Tuesday, October 13, 2009

In Pesaro, Italy.....

This is out of order, but....Im trying to post whatever I can. This is from late August/Early September.

Charlie Yelverton, one of the best players to ever emerge from the legendary New York City street basketball scene of the ‘late 60s and early ’70s, a gleaming star in a select galaxy, was hanging around the bench as the Portland Trail Blazers got ready to face the Phoenix Suns on their home court.
Charlie was 25, a former high school All-American, and leader of the city Catholic school championship team at Ignatius Edmund Rice. At Fordham University, he had been All-American, all-everything, and in his senior year, had led the team to victory over the feared Austin Carr and the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. (Carr had just scorched UCLA—the nation’s number one team at that time—for 61 points and that team’s only loss that year.)
He was selected early in the 1970 draft and was looking forward to a long pro basketball career. A jazz aficionado, Charlie bought his saxophone with a new hundred-dollar bill wrapped around a little glob of hashish, from former Power Memorial High School center Lew Alcindor—the man who would become Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It was that kind of life.
The Trailblazers began their warm-ups, slowly, maybe halfheartedly.
They had no real stars and no real hope. It was a mid-season game, and their season had already fizzled fast. Sure, they gave the LA Lakers a scare at the Forum in Inglewood, but the Lakers were on their way to a world championship that year. The Trailblazers, metaphorically speaking, were stopping for milk and Ding-Dongs© on their way home on a rainy night, with the team bus’ failing alternator sporadically dimming the headlights, and the cheap radio sifting through the airwaves searching for a signal.
At Portland, Willie McCarter had been cut from the team a few days before, and maybe he deserved it, but the black players on the team were having none of it, though they couldn’t really agree on what kind of action to take. Charlie left a black players’ meeting that afternoon in frustration.
This was 1972, and thousands of young American men—boys, really—were dying in a crappy little strip of sweltering rice paddy called Viet Nam, a place few had ever heard of, and none could locate on a map with two hands. The protest at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics by John Carlos and Tommy Smith was still a fresh wound to the American sports establishment’s psyche.
Charlie wasn’t high that night in Portland, though he’d tripped on mescaline the day before. During warmups, instead of joining the two-man shooting drills, he wandered over near the center court line, sat down and assumed a yoga position. Center Dale Schleuter, a man who had no business playing in the National Basketball Association, jumped on his case from go.
“Charlie, come on, man. What are you doing? Let’s go....get your partner, shooting drills, come on!” Idiotic shit like that. You could expect that kind of behavior from a suck-up like Dale.
“I don’t have a partner,” Charlie said. McCarter had been his drill partner.
Charlie went back to the bench and waited for the game to start. He was looking forward to a little more game action that he’d been getting recently, anyway.
The National Anthem began. The players rose. The audience rose. Charlie stood, and then he just sat back down.
Most of the audience couldn’t really see him sitting down there at the end of that long bench. All across the nation, a lot of Americans in Charlie’s demographic were sitting down for the Anthem. For many of them, it would be quite a number of years before they would stand again. But not in the NBA.
Few players actually noticed what Charlie had done. But right around “And the rocket’s red glare...,” some fans noticed Charlie sitting down. Just sitting there.
And they started to boo. They booed until the song was over. Charlie didn’t really react.
When the coach put him in in the second quarter, the boo-birds started up again. Charlie took a pass just to the right of the key, feigned left, went right, drove past his man like back in high school, double-clutched, and banked in a shot so sweet it would make you and your stupid friends cry, and the fans roared.
Typically fickle motherfuckers, Charlie thought.
The next day his story was in the Portland Oregonian. The Blazers cut him like Willie a few days later.

In 1982, Teresa Fiorentini, an intense young blonde medical student, was in her last year at Bologna University, studying medicine. Charlie, now a former player for the famed Italian Varése team, was in Bologna working a youth basketball camp, and playing jazz here and there.
Teresa and her friend Leonora, an ancient lit major, would cruise the streets of Bologna, dressed in black, dark and cool and mysterious, but that was a liter of milk under Teresa’s arm.
One night, they stood off to themselves, waiting for a table to open up at a jammed local club. John Fultz, a Bologna basketball player, and his buddy Mark, a fellow free spirit with a flowing ponytail, waved them over. They had a bottle of tequila, nowhere to go, and all night to get there. At some point during the long night, John said, “You should meet my friend Charlie.”
Charlie and Teresa met a few summers later, and became fast friends. For the next four years, they would meet whenever Charlie came south for camp. They traveled some, they stayed in some, they met each other’s friends, and the years went by.
Charlie married, had two kids—a boy and a girl—got a divorce and began a life of jazz and basketball—teaching and coaching during the day, and playing his saxophone on the weekends. Teresa moved to New York City, got a punk rock haircut, and took a job at New York Hospital in the department of Internal Medicine. From there she moved to England, to Exeter near London, where she met her husband and eventually became a doctor for Her Majesty’s Prison Service.
One day three years ago, Lorenzo, a friend of Teresa’s, mentioned that he had seen Charlie again, up north in Varese. Back then, Teresa was still living with her husband Clive in England, but by this year, she had bought a hilltop villa in her home town of Pesaro, and was moving back to Italy.
Charlie called Teresa’s sister at her home in Pesaro last fall. Maybe that was safer. Teresa’s sister called her in Exeter. Teresa called Charlie in April.
Fall became winter and winter became spring and spring became summer. Charlie was headed south for something called “Jazz Basket” in Umbria in July.
Teresa would move into her new house in August.
Francesco, the bass player in Caris’ band, called Caris.
“I’m playing a jam session at the Jazz Hotel on Tuesday. Come see the show. We’re playing with some guy who played with the Harlem Globetrotters.”
We motored down the hill to the Jazz Hotel—yes, it’s really called that—and there was Charlie on sax, with a bunch of young Italian jazz guys.
Three hours later, Charley, Caris and I were negotiating the long flights of stairs up to the center of the hilltop medieval town of Perugia, where the yearly Umbria Jazz Festival was in full swing.
We sat in a friend’s restaurant and Charlie was gregarious, open and ebullient, sharing tales of his short life in the NBA, as though we were longtime friends
“Walt Frazier (’70s icon of cool) was gay,” he said. A lot of the guys were.” We laughed in shock. (Later, Caris showed me Frazier’s book, “Rockin’ Steady: A Guide to Cool” or something like that. I mean, if the guy’s gay, no problem, but I seem to recall that there was a section in the book about getting with the ladies, if you know what I mean. Even today, Frazier does commercials for a men’s hair coloring product, the message of which is “This will get you the ladies, fellas.”)
Much later that night, we drove Charlie back to his hotel.
“This was great. Man, I wish I had a doobie for you guys!” That’s OK, Charlie.
Some two weeks later, Charlie was on the phone. He was coming south to play a fundraiser at a friend’s place in Pesaro. Could we all get together and play there?
Charlie came to Caris’ place, and we rehearsed two or three times. Sort of.
We followed E45 north and turned east on S243 to Pesaro, a small coastal town between Rimini to the north and Ancona to the south, directly across the Adriatic Sea from Slovenia and Croatia.
Teresa met us at the station in her red Alfa-Romeo Spider convertible, and we followed her and Charlie on the long climb up Santa Marina Alta to the top of the “Panoramica,” high above the port of Pesaro.
Sunday evening, the night after the party, Caris, Teresa and I were walking back home from dinner and Teresa mentioned how nervous she was about living alone in the villa. There were two empty and separate apartments on the property...and....
Caris drove back home to Collemincio on Tuesday. A few days after that, Teresa and I were planning meetings for a book about her life in medicine.
And that, gentle readers, is how I came to be sitting here in Pesaro, behind the walled gates of a beautiful villa with fruit trees and five rescued cats.
I’ll be in Spain for a while this fall. I may be in England. But Pesaro, Italy is home this morning.

Rhone Valley

Scenery so beautiful you have to pee. Or something. Let's get you guys caught up a little bit.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

How it is

EVerything is out of order, since my internet availability is limited. I have more entries ready to post, and more videos as well. but they are subject to finding a place with an Internet signal somewhere in the hill towns of Central Italy. Where is a McDonald's when you need one?

This then, is the daily pattern that life in Collemincio has become, by convenience and by necessity. Isolated in the hills, without convenient communication (Caris is leashed to the world by his mobile phone), I only recently discovered a friendly and comfortable cafe to bring forth the sacred Internet.
So, each day, Caris and I both seem to emerge from sleep in the same post-noon hour. (I could be kidding myself, though. As I make toast and heat water in the electric kettle, he makes his appearance. Fully awake and dressed, he says, “Good morning,” and we accept my foolish conceit.)
Arise, awaken, shoo flies from the dining table, eat, shower in less than a blink. dress and load the car for the 30-minute drive down through the hilly countryside to Assisi. Green hills dotted with olive trees move slowly past us as the narrow road unwinds.
I’ll sit in the Internet cafe. Caris will strum his guitar and sing in the Piazza Santa Chiara.
After 17 years, beautiful Assisi now seems tiresome to Caris, like a faded lover. I have no interest in history, he explained to me one night as he pointed his blue BMW sedan to the top of the mountain back home. But its history that bade him here: St. Francis, a catholic saint who attracted the non-catholic.
And that’s quite another story, with no great arc, so let’s move forward.
I park myself at the terrace cafe in Piazza San Ruffino in mid-afternoon, as the west coast of America is just waking. My sturdy Macbook will give me two, maybe three hours, of battery time (There are few outlets here. This isn’t Starbucks.), but the growing list of things to accomplish each day stands tall as I whittle away at it; a conversation there, an e-mail here, an assignment there.
From my perch overlooking the plaza, my back against the stone wall of the cafe, I wave away the endless cigarette smoke and watch a stream of tourists huddle and take countless photographs in the Piazza San Ruffino, a basilica of simple design two sloping stone paths up from the Piazza Santa Chiara (St. Claire) where visitors and locals gather each evening to watch the sun descend somewhere in the vicinity of Rome. Some of St. Francis’ remains were buried in the church there where the body of St. Claire still remains on view. His remains were later moved to the “new” cathedral in town, around the corner from McDonald’s
Caris opens his guitar case, displaying his CDs for sale, He strums a G, then maybe a version of C, an E minor, a D, and songs emerge, a stream of them, as he plays a repeating chord pattern. Not whole songs necessarily, or very often. Just whatever lyrics, melody or couplets come to mind. Not thematic, just stream of consciousness. Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” begets “Homeward Bound” begets “Who’ll Stop the Rain” begets “Slip Sliding Away,” and you now have the idea. What holds the tunes together is his strong voice and a simple subtle passion for making music.
These days 30-ish women approach him and tell him they remember him singing there when they were little girls. That can’t be good.
This week there’s been talk of a new album, new songs, all of that attendant energy. That can’t be bad.
(Reading this, Caris offers, “I’ll marry the first one of your female readers who brings me toll house cookies.” I’m left wondering what second prize is. www.myspace.com/carisarkin. You’re on your own.)
Sitting in my conning tower at the terrace cafe, I’m surrounded by smokers, talkers and tourists. German tourists going on and on and on and on in their dark, guttural language, the English with their maps and tour books, and Italians with their cigarettes.
As darkness falls, the piazzas, both large and small, take on a new energy. Families stroll and young boys on bicycles sweep across the piazza always thisclose to an accident, but never colliding with anyone or anything. Bars (we call them restaurants) sell gelato (ice cream) as fast as they can scoop it Franciscan monks walk away, in full habit, happily holding cups of gelato, chatting up friends and tourists. We’ll get to them in a minute.
The tiniest cars I’ve ever seen whiz up and down the narrow medieval streets. Much of the medieval part of Assisi was severely damaged in the earthquake of 1997, and has been rebuilt to much of the original design and specifications. As in most European plazas, buildings are lit upward, highlighting their dramatic stance, something American landscapers and builders never seemed to get the hang of.
Tourist shops sell the usual postcards, cheap Franciscan monk bobblehead dolls, and full suits of armor. How does anyone get those things through airport security?
I need to stop here for now.
Next time, what is the deal with those monks, anyway? Plus, more video, Charlie Yelverton, and busking in gas station.s

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Da Capo...

So....lets get updated-ish here. I have not had any Internet for quite a few days, so, let's do this: This is the first actual video from my trip to France, and it covers the first day--LA to Paris and on to Lyon. I'll post more videos and stories soon enough. There are quite a number of them yet.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Adventures in Vaughantown

This is the first in a series of videos from my week in Vaughtown, Salamanca, Spain. Two of my cameras have broken on this trip, an Im using my macbook as my video camera. Anyway, this is the first--singing at the first evening of entertainment for the Spanish students. To skip a long explanation, visit www.vaughantown.com

As you know, I've been traveling for the last month, and I have a LOT of things to update here; lots of stories to finish, new stories to tell you, and lots of new videos to show you. I'll be parked in Italy for a month, and I'll start updating again, as soon as I can.( I'm not sure if Italy is aware of the Internets. We shall see.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Actually Singing...

My friend Jimmy Semple, from Glasgow, and I, the other night, at the Hilton in Huntington Beach. Actually, I think I mentioned him here once before, in a blog entry called, "No Sleep Till Sherbrooke." Anyway, it's ragged, but hey, it's been four years.

I realized that after writing so much about singing and playing, blah blah blah, I had not done something like this here in a while. So enjoy, I hope, maybe....

(Psst! Im going to Europe in July. Watch this space, he said again......)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Lost Video!

I "found" this video somewhere on a gallery far far away. I think it's a video I made last fall after returning from my first trip to Madrid last July. I thought it was lost forever when my hard drive crashed in October of 2008. Apparently, it lives! I won't bore you with the technical explanation of how it was resurrected. I will simply say, "Did you ever see this?"

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The LA Marathon...

There we were. 8 a.m. Waking up the entire neighborhood on a cloudy Monday morning.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Something Completely Different......

It's a cooking contest, guys! Quick! Go vote!


Monday, April 20, 2009

Take me out to the You-Know-What

This is a little sportswriter-ish. Sorry:

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA—It’s my favorite spot in the city. The downtown skyline looms over my shoulder and the upper level entrance to Dodger Stadium beckons. It’s a view I never tire of. It’s a Friday evening in the Dodger’s first home stand against the Colorado Rockies. Riding a five-game home streak, the Dodgers’ new season evokes memories of games permanently affixed in the hearts of fans. You know them all, and I won’t replay them here for you.

But entering the field as Colorado takes its batting practice, I spot one-time megastar turned TV color analyst Fernando Valenzuela, leaning against a dugout railing. I reminded him of our first interview, way back in the 1981 season, his second with the team, in the year the Dodgers won the World Series. He spoke no English. I spoke no Spanish. It went about as well as you can imagine.

After I stumbled through a “no speak English” interview with his parents in a tiny village in Sonora, Mexico, the story, for Newsweek’s Inside Sports, appeared on newstands all over America, with no inkling that I was linguistically challlenged. As I laughingly reminded him of the story—in the same dugout where I’d stammered through that interview—He looked up at me, and asked dryly, “And what’s your point?” Gee, he speaks English so well now. Cue the embarassing music. But I digress.

Every Dodger visit is like walking through a living scrapbook. There’s former manager Tommy Lasorda (two world championships, four National League titles, and eight division banners) cutting up with friends in a hallway. Dodger legend Don Newcombe chats with players near the batting cage. Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully passes me in the hallway, nods hello. (I once stood next to him in the press box restroom. That was surreal.) Former players hang out in the press dining room. It’s a baseball fan’s little nirvana.

The Dodger press dining room, I recall, used to be filled with overweight sportswriters, since food is served non-stop throughout the game, but not so much anymore. Tonight the most popular item is the salad. Who knew? (No, the press doesn’t eat for free. Dinner is $9, up from $7 last year.)

Nirvana aside, the Dodgers, led by manager Joe Torres, are out to expand upon last year, when they finally managed to win a game they had to win, the first in more than twenty years. They swept the Chicago Cubs in three games, then were treated like punks by the eventual world champion Philadelphia Phillies, who thumped them four games to one.

The 2008 Dodgers had two new faces who instantly made an impact on the team’s fortunes—stellar manager Joe Torre, he of the hated New York Yankees, and slugger Manny Ramirez, he of the dreadlocks and the deadly bat. Torre took the Dodgers to their first playoff appearance in eons, his thirteenth in a row. Manny was, well, Manny. In two months, he led baseball with a .396 batting average, and a .489 on-base percentage, along with a .743 slugging percentage. He hit four home runs in his first six days, the first Dodger to ever do so. He and newly acquired Casey Blake banged out 27 homers in the last five weeks of the season, and the Dodgers are reasonably expecting more of the same in 2009.

Visiting the 45 year-old Dodger Stadium for the first time in a couple of seasons, the physical improvements, begun in 2007, are readily apparent. The field level concourse was renovated following the 2007 season, as the Dodgers revamped the field level concourse, increasing the number of concession stands and restrooms, and adding two Baseline Clubs for baseline season ticket holders.

This year the Dodgers will also stage fireworks (that I can see from my house) after every Friday night home game. (That makes 14 of them through September. FYI, that Dodger Trolley Friday night shuttle service that was so popular last year, providing a slow but convenient ride from Union Station to the Stadium, is no more. It was supported by LA and the MTA last year without participation from the Dodgers. who have once again opted not to pay for it. Write your councilman.)

On to the game itself: LA’s five-game hot streak is in trouble immediately after a first inning two-run shot by Colorado’s Brad Hawpe puts them ahead. All is silent upstairs in the Dodger press box, but not because the Dodger are losing. Cheering, or any favoritism, is not allowed, and can get you removed.

In the bottom of the seventh, the Dodgers got four runs in the bottom of the seventh—including a single by Manny— to defeat the Rockies and extend their win streak to six games. Later, Dodger tough guy Jonathan Broxton eased out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the eighth with the game at 4-3, and finished the game to record a five-out save. Of his four saves, it’s his first of more than one inning.

The Dodgers have high hopes this season, though few experts are expecting them to vie for any titles. But maybe the future was foretold on this season’s first afternoon home game. Dodger newcomer and switchhitter Orlando Hudson “hit for the cycle” in his first four at-bats. He opened with a single, then banged out a home run, then a double; then a triple, against the Giants, who were clobbered by the Dodgers, 11-1. Both the cycle and the big win were a surprise for Dodger fans, since the Dodgers have never really been stellar on Opening Day.

As Hudson told an MLB reporter, “Please don’t expect this every game. This is a hard enough game as it is.”

But therein lies the beauty of every new season. We are filled with hope and short memories. Like children, we believe in everything good, and see blue skies ahead. Yes, that would be Dodger Blue.

Hope springs eternal. And sorry about the Habs.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Matter of the Heart

This is just the video. Im still working on the story......

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Avalon Days

Today, dear viewers, we visit the enchanting town of Avalon, on Catalina Island, just 26 miles off the Southern California coast. The X Shot was perfect for the beautiful background views, and all that golf cart maneuvering I did while reporting. Don't try this at home, or your car, office, or boat.

Next week: Madrid, Spain!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Simian Response

Monkeys, monkeys who need monkeys, are the luckiest monkeys in the world....

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

An Update from California

Im obviously doing everything to keep from typing. But there is much to do here on Mosher Avenue. I'll have lots more to say here, and arent you sick of reading that? ;-)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Keeping in Touch-ish

Okay, my Montreal friends, (and some local friends) might not find this very compelling. But I am trying to stay connected even as life takes over, and my blog entries become less frequent. Not that I'm not thinking of all of you, though, because I am. My work on the Montreal book continues apace—the problem is production-related, not literary.

This is a video I put together for some friends of mine here in LA. I've known some of them since I was 17 (!) We all worked together at a summer camp in the wilds of Los Angeles, hundreds of years ago. This was our latest reunion, and I wanted to make a little something special for them. This video was originally posted on YouTube, who promptly removed the audio portion from it, claiming some type of copyright infriingment. Au contraire, but rather than argue, I posted it here for you guys.

So....Im taking a course to be certified to teach English as a second language, planning a trip to Europe in the spring, working on a CD ("Solo Spinout") and writing like a fiend to pay the rent.

You and I are SO up to date now, and yes, of course, I miss you. And you. And you.

Friday, January 2, 2009

"Are we getting a calkulatah?"

Sorry. It just makes me laugh too *&*^$#! much.