- Fisherman Lost
- More Awards
- Mendocino History
- Social Breakdown
- Batshit Crazy
- Yesterday's Catch
- The Dream
- Democratic Heavyweights
- Little Dog
- Hezbollah Missiles
- Chewbacca Chess
- Unhealthy Voting
- Bourdain Interview
SNOW CAME DOWN last night, and blankets the hills and mountains this morning. The National Weather Service says, for today and tonight, "small hail will be possible with any showers that develop across the valleys, with snowfall likely for elevations, mainly above 1200 feet, where some light accumulations are possible." Then, later in the week, "periods of rain and higher elevation snows are expected, with some area roadways possibly being affected."
TWO SAVED, OCEAN CLAIMS ONE AFTER BOAT OVERTURNS
by Chris Calder
An overnight search for one of three people who were washed into the sea at the mouth of Noyo Bay Saturday at about 6 p.m. ended Sunday morning with the recovery of a body at the base of cliffs adjacent to Pomo Bluffs Park near Fort Bragg.
Kirk ‘Rowdy’ Perkins and Lisa Salisbury were rescued Saturday evening while Sheriff’s deputies, Fort Bragg police and fire personnel and the Coast Guard, using a rescue boat and three aircraft, searched the rocky shoreline at the south entrance of the bay for Richard Mottlow, 67, of Fort Bragg.
Salisbury was pulled from the water by a Coast Guard Air Crew at about 7 p.m. Saturday. Perkins was helped up the cliff face by a Fort Bragg Fire Department rescue team at about 9 p.m., after swimming from the swamped vessel and spending three hours on the rocks before rescuers reached him.
Perkins said the three had gone crabbing near the mouth of the Ten Mile River. On their way back, their boat’s propeller shaft got tangled in the line of a crab pot. Perkins went over the side and cut the line. With the main propeller damaged, the vessel continued south on an auxiliary motor.
At the mouth of Noyo Bay, Perkins said, the vessel became entangled again in a crab pot line close to the rocks on the Bay’s south side. Perkins went into the water again to try to free the propeller, but the auxiliary motor could not be re-started and a swell swamped the boat.
The three decided to swim for the rocks with arms linked, but heavy seas separated them, said Perkins.
Fort Bragg fire and police personnel, Sheriff’s deputies and the Coast Guard continued searching until about 2:30 a.m. Sunday morning and resumed the search at 6:30 a.m., said Coast Guard Executive Petty Officer Ryan Sanford. Before dawn, searchers located a body at the base of the cliffs at Pomo Bluffs Park. The body was recovered at around 9 a.m. The Mendocino Coast Sheriff’s Office has not released official identification, though search efforts on the bay have ended.
Mottlow was a longtime Fort Bragg resident with a wide circle of friends and family in the area.
In a comment on Facebook, Heather Brown said, “Richard is so respected and loved and touched the hearts of all who knew him. His love for his family was unequaled.”
MORE END OF YEAR AWARDS, 2016
DEPUTY OF THE YEAR: Craig Walker easily handled what crime occurred in Anderson Valley while covering shifts in Ukiah as well, one of which involved a tussle with a tweaker which put the deputy on light duty.
FREE ENTERPRISER of the year: Lisa Walsh of the Yorkville Market has singlehandedly revived commercial Yorkville, and community along with it.
THE REDWOOD DRIVE-IN'S DONUTS, as always, reign in the donut-munching Redwood Empire.
MOST UPSIDE DOWN INITIATIVE NAME: "The Heritage Initiative," ignoring Mendo's real heritage and attempting to toss it all and replace it with Mendo's pot growing experience.
LUCKY TO BE ALIVE AWARD goes to Ricardo Garcia, rock thrower and slow-draw machete man. Garcia charged patrol sergeant Darren Brewster with a machete and would have been shot by the cop in most places. But due to Brewster's quick pass rush, Garcia, Machete Man, lived to screw up again.
LEAST WELCOME COUNTY FAIR DEVELOPMENT: The Fair's new cartoon logo featuring a bunch of grapes riding a brahma bull.
BEST REMEMBRANCE OF THE YEAR: Rex Gressett's July tribute to the late Tommy Ancona, Noyo Harbor's elder statesman.
ANNA ROSEBERRY: In both a tangible and symbolic shooting, plugged her boyfriend, Gary Fuller, in the pills as Fuller stood in his Covelo pot garden. Ms. Roseberry claimed attempted fenestration was her only option when, she alleged, Fuller brandished a knife. She was convicted and sent to prison in July by a reluctant Judge David Nelson.
CRIMINAL OF THE YEAR: James Norton of Willits caught in the act of slashing tires because he enjoyed the whooshing sound as the tires went flat.
LEAST LIKELY TOKER of the year: Republican Party stalwart, Willits Hospital Board Chair, and life-long opponent of marijuana, came out in favor of the marijuana last summer saying, "I see the emerging cannabis industry as something that can be a cutting edge industry for our community as well as the County," adding, "I have never smoked pot or taken products that will make me high."
BEST STRUCTURAL MAKEOVER: Chris & Stephanie Tebbutts' "Velma's Farm Stand" on Anderson Valley Way, Boonville.
AN HISTORICAL POINT OF VIEW
by Malcolm Macdonald
Some of you may have already paid your property taxes in full, some may have sent in half, with another half still due in the new year. Odds are the vast majority will pay by mail. Back in the late 1870s, taxes were collected at specific locations throughout the county by the Sheriff or his designee. On the Mendocino Coast, in those days, the most likely tax collection spot was at the Mendocino store of William Kelly. Mr. Kelly's vault reportedly exists to this day inside one of the 21st century shops at the same locale, corner of Main and Lansing Streets.
In the 1870s Mendocino was the major metropolis on the coastal side of the county. Fort Bragg had a lumber mill, on the flats near the mouth of the Noyo River, but by the autumn of 1878 that mill was failing financially. Taxes were not collected at Fort Bragg. If you lived in that vicinity you either walked or rode your horse to Mendocino and paid at Mr. Kelly's store or headed north to Kibesillah, a boomtown of the 1870s and 1880s you'd find approximately three and a quarter miles south of present day Westport. In the 1870s the closest tax collection locale south of Mendocino was found at Cuffey's Cove (near Elk).
In those bygone times when the county sheriff collected tax money by hand, carrying the proceeds back to the county seat in Ukiah via stagecoach or horseback, it may surprise some that by the summer of 1878, within the town of Mendocino, telephone service between the post office and the newspaper office was already in existence, scarcely two years after Alexander Graham Bell received his official patent for the device.
While Mendocino was the closest thing to a city on the coast in the 1870s it still lacked in key areas. The town had been devoid of a dentist for some time until John F. Wheeler began plying the trade in a room within Norton's Hotel (across the road from Mr. Kelly's store, and a tad east on the south side of Main Street). The impermanent nature of a dentist located in a hotel room was not lost on the town's leading citizen. William Heeser, the local newspaper editor and a promoter of his town (he was the largest property owner) as well as a gatherer of news, wrote this in October, 1878, “We were this week shown work performed by our dentist, Mr. Wheeler, which speaks very highly of him as being a first-class dentist. Those wishing work in his line should not fail to call on him at once, as by so doing they will benefit themselves, and also encourage a man of worth to locate in our midst.”
The criminally minded may have read the section about the Sheriff transporting a year's worth of tax money from the coast inland and thought that official ripe for the pickings. You wouldn't be far off. This space covered just such an 1879 robbery plan gone wrong within the pages of May 2012 issues of the AVA. We don't have time or space to recount all of those happenings here, but the illegal, murderous action began on the fringes of what is now Russian Gulch. Some of the 1879 bandits, who thought they would rob the tax collecting sheriff, may have made their escape by riding over Observatory Hill. This landmark rests approximately four miles east from the mouth of Russian Gulch and about a mile north of the Woodlands.
The name Observatory Hill was a new one in 1879. In fact one has to travel back only a year to find out how the place earned its name. I'll leave you with this description from William Heeser, written one week before he encouraged the denizens of Mendocino to support the newly arrived dentist.
“Last Sunday we paid a visit to the observatory constructed by the Coast Survey, and received a kind invitation, though a little loathe to do so, and were tied with ropes to the elevator, and soon found ourselves swinging in mid-air, gradually rising above the tree and mountain tops. On arriving at the top of the structure we were loosened from our seat, and began the inspection of the formation of our “wooden country.” From this elevation one has a beautiful view of our county, being elevated above all the mountains except Cold Springs, San Hedran [sic], Blue Rock, Cahto, Chemise and Ukiah mountains, and one can see into Lake, Humboldt and Sonoma counties.
The belt of timberland presents a beautiful appearance, and can be traced from Shelter Cove to Point Arena with the naked eye, the mountain ridges and small valleys presenting themselves very plainly to view. The grand old ocean appears to be no more than a mile distant, and the fogs which dot it here and there form the loveliest natural scene we have ever witnessed.
After gazing at the beauties of nature to our heart’s content, Mr. Pratt informed us that he would signal the station on Cold Springs Mountain. The helioscope was brought into requisition, adjusted to take in the full blaze of the sun, and soon flashes seen by us were about the size of a hand, and as bright as the sun. After an hour's stay in the upper regions, we descended to terra firma greatly pleased with our view of the country, and under many obligations to Mr. Pratt for the kind courtesies shown us. No one should fail to pay a visit to the observatory, as it will repay the trouble a hundred fold.”
(Sadly, this historic point of view no longer exists, but readers can observe the author's website at malcolmmacdonaldoutlawford.com.)
NOT THAT ANYBODY ASKED, but what's most shocking to me about the Fort Bragg mummification is how symptomatic it is of the general breakdown, even here in Mendocino County in a small population of people. Fifty years ago, an elderly, ailing person in a small town like Fort Bragg would not have been as isolated as Ms. Potts had become, so isolated her exploitive in-home care worker was the only person in regular contact with her so the in-home person could continue to get paid for a dead woman.
EVERYONE is asking the obvious questions. Where was the apartment manager at Duncan Place? Where were the County's Adult Protective Services people, to whom suspicions that Ms. Potts was being ill treated were reported by Ms. Potts' neighbor?
A COUPLE of weeks ago, my colleague, David Severn, called the County's Department of Health and Human Services, formerly the Welfare Department. Severn wanted someone in authority to have a look at the accommodations for the young people housed at Blackbird Farm, Philo. Severn says the yurts housing the teenagers are unsafe, that a tree recently fell on one, crushing it. If there had been people in it a number of them would have been killed. He also says the heaters are unvented, and the housing is generally not particularly safe or suited to housing large numbers of teenagers or large numbers of anybodys.
ANNE MOLGAARD, the agency's assistant director, came on the line. She told Severn that because the young people at Blackbird were all from Los Angeles, they weren't Mendocino County's responsibility. Tracking down responsibility in Los Angeles could take weeks. You can easily track down responsibility in Mendocino County but it may or may not be responsible.
THE GHOST SHIP fire in Oakland revealed that a building inspector had not been allowed to enter the place before the fire, which begs the question: Why didn't he come right back with a warrant and a cop? Of course it has since developed that there are similarly unsafe structures all over the East Bay, although there's a small army of people drawing pay to protect the public from itself, and the city is short on building inspectors whose caseloads are so large they simply can't get around lots of places. Which is probably true.
I HAVE A FRIEND who's a fireman in Oakland. His station is busy round the clock because area residents know if they call the fire department the fire department will show up. He says the cops are pretty much in triage mode all they time, and they are seriously understaffed. The police have to sort out calls on the basis of which ones seem the most serious, beginning with shots fired. People know the cops might come, they might not. So they call the fire department, which always comes.
A FORT BRAGG person commented that the Senior Center used to have a phone tree that put all the vulnerable elderly in daily touch with people who monitored their welfare. Why that simple but effective strategy was abandoned is not known.
I THINK most of us know, especially those of us who live in the unincorporated areas of Mendocino County, that our welfare is pretty much up to us, that the police are at least a half hour away and, depending where you are, so are your volunteer emergency responders. But someone will show up.
ANDERSON VALLEY is still enough of a community that a person living alone, especially an elderly or unwell person, will have someone keeping an eye out. Most places, though, community ended a long time ago.
Hello. As circumstance would have it I am having a little issue with the way you decided to title my last mailbag submission. You titled it: “Whatever his name was…” I feel like you were being rude to a 30-year resident and local. And on top of it you published it a little different than the original letter. Nothing too drastic, you scrambled everything I mentioned about mental health and Anderson Cooper 360, and you even plugged my inmate ID number mid-print thanstead [sic] of conveniently salutating [sic] the end of the letter. Thank you.
Jewel Dyer A#20559
Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office,
Corrections Division (aka jail)
951 Low Gap Rd, Ukiah CA 95482.
* * *
Having been a subscriber and avid reader of the AVA for the past 26 years, I’ve read my share of batshit crazy letters from people in the Letters to the Editor Section. I’ve even written a few myself.
But none of these letters were as batshit crazy as the one published by Jewel Dyer in the 12/21/16 issue.
Mr. Dyer, your letter sets the standard for which all other batshit crazy letters are measured. Normally, letters such as yours evoke little response from me other than a sympathetic chuckle at the absurdity of your words. But I find your 12/21 letter much too delicious to ignore. So please allow me the following batshit crazy response.
Mr. Dyer, you are a weirdo who beat your own father to death with a baseball bat. You woke up in jail where you wrote a letter to the AVA where you managed to disrespect Mr. Anderson, Bruce McEwen, and my friend Flynn Washburne.
Then you go on to complain abuot the jail medical staff not treating your nasal drip correctly.
Are you serious?
Please Mr. Dyer, hurry through the court process and be found guilty. Take your sniveling nasal dripping ass to prison for the rest of your life! Nobody cares and you don’t matter!
Alan ‘Sonny’ Crow
CATCH OF THE DAY,
ROCKY DUMAN, Ukiah. Parole resentencing.
FERNANDO FABIAN, Ukiah. Failure to appear, probation revocation.
ANGELA FIFE, Lakeport/Ukiah. DUI, suspended license, failure to appear.
GAGE HEWETT, Ukiah. Attempted murder.
DOROTHY LAFRANCE, Ukiah. Domestic battery.
JAMARHL LATIMER, Ukiah. DUI-alcohol & drugs, reckless driving, parole violation, probation revocation.
RONALD MORRIS, Willits. Assault with deadly weapon not a gun.
DENNIS PEREZ, Wilits. Domestic battery.
MICHAEL SANDOVAL, Talmage. Battery, elder abuse.
MONTGOMERY STAFFORD, Sandpoint, Idaho/Ukiah. Drunk in pubic, resisting.
ALVARO VELASCO-MURILLO, Ukiah. DUI.
JASON WOLFE, Ukiah. Drunk in public, probation revocation.
THE DAY THE DREAM DIED
ANOTHER PRESS DEMOCRAT BLAST FROM THE PAST: (The Democrats have been saving the Pacific Coast for 40 years now via a guy called Richard Charter handsomely paid to stop offshore oil drilling annually since, what? '85? 86?)
“Democrats push for ban on offshore drilling in California…
“…The Pacific Coast was not included in President Obama’s recent move to protect the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, an omission that one environmentalist said left California a ‘sitting duck’ under the oil-friendly Trump administration.”
LITTLE DOG SAYS, “The Niners looked pretty good Sunday considering they're in the process of firing everybody except the guy who should be fired — John York, the owner.”
THUNDERING SILENCE ON THE FIRST DAY OF 2017
It is becoming very clear that Hezbollah will again attack Israel with missiles and probably with ground troops. The only question is when will it happen. I would think most likely after. Raqqa is captured and ISIS defeated. Meanwhile, Israel with considerable assistance from the United States is developing a very sophisticated missile defense system.
Meanwhile with the assistance of Iran, Russia and North Korea Hezbollah has is building up its missiles supply with long range and very effective missiles. Israel will have a radar system that can detect missiles 600 miles away. The David's Sling will replace the Iron Dome anti-missile system which was so effective in the previous action with Hezbollah.
Hezbollah has an anti-ship missile for which Israel has no defense at this time plus anti-tank missiles. Russia has furnished an updated anti-air missile improved upon the missile system that was used to shoot down the Dutch airliner in the Ukraine. They have built up a stock of about 120,000 missiles although I have read some reports it is 150,000 missiles. These missiles are a large improvement over those previously used. The big question is will Hezbollah attempt to invade Israel with the possible assistance of the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps and other special forces. They also could have the assistance of Christian and Sunni units which Hezbollah has been training. Then the final question, if all of this happens how will President Trump react.
In peace and love,
ON LINE QUOTE OF THE DAY
The Zombie Apocalypse.
The stories this year focused on issues of public health and cultural decline. But there was a political story happening simultaneously. In early March we reported a correlation between support for Donald Trump and rising death rates. Then, after the election, an analysis by the Economist magazine found that the most compelling predictor of any U.S. county’s partisan shift between 2012 and 2016 was not race, income or education levels but health. The most dramatic changes in voting patterns happened in counties with low life expectancy and high rates of diabetes, obesity and heavy drinking.
Correlation isn’t causation. That’s a basic rule when writing about health and science. What’s clear is that places like southern Ohio were fertile ground for an inflammatory candidate vowing, however vaguely or implausibly, to turn back the clock and restore life to the way it used to be.....these citizens now face a future that includes the elimination of health care reforms that gave many of them health insurance for the first time. This national health crisis didn’t emerge simply by chance, accident, or bad luck. This is the society we have made. And there is no magic cure.
ANTHONY BOURDAIN ON THE TRUMP PHENOMENON, &C
‘We are a violent nation, from the beginning.
by Helen Rosner
Anthony Bourdain had just returned home for the holidays, stepping off a plane that had delivered him from the balmy heat of Muscat and walking directly into one of those wintry New York snaps where the frigid wind fires through Manhattan’s crosstown canyons like rubber bullets. I showed up at the restaurant looking like a walking duvet, scarved and hatted and gloved. Bourdain was in a bomber jacket, hunter green, ready for a mild autumn. He still had Oman on his mind. "It was pretty amazing," he said. "The desert is a pretty once-in-a-lifetime experience."
It was December 19, the day the electoral college voted to install Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States. Bourdain and I had this dinner on the books for a month, ever since I reached out for a quote, a diligent food journalist asking one of our world’s biggest stars if he had any thoughts he wanted to share on the record about Trump’s victory. A month before the election, Bourdain and I had a long conversation on the Eater Upsell podcast. Then, among other things, he’d defended his show, Parts Unknown, from audience accusations that it had become too much about politics. "If the army controls the entire flour supply and the bakeries, that’s already a political thing," he said. Food is politics, is the point. More to the point, media is politics, and that includes food media. "I’m not gonna tell you who to vote for, but I do notice things and I do have opinions," he said on the Upsell. "And if the guy I ate with in Russia who says, ‘No, I’m not worried about Putin killing me’ is shot to death on the front lawn of the Kremlin a few months later, I might mention that."
I’m not telling the whole truth. Yes, I reached out to Bourdain because I’m a journalist and journalists reach out to people for comment, but I also got in touch for my own reasons. Spend any time in contemplation of the astronomical map of food-world celebrities, and it becomes clear that Bourdain is not actually a star — he is a nebula. His fame is almost incomprehensibly vast, his brightness — or sometimes, his darkness — defines the very shape of the expanse, he’s so influential and creatively fecund as to regularly birth stars of his own. His assertiveness is uncommon for someone of his stature, a candor that’s both studied and unaffected, that — even as the topics to which he turns the knife of his attention have broadened in their scope over the years, from brunch eggs and getting high to the crisis of unexploded ordnance in Laos — has barely softened its acerbic swagger.
At the moment Trump was elected President — a man who had built his campaign on anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim demagoguery and vindictively rhetorical sleight of hand — the world flipped into slow motion for the 53.9 percent of voters who cast ballots for anyone other than him. I got in touch with Bourdain because I hoped he’d be able to cut through that feeling of powerlessness. After I asked if he wanted to talk, the reply came quickly: He’d love to, but not until late in December, once he got back from Oman. And so, over a few hours and innumerable Asahis and countless yakitori skewers — including chicken hearts, inevitably metaphorical (and, as Bourdain pointed out, his daughter’s favorite) — we did.
* * *
So, did you vote?
Yes. No fan of the Clintons am I, by a long shot. But I’m a New Yorker, Donald Trump is a New Yorker. And the New Yorkers I know, we’ve lived with this guy for 30 years. I’ve seen Donald Trump say things one day, and then I saw what he did the next. I’ve seen up close how he does business. Just like if you lived in a small town, you’d get to know the sheriff, the guy who runs the hardware store, the guy who runs the filling station — Trump comes from that era of guys you followed, guys you knew about every day: Trump, Giuliani, Al Sharpton, Curtis Sliwa. I’d see him at Studio 54, for fuck’s sake. I’m not saying I know the guy personally, not like I’d hug him, but I’m saying that as a New Yorker, we pretty much are neighbors. And my many years of living in his orbit have not left me with a favorable impression, let’s put it that way. There’s so many reasons to find the guy troubling. When Scott Baio’s the only guy you can find to show up at your convention, you’re in trouble.
The big platform that kicked all this off for him, his comments about Mexican immigrants, intersects so directly with your vocal championship of Mexican restaurant labor —
He has a vineyard in, is it Virginia? I think a very interesting project would be to see who’s picking his grapes.
That’s a good question.
Well, I believe I know the answer, which is why I’m asking the question.
Do you think he’s actually going to make moves toward deporting people?
I think it’s going to be hard times. Is he gonna do anything near what he promised? Of course not. But he will be forced to do something, by the people around him. He will have to do something, and it will be extraordinarily ugly.
Does that change the urgency of the work that you do?
I’ve spent a lot of time in Red State America. I’ve spent a lot of time in Trump country. I have a lot of sympathy, and I believe understanding, for cultures and for places where gun culture goes so deep — that first cold morning when Daddy takes a young boy out hunting with him, lets him use a rifle, shows him how to use it — I know how emotional and how deep that goes.
We are a violent nation, from the beginning. I’m not arguing for current gun policy, but I think it’s worth acknowledging that this is a country founded in violence, a country that has always worshipped outlaws, loners, cowboys, and people who got the things they got by the gun. We glorify it, we created an entertainment industry that does little but glorify solving complex problems with simple violence.
But I think to mock constantly, as so much of the left has done — to demonize, to ridicule, to treat with abject contempt people who live in a very different America than they live in — is both ugly and counterproductive. There are a lot of people who are pissed off, they’re tired of being talked to like that. There are a lot of people in this world who, when an Applebee’s moves to their town, it’s a big deal — and I don’t mean that in a dismissive way. Where somebody coming to take your guns away is a big concern. Look, I don’t think racism can ever be forgiven. It’s a conversation-ender for me, for sure. But if you grew up isolated, no interaction or little interaction, the only interaction you’ve had has been negative, and you’re fearful of the Other, and somehow everything you read in the paper makes it seem like they’re getting all the breaks, especially when, in the news environment we live in now, it’s perfectly permissible to lie.
With my shows, I seem to fall into power vacuums. I did at Food Network, I did at Travel Channel, I always feel like I somehow slip through the cracks. I have really no — zero, I don’t feel that I have any — responsibility. I’m following my heart. If I find myself talking about immigration, or multiculturalism — though I hate that word — at this point, it’s because that’s how I feel. It’s personal to me. Maybe at this point it’s because I travel so much.
So if your generous, inclusive perspective on humanity is in part engendered by the depth and breadth of your travels, and if your show winds up being the closest thing that many of us have to that kind of global experience, then doesn’t it follow that your show can serve as a point of entry for us to develop a similar perspective?
Maybe. When I do live tours, I hear that, I see that. But all I know is how my shows make me feel. Making them, experiencing them, going through the process of making them, and then watching them after they’re done. It’s either a successful story or a not-so-successful story. How they make other people feel? I think I’ve said before to you, it’s dangerous ground to start wondering about such things, and particularly now that my outlook is pretty damn bleak.
I mean, you would think, Gee, with all these great travel shows on, there are plenty of opportunities to see how other people live. But you know something else travel has taught me: People rise up and kill their neighbors all the time. People they’ve lived with their whole lives, yesterday they were fine, today they’re the enemy. You’ve seen it in Yugoslavia, you’ve seen it in Borneo. Now you’re seeing it here. So, I don’t know.
I’m a guy who’d like to blow up every safe space, every trigger warning. I would like to unleash every comedian to say "cunt" as many times as they like, or any other word they care to use. But the threshold of acceptable rhetoric right now, the threshold of hate and animus that’s being shown at this point — this really naked hatred of every flavor, racists, sexists, pure misogyny, class hatred, hatred of the educated — this is something I’ve never seen before. And it’s now acceptable! It’s more acceptable in public at political rallies than it is at universities, which is where people should be saying offensive shit.
So what will get us past this?
Changing demographics. Other than that, it’s Bond villain shit. I’m pessimistic to the extreme. I really think people have no idea how bad it already is, and how bad it’s going to get. I read a lot of history. We’ve heard all of this before. I think it’s that bad. It can easily go that way.
Do you expect anything will change with how you approach the show?
Already I’ve been accused, apparently indirectly, by the Erdogan government, who are saying chefs are actually working [as agents of foreign intelligence].
How does that make you feel?
I’m heartbroken. I enjoy visiting Turkey. It’s a place I have a lot of friends. Now I have to think about what happens to friends who I visit in Turkey, would that compromise their position? I wouldn’t go to Turkey if anyone I’d talk to would lose it or would be potentially under suspicion. They just purged tens of thousands of teachers and government employees on much less grounds. So, you know, that’s not helpful.
Russia clearly is going to be a problem for me. The last time I was there, they killed my lunch partner, you know? And I’m a little pissed about that. And I’ve expressed that publicly, which is increasingly not such a wise thing to do.
Will you be complaining in public less?
No. I don’t give a fuck. What have I got to lose? I won’t be on TV anymore?
But if you can’t go to Turkey, you can’t go to Russia —
Well I can, but I choose — no. No, actually, I don’t know if I can go to Turkey at this point, given who said it, and what they said. Russia, I personally would feel uncomfortable there at this point. I have high hopes of seeing Turkey again, and I hope very much I will. I would love to see St. Petersburg again. But I’ve been a number of times. I’m old. There are still places to go.
As this far-right political wave is engulfing the world, do you think this list, the lineup of places where the cost of you visiting is too high, is going to grow?
Probably. Which makes it hard. I’ve been trying to get into Afghanistan for years. Kashmir has been difficult, I want very badly to go there. Yemen — that was high up on my list before everything went to hell there. But there are bigger problems. Venezuela, it’s a huge problem to get insured to go to Venezuela. I’ve been there a number of times, but with a TV show? It’s problematic.
As the number of conflict zones increase, as I’m guessing they likely will, I’m wary of looking to Uncle Sam for an understanding face at the embassy — especially given who’s up for ambassadorships now. I can call for help from whoever, but it’s nice to have someone who actually gives a shit. The last eight years have been very very good. [Ambassadors] have been smart people, for the most part. People who’ve lived in countries for a long time, even before they took the ambassadorships.
Have you thought about turning the camera inward on America even more, especially covering the people the media are now saying were under-covered — the white, red state, Trump’s-America, "real America" people?
I always do those shows. I like doing those shows very much. And I would try to do that in a loving way. I like Mississippi, I like Arkansas, Missouri, Montana.
What do you think of that phrase, "real America"?
"Real" — I hear that a lot, on my show. Any time I shoot in any city, someone’s going to say "How can you come to Mexico City and show only this and this and this, you didn’t show the real Mexico City." It can mean a lot of things. "How come you didn’t show the real Baltimore" can mean "How come you didn’t show white Baltimore?" Or it could mean "How come you didn’t show my side of the city, the part of the city that I know and I’m proud of and I wanted the world to see? And instead you came and you made a show about my town and it was a total disappointment to me, you concentrated on a tiny pocket, a corner that interested you for some reason." It doesn’t really mean anything, except to the people who say it, and whether they realize what it means or not, it’s a genuine expression of emotion. I mean, what is the real New York?
When you’re putting your shows together, if it’s not some semblance of "real," what are you looking for?
Beautiful cinematography, that’s really important. I want it to look beautiful. I want it to sound beautiful. And I’d like there to be a good story. And I want to feel a measure of happiness and satisfaction as I’m making the show, if possible.
What happens if the truth isn’t that beautiful?
Well, then we’ll show that. I’m really proud of the Madagascar show [which featured film director Darren Aronofsky as a traveling companion], because we showed the Aronofsky version at the end. We had this rather beautiful show made, with a nice, potentially heartwarming kind of conclusion, and instead I decided we should let Darren look back and see what we’d already visited, and exactly how ugly it was — and how unreliable the entire television process is. The camera’s a liar. It only tells the story we want you to see.
Isn’t that exactly what people are mad at news media about? I’m also very cynical about this sort of stuff, but it seems clear to me that there’s no such thing as unbiased media, because there’s no such thing as unbiased experience.
Look, I think Walter Cronkite, Edward Murrow — those guys tried. The news was pretty dry, back then. They were all products of the same schools and the same environments. Chances are they shared many of the same experiences, too. These guys went through wars. But their backgrounds were similar. And in the eyes of many, that made them unreliable, and that’s not an unreasonable impulse. Our best and brightest and most liberal gave us Vietnam, after that.
Even though you don’t want to have responsibility, or even the illusion thereof, there’s still a responsibility that your audience imposes on you, whether or not you choose to accept it. Do you think those expectations are changing?
I hope not. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing. It’s about the story, whether you like it or not.
What happens if people stop liking the story?
That’s already the case. A lot of people are like, "I’m never watching your show again, now that you’ve moved to the Clinton News Network." As if they’ll fall asleep for a few seconds at the end of my show, and wake up and catch a few minutes of Wolf Blitzer, and it causes some homosexual urges and a desire to join Al Qaeda.
I don’t have an agenda, but I do have a point of view, and it might change from minute to minute. I like going to places thinking one thing, and being proven wrong. A journalist has to have an agenda — who-what-why-where — and I don’t want to ask those questions. That’s a prison to me. I’m not here to ask you specific questions, I’m here to ask general questions. What’s your life like? Tell me a story.
But if I can convince people to look around, and see who’s actually doing a lot of the work in this country — picking vegetables, it’s all immigrant labor — and then ask themselves, truly, whether they under any circumstances would take that job? You know, to look in the eyes of the cook who makes their eggs-over every day, and ask themselves whether they’d want to stand outside their house and be dragged away from their kids? If I can convince a few people to go to a country like Oman, which has a completely non-sectarian version of Islam, which is incredibly tolerant and super cool, or to Senegal, where they’re Sufi, they’re just as devout as anyone in the Islamic world but people who just came from Dubuque, they’d be comfortable there, they’d find beauty in it, they’d hear the call to prayer and think "Okay, there might be something here other than what I thought"? That would please me. But it’s not my mission.
No. I’m a fool, I will die a fool. Relatively proudly, I hope. I’m trying not to do shit I’m ashamed of.
So if not you, who’s gonna do it?
I don’t see the platform. How? No one watches one news station. They pick their own now, where everything is rosy and wonderful — or evil and conspiratorial, depending on how you feel. Twitter is proving not helpful, Facebook has been, you know. The troll army has been really interesting. They come up pretty dependably any time the Russia show airs. For a while, any seriously anti-Trump shit I posted, I would get a group of them, a fairly organized troll army, and not just eggs. That’s a new wrinkle. And that ain’t gonna go away. This is now a new, effective way to communicate.
So there’s no way out?
Not at all. I honestly don’t think so. I’m sticking it out, I’m not gonna run away to Canada. I’m gonna pay my fuckin’ taxes, I’m gonna vote, I’m gonna do all of that. But I’m not going to be taking it to the streets any time soon — well, we’ll see. I think we’re going to be feeling the effects of this for a long time. I’m just not optimistic. I worry about my daughter, of course
Your daughter is nine, which means she’s coming of age probably right when the shit hits its peak.
She’s an Italian citizen. She has an exit strategy. She speaks Italian. She has an out, if she chooses.
But not everybody has an out.
Nope. I don’t. It’s too late for me. I’m not going anywhere. Maybe for a while, here and there. But I just don’t see a lot of light. If I were a hardcore revolutionary, I would be applauding this — I’d be like, "Oh, the pendulum will swing so far over, and it’ll bring the temple down, and then disaster, and then we’ll have our revolution!" But I don’t believe that, and I’m contemptuous of people who feel that way.
I think it was Lenin who said one of my favorite lines: "On the train of the revolution, we will lose the liberals at the first turn." It’s always worth remembering: In any revolution, whose heads are gonna be on the pike first? Us. And shortly after that, the originators and founders of the revolution. Asia Argento said it in the Rome episode: We create idols so we can destroy them.
So what do you make of Alessandro Borgognone bringing Sushi Nakazawa into the Trump DC hotel?
I will never eat in his restaurant. I have utter contempt for him, utter and complete contempt. Just like David Burke — I mean, I never had the highest opinion of him in the first place, but I guess he’s the last person in this life I should look to for principles. Burke went in and took over [the space Jose Andres had originally occupied], and promptly tried to poach his staff, I hear. This was after Jose reached out and said "Everyone welcome him to Washington, don’t hold it against him, just because I decided to pull out." So Burke’s a steaming loaf of shit, as far as I’m concerned, and feel free to quote me.
It’s not helpful, that sort of thing [opening in a contentious hotel]. I’m not asking you to start putting up barricades now, but when they come and ask you, "Are you with us?" You do have an option. You can say "No thanks, guys. I don’t look good in a brown shirt. Makes me look a little, I don’t know, not great. It’s not slimming."
So what do you think was going through their heads when they were like, "I’m gonna throw in with the bad guys"?
"I’m gonna get in good with the President and make me some money!" What did Kanye West go to Trump Tower for? Why did Al Gore go? Why did Mitt Romney go?
What would you do if he invited you?
I’m not going. I’m not going.
And I would never go to the White House Correspondents’ dinner — though I doubt there will be another. Thank god, that’s an institution I’d like to see die for years. If there’s one good thing to come out of the Trump administration, let it be that there will be no more White House Correspondents’ dinners. It reinforces all the world’s worst notions about the hideous, inside-the-beltway, all-in-it-together culture. It brings honor to no one to have Kim Kardashian or Tara Reid sitting there next to a news anchor. What is this all about? Fuck that. If I’m gonna make fun of you today, I’m not accepting your food tomorrow.I had dinner with President Obama, but I paid. We were offered Air Force One, and I said, "There’s no way. No way."
That sounds a lot like journalism.
Yeah! It’s like, "Be my friend, be my special friend." No, we’re not going to be your special friend. Personally, I have a very low opinion of people who behave this way.
And Trump — the man eats his steak well done! I don’t think he’s a good person. I remember the Central Park Five, and what he said. I’ve seen how he’s treated employees. I saw what he did to Atlantic City. I saw what he did to the west side of this town. It’s fuckin’ ugly. He’s going to make the whole world look like the back of Rick James’ van.
Do you think we just have to sit back and wait for him to do all that, before the people who support him right now will realize it’s terrible?
Yes! Look, I came out of the ‘60s, and I remember very well all the demonstrations and the civil unrest against the Vietnam war. The left likes to remember it one way. I remember that the result is that you get Nixon — twice! By landslides! And we got him even after Watergate. That was the mood of the "real America" that you talk about. I don’t know that streets filled with demonstrators and opposition is a real argument.
Hunter Thompson said, America looks soft but under the flab it’s all fucking titanium steel underbelly, and it’ll come rolling right over you, any time it wants. And look, there are people in this world who have deliberately inspired exactly that kind of opposition, just to give them a reason to roll over it. So I’m not saying we should sit back docilely and silently while Trump dismantles our institutions, and our Supreme Court, and the rights of individuals, as men, as women, as parents — I’m not saying that at all. But we’d better come up with some fresh fuckin’ ideas. And I would think that they’d better be grass roots, and they should keep very much in mind all those people who voted for Trump. Many of whom surely, surely, are decent people who love their kids, and go to sleep at night like all of us wanting good things for their kids, a roof over their heads, some security, to live without fear, a measure of justice, some hope. Anything that doesn’t include that kind of an outreach, that’s not going to help. That’ll be playing into their hands. I lived through the ‘60s. There ain’t gonna be no revolution.
It laid the groundwork for a revolution, though.
Yes, but it failed. Everybody likes to pretend that it succeeded, but it didn’t. Are we any less racist now? Okay, some of the laws have changed. Great. But are we any less racist as a nation? I don’t know. I’m looking for some evidence right now and I don’t see it. If anything, I see that there’s a whole hell of a lot of people out there super pissed off at this "atmosphere of political correctness" that has not allowed them to say all the racist shit that they feel pressured into not being able to say. Apparently this was a very powerful compulsion. It must have been torture for them all these years. And now they can say it.
Political correctness was never law, it was just etiquette.
You know, it’s why they always kill the comedians and the poets first. People can’t stand ridicule. It clearly gets under Trump’s skin — he can’t bear it, it’s really a problem for him. So if you’re looking to do something, I think, you should ridicule him. Not his voters. His cabinet, for sure, and his appointees, but not all at once. Stick with him. Successful agitprop — I mean, look at Gerald Ford. He will always be remembered as this bumbling Chevy Chase, a head injury waiting to happen.
Do you think ridicule is the right form of activism?
There’s right, and then there’s effective. Now, to go all partigiano — tactically and strategically, I think at this point, it’s unsound, this idea that we’re gonna take to the hills. It’s not going to work. It’s going to be a long wait. I think we need outreach, understanding, to look inside yourself and ask, how the fuck did we get here? What did we do wrong? Who did we not convince? Who did we not make a meaningful argument to? And how do we reach them? What is our common ground? How do we bring them over, to understand that this man does not have their interests at heart? How do we make a reasonable argument? To not say that they’re idiots or fools or yokels or any of that shit, but to say look, these guys are not here to help. We’re here to help. Or at least, we’re marginally more likely to.
Do you have a point in your day where you’re on your third cup of coffee and you’re like "Oh, that’s right, we’re on the path to fascism"?
No, I’m not that panicky about it. I don’t know why. I’m clearly not that enthusiastic, or optimistic. But the Nixon reelection was a formative moment for me. We already knew that he didn’t have a secret plan to end the war. Everyone was aware of Watergate. But it didn’t matter. And the opposition, such as it was, had either been successfully dismantled or devolved under its own dead weight and self-indulgence.
But nobody wants to hear some successful Hollywood actor or TV person’s opinion on politics. I certainly don’t. It’s enraging.
And yet, I think a lot of people do.
They’re voting their own way anyway. People do what people do. People do good things and bad things. They do what they think is in their immediate self-interest, and in the interest of their families and loved ones.
This is the thing that shocks me. All of these guys [working with Trump], they’re like the cast of — they were the bad guys in Animal House, all grown up! Every frat movie, every meathead movie, Porky’s, Meatballs, the jocks versus the nerds, the jocks versus the hippies, any dystopian thriller, every film America’s ever done. These are clearly the bad guys!
"Rex Tillerson" is the most evil name. It’s straight out of DC Comics.
I mean, "Reince Priebus"! And Rudy, I mean he looks like he comes out of Powerpuff Girls. He’s absolutely, slaveringly demonic.
Do you think they know they’re evil?
Giuliani does. People have been telling him since the beginning of his career. But I’m sure he knows.
You know, in the run-up to the market on Pier 57, we were talking to some very interested, very, very rich parties — and I mean really rich, multi-billionaires, running somewhere in the 10 or 20 percent range of all commercial real estate in New York. What’s really amazing about them, I noticed, is they have really great skin. These guys are in their 50s, maybe early 60s, and their skin is fantastic. Their pores are really clean. Their grooming is impeccable. They must have their hair cut every two days. And they’ve gotta be exfoliated, or have a whole facial — I mean, the nails! Just the maintenance of the corpus is extraordinary. It’s an evil all its own. Already, you don’t like that guy. Does he have a manservant? He must. A barber, the nails, the French cuffs.
Is it possible to become that wealthy without becoming evil?
What, behind every great fortune there’s a great crime? I think behind every fortune there’s a crime. Behind every even reasonable amount of money, there’s a crime. I’m doing okay, and behind that there’s a crime. Many. If you make any money at all that you hang on to, you fucked somebody, somehow. You disappointed somebody. I’m not saying you betrayed a friend, you cut somebody’s throat, you cheated them out of their share of the deal. I haven’t done those things. But I’ve hurt and disappointed people, on my journey. I’ve hurt and disappointed people.
Capitalism as a series of exploitations.
Well, communism hasn’t worked out so great either. It’s far worse, in my view. I know we’re like, Democracy sucks! But it’s the best thing we’ve got going at the moment. I’ve been to a lot of communist countries, and where they take it seriously it’s a horror, and where it’s a joke, it’s a joke — except for the people who arbitrarily have to take it in the neck.
Do you think people will be watching your show in a different way now?
I have no idea. People watch my show for all sorts of reasons. I like it when I do speaking gigs up in serious farm country, especially in the northern Midwest. People will buy VIP tickets, which are a lot of fuckin’ money, and they’ll stand on line. It’ll be mom, dad, and their teenage son, and they’ve driven two hours, they live on a farm. You can smell the farm on them. And they always call me "Sir." "Thank you for coming to wherever, Sir." Relentlessly polite, very dignified, very proud. Smelling of that farm. That loneliness — living, as they’ve told me many times, miles from their neighbors.What do people take away from my show? What they need. What they want.
My ideal viewer would be a guy who isn’t involved at all in politics, who’s not interested in my opinion, who can freely reject me: "Oh that asshole, there he is with that shit again, let’s see. Oh, but that’s pretty, that’s interesting, that might be a place i might go some day, that cheese looks interesting, that looks good."
That seems like it could serve as a hook to get him to eventually stop disagreeing with what you have to say. He thinks the cheese looks good or the place is pretty and soon — well, it’s a crack in the door.
In the Vietnam show, I asked my friend, who I’ve known for many years, about why she stopped giving tours at the American War Museum. It was a terrible thing to ask because I knew why she left, and I was pretty sure she was going to cry on camera. She gave tours year after year after year, mostly to Americans who would come to be confronted with the damage. I did this terrible thing because I wanted people to see how I felt about her. I really never thought that I want you to feel this way too, but to believe that I feel this way.
Film is so subjective. When I look off a boat, I want people to feel the way that I felt looking off that boat. We try really hard to get people to feel the way I felt. But it’s basically a selfish enterprise. I’m doing my best to create a beautiful object that will work, and my aim is to make you feel the way I felt. It is not for you to go running out the door, calling your congressman. I mean, it would be great if you do. But it would make me feel a little weird.