JAMPA'S WORLDLY DHARMAS
by Bouvard Pécuchet
INTRODUCTION by Devon Ward-Thommes
My first impression of Jampa Dorje was an eccentric monk, with dirt under the fingernails of his work-worn, life-worn hands. He was wearing an old sweater, a lama skirt swiped with paint stains, and chewing a cracker as he pontificated about dharma poetry (whatever that is) to Charlotte up at Lama Tsultrim’s house during a dinner party. Yellowish crumbs stuck to the corners of his mouth
But over the months, I’ve gotten to know him, I’ve seen different faces peek through—the mischievous imp who catches flies in his mouth and then writes about them. The warrior-bear-catcher, who chases the ephemeral catastrophe and patiently repairs the havoc wrecked in the wake of the beast. The reluctant curmudgeon “Grandpa Popo” who actually is the most gentle with Trinle. The humble monk who mutters prayers between his fingers on the way to Prayer Flag Ridge in the early mornings, and is so thoroughly devoted to his female guru. The repairman who can fix a flat tire or a broken window, the caretaker who assuages the nerves of a solitary retreatant and buys one of each kind of apple for her to enjoy between prostration sessions. The Padma family lover who has turned his lust into a deep and lovingkindness. The dedicated monk who is finally, finally, after 10 years of waiting, going into long-term retreat. And now, tonight, we’re here to celebrate the prolific poet-visionary, the pilgrim from the underworld who sees the future and is not afraid to go there, to explore, and to come back with words for the rest of us to learn from and be inspired by.
PREFACE by the author
From a Dzog Chen perspective, both worldly and spiritual dharmas come into play. All knowledge, every craft, art and science, any thought, impression or feeling can contribute to revealing truth about the nature of reality.
Here follows a list of subjects which reflect the various worldly dharmas of which Jampa has had some training or hands-on experience. He has vigorously pursued answers to why and how things work, as well as become familiar with materials, why they are chosen and how they are wired, rigged and so-structured. Always curious, he asks, “Just what the hell is going on here?”
Jampa likes to tinker, to experiment, to try things out. He feels it contributes to the process of enlightenment to be familiar with the tack and tackle of every art and trade. One’s view is broadened by knowing what’s up front and what’s hidden; by understanding the means of production one can better appreciate the packaged product. Jampa wants to know the base, the path, and the fruit of his labors and his meditations.
Some of the subjects in the list could be subsumed under broader categories, but Jampa emphasizes they represent special areas of influence on him. So, first the list; and then, elaborations of Jampa's skills and disciplines.
Crime and Punishment
Tools and Trades
ANIMALS: PETS, LIVESTOCK, PREDITORS, GAME, AND ANIMAL HUSBANDRY
Being named Richard and, when young, nicknamed “Dick”, having a dog named Spot was a must. Part Dalmatian, part mutt, this dog was Jampa’s close companion. When Jampa went riding on his first horse, Patches, an old rodeo trick horse, a broad-backed, sure-footed Paint, Spot was at his side. Jampa loved this dog and this horse.
Jampa’s sister, Lynda, had a cat, Fluffy. Long-haired, probably some Persian there. At the same time, or within a day or two, Fluffy and Spot both gave birth to a litter of six. Picture brother and sister sitting on the grass in the back yard of their home, covered in carnivores.
While he was caring for the cat with kittens, he stepped back and his heel came down on one of these kittens, breaking its spinal cord. He was heartsick and stayed up that night trying to nurse it with an eye dropper and with prayers. He fell asleep, and in the morning he found the kitten dead.
Forward in time to Tara Mandala. Jampa relates this story: “I am walking up a trail, deep in conversation with my friend Debbie. We are talking about tigles, tiny rainbow spheres, when I see a flash of light shooting down the trail, and a young chipmunk runs under the sole of my boot. With its spine crushed, blood running from its mouth, and it writhing in the dust, I tell Debbie to walk on ahead, as she’ll not want to watch what I’m going to do. I’ve lived on farms. It’s considered reasonable to put down a suffering animal.
“A blow to the head with a rock, and the creature is still. I dig a small hole, put in a few leaves to make a cushion, and lay the body of the chipmunk in the grave. I say a mantra, and then I cover the chipmunk with earth and place a cobble on top.
“During a Dharma talk, the subject of killing comes up, the difference between accidental and intentional acts of killing, so I tell about my encounter with the chipmunk, and Adzom Rinpoche tells me that the first act was accidental and didn’t involve me in the animal’s karma in a negative way, but that my decision to put it out of its misery was more serious in its repercussions, that I should have left it ‘to burn out its karma’ without interfering with the process. Such is the vast difference in views between East and West.”
“What do you conclude from that?” I asked.
“My chances of being reincarnated as a chipmunk are very high,” he replied.
There are worse fates than being a chipmunk on Tara Mandala land near the open air kitchen. The chipmunks were so well-fed on scraps that their bellies touched the ground. But, then, this did make them easy prey for the gopher snakes.
Jampa had many pets: goldfish, parakeets, a red hen that he named Henry which he kept in an oil drum, and when it was out and about, Jampa would catch it by chasing it until it was exhausted. When Jampa’s dad bought a 1500 acre cattle ranch near Red Bluff, California, the previous owners left behind their pet deer, two bucks and two does, Mule deer, which were much larger than the local species.
The deer had been raised from fauns in the hopes of them creating a herd for the purpose of hunting. Both buck had forked horns. They stayed close to the ranch houses and would often eat dog food out of the same pans as the dogs. The does were pregnant, and when they gave birth they settled in a thicket near the barn for a short time, but once the fauns became active, they left the area inhabited by dogs and humans.
The bucks remained. They would walk right into the house if the door was open. Jampa’s mom didn’t like this. They frightened her. During the next hunting season, Jampa found one of the bucks hanging over a barbed-wire fence with a gunshot wound in its flank. The other buck made itself scarce. “They were fascinating pets but not very practical in a hunting area,” said Jampa.
The cat killed the goldfish and the parakeets. The guinea pig Jampa got from Cutter’s Laboratory in Berkeley, which had been vaccinated for everything (except pneumonia), died after he gave it a bath, not realizing guinea pigs take care of their own hygiene. Besides learning discipline from taking care of his pets, Jampa learned two important lessons: animals are fragile beings, and you suffer when they die, if you are emotionally attached to them.
Perhaps, it is callused but one develops a different attitude when it comes to livestock. The ranch at Red Bluff came with fifty head of sheep, which Jampa’s dad soon sold. It wasn’t that Sam Denner didn’t know something about sheep. He had a degree in animal husbandry from the State University of Iowa at Ames, and he had been a Farm Bureau agent in North Dakota before he joined State Farm Insurance Company and pioneered opening offices in the Southwest during the ‘30s. He was more of a cattleman at heart, and he wanted the S Bar D to be a cattle ranch.
The family had another ranch north of Willits, California, with a herd of fifty very old cows and their calves that roamed over rough, mountain terrain. Because the cows were passed their prime, to attain better results in fertilization, the cows were artificially inseminated. Maybe not a guaranteed result, but it was an interesting process.
On the day the vet came to render his services, Jampa watched with amazement as the vet took a vial from his valise and inserted it and his arm up to the armpit into each cow’s vagina. Risky business standing behind a cow, which in fear would often shit and which might just decide to kick. Time and again, the vet performed his operation without incident, but the foreman’s dog got excited and started to bark and prance around. The dog was being nothing more than a distraction, but it angered Ray, the dog’s owner, and he pulled out his long-barreled .38 and shot the dog. Only, he winged it, and it began to howl and turn in tight circles. This action of his foreman did not sit well with Jampa’s dad. He asked the vet to put the dog down, which the vet did with an injection of a drug.
The Old West meets the New West. This was not the first time Jampa had seen an animal euthanized. His beloved Patches had grown old and gone off his feed. The vet said, “This horse is 20, if he is a day,” which is ancient for a horse. Jampa watched from his bedroom window and cried, as the horse collapsed and died. This killing and dying are part of the ritual of handling livestock. It requires a high degree of emotional detachment. It has been said that we are all killers, and for some, it is part of their livelihood.
On his cousin’s farm, in Iowa, when Jampa was age 9, he got a taste of bloodlust, and this affected him deeply. He helped his cousin, Birney, to slaughter the runts from several litters of pigs. He caught them and smashed their skulls with a hammer. He became frenzied in a violent passion, and when the last runt was dead, he stood, overalls soaked in blood, and looked to the heavens with tears in his eyes and asked, “Why?!”
An answer was not forthcoming from God, but when Betty, Birney’ wife, chastised Birney for letting Jampa get so involved, Birney replied that it was just part of “life” on the farm. The experience marked Jampa, but it was also instrumental in helping him check his behavior on several occasions when he became enraged. And when it came time for him to go to war, he avoided the draft. He considered war morally wrong; he also knew he would be good at killing men.
Other animals, working horses and pleasure horses, I leave for the “horsemanship” section. Game animals I’ll write about them in the “hunting” and the “fishing” sections. As for predators, on farms and ranches where Jampa worked, there were chickens, which are easy prey for skunks, hawks, raccoons, bobcats, and coyotes. Of coyotes, Jampa says, “Raising cattle is just an excuse for shooting coyotes.”
In the mid-70s, Jampa and his wife, Cheri, and his son, Theo, were caretakers of an 800-acre cattle ranch, about 20 miles outside Ellensburg, Washington, in an area known as Badger Pocket. There is a book at the D Press website entitled Cowsongs which contains poems about his experiences looking after a herd of 300 cows and their calves. The ranch was the old Jake Ingersol place, the Diamond Hanging J Floating I. Here are a couple of poems:
Coyote runs with the herd.
Cows pay no attention.
I take a bead—
Trickster says, “Caio, Dude!”
and weaves through my sight.
At first we were cowhunters.
Texas in the 1830s. We were called
‘Cowboys’ because of our youth.
Cowpokes poked cows to their feet
through the slats of cattle cars.
A cow to a cowboy is anything
he can drive.
Count the stock. And again,
still one missing—
down by the west fence line
Four legs stick out of a catch ditch.
Eyes rolled back, nose bleeding,
my presence adding to her fear,
“Lay back, Cowslip, relax.”
More than I could rope and tie,
I wrestle her to her feet. Moaning,
she makes for the feed. She’ll be
all right if she can walk and eat.
Architecture: CABINS, COLUMNS, AND CATHEDRALS
“America is a place that has no ruins,” said Henry James. By this he meant that it has no culture. “Give it time,” said Jampa. “We may not have the Colossus of Rhodes, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Pyramid at Giza (the only Great Wonder of the Ancient World still in existence), but we have the Hydrogen Bomb, with which we can make wonderful ruins. We even have the Neutron Bomb, which only destroys living matter and leaves buildings intact.” Jampa may be overstating things with his humor noir, but many fine buildings have been built in America since the times of Henry James (1843-1916).
“Architecture is a place to go into to get out of the rain when you are gardening”— a snide remark by a member of the Berkeley Hillside Club, a social organization formed at the end of the 19th century, which took inspiration from the Arts & Crafts movement. After the Great Fire of 1906, there was a renascence of building in the San Francisco Bay Area.
One of the most fondly remembered architects is Bernard Maybeck (1862-1957), a maverick in his profession. Maybeck did not receive many commissions for large structures. He is known mainly for his unique houses. One notable exception is the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco that he created for the Panama International Exposition, in 1915. He converted a swampy area that other architects had rejected into a mystic vision celebrating the glory of art. It was designed to convey the impression that the viewer had stumbled upon a Roman ruin hidden among a tangle of foliage.
There were large planter boxes on the two wings that extended from the main dome that had caryatid-like figures standing outside the boxes and from whose eyes water was to flow and nourish the ivy covering the palace. The ivy and the tears of the muses bewailing the failure of the arts to take firm root in California never became an actuality because the construction engineer calculated that the wood frame and stucco would not support the weight.
The palace was nicknamed “The Wildflower.” The people of San Francisco so loved this structure that it was not taken down after the exposition was over. Although it was made of non-durable materials, it held together for over half a century. In the 1960s, because of its state of dilapidation, it was demolished and then rebuilt according to the original plans in pre-stressed concrete. (See Palace of Fine Ants by Eric Johnson, dPress, 2007, www.dpress.net The dome is visible above the roofs of family homes near the marina. How came Jampa to be so familiar with the work of Bernard Maybeck?
After he dropped out of Cal and began a regimen of self-education, one of his favorite haunts was a wine bar called The Steppenwolf. It was there he met Price Charlston, Professor of Esthetics at the university. Price lived in a Maybeck, situated on Highland Avenue, near the campus. He was gay and a gentleman, and he liked Jampa’s company, regardless of Jampa being straight and a bit rough around the edges. This is off subject, and I will deal with Jampa’s sexuality in a later chapter.
Price realized he had an eager student for a friend and devoted much energy introducing Jampa to the world of Epicurus. They would take long walks in the hills, and Price would point out the details of beautiful homes. He took Jampa to museums, like the Legion of Honor and the De Young in the city, and discussed theories of art with his always-hungry-to-know companion. Price’s main texts in his classes were Croce’s Aesthetics and Santayana’s Sense of Beauty. The esthetic of Benedetto Croce (1866-1952) is an expressionist theory. Art is an expression of an impression and is representative of a fundamental, or intuitive, mode of human experience (Geddes MacGregor, Dictionary of Religion and Philosophy). George Santayana (1863-1952) saw the world as consisting of essences, which can be experienced through esthetic appreciation (Ibid.).
Jampa had not traveled to the European countries where the great art and architecture Price alluded to were to be found, but he looked at the pictures, and he read the books, and he used his imagination. He did not need to travel to find beauty. It could be found at his doorstep. And Jampa had seen some ruins. When he was in Hawaii, on the Big Island, he saw the ruins of Pu’nkohola Heian, a temple built by Kapoukahi on the Hill of the Whale, built by a human chain of rock, long before Captain Cook’s arrival in the 18th century; and he has twice been to Mesa Verde, in Colorado, and seen the Anasazi cliff dwellings (circa 900 CE).
Jampa has been inside Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, in Manhattan, and inside Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill, in San Francisco, and was suitably impressed. It is not the size or age— of course, Jampa would love to walk the streets of Paris and Rome and Athens and Madrid and breathe the air of heritage into his being, to see Michaelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel, the Temple of Athene on the Acropolis— Jampa is content with the scale of Maybeck’s Christian Science Church on Dwight Way, in Berkeley, and he loves houses…
Lu and I drink tea at Nefeli’s on Euclid
then hike around the Berkeley hills
looking at houses
This is the Lawson house
built by Bernard Maybeck in 1908
after the great earthquake
Making a connection between past
the house resembles a Mediterranean villa
Linking the earthquake
to the volcanic destruction of ancient Pompeii
each linked to each
I’m planning a house to look like a jet crash
to connect the present with the way the planet
will look over the next hundred years
ART: visual art and artists
“What have you to say about art, Jampa?”
“Isn’t that the little guy that works at the post office?”
“Be serious, for a minute.”
“Jampa was born on the steps of the post office in Silicon Valley.”
“You’re parodying Jack Spicer’s A Fake Life of Arthur Rimbaud, and Silicon Valley was called Santa Clara County when you were born. Don’t you have something meaningful to say about the subject of art?”
“I could say about art what Jean Cocteau says about poetry: Art is indispensable, but for what I don’t know.”
Jampa is being Jampa, happy and free. I will just do what I can. In the poem “Visionary Designs,” Jampa mentions walking in the Berkeley hills with Lu. This is Luis Garcia. Lu Garcia, or ‘Sito’ to his friends, had a tremendous impact on Jampa as an artist. In Buddhism, he would be considered Jampa’s root teacher, his Tsawa’i Lama, the one who showed him the essence of his mind as an artist.
Jampa had been close friends with real artists before he met Lu, in 1965 at the Mediterranean Café, following the Berkeley Poetry Conference. He had lived for two years near Aptos, California, where there was an enclave of bohemians, some famous and some less well-known. Before the freeway was constructed along that stretch of the coast, there was a restaurant located at a crossroads called The Sticky Wicket. An unusual name for a restaurant, but it was owned by an Englishman, Vic Jowers, and his wife, Sidney. Vic had been a war-correspondent during WWII, and Sidney had taught math at Vaser. A “sticky wicket” is a British euphemism, derived from the game of cricket, for a difficult situation, a mess, and anyone who has been in the restaurant business can understand the connotation.
The Sticky Wicket was a popular spot with the locals and with the Big Sur crowd, who would stop on their way to and from the city. Jampa met Jean Varda, a collage artist, who was hanging his fabric collage in the main dining room. One collage in particular interested Jampa: two women-in-waiting in lovely gowns in conversation by a huge canopied bed. Varda told Jampa that it was a wedding night, and one woman was saying to the other, “I just hope he takes off his boots when he gets into bed.”
Jampa enjoyed the humor; it intrigued him that there was a narrative. He was new to the world of art. He was also surprised that you could make a picture from everyday materials. This encounter with Jean Varda was in 1961. Many years later, Jampa saw a charming film by Varda’s daughter, Agnes, called The Gleaners, which was shot in France and explored the lives of people who gathered fruits and vegetables abandoned after the harvests. The film also touched upon art made from found objects, and this aspect was gratifying to Jampa, who by this time (2007) had long been a collage artist.
Other notable artists, in the Aptos area, were Lew Harrison a composer, and Leonard Baskin, a sculptor and print maker. It was a musical experience to accompany Lew Harrison to the hardware store in Santa Cruz to buy a few washers for a prepared piano piece he was working on— to see the great man tinkering and tapping sundry objects to hear their tones was illuminating for Jampa. Again, art coming from common materials.
The artists that had the most impact on Jampa’s development in these early stages were closer to Jampa’s age, artists living an artist’s life in the style of Puccini’s La Boheme. They would buy paints and brushes before they would buy food: Betty Taylor, Ed Miller, Don Webster, and Steve Desmond.
Steve had been incarcerated in Vacaville Mental Institution because of a heroin addiction, but his artistic skills had come to the attention of the resident dentist, who acted as an advocate for Steve’s release. Steve had developed a technique of building up oil glazes that gave his portraits luminosity and depth. Betty had a teenage daughter, and they lived in Santa Cruz, as did Steve Desmond. Betty painted with audacity in an impressionistic style.
Ed was a sculptor. Welded metal, carved wood, stone, even concrete would blossom under his touch. One piece in sculpted concrete, a woman seated on the edge of a ring of stone, was so large that the door and the jam had to be removed to get it out of the studio.
Don painted in an abstract expressionist style. He had been given a garage full of house paints, and he had collected a pile of plywood scraps from the Cabrillo College building site.
Jampa had seen a short film called Day of the Painter, where the artist uses every method he can think of to paint; he even fires a flare gun loaded with paint, as a final statement in completing his masterwork. Then, he takes a skill saw and cuts the large board into smaller pieces, just as an art dealer lands at the end of the pier, looks the collection over, pays for one he likes, and flies off with his painting. The painter then throws the remaining paintings in the water and walks down the pier. Jampa saw this movie with another film: The Horse’s Mouth, starring Alex Guinness playing the eccentric artist Gully Jimson, a character based on William Blake and Dylan Thomas. Jampa loved these films, and now he was emulating the lives of these fictional characters. And thus, when he met Lu Garcia, he knew his role.
“Are we going back to Berkeley, now?”
“But what about the New Vic Theatre and the plays?”
“We’ll get to those.”
“What about the romantic interludes?”
“All in their proper place.”
“What about the dancing on the table tops?”
“Jampa, first things first.”
“But you’re leaving out important material.”
“This is not about your shenanigans, Jampa.”
“But they’re related.”
“I know, and it will all be told.”
“Just a taste…to set the stage.”
“Well, after your love affair with Lyn Beare, who played the boy in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, and your wife, Patricia, who played Nicole, a servant in Moliere’s le Bourgeois Gentilhomme had her affair with Ed Miller, who played Vladamir to your Estragon, all was fair and square according to the mores of theater.”
“Then, you took your wife, your pregnant wife, and your infant daughter, Kirsten, by car to New York, an adventure that will have to wait.”
However, now that we have traveled to New York, there is an aspect of Jampa’s art dharma that should be mentioned. Being unsuccessful at selling Kirby Vacuum Cleaners, Jampa took to wandering the galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in a further endeavor to broaden his knowledge and in desperation of what to do with himself.
He was brought to his knees before El Greco’s “View of Toledo.” After viewing Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” he felt he wanted to eat a sandwich of cobalt blue with lettuce and tomato. He paid an extra 25 cents to stand in line to view Rembrant’s “Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer.” In those days, you could ride a mile in a cab for 25 cents, money, he says, and the money might have been better spent going north in the city to visit The Cloisters.
Now, back to Berkeley. It was here that Jampa first came into contact with Tibetan art. For Tibetan artists, the definite outline is of utmost importance in their thankas, which are paintings very often depicting deities, used as support in meditation practices. Precise and highly proportional use of form, line and color allow these artists to render their experience of visionary realms. The line is a spiritual energy. This was so for William Blake (1757-1827) as well. Blake takes a radical stance on this issue.
The great and golden rule of art, as well as life, is this: That the more
distinct, sharp, and wirey the boundry line, the more perfect the work
of art; and the less keen and sharp, the greater is the evidence of weak
imitation, plagiarism, and bungling.
(from “A Descriptive Catalog &c. No. XV, Poetry and Prose of
William Blake, ed. By Geoffrey Keynes, Nonesuch Press, 1967)
Blake detested what he termed, “the infernal machine called Chiaro Obscuro,” which he equated with the mechanistic universe as conceived by Bacon, Newton and Locke— the “Satanic mills” of causality. (William Blake, Kathleen Raine, Thames & Hudson, 1970, page 20.)
Blake would not have approved of the painting of light developed by the Impressionists, after the invention of photography, and much of modern art would be anathematized. He might acknowledge Hellenistic traces in the lines of Picasso, Dali, Matisse and Cocteau, though their forms would be repugnant to him.
The “definite outline of the almighty” may be more the province of spiritually oriented art, where the source of illumination comes from within, and the use of shadow and perception of depth are not so critical. Blake had his art roots in Gothic art, and he was reaching across the horrors he perceived in the so-called Age of Reason towards a vision of a pure land.
But I am beginning to write on Blake, and there is a chapter on him yet to come. What of Jampa and Lu Garcia? They are artists working after the Second World War, 1945 into the present. Much of what was disturbing to artists of the first half of the twentieth century— the acceleration of events, the fragmentation of culture after WWI, the increasing industrialization of nations, the astonishing flow of information, the effects of applied science, and the relativity of values— all this is taken pretty much for granted by artists now.
During the days of urban renewal, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, architects were faced with an esthetic challenge to create buildings that would fit into neighborhoods where there was a mishmash of styles. So, they borrowed a bit of this and a tad of that and came up with an eclectic blend. This using mixed media and the incorporation of a variety of painterly styles in one work is evident in the pictures of many contemporary painters and certainly in the work of collage and assemblage artists.
William Blake would consider Jampa’s art ugly, the work of Fumble and Bungle, but Jampa is undeterred. He admires Blake’s bold pronouncements, his iconoclastic beliefs, his view of the eternal artist and the imaginative principal, and above all his perseverance in an age that dismissed his art as old-fashioned, when in fact it was modern and revolutionary.
I am still writing about Blake. Let me turn decisively to the work of Jampa. Most of Jampa’s artwork is signed “Rychard.” Jampa says, “The y can simply replace the i in Richard, and the pronunciation stays the same, or it can have a French affectation and be Reechard, as you wish.” Here is his artist’s statement from Rychard’s Assemblages, D Press, 2007:
I contemplate and move objects around until things "fall into place." I like there to be a fit, and I try to interlock the shapes of the objects to give structure to the piece—an architecture of mind—keeping nails, glue, wire, staples, screws, welding to a minimum. I bring disparate objects together—eggshell Styrofoam, curtain lace, blurry photos and plastic water pipe—hoping for a most fortunate accident of composition. Look for nothing behind the junk.
Although there are examples of combining found-objects and of pasting together paper images in the folk art of the 19th century, as well some mixed media in the early work of Picasso, it is Kurt Schwitters, a German artist of the 1920s who is considered the father of collage. He created what are known as "Mertz," after finding a scrap of newspaper torn from the word "commertz." The idea that this lowly fragment of commerce could be recycled into the economy intrigued him. That which is rejected, ignored, cast aside, is still a part of the system, and the artist threads it back into the fabric of society. This art was considered decadent, meaningless by the Third Reich, so Schwitters’s work was burned, and he had to flee to America.
I am not a trained artist. I took printmaking and a class in drawing from Terrance Choy at the University of Alaska in the early 1970s. Mainly, I have hung out with artists that eat, drink and dream art, and I’ve watched them work and sat in cafes and walked the streets, talking with them. I go to museums and galleries and look at the pictures. I was 19 when I went to my first art show at the San Francisco Modern Museum of Art and saw Robert Motherwell’s blue collages of Gualois cigarette wrappers mixed with paint. I saw an exhibit of Brancusi and Giocometti sculptures and a retrospective of Kandinsky paintings. All of these exhibits strongly affected me—the “tearingness” of collage in the work of Motherwell, the solid presence of the Brancusis, the organic economy of the Giocomettis, the ethereal precision of the Kandinskys. Later, other famous and not so famous artists would have effect on me. Luis Garcia’s collages, for example, revealed to me that materials are everywhere, and I still strive for the sense of alignment I feel in his work.
I have used the skills of a carpenter, a plumber, a printer, a painter—trades I work at and enjoy—to make my artworks. The best carpenter is the one who can hide his errors. However, here I like to see the "errors," the crustiness, the broken, bent, wrinkled, burnt, twisted materials, the wire, thread, nails, and the seams in the cut paper. I paint with junk, exploring space, positioning this "trash" to reveal its overlooked beauty.
INTERVIEW WITH JAMPA DORJE
I made my way, wearing snowshoes, along the faint traces of a trail in the deep snow to Luminous Peak, the cabin where Jampa is ensconced. He welcomed me with a big smile and a hot cup of tea.
Bouvard: This tea has an interesting flavor. What is it called?
Jampa: Lapsang Souchang. It comes from the Fujian province of China. Smokey, some people say it tastes like boot polish. I have some other choices, if you’d prefer.
Bouvard: No, this is delicious, but don’t yogins avoid becoming attached to fine teas?
Jampa: Well, there’s no reason for throwing away good tea. Enjoy your tea, and then we’ll get down to business.
Bouvard: Do the Tibetans have a tea ceremony like the Japanese?
Jampa: Not that I know of, but they do use tea as an offering, and I have heard that, if there is a limited amount of tea available, the first steeping is called the “nirmanakaya” and the second is the “sambhogakaya” and the third is the “dharmakaya.” Each kaya, or dimension, is progressively more rarified, until it is tasteless. (Jampa laughs.)
Bouvard: Can you tell me about your assemblages?
Jampa: Assemblage is a process of making a painting by combining found objects. Assemblage has its roots in collage, and collage has its roots in folk art. Picasso added real newspaper and pieces of a guitar to one of his paintings. Schwitters used found materials. Philip Whalen said, “Kurt Schwitters tore it all into COLOR.” Abstract Expressionists, like Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg took assemblage to new heights of composition and absurdity. It is not all to be viewed in a serious vein. There is also humor in this work, although some critics see it as “anti-art” or “the end of art.” A gallery curator told me that my Cowboy Funk pieces were too dirty to hang on her walls. The outdoors does cling to my combines, which is another name for these objects, and I feel they are akin to environmental artworks.
Bouvard: Many of your assemblages hang on sheds and fences. I saw a number of these, as I walked towards your cabin. Do you see them primarily as belonging outdoors? You also make collages and boxes, right?
Jampa: Yes, the collages and boxes are made of more delicate materials. They are more intimate. The junk pieces I like to see outside. They highlight an otherwise overlooked structure, and the various objects around old buildings seem to become a part of the assemblage itself.
Bouvard: How did you start do assemblages?
Jampa: When I was hanging out with Don Webster, an artist I knew in Aptos, I was sweeping up a bunch of debris into a wooden box, and I decided to pour in some glue. Why not? Of course, it didn’t hold together, but it was a start. If you want a combine to hold up under the force of the elements, you have to give some consideration to how you construct it. I often begin by laying the parts I have collected on the ground and leaving them. I rearrange them a few times, taking into account how they fit together, structurally and esthetically, and how I am going to eventually mount them, what wire, nails, screws will be used.
Once I am satisfied with my composition, I start with the background level and begin to build, changing things as necessity dictates, as the materials demand. It never comes out as I planned, but that is half the fun. I do tend to over work my pieces, not to let well-enough alone, to get cute, “to put a bird on it.” Literally.
At the gallery I mentioned earlier, where the curator was concerned about the crustiness, the rustiness, the flakiness, I did get three works accepted in a community show and won first, second and third prize in the mixed-media category. I asked the judge, later, why the one piece received third place, and she told me that the little hand-crafted bird I had added to a projecting piece of metal was silly. Maybe so, maybe not; I had added it because I didn’t want someone to poke out their eye. There’s a bird in Rauschenberg’s Canyon. Maybe, if I had spray-painted my bird black, it might have flown.
Bouvard: Where do you find your materials? How do you choose?
Jampa: There’s a lot of junk out there to choose from, too much really. I set rules for myself, like I will only pick up pieces of stuff I find along the roadside on my morning walk. Occasionally a piece “presents” itself and goes to complete a work still unfinished. People give me things: “Jampa could use this,” they say. Sometimes, I find a huge stash of materials, on a ranch or in a junk pile. I get excited. I want it all; but I settle on pieces that interest me. Another rule is to use things from other projects I’m working on, say, doing some plumbing or fixing a garage door. I may incorporate the broken parts or the left over materials in my art.
When I lived on a ranch near Ellensburg, Washington, there was a mound of junk out in the desert. The guy I worked for had problems, work pressures, girlfriend pressures—he was a man in a mid-life crisis—and he used my shoulder to cry on. We had a good working arrangement, a rent-free house and a monthly salary, but the added “psychologist” part on my days off had not been part of the original deal, and it became oppressive. I continued to do my chores, but I took out my frustration by covering a large shed with junk. This was my first big work. My boss sold the spread, and the man who bought it was going to bulldoze the “Tack Shack,” as it was called, but his wife said it was a treasure, that she loved it, and it was saved from destruction. Kind of a happy ending, unlike the fate of the wall in The Horse’s Mouth.
The opening scene of Sam Albright’s video, The Collage Artist, takes place in front of the Tack Shack. I appear in a black tweed overcoat and fisherman’s cap, working on my art. I get in a battered GMC van and drive down 4th Parallel Road towards Ellensburg. Mt. Rainier can be seen above the Manastash Hills, and there’s a great shot of a hawk cutting the air in front of the van. The video follows the activity of an artist preparing a retrospective art show. There are three parts: the ranch scene and trip to town; a café scene, shot in the Four Winds with a part that is an interior monologue; and a final, Chaplinesque scene of Chris Shambacher and myself, accompanied by Craig, Chris’s three-legged dog, carrying a mysterious box around town. The video was shot just prior to a show I had at Gallery One with Don O’Connor and Bruce McNaughty. If you go to the gallery at my dPress website, you can see photos of this show by Julie Prather.
Bouvard: Jampa, what is the source of your inspiration? What makes you create?
Jampa: Oh, that’s harder to describe than how I make my art. You know that I am also a writer. I go back and forth and sometimes combine both mediums. When the poetic muse takes a vacation, I do visual art. They’re related activities. In collage, you cut and paste images; in poetry, you take an image from your mind and put it, in the form of a word, on the page. The brain activity might be different, but the impulse to make art is the same. Both are means of expression, like giving birth to something that wasn’t there beforehand, an urge to procreate. There’s a time for flirtatious-like curiosity with an idea or image, and then of conception, gestation and delivery—even before I begin to work—then, you have to nurture this baby. The actual making of the poem or collage involves all the trials and hopes and disappointments of getting this baby to grow into a being, but I don’t like this analogy much. Maybe the drive to create is something more transcendental, like communing with the Absolute. Or it might be totally mundane, like wanting fame. If you think too much about this, you’d never do it.
Bouvard: What might set you off, be a catalyst?
Jampa: Anything. As Borges points out, everything has its poetry, its beauty, even if you can’t see it. A blank page is a formidable thing, perfect in its blankness, but once you make a mark on it, you are committed. The work moves, changes, and you can find yourself lost, weary and confused. Stop. Leave it. Sleep. It’s easy to botch things. Or, go on. It’s your call. Sometimes, from a mess, a masterpiece emerges. I recall Henry Miller’s short story, “The Angel Is My Watermark,” where an image of an angel appears in his ruined watercolor. After he had tried several ways to save it, he tried scrubbing it in the bathtub; and presto!
Bouvard: There’s a question I’ve wanted to ask someone who is both a creative artist and a meditator. Do you find there to be a conflict between these two activities?
Jampa: I didn’t quite finish answering your last question, but I think what I have to say will lead to that, ok?
Bouvard: Of course, go ahead.
Jampa: William Blake said a work of art consisted of three parts: one part came from myth, a part from the art tradition, and a part from your own genius. It is my view, a work of art also has its source in three locations: in an outside place, an inside place, and a secret place. By the “outside,” I mean the context for the work to be done, perhaps a commission or an upcoming show, and this imposes a deadline. This pressure acts as a stimulant. The “inside” is your own personal standards and the methods, the skillful means, you have developed to make art.
For example, my way of writing is described in My Process (dPress, 2002, see Vol. 8 of The Collected Works of Richard Denner). I explain how I write into the book. I use linked text boxes in a computer program to create a book format. The open pages “call out” to be filled; and from here, it is out of my hands. The book becomes an editing process. I print out a copy, sew it up, edit, and print it again, until I am satisfied. There are usually pieces left over, and these start the next book in a series. The “book” is never done. It is done when you put a frame around it and call it done. With my assemblages, I may begin with a frame and fill it. Or, a wall seemingly calls me. I make a few strokes, and the composition begins to expand and take on a life of its own. This is why it’s hard for most people to dedicate themselves to art, to live in the moment and give up their structured lifestyle.
Then, there is the “secret” place that is a source for the work of art. I may be inspired by a beautiful woman, or I may find I am writing or making a picture to please a friend. I discovered recently that I wrote many poems to Allen Ginsberg and Jack Spicer. I want to be in that Circle of Hell where Dante put the poets. As Jack once said, “Poetry is a conversation among the dead, and the poets get it second hand.” It is in this secret place that strange knowledge comes to the artist, and it is here that meditation is helpful.
Is there a conflict between making art and meditation? My experience is that there is room for both, that they are compatible and enhance each other. Aspects of the creative process are meditative: there is the focus of shamatha, of maintaining a mindful presence in your work; and there is a kind of seeing, or insight, that arises from the vipashyana aspect. It is impossible for the mind to reach complete stillness when making art, especially with writing, where logic and the law of contradictions are in play, yet the mind stream is channeled, directing the flow of energy toward realization of what is really real.
After a session of meditation, where the discursive mind is given rest, I find my creativity enhanced, my hand steadier. The continual search for bliss in visionary fantasy, the god-like power of creativity, the revelatory ecstasy of epiphany are a mistaken direction to pursue, if you want lasting transcendental wisdom. Finally, there is no meditation; all dualistic notions are subsumed under equanimity, in a simple state of awareness.
Blah, blah, blah!
If you have brought your art onto the path, then it is a form of practice, and your view, your practice, and how you carry this out in your life are unified, were always a unity. You need to develop confidence in this. It doesn’t mean having a Big Ego. You develop what the Tibetans call Vajra Pride, which also requires you to maintain humility and compassion for others. You don’t need to be acknowledge by others. You acknowledge yourself. I could go on, but I think this is a good place to stop.
Bouvard: Thank you, Jampa.
Jampa: You are entirely welcome. Blessings. May the two-fold accomplishments of mine and others be of benefit—no, that’s not it—through the two accumulations, may the two-fold benefit of mine and others be accomplished.
What the hammer? What the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
from “The Tyger” (Songs of Experience)
One can sense the presence of the blacksmith and feel the heat of the forge, as the questions fly like sparks off his anvil in this central stanza of Blake’s poem. The questions are rhetorical, like the questions in the Book of Job: “Doth the eagle mount up at thy command, and make her nest on high? We are with Blake in a forging house, at the creation of the world, and we are then asked, “Did he smile his work to see? Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Spelling was still arbitrary at the end of the 18th century. The y in Tyger immediately jumps out at me, and the lower case h in “he” could be Lucifer (or since Blake mixed his mythology, the smithy might be Vulcan) and not the Almighty, but the “Lamb” could not be mistaken for anything but a symbol for Christ, Jesus. A dichotomy is being erected between the creators of Lambs and Tigers, as there is between other characters in the two books, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. It doesn’t matter who is alluded to, really; it is that the question is raised at all which confounds the reader. We would naturally assume God created both, since, at the time the poem was written, Darwin’s theory of evolution was not known, “The Tyger” being etched sometime between 1789 and 1794 and The Origin of Species to be published in 1859.
I wonder if Blake would have dismissed Darwin’s theory with contempt, as an extension of the mind’s rationalistic projections, or if he would have been attracted to the organic and evolutionary aspects of the idea and embraced it in contrast to the mechanistic theory propounded by Newton then in vogue. Blake was so very original and saw beyond “Nature.” His was a cosmological-psychological view, more in line with Tibetan Buddhist metaphysics than with any religious or scientific concept then present in Western culture. Blake and Tibetan Buddhism? That is going to have to wait…
More to the point is Blake’s use of metallurgy in the making of his tiger. Song of Innocence and Songs of Experience, which is subtitled Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul, was written during the early stages of the Industrial Revolution, when the blast furnaces were going full tilt and the factories were in continuous operation. This was a time when libertarian and anarchistic freethinkers pointed out the social injustices, religious hypocrisy, and political tyranny. William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Thomas Paine—William Blake was among them.
Blake’s language was different. As Mark Schorer points out in William Blake: The Politics of Vision (Vintage, 1959, page 3):
To trace the dialectic of innocence and experience, he tried to express
(and correct) the ideas of political thinkers like Paine and Godwin in the
vocabulary of religious thinkers like Boehme and Swedenborg.
According to Schorer, through his poetry and art, Blake tried to “synthesize the contraries of a visionary temperament and a social intelligence.” In his review of Mark Schorer’s book, Alfred Kazin, in The New Republic, emphasizes this point:
…Schorer has done what so many Blake admirers have wanted to do…
He has taken Blake out of the company of mystics…and has shown him
as a poet and thinker who accepted and corrected the revolutionary
thought of his time. We, who have never corrected it enough, but show
signs of abandoning it altogether, can now, better than ever appreciate
Blake’s relation to our age.
Jampa entered the University of California at Berkeley, in 1959. Mark Schorer also came to the University of California at Berkeley that year to teach a course on William Blake. The Schorer book was popular. It appealed to layman and scholar alike. The Portable Blake, with an introduction by Alfred Kazin, published by Viking Press, came out about this time, as well, and was on every intellectual’s bookshelf. William Blake, due to careful scholarship, was having a revival. Bob Dylan would soon sing, “The times they are a changin’.” In 1959, you could already feel the wind blowing through the billows of discontent, fanning the flames of revolution.
During Jampa’s first year at Cal, academically, things went from bad to worse to grotesque. He took English from Professor Thomas Parkinson. In class, he was asked if he had ever read the same book twice. He claimed he had read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness twice. Parkinson said, “And then you probably wondered why you ever read it once.” This smarted. He had never been treated this way in high school. Jampa turned in his first in-class Blue Book essay on the subject “My Home.” At the next class period, Parkinson announced that he had received from one of the students (Jampa went unnamed) the worse essay he had ever read. Jampa knew it was his, and this was confirmed by a huge, red “F” on the first page of his composition.
Jampa was devastated, but he knows now that Professor Parkinson did him a favor by this humbling experience. Jampa understood that he could not write a passable essay. He could diagram sentences, decline verbs, and spell in a haphazard fashion, but he had yet to learn how to organize his thoughts. The upside of the class was his being introduced to Walden Pond and the essay On Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau.
Another book that was a text in Parkinson’s class was The Organization Man by William H. Whyte. It is an analysis of post-war changes in corporate structure from a time when an individual’s readiness and ability to initiate action was appreciated to one that heralded a collective approach. A theme of Whyte’s book suggests a Machiavellian need to be cunning and ruthless to survive in corporate life, and when Jampa considered this in conjunction with Thoreau’s Essay on Civil Disobedience, it made a diabolical mesh in his mind.
In the spring of 1960, Jampa took and English class from Professor Traugett. When he was instructed to write an essay on a poet of his choice, Jampa chose to write on William Blake. Oh, miserable wretch, had you but taken the time to outline some of your ideas or perhaps consulted with another student on your first draft! No, you stupidly and naively (in the sense of unsuspecting detection) plagiarized most of your essay from Alfred Kazin’s introduction to The Portable Blake.
Everyone in the English Department had read Kazin’s essay, and they were about to hear about yours. Kazin’s essay was the brilliant work of a man of mature years, and you were a freshman not dry behind the ears. Were you intentionally putting a loaded revolver to your temple? If so, it made a nice hole, which you then fell down, turning your life inside out. That’s a convoluted thought, I know, but it requires a stretch of imagination to understand—not so much your flagitious disregard for literary standards but—your choosing such a noteworthy piece to plagiarize. You were lucky. Professor Traugett was kind. He promised to only give you the grade of D and not bring your action to the attention of the Dean of Men, which would mean your expulsion from college.
Traugett was a man of his word. Jampa got his D. It was the best grade he received that semester. And his name was already on a list before the Dean for subversive activities. He was a member of SLATE, a student organization putting forth a slate of candidates for student government offices. Jampa had been haranguing students from the planter boxes in Dwinelle Plaza, at noon, about various university injustices; and he was a resident of Gilman Hall, which had been investigated by the F.B.I., after Archie Brown, a card-carrying member of the Communist Party, had been invited to the dorm to speak, while the House Un-American Activities Committee was holding hearings in San Francisco. Jampa was sure Big Brother was watching. The only thing to do was to drop out and go underground.
Sounds romantic, but all it really meant was that he quit going to class and began hanging out at the Mediterranean Café on Telegraph Avenue. The decision to drop out was precipitated after he had an interview with his Commanding Officer in R.O.T.C. This course was mandatory, along with signing a loyalty oath to the United States of America. He had received a failing grade of 65 on his tests for the previous semester. 66 would have been a passing grade of D. He was told that a review of his test scores was impossible because they were “top secret.” Jampa told the Captain that he could get the same kind of F without ever going to class or to a drill period.
In his chemistry class, the substance that Jampa had been given to analyze remained an “unknown”, and this Jampa dropped in a wastebasket as he left the lab. His Aeneid in the original Latin went unread, and the squiggly notes he had made in his physics class, Atomic Radiation and Life, were never to be deciphered. The predictable rotations he had been taught electrons travelled were revealed to be as uncertain as the next steps he was to take. William Blake would not have approved of Jampa’s plagiary, although he might be flattered by the young poet’s attention, but the old poet would have been proud of Jampa’s social and political vision. For Jampa, it was a glad day.
Why boats? You could count the number of boats Jampa has sailed on with your fingers and the number of boats he has skippered on the fingers of one hand—a couple of dinghies and one 14-foot outboard motor boat. What can Jampa have to say about boats, be it sailing vessels, gravy boats, or “being in the same boat”? I’m going to let Jampa tell it.
Thank you, Bouvard. I have always loved boats. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Lots of boats, coming and going. I was born a couple of weeks before Pearl Harbor was attacked. Lots of boats sunk. As a little kid, I played with boats in the bathtub. I remember a blue and red, plastic tugboat, a version of “Tuffy,” a tugboat in a children’s book, kind of a cross between “the ugly duckling” and “the little engine that could.” A little boat, not so handsome, but muscular, who shows he has special talent by rescuing a gorgeous ocean liner in distress. This rescue fantasy has always been modified by another aspect of my character, represented by the story line of Ferdinand the Bull, the slacker mentality.
But to boats. I was always excited when we boarded the ferry boats that traveled between Richmond and San Rafael on our family’s excursions north. The clanking of planks, the grace of the maneuvers to the dock, the smell of diesel, the throb of the engines, while climbing the narrow passages to the upper deck, the transition from being on land to being on water, the screech of seagulls, the salt air, the sense of departure with a blast of an air horn; and then we were underway. Thirty minutes, across the bay on a ferry boat, a boat with bows at either end, but still I would get the sense of plunging into a new destiny with sea breeze in my hair and the gentle roll of the waves beneath the boat.
And there is always the chance for romance, even on a ferry. My second wife, Cheri, and I drove our VW camper to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, after we had been married by a Justice of the Peace in Reno, Nevada. We debarked on a ferry, named after the Prince, for a trip up the Inland Passage to Ketchikan, Alaska. It was a honeymoon cruise. After two years of living in a cabin in Tongass National Forest, we took another ferry further up the passage to Haines, where we began our drive up the Alkan Highway to Fairbanks.
Once, long after Cheri and I had divorced, I met Cheryl Wentworth on a ferry ride between Port Angeles and Seattle. I had been visiting David Pond, my astrology teacher and friend. When he dropped me off at the terminal, he said he knew the lady in the gray van ahead of us in line, and, if I wanted a ride from the terminal on the other side of the Sound, to introduce myself, give his name as reference, and she would assist me. Assist me she did, and a passionate time we had of it in the weeks to come. She owned a flower shop, and one of her drawings is on the cover of my Flower Poem (D Press, 1985). After a month planting trees on Mt. Baker, I took the ferry from Anacortes to see Cheryl, and…
I like the nautical terms—an entire language of objects and actions. Take this passage from Melville’s Moby Dick, for example:
…Ahab, troubledly pacing the deck, shouted out—“To the braces! Up helm!—
Square in!” In an instant the yards swung round; and the ship half-wheeled
upon her heel, her three firm-seated graceful masts erectly poised upon her
long, ribbed hull, seemed as the three Horatii pirouetting on one sufficient steed.
A bit literary, I know. I’m not sure who the “Horatii” are—perhaps circus riders—but the “braces” are ropes belonging to all the yards of the ship (Smyth). The “yards” are long, cylindrical timbers suspended upon the mast of a vessel to spread a sail (Smyth). “Up helm—
Square in”: “helm” is a term for all steering arrangements of a ship (Russell). The definitions are from my Norton edition of Moby Dick. (Author’s note: The Horatii were male triplets who saved Rome in battle during the reign of Tullus Hostilius, the legendary third king of Rome).
Captain Ahab’s ship, the Pequod, was a whaler, circa 1850, but sailors’ vocabulary is still in use and salty as ever. On an ocean liner, like the Titanic (1920s)—a horror story if ever there was one—“abaft” would still be towards the “stern,” which is at the back, and “abeam” is still a line at right angles to the vessel’s length, as “aft” is toward the stern and “athwartships” is across the ship, or across anything, and is opposed to “fore-and-aft.” Russell claims “alow” is a term for below, but is only used for alliteration, as “She had studding sails aloft and alow.” The term “Avast!” is an order to stop doing anything, as in “Avast! An iceburg!”
On one of my nautical adventures in Alaska, Cheri, Theo and I went to Ketchikan in the 14 ft. outboard we had borrowed from our friends, Al and Mimi Kotlorov. We stopped at the pier and I “parked” the boat with the “front” pointed toward shore, which had I known the terms, would be “docked with the bow leeward,” or opposite to that from which the wind was blowing, “lee-shore,” and as the tide came in, water lapped into the stern, and the boat sank.
We were watching Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane on the tube and drinking homebrew at Kent Edmond’s place, when Al phoned to say the harbormaster had phoned him that his boat was underwater. It was dark outside. I knew the boat was going nowhere. We spent the night at Al and Mimi’s, and the next morning we took a look. Only the roof of the cab was above water, that and a couple of life jackets. Nothing to do but bail. With work, the boat was afloat, and Al and I lifted his 30 horsepower Johnson engine out of the brine, took it to his place in town and stuck it upside down into an oil drum filled with fresh water in order to flush it out before it began to corrode.
I was tinkering away at the engine, when I looked up, and there stood Rachel, a smile on her lips like a sunrise, her breasts straining the buttons on her blouse, hips designed to recline.
Jampa: I know, but it is related to boats. She was camped out on a seiner in the marina and was trying to catch me in her net.
Jampa: And nothing, Cheri came down the stairs, saw that we were standing much too close, gave the chick a piercing look, and Rachel disappeared into dream dust.
Bouvard: What did Cheri say?
Jampa: She said that I was going to flirt with one deva too many sometime; but it wasn’t that day. We went back to Deep Bay after I got the boat shipshape.
Bouvard: Back to your yarn, Jampa.
Cheri and I named our son, Theo, after a converted gill netter that made passage between the airport on Matanuska Island and the bigger island of Ketchikan. The Theo was sometimes moored to the pier next to the Sourdough Bar, where Cheri for a brief time as a waitress. She was one of the first women to serve drinks in a bar in Ketchikan, in times when bartenders wore firearms on their hips.
It was after hours, like 4 am; we’d been dancing to the jukebox. We had a bottle of wine and were walking down the pier. The deck of the Theo was awash in moonlight and seemed to invite us to board. We lay midships, drank our wine, and looked at the constellations. I will spare you the graphic details, Bouvard, but the stars were very bright and the water exceedingly calm, as we heaved to.
Bouvard: Funny, to name your boy after a boat; excuse the pun.
Jampa: It was that or Allen Ginsberg Denner. We chose Theodore Dylan. Cheri also had a great uncle named Theo, and Bob Dylan, as well as Dylan Thomas, were heroes of ours. Theo means God in Greek, and Dylan, “of the sea” in Welsh: a gift of God and the Devil.
Bouvard: Do you have another boat story?
I could tell about reading Rimbaud’s The Drunken Boat on the crumbling bulkhead of the experimental concrete ship Kaiser built during the Second World War that protruded from the beach at Aptos. Most of my great sea adventures take place on a dinghy. These stories and more are told in Deep Bay: Works and Days (D Press, 2003).
There was the crabber our friend, Dale Smith, brought out to the cabin, which proceeded to sink in our cove. Some passing hunters reported this, and one day while we were tripping on mushrooms, a Coast Guard cutter suddenly loomed over us, and an air horn blew, awakening us to ordinary reality. The captain of the ship said he could ticket us for a number of violations, but he was lenient, raised the crabber, and towed it away.
There was the old trawler Dale brought out, which we took to town to get stove oil. On the return trip, we were nearly swamped by the wake of a Japanese oil tanker. Another close call was the time our friend, Ron Arnce, took us to town in his motor boat, and we ran into bad weather. Whirlygigs, or water spouts, nearly capsized us, and we took shelter in someone’s summer cabin along the inlet. When the storm subsided, the tide, fourteen feet of it, was out, and we spent the night marooned.
Here is a story I haven’t related elsewhere. I rowed my dinghy with a 5 horsepower Eska engine across Moser Bay to Deep Bay, about a half mile, where the weekly mail plane landed, weather permitting. This week, our friend, Christi Lee, was coming to visit. She was flying in from Ketchikan and planned to spend the week. It was one of those rare days when it wasn’t raining (150 inches per year is not uncommon), and the water was unstirred by wind.
Gliding through this calm, I looked at Christi Lee, sitting in the stern, clutching her purse, her bags at her feet, and she was looking at me, not exactly with panic in her eyes, but with an understanding that the water line was close to the upper edge of the gunwale, and we were without life preservers. It’s hard to describe the mood we shared, a feeling of being on a small boat on a great body of water, calm, quiet, serene—a mystical moment. Melville gets close:
…seated in his boat, light as a birch canoe; and so sociably mixing with
the soft waves themselves, that like hearth-stone cats they purr against
the gunwale; these are the times of dreamy quietude, when holding the
tranquil beauty and brilliancy of the ocean’s skin, one forgets the tiger
heart that pants beneath it; and would not willingly remember, that the
velvet paw but conceals a remorseless fang.
Moby Dick, Ishmael’s reflection, Chapter 114.
I believe a paw conceals a claw, and a jaw conceals a fang, but the rhyme would have ruined the passage. Also, a “fang” is a long, tapered part of a thing, and this is a good place for me to tapper off.
Bouvard: You made a simple moment seem cosmic.
Jampa: Well, you can have a high nautical adventure in the bathtub. Have I told you about the time I found my wife in the bathtub eating a blood buffalo steak?
Jampa did not climb high on the corporate ladder, as did his dad. Samuel George Denner (1900-1998) was of German-Scottish heritage, a good combination for a businessman, being thrifty and industrious by temperament. He was granted a Master of Business degree from the University of Minnesota in 1928. He became a District Manager for State Farm Insurance Company and established full-time agents for the company in New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada, before he became State Director of Golden State Agencies, in 1938, with a regional office in Berkeley, California. He retired with a pension, at age 65, feeling it was, “a privilege to have worked for the greatest insurance company in the world.” I note that Sam was designated a “Y-man,” due to the separation of Golden State Agencies from the main administration of the regional office.
Jampa could have followed in his father’s footsteps. The path was there, and Jampa did work for a short time in the Administrative Services Department as a bindery clerk. After a fist fight on the loading dock, following an argument over a lunchtime poker game, a fight without a decided winner, Jampa realized this was not exactly what was meant by “fighting your way to the top.” He was told by his boss, that no one was going to call the Big Boss onto the carpet, but that Jampa needed to think about his actions and how it reflected upon his father.
Jampa’s father may have heard about his son’s behavior, because he was soon to suggest to Jampa that he take his wife (Patricia) and baby daughter (Kirsten) to live at the family’s beach house in Aptos and re-enter college at Cabrillo College, then in Watsonville (the Artichoke Capital of the World). Jampa decided this was an opportunity to rebuild his life and his grade point average.
Jampa no longer aspired to be a brain surgeon. That notion dissipated when Jampa threw the “unknown” into the trash can, when he left Cal. Now, he was determined to become a poet. Where this notion came from is hard to guess. Only the Muse knows for sure. There is no tradition of artists in the Denner family tree. Jampa is an adopted child; it may be in his genes. His mother claimed his biological father had been a musician. Perhaps, it was a combination of wanting to redeem himself in the English Department of the soul and a nudge from the ghost of Joaquin Miller. (More of Joaquin Miller and his daughter, Juanita, later.)
The sort of books you would have found on the shelves of Jampa’s family home would have been: How to Win Friends and Influence People, The Power of Positive Thinking, The Extra Mile, and the works of Horatio Algier. Jampa may have simply needed intellectual stimulation, although these works by Dale Carnagie, Norman Vincent Peal and Edward Guest were to have an effect on him.
It was through the advice of poets that Jampa gained courage to start his own business. During the Berkeley Poetry Conference, in 1965, Jampa told Gary Snyder that he had plans to go to Alaska, make his fortune, and open a bookstore in Berkeley. Gary said, “Berkeley has enough bookstores. You should go to the hinterlands and find a town that needs an infusion of culture and start a Berkeley bookstore there.” Jampa asked Allen Ginsberg, “Can I be a good poet and a good business man at the same time?” Allen said, “Just be good!”
Jampa envisioned having a little place along the roadside where he could be a friend to man. The Four Winds Bookstore, selling new and used books, gourmet coffees and teas, cards and prints and gifts, opened at 204 East 4th Street, in Ellensburg, Washington, in 1978. Jampa had not made his fortune in Alaska, but his friend, Sid Thomas, had by working on the oil pipeline. Sid offered Jampa and Cheri seed money, and with some of the money they bought The Coffee Conspiracy from Christy Brown, lock, stock, and coffee grinder. Sid went a step further and married Christy, not realizing that the business of business is business. The marriage didn’t last long, nor did Jampa’s and Cheri’s.
After twelve years of marriage, Jampa was single again. Cheri kept possession of their house and their son, Theo, and Jampa kept the Four Winds. In a few years, Sid would want out of the partnership, being in need of some ready cash, and Jampa gave him all he had in his savings. Sid said the amount would suffice, as the original seed money had more or less been a gift, but I’m sure he expected a greater return on his investment. The Four Winds was never a money maker. Jampa made a modest living, breaking even, getting by, as the store grew in size. But the store was a success in other ways. In the seventeen years Jampa was a sole proprietor of this business, he looked forward to work and would open his shop with gladness and a sense of pride.
He remembers the day he became a member of the American Booksellers Association. He received a decal to put in the window, a red binder with data and forms to make single title orders from publishers, and a poster with a picture of Charlie Chaplin embracing a young woman (maybe Mary Pickford) with a caption that read, “Booksellers Make Better Lovers!” Jampa was in business.
It’s an angst-ridden condition, bouncing from job to job, with people asking you what you do and you wondering what you want to be. You say, “I haven’t made up my mind” or “I’m just a student of Life.” Now, Jampa had a profession. A guy came up to him at a party and, when introduced, said, “Oh, I now you; you’re Four Winds Books, Cards and Prints.”
Jampa learned the basics of buying and selling books from Moe Mavkowitz of the legendary Moe’s Bookstore, in Berkeley. Jampa and Cheri worked for Moe, and Moe had taken a liking to the young couple. He had a trade policy, so you could bring your old books in and either get hard cash or a piece of “Moe money” with the terms of trade printed on one side and a picture of Moe in a top hat, holding a glass of champagne, in the center of a dollar bill design, rendered in cartoon-style by Joel Beck.
New books, in the days before chain bookstores took over the market and made it tough on the independents—the times have reversed themselves somewhat, at present—are bought from publishers and wholesalers, usually at 60% the retail price. Chain stores can buy in volume at a much lower discount and often sell a new book at a lower price that an independent store can buy it. Used books are bought from various sources, from private libraries, from other dealers, from customers in the store. If a customer offers to sell books, you need to make an appraisal that the customer is willing to accept, one amount in cash and one in trade. There is an art to making this value determination. Moe had honed it almost to a science.
Jampa modeled the Four Winds after different bookstores, creating his own style of management and atmosphere. In Berkeley: Big Daddy Creed’s, Farrel’s, Cody’s, Shakespeare & Co. and the Continental; in San Francisco: City Lights Bookstore; in Portland: Powell’s; and in Seattle: Elliot Bay Bookstore and Puss ‘n Books. But, at heart, Four Winds was always a branch of Moe’s.
Creed’s Bookstore was one Telegraph Avenue, between Haste and Channing, mid-block on the west side of the street. Big Daddy, who may have gotten his nickname because he resembled, with his bulk and beard, the folk singer and actor, Burl Ives, who played the character “Big Daddy” in The Cat on the Hot Tin Roof, usually sat in the front of his store at a large desk and could often be found playing chess with one of his cronies. You sat the books you had to sell on the edge of his desk with the spines facing him, and between chess moves he would give you a dollar amount, like a popish pronouncement. You could take it or leave with your books. If he bought the books, they would sit there until an elderly lady would appear from the stacks and set them somewhere, usually on the floor along the already clogged aisles.
Farrel’s was another story. Located just south of Dwight Way on the east side of Telly, it was more of a cubby hole. Mr. Farrel sat behind a high counter, wearing a Japanese silk robe and sipping whiskey from a glass he kept hidden. Scruffy, intelligent, he liked to engage you in a discussion of any interesting book you might be considering. This appealed to Jampa and is a trait he developed as a bookseller, the dialogue, not the whiskey. There was usually a lovely beat chick shelving books and doing casual dusting in the background, another fixture of bookselling that Jampa admired and would establish at the Four Winds.
Cody’s was begun by Fred Cody, on the north side of campus, in the late ‘50s, and was an innovative enterprise because it was one of the first bookstore to only sell paperback books. Cody built a remarkable new store on the south side of campus, on the corner of Haste and Telegraph, where he expanded his inventory and began a reading series that lasted at that location for over forty years, until the store closed in 2006. There were photos of great poets and novelists and a president hanging in the gallery. A stoical Philip Whalen looked at a smiling Bill Clinton in adjacent frames. Jampa read there in 2002.
The Continental, just down the street from Moe’s, closed its door for the final time, in 2012. It seemed to Jampa no one was ever in the store. It was quiet, a sanctum, full of interesting curios, art in ornate frames, and books with guilt pages. Jampa liked the eclecticism.
City Lights is a world-famous bookstore. It was founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and publishes many of the Beat poets. It became famous after publishing Howl by Allen Ginsberg, which led to an important obscenity trial, which exonerated Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti. Jampa would drop by the bookstore anytime he was in the area and browse and, perhaps, buy a book, say, Kora in Hell by William Carlos Williams. Jampa remembers, afterward, reading this book with amazement, next door, at Vesuvio’s. Jampa would develop his D Press in tandem with a bookstore and coffeehouse.
Powell’s Books, in Portland, made Jampa realize a bookstore might have no limits in terms of size. A rabbit warren of books, Powell’s claims to be the largest independent bookstore in the world; it is actually a chain of bookstores surrounded by a town. This bookstore might be the archetype of the Library of Babel described by Borges: "The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite, perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries." The geometry of the structure does not resemble Powell’s, but the possibility that it contains all the books creates a feeling of awe; Jampa did not want to emulate Powell’s Books.
Elliot Bay Bookstore sold new books, and downstairs there was a café surrounded by shelves of hardback books by authors whose works were no longer in demand. Jampa and his son, Theo, would develop a café surrounded by shelves of books that were for sale. Jampa wanted to offer a juicy hamburger with a thick romance novel on the side. Theo thought this obscene. Jampa opted to sell excess books by the pound using a large UPS scale.
Four Winds Bookstore was first established at 204 E. 4th Street in, Ellensburg, and then moved next door in the same building to a larger space. Jampa was lucky to have a landlady, who appreciated having a bookstore in her building. She said she remembered a bookstore with a samovar, when she was in college. A man opened a cigar shop and newsstand next door, and when he moved, after he had finally alienated his clientele with his bigoted remarks, Jampa cut a hole in the wall and established Café Rose, the second espresso bar (after the Valley Café) in eastern Washington. In a few years he would move to the corner, when was informed the housewares store was closing out and that the space was being considered by the owner of a chain of used bookstores. One of the things Jampa had learned by then was that business does not remain static.
Ellensburg is a college town. Students study to become teachers at Central Washington University. Ellensburg is also a rodeo town. Ellensburg Rodeo is a major stop on the rodeo circuit. For a bookstore to survive in Ellensburg, Jampa catered to a diverse group of people, students, professional people, ranch wives, the handicapped, cowboys and professors. He kept up with the trends and what best sellers would help pay the rent. He began with a very literary inventory, rode the wave of New Age titles, and finally settled on a general inventory, where Stephen King helped to subsidize Shakespeare. Raison d’état: the right book for the right person at the right time at the right price.
When Jampa and Theo opened Four Winds Bookstore and Café, on the corner of 4th and Pine, the Daily Record newspaper announced that “Richard and Theo Donner have formally reopened Four Winds Bookstore and added a lunch counter.” The proofreader missed the reference to the infamous Donner Party that reverted to cannibalism while crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains into California in the 19th century.
Jampa relates a story he heard Bob Hope tell on TV about when he was a kid, selling newspapers in New York City, and a limo pulled up to the curb and a hand extended out of the window holding a five-dollar bill (an enormous sum of money in those days), an a man asked for a newspaper. Hope didn’t have money enough to make change and lost the sale. The young Hope, who in time not only became a famous comedian but also an astute business man, was given a piece of sagely advice: always have plenty of inventory on hand and enough money to make change. This from John D. Rockefeller.
Jampa built his business by continually increasing his inventory. He found the town folk had an insatiable hunger for his choice of merchandise, whether it be a mainstream novel or something a little off-beat. Cash flow was a continual problem, and he relied, like most retailers, on the Christmas season to make enough revenue to pay delinquent bills and get a foothold on the coming year. Still, by tax time in April, he’d be hurting and would have to leave the Four Winds in the hands of one of his friends, and go into the woods to plant trees.
Another business lesson Jampa learned was the damage done by a shoplifter. This might have been the fruit of his own earlier karma, as a book thief. One stolen book creates a loss to the store that is hard to recover. With the margin of profit on a new book being 40% the retail price and the cost of overhead being close to 15%, the loss takes the profit of nearly three books, of the same price, to break even. Now, Jampa could understand the ramifications of his actions years before. It took him seventeen years to work off that karma.
These were good years. The Four Winds was a local institution. It was a place to hang out, share knowledge with friends, a place for his children to work and to learn something about the world. It was a place for Jampa to grow and be a member of a community—and yes, it was a place to meet girls.
Jampa: Well done, Bouvard. It is a story that took many years to live and would take many years to tell in full detail. My friend, Anne Parker, kept a journal of her Four Winds experiences, which she hopes to someday turn into a novel. She says that no telling of events related to the Four Winds would be complete with mention of my romances. I hope you won’t feel it out of place to include the following prose poem I wrote for Sybil James, A Hill Called Bringer of Luck:
starting with day A and proceeding to F and backing back to B realizing F leads to U if you mean to get to C a Chinese box where you let me into a room with a door I can go through but you can’t and I let you into a room with a door you can pass through but I can’t
starting with pieces the book Pieces and your face the typeface I said I didn’t like it the boldness but your face was receptive and I liked it especially the freckles on your nose E dim of ME freken from ON freknur you perusing poetry and I assuming the role of the dark Host of the Ethereal and it was slow and easy standing there imagining a secret place at another time I get out of a car I get off a horse down the street from the Silver Dollar we enter a Quonset hut with a false front
you touched the omphallus of my heart and the current was sufficient to set the wheels pinging a new beginning merely by placing your hand on that slim volume the waters rushing apart and we begin to step out on real ground
I feel like I have the hands of a chimp signing to the barman for two beers finding seats by the ribs of the beast I take off to take a whiz wondering if I should leave you alone but noting the flag pinned to the curtain and the dark faces I know we are on native soil
the head is full of patrons pissing away the night four dudes at the bowl and one peeing the length of the trough three guys in front of me putting theirs under his arc and I try not to get hit thinking what a shot of the pool cue to find this corner pocket I observe there is no subject there is no object so I zip up to an accordion and guitars
I get out of a car I get off a horse on Umptanum Ridge and smoke while you change your shoes I wear galoshes lore on how to live in the woods and I step into the creek and feel the firmness and rhythm of your grip
you are a stranger in the twilight apprehensive I might strangle you with barbed wire in a hollow by a snag while I’m nagging myself for not bringing a compass since I’m into true north and I want to tell you about the Big Dipper how the Indian see a great bear looking for a place to lie down and the French see a casserole and the Egyptians a hippopotamus with a crocodile on its back asterisms the casserole the possible exception expressing ancient and astonishing wisdom
we have to re-evaluate the past but that seems like a lot to lay on you our first date so I talk about the contours of the land and you about the bouquet of bullet holes in an enameled stove and your childhood in Illinois the girls of Fairberry wanting to be on their own going to Bloomington to work at State Farm my grandparents lived nearby in Chenoa and the summer nights full of fireflies whose tails we pinched to make engagement rings and wearing sheets in abandoned farm house rooms like Klu Klux Klan and when the gypsies camp by the river and set up a sideshow my uncle makes them vamoose and my destiny goes with the fortune teller
the Queen broods on her Byzantine chalice like me she’s dreamy like you she’ s sympathetic to the man of dejected aspect deserting the cups of his felicity and all that I possess house and archives is riot reflected in the Chariot reversed
our treasures and our hearts are there when we begin a short hike that gets shorter and shorter as we climb scree it is wise of me to show you sage by rubbing the leaves in my palms no matter the waterfall is out of reach hunters shoot at the cliffs kids roll rubble from a cave the site of the archeological dig is a mystery nature at her best is a blast of sage
I get out of a car I get off a horse and walk beside you a woman a man talking about rock we stop by a standing stone describing the basalt formation in antediluvian times but it leaves out how each star of the Big Dipper of each constellation has several kinds of influence each star has a form in the landscape
driving along riding along everything shimmering the branches in the field vine maple? elderberry? wild rose sage rose rose of the desert a red shimmering along the road I saw it and you were happy I saw it too even if I didn’t know what it was
In Walden, Thoreau says that the three necessities for survival are food, clothing and shelter. In architecture, the three basics for shelter are the mound, to keep the ground water out of the fire, the fence to keep animals away, and the roof to keep the elements at bay. Simple. And then, the fence becomes the walls, and the mound become a hearth, and the ground is tilled. You get a few goats; you perform a few rituals; and you’ve got a start on civilization.
Longchenpa’s teacher wouldn’t let his students camp out for more than a month, so that they wouldn’t get too comfortable and become attached to their “home.” The great yogi, Milarepa went about naked, or with a single sheet, and lived at times on nettles, so it is possible to get by with very little, if you have the training.
Jampa, as a boy, threw up tents made of Army blankets or lengths of canvas, built forts and tree houses and pretended he was Robinson Crusoe or Daniel Boone. Jampa joined the Berkeley Y.M.C.A., and between the ages of 10 and 12, he attended Guwalla Summer Camp, in northern California, where he learned some woods craft, swam and hiked, and by the end of each summer had become quite feral. He had his hair cut Mohawk-style, until his mother saw it.
Jampa learned the “facts of life” on a camping trip to Lake Pilsbury with a family friend. He guesses it might have been a put-up job by his dad, who would have found the task embarrassing. So, Bud Connors, a man just back from the Korean War, who lived with his wife in a downstairs apartment at the Denner’s home in the Oakland hills, told Jampa innumerable dirty jokes. After each joke, Bud explained the details. Soon, Jampa got the jokes without a need for commentary. Many were easy, the books with scatological puns for titles. The Yellow River by I.P. Freely and Antlers in the Treetops by Hugh Goosedthemoose are two that he remembers from that night around the campfire. Others he needed help with, the traveling salesman and the farmer’s daughter jokes were less obvious. The “Hillbilly Virgin” was an eye-opener for Jampa, who had never thought about incest. As a pastime, Jampa does not tell jokes because someone is almost always the butt of a joke, a woman or a person of ethnicity.
Tibetans have an earthy sense of humor. The only time he can remember having a hysterical time with dirty jokes was with a group of Lama Tharchin’s students at Parmalee Gulch, near Denver. The lama loved hearing these saucy stories, and his students regaled him all evening. This was the night Jampa and Deborah Birr started being friendly and the night spent in an old, flowered bus. Deborah and he would later share a tent at Tara Mandala in a little glade just above the sweat lodge. That area and the low ground between there and the outdoor kitchen under the big elm tree seemed enchanted.
Or, it might be haunted. Lama Tsultrim had her camp in that area one summer and grew gravely ill. The dakinis performed an exorcism, and after Lama Tsultrim got better, she moved to higher ground. There are no shortage of ghost stories around a camp. There was one about the dilapidated cabins in Hidden Valley, vacated by settlers who had died of fever or, from another source, died from eating a three-bean salad that had gone bad. This area was also considered a burial ground, where the Utes had brought their old horses and put them out to pasture to die.
When Jampa was 14, he went with ten other boys and the track coach from San Rafael High School on a two-week trek in the Goddard Range, east of Bakersfield, California, in the Sierra-Nevada Mountains. This was the summer of 1956. Camping equipment was not as sophisticated as it is today, was still makeshift and relied a good deal on army surplus. The track coach and leader of the expedition had been written up in National Geographic Magazine for his innovative approaches to camping. He had designed an aluminum pack with compartments for food and clothes, and he worked out a deal with a company that made dehydrated foods to try out their new products.
Not always the tastiest of fare, dried and reconstituted, yet everything tastes good in the open air with a fresh-caught, pan-fried trout, after a full day of hiking. Each hiker carried a share of the group’s supplies. Their own personal items they kept to a minimum, a T-shirt, a long sleeved shirt, a heavy sweater, a couple changes of shorts and socks, and one pair of jeans with a patch sewn onto the seat. After two-weeks of clambering around on granite slopes, everyone’s butt was exposed.
Jampa managed a 40-pound pack, which seemed heavy at first, but each day the pack got lighter as he got stronger. By the last day, he felt he could fly. The air in the mountains is lighter, and he had many euphoric moments on this adventure. This was the longest time he had been in the wilderness without excessive adult supervision, as well as the longest time he had yet had bearing up under a daily physical challenge. He won the fishing pool with his prize 14” Rainbow Trout.
The first thing the boys did on their return to the horse ranch and outfitters, where they had parked their bus, was to overfill their stomachs with hamburgers, French fries and milkshakes. Not a good idea, after eating dehydrated, non-greasy food for two weeks. Jampa’s euphoria remained in spite of his stomach condition, and when he got back home and began to tell his tale, an alarming flow of obscenities came from his mouth, much to the chagrin of his parents and the embarrassment of the coach. After a few awkward moments, all was forgiven. He was home safe; he had a good time; and his parents, too, had enjoyed their time alone.
I’m not sure if what tree planters do, living in the woods, can be called camping. It’s more like “crashing” in the woods. They sleep when and where they can, in tents, in vans or campers, wrapped up in tarps, along the roadside, in ditches, in culverts, in barns, under park benches, anywhere they can find shelter before it is time to bag up their trees and hit the slopes. The force of their endeavor is more like a military campaign than a nature hike. They work in rain and sometimes snow, although after the snow gets a couple of inches deep, they are asked by the Forest Service Inspectors to stop. Then, they sit in their vehicles, called “crummies” (because of the condition of their rides) and wait for the weather to break. If it does, they bag up more trees, take their hoedags (long hoes) and leap again into the slash.
Jampa wrote a book of tree planting poems, Timberlines (D Press, 2003), and I refer you to it for more details on the kind of camping that comes with pine needles in the milk.
One of the most arduous trips Jampa took was with Cheri and Theo in a VW camper, given to them as a wedding present, on their way up the Alkan Highway, through British Columbia and the Yukon, from Haines to Fairbanks. Jampa’s poem “Trukin’ the Alkan” hits some of the highlights, but there are many untold episodes. The trip began ominously with the VW breaking down five miles into Canada. A mother bear and her cub had just crossed the road, and the engine gave out. Jampa gave Cheri his 30.30 and showed her how to lever a shell into the chamber, and then he put on his coat and started hiking back to the boarder guard’s shack to phone for a tow truck. He made the trip without incident and contacted a mechanic who said he would help them. Turned out the mechanic was a Good Samaritan and didn’t take advantage of them. They were told they could camp out at the Harbor View Garage until the mechanic could get them on the road again. The only new VW engine they could locate would have to be shipped from a plant in Kentucky, but the mechanic knew a man who lived out in the woods and had several old VWs and might trade an older engine for the busted one for its core value.
Jampa and Cheri and Theo were charmed by the town of Haines. There was no TV or radio, and the main café where the locals drank coffee and gossiped had a wall of books. Someone might say, “Well, I guess I’ll just go home and read.”
On the road, again, they stopped at a place called Mosquito Lake. Why would anyone stop to camp at a place with that name? No sooner did Jampa open the door to the camper than he was swarmed by mosquitos. He bumped hard into a tree ahead of him and then bumped hard into a tree behind him before he got turned around and managed to get back on the main road. Back on the dusty, rocky road. Back to one glorious vista after another
Now, Jampa is in Luminous Peak doing his three-year retreat. It was his goal to do this, a goal he set himself during the early, formative years of developing the land at Tara Mandala, when the sangha camped out each year, in the Tradition of Tibetan camps, to hear the Vajrayana teachings and do practices. He planned to build a cave grotto, but his lama, Adzom Paylo Rinpoche, said that this was unnecessary; and so, he dwells in a 12’x12’ cabin with a deck. He originally planned to enter retreat after taking teachings by Tulku Sang-ngag on the long mountain retreat, called “Extracting the Quintessence of Accomplishment,” but this had to be postponed, and he returned to Santa Rosa, California, to care for his elderly parents. This took up the next ten years.
Needing to go back in time, get a running start, and make a broad jump in order to get to the main story…
Vic Jowers, the owner of the Sticky Wicket, in Aptos, had a predilection for sherry wine, which he used in cooking to marinate the mushrooms he put on his “Wicket Burgers,” and he sipped it from the bottle from noon to nightfall. By the time he had to lock up, count the day’s receipts and cut the steaks for the next day’s dinner crowd, he was inebriated. Jampa would stay late and help close and walk, half-carry Vic down the steps to his apartment. Sidney, Vic’s wife, would be up, and together they would put Vic to bed. This was Jampa’s first caregiving experience. He loved Vic and Sidney and their restaurant.
Jampa took a job as a janitor at Gold Leaf Convalescent Home in Ellensburg, Washington, in 1976. He worked there for two years and learned a lot about professional caregiving for the elderly and the injured. How did this job come about?
After Jampa and Cheri’s stint at the Diamond Hanging J Floating I Ranch, in Ellensburg, Cheri wanted to go back to Berkeley to live. Berkeley had changed since their last visit; the Summer of Love was long past; and after the Death of Hippie and the tragedy at Altamont, many Hippies had moved from the Height-Asbury district in San Francisco to Berkeley because it was considered a liberal environment. The influx of refugees put stress on the cheap housing market, and the couple were hard pressed to find an apartment they could afford. They looked further and found El Cortez Apartments on the corner of Manila and McArthur Blvd., in the heart of Oakland’s red light district.
Cheri found it exciting with so much street life. Jampa found it convenient, working nearby at his uncle’s garage, Andy’s Square Deal Service. Theo found it difficult being the only white kid at his grade school at Oakland Tech. The experience for Theo became dangerous, as he was daily held up for his lunch money and came home, one day, with a black eye. He was moved to a school in a different neighborhood, a school that had only one African American kid. Here, Theo found a boy whom he could relate to, and the two boys became friends. Theo was learning about racial prejudice and developing a nurturing spirit.
Jampa, too, was doing some caregiving. He was working for his uncle, who was struggling getting a new business going, after he had been let go from the Chyrsler Dealership he had worked for in Berkeley. They were doing well, for the times, putting spare gas tanks into pimp’s cars during the oil crisis, in 1974. But Uncle Andy was not well. This was his last hurrah before a fatal heart attack.
ANDY THE MECHANIC
Square Deal Andy died of overwork
He knew too much to be of use
In an up to date fix it shop
“Square” has a negative connotation
His art could not be assimilated
He has parked his rig in the Maker’s garage
During these days, Jampa published The Scorpion (D Press in Berkeley, 1975) at Árif Press, under the tutelage of Wesley Tanner. It was a letterpress edition, handset in Baskerville type. Wesley taught Jampa how to thump type. This is one of Jampa’s finest books. It was a productive time for Jampa. His friend Luis Garcia helped him build stanzas (“round up his doggies”) for the now classic “Diamond Hanging J Floating I Blues.”
Cheri’s parents invited her to go with them to Sweden. They were going to attend festivitiers in Stockholm surrounding the erection of a statue dedicated to the memory of Agustus Palm, Cheri’s great grandfather who had been an early Marxist and helped established Socialism in Sweden. He had be jailed many times and exiled, and now his day of glory had come. Cheri went to the festivities, and Jampa went back to Ellensburg to find a job and a place for them to live.
Upon his return to the windy city of Ellensburg, he visited Jack and Becky Baker, friends with an old house on a couple of acres, called Strawberry Farm, and there Jampa met a friend of theirs who was leaving town and offered Jampa both a place to live and a job. The house was on Pfenning Road, between a lumber yard and a grave yard, and the job was at a nursing home. Jampa took him up on both.
Cheri hated the house. It was on the cold side of a hill, built by what might be called cowboy carpenters, with leaking sawdust insulation. But Cheri could always make thing cheery with a bright tablecloth, fresh-cut flowers, and some of her hot, buttered biscuits. They’d snuggle in bed on cold mornings, smoke a joint, read poems from Creeley’s For Love and be merrily married.
Jampa worked hard at Gold Leaf Convalescent Home, but he ran into political difficulties. He was efficient and got rooms painted quickly, after a patient had died, changed light bulbs, oiled machines, sponged up piss puddles, and found time to help the nurses’ aides lift a bulky body or tuck in a sheet. He built a ramp with a set of steps for the physical therapist, and he established a large garden.
However much as he was appreciated by the manager, who had originally hired him, he was a pain in the ass to the manager that came next. The staff had been promised raises and other perks, but the new manager knew nothing of this. Jampa took the staff’s complaints to Employment Security, and when some of the staff was laid off after trying to form a union, an Administrative Judge was called in to arbitrate. The judge ruled in favor of Gold Leaf, and he told Jampa that, regardless of his altruistic motivations, and that he respected Jampa’s ideals, they had no relevance to the market place.
Jampa was out of a job. On a walk, he found $300 on the sidewalk near Safeway. He decided he needed a vacation. There was a poetry convention scheduled to begin at Fort Worden Recreation Center, near Port Townsend. This was the site for the movie, An Officer and a Gentleman, starring Richard Gere and Debra Winger. Life was gay at Fort Worden. At night, there were poetry readings, and during the day there were workshops. Young poets wrote and read their poems and partied all night.
Jampa was gratified to see in the appendix to The Collected Poems of Philip Whalen (Wesleyan University Press, 2008) that a poem he had type set at Copper Canyon Press, “Zenshinji,” was listed. He gave Philip Whalen a copy of The Scorpion, and Philip told his class that it was the finest book of poems he had seen in a long time. Jampa expressed his gratitude when he found Philip eating an ice cream cone on campus, and Philip said, gruffly, “I wouldn’t have said it if it wasn’t true,” turned and walked away. Jampa had just been hit on the head by a Zen master.
When he got home, Jampa was going to get hit on the head by his angry wife.
Bouvard: Jampa, I’m having trouble telling this story. I’m going off course. I’m trying to tell about you being a caregiver, and now I’m led, again, into telling about one of your love affairs.
Jampa: It’s fine, Bouvard. If the tale yaws, let it yaw. It will find its way back. I want the sexual truth told. My involvement with women often determined the way the needle of my compass pointed.
Bouvard: It doesn’t seem fitting for a pure monk.
Jampa: I wasn’t a monk, then. Tie up events at this poetry conference and what that led to, and you can jump ahead to the main caregiving episodes.
Bouvard: So simple…
Jampa said goodbye to the beautiful Shannon, who was returning to her pot farming husband in Northern California, took the ferry back to Seattle, drove over the mountains to discover his wife had finally decided he had dallied with one too many devas. Jampa had to find new digs. Now, fast forward two decades.
The move from Pagosa Springs to Santa Rosa was a sudden one. Jampa got a call from his dad, in the spring of 1998, that his mother was ill and that he was needed at home. Jampa never really considered the house in Santa Rosa his family home. He had been raised in Berkeley, Kennsington, and Oakland. His parents had retired to Santa Rosa. Jampa had stayed there for brief periods, recouping after his stay at the mental facility in Mendocino and after his divorce from Cheri. But now, 307 Oak Tree Drive was to become his permanent address.
He found his mother, age 89, completely exhausted from caring for her husband, age 97, who was rapidly showing signs of dementia. Jampa took her place at the helm and threw up a jury-mast. It wasn’t smooth sailing. Sam Denner had been captain of the ship for a long time. An executive of a large company is not used to taking orders, but his mental condition continued to worsen, until his physician prescribed drugs to keep him totally becalmed.
Jampa has written of his experiences carrying for his dad in “The Episodes,” which is a section of the memoir he wrote, called Sam (D Press, 2005). Sam was born in Iowa, in 1900, and died in California, in 1998. Here is one of the episodes:
Around midnight I hear a thump in my dream—a wrecking ball, bouncing off the wall, a plane crashing through the roof, an avalanche, no, don’t freak, it’s only a tidal wave. I’m up in a flash because I know that it is Dad falling.
Sure enough, there he is on his back behind the door, laughing. I ask him what’s so funny, and he gleefully tells me about “a forest of huge trees and tiny houses, very neat and clean, with roads elevated above a field, so clear I could touch them.” A few simple images can seem profound in a dream. Terrifying or exhilarating, so much meaning, yet all just a touch beyond comprehension.
I check him for cuts and bruises. A scrape on his knee, a scratch on his cheek, a bump on his elbow. I help him to his feet. Mom is up now and puts a bandage on his knee and helps him back to bed. In the morning, his dizziness persists, so I make an appointment with his doctor. A little fussing about what color shirt and which hat, old or new slippers. Bring the car to the front of the house, back out the wheelchair, bump down the steps, and we’re on our way.
The tech at the clinic is gentle and instructive about the process. He helps Dad onto a platform for a scan. I’m reading a magazine. There’s a Gary Larson cartoon with cows in a classroom I don’t get. We wait for the computer to print out the results. The photos show nothing irregular, no tumors or broken blood vessels, so the doctor feels that if Dad had suffered a stroke it would have been very small. The diagnosis seems to be that it is the continued deterioration of blood circulation due to hardening of the arteries. Old age. He’s 98.
He has a good appetite, a good sign. Mom and I talk things over, trying to get a game plan for the next day, or we will be ground to dust by all of Dad’s small needs, just getting him dressed, brushed, shaved, washed and polished.
At breakfast, he wants to tell me about driving a team of horses to the train station near his family’s farm in Iowa. He had trained these horses from colts, and he was proud of them and felt he could drive them anywhere, sure they would co-operate. The steam from a locomotive spooked the team at a place where there was a telegraph pole, and they shied and bolted, one horse going on one side of the pole and one going on the other, stripping off their harness and smashing the yoke and tongue of the carriage. Scraped up the horses pretty good. He said it took a lot of coaxing to get them to pull again. After this experience, the horses were not of much use. Dad feels useless now that he can’t walk and guilty for being a burden.
Important to be mindful of the luxury of my freedom of movement, of my control of my body, and my ability to care for myself. Sitting, standing, walking, eating, to be joyful. One minute everything is stable and clear and the next minute, stupid and wobbly. And fear gets up. Demons dance. Dad begins to worry his retirement benefits will stop. His company fail. Social Security go bankrupt. His savings run out. Somebody sue. A comet may strike. Martians invade. My legs are failing. I’m going blind. I can’t hear. I can’t have a bowel movement. Stark photographs.
This is going to take some getting used to. Mom can’t handle it all, but there is no stopping her from taking the lion’s share. Dad is able to take baby steps, stand and turn. He doesn’t want his leg muscles to atrophy, so I help him walk, although he tires after a few steps. Depression sets in
because he doesn’t want to be helped. I hold his hand and tell him I love him and that I want him to relax and be with us as long as he is able.
I begin to see a change in his attitude like he has passed a barrier and put his trust in us to care for him. He seems humble. Quiet. Still wishes he could read the small print, but so do we all. I’m thankful for this incarnation and opportunity to gain wisdom and merit. Accepting the condition, “All offers subject to credit approval” found at the bottom of the page.
. . .
Jampa stayed on, after his father’s death, to care for his mother. Helen Denner was born in Indiana, in 1909. She had many stories to tell and told them well. Her proudest achievements, other than being to one man for nearly 60 years and raising two children, were her being the first woman employee at State Farm Life Insurance Company, at the home office in Bloomington, Illinois, in 1928, and of being a fifty-year member of the Order of Eastern Star and the Daughters of the Nile. I will tell two of Helen’s stories: one about the adoption of Jampa and one about how she married Sam.
The couple were married on New Year’s Eve, 1938. In 1940, Sam was offered the job of Assistant Director of Agents, in California, and they moved away from the Southwest. Living in Berkeley, on Colegate Avenue, they applied with an adoption agency for a child. Before long, Helen received a call from a woman with an odd sense of humor at the agency, who told her that they had a little boy up for adoption, but she wanted Helen to know that the baby was black. Helen said she didn’t care what color he was, that she wanted him.
The marriage of Sam and Helen was, to some extent, an arranged affair. Both of them were working at State Farm, and when Sam was offered the job of developing agencies in the Southwest, he became a rising star in the company. Mrs. Mecherle, the wife of the founder of State Farm, looked around the secretary pool and picked Helen as a suitable helpmate for Sam. Jampa’s mom says she always knew that her marriage would be sudden and unexpected. She said, “Helen is willing!”
Jampa’s caregiving responsibilities were light. His mother could take care of herself for the most part. She wanted him mostly for companionship, and he was handy around the house, mowed the law, did repairs, shopped for groceries, and cooked some of her meals. They would go out to eat, when she felt Jampa needed a break. Her favorite restaurants were IHOP and Denney’s. Jampa introduced her to the Willowood Café, in Graton, just up the street from where he had a part-time job at Cold Mountain Books.
Jampa took a number of part-time jobs. He worked for Sprint, a copy shop, as a “consultant,” meaning that he was paid under the table. Still, he was the only one who knew how to do “paste up” the old way, without a computer, by hand. He got another job through his friend, Tamara Slayton, a teacher at the Waldorf School, Summerhill. He taught a class in poetry, collage and tarot, which lasted through the year 2000. He produced two editions of Aluminum Baby, a zine of student writing and artwork.
Tamara lived in one of the houses on a horse ranch, owned by a man named Jenkel, and she got Jenkel to hire Jampa to do odd jobs. Jenkel was an eccentric person. He was not alone in his hatred of President George Bush, but after the planes crashed into the Twin Towers and Bush began pushing for a war on Iraq, Jenkel went ballistic. Every conspiracy theory that came his way was kindling for Jenkel’s monomania. He was a Captain Ahab in his steady focus to destroy the nightmarish Moby Dick of a president.
“He has lost his heart,” Tamara said. He would take an old hearse with two of his horses to anti-war rallies. He posted provocative banners on his fences along the road. One, “Honk to Impeach Bush” drew so many complaints from nearby neighbors that the Sheriff made him take it down. There were others, a couple hundred yards of them. All fine, in Jampa’s opinion, but when Jenkel started hiring people to picket stores he thought were supporters of the war and fired anyone who didn't go to city hall meetings to hear him rant, Jampa quit. He had been loyal and did work beyond the call of duty. He tried to put a tarp over a roof of a leaking house and had broken both legs after sliding off the roof in the rain. It was a reversal of roles for his mother to be his caregiver.
Jampa was 63 years old. He decided to take his Social Security early and retire. He worked on his computer creating chapbooks. He decided he could help others get their work into print. Poets are in constant anguish. Jampa decided this was a niche where he could be a bodhisattva. He tried to do one book for every poet he met, regardless of their taste in verse or style of writing.
He also worked on his own poetry. He readied the manuscript for Collected Poems: 1961-2000 to be published by Comrades Press. His Collected Books of Richard Denner, published under the D Press logo, run to twelve volumes. He collaborated with David Bromige on The Hundred Cantos, with Nancy Doughtery on Silk, and with Gabriela Anaya Valdepeña on Roses of Crimson Fire. This is not the place to go into Jampa’s literary career. There are essays up at Big Bridge www.bigbridge.org and at his website www.dpress.net .
Each year, Jampa returned to Tara Mandala, a volunteer, to “do his thing” as they put it. However, after his mother fell and dislocated her arm, falling from a curb outside a hardware store where she had gone to buy a hose to water the flowerbed, Jampa’s caregiving duties kept him closer to home.
He had been at Tara Mandala for two weeks, working and receiving teachings. He was taking a nap in his tent above a drainage he called Rattlesnake Gulch, across the wash from a yurt, known as Stupa View, when Costanzo, Lama Tslultrim’s son, came to tell him of his mother’s accident. He got a flight out of Durango, to San Francisco, and took a bus and a cab for the last leg of the journey. He found his mom sitting in front of the TV with opened cans of food at her feet. One look at her black and blue arm and shoulder, and Jampa knew it was a serious injury. He phoned Dr. Shaeffer, the family physician, who ordered them to his clinic and who, without further ado, sent them across the street to an excellent surgeon. He saved her arm.
“What were you thinking, Mom?” asked Jampa.
“Oh, I thought it would heal on its own,” was her reply.
After Jampa’s mom got well, she, in turn, cared for him, after he had a hernia operation. Jampa, too, is tough, training, the following year in the Yeshe Lama yogic practices with a bulging intestine poking out of his abdomen. After he broke both legs, he stuffed one, bandaged leg in an oversized boot, and with the other in a leg brace, he threw away his crutches and let pain be his guide. When he had bracyl-therapy for his prostate cancer, where they invasively insert tiny radioactive seeds, he said, “It’s no worse than a kick in the groin by a steel-toed boot.”
Jampa shopped and cooked dinner for his mother. She’d eat her comfort foods, stewed tomatoes with Wonder Bread or baked beans with brown bread, which she would heat on the stove. She might forget to put water in the cup with the instant tea she used, and the cup would explode. We all forget little things, but it became more noticeable with Helen. And then she fell, again. She didn’t break anything this time, but it scared her. She wanted Jampa to help her walk down the hallway to her personal bathroom, where she changed her own diaper. Then, one day, she asked Jampa if there was any way he could help her to die.
Jampa told her that, as a Buddhist monk, he could not assist her in that, but he said that as long as she was eating, she would be shitting; and as long as food was going in and out, she would be living. Maybe she took this as a hint. She was 98. She confessed to having a full life and being tired. All of her peers were dead. Her children were now elders. She said she felt herself to be “a leaf from the winter before last, still hanging on the tree.” Her main worry was, “How much longer, Oh, Lord?”
When she said she wasn’t hungry, Jampa did not coax her to eat. She took to her bed. She was reluctant for him to help with her diapers, but he told her he had changed lots of diapers when he worked in the rest home and all his children, and she relented. There wasn’t much of a mess, since she wasn’t eating much food. She began to sleep long hours. Jampa knew the signs. A gang of crows began to perch in a tree above her bedroom. Maybe they could smell death near.
Jampa kept watch. He worked on three large collages, one of Tara, one of Vajrasattva in yabyum, and one of Guru Rinpoche. He did his art and checked on his mom. She continued to breathe, faintly, and she began to shrink. She asked for nothing. On December 6, 2007, in the early hours of the morning, Jampa heard her call, “Rich, I need some help!” He rushed to her. She wanted to sit up and have some water, but when she tried to drink, she choked and said that there was a heavy weight pressing on her. Jampa told her to relax. She took a couple of breaths, the last being a death rattle. Jampa laid her back.
Jampa tugged a lock of her hair to direct her consciousness towards her crown chakra and softly chanted OM AH HUM in her ear. He stood and looked, and then he straightened her garments and folded her hands on her chest. He knew rigor mortis sets in, and he covered the lids of her eyes with a couple of coins, and then, feeling faint, he returned to bed to get more sleep. In a couple of hours, he return to her bedside to begin the practice of Xitro. He practiced all day and into the evening. He phoned Tara Mandal and asked Lama Tsultrim to do Powa. Later, he found out that Adzom Rinpoche, with whom his mom had a connection, had done the Transference of Consciousness.
Waiting too long to contact the Coroner’s Office would risking trouble. Jampa wanted to keep his mother’s corpse for three days to do the proper rituals. He phoned the sheriff, who came with his deputy, a young woman in training. They needed to inspect the body in case there had been foul play. Then, he needed to phone Dr. Shaeffer, who said it sounded like congestive heart failure from Jampa’s textbook description, and that although he hadn’t seen Helen in some time, that he would sign the death certificate. Next, Jampa phoned the undertaker to see if everything was in order concerning his mother’s burial plot next to Sam’s grave and the kinds of arrangements she had made—no ceremony, no embalming, a simple burial in a simple coffin—and if he could keep her home for a couple more days for “a kind of wake.” He was told to keep the room as cold as possible and to phone when he wanted the body picked up.
Nancy Havel and Laurie Ludwig came to practice with Jampa, and other sangha members kept Helen in their prayers. Jampa says, “It’s an amazing experience to meditate on the corpse of your mother. There is no death, only the absence of life. Everything is impermanent. The body decays, and this is soon apparent.”
Jampa had an interview at the funeral home with a woman who was in a hurry to get all her customers either buried or cremated. Jampa didn’t let it bother him. Everything had been nicely arranged by his well-organized and far-seeing parents. He stood by the gravesite, alone, after the coffin had been lowered by a mechanical device into the ground. He recited the Hundred-syllable Mantra of Vajrasattva. Later, after the grave had been closed, he came back and did Chöd. He had never felt at home in Santa Rosa, but now he felt rooted.
If he was to return to Tara Mandala and do his long retreat, he had to sell the house and deal with a life-time’s accumulation of stuff—a huge mandala offering. Jampa created a list he calls “The Six Categories of Dispersal”—Save, Give Away or Donate, Dump or Recycle, Sell, Return, and Destroy. This last, is for special objects like sacred ritual items and love letters, best done on a night with a full moon. Jampa gave 200 boxes to thrift stores, filled eight trash barrels of shredded documents (medical and tax records of forty years), made many trips to the dump. He took a pickup truck load of family heirlooms to Theo’s house, in Ellensburg. Amazing the welcome one receives when arriving with jewelry, furs, quilts and a satchel of rare coins. A crate of photos and memorabilia was sent to his sister, Lynda, in Virginia. And then, once the house had been sold, he turned the house over to Black Cat Auction to be rid of the furniture.
One box Jampa found in his mother’s sewing room contained a packet of letters from Marianne Baskin, written to him, while he was in Mendocino State Mental Facility, in Talmage. Also, in this box was a tattered copy of William Blake: Politics of Vision. His mother had saved a velvet suit he wore as a baby, along with a stuffed raccoon, a transition toy, which Jampa christened “Rosebud” and took with him into retreat.
Here are three stories, “Deadman Finds Happy Trails,” “Notable for Not Being Notable,” and “A Bit of Notoriety.” Two of the stories are played out on the world stage (or at least on the national level), the first through the American press and the second through the press and the internet. The last was a local story.
Jampa realizes he was caught up in events that originated outside of himself, and although he appears to be a hero in one story and in another a cause célèbre figure, he was, for the most part, swept along—not that he didn’t enjoy himself.
DEAD MAN FINDS HAPPY
Retailing at Christmas time gets hectic. I was in my bookstore, taking a short break, drinking an espresso with my friend, Webster Hood, when the phone rang.
"Four Winds. Richard, here. How can I help you?"
"Hello, my name is Sally Macdonald. I'm a reporter for the Seattle Times, and I'm trying to find a Roy Rogers lunchbox. I've been told you have such an item in your store. Is this true?"
"Yes, I've got a Roy Rogers lunchbox. It's a Roy Rogers/Dale Evens Chow Wagon. Why do you ask?"
"Is it for sale?'
"No, not really. I have been asked several times if I would sell it, but I have told people it is not for sale. Everything in the store is for sale, but the buck stops there. Are you scouting for a certain antique dealer who persists in asking me to name a price?"
She laughed. "Goodness, no. My situation is entirely different. May I explain?"
"By all means, go ahead."
"A couple of weeks ago, the Times ran a feature article on Roy Rogers. The story was a reminiscence of growing up with Roy Rogers and the gang at the Double R Bar Ranch. It was a full page spread with pictures, and soon after the article appeared, a letter arrived from a lady, who asked if anyone might know where she could get a Roy Rogers lunchbox. She said she and her friends had been scouring antique stores without luck, and that she was getting desperate. I asked her why, and she told me it was for her husband's ashes. I said, "What!?" She told me she wanted the lunchbox because it was her husband's wish that his ashes be stored in a Roy Rogers lunchbox. I was incredulous, at first, and she said she knew it was a strange request, but she had been looking for six months, and she wanted to give her late husband this last gift after twenty-five years of marriage."
I said, "I don't believe a word of this. I bet you are trying to trick me out of the lunchbox by concocting this story."
"Really, Sir, this is the truth. She says she will pay almost anything for an authentic Roy Rogers lunchbox. I asked around the newsroom, and a colleague of mine, Randee Fox, said she had seen one in your bookstore when she was visiting Ellensburg. Believe me, although this story seems farfetched, it's true."
"I think I will have to talk to this woman in person, just to be sure. Can you give me her phone number?
"Yes, I can give you her number. Really, this is on the up and up. Trust me."
She gave me the lady's name and her number, and I said, "Ok, I'll give her a call, but this sure sounds bizarre."
"I know," she replied, "but you'll see I'm telling the truth."
After she hung up, I said to Webster, "You won't believe what I just heard." I told him the gist of the story and, then, I dialed the number I had been given.
"Is this Mrs. Beverly Gibson?"
"Yes, I am Beverly Gibson. Who is calling?"
"My name is Richard Denner, and I am the owner of the Four Winds Bookstore in Ellensburg. I just received a call from a Sally Macdonald, who says she is a reporter from the Seattle Times, and she told me you were looking for a Roy Rogers lunchbox. Is this true?"
"Oh my, yes. I have been looking everywhere. Do you have one? I need one, ever so bad."
"Yes, I have one. It's been in my store for years. It's sort of like a mast head. I keep pennies in it."
"Did Miss Macdonald tell you what I wanted it for?"
"Yes, she did, but I had a hard time believing the story."
"Mr. Denner, my husband, Bruce, was a great fan of Roy Rogers. As a kid, Roy Rogers was his idol. He always had to be Roy when the neighborhood kids played cowboys. He sang "Happy Trails' as his own theme song. He told me, ‘When I die, skip the funeral urn and just keep my ashes in a Roy Rogers lunchbox.' Is there any chance you would sell me your lunchbox?"
"Excuse me for a minute, Mrs. Gibson. Let me consult with a friend." I looked at Webster, who was listening to my conversation and smiling. "Webster, you teach ethics, if I've told people I won't sell the lunch box under any circumstances, I shouldn't back down, should I?"
"You should stick by your guns, or in this instance, your lunchbox, Roy," he said.
"I have made my decision."
"This lunchbox has sat on a shelf in my store for twenty years. My ex-mother-in-law found it in a secondhand store and gave it to my son, Theo. After he grew up, it wound up in the store. It sits with some Old West books in a little display. Once, a friend was going to a Roy Rogers Show, and he asked if he could take the lunch box with him to get it autographed. I don't think it was actually signed by Roy, probably by his son. It's signed ‘Roy Rogers and Trigger' in green ink. The signature has faded to where you have to know where to look to see it. An antique dealer offered me $300. She said in New York, it would fetch more, but I told her, ‘No deal. It's a keepsake.' So, I don't think I can change my mind about selling it, now." At the other end of the line, I could hear a sigh of disappointment. I waited a beat, for dramatic effect, and then I told her, "On the other hand, I could give it to you."
"My goodness," she exclaimed, ‘do you mean it? You would give it to me? Oh, that is marvelous."
"Give me your address. I will wrap it up and mail it to you."
"Mr. Denner, you are just too kind."
"Don't mention it, Mrs. Gibson. It is my pleasure."
I wrote down her address. I dusted off the lunchbox and put the pennies in a jar. I found a cardboard box and some bubble wrap, and I made a tidy package for Beverly Gibson. And for Bruce. I mailed the box that afternoon, and I thought no more about it. A couple of days later, I got another phone call from Sally Macdonald. She was full of enthusiasm about my kind-hearted gesture, and she asked if she could write a story about what I had done.
I said, "Sure," and I told her pretty much what I had said in my conversation with Beverly. I concluded with, "I'm an old hippie. It seemed sort of cosmic to me. Now, Bruce can rest in peace, and I won't be bothered with people always wanting that lunchbox." That was a week before Christmas. I should have anticipated what the newspapers were going to do with this story. The next day, on the front page of the Seattle Times there was a picture of Beverly holding the RoyRogers/Dale Evans Chow Wagon and a story by Sally Macdonald entitled, "Roy Rogers Fan gets Last Wish." Then, the phone began to ring.
Associated Press picked up the story, and it was run as a piece to make you feel good in every newspaper in the country. People phoned to thank me for being an angel. A guy phoned wanting to know if I wanted to buy more Roy Rogers paraphernalia. I got cards and letters from everywhere. The tabloids competed. The National Enquirer wanted a story, but World News beat them to it. I reiterated what I had previously told the Seattle Times, and at the checkout counter in Safeway I saw a piece on the back page of World News under the heading "Dead Man Finds Happy Trails" next to a sighting of Elvis. It was surreal. They didn't change a thing. The TV program, Ripley's Believe It or Not, contacted Beverly, and they filmed her in her home in Federal Way. She was standing by her mantelpiece. She took down the Chow Wagon with Bruce's remains, and she told the interviewer about how her husband had had several surgeries and painful chemotherapy and that his last wish was to be kept in a lunchbox. It was a brief interview between pictures of the smallest park in the state of Washington and the largest apple. My uncle, Remos, a great storyteller himself, phoned from Albuquerque, to tell me that he was reading a newspaper, and as soon as he saw "bookstore in Ellensburg" he knew it had to be me.
NOTABLE FOR NOT BEING NOTABLE
“Richard, you’re famous!”
“I am? How so?”
I was talking to Belle Randall, in Seattle. She had phoned to tell me that I was mentioned in The New York Review of Books, in a review by Nicholson Baker of a book entitled Wikipedia: The Missing Manual by John Broughton (Pogue Press/O’Reilly, 2008). More than a book review, Baker, who is a respected novelist, had written a very informative and entertaining essay, “The Charms of Wikipedia” (Vol. 55, No. 4, March 20, 2008, www.nybooks.com/articles/21131). It begins: “Wikipedia is just an incredible thing. It’s fact-encirclingly huge and it’s idiosyncratic, careful, messy, funny, shocking, and full of simmering controversies—and it’s free, and it’s fast.”
He goes on to relate the background of this online encyclopedia, how it evolved, how it’s structured, and how for some people it has become a fascinating project. For Baker, it became a mission.
The uniqueness of Wikipedia is that it is a reference work written by strangers who contribute anonymous articles on any subject they wish—or re-write articles or vandalize them. Beginning in 2001, in eight years, Wikipedia amassed over two million articles on diverse subjects, all written without editorial oversight. “It worked and grew,” said Baker, “because it tapped into the heretofore unmarshaled energies of the uncredentialed.” I, too, had been intrigued by this openness, and in a blatant act of self-promotion, I created a page for myself. I did not rea the rules or follow the guidelines for creating my page. I designed my page by entering the “edit” area on the page of another, more famous poet and copied the formatting codes. Voilá, I had a profile on Wikipedia.
Baker mentions, in his essay, that Broughton’s manual is useful in keeping one from breaking wiki-rules but he notes that the original rule endorsed by the founders was: “Ignore all rules.” In this spirit, I proceeded. It wasn’t long before a notice appeared on my page that tagged my profile as a “stub,” and I realized that there were wiki-elves at work behind the screen. The term “stub” meant that the article was short and needed help.
So, I expanded my profile to include a short bibliography, and Jonathan Penton, my webmaster, added a couple of links. Unbeknownst to me, the halcyon days of just offering information for the sheer joy of adding your two-cents worth were over, and delitionists were on guard. Soon, my profile was tagged “not-notable.”
Baker designates himself as an inclusionist. He makes edits to improve and expand articles, and he is protective of articles which he believes have merit, that are slated for deletion. He tells how he became a crusader:
"But the work that really drew me in was trying to save articles from deletion. This became my chosen mission. Here’s how it happened. I read a short article on a post-Beat poet and small press editor named Richard Denner, who had been a student in Berkeley in the Sixties and then, after some lost years, had published many chapbooks on a handpress in the Pacific Northwes. The article was proposed for deletion by a user named Pirate Mink, who claimed that Denner wasn’t a notable figure, whatever that means. (There are quires, reams, bales of controversy over what constitutes notability in Wikipedia: nobody will ever sort it out.) Another user, Stormbaly, agreed with Pirate-Mink: no third party sources, ergo not notable.
"Denner was in serious trouble. I tried to make the article less deletable by incorporating a quote from an interview in the Berkeley Daily Planet—Denner told the reporter that in the Sixties he’d tried to be a street poet, 'using magic magic markers to write on napkins at Café Med for expressos, on grils’ arms and feet.' (If an article bristles with some quotes from external sources these may, like the bushy hairs on a caterpillar, make it harder to kill.) And I voted 'keep' on the deletion-discussion page, pointing out that many poets publish only chapbooks: 'What harm does it do anyone or anything to keep this entry?'
"An administrator named Nakon—one of about a thousand peer-nominated volunteer administrators—took a minute to survey the two 'delete' votes and my 'keep' vote and then killed the article. Denner was gone."
Notable/not-notable…endless argument. Baker claims, “…a lot of good work-verifiable, informative, brain-leapingly strange—is being cast out of this paperless, indefinitely expandable accordion folder by people who have a narrow, almost grade-schoolish notion of what sort of curiosity an on-line encyclopedia will be able to satisfy in the years to come.”
What led up to my profile’s demise? One doesn’t often get to see the various elements in a sequence of events, from cause to effect, but on-line in virtual reality the record is there. Here is a bit of the history retrieved from Wikipedia.Org/wiki/User:Balloonman/afd/Richard_Denner:
I’ve been pondering the notability of this person and I can’t decide whether there should be a Wikipedia article about this subject or not. There seems to be some claims to notability in the article, but I can’t find any reliable third party sources to back them up (most of the current sources seem to be unreliable or edited by the subject of the article), searching for the two listed books brings up little or nothing, and one them appears to be self-published. –Pirate-Mink 15:04, 17 Januarly 2008 (UTC)
Note: This debate has been included in the list of Poetry- deletion discussions.----pb<talk>18:24, 18 January 2008 (UTC)
DELETE I agree with the lack of reliable third party sources. I will revisit this discussion if some (any) good sources are posted.---Stormbay (talk) 04:00, 22 January 2008 (UTC)
KEEP The man is a publisher and a poet with an extensive bibliography, part of the sixties Berkeley scene. Many poets publish on chapbooks—there is a long and rich tradition of this. What harm does it do to anyone or anything to keep this entry?---Wageless (talk) 03:51, 23 January 2008 (UTC)
Wikipedia Deletion review/Log/2008February
RICHARD DENNER (edit/talk/history/links/watch/logs) This article about a poet was deleted last month based on Wikipedia:Articlesfordeletion/Richard_ Denner. The sparce discussion consisted of the nomination, one person who supported deletion (but said they would “revisit this discussion if some (any) good sources are posted”), and one person who wanted the article kept. This last person also added some material to the article, including an additional source—the article already had several sources, but these weren’t considered sufficiently “third-party”—but neither of the other two, nor the closing administrator, seems to have noticed this. Based on, I guess, a calculation that this is 2-1 in favor of deletion, the discussion was closed as “delete”. Now in the first place, I disagree and think that at a minimum, the nomination should have been relisted for more discussion. The failure to consider new evidence also means the arguments for deletion need to be re-evaluated. Fortunately, the person trying to save this article happens to be Nicholson Baker, and took time to write about this in The New York Review of Books. So, arguably the article could have yet another source now. Poetry often languishes in obscurity, making research challenging for those who don’t know their way around, but let’s not compound the problem in this case.---Michael Snow (talk) 18:15, 29 February 2008 (UTC)
Standard gripe about no apparent discussion with the deleting admin before bringing it here. Many of these sort of cases should be resolvable with a little discussion.---188.8.131.52 (talk) 18:53, 29 February 2008 (UTC)
This is indeed true. People are often confronted with a deletion and imagine the deleting admin as a scary desk sergeant or whatnot. Regardless, here we are.---Dhartung (talk) 23:26, 29 February 2008 (UTC)
OVERTURN, there was no consensus. The nominator said “I’m not sure if…” the only delete comment was hesitant and said “if sources…” and the keep was fairly confident it should be kept. There was no elaboration in the closing statement as to how the outcome arrived at delete. Closing as delete was a mistake.---Jerry (talk) 21:32, 29 February 2008 (UTC)
OVERTURN, lack of consensus, this should be relisted and given another chance.---Mbimmler (talk) 17:54, 1 March 2008 (UTC)
OVERTURN, I thought it was a quick delete. I suspect that only marginal notability exists but the article deserves due process.---Stormbay (talk) 21:06, 1 March 2008 (UTC)
. Hi, I know Richard and found his page when people were beginning to assert his lack of notability (I did not participate in the deletion debate). My comments on the talk page, where I disclose y conflict of interest and add a couple of sources, are presumably visible to admins. At that time, it is mentioned that Richard started his own page. If it would be helpful, I can start a page for him from scratch.---JonathanPenton (talk) 03:39, 2 March 2008 (UTC)
OVERTURN, Came here from NYRB as well. Which I suspect now serves as an additional source.---Relatarefero (talk) 09:53, 2 March 2008 (UTC)
OVERTURN, insufficient consensus to delete the article. I would have relisted the debate.---Hut8.5, (talk) 10:37, 2 March 2008 (UTC)
And so, I was back, a cause célèbre figure. I wanted to thank Nicholson Baker. I left a message at his fan club site: “I would like to thank you for coming to my defense in your book review, ‘The Charms of Wikipedia.’ I think it was well-written, entertaining and thought-provoking. On a personal not, being a Buddhis monk, I am charmed to be notable for not being notable.” He replied by email: “I wish I had your Buddhist attitude toward literary vicissitudes.”
A BIT OF NOTORIETY
Another bit of notoriety befell Jampa near Christmas 1993, in Ellensburg. Earlier that year, he had met Gail Rhomner walking up Pine Street. It was night, and he could plainly discern her attractive body silhouetted through the thin dress she was wearing by the street light. They walked together and sat on her porch and talked. She kissed him goodnight. The next evening, he gave her a rose and a poem.
The touch of your tongue my lip
My palm on the curve of your hip
A cut rose in a vase—another,
Invisible, rose growing here
Jampa came to stay nights with Gail and her son, Alex, in her dilapidated duplex. She wrote short stories. He liked the one where the heroine drops Acid on top of a pyramid in Mexico. He asked her why he hadn’t seen her at Four Winds. She said she didn’t want to be stigmatized as an “artist.”
In the early hours of the morning, there was a pounding on the outside wall of the house and the cry of “Fire!” Smoke could be smelt in the bedroom. Gail woke Alex, and they all hurriedly, but only partially, got dressed. They exited through the front door. The cat was the first to flee. Flames could be seen near the rear of the house where a tenant lived. There wasn’t time to rescue the fish in the aquarium.
The house burned quickly. Firemen poured water on the blaze, but it was obvious the house was going to burn. Alex, Gail, and Jampa stood wrapped om blankets in the snow-covered street. Someone took their picture.
When the commotion subsided, the three of them and the cat rode to Jampa’s house, on Capitol Avenue, in Gail’s car. Gail was in shock, and as soon as it was light, she returned to her house. She picked through the debris, but there wasn’t anything that wasn’t ruined. The aquarium was smashed and the fish lost among the ashes.
There are good Samaritans in Ellensburg. Jampa found a fully-decorated Christmas tree and many wrapped presents and useful household things on his front porch. It made for a Merry Christmas, of sorts.
After the holiday, Jampa was in the Valley Café. As he was walking past a booth, Bob Goedeke stopped him said, “I saw your picture on the front page of the Daily Record. Looks like you have a new girlfriend.”
Jampa: Have we reached the end of this chapter?
Jampa: Is there anything else?
Bouvard: Would you tell me about the “y” in Rychard?
Jampa: I know that the sign “YY” means “friends” among the Indian tribes of the Southwest, and we are becoming friends; and we are becoming friends; but that is not the source. You will have to wait. It will be a Christmas present.
Here are a few of the original journal pages from Jampa's Worldly Dharmas