Journal: 2007


This morning I met Sybil for a farewell coffee at the market, and while browsing through it I was just blown away to see that a favorite vendor (who will remain anonymous for reasons that will later be obvious) had a bin of fresh cherries…the first of the season from any vendor and in time to take to Amsterdam to delight the Dutch since theirs won’t be ripe for another month at least.

So I dug deep into the bin and got a large bagful. Seventeen bucks worth.

And then as we neared the end of the market I practiced my Dutch on Johann Smit, telling him about how happy I was to have found fresh cherries to take to Amsterdam…. and offered him a taste.

Moments later, after Sybil and I had parted, the look on Smit’s face as he tasted sank in, and it struck me that I had been so excited about seeing the cherries that I had neglected to taste one before buying them.

What was the fourth thing your mother taught you after to say “thank you” and “please” and to count your change?

Caveat emptor, right? And OK, that was not quite the way my mother phrased it in Wink, Texas in 1948.

With some trepidation, I popped a cherry into my mouth…. and then another…. and another. And no, they weren’t bad. I mean, there has to be some taste before something can be bad. So no, they weren’t bad at all, just nearly completely tasteless.

So now I’m thinking, well, is it even worth trying to boil all seventeen bucks worth of ’em down to about a quart in hopes that I can concentrate that faint hint of cherry flavor into something worth squandering sugar on?

Or do I even want to waste the gas to boil ’em down? Not to mention the effort to stem and pit the damn things.

Sigh. I just threw ’em into the compost bin and went down to Matsuya on 24th, which has recently reopened, and had a sushi supper. Sushi has yet to sweep Amsterdam, so it’s not all that good there and is hideously expensive…at least in my experience.

Matsuya is a fine little place again, and they even had toro, albeit at ten bucks a pop. And the best unagi I ever ate anywhere. There was something under it that would have been slimy and disgusting if it hadn’t tasted so good.

Anticipating Amsterdam, here’s something you very rarely see over there, exterior stairs:


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I’m back from Amsterdam (see Amsterdam for Free) and am clear that there’s nothing like being away from town for a month to make me a thoroughgoing San Francisco chauvinist. Friday afternoon I went down to China Basin to get a CT scan, and it was quite an enjoyable excursion not only because of the weather – blue sky, warm sun, crisp summer breeze – but also because of all these taunt new buildings I’d never seen before. There’s some fine architecture in this city, a lot of it new and South of Market.

There is also great joy. As in handsome young med techs being genuinely kind to sick old men. In the holding pen, the old farts, dazed by such unaccustomed kindness from young folks, were inspired by nervous bravado into a frenzy of camaraderie and fine gallows humor…talking about making our friends and relatives nervous by asking ’em questions like, “you’re not using both of those kidneys, are you?”

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Headline in this morning’s Chronicle: “Hot Days Ahead – Temperature to Hit 75 in SF.” (That’s 24 degrees Celsius for the rest of the world). The text of the article included warnings to citizens to keep themselves well hydrated, to avoid over exertion and unnecessary exposure to the sun, and to seek shelter in the shade on the north sides of buildings.

But of course, who listens to suits anymore? I just went out on the Segway for some shopping. It must be 70 already, and the streets are swarming with folks wearing tee shirts, shorts, and smiles.

Went down to the Civic Center market and picked up some delicious cherries for $1.50/lb. as well as some very pricey okra, but it was too fresh and gorgeous to pass up. Also picked up some ‘Dolly’ plums to make some chutney, only after I bought them realizing that 1) I had sworn I was gonna take a break from cooking so I could get some writing done in the Amsterdam tales and 2) a scorching, merciless heat wave is not the best time to go heating the kitchen up and spending the afternoon stirring steaming cauldrons.

Oh, and I was holding out on you. The real reason I went to the market was that I had gone down to the gym to see if I could do a tiny little workout, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my muscle weakness I’d been whining about seems to be mostly in my legs. And as I was changing back into my street clothes, I realized that a perfect celebratory brunch would be a falafel in pita with crunchy veggies and sauce at this little stand at the market called The Art of the Falafel that has very good ones, right up there with De Bazar in Amsterdam.

On the way home I stopped to tell Sami (he’s my Palestinian friend who has a corner grocery at 19th and Noe who shares my passion for tennis and whose wife makes the best baba ghanoush I ever ate as well as very good hummus.). Am I a serious culi-freak or what? Telling Palestinians where to get falafel.

Here’s a doorway I like:

69 door

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Just another entry in my Cranky Old-Age Observations file.

Some days, I am moved to take from the slowest goose in the yard a quill, that I might sharpen it to set down my outrage.

Remember how when we were kids and we finally wore our mothers down and got them to buy Raisin Bran occasionally even though it was a lot more expensive than the other dry cereals?

And how you had to be very careful to ration the little rock-hard raisins out so you got at least two or three in every bowl?

Well, I was in Safeway the other day and grabbed my favorite cereal, that Oatmeal Crisp with Almonds, and was sticking it in my cart when my eye was caught by the price!!! The damn box was six bucks! Gotcha! Eternal vigilance is the price of shopping. Not that it always hasn’t been, but still…

So I put it back and looked for a more reasonable alternative except that I already had cheerio-type cereal and shredded wheat at home, so I had to look for something entirely different. And then I spotted the Raisin Bran man stocking the shelf with 2-for-1 boxes. Much better. I hadn’t eaten raisin bran in years, and I got to make his day.

Alas, I just ate a bowl and discovered that there’s been a considerable change in raisin bran over the past fifty-something years: instead of not having enough raisins, it now has too many! And I am not losing my mind, at least not over this, because I distinctly remember having to shake the box around and even, when my mother wasn’t looking, do a little hand redistribution in order to get a single damn raisin to appear in every fifth spoonful.

Now, you can’t get a single spoonful without two or three raisins in it. Too many!  Couldn’t they have just quintupled the amount instead of making the damn cereal half raisins?  OK, and I’m not quite ready to call for jihad on General Foods, but they better not push me.

Oh, and speaking of raisins, here’s some grapes up at Saratoga Springs I kinda liked:


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I’m trying to finish writing Feeding Amsterdam, and somehow, this project is like doing your taxes long ahead of the deadline, so I keep jumping up from my chair to do something else, anything else. Watering plants, making up a package of books to send to my sister, cooking something. Oh, yes, cooking something else. And then having a snack. Another snack. And then lunch. Oh, might as well have supper now. The last ten tales in this thing are gonna put a pound apiece on me.

Oh, and reading!!!! Not to mention in my first week home from Amsterdam reading that pile of periodicals that had stacked up in my absence, and since then reading A Meal Observed (Andrew Todhunter), The Road and No Country for Old Men (Cormac McCarthy), Stalin’s Ghost (Martin Cruz Smith), Last Watch of the Night (Paul Monette) , Oblivion (short stories by David Foster Wallace), Emporium (short stories by Adam Johnson), and now I’m into Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly.

Not really the best thing to be reading before retiring for the night, what with lines like



which you don’t really need context to savor….and re-savor. Kinda reminds me of that line from an Orange County (FL) county commissioner, “Just because we’ve ruined ninety percent of everything doesn’t mean we can’t do wonderful things with the remaining ten percent.”

Next time you’re in the library and feeling like a tasty tidbit, read Adam Johnson’s “Teen Sniper” (in Emporium), If you want a full meal, and leave it to David Foster Wallace to write one of the more complicated short stories in history, try “Mr. Scrushy” (in Oblivion).

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The Archdruid Report

I recently discovered this blog that I find fascinating. Here’s a man who is profoundly concerned about the future and the direction of our society, and yet he is dispassionately non-political. Nowhere in this blog has he, to my recollection, ever mentioned the name of a political party…or an office-holder. For that matter, even though he is a Druid, I do not recall his ever suggesting in his blog that any other person on the planet might want to be one. 

Check it out: The Archdruid Report

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My Palm Springs friend Bob has hired a real, professional chef to cook dinner for me this evening. After some consideration and discussion with both Bob and the chef, I realized that the best approach to this was not to try to somehow coordinate having one or two friends join the chef and me but rather to hog him for myself.

That way, we can talk about food and cooking while he cooks us a fabulous meal with me as his semi-skilled kitchen help. That is, when I’m not taking notes.

Besides, being a chef, he has only one day a week off, and there was an emergency last week so he had to cancel the original date, and I couldn’t possibly subject friends to this kind of uncertainty.

I’m getting more and more keyed up over this as the day goes on. Gonna be great fun, except I realize this morning that my two best knives (old Henckels) are both dull, and of course while I know a real chef is gonna be bringing his own knives, just as I take my own to Amsterdam and Midland (if Mel, the old fart, stays alive until November), but still, what if by accident the chef picks one of mine up? I mean, the shame, the shame, the sarcophagic shame.

So I make an emergency call to Jivano, my sharpener, but damn his eyes, he doesn’t pick up.

See, I’ve got friends whose extensive collections of always-razor-sharp knives are slotted alpha-numerically waiting, waiting for the absolutely correct need to arise. Me, where’s the excitement in that? Oh no, much more fun to pace frantically around while Jivano doesn’t return my call until I’m near hysterical and then snatch up the phone only to get a recorded message saying there’s a server problem in the local area that will be resolved shortly while we patrons display our customary high levels of understanding and patience.

I feel like running down there and pounding on his door screaming, “we know yer in there, dude.” Except of course I don’t know he’s in there.

But luckily, just before I expire of frustration, he gets through and I rush down there with the knives. Well, I try to rush, but see, there’s absolutely no place to park for blocks in any direction around his shop so I grab the Segway, forgetting that the damn thing is fully charged and thus allows me only to c r e e p  s l o w l y down the hill because you can’t turn off the regenerative braking and it won’t allow any electricity to be generated.

“Mommy, why is that man on the Segway screaming as he inches down the hill?”

So of course the delay allows this yuppie bastard with fifty dull knives to get in ahead of me, which gives me the chance to calm down while cruising around the neighborhood snapping pics of pieces of things while I wait.

Like this narrow window of opportunity across 18th Street from Jivano’s. I mean, for that shaft of sun to get down in there and illuminate that light well, both the time of year and the time of day had to be exactly right:


Then I kill a few more minutes at Tartine since I’m on the block. The croissants are like clouds…at least until you heft the bag and realize that while you can’t see all that butter, you sure can feel the weight of it.

Luckily, it’s 3:00 now and so I dare eat only one. The chef will be arriving at 5:00, and now I have to straighten the house up and lie down for a few minutes and then shower and shave and spray myself with this German SS-strength deodorant that I picked up in Amsterdam and guzzle a pot of coffee before the bell rings and I amble to the door and slowly open it, casually brushing my hair out of my eyes and saying calmly, “Give you a hand with that?”

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A Dramatic Eclipse

The total eclipse of the moon last night was a truly memorable experience.

It had sounded like it would be good enough that I’d thought about setting an alarm and going up on the roof to view it, but then I realized that hey, my anaconda prostate gets me up to pee at least every hour or so anyhow, so I could just look at the progress of the eclipse during bathroom breaks.

Which I did.

First break: nothing had happened yet.

Second break: the partial eclipse was underway in the southwest sky.

Third break: Totality, and I had the sense to get out my little binoculars but was not quite fully awake, so there was some difficulty in getting my eyes onto the correct end. And then when I achieved that, the fully eclipsed moon was nice and big, but it was also all fuzzy, with or without my glasses, so the binoculars turned out to be useless. Still, the moon was lovely.

Fourth break: A disappointment at first, as I immediately saw that a bit of cloud cover was to some degree obscuring the show, but then it swept me that I was indeed blessed because the clouds were somehow causing an astonishing color display, turning a big chunk of sky around the moon mottled ruby reds, or perhaps reds like those of the old strontium glass, achingly brilliant with some variegation caused by different thickness of clouds.

It was so stunning that I could hardly tear myself away, but I realized that I might be able to set my little toy camera on its Night mode, go out on the balcony, and brace the camera on the balcony railing so as to somehow record this amazing phenomenon as I stood there freezing in my underwear. So I grabbed the camera and was frantically trying to find the Night mode in the dark because I didn’t want to turn the lights on and ruin my night vision.

Well, damn me, I kept fiddling around and when I looked back up at the sky, the show was over. Well, not quite. I did manage to catch the last few seconds of that display as it faded out.

Only then did I look to the northwest and see that the city had erected a giant screen on which the phenomenon was being displayed, but alas it was shutting down, too, and the crowd was already dispersing. Well, shucks, I thought, I totally blew this one. Hadn’t heard a peep about that screen event.

Disappointed I didn’t get to see more, but still happy that I had the memory of that regal red display to savor the rest of my life, I went back to bed.

Fifth break: I went into the kitchen and, as I expected, the clouds had dissipated and the eclipse had progressed to partial mode again. Not much to see there. And then my eye alit on the kitchen table. There were the binoculars, and I had to laugh as it struck me that the reason the damn eclipse was fuzzy was that I hadn’t been together enough to twist the knobs and focus the damn things. Oh, silly me.

And then I looked again at the table and saw no camera. Where’s the damn camera? I know I’d put it down beside the binoculars.

No camera. Curious, I went hunting for it and found it on the floor at the front door, where I remembered putting it yesterday afternoon because I wanted to be sure to take it with me on an errand I’d planned for this morning.

Remember how I wrote last year about the Sustiva dreams? The ones caused by this med I’m taking that blurs the line between dream and reality for a few hours after ingestion? Ummm. Could it possibly be that the city did not, after all, erect yesterday a hundred-foot high screen to the northwest that I could see from my kitchen windows? Could it possibly be that there had been no spectacular red cloud display? Could it possibly be that the fourth break did not actually occur but was rather a Sustiva dream/hallucination?

The tangible evidence of the binoculars on the kitchen table suggests that the third break happened as described.

The camera being in a place where I now recall leaving it yesterday afternoon, plus the absence of a hundred-foot-high screen to the northwest, not to mention that I would not in any case have been able to see people at the base of such a screen, all make it clear that the fourth break was a figment.

Betcha nobody enjoyed that eclipse as much as me.

This elevator door, however, is real:


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A Unique Occurrence

I’m reading the current The Threepenny Review and get to the letters and there’s this one that’s especially sensible and that I’m particularly enjoying until I reach the end and see it’s from this San Francisco person named Matte Gray.

My mind is now a piece of overripe brie, but at least I’m consistent.

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Well, the fifteen-year-old Braun died last week, and what with all my anti-consumerist talk I’ve been boiling water on the stove and then dribbling it over the ground coffee in its filter balanced precariously atop a wide-mouthed jar that was the only thing in the house that would hold it right. Which has got tedious.

And yes, I went online and found all these bargains but couldn’t really tell what they were like.

So this morning since I had to go to Walgreen’s to get some meds, I dropped in next door at this yuppie high-end kitchen supply place with the intent of kicking me some tires, which turned out to take less kicking than anticipated since they carried only one coffee maker, their focus not being on appliances. It was the Cuisinart model DCC1200, which has got more switches on it than a 747 cockpit.

But of course being a careful shopper I knew that even though it was love at first sight, it wouldn’t do to just consummate the relationship immediately, so I told the nice girl I’d think about it.

So I came back here and messed around here for a couple of hours not making the marmalade out of those very, very bitter little oranges that Carol gave me and which have been growing old while taking up half a whole shelf in my refrigerator.

And then I thought that since it was such a gorgeous afternoon I could hop on the Segway and run down to take another look at that Cuisinart. And might as well throw a piece of heavy cord in my pack in case I needed to lash anything to the Segway handlebars.

And when I go in the nice girl asks, “Will that be cash or charge?” and we laugh while she gets a boxed one out of the storeroom and the owner wrings his hands with pleasure over the sale.

I get out to the curb and rig a sling to hold it onto the Segway so that I can take it home like a hunter with a deer strapped onto the car. And when I get it home and claw it out of the packaging I see that it’s a good-size buck, too, with a footprint worthy of the granite countertops of a McMansion.

And then I lose myself in the instruction manual. Such a well-thought-out machine with a luscious redundancy of features, like for example its triple-level filtering. Yes, there’s a little filter between the water reservoir and the heating element for those whose water is not up the standard set by Hetch Hetchy, and then there’s a metal “gold tone” filter, whatever that means, and then you are encouraged to use paper filters inside the gold tone filter.

And there’s a little light that comes on to tell you when you need to activate the decalcification routine.

And we won’t even get into all the things you can program it for, like the hotplate temperature and how long it stays on after the coffee is brewed.

And now I’ve flipped all its switches and run the preliminary cleaning cycle and ground some Sumatran from Spike’s and brewed a trial batch, I’m drinking my first cup and see that with a machine of this quality I’m going to need to start buying my beans from Ritual Roastery down on Valencia, they being tastier and costing only about half again as much.

I think this is what they call a hidden cost.

A Market Street fire escape I like:

fire escape

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