July 10, 2015

On the Road to literary fame and fortune?

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 12:28 pm

crop of tent man best


What would happen if a group of homeless political activists in Berkeley offered an opportunity for a young journalist to score a scoop and a chance for a career making project? Since a good many energetic authors have endured the rigors of life on the road to write about their experiences, and since Berkeley is considering a list of proposed ordinances that will make being homeless more challenging, Mike Zint, the political activist leading the effort to prevent the historic Berkeley Post Office building from being sold, has issued a challenge to journalists covering the resurgent political scene in the famed University town. He calls it the George Orwell do-it-yourself scholarship program.

Writers ranging from the eager staff of the Daily Californian to contributing writers for various publications, and perhaps even a staff writer for the New York Times are being urged to vie for the privilege of spending a week (or month?) with the 24/7 protest at the city’s main Post Office branch and experience what life without money, regularly scheduled meals or time clocks means.

If a young writer shows up with no money, no ID, and no credit cards and is willing to spend a week (month?) living on the streets gathering material for a writing project, there is no guarantee that the work will sell, but the rookie scribe will be granted membership in a rather exclusive group. The Berkeley chapter of the fraternity of the open road school of journalism has an impressive roster.

Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote “Travels with a donkey,” and “An Inland Voyage” had a home that is now a California State Park just north of Calistoga.

Dorothea Lange was a photographer who roamed the country taking photos that provided classic images showing the desperate plight of the poor during the Great Depression. She lived in Berkeley CA.

Jack Kerouac made being a bi-coast schizophrenic the basis for the beatnik literary movement by repeatedly bouncing from the Big Apple to Frisco and back again and again and writing about it in various books. He was briefly a Berkeley resident.

Hunter Stockton Thompson rode with the Oakland chapter of the Hell’s Angeles Motorcycle Club and the subsequent book mad him a journalism super-star. He lived, for a while, in San Francisco.

Blogger, former war correspondent, and (more recently) occasional baby sitter, Jane Stillwater, who has circled the glob gathering interesting information and facts, has interrupted her peripatetic fact checking activities and is currently ensconced in Berkeley and is putting the finishing touches on her first novel tentatively titled “Pictures of a Future World.”

Sure, married people can write charming books about domestic bliss but even the lady from Scranton Pa., who wrote “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies,” didn’t stay there.

George Orwell’s first book “Down and Out in Paris and London” never lived in Berkeley but his first book helped establish him as a celebrity writer. The fact that his book about hard times sold well during the depression should provide some incentive for today’s white belt (i.e. beginner) writer to “walk a mile in Orwell’s moccasins.”

If writers can’t get an assignment from the mainstream media to cover the tumultuous atmosphere on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley it might indicate that the publishers (who are usually conservatives) are more into denial than willing to subsidizing a sojourn into the fascinating world of life on the edge.

If a bold and audacious writer decides to take the challenge, and doesn’t get any response to his work done on speculation, that might be proof that capitalists are practicing de facto censorship in a country that has been conditioned to be oblivious to any limits on freedom of speech imposed by financial considerations. Would capitalistic publishers institute de facto censorship based on misguided fanatical beliefs if it deprived them of a traditional source for sure sales? In the capitalists’ world, doesn’t greed trumps political principles every time?

If such hypothetical self imposed limitations were in effect, wouldn’t the discipline required to resist the urge to break the embargo ultimately fail due to greed fostered by the potential of impressive sales numbers? Hasn’t the life of a vagabond wordsmith been the basis for many literary careers? Publishers may be able to control what is available to buy in America’s bookstores, but they can’t stop people from follow sales trends that have been effective for many generations.

The danger for the capitalistic conservative moguls would be that some desperate graduate of a journalism school, who is being overwhelmed by student debt, cites the WTF factor and puts his world on the line and risks everything on a bold gamble. That makes very interesting reading for those who want to live an exciting life vicariously.

What beleaguered dad doesn’t retreat to his “man cave” and yearn for a proxy who will deliver the life of a happy go lucky, eloquent rolling stone in the pages of a new best seller?

With all the time spent on talk radio decrying the existence of panhandlers in the land of opportunity, there is one glaring factor: when is the last time a conservative talk show host interviewed a homeless person on the air? If the unemployed are not given an opportunity to express their point of view, how then does a one-sided point of view program exemplify a dedication to “fair and balanced” content?

Dirty diapers, puking babies, and Sunday morning sermons may add a comforting predictability to life and adds a shared experience bond to community living but the uncertainty of hitchhiking in the rain on a desolate highway intersection at night does not need to be concerned about being too mundane to hold the audience’s interest. The song “Phantom 309” describes the dismal experience of hitchhiking at night on a remote stretch of highway as a rain storm approaches. For families in fly-over country that song is a “Twilight Zone” episode told in lyrics and is very entertaining, but for someone who has experienced the vagabond lifestyle it provides a “been there done that” moment that rings true for many a wandering wordsmith.

(If the writer’s reaction to the plight is to utter a blasphemy and if it is immediately followed by a dramatic lightening bolt striking the peak of a mountain top about five miles yonder, that will probably be an “ace of trump” incident at a hostel story telling competition.)

The World’s Laziest Journalist has lived the hitchhiking to Frisco chapter of “On the Road” almost five decades ago and has concluded that it is better to interview the regulars at ‘Fort Zint” (the Berkeley Post Office Defense Protest) and get a vicarious look at the challenges they face rather than adopting the young writer’s sense of adventure and putting a major commitment of time and energy into a project that would be done on speculation.

At this stage of the game what would be the use of putting a great deal of time and effort into laying the foundation for a writing career that will stretch thirty years into the future?

We either do something for the S&G factor or we give it an immediate “pass.” That isn’t to say that we would turn down a spur of the moment offer of a ride to NYC – the travel bag is always packed – but road adventures are a young man’s game and, according to Mike Zint’s ground rules wouldn’t getting a monthly social security check take away the risk factor of being broke and on the move?

In “the Road,” former University of California at Berkeley student Jack London wrote: “I located and empty box-car, slid open the slide-door, and climbed in.”

Now the disk jockey will play Clarence “Frogman” Henry’s 1956 hit “Ain’t got no home,” the Eagles’ “Take it easy,” and the Highwaymen’s “The Road goes on forever, the party never ends.” We have to check Craig’s list and see about the possibility of getting a ride to the Big Apple. Have a “never saw a sight that didn’t look better looking back” type week.

January 30, 2015

Put the Hippie Hall of Fame in Berkeley?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 2:22 pm

crop of long shot Gravy Best

Recently, journalist and political activist Mike Zint and some of his associates were recounting some of the best anecdotes about the good old days when the Occupy Movement was getting started. Then they started lamenting the fact that some of the oral history of all the protest movements are in danger of becoming lost. Shouldn’t someone (like those studying journalism or documentary film making at the University of California in Berkeley?) make a concerted effort to record some of the best stories on video while they still can? Simultaneously, some local merchants are busy trying to discourage and disavow Berkeley’s world wide fame for being in the forefront of the anti-Vietnam war protests.

Do large numbers of tourists go to Oxford England to see where famous scholars taught and did research? Is North Beach, the San Francisco neighborhood made famous by the Beat Poets, a bigger and better known draw for world travelers?

Sure Berkeley is full to capacity on the fall Saturdays when the UCLA football team comes to town, but what can be done to draw crowds during the summer months?

If an entity called “the Hippie Hall of Fame” is ever to be built, why not in Berkeley?

The list of famous artists, musicians, writers, and political protesters who were at one time or another part of the Berkeley community, is astounding and that, in turn, causes us to postulate the premise that if the Berkeley business community wants to increase tourism, they might want to consider the possibility of building a home for the Hippie Hall of Fame.

Is there an audience wanting to hear about the trials and tribulations of the Vietnam war protesters? Shouldn’t Berkeley be anxious to tell the world about various writers (such as Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. Le Guinn, Jack Kerouac, and Alan Ginsberg) who were Berkeley residents? The Hippie Hall of Fame might be a legitimate way to draw visitors to Berkeley. Isn’t Wavy Gravy (wavygravy dot net) a Berkeley resident?

Doesn’t a pioneer in the field of rock criticism call Berkeley his hometown?

Simultaneously while the business community’s hopes to bring more tourists to the area, they are also anxious to see the local homeless people go elsewhere.

Thursday, January 22, 2015, was a warm day filled with California sunshine and so when we walked into downtown Berkeley CA and noticed that the usual crew of homeless young folks was absent, we didn’t take much notice. The next morning KCBS news radio reported that the day before had been the day devoted to taking an annual census reading of the homeless. Such an odd pair of facts might be connected, we mused, and so we considered traveling to the secret location of the Amalgamated Conspiracy Theory Factory located in the near-by foothills for an expert analysis of the odd coincidence.

Then we realized that since one of the objectives we hope to achieve with our weekly exorcises in online punditry is to prod the audience into doing their own thinking and commentary we should just ask the readers if they see any possible connection.,

We asked Ninja Kitty on Friday where the kids were on Thursday. He said that the police had made a sweep of Shattuck on Thursday and chased many of the panhandlers away. Why would they do that on the day when the Homeless census was supposed to be conducted?

A Berkeley cynic noted that since the new semester at the University of California in Berkeley had just begun, it was traditional for the local authorities to do sweeps of the downtown area to remove the homeless so that parents delivering their daughter for the new semester would not become unduly alarmed by the sight of the panhandlers.

Could it be that politicians don’t want to solve the homeless problem because the capitalists want homelessness to be a very unpalatable existence and thus provide disgruntle workers with a strong motivation for putting up with inconveniences just to keep their jobs?

We have asked several of Berkeley’s homeless if they agreed with our contention that the problem of homelessness is not meant to be solved. Most concurred. If, during the Great Recession, workers could not be manipulated and intimidated by the possibility of becoming one of the panhandlers, then there would be no great fear of becoming a rolling stone. As it is, a married man with a wife, kids, car payments and a mortgage has enough to handle and the thought of coping with that menagerie while living in the car can be very effective sword of Damocles.   Don’t most of the homeless perceive the poor schmuck as being played as a sucker? What single young man doesn’t fancy himself as the title character in a picaresque novel that tells the travels and adventures of the new Dean Moriarity?

Our fact-finding on the topic of homelessness has caused us to wonder why some top notch writer (think Tom Wolfe in the mid-sixties) doesn’t collect the life stories of the best known Berkeley homeless and put those stories into a book length form.

It seems curious that the business owners are very reluctant to even consider one idea that would help remove some of the panhandlers from Shattuck Ave. If a place could be found where lockers could be installed, that would give some of the kids a chance to go look for a job or even just go for a hike in the nearby foothills but the idea draws a considerably hostile reaction. No way, Jose!

If being homeless were suddenly to become a variation of the old rugged frontiersman’s existence, then the threat aspect of homelessness would disappear. Hence it behooves modern life to make the homeless an object lesson about the result of a lack of determination and hard work.

The hippies exemplified the concept of a happy-go-lucky existence that was not completely dependent on a weekly paycheck and thus it seems highly unlikely that a town where kids dig themselves deep into to student loan debt would ever build a Hall of Fame glorifying the idea that not being a cheerful wage-slave was a worthwhile endeavor.

Why then, doesn’t Berkeley CA become the future home of the Executive Hall of Fame?

Jack London would hardly qualify as a hippie, but wasn’t he a UCB drop-out? Could the famous world travel be considered a hippie prototype? Just because he never wore a tie-dye T-shirt doesn’t mean he didn’t share values with the hippie movement.

Were there enough success stories on the roster of college drop-outs to merit the possibility of establishing a Drop-out Hall of Fame?

What message are adults giving America’s youth? This week a major sports team seemed to concur with the philosophy of W. C. Fields: “If a thing is worth having, it’s worth cheating for.” Have ethics become extinct in the USA? We haven’t noticed any strong denunciations of the cheating aspects of this new controversy.

Now the disk jockey will play Roger Miller’s “King of the Road,” Dean Martin’s “Bummin’ around,” and Clarence “Frogman” Henry’s “I ain’t got a home.” We have to go check the “First they came for the homeless” page on Facebook. Have a “Groovy” week.

January 17, 2014

Same as it ever was

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 1:31 pm

[<B>Note:  This column is an example of Gonzo commentary and is therefore exempt from the fact checking process.</B>]

Jack London’s “The People of the Abyss” paints such a grim picture of people who are doomed to an abysmal existence of constant sorrow that will inevitably lead to an early grave but it does offer a possible view of the world that some political recidivists want to revive for America in the near future.  Was London’s tale of picaresque adventures titled “The Road,” a precursor of beat literature?  Was London’s “The Iron Heel” an inspiration for “It can’t happen here” or just a book that would hardly ever be compared to “The Canticle of Leibowitz”?  Did London’s “John Barleycorn” inspire “The Lost Weekend”?

After skimming through a copy of a Jack London biography we encountered in the Berkeley Public Library, we hightailed it off to the world famous Moe’s Books on Telegraph Avenue to see if they had an affordable used copy of the Library of America’s book containing those five of London ‘s social novels.  They did and so we paid cash for it (are charge cards the new century’s version of eight track tapes?) and started reading.

London was a socialist and so if he were still alive today he would probably do an appearance on Jon Stewart’s TV show to lament the status of the unemployment benefits that were recently terminated by the Simon Legree Republicans in Congress.  No one in their right mind really expects them to be reinstated, but the liberals are expected to play the game and urge the recalcitrant Republicans to recant and approve the resumption of the checks that prevent despair in the ranks of the job seekers.  The challenge for the Republicans is to find the rhetoric that will make their hard hearted response seem to be a logical extension of their compassionate Christian conservative philosophy.  Quibbling over parliamentary procedures is, of course, the perfect example of how Jesus Christ would answer the question:  “Do you want to restart the checks or not?”

London might be sarcastic about the free press’ feigned outrage, which is supposed to make the Democratic “attempts” to perform a resurrection on the social program that has flat lined look genuine, but is, instead, designed to divert attention from other topics where some back room manipulation is needed.

When the Target security breech was first announced, the hottest show on the West Coast made the assertion that the source of the hack was in Vietnam.  Have you seen any news stories about the source of the mischief?  Why is that information about the specifics of the source of the hack being ignored in the American media?

Are the doubts about the potability of water in some areas of West Virginia coming from the same whack jobs who say they can “prove” global warming is occurring (i.e. “the Scientists?  [Doesn’t that sound like the name for a Goth band?])  Aren’t those two ideas equally ludicrous?  Who would decline a drink of smelly blue water just because one of the global warming posse said it was “dangerous!”?

Is Fox or the New York Times presenting better and more coverage of events in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon?

While we were reconnoitering the Jack London cabin (made with material from London’s Yukon cabin) we encountered some transplants from Boston who were exploring their new hometown area and gave them some recommendations about how to most fully enjoy (one of London’s recurring themes in life) their new local area.  Get a guide book, lest you obliviously sail past an obscure location that features an arcane attraction that would amuse and fascinate newbies and long time residents alike.  That conversation could easily be expanded into a full length column about the delights of living in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Heinolds’ First and Last Chance (bar/saloon) in Oakland has always been synonymous with the name Jack London and so on Sunday January 12, 2014, we went to that city to have a look-see.  Was London really one of their “regulars” back in the day?  They have a photo of a young London reading a dictionary in that very building (the owner gave the lad the book as a present) for Doubting Thomases and fact checking columnists.  The unique bar, which tilts because of effects from the famous 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, can best be described by the word “über-funky.”

While we where at that gin mill (the First and Last got its name because it was the closest tavern to where oyster fishermen “clocked in” and “clocked out” for their jobs), we had to order a diet Coke™ because hey didn’t have Sarsaparilla. (Taking photos of Jack London’s cabin and Heinold’s saloon in Oakland CA,for this column seemed like the most likely solution for this week’s challenge for the photo editor.)

While savoring our drink we chatted up the bar tender and realized that we could easily write a column about the great bars of the world, where we have had a libation.  (We missed the real Quinn’s in Tahiti [the one that’s there now isn’t the legendary original according to what we have read].)

We could also do a column just limited to the famous bars that were a “home away from home” for great writers.  Didn’t Jason Miller, who wrote “The Championship Season” (Go 49ers!), used to drink at the Dinner Bell in Dunmore Pa.?

In the spirit of “ripped from today’s headlines,” we noticed that in the “People of the Abyss,” the homeless were kept out of London’s parks at night and that the police roused anyone attempting to sleep in public at night.  Sounds like the same complaints we heard recently, while visiting residents of Berkeley’s People’s Park.

We have suggested to one of Berkeley’s most noticeable panhandlers, known by the street handle of Ninja Kitty, that he run for Congress on a “I’ll get rid of the homeless in Berkeley” platform.  The conservatives would expect him to implement a “Getting a job (i.e. work) will set you free” style program and the Berkeley liberals would expect him to help expand the under funded social programs to help the homeless and also vote for him.  He’d be elected in a landslide.  Hit the pause button for that idea, he told us he is too young to be a Congressional candidate.  Maybe he can just help collect signatures for councilman Kris Worthington’s petition?  Ninja Kitty does, however, have a facebook page.  (

Originally we had intended to write a column for this week that compares and contrasts the movies “Wolf of Wall Street” and “American Hustle.”  The two are simultaneously both similar and quite different.  It’s like one baseball game that’s a no-hitter pitched by Nolan Ryan, and another contest between Boston and New York that, after the lead chances several times, ends 13 to 12, with a bottom of the ninth inning walkoff grand slam (for the Yankees, naturally).

London, if he were still alive, would probably be able to take diverse bits of information, such as the annual traffic fiasco, that inevitably accompanies the Forth of July fireworks display in the Marina del Rey area, the recent resignation of L. A. Sheriff Lee Baca, and the political headaches for New Jersey Governor Chris Cristie, and combine them into one coherent column, but we’ll have to check with the Marina Tenants Association for the background story and get back to you on that challenge.

In Chapter 27 of Martin Eden, London wrote:  “When he starved, his thoughts had dwelt often upon the thousands he knew were starving the world over, but now that he was feasted full, the fact of the thousands starving was no longer pregnant in his brain.”  Does that explain why Republicans prefer to discuss the homeless while enjoying a good meal?

Now the disk jockey will play Boston’s “Don’t look back” album, Chicago’s “Greatest Hits” album, and John Denver’s “Rockey Mountain High” song (has that become the official anthem of the Legalize Pot movement?).  We have to go see if the record high temperature for San Francisco in January will be set today.  Have an “over the lips, and through the gums; look out ribs here it comes!” type week.

[After a clerk at the Pacific Cookie Company on Telegraph Ave. bragged that Janice Joplin had “come on” to her grandfather on a national TV talk show and then went online to prove it, we knew we had a great item for next week’s column.  Tune in next week at the same bat time, same bat channel for the full story.]

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