The Ticket Office

GDticket officeThis is not a big one. But it’s kind of funny.

Four weeks ago I sent off my set of envelopes, 3×5 cards enclosed, ticket requests numbered on the outside of the envelope, multiple postal money orders (no others accepted) enclosed within to the Grateful Dead Ticket Office in Stinson Beach. I wasn’t alone. That morning in Sebastopol four other people were doing the exact same thing in the few minutes I was there. The lines at the Chicago post offices stretched out the door.

And that was just the beginning. Within a few days, 350,000 ticket requests were received in the tiny Stinson Beach post office (which in a typical day might receive a couple thousand letters). The total number of tickets available for the three 4th of July shows is probably around 180,000.

Articles about the one person (Yes. One person.) GD ticket office appeared in the Wall Street Journal and SF Gate.

In the course of two to three days, nearly $70 million dollars in cash flooded into that PO Box. Needless to say, I and my pack of friends received nada. Online presales were cancelled as they struggled to figure out how to accommodate more people. And the package tickets going on sale later in the month are creeping up in price.

That’s cool. It tickles to be part of the zeitgeist. It was nice to have one last opportunity to tuck a 3×5 card and a prayer into an envelope and hope for the best. And just the thought of a Wonka ticket was enough (I still remember when our tickets to the 1991 New Year’s shows, all beautiful in their large purple sparkly glory, arrived in the mail).

And now comes the looming fore and aftermath.

Are you going for the Sunshine Daydream Hotel Package ($2200) or Steal Your Face ($4600)? Renaissance Hotel or the Hyatt? I actually don’t mind the prices – the Stones were running a lot more – and at this stage there’s little room to complain about staying in a fancy hotel. I’m sure Mickey Hart isn’t sleeping in a van. Besides, a lot of the boomers are in the process of cashing in what remains of their 401(k)s. And lastly, it’s not like we’re actually going to see the Dead. If we do see actually get into Soldier’s Field, what we will hopefully kind of get is the memory of the Dead and a last hurrah before an ever growing number of us actually become Dead.

Which kind of makes the comments on the ticket site a little funny.  Folks are talking as if they’ll just mosey onto Ticketmaster sometime on the morning of February 27th, submit their orders and call it a day.

Let’s just say, that probably won’t happen.  Picture several hundred thousand (perhaps over a million) individuals (and lets not even count the bots) trying to simultaneously score one of 50,000 $59 seats.

I can’t see it.

And the bottom rack hotel package deals ($1600)?  Count those as already gone.  And the $6000 VIP packages that come with catered food and a private tent?  Let’s just say that there’s a lot of money being minted in the Bay Area right now.  For enough folks it’s chump change.  Just count the Teslas while you’re driving around shopping  for an affordable apartment.

The best comments are from the folks exuberantly announcing they’re not even going to mess with hotels.  They’re camping.

Yep.  And I understand it.  Whenever I get the urge to pitch a tent and rough it for a few days, I ponder for a few moments and then think, “Hey!  How ’bout downtown Chicago!”

I know, I know.  There’s the parking lot.  But if anyone has a moment, take a look at the footprint.  And then note the 8 story parking garage adjacent.  Yeah.  That’s where the bulk of the people park at Soldier’s Field.

Which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t all head to Chicago.  The Field Museum has a lot to offer.  Chicago dogs by the dozen.  The fireworks over the lake will be spectacular.  The parking lot scene will always be the parking lot.

And we’re doing it not for just a spot of music. We’re doing it because we loved them. And we loved what they came to mean for us.  And because a half million of tie dye strong, young and old, freaks every one, will be wandering the Loop marveling over how wild the Trip really has been.

Je Suis

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Three hostage takers and at least sixteen victims dead. A young woman still in hiding. Carnage mounts.

Around the world we see the placards “Je Suis Charlie”.

And also another viral message: “Je suis Ahmed” honoring Ahmed Merabet, the Muslim police officer gunned down while standing guard at the Charlie Hegbo offices.

Consider it a first step in honoring the larger community of victims in this week’s tragedy. But do these events demand an even more encompassing empathy?

The two initial perpetrators Cherif and Said Kouachi have been described as radical islamists. And yet clerics have also come out against the two assassins, condemning their acts as contrary to Islam.

In the case of the Kouachi brothers, another fact stands out.

Abandoned by their parents at an early age, they grew up as orphans in foster care.

And as with so many orphaned children, it may not be so much that they hated, but that they never learned to love.

Foster children and those raised without parents often exhibit a complex set of behaviors. They harbor distrust and disassociation from a world that has abandoned them. With little connection to a larger community, they are sometimes drawn toward criminal activity and the margins of society. The most severely orphaned lack emotional connection and empathy. In the case of the Kouachi’s adrift on the boundaries of Parisian society, they grew into petty criminals and became the perfect target for jihadists. The abandoned are often left to replicate the wound which may never be healed. Wanting for a higher purpose, they only needed to be activated.

Victims often beget other victims.

Extremism may be a crisis of the heart. In this way perhaps Descarte derailed us. It may not be so accurate to say “Je pense, donc je suis” – I think, therefore I am. More fitting, perhaps, “I feel, therefore I am.”

It’s easy to categorize some men as monsters. But to what extent are we all complicit even in the smallest way in creating the conditions that breed horror? And when will we be ready to assume the even greater burden? Not just of “Je suis” – I am – but of “Nous Sommes”.

We are.

he drew first

Game 4

A week ago we hunkered down in a standing room crowd in the Public House, the bar holding up the bleachers just behind home plate at AT&T Park.  The Giants were still battling it out with the Kansas City Royals and at that moment the Royals had just scored 4 runs at the top of the third inning.  The crowd had grown somber and quiet, folks clenching glasses of beer as we watched the wall to wall screens.

It’s not like I’ve ever followed baseball.  I shouldn’t have cared less, except for there was one person who cared a whole awful lot.

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Howie Usher

Howie Usher, our friend river guide, had suffered a stroke two years earlier.  He was defined by the river – he’s probably been down the Colorado and in the Grand Canyon over a hundred times in the last thirty years.  And he was defined by the San Francisco Giants.  Despite having grown up in Southern California, he’s been a religious Giants fan for close to fifty years.  He suffered through the 56 year drought when the Giants had gone without winning the championship. He reveled in 2010 when they at last won the World Series.  And he sat at home post-stroke, his left side mostly frozen when they won again in 2012.

At that time, he told everyone that he was going to get back on the river, not just get back on, but actually row, taking trips down through those daunting rapids.  It was not a likely prospect.  That kind of work is mostly for younger men and requires both parts of your body to be working at full capacity.

But for two years he counted and arranged stacks of pennies for hours to build his fine motor skills.  He swam  to rebuild his mobility.  His friends took him out on a boat on a lake so his muscles could relearn how to row again.  Mazie returned his lucky penny to him because it seemed that he needed it most.  He took long hikes every Monday to rebuild his stamina.

At the end of this summer, a small envelope arrived postmarked from Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  It came from Howie and the envelope contained his lucky penny.  Earlier that summer he had rowed on two trips and once more had guided his boat through Lava.

A few days later, Howie emerged from the Canyon and on the long drive up from Diamond Creek to Seligman and on to Flag, he was able to hear fragments of the epic post-season game between the Giants and the Nationals.  He listened inning after inning all the way home to Clarkdale and walked in the door just in time to see Brandon Belt score the winning run in the 18 inning game, the longest in post season history.

And on this night of Game 4 in San Francisco, Howie had a chance to watch his first World Series game in AT&T Park.  He and his friend sat up high, just to the left of home plate, and cheered as the Giants crawled back from the third inning, scoring run by run by run until they upset the apple cart with an 11-4 lead.

In Game 5, Madison Bumgarner pitched a 5-0 shutout.  A few nights later the Giants were trounced in Kansas City.  And in the final moment of Game 7, Pablo Sandoval caught the foul ball at the bottom of the ninth and the Giants brought it home in a nail biter.

As Howie is always wont to remind: beware of calling the game too early.  The World Series is nine innings in each of seven games.  You can be way down and there’s always up.  There will always be a lot more baseball yet to play.

And one more equivalency for the river guide.   If it’s true that you’re always above Lava, then it’s converse must be equally true:  you’re forever below it as well.

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Disconnected

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All I had to do was one thing, the right thing, and this post may not exist. But instead something else is gone. And in it’s place we have this.

Last night my friend Johnny Meyering took his life.  Before he did so, he changed his Facebook profile picture to an image of the ocean and a warm beach.  A line of footprints traces the line of the surf.  I would like to think that he wanted to find peace.  And that he cared enough that he wanted people to know that.

Twelve of his friends liked the picture.  Two posted comments. One said, “Beautiful!”  The other asked if he was alright.

The problem is that he’s no longer there to receive it.  The line is now disconnected.  And no one will be there ever again to pick up.

Every thing in Johnny’s life up until last night could have possibly been fixed. And for some reason he couldn’t see that. And so he did the one thing that in fact could not be taken back.

This morning I looked at his Facebook page, that strange 21st century totem that is all about memory and memorial.

I wanted to Message him to tell him to please stop, to please not do it.

I wanted to Poke him to let him know, hey, someone is out there and cares.

I want to Post on his Wall and tell him to come up and stay with us for a while. I know some kids who are struggling to stay in school.  If you just go and sit with them for a little while and help them a little bit with their writing and math, you will immeasurably change the world.  And you alone can do it.

But he’s no longer there to receive any of it.

I look at his Friends.  I see faces from Seattle and from Japan and San Diego and Chicago. I know a few, but by no means all.  But the person who is friends with every one of those people?  The one person who bound all those people together into a circle of friends has made himself gone.

I look at his Likes.  The movie Gerry, and the movie Samsara, Jazz, and The New Yorker.  The Wire, Raymond Chandler, David Sedaris, Art Spiegelman, Taberna 1931, The Bill Evans Trio, Langston Hughes, Paolo Coelho, Huruki Murukami, The Urban Land Army.  And more.

This is the filagree that composes a person.  There is no one in the world who liked exactly the same things as Johnny.  And there never will be.

When the person becomes gone, the Likes and the Friends lose their life as well.  The thing that gave rise to the Likes and the Friends has gone away and in turn they have become a dry and intractable husk.

I remember decades ago a crazy Thanksgiving dinner we held in a small walkup apartment in Golden Hills in San Diego.  Anna and I weren’t married yet and a good handful of Meyerings were there and Johnny was too.  Anna’s high school English teacher came and left and got a DUI.  All the rest of us probably could have been in the same boat.  And Johnny was there, he had been studying Japanese.  He was looking youthful and handsome – he always, for as long as I knew him, looked youthful and handsome.  And his manner was funny and dry and he was as gentle and brilliant a person as I’ve ever known.

And that’s the weird part.  Even now, on this Memorial Day morning, I can feel him.  Which is to say that he had a feeling, a presence that was unique unto him.  No one else in this world ever has, nor ever will, feel like Johnny Meyering.  The feeling was so special.  And so precious.  And such a great gift to the world.

But we never recognize it in ourselves.  And we fail to understand that it will actually matter when it’s gone.

It’s so wrong.  And now nothing will ever bring him back.

That’s what I would tell him.

 

 

On being right

ImageThe strange thing about the South African revolution, I explain to my daughter this morning, was that it didn’t just occur in South Africa. Millions of people around the world, many of whom will never in their lives see Pretoria were part of the fall of apartheid. Who in the world of our generation was in some small way not part of Mandela?

Or so we like to believe.

I was part of the college class who, during our junior and senior year, saw the mushrooming of shanty towns in university plazas in 1986 and 1987.

I remember one particular moment (which my friend Patrick insists is apocryphal) in which a parade of students demanding that the university divest from South Africa, followed the tweedy university dean on his walk home. In loud unison they chanted, “You can’t run, you can’t hide! You’re responsible for genocide!”

Which in hindsight presents some interesting ironies. The dean was actually a super decent guy. A white man from the Northeast, as a young college student he had actively participated in the civil rights movement. His moral compass was dead on. He, like most people it seems, was trying to find his way through a difficult situation.

Beneath the long light of history, it turns out that we all may have been on the same side – students and university administrators, imprisoned ANC leaders and white Afrikaners . The time of apartheid was coming to an end. It was crumbling under the weight of it’s own injustice. And everyone was trying to find their way out of it given the cultural context in which they existed.

As the students erected wooden shacks, unbeknownst to them, the ANC and even Mandela himself was in secret negotiation with the Afrikaner National Party. As described in the wonderful New Yorker article, the Secret Revolution, his captors even escorted him out of prison on field trips so he could become reacquainted with South African society. Afrikaaner and ANC leaders went on covert outdoor retreats to become familiar with one another and lay a human foundation for the change that they all knew was to become.

As college students we understood the story. But we didn’t understand the whole story.

And on the other side, Fareed Zakaria, the head of the Yale Political Union (and now media pundit) consistently dismissed the protests. We have abandoned the politics of debate, he said repeatedly, for the politics of dance. He scoffed at the theatre of mock shanty towns and the riot of chants. Singing songs cannot replace informed debate, he argued.

He was right, of course. But not absolutely right.

The divestment movement, the protests, the refusal of the Oakland longshoremen to unload cargo ships arriving from South Africa, and yes, the anthology of songs and the dance – all contributed to the fall of apartheid.

If you are not included in the conversation, then you are forced to change the conversation. And if the very nature and arena for discourse excludes you, then you must change the arena. Government exercises power through courts and laws enshrined in civil and economic institutions, and racism and injustice can become encoded in those very laws and institutions. The conversation of the disenfranchised by definition must occur outside those civic channels. When you are frozen out of the conversation in the legislative chambers, then the conversation will continue outside in the language of the streets.

Listening to the news coverage of Mandela’s life, I’m struck by the volume of songs that were written about him. And its safe to say that change founded in joyful song stands a better chance than that founded in shouts of rage. In hindsight, it turns out the songs and the cascading melodies were part of the informed debate. People rallied to and around those songs. And thoose throngs placed unbearable moral pressure on those in power.

And lastly a story that is almost certainly apocryphal. After he was released from prison, Mandela had his study remodeled to the dimensions of his prison cell. He had lived there for decades and he apparently knew how to function in that environment. And ironically, outside of prison as he entered his elder years, he felt a loneliness that he perhaps had evaded in prison. Once you come to incarceration you learn that there’s only one true release.  And a few nights ago it was granted to him.

The Ache

Gallery

This gallery contains 3 photos.

Benjamin Mermelstein had married Dora Mirowski. The Mirowski’s left their village of Bedzin in Poland near about 1880. There were at least a handful of Mirowskis who stayed behind. In 1939, many of them were photographed, their names inventoried and … Continue reading

Trochenbrod

trochenbrod 2In translation it means dry bread.

In the late summer of 1942, the Jewish ghetto was liquidated and the entire Jewish population of 3000 was murdered. Afterwards the village was set on fire. Less than 40 individuals survived.

Never in time will this place ever exist again.