December 1999

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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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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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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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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