The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

This year, after a 2020 COVID cancellation the NCAA Basketball Tournament, aka March Madness, has returned and is winding down towards crowning a winner.

This year, America has been enduring another version of madness in March. Don’t order a pizza or dip into the nachos for this madness, because this is all about a month long tidal wave of foolishness that’s been washing over America.

No layups or buzzer beating shots here, but it’s a slam dunk that you’ll find a month’s worth of American foolishness over issues real or made up, serious and silly. The guacamole is optional but have a beer, well, maybe a six pack, handy.

And so without further adieu, and in no particular order, lets get on with the other March madness.

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Indulge me for a few moments while I waste my time.

There was another mass shooting in America yesterday. It was the seventh one in seven days. Hell, mass shootings have become so ho hum that I only knew about two of them; the shootings at the Atlanta spas last week and the shooting in Boulder yesterday.

The others?
Five people shot in Stockton, California on March 17th. No fatalities.
Four people shot in Portland, Oregon on March 18th. No fatalities.
Five people shot in Houston, Texas on March 20th. No fatalities.
Eight people shot in Dallas, Texas on March 20th. One fatality.
Six people shot in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on March 22nd. One fatality.

I’m seriously not being flippant when I ask a few pointed questions.
In America should we establish a specific number of victims when we want to call something a mass shooting?
Does a mere four or five victims qualify as a mass shooting?
And what about fatalities. Is it really a shooting if nobody died?

Again I’m not being flippant. That’s because mass shootings, however you want to define them, long ago stopped being tragedies. They’ve become America’s national sport.

That isn’t to say that we’re absent of any tragedy. Let’s put the rat on the table, the real tragedy is America’s response to shootings.

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In the end, this is a positive story. This is a story about moments. This is a basketball story but it’s about much more than basketball – or sports. And yes in the end, this is a positive story. It has to be.

I’ll admit it. I’m that guy. I’m the one who gets all misty watching the One Shining Moment videos. Just this morning I watched the 2015 version. And then I went from misty to teary to teetering on sobbing.

I’ll get to the One Shining Moment thing in a bit. Stay with me; teary and sobbing notwithstanding, this is positive. We’ll get there.

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Fort Point is one of San Francisco’s often overlooked jewels. Built between 1853 and 1861 to guard the inlet to San Francisco Bay, the fort, surrounded by water on three sides, rests on the southern shore of the Golden Gate.

While it is a historic fort, one doesn’t have to be a history buff to appreciate Fort Point. It’s a place where one can go to enjoy nature, watch sailboats on the bay or big ships pass under the Golden Gate, or marvel at surfers challenging the turbulent waters.

Fort Point is nestled beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. From the bridge itself you wouldn’t even know that a historic brick fort sits beneath the span’s steel skeleton.

The fort was planned so that the lowest tier of guns could be placed as close to the sea level as possible, thus affording cannoneers the opportunity to skip cannonballs across the water to strike ships right at the waterline.

While the army built thirty similar forts on the east coast, Fort Point is the only such installation west of the Mississippi.

The fort is a maze of brick arches.

Ground floor. Note the arcs on the ground. These mark where tracks were laid to swivel the large cannons which were mounted on wheels.

A shirtsleeve day is a rare day at Fort Point. While the views are magnificent, it’s a cold and windy place. The Pacific wind surges through the gun ports and is channeled through the arches. At the very top of the fort is where you feel the wind’s full force. Every time I visit the fort I try to imagine what it must have been like to be stationed there in 1865; a rainy, windy winter night must have been miserable.

View across the inner quad.

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“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” Everything has a price.
I’m not giving away anything really tangible here.
Everything has a cost. In this case the cost is your time. I hope that it’s time well spent.

The mission for this post was positivity and I grappled with that – mightily. There was so much folly and insanity in just one week that anything fabulous had apparently run for cover. In the end I put my trust in the words of a long dead president,
“Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.” ~ John Quincy Adams.

What was fabulous?

A living president. A real bona fide, empathetic leader. A nice guy.

Joe Biden.

Two years ago he was late to the party, having announced his candidacy after a platoon of candidates had already announced. And when he did announce it was greeted with a fair amount of derision. He certainly wasn’t my guy. I was all in with Kamala Harris.

I really had no interest in the guy until Super Tuesday, a year later.

If we take him at his word, he was a reluctant candidate. He ran not for power or prestige, but because he hated what he saw happening to his country. He was initially repulsed by Trump’s “very fine people,” statement regarding the white power march in Charlottesville. Over time the previous administration continued to plumb deeper and deeper into the putrid depths. Every vulgarity must have steeled Biden’s resolve.

Ever since his election in November, Biden has taken on the role that his predecessor never bothered with – that of leader. When Trump went into his self-imposed, post-election sulk, brooding over a lost election and cratering poll numbers, Biden took on the task of reassuring the people; even though as President Elect it was not his place and contrary to protocol. Somebody had to fill the void.  Continue reading

“I’ve got some bad news and I’ve got some good news. Nothing lasts forever.” ~ Kate McGahan, author.

The “where were you when” conversations.
You know the ones. Somebody asks, “So where were you when…? The when is always one those consequential events, usually an unpleasant one. Life’s moments that leave stains that won’t wash out.

For my dad’s generation it was, “Where were you when you heard about Pearl Harbor?”

Where were you when JFK was assassinated? In Mrs. Campbell’s 4th grade class. The school closed and sent the kids home to parents trying to make some sense of it. 
Where were you when the Challenger exploded? At work. I cried.
Where were you when the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake hit? At the local supermarket near the liquor aisle. I’ve never heard so much exploding glass in my life. On my way out the door grabbing a woman who was losing her shit, in tears, frozen; pulling her out by the arm.

For me, the most recent where were you question is, “Where were you when you realized the coronavirus would challenge everything you knew to be true?”

Caffe Sport almost exactly one year ago.

I’ve mentioned that lunchtime more than a few times during the past year and with good reason. It was my “where were you when” moment; another stain.

Caffe Sport is a small restaurant on Green Street, half a block off Columbus, the main drag through San Francisco’s Little Italy. At Caffe Sport it’s garlicky Southern Italian cuisine in abondanza (abundance).

It’s booth seating on heavy wooden bench style seats in front of thick, solid wood tables inlaid with tile. When the tableside conversation gets stale you can kill the time waiting for your meal by gazing at the abondanza of Sicialian kitsch on the walls and ceiling; paintings, sculptures, lamps, tiles, framed maps, and an oversized model of a fishing boat. It’s a limitless collection of junk and stuff and things; almost as if a single square inch of unadorned wall is an affront.

It’s been almost a year to the day since Cora and I had that lunch. We went with the full knowledge that things would change, and change drastically.  We’d no idea what the changes would be or how long they would last. As it turned out we really had no idea. We went out to have our “last supper.”

In Italy, mealtime, every meal, is a celebration, a glorification of life, love, family and friendship. I know this for fact, having sat at many an Italian table during visits to the land of my mother’s birth.

On that day, at that lunch, there was no celebration. It was a concession to an unknown; an ironic comprehension of being on the cusp of something we couldn’t really comprehend.

The dining room was almost empty, the atmosphere quiet and somber.  Not even Dean Martin crooning about the moon hitting “your eye like a big pizza pie,” or the unmistakable Italian aroma of simmering tomatoes, heavy with garlic, could lighten the burden of knowing that things were about to change drastically. Continue reading

“Invite Tranquility

The sea,–
Something to look at
When we are angry.”
~ Reiko Chiba, Hiroshige’s Tokaido in Prints and Poetry

Needing a respite from everything, I recently took a ride to one of my old Pacific Coast haunts.

Muir Beach
Muir Beach is tucked comfortably in a tranquil cove a few miles north of the Golden Gate. Unlike much of the coastline where the mighty Pacific roars and crashes ashore, at Muir Beach the ocean rolls in; slow, soft, languorous.

Muir Beach waters shimmer in the morning sun. View from overlook

In years long past I spent sunny afternoons at Muir Beach. To get to the northern end, the calmest section, where the ocean is at it’s quietest you have to clamor over a rocky spit. This is the only way in or out. At high tide you’re either stuck until the tide recedes or you wade over the spit feeling your way over and around the rocks.

The water is cold and you have to steel yourself to go for a swim. I’d dive beneath the surface, swim until I got tired and then I would  just float on my back, soothed by the rocking of the water while I looked up at the blue sky. It was as if I was in a gently swaying liquid hammock. Sometimes I would perch at the water’s edge beneath the cliffs at the cove’s end and just look out at the ocean.

Back on shore, the numbing cold would hit me and I would lay on a towel, warming in the sun, eyes shut, and slip into a light sleep to the sound of the rolling ocean and shore birds.

Waves at the more exposed southern end of the beach are usually modest and gentle.   

Years later I learned that great white sharks sometimes lurk off the Muir Beach shore. Continue reading

February wanes; the Year of the Rat is done. A foul rodent of a year, leering through sharp filthy teeth has passed and given way to the ox. In ordinary healthy times San Francisco’s Chinatown would now be winding down from the February festivities. February is when Chinatown typically dresses up in it’s finest, brightest gold and red.

Chinatown in February has always, whether in lean times or flush, been a cultural feast. It teases the senses. The brilliant red of the ubiquitous lucky money envelopes, the multi-colored dragons and lion dancers and the big parade itself, a brilliant canvas of colors and joyful faces.

The popping of thousands of firecrackers; the beating drums and the clanging cymbals and gongs that accompany the gyrating lion dancers. Leave the acrid odor of spent firecrackers on the street and enter the aroma of a banquet room of New Years’ delights. The crunch and pleasing warmth of a freshly fried spring roll. And the tastes; the sweetness of rice cakes; juicy tang of a tangerine; a savory slice of roasted chicken or a whole steamed fish blessed with ginger and soy.

February is a time when the Asian community looks forward to prosperity and good fortune. This COVID year, prosperity and good fortune have been hard to come by. The Year of the Rat delivered a trio of curses; the virus itself, economic hardship and a spate of violence incited by a former president and his acolytes; a malevolent group searching for someone to blame, found Asians to be a target of opportunity.

Despite it all the community has been resilient. It’s pulled together to do what little was possible, while doing as much as it could to observe the changing of the Zodiac.

Anyone who has read this blog and my posts on Chinatown knows my affection for The City’s cultural jewel. It’s a place of memories that reach back to my childhood.

Readers of this blog also know that I usually stay away from kitsch laden, touristy Grant Avenue. I prefer to keep to the streets, the alleys and the shops where the community and culture are alive and authentic.

Early in February I took a Sunday walk up Grant Avenue, curious to see what COVID has wrought. On a Sunday during the run up to the Lunar New Year parade, one should expect to weave in and out of a nine block long stream of foot traffic; to join a crowd gathered to watch a troupe of lion dancers or to see people hopping comically away from a string of exploding firecrackers.

Below, Chinatown in the pre-COVID times. 


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“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” Everything has a price.
I’m not giving away anything really tangible here.
Everything has a cost. In this case the cost is your time. I hope that it’s time well spent.

There’s fabulous and maybe not so fabulous this Friday.

What’s fabulous?
Vaccine, and plenty of it. Bloomberg is predicting that there will be enough of the precious juice squeezed out by the drug companies to vaccinate 130 million people by the end of March and 200 million by the end of April.

Based on Pfizer and Moderna predictions, Politico estimates that 3 million doses per day could be available by April.

Not so fabulous?
CNN continues to hammer away with bad news about variants, and persists in interviewing experts who prescribe a bitter concoction of conflicting theories and predictions. All of this is squashing elation over the vaccine news, while fueling depression, frustration and confusion. While we’re at it, I’m over it with Sanjay Gupta.

What’s fabulous?
My wife got her first vaccine dose. She got the Pfizer. Since I got the Moderna I guess we’ll be reacting differently when we pass the 5G towers and we probably got different microchips implanted; George Soros? Bill Gates? Microchips notwithstanding I’m just delighted and can’t wait for her to get her second dose.

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Rush Limbaugh died last week.

No prayers and very few thoughts (at least not positive ones) or as my favorite blogger Eden Baylee noted to me “tots and pears.” Not so sure about pears but I’m always up for some Tater Tots – with a splash of ketchup of course.

It’s said that we aren’t supposed to speak ill of the dead but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak the truth about them, and if the speaking is ill, well… Those who do damage in life and leave that damage after life deserve accountability. The devastation that Limbaugh left requires due commentary.

Limbaugh birthed the collapse of discourse. He was a mean spirited man who tossed out scurrilous comments with aplomb.
In 1992 he called then 12 year old Chelsea Clinton a “dog.”
In 2006 Limbaugh accused Michael J. Fox of “exaggerating the effects” of Fox’s Parkinson’s Disease.
The targets of Limbaugh’s slanders are legion:
He called Kurt Cobain “a worthless shred of human debris.”; Sandra Fluke a “slut.”; Iraq War vets, “phony soldiers” and mocked victims of AIDS.

While much of the world either sloughed off Limbaugh’s death, breathed a sigh of relief or reminded itself of his toxicity, Fox News reacted as if Jesus had just died (again).

A few days ago I read a Facebook comment denying that Limbaugh was racist. The commenter had clearly missed such Limbaugh gems as:
Calling President Obama the “house negro.”
A blanket denigration of the NBA, “I think it’s time to get rid of this whole National Basketball Association. Call it the TBA, the Thug Basketball Association, and stop calling them teams. Call ’em gangs.”
A barb aimed at Mexicans (and I imagine the Latinx community in general) “Let the unskilled jobs that take absolutely no knowledge whatsoever to do — let stupid and unskilled Mexicans do that work.”
I was tempted to respond to the commenter but realized that there’s no end game there. Arguing with someone drunk on Limbaugh’s brand of snake oil is as rewarding as arguing with any other drunk. Drunk is drunk, doesn’t matter the intoxicant.

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