Dec 21, 2012

They said today was the end of the world. I was half way down the fourth floor at 850 Bryant when I remembered.  Suddenly, the linoleum could not have been more sinister; the flickering neon light in the corridor was no white light.  
   A woman was looking at the 8 by 10 framed photos of cops that run all the way down the hallway.  You'd have thought she was at the Jeu de Paume, hand holding wrist behind her back, leaning in, looking this way and that. 
   I was on my way to pick up the week's arrest logs.  As I passed, the woman said, "you should see the reflection in those raybands."  I stopped and went back.  She was in her 30s, blue bandana, beautiful, voluptuous, from an island I felt, painted face, glassy eyes, long earings full of totems. I peered at the photo, but wanted to see her more clearly. 
   "Look real close," she said. "See it?" 
   "What," I said. 
   "In the reflection." 
   I looked long and hard. I could see there was something in the reflection, but I couldn't make it out. The image was too small.
   "I can't see it," I said.  
   "Yes, that's because they don't want you to see it. Things happening there they don't want you to know."
   We were close together now,  just outside this picture of two cops looking at something. 
   "Murder," she said. "That's what you're missing: murder." 
   She looked at me and back to the picture. I figured she was a forensic. I went and got the logs; 15 minutes later I passed her on the way out.  She'd moved to another photo: another cop wearing raybands. As I passed she said something, I couldn't make it out.  I paused my step. She knew it.  "You don't believe in anything," she said. "Too bad for you."

Dec 7, 2012

   On the last Tuesday of every month, the San Francisco Historical Association meets at the bottom of St. Philips Church in Noe Valley. There’s always a presentation. Doors open at 7 p.m., but the talking and the lights don’t die down until after 8.  Non-members pay $5.
   At a recent meeting, to celebrate the Golden Gate Bridge on its 75th anniversary, there were perhaps 50 people. A lot of singles, a lot of threes. Men wore safari hates, berets, bald heads and baseball caps heavy with pins from this legion or that. Women arrived in heavy sweaters and scarves and with looks of expectation. There was hardly a person under 50. Next to the sugar cookies and the two-buck chuck were the door prizes, including a 49er pennant and a vintage Giants pennant, along with The Great San Francisco Trivia Game.
   “Has anyone seen Richard lately?” Someone asked out loud in a New York accent.  Whoever Richard was, no one had seen him. Someone else said they thought he’d been ill. “I just hope he’s okay,” they said. “You never know.”
   At Association meetings personal history is as important as communal history....

Nov 6, 2012

We all sit down to dinner a little nervously. The drama has been foretold and now the couple is finally here, after a long drive up the coast.  They sit together on one side of the table. He's 18; she's 40.  They seem comfortable, with each other and with the thought that they are being judged.  We've been warned that this is a tremendous scandal and that the boy's mother cannot even speak about it. 'It's beyond contemplation,' she's been telling friends, 'the young man's life is going to be ruined. The woman must be mad. How selfish could a person be? What must her husband be thinking' As the bread basket circles, I am reminded. Once upon a time I was in those shoes.  And the woman was just like this. Blonde, separated, with a daughter, a complete romantic, and reckless, a stunning blend of transparency and secrecy, with pale blue eyes and endlessly sensuous, endlessly adventurous, running off  this way and that, forever awaiting the Hodgkins disease she knew was coming to kill her.

Mark --

I'm about to go speak to the crowd here in Chicago, but I wanted to thank you first. I want you to know that this wasn't fate, and it wasn't an accident. You made this happen. You organized yourselves block by block. You took ownership of this campaign five and ten dollars at a time. 

And when it wasn't easy, you pressed forward. I will spend the rest of my presidency honoring your support, and doing what I can to finish what we started. 
But I want you to take real pride, as I do, in how we got the chance in the first place. Today is the clearest proof yet that, against the odds, ordinary Americans can overcome powerful interests.
There's a lot more work to do.
But for right now: Thank you.


Oct 17, 2012

I asked him what he thought of the film, "The Innocence of Muslims," this ludicrous film that turned out to be a trick on the actors as well as the audience.
   He was incensed. Actually,  I was a little surprised at how angry he was. At 18.
  "It's stupid," he said. "It's like what you see on Saturday Night Live. It's a skit. Nobody would believe that. Only the most ignorant."
   I said that wasn't true.  And whether or not it became, metaphorically, the fire or the smoke in the Benghazi riots that killed the US ambassador wasn't the point.  People across the Middle East had reacted to it,  and some were deeply offended.  That's not a justification, I added. But the point is that it was a propaganda film, which had its desired effect.
   "Well, he said, "they're ignorant. They should be able to see through it."
   I reminded him of the reaction against the cartoons satirizing Muhammed.  We had ring side seats in Morocco that year.  He shrugged.
   I urged him to see a documentary of the life of Viet Harlan, the reluctant Nazi film maker, whose film Jew Suss, won the Venice Film prize award in 1940.  Moreover, the film was seen by 20 million people in Germany, and became a Nazi anthem.  Goebbels closely supervised the writing of the script and the production.  He was looking for a propganda film that would help prepare the German public to endorse the Final Solution. Which, of course, no matter how you tell the story, they did.

May 2, 2012

     Game lost.  The team was flat; the kid was flat.  The air was dead.  And it all ended just as it started 10 years ago.  Out in the breadbasket of California, out in the grapes of wrath. And the same old truth: the ones that want it the most, get it the most.  And once more it was the Latinos who wanted it and the white kids, going off to college, nothing pressing on the mind or the wallet, didn't want it so much.  They had hope not drive.  Even after the harrangue they got at half time.  
     The kid had one goal late, off his head, into the upper right corner.  And almost another seconds later in the same place.  But that was it.  No great runs.  Nothing to compare with the day before, when the winning goal was his, when the whole field was his and as the game went on he just got better and better.  But no way to do that two days in a row.  And so that was the last state cup.  
     And the last trip to Turlock and Ripon and that whole cosmos of motels and games and more games, in summer and winter, all that driving, thousands and thousands of miles, at dusk and day break, up and down the 'meth highway', with everything at stake and nothing, and at the very beginning, with the Mission Black Panthers, those kids overwhelmed in their shorts.  
     And now as we come back into the MacArthur maze, it occurrs to me that this is the last time.  Now it would be busses and planes, on a college team, intense, impersonal.  Far away. We would not making any more trips like this. 

Apr 6, 2012

And now a word from Fr. Coughlin’s reincarnation, that good-old-boy by a previous hook-up, that master of sleight, the meister of foul, God’s voice on oxycontin high— El Rushbow, who today had a pronouncement—and he’s saying this just as Sean Peyton —Peyton, the lesser — is up in the wood shed on Park Avenue, and just as Gregg Williams is being heard on youtube telling his players on the eve of the Jan. 14, 49er game about how 'we’re going to fuck people up' and 'kill Frank Gore's head', and how we never apologize for the way we compete. 
     All that’s happening and the Limbot has a revelation, which is that sooner or later liberals are going to use this, and a lot of other stuff, to ask that professional football be forbidden. You watch, said the bot, the liberals going to try to shut this game down.
     Don’t we know it. It’ll be called “Occupy 280 Park Avenue” (15th Floor). There’ll be “sissies” as far as the eye can see. And you know what? It’s all the same people who believe in the “Magic Negro,” the people in old school who were in the drawing room taking violin lessons while the rest of us were out on those infernal fields pounding the sleds, and now all these years later the sissies are back, and not just trying to impose socialism the way it is in 16th Arrondissement, but trying to ruin the very thing that makes America great. 
     How? By making a big deal over the name of the game, over a few times when for a few bucks somebody put the lead in, and now these liberals are saying that’s weird and obscene, and unsportsmanlike. Not to mention the lawsuits from what is it now, 120 former players?
     These crybabies who claim Roger GODdell and his ‘fascist’ predecessors were hiding the evidence that the game was becoming more dangerous, and the helmet manufacturers knew all along that even with improvements, there was no way a few people weren’t going to be hurt, or maybe even killed. 
     Well, buddy, that’s the price you pay.  Don’t ever apologize for the way we compete. That’s the cost of living in the greatest country the world has ever known. And don’t you call that "social Darwinism."     
     That’s what the Limp-bot is saying: This Bounty Gate business is all a creation of The Washington Compost, The New York Slimes, and the state-run media. This is just another sign of the liberal intention to extend the nanny state to every part of our lives, the NFL included…It’s just like those people who believe in the Trilateral Commission and that black helicopters control the world.
     Now el Rushbot completely misses the irony that actually he’s the one who has politicized Bounty Gate, and of course you can always find somebody to say they targeted people over the years, but no harm done, and that’s the way the game is played, and if you don’t like it, don’t play it. 
     You can always find players to say that, but there's a lot of other players — even besides the ones who killed themselves or joined a lawsuit — other players who don’t think it’s right to go after opponents for money, who wouldn’t want that done to them, and at the end of the day they realize you don’t get to play this game for a long time, and the truth is you may have to live a lot of your life on what you make in those few years, and sure you want to make a great play and take somebody out if you can. 
     But not with a cheap shot, not for money, not to help some craven idiot of a coach named Gregg Williams. 
     As I was saying, I’m with Rushbow. He played football, right. He knows all about the game. He’s no sissy and he’s not political. He’s a Spartacus if there ever was. He only calls it as it is:  the NFL’s a production. What’s important is the brand. What’s important is that we never apologize for the way we compete.

Mar 28, 2012

The work of Billy Collins.  Interesting as well as pleasurable, although not heartwarming.  Not quite reassuring. The first may be the best.  It's all a caption for days when it seems everyone, just everyone, clerks of the court, the face across the table, everyone is angry and unsettled, done in, and now leaving home or husband or wife or sensibility and sense, and for what?  

Feb 19, 2012

     "No, that's not the way it happened at all," said Magnus's wife, looking around the table and then finally at her husband. "I remember it exactly.  She called you in the middle of the night, said they were at Pitcairn Island, and there was a problem with the boat."
     "His name is on the tip of my tongue," said Magnus.
     "Somebody Bixby found to sail his boat,"  The wife looked at the person sitting next to her for help, it was the neighbor of this woman once maroonned in the south seas.  But that person shook his head.
     "And didn't she say she'd been raped?" Magnus's wife went on.
     Magnus hauled up his worried expression. "I just remember I had to go down there and sail it back."
     Somebody else at the table spoke up. "I heard they stopped in at Bali. Isn't that partly muslim?"
     "Yes," said a young college graduate who had been silent all night, and added, "They never let a baby's feet touch the ground for the first six months of life."
     The somebody else waved that aside. "And the customs official did a search and found marijuana. I think somebody from the State Department to get them both out. But maybe she told people one story to hide the truth...."
     What about the boat? someone asked.
    "Ah ya, well you know it wasn't such a good boat," said Magnus. "Very long, 60 feet, but cheap materials.  You wouldn't want to go 'round the horn in that thing. That constant knocking, it would fall apart. Not like a Swan, not that quality at all."

Feb 17, 2012

Behold the coming of drone swarms.  Think what this will do for the rejuvenation of noir.  The aging detective with his fleet of quadrotors tailing the unfaithful spouse; the industrial espionage that will become so much easier; and with a larger version what a boon to drug smugglers; not mention a new way to carry out  bio-cyber-terrorism attacks. Think of how much more reason we'll have to be paranoid. On the other hand, no one will ever get lost; because everyone will be under constant surveillance. The slightest misstep will be recorded. People will become much more self-conscious. A new makeup perhaps. And there'll be 'droney', your assistant shopper-drone.  Drones will be ever smaller; and finally someone will slap their cheek thinking it's a mosquitoe when it's a drone. When people call you a drone it will have a whole new meaning.  "Why don't my drones do a flyby with your drones." Maybe for the ladies, a drone landing hat. Color-coordinated drones. Doppelganger drones. And twitter drones, and we'll be available to be seen at every moment, and how fascinating it will all be.....

Feb 1, 2012

Winding stairs lead up to the front door. It's half open. I enter. There's a brief ante way, and just to the right, a room, completely dark, save for a rickety looking little fire under the mantle. I call out. Suddenly, he appears in front of me.  He's smiling, always so jovial.
   We go into the kitchen where he has everything prepared. Fresh fish, cauliflower, an enormous pan with paella, bread, hummus, a Greek salad, naturally. "Would you like a glass of wine?" he begins. I shake my head. It's a work day, I say. He is undeterred. "This is excellent. Try it."
   He pours me a glass. "To my play," he says, and he goes on to tell me about how he has prepared the food, and asks if I like this or that. We go outside where he has several ovens cut into the rock. One for bread, one for fish. Finally, we sit down in his diningroom, which is cluttered with small boxes on chairs, stacks of magazines, and on the wall a relief of Aphrodite's head in profile.
   He chatters on, tells me his wife is somewhere about. A man in his 30s appears and disappears. I have no idea who it is. "I do what I want," he tells me, and from the beginning he's drinking quickly. "If I like someone I let them know. I may have them or I may not. You know at this age, you should be able to do what I want."
   Finally, we get to the subject of the play. "What do you think?" he asks me.
   The play is based on a true story of a woman living in a small town. Think of Kalavryta. Nearly 20 years ago she threw herself off a bridge. She was then in her 70s. Here is what happened. During the war, when the Germans reached her town the captain called the people into the square and said what a shame it was that the war had come to this and he certainly took no pleasure in this occupation, and he went on at great lengths to praise Greek culture.  He promised — many times — that no harm would come to the town's people.  His very warm manner was all part of his presentation, and he kept repeating that he would do anything he could to make this period pass without incident.  But of course, there were partisans and remnants of the Greek army; eventually several German soldiers were killed and then the captain called the people into the town square once more and this time his persona had completely changed and that was when the massacre started.
   And so this woman could never get over the way this officer had made her believe that everything would be fine.  She could never get over the way he changed and the way she had been so drawn in.
   "I think the story is extraordinary," I tell him.
   And now he brings a second bottle, and he doesn't want to talk about the play at all.  He wants to tell me he's going to have a pacemaker put in. Again and again he rubs his face with his hand.  As though he's going to stretch it into some new shape, some other identity, mold some new person without all of these problems.
   I draw him back to the play and make the point that perhaps the woman killed herself for some other reason.  After all, why would she wait 50 years?  Why wouldn't she be able to resolve this in that time? Or else kill herself much earlier. And what was the ignition? Something must have happened. I suggest that needs to be part of the play; that he needs to explore the psychology of this woman, not focus on what happened in the war.  And especially considering Greece now.  
   "Perhaps, there's some broader truth here," I tell him. "Perhaps, the idea of not being able to change has some sort of resonance."
   He shakes his head. He swirls his nearly empty glass. He looks at me for a long time. The plates are ravaged and empty. It's not about the play at all.  
   "I feel I am at the bottom of the void."

Jan 12, 2012

2012, the film, is based on "bad science", an inaccurate premise, and a silly script. Moreover, the subplot dialogue, between the protagonist and his ex-wife, as well as their children and her new husband, has the white-whine whinny of a forty-something quiche eater in a mall-gym confession. The subplot reminds you of Californication, that other disaster movie, literally and figuratively, but without the pornography or the depression bound hero, or the interest for that matter.
In 2012, the hero lives in Santa Monica, as opposed to Venice Beach, and lives in his head but after a few days on the edge of extinction, he finds his humanity. He also gets his wife back, his children, and the word family is preserved, we can see how suburbia will be emerge from the swamp of Namibia. But perhaps the film is worth seeing if you haven't thought about the idea of mass extinction lately.
There's a moment late in the film when the great flood has returned and an Indian couple is looking up at a monstrous tsunami, the heighth of several skyscrapers, and here they are, about to wash them away, and the multitude with them, like ants down the drain.
It's a stunning realization of the old disaster theme but perhaps a foreshadowing after all.  Because sooner or later there will be a meteorite, no bigger than a tennis court or half a tennis court, that will remind us of real calamities,  not hunger in Ethiopia, not war in Waziristan.  We have the lost any sense of real extermination, or fear from something beyond us, and yet we are thrilled by the possibility.