Sometimes it’s easy too look back and see where things went seriously and ass-over-tin-cups wrong.

GuzziOn the way in from the coast, across California’s nearly deserted great savannah and on a wonderfully wide, smooth road surface, I’d become a bit full of myself and let the bike off leash. “Let’s see what this thing’ll do,” I said into my helmet. Within seconds, I was somewhere north of 130mph and leaned into a long right sweeper. The bike couldn’t have been more steady had it been on rails. Plenty of throttle left, I kept my eyes on the exit of the turn and the long straight ahead. I was figuring this fuel-injected, pushrod Italian V-twin would be somewhere in excess of 150mph on that stretch when the doomed rabbit darted under my front wheel. The bike and I launched out of that perfect arc, and I was shot like a hockey puck across the opposite lane and out into God’s great outback of sage and rocks. On its side, the red bike plowed a hundred-mile-an-hour furrow. I slid close behind bouncing off rocks and branches like a pinball, feet first and on my back. My mind sped. Friction between my leathers and the ground heated up. By the time June slowed, got her bike turned around and back to where I had abandoned plan, I was on my feet.

Off her bike, she ran down into the devastation. “Are you okay?”

I pulled off my helmet. “Kinda stunned. Maybe okay.” I checked my neck, fingers. “Armor and leather—good. Help me get the bike up?”

“You’re white. You’re shaking,” she said.

“No shit.”

The machine, so elegant and adroit in motion, looked awful on its side with its bottom parts showing. Damn heavy, too. We muscled it upright, pulled metal, plastic and gravel away from the wheels and pushed the beast back up onto the road’s shoulder. If I’m ever on a bobsled team, I want June as one of the pushers.

The right side of the bike was wiped out: front brake lever, mirror, engine guard, and rear brake pedal. Zero brakes. Otherwise, the electrics still worked, and the fuel injection somehow survived. We backtracked along the skid marks and found the sheared brake lever and brake pedal. I wedged them into my tank bag.

June grinned. “Ready to try it again without brakes, hotshot?”

Memorial Day

RoseThey were young and strong brothers and they were the men of their family when the country came under direct attack with lives lost at Pearl Harbor. They dropped what they were doing, left the mines in Pennsylvania, enlisted, were trained with young men from neighboring mining towns and villages, and they fought back the invaders. The costs were dear. Just twenty-five percent of my father’s platoon returned from the Pacific, and they were changed men. We remember.

One of the skaters’ little known truths is how screwed their feet get from hours of training and competition. Blood in their socks, mangled toes, crushed arches and toe nails falling out.


It started out as endurance racing in 1935. Then, in 1937, Roller Derby got to pushing-and-shoving and hysterically physical with teams competing in front of crowds of 10,000 people a day.

“Fans went wild for the derby. Fan clubs sprung up across the United States and thousands of fans subscribed to Roller Derby News, which changed to RolleRage in the early 1940s, to keep up with their favorite skaters. The roller derby appeared in over 50 major cities in 1940, playing to more than five million spectators.”  – National Museum of Roller Skating

It was my week to drive, we were late, and, technically, I was drunk. The Dodge wove between lanes and we were still an easy fifteen minutes from the Tyler parking lot, then another five-or-so to the painting studios.


“You okay?” Ron asked. He had to be drunk, too, having just dropped me off from a long Friday night three hours ago.

“Yeah, sure.”

“Kinda fast. They don’t care if I’m late.”

“My guy does. We have a model, and he locks the door.”


“Fuckin ‘oh’ and we made the light.”

I grabbed my box of paints, brushes and the rest of the crap and a couple tablets. “Later, Ron. Lock the car.”

I pushed in through the building entry, charged the stairs, dropped a goddam tablet, went down after it, back up the stairs, down the hall and to the studio.

The studio is generally as quiet as a church when there’s a model. Inhibition may play as large a role as respect—but it’s quiet. I pressed the door latch softly, hoping, begging that it wasn’t locked. It wasn’t. I entered and tip-toed between crowded tables, grad students and easels with my supplies sticking out both sides like a tinker’s cart. The model, a blond young woman, my age, stood naked with a plant on an elevated platform in the center of the studio. There, in the far corner, a space. I turned sideways to squeeze in and my cargo exploded! Jars, metal boxes, about a thousand pencils, tablets splayed, and a chair toppled. All eyes on me, including the model’s.

From across the room, the professor said, “Beautiful, isn’t she?”

A portrait is a painting with something wrong with the mouth.

– John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)

4b5f982b79707edcb1bca98d56e402cb(Sojourner Truth from Pinterest)

We hope that artists pre-dating photography were really good at their art and had some sense of historic integrity—that Gilbert Stuart caught Dolley Madison’s early 19thcentury likeness and Washington’s army really did get horses onto those small boats crossing the Delaware as Emanuel Leutze suggests. We have to believe that Leonardo was pretty accurate with the Mona Lisa, right? Many of us find those images dear, fascinating—close to time travel.

Then came photography—arguably developed (ugh) between 1826 and 1839 and we get to see brief moments in the lives of Sojourner Truth, William Bonney, aka Billy the Kid and Frederick Douglass, prophet of freedom.

So, why images stashed in shoe boxes beneath our beds? Albums filled with first birthdays, grade school concerts, Nana’s picnic, Tyrone’s first car, Uncle Viv in Aunt Bobbi’s bra—some snapshots in duplicate and triplicate? The more organized among us have dated and neatly stashed albums covering (typically) three or four generations’ mostly mundane, rarely profound meanderings (“For future generations.”).

Then came Instagram! Whoo-boy, and look what I’m having for lunch!

“Tonight you’re mine, completely
You give your love so sweetly
Tonight the light of love is in your eyes
But will you love me tomorrow?”

BURTON2BURTON_postcard-jimImagine two sisters from the same parents: one sister brunette, the other blond. They arrive on the West Coast and one settles in The North, the other in The South.  One is surrounded by Redwoods, fern grottos and flannel-wrapped nomads, the other strolls barefoot in the mornings’ cool sands shaded by date palms along an endless surf. Independent of the other, each chooses two-and-three-dimensional visual art as the language of her soul, and this evening we admire the similarities as well as the differences in their expressions. These representative pieces reflect past work—lasting, timeless and created under a different sky.

The morning has come, and each artist has moved on to something new.

“Ooo, the stove, the stove and the water. Boil the water, boil the water, and the paper—somebody get the paper. Up-down, up-down, sit, sit, sit, up-down and the stove, the stove and the water. Boil the water, and the…” When she was awake, she was talking. In the psych ward, in her bed, and when she was awake, Lottie was always talking.


“Honest to God, Brennan, if she sits up and starts talking I’m outta here. Elevator takes for-goddam-ever. You been down here before?”

“Three… two… one…”

“Have you?!”


The doors opened and Bob backed out at the head of the gurney. “You got the brakes? I’m gonna swing my end around and we gotta point this mother down the tunnel. You got the brakes, right?”

The narrow tunnel was lit by caged incandescent bulbs every twenty feet and connected the main building with the heating plant, laundry, the new annex and the morgue. Insulated steam pipes and electrical conduit ran the length of the low ceiling. Bob was in emotional overload—I was, too, and the ringing in my ears and my scalp itched and the air was hot and dry and it sucked your face. Bob’s hands inches from Lottie’s head, mine at her feet, and why the hell didn’t they have signs at the intersections? “Which way, Brennan?”

Marco Cochrane is the sculptor behind the forty-foot Bliss Dance, which was originally built for Burning Man before it was relocated to SF’s Treasure Island. Born to American artists in Venice and raised in Berkeley, Cochrane has crowd-funded and completed another sculpture. Like the sculpture I saw on Treasure Island, it depicts the same woman, Bay Area-based singer and dancer Deja Solis.

bliss dance

Long day on my feet, I dropped into a corner pub on the walk home. Tommy was there.

“Hey, Brennan. Been a while.”

“Tommy.” We shook. His hands are swollen and soft—always—since he’s been working at the car wash. The bartender sat a welcome IPA in front of me.

“What you been doin? You ain’t been here for a while,” Tommy said.

“Been around—busy, I guess.”

“Busy. Huh. But not, like car wash busy. Am I right?”

“Right.” I parked an elbow on the bar and took a swig.

“So, like today. What you been doin today—like, before now.”

“I dunno. The tourist thing.”


“Yeah, like seeing the sights. Went to Treasure Island and saw a sculpture. Big woman dancing.”

“Woman dancer. And, like she was naked?”

“Well, yeah, but a forty-foot steel sculpture. Art.”

“Ooo, art, and excuse me, Brennan, if I stick out my little pinky here with my tea.”

“Go to hell, Tommy. Today, yesterday and always.”

“Drink up. Relax. I got the next one.”

It’s a huge two-door Chrysler Cordoba, creamy white and a matching vinyl top.

CordobaIntimidating parked next to any of the current satellite-tracked and climate-controlled livery, it floats there like The Enterprise next to the mailbox where Kev parked it. Pointed uphill, its rear end lifted in a slight California slant on bead-blasted mags, it sits level. When Kev leaves tonight, the pie-plate headlights will come on slowly, like they take time to warm up. In new, stock condition, it would have been a knockout on a showroom floor in 1975. Low, block-long and jeweled opulence rivaling the Caddies, Lincolns and Monte Carlos of the day—its hood-to-trunk ratio is three-to-one. Monster V-eight, dual exhaust, race-proven torque-flight transmission, door-post carriage lights and a trunk that could hold three disagreeable guys from New Jersey. Ricardo Montalban (“The plane, the plane!”) gave television voice to the Cordoba experience pointing out one unique feature: “…soft Corinthian leather.”

Little Walter. Paints a picture, doesn’t it? How’d you see it, just then? Maybe a snorting Pug chewing up and snotting all over a living room pillow? The checkout guy at Trader Joe’s? Your goldfish?

Little Walter? How about this? A guy smaller than most and a giant among stars—Marion Walter Jacobs, a blues artist from Marksville, Louisiana.

HarpBlog3The bridge from Blues to Rock & Roll was crossed in 1945 when Little Walter, frustrated by his harmonica being drowned out by amplified guitars, employed a small palm mic with which he could stand toe-to-toe with the other instruments. And, he took it one step further pushing the amp to eleven and creating a sound never-before heard. Little Walter invented the harmonic distortion fuzz that went on to serve the greats who followed including Jimi Hendrix. In 2008, Little Walter was posthumously inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and he would have looked great at the ceremony in his suit and two-toned shoes.

You might have guessed life wasn’t easy for a guy named Little Walter. Hitch-hiking, trains, busses, dive bars, river fronts, police run-ins, booze and women. Between sets, some of the ladies couldn’t keep their hands off him. “He’s so cute!” Their men—their large men—didn’t like that.

The last physicality Walter paid for love wasn’t that bad. “Just a slappin and a pokin,” compared to the police beatings and the big guy a couple months ago. He retired to his girl’s house—Lois’s house—that early morning and thought maybe he’d lay down for a minute. Just sleep a while. Oh, yeah, there ya go. That’s good. The dark, the quiet, the black door closing on all the noise. The dark’s good—so good. A little nap before the next set.