Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New York Postcards, #4 -- The Empire State Building Sucks

Is it awesome? (And please, I've spoken before of the use of the word Awesome. I intend its use as the Lord our God intended it to be used - a feeling of reverence produced by the sublime. Your '63 Chevy is not awesome. Nor is Lady Gaga.)

So - is the Empire State Building awesome? Sure. The world's tallest building for forty years - not a record that'll be broken. Tallest until the North Tower of the World Trade Center was finished in 1972. Tallest again in New York after September 11th, 2001.

Awesome not just because of its height, but because of its design - back when builders actually cared about design. Beautiful, yes, awe inspiring, yes, a marvel? Truly.

Just don't try to get to the observation decks.

Karen and I had a few hours to kill on our Saturday in New York, so we decided to be tourists and do the most touristy thing we could think of.

Top of the Empire State.

What the authorities don't tell you, on a beautiful Saturday in New York, is that it's going to take about four hours total to enjoy the view. 240 minutes. 220 of those minutes will be spent in line. After line. After line.

At least Disneyland has the courtesy to have those stupid little signs acknowledging that you have to wait.


Splash Mountain - APPROXIMATE WAIT TIME - 90 MINUTES!

Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage - Wait time - 120 minutes from this point!


I'm here to tell you, if we had seen a sign that said:

Observation Deck - Wait time - 220 minutes!

...we would not. Have waited. Of course, that's probably why the Powers That Be don't inform you of the stupid wait. In New York, there's always something else to do, so you'd do that. Something else. And not waste more than three hours for a glimpse of the stupid view.

Ok, the view's not stupid. Still. Three and a half hours? Are you kidding?

The only funny bit was the dad ahead of us in line. The way they work it, you think you're getting to the end of the line, when you turn a corner - more line! Or you get to a door, open it - more line! Elevator, in, out - more line! So this poor guy is in line with his two girls, and he's gotta use the bathroom. He figures, I've been in this fucking line for three hours, we ain't moving, I'm just gonna go pee. What could happen?

What could happen is this. Some freak in an ape suit could choose the exact moment that the bathroom door closes behind the dad to leap out and terrorize the crowd. He could beat his hairy King-Kong chest and roar like only a freak in an ape suit can roar. His rampage will cause the youngest of the two girls, the girls now alone, without their dad - he's in the crapper - Kong's frenzy will make the youngest of the girls scream in terror. Scream and cry, loud and long. She'll be screaming so loud and long that I, thinking about my own two little girls, will be tempted to cut through the line and offer succor to the wee thing.

Just before I make the move to try and stem her crying jag, the dad emerges, wiping his hands on his jean jacket.  He hears her cries and looks up. For a moment, he thinks - that's not my daughter. Can't be. But then panic sets in - he walks faster, starts to rush.  The crowd of us lets him know - yes, that is your daughter and where the hell have you been?

We're all imagining the conversation when the dad and the girls get back to the hotel, back to the mom that has taken the afternoon to luxuriate in the bath - maybe order room service. What do you mean, the mom'll say when the story comes out, you left the girls alone, in New York? Are you crazy? I knew I shouldn't have stayed behind, I knew it.

For the rest of us, at least, that drama broke up the wait. I mean, we knew the little Fay Wray wasn't in harm's way - just scared out of her gourd without her father to protect her, is all.

Anyway.  There's my memory of the Empire State Building.  And yes, the sight from the deck is breathtaking. Where else can you see five states at once? And our day was clear and bright. The Chrysler Building, from above? And the Flatiron? The Hudson River, the East? Brooklyn, New Jersey, Central Park? Amazing, yes, seen from so far above.

Karen's hair, blowing in the wind, the wind skirting across the top of the world.  That's my other memory.

But 220 minutes in line when you could be out in Central Park? Or Brooklyn?  C'mon.  You're with me, right?  You want a slice of John's Pizza more than you want to read about the Building's energy efficiency retrofit project while you inch through that line, right?  C'mon, right?

Right.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

And Silver Bells

Silver bells shouldn't make me cry.  Still, it's Christmas, so I'm allowed.

Christmas.  My mom can be a little over the top when it comes to Christmas presents.  Like on Monday, when Mr. UPS dropped a package at the store, addressed to me.  There was no indication of who had sent it, but since my mom had posted a similarly unmarked package last week - that one contained three boxes of candy canes and two huge nutcrackers, for the girls - my guess was that the three-foot tall Santa with his full and fluffy beard probably came from the same source.

Christmas.  This would have been the 49th that my parents spent together.  They got married in '62.  Their marriage was pretty typical for a couple from that generation.  You're watching Mad Men, yes?  Well, their union, my mom and dad's, didn't have that kind of glitz, but the gender roles?  Similar.  My mom stayed home, did everything that entailed, while my dad worked - a lot.  They were comfortable with their tasks.  And after forty-eight years, the comfort that one finds in the commonplace can often be taken for granted.

My dad never took my mom for granted.

But - there were things my mom handled, and both she and he understood and accepted this.  Christmas presents?  Definitely my mom's purview.  He may have had input over the years - the Daisy BB gun I got, circa 1976?  Maybe he had some say.  But the year in, year out?

Thanks for all of that, Mom.  Thanks.

A funny thing happened, though, when Karen and I were lucky enough to welcome Elizabeth into our lives.  That first Christmas, my dad decided he wanted to get her a Christmas present.  Something just from him to her.  My mom tells me she had no input on this.  He wanted it to be his gift.

My dad, with my daughter?

My parents were married in 1962, I said that, right?  Different times, different roles.  My mom did so much of the baby stuff, so much of the holding and feeding and clothing.  My dad was a dad of his time - so the baby stuff?  Not his bailiwick.  But when Elizabeth came along?  That first time I got fussed when my folks were over and I handed Elizabeth to him, without warning?  My dad sat there, holding her, holding his first granddaughter.  Worried there at the start - but quickly just smiling, just holding her gentle.

I think my dad loved being a grandfather because he got to experience babies for the first time, in a lot of ways, even though he helped raise three boys. 

Loved being a grandfather to Elizabeth.  Then Elizabeth and Kristina.  And then Eleni, my niece.

But that first year, that first Christmas, he thought about what he could give Elizabeth - and my dad came up with a Silver Bell.  This was so unlike him.  How did he decide on a Silver Bell?  My dad, so tall, and with his big hands, his hands - those hands, at least - his hands at least better suited to the coal mines my grandfather worked, his hands at least better suited there than the pharmacies he would grace.  And here was my big, Greek dad, picking out a Silver Bell?  Such a little thing in his hands, such a pretty, little, tinkly thing.

My dad had the Bell engraved.  One side read:

Christmas
2004

And on the other side:

To
Elizabeth
Ann
From Papou

It was just splendid.  He was so pleased with the gift, with something just from him, just to her.

My dad would do this every year.  For Elizabeth - then Kristina, too.  And last year, when Eleni arrived, then also for her, for my beautiful niece.

So Eleni received a bell from her Papou - and this is important, so important, because the bells from my dad in 2009 - those would be the last bells he would gift to his grandchildren.

This year, when it was time to unwrap all the decorations, when the halls of our house needed to be decked - so many boxes, so many bags.  I love unwrapping the crinkly paper from each treasure.  The angel I got Karen in 1988.  The Scandinavian Star treetopper that we found in Booneville in 1989, the year before we married.

The Star is there now, as it's been every year, looking down on me as I write.

And then, this year, unwrapping the first Silver Bell. 

To
Elizabeth
Ann
From Papou

Unwrapping the Bell.  Holding it, so cool in my hand.  Hearing its sweet tinkle as I placed it on the mantle.  Placing it there, in front of the antique clock, the clock that belonged to Karen's grandparents.

Crying, a little bit.  Sure.  Yes.  A little bit.


We had my family over to our house yesterday, for Christmas Eve.  Our first without Papou Tony.  And in spite of that, we had a lovely, sweet time.  Somber, fleetingly somber - I couldn't quite make it through saying grace, not quite, but still, a sweet time with everyone.  With my brother George, and his wife, Karna.  Dean, the youngest brother of we three, and his wife, Laura - and little Eleni.  Connie and Gordon - Connie godmother to Kristina.  Kristine came up - Karen's sister Kristine.  What would we have done yesterday without Kristine?  And my mom.  My mom, of course.

I made drinks - it's been a year since I made Aviations.  You should have one right now.  Trust me.

Aviation:

3 parts Hendrick's Gin.
1 part lemon juice.
1 part Maraschino Liqueur
1 part Creme de Violette.

Shake with cracked ice, pour into chilled glass.  Serve with Luxardo Maraschino cherries.  Two cherries, at least - maybe three - because they're so good.

We all visited, and drank, and ate.  Opened presents.  Near the end of the presents, my mom hands me an envelope addressed to her granddaughters - an envelope and three gift-wrapped boxes.  The envelope contained a note, and in the note, my mom wrote about Papou's bells:

December 23, 2010

My dear Elizabeth, Kristina and baby Eleni.

The year 2004.  When Elizabeth was born.  Papou Tony for Christmas wanted to give Elizabeth a silver bell with her name on it.

To Elizabeth
From Papou

He said, I will do this every Christmas so she can get many bells.

2007 Kristina came.

So he did the same.

To Kristina
From Papou

2009, Baby Eleni came.

So he did the same.  A silver bell, to Eleni.  From Papou.  2009.

He said they are so beautiful and bright, I hope their future will be as bright as these silver bells.  Annio, please keep doing that for me.

So my dear ones, I will as long as I am here.  I hope when you get older and understand, please remember your Papou Tony.  Because he loved you all very much.

I love you, too.  God bless you and Merry Christmas.

--YiaYia Anna


So the three girls received three more Silver Bells.  Elizabeth and Kristina, their Bells are on the mantle with the others.  Beautiful and bright, yes.

Beautiful and bright.

I hope you have a wonderful day - and even if your day doesn't involve Christmas, I hope it involves family and friends.  Or thoughts of family and friends.  Today's a hard one for me, hard but beautiful, too.  I'm lucky to have Karen, and my girls.  The friends and family we saw yesterday, the friends and family we'll see later today, in the Valley.

Take a moment, please take a moment and remember.  Remember - and wish family and friends, past and present, wish them well.

I love you, Mom.  I love you, Dad.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Cakewreck

Yesterday was Duane's last at the bookstore.  Good for him, bad for me.  He came back to Ye Olde Bookshoppe last December - to help out during the holidays.  Much to my pleasure, he stayed.  And stayed.  Working odd hours, bringing his strong presence through the doors marked 1344.  But, yes, all good things must come to end, and Duane's tenure here is one of those.

It's hectic in the Shoppe this week - not as hectic as it could be, but beggars can't choose - when we chose to do the little going-away thing for Duane.  The card, the cake, the stirring testimonials.

Well, I strove for stirring.

Do you like cake?  I do.  I mean, I prefer pie, but for going-away things?  Gotta go cake.  Cakes can be delicious, or dry.  They can be beautiful, and sometimes - not so much.  For the not-so-much, you should visit here, and you'll also be saying Oh, the wrecks!.  Cakewrecks, that glorious site, also does a calendar, and this time of year we sell lots of calendars, so I've been looking at Cakewrecks a lot, so for Duane's cake, I basically ripped off Cakewrecks.  I got Duane a cake, indeed I did, but it was so hard to know what to have written atop the chocolate sheet.  In the end, I told the baker that I wanted nothing on top of the cake.

She obliged, as you can see below.

So we ate the cake, stirringly testified, and did all this at the front of the store, not in back where we usually stir.  Too busy yesterday to get everyone off the floor, and I figured it'd be fun to sing Duane's praises in front of customers who have enjoyed working with him.

Quickly, though, we got back to selling and wrapping.  Quickly, the cake had been nibbled enough that it was time to get it into the back room.  It was just me and Samm at the cashwrap, everyone else was off delivering the Autobiography of Mark Twain into happy hands.

Do you know Samm?  You should stop on by and talk to her before she heads back to New York.  Samm, like everyone here at the store, is terrific.  Just don't call her Samantha.  I think she kneecapped the last guy who did that.  But besides that?  Terrific.

So Samm's selling Cleopatra:  A life - Stacy Schiff's amazing biography - to this hipster in a cloth cap, and I pick up the sheet cake to take it into the back.  The baker packed the cake kind of strange - it lay on top of a plastic tray, and then the plastic in turn lay atop a plastic base.  But the two weren't connected, you know?  Just laying there, one on the other.  And um, well, when polymer meets polymer, things can slip and slide.

Are you paying attention?  Do you see where I'm going?

I pick up the cake, the one with nothing on it, and I turn, I turn towards Samm, Samm innocently helping the hipster buy Cleopatra.  Instantly, I feel the cake continue going right, when I've made a sharp left.  I'm going left, cake's going right.  I correct, turn my wheels into the slide, and I, for a moment, think I've averted a crisis, I can feel the slick plastic of the cake tray sliding back onto the plastic platter, but I over correct, and the plastic slides forward, forward - I'm pushing the cake on the tray, the tray I hold in my hand, I push everything forward and tilt the tray up, trying to catch the cake as it slides, trying to flip it with a twist of my wrist, trying to flip it back to safety--

And Samm and her hipster stand unaware of the drama taking place, Samm blocking the hipster's view of my contortions, my not-so-dexterous attempts at derring-do...

It keeps sliding, sliding, gaining momentum, how could it slide faster?  I'm trying to ease the slide but it keeps going faster, the chocolate a blur, the hipster saying something about Cleopatra, me saying Oh, Samm hearing my exclamation but trying to do the customer-service thing, not about to move out of the way.  Why would she do that?  The cashwrap is cramped, there's no place for her to go, and why would she go anywhere since she has no idea the cake is sliding, sliding, slipping up and over, over, I'm going this way, it's going that, this way, that...

With one last lunge I push the cake forward, fast, where it glances off Samm's elbow, smears across the back of her shirt, down, slicing down over her belt, the seat of her jeans, brown frosting in a chocolate blur over her clothes.

The hipster now jumping back, grabbing Cleopatra, dusting the crumbs off her beautiful face, Samm turning, looking down, assessing the wreckage, gasping when she sees the rest of the cake, the uneaten rest, tumbled into our recycling bin, pulling it out, freeing it from the paper and cans nestled inside.

It's still good, Samm says.  It's still good.

I'm apologizing while the hipster backs away with Cleo clutched under his arm, while our coworkers now - now - flit close like bats to a streetlight, to see what fresh hell I've wreaked.

Through it all, through the jibes and laughter, Samm maintains her equanimity.  Grace under pressure and all that.

So that's how I spent yesterday trying to say goodbye to Duane.

Goodbye Duane.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sleigh Bells

We've been doing treasure hunts at home, the girls and I.  The hunts begin with a poem, and each stanza will have a little hint about what the treasure is and it also directs the girls to a different part of the house, where they find the next stanza - behind a vase, in the piano bench - and off they go.  The culmination is the discovery of some fabulous treasure.  At least it's fabulous if you happen to be six or three.

Past treasures have included marbles bigger than a six-year-old's fist (Karen thought that one was dangerous - the marbles have since been confiscated) shards of crystal (purple and pink and green) pretty rocks - treasures are all around, you just have to give a child a map and watch where they'll go.

So for the holidays I thought we'd hunt sleigh bells.  I'm way into sleigh bells.  They're pretty, musical, their sound is Christmas - and they can be old.  I'm also way into old things.  Old booze, old books - my house was dusty before flappers came on the scene, and I might like it most of all.

I've been looking at the bells here and what bells they have! for a few years now but have never made the plunge.  But if I was going to get a sleigh bell, or a jingle bell, or, um, wait, what's that?  You didn't know about the different types of sleigh bells to be had?

There are petal bells and Swedish bells, double throat and round ridge bells, machine stamped and shank & rivet bells.  There were British bell-makers, like Robert Wells, American bell-makers, like William Barton.  Bells of brass, bells of silver.  Bells bells their tintinnabulation is magic - but magic often begins prosaic.

Why sleigh bells in the first place?  Well, sleighs can be hard to stop, don't you know, so laws were written requiring that sleigh horses wear bells to warn one and all that Trigger was coming through.  Some of these laws still exist in Canada, which is why Canada can often be cooler than the US.

Anyway - bells, bells, I love the sound of sleigh bells.  So we're going to go exploring and scavenging on Christmas, and sleigh bells will be the treasure.

Oh, one thing I didn't tell you about sleigh bells.  Petal bells like those pictured above are easily distinguished with the circle of petals around their tops, and some petal bells are marked with numbers.  That one up there, the one on the left?  Do you see the #8 above its throat?  Most numbers ranged from #000 (for 3/4 of an inch across) to #18 (for 4 inches across).  I thought it would be fun to get the girls a petal bell numbered with their age - so I was looking for a #3 and a #6.

Is this something we could do year after year, until they're 18?  Why, I hadn't thought of that.

The gentleman at Classic Bells couldn't have been nicer - and we quickly got the order taken care of.  But then, not long after, he called back.

I have some beautifully marked #3's, he said.  And I have some really lovely #5's, and some sweet sounding #7's, and while I have some petal bells that are 6's, I don't have any that are marked with the number.

Oh, I said.  And then I got quiet.

Your girls might not even notice, he said into the silence.

Elizabeth? I'm thinking to myself.  Elizabeth would notice.

Well, I said, after I recovered, could Santa write a note and tuck it in with the bell vouching for the fact that it's a #6 even though it's not marked?

This time it was his turn to get quiet.

For about a three-count.

Yes, he finally said, yes.  Santa could write a note.

I was going to dictate a little something, but he shushed me, he shushed me and said, Don't worry, Santa will come up with a little something.

And this, really, is why I love running a small store.  Because I can be like the kind gentleman in Potsville, Iowa - you knew he lived in a place called Potsville, right?  I mean, it had to have an echo of It's a Wonderful Life, didn't it?

Of course it did.  Just like you knew that on his website, he writes, We welcome visitors in our home-based workshop, but we do not keep regular shop hours. Please contact us a few days in advance to set up a time to visit.

So I love running a small shoppe because, if someone asked me to write a note, from Santa, I could pause, consider my own daughters (as he did.  His daughters are grown now, but his pause - after I asked if Santa could write a note - his pause allowed him a moment to consider his own daughters when they were little, and so of course he answered the way he did), and with any luck, if given the opportunity to answer a question from little Virginia O'Hanlon, even if it was in my guise as the manager of a little bookstore on Park Street, with any luck, I'd reply, Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

To understand Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell, lets look at an intolerant third-grader

At preschool pickup yesterday, Karen got to talking to one of the other moms.  This mom, like us, has an older daughter.  Hers is in third-grade, ours in first.  The third-grader's been getting teased by a boy in her class. 

Why is the daughter being teased?  Well, she has two mommies.  Ooh, shocking, I know.  In the bay area, it should be as shocking as ordering a decaf, nonfat latte - but here's this little snot-nosed third grade boy, coming onstage to show us that you don't have to be an adult to be a jerk.

One day this week, the mom was picking her daughter up from school.  The little boy decided that taunting his classmate was so easy, he'd go after the mom, too.  So he asks her, he asks - Are you gay?  And the mom says, she says - Yes.  And the boy shoots back - That's gross.

The mom is startled.  She's suffered slings and arrows, sure, but usually not from a third-grader.  She recovers fast, though, and tells him that his comment is inappropriate.  I would have told him more, but I'm Greek.  Quick to anger, right?  With any luck, though, quick also to forgive.

The mom?  Because she's nicer than I am, she leaves it at that.  And I'd leave it at that, except for a conversation Karen had with our girls.  The two-mommy thing came up, and our oldest asked for clarification.  Karen said that a classmate of our youngest indeed has two mommies.  This news caused our oldest to furrow her brow and shout out - Hey, not fair!

God, I love that kid.

Now, I'm not here to say that I'm raising my kids better than you.  I mean, I could, right?  We all think that, right?  But I won't because, Lord, the night we just had - trying to get the kids down without a torrent of tears?  It makes the truth intrude, and Dr. Spock I ain't.

And I know I can be a better dad.  I'm aware of my shortcomings (at least the really obvious ones - you can help me out with the rest).  With that said - I can't tell you how gratifying it is to know that when my daughter hears about an acquaintance with two mommies, she's all indignant at the unfair world that saddled her with only one.  Because at least, for that moment, I can remind myself that Karen and I are doing something right.

Our girls may not sit still through an entire meal at a restaurant - but you know what?  In time they'll figure out that other diners - complete strangers - do not want to have their meals interrupted by two little girls interested in practicing their cha-cha-cha.

That lesson, in the long run?  Easy to teach.  Tolerance?  Not so much.

Because I've got a little girl who thinks that two mommies is way cooler than a mommy and a boring old daddy . . . because I've got a girl who thinks that way - even though she's in close proximity to some third-grade thug who's been taught by his own daddy (or mommy, or both) that people who are different are inferior - I'm going to enjoy her for just a bit, ok?

I mean - before I begin reviewing some of my more questionable parenting tactics of the day.  But for right now?  Allow me a brief revel.  I fear that we're given so many of these brilliant moments each day - and that we don't savor them enough, and instead dwell on the negative.  Tomorrow I'll try and remind both kids how happy they make me, how I marvel at the character that each possesses.

I'll forget, of course.  I'll forget that when Karen was reading to the girls - our oldest stopped her and asked, What's a scoundrel?  And then, before Karen could answer, our three-year-old said, Um, it's a person who steals.  Right, mommy?

And though I just love that, I'll forget it.  I'll forget it the way I forget so many of the precious details that make up our lives.  But I'll try and remember, I'll try.  And the trying is enough, sometimes.

Sometimes, it's enough.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

You Never Count Your Money - Redux

When last we visited the cozy confines of Books Inc. on Park Street, I'd just been robbed.

Dirty little bugger.

And no, there weren't any guns involved, no masked marauders.  Just some insolent little wretch who pilfered a bottle of bourbon I had artfully placed amongst copies of Keith Richards' autobiography, Life.

You may go here for the rest of the story if you want:  The Art of Stealing Bourbon

At the end of that tale, I had filled a bottle of the Royal with something other than the fine Scotch Whisky that had originally found a home inside its pretty belly.

I had asked my Park Street neighbor, Barbara, (her wonderful shop is here) for advice on how to color clear fluid to replicate warm whisky, and she recommended four drops of yellow and one drop of red.  As always, Barbara was correct.

The hue I achieved, and the shiny bottle with its royal blue label?  A stunning combination if I do say so myself.

What's that?  You want to know what the clear fluid was that those drops of food coloring colored?  I'll admit to water and white vinegar.  And that's all I'll admit to.

Anyway, I leaned the doctored bottle against a stack of books.  The whisky looked right at home snuggled up next to Keith's weathered face.

After placing the bait, like any good hunter, I waited - and not for long.  The trap was set on Tuesday morning, last, and it was sprung on Sunday.  Sue and Jerry were in the blind - otherwise known as the cashwrap - and they noticed a gent in a wool cap and a thin bomber jacket who kept his back turned to them.  He was awfully interested in Keith's book, they thought.

Then, naturally, they got busy selling and gift-wrapping, and when they looked up the gent and the bottle were gone.

Well played, faceless one, well played.  I only wish I were there when you toasted yourself with your ill-gotten gains.  What do you say - drinks on you next time?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

New York Postcards, #8 -- I Read The News Today

There were only two things I wanted to do for sure on my first visit to New York - Ellis Island and the Dakota.
Yeah, I know, Ellis Island is touristy.  Walking through Battery Park with thousands of people all in awful clothes, queuing up for ferries to take you to the Statue or the Island.  What can I say?  I wanted to see the station where twelve million immigrants first set foot on American soil - including my grandfather, Papou George, in 1910.  He'd arrived aboard a ship from Crete when he was 18.

And the other - the Dakota.  Where John Lennon lived.  The Upper West Side, there on the corner of 72nd and Central Park West.  I've mentioned before that John wrote the soundtrack to so many lives.  John Lennon?  The Beatles?  Are you kidding me?  It's like he and they were a fiction, like Cecil B. DeMille and Federico Fellini scripted this fabulous foursome on some fantastical weekend bender that neither would later remember.

When our trip began, I got a text from my cousin Peter - it had been six months since I'd gotten a text from Peter.  It's Lennon's birthday (he wrote) and I just realized you're in NYC.  (And also)  How cool for you that your first trip to NYC is on Lennon's birthday.  (And also)  Is it a beautiful fall day in the park?

And indeed it was a beautiful day there in the Park by the Dakota.

I sometimes forget how young and vibrant Lennon was.  And here I am, four years older than he - with four more years than he was given.  My friend Christian put this up today WOMAN IS THE NIGGER OF THE WORLD and there he is, a ridiculously young Lennon reading words of support from Ron Dellums before singing for Dick Cavett.

Another friend, Randy, reminded me not long ago about that dark night in December - thirty years ago?  How can it have been thirty years?

Randy was buying the Beatles' Rock 'n Roll Music Volume 2 at the Warehouse in Modesto on December 8th, 1980.  The hippie clerk took Randy's money and then told him that Lennon had been murdered.  Are you kidding?  That's how Randy receives the news?  Along with change from his purchase of a Beatle album?

I heard it like so many others - from Howard Cosell during Monday Night Football.  The Patriots at Miami:


Remember (Cosell said) this is just a football game. No matter who wins or loses. An unspeakable tragedy confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City.  John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City.  The most famous, perhaps, of all of the Beatles.  Shot twice in the back.  Rushed to Roosevelt Hospital.  Dead on arrival.  Hard to go back to the game after that news flash.


I didn't go back to the game.  I went into my room and turned on my clock radio - first tuning in KFIV.  Switching stations through the night.  All Beatles, all John.  I'd just purchased the Red Album, was playing it pretty hard in the days and nights leading up to December 8th.  From She Loves You to Help to Norwegian Wood.  Ticket to Ride?  I love that song.  I'd been playing them all to death, now everyone else was, too.

The next morning, spray-painted on the moonrock walls of Grace Davis High School in Modesto, were the graffitied words I READ THE NEWS TODAY OH BOY.

I don't know.  Lennon was important.  To me.  I was fourteen.  Do you remember how important things were when you were fourteen?  I mean, his words?  The music, of course.  His ideas.  How crazy, really, is give peace a chance?  But in the final-final, I mean, the Beatles?  They changed everything.  Everything.  And then for something so - so - senseless.

Senseless - this word - Senseless - this word loses meaning - Senseless - this word loses meaning the more it's used.  But I can't think of a word that describes the act with greater clarity.  Just a writer.  Just a singer.  A husband.  A dad.  But so much more because he was also a Beatle.  Killed . . . murdered . . . murdered because . . . .

Senseless.  Seeking reason where there is none.

Senseless.

Say the word.  Think about it.  What does it mean?

Senseless.  

One of the first questions Randy asked me, freshman year at Davis High, just a few months before December 8th, was who my favorite Beatle was.  I have no doubt that if I had answered differently, we would not still be friends today - thirty years later.

But New York.  This is a New York Postcard.  Karen and I were at the Frick Museum at #1 East 70th.  The Frick - that gets its own postcard, #7, later - but after the Frick, I look in my guide book and I tell Karen, You know, if we just cut across Central Park, right across, we'll hit Strawberry Fields and then the Dakota.

Karen knows, so she didn't hesitate - actually led the way.

Through the wooded park, past the grandfather holding his granddaughter's two-year-old hand, past the brides getting their photos taken with fountains as backdrops, past the flags from the Columbus Day Parade, stacked against a wall.

Past the horse drawn carriages, the statue of Daniel Webster - and past the people, my god all those New York people.

Up a little rise and ahead of us a sign.  Strawberry Fields.  And so I want to do the picture thing, and as Karen's snapping away we both hear - we both hear...

Of course we're hearing Beatle music, right?  So we head up a little further, and there's a crowd gathered, listening to a band play the music, that music, playing Beatles and Lennon.  I mean, of course, right?  We're in New York on the weekend of John's birthday, his 70th.  His 70th if only, if only...

There we all stood.  In the middle of Strawberry Fields.  Listening.  To the words.  To the music.  Singing.  Of course we were singing.  You would've sung, too.  Trust me.  It was a concert, and we were suddenly all the players.  It was a moment - one of those moments - if we could've bottled that energy - that moment - our voices lifting high, singing along with Glass Onion

with Instant Karma, with I'm a Loser

with I Want to Hold Your Hand

It's a chestnut, one of those memories I take out late at night, when it's cold and the wind's howling.  That crowd, crushing towards those players, so many of us there in the park, so many - but none of us standing atop the mosaic, the memorial mosaic with the word IMAGINE in the middle.  Instead, we circled it, left it free for flowers and candles.

Lord, there's more.  With New York, there's always more, right?  Like how our day started when Karen and I met my friend Jenn and her kids in Greenwich Village - that's another postcard, #6 - and in the restroom of this swank little restaurant where we met for brunch, this swank little restaurant down a flight of stairs from street level, with marble tabletops and dusty-orange roses in water glasses . . . .

In the restroom there's a black and white photo of Muhammad Ali - right after he'd changed his name from Cassius Clay - Ali at home inside a boxing ring with the Beatles lying at his feet.

Ali so young and strong.  John and George hold their hands together in prayer, the prayer probably Please let us out of here alive.  I mean, of course I'd see this picture of these great men at the start of their careers - of course this is how I'd start that day, right?

Right.


My trip would end the next day with a visit to the Strand Bookstore where I'd find a copy of How I Won the War - the novel turned into the movie with Lennon in a supporting role (but starring on all the movie posters and on the cover of my little paperback).  And then there's today, with people reflecting.  A somber email from my friend Danny to me and Randy.  Other people posting - and playing the music.  Go play the music.

Anyway.  Me?  I feel like the little drummer boy.  Just a poor boy, without a gift to bring.

Words, they're all I've got - on this, the 8th of December, 2010.  Words.  Just words to lay before you.

Words - and thanks.  Thanks to John.

Thank you, John.

Monday, December 6, 2010

You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table - and you don't steal another man's bourbon

.

So, there are two gents who have biographies out this holiday season.  Both are 'Big' books.  Both have black and white pictures of the authors on the cover.  One's by a dead guy - the other's by a guy who should be dead but ain't. 

How are these two books doing sales-wise?  I'm glad you asked.  The book by Mr. Richards - titled Life.  Look, I know it's only rock 'n roll, but time was on his side and wild horses weren't going to prevent Keith from getting satisfaction.

I can't believe I just wrote that sentence.  But hell, it's late - may as well play with fire, eh?

Ok, ENOUGH already.  Sorry.  The point - my point?  We all knew it'd sell.  When I saw how many we had ordered for the store, I said get some more and some more after that.  I'm not very good at picking winners.  If I was, I'd be spending my time at Golden Gate Fields, not Books Inc.  But Keith?  It wasn't exactly a stretch to bet on him.

The other book was a little ditty dictated by a guy name of Clemens.  Samuel Langhorne, better known as Twain.  This was the one you wanted to succeed, but weren't about to bet the farm on.

So, what happened?  They're both selling.  God bless us, everyone.  But the interesting thing - Twain is outselling Richards.  In the store I manage, he's ahead by two lengths.  And if you check out the New York Times Bestseller list, you'll see that for this week, while both books are in the top ten, the author has overtaken the rocker - and the Huckleberry Star is actually ascending.

This outcome couldn't have tickled me more.  It's the kind of thing that gives me hope for the Republic.  But now that it's happened, I do find myself torn.  I mean, I love Keith.

C'mon, anyone who refers to Mr. Jagger as Her Majesty, Elton John as that old bitch, and who denounces Prince as an overrated midget - I'm going to pull for that person, you know?  So there I was, wondering how to give Keith a little nudge.  He's not going to overtake the father of American literature - unless UC Press is unable to get me more copies of the Autobiography of Mark Twain.  I'm out of stock.  Everyone is.  But the Press keeps promising more.

Still - how best to give Keith a little more in-store exposure?  The easiest thing, of course, is to highlight Life on it's own shelf there in the shop on Park Street.  We like to make the displays interesting by adding items that aren't necessarily for sale - but that add appeal.  So next to the stack of Keith's book, I added a good bottle of bourbon, a cocktail shaker, and an empty packet of smokes.  Duane was able to give me the empty
after he killed his latest pack.

So - books, bourbon, a shaker and smokes.  It had the desired effect.  People took notice.  Some wanted to buy the Bulleit, but more bought the book.  I've been adding alcohol to book displays for ten years.  Valentines Day?  It's also the anniversary of the publication of The Maltese Falcon.  Throw some whiskey on the table, an overturned shot glass, and you have the perfect accompaniment to that hard-boiled masterpiece.

I've never had a problem before.  Customers respect the idea.  They get it.  No one has ever tried to deface the Mona Lisa, not here in Alameda - or in San Francisco, when I tarted up the displays there.

No one until last week, when someone walked into the bookstore barehanded and left clutching that bottle of Bulleit.

Who steals another man's bourbon?  What kind of low down, scurrilous, pathetic cretin does that?

Yeah, yeah - alcohol has no place in the bookstore, you say.  I was asking for trouble, that's what you're thinking.  And to you I say, bah humbug.  It's a way to make the store more interesting, and anyone--

Anyone?  Who are we kidding?  Using a non sex-specific pronoun when you know and I know that we're talking about a guy.  No woman did this.  We're talking about some male chucklehead who stole my booze. 

Jerk.

Not that I'm bitter or anything.

What's a guy to do?  Get right back on that horse, right?  We were talking about the ponies earlier, weren't we?  So I'm gonna cowboy up, tuck another bottle into this here saddlebag on this here palomino, and make me another little ol display for Keith.

Course, this time, the bottle may not hold liquor, because this bottle?  This bottle of Royal Lochnagar Single Malt?  The Royal is a wee, bonnie Scotch Whiskey, given to me by a lass name of Grainne, given before Grainne sailed back over the pond.  Grainne bequeathed all her scotch and whiskey to me before she moved - a gesture as lovely as the lass herself.  I've been nursing the Royal like a bairn, and tonight I only have a dram left.  I'm sipping it now, this fine 12-year-old from the Eastern Highlands.  Queen Victoria bought a little place near the distillery - a castle named Balmoral.  She's rumored to have liked her Royal quite a bit, right Grainne?

I can understand why - a lovely touch of smoke going down easy on this December night.  Grainne, may ye ne'er want a frien', or a dram to gi'e him!



So I'll take that bottle of Royal, empty now, and fill it mostly with water.  Then a wee bit o' white wine vinegar, nice and clear.  Four drops of yellow food coloring, one drop of the red.  Mixed up, it'll take on the warm cast of the Royal itself.  Not perfect, mind ye, but close enough to the eye of a thief.

I worry the vinegar will give it a certain bite that the unsuspecting will regret.

Riiight.


(To read how this turned out, you may go here it you'd like.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Laura's November Manhattan

NOVEMBER MANHATTAN

2 oz. Bourbon Whiskey
1 oz. Applejack
1/5 oz. Sweet Vermouth
1/5 oz. Maple Syrup
2 splashes Bitters

Shake all ingredients until shaker is frosted.  Pour straight up into a martini glass.



You know it's bad when you tell your kids, Let's go to the drink store, and your six-year-old says right back, You mean BevMo?

In my defense, Your Honor, I do think the children have accompanied me to the aforementioned emporium on only one other occasion - when I was in search of Blavod's Black Vodka.  This time, I needed Applejack, and while I prefer frequenting neighborhood stores, sometimes the big guy is the only guy who has what I need.

Anyway.

The why is what's important, and in this case, why I needed Applejack is easy:  Jen's having a going away party for Laura and Aric.  Why are Laura and Aric going away?

That's a little more complicated, but not much.  Aric got a job in Nevada City, he proposed to Laura, she's following.

When Laura let us know that the inevitable had occurred - because the proposal thing had seemed foregone for a while - she spilled the beans to some of us electronically.  And if you've never spilled a bean electronically, you've not lived.

Part of Laura's missive, the most charming part, came when she decided on a preemptive strike - came when she decided to answer our questions before we'd asked.  I steal here from Laura's message:



Other answers to questions you might have:

-Washington Square park in New York City, Saturday night, park bench, buskers nearby playing Lady Gaga

-yes, very excited.

-no idea when, probably family only, maybe a party down the line later

-nope. engagement rings aren't my thing

-Nevada City, because Aric just got a job there. He starts end of September and I'll likely join him after my semester is over

-yes, very excited. do you know how close Nevada City is to skiing?

-I'll rent it out.

-I'll finish the last 1-1/2 years of my MBA on the weekends

-I haven't talked to my boss yet, so I have absolutely no idea



Most of those answers are ok, but I had problems with a few.  Jen beat us all to the punch when she wrote, in response to Answer #3, that there will be parties.  That party is tonight, hosted by Jen and Marika, and Jen wondered if I might mix a drink or three.  That's where the Applejack comes into play.
 
(And to come clean:  my only other issue with Laura's Answers to Unasked Questions was with Answer #4.  I don't think you have to be a girl to be an engagement-ring-kind-of-girl.  Hell, I'm an engagement-ring-kind-of-girl, if you know what I mean.  And since I often blunder in where others fear to tread, I'll just say - Aric, I don't care what Laura said.  Go buy a ring.  Modest, extravagant, doesn't matter.  Just get thee a ring.)
 
Any others out there who want advice on politics, religion, child-rearing - I'm your guy.
 
So Jen says, come mix drinks.  But what kind of drink?
 
Shortly thereafter, Bernie comes by the store.  He and Michael are putting up Christmas decorations.  I know, it ain't Thanksgiving yet.  Again, Your Honor, in my defense - Home Depot was selling Xmas stuff in August.
 
What's that?  Two stupids don't make a smart?  Noted, Your Honor, noted.
 
Bernie's there, tinsel in hand, and we're talking booze.  We often talk about the three B's:  books, baseball, and booze.  Bernie tells me he's tippled a little Applejack of late.  Applejack? I say.  Applejack, he says, is a fine apple brandy from Laird & Company.  They swear they gave the stuff to General George Washington and he used it to keep the troops happy.  Sounds yummy, I say, especially on a cold, wet night.
 
Wait, tonight is cold and wet.  Wait again - Jen wants a drink to serve to Laura and Aric.  Hmm, what if, what if...

What I came up with is Laura's November Manhattan.  Sure, just a Manhattan, but spiced up with Applejack.  The maple syrup?  I thought it might add a Fall note to the festivities.

And that brings up BevMo, because I had everything but the Applejack.  So off we went, up 880 - through the grey, spitting day - to Jack London Square.  The girls didn't mind - an outing is an outing.  After the deed was done, we headed back down 880, greyer now, and more wet, and we passed the condo complex (see Answer #7, above) where Laura lives.

Lived.

And whenever we pass, Elizabeth will say, Is Laura still there?  And I always respond, Yes, silly.  Of course.

Except today.  Today, when Elizabeth asked if Laura was still there, I had to stop and then let her know that actually, Laura was moving out tomorrow.  And that the reason we went to BevMo was because I needed an ingredient I didn't have for a small party that the Writing Group was having for her.

And Elizabeth just said, Aw, Dad.  Why's Laura moving?  Will I ever see her again?

I dutifully tried to answer these questions as best I could.  And all the questions that my answers prompted.  And the questions after that.  Because Kristina chimed in, too.  She's only three, but she likes to contribute.

Oh, and Laura?  You'd really be helping a brother out if you made sure to visit the girls, because I kind of promised you would.

I'll see you tonight in San Francisco.  I'll be late, but I've got the mixins with me.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Dad, the ball no cut



So bittersweet.

I want to tell you about Halloween, about carving a Giants' pumpkin while Karen trick-and-treated with our girls.

I want to tell you about me, sitting there on our steps with our front door open so I could listen to Game 4 of the World Series, the sounds of the Giants' broadcasters coming out of my dad's seventy-year-old Philco radio - the radio that my mom didn't know how to work when we were in New York, and so she had to rely on getting phone updates while her Giants played the Braves in the Postseason.

Thanks, Dean, for keeping Mom up-to-date.

I want to tell you that while the kids who approached me last night said Trick or Treat, their parents would call out from the sidewalk - Nice pumpkin! or - What's the score?

I want to tell you about the mom, dressed like the Mad Hatter, who laughed and said, Carve yourself a pumpkin like that, you guarantee yourself a win!

I want to tell you how beautiful our girls looked - our little Dorothy and our littler prima ballerina.

I want to tell you about picking up five pizzas from Zachary's for the party that got moved to Harry and Natasha's - no one wanted to come to our house during a World Series game if we didn't have a tv.  Of course not, right?

I want to tell you about all the Black Cat martinis I mixed. 


-Black Cat Martini-

2 oz. Blavod Black Vodka
1/2 oz Chambord Black Raspberry Liqueur

Shake well with ice, strain into chilled Martini glass.


I want to tell you about the reactions from Sharon and Janine and Karen - grimaces and coughs and oh reallys.

I want to tell you about the reactions from Nick (dressed as Niki) and Brad (dressed as Luke) and Harry (dressed as Giants Fan) - thumbs ups.

I want to recount the gem pitched by the Giants 21-year-old wunderkid, name of Bumgarner, who tossed a beauty of a 4-0 victory.  My transistor is older than this kid.

I want to tell you about getting a phone call from my brother George.  I never get phone calls from George.

I want to tell you about the traffic jam - tricksters trying to get out of Alameda when all the candy on the Island had been given away, the lady calling from her car, Are you from Alameda? and How do I get to Otis?

I want to describe our pumpkin tree, the decorations on Thompson, our neighbors trooping by.

I want to show you the candles flickering, the jacks grinning, the webs stretched across bushes.

I want to rejoice in the reappearance of the Giant Spider, the Giant Spider with Teddy Bears and dollies caught in his web - the Spider a no-show until yesterday morning - the Spider who treks every year from Kansas (wink wink).  And that's the story you'll tell the girls if you ever get the chance (wink).

I want to tell you about Kristina double-fisting treats from our goody basket to give out to girls and boys bigger and smaller than her three years.

I want to share the shine from Elizabeth's ruby slippers.

I want to try and untangle the pumpkin and witch and black-cat necklaces with Karen again, the necklaces that were supposed to go into our goody basket but that lay on our floor - a chaotic, twisted mess.

I want to show you the picture of three boys, my cousin Mitch, my brother George, and me.  1971.  Our first game at Candlestick.

I want to tell you about taking our girls to Giants' Spring Training this year for the first time and how much they loved the desert.

I want to share the texts and posts from Mitch's daughter Sara, except she swears like a sailor when she gets excited.  And she was excited.

I want to describe the buzzing sounds of the texts that came in, like clockwork, texts when the Giants scored, from the same three, all year long - Leo and Andy and Dean.

I want to show you the ghost hanging in our window.

I want to read to you from the old Halloween postcards I have, like the one postmarked OCT 28, 10 AM, 1908, to a Mrs. J C Cameron in West Rutland, Vt.


Wednesday

Dear Jessie, I have been
thinking about your two house
roses since I come home
those out beside the Piazza
and if you are not going
to take them in, can I
have a slip from them
when I come over if they
are not froze.  I would like
them awful well.  I got home
yesterday just in time.

                                 Mattie


Also, I want to admit that I sneak candy from Elizabeth's plastic pumpkin.

Kristina's, too.

I want to do all that, and then describe the feelings I have about the San Francisco Giants.

And their World Series Championship.

And watching Game 5, the game again at Harry and Natasha's, eating leftover Zach's - so good friends and good kids, the kids watching Scoobie Doo upstairs while the adults cavorted downstairs.

When have the adults been louder than the kids?

And all the beer that disappeared.  And all the Orange and Blacks I mixed.


Orange and Black

4-6 oz. Orange Juice
1 tsp. Grand Marnier
Enough Blavod Black Vodka to float a quarter-inch layer on top

Fill old-fashioned glass 2/3 full with ice.  Pour in Orange Juice, leaving room.  Add Grand Marnier.  Stir.  Float Blavod Black on top.  Sip to completion.



And that Jengiz promised to take me into McCovey Cove on his boat if the Giants needed a Game 6 - if the weather was fine, of course.  And of course on Wednesday the weather will be glorious.

And about the ticket Randy said he had for me if Game 6 was played, and I want to tell you about the ticket Gio said he had for me if Game 7 was played - and I want to say that I was so thankful for all those offers, but I just wanted the Giants to win.  In Texas.  Just win.

And the text I got from Dean at 11:19, where he describes the Series MVP, Edgar Renteria, where he shares Renteria's answer to the question:  Edgar, how did you handle the count when Lee was behind 2-0?

And Edgar says,

When he threw me the two balls, I said, I'm looking for one pitch.  If he throws it, I'm going to swing.  After that I'm working the count to see if he can walk me.  But I got lucky, he throw cutter inside, the ball no cut.  So the ball stayed in the middle.

The ball no cut.

And when the ball no cut, Edgar Renteria hits a three-run homer, the difference in a game that was superbly pitched up to that point.


Game 5 Start Time:  4:57 PM

Final:  3-1. 

World Series Champion:  Your San Francisco Giants.


So I want to tell you about all of that, these past two days of baseball and Halloween.

And those thoughts are all shooting around like fireworks over a baseball stadium.  Exploding.  Shining bright, fading fast.

But I keep coming back to my dad.

You knew that, though.

My dad would've loved this.

My dad who drove the family to that first game in 1971.

My dad who played catch with me in the front yard with his old-fashioned mitt, that mitt hailing from Hiawatha, Utah.

My dad who drove us to all those Modesto Reds' games when I won Season Tickets playing TV Bingo.

My dad who always took the San Mateo Bridge when he headed to Candlestick.

My dad who'd slow when we'd pass another car if they had kids in the wayback, allowing us to wave if they wore the Orange and Black or make faces at Dodger Blue.

My dad who'd sit in the stands, when he could, and watch his sons play Bel Passi Baseball.

My dad who hit me flys at Woodrow Park.

Who took me to the doctor in sixth grade when I wrecked my arm by trying to throw back the baseballs as far as my dad could hit them.

My dad who liked to listen to baseball on the radio as much as I did.

My dad who let us stay at Candlestick when I was nine, stay and watch the second game of a double header - sometimes we'd leave early but my dad let us stay and so we saw Ed Halicki's no-hitter.

My dad who came to California just a few years before the Giants did - and so when the Giants arrived, they became his team.  Would become my team.  My daughters' team.

My dad who could still hit the cover off the ball when the Katsufrakis Family Reunions first started up.

My dad who wore knee-high white socks and dark shorts while he hit the cover off the ball at those reunions at Davis Park.

My dad who went by "Wheels" in Hiawatha.

My dad who got closer to the majors with each passing year.

This was his joke - Nick, he would say, the older I get the better I was and I get closer to that Major League contract every year.  And we would laugh at this, at my dad's self-deprecating nature.  Except - after he died - his cousins and friends, those who knew him in Hiawatha, they told me my dad really was a great player.  We didn't call him Wheels because he liked to drive, they said, we called him Wheels because he was fast.

But to his dad, my Papou, baseball was just a game.

Just a game.

And so my dad wasn't allowed to play for the baseball team sponsored by the owners of the Carbon County Coal Mines.  Papou forbid it.  What was my dad thinking?  He was shoveling coal, sure, but that was just for a little extra money.  For school and the family.  He wasn't going to do this his whole life, not like Papou.  Wheels was going to college.

My dad who drove to so many Giants games.  In the 70's.  80's.  90's.  And the aughts.

My dad who died on March 1st.

My dad who never experienced the joy I'm feeling tonight.

My dad would've loved this.

My dad would've spun my girls the same way I did, if he could.

My dad would've said, Unbelievable.

My dad would've given me a hug.

Kissed my mom.


My mom.


When I called her in Modesto.

As I dialed.

As I dialed the only number I've ever known for my parents.

When their phone - when her phone - started ringing.

When I started to cry before she picked up.

When all of these fireworks exploded in my head at the same time, sparkly bright and loud, before she picked up.

All I could think was,

My dad would've loved this.

And when my mom picked up, and I said Hi, the first thing she said was,

Pathi mou, your dad would've loved this.

I know, Mom, I know.

He loved his baseball, she said.  I can't stop thinking about your dad and Lykourgo.

Lykourgo was my mom's brother-in-law, her sister's husband, my cousin Mitchell's dad.  More often than not, it was Petey, Stella, and Mitch, along with my Theo Lykourgo and Thea Maria, who'd join us on those Candlestick excursions.

I'm trying not to cry, I said.  Mom, it's just baseball.

And my mom was quiet for a moment.  Hoots and hollers coming from the downstairs at Harry and Natasha's.  Exultations from the outside.

But quiet from her.

It's just baseball, Mom, I said again.

No, no it's not, she said, όχι μόνο αυτό.  It's not just that, my mom said, in Greek - but the meaning of the words was simple and clear.

And I think that's why I love it - baseball - so much.  Because, like my mom said, it's not just that.  It's all those hours playing catch.  All those trips to the park.  All the radio.  All the seasons.  The Giants gave me and my dad something to talk about if we didn't have anything else.  All the hot dogs at the 'Stick.  All the chocolate malts with tiny wooden spoons.  Always the hope for a foul ball and never a foul ball.

Never a foul ball.

All those years when we'd think, This was the year.

And this was the year.

This was the year.

But my dad's dead.  Eight months to the day after my dad died.  Spring then, Fall now.

Did I say bittersweet?

But that's what I wanted to tell you.  There's more - there's always more.  But that's all I got tonight.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Snug Harbor

If I wasn't going to be in Texas to watch the World Series at the Rangers' pastiche of a stadium, a prohibition-era speakeasy would be a terrific choice, don't you think?

Lucky for me, I have good friends who own a beautiful home in the Oakland hills.  I'd call it an estate, but Randy would scoff.  Let's just say it's gorgeous, Mission style, and very comfortable.  One of my favorite features?  Apart from the amazing tile work?  And the lush garden?  And the ambiance Katy and Randy infuse it with?

Separate from the house proper is a speakeasy, original to the building.  Snug Harbor, the speakeasy is called, and you know that because of the red neon light above and behind the bar that shines the words out.  The ceiling of the bar is beautiful brushed aluminum, emanating out from the corner where Snug Harbor shines red, the aluminum raying out in fabulous Art Deco lines from the sunset that is those two beautiful words-

Snug Harbor.

And talk about me feeling at home.  On the bartop - also original to the Harbor - are classic cocktail books.  A sweet edition of the Boston guide from just after the War.  A gorgeous copy of the Professor's very own Bon Vivant's Companion.  Next to those sits a pristine set of Deco bartender tools - ice bucket, shaker, curly spoon with a Bakelite red dot topping the handle.

The rest of the bar is snug, just like it's name.  Low ceilings add to the speakeasy feel, as does the dart board - it took me three tries with three darts before I hit the bulls eye, I'm rusty - pool table, and the paraphernalia.  Booze, sports, and war artifacts lurk in all the nooks of the Harbor.  Framed programs from the 1954 World Series, service caps from WWII, Deco ash trays.  And the 8X10's overlooking that pool table, covering the entire wall - a hundred photos, all baseball, all Giants.

We'd gathered in Snug Harbor to watch the Giants play in the World Series.  Also, we'd inaugurate the drink concocted the night before.  I thought it'd need tinkering, and it did.  For while the presentation is fabulous - Bovad Black Vodka in a sinister layer atop fresh squeezed orange juice - the color when mixed leaves much to be desired.  My friend Jengiz, who was mixing the same drink at the same time across the bay in San Francisco, likened it to a Nursing Job Color when mixed.

It did indeed resemble a bruise.  So we tinkered, and the Orange and Black shall now be served in an old-fashioned glass, not highball, and the ratio of Bovad Black shall be decreased so that the drink has a startling but thin layer of the dark on top, and then you can just sip it to completion.

So we'd gathered, Randy and Katy had invited us, a small group to cheer on the Orange and Black as we drank Orange and Black.  But in our midst was a Ranger fan.  Katy said she didn't know, was unaware of the extent of his loyalty to the Lone Star State.  Because tricking and treating would be happening tomorrow (today), because Halloween candy lay nestled in a blue pottery bowl that was fired years before the Giants last won a championship (1954), because Katy's new raven called nevermore from the coffetable in front of the tv, because all these reminders of the spooky day were in evidence, I thought of the warnings associated with the Count - and I ain't talking about Montefusco.  Vampires can only enter your home, I told Katy, when they've been invited.

But the deed had already been done and the villain was in our midst.

Perhaps villain is too harsh.  Interloper, then.  And though we knew we'd not replay the gorgeousness of Thursday night.  Thursday, when we, Karen and I and the girls, gathered with Casandra to carve pumpkins - something we do every year - gathered at Casandra's because she has a tv and we could watch the game, witness the 9-0 thrashing that occurred (and the quantity of wine consumed may have affected the lack of completion when it came to our Jacks), though we knew that particular brand of Thursday supremacy would not be replayed, we hoped for victory.

What we got was a good, old-fashioned whooping, a pitcher's duel where each team jacked two home runs, but theirs weren't all solo, and so our boys were greeted in Texas by the losing end of a 4-2 score.  And though the interloper was gracious in victory - I'm not convinced the little devil, with his Longhorns hidden, didn't somehow bring some Texas trickery into the Harbor with him.

The Harbor, though, Katy and Randy's Harbor, it's resilient as all heck, and it provided refuge from the tribulations of the game.  And the bottle of Basil Hayden - plucked from his many compatriots on the bar's shelves - suffered much damage.  As I bid my hosts adieu, headed off in the dark to wind my way down out of Oakland's hills, all I could think was - tomorrow.

And tomorrow is today and first pitch is in 51 minutes.

Go Giants.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen! Introducing the Orange and Black, a Cocktail for Your San Francisco Giants!

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It's high time I created a drink, don't you think?  But what? the boy asks.  But what?

Hmm, what's been preoccupying his thoughts of late?  There's Halloween - a favorite holiday.  Oh, and then there's a little something going on around the San Francisco Giants, urging people, exhorting them, inspiring the thought - don't stop believing.

And how's this for a happy coincidence?  The holiday and the team sport the same color scheme.

So maybe a little something in tune with the season, and something to help celebrate the wonderful year currently playing out for the Giants (two more wins to go - we're not counting chickens here, just yet.  Well, maybe a little bit).

Since I've never created a drink before, it might need a little tinkering.  But tonight's first attempt has me paraphrasing an old adage...a drink is like sex.  When it's good, it's really good, and when it's bad, it's still pretty good.


-The Orange and Black Cocktail-


PHOTO COURTESY JENGIZ HAAS


 
4-6 oz. orange juice
1 tsp. Grand Marnier
1.5 oz Blavod Black Vodka

Fill an old-fashioned glass 2/3 full with ice.  Add Grand Marnier, then orange juice.  Stir.  Float Blavod Black Vodka on top.  Enjoy.


While you should imbibe an Orange and Black with fellow fans of the Orange and Black, most anyone will be converted to the cause after a few rounds, so please invite those in Dodger Blue, Yankee Pinstripes, or even St. Louis' and Texas' red-white-and-blue.

And if you see Brian Wilson or his machine anywhere in the vicinity, order them a round.  Buster, too.  Or the Freak.  Freddy.  Cody and Cainer.  Madbum.  Zeets.  Huffdaddy.   U-REEBAY.  The Panda.  Sanchy.  Pat the Bat.  Boche.  Rags.  Javy.  Any of those guys.

Did I say enjoy?  Enjoy.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Boulevard, Books, Baseball and Booze

It was one of the most beautiful sounds I've ever caught, caught as I stood at the threshold of Boulevard in San Francisco.  This particular sound - ok, it doesn't top the first time I heard my daughters' first burbles, and it's behind hearing Karen sing Christos Anesti in the shadow of the Nicholas Peaks in New Zealand, but it might be up there with the bullfrog breaking the exquisite silence of a rock quarry's stillness in the Valley after the generator was turned off at the end of day - but this handful, these are some of the most beautiful sounds I've heard, and to be a new addition to this short list means something.

Can you wait for it, though?  Tell me you can wait for it with me.

Last night, I'm looking for omens.  So when I pull into the BART parking lot - at the Frutivale Station in East Oakland, the lot where last Thursday I had to screech to the freakin fifth floor before I found a parking spot - the very first space on the first floor beckons me like a redlight in Denmark.  Are you kidding me?  There's never a spot open on the first floor, especially when the Giants are playing World Series Game #1 at home - and fans might, you know, take BART to the game.  This free space shouldn't exist.

Free first space augurs good tidings, methinks.

But am I going into San Francisco to catch Game #1 in the most beautiful park in the Bigs?  I am not.  I had agreed to attend an author dinner on this night, before this night was slated to play host to the Giants and the Rangers, playing on baseball's biggest stage.

Author dinners are one of the only perks I get as a bookseller.  Publishers will bring authors to town, an intimate dinner is coordinated, and a lucky few booksellers get to attend.  It allows us to meet the author and hear stories about their book before it's published - this gives me, as a bookseller, one more reason to get behind one of the myriad of titles that will be published in any given season.

Plus, free dinner at fabulous restaurants.

So I am not going to complain - too much - that instead of attending the World Series, I was walking by the Ferry Building en route to Boulevard at One Mission Street.  Dinner is at 6, first pitch was at 4:59.  Conflict, conflict galore.

I arrived early to SF - I'm never early, but bad form to be tardy for a dinner hosted by Penguin Books for a wonderful and provocative title.  So I'm going to loiter, to get the latest game updates on my phone before I'm forced to enter the restaurant.  I delay by visiting The San Francisco Railway Museum.  It's on the way, right there where Market meets the Embarcadero.  I buy a hunk of steel cut from the rail for one of San Francisco's first cable car routes.  The slice of rail - originally laid in 1888 - is heavy in my hand.  Heavy with history and rust.  We share one thing - neither of us has seen a Baseball World Champion from San Francisco.

So I buy that hunk of steel - and a bookmark, the bookmark with a MUNI admonition, the one posted on all SF buses above the driver:  Information Gladly Given But Safety Requires Avoiding Unnecessary Conversation.

I stroll out, continuing to loiter, but my iPhone updates aren't fabulous.  The Good Guys let the Bad Guys score a run in the first.  Dean is dying.  My brother texts me:  Are you expecting to win this game with 2 mistakes in the 1st inning?  Really?

I text back, Lotta ball ahead.  Deep breath.

This doesn't get Dean off the ledge.  When the Good Guys let the Bad Guys score another run in the second, Dean texts - I think I'm going to take a walk.

And it's now, right now, when the most beautiful sound is heard.  But you've waited this long.  Can I beg your indulgence for a bit longer?  We'll skip that moment on the threshold of Boulevard, this moment when it's almost six o'clock, when I have to tuck my phone into a pocket, enter my favorite restaurant, the restaurant where I've spent a birthday (or two.)

Just blink - blink and we'll be inside the restaurant, inside and then ushered to the vault.  The vault is a brick-topped room, mirrors on one wall, hundreds of bottles of wine on the other, a glorious slag-glass chandelier overhead.  And while the confines of the vault are cozy, and conducive to great conversation, iPhone reception?  Not so much.

I excuse myself and track down the gentleman in white, the man who has been filling my cobalt-blue water glass.  I ask if he has access to the score - I don't need to explain which score.  He glances over at the men and women working hard in the kitchen, at the servers gliding by, the gent there mixing cocktails at the bar, and he responds politely, Yes.  I slip him a twenty and ask if he could let me know about any developments.  He smiles, palms the bill, and nods - politely.

The Giants are facing a Ranger's ace with some of the greatest stats in the history of the postseason - Cliff Lee with his 7-0 record and ERA of 1.26.  So later, after our hors d'œuvre, I react with surprise when my white-garbed friend refills my water and leans close.  The Giants - all sotto voce - have chased Lee out of the game with a six-run fifth inning.  They lead 8-2.

I announce this news to the table, briefly interrupting the polite grilling that the author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother has been receiving.  I've tried to not be part of the grilling, polite or no.  The author's laughing, though, she's a delight, and the table reacts to my news with grins and soft hoots.

My friend leans in during the next inning - this time, it's the Giants' pitcher who has been chased.  Two runs for the Bad Guys, the lead now trimmed to 8-4 in favor of the Good Guys.

But during desert - better news.  The Giants have scored three more times, and a lead of 11-4 is daunting for any team with only one chance to change their fortunes - just three outs, now, and the Good Guys take Game 1.

In a heartbeat, though, my friend arrives.  Doesn't pretend to pour water - just leans in and whispers, There have been some complications.  The Rangers have scored three runs in the top of the ninth.  It's 11-7.

This precipitated much gnashing of teeth - until my man in white returned to report that the Wilson had successfully done the deed.

Game over.  Applause, applause.

Now that it's been written, now that the Giants have won, travel with me back - back before I set out in search of a bar with loud fans.  A crowd to celebrate with - if only to be near other celebrants.  That damn urgent need to be with like-minded souls in times of happiness and heartbreak.

But in the Financial District, at night, one's pickings are slim, and the only watering hole is blocks up Market:  Sutter Station.  But the fans are there, drinking and singing.  There's only Journey on the juke, since Journey's been adopted as the soundtrack to this postseason.  Once there, I'll order Basil Haydon, rocks, and that whiskey will go down smooth - and the music will beat as the plastic pumpkins add dim orange light to the dark bar.

But it's before, come back with me before, back when night hadn't fallen, back when I stood on the threshold to Boulevard, with a hunk of newly purchased steel in my pocket, back when the Bad Guys had scored two runs, and the Good Guys had yet to knock on the Rangers' door.  It was at that moment, 5:56 p.m. on a Wednesday in San Francisco, just as I dropped my phone in my coat pocket, checked my hair in the window of the restaurant, this beautiful restaurant more than a mile away from the Game that was in progress, both the restaurant and the stadium near the waters of the bay, but the gulf separating them may as well have been a thousand miles, and not one.  It's then, as I was about to step in, I heard - I heard...

A soft murmuration, growing, growing, a glorious sound, rising rising, traveling along the water, through the city, rising, and I know the sound instantly, know that it is fed by the voices of 43,000, as those 43,000 watch 9 defend themselves against 1.

But the one was a Giant named Sanchez.

And the sound, that glorious sound, the crescendo reaching my ears as 43,000 react to men playing on a field below, as the Giants score the first of eleven runs on this wonderful Wednesday.  Such a lovely sound, this boisterous, clamorous chorus, traveling so far, bringing tidings of joy.  How ever did it travel and reach me, all the way here?  All the way here?

Go Giants.