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.