Dramatis Personae

A number of unexpected characters have inexplicably waddled through this blog over its time. For those of you who are visually-inclined, here is the Cast of Characters in abbreviated form. Some were memorable, some not so much. Some were just fodder.

Enjoy, please.
Gregor

Gregor

Gregor's Lawnmower

 Gregor’s Lawnmower

Gregor's BackyardGregor’s Back Yard

ButomewButomew

AlbartomewAlbartomew

BufordBuford

Jack the YakJack the Yak

SartomewSartomew

Comrade PussComrade Puss

AmarcordThe Author as a Young Man

Mr. BillMr. Bill

The MerovingianThe Muse

PopePapa

NixonPlumber in Chief

PublisherOur Beloved Publishers

Chupacabra Myth courtest of NatGeoThe History Channel

Advertisements

The Weirdness of Writers

Old Man

I’m an old geezer so I can say whatever’s on my mind, right? Isn’t that how it works? Since I’m a writer, I can even make it all up.

This is the weirdness of being a writer. Here are the details:

We live in our heads. That’s right. Forget the world outside. If it’s worth the experience, it lives in here, upstairs. OK, there’s also some intrigue out there. Lots of inspiration from the real world. But, it all needs to get sucked up, rolled around, re-worked in our heads. That’s where we find the action. Doesn’t everyone?

We think in images but cannot draw. Just like you, we see pictures in our heads. We probably can’t express them in a better way than words. A few of us are multi-talented and can do more. These are the true artists. For the rest of us hack writers, making those pictures come alive in words is where it’s at. Descriptions count, a lot. The more vivid, the better.

We like word sounds. Words make sounds. Sounds make pictures, pictures make words. Get it? We like to describe sounds, often in vibrant detail. Check out your favorite writer. See all the sounds he or she describes? Sounds have character. Sounds set moods. Sounds are everywhere. How could any worthy writer ignore sounds? People, too. We call them “characters.”

We’re not that fond of reality. Sure, the world is good. But the attic is better. No cumbersome reality upstairs. Time doesn’t matter. We can do whatever we want up there and nobody can touch us. We create worlds, destroy them, rebuild them, morph them all over the place. That’s our reality. How could the outside world ever compete with that? If you don’t like it, just re-write it.

Nothing is static. Make it once, overhaul it, throw it away, resurrect it, revise it, revamp it and do it all over again and again. Everything changes when you write. Without change, writing is just work, just another four-letter word. Mountains breathe, rocks walk, creatures come and go. It’s a fast-moving landscape up there. Never boring.

quiet

We need quiet. Well, sometimes we need music. The point is that we aren’t too fond of excessive stimulation from others. We need space. We need solitude. We thrive on that special peace that offers the challenge of working alone. Move the quiet times to the front of the line. It’s best to not mess with us when we’re writing.

We are all romantics. We want the world our way, even if we end up destroying it. We thrive on the feelings and moods behind our words. We tend to be very passionate about the people and things in our heads. So, we romance our heads, our unconscious, our moods and feelings. Isn’t this romantic?

English: True Love Couple

We have very understanding mates. If we’re living with another, that person must be very special. Who could even consider living with a writer and still maintain a “normal” life? The weirdness of a writer naturally spills over into the reality of living. Anyone who lives with this strangeness deserves the Lifetime Award of Extreme Tolerance and Understanding. Otherwise, that mate must be another writer and all hell is on the horizon.

We are obsessive. We just can’t stop writing. Period.

Gregor Does Blog Barfing, Again

GregorGregor likes to reinvent himself. His keepers tell him this is the best way to overcome his failed lobotomy.

A while back, Gregor started barfing on blogs. See Gregor Barfs on Your Blog for the details. Since then, Gregor has had a few moments of lucidity. He wants to fill in the details for you.

Gregor has a 5 point scale for blog reading. A blog with 0 points gets passed over. A blog with 5 points gets a comment. It’s also possible to gather bonus points, but it’s rare. This system keeps blog reading simple, and Gregor likes simple.

Here’s how it works:

0 Points. Gregor encounters a bad title and a boring opening sentence. He moves on and takes no notice.

1 Point. The title is a grabber. It’s unique and captures his interest. Unfortunately, the opening sentence or two tumbles down the boring hole. Gregor moves on.

2 Points. Good title, interesting opening lines. Gregor pushes the button and looks for gold. The first paragraph is a fail. Maybe it’s poorly written, maybe it just bores him. Gregor can bore easily when not on his meds. Anyway, Gregor closes the window and goes back to trolling.

3 Points. Gregor gets halfway through the post and his mind begins to wander. Is it Gregor? Is it the writer? Hard to say. Gregor loses interest and looks elsewhere.

4 Points. Gregor gets through the entire post. He is happy. It’s a good read, interesting, fun, whatever. Gregor will come back to this blog from time to time. He hits the LIKE button. Gregor never hits the LIKE button unless he has read the entire post. He wants to be fair to the writer.

5 Points. Gregor is hooked. He hits the LIKE button and adds a comment. Maybe it’s just a short, one-liner. Maybe longer. Gregor wants the writer to know that he or she did a really good job. It’s hard to please Gregor so he chooses carefully.

Bonus Points. Gregor is blown away by the post and goes on to read a few others. LIKE is not enough. A comment is not enough. Gregor hits the FOLLOW button and looks forward to the next post. Gregor celebrates.

Gregor lives here.

Gregor Takes Revenge on Fed Drones

UFO ??

Gregor was sitting drowsily on his porch when this unidentified gizmo zipped noiselessly overhead. Ya-coozer! Invasion!

Gregor instantly knew it was a Fed drone, spying on him for no reason at all. He keeps up with current events and understands that Fed drones are the next big thing. He worried about this possibility for some time, so Gregor wasn’t too surprised. Now, it was here!

Gregor will not tolerate drones in his backyard, period. He believes there is some Amendment that should protect him from Fed drones. He did not take this incident lightly. He believes it’s just un-American to go flying these brutes all over our common airspace. He wants the Feds out of his life, now and forever.

Gregor made several telephone calls. He is not shy when it comes to protecting his privacy. But none of this mattered to the Feds. They just denied all knowledge of drones, spying, and Gregor himself. It was right out of the X-Files. Gregor is not Mulder. He’s not Scully. He can’t penetrate the inner workings of the Feds, at any level. He needed help, some powerful friends.

So Gregor decided to pull out the big guns.

Buford

Gregor did the very best thing that came to mind. He got his love child and spokesman to take on the Feds. Here’s a picture. Imposing, isn’t he? His name is Buford. That should tell you everything you need to know. But looks aren’t everything, are they? Buford is a renowned mathematician and field guide who lives in Orlando. His services are always available, for the right price. Of course, Gregor had that special love-child relationship that got Buford’s immediate attention.

Buford got right on the case, just like Mulder and Scully would have done. He was going to get to the bottom of the drone doo-doo, no matter what the Feds said. Denials meant nothing to Buford. No swamp gas would work on this puppy. He had those Feds scrambling for cover, right away.

To Gregor’s endless delight, the Feds paid strict attention to Buford. His loquacity must have been compelling. He also must have had some serious contacts with the Feds. Gregor had never known the Feds to cooperate with anyone, anytime, for anything. What a wollopy-bang pleasure!

Well, there was that rumor of a few Fed helper monkeys who ran afoul of Buford and vanished. Gregor dismissed this as the usual Fed whining and moaning. Someone hushed it all up. Some Fed, probably.

Alien

It wasn’t long before the Feds sent a representative to Gregor’s house to set things right. He was a nice emissary, Gregor thought. The little guy was carrying a letter of apology from a high-ranking Fed Helper Monkey, just to make sure all relations were properly restored. Here’s what the emissary looked like on the day he arrived.

Unfortunately, Buford didn’t see things the same way as the Feds. Despite Gregor’s protestations and pleadings, Buford ate the Fed representative, right there in front of Gregor and his curious neighbors. There was nothing left to salvage. Not a bone remained. He was all gone! Vanished as quick as a drone.

Gregor was embarrassed. Buford was not. He was smiling the whole time, just like Hannibal Lecter.

Well, the story has a happy ending. Gregor has not seen a drone since that day. Not even one. No one made a stink about the missing helper monkeys. Everything became very calm, just like it used to be before the Feds started snooping.

GregorGregor thanks Buford’s insight and tenacity for making this situation go away, hopefully forever. It’s obvious that no one, including the Feds or their drone people, will ever mess with Buford. Gregor is still a bit sad about the eaten emissary, but he’s improving every day.

Gregor will remember to call on his love child again someday, the very next time the Feds come messing around his place.

Buford is salivating.

Gregor lives here.

Cool Beat G in 1963

Beat MuseumBuckle up. We’re going back to the San Francisco Beat Generation again. We’ve walked through City Lights Books and learned how to be a great Beat novelist. Now it’s time to revisit “cool.”

This post is for the visually inclined. You know what they say about pictures.

Back then, only two kinds of folk lived in the City. You were either a “square,” parked lifelessly and mindlessly in the remnants of the 1950s, or you were “cool” and ready to re-shape the Universe. There was no third choice. The squares were vast in number, the cools were the future. We were Beat. We had our secret places.

Vespa 1963My friend had this jewel for our transportation needs. Nope, it’s not your Mama’s Bradley Fighting Machine. It’s a 1963 Vespa. It was created in Pontedera, Italy, and somehow found its way across the pond. The thing was not a speedy beast but it was cheap to run. It could get us across town, over to North Beach, so long as we avoided the City’s steeper hills.

Parking was not a problem. We never got a single speeding ticket. The Vespa was too slow for that kind of inconvenience.

This thing was crotchety but it seemed very cool at the time, probably because it was Italian. Looking back, we must have presented a bizarre sight to the squares: two guys with guitars strapped across their backs, hunched over against the cold, putting across the asphalt town.

My friend went on to do films, I went with the word. I have no idea what happened to the Vespa. It could be a museum piece by now, or junk, probably worth more than back in the day. We should have given it a name but we never thought that far ahead.

Anyway, we looked really good on the Vespa, very Beat. That was critical.

Beat Gathering by Larry KeenanTake a peek at this old photo. It’s one of the last Beat gatherings at City Lights Books, taken by Larry Keenan. Check out those cool, very Beat clothing styles.

Jean jackets were popular. So were pull-over sweaters and pea coats for those cold San Francisco nights. My coat was navy blue with big buttons up the front and a huge collar. I added a flashy neck scarf for pure style.

Sure, there were still a few ties around. They were very skinny and weird looking, dangly things. If you were Beat you could dress up just about anyway you chose, so long as it wasn’t like anyone else. It was vital to never become confused with a square. See any squares in this scene? I don’t.

The umbrella in the photo was optional gear. Not many of us had one. After all, everyone knows it never rains water in San Francisco. The umbrella was mostly to keep square doo-doo off your head. Long hair was not yet the style. That came later. We were shaggy because we were always broke. Broke was cool back then.

OK, off to a major stop for the night, at the heart of Beat G.

Caffee Trieste Back

This is the back corner of the Caffe Trieste. It was the epicenter of cool in the City, if you were of the Beat inclination. Trieste was opened in 1956 by Papa Gianni Giotta. The sanctum was basically across the street from City Lights, so it made a natural gathering place after serious poetry readings. What made it so special was Papa Gianni himself. Papa loved music, the arts, his customers, us Beats, and everyone else he met. He was one of those rare people you instantly liked and never forgot.

Papa Gianni

Here’s a picture of Papa Gianni pulling a shot back in the day. He also had an endless zoo of interesting Italian sweet treats. All fresh, all good, all very cool.

Like City Lights Books, Caffe Trieste went on to be a huge success. The original location on Vallejo Street is still open and going strong. Papa and his family have added several other locations and even sell coffee online. You may never catch up with the Beat Generation again but you’ll find its soul at the Caffe Trieste. Lots of lasting words were given birth at the back of Papa’s place.

Did I mention that Papa was fond of music? He would let us sit in the back corner and entertain his endless flow of customers. Very cool. Very Beat. Take a look.

Guitars, bongos, flutes, horns and, yes, even the occasional squeeze box. If it made music, it was Beat. Folk and free-form jazz came first. Blues was a close second. No need for sheet music. That was for squares.

Trieste music

We would park the Vespa in front of Trieste. From there, we could easily haunt the three vital stops for the night, City Lights, Caffe Trieste and this place — Coffee (a)N(d) Confusion:

Coffee-Confusion

There just aren’t any decent photos of CNC floating around. That’s too bad. But I remember it well.

The place was narrow, dark, and always over-populated. Small, round tables for two or four, mostly. Standing room only was common. The stage was at the far end, stuck in a corner. Three people on the stage sent it creaking and groaning for relief. This was an essential stopover.

Janis JoplinIt started out as the Fox and Hound, then changed up to CNC. This was ground central for Beat music, public readings and all kinds of interesting entertainment. There was some major talent passing through those old doors.

If you were a regular, you would have seen Janis Joplin as a headliner in 1963, well before her Big Brother days.

Yep, that’s Pearl herself, right around the time she was bluesing her way through North Beach. Man, I sure miss her.

Steve Martin is said to have launched his career at CNC, although I don’t remember him. Lots of great musicians came and went. CNC had an open mic night that usually surprised everyone. We would play from time to time, for tips. Since we weren’t very good, we didn’t get very good tips. It was usually just enough to pay for more coffee.

Mostly, we would hang-out, listen, get in the beat and the Beat.

There were a few other haunts, a couple of non-papal conclaves that mattered. These two were always at the top of our schedule, though. But we’re gonna pull the plug for tonight, man. You’ve got to take Beat in small doses. If you don’t, you can’t ever be cool.

Here’s something to keep in mind.

If you have a bucket list and a fondness for the Beat G, you might want to put these places near the top. Sadly, Coffee N Confusion is long gone. City Lights Books and Caffe Trieste are still going strong, still holding on to those ghosts. Here are the links to the real deal:

Caffe Trieste

City Lights Books

Thanks to PBS, Papa Gianni and family, City Lights Books and the Beat Museum for the photos and memories. You guys are cool.

The 1963 Novelist

beat generation

It’s a blessing that the old days are behind us. Back then, writing was strange, life-altering, completely crazy and not very healthy. I think today’s writers have found a better way. Still, it’s fun to remember.

Do not try this silliness at home. Ever.

I’m thinking 1963 or so. Near the end of the Beat Generation. I’m remembering how it all worked, the protocols, the habits and customs for chasing the muse. Looking back, it seems bizarre and downright alien. I’m surprised so many of us survived it.

The protocols were known to most writers, adored by many, but mostly useless to real creativity. They served a purpose unique to that generation and time.

The Beat Generation

Get loaded. Step one was critical. Get stoned, drunk, flocked, strung-out, zipped, flayed, and buzzed. At least one of those was necessary. The great writers, the real inspirations, did several at once. It was a regular ritual. Of course, we all knew we would never die, so why not let it all loose? The point was to unleash the muse so you could a-muse yourself and stun all your writer friends with unanticipated feats of creativity.

Get together. After the zipping came the get-together. There were haunts. Secret places that only writer-artists frequented. Well, there were a few artists on the scene. The rest of us were wannabes. But that didn’t matter. We could talk the talk, walk the walk with the best of them. Coffee houses were primo spots. Similar hangs. Anywhere the muse would gather with intensity. It had to be dark, flooded with cool music, and stand apart from all tourists and normal folk.

Bitch about the world. You had to be dissatisfied to be a real writer. There was no point in being happy about the Universe, except when you were super-duper-loaded, which was considered uncool. Bitch, moan, groan, grumble and mumble. It was the secondary fuel to get your writer friends talking. Since talking didn’t come naturally, the zippy state of mind and the secret haunt would always do the trick, if you could whine effectively. If you didn’t have a stick up your posterior, you just weren’t cool. If you weren’t cool, you weren’t an artist. The key was to be dissatisfied. You could never be an important writer unless everything was wrong.

The Beat Museum on Broadway Street in San Fran...

Get a little higher. Now that everyone was gathered, time to refuel. Whatever it was that got your high going, it was time to do more of it. That usually meant drinking. We weren’t all that experimental back then. That came later, when the hippies took over and gave us all the boot. Forget wine. Go right to the hard, and do it hard. If you used water or ice, you were a wimp. Wimps could never be real writers.

Spew crappy ideas. This was key. Throw out some really stupid writing ideas. The crazier the better. There was a twofold purpose here. First, you didn’t want to give away the real thing, that special story line you knew would change the world. So, you threw out pure doo-doo. Second, it was a special test of artistry. Back then, really dumb ideas could become really popular, overnight. Sometimes they actually weren’t so dumb. Sometimes they were innovative and ground-breaking. So, throw it out there and see who bites. But always keep the really good stuff in your back pocket. This was not yet the Love Generation. It was Beat or get eaten.

Destroy the crappy ideas. You guessed it. Next was the Roman-style death of all ideas. Each one had to be addressed. Each was torn apart, ridiculed, dissected and usually impaled. If the idea wasn’t all that dull, it got the slightest head nod from the group just before it was put to death. That didn’t happen often. It was usually a feeding frenzy. Nothing was spared.

REAL OLD BEATNIKS NOW: 1959 BEAT GENERATION

A little more juice. Time for refills, all around. Getting late now. Gotta keep the muse alive and jumping. The desperate group-search for the next extraordinary idea has, once again, fallen on its backside.

Out come the notebooks. Everyone scribbled for a few moments. Nothing was legible but it was vital to scribble, to seal the deal by doing what all important writers were known to do – take notes. Everyone had these little blue notebooks, the kind that could easily slip into a jacket pocket. If you didn’t have one of those, you were an outcast, unclean, never destined to be a successful writer. So they all scribbled. Never show your notebook to anyone. Never.

Weed time. The bold ones go around the corner and smoke. The others order one more from the well. A huge act of defiance out there with the weeders. They were bold, avant-garde, the real deal. Inside, the last round for the rest of us, so go out with mucho gusto. The muse is somewhere else, trying to get sober.

Back to bitching. Just for a few moments.

Getting drowsy.

Getting bored.

Time to go home and write something.

See you tomorrow.

New Papa Arrives, Gregor Has Questions

PopeThe Red Cards have slapped us with a new Papa! Gregor can breathe again, finally. But Gregor is uncertain about what it all means. He hopes the future will bring fresh and wonderful opportunities.

Does anyone know what’s happening? Where’s Dan Brown when you need him? Where is all of this going? Who made that very cool Sistine Seagull thing happen? Who’s in charge?

Gregor has so many questions.

The party back in Vatican Square was great. Gregor was happy to watch it all on TV. He would have been happier if the Red Cards had sent him a personal invitation, but that didn’t happen. Gregor wonders if he offended someone along the way. He hopes it isn’t so. Anyway, Gregor did mail his absentee ballot in a timely manner, so at least his voice was heard.

It was, wasn’t it?

Gregor still has questions and doubts. He hopes Papa will listen.

How old are you really, Your Geezerness? This is an important issue. CNN says one thing, the Vatican PR machine says another. Gregor can’t tell how old you are without a good close-up. That fancy dress can hide many things, right? So, Papa, please tell Gregor your true age. He will keep it secret, promise. He hopes your Papa-ness can relate to all those young people who support you and the Red Cards. Gregor would hate to think you’re starting off with something less than full disclosure. That just wouldn’t work for Gregor.

Also, when you write back, please tell Gregor your real name. He’s confused by all those titles and second references. If your real name is John, or Joe, or Alphonse, please tell Gregor in your next letter. First names are good. Gregor is hiding nothing from you, Papa.

Are you ready for change? Gregor is ready for change. All of Gregor’s friends are ready for change. It’s a safe bet that most of your 1+ billion supporters are ready for something new. Why not give it a try? Do it early, do it often, make it count. That’s Gregor’s best advice. No more secrets, Papa. OK?

Gregor is still waiting for the Great Vatican Lottery to begin. He mentioned it in his letter to the last Papa. Maybe you haven’t seen it yet? Are you behind on your correspondence? Maybe some of those many assistants you have hanging around back there can help you catch up with unanswered letters. It’s important to stop hoarding, Papa. It’s good to share, you know? It’s also good to be a real communicator. Gregor always answers his mail.

Gregor hopes you will do some pruning back there. It looks like you are severely over-staffed at the Vatican. CNN showed it all and, now, it’s hard to deny. You have a ton of helper monkeys running around the Vatican. Is there so much to do back there? Couldn’t you spare some of those guys for more important work, like visiting the sick, ministering to the poor, that kind of thing? You’re looking a little top-heavy, Papa.

Did you need to get specially fitted for all those new dresses? Couldn’t you have recycled the dresses used by the last Papa? Maybe just a little alteration or two? After all, the last Papa wasn’t too hard on his clothes, was he? It wasn’t like he was out there pruning olive trees or working in the garden. Gregor thinks it would be good for the new Papa to institute an austerity program, just like all those 1+ billion followers have done. Remember your vows of chastity, poverty and obedience? Gregor remembers.

Jack

Gregor hopes you consider his earlier suggestion that you go green with the pope-mobile. He wants to introduce you to his good friend, Jack. Jack has offered to pull your pope-mobile for one year, free of charge, when you institute the Great Vatican Lottery. Papa, it would be a fine idea to take Jack up on the offer. Not only is it green, it would send a message to the world about your commitment to change. Jack is young and strong, so he won’t wear out too quickly. He can be your first foray into the wonders of biomass conservation. You know what they say about swamp gas, eh? Well, make that gas work for you.

Finally, Papa, please don’t forget Dan Brown. The last Papa apparently ignored him. Gregor mentioned this to your predecessor but received no reply. Remember that Dan has given you an enormous amount of free publicity over the years. He’s done a much better job than your usual PR folks, and it’s cost you nothing. Gregor understands that you may not want to make him a saint. But you should at least give him the props he has certainly earned. Open your heart, Papa. Be generous and you, too, will be rewarded.

Gregor hopes you do well, Papa. He will be keeping his eye on you, though. Gregor wants change. He hopes you’re the right guy for the job.

GregorPlease don’t forget to send an autographed picture, will you? Gregor would like one that shows you without that fancy dress. Gregor wants to know what you look like when you’re just tooling around the Vatican, out of sight of your public. You know what Gregor looks like, so why not reciprocate?

Gregor lives here.