Serendipity: Getting High on … Bananas?

How I Learned About Bananadine aka Mellow Yellow

It was the March 24, 1967 issue of the Los Angeles Free Press that taught me all about how to get high on bananas. You can see the cover of the issue in question illustrated above. Did I run to the nearest supermarket and buy up all the bananas in sight? No, I didn’t. It was just six months after my brain surgery to remove a chromophobe adenoma from the center of my head; and I was not about to go experimenting with psychedelic drugs. I was just finishing my first quarter as a graduate student at UCLA’s Film School. Although I loved the Free Press and looked for it religiously each week, I was both impressed and somewhat repelled by the whole hippie phenomenon.

What is this about getting high on bananas? Just read this excerpt from Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, which reminded me of this news story that happened some half century ago:

Bigfoot had been driving around once a week to Kozmik Banana, a frozen-banana shop near the Gordita Beach pier, creeping in by way of the alley in back. It was a classic shakedown. Kevin the owner, instead of throwing away the banana peels, was cashing in on a hippie belief of the moment by converting them to a smoking product he called Yellow Haze. Specially trained crews of speed freaks, kept out of sight nearby in a deserted resort hotel about to be demolished, worked three shifts carefully scraping off the insides of the banana peels and obtaining, after oven-drying and pulverizing it, a powdery black substance they wrapped in plastic bags to sell to the deluded and desperate. Some who smoked it reported psychedelic journeys to other places and times. Others came down with horrible nose, throat, and lung symptoms that lasted for weeks. The belief in psychedelic bananas went on, however, gleefully promoted by underground papers which ran learned articles comparing diagrams of banana molecules to those of LSD and including alleged excerpts from Indonesian professional journals about native cults of the banana and so forth, and Kevin was raking in thousands.  Bigfoot saw no reason why law enforcement shouldn’t b cut in for a share of the proceeds.

So, as you see, however much I dearly loved the Freep, the whole thing was an early instance of fake news on the (far) left.

The Free Press Called it “Bananadine”

I remember that the Free Press even had a bookstore on Fairfax, specializing in subversive titles, but with enough interesting general literature available to whet my appetite. A big plus is that it was right across the street from Canter’s Deli, which was open all hours, making it a popular nosh stop for film addicts discussing the pictures they had just seen. Martine and I still go there from time to time for their corned beef, pastrami, and other delights.

The Frogs Who Wanted a King

From Ancient Greece Comes the Story About What We Have Become

In case you are not familiar with this ancient tale by Aesop, here is a retelling from a website called Fables of Aesop:

The Frogs were tired of governing themselves. They had so much freedom that it had spoiled them, and they did nothing but sit around croaking in a bored manner and wishing for a government that could entertain them with the pomp and display of royalty, and rule them in a way to make them know they were being ruled. No milk and water government for them, they declared. So they sent a petition to Jupiter asking for a king.

Jupiter saw what simple and foolish creatures they were, but to keep them quiet and make them think they had a king he threw down a huge log, which fell into the water with a great splash. The Frogs hid themselves among the reeds and grasses, thinking the new king to be some fearful giant. But they soon discovered how tame and peaceable King Log was. In a short time the younger Frogs were using him for a diving platform, while the older Frogs made him a meeting place, where they complained loudly to Jupiter about the government.

To teach the Frogs a lesson the ruler of the gods now sent a Crane to be king of Frogland. The Crane proved to be a very different sort of king from old King Log. He gobbled up the poor Frogs right and left and they soon saw what fools they had been. In mournful croaks they begged Jupiter to take away the cruel tyrant before they should all be destroyed.

“How now!” cried Jupiter “Are you not yet content? You have what you asked for and so you have only yourselves to blame for your misfortunes.”

In the archaic L’Estrange version, the moral is: “The mobile are uneasie without a ruler: they are as restless with one; and the oft’ner they shift, the worse they are; so that government or no government; a king of God’s making, or of the peoples, or none at all; the multitude are never to be satisfied.”

As I sat down reading in the Santa Monica Main Library this morning, I noticed that the people seated around me look as if they had lost their battle with life. One black man alternately wept and swore; and a bearded youth in a hoodie kept calling his family to beg money for his anxiety medications. The coffee shops are full of people with notebook computers, undoubtedly using social media to communicate with people they don’t know or really care about. The natives appear to be restless.

Well, We Got Our King

This restlessness is probably what elected our current President, who is very much like Aesop’s King Stork. He seems to be comfortable only with billionaires and despots. And what can we expect from him? The answer, in one word is covfefe, and lots of it—brown, gooey, and pungent.

A Shakespearean Tragedy

The House in Which Richard M. Nixon Was Born

Today Martine and I visited the Richard M. Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda. It is a humble house that was built from a kit by Nixon’s father in 1912. Most of the furniture is original, including the bed in which Hannah Nixon gave birth to the 37th President of the United States. In keeping with that humility, within a few feet of the house’s rear entrance are the graves of Richard and Pat Nixon, who died within a year of each other.

There is no doubt that Nixon was a flawed man. Yet—at the same time—his list of accomplishments in office is impressive. He ended the unpopular war in Viet Nam. He ended the military draft. He was a staunch supporter of civil rights. His Title IX legislation made women’s sports at the collegiate level a major success. He courageously took it upon himself to re-open China to the West. He founded the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The list goes on and on.

Yet, despite his smashing victory over George McGovern in the 1972 election, he saw his opponents as a personal threat to him and initiated a burglary of the weakened Democratic National Committee in the Watergate Building. Like our current President, who also maintains an enemies list, Nixon was also a public servant who was intelligent and hard-working on behalf of the American People—which our current President is decidedly not.

The Grave Site of Richard M. Nixon

During the Sixties and Seventies, I was a determined enemy of Nixon. Now I am not so sure I feel that way. There was something about the man which could have made him our greatest political leader of this century. But he was all too human, and his life is like a Shakespearean tragedy of overwhelming promise and ambition brought down by an all-too-human flaw.

Sun Shining Through Leaves

Nothing Puts Me in a More Meditative State of Mind

This scene at Descanso Garden’s Mulberry Pond represents to me nature at its most lovely. I enjoy sitting there in the late afternoon and watching the lengthening sun shine through the leaves of the tree and the reeds growing from the pond. That luminous shade of green more than anything else makes me feel at peace. I usually let Martine walk around the park while I thinking about my inhaling and exhaling, all the while small children try to throw sticks and stones into the water. No matter: It’s all good.

One doesn’t always find this lush configuration of plants and sunlight in Southern California. More frequent are dusty botanicals that merely look dark. Not that Descanso has a team of caretakers dusting and polishing the plants—but that bench under the mulberry tree is one of the secret places in my heart. And it’s one of the reasons I keep returning to the park in La Cañada-Flintridge.

It’s Uayeb Again!

It’s the Shortest Month of the Year

It’s the Shortest Month of the Year

This is a slightly edited reprint from my posting of December 31, 2012. As you may recall, there was widespread fear among New Age types that the Mayan calendar was coming to an end … and we would all be doomed!

We’ve been hearing a lot about the Mayan Calendar lately, mostly in connection with The End of the World last week. Well, it didn’t end; and the Mayan Calendar goes on into a new baktun.

In the Haab’, or Mayan Solar Calendar, there are eighteen months of twenty days each. Where does that leave the other 5.25 days? To account for the difference, the Mayans created an intercalary five-day month referred to as the uayeb. Unlike other days in the Solar Calendar, the five days of the uayeb are thought to be a dangerous time.

According to Lynn Foster in Handbook to Life in the Ancient Mayan World, “During Wayeb, portals between the mortal realm and the Underworld dissolved. No boundaries prevented the ill-intending deities from causing disasters.” It was a time of fasting with abstention from sex and all celebrations. People avoided washing their hair or even leaving their huts during this time.

As we in the United States come to the end of another uayeb, I hope we are ready for what 2017 brings. Because, ready or not, here it comes….

Euripides and Moderation in Love

The Greek Playwright Euripides (480-406 BC)

The Greek Playwright Euripides (480-406 BC)

On the Laudator Temporis Acti website, I ran into two quotes from Euripides which go a long way toward explaining the genius of the ancient Greeks.

From the David Kovacs translation of Medea, lines 627-641, comes these lines:

Loves that come to us in excess bring no good name or goodness to men. If Aphrodite comes in moderation, no other goddess brings such happiness. Never, O goddess, may you smear with desire one of your ineluctable arrows and let it fly against my heart from your golden bow!

May moderation attend me, fairest gift of the gods! May dread Aphrodite never cast contentious wrath and insatiate quarreling upon me and madden my heart with love for a stranger’s bed! But may she honor marriages that are peaceful and wisely determine whom we are to wed!

I am reminded of the truth of this observation from a birthday party I attended many years ago. An acquaintance whom I will not name, in the middle of all his friends, gave his bride thirty pounds of potatoes, one for each year of her life. Their love match had clearly turned sour, and the party broke up early after his shaming of his wife.

The next lines come from Euripides’s Iphigeneia in Aulis, also translated by Kovacs:

Blessed are they who with moderation
and self-control where the goddess is concerned
share in the couch of Aphrodite,
experiencing the calm absence
of mad passion’s sting. In love
twofold are the arrows of pleasure
golden-haired Eros sets on his bowstring,
the one to give us a blessed fate,
the other to confound our life.
I forbid him, O Cypris most lovely,
to come to my bedchamber!
May my joy be moderate,
my desires godly,
may I have a share in Aphrodite
but send her away when she is excessive!

I, too, could have been in this situation had the beautiful young pediatrician I was pursuing had turned around and acceded to my passion. But she didn’t, and I found someone better—though I did go through a few rocky years in the interval.

 

Oh, No, Not Again!

Any Sort of Tragedy Brings These Termites Out of the Woodwork

Any Sort of Tragedy Brings These Termites Out of the Woodwork

Maybe it’s because I was raised a Catholic, but most public displays of prayer leave me cold. What is this thing about holding your arms out while emoting excessively? Is it to prove conclusively to God and to your fellow man that you do not have round-the-clock protection? And what’s all this mummery with candles and flowers and cutesy stuffed animals?

Perhaps I am disturbed by the similarity of that holding-out-one’s-arms prayer gesture to a fervent “Heil Hitler!”

Am I knocking prayer? Not at all. I believe in God, though in a somewhat heterodox manner; and I have even been known to pray. But my prayer is a private matter between the Creator and myself. I eschew all mummery, and I have no desire to prove myself holier than anyone else. (Which I certainly am not.)  Demonstrative public prayer is just … well … a form of showboating.

Whenever there is a terrorist act or a mass shooting or some horrendous accident, you will see them making some sort of pseudo-Evangelical religious demonstration. Our awful news media even likes to interview them—even though they have never had anything to say. It’s kind of like hiring an official mourner to keen for your loved ones. Can you wonder why I can’t stand to see how television reports “tragedies.”