Thursday, May 28, 2020


1187 Coast Village Road, Unit 3-A

The finest stylists in Santa Barbara & Montecito.

Brand-spanking new.

Disinfected and sanitized.

Highest standards of good hygiene.

In keeping with public health guidelines, masks mandatory for all.

Sunday, May 17, 2020


Ice Moon, Homer, Alaska

Awakening in Homer to a lashing rain, we roll to Captain’s Coffee for infusions of caffeine and local color, the latter painted boldly on this emporium’s ceiling, each panel its own visionary universe. 

“Keep Homer weird,” says a bumper sticker on a car parked outside.   (Portland, Oregon uses the same slogan, though if you truly want weirdness i.e. eccentricity forget homogenized/pasteurized USA and aim for the UK, where people are people not sheeple.)

Next, a diner for eggs and biscuits smothered in gravy. 

This being a Sunday, everything is closed except an old movie theater showing National Treasure at three and six o’clock. 

Back at spit’s end, bald eagles congregate, commiserating, perhaps, the mis-state of the union.  

You can get as near as five feet to these stern creatures, which, this day, are all rain-drenched, and none too happy for it.  

One of them glares at Van Stein, turns, lifts its back end and spurts a stream of green dookie straight at the artist.

Van Stein responds by painting the Aleutian Mountains while trying to adapt to weather that changes every five minutes, and at 2:30 I venture off to Homer Theatre, where half the town turns out for the matinee (the other half is coming at six). 

My imaginary friend, who reconnoitred while I movied, awaits me in the slushy parking lot. 

We navigate through puddles and snow banks to a bar named Kharachters, whose patrons celebrate Homer’s motto: 

A drinking village with a fishing problem.

Draft beer for my imaginary friend; George Dickel bourbon for me. 

Immediately, Fred and Willy engage us. 

Fred (everyone’s image of a rugged Alaskan with full beard, plaid flannel shirt and suspenders) has been drinking most of the afternoon and is probably stoned on pot as well. 

He sidles up to me, pool cue in hand, about to miss another shot.  “Hey there, you silver-tongued rascal—you think we’re all crazy up here?” 

Either word has gotten around this small town about my big mouth at Cafe Cups the evening before or he knows what they are. 

“Of course,” I say.  “And that’s why we’re here.” 

Willy nurses a long whisky, which is to say a little whisky and a lot of water.  

"This way I can make it last,” Willy says earnestly.  “I’m done with shots.” 

Willy likes to sit at this bar for hours and hours, will probably close the joint tonight—and reopen it tomorrow afternoon, drinking alcohol as if he was on an IV drip. 

A bulletin board post behind him identifies Willy as “Mis-manager” of Homer’s port.

"What's that about?" I point it out.  

“It’s a joke,” sighs Willy.  “We had a problem with a police chief, getting the city sued, but he’s gone now.  It’s a long story.” 

We have to be gone, too, farewell to a bar so true to its name.

After a lonely dinner at Land’s End (the cross-country skiers had skied off) featuring salmon and halibut cryogenically preserved since the gold rush era, we head to Duggan’s for draft bitter and an old jukebox. 

Exiting, Van Stein cannot resist spinning a propeller, which rings a bell, causing a character named Digger to run forth from the pool room, hooting, “That means you buy everyone a drink! Hell, I’ve been waiting all night for somebody to do that!” 

Digger gets his due and we move on to Downey’s, “Homer Red” beer, and Neil Young crooning Harvest Moon from a jukebox while Dex, a local dude in a boony hat, plays pool with his imaginary friend. 

A guy down the bar throws back Schnapps, offering shots to anyone who wants to join him. No one does.

The management evicts us all at midnight—and our plan to re-visit Kharacters is circumvented by the advent of a clear sky with shiny Full Wolf Moon, which beckons us back to spit’s end, where Van Stein reels in the moon to paint his finest work this trip while, in the distance, killer whales converse in whistles and squeals.

Next day, we retrace our tread to Anchorage where Captain Cook feels like an old friend. 

Following a round of cannabis-laced lollipops, we hoof to a restaurant called Orso, bourbon-ing at the bar until escorted to our table, where the salmon is wild. 

Afterwards, a taxi to Chilikoots:  musky, dank, a touch of skank. 

Draft bitter in hand, we roam Koots’ nooks and crannies—a carnival of grunge, pierced bodies, tattoos, bouncers with Mohawks, and a room featuring women’s panties dangling from the ceiling.

Leaving Van Stein with my imaginary friend by a fireplace, I take a bar stool far across the long room. 

Ten minutes later they prance over. 

“Something wrong?” asks my imaginary friend.  

“Not a thing.  Sometimes I just need to be on my own.”

Alaska is a good place to be alone; a good place to understand aloneness, as vastly different from loneliness as Alaska's vastness.

Saturday, May 16, 2020


I should have slept well, having been awake for so long, but could not find a comfort zone and finally gave up, got up and faced the Anchorage morning: pitch-black darkness at 7am. 

Very dark is how it remains for the next couple of hours, with me watching it slowly evolve into dawn from inside a Starbucks built into the corner of an office building, voyeuristic glimpses through glass partitions of a mezzanine and work cubicles lit with white mercury vapor. 

Van Stein joins me for long lattes before we amble to Hertz for organizing a getaway into the wild.

Hertz clerk

The rental clerk is aloof and non-communicative while fingering a keyboard to process a rugged vehicle for us to drive.

A second question, then a third, causes her brain-freeze, and we must wait for it to thaw before, wordlessly, she recommences computer-generated paperwork for releasing a Ford Escape to our custody. 

Escape from Anchorage is precisely the point.  

Especially after Alaskan Salmon Hash in Captain Cook’s breakfast room turns out to be potatoes with slivers of salmon that must be mined like gold.

We escape onto Route One, due south. 

Our mission:  Traverse the Kenai Peninsula to the Homer Spit.  

With Anchorage behind us, the Chugach Mountains open our collective spirit to the elements. 

Traffic is light coupled with clear conditions along the highway, and every new road twist is another Christmas card, add a moose.

This road sign advisory:  

Cars have killed 140 moose in the past six months. 

Other evidence—cars sunken in the snow, abandoned—implies moose sometimes get their revenge.   

There is no hurry this day; we long ago resolved that the journey is what matters, not the destination.

We stop to stretch in Soldotna and soon after pass an orthodox church—in a town called Niniichik—that looks like a smaller version of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. 

“Have we crossed into Russia?” says Van Stein.

In fact, the Kenai Peninsula was Russia’s first settlement and trading post in Alaska 76 years before the dumb-ass Russians sold this whole oil-rich territory to the United States.
Homer Spit, the second longest spit in the world, is a sliver of land jutting four-and-half-miles into Kachemak Bay. 

Homer apparently comes alive in summer with ramshackle mini-boardwalks, but now, in winter, is bleak and desolate, littered with abandoned fishing boats and empty buses from another era. 

A lone bald eagle is perched atop the stars & stripes fluttering in a breeze from the bay.

We roll onward, to Land’s End Resort, which is deluged with participants from a cross-country ski expedition.  

Nonetheless, we’re able to nail a condo with kitchen, living room, fireplace, and picture-window views of the Aleutian Mountains across Kachemak Bay.

When darkness descends—early—we head back to the heart of Homer, a restaurant called CafĂ© Cups, decorated on the outside with large, colourful mad- hatter teacups. 

Surreal weird. 

Inside, it bounces:  a local crowd that recognizes an unknown face when they see it.  

Sitting down, looking around, we realize this social hub sits on the fence between creativity and madness. 

Their wine list is presented on the back of an original oil-on-board; their walls explode three-dimensionally with colourful arts and crafts. 

But best of all is what they serve:  steamed clams in garlic broth, Alaskan Crab legs—no butter or cocktail sauce needed—wild salmon and halibut. 

So many schools of halibut matriculate in Kachemak Bay they qualify for post-grad status.

It provokes me to announce that Alaska is one large mental institution, akin to Gheel in Belgium. 

I am overheard, apparently, because on her way out a few minutes later, a woman hands me a portrait she has sketched of me captioned with these words: 

I find everybody’s mad. 

Which reflects my sentiments precisely.

Or, as Mark Twain wrote, When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.