Journal: 1999


Telephone relay company night watchman Edward Baker, 31, was killed early Christmas morning by excessive microwave radiation exposure. He was apparently attempting to keep warm next to a telecommunications feedhorn. Baker had been suspended on a safety violation once last year, according to Northern Manitoba Signal Relay spokesperson Tanya Cook. She noted that Baker’s earlier infraction was for defeating a safety shut-off switch and entering a restricted maintenance catwalk in order to stand in front of the microwave dish. He had told coworkers that it was the only way he could stay warm during his twelve-hour shift at the station, where winter temperatures often dip to forty below zero. Microwaves can heat water molecules within human tissue in the same way that they heat food in microwave ovens. For his Christmas shift, Baker reportedly brought a twelve pack of beer and a plastic lawn chair, which he positioned directly in line with the strongest microwave beam. Baker had not been told about a tenfold boost in microwave power planned that night to handle the anticipated increase in holiday long-distance calling traffic. Baker’s body was discovered by the daytime watchman, John Burns, who was greeted by an odor he mistook for a Christmas roast he thought Baker must have prepared as a surprise. Burns also reported to NMSR company officials that Baker’s unfinished beers had exploded.

After reading the above, I thought a bit about the 1998 Darwin Award Winner’s tragic accident.

There’s a lot between those lines.

I think Mr. Baker was dissembling when he stated that it was the only way he could stay warm during those long, long shifts alone.

I also think Mr. Baker was the victim of a perfidious plot that, before he had even completed his preliminary research, led to his death before the dissemination of his ground-breaking discovery that microwaves, in moderation, feel good.

And yes, of course Mr. Baker was not informed of the admittedly “planned” tenfold boost in power to his favorite feedhorn hideaway.

They wanted it to look like an accident. They wanted to keep this secret within their coddled coterie.

Responsibly used, microwave energy can be a safe, sane source of healthy enjoyment. Look at the electric bills of some of those Pacific Heights mansions! They’re not growing marijuana hydroponically; they’ve got “mike rooms”! And I don’t mean karaoke. Improperly used microwave energy, however, can yield Long Pig Steamed in Beer, an old Pacific island favorite. Of course it smelled delicious.

I hope this message gets through and that you are as shocked as I am at the nefarious murder of a scientific pioneer.
Donations to help spread the word can be sent to Matte Gray. Cash only please.

P.S. Many have responded asking for the recipe. Alas, the police refuse to release it.

P.P.S. In 2001 it came to my attention that the event described was a hoax, which somehow makes the whole thing even finer.

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Journal 1999

Pickup on Castro at Elizabeth

Pickup on Castro

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Great Success

I’m just back from Texas, and the trip was a great success. Mother was dottier than ever, but my sister Becky was there and the two of us schmoozed nonstop.

Had a talk with Mother’s lawn man about the rather bedraggled look, and, being a true professional, he had the answer.

Ammonium Nitrate.

Not available everywhere, unfortunately, but there’s a feed store in Nacogdoches that sells it…in unmarked bags, but it’s the real stuff. Just no substitute for it, and don’t let ’em try to pawn off ammonium sulfate on you. Hold out for the ammonium nitrate. You can leave it in that unused garbage can beside the back porch.

So I thought about it. Should I use Mother’s credit card or maybe just give ’em cash?

And as we were pulling up in front of the feed store, I came up with an even better idea.

I sent Becky in to get it.

P.S. OK, OK. I made up the part about the unmarked bag. It’s clearly labeled. And by now I can only hope he used it on the lawn.

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An Email Exchange

Date: Thursday, September 23, 1999 5:43 PM
Subject: United Ad

Mr. McBrayer,

I’ve just read the September 23rd issue of the Bay Area Reporter [a San Francisco gay newspaper] and couldn’t help noticing the full page United Airlines ad. I understand that the BAR must have advertising revenue to survive, and I want the BAR to survive. However, I do not see how you can, in good conscience, print an ad in which United boasts of being “…the first [US airline] to announce domestic partner benefits…” without their mentioning that they were forced by court order to do so and that they have appealed the order.

Of course when United’s appeal is successful, I’m sure that The White Christian Times will be just delighted to run their ad boasting that they were the first airline to withdraw domestic partner benefits.

But hey, I’m sure you really, really needed the money and meant no harm. Besides, I take some comfort in realizing that anyone too ignorant to be outraged by the mendacity of that ad probably wouldn’t be able to find his way to the airport anyhow.

Yours truly,
Matte Gray
San Francisco

Date: Friday, September 24, 1999 9:43 AM
Subject: Re: United Ad

Oh Please



Family Reunion – October 1999

I returned yesterday from a trip to Texas, where I took Mother to a Yarbrough family reunion on a hilltop at the site of the homestead of the first Yarbrough in Texas. She was the only great granddaughter of this man, the other Yarbrough women present being great-great granddaughters at least. The only people I knew, of the seventy-five people there, were two cousins, a second cousin, and a cousin once removed. The great majority of the others were descendants of one of my great-great grandfather’s brothers.

When I stood up to introduce Mother and me, I said, “I’m Louis Bryan, and this is my mother, who lives in Garrison. She was born Kathryn Lamerle Yarbrough and is the daughter of Robert Henry Yarbrough, granddaughter of William Henry Yarbrough, and great granddaughter of Asa Yarbrough.” Someone asked where I lived, and I said, with a self-deprecating smile and my butchest baritone, “I’m a computer geek from San Francisco.” And in the remaining two hours we spent there socializing, not a single person had another question about computers, geeks, San Francisco, or me.

A sultry afternoon, even under the oaks, but with a lovely view of the Attoyac River bottom, a dozen miles or so above the point where the Attoyac is subsumed by the Angelina.

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Pure, Shining Clarity

Isn’t it wonderful to have that moment of pure, shining clarity when, after you’ve experienced annoyance creep building for days, finally the scale tips and the realization bubbles up from your subconscious that you could terminate the ever-mounting frustration with a simple, five-minute maintenance procedure and once again be gliding smoothly through life?

So I grabbed it, flipped it on its back, opened it up, and scrubbed that little mouse squeaky clean.


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Christmas Plans

Since I moved to San Francisco, I have kept Thanksgiving for myself and gone to Texas for Christmas, which has some bearing on why I love Thanksgiving and dislike Christmas (other than the tired old reasons of holiday concept: sharing food vs. commercial greed, nonsectarian vs. American Christian, etc.).

It is now public knowledge that I am showing up in Texas a week early for Christmas since Mother no longer knows what day it is. Not traveling at Christmastime is going to be an enormous pleasure, since the memory is still quite clear of last year’s airline and frozen highway nightmare in which I got to fly all over the country at no extra cost on my way to and from Texas.

However, there is another, larger reason for my not going to Texas at Christmas.

For the past ten years, I have escorted my mother to a Christmas Day gathering at the home of my cousin Suzanne’s ex-in-laws, her only good husband (and she’s had a couple of the other kind) having had the poor taste to drop dead of a heart attack in his late thirties after they’d been married only eighteen months. But she’s still thick with these ex-in-laws, who are very family oriented and who gather a crowd of about forty of their relatives, only one of whom other than Suzanne is related to me, a third cousin.

These people are just plain old folks, which, when you’re just a few miles this side of the Louisiana border, means, well, differently oriented on a number of cultural issues.

When Suzanne got these people to invite Mother to join their celebration of the birth of Our Lord, they had never met me. They had probably never met Mother either, but Suzanne, bless her heart, knew Mother and I were Alone At Christmas and, in a Christian spirit of sharing, got us invited.

So for ten years I have spent Christmas Day in a gathering at which a sizable chunk of the crowd loathes me on sight but is demonstrating Charity by tolerating me and even briefly speaking to me. To be fair, the majority of the crowd is friendly. For example, my third cousin (who is my source for wild turkeys) and her husband are really very nice people. The host and hostess are gracious, and their mothers are very nice to both Mother and me. And then, something like a quarter of the crowd is radiating hostility but, it being Christmas, grit their teeth, stay as far away from me as possible, and casually drift out any room I enter.

Last Christmas, I asked, “Why do I continue to do this?”

I haven’t yet decided what I’m going to do for Christmas this year, but it will be here in San Francisco and it’s going to be fun.

Everybody wins.

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Christmas Eve

Ohhh, it’s Christmas Eve, and all’s well. I haven’t had such a wonderful Christmas Eve in decades.

This morning I sipped a monstrously fine coffee from Peet’s while I called friends in Amsterdam and London, and received a call from my cousin Jania in Texas.

Then I caught up on some email correspondence, lunched on a sandwich of spectacular smoked turkey that I’d smuggled in from Texas, and made a batch of my now internationally acclaimed chocolate sauce (four continents, if we’re counting Australia).

Late this afternoon I strolled down to the gym and performed a really splendid workout, during which one of my fellow pumpers took a close look at the Oracle Applications T-shirt and cried out, “Love yer stock!” (It’s tripled since this summer.)

I completed my workout by climbing back up the hill to my flat, detouring a block to the west to Castro Street so that I could 1. take a look at the window at Ixia (stunning floral/vegetable/plant matter designs. Click on that link!), 2. eat a milk chocolate with macadamia nut cookie at Hot Cookie and 3. be faced with a somewhat easier grade on the return trip.

For supper, I baked a sweet potato and a red onion, surmounting the sweet potato with a generous ladle of Wolf Brand Chili from Texas and the onion with a couple of tablespoons of quark. Before you recoil in horror, I have to tell you that the piquancy of the chili and the sourness of the quark cut the sweetness of the sweet potato and onion, producing really fine flavor combinations.

As an evening constitutional, I climbed over the top of Dolores Heights on 21st Street and then down between Sanchez and Church to a house that has for many years been spectacularly decorated and more recently has featured a Santa. The street was thronged with cars and a crowd of pedestrians gasping both in delight and from having climbed the hill. And sure enough, Santa was there, being photographed with various persons, mostly of the quite short variety. I expressed my appreciation of the decorations by giving him a jar of the chocolate sauce, the act delighting both him and the crowd as folks were unaccustomed to seeing someone giving Santa a present.

I returned home feeling quite good about the world.

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New Year’s Eve

I was invited to a New Year’s party at the home of some friends of friends, and at the last minute decided to go. Since it was only seven blocks away (three south and four west), I decided to be prudent and walk, especially after I had noticed that apparently many of my neighbors were having parties since there was not a parking place in sight.

Seven blocks is not very far in, say, Lubbock, Texas. But I live near the top of Dolores Heights, and the party was in Noe Valley, and what those place names do not convey is that since Noe Valley rises fairly steeply in the four blocks to the west, the party was actually at pretty much the same elevation as my flat. So the trick was to lose as little elevation as possible in getting there. This was complicated by an unnamed hill to the southwest that is so steep that several streets don’t go through, so by the time I got around the hill on the streets to the south, I felt that I had given up a bit too much elevation.

I’m glad I made it, though, because playing at the party was a really delightful Ragtime trio whom I had heard on earlier occasions. They officially ended their set shortly before midnight, but got so caught up by the spirit of the evening that they resumed playing a few minutes later and continued for some time.

The crowd was a superbly San Francisco mix. Everything from three gay leather punks with spiked collars to young straight yuppie couples to a delightful and ancient Japanese couple.

We were all out in the street at the stroke of midnight just as the 11 Hoffman came wheezing up 24th Street to stop at our corner. Most of the party made a ceremonial loop through the completely empty bus, and we gave the driver an unopened bottle of champagne for later.

The walk home was great fun, as there were people afoot on every block returning from neighborhood parties, and we cheered each other home. I did, however, perhaps slightly confused by those last few glasses of champagne, again give up too much elevation on the return trip, although this time I tried skirting the crest of that unnamed hill on street stairs but ended up damn near the crest on Alvarado Street. I shall have to try this again, sober.

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