Biographical sketches and in-depth articles. Get to know me!
(more about James)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Three Degrees from Helter Skelter

I'm sure you know the idea of "Six Degrees of Separation." It's the idea that we are all only six "handshakes" away from everybody else. (I wrote something about the background of the idea here.)

Well, we always like to think we're just a few handshakes away from our favorite celebrities, say, or from powerful politicians.

But the theory says we're connected to everybody.

Exhibit A: The man in the foreground needs no introduction. That's the infamous Charles Manson, during his trial.

The man behind him on our right is then-Deputy Digby Rowe. "Dick" was one of my first and best mentors, when I was part of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Explorer Program.

I wrote about him back in October, and another of my former fellow-explorers found my reference and contacted me through Facebook. She sent me the picture of Dick you see here, from the L.A. Times.

Dick was a bailiff on the Manson case. At one point, Dick sustained an injury while restraining Charlie during an attempted attack on the judge. (This is mentioned in the Wikipedia article cited above: "...Manson leaped over the defense table and attempted to attack the judge. Wrestled to the ground by bailiffs, he was removed from the courtroom...") So when I met Deputy Rowe, he was on restricted duty with the Community Crime Prevention Bureau. He later took a medical retirement and (I believe) became a criminal justice teacher.

(Another deputy I worked with was a jailer supervising Manson's cohort Tex Watson. "We're on a first-name basis," he used to mock-brag. "I call him 'Tex,' and he calls me 'Deputy.'")

Anyway, if my honored mentor knows Charlie, and I know the mentor, and you know me, then you're just three degrees from Helter Skelter.

(In fact, I had another "degree" with all of the so-called "Manson Family": in my 30s, I worked on a TV show with a woman named Rose Lundeen, nee Spahn. Her father owned the Spahn Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, where the "Family" lived. Rose said "Family members" used to babysit her kids! Now that's scary...)

For those of you who want to know what I looked like back then, here you go:

Now which picture is more horrifying?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Lazarus People II: Extras

[Read more background on my "Lazarus" days here.]

To make a TV show or film, you need authenticity. You can't just have the actors with speaking roles up there; you also need set dressing, furniture, props, and the kind of set dressing that breathes: extras.

Because I had lots of time on my hands when I worked on "The Lazarus Man," I had plenty of time to chat with extras, and take their pictures.

Here are a few:


There's a funny story about her:
One of the cowboys who wrangled for the show was hot
for this girl. She had been made up to look like a refugee,
complete with "dirt" makeup on her face.
So Bobby, the cowboy, screwed up his courage and
approached her with a pickup line only a cowboy could concoct:
"Ma'am, you got sh*t all over your face."
He never went out with her. But I did once.


Great face. As I recall, he was one of the many extras
who was always trying to "expand" his role.


Real Indians, fake costumes

Monday, July 20, 2009

Freedom Express

Cruise around this site and you'll learn a lot about my beliefs: Sri Ramakrishna, Buddhism, Joseph Campbell, vegetarianism; "sacred travel" in America, China, Japan, the Philippines, other parts of Asia--all paint a sort of cohesive picture, don't they?

So you might be surprised to learn that the man commonly called "the Laughing Buddha" and "the Temple Guy" was once a member of an evangelical Christian rock band (named "Freedom Express") that played in prisons and on street corners, yeah?

From somewhere around 1977 (I think) until 1981 or 2, I played the trombone in a group headed by James Samuel "Nick" Pratt ("Nick" was just a nickname--get it?) Nick had been a professional musician in his younger days, and since his conversion had been heading up groups that played to attract a crowd before a preacher preached. The whole thing was based at a peculiar institution called "The Canyon House," formerly located in Sierra Madre Canyon, near Pasadena, CA; I'll write more about my weird years there another time.

Anyway, with this rock/R&B/gospel outfit, I've played in a drug dealer's front yard. I've played in rescue missions. And churches, of course. And I've been in more California prisons than I can count. Playing, I mean.

So here's a look at the whole band, then individual shots of a few members. No one is being featured for a particular reason; these are just the shots I have from way back when.


Start with Jere (sp?) Hernandez (vocals), the long-haired girl (seated) and go clockwise: Nick Pratt (in the hat), bass, guitar, trumpet, vocals; Jimmy Roy, smokin' hot guitar (frequently compared to Jimmie Paige); Steve Maurer, drums; Jim Shepherd, trumpet, flugelhorn; Bill Cates, the only full-time "pro" in the group, a music teacher who played sax, clarinet, flute, and about everything else; yours truly, with the usual Bible in hand; on the far right, Bob Murch, guitar; and (standing) Kathy Spurney (I think), vocals.


Nick on the bass


My buddy "Shep" (as horn players we stood side-by-side)


Our youngest member, when Jere started in the band, she was still coming to practices in a Catholic high school uniform


A long lost friend, Steve and I were at Pasadena City College and Cal State L.A. together; then we taught together for three years at Chaminade in Canoga Park (now West Hills), CA. He was also best man at my first wedding. He was a madman on the drums; now I think he's an M.D. somewhere with lots of kids; wish I could find him. (Yes, I Googled; lots of results, nothing concrete.)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Classmates: 1968-1969 Grade 8 (8-7) Mrs. Wojahn

The Classmates Project is an effort to re-build my elementary and middle-school years by first, finding the names of all my classmates, and second, rounding them up into an online group. You can read more in the introductory post.

(click on the picture to see a larger version)

Learn how you can help!

A1 Louise Hitchcock
A2 Jeanne Baker
A3 Patricia Schintz
A4 Jennifer Lamb
A5 Betty Bennett
A6 Ronnie Torres
A7 Trudy Honma
A8 Greg Vetti
A9 Rich Thayer

B1 Sandy Travanti
B2 Pat Larimer
B3 Janelle McKay
B4 Beauford (Boots) Blair
B5 Nancy Nelson
B6 Alan Werner
B7 Meri-Lyn Mitchell
B8 Tom Hughes
B9 Linda Jensen

C1 Diane Quinn
C2 Pete Talley
C3 Karen Hildebrand
C4 Jim Baquet
C5 Carolyn Bromley
C6 Ron D'Amico
C7 Virginia Clawson
C8 Mike Orth
C9 Huygen (Hogan?) Hilling

D1 Mrs. Karen Wojahn
D2 Tony Badura
D8 Judy Ecklund
D9 Mr. Bill Jones

See all of my classmates

Classmates: 1967-1968 Grade 7 (7-3) Mrs. Lyall

The Classmates Project is an effort to re-build my elementary and middle-school years by first, finding the names of all my classmates, and second, rounding them up into an online group. You can read more in the introductory post.

(click on the picture to see a larger version)

Learn how you can help!

A1 Steve Yanagisako
A2 Louise Hitchcock
A3 Alan Werner
A4 Sandy Travanti
A5 Steve Ware
A6 Jan Johnston
A7 Bill Eberle
A8 Gay Cangelosi
A9 Tom Rauth

B1 Sharon Wheeler
B2 Mark Spencer
B3 Christine Kato
B4 Tom Hughes
B5 Karen Hildebrand
B6 Richard Ingram
B7 Michelle Walsch
B8 Lee Grey
B9 Meri-Lyn Mitchell

C1 Chuck Paling
C2 Beverly Throne
C3 Stuart Maude
C4 Diane Mayo
C5 Andy Hedrick
C6 Debra Hatch
C7 Robert Williams
C8 Carolyn Bromley
C9 Jim Baquet

D1 Cheryl Crook
D2 (?) Gloria Mapes
D3 Rich Thayer
D4 Karen Yagami
D6 Diane Quinn
D7 Huygen (Hogan?) Hilling
D8 Lindee Francis
D9 Doug Plummer

E1 Mrs. Esther Lyall
E9 Joanne Ledig

See all of my classmates

Classmates: 1966-1967 Grade 6 Miss Webster

The Classmates Project is an effort to re-build my elementary and middle-school years by first, finding the names of all my classmates, and second, rounding them up into an online group. You can read more in the introductory post.

(click on the picture to see a larger version)

Learn how you can help!

[First year in color!]

A1
A2 Darnella Dorado (?)
A3 Mark Spencer
A4 Virginia Clawson
A5 Jack Smith
A6
A7 Scott (?)
A8
A9 Ralph Hernandez

B1 Shirley Kuntz
B2 Reid Gulley
B3 Gay Cangelosi
B4 Dale Myers (sp?)
B5 Carolyn Bromley
B6 David Rowden
B7
B8 Steve Alvarez
B9 Gabi (Gabriella) Reull

C1 Miss (Janice) Webster
C2 Claudia Boomer
C3 Valerie Vaughn
C5 Mario Barrios
C7 Ramiro Hernandez
C8
C9 Jim Baquet

See all of my classmates

Classmates: 1965-1966 Grade 5 Mrs. Twomey

The Classmates Project is an effort to re-build my elementary and middle-school years by first, finding the names of all my classmates, and second, rounding them up into an online group. You can read more in the introductory post.

(click on the picture to see a larger version)

Learn how you can help!

A1 Rick Thompson
A2
A3 Mr. William Breon
A7 Mrs. Twomey
A8 Diane Quinn
A9

B1 Mike Delk
B2 Kim Angles
B3 Jim Baquet
B4
B5 Jack Smith
B6 Valerie Vaughn
B7 Dale Myers (sp?)
B8
B9 Mario Barrios

C1
C2
C3
C4 Shirley Kuntz
C5 Tom Rauth
C6 Carolyn Bromley
C7 Steve Ware
C8 Vickie Dutt
C9 Craig Guire

D1 Reid Gulley
D2
D5 Julie Garnant
D8 Cecelia Kelley (sp?)
D9

See all of my classmates

Classmates: 1964-1965 Grade 4 Mrs. Briggs

The Classmates Project is an effort to re-build my elementary and middle-school years by first, finding the names of all my classmates, and second, rounding them up into an online group. You can read more in the introductory post.

(click on the picture to see a larger version)

Learn how you can help!

A1 Steve Yanagisako (?)
A2 Valerie Vaughn
A3 Mr. William Breon
A7 Mrs. Arlene Briggs
A8 Jan Johnston
A9 Jim Baquet

B1 Joe Oliveras
B2 Julie Garnant
B3 Doug Buchan
B4 Karen Hildebrand
B5
B6
B7 Mark Martinez
B8 Sharon Wheeler
B9 Tom Hughes

C1 Richard ?
C2 Diane Quinn
C3 Rick Thompson
C4 Cecelia Kelley
C5 Velma Ayala
C6
C7 Doug Plummer
C8 Carolyn Bromley
C9

D1
D2
D3 Diane Mayo
D7 Janelle McKay
D8 Colette ?
D9 Walter Kaye

See all of my classmates

Classmates: 1963-1964 Grade 3 Mrs. Francisco

The Classmates Project is an effort to re-build my elementary and middle-school years by first, finding the names of all my classmates, and second, rounding them up into an online group. You can read more in the introductory post.

(click on the picture to see a larger version)

Learn how you can help!

A1 Dale Myers (sp?)
A2 Laraine ? (sp?)
A3 Mrs. Francisco
A7 Mr. William Breon
A8 Julie Garnant
A9 Don Walker

B1 Mark Spencer
B2 Louise Hitchcock
B3 Jeff ?
B4 Melinda Powell
B5 Alan Werner
B6 Robin ?
B7 Walter Kaye
B8 Lorie Alexander
B9 Steve ?

C1 David Rowden
C2 Barbara ?
C3 Jack ?
C4 Richard
C5 Craig Guire
C6 Debbie ?
C7 Jim Baquet
C8 Sharon Wheeler
C9 Arthur Ybarra

D1 Tom Hughes
D2 Kim Angles
D8 Collette ?
D9 Mark Martinez

See all of my classmates

Classmates: 1962-1963 Grade 2 Mrs. Vanderveer

The Classmates Project is an effort to re-build my elementary and middle-school years by first, finding the names of all my classmates, and second, rounding them up into an online group. You can read more in the introductory post.
(click on the picture to see a larger version)
[One strange thing here: I'm shown twice! Both C4 and C9 are little old me. Weird, huh?]
A1 Stuart Maude
A2 Ana Varona
A3 Mrs. Vanderveer
A7 Mr. William Breon
A8 Sharon Wheeler
A9
B1 Mark Martinez
B2 Collette ?
B3
B4 Melinda Powell
B5 Tom Rauth
B6 Kathleen Caputo (sp?)
B7 Joe Oliveras (sp?)
B8
B9 Rick Thompson
C1 Doug Buchan (?)
C2
C3 Steve Yanagisako
C4 Jim Baquet
C5
C6
C7
C8
C9 Jim Baquet (again!)
D1 Arthur Ybarra
D2 Sharon Townsend
D5 David Rowden
D8 Janelle McKay
D9 Ricky Reed
See all of my classmates

Classmates: 1961-1962 Grade 1 Mrs. Barker

The Classmates Project is an effort to re-build my elementary and middle-school years by first, finding the names of all my classmates, and second, rounding them up into an online group. You can read more in the introductory post.

(click on the picture to see a larger version)

Learn how you can help!

Many of these names were written by my mother on the back of the picture, probably based on what I told her. The rest is filled in from memory. HELP!

A1 Arthur Ybarra
A2 Joe Oliveras (sp?)
A6 Ricky Reed (sp?)
A7 Robert ?

B1 Leslie ?
B2 Rusty Spade
B3 Sharon Townsend
B4 Mrs. Marilyn Barker
B5 Valerie Vaughn
B6 Walter Kay (sp?)
B7 Andy ?

C1 Ricky Thompson
C2 Monica ?
C3 Patricia Schintz
C4 Karen Yagami
C5 Sabrina Salmon
C6 Jack Smith
C7 Craig Guire

D1 Tom Rauth
D2 Virginia Clawson
D3 Velma Ayala
D5 Kathleen Caputo (sp?)
D6 Jim Baquet
D7 Doug Plummer

See all of my classmates

Classmates: 1960-1961 Kindergarten Mrs. Ristrom (PM)

The Classmates Project is an effort to re-build my elementary and middle-school years by first, finding the names of all my classmates, and second, rounding them up into an online group. You can read more in the introductory post.

(click on the picture to see a larger version)

Learn how you can help!

Many of these names were written by my mother on the back of the picture, probably based on what I told her. The rest is filled in from memory. HELP!

A1
A2 Valerie Vaughn
A3 Don Walker
A7 Bobby Jolly
A8 Kathleen Caputo (sp?)
A9 (?) Walter Kaye

B1 Kent ?
B2 Julie Garnant
B3 Wayne Anderson
B4
B5 Mrs. Ristrom (sp?)
B6 Velma Ayala
B7 Jim Baquet
B8 Robin ?
B9 Ricky Reed (sp?)

C1
C2 Carolyn Bromley
C3 Craig Guire
C4 Tom Rauth
C5 Ricky Thompson
C6 Patricia Schintz
C7 Jack Smith
C8 Donna Speed (?)
C9 Bobby

D1
D2 Sabrina Salmon
D3 Arthur Ybarra
D4
D5 Lindy Barker
D6 Karen Yagami
D7 Steve Yanagisako
D8
D9 Alan Cash

E1 Monica ?
E2 Virginia Clawson
E8 Joyceann (sp?) Contreras
E9 Karen Hildebrand

See all of my classmates

The Classmates Project

NOTE: I grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles called Rosemead, a little place with a surprisingly stable population. There are lots of kids I went to school with for 13 years, as did my two brothers before me and my sister after me. This project is dedicated to them.

On a visit to Rosemead in July 2009, I scanned a series of nine photos, representing my classes at Encinita School (K-6) and Muscatel Intermediate (7-8). These do not represent everyone in that grade, only those in my class (in elementary) or homeroom (at Muscatel).

We completely covered the 1960s, starting Kindergarten in 1960 and graduating from Muscatel in 1969!

If you were in my grade-level, I'd like to ask your help on three tasks:

1. Help me fill in names
Even if you weren't in my class that year, you would probably know the names of classmates. Also, please check my memory on the ones I've already filled in (spelling counts, too). You can add names in the comments (by number), and occasionally I'll move them up to the main post for that picture. Please use question marks if you’re not sure, like this:
9F John (?) Smith=not sure of spelling of first name
9F John Smith (?) =not sure of spelling of last name
9F (?) John Smith=not sure of spelling of entire name
9F John (sp?) Smith=not sure of spelling of first name
9F John Smith (sp?) =not sure of spelling of last name
9F (sp?) John Smith=not sure of spelling of entire name
2. Send more class pictures
If you have pictures from the same year/grade but a different teacher/homeroom, I'll be glad to post them so we can do something similar with those, as we were all classmates. Write to me (use the "Contact" link above) and I'll tell you the ideal specs for the scans (but I'll take anything I can get).

3. Locate other classmates
If you know some of the people in these pictures, send them my way! Ask them to look at the pictures and contribute to Task 1 or Task 2 above.

For you:
I can send you the same scans as those here (roughly 8"x10" at 72 ppi) but without the ugly numbers. Or you can have the original scans (slightly larger, and 300 ppi--you can cut yourself out if these at a fairly good size!) Just tell me which size ("small" or "big") and which years you want.

The next step
Maybe we could make a "closed group" on FaceBook to share old pictures and memories.

To see all of the pictures and notes click here, or click the "Classmates" tag on any of the posts.

To see an individual year, click below:
  • 1960-1961 Kindergarten Mrs. Ristrom (sp?) (PM) (view)
  • 1961-1962 Grade 1 Mrs. Marilyn Barker (view)
  • 1962-1963 Grade 2 Mrs. Vanderveer (view)
  • 1963-1964 Grade 3 Mrs. Francisco (view)
  • 1964-1965 Grade 4 Mrs. Arlene (?) Briggs (view)
  • 1965-1966 Grade 5 Mrs. Twomey (view)
  • 1966-1967 Grade 6 Miss Janice Webster (view)
  • 1967-1968 Grade 7 (7-3) Mrs. Esther (?) Lyall (view)
  • 1968-1969 Grade 8 (8-7) Mrs. Karen Wojahn (view)
More thoughts

As I recall, there were two kindergarten classes, "AM " and "PM." I don't know how many classes there were in the other Encinita years (let's put our heads together?) And I'm pretty sure there were eight homerooms in seventh grade (7-1 through 7-8) and 10 in eighth grade (8-1 through 8-10). Anyone who has the yearbook from those years could settle that.

Further, I remember this about "my hall" in 7th and 8th grades:

7th grade, 1st hall:
Science: Mr. Erwin Florence (7-1 homeroom teacher)
English: Mrs. Curturillo (7-2 homeroom teacher)
Math: Mrs. Lyall (7-3 homeroom teacher)
Social Studies: Mr. Todd (7-4 homeroom teacher)

Principal: Mr. Woodland
Music: Miss Jodie Boies
Band: Mr. Warren Lindgren
P.E.: Mr. Roger Young
Shop: Mr. Nikeloff (sp?)

8th grade, 2nd hall:
Social Studies: Mrs. Karen Wojahn (8-7 homeroom teacher)
Science: Mr. Walker (8-8 homeroom teacher)
English: Mr. Kelley (8-9 homeroom teacher)
Math: Mr. Walter Emerson (8-10 homeroom teacher)

Principal: Mr.
Music: Mrs. Jodie Adkins (she got married)
Band: Mr. Warren Lindgren
P.E.: Mr. Roger Young
Shop: Mr. Nikeloff (sp?)

I can't remember other teachers (art, home ec) or the other halls in any detail (Mr. Blugrind?). Again, if you have a yearbook from those years, I'd appreciate your helping me out, either with scans or by adding info to the comments. (I'm sure I have yearbooks somewhere; I just haven't found them yet. Maybe next time I'm back from China.)

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Lazarus People I

In 1995, I moved to Utah to live with Heather and Robert Urich and family. I was still not quite recovered from my divorce, and the Urich's job offer (a couple of hours of tutoring a day, with a nice stipend and room and board) provided a much-needed healing space.

At the end of the year, Robert asked me to come to Santa Fe and work with him on "The Lazarus Man," an intriguing western-cum-mystery.

I spent four months on set--ranches around New Mexico--with little to do except keep Robert company. As he was busy much of the time--carrying the show as its only weekly character, conducting interviews, etc.--I had lots of time to kill. I shot lots of pictures and chatted with cast and crew.

You'll be seeing pictures of some of those people off and on throughout July and August, culminating in a few precious pics of the great man himself--in cowboy duds.

Today: Crew.

Well, I say "Crew," but actually it's mostly the stand-ins; because they have a lot of time on their hands, they became some of my closest friends.

Bill Huckaby was an avid reader, Joseph Campbell fan, sensitive soul, and all-around good guy. Note the book in his hand (and his beloved vintage Stetson on his head) as he sits on the edge of a horno oven enclosure at historic El Rancho de Los Golondrinas, where we filmed for one episode.

Here we see the three male stand-ins, all reading scripts. Bill's on the left, Jim Bowie (musician and Buddhist) in the center, and Jon (whose family name I've forgotten) on the right. All three were avid readers, a must for the stand-in, who spends most of his or her time waiting.

Here's Laura Auldrich, whom I called nothing but "Sunshine." She's holding my copy of A Joseph Campbell Companion; we had lots of great discussions of film and literature. I since spotted her in a Natalie Portman movie.

OK, so this last old friend is not a stand-in, but I wanted to share this as a tribute.

Rod Wilson was a veteran make-up man; the IMDB link given lists only a fraction of his work, which started back in the 60s. He also ran a make-up school.

When my folks came to visit in Santa Fe, he went all-out to meet them; I also saw him several times after we returned to L.A. Rod passed away in 2003, just shy of 70. IMDb lists "natural causes"; he was a heavy smoker, so maybe...?

Anyway, fare well Rod, wherever you are.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Every Dog Has a Story

And both of these dogs' stories has to do with escape.

My first wife and I owned these dogs (sort of), Ginger on the left, and Buster (Buster Brown, get it?) on the right. You can divide all dogs (and people?) into two types: Fidos and Rovers. Fidos stay faithfully by their masters' sides, but Rovers ... uh ... rove.

Both of these dogs were Rovers.

Ginger (named by her former owner for a famed Gary Larson cartoon) came to us from a neighbor, and only stayed a short time. When she belonged to our neighbor, she had been picked up several times by "Animal Control" (the dog catcher).

Finally, the neighbor gave up, and asked if we wanted her. We said "sure," and my then-wife went to pick her up from the "animal shelter" (the dog pound).

But because Ginger was a pit bull, only the registered owner could retrieve her. And the registered owner was not the neighbor, but her ne'er-do-well brother-in-law, who didn't want to be bothered to go get her. So it took a lot of finagling to spring her. (As I recall, the neighbor posed as her brother-in-law's wife--same last name, you know.)

She was the sweetest dog I've ever known. Despite what you may have heard about pit bull terriers, the greatest danger from Ginger was being beaten to death by her whip-like tail.

Well, when we got her, the neighbor kept her puppy. Ginger didn't like that at all, so she kept getting out to go see the kid. She not only dug under wire fencing, she chewed through it.

One day she left and didn't come back. We put up posters, and got a call from someone who had found her dead on the railroad tracks.

It's not as gruesome as it sounds. The tracks were high where she was found. She had been running along when a train came. She hunkered down to let it pass, and apparently died of a heart attack, not a scratch on her.

The ne'er-do-well brother-in-law owner retrieved her and buried her for us on her old home ground.

☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

Buster's story is happier. We found him in a park up in Altadena. (We lived in Simi Valley at the time.) He had been living on the streets, eating trash.

We took him home, still almost a puppy, and one or the other of us kept him until he died of old age on my ex-wife's Tennessee farm.

When you adopt a Rover, don't expect him to stay home. Hugo, an English professor who had moved in to Ginger's owners' old place, used to see Buster nearly a mile from home, cadging fries at a fast-food place. English professor that he was, Hugo nicknamed Buster "The Artful Dodger."

After my wife left and I stayed on in the house, Buster would get out one way or the other, and when the dog catcher came, he'd try to get back into the yard. Another neighbor saw him get picked up as he was scratching at the locked gate (even though he was on my property, he was clearly "free").

I learned to leave the gate unlatched. That way, he could just push it open; the dog catcher wouldn't dare enter a closed yard.

Another of the things I miss in Asia: the company of a dog. If I ever have another one, though, I'm going for a Fido.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Our Wedding

(This post is excerpted from a much longer piece I wrote about our wedding. You can download that article here.)

On Sunday, April 29, 2007, Lila and I got married in Hong Kong, because two foreigners can't get married in mainland China (and getting married in the Philippines or the U.S. had their own complications).

Here's the happy couple, wearing a kurta (mine) and salwar kameez (hers) provided by our good friends Sunny and Vinnie Gupta, managers of the Spice Circle Indian Restaurant where we had our after-wedding party.

This is our best man, Alan Rosenfield (left), and "person of honor" Adam Wood. Alan is one of my oldest friends here; he lives in Chicago, but visits Shenzhen frequently for business. We timed the wedding so that he would could stand up for me.

Adam, on the other hand, was a fairly new friend. A few months earlier, he had contacted Lila about yoga classes and, not knowing we were connected, had contacted me about a Buddhist discussion group I was running. We all three "clicked." So when Lila's chosen "maid of honor" couldn't make the wedding, Adam volunteered and, oddballs that we are, we chose not to stand on tradition, but instead we said "Cool! A 'person of honor'!"

So Alan and Adam were the official witnesses to our marriage.

These are the guests at the ceremony itself, standing in the lobby of the Marriage Registry in Shatin. Represented are Germany, England, America, the Philippines, Hong Kong, the mainland, and one we're not sure of: a typically broad range of nationalities in the expat life (and impressive considering there are only 13 people there!)

Hong Kong is a fairly stiff-upper-lip-conservative place when it comes to such things as weddings; a pamphlet in the Marriage Registry even discussed appropriate dress and behavior for the ceremony. So the ceremony itself was meant to be solemn; the Justice of the Peace certainly had no sense of humor. But as you can see in this picture, Lila and I were cracking each other up as usual. (The unsmiling lady J.O.P. is just visible in the top-right corner.)

Finally, MARRIED! This is us with a bunch of kids who happened to be outside the Marriage Registry; it's one of my favorites of all the pictures taken that day by our good friend Jesse Warren. All the pictures in this post were shot by Jesse, a pro who shot around all our wedding events for free. (Thanks, Jesse!) You can see more of his work starting here, here and here.

More pics of all the fun:

Lila's pics of the Shatin wedding and lunch

Lila's pics of the Spice Circle party

Jesse Warren's pics of both occasions

And don't forget to look at the article that tells the whole damned story in every sordid detail, from when we met, through my pre-wedding jitters, to the great day itself, and the subsequent honeymoon and more parties.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Shenzhen Vice

Once upon a time, I had a "friend" here in Shenzhen who was a power-monger. He would always go on about how he was a "humble man" and never expected anything for himself; then he'd send out pictures of himself with "the vice-mayor of Shenzhen."

Well, there's like a half-dozen "vice-mayors of Shenzhen," and I was with one of them at a party last Chinese New Year.

So here's my picture with "the vice-mayor":

I'm a humble man, and expect nothing for myself...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Meeting a Master: Venerable Ji Qun

In the summer of 2006, I celebrated my birthday by spending a week in a temple in Fujian Province, teaching the Buddha-dharma to around 100 young people.

One of the highlights of my week was the arrival of Master Ji Qun. He is a teaching monk who is widely considered to be one of the foremost Chinese monks of the 21st century. He is also delightfully humble and unassuming.

He has a "Center" in Suzhou, from which he publishes books. He travels around the country teaching. He has also taught abroad, but only in Chinese (like most Chinese monks I've met, he speaks no English).

I've written a fairly long article (previously published on the net) in which I relate a discussion we had, as well as a Q & A he conducted with the students. You can download the PDF by clicking here.

Meanwhile, a couple of pictures:

The Master examines a student's paper

Master Ji Qun leaves the Hermitageto return to the Temple

Monday, June 8, 2009

Hannah and Her Sitter

Lila has a niece named Hannah. She's as feisty as you would expect of a girl growing up in a household of all-male brothers and cousins.

Last January, we were in the Philippines for a quick visit, because Lila's grandma was ill. (She has since passed away, so the gathering was well-timed. It was the first time Lila had seen her own mother in years.)

We stayed out in the suburb of Marikina where Lila's mom's family is. On a lazy day, we went to the local mall (malling is the #1 sport in the Philippines). We visited a bookstore, where Lila bought several books for Hannah.

When the others went off to shop some more, Hannah and I hung together. We started reading her books. One was in Spanish (a mis-buy), and Hannah showed a remarkable ability to read it rapidly.

Here are a few pictures from our "Book Corner" in the mall:

Monday, June 1, 2009

Achille Joseph Baquet, My Dad's Dad

I'll start these biographical notes in the proper place: with my forebears.

First, my dad's parents, Achille (ah-SHEEL) Joseph Baquet and Rosema Rose Morgan. I don't know much about Grandma; I'll gather more info and discuss her later. So most of this is about my dad's dad.

He was a musician, and a little bit famous. You could call him a pioneer of Dixieland jazz. The personal matters I discuss below are what I recollect from family talk; the professional things are a matter of record, gleaned from the internet.

I never knew my grandpa; I was born in July of 1955, and he died in November of the same year (not 1956, as most sources--including Wikipedia--have it). Here he is with my older brothers, lucky barstairs:

He was born in 1885, the son of Theogene Vitale Baquet, who led the Excelsior, third-largest of New Orleans's famous brass bands. Old T.V. was apparently a son-of-a-gun, a strict old-school taskmaster who, it is said, could scare new students off of learning an instrument at the first lesson. Achille's brother George, another well-known musician, must have had a gentler dispositon: he taught the renowned Sidney Bechet.

So Achille grew up in New Orleans, at the time when the brass bands were melding into the new artform now known as "jazz." As we all know, "Jazz is a musical art form which originated at the beginning of the 20th century in African American communities in the Southern United States from a confluence of African and European music traditions." Yes, my grandpa was part of the Creole community in New Orleans.

The Baquets were known to be among the best musicians in New Orleans. Even today, as a relative said in a New York Times article after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, "It means something to be a Baquet in New Orleans."

Achille played with several bands, the most famous of which was the Original New Orleans Jazz Band. Fronted by well-known comic and musician Jimmy Durante, it was based in New York, and was advertised as the "first all-white Dixieland band." Grandpa was passant blanc (not at all unusual for the time).

My dad's four older siblings were born in New Orleans; then came the New York years (my uncle claimed he sold hot dogs at Coney Island); then dad and his younger sister were born in L.A. Achille had come out to the new "entertainment capital" for work. In 1929, irony struck: the new "talkies" put scores if not hundreds of musicians out of work, including Grandpa. In later years he only played for the chickens when he "wood-shedded," keeping up his skills until emphysema and arthritis made it impossible.

Family lore says "Grandpa wrote Tiger Rag," the jazz standard better known as "Hold That Tiger." This was in dispute; even the great Jelly Roll Morton claimed to have written it. I read later that Grandpa was in the band that wrote it, but no one knew if he was the actual composer. That seemed reasonable. Now, on Wikipedia, I see: "In one interview, Papa Jack Laine said that the actual composer of the number was Achille Baquet."

Some of Grandpa's recordings are on line, "Why Cry Blues" and "Jada Medley." Google his name and you'll find mention of him in several articles. I stole the pictures below from some of them.

I wish I had known him.

Second from left (Durante in the center)

Clowning in the upper right (a true Baquet)

Behind the piano, at left end
(Note Durante's famous nose in profile, at piano)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

James in a Nutshell

I was born in the City of Angels, on the shore of the Peaceful Ocean. Yup, L.A. BABY! On the Pacific.

I grew up in the suburb of Rosemead, where my older brothers, my younger sister, and I all attended the same elementary, intermediate, and high schools.

After that, I took degrees at Pasadena City College (liberal arts), California State University at Los Angeles (B.A. in English and philosophy, two majors), and Loyola Marymount University (Master of Education).

Meanwhile, I became a "born-again" Christian; got married; became a high school teacher and dean (Chaminade College Preparatory), and then an elementary school principal (St. Martin-in-the-Fields School, Canoga Park), and then a junior high and high school teacher again (Campbell Hall School); went to Anglican seminary for a couple of years; got divorced; began exploring other religions; moved to Japan; and finally, in 2001, returned to Rosemead, where I studied for a PhD in Buddhism (but did not finish my dissertation).

Leaving my studies in 2004, I moved to China, where I live now. For three years I taught in a polytechnic college in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong; then I went to Yangzhou, Jiangsu (between Nanjing and Shanghai) for a year to live in a temple and teach monks; then back to Shenzhen and the polytechnic, where I work now.

In 2005, the best thing that ever happened to me...um...happened to me: I met Lila Jose, a smart, funny, spiritual, beautiful Filipina. We got married in 2007, and dream of someday relocating to the Philippines. This homepage will, hopefully, be of some help in making that possible.

Read this one for a more in-depth look at my life. Then, browse the various posts (maybe use the tags) for more on "The Life and Times of...Me."

Everything on these pages is © 2009 by James Baquet.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Too much information?

In the picture above, you see ten faces, ten moments where a camera captured the flow of my life. Over time, I will be telling you stories--in a piecemeal way--from various parts of my life. But here you can get a sense of how the pieces fit.
Referring to the numbered key below, these ten parts are:
1. Infancy: I was born a sickly child (after my twin miscarried), and the bets were on me not making it. Yet, as you can see in Picture #1 above, I was still capable of raising a sickly smile. There's not much to say about an infant's spirituality: they know everything there is to know, and when people ask about my current "spiritual quest," I often say that I just want to know what I knew before I started school and "they" taught it all out of me.

2. Pre-school: Not shown in this photo are my two imaginary friends, Marky Spenders and Johnny Housemaker. Did I just have a wild imagination? Or is there some chance that children with "imaginary" friends aren't imagining them at all, but seeing something that, as we get older, we're taught not to see?

3. Elementary: Kids aren't supposed to have dark circles under their eyes. I did. I was still "puny" (as my dad called it), and school was always a struggle. "He's so smart," the teachers would lament, "if only he would apply himself." Nearly a half-century later, I'm still hearing the same damn thing.

4. Junior high: At age 12 or 13, I had my tonsils out, and in recovery I swallowed my tongue, bringing my lungs to a halt. An alert nurse got me going again, and when my family filled me in on what happened, my mom also told me about my miscarried twin. So, at the age when young people in more traditional cultures are being initiated, I developed a deep sense of having cheated death--twice. In fact, I was formally initiated at this time; I was confirmed in the Episcopal church.

5. High school: Lots of people claim that high school was "the best years of their lives." Not me. As always, school was too hard, my social standing would best be described as "gregarious loner" (still largely true), and while I knew there was something more than this material realm, I just couldn't see it, even with those big geeky glasses.

6. College: After a couple of years out of school, I started junior college, and found God (whom I hadn't realized was missing). In the photo from which this head was cut out (left), I'm actually with a Christian rock band, in which I played trombone. (Yeah, rock trombone.) Meanwhile, my college classes lit up my intellect; the two years I spent lollygagging between high school and college gave me a chance to mature a bit, and I took to schoolwork like a pervert to porn.

7. First Marriage and Early Teaching Career: At the age of 26, I graduated from university (finally), got married (not so finally), and started teaching. I'm still teaching. But as most men in their 20s, I was pretending to be mature, playing the "climb the ladder" game. At 29 I became a school principal, but then went back to teaching four years later. And at 35, I became "single again." Cue the Mid-life Crisis.

8. Post divorce: The Indiana-Jones-wannabe-in-need-of-a-haircut is me. During this period, I dated a TV star, lived with a couple of actors and their children, and soaked up as much of the native spirituality of the American Southwest as I could. This head was cut out of a pic (right) where I'm standing on the front porch of an adobe house in Taos pueblo with a family who had befriended me. It's a good indication of how, at this point, I was stretching beyond my "little world."

9. Japan: I stretched so far, in fact, that I ended up a few years later in Japan. Here I began to delve seriously into Buddhism, and I completed numerous pilgrimages. (You can read about the biggest one on my Temple Guy page.) Japan is a fascinating place with wonderful people, but it did force me out of my comfort zone in a dramatic way. It challenged me so much that I took up formal studies in Buddhism when I returned to the U.S. During that time, I also worked in language schools with Asian students, and worked in a Chinese temple near L.A. All of this kept me happy as my "Asian connection" persisted.

10. Today: Finally (so far) I came to China. As I mentioned briefly above, I have been teaching English here--mostly to technical students, but for one year to Buddhist monks in residence in a temple, and occasionally to other Buddhists, such as an awesome week in the mountains in Fujian province teaching over a hundred kids.

And in April of 2007, I married Lila, who is far better than I deserve, and we are now working hard to shape our lives into something that sustains us: more thinking of spiritual things, more healthy food, more pleasing music, more incense, more good friends (and fewer annoying ones).

And eventually, a life that is freed from the tyranny of having to be in any particular place, as long as there's an internet connection to keep us in touch with our income.

UPDATE: Well, it's 2016, seven years or so since I posted this. We left China back at the end of last July, and have settled into our house in the Philippines. For the first time ever, all my books and other goods are here from storage, and I can buckle down to share pictures and stories of my life. Stay tuned!