The coast probably hasn’t looked like this in hundreds of years.

No one walking, no one sitting, no one swimming, no one surfing.

And it’s not a Christmas-morning ‘no one,’ when there’s ‘no one’ but me at the store picking up last-minute bacon.

This ‘no one’ is desolate. Beautiful waves pass through unridden and, having long since washed away the last human footprints on higher tides, now only sweep across grains of sand that were here long before us, and will be here long after we’re gone.

At first, these challenging times that forced us to separate actually seemed to connect us even more, in a unified front against an unknown enemy. As more data has been pooled and analyzed, and the enemy has become less unknown, we’ve begun to separate again.

We look for affirmation, not information, in times like these. We read (and write) stories that support and advance our narrative. No one is immune, myself included. Pun intended.

What we see is impossible to divorce from what we believe.

Except this.

The coast probably hasn’t looked like this in hundreds of years.

Beauty and The Spoon

I’m often reminded of a story in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, where a boy seeks advice on happiness from a wise man, who lives in a magnificent castle.

The wise man gives a spoon with two drops of oil to the boy, and tells him to walk through the castle without spilling any. The boy does as he’s told, and upon returning, the wise man asks him what he thought of the beautiful tapestries and artwork from around the world, displayed on the castle walls.

The boy replies that he didn’t notice anything, because he was focused on the drops of oil. The wise man sends the boy back through the castle, ordering him this time to pay attention to the tapestries and artwork. The boy complies, and upon returning, the wise man asks him why the oil in the spoon is gone. The boy replies that he didn’t pay attention to the spoon, because he was focused on the tapestries and artwork.

I almost got T-boned yesterday… closest I’ve ever come to a really, really, really bad wreck.

We’ve been supporting local mom-and-pop restaurants twice a week by ordering takeout. I was driving home on a 45 mph stretch of road with stoplights handling cross traffic, when a Benz came barreling into the intersection from the right, through a light that had been red in that direction for at least 20 seconds. I know, because I’d been watching my green light from a quarter-mile away.

I slammed on my brakes and the Benz swerved, almost clipping my front fender. In that momentary flash where time stood still, I could see that the driver was probably in her mid-40s, wearing a yellow-striped collared shirt, a mask, and gloves.

The mask and gloves were socially responsible, I suppose, but not really the point.

The point is that whenever we get behind the wheel, we have a 1 in 103 chance of dying from injuries sustained in a car crash. Cardiovascular disease? One in 6. Cancer’s 1 in 7. You can read the same New York Times article, written before the pandemic hit, with a Google search.

This driver was focused on the virus, evidenced by her mask and gloves, while putting herself at greater risk by being on the road, and even greater risk (to both of us) by running the red light.

She didn’t stop. Quite the opposite… she accelerated off into the literal sunset. I took a breath before hitting the gas pedal and heading home.

Pulling into the driveway, I was reminded of the ending to Paulo Coelho’s story.

The wise man tells the boy that the key to happiness is to be able to see the beauty in the world, but not forget the drops of oil in the spoon. I took that to mean to live with your eyes joyously and curiously open, while staying true to your purpose.

But after that ironic, barely avoided accident, I found another meaning.

I think when we look back on the extraordinary circumstances of 2020, we’ll realize that we, too, may have been better served by focusing on both the beauty and the spoon.

Complicated, Isn’t It?

I was kind of grumpy when I first heard about the surfer getting arrested in Malibu.

We’re all doing our part, right?

Sheltering-in-place, wearing whatever paper-towel-elastic face contraptions they’re handing out at supermarket entrances, and doing inventory on non-essential cloth items in the laundry room, just in case the toilet paper really does run out.

And this guy’s SURFING?

My irritation shifted, though, as I watched the (hilariously narrated) video documenting the arrest. Not toward the deputies, or the captains of the lifeguard and sheriff boats. They’re just doing their jobs.

The state closed down the last of the beaches here a couple of Fridays ago. Twenty-two people were cited the next evening for watching the sunset. That’s the actual headline: “Deputies Issue Citations to 22 People Watching the Sunset.”

Of course, this is an incredibly aggressive, deadly virus. My parents, who are in the highest-risk age demographic, also live in the area with the highest per capita concentration of coronavirus in the country. And no, it’s not New York City.

NYC is showing an incredible resilience and strength reminiscent of 9/11, in the face of what may be an even more brutal storm of circumstances. But not everywhere is NYC, in terms of severity. We’re fortunate here in San Diego County to have (so far) been relatively spared. Arguments from herd immunity to regional temperatures to public transit (or lack thereof) to social distancing to draconian shut-down measures are being credited for these kind of disparities in hot spots around the country.

No one really knows, though.

And that’s the hardest part of this for most of us, right?

The uncertainty.

I’m following the rules. I’ve been social distancing for most of my adult life anyway, so this isn’t really a stretch. Minimum six feet of separation, limited to no physical interaction, rarely leaving the house… instead of writing, I should be developing an online course in this way of existence. I’m a professional.

When I did venture out before the closures, I encountered similar souls on the beach, taking care to maintain plenty of space. Even in the ocean, surfers were keeping their distance from each other, nodding, appreciating, until their government finally took the ocean away, too, in the name of public health.

Certainly not mental health, evidenced by the guy yesterday in a wetsuit, waving and kicking from the sidewalk at passing vehicles, with ‘Give me waves or give me Covid’ written in Sharpie on the bottom of his board.

In announcing the closures, two beach town mayors pointed to emailed complaints from constituents about surfers not staying home, as fuel for the ocean ban.

The beaches were still open for active, non-congregating users. So were those constituents actually concerned about public health, or were they irritated, with a tinge of fear, that surfers weren’t making the same choice as them? Or maybe both?

Complicated, isn’t it?

Going in the ocean a couple of weeks ago was a choice, although it seems frivolous now, in light of the challenges gripping the country. And it’s not a choice anymore, one of many we’re both willing and forced to sacrifice in the name of the greater good.


We’re having a lot of choices made for us.

Which brings me back to that video of the lone surfer, stand-up paddle boarding through an empty Malibu lineup, as ginormous boats give chase and sheriff deputies pursue him on foot down the beach.

One of the comments under the video wonders if there’s a gofundme page set up for that guy’s bail yet, because they’d want to donate.

I’ve already donated to relief funds for health-care workers, food delivery, and other assistance efforts in response to this crisis.

I think I’d probably donate to that gofundme page, too.

You can watch the adventure here.

The Person and The Earth

“This is nice,” said Earth.

“What?! This isn’t f’ing nice,” said Person, “I can’t drive to work, my kids can’t go to school, our savings are almost gone, and I can’t breathe.”

“I can, finally,” said Earth.

Digital Campfires

Aaron Elster was 9 years old when a reluctant neighbor hid him in her attic and started slipping him food and water once a day.

When asked what he remembered about that 2 year isolation during the Holocaust, he said, ”Oh, there’s so many things that I remember, the hunger, the fear, the absolute, total loneliness. What do you do all day? You’re sitting there. I used to catch flies, outta desperation, and tear their wings off, so they wouldn’t fly away, so I had them there.”

And when asked how he survived, he said, “I had the ability to daydream. I used to write novels in my head. I was the hero all the time. And we have that ability to either give in to our misery and our pain and die, or absorb the physical pain and keep your mentality, keep your soul, keep your mind.”

This reminded me of a thread running through Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, also delivered from the depths of the Holocaust: sometimes the only thing we can control is our internal dialogue.

Which in turn reminded me of an observation by poet and novelist Ben Okri, especially poignant now, as we’re forced to huddle around digital campfires in pursuit of stories that entertain us, inform us, or advance our own preconceived narratives:

“Beware the stories you read or tell. Subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world.”

Seventy-five years ago, Aaron Elster told himself made-up stories in which he was the hero. He eventually immigrated to America, served in the Korean War, had a family, and in his later years, told his real story to ‘convince people to stop hating each other.’

Sounds like the same story to me.

Stacy’s Mom

My drummer walked me out to his VW Beetle a few minutes after I’d tucked my guitar away for the night. He’d come to see me play a solo show in West Hollywood, and the handful of people who’d actually paid to get in had long since filed out of the club.

He said he had something he wanted me to hear. He played drums in another band, and they’d just had a song mixed by Tom Lord-Alge, the hit-making engineer behind some huge rock anthems.

I sat in the passenger seat, and was immediately assaulted by a guitar riff that was both familiar and different, kind of like the Cars had come of age in the 2000s. And within a few seconds, I knew my drummer had a hit on his hands.

So did he.

The song exploded a few weeks later across modern-rock radio and into teenage house parties, a supermodel signed on for the music video, and the band took off into the stratosphere. My drummer still played shows with me, but they were wedged between sold-out tours and criminally lucrative private parties. I was stoked for him. By then he was, more importantly, a good friend.

He introduced me to the main songwriters in his other band, and I worked with one of them on early For The Sender songs in my aunt’s Greenwich Village apartment. Over the next decade, we’d cross paths as I chased a dream and they lived one.

There’s a photo of one of those moments, all of us together in a New York City bar, the guy sitting next to me obscured by an unfortunate marriage of camera angle and body parts.


I reached out to my drummer for the first time in a too-long time yesterday, after I got the news that Adam Schlesinger had died due to complications from COVID-19. Adam left his melodic mark on the pop-culture landscape, both during his time in Fountains of Wayne and after, as he embarked on a successful career composing for film and television.

Until we lost him to the same virus that is somehow unifying a country with intent, when we needed it most, even as we’re more divided physically than ever.

Adam Schlesinger made a lot of people’s lives better.

Including mine, as I sat in that VW Beetle over 15 years ago, nodding my smiling face to a song he co-wrote and co-produced.

You can smile today, too: