January 2003


This morning I drove over to Oakland, picked up my friend Kobe, and hit the Jack London Square Farmers Market. Yeah, yeah, I had taken my neighbor and his visiting lovely lover to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market yesterday, but I had managed to limit my purchases. Besides, I just wanted to check out another Bay Area market. Good thing I did.

Right off, I spotted Oakdale Cheese. First time I’ve seen them in a year, as they have stopped coming to the Ferry Plaza and Justin Herman markets. They make an excellent moderately-aged gouda. They also make by far the best quark I’ve had in this country, and while I try not to allow the price of foods to influence my purchase decisions, I’m still enough the mean old Scot to notice that they charge half the price of their competitors like Cowgirl Creamery.

And then right beside them there was the Golden Sheaf Bread Company from Watsonville, from whom I used to buy their four-seed baguette at the San Mateo Farmers Market when I was working at Oracle. I would spark a feeding frenzy by putting it out on the refreshments table, which was rather like tossing a Jack Russell terrier into a knee-deep pool (his knees) of half-starved piranha, a pleasure which has never been mine but one which I have imagined repeatedly owing to my great love for piranha.

My German friend Chris is a honey connoisseur, eager to sample them from all over the world. When I discovered this, I leaped into seeking new sources locally, hoping to fan his interest into an obsession, a task I sense will be fairly easy. This autumn I discovered that there are urban bee keepers in San Francisco who market their honey in specialty shops, labeling it by neighborhood. These include: Golden Gate Park, The Castro, Pacific Heights, Lake Merced, Richmond, Sunset, Twin Peaks, Glen Park, Cole Valley, Cow Hollow, Dolores Park, Lone Mountain, McLaren Park, Mountain Lake Park, and Presidio Heights. Chris took a selection back to Germany last November.

Today, I was pleased to see at the market honey from a vendor I didn’t recognize. Her name is Ann Wilson and she lives in Le Grand, but the honey was made in Madera County orange groves by a bunch of bees she has enslaved. Talk about a sweat shop! No retirement program; they work ’till they drop dead, and then are dragged out of the hive and cast unceremoniously on the heap.

Unlike Freddy, who they “dropped off the fire escape into the alley with military honors.” I hadn’t thought about Don Marquis in years, but as soon as I did, whole stanzas came back to me. It’s all in lower case because archy types by climbing onto the typewriter carriage and jumping down onto a key and thus cannot do capital letters. To give you an idea of the time frame here, the dust jacket on my “new edition” of the lives and times of archy and mehitabel describes archy as “the gay little cockroach.” As opposed, in modern language, to a little gay cockroach, which archy is not, although he is a cockroach and not particularly large.

Yes, I will do anything to set these up.

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Bad Habits

By now most of us have got over all those silly and ill-planned new year’s resolutions and life has returned to normal, at least it has for me. Now that I think about it, I don’t believe I’ve ever actually terminated a bad habit purely as an act of will. In most cases, events have conspired and the bad habit has left me pretty much of its own accord.

One lovely spring morning in 1984 I was standing crisply by my gleaming limousine at the curb on Post Street outside Gump’s waiting for my client to emerge. (I was a minor partner in a small limousine company back then.)

I was buffed, I had just had a haircut, I was wearing a new Givenchy three-piece pin-stripe navy-blue suit, and I was feeling, frankly, pretty damn spiffy as I watched the traffic creep along. Then, as I scanned upstream I saw about to pull level with me a stunningly beautiful woman driving a Mercedes convertible. Like Cleopatra on her barge except Cleopatra wasn’t driving. My gaze lingered as she pulled even with me.

And then she met my eyes as she rolled by and said, in a calm, conversational tone, “Stop biting your nails.”

I was, as the Brits say, gobsmacked.

I wasn’t biting them when she spoke, but obviously she had seen me biting them at some point before I turned and saw her.

Some of my earliest memories are of my parents telling me to stop biting my nails. In public school, teachers criticized this habit. When I was in the Army, sensing that it was conduct unbecoming, I went underground and indulged in clandestine nail-biting.  I had bit them all my life.

But I have not tasted another nail since she spoke. Not once have I found myself biting a nail and stopped. There was no exercise of will, there was no tapering off, there was no withdrawal. The habit was simply gone, lasered into nonexistence in an instant.

Then I discovered the negatives. You have to clean underneath them. You have to keep them trimmed or they get in your way. They’re a constant hassle! But alas, keeping them trimmed short the natural way, the way our ancestors on the savanna did, is no longer an option.

How could that woman have had such power over me? What if she’d told me to rob a bank?

“Which bank, Ma’am?”

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