Monday, June 29, 2009

Life is just...

Yesterday, I picked, cleaned and pitted some cherries from one of our trees. I found myself getting greedy and tried to reach the ones on the higher branches. The sun was high in a cloudless sky and felt damned good on my back. I filled a bucket and wanted more. I thought, "God is good."

Now, before you start worrying that I'm getting all religious on your ass, rest assured, I'm still the same non-believing Member of the Tribe that I was before the cherries ripened on the tree.

Bea has a different take on it and as I thought about it, I think I prefer her POV. She thanks the trees for the cherries and the pears. She thanks the chickens for the eggs... and perhaps, thanks herself for the arduous job of gardening she has done that yields the lettuce we had tonight and the tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchini and herbs to come. Well, maybe she doesn't thank herself-- that's not her style. But I thank her.

Sometimes, I have to just stop, breathe in, and look around. Life is good. And, so too, is that beneficent cosmic muffin some call G-D.

Celebrity Deaths Come in Three

... at least that's the theory that has been passed down from Hush-Hush, LA Confidential, Kenneth Anger, Photoplay and TMZ. Hey, folks. Billy Mays here, for Oxy-Clean... what if I told you I stepped on the rainbow? That's right, folks. Don't wait, there's no more.

Poor Billy hit his head in an airplane. He went to bed early that night, complaining to his wife of a headache and saying goodnight. Reqiescat in Pace, William. You shall huckster in heaven, unless of course the magic potions you peddled caused brain damage or worse. Me? I thought you seemed benign enough.

* * *

POSTSCRIPT (or postmortem)-- The ever-vigilant Mortal Jivester commented on this post shortly after it was posted with late-breaking news. According to Reuters, "In a preliminary statement on Monday after an initial autopsy, Hillsborough County medical examiner Vernard Adams said his examination found that Mays had 'hypertensive heart disease,' which refers to heart disease caused by high blood pressure, but 'there was no evidence of any head trauma.'

Adams said this heart ailment 'was certainly capable of causing the sudden death.' He said Mays had died in his sleep.

'It's not unusual for persons with heart disease to die this young,' Adams said... "

Of course it's not unusual! Did you ever see Billy work? I'm surprised his head didn't explode and his heart leapt from his chest! The RIP stands-- peace being the operative word.

Thanks to MJS for staying on top of this.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Dead, like the King

This story is still developing. We may not know the truth for a while, yet. But tonight's news reported that the King of Pop had a live-in Dr. Feelgood, plying him with OxyContin and shooting him up with Demerol. The doctor had been hired by the promoters of Jacko's upcoming tour, to keep him "healthy."

According to, the source for all things titillating and lurid, "Michael Jackson had a habit of getting Demerol injections -- he even had a special name for them. We're told Jackson called it 'health tonic.' He would have a doctor inject him because, we're told, he didn't like needles. Our sources have told us Jackson was injected with Demerol at 11:30 AM the day he died. Shortly thereafter Jackson went into cardiac arrest."

Hmmm... I can't help but wonder if the King of Pop bought it on the can, like the King of Rock 'n Roll.

Real Real Gone, Part 2

Rather than adding to the blather on the tragic loss of the cosmetic surgeon's nightmare and popstar pedophile, I thought I'd just throw some art together. Whatever else you or I thought of Jacko, he was a cultural icon, like the others pictured here.

top: Heath Ledger, Fat Elvis, Lon Chaney
row 2: Marilyn Manson, Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor
row 3, left to right: Planet of the Apes girl, Bozo the Clown, Michelle Malkin
bottom: Bette Davis, run-of-the-mill zombie, Rob Zombie

And, this will be the only time I pilfer or in any other way display the art or likeness of Jeff Koons, whose work, to me, is a baby step above Lalique. But somehow, the subject he chose and the medium here represent a divine marriage. In this case, the medium promoted the message.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Real Real Gone

This one's for Farrah Fawcett, who had the horrible misfortune to have passed away the same day as the King of Pop today. Once an angel, she is practically forgotten amidst the eulogies and faux crocodile tears for a freak with a penchant for wanting to be white and live without a nose. Ah, the indignity of it all. Pubescent boys once hung the famous Farrah poster on their walls, and fantasized. Pre-pubescent boys got candy in between the sheets with Jacko, who lived his fantasies.

Trust me, there will be more on this one...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sunday Reliquary

©Life - not used for commercial purposes

To this day, whenever Sunday comes around, I think, "Who's on Sullivan tonight?" I don't think of it in color, but in glorious black and white. I would endure Top Gigio, plate twirlers, marching bands, whatever, to see Elvis and the Beatles... Dave Clark and the Stones... everyone who was anyone in rock 'n roll. And the comedians, from Buddy Hackett and Woody, Jack Benny and Henny Youngman, Sid Caesar and Red Skelton. I'd be glued to the set, with my family, in our little den. It was a little like the weather. If you didn't like a particular act, wait a minute, someone else would be on. They called it a variety show. It's an extinct entertainment genre. Back in the day, there were no reality shows. There was Sullivan. He'd have John Byner on, and Frank Gorshin, oh and probably the best of the lot, Will Jordan. They'd all do an impression of Ed, practically in front of him! It got so that other comedians would do John Byner doing Ed Sullivan. I don't live in the past. I like my life now. So why do I miss Ed Sullivan? That's a tricky one.

* * *

And day games. It seems like they're now relegated to Sundays. Be that as it may. Today's was a great one. It's been drizzling a lot lately in Boston, and so it was today. Still, the sight of the Citgo sign and the Green Monster is always so reassuring. The Sox finished their three game series with the Atlanta Braves in edge-of-your-seat style. They were tied going into the bottom of the ninth. Nick Green comes up to the plate. First pitch. Walk off home run. The kid knew it as soon as he made contact. A tight smile. He tried to suppress it, no doubt. The ball winked at the Pesky Pole as it sailed into the stands. The Sox give me smiles and a respite from weary thoughts. That's it, really. Just something to take me away for an hour or so. Something to believe in.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Number 1 with a Bullet.

LAPD chief Bratton called them "knuckleheads." He's used that term before. I've heard him. Lieutenant Detective Bob Lopez, gang expert, formerly out of the Northeast Division, used it as well at Atwater Village Neighborhood Watch meetings. In cop-talk, it's synonymous with gang members. Bratton was quoted in the AP and the Los Angeles Times today as saying "These knuckleheads seem to relish their opportunity in the dark." He also said, after reviewing security photos and media images that "many known gang members were in the crowd." Evidently, the 18th Street Homeboys and the Avenues Gang are big Lakers fans. Or they are just "knuckleheads" looking for any excuse to cause some damage. The city is planning an official celebration to honor the Lakers. Hopefully, we will be able to tell the difference between the unofficial and the official celebration.

Los Angeles is just such an easy target to bash. All the clich├ęs are based on reality, like the TV shows. The palm trees and endless sunshine, the phony smiles and the ultra-rich, the movers and shakers... and the gangs. The fact that winning an NBA championship becomes an opportunity for rioting, looting and general lawlessness shows just how fragile the peace is in the City of Angels. This was a victory, not an unpopular verdict handed down in Simi Valley. A black leader wasn't slain. A young black man named Kobe brought his team the championship. It was cause for celebration, not breaking into a nearby shoe store or stomping on cars. Let me get this out: I am not Kobe Bryant's biggest fan. My feelings toward the Lakers is right up there with the ones I have for the Yankees. I certainly didn't want to see them win the championship. But to riot in the streets?

As far as I can figure, the only difference between what happened in LA and what happened in Boston last year and in other cities with each recent championship or World Series win is the prevalence of gangs doing the rioting. That, so far as I know, is unique to Los Angeles.

Impromptu Photo-Montage by Barry Shapiro

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Against the Wind

me. Brooklyn. 1969.

Did your father ever tell you that you'd better buckle down? That you'd better stop acting like nothing matters because someday, it's all gonna come back to bite you on your ass? Neither did my father. He did say something to the effect, though. Sometimes, Instant Karma takes a long, sweet time to come around. I started college in the fall of 1967. Right after the Summer of Love. There was a war raging in a far off jungle and a cowboy was the president. No, not that cowboy. Not the phony one, who went to Yale and posed in a jet fighter. All the way, LBJ. That one. I had recently discovered marijuana and became of legal drinking age in New York the day after I arrived. I didn't like beer all that much. Maybe it was the pictures of the Glimmer Twins throwing Jack down their necks that made it so attractive to me. God, how I loved the Rolling Stones. That picture of Jimmy Page sucking on a bottle of Jack? A fucking poseur. Been a long time since I rock 'n rolled, indeed. Cutting a class or three meant nothing to me. I was in New York City. Well... Brooklyn. But, close enough to take a bite into the Big Apple, eh? I took some school seriously. Evidently, not enough. Well, shit catches up with you. But, I'm rushing it. The picture above? It was taken by Vincent Topazio, may his soul rest in peace. He was my room-mate for most of 1969. That was the year Curtis LeMay dipped his hand in the hand cranked lottery ball and came up with a cherry of a number. September 14. Number one with a bullet. My birthday. I won the fucking draft lottery! Who could concentrate on classes when my ass had a time bomb strapped to it? I wore a pin that said #1 SON on my corduroy jacket lapel for the rest of my schooling. That jacket had a bond with Phil Ochs, but I was marching some more. I marched across the bridge and into the city. I raised my fist in the park and railed at the king and all his servants. And I cut class. We were told to not trust anyone over 30. And, really, I wasn't sure I'd get past 22. In the jungle, baby.

So now I'm closing in on 60. The freak flag is in tatters and the revolution ended with a fizzle. Stephen Stills is deaf. Jimi is dead and Mick checks his stocks on a daily basis. When was the last time you heard anyone talk about "the establishment?" Gone. Gone. Gone. The Military Industrial Complex? Hell, it is about as quaint as Kents with the Micronite filters or Annie Greensprings. Gone. Gone. Gone.

But now, I have decided I want to teach. I need a license for such an endeavor. Part of the deal is to provide my college transcripts. Had I known this day would come, I would have slammed the door on the dealer, ignored Abbie Hoffman and, well, have gone to classes more often and... paid attention. I'm not stupid. Well, the jury is still out on that one. I got my transcripts and... Holy Shit! I flunked PE! That's right. I failed gym. Well, to be fair, that was only one semester. I got B's two other semesters. I got a D in package design. In 1993, I won a Clio for a package design, but that's another story. One semester, I did so badly I was on probation. Why does that immediately remind me of Dean Wormer and double secret probation?

John Vernon. John Belushi. Both dead.

The next semester, I was on the Dean's List. Man, I was nothing if not inconsistent. This is all nearly 40 years ago, mind you. I graduated (evidently, by the skin of my teeth) in 1971. How much should all this count? Like my mother used to say when she didn't want to say "no"-- "we'll see... "

Friday, June 12, 2009

Another Reason for my Infatuation with Shakira

It's one thing that Shakira Mebarak Ripoll is hypnotically gorgeous. Or that she is the darling of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who has remarked on her "will of granite" as well as her "innocent sensuality that she seems to have invented by herself." Or that whenever I hear Hips Don't Lie I smile. It's not enough that she is Colombian and yet gave one of the most memorable performances during President Obama's inauguration, and spoke with the president-elect, (he asked about her coursework at UCLA). She is a rabid activist, working toward quantifiably increased early education in all of Latin America. She has managed to snag some of the biggest pop stars in the Spanish-speaking and Portuguese-speaking worlds to her cause, along with the philanthropic support of some of Latin America's richest families (as well as Warren Buffett's son Howard. Unlike the usual do-gooder pop star, Shakira has not tried to capitalize on her popularity to help the population of some distant impoverished land, but of the Ibero-American world from which she--and those working with her--live. Bono has said that, "when she gets going on the subject of child poverty she can be pretty scary." There was a piece in the New York Times Magazine (June 7, 2009) with a feature on her work and dedication. Much of the above information is taken from it.

I had heard of Shakira when I went to Huatulco on vacation with Bea about four years ago. But that's as far as it went-- I heard of her, but never heard her. We were sitting in a bar/restaurant, munching on appetizers and throwing tequila down my neck when my eyes were drawn to the widescreen TV mounted high on the wall. I was fairly captivated by the brunette singing, with a toned down, mostly acoustic back-up band. I don't speak Spanish but agree wholeheartedly that it is a loving tongue. And Shakira's voice is as unique as it is versatile. I asked the waiter who she was, and he told me Shakira, in a way that made me a little foolish for even having to ask. The next day, we stopped at a Sanborn's and I picked up the MTV unplugged disc, along with Sasha Sokol's Ranchera music disc. We listened to them all the way to Oaxaca. Since then, I have made Sasha's earlier disc, Once Once one of my all-time favorites and have every Shakira disc. What she does enhances the image so tremendously. And she doesn't o it only when the cameras are on and the papparazzi's lenses focus on her. The mark of a true believer and someone who truly matters. As Wyclef Jean sings on Hips Don't Lie, she "makes a man want to speak Spanish."

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Gangs in Salem, Part I

Part One of a two part article, appearing in the June issue of the Salem Monthly--out now and online.

A couple of corrections need to be mentioned: The associate editor decided to substitute "Los Angeles" for "In metropolitan areas." There is no reference to where the 18th Street Gang began (Los Angeles). And they spelled Mara Salvatrucha wrong. Oh, and the above photograph was the publisher's idea. Other than that...

Enjoy. Let me know what you think.