Monday, November 29, 2010


The Landlady demands a monthly post about the view or the rent goes up.

Yes every single evening.

This is the view when I lift my eyes from the laptop.

the sun slips further south each evening...

All dinner reservations are "after sunset"

A few minutes after this shot the clouds went dark red, the reflection turned the fog layer on the bay light pink for just a few incredible moments. Alas my camera could not capture that light

Even the cloud cover is cool.

San Francisco open your golden gate

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Penchant for Penguins

An extremely astute (and possibly OCD) reader noticed several penguin references recently, so I guess I should fess up. In the 70s & 80s I had a penguin thing. I collected penguins of all kinds but I also read a lot about them in both contemporary and scientific literature. Yes, I had a thing for Opus but mostly because Berkeley Breathed endowed him with many characteristics I could relate to, particularly the little feathered fellow's distain for all things scatological.

In the winter of 1981 I even went to Antarctica (it was summer there) saw many different species of penguins and other animals, including a single rookery of over three-quarters of a million brooding penguins. When I moved to San Francisco in 1991, I only unpacked about a quarter of my collection, ten years later when I left the City, I gave away many of my favorite artifacts to friends and shipped the remainder to another collector. It is always heart warming for me to visit friends around the country and see a single piece of my old collection gracing a mantle or acting as a door stop.

These days I collect absolutely nothing of material form or space. Words are my medium and they can exist quite easily in the vacuum of cyber-space. I will be visiting my lonely storage locker in the next several weeks, if I can easily lay my hands on the photo album I will post a thirty year old photograph of me and a gang of Antarctic penguins.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


[Addendum: my gobblefest gathering is today -- Friday, so this post remains relevant for some of us until tomorrow when I shall address a bird of a different feather. . . ]

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Myron, Rascal and Java

This has been a rough month on my friends who are cat lovers. Amy & Eric lost Java; Dan and his whole family said goodbye to Myron; Pat had to part with Rascal. I always tell my family and friends exactly what I want to be reminded of when I lose a long time feline companion.

Cats illuminate our lives, they bring a particular brand of love into our homes. You know you deserve it when they sleep with you undisturbed by a cough, a breath or a tear.

We allow them to have longer, healthier and we hope happier lives but we do so knowing that nature would surely have taken them sooner without our protection, so in the end our responsibility is to thank them for the joy by not letting them suffer. Sleep well my friends and thank-you Java, Rascal and Myron.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Morning Has Broken

There was a full moon visible over San Francisco Bay this morning just after dawn. Before dawn I had noticed a ever so slight glow in the cloud cover and remembered the full moon that had been completely obliterated last night would not be setting until late this morning. Then just after dawn the cloud cover opened to reveal a bright shiny orb. 

A few minutes after I snapped that shot, the clouds closed again. We shall assume the moon sank from view even without benefit of human confirmation.

I wanted to remind everyone one last time before I take a blog break that there will be a total lunar eclipse on December 21st, should make for some energetic solstice celebrations. I will be somewhere in Northern California about that time, depending on the overcast predictions I may try to position myself for a clear view of the lunar blackout.

Oh and have a big bird on Thursday or Friday or whenever you gather with your creche.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rainy Sunday Street Scene

Still trying to get my meds balanced, the consequences of applying the pain patch too close to ingesting a muscle relaxant is apparently a nap. Yesterday, a grey saturday, I nodded off in the early evening only to wake up in what I thought was the middle of the night. There was to be no going directly back to sleep, so I snapped on the reading lamp and dove back into The Historian. Sometime later I heard the too loud talking from eight floors below, a gaggle of Cal students headed back to campus from a night of partying. A weekend annoyance that must really bother lite sleepers. 

But wait . . . the parties break up between midnight and two, it must not be the middle of the night after all. I started to check the time and then let it go, who cares -- I have a book and a quilt, what matters the parsing of the night. 

Some time later I nodded off. When I awoke again it had turned light, well grey actually and moist. Sunday was going to be rainy and dim -- some of my favorite weather. I lay in bed looking out on the the seamless sky, my mind drifted to a scene I had written yesterday where I mentioned a character's stance on breakfast. I wrote that he was "not a big bacon and eggs man." Neither am I but that sure sounded good on this particular morning. So I rolled out, donned some sweats and with a peremptory face splash and tooth scrape I was off to the market. The dashboard suggested it was 7:45 and 52 degrees, no mention of the rain, I clearly need a more technologically advanced mode of transportation, one that can tell me when its raining.

I ducked under the store awning and grabbed a outlier cart. There was a street guy neatly arranging all the other shopping carts and telling the universe -- "It ain't no right weather for a dog, no dignity in being rained upon." I pondered that bit of wisdom in the produce aisle and decided it was well worth a dollar when I left the store. Street wisdom is a commodity that should be rewarded.

Not a lot of shoppers early on a rainy Sunday, I grabbed only the basics: eggs, bacon, bread and chocolate. One check stand open, the only other customer handing her check and ID to the checker. There was a three or four minute technical issue with getting the computer to accept her check for $12.01, which included two dollars cash back. While the clerk struggled with the scanner, the customer told us how much of an accomplishment she consider it to actually get herself out of the house on "such an awful day." She was quite fashionably dressed in 1950's school marm, with black horn-rimmed glasses and the mandatory hair bun; not to mention that rain equated with awful and she wrote a check for two dollars cash back. Oh she was going to make it into a story for sure, a living breathing archetype.

The manager floated by, punched a few buttons solving the check issue and the flow of commerce began anew. A change of clerks slowed my checkout by a minute or so, when I was again outside under the awning, headed for my chariot, I saw her and the street guy by her car. He was too close, she had her hands drawn up under her chin, arms tight to her chest. Shit! Sometimes being the large, white male who does the right thing is just a pain in the ass.

I set my bag on the hood of my car and walked towards them.

"I think you're frightening her."

"We just talkin'."

"I don't think she wants to talk in the rain."

"Dis is none of your business."

"How about five bucks to leave her alone?" I snapped the bill in my hand.

"I ain't no fuckin' beggar!" He turned aggressively toward me, then immediately lowered his voice, cowering his head. He had instantaneously converted to ultra-submissive. Before I could sort it out, she pointed over my shoulder and said: "Police."

I glanced back and two Berkeley uniforms were headed our way.

"Is there a problem?"

I turned back to my groceries, "She can fill you in," I said.

"Sir, we need citizen complaints to take any action against violent offenders."

"He wasn't violent towards me, but as I said, you might want to speak with her."

I wasn't about to parse the interaction between those two psychological complexes. I mean two dollars cash back, really? Besides there were bacon and eggs waiting not to mention a grey, rainy day to enjoy.
photo from a Sam's Club in China

Friday, November 19, 2010

Message in a Bloggle

I have been giving feedback to a friend about a new blog she is participating in. There are several contributors and right now while they are already adding content, they are also wrangling over the look and feel of the website as well as the explanatory text for potential visitors. My continuing comment to them has been: "Who is your audience?" after you answer that question then I ask: "Do you think you have reached them?"

Insider comments and ambiguous text at the beginning invariably means you lose some readers at the outset, which is fine if you really want only the insiders who "get it." The problem is too many cliches and everyone begins to feel like they are reading text without the secret decoder ring. Just because you know it and even consider it common knowledge doesn't make it so. 

Always, always, always be considerate of your audience otherwise you are writing to yourself and as I have told my agent many times: "I don't need to write the stories down for myself, I have already experienced them many times over. I will only take the energy to put them on paper if someone else might benefit from them."

So today a wee bit of un-decoded message from me today, all of it contained in the artwork at the top. Just enjoy the picture, all but one of you. I will say that I really miss the fall season, I am going to attempt to plan my wanderings better so that I may be in the midwest or northeast for as many falls as possible in the future. The colors, smells and temperament of the season just resonates with my soul. I really enjoy the Bay Area all year round but the fall simply lacks in birch, maple and oak.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Stubborn Slime Stains

For some time I have been considering writing a political blog. Either starting another completely new blog with fair warning that it will be completely political or dedicating one day a week here to a political posting. My reasoning goes something like this:

Nearly anything I hear out of the mouth of a politician, a lobbyist, a cabinet member and most certainly a political personage in the media is a lie. Politics lives on lies. Some are willing to call it spin or even "politics as usual." I prefer the slightly more pure analysis when I call it "lies, damned lies and statistics."

One problem I have with this idea is that I will probably need to reconnect myself to the contemporary political conversation. For the past 20 years I have been able to remain on the periphery only catching what drifts by on the wind. One simply has to detect the rancid smell of an approaching political utterance and listen for just a moment to detect the falsification. However, if I dedicated any portion of my writing time to politics I am going to need to reengage with the swill. I really don't like the feeling of needing to sterilize my keyboard after reading more than a single political blog.

The good news is that I have as much trouble with Michael Moore as I do with Glenn Beck. No one actually uses the facts to make their point. I remember so clearly hearing an attack ad on George W. and thinking -- Why would they make up something about him, he says so many incredibly stupid things, why not just play the tape?

In the recent race for governor here in California, the democrats made a big deal of a major newspaper saying of Meg Whitman (the defeated GOP candidate) that she had "a loose relationship with the truth." Don't they get it? The voters all believe that to be the very definition of a politician. Just about the only position worse than actually being a politician is being a voter who actually believes in either of the two parties cancerously alive in Amerika today.

You know I really needed to get this down on cyber-paper, if only to remind myself what I really think about the state of the political debate today. Fear not fair readers I have once again talked myself out of reentering the world politics, they just don't make enough soap to wash off those stubborn slime stains.

Sky Watching: the Leonid meteor shower peaks tonight.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Year of the Tiger

We are in the waning months of the Chinese Year of the Tiger, which ends February 2, 2011. The tiger is the largest of the earth's felines, the biggest of the big cats can top 600 pounds. Of course, like any wonderous species they are endangered largely due to pouching in their natural habitats throughout Asia.

According to the World Wildlife Fund there are more tigers in captivity in the U.S. (5,000) than there are alive in the wild. Regulation of captive big cats is so lax that there is no official count of their numbers worldwide nor are they protected from the trade in animal parts that has devastated the wild population. 

But I don't want to sound like the last two minutes of every nature show. Tigers are gorgeous creatures, if you want to help them thrive -- Save the Tiger fund is a well respected organization.

By the way February 3, 2011 marks the beginning of the Chinese Year of the Rabbit.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Did the Suicidal Nut Job Change Your Day?

I apologize for that headline, the man being referenced is officially "mentally unstable," it was cruel and heartless of me to refer to him as a nut job. It seems in response to family issues he took his SUV, armed with red flashing lights (security guard) onto the Bay Bridge early this morning. He then stopped in traffic, got out with a handgun and a cell phone and proceeded to call police and a radio station, his actions caused the bridge traffic to be shut down for several hours. He eventually threw the gun into the bay and surrendered to police.

Tens of thousands of commuters had their days changed. Workers were late to the office, students missed classes, dentist appointments had to be rescheduled, someone leaving San Francisco in a U-Haul truck intent on moving back to the midwest felt the hand of the god of traffic telling them not to go. I missed breakfast with my friend M who was coming over from the City, she eventually just gave up and turned back. I took an uncommonly early shower but I got the text message while still dripping and nekkid, so at least I didn't waste a change of clean underwear. I just put on a just laundered cotton writing outfit and went back to my current story and vowed once again to have my big mental break with reality while out in the forest alone. 

If you have an existential crisis in the woods, does anyone hear your soul searching?

Two notes for locals and architectural historians:

Note #1: Yes this did happen Thursday morning, not actually today. But I already had a post up on Thursday and I really hate to double-dip.

Note #2: Did you take a close look at the photo up there at the top? Notice anything missing? The shot is from 1935 during the construction of the Bay Bridge and not only are there still a few lights to be installed, the double deck of the bridge itself had not yet been bolted into place. And commuters thought Thursday morning was a tough ride.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Think For Yourself

There is nothing worse than aggressive stupidity.
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I seldom queue my blog posts, generally I write within 24 hours of making them public. But I do keep a file of potential topics filled with ideas for future posts or issues that needs some research before I expound. Earlier this fall (Sept. 6th, 8th10th) I put up quote inspired posts. I had gone through my cyber-stock of quotations and pulled out four that tweaked my fingertips; I then produced three posts and one draft. That draft has sat here in the blog queue for two months; every week or so I post-date it by another week and then it rolls around again and I shove it into the future again. Clearly I want to say something but I also just didn't seem ready.

The quote I am kicking around is the one by Goethe above:
There is nothing worse than aggressive stupidity.

Which sounds a bit like #99 on my 100 Things About Me:
I have one prejudice; I abhor voluntary stupidity.

Last week Monday I spent an afternoon searching for "Voter on the Street" interviews just a day before the mid-term election, I continued that experiment on election day watching exit interviews done at polls around country. What struck me is that it may not be stupidity I dislike so much.

My issue has never been with IQ or education, no it has always been with entrenched points of view that are resistant to facts, logic, open discussion or new information. Voter after voter parroted some sound byte created by some political wonk or wonkette for the express purposes of giving those voters a rational for their position. Further investigation showed that these pithy bits o'wisdom were nearly always focused on a set of beliefs not on a particular policy or candidate. It seems if you question a single nugget of illogic you are, in fact, shaking the very foundations of an entire complex of beliefs that a person has constructed to frame their view of "How Things Really Are" and/or "How Things Ought to Be."

I do believe I am going to alter my point of view. Stupidity is not really what bothers me. What I abhor is the inability to change; the unwillingness to hear another point of view and consider the merits of that position. To believe so fervently in your own worldview as to be invulnerable to enlightenment.

Perhaps they shouldn't have started this great endeavor with words like: "We know these truths to be self-evident . . . " But then again, I've been wrong before.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Spinal Confession

There are only two ways of telling the complete truth -- anonymously and posthumously. -Thomas Sowell

One of my very closest friends once commented that he had learned more about me from this blog than he had from nearly twenty years of face-to-face conversations. I plead guilty to being circumspect about my personal life. Another friend observed that I never actually avoided any conversation but after an evening of discussion I may have spoken in depth on how early Aegean cultures felt about a certain issue but he still didn't know my personal feelings on the subject.

Today I make a leap of self disclosure. I am doing this is response to a confluence to two factors. First, I have had conversations with both friends and family in the last two weeks in which I have hidden my current physical condition from them. Second, several of my dear friends have pointed out that such behavior may be less than optimal for everyone and with the deepest respect they told me to knock it off. After much reflection I have come to believe them to be much wiser than I on this issue, therefore I am going to change my behavior. So here goes:

In the fall of my sophomore year in high school it appeared that I had suffered a back injury while playing football, I was 14 at the time and the problem was misdiagnosed. The x-rays were read without my age being attached and the assumption was made that I was an adult male instead of just barely a teenager. For several years I took many aspirin a day for severe rheumatoid arthritis; a disease seldom found in young adults. Later in college I was reexamined by an orthopedic surgeon and father of a close friend and received my true diagnosis.

I have a congenital malformation in the small of my back. A teenage growth spurt and not football had been the aggravating factor. The facet joints at L4 & L5 (lumbar) on my right side are not well formed and do not perform their structural function of providing full range of lateral motion. I have been aware of this problem every day for the past 48+ years. Mostly I have kept this information to myself but the problem has become more acute in recent years. 

Last week the pain became so severe that I had to make my third trip to an emergency room for narcotic induced relief, the previous ER visits were in 1974 and 1986. Other than these three occasions I have managed the discomfort with exercise, pain meds and bed rest. I have missed scores of social events, dates, even intimate encounters over the years and used a variety of excuses other than the truth about my back to cover my absences. With the helpful yet still annoying prodding from several friends I have decided to stop deflecting sincere concern from those in my life, that process begins with this disclosure.

I won't bother with a complete history of my back pain, instead I will focus on my current situation. The most recent ER visit was two weeks prior to the date of this posting. I had been unable to stand upright for about 36 hours, getting out of bed was a full ten minute ordeal, any activity below knee level was simply out of the question. I had spent the better part of one entire day on the floor. Many thanks to M for getting this bound up old man to and from the hospital. As an aside, I apologize to anyone I spoke with on the phone that first week; I probably do not remember what we spoke about and I just wasn't ready to talk about all of this just yet. 

Once the ER physician heard the clinical details of my history and recognized my depth of understanding of the problem, we concurred in our diagnosis. The short term solution was to break the cycle of pain and spasm with major drugs. I was given injectable Dilaudid and Valium. Twenty minutes later the doctor returned to find me standing, back against the wall, a position that offers some short term relief, with obvious surprise he said: "I have never seen a patient standing after that much Dilaudid." I mention that part of the story because in the realm of silver linings, it appears I can now tolerate high dosages of pain medication without the buzz usually associated with them. And while that doesn't sound like much fun . . . I am now able to use Oxycodone on a regular basis to minimize the pain without being mentally altered.

One week later (a week ago today) I met my new primary care physician and fortunately found another doctor who recognized that I really am an educated adult able to understand and articulate my somatic issues and we rather quickly agreed on a course of treatment. I now have pain pills, pain patches and muscle spasm prescriptions with refills and liberal dosage limits as needed. Also I have a referral for physical therapy and once I am past this critical period we will go for a complete physical and perhaps even an MRI peek at my lower back before reassessing my condition.

For now, thank you for listening. I shall attempt to be more forthcoming about my condition, including public updates here on the blog, perhaps once a month in the near term. I would make one point from my decades of experience with a persistent medical condition -- anyone who has a chronic condition literally lives with it every day; talking about it is often simply tedious and annoying for us. I will try to be more open in conversations with my family and friends, if you will try to remember not to see me as merely a degenerate spine or a weak back. Illness, chronic injuries, syndromes are only one aspect of a person's being, but quite often the sickness becomes an all-encompassing label and the person begins to fade away.

My sincere appreciation for your concern, prayers and invocations; yes I will be availing myself of the myriad of interventions not found behind a medical school diploma. I am as open to a shaman's smoke as I am to a doctor's prescription pad.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Poker Writin'

I am happy to say that I have regular readers who have never seen a single poker post on this blog. I am perhaps even more pleased that many of you who originally followed me here in the good olde poker days have stuck with me since I left the poker subculture. This weekend my very good friend and oft times writing partner Amy Calistri has decided to reflect on a series of articles she and I wrote four years ago. The final table of the 2010 World Series of Poker is playing out this weekend, as a homage Amy has reposted on the "Biggest Error in the World's Largest Sporting Event." I completely agree with her characterization of those pieces, she writes:

"The articles were neither fun to write nor particularly well written. But they ended up improving the integrity of the game I love. And for me, the old adage proved true. I didn't care who won or lost. In the end, I cared how the game was played."

For those of you who are poker players the articles might be of interest. To the non-poker readers, Amy's comments on who we were and who we still are might bring some insight into some of the other topics I blog about these days. The opening of the first article contains Amy's current thoughts on who she and I are when we put on our writer's mantle.

LINK to Amy's blog.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Innards of an Attic

Because my view is from the eighth floor in a neighborhood of one and two story homes and apartments, I get to see all the roof action. There is the gentleman in the apartments below who gets up on the flat roof about once a week and exercises facing the sun. He does large arm swings and a bit of quiet meditation, he reminds of an old friend who likes to take a sun bath each morning. 

Another flat-roofed apartment about a block away has had roof leak issues, I know this because after every rain storm a maintenance man gets up there and sweeps away the pooled water. Many of the flat roofs have large puddles after a storm but only this one has a depuddler on duty.

Unfortunately no naked sunbathers in view, in fact no tanners at all; white, well-educated folks tend to be unanimously pale. There is a one story cement block garage a block away that serves as the daytime haunts of a big yellow cat, he prowls the roof and often naps under some low hanging branches from a nearby tree which also serves as his ladder. 

And then there is the large two-story wood shingled house across the street to the south. There are a couple of residents on the second floor but the building also serves as the offices for a low-income housing advocacy group. Several weeks ago a small group of workers swarmed the roof one morning and began to remove shingles on the far side, I suspected a roof patching job was in progress. The next day there was a lot of inspecting and discussion with roofers and periodic others poking their heads out from the attic through a six-by-six hole. A decision must have been reached because on day three the roofers denuded first the far side of the roof and then the side facing my view. All that was left were the ribs of the roof.

Laid out before me were the treasures of an entire attic. At the top of the staircase were filing cabinets then several rows of boxes with access aisles. This corner of the attic clearly supported the housing group. This was an attic being used as opposed to the cluttered storage in which many such spaces exist. The other three quarters of the space were what we would all expect an attic to be. There were random pieces of furniture, sloppily packed boxes, crates and bags of all sorts.

Somehow exposing the contents of the entire attic to full sunlight stirred something primal in the house residents, because soon a giant sort and discard movement began. The roofers danced above the house while a cleaning crew removed, recycled and rearranged the inside space. As the new shingles were applied a large space had been carved out in the middle of the attic, soon blanketed in a huge oriental carpet. Then two now empty dressers were positioned, a large reading chair and lamp but still a large open space remained in the middle. The new roof closed off my interior view but there was left a wide gap framed out for what had to be a new skylight.

The day the assembled skylight was installed was also the day the new bed arrived and was hoisted up three stories to the newly formed bedroom/reading room in the attic. I suppose low-income housing policy ranks human space above storage space. The winter rains on the skylight should be a comforting sound to fall asleep beneath.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

48 to 68

The Green Sun comes to us courtesy of those very underfunded folks at NASA. For details on why green or why not yellow? I refer you to the website full of truly amazing images of yellow, red, blue and paisley suns plus other color enhanced celestial bodies. Today, however, I would like to discuss the one truly great unifying topic of conversationalists around the globe. No not religion, nor sex and at this time of year, definitely not politics. Today I shall dwell on the weather, in particular on not so extreme temperature varients.

The sun had once again asserted itself after a week of rainy grey. Not complaining mind you, I am terribly fond of grey and damp but the weather is as they say changeable. Mid-term predictions (isn't it nice to read 'mid-term' not followed by election), oops sorry politics .... anyway the weather forecast over the next 30 days here in Berkeley calls for temperatures not exceeding 68 degrees nor lower than 48 degrees. Over the previous 30 days the range has been 99 degrees for the high and 49 for the low. Completely unacceptable!

If I were given the power to control the ambient temperature with a twenty degree range, well then the next month is near perfection. Okay, I can go for 70/50 perhaps even 72/52 but that strains both the upper and the lower limits of personal heating perfection. If I get a thirty degree range then I would happily exist in a 71/41 world. One can always visit olde friends in the north for a white christmas once a decade. Skiers and other winter athletes can travel to snow and ice, but simple day to day existence should require no more than a light cotton hoodie and a couple of World Wildlife Fund throw blankets. If it gets really chilly at night, well then you just throw on another cat. Air conditioning should be limited to "places I might visit in winter" and everyone everywhere should be required to power all AC with solar energy.

Yes this was a bit of a restrained rant today, but I'm feeling much better now; how about you?

[11/14/10 Those bastards! 82 degrees today]

Tuesday, November 02, 2010


I want to encourage you to make a wise and thoughtful decision today to vote. I am not advocating going to the polls because it is your civic duty or your democratic right. Rather I would ask that you seriously ponder whether your old congressman, senator or governor really is good for your city, state or nation because of what they have not done for all of us in the past. Also, if you are leaning to a non-incumbent candidate--are you really convinced they will do any better?

Why not start now -- today! Say no to old time politics, say no to the left, no to the right and cast your vote for real change. Vote for a third party. Any third party is okay by me.

I mean it, staying home is certainly an option when all the candidates disgust you, I get it. But I would ask that you go to the voting booth and cast a strong None of the Above vote by voting for a third party candidate. Make them count your vote. Let's hear it said time and time again -- no one got a majority of the vote -- the people need to say to the two major parties that they simply must do better or we will give our support to third party candidates until they do.