Art of the Resistance [C.K. Itamura]

28 November 2016

I’m with my daughter, Sophia, at Gallery 300 and we are looking at an art series of American flags created by C.K. Itamura. We’ve come over directly after having a conversation about the American presidential election that happened nineteen days earlier. 

I’ve already been given the rundown on the exhibit so this is a special excursion for my offspring.

C.K. explains the meaning of the four American flags arranged like a storyboard and screwed directly into the wall instead of hung. It’s a deliberate choice, signifying a country getting screwed. 

The flags are made from sheets of white cotton fabric painted black and ripped into two-inch strips and I comment that they look like bandages. C.K. says they are, in fact, meant to be reminiscent of bandages used on the wounded during the American Civil War.

C.K. tells us that there were 19 states that voted for Clinton and 31 states that went to Donald Trump so, in the first flag, she glued all 50 stars on the flag and after it was partially dry she ripped off 31 stars and threw them on the floor.

In the second flag she did the same but ripped off 19 stars and threw them on the floor. And this flag is hung upside down.

In the third flag, fake stars are spray painted to symbolize a pretense that everything will be okay, but the flag is still upside down to show that everything is actually still messed up even though some Americans will be trying to fake it.

In the fourth flag the stars are missing and replaced by US currency of $1s, $5s, $10s, and $20s because CK feels that money is winning and the wealthy and all the corporations are now in charge of America. 

The stars that should be on the flag are now across the room in a dustpan. 

But, at least they’re still in the room—a message of hope that the stars will be restored to the flag.


Readers can see more of C.K. Itamura’s work by going to Peach Farm Studio online or visiting her gallery at 300 S A Street in Santa Rosa, California.


See more Art of the Resistance in my profile of artist Peter Crompton.

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Long Live Lenny’s Nosh Bar!

It’s the twilight hour between lunch and dinner and I’m sitting in a booth at Lenny’s Nosh Bar inhaling a hot meatball sandwich with a Löwenbräu chaser and stewing in a shame of failed expectations that has dogged me from San Antonio, Texas to Eugene, Oregon. 

Sighing deeply, I stretch and swing my legs onto the bench of the booth and press my back into the duffle bag propped against the wall, as the sound of a twelve-bar blues tune with a palpitating Hammond B3 organ line spars with my beating heart. It’s Green Onions, the 1962 hit by Booker T. & The MGs, and it’s the second track I selected to welcome me back.

I desperately want to kick off my combat boots and peel off the military issue greens that hang on my body like an old skin to be shed in snake-like fashion; to scrub the sour smell of cigarette smoke, cheap alcohol, and body odor—the proprietary perfume of the Greyhound bus that delivered me home—which clings to me like a desperate barfly. But first, I’ve gotta decompress in familiar surroundings. 

I’ve returned to Oregon after being discharged from the United States Air Force on grounds of a difference of opinion regarding my military career path. I should have known the hidden agenda of an idealistic child of flower children would clash with the military motto: “Air Force needs come first.” 

My head turns as the bell above the door rings and Lenny Nathan strolls inside, doing a comical double-take when he sees me sitting next to the jukebox. Lenny continues to the counter, but he comes over to me a moment later with another pint—setting it gently on my table—and a joint, which he pulls from the pocket of his apron and sets beside the beer. “I told ya so,” Lenny says, but there’s humor and understanding in his mischievous eyes. 

I grin back at him as Ella Fitzgerald starts singing Too Young for the Blues.

~ Lenny’s Nosh Bar (24 August 1985)


Author’s note: Long Live Lenny’s Nosh Bar has a soundtrack in the recreation of a virtual Lenny’s Jukebox. Song links go to Spotify so you can enhance your reading experience and listen to the songs I listened to as you read.

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The Art of Resistance

Twelve days into the presidency of Donald Trump and artists all over America and throughout the world are resisting in the clearest and most articulate way we know how—through the expression of our art.

Artists that have never created a piece of political art are suddenly discovering that they are compelled to communicate their displeasure with the direction that America is heading.

Artists like Peter Crompton—a set designer and stagecraft teacher at Santa Rosa Junior College in California—are now inspired to create art as resistance.

After the November election, Peter sketched this American flag flying with stars downward in the officially recognized signal of distress—a perfect analogy for a world turned upside down.

Distress Flag (2016) by Peter Crompton

His next sketch shows the dismantling of the Statue of Liberty and represents the fear that many of us have that our civil liberties will be taken away.

Aftermath: Time to Rebuild (2016) by Peter Crompton

That sketch grows darker and becomes a little more Piranesi and less Planet of the Apes.

Aftermath: Second State (2016) by Peter Crompton

At last, the initial inspiration leads to the message that education is a better alternative to mass deportation of immigrants. 

As an educator, Peter believes this is the best path forward as Donald Trump was supported by the most conservative and the least educated among us. And that is partially true, but it doesn’t include people that are simply ignorant of the big political picture and are so disaffected that they will vote for a populist like Trump. And those of us that are highly educated and come from a more liberal and open-minded cultural world view can’t simply dismiss Trump supporters as stupid because it feeds into the narrative that liberals are elitists that look down on regular Americans with smug superiority.

Art can be the switch that turns on the light inside our minds to illuminate those dark places where territorial dogma crouches in chains, growling and straining against its short leash.

Art as resistance to educate everyone is what is most needed now to cultivate a sustainable society for all people.


Readers can see more of Peter Crompton’s art by following him on Instagram. 


See more Art of the Resistance in my profile of C.K. Itamura.

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Up Against The Wall

I’m hanging out in the Global Café and chatting with Colin Reese in Paris and Danielle De Picciotto in Berlin about Pink Floyd’s eleventh studio album, the Berlin Wall, and Trump’s American barrier to cultural progress.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been listening to Pink Floyd’s The Wall and one track in particular is often in my thoughts. This one—

The video clip above is from the 1982 film version of the studio recording that was released almost three years after The Wall came out. This song in particular always haunted me because it speaks of a dark and destructive mother-son relationship that I imagine would give Sigmund Freud nightmares. I can’t help but think of Donald Trump in the lyrics mother, should I run for President and mother, should I build a wall—and I also can’t help but wonder what kind of relationship the Donald had with own mother.

I was fifteen years old and living in Ronald Reagan’s America when The Wall was released on 30 November 1979. It was my Sophomore year in high school and the album was enormously popular with me and my friends. We found all sorts of meaning in the lyrics, and not just in the we don’t need no education parts. 

Colin says he immediately recognized the album as “an allegory of someone retreating into a nervous breakdown and the life elements that went into the creation of a psychological wall to protect the damaged psyche from the outside world.

He’s a bit older than me—closer to my dad’s generation.

“Yeah, I think that was the main through line of the album,” I say. “But it was also co-opted by people protesting the Berlin Wall and it definitely became an anthem when the wall came down in 1989.”

“True,” Colin replies. “But that’s a bit like football teams co-opting  Queen’s we are the Champions without really checking the words. Or Ronald Reagan using Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA.”

Still, I think the album is very much connected to the fall of communism in the Soviet Union in those first steps of dismantling a wall in East Germany. And, Pink Floyd embraced that connection by performing a live concert in Berlin on 21 July 1990 to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall eight months earlier. 

Danielle has a unique perspective of Berlin at that time because she lived in front of the wall. So close to it, in fact, that the armed guards in the security towers could look into her kitchen and watch her cooking. 

“I used to stand there and look out at them,” she says. “And over the wall I could see children play in a small kindergarden—and hear their voices float over the wall.
Although it was horrifying to think that the people over there were locked into East Berlin, and couldn’t move about as freely as we could, I appreciated that—in this case—the Cold War was not hidden behind the pretense of peaceful every day life but actually could not be ignored.” 

Danielle wants to know if Colin’s generation felt as helpless watching everything develop as many of us do now or if it wasn’t as visible because they didn’t have the same sort of social media.

Colin pauses for a moment to reflect before responding.

“As an instant reaction,” he says “No—even though things were awful and the Powers That Be that controlled everything were totally out of control. BUT…WE WERE GOING TO CHANGE THAT! It was the dawning of the age of Aquarius…things were going to change. Bob Dylan wrote an anthem song about it. And also, We Shall Overcome—that’s what Obama reawakened for many of us. And now…”

“Yeah,” I say, “Now we have this caricature of an evil movie President with whom to heap upon all of our hate and mockery—gleefully giving him a myriad of derogatory names. 

Colin likes, “Crotch-Fondling Slab of Rancid Meatloaf.”

“Trump is America’s Hitleresque doppelgänger Orange Supremacist,” I add. “The Groepenführer—a petty peacock proudly proclaiming his pussy grabbing prowess.”

I could go on but—thankfully—Danielle is here to take the high road with a very insightful statement.

“Living next to the wall reminded everybody in Berlin every single day how incapable our politicians are in finding peaceful solutions,” she says “But then again who is? 

I think that we all have to hold ourselves accountable for what happens out there. If we ourselves are not capable of solving our own individual problems in a positive way, why should they? If we cannot interact peacefully with people of different races, religions and sexual persuasion; if we cannot curb our greed and hunger for power and continue trying to take short cuts and don’t make the effort needed to be a person of integrity—why should a government? 

The fall of the wall is the best example. It basically collapsed quickly and suddenly without a single drop of blood when the complete population started demonstrating, standing as one silently—saying enough is enough.” 

She added:

“That was an impressive way of realizing the power of the people and how a wall only is the manifestion of what they allow or do not allow.”

To be continued…


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Dispatch from the DAPL Protest in San Francisco [via Ramona Lappier]

The assembly is ringed by numerous blue uniforms packing heat as news vans with tall antennas are parked strategically on the streets around the Federal Building. 

Reporters make their way with microphones through an eclectic mix of black, brown, white, old, and young people—referred to as relatives by the speakers—most of whom are women.

A calm but determined crowd of perhaps a thousand people has gathered peacefully in San Francisco To Stand with Standing Rock to protest further construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline and Keystone XL.

The ‘vibe’ is one of community but I feel strangely conflicted. I identify as caucasian but family lore suggests there is Ojibwe in our blood—a story wrapped in shadows as if a shameful secret. 

It is my whiteness I felt as shame tonight, though I cannot define it in the moment. I also feel something ancestral, something rising like lava long trapped far below, a heated need for recognition, for respect, for justice long denied. 

The spirit of my ancestors call out for healing to repair the wounds of a people wronged.

To this day I am uncertain what is true about my ancestry, but I wrote this poem when I believed it to be true that I have Ojibwe blood:

Grandma’s Grandma assimilated. 

Her birth name was obliterated. 

Her sacred ground was excavated 

by arrogant others who invaded 

and made sure the ‘natives’ stayed on stated 

reservations, or agreed to be mated 

to ‘good, clean’ Christians with whom they procreated. 

So my eyes are blue and my hair near red, 

but the cheekbones high on my white-woman head 

(and something, I hear it – some thing of spirit) 

remember who my Grandma was, 

even if nothing in history does.

The drums reverberate off tall buildings and voices in chant seem as much from the spirit world as from the earthly bodies gathered here in the middle of Mission Street. 

The scent of sage wafts on the chill night air as a final prayer is spoken.

~ Ramona Lappier (San Francisco, California) 26 January 2017


DAPL Protestors gathered at the San Francisco Federal Building (26 January 2017) Photo by Dave Dyson.

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[Wild Flour] via Odin Halvorson

The Bakery is a bustling metropolis of community socialism tucked away in one of those nearly-mystical in-between places of the world. It inhabits a special place in the region meriting appreciation as a piece of the local culture—really the local soul—as well as a unique resting point between the vast waters of the Pacific ocean and the California heartland.

The popular currency here is an IOU taken on faith of being repaid and most people pay  what they owe even if they live out of state. Sometimes they leave extra in appreciation. Another form of local currency are bags of Meyer lemons which are traded by the pound in exchange for a quantity of baked goods. These payment methods offset the fact that despite the increasingly digitized age the Bakery accepts no form of plastic. Credit cards are no good at Wild Flour Bread because every transaction on a card gives money to the banks. When asked, it’s a common refrain to hear a worker at the bakery say, “The banks don’t need your money so we don’t give it to them.”   

The global corporate market damages the ecosystem of small businesses the world over and it’s a crisis. Places like this are becoming rarer though they are needed more than ever. David Korten says that “global currencies lose connection with reality in the markets, shops, and communities of the people.”  

There are many possible solutions and partial solutions to this crisis, from broad-sweeping legislation to altering the Constitution—as Thomas Jefferson would have suggested—and to the creation of state-chartered banks. But the Bakery suggests something fundamentally profound that can take place without input from lawmakers. The suggestion is simple: Build communities. The driving force of the Bakery’s survival is its claim to a community spirit. From the people working there to the tourists passing through—everyone is treated like a part of the family. No shortcuts, no corporate dealings, and no credit cards. 

The only credit needed here is that which is bought by hard work, fellowship, and a love of good thick bread. 

~ Odin Halvorson (Freestone, California)


Odin is a writer and avid geek. He hopes to inspire community-building with his work and facilitates a twice-monthly “Democracy Café” which uses the Socratic method to discuss society.

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[M Train] by Patti Smith

Patti Smith has conversations with inanimate objects

She has a daily routine of awakening and going to Café ‘Ino—a regular spot in her Greenwich Village neighborhood—where she sits at the same table and orders a proletariat breakfast of brown toast, a small dish of olive oil, and black coffee. She writes of this after waking up from dreams of a laconic cowpoke who tells her it’s not so easy to write about nothing. 

The cowpoke is a muse of sorts and maybe some kind of catalyst to turn rumination into words. 

Smith is a poetic tour guide in New York City, stopping to chat with a bust of Nicola Tesla, which is placed like a lone sentinel outside the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral. She’s having trouble writing, off balance, moving back and forth from lethargy to agitation. Tesla tells her she’s misplaced joy and without joy we are as dead.

The café in New York is home base but she’s not always bound there. Her memories take her to French Guiana and the ruins of the Saint-Laurent prison—which she photographs with a Polaroid camera—and to Hermann Hesse’s house in Montagnola, Switzerland . . . and many other places.

Her rambling memoir is full of Polaroid photographs she’s taken over the years during her travels. Snapshots of Frida Kahlo’s crutches leaning against a wall in Casa Azul; the Arcade Bar in Detroit, Michigan; an incense burner resting atop the gravestone of Ryūnosuke Akutagawa in Japan. And there are stories that go along with all these photographs.

In one, she is sent on a clandestine midnight mission to Reykjavík to meet with the elusive Grand Master of chess, Bobby Fischer, who greets her with paranoid conspiracy rants that morph into a duet of singing Buddy Holly songs.

M Train is the sort of book I like to savor over time—a perfect coffeehouse book to read while drinking espresso and nibbling biscotti and taking periodic breaks to delve into my own journal in my own favorite café.


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[Sudden Dough] by Eliot Fintushel

So this guy comes up to me as I’m leaving the coffeehouse in Railroad Square, hard by the Mission where the homeless feed, nondescript guy, tumbleweed of the city, bundled up in secondhand coat duct-taped along the back, with that Michelin Man look, if you know what I mean, and he thrusts a hand at me so abruptly I tighten and turn, ready to be punched, but instead I see his hand is open, and there’s a roll of fifties. Fifties! “Relax,” says he. “I got $650 here, all yours, buddy, and all’s you got to do is sign me this piece of paper,”–handing me the piece of paper with his other hand–“and you can even keep the pen.” He has maneuvered in such a way that it would be somehow awkward and embarrassing for me to hand back the money and the paper and the pen, all of which I now find myself holding. .”Read it, if you like,” says he, “but it’s strictly boilerplate.” I look at the thing: I am to give him my soul, on death, in return for the $650. “I don’t want your money,” I say. “Sure you do,” says he. “Just sign it. What, you scared?” I scowl and sign it. He grabs it out of my hand so fast, it makes my fingers sting. And walks off around the corner. It takes me a minute to process what just happened. I think I was just staring at this ridiculous paw full of sudden dough. Then, feeling panicky, I don’t know why, I run to the corner and look for him, but he’s gone. I go down to the Mission–it’s breakfast time, and the hungry, draggling their sleeping rolls and bindles are herding in. I can’t just stand there with all that money showing. I pocket it. He’s nowhere to be seen. So, what the hell–he GAVE it to me: I head home, feeling like a rich man. Since then, everything has been aces.


Eliot is the author of ZEN CITY from Zero Books and BREAKFAST WITH THE ONES YOU LOVE from Random House. He has also published short stories in Asimov’s, Analog, Strange Horizons, Amazing Stories, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Crank!, and in the anthologies Jewish Sci-Fi Stories for Kids, Jewish Detective Stories for Kids, Nalo Hopkinson’s Mojo: Conjure Stories, and Polyphony 4. His fiction has appeared in the annual anthology The Year’s Best Science Fiction several times. He has been nominated for the Theodore Sturgeon Award and the Nebula Award, and has twice won the National Endowment for the Arts Solo Performer Award. 

By the way, Eliot is desperate to find that guy who gave him the money, never mind why, so if you see anybody fitting the description please tell him where in the comments.

President Business Signs Executive Order to Construct the Dakota Access Pipeline and Keystone XL.

He said it for the first time last month and he meant it: 

President Business not only supports the completion of the Dakota pipeline project, an unsurprising revelation he announced on December 1st, 2016, he put his money where his mouth is and signed an executive order this morning approving the go-ahead to construct both the Dakota Access Pipeline and Keystone XL.


President Business never uses his own money for anything—he finds a willing sucker and grabs them by the purse-y.

But that’s another story of a US President rumored to make a bundle for himself and his cronies in the White House when the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline deal is done.

So, who’s going to tell this woman I met at the Sonoma County Stands Together for Women march on Saturday?

I never got her name but she spoke passionately to me a bit about Red Fawn Fallis, a Denver woman that was at the DAPL protest gathering on October 27th last year. Red Fawn allegedly fired three rounds from a gun at officers—missing them completely—while they were taking her down to the ground to arrest her and she’s been imprisoned ever since on attempted murder charges.

Who is going to console the members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe fighting to preserve their drinking water and cultural heritage sites? As if there is any consolation that could be given to those Water Protectors that faced armored vehicles back in October, some armed only with determination while mounted on horseback as they protested the plans to route the pipeline beneath a lake near their reservation and endured environmental hardships for months. Their fight is now beginning again in earnest.

By his actions today in executing the executive order, it appears that President Business does not have the best interests of Americans in North Dakota—nor does he seem to care if the people at Standing Rock have access to clean drinking water. In alternative fact, he is currently diving headfirst into a swimming pool filled with gold coins.

I can picture him now, rising out of the pool and stepping over the skulls of his enemies as he strides over to his iron throne, whispering over his shoulder to his demon muse in the fashion of the notorious 18th century cake boss, Marie Antoinette:

“Business is business. Water can be bought in a plastic bottle. Let them drink the tears of their ancestors.”

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Reflections of rain kissed cobblestones in Kerouac Alley.

It’s Sunday morning in San Francisco and the impeccable timing of cathedral bells welcome me to the streets as I walk through the revolving doors exiting the lobby of the Mark Hopkins Hotel.

I arrived in the city at ten in the morning and I have time to burn before I meet with the organizers and fellow volunteers of the San Francisco Writer’s Conference this afternoon.

Descending the steep California Street, I note the narrow slice of the Golden Gate Bridge framed between buildings, just before I stop for a selfie with Resting Hermes—a kindred spirit in mercurial lounging.

I’m heading for Chinatown in general and Vesuvio Café in particular, to hole up for a few hours of writing before heading back to the Mark Hopkins.

Vesuvio Café, located in a building on Columbus Street and Kerouac Alley, was designed in the Renaissance Italian Revival style by Italo Zanolini and built in 1913. More than merely a cafe for writers, Vesuvio is both a Beat Poet Mecca and a cocktail bar in North Beach. And, as it is also located across the street from City Lights Bookstore, it’s the only place for me to write when I’m in the city.

Established in 1948 by Henri Lenoir, Vesuvio is famous for being a popular hangout for of the Beat Generation. Of course, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti are patron saints of the place. It was also frequented by the two Dylans—Bob and Thomas—as well as a rogues gallery of notable cultural figures and icons.

To be continued…



Words in Revision