Archive for the ‘Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill’ Category

Where I Stand

December 20, 2016

I’d originally intended to write this piece after Clinton won the election to explain why I couldn’t vote for her. I’m writing it anyway. It’s meant to explain where I stand culturally/politically.

I was born into a mainstream “moderate to conservative” (I put the words in quotes because I think they’re deceptive) Democratic Party household. Eugene McCarthy’s near upset of Lyndon Johnson in the New Hampshire primary inspired me to leave the fold. I became what would be described today as an “ultra liberal.” Then, with the election of Richard Nixon, I dropped out psychologically and philosophically, switching my allegiance to the counterculture. The change coincided with my deepening disillusionment with Western civilization and ideas.

In its early days, the counterculture was divided into two fundamental factions: the spiritual hippies and the New Left politicos. The essential difference was that the hippies believed you had to change yourself before you could change the world, while the leftists believed you had to change the world before you could change yourself. I sided with the hippies. By the time I was 20 I completely dismissed mainstream American culture. I saw it as dying. At the same time, the hippie image and philosophy were being diluted and destroyed by the Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll crowd, who were not hippies, but looked like them. I ended up dropping out of the counterculture—dropping out of the drop-outs—and landing on the streets of North Beach, where I continued my search for what is “really real.” It wasn’t exactly a deliberate move, but neither was it an accident. I didn’t find all my answers there, but I did find many. And I came to a solid understanding that America really was in a death spiral, something that’s quite apparent now.

I remained a complete outsider—no home, no job, no ID—until the wild parrots came into my life. By getting involved with two creative projects, the book and the film, and having to present them to the public, I got pulled back into the System. (Both projects happened naturally. They were not calculated.) But I remained essentially a counterculturist disillusioned with the counterculture—not to mention the System. My return coincided with 9/11, so in 2008, I was happy to be seduced by Obama. But he turned out to be more of the same—a so-called centrist Democrat. I vowed then that I would never get fooled again. The only individual I could imagine ever supporting was Bernie Sanders. He was from the edge of the counterculture, its political side, so he felt close enough to where I stood. But I never thought he’d run, and when he announced, I pretty much ignored him. He started saying things that for so long had needed to be said, and I was amazed by how many responded to him. I was riveted throughout his campaign. But the establishment Democrats had no intention of allowing him to succeed.

Since the advent of computers the Empire has become corporate and global in nature. (That’s obvious, yes.) I am adamantly opposed to the Empire, which is indifferent to everything save money and power. Its massiveness has made it the biggest threat to world peace, a healthy environment, and a sane life. Hillary Clinton, like her husband, is a supporter of the Empire. She made it clear that she would use military power to keep the Empire in place and thriving. Trump, who is a genuine sociopath (that needs to be understood), is more like a domestic terrorist. He will fail because of his ego. The Global Empire demands an ability to work with others, something he is incapable of doing because of his “disease.” He’s going to cause a great deal of harm to his fellow Americans, but it’s difficult for me to think of Trump as objectively worse simply because he is more of a threat to me personally. If I did, it would make me indifferent to the suffering of those who Clinton would have squashed in her effort to maintain the Empire, which, like America, is also in its death throes. Both Clinton and Trump are devotees of Mammon. They simply had different constituencies supporting them in their quests for power. Mammon has no principles.

My allegiance remains to the counterculture, which needs to revive itself and develop greater maturity. There is no hope for the established institutions of the modern world, which are completely off-base philosophically. I don’t care about economics, politics, or science, all of which now serve as tools for ambitious egotists. The only thing I’ve ever cared about is love. It’s the only thing that has never fallen away from me.

Progress Report #96

February 20, 2015

The world is going crazy so fast that it’s impossible to keep up with all the developments. Every time I plan a post, it’s made obsolete by something new. Putin and the Ukraine, the Islamic State, Climate Change, Greece vs. Germany, Republican (as in GOP) insanity, fracking. It never ends. You have to arrive at a deep point of view to say something that can’t be washed away by our contemporary lunacy. Maybe if I could post every day…But I’ve been hard at work on my book, and I’m going to confine myself to that for the moment.  I do have an idea for something I want to say that can’t be washed away by the madness. And I do hope to get to it soon. As for Street Song

I recently finished Chapter Four. Finished. I’m making real progress now. I have found my approach and my voice. All I need to do now is to keep moving forward. I’ve just had to abandon the sequential order of the chapters for a little while, though. My agent wants me to work up some sample chapters from the latter half of the book so she can have something to shop around. I’ve already started that work. The first one I’m working on deals with my first days as a street singer in Berkeley, which was the point where I began to stake my life on making it as a musician. I had a firm rule: I was not going to make any money other than through my music. I would sink or swim with it. The other chapter will begin from a point some time after I sank, namely my first weeks on the streets of North Beach in San Francisco with no money, no home, and no job—not even any ID. Some of that material is in the book, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. So after all these years, Street Song is finally moving forward in a real way. There will be no going back, no prolonging of the work. My aim is to get it finished.

I recently received a copy of the Japanese edition of Wild Parrots. I don’t understand a thing, but it’s nice to look at. I’m having some friends who can read Japanese look at it for me. The only thing I know right now is that the credentials of the translator are impeccable. I’m told that he’s the Japanese equivalent of a Harvard professor.

The Wild Parrots Go to Japan

January 12, 2015
The Cover for the Japanese Edition of the Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

The Cover for the Japanese Edition of the Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

The translator for the Japanese edition of The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, Masayoshi Kobayashi, sent me an electronic image of the cover this weekend. The book has been printed and will be released between January 15 and 20. I’m very happy about this. It’s my first overseas edition. They changed the title to Observation Sketches (Record, Description, Notes) on the Wild Parrots in the City, thinking that Telegraph Hill wouldn’t mean anything to most Japanese. That’s fine with me. There are a number of references to Japan and Japanese culture in the book—particularly Zen. I hope it resonates. I would like to thank Masayoshi who read my book in English, liked it, and took it upon himself to find a Japanese publisher. I’ll be getting my own copy in a week or so. Looking forward to that!

Pelican Dreams Opens in San Francisco

October 26, 2014
Opening Night

Opening night for Pelican Dreams at the Balboa Theater

Judy had her opening night party for Pelican Dreams Friday night at the Balboa Theater here in San Francisco. The film has been getting some excellent reviews, which is a relief. There was some concern that the general theme of the reviewers might be, “well, it’s not The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, but…” In fact, there has been little comparing. The new film is being taken on its own merits, which are considerable. The party was a lot of fun—and I say that as one who usually doesn’t do well at parties. I saw a lot of people I’ve met over the years all in one place. I met some new people, too. The party had a good feeling, which carried over to the screening.

The central location for all things pelican is Theater dates, links to reviews, and so on. There will be more theaters added in the coming months. If you get the chance, check out the movie. It’s warm, smart, funny, and moving. It’s not really a nature documentary—not in the traditional sense. It’s a movie that stars pelicans and people. And it’s about real life.

I’m leaving tomorrow morning for Olympia, Washington, where I’m giving some talks at Evergreen College. I’m looking forward to it. Then back here to help Judy with more openings and back to work on Street Song.

Staying in Contact with Mother

August 22, 2014
Baby Parrot

Baby Cherry-headed Conure

I still get called in every now and then to deal with the parrots. This morning someone telephoned to say that he had a parrot in a bush outside his front door, that it had been there for several hours without moving. He lived just up the street, so I put aside work on the book and headed over with a towel and a small travel cage that I use for emergencies. I was expecting to find a sick adult, or maybe a bird that had crashed into a window. To my surprise, it was a brand new baby. I’d never seen one out of the nest earlier than August 31st, and usually I didn’t start seeing them until early September. So this one was at least nine days ahead of schedule. Parrots rarely go so low to the ground, so he had to have been in some kind of trouble. When I walked toward him, he bolted away to a nearby bush. I heard parrots in some trees call out and he responded. The parents! The baby then flew up to a tall poplar where they were waiting for him. He looked a little weak and sloppy, but he made it. He’s in safe hands now. My hunch is that he fledged a little too soon, or else he’d been trying to keep up with his parents before he was ready to. At first after fledging (taking their first flight) the babies take only short flights and stay in a tree for most of the day waiting for the parents to come back and feed them. I always love seeing the babies. They look so fresh and innocent looking with their big baby eyes.

On another nature note, I belong to something called the South End Rowing Club, which Judy got me into. It’s not what its name might make it seem. It’s at the north end of the city and caters mostly to swimmers, but does have rowers and handball players, too. It’s a blue collar club—not a fancy white collar one. The building is real old and located right on the beach of a cove in San Francisco called Aquatic Park. Most people stick to the cove for their swims, but there are some intrepid swimmers who venture out into the bay itself, swimming Alcatraz and beyond. Judy’s one of those. After sticking to the safety of the cove for thirteen years, I’m about to do my first out-of-cove swim. I’ll be doing a 1.2 mile swim out in the bay along the shoreline from something called Coghlan Beach back to the cove. I’ll be doing it on a flood tide, so it should be relatively easy—like a log being washed along by the tide. I’ve been training for several weeks, and it’s done a lot to take my mind off my book frustrations. (Things are getting better in that department, by the way.) The swim is Sunday morning. Wish me luck.

The Word from Japan

April 16, 2014

I got confirmation this week that I’ll be signing a contract soon for a Japanese edition of The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. The book will be published by a company called Tsukiji Shokan. It will be my first overseas edition. The job of translating the book hasn’t been started yet, so it will be some time before the book comes out. This is a most welcome development. I needed some good news. Judy and I are hoping that we can interest someone in broadcasting the film, which, oddly enough, already has Japanese subtitles. Several years ago, a Japanese woman living in the United States who loves the film wanted her brother to see it, but he speaks no English. She volunteered to do the work of creating subtitles so that he could watch it. Unfortunately, we’ve never been able to interest any Japanese broadcaster in showing it. Maybe we can now. It would certainly help book sales.

In other news: Judy and I had houseguests this week from Japan, Shoji Kihara and his daughter Akiko. Shoji is an anti-nuclear activist whom Judy met 35 years ago when she was working on a film about the survivors of the atomic blasts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Nagasaki Journey). Shoji’s parents were survivors of the Hiroshima bombing, and Shoji has made a lifelong commitment to ending nuclear power. While he was here, Shoji showed us a DVD that a Japanese photographer made of the dead zone around the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. It was genuinely haunting. All that’s left of Fukushima is abandoned homes and businesses and sickly-looking animals—cows, dogs, pigs, cats, and chickens—wandering around looking for food. No one should be able to discuss the merits or demerits of nuclear energy without seeing something like this. It’s a large area of the planet that’s permanently off-limits, like Chernobyl. The reality that the photographs document gives the abstract debate over nuclear power some badly needed perspective. It’s quite likely that there are going to be more areas like this in the future given the number of power plants in the world.

Finally, I’ve decided that I’m going to start studying Japanese. I like learning languages, and I’ve always wanted to learn one of the Asian languages. But I’ve never been able to decide between Japanese and Chinese. It can’t be an intense study, not while I’m working on Street Song. But I’ve already ordered a book and I’m going to at least make a start.

Some Advice from the Land of the Free

February 7, 2014

When The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill was first published I braced myself for an onslaught of negativity. I was mostly concerned about how people would respond to the way I lived. Surprisingly, I’ve encountered very little of that. Reader reviews have been generally quite positive. So this recent Amazon review from “Durgi” under the title A disturbing read didn’t bug me all that much. I’m posting it so that people can see what you face potentially when you try to open up in public (and also because I find it vaguely humorous):

The author of this book has severe mental problems that need to be addressed. But his observations of a feral California flock are why I read thru it. I also saw the DVD, which better gives you a picture of the filth and squalor he’s accustomed to living in, and subjected birds to live in as well. He took way too many liberties with flock behavior and individuals within. Truthfully I wish he would have left his personal life completely out if it, as it was depressing and frankly, insane. I hope he gets the help he desperately needs.

Strangely, the reader posted her review on the film’s Amazon page rather than the book’s page. I considered ignoring it, but ultimately decided to post a reply:

Geez, Durgi. It’s difficult to know how to respond to such vitriol. Inaccurate vitriol at that. I’m fine. I was fine then, too. I wasn’t living in filth and squalor. I’m not insane. But I have never led a conventional life. I don’t understand why, in the “land of the free,” anybody should have a tough time with that. As far as taking liberties with the parrots goes, the only liberties I ever took were the kind that good friends take with one another.

As I say, it happens so seldom that it didn’t bother me too much. But I doubt I’ll get off so easily with Street Song. We’ll see.

The Rights of Living Beings

January 15, 2014

Before my six-year-long encounter with the wild parrots, if someone had asked me “Do animals have rights?” I would have immediately responded: “Of course they do.” I wouldn’t have been able to argue the point, though. The best I could have come up with is that it’s one of those things that just seems obvious. And it is. But I’ve been through the issue many, many times now and am happy to argue it ’till the cows come home.

A lot of people give you funny looks when you suggest that animals have rights. “Come on,” they say. “Animals can’t vote,” which is a horribly shallow view of what rights are. It assumes that rights are arbitrary, that they’re something you seize, are conferred upon you by a government, or are decided through debate and a piece of paper. But rights are inherent. It is not the government’s function to assign us rights, but to protect our rights. Everything that lives has the right to fulfill itself, to live the life that is natural to it. Who can deny that? It’s only the egotism of human beings that says otherwise. At this time in history, we human beings have become extraordinarily greedy—obsessed with money and power: ego. Our egoistic drives destroy our interest in the fundamental questions. Anything that stands in our way “loses its rights,” which is absurd. It won’t be easy to create a world where all the animals can exist side by side with us and thrive. But we’re supposed to be the smart ones. If we really applied ourselves to the issue, we could manage it. I will never accept a way of life that compromises on this. Even those of us who know it often forget that animals fear death, injury, and loneliness. If you ever get the chance to actually see that, it changes you. The big problem is that so many of us are so alienated from the natural world that we don’t have any idea.

A Strange and Difficult Week

December 16, 2013

My involvement with the wild parrot flock here in San Francisco ended fourteen years ago, and yet from time to time I still find myself being called back to them. People often used to bring me injured or sick members of the flock that they found, but it’s been awhile since that last happened. This week, two parrots came into my life. The first time, a guy was on his way to work when he noticed a parrot in the middle of Columbus Avenue near the intersection with Broadway. Both are extremely busy streets. This fellow is new to town and didn’t know anything about the flock. He just saw a parrot in the middle of the street and decided it needed to be rescued. He brought it to his office, did a little online research, and found out about me. He emailed me, and I went to get the bird. The parrots have a terrifying habit of swooping down low into traffic and then pulling up again. Occasionally they hit cars. My first assumption was that this was the case with this bird. But when I got him home I noticed that he had a bare patch on his throat, that is, the feathers were missing. When a bird becomes ill, the other parrots will often attack him, and they often go for the throat. The bird (a friend named him Broadway) was breathing through his open beak, which indicated respiratory problems. I put him in a cage and gave him some heat. He was woozy and he let me handle him without fear. So he was a very sick bird. About two hours after I got him home, he dropped from his perch and landed on his back—dead.

A week later, I got a call from a neighbor who told me there was a parrot in a tree next to her house, that he’d been there a full day. She’d seen him on her roof the previous day, standing at the base of a plexiglass wind break, unable to fly. When she tried to pick him up, he’d jumped into the tree that he was in now. She was fairly certain he’d flown into the windbreak and been injured in the collision. We managed to get him out of the tree, and I discovered that he was breathing heavily. I could hear fluid in his lungs. I took him home and put him in the same cage I’d put Broadway in. Less than a half hour later, the same thing happened to this bird as happened to Broadway: He fell off the perch and died. It was a bit painful having to bury two of them in one week.


Mr. Mingus

Making the week all the stranger was that in between the deaths of these two parrots, Mingus died. If you’ve seen the movie The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, you’ll remember Mingus as the parrot who used to dance to my guitar playing. For the last fourteen years, he’s been down in the Oasis Sanctuary near Benson, Arizona. I went to see him a couple of times. He was the last parrot still living from my time with the flock. And now he’s gone, breaking that connection forever. Mingus’ act was often difficult to take. He was a lovable rogue—utterly charming and infuriatingly aggressive. I had to throw him outside many times and make him sleep in the trees because of his attacks on other birds that I was caring for. Sometimes he’d fly to a fuchsia growing next to my window and cry, begging to be let back in. (He’d been a pet once, although he was born in the wild in South America.) I usually did let him back in. I could seldom stay angry at Mingus for very long. But he could be extraordinarily cruel. Once, when I wasn’t home, he chewed the toe nails off a bird I was taking care of. The toe nails never grew back. Mingus lived a long life for a conure. At least 25 years, quite possibly more. He had girlfriends at the Oasis, and companionship is what a parrot craves most. I will never forget Mr. Mingus, aka, Mingus the Mongoose. In the end, I have to say that he was a friend of mine.

A Wild Parrot Update

October 23, 2013

I recently got a phone call from Jamie Gilardi, the executive director of the World Parrot Trust. He was calling because he’d been in San Francisco several times in the last month or so and had not seen any parrots out and about—not even one—which is unusual. He’d even gone to their roost spot and hadn’t found any there either. So Jamie called me to find out if I knew what was going on. As we talked I realized that I hadn’t been seeing any parrots either. I’ve been out of town a lot, but even when I’ve been home I haven’t been seeing any. But I’ve been too busy with my book to notice. I figured that if there had been a massive die-off or something, I would have heard about it. But it was worrisome, so I started asking around and got word that the flock has changed the location of their roost spot. That was a relief. Then, just two days ago we got a visit here at the house from two parents and a baby. (The babies usually fledge around the beginning of September. This is the first one I’ve seen this year.)

Two parents and a baby

Two parents and a baby

Later in the day I saw a large group flying in the distance. So the parrots are fine. And I think I know  the reason they’ve been making themselves scarce in this part of town. When I came home yesterday our two birds were nowhere to be found. I looked all over the house and found them cowering in a darkened hallway. That always means one thing: a nasty hawk. I looked out the window of the bird room and, sure enough, there he was.

Nasty Hawk

A Nasty Hawk

I’ve been seeing a lot of hawks around lately. Different species, too. Cooper’s, Red-Tail, Red-Shouldered. There’s even an imprint, that is, the outline of a hawk, on the window of the bird room. Some raptor flew into the window at full speed coming after our guys and left his mark. It’s too light to photograph, but it’s a bizarre sight. It must have terrified the little darlings.

To sum up, the flock is doing fine, but they’re having to play dodge ’em with the hawks, as they usually do this time of year when the hawks migrate across the Golden Gate and into the city on their way south.