Sunday, November 16, 2008

Project Dylan: Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964)

For a long time I thought Bringing it All Back Home was the next album after The Times They Are A-Changin’. I knew the title of Another Side, but I thought it was from somewhere in the uneven early 70s stretch of Dylan output and so avoided it.

When I finally got it sorted out, not only did I repent of my earlier avoidance, it answered many questions I had about classic songs that I knew were from Dylan’s prime but that I couldn’t place on any of the albums I knew about. “My Back Pages” would be chief among these. That song, and this whole album in general, seems like a repudiation of the topical political tone of the album that preceded it: Good and bad, I define these terms/Quite clear, no doubt, somehow./Ah, but I was so much older then,/I'm younger than that now. Dylan isn’t disavowing his positions here, but instead signaling a turn into a realm of inner exploration.

And indeed, political commentary does show up in the songs here, but shot through with humor and satire. In fact, there are three tracks on the album that would qualify for my fantasy “Dylan cracks up” play list, songs in which he can’t quite deliver a line straight and ends up laughing.

Overall, the sense the album conveys is one of restless rambling through his range, from an “I Shall be Free No. 10” that could have fit on Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan to the surreal “Motorpsycho Nitemare” that’s like a preview of the next three albums. Along the way, we get the poetic blues of “Black Crow Blues”, the folk ballad “Ramona”, one of the classic bitter breakup songs (and is he breaking up with just Joan Baez here, or the folk scene in general?) “It Ain’t Me Babe” and one of my all-time favorites, the aching romantic searching of the “Spanish Harlem Incident”: I am homeless, come and take me/Into reach of your rattling drums./Let me know, babe, about my fortune/Down along my restless palms.

It’s almost like Dylan is surveying the ground he built up in his first three albums, and trying to spy the direction for a bold new breakout. Which will bring us to our next review…

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Project Dylan: The Time They Are A-Changin’ (1964)

This was my favorite Dylan album when I was 20. It’s easy now for me to see why- the album is full of anthems, stirring statements about the issues of the day, with good and evil clearly drawn in black and white. Granted the day was more than twenty-five years old by the time I got to it, but in the era of Rodney King and the first Gulf War it rang just as true. You never doubt who’s side you’re supposed to be on in “Only a Pawn in Their Game”, “With God On Our Side” or “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” and I needed that conviction, along with the certainty that right will eventually prevail that the title track conveys.

Listening to it now, I’m stuck by the poignancy of that song. The times had changed after he wrote it, and then changed back by the time I first listened to it. And since then they changed and changed back and may now be changing back again. The song itself hints at the humility that comes form a long historical view: “don't speak too soon/ For the wheel's still in spin/ And there's no tellin' who/That it's namin'/ For the loser now/ Will be later to win” And then win and lose again.

Which is not to say, even now, that I’m immune to the prophetic notion that the time is at hand and the order is about to be fundamentally recast. And anyone who has ever burned with the sense that their time will come can’t help but respond to the bitter defiance of “When the Ship Comes In” (which Dylan himself wrote after being snubbed by a hotel clerk while touring with the then much more famous Joan Baez). But it’s the more personal moments of this album that endure for me now.

Whereas the relationship songs on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan have a kind of pro-forma quality, the real feeling behind “Boots of Spanish Leather” and “One Too Many Mornings” is obvious and moving. As is the sound of the man beginning to struggle against the constrictions of his own public image in “Restless Farewell”. On “North Country Blues” the politics is still there, but subsumed by the personal in the story of the bleak lives of those left behind in a small mining town when the business moves south of the border. And then there’s the “Ballad of Hollis Brown”. The spareness, poetry and driving power of the song that ends with seven shots ringing out “like the ocean’s pounding roar” wowed me when I was twenty and continues to do so today.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

San Francisco Daze: September

Here's the next installment of San Francisco Daze, a series of (aspirationaly, at least) daily sketches of life in our fair city that I wrote in 2005. This one is actually sets off in Salinas, since I was there for my brother's funeral. Hard to believe that was three years ago. It both seems like a numb million years ago and a piercing just yesterday. *************************************************

September 1

Mortuary in Salinas. Wood panels. Felt. Old furniture. Subdued lighting. Everything designed to keep hysterical people controlled and calmed. It’s both comforting and stifling. I depart in the backseat of my dad’s truck with a golden plastic casket on my lap. Inside are my brother’s ashes, which they transferred into the box, along with an inscribed Bible from dad and a note from me, before they sealed it. This is all such strange business.

September 2

We buried Josh
this liquid gray foggy morning
at the small cemetery in Moss Landing.
The minister from my Mom’s church
sang Amazing Grace
as a striped seabird squawked and alighted nearby.
A small black and white cat
from the weeds of the windswept field
just one dune down
from the ocean.

September 3-5

Nothing but foggy day naps with cats.

September 6

Clement Street, between 11th & 12th
Police motorcycle, lights flashing blue-white-red
Parked next to Linen Outlet
12th Avenue, between Clement & Geary
Motorcycle cop, big and tough in black leather
Pulls over little gray Japanese car
Geary Avenue, corner with 12th
Two police bikes have pulled over two cars
Another hums up the street past me
Policeman suspiciously eyeing the green Perrier bottle
I drink from a brown paper bag
11th Avenue, just before it crosses Geary
Three police motorcycles pull up to the corner
Geary, on the bus now, passing 10th Avenue
Police bike, lights blazing, roars past us
Why do I fear this symmetry?

September 7

The square green park
between Jackson & Front Streets
was full of birds
Unseen squawks, chirps, twitters
all seethed from the dark green spaces
in the trees
A sea of sound
washed out
my thoughts of my brother
and brought me back to life
Which insists on going on
No matter how unwelcome it is

September 8

Whoever did the clouds today really outdid themselves. There were layers on liquid gray layers. Big puffy white cauliflower. Brooding gray that seemed ready to let loose with some serious rain. Yellow orange highlights on fast moving cumulus as the sun set. Well done, mystery cloud maker. Well done.

September 9

On the Way to My Brother’s Memorial

Cal Train slides past
Twisted scrap heap of junked cars
Rusted loading cranes
Graffitied warehouses and squat buildings
With chimneys smoking
Wooden piers rotting
In brackish waterways
Water in the distance
The color of steel
Weird scenes
On the leeward side of the Bay

September 10-11

Saturday was Memorial Day for Josh. Rain clouds scuttled across the underbelly of the vault of heaven, thick, gray and fast. The bright sunny day above and beyond the clouds drove shafts of sunlight down like the voice of God, intermittently lighting up the floor of the Salinas Valley.

September 12

At first glance, nothing seemed off. She wore jeans, and a fuzzy sweat-jacket, zipped all the way up. Her hair, black flecked with gray, was pulled back from her face, and neatly kept. It was the glare in her eyes that gave it away. By the time I spotted that, it was too late. I was sitting in the seat one over from hers.

“Don’t look over here bitch! Keep your damn eyes to yourself. Don’t look at me! It’s your own damn fault, living the life you been livin’. Don’t look at me, bitch! You won’t be laughing when he puts the rag around the barrel of the gun. I gotta get outta here. I can’t stand she keeps looking at me.”

I and two cute brown haired girls in jeans and brown jackets kept our eyes focused rigidly forward. But she didn’t seem to be addressing any of us. Her rant was directed deep into the distance of the bus, or even out the window. And then she was gone. “Did you record all that for posterity?” asked the tall blond guy in the white work shirt opposite me.

September 13

Written in my notebook, not in my handwriting:

Christy White Productions limelight products

Did it happen when I was out with my writing group at Trader Sam’s? If so, who wrote it? Someone in the bar? Someone from my writing group? Admittedly, my memory of the evening is somewhat fragmentary, as they were showering me in Zombies as a form of grief therapy. So it certainly is possible. But what does it mean?

September 14

I sat on the rocky outcropping at the northwest corner of Baker Beach. The waves advanced in rolls of green and gray and blue and billowing brown flung out into white foam that crept a little further forward with each surge. I shared the waves with three birds. One some kind of little sandpiper that ran forward as each wave retreated, and dabbed his long bill into the wet bubbling sand. Then a big gray and brown seagull would occasionally charge the sandpiper away from what must have been some particularly tasty morsels. Finally, in the surf itself, a black bird with slick wet feathers, splayed legs ending in big webbed feet, and a bright orange beak bobbed up, over, and down each wave crest, except when he would turn over and dive straight down, popping up again a few feet away from his previous location. I loved all three, but him best of all.

September 15-18

Sierra County Weekend Hot Springs Vacation Observations:

A silver rental Honda. Good brakes! A CD player!
Double Cheeseburger at Jack in the Box on the way there (for shame, budding vegetarian, for shame).
The Sierra Valley, a big flat plain, fifteen or twenty miles on a side, surrounded by wooded mountains.
Pine trees like fingers, pointed straight up against the impossible steel blue of the sky.
The pleasantly drinkable surprise of Ginseng Cola at the main lodge.
The check-in man’s deadpan delivering about there being a quicksand pit in our room.
Giant acrylic folding screen adorned with peacocks in our sweet small room in the Globe Hotel.
Sitting in the Temple Pool, moonlight glittering through pentagon-shaped windows in the domed roof.
The fat wooden Buddha with one hand broken off.
Old friendly self-described redneck telling us about the rebirthers who used to run the place, and could also sometimes be found running around downtown in diapers with pacifiers.
The tantric couple practicing breathing, and possibly coupling, in the pool.
The female half of that couple, lean, with long curly black hair, floating.
The man equally dark curly haired, blowing bubbles while exhaling underwater.
Pale beauty of a girl with long curly golden hair floating in moonlight.
Her older companion (Mother? Lover?) doing the same.
All women, when floating, display round breast and thick bushy pubic mounds, beautiful and natural.
Comparing myself to every guy. Therefore I liked the chubby ones with small dicks the best.
Talking in the main pool naked with a Spanish girl who lived in Oakland, her visiting friend from Spain, and a gentle bald computer programmer from Berkeley.
The Spanish girl was nicknamed La Facista because of how radically anti-smoking she became after she quit.
Being shushed and asked to whisper by the groundskeeper’s long curly black and white beard.
Dos Hermanos for dinner the best Mexican food found 500 miles from the border.
The Roundup for breakfast, evenly divided by old ranchers with their silver hair, and out-of-towners in long hair and tie-dye.
Tuttenstein a cartoon about a friendly reanimated mummified pharaoh, and other weird weekend morning TV at the Roundup.
The coy gray and white cat at the Phoenix Baths.
The brown striped frog perched in a little notch next to the meditation pool.
Nearby, I played with Jen in the tents they’d set up to house the green vinyl massage tables. She played with me too.
A couple in the pool, consisting of a bald man, a thin and muscular 45 or so, and a brown-haired nubile woman who could not have been as old as 30. That fucker.
The smell, always the fat rotten egg smell, of the water.
Last night in the main pool, bodybuilder with the blonde with fake breasts talking about seeing satellites in the pristine night sky.
Three other girls shared the pool that night:
- a one legged amputee with a perfect butt
- a girl too shy to ease into the smaller pool, belly and breasts blazing with pregnancy
- sweet brown haired girl, body soft and curved with real womanhood
Their friend arrived later, lithe and bald with cancer treatment.
Jen meditating on the pool deck in absolute stillness and silence for 45 minutes.
A mother deer and faun, delicately picking out steps through the brush, seen from the deck of the pool.
The tree frog in the shower room two nights in a row.
Searching for dinner later, we found that in Truckee, no restaurant is open after 9:00 PM.
You can, however, eat chicken tenders and Fritos in the Safeway parking lot no matter what hour it is.
Grim little hotel in Loyalton on the second night, single beds in an L-shaped room keeping Jen and I apart.
The sweet Calico rubbing against my leg while being petted on the last morning there.
On that last morning, the big hairy mustachioed guy in the Meditation Pool reading Dune radiated subtle menace.
Approaching San Francisco from the East Bay on the way back, only Sutro tower visible above a bank of fog.
Midnight wine and pizza with Jen upon returning.

September 19

Fog and rising sun
The towers of downtown
Seen through a milky sky

Perfectly clear sky’s blue
fades to pink and white,
up on the hill
clustered around the spires of USF
huddled evergreens
lit in orange

September 20

Spiritual patterns of icy haze shown through the rippled gray and white sky today.

September 21

“He’s young, totally good, and sexy.”- overheard in the Front Room, corner of California and Larkin. Overhead from a gal who has that little bit too high, little bit too heliumed kind of voice. Short blond hair, professionally dressed in something cream or gray or taupe or something. Twirling the wine in her glass as she talks to a dude. Do I feel superior or am I green with envy? I see the chain of co-dependent origination rearing its ugly head. Thank Buddha I am sometimes in conscious contact with the process these days. Let Siddhartha be praised!

September 22

The clouds
skid across the city sky
this afternoon
like a solid sheet
of scalloped white

September 23

Never been so close to Sutro Tower.
All the homes stacked on each other, layer upon layer marching up the hill. Concentric circles of red, blue, yellow brown and white with windows glinty in the afternoon sun.
And at night they glow like clusters of sleeping fireflies. (Do fireflies glow when they sleep?) Atop them all, the tower, black outline sketched by moonlight, blinks its spires in regular patterns of red and white.

September 24

There’s something about the Love Parade.

The Love Parade is techno, techno, techno, a 90s that never ended.
The Love Parade is a woman in a giant vagina costume.
The Love Parade is cleavage showing midriff bearing girls, inscrutable in sunglasses.

The Love Parade walks on stilts.
The Love Parade wears leather.
The Love Parade dresses as a gladiator.

The Love Parade goes nude as a girl on a soundstage painted in silver.
The Love Parade goes nude by having its bountiful breasts visible under a fishnet top while playing drums.
The Love Parade goes nude as four old men stark naked in the hot sun.

Civic Center, swamped by the Love Parade this sunny Saturday, can no longer maintain its chastity.

September 25

Today, on the way there, I gazed at a telephone pole as I stood at the bus stop. It was thick from staples and pins from old flyers, rusted and painted over in light brown. On top of which were staples and pins from flyers, on which another layer of dark brown was painted. And then again. Layer on layer, month by month, year after year. Eras of rallies, bands, underground clubs, lost cats and art show openings leaving their sediment behind. What a beautiful city this is.

September 26

“I am a psychiatrist, and you both need serious medication!”- young woman exiting the 38BX this morning, after having chewed out a hapless young man who tried to keep her backpack from hitting him repeatedly in the face, and arguing with another woman until the word “bitch” erupted multiple times.

September 27-30
Four days vanished into the maw of overwork. Even though my birthday is one of them, there is no trace of the wonders they might have contained. On that day, I merely worked until 10:00 PM, came home and collapsed on the couch, and got up again for work the next morning.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Project Dylan: The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963)

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan occupies roughly the same place in my development as a music fan that the first nervous teenage toke of a joint does in the life of a future heroin addict. Every day after grade school I’d be alone all afternoon until my parents got home from work. My companions, in reverse order of influence, were cats, television, and mom and dad’s dusty old records. Over many an afternoon, my musical teeth were cut on repeated playing of the Beatles, the Stones, the Doors, Janis Joplin, CSNY, Simon & Garfunkle, and Bob Dylan. In particular this album by Dylan. Years later, when I finally forayed into the world of CDs, this was one of the first CDs I got as well, carting it off to college with me.

One of the chief problems with having put in more than a quarter century of listening to it is that I can hardly hear it anymore. I mean really hear it, beyond all the accretions of its place in my life, and history and indeed music history in general. Having tried to do that just now, I observe mostly how young an album it is. It’s the first one where Dylan is Dylan- in exact reverse of his debut Bob Dylan, it’s almost all originals, with only two covers. He’s stretching out and finding his voice here, and as a result his voice is all over the place- both literally and lyrically.

In traveling from the rough-hewn and timeless “Blowin in the Wind”, to the out and out absurd horsing around of “I Shall Be Free”, the overall sense I get is of a powerful car being taken for a test drive by a kid who doesn’t quite know how to drive it yet. So, for example, on “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” we find him in the emotional territory of the bitterness of failed relationship that he’ll mine extensively later, but he plays it too consciously jokey to really turn the knife. Or hear him having fun with the mythology of the Western plains on “Bob Dylan’s Blues” (Well, the Lone Ranger and Tonto/ They are ridin' down the line/ Fixin' ev'rybody's troubles/ Ev'rybody's 'cept mine/ Somebody musta tol' 'em/ That I was doin' fine) but not yet able to tap its genuine power as he later will with the Band.

On the tight corners that really matter though, he pulls out the bitter, poetic and razor-sharp focused “Masters of War”, the surging symbolic “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and the Swiftian satire of “Talking World War III Blues”. If he’d never recorded anything beyond these three songs, he’d already have surpassed the lifetime achievement of many another songwriter.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Introducing Project Dylan: Bob Dylan (1962)

For some time I've toyed with the notion of doing a thorough sequential review of all my Bob Dylan albums. I initially pictured it as a day-long project, possibly on my birthday, and definitely involving several cases of beer. That vision lost its luster when I stopped drinking (21 months last week, by the by!), but it never quite went away. It's occurred to me recently that I don't have to do it all in one day, and instead of involving drinking maybe it can involve the compulsive activity I still merrily engage in, writing. I could listen to all the albums sequentially, record my ruminations, and post them here. And instead of all in one day, maybe over a month or two. Why? I'm not sure exactly. Maybe reengaging with one of my four muses (the other three being Kerouac, Ginsberg and Cobain) will kick-start my poetic voice, which has been stalled of late. At the very least, it will exorcise the years-long idea from my head. So here, without further ado, launches Project Dylan...

For a long time, I didn't consider his first album, the eponymous Bob Dylan, to even be in the canon, properly speaking. After all, it's mostly interpretations of traditional songs, with only two originals. Over the years though, I got older, which means that I got less snooty, more appreciative of the influence of blues, folk and country on rock, and more hip in particular to their influence on the development of Dylan's vision. The real final straw though, was when the Sci-Fi Channel's multi-generational alien abduction miniseries, Taken, made excellent use of a Dylan song I'd never heard before being played in the background on a record player in a scene in which some nasty shit was going down.

Said song turned out to be Dylan's haunting version of Blind Lemon Jefferson's "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" from this album. On this song and many others here you'll hear Dylan's voice come across with a rawness and power that he rarely matches later. I think he was just too young to know any better- this is the sound of a young musician in his first recording laying it all on the line for the music that he loves. So, while his compositions here are interesting glimpses into proto-Dylan, it is definitely the covers that he pours his heart into. He got to a great "In My Time of Dyin'" thirteen years before Led Zeppelin, and "Man of Constant Sorrow" 38 years before the Cohen Brothers and George Clooney resurrected it. Another particular standout is "House of the Risin' Sun", which is made all the more arresting by the fact that Dylan sings it from the point of view of the young female prostitute who works there, rather than the dissolute young man who frequents it that Eric Burdon came at it from in the Animals' version.

All in all, if you're in the mood for a powerful, spare tour of Americana a la Dylan, Bob Dylan is a ride worth taking.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

September Writing News

It’s true there was no August news, but in my defense I was out of the country half the month. You can read more about reading (and seeing!) more about that below. Here’s the latest on my creative endeavors:

Film- Alas, the project I was writing for in this current round of independent film coop Scary Cow is on hold, and won’t make it in to this round. Perhaps it will next time, and perhaps I’ll even produce my own project for that round. Either way, I’ll let you know here what’s next.

Publication- I’m very excited to have just become a regular weekly contributor to the blog section of LEGENDmag, an online and offline publication covering the progressive urban independent lifestyle. You can read my first two postings here, and search my name on the site for future articles as well: is the first fruits of my pledge to submit something for publication to a different venue, print or online, every week for the rest of the year. Which is on track so far, and I fully intend to continue!

Performance- I once again performed melodramatic poetry from the age of sixteen onstage for Mortified ( August 23rd and 25th at the Makeout Room here is San Francisco. The show sold out both nights, which is particularly encouraging since it was on the same weekend as the Outside Lands Festival. This Friday I’m hoping to read a more thirtysomething era brand of poetry at the open mic after Poetry and Pizza at Escape From New York Pizza downtown. If that goes well, I may turn it in to a monthly occurrence.

Novel- My intrepid agent continues to represent my novel Out In The Neon Night to potential publishers. While nobody has said yes yet, they haven’t said no either. Stay tuned…

Blog- My blog has featured all kinds of things recently, including the latest installments from San Francisco Daze, a (nearly) daily reflection on life in San Francisco in prose and poetry form that I wrote in 2005, and reports from the road during the two-week trip to Peru that I took in August. You can read it all in any of the following three locations:,, And if you want to see the pictures from Peru, they’re on both Flickr and Picasa, so you can view them whether you’re a Yahoo! or a Googler:

I’ll be back with more in October!

Monday, September 01, 2008

San Francisco Daze: August

Here's August! And for those of you who see this at the end and didn't previously know, my younger brother Josh died in late August 2005, so that's what I'm referring to there. I still think about him every day...


August 1-4


August 5

Realizing at last that the demands of my job and being able to write like I need to were never going to co-exist, I gave notice today. And so was able to write:

fog lies on Twin Peaks
like white fleece
over broad dark shoulders

August 6

Saturday Afternoon Hanging With Baby Brother Blues

1:30 PM Riding in car to Salinas,
radio blasting NOFX
backseat choked with trash and books
2:00 PM Thai restaurant in Old Town
with my brother and his girlfriend
two beers and fried rice
4:15 PM Still here
time passes so slowly
even when you add water
5:10 PM Afternoon drags
in younger brother’s
fruitless phone quest
for a pot connection
5:30 PM Poolhall
jukebox not live
brother and girlfriend fighting
bad omens and foreboding
6:45 PM Jukebox finally in gear
and that makes me happy, but
her in tears
him drunk and sneering
is like an apocalypse
that no amount of Buddy Holly
can set right
7:20 PM Dropped off at Hartnell College
to meet my parents for a play
thank God, thank Jah,
Al’lah be praised
and please be with that little girl
I left back in the car with my brother

August 7

Seen from the platform, San Jose Diridon Caltrain Station, waiting for the train to go back home to San Francisco:

Bright, new
Orange, yellow & green
Unfurled Against
Huge rectangular building
Hardscrabble red bricks
Broken windows
With vague patina of dust

August 8-11

Four-day casualty to the work-week. But there are now a finite number of work weeks left, which makes all the difference.

August 12

Polk and Vallejo, biding time before meeting Jen for dinner at Pesce. Biding time at a Royal Grounds Coffee that I’ve never been to before. I’m so excited. It’s like visiting a new planet.

August 13

There is a giant concrete pier at the beach in Pacifica. Gray, it goes out into the ocean. Which is gray. Fading against a sky that is gray.

August 14

Punk Rock DJ at the 540 Club! Rock, rock, rock! Go daddy, go! I’m sitting here with an almost gone scotch on the rocks, nine days after giving notice. I’ve been sitting here grooving to the DJ in his yellow checkered Howdy Doody shirt and his oddly 50s wholesome sideburns and short wavy hair and updating the musical portions of the dream website that is one of the projects I can finally turn my attention to. Soon, America will be brought my favorite albums of all time, hardest rocking album of the year for each year since 1987, and 20 reasons that the 2000s might not suck. America needs these things. God bless the 540 Club, even with the smoke from the barbecue outside slightly stinging my eyes, for helping to bring this into being.

August 15-16

The record of life in the city on these days, she is not there.

August 17

The birthday party
at the art-hung Canvas Club
burst hard candy noise

August 18-24

Missing in hard labor and stay-at-home sniffles.

August 25

August eighteenth through twenty-fourth was lost in hard labor and stay-at-home sniffles. But it was worth it, as the date was set today. At the end of the first full week of October, I will walk into a new life.

August 26

Sneaking out of work early, I saw in the 4:30 PM sky a blue that was milky white and seemed to be hollow, a backdrop to glinting-window marble-bleached downtown.

August 27

I drove all over the East Bay with Jen today depositing the newspapers for her nonprofit’s annual Expo For The Artist & Musician in locales likely to be favored by the intelligent and arty. Wealthy wouldn’t hurt either, as the Expo is the main fundraiser for her organization. It was a crystal perfect day. The highlight of visiting oh so many venues was having lunch at a small café somewhere in the wild hinterlands between Emeryville and Oakland. They served us chili lathered cornbread waffles. Now I don’t want to eat anything else.

August 28

Having just heard the news about my brother, I lie on the rolled out futon in my living room, listening to the ringing jangly harmonies of the Byrds as birds and airplanes make trajectories across the sky visible from my balcony window.

August 29

I have rarely seen The Plough & The Stars so thoroughly depopulated. It was charming to find it so on this hot Monday afternoon, the slow turning of the ceiling fans just barely leavening the heat. Behind the counter, the ridiculously fresh-faced cute and curvy barmaid made quick jokes with a motley assortment of customers in her charming accent. On the chipped lacquered wood wall, a flyer announced the Friends of Sinn Fein Annual Golf Tournament. My neighborhood, I love her so.

August 30

One of the stops on the Cal Train line between San Francisco and Gilroy looks for all the world like a little mountain chalet. The buildings huddle together in a little dell, pointy roofs and brown shingles. A grove of dark green trees on the hill behind the village defines a horizon that is very near. I will, I think, get off there some day. The thought comforts me as I speed toward a meeting with my family prompted by bad news.

August 31

Waiting at Hollister airport today for my brother’s remains to come in from San Luis Obispo. Waiting in the fading early evening heat and dry rattling wind was the worst part. At last the small plane with its v-shaped tail landed. The handsome white haired man and his dog greeted us. He smiled sadly and shook my Dad’s hand and then mine before he handed it over. Despite my dread, which had been growing as we waited, it wasn’t like anything at all. Just a slightly heavy silvery tin box. That’s all. It could have been filled with gravel. It could have been anything.

San Francisco Daze: July

Catching up now with the July and August entries from San Francisco Daze, a series of daily vignettes on life in San Francisco that I wrote throughout 2005. Here's July, with August following right on it's heels...


July 1

July arrived with humidity, blazing blue, and butterflies floating in pairs above the mountain of flowers that is the base of Telegraph Hill.

July 2-4

The holiday weekend. I celebrated my independence by listening to rockabilly and writing, accompanied by the booming sound of the Marina fireworks in the distance. I couldn’t quite see them from my place— the hills and trees of the Presidio were jut a little too high. I must be further above sea level than I realize.

July 5

In Trader Sam’s tonight after the Writing Group, we saw a Japanese guy engaged in heavy conversation with a black guy with gold teeth. Later the same Japanese guy was dancing to Louie Armstrong with a blonde girl. Trader Sam’s, bizarre outer-avenues tiki bar of doom, oh how I love you.

July 6

International Café on Haight and Fillmore. Led Zeppelin III. Jen. Her ex. A Chilean named Maritza. And some Polish guy. Writing. All writing.

July 7

I’d like to think UFOs
Or signal fires
The flashes of orange
In late afternoon
On the brawny front of hills
Across the Bay to the east

July 8

Morning Commute Synchronicity Blues:

Guy cuts in front me
disheveled oily hair, with glasses
Homeless man dashes across the street
Shirtless smelly man in doorway,
belly overflowing,
shouts, “hey” to guy running across street
Mr. Disheveled looks back at me
just as my foot slips into rut
in sidewalk
I trip
Light changes
Right on cue
bus pulls up

July 9

Valencia Street, in Ritual Coffee Roasters, nearing 11:00 PM. Deep in the café that itself goes deeper into the block than one would suspect. Right wall lined with framed stuffed animals combined with various objects to produce gruesome chimera. Left wall featuring a series of paintings in which huge women’s dresses with little mechanical heads in different colors manifest starkly different moods. Back wall red. An enormous potted plant in the back, doubtless fake, curves up towards the 15 (or is it 20?) foot ceilings. From self same ceiling, light bulbs hang down from 10 to 15 foot long black plastic cords, incandescent spirals lighting their interiors. Conversation ebbs and flows, a sonic surface upon which ripples are caused by running water, squeaking doors and clattering spoons. The Rocky Road cookie, its crumbly remains now dusting the table, sinks deeper into my stomach.

July 10

Sunday morning brunch in the diner that time forgot. Aka Hamburger Haven, situated at a hidden location somewhere in the environs of greater Clement Street. Here the walls are red tiles and wood panels, the breakfast special is $2.99 and ceiling fans sluggishly beat back the summer. A waitress whose name might as well be “Margie” except that she’s Chinese pours coffee into a chipped white cup at my table. Everything smells smoky, which makes sense, since the grill is directly behind the counter. The whole place is at least 30 years out of date, and I have rarely felt more at home.

July 11

7-11! The city could have used a giant slurpie today as it was SO FREAKING HOT. Still in the 70s now at nearly 10:30 PM as I sit on the couch in underwear and a tee-shirt, typing to the uncomfortable feeling of my bare legs sweating under the hot laptop.

July 12

Abbey Tavern Blue
Writing with Jodie late night
Not such bad news

July 13

Pizza Orgasmica.
sipping a beer to calm nerves rattled by a twelve-hour work day.
Watching a video on the history of Maverick’s.
(It’s Surf Night at Orgasmica.)
Such gray-green magnificence.
I need to find a way to get in the water.

July 14

Second of two twelve-hour days
in the office
by work crew on road at night
white lights so bright
they made day out of
the huge square hole
excavated in the street.

July 15-16


July 17

Leaning against a tree in the sunny day of Yerba Buena Gardens, in front of the Metreon (but in the shade of the tree, and thus sheltered from the sun). There’s a light breeze, making it almost chilly in the shade. Light filters through the leaves of the trees and refracts off the grass is diamonds of green and blue. People are sitting, lying, napping, laughing, and talking. Full of joy in this earthbound paradise.

* * *

Now on the upper deck, where I have decided to take in the sun in the few minutes before I depart for the theatre. Yerba Buena Gardens. Damn it was well laid out. This deck itself is some sort of marvel of symmetry. And it (the whole park, in fact) faces dead-center. Saint Patrick’s, the old fashioned red brick Catholic church is directly across the way. The Metreon is on one side in aluminum glass glory. And on the other, in its own gleaming majesty, is Yerba Buena Center. My eyes feel droopy in the sun.

July 18-22

Agonistes II:
The Revenge

No, really? I really got down nothing of my life in San Francisco over a five day period because of work? For shame, for shame. I have got to get out of there!

July 23

“If there is a God, it’s an algorithm.”— Overheard in Blue Danube Cafe, on a summer Sunday afternoon.

If there is a God, you have to think that She loves this day just as much as I do.

She loves the squealing hydraulic hiss of the 2 Clement as it thumps to a stop in front of the café.
She loves the blinding gleam off of the dyed platinum hair of the woman who just walked by.
She loves the backwards facing beer logos on the banner outside through which the sun glows.
She loves the smell of bacon wafting through the café from who knows where.
She loves the goof-pot post-punk band playing from the speakers in the corners.
She loves the impressionistic paintings of snails and penguins hanging on the wall.
She loves the little wooden Indians holding back the overflow of books within the wooden carte bookcase against the wall.
She loves the sticky gummy black patches on the old brown carpet.
She loves the potted palm.
She loves the white haired old man in batik shirt talking to the computer geek who issued the quote above.
She loves the guy next to me, discussing his favorite science fiction shows and movies with me.
She loves the ice, glittering and melting at the bottom of my latte.

She loves me.
Writing it down.

July 24

Sitting in Ritual Coffee Roasters on Valencia Street, writing while waiting for David and Penny’s plays to begin at the Marsh. This follows Amoebapolloza last night. You almost don’t have to write a follow-up sentence to that, but for the record, that’s an annual event where the usually sullen and condescending staff of Amoeba Records actually get on stage and play music in various combinations. My sanity was systematically destroyed by the John Fogerty cover band, the tribute to Dolly Party, a New Wave ensemble in which a thin bald black guy sang Cure songs, the Postmodern Lovers (guess who they covered) and the tribute to Suicidal Tendencies, “Suicidal: The Musical”. Friday night I went to a screening of Washington Interns Gone Bad, a full-length indie-film produced by a guy formerly of Washington, D.C., and now of San Francisco. Thursday was the reading at Alibi Books, which will now be a monthly event. This is the best city in the world. So much art and creativity. Soon I will join the chorus.

July 25

This day was absconded with from work. Yee-haw! Phat beats in the neighborhood café, cartoon painting of a mer-man wearing a shirt and tie, girl behind the counter with her magnificent poof of curly brown hair, clear gray eyes, intriguingly slightly asymmetrical face and ring in her nose. Allah u akbar.

July 26

Cab Driver Into Work:
Young, black. Short hair and clean-shaven. Listening to jazz and talking about art and music- he loves the Queens of the Stone Age. Smart and friendly and funny. I love the ride.

Cab Driver Back From Work:
Young, white. Bushy hair with goatee and sideburns. Listening to radio talk show about Clear Channel’s attempt to block free San Francisco wi-fi and talking about the collective social good— he’s not sure we’ll make it another 50 years. Smart and friendly and funny. I love the ride.

July 27

The man on top of Telegraph Hill working on the balcony of a house dropped his vacuum cleaner attachment. He later scuttled down the hill to retrieve it. We hung out the windows of our office on Sansome Street and shouted directions and encouragement.

July 28

This is my Mexico City Blues except it’s San Francisco instead of Mexico City and not all are blues, or even poems. Still:

rolling over Financial District
this summer PM
made liquid layers
split in two
Transamerica Pyramid
Bank of America Tower
eddies in the stream
at 700 feet

July 28-31

These days stand blank in their mute nonwitness to what transpired therein.
Posted at 02:05 pm | | Leave a comme

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My Peru pictures are online

Come check them out! They’re on both Picasa and Flickr, so whether you’re a Yahoo! Or Google partisan, you can go wherever your brand loyalty leads you:

I’m glad to be able to share them!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Lima, city of traffic and fog

In the past two weeks I have flown over the desert in a light plane doing steep banks and turns, taken long distance buses on routes prone to plunging mountain cliffs and occassional robbery, and gone hiking through jungles known to house giant spiders and poisionous snakes. At no point was I as concerned for my safety as I was in taxis navigating the traffic of Lima today. Its really wild- it reminds me of visiting Shanghai when I was working in Hong Kong in 98/99, when it was all out of control boom and vehicles seemed to echolocate by constant honking.

That being said, and despite the fact that it was foggy and overcast for the entire day, I had a lovely time today. I started off at the Museo Larco Herrera, which has an outstanding collection of pre-Colombian artifacts. While the whole collection is impressive, the most popular part of the museum is the erotic art gallery that features pottery and sculpture capturing various and sundry sexual scenes. I learned that in ancient times men and women in Peru had sex. Who knew? Gods also apparently had sex with women, people had sex with skeletons and skeletons masturbated. Turns out skeletons are surprisingly well-endowed.

After that I went to the Monasterio de San Francisco, a Franciscan church with extensive catcombs beneath it. Something like 25,000 to 75,000 people are believed to be interred there. And then to Huaca Pucllana, an adobe pyramid smack-dab in the middel of the city that was expanded by successive cultures starting in 200 AD. That was my favorite activity for the day, among other things just for the sheer incongruity of being in an archealogical site and then looking up and seeing city all around.

Huaca Pucllana was on the edge of Miraflores, a well-off coastal neighborhood of Lima, so I took the opportunity to walk through there, ending up at the ocean. Lima, in its urban snarl, is not at all typical of the rest of Peru. Miraflores, in its comfortable affluence, is not at all representative of Lima. Im glad I apporached both at the end of my trip, it would have been very misleading and disorienting to see them at the beginning.

I finished with a very nice dinner on a cliff-side restaraunt in which I finally had the defintive Peruvian specialty dish, ceviche, seafood that is marinated and de facto cooked in lemon juice.

Sitting there looking out over a foogy ocean certainly got me nostalgic for home. Tomorrow morning Im going to the central cathedral, where Pizzaro is buried, and then have an afternoon flight home arriving in San Francisco around midnight. I look forward to returning to you all!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Welcome (and Adios) to the Jungle

Im back in Lima now after four days in the Amazon basin. I could say so many things about those four days that I think Im going to have to stick with highlights like:

- Taking an hour long bus ride from Puerto Maldonado to the port of Infierno (great name, isnt it?) and then going another hour upstream to get to the Explorers Inn Lodge.

- A room with mosquito nets, light only from candles, and a cold shower, which wasnt bad considering that it was around 85 degrees and humid even at midnight.

- Awakening every morning to the sound of Howler Monkeys.

- Getting up for a 10K hike through the jungle that started at 5:30 AM.

- Taking part in a Shamanistic ceremony in a jungle hut.

- Boat cruises at night to spot caiman (think crocodile, only slightly smaller) on the riverbanks.

- Complete darkness and jungle sounds every night.

- Sighting (and sounding) frogs, lizards, tarantulas, butterflies, several species of monkey and more tropical birds than you can name.

- Waking up in the jungle, taking the one hour boat ride and one hour bus ride in reverse, flying to two miles high in the Andes (we had a layover in Cuzco) and then being here by evening in a coastal city of 8 million- how is that even possible?

Speaking of here, 60 degrees and foggy, just like when I left 12 days ago! I guess it is a good way to get reacclimated for a return to San Francisco. I did my first ever proper Lima activity this evening, since on the way in I arrived and then took the the bus out the next morning without seeing anything. Said activity being visiting Chinatown. Which was a lot like any Chinatown anywhere in that it was bustling, had great food and was pervaded with stores crammed full of nick-knacks. One of my favorites was the silicone butt pad, for those looking for a more ample rear. Another highly idiosyncratic feature of this Chinatown was that some of the hottest selling items there, judging by how many stores they appeared in, are Bollywood movies and esoteric books on Yoga, Tarot, magic and the like.

Tomorrow Im going to spend the whole day looking around Lima, and then Im on a flight back on Sunday. So one more update, then Im home!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Cusco, Day IV: spending time with a Sexy Woman

Today was my most tourist day so far. I deliberately spent the morning being mostly lazy. I even browsed in many of the tourist traps shops in this neighborhood! In the name of neighborhood pride, though, I did go visit the Iglesia de San Blas, for which the area is named. Its a great little church and they even had an English audio guide that I could follow along with. It turns out to be the oldest church in Cusco, built in 1569, and was also the Popes favorite when he visitied Cusco back when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger. There were a lot of need things there, including an indian Christ on a crucifix with bendable limbs so that they can take him down and parade him around in a giant urn (a la the mummies of Inca kings) during an annual festival, a painting of Mary with coca leaves strewn at her feet, and a carved wooden altar with a skull at the top that is rumored to be from the artist who carved it. Once again bad news for Protestants, as the whole latar was supported on the backs of carved figures of Luther and other Reformation heretics.

In the afternoon I went on my tour, on a bus with 30 or so nice foreigners (50% Spaniards I think, some Germans, a French couple and a smattering of Americans) and our guide Carlos and his flag so that we could keep track of him. The tour went to one site in Cusco, and then headed up in to the hills for a series of four progressively higher Inca ruins.

The first of these was Saqsaywaman, which is pronounced like sack-say-wah-man, but in foriegner speak often ends up coming out "Sexy Woman". (Shame on all you salacious minds who thought something else- Abbey is the only sexy woman for me). Its on a hill overlooking Cusco and in fact was a key strategic point that the Spanish lost hold of and were nearly annihilated as a result during an uprising after their conquest. Even though only 20% of it remains, that 20% was plenty impressive.

We next went to Qénqo (which doesnt sound like anything amusing), which was a site devoted to astronomical observation and possibly mummification. Seeing the moon in the sky over the stones, and the large stone obelisk that creates a shadow in pre-arranged niches on the walls throughout the year got me all goosebumpy. It really wasn´t out of the question that I might grab a bone and start bashing it while howling, a la 2001.

Fortunately, I instead continued on to Pukapukara, which was a hill station that was one of the relays with shich Inca runners could bring messages (and seafood) from the coast to the mountains in a matter of days. And then we ended up at sunset at Tambomachay, at a whopping 3,765 meters (I hear thats roughly 11,200 feet to you and me). Springs are channeled through stone walls there, part of rites that used to be performed for the departed Inca emporers, with their mummies in attendance. We were advised to splash the water on our faces as it would keep us looking youthful forever, but not to drink it, since we might get diarrahea. Seems like theres always a side effect...

After that the bus wound up at a textile "factory" aka big tourist store, part of the commerical pitch that always gets included somewhere in these package tours. I remember this from Asia too! This was after having guest vendors board the bus between each stop selling their special wares. You have to admire the tenacity of their approach.

So that was my day as an official tourist. Tomorrow Im catching a morning flight to Puerto Maldonado, which is in the jungle near the Bolivian border. From there I´m on a four day jungle tour. I think of this as the downhill portion of my trip, both literally since Illl be back down at a nicely handleable 500 feet, and because all the big long haul extreme legs are over now. Not sure when Ill be able to write again. Well be staying at a lodge, which may have Internet, but then again its in the freaking jungle, so it may not. If now, you´ll hear from me next when Im back in Lima on Friday for the very last leg of the trip. Ill write when I can!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Machu Picchu: Trial by Fire (and mosquitos)

My day began with an "oh shit" at 5:55 AM, at which point I was awake, which was good, but seemed not have gotten up at my alarm going off at 5:15, which was bad in terms of getting to the station in time for the train to Machu Picchu.

I ended up getting out the door in 10 minutes, so I actually departed only 5 minutes later than I intended to, but considerably more flustered. Amazingly, I made it out with everything I really needed. Except sunscreen, on which more later. Some frantic searching for a taxi and a brief ride later I was at San Pedro station at roughly the planned 6:30 to line up for the 6:55 ride. The sene there was a little chaotic, some eople were in line to buy tickets and some had tickets and were in line to get on the train, except both groups were in one line and noone knew where to go.

I did end up on the train though, next to a lesbian osteopath from Vancouver, so all was well. What could not be well with a seatmate like that. Theres roughly a four hair train ride to Aguas Calientes, the small town at the base of the mountains that hold Machu Picchu. Incredible scenery along much of the way, narrow mountain passes, rushing rivers, that kind of thing. When we finally descended (to an elevation of 6500 feet, which, although high, is way down from Cusco) the landscape was whats known as "cloud forest", the very lush neo-tropical rainforest feed by the precipitation on the eastern side of the Andes).

Aguas Calientes itself was suprisingly confusing to navigate considering how small it is and that its only purpose in life is to send people to Machu Picchu. Some sweating and panic later I finally found my way to the bus that rumbles up the mountain to Machu Picchu via a series of narrow switchbacks. The stone peaks swathed in green and mist on te top glimpsed along the way served to mellow me out a little. Getting there did the rest.

I wondered how it would hold up, being such a fmailiar image in a lot of ways, but Machu Picchu is extremely impressive in person. And much grander than the pictures convey. As you negotiate the maze of stone walls and buildings, you truly appreciate how big it is and what monumental effort it must have been to construct it there on the side of a mountain. It was a gorgeous sunny day too, with big blue skies streching to mist-capped mountains in the distance.

Therein lay something of a problem given my lack of sunscreen. I tried sticking to the shade at first, only to discover something that I have not seen adequately advertised- Machu Picchu is thick with mosquitos. Every time I got in the shade they{d descend. I think I got 15 bites on my left arm. Fewer on my right, maybe they were thrown off by its constant camera wielding. So back into the firty sun sans sunscreen.

Mosquitos and suburn to one side, I wandered around the area for an hour and a half and loved it. It truly lives up to the hype. And on the train on the way back the porters put on a fashion show of fine alpaca clothing accompanied by the sounds of Abba and the Pet Shop Boys. Thats a whole attraction in its own right!

Tomorrow Im going to seel out and take a guided tour around Cusco and some of the outlying ruins. So far Ive done everything in this trip by myself, and while I appreciate what Ive learned about my resources and the ways that things work themselves out, I think its time to sit my ass on a bus and have someone else show me around for a change!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Second day high: yo amo Cuzco!

You know, high as in altitude. 10,900 feet, to be precise. Mind you, this would be a great city in which to be an active addict. Products made from coca leaves are a cultural mainstay, I was handed a flyer to a hemp club with "special homemade brownies" and get getting massage offers as I walk down the street. Thank goodness Im not practicing anymore.

So, I just flat out love this city. Its very laid-back and mellow, and the vistas are consistently stunning- mountains in every direction, steel blue skies and big puffy white clouds. The whole place is pretty much geared to tourism, which is double-edged. On the one hand, you cant help but reflect on the us and them divide and any time you pause or make eye contact, somebody trying to sell something will intercept you. On the other, it makes everything so easy to do and to find and figure out, which definitely was not the case in some of the smaller towns I was in.

Today I started off in the Iglesia de Companeras Jesus, a Jesuit church with one of the most stunningly ornamental gold altars Ive ever seen. Like 30 feet tall and stuffed with sculpture and paintings. I was drawn in just by the church aspect, Ive always been powerfully drawn to Catholic things. I think I probably was Catholic in a past life. Not a very Christian notion, although we could have an interesting discussion about early Gnostic beliefs, but thats why Im not Catholic in this life, so I can entertain notions like that.

In any case, yes, wowed by the church, but even more intrigued by the things I learned from the student guide. The Spanish clearly co-opted the local culture- building churches on the remains of Inca palaces, planting crosses atop mountain worship sites, converting and intermarrying with Inca nobility and installing them as figureheads, etc. But the new pseudo-Inca elite did some coopting in return. Hence pantings of Christ as an Indian, statues of Mary in the style of an Inca goddess, and angels with parrots wings in imperial Inca colors. There was also an anti-Protestant painting that I thought was hilarious- Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, readings his rules of religious practice to cowering figures labeled with the names of Protestant leaders- Luther, Calvin, John Wyclffe, etc.

Later in the afternoon I visited two museums, one devoted to the Inca and one to the pre-Inca pre-Colombian period. This later one was my favorite. While it featured historical and archeological information, it treated the exhibits as an art musueum would. It featured descriptions of the artisitic aspects of the artifacts juxtaposed with quotes from modern artists- Matisse, Gaugin, Klee, Picasso, etc. that made clear the influence that so-called primtive art styles had on Cubism and other areas of modern art.

I finished up the evening by going back to the Iglesia for mass (something about the visit in the morning had inspired me to) and then heading back to the neighborhood Im staying in, San Blas, for dinner. The area is kind of an aglomeration of tourist and local artist hangout spots, so I had dinner at a place that was a combined restaraunt and art gallery. Cause thats how I roll!

Tomorrow I am rolling, extremely early, to Macchu Picchu. More to follow...

Friday, August 08, 2008

Cuzco is ridiculously beautiful

That´s largely what I have to say for the moment.

I got in by the overnight bus this afternoon, with zero kidnappings, robberies or ravine plunges. I think it was good that the trip started at night- I could tell myself that those dark spaces by the side of the steeply winding road were just five foot drops to a field of flowers, rather than 500 foot mountain cliffs. We´d gone through most of the really rugged passes by the time dawn came, and then we were simply in the Andes, way high up, with stunning peaks and mountain valleys all around. Early in the morning, though, we did pass a tourist bus that had it´s front end smashed up, and on the other side of the road a truck equally smashes up, with one wheel over the edge of the road. Ulp.

But alls well that ends- this was always going to be the most grueling part of the trip, and I´m done with long distance buses now. Hallelujah! I´m doing pretty good with the altitude. Every ten minutes or so I get a little hammering heart action, and doing seemingly simple things like sitting down and then standing up again make me a little woozy, but it´s not as bad as some of the "we were laid out for a whole day" stories I´ve heard. I think I did the biggest adjustment last night on the bus as it was climbing, when I did feel headachey and naseous. Hard to tell if that was altitude or just switchbacks and trying to sleep on a cramped bus seat.

Anyway, due to fitfullness of said sleep, this is about as ambitous as I plan to be for the day. Off to bed, and then in the morning I´ll tour sights around the city center. Which is, may I say again, ridiculously beautiful.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Nazca Day II: Day with the Dead

It seems I did have a chance to write again. I´m back at the hotel now after a day of sightseeing, cooling my heels between now and getting on the overnight bus to Cusco. In the conference room next to me an incredibly loud (but good) group of musicians has gathered and is playing for what looks like some kind of conference roundtable. I can feel the vibration in my breastbone!

Still and all, a pretty good day. I got down to the front desk at a little after 8 for my flight over the Nazca lines, only there were two problems. They had no record of the flight reservation I´d made online, and it turned out it was 7 instead of 8. I´m still not sure how that happened, I think maybe my tricky radio clock radioed itself in and reset itself for US daylight savings, undoing the manual time change I´d made. Technology.

As for the reservation, I took a deep breath while they made calls to the agency in Lima, trying to practice my awareness, as it´s developed on this trip so far, that nothing happens quite like it´s supposed to, but it all works out eventually. They verified my existence (something I´ve had trouble doing all by myself sometimes) and informed me that ym flight was at 2. I then did what any sensible person would do- went back to the room and took a bath. Soon after they called and told me I´d been upgraded to 12:30.

We went up in a small plane, the pilot and 5 passengers. Some of you may know I don´t much care for flying (as in sweat, armrest gripping and sheer unreasoning panic), but that´s mostly on jumbo jets. I actually enjoy the small planes, because it feels much more controlled in an odd way, almost like flying a la Superman. I´m super glad I did this, becuase the sheer volume and scope of the miles long lines in the desert was stunning. The figures were great, but I actually liked the lines and geometric patterns better for their vastness and inscrutable purposefullness. I was alos very glad I wasn´t the Argentinian girl next to me, who spent most of the 30 minute flight heaving into a plastic bag. In her defense, there was a lot of banking and turning.

After that, I took a tour out to Chuachilla, a pre-colombian burial site just outside of town. Tour being just me, in a car for hire that the tour öperator¨from the kiosk next to the hotel flagged down and told where to go. The driver did stick with me and tell me about the cemetery, though, (extreme) limits of my comprehension of spanish permitting. The whole field is the sight of tombs of one of the civilizations that preceeded the Inca, which have been extnsively looted since then, but some of which have been reconstituted complete with mummified remains.

It was an amazing scene. Inherently somber, and I was moved by the obvious care with which the burials were done- most were wrapped in extensive linenes, some had decorative wigs, and thay all contained pottery and even dried food offerings. In-between the ropped off walkways leading to restored tombs, the desert snads were littered with bones, pottery and linen frgaments. The real live wind whistling across the dry desert plain and big copper-colored mountains looming in the background gave it the proper stark and yet meaningful feeling.

So now I´m resting and gathering my wits for the 14 hour overnight bus ride to Cusco. I sort of wish more of it would be during the day, since going through the Andes must be spectacular. This is probably the portion of my trip most prone to kidnapping or plungng into a ravine, but assuming none of that hapens, I´ll write more from Cusco tomorrow eveing. See you then!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Nazca, beautiful city of no taxis

I´m in Nazca now, arriving this afternoon after a 2.5 hour bus ride from Ica. It´s a lovely city! Ica seemed very hectic, and had some bad vibrations emananting from it (I was born in California, I can say things like that), hence camping out by the lagoon. Nazca, though, is much more mellow, it feels like the kind of place you can walk around, and talk to people in shops, etc.

After arriving I checked in to my hotel, and then headed for the local archaeological museum. Archaeology is cool, but the grounds were also home to peacocks and kitties, which is super'cool! I was expecting to catch a cab to my next destination, but there are no cabs, unlike Lima and Ica, where half the cars on the road were taxis. There are collectivos, little cars which go around and pick up and groups of people and drop them off at various locations, but I can´t figure out how and where to flag one down.

All of this led to quite a walk to my evening destination, a planetarium that had a show on the Nazca Lines. For those not familiar, the lines are geometric shapes and figures of animals drawn across the desert surface some time between 220 BC and 200 AD that can only be observed from the air. Whacky those Nazca were. There´s all kinds of theories about why they did it and how, most favoring astronomical observation, key positions related to irrigation, and ritual purposes. There´s also the ever popular extraterrestrial theory. Those of you who know my well might expect I fancy that one, but that´s just silly. Why would aliens teach local people to draw monkeys that only they can then see? My personal favorite is from the researcher who belives that the Nazca people had hot air balloons that thye could observe the figures from. Pre'colombian hot air balloons! Now there´s a theory.

Despite my affection for the town, I´m camping out a bit outside the city center. In this case in a hotel by the airport, from whence I depart on a morning flight over the lines. I´m then going on a desert tour involving an ancient burial ground with mummies (mmm, mummies) and in the evening I´m off by overnight bus to Cusco. I don´t know if I´ll have a chance to write again before then. If not, expect a communication blackout until Friday evening.

I hope to write you all again from 10,900 feet! If only I can first figure out how to get a ride back to my hotel tonight...

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Ica, day 2: I want my momia

This morning I went to the Museo Nacional de Ica. It´s devoted to the archaeology of this region, which spans thousands of years. The Inca were preceeded by many other advanced cultures in this part of Peru, each one replacing the one before it. I gor ro experience this backwards since the front desk staff warded off my attempt to start in prehistory and go forward, and instead had me start with the Inca and go backwards. I don´t know if this was a meaningful inversion, since I think they really wanted to send me to the Mummy room first, which happens to be at the front (or is it back?) end of the museum.

Mummies, or momias as they like to call them in that crazy language they speak here, are a big deal hereabouts. The dry desert terrain seems to have been ideal for preserving bodies buried in tombs by the various cultures that rose and fell. I think they think this is uniquely appealing to foreigners, because this section of the museum had more signage than any other. Well it WAS uniquely appealing to me- I love my momia(s).

I also got to see numerous skulls which had been trepenated. This primitive form of brain surgery performed in peru consisted of cutting incisions into the skull, many of which show evidence of healing over, i.e. the people this was performed on lived for a long time afterwards. I finally made it all the way backwards in time only to have to wade through a huge German tour group that was going from prehistory forward. Preferred time directionality is apparently inverted foir Europeans vis a vis Americans.

That was the morning, as opposed to the afternoon, where nothing I tried to do worked right. My attempted next stop was the Museo Cabrera Piedra. The taxi drivers insisted there was no such place. I finally ended up going back to my hotel, getting the travel guide that I had attempted to not lug around all day, and confirming the exacr address. Hail another taxi there. On the way, the screw on my glasses came loose and the lens popped out. After an emergency stop at an Optica, where everyone was very helpful and friendly, I finally arrived. Only to find the Museuo closed, with two padlocks on the door.

I take it there´s a lesson here somewhere. Maybe it´s that things can not work out, you deal with it, and it´s okay. I definitely feel like I´m now relearning that lesson, which I knew so well from travel situations in younger days. On the plus side of the afternoon, being downtown with nothing to do gave me a chance to confirm the bus time to Nazca for tomorrow (about a 2.5 hour trip), and to buy my long distance tickets from Nazca to Cusco, which I´m going to do later in the week. Maybe everything does work out.

I´´m done in twon for the day, soon to head back to my lagoon. Perhaps I can eat in the outdoor restaraunt where a guy with a pan pipe and ten string ukulele serendaes patrons with a roatation of Guantanamera, La Bamba and a Simon & Garfunkle medley. Ah, Earth...

Monday, August 04, 2008

Blog from the Black Lagoon: Huacachina, Peru

Im writing this from Huacachina, an honest to gosh desert oasis comprised of a bunch of hotels and hostels clustered around a dark little lagoon near Ica, Peru. I arrivd by bus from Lima, a roughly 5 hour ride down a coastal highway with la playa on one side and the desert on the other. It was beautiful, and not too long. Anyway, I got to share the experience with a double-decker busload of European tourists, and what could be better than that?

I did meet one American today though, a minister from a church group that brought 300 people here to visit prisoners, provide medical care to the poor, etc. He said they even gave some people heart valve replacements. This made me wonder-are there church groups in the US arranging for poor people to have heart valve replacements and I just dont hear about it? If not, there ought to be! Not that its a replacement for a national health care policy, but in the lack thereof it would be a nice adjunct.

As long as Im waxing political, I should mention that I saw Obama posters on freeway overpasses all around Lima. That may not be a good thing for him- being popular with foreigners is probably a big negative in US Presidential politics.

All right, Im going to wax back in my room soon. I look forward to seeing the lagoon in the daylight tomorrow, and then going museum-hopping in Ica.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Greetings from Lima!

Ive wandered down to the hotel business center. Please excuse the lack of apostrophe- South American keyboards are perplexing.

I feel kind of like its (much) later on the same day I left, since my flight was after 1:00 AM on Saturday night/Sunday morning. Im just here for one night, then off by bus to Ica tomorrow. Ica has amazing archaeological goodies, and is on the way to Nazca, where the giant figures are drawn in the desert and only visible from the air.

My head is approaching maximum fuzziness, so Ill keep this brief, and head off to find dinner of some sort. The flights were really very smooth. Flights as in there was a stop-over in San Salvador, El Salvador. The most amazing part of that (other than a kerfluffle with an unanounced gate change that sent everyone connecting to Lima scrambling) was that there are active volcanoes on the way to the airport. Big cindery mountains, belching steam, which was quite a sight.

As for Lima, my exposure has been somewhat limited so far. I did notice that, for all the trepidation I had about not having done this kind of thing in so long, many of my travel instincts as honed in Asian are coming right back. In terms of physical infrastructure, if somebody made everyone here Asian and changed the spanish to chinese, it would be an a lot like a big city in China. It even smells like urban China- some kind of combination of diesel fuel and pervasive construction dust.

Ill share more, soon as can be. For now Im off to find dinner, and then rendezvous with the bath Ive been dreaming of for lo on these many hours...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What the hell do I know about Peru?

Okay, so I’m starting to get a little nervous about this trip. Nervous maybe isn’t quite the right word. Jarred by it’s reality and immanence is perhaps more accurate. When I started planning it around a year ago, it was a year away. Now it’s just days, and now I’m thinking-


It’s like I decided to go, did all necessary footwork, and now I’m getting ready to go. What kind of shit is that? It makes me wonder what else I might do under the same principle. Maybe this time next year I’ll be the king of the world!

But first I’m going to Peru. August 3rd-17th. I’ll try to write in from the road from time to time. See you all when I get back!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Misadventures of the Electoral College

I don’t much care for the Electoral College.

While my dislike admittedly increased following the election of 2000, it’s a position I’ve always held. Outdated, undemocratic and all that.

It strikes me kind of funny when people defend it by talking in terms of the rights of small states being protected against the power of larger ones. I’ll concede that this made some sense in the days when Rhode Island might secede from the Union if they didn’t like how Virginia voted, but it’s not 1798 any more.

I also note with amusement that many people who had described the Electoral College as archaic on national TV just weeks before were sudden fans in the winter of ’00. “Well, those are the rules, he won fair and square,” is what their argument boiled down to. It’s very hard to imagine them being as sanguine if the situation had been reversed. Talk radio, Fox News, House Republicans and the rest would doubtless still be fulminating about President Gore’s illegitimacy and how the will of the people had been subverted.

And here’s the funny thing, the thing that nobody seems to remember: the situation almost was reversed in 2004. If just 59,347 people (1.05% out of 5.6 million total) had changed their votes in Ohio, John Kerry would have won the Electoral College 271 to 266 and would be president today. Even though he still would have been almost 3 million votes behind George W. Bush nationally.

While this would have been an act of national salvation as far as I’m concerned, that still wouldn’t make it right. We’ve had two serious malfunctions in a row, and might well be poised for a third. Even if this third would likely as not involve a narrow popular vote win for McCain invalidated by an large electoral college victory for Obama, which would tickle me as an end result, it wouldn’t be democratic. It’s time to banish the Electoral College to the scrap heap of history. Maybe it can snuggle up with the Articles of Confederation and the Poll Tax.

Banish it constitutionally, of course, which means it might take a decade or two to get the necessary 3/4 of states to approve the needed amendment. Long or short, the process still might be worth it. The last Electoral/Popular inversion resulted in lies leading to an unnecessary war here, a destroyed New Orleans there, here an act of treason against a CIA employee in harm’s way, there a suspension of habeas corpus (Ee-i, Ee-i, Oh!), but worse disasters are possible. In 1876, the maneuvering leading to the Electoral College invalidation of Samuel J. Tilden’s popular vote victory resulted in the premature end of post-Civil War Reconstruction in the South and 88 years of segregation and effective denial of full citizenship to a significant portion of the nation’s population.

Talk about undemocratic.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

June/July Writing News

Isn’t it funny how you can write something in one month, but if you put a dash before the name of that month and then insert the previous month’s name before the dash, it’s as if what you write covers both months? Magazines have been doing it for decades, so I figured it would work for me too. Now, with no further prologue, here is what I’ve been up to in my creative endeavors over the past two months:

Film- Echo’s Wonder, a short film for which I was a script consultant, production assistant and Best Boy, screened at the Victoria Theater on June 1st along with other films from the latest production round of the local independent film co-op Scary Cow. Gratifyingly, it won the audience award for best picture and best writing! You can see it here, we were team 12: . If you squint really hard in one of the bar scenes and you’re familiar with my shirts, you’ll also see me as an extra, seated at the bar. As you can imagine, playing that role was a real stretch for me. I’m participating in this current round of Scary Cow as well, and will be writing on at least one, and maybe two, projects. Stay tuned for further details...

Publication- Nothing new to report, but I have made a pact with myself: Barring serious illness, alien abduction, or prolonged periods out of the country (for which, see Blog news below), I will to submit something for publication to a different venue, print or online, every week for the rest of the year. I’ve got two submissions out the door so far in the first two weeks of July, so perhaps by the next update there will be something to report.

Novel- My agent assures me that several publishers are continuing to look at my novel, Out In The Neon Night, and that she’s on the lookout for new publishers to pitch it to as well. I’ll keep you posted.

Blog- I’m continuing to publish San Francisco Daze, a (nearly) daily reflection on life in San Francisco in prose and poetry form that I wrote in 2005, on my blog in monthly installments. Another thing I hope to do on the blog is report in from the road during a two-week trip to Peru that I’m taking in August. Did I say Peru? I did! It’s my first trip abroad since 2001 and my first ever to South America, and I look forward to sharing it. For that, and other bloggy topics ranging from the silly to the sublime, you can tune in at any of the following three locations:,,

I’ll see you with more in August!

Monday, June 30, 2008

San Francisco Daze: May and June

Here for your continued reading pleasure are the May and June entries from San Francisco Daze, a daily meditation on life in our fair city that I kept in 2005, now finally seeing the light of day.

May 1

Sitting with Gwen at an outdoor table at a café near Fisherman’s Wharf. Home cooked breakfast, the sign claimed, and it came out on paper plates, with plastic forks, coffee steaming in styrofoam cups, more home-style (for me) than they knew. Afterwards we strolled down to the Maritime Museum. She and I talked love and relationship (ours’ with other people, not with each other) while old boats creaked and ropes mooring them to the dock squealed like sea lions in the ebb and swell. An orange cat strolled by, momentarily pausing and turning towards us as we made clucking sounds and held out our hands, before he executed a haughty turn and continued on his way. The sky above blazed blue, and tourists (they must have been tourists- locals do not touch the Bay earlier than July) swam at the little beach in front of the amphitheatre where the fireworks are held each year. The spring sky brought out the brown and green in her eyes and highlit the fetching streaks of gray in her hair until they turned silver.

May 2

Television baseball, unnaturally brown and green field, rich orange-brown of wood panels brass gleam over at the bar, red shade on the lights over the pool table, olive all over, writing with Jen at the Plough and the Stars on Second & Clement, on a surprisingly busy Monday night.

May 3

Every day we are presented with signs and wonders. Today at the foot of Telegraph Hill I beheld a small ceramic cartoon figurine cartoon with long thick dreads holding a rolled up cigarette standing next to a pile of joints that had “Legalize” printed in big letters. It was seated on a cement wall, positioned for all the world like a figure of the Virgin that one might expect to lay flowers and other offerings before. Later, at lunch down on California Street, just across from Wells Fargo Bank, I saw two guys loading bags full of Chinese takeout onto one of those big steel elevators that go underground (to service the cable car lines?) and then descending into the depths with the food. I had visions of a massive feast for slaves of an underground kingdom. And tonight, on my way to this very café where I now write, tucked into the bushes on 4th Avenue I found a stuffed animal— a donkey on two legs, wearing a blue blazer and missing one ear. Further comment seems unnecessary.

May 4

Have I mentioned how fascinated I am with Skinny Writer Girl? She’s sitting across from me on the bus. Her face is serious, maybe even sad, but her gaze is steady and piercing. I know how she feels. Her notebook is bigger than mine and is turquoise, but otherwise very similar in its stretchy binda-thingy. Her handwriting is tons neater than mine, and incredibly straight up-and-down. Her long bony fingers and pursed lips are driving me wild. She’s writing in pencil, a lime-green push-pencil. Suede coat with fuzzy lining inside. Dark jeans, tennis shoes. No nonsense. Who is she? What does it all mean? I must leave off now, to ponder that in writing another day.

May 5

String of disasters one on my much-delayed night out with ex-girlfriend Leah: there was no showing of the movie we wanted to see at the Metreon at 6:30, even though we had each confirmed the time, on separate websites.

String of disasters two: when we hit the street to contemplate our next move, a passing car hit a puddle and splashed my pants with muddy water. Actually, I’ve been waiting my whole life for that scene to occur.

String of disasters three: deciding to take a taxi to the AMC 1000 on Van Ness, we waited in the rain, continually outbid by others, until we found one, only to have it refer us back to another. That one lurched forward three times just when she reached for the handle, finally tiring of the game and coming to a stop.

String of disasters four: safely at new theatre, with a showing at a fine time, tickets in hand, we went to Mel’s for a pre-show dinner. I knocked over my glass of water right when I reached for it, spilling it all over the table.

String of disasters five: just before the show, she got a cell-phone call from an old friend of her’s announcing cancer in his family.

Somehow, despite all this, we had a great evening.

May 6

First time to the South Bay this year. The eerie glow that lights up the 101 at night shone its light on the haunted wrecks of the dot com era. Empty office park next to Candlestick (I will not call it Monster Park) where once lived. Electronic billboards by the side of the road now touting car dealerships rather than operating systems. The empty glass palace where Excite@Home once stood. On and on, a roadside ghost town at 70 miles per hour.

May 7


Is an asylum


Rising like a Megalith form the Emeryville mall space


Front door massive yellow awning dwarfing us mere humans


Blue arrows sending you through a thousand living rooms


Inspiring kitchen envy


Making me consider whole new places to stick floor lamps


Suggesting my need for cutesy things exceeds my expectation


Terminating in a kingdom of hot apple pie and Swedish meatballs

May 8

Today I discovered something new in San Francisco- Louis’. A family-style diner perched on the side of the Pacific Highway, just up the hill from the Cliff House, established 1937 by a Greek-immigrant family. Inside are multicolored tile and booths and lacquered countertop and old carpets that show delightfully little sign of having changed in decades. The food holds no pretensions, but does feature some of the fattest hash browns ever. The food, the place, everything seems caught in the same time warp that once included the oceanside Funland. And outside, the headlands glowed in rain swept green, darkness peeked out from hedged cypress, seagulls floated in pools of rainwater collected in the ruins of the Sutro Baths and the angry sea foamed against the cliffs. I’ll be back.

May 9

Moon setting low over Pacific

tiniest sliver

facing upwards

a bronze boat

sinking below the horizon

May 10

After writing group last night, John, Jodie and I ambled over to Trader Sam’s for a drink. The rest of our compatriots had abandoned us, spouting inanities about long drives, work the next day and such. The three of us ended up, of all things, talking about business: John’s former consulting job for Siemens. Jodie’s interviewing with an IR agency as she attempted to escape from her biotech marketing job and my stint in IR when I first moved to the city, just before the bubble burst. All of it made me think of the unique tech work culture that we share here in San Francisco. Even itinerant writers, once you get a Sierra Nevada in them, have tales of IPOs, product launches and org chart disfunction.

May 11

The Canvas Café deserves to be written about. Because of the bright primary colors it’s painted in. Because of the massive height of the ceiling and the inverted wood pyramid of the skylight in the middle of it. Because of the TV screen mobile-construction sculpture hanging from the ceiling. Because of…

(to be continued?)

May 12

Single silver ear-

ring hanging from a tree branch

Near the ATM

May 13

Red haired bus girl,

in the flowing pink skirt your

calves were exquisite

May 14

Black Uhuru’s version of “Hey Joe” is going through my head right now. Or is it Jimi’s or Patti’s? I think they’re all mixed together in there. Such are the dangers of Green Apple bargain-CD diving.

May 15-17

Dispatches from an overcast rainy May: It is so freaking humid these last few days here in the city. Maybe global warming really is starting to bite.

May 18

Down on Mission tonight in the rainy evening a pair of brunettes walked past smiling me at me. As I stepped to one side to let them pass, a man carrying a long curvy mirror, its reflecting side facing me, passed on the other. Motion to my right and my left kindled with longing and reflection to open up a moment of clarity. It revealed the machinery of the universe, wheels turning out a moment of synchronicity whose meaning currently escapes me.

May 19

At Jupiter in Berkeley, on the upstairs level waiting with a beer before meeting friends for a movie. Swirls of fifteen year old college undergraduate depression surround me, apropos of nothing going on at the moment. Even so, the barking laughter of the guys at the table across the room pierces.

May 20-22

Weekend out of town vesting parents returning on Cal Train Blues:

You got your San Jose Diridon

Burning in the sun

You got the Palo Alto stop

Ain’t no damn fun

Slipped into Redwood City

Just about fixin’ to die

Memories of Burlingame

Can make a grown man cry


Got a tight connection to BART

South San Francisco warehouses

Set off an achin’ in your heart


Got the Candlestick-Monster blues

Pullin’ in to 4th and King

Sure is some powerful good news

May 23

cool sea air

caressed my face

this morning


the doldrums

of afternoon humidity

set in

May 24

Trader Sam’s was all but deserted on this the night that the Writing Group reviewed half my novel. Empty except for the punk chick in the corner mackin’ out with her boyfriend, and the heavyset guy from Atlanta who was shouting and on the edge of flying off his handle as his Asian friend tried, with limited success, to calm him down. Dimo gave me a break on the two Amstel Lights I ordered for Jodie and me, though, so all was well.

May 25

46th and Sloat, near 11 PM. The fog pinpricks through the air, nearly the only motion in the otherwise stillness. Across the four land road that ends at the ocean only a few blocks away, the stone gates of the zoo yawn open. No teeth in the blackness visible through their portals. What animals are stirring inside now that the nocturnal glory of their kingdom has come?

May 26

It is not clear why Pizza Orgasmica, which is a Brazilian-style pizza chain, has tribal African décor and safari pictures inside (have I mentioned this before?). It is even less clear why the area near the entrance is given over to little Arabian crash pad low tables, hanging tapestries and pillows everywhere, making it seem that a hookah should be close at hand. What is clear is that this little paradise was made for reclining with Jen and contemplating the mysteries of her scent while drinking beer and waiting for the “Aphrodite” pizza to arrive.

May 27

Sitting in a café near Valencia and 16th trying to catch up on San Francisco Daze, I gaze out the window to the faded avocado two-story across the street, and spy a pigeon-scaring fake owl on one corner of it’s roof trim, big as two footballs.

Weird Postscript- Getting on the train just now at 16th & Mission, there was a grizzled old man playing a medley of Beatles’ songs on a flute. An entirely different grizzled old man from the one who, when I got on the train on the way to the café at Montgomery, had been playing “Blackbird” on guitar. I look forward to seeing what happens when I get to the Berkeley BART station tonight.

May 28-30

Memorial Day weekend, writing from a sunlit meadow at Bass Lake, somewhere in the wilds of Point Reyes. A powder-blue dragonfly just buzzed the blanket, and a light breeze is ruffling up my shirt and tousling my hair. I can hear at least five kinds of birds in simultaneous calls. A moment ago I saw two white butterflies dancing around each other in the air. Speaking of which, Jen, gorgeous Valkyrie Jen, is laid out on the blanket beside me, lightly snoring in the sun.

May 31

King of Thai Noodle House is an empire. Its vast reaches enclose a downtown and Sunset branch, and at least three on Clement alone. My favorite is the Original King of Thai Noodle House, at 8th & Clement. It’s barely wider than a door-front, but extends back deep into the block. You make your way past the counter, which really only one person can do at a time, and then get to the realm of tables, each with a massive decanter of chopsticks and an assortment of hot sauces. The place is not as much fun since they got rid of the vintage Thai movie posters on the wall in favor of tasteful art prints. Unlike the King of Thai Noodle House on 4th & Celement, it doesn’t have its liquor license, so no Singha for you here. Still and all, the crowded ambiance and ability to see everything that happens in the kitchen (as it’s just behind the counter) does it for me every time.

June 1

arise from morning meditation

look out my balcony

on the shorn tree-stump

in my neighbor’s backyard

dog barks in the distance

June 2

Grumpy’s lies down a side street that I never knew about. Green maybe? Or some other street? Off of Battery. And thank God it does. A stocky jowly bulldog mascot (but really, do bulldogs come any other way than stocky and jowly?). Forest of dollar bills tacked to the ceiling. The whole place is bricky and woody and the walls are covered with framed pictures of sports stars and other local illuminati. Diner food par excellence. My fitfully employed companions had beer at lunch but I demurred and went for the diet coke. Margarita night is Thursday. How had I been working in this neighborhood for six months and not found this place yet?

June 3

From the backside of Telegraph Hill as seen from Pier 37 or 38 Coit Tower rises from the top of the hill. As it does from every other view of the hill. But from this direction, the tower is backed by the Transamerica Pyramid. The bleached white triangle and white bleached cylinder stand together like some bizarre set of siblings from this line of sight.

June 4

La Isla De Los Angeles. So the Spanish called it. And I knew about the Chinese, thousands of them held for years, carving poems into the stone walls of the building that housed them. But so much more I did not know. The Civil War garrison guarding the entrance to the Bay. The quarantine station loaded with Cholera, Plague and Smallpox victims. The Nike Missile batteries! Or the velvety black butterflies bouncing along in the sun near the top of the mountain, for that matter. And nothing of all I’d known before could have prepared me for lying on one of Angel Island’s picnic table-tops with Jen, staring up at the twisting branches of trees that formed a canopy overhead.

June 5

Blue Danube

Sunday Afternoon

Redhead reading

Hip-hop playing

Indian beauty

Day-glo paintings

Lesbian sportswomen

Espresso machine

Dreadlocked writer

Sunshine traffic

Newspaper reader

Summer breeze

Countergirls laughing

Refrigerator humming

Sunday Afternoon

Blue Danube

June 6

Tonight was my first public reading ever, at Lit at the Canvas. And I had two members of my writing group show up, as well as an old friend and a new one. Having an audience was both comforting and nerve wracking, but the place soothed my soul. So familiar, so dear. The latest display there, graffiti-style hip-hop urban DJ art, was a weird kind of complement to my reading on becoming (by surprise) a Heavy Metal fan over the last year. The low-key mic crackled and buzzed, and half the section of the café the reading was tuned in to their laptops and lattes. But I made it, with even a laugh or two from the audience. The hostess Melinda sparkled and shined with her mass of curly red hair. And the other reader, Pat Carey, kicked ass with his comedy tales of Irish-American family madness. Only us two writers, Melinda the MC and a small audience, but it felt real. So, one small step for a writer, maybe one giant leap for my literary kind.

June 7

Q on Clement Street at 11:30 on a Tuesday morning. The slight guilt of playing hooky from work is assuaged by the thick mustardy smell wafting out from the kitchen.

June 8

The building downtown

splits in two,

with mirrored wings

that end in

antenna-topped prongs

like some bizarre electric toothbrush

or rabbit-ear aerials gone awry

their tops lost

in the misting semi-rain

of morning

June 9

The crowd at ATA, a ramshackle little theatre at 21st & Valencia given to independent videography, is its own kind of riot. Flaming brown queen shouting, “last call for all-coo-halll!” just before the show closes, mixes with Zora, the little girl on stage in the Velvet dress who half the crowd is cooing to, and the frizzy-dark-haired wine sipping maven to my left to form a pastiche of hip and artistic San Francisco in this early 21st century moment.

June 10

Sometime you’re not sure you see the things you see:

Black man

not quite old enough

to have more than a slightly silver beard

wearing sweats

and tattered windbreaker

stands on the steps of

Star of the Sea Catholic church

facing a lit candle in the shape of a small scowling figure

perched on a piece of driftwood

before the doorway of the church.

June 11

One of the Twin Peaks

(the one capped with Sutro Tower)

reclines today

in the hazy summer morning

a green firry hill

leaning back

in the early heat of day

June 12

Ran all over the campus of USF today looking for the annual “Rock and Swap” sponsored by local outlaw radio extraordinaire KUSF. I finally found it, via two out-of-it bushy-haired twenty-somethings carrying a Scorpions album who gave me contradictory directions on how to get there. And while not the Tad or Soulwax I had come questing for; it was well worth the effort. Dead Letter Office, My Aim is True, Graceland, Let it Be, and the Wall later I left a rather happy camper.

June 13

The end of Clement Street

rises up

like a roller-coaster

just before the plunge

twin rows of streetlights

arching into the night

up by the Legion of Honor

and above

one solid end

of the half-moon


into mist

June 14

The air was solid today, cold and warm at the same time.

June 15

A pair of handcuffs

Chained to pole on Sansome

How strange this city

June 16

Thursday night Bitter End writing blues. Jodie, Dave and I, nee of the Writing Group, are here. As is the Jukebox. The Stones, “Waiting on a Lady”. The following line: “The only time I ever had a guy touch me there, I was on vacation in Hawaii.” I was in the restroom when I heard that one, somewhere in the bar outside; I’ll never know who said it. Now “L.A. Woman” is playing. Jim had a guy touch him there at some point, I bet. I got a start on “Lust”, one of my Seven Deadly Sins series. But then hit a stopping point, right about when my writing group friends stopped. Thus this entry.

June 17-21

I have nothing to say for this five day period except:

Journey to the East Bay embarks at 10:15 AM, via the 38 Geary. The masses shuffle on board. It’s actually pretty packed for a Saturday. The weirdest scene is the little girl in the checkered cloth coat sitting next to her mother on one of the sideways seats in the accordion section. Nice coat, cute little shoes, that’s not what’s weird. What’s weird is how she sits, slumped against her mother, staring fixedly at me. What do I look like to her? Meanwhile, beside me, my traveling companion reads a local literary journal. More to follow.

* * *

11:00 AM (give or take a minute), boarding the Fremont-bound BART. My traveling companion has just shared her chicken-themed short story with me, which was a delight. In general, this car in the train is itself delightful. It is both beautifully and frightfully loud, the talk-talk-talkity-talk coming from all directions— From a gaggle of little girls in pink in the seat behind me. From a family surrounding a kid with a catcher’s mitt. From people on the side-seats talking about baseball trades. We’ve just broken above ground, to sun and massive gray-white piles of cloud, just in time to see Glad Tidings Church of Christ, which is in exterior a large broken-windowed concrete warehouse bereft of even a hint of gladness. Oh excellent— ramshackle two-story house a few hundred feet further on with “Jesus Saves From Hell” painted on the side. The word “Hell” consumed in garish painted flames. At the Coliseum stop the noise and joy and life of the car disembarks for an A’s game.

* * *

12:02 now, on the 180 Bus, theoretically on the way to the Great Mall in Milpitas. A really nice bus, although the cushions have that slight whiff of urine smell that mass-transit seats so often seem to have.

* * *

We are now deep in the bowels of the Great Mall. Actually, in Anderson bakery, which is rather near one of the main entrances. So, not quite a bowel. More like an esophagus. But still. The trip here took about two hours and ten minutes, all-told. We have now done one complete circuit of the mall on the way to ending up here. It’s impossible to reconcile and record all the sensory stimulation that the lap entailed. What pervades everything, like madness, is a slow mellow background beat, soft rock hissing out of innumerable speakers. The stores present, as my traveling companion notes, “So much choice, but no diversity.” This is crystallized in the Food Court. At first, it seems like Shangri-la. Chinese! Japanese! Hot Dog on a Stick! La Salsa! Khan’s Mongolian Fast Food! And yet, when you end up at, say, the Cajun place, the rice, noodles, lemon chicken and spicy fried shrimp there could as well be from the Chinese place, or the Japanese place, or…. And so it goes— clothes, gifts, shoes, you name it. The whole thing is bringing up great vibratory waves of fossil depression in me. Strata of blue laid down by how bored and trapped and unable to connect to another human soul I felt during almost weekly visits to the Northridge Mall while growing up. Heck, that’s how I felt anywhere while growing up. Fortunately, that’s not at all how my life is these days. I find freedom, hope and opportunity to connect almost everywhere I turn now. Witness, as one example, the gorgeous, mirthful hellcat I’m sharing this experience with now. Who’s muttering to herself while she writes, and has turned this trip into a hunting expedition for social and political insights. Yes indeed, my only real problem this afternoon is holding myself back because of intermittent fear that she’ll grow tired of me if I let out too much, when in fact holding back is the thing that makes others tired with one. And what is my life these days if not: not holding back. Thank you, Great Mall, thank you! For reminding me what it felt like then, and where I’m at now. And congratulations, by the way, on the two sports bar-restaurant-arcade-billiards room you have hidden in the true bowels of this maze of consumption. It beats like a great dark heart, surprisingly vital beneath the placid little wood-framed side-door that leads to it. Reminding us that, beneath every seemingly orderly and settled exterior, there are always chaotic irruptions of life.

* * *

Richmond-bound train, circa 6:45. The 180 left the Great Mall around 6:10. Which means we had about 5 ½ hours of direct mall contact— no wonder I feel so wiped out. Even with a plunge into the giant sack in the beanbag store for rest, that’s a lot of meeting with the merchandise meme. Now on the BART there is much less stimulation. Just open space, and sunlight, and East Bay hills burnished by the dusky sun.

* * *

Transfer point: Bayside Station. To make our way from the Richmond Line to the SF/Milbrae line, final stop, Embarcadero. There are rumors that seafood is in the offing. More to follow.

* * *

9:55! I can’t believe it’s 9:55. This has almost officially become a twelve hour journey. Well, it turns out we ended up at an excellent place on the Embarcadero called Montecristo with tuna tartar, and wine. And isn’t an epic journey supposed to finish with a feast? With that, I bid you adieu.

June 22

My Blue Period I (poem):

The sky behind Telegraph Hill

Blazed like blue fire

Through the morning air

June 23

My Blue Period II (prose poem):

Like fire I said, but not quite. Aflame, yes, but as hollow as the deep. Glow behind the glow enhances the empty space in front.

June 24

My Blue Period III (haiku):

Towers of downtown

bathed in clear blue that glows,

like a sea of glass.

June 25-26

I am the Froggie of Power!— The bearded hippie-punk checkout clerk at Whole Foods in Fairfax, repeating back a phrase from a little kid in line.

Jesu Maria, I spent the weekend soaking. Well perhaps not the whole weekend. Just much of Saturday afternoon. But what an afternoon it was, courtesy of Frogs, a low-key and low-cost spa in the town of Fairfax, barely a stone’s throw across the Golden Gate Bridge. Close though it is, the whole Universe seems different over there. Fairfax is a small town with an honest-to-God Main Street, replete with little shops. In any direction you look, hills and mountains wreathed in piney green rear their hilly, mountainy piney-green heads. The sun shines unabashedly, with only faint tendrils of mist around the top of Mount Tamalpais to remind you of the fog that will come with evening. Frogs itself is a small wood-paneled affair. A hot tub, two saunas, private hot-tub rooms, massage rooms, and the sun deck. All quite clothing optional. Sitting in the hot tub, caressed around the shoulders by a cool breeze, I looked up to see a square of blue, dappled with little white clouds. I breathed deep and sighed, believing I’d found paradise. Don’t get me wrong, I love living in the city. But part of maintaining that love is sometimes being able to change the channel.

June 27

Morning fog over Mountain Lake Park

sheets of mist

layered between pine trees

fading into distance

in the direction

of the Golden Gate

June 28










June 29

The crime occurred with bracing swiftness. I was walking along Fisherman’s Wharf at lunch, reveling in the sunshine, light breeze and blue-gray choppiness of the bay without a care in the world. And then suddenly the shadow passed over me, followed by the pressure of its lowness in the air and dark impression of feathers outlined on the pavement in front of me. It swooped down literally on top of the pair of Korean tourists walking ahead of me. Screams, a tussle and commotion, and then the seagull that had knocked a hot dog out of one of the ladies’ hands proceeded to devour it on the ground in front of them. It’s chilling— I don’t know that I feel safe in this city anymore.

June 30

Sidewalk fat furry

Dead rat lying in red stain

Small mammal brother