The Year Everything Important Happened

The Minister’s Son


Theatrical Date Book, Season 1903-1904 of William Macauley, with complimentary coupon and photograph of two unknown gentlemen, collection of the author.

Everything is connected.  The diary of an actor touring America is a key to that convergence, the quotidien record of the eternal, the day by day accounting of the everlasting pursuit of fame and fortune and fulfillment of the heart’s desire for love, for beauty, maybe even for truth.

Do you know how quickly the world changes?  How fast time sweeps away a way of life barely taken for granted before it is gone forever or altered beyond all recognition?  Once upon a time if a railroad stopped in a town in this country that town had an opera house – a nice name for a tavern unescorted ladies could enter with impunity but still, a place where you went to be entertained, amused, charmed, deceived, diverted, inspired by melodramas, comedy acts, minstrel and magic and variety shows performed by actors and artists and touring companies arriving by rail for one, maybe two performances before moving on to the next town, next railroad stop.  56 different shows in 1904 at the Chicago Opera House in Chicago Junction, Ohio, named for the junction of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad with the Chicago Railroad (later the town changed its name to Willard, Ohio, after the president of the B&O).  Population in 1904, a little over 2000 souls.  William Macauley performed in W.B. Patton’s play “The Little Homestead” at the Chicago Opera House on April 4, 1904.  And in one hundred and thirty-nine other towns across the country in six months, between December and June of that year.

Today a few of those towns still have their opera houses, the buildings at any rate.  A few have grown in population (Willard, Ohio has around 6000 residents today, nearly a three-fold increase from 1904), and some have shrunk: Cairo, Illinois where Macauley performed two shows on February 20 and 21st, had a population in 1904 of over 12,000; now less than 3000 live there.  As for the railroads, Amtrak still connects some of the better known names on the map; the remaining lines are used now for transporting coal, cargo, toxic chemicals.

Melodrama to toxic chemicals; how far we’ve come.  But 1904 was the year everything important happened.  It was the beginning and it was also the end.  It was the time when the ordinary and the magical converged.

To be continued.



On September 18, 1904, James Joyce wrote the poem, ‘Bid Adieu,’ although it was probably a fair copy of the poem he’d written earlier, on a Becker’s tea-bag at his Aunt Josephine’s kitchen table.

How these things happen you only wonder later; a funny dream half-remembered, an offhand remark overheard, an exchange with a stranger you never see again, something you read somewhere and hope to remind yourself to go back to, and then long afterward you realize that was the point when everything began to change.  You didn’t notice at first, of course.  “It was always that way,” you say, even when you know it wasn’t.  “I always knew,” you tell yourself, or “I must have imagined it,” except that’s not true either.

You had an intuition; you were given a clue, an insight, a key.  But how to interpret it?  What does it mean? What does anything mean?  Surely everything can’t be code, a symbol, a formula, an answer, a solution that unlocks a problem, a door to somewhere else, a way out.

Gematria is the ancient study of number and letter values, Babylonian in origin, a process of finding correlations between words and numbers.  Hebrew letters have numerical value, you can translate words into numbers and back again.   1904, for example, has the numerical value of the words “The truth beneath the lies.” And also “Exquisite sapphires of the holy king,” and “V for vendetta.”

The surprise of being hit by a car the other day, a four-way stop in the hills above Hollywood, so unexpected.  Minding my business, on the way to work, then everything in a heartbeat is different.  Afterward I feel a little wobbly, dazed like being in a bubble of quiet in a very loud storm, I can’t remember my office number but I can see the package on my desk that has to go out as soon as possible.  People are talking around me, at my car window, telling me to breathe, to relax, and all I can think is, you are all being so kind, the world is full of kind people, I must remember this later.

A man in a homburg, a black topcoat, leans against a railing next to me in the snow on a winter night on a city street so long ago the place no longer exists, and I remember it like this morning.  A stranger who appears and disappears, the cold that burns your nose and drips at the back of your throat, your breath and his making auras of the street lamp light. You remember things he said but when you try to put words to the memory you get a number.  Or maybe it’s a date; for years you go with the idea of it being a date and you find it everywhere.  You make a point of it.  1904.  A whole year of potential significance.  Later you think, could it be something else?  Part of an address, coordinates to a place on a map, the four digit key to unlock the secret to everything.

The other day the man in the homburg stands at the intersection, on the side of the road.  Our eyes meet.  But my phone rings and I look down and ask who it is.  It’s a co-worker who says I don’t sound like myself at all, what’s wrong, what’s happened, where am I, and the moment passes, and I realize with a kind of faraway disappointment that when I look up again, he’ll be gone.

September 13, 1904


Time to get to work.

X says he has sex two or three times a day, he asks me if I think that’s unusual.  I tell him my friend Mario, who does this sort of thing for a living, sees up to 7 clients a day, upon the rare occasion 12, but that’s probably not quite the same, since after all it’s his profession and so not for pleasure although you have to wonder.  Mario has also told me Monday is often his busiest day, starting early in the morning.  One client even asked for a 7:30 AM appointment.  “Dude,” Mario says he told him, “seriously?  Not before breakfast and the gym.”

I don’t know how anyone finds the time.  Today, for example, I have reading to do for my book club (“A Little Life,” by Hanya Yanagihara, in which, speaking of sex, people have ghastly experiences or none at all, a very Victorian tale in that respect and hardly reading for pleasure, in case you were wondering), I have a lunch date with Al at noon, tea with Jamie at four, then I need to pop round to the Vedanta Temple for vespers and meditation and back again through the Cahuenga Pass and home and try to answer some of the correspondence that’s piled up in my in-box and tidy up for Esther who comes on Monday to clean and hide things so I spend the rest of the time until she comes again looking for everything she’s put away, like the coffee press and my shoes, and of course I have to prepare for the week ahead, and suddenly it’s Monday morning and oh dear lord where does the time go?

Today is the birthday of actresses Gladys George (September 13, 1904 – December 8, 1954) and Edwina Booth (September 13, 1904  – May 18, 1991) and Martin Luther King Jr.’s mother, Alberta Williams King (September 13, 1904 – June 30, 1974).    Gladys had a short career and four husbands; Edwina had an even shorter one, beginning and ending with “Trader Horn” (1931) during which she (and many of the crew) contracted malaria, one crew member was eaten by a crocodile and another killed by a charging rhino; and of course Alberta King was the mother of a great martyr, so you never know how much time you have or where your life is going to take you.

Yesterday I discovered they’re building a drive-thru Starbucks just a few blocks away from here on Laurel Canyon Blvd. I was thrilled. Of course I could easily walk to it but I love the option of not having to park if I don’t.  Like the drive-thru car wash and the drive-thru El Pollo Loco, next to the Yoga studio down the street.   Life is very full. Time to get to work.



The psychic, hypnotist, spiritualist, mind and hand-reader “Dr.” Alexander J. McIvor-Tyndall gave a talk entitled “The Psychic Wave” at Blanchard Hall, downtown Los Angeles, on Sunday July 22, 1904.  In addition to “Revelations of the Hand” (1900) pictured above, McIvor-Tyndall was also the author of “Cosmic Consciousness” (1913 as Ali Nomad) and “Sex-The Unknown Quantity: The Spiritual Function of Sex” (1914).  Pastor of the First Spiritualist Church of Syracuse, New York (1), the “colorful gentleman” and “astounding” lecturer from London was married six times (ibid) and also had a knack for driving blind-folded through busy city streets to prove his extraordinary mental abilities (ibid, 2).

There are folks who can give psychics a bad name.  But even Theodore Dreiser was inspired by McIvor-Tyndall “to enter upon experiments of our own with hypnotists, spiritualists and the like.”

I don’t know, maybe it’s the drought and the heat wave these days but I feel inspired to try anything, be daring, experiment.  I feel like I’m living in an alien reality, a Ray Bradbury landscape where if I venture out into the furnace blast of the day I will look up and see a double sun or an orange Martian sky.  I find myself scanning Zillow real estate listings in places back east, looking for affordable housing in some more forgiving climate.  The rest of my family has moved to Texas, which seems counter-intuitive, or kettle-meet-pot, frying-pan-to-fire somehow but they have their reasons.  Except for my sisters who are staying put in Michigan.  I almost feel a little abandoned in sunny California.  I long for a cabin on a lake somewhere. But where?

Where am I going to end up?  If you want to predict the future, a psychic yet practical friend used to say, just look to the past. When you’re young, however, there’s not enough past to work with.  There’s no pattern to analyze.  You haven’t done enough, seen enough, tried and failed or succeeded in sufficient quantities to make any guesses about your next move.  Not enough data to extrapolate and hazard a prediction. Doesn’t stop you, of course.  “Look at my kid with that spoon,” the proud dad says, “Boy’s gonna be a brain surgeon/orchestra conductor/fan dancer when he grows up.” There are patterns from the very beginning.  Everywhere, signs, signals, convergences.  You can do it blind-folded if you really try, you can find your way in the dark.  It only gets easier as you get older.  More creases in your hands; more lines to go by.

You can break the patterns as well. You can wake up one morning and say, the hell with this hell, I’m packing up the truck and heading out of here. How many times have you said that? And then drawn the blinds, and turned on the a/c, and made a decision to postpone doing something you might regret later.

There are patterns in not doing, you see; in not seeing, not trying, not going with the flow, or with that wave, either heat or psychic.




You stick around and life gets strange.  There are moments when it is as if someone else has stepped inside your life, looked around astonished and whispered, ‘you’ve got to be kidding.’

More and more lately it happens.  I am driving and find myself explaining.  ‘This is Mulholland,’ I say and feel the wonder. ‘The Valley is down there. The ocean is out over there. The Pacific ocean,’ I add to clarify.  I hear a murmur of disbelief.

This is where I live, I say, these are people I know, those are things I have pinned up to remember, to remind myself of where I’ve been, would like to go, plan on doing.  I am at dinner last night and my friend Christopher says, ‘Reality is God.  It is what it is.  God is what is.  God is Reality.’  And I ask him, does some other part of you ever become aware and ask, ‘but how can any of this be?  How can this be happening?’

‘Hence Buddhism,’ he replies.  Which I think means yes, that life can feel like something bigger than you, going on randomly, in an unexpected direction, and you have glimpses of it, and it can be startling. When the British invaded Tibet and arrived in Lhasa in August of 1904, the thirteenth Dalai Lama had already fled to Mongolia. Thousands of Tibetans with old-fashioned muskets and swords died trying to stop the advance of the British with their superior weaponry, their modern rifles.  Did anyone think, ‘I never planned on this, I didn’t see my life headed in this direction’?  In September of 1904 the remaining Tibetans signed the Lhasa Treaty, which was part of something bigger, a strategic move in the rivalry between the British and Russian Empires over control of Central Asia, one hundred eleven years ago. 111.

I have spoken to a psychic who says she can work on me remotely, look at my past lives, but it is expensive.  ‘Will I know you are working on me?’ I ask.  ‘Will I be able to drive or operate heavy machinery while you are doing it?’  ‘You may notice,’ she replies.  ‘The walls might ripple or move.’  Like a drug flashback, I think.

We leave the restaurant last night and the faces of my friends are like glowing lanterns in the darkness, lit by their iPhones as they check their messages, their futures.  I see everything for a moment from very far away, tiny pins of light, bobbing reflections on a still black lake beneath a moonless sky.



Shiva Nataraja

I bought a dancing Shiva for the house and it’s been strange ever since.  Not bad, but with a new energy around wherever I am.  I was with my friend Al, we’d gone for a delicious vegetarian dinner at Govinda’s, next to the Krishna temple in Culver City, off Venice Blvd.  Everyone is so blissed out there, I think it’s the lack of preservatives and additives in their diet but my friend Juan who grew up nearby says it’s because the Krishna boys have the best weed.  I don’t know.  Anyway there’s a gift shop where I find my Shiva.  The last outing I’d had with Al we’d been to the Norton Simon, he’d taken a picture of me standing by an ancient dancing Shiva sculpture.  “You have Shiva energy,” I say to Al without quite knowing what that means.  “Lord of the Dance, creating and destroying,” I add.  Al is a body worker, so there’s a certain truth there; body energy, body movement, healing, creating  health, destroying pain.  I don’t know.

I think of being back east when we went to see the New York City Ballet perform at Saratoga Springs, the ballet’s summer residence, the ghost of George Ballanchine (1904 – 1983) dancing with the fireflies in the summer night.  Another lord of the dance. I think of Rukmini Devi Arundale (1904 – 1986) dancer and choreographer of classical Indian dance, married to George Arundale, theosophist and friend of Annie Besant of the Theosophical Society with a lodge up Beachwood, not far from the Vedanta Temple where I go sometimes, where I got my OM bumper sticker.  And then Shiva, of course, surrounded by a ring of flames, eternal cycle of light and warmth, of darkness and ashes.

So, lately, waves of anger and confusion, joy and clarity around me, adjacent to me; not always mine.  Friends in pain, in joy, lost, finding themselves.

I have my truck back, restored, good as new, Ganesha air-freshener hanging from the rearview mirror, rainbow OM on the tailgate.  Driving to work yesterday a giant GMC pick-up pulls up next to me, casting a shadow over me.  The passenger window slides down, Bollywood music rushes out, blasting the morning.  Even before I look up at the driver I know.  A dark young god regards me quizzically.  He even has a hair bun, I swear.  I make nothing up.  I fall in love.  It is Shiva.

Message for You

message in a bottle

Message in a bottle, released into the North Sea in 1904 by the Marine Biological Association, found this past April on a beach in Germany.

A friend has been to a psychic who talks to the dead.   She has a place on Lankershim here in the Valley, it’s twenty bucks, you tell her who you want to chat with, my friend thinks we should go.  Wait, I say with a note of caution, the Long Island Medium channels whoever happens to be hanging around, what does it mean you get to ask who you want to talk to?   This one makes you choose, my friend explains; she doesn’t have time to pick the most interesting or poignant ones, she’s not doing a reality show.  Oh I see, I say; like they’re lined up invisible in the ether behind you, waiting, like she’s the pay phone outside the counselor’s cabin at Camp Wanna-Go-Home.  Up to you, Mr. Skeptic, my friend says.

Fine, I say; I know plenty of people on the other side, who do I ask for?  Who might have something to tell me I need to hear?  Some friendly advice,  a handy tip, a little helpful guidance?  I can’t get the living to return my calls or answer my emails, I tell my friend; what makes me think the dead are any different?  But my friend says he had a great chat with his dad, and this with a man who’d hung up on him seven years ago and then abruptly gone and dropped dead without warning, so as you might imagine there was more than a little catching up to do.  “It was very healing,” my friend says.  “We both got to tell each other how we would have done things differently if we’d known then what we know now.”

I think that’s wonderful, I tell my friend, and I mean it.  There are many paths to healing.  I’m just not sure who I need to talk to over there.  Me, is who I really want to ask for.  I want to talk to the me who passed over in some other time and place, another reality, the me who didn’t make it in one of the countless variations on this plane of existence, the me who made different choices, who didn’t move to the Valley, who got someone to read that screenplay, buy that pitch, the me who hung in there, or the me who gave up and threw in the towel sooner than maybe I should have.  I wonder what that me would have to say to this me here and now.  What could he tell me about how it all works, how our choices matter or don’t matter in the general scheme of things?  How the ebb and flow of fear and courage affect our course, and how the currents of time and circumstance end up taking us to distant shores, foreign lands, and whether we like it or not, to where we need to be?

But I don’t know.  Talking to the dead, ourselves or others, probably isn’t the easiest way to get answers.  Like messages sent in bottles by sea, hardly the most reliable or efficient communication system.  Still, it might be worth a try.



Sergei Polunin

Where do I leave off and everything else begins? Children think nowhere, they stretch and strain and wail, willing the world to obey, to come to them, do their bidding.  I lock myself out on my own balcony when no one’s around; stranded alone and too far to climb down and too shy to call for help.  I leave the truck parked on an incline and the emergency brake slips, the vehicle rolls a city block while I’m attending a play, hits no one, nothing, just isn’t where I left it when I return.  They call it a miracle.  It is.  What might have happened?  Awful to think.

Why did it happen? I wonder.  What’s my part?  Where did I lose control, create the circumstances, set myself up? Is there a message, a lesson?  At what point does gravity take over?  Are the laws of physics kicking in or is my mind going? I ask a friend who says I’m simply not grounded, I need to get conscious. Another friend says, but how lovely, what a relief if that’s the case, you won’t know when it happens; you’ll be able to relax.  Will I?  Or will I feel my influence fading, receding like the tide, pulling away from the land, withdrawing from the world?  I stood there in the bright sun at that railing like a passenger who’s seen his stop go by, and I wasn’t even moving.  What did I just do?  What did I let happen?

Oh Yeats, wondering where the line is drawn between the dancer and the dance.  Let’s go to that cabin and the sound of bees, and the peace dropping slow by that lake.

Oh Balanchine (1904-1983).



Sam Swann in rehearsal for RSC’s Peter Pan

Bosun first seen in 1904, 4 letters, answer below.

So much deja vu lately.  Walking to work yesterday, a jigsaw puzzle someone’s thrown in the trash is spilled on the sidewalk.  My life is a spilled jigsaw puzzle.  Somewhere a piece of smoke blue sky with a strand of palm frond, a shiny isosceles  triangle of downspout and the smudged orange of a roof gable would complete me.   A dream so vivid I wrote it down years ago, with its impossible combination of shadows and lighting and me in the middle, distracted by a splash of vivid colors coalescing in the next room while people near me have a political conversation I want to be a part of except I know it will spoil the moment if I do, so I wake up.  If I could find those dream journals I used to keep I could prove it.

In a flash it is happening, yesterday, the odd pieces and light falling into place, making sense.  The surprise when something makes sense out of disparate elements is marvelous, isn’t it?  Turning that bit of puzzle around in your hand until pure intuition tells you to try it where that distant shoreline meets up with the bow of the yacht in the foreground in the view of the Bay of Naples you put together on a rainy day in a cabin in Vermont.  You are a little startled it fits. Deja vu is like that: is this remembered, you wonder, because it’s the very last thing in this plane of reality you will ever know?  A memento mori?  A lost collection of stimuli stored in a forgotten synapse, waiting to fire one final time? You hold your breath.  Later, the next day, stuck behind a dusty teal green behemoth of a garbage truck, you notice how the oak leaves spill lace on the narrow turn on Nichols Canyon; the filigree light dances just as a yellow Shelby flies into view and a sudden crush of traffic creates a spasm of panic and you wake up and it is deja vu again.  I was here before, you realize; I saw this before, is this the end?

Where do I leave off and everything else begins?  Jigsaw or crossword, it amounts to the same sort of challenge, doesn’t it? A puzzle to sort out, a solution scattered on the curb.  Where does my world end and another’s begin?  Where do my efforts run out of steam and the law of physics or gravity take over?  At what point do you say, this is not me, not my doing, out of my control, and this is the part I was missing, and now it makes sense?

Other clues: Peter Pan pirate; Hook’s mate, Hook’s sidekick


The Wreckers


Ethel Smyth (1858 – 1944) completed the composition of her opera The Wreckers in 1904.  The Fisher Center at Bard College performed Smyth’s work in its first American staged premiere last week.  My dear friend Rose attended.

Based on historical facts, The Wreckers is a familiar and timely tale of a desperately poor community using fanatical faith in Christianity to justify theft and murder.  Encouraged by their pastor, the inhabitants of an isolated village on the Cornwall coast lure ships to wreck upon the rocks in order to plunder and steal their goods.  It is God’s will, the people are told by their religious leader, to use violence against others for their own gain.  “I wanted to go up there and give the stage a good scrubbing,” Rose told me, indicating the extent to which the set designer had gone to portray the squalor and filth of the lives of those righteous folks.

Wrecking is a wonderful word.  Wrecking for profit, to feel like a wreck; to wreck something sounds like more than spoiling it or tearing it apart, there’s a jagged messiness about it.  You don’t win by wrecking, but that’s the point, isn’t it?  Internet trolls and Fox News know that.  You wreck because you have nothing better to offer; you make a mockery of the truth, of other people’s hard work.  Dame Ethel Smyth knew about wreckers; she didn’t just write operas, she was also a suffragette, she spent time in prison, she knew what good Christian men do to women to keep them subservient, control their bodies, deprive them of their rights and freedom.  She knew that sometimes violence was necessary on both sides.  That the world as it was then could not last.  The score, as Rose described it, sounded like a mash up of Wagner and Elgar, a cacophany of Gotterdammerung and Edwardian Pomp and Circumstance.  The sound of wrecking can be marvelous.  Violence at the end of empire can be extraordinary, musically.

In America, violence is an especially powerful force; there’s a mythic belief in the regenerative power of violence (Richard Slotkin, Regeneration through Violence, 1973).  Americans ripped a nation out of a hostile wilderness, they tamed the west with guns and whips and bare fists.  In more recent times American violence seems to have become its own reward.  “Maybe self-improvement isn’t the answer,” observes Fight Club‘s lead nihilist Tyler Durden played by Brad Pitt; “Maybe self-destruction is the answer.”  Perhaps deep down the evangelical right believes that, even longs for it, to be destroyed in order to make way for a new Eden, a new world.  Or maybe the impotent rage of ignorance and poverty, fanned and fueled by religious zealots and Fox propaganda, will simply lead to destruction for destruction’s sake.  If you can’t offer a real solution, make a circus; send in the clowns.

In England women went to prison, went on hunger strikes and were force-fed, humiliated, degraded, treated like animals in their fight for the right to vote.  In America they’ve been beaten, shot, raped and murdered, sometimes just for being black.  And they’ve written operas.  And they’ve run for president.  And in the end, one way or another, they win.

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