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.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

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


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-


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.


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'Ĺ“uvre, 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.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wherein I Profess My Love For Rick Moody

So, just wondering, but would you have stopped on by if I had said I was going to profess my deepest admiration for Mr. Moody?

Because – confession time – I can't love this talented author.  I hardly know him.

Ok, ok, I don't know him at all.  But I did see Mr. Moody while he toured for his latest book, The Four Fingers of Death.  He read in Berkeley, just up the road a piece from Alameda.  And you may not love him either, yet, but you are going to admire him.  Trust me.

Have you read Mr. Moody?  You should.  Demonology is a favorite.  You should read it if you love language.  You should read it if you love stories about all the beautiful messes we get ourselves into.  You should read it if you love terrific writing.  Maybe you're thinking, Moody?  Rick Moody, you say?

Maybe you saw The Ice Storm, way back when.  Great film.  Lot of really awful clothes from the 70's in that film – and the clothes aren't just used for window dressing; they help set the tone for just how weird a time the 70's was.

We wore what?

Anyway.  Good movie.  Better book.  Go read Moody, already.  Can you just do that for me?

( And for a taste of what the new book is all about, please visit: )

Mr. Moody's event occurred on a Friday.  Fridays are Daddy Days, you'd know that if you've been paying attention.  But I don't expect that.  There won't be a test.

Usually, no problem, Karen will get home from work by taking one of the earlier ferries, and I zip up to Berkeley.  Except this Friday, Karen was in D.C.  So I had two little girls to look after.

Good Dads would have cooked up a little something, given them baths, read some books, and then nighty-night.

I can be a really Bad Dad.

The girls went with me to Berkeley.  On the way, I had them try to get their sillies out.  I can be loud inside a car.  My girls?  Even louder.  So we turned the dial all the way to 11 on our way to the reading, and with promises of good behavior, with promises of leaving all the loud behind us in the Honda, we approached the store.

The Books Inc. on Fourth Street is next to a bunch of other fabulous boutiquey shops.  Fancy paper, fancy pens, fancy foods – all there for the asking.

The environment inside the bookstore wouldn't be totally unfamiliar to my girls – it's not like they hadn't been to readings before, but the readings have featured titles like Knuffle Bunny.  Mars Needs Moms.  Duck on a Bike.  Full-bore adult literature?  We'd be treading some new water here.

Just our luck, then, that Calvin - the manager there - had Mr. Moody's reading in the back, right next to the kid's section.  His staff had conveniently set up a row of chairs on the diagonal, blocking the corner that's made for kids.  My kids went there, and I sat in a chair that provided ideal blockage.

The kids, God bless em, were pretty fabulous.  We received a few raised eyebrows, but hey, it takes a village, all right?

The Berkeley store is beautiful.  The floors are polished concrete, tinted a shiny, soft green.  And so we all sat in the back, surrounded by books, and listened to Mr. Moody – slim of build, studious in character – talk about literature and read from his work.  The girls, as the reading lengthened, got a bit squirmy.  Kristina even lay out on the empty chairs next to me before going back to cuddle with her sister.

I've been to a hundred readings.  Probably more.  And I've thought about a lot of things while sitting there listening.  Like the time my writing group went into San Francisco to attend a reading at City Arts and Lectures.  Herbst Theatre on Van Ness.  The writer – a vet – had gained acclaim for his fiction dealing with the Vietnam War.  One friend from my group wasn't able to attend, but she told me about how this writer had met one of her high school teachers at another reading he had given some time ago.  They hit it off, one thing leading to another, and in a quiet moment, he shared a story with her.  A story from the war.  One that he hadn't shared with anyone.  A powerful story.

The story was effective – in that their brief relationship was consummated.

So it was with interest that I heard him tell the huddled masses who had collected there that night in San Francisco the exact same story.

I thought a lot of things right then in that beautiful Beaux Arts theatre.  I really did.

Sorry, all I wanted to say was that I've reflected on many things while sitting through so many readings.  Sometimes I think of the same things while listening to writers, new and old, read from their published work:

Why do I even try to write?

I've written stuff way better than this.

When is this reading going to end?

I wish this reading would never end.

I wonder where the bars are?

That last one is common.  Whiskey and words just go together easy.  But one thing I've never thought is something that came to me while Mr. Moody read.  I decided – if I'm ever lucky enough to have a book published, and have a reading – I'm going to have a blank-book with me, and I'm going to have everyone in attendance sign it.  I don't know why I'd never thought of this before.  I've certainly imagined what it might be like to address a group of people who have gathered to hear me read.

A boy can dream, right?

But this boy had never dreamed of having those gathered do the signing.  Don't know why it occurred to me then, but it did.

The girls got less squirmy the more tired they became, so they kept at what they were doing, quietly.  Elizabeth reading Chapter Books, Kristina pretending to read.  Did I mention the girls were dressed adorably?  Both of them in a lot of comfy pink – our girls do love their pink – and with their faux leopard-fur coats, also pink, now frumpled up behind them as backrests.

Mr. Moody has a penchant for lists, and so near the end, he read a beautiful passage, describing again and again what the stars in the night sky were like.

Or the stars in the night sky were....Or the stars in the night sky were....Or the stars in the night sky were....

And it was as if Mr. Moody were singing us a lullaby before tucking us in for the night.

When the reading ended, when the Q&A was over, when it was time to gather at the podium and ask Mr. Moody to sign our books, he said a remarkable thing.  Rick Moody said, Oh, and if you want me to sign your book, you have to sign mine, too.

And he pulled out a copy of The Four Fingers of Death, opened it to the end pages, where lay the signatures of those who had come before to other venues to hear Mr. Moody read.

I know you don't believe in telepathy, or the more benign there must've been something in the air.  But I'm just saying I've been going to readings for years and I've never thought to myself, Wouldn't it be cool if I was the author and I had a book for all the good people to sign?

And yet just a few minutes after thinking this, Mr. Moody follows through with just that very exercise?


I head on up to the table, to where Mr. Moody stands, relaxed in jeans and sneakers, and I hand him my books to sign – my old copy of Demonology, and two copies of The Four Fingers, one for me, one for a friend – and that's when Elizabeth marches over with her copy of an 8X8 children's book.

She had seen me getting my book signed, so Elizabeth slaps her copy of Mermaidia, a Barbie Storybook, right down next to The Four Fingers of Death.  I don't know if Mr. Moody has children, but his easy way with this six-year-old interloper showed a grace and smoothness that I strive for in my own dealings with children.

Mr. Moody doesn't bat an eye, he just looks at her and says, Honey, would you like me to sign your book?  And Elizabeth says, Of course.  And he says, Ok, but if I sign your book, you have to sign mine.  And Elizabeth says, What do you mean?  And he says, You have to write your name in my book.  And Elizabeth says, I can do that.

So my daughter takes Mr. Moody's copy of The Four Fingers of Death, opens it on the shiny, cool concrete floor at our feet, and proceeds to write, in big letters near my own signature, Elizabeth.

Kristina, freshened by all the fuss, bops up with her own selection, another Barbie Storybook – The 12 Dancing Princesses.

Are you noticing a theme in my daughters' reading habits, at least during this night in September?

Ever the pro, Mr. Moody explains the procedure to Kristina.  She looks at him as if he had just suggested she dance with ostriches somewhere in the Sahara.

I don't know how to write, she says.  I just scribble-scrabble.

Well then, says Mr. Moody, would you scribble-scrabble in my book?

This time, Kristina smiles, eager to oblige.

I tell her, Not a very big scribble-scrabble.  And Kristina says, I know that.

I go and collect the leopard-skin coats, wrap my girls up in faux pink fur, buy my books and theirs, and head out onto Fourth Street, two tired girls in tow.  And as we pass Peet's Coffee, the workers there wiping the tables down, getting ready to close up for the night, it's just funny, I think, that somewhere – maybe in Mr. Moody's library in Brooklyn, maybe kicked under a dresser – there rests a copy of The Four Fingers of Death, with my signature, Elizabeth's printed name, and Kristina's scribble-scrabble.

Not a bad Daddy Day in the end.

And no, I don't wonder, where are the bars?  I mean, yes, later, I may pour myself a fine glass of bourbon, after I get the girls down.  But that's different.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Losing in the Rain

I've had better ideas than heading to San Francisco on BART during an impending rainstorm, hoping to see the Giants play the Phillies in the last National League Championship Series game played in the City this season.

Karen assured me that she and the girls had no desire, in this weather, to head across San Francisco bay – without tickets - to maybe possibly see a ball game.  But that I should go, because, well, hope springs eternal, right?  I mean, I've headed to games before with my friend Andy when neither of us had a ticket – there are always scalpers.  Always.  No problem.

Of course, those games didn't have the potential to send the Orange and Black to the World Series.

Did I mention hope springs eternal?

I shouldn't even try, if I could be honest with myself for just one second.  But that's hard, the honest thing.  Like baseball fans and players, I'm ridiculously superstitious.  Take Leo, Leo who's been wearing the same Ludicra tshirt to work because the Giants have been winning since it's been on.  And so, if I were honest, I shouldn't be making this trek because my forays to postseason games have garnered awful reviews.  Karen and I went in '97, saw that stupid 3-0 loss to the Marlins.  But we did run into my Godfather and his beautiful wife Diane.  That was the best part of that night.

Torture in 2002.  We saw a World Series game, the one game the Giants lost at home.  10-4.  Stupid rally monkey.

2003, another loss to the Marlins, 3-1.

I shouldn't take my bad juju to San Francisco tonight.

The first sign of ill occurred when I spoke with "Ray" this morning.  To read his backstory, kindly visit
I asked "Ray" how he felt about the Giants' chances, and after he collected his change from Leo - Leo wearing Ludicra - "Ray" tucked his newly-bought papers under his arm, and only then did he look at me and say, all confident, I'm getting on a plane to Philly tomorrow morning at 6 a.m.  I'm getting on that plane because God hates me and because God hates you.

What "Ray" is saying is this:  I cover the Giants for Comcast.  If the Giants win tonight, no Philly trip.  But the Giants will lose tonight.  Guaranteed.  Hence, I'll be taking a trip to Philly, to continue covering these Mad Men.

"Ray," I said.  C'mon, they've got some magic going on across the bay, don't they?

God hates me, he said, and I'll be getting on a plane at an ungodly hour tomorrow.

If one were a tad bit prone to reading too much into the words of others, one might think that "Ray" was confidently predicting that the Giants would be putting their fans through torture this evening.

The next sign that things weren't going to go my way occurred when I overheard a conversation on the Fruitvale BART platform, a conversation between the four fans, all decked out in Giants regalia:  one with Timmy hair, another clowning in a Panda hat, all with tshirts sporting SF.

The guy in the Panda hat didn't have a ticket and his three friends spent the fourteen minutes we had to wait for a train taunting him, with the three waving their precious tickets at the Panda.  The gist of their taunts was that there was no way Panda was going to see the inside of AT&T Park, not on that night.

And since omens of ill travel in packs of three, the third ill omen showed itself when I got off MUNI at the corner of Third and 24 Willie Mays Plaza.  The crush of people surrounding the Park?  San Francisco will of course never get close to the numbers in New York, but tonight, you'd think the entire population was here, crowds a hundred deep and a hundred wide trying to get in, crowds overwhelming King Street, crowds overflowing from MoMo's there at Second.

Way too many in this host holding up one finger, all plaintive requests for a ticket, for entry into the biggest game the Giants have played in seven years.  Where had they (we) all come from?  If the Giants won tonight, they'd be going to the World Series for only the fourth time since they moved to the City by the Bay – fifty-two years ago.  What were these people thinking?  That woman over there, her hair dyed orange, holding a sign that read I NEED ONE TICKET CHEAP.  Or that other sign, held close to that guy's chest, that guy wearing Elvis shades – Dreams Can Come True, Give this Fan a Free Ticket!  And when I look at him, he peeks at me over his shades, he laughs and says, Hey, it's worth a shot, right?

So many people surging through that misty San Francisco night.  But everyone's trying to buy, not sell.

Lefty O'Doul's been good to me before, so I head to that bridge.  There's a promenade just before O'Doul, and I take a quick walk that way, looking for sellers.  The stadium's right next to me, a huge banner of Timmy hanging from its wall overhead.  The bay's on the other side, full of kayaks and rafts and boats – and a red car.  The car is English and small, and it putters around the kayakers.  Someone spent time and money converting that car into a boat, and the two guys tucked inside look like they're having fun.

I'm not having fun.

I head back for the bridge, and halfway across, a roar lifts from the confines of the park, deep-throated and long.  Tim Lincecum has retired the second batter in the top of the first, the game now well under way.

If I squint I can make out the big screen of the scoreboard, can see the next batter's stats as he heads to the plate. Giants fans thunder their approval.

ticketless.  The air's getting brisk, the mist is thickening, and here I am, pressing my forehead against a cold windowpane, looking in at a party I'm trying to crash.

After I cross O'Doul, I find a freaking homeless encampment at China Basin Park.  It's just a little spit of a park overlooking the channel that separates us from the ballgame.  The sweet stench of pot is heavy here.  Bunch of people on the thin stretch of grass, cold like me, one girl on a guitar singing White Rabbit, and she's trying to get Grace-Slick loud, and so as she hits When-logic-and-proportion-have-fallen-sloppy-dead, her voice is getting louder, sure, but she's not singing any more, she's just getting loud, and when Keep Your Head comes around, she's hitting those words the same way she's hitting the strings on her guitar, and the strings are going to bust Keep Your Head and her voice is going to crack Keep Your Head and the drunk guy on the slope of grass, the drunk guy Keep Your Head who's whirling whirling, he's going to face-plant soon.

Keep Your Head, and she's just screaming the words, so there I stand, with no ticket, imagining the ghost of Grace flipping me off.

I'm cold, have I said that?  And no, I don't want the soggy churro this other woman offers me.  How about a ticket? I say, and the churro lady laughs and takes her wares off towards the drunks on the hill.

There's a big parking lot right here at Third, and a guy comes out of it, walking likes he owns all of our fates, and he sees me looking at him and asks if he can hook me up.

I'm trying to put my camera under my jacket, it's getting a little wet now, and I ask the guy what he's got.

He flashes four tickets at me, 117 Lower Box, he says, right behind homeplate.  Take all the pictures you want from there.

I hold one of the tickets in my hand.  It looks real, but what do I know?  It's also got a face-value of $160.  What are you asking? I say.

And the guy, he's got his Giants cap turned halfway-wrong around his head, he looks up at me and says, For you, Boss, a thousand bucks.

Another roar from the crowd inside AT&T – from all the people having fun inside.  All the people who have tickets.

That sound good to you, Boss, the guy says as he snatches the ticket from my hand.

I want to reach out, grab the bill of his hat, and yank it frontways.  But there's a big guy behind my little guy, just shadowing him, and the big guy's staring me down, sizing me up for a loser without the cash for one of his tickets.

Roar goes the crowd.

I head back to 24 Willie Mays Plaza.  Cross the street, head up King.  Long line of folks waiting to get into Pete's Tavern.  There's a guy working the line.  His seats are cheap, only 500 per.  Nosebleed, though.

More pot smoke.

I get to MoMo's, a crush of people there watching the big screens they have setup outside.  There's a big olive-shaped heart statue on their patio, and I wish I had a martini big enough to drop it into. 

Roar goes the crowd.

I head up King, along the Embarcadero, the bay quiet and dark out to my left.  All the way to Delancey Street – and not a hint of tickets.

I walk back, all the way down to King, up to Third, past the promenade again, across O'Doul, smelling pot, hearing roars – though the roars have diminished, replaced with groans.  I do that walk across O'Doul, up to King, up to MoMo's and back again.  Where have all the tickets gone?  Who has picked them, every one?


Such a flood, so many people – a guy in a business suit with an orange tie yelling into his Blackberry, cool cat in a mink coat, waving a broom, a girl with long lashes, pretty in the rain, it's raining now – all of them holding up one finger.  Just one ticket, please.

Elvis still holding his sign - Give this Fan a Free Ticket! - How's that working out for you? I say.

He's got nothing for me.

Back to the corner of Third, outside Louisiana Fried Chicken.  There's a guy there with Standing Room Only tickets.  Two young women are working him hard.  $200 dollars he keeps telling them.  It's raining, they say.  $200 each, he says.  They're losing, they pout.  $200, he says.  Did I mention we dance, the tall, leggy brunette says.  Good on you, he says.  Professionally, the little blonde says, and she bats her lashes.  $200, he says again.  We're not paying $200, the brunette says.  Then you'll be standing out here in the rain with everyone else, he says.

The blonde traces a line down the front of his ratty, Guess jean-jacket, and sidles a little bit close.  Am I going to have to take you around the corner? she says.  Unruffled to the end, he just steps back, looks out at the biggest mob to be in one place in San Francisco since the first time the 49ers had a victory parade down Market Street.  And just what corner, he says, would that be?  And he heads off into the dark.

I'm kind of laughing at the irony of these professional dancers trying to haggle with this kind-of-sloppy white guy, kind-of-sloppy in his tattered jean jacket.  Usually, I'm thinking, kind-of-sloppy white guys are haggling with them as they dance professionally somewhere with a pole on the stage.


I buy a dog from a vendor, sleepy guy with a girlfriend sitting under his umbrella, the girlfriend trying to keep her joint dry.  What is up with all the pot?  Oh, right.  Let Timmy Smoke and all that (one Giants' star is a bit of a pothead, so all this ganja must be some token of solidarity.  Or something.)

Later, TickTock, later.

It's the seventh inning now, and I'm thinking it's time to go.  The Hi Dive probably has a seat available, that bar underneath the Bay Bridge, and it's got good juju attached to it – that's where we all went after hearing my friend Nami read from her amazing novel, Miles From Nowhere.  Which is kind of how I'm feeling now.

I think they had good scotch.  Oban?  Maybe they had Oban.

I take a last look in at the screen inside the Chicken joint there at Third, and that's when I see an associate of the Guess jean-guy with folks pressing around him.  He's holding three SRO tickets.  He catches my eye, holds up one finger.  Hundred bucks.

Is it worth a hundred bucks to be part of the party?  To possibly see the Giants clinch?

That's when I get a text from my friend Harry.  One word from him, from inside the party where he and Natasha are:


So I fork over the cash, hustle across Third, pay my respects to the statue of Willie,

both of us cold and wet.

Right after I enter AT&T I see Fred, Fred from Alameda.  San Francisco's a world class city, but small.  You always run into people you know.  But Fred's headed the other way and he can't hear me over the crowd.  Maybe I can catch Randy.  He's got great seats – third base side.  I just have to find the souvenir stand that's next to the stairs down to him.  I always forget, is he in 125?  126?  But I do remember the stand.  I just have to get past Cerberus guarding the entrance down to him.

Hmm.  Um, it's pretty easy to sneak down to see Randy during the regular season.  During the NLCS?  Not so much.

I text Andy.  He's in Lower Box 105, row 35, seat 5.  Has been the whole game.  Bastard.  He comes up, he needs to stretch his legs SINCE HE'S BEEN SITTING IN HIS SEAT THE WHOLE GAME WHILE I ROAMED AIMLESS OUTSIDE.

He needs a drink.  They don't have agua, so he settles for a Sprite.  I get a pedestrian beer.  We bemoan the direction the game has taken since the third inning.

I wish him godspeed, let him go back to his seat.  I text Natasha.  Let her know I'm in.  She's happy, texts Awesome - we need some luck.

She doesn't know about my bad juju.

I wend through the crowd, fight for a spot on the walkway – the game down there, the bay over here. See that Red Car still puttering through the waves. I buy another beer, cause they stop selling after this inning.

Did I mention the Giants are losing to the Phillies?  Have been since the third?  An old Giants broadcaster said that he had a one minute hourglass that he brought with him to every game.  He'd flip it, and every time the sands ran out, he'd announce the score.

Clearly, I suck as an announcer.  I thought it was hard as kid, sitting in front of our tv on Sherwood Avenue, sitting there watching the game with the sound turned down, trying to announce.  I had my baseball cards spread out in front of me, stats on the back of the cards for the players on the screen.  Never enough cards, though, and by the third inning I'd have run out of things to say.  So I'll just say this:

The Giants are losing 3-2.

Sure, they scratched back a bit, but they're still looking up at that crooked number.

I make my way around the back of the park, pushing through the people.  The fans are ok tonight, but not into it as much as they were last night.  Harry will tell me later that the crowd seemed spent, that it was hard to recharge after such a smashing victory the night before.  It's like they all talked to "Ray" this morning, like they all have his dour prediction in their heads.  Sure, a few people are waving flags, the orange pompoms are shaking, but there's an undercurrent.  Unease. 

It's 8:01 when I get a text from Leo, Leo garbed with Ludicra somewhere in the Mission.  The game's not over, not just yet, but Leo's text is prophetic:

God hates Ray.

And indeed, God does hate "Ray" because the Giants will lose.  Not with a bang, but a whimper.  The final score is 4-2.  This means that "Ray" will indeed be leaving on a jet plane.  For Philly.  Tomorrow.

As we all, this multitude in orange and black, depart the park, I receive a text from Andy, wanting to know if I'm taking BART.  But then Harry and Natasha both hit me up – they drove, their car is down on Harrison, and would I like a ride?

I usually walk along the Embarcadero in the dark, past Red's, past the Hi Dive, to the Ferry Building, and then to BART.  But tonight I'll take my friends up on their offer.  We arrange to meet by the statue of Cepeda on the corner of Second and King.  Later, after we head off to Harrison, we'll pass by two guys as they put their Red Boat/Car thing onto a trailer  The same car I watched putter between kayaks.  It's got two white propellers in the back under the red of the car.

Did I mention SF was a small town at heart?

That's later.  Now I'm still in the park, heading for the ramps that'll take me down to the street, and I pass by the sign that I've passed dozens of times before, but tonight, tonight it speaks to all of us, those of us in the crowd who start chanting Saturday, Saturday, Saturday.  We believe the Giants will win on Saturday, because that's our only choice.

But the sign?  I'll sign off with the words on the sign.

Postscript:  The Giants did win on Saturday.  Natasha and Harry took pity on us for not having a tv and invited us over to watch the game.  And although it would have been nice to close the series out on Thursday, in San Francisco, Harry reminded me that it was the final-final that was important.  He quoted one of his favorite basketball players, Reggie Miller, Reggie of the Indiana Pacers.  All time three-point leader and Knicks killer, according to Harry.  Reggie Miller said, after his Pacers didn't win a series at home, but had to travel to get the job done, Mr. Miller said:

It would have been great to have closed this out in Indy, but sometimes it's more fun to go in and put your feet all over someone else's furniture.

Enough said.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

New York Postcards, #1 -- The Light

There's a certain slant of light - thank you, E. Dickinson - but if we're talking about New York, not Emily's New England, that light is charged with energy different from anywhere else.

My red-eye from Oakland landed at JFK an hour before sunup.  New York wakes later than San Francisco, so the taxis were just idling for me at their dark Stand - the only time idle would enter my head over the next four days.

But the light?  That New York light?  Like an intake of breath, it fights to be let loose on the day.

The light burnishes treetops and brick building-tops in Queens as we speed along the Long Island Expressway.  That light, brightening the dark, casting the gravestones alongside the Expressway in shades of gray, light then lighter, before giving way to the fake bright fluorescent of the midtown tunnel, its tiles artificially yellow.  Speeding out of the tunnel, to the first real sight of Manhattan.  The light brighter now, of course it's brighter now.  Pricking out the buildings ahead.

Is that the top of the Empire State Building?  Catching that beautiful New York light?

The light -- the light's magic in Manhattan.  After you check your bags with the bellhop, you need to get back into that light.  The red awnings of the Cartier building, rich in the dawn -- drawn to them, then around the corner to the flags flapping on Fifth Avenue, into more light, that light making the flagpoles gleam.

A cathedral there, just there.  St. Patrick's?  Lord, is that St. Patrick's Cathedral?  Its spires soaring into the bright?

And across the street, Atlas holding the world on his shoulders in front of Rockefeller Center.  A glossy Atlas there, St. Patrick here.

When the cornerstone was laid for St. Patrick's, it was practically in the wilderness - no idea, none, of the energy that would come and surround it.  The energy -- and the noise, from cars, whistles, shouted conversations.

Patrick calls, open my door.  His light gentler inside, cooler, and as the door closes, the New York music outside is replaced by the music inside, a mass in progress.  The nave, its columns soaring like the spires soared outside.  Not many parishioners in the pews, but so many New Yorkers rushing into the cool, the relative quiet of the cathedral.  Businessmen and businesswomen, in amazing suits, police officers, construction workers, firefighters.  All rushing in through those doors but immediately slowing, slowing and dipping their fingers in the marble font of water, doing their cross, genuflecting -- bending their right knees until they touch the ground, always the right knee.  Then standing, pausing for a moment at the start of their busy New York day, before rushing back into the light.

I stand there, gaping, then drift around the pews.  The stained-glass brilliance of the light washing over me as I pass by altar after altar -- until I come upon St. Anthony.  I pause at his altar, put flame to candle, do my cross there in front of all that flickering, and think of my dad.  More than seven months now.  How could seven months have passed?

Ambling by other altars -- and I find St. Elizabeth.  There I'll set three votives alight.  For Yia Yia, for my oldest -- and for Kristina, too.  The light I've lit reminds me of all the light outside in the Manhattan morning.

Park Avenue is a magnet, drawing you forward, forward.  Taxis honk and people swarm, the air is charged, there's so much electricity everywhere I know if I rubbed my feet on the carpet inside the Waldorf and touched Karen's shoulder we'd both explode.  And there, over that highrise, what's topping that highrise?

Walk fast, like everyone else, walk fast until -- the Chrysler Building.  Just across the street.  It's the most beautiful building you've ever seen, will ever see.  Tomorrow you'll see it from the Empire State -- actually look down on it.  But this morning all you do is look up at the perfect meld of light and building as the sun strikes the chrome of the massive gargoyles overhead, sparking off them so bright you can't stare too long into the spark.  High up high in all that light are the angry eagles jutting out from the triangular sunbursts above.

But for the first time you notice other gargoyles about halfway up, huge, chrome -- just wings, you think.  Elegant, chrome wings.  Until it dawns on you -- they're radiator caps.  You know what Art Deco radiator caps look like because in the past you've tried to buy them.

You've tried, but you can't afford them.  Who knew that radiator caps and hood ornaments had entered the realm of highly-collectible?  You just thought they looked cool.

You and a bunch of other people.

And here they are on a scale you've never imagined, catching east coast light, sharpening it, polishing it to an unthinkable sheen.

New York Light.  Looking up, you'd thought you'd seen all the lustrous light Manhattan had to offer.  But you turn around, look down 42nd Street and see the southern facade of Grand Central Station and its majestic clock-face of Tiffany glass, Tiffany just radiant in the sun.

Grand Central must be as beautiful inside as any cathedral, yes?


Again, you're stunned by the size.  The scope.  And the people -- again, the people.  You've never looked at clothes in your life, not really.  I mean, remember what Ray said?  And he was right, wasn't he?  But here, the clothes are chic -- you never knew what that word meant.  It's like hearing people use the word awesome when they've never been inspired by awe in their lives.  The shrimp at the Red Lobster can't be awesome, ok?  Sex and the City -- not awesome, can we just agree about that?  Please don't use the word until you've been good and truly awed.

But now that you've seen chic you can use chic, and here, in New York?  You're taken by the chic clothes -- boots snaking up slim hips, almost meeting the short skirt at high-thigh; men's shoes, clunky black, starched shirts, bright white -- worn by the commuters pouring into Grand Central, arriving by foot, bus, subway and train.

The outfits, you're so taken by the outfits, the clothes, until you turn around, and there it is again, that light.  Streaming through the window, raking across the terminal--

--that light.  Shining on the motes in the concourse.

But by looking up, you've paused.

Become a boulder--

--and all these commuters the current surging past.  That's when you glance down.

Your shoes.

What's with your shoes?  You've never noticed before -- they look like grey suede, nubby and rough.  They're supposed to be black leather.  How'd they get so old and worn without you even noticing?  But you notice in New York.

You leave Grand Central and immediately see a shoe-shine shop.  A woman and two men sit there, high in their leather thrones.  You take a seat next to the man reading the Post, gleaning info on Brett Favre and the the pictures he sent to a cheerleader.

Not your mother's pictures.

The boot-black says nothing to you, but he looks at your shoes, your sad, worn shoes, and he looks up at you with an are-you-shittin-me expression.  He doesn't voice it, not like the Zippo seller in Times Square, but his look is almost louder.  You tell him -- I know, I know.  Just do your best.

And he works at it as you read the Post that the guy leaves behind.  Read about the gubernatorial race -- Cuomo vs. Paladino. Paladino leveling charges that Cuomo's sexual prowess is legendary.

Hard to find any news about the your west coast Giants.

The boot-black's been working em over, your shoes, and he still doesn't say anything, but he snaps at them with his towel and with his other hand gives your shoes a matador's flourish.  They've been transformed, black leather again - smooth and supple.  And he's still not talking, but he smiles big.

Turns out the shine cost three bucks, so you pay that, but tip the matador seven - the remainder from the sawbuck you handed down, and rush back out into the light.

In that light, your shoes shine in New York like never before

Karen texts you around 7:30 a.m.  Wants to know how it's going.  So you text back:

Grand Central.  The Waldorf Astoria.  Cartier.  Saks Fifth Avenue.  The Chrysler Building.  Empire State.  St. Patrick's Cathedral.  Park Ave.  I mean, I've walked by all that shit, and got the best shoe shine of my life, since landing?

Karen thinks you're a rube.  And you are.  But a rube that has seen the light.

Friday, October 15, 2010

New York Postcards, #5 -- Zippos

I've gotten a little weird about Zippo lighters.  I don't travel much, but when I do, my memento is often a Zippo.  The weird part?  Since the first Zippo was made in 1933, there's always been an indicator on the bottom of the lighter showing its year of production.  Early on, patent numbers told you the when.  Since then, it's been a confusing progression of dots, slashes, roman numerals.

I know, I know.  I shouldn't be versed in this.  It's because of my dad, but you probably knew it'd go back to my dad.  When I received one of his two Zippos, back from when he smoked - Lucky Strikes -  I wanted to know the when, and discovered the key to the when was in my hand.  His had the five barrel hinge with the 2517191 patent number.  That placed it in 1953, when my dad was still in college.

I love having that lighter.

ANYWAY.  Not only do I like to take home a Zippo from my visits, I prefer it to have been manufactured in the year I made the visit.  Again - I know, I know.  But these are the things I worry about.

So we're in Times Square, about to see West Side Story in the Palace Theater, right there on Broadway.  How cool is that?  While Karen wants to grab her seat, I need a Coke.  This is Day 2, and I've been running on fumes.  Caffeine'll help.

After standing in the cattle crossing at the McDonald's on Times Square - lord, the people.  You've been to New York.  You knew about all the people.  I thought I knew.  I didn't know.

So I down my Diet, and in between the Golden Arches and the Theater is one of those tchotchke shops.  Lotta chrome, lotta glass.  Selling cameras and postcards and snow-globes (snow-globes are on the TSA's list of prohibited items.  More on that later) and mini Lady-Liberties and, of course, a revolving case full of Zippos.

Which design, though?  The one with the Empire State Building?  The Statue?  A taxi?  So many choices.  And of course, I have to check the bottom.  The year-indicator has gotten streamlined.  Since 2000, 00 on the bottom right stands for 2000, 01 for 2001 and so on.  There's a letter on the left that corresponds to the month.  A for January, etc.

I ask to see the Zippo with the Chrysler Building.  Oh, that's a sweet building.  And the guy behind the counter - little bald guy who needs a shave - opens the case and hands it to me.  I pop it out of its holder, scritch my nail across the engraving of that ridiculously beautiful art deco stunner - did I mention that the Chrysler is a sweet skyscraper?  Maybe the sweetest of all?

I look at the base of the lighter, and if you're with me - you're with me, right? - I'm looking for 10.  What I see instead is 08.

So close and yet so far.

I'm running out of time.  The Sharks and the Jets are getting ready to rumble at eight o'clock and that's just a few minutes away, so I pop the Zippo back into its holder - don't really have time to look at any of the others - and I tell the bald guy across the counter, thanks.

He looks at me like I just pissed in the punchbowl at his mother's birthday party.  Are you shittin me? he says.

Pardon? I say right back.

You're not going to buy it? he says.

No, I say.  And now I'm thinking I should really get going.  Karen's waiting for me inside the theater.  So's Tony, so's Maria.

I got it out of the case for you, he says, and now he's kind of New York mad.  I can't quite tell how serious New Yorkers are when they get like this.  I'm trying not to go all California soft and just buy the lighter.  I want a 10, ok.  I just do.

Can I ask you a question? and now the guy is tapping the Zippo against the glass case between us.  Tapping it hard.

Sure, I say.

I just got a question for you, is all.  TapTapTap.  What the fuck?

So I explain.  About Zippo.  And their dots and dashes.  And he just looks at me as I talk.


You're telling me, he says, TapTapTap, that if I look under this Zippo right here, TapTapTap, I'm going to see 08?

On the right side, yes, I say.  I hadn't explained about the letters and their relation to the months in a year and I figured this wasn't the time to introduce that particular topic so I just stopped there, at yes.

He's fidgeting, my bald guy, TapTapTap, and he tugs his collar twice, and then without looking down he pops the Zippo out of its holder.

Did I mention the guy had a pair of glasses hanging around his neck?  By a silver chain?  He takes those glasses and perches them on the end of his nose and he brings the Zippo close.

And he holds that pose for a three-count, as other customers throng, picking up shot glasses, foam Statue-of-Liberty crowns, he stands there as customers pick up snow-globes, pick them up and shake them to make the shiny flecks swirl in the water, swirl around a tiny Empire State building with an even tinier King Kong making his way to the top. 

His shoulders slump a little as he focuses even more - then he puts the Zippo down on the glass, all quiet.

You know what? he says to me.


I never knew that, he says.  You're telling me this one here - and he points to a Zippo with a Yankees logo - is going to have numbers?  Maybe 07, maybe 09?  And that'll tell me what year it was made?

Yes, I say.

I never knew that, he says again.

He puts it back in its holder with a gentleness I wouldn't have ascribed to him, and I take that as my cue to skidoo.

Karen's in her seat, and she's got another Diet Coke waiting for me.  Broadway shows, they sell clear plastic cups with red lids, the name of the show also in red. Our girls will love these cups later, and I'm loving another Diet right now.  I'll score my Zippo after the show, at another shop down 47th.  When I see it, I'll know it's the one.  I mean, I New York?  That image we all know?  First used in 1977 when Times Square was still a pit?  Used to entice tourists to visit the city that never sleeps?

I know before I look that it'll have the 10 underneath.  I mean, it has to, right?  It'll have the 10 on the right, and an F on the left.  The F indicating that the lighter was made in June.

Indeed I do.