The Year Everything Important Happened



You’ll find the recipe for a Manhattan in Thos. Burdett & Co.’s “Hotel and Saloon Supplies” catalogue (Montreal, 1904) along with a variety of witty toasts, corkscrews and spittoons.  For the very best cocktail recipes, however, you need Harry Craddock’s “The Savoy Cocktail Book” (First edition, London, 1930).  Harry was an  Englishman living in New York, tending bar at the Knickerbocker, who headed back to England during Prohibition and developed his expertise for mixing drinks at the American Bar in the Savoy Hotel in London.  (He later worked at the Dorchester, after the War, and at Browns).  The creator of such classics as the Corpse Reviver II and the Hanky Panky, Harry also popularized the dry martini.

At a very lovely wedding this weekend the table bases were decorated with reproductions of Gilbert Rumbold’s marvelous illustrations for Harry Craddock’s famous recipe book.  Beneath glass tops and surrounded by Philippe Stark’s Louis Ghost chairs, the illuminated bases cast a soft glow and the effect, on a summer evening on the penthouse terrace of a very chic hotel in West Hollywood with 360 degree views of the Hollywood Hills, Sunset Strip and Los Angeles twinkling all the way to the ocean, was enchanting.  Combined with guests who were sophisticated and beautifully attired, the food fantastic, the drinks intxoicating, a pair of adorable grooms and a hotel staff who could not have been more congenial or helpful and genuinely happy to have us there, and you had an absolutely perfect recipe for magic.

Not all wedding venues are as welcoming, however.  There are also some sanctimonious cake-makers out there – probably a few bitter bartenders and caterers and cooks too – who aren’t about to lift a finger to help celebrate a loving union between two men, or two women.  Love wins, eventually, but not everyone’s going to be happy about it.  My own opinion is, don’t force the haters to host, and don’t ask somebody who thinks you’re going to hell to bake for you.  It won’t turn out nicely.

But make no mistake: this has nothing to do with their religious freedom, it’s about entitlement and it’s at your expense.  They feel entitled to their beliefs and are bound and determined to make sure you aren’t entitled to yours.  It’s sad, really, the way some people will go to such lengths to feel superior.  Not to mention the hypocrisy; preach abstinence while you sleep around.  Really.  It reminds me of Prohibition.  Oh look, they said; look how the working class drinks so much, it’s really not right, they can’t hold their liquor, they’re not like us, with our occasional glass of a fine Merlot, there really should be a law against it.  And then there was, except it didn’t work.  Harry Craddock moved back to England though, where at least you could enjoy his cocktails with impunity.  He never came back.

Don’t get me wrong: few things can destroy a family, ruin lives and careers and marriages or just a fun night on the town like too much alcohol.  You know what else does that kind of damage?  Sex.  Lying about it, cheating around it, keeping it a secret or pretending it doesn’t matter or doesn’t exist, or using it to hurt other people or using it for power or control.  Too much of it or not enough.  It’s a dangerous thing, sex.  So is alcohol.  So is money.  They all lead to ruin if you aren’t careful or aren’t paying attention.  Banning them or outlawing them isn’t the answer.  Because they can also lead you somewhere else.  They are all doorways, after all.  They are ways to experience something beyond the immediate world, which is what makes them potentially so dangerous.  Because in the right amount, in certain combinations, with the proper recipe, what they have to offer you is a glimpse of the divine.


June 22, 1904


Teddy Roosevelt takes time off from being president to write a letter to his daughter Ethel and illustrate it with a drawing of her disciplining her brothers Archie and Quentin, June 22, 1904 (Harvard University, Houghton Library).

I have no desire at the moment to grab anyone by the collar or the hair and swing them around but that doesn’t mean I’ve let go of my need to judge or exert control and be in charge.  I’m not sure what’s changed exactly.  Probably me, certainly not the number of folks out there who could benefit from a little “necessary discipline.” Plenty of them around; if you have any doubt, try merging into moderately heavy traffic on an L.A. freeway sometime and see who let’s you in.  Or not.

I’m not into statements, political or otherwise, emblazoned on the vehicle I drive; I’ve been cut off and sideswiped one too many times by recklessly aggressive motorists with trunk fish and “Baby On Board” warning decals in the window: I’m wise to false advertising.   But someone with more wisdom than I possess recently talked me into putting a rainbow colored OM sticker on the back on my truck.  As if the ancient syllable of creation, message of Peace, Love, Shanti Shanti, would have any effect whatsoever on that Lincoln Navigator pulling up to my bumper baby at 80 mph, right?  Trust me, it doesn’t.

But it seems to have had an effect on me.  A little at least, against my will and in spite of my highly refined sense of justice and self-righteous indignation.  Even if it says nothing to you (or sends the wrong message: ‘old hippy dude in a pick-up’), me it seems to be helping, this sparkly sacred symbol on my tailgate, don’t ask how or why. Lately there’s been a whole lot of people dismayed and distressed by the behavior of other people, and I’ve been told how they need to straighten up, not do that, do something else, never pull that again, watch the f-bombs, and so forth.  A whole lot of some people thinking what other people need is a good swinging around by the collar.  And those other people telling me, just try it, mister, f-bomb you,  f-bomb them.

So there I am, seemingly stuck in the middle, Ethel swinging Archie and Quentin, when all I want to do is merge into one more sunny day without being killed.   And I think, hey, you know what? I’m not going to try and keep the peace or swing around anyone, okay?  I’m not going to grab any collars or hair or control or authority.  Because it’s not necessary, and I’m not in charge, and it’s not about getting you or anybody else to understand or do or see or fix anything.  In the end, for me, it’s about my awareness, my clarity, my consciousness, my peace.  It’s not about you at all.  OM Shanti Shanti.

June 15, 1904


On June 15, 1904 the excursion boat, SS General Slocum, caught fire on the East River of New York City. The boat was carrying about thirteen hundred people, mostly women and children on a church picnic outing from St. Mark’s Lutheran on 6th Street and Second Avenue. The wind was very strong, fanning the fire until it was out of control. The life preservers and hoses were rotted. Most of the crew and passengers were burned to death or drowned when they jumped into the river to escape the flames.  More than 1000 people perished, making it New York’s worst disaster until September 11, 2001.  [Source]

June 15, 2015 I go to see my guru.  I take the 405 at morning rush hour,  my version of walking on my knees over broken glass.  As usual, the visit is a mix of ecstasy and anxiety, mostly women and children scrambling for the best seats, staking out their territory as if they were putting down blankets at a picnic at the beach instead of claiming places in line or chairs in a hotel ballroom near LAX.   A festive atmosphere prevails with an undertone of nervous irritation that erupts here and there into petty squabbles or fits of laughter or tears.   If Jesus returned, I think, it would be like this: people arguing with parking garage attendants, jostling in line, complaining about the wait time, texting friends, the old struggling with infirmity, the young sitting cross-legged in heavy traffic areas, blissed out and oblivious, delirious with joy.

“Reckless Ecstasy” was Carl Sandburg’s first published work, privately printed in 1904; it failed to attract critical attention.  The next year he married the daughter of Edward Steichen.  His reputation as a poet was not established until “Chicago Poems” came out in 1916.

Plans for a church picnic end in tragedy, with bodies washing up for days afterward on shore.  You write, you seek recognition, you get married, you write more.  You pursue spiritual comfort and lose your place in line; the family in front of you sways together in a state of euphoria and joy, the woman behind you is convulsed in tears.  You are at turns annoyed and fascinated, even joyful.  Your own ecstasy feels a little reckless but fails to attract attention, even if you wanted it to (you don’t).  The friends you invited to come with you all dropped out, had other things to do, you are on your own.  At the Second Coming you would be on your own, you think, and so would everyone else.  You would be looking forward to a picnic, or thinking about any number of other things, mundane, profane, not sacred certainly, or maybe just a little but in a pleasant way.  Or would you?  Is there an undercurrent of nervous anticipation you try to disregard, can’t shake but choose to ignore?  The Slocum took less than twenty minutes to be consumed by flames.  A handful of minutes, of heartbeats (or an eternity, depending) before you realize there’s no escape, no exit, rotten life preservers, useless hoses, no way out.

Perhaps we become aware of love and death in the same way.  Embraced, engulfed, consumed by either, by both, on a bright summer day, while we’re busy thinking of something else, what we’ll do later, as soon as we get where we’re going, as soon as we get what we came for, our just reward, our heart’s desire, at the journey’s end.



PAUL CADMUS (1904 – 1988) Jerry.  Oil on canvas, 1931, 20 x 24 in. Toledo Museum of Art

June 9, 1904


Transmission lines crossing Northern Pacific Railway tracks, June 9, 1904

It takes a long time to understand some parts of it, this world, this life.  You’re trying to get somewhere; you want to speak to the person in charge. You’re at the end of the line and you’ve got miles to go, and then you reach the end of the line and you realize you don’t have anywhere you need to be.  You’ve come a long way, such a long way.  Look where you are, the middle of nowhere, the edge of the cosmos.

It takes forever sometimes to get what you’re looking for.  You’re afraid you won’t find it so you don’t; faith in an old idea can be a lot more powerful than your abilty to let go of it.  If they only knew, you think; if only you could make them see and support you, validate your efforts, you’ve tried so hard, look how hard you’ve tried.  But the drama is self-inflicted.  They see just fine, maybe.  Or they don’t and don’t care either.  It’s only your fear they never will that gets in the way.

I’m working on a new project, I tell my friend.  It’s about a psychic.  But tell me why? my friend asks over barbecue pulled-pork, sounding exasperated, as though we’ve had this conversation before.  Why does it matter? And then, rephrasing the question, what’s so interesting about a story like that?  Unless you prefer not to tell me, he adds, suggesting I have a secretive side, or can’t explain, or to let me off the hook.  I know he thinks I don’t understand the rules of drama sufficiently to pull it off, as they say.  I also know I will probably never persuade him. Why would I try?  What’s so interesting to me about making him see or care?  Those parallel rails, those transmission lines in the sky only seem to converge at a distant meeting point.

I am the psychic, I want to tell my friend.  But I don’t.

Pyschics are all such frauds, my friend observes. That’s the angle you should pursue, he advises.  That’s a story worth telling.

Go for the Gold


Bronze medal awarded to James Joyce for his singing, May 16 1904 [source]

Joyce was one of 22 singers who entered the singing competition at the Feis Ceoil on May 16, 1904.  He was 22 years old.  He sang two songs – “No Chastening,” from Arthur Sullivan’s oratorio “The Prodigal Son”, and “A Long Farewell,” by Scottish composer Alfred Edward Moffat.  He declined to sing a third number when requested by the judges and as a consequence was awarded the bronze, not the gold medal.

What you do is what counts.  What you don’t do counts too, but in a different way.  A friend went to a party recently, in the hills.  He took video on his phone and showed me.  A techno beat accompanies a slow uncertain panning shot of the twinkle lights of the Valley at night. The infinity pool in the foreground undulates and glows an unnatural aqua.   A giant clear plastic bubble bobs into view on the water’s surface.  Inside the bubble is a female acrobat. “From Cirque du Soleil,” my friend explains as the girl bends and stretches and wobbles inside her plastic sphere.  “She was the entertainment.”  Silouettes pass back and forth.  Then the shape of a small horse obscures the view.  “The hosts have a Great Dane,” my friend adds.  “Nate and Jeremiah were there.”

He means one of the most famous gay couples in the world but not Neil Patrick and David who were on the cover of Architectural Digest recently and currently appear on a billboard in West Hollywood, or Anderson and Andy, who aren’t exactly a couple but are both TV celebrities and BFFs.  “Jeremiah spoke French,” my friend tells me, “because the hostess is.”  He shivers and makes a swooning sound as he rolls his eyes .  “So adorable.”

“I am there,” I say, pointing at the nighttime sky beyond the infinity pool.  I am one of those tiny lights in the distance.  I am not part of a famous couple, but I am part of the view.  We are all who we are, doing and not doing what we know, and what we can, and what we care to do, or not do. We are all going for the gold.

Creative Class


Betty Compton (May 13, 1904 – July 12, 1944), Ziegfield girl and stage actress who appeared with Fred and Adele Astaire in the original stage production of Funny Face (1927), and married New York City mayor Jimmy Walker in 1933.

Lately I have heard people calling themselves members of the creative class, as opposed to being part  of the working class, although it seems to me to be a fine line between the two since the people making the distinction tend to have jobs of some sort, often at hourly rates or off the books or as a “full-time temp” without benefits and yet perhaps not technically manual labor, except it amounts to the same thing.  Sort of the difference between servant and migrant worker,  “personal assistant” versus “one of the help.”  The creative class is made up of people who have moved to poor neighborhoods (working class neighborhoods) because they can no longer afford the middle class neighborhoods they used to live in; in fact the creative class are the same as poor folks but with pretensions; you could say they are the old middle class but still in denial.

They are not really Bohemians, with all the wild glamor that old-fashioned term might suggest, with its connotations of unconventional sex and drug use and daring political beliefs.  The creative class doesn’t do drugs; they’re in “Recovery,” they want their love and their lovers approved by family and friends and state, they don’t want to live in squalor but organize to spruce up the neighborhood, and they’re not frivolous or foolish with their money either: they dream of 401Ks and owning their own homes like everyone else, there’s even a 12 step program for financial sobriety – as one very cynical friend unkindly calls it, it’s where the creative class people who want to get rich writing poems go and share their pain.

A certain famous British artist was recently reported to have said that “gay people these days are boring,” and in so doing he managed to offend lots of good people out there who are striving hard to have rich and rewarding and interesting middle class lives just like their more successful friends, except of course the reality is not quite so rosy or middle class and their successful friends in the upper one percent aren’t really their friends anymore.  But hey, once in a while a working class boy makes it big and the elite hold him up as an example to prove it can be done, and once in a while a colored girl with a dream ends up having her own televsion network and a palace in Montecito and once in a blue moon a creative geeky kid strikes it rich, so work it baby, dance as hard as you can, lie by that pool under the palms trees and hope you get yourself noticed.  And maybe, just like in the old days, you’ll end up being one of those working girls who hits the jackpot, a chorus girl who kicked her legs up high enough and became a Mrs. Somebody, one of those bad girls who got her hot stuff off the street, got down off that stage and married a mayor.  Toot toot, hey, beep beep.

More Than You


Confirmation Class, May 22, 1904, St. John’s Lutheran Church, Fremont, Ohio

There are many paths to the Divine.

I was speaking last night for the first time with the director of my play, MORE THAN YOU.  There will be a read-through tonight, another rehearsal Sunday night, a reading for a small selected audience Monday night; it is all very exciting and odd to be talking with someone, anyone really, about characters who’ve been living in my head for so long.  We’re speaking of them as if they’re real.  They are very real, of course, to me, but I’m not used to sharing.  There are many things real to me that may not appear in your world.  And vice versa, I’m sure.

MORE THAN YOU is a miracle play.  “I make nothing up,” I tell the director somewhat tentatively because I am testing the waters.  I wait for her reaction.  She is, I’m relieved to find, unphased by my revelation.  Miracles are tough.  If they were easy, anyone could experience them. So how do you talk about them, how do you accomodate them into your life?  Do you embrace the inexplicable and look foolish?  Or do you dismiss, explain away, disregard?  The characters struggle.  They accept, don’t accept, refuse to surrender.

There are many ways to get to the realtiy beyond this one.  In theater it’s called suspending disbelief.  You can also use drugs and alcohol and sex and money to transcend this world and experience that ecstasy of being / not being in your body.  Or you can join a cult, or a church.  In the play the characters talk about the Frozen Chosen, the Dutch Reformed Calvinist Christians who have faith that they will be going to heaven and the rest of us will be going to hell.  A comforting thought to them I have no doubt, except they don’t seem to have much fun.  As for Lutherans, I’m not sure but I lived in Fremont, Ohio once and I like the picture.  Look at those young faces looking back at you out of the past.  Some expectant, others bored or uncertain.  All of them waiting for the moment to be over, dreading some pending duty or obligation, or anticipating some happy event in the near bright future; some destiny, perhaps, or fate or heavenly reward.  Or miracle.

In Praise of Shadows


BIANCA DORSO Untitled (Chair in My Father’s House)

May 1, 1904, the Czech composer Antonin Dvorak died.  He had been born in Prague September 8, 1841.   We were speaking of Prague the other day, in anticipation of seeing the Helen Mirren film The Woman in Gold.  The subject of the film is Klimt’s famous portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer which hung in the Bloch-Bauer chateau in Panenske-Brezany, Prague East District.  The chateau, along with the art collection, was confiscated by the Nazis and occupied by Reinhard Heydrich until he was assassinated in 1942, after which  Adolph Hitler gave the house to Heydrich’s widow in gratitude for her husband’s heroism and his efforts to exterminate the Jewish population in the German occupied territories. Heydrich was born March 7, 1904.  Heydrich’s eldest son Klaus was killed in a traffic accident outside the gates of the chateau in 1943.  Used by the old communist government of Czechoslovakia as a secret weapons research facilty, the house is, I believe, now empty, although there are reports that Heydrich’s surviving son has plans to restore it.

The face of the woman in Klimt’s painting is surrounded by gold, as though her head floats in a swirling sea of light.  It is the contrast of abstraction and reality that makes Klimt’s work so memorable.  Tanizaki writes about the contrast of light and darkness in his essay, In Praise of Shadows:

“And surely you have seen, in the darkness … how the gold leaf of a sliding door or screen will pick up a distant glimmer from the garden, then suddenly send forth an ethereal glow, a faint golden light cast into the enveloping darkness, like the glow upon the horizon at sunset.” (In Praise of Shadows, Leete’s Island Books, 1977, Harper and Seidensticker translation, p. 22,)

True beauty includes a sense of the temporal, because what is beautiful doesn’t last, like a sunset.  Dvorak’s famous “Songs My Mother Taught Me” [link to Valeriy Sokolov on violin] from a cycle of compositions based on gypsy songs, has that quality, of beauty aware of its loss, of its passing from that brief moment of light and joy into the shadows of time.

In June of 1942, the son of one of the Czech resistance fights, Ata Moravek, was captured and tortured by the Nazis. His interrogators showed him his mother’s severed head before dropping it into a fish tank.  Ata broke down and revealed the hiding place of Heydrich’s assassins, in the crypt of the church of St. Cyril.

Rude Awakening


Edgar Leeteg (April 13, 1904 – February 7, 1953), American painter who took French citizenship when he moved to Tahiti in 1933 to paint portraits of the locals on velvet.  Considered the father of velvet painting.

Maybe you wake up one day and realize you need to change everything: what you’re doing and who you’re with.  Maybe you wake up one morning and decide to move to French Polynesia and paint barebreasted native girls.

The good news about energy work is that you shed a lot of that emotional baggage you’ve been carrying around with you, inside you, including the anxiety you used to propel you through the day.  You find yourself much calmer and much more present.  The bad news is, you’re aware of the present, and the present feels completely unacceptable.  How on earth did you get here?

In the early 60s my mother would take me on long drives with her and tell me stories.  My father had moved us to Ohio and she didn’t care much for Ohio, so I would go for rides in the car with her on the weekends; sometimes the stories she told me were not about my father and his failings but of books she was reading.  One I remember was about a young girl in London during the War (WWII) who hangs her wedding dress on the back of the bedroom door because she is going to be married the next day to the boy she loves, a handome RAF flyer, but when she wakes up she is in an entirely different room with no wedding dress hanging on the door, and she slowly begins to discover with the help of a kind but timid maid that she was knocked out and lost her memory in the Blitz and married a rich handsome cad, not the sweet boy she’d meant to marry, and time has passed and she is now the haughty bitter chatelaine of a stately home and that was as far as my mother had read.

I have discovered through very casual research that there are nearly two hundred amnesia romance novels (193 titles on a Goodreads List of Amnesia Romance).  Probably many more than that.  It is its own sub-genre in the romance world; apparently heroines are waking up all the time to discover a host of things (some unexpectedly nice, some fairly alarming) that have happened to them while they’ve been out.

I have had eight sessions of energy work.  I wake up this morning to discover that I am much less anxious and upset than I usually am on a Monday morning.  I also discover I have moved to the Valley.  In addition I realize I am much older than I normally think of myself as being and that a host of things have not happened while I’ve been out, including, for example, running away from home and becoming a backup singer or a ballet dancer.  Nor, apparently, did I manage to become the distracted and inattentive lover of a handsome titled Englishman with an ancestral family home in Wiltshire where I was taken after being found unconscious in the rubble from a bombing raid on London years earlier.  Nor am I living in the Place des Vosges in Paris with my younger lover.  Worse, there is no faithful retainer to ring for to bring me my breakfast which in the end is the only reason I get up.  To make coffee.  Caffeine does not produce the panicked rush of despair and anxiety that used to get me going, or not quite, but it will have to do.

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