Tuesday, July 30, 2019


Moonacy, 2014
Thomas Van Stein

In September 2013, the artist Thomas Van Stein and I visited Oslo, Norway on a luna-seeking mission to celebrate the 150th birthday of Edward Munch (pronounced Moonk), who painted Scream, one of the world's most iconic paintings.

Munch may well be the original expressionist (and fauvist), though his genre could have been called emotionalism.  He painted what he deeply and very truly felt, from imagery in his mind, striving through symbolism to reflect the secret life of the soul.

Good art provokes reaction; the truest art elicits emotional response.

Munch bared his own soul, ensuring that those who view his paintings actually feel the anxiety and despair he felt.

Munch's own words:

For as long as I can remember I suffered from a deep feeling of anxiety, which I have expressed in my art. Disease, insanity and death were the angels that attended my cradle, and since then have followed me through my life.

Back then, no Valium or Xanax. Only alcohol. Munch drank a lot of it.

He felt as he painted, painted as he felt.

It had not been done before.

Many who viewed Munch's paintings could not deal with his honest emotionalism. For some folks, it was simply too unnerving, and highly disturbing.

Munch did not care. He knew what he was doing and why. And he also knew he was a great artist.

The image above was painted from the Grand Hotel, whose Grand Cafe Bar was a favorite of Munch's for drinking absinthe, often before breakfast.

Sunset over Fjords, Oslo, 2014

“Ekeberg,” I say to our driver/tour guide.  “We want to see where Scream was painted.”       

He drives us to Ekeberg Restaurant, a grand view of Oslo over the fjord, but on higher ground than Munch’s perspective.

Not finding it, our driver asks the restaurant staff. But no one knows precisely where Munch painted Scream.  Someone suggests a nearby path leading even higher.

“Don’t you think it’s strange,” I whisper to Van Stein, “that no one around here knows where Scream was painted, including a professional driver who’s supposed to know Oslo like the back of his hand?”

We drive around some more.  Can’t find it.  So back to Ekeberg, a trail or two.

The driver consults an older gent.

Result:  a new lead.

We jump back in the car, head away from Oslo and circle around.

Another panorama comes into view.

Van Stein wows.  “That’s it!”

A small plaque, barely noticeable, commemorates this stretch as Munch’s Shrik site.

Streaks of rust beneath the plaque look like blood.

Just as I am about to stand in the same spot as Munch’s Scream figure, two dark strangers appear out of nowhere and occupy the space where Munch placed a couple of darkly dressed background figures in Scream. 

Munch’s words:  

I went along the road with two friends.  The sun set.  Suddenly the sky became blood—and I felt the breath of sadness.  A tearing pain beneath my heart.  I stopped—leaned against the fence—deathly tired.  Clouds over the fjord dripped reeking blood.  My friends went on by.  I just stood trembling with an open wound in my breast.  I heard a huge extraordinary scream pass through nature.

Munch also wrote that he had been “stretched to the limit, a breaking point” from the sickness and death and loss that tormented his mind, along with the schizophrenia of his sister, Laura, institutionalized at Gaustad, an asylum for the insane within screaming distance of this site.

Animals, probably reindeer, in addition to the howls of lunatics, could be heard screaming as they awaited slaughter at a nearby abattoir. 

We returned at sunset so that Van Stein could paint, from the terrace of Ekeberg, the same blood-red September sunset Munch had witnessed about 125 years earlier.

Scottsdale, AZ

The American Riviera, 2001

Montecito Madness, 2012

This nocturne graced the cover of Montecito Madness, a short comedy I penned about hanging out in America's most affluent community.

Within this paining:

The artist and I sit at a high-top inside the old Montecito Bar brainstorming our next bounce into the depths of intrigue and lunacy.

In an upper floor window one can see Charlie Chaplin, who built the Montecito Inn and whose ghost still roams its corridors, pulling pranks on patrons.

The Woody with surfboard pays homage to our dear friend Bruce Johnston, one of The Beach Boys.

Bruce & T.C., New Year's Eve 2017, Lucky's
Walking up the pavement is another dear friend, acclaimed author T.C. Boyle.

Painted into the wall between four windows are the classic images of manic and melancholy, based on statues that once greeted patients on their way into the world's first mental hospital, Royal Bethlem, better known as Bedlam.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Wednesday, July 24, 2019


July 22, 2019

Sunday, July 21, 2019


Room 206, Sun Valley Lodge
Oil-on-board, Thomas Van Stein

(In the midst of my conversation with Papa, the artist Van Stein entered the suite, saw what was happening, set up his easel and painted it.)

Today is Ernest Hemingway’s 120th birthday.

The legendary novelist died, aged 62, at his final home—a woodsy cabin in Sun Valley, Idaho, after a peripatetic reporter's existence in Paris, Key West, and Havana.

A few years ago, I stayed in Papa’s old room—206—at the Sun Valley Lodge in Ketchum. 

And I encountered his ghost.

It happened as I smoked an Arturo Fuente Hemingway Short Story cigar while scribbling into my journal with a Mont Blanc Hemingway ballpoint pen. Earlier in the evening I had dined at Papa’s favorite table in Christiana after visiting his gravesite.

So, I guess I’d asked for it.

It begins with his voice, staccato-like, heavy on enunciation. “I used to call this room Glamour House.”

I ignore the voice, thinking it is in my head.

However, it continues. “But if were here alone, without my wife, I’d call it Hemingstein’s Mixed Vice and Dicing Establishment.”

I look up and see a translucent figure, full beard, head of gray hair combed forward, clad in a brown suede vest over a shirt, sleeves rolled up past the elbow, shorts, and bedroom slippers.

“Have you ever shown yourself before?” I ask.

“Some people think they see me at Finca” [Papa’s old house outside Havana]. “But it’s trick to l-lure tourists to Cuba.” He pauses. “Would you l-like to know why I killed myself?”

“You want to tell me that?

“I’m storyteller. It’s good story.”

I shrug. “Go for it.”

“World War Two. My Crook Factory. Heard of that, chief?”

I nod.

“Made Eddie mad at me.”


“J. Edgar Hoover. Me also to blame. Drinking too much. And pills. Seconal, to sleep. I can handle G-men trailing me, make faces at them.” Papa puts its thumbs in its ears and sticks out his tongue. “Hoover thinks he owns spy stuff, in Cuba, especially. I stepped his toes. Broke them.” He glances around the room. “L-Like this place, chief. My hideaway. Gets cold enough to make coyote howl off-key.” He pauses. “They followed me here. No one believed me, but true. Hoover's gumshoes..." He shakes his dead. "Would never end. Fine supper, my l-last. In Christi’s. New York steak, rare—only way to eat meat. Favorite Chateauneuf du Pape. I always said, day without wine, day without sunshine.” Papa chuckles. “L-last to l-leave, about eleven. No hurry.”

“Do you think killing yourself was a selfish act?” I boldly ask.

Hemingway crosses his arms. “Suicide justified when all hope gone. Or if incarcerated. That was me. Would be me again. Captive against will, l-living behind bars.” The apparition shakes its head sadly. “I could not write. Destroyed my think-machine. My mind, erased.” He points a forefinger at his temple. “Shock treatment. Zap! Fifteen times! After first time at Mayo, tried to get it back. Long walks, staring at art. Goya, my favorite. Nothing brings back think-machine. L-loved writing. More than women. Wanted to end it sooner. But I make deal with brain- doctor for no bars on window, gave my word, not kill myself at Mayo. Kept word. Waited till home. Next morning, shotgun and ammo in gun cabinet, keys left out for me.”

“What do you mean, left out?” I ask.

“Mary wants me gone. Fought like cats and dogs. Tell you true, in l-love with another gal.”


“Tillie. But hook-up days over. Tillie had L-Lloyd.” The apparition looks down. “No finer place for conversation than feet under table and place for elbows to rest.” The apparition drops its voice to a low whisper. “I’d do anything for Dutch Charlie’s pickled trout. Used to pay twenty-five cents apiece, eat right here in Glamour House. A moveable feast, for true.”

“Any regrets?” I ask.

“Biggest regret, not seeing grandchild. Bumby’s wife, five months pregnant.” Papa shakes his head.  “But more Mayo, more zapping—or jail from taxes. Eddie's revenge.”

“Would you change anything if you had the chance to live your life over again?” I ask.

The apparition nods. “Not spook easy.” Papa raises both arms, hands cupped into fists. “Grab bully by horns.”


“Bully. L-Look bully straight in eye, stare down. Or rip horns from bully’s head, hang over fireplace. Would have stuck around l-longer. Time is l-least thing we have.”

“But you sounded so sure about, uh, ending your life.”

The apparition sighs. “Not right mind. Needed booze, overcome shyness. Stammer—you notice? Got carried away, martinis at noon, after writing. My novel, Death in the Afternoon? Should be titled Drunk in the Afternoon.” Papa sits back, crosses one leg over the other. “L-life, all we got.” He studies its transparent hands. “Not l-living, bases loaded against me.” It hunches forward and looks and directly into my eyes. “Want advice?”

I nod.

“L-Live each day l-like it’s your l-last. Call everything the way you see it, to hell with everyone.” Papa sits back. “I’m going now.”

And Hemingway’s ghost was gone, leaving me with a cool breeze blowing from across the river and through the trees.