April 2013


The April 29, 2013 issue of The New Yorker has an article by John McPhee that sent me tapdancing in delight around the kitchen. Read it. McPhee is one of my favorite authors, a man who writes so well that he can make even geology interesting, and keep it interesting for 700 pages, which he did in his Pulitzer-Prize-winning Annals of the Former World.

In this The New Yorker article he writes about the composition process and how difficult he finds first drafts. When he finally gets through the agony of the first draft, subsequent drafts become more interesting and in some cases even enjoyable. I need to use his method.

My current technique is to sweat around over the first draft and then, in a frenzy of frustration, post it. And then, over then next 24 hours, realizing the horror of what i’ve done, go back and freneticly make repeated edits until the thing is no longer a screaming atrocity and my shame has subsided sufficiently that i can sleep. Which means, of course, that you should always skip over the first post that you see here, especially if it has a recent date, because i’m frantically improving it.

What i haven’t been able to do is post new pics. Working on it.

If i give up and kill myself in despair over this i won’t be doing it by one of the more traditional methods. No indeed. What i shall do is go down to the new Knead Patisserie at 3111 24th Street and buy a couple dozen of their astonishing pomme d’amour, the best pastry i’ve ever eaten in my life, and the damn thing doesn’t even have any chocolate in it.

Then i will take the carton of pastries out into Dolores Park and eat them until i lose consciousness. It’ll look like i’m napping while every artery in my body congeals, and i’ll have the additional pleasure of enacting that marvelous 1950’s Chad Mitchell Trio song about the Temperance Union, “Oh can you imagine a greater disgrace/Than a man in the gutter with crumbs on his face.”

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Mass Hysteria

“Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket?” I’ll leave the quote unattributed since it’s so popular that i can’t seem to find the origin. That said, it sure does sum up our current situation with regard to terrorists, most particularly our reaction to the Boston Marathon bombing in which three spectators died.

So what did we do in reaction to those three deaths? First, we locked down Boston and halted air, rail, and bus transportation out of the city while a manhunt for the bombers was underway. We maintained the lockdown after one of the bombers had been killed in a shootout with the police and the other had escaped, wounded and on foot.

People, people. What is it about bombs that has us so, well, terrified? Londoners endured years of IRA bombings with a stiff upper lip, just as blasé Israelis gathered in cafes next door to the rubble from bombings the previous day. Are they that much braver than we are? Do we not understand that we empower terrorists by our grotesque overreaction?

We pour billions of dollars into Homeland Security, our local police forces are equipped with tanks, our skies are filled with drones, our citizens’ email and telephone conversations are monitored, cameras record our every move. We stop at nothing to create the impression that we are protecting our populace, even as we whittle away at their liberties.

We go ballistic over three bomb deaths in Boston while about 80 people are shot to death every day in this country and 95 die daily in auto accidents. Have we no sense of perspective? Wouldn’t we have thought, ho hum, just another shooting if the Tsarnaev brothers had simply shot four people?

Yes, there are perils. And yes, we should try to defend against them, but at some point all common sense suggests that we step back and face reality with a crumb of bravery. Absolute security is an impossible goal, and if two bombers can turn us into a nation of frightened sheep, the terrorists have won.

Meanwhile, a recent fire escape shot that i was able to sneak past the guards.

Fire escape graffiti

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Fable, at 558 Castro, had its soft opening back in February, but i didn’t get around to trying it until last Tuesday with my friend Tony. Even though the opening is still fairly soft in that there’s no sign outside or indication of what the hours are, it’s already thoroughly Discovered, as i discovered when i walked in at 6:30 and inquired about a reservation for two in the garden at 7:00.

At least the maitre d’ didn’t laugh at me. The garden’s not open yet and won’t be until late this fall. And the tables were already reserved for the evening. The good news was that there were still a couple of seats at the bar, which i grabbed. They’re not bad seats, actually, since you’re sitting right there in front of the chef and the cooks and get to watch the show.

The chef looked familiar, but it was only after i’d done some digging around on the internet that i discovered why – he’s Jon Hearnsberger and was the chef for some time across the street at the Anchor Oyster Bar. And he’s good. Very good. Which explains why they’re already fully booked on a Tuesday night.

I had the pork cheeks appetizer, and they were delicious, arrayed on a bed of mixed greens lightly anointed with the best vinaigrette i’ve had in some time. My entree was the Petrale sole, delicious, accompanied by sauteed spinach and fresh green garlic mashed potatoes, the latter a bit oversalted but wonderfully garlicky.

We split a bottle of California Pinot Noir that was a great bargain at $48. Tony wasn’t up for a dessert, so i let him have a couple of bites of my chocolate mousse topped with a salted chipotle cream. The mousse was good, and the cream pushed it up to excellent.

The restaurant gives great value, as the most expensive entree was $22. I look forward to many happy returns. Give it a try, but pull it together and make a reservation.

AIDS Memorial GardenMeanwhile, here’s a ferny shot in Golden Gate Park’s AIDS Memorial Garden.

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Another Modest Proposal

Many of us have followed with interest efforts by the Roman Catholic Church and its allies to prevent gays from getting married, even in civil ceremonies at City Hall or in the handful of churches kinder and more generous than the Roman Catholic. Some of us have a problem with this. Hell, the majority of American Catholics now disagree with their church hierarchy on this issue.

However, i have put aside my resentment and am cheerfully accepting the hatred and bigotry of His Grace, His Holiness, and the entire church apparatus between them. I am now suggesting that we should not stop with excluding gays from marriage.

No, indeed. I call for all Americans to join me in a campaign against gay funerals, using the logic that allowing gays to have funerals undermines the sanctity of the coffin.

gay architectureAnd once we’re successful in banning gay funerals, we can take on gay architecture:

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The Bloody Scourge of Aesthetic Righteousness

P1000448Back on 23 December 2012 in my role as Matte Gray, Protector of the Public Aesthetic and Chastiser of the Tasteless, i posted a photograph of a new set of lean, modern condos on Noe Street that had been adorned with ludicrous neo-Early American light fixtures.  Finally, last week i noticed that the owners had wilted under the lash of public scorn and replaced the offending fixtures with simple black cylinders.

Vigilance maintained.  Offenders exposed.  Corrections noted.

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The Skating Rink

The Supreme Court has just finished hearing arguments on whether it should take up the constitutionality of California’s Prop 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and of course i’ve been following these arguments with some interest since it has become increasingly clear that a tipping point has been reached and a clear majority of Americans now feel that gays ought to enjoy the same federal benefits as heterosexuals.  What i find most intriguing, though, is the realization of how much has changed in the last few decades.

The Bay Area has long been a sanctuary for gays, but even here times have changed.  Shortly after i moved to San Francisco in 1975 i met a man named Ed Petersen and began running around with him.  Although he lived here in the city, he worked in the Planning Department of the City of San Mateo and learned that the proprietor of a moribund local roller-skating rink had, in a desperate attempt to drum up business, declared Tuesday night to be Gay Night.  Its popularity had almost immediately exceeded his wildest expectations, and suddenly, Tuesday became his best night.  The place was thronged with gay men skating their butts off.

Ed took me down there a couple of times, and we had great fun skating with our fellow gays.  Well, the entire first time and partway through the second, when Ed grabbed my arm in a panic and dragged me off into the shadows at the side of the rink.  He’d spotted at the front desk a reporter from the local newspaper, a man with whom he’d had a couple of unpleasant encounters in his official capacity at work.

So he knew the guy would take great pleasure in outing him and that even though this was 1975, it wasn’t in San Francisco, and he was certain his employer would find some reason to get rid of him if there were evidence he was gay.

So we stayed in the shadows and watched while the reporter moved up to the raised gallery from which he could get a good look at all the skaters as they rolled past.  We crept to the back door only to see that it was, alas, an alarmed emergency exit.  But then we noticed that the reporter had taken a seat in the gallery and that by duckwalking along the front edge of the gallery, we’d be below his line of sight.

So that’s what we did, allowing Ed to escape out the front door unseen.  I hung back and turned in our skates before i joined him in the parking lot, where he was hiding behind my car.

And that’s the way it was as late as the seventies.

AIDS Memorial Grove MagnoliaBut here’s a magnolia at the AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park.  While i’m getting Allen’s name chiseled into the memorial circle, i’ll go ahead and add Ed’s.

Now that i’ve outed him.

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