Wednesday, October 30, 2013


The sun charged over the hill like Genghis Khan's army, overwhelming everything in it's path. Blues and purples transformed into gold and ochre...a flock of birds exploded from the trees, fleeing, (or celebrating?) the sudden appearance of the burning orb. Even the shadows seemed to be caught by surprise as they tumbled from the treeline and stretched their fingers down the hill. The stranger had been up for over an hour and sat in the red and gold caravan, drinking dark roasted coffee and watching the world's improvised response to the rising of the sun. He was glad to see it, feel it's warm rays and let it's golden light wash through the caravan.
The previous night had been drippy wet and cold. Mist snaked it's way through the trees and collected on the eucalyptus leaves over the caravan. It gathered into large drops and fell loudly onto the roof. The stranger stayed dry inside his tiny gypsy wagon, and reasonably warm, wrapped in his bedding. At 4 AM he sat up and turned on the light over the galley. He lit the burner of the stove and put on water for coffee. The interior of the caravan warmed up almost instantly. He scooped coffee into the filter and set it on top of the cup, then settled back against the pillows and waited for the water to boil. At this early hour when the world was still wrapped in it's indigo cloak, the caravan dweller felt a deep peace, the nightsounds softly accompanying the mystic quality that permeated everything. Although he had chosen a spot for the night that was only a short ride from the cacophany of the city, here all was quiet. The dark, pre-morning hours held the landscape in an eerie mist-world. He stepped out of the caravan into a soft, diaphanous half-light. He wiped down the bike and silently rode toward Venice Beach.
Once he reached the beach he guided his bicycle-caravan along the beach walk, the thick mist still softening edges, blurring the harshness of the reality faced by the people who lived on the streets. As he pedaled through the quiet, still-sleeping town, images appeared like smokey projections and then disappeared again, receding into the blue-grey shadows. Motionless forms wrapped in blankets lay scattered along the beachwalk, down the side streets, and along the sand. An elaborate improvised home made of appliance boxes and a broken umbrella occupied an to it, a large tent-like structure put haphazardly together from old blankets.
Carts piled high with the belongings of the street people, that were pulled from the trash that had been discarded by the better off. Bicycle dwellers, some with overloaded trailers, some weighed down with the castoffs of others lashed to their carts with mountains of the broken flotsam and jetsom that represents a poor man's wealth. Venice Beach is a study of unintended consequences...a Jackson pollack painting of Mardi part One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and one part Post-apocalyptic wasteland. A beach town with an attached outdoor insane asylum. Up ahead a lone figure sits hunched over in the cold mist. His clothes are filthy and in tatters and although it's cold and wet, he wears no shoes on his feet. His face is mostly hidden by the ratty hoodie that covers his head. As he sits there, dirty, wet, cold and unimaginably alone, he rocks back and forth, mumbling softly to some imaginary entity. The gypsy caravan rolls to a stop in front of the figure on the bench. The mysterious stranger can tell this person is lost in a maze of madness and delusion...he wonders when the tragic creature last had anything to eat. He has to be hungry. "I have food in the caravan," thinks the stranger..."more than I need." He dismounts from the bicycle and approaches the lonely figure, thinking to offer him some bread and cheese, and maybe a beer. "How ya doin, man?" The figure turns his eyes to meet the stranger's and rage flashes from them like a taser. He grits his rotting teeth and hisses like a cat that's been cornered by a Pit Bull. The stranger takes a step back toward his bike...this hopeless creature doesn't want his help...doesn't want anyone's help. He just wants to be left alone in his madness. The Hell that this tragic soul occupies is his home. It's Hell, but it's his alone. It's all that he has left. People sometimes say that God never gives you more than you can handle, but it isn't true. It's just one of those things that people say because it sounds nice. This person has been broken. He will die this way...out here in the cold, alone in his madness.
He rides on further down the beachwalk. The fog seems to be getting thicker...making it hard to see, driving mist into his eyes, filling them until they overflow, leaving wet tracks running down his face. He passes more sidewalk sleepers...nightwalkers, carrying their few possessions in old packs and plastic bags. They've walked all night, too wet and cold to sleep, or unable to find a safe place where they won't be rousted or robbed of what little they they walk until daybreak when they can sleep on the beach.
Finally the stranger comes to a remote stretch of beach and parks the caravan. By now the last traces of night have been consumed by the dawn, and he watches as the sun charges over the hills like Genghis Khan's army, overwhelming everything in it's path. A flock of birds explodes from out of the trees, and the stranger wonders if they are fleeing from the sudden appearance of the burning orb or if they are celebrating the dawning of a new day.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Yesterday I was working on a new painting station that attaches to the front of the caravan. I had some paintings stacked inside and was just rummaging around when a woman approached suddenly and asked if I would resolve an argument she was having with her husband. I haven't usually been known for my marriage counseling skills but still, I wanted to be when you ask someone for directions and they don't really know but will try anyway..."Well, I think you go down this way and take the fourth or fifth street and go left, or maybe right, yeh, I think go right and then it's maybe a mile or so, I think, no, wait, don't do that, go down here about six blocks and take a right where the flashing yellow light use to be, then..."

You know, they just want to be I said, "sure, be glad to..."

"Do you think," she asked, "that there are some people who get bitten by a Muse?" I thought about that and wasn't sure what she meant. Did she really want to know if I believed there was some kind of little fairy-person who could bite you, vampire like, and then you would forever be driven by an insatiable lust for art and creative expression?

"What do you mean by that?" I asked.

"I mean, do you think that some people just have to make art or sing or dance in order to be happy in life?" she explained.

"Oh," I replied, "sure, in my own case, definitely. I don't feel I really ever had any other choice but to do what I'm doing...." The husband had been hanging back, standing off a ways, clearly not wanting any of this conversation or at all interested in my take on it. It turns out that the question concerned their 18 year old daughter who was a singer. Mom, obviously, was siding with the daughter's desire to pursue singing as a career, whereas Dad thought this was foolish and irresponsible.

"I remember very clearly standing next to my friend on the first day of kindergarten and saying, as they passed out the Crayons and paper, "This is what I love to do!" I already knew then what my passion was. I've never had any doubt that pursuing an art career was what I would do...often to my own disadvantage..."

"See?" the woman said to her husband..."often to his own disadvantage..."she repeated, nodding her head up and down. Now the husband edged closer, feeling emboldened to make his argument. "I don't see why you can't have both." he said. I knew what he meant by this....I've heard this argument many times. When people say this they usually mean that they don't see why a person can't just go for a "safe" career path with some security, and do their art, or singing in this case, in their spare time.

"Because," I replied to the dad, "If you have a very strong passion for something, it's what you want to devote most of your time and energy to. If you do it in your spare time, it's a hobby, not a career. And to get very good at anything takes a great deal of time and devotion. And besides, when you choose something else to make your living at, it's giving up before you have really tried. I have always been ruled," I went on, "by the terrifying fear of getting to the other end of my life and saying to myself, "I wish I had gone for it....really pursued my dreams instead of hanging back in fear of failure." That, to me, is the worst thing I can imagine, because by then it's too late. You've spent your life doing something you don't really love, maybe don't even care very much about. You've spent your life putting your energy into making someone else's dream come true. Your employer's. Now, if you love your job, really love what you do, then that's great, you get the best of both worlds. Some people don't have a built in passion for one thing that obliterates everything else, and those people are lucky in a way. There have been many times when, exhausted by the effort it can take to keep trying to figure out how to make it work, I've wished I was the sort of person who could just work in a little hardware store or something and be happy with that. Yunno, just enjoy my coworkers, go home, go bowling on the weekends or whatever and be content. That is a gift, but it's not a gift I have. I seem to have been born with this monkey on my back...this non-negotiable drive to create as much art as well as I can before I leave this life. It is certainly not an easy path, and it's cost me, a stable relationship, and certain freedoms that come with choosing a more predictable path. It's never been straightforward and clear, I am always having to figure out how to proceed and hope it all works. And here's the thing," I went on, "maybe your daughter will suceed wildly and maybe she will fail, but if she tries and fails, and then chooses to change course and do something else it will be because she went for it and came to her own decision...but if you advise her to take a path she really isn't passionate about in order to be safe, she may one day look back and regret having made that choice...she will always wonder what would have happened if she went for it...and she may resent you for steering her away from what was most important to her. But maybe she won't fail...I always think of what John Lennon's aunt said to him when he was a kid. She said, "The guitar is fine, John, but you'll never make a living at it."

The Dad seemed to really listen to what I said, and I don't know what he felt about it...I don't know what happened after that...they drifted off and I went back to my work. There are so many different paths and ways to go about life and it's all a trade off. Maybe nothing is perfect. But I know that much of the incredible and wonderful art, and music and literature and science out there would never exist if the people that brought those creations into being had chosen a more conservative path. The very nature of art and science is exploring the edges of the boundaries of what's known or familiar...of putting oneself out on the edge...and it's not necessarily a safe place out there. It's not necessarily a comfortable life all the time. But I think the ones who put themselves out there beyond the boundaries add the bold accents to the fabric of our lives. Some people see artists as self indulgent and irresponsible, but those of us who occupy the fringes to do what we do, sacrifice a lot....and really, I don't think we have any real choice to do otherwise.



Monday, October 21, 2013


Awoke this morning to a thick, wet, grey sky. Everything was drippy wet and visibility about 10 feet. I climbed out of the caravan and began wiping down the bike seat, handlebars, and the awning before i rolled it up for travel. Then I pedaled over to my spot at the Lagoon. Definitely the wettest, foggiest morning I have seen here so far. I parked the caravan, climbed in, pulled down the shade and lit the stove. The place warms up in about 15 seconds or less with the stove going. Made some more coffee and English muffins. It's so thick outside I can't see the Lagoon, which is about 20 feet away. I won't be going outside to paint until things change and the sun comes out. My friend Ethan would. He'd be out in it. He would be out there painting even if it was raining, or snowing, or there was a blizzard. Hell, he'd probably paint underwater. But he's from Seattle and doesn't know any better. Here in Southern California, people start complaining about the bitter cold when they have to put on a light sweater and change outta their flip-flops. I feel absolutely no shame in admitting that I am a weather weenie. If it's not sunny outside I am quite content to stay inside by some heat source and drink coffee and wait for the sun to shine. You can't really do that in Seattle. You probably have to wait until the Earth tilts on it's axis for a nice day there. I dunno, I've never really been there....too cold. Sitting inside my little caravan, dry and warm, makes me think of the homeless people who are sleeping outside, and who woke up, probably while it was still dark, wet and cold to the bone. I feel great compassion for them and very grateful that I have this dry, warm cozy space.

Suzanne in front of her gypsy camper

Yesterday was quite a day. I rode to Venice Beach to do laundry and stopped to meet Suzanne, who I had been told about before. She lives in a very beautiful gypsy-style camper...all wood and scalloped shingles, with her six rescue cats. She is the Suzanne who inspired the Leonard Cohen song. I pulled up with the caravan and we became instant friends. She didn't feed me tea and oranges that come all the way from China, but she did offer me brandy which I gratefully accepted. While there, I met several other interesting people who are friends of hers...some Italian girls, a woman who makes films, and a retired sea captain who is 83. He is a clear-eyed, dapper fellow and another person who had many stories and adventures, but not the sort that reveals them without being asked. Earlier that day, as I was parked by the beach and making oatmeal, I met another 83 year old man. I nearly fell over when he told me his age. I never would have guessed him to be that old. He is a silk screen artist who lives up in a little artist community in Oregon and was down here visiting his daughter. I asked him how he likes being 83 and his immediate reply was, "I love it." Made me smile and gives me a glimpse of what life can be like for a man in his 80's. It was a day that was filled with people and conversation. As I started to head back to Playa del Rey, and my parking spot for the night, the caravan blew a tire...the second one this week. Both of them were old and had many miles on them so I guess it was just their time. I unhitched the bike and rode down to Manny's bike shop, getting there just before he closed. Got a new tire, and a spare to carry, and rode back and changed the blown tire. It was dark by the time I arrived back at my parking spot, but I felt full from the day. Venice Beach is a town full of interesting characters living unusual lives. It's enriching and inspiring to meet folks who have not just followed the beat of a different drummer, but who have created their own beat to dance to. I feel that, individual by individual, i am finding my tribe here.

To read more about the amazing Suzanne, follow this link:


Wednesday, October 9, 2013


The lone figure emerges from the pre-dawn mist, apparition-like, rolling on silent wire spoke wheels. A strange red caravan painted like a circus wagon trails behind. It's still dark, and the only sound is the gentle splash of oars as the rowers glide in long canoes up Balona Creek, their single light glowing like an oil lamp through the fog. The stranger is usually up early, before the first signs of morning begin to compromise the dark. It's a magical time when the quiet is so rich and total that it fills up all his senses. He feels as though he has the whole planet to himself at this hour, shared only by a few other souls who pass in the darkness, wordless, on bicycle or on foot....a few other souls who know and share this secret hour. The bicycle with the painted wagon winds it's way along the bike path that meanders through the empty beach. Sounds are amplified in the stillness...the nightwind, not quite wind so much as air that creeps along over the sand and feels new and fresh as though it is being breathed in for the first time. Waves build and crash onto the beach and suffuse the air with salt spray and ocean smells. The mysterious stranger pedals slowly through the alien beach-scape, senses wide open to this nocturnal wonderland. In an hour it will be gone, the night world crowded out by the awakening of the sun. Spontaneously, he turns off the bike path and makes his way to the lagoon, finds his favorite tree and pulls the caravan under it's canopy.

The morning has broken and the sunlight reflects off the lagoon and fills the caravan with golden light. The stranger lights his stove and brews coffee, watching a small white egret patrolling the shallows. Ducks cruise by sending patterns of ripples through the mirrored surface of the water. Two pigeons walk along the sand finding morsels of breakfast at the water's edge. The small town is waking up now, dog walkers, joggers, bike riders....locals head for the cafe for breakfast and conversation over the morning paper. A squirrel comes up to beg for food while the stranger sips his coffee. It lives here in this tree that shelters the always comes by when the caravan is parked here. The stranger says "good morning," but offers it no food. The squirrel seems to accept this and scampers off to look for his own breakfast. The day, at this point, is a blank canvas. The man in the caravan views each day much as he views the abstract paintings he creates...without a preconceived plan, at least not a fixed one, except for the coffee. Coffee is always part of the plan. He approaches the promise of the day with openness, but soon, a definite direction will take over, as it does on canvas, and the day will unfold. The parallels between life and art seem very close together...inseparable, actually. Life is an art project waiting to be created...each day an empty canvas with endless possibilities.


Friday, October 4, 2013


Today was laundry day, so I rode to Santa Monica to my favorite internet coin-op, Bubble Beach Landromat. After I was done, I realized I hadn't eaten and so decided to get something at Perry's, which has to be one of the most pleasant places to eat breakfast ever. I ordered something huge at the counter and then carried it back to the Adirondack chairs under the umbrella and stuck my bare feet in the sand.

The seating at Perry's

From there I could enjoy my breakfast and look out at the palm trees and the previously mentioned women's bikini soccer team practice...only they weren't there today. Instead, there was a group of people practicing Capoeira, and this brings me to the subject of today's post. I have to admit something at the risk of alienating some of my Facebook friends...some may even de-friend me but, nevertheless, I must be honest and speak my truth...and that is, I really don't like Capoeira...there it is, I've said it! In fact, I don't even like watching it. I think exercise that is done outside in public should be beautiful to even, and Capoeira always looks kind of awkward and people who have rubber bands holding their joints together....kind of like watching Josh Blue do the Robot...just not very attractive. So I have been thinking that I should start a Facebook page with an online petition to ban the public practice of Capoeira because it's just unattractive. Now kickboxing, on the other hand, or pole dancing, (especially pole dancing,) can be very pleasant to watch and yet for some reason you don't see people practicing it on the beach...and this brings me to the subject of today's post....Why isn't pole dancing being taught in girl's High School Gym class? It is certainly something that every young woman should know and builds health, strength, and flexibility easily as much as any Yoga class. Unfortunately, this is an all-too-obvious example of how public education is failing our young women. In today's uncertain economy and competitive job market women need something they can fall back on, and pole dancing would be the perfect solution. Besides the fitness aspect, it would allow a young woman to become an entrepreneur without the need to spend a lot of money on clothing for the corporate world. One quick trip to Victoria's Secret and a shoe store and a motivated young woman could be taking home several hundred dollars a night in her underwear. In fact, I think I may start a Facebook page with an online petition to make pole dancing a mandatory part of the high school curriculum. Well friends, I promise that my next blog post will get back to my usual art and bicycle gypsy wagon subject matter, but I just had to take a moment to address something that I feel is simply part of being a good citizen. I feel very strongly about education, so I had to speak up. We all must do our part.