Tuesday, December 25, 2007


My second Christmas as a "single" man, separated from my wife, divorce papers filed, still secure in the knowledge of my daughters' affection, still with Erin by my side. Heard on NPR the other morning that the idea that suicides go up during the holidays is a myth--they actually go down. No one seems to know how that myth got started but I've been aware of it all my life.

Ain't no danger of me cashing out this time of year: got to spend a lot of time with Lib & Lee and DaBoys just a few days ago; leaving tomorrow for Green Bay for a week with Erin's (large) family that includes watching the Pack in Lambeau, numerous FamFunctions, watching college bowls, gift exchanges, partying and the like. In all, lots of fun. Have also received a number of Christmas greetings from former students via email and from distant relatives and older friends via snail mail.

Wife Marge leaves with lifelong friend Ginny today for New Zealand, where they will meet up with daughter Meggie and friend for a couple weeks of travel together. Lee's family arrives from Wisconsin tomorrow to spend time with them and DaBoys.

So everyone is busy, at least, and with someone they love, which is important any time of year but especially so now, I think, for anyone raised in the Culture of Christmas, regardless of the depth of their belief or the form it may take.

Because Christmas for most of us is about charity, tolerance and hope; about forgetting what we've done and concentrating on who we are and what we hope to do--not in the future but each day--with and for those we love. It's also about trying to understand those we don't love--or maybe even despise--and forgetting what they've done, in the hope that they might do the same for us, remote though we think the chances of that are. It's the attempt that's important, so that maybe this year we can make charity, tolerance and hope last until spring at least, maybe summer.

Thanks to all who have corresponded with me in some form this season; my apologies to any who may be disappointed by the absence yet again of an analog Christmas card from me--I'm afraid I'm digital and web based from now on. Be assured that if you use the email address in this blog to reach me I'll reach back, regardless of season. Thanks, too, to a few strangers who have commented on these ruminations since they began in the fall.

With all that it implies, in the full awareness of my GodBlog, casting PC nonsense to the wind, accept my sincere wishes for a

Merry Christmas.

Monday, November 12, 2007


Here is where I stand on this topic, I think. I have never seen a better statement on it from my point of view, anyway. I owe this to my daughter Libby, who owns the book and at whose home I read it whilst spending time with her and her family, which at that time did not include Beck. I find it exceedingly beautiful and poignant at the same time. As a writer of sorts, I also find myself feeling impotent, incompetent and pointless in the face of it every time I read it. I think it's that good. It doesn't get any better, actually. Wish the hell I could have written it.

But no . . . Lucky for you . . .


"I don’t know what God is, or what God had in mind when the universe was set in motion. In fact, I don’t know if God even exists, although I confess that I sometimes find myself praying in times of great fear, or despair, or astonishment at a display of unexpected beauty.

There are some ten thousand extant religious sects—each with its own cosmology, each with its own answer for the meaning of life and death. Most assert that the other 9,999 not only have it completely wrong but are instruments of evil besides. None of the ten thousand has persuaded me to make the requisite leap of faith. In the absence of conviction, I’ve come to terms with the fact that uncertainty is an inescapable corollary of life. And abundance of mystery is simply part of the bargain—which doesn’t strike me as something to lament. Accepting the essential inscrutability of existence, in any case, is surely preferable to its opposite: capitulating to the tyranny of intransigent belief.

And if I remain in the dark about our purpose here, and the meaning of eternity, I have nevertheless arrived at an understanding of a few more modest truths: most of us fear death; most of us yearn to comprehend how we got here, and why—which is to say, most of us ache to know the love of our creator. And we will no doubt feel that ache, most of us, for as long as we happen to be alive."

--Jon Krakauer, Under the Banner of Heaven
January 2003


I know, I know. First I do one about Writing and here comes Reading. What's next, Arithmetic? Could be. Tell you all about my financial affairs, let you do the numbers. Point is, when people ask what my hobbies are I used to say my work was and that was true. Other than that though, I would also mention camping but most people don't understand that, so when reading was mentioned they always asked what I read.

First of all, I'll read any paperback with a swastika on the cover--WWII is one of my areas of interest and historical expertise, in large part because of my Dad. This has led to my reading a bucketful of trash, of course.

But that aside, for the past twenty-five years or so I have been a big fan of the mystery/police procedural genre, one at which I used to scoff, since I considered it beneath me, intellectual elitist that I was. Before that I was a big fan of the espionage novel because I had been to many of the cities mentioned in them and was reliving my travels with the added frisson (there's another of the words MyPeople overuse, btw, along with palpable--add those to the Writing post, OK?) of violence and sex thrown in. Those latter two items are guaranteed to sell just about anything.

And they do.

Religion: Before we get to my fave genres, though, I need to mention Christopher Hitchens' god Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. This is wonderful stuff for us agnostics/atheists. I think I am the former, but the distinctions at times escape me. Christians/Muslims/Jews/Hindus/Buddhists/What-All with stout hearts and any brains left should give this a go. Rob Istad and Erin bought it and I read Erin's copy.

Political Satire: I have read all of Richard Condon, who is now dead. He was most active during the Nixon years, but also skewered Kennedy's irresponsible skirt chasing. The best currently is Christoper Buckley, son of the most articulate conservative alive in the country, and one of the smartest ever, William F. Buckley. Again, I have read everything of Christoper's, the latest of which made me laugh out loud repeatedly while waiting for my left eye to dilate at the optometry office. Boomsday is all the funnier--as are many of his books--because everything in it is true except the characters. This fact also makes them very sad, too, if only because irony is rarely funny. Base: D.C.

Environmental Pit Bulls: Carl Hiassen is an absolute scream, though James W. Hall comes close. Protagonists are absurd, bad guys are taken from developers, governments and corporations everywhere. Alligators and dolphins abound. One pit bull, too. Base: South Florida.

General American Lit: I have read all of John Irving, The World According to Garp and Owen Meany twice. I find his blend of pathos, humor and absurdity utterly fascinating. Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) may be his successor.

Disclaimer: I have read the giants of American lit beginning with Hemingway and Whitman as a sophomore in high school. I have read most of Dickens and Gunter Grass. I could go on. I know good writing, is the point. I will try any author in my genres once. If the writing ain't good, I give up after one book, sometimes after one paragraph. I especially have no interest in someone's Ferragamos, or in women writers whose boyfriends eat sushi and deliver hours of foreplay. Glocks, Sig-Sauers, food and wine are another matter. (I got my concept of half-raw burgers slathered in bleu-cheese, accompanied by fully-raw red wine from Condon in Arigato--writers have a lot of time to cook, as do I, though I don't consider myself a real writer. This was in '75. Talk about ahead of his time! Now those burgers are everywhere.) Please understand that my opinion of what is good comes from experiencing the bad, starting with Robert Ludlum, Sidney Sheldon and What's-Her-Name. The same is true of music and food.

Legal Thriller: Only one, folks: Scott Turow. No one else can touch him, including You-Know-Who. Base: Chicago, but he calls it something else.


Espionage: Nelson DeMille (also very funny in his three novels with the protagonist named John), Alan Furst and Robert Littell. The latter two include a lot of historical atmosphere in Europe and Russia. I'm a history buff, so I love that stuff (one of the 'decorations' in my home is a world map). DeMille is one of my all-time favorites, genre notwithstanding.

Cops (or PIs) and Crimmies. These are the ones that give me the most delight, still. I have read some of their stuff twice, actually, in part because I love their writing, in part because I'm getting older and can't remember how the plots came out (let's hear it for Alzheimer's! But like rehearsal, getting there is what's fun, not so much who dunnit or why--there is no why). Also be aware that I have read none of Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett. Shame on me. I may get to them yet.

Ed McBain (Evan Hunter)--the Godfather of the Serial/Ensemble Novel (The TV series Hill Street Blues was modeled after his work). The 87th Precinct series is best read in chronological order, but that is not necessary. Base: NY, but he doesn't say so.

Lawrence Block--the darkest of the bunch, as well as one of the funniest in his Bernie Rodenbarr series. Again, best read in order: Matthew Scudder progresses from big-time boozer to AA member going to meetings five times a week. Girlfriend is a call girl. They go to art exhibitions and ethnic restaurants and make subtle, inexplicit, non-clinical love. The most cynical of the bunch, though--hang on. Base: NY

Michael Connelly--the Harry Bosch series should be read in order. Harry is a renegade: his superiors hate him and fire him and re-hire him. Other books are free-standing. Superb police procedural stuff; great plots. Base: LA, LV. Blood Work takes place in my former home, San Pedro.

James Lee Burke--as pure writer, the one I consider the best, but don't let that stop you. His bad guys are the worst of the bunch, with the possible exception of Block. And Burke's character Dave Robicheaux, along with his psychotic pal, Clint, manage to punch the bad guys out in satisfying fashion ("Book 'em or smoke 'em." WOW!). This is the closest my favorites come to Protagonist-With-Big-Swinging-Dick. Another AA guy, too. Without question the most poetic of the bunch: you can smell the bayou, taste the beignets, see the lightening, and hear the rain on the gallery roof. I re-read many paragraphs, they are so well done. Base: Louisiana; Montana (he spends half the year in each).

T. Jefferson Parker--hard to categorize and no series here; the books are all pretty much stand-alone. His work has most to do with social injustice, corruption, police work, surfing, journalism, and the despoiling of Orange County, California--from orange groves to South Coast Plaza (speaking of which, Parker is to Dean Koontz as Montrachet is to Gallo). The most philosophical of the bunch; I almost cried re-reading Summer of Fear recently. Base: Laguna Beach; Orange County.

Elmore Leonard--along with Ed McBain, the one who inspired them all, particularly in regard to dialogue: he doesn't describe anything, there is no atmosphere aside from the dialogue, in fact, he is the Godfather of Dialogue: You know all you need to know from what the characters say and how they say it. He is a very successful screenwriter, especially as a result of his Western novellas--Hombre one of the earlier, 3:10 to Yuma the latest. (Let me say here that many of these guys have had movies made, but please read the books first. Isn't this always the case?) Base: Detroit; Miami.

Others--Dennis Lehane (Boston), Robert Crais (LA), Donald Westlake, the funniest of this whole crowd (NY, but also Branson, MO!, among others). And a slow, cold salute of my mitten to fellow Minnesotan, John Sandford, whose Prey books have helped me pass many happy motel hours whilst visiting my mom in that state. His character dresses well and drives a Porsche very fast all around Minnesota and Wisconsin, eh. Even in winter.



Whew! There you go, gang. There's really nothing better than a book, whether in a campground, an airport, on a plane or a couch. See why television bores me except for the Hyctomy Channel, sports and documentaries? See why I get to the Y a lot?

You betcha.

Oh. And google any of these folks, of course. I didn't have the energy to tell you everything I know about them. If you have a question about specific books, let me know, I'll respond.

And I emphasize: these men are first-class WRITERS (with the possible exception of Crais and Sandford, who will nevertheless shorten any plane ride). I don't have time for sloth when it comes to my books--you'd better have both craft and style or you will have no place on my coffee table, my bedstand, or in my briefcase and luggage.

Nossir. Uh-uh.

Thursday, November 1, 2007


I am amazed at how much I used to get done before retirement, given how the days go now. I still get up at 6:30. And of course I now do my own laundry, clean the apartment weekly, have to deal with a financial advisor and medicare, as well as appointments, paperwork and tests for teeth, hair, bod, head, money, death, travel, and auto. I am also amazed at how much Time it takes to process letters of recommendation for former and current students now that I no longer have secretarial help and have to do it all myself. The same is true for email. I also spend more time at the Y than I did when working, too, but I seem to need it more. Groan.

I was reminded of this again recently while spending three days at Miami University in Ohio rehearsing, lecturing off the top of my head, giving a masterclass, having meals with students, eating and drinking with Ethan Sperry and Bill Bausano and their wonderful wives. It was fun; I think I still I have most of the Right Stuff; I was exhausted when I got back home. Time flew and I got more 'done' in three days than I had in all my days combined since returning from steaming hot Korea last August.

Time has been called the thing you can never get more of, unlike things like money. This is a truism that embarrasses me to express in this forum, but it is true, nevertheless. Time for us animals is a non-renewable resource like fossil fuel--only so much of it. It's also like electricity-- can't store it, save it up for a sunny day. You use it and that's that and you hope for more. And if you're smart, you rejoice in it.

But I always thought our perception of its passage was accelerated the busier we are. Not true, I've found. It's 4:30 now and I feel that the day has flown. Everyday does, despite the fact that I am not working. (Oh, and I also read and nap more. Ah, bliss). I do spend much less time on the freeways, which is really nice. So nice that in November, when I go up to see L and L and DaBoys, I will drive instead of fly. I have the time and can go during the week instead of during the Highway Hell that weekends can become on I-5. Air travel takes almost as long, given the ordeal it has become, and I don't have to half undress and be X-rayed before getting into my 4-Runner and hummin' up the highway. (And I can travel with the Leatherman knife that my buddy Dennis got me for my 60th birthday. Actually, it's the Boomer version of the Leatherman (not Leatherperson): has a corkscrew, canape fork and paté knife tucked in there with the sharpest blade in creation, the usual screwdrivers, et. al. I entertained the Chamber Choir on our last several retreats with it, calling it my tres chic pique-nique knife. They howled with delight, but they mainly used it to open wine and beer bottles during the post-retreat party).

But I digress, as usual. Maybe not, though, speaking of retreats. I ran 18 of those at UOP, 10 with the California Choral Company and 11 with USC. That's 39 retreats, beginning in 1973 and stretching to 2006. In the '70's they seemed incredibly short and time flew. The last few with USC seemed to last forever, and it was all I could do to summon the energy to keep those young brains and bodies productive, alert, entertained. (BTW: why is it Mother Nature but Father Time?) And they were very talented and were doing superb music, so that wasn't the problem. The problem was me. I was running out of fossil fuel and electricity in the fullness of Time. Retreats, I'm afraid, are among the 15 things on the list of what I no longer miss since retirement. Things I do miss are only two: rehearsing that chorus regularly and A Place To Go. Those things didn't make time go any faster but they made it fuller.

Maybe I'll volunteer to do some stuff to return this country to sanity, like working for the Edwards campaign or helping the Democratic Party. Maybe they could use my writing skills in some form--I don't want to lick envelopes and sure as hell will not make cold calls.

Something like that would not only pass Time, which I don't really need, but it may help those of us who view society as Us, not Screw-You-Jack-I-Got-Mine--the Weltanschauung of the Neo-Cons and the party that gave us the Great Depression, the Demise of the Middle Class, the Destruction of Labor, the Highest National Debt in the History of the Planet, and George (frat twit) Bush.

Among other things.

To quote Reagan: There he goes again.


Gonna talk to Erin and Ethan now. Stay tuned. And comment, will ya?

There. Like that? Hope my two fans do.

Monday, October 1, 2007


Not long ago I became aware of the fact that Someone Big in the California ACDA organization referred to USC's choral department as elitist, saying that we were all a bunch of snobs. This was while I was still there, and she said it within the hearing of one of our current grad students. She used the word 'elitist' before she used the word 'snob,' just as I have here. One seems to follow the other, right? And since we all know that 'snob' is not a nice word (at least to most of us), then it would follow that 'elitist' is not a nice word, either.

Well, it isn't. Not in Amurrca. It's right up there with socialist, artist, pacifist, atheist.

The U.S. government has had a thing about elitism for a long time--many elected representatives who may be obscenely rich rail against it. And the American people as a whole like to be just-plain-folks, no pretenses, no big words, etc., hence the American fetish with first names that exists nowhere else that I have ever traveled or lived. Bush II was "elected" in part because our just-plain-folks thought he would be more fun to have a beer with than Gore would have. Imagine that? Despite the fact that Bush didn't drink. This was also primarily because Al Gore is an obviously intelligent man without the painful disconnect from the English language that afflicts Bush, and despite the fact that Gore obviously learned something in college and can prove it.

(Bush hasn't learned anything since high school and has proved it. Time and again. It's easy to be the Decider when you can't discern the alternatives).

Intelligence appears to be really suspect here, as is: travel outside of the country for anything other than military or political purposes; interest in music, art, museums, and learning another language just for the hell of it or to use it in travel; reading anything not required by the job. Intelligence, studiousness, interest in culture--especially the arts--are really out of favor. H. L. Mencken said that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people. I think he was right, but I don't think this necessarily speaks ill of my country or it's people. You could say much the same thing about almost any people fooled by demagogues anywhere, and history has plenty of examples.


Definition of elite (n): a group of people considered the best in a particular society or category because of their power, talent or wealth, i.e., an elite combat force.


I would hope that by now we would have substituted 'excellence' and 'diligence' for 'power' and 'wealth' but we haven't. Isn't it OK to be considered among the best in a category (choral music, for instance) because of talent, excellence and diligence? Or leave the last two out. What the hell is wrong with 'acknowledged talent?' Ask the Navy Seals or the Army Rangers. Those lads and lassies are excellent, diligent and talented or they don't live long on the job. My Dad was amazed at the way the Rangers took the impregnable Pointe du Hoc on Omaha Beach on D-Day--he figured he got off that beach alive in no small part because of their excellence and talent. (Pointe du Hoc is not a housing development in Orange County, by the way). He believed in elitism from that day forward, urging his first-born son to become an elite-something, too.

And so I did. (If you haven't already, read my Mom and Dad posts, bring yourself up to date as to my socio-economic background). From the time I arrived in California to this day, I have worked very hard to develop excellence as--in order-- a baseball player, a trumpet/horn player, a dependable laborer, a student, a basketball player, an engineer, a well-rounded intelligent man, a fine musician, a good husband, a fine conductor, a good father, a citizen of the world, a dedicated teacher, a decent administrator. I failed at some of the foregoing but not because I didn't try my damnedest to reach the elite in the category. I may have had the talent but lacked the diligence. Or vice versa. One thing is for damned sure: I didn't achieve anything by dint of my family's wealth. I paid personally for every penny of all three of my degrees, one of my wife's, two of my daughters'. The sum total of my inheritance from my parents' estates was $7000.

I don't believe in aristocracy, theocracy or plutocracy. Not even democracy. I believe in meritocracy--you got there cuz you studeed it, wuz good at it and werked for it.

(That last line is for the faux Texas Bushies out there. He was born, raised and educated on the Right Coast, you know. His false, ever deepening Texas accent is an attempt to make you forget that he was born and will die filthy stinking rich, having never earned one penny of it).

I can get around decently in four languages other than my own because I wanted to and worked at it. No other reason. I achieved success in my profession because I sought out the best schools, teachers, colleagues, and mentors I could find, despite feeling invariably inferior to all of them. I don't recall ever thinking that I was as good as them, or that I could ever be--I worked my once-firm buns off and hustled like crazy to try to become as good as them. I don't think I made it, but it wasn't because I didn't want to associate or immerse myself in the best available to me. I traveled when I couldn't afford to because I wanted to know more about the world I was born into and will presently leave. I did my utmost to develop discerning taste in everything from cheese to beer to cars to clothes to music to people to books to booze.

I wanted to experience and become at least conversant with the Best, whatever I considered that to be.

So, yes, yes, yes. I am an elitest, sweetheart.* I think I may have made it. Many of my students at USC were, too. I'm extremely proud of that and hope the students are. We earned it in a couple of the few meritocracies left: education and art. We worked diligently to learn, expected excellence of each other, tried to develop whatever talent we may have had. We explored as much superb music in the time we had as we could and wasted little time on the ephemeral, the trivial, the trendy. We got up to our elbows in the gore of the Good.


A snob judges other people, as you did. An elitist judges only himself--which is harder--as I am doing. Got that, darlin'?*

I hope so. Try it. And good luck to you.

*'Sweetheart' and 'darlin' are courtesy of the waitress who served my breakfast at the Pacific Diner last Wednesday. I ordered chicken fried steak and eggs so I guess she figured I had it coming. I didn't mind at all. At least she didn't ask me my first name nor did I use hers.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


My earliest memories of my Dad are two: a horrific spanking for spending bread money on candy, and his Ho-Ho-Ho coming in a window as Santa Claus. I was about five, my brother had just been born, and we were living in a suburb of Minneapolis, where Dad drove a city bus.

My Dad later drove buses in Seattle (with his buddy Charlie) and in Los Angeles, where he met my stepmother Kay. Dad and Charlie later became truck drivers in Los Angeles and had much to do with hauling the gravel and rock that built the LA freeways in the years from 1954-1964. After that period, he made an abortive attempt to sell real estate, discovering that this is chancy if you don't have any capital to get you through the lean times between commission checks. He even took the Dale Carnegie course and did his damnedest to make it work, but the worries about money led to a heart attack.

He was awful with money, anyway. One of the last and saddest things I remember about him was the son (me) having to loan the father (him) $600 that he didn't have for new truck tires. As the Jewish proverb says, when something like that happens, both weep. I owe my worries and whatever success I have had managing my financial life to my Dad's fecklessness in that regard and my Mom's craziness. Dad went through bankruptcy; Mom had to give her hoarded money away. (I was determined to be neither and have succeeded, providing food, clothing, travel, and education to my daughters, as well as decent security to both my wife and myself, even in divorce, mirabile dictu).

All that aside, despite only an eighth grade education, Dad did the best he could, and most important, he was one of the sweetest men ever. Everyone loved him. I only lived with him for four years during high school from 1956-1960. He did all he could to inculcate in me the importance of the kind of education he never had; he constantly encouraged me to study in high school, and the fact that I not only did that but went on to get the first college education on either side of the family--plus a doctorate, to boot--was a lifelong source of pride to him. He felt very bad about the fact that, because of his long hours building LA's freeways, he never heard one of my band concerts, saw me prance as a drum major, or saw one of my basketball games.

He did watch me play baseball twice. (One of the first things I did upon arriving in California was to join a Pony League baseball team in town. My dad bought me the glove, a ball, the spikes, and a second-hand bike to get to the practices and games). I was a pitcher (slow, but with a fine curve and a devilish, wild knuckleball), and Dad watched a game where I was not only the winning pitcher, but hit a double in the last inning to help myself win. The second game was the next summer in Babe Ruth League ball, where I got shelled 12-0. He consoled me and loved me anyway.

The reason that he had to perform sedentary work all of his life was the result of a war injury to his back; he couldn't lie on his back and straighten his legs. He landed in the second wave on Normandy's Omaha Beach on D-Day (6 June 1944). He was injured driving in a Jeep near St. Lo with his fellow Sergeant, Cratchett. They were both drunk, but that wasn't the problem, a German mortar shell was. It hit the back of the Jeep, throwing them both out and to the side of the road. Cratchett was unhurt, but my Dad was seriously hurt, transported to a field hospital and home, where he first saw his first son, who was just two. Dad reckoned that if they hadn't been drunk they both would have been killed--booze does loosen one up (Cratchett had emptied one of the Jeep's fuel containers and filled it with Calvados--look it up). He received a disability check from the Veterans Administration of about $120/month for the rest of his life, which dwindled with inflation as time went by and never did anything to ease the pain and/or discomfort in his legs and back. He rarely if ever complained (he was born and raised in Minnesota), and certainly never felt sorry for himself.

Oh, and he also received a Bronze Star for bravery, which he would never talk about. Most soldiers don't; the lines that separate courage, fear, stupidity, instinct, and terror are very fine and they all know that. One thing he did talk about was D-Day. We saw the movie The Longest Day together and he said it was fairly close to what he remembered, absent the blood and gore. The first twenty minutes of Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, by the way, are exactly what he described to me on more than one occasion. I wish I could have seen that with him, too, though he would probably describe the rest of the movie and it's premise as a bit silly.
= = = = = = = = = == = =

So around 1971 Charlie decided to try long-hauling and moved his family and his tractor to Carthage, Missouri. Dad followed him and they both pulled loads to the four corners of the country until Dad died in 1979, after a second heart attack that left him alive for a few months but to which he succumbed in April of that year. He was not yet 60. (Kay followed him in death five years later and was buried with him in the veteran's cemetery in Springfield). We had a great wake at Charlie's house with Kay's sisters present. That was as fun as it could be, but before that, immediately after the funeral, where I touched my Dad's hand in the coffin and just said, "oh, Dad . . . ," I walked the streets of Carthage and cried at the unfairness of such a sweet man spending his life that way, never having realized the potential that goodness, the most beautiful handwriting I have ever seen, and a capacity for seeing the best in everyone ought to bring to anyone. At least he got to see my daughters as lovely young things, and his first-born married to a beautiful woman and on his way to professional success.

The final irony? When I arrived in Carthage after Dad died, Charlie and I went over to the company where they worked, hoping to cash in the insurance on Dad's truck so that Kay would have some financial security. We were shocked, appalled, you-name-it, to find that Dad had not paid for insurance on the truck and Kay would get nothing from its sale.

Oh, Dad . . .

Charlie and his wife took care of Kay until she died. Charlie left his long-time unhappy marriage a few years later, marrying one of his long-time road lovers--happy as a clam--when he found out a year later that he had cancer. He was dead in months, dying at one of the happiest times of his life. I loved Charlie almost as much as Dad, and remember playing poker with the both of them and a few of my friends on numerous occasions (Dennis remembers this. Terry would, too, were he still alive). Charlie was also a hell of a mechanic and replaced the u-joints on the only BMW I ever owned. I cried for Charlie when he died almost as much as I had for Dad; to my mind, they were one person. I think they felt the same way--they had been together since their days in Minneapolis after Dad's divorce in 1947.

= = = = = = = = =

After that divorce, I didn't see Dad often until moving to live with him nine years later. He was living in Seattle and then California, and would come back occasional summers to see his parents, his sisters and us boys. I remember him being at the door, my opening it and him hugging me, smelling of tobacco and aftershave, his Chevrolet coupe parked outside in the street. I only really remember this from a few times because it didn't happen much--long vacations like that were expensive and bus drivers don't make a lot of money.

I truly feel that he made up for those years, though, by helping me through high school, doing what he could (very little, as it happened) to help me through college, and by being a fine example of a man and a human being. He loved me and my wife unreservedly, doted on my daughters, was kind to all he met, and was unspeakably proud of what his first-born son had accomplished in the thirty-six years that he knew him.

If there were such a thing as a second chance at life, another go-round, no one would deserve such a thing more than he.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Libby, me, Megan at my USC retirement party, April, 2007

I was recently asked at a workshop what my proudest achievement in life was. The young woman introducing me wanted something not scripted to say, I guess. My unhesitant response?

"My daughters," I said.
"Oh," she said.

I think she was expecting me to refer to something in the right hand column of this site, which would have been natural given the occasion, but no, not at my age and with my perspective.

Reams have been written about Daddies and Their Girls, along with poems without number, not all of them sappy. This is no attempt to correct or improve that body of work. It's a bit of
prose about my girls. And I am not about to paint everything with a broad, rosy brush. There were difficult episodes as well as boring ones: how many diapers can you change and still think it's cute? How many baths can you preside over without a good book nearby? How many times can you read a bedtime story that both of you have heard a zillion times and not go a little bit postal? (I used to try to skip pages with Libby but she would look up at me, pull her thumb out her mouth with a thwack, and turn the page back. No fooling her. No cheating her, either. Meggie would often just smile and let me get away with it. Smart mini-woman). How many times can you cook Daddy Burgers and Fries or Mackeemonee Cheese and Hot Dogs without the three of you wanting to dump the whole thing? (That's when I started to learn how to cook. This was about 1983, after my wife bought me a wonderful book, The Husband's Cookbook. It has always disappointed me that my spaghetti sauce and pasta from scratch--Spaghetti Bolognese in Italian--pleased them far less than the canned stuff from the store. I perservered anyway and am glad now, living alone, that I did. They are, too. I still cook for them when I visit.)

But all the bad stuff aside, the thing of which I am most proud is that my girls still love me despite my obvious limitations and more-than-questionable recent decisions. We have a good time when we are together: easy with each other; no pressure to entertain; a real sense of history and family; accepting each other as we are. I have on a number of occasions lamented to them that wish I could have been paying more attention when they were young, been more in-the-now, gone on fewer retreats, tours, gigs. I have often said to them that my wife was two-thirds parent and one-third pro, while I was one-third parent and two-thirds pro, and that I felt bad about that.

Nonsense, they say. We had every entire summer in VW camping vans crawling up into the Sierra in third gear or traveling across the country, every Christmas vacation at home, two six-month sabbaticals abroad together (which Meggie credits to her wanderlust--resulting in a semester in Central America and Mexico, after which she arrived back home at LAX with cornrows, hairy legs and armpits, and Libby credits to her Fulbright year in Vienna, during which she met her husband and did things as yet unrevealed).

They attended great universities, have attained marketable skills, live their lives according to their own codes, are tough in the face of difficulties, delight in the moments of wonder, and are in all ways delightful, thoughtful people who judge no one--least of all their parents--and who are making their ways through life with as much joy as life may have to offer (the extent of which may be debatable, but that, too, is for later).

They are altogether wonderful people. I love them more than life itself (that may be a cliché, which I abhor, but there you are). This love gives them tremendous power over me, but I will have to concede that. Oh, and they are beautiful as well as smart and savvy.

If all I had in life were them alone, I would still be a lucky man.

Kissie, kissie, girls . . .

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Had a dream last night about my former friend, Terry Burr, who died of cancer not long ago. In my dream, he was alive and giving me the kind of crap he usually did, bless his heart. That put me in mind of two other long-time friends dead of cancer of something-or-the-other: Ron Caviani and Audree O'Connell. At least the latter lived into their 70's and didn't give me any crap. Terry was only 66. But he lived longer than another acquaintance, Steve Reutlinger, who dropped dead of a heart attack at 58 whilst living on the streets almost. Terry was surrounded by friends and family but suffered; Steve was estranged from family and friends but never knew what hit him. Who was the luckier? You make the call. No replay.

I'm at the age, of course, when those I've known for a long time are dying. What to do about that? How to feel? What does it say to me? The California writer William Saroyan said that he knew we all had to die, but that he had hoped god would make an exception in his case.

Didn't work. He died, sure enough. No exceptions, apparently.

And our daughters' godparents, the Snyders, died a number of years ago, leaving a big void in the lives of the four of us. Evelyn died first, swearing and howling as a result of dementia--at the end, she was a person we never knew, nor did her husband or her children. Nor us. And Keith just fell asleep in his chair and died one night, after his Evelyn was gone. He didn't like getting out of his clothes and going to bed. Can't say I blame him. He was over 90--I forget the exact number--but it doesn't matter, does it?


So why am I reviewing Italian, a language I studied over 40 years ago? I'm going to Italy, I think, in January, staying with a former colleague who now runs a travel service from there, and living there happily.
Why do I f****** bother? I'm even thinking of going to the local community college and enrolling in their most advanced class just to practice. Why?!? All I want to do is live somewhere else and write . . .

(My favorite line comes now) . . .

Damned if I know.

It's possible that this is a way of putting off the Big Sleep just a bit; of staying alive and active, speaking Their Language in Their Country. Hot Damn. There's not much any more fun and rewarding than that. Except rehearsing great music with a good group . . .

It's a way to stave off death, of course, to feel accomplished in some form other than a former or current career. I recognize that. It's also personal pride; I recognize that, too. I'm very good at personal pride, by the way. Hoo-Boy!!

And what else am I going to do? I must admit it is hard to supplant German with Italian--I learned the former last, and the latter over 40 years ago. Ma posso anche parlare la lingua, malgrado del fatto che Tedesco e la lingua che ho imparato piu tarde che Italiano. (Sospira . . . )


We are all dying daily. What are we going to do about that? Hang in there. Be what we are. Do what pleases us, I guess.

Thursday, September 13, 2007



I’ve let five days go by without writing anything; I’ve been a bad boy. But I am not going to talk about that because of the auspiciousness of this day and how the Bushies have cynically used it for six years to foster fear, shred the Constitution, bleed the economy dry, kill 3600 of our boys and girls (and untold numbers of Iraqies), and lie, and lie, and lie. For what? Don’t listen to all the subterfuge, the justifications, the excuses; they’re complicated, as they are intended to be. If it sounds simple, it’s probably the truth, which is why they can’t keep it simple. So why are we there? The truth is: oil.

See? Simple. Behind subterfuge and lies stands that simple truth. It’s blood for oil. Do you think we’d be there if their primary resource were asparagus? Or rice (which is why we didn’t topple North Korea’s dictator, even though he starved his people to death and DID have WMD)?

And don’t believe the shills on FoxNoNewsNetwork: Al-qaeda wasn’t there until we invaded and occupied the country. Now they flourish and are immensely productive, fomenting violence on both sides of their civil war—don’t buy that “sectarian insurgency” stuff, either: it’s a CIVIL WAR brought about by the vacuum left by a toppled dictator and it will not stop until the vacuum is filled by the next dictator, but it will be our dictator, presumably. At least Saddam gave his people water and power—we’ve taken much of that away.

Oh. And “drawdown” is euphemism for “retreat.” Don’t you just love the way the military and politicians destroy language in order to retain power? Especially after we prematurely ejaculated and claimed victory when draft-dodger Bush got to wear the uniform and a codpiece on that aircraft carrier? “Mission Accomplished,” my ass.

And why can’t we catch a sick old bearded man? Because Bush doesn’t want to: it would remove the Bogey Man he’s using to keep us scared. He also doesn’t want this occupation to stop; he wants to remain in Iraq until his buddies get a bunch of that oil, or until he can hand the mess over to the next President, wash his hands, walk away, claim victory yet again even though an utter failure; not only incompetent, impotent, too. That’s what he’s done his entire life: failed upward; he hasn’t succeeded at a single thing he has tried throughout his life, he was even his Daddy’s “legacy” at Yale—ain’t no way they’d have accepted me with his grades. I qualified for engineering school at UCLA all on my own; my Daddy couldn’t help me because he didn’t even go to high school and was just a truck driver.

You could look it up: Bush is an Aristocrat Brat, as un-American as they come, a child of privilege, not production. And he still talks like a petulant fourth-grader and acts like a high school bully.

God Bless America. Who else would put up with this crap? Actually, Germany did during the thirties, resulting in WWII when Germany attacked Poland on 1 September 1939. This was an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation that had done nothing to the attacking nation.

Sound familiar?



I can remember living in seven places with my mom and brother after my parents divorced. Only one of them had an indoor toilet. This was in Aitkin, Minnesota (pop. 1700), in the years from 1948-1956. I was aged 6-13. My mom was on welfare much of the time and I can remember eating ketchup sandwiches, also bread spread with margarine and sugar. In all fairness, I can also remember mom giving me a dime on summer Saturdays to go to the double-feature matinee. Admission was nine cents and the extra penny bought a sucker. When I got home, mom had made either chocolate chip cookies or cinnamon rolls for us boys to eat. Later, her night off was Thursday and she would take us boys to the Aitkin Coffee Shop for dinner, followed by a movie at the theater. It didn’t matter what the movie was; we went every Thursday night.

She tried, she really did.

Mom took in washing and ironing at first to make ends meet, later graduating to a nurse’s aide on the graveyard shift at an old folks home just outside of town, and in my final two years with them, to a job in a two-room school teaching grades one to four. I was in the other room, which contained grades five to eight. This was in a place God forgot thirty miles north of Aitkin called Swatara. It contained two churches, a general store/post office/gas station, and a small restaurant/bar directly across the street from our house where I would often go and drink cokes. Most of my schoolmates lived out in the country, so I was usually alone after school. I would check science fiction books out of the school library, buy a package of chocolate covered marshmallow cookies at the store, then eat them with milk while I read until mom and my brother came home. We usually had fried porkchops and mashed potatoes.

Between the cokes across the street and the cookies at home, I successfully destroyed many of my teeth in those two years. The books rescued me from reality: a house that was a mess and cold most of the winter because mom wanted to save money on fuel oil. I remember a birthday party for my brother (in January) where he and a few of his school mates stood around the stove eating ice cream and shivering.

I also remember cat turds on the closet floor and going to the outhouse in winter temperatures of –30 and –40. That’s Fahrenheit. Talk about freezing your ass off!

The three of us slept in one bed many winters, purely for warmth. Many winters, too, mom would get a country girl to live in town with us so the girl could stay in town and walk to school. In exchange for room and board, the girls cooked breakfast for us boys and generally took care of us while mom was at work. My brother Rolf slept with mom. I slept with the girls. No kidding. Innocent as hell, too, even though one of them was pretty cute. I still remember all three of those girls: Shirley, her younger sister Caroline, and Marjorie. Caroline was the cute one. I wonder if they remember me. Or are even alive, for that matter.

Back to Swatara. I hated that place mainly because all of my friends and school mates still lived in Aitkin, of course. It was a three-mile walk on the road out to the highway, where there was a bar/restaurant at the end. I could catch the bus there to Aitkin and I did this a number of times in those years, attending school dances in the gym, going to basketball games and seeing friends. Walking those three miles from the bus stop home on winter nights was really fun!

The last time I walked that road was in June of 1956 after I had coerced my mom to give me the $80 my dad had sent to come live with him in California. (I found out that the courts had said I could decide who I wanted to live with when I reached age thirteen. After watching the Mickey Mouse Club on the one channel we received in good weather, there was no doubt in my mind: California and Annette Funicello, here I come!) Mom had intercepted the letter and kept the money and the secret. After confronting her with this fact, she dug out the coffee can where she secreted the money she saved on fuel oil. She slapped me. I slapped her back. I took the four twenties Dad had sent, packed underwear, socks, and some other things, including a passel of science fiction paperbacks into a metal suitcase, and walked out. Mom and Rolf waved goodbye from the window; my brother was crying; I will never forget that.

I walked to the bus stop, bought a Greyhound ticket to Los Angeles at Fred’s Café in Aitkin (long since burned down), stayed with my uncle Emil one final night (I stayed with him often when visiting from Swatara), watched Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much during the layover in Minneapolis, then traveled four consecutive days and five nights to Los Angeles, boarding a bus there to El Monte, where I failed to dial the phone successfully (we didn’t have rotary phones in Aitkin; the three of us had no phone, period), spent my last .75 on a cab to my dad’s house.


Mom secreted money her whole life. While divesting herself of her worldly goods in preparation for her move to the Home, she gave away her Bible. The man she gave it to later came back and gave her the $600 she had stuffed in it. Imagine that! Wouldn’t happen here and now. I’ve got to say, too, that mom supported herself her entire life in that town, at first cleaning houses for years, then working kitchen cleanup in the Aitkin Coffee Shop, finally baking cinnamon rolls at the Aitkin Bakery, walking to work at 330 in the morning. Before she could go to the Home, she had to get rid of her money. At one point, she had as much as $30,000, most in the bank, thank goodness. I got 2500 and what was left she put in trust for my girls, who got around $10k each when mom died in October 2004. Remarkable, yes?

Especially since Mom was crazy. They called them “nervous breakdowns” then. She was hospitalized in the mental facility at Moose Lake when I was very young and I went to live on the farm with my grandpa and grandma. (That was fun. I loved that farm; Dylan Thomas’s Fern Hill reminds me of those days, smells, sounds). She was hospitalized again after I had left. She had closed herself and Rolf into that hellhole and her brothers had to come and drag them out, sending mom to the Ha-Ha Hotel for the second time, and my brother to a series of foster homes and finally the pediatric clinic at the University of Minnesota. That sad story is for later.

“Nervous breakdown” in mom’s case turned out to be manic-depression--what is now called bi-polar disorder. Her parents and brothers and sisters just thought she was “ornery.” Most thought, as I later did, that she was simply crazy. Thank God may Her name ever be praised for the advent of lithium, which allowed her to stay on an even keel for the rest of her life, support herself, and stay in touch with her children and grandchildren. She was a burden to no one. She arranged her own burial plot, tombstone, casket, and funeral—down to pallbearers (one of whom she had outlived), who was to sing and play, and what they were to sing and play. She was 86 when she died, having lived in the Home for 10 years, holding down her post next to the mailbox daily. She had seen her grand-daughters and son-in-law two summers before she died. She looked at my older daughter, Libby, and asked, “who are you?”

My eulogy for her was lost when this computer crashed, but I know that my opening line was this:

Mom did not have an easy life.

Talk about understatement . . .

Labor Day

3.9.2007—Labor Day

Hot again, almost 80 at 800 and I’m only three miles from the ocean. Quiet, too; usually the exit door to the street two floors beneath me starts slamming (needs to be adjusted) at 430, continuing until I get up at 630. But today is a holiday.

Ironic that we still celebrate Labor Day at a time when unions are at their lowest ebb in this country, thanks to Reagan and the Bush Dynasty. Unions were, are, always will be socialist in their design and purpose: a living wage and decent conditions for repetitive, normal work that needs to be done, thereby guaranteeing the existence of a middle class. In my youth, I was a member of the Teamsters and the Steelworkers union and was glad for both. They had to ask me to work two eight-hour shifts in a row and I could refuse. If I assented, I got paid time-and-a-half for the second shift, disability insurance if I got injured on the job and could no longer work. The unions did that, along with guaranteeing us two 15-minute breaks in the shift, as well as 45 minutes for lunch. “The Union forever, hurrah, boys, hurrah . . . “ Everybody sing. Dickens sure did—that’s what Christmas Carol was all about, along with another of his that I can’t recall at the moment. And in Carol, Scrooge was the middle class, not Cratchett. The latter was at the bottom of the economic heap. No health insurance for his boy, either.


Re-reading parts of Life Before Death by my friend Larry Meredith: whew! What a writer. This man is a genius cloaked in the humility and humor of East Texas. You’d never know just by meeting him briefly. You gotta be there awhile, wait for him to down several Dr. Peppers, get rolling. Or go to a football game with him. But reading his book is to be undertaken seriously, even though his humor slips up on you:

“When men want to be in control, they rape. When they want pleasure, they allow themselves to be controlled. Just ask President Clinton.”

See? Told you. Pick up a copy. Available from Humanics Publishing. I am honored by his reference to me in his Acknowledgements: . . . “and William Dehning, whose neurons fire in harmonic convergence of music, sport, and ectomorphic id.”

He sure has me pegged, especially the id part. My therapist would certainly agree, even though not a fan of Freud (what an odd name for such a dour man—German for “joy.”) I’m not proud of that—it has caused many who have loved me much pain, including myself, who still manages to love me, despite all, though it ain’t easy at times. Since my separation from my wife of over 40 years, for which I was the active agent and the proximate cause, I have had a lot of time to consider my 50% of that upheaval and am beginning to forgive myself. That ain’t easy, either. Many, many former friends have found it to be utterly impossible and have written me off without a word, putting 100% of it all on me, which is their privilege. Even my daughters have a problem with it from time to time, while acknowledging that I was a wonderful father.

But that’s all I’m going to say on the topic of hurting, therapy, divorce, and id, at least mine. You want more, read John Updike’s Rabbit books, you get plenty of that, plus much more, including far more biting social commentary than I could ever summon, acerbic, skeptical and observant as I am. I have always avoided disappointment by viewing the cup half empty. I think I will now try pursuing pleasure (that’s for you, Larry) by living Life before I Die, by practicing what I preach and enjoying the rehearsal more than the performance. Except life ain’t no rehearsal, is it? It’s the Game. So I’ll concentrate on the game, try to enjoy that. Concentrate on the hoop, enjoy the shot.

Scoreboard be damned. Ain’t no scoreboard in life. Is God the Referee calling fouls?



Yesterday was New Year’s Day. For the past thirty-seven years I had already begun another season of collegiate teaching by yesterday—was a week in, in fact: rep chosen, students recruited, newbies initiated, auditions over, personnel posted, enemies made, a few people made happy. Classes begun. Dancing yet again: keep moving, Dehning, so no one really catches on: this is ridiculous and glorious; I can’t imagine not doing this but I still don’t understand why they let me.

Now I’m retired from academe and now I can imagine it: for the first time in fifty nine years, during the season running from
September to June, I was in school in some form, and for over four decades of that time I did something that I maintained in muted tones was more fulfilling and fun than anything you could do in any position, even a horizontal one. Now I can say it senza sordino: it was better than sex. Requiring the timing of an athlete, the grace of an athlete, the judgment of Zeus, the humor of a stand-up comic, the zeal of a coach, the skill of a diplomat, the presentation of a chef, the perspective of a historian, the selflessness of a real teacher, the desire of a lover, the priapic lust of a satyr, and a little musical background and training, the activity of leading an ensemble rehearsal involves body, mind and spirit in a way more completely—and offers more self actualization—than any other. And a lot of people do it for simple glory and worldly acclaim. Fools. Mere Sybarites of the Stick. They live for the performance. Imagine that. It’s like playing a game merely to win rather than concentrating on the game itself. You win some you lose some—and winning is certainly more fun—but what matters is the game itself. And the game is the rehearsal, not the performance.

Yesterday was also the Sabbath: Saturday during the American collegiate football season. As a sport, it is more like war than anything else, but I love the physical beauty of much of it, especially in the passing game. And the upsets that a bunch of boys can engender. And a few wise coaches who gamble, still having fun at their age. As a sport, collegiate basketball is more like music making: fast, fluid, graceful, sweaty, fun. (Just like rehearsal. I sti
ll don’t know how I feel about not doing that regularly. Get back to me in October.) I truly think that the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in March of each year is the finest sporting event the country has to offer. Period. It is the sporting equivalent of Holy Week without the pain, blood and mumbo-jumbo of that event. The music is the finest part of that last one.

But for twelve Saturdays every fall I celebrate the Sabbath, beginning it with the Eucharist of butcher’s bacon, eggs, toast (occasionally hash browns, if ambitious), and milk. Take, eat, this is what it’s all about. This is a big part of what boys were meant to do, and for today, you can be a boy again just by watching (on a 26’ flat screen and in High Definition!). Hocus-pocus. Pretty dancing girls, marching bands, domesticated mascots, color, and boys in their physical prime (lineman often well past their prime and bloated, but, hey . . .), and here’s the best part: no one knows how it’s going to end! Now that’s theater, that’s magic, that’s liturgy at its finest, and we’re not subjected to soliloquies and sermons. They just tee it up and play the sucker. Ah, bliss.

I don’t know what to call this, if anything. Don’t know how it’s going to turn out either, if at all. Just keeping my eye on the target; playing the game. I’m just going to sit down in front of this electronic marvel a few days a month for a while and put words down. I don’t even know who the audience might be. Last time I did this a book came out of it—you could look it up—but I don’t expect anything that grand or useful this time. Naturally, I will take days off when visiting children and grandchildren, or when engaged in guest jobs conducting, doing clinics or both. I will follow the academic year yet again, quitting this at Christmas for a while and in mid-May for the summer. Summa cum laude. Honoris causa. And all that.


I dropped Connelly, Burke, Block, Martin Cruz Smith, and thrillers for awhile (after discovering and devouring Patrick Quinlan—come on, lad, more, more!) and am reading Umberto Eco again. After being absolutely delighted with The Name of the Rose, I suffered through Foucault’s Pendulum only because of jury duty. Now am enmeshed in Baudolino. Sigh. Please, amico, why not ano
ther Rose? Hmmm . . . .? OK. Do what you do so well: make history live. I’ll try to hang in there out of loyalty and respect. Stunned admiration, too.


Also, for only the second season in forty three years, I begin the year as a single man, in the midst of divorce mediation, living in a “large single bedroom apartment,” as the ad called it. And it is, actually. I have plenty of room for what I really need to do: read, watch football and basketball, cook, write, correspond, sleep, nap, stretch. And I am minutes from the YMCA, to which I repair three times a week in search of muscle tone and the Perfect Shot from 13, 15, 17, and 19 feet. Thursday: 45 of 75 shots from those distances, with 15 being dead-solid-perfect net snappers. God, I love that sound, and I celebrate it with a double arm pump every time it happens. Old guys grin when I do that, kids stare, women are nowhere around. Yet more bliss.

The lawyer drawing up my estate papers noted both divorce and retirement:

--Lawyer: couldn’t you have taken two life changing events one at a time?
--Me: life is what happens when you ain’t looking, I guess. Beats me.

--Done for the Day, and a good one it was. Filled with sweat, effort, 11/47 DSP’s at the Y, a nap, and a dip in the apartment pool. I wish we had an elevator rather than the pool, but today, hot as it is, I welcome the latter. Leftovers for dinner tonight that I cooked my own self. Yum, I guess.