Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Back to Bolinas, with Debbie in Tow

When my friend Debbie told me she was coming to San Francisco on a business trip, I encouraged her to add a day or two to play in my favorite city. After living here two and a half years, I can say with confidence that San Francisco is my favorite city, because apart from the people I love most, this amazing city boasts water on three sides, and I can’t get enough of it – the ocean, the entrance to the bay, the bay itself.

Water, water, everywhere!

It rained a bit during Debbie’s visit, just to add to the atmosphere, but that’s okay. As I noted above, I can’t really complain about too much water. Our first stop was a top tourist attraction here – a visit with my grandson and his parents. Then we did a drive-by tour of the Lower Haight and the Upper Haight, also known as Haight-Ashbury, where I visit for about three hours every month when I meander through the neighborhood to see the sights. And to buy more tie dye, of course.

Next, Debbie and I headed to Cole Valley for dinner at Bambino’s, where we ordered the delectable Il Sol pizza, a chopped salad and a glass of wine each. I told Debbie that whenever I am out with Susan, my friend and my daughter-in-law’s mother, I always want to drive to the ocean after dinner, just because we can. Susan always laughs and talks me out of it.

Now I know why. Debbie and I did drive to the edge of the continent, and we could see absolutely nothing. Still, a highlight of the trip was a Drive Through the Park in the Dark, which is one of Susan’s special tours for out-of-town company. As we drove along, Debbie and I laughed a lot about the futility of that venture as well.

In spite of some marine mist the next morning, we drove to the top of Twin Peaks to enjoy the panoramic view. Then it was off to Peet’s to buy some fresh-ground coffee for Bill, a cup of Fair Trade for Debbie and a decaf, low-fat latte with sugar-free vanilla for me. I know my beverage of choice has nothing real in it, but I like it. I would have liked it even better had the lid not sailed off, causing the latte to christen the car, my jacket and some of Debbie’s clothing as well. We pulled over, mopped up and then headed north, over the Golden Gate Bridge.

I have said before that when people are selling produce by the side of the road, I am there, buying. We stopped at Cecilia’s farm stand in Mill Valley to buy whole-wheat fig bars, huge oatmeal cookies and strawberry-rhubarb jam. (Alas, the TSA ended up with the jam, which they considered a liquid when they found the jar in Debbie’s carry-on bag.)

If you read the last blog, about Carolyn’s visit here, you know what happened next. I take everyone who visits to Bolinas, which requires driving north on the wonderful Highway 1. (I am crazy about Bolinas!) We stopped at the Muir Beach Overlook and then cruised through Stinson Beach, where my friend Emmeline soon will open her new gallery (see We drove around the placid Bolinas Lagoon and I got to surprise Debbie with the news that the calm waters rest atop the San Andreas Fault.

Then we arrived in Bolinas itself. What good fortune – a world crafts show was in progress in the community center, so Debbie and I browsed the booths. We visited with a potter who makes plates and bowls decorated with ginkgo leaves, a woman who paints other sorts of leaves on beautiful silk scarves and a jewelry maker who sported a short buzz cut with purple and black leopard spots in her short hair. Her daughter did it – and we all laughed about how much fun her look was.

Our next stop was the Coast Café, where we celebrated Debbie’s birthday a bit early with blackberry pie, fish tacos and fish and chips – served in that order. Then we visited Emmeline at her art studio (see Debbie bought herself a gift, a wonderful giclee print of a laurel tree in Emmeline’s garden that she calls the Green Giant. The rain was more insistent at this point, so we drove, rather than walked, down to the beach for a quick look at rolling surf and idle sea gulls. Then we headed for San Francisco, driving past the rolling hills, the open grassland and then the stately coastal redwoods in Samuel P. Taylor State Park. 

For dinner, we stopped at Cliff House, close to Land’s End in the Outer Richmond, just in time to see the ocean before darkness obscured all but the sound. I showed Debbie the location of the old Sutro Baths ( and we headed to the bar at the Cliff House, where a mannequin stands attired in an old-time bathing suit. (My Full Moon Cocktail companions are on a first-name basis with him, though he never asks our names.) We feasted on crab cakes, spicy shrimp and garlic-truffle fries. Oh, and pear martinis, a delicious silken concoction that I dream about from time to time.

I had promised to give Debbie a bowl of Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food (an outrageously good combination of chocolate frozen yogurt, “gooey marshmallow, caramel swirl” and tiny dark chocolate fish) when we got back to my apartment, but neither of us remembered. (See the part about the pear martini, above.) I also had promised her a taste of a rare tropical concoction in my freezer, created three weeks ago by Denise, Queen of the Cocktails, but we forgot that, as well. (Guess why.)

In any case, we had a great visit – and no doubt my freezer will be full of treats next time Debbie visits! Bill – you are invited too!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Water, Water Everywhere, Plus Books and Baseball

Where did we go, which people did we see and what things did we do during Carolyn’s two-and-a-half day visit to San Francisco? Hey, whirlwind tours here are my specialty! We spent time with special people, we spent time staring at ocean vistas and we spent time in assorted halls of learning. And yes, we watched the Giants and the Cardinals play.

The minute Carolyn arrived on Sunday, I whisked her off to brunch with one of San Francisco’s finest attractions – my family. We had lunch at the Duboce Park Café with Patricia, Joel and Milo. Then we headed north, over the Golden Gate Bridge. We stopped at a farm stand in Mill Valley to load up on whole-wheat fig bars and thick oatmeal cookies and then we meandered along the twisting Highway 1.

The Muir Beach Overlook, a scenic vista if ever there was one, is always a great introduction to West Marin. We then drove through Stinson Beach, around the lovely-as-always Bolinas Lagoon and on to a favorite spot – Bolinas itself. We walked to the water, dropped in at the funky surf shop and spent time with my friend Emmeline at her art studio. (See I always pick up a handful of note cards when I visit Emmeline, but on this day I also bought a small print, a picture of me in my oak tree incarnation.

We drove on to Olema in West Marin and stopped for an early supper at the Farm House Restaurant. Carolyn ate grilled oysters; I opted for the wild salmon. We shared an apple and pomegranate crisp for dessert. Then we headed home, driving past the tawny hills, the open grassland and the coastal redwoods in Samuel P. Taylor State Park. 

Monday morning, the sky cleared just in time to send us to the top of Twin Peaks for a panoramic view of San Francisco. Gorgeous! And I live here! Then it was off to Land’s End to see just that. ( At one time, what is now the entrance to San Francisco Bay was all land, all the way to the Farallon Islands, some 27 miles west of what is now the edge of the continent. We headed just up the hill to Fort Miley for another look at the ocean pouring into the bay, and were treated to views of water in at least half a dozen colors. The 75-year-old Golden Gate Bridge is to the east, beautifully framed by Monterey cypress trees. 

Water, water, everywhere – but we wanted to see more, so our next stop was the Warming Hut at the western end of Crissy Field, where you can pose for photos with the Golden Gate Bridge just behind and above you and then wander out on the pier to ask about the catch of the day. We watched a giant tanker head out to sea and then drove to the nearby Sports Basement store, where Carolyn added to her collection of outerwear layers, a necessity when hanging out in San Francisco.

For lunch, we popped in at the current incarnation of Cliff House, home to great food and even better views of Ocean Beach and the sea. The first Cliff House was built in 1863. (Check out the Victorian version, which burned in 1907, at  Carolyn opted for clam chowder; I went for the pot stickers and a salad. Then we headed to Fort Funston ( for one more outstanding view of the Pacific Ocean. The urge to watch the baseball game suddenly overcame one of us, so we went back to the apartment to cheer on our respective teams.

Tuesday morning, it was clear but a tad chilly, so we headed for the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. (See We started by staring at rays and small sharks and then stopped to say “hi” to Claude, the albino alligator. We lingered for a long time in the four-story rainforest exhibit, where a blue morpho butterfly landed precisely on top of a picture of itself on a sign along the path. Until it twitched an antenna, I thought it was an exquisite plastic replica, but Carolyn knew right away it was the real thing.

In the aquarium, we checked in with the giant California octopus (a personal friend) and then stood in wonder, staring at fish, urchins and sea stars and waving kelp. The shaking house in the Earthquake Exhibit was closed for repairs, so we hung out on the living roof of the building. We visited the African penguins, examined tortoise shells from the Galapagos Islands and then observed a sleeping 15-foot-long albino reticulated python named Lemondrop.

Fish tacos (made with salmon!) and hummus were on the menu for lunch at Reverie, a small café in Cole Valley near my apartment. Next we made a pilgrimage to City Lights Bookstore ( in North Beach. I mentioned I had first visited the shop in 1982, but Carolyn had a better story – while in college, she attended a lecture given by Allen Ginsberg. That was exciting, even vicariously! We made our purchases and then walked along Grant Avenue in Chinatown. The street was established in 1845, back when San Francisco was known as Yerba Buena, and today the area is said to be the largest Chinatown outside Asia.

Carolyn’s friend Denise met us at the apartment and for dinner we went to Bambino’s in Cole Valley, where I favor the Il Sol pizza and any of their salads. After we ate, Carolyn and Denise headed for North Bay, where they planned to hike early Wednesday morning at Muir Woods.

Through the entire visit, Carolyn and I laughed and reminisced. We shared stories from our past, talked about our present lives and considered our hopes for the future. And that’s what friends are for-- thanks for visiting, Carolyn!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Thirty Years of Whale Watching

Exactly 30 years ago today, I went on my first whale watch – and whale watching remains my favorite sport. My most recent trip was Sunday, Aug. 12, when I made the daylong trip to the Farallon Islands on the Salty Lady with the Oceanic Society. We saw dozens of humpback whales, Dall’s porpoises and seven Risso’s dolphins.

In celebration of this special anniversary, I’m sharing here the introduction to my book “The Whale Watcher’s Guide.” I am dedicating this blog post to the whale scientists I have interviewed and the vessel owners and captains who over the past three decades have made it possible for me to sit in small boats next to large whales. This is my story -- enjoy.

Whales! The greatest show on earth is in the water, and anyone willing to go where whales are will see it. Whales -- swimming, all sea-shiny and slick; diving, flashing enormous fan-shaped tails; spouting, baptizing one and all with a hearty expulsion of air and water as the mighty mammals breathe; whales with vast open mouths feeding on microscopic shrimp; whales hurtling their fifty-ton bodies up, up, and completely out of the water, then falling back with a thunderous crash.

Blue whales, fin whales, rare right whales, humpbacks, gray whales, killer whales, minke whales and beluga whales -- I've seen them all, in the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Cod, in Hawaiian waters, off Trinity in Newfoundland, in Alaska's Prince William Sound, off the coast of British Columbia, in Canada's St. Lawrence Seaway, near Peninsula Valdes in Argentine waters, in the lagoons off Baja California, off the coast of San Diego, and just yards from the Oregon shore.

The first whale I ever met was a finback, a creature just slightly smaller than the 80-foot, seventy-six-ton boat on which I was a passenger. The whale came toward us, dived, swam under the boat, and was gone before we could comprehend what we had seen. Finback whales are the second largest creatures ever to live on earth, surpassed in size only by the mighty blue whales, and finbacks are among the fastest swimmers in the sea, reaching speeds of thirty miles per hour.

That trip was Sept. 27, 1982, out of Barnstable Harbor, off Cape Cod. We spent much of the day watching humpback whales feeding, their huge mouths open as the whales rose up through the columns of bubbles they had blown under water to trap krill and tiny fish. The humpbacks also waved their tails ("threw their flukes") over and over, and two swam and dived together in unison, as though their dance had been choreographed. It was a magic day.

Once I had seen whales, I wanted to see more, to experience again the awe and exhilaration, the sense of deep privilege I felt when I was among them. Seeing whales became a priority, and I began to seek out opportunities to go where whales were whenever possible.

In 1984, during a three-day business trip to Maui, I boldly abandoned my traveling companions and headed for Lahaina, where I signed on for back-to-back whale-watch trips, a day's worth of expeditions. The morning trip reaped only a few far-distant flukes, and the afternoon threatened to be even less satisfying. But just as the captain started the boat's engine to head back to shore, a humpback whale in the distance breached -- hurled itself completely out of the water -- seven times.

One look at that was simply not enough. Two years later, in May of 1986, I was on a ferryboat trip across Prince William Sound in Alaska when a humpback whale approached the boat and stayed nearby for forty-five minutes. Right in front of us, only yards from the boat, the whale breached over and over, slapped its 15-foot flippers on the water, waved its tail each time it dived, and smacked its tail repeatedly at the water's surface. Just before the graceful behemoth swam away, it appeared to wave "goodbye" with one long flipper.

The captain said that in his seventeen years of crossing the sound, he hadn't ever seen such a breathtaking spectacle. The thirty passengers, most of us strangers when we had boarded, were all hugging one another and laughing and crying. The captain joined in the celebration by declaring a round of drinks on the house, and we all offered up toasts to "our" whale.

In 1987, I returned to Cape Cod with my then-twelve-year-old son in tow. We took whale-watch trips on four consecutive days, and we saw whales every day. One afternoon, a humpback that had been lolling around several hundred yards away suddenly surfaced alongside the boat, so we had an unusual up-close look at the whale's impressive 40-foot length. We also saw five fin whales and at least thirty Atlantic white-sided dolphins.

From the back decks of cruise ships, I've seen orcas (killer whales), gray whales, common dolphins, and blue whales. Surely, sighting blue whales is one of the rare privileges in life. In June of 1987, I was on the St. Lawrence River, aboard the S.S. Bermuda Star. The ship's pilot from Quebec had warned me that it was too early in the season to see any whales, yet four blue whales showed up on my thirty-ninth birthday, and I also saw a dozen or so belugas arching their backs out of the sun-sparkled water at the mouth of the Saguenay River.

Whale watching became up close and personal one day in Trinity Bay, off the north coast of Newfoundland, when a frisky adolescent humpback whale, measuring about 35 feet long and weighing about a ton per foot, draped its 10-foot-wide scalloped tail across the bow of our little rubber boat and gave us a hearty shove.

Late in the summer of 1991, off Bar Harbor, Maine, I saw fish flying above the ocean's surface and then saw the cause of their distress -- a 70-foot-long finback whale that lunged halfway out of the water, mouth agape and ventral pleats bulging, enjoying a good meal. "Hope you got a good look," said the naturalist. "They usually only do that once." Suddenly, the finback hurled itself right out of the water a second time.

In San Ignacio Lagoon, off Baja California, Mexico, I watched a gray whale roll its big blue eye and watch me as I stroked her massive head. The moment was intensely moving, and I started to cry. Another day out in the lagoon that February of 1992, I found myself with a ringside seat at an orgy, watching white water roil up in a flurry of fins and flukes as three gray whales courted.

In 1993, I spent a week on a sailboat in the Bahamas, in the company of spotted dolphins, and another week cruising among feeding humpbacks on Stellwagen Bank, off the Massachusetts coast.

How did a nice Midwestern woman living on the banks of the Mississippi River become entranced with these magnificent marine mammals?

In July of 1982, I read an article in the New York Times travel section about a whale-watch trip off Cape Cod. A photograph of a whale leaping out of the water accompanied the article. After reading just a few paragraphs, I became obsessed with the idea of meeting a whale. The first opportunity was a weeklong business trip to Washington, D.C., that autumn. I made arrangements to add a two-day visit to Cape Cod to the end of the trip. Then I headed for the library for books on whales, so that I would know what I was looking at in case I saw one.

I did see a whale, and it changed my life.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Perfect Day: Big Trees and Big Water

September morning. Catch up on reading? Do laundry? No.

Sometimes, you need Big Water and sometimes, you need Big Trees. As it happens, the 49th Annual Kings Mountain Art Fair is this weekend, with 158 artists and another 30 natives of Kings Mountain displaying folk art. (See All the artists donate part of their proceeds to the Kings Mountain Volunteer Fire Brigade.

Ten years ago, I went to this very art show, which spoiled forever the idea that any art show on asphalt has anything at all going for it. Shopping in a redwood forest with sun filtering through to the ground -- now that’s a spectacular art show.

I decided to leave early, drive for an hour and be among the first to park along Skyline Road and board the shuttle for transport to the show, which opened at 10. Driving along, I realized that may have been a lapse in judgment. “Early” in San Francisco and environs this time of year usually means foggy. And that’s at 200 feet above sea level.

At 2,000 feet above sea level, I couldn’t see a thing but fog-shrouded redwood trees, the kind of place where you would expect a unicorn to prance out of the forest. Or a fine moose. Or at least a deer with a troll on its back. “This looks like a scene from a fantasy book I would write,” I said to myself.

Luckily, I got the last parking spot in a small clearing where the shuttle (designed to resemble a cable car) turns around. I parked and opened the back of the car, looking for an extra jacket. “It’s 50 degrees up here,” said the woman who got the parking spot next to mine. She, too, was digging in her trunk for a fleece jacket, hat and scarf. “Yes,” I replied, “but it will warm up over time. Tomorrow they are forecasting 80 degrees for this location. I don’t do 80.” 

Then it was off to the fair, which drew a fine crowd, early as it was. The Volunteer Fire Brigade booth quickly sold out of all their sweatshirts and the fiber artists selling scarves and gloves were quite popular. Meandering around, I especially liked the big sculpted heads of Buddha, a potter’s canopic jars (“People put their cats’ remains in them,” he said), small coin purses made from antique kimonos, gouache paintings of exotic mushrooms, handmade brooms and stunning photographs of redwood forests.

I also took time to appreciate the one I was in, keeping a sharp eye out for any unicorns among the trees. Even as the temperature rose, the same fog that nourishes the coastal redwoods dripped on my head, my tote bag and my glasses (both sides). At lunch, the fog dripped on my chicken/apple sausage and into my coleslaw. A couple from France sitting at the same table laughed and said the natural moisture made their chili cool off more quickly.

Two young girls and a boy pulled a wagon full of giant cookies along the path, handing out free samples. “Get cookies the size of my head,” the boy called out. And they were. I passed on the cookies, but I did spend some money.

I bought exactly what I always buy at art fairs: A mug with a ginkgo leaf on it and a package of note cards, from the artist who paints the mushrooms. Years ago, I always used to buy earrings, and occasionally outstanding handcrafted rings. Just the sight of a really unusual ring used to make my fingers twitch! But I have plenty of rings. And I finally have learned that I do not need more earrings. Ever. Like everybody else, 95 percent of the time I wear one of my three favorite pairs -- and that’s just fine.

Back at the parking lot, I told the GPS to direct me home, but when I came to the turnoff where I had to choose San Francisco or Half Moon Bay, I chose to dash off to the sea, stopping only for fresh strawberries at a roadside stand. I poked around Half Moon Bay for about an hour and then headed north on Highway 1. The Pacific Ocean looked like a vast gray blanket, all bunched up in spots.

Big Water in the afternoon was a perfect companion to Big Trees in the morning. Welcome, September.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Elderhood, with More Money

Last night I had the privilege of being on John Carney’s radio show in St. Louis to talk about the late, great Phyllis Diller. I spent time in her home in Webster Groves back in the early ‘60s, when I was friends with her daughter Stephanie.

It’s always fun to talk to John. Besides, he taught me to drink martinis, so I’m a loyal fan. Since we did this by phone I didn’t get the benefit of a big hug from him, but he said maybe he will head West at some point to revisit his old stomping grounds and roam the streets with me, both of us clad in tie dye. (Look out, San Francisco!)

At the end of the segment, John mentioned my blog, Late to the Haight. So glad he reminded me! It’s been awhile since I checked in here. Why? I’ve been busy:

·      playing with my grandson

·      being annoyed that “elderhood” is the stupid new term for my next stage of life

·      watching “The Newsroom” and missing deadline journalism

·      reading Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” and admiring her immensely

·      popping in at museums large and small for a travel story for the Post-Dispatch

·      watching “Political Animals” and wondering whether Bill and Hill are watching

·      assembling a bag for Goodwill (when a new jacket comes in, an old one goes out – see below for details on the uptick in my income)

·      waiting, patiently and im, for August 22.

Tomorrow is the Big Day – the day my first Social Security payment will show up in my checking account -- if all goes according to plan. If you read the June 22 post, you know that nothing at all went according to plan when I first signed up. Actually, “signed up” is not the correct term. You APPLY for Social Security -- and that means you can be rejected.

To recap, I signed up on line and when I emailed to ask when my benefits would start, the agency replied that the representative I had met with had already told me that information. When I emailed back that I had not met with anyone, the agency sent me an email about my spouse. I don't have one. When I said so, immediately they wanted to see the court document that changed my married name back to my birth name, which I did one year after the divorce. This is all ancient history, but I complied with that request.

New news: Next I got a letter saying Social Security wanted to “verify” my earnings record. Wait – these are the very people who send me a report of my earnings every year. What don’t they know? I assumed they wanted to ask me why I was applying before my full retirement age, since for several years I did quite well in the unwieldy world of freelance.

I wrote a concise letter about my drop in income in 2012. I copied tax records from last year, typed up quarterly payment records, put together my current client list and even gathered up pay stubs from this year. I assembled proof of my puny pension and my health insurance expenses. And I remember thinking how efficient I am, and being pleased that I keep meticulous records.

Unfortunately, what I took to the office the next morning had nothing to do with what the agency wanted to know.

The woman I met with wanted to talk about 1994, 1995 and 1997. I cleared up all the questions. Then I made my pitch for taking – excuse me, applying for -- Social Security before my full retirement date. The woman typed furiously as I spoke. She fired off several emails. Then she faxed all my documentation to the office in Richmond, Calif., where apparently people have been sitting around picking apart my employment history.

One week later, a woman in the Richmond office called me. She said she had called several times (hmmm, no record of that on the Smartphone) and she had sent me an email. (She had not -- I even checked spam.) The woman also said she had not received any emails or faxes or reports from the woman I met with in the San Francisco office. The she asked me all the same questions I had answered the previous week. And at last the woman said YES -- I can have my money!

My Social Security allotment is not a fortune, though it will pay the rent. Right now, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is $2,600. I pay much less -- thank goodness I got here when I did! And again, what a lucky break to find a place that offers views of glorious sunsets night after night. (Click. Click. Click.)

Still, this new bump in income seemed to call for a celebration. Not a spending spree, but a few special purchases. I bought a new spring green fleece jacket for me and some books for The Baby. I bought a six-pack of Sierra Nevada Kellerweis. (That’s a long-term investment, as it takes me four months to drink six beers.) And my friend Chris wants to have dinner to celebrate with me.

I’m ready to party – or I will be, once tomorrow gets here.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Getting to Know San Francisco

On the same day that I cast my vote for the next individuals to be honored on the St. Louis Walk of Fame, I encountered a story about someone in San Francisco worthy of renewed attention, someone who feels a tad like a soul sister.

Ina Coolbrith (1841–1928) was the first Poet Laureate of California and the first female Poet Laureate in the United States. Some of her poems were published in the Overland Monthly, where she helped Bret Harte edit the storied magazine. She hung out with Samuel Clemens (before he took the name of Mark Twain), Joaquin Miller (known as the Poet of the Sierras) and journalist Ambrose Bierce.

Legend has it that John Muir, another friend of hers, set up Coolbrith on a blind date that went bad, and she promptly wrote a 75-line poem about the experience. A fire in Coolbrith’s home burned some of her work and all of her letters, letters from the likes of Alfred Lord Tennyson, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and even Marie, Queen of Romania.

Born Josephine Donna Smith in Nauvoo, Illinois, Coolbrith was the daughter of Don Carlos Smith, who was the brother of Joseph Smith Jr., the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One account of Coolbrith’s life states that when her father died, her mother married William Pickett, a lawyer who owned a printing press in St. Louis. Supposedly, the two met when Pickett went to Nauvoo to follow up on reports about violent anti-Mormon sentiment there. When Pickett married Josephine’s mother, he requested that she keep her background a secret, and that’s when Josephine took her mother’s birth name and shortened her nickname, Josephina, to Ina. 

In 1849, when William Pickett got Gold Rush fever, the family traveled from St. Louis to California by wagon train. At age 10, Coolbrith was said to be the first white child to enter California over the Beckwourth Pass in the Sierra Valley’s eastern edge, riding on the saddle of scout Jim Beckwourth himself. Years later, while working as a librarian in Oakland, Coolbrith served as a mentor for 10-year-old Jack London and a young Isadora Duncan.

In a most round-about way, Isadora Duncan led me to Ina Coolbrith. After watching “American Masters: Jerome Robbins” on PBS (, what I most wanted to do was talk to Ross Winter, spend hours talking about dance, thinking about dance and learning how Ross put dances together – but Ross has been gone 18 years. Instead, I looked on Google for stories about Isadora Duncan, who was mentioned in the PBS program on Robbins.

Remember the 48 boxes of books I gave away before moving to San Francisco two years ago? I brought with me “Where She Danced” by Elizabeth Kendall because of the stories about Isadora Duncan. I have been a fan for decades! On line, I learned about Duncan’s family’s home at Taylor and Geary. I also learned of a dance studio in San Francisco dedicated to teaching the Duncan style of dance (, a studio that offers a Duncan Dance Workshop for people of all ages and levels. (Note to self…)

Next, on a website called the Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco (, I learned that Samuel Dickson, the author of the article on the site, found out at a party he attended in 1927 in San Francisco that the love of Isadora Duncan’s father’s life was a woman named Ina Donna Coolbrith. Dickson, a writer for an NBC radio station in San Francisco in the 1920s, reported that Coolbrith herself, in the last year of her life, told him the story at that party. Coolbrith also told Dickson about getting to know Duncan’s young daughter from her frequent visits to the Oakland Public Library.
I spent another hour reading on line about the feisty Ina Coolbrith. Next I ordered out-of-print copies of Dickson’s “Tales of San Francisco” and a biography, “Ina Coolbrith, Librarian and Laureate of California,” by Josephine DeWitt Rhodehamel and Raymund Francis Wood. I even learned where Coolbrith’s papers are – the Bancroft Library on the Berkeley campus just across the Bay. (Another note to self…)  

These books now sit in a stack that includes “The Best of Herb Caen,” a collection of the columnist’s works that ran in the San Francisco Chronicle; “San Francisco Bay” by newspaper reporter and environmentalist Harold Gilliam; Gilliam’s “Weather of the San Francisco Bay Region,” a region that boasts both advection fog and convection fog; and “San Francisco Poems” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, whom I have admired since I bought “A Coney Island of the Mind” when I was in college. (And yes, I brought that book with me too.)

And that’s what I’ve been doing with my spare time while I wait for my Good Foot to heal from an injury originally sustained at (what else?) a dance class. A word of thanks is in order to TIVO, which dutifully recorded the program on Jerome Robbins that inspired an evening of Internet research. And to my adopted City, a City of unparalleled sunsets (see photo above, taken from my apartment window), I sing a few bars of “Getting to Know You.”

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Wondrous and the Routine

In honor of my birthday (and in recognition of a slow freelance season), I have signed up for Social Security. Yes – I am ENTITLED!

I signed up on line because they hate it when you call them. You can tell, because when you call, before you ever reach a live person an automated voice spends a lot of time telling you how to sign up on line.

After I signed up, I emailed the agency to ask when my benefits would start, because I couldn’t find that information on the web site. In reply, I got an email saying the representative I met with when I signed up had already told me that information.

I responded that I didn't meet with anyone; I signed up on line. The anonymous correspondent apparently took offense, and emailed me information about how my taking Social Security will affect my spouse.

My spouse? I have no spouse. I fired back a note that said so, and asked my original question once again. The return email said this: “There is nothing we can add to the information we previously gave.”

Fine. I called Social Security, knowing they prefer that I not do that, to say I signed up to begin in July. I asked when they would send the money. The woman said the first deposit will not show up until August because all Social Security payments are made a month late “like your paycheck at work.”

August? Sheesh. I want my money now. So I asked about changing my start date to June, so I would have my money in July. The woman advised against that.

Get this: Until July 22, the Social Security Administration considers me 63, not 64. Yes -- They say you are not your true new age until one month after your actual birthday. They said if I wait until I am truly 64 in their eyes, I will get $12 more per month than if they considered me 63, whether or not I was 64 at the time. Sigh.

Yesterday morning I found a note on my Social Security Status Report (an on line service) saying they needed to see the court document from when I changed my married name back to my birth name. The note said just put the document in the mail and they would send it back after they read it.

That sounded dicey to me. I dug out the document – this happened in 1982 – and drove to the San Francisco office. I hope that now Social Security believes I am who I think I am, so I can get my entitlement. Even if I must wait until August.

In Other News, it’s been a splendid Birthday Week. Enjoyed homemade pizza with Susan and her Ballerina Granddaughters (they made the pizza; we ate it at my home) on Sunday. The girls had on their recital costumes; Susan and I donned festive headpieces. Oops – should have taken a picture of that.

Got a brand new dental crown on Monday (my second in three months). Had a celebratory lunch with a friend in Sausalito, followed by Summer Solstice Eve cocktails (okay, cocktail) and dinner with friends on Tuesday. Spent Quality Time with Banjo the Cat and soaked up some sun on the longest day of the year on Wednesday. Aced my routine appointment with the oncologist and bought myself pretty orange tulips and a pair of wild and crazy socks on Thursday.

Today I will head to the neighborhood hardware/gift store and buy something fun (or not – a friend says I need a crowbar in case of an earthquake, so I can pry open the front door) with the birthday discount, which is half your age. Nice!

Next I will visit The Baby at day care. Then I have an appointment at a posh spa (thank you, Five Favorite Female Friends!) for a Vichy shower treatment. Never had one? You lie on a table on your stomach, covered by a towel, and 12 showerheads on the walls and ceiling massage you with warm water. Then you are dried off, oiled up and sent on your way. It’s bliss! Tonight I hope to spend more time with The Baby and his parents, maybe share a pizza and hear stories about their recent vacation.
There you have it -- a birthday that blends the wondrous with the routine. That's how I like all my days to be! Time to get started on a great day.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Fig Bars, Jelly Bellys and Samuel Beckett

Whole-wheat fig bars, anyone?

We’ve got plain fig, blueberry, raspberry and a combination of peach and apricot. I have a modest three packages; Judy bought out the farm stand. She had to – Judy only has access to these amazing fig bars once a year, when she visits San Francisco.

In addition to copious amounts of fig bars, we bought just-picked strawberries, three of the first juicy white peaches of the season, ruby-like cherries, a jar of strawberry-rhubarb  jam (that was for me) and a stash of hearty, homemade oatmeal-raisin cookies. The stand – called Ceceila’s -- is in the North Bay, where Highway 1 meets the road that leads to the Tennessee Valley Trailhead.

When she left for St. Louis this morning after an action-packed four-day visit, Judy also was toting numerous bags of Jelly Bellys, purchased under the influence of bright primary colors and sugary treats at the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield, about an hour north of my place. We drove there Thursday to take the tour and find out why it takes one week to make a single jellybean. (I’m not telling.)

I will tell that even though I am no longer a food writer, our tour guide said so many amazing things that I had to whip out my tiny always-with-me notebook and write some of it down. Did you know the world has Jelly Bellys because of the Goelitz family, which opened their first candy factory in 1869 in Belleville, Ill.?

Here’s more: The factory, which makes 150 different kinds of candy, goes through 10,000 pounds of cornstarch and 60,000 pounds of sugar every single day. There are 50 flavors of Jelly Bellys, including chili mango, baby wipes (ugh) and chocolate-covered cherry. Judy and I were certain we would not like that flavor, but after a taste, we each bought a big bag of Belly Flops, irregularly shaped beans that didn’t make the cut for the retail market.     

We also bought small bags of several other flavors, and I felt compelled to buy infant-size Jelly Belly socks for that baby I keep talking about. And why not?

Still, candy was not the main theme of Judy’s visit. We indulged in truffle fries, shrimp beignets and a cheeseburger at Cliff House, samosas and Chennai chicken at Dosa, the amazing Il Sol pizza and chopped Italian salad at Bambino’s, sangria at Colibri and shrimp salad and Dungeness crab quesadillas at Scoma’s in Sausalito. Oh, and kosher hot dogs at AT&T Park, where we sat in red (Judy) and orange and black (me) at Wednesday night’s game between the Cardinals and the Giants.

On Wednesday, a cold and windy day, we went to see "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," a delightful movie full of the sights and sounds of India  -- plus Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Bill Nighy. Great fun! On Thursday night, we saw two Beckett plays at the American Conservatory Theatre: the riveting “Play” and the remarkable “Endgame,” with the supremely gifted Bill Irwin. Both were provocative and intense – and that makes for an excellent night of theater.

We shopped a bit, meandering in and out of stores in Sausalito one sunny afternoon. We also drove to Novato to buy the soundtrack for “Smash” at Target. Because there are no Target stores in San Francisco and I can never think of any good reason to drive to the suburbs (shopping is not a good reason), I have not been in Target for more than two years. Still, it was fun to be in the store, and I bought a $10 lime green trashcan for the bathroom.

During Judy’s visit, we also accidentally took a trivia quiz at the Disney Store. The night we were going to the theater, we got to Union Square early, so we popped into the store, where we meandered around calling out the names of the plush versions of characters we have loved in the Disney movies for our entire lives. A young woman with a clipboard approached us and invited us to take a quiz about Disney characters. We sat right down and got to it – and we did well, too.

No prizes were offered for our efforts. No tiny plush Pooh or Thumper or Sorcerer’s Apprentice, no tiara or magic wand or other princess attire, no miniature Buzz Lightyear or Kermie or Simba. Worse, the store no longer carries any “Pirates of the Caribbean” merchandise. Good thing I got my Captain Jack Sparrow tote bag when I did.

That said, waiting at home we had a terrific treat – whole-wheat fig bars in many flavors.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Of Mother's Day, Mark Rothko and Jelly Beans

Happy Mother's Day!

Breaking News: Though we’ve only known each other for four months, our relationship is serious. How can that happen so quickly? How can it not, when the object of my unconditional love is my four-month-old grandson? He now smiles when he sees me. I smile all the time, just because he exists.

This Mother’s Day, I salute that baby’s wonderful mother, my dear daughter-in-law Patricia. A shout-out also goes to Gerry and Susan, the baby’s other grandmas; his aunt Martia; his great aunt Betty; and all my dear friends who are moms and grandmas. I also honor my own grandmothers, Lil and Annie, on this day.

And of course I remember with love my mom, Bonnie.

She never got to meet Joel, which is so sad. Because of that, I am serving as grandmother for both of us, soaking up every moment I am with the baby. I sing made-up songs to him. Among our favorites are “It’s Fun to Be Naked,” the “Nana” song and the one where I sing the names of all the people (and the cat) who love him.

Living in San Francisco, being in the middle of family, still feels surprising after almost two years. I remain startled that I did it -- packed up after 61 years and left St. Louis, set out for new territory, moved to this world-class city. Driving up the hill to the grocery, I still gaze in wonder when the skyline and the sparkling waters of the Bay come into view and I still exult: “I LIVE HERE!”

And I am still learning. For instance, did you know that Mother’s Day in Mexico is May 10 every year? I learned this Thursday on the bus when I complimented a young woman on the huge bouquet she carried. “I kept telling my mama that Mother’s Day in this country isn't until Sunday but she wanted to celebrate today, so I’m heading to her house,” she said. Then she kindly wished me a happy Mother’s Day.

It's a Trip: Riding the bus, I’ve also learned that pigeons like to hang out on the small second-story porches of some Victorian houses. Some homeowners place large plastic owls on the porches to discourage pigeons. Riding along, I noticed two porches with owls and next door, a second-story porch full of pigeons, cautiously observing the owls. So it works!

I’ve sung the praises before of riding the bus here. There’s something invigorating about being in the middle of so many different people. One day last week, a German couple sat talking next to a turbaned Sikh. Across from them was an Hispanic family, who stopped to help a Russian woman reposition her bulging grocery bags. Get on a bus in San Francisco, and you will see the world.

You also will see the passion people here have for sports. On the bus, I have seen people toting surfboards, golf clubs, tennis rackets and footballs. Musicians ride the bus too. One guy got on juggling a yard-long keyboard, a guitar, a backpack and a cup of coffee. Those of us on the bench shifted to make room.   

In Other News, as the anchorpeople say on TV, a couple of weeks ago, I went to see “Red,” John Logan’s provocative play about Mark Rothko, at the Berkeley Rep. I’ve admired Rothko’s work at the St. Louis Art Museum and the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, but after learning more about the man from the play and the program notes, I wanted to spend time again with one of his paintings.

Rothko didn’t want people to stand across the room from his famous floating blocks of color. He wanted people to move in close, stand just 18 inches away, to better absorb the art and hear – or feel -- what Rothko had to say. I headed to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and got up close to No. 14 (1960). As I moved into position, a young girl, maybe 11 or 12, standing nearby turned to her mother and said, “I get it.” I willed myself to stop thinking, and after awhile, I think I got it, too.

Good News: More theater is on the schedule. The gifted Bill Irwin is now at A.C.T. in Beckett’s “Endgame” and “Play,” which I’ll see this week when Judy visits. We also will attend a Giants v. Cardinals game – with me all in orange and black and Judy in red. We may also visit the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield, about an hour north of San Francisco. Apparently it takes a week to make a single jellybean.

I don’t know about you, but I want to know why! 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Weekend in the Country

A weekend in the country (sing along, Sondheim fans) beckoned – a trip north from San Francisco to Elk (aka Greenwood), a town of 426 that sits perched on Highway 1 about 18 miles south of the town of Mendocino.

The trip to Elk and environs offered time with extended family and a splendid Easter dinner at the home of Anne-Marie and Robin. The long table was filled with platters of lamb and ham, twice-baked potatoes, homemade biscuits, green beans cooked with bacon and a festive salad with plenty of sliced avocado.

For dessert, Susan made an English trifle with fresh berries soaked in Triple Sec and also a Charlotte Russe, which she said her grandmother referred to as “ice-box cake.” Of course, there were plenty of chocolate eggs to go around as well, and the kids shared with the grown-ups. The kids also shared the trampoline (go, Martia!) and their card games. 

I made the trip with Susan, who was eager to navigate the twisty mountain roads and dirt paths that lead to Elk and beyond to the homes of her brother and sister-in-law and her nephew. As we headed out Saturday afternoon, Susan announced, “We’re off like a herd of turtles.”

Critters (beyond turtles, lamb and ham) were a big part of the long weekend, and as we rode along, we City Girls had fun calling out what we saw: Cows of many colors, a lone majestic bull, horses prancing in the sun, sheep, a single llama, 17 brown pelicans swooping and soaring, goats, a gopher digging a hole, a young deer and what may or may not have been a raccoon darting across the road.

“My friend once saw what she thought was a wild turkey, but it turned out to be a plastic bag,” Susan said as we drove. Not long afterward, we saw two actual turkeys that did not resemble plastic bags at all. But then, I once spied a penguin on a major thoroughfare in St. Louis County that turned out to be a box in the road that appeared penguin-shaped only in a certain light.

The worst sighting turned out to be the best. Driving along, we saw a large lump of light-colored fur just off the road. We both made low sounds of despair, hesitating to define what we thought we saw. When we got closer, I put my hand up to block my view. “Oh no – it is a dog, a poor dead dog,” I said. Then Susan laughed, which was not the reaction I had expected. Just as we passed by, Susan saw the “dead” dog raise its head and look at us, probably wondering what the fuss in the car was all about.

Dead animals – specifically, whales – were in evidence at the Point Arena Light Station, where we stopped on Monday on the trip home. Susan opted to climb the steps to the top of the 115-foot historic lighthouse while I hung out on a bench in the Native Plant Garden that overlooks the sea. Displayed among the plants are a gray whale's massive skull and several whale vertebrae. I like bones, and I liked being in the open air at the edge of the sea, watching pelicans fly in formation overhead as a wee gopher dug a hole in the dirt.

Perusing the nautical souvenirs in the gift shop, just off the Natural History Museum at the lighthouse, I saw a sign that urged people to call a hotline if killer whales were spotted. I asked the clerk about it. “I’ve never seen a killer whale,” she said. “I don't know anyone who has.” I volunteered that I have, off the Farallon islands. The woman seemed disappointed.

Shopping in downtown Mendocino on Sunday morning was not at all disappointing – especially at Ocean Quilts and Creative Hands, two shops on Main Street close to the water. Sandy, Susan’s sister-in-law, owns both. Ocean Quilts has lovely quilts, of course, but also beautiful sweaters and scarves and other gift items. At Creative Hands, we found high-quality tee shirts and an abundance of tie-dyed socks (hand-dyed by a couple in Fort Bragg) and clothing for little girls. Icons, a shop on Lansing Street, also was a delightful place to browse.

Other shopping stops included the Elk Store, where I bought mustard. I am an aficionado of condiments, and after tasting Mendocino Mustard on the aforementioned ham at Easter dinner, I wanted a jar to call my own. I bought two jars, one of each kind: Hot and Sweet and Seeds and Suds. For details, see

On this particular road trip, the best signs were these: “1 MEN,” “1 SON” and “VICIOUS BULLS.” The first and second appeared on highway mile markers, indications that we were driving on Highway 1 in Mendocino and Sonoma counties, respectively. (“1 MEN” grates in so many ways, doesn’t it?) “VICIOUS BULLS” was stenciled atop a cattle chute in a field by the road. None were in residence.

On the way to Elk on Saturday, we had stopped in at Yogurtdale in Cloverdale for tasty self-serve frozen yogurt. On the way home from Elk on Monday, we stepped it up a bit and stopped at the Korbel Winery outside Guerneville, where we tasted several sparkling wines. We both bought wine. Susan bought tea towels and at the deli, I bought an award-winning pastrami sandwich to take home for supper.

That was the long weekend -- family, food, wildlife and one scenic vista after another while on the road in northern California.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Dancing for the Health of It

Last Thursday afternoon, I left home late in the afternoon feeling besieged by deadlines, denials and disheartening news. Rode two buses to Pacific Heights. Walked into dance class completely in my head, all sensations of the body fully blocked – not a comfortable place.

Dance class was exactly where I needed to be.

I needed to dance, to whirl and stretch and twirl my way through the dimly lit room, past the wooden shelves that hold rolled and folded yoga mats and blankets displayed like bolts of colorful fabric, past the windows that reveal calla lilies blooming in the healing garden just outside, past the words of wisdom painted on the pale green walls.

I needed to dance among the other women in the class, women whose names I do not know but women who every Thursday danced away the cares of their day, first conjuring up personal disappointment, delight and everything in between -- and then shaking it all off to begin anew.

I needed to experience once again what I had dubbed the “kinesthetic touchless car wash,” where the dancers send waves of energy and affirmation toward one person in the middle of a circle. We took turns, of course, and everyone moved out of the circle reinvigorated.

I needed so very much to get out of my head, to return to inhabiting my entire body again.

Thursday was the last night of an eight-week class at the Institute for Health & Healing called 5Rhythms®, a remarkable “movement meditation” that encourages freestyle dancing to music that embodies the following five rhythms, or “states of being,” as founder Gabrielle Roth describes them:

FLOWING – the fluid, continuous, grounded glide of our own movements

STACCATO – the percussive, pulsing beat that shapes us a thousand different ways

CHAOS – the rhythm of letting go, releasing into the catalytic wildness of our dance that can never be planned or repeated

LYRICAL – the rhythm of trance, where the weight of self-consciousness dissolves, where we lighten up and disappear into our own uniqueness

STILLNESS – the quiet emptiness, where gentle movements rise and fall, start and end, in a field of silence
Some 245 teachers are registered to teach 5Rhythms, and it seems as though that is not enough. Here’s a remark I overheard the first night of class: “A friend of mine on the East Coast has to drive three hours to take a 5Rhythmns class offered just once a month, but here in San Francisco, you can find a class five nights a week.”

So it’s popular. Before I signed up, I was assured that anyone of any age, size, or physical ability could be in the class. “Do we dance together?” I asked. I had to ask. I can’t count, so I can’t dance as part of an ensemble. Trust me on this. Once, three decades ago, a professional dancer spent hours over the course of several weeks, trying to help me count the beat so I could dance in a show. I ended up with a solo.

The IHH brochure spells it all out: “There are no steps to follow, no choreography to learn, no way to do it wrong. The only requirement is a body that is still breathing, a heart that is still beating, and mind that is still curious!” So after a free sample class that left me exhilarated and exhausted, I signed up.

The remarkable Sylvie Minot teaches the class at IHH (see, and she incorporates Caroline Myss' energy anatomy work into the 5Rhythms movement practice. Sylvie recommends the class for “anyone who would like to increase their physical and emotional health, joy, vitality, and overall well-being.” Among the benefits are stress relief, improved physical fitness and emotional health.

Roth, who founded 5Rhythms in the 1970s, says you “put the body in motion in order to still the mind.” Thursday, it worked.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Anyone for Cocktails?

Running for a bus about 10 days ago, it hit me: This is how I am spending the cocktail hour of my life.

That marvelous phrase is not original. Ken Page, the personable actor and cabaret performer, said it some years ago at the Kevin Kline Awards show in reference to his own life. I embraced the phrase and ran with it – yes, sometimes for the bus.

“The cocktail hour” – how “Mad Men,” how decadent, how glamorous. Taken literally, the phrase conjures up images of a welcome transition between the rigors of full-time work and the free evening yet to come. 

Listen, and you can hear the clink of martini glasses (thank you, John Carney) and see the gleam of the burnished wood on the bar. Or maybe the cocktail is something frothy and tropical (thank you, Baja Discovery), enjoyed in a beach chair. Perhaps it’s a sip or two of a Negroni (thank you, Ross) before beginning preparations before dinner.

In my life, a literal cocktail hour takes place once a month when I join friends (thank you Susan, Judy and Denise) on the night of the full moon for an extravagant alcoholic beverage and lively conversation. We also order a burger or crab cakes -- or both -- to share, along with salty truffle fries. Some nights, we get to watch the sun slide into the sea (thank you, Cliff House), and we always look forward to finding the moon later in the night sky. Still, the highlight of the event is reading the elaborate descriptions in the bar menu, choosing just the right cocktail and anticipating that first taste.

The figurative nature of "the cocktail hour" fits my life perfectly -- all the time, not just once a month. Sitting on that bus, not even out of breath after running, I settled in and looked at the other riders. I saw many different kinds of people, as that’s one of San Francisco’s strengths. I saw young people, and in their faces I could see what they will look like when they are old. I saw old people, and in their faces I could see what they had looked like when they were young.

At one point, I saw my own face reflected in the window across from where I sat. I saw me as I am, but I also saw me as younger and as older. I smiled at my reflection. “I look good,” I thought. "I'm so happy to be right here, right now." Then I began to consider exactly how I am spending this, the cocktail hour of my life.

The most important moments right now are those when I hold a baby, a baby I seemingly have waited my whole life to meet. He is my grandson, a huge source of joy for his entire family. Right now, my sense is that he thinks of me as a friendly, soft, overstuffed chair. One day when I was holding him as he slept, I said to my daughter-in-law, “This is what I want to be when I grow up, this is what I want to do.”  She smiled and pointed out that I what I want to be is exactly what I am – a baby holder, and so happy to be just that.

I spend time with my extended family, which is always a pleasure. I work a little, or a lot if deadlines require it, and then it’s right back to a little. From my living room window, I watch ships of all sorts come in and go out of San Francisco Bay, and when I can't see them, I listen to the mournful fog horns. I hang out in familiar neighborhoods and I explore neighborhoods new to me, popping in and out of stores, sampling restaurants and relaxing in coffee shops. I ride the streetcar to the beach and meander along the edge of the continent.

Usually, I work out three times a week and go for walks other days – unless it’s cold and rainy, and then I stay in, drink hot tea and read. One of my hobbies is checking in with the Social Security benefits calculator, to try to determine when to claim what’s mine.I go the theater, I visit museums and walk around the zoo. I take biscuits to the dog that works at the insurance company on the corner.

Of course I keep up with friends in St. Louis. I’ve even gone to four or five parties there, via Skype. It’s always great to spend time with the Five Favorite Female Friends. They put the laptop in the middle of the table at the home of the hostess and I sit at my desk. We all nibble on snacks and enjoy drinks while we talk, just as we have done for decades. I also send cards to cheer people on (thinking of you, Bryan), to express heartfelt sympathy (thinking of you, Ann) and to check in (thinking of you, Elliot). 

I make time to go play when friends come to town, which happens often. Gail was just here for four days. We went whale watching, toured Half Moon Bay, shopped at a flea market, visited seven tee-shirt shops and downed Irish coffees at the Buena Vista. Judy and Scott stopped for brunch Monday, on their way from Las Vegas to Portland. Michael is here now, and we’ll get together early next week.

And I do literally run for buses, the buses that take me just about anywhere I want to go. I’m so good at this now that usually I can quickly figure which of the three or four routes I prefer to take to get home from any neighborhood. True, riding the bus takes more time than driving, but I never have to worry about wacky traffic or finding a place to park.

Besides, I have the time, here in the remarkable cocktail hour of my life.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Smile -- You're in a Giants Commercial!

About 400 San Francisco Giants fans showed up Friday at AT&T Park dressed in orange, dressed in black and dressed in orange and black. One man sported a 7-inch high Mohawk; a young boy wore a shorter version, dyed orange. Another fan arrived in a black Wolverine costume festooned with touches of orange. One sported an orange jumpsuit, complete with matching hat, covered in Giants themes.

Beards were on display in great abundance (like the Mohawks, an homage to closer Brian Wilson) -- foam beards, fuzzy beards pasted on or held on with straps and even posters of beards, with cutouts for faces. One man sported an authentic Wilson-style beard. The parents of a three-year-old boy drew a beard on his chubby face. A few fans painted their faces the appropriate colors, including a mom and her four-year-old daughter, who sported orange and black paint “masks.”

Some fans wore orange wigs, panda hats or black feather boas. Others carried rally towels, foam fingers and signs extolling the virtues of individual players. Pre-teen girls from a school soccer team arrived in their own game jerseys but carried Giants ensembles, ready for a quick change. A dozen or so 20-somethings brought their cleavage, framed in low-cut, scoop-necked tee shirts; still others wore short black shorts and tight orange tube tops.

Anticipating a chilly wind off McCovey Cove, I dressed in layers: A black camisole, a long-sleeved black tee under a short-sleeved orange Lou Seal tee, a black hoodie with the orange “SF” logo, an orange neck scarf, a black fleece jacket, long johns under black pants, black socks under orange socks and my black Mary Jane shoes, which showed off those fuzzy socks. I wore my Giants earrings, and carried my Giants ball cap.

All of us, from that bearded little boy to the elderly woman with a walker, showed up at the stadium at 8:30 a.m. Throughout the day, the production team moved us from section to section, occasionally pulling out individuals but mainly concentrating on crowd shots. We all were there because we had answered a casting call, applying for the privilege of appearing in a Giants commercial. Here is what I wrote on my application:

“A lifelong Cardinals fan, I committed post-season treason after moving here from St. Louis in the summer of 2010, trading my extensive Redbirds wardrobe for all things Giant. I cheered the team on to the ultimate victory that year, attended Opening Day (Giants v. Cards on April 8, 2011), wore orange and black all season long (three tees, two hats, one sweatshirt, socks, earrings and a tote bag) and remain an avid Giants fan to this day. Friends share tickets with me for some games; most of them I watch on television. Timmy, Matt Cain, Buster, The Beard, Pablo Sandoval, even Lou Seal -- we're family now, and I am eager for the 2012 season to begin. I love baseball and I love the Giants -- of course I belong in a commercial!”

What I didn’t say is how reluctantly I embraced wearing orange and black. Oh, I had to change teams – you must love the one you’re with, or at least watch the baseball that airs on the channel where you live. But orange and black are my high school’s colors, and though I made some good friends there, I don’t have much good to say about the school. These days, it’s a cliché to hate high school, but at the time, we were always being told that high school represented the best years of our lives. I hoped that was a big lie -- and it was. 

Anyway, the producers liked what I wrote and invited me to the stadium. Some 600 people took part in filming on Thursday, and some of those fans came back Friday for more. Chatting with us newbies in the stands, they told us to expect a light lunch at 2, they told us to expect stars to be plucked from among us and they told us that Thursday’s session had lasted until after dark, ending close to 8 p.m.

What did we do all day? Keeping our eye on one particular guy on the field as the camera rolled, we clapped, we squealed, we cheered, we hooted, and we went crazy as instructed with various cues. When the member of the production staff with a megaphone first called out, “Look at home plate,” the woman in front of me stopped everything with her questions: “Who’s batting? What’s the score?” We all rolled our eyes and booed her, if only silently. Method actors!

For hours we were at it, pretending to be at the old ball game throughout the day. We all noticed how difficult it is to shout and wave your arms and hop about for three or four minutes at a time – especially for three or four takes. During a real game, everything happens quickly. Filming television commercials, not so much. They fed us about 12:30 or 1, handing out hot dogs, sodas and small bags of peanuts to everyone there. (“That was a twelve-dollar lunch,” my bus driver quipped later.) Then it was back to work.

At mid-afternoon, a handful of actual Giants – Tim Lincecum, Brian Wilson, Buster Posey and Matt Cain among them -- came out on the field and ran through warm-up exercises. We hooted and howled and a couple of them waved at us. The producers suggested that the players might come over and say “hi,” later but the folks who spent the day at the ballpark on Thursday said not to count on that.

Each time we were asked to move, I grabbed an aisle seat, so I was in several shots, including close-ups. I don't know how the footage will be edited, of course, but I may well end up in a Giants commercial or two. Still, that’s not the only reason I went. This week, someone tried (and failed) to break into my building and on Thursday a small moving van crashed into my parked car. I needed to escape for a day.

About 2:30 p.m., when the crowd had dwindled to about 125 people, I decided I’d had enough. Walking out past the palm trees, I said to myself, “Back to real life.” Then I laughed. Because apparently spending a day at AT&T Park shooting a Giants commercial is part of my real life -- and that rocks.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Miles and Miles of Smiles

How’s the baby? What’s new with Milo? Tell me Milo stories! That’s all I hear from my friends these days, and the questions make me smile.

Who wouldn’t want to talk about a three-week old grandson?

I tell everyone Milo is fine, settling in, helping his parents figure out what they are doing and what he needs, when he needs it. Mostly, of course, he eats and sleeps and makes those soft, endearing baby noises. Sometimes, of course, Milo cries. All babies do, and all you can do is pick them up and love them and hope the crying stops.

I also tell everyone that my role in Milo’s life right now is mostly to grin at him, either when I hold him and rock him in my grandmother’s golden oak rocker or when someone else holds him. Sometimes, Milo grins back, but mostly he dozes or relaxes. Hey, he’s only three weeks old!

Yesterday, when I was sitting next to Milo’s mom, grinning at him as he slept in her arms, she asked if I wanted to hold him for a few minutes before I had to leave. “I want to hold him for years,” I said. But he was settled in, so I let him continue to sleep in his mother’s arms, where he looked so cozy and happy.

Milo and I will have years to snuggle. I just know it.    

Heck, I knew a baby was on the way before I got the call on July 13. Eight days earlier, on my way to a Giants’ game on the streetcar, I was sitting across from a pretty red-haired woman holding a baby girl. I smiled at the woman. She smiled back. When I turned away, I had a strong impression, just a picture in my mind, a sunlit image of a little boy walking in between my daughter-in-law and son. They were all holding hands and smiling. The image was so real that it looked like a photograph.  

That was a heads-up from the wee one, I am certain.

After I got the official call on July 13, I sat at my desk, grinning. My mind was racing and every cell in my body was thrilled. A grandchild – my opportunity to pay back my kind and loving grandmothers and also to make the most of an experience my own mother wanted badly and missed. At the age of 58, my mother retired from her government job and enrolled in college, her way of preparing to be a better grandmother. Four months later, before I became pregnant, my mother died.

I have shared the experience with Carol and Beth and other friends. But now it would be my turn to be a grandmother – and oh what a grandmother I planned to be! Someone like Auntie Mame, always up for an adventure, but also a protector and defender and confidante. I couldn’t wait!

Fast forward to 11 a.m. on Saturday, January 7. I called my daughter-in-law to see when she might be available for some pampering. Susan -- her mom and my dear friend – and I had offered take the mom-to-be out for a pedicure. The phone rang and rang. The silence was louder than it should have been, but I ignored it. At first.

I started working on some newspaper story assignments. Suddenly I raced off to vacuum the bedroom. Then I ran downstairs to throw in a load of laundry. There, I ran into my landlord, grandfather of five. I told him I was jumpy and somehow deeply intent on cleaning everything right this minute. “You’re nesting,” he said, and we laughed.

Running up the stairs from the laundry room, I shivered. “He’s coming,” I thought. “The baby is  coming today.”

I went back to writing, and tidied up the apartment in between paragraphs. A few minutes before 3 p.m., I sent a text to my son saying I was cleaning like crazy and wondering if the baby was coming. He wrote back that contractions were underway!

I knew to say no more. I also realized that with first babies, sometimes contractions stop after they start. But four and half hours later, the call came – the parents-to-be were at the hospital. Just after midnight, another call: “We have a baby,” my son said.

That was just three weeks ago today. I am completely besotted with this little baby, and ever since he was born, I’ve been smiling all the time. Smiling when I am with Milo, smiling when I think about him and smiling when I look at the photo of him on my refrigerator door.

And of course I smile when asked about him, so ask away!