A Sentence about Moby Dick

Thick enough to act as its own bookend, I never cracked the spine, thinking it was, too, too Moby Dick, too long, hard, but recently finishing The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time, and towards the end of the book, a daughter says goodbye to her father by way of reciting a one-page chapter from M.D., all about this guy Bulkington (the names alone in this book  pulse with energy, Ahab, Tashtego, Pequod, Starbuck and best of all Queequeg, Queequeg for god’s sake) ,“in landlessness alone resides the highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God”, this guy Bulkington who’s practically alergic to land for whom the very land under his feet makes him itch to get back out to sea, and I wonder if i’ll ever read the whole book which doesn’t seem quite so important as itching for something the way Bulkington does. -jw

"The land seemed scorching to his feet."

Mind Bending Duck: Oregon Vs. Stanford 2011

Watch it once first. Then read the following.

In  normal life after a touchdown, a kicker comes onto the field and kicks an “extra point” just a little old “1” to add to the 6 points of a “touchdown”. It’s just what teams have done, for decades. It’s “what you do”. Like brushing your teeth before bed. Like salting the pasta water.

Normal. Houses that had “A” shapes were once normal. Then Buckminster Fuller made a geodesic dome. Frank Lloyd Wright made a house like a rock fallen over a creek.  The first viewers of said creations must have dropped their jaws, wrinkled their brows: “what am I looking at?”

That is what I did tonight when I saw this play. You see, every once in a while, a team does a perfectly legal gamble for a Two Point Conversion. Instead of kicking just the solo point, they do a little pass or run back into the end-zone and get 2 points.                                                                                       Then there’s this.

This bizzarre set up that looks like two different plays set at once and a snap that moved sideways. Looks like it was directed by Anne Bogart or drawn up by a grad student at Cooper Union.       Way left you have nice little triangle, three men.  A man hiking the ball,  behind him looks like a quarterback waiting. Normal except for their strange isolation.  On the right the normal looking scrum of players. “Hike!” The ball skews out not behind to the dummy quarterback but sideways into the big scrum, to the real passer.

Defense is defenseless. #17 in red runs one way, then the other, lost, because the other two points in our little triangle have run streaming into the end zone’s corner… While he is busy being lost, the Oregon Duck who hiked the ball  just steps into the endzone, receiving pass from the guy who was set up way over yonder and caught that sidelong nap.

I could watch it a hundred times and never tire of the legerdemain, the unexpectedness, the architecture of it.  The acting it took. The conviction of the two red herrings fleeing into the corner to make the guys in red into Keystone Cops, confused, too late. They are the magician’s waving hand and the “Abracadabra” that distract you from seeing him do..do…what? Where’s he get that rabbit? Alas, my team has lost, but we may have learned something.

And like a true piece of art even truer than a painting or sculpture, it can never be used exactly like that again.

It would be expected.


2 Degrees of Kevin Spacey

The alarm goes off this morning and groggy, the first thing I hear is “Gadaffi is dead.” Exit Tyrant of the month, stage left even.

since i cannot prove a lover, i'll prove a villain

The last thing I see is  Richard III, played by Kevin Spacey, limp on in full Military garb exclaiming as he goes to his death in battle, “Blow wind! Come rack! At least we’ll die with armour on our back!”  The stage is a vast slate grey emptiness, lined on either side with nine creaky doors. As Spacey explained after the show to the group of students I brought,  “because so many of the characters make such untimely exits…”

I don’t know which tyrant is real and which imagined. Of course I do, but I don’t. Somewhere Gadaffi lies on a plank or a floor like the fictional Clarence in Rich III. What are his wounds like? The stage ones with the plum red gashes? Worse? Is he dismembered like Orpheus, spread out among the vast sands of Libya?

Spacey’s real voice was mellower, sandpapery. They’ve already been to several cities, (http://www.richardsrampage.com/), Hong Kong, Istanbul, and for ten months they are heading around the world. Would they go to the Midddle east I thought. No, the despots there would never allow it.

But things change, don’t they? Spacey’s villain was one I wanted to hug. I clapped for his ascent. I pitied his deformed back and imagined the hell he went through growing up alongside proper royal specimens. (He’s crippled for gods sake!). When an actual earthquake rocked the theatre, I prayed the play wouldn’t stop and held my breath with 7oo strangers.

The actors final thought to us was this, “right after the winter of our discontent can follow the Arab Spring”

Like Beckett said: I can’t go on. I’ll go on.

We go on.



As we’re walking down the street, she says to me, “you know, you’ve said so many nice things to me, but of all the nice things the one I like best was what you said tonight, ‘I was a jerk’… That makes me happiest.”

It’s true and I was. But here she is giving me a second chance. It’s amazing when someone gives you a second chance isn’t?

Men are jerks, that’s just a fact. Afraid and filled with secrets and lies. We’re watching TV and I turn to my daughter and say,”trust none of us…except me.”

“Huh?”, she’s confused

“Men,” I say.

“You’re a man?” she says? I don’t know what that means, I hardly know what anything means or what she thinks of anything. Will I have the right to be pissed at the boys who are jerks to her? Or will I look at them as they come crawling back for thier second chances – wont our eyes  meet in some sort of terrible understanding?

There is the one that got away. Actually there are a few. Then there’s the one I pushed away, and then there are the ones who won’t give up on you either because you’re special or they’re just hardheaded.

What is my point here?

If it never feels okay to be a jerk, to lie, not call, not talk, pretend; then maybe you aren’t one.

Then what?

And Odysseus said to Telemachus,"you are no longer a child, it is time to put away childish things..."

What is the purpose of grades?

This question came to Zamboni but  I will try and answer, since I am no international man of mystery but just a lowly-worm teacher myself. We are coming to our first progress report time at Berkeley High School, and  soon I will be punching in numbers that become grades  A through F.

Poor like Food Stamps poor? That was me as a kid. Notice how Average is very low. What the hell is so bad about Average?

The weird thing about grades is that the real impact of a kid, and perhaps of a class on that kid,  is the day to day minute to minute experience of those 56 minutes in the room together. But grades don’t reflect the real spirit of that kid in the class, just what he can put to paper

I mean we all hang around in that room, talking and listening, spacing out or in heated debate. We ask and answer questions, write a little, read a little, but their grades usually just reflect the three or four big projects they’ ve done. Sure we figure in some “attendance” and “participation” into the equation, maybe even some “citizenship” – but mostly peoples grades are coming from the written projects, homework and tests. Grading is a nightmare because no one, and I mean no one can agree on how it should be  done.

Do you grade kids based on a common standard? Grade them from where they started, pushing higher-level kids harder than the struggling ones? What’s fair? Grade down and kill self-esteem or inflate grades and unrealistically inflate egos?

And the truth is, we all, most of us, inflate grades ridiculously. A “B” is what the “C” was ages ago, or the “gentleman’s C”. I am struggling against this always, but it’s hard to give the C when you compare it to your neighbors C and they clearly mean different things. A cop out, I know.

I am more confused about the answer to this question than when I began; I’ll have to get Zamboni on this. All I know is that we all like to be rewarded and recognized. Teachers don’t get graded, but I know that if we did I’d feel like a damn failure If I got  a C from my students, run of the mill if I got a B as a teacher, and very proud if they gave me an A.  (But then if I found out all their teachers were given As , would it mean as much? Might I be riddled by doubt?)  D or F would probably just send me into a tailspin of depression and self-help books. I would take it personally even though it wasn’t mean so.

I can’t imagine its too different for them


“Let’s Just be friends”

I have been pondering this situation for many miles now.  When a relationship ends, is it ever really possible to just “be friends” and actually have a friendship?

According to Checkov, you couldn’t be friends with a woman until you’d been lovers first. But haven’t we all killed friendships when that kiss happened accidentally-on-purpose and in the words of Dr. Evil to Frau Farbissina, “It got weird didn’t it?” So is it possible?

I think first we have to ask what friendship means to us.



Mr. Clark/Orvis/SF

Today I shook hands with someone who shook hands with veterans of the Civil War. I know because he told me while he was shaking my hand, and pretty damn well for someone about 91. He said as a small boy in Mississippi he’d chat with some old vets around the corner store.

I met him  at a fly fishing store, Orvis in downtown San Francisco. He was introduced to us as Clark, and that’s what his nametag said too, but we all seemed to call him Mr. Clark.

Said something about cooking breakfast once for a vice-president.

-“rain and wind- makes the fish come up”

“keep the wind behind ya, not in your face”

Crisp blue shirt not only with french cuffs but shiny silver fly reel cuff links. When have you seen someone in retail wear french cuffs?

Looked like the old grand dad on Old Grandad

“Oh and one last thing”, store manager warns, “don’t fish behind Clark.” He catches lots.

Camp Cazadero

“Encourage my soul, and let us journey on…though the night is dark, and I am far from home…” gospel tune

Man oh Manishevitz you  couldn’t hope for a better week of summer than  the one I just spent at Cazadero Performing Arts Family Camp. I went to camp with my two kids and my mom.

For one week my eyes didn’t look at a screen of any kind -TV, cell, computer-, I didn’t handle any money (except at Raymond’s Bakery across the street, man those Brownies) and nobody talked much about work. In fact, you didn’t know who anyone was- or rather you learned about who they were, just not what they did to make the rent. You talked about your classes, how Ukulele was going, or songwriting, maybe Joel Ben Izzy’s story at the campfire last night. (http://storypage.com/)

I could be playing ping pong with a stockbroker, a brain surgeon, or someone still following whoever followed the Grateful Dead- everyone was equal in dusty jeans and unshowered hair.

An average day, I wake up, maybe do Yoga, maybe snooze until the wake-up band comes strollin along the tent cabins about 8:30 or so. The giant redwoods greet me, I stumble to the dining hall and have coffee. (Yes, for a week, no cooking or cleaning.)

First period I taught Playwrighting to a group that ranged in age from 9 to 71. The kids wrote about cowboys and aliens, the older folks learned conflict through scenes of parents and Children.

Second period I took East Coast Swing dancing, and man this year I really got it. For someone who twists in knots whenever I hear the word “choreography” I was out there and freed to just learn the moves and do them in any order I wanted. I Go You Go, inside turn, outside turn to dip, oh man I cant wait to get out on the floor, especially since last year I was still counting steps under my breath. It’s a great coach that gives you not just skills, but the confidence to use them for yourself. And Mark (also the Baker at Raymond’s) made it all so simple: “Ladies you have to let the man lead, lead and follow- so important- that way anything goes wrong it’s his fault… just grant him that illusion of control okay?”

Then lunch, quiet time, go read in the tent, nap.

Then Free time, slip down to the swimmin’ hole in Austin Creek and hope the Crawdads just skip over your feet and don’t snatch your toes. Watch the Boy laboriously get up nerve to climb the rock and jump in or see the Girl struggle with an old rope swing.

Third period I turned back into Mr. Hyde- yelling directions at my 19 beginners doing a 40 minute version of 12th Night. But in the end they had fun and damn it they did Shakespeare. Some of them even understood of what they spoke.

Fourth and final period, singing Gospel with Chelle. (http://www.chellemusic.com/) Oh man. This woman is just the real thing, feelin it so deep but making it so fun and easy- this woman is reason alone to check this camp out. Queen of New Orleans. We sang, we rocked, all of us. The majority being secular Jews from Berkeley but it didn’t matter, we had that room rockin.

Then you play some competitive or not ping pong, I found a guy who could throw a football a mile, ran me ragged, maybe you actually see your kids for a second- though this summer the Girl, now 13, spent a lot of time wearing some lanky blond boy’s sweatshirt and walking past me speedily.

What did I learn at Camp Caz?  (which by the way is the birthplace of Zamboni)

-Being around a lot of strangers can be wonderful, if you aint workin’

-the smaller the kid, the more they seem to love Great Zamboni (which is how I am greeted there several times daily by each small one)

-being inspired and creative is tiring in the best sort of way

-though I feel like a different person in that one week out of the year, that really may be who i’m supposed to be. It’s like me, just more.

-all you can eat food never gets old

-drink a lot of water

-in the real world we’ve got a major shortage of mojo

Thank you Joelle, (camp director)  thank you Redwoods, thank you stars and fires at night, smores and people, most of all, people. And thanks mom, you stole the spotlight with your stories, but i’m still so glad you came.


Zamboni what ya gonna do? go AWOL

Yes folks, Great Zamboni is gone. I came into the kitchen this morning and amidst a pile of Captain Morgan bottles, a loaded deck of cards and two sherpas passed out in each others arms, I found a note scribbled with invisible ink inside a matchbook for The Purple Cow, some breakfast place in Idaho Zamboni often flies to in his helicopter.

The note read simply,

Dear Jordan-

I almost have your answer. Seeking one more voice. Be back in a week. Feed your head, and my hamster.-Z

Zamboni is a man of his word so look forward to his reappearance here then. I myself am going back not to Cali, Cali- but to Cazadero. See you soon.


Great Zamboni appears live to explain all this In October, in The Tent, in Oakland- more on this in 7 days..

Be well, and as they say in Estonia: “May your goat be warm, your children rich, and your wife faithful.”