John Hillerman

Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,

My godfather passed away last week.

John Hillerman knew my dad when they were both struggling actors in New York City, John served as best man at my parents’ wedding, and then he was active in the Washington Theatre Club when my dad took the job of Artistic Director there in 1965. Although he was born in Texas, Hillerman was appreciated by theatre and film directors for the great variety of accents he could adopt, having played more than 100 roles during those years in the big cities on the east coast.

His New York Times obituary quotes Hillerman as saying that, despite all those years of theatre work, he only had $700 to his name when he eventually moved to Los Angeles to find better roles. I believe the stories of his penury, for my grandmother once told me of John visiting the family cabin with my parents, and not having brought anything to sleep in. Evidently he borrowed one of my grandmother’s nightgowns. During that same time period John lived in the basement of my family’s Tunlaw Road home, the same basement that I moved into years later as a high school student.

In California, Hillerman was cast in supporting roles in three of my favorite movies of the early 1970s: Paper Moon in 1973, and in 1974 both Blazing Saddles and Chinatown. My dad was a movie critic by then, and I’m sure he delighted in seeing one of his best friends cast in such strong films.

TV stints on The Ellery Queen Show and The Betty White Show helped to prepare him for his breakout role, and probably the reason you know him, if at all: Jonathan Quayle Higgins III on Magnum P.I. To me, this opportunity had two distinguishing features from his other TV series: 1) Magnum P.I. was a huge hit, and deservedly so, and 2) I was watching TV by then. You can imagine how many times I heard this exclamation in those days: “Wait, Higgins is your GODfather?”

I would have known John Hillerman as a member of the extended family if he hadn’t moved to LA, and then Honolulu during the relevant years of my childhood and young adulthood. While still in high school, I once wrote him asking about an internship on the set of Magnum, and he kindly wrote back with an explanation of union rules on TV sets. He visited the house on Tunlaw Road in DC in 1983 – his limo pulled up to the front of the house, and stayed there, with the limo driver not coming to the door – and he came in to talk to my mom, brother, and me for about an hour. He signed some photos, I shook his hand, and then I never saw him again, except on TV.

As a child, I opted not to go into theatre in part because I wanted to be my famous theatre director dad’s son, rather than one of his actors. Now, more than a dozen years after his death, I regret missing all the lessons about theatre and playwriting that he could have shared with me. Likewise, I sometimes regret not connecting with John Hillerman, and maybe even visiting him in Houston in recent decades, but I remember being told by family how private he was, including with his homosexuality. He was a great friend to my parents, a great actor, and someone I looked up to, if only from afar. Now, during the week of his passing, I wish that I had reached out to express such gratitude and admiration when he could have heard it. He could have shared some terrific stories. RIP, John Hillerman.


Tonight’s Pub Quiz will feature questions on perhaps one of the topics raised above, as well as the following: Hamlet, Star Wars, U.S. states, streaks, platoons, shaolin pastimes, unusual names, Latin names, the French, alphabetical alterity, false surprises, countries you probably haven’t visited, hunger, Danishes, kites, firearms, amber, numbers, missing billionaires not named Thurston, finding it new, hills and valleys, narrow localities, the greener grass, accomplished singers, blows to Marxism, the question of feldspar, freshness, Google studies, and Shakespeare.

I have a lot going on this week, including a Tuesday, November 14th appearance on Insight with Beth Ruyak, a fall fundraiser on my KDVS radio show Wednesday at 5 (you should call 754-KDVS Wednesday afternoon to help me raise $500), a storytelling festival on campus at 4 on Thursday (want to hear how I met Kate?), a Lynn Freed reading at the Natsoulas Gallery Thursday night at 8, and then my own poetry reading Friday at 7:30 at the Unitarian Church of Davis. You are invited to all these events, either by phoning in or showing up. I would love to see you on a day other than Monday!

But mostly I want to see you and your team tonight at 7. We can raise a toast to all our favorite departed actors. Long may their voices echo in our ears, and in our hearts!


Your Quizmaster


To mix things up, here are three movie questions from a 2014 quiz:


  1.  Who played the central role of Remy the rat in the film Ratatouille?  


  1. Two of the top six credited actors in the Disney film Aladdin have alliterative first and last names. Name one of them.  


  1. Who gets to play Moses in the 2014 film Exodus: Gods and Kings?    


P.S. Find out more about Thursday night’s event with Lynn Freed at


P.P.S. Patton Oswalt just got married, and this new Twitter friend of mine seems very happy. For today only, November 13th, his film book Silver Screen Fiend is on sale on Audible for just $2.95. I’ve just added this book to my library, and not only because Patton devotes a paragraph to my dad.


Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,

When engaged in writing tasks on Sundays, I have to think associatively, letting my brain wend where it will, in and out of the crevices of the useless facts I’ve accumulated, as it searches for topics for quiz questions, for poems, or for this newsletter.

Often I listen to instrumental hip-hop while doing this work. The beats and quick pace of the melodies energize me, but without lyrics that distract me with their unhelpful messages.

Speaking of hips, with its incessant twinging, my hip is itself sharing with me an unwelcome message, one that I am receiving a few decades sooner than one might expect. I’m only 50. Knowing that it can be replaced, perhaps my hip is planning its eventual exit? I had hoped to stay whole for longer.

In her 80s, my mother has had one hip replaced, and now the other one is acting up. Getting a hip replaced is much easier than replacing a knee, a friend recently explained to me. I see why some women don’t appreciate having things “mansplained” to them all the time. I told my friend that I really don’t need to see his drawings to understand the difference in the procedures.

I know a Zumba instructor in Colorado who had her knee replaced this year. Athletic, hearty, and full of grit, she probably heals from such procedures faster than the rest of us.

Speaking of grit, Vin Scully is back in the news this week. Once the venerable announcer said this during a Dodgers Game: “Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day. Aren’t we all?” Scully did pretty well, providing play-by-play for the Dodgers for 67 years, more than 24,000 day-to-days.

By comparison, the Zamboni Company was founded in 1950, 67 years ago. That’s a lot of resurfaced ice! Leonardo da Vinci died at 67, and he accomplished quite a bit. One can see the infant John the Baptist taking a knee in Leonardo’s painting Virgin of the Rocks.

My wife Kate joked with me that she was thinking of taking a knee at the UC Davis Chancellor’s Investiture during the National Anthem, just to make a point. She had an aisle seat at the Robert Mondavi Center for that event, mostly so she could get pictures of me in my academic regalia (I was there as Master of Ceremonies). I followed University of California President Janet Napolitano out of the auditorium after the ceremony, with Chancellor May right behind me. He may have wondered about the beautiful woman in the third row with whom I exchanged the highest of fives.

Do we only take knees at sporting events? Vin Scully wishes we couldn’t. Blaming protestors for his diminished sales, the owner of Papa John’s Pizza wishes we hadn’t. The First Amendment largely lets us or even encourages us to protest where and when we would, without asking permission, with or without knees.

The timing of the knee-taking seems very important to some people, with some taking a knee before, during, or after the “Star Spangled Banner.” In one of the verses of that song, the word “brave” is rhymed with “slave.” Written in 1812, it was not an abolitionist anthem. The song inspires patriotism especially in Americans who do not read the fine print.

Not everyone loves baseball, or even football. When on Halloween I pointed out to my wife Kate the difference between Pirates and Bengals, she told me that she doesn’t care for sports. Cincinnati was once home to a rare white Bengal tiger, while more than 100 years ago a Pittsburgh baseball team poached a player from a nearby team, and thus were called “piratical.” They adopted the name with glee: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island had been published just a couple decades previously.

We had some pirates come to our door last Tuesday, some of them dressed in knee breeches. Amazon sells “Distressed Black and Brown Pull On Knee High Pirate Boots,” helpful should you wish to protect your knees from opposing cutlasses. Whether it’s my hip or my knee, I myself would rather be sliced open by a surgeon than by a pirate.

And so it goes.

Now you know how I think when writing the Pub Quiz. In addition to topics raised above, tonight expect questions about the following: the pleasures of walking, that which cannot be relinquished, another word for trouble, multiples of seven, prehistoric iron men, currencies analyzed, typical symptoms, wickedness on the move, Italian marriage rituals that don’t involve sub-standard pizza, Mexican wrestlers, Mueller time, alternatives to games and runners, Jared Leto, quantifying valleys, Argentinian rice, sea-level journeys, runners, comparisons to Clinton, McKinley’s extended reign, Neanderthals, the queen who died of grief (spoiler), enormous synonyms, the aroma of TV actors, that which separates, one thousand words, metals and the God of Hammers, accomplished drummers, Hispanic surnames, terminal degrees, imaginary stipulations, reimagined heroes, boxed republics, notable rivers, and Shakespeare.

Please join us tonight at 7. We could use your help.


Your Quizmaster


Here are three questions from last week’s quiz:

  1. Science.  What 1962 Rachel Carson book about the chemical pesticide DDT helped to launch the modern environmental movement?  
  2. Books and Authors.    Fill in the blank with the title of this young adult book by Sue Townsend: The Secret Diary of Adrian BLANK, Aged 13¾.  
  3. Current Events – Names in the News.   Counter-protestors drowned out speeches by American Nazis with recordings of a song ranked number 354 on Rolling Stone magazine′s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. What is this only song on the list that is sung in a language other than English?  

P.S. Lynn Freed performs on the 16th at 8 PM at the John Natsoulas Gallery, and I myself perform on the 17th at 7:30 at the Unitarian Church of Davis (with Traci Gourdine, one of my favorite local poets).

Dr. Andy from the Podium


Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,

My wife Kate doesn’t think I’m getting enough sleep. I’m sure she’s right. This is probably also true for you. Kate was backing up her claim with evidence presented in a new book by Matthew Walker, director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams suggests that our getting less than eight hours a night will lead to weight issues, concentration problems, a weakened immune system, and, get this, a shortened life.

Some of our days require more preparation than we can give them, and don’t afford us time for a nap. This past Thursday night, for instance, I visited the Mondavi Center for a rehearsal at 9, and then was up writing a pub quiz until well past midnight. Friday morning at 9:30 I returned to the Mondavi Center to make some new friends, including G. Wayne Clough, the President Emeritus of Georgia Tech and the Secretary Emeritus of the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. He had stories to tell about those storied institutions, and I got to tell Secretary Clough how important the Smithsonian was to a boy who grew up in D.C., where I frequently sampled the work of our country’s most accomplished museum exhibit designers. When he heard that I was there at the Mondavi Center as the Poet Laureate of Davis, the conversation pivoted to poetry, with him sharing remembrances of the late Thomas Lux, the dynamic Georgia Tech poet in residence who ran the well-funded and much-lauded “Poetry @ Tech” Program.

Making a mental note to request that we establish such a program at UC Davis, I was soon asked to suit up in my academic regalia – think Supreme Court Justice, but with a regal hood in the blue and gold of UC Davis. Kate later said that “you academics like your pomp and circumstance” and that some of us, with our scepters (it was actually a mace) like to think of ourselves as superheroes. Dressed all in black just like the other folks around me, I didn’t feel quite so intimidated to be placed in the processional line between Gary S. May, the new Chancellor of U.C. Davis, and Janet Napolitano, the President of University of California. Napolitano had some other previous jobs of note, as you may know.

As the MC of the Investiture of the new Chancellor of UC Davis, I used my radio announcer voice; it’s a cross between the voice I teach with, and the voice I use to host the de Vere’s Irish Pub Pub Quiz on Monday nights. In addition to explaining the medieval origins of an “investiture,” I got to introduce all the speakers, including the aforementioned Clough and Napolitano. So many important speakers said, “Thanks, Andy,” as if we had known each other for years, instead of minutes. I was honored to play a part in the launching of the new leader of UC Davis, and I look forward with anticipation to discovering in what ways Chancellor May will help UC Davis grow and evolve.

But my work was not done. After the lunch with VIPs, including Gary May’s former college roommate and best man at his wedding, and the CFO of all of UC, who insisted that I seek out the Galway Kinnell poem “Saint Francis and the Sow,” I had to excuse myself, for I was soon due to teach a dozen first-year students a 2 PM class called “Bravery Studies: Three Poems a Week.” I cajoled poems out of my students, introduced them to some Kinnell and some Plath, and then finished at 3:59.

That left me almost enough time to get to my 4 PM introductory meeting with Julie, my new writing assistant and accountability buddy. I spent the next 90 minutes explaining to her the parameters of the job. Julie will not only help me send my poems out to more audiences during this school year (I often neglect to share and publicize my own poetry), but she will also keep me on track for the Pub Quiz book that is due to be published before this Christmas. Everyone needs help, right? As Chancellor May says, if you see a turtle on a post, he didn’t get there by himself. To this, Kate later added that “Finding a turtle on a post probably means that there’s a sociopath nearby.”

Speaking of questionable choices, my workday was just beginning. I said goodbye to Julie at 5:30, printed out two pub quizzes (one with answers, and one without), and biked right over to the Veteran’s Memorial Center to help with the final preparations for the North Davis Elementary Auction and Fundraiser. I would worry later if I was really qualified to run a live auction. As with the first time I stepped into a classroom to lead a classroom full students, or the first time I picked up the microphone as Quizmaster, I learned how to become an auctioneer by just doing it.

Do you know how much energy it takes to live-auction ten or more big-ticket items to a bunch of parents eager to donate to their kids’ elementary school? Equivalent activities might include yelling throughout an entire live sporting event (which I hear some people do), or running a pub quiz with a weak microphone. Running full-tilt from about 8:30 to 9:30 that night, I found the experience exciting, but draining.

Of course, I had no business being drained, because as soon as I finished the hour or so of the live auction, fast-talking like one of my Oklahoma ancestors who was tasked with distributing doomed heifers with great speed and alacrity, I immediately started my fundraiser pub quiz.

If you are keeping score, you probably recognize that on Friday I enjoyed a 14-hour workday, and that I spent most of that workday talking, sometimes fast talking or quizmaster-yodeling before large audiences with high expectations. Reflecting on Friday, I remind myself that the day was filled with opportunities I treasure: meeting and conversing with new people who are accomplished and committed to a cause, dining on fine food, teaching poetry to undergraduates, mentoring students, biking around Davis, wearing fancy outfits, raising money for local schools, and pushing myself as a public speaker. Like you, I bet, I actually love the challenges of my work. As Pele says, “Success is no accident.”

My outrageous Friday makes my ambitious Monday feel like a cake-walk. I hope you will join me for part of that walk this evening at 7 at de Vere’s Irish Pub.


Here are the hints. In addition to the topics raised above, tonight expect questions on the following topics: English and other languages, presidential anniversaries, distributed anagramic mousetraps, lifted voices, Count Dracula, philosophical parameters, knots, fiction genres, environmental movements, Canada, soccer stars, wine necessities, young adults, family drama outside the human family, light opposition, British souvenirs, the number 33, vocal groups, haunted houses, European towers, urban challenges, seasonal vegetables, the homer habit, surnames, empires, and Shakespeare.

I’ve already been informed that we will have a new team joining us for the first time this evening. If you are part of a new team, or if you have invited a new team, please forward them this newsletter, and instigate introductions! See you tonight.


Your Quizmaster


Here are three questions from last week’s quiz:


  1. Mottos and Slogans.    The leading supplier of networking equipment and network management (such as internet routers) for the Internet has as its slogans “Empowering the Internet Generation” and “Welcome to the Human Network.” What is the name of this two-syllable company? 


  1. Internet Culture. Google’s parent company Alphabet is bringing daytime cell service to Puerto Rico using an anagram of the phrase ENROLL ABSTENTION. What’s the mode of delivery? 


  1. Newspaper Headlines: Name the Headliner.   It was announced last night that what singer, songwriter and actor will headline the Super Bowl 52? 


P.S. The great insurgent poet Joe Wenderoth will be featured at Poetry Night at the Natsoulas Gallery on Thursday, November 2nd. And then the new Thor movie comes out November 3rd, and my wife has a big birthday on November 4th. The fun never ends!

Davis Community Church


Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,

Yesterday I saw my friend Pastor Bill Habicht’s last sermon at Davis Community Church. My son Jukie and I attended the service to support Bill, his lovely family, and the congregation that has given him a platform for his community-centered ministry for the last 12 years.

Once years ago when Bill and I were becoming friends – he enlisted me to help with one of his many philanthropic projects – I responded to one of his questions by telling him that my family and I were regular church-goers at DCC. He didn’t want to dispute my claim, even though he had no memory of these alleged church appearances. I told him that yes, every Christmas Eve, we attend his church service to hear a favorite story and sing some lovely Christmas carols. Clearly our attendance was very regular, if infrequent. He smiled and knew that he could be as mischievous with me as I was being with him. One member of the congregation cites his mischievousness and wit as elements of Bill and his sermons that they would miss the most.

In his last sermon, Bill retold a story that you might have read once online. Authored originally by Kent Nerburn, a cab driver takes an elderly and solitary woman on her last cab ride before she enters a hospice / convalescent hospital. The story’s author discovers the satisfaction and deep connection that comes from serving others, especially those most needful or vulnerable.

Bill concluded his remarks by inviting us not only to seek out success in our lives, but to live significant lives, the implication being that a life of service (defined as you wish), and attention to the neediest among us will enrich us much beyond that which can be earned, saved, or spent. And then Bill’s remarkable young son Asher danced for the congregation. His was an extended choreographed number, the sort you would expect from a professional dancer twice his age. After he finished, the congregants were so moved that we gave Asher a standing ovation that went on for a few minutes.

Of course, some of that applause was for Bill, a man who has served all the applauders, who has served the hungry and homeless of Davis, and thus who has served all of us for the last 12 years. I elevate and commend this man, and look forward to see how he will enrich we lucky Davisites next.


Tonight’s Pub Quiz will feature questions on topics raised above, as well as the following: parenthood, Starbucks, the Dharma, songbirds, quarterbacks, blasts, tenors and vehicles, gas, legal defenses, peninsulae, malt aviators, hard drinks, film classics, Laguna Beach, vampires, midsummer night’s dreams, people named Chuck, nirvana, favorite athletes, bosses, satiric news, modesty, Jack Kerouac, distant wars, warming surroundings, counts that don’t include horses, other banners, successful newspapers, liberty, telecommunications, and Shakespeare.

Please join us this evening. It’s the place to be.


Your Quizmaster


Here are three questions from last week’s quiz:


  1. Mottos and Slogans.    The servers at the de Vere’s Irish Pub on L Street in Sacramento wear black T-shirts with three words on the back. Those words are “BLOOD. SWEAT. And WHAT”? 


  1. Internet Culture. Which World War was trending on Twitter last night. Was it World War I, World War II, or World War III? 


  1. Newspaper Headlines.   What two-syllable C word completes this October 5th CNBC headline about worldwide Facebook usage? “Facebook users could outnumber BLANKS before the end of the year.” 


P.S. Viola Weinberg and Traci Gourdine are performing this coming Thursday night at 8. Viola will have fire adventures to relay. You are invited. Here is the Facebook event:  





Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,

Driving through midtown Sacramento yesterday, I reminded myself of one important reason why Kate and I chose to move there back in 1991: The trees! Huge oaks and maples line the streets where we used to walk, grateful for the shade on hot afternoons in our “City of Trees.” Someone thought that Paris had more impressive tree cover than California’s capital, but that just isn’t so. As Hillary Louise Johnson wrote for Sactown Magazine, “Paris’s “meager 8.8-percent tree canopy coverage can’t touch Sacramento’s 23.6 percent with a 10-foot branch. In other words, when it comes to Mother Nature’s trunk show, the only way the French capital is greener than we are is, dare we say, with envy.”

Somehow, I don’t think Paris is very envious of Sacramento, despite the younger city’s impressive canopy coverage, allegedly the third greatest in the world (after Vancouver and Singapore). But obviously Sacramento has earned its nickname, also a onetime nickname of my childhood home of Washington DC, where I frequented an illegally-constructed tree fort in Glover Archibald Park.

Although filled with more new neighborhoods than midtown Sacramento, Davis can look to its beloved greenbelts for tree cover, as well as those famous walnut trees heading west on Russell Boulevard, planted by the LaRue family in 1876. We in Davis rightfully love our UC Davis Arboretum, but sometimes that quaint redwood grove there seems like a teaser, especially to those who have lived in the Bay Area, as I have. I loved the redwoods of Marin County so much that I took Kate to Muir Woods to propose marriage to her. We had to walk deep into the forest to separate ourselves from the (other) tourists, finding a spot by a brook that was as green as the Forest Moon of Endor. Acknowledging the importance of trees to our growing family, we even gave our son Jukie the middle name of “Forest” (with one R).

As Davis Poet Laureate, I have been asked to write some poems in preparation for a city Arbor Day celebration in February, even though Arbor Day is in April. How soon should one begin such poems? Well, as the Chinese proverb goes, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” With their beauty, majesty, and necessity, trees remind us not to procrastinate, whether it be for a planting project or a poetry project.

Updating the Chinese proverb, and perhaps as a warning to future presidents, Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said this: “A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.” That which is most valuable to us usually has no price tag.

Even though recent winds have shaken the pollen out of our city’s trees, and felled trees that knocked out our electricity while I was writing this newsletter, I hope that you, too, are purified and given strength by the tress you pass by today. Kahlil Gibran, whom I have quoted often as a wedding officiant, said in “Sand and Foam” that “Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.” Grateful for my bicycle commute along the grand trees nourished by Putah Creek, I shall try to draw inspiration for pedaling as well as poems. I wish the same for you.


Tonight’s Pub Quiz will feature questions on some of the topics raised above. Expect also questions about rotund bellies, the Caribbean, Winston Churchill, agricultural colleges, Don Lipper’s birthday, Spaniards, habitats, counted centuries, the meaning of “mega,” changed names upon exit of the colonialists, incomplete prognostication, sparsely populated islands, ersatz avengers, beginnings and endings, India, a letter that starts the name of four cities, relevant horns, Oscar-winners, being sorry about having trouble understanding right now (as Alexa says upon being awakened after a power outage), exports of Israel, multiple opinions, intermediate materials, California celebrities, eastern conferences, the world music awards, C words, an opponent’s headquarters, coastal surprises, unusual transportation options, religious groups, and Shakespeare.

I hope to see you this evening, and that from tonight’s Pub Quiz you will learn something new that you can use later. As Emerson observed, “The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.” Keeping Emerson in mind, I will help you turn over some fresh soil, but only figuratively!

Your Quizmaster


Here are three questions from the quiz of October 3rd, 2016, when we were all so much younger:

  1. Books and Authors.   The authors and philosophers H.G. Wells, Henri Bergson, and Albert Einstein were all deeply interested in the same specific topic on my answer sheet. Name the topic. 
  2. Sports.  The United States defeated Europe in gold at Hazeltine yesterday, taking a decisive 17-11 victory. What cup did the Americans win? 
  3. Shakespeare.   According to her father, what prime number age is Juliet in the play Romeo and Juliet


P.S. You have but two more weekends to see the current production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. See the website for details and to buy tickets. Thanks, Davis Shakespeare Ensemble!

Tom Petty

Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,

Miles Davis is bugling unhurriedly through “Nuit Sur Les Champs-Elysees,” the jazz tune that I chose to silence the caffeinated talkers at the café table next to me as I despair the gun violence in Las Vegas, and reflect upon the world in which we live. I never got to see Miles Davis or Dave Brubeck play, though they were both younger than John Lee Hooker, whom I once saw perform in San Francisco. I had my chance to see those jazz masters, but I’m sure that I was distracted. What were the distractions? A lifetime ago, they might have been television shows or New Yorker cartoons or some other combination of pixels: the ephemera of our digital age. Eventually, I would resolve to become less distractible, perhaps learning a lesson from Jack Kerouac: “Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.”

Saturday comedian Paula Poundstone told a Vacaville audience that she wonders sometimes if she will soon wake up from a bizarre and frightening nightmare, meaning the strange world in which we live. Older even than me, most of the NPR-addicted audience nodded in agreement and understanding. When I was a teenager, my friends and I told “Bedtime for Bonzo” jokes when the former actor Ronald Reagan was inaugurated several miles from my childhood home of Washington D.C., but at least we had to acknowledge that he had once governed a populous state out west. You Californians had vetted him.

Trump had no such experience, and he has proved to be just as isolated and underprepared as we might have feared. Because President Trump hasn’t the help of an administration that is completely staffed, principled, or sufficiently experienced, Trump’s callow and unscrupulous machinations are reshaping our government in ways that daily heighten our anxiety and concern. When one thinks of the president’s days-long pause before beginning to mobilize help for people of Puerto Rico (who, notably, do not participate in the Electoral College), or when one considers his use of Twitter to insult past presidents and to undermine his own Secretary of State’s attempts to de-escalate the war of words and threats with North Korea, one can’t help but be alarmed.

Whether our anxieties are sparked by Donald Trump or by calamities and tragedies in the news, we each cope with our resulting worries in different ways, perhaps legal or illegal drugs, therapy sessions, or long walks in the UC Davis Arboretum. I posit that at a time like this we should find comfort in the arts. In my poetry seminar this past Friday, my students and I discussed Walter Pater’s assertion that “All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music”; after hearing early Miles Davis for an hour or two, I understand better what Pater meant. Such music elevates the soul and the sensibilities, reminding one of those forces and influences in the world that seek to counterbalance the crudity evidenced in contemporary politics, and the sadness that results from disasters caused by nature or by man. For me, poetry also works this sort of magic, whether it be a beloved classic from Shakespeare, Lord Byron, T.S. Eliot, Elizabeth Bishop, or Langston Hughes, or something fresh and surprising by a living poet; for example, the spoken-word maestro Fong Tran performs in Davis at the John Natsoulas Gallery on October 5th, while the older Pulitzer Prize-winner W.S. Merwin still turns out amazing and understated masterpieces. Such poetic comfort, discovery, or re-discovery helps us center our thinking, and reflect upon the emotional truths that uplift and endure outside the battling choleric angers and mind-numbing tragedies of our age.

I know or know of storm-ravaged American citizens in Puerto Rico, grieving families in Las Vegas, a forlorn librarian in Portland, and a mom here in Davis who are struggling, who are suffering this week. Many of them are not ready to let in a song or a poem, much less to visit a museum or watch a documentary. The timing or the intensity of their struggles precludes the receptivity and calm needed to receive musical or poetic magic. As the Indian proverb says, “A healthy person has many wishes, but the sick person has only one.” That said, the arts remain for us, ready to help us imagine or eventually make our many wishes.

After telling us about her metaphorical nightmare from which she sometimes wishes she could awaken, Paula Poundstone told us that nevertheless she hoped she wouldn’t wake up until after her conversation with the audience in Vacaville. She recognized the power of performance, and of humor: these were her gifts to us. An obsessive talker, Poundstone also treasured having interlocutors with whom she could share her ideas, her idiosyncrasies, and her comedic reflections on the challenges we all face. Like some candidates for president, cable news is meant to alarm us about an incipient threat, something that would keep us agitated and wanting more, either more reassurance, or more actionable information. By contrast, art, music, and poetry aspire towards the condition of permanency, something outside this era of widespread instability, tribulation, and mourning.

Insofar as they discourage cell phone use and encourage commune, a pub quiz or a poetry reading might just present you a moment of relief from the savage burdens of time, a distraction from the smoke in the air, and the restive and blustery winds that are shaking and emptying our trees in the first weeks of autumn. Join me for such a communal escape this week so that, with a bit of distraction and artistry, I might just be able to help you carry your psychic load.


Tonight’s Pub Quiz will feature questions on some of the topics raised above. Expect also questions on the following: The U.S. Constitution, Emily Dickinson, former Pub Quiz champions, ethical codes, innovators, local basketball teams, last words, kite flying, polls of Brits, difficult starts, fancy clocks, gold stars, understanding conflict, sciences with multiple paradigms, differences from Manhattan, CEOs, Allen Ginsberg, Italian capitals, leaders, unforgettable strolls, physics, eternal rhymes, notable tears, Yoda, Sicily, boa hurricanes, pit bulls, human anatomy, Walt Whitman, really unusual words, constants, Tom Petty, and Shakespeare.

The winds are due to die down by the time the Pub Quiz starts at 7 this evening. I hope you will join us!


Your Quizmaster


Here are three questions from last week’s quiz:


  1. Another Film Question. Grossing over half a billion dollars domestically, what are the six words in the title of the top-grossing film released in the last 365 days?      


  1. Science: The Dining Habits of Raccoons. At 40%, which of the following makes up the largest percentage of a raccoon’s diet? Invertebrates, Plants, or Vertebrates.  


  1. Books and Authors. Ezra Jack Keats earned the Caldecott Award for his 1962 children’s book about a boy named Peter exploring his neighborhood after the first snowfall of the season. What are the three words in the title of the book?  


P.S. Please visit to see who we have featuring at the John Natsoulas Gallery this coming Thursday night at 8. View the video presentation of his poem “White Hipsters.” Tran is an accomplished performer who deserves our attention.

Indians Welcome to Alcatraz

Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,

The most poignant part of our family trip to Alcatraz yesterday was listening to the audio of what the C and D Block convicts would have heard on New Year’s Eve. On that west side of the island, the cells were warmer, and the sea breezes would bring in sounds of celebration and jollity from the nearby St Francis Yacht Club, less than two miles from the prison. Especially on New Year’s Eve one would hear champagne glasses clinking, fireworks exploding and, the most desperate sound of all, women’s laughter, traveling across the frozen waters of the San Francisco Bay.

Whereas the size of the cells, five feet by nine feet, meant that each convict got his own room (meaning some privacy and fewer incidental assaults), this also meant that the isolation took a heavy toll on the “numbers” there (the incarcerated were not referred to by name). In the early years of the prison, the convicts were not allowed to speak to one another except during meals and in the recreation yard. Some used More code to reach out to others. In the later years, isolation in a pitch-black cell waited for those who broke the rules. One convict told the story of closing his eyes tight in a dark cell until he saw a light, transforming the hallucinated light into a TV screen, and then watching TV shows of his own invention while crouching on the concrete floors of D-Block isolation cells. As Voltaire said, “Optimism is the madness of insisting that all is well when we are miserable.”

Need one be imprisoned to feel as these convicts have? Poets have explored this theme, revealing psychological truths that returned to me during my time in prison yesterday. In his poem “London,” William Blake wrote famously of the social and mental limitations to which we have all become accustomed:


In every cry of every Man,

In every Infants cry of fear,

In every voice: in every ban,

The mind-forg’d manacles I hear.


How many people you know, how many of us, wear mind-forg’d manacles?

As I walked through the Alcatraz cell blocks yesterday, many of them familiar to me from the 1979 Clint Eastwood film Escape from Alcatraz, I kept hearing in my head two relevant sections from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land:


After the agony in stony places      

The shouting and the crying          

Prison and place and reverberation          

Of thunder of spring over distant mountains      

He who was living is now dead      

We who were living are now dying

With a little patience


And my favorite:


I have heard the key

Turn in the door once and turn once only

We think of the key, each in his prison     

Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison


One can’t un-visit Alcatraz after the first visit, as this was for me. Our imagined extended stays there reshape us, and perhaps make us grateful for the influences we’ve enjoyed, and the choices we’ve made. On the other hand, after such a visit, one doesn’t need to hear a distant woman’s new year’s eve laughter or read a poem by T.S. Eliot to understand desolate metaphors for isolation.

Confucius said, “There are three methods to gaining wisdom. The first is reflection, which is the highest. The second is limitation, which is the easiest. The third is experience, which is the bitterest.” I hope sufficient reflection might help you shake off whatever “mind-forg’d manacles” are limiting you today.


In addition to topics raised above, tonight’s Pub Quiz will cover the following: unusual draft picks, strong records, Russian farms, inadvisable flights, the habits of DJs, neighborhood explorations in a red cowl, religious festivals, real names of millionaires, a bandit’s diet, stories about rebels, knights named Ivan, Jane Seymour, famous birds, the minds of the incarcerated, grateful emergences, biology basics, dancing musicians, New Orleans exports, “reality,” months on the calendar, checkbook comparisons, Firestones, iterations of pop, admirable bends, where Diego went, Bruce Lee, media matters, the United Nations General Assembly, light switches, and Shakespeare.

If you are the first person to show me evidence that you have recruited a new team – yours or another group’s – to join us at the Pub Quiz this evening, I will spring for a delightful serving of pub chips, perhaps with curry ketchup and the gravy on the side. See you tonight!


Your Quizmaster


Here are three questions from last week’s quiz:


  1. UC Davis Chancellors. You may or may not know the last name of the new Chancellor at UC Davis. Name him.  


  1. Pop Culture – Television.   The first season of what superhero TV show featured the following actors? Mike Colter, Mahershala Ali, and Simone Missick.  


  1. Another Music Question. Who sang her songs “Love Drought” and “Sandcastles” at the most recent Grammy Awards ceremony, in February of 2017?  


Set of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf


Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,

There are four giants of 20th century American theatre who are also huge figures in American literature: Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Edward Albee. Sometimes added to this list are Sam Shepard, who died in July, as well as August Wilson, Lorraine Hansberry, David Mamet, and Amiri Baraka. As someone who has read and studied plays by all these playwrights, I have come to learn that if you ever have a chance to see a play by one of these American masters, you go.

I met Edward Albee only once. He came to UC Davis 13 years ago, and stopped by Sproul Hall to talk to a small group of professors and graduate students. The iconic playwright was gruff and a bit impatient, as I discovered when I asked him an informed question. He spent a few uncomfortable minutes interrogating me back with his own questions, perhaps to discourage the others from pressing him as I had. Before an audience of my departmental colleagues and mentors, Albee and I talked about his being awarded the Margo Jones Award for the advancement of American Theatre (which my dad also won), and about the local theatre scene, including plays I had recently seen at the B Street Theatre in Sacramento.

Fast forward a decade and a half, and B Street has just launched its first Albee production, the ambitious Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? My wife Kate and some friends and I got to attend the opening night performance this past Sunday, and dine and chat with the director and some of the cast. We talked about Albee and this play, but also about the seemingly decade-long plans to open a brand new B Street Theatre in the almost-finished the Sofia Tsakopoulos Center for the Arts at 27th and Capital Avenue, a block from historic Sutter’s Fort, and near a great number of fortunate restaurants and coffee shops.

Having been a subscriber at the B Street since before I moved to Davis in the late 1990s, I am certainly partial, but we just loved this production. I was reminded all over again of the impact of watching a world-class play, in this case, one that won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award and the 1963 Tony Award for Best Play. It was considered too controversial to be presented the Pulitzer. The favorite play by director Dave Pierini, this production reminded me of a Greek tragedy in its conflicts, revealed secrets, and intensity, but with lots of laughs and intrigue along the way. The substance, complexity, and payoff of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? are symphonic, leaving one amazed and intrigued, even the next day.

The two leads, Kurt Johnson and Elizabeth Nunziato, have more B Street productions under their belts than the rest of the company combined, and their experience really shows, convincingly inhabiting their roles as they exchange lines such as these:

Martha: Truth or illusion, George; you don’t know the difference.

George: No, but we must carry on as though we did.

Martha: Amen.

Great actors do indeed find truths to share in the communally fabricated illusions of a play. Taken up by the intensity of this production, I couldn’t help but (positively) compare Johnson and Nunziato’s portrayals of George and Martha to those of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, the B Street production offering somewhat more subtlety and somewhat fewer broken dishes than in the Mike Nichols film, nominated for thirteen Academy Awards, in every eligible category.

The psychologically gladiatorial combat between George and Martha provides the play its ruthless power, as well as some of its best lines. Jason Kuykendall and Dana Brooke co-star as Nick and Honey, the audience for and recipients of some of the older couple’s derision and academically-informed wordplay (George and Nick are history and biology professors, respectively). As an actor, Kuykendall in particular has really matured, his characterization becoming necessarily deeper than other roles given him in recent years, such as that of often shirtless Spike in the B Street production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Dana Brooke does a fine job letting her boozy expressions and tremulous voice reveal her growing understanding of the play’s dark narratives and startling enigmas.

The play’s tone alternates between comical and brutal, but at the end I found the play to be cathartic and appropriately exhausting. The friends with whom we saw the play harbored none of our preformulated positive biases, but still loved the play as much as we did, one of them writing this: “Amazing. If you’re anywhere near Sacramento and can spare 3+ hours, I strongly recommend it.” I understand that enthusiasm, and share the recommendation. If you have a chance, go see Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” showing at the B Street Theatre in Sacramento until October 29th.


Tonight’s Pub Quiz will feature questions about some of the topics raised above, as well as about maritime travel, favorite channels, chiefs, deltas and gulfs, Academy Awards, piano instruction, breaking one’s own record, social media, people named Rousseau, delightfully cute meerkats, picking out the American actors, fabrications, advertisements, normalizations, Italian job titles, marines, people named Simone, American heroes, UC Davis, antlers and shoes, famous couples, those Russians, current events, American football, murderousness, fast runners, people named Jones, Batman, chairmen, Frenchmen who may not be French, about five other topics yet to be named, and Shakespeare.

See you tonight at 7 for our own show!

Your Quizmaster


Here are four questions from last week’s quiz:

  1. Irish Culture. What Irish actor starred both in the big-budget epic Alexander and the dystopian black comedy The Lobster?  
  2. Countries of the World.  What is the most populous Province in Canada?  
  3. Local Libraries. After what UC Davis founder was the primary library building at UC Davis named? Last name is sufficient.      
  4. Science.  The lightest of all the metals (an alkali metal) has an atomic number of three. What is it?  


P.S. Poetry Night (with Lisa Abraham and Denise Lichtig) is Thursday. Have you joined the Poetry in Davis Facebook group? Sometimes I sneak clues in there, as well.

A lot of books


Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,

I spent a few hours in the Davis Public Library with my son Jukie on Saturday. Sitting at a high table back in the “Friends Book Sale” area, I could see down the aisles of books and audio books to the library entrance and the checkout desk, both hubs of activity. A Sacramento City College professor I know came almost to our table, looking at books and magazines, and then made a turn and thus didn’t see me or Jukie (whom I have taught to keep silent in this Mecca of books). I saw a mom checking out out a pile of books for her ten-year-old daughter, who suddenly felt compelled to turn around to give her mom a long hug, even before the mom could get out her library card. The librarian waited patiently.

On Sunday morning, I wrote most of the pub quiz without the help of internet access, for I was sitting at a shaded picnic table in Arroyo Park while Jukie frolicked on the play structures, sometimes giving pause to the smaller children. Nearby a soccer coach was teaching a team full of tweens how to make “crisp” passes to their teammates. Occasionally earbud joggers would lumber past, some of them carrying their water in various plastic containers, either strapped to their hips or nestled in their loose grips.

Surrounded by halcyon scenes of learning, prosperity, and calm, I couldn’t help but think of the libraries in Houston and other cities drowned by Hurricane Harvey, with the water in some places not measured in inches or even feet, but in storeys of buildings. Some residents were told not to congregate in their attics, but instead to gather on their roofs to await rescue by the Coast Guard or other emergency personnel or, even more likely, by fellow Texans who might have lost their homes, but not their flat-bottom power boats. I learned from news coverage that one can survive being trapped in a flooding vehicle by opening the window, not the door, and then swimming out of one’s car.

Sunday Margaret Atwood tweeted her concern for all in Florida, singling out her friends at the @MiamiBookFair and the @MiamiPublicLibrary. So many books were lost in recent weeks in Texas, and so many over the last couple days in Florida, along with the homes, historic buildings, pets, and their owners. After Katrina, some schoolchildren never returned to their flooded schools, and even missed an entire year of instruction. I was thinking of these storm-surged disasters and their victims while typing peacefully in our public library, or watching Jukie swing on the swings. How different these scenes would be if they were submerged in six feet of water, or if they were battered by a 12-foot storm surge.

Last week as we listened to Hurricane Harvey coverage on NPR, I told Truman that if such a storm were to visit Davis, I would grab Kate and the kids, my backpack (with laptop), my Kindle, and our wedding album. Truman said he would grab his GrandDavey’s favorite bowler hat, and the Roald Dahl bookmark that had kept his place in so many books, including the Harry Potter books. Speaking of books, Kate said that she would grab the book I presented to her on our anniversary Thursday, a collection of 25 new and original love poems, one for each year of our marriage. When our public libraries are threatened, we might all consider what books we would reach for in a time of disaster. In this disaster scenario that we were imagining in the car last week, I see that, even if we remembered to bring our phone chargers, clearly there would be lots of reading going on in all those evacuation centers!

The need is great on this national remembrance day, and the federal leadership is suspect, so all of us should consider how we might help those in need. Like me, I hope you are considering making a donation for Harvey or Irma hurricane relief.


In addition to the topics raised above, expect questions on the following topics: Tuesdays, national mottos, heaths, book markets, osteoporosis, actresses, Canada, dystopias, rakes, black comedies, challenging anagrams, Rubies in 1950, biopics, people named Shonda, books about pants, major mistakes, rhombi, rockets, yarn, little women and big women, names with three and a half vowels in them, people who moved to London, the help of Ken Jennings, identical one-word song titles, best friends, simultaneous threats, years that end with a 4, the initiation of mock joy, geese, the National Weather Service, mountain sports, lonely souls in 1942, pregnancies, cities in California, extortion, disaster days, film pioneers, green fields, storm surges, and Shakespeare.

And I hope you and your teammates can join us this evening. I can’t do the Pub Quiz without you!


Your Quizmaster


Here are three questions from last week’s quiz:


  1. Current Events – Names in the News.  Of all the current U.S. governors, only the governor of Texas has a last name that starts with an A. What is that last name? 


  1. Sports.  From 1996-2010, what wide receiver holds the record for the most seasons with four or more touchdowns, at 15? 


  1. Shakespeare.   Later this month the Davis Shakespeare Ensemble is presenting a production of a popular Shakespeare comedy that includes the characters Robin Starveling, Francis Flute, and Tom Snout. Name the play.  



P.S. “There is no chance, no destiny, no fate, that can circumvent or hinder or control the firm resolve of a determined soul.” Ella Wheeler Wilcox



Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,

This week marks the 30th anniversary of my meeting my wife Kate in London, and the 25th anniversary of our Labor Day marriage. With this in mind, I have been reflecting with wonder on the people we were all those years ago, and on the people we are today.

In the 1980s, I faced many of the same educational and vocational insecurities that my UC Davis students face today, with troubling questions about what I would do and how I would make a living hanging heavy over my plans. While my parents paid for my undergraduate tuition, I was on my own for graduate school, and rightfully so. I moved from my childhood home in Washington DC and my college “home” of Boston to California so I could start reading the books necessary to begin graduate studies in English. I also needed to become a Californian in order somehow to afford attending a UC.

English majors and poets are familiar with poverty, and so it was with me, but Berkeley libraries and the running hills above North Berkeley where I lived provided me the intellectual and recreational resources that I needed to sustain my uncluttered life of reading and running. Owning no television or computer, I read and listened to classical music every evening that I wasn’t out with friends. As the philosopher Immanuel Kant says, “We are not rich by what we possess but by what we can do without,” and found I could do without a lot.

But I found it difficult to convince others, such as my future bride, living a comfortable life in Illinois, that I had the prospects that would attract an A-list partner such as herself. Kant might have been right about the psychological and intellectual freedom that can come with studious penury, but one can’t pay a mortgage with philosophical truths. As the late poet John Ashbery said, “What is the past, what is it all for? A mental sandwich?”

If one fast-forwards a few decades, I am overjoyed to say that I have found a bride who also doesn’t elevate the material over the familial or the psychological. With a home, jobs, and a family in Davis, we are comfortable enough to help pay for my daughter Geneva’s college costs, and dine out regularly at our favorite Irish Pub. Even more importantly, we fill our days with support, affection, and laughter, as well as time spent with our three kids.

Our needs are still relatively simple. Kate has a ring and a Vespa and wireless headphones, and I will take her and the boys on an additional trip or two this fall. The question presents itself, then: What is the best silver anniversary present for the wife of a poet? The obvious answer is a poem, so I have been searching my heart and rejecting inapt word choices and images. If my task is a poem, let’s just say that I am ready for Thursday, the 7th of September.

At the end of a long and happy life, one is lucky to have family and community of friends, all audiences for great stories. As an essayist and photographer, Kate also offers me and our beloveds a wonderful record of the love we have and share, while I can offer a number of poems that seek to capture a moment’s emotional richness or yearning. As John Ashbery suggested, the poet endeavors to discover if “Sometimes a musical phrase would perfectly sum up / The mood of a moment.”

With these artistic gifts, such as the ones I was developing like a craftsman during my year of studious and literary poverty, poets and other creative professionals can also seek to mythologize the past and the present, creating memories that are so supported with creative works that they are not likely to be dislodged from our private emotional or physical libraries. To put all that more plainly, I have made a vocational life from writing and talking to others about writing, and after 25 years of gratitude, I feel lucky that I can offer Kate celebratory words, a poem or two, that indicate my love and esteem more fully than a thousand ephemeral baubles.

Happy Silver Anniversary, Kate!


In addition to the topics raised above, tonight expect questions on the following: the Mid West, entire sectors that were saved by Republican closet poet Dana Gioia, Twitter, the deep south, best-selling authors, twins, W.E.B. DuBois, bacon, the Choctaw, people named after woodwinds, touchdowns, sites of conflict, mirrors, Texas, Jim Gaffigan, fearful symmetry, jewelry from India, twins, Goliath, monthly rental costs in Euros, hilarity ensuing for three weeks, the demands of Methodists, birds in peril, the letter B, American states, big cities, glib bookings, popular daddy figures, six of ten, unforgotten dignity, whatever CW might stand for, unfurled flags, small streams, white gloves at rest, Houston by the numbers, Stephen King, and Shakespeare.

Welcome to September and, for many players, a new lease in Davis. With all the new puzzling intellects in town, I hope you will invite friends to join your team or to form their own, for we like to keep the pub filled and the competition lively. We also need new subscribers to the newsletter to take the place of those who have moved out of town. Please direct such people to to sign up for this free weekly missive.

See you tonight!


Your Quizmaster


Here are three questions from last week’s quiz:

  1. Film. What is the title of the 2017 Amy Schumer / Goldie Hawn film in which a mother and daughter are kidnapped while vacationing in South America?
  2. Name the State. Buddy Holly died in the same mid-western U.S. state where John Wayne and Buffalo Bill Cody were born. Name the state. 
  3. Science. What six-letter plural word completes this definition? Phytochemicals are chemicals derived from WHAT? 


P.S. Poetry Night continues this coming Thursday, September 7th (a holy day for me). Come see Nancy Aidé Gonzalez and Cathy Arellano at the John Natsoulas Gallery. James Lee Jobe will be the guest-host while I spend some time with Kate.