Sunday, March 27, 2022



I read a lot. Books, mostly. Two of the most enjoyable books I’ve read so far this year were written by Barnaby Conrad, who founded the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference a half-century ago and would have turned 100 years-old today. (He passed at age 90 in 2013.)

I started with Time is All We Have, about Mr. Conrad’s recovery from booze, coupling it with Name Dropping, a chronicle of the popular San Francisco saloon he created and ran for a decade.  Barny, as he called himself, with that particular spelling, named the joint El Matador after his best-selling novel (which paid for the bar) and, since he was also an extremely talented portrait artist, painted the bullfighting mural on its main wall. 

The Libran I am, I read (for balance) the booze-denied and booze-fueled books side-by-side, a lesson in irony. 

By the time he was in his late 50s, Barny admittedly would start most mornings at a lower State Street bar with a double greyhound (gin and grapefruit juice) or two and, having endured multiple DUIs, once got himself a two-week stint behind bars at county jail in Goleta.

Mr. Conrad laid bare all these sordid details of incessant boozing in his 1986 memoir of the 28 days he spent recovering at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage.

Gordon Lish, a longtime book publishing editor at Knopf and known for the literary salon he ran for years at his New York City home, liked to say that revealing oneself is a fundamental ingredient of good writing. (Mr. Lish used to instruct his students, “Write about your most embarrassing experience.”) 

Barnaby won that prize. His self-deprecating, conversational, character-and-dialog driven memoir reveals himself bare and may be one of truest books ever penned on understanding the disease of alcoholism—and how best to recover from (and manage) it.

Whoever made the movie Big Fish must have been thinking of Barny. This was a man who knew everyone who was anyone mid-last century, which was why, of course, he could drop so many names—from Gary Cooper and Lucille Ball to Steinbeck, Kerouac and William Saroyan, to name but a few—and does so adroitly in the booze-infused story of his storied bar. 

Happy 100th Birthday, Barny!




…who was Barnaby Conrad’s close friend, long-time Montecito-resident and the “national treasure” we lost in April 2013.

Twenty years ago, I ran into this iconic comedian on Coast Village Road in Montecito and stopped to tell him about my plan to open an insanity-themed Bedlam Bar in London, England—would he sell me a few of his drawings to hang on the wall? 

“London, huh?”  Jonathan Winters, clad in fishing vest and hat complete with hooks, unclenched his jaw and fixed his eyes into mine.  “I like London.  They get irony over there.  Everyone’s so square in this country, in line here. I’m perpetually out of line.  When I was in a sit-com, every day was a new war, seven writers laughing at everything they had written.  I would tell them It‘s not funny, and they‘d say, don‘t worry, we‘ll make it funny with canned laughter.  The people who make big money are one-dimensional.  They stick to one thing, that’s all they do.  Society likes that, rewards you for that.  That’s how society wants you:  slotted.  So now I paint instead.  Should I paint flowers or something nice?  No, I think I’ll do what‘s in my head.  I wonder what the shrinks would say about Magritte and Dali?” Mr. Winters paused.  “So, you want some of my drawings, huh?”  He glanced around furtively.  “Can you pay cash?”           

We met that evening in the old Montecito Bar of the Montecito Inn.

“Some people think I’m crazy,” Mr. Winters began, as he thumbed through more than three-dozen pen and ink drawings he’d brought along.  “That’s fine, I like it that way.  Whether I’m crazy or not is all the same to me.” He winked.  “Main thing, I’m comfortable in my own mind.”

“That’s how we envision the Bedlam Bar,” I said.  “An asylum for creatives.”

“Asylums are wonderful places,” said Mr. Winters. “Everyone inside admits to being nuts up front, including the shrinks, so everything is out in the open, no pretensions.  If there’s a problem, it’s with normalsociety, where the crazies don’t own up, and even worse, you have to deal with sane people.  It’s easy to tell who they are.”  He looked right and left.  “They’re the ones in line all the time.”

Jonathan’s drawings were studies in out-of-line-ness.  “How do you know about asylums?” I asked.

“Are You kidding?” Mr. Winters lowered his voice to a growl.  “I spent eight months in one of those places.  It was after my second breakdown. I cracked, began to hallucinate.  Uh-huh.  That was back in 1962.  In those days there was no Lithium, no Prozac.  They sent me to Hartford, Connecticut, to a nuthouse called the Institute for Living. The scary part wasn’t the other whackos.”  Winters shook his jowls.  “Them, I liked.  They just wanted to have fun, which society can’t accept.  It was the stuck factor that terrified me.  I’d never lost my freedom like that before.  Losing your freedom is a lot worse than losing your marbles.  Heavy gates.  Locked wards.  Patients screaming.  Can you imagine, calling a place like that an institute for living?  You’re locked in, Jack, and they’ve got the key.  No amount of money buys a ticket out—you’re stuck inside till theydecide to let you go.”




“What was wrong with you?” I asked.

“Yep,” said Mr. Winters.  “That’s exactly what I asked one of them fancy-pants shrinks after a month:  What is my label?”  Jonathan stared past me, from the part of his brain for which there is no return address.



In a voice that belonged to somebody else, Winters mimicked, “I don’t want to give you a label.”  He resumed his normal voice.  “Why not?  I’m not psychotic. I’m not schizophrenic.  I could be manic-depressive.  I’ve made a fair study of mental illness.  I’m certainly not catatonic or we wouldn’t be talking, I’d be sitting here staring at you.  No, I’m shrink-wrapped, looking for a label.”

“He must have respected your understanding of this stuff,” I commented.


Mr. Winters shrugged.  “Maybe.  But he still wouldn’t give me a label.  He told me I suffered stress. Okay, I said, but I still need a label.  I’m paying for a label.  Let’s forget the label, he said.  All right, I said, let’s forget the 12-grand.”

“I bet they didn’t forget the twelve-grand.”

“You got that right.”  Jonathan smirked.  “After five months, the head shrink calls me in to see him.  He says, you have a lot of anger in you.  Sure, I had a lot of anger in me.  Mostly about my dad.  He used to call me the dumbest white kid he ever met.  When I took an art class, my dad said, ‘You must be a faggot.’  I once asked my mother–-she left my drunk father when I was seven–-why she bothered to have me, and you know what she said?”

I shook my head.

“She said she thought it was a good idea at the time.  A good idea at the time?”  Jonathan’s eyes bugged.  “That’s heavy.  When I came home from the U.S. Marines, from the war, I looked everywhere for my old toys.  Couldn’t find them.  I asked my mother, ‘Where are my toys?’  She says…” Mr. Winters changes his voice to a falsetto mimic.  “‘Oh those?  I gave them away to the mission.  Who knew if you were coming back?’”


            OLD SPARKY


Jonathan glared right through me, “Who knew if I was coming back?  No wonder I had a lot of anger!  I’ve been buying old toys ever since!  My house is bursting at the joints with old toys–-and it’s a big house!  So, we’re sitting there, and Doctor Fimley says to me…” Winters altered his voice to a nasal twang.  “’We think we can do something about your anger.’”  Winters trembled and resumed his real voice.  “Made me all sweaty.  I knew what kind of something he was getting at.  Old sparky.”



“Shock treatment.”  Winters placed both index fingers on either side of his head.  “Zzzzzzzzz-zap!”  He shivered.  “I did not want them to do that kind of something on me.  Nobody knew how or why it worked–-or what it took away.  So, I ask Doctor Fimley: ‘What are you erasing from me–-age twelve to seventeen?  Eighteen to twenty-four?  Which part of my mind are you going to zap clean?’  Old Fimley looked at me with a blank face.  He couldn’t say.  Because he didn’t know.  So, I said this to Fimley: ‘I was in the war.  I know people in demolition.  If you do what I think you’re going to do, you will be visited.’  He laughed nervously and asked if I was threatening him.  No, uh-uh, I said.  Listen carefully: ‘I know people in demolition.  You will be visited.’”

“So, what happened?”

“I never met old sparky.  Fimley knew I was serious.”  Mr. Winters retreated into the outer un-limits of his mind.

“How did you spend your days at the asylum?” I asked, trying to lure him back.

“My room was about 10-by-12, with a barred window that overlooked the front courtyard.  I could see the crazies come and go.  My roommate was a young man named Jimmy.  He served Uncle Sam at Anzio and his father was a big Cadillac dealer.  Jimmy’s dad committed him after Jimmy spent 2 months as a salesman and couldn’t sell a single Cadillac.   I asked Jimmy, ‘How long you been here?’  Two years, he said.  That worried me.  One day, I was walking around the grounds, plotting an escape, and a guy jumps out from behind a poplar tree.  You’re that famous comedian, he says.  ‘Who me?’  Yep, he says, this is the only place where nuts feed the squirrels.  You had to like these people.  You couldn’t like them too much, though.  At a dance social, I squeezed too close to a woman who thought she was Marie Antoinette and they threw water on us.”


            A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD 

“But you eventually got out?” 

“Oh yeah.  They let me out after eight months, though they never did say what was wrong with me.  I wasn’t home an hour and the phone rang, a call from Stanley Kramer.  He wanted me to play a role in a movie he was going to shoot, about six months’ work.  I said, ‘No, I don’t think I’m ready yet.’  My wife overheard me and started talking.  She said…” Winters altered his voice to mimic his wife in falsetto.  “’You better take it.  If you don’t, they’ll never call you again.’  So, I did what she said.  And that’s how I ended up in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

“You’re telling us you went from a madhouse into a mad, mad, mad, mad world?”

“Gee, I never thought of it that way.”  Mr. Winters scratched his head.  “Ironic, huh?   After I left the Institute for Living, I stumbled, I fell. I didn’t stay down long.  I still have my problems.  I understand them.  Nobody has to explain them to me.  I’m living with me.  I’m not a cry-baby, not a wuss.” Mr. Winters snapped out of a glower and made eye contact with me.  “See any drawings you want?”

I chose two.

Mr. Winters counted the C-notes I handed him and stuffed the cash into his shirt pocket.  “Now,” he said, “I’m going to give you the best advice I know.”

I was spellbound. 

God had deemed me worthy of Jonathan Winters’ best advice!         

“Life is a s--- sandwich,” said Jonathan.  “But if you have enough bread, you never taste the s---.” 

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Wednesday, March 23, 2022



My kinda bar.

Makes me think of...

...until December 5th when Prohibition ended.

This is Elliot. In construction. About to be priced out of the town where he was born, bred and lived all his life.

Amazingly well-stocked with all the high-end hooch.

But it's late, so I settle for Russian River Porter...

...before heading out into the Healdsburg night.


"Aged Sonoma Duck: satsuma mandarin, tokyo turnips, young broccoli."

Says it all.

My new favorite way to drink wine: Help yourself to a splash, half or full glass from the "wine wall."

(No waiting on the server & bartender and many flavors from which to choose, all high-end.)



Where: Atop Matheson, overlooking The Plaza.

When: 5:33pm

What: Their "Modern Margarita: Tequila, clarified lime..."

So clarified you can see right through it...

The Surfer Dude & The Poet

Tuesday, March 22, 2022



...have been a Healdsburg staple for seventeen years.

They grow their own grapes, do their own blending.

George Meilleur told us, "We have zero distribution. Only people who come through our door can know and enjoy our wine."

To know it is to love it.

(As for their various mustards and jams... sandwiches and BBQ will never be the same.)

Move over France. The Napa & Russian River Valleys have reinvented fine drinking and eating.





At the crossroads of the Napa and Russian River Valleys sits the charming town of Healdsburg.

With its art galleries, artisan boutiques and two independent bookstores on The Plaza, Healdsburg has featured in both my road novels, Motional Blur and Book Drive.

Monday, March 21, 2022



Thoughtful III
Paula Boas

When I first began collecting art in the mid-1980s, the proprietor of a gallery near my home in Hampstead (London) was promoting a South African artist named Douglas Portway.  

I purchased a Portway nude, the first serious picture in my collection—and followed up months later with two still life studies of flowers, along with a coffee table book of the artist’s work, including abstract paintings.

Thumbing through the book, my father gravitated toward the modern paintings, much preferring Portway’s abstract art to his figurative and still life works. 

“I don’t get it,” I said to my dad. “What are you seeing?

“Give it time,” he replied, chuckling, as if enjoying a private joke with the universe.  “You’ll understand abstract art better with age.”

And, of course, he was right.



Carmel Valley Coffee Roasters



When you know you're nearing Napa 

Sunday, March 20, 2022



At the risk of sounding alarmist, we would be remiss not to remind readers that most of Ukraine was in denial about Vladimir Putin’s plan to invade their country even while the Russian dictator—during a three-month period—was assembling a massive military build-up of 130,000 troops, tanks, armored vehicles and missile launchers along their northern, eastern and southern borders.

Ukrainians, for the most part, believed that Mr. Putin was merely posturing and looking to negotiate new assurances about their country’s buffer status between Russia and NATO member countries (which Mr. Putin perceives as mere proxies for the USA, a nation he despises with a passion). Most Ukrainians, we understand, did not believe for one moment that their cultural cousins and fellow Slavs would actually invade with such murderous intent. And, as we’ve seen, even Russia’s own troops were both surprised and horrified by the military mission forced upon them.

Bear this in mind as we point out that Americans, for the most part, are in similar denial about the possibility of a nuclear weapon exchange between Russia and the United States.

Truth is, not since the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 has the specter of nuclear holocaust loomed so ominously. This current crisis is much more serious and far more dangerous than the standoff between JFK and Nikita Khrushchev over the Kremlin’s desire to place missiles in Cuba.

Problem: To paraphrase what Lloyd Bentsen famously told Dan Quayle in their 1988 VP candidate debate: Joe Biden is no Jack Kennedy. And JFK’s Executive Committee of the Natural Security Council, known as EXCOMM, was far more formidable than Mr. Biden’s green-tinted cabinet.

Mr. Khrushchev was renowned to be boorish and overbearing. But not evil.

On the other hand, Mr. Putin is a psychopath who has been spoiling for a showdown with the United States for many years. Moreover, he will never willingly accept defeat in Ukraine (or anywhere); he cannot afford to lose as it would surely signal the end of his long, twenty-year-plus reign. His untrained, ill equipped military (lacking food and fuel) has already become a laughingstock while, sadly, Russian mothers learn that their sons are never coming home. (Mr. Putin doesn’t even have the decency to return his own dead to their homeland.)  History has shown that countries are not kind to autocrats who lose wars. Such leaders quickly lose power and often their lives.

In his soon-to-be-published book, The Eastern Front in World War 3, former U.S. Defense Department official Dr. Philip Petersen writes: “Putin is a terrorist—a state thug… equipped only with the survival instincts of a common bully. Because Putin is not a soldier experienced with the harsh realities of war, he strives to hide the reality of his operational mess in Ukraine and seeks ways to impose his will both at home and abroad.  

“He will absolutely not be reasoned with. The battlefield is everywhere. The war will not end with Russian operations in Ukraine. We are engaged in an existential struggle between feudalism represented by the criminal conspiracy emanating from Moscow and modernity as represented by the progressive forces to be found in the imperfect liberal democracies.”

The best outcome we can hope for is that a few bold Russian generals take control of the Kremlin and strip Mr. Putin of power. They don’t have to execute him (as much as he richly deserves it), but just relinquish Vlad of his command in a military coup and eventually hand him over to the International Criminal Court of the Hague for prosecution as the war criminal the world now knows him to be. Thereafter, they could oversee temporary martial law, retreat from Ukraine—and hopefully transition toward a new election. (If we choose to be truly optimistic, let’s hope for a new democratic government led by the currently imprisoned Alexey Navalny, whom Mr. Putin tried and failed to assassinate.)




Not to get political, but since TV talk-show host Bill Maher raised the question, if Donald Trump was the Putin stooge so many believed him to be, why did the Russian dictator not invade Ukraine during the Trump presidency?  

It could be, as others now pose, that Mr. Putin chose to make his boldest move yet under the watch of Joe Biden, a president he regards as cognitively-challenged and weak, especially after how he mishandled our country’s humiliating, poorly-planned withdrawal from Afghanistan that dishonored the American servicemen and women who gave their lives to further our mission subduing the Taliban.

This, after Mr. Putin covertly assisted Mr. Trump’s election in 2016 not because he believed The Donald would do his bidding, but because he knew it would dramatically divide the country, which it did. (The real Great Divider—Mr. Putin, not Mr. Trump—was hoping for a second US civil war or at very least that some states would strive to secede from the union and cause a constitutional crisis.)

A divisive country, a weak president… Mr. Putin’s timing is no accident. He has been playing chess while those who govern us play tiddlywinks. 

As for Kamala Harris? A lucky bonus for Mr. Putin as this airhead continues to embarrass Americans in every foreign country she travels to and laughs, uh, speaks (always in childish platitudes, suggesting that she lacks intellectual depth or true understanding of the issues involved).





Whatever brought us to this point, here we are. And rather than live in denial, Americans must face the reality that while a nuclear exchange with Russia is not probable, it is certainly possible.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres broached this only a few days ago: “The prospect of nuclear conflict, once unthinkable,” he said, “is now back within the realm of possibility.”

Picture this: Mr. Putin, who has already declared that part of his military doctrine, in general, renders nuclear weapons acceptable on the battlefield, responds to major losses (already happening) by launching a low-yield nuclear warhead (a fraction the force of the Hiroshima bomb) into a sparsely populated part of Ukraine, perhaps upon an atomic electric power station or transportation hub (as specified by Russian military doctrine). This would most likely take place in southwestern Ukraine, away from the Russian-speaking eastern half of the country and its own border—and also away from Russia’s staunch ally to the north, Belarus. Mr. Putin would do this to demand Ukraine’s abject surrender on the basis that if they do not give up, the next nuclear warhead would be delivered to a densely-populated city.

“The Russians,” says Matthew Koenig of the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, “often finish their military exercises with nuclear strikes.”

Or, as the Russian military journal Voyenna Mysl put it: “We believe nuclear weapons must be regarded as the principal means of ensuring the military security of Russia,” and therefore instrumental for deescalating a conflict.

Dr. Petersen addresses this point in his upcoming book: “The formula of the Russian escalate-to-deescalate doctrine involves the deployment of small nuclear weapons to shape the outcome of the conflict—‘battlefield weapons’ and larger weapons against ‘deep theater’ or even strikes against American seaports to isolate the theater—and finally the nuclear destruction of Warsaw to ‘persuade’ the Europeans to insist upon American acceptance of a negotiated termination of the war on terms favorable to Moscow.”

And only three days ago, Defense Intelligence Agency director Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier issued a 67-page report that states: “As this war and its consequences slowly weaken Russian strength… Russia will increasingly rely on its nuclear deterrent to signal the West and project strength to its internal and external audiences.”

This reflects “Moscow’s doctrinal views,” he continues, “on the use of tactical nuclear weapons to compel an adversary into pursuing an off-ramp.”

Hopefully, this is the moment a few brave Russian generals would finally grow a pair, intercede and tell their president “Nyet.”

But if they do not, and they follow his orders, what does the USA and NATO do?

Maybe the same as now: Not much, aside from smuggling Javelin anti-tank busters and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles along with ammunition (and now drones) into a war-torn country devastated daily by bombardment, leading to countless casualties, mostly civilians.

And what if Ukraine still does not surrender and Mr. Putin makes good on his threat to drop, say, a nuclear bomb on the beautiful, very cultural city of Lviv and its population of 720,000?

Thereafter, does Western civilization allow itself to be held hostage to Mr. Putin’s nuclear blackmail—do what he says or risk getting nuked? (Mr. Putin believes that the true meaning of strength is possessing the resolve to follow through on threats.)

There has probably never been a likelier time in the short history of nuclear weapons for our national security establishment to actually consider a preemptive strike against Russia to prevent Mr. Putin from escalating the use of atomic warheads for the purpose of achieving his military objectives.

Or perhaps Mr. Putin, sensing (or paranoid about) the possibility of a preemptive strike, launches one himself?

And here’s the real scary part to consider while you complacently sip your morning latte or your late afternoon chardonnay: Mr. Putin is full of rancor over the fact that while his beloved Mother Russia/Soviet Union suffered huge losses during World War II—and the “War to End All Wars” before it—neither touched continental U.S. soil; aside from Pearl Harbor, Americans did not suffer where they reside.

Mr. Putin would actually like to bring the horror of war to us, on our own turf. This is what he meant when he threatened the United States with “consequences greater than you have ever faced in history” should our country intervene in his slaughter of innocents in Ukraine. This is why Mr. Biden has been leery about delivering Polish MiG-29 jet fighters to Ukraine or supplying air cover in the sky above and is circumspect in general about poking a malevolent bully.

Three days ago, former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy secretary of the Kremlin’s security council, announced that “Russia has the might to put all brash enemies in their place.”

And earlier this week, Russian TV host Vladimir Solovyov announced with regard to seized oligarch assets, “Those who took our money should be told, you have 24 hours to unfreeze our funds or else we’ll send you what you know we’ve got. Your choice. Tactical or strategic, take a pick.”

It could happen. And it might.





Where would you go? What would you do?

The prevailing wisdom among those we have polled is this: “Kiss your a—goodbye.” 

There is little thought, or planning, we discovered, beyond such flippancy, whose genesis was a satirical 1960s anti-war poster.

And this thinking is credible to some extent on the basis that if enough nuclear warheads were detonated throughout the USA, such blasts and radiation could indeed be the end for most, and those who survive would find themselves in a whole new (and very austere) kind of existence, which itself could be terminated by a nuclear winter/ice age as the globe becomes enveloped in thick smoke that warmth from the sun could never penetrate.

Yet in such circumstances our natural survival instincts will cut in.

We have consulted a number of targeting maps, based on the most likely Russian (and Chinese) targets inside the continental USA. There are very many targets, from the most highly populated cities—New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Houston (and of course Washington D.C.)—to military bases, especially those housing our nuclear arsenals.

We’re sorry to point out to our local readers that Vandenberg Air Force Base, just 60 miles northwest of Santa Barbara, is an extremely ripe target. This is due to the fact that it houses nuclear Minuteman-III missiles along with Atlas ICBMs.

In other words, much too close for comfort.

According to “Nukemap” on a website called, a Russian 100 megaton Tsar Bomba detonated above Vandenberg would result in 108,750 fatalities and 188,520 injuries. Its thermal radiation radius would extend to Santa Barbara causing “third degree burns throughout the layers of skin, causing severe scarring or disablement that may require amputation.”


            BE PREPARED


So again, we ask, where do you go?

Assessing the targeting maps, you have three options:

One: Gold Rush Country, the Sierra Nevada mountains, near Yosemite National Park. (A lovely wine-tasting village called Murphys.)

Two: Eastern Oregon. (There’s pretty much nothing there except moonscape.)

Three: Central Idaho. (Ironically, a city named… Moscow.)

First challenge is getting there:  Keep your gas tank full. (You should do this anyway as earthquakes and tsunamis are a natural and ongoing threat in this region.)

Second challenge is survival: Take with you lots of bottled water, cash, gold and silver coins—and weapons, if you possess them. Ensure you have stocked up on whatever medicines you need, along with first aid gear. Add blankets and your warmest coat. And a shortwave radio, plus extra batteries.

But if you’re not quick enough and (in Santa Barbara) happen to catch a flash coming from the northwest (Vandenburg) or south (LA), close your eyes and get down flat, the way we did in our classrooms at school in the early 1960s when that weekly alarm siren sounded (for us, 10am every Friday). Go to a basement or middle of a building (“layers of protection”) and remain for 24 hours. If you are that close, however, it is probably too late and, indeed, may be time to “kiss your a—goodbye.”

Meantime (or until then), count your blessings and say prayers for the innocent folk of Ukraine who should have seen it coming—and didn’t—and had to leave their homes (the lucky ones) with only the clothes they wore.

Dr. Seuss saw it coming. His so-called political incorrectness notwithstanding, the insightful and prophetic Theodor Geisel penned two children’s books that forecast what we are witnessing today: Yertle the Turtle and The Butter Battle Book.

The former is about a ruling turtle who stands on the backs of an ever-growing tower of turtles to lord over all he can see—and ultimately topples. 

Let’s hope for that outcome.

The latter is about an arms race between the Yooks and the Zooks, which concludes with a grandfather telling his grandson: “Who’s going to drop it, will you or will he? Be patient. We’ll see. We will see…”

We are just about at that point.

We will see.