the column of lasting insignificance: August 27, 2011
by John Wilcock
Jenner, CA. Aug. 12, 2011
THE CONVERSATION in the Café Aquatica here was a familiar one widely heard these days: Obama’s possible fate as a single-term president. “He’s too nice to be president” someone remarked. “Not enough of a fighter” said another.
Little more than a bend in the road sheltering a general store –cum-gas station and two or three shops, Jenner (pop: 136) is an irresistible highway stop, a couple of hundred yards from where the stunning Russian River flows into the sea after its journey through the gorgeous valley that leads to Guerneville.
On this day at least, strangers and locals sharing the Aquatica’s handful of seats seemed inevitably destined to discuss The Decline of America, an attitude displayed by writers for the piled-up Russian River Times (and currently shared by many other rural papers).
The bad times began, suggested Steve Pizzo, with the birth of Reagan Democrats (“the oxymoron of all times”) which he defined as “the Ivy League bunch who’d never done a lick of physical labor in their entire lives, who’d lost touch with the real lives of real working Americans”. Pizzo, publisher of an earlier Russian River tabloid, wrote that Republicans promised more jobs in return for low taxes (sound familiar?) with some of the tax money saved by the rich trickling down into the pockets of working Americans. “It’s a bit like convincing a flock of chickens that Col Sanders has nothing but their best interests at heart. The Tea Party today is the latest incarnation of the Reagan Democrats”.
Later in my journey I was lucky to find a trove of earlier issues of the Times, in one of which Pizzo reported that on a recent trip to Ireland he soon discovered how much more informed were that country’s talk show hosts and their callers, than our native variety, the reason he supposed because they were screened “for a measurable IQ” before being let on the air. ”They did not waste time just letting any dimwit rant about inconsequential bullshit.. thus turning talk radio into something more like a free-form seminar on the real pressing issues of the day”.
Sticks and Stones is what Will Shonbrun, another local contributor, called his column, and in it he bemoaned the hypocrisy of telling our children problems should not be resolved by violence but then displaying the opposite on the world stage. “We invade countries that disagree with us…and we manufacture the reasons and rationales to get our people to accept, support and fight in these wars…We spend about half of our entire budget fighting and preparing to wage wars. How can we tell our children, tell ourselves, to seek non-violent solutions when our actions belie our words? We are a violent people”.
“Indeed we have become a fearful nation” says Ken Wickle, “a bunkered nation bogged down in never-ending wars abroad, accompanied by shrinking civil liberties at home. We now spend almost as much on defense as the rest of the world combined , yet the sinews of our supporting economy, particularly the all-important manufacturing sector are weakening at an alarming rate.
“Continuing small wars (or the threat thereof) are essential for the corporate component of the Military-Industrial-Congressional-Complex. These companies have no alternative means to survive. Although they now make up a very substantial part of America’s much-diminished industrial base, they cannot convert to civilian production. How did the American political system maneuver itself into such a destructive straitjacket?”
Questions, questions. “When war ’on terror’ is touted as the embodiment of eternal vigilance, war must be eternal—and in that case why bother to talk much about striving for peace?” asked Norman Solomon. Why are banks too big to fail but not the U.S. Post Office? “What would happen if we outsourced our health care to Canada?” mused John Hulls. “It would provide universal coverage for about half of what we now spend”. Why can’t we have Al Jazeera? Pizzo pondered.” Because the “multi-billion dollar cable companies are terrified of being accused by the loony Right of giving Islamists a platform”. Why can’t the California Legislature pass a budget on time? asked Pete Foppiano. Because “we are always right, the other side is always wrong and we have never heard of the concepts of ‘common sense’ or ‘compromise’”.
Oil painting by Bill McKee in the Labor Day
‘Art by the Sea’ art tour by The Sea Ranch
By now I was already loving the Russian River Times which I was beginning to suspect reflected attitudes common throughout rural America. And I had yet to read The Soap Box column of feisty Johanna Lynch who has been the paper’s publisher for the past 14 years.
“Addicted to power, at any price, megalomaniacs are all around us” she proffered, “and some are running for political seats to gain power over the rest of us dimwits in La La Land. The telly repeatedly reports the dull-looking, often overweight, mostly white Tea Party people as demanding ‘Freedom’. What they really mean is Free Trade to exploit workers and rip off customers, and make huge profits for themselves. Let’s get real”.
Ms. Lynch’s eyes of course, are expressly on local issues, especially those related to the environment and so-called redevelopment, and she has no high regard for most of the authorities that rule the region.
“Sonoma County” she charges, ”needs fewer bureaucrats, corporate-trained mindset real estate developers, unimaginative leaders throughout the tourist industry and fewer boring, inept, ladder-climbing ‘executives’ of questionable backgrounds. Everyone I meet, no matter how dull and dim-witted, is either a ‘consultant’, an EO, or an environmental-engineer. What the bloody hell is going on in this country? Where are all the real gurus?” Questions, questions.
There were ample piles of local papers in the Aquatica –indeed the Times itself recommended some of them: the North Bay Bohemian, Point Reyes Light, Arcata Eye and the scandalous Andersen Valley Advertiser. I drained my espresso, thanked my companions for their stimulating conversation and crossed the highway to my car.
I was leaving with the same thought that had met my arrival. Did I believe that Obama will be a one-term president? No, because although there are myriads of idiots ready to vote, not quite enough really believe that the Republicans are now ready to solve the problems that they themselves created; because despite all the false heroes the GOP keep offering, it will still be Mitt Romney who will actually run (and again lose) and just maybe Barack Obama will decide he’s got nothing to lose and boldly take the actions in his second term that he should have done in his first.
As I drove up the river to Guerneville, the highway was lined with reproductions of the amusing Burma Shave signs from the 1930s: a nostalgic reminder of simpler, and perhaps happier times. Letters in the local paper were arguing about whether the signs were a good or a bad thing.
Folks won’t feel
In so much danger
If we still had
The ol’ Lone Ranger
A Budget Travel Pioneer on a Time When $5 a Day Was Real (Frugal) Money
nytimes.com: Frugal Traveler by Seth Kugel
It was the first handwritten letter I’d received in 5 years. Or maybe 10. Signed by John Wilcock, a man I’d never heard of, and postmarked Ojai, Calif., it was waiting for me when I returned from my São Paulo-to-New York summer trip. Mr. Wilcock wrote that he had been an assistant editor at The Times Travel section back in the 1950s, and had written the first editions of “Mexico on $5 a Day,” “Greece on $5 a Day” and “Japan on $5 a Day” for Arthur Frommer in the 1960s.
By George, I thought. This man was the original Frugal Traveler.
Manhattan Memories An Autobiography by John Wilcock
"A GOOD WAY to describe John Wilcock is to say that he is a talented bohemian counter-culture journalist who once played a major role in the emergence of America’s underground press. Born 1927 in Sheffield, England, he left school aged 16 to work on various newspapers in England, and on Toronto periodicals before moving to New York City. There in 1955 he became one of the five founders of the Village Voice in which he and co-founder Norman Mailer wrote weekly columns. Wilcock called his column “The Village Square”, an intended pun. He and young Mailer were not quite friends, although Wilcock was at times annoyed, but always amused, by Mailer’s monstrous ego."
-From the preface of Manhattan Memories, by Martin Gardner
The Autobiography and Sex Life of Andy Warhol by John Wilcock
Edited by Christopher Trela
Photographs by Shunk-Kender
Village Voice and Interview cofounder John Wilcock was first drawn into the
milieu of Andy Warhol through film-maker Jonas Mekas, assisting on some
of Warhol’s early films, hanging out at his parties and quickly becoming a
regular at the Factory. “About six months after I started hanging out at the
old, silvery Factory onWest 47th Street,” he recalls, “[Gerard] Malanga came
up to me and asked, ‘When are you going to write something about us?’”
Already fascinated by Warhol’s persona, Wilcock went to work, interviewing
the artist’s closest associates, supporters and superstars. Among these were
Malanga, Naomi Levine, Taylor Mead and Ultra Violet, all of whom had been
in the earliest films; scriptwriter Ronnie Tavel, and photographer Gretchen
Berg; art dealers Sam Green, Ivan Karp, Eleanor Ward and Leo Castelli, and
the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Henry Geldzahler; the poets Charles Henri
Ford and Taylor Mead, and the artist Marisol; and the musicians Lou Reed and Nico. Paul Morrisey supplied the title: The Autobiography and Sex Life of
AndyWarhol was the first oral biography of the artist. First published in 1971,
and pitched against the colorful backdrop of the 1960s, it assembles a prismatic
portrait of one of modern art’s least knowable artists during the early
years of his fame. The Autobiography and Sex Life is likely the most revealing
portrait of Warhol, being composite instead of singular; each of its interviewees
offers a piece of the puzzle that was Andy Warhol. This new edition
corrects the many errors of the first, and is beautifully designed in a bright,
Warholian palette with numerous illustrations.
The British-born writer John Wilcock co-founded The Village Voice in 1955,
and went on to edit seminal publications such as The East Village Other, Los
Angeles Free Press, Other Scenes and (in 1970) Interview, with Andy Warhol.