I’ve focused on my major works and my feeling about them in this blog and hesitated to talk about other, mostly earlier stuff. I suppose I didn’t want to complicate my premise too much until I actually established it. But in fact if one winnows the chaff from the wheat in the so-called minor works, there may be something of value there and I’d like to offer a general description of each.
Peanutz in the Sun (1966) was a short collection of story fragments, mostly about half a page or less each, really just playing around with the language. Here’s a brief example:
Fish glory comes to those who grab the glint in the water before
itz gone and then suck itz blood dry, throwing the nowtarnished
half glint back into the water, gord of all person, all identity.
The blood iz evrything now, maneaten and still throbbing threee
beats a minute—rocken, murken, so thin then—and becomes man
Shaking the Foundations (also 1966), a short collection of dialog fragments. Again, I didn’t have any theme in mind but just put pen to paper and let it write. Sample:
I You You Me
He: I saw you.
She: You saw me.
He: I watched you.
She: You watched me.
He: I read you.
She: You read me.
He: I discovered you.
She: You discovered me.
He: I knew you.
She: You knew me.
He: I wanted you.
She: You wanted me.
He: I cast you out.
She: You cast me out.
Or this one:
Bluejay: Just think about the properties of things! Each has
its own design, all things in the universe. Warming
substances sometimes makes them become soft and
sticky, and as they grow cold they harden and lack
stickiness. Just think if substances would harden as
they grew warm and softened and became sticky
when they grew cold! Think upon the wonder of it all!
I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was just doing, like a kid learning to ride a bicycle.
Heroes of the Yellow Wood, (1967-74) consists of four novels I decided to assemble in one volume, though they’re all quite different. Maybe I lacked confidence that one of them could stand on its own, I don’t know. In any case, I thought I was finally ready for publication (!) and looked for an agent and then a publisher directly, but no luck. My first experience with rejection! (I don’t count my high school principal—that was kid stuff.)
The novel from that volume I wrote first was called Radius, which is the protagonist’s name. (He’s only halfway there.) Radius is an introvert who has a girlfriend but whose real lover seems to be a tape recorder, which he talks to daily to record his thoughts. It might be significant that my first attempt is about someone who tries to withdraw from the world—a reflection of my own disenchantment with society at the time?
The second is Children at Play, about a six-year-old boy who is the neighborhood hero (among the kids) who rebels against school because it’s trying to mold him into someone he doesn’t want to be. In the end he gets hold of a gun and although he doesn’t shoot anybody, it effectively brands him as a troublemaker and the full weight of the adult world comes down upon him to make him conform.
The third novel was an attempt to create a less introspective story: Heroes, Monuments and Toys, the tale of a family living in one of the canyons of L.A. (Beverly Glen) when enemy soldiers from an unknown country attack the city. It’s all action—the world is falling apart— as they try to cross town to get to safety, but with my own quirky commentary implied throughout. Maybe the most “cinematic” of my books, this no doubt the result of the action-oriented plot.
The last of the bunch, Witchmen, Let Them Go, is about a psychologist working at a clinic who’s fed up with the whole therapy system. One night at a club he meets Wendy, an alluring sprite of a woman (and her eccentric friends), making him think that sanity is not necessarily what he thought it was. He falls for her, her uniqueness, her otherworldliness, her purity as a human being. In the end she jumps to her death from the balcony in the club. She wasn’t meant for this world.
What to make of these stories? I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that it was my expression that something was very wrong out there—how we saw and interpreted reality—the same reality we had a hand in maintaining—but I had no idea what the source of it was or what to do about it. That came later.
Europe Notebook (1969-70) is about seventy-five pages of short, numbered paragraphs, my observations and reflections as I hitchhiked around Europe. In general, the naive musings of a 22-year-old. Sample:
I looked into a mirror today, really looked, for the first time
in months, and I saw, for the first time, a man. And I couldn’t
stop looking, for all the wonder and curiosity, and maybe a little
And I smiled.
I don’t want a girl who wears jewelry and reads Brigitte Magazine.
I don’t want to carry that kind of baggage through my life.
I’ll never forget my dad’s words to me:he who travels light travels fast.
Back in Greece. I’ve been traveling with this Hungarian girl and
her mother for over a week now. She thinks she’s part gypsy, with
all her trinkets, bracelets, earrings, necklaces, and colorful clothes.
I told her that every time she sees something shiny in a store
window, she is immediately drawn to it. I want to tell her that if
you look into the sun too long, you will go blind.
Her name is Hedda, my first Hedda.
She is cold as ice but when I threaten to leave
them to travel alone, she is all tears and touches.
And I hate a girl who sleeps til noon.
And she doesn’t like camping.
And she was a model once so she knows how to play with men.
And she must have her tea, christ, three or four times a day.
She is lazy, self-adorning and lovely.
Other than that, she’s okay.
Saharan (1970) is a journal of my 10-day crossing of the Sahara. I was alone in Mali at the south edge of the desert (though I had various traveling companions in the weeks preceding), waited about eleven days for a truck (the sandstorm season was coming so there wasn’t any traffic) and finally an Algerian sheep truck came through from Niger and I got on. On, not in. Two Algerian Arabs rode in the cab and I rode in the back with two black Malians—the mechanic and the factotum—sitting on two boards about five feet over the sheep. There was no road—only tire tracks in the sand. And always, the heat. It was tough, but one of the most interesting and memorable experiences of my life. Sample:
April 18 Last night we hit sand. After the spectacular scenery and the tea and the rice with meat, we hit sand. It was a short stretch, maybe only a half mile long, but we didn’t get through it until 3:30am. We had been moving right along, the tracks were plenty firm, but soon the tire marks ran deeper and sand had begun filling them in. Moving a loaded truck through sand is probably one of the hardest and most frustrating things in the world. Wilma [the name given to the truck] carries seven steel planks, each one eight feet long and two feet wide and weighing about seventy pounds. The wheels had to be dug out and the planks rammed beneath them. Omar [the driver] then banged the clutch and jammed the gas, diesel smoke blackened the air and the truck lurched ahead eight feet. The brakes were hit, the planks moved forward one position each, the clutch-gas routine was repeated and the five-ton vehicle advanced another eight feet. We did this in the darkness for six hours. Toward the end we couldn’t carry the planks at all but had to drag them through the thick sand. We tried to speak, to joke around to keep our morale up, but inside you have that sick feeling that you’re never going to get out. Our hands were raw from lifting the planks, our legs rubbery from constantly plunging into the sand, our throats parched from the dry night air. We had to free ourselves before we settled for the night, because no one would be able to sleep knowing he had to wake up to the same nightmare he went through the night before. We’re heading toward Tessalit, and Gilbert [the mechanic] told me that after Tessalit lies six hundred miles of sand. No trees, no rocks, no wildlife, just sand. One can only keep his chin up and take each day as it comes.
We’ve got a brute of a black Malian to do much of the heavy work (though everybody works). If I say he has the strength of ten men, believe it. He’s six feet tall and moves like a rogue elephant. He calls me ‘camarade’ and I slap him on the shoulder. I hit rock. His fists are twice mine and when we were all groaning under the weight of the planks, he hefted them on his shoulder like an ox. He’s loud, he’s crude, he argues like hell with Omar and Gilbert over just about everything, but he’s the kind of person it takes to power this 18-wheeled hunk of metal over nine hundred miles of the roughest country in the world. He speaks Arabic and a brand of French a Parisian wouldn’t understand; he’s ignorant—there’s no doubt about it—but there’s not a man on the truck who doesn’t respect him and who doesn’t breathe a little easier when they see him lugging those planks or breaking chunks off trees for firewood. His name is hard to pronounce so I call him Ox.
We arrived at a little adobe town about 50 miles south of Tessalit, where we prepared couscous and of course, tea. Ox likes a lot of pepper on his food, and whenever he cooks, I know to fill a large water can to take with the meal. Dinner was good, though. After three cups of thick green tea, Gilbert took out a little packet of blue paper and unwrapped it. Inside was a tablespoon or so of a green leafy mixture—it looked like kif. He took a cigarette out of his pack, rolled it between two fingers until all the tobacco was gone, then packed the paper with his kif. He lit it on a coal from the fire, and he and Ox got stoned together under the truck. It was a pleasure seeing them enjoying themselves. I’ll be out of the desert in a week, but I know they must remain here to cross and re-cross the same long route. Justice must come from somewhere, and a small blue packet of paper is cheap and available, and very little else is in Africa.
Coming Up Clean (1970-71) is a fascinating (ahem) book of fictional interviews I wrote while a first-year teacher in L.A. after my return from Europe/Africa. Seeing America with fresh (and more objective) eyes now, I had the narrator of the book “interview” Americans from all walks of life and ask them to comment about what was wrong with the way things were and how they thought it might be improved. (This is purely fiction, remember—I wrote the interviews.) In the end, the interviewer realizes he’s got information from the grassroots that the powers-that-be don’t have access to and he feels it’s his duty to walk across the country to Washington, D.C. to present the book to the President (who was Nixon at that time).
This was my second attempt at publication but no one was interested. However, I was in a Master’s degree program then at the University of Southern California and my advisor said, “Let’s whip it into academic form—chapter headings, table of contents and all that—and submit it as your thesis!” Which I did. Anyway, this book might be seen as my first real attempt to come to grips with what was ailing our society and the germ of my notion of how to deal with it. Thus I think it’s a direct forerunner of Daytona Beach Reflections written ten years later (and far more mature in outlook), and culminating in The Meanings of Love ten years after that.
Mr Bojangles, Dance, (1972) has an interesting story behind it. I was bored to death as a teacher—a junior high school in L.A.—and something had been gnawing at me for some time. In the book I just told you about, Coming Up Clean, the narrator/interviewer decides he has a duty to walk to Washington to present the book to the President, and it gradually dawned on me that if I really believed in the book, I’d have to do that very thing. So I sent a telegram to Nixon to tell him I was coming, quit my job, packed a backpack and set out on foot, the radio station KRLA asking me to call in once a week to let them know about my progress. Mr Bojangles is the journal of that walk.
Unfortunately Nixon was in Moscow when I arrived at the White House and an aide, Ken Clawson, received the book—Coming Up Clean—promising to give it to the President (liar!). I did, however, get a half-page write-up with photo in front of the White House in the Washington Post. (May 24, 1972.) By the way, my birth name is Dennis Williams—people called me Denny—but I changed it in 1979, the year I got my doctorate. So the name in the Post article is “Denny Williams.” It’s me, though, in all my idealistic glory. I even read a prepared speech, though only the Post journalist Michael Kernan and the photographer were there to listen, along with two friends of mine who drove up from North Carolina. That speech (White House Address), though a solid representation of my thinking, really reflects the spirit of the times (Vietnam War era) and I needed many more years of study, reflection and experience to bring its ideas to greater fruition.
A week later I was in Florida visiting my parents (retirees from the North) and I received a letter from Senator Cranston from California, saying he agreed with me (excerpts of my speech were printed in the Post article) and asking me to stop in to see him if I was in Washington again. I didn’t—to me he was just another face of the wrong-headed government.
Miscellaneous Ramblings (1972) is another journal, about my time in New York that same year looking for a publisher for Mr Bojangles. Did I find one? Actually, two different literary agents told me to make a big splash on radio and TV while I was in New York and then come back and talk to them. Of course the media’s collective response when I contacted them was “Denny who?” It’s tough out there, I tells ya! Anyway, the beginning of that journal:
To my craft again. How else is one to translate, to distinguish oneself from the millions of faces, the swell of a billion untried ideas? From whence does the light appear? Is it the measure of a tune that leads us those few seconds through the dark? Or good news of a friend? Or a kiss?
So, to my craft again. And in the unraveling of words, of phrases, maybe a truth will also
Being alone in New York is no worse than being alone anywhere else.
A Chinese painter in the Village told me it takes a very good mind to be a writer. Who, then, dares to call themselves a writer? No, better to consider oneself a goddam fool digging a hole to China than to impersonate a herald of truth.
The road to success is always under construction, as they say. Or life is the process of becoming, or you are what you do, and all that. But it’s impossible to evaluate oneself right now, for the present is too transitory to be yoked with criteria. The question “Who am I?” can never be adequately answered. Yet we beg for judgment, weigh a man’s possessions, his diplomas and credentials, the slimness of his wife’s leg, so we may decide how we relate to him—with respect, indifference, scorn or envy? Is it any wonder that the thinkers of today want to unseat the gods of literature, of politics, the gods who haven’t been able to change the course of human destiny?
I met a black man on the bus. He said he was walking down Lexington Avenue nine years ago when a man came up to him, hit him in the head, and as he bent down to pick up his glasses, kicked him in the eyes. He now lives at the YMCA and can’t get a good night’s sleep “because of all the characters around there.” Sartre, da Vinci, Lincoln, St Joan whom I love dearly, what have they done for this blind spade who lives at the YMCA?
The street preachers on 42nd Street were debating with the crowd when I heard a bum say to another, “That Jesus Christ, what a man he was. He walked on water, too. They couldn’t have made it up, either; who would’ve thought of such a thing? No, he walked on water. What a man!”
And what a man Albert Schweitzer was. And [Bishop] James Pike. How shall I compete? Let me die a fucking bum to say that I never gave up my dream. Yet I am a proud, vain, angry sexual beast. What am I but a rag compared to Albert Schweitzer?
Art is the attempt to express man’s highest aspirations. A good writer will make the dreams of his people come alive with his words. Cannot a writer nourish their spiritual needs? Are we not feathers in the cap of God? And are not some of us ragged and some of us beautifully plumed? Is not a writer’s purpose, then, to demonstrate how all feathers may become beautiful in the eyes of God?
Uncontrollable Stories (1974), written in Manhattan and then Spring Valley, New York, is an odd collection of short stories. Rereading them now, they seem to be a kind of free flow of creativity—raw ideas—that are more or less untouched by my “prescription for a better world,” as it were. I find many of them interesting and some fascinating. Some are very adolescent. Here’s the first page or so of one of them:
Notes on Christine
She was a cunner, if you think what I mean. She had all the attachments: boots, shape, tongue like fire, new york thighs, honey still moist on her skin, she walked like flame. Naked she rises, naked she descends. I’m trying to make you understand divinity when it passes you on the street. When it gets out of a car half drunk, panties flaming, legs feeling for pavement, lips wet and wanting. When it hurries by, rush of perfume too much to bear, too much. When it cries out at the prick of a needle, when you feel that violation miles, even thousands of miles away. When it was thirteen it became a woman. I would have eaten dirt for her.
She has a past nine years old. Before that, the emptiness of childhood, hopeless Saturday afternoons, the agonies of channels two, seven and nine. Suddenly it was dawn. They named her Christine, integer of the Trinity, joining Man and Child. She was outer space. She was justice.
I liked the way she smoked a cigarette without inhaling, throwing her head back when she blew the smoke out. She could’ve borne Jesus.
Grappling, pushing in the streets, she searched every face for a flicker of recognition—she couldn’t blend, couldn’t match spirits senses eyes thoughts tears with anyone on this earth. How could she manage? And one day she discovered between her legs a whirlpool which could suck another human being into her. It was her first communion. But the Man didn’t come to worship but to violate, wiping the lipstick and saliva from his mouth and scratching a deaf ear to her sobs while zipping up his pants and walking out the door.
Though I wasn’t there, I swear this could be true.
As for me, I lay awake and built a glorious tower and the next morning I discovered that it was architecturally unsound. I loved her.
Fog and Rain (1975) was a collection of poems (53pp) written in Oregon. The story behind it: I’d met a woman in Florida when visiting my parents, we’d fallen in love—ostensibly—and sometime later, she hinted quite strongly, “Let’s run away together.” (She was married at the time.) Anyway, that’s not something I’d do, believe me, but I’d barely escaped the hell of Viet Nam, lost my best friend to a sniper’s bullet there, suffered a year on the road in Europe and Africa and crossed the Sahara on a sheep truck, walked across the United States for my country, written books nobody wanted to read, couldn’t find a decent job, etc etc, so I wasn’t in much of a position to turn down candy. We packed her car and left. “Where shall we go?” she asked. I replied, “How about Oregon? I heard it’s beautiful there.” We were about 27. It was beautiful. Six months later—mid-winter—she went back to the warmth and comfort of Florida. Fog and Rain contains the poems I wrote after that. The first are about life without her; the rest, life in general. Here’s a brief one:
there’s too much
in this world
Sitting in a Room in Oregon (1975) is a long poem (44pp), moody and reflective like the ones just before. It’s also philosophical in outlook and reflects both my sense of loss and of wonder. Here are the first couple pages:
I’m sitting in a room
looking at a tree framed by a chalk-white sky
while the sound of the logging trucks
making their way home to the mill
shakes my cups in the cupboard
and makes them dance.
Her many arms stretched outward
the tree reminds me of a mother praying
for her children.
They are the pine cones
clinging to her boughs
like suckling pigs.
She has a way about her
which seems old and ugly
but somehow more beautiful than me.
And I am so beautiful.
I look carefully at the rough bark
and hardy needles
and I see wisdom much greater than I can grasp.
I’m so ignorant.
There is a dog sitting under the tree.
The dog is more ignorant than I am
as he lets his wet tongue hang out
in his panting.
He has no degrees and I have several
and so our fates are sealed.
He has attended no lectures
except the ones we gave him
to get him to understand
that what he has done was wrong.
He holds no membership
in learned societies
but he is his own society.
It was us
who rang the bell to make him salivate
but he bears us no grudge.
He is our best friend
and he is ignorant.
I’m sitting in a room
looking through the window
at a pinecone dropping from the tree
and I see that the tree
has discharged its responsibilities
and I am glad.
I am grateful that there is a plan.
I am thankful that the wind knows when to blow
and that the sun rises without fail.
I want to know
my part in the plan.
I know when to eat and when to sleep
and I want my whole life to be
like eating and sleeping.
I want to be as free as the pine tree
in discharging my responsibilities.
Voyage (1979) is a journal, and probably my best one. How it came to be is an interesting story. When I finished my doctorate, I was offered a position at a private college in Milwaukee (no thank you) and was also flown to Texas for three days to interview at the University of Dallas. I lectured to several classes and met with administrative staff—deans and such. When I left, the Head of the Department said I “would be like the pied piper” to their students (I was apparently a hit) and she saw me off with the words, “We want you back.” A few days later I got a letter saying that the admin staff thought I might be a bit critical of big business (the university was private and relied on corporate contributions) and they didn’t want to take any chances. (While I was there, George Bush père showed up and got absolute red carpet treatment.)
Anyhow, I decided then that I couldn’t be bothered with academia—I didn’t really want to write articles for academic journals as a daily grind, and my multidisciplinary coursework precluding me from getting a good appointment anyway—so I made up a flyer and sent it to every university between Eugene and Los Angeles, saying that Dr Rain would speak about the technological society for a fee. Hey, lecturers can make good money.
I got engagements at Oregon, Southern Oregon University, College of the Siskyous, Stanford, the Wright Institute in Berkeley (they’re big on German sociology), Cal State University Chico, the University of California, Davis and others. (I got $50 for speaking to an academic class at Davis for an hour and a half, and while I was in the student government office trying unsuccessfully to set up a talk to the student body, Jane Fonda’s agent called and I heard them agree on the phone to $1500 for a forty-minute lecture and she had to be promptly picked up from the airport and sent back immediately after. Oh, the perks of fame, and the crumbs to everyone else! Remember what Michael Bennett, Broadway choreographer of “A Chorus Line,” once said? It’s so strange: “In America you’re either famous or you’re nobody.”)
This made me realize that I was doing a labor of Sisyphus and had better rethink the whole thing. It wasn’t even fun—I wasn’t simply zipping down the coast like a writer on a book tour with audiences lined up, but sometimes had to wait 2-3 days at a place while they tried to schedule something. The waiting game is extremely difficult, not to mention me having to negotiate at each venue like a traveling salesman. And then to be paid peanuts, which one finds difficult to live on. To get anywhere at all, I knew I’d have to stop this nonsense and “write my way out of it.”
After that I headed to L.A. to spend four or five days with a friend and former UCLA instructor and his wife. Then it was off to Florida to see my parents, then New York to stay with my cousin, then to Indiana to meet a three-year-old daughter I’d just found out I had—I’m afraid I’ve let her down terribly—then to Detroit to visit relatives, then back to Oregon to teach some classes at the university.
And how did I accomplish this travel? By camper. On the back of a pickup truck. And every day I kept a journal of my thoughts and experiences—I’m sure you won’t read anything like it. Looking back, even I find it hard to believe. Associated with that, of course, is my giving up an academic career—or it giving up on me.
As a sidebar, after I visited my parents in Florida during that trip, I drove across the state to Daytona and parked on the beach for two months, taking notes for what would become Daytona Beach Reflections, one of my most important books.
Wilderness Traveler (1979) is my one (semi-) erotic novel. Au fond it’s the story about idealism and realism, with sex as the battleground. Can sex be a means of achieving a higher awareness of one’s own spirituality, of one’s deeper bond with another person, or is it fundamentally and irrevocably a private experience of pleasure?
Throughout the book, I maintained the former position, with the protagonist unable to find anyone who also sees it that way (via his various romances and encounters). In the end his idealism is nearly shattered by the “real” world. Does he then capitulate and accept the “truth” of sex or does he still pursue the ideal that he thinks might contain a higher truth? This, of course, means having to face continued frustration, loneliness, and all the other trials already experienced on his path through this “wilderness.” Will he give up making love and acquiesce to fucking?
What’s at stake here, it seems to me, is whether men and women are (or can be) more broadly “human” than simply “animal.” How strong is our biological heritage when it comes to perhaps the most biological of all acts? Is the genetically-imprinted animal necessity to be employed only for the inherent demand of the continuation of the species (not to mention simple pleasure), or is a measure of transcendence also possible? Or is this just a poet’s idealization of an act which when stripped of all frills and philosophies is simply animality and little more?
Creative Education (1978) is a non-fictional reflection on education—what it is and what it might be—and is the result of eight conversations over four months with an artist friend of mine, Sandy Eastoak. I was in the middle of my Ph.D. program and we became friends when she was doing the drawings for my book, The Art of Basketball. My academic studies and her almost purely intuitive focus seemed to be uncannily complementary, so recording and transcribing the conversations seemed a great idea.
(Note: I wrote The Art of Basketball in 1978 and Penn State University Press said they’d publish it, then had their budget cut and backed out. I rewrote the book fifteen years later and several agents asked me to have a famous NBA player or coach write an introduction. I contacted coach Phil Jackson and he said he’d write one—just send him a copy. I sent it, though he didn’t write an intro. Apparently he was writing his own book at the time.
In the meantime, I’m all over the world and the basketball book somehow got lost. Jackson now had the only copy! I searched his name on the Internet and sent e-mails via the various teams he coached—Chicago Bulls, L.A. Lakers—and also his Speakers Bureau, asking if he still had it. His agent sent me a mail saying they’d look for it but that Jackson had many offices all over the country and anyway, what kind of writer sends the only copy of his book? (It was never found, by the way, so that book seems to be lost forever.)
Black Bart (1984) is a musical play based on a historical character in gold rush California, a stagecoach robber who tipped his hat to women and often left a handwritten poem in the empty strongbox. In other words, something of a gentleman. The story behind it: I was in Japan at the time, had a collision playing basketball (a lifelong passion of mine—along with motorcycles and writing) and found myself in the hospital. I friend brought me an electronic keyboard to pass the time with—I don’t play but had a rudimentary understanding of the piano—and soon, there I was, knocking out tunes. By the time I left the hospital I had about twelve of them, so I decided to add a couple more (I bought my own keyboard) and write a play and some lyrics.
Suzie’s Japan (1986) is another musical, about an American coed sent to Japan by her father (an old Japanophile) to learn some of the secrets of that country. It’s almost too much for her. She falls for a Japanese guy, and in the end they find out they have the same father! Lots of weird and wonderful stuff about the mystery of Japan, and the music’s pretty good, too. I also wrote a few pieces for the koto (Japanese zither) for it.
Computer Man (1987) is the third musical I wrote in Japan—a Yale guy (and humanities type) finds he has to get on the tech bandwagon or ultimately be consigned to being a “nigger” in society. Thus he purposely takes a job working with computers but finds himself rebelling; as he does so, his skin turns increasingly darker. In the end he asks his colleagues to choose between his way and the machine—and collects a few (though not many) acolytes. (This play was performed the following year in L. A. at the Los Angeles Designers’ Theatre.)
By the way, I’m kind of an idiot savant when it comes to music—I can write some fairly remarkable songs but I can’t sing a note and I don’t play an instrument. (Also, there’s a lot of playful humor in the musicals, so The Water Book isn’t my only attempt at trying to be funny.)
The Cicada’s Song (1995) is a novel I wrote in New Zealand. It’s about a Kiwi kid, 21, who was the son of a labor organizer. His parents are both dead, so he works on the docks in Sydney for a while and when he returns, his younger sister goes off the rails and runs to a brothel in Auckland. He’s off to America to visit an old friend of his father, a black radical in San Francisco. The friend introduces him to a connection in Chinatown and he begins to make money smuggling Chinese into America (banned intellectuals and such) and ends up running afoul of some unsavory Chinatown gangster types.
Meanwhile, a second Kiwi (who’s the scion of a Yugoslav immigrant vineyard owner) and his brainy, clubfooted cousin have their own adventures, start a computer company and get rich. The two stories intertwine. In the end it’s a decade or so later, the first Kiwi has made his (modest) fortune and settled down, his sister leaves the brothel and gets religion, New Age-style, and the vineyard scion is betrayed by his brainy cousin and drops out, goes to the Gold Coast in Australia and lives simply on the beach with an Asian girl. Moral: something like, the key to happiness is to do good (ethically) and live the simple life. (Note: the archive company in Australia putting my books on disc a couple of years back omitted about thirty pages of this novel so there’s a gap. Come to think of it, it’s quite possible that they also may have misplaced my copy of The Art of Basketball.)
The Three-Tiered Society (1997) is a non-fiction look at New Zealand society, written while I was working at a university there. The three tiers: Asians, who at the time were gaining a tremendous economic foothold there, particularly Chinese; European Kiwis, the solid middle class; and at the bottom, Maori (the aboriginal people of NZ) and Pacific Islanders, who were becoming in the main a permanent underclass. Oh, the indignant letters I got back from New Zealand publishers! Priding themselves on their egalitarianism, they claimed no such stratification was taking place, though I could see it clearly. Now, sixteen years later, it’s even more pronounced than before. And still nothing’s done about it. Because they don’t see it? Don’t want to see it?
I hesitate to include the book Love Letter to Japan (2012) here because it’s a personal letter (218 pp) to the people of Japan. I lived there eight years (five years and later three) and was treated with love and respect, unlike in my own land where I had no honor. The book is a mixture of anecdotes about my adventures there, philosophical comments about the differences between America and Japan, and character sketches of people I met, Japanese and foreigner alike. My intention was to have it published in Japanese only and my mentioning it here is only for the purpose of cataloging the work so that it not be lost.