Loose change

Every morning, around 6:30, I go for a walk around the neighborhood with my dog Yogi (named for the baseball player, Yogi Berra, not the cartoon character, Yogi Bear, although that would have been a good choice, too. Our next door neighbors are from Indian and Audi’s parents were here a while back to help take care of their newborn grandson, Neil. One day, Audi’s mother saw Yogi and she asked what his name was. When I told her “Yogi” she said, “Ah, that means wise man. Namaste.” and bowed to him. He, of course, looked up at me as if to say, “See, she gets it.”).

Our apartment complex is adjacent to a shopping area and our morning walks usually take us past the retail stores, restaurants and offices that comprise what is known as “Park Place.” Right now, of course, most everything is closed or operating on limited hours. Before COVID-19 hit, we often saw early-morning exercise classes being held in two of the establishments that cater to people who insist on getting up at the crack of dawn to be yelled at while doing stretching routines. Those things seem to be going on less frequently now, with fewer participants. When we first moved in, there was a coffee shop that always had folks sitting and drinking and reading papers. It has since closed, as have at least two of the restaurants. Our early morning walks are very solitary these days.

Yogi has a highly-developed sense of smell, like most dogs, and he keeps his nose to the ground a lot of the time. He will also eat almost anything he finds, including bugs, bits of food left by who knows who, unidentifiable remnants of who knows what, and even used napkins. We had a nasty encounter with one of those one time. I won’t go into details, but when it came back up, I thought it was some sort of alien creature. Anyway, I try to keep my eye on him to discourage this sort of foraging. As a result, I have had the fortune (no pun intended) to find a total of $23.87 in coins and currency on our walks. Usually, it has just been nickels and dimes, but one day I picked up a $20 bill someone had dropped and yesterday, I retrieved a $1 bill in a grassy area next to the shops. My good luck has been somebody else’s loss and for that I feel sorry, but it seems unlikely that they will be coming back looking for their money, so it’s now mine.

One day, a few years back, I was in Winstead’s, a local hamburger joint. When I started to leave, I found two $20 bills on the floor in the entryway. Now, that’s a lot of money to lose and so I left my card with the cashier and said that if someone came back looking for their money, they could give me a call. I didn’t specify how much I had found. I figured that would be a way of checking whether the caller was legitimate. A few hours later, I got a call from a woman who said that she and her three kids had been at Winstead’s and that she thought that she had dropped two $20 bills somewhere in the restaurant or parking lot. They were on their way to see the kids’ grandfather who was in the hospital and had just stopped to have something to eat before visiting him. Well, the fact that she knew it was two $20s made her story seem true, so I gave her my address and she showed up later in a rather beat-up old car with the three kids in tow. I could tell that she needed the money more than I did, even if somehow she wasn’t really the one to dropped the bills.

I’ve been thinking that lost money might be a good hook for a short story or series of sketches about the people who leave behind nickels and dimes and dollar bills. Maybe I’ll give that a go one of these days. In the mean time, Yogi will keep his nose to ground and lead me to the riches that I know are out there.

Astronomical/theological questions for my religious friends

The recent announcement of the discovery of 219 new planets that have conditions favorable to support life got me to thinking: given that there are perhaps billions of habitable planets in the known universe (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drake_equation), the odds that there are civilizations as advanced as ours (setting aside the questions of whether our civilization is really advanced at all!) are pretty big.

My religious friends mostly believe that a “god” created the universe and everything in it. One would assume, therefore, that this god created, or at least set in motion, the events that have resulted in not only intelligence, but also sin, on some of those habitable planets. If, say,  planet X-45202b has an intelligent, but sinful species, did Jesus also die for the sins of that population on that planet? And if there are, say only 1,000 planets in the universe with intelligent/sinful species, did Jesus go from planet to planet being born and dying for their sins? What if there are a million planets that can support intelligent/sinful life? What if some of the planets that can support life haven’t gotten to the stage of intelligence/sinfulness? Will Jesus have to go there in the future and be born and die again and again and again?

Or was all of that just an Earth thing?

Comments/answers welcomed.

John McPhee Made Me Cry

and not in the way
that a movie about
a boy and his dog
who get lost in the forest
and then get separated
and the dog gets his leg
caught in a bear trap
and he has to chew it off
(his leg, not the trap)
but they are finally reunited
(like the way Barbra Streisand
and Robert Redford are
in “The Way We Were”)
and find their way
out of the forest
but the boy goes off to college
and forgets about the dog
who is last seen walking
into the forest once again
looking for his leg

Rock and Roll Music

My boyhood friend and later rock and roll band-mate, Dennis Willard, posted a blog awhile back ( http://dennywillard.blogspot.com/2012/02/smooth-jazz-in-seattle.html ) that traced his musical roots. That got me to thinking that this might be a good time in my life to do the same. So, herewith is my best recollection of how playing music was a big part of my life for a period.

Other than those ubiquitous elementary school recorders, the first instrument I picked up was a trombone I inherited from my Uncle Jack. He had played, briefly, in the high school band until he got his growth spurt and then, at just over 6’, he was recruited for the basketball team. In those days (late ‘50s), a six-footer was a highly valuable commodity on a high school team. In came the hoops, out went the toots. I got the trombone as I was entering the fifth grade and I remember very clearly not being given even the basic instruction on how to hold it. My grip, for the first week of practice, was such that every couple of minutes the bell would fall off the slide assembly. After several loud crashes that interrupted the proceedings, my band director finally showed me how to hold trombone to make sure there was a good solid connection between the two important pieces of the instrument.

Despite its dents, I played that trombone through elementary school, junior high and the first year of high school. I was accomplished enough on it to sit in “first chair” beginning my sophomore year. I managed to talk my mom into buying me a new horn that year, a shiny Olds “Special” that looked something like this.

Olds trombone
So, that horn saw me through concert band, jazz band, marching band and a non-school conglomeration called the Dixieland Group.

Early Dixieland GroupLeft to right: Johnny Cain, me, Linn Allen Weiss,Mark Pettiford, Mike Mulvaney and Ricky Cook

Mind you this was just before the Beatles took over the universe, so playing in a band like this was not looked on as being exceedingly nerdy. It was, of course, pretty nerdy, but at the time, folk music was ascendent so Dixieland was not too far removed. Besides, we had paying gigs! We appealed to the over-fifty age group and played lots of the summer picnics put on by the VFW, Lions, Elks, and assorted churches. Dixieland was “safe” music, so we were in demand.

Linn Allen graduated in 1964 and went off to the University of Missouri, so we lost our piano player and I switched to standup bass. Here’s a photo of our new configuration. Notice we graduated from suspenders to vests and spiffy bowler hats.

Later Dixieland GroupI was strictly dixieland until the dying gasp of my senior year in high school. Ok, by then we had all seen the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, along with the Stones, Herman’s Hermits, Chad and Jeremy, Petula Clark, the Supremes, the Four Tops, Jan and Dean, the Beach Boys and the Animals, but when the Approximate Thots took the stage at Monett High School talent contest in 1966, those other bands faded into the background, as did the Dixieland Group. Here’s what took their place:

Talent cropped

I wasn’t in the group that night, but knew that I wanted to be. They didn’t have a bass player, so I went out and bought an Airline bass from Montgomery Ward, something like this one.

Airline bass
That bass worked long enough to get me in the band but I realized pretty quickly that it wasn’t good enough for real rock and roll. After our first paying performance (probably at the Monett Casino; it was not really a casino, just a building in the city park that hosted weddings, family reunions and dances), I had enough money to get the local bank to loan me the money to buy a Fender Precision bass. Here’s a photo of the band (renamed The Water’s Edge) with me and my new bass.

Waters EdgeHere’s a better picture of the bass:

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 10.57.30 AM
That was a terrific instrument, but it was pretty heavy and one day, a couple of the band members and I were in a music store in Springfield, Missouri, where we were all going to college and I happened to see a Hofner bass like the one that Paul McCartney played. Now I wasn’t then, nor am I now, a fan of Paul’s but I did admire his bass, so I managed to trade the Fender for the Hofner.

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 10.59.49 AM

During the summer of ’67, the band underwent some personnel changes. We added a new drummer and guitarist, and lost a couple of the old members along the way. Once again, we changed our name to The Ultimate Purpose.


Here’s a photo of us in action.

Ultimate PurposeThe lineup was Steve Vermillion on organ, Dave Boger on rhythm and vocals, John “Breeze Blues” Mitchell on drums, me with my Hofner, and Dennis Willard on lead and vocals. That configuration lasted through the summer until Dave decided to go back to Arkansas. That left the heavy vocals to Dennis and occasional fill-in vocalists. Fred Gann, who had been in the original band, rejoined for a few performances.

Our repertoire through most of this time was made up of covers of the Lovin’ Spoonful, Rascals, Cryan’ Shames, Turtles, and Buckinghams numbers, but Dennis, Breeze, Fred and I had been to see The Who in St.Louis and decided we’d add a few loud songs to the mix. Things in Viet Nam were getting increasingly heated about this time and Steve got drafted. Rather than replace the organ parts, we tried out a few guitarists, but none of them really clicked. The band became a three-piece group modeled on Cream, Jimi Hendrix and The Who. We got my mom to make us costumes like the ones Hendrix and the Beatles were wearing: Nehru jackets in bright paisley, very psychedelic.

When we started doing the new music, I decided the Hofner didn’t project quite the right style. I was in a pawn shop in Springfield one day and came across a Fender Telecaster bass, something like this one:

Telecaster bass rotatedIn keeping with the psychedelic tenor of the times, I repainted the body of the bass white and spray-painted it in neon swirls. It was a terrific bass; heavy, wide-necked, groaning through those songs like Purple Haze, Sunshine of Your Love, I Can See for Miles, and Manic Depression. During a few performances, we even “destroyed” our instruments, a la The Who. Sadly, our good times came to an end. Viet Nam and the draft were breathing down our necks. Dennis decided that joining the Navy was the prudent thing to do and I made a brief foray into draft doggerdom, going to Canada for a bit, but that’s another story entirely.

Since those heady days of rock and roll, I’ve only been an attentive and appreciative listener. No trombones or bass guitars around my house, but I do have tons of CD, tapes, original vinyl and a good Internet connection to keep music pulsing through the house. Every now and then, I even turn my stereo up to 11.


the lottery reached
$184 million today
no one chose
the true six numbers
not even the computer I asked
to make those decisions for me

still, I’ll buy a ticket
again next time
the one that promises
houses in Taos and Spain
wine from France
a beach near Hilo
fast yellow cars
and watches I’ll never
consult because
my personal assistant
will always know the time


I’ve been painting a lot over the last four weeks, getting ready for a show in August. Most people think that an artist picks up a brush, dips it into paint and a picture magically appears. Oh that it were so!

If you paint on canvas, that might come fairly close to the reality (though stretching, sizing, and priming might take a few days unless one buys canvas pre-mounted and primed; and of course, this says nothing about the thought process that goes into deciding what to paint, which sometimes takes years), but in my case the process is a bit more involved.

I paint on hardboard that I buy from Home Depot. Nothing fancy. It has a nice smooth surface and works well for my highly-textured images. When I get the 2′ x 4′ sheets home, I have to decide what size paintings I’m going to do. I usually cut the larger sheets into smaller sizes, glue blocks for hanging on the back, prime the pieces with latex, apply drywall mesh and joint compound to create texture, shape the compound, and when that is dry, apply a couple of coats of gesso. Then, I’m ready to paint.

I paint with acrylic using a brush and wet rags. While the first several steps take three or four days, I can usually complete a painting in about one to two hours, depending upon the size. I paint quickly, but a painting doesn’t happen quickly. As I said before, the thought process takes much longer. I am not a realist painter, by any stretch of the imagination. If you see something in my painting that you recognize, it is something that you have created in your mind, not something that I intended for you to see. My technique is very much “stream-of-consciousness,” perhaps even Surrealist, and the inspiration for a painting may come from a poem, piece of music, book I’ve been reading, a TV advertisement, a dream, something that someone says in passing…

Right now, I’m working from the inspiration of the poetry of Octavio Paz, the great Mexican poet, diplomat, teacher, Nobel Laureate. Seven years ago, I started a series based on the stanzas of the poem “Salamander.” So far, I’ve completed twelve of the twenty pieces and hope to finish the rest in the next couple of years. I’ve also done paintings based on about a dozen other poems by Paz.

One of these days, another inspiration will arise and I might be doing paintings based on “Gilligan’s Island” or “The Andy Griffith Show.” Now, that will truly be Surreal.


Here’s a look at the process I use and a few new paintings.

Panels with blocks applied

Panel with hanging blocks applied


Panel being primed. Yes, I use house paint.



Primed panelsA couple of panels primed.

MeshNext, I apply drywall mesh to provide a surface for the joint compound to grab on to.

Panel with compound shapedA panel with joint compound applied and shaped.

Panel ready for paintA panel that has been gessoed.

Tools of the tradeTools of my trade.

Yellow clawA finished piece. This one is called “Salamander 4 – Yellow claw”

Solar arrowAnother finished piece. “Salamander 15 – Solar Arrow”

Red word of beginning“Salamander 19 – Red word of beginning”



Concierge Patienting

I got a letter from my doctor a while back letting me know that he was changing his practice type (he’s becoming a concierge doctor, in effect) and beginning in May, I would have the opportunity to become part of his “smaller, more personal” practice… for a small monthly fee. He promises to see fewer patients, be on time, spend more time with each of his patients, and provide on-demand service, 24/7 as they say. And because he’ll have a smaller case-load, he’ll be able to stay up-to-date with the latest medical information and techniques.

This news was disappointing because I’ve really come to like my doctor. He’s about my age, so he’s got some experience and I’ve never felt that he was rushing my appointments. I always trusted that he was staying current with his medical know-how and lord knows I’ve gotten lots of tests over the years. The only difference I can see in the change in his practice is that it will cost me more out-of-pocket (“For about the cost of your monthly cable bill. Isn’t your health worth it?” That’s the way it’s advertised. Well, to tell you the truth, I’m not that happy with my cable service.)

I’ve decided not to continue with my current doctor, but here’s what I’ll be proposing to the new one, when I find him or her: I’m going to become your “concierge patient.” For a small monthly fee (I haven’t decided how much yet, but it will probably be about the cost of your monthly car payment, if your car is a Mercedes S550), I will be available for medical issues 24/7. If I’m ill at 3:00 a.m., I’ll be happy to let you come to my house to diagnose my problem. If I need tests or referral to a specialist, I’ll split the cost with you, over and above what Medicare pays. I promise to be on time to my appointments (or no more than an hour late) and spend as much time with you as you think appropriate, even if it takes all afternoon to figure out why I have a pain in my elbow/knee/big toe. I’ll gladly let you take your free time in the evening to keep up with your reading (except when I need you to come to my house at 3:00 a.m., of course) and even bid you “bon voyage” when you go on vacation, except that I expect you to come right back from Spain, Greece or the Caymans if I’m sick.

If you agree to these terms (and why wouldn’t you; I’ll be a great patient), please sign and date below and expect a call at say… 3:00 a.m.