Saturday, December 08, 2007

Scattering Robert's Ashes

I did not make very adequate photographs of our day saying farewell to Robert Minichiello, but others took photographs too. It is like the final luncheon arranged by his older brother George...

...that is, that the photos will be various and partial as were all of views, from separate angles and out of separate times, of Robert. As people remembered him, our partial views gathered toward a more complete portrait of Robert than any of us had separately. There was even the portrait from the man who knew him when both were children, running about the streets of Boston and discovering that no prank escaped the surveillance of the mothers and grandmothers who scan the street from their window sills.
Robert's younger brother John read Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken, pointing out that you can read that verse as being about that minority of people, like Robert, who take that other road, away from the main road that most people take. John toasted his brother:

And there is a new Bobby in the family:

Before the luncheon we gathered among beautiful redwoods where George released Robert's ashes...

as Robert's niece Wendy read an Italian blessing, and his friend Joan Chapman read this wonderful Buddhist meditation:

This body is not me.
I am not limited by this body.
I am life without boundaries.
I have never been born,
and I have never died.

Look at the ocean and the sky filled with stars,
manifestations from my wondrous True Mind.

Since before time, I have been free.
Birth and death are only doors through which we pass,
sacred thresholds on our journey.
Birth and death are a game of hide-and-seek.

So laugh with me,
hold my hand,
let us say good-bye,
say good-bye, to meet again soon.

We meet today.
We will meet again tomorrow.
We will meet at the source every moment.
We meet each other in all forms of life.

Paige and Kim:

Wendy out of focus:
Sky on one of Robert's later paintings, in Oakland:

From a period of over 40 years, I am recalling just a few of the moments that make me thankful to have known my friend Robert Minichiello. I am especially grateful for all that Robert taught me creatively and intellectually, and for giving me the very foundation for whatever self-esteem I may have. Was I ever angry and unreasonable? No, that was only Robert. But now I remember differently. I remember him seeing that my Irish temper was about to get the better of me and his taking charge to head off some moment when I was about to act-out in some crazy way.

How many hundreds of times did Robert play erudite disk jockey, placing one after another of his well-preserved records on the turntable – a distinguished selection of classic music – so that I could write and he could paint or draw in the spell cast by the music. Then we would share what we had created and get drunk with shared ideas.

After the worst of my muggings, Robert led me to the neighborhood swimming pool every few days until movement through water relaxed the rigidity in my traumatized body – Robert was a tender caregiver to me and many others over the years.

There was a Chrismas morning in the 1970s that was emotionally intense at the time, but now sounds like a comedy. In an argument with my boyfriend Michael, I somehow broke his large aquarium of tropical fish, flooding our entire apartment in an instant – fish flopping everywhere, Michael screaming, “Don’t move! Don’t move!” for fear that I would step on one of the invisible crystal fish.

I felt saturated with a guilt as heavy as the wet carpets I dragged from the apartment. It was around 3 in the morning, but I walked down the street and awoke Robert and his girlfriend Kate Hills where they were living. They took me in and comforted me and assured me that I wasn’t really a monster even if I was a killer of aquariums. Some years later, in a letter describing some other adult’s temper tantrum, Robert wrote, “It reminded me of the Christmas fishbowl incident.”

So many moments, but I’ll choose one in particular that felt very special to me. We were on a houseboat in Seattle where friends of Robert welcomed us San Franciscans as if we were visionaries worthy of mingling with these vibrant young Seattle artists. One of them, Linda Beaumont, another gift Robert brought into my life, had already completed some of the public art projects that she has continued to create until this day. Robert was dancing with Kate Hills, whom he was first living with in Seattle, and I was dancing with Linda Beaumont. There was a pause between records, and, in a moment natural and easy, Robert and I turned and began to dance with each other. Billie Holiday was singing, “I’ll Look Around…until I’ve found..someone…who laughs like you.” I assume we were behaving just as men in other countries behave, dancing together without self-consciousness, just two old friends, happy to be reunited after a separation. But then from the corner of my eye I became aware that people around us were smiling beatifically, pleased with a simple expression of friendship between two men that, unfortunately, seemed unusual. It was a brief but luminous moment that could only have happened with a man like Robert, not crippled by the strange attitudes and sick conventions of our native country.

As Billie foretold, “I’ll look around,” but I know I will never find a man whose gifts are equal to those that Robert gave.

Autumnal Thoughts


Sitting by the Bay, with the water very still that morning, the sun only just beginning to creep through the grey, no sound but the rare laugh of a gull and the hum of traffic on the Bay Bridge, the engine that runs the world now that man is here, the inescapable engine of himself sitting here, he idled nevertheless, and, eyes closing, he drifted. Everyone hopes to be some place at some time where they can say later, “I was there.” It was fortunate that this was not one of those places – just a space for being. Call it no place at all, or call it an old man’s odd twilight place where memory and imagination are pleasantly confused. This morning’s tranquil Bay was a place where he could be so tranquil that he didn't even care if – while his were eyes closed, while he was not the proper, alert, urban citizen – someone should decide to konk him on the head, because if you could not enjoy that tranquil place, the sun coming through now and warming his skin, if he could not get evened out like the still flat water, then death might be better than a life where you could never enjoy such a moment of peace. Old men should be able to idle and doze on a dock of the Bay. But, as El Pavo Real often reminded him there is no Should.


Time, as I age, has stepped up its pace. The film is in fast motion. For me the trees bud, the leaves unfold, the flower buds blossom, the leaves turn color, the petals fall, the leaves fall, the tree is bare, the trees bud, the leaves kaleidoscopic fashion, faster and faster and faster.

“Wasn’t it just a month ago,” I ask my friend Martha, “that we noticed how this ginko tree turns yellow before the others on your block?” But, of course, it had been a year.

I want to slow it down, the whirligig of the turning years; it makes me dizzy, but it won’t hold still for me, and I know what that means!

In similar fashion, everywhere I go I see what was, side by side with what is now. That is true for many people if they happen to know the history of a place.

The Sutro mansion is missing from Sutro Heights, but only if you know it was once there. Some think the remnants of the foundation and the courtyard are all that was ever there.

How poignant it was to stand high above the ocean at twilight in 1959 on the courtyard that was part of Adolf Sutro’s mansion and to watch as the immense ocean darkened, seeming to threaten the tiny, turning lights of the amusement rides at Playland at the Beach. It was a meditation on fraility and vulnerability. Now, from that spot, you look down on the housing that replaced it (the work of Jeremy Ets-Hoskins). Playland dwells now only in history, but some things pass away in my own lifetime, and so dwell also in my personal memory.

I was surprised to see this poster at least twice in a hotel or some other public place in Europe so that Sutro Baths was not just a landmark for local people. It still existed when I came here in 1959, although the swimming pool had become a skating rink. Walking through that vast inner space beside the great foggy sea, you could still look at the display of Tom Thumb’s wardrobe from his days with Ringling Brothers Circus.

They say it was someone who wanted to build an apartment building in that spot who saw to it that Sutro Baths burned to the ground.


With the recent death of poet Jon Anderson, following the death of my friend Robert Minichiello, I considered the fact that I had supposed I would see Jon again sometime, and then I would discover if he was able to move beyond what I felt was an addiction to guilt, and discover whatever insights he had learned over the years. With all I have known who have died, I resent Death’s rude intrusion, cutting off a “correspondence” (to use the word, as Jon did, in a way to awaken its double meaning). I resent Death’s chopping up the vital manuscripts thaty are the people we know, oblivious to literary form or musical composition.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Autumn Haiku

Autumn wind chases
chattering rats down the street:
stiff, fallen, dead leaves.

- James McColley Eilers, copyright 2007