Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Silence of the Gums

You recall that several weeks ago, after extensive dental surgery, our cat Popcorn was left with two teeth, down from her original 30. She was in considerable pain beforehand, though we didn't realize it. Now she feels better and is moving around more, though not much. She's almost 19. In cat years she's Mesozoic, probably Lower Cretaceous.

She's even craving a bit of lap time. I picked her up today but didn't settle her down on my manly thighs to her satisfcation. In earlier days, she would have nipped me.

Today she gummed me, an event that was painless, amusing and a little sad, just in that order. She wouldn't last a minute in the Lower Cretaceous, not anymore.

Addendum: Should I be spending time discussing my cat when I could be eviscerating George Bush? I have been working on my paper on newspaper columnists this week, and here's a quote from Carl Hiaasen, novelist and Miami Herald columnist, concerning the time he attacked his newspaper in his newspaper for getting in bed with crooked Florida developers:

I was saying these are horrible, evil monsters and they ought to be stopped. When I start writing columns about what my dog dug up that day, I want somebody to put a bullet in the back of my head and drag me away from the keyboard.

Not if I see you coming,

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

I Forgive You, Pops.

Why do I keep beating on my dad?

"He's dead," you're saying. "Let him up. I know he can't get up because he's dead. But you know what I mean."

"Well, give me a reason to stop beating on him," I'm saying. "He can't give me a reason. Oh yes. He is dead!"

Well, wrong. I am working on my paper on newspaper column writing, and I'm rooting around among my books of collected columns for a quote from a "microcosm" columnist, that is, a columnist who describes his or her life in what we used to call quotidian detail. (It means daily, commonplace. Very fine word.)

I find one of my real treasures, a collection of columns by Ben Beagle, whom I started reading when I was ten years old in Roanoke, Virginia. He wrote for the Roanoke Times, the morning paper. I was a big Mickey Mantle fan because of Mickey Mouse. You understand why I was drawn to Ben Beagle. Moreover, he led a nice middle-class life when compared to my fundamentalist blue-collar life. He seemed sophisticated.

This was a man who referred to his wife for 35 years as "the station wagon driver." I could feel the sexual energy in that description.

I found my collection of his columns. My dad had gone to a Ben Beagle book signing and gotten it signed, dedicated to me. There it was on the flyleaf. I hadn't looked at the autograph in 20 years.

Good move, pops. Nice little time bomb. I know you didn't like me but I never doubted you loved me with crazy crazy sad daddy love. Nothing but trouble, of course, but better than being out there alone in the storm. Better when Pops is the storm.

Addendum: By god he's still alive. (Ben Beagle, not my pops.)

Monday, March 28, 2005

Don't Be Funny. Don't Even Think About Being Funny.

This week is going to be sober as a funeral. I am trying to finish up a conference paper on the general topic of what newspaper columnists think about what they are doing. I find the scholarly style difficult. I find it hard to write clearly and simply about almost anything but particularly about media theory, journalism practice, professional ethics. Why this is I'm not sure. A great deal of scholarship is either nonsense or too obvious to bear saying, but a great deal of almost everything is either nonsense or too obvious to bear saying. It's a matter of gritting one's teeth and doing one's best, right?

Footnote. Footnote.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Match the Competitor to the Nickname, Win an All Expenses Paid Trip

One of the wonderful things about having a blog is all the new friends you make, not just in the United States but all over the world. One of the personal stories I've shared on this blog is the 22-year history of the Patrick Finley Memorial Fantasy Baseball League, which has provided me with so much pleasure over the years, pleasure in both the competition and in the good fellowship. My new blog buddies have responded in particular to my accounts of the various league members, their foibles, their little eccentricities of dress, their bon mots.

I think Sybil in the UK sums it up best. "My brother is still living in my parents' basement, my next door neighbor is an ineffectual petty criminal, my uncle is a registered sex offender -- I think everyone has friends and relations who are brought to mind when you describe the wonderful members of your 12-step program (sic)."

Because so many of you consider the members of PFinley Fantasy as a kind of extended family, I thought it might be fun for you to try to match the league members with their team names for the upcoming season. There will be an all expenses paid trip for the contestant who successfully matches the most league members with their team names!

1. Kevin Berger
2. Paul Fife
3. Russell Everett
4. Peter Moore
5. Jeffrey Pressman
6. Reed Kirk Rahlmann
7. J. Michael Robertson
8. Brad Swift
9. Michael Tola
10. Robert (Bob) Wieder

a. John 3.16 Plus Tax
b. Motherboy Dinner Dance
c. The Beloved Commissioner Who Leaves No Hen Intact
d. Go Tell the Wussies
e. A Slice of Pie
f. Two Sheds Jackson
g. The Archbishop
h. "Margo Adler"
i. The Feeding Tubes
j. Lord Fopling

Enter as often as you like. Enter again and again and again until the tips of your fingers bleed and your nails turn black.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

How Do I Love Thee, You Bitch Goddess Basketball? The Better Question is Always Why.

I wonder if Sophocles cared who brought home Olympic laurel?

That's really not the right question. If your city-state is menaced, currently or potentially, by other city states, it would have to be comforting to think your lithe young men are lither, faster, more powerful, more belligerent, craftier than the young men of your rivals, the idea being let's hope those war-like characteristics are present in the general population. If your guys got game, then maybe those darn Spartans will back off. I see why athletic contests between states might carry weight with even the most disinterested intellectual since that disinterest -- by which I mean a spirit of objectivity -- naturally means you acknowledge the undeniable fact physical prowess really does matter. That is, it mattered in a day when victory in combat down in the mud and the blood depended on stamina of the warrior and strength of the sword arm, contests of physical skill really would cast a shadow.

Last century America wanted its athletes to best the Soviet athletes in Olympic and other international competition, though the connection between Olympic gold and the ability to kill your opponent on the modern battlefield has all but disappeared. The anxiety that there is a decisive connection is an anachronism, but one you can understand.

Still, my evocation of Sophocles did not advance my point. Better to jump to my real question. Yesterday Duke University lost in the NCAA basketball tournament, and I was momentarily but genuinely distressed. This reaction was not irrational. I got my graduate degrees from Duke and if a university is academically distinguished, athletic success arguably enhances the university's general reputation. If you can promote physical excellence without diluting your academic excellence, each facet highlights the other. I'm not saying Duke is some paragon of multiple excellence. Keep in mind its football team is terrible. Also, the Ivy League schools flaunt their lack of commitment to success in athletics. Their fumbling and stumbling on the playing field highlights their high academic standards -- or so they argue. All I'm saying is it's understandable that I find pleasure when Duke wins and wince a little when Duke loses. It makes a kind of sense. May we imagine Hamlet wanting Heidelberg to do well in the Pan-Hun fencing competitions?

So far, so good. But why did I also feel a spasm of discomfort when North Carolina State University lost yesterday. Yes, I taught there while I was finishing my degree at Duke and for three years after. But it's the school at which to my great surprise I was told one bleak November afternoon more than 30 years ago that my three-year term position was "terminal"; that is, I was not going to be given an additional teaching contract and be considered for a tenured faculty position. This decision -- which I did not see coming, so secure was I in my own sense of personal excellence -- changed my life. I left academia. I became a journalist. Things have worked out well enough and maybe more than well enough. But I have never given up being vaguely pissed off.

Yet the power of athletic affiliation! You might think I would delight in Wolfpack defeat. But, no. I remember -- my blood seems to remember -- when I was a member of the tribe, how it was to sit by the fire and tear the meat from the bones as it was passed around. Or something. How mysterious is partisan feeling.

Perhaps it's an evolutionary mechanism. Those with a predisposition toward finding community and uncritically supporting that community are perhaps more likely to find a community that will tolerate them in return, and thus they survive and pass on their genes. Mad Max aka The Road Warrior dies in the wilderness alone. This tendency seems capable of almost exponential growth. My god the number of competitions we invest our interest in without quite knowing why. If you stop and think about it, such uncritical support for so many miscellaneous affinity groups is close to ugly and not a little frightening.

At this time of year it's also basketball.

Friday, March 25, 2005

King Kennesaw Mountain Solomon Speaks Ex Cathedra

All you little grasshoppers who have followed the steroids/Balco/homerun/McGwire/Bonds/Amway affair will immediately know what I'm talking about.

(And congratulations to all you high school students preparing for your SATs who noted that Amway does not belong in the preceding grouping. And special congratulations to all you high school students who have no idea what I'm talking about. You realize how well this bodes for those SATs?)

Q: Should Mark McGwire be voted into the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown?

A: Yes. But not in his first year of eligibility, which would have been the case before Mr. McGwire Goes to Washington. The panel of sportswriters who cast HOF ballots should vote against him until his final year of eligibility.

Q: But isn't this self-serving in that every year he fails to get enough votes to enter the hall that failure will generate stories, columns and call-ins to call-in shows that will benefit the great world of sports writing and sports commentary?

A: Certainly. I'm Kennesaw Mountain Solomon, not Kennesaw Mountain Jesus.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

My Daddy was Pretty Much Crazy (Pause) No Punchline, Just a Simple Historical Fact

My sister and I talked on the phone for a while today about what it would have been like if either one of us were in a deadend coma, and our parents were fighting with our spouse over whether or not we should be allowed to die. We didn't laugh till we cried. We "smiled" our voices a little and then gave up. Some brilliant conversational ideas die aborning. I wish I'd never brought it up.

My point is simply that sometimes it's not the circumstances of a controversy that might interest the casual observer, one who declines to speculate about those things taking place over the hill and faraway but chooses to step back and take his or her lesson not from the controversy but from how others closer by react to it. In the case of me and my sister, in something like the Schiavo case we automatically look for the flaw in the parent -- the possibility of delusion or self-aggandizement or lethal distrust of the child's mate driving events. I don't know what's going on with those at the center of the Terry Schiavo tragedy cum travesty. I only know that when it comes to any dispute where parents say they know better than their daughter's husband what the daughter's wishes would be, my own history colors the angle from which I approach the situation. Oh your sophisticates like to joke about the poor blundering press trying to be even-handed, trying to find two sides to every damn thing in a mechanical way. Sometimes it is laughable, this desperation to find a neat thesis-antithesis in stories where striving for "balance" seems empty headed. Balance unbalances the story, if you follow me.

But in a story like this I want such a cold and mechanical balance, since I am predisposed toward one side of the argument going in. I want to at least give a chance to the arguments on the other side, particularly when I have trouble imagining those arguments sympathetically, in a way that does justice to them.

I lose all nuance when I think about my parents. I can imagine my leaving a note for my doctor something like this: "In the event of my brain death, listen very carefully to my parents' wishes and very carefully do the opposite." I understand that this is prejudicial and irrational. But give me credit for being able to read my own psychological shorthand.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

It's Wrong about the Chronicle, Which is Fine, But It's Not Wrong in a Funny Way

I have seen the following before, but it is 91.5 percent funny and that's enough in the middle of a week when I am LOOKING FOR TAX RECORDS THAT I CANNOT FIND. Remember: tax evasion is a crime and tax avoidance is is a household tip.

I'm not evading my duties as a blogger; I'm avoiding them.

Who Reads What

1. The Wall Street Journal is read by the people who run the country.

2. The Washington Post is read by people who think they run the country.

3. The New York Times is read by people who think they should run the country and who are very good at crossword puzzles.

4. USA Today is read by people who think they ought to run the country but don't really understand The New York Times. They do, however, like their statistics shown in pie charts.

5. The Los Angeles Times is read by people who wouldn't mind running the country -- if they could find the time -- and if they didn't have to leave Southern California to do it.

6. The Boston Globe is read by people whose parents used to run the country and did a far superior job of it, thank you very much.

7. The New York Daily News is read by people who aren't too sure who's running the country and don't really care as long as they can get a seat on the train.

8. The New York Post is read by people who don't care who's running the country as long as they do something really scandalous, preferably while intoxicated.

9. The Miami Herald is read by people who are running another country but need the baseball scores.

10. The San Francisco Chronicle is read by people who aren't sure there is a country ... or that anyone is running it; but if so, they oppose all that they stand for. There are occasional exceptions if the leaders are handicapped minority feminist atheist dwarfs who also happen to be illegal aliens from any other country or galaxy provided, of course, that they are not Republicans.

11. The National Enquirer is read by people trapped in line at the grocery store.

12. None of these is read by the guy who is running the country into the ground.

Addendum: Darn, wouldn't the Chron be fun if it were that kicky? Or do I mean trippy? Or do I mean to throw myself on the mercy of the tax court?

Sunday, March 20, 2005

My First Fine Bottle of Wine was a Bottle of Lancer's Rose. Yes, I Know, I Know.

Think of a flat stone being skipping across a vast body of water. Okay, now think of a flat stone being skipped across a vast body of wine.

I am that stone, though the metaphor quickly breaks down since I seem capable of an eternity of skipping, never sinking, never learning what is that thing so deep and interesting against which I glance.

Or to put it another way we have lived in the Bay Area for almost exactly 25 years, and I suppose we have averaged two trips a year to "Wine Country" -- mostly to Napa and Sonoma Counties but occasionally south of here where there are some nice wineries, though I can't give you any names off the top of of my head, which is my point, isn't it?

My god we've done the Mondavi wine tour in Napa a dozen times, and it's a fine tour but what I recall of it you could measure out in thimbles, as they do the wines you are allowed to taste at the end of the tour.

I do not know why this is so, why I fail to retain the most basic facts about grape growing and wine making. The only thing I remember -- the memory vivid and recurrent -- is that in the movie "From Russia with Love " Sean Connery knew Robert Shaw was a hired killer and not a true Englishman when he ordered red wine with his fish.

But it only took two minutes of light googling to find:

I've recently learned that these days its tres chic to drink red wine with fish in Paris, and since all my friends at lunch today were in favor of it we went for it. It actually went beautifully with the sole meuniere over mashed potatoes that I opted for. Sole is so delicate, an intense red wine would ordinarily overpower it, but with the salty brined capers and the loads of butter involved in this recipe, the acidity of the wine counterbalanced the richness of the dish and was really quite pleasant.

Apparently 007 killed the right man but for the wrong reason.

However, this weekend I finally learned something about wine. The partner of a friend of ours organized a birthday tour of several Sonoma County wineries specializing in zinfandel, the grape with the vaguely Prussian name.

(More googling: 1) Zinfandel was once thought of as an "American grape" but it equals Italy's Primitivo di Manduria grape which equals the Crljenak Kastelanski (sirl-YEN-ack kastel-AN-ski). grape from Croatia, which is as far back as its DNA fingerprint can be traced; 2) it's been in the U.S. since the 1820s; 3) the origin of the name is "etymological unknown," though it may honor an 18th Century German botanist named --- tahdah -- Dr. Zinn; 4) don't trust 1), 2) and 3) since looking for truth online is like drinking red wine with with fish, maybe so maybe no.)

Anyway, what I learned is that if you rent a mini-bus holding 20 people to tour the wineries it's only $60 an hour for the whole bus so if you can fill it up it's a pretty cheap day. It's certainly safer that way.

That's what I learned, plus the fact zinfandel is made in more styles than I realized. Sometimes it doesn't taste like zinfandel at all, meaning I really didn't understand what zinfandel tasted like in the first place. I suspect this is one of the side effects of buying really cheap wine, that and inviting the contempt of others. (Isn't "inviting contempt" a really neat phrase? Swirl it around your mouth. Savor its bouquet. Now, spit it out!)

Actually I guess I learned one thing and unlearned another thing.

Darn. I'm feeling a whole thimbleful of embarrassment.

P.S. I asked my wife which of the wineries she liked best and she said this one because it had a cat.

P.P.S. My wife said it wasn't just the cat. She said the Talty zinfandels were comparatively light though complex, not over-oaked, with a lovely berry flavor. She says I can invite all the contempt I want but to include her out.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

A Zipper Poem? You Can't Handle a Zipper Poem (No More Jack Nicholson References After This Because You *Can't Handle* the Jack Nicholson References)

Zipper poem(s) from the Dan Harder larder.

I apologize right up front for the rows of periods I put in to make the relationships work, but Blogger refuses to accept simple spaces, so what can you do??

A (Not So) Simple Logic

searching the palpable
for patterns
....................................................for the love of God
for a rhythm
....................................................written in verse
that might possibly reveal
....................................................and intended to reveal
the logic an artist's work
or at least the will
....................................................the will
of a universe
...................................................and the simple
inscrutably complex
...................................................logic of a loving
and wildly violent


Monday, March 14, 2005

Brooks Atkinson was a Very Great Theatre Critic with a Very Silly Name

A friend who knows about such things suggested that if I am going to write about the recent poetry salon that took place in our home I should do a proper review, one in which the evening and its participants are described with depth, feeling and proportion, particularly since blogging is a form of publication and I must be mindful of the responsibilities of serving as a public voice. Harumph.

He did not put it in quite these words. It was more like, "When you start talking about yourself, it's like, you know, why don't you get a room? Get a room. I mean, like for just yourself. A room. You know? Whatever."

I take his point. But it is hard to do a proper review of a poetry salon since a poetry salon is much like a performance of the Cirque du Soleil, an event in which all attempts at a narrative thread can never disguise the fact the evening is essentially an exercise in attitude filtered through dazzling virtuosity.

Saturday's salon did have a theme. Every salon has a theme. But those themes are more honored in the breach than in the observance. (Whatever that means.) Let me try to get my head around what happened.

Again, think Cirque du Soleil: (What fun! But you know you always forget most of what happens after Billy Pierre Le Crepe gargles his own foot while juggling balls of flaming kiwi excrement.)

Several things happened at the salon. I've already talked about how the theme was translation in the common understanding of the word. For instance, Gale Feyrer read in English a Baudelaire poem about Venice, and Dan Harder read it again in French. You can't go far wrong here. You can't go wrong at all. Baudelaire is the absinthe of poets: Intoxicating, sure, but consume at your own peril.

Then Dan Harder did some more French to English. Don't remember the poet's name. Cassandra Kamuchey and Steve Kohler did a back and forth German to English. Don't remember the poet's name. And thus two interesting points are raised:

1) You can experience intense and thorough pleasure at something in its moment without being able to remember later anything about it other than the music of the language. You may even remember the music of the ideas, though what those ideas were I cannot begin to tell you.

2) Of French and its English translation side by side: The French rubs up against the English and purrs. German and its English translation side by side: The English rubs up against the German and purrs.

Oh, and Jeffrey Pressman started the salon with Caedmon's Hymn, the first poem in English. He did the Old English and then the modern. No more about JP for the moment. Faithful blog readers already know all about the Lorca that was one of the highlights of the salon.


In retrospect, I realize that a substantial portion of the salon was off theme. This was not a bad thing. There was plenty of Bush bashing, just enough to keep us toned. Barbara Dietrich displayed her deck of anti-Bush playing cards. Robert (Bob) Wieder shared his collection of Bush malapropisms -- though he veered toward theme by offering a variety of possible intended meanings, so in that sense he was providing a translation.

Robert (Bob) also provided one for the comic highlight reel. This requires some explaining, and the explanation will really give no sense of the great waves of cathartic laughter that R(B) elicited. The setup: For the last couple of decades about this time of year many men and a few women get together to "buy" baseball players. What you are actually buying is the "rights" to their statistics for the coming baseball season. You add those stats up and at the end of the year someone wins and someone loses. Money changes hands. This is America.

Wieder's conceit was to pretend in a state of faux drunkenness that he had been a participant in just such a draft, but one in which the participants bought politicians, not ballplayers. This was the concept, the details to be sketched in. You and I could sketch it in, and we might find a joke in their somewhere.

Wieder, however, killed. Wieder killed. Analogy time: Cars are cars, but some are Fiats and a very few are Ferraris. Bobby went vroom vroom screeeech vroom vroom vroom And if that isn't clear enough, go dig up Brooks Atkinson.

Another high point: the aforementioned Dan Harder and the afivementioned Jeffrey Pressman performed two of Dan's zipper poems. These are hard to describe and God they must be devilish hard to do. Write a poem. Take the poem, break it up into words and phrases and stack it on the left side of the page. Do the same thing with a second poem but stack it on the right side of the page. Now if you are wicked clever it is possible that you start reading right to left across the page and the two separate poems zip together to make a third poem distinct from the poems one and two.

Get your kids to try this. Start them when they are 12 and by the time they have finished the assignment, they should be well out of their teens.

Dan did Vertical Poem One and Jeffrey did Vertical Poem Two and then they reread them jumping back and forth, illustrating the fusion principle which fires the sun, as the halves collided and collapsed into:

Rich new meaning. The technical term is wow.

And speaking of juxtapositions, Nanette Cogswell-Asimov and Hugh Cogswell-Byrne (Cogswell is their dog; hats off while the injoke passes) did a duet based on letters her grandad wrote describing his youth in Russia, these letters written in Yiddish and translated into English and done, in part, by Nanette with a very fine Yiddish accent. Let me just sum up one aspect of one of the letters. Nanette's grandfather got sick and slept through the Bolshevik Revolution.

Richard Anderson read an email from a salon regular who was back East dealing with death and dismemberment -- metaphorical dismemberment -- in her family. Then he read a short Frost poem she suggested. David Reinke did a James Thurber anecdote in which Thurber returned an unintended insult with an intentional one. Bill Allard read the first part of a film script, part of an umbrella project in which somebody: shoots most of a movie; then goes around the country to a variety of places casting some of the smaller parts with locals: shoots scenes with those local actors; and thus produces a series of the-same-but-different movies that can be shown in the various localities where they were partially cast.

I know this sounds like something the King and the Duke did while floating down the Mississippi in Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn between episodes of being tarred and feathered, but Bill says it's time for me to wake up and smell the 21st Century. (My wife says it's regional marketing.)

Nancy Rieser read two wonderful poems in English that had nothing to do with the theme, but who told her what the theme was? Ah, that would be me. I mean, that would be not me. She read with such verve and humor I forgave myself on the spot.

And now for the mighty conclusion. The oh-so-late Patrick Finley, who was always first among equals at the old salons, wrote a play more than 20 years ago that flopped spectacularly. He and Jeffrey carved out of it one long poetic duet, the general theme of which was/is the history of English and/or English poetry. It's an amazing jumble of jokes, poems and fragments of poetry, history and fragments of history, philosophy and fragments of philosophy that when read informs but when heard in expert performance delights delights. It has that Restoration drama feel, that David Mamet, Tom Stoppard feel, by which I mean it runs ahead of you faster than your brain can possibly run but you are well pleased just to try to keep up. (Whoa. Jeffrey and Dan did it. That's why UPS is a cultural player. You have the thing itself, but someone has to deliver it.)

It was a fine salon. For the first time since Patrick's death I thought how we should really chase everybody out and bring in a new audience and do it again, so magnificent was it.

At which point in this review you, Dear Reader, will probably say:

Oh get a room.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

I Forgot to Serve the Mini-Quiches from Costco, But That Was Not a Decisive Omission

In the rubble of our humble home, we drink our coffee and ponder last night's poetry salon, which must have been a success -- if measured by the amount of the rubble. Some of you have undoubtedly heard about the outcome of the salon already on Armed Forces Radio or on the jungle drums. Or by text-messaging during the salon from those in attendance.

Or you may merely have felt a disturbance in the Force.

So if this is repetitious I apologize.

If the salon had a lesson it is that you cannot you cannot you cannot underestimate the power of two voices working together when the two voices are strong, clear and even beautiful, and the timing with which they blend is superb AND THE SUBJECT MATTER, THE THING READ OR RECITED, is of superior quality.

That's vague. I will give an example. Last night Mr. Jeffrey Pressman and Ms. Lyle York did Federico Garcia Lorca's very long poem on the death in the bull ring of the matador Ignacio Sánchez Mejías. This is apparently a world-famous poem.

I did not know that.

A las cinco de la tarde.
Eran las cinco en punto de la tarde.
Un niño trajo la blanca sábanaa las cinco de la tarde.
Una espuerta de cal ya prevenidaa las cinco de la tarde.
Lo demás era muerte y sólo muertea las cinco de la tarde.

At five in the afternoon.
It was exactly five in the afternoon.
A boy brought the white sheet
at five in the afternoon.
A frail of lime ready prepared
at five in the afternoon.
The rest was death, and death alone
at five in the afternoon.

Lyle would do several stanzas in Spanish and hard on their heels, with some overlapping, Jeffrey would do the English translation. Later on he did the English first and she jammed the Spanish up against that. Have you ever heard anyone do work in translation in such a way, so that you get this contrapuntal blend consisting of the pure sound of it followed within the split-second by both the sound and sense of it, that is, the poem in a language you know?

May I recommend this experience? And may I also suggest that this is some stuff you won't see coming and going every day of the week, and you need to keep your eye open for it? I guess my point is that it is both exhilarating and discouraging that in this age of cheap mass entertainment and exorbitant elite entertainment some marvelous things happen only in living rooms among a few friends and acquaintances.

It's art and it's entertainment, but it's also like the creation of the labor union movement: You've got to organize. Call up a few friends and drag our "The Charge of the Light Brigade" if that's the lime in your cerveza.

Anyway, it was a good salon, with not just poetry translation -- which was the theme of the evening -- but comic essays and part of a film script and an email and a James Thurber anecdote and letters found in an attic and translated from the Yiddish and more more more. It was, in short, a melange, and so this sentence maintains the theme of the evening, which was more than some of the participants did which was fine with me.

Now, for you long-term DC/AD addicts, who have been following the salon drama for some days now: My lady wife and I did just fine with the Frost poem. I did not do the Jack Nicholson imitation, as I suggested yesterday, and I did not strangle my wife (pretend strangle, you know, like in a play) at the end of the poem to give the poem a clever and modern, not to say hiphop, twist. We just listened to one another and talked back, and I got up and walked out and found the hired man dead and came back in and told her, and that was that.

One funny thing, though: Our friend Jeffrey did a little intro that was.... You must understand that we came on late after the Lorca, which was a smash. Jeffrey essentially said that, as a director (which he is if you want to get into job descriptions) I worked with these people for about five minutes so cross your fingers, plaster a smile on your face, stick your critical faculty underneath your chair as if it were a wad of chewing gum and remember whose house this is and hope for the best.

I'm paraphrasing.

We did fine. And if I may paraphrase Mark Twain, our performance gratified a few of our friends and astonished the rest.

Mary: "You'll be surprised at him, how much he's broken.
His working days are done; I'm sure of it."

Warren: "I'd not be in a hurry to say that."

Mary: "I haven't been. Go, look, see for yourself.
But, Warren, please remember how it is:
He's come to help you ditch the meadow.
He has a plan. You mustn't laugh at him.
He may not speak of it, and then he may.
I'll sit and see if that small sailing cloud
Will hit or miss the moon."

It hit the moon.
Then there were three there, making a dim row,
The moon, the little silver cloud, and she.

Warren returned -- too soon, it seemed to her,
Slipped to her side, caught up her hand and waited.

"Warren," she questioned.

"Dead," was all he answered.

Jack Nicholson was wrong. We can handle the truth.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

You Want the Truth? You and Silas Can't Handle the Truth.

I have suddenly had an inspiration on how to handle the Frost poem, "The Death of the Hired Man," that my wife and I are doing at the salon tonight. We've been working on it his afternoon, all Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn if you know what I mean. But I'm thinking when we are doing it tonight that I surprise her and I will go all Jack Nicholson instead and at the end where Warren goes out and comes back and tells his wife that the hired man has died in his sleep that I should come charging back with ketchup all over my hands and grab her by the throat.

Then after I have choked her to death I can stab myself in the gut. (More ketchup.)

Wow, they will say. There's more in Frost than people give him credit for. And you can't tell me Jack Nicholson killing Katherine Hepburn wouldn't have been sweet.

Friday, March 11, 2005

I Get It. If You Break a Leg, The Show Goes on But You Don't

Just a little tension around the old homeplace tonight. Tomorrow we are hosting a poetry salon, which sounds a little pretentious. But how is sitting around reading to one another pretentious? Given how little we know, having opinions about political leaders and world affairs is pretentious. Reading a nice poem you liked in seventh grade -- or in the coffee house back in college or in the dentist's waiting room the week before last leafing through the New Yorker -- is small-c conservative, small-d democrat and small-l liberal, too.

These "salons" have been going on in one form or another for 25 years, sometimes small, sometimes medium-sized. The late great Patrick Finley -- mad, drunk, genius, destroyer of self, a capital P poet -- was at the center of them. Sometimes he would get a hundred people and collect "donations." Sometimes it was four people in a living room with a keg of sake.

I think I am remembering this right. Patrick said poetry consists of "words that sing," whatever else it includes. This means that you find the first pleasure in the sound of it all, whatever you find deeper in the sound as it resolves itself into more intellectual meaning. This is a philosophy of presentation that means if there is no pleasure for the audience, something has misfired. The point was never to intimidate the audience or play games of exclusion.

Is it ten years ago that Patrick died? The salons disappeared for a while and then came back on a very small scale: in living rooms with a nice spread of things from Costco (the big piece of jarlsberg, the frozen mini-quiches, the Just Desserts chocolate cake). Part of the reason the salons came back was the return to the Bay Area of our friend Jeffrey Pressman, who was also at the center of those Finley salons. Think of the periodic table and some of the nicer elements. There can be quite a lot in your basic nucleus, you know.

But now Jeffrey is off on another journey, and we are having .... Not a farewell salon. An au revoir salon!

Somehow -- and I know not how -- my wife and I have fallen into doing a Robert Frost poem -- "The Death of the Hired Man" -- under Jeffrey's direction. (Directing people is one of his arts.)

Jeffrey wants me to find my "darkness" to make the piece work. I believe he is afraid he is going to get Ma and Pa Kettle.

"Ma" and I are a little tense, though my wife does not need to be. She is very expressive, very much "available" to her emotions. (See how I have picked up the lingo.) She would have made a marvelous actress. When she feels something strongly she is transparent to her core. I, on the other hand, am wooden. Jeffrey says I reach for the emotion and sound like Tony Randall. Right now I am trying to channel Walter Brennan. You know, someone without teeth and a limp.

We will have 15, maybe 20, people looking on, an assortment of friends and acquaintances. (You're all welcome, too. Sometimes it's good to have regular readers as numerous as the stars in the sky, that is, as numerous as the visible stars in one of the minor constellations.)

Still, I am nervous. As Tiny Tim would have said, had he been lead drama critic for the New York Times, "Mr. Robertson's emotions ran the gamut from A to B. God help us, everyone."

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Now You See It, Then You Didn't

You recall last month I described in both written word and in spoken word Big Pat Daugherty's Super Super Bowl by the Bay Fete. (Isn't fete a wonderful word? Stop and savor it. Say it to yourself. Feel the fete flit across your face.)

Anyway here are some of Big Pat Daugherty's pictures. It was perhaps a unique event; thus, I share it with those of you still trapped in the ice and snow. Don't you go feeling bad about that ice and snow. I think it just means God ain't through with you yet. You are a work in progress, honey, and there's a long way to go.

Now as far as those of us being out here in the nice weather, as my granny used to say:

Jesus is satisfied with you.

Addendum: Click on that picture of the Golden Gate and it gets even bigger and more beautiful.

Super Bowl party? Oakies hoping when they make it to Napa there will be work in the fields? Might get cold tonight. Wouldn't want to be them. Posted by Hello

My television. Look closely. At the very bottom toward the right. Posted by Hello

Their television. Posted by Hello

I was cold when this picture was taken. I got colder. Posted by Hello

In spite of it all, we had 180 degrees of this. Posted by Hello

This was the point of it all. When the game grew too utterly dull, boring and trapped in sameness, we had only to look away. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Loneliness, The Freedom of Speech and of Canned Goods and of Every Other Damn Thing. But, Oh, the Toothaches

I have written very little about Bush these last few months. What's there to say that all my favorite liberal blogs aren't saying 106 times before I've had my first cup of coffee? (Of course, I live in California, so their fury, which arises with the sun, has had a good head start.)

I think something rude, my boys and girls have already said something far ruder. And footnoted it, too. I need only nod in agreement. If that is apathetic, well, I have some footnotes of my own to work on.

Right now my wife and I are sitting back and letting out a sigh. We are thinking about the long haul, the fact this country certainly is in a kind of continental drift and the forces that are moving it are deep down. The fundamentalist Christians are numerous and motivated. The terrorists are out there trying to get in here and blow things up, which drives us past vigilance right on to paranoia and the excesses that come with that. The youth of America seem less and less committed to the Bill of Rights. Many forces collect, and those forces produce a vector, and that vector is toward the right.

One concludes this is going to continue for a while. One concludes that things will happen that will hurt, not just irritate. Lasting damage will be done. It won't be just a change in the cultural atmosphere and a general feeling of disquiet. People, plants and animals will be hurt; that's an elementary way of putting it. If you want to argue specifics, I'm in the book.

My wife and I have talked about this. We may not live to see a reversal, and it is intriguing to wonder just how "bad" -- and I put that in quotation marks to suggest it is a personal judgment -- things will get before things get better. Even the most optimistic of us must accept the possibility that some losses are permanent even if there is a reversal. We can certainly all agree on that. Some things are gone for good. I imagine Native Americans entertain that thought every day of their lives. So would the dodo if ....

I say all this to lead up to a recent and very minor revelation. On cable, I stumbled on Mel Gibson in "The Road Warrior," and I watched the last half of it. There the message was: Certain kinds of apocalyptic science fiction suggest that in the face of irretrievable loss one should fight with hope, vigor and a can-do spirit to salvage what one can. This is almost a cheerful state of affairs. We all recall that in the last "Terminator" movie all the efforts to avoid the destruction of the world fail. But that's okay. Go remnants of humanity. Beat those machines. Rah. Rah. Rah.

But I'm thinking that for many many viewers the idea of collective resistance to overwhelming disaster is really a secondary theme. I have always been more aware of other ways of looking at apocalyptic science fiction, particularly the narcissism inherent in much of it. In Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle" the end of the world is welcomed by one of the minor characters because in his case life really is much better with less competition. That is one of the possible attractions of a world emptied by war or plague. The individual matters more than the society, particularly when you now have a chance to remake society in your own image. (I also suppose that there is the subliminal idea that if you survive the disaster, you have been judged worthy by god. Those other billions got what they deserved.)

Make the survivor young and male. Supply him with an attractive sexual partner. This is not so bad. Who among us has not thought, "If those 17 guys would only leave, I would be the best-looking guy in the room." None of us has completely shed that adolescent sense that if we could just clear the decks of all the fools, the bullies and the old people, we would shine. Surviving the apocalypse can be a very pleasant fantasy. (And, of course, like all fantasy it reminds us to look out the window: The world is not destroyed.)

But now, in the aftermath of Bush's second victory, I find a new pleasure in something like Mel Gibson's "The Road Warrior." (Rather less in "Terminator III." The further out from the end of the world the story starts, the greater the possibility of good cheer.) The great throbbing message in this kind of fantasy can be -- here's the data; frame it yourself -- that even with the world mostly destroyed, what remains is worth fighting for. If civilization is flattened and we are cast back into a new Eden, we can start again and this time get it right.

The same thing goes for Republicans gutting social security, digging holes in the permafrost and making us recite the Pledge to Jesus every morning. Even if all that gets done, let us not burst into tears and go hide in the closet.

This is not a subtle point, and I hope I have not made it too crudely. It is not a point of any particular weight, the idea that we should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Or the degradation of the good the enemy of fighting to preserve the pretty good. Or the rather thorough and irreversible destruction of the pretty good a reason to give up on the ....

You get it. You didn't need to get it to have a nice day.

And none of this means that I think George Bush should be equated with The Humungous in "The Road Warrior," even though The Humungous is a strong supporter of a culture dependent on large fast cars and a plentiful supply of gasoline and damn he's ugly.

You might well say that about Bush, but that's not what I'm saying. I'm just trying to keep my spirits up.

Addendum: If a dystopia is to emerge from the current trends in the U.S., it will almost certainly be a highly centralized lobotomized and narcotized police state as in 1984, not some post-atomic wasteland. It's much harder to imagine bringing that kind of state down. (Did someone mention Terry Gilliam's "Brazil"? Case in point. ) The irony is that the wasteland gives more lattitude for fantasies of hope than the police state. A post-apocalyptic world really is another way of getting back to the myth of the open American continent, a place where if we are not valued here we simply wander off to there.

You Know That Sunday Comic Strip 'The Family Circus'?

No. No. No. Wrong metaphor for life as it actually takes place. (And so sentimental. Grandpa in heaven looking down just makes me want to puke.)

Let me suggest instead 'The Family Amusement Park,' since the self-infliction of nausea is more characteristic of family life. I am thinking this because I am thinking about my wife's family. No disrespect to my wife's family. When it comes to family, I meet her bid of one neurotic and raise her two lunatics and one megalomaniac. It is just that the recent illness of her mother -- and thank you; she's better -- naturally focuses my attention on my wife and her sisters and how they relate.

The question is given my mother-in-law's illness does my wife drop everything and fly across country? If she thought her mother was dying, certainly. If she thought that no one on scene was capable of conferring with her mother's physicians, making good decisions, reassuring her mother and handling all the logistics of chronic but not immediately life-threatening disease, certainly.

But just because she might feel the powerful need to see her mom, well maybe not. See, two of my wife's sisters are on the job and seem to be managing the situation quite well. My wife's sudden presence -- she concludes and I agree -- might be seen as a criticism of them.

Now we return to 'The Family Amusement Park.' If I were to offer a metaphor for my wife and her three sisters, it would not be four planets orbiting around her mother, each sister in her own clearly defined orbit. Instead, it would be four bumper cars racing around and around the floor, jostling and crashing. My wife would be the bumper car going twice the distance and exerting four times the effort, trying to prevent the other three bumper cars from slamming into one another. Her bumper car would be constantly interposing itself between sistercars, absorbing the blows. She is quite unconcerned about being slammed into herself. It takes a great deal of provocation to get a slamback out of her. But sometimes she does with me cheering her on from the vicinity of the popcorn stand.

I could go on and on describing the intricacies of these maneuvers within a larger apparently chaotic pattern that is actually as regular as if it flowed down ancient river beds. I doubt I need to, not to you, my readers, who as far as I can tell are all card-carrying members of the human species with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto.

There are many rides in this particular amusement park, and all of us have ridden more than one of them more than once until we felt as if our stomach were ready to come exploding out our ears.

Monday, March 07, 2005

The World in My Ears as I Walk

As I have mentioned before and will mention again, pride being its own engine, four or five workdays I drive my wife to her job in downtown Oakland, park the car and walk home. I do this because back in December my blood pressure worried my doctor and he gave me a month to get it down. In mid-January I started walking.

It's worked. I am getting some gaudy numbers. Last night having sat very still for 15 minutes with a cat on my lap, I was 115/69. Good job!

As I walk I listen to a radio attached by a band of elastic to my arm. I use earbuds so I'm not so cut off from the world I get run down like a dog in the dirt. I try to listen to Terry Gross (Fresh Air!), but my little radio has trouble holding the station because she's on 91.7 FM -- the band is crowded; the signal is not overpoweringly strong. When the atmospherics aren't quite right (which is most of the time) I listen to Michael Krassny on 88.5 FM. Michael Krassny is public radio epitomized. When he is good -- that is, when he is working on a topic I care about -- he is splendid, and when he is bad -- again it's a matter of topic -- zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

But the last couple of weeks I have discovered a third alternative: Al Franken on 960 AM. I tried Franken and Air America when they became available in the Bay Area last fall, and he moved between frantic and wooden and he was not that funny and I was embarrassed for him.

Either he has gotten better or I've gotten less frantic as I've accepted the fact that I will probably not see the Promised Land of an America where the instrument is an instrument of our collective goodness, not our collective greed and envy in my lifetime. If we must retreat a thousand miles, we will. But we will come back, though perhaps only our bones will make that journey. (Metaphor alert. Metaphor alert.)

Anyway, Franken now seems far more comfortable on radio, and the comic bits he does are certainly funnier. This morning he was parodying a bit that Rush Limbaugh apparently does, the premise of which is that someone listening to the show in the studio is making comments off mike that Limbaugh reacts to. Some of you are old enough to remember those great Bob Newhart bits in which he was on the phone with someone.

Think back. Lincoln's press agent listens patiently as the President talks about the Gettysburg Address. Then: "Abe, do the speech the way Charlie wrote it."

Limbaugh does something like this with "Mr. Snerdly" -- according to Franken. Snerdly interrupts Limbaugh with something even ruder than Limbaugh's latest nonsense, and Limbaugh repeats the comment. Franken's conceit was that Mr. Snerdly has come on Franken's show and Franken says something like: "We would never talk about Rush's racist comments about Donovan McNabb. (Pause) What's that Mr. Snerdly? He is a racist."

No quite what he said, but you get the idea. It's a bit that depends on nice timing , and Franken played it well. His general talk and interviews are good, too -- though he seems to ignore his gal sidekick, but, hey, he is the show, end of story. It is now like real radio, relaxed at times, angry at times. But there is no longer a sense of suffering through your child's piano recital, caught between your desire that the kid do well and your understanding that between excellence and what you are hearing there is a great gulf fixed.

In other words, I no longer feel that listening to Al is itself an act of charity for which there should be an income tax deduction.

Bonus: Here's the Newhart bit.

What's that Abe? You're getting a lot of complaints about Grant's drinking? I don't see the problem you knew he was a lush when you appointed him. Your gag writers? Your gag writers…you want to come back with something funny. A joke about a town drunk. I can't promise anything Abe but I'll get them working on it. You got the speech? You haven't changed the speech have you? Abe whattaya change the speeches for? A couple of minor changes. I'll bet. Alright, what are they? You what?! You typed it. Abe, how many times have we told you…on the backs of envelopes! I understand it's harder to read that way but it looks like you wrote it on the train ride coming down. Abe could you do this? Could you memorize it and then put it on the backs of envelopes? We're getting a lot of play in the press on that. How are the envelopes holding out? You could stand another box. Alright I'll send them out. What else Abe? You changed four score and seven to…to 87?! I understand, but Abe that's meant to be a grabber. Abe we test marketed that in Eerie and they went out of their minds. Trust me. Well Abe it's sort of like Marc Antony saying, "Friends, Romans, Countrymen, I've got something I wanna tell ya!" See what I mean Abe? What else? People will little note, nor long remember. Abe what could possibly be wrong with that? They remembered. Abe they'll remember it, it's the old humble bit. You can't say it's a great speech. I think everybody's going to remember it Abe. Well you come off like a braggart, don't you see that. Abe, do the speech the way Charlie wrote it, would you. The inaugural address swarmed didn't it? Anything else? You talked to some newspapermen. Abe I wish you wouldn't talk to some newspapermen. You always put your foot in…that's just what I mean Abe. No…no…no…you were a rail-splitter, then an attorney. Abe it doesn't make any sense that way. You wouldn't give up your law practice. Would you read the biog, you're causing a lot of trouble on this end. Abe listen, before I forget, we're coming out with an Abe Lincoln t-shirt on Tuesday. Could you work that into the speech?"

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Can't Stop the Spring. Sometimes You'd Like to.

Yesterday was the first day of spring. And our cat Popcorn had all her teeth pulled. And my wife's mom went into the hospital to die.

None of those things is precisely and completely true. Close enough, though. Emotionally right, you might say.

The spring thing: After what seemed like a month of rainy days, the sun came out and stayed out. The temperature hit 70, liked the feel of it, and kept moving up. Last Fall I planted a whole bag full of bargain bulbs and had long completely forgotten what they were. They were daffodils. The sun was in the sky and the sun was in the garden. The actual date notwithstanding, for me it was the first day of spring, and I will take it personally if subsequent weather patterns prove me wrong.

As for Popcorn -- who is almost 19 and god knows what that is in cat years -- the vet actually left two teeth behind. I quote now from Cats International:

The adult cat has 30 teeth: 12 incisors, 4 canines, 10 premolars and 4 molars. The large, curved, pointed canines are important for stabbing and clasping while hunting. The premolars are like scissors which slice the prey into pieces that are small enough for the cat to swallow. Cats do not chew their food--they chop it up and swallow it. Cats that only eat commercially-prepared pet foods never have the opportunity to slice up large, tough food objects and their teeth may suffer as a result. (The fibers in fresh meat help to cleanse the teeth.)

She had an abcess underneath her jaw that made her look like a bullfrog. She must have been in a good deal of pain. I wish we had been more attentive, but she's old and sleeps a great deal and no longer relishes human contact, so we don't love her up all over as often as we used to. Clearly it is practical to continue to love up old kitties whether they like it or not. In certain contexts, love is apparently a thrifty emotion, given the price of feline dental surgery.

Now, Eydie's mom.

She is suffering congestive heart failure. She could live another five years -- and interestingly enough even at 93 the actuarial tables say her life expectancy is 98. But she's 93, almost 94. Every day all of us wake up dying, of course, in the same way we all wake up winning the lottery. I mean each outcome is possible and if we are young enough and healthy enough we are able to wish most desperately for an improbable event, ignoring the difference between the unlikely bad and the practically impossible good.

At my age I don't want any surprises, thank you. Probabilities are still on my side. (All I ask is that today be ordinary.) But my wife's mom has reached the point that we fear it will be a surprise if she comes out of the hospital. This is not necessarily true, but it feels true. My wife says that several times every day she suddenly notices her body wants to cry. She's not thinking about her mom, she says. But suddenly -- tears.

But right now my wife is on her cell phone talking to her mother in the hospital in Florida. Her mother is on her own cell phone.

I have no idea if unlimited long distance minutes night and weekends is therapeutic, but I expect it is, at both ends.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Is This Homage? Or Is It Plagiarism? I Hope 'Even the Experts' Fail to Agree.

The daily Romenesko at the Poynter Institute website really is a must-read for anyone interested in U.S. journalism. Poynter will email a summary to you every day. You have only to ask. Here's the top item for today. Just so splendid.

Schmich takes on right-wing pundit world via "Brenda Starr"

Michael Callahan asks if Romenesko readers have been reading "Brenda Starr," which is written by Chicago Trib columnist Mary Schmich. Callahan writes: "For a character whose biggest concern used to be whether her makeup would run as she dashed around the globe chasing n'er-do-wells, Brenda seems to have matured of late into someone auditioning for a new version of 'Crossfire.' Who knew?" TODAY'S "STARR": "Some journalists can be bought as easily as chewing gum!"

And by the way isn't Jimmy (The General) Guckert more or less the male equivalent of Brenda Starr back when she was a bimbo?

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Famous for His Deeds a Warrior May Be, But It Remains a Mystery Where His Life Will End, When He May No Longer Dwell in the Mead-Hall Among His Own

I had a fine wet business lunch at John's Grill in San Francisco the other day. It was my pick, and I picked John's but not because of the Dashiell Hammett connection. Which is antique. No one there remembers him. No one remembers anyone who remembers him.

I picked it because I haven't been there in seven or eight years, not since the Jerry Carroll retirement "party," those quotation marks apt and unapologetic. One of the reasons I will probably continue working at USF until I die -- and longer if I can stay downwind of the deans -- is that a glorious retirement experience probably isn't going to happen so what the heck. There will never be closure. No big party. No plaque saying I'm an honorary Jesuit what do you think of that Mrs. Robertson? hahahahaha. The university really is a place you leave not with a bang but with a whimper.

If you are a scholar part of your work is solitary, and part of your work is with colleagues scattered far and wide. Nobody in that group to brush away a tear or squeeze your shoulder on your last day. If you are a teacher, you are dealing with a transient population. Most of them have two or three years history with you, and most of them have spent most of that time avoiding you. You're a droning voice and a bald spot, less a fixture in their lives than Barney the dinosaur or Jeff Probst. You're leaving? Good for you! They came here to leave.

Your department colleagues are people you meet in the hall or frown at in meetings. You have a meal here with one, a drink there with another. You fight about things, the smaller the better. Certainly you have a handful of good friends, about enough to fill up a table at Martin Mack's in the Haight on your last day. Though there will be some gaps at the table. University life is unregimented. A few of those few probably have conflicts -- leaving early for Back East, grading a whole class of essays. It's hard to make retiring from the university an event.

But retiring from a newspaper, like retiring from any organization where people stay for years crammed together in cubicles in one big room working under cruel masters, you have had the chance to carve yourself into the landscape, as a rivulet wears through rock. You are part of the history. There are those you grew old with, those you mentored when they arrived, those promoted over you, those you have protected and those who have protected you, those you slept with more or less seriously in a moment of loneliness, boredom or curiosity. (I do not speak from experience here, only on good authority.)

You have been thrown together against your will with these people for a very long time, and if it's a very very long time you have become a piece of newsroom furniture, useless perhaps but reminiscent, like a pica pole or words like "slot" or "copy boy." You are somehow associated with the success of the place. If there hasn't been all that much success, you are at least associated with the paper's endurance.

Your exit is like the ending of an epoch. People, including your enemies, are moved in odd essential ways that puzzle even them. Ah ah ah. I was not at the Chronicle long enough to have quite that splendid an exit. But my friend Jerry Carroll was there nearly forever, so this story inexorably returns to him and to John's Grill.

It's 1998. I get a call from someone at the Chron. Jerry has just give the paper one week's notice -- one week; pretty cheeky but he is pretty cheeky -- so I am asked if I want to come in for his goodby party next Friday.


Next day I get another call. Jerry has ordered his friends not to give him a goodby party. Time for Plan Two. I am to ask him to go lunch on his last day. We will meet at John's Grill, which is close to the Chron and a place all of us frequented as often as the expense account would allow. Then, once Jerry and I are at the bar, the well-wishers will crowd in for a good old three-martini celebration.

Sure. Great. Tax deductible.

I ask Jerry. Friday comes. I arrive at John's Grill and order a stiff one, so I will be ready to deal with the glee soon to come frothing around me. Jerry shows up. I buy him a stiff one and look to the right. Two, maybe three guys slumped at the bar. Times passes. Glasses are dry. I buy Jerry yet another stiff one and look to the left. Bartender looking bored. Wrong day? Wrong restaurant? What?

Meanwhile, since I have been talking loudly about Jerry's retirement in case everyone is waiting for some signal, a PR guy who knows Jerry a little comes over. He may even handle the restaurant. I don't remember. He is enamored of the moment, of Jerry's final Chronicle lunch taking place before him. He insists that he will be our host, that it's all going to be on him.

Jerry and I are journalists -- he, in fact for another four hours, and I in memory. We can talk about the past, cement our friendship, get serious, bond in a manly way some other time. Privacy is overrated -- and expensive. Free food and wine and hard liquor from a PR guy to whom we are no longer obligated, cannot possibly be obligated. We spend the next two hours eating and drinking everything in sight, listening to the PR guy talk about himself.

Jerry goes back to work. He looks steadier than I feel. I walk back with him to find what went wrong. I am told in whispers that Jerry really really really did tell everyone very firmly that he didn't want a party.

So gosh they decided to skip it. You know? That's what he said.

You know?

Pshaw. I tell Jerry gu'by, I get the hell out. What happens later I only hear about. Since Jerry comes in early, his drop-dead, walk-out moment is 4:30. Around rolls the final 4:30. He is in the middle of a story, typing like a bandit (I am told). At 4:30 precisely he stops in mid-sentence, puts on his coat and walks out with a word to no one.

Half-completed sentence right there on the screen.

But they give him a standing ovation, the whole room.

He never breaks stride. And then he's gone.

Goosebumps hearing about it. Goosebumps.

Addendum: The following is from an email from the man in question. If I am betraying a confidence here, let it be on my head.

I declined the honor of one of those cheesy farewell parties, upsetting many. I tried to leave as inconspiciously as possible the last day, but alas got a standing O. My first and immediate act of freedom was to drink a martini with Susan Sward. Then on the ferry to Larkspur I threw my Chronicle ID into the Bay.

More Arcane Fantasy League Info. The Rest of You: Move Along. Nothing to See Here.

this is an audio post - click to play

In the Big One, George was a Stone Killer. People Forget That.

George McGovern was a guy. End of story: a guy. When he talks about Hunter Thompson, I'm going to listen.

By the way, Thompson was not a guy. Many things but not a guy.

And here's Frank Rich in the Times. (It turns out he was much too smart to waste as a theater critic. But who knew?)

Thompson was out to break the mainstream media's rules. His unruly mix of fact, opinion and masturbatory self-regard may have made him a blogger before there was an Internet, but he was a blogger who had the zeal to leave home and report firsthand and who could write great sentences that made you want to savor what he found out rather than just scroll quickly through screen after screen of minutiae and rant.

Zeal? Isn't that some kind of hand soap?

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The City of Oakland and Darwin's Cat (After Dark): Making Progress Together

Many of you -- so many of you; thanks for the fruit baskets and especially for lighting the candles in the great cathedrals of Western Europe -- read last week about the cancellation of our building permit by the city. Our appeal has been smiled upon. Our permit has been reinstated.

So now we have got to find some money and get the damn construction done. More candles, more fruit baskets!

A Little Something for My Fantasy League Comrades. The Rest of You Take a Break. Smoke if You Got 'Em.

this is an audio post - click to play