Journal: 2000

Joys of Progeny

Some time back, my friend Peter wrote me about teaching a class on Romeo and Juliet, steamy teenage passion and all that, to his son’s high school English class and mentioned the son’s describing the event as his “Day of Humiliation.”

Or consider my prematurely-balding friend Jürgen, who recently went back to Germany to visit his parents after an absence of several years. He was innocently sitting there reading the newspaper at the breakfast table when his mother came over behind him, giggled at her first sighting of his bald spot, and leaned over and kissed it.

I got rather a kick out of both of these and used them in an email to a number of friends dilating upon this joy of parenthood that I missed: embarrassing one’s children.

Then again, my friend Jim recently forwarded me an email from his thirtyish son Mark, an utterly delightful young man who seems to embody his father’s finer qualities while avoiding the other ones. This email was the excellent sort of thing I would have expected Mark to send his father. In it he discussed some splendid wedding pictures Jim had taken and then artfully arranged with delicious captions on several web pages. However, Mark’s comments included a line which gave me more and more pause as I dwelt on it. He wrote: “You still take good people pictures.” Now some people would take this as a straightforward and accurate compliment of one’s father’s photographic ability. It came to me, though, that here was revealed yet another serpent’s tooth. At what age, I asked Jim, was he when Mark started reassuring him that he was… still…retaining his abilities?

I should find this quite tiresome in my progeny.

Perhaps it’s best after all that I avoided them.

Self portrait with artichoke blossom

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The Mosquito

Finally, after a three-day heat wave, this morning about 3:00, our friend the fog returned to the top of Twin Peaks, brought by a 20 knot zephyr at about 12 degrees C.

While applauding my pinpointing of this event, you may wonder just why I was able to do so. The answer, insomnia, brought on either by my excitement over the impending visit of an old friend or by my having slain, gasp, a mosquito on my laundry porch at dusk and thus lain there naked atop my bed impatiently waiting to be devoured alive before the house cooled off enough that I could shelter under a sheet.

Apparently I killed the only mosquito in the neighborhood that hatched in the brief window of opportunity the heat wave offered. Either that or my constant thrashing about after imaginary bites so exhausted the hovering clouds of mosquitoes that one by one, their famished bodies fell noiselessly to the floor before I finally succumbed to sleep at 3:30 or so.

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Icky Ikea

I had managed to wriggle out of a friend’s proposed trip to Ikea (the Swedish purveyor of home furnishings) for its opening last week, but was cornered and taken (in the Elizabethan sense), and trying not to take it too badly, took my friend (henceforth, The Instigator) there Saturday afternoon. When we left his place downtown at 5:00, the city streets were crowded. And the freeway! Heavy, heavy traffic. We were halfway to Treasure Island before we got up to the speed limit. Now that I’m not commuting, I’m unaccustomed to this, and joked with my companion that everyone was headed to Ikea. As we got off the freeway in Emeryville and were on surface streets approaching Ikea, the traffic got heavier and heavier. The thought recurred that all these people were headed for Ikea. Ha, ha, we laughed. As we crept toward Ikea’s enormous building, the dialogue took the following turn, paraphrasing my favorite Gary Larson cartoon:

“Looks like a trap,” I said.

“Nonsense,” The Instigator said. “What’s a trap doing way out here in Emeryville?” he said.

It was a trap, alright.

There were Emeryville police at intersections herding us all past the entrances to the parking lot and around a great loop through town but eventually bringing us back to the parking lot entrance from the other direction, where we were permitted to enter. We cruised around like jackals watching for the old or weak, except we were all waiting for burdened people to approach a car. At which point five or six of us would converge upon the prey, each of us firmly convinced that God certainly was absolutely clear that we were the rightful new occupants of the coveted space.

I’m on Prozac to try to calm myself down a bit. It’s working. The irrational and unpredictable bursts of anger are subsiding. Unfortunately, so is my ability to be the alpha jackal.

Luckily, we spotted a sign for supplemental parking and ultimately found a dirt lot way out there and joined the throng of pilgrims headed toward this new shrine.

And inside? Inside, acres and acres of pretty ordinary stuff at reasonable prices, all being examined by hordes of eager shoppers following a well marked trail that led you through all the departments. And here and there, very occasionally, were things that were just astonishingly excellent at unbelievably low prices. The kind of thing that you double and triple check to see whether that’s really the price and start examining closely to see what’s wrong with it. Like a five leg, swiveling, height adjustable, extremely comfortable work chair with well upholstered seat and back. And it was beautifully designed, not a false move anywhere. In several adrenaline-inducing colors for $29.95. I wanted so much to need that work chair.

And then we realized that the trail ahead of us was full of people and that movement had slowed to a creep. We were approaching the checkout lines.

We got home by nine.

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Farmers’ Market Report

After buying a box of cherries and filling one bag with grapefruit (16 @ 4/$1.00) during an initial swoop on the Hamadas (the only vendors I know who still have a few of the old Marsh variety trees yielding the old, sour white grapefruit) and seeing the worried look on their faces when I inquired whether they would have more the following weekend, I took the bag back to my car. Realizing that I didn’t have enough money for one of Mrs. Hoffman’s smoked duck breasts and everything else, I stopped by the ATM on Battery Street. Recharged, I returned to the market, stopping first at Hoffman’s. Alas, there had been a very early run on the duck breasts, so I had to make do with one of their chickens, which I had planned to roast pretty much naked tonight, dressed only in a little salt and pepper. When you’ve got a chicken that fine, you don’t want to do too much to it.

Then on to my quark boy at Oakdale Cheese for one of his quark brownies to nibble for breakfast. While nibbling, I discovered a nice girl with the first peaches, which, for the first peaches, even filtered through the brownie, were ambrosial. So I got a bag. And then to my potato girl, where I picked up a few German Butterballs, Van Mourik’s for three pounds of almonds for my cousin, and back to the Hamadas for another sixteen grapefruit. Dropped in at Medina’s to continue establishing myself with the Ferry Plaza crew as a Serious Customer, for whom the Good Stuff should be put back.

Medina’s is the perfect example of Thom Gunn’s theory of Beauty Drain, which is similar to Brain Drain except that it’s beauty draining to the coasts. I was a regular for years at Medina’s at the San Mateo farmers’ market, and I bought my berries by the flat there. Like almost all the other vendors in San Mateo, my berry man was nondescript. Not so at Medina’s at Ferry Plaza, where the salespeople are as carefully picked as the produce, all fair youths and maidens gay (in the old sense, dammit), cheerful, bright, and squeaky clean except for maybe the tiniest hint of dirt under the nails for authenticity.

Finally, the obligatory stop at my cactus/succulent guy, pumping him for propagation information and purchasing a Lobivia arachnacantha to replace one of my Failures. It’s covered with buds, so we shall see…..

Returning home, I picked up some Clover/Stornetta heavy cream for the peaches, and as I was unpacking everything, ate the ripest peach out of hand. Then I cut up the second ripest in a bowl, added an equal volume of cereal, a bit of sugar, and milk and heavy cream. Ohh, heaven. Then I examined the cherries. The variety is Brooks, one I’d not eaten. They are, or actually were, since I ate all of them during the examination process, a nice medium red, big, perhaps the biggest cherry I’ve ever seen, and shaped like miniature pumpkins, a little flattened. Wonderfully tart and sweet. Then I needed some meat, so I dug into the freezer and found an ancient pair of desiccated Italian sausages, which I fried up and ate with another peach and some fresh chèvre. By then, it was lunchtime, but I was exhausted and crawled into bed.

I awoke at five, had a large bowl of cereal with two peaches and cream, and came in here to write this. I think I’ll go back to bed now and cook that chicken tomorrow.

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Farmers’ Market Report

I don’t think it’s too early to crow. The new meds are definitely an improvement. I’m having more Good Days and the neuropathy that was for the past year driving me batty is definitely retreating, residing now only in the tips of my fingers.

The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market was just electric Saturday morning. I got only a dozen white grapefruit this week from the Hamadas (I’m tapering off and they’re running out), but they had their wonderful Brooks cherries again this week. They also had another variety for the first time, but I found it inferior to the Brooks and didn’t write it down. They also had their first nectarines, and when I tasted the sample, my taste buds went into a spasm that was astonishingly painful. Ohhh, it hurt so good, and soooo much better than those furry peaches. The Hamadas are such delightful, friendly people. It was ages before I asked them their names, and when I finally thought to do so, my long delay was embarrassing to me.

Mr. Hamada’s given name is Yukio but he goes by Yuk, which is pronounced Yuke. When I first got his name I tried to show off by making an allusion to Yukio Mishima, but Mr. Hamada had more sensible priorities. The older woman is Mrs. Hamada, given name Iyoko, and the girl (that shows my age, I meant, of course, young woman) is Janet, who I wrongly assumed was their daughter merely because she’s Japanese. The other worker is a man named Gordon Patterson, and if I have this straight, he teaches high school math, which is an eloquent argument regarding teacher compensation in California. They’re all wonderful people. One time when I asked the name of a nectarine, Gordon grabbed a sheaf of papers, flipped them open, took a quick look and said, “904.” After hours of giving the trade name “Crimson Blush,” or whatever, for a lark he gave me the agricultural code.

But I digress. After buying Brooks cherries from the Hamadas, I kept discovering other vendors with their first cherries this week, so I bought two more varieties: Tartarians and Vistas. By the time I was passing Medina’s, I already had a heavy load, but Medina’s, bless them, had their first raspberries. I got only one box because I didn’t feel up to making jelly this weekend.

The Brooks cherries are a real delight. They’re so big and so meaty/crunchy that each one is like a fruit appetizer course. They’re wonderful with chèvre and just fabulous with quark.

I am continuing to plan my Western Motor Tour, trying to browbeat four households in Denver, Santa Fe, Canyon (TX), and Midland (TX), in that order, to commit to a one and a half day visit from me. It came as a great shock to me to discover that these people have lives that are actually planned over a month in advance. Negotiations are still in progress, and not everyone has signed off, one of the involved households apparently having had the poor taste to go away for the weekend, but the current tentative plan has me wandering through the Basin and Range and over the Rockies, arriving in Denver on 24 June, leaving Midland on 2 July, and wandering back through the Basin and Range. Sort of Blue Highways light.

One of the very highest culinary points of this trip will occur between Canyon and Midland, when I stop at the White Pig in Lubbock, where I plan to eat myself sick on their chili dogs so I will no longer be plagued with long distance desire for them. I last ate one of these marvels in the spring of 1975, and they better not have changed that recipe! It would be just my luck if they’ve replaced it with a lo-sodium, non-fat, tofu dog with fresh chile salsa.

In his email responding to last week’s Farmers’ Market report, my friend Jim speculated that I had perhaps been “smoking a little appetite enhancement product” as an explanation of the voracity described in the Report. The perspicuity of my friends continues to astonish me.

Or in this case, the even finer ability anticipatory perspicuity, as I had not been smoking…yet, being too old now to have what in the sixties we called a “connection.” I had, however, been premeditating, having realized that the fairly frequent but intermittent nausea I had been experiencing during the change in my meds was a prime symptom that would qualify me for medical marijuana. And what I had done that very afternoon, is drop by one of our excellent medical marijuana clubs and pick up their form to take to my doctor for his signature during my appointment after the results are in from the blood work that I will have done this coming Tuesday.

But not having nausea now, I just consumed eight or nine Brooks cherries with quark. What a lovely combination.

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Farmers’ Market Report

The houseguests are gone. Remind me never, never, never again to accept a schedule in which one guest arrives on the departure day of the previous guest. They were both just exhausting, albeit in very different ways. Of course the reason they were exhausting is that they were delightful. Good grief, is nothing free? I spent yesterday sitting in the garden listening to the insects. It was sooooo peaceful.

There is good news. The new drug regimen has alleviated the peripheral neuropathy, and for the first time in over a year, I can feel the little bumps on the “f” and “j” keys. The negative side effects of the new drugs are disappearing, too, and what’s more, the new regimen is effective. T-cells 559. Viral load undetectable at <50>

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I have three recordings of Shostakovich’s Preludes & Fugues.

Keith Jarrett, who does bother some folks with capricious phrasing and rushed tempi, but whom I forgive everything, all of it, even the acts of unkindness to small animals as a child, while he’s crashing through the 24th fugue. An exciting performance. Recorded in 1992.

Vladimir Ashkenazy, who is my overall favorite. He’s just as fabulous with this as he is with Prokofiev. This is also the newest recording of the work, it being recorded only last year.

Tatiana Petrovna Nikolaeva, who was the source of it all, being the woman whose performance of Book 2 of Bach’s Das Wohltemperierte Klavier one fine July day in 1950 so inspired Shostakovich that he thought, “I can do that!” And finished his own set of 24 preludes and fugues before the next February was out. She premiered the work the next year and has, at least until Ashkenazy’s recording last year, been one of the definitive performers of the work. (Shostakovich himself never recorded the entire work.) Nikolaeva begins at a pace that can fairly be described as stately and seems agonizingly slow if your only exposure has been to Ashkenazy and Jarrett. However, after the first Prelude, her pace feels quite right, and it comes as a shock, then, to notice that it takes three CD’s for her version rather than the two required for Jarrett and Ashkenazy. Sure doesn’t seem like it’s that much slower, and wouldn’t I love to hear an earlier recording of hers.

Jarrett – 135 minutes, 21 seconds. Feels every bit as fast as it is.
Ashkenazy – 141 minutes, 43 seconds. Doesn’t feel almost as fast as Jarrett.
Nikolaeva – 168 minutes, 25 seconds. Doesn’t feel nearly that slow.

OK, OK, I had to get out the CD’s for spelling/fact checking, and my calculator to add up timings to satisfy my curiosity.

I love keyboard music. Last summer I read a review of the recent release of Ashkenazy’s performance. I had never even heard of the work, but the review was enticing, so I ordered it. I loved it. I loved it so much that I just played it over and over and over….at increasing volume. And none of that Gouldian humming along with it, I’m singing along full throat: YAH-da-da-da-da-da, YAH-da-da-da-da-da… (in #24, which just finished).

Then I bought Jarrett’s and Nikolaeva’s versions. Now I alternate among the three.

Do you know this work?

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Culinary Issues

I’m off to Texas tomorrow, but this time to west Texas. Twice this year I’ve dawdled and missed a timely last visit with friends who’ve died suddenly on me. Most recently, Mr. Manasek, the framing genius and owner of a framing and art supply store on Market. He’d been ill for a year with poisoning from the toxic chemicals he’d been using all his adult life, and I’d been taking in jellies for him and his wife. Well, I’d run out of jelly in the late winter and had earmarked one of the jars from this spring’s first batch for him. Forgot to take it with me on a Thursday. Went in with it on the following Tuesday only to learn he’d died suddenly of a heart attack on Saturday but had been doing OK on Thursday. Damn me. He could have died with a smile on his face and my jelly on his lips. 

My old friend Mel lives in Midland, where I met him when he moved there while I was teaching at Midland College. He’s 88 and in poor health. Realizing that the old fart could pop off any minute, I’m flying there for a long weekend. Maybe I can feed him so well that he’ll just drop dead of overfeeding. A splendid death, I think. I’m taking him some San Francisco treats, and I expect to find some very Texan items to bring back, like the killer tamales made in that little place in on the wrong side of Main Street that I can’t remember the name of but am sure could find again.

Not that I expect to find them in Midland, but there are a couple of Texas treats that I have never eaten and am just dying to try: opossum (called ‘possum) and armadillo (called ‘dillo). Both are reported to be delicious, but there are culinary class distinctions.

Middle-class white people don’t eat them. Our redneck parents ate them during the Depression when times were so bad that they ate anything they could catch. But now they don’t. And upscale blacks won’t touch them either. And downscale blacks would die before they’d serve either to me. They just enjoy them secretly.

It has become increasingly clear that if I am to eat either of these delicacies, I’m going to have to catch it, kill it, clean it, and cook it myself. And frankly, my prowess as a hunter has seriously declined over the past few decades, as has my inclination to go slogging around in river bottoms with the water moccasins.

I may just have to settle for smoked pheasant breast.

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Something Awful

Just back from Texas with the finest Mother quote yet. On my August trip, it was the afternoon of the third day before she knew who that nice young man visiting her was, so I was emotionally prepared for her to not recognize me at all this time. 

I go walking in and spot her down the hall in a medium security wheelchair. About the same time, she spots me and breaks into a big smile, recognizing me instantly. Turns out she’s been a lot clearer the last couple of weeks, so much clearer, in fact, that she’s figured out how to get out of the normal wheelchair with the “keeper” pad across the front.

Unfortunately, she doesn’t remember that she’s no longer smart enough to learn how to walk again, so she immediately falls to the floor as she gets out of the chair. Thus the escalation to the medium security version.

And this time, for the first time since last November, she’s actually capable of volunteering information rather than just responding very briefly to questions.

Alas, this is not really a plus. On the first day, she remarked, gesturing at the chair, “I must have done something awful to be in here like this.”

While that line echoes incessantly, I’m trying to make myself believe that she thinks it’s jail rather than hell, an effort bolstered by the realization that Mother’s flavor of hell, unlike Dante’s, does not permit visitors. The meter is just excellent: “something awful” provides an exquisite trochaic break in the iambic flow, emphasizing the egregiousness of her crime.

If there had been a Shutdown button, I’d have pushed it through the wall. As it was, we just held hands.

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Redneck Wedding

I have been blessed by yet another safe return from Texas, made all the more enjoyable by my noticing during the return flight that the fine print on my Honey French Dressing container included a wealth of information that kept me entertained for about half of New Mexico. In the first place, “Naturally Fresh” and “Pour It On” were tagged with little Registered Trademark bugs. I hadn’t realized that one could register such commonplace phrases, and frankly, I’m going to miss using them. My depression over this discovery, however, was completely alleviated when I got to the very last line, where I discovered that the dressing had been “processed” by “E. F. I.” 

Unfortunately, what this processing consisted of and who actually made the stuff remained unclear. What was very, very clear, though, was E. F. I’s address: “1000 Naturally Fresh Blvd., Atlanta, GA 30349.” The folks at 999 Naturally Fresh Blvd. are doing some natural processing on spent fuel rods, but that’s way across the street.

Other observations on the trip:

Texas was true to its name, maybe even truer than usual. After all, one doesn’t have the opportunity of all that many redneck weddings in his own family, even considering that we rednecks tend to marry with uncommon frequency.

This one was made especial by the miscegenation factor, the bride being Latina. The ceremony was bilingual… and thus made vastly more interesting as I strained with only partial success to determine whether the Spanish and English parts were pure, direct translations of each other or whether different spins were being spun. Yes, Eternal Vigilance must be maintained. It seems like only yesterday that during Die Zauberflöte I lifted up my eyes to the new supertitles only to catch them glossing over the racism in Monostatos’ aria “Weiße ist schön, ich muß sie küssen”, most particularly the line, “Eine Weiße nahm mich ein.” You can rest assured that afterwards I sent a sharp note to the management. “If it was good enough for Mozart”, etc. etc.

The reception was bilingual, bicultural, and biculinary, and damn me, I ran out of steam and had to go off to bed just as they were hauling in the speakers and setting up for the Gran Baile. Anglo informants the following day reported strange folk rituals during this part of the nuptials, which ran on until two in the morning.

Other notes: Mother is thinking that with time off for good behavior, she’ll be out by Christmas.

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