Three photographs taken on Long Island’s West End Beach, where my brother Jordan and I used to throw ourselves into the waves on summer afternoons. When we were older we mostly walked on the beach, my brother doing most of the talking. I drove there this afternoon, in my Mom’s car. This triptych was inspired by photographs sent to me by my girlfriend Kristina Nemeth,  who recently took a hike in the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia and challenged herself to shoot three images every place she stopped. These three sandy photographs were taken within about 50 yards of each other.

To tell you the truth, hers are much better.

West End Waves (click link for video)

Of all the varieties of nostalgia, few are as sweet as returning to one of the places we learned how to write. Though it’s grown and expanded and absorbed millions of dollars in grant money, the Plainview-Old Bethpage Public Library is very much the same refuge I traipsed to after school, haunted on weekends, and ran away to when life at home became intolerable. The same childrens’ room where I discovered Beverly Clearly and Roald Dahl; the same wooden cubbies where I wrote my first short stories; the same metal shelves where a lichen-green volume of Who’s Who revealed the Sri Lanka mailing address of Arthur C. Clarke.

Today I visited the POB library as a guest, and told a small but eager audience what a lifeline the place had been for me. Among the local guests was Jeffrey Lipsky, one of my best friends since Junior High School, now a brilliant writer/director preparing to release his third independent film (12:30) in mid-January. We’ve worked diligently, Jeff and I, not always for the richest of financial rewards, but mostly out of true devotion. Jeff’s big break came at 18, when his review of John Cassavetes’ Minnie and Moskowitz, published in our college paper, so astonished the legendary director that he took Lipsky on as his protégée.

I guess I’m still waiting for that big break. For the phone message out of nowhere. For the email that must surely be a prank. For the whisper, the summons, the call. It sounds deranged. I know waiting doesn’t work. I’ve stopped waiting, and that doesn’t work, either. I know there’s no forcing that serendipitous instant when my own oblique angle intercepts the zeitgeist. Which will happen, if at all, by accident. Snake Lake has the heart and soul to be the right thing for the right person. But only a twist of fate can drop it into their hands. Who knows? Maybe they were at the library.

The elevated freight train tracks running above the western edge of Chelsea, a block from the Hudson, had been abandoned since 1980. Overgrown with weeds, the 30-block structure was a dilapidated eyesore. Until June, 2009 – when, after ten years of planning and development, the re-imagined route re-opened as The High Line: New York’s newest urban park. I visited this afternoon with my Mom. We climbed a few short flights of steps and strolled along the promenade, stopping to check out the art installations, wild gardens and city views. It was one of those crisp, brilliant New York afternoons when you feel you’re living in the best century ever.

Afterwards we walked to Herald Square, and – since Hanukkah comes early this year – Mom took me to Macy’s to buy me a sports jacket. Just saying “Herald Square” makes me feel like I’m living a couple of centuries ago. And saying “sports jacket” makes me wonder how those oddly cut, iconic garments got saddled with sports. Typically, I couldn’t decide between the Calvin Klein and the Ralph Lauren. Typically, my mother bought me both. Typically, I was wheedled into applying for a Macy’s credit card so that Mom would save 20% on the jackets. And then the long ride back to Hicksville on the LIRR, craving Chinese food.

“In the event of a large turnout,” the poster for tomorrow’s Snake Lake reading at the Plainview-Old Bethpage Library proclaims, “residents with photo IDs will be admitted first. Others as space permits.” The auditorium seats 200. Are there 200 people older than 75 in Plainview? I hope so. When my father passed away in 1984, about 3,000 people showed up at his memorial. It was if a ball player or a Mafia boss had died. My mother doesn’t have that many friends, but I think she’ll manage a respectable crowd. People love her. The High Line was her idea, as were the sports jackets. She is exquisitely reliable.

I’m feeling punted about by the Fates. And exhausted. Enormous energy and enthusiasm expended at the Book Revue bookstore in Huntington this evening, for an audience of 14. Eleven of whom were family. Without an effective publicist, without radio, these tours are an exercise in futility. They may be the most gratuitous form of masochism in which I indulge. Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Hmm. How far back in my behavioral chain do I want to navigate with those directions? And how far forward? (At least as far as the Plainview Library, this coming Saturday…. )

Is it a compulsion, or obsession? I can’t visit New York without diving into the museums. Today I visited the Met and the Whitney. The draw at the Met was   the John Baldessari retrospective. One of those godfathers-of-conceptual-art I’ve encountered in bits and pieces, but it was wonderful to take it his entire oeuvre in about an hour. Favorite piece: a 10-photo montage in which he took a map of California and photographed the actual location that each letter covered on the map. The final “A,” for example, was located in Joshua Tree. (It looks more clever than it sounds; which is practically a definition of conceptual art.)

The last few times I’ve visited the Whitney it’s been a disappointment. Either old stuff I’ve stared at to exhaustion (i.e, Edward Hopper) or new work that does nothing for me. Right now there’s a retrospective of the indefinable Paul Thek (1933-1988, of AIDS). Much of the work is nightmarish: sculptural representations of hunks of bloody flesh. But the title piece, The Diver, really spoke to me. A  painting of a pink figure, diving into translucent blue. Thek, like me, was fascinated by the unknown perils and possibilities contained within lakes and oceans. His artistic perspective originated from above; in Snake Lake, I take the view from below.

Did a reading tonight at the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art, one of my favorite places in Manhattan. A modest gathering; most of the people who entered the museum were there to hear a talk by film director Mike Nichols. But I gave it up for my attentive little group, and as always found myself totally immersed in the rarefied world of storytelling – which, paradoxically, seems a transit beyond the ego, an almost divinely guided ascent into a jet stream of urgent communication. (One does wish, afterwards, that more people had been there to enjoy it.) Only six people left with snakes—and they were very lucky people.

On a surprisingly narrow jet, flying from LAX to JFK. The idea is to blog more than I’ve been doing, which lately has been about twice a year. What better opportunity than my book tour for Snake Lake, with all this down time on airplanes and solitary lunches? Inspired by Buddhist ritual, Jewish mysticism, poet Maya Stein’s “Ten Line Tuesdays” and the $108K in a Los Angeles-based friend’s savings account, I hereby set two rules: a blog every day, through November 20th; and each blog exactly 324 words (three paragraphs of 108 words each). That shouldn’t be so difficult. Right? (These things never seem difficult at the beginning.)

Many human beings love Los Angeles, and this visit I was lucky enough to understand why. After a stupefying heat wave that ended with my arrival, a cold front moved in. Rain fell, the skies were cleansed, and Tinseltown was transformed into the Emerald City. I spent a luminous afternoon at the Huntington Library—amazed by the love poetry of John Donne,  a Walt Whitman letter, and the infinite adjoining cactus gardens. You walk among those convoluted aloes and comical barrel cactus feeling like you’ve been transported into a Dr. Seuss book. Fantastic textures you don’t dare touch. And a strange sweet smell in the air: tacos and sage.

(And LACMA was also fabulous – I kinda love Jeff Koons.)

Jeff Koons' "Balloon Dog"

Okay, back to the tour. My Book Soup audience (on Sunset) was thin – the audience had about as many legs as two beetles. After they filtered out, Jeff Garlin walked in. The actor, who plays Larry David’s agent on Curb Your Enthusiasm, is also an author (My Footprint), and we spent 20 minutes bemoaning our respective book tours. A good man, that Garlin, but what was he doing alone in a bookstore on a Friday night?  Far more vivifying was my reading at the wonderful Distant Lands, in Pasadena. About 40 people showed up—and ten left with snakes.

So here it is…. The schedule for my upcoming readings and gatherings for Snake Lake! All events are in 2010, unless it says otherwise. Starting times not yet listed will be posted as I learn them, so do check back.

Friday 10/22, 7:30 pmLaunch Party at Book Passage, Corte Madera,
hosted by Travel Writer Conference chair Don George! HUGE SUCCESS! Thanks everyone!!

Tuesday, 10/26, 7 pm – Books Inc., Berkeley Great night! Thank you Berkeley!
Thursday 10/28, 7:30 pmBooksmith, San Francisco
Monday, 11/1, 7 pmLeft Coast Writers, Book Passage Corte Madera
Thursday, 11/4, 7 pmDiesel Books, Oakland
Friday, 11/5, 7 pm – Book Soup, Los Angeles
Monday, 11/8, 7:30 pmDistant Lands, Pasadena
Wednesday, 11/10, 6 – 7:30 pmRubin Museum of Himalayan Art, NY
Thursday, 11/11, 7 pmBook Revue, Huntington, NY
Saturday, 11/13, 2:00 pmPlainview-Old Bethpage Public Library, NY
Thursday, 11/187:30 pm – Powells’ Books (Hawthorne), Portland, OR
Sunday, 11/21, 6:30 pm – Wagner Family Fires, Alameda, CA

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Here’s a link to the book on Amazon.com: Snake Lake. A very limited number of hardcovers will be produced, so get them while you can!

Friends! Please Join me on Saturday June 19th for The MARSH’S 20TH ANNIVERSARY PERFORMANCE MARATHON. It runs from noon to midnight with 11 hours of performances, a late-night party and day-long hijinks (in The Marsh Café). I will be performing a 12-minute piece (give or take a couple of hours) during the 2-hour segment that runs from 4-6 pm — a slot I share with Dan Hoyle, Wayne Harris, Mark Kenward and McGoldrick. Yeow!! An all-star line-up! For the full schedule and to buy tix (they’re $20) go to The Marsh Marathon.

Sunday, June 6th, 2010 – For those of you who aren’t already addicted, check out Glynn Washington’s Snap Judgment — it’s the most inventive new storytelling show on NPR. I’m privileged to be a part of this show, which is filming a live TV show (at least I think it’s live) on June 6th at San Francisco’s Brava Theater. The show runs from 5 pm – 8 pm, with a reception afterwards, and you can order tickets (they’re cheap!) and get directions here. If you can’t make the event, visit the Snap J website and listen to what Glynn means by “storytelling with a beat.”

Narayanhiti Palace, Kathmandu

For 30 years I had viewed Narayanhiti–Nepal’s Royal Palace– only through its high silver gates,   or past the fruit bats hanging from the tall trees that shelter the grounds from view. But in early 2009 (shortly after Nepal became a Republic), the long-hidden residence was turned into a museum. Checking my   bag and passing through security I felt like a Chinese commoner, entering the Forbidden City after the Qing Dynasty fell.

It was a thrill to approach the sequestered palace, and climb the marble steps flanked by statues of horses and mythical beasts. But though the building is grand from the outside, the inside is dark and cold–filled with shabby décor that looks as though it hasn’t been changed for 50 years. With its small windows, narrow corridors and stuffed tigers (not to mention crocodile skins and rhinoceros heads), the place has a strange juju. One cannot use the word “comfy” to describe a single room.

There are the usual salons with useless gifts from visiting dignitaries: bronze medallions, filigree peacocks, a crystal paperweight from New York City Mayor Edward Koch. The walls are lined with photographs of visiting heads of state, even the humblest of them more powerful than their host. But the grounds and garden are quiet and pretty: the compound’s saving grace.

Photography is prohibited–but I did sneak a picture in the Gorkha Room, where I found myself enchanted by the Ceremonial The ceremonial throneThrone. Every King needs one of these, and this one is a beauty. More than half a ton of silver and a 30 tolas of gold (nearly a pound) were used to build the sofa-sized, velvet-cushioned seat of power. A canopy of nine gold nagas shaded the King’s head, and thick gold serpents served as his armrests.

Massacre 1 On June 1st, 2001, the enraged and besotted Crown Prince Dipendra allegedly went insane, and murdered his entire family– King Birendra, Queen Aiswarya, his siblings, and several other relatives–in the billiard room. The venue for the infamous Royal Massacre was actually a separate building, behind the palace itself. That structure has been completely demolished. Only the foundation remains, as if it were a freshly excavated ruin. Small signs indicate the sites where the shootings occurred. They are weird abstractions, and a sobering reminder of how the incoming powers immediately destroyed every shred of evidence that might shed light on the real motives for (and perpetrators of) the killings.

It’s a poignant experience to stand at the threshold of the late King Birendra’s office–a hideaway as modest as the Throne Room is gaudy. There’s a large desk, an imported bookshelf stereo and shelves filled with an odd assortment of books: Freedom in Exile, by the Dalai Lama; 1001 Wonderful Things, by Hutchinson; Hindu Castes and Sects. There is a picture of Tibet’s Mount Kailash on the wall. My friend Chrissie and I joked (in poor taste, I admit) about finding a copy of Shopping for Buddhas on Birendra’s desk.

Inside, looking outBirendra’s last words to his son,” I quipped. ” ‘Are these things Greenwald wrote about you true??‘ “

I left the former palace feeling underwhelmed, and a bit sad. There is little sense of grandeur at Narayanhiti, and few signs of greatness at any level. One gets the impression that the late monarch, though not a sad man or an ignorant one, lacked the slightest shred of imagination. I had the sense, as I did so often during the 1980s and 1990s, that he was gamely filling a seat–hoping to be an adequate king between more majestic ones.

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