Dec 26, 2007

Not A Country For Old Men...

... and not worth four Golden Globe nominations, certainly not one for Best Picture. Good performances, great dialogue, what you can hear of it, clever editing, evocative cinematography, altogether a compelling story, as Bonnie & Clyde was once compelling... All that, but finally thin, unsatisfying, and disturbing: not only because evil limps away to flagellate the world another day, but because good is portrayed as such a lesser force, something finally personal, clownish, tired and sentimental.

As for the violence, by the last 20 minutes, even the director seems to have had enough. The film persona also seems uncomfortably close to Fargo, although here the black comedy is much blacker, less forgiving.

I've never been a Cormac McCarthy fan. Either you are or you're not. And I didn't read this book, which might have made some difference. But despite the problems, there is something that stays bolted to the mind, more a feeling than an image, and perhaps there is one thing to be saved from the story. it is this contemporary view of evil.

Not something that can be ever beaten, but something that's implacable, impervious, and lucky. Did you ever imagine evil as being lucky? The sinister quality here is not heavy black, that signature breathing of Darth Vader, and there's no theatrical aspect. This reaches beyond psycopathic, which after all has its limits.

Segur, as he's called, is much more like an Islamic extremist. A strong believer in nothing at all save the joy of destruction. But he's a mythic extremist, the Bin Laden in the tri-city area. He's also vaguely unfuckingAmerican, vaguely Latin or Mediterranean, with off-color skin and watery eyes, in sum the particular shade of foreigner that reminds you of Jewish stereotypes created by the Nazis.

For Anderson, the film maker, old-fashioned evil, here played by dead Mexican drug dealers and corporate devils, seems like a sail boat next to a super tanker. Here's evil that flips the coin and lets his victims decide, and to be terrorized by the odds. Why? Because even the most evil spirit needs some entertainment, some challenge and heehaw.

There's no good challenge here, no corresponding white hat, which is the real problem with the story. Still, it's interesting to see evil who is forever lucky, yet never missing an opportunity to destroy and so to those who unknowingly help him, he always leaves division and resentment. No deed — good, bad or indifferent — goes unpunished...

* * *

And then in the middle of the night I got up to read that Benazir Bhutto had been murdered. I should have known that, I thought, I should have expected some dark thing to follow the portrayl of something so dark as Segur.

Dec 20, 2007

Holiday Poem For You

At the cirque, under big tops shaped like pointy,
striped breasts, Hamster devils scamper in spinning
cages; three blonde waifs, with liquid joints,
pouring in and out of each other; a clown
filching time out of pocket, sequined girls
twirling far above your head. Then someone
from the audience disappears, before your very eyes.
Afterwards, the hero finally flies his kite.
But before all that, a man Runs through us,
like some hotel red cap, with a box, yelling,
“Package for Mr. Innocent. Package for Mr. Innocent.”

“Package for Mr. Innocent,” you think.
“Ah, but that’s not me. No,but I wish it was.”
To be both innocent and innocent. To be a clean
Sheet for a day. To have little knowledge beyond
fresh sensation, to be of no particular age,
or era, no particular background or filament.
To be without much desire, stripped down to your
briefs, plum out of sentimentality, unable
to second guess, yet able to withstand
relentless curiosity and make out subtle joys
in the foreground.

This is what I wish for you, at the end of the year,
at the end of a luckless, blue year for so many,
wasn't it, and a bad presidency to boot.
But this package remains, for you, now. Take it, go on.
Why not? It's what you’ve been waiting for,
you need only accept to deserve it.

Dec 19, 2007

Love As Imbalance

This is this man, Zizek, who calls himself an "orthodox Lacanian Stalinist". He's from Slovenia and is always standing at the intersection of wisdom and the ridiculous, shouting some compelling nonsense. This is what he has to say about love....

Dec 6, 2007


I had to look at this several times until I believed it was real and not a computer simulation. Isn't this how you've always imagined flying, or swooping as it's called?

Old Valentinos

We are, so to speak, at a little restaurant around the corner from the public television station. In the Mission District. This is the 'faux mission". What was once Latino has become Valentino. What was once a VW community garage is now a sushi bar. What was once a city is now a trendy boutique. Once dangerous, now trite, mealy- mouthed and whiny.

Sure enough look out the window and watch the trendy blue eyes walk on by, upshot hair on older slackers rising to the moon. Youthy folks on the prowl. Meanwhile, we're in tears, aren't we. We can't believe the city has come to this.

The restaurant, itself, is less a la mode than a year ago (this is what I hear, I can't say, I don't think I was ever here), yet still people like to pay for 16-inch white plates, each with a little fist of food. The menu is rodente al dente: rabbit loins, squirrel tips, fish tits. The place is done up in industrial androgyny, cement floors, phosphorescent blue light over the bar, metal chairs. Everything as though on a screen.

And over there, so to speak, there are these three men. Furtive Fifties, low sixties. In a cloud bank, so to speak. Black t-shirts, leather jackets. Drinking vodka and tequilla. Gray not gay, nor particularly metro sexual. What would you call that? One has long hair. Another has a perpetual smile. The third looks anxiety-ridden, torn. They're talking about their wives and girl friends. Several times you hear the word, "bitch".

They're stragglers from Glenda Jackson days, from the old British cinema verite, the old Bore wars, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. Then, men were leaning forward, they were hitting out, even their women, they were crude and could care less. Now men are on their hind legs, caught in the prison spot light, cornered and splayed out.

"She's such a bitch," one is saying. "But I'm sure she'd like to see me dead as well."

Stories follow, proofs, clarification and lies. 'Women are always wanting. Men are always giving.' That women feel the same way about men is no matter. These men are tired. They need women but more and more in theory. Yes, why not? Theoretical women, who are wondrous, exotic and erotic. That nothing has changed is devastating.

Men have grown so frail, haven't they? The pioneer blood is below the minimum, and they can't climb to the top of masts the way they used to do. When they finally do, up like very old spiders, they look down and there are the women saying, 'yes, but can you clean the sheets not just open them....' 'Can you extend the yard arm a little?' 'Can you catch the albatross?' 'Can you Errol-Flynn me?' 'Do you see the island of my content?' 'Can you make it all burn off and go away and come home and go away and provide more of this and that....

Meanwhile, the waitress comes and goes. They're having another round. There are schedules to keep. Children are waiting. Ex wives are waiting. Current wives and lovers are waiting. The show has to go on. And here they are back stage, the men, putting on their costumes for Act IV. Flagstaffs and old Hamlets, older MacBeths. Kings fiddling with their crowns, longing for their horses. Flying on their petards.

Dec 5, 2007

The Lion of Dolo

Last spring, Marina got this email from a renown veterinarian in Ethiopia. Here is the vet's story....

Last weekend was quite unusual. I was planning to relax for a couple of days when I received a phone call from the wildlife department: “Rea, can you leave tomorrow for Dolo Odo, to rescue a lion and bring him back to Awash Park, it is quite an emergency and you are the only one who can help us”. I cancelled my evenings with friends and packed my stuff. I checked on the map where Dolo was: South of the country at the Somali border, over 1000 km away from Addis…wow wow…we were running into trouble! Next morning early, off we went on 2 Toyota Hilux, 2 drivers, 1 chap from the department with all the federal confiscation papers, a vet assistant, 2 armed scouts and myself. On the way I was told that this lion was kept as an illegal pet, chained by the neck since he was a cub, the chain being so tight that it digged into its flesh. Recently the international pressure about the lion became so big that the state had to do something about it and ordered nearly over night a rescue mission.

It would turn out to be one of the craziest trips I did for a long time: 4 days, over 2000 km…we drove 63 hrs, I didn’t sleep for 50 hrs. Basically, we drove through the whole southern country, leaving the asphalt highway, going to Kenya to head eastwards, on bad gravel roads towards the arid zone of Somali Land, the roads extremely bad; very hot… I started to worry about the animal, would he survive such a trip?.

We reached Dolo at 3 pm the second day, which is right at the Somali border and went straight to the district headquarters. There was massive military deployment, we were at 20 km from conflict areas as we were told. The chief of the district showed us the lion, he was kept in a little hut, exactly like in the picture taken by a tourist 6 months ago and broadcasted internationally.

But I was shocked when I open the door, I was told he was a juvenile and here stands a fully grown 4 years old male adult. People were standing around and started to make problems so we disappeared again from the site telling them we would come back tomorrow. It was very hot so I couldn’t do anything anyway. We waited outside town until the evening and went back to the place. As hoped nobody was there, our lie worked. It was much cooler, although it started to get dark. I prepared my syringes, briefed my team about the procedure and ordered them to keep silence whatever happened, I didn’t t want to hear a single noise during this operation.they nodded, the lion roared and I started to move to the hut.

At that moment the population of Dolo stormed us, shouting, there were about 300 people around us,very unhappy that we were taking their lion. I hurried in the hut and tried to anaesthetize the animal. He was freaking out, people jumping on the roof, hitting the walls with sticks, screaming…the armed scouts had a hard time to, at least secure the entrance so that they wouldn’t t come in and grab me away. Even I started to shout to back off and the scouts threatened them with their guns…there is nothing you can do against an angry crowd. I focused on my work, knocked the animal down and we hurried to cut the chain, all by torch light, grabbed the animal, loaded him in the transport cage at the back of the pick up and disappeared as fast as possible. There was no way we could stay in town with the animal so we decided that I would stay outside the city with the 2 armed scouts and 1 driver while the others would go back in town and sleep in a hotel.

The animal woke up 4 hrs later and was horribly sick, he threw up for 4 hours… I thought he would die and monitored him throughout the night. But I had noticed before the anesthesia that he was not feeling well, may be he did eat something wrong. We left town at 4 am in order to drive as much as possible in the coolness of the early morning. We had to drive slowly since the road was so bad. We covered the cage with a blue plastic in order to minimize the stress for the animal. He was coping well so far.

We stopped for lunch and after 5 minutes again a huge crowd came running: “it is the lion of Dolo, why do you take him?”. I was amazed how fast the news are traveling in a desert area with no people. They were jumping on the cage, ripping off the plastic cover, women were screaming…we had to run away without eating. We couldn’t t stop anymore and had to keep the car with the lion moving. From then on, I switched driving with the 2 other drivers so that at least 1 could sleep and stop to eat. We arrived in Negele Borena at 6.30 pm.

The hotel refused to have us with a lion and we had to promise him that I would sleep next to the cage with the 2 scouts and if something would happen the scouts would shoot him. We left again at 4 am. The lion did eat and drink during the night. I was happy, until now he was surviving the trip well. My nightmare was to arrive in Awash with a dead body knowing that all the officials were waiting there for us with the media. But it was also clear to me that no wild animal could survive this trip!

We drove the whole day back, keeping the lion car moving (once we tried to stop at a police station but the crowd stormed even the police station). We arrived in Zoway at 8 pm. People were tired but we couldn’t t stay with the animal, too much stress, too much noise and the people. He was not doing too well at this stage, I was extremely worried. So I decided to continue alone with 1 scout and 1 driver and leave the others sleeping there. We switched with driving and we finally arrived in Awash Park at 1 at night. The scouts were waiting.

We unloaded the cage, dragged it towards the new big cage, opened both sliding doors and waited. The lion refused to move out! We kept 1 man on top of the cage to operate the door in case the lion would go in and rotate the shift every half hour. At 4 am the lion was still fast asleep. He was exhausted! The scouts then came to me “the lion sleeps, we are tired, let us also go to sleep”. I replied “OK but stay around, I keep an eye on him”. I sat in the back of the pick up and waited, waited. One and a half hour later I hear him drinking water in the big cage and whistled the guys to come, no answer, then louder “hey guys he is in”…still no answer, just some snoring from behind the bush. So I jumped out, climbed on the cage and tried to push down the sliding door full of rust…oh my nerves! That’s Africa!.

The bang woke up everybody. I was so relieved…my mission was now completed. One scout hugged me and said smiling to me “doctor, now you can have 1.5 hour sleep before the officials come” and somebody came running with a mattress and a blanket and everybody hugged me. I threw it in the back of the hilux and lay down. Of course I couldn’t sleep. Everybody had disappeared, I looked up at the stars and waited until the sun appeared. From time to time I would look down at the lion.

I was so filled with happiness, despite all the exhaustion and realized this animal was walking for the first time in 4 years!!!! Actually he didn’t t know what to do at the beginning, just doing the couple of steps he was used to do before the chain would pull him back during all these years, but after a while he would venture a bit further, surprised by this new freedom.

When the officials and reporters came, I could hardly keep my eyes open, I was filthy, had lived in the same clothes for 4 days and 4 nights, no shower, full of blood, vomit and shit…but right now I didn’t t care anymore, I was far too tired, and the lion was in the cage, safe, alive…that was all what counted!

Dec 1, 2007

Somebody Is Fixing The Dream Car

In the dream, somebody is fixing the car. But now they've taken a break. You've been watching and you've noticed along with everyone else that there is this evil to deal with. The evil is in the car. That's a given. Perhaps, that's why the mechanic has taken a break. No matter, you'll deal with it. You've done it before and let's face it, you love to deal with this kind of thing, to challenge the dark aspect of repair.

So you walk down to the car, which is on a slight slope facing the street. There is no sidewalk, just a gutter. Everything is sloping: the car, the driveway, the street. It's late fall: cold, slightly overcast. The streets might remind you of Troy, Michigan in winter, snowless, drab, killingly gray and you're going door to door to find out how it was that Aileen Wuornos killed all those men, what went on in that chilhood that cold have turned into such a monster.

You walk through some brambles, up a slope and down, and you stand in front of the car. The hood is up, and you see the problem right away. Long sapplings are growing out of the car's body, the chassis, the engine. With the hood open it's like a great metal mouth with long stringy wooden fangs.... The car is relatively new, American, a bright color, the kind of car you would never get except in a dream. The sapplings are everywhere and you wonder whether you'll need a saw to cut them off or whether you can just break them off. And you marvel how they've grown right through the steel, as though the steel were potting soil. Everything's very neat and clean in the way the sapplings have sprouted.

It's all more interesting than bizarre, a little shocking because of the number of these trees, but otherwise not unexpected.

But who cares? The important thing is to deal with the evil that did this. But where is it? It's not here quite yet. Maybe gone for a break. It'll be back. Someone off to the left is explaining it all, and you're asking questions because you've been at a distance. Incidentally, there's a black dog asleep under the car, his head resting on the spoiler.

You stand around, you're waiting for the evil spirit to return so you can deal with it, put it away, you've done this before. Meanwhile, the person off to your left has some more information. If you want, the voice is saying, you could go a few blocks away and deal with that other responsibility because the evil is down there too. You know where that is, right? And you think, Oh yea, I know where that is. Yea, okay maybe I'll do that. Maybe go down, deal with that, come back. By then the thing will have come back to the car.

Nov 27, 2007

Women At Odds

The man whose birthday it was left the table to sit with other friends. As he sat down across the room, this was outside in the back of a trendy new restaurant down from the old Victoria Theater on 16th Street, three women leaned across the table toward each other. One was the wife of the birthday man. She's always the watcher and has a painter's eye for detail.

"I've had strange dreams lately too," one of the other women said, a woman of 40 something, in her prime but unable to hide her feeling of vulnerability. She wore a shawl and had this habit of dragging it across her mouth. She recounted how in the dream she and her husband had been flying along, high above the earth, then suddenly they began falling. They tried everything to slow the fall but couldn't. Suddenly, they found themselves thrown down on the earth. "We got up and looked at each other," she said with a tipsy slur. "It was very eerie. I didn't know if I was dead or alive and he didn't either and we just stood there looking at each other not knowing if were dead or alive."

The third woman, a well known cabaret singer and stage actress, had a dream to share. "This was terrifying," she began and she kept shaking her head. "I mean this was really terrifying. I was in a forest, at night. Everything was fine. I was walking along, I don't know where I was going, but then suddenly something dragged me down into the earth. Oh my God. Just grabbed and took me down." She stopped to drain her glass. "I was really screaming, wasn't I?" She turned to her husband. He nodded. "And I can scream. I mean I practice screaming, right?" She said everyone in the house could hear her, including her son whom she had to comfort because he was totally weirded out.

The teller said that some days later she went to a psychic who'd been recommended and he calmed her down. But she has come away from the dream with the idea that she may have been the murder victim in someone else's dream.

She went on to explain, but I fell away, into the conversation behind me, at the next table, where they were talking about the mother of a first grader at one of the city's prominent private schools who had killed herself a few days earlier. There were few details. One person said there had been rumors of a bad relationship with her husband and that something horribly dramatic had happened and she threw herself off the Golden Gate bridge....

I didn't read anything about it but of course this time of year they try to keep these things quiet.

Then a few days later this appeared on youtube...

Nov 20, 2007


Here is an edited version of an Agence France Presse story from New Delhi....

Just weeks after the Indian capital's deputy mayor toppled to his death fending off a pack of monkeys, the animals have gone back on the attack, sparking fresh concerns about the simian menace. One woman was seriously hurt and two dozen other people were given first aid after monkeys rampaged through a neighbourhood in east Delhi over the weekend. "There were about three or four monkeys involved," deputy police commissioner Jaspal Singh told AFP. "Wildlife officials are trying to find them. As police we're not experts in dealing with monkeys. We can deal with mad bulls but monkeys are more difficult," he said. Not to mention women marrying cobras. And for what? To be closer to the divine, to die entwined with a myth?

Along with an estimated 35,000 sacred cows and buffaloes that roam free in the capital, marauding monkeys have been longstanding pests. They routinely scamper through government offices, courts and even police stations and hospitals as well as terrorise neighbourhoods. They pull down women's saris, and throw shit at guards at the cultural monuments. They pee on sleeping beggars and on the shoes of wealthy people trying to get a taxi.

The issue boiled over in late October when the city's deputy mayor, Sawinder Singh Bajwa, 52, fell to his death driving away monkeys from his home. He was on his balcony reading a newspaper when four monkeys appeared. He was just reading about events in Pakistan and was cursing Islam and those crazy radicals in the Northwest provinces. Kill every one of them, he was thinking, every last one. And just then he noticed the monkeys. One sat on the railing, chattering away. Another, very cat like, langorously moved on to the railing and dropped its head like an undercover policeman speaking into a microsphone inside his jacket.

"Get out," said Bajwa, but the two monkeys didn't move and then a third appeared. For a moment all three sat, backs parade-straight watching the official. They reminded the deputy mayor of judges. "Get out you devils," yelled Bajwa who reached for a small broken branch next to his chair. But the monkeys didn't move. He moved toward them menacingly and the one seemed to titter. "You insulting little scum," said Bajwa who didn't notice that one of the one of the monkeys had hopped down and moved behind him. He began waving the stick and the two monkey both began tittering. Then suddenly Bajwa heard a strange sound behind him, a squeel. He turned and was so shocked to see the looming monkey behind him that he tumbled over the edge.

And still the violence continues. In the latest incident in Delhi's Shastri Park area, residents reported the monkeys appeared late Saturday and rampaged for hours.

"I was talking to someone at my door at around 11 pm when a monkey appeared," said Naseema, who goes by one name, told the Times of India. "As I moved inside, the monkey followed and sank its teeth in my baby's leg."

Estimates of the size of Delhi's monkey population range from 10,000 to over 20,000. In 2001 residential districts petitioned courts to make Delhi "monkey-free." And last May, federal lawmakers demanded protection from the simians. But there has been little visible progress. "We're trying to catch them but the difficulties are a shortage of monkey catchers. We're not able to take full action at full speed," A.K. Singh, a senior municipal official, said.

Delhi has set a 10-million-rupee (253,000 dollar) budget to capture the monkeys which are handed over to a shelter in a disused mine area on the city's outskirts. Neighbouring states have refused to release the monkeys into their forests. Efforts to drive out the animals is complicated by the fact Hindus view them as a living link to Hanuman, the monkey god who symbolises strength. Delhi's mayor has admitted authorities cannot cope with the violent animals. "We've neither the expertise nor the infrastructure," said Mayor Aarti Mehra. If they are caught, "we're under pressure to release them due to pressure from animal activists and from people due to religious reasons." Kartick Satyanarayanan, head of India's Wildlife SOS, said the invasion of the animals' natural habitats by mushrooming populations was at the root of the problem. "Humans are taking all their space."

Nov 15, 2007


You are high up on a cliff, in an large hole in the rock. Later, after you've died you think, 'oh yes that was like the Indian dwellings at Canyon de Chelly in Arizona.'

But actually this is much, much higher. As high as the World Trade Center. The cliffs are sand-colored but looking down, miles below, the rock turns from sandstone to granite, to the color of burnt steak.

There are a series of indentations in the rock. Like a string of rock bunk beds 60 stories high. The beds themselves are unmade, strewn with blankets, red, green and gray. The blankets are dirty and smell foul.

The problem is to get down. You are alone and you must descend. That's all you know. It's less a conviction than a compulsion. And the very idea of going down is terrifying because there is no way to go from one bunk to the one below. You have no ropes and nothing to tie them to if you did. Very quickly you come to the conclusion that you may die here, that there may be no way down. What would that be like, you think. Starvation, the elements, withering you away.

And so you resign yourself to descend. And that's all you can think of, how you can do this and you imagine all the scenarios in great detail. But then finally you realize that the imagining is all a distraction and you have to start. The longer you wait, the less energy you'll have to try this miracle journey. And there is no hope that you will be rescued. In fact, rescue is not even a thought. And so how could you go down just one level. Could you pick through the rock and make a hole down to the next cave? There's only a few inches of stone between the two but you have nothing to dig with.

You go through all the options. You imagine that perhaps there is a trick to this, something ridiculously simple. You're making a drama out of nothing; you need to be merely clever. Instead of going down, what about going up? You lean out over the ledge to look up but you can't see anything and when you glance down you have that overwhelming fear of gravity getting wicked and suddenly you're sliding off, so you scratch with your nails into the rock, but it does no good and you make a last great effort to scurry back on the ledge.

Nov 4, 2007

Captains From Past Ships

The Harvard of the city's high schools is on Washington Street, just up from the old firehouse where Jerry Brown used to live. And where Danielle Steele used to live and Linda Ronstandt, and the Austrian woman who died a few months ago, I forget her name, who sat in her livingroom every afternoon nursing a magnum of champagne?

The school is just a few blocks from the Presidio, where nannies from the neighborhood stroll up and down, where everything is just so. The school is also just a few blocks from where L used to live, in a tall brick house on Jackson Street, where I arranged for one of her lovers to come and speak on behalf of the homeless. Where the attic was so full of outrageous toys that even FAO Schwartz in his heyday seemed less by comparison.

Meanwhile, at UHS the students are talking about the challenges of going to such a school and teachers are talking about all the efforts they make to insure that their subject is as interesting as can be. And in the gym the captain of each sport and several of the coaches are seated in a long row of perhaps 30 chairs facing a bleacher full of parents and prospective students.

The captains talk glibly about their sports, about their Sports Illustrated moments, about arch rivals, about how they manage to play and study at the same time. One captain, who appeared overweight and would the very last person to play the sport he did, much less be the captain, recounted the time his team went to play outside the city and was greeted with skepticism. "They thought we were just academic kids, but we showed 'em, we put 'em down, something like 20 points."

Later, I found out that this boy went to a middle school a few blocks away. His family had bought the building the school was in. In fact, they owned several of the buildings in the neighbhorhood.

After the captains had spoken and the athletic director had made his pitch to join the unbeatens and unbeatables, parents milled around the gym. One man you couldn't help but notice. He was towering and portly, a great gourd of a man. He wore a loud cologne and a blue blazer with four brass buttons on the cuff. His shirt was red striped. He spoke with a loud voice and his nose was matted and mapped with tiny blue veins. He talked about the old days at the school, about 'his' day, when they always beat the other school, and how they still live right around the corner, and his good friend, Eli recently retired from Goldman Sachs, and how this son is going to this Ivy League school and that daughter is going to that Ivy League school, and how isn't life grand after you've been here.

Oct 24, 2007


Here was another painting I saw recently. An oil, hanging in someone's pantry. You look at it quickly and you had the impression of an abstract and unfinished. But you wait a moment, let it soak in and you begin to see a man and woman sitting at a kitchen table. They're difficult to see, as though in the low light of late night. Something cooks on the stove. Empty wine bottles stand leaning on each other on a counter. The plates on the table are half finished.

The man appears older than the woman. Perhaps, they're married. He's very distinguished, with white hair. She is striking as well, with long black hair and an odd smile. Her face is partly hidden behind a computer screen. I would have said Asian, but you can't be sure. He looks over her shoulder. Clearly, they're comfortable with each other and yet there's something amiss. They don't quite go together. Something in the body language doesn't match.

Whatever is lacking, it's made up for by the fact they they've spent much time talking and consoling each other. Just now he looks very tired, the kind of fatigue that comes from being at odds with the world, with being abandoned by friends, by having to sit and listen to the wind all day, by having a constant stomach ache and waking up every morning with foreboding from strange dreams, feeling endlessly undone by the season, struck by the smallest details, disheveled by the mail, betrayed, fearful, hideously sentimental... But saved from complete despair by seeing his children.

Now, late at night, both subdued and enlightened by alcohol, he thinks he can see all the layers of the moment, that he can see himself clearly. And he's saying to himself — the painter's image is so vivid that we can nearly him say it — "this is the start of a very, very long winter."

Oct 13, 2007

Monet Couples

In the Monet painting, Terrace-At-Sainte-Adresse, two couples address circumstance. The older couple, judging by his white beard, sits facing the sun. There is the suggestion of estrangement, by the distance between their chairs, by the angles of their bodies, and also because there is a third chair, empty. As though perhaps they await someone, or else someone has come and gone. Something is incomplete. A ghost stands between them. A dead child, perhaps. That the empty chair is to her left seems significiant. Once, she was surrounded, secure and protected by old and younger. Her life had contour. She was in the scheme of things. Now her flank is exposed. She faces the sun and uses her parasol, not to protect herself from the heat but to gather it.

Meanwhile, her man, the old man, appears reflective, silent, stiff. He faces the sun as though it were a spotlight, as though the light itself is praise. And yet he's become a hermit, he's felt no passion in years and now on this late afternoon his mind settles on his illustrious history and perhaps an acknowledgment of the stunning mystery that awaits him.

The other couple, clearly younger, is engrossed in each other. She has her back to the sun, her back and neck protected by a parasol. She faces the man directly; the man stands at a glancing angle. He cannot take her full on, perhaps he hasn't decided about her. or he's trying to get away or stay, he doesn't know. They are younger. Life is still to come. She asks for his attention. He accomodates.

But time is short. The afternoon is fleeting. A southerly wind picks up. The sun is dropping to an accute angle. Decisions must be made.

* * *

A copy of this painting, done 20 years ago, leans against the plastic garbage bins. The painting is badly damaged. The truth is, it was not cared for, an under appreciated heirloom left in a shed always with the intention of framing it. But never done. A painting of the painting would include a third couple, sitting off to one side, in an enclosed urban garden. The shed is to their left; the door closed, but not securely. We can see a broken lock, but not broken by vandals, simply a lock never closed. We presume that the spirits in the shed come and go as they please. We can also conclude that this couple, as right as they are for each other, are careless, with their possessions and perhaps each other.

Meanwhile, the man who painted the copy of Terrace-At-Sainte-Adresse has been dead for nearly 20 years. He once sat on his brick porch and labored over the painting by the hour, for years on end. Finally, when he finished it was his most prized work and he hung it over the mantle with great pride. Some people who came to his house, and who didn't know much about Art, assumed it was an original.

"Who did that?" they might ask and he would reply, "Max Monet." Then he would go on and tell exotic stories of women he'd fallen in love with, who urged him to paint this scene, just for them.....

Oct 7, 2007

winning hands

Two dozen parents line the field. The game begins promtly. The day is clean as sheets. The night before the same two teams played; Dash's team won. With 30 seconds left he scored the winning goal on a stunning header. It was the proper end to a bad affair, which included a fight between the two opposing coaches. "What is this, Koren tactics?" says an assistant coach of the other team. He's referring to one of Dash's team mates who has been using his elbows freely. But neither side is clean. The man goes on taunting and making malicious sounds with his lips. "What are you, gay?" respond's Dash' coach who is in a particularly dour mood. The two men face off, rub chests, swear. Nevertheless, at the end of the game, the teams shake hands.

The next morning the other team seems desperate. Several of their players trash talk and foul. I am told they go to the Day School, known as a haven for rich, spoiled kids. An article in the Wall Street Journal describing the rush to get into Ivy track schools in the city discovered that intereviews at the Day School were monitored from behind two way glass.

At half time the game is tied. Early in the second half one of Dash's teammates is punched in the face. Then following one of their goals the scorer comes running down the field right in front of Dash's coach mocking him. Things decline. Once again the other coach hurls insults. He is Argentinian. Dash's coach responds. He cannot believe it, he keeps saying, how could this be? How could this man, this team be saying these things?

The game ends. At the last moment Dash's team wins. But no shaking hands this time. Players and coaches, including me, swirl through the kids, taking abuse and giving it. One parent comes up to Dash's coach and says he's a disgrace to coaching, presumably for not allowing his players to shake hands. She doesn't explain. The coach had been disgusted and feared a fight would break out. Moreover, the day before one of his former players, once a promising striker, had committed suicide.

Sep 23, 2007


As little white boxes of Chinese food unfold and pass from hand to hand, the woman at the head of the table looks to heaven. Face is drawn; eyes are dimly lit. What could possibly be wrong? Two good boys; a loving, sturdy husband, with an ever wry smile; a house in a fashionable part of the city. (And the kitchen floors just redone). I know what you are thinking. But no, the life here is in proportion. There’s no rush to be fashionable. No expensive furniture. The TV is small and insignificant. Of course, there is some excess. But there is no foul.

Every night, this woman serves a carefully made dinner in the dining room, with the menorah, with a piano under piles of books, and more books stuffed in a bookcase. There’s every kind of food in this room. And it’s all a bit disorganized, in the Jewish tradition of learned taken for granted, of chaos respected.

But why upset? This is why. She is from a Quaker background, she grew up on the Main Line. Above all, she has respect for good manners, for civility, for a life of noble purpose. Even if she cannot quite grasp that life herself, in the way she might like to, she practices her convictions. She knows her shortcomings. When a friend who has been fighting breast cancer for eight years needs to go to the doctor, for the ever feared rejection news, this woman is there. And she anticipates these obligations and keeps careful track of appointments. She doesn’t say, “would you like me to come with you?” She says, “I will be there at 8 a.m. to pick you up.”

When a friend kills himself, she is at the wife’s side. She arranges everything, brings calm and sensibility, and respect. Months later, when the wife decides to have a memorial service, who is there to plan and prepare and get the thing done? She is, and not with heavy awareness or infantile lightness. But gently, respectfully.

Of course, she would say this is all nonsense. She has her secrets. She has her desires and longings. Look at the drawn face and unlit eyes. That tell you a little. Still, she is exemplary.

And so the other day when she went to a dance class and a parent at her son’s school came out the door and looked past her, said nothing and went on, this woman was deeply offended. This was not the first time this had happened. And it has nothing to do with her. The other person didn’t mean to offend or be indifferent, but just now in this city people don’t like to encounter each other. They don’t like to break silence, step, or bread. Some don’t know any better. Or they forgot. Some are young and impetuous. It a city of the dispossessed, the unpossessed.

Everyone is with their fantasy people, they don't have time for the real poeple. So here is this woman coming out of dance class but where is she really. She's seducing the man tbe waiter she saw at lunch, examining his ass, imagining horses asses and bull's asses. And then a stye in her mind and she turns to scolding her child. This is what she will say. She has each word, if only she could say it right now. Another stye and she's demeaning her sister. There's another conversation, and she goes over each word again and again.

Just the other night I was talking to a beautiful young woman, with a flashing smile and lots of expression. She is from Pacific Heights and it shows like a logo on the back of her neck and in her rattling cheeks. I had just met her. Let’s just say this was a difficult event. Someone had lost something and her husband, among others, was one of those who had lost. It was a moment where you want to maintain a level of firmness and correctness.

“Well,” she’s saying. “You live out near the beach. I was always curious. But does the salt air affect the paint on your car. I’ve heard it does.” The banality didn’t stop there.

And so what. But you see it's not just the banality, not just the thinness of that generation. It’s not just the $30 plates of spaghetti. Or the new mile high buildings going up on the skyline. Or the end of Barry Bonds, or the ocean of crack and meth rising in the Tenderloin, or the fake politesse of making busses quieter, and dogs pick up their shit, and kids get lost, or the disappearing black middle class or the disappearing white middle class or the fact that the mayor has no character, not a shred, nothing, if there was ever a human symbol of this city’s hollow heart, it’s the mayor, yet his approval ratings stay welded to 90 percent. It’s that the city has lost its civility and in that way lost definition. It’s just another place now, as vanilla as a mid-sized rental car. Were it only sin city or the naked city or party city. Or ‘fuck you’ city. Now it’s nothing city. Living on the last of its charm, on the fumes of its talents.

Aug 29, 2007


Like trying to remember a bush out a train window. That's what it seems like now. It's that distant. Tree, plow, the mindless horse, a solitary cow — if you could freeze the frame. Otherwise, what do you see, what do you remember?

But don't you sometimes imagine you will never forget the person you see in the rear view mirror, in the car behind you; the pedestrian who does not look up; the woman handing you a double latte in an indistinguishable cafe; or the dark-haired woman in the blue doorway, or the neighbor's voice out of the window.

Haven't you ever thought you could even remember a certain stretch of concrete on the freeway. Someone you barely met 40 years ago and exactly what they said and how. A log you jumped over as a child. The most obscure detail on Beach Lane, in Wainscott Long Island, so long ago.

I've forgotten everything but I could point out each pebble on the road between Ifrane and Michlieffen and tell its story.

Aug 27, 2007


This happened at around 9:15 a.m., outside a Nob Hill grocery store. In one of those little vest pocket malls off Holly Avenue, just a mile or so below Oracle Hq.

This whole area is landfill. The people who come here to shop are mostly older, in their 40s or better. Many are Asian. The women often wear sweatpants. Sometimes a group of mothers with strollers arrive. They're not Asian, they all blonde. You see them trotting up and down the outside stairs to the parking garage or playing tennis.

So I'm in Nob Hill, standing behind a man at the check-out counter. He was an older man, nondescript. He bought a few things, toiletries I think.

The checkout clerk asked him if he was having a good day. The customer shook his head. Not really, he said. He paid in cash and left. As my things were run up, the woman who bags the groceries noticed the man had left his purchases behind. She was a petite Latina, in her 50s. Had a terrific smile, you could see she was a good person right away.

She went off holding a white plastic bag above her head. "Hello" she said, in an ever louder voice.

I paid for my things and walked out the door. I stopped to look at a newspaper in a rack, with the story about the attorney general quitting, and I overheard the Latina and the man. He thanked her for bringing him this things and she was telling him that sometimes she'll be looking for her glasses and her sister will tell her, 'look on your face, Maria'.

The man watched her very intently. You have a nice day, she said and he repeated that to her. But then something must have happened between them because he didn't move and she didn't move.

They're standing on the curb by the entrance to the store. Cars are going by, more people are starting to come into the store and to the Starbuck's next door. Suddenly, the man gets down on his knees and holds up his hands, as though he were at a communion rail. My first thought was he must be nuts. Then I thought, well maybe it's a joke or they know each other and this is some kind of ritual they have.

But they looked so obviously different, he looked like one of these corporate executives, in flannel trousers and an expensive shirt. She looked like a lady who bags things.

He was looking up at her. She seemed very embarrassed but then she looked back at him; he was whispering something. "Please" was all I could hear. He kept repeating that. And then finally she just took his hands and clasped them to her. He lowered his head and they just stayed like for what seemed like several minutes. People stopped to look. A woman in a car honked, because I think the man's legs were in the road. Some girls passed by and giggled.

Then the man got up, brushed off his pants and left. And the Latina returned to the store.

Aug 18, 2007


The boy arrived at 7:30 a.m., so sharp you could cut it. He was in his bright red soccer uniform. His mother appeared in very dark glasses. The kind that are both fashionable and frightening. There were bruises on her upper left cheek and next to her left ear. She was short, with short hair and a fidgety smile. A custom-made, long-haired, white dog moved around her feet like a shag rug on the loose. She talked to it and to me and to her son all at the same time.

"Now Bougie, stop," she said looking down at the dog and then up at me. "Do you want me to have his father call you when you come back? He could come here and pick him up. I should do that, shouldn't I? Isn't she cute, oh she's so cute, and we're taking her to Tahoe today, to get my daughter, she's been away at camp. We've all been away, haven't we? Well, you're always away." She looked at the boy.

She paused, having lost her thread. She looked down at the dog and that seemed bring back a train of thought. "Yes, why don't you call Steve, he lives on Russian Hill, maybe that would work better, actually, call him when you come back across the bridge, when you get to Treasure Island, that gives him time to get dressed and get whoever is there out of there...." She looked at the boy who had the look of a shriveled-up hibicuscus bloom.

"Now, you're probably wondering why I look like this," she said.

The first thought I had when I saw her was that she'd been beaten by someone. I shook my head.

"I had surgery yesterday."

"Really. Are you okay?"

"Eyelift. I'm going to look like for a month, can you imagine?"

"I can't." Actually I would have been interested to see what she looked like, what price she'd paid to be marginally more attractive.

"I am."


"I'm used to it already and I've arranged things so that I won't scare anybody for a few weeks."

"That's good."

"Don't you hate that?"


"Oh God this whole getting old thing. I just want to give it all up. What are we doing to ourselves?"

She seemed to want an answer.

"I don't know."

"So why don't you call Steve when you're coming back across the bridge... Right, Bougie? He'll be glad to go wherever you are."

She glanced at her son, turned abruptly, towed Bougie back to her car, got in, waved, and drove off.

* * *

A few minutes later we drove off to a game in Tassajara, that vast Atlantis east of San Ramon. One gated community after another. Roman columns here and there. Past the gates to Blackhawk, past once rolling hills, now squared off. Past grazing land, a cow in the distance. Even the malls are pleasant.

We finally reach the field, for Super-Y game for boys under 13. Turf field, intense heat off the plastic even at 9 a.m. Only 8 members of the team showed up. The others off in one part of the world or another. The other team was one of those blond suburban teams with a couple of Latino kids for skill and drive. They weren't a very good team, but ours was hopeless. Such a change from a year ago.

Suddenly, here was Dash on just the kind of team we once held in such contempt. But then everything you hate you will experience. No Latinos on his team at all, no African Americans, nothing but rich white kids, but city kids, much softer than their suburban counterparts. "Our" boys go to the Towne School, just down the street from where Danielle Steele used to live, and where the headmaster shakes your hand every morning as though to say, 'you're on your way lads, on the track to Goldman Sacks and maybe one day you'll invent some new form of subprime loan and nearly bankrupt the world.'

And never be punished for it.

The first game was lost 8-0. The second by the same score. The opposing coach felt so badly for the Seals, since they were 4 men down, that in the second half of the second game he put in the same number of players plus one so that it was 9 on one side, 8 on the other. It made no difference. Most of these kids had no stuff, no spirit, no desire to struggle, not the life force of mice, and you realized once more the cruel irony of success in America these days.

When the game ended several parents were angry that we had let the boys play on. We argued that learning was more important than winning. But what about self-esteem, they said. What kind of lesson is that? I didn't mention the curse of entitlement or that self-esteem is not even a poor man's substitute for character. How you can have character without struggle, I wanted to say. But there was too much anger and resentment and so Dash and I, and Iyka, the kid from Georgia, fled as fast as we could.

Jul 31, 2007


Antonioni's L'Aventura was more character study than story. Several young couples stop off at an island; one of the women disappears, we never find out what happens to her but we do find out what happens to people deep in their ennui. How quaint all that seems now. One can hardly imagine the power of such disenchantment.

Now, we have science to tell us that the hearts of all animals, save humans, beats about 1 billion times. Then, the organism stops, whether humming bee or whale. One billion beats. That's the outside bet.

Then add the fashionable new Copernican principle, from which you can say humans have 5,100 more years on the planet and about 46 more years to reach Mars and set up shop or else we probably won't survive and so peter out with barely a whimper. Then throw in Iraq and the relentless desire to kill and be killed; the prospect of dirty bombs, Israel denying refugees from Darfur, the murder of an Oakland journalist; and global warming of course and lead poisoning and diabetes and the 30-year-old just named head of Australia's preeminent dance company, killed in a crosswalk by a truck....

There's so much and so many that you think, 'okay, uncle, maybe I'll cash in these cards after all and see what I get next time.' House wins again.

And if you don't believe in next time at least you'll be back in the ONE, you hope, the one and only, back in pre and post personality, without body, credit cards, mind, or memory. In the meantime, I am beginning to see the sweet end of the good lama, slowly sweeping a street.

But what I wouldn't give to jump into Antonioni's Aventura and sit around a rocky island lamenting this and that.

Jul 23, 2007


Back in the homelands after many years. Early Sunday afternoon. Vince Scully is still calling games on KFWB.

“And there’s a high fly ball,” he’s saying, voice rising with the ball. “Deep to right field. Going way back is Kemp.....” Then, before the arc is completed, Scully relays an anecdote about the next batter who bought a monkey, but had to sign an agreement that he would take care of it for 40 years. After a few days at home, the player decided that was not feasible. “Kemp makes the catch at the warning track and the Mets are retired. Bottom of the first, no score.”

Scully remains the Chekhov of color commentators. But his rhythm is a little slower, with a trace of slur. A stroke perhaps, or a new denture. Not quite the same enthusiasm, not the same sense that the high fly ball is a metaphor of good times, now it’s a just a high fly ball.

Forty years ago, there was no end to the optimism. You merely had to look at Rudy,the Filipino house boy, in his 50s then, in his white jacket and black tie, on a Sunday, after making dollar-sized pancakes, sitting in the kitchen, on his stool with his old beige am radio on the counter, singing Scully all afternoon.

While he listened to the radio, I shot lizards on the woodpile.

* * *

I’m staying in Venice. The night before, I walk with S over Monet-style bridges and along the narrow walkways next to the canals, on the way to dinner. These are all glass houses. Originally, these were cottages. Those have all been torn down and tiny lots built to the brim. Everything is glass. Everything is exposed.

“You think of Philip Johnson’s glass house in Connecticut, don’t you?” We say.

“But different,” we say, “because his idea was to deconstruct the barrier between inside and out. And there, the view is of meadows. It’s private. Here, nothing is private. Here, the glass is to expose you, to taunt perhaps, to say, ‘look at me. Envy me.’

I’m struck by how many living rooms have exercise machines lined up. Living as exercise. Mechanical, demanding, for the passively active, for the quick living, and you see size does matter, look at my machine... That old artifact room, the living room, often left to entertain IRS agents, the police and a priest, the room about who we pretend to be, is gone. Now, there is no pretense. ‘ If you come to my house, I may have to exercise while we talk. I cannot just sit and converse with you. I cannot just sit. I need my endorphins, I need to lose weight, I need to gain esteem. You understand. We are all like that, aren’t we?”


In Venice, the next morning. We brunch. And walk by an old garage turned into a Yoga and Spinning Center. Rows of people on exercise machines desperately peddle to the orders of a woman on a microphone. “Faster now” is the mandate. And look at those people go. When they finish they look like real bikers. But you wonder why people would seek that out. Why not actually go for a bike ride? On the other hand, this is compact, convenient, and in a country desperate for a leader, a woman gripping the mic and screaming like an auctioneer at a hog fair will do.

It’s even worth $15 a half hour, to be forced and berated, lured into becoming an insaniac riding through the Alps of a lifestyle that is mostly flat after all. Not much else to do but compare yourself to everyone else. Play As It Lays is still playing. The gardener, the checkout lady, the person in the next japanZeuro luxury sedan, everyone is either up a rung or down, from you babe, and seeing yourself relative to them is the only way you know where you are, that’s the triangulation, that’s the dead reckoning that will get you home.

* * *

All the old themes. But not as if you’d left and come back to find out that everything was the same. But as if you had never left, stayed a boy all this time, and nothing had changed, and your mind had wandered off during a red light. During the wait for a hamburger and milk and orange cake and the next to last chapter of Peyton Place.

Difference is, while you were asleep at the light, 55 percent of the people got Latino. How did it happen? The white wash is fading.

And the freeways are no better, single women are unhappier than they were before, men are more uptight, more about ‘making it’, the air is as strange and dull glossed as ever.

And you’re in the car just like it always was, driving up Robertson, past Cadillac, past Pico and Olympic, right up to Doheny and all the ghosts are sitting at a bus stop. A girl raped and garroted. A mother screaming. Another mother with a bouquet of tennis racquets. A father with dark glasses even at night, middle aged women, singers and actresses, all sitting there and waving as I go by. I wave back and go on.

* * *

A few minutes later the door opens in a dark hallway on Oakhurst, in the flats, in a building with 12-foot tall black doors but inside low and lightless, the smell of old carpet, cracked tiles, a place behind the lines.

Door opens. Older woman just out of the hair salon. Heavy make up. Betty Davis eyes. A starlet at 90 with Bacall blonde hair, a woman of some age but what. In her late somethings, but you would be stunned to hear 90. You would be stunned.

Over her shoulder familiar objects, paintings and furniture. A small dog at her feet. That’s the law now in El Lay. Everyone has to have a very small dog.

Then a sideway hug. Nothing personal, no hint of real contact. As though nothing was ever personal. — I’m glad you’re here. — I am too.

And then right into it. No warm up, no sit down, no news. No, “well, how long has it been?” I don't know how long it's been. The better part of 10 years.

No, “How are you doing?” No, "What about the old days?"

No. Everything is apparent; there's nothing to ask or say or do, except make a choice, move it out. Rawhide.

I get the backgammon table, the Queen Anne desk, the long dark bench, a table, two lamps, two recovered chairs, some odds, ends. Everything is in disrepair. Take this. Take that. I would like this. Well, actually not that.... But how about some old silver-plated serving dishes? How about these chairs?

I can’t, I say. What about this dictionary stand? I’ll take it.

I say, yes, to please, to affirm. That’s an old rhythm. That’s always been our way. You’ve had this life of horror; I will forever honor your tragedies.

She disappears. I work the hand truck. I rattle off, in and out. An hour passes. A neighbor stops by. E and this woman compare small dogs. A phone rings. The work is ending, the tension is increasing. The apartment is looking distraught, as though there had been a fight perhaps. This is the hour of the wolf in moving. She has to stay here in the confusion, with bare walls, with things missing. I’ve come and started to deconstruct not just her apartment, but her life, her future even.

Yes, this is the last time probably.

I always used to say that to Marina and Dylan. This is the last time you’re going to see your grandfather so pay attention. I became obsessed with ‘last times’. But it was never the last time until the last time and then it was all gone, him and the lifestyle and Hollywood in the old days, and the 1930s at Mike Romanoff’s, and every electric charge, gone, like the view of a city from 35,000 feet.

Well how’s your mother, she asks. Dead, I reply. She goes into a trance, like the gypsy woman in the booth at musee mechanique that tells your fortune for a quarter. Suddenly, she’s very stiff. This fortune wasn’t in the deck.

“Don’t go there,” she says, to herself mostly. “Don’t go there.” And the hair is straight on the back of your neck.

She has no emotional shocks left, there's nothing to soften the ride. And in her condition, with all that tragedy, even if the stories have been mistold or she’s recited a life that wasn’t quite so phantasmagorical, still it is amazing that she got through it, and that she could look like this now....

Of course, you should have seen her when she was my age, we are just at that point, she and I began just when she was the age I am now.... She looked like a woman in her 40s then, in the late 1960s, a ‘fragrant phantom’ as Zelda Sayre once described herself on the night she fell in love with F. Scott. Blonde and hot and would not be denied. “I can’t keep my hands off you,” she would say. “I just can’t.”

Dissolve, as we used to say.... POV, now.

“Let’s not talk about your mother,” she says.

Okay, I say.

“Keep it in the moment,” she says, "steady now."

Steady as she goes and we cross through the straits. There is no more talk.

Move this, move that. Unplug this, plug that. She empties some desk drawers, but not really. When I get it home the desk is full of credit cards and uncashed checks. And eight of an inch cockroaches.

* * *

I took the last things and put them in the back of the pick up truck, paying special attention to the paintings. I should have taken more paintings, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to make the walls barren. I just couldn’t do it, but I will regret that of course. Regret is also part of the rhythm.

She’s tried to get me to take more, to lure me with old playing cards and expensive poker chips and a cork backgammon table on which the points are barely visible. Want the stones, at least? She wanted me to stay I suppose, looking back, and yet....

We sit in her bedroom for a moment. Want these books? Some written by her first husband. Some written by this lover or that. There’s the John Huston biography; she’s Cherokee in that. No, I have all those, copies. I don’t want any more books. I can’t take them. But I suppose she’s saying, asking, for another moment. But I can’t manage it myself. All these old scents, still the original perfume, she’s wearing. And the bookcase in her room coming undone. A reminder of gray gardens. I want to get away. I would stay if she knew how to negotiate a place, a reason....

The room is as it always was. Recreated, I mean. The same paintings, of her daughter, of herself in the company of the stars of yesteryear. When people were named Belden Cattleman and Diortis Niven and Jack and Cubby Brocolli.

We wander into the living room. she looks one way, I look another. Like partners in a tango. So you don’t want this or that or anything, it seems. That’s what she’s thinking. And so she senses that I want to go, and that she wants me to go. We’re not really thinking this is the last time.....

And then suddenly she said, “okay that’s it. I’m going to turn away and I’d like you to be gone.”

She turned and I left.

Land of no goodbyes. Fade to black, to black and white reels on a noisy projector. Was I ever there?

* * *

I drove up to the old house. “The house” as it was called. As if there were no other. “Come up to the house. The bar is always open”... Decade after decade. The parties that got done in that house, the betting, and John F. Kennedy’s Los Angeles campaign headquarters in the summer of 1959.

I hadn’t been back but have been writing something about it and took the opportunity. The road was unchanged, the neighborhoods had settled. They were new when I was a kid. Now the trees have matured. The cement has cracked and been redone. It was dirt road when I first got there in 1957.

The house itself was different of course, then. Now, the garage is a house. The main house, the house, has a second floor. The cottage in the back is a house. All things have been enlarged, engorged and hidden.

I wanted to go to where the woodpile had been, to say a prayer to those lizards that I played with and then shot. It’s the thing I most regret from that time. Other crimes, which were serious enough, were nothing next to that. And why? I played with them as pets, took them in the house, put them all over me, treated them like domiciles, fed them flies, you can’t imagine. And then one day I turned, I got afraid and mean and the adolescent got violent. I became an adult and lost on whatever day that was....

I wanted to do that, to make a pilgrimage to the lizards, to pay my respects, to acknowledge my crimes, but now there’s gates and hedges, you can hardly see anything.

* * *

I finally drive away, past the park where it rained high fly balls, now to be a reservoir; past the old hotel and Our Lady of the Good Cadillacs, down into the flats, on to Pico and Olympic, past the apartment where my grandmother lived at the end.

The game is still on but Vince Scully has been replaced. The Dodgers are on their heels, the relief pitchers have fallen apart, the Mets have gone ahead. The air has that opaque quality, like air next to a waterfall, moving, moist, unreal.

Jul 4, 2007


After dogs and burgers, key lime pie, mustard around the mouth, men playing hillybilly golf out the window, where the thermometer has gone to 106, four women sit down at the end of the diningroom table. In the cool. Accomplished women in their late 40s and early 50s. Except for one they would not be the kind of women to see the Vagina Monologues, they don't use that word lightly, but they would gladly see the new comedy about Menopause.

One is a CFO; one is blonde; one is good; and one is big and tall. Towering, is the word. And something about her that's not only imposing but forbidding. Her body language suggests all work and no play, suggests jacqueline coming down the beanstock for women and not in a good mood, suggests feeling angry at having to be in the wrong sex all the time.

She is also the consummate matron, she's in this charity and that. She believes it's more blessed to give than to receive. She likes little kids. She's Republican and thinks the war is a terrible thing.

But lately life has been hard. Look at her smile; she can "hardly get her lips to bend. But this is why, this is why, this is why... as the kids keep singing these days. This is why she is...

She lives in a gated community across the valley from Mt. Diablo. Where she lives there are red wine orchards and over the hills to the south one of the great state parks in this part of the state. She has a view of the town in the valley below.

If the internet could be made real, so you could see it, this is what you would see. Her looking out her window and the town below and the town looking at her, all at the same time, this towering woman in the window looking down, her line of site in every direction. As an aside, this is her fate, she always has to look down, she rarely, rarely gets a chance to look up. Except at a bird or dark clouds or the moon, she looked up at the moon a few weeks ago, or the hunchback's gargoyle at Notre Dame. Otherwise, everything is below her. I won't say 'beneath' her because I don't know her, I can't prove that, I can only say 'below' her.

In this community where she lives there are rules, of course. You can do certain things to your house, for example, but anything you imagine must be approved. You have to show not tell, let's see the plans, let's know what you're doing here.

You show it to a homeowner board. Like in every community these days, even if you live in a time share or a commune, there's a board. Where she lives, you can't just convert your garages to rooms for example, You can't just pull up all the grass in your front yard and plant something else. There are standards. There is an expectation. You can plant trees but we don't want eucalyptus, which are dirty and of course they're full of water and they can fall over on your house. Or my house. You can have oak and maple and cherry just like people in Ohio, which is where all these people came from by the way.

So Mrs. Big and Tall wanted to paint her house yellow, kind of golden yellow, not wizard of oz yellow, but yellow to echo the hills around which have that yellow you see in the high hot of summer when the tall grass is dead and white near the roots and kind of pale beigy, yellowy on the top. She wants her house to look that color.

So she got a little patch with the exact color and took it to homeowner board, the lady who does these things on behalf of the board, showed it to her, she signed off, and then Mrs. Big and Tall went and painted her house.

Well the painters hadn't finished when somebody, we don't know who, somebody in the development, let's not use that word, let's say someone in the community, complained. Said, "what the heck is that woman doing?" That's a horrible shade of yellow, all the rest of the houses are beige, or some shade of beige and gray and there's just no yellow in any of our homes.

This mystery person, and it's a woman, we know that, the board lady said that by mistake, it was a woman and she doesn't like what you've done and there's some question whether the patch you showed us is an accurate reflection of the color of your house. So we need to take a sample, the board will need to review this decision. We take these matters very seriously. It's possible you may have to repaint your house. Of course, we don't like doing this, this is not an easy job, and we know you have rights just like everyone else...

Can you believe it? asked Mrs. Big and Tall who got a round of sympathy from the others at the dining room table. Some atta boys to go with her burger and potato salad. How ironic, everyone said, that on July 4th 2007 we don't have our freedoms.

"This is what it's like," said Mrs. Big and Tall, who stood up and looked down at us like a Kareem Abdul Jabar. And you expected her to say, "And I'm not going to take it anymore." But she didn't, she just shook her head, and smirked, and thoroughly enjoyed the support. Because now she was going to have to drive back there, back to the gated community and endure the derision of someone there who didn't like the color of her house.

But she wanted to add that her real anger was not at the woman who complained but the woman at the board who relayed the complaint. "She" said Mrs. B & G, "should have handled it right there. She should have taken care of it. Why bother me with this. Now I have to wait for the board to decide, but it should all have been taken care of..."

Jun 10, 2007


The boy doesn’t know yet. He’s been upstairs, in a den, with antler heads on the wall. Playing video games, hour after hour, in the dark, in this enormous house.

His mother has been dead for three days but no one has told him. He saw her in the hospital, she smiled, she kissed his hand, she said she would be home soon, everyone said she would recover. But that was a week ago and now suddenly today is her funeral and someone has to explain.

His father is the one who should do it, but he would rather not. He believes a woman should do it. His mother might do it. Meanwhile, people are milling around below in the great house. There is the father’s family and the mother’s family. The one is from Ohio, the other from Texas. They are as different as Dickens from Danielle Steele, as Gore from Bush, as heartland from Wasteland. As a family gathering from a board meeting.

Right now the families are circling each other, everyone a matador, a boxer. In one corner, inside the Alamo, the conversation is about the mother’s half brother, the wife’s half brother who has come to be a pallbearer but doesn’t have the right shade of suit, not black enough, and too sheeny. “Like a cheap suit,” one of them says and there’s a chuckle all around These are the father, the husband’s friends, from college, asked to be pall bearers, his old frat brothers, and they all have the same shade of black suit. In fact, they all got their suit from the same store, just for the funeral. Like they did when he got married.

In the other corner, the people from Ohio, all women, and shaking their heads. The dead woman is their sister’s daughter. It’s all so tragic, they’re saying, and their mother having just died a few months before, but then to see their niece’s husband playing the role of a victim. They scowl and hurtle derision across the room. How is he going to take care of these kids? Seriously, how is he going to do that? The girl will be okay, she’s a little older, but the boy is only 4, what’s going to happen to him? And who’s going to tell him? It’s outrageous.

The house sucked the life out of her, it really did, the dead woman’s closest friend is whispering to someone from Ohio. Well, just look at it.

The pretentiousness of it, she means, but not just the size, but also the Etruscan style arches, the faux painted walls, the marble, the slate, the mirrors, my God, the frames on those paintings, which aren’t even original....

This is one of those super houses, set on a mapley clean street in a prominent neighborhood in Houston. Once the houses on this street were in proportion and that was the nature of its prominence. People who lived here understood proportion and looked down on those who didn’t. If you lived out of proportion, they felt, it meant you had to prove something, and if you had to prove something then you weren’t really rich, you were a wannabe, a ‘bourgeoise type’, and they, the elite, pronounced the word the way people in New Haven and New York pronounce it when they want to make fun of people who live in Texas and in places that are not a la mode, that are, if you want to know the truth, ignorant.

But you could argue that either way, couldn’t you? You could argue on behalf of people who don’t want to live in proportion. You could be a rebel; you could want to burn down the country club, and for good reason. Not to mention artists, geniuses, prodigy’s, many homeless people, crazy people, all kinds of people, live out of proportion. In their minds at least. You could even say the nouveau riche, for all their vulgarity and ‘ignorance’ got to where the are for their energy, because they often said ‘fuck you I’ll do it my way’ and they did.

In fact, that’s why this daughter of Ohio married the son of Texas. Because he was up and coming and she admired his courage and his bravado and if he wasn’t rounded at the edges, it was okay because he provided and if he wasn’t always as attentive as he might have been, then that’s okay too, because he had other qualities.

But the women from Ohio didn’t believe any of that. They knew it, they even hoped it might be true, but they didn’t believe it. They didn’t see any rebels here, and they know rebels, some of them had been rebels themselves, diggers in Oregon, anti establishment types in Berkeley. No, there were no rebels here, just a man who wants to get as much as the can and doesn’t care what you think, so long as he can live it his way and be with his buddies and his ticket business and his money....

However, you look at it, he paid for the original house to get a boob job and now it fills the lot. A fat man in a corset couldn’t get between the house and the fence. A thin man with boots and spurs would have to walk like a line dancer. And when you get from front to back, there’s nothing more than a small pool that comes right up to the living room door. The old trees and shrubbery are gone. Now there’s new trees and shrubbery, although not much room to put it in, and a lot of furniture and potted flowers...

Whatever is good about it, whatever you find appealing about the backyard, she did it. He didn’t care, just so long as she made it nice, so other people were awed and said how pretty it all was.

The inside of the house is like a hangar, like a new car showroom for Mazaratis. “Like wow baby, I like it”. In the words of friends of the ticket master who made all this happen. Who brought his wife in to this place and said, “Look at this, honey. Wow, huh?’ And she smiled the big blonde smile, sexy and big, but always a touch of down, now that you think of it, a little eyeliner of doubt there.

Wow, she said, but how are we going to live here? It’s so big.

Oh honey, we’re gonna have a big family. We need it. And anyway, we’re gonna live big. Know what I mean?

Sure. Why not, she thought. Why the hell not. Live big. This is Texas after all.

So he went off and made fortunes scalping tickets so he could have leather pigs around and pretend he was somebody refined. Gimme a bud, baby, will ya? How ‘bout those Astros, huh!

Meanwhile, she tried to fill the house as best she could, got Patty Madden's Etruscan collection of contract vinyl wall coverings. She read the magazine where it said, ‘Take this incredible turquoisey blue-green, like you'd see on a cloisonne vase, and paint it on the reverse side of glass. Then use it as a tabletop. You have the effect of color, once a long time ago...’

It wasn’t really her, she would have done it another way, but she would do anything to please. Not a mean bone in her body, and if she didn’t feel so well those last months, but thinking it was just pneumonia, that’s what the doctors guess it was, she just kept right on going, and when she was throwing up blood and they finally discovered it wasn’t pneumonia but cancer, she kept right on going. Don’t worry, she informed her family, some chemo and cutting and it should recede.

Then two weeks later she was gone.

But in the moment after they said, well you’ve got this thing and it’s everywhere all through your body but we can beat it, she saw how this was going to play out, and with no time left on the clock she went off on a trip with her kids, and then came back, got in her hospital bed, lingered, smiled, cried, and died.

* * *

The people downstairs are getting ready to go to the funeral. The boy’s still upstairs plying videos in the dark. Finally, the husband, the ticket guy’s mom goes upstairs. She doesn’t make a sound. ‘Your mom’s gone,’ she tells him. And when they get to the cemetery he wants to know if this is heaven. Well not exactly, his grammy explains but wherever it is your mom’s there.

The boy can’t grasp it all so he needs to understand this again. I want to see he says, I want to see her. Grammy tries to put the kibosh on that but he keeps insisting and then he starts to make a scene, starts screaming, and even if you’re deaf and dummer than dirt you can hear something in that scream that says, ‘wake up, people, my mom’s gone and I want to see her.’ The man in the boy called out and after a while, after the they got finished saying, we’ll come back and visit or there’s nothing to see or it’s private or just think good thoughts, finally they agreed.

The casket was still atop the gurney and they brought him over and the weird men from the mortuary, undid some levers, because these days you never know when you might have to do another autopsy. They opened the lid and the father lifted his son up and he looked inside and there she was, kind of like she was sleeping, and he wondered if she couldn’t just wake up, he reached out to touch her but his father pulled his hand back, and before he was ready they shut her up in there and did everything real fast, got the casket down in the ground, and threw in the dirt and sang a song and then got him back in the car and home and said it was okay if he went upstairs to the den and played his video games, and grammy brought him a sandwich and milk and sat with him, as best she could, because she was done in herself. And watched him, and didn’t have a thought in her head, and meanwhile, the boy was being a hero in the game, slaying dragons, and fighting as hard as he could to stay alive.

Jun 6, 2007

Bad Weather

Tremendous storms, unheard of for this time of year.
The kind of quiet that howls in your head,
Those C sharp chords from wind on the window,
Then the relentless pounding of wooden shutters.
... the way it seems, day after day,
Unable to sleep, day after day, unable to sleep,
Nothing helps, not wine or beer or either of those
With vodka and pills, or first the pills and any of those.
There is no effective combination. Of anything.
After a while, you begin to wonder, what's the world telling me?
Is it going to be like this from now on in?
Will I even survive?
You are suddenly that tenuously small boat of yourself,
In a squall, at night, on the other side of the world,
Sails tattered, rigging undone, Captain Crowhurst at the wheel,
Sailing in circles off the coast of Argentina,
Month after month, waiting for the race to catch up,
Keeping two sets of books, as honestly as you can, and
All the while sailing into the Sea of Sargossa,
Toward the long slow calm of absolute insanity....

Jun 3, 2007

In Mortmain

I’d been lingering in the mirror when over my shoulder, with the images bending around to eternity, I noticed myself a long time ago, a man in his 20s.

I’m at a bar, one of those blue collar joints on a frontal road in a town on the make, where girls named Betty tease boys named Rodney, until one night Rodney goes too far. There’s a loud juke box with flickering blue light, a TV on the wall with subtitles, empty bottles of cheap gin stacked behind a long wooden bar. The Iceman Cometh here, every night.

There’s a pool table in the back; a layer of smoke, a bartender and bouncer ,with a Boston accent. The clientele is an uneasy blend of college kids and townies, furtive, envious men with jaunty girls looking for anything at all.

But this is not about college boys and townies, I’m a college kid dancing with a college girl. I’ve known her for the last four years. She’s blond, it’s the end of college, we’ll never see each other again. We’re dancing for old times sake. It means absolutely nothing. She has someone; I have someone. Our future is on a remainder table.

But of course the situation is not entirely harmless. This dancing could be perceived as threatening, and it wouldn’t be the first time.

Maybe that’s it; maybe her boy friend feels threatened by me. He’s always worried about losing the girl and so he does. it’s a situation that repeats itself endlessly.

I see him at the last minute, coming hard across the dance floor. He’s a rich-kid, with his father’s pedigree and a mother’s pedicure, from a second floor bedroom looking down on a front yard with oaks and maples. In his room, pendants on the wall, tall plastic trophies and freshly vacced carpets.

Coming out of the shadows and at the very last second I catch him out the fish eye. He cold cocks me just like that, like I’d been hit with a brick. But I don’t go down. I stagger, the pain is wicked, I might as well have been asleep for the shock of it.

But I stay up, I’ve taken blind sided hit, once, at 13, I got knocked out running a crossing pattern. I never saw that coming.

But this was so unexpected, caused such a ringing of old bells. Plus, such a violation of the moment and the place I’d gotten to in recent days. I had and arrived , just when I’m beginning to enjoy the very last days of college. I said I would do it and I did. And then this maniac, as though to say, ‘you will not end on a good note, you will not remember this well....’

I tackle him right away and a broken beer bottle breaks his fall and it that takes 30 stitches to mend the rip. People pull me off. The bouncer kicks me out. The cops arrive. People tell them what really happened. Cops ask if I want to press charges. I don’t.

I go home, I’m still seething. I cannot, I simply cannot help myself.

I find out the kid’s gone to the emergency room.

I want to finish him off somehow, get in one more good punch, so I get to the hospital and there’s the girl I was dancing with and she sees right away what’s up. She knows right away and says she’ll get cops if I don’t leave.

And what about you, I’m thinking. Why are you suddenly this fool’s defender?

I wake up the next morning and I’m thinking to myself, ‘okay, it’s over’, but then I start reliving it again, I get tangled up in what this kid did for no good reason, and I think about these rich kids like him, with their sense of entitlement, with all their confidence and ease. how they’re soft, how I’ve known them all my life, how they never see me for who I am.

A few hours later I get a couple of friends and I go over to this kids house. He lives with other rich kids. We get to the house, they’re half a dozen but they don’t want any part of this. He’s upstairs they tell me and I go up and there’s the kid in the bathroom, peeing.

I say to him, “you have five seconds to explain what the fuck you did to me last night.”

He mumbles something. I can’t hear it. Whatever it was it sounded condescending, as though he hasn’t figured this out yet, as though he doesn’t owe me an explanation.

If he would only say, “you know what? I acted like an asshole last night and let me buy you a drunk.” Or, “look, I'm sorry. I’ve had a bad week.”

But he just mumbled in this condescending way and that’s when I let the dogs out. I punched him once in the face, he went right down and I followed and kept hitting him and hitting him, in the face.

How many times? I have no idea. Twenty, thirty times. Blood everywhere. I thought I might have killed him.

It’s like going leaving the bridge of yourself and slipping down into the engine room of yourself. That place is a blur of noise and motion, yet at the same time I can see everything that’s happening, I suppose I could slow it all down if I wanted. But I don’t; I have absolutely no control and I don’t want any. I just want to keep hitting him. Suddenly, I am graduated from everything I believe in myself, from everything I am not afraid to know of myself.

A minute goes by, a minute and a half and then it’s over. The kid goes back to the emergency room, gets more stitches. It’s not as bad as it looked.

Now I’m like a pit pull after the ring, lathering, shaking, jowls drooling but slowly sick at the thought of what I’ve done. No matter the history, the genetic predispositions, all the excuses, explanations and qualifications.... I could offer it all up, but would that make a difference?

Still, there is enormous pleasure in it, what can I tell you. To prevail, to clean the dirt off of something. To get things righted again. Kayo would understand. He would know exactly what this was....

Years later perhaps I will deeply regret it. Or maybe not. Or maybe I will flinch in horror, I will confess it all up, over and over. I will feel badly for a long time. And that won’t be the end of it.

Jun 2, 2007

Between The Lines 2

Sure enough. Here is the rest of the story. (See "Between The Lines" below) And notice the reference to 'worshippers of the cross.'

WASHINGTON/DUBAI (Reuters) - An al Qaeda-led group said on Thursday it had killed an Iraqi husband and wife employed by the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

Earlier, U.S. officials said the couple appeared to have been kidnapped.

The U.S. officials, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the case, said that after the husband went missing late last week his wife went to look for him and then she too appeared to have been abducted.

"God's ruling has been implemented against two of the most prominent agents and spies of the worshippers of the cross ... a man and woman who occupy an important position at the U.S. embassy..." the self-styled Islamic State in Iraq said in a statement published on the Internet.

"The swords of the security personnel of the Islamic State in Iraq ... are with God's grace slitting the throats of crusaders and their aides and lackeys," it said.

The killings took place on Monday, it said.

One official described the two as "missing and apparently kidnapped."

The group said it was able to acquire a large amount of money from them. It did not give further details.

Jun 1, 2007

Hey Baby

It is Marilyn Monroe's birthday today; I happened across this article. And by the way, that's more than coincidence, isn't it? Also, her initials, MM, are mine. Could that be a coincidence, too? I used to pass by her house all the time, on the way to the beach, right there on the corner of Sunset. I imagined her last night and saving her and picturing Bobby Kennedy right there at her bedside... But what about this? I once knew a girl named Sherrie. Read below and you'll understand. I also met a Melvin once. Isn't that amazing?

MALIBU, Calif., Aug. 8 2004 -- Adrian Finkelstein, MD, UCLA Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, graduate of the renowned Menninger School of Psychiatry, who won the first research award given by this institution, and pioneer in past life regression therapy will present his client, Sherrie Lea Laird, as the reincarnation of Marilyn Monroe at the Lily Dale Assembly on August 13, 2005.

Dr. Finkelstein will discuss his six and a half year working relationship with Ms. Laird, which has included extensive videotaped past life regressions, and explain why he is convinced that Ms. Laird is the reincarnation of Ms. Monroe. Dr. Finkelstein will present similarities in facial bone structure, hands, handwriting, voice pattern, linguistics and personality traits that exist in common between Marilyn Monroe and Sherrie Lea Laird. Dr. Finkelstein will also discuss new ways of potentially proving reincarnation, such as through DNA studies and the comparison of iris patterns.

Dr. Finkelstein's work will be summarized in his upcoming book, Marilyn Monroe Returns, The Healing of a Soul, which will be released by Hampton Roads Publishing in Spring, 2006. Hampton Roads is the publisher of the bestselling Conversations with God series, by Neale Donald Walsch. Ms. Laird, who goes by the stage name, Sherrie Lea, is a singer whose production of No Ordinary Love hit the top of the charts in Canada and Europe. It is interesting to note that in her film Bus Stop, Marilyn's role was of a singer named Cherie. Ms. Laird and Dr. Finkelstein will be present to answer questions at the Lily Dale event.

Dr. Finkelstein will be joined by Walter Semkiw, MD, author of Return of the Revolutionaries: The Case for Reincarnation and Soul Groups Reunited, who will present independently researched reincarnation cases which demonstrate that facial features, personality traits and linguistic writing style stay the same across lifetimes. Two of these cases were researched by Ian Stevenson, MD, at the University of Virginia.

Kevin Ryerson, who has been described as the "Edgar Cayce of our time," will also participate in this presentation. Mr. Ryerson, who has appeared in three of Shirley MacLaine's books, including Out on a Limb, supports Dr. Finkelstein's assertion that Ms. Laird is the reincarnation of Marilyn Monroe.

May 31, 2007

Between The Lines

"American officials said an Iraqi husband and wife who work for the United States Embassy in Baghdad appear to have been kidnapped.... American officials said the husband disappeared late last week and that his wife disappeared after she tried to look for him."

This is a paragraph hidden late in a New York Times story about the search for five kidnapped Britons, who include a contractor and four body guards. But underneath that, between the lines, is this story, perhaps a love story about a woman who fears the worst,then knows the worst, how can she not, what else can it be, and would rather find her husband and end it all together than apart.

You can imagine how this is going to end, their bodies discovered tomorrow or the next day, two among the 30 or so found every day. They may be recogizable or they may not. Their deaths will be a 'message' to anyone who works for the Americans. A warning, in the ruins.

But who takes the warnings seriously now? People you see in the street may be alive or they may not. The assumption is that you're alive. But you have only yourself as a witness....

You think of that young couple that died trying to reach each other across a bridge in Sarajevo, one was Christian, the other Muslim, if I'm not mistaken.

May 27, 2007

Last goal

After so many years the San Francisco Panthers have played in their last tournament together. The team lost two of three games in the San Francisco cup (under 14) and will not be in the finals tomorrow. In the one win Dash was sent in as a striker and scored a second half goal, his first in a tournament in years.

Some of these kids have been playing on this team since they were four; Dash, since he was 6. Now 7 years later, three state cup appearances, endless leagues and tournaments later, Super Ys, and Norcals later, it's all coming to an end. The coach has decided to withdraw, a stunning loss because he has not only kept the team focused, but he has also paid thousands of dollars in tournament fees and for uniforms.

Most of the players come from families with little or no money. It's not uncommon for one of the parents to be an illegal alien.

Now that he is quitting, the coach is dealing three of the top players to Juventes in Burlingame, one of the premier teams in Northern California. A fourth player is returning to Mexico for a year. The four youngest players, including Dash, will go to a 13-and-under team, run by an ambitious coach whose 18-and-under team won the San Francisco Cup this weekend.

Other players will be allotted to different teams around the city. Some will probably quit. This is the year, at 13 and 14, when a lot of kids peak. They burn out or become caught up in girls or gangs. They stop coming to practice, they don't perform in games, it becomes harder to keep teams together, and so the teams are endlessly falling apart and regrouping. In the cup this weekend, two players were picked up at the last moment, just for this tournament.

But here is why this story is more than a family heirloom in the bottom of the top drawer.

Two Mexicans friends started the team. Pepe and Jose. One worked as a waiter, the other worked for a landscaping company. Together, they wanted something better for their kids. The old immigrant refrain. So they created a team that kept its cohesion because the parents were all friends and because as the team began to win the parents were paid back in pride. The team's success was proof you could live in the Mission district and make something of yourself, that you could go off and play on artificial turf in the wealthy suburbs of San Ramon and Marin. You could humble the sons of the Silicon Valley elite, and the white bread boys in Santa Clara, even as your wife cleaned their homes and you built their gardens.

Eventually, the team fell into the hands of this coach, a former ballet dancer with the New York City Ballet and then the San Francisco Ballet. He's now a well-to-do contractor. His sons are, nearing the end of high school, probably going to college on soccer scholarships.

For years he has let the team's best players be guests on other teams around the Bay Area, particularly Juventes. That coach never loaned his players, although we needed them, but we lent them ours. Such is the cutthroat nature of kid soccer these days. Why does he do it? To get his best players better competition and better exposure.

He has argued that while the team has occasionally suffered losses because the best players were off playing somewhere else, the individual interest was greater than the community interest. And he would explain that some of these kids have soccer talents, which combined with good grades, could help them get into a good college, or any college. This is an opportunity not well understood in the immigrant community, where people assume that college, city college, is out of reach unless you know someone. Meanwhile, a good college is impossible unless you are Caucasian.

But now that the coach is leaving, everyone is afraid. The whole notion of using soccer to get to college seems distant. Suddenly, people feel betrayed. This possibility was held out, now it's taken away. The same old story.

And so what is the alternative? The alternative is to stay together, to fight off change. 'Remember, we are family.' Past glories are the proof that things should stay the same.

But no one has stepped forward to lead the team, the one person who could do it must return to Mexico. No one has any money. No one has the time. What will happen? Perhaps they can last a little longer. They can still get into some of the better known tournaments, but without an infusion of state team quality players they won't win and you can't keep going to the better tournaments unless you win. That's the bottom line, you can only win or else no one will invite you. Just like life in America.

So now the departing coach is being slathered with insults. After four years he's being painted as a devil. He didn't sign up for this tournament or he brought in that player who was no good or he doesn't understand us....

And that's true.

But it's not only the coach who is being defamed. The best player in the team, who has a real chance of getting to a regional team in the next year, and was drafted second in the regional tryouts a few months ago, is suddenly over-rated. Other players who rumor has it are going to Jueventes are also discredited or they are not going after all.

Now there is a furor and fear. The team that gave so much hope turns out to be more important than anyone realized. For a moment it seems as if without that team there will be no source of pride, no source of hope. If you have to work these tough jobs for little money what other reason is there to be happy at night? What else is there to look forward to every weekend? What promise is there in anything?