Journal: 2006

The Appliance of the Devil

To get the year off to a good start, I want to let everybody know that I am mostly over my unhealthy obsession with featuring overhead wiring in my photographs. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that it recently came to my attention that flues can be fun:

Prosper and Pond

My kitchen experiments continue and I teeter on the brink of becoming one of the total converts to Nancy’s® dairy products, a consumer group locally known as “Nancy Boys.”

Nancy’s yogurt has long been a favorite, but I only recently discovered Nancy’s kefir, most especially Nancy’s peach kefir. Actually, I discovered kefir in 2004 in Amsterdam, for some reason never having tasted it here and somehow thinking that it was totally exotic. Then upon my return I found that it is in all the grocery stores. Yes, moi, the great gourmand.

Nancy’s kefir is even better than the Lifeway® brand, especially if it’s cut with a bit of milk to thin it slightly and then augmented with just a splash of dark agave nectar to brighten it up a bit.

Another reason to buy Nancy’s is that it comes in a standard cardboard carton, which I definitely approve of because it is not only itself compostable but also serves as a practical container for my kitchen trimmings and scraps so that they can be placed in the compostables bin in this closed container and not create a mess or a great stink before the bin is emptied on Wednesdays.

See, in most of San Francisco, the recycling program collects not only the usual glass, metals, paper, cardboard, and a variety of plastics; but also, in a separate bin, compostables – garden trimmings and kitchen scraps

Most especially, as far as I’m concerned, the kitchen scraps, because unlike garden trimmings, so many people in the United States use that Appliance of the Devil, the in-sink garbage disposal, to get rid of the onion peels, avocado skins, chicken bones, etc.

Surely somebody has done the math on these atrocities and calculated their cost to society. Think about it. Here we are in California, and what are we faced with shortages of? Water and electricity. Second question: What does your garbage disposal consume in order to overburden your municipal sewerage system with puréed kitchen trimmings?

Oh, water and electricity.

Yes, gobbling up electricity and water in order to send more trash down the drain to the sewerage system, where it requires additional processing, consuming even more electricity and water.

In an ideal world, we’d all have backyard compost piles, but I admit that that’s not practical for many of us. But how hard it is to put kitchen scraps into a milk carton and the milk carton into the compostables bin?

And if that’s too much trouble, a reasonable compromise would be to just throw it into the trash, which cannot be any more difficult than washing it down the drain through the garbage disposal.

So, yes, I’ll be doing some homework and spewing out a disquisition on this subject, yes I will, but that’s for later. The above observations are just so that when you’re at the Pearly Gates you can’t plead ignorance.

Oh, and to lighten the tone, here’s some Castro Street flues:


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My old friend Jim, a fellow passionate patriot and Vietnam-era veteran who in his case actually served in Vietnam, emailed me yesterday and closed with the suggestion that I say “hi” to the folks who are doing the data mining, reviewing all our email for treason, smut, blasphemy, and such.

I’m way ahead of him. Owing to my, ahem, constructive criticism of the Bush Administration, I’ve already been assigned my very own personal Data Miner. His name’s Rajiv, working out of Mumbai. Says he makes a good living, and he and his wife are saving up for an apartment of their own.

He’s made a couple of suggestions as to how I could make his job easier, and as a loyal American with nothing to hide, I’m happy to help.

Hi, Rajiv. Logging on.

Good morning, Matte. Sleep well?

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More Rajiv

Having just finished a stick-to-yer-ribs breakfast of leftover kid chili mixed with chopped Russian-style frankfurters and topped with fresh green garlic sautéed in Springhill Jersey butter while I read in this morning’s paper of that infamous com-symp and terrorist-fellow-traveler Paul Pillar ratting out the Bush Administration upon his retirement from the CIA, I began to worry.

I had so much fun writing about Rajiv yesterday that I sent that riff to several of my friends and was somewhat disconcerted to discover this morning that hardly anybody got back to me, and those who wrote didn’t seem to appreciate the humor.

Then it occurred to me that Rajiv’s handlers may have decided that further encouraging me would not be in the best interests of national security and thus instructed him to cause to be “accidentally” lost the responses of a number of my correspondents.

But maybe I’m just being paranoid. Probably shouldn’t have quite so much saturated fat first thing in the morning.

A vegetarian diet might help with the paranoia, Matte, not to mention the karma.

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About 3:30 I’m sitting here about to fall out of my chair with fatigue and realize, yes, time for an afternoon nap.

And then I go in the kitchen for a sip of water and look out to the west and realize that the clouds are breaking up and there is a very good possibility that there might be a ray of sun before it sets. Yes, sun. Sun that it feels like we haven’t seen since sometime back in late February.

And then, ten minutes later, as anticipated, it comes out.

Instantly, every San Franciscan at home immediately drops all those silly afternoon nap ideas and dashes outdoors. Once outside, we contrive errands, something, anything that will keep us out there.

And why get into a car for this? Oh no, we must do this on foot or at least in open conveyances. In San Francisco folks fairly routinely speak or acknowledge each other in some way on the street, but today everybody at least waves at everyone else; and most of us shout joyful greetings, we are so happy to see the sun.

I wrote in one of my Amsterdam tales about how in Amsterdam in May the instant the sun came out the cafe terraces were full of patrons because they were so eager to get some sun after their gloomy winter. Well, now after five weeks of nearly constant rain, I can more fully appreciate their attitude.

I’m glad I’ve taken my camera along because otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to catch this public service announcement:


The Segway is a wonderful vehicle for photography because you can wheel around and position yourself for shots so quickly and easily and then take the pic from the Segway.

I loop around on Hill Street and Castro and Diamond taking shots as I work toward 24th Street. First, I drop in Walgreen’s to pick up a prescription, which is the only necessary errand. Walgreen’s is jammed, and the atmosphere is positively festive because all the customers are thrilled over the opportunity to be out of their houses on a sunny afternoon.

After Walgreen’s I stop at the Noe Valley Bakery and pick up a sesame onion baguette and then ride down to the 24th Street Cheese Store and chat with Charles and pick up an Acme sourdough baguette because I’ve been on a feeding frenzy on 8″ pieces of these baguettes split and topped with cheese and thrown into a hot oven for a few minutes to get them crusty and melt the cheese.

The vibe in both stores is similarly upbeat.

By the time I get back home, an hour has passed and the opening in the clouds has moved enough to the east that the sun is beginning to be obscured.

An hour later, the rain begins again.

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An Occurrence on California Street

This morning on the way to the farmers’ market from my optometrist’s, where I dropped several hundred dollars on new specs and sunglasses owing to the good news that my eyes have improved so much than I need a new prescription, I caught the attention of a handsome motorcycle cop with too much time on his hands by performing a U-turn across a double yellow stripe.

I fear that my generously waving him ahead before I pulled the turn was misinterpreted as a form of arrogance rather than courtesy. So having nothing better to do, the cop elected to perform a U-turn himself and swoop upon me.

My fervent prayer that a masked man would choose this moment to run out of the bank next door holding in one hand a sack and in the other a gun which he was firing over his shoulder came, like all of my prayers, to naught. My pointing out to the cop that we had both performed U-turns was not taken well, and he issued me an invitation I could not refuse to a special meeting at the Hall of Justice.

Actually, his personal belief, which he articulated in what I felt was a gratuitously judgmental tone and also recorded on the ticket, was that my particular turn was an especially egregious example of one of the forbidden sorts.

When I eventually got to the market, Poli Yerena told me that I can expect justice to be dispensed at a cost of approximately two hundred bucks, his son having recently had a similar infraction. Surely he exaggerates. I mean, dude, the whole thing was over in five seconds…the turn, that is.

In any case, I lucked out at the market. This has not been a good year for tayberries, but Yerena’s pitiful crop has hung on for a few more days, and I grabbed a flat. I boiled ’em down with the pulp of an apple and the juice of a lemon, and they’re draining in a sieve while I write this.

Here’s a device on Sanchez Street that I found interesting:


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It started out this morning as I was sipping coffee and reading the paper and planning the work I’d be doing today. But then I got an email from my friend Dick that reminded me that, hey, today I deserve a break. Well, maybe deserve is too strong and I should just say that I stopped thinking about all the things I needed to do and started planning a day of recreation and treats.

So I made myself some more coffee and relaxed over the paper and then Segwayed down to the gym and had a nice little workout which I ended by knocking the last 45 seconds off the final stage on the Stairmaster. What a luxurious little treat

And then I jumped back onto the Segway and headed out toward the Civic Center/Hayes Valley for lunch, thinking at first of one of the pastrami sandwiches at Max’s Opera Plaza but then remembering their chopped chicken liver, which made me think of the fried chicken livers at Powell’s. Alas, even though I knew Powell’s had been forced to move a few blocks off Hayes by a huge rent increase when the area gentrified after the old freeway stub was torn down, I couldn’t remember exactly where it had gone.

But while I was looping around hunting it I spotted Citizen Kane, where I had previously eaten only their astonishing desserts, and stopped there. But as I was chaining up the Segway I got into conversation with a couple sitting out front; and it turned out that while they were waiting for another couple to have lunch at Citizen Kane, they also liked soul food and thought this other place that they couldn’t remember the name of over on Haight up from the Duboce triangle had better chicken livers than Powell’s.

Now really wanting my chicken livers, I got back onto the Segway and headed over to Haight Street but didn’t see any place that looked like it served soul food before I smelled delicious barbecue; but while I was following my nose hunting that, I spotted Raja and remembered their fabulous curried spinach with garbanzos and their excellent marinated roasted chicken and their fine naan and other good things on their all-you-can-eat lunch buffet.

So that’s what I ate…for the price of a dessert at Citizen Kane. Thirds on the spinach so as to balance out the last quarter of the naan.

And then on the way back here I stopped at the convenience store at Noe and 19th and admitted to Sami that his wife’s hummus, which I only recently discovered, is, like her baba ghanoush, the best I’ve ever eaten, and since I was right there, picked up a tub of it

Back here, for dessert, a high-acid nectarine with a spoonful of dark agave nectar and a slug of half-and-half.

When I got up from my afternoon nap, the weather had turned a bit hot; so I opened a 1.5 liter bottle I’ve been saving in my refrigerator for over a year for a Special Occasion when there were a bunch of people around to appreciate it – “Spa & Fruit lemon-cactus. Zonder Toegevoegde Suikers, Verrijkt met Vitamine C, Minder Calorieen met fruitsap en mineraalwater.” Yes, the famous “cactus sap” that I started writing about in my first Amsterdam tale. Without those added sugars, it’s not cloyingly sweet. Light and tart and delicious over ice on a hot afternoon.

To make up for not serving it to a bunch of people, I had several glasses as I listened to Gilbert Rowland playing Soler harpsichord sonatas while I surfed the Internet into the evening, scooping up much of the baba ghanoush with sesame corn chips.

And now it’s good and dark and the house is rapidly cooling off; and so I can complete the day without accomplishing a single thing, I’m going to bed early. Well, after another glass of cactus sap, this time with a shot of tequila in it. To help me sleep.

Tomorrow, back to my oars….and taking advantage of now being able to ride Muni for fifty cents, having beyond my wildest expectations somehow achieved sixty-five years of age.

Meanwhile, an arrangement for gym shoes and overhead wires:

gym shoes

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I had taken every precaution.

I’d made sure there was only five bucks in my billfold, and I’d Segwayed over to the SF County Fair Building there in front of the Arboretum in Golden Gate Park rather than taking my car so I wouldn’t be able to carry boxes full of pots home.

See, it was the semiannual show/sale of the SF Cactus and Succulent Society, and we know how I do love my Haworthias…and Faucarias and Gasterias and Euphorbias and all the Mesembryanthemaceae, many of which in a massive reorganization of the taxonomy are now called something difficult to remember

It was a gorgeous ride over there through the Haight, during which I discovered that the parking lot for Amoeba Records, of which I had not known the existence owing to it being at the end of a slot canyon between Amoeba and its neighbor building, is a treasure trove of street art. Some pretty entertaining stuff, actually:

Amoeba Alley

And then the park. How can it be that I so rarely get into the park on my Segway, it being the perfect park vehicle? Somehow, as soon as they enter the park, cars and even SUVs become calmer, in less rush, and thus more generous to smaller and slower vehicles. (I return this generosity by trying keep that ecological grimace off my face when I see an SUV.)

So anyhow, I glide up to the Fair Building and chain the Segway to a convenient bike rack at the door and walk in as I’m shucking the helmet. My heart goes pitter-patter as I take in a roomful of cactus and succulent fanciers hovering over long tables of specimens and murmuring in delight.

Not me, I’m here only to admire the plants and take pics. Well, maybe kick a planter or two while reminding myself that I’m broke and have too many plants at home to take care of as it is.

And of course what do I see on the first damn table but a handsome Lithops the size of a medium egg. I didn’t know they got that large! L. pseudotruncatella v. groendravensis.

Lithops pseudotruncatella v. groendravensis

And only $4.00!!! Sigh. And then right beside it another Lithops, but this one disguised as a Conophytum, L. aucamptae v. Jackson’s Jade.

Lithops aucamptae v. Jackson's Jade

At $3.50. I mean, together that’s less than I paid for my bargain lunch yesterday!!!!

See, I’ve killed many Mesembryanthemaceae: Lithops, Dinteranthus, Pliospilos, Pseudolithos, Fenestraria, and other genera I can’t remember. But I always wanted a Conophytum….and a Conophytum look-alike will do.

And then in the next aisle, the Haworthias. Omigod. There were many that I have, and many that I’ve given away, and lots of less lovely ones that I don’t have and, since I have room now only for the handsomest specimens, can easily pass up. But oh, there were really nice-looking ones that I wanted badly.

Like, say, the H. cooperii

Haworthia cooperii

and the H. blackbeardii,

Haworthia blackbeardii

both of which have larger translucent areas at the leaf tips than any I’ve ever seen, and check out those awns on the blackbeardii! What a deal at $16 for the two.

Alas, I had neglected to remove the credit card from my wallet.

And see, I had to buy all four so they would fit snugly down at the bottom of the pack so that when the pack was on my back they couldn’t tip and I could make it safely home.

Need I mention that the return trip was made with excruciating caution? Wouldn’t do to fall with my babies on my back.

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This noon my friend Bob called and invited me to drop everything and meet him at a theater

in Mill Valley to see Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man, that wonderful Cohen tribute/documentary film. Leonard performs only one song in it, but many of the covers are excellent, most especially Rufus Wainwright on “Everybody Knows” and Nick Cave on “Suzanne.” I recommend this movie.

It was filmed almost entirely at a concert a year ago in Australia, which helps explain a purely unintentional boffo moment at the end when the credits were scrolled. Three men were given credit as Producers, the middle of whom was Mel Gibson, who more recently made himself infamous for a virulent drunken anti-semitic misogynist tirade after a traffic stop in California.  Late note:  this was apparently merely the first in a series of vicious anti-semitic tirades from this devout Christian.

But that’s not why I’m writing.

Something happened when Bob was buying my ticket that I suppose I should have anticipated happening again someday even though it has been about forty years since the last time.

I was carded.

This time, though, for the senior discount.

Well yes, over in Marin County, folks under 80 are insulted if they’re not carded.

Oh, and speaking of cards, this morning at the farmers’ market Sybil gave me a birthday card, and when I opened it, another card fell out….a senior discount BART ticket.

I never dreamed I’d get so much fun out of being 65.

Oh, and the other news is that my L. pseudotruncatella v. groendravensis is blooming.  I just love plants that have blossoms larger than themselves:

L. pseudotruncatella v. groendravensis

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About 10:30 last night as I was drifting off to sleep, I suddenly sat up in bed with a Horrible Thought, threw the covers back, stumbled into my office, and looked at my calendar. Yep, there it was, plain as day: my court appointment for 1:30 PM last Tuesday.

Aarrrrrrrrrrrrrghhhh. Yes, the appointment that back in July the nice lady in Room 101 of the Hall of Justice had kindly set up for me so I could save $150 by simply pleading guilty to my U-turn offense in front of a judge rather than just admitting my guilt to her and writing a check. Frankly, considering that I’d be saving the city the expense of staging a court appearance, it ought to be the other way around. But hey, I just live here, making illegal U-turns.

Last Tuesday, remember, was when I had my great emotional breakthrough and got Allen’s work transferred to the Society, so excited about all that, that even driving down Harrison later in full sight of the Hall of Justice didn’t remind me that I was by that time, even, what nitpickers might with technical accuracy call a “fugitive.”

Fugitive. What a nasty little word that is when it applies to oneself. I play it over my tongue, “Matte Gray, Fugitive: Caucasian, 5’9”, 155 lbs, green eyes, gray hair, corrective lenses, multiple scars on lower legs. Frequents farmers markets. Neither armed nor dangerous.”

So then I grabbed my glasses and started reading the fine print describing what happens to fugitives when they are brought to justice.

And after I read about all the penalties, aieeeeeeeeeee, I started looking for loopholes, hoping that at least there was a possibility I could avoid the six months in jail part and maybe get off for as little as a $500 fine (plus a $300 civil assessment, which seemed reasonable enough since they would have had to pay somebody to move all the chairs in the courtroom to the left one place when I didn’t show up).

By this time, midnight was approaching and I realized there was nothing I could do then. Well, other than get a good night’s sleep in preparation for the expected ordeal. So I took two lorazepams and two cyclobenzaprines on top of the trazadone I’d taken before going to bed.

And lay down with my mind racing so frantically that I had to hold my eyelids shut with my fingers, so I took another cyclobenzaprine and another lorazepam and, what the hell, another trazadone since I was standing right there in front of ’em.

All this being enough to sedate a horse, I finally fell asleep.

And was awakened by the alarm at 7:30 with a drug hangover as monstrous as it was understandable.

And got a pot of coffee in me, which barely helped at all, before I grabbed the original court papers, my checkbook, and just in case they immediately threw me in jail, my toothbrush. And I combed my hair and put on clean underwear.

With excruciating caution, I drove through the grim, gray morn down to the Hall of Justice, and found a legal parking place only a couple of blocks away. Checked all the signage three times.

The line through the entrance screening point went very rapidly, but that wasn’t too surprising since it looked like everybody in line had the drill down cold either because they worked there or were repeat perps.

I trudged down to Room 101, and my heart sank because the line snaked down the hall. But just in case, I walked up to the door to check, and saw that the line was all for the traffic windows. There was nobody at the criminal windows, which would be where I belong now. Then I understood: Criminals don’t get up early, but I’m new at this.

So I went up to the closest criminal window and turned myself in. She looked through her books and gave me some good news. There’s enough of a backlog of evildoers in the city that the department had not had time to process my warrant, so I was still on the traffic books.

God bless the overworked bureaucracy!

I ran back to the end of the traffic line (now, five people longer) and waited, twitching, ohhhhh, please don’t let them be processing me right now!!! Finally, finally it was my turn, and amazingly, I got the same kind lady who’d set up my court date to save me all that money. I told her how I screwed the whole thing up, and she responded that, well, since they hadn’t issued the warrant yet, she could give me a new court date for free. Not even a fine.

Stunned, I started babbling my gratitude, and she dryly observed that it might be a good idea to show up this time. I did my best to laugh at her rich humor.

So did I get away with this or what? All it cost me was all those tranquilizers and sleeping pills and relaxants I ate last night. Well, and today’s hangover from either their combination or their sheer quantity….or both.

Well, actually, back home, this morning’s mail brought an unwelcome letter. Apparently I did not, after all, escape the $300 administrative fee. So thus far I’ve spent $300 to save $150.

But I’ve stayed out of jail.

Well, so far. Could somebody send me an email on 2 October reminding me to look at my calendar?

And hey, here’s some street art on Clarion Alley.  I call it the Escalator to Justice:


Clarion Alley


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The Farm

I’m back from a whirlwind visit to the Witenagemot Correctional Farm in Schaghticoke, NY. I brought so much stress with me that I was an asshole, but they were nice. Jim was as wonderful as ever, and the better I got to know Susan and Art, the more I liked them….which says a lot.

Here’s the farm:

Witenagemot Farm

Actually, they omit “Correctional” on their tee-shirts, but anybody who thinks he can visit a working farm without working is mentally one basket short of a flat.

Seriously, just to be clear about this, I was an eager volunteer, and secondly, I brought back literally as much as I could carry, which was I’m sure worth more than I earned with my feeble contribution.

What I also brought back was a heightened appreciation of the labor that goes into the luxury produce I buy at the Ferry Plaza and other fine farmers’ markets.


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