Monday, January 19, 2015

The Reverend and the Archbishop

As Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is celebrated, please tell me you've seen the cover of Life Magazine from March 26th, 1965 - it's one of the issues commemorating the Selma to Montgomery marches.  The cover image has always been compelling and powerful since, as Life proclaimed, it was a historic turning point for the cause.  But for me it has also represented a point of pride because, as an American with strong ties to my Greek heritage, it's gratifying to recognize Archbishop Iakovos standing just to the right of Dr. King.

The Archbishop - Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America - was one of the few non-African American members of the clergy who had the courage to answer Dr. King's call and march through Alabama in support of civil rights. 

That image is the most well known, with the Archbishop looking into the camera's lens.  But another image, less famous, better captures the feeling of time, of place.

What it doesn't capture, of course, is the horror of that time and of that place.  It doesn't display the hundreds of earlier marchers who had tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge that same month and were attacked by state troopers armed with billy clubs and tear gas.  It doesn't broadcast the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson, or of James Reeb, two men guilty of trying to march in the South and who paid for their guilt with their lives.

What it does reveal is the tension and sorrow of Archbishop Iakovos and of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and of the long line of marchers behind them.  It reveals the uneasy awareness that though their cause be just, there were men who would rather see them dead than marching under a southern sun.  Dr. King was more aware of this than anyone because the threats to his life came ugly and often.  It's that troubled awareness that strikes me in the second photograph, as if the wreath he carries in memory of the martyred Reverend James Reeb were a shield of flowers. 

And so even if it doesn't show everything, it shows that.

Years ago I happened across a copy of Life Magazine - three issues after the one that covered Selma - from April 16th, 1965.  Its Letters to the Editors were featured on page 21.  In the middle of those columns is a short missive from J. H. Sprague of Dallas, Texas, referring to the earlier edition.  It's adorable:

That cover takes the cake.  It's the best evidence of left-wing trouble makers you could ever get together.

Now, while it is true that Dr. King could be characterized as left-leaning, and while it is even more true that Walter Reuther, seen standing in back of and between the good Doctor and the Archbishop, could definitely be described as left of center (he was a Socialist in the '30's and a strong Labor Union Leader later in his life) it's funny for someone as theologically conservative as the Archbishop to be called left-wing.  But Mr. Sprague's ilk is made comfortable when they can put the Other in a derogatory box, so more power to you, Mr. Sprague, you silly, silly man.

Tonight, Karen and I talked about that to our girls, then showed them Dr. King's last speech.  Listen to his words.  Listen.  Listen and know that the threats that came to him ugly and often would turn deadly less than twenty-four hours later.  Elizabeth's eyes grew wet, as did ours, because she, unlike Dr. King, knew exactly what was going to happen to this man the next day.

Well, I don't know what will happen now.  We've got some difficult days ahead.  But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop.

I don't mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life - longevity has its place.   But I'm not concerned about that now.  I just want to do God's will.  And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain.  And I've looked over.  And I've seen the Promised Land.  I may not get there with you.  But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

So I'm happy tonight.

I'm not worried about anything.

I'm not fearing any man.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!

Do you remember when I told you about the grave of Nikos Kazantzakis?  About the words that mark the resting place of the creator of Zorba the Greek?  No name, no dates, just a few simple sentences: 

I hope for nothing.
I fear nothing.

I'm free.

You'll have to pardon me if I've always heard these lines echo in Dr. King's words and that this hearkening to the ideas of another only strengthened the ties in my mind binding Dr. King to the Greek Archbishop, the Archbishop who marched with the Reverend to Montgomery.

I try and remember throughout the year that it's not just on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day that we commemorate him - that we don't listen to his speeches with the girls today and forget about him tomorrow.  I try and remind them that powerful words alone aren't enough.  I remind them that it's when words combine with action that their power can be felt.  I remind them that glimpsing a mountaintop isn't enough because you can't see the other side until you've actually reached the summit.

For us, unfortunately, the summit is still a long way off.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 15th, 1929 - April 4th, 1968

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Monday, December 1, 2014

Zorba the Drink

My favorite books of all time?  That compilation changes faster than New York Times Bestsellers, but there are always a few constants, a few books so great they're always on my list with one book is so wonderful it never leaves my Top Three - Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis.

The book has been a favorite of mine for as long as I can remember having favorite books.  Zorba is one of those characters - created by a writer, never flesh and blood except on the page - who is more fervently real than most of the people I meet every day.  That's why he gets this month's drink in our newsletter.

"What's happening today, this minute, that's what I care about.  I say:  'What are you doing at this moment, Zorba?'  'I'm sleeping.'  'Well, sleep well.'  'What are you doing at this moment, Zorba?'  'I'm working.'  'Well, work well.'  'What are you doing at this moment, Zorba?'  'I'm kissing a woman.'  'Well, kiss her well, Zorba!  And forget all the rest while you're doing it; there's nothing else on earth, only you and her!  Get on with it!'"

Karen gave me a leather-bound journal on Valentine's Day, 1986, and that quote was one of the first I entered.  I'd read books, or articles, or attend a lecture, and if something jumped out at me - into the Journal it went.  Books usually got only one entry, and so that was the first entry from Zorba that resonated - then.  But then...

...but then, in 1989, I went to Greece for the first time.  And took Zorba with me.  And we traveled through Greece together, Zorba and I.  But reading Zorba?  In Greece?  It was no longer a passage that resonated - pages resonated.  I was overwhelmed.

Happy is the man, I thought, who, before dying, has the good fortune to sail the Aegean Sea.


'The idea's everything,' he said.


Zorba sees everything every day as if for the first time.


It is a great pleasure to enter a Cretan peasant's home....The house appears empty, but it contains everything needful, so few in reality are the true necessities of man.

My Journal, for a time, was taken over by Zorba the Greek.  So many of the passages weren't merely a mirror held up to life - they were Life.  My Life.  That entry about a Cretan peasant's home?  My cousin, Geó̱rgios, living in a horio (village) in Crete, owned so few things - but I've not met many men who were happier than he.

My memories of Geó̱rgios:  the glee with which he showed me the baby owl nesting in the small courtyard outside his house.  He spread its wings wide before returning it to safety.


Katina, his wife, bringing out the tray of Ouzo for the men to share.  I dutifully took the shot glass she offered and - having learned during those summer months that the easiest way to drink the Ouzo thus offered was to shoot it, quick - I shot it, quick.

But - when the liquor hit the back of my throat I knew this wasn't Ouzo.  It was a strong home brew, Raki, or Cretan Tsikoudia - the Greek version of White Lightning.  And Geó̱rgios and the rest of the men gathered there in Kaina, that village in Crete, looked at the crazy young American as he swallowed the undiluted drink - while they merely wet their upper lip with the booze before tossing the rest of the shot onto a dead bush crinkled brown near where the owl nested.

Geó̱rgios would give me a flask of my own when I left - with the admonition that even though I liked it so much, I had to promise to cut it with water.  To cut it with a lot of water. 

He leaped into the air and his feet and arms seemed to sprout wings.  As he threw himself straight in the air against that background of sea and sky, he looked like an old archangel in rebellion.  For Zorba's dance was full of defiance and obstinacy.  He seemed to be shouting to the sky:  "What can you do to me, Almighty?  You can do nothing to me except kill me.  Well, kill me, I don't care!  I've vented my spleen, I've said all I want to say, I've had time to dance....and I don't need you anymore!


Faces change, crumble, return to earth; but others rise to take their place.  There is only one dancer, but he has a thousand masks.  He is always twenty.  He is immortal.

I was about twenty, then, immortal then.  Dancing then - lots of dancing, then, with my Theo Niko.  My Theo Niko singing - drinking and singing and dancing.

My Theo Yanni - knocking on my door at five in the morning after I left my cousins at three, knocking because I said I'd go with him and milk his goats and check on his olives and water the few crops he had growing all over the island.  Little patches of land, some not much bigger than your living room, enough to keep one goat tethered - and so we drove and fed them and milked them and he'd make cheese, later, with this fresh milk.

Or he'd turn on a spigot, in a different area, above a different patch of ground, and the water would run down the small rows where he'd grow feed for his goats, and we'd talk in the cool of the morning and then Theo Yanni would kick a few pebbles with his scuffed boot and the water would change course.  The few rocks he dislodged would change the course of this trickle we were following and it would feed another row, and he'd do that - as the water wet the earth - he'd kick a few more rocks, taking his time.  There's no rushing in Greece.  Everyone takes their time - at least they do on the islands.

And later as the sun rose we came across one goat, just a kid - a runt - and it had been attacked by a billy goat and Theo Yanni knew the kid was in trouble so he threw it into the back of his truck with me, and after we finished our rounds he put it in the cool shed where the milk would ferment.  Soon after, though, his son - my cousin, Taki - went in to see how the kid was doing...

And then Taki shot out of the shed screaming, Afto pethane!  It's died!  It's died!

Theo Yanni ran in and grabbed the kid and tied its back legs together and threw the rope over a beam and hung that goat high, by its legs, before slitting its throat - because, he explained to me while the blade sliced the goat's neck, he had to bleed the goat out.  The meat would be useless to him unless he did this - and a waste like that couldn't easily be borne.

Except the goat had died and so its heart had stopped pumping - so no blood pulsed from its slit neck.  So my Theo cut the goat down, fast - here was a time to rush, finally a time to rush on the island of Skyros - and Theo Yanni grabbed a bicycle pump from somewhere close, and he stuck the business end of the pump into the main artery of the goat's thigh and looked up at me and at his son, Taki, and at my cousin, Peter - Peter, like me, from California.  Taki just screamed some more - Oxi!  No!  No! - and I looked at my Theo, confused, and so it was left to Peter who understood what needed doing.

And what needed doing was pumping the pump.  The pump with its needle stuck into the artery of the dead goat at his feet.  Pump pump pump - and suddenly the dirt next to my Theo's patio was awash with blood, the blood rhythmically pumping out of the goat as if by its own beating heart, when instead it gushed because of the maniacal up and down pumping being done by a man from Stockton.

Did Peter smile for the camera, for his cousin, Nick?  He did.  Was the meat of the goat wasted?  It was not - it became souvlaki that night.

Back home?  In the States?  The story is met with horror, revulsion.  But in Greece?  On the island?  On Skyros it made perfect sense.

To Zorba it would have made perfect sense.

After visiting my family on Crete - the General and his brother, Giorgios, their brother, Andoni - the only other thing I needed to do was visit the grave of Nikos Kazantzakis.  He's buried on the outskirts of Heraklion because the Greek Orthodox Church wouldn't let him be buried in holy ground.

No cemetery, then, for Nikos Kazantzakis - for the author of The Last Temptation of Christ.

Anyone would be struck by the simplicity of his resting place.  There's no name - no stone that reads—

Nikos Kazantzakis
Born 18 February 1883
Died 26 October 1957

—but there is a cross, wooden and tall.  And a headstone, yes, but instead of his name and when he was born, when he died, it has three lines from his work, The Saviors of God.  Just those lines, and nothing more.

Δεν ελπίζω τίποτα.  (I hope for nothing.)
Δε φοβούμαι τίποτα.  (I fear nothing.)
Είμαι λέφτερος.  (I'm free.)

I sat there, warm in the Cretan sun, and thought about those words, and Zorba.  And my family, near and far.  I thought about my mom, who traveled to Greece with me - the first time she'd been back since she left Skyros in 1961.  I thought about her reunion with her own mother.  Joyous.  Thought about the fact that I'd purchased a ring for Karen in Thessaloniki because I was having a wonderful time in Greece - but it would have been infinitely better with her, and so I would ask her when I returned to Berkeley from Greece, I would ask her to marry me.

So could I, too, say that I hoped for nothing when I hoped for so much?

Once more there sounded within me....the terrible warning that there is only one life for all men, that there is no other, and that all that can be enjoyed must be enjoyed here.  In eternity no other chance will be given to us.
A mind hearing this pitiless warning - a warning which, at the same time, is so compassionate - would decide to conquer its weakness and meanness, its laziness and vain hopes and cling with all its power to every second which flies away forever.

Funny thing about Zorba the Greek - the book.  The book that I love.  When Simon & Schuster published it in the United States for the first time, they didn't actually publish a translation of the Greek.  They instead published a French translation of the Greek into English.

Greek to French to English.

I'm sure it made sense - but, the problem with that is this:  Kazantzakis is a son of his country, and as a son of Greece he reveled in the idiosyncrasies of the Greek language.  And Cretan Greek is different from Skyrian Greek is different from Athenian Greek.  I can't imagine getting the sort of wonderful detail down on the page that Kazantzakis strove for by doing the Greek/French/English thing.

Thankfully, this month, Simon & Schuster is remedying that by publishing a new translation of Zorba the Greek - their first since the book came out in 1953.  I found out about it because Wendy Sheanin looks out for me - she's the Director of Marketing for Simon & Schuster, and yes, it's good to have friends in high places.  So there's Wendy in New York, there's their amazing rep, Cheri Hickman, keeping me up to speed on this coast - Book People, we take care of each other.

To say thanks, I mixed up a little something I originally called the Hot Zorba.  I wanted it to have rum, because that's the drink the young Greek intellectual shares with Alexis Zorba at the beginning of the novel.  Our smart friend wanted to drink sage tea, but Zorba scoffed at that.

"Sage?" he uttered with contempt.  "Over here, waiter!  Rum!"

In addition to Zorba's preference - the rum - I would have liked to add Tsikoudia.  Ouzo, though, is more readily available and I want you to try this - so Ouzo.

At first I called this a Hot Zorba because it's very close to a Toddy.  But after tasting it I realized that what I had in my hands was, of course, Zorba the Drink.  Please, read the book, drink the drink - and then we'll talk about it.

Yia sou!

Zorba the Drink:

.5 oz dark rum
.5 oz ouzo
.5 oz lemon juice

.5 oz honey
3 - 5 oz tea

Mix all ingredients - except tea - in a warm mug.  Top off with tea.  Garnish with a cinnamon stick, lemon peel and a sage leaf.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Richard Ford is going to be Frank with you

Frank Bascombe, from Richard Ford's prize winning trilogy (The Sportswriter, Independence Day, and The Lay of the Land), is back in a collection of four Ford novellas, Let Me Be Frank With You.

In the first tale, I'm Here, Frank, the (now) old realtor views the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy.  The unlucky soul he sold his own house to - that house now lying on its side - wants Frank's opinion on what he should now do.  On his way to this uncomfortable meeting, Frank thinks about age, about getting old - wondering why it is that the elderly always break something when they fall.  Has the distance you fall somehow grown greater as people age?

Frank here ruminates - a lot.  And something that recurs during these ruminations is the sonnet, Ozymandias.  And while my Egyptian history needs brushing up, I do know that the star of that poem, the pharaoh Ramesses II, enjoyed wine.  I also know that a very common sweetener in old Egypt was honey - so I wanted to begin with those ingredients.

One of the images that will stick with readers is Frank - surveying the wrecked neighborhood that used to be his - now full of hardworking men trying to lay claim to the land, again.  He can hear snippets of their conversation - mostly Spanish - and that led me to think about drinks these men would enjoy.

Also, I was thirsty for Sangria, so I decided to recast it, this time using mezcal instead of brandy to complement the wine.  And instead of tossing a lot of chopped fruit into the drink - as, yes, you should do with Sangria - I opted to just using fruit as a garnish.  So in the end, I've got Shelley's Ozymandias coming at you by way of Spain.  Enjoy.


3 oz. red wine
1 oz mezcal
.5 oz honey syrup
Club soda

Stir all - except the soda - with ice.  Strain into a rocks-filled glass.  Top with soda and garnish with orange and cherry.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Game Four - Clinching at 30,000 Feet

It's the last day in our quick Chicago trip - Tuesday, October 7th - and Karen is attending the second day of her conference.  Before that, though, we're going to head to the American Girl store.  My Chicago friend Stacey was worried - she thought we had our own girls with us and warned that a visit to AG with the kids could have been disastrously expensive.  Since it was just Karen and me, though, she figured we could do some damage but still make it out alive.

With daughters in tow?  A different outcome entirely.  As it was - Venimus, emimus, viximus.

If I was keeping score - our hotel (check), the Billy Goat Tavern (check), an American Girl emporium (check), all on Chicago's Magnificent Mile?  Not bad, Windy City.  Not bad.

On our way back to the hotel, some of Chicago's finest stared at us, peering out from the Water Works.

Karen went to finish up at her Conference while I made my way to the Art Institute.  During such a short trip we ended up doing about one percent of the things we wanted to do, but the Art Institute, for me?  Part of the one percent.

Getting there took me past some of those singular Chicago buildings I floated by the day before, like the corn cobs of Marina City on State Street.

When I got to the Art Institute, I ended up with about an hour to spend there - which is like giving yourself sixty minutes to learn Greek.

Two great exhibits that I ran through:  Magritte, the Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926 - 1938 and Heaven and Earth, Art of Byzantium.

Just phenomenal, both.  To see Magritte's painting, This is Not a Pipe?  That image I've seen hundreds of times?  But to see it in person?  How beautifully it's rendered?  The colors that no reproduction can capture?

Or the pieces in the Greek collection?  So many stunning works - like one of the icons deep in the exhibit.  It shows Christ on the Cross with the Virgin Mary on one side and a second figure on the other.  It's so large - and gorgeous in gold.  But at some point after the fall of Constantinople, the icon was disfigured - the faces of the three figures gouged out, possibly with the tip of a sword.  This kind of defacement was common, and when I told my mom about it, she made the sign of the cross and muttered something under her breath.

And honestly?  I shared her disgust - the defacement of art or icon is small minded.  Stupid.


Of course, then I told my mom about the gorgeous Head of Aphrodite that begins the show.  A wonderful marble bust from the First Century - the curls in Aphrodite's hair?  How it's seemingly cinched in the back?  Incredible.

But what really draws your attention in this amazing display of the sculptor's art is the cross crudely carved into her forehead.  Just hacked into her (once) smooth skin.  Also begging for your attention is the fact that her eyes have been attacked, as if the madman had tried to blind her.  And the clumsy chiseling on her mouth in an attempt to, what?  Silence her?  But those rough strikes like those elsewhere on her face - perpetrated in this case not by a Turk conqueror of the Byzantine Empire, but by an early Christian wreaking the same kind of havoc on a symbol of a religion not his own.

We've been doing the same thing for thousands of years, with no end in sight.

Aren't we precious.

But all this art can't keep us away from the Giants.  Try as it might, Chicago can't keep us away from the men in orange and black - the Giants who were trying to clinch the Division Series against the Washington Nationals.

The Nats were the pride of the league and were picked by most every pundit to win this Series.  With some ease.

So we left Chicago - flew out of Midway International - had been in the air for some while before the game began.  By then I had made friends with two guys - Monty and Nick - in the aisle across from ours.  They were returning to the Bay Area after attending a convention for Wendy's franchise owners.

Why are Wendy's hamburgers square? Nick asked.

I sipped my Diet Coke, thought about it, but then finally shrugged.

Because we don't cut corners! he said, and he and Monty gave each other a high five.

Not only were these two cracking wise, they also had a tablet that they fired up mid-flight to catch the Game.  I strained my neck trying to follow the action until Nick turned the tablet all the way around so that he was straining his neck and I was watching comfortably.

That's totally unnecessary, I said, not sounding even remotely convincing.

No, it's fine, Nick said.  I can watch it easy, no problem - and his solution was to put it practically in his wife's lap.  She had the window seat and was a real trooper who let her husband inconvenience her so that I could watch the game.

Right?  A round of applause is in order.

I got a little loud early when the Giants scored a ridiculous run in the second on a bases-loaded walk, and got even louder when they scored again immediately on a Joe Panik ground-out.  Karen told me to pipe down, which was understandable.  The lights on the plane were low, some people were trying to rest - but in my defense, your Honor, the Giants were battling for the Series victory, and they had just scored the first run by dint of a walk when the bases were drunk.

The play of the game, another one that made me get loud and that made Karen remind me that we were on a plane and not in the stands at AT&T, was when herky-jerky Hunter Pence threw his body into the wall in deep right field as he stole extra bases from Jason Werth.  Slammed his body into that wall, fell to the ground, but kept control of the ball the entire time.  Just a long - though violent - out.

In the seventh, after our plane had long since began its descent, all electronic equipment had to be turned off.  As soon as Nick's tablet was turned back on, we learned that Bryce Harper had again crushed another home run - tying the game.

The jerk - he's really good, but still - had a lot to say in the dugout after clouting his homer.  Thankfully, his grin was short-lived as the Giants scored once in the bottom half of that same seventh inning.  On a wild pitch.  With the bases loaded.

That's worse than a bases-loaded walk, which we'd already seen.

Karen and I caught this action on a tv at a bar in the very quiet Oakland airport.  Very quiet until that walk when it got a little bit loud - this time, Karen didn't bother telling me to keep it down.  She whooped it up a bit herself.

Did I mention that you do not throw a wild pitch with the bases loaded when the score is tied in an elimination game and you're the one in danger of being eliminated?  Alas, Aaron Barrett did just that and almost gave another run away when, on an intentional walk to Pablo Sandoval - the panda who had induced the wild pitch - Barrett threw the ball to the backstop.  While trying to intentionally walk the batter.

You don't see that kind of meltdown from a professional ballplayer in the postseason - and yet you did.  Fortunately for Barrett, Buster Posey was thrown out trying to score on that wild pitch.  Unfortunately for Barrett, the run he gave away was the deciding run, and the Giants would hold on to win 3-2 and take the Series from the deadly Nationals.

The Giants were not supposed to win this Series.  The Nats had the best record in the National League.  The Giants were a wild Wild-Card team.  An afterthought.

Before the series began, though, you'll remember that Tim Hudson, a southern man pitching for the Giants, had said that talent can take you only so far.  That the Giants had a little something extra between their legs that he thought would keep them in good stead.

The insinuation did not play well in Washington, D.C.  Did Mr. Hudson mean that the Giants had something the Nationals were lacking?

Tim Hudson has 16 years of major league experience to draw from, and he saw something in the Giants that many overlooked.  Was he a little bit crude in how he expressed himself?  Sure.  But polite doesn't win games.

And the Giants were not supposed to win these games.

And yet - no doubt helped by Karen and me getting away from Chicago and the Curse of the Billy Goat, the Curse that had felled the Giants, by association, the evening before - the Giants did win these games.  The Giants won.

The Giants won.

On to St. Louis.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Game Three - John Belushi & Michael Jordan in Mudvillle, Illinois

I warned you about the Curse of the Goat - about Billy Sianis hexing the 1945 Chicago Cubs, a hex so strong that the Cubbies haven't been back to the World Series since.  And there I was, heading into the belly of the beast - going to meet my goddaughter at Murphy's Bleachers, a bar in the shadow of Wrigley Field, going there to watch the San Francisco Giants try and close out their National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals.

Would the bad luck of the Cubs rub off on the Giants since Sara and I were in Chicago?  A superstitious person would say yes.

I said yes.

Still, we did everything we could.  Earlier, I had gone and paid obeisance to Mr. Sianis by visiting his Billy Goat Tavern.

As soon as I walked down the steps into the Billy Goat, the woman behind the counter yelled out to me, Double Cheeborger the best!  No fries, chips!  No Pepsi, Coke!  Whatdya want?

And of course I'm thinking that the ghost of John Belushi is hovering just out of sight, nodding his appreciation that the more things change, the more they stay the same - and that the Billy Goat Tavern hadn't changed since he lived in Chicago and so he was happy, very, to see that the welcome I received was the welcome he used to receive.

Naturally, I ordered the Double Cheeborger.  I asked for Pepsi just for fun, and I got looked at like I was an idiot.  No Pepsi, Coke! she yelled at me again, so I went with Diet Coke, right?

Then I ordered a Metaxa, and tipped Bobby-Behind-The-Bar very well.  I asked him if he believed in the Curse.

He asked me if the Cubs had been to the Series lately.


I asked him if the Curse could transfer to the Giants - was Chicago like Ebola, infecting others by direct contact?

He asked me if I'd like another Metaxa.

I wasn't sure if that was a yes or a no - Greeks, we can be mysterious.

After the Billy Goat, my goddaughter hit me up on Facebook.  Sara had read what I wrote about the Curse, had read that Karen and I would be in Chicago - and she wanted to know if we were still in Chicago because she had moved there two days before.

My mom would say the Lord works in mysterious ways - or the Greek version of that, but it doesn't translate well - and so while Karen was off speaking at her Conference, Sara and Joel - her boyfriend - and I met at the bar in Michael Jordan's Steakhouse.  When we texted one another, it turned out that Sara and Joel happened to be just a few blocks away from our hotel, and since Mr. Jordan had conveniently opened a restaurant in that hotel, we'd meet there.

That was a happy reunion, and the Ernest Hemingway Daiquiri the bar offered was divine, and we decided that it was good luck, right?  That we were both there in Chicago at the same time?  We made plans to watch the Game together in a few hours - maybe at a bar near Wrigley.  Of course they lived just a few blocks from Wrigley - I mean, of course.

In the meantime, I'd hit the Art Institute - only, as I headed down that away, a barker caught my ear and said the Architectural Boat Tour was leaving in five minutes.  I'd just make it if I ran, he said - and since numerous folks had said it wasn't to be missed, I went.  What the heck.

The two most important things I learned, while nursing a Revolution Ale aboard the boat:  1. Chicago has more than thirty bridges that cross its rivers, and the very first one?  Way back when?  It was built to provide access to the bar on the other side.  2. The dark green and gold Carbide and Carbon Building was designed to resemble a champagne bottle.  Both of these facts made me love Chicago.  A lot.

Karen wasn't up for watching the game - she'd been fighting a cold, and while she had rallied to speak at her Conference, she was going to try and rest for a few hours, so I went ahead and met Sara and Joel at Murphy's Bleachers, a bar just feet from Wrigley Field.

The game, alas, did not go well.  In one of the few instances of an October misplay by the Giants, Madison Bumgarner would hurry a throw to third base - when there was no play to be made at third - and that errant throw would dart past Pablo Sandoval covering the bag, and when the dust settled, two runs had scored.  To say that the error was uncharacteristic for the Giants - the Giants who had begun to solidify the myth of Invincibility that surrounds them in October - again, to say the play was out of character would be a phenomenal understatement.

But it happened and the boys in Orange and Black would have to rally.

While we were wishing this would happen, Sara suddenly grabbed my arm - beer sloshed out of my glass while Sara pointed to the tv above our heads.  That's Elene! she shouted.

And sure enough, our cousin and her boyfriend, Tim, were right there, no longer only in San Francisco cheering on their team - our team - but there with me and Sara in a bar in Chicago.

Stolen from Elene's page

It had been a good omen when I spotted Richie and Aaron on the television during Game One, right?  There they were, these two whom I'd spent many a Spring Training with - and Game One had turned out brilliantly, hadn't it?

Stolen from Richard's page

Would it work again?  Would glimpsing our cousin help to keep the bad mojo at bay?  Did we really believe that by being in this cursed baseball town we were somehow bedeviling our Giants?

Sara may not have thought so, but I did.  That Greek Curse was powerful magic - Mr. Bumgarner throwing away that ball...

Sadly, seeing Elene and Tim was not enough to turn bad luck into good.  The Giants' streak of ten Postseason victories in a row came to end on Monday night.

Sure, Sara and I had a great time catching up in this most improbable of Chicago meetings - I'd never been to the city before, and she'd been there for all of 48 hours.  Sure, it was a pleasure meeting Joel, and his dog, Otis - Otis who made more friends at the bar than I did.

But - the Giants lost.

The Giants lost.

I'd head back to the hotel, find Karen up and about - checking her email.  She swore she felt a little better - that we should strike out and go find some of that famous deep dish Chicago pizza everyone always talks about.

Back home in Alameda, having Zachary's pizza was part of the ritual during the Giants' October runs in 2010 and 2012.  Zachary's is deep dish - what if, could it be?  Why hadn't I thought of that earlier?  What if getting some original deep dish was good luck?

Giordano's was within walking distance - and the pie was indeed good.  And on the walls behind the tables, names of famous Chicagoans had been stenciled.  Mike Ditka, Oprah Winfrey - and there, directly behind Karen?  John Belushi.  If you look closely, you can see his name.

A superstitious man might take that as a sign - that in the very place where we were trying to dispel the bad, John Belushi's good name should appear.  The name of the man who had made the Billy Goat Tavern even more famous than it already was.

Could Mr. Belushi have made this appearance to let us know that he approved?

Or is that just silly?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Game Two - Success and Failure, in Baseball, in Life

It's just baseball, right?  Just a game.  But this time, it got personal.

Game Number One for the Giants, in this Best-of-Five Division Series (you know, if you're keeping score), went swimmingly for the boys from 'Frisco.  They went up by three, early, and then fended off a couple of bases-empty home runs (one a No-Doubter off the bat of the 21-year-old Bryce Harper - and yes, I do have socks older than he is).

Then on Saturday, Game Two was interrupted by our 30th High School Reunion - held at the venerable Minnie's on McHenry Avenue, and even if you didn't grow up in Modesto, you know McHenry if you've ever seen American Graffiti, George Lucas' paean to being a teenager in Modesto in the 1950's.  McHenry is where most of the Car-Action took place.

So Minnie's, and it was a reunion for Karen and for me because we both graduated from Davis High in 1984.  We met at Davis - US History with Mr. Thompson, freshman year - had lockers right next to each other, but didn't start dating until I hit a growth spurt in the summer of '82.  So we knew lots of people, and had the advantage over many of the other couples - because if someone there didn't know Karen from High School, they may have known me.  Doubled our chances right there.

We drank and mingled with lots of people we hadn't seen in 30 years - all while the Giants were playing a hard Nine Innings of ball in our Nation's Capital.

This group? Together from elementary school through high school.

The reunion was good - mostly - but really, 30 years?  How did that happen?

Lots of hellos, how you doing, how many kids?  How old?  What do you do?

Lots of people going up to Karen, telling her how she was the nicest person they ever knew (in all seriousness) and how the heck did she stay so tangled up with me (in some seriousness).

Paul Zoodsma laughing, jokingly rubbing it in that he was Prom King to Karen's Prom Queen.  Karen had been there with me, though, so I had that going for me - which is nice.

And through it all there was that pesky game, against the indomitable Nationals - with both pitchers throwing incredible games.  Unfortunately for the Giants, Jordan Zimmermann for the Nats was throwing a game just a little bit better than the Giants own Tim Hudson - and while Mr. Hudson had only given up one run, in the third inning, one was looking like it was going to be enough.  In the fourth, still 1-0 in favor of the Nationals.  Same in the fifth, sixth and all the way to the ninth.  And in that ninth, first there was one out, and then there were two.

That's a wrap, right?  Considering the way Mr. Zimmerman was tossing the ball.  Except a funny thing happened on the way to a National's victory - Mr. Zimmerman gave up a walk in that ninth inning, and that brought out the manager for the Nationals.  In a move that will be debated for a long time, Mr. Matt Williams removed his pitcher, a man who had been toying with the Giants all night long, and brought in his closer - who promptly gave up a few hits, allowing a run to score.

Suddenly, it was 1-1, and after the completion of the inning, that's where the game stood.  Nine innings in the books, and it was all tied.

At this point, the Reunion was in full swing, and I'm still drinking Maker's on the rocks and Karen is catching up with old friends and I'm getting kissed on the cheek by Paul Zoodsma - which caused me to spill some of that precious Maker's, and then I'm donning oversized sunglasses and a pink, feather boa - just a regular Saturday night in Modesto.

Lots of people are sneaking off to the bar to catch up on the game - the tv's there are blazing.  Other graduates are checking their phones with great regularity.  10th inning?  1-1.  11th?  1-1.  12th?  More of the same.  Lot of baseball, lot of not scoring for both teams.

Then we found ourselves in the lucky 13th, and that's when things got a little personal.

It got personal after I was pulled aside by a classmate from 30 years ago - just a light touch on my arm and a nod to follow her a few steps to the bar where she leans in and wonders out loud if she can ask me a personal question.  Sure, I say, just half listening, wondering if anyone is showing signs of scoring a run - when I talked to my mom after the game, she told me she knew it was going to take a home run to end this contest.

My classmate looks at me, all kind of serious, and she says, Does it bother you being here since you're not successful?

And I do a double-take - but yes, she did just ask that, and before I can answer she says, It's just that in High School you were such a success, you'd been in all those Gifted programs like me, all that stuff you did competing in Speech.  You gave the commencement address at our graduation, so many people liked you - but now...

And she let those words trail off into nothing.

I'm thinking a lot of things - a lot of things come rushing in right then - and I try to answer.  I'm trying to be polite, when what I really want to say is something that the Maker's could easily fuel - but instead I say, Well, I guess that depends on your definition of success.  I guess it would be easy to say that Karen is a success, going with your yardstick, because your yardstick seems to only involve, what?  A high-powered job?  Is that your yardstick?  So yes, then, Karen is very successful - in that way but in lots of others, too.

And I'm starting, now.  Right?  The music's loud - something way past 1984, Guns n Roses - and the whiskey has had plenty of time to settle.

But if that's it for me - then no, I'm not a success.  But I guess I measure things a little bit differently than you.  Or, well, more fully?  First, I'd consider how good a father I am to my kids.  Then I'd consider how good a husband.  How good a son, and brother.  How good a friend.  And in all of those things I could be better, Lord knows I could be better.  But overall?  In those catergories?  Pretty successful.

You know what comes next? and I'm getting a little loud, competing with Axl Rose.  Next is what I do with my words.  With my writing.  I try.  Quite hard.  Not as hard as I should, but sometimes?  I hit that pitch out of the park, and when I do that, I'm happy.  And successful.

My job, though, because I guess you're mainly wondering about my job.  I sell books, but you must know that or else why would you have asked me your question.  Books?  I'm pretty passionate about books.  About ideas being disseminated.  About talking to people about what they like to read, and what I like to recommend.  I feel that bookstores - yes, even my little bookstore in Alameda - I feel that bookstores can be important vital parts of a community.  And that's something that people in our internet age are quick to forget.  But bookstores have done a lot of things to make sure that words remain free - kind of silly to be so dramatic, right?  But there you go.

Am I successful, then?  I don't know.  You'll have to tell me.  What do you think?

And that question, my question, met with a lot of silence - unless you consider the void that John Mellencamp was filling with his tale of Jack and Diane, those two American kids living in the heartland.  So let it rock, right?  Let it roll.

Tell you what, though, I said.  I think I need another drink.  So if you'll excuse me?

And that question met with the same silence so I walked past her and up to the bar where Paul was asking what the hell I was doing without a glass.

Just rectifying that, I said.  And I looked at the bartender and she said, Another Maker's for you?

Indeed, yes.  Another Maker's.

In happier news, the Giants and the Nationals had continued putting up zeroes, until the 18th inning, until the teams had played another complete game after the first complete game they had played.  And in that 18th, Brandon Belt for the Giants did just what my mom said had to happen - he hit a home run, and the Giants went up 2-1, and then held off the Nationals in the bottom of the 18th.

After having played the longest game in postseason history in Major League Baseball at six hours and twenty-three minutes.

A successful night for the Giants?  Well, I guess it depends.  It did take them an awfully long time to win, to go up two games to none on the Nationals.

So - what kind of yardstick do you use?

Really, let me know.  What kind?