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.