days of naze
|when the lights go down in the city
A little audio gift (85 kb .wav)
for my Faithful readers on
the first anniversary (7/14/99) of
the site. Hand cranked to help
you on the long march.
An obnoxiously large
(101k .wav) audio greeting
from the Author.
|October 2, 1999
part 2 of ? in Drop Zone SF
I awoke refreshed. And then proceeded to indulge myself. This was vacation after all.
Fantasy has always been at the core of who I am. From my eighth [editor: I like the pronunciation of "eighth" with the hard "t" followed by the "th", don't you?] year through my thirteenth, I was a fairly avid DC Comics fan. My favorites were Green Lantern and Flash (Cary Bates' glory days), but I followed Superman, Batman, and especially the Justice League of America. Marvel Comics fans would deride DC as simplistic, moralistic; I would say DC tended towards the mythic.
When I walked down Divisadero the day before I spotted a comic shop just two doors up from the hotel. And thus a very short trip to the Comix Experience, a comfortable little establishment lined with shelves of everything from complete indy books (self produced) through art books (small to medium publishers) to major titles. (I passed on the erotic section that day.) I leafed through several of the art books but found myself gravitating towards my old favorites. I picked up JLA No. 2 (? the new acronym-only Justice League is evidently a "new" title), Nov 99, 80-PAGE GIANT.
After obtaining a rare coffee-oriented beverage (harder than I figured it would be), I put on a jacket and settled onto the bench in the garden courtyard behind the Metro Hotel with my new purchase. Comics are edgier, cooler (all the way from the ads to the layout), and more colorful than they were, say, a hundred years ago when I bought them on a regular basis. Which, of course, makes me wistful, envious, and concerned. I won't try to explain.
Instead, a memory. Stephen and his wife, Roberta, would be coming soon to take me out to dinner. Steve and I actually met in pre-school. Mrs. Hicklin's pre-school that was in the basement of her house. Steve and I went to different schools after that, but we always managed to stay in touch. He suffered pretty badly from asthma and our house was a massive dust and pollen magnet, so sleepovers were always at his place. Sometimes we'd haul his raft over to nearby Lake Sacajewea and paddle around. Sometimes we'd play H-O-R-S-E. But almost always we'd spend the late evenings in absolute silence, poring over old comic books. And it is those hours of quiet comradery that I think of when I think of our lifelong friendship.
I was pleased with my purchase. I especially liked the "The Game" featuring the Batman and Green Arrow (the master fomentor of interpersonal conflict) and "Madmen and Mudbaths" with the ladies of the JLA. Chill Bay winds drove me inside to oddities of cable t.v.: Catdog (Shriek dolls up) on Nickelodeon, Vivrant on MTV.
The front desk rings. Steve and Roberta are here! We start off at Tonic, a little bar down the street from La Folie. The music was a little loud, but the vibe was good and the conversation came easily. They talked about running out of lira in Italy and Roberta having to wait in the cab as Steve ran into the hotel to dig through their room to scrape up enough to pay the fare (kind of like ransom, I guess). I talked about how my job is making me tougher, something that is certainly practical, but left me a touch rueful as well.
Dinner was leisurely and enjoyable. Roberta is really fun to have dinner with because she is into sharing from what she has ordered and sampling from others. It gave the meal a family warmth. I learned that Steve will never order the same thing as his wife and asks what she's having to insure it. (Maximizing the sharing possibilities?) Roberta reminded me of another Steve eccentricity: he ate Snickers with a knife and fork decades before Seinfeld.
We spent a little time discussing the madness that is SF real estate prices and the blessings of rent control. A friend of his who I had met many years back when Steve lived on the Haight, a warm, talented guy, was going through a true mental crisis. He was getting help, but it made me feel sad and then angry at the how random and cruel Life can be.
Rita Moreno (man, she's hot!) was playing downtown at the Plush Room in the York Hotel, but the show had already started and Steve was set on mountain biking the next day.
I was not going to go to bed at 11:30 p.m. on a Friday night in San Francisco. I bid them a fond good night as they dropped me off at a little dance club on the Haight called Nicki's.
The DJ was spinning Grandmaster Flash's classic "White Lines" and I took this as a good omen. It's a cozy place with room for about 60 including the dance floor. I ordered hard cider (Steve's influence) and got pear instead of apple which was a happy accident. The floor was packed. I watched for a while. A girl with a guy, and another girl who liked like the girl's sister stood next to me for quite a while.
Just as I was finishing my drink, the girl turned and stared at me with a half-sneer on her face. I sensed that this might be some kind of entrez to a conversation in a grade-school kind of way, you know, like a sock in the arm. But I wasn't looking for any kind of action, I just wanted to dance, and I certainly didn't like being sneered at. And so I responded rudely. "What are you lookin' at?" She turned away.
Things just went downhill from there. I was here to dance so I got out on the floor and danced. For the next hour the mix degenerated into mostly anonymous, flabby hip-hop and r&b that sounded as if it had spent a week on their respective Top 100 charts years ago. I walked back to the hotel and slept.
Cathy woke me with a phone call at 8 a.m. (I didn't suspect any malice; she's just an early riser.) We chatted, I said hello to the boys, and then still a little tired from being out late, went back to sleep for a couple more hours.
The adjoining restaurant, the Metro Cafe, was staffed with young, beautiful French people. The special: (I would not kid you on this) French Toast. I, of course, had to have it. My wits were not completely about and I missed the opportunity to display the full power of my high school French by ordering en francaise - "grand juice d'orange, s'il vous plais" came out "I'll have a large orange juice, please." Sigh.
Stuffed to the gills, I was prepared to fulfill the first part of my mission of my SF journey: I had come not only to participate in fray3, but to help make it happen. This afternoon volunteers would be dropping in at Cell, an artists workspace to prepare for the night's gig. I put on my walking shoes again and decided to hike there.
I took Divisadero south all the way to the Castro. A block past the famous Castro Theater, I received an invitation to a party.
The first 20 blocks were actually pretty nice. The temperature was pleasant and lots of folks were out sporting about. I saw a woman cutting tile just inside her garage door, which was right on the sidewalk. I smiled. She looked up and smiled back and went back to her task. Lots of people playing tennis, a number of home sidewalk sales.
The second 20 blocks kind of sucked. So when I rounded the corner of Bryant, my spirits rose as I entered Cell. I was really looking forward to meeting Derek for the first time face-to-face.
I stepped through the gallery space and into a cavernous warehouse like space that was abuzz with activity. Small groups of people were engaged in lively discussions. But none of them looked like Derek. I asked a few of the people where to go using the appropriate keywords, but they weren't groking. These groups were artists working on various projects.
A very unusual thing had occurred - I was actually early.
I sat on the steps and read about Guiliani in my copy of Harper's for a while.
"Are you here for Momo?"
I paused a beat, wondering what might happen if I said yes. Turns out they were holding auditions for a quasi-musical. About an hour later I had had enough rest and decided to come back later. (I was so far off. It was another hour after that when fray people arrived.)
I stood at the bus stop with a friendly middle-aged woman who looked as if she were wearing a bad toupee. Chinatown was celebrating the Autumn Moon, which sounded good to me.
Thirty minutes later, I step off the bus at Market Street. The pamphleteers, demagogues and panhandlers are out in force. I find myself nearly responding involuntarily to the opening line from a clean-cut twentyish guy in a t-shirt. "Do you like to read?"
Don't stop. Keep walking. There's adventure and then there's just playing good defense in the city.
If you're not careful, you just might dismiss Chinatown as a strip mall loaded with cheesy, cheap tourist fodder. Lord knows that the storefronts don't always make a very good case for intrigue or quality. But if you keep your eyes open and take a little chance here and there, you might have an experience.
The streets were jammed with people (about half Anglo looking, the other half mostly Chinese), merchants with their goods, performance stages and banners. I like a good jostle. Contact with humanity. It's a good thing. One of the banners expresses solidarity with the People's Republic of China and it's upcoming 50th anniversary. A merchant in a black t-shirt with white letters: "Got Rice?"
At the corner of Grant & Washington a cadre of artists were industriously sketching portraits. Their work attracted a fair number of on-lookers. I ambled through, stopping behind a fifty-ish Chinese woman in a blue hooded sweater and a straw hat.
She sketched a young man with a slightly dough-y face and a slooped nose. Her charcoal strokes were rapid but precise; she was just nailing his eyes and cheekbones. I found myself drawn in to the process and watched her complete the work alongside 5 other people.
And then it came to me: What better way to commemorate the celebration of the Autumn Moon and the culture of the Chinese people than to have my mug memorialized big in black and white? (O.k., let's just say the irony was not lost on me.)
We agreed on the price and I sat in the posing chair. She had me look to the right of her to catch a little profile. Three Chinese girls who looked to be high school aged watched and giggled. Laughter didn't inspire confidence in me, but I continued my difficult work of posing.
It's a helpless kind of performance. You're on stage, but you can't really do much. People are checking you out and frankly, you're asking for it when you sit down for a portrait in the middle of a teeming mass of humanity.
She finished in about 20 minutes, which was excellent because I was really ready to start moving again at that point. The artist popped it into a matte and wrapped it in plastic. I paid her, thanking her for her work when an elderly Chinese man approached me. Pointing to the portrait he said, "Very good." Then pointing at me and then the work. "Same. Hochi. Means same."
I grinned and said "ochi". He corrected me. I proclaimed "hochi!" which elicited a laugh of approval.
The actual portrait is huge; this is all that could fit on my scanner. It loses a little in the translation but you get the idea.
Very pleased with my Chinatown adventure, I set off for my next SF landmark.
Resuming my hike I continued up Grant, stumbling upon The Stinking Rose, a restaurant dedicated to the worship of my favorite seasoning, garlic. Pellegrino and a little garlic cheese pizzette were the fuel I needed for my climb.
My web search turned up a recommendation for scenic stair climbs up Telegraph Hill. It wasn't far. The odd part was how distinct the ethnic demarcations were. I was clearly in an Italian neighborhood. The shops sold fine shoes, clothing, and leather goods. And the names and faces evoked Italy.
The steep street climb reminded me of hikes I used to take up Mount Tabor in Portland. It wasn't long until I was atop Telegraph Hill at the base of Coit Tower with an impressive 360 degree view of the environs. The tower was build around 1910 with funds donated by a local woman of means. I bought a ticket for the elevator ride and stood in line, already wishing I were back at the hotel for some downtime before tonight's event.
The elevator operator kept up a steady, fairly entertaining patter (e.g. "Don't worry, my wife has never dropped an elevator yet") which distracted from the very rickety feeling ride upwards. To disappointment. The top is open to the sky but each of the many small view cutouts in the tower wall are glassed in, which gave me a very disconnected feel, as if I were viewing the city on not particularly impressive monitors. Of course, it's going to suffer from comparison and I understand the whole suicide thing, but the unobstructed view from the base is better.
Now in my quest to get back to the hotel I faced rush hour traffic. Taxi? Forget it. Buses headed south to Market were jammed full. So once again I hoofed it. All the way down Powell to Market. Cruising at a brisk pace through the surprising density of people on a Saturday afternoon. At the intersection of Powell & Geary, a large Class 8 truck (those are the big ones) tries to negotiate what looks to be an impossible corner when it is slammed into from behind. The extremely irritated truck driver stops his rig in the middle of this incredibly busy crossroad and gets out dramatically to have a little heart-to-heart with collider. Which makes him very unpopular with his fellow motorists. Honks and shouts commence.
Onto the #7 bus for a surprisingly quick ride back to the Metro. I'm confident that I've exceeded my walking quota and that loafers are not the best shoes for city hikes.
I had less than an hour to Show Time. But in spite of the day long walkabout, I was ready.
p.s. Part 3 within something close to a week. To quote the name of a favorite high school band - Fearsome Pace...
p.p.s. Like an unexpected tap on the shoulder from an old friend: new days notification.
|previously on days of naze :
sf part 1 - no rice-a-roni
what have you done for me lately? only 9 days since the last entry. whoa.
|May you never be more active
when you are doing nothing.
They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.
-Carl W. Buehner
|in the feedbag:
film: Three Kings (A-) - the case for '99 as one of the best years for American cinema continues to strengthen; Like Water for Chocolate (A-) - a flick I've been meaning to see for some time, worthy of the great reviews it received.
CD: New set of 4 bootleg Maria McKee CDs from the supercool folks on the Little Diva Mail List! Woohoo!
best performance by a 6 year old: a controlled, head first slide down the stairs on his belly.
book: finishing The Autobiography of Henry VIII with Notes by His Fool, Will Somers - A Novel by Margaret George, Will Sommers. 800 pagers take me a long time.
web: Steven Amaya vs. Server. Steve emerges victorious. Very good to have him back.
|rivulets of sweat|