Category Archives: photography

On the road


Kickstarter update on the road away from prohibition.

This is an account of a one-day side-trip on the road in pursuit of the “Tales of Mary Jane”. Every day of that year-ending five-weeks was as interesting and satisfactory as (I hope you will agree) this one.

The first four chapters of the book have been distributed to the backers, and I’m polishing chapter 5 for posting soon.

Here’s to 2015 being better for you, and more productive for me.

Sincere best wishes,
Jack Large

PS to backers of either or both of my Kickstarter projects: Forgive the appearance of multiple identical updates, if you will. It takes a lot less time to apologize in advance than it does to forestall it when your tech skills are as sketchy as mine.

Tales of Mary Jane: The Children of Prohibition

A year ago, I took my first step into the world of crowd funding. A success, the backing I received enabled me to present a collection of photographs I took while living in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, as a gift to the Seattle Public Library. In return for their help, I promised backers a “reward” in the form of a book with information about the images in the collection, including a narrative about the period (1966-’68), places, people and cultural context portrayed.

Today, minutes ago, I launched a second appeal titled, “Tales of Mary Jane: The Children of Prohibition”. The campaign will run for 14 days. The money goal is modest, far less than will be required to produce the best quality outcome. I may be over-optimistic in thinking the project will capture the interest of anyone who marvels, as I still do from afar, that states of Washington and Colorado (two of my favorites), have legalized recreational use of marijuana since I launched the first campaign.

This is significant because it shapes my perspective on the first Kickstarter effort (“KS1”). Some, a few dozen, of the images in the slide collection show people engaged in various activities associated with casual or habitual use of marijuana. Because this was a criminal activity then (and in most places still is today) the photographs, like the drugs, might have been considered contraband, or at the very least, evidence to support prosecution and, upon conviction, incarceration if we had been so careless as to be caught, as many have been, and are still.

In writing the story of the slide show while poring over the pages of slides in the collection for the purpose of tagging and logging them before sending them on to Seattle, a small but prominent group of images expanded in my mind. They are shots of the small children whose parents were the adults shown smoking pot. The adults were a light-hearted group then and now, and the photos suggest nothing sinister or fear inducing, contrary to the expectations of what at the time was called “straight society”, before the more explicitly sexual connotation attached to the phrase.

As I wrote, my thoughts turned more and more to those children. I wondered, what became of them? A few of them, I know today. For the most part, they grew strong, intelligent, worldly, capable, even accomplished citizens. To all appearances, they were wholly unimpaired by the conditions of their childhood. I can’t say, nor do I have any basis to speculate, what has been the fate of the others. The questions that have grown in my consciousness while writint of them are intensified by not knowing.

Is it possible to predict the mindset of one who grows up gradually more aware that those closest are, crudely put, habitual criminals? How does such knowledge shape one’s interaction with the contrastive world beyond the front door of the family home? Does it influence their choice of friends? Does it make them more or less likely to indulge in a subculture of marijuana use or other proscribed behavior themselves? Are they more sophisticated about the whole range of substances and their abuse? Do they form coteries of peer support outside the traditional systems in their communities.

I intend to gather and tell these “Tales of Mary Jane”. I will find these possessors of unique insight, elicit their stories, and share the stories with a world several generations behind them in its awareness of what, although illegal, has been pervasive. All those having deep familiarity with marijuana and its use, and effects on users are in a position to help inform those who lack it.

A majority of US citizens now agree that the criminalization of marijuana has been a mistake. I will present the evidence I find for and against that conclusion, through the personal narratives and detailed accomplishments of those who understand the much-maligned herb better than can any other, in their way: the children of prohibition. I will need all the help I can get, to do it justice, and justice is really what it’s all about.

Stop a Head when Flashing

[note] I wrote this for a publisher who wanted something about the people, days and events in it. After he accepted it, I checked it with Charlie and he objected to what, in his memory (admittedly somewhat more acute than mine, for reasons that will become apparent). I pulled it, so you’re reading it fresh. Rather than change it, I’ll just call it a work of pure fiction, and add Charlie’s objections in the home stretch. Let the reader make of it whatever he or she likes.

Charles Potts and I met in Pocatello not long before he left for Mexico, so I didn’t get to know him well until he showed up months later in Seattle. Charlie and LSD came on me at about the same time. Acid was stronger, but had nowhere near Charlie’s legs. He was staying with a friend in Olympia, intent on starting a poetry magazine in Seattle. I had quit my job at Boeing the day after dropping my first acid. I had a room in Abie Label’s “artist’s colony” on the eleventh floor of the Frye Hotel at 2nd and Yesler.(It wasn’t all altruism-the elevator went only to 10. The rooms on 11 were just over 6 ft high on one side, sloping up to about 7 and a half on the other to allow for drainage from the roof.)

I had been reading publications like Screw and Fuck, a lot of Ed Sanders’ and Tuli Kupferberg’s stuff, and other arcana of hipness at Jean Andre’s Id Bookstore on 1st Avenue at Yesler, kitty corner Pioneer Square. Sitting around the Id a lot, one lighthearted day (if that’s the right body part), I wrote a send-up of Poe, encountering his eponymous Raven on acid.

Everybody I read it to thought it was cool, naturally, so I was having my 15 minutes when Charlie came back from Mexico with poetry, or more accurately producing a poetry mag on his mind. He didn’t have a name for it yet, and in my new-found acid consciousness, I reached down into memories of my boyhood and found “Litmus”, with its cool dual entendre of the little strips of paper chemists use to test solutions for acidity, and the alliteral allusion to literature. This account is disputed by the estimable, and otherwise absolutely dependable Larry Kent,  also present and the time, and making the same claim for himself. Maybe we had become the same person in that moment. The difference was that I knew exactly what the idea had sprung from.

My father had given me a chemistry set for Christmas back when you could still get one with everything needed to make black powder. His demonstration of the use of litmus paper was magical, indelible in my memory. I’m not sure Charles is ready even now to acknowledge that I named Litmus. I let him down in the stretch, leading up to the appearance of #1, by failing to get the big old multilith printing machine into orbit, that I had acquired in hopes of ensuring book quality printing work.  I was also smoking a lot of weed by, and during, the time he was laboring herculanimously to get #1 out, and off, and on multiple fronts. He took a job at a motorcycle tire dealer to save enough to move to Seattle from Olympia, where he had, in a very short time, become a popular reader in the [name?] coffeehouse.

I’d had friction with some of the artists at the Frye by then. Their underwear bunched up at my plan to move a noisy printing machine into their Zen sanctuary, as it might disrupt the flow of lissome art groupies fluttering in and out of their ersatz ashram. With no appetite for another war, ‘Nam nowhere near over yet, I bailed from there.

Charles and I took an apartment together for a couple months in Belltown, on 2nd Avenue. We found it tastelessly ironic that our new pad was directly above the navy recruiter’s office. That any of our crowd had to pass the “Go Navy” sign to reach our door, tickled us nonetheless. It was there where I took the photo of Edward Smith in the same bathtub where Charlie has written elsewhere that he had found his roommate breaking up a “key”, and it was also there where I shot the picture of Charlie uprooting the Space Needle, both hands under the cap as if it were a great metallic fungus.

Edward Smith was one of several persons that Charlie and I met in the poetry workshops we led together for the Magic Mountain’s Miriam Rader and her Free University of Seattle project, who would become influential in our lives. I was a farce as far as being a poetry teacher goes. I was a humorist abusing the privilege by pretending to write poetry. While the occasional jokes might amuse, they didn’t make for good poetry. A redeeming fact, perhaps, was that I recognized this before anyone else, with the outcome being that I dumped the A B Dick lemon on a guy eager to strike a blow against the man in the form of a magazine for transvestites, and I bailed.

This left Charlie holding the growing poetry bag-Litmus, poetry class, and all, but with with a pair of good hands. I moved into the back room at Jack Cabe’s Zig Zag Gallery in the Pike Place Market, where I would still be in a position to help Charlie host the “Theodore Roethke Gladness Wake” (he still has the flyers!) About that event I can say that on that evening, Charlie, Edward and another former Pocatellan, Clair Oursler, showed me how exciting a live poetry reading could be; it really had to be if it was to do more than merely derive from others’ earlier work, however magnificent.

Of course I did my Poe turn, which was already tasting stale in my mouth. Edward read his feminist call to arms, “Rise up my cunted ones”; Charlie read “I dream of Oaxaca” (which I had been the first person to hear, earlier, when he finished writing it in Belltown), and Clair, astonishingly enough, read the product liner notes from a package of VA douche powder, by the light of an electric lint remover. Whatever one thinks of Roethke, his name lost some of its luster that night, or if not, at least the 30-odd poets and hipsters who attended the readings left less inclined, probably, to use reverential tones when dropping the name.

Another poet who read was David Hiatt. Because I didn’t know him well, I lost complete memory of him and his reading until recently, although I was always aware that there was a hot poetry connection between him and Charles Potts. I recently got a Facebook friend request from David, and in a subsequent exchange of messages he debunked my presumption of propinquity between him and the too-soon-gone poet, Ben Hiatt, he reminded me that I had given him a small amount of “walking around money” at that reading. Maybe Facebook is as close as we have yet come to the global electronic village promised us all those decades ago by Marshall McLuhan and Tim Leary.

My Poe takedown appeared in Litmus #1, which also used my B/W photo of a spider on a chrysanthemum on the cover. From then on, as a result of having met David Horton, already a master photographer espoused to another of the dozen or so brilliant attendees of the poetry class, he became my mentor in a visual art form for which I thought I had more aptitude than for writing poetry. Prose was always more “my thing”, and we all know its not the same.

I was probably a little jealous of the bond I watched grow so quickly between Charles and Edward; they are, or were, now Ed is deceased, both eminently loveable men. The final cooling stroke in the relationship between Charles and I was delivered in the person of Janice P, a lively Nordic blonde, with  a large Alsatian, and  also in the poetry class. We thought of her as our groupie, as she had put a lip-lock on Charlie before you could say “fellatio trumps cunnilingus”. In the end, she threw us both over for a guy who “could beat her at tennis,” but I chalked it up to a rough first acid trip. Twenty years later, either one of us would have accepted the tennis challenge, switching gender roles for the Bobby Riggs-Billy Jean King Classic match-up result, but I didn’t come here to take up sports writing.

For awhile, as time was reckoned in the Summer of Love, it was fair to say she was Charlie’s girl. One day she came around the gallery looking for Charlie, so she said, and I don’t claim otherwise. Charlie wasn’t there, nor was he usually, for if not at his job, he would be very busy working to get Litmus out. Before anyone but the rare clearheaded person realized what was happening, Janice and I were putting the wood away on the gallery floor while the Alsatian licked his balls in the corner.

I felt a little self-conscious about it afterward, all our fashionable pretensions about the correctness of free love notwithstanding. I didn’t think Charlie was too pleased about it either when I told him later, but the damage was done. A few months, a thousand poetry publishing headaches, and a few issues of Litmus later, and Charlie was off to meet his alter ego, Laffing Water in Berkeley (cf. Vol II, Valga Krusa, Green Panda, 2007, Cleveland).

It’s been said that if you remember the 60’s, you weren’t there, and there may be truth in it. I sent the above text to Charles, expecting his memory to be as good or better than mine. Our versions don’t match, but I have neither an argument against his, nor an inclination to vary mine, since I remember it. Even so, I concede to Charles’ account of his motivations, intentions and actions. His mind wasn’t nearly as addled with weed, wine and psychecelics as mine, then or ever. His account of the time follows:

“Per the biography, my memory is substantially different from yours. I did not return from Mexico or move to Seattle obsessed with publishing a poetry magazine. When we re-met in Seattle, you and David Wagner and others whose names escape me were planning an anti-war anti-establishment magazine that was to be called Shrapnel. For which Wagner had made a proto typical cover misspelling the word as Scrapnel I believe.

What I offered in those late days of August was to procure some poetry for this magazine as I had left Pocatello feeling slightly guilty that I had let Bob Serpa talk me out of including Dawn, Clair, and Mary Heckler in an anthology Serpa and I published called Do You Want to Be in Our Zoo Too? which contained the works of Serpa, CP, Zig, and Geoffrey Dunbar.

I had read Ford Madox Ford’s It Was the Nightingale which was a nightmare about publishing The Transatlantic Review and I had determined never to be the editor or publisher of a magazine.
As time went along, and the name of the projected magazine changed to Litmus, it became apparent that you and Wagner weren’t going to be able to produce. I was perfectly willing to let down my friends, Oursler, Dawn, and Mary Heckler one more time and let the project languish. It was only after the 3rd meeting of “Poetry—Language—Now” at the free university when Ed Smith read “The Queen of the Blue Fox” and we had a poem that had to be published, did I become obsessive about getting the first and second issues out, and subsequently took over the publishing in order to finish it.
Those are the most substantive objections to the portrayal of me in those days. Per the Theodore Roethke Gladness Wakes, the first one was you me and Clair. Ed Smith read at the 2nd one along with Paul Malanga and Bobby Byrd. [Charles Potts, personal email, 11 March 2009]

Sequelae: I sought Charlie out in Berkeley alongside a “buying trip” I had undertaken, as necessitated by seekers from Seattle in those early days of designer chemistry. I arrived at the airport early in the morning, bought a newspaper and took the bus into Berkeley. The headlines blared the the cops raiding Black Panther headquarters in Berkeley, killing two men, including Bobby Seale, and arresting Eldridge Cleaver and Huey P. Newton. It was not unexpected push-back by the police, and was viewed on the streets as the cops getting even for the Panthers well-established habit of “patrolling the pigs”, or cruising the streets of Oakland and Berkeley with serious firepower protruding from every window. It was a policy ostensibly designed to awaken all to a perceived need to protect local citizens from being harassed by police for walking while black.

Reaching Charlie’s room, I woke him up to read him this news, as he had as yet no inkling of it. It was a delicious moment for me, that rare one when any of his friends learned a salient fact before Charlie, always so diligent in his pursuit, and rarely forgetting anything. I imagine it enabled me to somewhat refuel Charles’ esteem of me as a reliable participant in our scene. I have been lucky in that way.

If you have read this far with any interest (and how could you not?)  and yet are unfamiliar with Valga Krusa (in 2 vols: The Yellow Christ, and Laffing Water, which details the hair-raising and heart-rending experiences of Charlie in Berkely, culminating in his descent into psychiatric hell, and subsequent (and quite brilliant) recovery, the book is available by contacting this space.

The World I Want to See

After posting yesterday’s, it occurred to me that, because the phrase, American Mogul, is a fairly common one, it has likely been used in one context or another by someone. If so, I owed it to that person and myself to find out. I did what anyone does, nowadays, and googled it. Sure enough, there he was, Russell Simmons, an entertainment world figure and a successful entrepreneur himself, if still a toenail short of the billionaire cut. If he remains healthy and energetic, and continues to do everything right, he’ll make it. It’s still America, after all.

Reading about Mr. Simmons, I began to develop a wary admiration of him and his pursuits. He had some help along the way from family, like so many successful people have, but he surely deserves the “self-made” distinction that Forbes applies to billionaires (and less) that the magazine considers more worthy of our approbation. I realized that, while making money had been a relatively central factor in Mr. Simmons’ motivational complex, I was hard-pressed to think of anyone for whom that isn’t necessarily the case. All it takes, in fact, is a trip to the supermarket to put the point into perspective.

I cannot comment about the reality show of which he was the central character, for I’ve only just learned of its existence and have more pressing lacunae on my to-Google list. Apparently it didn’t have the leg for the long run. Others will know; I don’t. It was apparently interesting enough to be signed up for more than a single season, so one wonders what essential ingredient it exhausted first. I had to think about the point for a spell.

As I thought (an activity I do more vigorously before lunch than after) I slipped into a kind of afternoon reverie. I remembered a project I had worked on years earlier in Idaho, taking photographs for a project run by a long-defunct magazine called Idaho Heritage. I spent a day or two, (depending on Day One weather) wandering about taking snapshots, and only occasionally intruding into the daily activities of the residents, to get their ideas about what might be the interesting subjects of my work.

The communities and their citizens were charming, villages, really, each was unique. I’ll bring some of the photos here, soon as it occurs to me where they are archived, for they coincide in years with the advent of the personal computer. I mention these places; there were twelve of them, for one reason. Each of the towns was healthy, but not noticeably growing, and each showed signs of a struggle to remain not just economically viable, but stable enough to remain more than a mere ghost town, of which there are more in Idaho than one might guess.

It occurred to me to wonder what might happen if a single affluent individual decided that one of these towns would be, in a wired world such as ours, a reasonable place to take up residence for all or part of a year? What if, having determined to do so with a budget of a million dollars to make the move, using locally available products and services and tradespeople as possible, they spent 90% of their budget there?

In fact, there is nothing speculative about this scenario, and in Bellevue, Idaho (one of the 12 Idaho Heritage towns) something very similar has happened nearby already, and repeatedly. The next town north of it is Hailey, after which comes Ketchum. All three are part of the Sun Valley, Big Wood River area of central Idaho, which has become the site of serial homes of some of the most recognized names in the country. The easiest way for a longterm resident of the area to become a millionaire is to sell the building lot their pioneer family home still occupies.

The point of today’s maundering entry is that it doesn’t take a big investment in a small community, its residents and their businesses, to set in motion a chain reaction of progressive optimism and hope for the future that makes of such places some of the best places to live in the country. There are a large number of civic projects just waiting on a little bit of liquidity for launch. The knock-on effects of employing a dozen of the most capable local workers, normally resigned to the “rocking chair” of off-season unemployment checks is well known. People with an opportunity to repair, expand, upgrade, begin or complete long-idle projects in their surroundings are people with renewed optimism. Without optimism, life is merely being. The missing ingredient that brings the transformation from being to becoming is disposable capital, and that only comes from the exchange of goods and services, unless you are a Wall Street Banker or a big corporation. But that’s another blog post.

Snarky don’t drive, but the Koryo troll do….

It’s embarrassing to acknowledge how slowly The Familographer catches up with current technology for capturing and disseminating information using computer and Internet. Younger, smarter users, in their drive to make of humanity the most widely interconnected organism in the history of organisms, put your old Familographer to shame here. A case in point happened this past week, but some background information is needed.

A blog that is essential among expatriate and Korean-English multilingual netizens anytime of Seoul is The Marmot’s Hole. If you want to take the pulse (or read what passes for a mind) of the community of The Outsiders (easily confused with foreigners) you will peer into the “hole” betimes. This is because said Marmot, fellow alum of the Lenny Bruce School of language relations, is assiduous in his selection of posts, based on their relevance to the Korean scene. His most endearing quality is a soft spot for classic and classy architecture, recalling the admonition of Edward Dorn to a group of poetry students at Idaho State University ca. 1963, “Architects determine to a great degree what the built environment is going to look like,” he shouted. “If poets don’t care what the world looks like, then who the hell will?”

Contents include regular posts by a small but prolific cadre of commentators on politics, current events, personalities in the news, press foibles, official boondoggle and malfeasance, inter-Korean relations, travel, gender relations (bias MCP), these and more are grist for the Marmot’s mill.

Every post attracts comments, perhaps a primary criterion for selection; The blog has achieved an enviable robustness in the mystical realm of blogosphere such that, if the writing is clear and somewhat piqued, a post will attract a few dozen comments. The comments often reveal more than the posts they address. The blog itself is eclectic, but the comments are a patchwork crazy quilt, where sublime and ridiculous are early stops en route to opposite corners of the spread. That’s the background for today’s post.

Previously, TF has called attention to the backward state of crossing signals on Korea’s streets and roads. It’s no surprise to discover that many agree, from the comments replying after The Marmot highlighted my post by linking his blog to it with a blurb. Of the nearly three dozen comments it garnered, more than a couple seized upon what they apparently perceived as an opportunity to snap off a snide reference implying it’s a Sad Sack country of half-wits, or generally so. The Marmot can himself be snide, and his blog is more interesting and entertaining because of it, but he always exercises himself in a very specific way about particular issues, not allowing the sour mood that some posts wring out of the more sanguine expatriate commenters to this and other blogs one can find. The tendency is best paraphrased, “Why can’t they be more like us?”

Let’s be perfectly clear about one thing. This is not TF’s position, nor TM’s either. More than a few Korean citizens are already making the attempt to be like us, (North Americans, in this case, but the Brits and French and have their sycophants, too) There isn’t a lot of evidence that success in the effort will inevitably be accompanied by any improvement in character. Perhaps it depends on who is taken as model. Expatriates are not, ourselves, a particularly exemplary class in terms of character (forgive me). The humble Familographer finds a lot more to like about Korea, especially the Korean people, than he finds to criticize and complain about come day’s end. It isn’t a difficult place of perception to reach. Complainant need only self-address the question, “Will this world really be a better place if everyone is more like me?”

When the problem of traffic signals is eventually solved, and it will be, the chief beneficiaries will be, overwhelmingly, Korean. We have many times seen the country change condition almost overnight when the political will is joined to a campaign of mass communication on an issue. Usually, though far from always, it brings improvement. Part of the key to bringing traffic signal change is to keep the issue in the public eye. Pursuing that end, TF will take to the streets, mapping, photographing and interviewing some of those drivers, workers and residents whose lives are affected by crappy traffic signal engineering. With the help of bloggers like The Marmot, keeping attention focused on the problem, TF salutes the memory of Sam Cooke and Dr. Martin Luther King, confident that “Change gon’ come.”