West Oakland signage

December 29, 2011

Stuff you see in West Oakland.

Beginners is a beautiful movie:

Sex, Life, Healing, Sunlight, Nature, Magic, Serenity, Spirit

"Simple ... Happy." This is what I meant to give you.

Misty Mountains

December 27, 2011

Misty Mountains

These are the East Bay Hills

Midnight Mass

December 25, 2011

Read from notes. Totally inane.

Winter Solstice, quiet, dark

December 22, 2011

This year's shortest day of the year was quiet, still and dark. The sky was a bruised, fading purple-pink. The ocean, seen through the Golden Gate, reflected the short indigo-ing sun's light, as the sun fell off the end of the globe.

Into the Mountains: Puma Robles

December 19, 2011

Head off into the mountains

Went to visit a friend who's caretaking a 6,000-acre ranch on the east side of the Sierras about an hour north of Lake Tahoe near the Nevada border.

In Long Valley, the depression point between the eastern Sierras and the inner Cascades just north of Reno, meadows pour off the mountains in gullies, their golden color showing a frozen stream of rich soil and water. The ones on this ranch have never been ploughed, though have been grazed since this area is sheep-rich American Basque country. Some Basque-style artisan sausages for breakfast bring that point home pretty well. Walking over the meadow, it's easy to feel a swimming sensation; the bent-over, dry, winter-dormant grasses sponge with your steps, thrusting your legs forward – like you could dive headfirst and begin alligator-crawling down the meadow's gentle slope as you would in the shallow end of a swimming pool, gravity providing the buoancy instead of water. Seen from afar, in what is mostly a sage desert, the golden meadows are few and far between, and appear rich – their soil spilled from the hills, rounded and doughy above.

The ranch sits at 5,000 feet above sea level and is on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, which means the land's desert-like; the Sierra's 8,000-foot crests block a lot of Pacific Ocean-borne moisture. So, outside of the yellow, rich-soiled, and comparitively water-rich, meadows, there is sageland with its amazingly rich colors: earthtoned mauve, green, tan, beige, purple, mustard, olive, sage.

A friend, the property's caretaker, and I set off on foot cross-country one morning out on the 6,000 acres, no property lines to worry about. It was easy to feel an aboriginal blood beating strong and a hunting instinct well up from deep as the mountain-worn ranch-complex, tucked into a valley between two of the ranch's larger meadows, receded from view and the jagged cliffs, just beyond the valley's only river, Long Valley River, called. If you looked back, you saw the last of the Sierra hills sitting 2,000 feet above, nearby, winter's naked oaks spanning the hillsides to the ridgeline, their branches a bruised, soft purple, tinging the slopes, subtly, with that subdued sageland color. A constant hushed whoosh, an east-bound wind cresting the Sierra ridge, poured around you into the valley.

We sometimes sat for a while in the sageland, ducking the cold wind in some of the land's minor dips and valleys and soaked in the pre-Solstice morning sun that warmed the valley. When we walked, we sometimes followed the clear animal highways, worn by all kinds of paws and hooves – rabbit, kangaroo rat, bobcat, deer – and, we kept looking but did not find that day, mountain lion. The ranch is called Puma Robles, Cougar Oaks. The region, supposedly, has the highest concentration of mountain lions in all of the Sierra. They're drawn by the wide, rocky desert and the abundant deer that stream out of the highlands by the thousands on their migrations to and from the food-rich high Sierra summer meadows. It definitely feels like mountain lion country, with the golden meadows and gently dipping, rolling land punctuated with periodic rocky outcrops. Multiple moments it feels like we just miss actually seeing one, a moment too late.

We reach the jagged rocks that jut out of the smooth hillsides bordering the river. They leave questions. "Do you want the scientific explanation or the Native American one?"

We jump across the river, walk up the hillside between masses of unusual rock outcrops, climb upon one and crawl out to its western overlook, which brings the Sierras, the river, and a long, baulked train course into view. Leaning against a large boulder, 200 feet above the river, gazing west, the sun beating down, we split a banana while a long, heavy train chugs up the valley, ominous, at a laden crawl, dragging hundreds of what must be oil-bearing cars, round, black, full. From our mountain outpost, the slow, struggling train, dragging miles of oil across the desert valley, had a Lord of the Rings aura, one of marching, soulless dwarves preparing for battle. One hundred dollars says that oil is going to war.


The cold comes down out of the mountains early in the morning. A couple of days ago, it was at about 6:30; you could feel the temperature drop, your skin sting slightly from the waft of cold. It happens when the sun rises on the other side of Long Valley, said Marco, as we speculated that that early-morning, thick, orange, light-blue light pulls the mountain air down off the National Forest-owned Sierra hills that slope 2,000 feet above the end-of-the-road ranch that rests at the base of the hills' first real rise.


Hot springs pour into the Long Valley River periodically. One has been tapped for a bath. The night I arrived, we went down to the hot bath with a couple of beers for a soak. Steam rises as the 130-degree water meets the winter night air. A hose collects some of the water from the creekbed and directs it into a 10-foot-diameter baby blue round plastic tub. Regulating the inflow allows temperature control and a soak in air-cooled once-130-degree streamwater. A couple of porcelain tubs add to the atmosphere, too, one directly in the curving-, coursing-around-the-base-of-a-small-round-hill stream, providing a touch of Dali to the night. Sage grassland all around and nothing but water and Reno citylight-muted starry sky.

The only sound ... far-off Highway 395 traffic heading to and from Reno, which glowed the sky pink and purple just southeast in a Thursday night splendor.

A hawk ...

Blue Gold Pink sunset Meadow hills DJ

Black-indigo Sierra

December 15, 2011

Sierra Black-Blue

Entering the Tahoe valley at night on Highway 80 from the Bay Area delta, the night, indigo black, folds in heavy a few miles northeast of Sacramento. As you enter the Sierra foothills at night, the sky abruptly turns tar-pit black; the oil-black sky, the numerous dark-shrouded, nearby, unseen trees and the slow, upwinding road add to the lost-in-space feel of the drive. The mountains begin to assert their dominance as you slowly wind up the highway to Donner Pass, elevation 7056 feet, where the mountains once asserted their power unequivocally when the mass of 87 American migrants from the east, after having taken a short cut, got caught at what is now Donner Lake, just a few miles away from the pass, 2,000 feet below. Instead of an entrance into the Golden land, they, as researcher/writer extraordinaire Richard Rhodes chronicles in his book The Ungodly, the crew lost 39 of its original 87 members that 1846-47 winter at Donner Lake, and some ate each other to survive. "It was the world's worst wagon-train tragedy," apparently.

The striking, huge bronze pioneer family memorial at Donner Memorial State Park, at Donner Lake, where the Donner Party built roughshod cabins and lean-tos that mythical winter, has a plaque that reads, "Virile to risk and find; kindly withal and a ready help. Facing the brunt of fate; indominatble, — unafraid."


Most water that pours west off the Sierra goes to the Pacific Ocean; all that goes east, evaporates. That means the water of Truckee River, which courses through the charming side of smalltown Truckee, evaporates in the Nevada desert. The river is the only outlet from Lake Tahoe from which it flows east 20 or so miles to Pyramid Lake where it meets its east-side Sierra Nevada evaporation fate.


Woke up in the morning and had my friend, a massage therapist, assess my broken rib. She pinpointed the break to just under my left arm, where the ribs are thick, strong, heavy.

She put her hands on either side of my chest under my arms as I sat bare-skinned on the edge of the bed, and in the cold morning-grey light felt, gently, both sides for a few minutes, and then pinpointed the hurt. A protruding bone?

Donner Party

Feel that sculpture! One look at those praire-sprouted, mountain-tinged people – squat, strong, weather-beaten, mule-ish, overwhelmingly indominatable – you feel they could muzzle-gun hunt deer and bear, huddle against wind and rain and hellish snow storms and trudge mile by mile across country and survive. It's all there in the guy's belt.

My people, if you with me, where the f@#$ you at?

December 13, 2011

Went on a random West Oakland walk yesterday to break up work, work, and just happened across the planned 12.12.11 Occupy Oakland mob heading from downtown to the Oakland port today. It was a grey day that bled into the afternoon. Cold.

There's a park about five blocks from my house that I usually walk to when I walk. As I approached the park, a half-block away, a few masked bike riders rode down from the park, into the street that bordered the park, and then away. Then some more showed up, masked, like buzzing, scout bees. Some frontrunning ghostriders.

Then, as I approached the park and the divided, four-lane road, 14th St., that borders it, perpendicular to my walking path, I saw the mob of people about six blocks up-street, coming slowly like a massive grey fog in the somber, tired day. It was impressive. Five minutes straight and the four-lane road was still packed with people, slow-moving third-world-looking dumpster trucks booming weird, hazed-over pop songs, hauling ganja-smoking, somewhat-bewildered kids who danced disinterestedly, their bodies moving deadly as their faces spoke a certain serious despair, the same despair you saw on almost everyone's faces, thousands and thousands, in serious despair, no smiling, no joy, this was not a buoyant event.

Upon first seeing that mass approaching down the street, a slow-moving storm, I thought, "That explains the helicopter." Which had been humming up above for the last hour. The 'copters are semi-regular (there's one buzzing now up above; it's Tuesday night, 8 p.m.) and just seem to be up there, droning away, because they can, and that domain is definitely an untouchable kingdom. Like, "You may be marching down there, but we're up here and you can't do sh#% about it." Initially thought the 'copters were monitoring a traffic situation. Apparently not. They're keeping an eye on the port and the marching proletariat. Can you see the angst in the march from the video?

Thought of Wu-Tang's Killer Bees, immediately.

Happiness and some others' writing

December 10, 2011

Happy. To Nar!

Lost in the YMCA men's basketball playoffs today. Horrible.

My favorite New Yorker writer, one of my favorite period, art critique Peter Schjeldahl; snippet from "Old and New: The reopening of the Islamic wing at the Met," New Yorker, Nov. 7, 2011:

Details in illustrations of a Sufi poem, "Language of the Birds," were painted with hairs from the bellies of squirrels. Sit, look.


But for the majestic halls that are hung with Iranian and Ottoman carpets, a gallery of mostly Iranian ceramics, often created for middle-class markets from the ninth to the thirteenth century, harbors more concentrated beauty than any other in the wing. I can close my eyes now and summon the aqueous aura of a blue-glazed bowl in which silhouetted fish swim, surrounded by radiating lines that are sublimely both perfect, as design, and imperfect, in the slight vagaries of the painter's hand. As a one-off visual definition of the word "sophisticated," that bowl will do. Exiting the room, I felt a trifle different from the person I had been when I entered.

The vagaries of war illustrated by World War II US Major General Curtis LeMay, who led the US firebombing of Tokyo that killed 100,000 civilians, quoted in Richard Rhodes's Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, the sequel to his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Making of the Atom Bomb:

Killing Japanese didn't bother me very much at that time. It was getting the war over that bothered me. So I wasn't worried particularly about how many people we killed in getting the job done. I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal. Fortunately, we were on the winning side. Incidentally, everybody bemoans the fact that we dropped the atomic bomb and killed a lot of people at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That I guess is immoral; but nobody says anything about the incendiary attacks on every industrial city in Japan, and the first attack on Tokyo killed more people than the atomic bomb did. ... I guess the direct answer to your question is, yes, every soldier thinks something of the moral aspects of what he is doing. But all war is immoral, and if you let that bother you, you're not a good soldier.

The Rare Urban Rooster

December 8, 2011

Urban rooster

The rare urban rooster.

Took some photos at The Ranch at Dogtown in late afternoon for the urban farming story today. Roosters aren't common because they crow, and neighbors, those who don't wake up at 4 a.m., don't like that. This one slipped through the cracks. The hen-supplier, said Kathryn Porter, who owns/runs Dogtown, mis-sexed the rooster. It will be sent up north to a farm sometime soon. The city just can't handle a rooster.

More photos:

Dogtown Farm Dogtown Farm Dogtown Farm Dogtown Farm

Arcana of Public Life

December 6, 2011

In a dull, yellow-lit room of San Francisco City Hall, wood-paneled, godfather clock-like carvings filigreed periodically into the wall, you can’t help but think about the pointlessness of public process. People and people and people and people talk for the preservation of life, then the preservation of money, then life. Two sides offering conflicting factual statements again and again.

Laguna Salada at Sharp Park

Photo of Laguna Salada at Sharp Park by Matt Jalbert (mattjalbert.com).

A story for Bay Nature story brought me into the bowels of San Francisco City Hall to cover a San Francisco Board of Supervisors subcommittee meeting for a story on 417-acre Sharp Park, which, as a lowland, meeting the ocean for the Sanchez Creek watershed, is a rare-ish central California coastal lagoon wetland. That's significant because a federally-endangered snake, the San Francisco Garter Snake and its prey, a federally-threatened frog, the California Red-legged Frog, both live there. And what you don't see is the 18-hole golf course which winds in and around the ocean side of the park, the wetland side. This photo was likely taken from a fairway.

Eating in the doorway

The guy eating in the doorway in the background is Sean Elsbernd, one of three supervisors on the subcommittee, and he's against the ordinance to transfer Sharp Park's management from the SF Recreation and Parks Department to the National Park Service. The supervisor supporting the ordinance, he wrote it, is John Avalos, who's sitting down, blocked from view in the photo above. Avalos and Elsbernd jabbed back and forth at the beginning of the meeting.

It's guys like this that help long public meetings. Guy laughing next to me heard on the video, which was shot from the overflow meeting room downstairs in City Hall, was the primary author on the 211-page ecological study on Sharp Park commissioned by two environmental groups and published earlier this year. Pretty interesting.

Guy just starting singing, clearly freestyling. Amazing.

SF City Hall

What a beautiful building to hold such insanity.

Trucks in the Sky; A white, 8-cylinder M3 BMW semi-remembered dream

December 4, 2011

These trucks fly in the sky above the unfortunate West Oakland neighborhood of South Prescott. It's horrible. Basically, the neighborhood's tucked into a triangle, bordered by highways on two sides and the raised BART rail on the other. The BART rail, I just realized, is above ground everywhere in its north and northeast East Bay routes (outside of two stops in downtown Oakland0) besides its Berkeley section. As soon as it enters Berkeley, it goes underground; as soon as it leaves, it shoots up.

Anyways, on the ground in the South Prescott neighborhood, it feels like you're in a Fifth Element-like future city with flying cars, trains, and a chaos of noise. Feels like the houses are burntout chunks of white, loose bedrock of a weed-straggled forsaken, sunburnt parking lot. You know the kind. There's no rest, no peace. I went there to see about an EPA project that revitalizes the lead-infested soils of the 100-year-old neighborhood, contaminated by years of car exhaust and lead paint peeling, dribbling into the soil, by depositing ground up fish bones. The high concentration of phosphate in the bones reacts with the toxic forms of lead in the soil to make them harmless to humans. The New York Times did a pretty good article on the situation. This research continues the urban farming story, which is a sprawling mess of a subject. It's going to be hell to write. Just did 400 words. How do you keep it all straight ... and which plethora of data do you include ????

The EPA dude was smooth, polished, had designer blackframed glasses, the kind with a subtle, elegant burgundy on the skinside of the frame, and wore a musky cologne and some kick-ass cowboy boots. Spiked, gelled, stylish black hair, handsome. He walked out, and immediately I thought, "Harem." And he was polished in the government way, the know-the-game, know-the-rules way, in the hit-your-numbers, have at least one immaculate-showcase-available-to-show-off way.

We talked outside his office in front of his attractive, tough jeans-wearing assistant, woman, and first went to the boneyard outback to see the one-ton bags of ground Pollock bone and smell their surprisingly still-fishy smell, and then to the South Prescott neighborhood, which was just around the corner from this outpost, temporary headquarters.


Remnants of a Sunday morning dream:

Multi-colored, electric green, yellow, orange, red, 8-cylinder enhancing things. Asian shop. Called Two Stairs Chop shop. It was a shady operation, to say the least. I kept wondering why the fuck I was bringing my car there.

Posey Tube, Chinatown, Occupy Oakland Trees, Job

December 1, 2011

My new part-time job is in Alameda, the little island that noone knows about unless you live in the East Bay that's just a channel-skip away from mainland Oakland. It requires tube-travel. It's the travel that almost killed me going to Alameda for the interview of the very job I have today via the Alameda-bound tube, the Webster Tube. The Posey Tube is outflowing. Now picture, after watching that video, a person riding a bike through the tube, on the road, no shoulder, no lights, no helmet, early in the morning. The Webster tube has no measly sidewalk like the Posey. Didn't know how to get there and was going to be late. Should be dead.

The video above is from the absolute nadir of the tube; judging from its depth, the water surface must not be too far above, maybe 20 feet from the top of the tube? And, as you can see, it's loud, and the yellow, blaring light is disorienting. Riding along that narrow path, I keep waiting for:

1. A big overhanging bus mirror to knock me out;

2. My bag to snag on the leaning, inconsistent metal railing, which would bend my front wheel toward the wall, send my back sliding along it briefly, and then, after a time-dragging prologue, the climax: the bike finally catching for good on the metal railing, corkscrewing me, with 200-pound momentum, into the shoulder-less road and an amazing modern stampede death;

3. The same thing to happen, but the inciting incident would be an 18-wheeler (which do come through there often) and its amazing negative-pressure whirlwind rush;

4. Me, losing it in the yellow light and blaring noise, throwing my bike over the railing and walking, stat, to Chinatown, whose chaos pulses on the Oakland side of the tube, to eat sesame sweetgum-filled beanpaste buns and mysterious, stale-tasting rice-noodle stir-fry for the rest of the day.

Oakland's Chinatown

Chinatown welcomes this impending daylong flipout.

On the way home from the new job, which I'm thankful for, but something that leaves you thinking empty thoughts and assuming some cog-wheel, office identity. Weird, the dynamic of what I imagine to be most "professional" offices. Reminds me of The Office, really. And, it's where you learn, while researching for a short news post, that startup companies, not this one, lose $20 million a year and then $6 million a year, and it's considered normal, acceptable. How does business get done like that? Guess I'm stuck in a mini-micro-economic mindset. That sh#% just doesn't fly in the real world. But that seems to be the sugardaddy, read private equity, hedge fund, weird unreal world we live in now. Confounds the mind.

And Oakland's trees, or should write tree, are, is, still being Occupied. Just so you know. This dude's been up there for a few days. The tree's occupied in shifts from a couple of days to four or more. "It's a nice retreat, if you're into that sort of thing," he yelled down.

Occupy the trees

Urban Farms, West Oakland Murals

November 29, 2011

Girl mural Doing a story for BioCycle Magazine on Urban Farms and their related urban ecosystem milieu. Went to meet with the owner, a friend of a friend, of The Ranch at Dogtown, a 14,000-square-foot urban farm that spreads over an acre and a half of property behind a high-ish sheetmetal gate at a ghetto-rattled corner in the micro-neighborhood Dogtown in West Oakland, a little piece of the rough-and-tumble city that bunches up against the freeway and the Oakland port and holds 25,000-ish residents. Where industry, metal working, recycling, etc., merge with rundown, dilapidated, forgotten neighborhoods. It's probably the most well-known, well-studied food desert in America. With UC Berkeley (see urbanfood.org) and the Bay Area, and affluence, humming all around, it's the perfect case-study in food insecurity, largely black, and my home.

Novella Carpenter started a semi-commercial farm in West Oakland and wrote a very good, well-acclaimed book about it, Farm City. She farmed a vacant lot in Ghost Town (a West Oakland mini-hood, like Dogtown), of which there are many, that bordered her rented place, and it stands about 10 blocks from me; and although the farm's story is told from an estranged position, Novella's very funny, self-effacing, and interesting in how she describes growing veggies, fruits, chickens, ducks, two huge pigs, among the Buddhist monks, families, street people, thugs and junkies that roam her street. Near the end of the book she writes what will be the underlying principle of my compost-focused urban farming article: "Although my holding was small - and temporary - I had come to realize that urban farming wasn't about one farm, just as a beehive isn't about an individual bee ... Urban farms have to be added together in order to make a farm." (Bold and italics mine).

Interesting flow of Novella's Ghost Town Farm still-active blog on getting her conditional-use permit. In Oakland, it's not permissible to grow food or livestock on a vacant commercially-zoned lot. If it was residential, no problem. And, just in April or June, Oakland allows Oakland residents to sell urban-farmed food with a fairly inexpensive, $40-ish, business license. Sets the stage for a possible new trend: hyper-local seasonal produce stands. See Novella breaking down her farm life, and the possible start of a roving, pipe-announced, dog-led goatherd providing fresh milk to her neighbors, here:

Video from chow.com

-- Which begs the important question: Can any of this be done economically? Most of Oakland's urban farms are nonprofits and heavily underwritten by grants, subsidies, donations. While that's the case, the whole endeavor has a never-never-land feel. My sister-in-law works at an Oakland-based social equity thinktank, and she spends, as she says, some time on urban farming. She agrees that making it cost effective is the catch. While researching this urban food article, came across an organization that focuses on market urban farming and making a sub-acre farm profitable, SPIN, via a north East Bay industrial town's, Richmond, urban food org, Urban Tilth. A test case, from Pennsylvania's Department of Commerce feasibility analysis of Somerton Tank Farms: over the 4-year program, grossed, yearly, $120,000 per acre of urban farmland! And that's in Philadelphia!

Novella's farm has been down since March 2011, I think. Here's the flow from her blog: First finding out her farming is illegal, April 1, 2011; frustrated Novella asking for help with $, April 5, 2011; Novella almost losing it after finding another letter from Oakland enforcing some arcane policy/code, April 8, 2011; more peaceful, maybe it's working out, April 10, 2011; made $2,500 in donations for her CUP, April 12, 2001; no more summer gardening?, burn out?, May 28, 2011; no CUP yet, but a pop-up farmstand, October 25, 2011; aaaaannnnnnd that's it.

Tonight I went to the final class at Cal of a semester-long course in Edible Education, hosted by famed food author Michael Pollan and Nikki Henderson, executive director of a West Oakland food-equity organization, People's Grocery. It was funded by the famous Alice Waters of Chez Panisse and the Edible Schoolyard, an acre-big teaching garden, housed at MLK middle school in Berkeley. Each year 1,000 kids deal with its produce. Pollan was kind-of boring, as I've heard he is in person; Nikki was slightly overbearing and buzz-thoughty. She said the 25,000 West Oakland residents spend $58 million a year on food, which apparently is not a lot. Damn! That's for the poor in West Oakland. What an industry!

Spoke with former superintendent of education for the state of California, Delaine Eastin, today, too; she served for eight years around the turn of the century. She was awesome and nice. She started the A Garden in Every School program. She said, now, of the 9,000 public schools in California, 3,000, and possibly as many as 5,000, have food gardens used as teaching and eating laboratories. She shared one funny anecdote about visiting an elementary school in Union City, a working-class East Bay city a few miles south of Oakland, named after her; a child came up to her and asked, "Why did your parents name you after a school?" she said, laughing over the phone. She was cooooool.

Mural walk

Anyway ... the murals in this post were done by a former art student, Mark Bode, of the Dogtown farmer Kathryn Porter, who commissioned Bode and some of his friends to colorfully mural (the geisha-girl) one of her ghetto-facing gates. She said to me, basically, "I guarantee that a brightly mural-ed wall will not be graffiti-ed." An acquaintance of hers down the street bought her logic and painted a mermaid-centered ocean-reef scene and a mammoth Moby Dick mural on his scrap-metal buying business. Moby's giant body destroys Ahab's boat and his giant spermy head engulfs docking trucks. Could be a future article: the murals of West Oakland.

Moby Dick

Electric Blue, San Diego

November 27, 2011

Electric blue

The electric blue of San Diego sky was prominent all weekend on a recent trip.

Black's Beach in La Jolla, a few minutes away, a tucked-in small bay ringed with 200-hundred-foot-tall sandy cliffs. The exposed, sheer bleached-yellow faces, the sand dune-made cliffs, aged into sheer faces by time, sediment toward the bottom, still shifty and windswept, the layers at the top, harder-looking and rocky-ish. Every so often, as you curved down the narrow beach that spanned about 20 feet wide at high tide, the lapping ocean pulsing toward the sandy cliff, a convoluted canyonbreak wound up and curved and undulated (-ish) deep into the cliff face. Bulges, flutes, of sandy mangrove root-like cliffwall would twist and flow from the canyon's entrance-edge down to its beach intersection.

The beach, itself, especially the low-tide exposed smooth, glassy sand, had abstract blacksand patterns interspersed periodically; some clusters were uninteresting series of streaks, others were abstract art splotchings that extended, diluted over the beachspace.

The waves pounded the surf in a constant hush, hush, hush, and the small sand divots, created in the wave-wetted sand where running barefeet landed, echoed a consistent plodding, sucking sound as feet pulled out from each sticky, wet step. In the water, surfers broke on six-foot, hard-hitting curls, breaks, some flying over the peak of the waves, shooting like a ski-jumper or a diving dolphin, the board flying randomly in the air.

Surfing next day at winter twilight at a smaller-, smoother-waved beach a few miles south, the sun, an ocher globe in an ocher sky, slid off the horizon, a stringwrapped gumball that some Atlas-like giant god slowly pulled from a few feet below the ocean offing's table-edge through a viscous gel. Before the yellow-haze sinking sunsky, pelicans dove their deadweight dives in the near and far distance, nats buzzing the winter sunset, swarming the water. Once the sun hit the lower horizon, it dropped smooth and deceptive, Rolex-like, millimeter by millimeter on the horizon; its fluid, quick disappearance gave the heart, mind, eyes a mild vertigo. The waves kept coming in. About every 20th one was a decent surfing wave; every 50th one would break where you were, and catching one in, the darkening sky behind and the greying beach ahead, made the evening feel ten-degrees greyer, safe ... and forlorn.

A wetsuit keeps you surprisingly warm, no problems.

The electric blue sky.

Electric Blue To the beach

To the beach


San Diego host, Kacey, on the right; I have a deep, natural love for her for some reason.


November 24, 2011

Cacti Blazing maple Molasses pepper Shoots to the Golden Gate Eva, eyes

New niece Thanksgiving. Look at those eyes. Still won't let me hold her for long. Couldn't eat my butternut squash soup because of the butter and leeks. There's more to this to finish later. Good night.


Jolie and I walked to the park, despite the morning fog-burning sunshine that slowly, slightly evaporated the morning's cold, dripping moisture. She had run ahead, bicycle helmet on, following her mom, who had Evie nestled in a running stroller, quite fast, white iPhone headphones in her ears and the ever-diligent first one arm swinging and then the other. Jolie's dad, my brother, pulled a u-y in the cul-de-sac and on the way back took Jolie's helmet, and as he passed me said, "Try to keep up," which proved difficult because my ribs started ripening a bruise from Sunday's YMCA basketball game, where I landed straight on my chest after having my legs swiped out from under me. It was an odd play. Landed on my left chest, could feel my rib cage compress. Landed pretty hard.

Jolie was running to mom, but when mom turned around in the cul-de-sac, too, she realized that it was just me and her, to walk down the narrow alley-way back steps that dot the neighborhoods of the Oakland and Berkeley hills. Before reaching the stairs, the maples were flaming on the side of the street, and the bay sky peered blue between the houses, downtown, the TransAmerica building triangle looking sharp in the distance, some clouds wrathing the distance behind the Golden Gate Bridge, a long thin red-budded plant stem shooting across the frame.

We walked down the steps and talked about how we should have a skateboard to go down and Jolie's little fantasyland brain giggled up at the thought, however absurd, knowing it was impossible, but dreaming about the realities it would allow. We had quite a shortcut. The entrance to the park was on the left, a break in a chainlink fence, wooden railing guiding the muddy path down into the valley's park, redwood trees tall on the slope, four people struggling up on the muddy path, soupy with the drizzling rain from the morning. We stuck to the pine needle-covered path just under the downslope wooden rail and then entered the center when the mud became a little firmer down the path. The parking lot spread below us, about a hundred feet.

It was a good-ish park.

But I had to hurry back to finish the meal that my sister-in-law doubted would start at three. I still had hope. But when you're cooking in someone else's kitchen and your mom, who's cooking too, has a tendency to confuse any situation into a fluffy, appetizer-laden, dirty dish-, utensil-filled, fish-heavy affair, it took some drilldown focus to finish it. Especially braising cooked still-firm sweet potatoes with a jalapeno-molasses sauce and grilling for a few minutes. Was quite a mess. And making a pie crust with a pieced-together recipe. Ugh. But it came together with white whine and red, a football game in the other room. The kids asking for something to do, anything. But nothing could be offered, because managing is a lot trickier and requires more organization than you can imagine.

So be it.

Occupy Oakland goes west

November 22, 2011

Occupy Oakland

A few weeks ago, the day after Oakland's general strike and march, at the City Hall original Occupy Oakland site.

This morning and last night, the permanent members of the movement, read anarchists/homeless/marginalized, have moved west from downtown into West Oakland. After being removed from Fox Square, just a few blocks north of the original camptown in front of Oakland's city hall, they have moved a few, and a few more, blocks west into my West Oakland neighborhood.

On Saturday, some Occupiers tried to tent-up in Fox Square. They pummeled a gate set up by the city to keep them out, and set up a rave-like situation. A good point why the movement is not going anywhere. Why are you dancing? Understood, it's Saturday night and fun is in the air, but it just felt weak and marginalized, much like the movement as a whole has felt from this casual, basically accidental, observer. When the tents first went up downtown in front of City Hall, I walked through; it was a similar vibe, except there was a get-any-drug-you-want, dissolution Reggae-on-the-River-like camp-out feel. Not impressive from the beginning. There was a makeshift dog pen of pallet wood against a concrete structure that held ferocious-looking Pits and site as a whole had a general malaise, with an undercurrent edge of let's get high and I want some attention.

Camera crews were on the corner a few houses down from mine this morning at 6:30 a.m. as people milled about and around the vacant lot, now filled with tents, at an intersection of my street and another. Apparently, the lot's being foreclosed on, which means that the bank, as a bank, was part of that big bail out, takes the property, and the little one, the owner, loses it. Messed up on the surface of things. But this occupation isn't about that. It's about the extremely disenfranchised taking the opportunity to be in the spotlight. This will blow over. If a doctor or lawyer was in the camp, or someone that looked like he or she had some societal power, then it might be different. It's just a fringe, lost cause.

And one dude, at the original downtown Oakland site, moved to the trees. Caught this funny video of some dudes on the ground grilling him about life in the tree. Where do you go to the bathroom? A bucket. How do you shit? Another guy on the ground, answering for him, laughing: Stand there and I'll show you. "It's gonna be colder than a motherfucker."

Black smudges, gray clouds, ganache

November 20, 2011

Golden line from the opening story "introduction: hunting years" from Tom Franklin's story collection, Poachers (1999):

Buzzards float overhead, black smudges against the gray clouds.

Makes that whole story live. Great. Amazing how one line does it. It really does.

Jolie, ganache

Had an early breakfast date with my niece Jolie this morning at the best cafe, handsdown, in Berkeley - Elmwood Cafe. She stares her thoughtful-look out the window for a moment at the green horizon Berkeley Hills, a cup of housemade ganache-infused hot chocolate, pumpkin waffle with housemade pumpkin butter and real maple syrup before her. How do you beat that?

Yes, she did try to dip some butter-, syrup-soaked chunks of waffle into the hot chocolate. Had to shut that one down, after a try and a half.

Elmwood's ganache sits on the counter next to their espresso machine in a small plastic container, a thick, dark, chocolate-y butter.

Sitting in the Cold

November 20, 2011

Cold Mountains Went up north again for a few days. There are some friends with a Zen temple on 40 acres in the mountains up there and it was Sesshin, an intensive retreat session: about nine hours a day of meditation, a little work, a bath, and some food.

The meditation hall, the Zendo, has no heat, so you better dress warm. The day I arrived the trees had all turned, and as you can see from the sky above the weather was just beginning to come in. It snapped that night, and really snapped the next morning.

Two of the temple's five buildings are constructed in somewhat-traditional Japanese joinery style - no nails or metal in the framing - and, inside, exposed, four large tree beams form a rectangle. I slept in one of those buildings in a small never-not-damp, non-heated room. The second night, I pulled out all the bedding: sleeping bag, futon, fleece blanket, faux down blanket, someone's grandmother's blanket with a band of pink at the top cuff and pink flowers dotting the rest. Felt like a mouse.

Sitting that morning in the Zendo I had silk long underwear on, top and bottom, some cotton pants, cotton long-sleeved shirt, wool sweater and then a robe over all of that. At one of the sitting breaks had to go get another sweater. If your spine gets cold, it's over.

Cold-looking trees

So, that was a couple of days. There's a family of deer that basically live on the property, a doe and two yearlings. It's a safe haven, I imagine, from mountain lion country with the people presence. A few years ago, in mating season, I saw a couple of huge-antlered males and their harem of about 10 does. Interesting, walking by the group at this time, you can feel the males checking you out intensely - they're ready to charge. There's real fear there. From about 50 feet away saw two males go at it, antlers locking. Kept imagining that the weaker one would have his neck broken, because the antlers get so tangled that the stronger male basically twists the other around. They fought for a few minutes, and then the weaker one bolted downhill, crashing through the brush.

In one night the huge entrance oak tree lost most of its leaves. And two somewhat-straggly turkeys wandered a bare, grassy hillside.

So, this trip was full of sitting and apt Zen aphorisms:

Clouds sweep the vast sky, a crane nests in the moon;

This piercing cold has gotten into my bones - I cannot sleep.

He stops his carriage just to enjoy the sunset in the maples,

Whose frost-bitten leaves are redder than spring flowers.

When alive, your wealth is the dew on the grass;

After death, your fame is the flowers by the roadside.

Riding the great dragon in the shadow of a needle's point,

With ease I knock down the moon from the heavens.

North, south, east, west - no road penetrates.

Iron mountains rise sheer before you with their awesome crags.

The ten thousand mountains cannot keep away the moon tonight,

A crescent of pure light, bright beyond measure.

Where the snow lies deep, crows are silently stirring.

From clouded peaks far away, a winter wind returns.

The great Master Baso was seriously ill.

He said: "Sun-faced Buddha, Moon-faced Buddha."

White-money Green

November 17, 2011

Urban farming panel

Went to an urban farming forum last night at the epic David Brower Center in Berkeley. And was overwhelmed, even before one of the presenters talked about it, again by the class-race conservation divide. Looked like the crowd of about 250 all had graduate degrees and were white-ish. Also, the buzzwords started to pile up from the five presenters - a verbal SEO greenwash fest:

Food commons v Landprint

Foodshed (i.e. watershed)




Populist education

Ecological literacy

Artisan quality

40 percent of the bay area landscape is devoted to agriculture. Wow.

The second presenter, a youngish dude, editor of the Earth Island Journal, mentioned that the biggest challenge to successful urban farming was bridging the race-class social divide. His urban farm, Alemany Farms in SF, gets younger, whiter, college-educated volunteers but not so many others. They have an Autumn Harvest festival and an Earth Day Barbeque - that's why there's nobody there. It's too cute, too ineffectual, too nonprofit. Got to be a way to make it REAL.

There was one cute presenter with a swallow-tail cardigan.


November 15, 2011

Had to ride to Alameda, the little island-city nestled right near Oakland's harbor, and was stuck going through one of the tubes. Scaaaary. Was going to be late if I had to bike three-ish miles south to the above-ground bridge that spans the narrow channel separating the island and mainland. So, went down into the dark, echoing tunnel with no bike lanes and cars barreling down at 50-ish mph. I had no lights -- was scaaary. Cars were whizzing by me, thought I was going down.

But it worked out with only three cars passing. Caught the right window, but my heart and legs were beating explosively by the time I emerged to daylight on the other side. Hallelujah!

Napa, Bitches!

November 13, 2011

Napa, Bitches

Want to be a grape soaking in Napa sunshine all day. Felt like one for a moment.

A glorious Saturday drive and wine-tasting-Michelin-lunch day. Napa's less than an hour from my front door! Which every somewhat-hip Bay Area resident must know, but it's easy to forget if you never go. As the above photo shows, there's a depth to the colors, probably more a feel than color, as the valley solidifies around you as you head north on HY 29 from the East Bay. The land's flat, an extension of the San Pablo Bay until the valley becomes more pronounced as the mountain ridges to your left and right slowly hug the valley tighter as you head north, starting from about Napa (city) forward.

Etiole Restaurant is a one-star Michelin establishment. That one star shined through in the pear creme-brule dessert and also the girl's (woman's?) little white-puffy dog at the very next table that didn't want to stay on the ground, but twirled and desperately tried to claw his way up next to his mom (girlfriend?) at the dinner-couch, which also held her short-flip-flop-clad boyfriend (anti-sugardaddy?). When she lowered her waterglass to the floor to let the pup lap and slobber all over the rim as it snuffed up some ice-H2O, there's no other response but cringe. Maybe star number two comes somewhere in the no-dog-slobbered waterglass realm. Who knows? Really, the dog just added some flavor to the awesome experience. Nothing like getting daydrunk on sparkling wine, sparkling wine, to semi-great service with an idyllic view. The idyllic view was peppered with at least one sugardaddy and big-boned blond. Given the circumstances, harmony?

Enhancing the drive and experience, is the increasingly rugged character of the valley as you head to Calistoga, where you enter the fringe of urban, country. You can feel the shift from urbane to hunting, country, rough-hewed sensibilities. Farther up the hill east of Calistoga is the insane Harbin Hot Springs, a New Age lostworld, where couples congregate in a series of communal warm, HOT!, semi-hot, and cold-plunge pools to somewhat dryhump, float and bliss their minds out in that alternate reality that is dragons and crystals and no-eggs-or-meat-in-the kitchen hippiedom. Hard to believe that's still going.

Harbin; video from a previous trip.

At the Domaine Chandal winery tour, our tourguide Jeffrey explained a little boringly about how sparkling wines are made and that rosé is really good with creamy foods. And that the wine-barrel-themed architecture of the headquarters was shaped by various twisted, majestic oak trees. Two of them framed the back entrance very well.

Ticket to ride

Ticket to ride.

Napa River flows through Napa Valley, too. It’s one of the healthiest rivers of the Bay Area watersheds. It has 60 or so miles of stream that’s spawnable by the river’s several anadromous fish species. Anadromous refers to a fish that is hatched and grown in freshwater, goes to sea and matures, and then returns to the same freshwater stream to spawn. Steelhead Trout and Coho Salmon still run the stream.


The Art of Pick-up Basketball

November 10, 2011


Post-"Cage", pissed off, exhausted, my brother broken-rightwristed (on the left), with our Fuck T-Shirts. An epic photo. We ran the court. In NYC, there is no "And One." You call foul and that's it, no basket, even if you make it. Check up top. As you see in the pitch below, that leads to barrages of elblows.

Out of frustration with doing some recent articles that are no fun to write, like Smart Meter privacy concerns and green technology on contaminated lands, I've spur-of-the-moment pitched the voluminous, logorrheic Bill Simmons' website Grantland. The Art of Pick-up Basketball.

Here's the pitch:

I've been a baller for 20 years (I'm 33), played Div II ball at a small university in Austin, Texas. Grew up in Austin, too. My life has spanned the indoor, outdoor, YMCA aspects of pick-up hooping. I have stories and photos of playing at NY's West Fourth court, "The Cage," with my brother. In NY, if you call a foul, as we found out, the shot doesn't count no matter what - there's no "And One"! Encourages bloodshed, brutality, because there's no disincentive to foul as hard or as often as you want. Guys were basically throwing short-arm punches and swinging elblows when you drove to the basket, especially because we were white-boy outsiders. We ran the court, regardless, but my brother broke his wrist early in the process - played through it.

The article would chronicle the culture and the nuances of my pick-up ball life (which I assume mirrors many others') that vary location by location and time by time. Like 10 a.m. on Saturday mornings at the University of Texas Rec Center, when you'd find solid, older-guy games and some UT Basketball veterans and serious-minded contemporaries; like 5 p.m. weekdays at UT's Gregory Gym when the gymrat, preeners, hooplah-ers, come out, along with, in the off-season, the UT Men's and Women's players; like the solid, older-guy 6 a.m.!!! games at the University of Missouri Rec Center (I went there for journalism school; woke up early one Tuesday morning soon after I arrived to shoot some hoops alone, and found out there were Tuesday/Thursday consistent games ?!?!?! – only in the Midwest, I think); playing at my elementary school outdoor court as a 13-year-old against the paint-spackled and drunk, and getting drunker, regulars.

The story would cover, also, the generalities of pick-up: how to pick a good team; the etiquette of pick-up - is it your court?, holding a spot, determining the rules (points, straight-up or by two, fouls); how the magic rhythm of the game only rarely unfolds in a pickup situation; how unspoken understandings appear for people on the team: the rebounder, the hustler, the picker, the shooter, the ball-handler, and, also, the ball-hogger, the black hole, the pretty boy, and the guy that should not be allowed within 50 feet of any basketball court.

Now I'm in Oakland, which has a surprisingly weak outdoor pick-up scene. There are some good-condition outdoor courts, though. I've yet to play in a tough, good game, even at Mosswood Park, famed playground of Gary Payton. Now, I'm in the YMCA years, which is close to the best, consistent pick-up I've experienced. Tues/Thurs at 5 p.m. the same guy, Coach Ray, runs a clock and monitors the score, ensuring quick games and very little B.S.

Bill, et al, pick it up.


I finished Freedom yesterday. Devastating, nihilistic-ish, lived-happily-ever-after surprising (kind of) finish. Franzen created a psychologically-consistent story. Impressive. I cared about Patty from the beginning and was hooked. But, like Atlas Shrugged, surprisingly, there was some tiresome sermonizing on the compelling idea of our modern-life freedom from Joey, Patty's, the protagonist, son. But over all, it captured the rabbit hole impossibility of freedom as an idea for fulfillment. Explored the soul-crushing and emotionally-empty ramifications of that search, and exposed them to their neurotic, self-loathing, wine-drinking conclusions. The book could have trimmed fat, about 30 percent, and it would have been significantly better. But, overall, a decent read, but not anything to enhance your literary brain. Very prosaic prose.

Steel head

November 8, 2011

Bay Area

Researching a piece on the multi-agency effort to restore steelhead trout to watersheds of the San Francisco Bay estuary. It's hard to grasp the story because so many agencies are involved, 17 according to Oakland-based Center for Ecosystem Management and Restoration (CEMAR), which seems to be the point organization of the Bay Area restoration effort. Much of the restoration and preservation action is in the south Bay, because that's where the protected land and drinking water reservoirs are. In one of the reservoirs, the one formed by Calaveras Dam, which blocks the famed, popular Alameda Creek and stands seismically unsound to be rebuilt by 2015, live an interesting population of rainbow trout. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission just started work on the new Calaveras Dam; here's the early Sept. 2011 San Francisco Chronicle article on the dam rebuild project that spurred this whole story idea forward: aqui.

The section from that Chronicle article that caught my eye was:

The rainbow trout in the reservoir are believed to be landlocked steelhead that are descendants of the indigenous fish population, biologists say. Conservationists hope to use those fish as a potential gene pool for restoring the original native steelhead runs.

So, there's some trapped rainbows behind Calaveras Dam that are genetically "itching" to be oceanbound, to be steelhead again? And there's a longstanding effort to restore Alameda Creek's steelhead runs? And Alameda Creek is the third-largest SF Bay watershed behind the San Joaquin River and the Sacramento River watersheds? And there's an historical ecology study of Alameda Creek going on?

And, the motivation for pursuing the story became, immediately - I want to see Alameda Creek and learn more about that landlocked steelhead population, especially since Jeff Miller, director of the Alameda Creek Alliance, listed the Sunol Regional Wilderness, in the heart of Alameda Creek's watershed, as one of his favorite outdoor spots in the Bay Area.

Alameda Creek Watershed

Map of Alameda Creek's watershed.

The big question becomes: Why restore steelhead runs in the first place? Steelheads are, I didn't know this, identical to rainbow trout; steelhead are rainbows that have been to sea, where they earn harder, steel-colored sides and sharper, meaner-looking mouths and heads, replacing the rainbow-y, downy-appearing, peachy coloration characteristic of rainbows. I asked Jeff Miller the key question and his answer is: because it's an indicator species, and it allows a focal point for the restoration of a whole watershed. This answer opened up the story to a whole different level. Especially since, Gordon Becker, fisheries scientist and Bay Area steelhead restoration point-person at CEMAR, said, "They are the species the public grabs hold of the most." If you lose steelhead populations, he said, you lose the public momentum to restore and preserve healthy creeks and streams, which themselves are critical because many people's first connection to nature is, as kids, with their local creeks. True! I explored Boggy Creek next to my childhood home in Austin, Texas, almost every day as a kid. So, the story immediately became a much larger, immediate, powerful one.

Steelhead vs. Rainbow

Steelhead above, Rainbow below. See how much tougher the steelhead look. They're the exact same fish genetically. Once the Rainbow goes to sea, though, it becomes hood.

Steelhead restoration is an avenue to explore the raw, ingenue, burgeoning opportunities to encounter vibrant nature, be fed by it, and begin a relationship that invariably sustains for a lifetime and arguably makes you a better earthbound human. That's the pitch I made today for a Bay Nature feature piece: Steeling the Bay.

Note: Coho and Chinook salmon once had runs in the Bay watersheds, but they aren't being brought back because they're more finnicky spawners; they usually spawn in a stream's headwaters, which in today's heavily dammed and culverted waterways is a nearly impossible obstacle. But steelhead are more adaptable. Indeed, some of the rainbow population in Calaveras Reservoir are landlocked steelhead; as Jeff Miller put it, "They look seaworthy." They're tougher-looking than other landlocked rainbows, like they could head to sea tomorrow and some in the population would make it back to spawn. In Upper San Leandro Reservoir, which sits idyllically placid, pure, untouched-looking just over the East Bay Hills (I see it on my long bike rides bordering a windy, looks-like-it-but-not-so-backcountry road) a good bunch of miles north of Calaveras Dam in the East Bay. Miller says the rainbows in the San Leandro Reservoir have similar "wild" genetics to the Calaveras Reservoir rainbows, but they just don't seem or look as hardy. A 1999 genetics study indeed shows that the Calaveras landlocked steelhead do not have the weakened genes of the five area hatchery rainbow strains, and are closely aligned with those wild steelhead in Lagunitas Creek, a Marin County stream.

San Leandro Reservoir

San Leandro Reservoir on the right of the image.

A new genetics study is going on now, says Brian Sak, San Francisco Public Utility Commission scientist (SFPUC) involved with the restoration efforts in the East Bay. The SFPUC manages Calaveras Dam and its drinking water, lands upstream of it, some as far away as the Sierra. Of course, SFPUC also manages the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, a whole other, amazing story.

Menlo Park, Oakland B-Ball

November 6, 2011

BART-ed to Menlo Park for a sister's Birthday Saturday hang. Cold, rainy, and downtown Menlo provided the homely-less atmosphere of some drafty drawing room in a long-forgotten western European castle. There were some nice 20' by 10' wool/silk rugs for $9,000, though, and some cold, institutional bagel places and one coffeeshop sporting handwritten signs. A peak inside didn't lend confidence to the quality of the food, however. Sister is going to Stanford, which is just a short bike ride from Menlo Park. And Stanford's dweeby character comes through very clear in its smattering of biking Saturday Stanfordites, the computer meetings spied while passing by its maze of buildings, in its business motifs and stone Spanish? center-of-campus architecture. Its tower, where Condoleezza Rice hides out apparently, is ominous; a long, thick largely-windowless structure. Riding by, it's easy to feel a cold, Condy-eyed world, cruise missiles, clean, monarchical furniture, and dull-domed, officious, chardonnay evenings.

Stanford Tower

Stanford Tower, ominous as hell.

The day passed quickly. Sister was crashing and burning as happens when you sleep too much and let down during a high-pressure PhD first semester, which includes a lot of journal clubs and unclocked labwork. We sat through People magazine-accompanied pedicures and doze-inducing hot-rock initiated leg and foot massages, a few hours after a rough-country, suburban, comfort food brunch?.

Sky blue pedicure

Pedicures are real, people.

So, left a little early with her lounging on a blanket-crumpled couch, her black-and-white outlaw quiet cat hovering around, some Hulu-plus shows like Parks and Rec and others navigated via an X-Box controller and a grunting, first-of-the-season furnace blowing some comforting toasty air into the book-lined, blind-drawn apartment. Stepped out into a drizzling, cold, miserable evening to bike to Caltrain down the street. A night to be doing what my sister was doing, not commuting on the institutional, plastic-heavy Caltrain, whose interior bright lights somehow made the drizzling dark outside that much more forlorn.

Pre-boarding, stocked up on some orange juice and cheese crackers from the 7-11 just near the station entrance. And some layers Trident. Hmmm.?

Oakland Y

The building in the center of the photo is the Oakland Y. Below that expanse of noticeable windows is the gym. Walking by you can hear the games. Hoorah.

Played the fourth game of the Oakland YMCA fall men’s basketball game today. Our team is mostly white (besides one Mexico City-ite) and lacks aggression most of all. We’re good, but turn the ball over a lot. We won – we’re 2-2, now. It’s a tough league. Last week some guys on the other team dunked on us. Not appreciated. Getting older, and slower, is tough. I used to be one of the best players on the court. Now, you see the past ability and flashes of inbred-skill, but mostly, I assume, it’s just a sad flow of images. Maybe getting in good basketball shape, after healing this janky, twisted right ankle completely, will get things on the right track. ....

Reading Freedom by Jonathan Franzen finally. Good. Appreciated the Don't Look Back reference, a moment in the documentary where Dylan not only punked Donovan, but distinctly gave the small crowded room, and us, the difference between skill and genius. Freedom: "The breathtaking nakedness of Dylan's competitiveness! Her feeling was: Let's face it, victory is sweet."

Dylan, to a train-chugging, softer-then-louder-then-softer guitar:
You must leave now, take what you need you think will last. But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast. He understands your orphan with his gun, crying like a fire in the sun. Look out, the Saints are coming through, and it's all over now, Baby Blue.

The highway is for gamblers, better use your sense. Take what you have gathered from coincidence. The vagabond is rapping at your door. He's standing in the clothes that you once wore. Strike another match, go start anew, and it's all over now Baby Blue.

DAMN. That swirling Dylan, asshole-magic.

Occupy Oakland and an ankle

November 3, 2011

Sorry for the shaky, unedited video. Still? figuring out iMovie.

Occupy Oakland stormed downtown Oakland yesterday with a General Strike. The whole day downtown felt like a festival, people were in the streets, some businesses were shut down, and some semi-serious anger.

I live in West Oakland, about a mile north of downtown, and could hear the low, annoying hum of circling helicopters all night as they kept tabs on the protest that eventually shut down the Oakland Port. Today, Thursday, the day after, everything's humming back at normal speeds. A long, cold rain set in, seeming to cap and end the long, glorious Indian Summer that peeled the low-slanting autumn sun up and sliced a waft of warm air underneath. Cool-looking, but warm. Not too bad.

Breaking up scar tissue in a rolled ankle is underrated. Wish I had done this my whole life. Has cut down on recovery time by weeks.



November 1, 2011

Humpback whales breaching

Did a story published today on humpback whales visiting insanely close to Santa Cruz Harbor for Bay Nature's website. Started it yesterday at about 3 p.m. and finished it today at about 11:30 a.m. It's tough to turn around something that quick even if it's short.

I mean, wtf do I know about humpback whales. Wikipedia is a good orienting tool. And you just call the sh#$ out of people and try to find out what's up. Took a long time. Finally got a responsive, cool, knowledgeable dude. Whenever a story has one of those it's a big blessing.

I pitched the story because my housemate got back from kayaking with the whales in SC Harbor last Sunday. "It was one of the coolest experiences of my life," she said, which made me stop. I can only imagine, because humpback whales are the big showy ones that breach big time and do the bubble-net feeding and verticle lunge feeding. She said you could hear them singing as they came up to blow-hole and even when they were under the water, too.

After the whales, there were about 7 to 9 of them, did their rolling breaching, about 30 to 40 sea lions would surface after them, she said. And there were pelicans and dolphins - a crazy, live-wild aquariam action. Must have been miraculous - check out how big those whales are in the photo above, taken at SC Harbor a few days ago.

They were close offshore, because their winter migration south matched a nutrient-rich cold-water uprising that coalesced for whatever ocean current, wind reasons at the mouth of the Santa Cruz harbor. The nutrients fed phytoplankton, which fed plankton and stuff and then krill and then anchovies and sardines and other baitfish and then the whales.

Baby Niece

October 30, 2011

Went to drop off some chocolate to my sister-in-law, who fell and had a level I or II concussion, the evidence of which was extremely scary. Shed whole new light on the NFL situation. My brother and she have three kids. A girl, 6, a boy, 3.5, and a 5-monther?

They live in the Oakland hills, on the very top of one of them, near a cul-de-sac. The CEO of the Raiders lives in the cul-de-sac, and doesn't appreciate disparaging Al Davis half-jokes, according to my brother. Guess he was loved.

Everytime I go up there from the wasteland of West Oakland, it's glorious. You walk in from the street on the top floor and there's nothing but a Bay view and sky, Mt. Tam. Also there're little kids to play with. Held the little one, who just wants to stand and play at a plastic piano with no batteries. And she sits in your lap with those bowlegged baby legs that tuck up into the lotus position so easily. Her head at the perfect height for nibbling. Pretty cute.

Anyway, that's a blessing, at least.


Shots in the Dark

October 28, 2011

Yesterday, Oct. 27, at about nine p.m. I left home for a walk down Linden St. to Lowell Park.

Bullet path

There was a thick darkness about, just a day after a new moon, only 1.7 % illuminated. At about 16th and Linden, I heard what sounded like 20 or so muffled, rapid handgun shots coming from up Linden. I wasn't sure, so I went to the middle of the street, which was illuminated there by a streetlight, and stared down for a few seconds. It was dark. There were no lights from where the shots came, no noise. Then I heard 15 more rapid shots, no noise, no lights, no cars. Then a bullet whizzed by over my head within about five feet and I jumped behind the building on the corner. It felt like the bullet appeared out of the black; staring down, it was a black hole, quiet.

I continued walking down Linden's sidewalk, keeping out of the street, to the park at 14th and turned around. On the way back from the park, before 16th, three dudes smoking in the dark of their front yard halfway-called out to me as I walked down the middle of the street. "Did you hear the gunshots?" I usually ignore people talking to me in my neighborhood because, as this story attests, it's shady. Prostitutes, crack fiends and dealers roam around. He had to say it three times, softly, as if giving me the opportunity to willfully ignore three shadowed figures in front of the house that has the most shady action in the neighborhood, occupied cars always parked in the street in front, people milling around, kids, women, dudes.

I said, excited, because it felt like a close call. "Yeah, did you hear that bullet come by? Somebody was going for it down there." He said, "Yeah, I was wondering where it came from." I told him it was from down Linden, and one of the other two said, "Yeah, it was West Grand, then." We kept talking for a few more seconds and then I left, saying to he and the other two, "Well, I'm going into the belly."

I kept looking and listening for the cops, but never heard any. About 15 minutes after the shots a cop car casually rolled up at 16th St. and turned down Linden toward the shots. I strolled down. One guy, about 30, in basketball shorts, house slippers and a white t-shirt stood in the intersection of 21st and Linden. His girlfriend?, a bigger black girl strolled up, and we all started talking, and then started toward the action, a block away. The girl was saying, "I was just frying some chicken ..."

Twenty minutes after the shots, the cops were just starting, quietly, mindlessly, it seemed, to flashlight the dark area on Linden St. just north of West Grand Ave. Four or five cops milled around the scene, their flashlights, sweeping the area with sharp, cool, blue-white crisp beams. Back and forth, back and forth. Gave the impression of ants swarming a fresh kill. I crossed the street to get a closer look, but as the police presence grew, and I knew I'd have to talk, I backed off, not wanting involvement.

The action centered around a bullet-riddled off-white Cadillac that barely was made out in the haze of a weak streetlight, a block-jump north. A cop finally, casually, started stringing up the yellow Crime Scene tape across Linden at West Grand. Not one siren had sounded to this point, and none would. Must have been premeditated murder: the second-darkest night of the mooncycle. Another day in West Oakland.

This morning, it occurred to me that that bullet that whizzed by from the black hole darkness of West Grand and Linden was likely aimed at me as I stared down from the well-lit intersection at Linden and 16th. I was in the middle of the street and staring down. But I was, according to Google Maps, a third of a mile away - a long way for a handgun bullet to travel. I think. Went to the scene this morning. It looked a long way to 16th, which re-confirmed my suspicion that that straightline bullet was purposely shot downstreet from 0.3 miles away, and not a stray from the car-bombardment. Who knows? Next time, I'm ducking no matter how silent, quiet, dark. After seeing the scene again, it is definitely too far to be aiming at someone. It was a stray.

Street shot

This morning the street's open, as if nothing happened.

What's up, Sucka?

October 4, 2011

This will show the post-race photo of the Mount Diablo Challenge. Did the Mofo in 1:09.36. Hit my limit over and over. Could not have done it faster.


The winner did the 10.4-mile base-to-summit trek in 43 minutes. That's 14.5 mph! Uphill!!!!?? Don't think I hit 14.5 mph once. Damn.

A Hellish Ride

September 18, 2011

Hellish Ride

Another horizon photo from on high. This is from the summit of the 3,849-foot Mount Diablo that looms above the basin just east of the East Bay. ROAD MY F-IN' BIKE TO THE TOP FROM THE VALLEY BELOW.

And in the process realized that I'm maybe not a road-biker. Been doing it for several months and getting pre-proud I think. This was a test-run for the Mount Diablo Challenge on Oct. 2, where you have to do the 11.2-mile course from the base to the summit in an hour or less to get a T-shirt. That's AVERAGING 11.2 MPH UPHILL. I think it's impossible. I busted my a$$ today and did it in 1:15. There's no way I'm shaving off 15 minutes in three weeks, 'specially after eating some post-grueling-ride organic vanilla locally-made ice cream. The bomb. Anyhow, it will be humiliating to see people do the climb in an hour on Oct. 2 while I go dizzy, cross-eyed just trying to finish.

Mount Diablo is a scrubby, sunburned place. Don't know why it's a destination. The shaved mountain in the bottom-right of the photo above is a mine operation of diabase. Diabase is used, apparently, in roadbeds and concrete house foundations. Now you know.

Mount Diablo Challenge

September 16, 2011

Hellish Ride

A byproduct of pain.

Doing the Mount Diablo Challenge on Oct. 2 and training for it. If you do the 11.2-, 3,000-plus-foot climb in less than an hour you get a T-shirt. I want that f@#%in' shirt.

The above photo was from today's ride on the Berkeley Hills' ridgeline. Grizzly Peak Rd. runs along its length. On the 18-mile ride I averaged 13.8 mph, but monitoring the uphill sections I don't know how averaging 11.2 mph UPhill for ONE hour straight is going to happen. That's fast, that's tough. If I had to guess, I'm averaging about 8 mph uphill, and I'm moving. My quads are burning and my left lower back is twitching. So, eff you Mount Diablo. Doing a dry run on the course on Sunday to even see if it's possible. Very curious.

Fading America and Basketball in SF

September 14, 2011

The New Yorker's 9/11 edition was surprisingly macabre and navel-gazing. Maybe the naval-gazing wasn't so surprising; 9/11's tenth anniversary called for us to take stock. Is America in decline? In the bittersweet, twilight-filled "Coming Apart," George Packer recounts most of what reasonable Americans found so frustrating and painful in the last 10 years. The reasoning for the Iraq War was a complete joke. I remember, I was a student at St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas, then. The buildup to the Iraq War was mystifying to me. The whole thing felt trumped up, a complete reach, absurd. I thought the whole city of Austin would shut down with people pouring into the streets when America first invaded. I walked downtown to just be with the other mesmerized shellshocked masses and as I arrived, I sunk into a daze. Traffic was moving normally, life was going on as normal. I was heartbroken, sad, and something deep welled up that dealt with an understanding of what America was/is. It's still sad now.

Today I BART-ed into SF to play some outdoor basketball on the courts between Fell and Grove just west of Golden Gate Park. It's always nice to be in the city. And it's pretty sweet to not lose any of the two-on-two games, or games of 21. One other guy was pretty good. So there.

Lombard View

Post-bball view on top of Lombard Street, Alcatraz Island peaking through in the Bay. Touristic!


August 9, 2011

The following is an adaption I did of a Shel Shilverstein-esque poem submitted to Modus Operandi. I thought the original wasn't so good, but the fiction editor did. Check out my Dali-esque response below:

Some Kind of Love

Banter with a keyboard designed for the soul. An anti-eloquent recital. Shift. Enter. Ctrl. Control? A button for the keyboard, a concept for me. Not just a commonplace finger-pad key.

Strange moves this mind makes. Dreaming deeply while wide-awake, an obscure body begging for an earth to quake.

By calm destruction is laid, a little King-Kong boy disobeyed. A fascinating struggle occurs, no doubt, twisted, carrying some stale fate, double-fisted.

It won't be long, just a lifetime. A birth-to-death blur, thrown up by life's most famous saboteur. FAIL FAIL pass. FAIL FAIL pass. What a beautiful, perpetual rhythm, the dormant-dead spume of red, wild psycho-social jism.

From a young and early age I was ready to fly. And so, from a young and early age I was ready to die. Living is fleeting, of course, and its distance repeating. The separation as poignant as some death-dead ship borne for our meeting.

Pummeled by an angry ocean on indecision’s shore, and salt stinging as righteously as ever before, I bask, gently warmed in loving light. God and me say together, “Yeah right!”

By body of darkness with light as a core, something grows to love you each day the more. Consumed by your embracing and radiant light, that great piece of darkness has everything to fight. Remember your hopeless ability to trust, and see our love buried in some ridiculous stuff.

It’s almost midnight. What do I do?!?! Continue to drivel, continue to spew? Be revealed as a fraud? To thine own self be true? Then silliness comes and offers a clue. An absolute truth that needs a million more proofs. Nothing I do, while living or dying, laughing or crying, will mean more to this moment than having known you.


August 15, 2011

Bike Bay

Since I’ve been not running or jumping, and I have an amazing road bike, I’ve been cycling to get in shape and somehow lose this extra 10 pounds that hangs on my body. The East Bay is a glorious place to ride because of the long stretch of hills that parallels the Bay about seven miles east of its East Bay shore. They flank the eastern horizon and offer many good views to the hill-people with houses up there. My brother is one. Three stories of Bay views, the Golden Gate bridge, the Bay Bridge, Mount Tamalpais, San Francisco, etc. Pretty stunning, and it seems that most of the hill-houses have that multi-storied view.

It’s the same view you get from turning one pedal and then another up the several winding roads that lead to the ridge. Some are steeper than others. Tunnel Road is an amazingly flat uphill route. It really feels like you accomplish something, but you really don’t, even though at the end you’ve climbed from sea level to the 1900-or-so-feet-tall Berkeley ridgeline. There’s a great road that runs along the ridge’s twisting snakespine, Grizzly Peak.

Bike riding takes time to get good. It takes years to build up the leg muscles to really fly. I’m not there yet, but I have friend that says that with silk tires and a perfectly-tuned body and bike, “It’s better than sex.” Hmmmmm. Don’t know if he was getting any at the moment he made that statement. But it no doubt is a very clean experience – riding up into the hills with just your body, your legs and a bike. Very sustainable feeling, simple. It contrasts, at least my attitude of it, with the mountain bikers barreling down all the trails in the East Bay Regional Park system. It’s just not right. It’s like seeing a cyborg in a nature video, a little jarring. Or runners, for that matter. It’s like, “I’m running,” or “I’m riding,” brains all out front – a peculiar American characteristic, maybe.

A couple of weekends ago I rode to Santa Cruz from a little south of Oakland. Not as far as it seems, but passed through dweeby Palo Alto, which was very different than I imagined. I was picturing rolling hills and shaded Ken Kesey streets, but it was a flatland and then a ridgeland, just like the East Bay. And over the ridge, west, was the ocean, pearl blue, cool, sun-holding.

For the next long trip I look forward to a partner. There’s nothing like drafting. If you ride just off the rear tire of a lead cycle, you can really feel an energy-pull. I’m sure it’s been well documented with very precise numbers, but I’m just going to say 30 percent easier. Maybe not, but the effort-saving rush and the pull sensation might account for the number’s exaggeration.

… When going downhill, fast, it’s very important to lean in with your inside knee, which carries your weight into the turn. Thor Hushovd won stage 13 of this year’s Tour de France by destroying the final downhill. He made up two minutes on the guy ahead of him.


August 12, 2011

I’m 32. I was once very good at basketball. I played in high school and a couple of years in college. I was often the best player on the court, any court; whether a coach recognized it or not in a formal setting mattered a lot. But I got over it, slowly, when I quit the team in college and entered the Honors Program at St. Edward’s University and followed the older, pretty philosophy student to our class Worlds, Minds, Worldmaking, where we both acknowledged, comfortingly, to each other that we didn’t have any idea what the class was about, or what our class presentations were about even though we stood up and discussed a piece of art for 20 minutes or so and explained how the artist’s vision corresponded to his real, objectified reality, and how the pictures in our mind color our direct perception. Bullshit, I thought then … and think now, but our professor had some Catholic, arcane, mazy, out-dated, stale, dead-end conception of life built from Catholic philosopher Bernard Lonergan’s meticulously outlined ramble of systematic thought. His volumes span in the double digits. The tome of choice for our professor was 18, Insight. Too bad not a sentence in it displayed any little evidence of its title/subject.

Back to being 32 and at a crossroads in basketball. I’m in shape. I run, swim, bike a lot, probably too much. I used to be lightning-quick, and, now, blowing by someone on the basketball court is just not happening. No spring in the legs. I’m in denial that it’s a function of age. Is it? Maybe if I just did what I did when I was younger. Play everyday for four hours it would come back.

Yesterday, I played at Mosswood Park in Oakland, the home of Gary Payton. It has a newly refinished and painted court, glass backboards and nets. Showed up, and the ragtag collection of youth and aging youth were in full effect on one court. There were 18 and 19 year olds and some older.

When my friend and I got on the court for the next game, a young-ish guy kept getting upset that I stole his basketball each time he dribbled and then he fouled me hard all the way down the court. He was asking to get elbowed, but I didn’t scratch his itch. I was waiting for an explosive move, but found just elephant-dull legs. Come on! And then a hurting right foot. Come on! What the f#$k? This is no fun anymore. The game was always glorious when you ran free and fast and felt that burst of light-feeling power and agility that exposes a fully-pulsing chi. Things have changed?

I’ve been in rehab for about a month – no running or jumping. The Taco Truckers, my Oakland YMCA basketball team, lost in the championship game to a team of sub-20 year olds, and since then I want to make some changes. I had a good game, at the end. Started going on the attack, as must be the case in a Championship, and hit about 7 three pointers in a span of a few minutes in the fourth quarter. But the effort to get the energy up there was immense, and the come-down lasted for hours.


August 5, 2011


Kirin is my favorite beer. Hard to find. The Korean market down the street from me sells a 12-pack of cans for $10; an unbelievable deal. Maybe they hate the Japanese. Enjoyed it last evening at a chiropractic party, a disheveled house, neglected backyard, commodes sitting upright under the exposed houseguts, piles of dried vegetation scattered randomly about, and some dudes in nice clothes and a handful of pretty girls, some not-so pretty, an over-cared-for dog, and a severely-mutually dependent mother and young daughter.

But back to Kirin. It's light and so drinkable. Paired with sushi it's unmatched. On at least one of its larger bottles a Kirin is explained. It's a Japanese mythical beast, part dragon and part ......... deer. Inexplicable. But, somehow, Japan's mountain deer might warrant such placement. Years ago I found myself hiking solo on a Yamabushi trail with no flashlight in the vast mountainous territory that is everywhere not a city in Japan. It was a few hours northwest of Kyoto. And for some reason I decided to do a three-day hike, fast on the mountain trail. When I got there, a sign at the entrance to the mountain trail said no women allowed. And from there it went up. The hazy daylight moon that appeared from the craggy peaks and ridges solidified every landscape ink painting's flavor. The knotty ridges of the mountains lived in your chest and choked your sclera with after-images of every trial your life found itself before.

Every evening, I found myself racing daylight and the doppelganger of an idea's version of myself, lagging two steps, a step-and-a-half behind. Mountain shacks were stationed randomly apart. On the second day, with evening fast approaching, I was racing to my last night's cabin, as marked on a crumpled, copied map of the 40-plus mile Yamabushi trail. Dark was setting in on the ridegline and all of a sudden I felt surrounded by ghosts and a dark angel of fear emerged, and not an angel that would disappear; like Jacob's angel, it came to fight until the death.

As I raced down the rocky path in the evening mountaintop's haze, which caught evening's endlight and scattered it into a smoky 20-foot visibility and uniform ether, rocks I kicked up scattered down the trail ahead of me. And then in the mist shadows in all directions began moving, unseen beyond the darker-grey of their silhouettes. Mountain deer all around. Escorting me down to the mountain hut, nestled in a dip between highpoints on the ridge. There was a temple-like structure and the typical guest hut. It was about nine o'clock and I was strained and in a vision-quest state from the lack of food, and was planning, as usual, to sit before bed. I slid open the temple-like building, and there was candlelight and a 30-ish-year-old Japanese dude sitting. He looked up at me, said nothing and I Sumi-Yasened my way back out. I sat in the barnlike hut, then slept, worn and a little cold.

The next morning I woke up, went to the spring 200 feet away, tucked under a rock overhang, washed my face and feet, filled up with water and then followed the valley down to the way out. Toward the the end of the neverending out-trail, two massive bobcats appeared in the forest a hundred yards from me and scampered, just ahead of me, for about a mile. I kept imagining their ambush and them picking meat from my body. Was not necessarily fighting that.

So, those Japanese mountaindeer that protected me from some dark archangel might account for why I love Kirin, or it might just be because it's good and so often leads to getting busy.

... a snippet from a book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:

The frost is in little patches on the road too, but melting and dark wet tan between the patches where the early sun's rays strike it.

Fuck It

August 1, 2011


When I was a writer for the Berkeley Times this story popped up in my Inbox from the Berkeley Police Department's spokesperson. I'm going to try to get in touch with the main character. Crazy story.

Mike Martin, a 29-year-old graduate student in physics at UC Berkeley, apparently had a fuck it moment. On a Saturday afternoon in early July 2011, his cell phone was found at the base of Tunnel Road in the Oakland hills, a popular staging area for bicyclists before going up into the East Bay hills. See a video news story about his disappearance here. Martin was a former professional cyclist. But, apparently, he just decided to leave town and not tell anyone, even his girlfriend with whom he had a date that night at 8 p.m. After a day of people worried that he might have had a tragic accident, a hotel clerk positively ID'd him in Roseville, CA, 100 miles east of the Bay Area.

Here's the piquing string of emails from the Berkeley Police Department:

City of Berkeley Public Information Officer (PIO) EMAIL UPDATE Missing Cyclist – Anthony Michael Martin of Berkeley July 6, 2011

The City of Berkeley Police Department (BPD) detectives have confirmed a sighting of Anthony Michael Martin with his bicycle in the City of Roseville, CA. from a credible source as recently as yesterday. (July 5, 2011) Mr. Martin did not appear to be in distress and as a adult, he is legally allowed to make the choices he has made. Some of the details of this confirmation and methods of locating him are ones that we would prefer not to share as they may compromise efforts in other/future investigations. In addition, since this is no longer a primary police matter, but a private matter, we feel that it is not appropriate to expose to the public.

BPD investigators have advised Mr. Martin’s girlfriend and family of the developments. Although BPD is no longer considering Martin to be a “Missing Person” and that he has voluntarily left the Berkeley area, we will continue to work with other Law Enforcement agencies in an effort to speak to him directly.

Thank you for your interest in this story and your support in getting the word out.

Summary background.

On Saturday, July 2, 2011 at about 10:45 p.m., a Berkeley woman reported to the City of Berkeley Police Department (BPD) that her boyfriend, 29 year old Anthony Michael Martin, had not returned from a bike ride. According to the girlfriend, the two had spoken earlier in the day and were to meet for dinner at 8:00 p.m. She went to his apartment at 8:00 p.m., and the lights were off and no one was home. He had told her that he was going for a bike ride and may have left at about 6:00 p.m.

A community member (a cyclist) had found Mr. Martin’s phone near the Fire Storm Memorial Garden along Tunnel Road in Oakland and had reached the girlfriend to return the phone.

BPD officers did a welfare checked of his apartment, forced entry and found that he was not home. The case officer followed the BPD Missing Person procedures – writing a preliminary report, calling local hospitals, coroners’ offices, entering him into MUPS – a Missing Persons national computer database system and reaching out to any family or friends in the area. BPD contacted neighboring agencies and sent out a Critical Reach flyer with Martin’s picture on it. Some of the cycling route pass through many jurisdictions – City of Berkeley Police Department (BPD), University of California Police Department (UCPD), City of Oakland Police Department (OPD), East Bay Regional Parks (EBRPP) and Contra Costa County Sheriffs.

Mr. Martin is an accomplished experienced cyclist and one of the many challenges in this investigation is determining what route he may have taken of so many that are possible in the Berkeley, Oakland, East Bay Regional Parks and Contra Costa geographical areas. Tunnel Road is a very popular route to access many rides, some that travel long, windy roads that cyclists share with vehicular traffic.

And finally.

Further on Missing Cyclist.

“This is no longer a Missing Person case. Mr. Martin has voluntarily left for whatever private, personal reasons only he can speak to. We do not wish to speculate or share any further. A hotel clerk in Roseville was sent a picture and he positively identified/confirmed that Mr. Martin was staying in that area as of last evening. BPD will not be doing any follow up interviews as a result. We are most grateful he is not injured or worse.”

Horizons and a Bridge

June 19, 2011

Went north last week, which means north on HWY 101. The drive was in an SUV, which gave a remarkably different view than compared to the low-to-the-ground vehicles I usually drive up in. One of the most iconic parts of the drive up is the bridge seen from HWY 101 just south of Leggett. Check it out:

Also went to Harbin Hot Springs, just northeast of Napa Valley. On both drives, I made the transition from city to country; the transition crosses a fine, diffuse line, but you know you're in the country when you're there. At Middletown, just outside of Harbin Hot Springs, we pulled up to the town's grocery store and two country characters, youngish, standing by a truck, stood outside. We were in the country.

Harbin is tucked into the dead-end of a valley, encircled on all sides by mountain. And it's a bunch of crazies; enter the "spiritual" realm. People semi-had sex, made out in the luke-warm pool; the hot and cold pools were pretty much solo endeavors.

Mt. Tam is a lot closer to home and quite mysterious.

Oakland's Dirty Islands

June 10, 2011

Dirty Islands

Oakland's Lake Merritt and its dirty islands, its beautiful Bay-edged skyline.

What I've been up to: Stuck on another project, plus full-time writing and advertising managing for the Berkeley Times. Let ... Me ... Tell ... You ... About ... City ... Council. Mind-blowing.

Marcus Gerard

At the beginning of a recent City Council meeting where, like all meetings, five public speakers were chosen at random and spoke to anything under the sun, Marcus Gerard Robinson honored himself as co-founder of Teach For America. Competent and well-spoken, though a little loony, Robinson inspired councilmembers to look this way and that with slight, knowing smiles. Noone commented on Robinson's comments. He honored himself and then left the building. I, for one, believe him.

Council Crazies

City Council crazies lining up to talk.


Yosemite entré.


Rachel, wearing my backpack, contemplates the Mt. Tam rainforest trail, pissed that we're not power walking.

Walks in Yosemite and Mt. Tam. Went hiking with my Stanford-bound (her new ID) sister a couple of Saturdays ago; will never live down the slow start - three breakfasts. Mt. Tam is far from the East Bay! And, oven-fresh scones and poor coffee at the inn overlooking the Bay at the crossroads between Muir Woods and the sprawling mountain was just too good to not linger for an hour. If you want a workout, hit the Stair Master!

Working for a startup, a startup newspaper at that, is a challenge. The background to my published stories are endless. My own blog site will happen, but in the meantime, I will write all the stories I should be writing in the paper here. It's tough to not write (do anything) the way you feel necessary, but it's the nature of our mercenary American lifestyles. My soul for an HD TV, the weekend, cappuccino, a beer every now and then, sex, basketball. A good trade? Ha!


The lonely lightbulb of the soul.

Walked into the newspaper office today. The layout computer, the office fish, Berkeley, and the potted poppies all died this week. Damn.

Went balling at Mosswood Regional Park, the home of Gary Payton and others, in Oakland on Wednesday. Had a shorter version of LeBron James on my team. Nobody could stop him. Had few basketball skills but was somewhat coordinated and was massively strong. I'd get a defensive rebound and then just throw it the length of the court without looking to where he was sprinting (he never rebounded after the first game and ran straight for our hoop on any shot by the other team). He caught the ball each time. No matter who was one him, even three guys. Was amazing. We lost the last game, though, when this chunky, big-body dude with dreds kept hitting threes and LeBron refused to go beyond the three-point line on either side of the court. Wish I had a photo.

Playing in the Oakland YMCA men's basketball league. Was 10 for 25 shooting last game. 25 shots! Embarrassing with a capital E. I know how Kobe must feel now - horrible.


Photographer friend Karin on the draw.

Mt. Tam.

March 18, 2011

This blog is still alive!

Mt. Tam is amazingly diverse. Trees! and convoluted trails. Also, it was colder and wetter there. The inside of my rain jacket was sweating damp, cold moisture, like wearing a wet plastic shopping bag. But the water poured down gullies in the mountain's side with such force, and a middle of nowhere feel, that normal time and space became other things.

The video shows the glowing green light just south of Angel Island (that's the land mass in the photo) on the ferry back to San Fran from Sausalito. Stunning.


February 17, 2011


Nice to be around.

Long Shadows

February 14, 2011

of variously grey shades

bring a cubist eye to your face

surround the dark

lighting it up

in the alpenglow of some Colorado

slanting gold-green sunset

A Black Swan sentiment,

a melted gold heart, hard

deeper than a cobalt midday ocean sky

violent fire eyes

beating, shooting, carrying

everyday's red to your throat

forehead flying

body, disconnected, tuned to

a bone-man's dance

of kaleidescopic Chagall color

a weird parallel-universe day

thoughts, birds, flying in the treetops

caught, impenetrable

upside-down, rightside-up

a Dylan-hush, mutter, stutter

in the smoke of the twilight, on a milk-white steed

Michaelangelo, indeed, could have carved out your features

a million tiny holes

a thousand lifetimes

a hundred smells

cardamom, coriander

10 loves

five deaths

three stories

one life

a million and one ways

Bolinas, CA

February 10, 2011


Sitting in the sun at a cafe that's spilled outside, looking at the stragglers, misfits of town, the impression of red wine and pot emerges strongly; maybe because that's what a majority of the population was doing right then on a Tuesday afternoon at 2 p.m., and what I imagined doing: moving to Bolinas, doing some type of manual labor, playing Charley Patton blues on a guitar and drinking red wine and smoking pot on a Tuesday afternoon at 2 p.m., then running to the beach with my surfboard to catch the pre-evening break that's just rolling in, riding the earth's wavelengths at the opening to the hollow, long, penetrating deadman's cove where deaths appear, "woman in pink skirt found dead in a canoe," and then lay on the beachsand still radiating sunwarmth and let the wind bury me grain by grain to be with all those million-year sea shells, hollow rocks, haphazard ocean sounds murmuring something less than sleep, something more than, than, than ...

Envy of the Nation

February 6, 2011

Moved to the ghetto that is West Oakland last week. Walking the neighborhood, getting its bearing, see prostitutes on a whole other level enter the street ready to work, displaying a genuine excitement about it even. Friday night, walking by one of the many tenement-apartment buildings hear the guttural howl of a woman/child/animal over and over, deep, torturous. And walk on by. Three raccoons crawl out of a gutter and amble single-file diagonally across the street, regard my corner-self briefly, change direction slightly, and climb one by one the fence I'm leaning against, pulling their hulking bodies arm over arm up and over, lumbering, waddling to a tree nearby where they commence their characteristic, inexplicable raccoon tree-fighting, howling.

Bright sunny, glorious Sunday morning ... a guy with long dreadlocks, sweeping a wasteland of a courtyard says hi as I walk down the middle of the street. As I'm just passed him, he says, "We're the envy of the nation." And I turn, ask, confused, "What do you mean?" He smiles and points to the sky, the sun gloriously, coolly shining. "We so are. It's glorious."

Walking down the middle of the street a day earlier, one of the many worn-out shopping-cart-pushing ghosts creaking down the sidewalk toward me. I usually avoid eye contact, but looked at him a second. And he hollered out, good-humoredly, "Looks like you got a good bench," as he benched pressed his arms in front of him. He repeated it, "Looks like you got a good bench," as he saw my incomprehending, disbelieving expression. I immediately smiled (at the humor of him overwhelmed enough by my image to say it, not by it itself); draped across my chest, over a fitting v-neck t-shirt was the broad leather band of a satchel. I'm still in shape from years as a work-outer and must have looked ripped. No doubt!

Vulture or Condor

January 23, 2011


Went on a Northern California Science Writers group walk at Pinnacles National Monument, about 120 miles south of the Bay Area, whose hallmark feature, at least for the National Park Service, is the resident California Condor. At one point early on the 8-hour hike we made we saw 14 or 15 condors swirling above the pinnacles in the far distance; 14 of the 400 that remain worldwide, 200 of those are captive. So, we saw 7 percent of the world's wild population riding that warm updraft over the park. On the long ride home in the carpool of four, the question bubbled up almost unconsciously, maybe predictably, from me: "What's the value of the condor outside of its rarity?" It was almost rhetorical, but it spurred a discussion for at least an hour. Is every species worth saving no matter the cost? What is the cost-benefit analysis?

To a new Californian the condor has the tinge of myth; I thought it was a bird of prey, but being accompanied by several condor specialists on the hike, it's very much a variety of vulture. (That sentence has a tone that implies that vultures are less valuable than birds of prey. That's the impression. I wonder, ecologically, if that's true. Or, if it's just that birds of prey seem so much more dynamic because of what they do). So, the question becomes pretty prominent, why spend so much money saving a condor? B, who works for Cal, responded that some say it's better to save overall diversity than some specific species, however "majestic." The condors are no doubt majestic; I kept waiting for one of the 9.5 feet wingspans to soar over my head on the hike, but none did. One of the condor specialists, pointed out that birds' wings are complements of our hands. So, fold your wrists to your shoulders and spread your hands and imagine flying. It's not quite the same as spreading your arms and hovering with your humeri aloft. But, also, you get the sense of how refined flight can be with the minute use of each feathered digit. In the case of a condor they're 3.5 feet long. Amazing.

Green Blue

Pinnacles National Monument lies on the edge of the Pacific Plate side of the San Andreas Fault. Pinnacles is two-thirds of the exposed remnant of a 23-million-year-old volcano. The other third is 195 miles southeast, a testament to the reality of faults and possibly tectonic plates. The Pacific Plate moves north, the North American Plate, to which the Pacific Plate is abutted, moves west. New to the Bay Area, it's scary to realize that earthquakes are a reality. We're on the Ring of Fire! The carpool down, the long-time Berkeley residents described in detail their earthquake readiness plans. Apparently, you should be ready to live for three days without conventional access to electricity, water or food. Might not do that, but it inspired me to put some more Clif Bars in my camping backpack and backup flashlight batteries.


At one point along the trail, we came upon some hairy scat. The ranger pointed out that it was a bobcat; you can tell because of the hair. Bobcats only eat meat, and thus have a larger proportion of hair in their scat. If it's a smaller size, it's a bobcat; if it's much larger, it's a mountain lion. A good, simple, valuable insight. One small, much-needed aspect of a successful naturalist's repertoire - scat.

I brought my voice recorder, so I could take notes without writing. So, I did. As we took a lunch break in the craggy high peaks, a falcon ranger was explaining the ins and outs of bird of prey research; he was studying peregrines and marsh hawks. As we sat listening, one of our group was attacking a granny smith apple, alternately, with a chunk of gouda cheese. As poetic as it gets. Here's a transcription of my recording: "Gouda and granny smith apple and bite marks down the middle (where the two sets of teeth meet), rapid attack by the mouth, crazy impressive."

Silver Pine

See the grey pine. It stood out on the landscape, lit up across the hills in the great, clear day. It was one of the more stunning pieces of vegetation, at least for a coarse-eyed and -knowledged botanist. Hills looked like an impressionist painting with the silver brush marks scattered over the chapparal dusty green.


Don't you want to be on that rock? Pinnacles is a rock climbing haven. One of our group is a rock climber and was describing some of the different routes and their difficulty numbers. Somebody asked him what the numbers were based on, and he said with good comedic timing/rhythm, "Who knows? These numbers were devised by pot smokers." Ha.

The lichen is amazing, too. Lime green, streaked, electric, bright orange, copper, rust speckled, splotched all over the rocks.

Arriving in Iowa

January 20, 2011

I moved to Ames, Iowa, at one point for about six months, my first foray into the Midwest. The huge, disproportionate sky is what I remember most. I found an Iowa State University literary journal upon landing and read a poem that I was surprised to find in that wide flatland (evidence of my then coast bias; I had just come from Madrid, though). It had a cool form and I wrote a response in kind:

1. Alone, the setting sun answers plainlyd

dGoya's Saturn: Desperately, eating your sons; eyes to love you with.

2. Ah, the space between your mattress, tucked: metaphysical and pornographic; a metabolism wit sped away - a little man lost.

3. A perfect male, perfect, dying. a beliefe

ephotosynthetic assumption: the miracle of light in her eye.

4. Vermillion-shade, paled by the blossom, vexed, in your cheek, forever?p

pVengeance, it is the same for any god.

Downtown Oakland Menage

January 18, 2011

Oaksterdam Oaksterdam Filigree Tien-Hu Building sky Brown Couch So Dapper

A Heartbreaking Work

January 13, 2011

Paying respects to a previous post, here's something on Dave Eggers's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

The book's story is great, the style and self-conscious self-consciousness is a lot much. In it, the rawness, excitement, fear and tragedy of youth paired with the supernova, lightning-in-the-sky devastation of losing both parents at 22-ish, becoming pseudo-parent to your 7-year-old brother (7 right?), makes for a rainbow, heartbreaking work.

Some snippets:

The ending:

What the fuck does it take to show you motherfuckers, what does it fucking take what do you want how much do you want because I am willing and I'll stand before you and I'll raise my arms and give you my chest and throat and wait, and I've been so old for so long, for you, for you, I want it fast and right through me--- Oh do it, do it, you motherfuckers, do it do it you fuckers finally, finally, finally.

In the last chapter, leaving it all in life and going to the volcano:

And we will be ready, at the end of every day will be ready, will not say no to anything, will try to stay awake while everyone is sleeping, will not sleep, will make the shoes with the elves, will breathe deeply all the time, breathe in all the air full of glass and nails and blood, will breath it and drink it, so rich, so when it comes we will not be angry, will be content, tired enough to go, gratefully, will shake hands with everyone, bye, bye, and then pack a bag, some snacks, and go to the volcano-- (433).

Nobody likes a critic, and Dave, if you end up reading this (for some crazy reason), this is out of admiration and love.

So on to your style, Dave:

There's real desperation in the book. I almost understand how/why it was a Pulitzer Prize finalist; its soul is strong. But many things about it seem like simply a polished journal, no doubt a polished journal of life flaming bright, burning, desolate.

The unsettling, irritating thing about the book is your perspective, exposed all too clearly in the preface, acknowledgments, and cloying appendix (Mistakes We Knew We Were Making). There's a lack of discipline and mystery, not that a work needs that, but why throw up everything that's in your head, heart? Because it works, I guess. The book is charming and probably couldn't be written in another style, but I got the sense that you're looking down on us, a pitiful, unenlightened, uninteresting audience; it's a haughty, an all-knowing stance from a so-special rubied perch in Berkeley, Brooklyn, Icelandic clouds. It's a lack of respect - can't we just be adults and assume the best? And you spent so much time justifying why it is the way it is (I guess you knew it was off, and basically said so a dozen times in various places in different ways in the book) - a little sloppy, a little careless. But that's youth isn't it?

This is your head explaining all its thoughts and its thoughts about those thoughts and its thoughts about those thoughts. Though, the way you weave death, rebirth, desperation and joy together is beautiful; it's not the words, it's the overt, clearly raw struggle that converged on you (your character?) in the story.

In your over-sharing, you give some rules for enjoying the book, which are actually accurate for approaching the hodge-podge that is the edition I read; in point 5, for example, you suggest the reader just read up to page 123, which after examining, I would completely agree with. The next 300 pages was a journal, an impassioned, somewhat-organized letter: "I'm still amazed that I finished it [the book] in the first place, and am also surprised when I see some passages, because, frankly, there are sentences I wrote and never reread; there are pages I never looked at again" (Mistakes We Knew We Were Making 8). AND IT READS THAT WAY.

"When I was done, I was ashamed, because I had written what I saw as a much too revealing and maudlin thing" (M.W.K.W.W.M. 35).

"but even so you wrote a book that was really a letter to them, a messy fucking letter that you could barely keep a grip on, but a letter you meant, and a letter you meant, and a letter you sometimes wish you had not mailed, but a letter you are happy that made it from you to them," (M.W.K.W.W.M. 35). You protect yourself by pre-empting, circumnavigating the impressions we can have from your work. I guess you have to protect your exposed heart, but it feels you at once exposed it, and then at the same time, tempered that exposure by couching it in a protected framework and then berate us for not appreciating what you did and how hard it was. I understand, it just feels like a little bit of a cheap, disingenuous way to go. And then again, that's part of its charm.


January 11, 2011

Somewhere is Sofia Coppola's latest film. I'm wondering/hoping that she's a somewhat-same-generation filmmaker to grow old with. Saw it last Saturday; it's only playing one place in the whole Bay Area. The limited run is disappointing and understandable. The movie moves in slow, languid paces, through a liquid, gelled atmosphere, languorous.

And true to Coppola's style, the movie was languid (that's her word), all 98 minutes of it. One of the very refreshing things about Coppola is her confidence. Her distinct style works, and it's nice to see, as always, a film that does not use rote filmmaking storytelling. The camera rests on Stephen Dorff's character, Johnny Marco, a movie star living in LA's notorious hotel Chateau Marmont, for long stretches of the movie as he goes through his disaffected and extremely disconnected life. Of course, it's only disaffected and disconnected in a charmed, Ferrari sort of way. Which is an easy criticism of the film's (and possibly Coppola's oeuvre so far) surface subject; all these problems going on in a crystal snowglobe - white castles and sweetness and love: one telescoped presentation of love's, life's full color, shape, being.

Many of the scenes are visual art in and of themselves, calling to mind Julian Schnabel's aesthetic (most notably in his exquisite Diving Bell and the Butterfly). Schnabel is (or was) primarily a painter, and some of his abstract, nonlinear, image-dominated cinematography is (the sensibility at least) seen in Coppola's films.

Somewhere is beautiful, but also a bit too delicate. Elle Fanning, playing Marco's daughter Cleo, was the star of the film, though it's hard to tell if that's because of talent or circumstance. The situation called to mind Scarlett Johanson's in Coppola's 2003 Lost in Translation. The part was perfect for Elle, as a real-life 11-year-old, because she embodied the tragedy of her young-ish father's disoriented life as a just-budding sexual being. She's on a cusp, in a sweet natural way: both woman and girl. Some of the sweetest moments in the film occur when she cracks up in that innocent, sweet, believing laugh of a little girl; you can tell, in several different scenes, Coppola told Jackass-star Chris Pontius, who played Marco's best friend in Somewhere, to keep adlibbing until Elle broke, cracked into a flood of sweet, genuine love-laughter. Paraphrased: "Most ballerina teachers are alcoholics. You don't know it cause you're young, but after you leave, they go in the back ..."

And the film displays real moments of sublime happiness. Some of the father-daughter scenes are nauseatingly happy; it's Marco's rawness to the world that opens up the chasms of the universe to such a sweet relationship with his daughter.

New Yorker film critic David Denby, who is sometimes dead wrong, concluded his unimpressed review with: "Mystification can become a crutch. At the moment, Coppola is an artist fixated on a single subject: this is her third film about an isolated soul living in a hotel. It’s time she risked losing her cool." In some ways I agree, but it's that cool that is so refreshing, attractive: it'd be interesting, compelling, approaching-genius, if Coppola took her sweet, aesthetic eye and turned it to less ethereal realms. Then, those sweet buds, in relationship to their full complements (the rest of their stalk, soil, sun), would really flower.

Don Quixote! (and translations)

January 9, 2011

I'm reading War and Peace, finally, and picking a translation (from the Russian) brought up the old problem of dealing with translated books. In the infinity of youth, I thought I could just learn every language that I wanted to read in. (What a great delusion.). The issue with translations was most profound with one of my top-five favorite books of all time: Don Quixote de la Mancha. I remember the day I was in the dusty Half-Price Books store on Guadalupe St. in Austin, Texas, now, as a mini-example to what's happened to the town as a whole, a series of boutiques; it was a sunny day, and the south-facing windows were presenting the late-morning sun's light on the fiction section as I browsed for all the books I was going to read. I came across Don Quixote and picked up several editions of the book. Most were abridged; true to my nature, I went for the "complete and unabridged" one: 785 pages, small type. A great decision. The book had me from the beginning. But I soon learned the essential role translation plays in a book, though that should've been obvious. I lost the book in the middle of reading it and bought a replacement, though not the same translation. The new one was so different and bad I couldn't even read a couple of pages. So, after much searching, I found the same Wordsworth Classics edition and finished the book. Below are several Don Quixote translations (below that are two translations of War and Peace and below that are links to my own translation attempts: three of Pablo Neruda's poems), born from a "spare" 45 minutes in the Cal library.

Here's the opening passage (witness the way Cervantes is able to set the book's tone immediately: genuine, sweet, goodhearted, funny):

The lovely Don Quixote de La Mancha (Wordsworth Classics edition by, I think, John Ormsby):

At a certain village in La Mancha, which I shall not name, there lived not long ago one of those old-fashioned gentlemen who are never without a lance upon a rack, an old target, a lean horse, and a greyhound. His diet consisted more of beef than mutton; and with minced meat on most nights, lentils on Fridays, griefs and groans on Saturdays, and a pigeon extraordinary on Sundays, he consumed three quarters of his revenue: the rest was laid out in a plush coat, velvet breeches, with slippers of the same, for holidays; and a suit of the very best homespun cloth, which he bestowed on himself for working days. His whole family was a housekeeper something turned forty, a niece not twenty, and a man that served him in the house and in the field, and could saddle a horse, and handle the pruning-hook. The master himself was nigh fifty years of age, of a hale and strong complexion, lean-bodied, and thin-faced, an early riser, and a lover of hunting. Some say his surname was Quixada, or Quesada (for authors differed in this particular): however, we may reasonably conjecture he was called Quixana (i.e. lanthorn-jaws) though this concerns us but little, provided we keep strictly to the truth in every point of this history.

Keys to the humor: "which I shall not name" "old-fashioned gentlemen" "old target" "pigeon extraordinary" "consumed three quarters of his revenue" "an early riser, and a lover of hunting."

Now see the same passage translated by Walter Starkie:

At a village of La Mancha, whose name I do not wish to remember, there lived a little while ago one of those gentlemen who are wont to keep a lance in the rack, an old buckler, a lean horse and a swift greyhound. His stew had more beef than mutton in it and most nights he ate the remains salted and cold. Lentil soup on Fridays, "tripe and trouble" on Saturdays and an occasional pigeon as an extra delicacy on Sundays, consumed three-quarters of his income. The remainder was spent on a jerkin of fine puce, velvet breeches, and slippers of the same stuff for holidays, and a suit of good, honest homespun for week-days. His family consisted of a housekeeper about forty, a niece not yet twenty, and a lad who served him both in the field and at home and could saddle the horse or use the pruning-knife. Our gentleman was about fifty years of age, of a sturdy constitution, but wizened and gaunt-featured, an early riser and a devotee of the chase. They say that his surname was Quixada or Quesada (for on this point the authors who have written on the subject differ), but we may resaonably conjecture that his name was Quixana. This, however, has very little to do with our story: enough that in its telling we swerve not a jot from the truth.

Starkie killed all the humor in the language. Of course, whose to say whether it was in the original Spanish to begin with. I dare say it was (see below)!

Another translation, by Tobias Smollet, who did his work in the early 18th century:

In a certain corner of La Mancha, the name of which I do not choose to remember, there lately lived one of those country gentlemen, who adorn their halls with a rusty lance and a worm-eaten target, and ride forth on the skeleton of a horse, to course with a sort of a starved greyhound.

Three fourths of his income were scarce sufficient to afford a dish of hodge-podge, in which the mutton bore no proportion to the beef, for dinner; a plat of salmagundy, commonly at supper; gripes and grumblings on saturdays, lentils on fridays, and the addition of a pigeon or some such thing on the Lord's-day. The remaining part of his revenue was consumed in the purchase of a fine black suit, with velvet breeches and slippers of the same, for holy-days, and a coat of home-spun, which he wore in honour of his country, during the rest of the week.

He maintained a female house-keeper turned of forty, a niece about half that age, and a trusty young fellow, fit for field and market, who could turn his hand to any thing, either to saddle the horse or handle the hough.

Our squire, who bordered upon fifty, was of a tough constitution, extremely meagre and hard-featur'd, an early riser, and in point of exercise, another Nimrod. He is said to have gone by the name of Quixada, or Quesada, (for in this particular, the authors who mention that circumstance, disagree) though, from the most probable conjectures we may conclude, that he was called by the significant name of Quixada; but this is of small importance to the history, in the course of which it will be sufficient if we swerve not a tittle from the truth.

The star of this translation, obviously, is "which he wore in honour of his country."

And Tom Lathrop's translation:

In a village in La Mancha, whose name I don't quite remember, there lived not long ago an hidalgo of the kind who have a lance in the lance rack, an old shield, a lean nag, and a fleet greyhound. A stew of a bit more beef than mutton, hash most nights, bacon and eggs on Saturdays, lentils on Fridays, and an occasional pigeon on Sundays consumed three-quarters of his income. The rest of it was used up on a broad-cloth tunic with velvet undertunic for holidays, with matching slippers; and on weekdays, he adorned himself with his finest homespun outfit.

In his house he had a housekeepr who was past forty, a niece who was not yet twenty, and a houseboy who saddled his horse and did the gardening. The age of our hidalgo was close to fifty. He was of sturdy constitution, but a bit thin, lean of face, a great early riser, and fond of hunting. They say that his last name was Quijada or Quesada - for there's some difference of opinion among the authorities who write on this subject - although by credible conjecture we are led to believe that he was named Quejana. But this is of little importantance to our story - it's enough that in telling of it we don't stray from the truth.

And the original Cervantes Spanish

En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme, no ha mucho tiempo que vivia un hidalgo de los de lanza en astillero, adarga antigua, rocin flaco y galgo corredor. Una olla de algo mas vaca que carnero, salpicon las mas noches, duelos y quebrantos los sabados, lantejas los viernes, algun palomino de anadidura los domingos, consumian las tres partes de su hacienda. El resto della concluian sayo de velarte, calzas de velludo para las fiestas, con sus pantuflos de lo mesmo, y los dias de entresemana se honraba con su vellori de lo mas fino. Tenia en su casa una ama que pasaba de los cuarenta, y una sobrina que no llegaba a lost veinte, y un mozo de campo y plaza, que asi ensillaba el rocin como tomaba la podadera. Frisaba la edad de nuestro hidalgo con los cincuenta anos; era de complexion recia, seco de carnes, enjuto de rostro, gran madrugador y amigo de la caza. Quieren decir que tenia el sobrenombre de Quijada, o Quesada, que en esto hay alguna diferencia en los autores que deste caso escriben; aunque por conjeturas verisimiles se deja entender que se llamaba Quijana. Pero esto importa poco a nuestro cuento; basta que en la narracion del no se salga un punto de la verdad.

I'm willing to bet that Google Translator does a better job than the non-Ornsby translations:

Somewhere in la Mancha, whose name I remember, not long ago a gentleman who lived those of lance and ancient shield, a lean hack and a greyhound. An olla of rather more beef than lamb, hash most nights, scraps on Saturdays, lentils on Fridays, sometimes squab as a Sunday, with three quarters of his income. The rest della concluded broadcloth coat of velvet breeches and shoes for the holidays, with slippers of the same, and the days of weekday vellori was honored with more than fine. He had in his house a housekeeper past forty, a niece a lost twenty, and a lad for the field and square, which saddle the hack as well take the trimmer. Was nearing the age of our gentleman of fifty years, was of tough, dry meat, lean-faced, very early riser and friend of the hunt. Mean that the nickname had Quijada, or Quesada, here there is some difference in referring to this case the authors write, although it is plain guesswork verisimilar named Quijana. But this matters little to our story, just as in the narrative of not point out the truth.

Maybe not better, but approaching more tolerable than the others, really.

So, on to War and Peace. I picked to read the one translated by Rosemary Edmonds. First read a passage of the one not chosen.

Trans. by Constance Garnett; Modern Library Edition, 1994. [Clunkier language]:

"Well, Prince, Genoa and Lucca are now no more than private estates of the Bonaparte family. No, I warn you, that if you do not tell me we are at war, if you again allow yourself to palliate all the infamies and atrocities of this Antichrist (upon my word, I believe he is), I don't know you in future, you are no longer my friend, no longer my faithful slave, as you say. There, how do you do, how do you do? I see I'm scaring you, sit down and talk to me."

These words were uttered in July 1805 by Anna Pavlovna Scherer, a distinguished lady of the court, and confidential maid-of-honour to the Empress Marya Fyodorovna. It was her greeting to Prince Vassily, a man high in rank and office, who was the first to arrive at her soirée. Anna Pavlovna had been coughing for the last few days; she had an attack of la grippe, as she said - grippe was then a new word only used by a few people. In the notes she had sent round in the morning by a footman in red livery, she had written to all indiscriminately:

"If you have nothing better to do, count (or prince), and if the prospect of spending an evening with a poor invalid is not too alarming to you, I shall be charmed to see you at my house between 7 and 10. Annette Scherer."

Then the one I chose, translated by Rosemary Edmonds; Penguin Classics, 1978 [better]:

"Eh bien, mon prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now no more than private estates of the Bonaparte family. No, I warn you - if you are not telling me that this means war, if you again allow yourself to condone all the infamies and atrocities perpetrated by that Antichrist (upon my word I believe he is Antichrist), I don't know you in future. You will no longer be a friend of mine, or my 'faithful slave', as you call yourself! But how do you do, how do you do? I see I'm scaring you. Sit down and talk to me."

It was on a July evening in 1805 and the speaker was the well-known Anna Pavlovna Scherer, maid of honour and confidante of the Empress Maria Fiodorovna. With these words she greeted the influential statesman Prince Vasili, who was the first to arrive at her soire.

Anna Pavlovna had been coughing for some days. She was suffering from an attack of la grippe as she said - grippe being then a new word only used by a few people. That morning a footman in scarlet livery had delivered a number of little notes all written in French and couched in the same terms:

"If you have nothing better to do, count (or prince), and if the prospect of spending an evening with a poor invalid is not too alarming, I shall be charmed to see you at my house between 7 and 10." Annette Scherer.


See some of my own translations of several Pablo Neruda poems: El Tigre, El Insecto, Oda a la Naranja. They are faithful to the language and spirit of their original at least. I was somewhat trying to seduce a Spanish teacher with them. I think it worked, but we'll never know.

Del Valle Catfish

January 6, 2011


Life just sticks you with certain people for some reason. And it's beautiful. Me, maybe a little over -worked, -focused with best-man duties?, with Zach at his wedding's rehearsal dinner. His odd younger brother, throwing a west-side up below inexplicably.

Brown Couch

This is the image that prompted this post. That's Zach's first born, Zion Tonderai Kemp, and my mom. I don't know why it brightens my heart so much to see that, but it does. I've yet to meet him but my heart already (inexplicably, again) feels so close to him.

Guess I have to go back a few years. Zach and I met at LBJ High School in Austin, Texas, in our sophomore year at that gang-infested place. It was a Science Academy magnet school, an experiment at forced integration (it's pretty interesting that it was even done); the best students from all over Austin applied, were selected and then bused to the Academy, which did offer great classes; my biology and math classes in freshman and sophomore year were harder than anything I did in college, and I majored in Biochemistry (although it was St. Edward's University - focused on educating its students' "hearts and minds" - did it beautifully though: intellectualism was not the focus, a good heart was). So all these affluent, academically focused, privileged students were shipped into a war zone in northeast Austin. First of all, in Austin (though this is changing now some downtown), Interstate Highway 35, which cuts just on the east side of downtown, cuts the town's heart, too. West, affluent; east, poor. It was our train tracks. My family grew up just east of IH35 in a beautiful, stand-alone home on 1.5 acres with a 500-year-old live oak tree anchoring the property, which bordered, from 30 feet up, Boggy Creek, unchannelized, as wild as urban nature gets; the property on the other side was basically a park. So, it was a charming home. Thank you mom and dad. But that's a different story.

-- non sequitur --

I was in downtown Berkeley tonight, walking my bike from the YMCA after having sprinted some at the Berkeley High School track with girls soccer all over the football field and the track team on the track. I nice atmosphere in the bright lights on the clean, green field. Was walking my bike up toward Shattuck, the main thoroughfare for Cal's area of Berkeley, and then down it some south, and came upon this dude singing Barry White's "Can't Get Enough of Your Love Baby" into a mic connected to a mini-amplifier. He had black mittens on, slumped slightly in his seat; a black hood hugged his head, a straw cowboy sat on top of the hood. There was a handicapped cane (the kind that fits around your forearm) leaning on his left thigh, and he was staring straight forward at a slightly declined angle. The charm was his nonchalant, deep, into-it voice (mixing with the track experience), and probably more so his demeanor. It was a 50-ish black dude sitting on a bench at a dark intersection singing above the song's instrumental, playing several beats slower than the original, thumping from a small stereo. I pushed the front brake on my bike and sat on the cross-bar for a stunning few moments as he sang the chorus over and over for about 5 minutes (I don't think he bothered, thankfully, with Barry's talking parts of the song.). "My darling I, can't get enough of your love, baby. Oh no, baby. I don't, I don't know why, I can't get enough of your love baby. Oh umhmm ... " If you've tasted even a little bit of love that song sings in your heart, and mixed with that moment - Exquisite.

-- --

So kids from all over the city (we had graduates from my class go to Harvard, Duke, Yale, etc.) were sent to this northeast Austin ghetto. It was not equivocally the ghetto. It was the ghetto. Many of the houses that lined the streets across from the school and trailed away from it in several directions were bordered up (what were generally called "crack houses"). So, there was an extreme dichotomy/segregation: Science Academy upstairs in the triangle-shaped, prison-like building (which took about a year to figure out how to navigate) that was LBJ. By integration there was segregation. Hard to know if it was worth it for the school district. Maybe so?

And my first two years were legitimately scary for me. The principal, or someone, was incompetent, because there were a handful of serious Bloods and Crips at the school. Only a handful, but they flavored the whole place. I played basketball, so I mixed between the groups a lot. Often, I was one of two white people in the whole gym; a life-altering trip, seriously. The American black experience is a different culture, and I didn't get it then, though I understood it and liked it to a certain degree. So, I would walk through the halls and every now and then a much-stronger guy would put his arm around my shoulder and lead me into a locker well and tell me to empty my pockets and give him any money I had. I know in the scheme of things, that's no big deal, but there was a sincere helplessness, fear because the guy was strong, had an edge, etc. Probably a good experience to have in the long run, but definitely put you on edge. It happened to several of my friends, too. And I saw two guns pulled my sophomore year.

One gang fight I witnessed in school was between a Blood and a Crip. I happened to go to the bathroom during class and down the hall noticed this guy, who didn't look like a student, in a blue hat peering through the thin slice of vertical window that stood off-center on the upper half of the building's classroom doors. When class let out, I was walking behind him, noticed his tall lanky, body, out-of-sorts being and the blue hat. All of a sudden he attacked the best player on the football team (who was a suspected Blood; and a cool guy, really; he ran track, too, and so did I, and his running the 400 meters was a beautiful thing: one of the most graceful, beautiful things I've witnessed) from behind with a Masterlock in his fist. And then it was on. People started jumping out from all over the place it seemed, and right there, there was a full-on gang fight. No guns though.

I heard a rumor that the Crip guy was retaliating for one of his gangmembers whose mom was severely beaten (can you imagine?) because a group of Bloods went looking for him and found only his mama.

-- non sequitur 2 --

This morning went on a walk, found the trash can with beads of ice on it. Surprising. Froze last night. Walked to the park that I described in A Paean to Youth post, San Pablo Park. It really is an ocean. The sun was just rising to my right, the east, cresting that major inland ridge (must have a name - find it out) and slanting its light across the park. Walking, seeing my breath, hands in pockets, a chilly post-winter-solstice morning, cozy in its own way and crisp, easy to appreciate. As I was walking north along the east end of the park past the tennis courts where couples play pick-up ghetto tennis the way you play pick-up basketball (On Saturday mornings there's a line of dudes with doubles partners waiting outside the fence watching the action, waiting for their shot on the court. Winner stays on. Pretty cool. There's an urban vibe to it. Guys you would never think of as tennis players (their look) playing. And it's intense. Must say, that competition is fun, good.). North past the tennis courts the park expands for about four-fifths more; other than a bathroom building and several basketball courts tucked on the east end, the rest of the park is a sea of grass, a softball diamond at the far northeast corner. North and west it's all open ocean, and your soul smooths correspondingly with its expanse. All my walks and runs gravitate to the place, just like I described in the Paean post. Being such a wide, unbuilt expanse in the city, it presents the mountains on the near-horizon clearly; so there's that comfort of perspective. Anyhow, I was walking, passed a city worker ostensibly picking up trash, though really talking to a friend as they walked down the path, I saw guy in the distance just west of the bathrooms gazing west across the expanse of frozen grass, the slanting, fresh early-morning light flooding, a couple of early seagulls picking at the underlying slogged soil completing the forlorn at-sea image. Shortish, huddled in a flannel jacket, he had a seaman's air and was leaning into his stare that appeared to just glaze the grass, passing, appropriately, over the seagulls, as it shot northwest, as a shipwrecked sailor's might, (as he scans) scanning the horizon for any slight sliver of land. As I walked by, I said, "What are you looking at?" And was disappointed by his answer; I really expected him to say, "I'm looking for land." He said, "I'm looking for my twin brother; he should be coming any second." Huddled in his jacket was an open can of beer, completing the lost-at-sea, seaman impression. Stunning.

-- --

Anyhow, I first met Zach in the locker room at LBJ early one morning; we both played basketball, and the team had to meet at 6 a.m. in the preseason to do conditioning. My best friend at the time and I made an offhand, not-that-funny joke and Zach laughed at it from that morning, until that afternoon, when we met back in the locker room again for basketball practice. Odd. That's the anecdote I used in my speech at his wedding. "You know, if you know Zach, you know his odd sense of humor ..."

Our friendship was at first by default. My best friend decided to switch schools for cultural reasons. I understand. He wanted to have the drink beer, frat experience, and he did. I remember the day he said he was transferring. We were sitting on the wide expanse of smooth concrete that surrounds the diving board on the banks of the Barton Springs Pool. In the bright sunshine he said he was going. We had been best friends (though culturally different) since 5th grade. A beautiful relationship. We went through puberty, tried to lose our virginity to the same girl (not at the same time :) ; and, he failed) and basically talked and shared everything. It was cool. I don't think that happens so much (maybe so). We became friends because he taught me an important life lesson in a 5th-grade classroom. I was kind-of a jerk, not very socially adept (still not maybe), and kind-of haughty. I was pulling all of my friends ears one by one, just bullying them in a way. Not hurting them, but just being a jerk. I pulled Brian's ear and he said if I did it again he'd hit me. I did it again, and he hit me. Thank you. We fought, and from then on, I not only respected him, but I was thankful for that push back. Every person needs some and I hadn't had it until then. We hung out almost everyday after school - playing basketball, pick-up tackle football in the neighbor's yard and homerun derby in the street.

When Brian left in our Junior year, things changed. There's nothing like a wingman. We had some good times. We barely talked after he moved. And I haven't talked with him in years. At some point, I'll call him.

Zach and I had a different relationship. It was one of those experiences in life that enter from the backdoor and you only begin to recognize it's there after it has sat in your house a while and then you find it standing at the base of your stairs one day as it looks at you as if to say, "What's up? I'm here." I had a heavy (seemed to have an especially intense magnetic relationship with the earth) Volvo 740 (thank you again Mom and Dad) to drive the 14 miles (since it was magnet) to and from school and somehow started giving Zach a ride home from basketball practice everyday. He lived, kind-of, on the way home. So, everyday I'd procrastinate at his house for an hour or two when I dropped him off; I think sometimes of that time I "wasted." Would've been good to actually do something productive (or with more focus, but w/e), but home, for its own disappointing reasons, was never that comfortable of a place to be. We played homerun derby in his back yard, drank kool-aid, ate frozen orange juice and went down to the creek that, like my house, bordered his.

Zach moved to Austin in our Sophomore year from Del Valle, a country-ish suburb, east of Austin. I always think of catfish when I think of Del Valle; that's because, maybe, one of its most notorious characters in that era was a guy named Steve who played for the Del Valle basketball team. His skin was the flat grey color of a channel catfish and he had this inexplicable (there it is again), thin stache. A big, awkward catfish. (Interestingly, we became friends when we both played basketball at St. Edward's University. Up close in College he was just as crazy as he appeared from afar in high school.). As being from the country, and having a touch of the Steve-oddness, Brian and I dubbed Zach "Del Valle." And he joined our loose, more-or-less crew, as "Del Valle." There was "K-Man," "B-Man," and some others (forgetting the names, surprisingly). Brian and he always didn't get along, weirdly. Toward the end of our Sophomore year, they got in a fight; Zach kicked Brian in the stomach while wearing baseball spikes. Wasn't there, because I chose to run track that year, but its reputation, understandably, was character-less.

So, that action flavored things a little, but once Brian left, it was different, obviously. Sometimes Zach and I would go creekbusting - something I would do for hours everyday after elementary school in Boggy Creek. Creekbusting is where you basically "bust a creek" ha!. Since Zach was from Del Valle, he had the country bug bad; mine was more of a romantic's view (unfortunately) of the outdoors (born from my Germanophile father; he had the complete works of Marx in German on one of our family's bookshelves - studied in Germany and Austria). But anyhow, we came together, geared up and planned different bust routes. I slowly figured out that what Zach meant by creekbust was to find interesting spots to fish; I was about exploring, like some dude in Africa or the Amazon on some mega-transect adventure - seeing what was out there. So, that was a unifying aspect of our relationship. In the summer's between college we would always hook up to go on some creekbusts to different creeks around Austin. The best experience, surprisingly, was of the creek by his house, a minor branch of Walnut Creek. (Note: I recently did an ~18-mile creekbust of Barton Creek in Austin, from the overpass at Highway 71, all the way to downtown. Not all fun, but some very interesting segments. Unified that picture of West Austin in my mind. Barton Creek golf course was stunning, and there are some amazing sheer, limestone cliff-top (200 feet high or more above Barton Creek) homes.). More to come ...

I don't know what inspiration is, but if it finds me, it finds me working

January 4, 2011

Writing's always been a challenge, maybe that's why I'm doing it now.

Note: was reading Sartre's The Stranger out loud the other day (weirdly), and its language seems so effortless, flows so normal and natural (Side note: Is there anything better than reading to and being read to?). Seems like J.P. could have kept the precise, poignant descriptions flowing as long as his pen was on paper. I think that state of mastery is what we (at least I) imagine writing is - the unconscious On The Road inspired creative zone. At least novices, and apparently many masters, struggle. Notably, John McPhee, grandfather of literary journalism (see a piece of his in The New Yorker here (working on that - he's so popular, none are free on the NYer site)), says that each first draft of a story is excruciatingly painful - the birthpains of creating something out of nothing (see/hear the inimitable Juve sing about it below). Maybe effortless grace in writing is a fiction - certainly seems like none is coming out of any contemporary fiction (couldn't resist the dig). It's a craft, and we're artisans like any other.

As a becoming-better writer, here are a few revelations from the conscious study of the craft from someone just a little more than novice:

1) Know grammar. It really helps to know how to use the tools. Maybe this is obvious, but it wasn't to me before I took Magazine Editing with Jenn Rowe at the University of Missouri. Specifically helpful was understanding the use and structure of compound modifiers; they free language amazingly (though it's easy to overuse them horribly). And knowing where and how to use commas, etc. Surprisingly (maybe not), the knowledge helps smooth out clunky, forced sentences and paragraphs.

2) Know the precise flavor of the words used; only one source will do - The (Shorter) Oxford English Dictionary (the very definition of dictionary - really the first in one in the English language: took 70 years and some amazing crowdsourcing to complete! There will be a future post on it). The etymologies are fascinating, help you remember the word, and open up the realms, powers, poetry and immense interconnections of language.

3) Rewrite. In my limited professional writing life, I do close to 30 drafts for the magazine articles I've written. Don't mean to, but invariably that's what it takes to get competent, clear, accurate, somewhat-interesting prose. Hopefully, this draft number drops, but maybe not by much if what other professional writers say is true.

4) Use a thesaurus!

5) Know your subject, even if it's fiction. If you know it, the language flows, like a summertime's tubing down a shining-surfaced (compound modifier), willow-overhung (again) (maybe better to write Bald Cypress-overhung), springfed, Texas Hill Country river.

6) As Picasso said (paraphrased), "I don't know what inspiration is, but if it finds me, it finds me working."

Mas luego.

Happy New Year!

January 1, 2011

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!