The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

Welcome to this re-release of a post that I did a few months ago. Like a director’s cut in film this is a longer, more detailed version of the previous, with more personal anecdotes thrown in. 

Looking for a beach at San Francisco’s North Beach?  THE San Francisco beach is Ocean Beach but that long stretch of sand along the chilly Pacific is miles away and over the San Francisco hills. You could go a mile or so northwest to Aquatic Park where hardy souls jump into the cold bay waters for a brisk swim.  South Beach is, well, south and that’s a marina with no real beach.  North Beach?  There is no beach at North Beach.

At one time in North Beach you could’ve stumbled onto Beach Blanket Babylon.  No beach there though, unless it was on the stage.  Beach Blanket Babylon (known informally to friends and fans as BBB) was the title of a bawdy musical review that enjoyed a 45 year run and over 17,000 performances at Club Fugazi in the heart of North Beach.  Producer Steve Silver named the show after the Annette Funicello/ Frankie Avalon beach movies of the 1960’s and if you’re familiar with those movies then you’re either old or you’re an aficionado of campy old movies.

BBB was a parody of the pop culture and politics of the times portrayed through the adventures of the main character, Snow White who travelled the world in search of her Prince Charming.  The show was most famous for the outrageous hats worn by the characters (In the closing scene, longtime cast member Val Diamond would sing the song San Francisco while wearing a ten foot wide, 250 pound hat depicting the San Francisco skyline).  I regret that I never took Cora to see this whacky show that delighted even Queen Elizabeth II in 1983. Still I’m one of the over 17 million people to have seen BBB.  I used to sneer at BBB as something of a tourist attraction until 1978 when I was cajoled by my girlfriend Linda into dinner and a performance.

Linda and I were working at Fox Hardware, a retail store in downtown San Francisco when we met.  Our’s was a short and interesting little run punctuated by arguments over some of the dumbest damn things. There was the argument in front of a club in Cancun over disco music that had us stomping back to our hotel room separately and then doing the classic pissed off balancing act on opposite sides of the bed.  We fought about King Tut; yes King Tut.  Being Chinese-American she wasn’t cool with the way the movie The Deer Hunter portrayed Asians.  That argument simmered for days.  But in the end BBB was something that we did agree on.  It was a delight. The show became such a landmark that one block of Green Street in North Beach was renamed Beach Blanket Babylon Boulevard.

Why no beach at North Beach? Originally there was a North Beach beach where the waters of the bay lapped up around what is currently Francisco Street, which is five blocks from the current center of North Beach.

In the late 1800’s, as a part of city expansion, landfill was added along with the construction of docks, wharves, warehouses and all the complimentary industries of sin that are part and parcel with a waterfront; saloons, bordellos and gambling establishments.  After all the landfilling, the waters of the bay ended up a good five blocks further north.

The district’s proximity to the docks made it a natural melting pot of incoming immigrants, British, Irish, German, French, Italian, Peruvian, Mexican, Swedish, Canadian, Chinese, Russian and Greek could all be counted as residents, some temporary, of North Beach.

After the 1906 earthquake most of the ethnic groups left North Beach, with the exception of the Italians.  Immigration from Italy continued and during the period between the world wars the North Beach population of those claiming Italian descent swelled to 60,000.  After World War II the Italian community began to shrink as fewer immigrants moved in while residents began to move to different parts of The City or to the growing suburbs.

Today many of the Italians are gone.  I used to enjoy having coffee at Stella Pastry or a sandwich at Molinari’s and enjoy the atmosphere. You could close your eyes, smell the dusky espresso or fruity Chianti and listen to the old Italian men speak rapid fire in the mother tongue and imagine yourself in Rome. That scene has sadly become a rarity now.  Still the Italian flavor hasn’t completely left North Beach.  Below, the Italian tricolor is visible throughout North Beach.

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Dog and pony show – An elaborate act of bullshit, generally used to distract attention away from the sheer uselessness of the actual project or act. ~ The Urban Dictionary

It was a widely ballyhooed event last Friday, the first briefing by the White House Coronavirus Task Force in nearly two months.  At the outset of these briefings in what seems like decades ago I’d watched the briefings almost religiously until it became clear that the daily menu would consist of a small side order of statistics and real information on a plate dominated by a large indigestible, fatty main course of presidential self-congratulations with an occasional purgative of medical advice from “doctor” Trump.

The briefings fizzled out shortly after “doctor” Trump floated the idea that COVID-19 might be defeated by either mainlining Clorox or shining bright lights into the body. After a million laughs and a few ER trips by people who actually followed “doctor” Trump’s advice the briefings were mothballed.  In fact it’s been reported that any daily closed door meetings of the task force have for some time been reduced to twice weekly meetings with the president mostly absent.  Continue reading

“My dad taught me everything I know. Unfortunately he didn’t teach me everything he knows.” ~ Al Unser.

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.” ~ Unknown but often attributed to Mark Twain

He’d pull on the oars on those chilly early mornings and the little wooden rowboat, not so much glided as moved in fits and starts with each pull, headed for some nook in the reeds at the lake’s edge. We rarely exchanged words during the crossing. The only sounds would’ve been the swish of the boat pushing through water and the wooden creaks and metallic clinks and clanks that seem to be built into rowboats. A rowboat could be brand new, wearing a bright shining coat of paint and still sound as if it’s seen 50 years worth of lake crossings.

I would’ve been staring blankly through an early morning coma, fixed on something as insignificant as water swirling around the boat as if I were trying to discern some existential meaning about water swirling around a boat. Dad didn’t have the luxury of mindless reverie, he was working hard on the oars. He’d long been out of his early morning stupor. I’m sure that it never dawned on me and I didn’t rightly appreciate that he’d been up since three in the morning to make sandwiches, a cup of instant coffee for himself and a Thermos of hot chocolate for the two of us to share while out on the lake. Get dressed, load up the car, get me out of bed and drive the big old family wagon up fog shrouded Highway 35 towards The City and the Lake Merced boathouse to rent a creaking vessel for a few hours of fishing. Continue reading

Consider this my RSVP.   I won’t be attending the celebration.   That shouldn’t come as a big surprise to those who know me, particularly my wife.   To say that I’ve never been a big party person is a gross understatement.   When I was still working, many were the times when I would stay at my desk while the rest of the staff celebrated a birthday or anniversary in the break room.   I missed the last Christmas luncheon along with the QC Director as we worked to finish an outline that some corporate big shot who needed it NOW didn’t even bother to look at while he took his Christmas break; or any time after that.  I’d always thought of him as bullshitting empty suit and in the end he didn’t disappoint.  And weddings?  I would feign serious illness, even coronavirus if it had been available at the time, to avoid going to a wedding.  Whoever came up with the little ditty, “Every party has a pooper, that’s why we invited you,” probably had me in mind.  So you’re all going to have to excuse me if I poop out of the current COVID-19 has been eradicated party

Okay, so that’s a bit of hyperbole.  Nobody is seriously proposing that the virus has been eradicated, gone the way of other diseases like Polio, Dracunculiasis, Rinderpest and Iowa Congressman Steve King.  Still, more and more businesses are opening up with governmental consent if not outright encouragement.  All of this despite new rises in the coronavirus.

They’ve thrown open the doors to the barber, the manicurist and the gym.  The Wynn in Vegas is going to be reopening its buffet so now you can enjoy a virus to go along with the bacteria in your lukewarm Hollandaise sauce.  If slurping wine is more to your taste you can once again go to the wine country and swirl, sniff and sip.  That’s of course without a mask because you can’t properly sniff and sip with a mask and not dribble down your shirt front.  A note of caution, if you swirl the wine and you don’t smell the advertised hints of oak and berry and your wine tastes like water (a sort of reversal of the old Biblical tale) then you should try to arrange for a coronavirus test (which is not a slam dunk – stay tuned).  I’ve not checked in with Nevada’s bordellos but if they aren’t wide open yet, so to speak, it’s surely just a matter of time.

Two weeks ago here in little Hercules the picnic tables at the city park were coned off and you could’ve thrown a hand grenade into the middle of the big grassy area and not scratched a soul.  Last weekend the parking lot was packed; picnickers were out in force, a wedding party was being photographed and the air smelled of burgers on the barbecue.  The dog park is open as well.

I will admit to having gone to the dog park but it was just me, Lexi and the dry weeds (The city certainly didn’t knock itself out keeping the place maintained).  A half hour of canine romping yielded over an hour of brushing and a sizable pile of burrs, foxtails, twigs, weeds and other assorted vegetation and souvenirs from Lexi who came from the park looking like a four legged ball of sagebrush.

Cora and I watch the contradictory news of the grand reopening followed by reports of rising cases and then we just look at each other, “Did we not get the memo?” Continue reading

Welcome to part two of a pictorial essay highlighting Oakland, California’s colorful, artistic reminder of America’s struggle for social justice and in particular the events of the past few weeks (Click here to see part I).  The many murals that have appeared almost magically on walls and sheets of plywood are not just presentations of recent events, they are an artistic voice that reminds residents and visitors of a too long struggle.

These murals are memorials to innocent lives taken; names that if not for our national shame we might never know. All that these men and women wanted was to live normal lives, be ordinary people, have families and not end up immortalized on sheets of plywood because they died for our sin.

“No matter how big a nation is, it is no stronger than its weakest people, and as long as you keep a person down, some part of you has to be down there to hold him down, so it means you cannot soar as you might otherwise.” ~ Marian Anderson, American singer (February 27, 1897 – April 8, 1993).  BLM Oakland-32 Continue reading

For days following the killing of George Floyd, the city of Oakland was in flames, if not literally then figuratively. Peaceful protests turned into confrontation which turned into violence leaving the city littered with tear gas canisters, rubber bullets and broken glass. As calm returned and peaceful protest prevailed, the city took a moment, a moment to catch its breath, to begin to clean up and to speak out in a loud and stunning artistic voice for justice.

Many of Oakland’s downtown businesses put up sheets of plywood to cover smashed windows or to prevent any possible damage during future demonstrations. As a part of the cleanup, as a part of taking that deep breath, artists saw an opportunity to turn sheets of wood into canvases on which to paint works of art honoring those who have died due to racial injustice and to honor the Black Lives Matter movement. BLM Oakland-9

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“I wish I could say that racism and prejudice were only distant memories. We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred and the mistrust…We must dissent because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better.” ~ Thurgood Marshall, Associate Justice, United States Supreme Court excerpt from his speech upon acceptance of the Liberty Medal.

Justice Marshall (the first black Supreme Court Justice) delivered his “America can do better,” admonishment on July 4th,1992 just two months after America erupted in protests and riots following the jury acquittal of four Los Angeles Police officers accused of beating Rodney King. Twenty-eight years later the world witnessed the police killing of George Floyd and once again America has erupted and rightly so.  In recent days we have in fact seen a worldwide eruption against injustice against blacks that has gone on for 400 years in America.  400 years.  That’s a long damn time to pass without being able to solve a problem.

George Floyd’s murder was just the latest in a shameful litany of violence against blacks perpetrated by law enforcement, vigilantes, hate groups or by individuals fueled by just plain venom.

“America has no choice but to do better,” said Marshall. He was wrong. There’s always a choice. It just isn’t always the right one.

“America has a race problem.” How many times during your lifetime, however long that may be, have you heard that spoken? After 66 years I couldn’t begin to count.

America has had a race problem since before it’s founding. Upon the founding of their new nation, the so-called “fathers” had a chance to start a new country with a clean slate. Instead they baked racism into the cake. Justice Marshall addressed the constitutional inequities in 1987 when the nation was celebrating the bi-centennial of the U.S. Constitution. In a controversial speech Marshall said of the Constitution’s framers that he did not find their sense of justice, “particularly profound.”

He went on to say that the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today. When contemporary Americans cite “The Constitution,” they invoke a concept that is vastly different from what the Framers barely began to construct two centuries ago.
“…we need look no further than the first three words of the document’s preamble: ‘We the People.” When the Founding Fathers used this phrase in 1787, they did not have in mind the majority of America’s citizens. “We the People” included, in the words of the Framers, “the whole Number of free Persons.”  Two hundred and thirty three years later it is STILL defective.  It it wasn’t defective, if it was running smoothly, we wouldn’t be having the same conversation after another police stop gone bad, a beating, harassment, or a killing.

Marshall’s speech was not universally well received. After all it was a rebuke of the founders. It went counter to the perception of the founding fathers as sort of folk heroes and it was delivered during the middle of the Ronald Reagan Presidency, a time when America’s general perception of itself could be found in a Norman Rockwell painting. How would Marshall’s speech be received 33 years later in 2020? Times have changed for certain but much of America still wants to view the nation through the brush of Norman Rockwell.  Continue reading

Mid-May is past and we’re plunging right into the heart of summer, that time when a schoolboy’s thoughts, in this case grandson Jackson, turns to summer vacation. He hasn’t seen the inside of a classroom in a little over two months but he’s still looking forward to the end of the Zoom Meetings; 45 minutes of online learning that’s supposed to supplant 6 hours at the school.

In one respect I can hardly blame Jack’s eagerness for the end of the meetings.  I’ve been accused of complaining about retirement but I can say with surety that one thing that I don’t miss is meetings; virtual or in the confines of a conference room.  There is no greater time suck known to man than a meeting and there’s hardly a greater sense of loss than that realized over the hours and hours expended over hooey; hours that you’ll never, ever get back.  Do I warn Jack that his Zoom meetings might be a portal into his future or do I let him enjoy his childhood in ignorant bliss?
And since we’re on the subject, “I discovered that I hate working with idiots, especially when I’m working alone at home in isolation.” ~ Anthony T Hincks, Author

I did express concern to my daughter over the abbreviated online class time.  Granted 6 hours at the school doesn’t translate to 6 hours of actual schooling; take out recesses, lunch, getting a classroom of 30 or so kids under control and that eliminates a fair amount of learning.  Jessica has monitored a couple of these Zoom sessions and has seen the live classroom as well.  She offered that, given some of the unruly characters in Jackson’s class it isn’t easy to get that group focussed in person let alone online. Apparently there’s a lot of assigned work outside of the online sessions.  Continue reading

It was called Decoration Day when I was a child. When first coined, the name reflected the day’s original purpose as stated by General John A. Logan, who led an organization for Northern Civil War Veterans. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

Below: Scenes of Fredericksburg VA. 

Fredericksburg 2

Union Cemetery, Fredericksburg VA.

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This week’s Lens-Artist Photo Challenge comes from Ann-Christine who suggests that we find images with delicate colors in celebration of Spring.
While sunrise and sunset often treat the viewer to brilliant, bright and vibrant views, dawn and dusk can also deliver the softest hues.
Below are two views of nearby San Pablo Bay at sunset. In the lower photo with the railroad tracks I took a lot of editing license and went for a watercolor effect while fooling around with some Photoshop gadgetry I’d never tried before.  Pinole sunset clouds
San Pablo sunset tracks Continue reading

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