Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I Miss My Moose!

Green glitter, lightly sprinkled on my desk, winks at me as I take a break from  preparations for my first-ever Winter Solstice party in San Francisco. This won’t be a huge rowdy party like those that drew dear friends from far and wide to the Salmon Sanctuary, and before that, to Taraette, the old family estate in Shrewsbury.

Still, this modest soup-and-salad supper will be festive because of the guests: My Family!

My trio of ceramic trees (we Druids love trees) is on display, and I even put up a tiny artificial tree, decorated with cherished ornaments. (See the Dec. 9 blog post.) The stockings are hung – the leopard boot with gold silk trim hangs on the entry door to my apartment while the white felt one with the dove and the peace symbol adorns the bookcase. I even put a tiny furry reindeer on the shelf in the bathroom.

You could say it’s more ‘Tee Hee” than “Ho Ho” around here, but I like it.

Two treasures are missing. When I opened the Christmas Box two weeks ago, I discovered that my Frosty the Snowman snow globe had exploded. Fortunately, Frosty – who was a least 30 years old -- was wrapped in several layers of bubble wrap and foam, so the wee bit of water and flecks of phony snow didn’t get out. However, and this is really unfortunate, someone else in the box also decided not to move to San Francisco intact.

My tiny moose, the one wearing four red high heels and lots of lipstick and with ornaments entwined in her antlers -- was in pieces. Lots of them. Maybe Frosty is to blame – it looked like an inside job – or maybe the moose was just another casualty, but this means No Moose and No Frosty this year.

I tried to replace them. When I took the car in today for an oil change, I learned they needed to do a 45,000-mile check up and that my wait would be three hours. Undaunted, I marched off through the Tenderloin (massage parlors, psychics, “theaters,” bars and, oddly, lots of rotten fruit on the sidewalk) to the glorious Union Square, where people ice skate in the shadow of palm trees. 

I don't skate. I do shop for moose toys, so I headed into Macy's -- what a crazy idea just four days before Christmas! In Macy’s in the “Wonderland Lane” or whatever they call it, I examined a dozen huge decorated trees, looking for a moose ornament. Everything was on sale already, so if I could find a moose, it likely would be reasonably priced. I did not find a moose. 

When I asked a sales clerk, he replied, “ No – no moose ornaments this year. So you remember that moose, eh?” I’m unsure if I remember “that” moose or some other moose – I don’t know where Gerry bought my moose ornament, and it’s been several years. Still, it’s the holidays, so I chirped, “I do! I remember that moose!” We shared a hearty laugh and I went off to look at snow globes. They were all too gilded, too formal. I retreated to the Frontera Grill on  Macy’s lower level and ate a chipotle chicken taco with fresh avocado.

When it came time to leave Macy’s, I couldn’t find the O’Farrell Street door. I meandered around for a while, and finally sent Gail a text: “Lost in Macy’s. Help!” As it happens, Gail was at Macy’s in St. Louis about the same time, and she swears she ran through the store yelling, “Marco!” and “Hooty hoot!” (????) but she never found me. Thankfully, I found the right door and got back to the car dealer.

Next I popped into Trader Joe’s for a bit of this and a few of those. Driving through Cole Valley, I panicked and realized I don’t have enough placemats for everyone coming to dinner tonight. Even though I had two packages of TJ”s frozen spinach lasagna in the car, I found a parking spot and darted into a couple of stores in search of modestly priced placemats. I didn’t find any. That’s okay. Walking back to the car, I remembered that even if I had extra placemats, I have only four chairs. Some people will just have to eat sitting on the couch.

When I got back home, I stopped to visit Earl, my doggy friend at the insurance agency on the corner.  His owner said he had some sad news – in about 10 minutes, Earl had gutted and filleted the Christmas dog toy I had bought and delivered to him yesterday. I explained I knew that would happen, but I was sure Earl had enjoyed ripping it up. Earl wagged his tail in agreement.

Once inside, I opened the mail. That's when some lovely green glitter tumbled off one of the Christmas cards and onto the desk. Good! Moose or no moose, can you ever have enough glitter in your life?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Winter Thoughts

Winter in San Francisco is wonderful!

One day, it's sunny and up to the mid-60s or higher; the next day it's barely 50 and sheets of rain are pounding the streets. Yesterday afternoon, the fog was so thick I could barely see the house across the street -- an old fire house, now divided into two posh townhouses. One is for sale: See www.8carmel.com. What a grand neighborhood I live in -- and as Joel pointed out, my view is better than that of the pricey townhouse.

Still, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and not just in the celebrated Union Square. Lights are up in many neighborhoods, wreaths hang on doors, carols ring out from sound systems at the grocery store, the dry cleaners and the coffee shops.      

Fully aware of the irony, before I moved to San Francisco I hauled five of my six boxes marked "Christmas" to the resale shop run by the National Council of Jewish Women. "People of all faiths shop here," the manager said when I asked if my merchandise was welcome. I left all of it.

Because I have little storage space in the apartment, I asked P&J to keep a box of my remaining Christmas items at their house. When I picked it up the other day, I noticed my ornaments were missing. I called, and we discovered they had been packed in a separate plastic bin, apart from the larger bin that held assorted small trees, candles and gift bags. I stopped by a day later to retrieve the small bin.

Back home, I spread all of the ornaments out on the table. Distant past mingled with more recent past -- ornaments from my childhood (antiques now, right?), ornaments Joel made in elementary school, ornaments crafted by friends, ornaments given to me as gifts long after I had stopped buying Christmas trees.

Some years ago, at the doctor's office for the third Christmas Eve in a row, the doctor mentioned he could not figure out why I kept getting horrid sinus and respiratory infections the same time every year. "I know you don't have a real tree in the house," he said, "because that would really set off your mold allergies."

Of course I had a real tree in the house, a big one, just like every year.


For the next five or nine or 13 Christmases, I set out my three groupings of small artificial pine trees, displayed a candle or two and added a cheery moose figurine to the scene, and that was that. While friends took days, even weeks, to decorate, I took about an hour. The years I traveled to San Francisco, I didn't even bother with that.

The day after my ornaments and I were reunited, I found myself examining tiny live trees at the hardware store in Cole Valley. They were, in a tiny way, beautiful -- full, lush, evergreen. They also started at $35 for a tree under 24 inches high. Then I remembered the mold allergies. Plus, what would keep the cat from nibbling on a branch or two and then throwing up on the rug?

I marched into the hardware store and for $15 bought a small fake tree, green, strung with little white lights. This tree is not what anyone would call lush, but nicer than the plastic Charlie Brown trees that Walgreen's sells. "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is my favorite holiday program, and I appreciate what Walgreen's is doing -- sort of. But this is nicer.

I burrowed through my big Christmas box, located a bright red napkin, spread it on the faux burled wood drum table, set up the tree and decorated. At first, I worried because I had neglected to buy ornament hooks, but many of my dear old ornaments had their original hooks attached. They are only a little rusty. Really.    

Under the tree, I placed a few larger ornaments -- some of them Peanuts themed -- and my favorite photo of Joel and Santa when Joel was just two months old. I added the baby Jesus from the manger set that I had as a child. The manger, alas, collapsed with age before I left St. Louis and all the other people are gone.  Most of them were missing a hand or foot -- in one case, a head.

Susan asked about Joseph just the other day. Regular readers may remember that Joseph from my childhood manger set (he cost 19 cents new) was employed for a time to help me sell the condo. At his post, packed in a Ziploc bag and positioned upside down in the big pot that held geraniums on my deck, Joseph collapsed in on himself, done in, no doubt, by icy weather. Sorry, Joseph.

On the top of my tiny tree I placed an angel given to me when I was 5 -- another antique, made by a friend of my parents. When she gave it to me, she made me promise to always put the angel on my Christmas tree, That was so long ago that my memory of it is in black and white.  Still, the promise has been kept this year.

Around the apartment, I set out my mother's small ceramic Christmas bells, "Joy" rendered in stained glass by a friend long gone, three small ceramic snow-covered trees made by an artist in Michigan, a tiny snow globe with a tinier polar bear inside, a scented red candle and a couple of Christmas-themed books.

That's really all I need, now or ever. 

I packed up much of what was left in the bigger Christmas bin and drove it to the owner of my neighborhood salon. Lison loves Christmas, loves "vintage" decorations and loves my salt-and-pepper naturally curly hair, so it was a no-brainer that the stuff should go to her. She was thrilled.

Two weeks ago, I wrapped gifts while listening to the "Glee" version of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Now that the place is decorated, I guess I need some Christmas music. It's too bad my old Muppets Christmas record with John Denver on it is gone.

I wonder if that's available on CD?   

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Raise that Glass!

Listen to Judith Viorst, author of 37 books and an expert on life, loss and love:

“There is a vast difference between youth and age,” says Viorst, 79. “When we are young, we think there are yes/no, black/white, on/off answers to the big questions of life. One way to understand the complexities of life is to understand that for many questions, the answer is all of the above.

“In other words, life is not about seeing the glass half empty or half full. The point is that you have a glass.”

Viorst told me that when I interviewed her last month for the St. Louis Jewish Light prior to her appearance at the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival. I had interviewed her before and would do it again in a heartbeat – she is charming, elegant and smart.

Today is a good day to remember that I do indeed have a glass.

Today is the day after I learned that my company has decided not to keep the promise they made when I retired in 2005 -- come January, they will charge me $580 a month for my health insurance.  

Today is a week after I learned that a friend has inflammatory breast cancer.

Today is a month after I learned that another friend is likely facing heart surgery.

Yes, today is the day to remember that the glass is not half empty or half full. The point, as Viorst says, is that we have a glass.

When I got the news yesterday afternoon about losing the free health insurance – a sword dangling over my head since I left the Post-Dispatch five years ago – I felt as though I had been body slammed by a frozen turkey. Minutes later, G and Amanda (my second son and his wonderful wife) pulled up, visiting from Pennsylvania, and in the back seat was Griffin, their smiling, curly haired 2-year-old.

Seated in my apartment, I said to Griffin, “ You are adorable.” He looked at me for a while and said, “YOU’RE adorable!” And I was. Am. For the rest of the afternoon, Griffin pronounced almost everything adorable – the fire truck I gave him, the server at the pizza place, the sales clerk at the Sports Basement and the slippers Griffin’s parents bought him.

How adorable is that?

Back at home yesterday, after I had waved “bye” to the adorable family, I was on line grousing with other Post-Dispatch retirees about our Thanksgiving “bonus.” Jan, who as a management retiree got cut off two years ago, put everything in perspective: “When faced with a ‘surprise’ such as the loss of paid premiums, I just ask myself if I'm sorry I left in 2005. The answer is always that it would have been nice if I'd left five years earlier.”

On Monday, Shannon Duffy and the Newspaper Guild will spring into action to start the process to try to force Lee Enterprises to give back what they never should have taken. Meanwhile, my insurance agent is looking for options to compare with what Lee is asking me to pay to maintain my insurance through them.

I went to bed mad, mentally clutching tightly to the money I have – about $46 in my wallet and more in savings and investments. I woke up in Fairy Godmother mode. I dressed and kidnapped someone who couldn’t justify spending money on herself to buy something she needed. I drove her to Macy’s and bought the modestly priced item for her.

“This is not about you,” I said when she thanked me. “This is about me. I have learned that clutching money gives way to fear, fear ushers in hysterics and hysterics divert me from bringing in more money. Buying something for you reminds me to have faith in the future.”

We stopped for coffee and guess what? We each had a glass -- and were grateful.

Monday, November 15, 2010

We All Have Tales to Tell

Armistead Maupin lives in Cole Valley, and Danny Glover has a house there. Janis Joplin used to hang out in the Irish pub and what is now a crepe house was once a comedy club where Robin Williams and Dana Carvey performed. Charles Manson and Jim Jones used to live nearby.

I learned all this and more from two men I met at the bus stop, waiting for the 37 to take me back up the hill to my apartment. The Cole Valley business district is two blocks west and six blocks north of my place. Typically, I walk there – it’s all down hill – and take the 37 back up.

Today was a big public transit day for me. Started out heading east on the 37 to see my internist, a follow-up on my recent bout of bronchitis and to find out the results of my annual blood work, which took place a week ago. Great news – every number was completely normal, and all the numbers have dropped in the last year. Thank you Cheerios, Oat Squares and homemade smoothies made with plain yogurt, a banana and frozen fruit!

That good news was so thrilling that I walked six blocks down a big hill, jumped on the M train and went to Stonestown Galleria, a suburban-style mall in the city. At Borders, I did a bit of homework, in preparation for a book I am about to ghostwrite. Had a peppermint mocha latte (decaf with skim milk and no whipped cream, of course). And I decided not to buy Maupin’s new book, “Mary Ann in Autumn,” the latest of his famous tales of the city.

I downloaded in on my Kindle when I got home -- and am zipping through it!

Walking around Borders, looking at the many tables and shelves filled with books, I wondered how they make a go of it anymore when even a book lover like me refuses to buy books. To get home, I took the inbound M train to Van Ness and then had to catch an outbound N train to get to Cole Valley. This sounds confusing, but it wasn’t, and on the ride in I met a lovely young nursing student who was reading a biography of Ida B. Wells, the pioneering journalist, early civil rights activist and feminist. When I saw the book in the young woman’s hand, I wanted to ask if she was studying to be a journalist, but decided to stay silent.

I talk to strangers all the time – and learn marvelous things about my new city – but for some reason, I stayed quiet. “Excuse me,” she said seconds later. “May I ask you something personal?” I said sure, and we had a lively discussion about eyebrows. We both have palest of pale eyebrows and we both draw them on in the morning. She liked how mine looked better than she liked her own, and wondered what product I use. We started there and ended up talking about journalism and then her desire to be a nurse.

In Cole Valley, I poked my head in the open window of the hair salon I go to and said, “I’ll have a cheeseburger with double pickles and a Diet Coke.” That got a laugh from my startled stylist and her client. Apparently no one has ever done that before! Then I popped into the magnificent Cole Valley Hardware and bought three more Christmas presents. Saturday, they had a huge sale -- 20 percent off everything – and I should have made these purchases then, but better late than miss the opportunity altogether. 

Then I headed for the bus stop, where I joined a lively discussion with two men and a woman sitting on the bench. The woman left soon after to board a bus headed in another direction. When the men learned I was new in town, they began to regale me with tales of the neighborhood. What a lovely way to start a new week!

Last week rocked – first, I heard Placido Domingo sing the lead in “Cyrano de Bergerac” at the San Francisco Opera and then spent four days with Gerry and Tom, in town to visit Patricia and Joel. Tom’s brother Mark and his wife, Cheryl, were here too.

One day, Susan (Patricia’s mom and my friend) played hooky from work and met Gerry and me at the de Young Museum, where we saw the second of two exhibits of treasures from the Musee d”Orsay in Paris, which is closed for renovation. Loved staring at these masterpieces, especially Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” One evening, with Martia and Michael (Patricia’s brother and his wife) and the girls along for the fun, we revisited the scene of the rehearsal dinner held last June the night before The Wedding at the excellent Pauline’s Pizza. On Saturday, we drove to the glorious wooden deck overlooking the sea at Fort Funston, which I first wrote about here on January 1. (Read it now if you missed it then.)  

Tomorrow I get my hair cut, Wednesday I have a massage, Thursday my dentist (who is expecting her first child – two of them!) finishes putting in the new crown and Friday I will have coffee with an old friend from St. Louis who moved here years ago. Saturday, I may go to an art show in Crockett, a town about 30-45 minutes away. A man who calls himself The Peace Guy – I met him at an open-air market across from the Ferry Building when Gail was here – lives in Crockett, and I still think I may need to buy one of his sweatshirts.

Those are my tales from the city this week, with a nod of humility to Mr. Maupin!    

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Gone to the Dentist -- and the Dogs

“Everyone my age is being diagnosed with a hernia,” said a 92-year-old friend of mine.

I was ready.

“Everyone my age is being told they need crowns on their teeth,” I replied.

I spent two hours at the dentist this morning, getting one tooth roughed up and ready for a crown. Fine. Worse things have been done to me. Besides, this dentist’s chair delivers a light back massage during treatment, so if you can forget that two people have dozens of instruments in your mouth, you can feel your upper back and shoulders relax.

More good news: Halloween photos of my Earl, favorite dog – he works at the insurance agency on the corner by my apartment – are now available, showing Earl in both his costumes. In one, he is sporting a skeleton outfit. In the other, Earl wears a Hawaiian shirt with a small lei around his neck.  These costumes suited him well, and besides, he did not want to wear the hat with a big spider sewn on it. He made that clear the day he modeled it for me.

In a Facebook post about Earl some weeks ago, I misstated his lineage. (He has forgiven me.) Earl is a perfect blend of German short hair and Plott hound, which is also known as the “ninja warrior of dogdom.” No, really.

That said, I’m not sure Earl is up for the secretive nature of the ninja. He spends a lot of time smiling and looking out the top half of the door to the insurance agency. He greets people and other dogs as well. When he sees me, Earl wiggles and tries to lick my glasses and extends his paw.

Okay, I have bought his love – with Milkbones. But he seems to enjoy seeing me even when I don’t have treats in my pocket. One day, as I stood waiting across the street for a bus, Earl stretched way up, craning his neck to keep me in sight until I waved and got on the bus. That’s a real friend.

After the Novocain wore off from the dentist, I treated myself to a latte at Starbucks (the coffee shop is located inside my grocery – no way to avoid it!) and a package of dark chocolate-covered graham crackers. “I want these,” I said to the barista. “After all, I’ve been to the dentist.” She agreed a reward was in order. Great graham crackers!

When I got home, I clarified a few points in one newspaper story I turned in yesterday and got organized to submit an invoice for an article that will run in Sunday’s Post-Dispatch. (Look for a travel story about shopping in the Upper and Lower Haight neighborhoods!) I ate my graham crackers. I poured myself a Hansen’s Tangerine/Lime diet soda and punctuated the citrus taste with a slice of lime fresh from a friend’s tree. (Thanks, Sue!)

Now I’m going to lie around in my outstanding shirt that honors Tim Lincecum. (Yes, Cardinal Nation, I have committed post-season treason -- and boy was it fun! What’s not to love about these lively misfits?) And I’m going to read as I wait for another outstanding sunset. Love the photo I took last night looking out my window at the Marin headlands and the open sea! (See below.) If I could paint it, I would.

Life is good.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Simple Pleasures: T-shirts and Salads

“This is the best salad I’ve ever had in my life,” Gail said to the server at Park Chow. It was the first salad she had in San Francisco on Day One of her recent visit, but she was plenty excited about it.

“The best salad you’ve ever had – that’s high praise,” replied the server.

“Okay,” said Gail, “It’s the best salad I’ve ever had that I can remember.”

Fair enough.

I would like to tell you what was in that salad, but I can’t remember. Wait! Yes! Three kinds of fresh beets, some cheese, some pistachios and some greens. It was a fine salad indeed.

Gail spent the first three days of her trip to the San Francisco Bay Area in Livermore with her friend Sue. The two of them drove to San Francisco on Monday, and we all had lunch at the Indian Oven in the Lower Haight (terrific spicy Indian pickles and chicken tikka masala) followed by ice cream at Three Twins. 

After Sue headed back to work, Gail and I trolled the shops in the Upper Haight. She came here to buy t-shirts, and she bought one at the first shop we entered – Positively Haight Street, where owner James Preston sells his masterfully designed tie-dye shirts and pants. After covering both sides of the four-block neighborhood that pays tribute to the Summer of Love, we headed to Park Chow in the Inner Sunset for dinner and then I dropped off Gail at her in-town abode.

Day Two started at the Sports Basement, my favorite store for discount “outdoorsy” wear. Gail found an exact replica there of my fleece vest and bought it because I have refused for three years to give her mine. The vest was on sale – as were some sandals she bought. Next we stopped at the warming hut and shop at Crissy Field, which is practically under the Golden Gate Bridge. Gail bought a t-shirt at the hut, which is part of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. The picnic grounds and hiking trail on the waterfront are part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Next we were off to Sausalito. The sun was shining and the air was warm, so it was a pleasure to stroll through town, popping into interesting shops. We especially liked Out of Hand, which featured craft items by local artists. Elsewhere, Gail bought at least one t-shirt (by then, I had lost track), a sweatshirt and a tote bag. We stopped for coffee, where I sent an email to a friend to say I was thinking of a ferry trip to Sausalito with him back in 1982. “You’re sexting,” Gail shrieked. “No,” I said. “I emailed him.” We had lunch at Piccolo Teatro – a terrific BLT and another great salad, though I can’t remember what was in it.

Tuesday evening, we picked up Susan, my friend and my daughter-in-law’s mom, and the three of us went to Zuni for dinner. Judy Rodgers, a former Kirkwoodian, owns the award-winning restaurant. The room was festive, the food was great (loved the bread salad that came with the roasted chicken) and Susan and I each downed a delicious cocktail made with Prosecco and elderflower syrup. We enjoyed some nostalgic talk about the good old days in journalism, when we all were younger.

On Day Three, Gail and I took the Muni train to the famous Ferry Building. Before we got inside, we browsed the tables and booths set up by various artisans. Gail bought some lovely handmade jewelry. The Ferry Building is filled with shops, many of them food-related, and restaurants. Highlights were pistachio macaroons by Miette (“Macaroons are the new cupcakes,” says Gail), the chance to meet a $26 linen tea towel with a majestic whale design (but who needs a $26 tea towel?) and sitting outside on a bench watching the ferry come and go as we split a fancy cheese sandwich on crusty bread.      
Then we caught the F trolley and went to Fisherman’s Wharf. The best part for me there was watching the sea lions jockey for position on a series of docks, growling and barking and shoving one another into the water. Gail found the sweatshirt of her dreams and also bought a purse. I considered assorted Giants t-shirts at the NFL sports shop (yes they carry baseball merchandise too) but rejected them all as too orange or too black.

That experience made me realize that the Giants shirt I really wanted was a gray one I had seen on display at Goodfellas, a head shop in the Upper Haight. The shirt has a picture of pitcher Tim Lincecum and his now-famous fine expletive. I wondered aloud if I am too old for that shirt -- and then remembered I hate wondering if I am too old for anything. Ever.

We settled in for Game One of the World Series with a pizza, beer, diet soda and fancy caramel corn from Miette, which they were pushing as peanuts and upscale crackerjacks. We fell for it, and were not disappointed. No salads were involved, as I recall, though there may have been some ice cream. The Giants won after an odd first inning.

On Thursday – Day Four of Gail’s visit – we hit spots we had missed earlier and backtracked to a few places. We started at Kara’s Cupcakes in the Marina, the breakfast of choice for people who don’t have macaroons at hand. (I liked the Fleur de Sel.) We popped in and out of neighborhood shops, including one where the proprietor spent way too long trying to convince me to sign up for her craft classes, even after I told her I have a button that reads, “I Don’t Do Crafts.”

I don’t, and I am not starting now. To make the woman feel better, Gail had a lengthy chat with her about felting, whatever that is, and bought a felt makeup case with a peace symbol on it. A sign in the window at the Marine Layer store on Chestnut says “Come in and touch our shirts,” so we did. Soft! Lovely fabric, great designs – especially the one with the person lying in a hammock strung between the two towers of the Golden Gate Bridge. But these are pricey shirts, so we left them in the store.

We did a drive-by of the Painted Ladies – a famous row of Victorian houses on Steiner Street in Alamo Square. We popped into The Other Shop, a retro resale place on Divisadero. The store called Life, where I bought my marvelous fog-colored purse, was finally open (this was our third attempt), so Gail browsed there and then I dropped her off at Mickey’s Monkey, another retro resale shop, while I drove around the block, as parking was not available. Then we drove through part of the Mission, but managed not to find Tartine, a bakery Gail had read about.

We had lunch at Zazie’s in Cole Valley, one of my favorite places. We split a sandwich of braised figs, prosciutto and goat cheese on grilled bread and a spinach salad with roasted pears, cheese crumbles and walnuts. Next we doubled back to Goodfellas, where I bought the Lincecum shirt (may I stay forever young – sing it, Joanie) and then went to my apartment to watch Game Two of the World Series. During the near-total rout (the Giants won big), we dined on empanadas. This morning I picked up Gail and drove her to the airport.

Four days of fun sightseeing, t-shirts, sweatshirts, too many sweets and more than one world-class salad. I’m exhausted!             

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Boosts for the Body and for the Mind

Today I sat reading work-related emails, the kind that disappoint, emails that indicated material I need will not necessarily arrive when I need it. Annoyed, I ran out the door on a whim to catch two buses to see “The Social Network,” a fictionialized tale about the founder(s) of Facebook.

Why not? I’m on Facebook. More importantly, Aaron Sorkin wrote the movie, and I am eternally loyal to the man who brought us “The West Wing” and “Sports Night.” Even “Studio 60,” for a while.

True story: Aaron Sorkin once sent me a blue paper clip through an intermediary, probably because though the window of opportunity was long past, he learned I was still whining that he had never licensed “West Wing” bobbleheads. That was one of the finest ideas I’ve ever had – imagine a bobblehead Leo, a Toby, a C.J. Imagine a bobblehead Josh! (And yes, I am a fan of “The Good Guys,” though I hear there are not many of us.)

Anyway, the movie was vintage Sorkin in style and quite a story, besides. I was surprised to discover that he also is in the movie. When you go, watch for his cameo role. 

The movie was fun, and here is what I learned on the bus: “Pick your battles. You will never win if you fight every fight.” No actual battle was taking place at the time. The bus driver was simply was sharing his wisdom with a passenger who was agreeing completely. I also enjoyed watching a one-year-old display his entire repertory of adorable facial expressions. Those of us seated across from him were all mimicking the baby’s expressions. Soon, half the people on the bus were laughing – either with us or at us.

Getting away today also took my mind off fretting about impending dental care (and the high cost for that) and the dreaded annual mammogram, which is coming up soon. Last year, that test did not go well. I have no reason to believe that this year will be anything but fine. But I am more on edge than usual about it. How on edge? Yesterday, the checker at the grocery asked if I wanted to make a contribution to breast cancer. I replied, “I have already donated my left breast.” Together, we packed my grocery bags in silence.

Thank goodness some good things have happened, as well. On Monday I went to the eye doctor for that annual exam. After the various tests, the doctor announced, “Your vision has improved.” I was shocked. A body part that chose to improve? Get better, all on its own with no huffing and puffing at the gym or restricting chocolate required on my part? I questioned the test results, but she insisted. “You are less near-sighted than you were at your last exam and even the one before that,” said the doctor.

Another boost, this one for the mind, arrived in an email not long ago. The note was from a woman who had “shadowed” me at work in the newsroom one day when she was in high school.  Here is part of what she wrote: “I have to say that day changed my life, in more than one way. Driving to see you was the very first time I'd ever drove downtown, I'd never been inside of an office building and was just in awe of the whole thing. And there you were, animated as all get out, confidently churning out story after story, calling people and writing everything up like it was magic and you were the master magician.”

She continues, “I realized that I had met someone amazing and had seen an alternate glimpse of what my life could look like.” In college, the young woman found herself changing. “I remembered you being so bold and how it didn't even occur to you not to do something you wanted to. I wanted to be like that too. I evolved.” The young woman then described some of the paths she has taken. 

Today, she makes a point of telling people that she is awesome. “I do think that's true, and I really think a lot of it is because from that small bit of time I spent with you back in St. Louis,” she writes. “Thank you for being an inspiration to me.”


I wrote back to say that she is awesome, and that she had more to do with it than I did. Still, how lovely that she took time to write. Hearing “thanks” is always appreciated, right?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

The last time Rick Ankiel, Edgar Renteria and I spent time together, we were all part of Cardinal Nation. They wore the Redbirds’ uniform; I was dressed in one of several Cardinal tee shirts, my traditional summer wardrobe for decades.

Tonight, we were together again at Game 2 of the National League Western Division playoffs, when the Braves beat the Giants 5-4 in the 11th inning. Renteria is now a Giant. Ankiel plays for the Braves. I live in San Francisco, and my Cardinals tee shirts are on a shelf in the closet.

What a game! Sandoval and Posey collided, Cox got thrown out for protesting an ump's call too vociferously, a batter got plonked and a pitcher dropped to the ground in pain. All 11 innings provided some excitement. In contrast, Thursday night’s game was all about Lincecum, the tough young pitcher who looks like a Goth skateboarder. The Giants won that one. 1-0, in a fast, business-like game.

“That’s the problem with post-season games,” I remarked at the small party I attended. “You pit the best against the best and everyone is so good that not much happens and the score stays low.” On the other hand, post-season play is full of passion, and occasionally there are exciting bench-clearing brawls. Also, the winning team tends to hop a lot after the last strike is called, and that’s always fun to watch.

I grew up listening to baseball -- not watching it. My dad and my grandpa were longtime Cardinal fans. On Sundays, my grandparents would come to our house for dinner. In summer, Daddy did the barbecuing while my grandpa worked in his vegetable garden in our big yard. The transistor radio was always tuned to the game. My job was to deliver beer to the two of them, and I often pulled up a lawn chair and listened to the games.

Those were the days when Bob Gibson pitched both games in a double header and thought nothing of it. Watching Lincecum pitch all nine innings Thursday night, I wondered if he knows that. (Bet he does.) Those were also the days when Daddy would crank up the grill on the Weber kettle as high as it would go, so the chicken was far from the fire.

“Joe,” my mom would call out from the kitchen door, “how’s that chicken coming along?”

“We’re only in the fifth inning, Bonnie,” he’d call back. “This chicken has a ways to go.”

I rooted for the Cardinals all through high school and college. When I married and had a child, the Redbirds and I drifted apart. Years later, when I was working as the restaurant critic at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, an editor sent me to the ballpark one night to taste the “new” food available there – quesadillas and turkey legs. In order to make my deadline, I could only stay for half the game, but I had a great seat, down in front.

In the batter’s box was a fellow named Mark McGwire, well-muscled poetry in motion. I sat there, a turkey leg and quesadilla growing cold, and watched the game. “I know baseball,” I thought. “I remember loving this game.”

Memories of my dad and my grandpa swept through me. I leaped to my feet and screamed right along with the crowd. From that night on, I was a born-again Cardinal fan. I even collected books on baseball, guided by Post scribe Bernie Miklasz. (My favorite   is “The Glory of Their Times” by Lawrence Ritter. I’m also a big fan of Roger Angell’s writing.)

For a decade or so, I watched or listened to all the games (with Debbie and Bill or both Gails and also on my own), went to the stadium whenever anyone offered tickets and bought a new Cardinals shirt every season. More recently, I spent baseball season writing books, earning money to supplement my tiny pension. Once again, I lost track of the rhythm of the games.

This year, the Cardinals got little attention from me. I sold the condo at the end of April and moved in June. Oh, I saw a couple of games on television and tuned in on the radio from time to time. I even exchanged a few emails about whether Tony had actually smiled in the course of a game. But I was not engaged.

Moving, unpacking and settling in here all took time over the summer. A glorious rush of freelance work also rolled in, so leisure was at a premium. At last, I had finished all my assigned work and found myself waiting on new work. On Sunday, I watched the Giants beat the Padres, make it to the playoffs. Suddenly, I was hooked.

I’ve been to just one Giants game, several years ago here in San Francisco, when they played the Cardinals. We sat on the third-base line, where I did my best to singlehandedly cheer on Scott Rolen. I was wearing red, lots of red, in a sea of people clad in orange and black. They couldn’t see my red, because over it I had on a sweatshirt and a windbreaker.

At one point I turned to the man next to me, a man I had never met, and I said, “This is not how we do baseball in St. Louis. In St. Louis, we wear shorts and tee shirts and wrap bandanas around our heads and necks for sweat rags and we broil in the heat.”

“You think this is cold?” he asked, his words muffled by his orange and black scarf. “You should have been at games at Candlestick Park. Now, that was cold.” When Barry Bonds hit a home run, I stood up and applauded. The man next to me was impressed. “Hey,” I said, “we Cardinals’ fans know excellence when we see it.”

Now the excellent San Francisco Giants are battling to go the distance in post-season. I’m not ready to wear orange and black -- I had enough of that color combination at Webster Groves High School. But I am going along for the ride.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Culture with a Side of Tie Dye

Standing outside last night, waiting for my ride, I admired my blue and purple tie-dye socks. They look great with my sturdy Mary Janes (thick soles, padded toes) because so much of the socks show. A vision drifted through my mind’s eye, a vision of black Merrell pumps with a little heel, actual grown-up lady shoes. Not slut-on-a-stick shoes, to be sure, but grown up all the same, Merrell pumps with a little heel that I had found for 75 percent off at Dillard’s one fine July day.

Where are those shoes?

Not that my tie-dye socks would go all that well, but I could use shoes here like that from time to time. I gave away a lot of shoes before I moved, but surely I wouldn’t have parted  with Merrell pumps that had cost so little. Later, when I got home, I found the shoes in a box high in the closet. Once I had determined that I needed sturdy shoes, shoes with a strap, shoes that would get me on and off buses and trains, I must have stashed the Merrells up high.

I sit on buses and trains, making my way around San Francisco, and I look at shoes. Young women wear flip-flops and flirty sandals and grown-up lady shoes and stylish boots and yes, even slut-on-a-stick shoes. On the buses and the trains. Women my age wear sturdy shoes. I’m fine with that. But now, especially if I get a ride and lots of walking is not required, I can wear my Merrell pumps with the little heel. Maybe I’ll even pair them with some tie-dye socks. No one here cares what you wear – you are free to be yourself. Love that!

In truth, shoes have not been much on my mind this week. No – this is Theater Week for me, a culture spree. Tuesday night I saw “Compulsion” at the Berkeley Rep with Mandy Patinkin. On its way to Broadway, the show is based on the life of Meyer Levin, the man who helped get “The Diary of Anne Frank” published and who had a gentlemen’s agreement with her father, Otto Frank, to write Anne’s story for the stage. The agreement went sour, Levin grew bitter and lived much of the rest of his life in a litigious rage. Powerful stuff.

The cast -- three people, two of whom play several roles, was terrific, and it was great to see Patinkin in this meaty role, displaying so much emotional range. I am a fan. I’ve seen several of his concerts, the one-man shows and also a wonderful concert with Patti LuPone. I even met him once. Steven Woolf took me to a concert at Edison, and to the reception afterward. Steven said to Patinkin, “I’m Steve Woolf. I knew you at Juilliard.” Patinkin nodded in recognition and they spoke a moment. I was next. “Hi, I said. “Steve Woolf knew you at Juilliard and I know Steve. I am delighted to meet you!” Patinkin laughed.   

Last night I attended a performance by Word for Word, a performing arts company founded in 1993. The company stages works of fiction, old and new, with simple sets and full costumes, using the author’s words. All of them. If the line in the story reads, “Laura laughed merrily,” the actor laughs and adds, “Laura laughed merrily.” It not only works, it reveals depth in the text that a reader may miss.

Last night’s show was two stories from Elizabeth Strout’s book “Olive Kitteridge,” a series of stories about people’s lives in a small town in Maine. The buzz on the book has been great – it won a Pulitzer Prize – and I’ve been meaning to read it. The Word for Word actors brought the people to life beautifully, poignantly, acerbically. As they drew me into the action, I also found myself captivated by Strout’s writing, writing full of emotional honesty and wisdom. Kindle, here I come! I must read this book.

Tonight at A.C.T., I will see “Scapin,” Bill Irwin’s riff on Moliere’s play. In October 1992, I reviewed Irwin’s show at Edison Theatre for the Post-Dispatch: “After watching Bill Irwin perform, you walk out of the theater acutely aware of your knees and your feet and your elbows and your mouth. Irwin has great flexibility in all those spots, and your own body starts to mimic what you've just seen on stage,” I wrote. “Suddenly your mind snaps the rest of you back under control. You pout a minute, and then decide to go home and play with cooked spaghetti - something else you've just seen on stage.''  I’m looking forward to the show.  

I’m also looking forward to “Howl,” the new movie about Allen Ginsberg and the obscenity trial in 1957 that resulted after Lawrence Ferlinghetti published Ginsberg’s poem “Howl.” I’ve been enamored with the beat poets since college, and now I live where it all happened – must see this movie! (Bonus: St. Louisan Jon Hamm is in it.) In my book “Eating St. Louis: The Gateway City’s Unique Food Culture,” Jack Parker, longtime owner of O’Connell’s, tells a great story about Allen Ginsberg. If you missed it, here it is:

One cold night in February, deep in the mid-1960s, business was slow at O’Connell’s Irish Pub, then at 454 North Boyle Avenue in Gaslight Square. A total of twelve people had dropped in over a four-hour period. Then the door opened and in came Russell Durgin, a professor of English and drama at Country Day School.

He brought a friend—Allen Ginsberg.

Ginsberg (1926–1997), should you be unaware—and you shouldn’t—was a man of many facets, among them an iconoclastic poet and activist. The Allen Ginsberg Trust defines him this way: “Spiritual seeker, founding member of a major literary movement, champion of human and civil rights, photographer and songwriter, political gadfly, teacher and co-founder of a poetics school.”

“Durgin had befriended Ginsberg in New York a few years earlier,” recalls Jack Parker, longtime owner of O’Connell’s and now proprietor of Jack Parker’s Fine Art and Antiques, located above the tavern. “This was when the Bohemians were fading out in the Village, when City Lights Bookstore was big in San Francisco, when people were talking about Jack Kerouac’s On the Road—all that was going on,” says Parker.

“Ginsberg talked for a while about the old days in the Village. Then he sat down in front of the fireplace—we had a great fireplace—and took off his shoes. He sat in a lotus position, and he got out little bells, finger cymbals. And then—Allen Ginsberg recited from Howl.” (The famous first line goes: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness . . .”)

Parker pauses, remembering. He smiles. “It was a wonderful evening.”

Friday, September 24, 2010

Four Days, Four Poems

In Jonathan Franzen’s new novel “Freedom,” a character moves to a new city. He walks, exhilarated, through the streets. Franzen describes the character’s heightened sense of awareness like this: “Each encounter was like a poem he instantly memorized.”

I get that. I do that, too – take mental snapshots of new experiences, unexpected moments, here in San Francisco. Following are some of the snapshots, the poems, from this week.

Just got home from a hike to the Bonita Point Lighthouse in the Marin headlands, the entrance to San Francisco Bay. Once a month, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy holds a hike on the night of the full moon so participants may watch the sun set over the ocean and the moon rise over the city.

Wow – all this, and the night was downright balmy, with no wind and no fog! Everything about the evening was beautiful, though not as poetic as it might have been. The hike from the trailhead is just half a mile, on paved road, part of which is relatively steep. Up until this very morning, visitors who made the trek were allowed to cross a suspension bridge to the actual lighthouse and to stand there at the edge of the continent. This morning, the bridge was declared rusty and unsafe for passage, so instead we hung out just this side of the bridge, admittedly still quite close to the edge of the continent.

When we gathered in the parking lot – maybe 25 of us – a male red-tailed hawk (so I was told) was preening itself on top of an electrical pole. The bird’s mate was perched high in a tree not far away. After the hike, driving back to the main road from the trailhead, I saw six white-tailed deer and a morbidly obese raccoon. In between was the stunning sunset and moonrise.

Also, we heard a great tale about another tour group that emerged one sunny afternoon from a tunnel in the hillside near the lighthouse to find not one, not two, but 10 turkey vultures sitting in a row on a the fence that runs along the trail. One wag quipped, “Must have been a tour for seniors…”

Last night, I attended the infamous “Beach Blanket Babylon,” a musical review that pokes fun of local and national leaders and celebrities. The concept for the show dates back to 1974 and apparently it has garnered rave reviews ever since. (In 1983, Queen Elizabeth saw it, and she loved it.) Ten talented actors zip nonstop through outrageous song parodies and short skits, all while wearing outlandish wigs and high headgear that accentuates the musical barbs. I was lucky to be there with nine people celebrating the birthday of a friend, and we all laughed throughout the show. Fun!

Wednesday night was not fun – or funny. Here’s the background: Placido Domingo will sing the title role in “Cyrano de Bergerac” at the San Francisco Opera this season. No single seats are being sold for the run; you have to buy season tickets. Okay -- I selected a series of three shows and bought seats way up in the balcony, because I want to hear Domingo in person.

Wednesday evening I took the train to the Opera House, went to the free pre-show lecture and settled into my seat for the performance, which was Massenet’s “Werther.” Right away, I couldn’t hear very well. It was really warm, up there by the ceiling. I found the set annoying. And the story, set in Germany in the 1700s, struck me as silly.

During the pause between the first and second scene, I asked the guy sitting next to me – a longtime subscriber -- what he thought. “I can’t really hear them, and that’s unusual,” he said. He also agreed that it seemed unusually warm. And he laughed, nodding, when I said I thought the characters were all crazy. I left at intermission, and I was not alone.

By the time I got to the street, I was alone. I guess the others got into their cars and drove away. My plan was to catch a taxi. In the first 10 minutes, I saw only three taxis on the very busy street where I was standing in front of the opera house. I called a cab company and was told a cab would come get me. None did. After waiting 15 minutes, I called back. The taxi company put me on hold and never answered. I considered calling a family member to rescue me, but I have not previously flunked cab-catching. I have found taxis in the rain in New York City and in an ice storm in Washington, D.C. I was determined to find a cab – and after 15 more minutes of standing around, I did.  

The next day, Susan told me that it’s not unusual to have trouble getting a cab. The city, she said, does not issue enough taxi medallions, and that’s how current cab drivers like it. I don’t like it. This is an international city. Finding a taxi outside the opera house on a busy street should not be a challenge. Instead, cab drivers should be fighting over those who sneak out at intermission.

Another transportation dilemma – somewhat related – sprung up Tuesday night, when I attended my first meeting of the Bookworms Nature Book Club at the California Academy of Science, which is in Golden Gate Park. We read John McPhee’s excellent “Assembling California” (in the book, McPhee calls this area “lithospheric driftwood”) and the meeting was lively, just as meetings were with my old Friends of Tyson Nature Book Club.

I took two buses to get to the meeting, which was actually three bus rides from my apartment -- but I like walking to Cole Valley to catch a bus or train there, so I did. When I got to the museum, I asked the woman at the desk about taking a taxi home. “Cabs can’t find our back door here in the park, and our front door will be locked when you leave,” she said. “If you call for a taxi, you will wait at least 30 minutes – and that’s if they can find you.” (Foreshadowing!)

Resigned to taking three buses home – and a little uneasy about tromping round the park at night -- I walked to the stop with a fellow book club member whose car was parked just past the bus shelter. She offered to wait at the stop with me in the dark, deserted park, but a bus arrived seconds after we arrived. Good thing. The sign at the shelter noted that the next bus would arrive in 30 minutes.  Next month, I will drive to the meeting, and park in the park – though the Academy website warns that cars parked in the park are often vandalized. That risk beats dealing with a bus that rarely runs and taxis that aren’t available.
Franzen’s character learned, as have I, that not every encounter – or poem – is beautiful. Still, I love where I live and I even love that when I get on a bus or a train or the rapid transit system, I am never entirely sure that I will actually get where I am going. That’s exciting!

More on Franzen: His brother, Bob, was in my graduating class in 1966 at Webster Groves High School. We had over 600 people in the class, and I did not know Bob Franzen. However, Jonathan Franzen (Class of 1977) and I have something odd in common. We both are on the Webster Groves High School Wall of Fame (see http://tiny.cc/chcjf). Ever since I read Franzen’s “The Corrections,” I’ve been suggesting (half seriously) that Webster take me off the wall, as Franzen deserves a bigger space. He’s such a gifted writer and a compelling storyteller!

On that note, I am curling up with my Kindle and reading until I finish “Freedom.”  

Friday, September 17, 2010

Sweet September Vacation

Just finished a whirlwind three-and-a-half day vacation in my new home town. The occasion? A visit from Beth, one of the Five Favorite Female Friends. What did we do?

More to the point, what didn’t we do?

We didn’t do a lot of the common touristy things because Beth has been to San Francisco before, but we filled the time with adventures, misadventures and some good food along the way.

Before I summarize our itinerary, I have to say one huge highlight was collecting my lifetime national park pass, a privilege for people 62 and older. You pay $10 – and you have to pay in person, at a park – and then you get in free at most national parks, forests, refuges, monuments and recreation areas. Of course, I still help support the parks with my membership in the National parks Conservation Association (www.npca.org), but I am delighted to have my lifetime pass!

A word is also in order about an uncommon number of wildlife sightings -- and no, I am not referring to the gentleman who took a liking to Beth at a cafe we visited. The smallest creature we saw was a tiny snail hauling a beautiful green and white shell across a hiking trail. On the same trail, we saw three wooly worms (Pyrrharctia isabella), moths in their larval stage. These critters are said to predict winter weather, and Beth read the color bands as an indication of a mild winter. (Wait -- aren’t all winters in San Francisco mild?) We also saw a tiny lizard basking in a wee bit of sun, two bunnies and a six-point buck. Raptors wheeled overhead all the while. Later that day, we saw another deer – a doe – and a chipmunk.

Here’s a breakdown of our time together.  


  • Showed off the apartment and my spectacular view.

  • Walked to Cole Valley for a delicious Il Sol pizza at Bambino’s, which is run by a guy named Spiro.

  • Tapped on the window at my hair salon to show Lison, my stylist, how cool my hair looks in the new cut she crafted.

  • Walked to the Upper Haight to pop in and out of stores and enjoy the parade.

  • Took the Muni train to Ocean Beach to stand in awe of the sea.

  • Relaxed at the Java Beach Café -- it was cold, standing in awe on that dune!

  • Took the train and a bus home for a simple supper.


  • Stopped at Patricia and Joel’s house for a quick tour and to pick up a spare backpack and walking stick.

  • Drove to the Tennessee Valley Trail in Marin County.

  • Hiked 1.7 miles to the sea (we sat on a piece of driftwood, watching cormorants as they watched us) and back.

  • Stopped in downtown Mill Valley for coffee and a thick lemon cookie.

  • Shopped in some of the stores, including one with unusual merchandise from India. Impulse purchase: Rhubarb jam!

  • Drove to Muir Woods and meandered among thousand-year-old towering redwoods.

  • Headed for Stinson Beach, where we waved at the waves and enjoyed a wonderful garlic-festooned dinner at The Sand Dollar.

  • Made a U-turn to enjoy some frozen yogurt at Swirl in Mill Valley, where on Wednesdays if you guess the price of your yogurt (sold by the ounce), you get it free. That didn’t happen.

  • Relaxed back at the apartment and made plans for the next day.


  • Walked to Cole Valley to catch the train downtown to Gump’s, a home furnishings store founded in 1861 (www.gumps.com). I’ve been buying things (small things) from Gump’s via catalog for 35 years, but had never been to the store.

  • Walked a few blocks to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to see the wonderful “Calder to Warhol” exhibit. People were lined up on the sidewalk to get in – on a Thursday morning!

  • Enjoyed beverages (including delicious pure apple juice) on the rooftop sculpture garden at SFMOMA.

  • Took the train to the Lower Haight, where we munched on rib tips at Memphis Minnie’s barbecue joint, a favorite of mine.

  • Stopped in some of the neighborhood boutiques and galleries. Oops! I bought a purse.

  • Took the train and a bus back home to get ready for dinner.

  • Joined Susan for wine, Smiling Noodles and ginger cake with pumpkin ice cream at Park Chow, which buys from local farms.

  • Susan took us on a spontaneous -- and hilarious -- tour of Golden Gate Park in the Dark, made all the more enchanting by thick fog. We couldn’t see a thing!  Highlights were a baseball game in progress in the Presidio in spite of the fog and another look at Robin Williams’ former home in Sea Cliff.

As I write this, Beth is on the plane, heading back to St. Louis with a locally grown Gravenstein apple in her purse. Memories are souvenirs, too, and I think she took home a lot of fond ones. As for me – what a great vacation! So glad to spend it with Beth.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Easy as A, B, C

A is for Allende (Isabel). B is for Beer (Blue Moon). C is for Cut (Hair).

Easy as A, B, C – whoa, I hear a Jackson Five tune coming on!

Here’s the scoop, starting at the very beginning. Isabel Allende, a favorite author of mine, spoke last night at the University of San Francisco’s Center for the Pacific Rim. She is on a book tour, promoting her latest novel, “Island Beneath the Sea.” Susan, my friend and Patricia’s mom, asked a few weeks ago if I wanted to go with her.

Oh yes! I am a longtime fan. Plus, I have reviewed a handful of Allende’s books for the Post-Dispatch, among them “'Ines of My Soul,” her account of the splendid life of conquistadora Ines Suarez, who helped found Chile. In that book, Allende writes that Suarez ponders life and death, musing, "I suspect in this life we are not going anywhere, and even less in haste; one merely follows a path, one step at a time, toward death."

This is what Suarez imagines when we reach that destination: "Death is not a hooded skeleton with empty eye sockets, as the priests tell us to frighten us, but a large, roly-poly woman with an opulent bosom and welcoming arms; a maternal angel."

Love that! After my review ran in the paper in November 2006, a radio station in Chicago called to say Allende would soon be appearing on an interview program and they wanted to read part of my review on the air. Was that okay with me? Sure, I said, but why not just fly me to Chicago so I could take part? They balked, and I did not get to hear the program, but I was honored nonetheless.

Last night, I sat on the aisle in the third row at Allende’s presentation. She is tiny, small in stature, made taller by slingback silver spike heels – this at 67! She wore a black skirt and top, with a sheer black jacket with maroon trim. Allende’s eyes are big, quick and intelligent, and a feisty sense of humor brings often unexpected remarks from her generous, smiling mouth. How wonderful to be in the presence of Isabel Allende at last! 

About Beer: For years after my father’s death from cirrhosis of the liver, I imposed a two-drink minimum on myself. Why? Because I have loved every alcoholic beverage I have ever tasted. Margaritas and dirty martinis and caipirinhas and frou-frou drinks and Irish whisky straight up and big red Zins at $12.50 a glass – bring ‘em on! Then after a Betrayal of the Body six years ago, I was put on a medication that is hard on the liver.

“Don’t drink,” said the doctor.

“Ever?” I asked.

“Okay, four times a year,” she said.

I cheated. For the past six years, I’ve been enjoying alcoholic beverages maybe eight times a year. Really – ask my friends. Early this week I met with my new doc in San Francisco. “We know more now,” he said. “You may have one drink a week with no cause for worry.”

“One a week? I couldn’t,” I said, appalled. Then I confessed a secret: Over the past three years, I’ve been bumming a taste here, a swallow there, of craft beers being enjoyed by friends, and have come to love unfiltered wheat beer. The doctor laughed and assured me that one beer a week was absolutely fine.

I just had one! A Blue Moon. I drank it with a tiny pepperoni pizza from Trader Joe’s. Pizza and beer – what a pleasure! I’ll still order a margarita or martini on my birthday, and once in awhile when out to dinner with friends, I’ll indulge in red wine. Other weeks, I’m exploring craft beers.

And now to C, the haircut. San Francisco weather – the damp fog and the rowdy wind – has not been nice to my hair. The humidity isn’t high enough to cause my naturally curly hair to spiral in on itself and look thick and lustrous, and every day, the wind has tried its best to pull out what curl I did have. I’ve been walking around with my usual short hair looking long, standing straight up, a la Christopher Walken or even Albert Einstein.

On Wednesday, I walked into my neighborhood salon and said to Lison, my stylist, “Last month I asked you to duplicate the cut I came in with. This time, I am asking you what you would do if this were your head.” I explained the problem. Lison proposed cutting it really short on the sides and in back, leaving some height on top.

“We could go for an asymmetrical look,” she said. “If you pull some of the hair in front straight across, it will curl on the other side of your forehead. You will look more contemporary, new, exciting.”

Me? Contemporary? New? Exciting? “Do it,” I said. She did, and my hair did just what she said it would, curling on my forehead like a single quotation mark. Now when the wind tosses my hair, it just looks ruffled and somehow fuller, instead of sticking straight out. It’s easy to live with. It’s fun. It’s cute. I like it!

I took the photo posted here, but my face looks really big because my arms are short and I couldn’t get the camera far enough away to shoot a really good picture. If you want to see my contemporary, new, exciting hair for yourself, just buy a plane ticket and come for a visit. Karen Duffy did, and we had a blast!

And that’s my ABCs for today.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Mid-Day at the Beach

Today in San Francisco, the sun was shining, the sky was blue, the fog was visiting another community, and a mid-day break was on the agenda. I took a bus to the beach.

Actually, it was a light rail train that glides along tracks in the center of the street. Sometimes, depending on the time of day, just one car does the job, but most of the time two, three or more cars are hooked together. When the train goes around corners, gliding and lurching, it resembles a giant centipede, with first one body part moving, then the next and then the next.

The trains are part of the San Francisco Municipal Railway, which was founded in 1912. The Muni boasts that it carries over 200 million customers per year, taking people where they need to go all day, every day, along 80 different routes. The Muni operates historic streetcars, diesel buses, alternative fuel vehicles, electric trolley coaches, cable cars and the light rail trains that run both above and below ground.

I walked seven blocks (all down hill)) to Cole Valley and caught the Outbound N train heading west to 48th Avenue, which is literally across the street from the Pacific Ocean. It takes awhile – 20 minutes or so -- to get from Cole Street to 48th, though the true distance is only about 3.5 miles. That’s okay. The Pacific Ocean does not check Google Calendar to see what time you will arrive. The Pacific Ocean does not care. Why should you?

When I boarded, the N was almost full. By the time we hit 40th Avenue, only six passengers remained. Acting in concert, as though we had rehearsed, we all rummaged in our respective backpacks and pulled out our hats when we reached 45th Avenue. At 48th, we disembarked and walked across the lower and upper sections of the Great Highway.

And there it was! Up a sandy hill, down the other side -- and there the ocean sparkled in the sun. I found a spot on the sand to spread my small towel and sat down, enjoying the sounds of the sea and the cool air. (People who brought bigger backpacks pulled out beach towels. I’ll do that next time.)

Sailboats glided along the horizon. Nine surfers rode the waves. In their wetsuits, off the boards, the surfers resembled curious seals bobbing in the water, sticking their heads up for a look around. On the beach, a young woman sunned in a bikini. A few yards away, an older man lay on his towel dressed in dark green Bermuda shorts, a long-sleeved plaid shirt and calf-high green socks. He had a blue towel draped over his face. Only his knees were displayed to the sun.

A mom played catch with her little boy. Two middle-aged men played catch with one another. One young couple tossed a Frisbee; another couple led a toddler to the edge of the sea, the little girl between them. Two teenage girls dug deep holes in the sand and then climbed in, laughing. A young woman pushed a stroller. A dozen people walked the beach with great seriousness of purpose. Four dogs, clearly thrilled to be out of the house, raced up and down the beach.

Not far behind me on the sand, a man got off his bike, spread a towel, sat down, opened his backpack and began to play a large wooden flute. As the wind carried the sounds across the beach, heads turned, one by one, to look back to see the source of the music. I sat, in my hat, listening to the waves and the flute music, thinking this was a terrific mid-day break.

Then I headed back up the hill, hot sand streaming through my sandals. The Java Beach Café has the great good fortune to be situated at 48th and Judah, right where the N train drops off passengers. I popped in for a sandwich. After lunch, I walked four blocks to visit a shop I’d read about in Sunset magazine and then got on the next train back to Cole Valley. There, I caught the bus that heads up the steep hill and stops right in front of my apartment.

Living in St. Louis, I used to like knowing I was just a 2.5-hour direct flight from Montego Bay. Now I can take a train to the beach -- in 20 minutes.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Christopher Walken (okay, his hair) and Me

Spent time today sitting in the car on Twin Peaks, looking down at all of San Francisco below, sunroof on the car wide open, wind blowing my hair straight up (I look like Christopher Walken, sort of…) and all the cobwebs from my mind. Just finished a couple of weeks filled with lots of work, and just agreed to start two new -- no, three -- projects.

Life, as the tee shirt says, is good.

What’s new? Soon I’ll be seeking corporate sponsors to help boost viewership of a series of short programs on conservation organizations around the world. No paperwork has been exchanged, but it’s likely I also will serve as co-author with a doctor who has a good idea for a book. And the guy who owns the best barbecue joint in town has asked for my help with his web site. (I see rib tips in my future…)

I’ll continue with my other work, of course. I’m still writing for the St. Louis Jewish Light, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (watch for a travel story coming soon), a marketing firm that publishes grocery magazines and a web site that promotes fitness. Also, I’ve been promised freelance assignments from the Jewish newspaper in San Francisco. And I applied for a temporary job writing paragraph-long blurbs on restaurants for a local weekly paper. Of course I’m still available to help out a couple of friends in business, too.

“So you’ve figured out how to piece together enough jobs to pay bills,” said a friend on Wednesday, a friend who is considering moving here and will need to do the same. I have. My income is never predictable, but money always comes. Five years ago, in October, I left the Post-Dispatch and kissed goodbye that regular paycheck. Five years ago I started seriously building on some freelance connections I’d already established, and I am still building. A little here, a little there – after a lot of hustling. I don’t make a lot, but I make enough.

The big reward is that I work for me. Working for me means that when I had a great time goofing off all day a week ago Thursday, I gave myself the day off on Friday as well. It means I can dunce around in the morning, get organized by lunchtime and then work or play according to the plan for the day – or the lack of plan for the day. I’m the boss, and when the boss decides to sit and watch episodes of “Arrested Development,” that’s the plan.

Gail put me in the lede of her recent story (see http://tiny.cc/t67um or go to www.stltoday.com and type in “Pennington Arrested”) about a movie version of the hilarious series, and that was fun. What isn’t fun is that I keep wanting to quote lines (“No touching!”) from the show, and everybody who watched it years ago is quoting lines from newer shows. If you haven’t seen “Arrested Development,” talk to TIVO or get it on Netflix. Very funny!

Don’t think I stay home all the time. I am conscious that I am not on vacation here and must continue to earn a living, but I’m making time to walk to my gym in Cole Valley and take my bus to yoga class. On Thursday, my bus chose not to come, so the cat and I did yoga in the living room because by the time I realized the bus had abandoned me, it was too late to try to drive to the recreation center.

I forgive the bus for that one incident. Picture this: Me climbing on a bus with a small bag of nectarines, bread and eggs in one hand and a 10-pound jug of kitty litter in the other. Or this: Me climbing on a bus with a brand new fan in a box to help circulate air on the three days a year when the wind for some reason ceases to blow here. Here’s the deal – my bus is rarely crowded, and I profusely thank the driver for being patient with me. Hey, I am not the only person my age boarding a bus with a bunch of stuff. It’s common here. It works. I like it.

Plus, missing a bus is a good reason to walk. Last week I missed the bus that goes up the huge hill to my apartment. I didn’t want to wait 20 minutes for the next bus, so I opted to walk seven blocks to Haight-Ashbury and check out the tie dye selection at a resale shop. The sun was shining, the air was cool and pleasant -- and what’s not to like about tie dye? Later, I took the bus back up the hill.

Yesterday was a Drive Day. I stacked up errands and knocked them off, one at a time. First I drove to the recycling center to donate some items I’m not using. The process of moving here (regular readers remember me whining about that process, often) has made me more adamant than ever: If I’m not using it, I’m not keeping it. Period. Next I dropped off my medical records from St. Louis with a doc I will see in October. Then I went to the Oceanic Society office to meet with the director.

On the way home, I had planned to stop at a store near me for a few things. Instead, I found a parking place in the Marina, a neighborhood I had not yet explored. San Francisco is full of small business districts with independently owned shops, restaurants and groceries. I walked and window-shopped for about 40 minutes, getting to know the area. Then I ducked into a grocery, got what I needed and drove home.

Today I returned calls, paid bills, wrote a few note cards to friends back home – and then drove to the top of the hill high (900-plus feet) above my new home. And I let the wind pull all the curl from my hair. Why not?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Impressed by Psychedelic Impressionism

A mid-August evening in San Francisco and I’m driving to a friend’s house at 5:45 p.m. I’m wearing a Polartec jacket. I dressed for how the weather looks – fog rapidly moving in, pushed by high winds.

Still, it’s not really cold enough for Polartec. The long-sleeved cotton jacket and long-sleeved cotton shirt are plenty warm for the evening, which will be spent inside the de Young Museum at the exhibit on “The Birth of Impressionism.” Ironically, it was much cooler earlier in the day, sitting in the sun outside the Academy of Sciences.

And that’s August in San Francisco.

Today was a day filled with crisp images, kaleidoscope moments, extreme concepts – no doubt influenced by a visit to the “Extreme Mammals” exhibit at the Academy of Sciences. Did you know lactating kangaroos can deliver two kinds of milk – one extra rich for newborn joeys and one not so much for older offspring? Neither did I.

I did know that manatees’ nipples are under their flippers. I did know that whales have vestigial leg bones. I did know that one-third of the musculature of a naked mole rat is in the animal’s jaws and that it can dig a tunnel with its teeth.

But the museum impressed me mightily with a model of a batodonoides, an extinct shrew-like mammal that weighed less than a dollar bill. The batodonoides is displayed next to a model of an indricotherium -- also extinct, and a relative of the rhino – and the largest land mammal ever. This guy stood 18 feet high and was 39 feet long. Nice pairing!

One glass-enclosed kiosk contained a green snake, tail wrapped around a branch and head dangling down, little tongue darting in and out. Below, sitting calmly, was a giant toad, maybe six inches high and six times as wide as the snake. Next I watched a man take a photo of a rare lizard from Madagascar in spite of the large sign on the reptile’s enclosure that read: “No Photos.”

The same sign – with one additional claim -- was posted on the glass wall that enclosed a tiny single tree shrew. “No Photos. I’m already jumpy.” Wide-eyed and clearly nervous, the tree shrew licked its tail just like the cat does when she’s fretting about something.

Sitting outside in the sun and chilly wind, eating a $21 lunch, I watched a toddler unfasten his slacks, stand in his underpants and scream for his mother. “They fell down,” he told her when she rushed over. After a visit to the four-story rainforest and a Philippine reef inside, outside I watched a slightly older boy plan to step into a fountain, actually step in that fountain and then burst into tears and leap out.

In between my two visits to museums today, I tried to right some wrongs. For instance, the brokerage firm that manages some of my money still sends statements to my condo in Creve Coeur, though they have my San Francisco address. One publication I write for also sends me mail at the wrong address – this after two phone calls and a letter. And why is it I have not heard from three people who promised to get some information to me today?

I also pondered my shopping list: Sticky mat for yoga, sturdier step stool for when I need to get to the higher cabinet shelves, and quarters for the coin-operated washer and dryer in my apartment building. The trick is to figure out to get all the items at one place. No solution yet.

After trying to right wrongs, set up appointments and ponder shopping needs, it was time to get ready to go to the de Young Museum. A night out called for dressing up. As I pulled on my new favorite tie-dye socks, I remembered before I left St. Louis that a friend laughed and said, “Finally, you’re going to live somewhere that will appreciate your taste in tie dye.” And I do!

As I finished dressing, thinking ahead to an evening spent with Monet, Manet, Morisot, Renoir, Pissarro and Degas (and Susan and Denise), it hit me – tie dye is psychedelic impressionism.

I wondered whether I can copyright that phrase. Then I grabbed my Polartec jacket and left.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Whale of a Day

“This trip had more whales than we saw in Alaska.”

“We didn’t see anything like this in Hawaii.”

“I had no idea what to expect – what a day!”

Listening to my fellow passengers’ remarks, I realized that though I’ve seen many whales in Alaska, Hawaii and elsewhere, and though after almost 28 years of whale watching I did know what to expect – or at least hope for – even a rave review will not fully do justice to the Oceanic Society’s nature trip Sunday to the Farallon Islands.

Here, straight from the report of naturalist Izzy Szczepaniak, is the tally:

• Seabirds: Western gull, brown pelican, Brandt's cormorant, double-crested cormorant, red-necked phalarope, common murre, sooty shearwater, pink-footed shearwater, pigeon guillemot, Heermann's gull.

• Pinnipeds: California sea lions, northern fur seals, Steller sea lion, harbor seal, elephant seal.

• Cetaceans: One minke whale, three blue whales, two humpback whales, one gray whale, one orca.

Hey, I’m a big fan of seabirds and pinnipeds, but I’m out on the day-long trip to see whales. (For info on these trips, see www.oceanicsociety.org/whale-watching-farallon-islands) And oh the whales we saw!

After lunch on our boat, the Salty Lady, in the relatively quiet waters of the mystical Farallon Islands, we headed out in search of more whales. We’d already watched blue whales feeding, had several good looks at the broad backs of the largest animals (up to 80-90 feet long, weighing more than a ton and a half per foot) ever to live on Earth. We’d caught a fleeting glimpse of a fleeing minke, a small baleen whale (a mere 30 feet long) that shows little and tells even less. And we had hung around a small humpback long enough to hear several blows and watch a few shallow dives. We’d even come upon a gray whale (said to be the most primitive of whale species) feeding close to the Farallons.

So we’re riding along on the back of the boat, many of us half dozing, cold and a bit damp (more on this later), when with no warning whatsoever, no tell-tale blow to indicate that a whale was nearby, a massive adult humpback, weighing about 40 tons, leaps fully out of the water and crashes back into the sea. Everyone screamed – even those who turned in time to see only the great splash. Izzy, who had been in the front of the boat, raced to the back, crying “Did you see that? Did you SEE that?”

Captain Jared slowed the boat. We waited. We watched. “This humpback’s heart is the size of a Volkswagen Beetle,” said Izzy. “The arteries are big enough to walk through -- if we stooped a little.” Then the whale breached again – and again and again! We were not tired of watching the breaching whale (how could we be?) but next the whale showed us every trick in a humpback’s bag: spyhopping (sticking its head out of the water), lobtailing (raising its tail high and then smacking it on the water’s surface) and flipper slapping (smacking those 12-foot-long flippers on the water). The whale rolled over and over, showing off the beautiful flippers, dark on top and white on the bottom. Next we were treated to a series of partial breaches. The whale actually wheezed during one expulsion of breath. ”All that activity takes a lot of exertion,” said Izzy, laughing.

Fog and chilly sea spray be damned – a golden glow settled over the Salty Lady. Everyone smiled – including Captain Jared and First Mate Tack. Then a woman from England asked about something she noticed in the distance – a dark fin high above the water. Someone asked it if were a shark. One wag aboard called out, “If it is, we’re going to need a bigger boat.” Izzy concurred, and kept searching with his binoculars. Suddenly he erupted in a huge laugh. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have an orca!” It was an adult male, with a six-foot-tall dorsal fin – not a common site in the area.

And so we watched the top predator of the sea move through the waves. Orcas have been known to kill great white sharks, though more often they go for baby whales or old, sick whales. I’ve read that they consider tongue of blue whale a special delicacy. The orca did not come as close to the boat as the blues and the humpbacks, but we were close enough to appreciate the sleek body and that impressive dorsal fin.

Then it was back to San Francisco, back to land, back to longing for my fleece sheets. Exhilarated, cold and exhausted, I made my way home, where I peeled off layers. How many? On top, a camisole, a long-sleeved base-layer turtle-neck shirt, a long-sleeved fleece pullover, and a fleece vest. On bottom, Capilene longjohns, fleece-lined leggings and rain pants over all that. I also wore a three-quarter-length, water-resistant raincoat with a hood, a fleece “ear wrap,” a water-proof brimmed hat, sock liners, wool socks and my sturdiest tennis shoes. Still, I was cold.

I climbed into bed, snuggled into the fleece sheets and begged the cat to heat up some soup for me. She decided instead to join me in a nap. Later, I fed both of us and sat replaying the day in my mind. I took no photos, took no notes – just took it all in. What a day indeed!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Everything has changed.

I live in a different place in a different city in a different state. I don’t go where I used to go. I don’t run into people I know everywhere I go (well, rarely – see the last post). Heck, I don’t even know how to go many places, but I’m learning.

Geographic transformations take time (though not nearly as much time as geologic transformations) and time is what I brought with me; time to start anew, time to rethink what the actor Ken Page once described so beautifully as “the cocktail hour of life.” So I’m taking my time.

“Oh – did I just push in front of you?” asked the man at the Upper Terrace Market, a few blocks from my apartment. We were standing in front of the beverage case.

“No,” I said. “I’m just moving slowly.”

He looked at me. “How do you do that?”

I laughed and said, “You get to be 62.”

He replied, “I just turned 40, and I recently fell down for the first time. I know I was moving too quickly, and I fell.”

We discussed how falling takes place in slow motion, how every second you are certain you will catch yourself – but you don’t. We discussed how you feel really stupid when you’re on the ground. We discussed how we are not the sort of people who expect to fall. We expect to get where we are going, and back, safely.

“I have on Birkenstocks, and that’s why I am moving slowly,” I said, pointing to my feet. “I didn’t want to take time to put on tennis shoes.”

He pointed to his feet. “I always wear tennis shoes. It’s safer.” Then he admitted that now that he has fallen for the first time, he figures it may happen again, at any time, regardless of what shoes he wears. “I’m only 40,” he said, “and I fell!” I assured him he had a lot of good years left.

We paid for our beverages, wished each other well and went our separate ways. I made it home, some three, maybe four blocks, all up hill. These walks to the mailbox and the market – and my new gym membership – may contribute to another sort of transformation. Especially now that I have thrown out half a box of those delicious Triple Peanut Cookies from Trader Joe’s.

When I walked in, the cell phone was pinging, to let me know I had a new email. The Kindle sat charging. And I remembered I wanted to send invitations to a couple of friends to download Skype.

This electronic transformation was not slow in coming. I arrived in San Francisco with a not-so-smart phone. Joel listed the advantages of a smart phone, and a few days later, I had one. The Kindle has intrigued me, a born book lover, from the beginning, and I’ve read a lot about them. Joel suggested that I borrow his Kindle for a few days. I read and read, quite happily, from the small plastic device. I read the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the New Yorker. I peeked at a couple of books Joel has downloaded. Then “The Good Guys” came on, and I’m a fan, so I put down the Kindle, but I am not ready to give it back.

I’m not new to Skype – Patricia and Joel called me on Skype when they were in New Zealand, and now I even have a web cam. Since I moved, I have been to two Skype parties – Judy’s birthday dinner and a gathering of my beloved Sherpa writing group. I’ve even given some Skype tours of my apartment for other friends in St. Louis. (Calling between Skypers is free.) I use Skype to interview people I am writing about (calling non-Skypers is inexpensive), and also to set up appointments, because sometimes the smart phone takes a break right in the middle of a call.

Not everything, of course, is different. I spend part of each day sitting at my desk, working on current assignments. I field emails from all over, on all topics – though lately many of them have been complaints, statements of outrage that it is 102 degrees in St. Louis and 57 degrees in San Francisco. I pull up maps, check on my bank balance and go in search of important information on the web, such as when “The Good Guys” will start up again in the fall.

Then I look out the window, and I am reminded that everything, after all, has changed.