The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

Many of us likely have a place where their life’s history is stored, oftentimes without knowing that the historical treasure even exists – until it’s uncovered. It might be an old trunk, boxes in the attic or a pile of shoeboxes. Mine was a roll top desk. This is part one of the story that was revealed over the course of sorting through the contents of that desk. 

It’s gone now, that oak roll top desk. It was left to molder in that potter’s field for unwanted furniture – the county landfill. After 20 years it met an inglorious end; no ceremony, no final words. Well, maybe there were some last words but they were only testimony to the indignity that fine old piece endured throughout its lifetime. Words along the lines of, “Finally got rid of that big old bastard.”

For years it sat under the bedroom window, stacked with papers, books, business cards, clothes both clean and dirty and a collection of miscellaneous stuff and junk that I never bothered to file away or throw away. It was a hoarder’s paradise. The judge and jury of the domicile, my wife, sentenced it to exile and in the end there were no witnesses for the defense. Even I, the once proud owner turned my back and dropped a dime on it. The desk had worn out its welcome.

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The Urban Dictionary defines “word” as well said; deemed to be something influential or of great intellectual power. It’s slang. My dad was all about “word” and words. For dad words were “word.” Words were truth, were influential, were of great intellectual power. 

To dad, a man who shot at people in war, words were the ultimate power. To him they were more potent than the 30 caliber machine gun he wielded as a B-17 waist gunner. Ironically he would never have been behind that gun had a former Bavarian corporal not understood the potential of the word and brandished it to lead the world into a second global conflict.  

Dad finished high school in Utah and then found himself in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho working for FDR’s, CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) followed by odd jobs and then the Army-Air Corps in World War II. At some point in his young life and I couldn’t say when or where, dad discovered words. He read the classics and he read history and he read about politics and he read philosophy. 

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Classic dad in an easy chair. A book, a pipe, a bottle of Cognac. Taken at my uncle’s flat in Rome, Italy

And then he wrote. Continue reading

Chinatown. It’s a relatively poor district as San Francisco neighborhoods go. It’s crowded, one of the most densely populated urban districts in America, made even more so by the influx of tourists year round. It’s popularity as an attraction exceeds that of the Golden Gate Bridge yet it’s often more maligned than the bridge. It is the largest and the oldest of the Chinatown’s in North America.

My earliest, real vivid memory of Chinatown springs from a harebrained trip to see the Chinese New Year Parade that nearly resulted in a case of pneumonia. The parade takes place every February and since it’s based on the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year which fluctuates from year to year the date of the parade varies as well. It’s my belief and one shared by many locals that the parade date is deviously timed to coincide with a monsoonal rainstorm. That or the weather deities are just being obnoxious.

I was a boy, six or seven I guess, when mom and dad floated the notion of attending the Chinese New Year Parade and I say floated because it befits that night’s deluge. I’m surprised that dad didn’t just scuttle the whole idea when the weatherman called for a Biblical dousing. It went against dad’s grain to suffer the sort of foolishness that would have us standing in a downpour. A man who prided himself on his unflinching good judgement didn’t have enough sense to get in out of the rain.

PInk Dragon

Above and below: The colors of the Chinese New Year Parade. 

Painted lady 1

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They’re beautiful beasts, often unwanted, maligned, exterminated or sold to butchers across the border. They survive a harsh environment that shifts from a sheet of snow in the winter to blistering heat in the summer. It’s a rugged, rocky place of sagebrush, scraggly trees and scant, brackish water. To me they’d always been something of a myth of the high desert near Reno, Nevada. I’d heard about them as fabled creatures of Americana like Pecos Bill; storied tales of the American West. A few years ago on a trip to Reno I decided to bail on the casinos and find the American mustang.

Leaving California on Highway 80 eastbound you drop from the Sierra Nevada down to Reno and the western edge of the Great Basin, a rocky, arid mass that covers much of Oregon, almost all of Nevada and touches the states of Utah, Idaho and Wyoming. Its a coarse, hard and cruel land that embraces a unique harsh beauty.

It was the Great Basin that played a major role in the doom of the ill fated Donner Party. In 1846, this group of immigrants heading west made the tragic mistake of taking a new, untried and supposedly quicker route than the established Oregon Trail. It took them across the Great Basin and it was this vast ocean of sand, rock and sagebrush that swallowed up much of the Donner Party’s food, oxen, supplies and resolve. Anyone taking a drive across this arid land in the summer should take the time to imagine the same journey in covered wagons and having only scant knowledge of the route and no highway to follow.

Gnarled tree

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I really want to love hockey. On occasion I LIKE hockey; usually in the fall at the beginning of a long season or at the very end in the spring when the playoffs are in swing. In midwinter of this winter sport I just can’t get interested. My friend Scott absolutely loves the sport to which, by November, my response to his enthusiasm is along the lines of the ever dismissive, “whatever.” He responds with a similar comment when I watch basketball.

On those occasions when I have tickets to a San Jose Sharks game I get on the very verge of love. That’s because hockey is best appreciated when its live. Love hockey or hate it, when you’re at a game you’d have to be numb to deny the agility, grace, reflexes, athletic prowess and yes courage that these big men (and they are big) possess in order to play a game that is so astonishingly fast.

A few years back my son took me to a Sharks game and I brought my camera to try my hand and eye at sports photography. Continue reading

San Francisco and I. We’ve had this long term relationship and its, well, it’s conflicted. You could describe it as one of those love/hate things. There are those times when I pay a visit, maybe have a lunch or dinner date and flatter her for her beauty and charm. And then there are those other times when I don’t want to have anything to do with San Francisco; call her vile names, overbearing and pompous, phony, getting by on a worn out reputation of beauty and class. I tend to blame the bad times on San Francisco’s bad behavior, or what I consider bad behavior. Usually it’s a traffic jam. 

And then I go on a rant that usually goes something like, “Oh sure, you’ve got the nice bridges that everybody likes but you can’t be bothered to clean up your own poop. Try negotiating that minefield of yours you call Market Street. Oughta change the name to Crapper’s Way. And seriously can’t you take better care of your ride? I mean the cable cars are nice and quaint, even if it is hard to catch a ride especially in the summer when you cater to all your out of town admirers. But those busses; my old beater red truck is in better shape than your busses. And dude, you are seriously far too high maintenance.  What’s a guy gotta do to just to spend an afternoon? Win the lottery?”

“You don’t care what I think do you? If I decide to break it off you always have other admirers who go through hell, high water, a traffic jam on the Bay Bridge and a gauntlet of aggressive panhandlers just to have lunch at a sidewalk cafe and then take a stroll to one of your time honored bakeries for tiramisu and a cappuccino. Oh and you have those pretentious guys who take out a second on the house to have dinner at some celebrity chef’s joint. Okay I have to admit it. The food’s good. Like really good. Really, really good.”

“But you don’t care about my tirades because deep down you know me for what I am; a weak-kneed wimp who’s going to break down and shamelessly come back and then you’ve got your hooks in me again.”

That’s how it goes with me and San Francisco. What was it, a year ago when we got mired in a downtown traffic jam and it took an hour just to get on the bridge to get home? I told Cora in no uncertain terms, “We’re NEVER coming back to this dump.”

She just sat there patiently looking at the queue of cars, frozen as far as you could see and probably thought, “Yeah, right.” Because she knows that I’ll always waiver. She knows that for someone who generally hates cities I love The City.  The. City. That’s what we call it. Just check out the old school uniforms that the Warriors wear from the days when they played in San Francisco. Their logo was The City

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I’m the family morning person. When everyone else is just waking up, I’ve gone out for a run, I’ve showered and I’m sipping my morning coffee “Oh, you’re finally up.” It’s the same when we’re on vacation and it turns out to be a nice little symbiotic arrangement. Cora likes to sleep in and have a leisurely breakfast while I’m out running.  I get back just about when Cora is ready for the day’s activities so I just take a quick shower and usually blow off breakfast. Yeah I know, the most important meal….whatever.

I love the morning vacation runs. They’re a chance to get out while the air is cool and clean and before crowds clog the streets and paths and any sights I want to take in. There’s no pressure to crank out quick miles or cover a specific distance. These runs are minimal workout; veer off course when something looks intriguing around the bend or pause to take in something that’s pleasing.

In the late summer of 2014 we were staying at the Willard Hotel in Washington D.C., a historic nineteenth century hotel that’s located a short 1/2 mile from The White House and just under a mile from the National Mall, that long green park that houses America’s treasured monuments and flanked on each side by the stately Smithsonian Museums.

Six in the morning and I was out the door when my phone rang.  Really? It was my co-worker who was house sitting, calling to tell me that there’d been a significant earthquake in nearby Napa. There was no damage to the house and she was just calling to let me know before I heard about it on the news. Okay now I was awake for sure. Continue reading

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