Bob Gurr

When I worked for the Betz & Peters Vintage Ferrari Collection I was drawn to (and drew from) a wonderful series of photographs they had of the Ferrari and Pininfarina factories taken by Bob Gurr in 1953. Bob is known to most people as being the original Imagineer at Disney. Walt often spoke about Disneyland as being an experiment in transportation, that each "ride" represented a different mode of getting around that may have applications in the community. Whether you are on the People Mover, the Monorail or Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, you are on a system designed by Bob Gurr. If you're not impressed with submarines, wheels or motors, you might think the audio-animatronic Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln is cool. Another one of Bob's creations. 
A long time ago Matt Stroud introduced me to the work of Herb Ryman. Actually I was very familiar with his work, just never put a name to it. Herb is an incredible artist and is responsible for the "look" of Disneyland and many Disney films. I had friends who were on the Board of the Ryman Foundation and expressed an interest in it. Soon I was invited to show at a gala in the Hollywood Hills along with Chip Foose and, you got it, Bob Gurr.
I've wanted to talk to him about his '53 Italian trip for years and the opportunity has never come up until now. He is good friends with Randy Ema (who I count as one of my good friends), and I thought I'd use Randy as a key to open the door. Well, it wasn't necessary; Bob's door is wide open and he is fun and accessible guy.  We talked about Randy, Bob's work, my work and finally about the '53 trip. This led to further email exchanges and more photos back and forth and eventually some loose ends and mysteries were resolved.
If you get a chance, look Bob and Herb up on the internet. You'll find their hands in every aspect of Disney's uniqueness and success.

Lisa Law

I’ve long enjoyed the work of Lisa Law, her name pops up in the neatest places and her photographs tell wonderful stories. We were in Santa Fe and I knew this to be where Lisa called home and after a few calls we met at a gallery opening. Our initial visit was terrific and was followed by the insider tour of her house and studio. She is generous with her stories and her hospitality knows no bounds, we had a terrific time. By this time in our trip to New Mexico we had amassed quite a group of friends and several of us made our way to a nearby Mexican restaurant where the stories bounced back and forth around the table as we all got to know each other. Before leaving town Lisa and I decided to collaborate on an art project. Now that has been done we hope to another soon.

Photography has an element of opportunism; you have to be there to get your shot. But a great shot needs more than being in front of a neat subject. There are plenty of awful shots of great things. In the right hands a photograph of the most mundane things can be wonderful, but you have to have an eye for beauty and composition and the skill to capture them. She’s got it. Her images hold up to artistic scrutiny and coupled with great subjects and events you get a grand package, the work of Lisa Law.

Lisa Law is a wonderful photographer who began shooting in the early 60s and today finds herself with a wonderful archive of iconic photographs. Tip of the iceberg. Once upon a time there was a house called “the Castle” in LA where musicians, artists and herbalists found a place where they could just “be themselves”. This was Lisa’s place for a time, taking care of the guests and keeping the place up until other ventures beckoned. Other opportunities came in the way of participating in and shooting concerts, festivals, communal experiments and feeding the masses at Woodstock. In her driveway is the bus from the Hog Farm days, the last one still running, and she has run it all over North, Central and South America. I don’t know how many miles she’s put on it but she keeps it mechanically maintained; and aesthetically it is both psychedelic and current in its decoration. She uses it in parades and campaigns in town.

Today Lisa maintains a strong advocacy for the ideas and ideals of the 60s. She is warm and generous and humbly speaks with authority about her role in the spiritual awakening. She is primarily known for her photographs and associations with iconic figures. She has been in some extraordinary situations and expressed them on film. Watching her work is a wonder. I don’t know how she does it, her sense of composition must have become so intuitive that she can shoot from the hip; maybe living in the wild west has influenced her. I’ve never seen anyone do that (successfully). She is so non-chalant as she talks about the difference in digital and analog photography, all the while clicking off these terrific shots in a most candid way.

All periods of time have diverse cultural aspects. The period from the end of the Korean War to the end of the Viet Nam war is particularly compelling. Once snapped out of the Depression the nation entered a period of production and prosperity. Young people who grew up in this time found the material gains were at the cost of spiritual development and some set out to recapture spiritual awareness. These are the people that populate Lisa’s life and fill her books. They have a valid story to tell and can be found in her images. She has two great books, Flashing on the Sixties and Interviews with Icons, and an excellent movie on the times, Flashing on the Sixties, A Tribal Document. If you have any interest in the soul of the 60s I suggest you investigate these sources.


                        photo by some Wendy's employee in Santa Fe

We tried to figure it out and it came to something close to twenty years since we've seen each other. It's like we never left. Bill Jacobi and I go pretty far back, 45 years or so, and he continues to be a treat. As an artist he's always been an inspiration, he was the first harmonica player to convince me it's an instrument and as a pal he's always been close, even in absentia. 

We've had some random communications by email in the last few years and before Deb and I made our excursion to Santa Fe he gave me his new email and phone number. Of course I forgot to take it with us and tried to get his info from mutual friends who only had his old info. Then out of the blue, as I'm talking to people at his old job, comes an email from him "Hey Dave... my number is XXX". Right on cue.

We met up at an art opening in his town. Bill is just a joy to be around and I was pleased to introduce him to Deb and my friends. I was meeting other friends there too and feared being pulled in too many directions, but Bill fell naturally into the evening and ultimately we had a couple more opportunities to catch up. After the opening we went over to Lisa Law's house, checked out her studio and got "on the bus" that had seen seriously cool action in the 60s. The four of us had dinner that night with Clinton MacKenzie and Kate Johnson at a Mexican restaurant filled with Lisa's photographs. 

The next few days Bill and I had some one-on-one time over a table at Wendy's. Bill has always been wonderfully obsessive, a true force of nature. Whatever he gets into he goes in deep and takes as much away as he can before evolving to the next area of his interest. He looks good and recently found new accommodations that allow his Zen side to develop. 

By my recollection it was sometime back in the 80s Bill that was one of the first computer game aficionados on the scene. He was excited about a game that replicated golf. It used a little stick like a golf club with a light on the end and as you swung it over a pad on the floor it would determine shaft speed, angle and all the stuff required for simulating a golf game.  Of course he mastered it and in his enthusiasm brought the whole rigmarole over to the house and hooked it up to my TV so we could play. Although interesting technology, I've never gone for the computer game and urged him to join me at the little pitch and putt golf course at the end of the street. Grudgingly he left the electronic club on the couch and once teed up pulls a 7 iron out of my bag and promptly puts the ball on the green. Never hit a real ball before, just smacks it up there ready for a two-putt par. He seemed uninterested, still talking about the video game. The second hole, same thing, pin-high from the tee. I told him how great that was, that people practice for years to have a swing like his and he just scoffed. "There's a (virtual) hole at Pebble Beach that's WAY harder that this and I can ace it, this sucks" and then do a modest chuckle.

At Wendy's Bill tells me about the things that currently capture his imagination and they're amazing. He's so enthusiastic and filled with wonder and laughter. He finds avenues and trains of thought that are outside the box. He continues to do what so many of us set out to do so many years ago. We were all looking for answers, looking anywhere for clues and keys to our existence. For some folks traditional answers are really no answers at all. 

Most people find a conventional life or a career is a means to satisfaction. But Bill is still on patrol and I love to hear about his adventures. He has the same humble self-effacing manner about him as always. He can be very serious and the consummate comedian, and we've all learned that some of the heaviest things go down easier with a bit of humor.

Wavy Gravy

Deb and I were driving around Berkeley. We went by People's Park and stopped to take a picture. Back when it was the real thing Rhoads and I had our picture taken there and thus we started to reminisce on the great heritage of the Berkeley scene. While heading to a favorite bookstore there was a theater marquee that read Wavy Gravy Ram Dass Acid Test. I assumed that I 'd go but I was in no psychological shape to take acid. At the bookstore there was a poster for Ram Dass that indicated it was a one man play titled Acid Test. I walked down to the theater to find it was abandoned, so what about the Wavy Gravy part? Deb did a little digging and found that yes, Wavy was going to be performing in town in person and although we were heading out of the area, we could be back in a few days to see it. Buying the tickets was no simple operation, but her diligence got us two reserved seats in the tiny Marsh Theater on Addison.

I always like to get places early and Deb likes to get there just in the nick of time, but since we had no ticket confirmation we arrived with plenty of time to spare. As we walked up to the theater an old fellow with a dark coat and white hair struggled to get out of the passenger seat of a black car. Although I didn’t see his face, I knew the hobbling figure was the old boy we were there to see. We walked together, “You’re not a football freak are you?” he asked. “No, just a freak.” We made small talk, I opened the lobby door for him and he went on into the theater. We talked to the guy at the desk and found we were the only ones who bought reserved seats and were therefore front row center with our chairs accordingly marked. 
All the essential duties were now done so there was half an hour to relax. Deb went to a place next door called Cancun and got some soup. There had been some people milling around that I thought I recognized as writers so I went to the theater bar hoping to identify them. As I walked in I saw Wavy pulling up to the bar and order a drink “I got no cash on me, can I get a drink?”  "Your money is no good here" said the girl behind the bar, “Well, I don’t have any!” he repeated. So I sat next to him and said hi. I ordered a Diet Coke in a dirty glass. The bartender questioned such an order. “It’s the only way you can make a drink like that sound macho.” We were the only two people there. I told Wavy we had some mutual friends from his camp and we had a few words about that. He looked at me and asked again if I was a football freak. It turns out that he is and his show starts at precisely the same time as the 49er Packer game and he’d be missing it. We established that I would watch the score on the iPhone and give him reports during the performance. Then we started talking. 

Wavy is a rope that weaves through a lot of my interests. I’m a long time devotee of Lenny Bruce and although a fan of Kerouac and Kesey, its Neal Cassady that links the beats to the hippies, a central protagonist of both generations, and the one who captured my imagination. Sitting at the bar, talking to this complete stranger, we talked as if returning from a long conversation that had been interrupted.
We talked at length about Ram Dass and his life since the stroke. Wavy suggested I Skype him, he’d enjoy that. He said Ram Dass’ language skills were greatly improved, although he still doesn’t speak in stream of consciousness like Lenny Bruce. Lenny and Wavy were tight; Bruce even managed him for a time. And the day before Lenny died he gave a yarmulke to Wavy and suggested he sew it into his Tom Mix cowboy hat. The inside of the yarmulke read "souvenir of Weinstein Mortuary". The next day Lenny was dead and his body was prepared at Weinstein Mortuary funeral home; then Wavy made little Twilight Zone sounds. 

He looked at his watch, seven minutes until show time. I excused myself, told him I’d leave him with his thoughts and we bid farewell. I went into the theater. There were maybe six or seven rows of ten folding seats. I went to the two empty ones front row center where our drinks were poised nicely under the seats and parked my ass. The stage was filled with little trinkets and toys, tools of the clown’s trade. 

While I was checking these out Deb was coming back from the soup and ran into Wavy in the lobby. They stood and talked for another five minutes. It may be coincidence, but when I talked to him he talked about things that I'm interested in and when he talked to Deborah he spoke about her second favorite topic, gourmet food! I couldn't help but think he's just very dialed in, even to strangers. Then they entered the theater together, she taking her seat, him lumbering up to the stage. He took his place on a high stool, uncomfortable looking from the start. He was beat up from his many back surgeries and beat up by cops and beat up by being part of the beat generation. Like a lot of small storefront theaters, the stage was only a low platform and he locked eyes on us, six feet away and in rapt amazement (and his only link to the football game). 

There weren’t a lot of people there and the entire hour and a half that he spoke he looked at Deb and I, and although the stories were different, both of us felt like it was evening with Scott Gladden. Wavy is pretty new to my catalog and it was Gladden who suggested I watch the Wavy documentary titled Saint Misbehavin’, and that got me hooked (you should see it too); whatta dude. From his early days as a beat poet to today… its not that he had his finger on the pulse of positive cultural change, but that his finger gave pulse to that change. I wont try to describe his role in the world here, but it’s absolutely amazing. 

Another, less amazing thing, happens every once in a while. I've had seemingly random trips turn out to have a theme. It happened with Kesey and now, looking back, it seemed to happen with Wavy Gravy. Our original outing was to Mendicino and outlying areas for a general getaway. We enjoyed looking at the vivid tye-dyed clothes in shop windows around Fort Bragg. The weird signs in Berkeley leading us to Wavy didn't let on that his Camp Winnarainbow is located just outside Mendicino. It seems that whatever we were doing, wherever we were going, it was all connected.

Early in his talk he took off his dark coat that represented the Beat generation to expose the tie-dyed clothes beneath, “I will always be and will die a hippy.” During his talk he described Neal Cassady as a best friend and told many tales to support this, including the time they kidnapped Tiny Tim from the clutches of the FBI. There were a lot of Tiny Tim stories that shed new light on this weird character. At the end of the show everyone sang the Wavy Gravy anthem together and everyone shed a tear. 

We sat for a moment debating on what to do next and just left while Wavy put all his toys in a bag. After all, leaving was just another interruption to a long conversation.


One Halloween in the early ‘70s Nelson had a poker party (of course), but before the first ante everyone participated in a backyard haunted maze for the neighborhood kids. Bob had enlisted the help of his friends to dig and build and fill the yard with special effects, ghoulish obstacles and macabre scenes. There were strobe lights, dry-ice fog, eerie music and gory contributions from the meat market while costumed pranksters entertained and frightened scores of unsuspecting trick-or-treaters on one magical night. It was theater.
No matter how long someone lives it usually seems too short a time. Fate gave Bob a lot of obstacles to overcome, and then he threw in a few of his own. He is among the last of a generation to have a long leash; but there wasn’t a lead long enough for Bob. He continually sought independence, looked for different ways to make money and alternatives to needing money altogether. He was filled with dreams and schemes and ideas for a better life. He pursued these as best he could and in the process did extraordinary things. Like a lot of us from this town, at that time, Nelson had support from home; Delia was always his advocate. Whether taking on the schools or the cops, she stood by his side - as long he was in the right. Bob earned the respect of his friends for his unending struggle for liberation. He earned our friendship because he was funny, exciting and had a heart of gold.
I’d like to read from Jack Kerouac, the book On the Road, chapter one, paragraph eleven: “...the only ones for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn like fabulous yellow roman candles …” It’s hard to talk about Nelson in terms of regular folks. He has always been out there, always pushing buttons or stretching the limits of convention. One night we were on his bus somewhere. It was late and we were toast. We got to talking about stuff that sometimes comes up when everything is worn out and it was then that Bob shared a philosophic bent to his behavior. He was on a mission, he was testing bounds, pushing limits, his and ours, all the time. He didn’t have time for complacency. No time to relax, there were frontiers to investigate, social and personal experiments to pursue. He might get obnoxious, he could tick you off, he could be a brat, but this was a method to his madness. After that night on the bus, he was fascinating to watch. He knew what he was doing and he would make huge sacrifices get what he, or you, needed. He was excited by life and it’s possibilities and wanted to experience it all, all at once.
From Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, first book, chapter 7/12: “I would only believe in a god who could dance. And when I saw my devil I found him serious, thorough, profound and solemn: it was the spirit of gravity- through him all things fall. Not by wrath does one kill, but by laughter. Come let us kill the spirit of gravity (with laughter)!” Here’s where Bob seemed to excel. No matter how grave, how serious the situation seemed to be, he would laugh it off. When things were dire, whether it be diabetes, hepatitis, bed sores or paralysis, he laughed his cackling laugh and continued on, managing or overcoming almost any problem, laughter being his best medicine.
Bob Malgeri may have best summed up Nelson’s character with this poker reference; "I love it when Nelson goes all in with shit for a hand". Nelson had been dealt a lot of bad hands and yet he went all in with whatever he had. He thought he was the master of bluff and always believed he'd get away with it. Maybe he was just trying to bluff himself. He wasn't supposed to walk again and dealt that horrible hand he got up and fell flat on his face a thousand times, bluffing, making believe he could walk; and eventually he did. He's no fool, so he may be the eternal optimist. Or alchemist. An alchemist does the impossible; the popular notion is that they can turn lead into gold and that's pretty much Nelson. He turned his lead legs into walking tools again. He has also taken a lot of the lead in our lives and turned them to solid-gold memories. The last ten years or so Bob mellowed quite a bit. His pace in Mexico was certainly slow and maybe he brought that back with him. Maybe he had taught us all he could about agitation and was sitting back to see how we would use his example. Maybe he just got tired.
In the Marriage of Heaven and Hell William Blake suggests, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” If this is true we may be surrounded with some of the wisest people outside of Tibet. Sometimes when we’d talk about excessive behavior Bob would get kinda quiet and just rock and grin, saying “One thing for sure, nobody gypped us out of anything.”
Picture Nelson riding his Honda chopper down Brea Blvd, dressed in a Santa suit, Janie Uneik on the back throwing treats out to friends they’d pass, cackling all the way… All the world's a stage (from As You Like It 2/7), And all the men and women merely players … Shakespeare didn’t comment on the directors. Nelson could command a room just by entering it. There was no avoiding his presence and you generally went with the direction he provided. The king of good spirits, there isn't a soul out there who hasn't completely cracked up with Nelson and will continue laughing while reliving the millions of stories and experiences that he gave us, none of them with a yawn or a commonplace thing in them. Life with Nelson was theater.

from Nelson's funeral April 2012


I like talking about Mark. He had a major positive effect on me and I think everyone had the same feeling after hanging with Mark. When I think of words to describe him I find many of them, trustworthy, modest, agile, loyal, appreciative, honest, are words that apply to all the Rileys. I have been lucky to spend a lot of time with John and Dale and Mark and they, like David and Peggy, all share the quiet principles of hard work and honesty.

Mark always called a spade a spade. If you’d screw up, he might be reluctant to call you on it, but he would, and he‘d pad the blow in a way that made you laugh at yourself; and you could always benefit from his perspective.

He also was one of the funniest people ever. He could make Jeanne Gladden giggle like a schoolgirl; even strangers would get swept into his distinctive kind of humor. Once we were in the van and passed a boy on a bike when Mark hollers, “Get out of the street!” The kid about fell off his bike and looked up at Mark and just started cracking up. Part of the humor came from the fact that Mark looked like a hard guy, you expected his gruff grunts to be intimidating, but he was just funny. He once said people thought he was tough because he always squinted, then explained he always squinted because he needed glasses.

Although most of our time together was playing, I can’t talk about Mark without including work. He was always willing to work. I don’t think I did anything without him volunteering to help. We’d wax the floors at the VFW almost every week just because he had the time and tools to do it, and because he’d do anything for Rojo. We had a lot of opportunities to work together and he always made it fun, or least more tolerable, with his laborer lingo and biting comments about your skills while keeping his head down and working his tail off.

He had this great talent for imitating people. Within a few minutes he would recognize the speech or posture or gesture that made someone unique and he’d capture it perfectly. He could mimic anyone, even from movies or TV.

Once Mark, Dale and I were out watching Monday night football and afterward a crew came in to set up for a roving dance contest. Several “ringers” appeared and the organizers were taking entries from the locals. Now, I don’t know if it took courage or if it was a long-time burning desire to enter a dance contest, but Mark signs up. Dale and I were blown away. I’d seen Mark in a lot of different situations, but never on a dance floor. Soon enough he and this partner, someone we’d never seen, were announced; the music starts and he takes the Travolta pose (the one with a hand by his hip and finger pointed in the air).

Dale and I were cracking up on the inside, just staring on the outside. And then he danced. He mimicked every move from Saturday Night Fever with timing and dignity. It was one of the most amazing performances of anything I have ever seen. You’d swear he’d been practicing for years. Incredibly enough, they went to the second round, the semis, then, exhausted, to the finals where one of the ringer couples won. The crowd booed “fix!” as it was clear to everyone that Mark and the stranger were clearly the top performers. Afterwards he was drained and thirsty and insisted that news of this night not leave the room (later he said I could tell the story).

Carleen helped him learn to enjoy travel, often with some sort of gambling as bait, and they found new people to laugh with wherever they went. He was usually quiet and not a big grinner, but always the guy people wanted to hang around with.

Once I was going to L.A. with Kusudo to see this poetry professor who was going to read his one-man play about Ludwig, the mad King of Bavaria and Mark came along. So it’s this little storefront theater with little bleachers filled with college students and poetry buffs. The professor, playing the king, comes out in this long purple cape and a gold crown. He starts his reading and everyone is silently riveted to every word.

And then Mark starts to crack up. A bit later he starts laughing again. All evening he has these bursts of laughter that came and went quickly, but it was only him laughing. Everyone else was hushed the whole time, hanging on every word of the reader; a few seemed annoyed at the laughter, like somebody talking too loud at the movies. Afterwards we went out with the professor for a couple drinks. People came up and told him what a great piece of work it was, praised him and left, and soon it was just us sitting there when the professor says, “I heard one person laughing”. Before anyone could think of a response the guy says “Don’t you think anybody else got it?”

Mark was always exactly who he was, never pretentious, always well-grounded and made good decisions. One of those was to marry Carleen who has been a loving and caring wife and mother to Joe. There’ some old video of Mark feeding his six-day old son. On the tape it says “You look like you know what your doing” he looked down at Joe, puts a bottle to his mouth and says “I’m a good actor”.

He was a model on how to be a friend. He always cared, even if he didn’t like to say it, and always stood by your side, offering to help any way he could. It was hard to rattle him because he had this uncanny ability to know why people did things the strange things they do. He knew more about people than anyone I know.

For the first time I know what people mean when they say “a part of me went with him”. There are parts of my life that only Mark recognized and he never betrayed the trust. On the other hand, part of Mark will never die. Carleen, Joe, his brothers and sister; all of us continue to carry of big part of him with us. The world is a better place and all of our lives improved because we had the good luck to know Mark. When I die, and if I go to heaven and the old bastard asks me what I did while on the earth I'll tell him, "I hung out with Mark Riley."

from Mark's funeral March 2012

Shoes Make the Man

When I was growing up there were few choices in shoes. It wasn’t even footwear yet, just shoes. Working people wore boots. Athletes had cleats. We had hard shoes. We had hard shoes for everything, school, church, playing baseball. There were no options until the early sixties when we discovered tennis shoes. These were pretty primitive canvas/rubber jobs that weren’t that comfortable and didn’t last too long, but these soft shoes were a vast improvement over hard shoes.

I’m guessing the shoe explosion detonated somewhere in the mid sixties. At least that’s when I saw the blast. By then there was enough variety that there was a hierarchy for your arches. Converse high tops were better than U.S. Keds. Even the Beatles had changed the idea of hard shoes by wearing soft boots. These became the rage and now it was important not only to have the hip shoe, but it must be bought at the right place to be truly correct. Hardy Shoes smoked all the other places. Model 1899 was the regular brown or black suede side zip seven-inch boot and was priced at an ungodly $7.99. Occasionally someone might venture beyond and buy the model 2199 with moccasin lacing for a severe $12.99. Hardy’s had moccasins, go-go boots, high and low boots with or without leather fringe. They were fashion kings of the feet. God pity the poor soul who’s parents bought them the Montgomery Wards or Sears’ imitations of these icons. You might as well die.

School sports required special footwear. But now it was more than just a piece of the uniform, it was a functional shoe that must offer optimum performance for it’s designated purpose. Not just clodhoppers with cleats. Puma made the lightweight running shoe, but most kids still used inexpensive Keds. Parents reasoned that they were going to outgrow them before they wore out, so why spend the money? The reason you spend the money is that win or loose you’re going to spend most of your time sitting on the bench waiting to compete and you want to look like a winner, not some dork with practical parents.

Scott Drake was the guy who really introduced me to the idea of shoes. He had different pairs for different things. For example, hiking boots. I had never heard of such a thing and it was hard to rationalize that such a thing existed. I understood swim fins were different from biker boots, but this was too highly specialized. Then I saw shoes for rock climbing. Bruce Beckman could walk right up the side of the chimney with these things. It was remarkable.

As a kid I had to wear some sort of corrective shoe. I don’t know why, too young to care, but even in those naive days I knew they were different than other shoes and therefore pretty rank. Later when I learned about dance shoes I was surprised to see the same rank company, Capezio, had made them. I was once denied admittance to a theater because I had rags on my feet instead of normal attire. The girl took me around the corner to Pick-and-Save and got the cheapest shoe there so we could see the Rainbow Bridge. We made it on time.

I liked the Beatle boots and when they were no longer available I went to cowboy boots. I still wear the pair I got in 1984. It was just before the Olympics, Jacke Crump and I walked from Union Station to USC one day on a photo expedition. That’s how I broke ‘em in. They’ve been re-soled and re-heeled and polished by Candelaria at the shoeshine stand several times. I still get comments on them at parties.

Even though I acknowledge footwear, it still doesn’t register with me. We went to see Crosby, Still, Nash and Young a couple years ago. We had okay seats and early in the performance Deb leans into me and says, “Look at their shoes.” I’m thinking "we got some quasi-legendary singers up here trying to deliver some sort of message and she’s looking at their shoes". Crosby had deck shoes, Stills had chukka boots and Young had some sort of L.L. Bean work boot thing. Nash had brown loafers with tassels. Suddenly her obscure observation held water. Their footgear seemed to be a reflection of their station in life these days. Shoes had got to the point where even I can get a read on someone’s personality by checking out what’s on their feet.

One night at open mic we are watching the usual cast of characters pour their guts out to questionable musical accompaniment when a new guy lumbers on to the stage. He’s an old guy, like Merle Haggard or thereabouts, and he does a pretty good job. His fingers are nervous and quiver against the fret board, but the sound comes out secure. He’s got the requisite gravel in his voice and seems appreciative of the audience who is dialed in to his delivery. He leaves the stage to sincere applause and Deb makes a comment about him being a street guy, probably going to an abandoned car for a home and hasn’t had a hot meal since Cincinnati. I tell her “that’s just his persona, he’s playing the part just like all these other wannabes”. “No” she insists, “did you see his shoes?” I didn’t but I got her point.

Now I’m no clotheshorse. I’ve sought out counseling on this (see “Cotillion” 2010) and still my wardrobe is wanting at best. The other day I’m at a fast food place and I see a hobo coming my way. He has everything he owns on his back, probably a monkey and the weight of the world there too, he looks beat up and desperate. He glances up at me with longing eyes and starts to pull his chilled hand out of his pocket, hoping for alms. Then he notices my tattered shoes. The hand goes back in the worn coat and he gives me a knowing nod as he walks by.