Superficial Thoughts About the Depths of Oaxaca


When we return home from a journey, one of the first things we do is to unpack. Not merely all the physical items that have traveled to and fro with us, but the experiences and memories we bring back with us as well. It often takes a bit of reflection to understand these experiences and memories. William Faulkner wrote, “I never know what I think about something until I read what I’ve written on it.”

            It’s true that photographs never quite capture or convey the immediate, existential experiences we hoped to retain, revive and elicit when we took them, unless of course, you’re a professional photographer. But even then, hands-on real time objective and immediate experience never captures reality the way reality itself does.

            Being in Oaxaca last summer was both magical and mundane. We had our share of bad meals, but there were some extraordinary ones as well. There was a lot of aged and aging architecture that was a delight to see and inspect. Having been to Mexico many times as a child and as a teenager, the streets were familiar though still new, foreign. The people were a joy to watch and intermingle and converse with. And it was the everyday stuff that was wondrous.

I was amazed at the limpid quality of the sky’s blue, and at the gorgeousity of the castling clouds. Yet the city air was kissed with ozone and car fumes. The taxi rides were a speedy, tail-gaiting provocation which, with time, felt as natural as jogging miles and miles without stopping, for me possible only in a dream.

            I was amused at how high the curbs are in Mexico when stepping down into the street

or back up to the sidewalk; even such familiar things were somehow a little “off,” and enticingly so.

            We witnessed a couple of street parades —it was 2022 and July, the month of the yearly Guelaguetza Festival — and visited the amazing pyramids and structures at Monte Albán, a pre-Columbian archaeological site in the Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán Municipality in the south.

            Because of the Guelaguetza Festival there were a lot of tourists, not merely from the U.S., but from all of Mexico as well. It was wonderful and lively, but there were some signs of the strain, literal signs in the graffiti that was there one morning but gone within a day or two.

            One day when we’d gone to the largest central tourist park where there were a million restaurants, wheeled kiosks and vendor’s tents galore, we went to visit one of various museums of note that we had to wait in line to get into. I started talking with a young fellow from the capital, an engineering student there for the festivities. In the course of our conversation, I mentioned the anti-tourist graffiti we’d seen.

            “Oaxaca’s is a tourist industry around this time of the year. Visitors are welcomed with open arms and coddled.” He smiled and hesitated, nodding. “But, you know, the city gets so busy taking care of the tourists that it neglects its own citizens a bit. The trash hasn’t been picked up at the outskirts for nearly two weeks now. The people scrawling on the walls are few, but the sentiment is not a surprise. It’s a love-hate sort of thing.”

            He went on to laud the everyday folk, and I had to agree. We’d met people who whose demeanors were friendly, helpful, informative, welcoming, very warm. When they were elsewhere, at home or alone with themselves, what did they feel and say? What were their thoughts?  Complicated, no doubt.

            We met and ate with other tourists like us, no Americanos but other visiting Mexicanos who had the leisure and money to travel. We ate with them, interacted with them, exchanged stories and contact information.

            Eight months later, I want to go back. I wanted to go back five minutes after we left. I fantasized at odd, quiet moments, as my younger self, as yet unmarried and without children. An expatriate writer and bon vivant in Oaxaca for a year or two. To know a place you must spend some time there. A trite thought, but there you are. Travel lends trite thoughts gravity, turns the ordinary into the extraordinary. Never enough time.

“You okay, Dad?” asked my son as we waiting in the airport lounge watching airplanes taking on the airfield, taking off and landing. I nodded.

I watched my wife reading her book, “Circe”, and suddenly I wanted to be home, enjoying the delight and warmth of cherished domesticity, of quiet, mutual and wordless understanding.

Travel does that, doesn’t it. Reinvigorates the mundane with a sheen of agreeable strangeness, washing the accumulated film from one’s eyes.

            Ten days in Oaxaca was a breathless gift. I was missing it before we even left.

The Mentalist


I just watched the last episode of season 7 of The Mentalist, episode 151, the series finale. I felt the same way that I felt when my friend N. moved across the sea, back to Berlin, Germany. The goodbyes of people you love are always sad.

            The Mentalist was a show that was, in many ways, sub par. It had a cookie cutterish feel like Murder She Wrote. When caught, killers spilled the beans and blathered away, the writing just on the cusp of being bad. Over the course of seven seasons one hundred and fifty-one killers seemed eager to bypass the legal system and the right to remain silent.

            And Simon Baker’s Patrick Jane was unrealistic, though fascinating, in the mold of Sherlock Holmes, Hercules Poirot, Gregory House and such.

            And it wasn’t just him. He was surrounded by a cast of characters who had their own personalities, their stories, their lives. They became like the co-workers, or family members, that you see every day, whom you come to love or loathe, but who make up the texture and context of your life. Agent Cho with the ultra serious demeanor which masked a big heart and a team camaraderie that was fierce. Agent Rigby, with his troubled past and doubting present, searching for equilibrium and love. Agent

            And the bad guys, especially the sixth season long search for the evil serial killer and criminal mastermind Red John, responsible for the deaths of Patrick Jane’s wife and daughter. Or the misdirections leading us to believe that a good guy was really a bad guy, or vice versa. It was an anticipatory delight, and a reminder that not everything is at it seems, and that you can’t judge a book by its cover. People will always surprise you.

            There have been other shows that have caught my attention and snagged my emotions. West Wing, with more characters and actors than I have space to name. Hugh Laurie in House. Counterpart, with the wonderfully talented J.K. Simmons. The expertly updated and hugely improved Battlestar Galactica. Ah, and there’s James Spader and The Black List. And others.

            I feel like Don Corleone in The Godfather, towards the end when Michael is being groomed to take over the Family, and Don Corleone is intentionally sidelining himself. Over a conversation with his son in the garden where the Don is raising tomatoes, he gets a distant look in his eyes and to Michael. “I like to drink wine more than I used to.”

            Michael says “It’s good for ya, pop.”

            And the Don waves the thought away, saying “Anyway, I’m drinking more.”

            I think I watch too much television.

            Is it good for me?

            Not sure. But anyway, I’m watching more.

            What I love about these cable series is the same thing I like about good books. I like the world they create, the world in which the characters move and live, and which you only get glimpses of now and them, but mostly it’s hinted at.

            The Argentine novelist, essayist, painter and physicist Ernest Sabato, in his novel El Túnel touched on this. The main character says that in reference to paintings, what fascinates him most about such works is not always what is depicted in the foreground, but what is hinted at the edges. Buildings, distant mountains, clouds, a moon or a spill of stars. He is fascinated by what is not shown, but suggested by the work.

            And I feel the same way about my television shows.

            The Mentalist is over. But the characters live on in my heart and memory. They live in a world that was created, for me, and they remain out there, still living their lives, still getting into scrapes, still either triumphing over roadblocks, or changing course when they can’t.

            And there it is.

            Good cinema can be like a good book. Worlds created, lives exposed and delved into, a world savored and enjoyed.

            I could say more, but I need to go. I have to meet a friend for a late lunch of this wonderful French bread he discovered at a small bakery on Topanga, along with sweet crisp green grapes, a wedge of sharp cheddar and a few tins of sardines in olive oil and a bottle of Malbec. We’ll eat slowly and play our guitars at my small office on Woodley.

            The doors will be closed so as to not disturb any errant tenants who are unlucky enough to be working on a Saturday, and the air conditioner will be on. But outside, somewhere, Gregory House and Patrick Jane will be pondering their next moves.

Will You Still Need Me, Will You Still Feed Me, When I’m 64?

            In Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises, Bill asks Mike Campbell, “How did you go broke?” Mike says, “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”

            Aging is like that. You barely notice the slow, gradual piling up of the indicia — the skin’s loss of elasticity, soft, quaint wrinkles here and there, mild pains there and here which are constant visitors, the development of intolerances to things that never bothered you before: the loss of a tooth, a diminishing of the libido, an upgrade in the lenses to your glasses. And so it goes.

            It starts gradually, then — boom! — it hits suddenly.

            Our culture in the U.S.A. is, as in so many other things, in denial. I know I am. When I hit 50, I heard that 50 was the new thirty. Sure, yeah, why not? I liked the sound of that. But 10 years later, when I got to 60, things began to visibly, demonstrably and annoyingly gel into problems that could conceivably go away, but were not. Problems that had not been problems became, well, problems. An exacerbation in the numbers measuring my high cholesterol levels; my diabetes; the aches in my knees; the pains from gout (a form of arthritis) making my mornings stiff and achy. Little things like that.

            I’d quit smoking 25 years earlier; I’d given up drinking alcohol 10 years after that. Once upon a time I used to jog 5 miles 3 or 4 times a week. Little by little that got whittled down to hiking, then to walking, then to neighborhood strolls, until finally, as a conscious and concerted exercise, I stopped walking altogether, except, of course, the normal moving from place to place, through malls with my wife, from here to there and back, waiting in lines, et cetera. I mean, I didn’t completely stop walking. For a spell I even walked about 1 ½ to 2 miles around the park about 3 or 4 times a week, with my son, who slowed his pace for me. But the diabetic neuropathy in my feet and the broken jagged glass feel in my knees tempered that.

            This July, 2022, I turned 68.

            Goddamn. Two years away from 70!

            One year away from the 69 years of age my father died at.

            I can’t help it, I measure my timeline with those closest to me. My father died at 69, my mother at 83. An older brother died of a cerebral hemorrhage at 73. My father-in-law passed at 80, a friend 74, my brother-in-law at 57.

            I have a vegetable-and-fruit hating fast food junkie uncle who’s led the life of a vagabond dissolute, and he’s visibly aged, but he’s still kicking at 82, taking the buses here and there and doing God knows what. He’ll probably outlast me, me thinks. Another older brother is 85, though what condition he’s in, I’m not sure, being that we don’t talk.

            My memory isn’t what it used to be. I spent an entire day trying to remember the director and star of the movie “Dances with Wolves.” Hell, I finally had to look it up. My wife and children tell me that as I’ve grown older, there’s more and more I have to remember, and my mind has to make choices on what to remember, and what to jettison. Not remembering unimportant things, like Kevin Costner’s name, is small potatoes.

            No doubt there are short term remedies: eat better and less, be more physically active, engage in targeting exercises, take Tai Chi, do crossword puzzles, memorize the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s longer songs, make new friends, learn new songs on the guitar and pray at every meal, and try to roll back the clock, if not by much, well, by something. But at a minimum, I have a ringside seat to how the fight is going to turn out, no ifs-and-or-buts. I would not feel so all alone, but everybody must get old. Well, if you’re lucky, right?

            And like a neighbor who is no longer with us told me, “Getting old is not for the faint of heart.” Buck up, kiddo.

            All things being equal, though, some mornings feel like 68 is the new 78.

Every Breath You Take


    When things stare us in the face, sometimes we don’t see them.

            I don’t recall exactly how old I was — late high school, I think, maybe early college — when it was pointed out to me that the ubiquitous meal, breakfast, was a break from the fast imposed by sleeping those 6 to 10 hours every night. Break + fast. I know. Some of you are saying Duh.

            This was the sort of epiphany I had listening to the song by the Police, Every Breath You Take. The song is bouncy, catchy, and has a happy-go-lucky aura that blinds us to what the song is really about.

            It is a Stalker’s Theme.

            The song is about an abusive, scary man who is telling “his woman” that, try as she might, she can and will never escape his vigilance and his control. It’s a suffocating, frightening song with a repulsive message.

            Curious and concerned, I Googled the song to see if others had noticed this. Lo and behold, the author of the song himself, Gordon Matthew Thomas Summer, otherwise known as Sting, talked about this as well. He said he was surprised, but he didn’t mention a thing about removing or otherwise rescinding this song that couples have played at their weddings, or of returning the royalties. He didn’t sound too convincing.

            I prefer songs that sound like what they’re about. The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby sounds like what it is about: sad, slightly ominous, existential, dark. Over the Rainbow from the Wizard of Oz sounds wistful, longing, a reaching out towards lost feelings and lamenting what we had but no longer do. Hey Jude sounds celebratory and anthemic, and it involves the audience in its tail-wagging excitement.

            Every Breath You Take sounds like a boyfriend/husband saying I love you, don’t worry, I’ll always be there.

            Until you strip the words of the sweet music and actually pay attention to them.

            There are other songs that are tricky that way.

            Creedence Clearwater Revival’s song Bad Moon Rising sounds jaunty, rhythmic and driving (to quote Billboard). But I was learning the song for guitar, and was jolted by its dark, grim apocalyptic message: bad luck and horror are on their way. The world is going to end. Don’t bother making plans for the future.


            And me skipping along, fat dumb and happy.


            Oh yeah. Duh.

Academy Award Ceremonies, March 27, 2022


    My son and I managed to watch all of the movies nominated Best Picture for this year, except for “Coda”.

            My favorite top three, in order of preference, were “Drive My Car”, “Dune” and “Licorice Pizza.” The two at the bottom of my list were “Don’t Look Up” and “King Richard”. All the movies were good, though for the reason given I cannot opine on “Coda”.

            After the awards ceremony ended, however, the only thing I could think of was Will Smith’s assault and battery on Chris Rock. I thought of it during the two hours before I went to bed. I thought about it until I fell asleep. I don’t think I dreamt about it, but I was asleep, so I don’t know. I thought about it upon waking.


            Because I have some personal experience with physical abuse. My oldest brother was liberal with not only his intimidating verbal abuse; he was liberal with his slaps and punches, too. Another person, my best friend from late high school and university, was a tightly inserted cork waiting to pop. He exploded twice because he did not quite like my responses to his questions on two of his oil paintings.

            Such behavior is a chill on first amendment rights. Ever since, I keep my opinions of art to myself.

            So, yeah. I have some personal experience with physical abuse.

            The morning after the Academy Awards the internet was chock-full of opinions on the matter. A majority sided with Chris Rock, though a surprisingly large number of people sided with Will Smith. Those siding with Will Smith and his actions tended to say that “Chris Rock had it coming.” This is language that I find very disturbing. It’s the language of abusers.

            When I became a lawyer I took part in a court-sponsored workshop offered as a prelude to drafting declarations to accompany restraining orders. The workshop was about spousal abuse, and how to recognize it for what it is.

            Of all the points touched upon that resonated with me, because of personal experience, the one I was finally able to identify is that abusers blame the victim, even when apologizing. There is always a “but”.

            “I’m sorry, but you know, really, it’s your fault. You know that, right? You shouldn’t have….”

            “You realize, don’t you , that his would never have happened but for the fact that you called the cops.”

            “I’m sorry I hit you like that, but God, you know sometimes you just know how to drive me crazy. You don’t know when to shut up.”

            There are a million reasons why abusers abuse. There are a million reasons why a slap or a punch or a kick readily substitutes for words.

            Will Smith’s son Jaden proudly defended his father, saying, “And that’s how we do it.”

            Good to know.

            I’m not sure what Will Smith was crying and blubbering about for far too many minutes when accepting his Oscar for Best Actor.

            And I’m not entirely sure why law enforcement agents didn’t pick up Mr. Smith for assault and battery. Or why, in this politically correct day and age, the Academy didn’t rescind Will Smith’s win. Chris Rock declined to press charges, but the criminal matter would be The People, and not Chris Rock, versus defendant Will Smith. Chris Rock is a witness, but there’s really no need for Rock as a witness, is there? I mean, it took place on national television, captured on tape, viewed by a live audience of hundreds, seen by millions of people on TV.

            Chris probably wants to just be cool about it. He’s probably conflicted about it himself.

            It is no grand revelation that comedy has a mean streak to it. Somebody is always getting the short end of the stick in comedy; someone is invariably getting made fun of. And yes, nobody — nobody — likes it when they’re the one being made fun of.

            And there are degrees of mean. Ricky Gervais is known for humor that is just downright mean, otherwise he’d be charged with defamation. But not everything that is true should be fair game, and more importantly, if it’s not funny, then why? Gervais is often accurate but unfunny. And when victims react and try to defend themselves, he reacts like a cornered cat, hissing and baring his claws. Well. Comedy is comedy, what can be said? I believe it was Damon Wayans who, during a stand up routine, said that he came from a family of comedians, and that as kids they often could be mean to each other, like all families. “But if it was funny, you weren’t in trouble.”

            Funny is funny.

            And just as true, violence is violence.

            Will Smith was the winner of the Best Actor award, but in my book, his actions Sunday night branded him a loser.

What’s A Gun To Do?

See the source image

            Me and mine caught the new cable version of Lee Child’s “Jack Reacher” on HBO Max. I found the series absorbing, captivating, interesting, and worrisome.

            We tend to give copious lip service to our concerns about the United States being so gun happy, and wring our hands in consternation. I saw a photographic spread in the New Yorker magazine, trying to capture some of the people for whom guns are a family tradition, a sport and hobby, a life. If I put my prejudices aside, I can imagine,know and understand that a good percentage (size/number unknown to me) of gun owners and enthusiasts are no different than the rest of us. You can have my Year’s Best Science Fiction Anthology when you pry it from my dead, cold fingers, dammit. Nonetheless, the statistics are astounding. Today there are 393 million civilian-owned firearms in the US. The population of the US is around 327 million people. That statistical comparison alone is alarming. The numbers according to the Brady website say that every year 115,551 people are shot. Last year (2021) 38,826 people died from gun violence. That’s 107 or so people dying from gun violence a day. A day.

There are categories that these numbers are divided into that give a clearer picture and understanding of what these numbers are. But any way how you look at it, these numbers are appalling.

I saw a posting sometime back, on Facebook, a picture of a woman in public holding up a placard that said:










Sounds like 2021.

But again: How did I like HBO Max’s “Jack Reacher”? As I said, absorbing, captivating, interesting, and worrisome

I am not a gun owner, but like most movie-going Americans, I do love my violence. I grew up with Dirty Harry growling, “Make my day.” And before that? James Bond, the Man From Uncle, Secret Agent Man. And today? Jack Reacher and The Punisher, and movies too numerous to mention that involve serious, chronic gunplay. Guns at the movies will get less of a restrictive rating that bare female breasts. (My opinion is that naked titties are more dangerous than a 12-gauge shotgun, but hey, that’s me.)

I think that guns are a subset of the Fantasy genre, up there with Tolkien and David Lindsay and Stephen King and such. Guns are part of the lexicon of magic, like wands and invisibility cloaks, dragons, wizards and spells and closets that lead into alien dimensions, elves and dwarves and orcs. Guns, like all the mentioned fantasy tools, are instruments of power and, in to many minds, security. Guns appeal, in part, to people who are afraid, who feel that a gun will make them safer. So I’ve read, and such would be my guess. A gun is like a Star Wars lightsaber.

And guns are fantasies you can buy and own.

You’re a good guy, no doubt about it. But the trouble is, bad guys get and carry guns, too. And I guess that that’s why so many of us want guns. Need to level the playing field. To, you know, deal with the bad guys.

Bad guys probably don’t see themselves as bad guys. They’re mavericks, don’t you know? Individualists, loners marching to their own drum beat. Ain’t no one gonna tell me what to do. This is America, dammit. The land of the free and the home of the brave. And if you’re talkin’ down my country, well, you’re walkin’ on the fightin’ side of me. But what happens when it’s not the beat of a drum that leads us on, but rather a voice in our head.

Well, as my mother used to say, maybe it’s a watermelon, maybe it’s a honeydew. I’m not sure. I don’t know exactly what’s what.

What I do know is that over 100 Americans are shot to death every day.

And since the violence has come close to me, it makes me skittish. I’ve had a best friend murdered with a gun. Many years later, another close friend committed suicide with a gun. And more recently, my best friend’s son was cut down by gunfire at a mass shooting in Thousand Oaks. I also saw a man in a car crash at an intersection on Ventura Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley; it was in the news the next day that he’d been shot and killed while driving.

I’m sure my bemused reaction to all of this is nearsighted, like Colin Firth starring in a 2014 Woody Allen movie and thereafter fashionably protesting that hey, I had no idea at the time that the Woodmeister had been accused of child molestation. What? Do ya live in a hole in the ground, dude? Not buying it.

(By the way, I’m a fan of Woody Allen’s movies.)

But guilty as charged. Question is, to quote the Rolling Stones: What  can a poor boy to do? What can I do? What is the solution? Is there a solution? A solution we can all live with.

I’ll have to think about this, I guess, but not just right now. I’ve got tickets to go see the re-release on the big screen of Coppola’s “The Godfather.” It’s one of my all-time favorite movies. I love the book.

The Mill, Huntsville, Alabama, December 30, 2021

            Traveling in and of itself can be intoxicating. The ordinary and the mundane can become foreign, tinged with the sheen of the exotic.

            I mean, who knew that IHOP had pancakes, right? Delovely and delightful pancakes that elevate butter and show off maple syrup.

            Perhaps it’s the flight above the iceberg clouds, or the Lilliputian networks of lakes and rivers that glimmer like rose-tinged mercury then turn a dark quicksilver during the long leaf-fall onto a mirror world that looks like your own, but isn’t.

            Huntsville, Alabama was, in my eyes, breaking through the looking glass.

            I found Willa Cather in Alabama. I found Death in Venice in Alabama. I found Twister in Alabama.

            I found art.


Upon a recommendation, we discovered the Mill. Having opened in 1900 and surviving bankruptcies, a fire, a myriad of changes in the U.S. economy, the Mill is currently a converted space, an artist’s haven, that in the past has been many things: a manufacturing hub for cotton “duck” canvas for the U.S. military; NASA were tenants once, developing the Lunar Rover there. They were home to a multitude of textiles manufacturers forever and a day.

            It was a late Thursday afternoon when we took to wandering, my wife and son and I, through the brick building’s hallways. While the building was open for business, about two-thirds of the workshops and display rooms were closed. There was a pleasant trickle of visitor, which worked fine for me.

            Peering through the windows of the painters and sculptors and lithographers and candle makers and confectioners and even a whisky still and tasting room, the ambience evoked the writer Anne Elliott’s collection The Artstars. I fell in love with her evocative and delicately heartbreaking and melancholic yet profoundly uplifting The Beginning of the End of the Beginning. The Mill was a space, a background, a stage upon which I imagined many of her words, images and stories played out on.

            Magic and beauty are where you find them

            And there was a fine chocolate candy shop there as well.

Most of the Time, It’s Somewhere In the Middle

            It’s wonderful how the Internet creates friction where very little of it exists.

            It tells us that Martin Scorsese and Ridley Scott think Marvel movies are, essentially, trash. Okay.

            It posts an article to tell us why and how the Republicans have no shame and are full of shit, and that the Woke crowd are militantly tone deaf and full of shit. Okay.

            Leonard Cohen was quoted in an article about the Beatles, saying that “They didn’t seem to be essential to the nourishment I craved.” In other words, they simply weren’t to his taste. Okay.

            And the internet appeals to our sense of schadenfreude. That is, that pleasure we derive from another person’s misfortune. I use to love Ridley Scott, but for quite a while now I’ve found him tedious and pompous. His movies bug me too. So any article that trashes him warms me up. Bait and click is derided by everyone, but everyone still uses it in one way or another. Hey, I’m game.

            But there are critics, and there are critics. Some critics have to get things off their chest and foist it onto ours. Others think that by getting what they see as the “last word” their vision of reality becomes the truth. Look at Taylor Swift, pronouncing her recorded romantic fatwas online and in her albums. Yes, the last word. It reminds me of high school, a weak unfocused zinger was slung at someone, the pronouncement itself was innocuous. What was rousing and angering, though, were the other students making a huge fuss about it, as if the weak-ass zinger was a Sicilian mouth-kiss of death, judging and marking the recipient.  “Oh shit!!!” “Goddamn!!!” “Jeeze!!!” Disparaging water turned into vitriolic wine.


            Other critics are usefully engaged in trying to widen our horizons.

            I’ve read all the negative things about Villeneuve’s Dune. I agree with large portions of it. I still love the movie.

            I’ve read articles praising Taylor Swift’s ground breaking songs and business savy, and I can envy her while still not changing my opinion of her music.

            I can listen to a friend’s praise of gazpacho. I nod, wish I could like it (it sounds so good), but hell, I still hate cold soup.


            It’s like telling Salvador Dali that his wife has a large nose and her eyes are too close. You think he would have loved her less?

            It’s like telling me that John Lennon was a misogynist and a wife beater. That’s not cool, bro. But: I still love I Am The Walrus, Baby You’re a Rich Man and Across the Universe.

            As a female critic pointed out when Mario Batali was felled by the Me Too movement, did this mean that she needed to get rid of Batali’s Pasta alla Puttanesca recipe, which she loved?


            Some things are very good. Some things are very bad. Some things are a matter of jurisprudence. Others are simply matters of taste.

            Read (good) critics with whom you disagree with a pinch of salt. It’ll make what they’re saying a little more palatable.

            And remember, you don’t have to eat all of it.