Sunday, January 31, 2016

BRUCE JOHNSTON, THE BEACH BOYS, "DISNEY GIRLS"






The Beach Boys, The Granada Theater, Santa Barbara, and Bruce Johnston performing Disney Girls, one of my very favorite songs.






I feel blessed to know Bruce...





...and to have my 90 year-old mother with me in the second row dancing to Do You Wanna Dance.




(It doesn't get better than this.)


After-concert party at Lucky's



Monday, January 25, 2016

THOMAS SANCHEZ on MOTIONAL BLUR by ROBERT ERINGER






"Quick shots of shiny wit and ironic twists on the road to surprising reveals."




Motional Blur tells the story of a disaffected surfer, Luke Andersen, who drives for a black car service part-time. 

He is summoned for a fare involving a five-and- a-half-hour ride from Santa Barbara to Las Vegas, a job that ruins his birthday plans.

When they reach Vegas, his mysterious fare, a man in his mid-60s, says to keep going—all the way to Park City, Utah.

Luke again tries to beg off, but can’t. 

Yet the deeper he gets into this journey, which winds through Wyoming and up to Montana, the more intrigued he becomes by his passenger, who constantly imparts wisdom to help his wayward driver grow up.

Theirs is a journey in search of answers. 

And, in the end, they find them.




Sunday, January 24, 2016

MARK TWAIN: OUR PETTY VICES MAKE LIFE WORTH LIVING







In his Sketches, New and Old, published in 1875, Mark Twain attacked someone he called ‘the moral statistician’ for ‘always ciphering out how much a man’s health is injured and how much his intellect is impaired, and how many pitiful dollars and cents he wastes …in the fatal practice of smoking’, while at the same time being ‘blind to the fact that most old men in America smoke and drink coffee, although according to your theory, they ought to have died young; and that hearty old Englishmen drink wine and survive it, and portly old Dutchmen both drink and smoke freely, and yet grow older and fatter all the time’.




Saturday, January 23, 2016

WORTHEN ONE-ON-ONE: "BISBEE OR BUST"







(UK) SUNDAY PEOPLE: NELSON'S COLUMN







Penn and Penner

Retired US spy Robert Eringer calls to remind me he wrote the novel Cloak & Corkscrew five years ago featuring Hollywood movie star Josh Penner as a CIA “access” agent dishing dirt on famous people to the spooks.
Robert confesses he had Sean Penn in mind when he created Penner. Penn is now infamous for his interview with El Chapo, aka Mexican drugs baron Joaquin Guzman, who was then recaptured. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?




COMMENCING NEW ROAD TRIP NOVEL



Photo:  Van Stein


The Honor Bar, Montecito, 19 January.

The only problem is having to decipher my handwriting next morning...

(But already 7,333 words into a first draft.)



Friday, January 22, 2016

MARK TWAIN'S SUPERSTITION



Sam Clemens, colorized


Mark Twain developed what he was pleased to call a "superstition."

He decided that if he wanted to hear from someone, he would write that person a letter and then tear it up.

Infallibly, he claimed, he would then receive a letter from the person to whom he had written.


-- Robert Moss

The Secret History of Dreaming


Thursday, January 21, 2016

SEAN PENN & EL CHAPO






My espionage novel, Cloak & Corkscrew (published in 2011), had its origins around 2006 while I was still working as Prince Albert of Monaco's intelligence chief and was in regular contact with a retired senior official of Her Majesty's Secret Intelligence Service.

While discussing the CIA with me, this former SIS fellow chuckled about how the job CIA officers covet least was a position at their "Foreign Research" office in Hollywood.

Why’s that? I asked.

Answer:  Because they must spend most of their time stroking the egos of the celebrity movie stars they run as “access agents.”

I did some research on the various Hollywood movie people who visited dictators such as Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro, and arrived at my own conclusions.

A fictional story gestated in my mind about this, and I eventually wrote the novel, using Sean Penn as my role-model/celebrity "access agent."

It was positively reviewed by the Santa Barbara News-Press:




It's a marriage made in heaven--or hell, depending on which side of the bottom-line you fall: cocky, high-strung celebrity actor Josh Penner works as a secret agent for the CIA, gathering intelligence on every tin-pot dictator and megalomaniac the Third World has to offer. 

His liaison, the weathered OCD-suffering Charles Mulberry, works out of the Foreign Research Division in LA. 

His strategy, as they meet surreptitiously at hot dog carts and hotels from Oxnard to Beverly Hills, is to inflate the already colossal ego of Penner as he tackles new assignments. 

His latest one--making contact with Tom Richardson, an ex-spy who's written a memoir that's potentially embarrassing to the CIA--puts him on the path of retrieving the manuscript so the agency can perform their usual damage control.

As Penner sets out on his appointed task, there's the issue of American interest in the respective health problems of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuba President Fidel Castro; Russian agent Igor Kuntevich sets out to liquidate some French competition; and Jennifer Jones, agent from the FBI, starts hovering over Penner's clumsy attempts at espionage. The FBI doesn't appreciate interlopers like him when it comes to ferreting out intelligence that might further their own fortune as an agency.

At one point in Montecito resident Robert Eringer's new book, "Cloak & Corkscrew," Penner gets caught and wonders why he ever agreed to become a sap for the CIA in the first place. 

That's about as far as his self-awareness reaches, as he mulls over his past experiences--not with any level of reflection but instead with an eye toward turning his adventures into a movie. Starring himself, of course.

The agents for the CIA; the agents for the CAA--they're essentially the same thing, brimming with contracts and protocols and hidden agendas. Change one letter of the acronym and you start an international incident. 

Mr. Eringer, a former News-Press columnist who worked undercover for FBI Counterintelligence for 10 years draws parallels between the turf wars between the CIA and the FBI and the battle between huge Hollywood talent agencies to best secure their power positions--one in the marketplace of diplomacy, the other in the marketplace of ideas. 

He also cleverly includes the wild card of dirt-digging news channel TZM, which is used as a tool by which all the respective agencies advance their schemes and plots. 

They're fed misinformation that makes everyone look good. 

It's a plot element that's so incisively inserted that it makes one wonder if Mr. Eringer, himself a spymaster to both the FBI and the now-disbanded Monaco Secret Service, knows about some kind of bombshell just waiting to be unearthed.
With his crisp and brisk narrative gallop, Mr. Eringer's story carries with it an underlying moral resting in the shape of a question. 

In a world that depends on an eternally precarious labyrinth of deceit and state secrets, why on earth would anyone from that world trust a Hollywood actor? 

They lie for a living. 

In "Cloak & Corkscrew," Robert Eringer skillfully proves how easy it is to lose your way when you take the easy way out.




Tuesday, January 19, 2016

T. CORAGHESSAN BOYLE on MOTIONAL BLUR by ROBERT ERINGER




“A nonpareil road novel that winds up packing a real emotional punch.”




Motional Blur tells the story of a disaffected surfer, Luke Andersen, who drives for a black car service part-time. 

He is summoned for a fare involving a five-and- a-half-hour ride from Santa Barbara to Las Vegas, a job that ruins his birthday plans.

When they reach Vegas, his mysterious fare, a man in his mid-60s, says to keep going—all the way to Park City, Utah.

Luke again tries to beg off, but can’t. 

Yet the deeper he gets into this journey, which winds through Wyoming and up to Montana, the more intrigued he becomes by his passenger, who constantly imparts wisdom to help his wayward driver grow up.

Theirs is a journey in search of answers. 

And, in the end, they find them.






Monday, January 18, 2016

TOMBSTONE BOOT HILL SKETCH



The Ghosts of Boot Hill
Van Stein


BISBEE SKETCH



Van Stein


Come morning, sunshine glistens upon the snow, and a buffet of coffee and scrambled eggs and bacon is available to break the fast between eight and nine o’clock, so we all tuck in before I hit the streets to scavenge for mementoes.

Van Stein hasn’t changed clothes, nor brushed his teeth, because all his gear got locked overnight in the CoW, now frozen and caked with snow, so he retrieves his gear and showers, having been up since six a.m. sketching at Bisbee Coffee Co. at Copper Queen Plaza, near the old Copper Queen Hotel, reputedly haunted and where John Wayne and Lee Marvin would stay when filming Westerns in the area and from which, tanked up at night, would piss down from the roof. 

The shops are late to open—those that bother to open at all—their owners shoveling slush and snow to clear the pavement and entryways.





At John Thamm’s gallery I purchase a small oil painting of a local scene...














...and at another shop nearby I find a cross locally made of spoon handles, a likeness of George Washington at the top, intersected with a purple pebble marbleized with a cross of its own, rendering it a double-cross.  





Sunday, January 17, 2016

VAN STEIN: BISBEE SALOON SKETCH







Curt and Van Stein trudge into Roka bundled up and coated with snow and we commence a feast of lobster ravioli and rack of lamb, grilled to perfection and accompanied with root vegetables and potato in a rich wine sauce, made even better by the deep velvety Sea Smoke pinot.


It is still snowing when we depart Roka well fed and content and make our way down the hill and around the corner to a saloon called The Stock Exchange, C.C.'s place, where a band is performing on stage and colorful characters abound.

This is where we meet Bruce, who attaches himself to Van Stein, who sketches the scene with watercolors while Bruce shows off the cool devil pipe he carved himself.

Shots of Jameson whiskey all round and we are part of this scene, welcomed by all, elderly hippies and their grown kids, the hipsters, as if all these wonderfully friendly, positive people drink Lithia water with their whiskey.
  





It is Open Mic Night so the awesome band on stage is replaced by another just as good, and then a solo guitar player-singer.

A view through saloon windows of cascading snow renders this night  magical.





Eventually we slush our way back to the Grand Saloon and continue our reverie among a new set of characters, plus Bruce, who followed us over feeling a kinship with Van Stein, lamenting that folks like us come and go and wishing aloud we’d stay a while, get to know Bisbee, become part of its character club, and we drinking samplers of local dark beer with names like Pecan Porter and Sexy Beast, engaged in lively conversation with a self-proclaimed “language psychic.” 


A musical act spontaneously erupts near the saloon mascot, "Creepy Jesus," so-called because the eyes of this absinthe-green-lit sculpted face of Christ follow you wherever you wander throughout the joint.

“Epiphanized yet?” I ask Van Stein.

“I plead the pith,” he replies, partying on blissfully in Bisbee even as Curt and I fold near midnight, hanging with a bunch of new friends about whom he utters an original Van Stein-ism: “A friend you just met you’ll know better than a lifetime acquaintance.”




Saturday, January 16, 2016

TWAINISM: SAD BUT TRUE






For my own reasons, I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican.  

To my Democrat friends:  Trump is going to win because you gave us Obama.

To my Republican friends:  Be careful what you wish for.



VAN STEIN SKETCH



Snow clouds



We roll through Mule Mountain Tunnel into Bisbee, an 1880s mining town on the other side of Mule Mountain Tunnel, later described by Bruce, one of this town’s long-term inhabitants originally from Minnesota and arriving in southern Arizona via Haight-Ashbury, as a time-warp portal made all the better, Bruce told us, “because people leave politics and religion on the other side, that’s why people are so happy and friendly here.”

Bisbee is built on a hillside and, like Tombstone, it is a protected historical landmark, if less commercial and more authentic as a real breathing town, except this place doesn’t just breathe, it buzzes with colorful characters and fine art, much finer than anything still left in Old Town Scottsdale.



Cruising Tombstone Canyon Road I notice the Grand Hotel Bisbee, which I’d read about, on my right.

A sign at the entry directs us into the saloon where a gal called C.C. welcomes us and in a most friendly manner engages us in conversation about where we’re from and how long we’re staying.


“We need three rooms,” I finally say.


“Oh, I don’t work here,” says C.C.  “I have the Stock Exchange around the corner.  Come see us.  You’ve got to talk to the bartender about rooms.”



Terry the barkeep provides a couple metal keys for poking around upstairs, inspect the accommodations, and I sign up for their ornate Victoria Suite and then hit the street, barely an hour to go before most everything would close at five o’clock.

We race around checking out the art galleries and one-off shops:  a hat maker, lots of local torqouise, and an artist with his own gallery named John Thamm.



The slight, hirsute Thamm wears a black hat and exudes artistic skill and a warm vibe, and that’s the thing about this place, Bisbee, the vibe, the buzzy-ness and authenticity—and everyone so friggin’ friendly.

Curt departs to collect Van Stein in Tombstone just past five, and it starts to snow.  



And then a full on blizzard moves in, coating the road and sidewalks with snow and, coupled with colored lights strung across the main road, a real life Christmas card emerges.

Downstairs I slip and slide snapping pics.  

One of the servers at Café Roka, recommended to us by the Grand’s barkeep, comes out to gaze at the falling snowflakes.


“Hasn’t snowed here in three years,” she says to me.  “And I’ve never seen it stick.”



I go inside, take a stool at the bar while awaiting the round table by the window I’d reserved, order a glass of chardonnay, taking a call from Van Stein who says they’re going slow, maybe fifteen miles an hour because of the blizzard and hazardous road conditions.

Then I claim our table and stake it with a bottle of Sea Smoke pinot noir, uncorked and breathing, and take in the wonderful aromas of this world-class restaurant.  


Bisbee.  Who would’ve known?




Friday, January 15, 2016

VAN STEIN: OK CORRAL






FROM VAN STEIN'S SKETCHBOOK






Our first destination is Tombstone, a Wild West town remembered best for Wyatt Earp and the OK Corral.  

Too tough to die (Tombstone’s motto), this town survived when mining didn’t, by building and perpetuating their legend and conducting daily reenactments of their most famous shootout.


Van Stein, ever the history buff, is in his element, crouching for photos of the re-enactors and marveling at the authenticity of this well-preserved historical landmark.

We are baited and lured into Kate’s Big Nose Saloon, which, upon entering, feels like I’ve traveled through a time warp into an episode of Gunsmoke.  (Dodge City, Kansas or Tombstone, Arizona—it was all the same to Deputy Marshal Earp, and I probably wouldn’t know the difference.)



The only libation to order in a saloon like this is Basil Hayden whiskey.  Neat.  Period.  

And that’s what we drink over a shared order of spicy Buffalo wings at the bar.











Across the street, I spring for a black homburg, and Van Stein decides to set up shop and paint the OK Corral.  









Thursday, January 14, 2016

GRAND SALOON, BISBEE






Near midnight, 7 January.

Note the CoW parked outside the window...


VAN STEIN'S SKETCHBOOK






Come morn, we are out, out, out for the roll toward Phoenix, first stop beautiful Blythe... 


Blythe's finest restaurant
...the perfect place for a piss-call because that’s all it truly is, and off again, the final leg this day, landing in Old Town Scottsdale by mid-afternoon, an hour later than expected because Arizona with its outlaw mentality ignores Daylight Savings Time.

I slide into a space on Main Street and by foot we cruise this five-block zone once bustling with art galleries, artists, and art collectors.  

Many of the galleries are empty and up for lease, devoid of other people and forlorn, a ghost town of sorts.  


And no wonder, because you wander in the remaining galleries and get your sensibilities sullied by stale schlock.  



Old Town Scottsdale art scene:
It's over
The gallery owners, once pompous and snooty, are so delighted to see a real human-being-potential-collector, they smile and dance and probably fart from the excitement of it all.






I find it sad and depressing and were it not for a road trip novel I plan to pen about a semi-starving artist trying to find new markets for his wares, I would boogie this terrain for more pleasant plains. 








The only bright spot is a life-size bronze statue of Mark Twain sitting on a sidewalk bench and smirking at the irony of this debacle.




Wednesday, January 13, 2016

ROAD TRIP SKETCHBOOK: THOMAS VAN STEIN





I’ve always found it a tonic to take a trip right after New Year’s when every one else is coming down from a holiday high and coping with credit card hangover.  

That said, it wasn’t the most opportune time to travel, a day chock-a-block with threshold guardians trying to hold us back:  torrential rain, mudslides, accidents everywhere, and the traffic that goes along with such things—to the tune of David Gilmour’s new CD Rattle the Lock.  









So although we planned a beeline for Phoenix, by the time we almost should have been there we are only as far as Palm Springs and decide to press no further.  

Another potential threshold guardian rears when we discover that the Palm Springs International Film Festival is in full swing but this turns into a big bluff when we easily find availability at the Hyatt in the heart of things.

Welcoming this unexpected deviation, we dump our bags and roll to the Palm Springs Art Museum.  

It is small but alive with creativity and inventiveness, offering stimulation and inspiration.



Van Stein posts a photo on Facebook of a sculpture of a life-size naked female—and gets booted, suspended, after a so-called “friend” reports it as obscene (later remedied when Van Stein is able to cite otherwise).



Aside from the art museum, the only “art” on display at local galleries is modern schlock.

“Any decent art galleries around here?” Van Stein asks of the Hyatt concierge, hoping to sell his wares.

“Most of them have closed,” she replies.

“For the day?”

“No, permanently.”

This being Palm Springs, we decide to do it Sinatra style...


That means Melvyn’s, a veritable institution representing old Palm Springs, which Frank put on the map when he moved here in 1948 because a) he liked the desert heat and b) his movie studio contract stipulated he could reside no further than ninety miles from LA.


Frank would have drunk Jack Daniels, two fingers’ worth, two rocks and, according to Matt the maître ‘d, liked to roam around, sometimes take a booth, other occasions stand at the bar.