episode 48 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.

Tin Can Beach

I rode into a fog, thin at first, the coolness refreshing, but visibility continued to reduce. The ray from the lamp on my Vespa bounced back at me. Visibility soon reduced to virtually zero, and I pulled over to the side of the road and rolled into the trailer park at Bolsa Chica. No tent camping. No sleeping on the beach. I tuned the time machine on the Vespa to 1954, the fog lifted, and I saw a few firepits spitting light in the darkness down on Tin Can Beach. I found a place in the sand off the road where I could park the scooter and spread out my cowboy bedroll. Some crooner with a banjo sang folk songs in the distance. I covered myself with my space blanket and fell asleep to Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene,” this crooner’s notion to swim out into the ocean and drown.

“Tin Can Beach” is episode 46 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.

A Change of Clothes

Oracle. Fin de siècle. Redondo Pier. Fishing. 

I abandoned the rental running as Wormy had instructed and made my way down to the Redondo Beach Pier. From the sidewalk near Catalina and Coral I had glanced back and the rental car had already been picked up and disappeared. The classic fin de siècle houses along the Redondo beachfront had perished, replaced with balcony ocean view condominium and apartment complexes. Hard to say which era was the more degenerate. Probably all ages are similar in that human nature has not improved over time. Nor has god nature. The universe is not expanding; it’s stuck in its own muck. But the south Santa Monica Bay night was now cool, a fine mist rising from the water, the horizon dark, no sign of Helios. It would have been a good night to cruise Highland, Manhattan, and Hermosa avenues through the beach cities on my candy apple red scooter hog. I had rolled down all the windows of the rental, but the feeling of being open and about, out in the salty air, wasn’t the same. Out on the pier, a few folks fishing, some buckets yet empty, others grimy grey water, or busy with bait. As I was walking slowly along the pier railing, one of the fishers stopped me with the Two Years Before the Mast code Wormy had given me. In a bag in a trash can was stashed a change of clothes, and I used the Oyster and Shrimp Shack backroom to change. When I came out, I was now another of the fishers, and would vanish in their midst. As Risk Manager to the gods, properly speaking, I am an oracle, but I can’t foretell everything. Likewise, our pasts remain obscure, ambiguous, seemingly unnatural. My mother was a mermaid, my father a walrus. I’ve close affinities with the fishes of the oceans, seas, rivers, and streams. Shells and the creatures that live in them. Rocks, sand, and seagrass and sea wind. Though in some tellings, my mother was a twisted weeping cypress and my father a magpie.

“A Change of Clothes”
is episode 16 of
Ball Lightning
a Novel in Progress
in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
(Click link for continuous, one page view of all episodes.)

Blast Famous Forth: A Still Life

She wanted a holo
phrase,
did Hope
Mirrlees 
100 Years Ago –

This year the 4th of July fizzles
like the silverfish on the floor
of the black and white cassock
closet in the church up the hill
through Hilltop Park in the dark
walk thru ocean arch morning.

This year, 2020, I recall and recall:

YELLOW
BANANA
SUNRISE

(or sunshine)

and the fish dash
as we rush
from the Sacristy
to the Service,
the altar pickled
in red, green, and blue.

Blast Famous 4th!

I thought you’d be

Quieter this year

and you were
thank you.

We can’t know how much or what we’ve forgotten,
and where we are certain we remember we might
be mistaken; thus the value of the still life which
fixes or remedies one of the problems of our time.

After all, I really don’t recall
if she said BANANA YELLOW SUNRISE
or YELLOW BANANA SUNRISE
or SUNRISE, or SUNSHINE.

What I remember is that I got one wrong.
So I was still in the game, so to say,
if you want to look on the bright side.

 

 

 

Whale Watch: Work in Progress

Water based oils on canvas: 40″ x 30″ x 1&3/4″.

Whale Watch
Whale Watch: Night View
Whale Watch: Early Detail

Coast Road Trip: Double Back

A reader of the Toads writes:

“Hi Joe,  I have been reading your travel posts . They seem familiar like maybe I’ve seen them before . The photos are recent , though , so I must be wrong about that.”

personal correspondence

That is precisely the problem with writing, with, indeed, life, the feeling we’ve been here before, Déjà vu, been there – done that. Yet we continue to imagine our future, awake and asleep, waiting for something new.

“I pity the poor immigrant
Who wishes he would’ve stayed home”

“I Pity the Poor Immigrant,” Bob Dylan, from John Wesley Harding, 1968.

“Make it new,” Ezra Pound said, over and over again. But if you make it too new, who will recognize it?

HAMM: Go and get the oilcan.
CLOV: What for?
HAMM: To oil the castors.
CLOV: I oiled them yesterday.
HAMM: Yesterday! What does that mean? Yesterday!
CLOV (violently): That means that bloody awful day, long ago, before this bloody awful day. I use the words you taught me. If they don’t mean anything any more, teach me others. Or let me be silent.
(Pause.)

“Endgame,” Samuel Beckett, 1957.

A Google search of “Yaquina Head Lighthouse” will bring up over 300,000 results (in .78 seconds, no less). Click on “images,” and you’ll see more than 500 pics of the lighthouse. Nevertheless, I now double back and offer readers of the Toads these entirely original never seen before pics of the lighthouse, freshly taken about a month ago:

Coast Road Trip: Sans Pics

A perspicacious reader asked why I haven’t posted any pics from the road trip. I’m working on moving toward a new kind of blog, more like the one I started, back in December of 2007, which contained no pics, just short bursts of writing pleasure. I had in mind the kind of posts the venerable E. B. White wrote in the early New Yorker.

“From 1925 to 1976 he crafted more than eighteen hundred pieces for the magazine and established, in the words of editor William Shawn, “a new literary form.” That form was the magazine’s Comment essay—a personal essay that was, in White’s hands, light in style yet often weighty in substance. As White noted in a 1969 Paris Review interview, > I do feel a responsibility to society because of going into print: a writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of error. He should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.

“Eighty-Five from the Archive: E. B. White,” by Erin Overbey, The New Yorker, June 7, 2010.

Not that I ever achieved anything everyone might call, “not lousy.” In any case, I drifted away, or off, and into a kind of academic stream, where I imagined I might augment my adjunct work at the time. And I tried to bring some attention to the books I was working on, both reading and writing. Then I began to work-in more slant, though never totally “false,” and found the proverbial bottom of the barrel when I started putting up some poetry. And I recently considered retiring The Coming of the Toads, leaving it to sink to the bottom of the archive abyss of the Internet, where some future crab scuttling along might find a few morsels to criticize.

E. B. White’s idea of the short, personal essay (note the importance of that comma) has been replaced in many blogs by the personal pic essay, with and without words, the latter like Beckett’s short play, “Act Without Words.” And I suspect more reading is done on phones these days than when I started The Coming of the Toads on a desktop computer back in ’07, and the phone and other smaller size formats encourage changes in aspect ratios of screen, pics, and writing. And thinking about that, I decided to remove this blog’s header pic, begin writing with a minimum of pics altogether, returning to the short, personal note or comment type essay. I even thought of a new tagline for the title space: The Coming of the Toads: No links, No likes, No comments. I know that sounds a bit anti-social, but what I’m aiming for is clarity, simplicity – a clean, well-lighted blog.

Besides, I don’t get many comments or likes, and many that I do get appear to be from spam and bots, and I lost all the pics I took on our recent trip, mistakenly thinking I had backed up my phone photos to Google Photos when I had not, in the meantime deleting all the photos from my phone, then crashing my Instagram account trying to retrieve what I had at least saved there. Seems poetic justice for an anti-social attitude.

Having at this point already exceeded my target word limit, not to mention having probably lost my target audience, those interested in hearing more about the Road Trip, I give you this portfolio of road trip pics, all taken by my sister Barbara and Susan as I was trying on the lighthouse keeper’s uniform jacket at the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, north of Newport, trying to strike poses I imagined a lighthouse keeper might have aimed at were he the subject of a live, on the job photo shoot:

Note: Comments On for this post. Have fun!

Coast Road Trip: Cork Tree and Whale

We followed Dry Creek Road into the country northwest of Healdsburg to Lake Sonoma. Along the way, wineries, carefully cultivated vineyards, acre after acre of grapes. We stopped at the Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery in Dry Creek Valley, a snazzy estate with an “Italianate” villa with views of the valley and vineyards and with exuberant gardens, where we found a cork tree, this one some 50 years old, though they can age to 300 years, and one doesn’t want to start harvesting cork from their bark until they reach 50 years of age. The bark looked like cork, folds of it, and felt like cork, a hard sponge. The trunk was 4 or 5 feet wide.

I was reminded of the cork tree later when back in Depoe Bay, Oregon, we saw a whale, just off shore, bending in vertical dives, showing its back and sides, along the edge of the cliff just north of the harbor entrance. It was probably a gray whale. It was certainly alluring, and we watched for it a long time, and it came up every 10 minutes or so.

The smaller, less manicured wineries or vineyards, off hardpack dirt and gravel roads, with small wood buildings and just a few workers going about their chores – these we preferred to the larger, commercial estates.

Lake Sonoma is partially created with an earth dam over the valley, and we climbed up to the top of Rockpile Road and the bridge viewpoint where from a 3 story observation deck built with thick but old and now weathered timber, parts missing, we learned we were in feral pig country. Wine and pigs. What a life.

Sign posted above Sonoma Lake
Snazzy Ferrari-Carano Vineyards.
Cork tree.
Bark of cork tree.
Villa.