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.