Saturday, July 28, 2007

Unapologetically: Today's Family Album

As the pace of our lives go, the boys were sleepy as we inched northward to and across the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County for their sleepover with friends.

Earlier today, we had a long, quiet "reading hour," where Aidan and Julia alternatively read to each other, and...

...Dylan read to himself. Middle children! So much can be, and often is, said about them -- their relative independence, their modesty, their emotional maturity. I am not quite sure what I think about these generalizations, but I do observe certain advantages and disadvantages of being sandwiched between older and younger siblings.

The boys have recently taken up a new sport -- tennis -- so the past two days we have spent considerable time in parks near here with tennis courts.

Athleticism carries across individual sports: speed, range, timing cannot be taught.

The strength in arms and legs also cannot be taught. Those gifted few who can swing themselves from any bars at any height always amaze me.

It was another hot summer Saturday, exactly halfway between my oldest daughter Laila's 1st wedding ceremony and her second. A week from now we will be in Nice, for the second. All three Saturdays, it appears, will be hot.

Now, for a few photos from last Saturday, courtesy of Carol Blecker:

Aidan in his second tux.

Dylan escorting flower girls to start the official wedding ceremony.

Julia with her buddy, Charlie.


Friday, July 27, 2007

Here Comes the Sun*

As we age, it must be natural that we gradually begin to perceive new beauty in the world around us. The photos I publish are almost all in my inner-city backyard, not a particularly large or lovely place, but random and messy yet (to me at least) unbelievably rich with life.

Home Beautiful, California Home & Design, Sunset Magazine -- none of them will ever come calling. There is no effort to impress here, no carefully sculpted effect, no real investment. No outside consultants, no fertilizers, no pesticides.

The output of this urban garden might keep one small person alive for a few weeks, but it hardly qualifies as any kind of self-sustaining slice of land, or even anything anyone anywhere might care to emulate.

All it is, really, is a place where my spirit roams, and where my eye discovers endless beauties that compel me to snap my unprofessional photos, documenting the seasons.

Even in this modest place, every day is different. It will never be Thoreau's pond (which I have visited), but it is the here and now of my existence, and therefore the tiny piece of this globe most familiar to me these several years, as I struggle to recover enough physical, financial, and psychological health to migrate or immigrate to some sort of place where I can either grow much more food, see many more baseball games, or collect much more seaglass.

I would never claim that any reader would find these photos or these posts particularly relevant or meaningful. For me, this is mainly about appreciating what is within reach, because I am neither rich nor irresponsible enough to travel to the places where I would wish to spend my remaining years.

Many of us face this future, I imagine, especially when you consider that we Americans are the richest people on earth. What must be confusing to everyone else all over earth is that the great majority of us in this land are trapped by circumstances that preclude us living the easy life others may imagine we pursue. Our movies and our novels are fantasies, you see.

Our reality is feeding our kids, tending the modest homes where we reside (rarely our own), and eventually giving in to some passion or addiction or another, which plunges us immediately and permanently in debt to the credit card companies that control and dictate all aspects of mainstream American society.

In order to support this blog, please enter your credit card number and expiration date below!

(Just kidding.) There is no below.


News Bulletin: Tonight, at China Basin, Barry Bonds hit HR #754, so he's now just one behind Hank Aaron's record. All of the players who have pursued the records originally set by Babe Ruth have faced terrible pressure -- check out the death threats Hank Aaron faced or the agony of Roger Maris when he hit 61 HRs in 1961, to break the Babe's sacred season mark of 60, a total no one could surpass for 34 years.

It was even longer until Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa both broke Maris's record, partially (as we now know) helped by "performance enhancing drugs." That, apparently was what provoked Bonds to also go down Steroid Highway.

Now, it seems like everyone hates Bonds, but that is only appropriate, given the American tradition of booing each man who approaches these sacred historical numbers.

As for me, I feel privileged to witness what Bonds is doing, which is in no way less valid that what the Babe, McGwire, Maris, Sosa, or the rest have done. Prediction: Alex Rodriguez will be the next "Bonds," and therefore the first Latino to surpass what is supposedly the most important record in sports, U.S.-style.

Will he face the same cultural anger now directed to Barry? I don't know, but I hope not, in that season, probably around 2017, when *he* becomes the greatest HR hitter of all time.

And then, of course, there will be another.

But, records are not only meant to be broken, plus they are in the custody of rich men, who determine who gets to play at all. In terms of gross numbers, regardless of that, the two greatest HR hitters of all time, worldwide, were probably Josh Gibson and Sadaharu Oh.


* Need I even say it? Courtesy of the greatest band of all time, the Beatles.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Rambling Wreck 1.1

Today, the boys went with me to work. This is a frequent enough occurrence that few people comment on my propensity to take kids to the office with me any longer. For their part, the kids have learned to adapt to whatever work environment I'm in, so at my current company, they keep their voices very low, often in whispers, because the only sound there most of the time is the sound of fingers tapping keyboards.

On that score, somebody made fun of my typing today. This has been a common complaint throughout my career -- "How can you be a writer when you can't even type?"

Another version is many people's assumption that I cannot spell, because of the typos and transpositions that cloak my IM and email messages much like the runaway invasive Brazilian Pepper ("Florida Holly") once strangled out local vegetation in the shell islands in Florida, as well as throughout the other tropical regions of the state.

Brazilian Pepper is difficult to control once it invades an ecosystem, because it sends up root suckers and new shoots when its trunk is cut, and it produces a huge crop seeds that are spread around by birds. Like many invaders, it looked kinda pretty to new eyes visiting the region, as I first did in the '60s.

But its surface beauty quickly was replaced by revulsion as I came to appreciate how much damage it was doing to the native vegetation, which, unlike this invader, had slowly and painfully established itself in this forbiddingly hostile environment -- sand ground from shells, trapped by mangroves, slowly fertilized by seaweed, birds, fish, and dead wood.

Soon, the delicious but hazardous prickly pear grew in these islands, along with the exotic Carissa, Poinciana, key lime, Florida papaya, as well as a number of edible, crunchy seaweed vines that thrive above the tidelines. I gathered and ate all of these foods at an earlier age. You must have tasted key lime pie; if not, you are in for a treat someday, one you really shouldn't miss.

We used to watch sea manatees lazily work their way through the muddy Bay waters, porpoises dive and play, huge rays jump, clouds of mackerel migrate, sheep head nibble the barnacles on wooden docks, and -- at low tide -- all the strange little shelled creatures crawl their slow crawl across the sand.

Several times I found eels, seahorses, small sharks, along a host of other strange creatures.

Snorkeling in the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the South Pacific, and the Caribbean, I eventually came to appreciate the astonishing diversity of life that flourishes all along our dwindling coral reefs.

Once, at sunset, my brother in law Ty and I snorkeled offshore from Tioman -- a magical tropical island that was one of the shooting locations for the legendary musical South Pacific -- out in the South China Sea off the east coast of Malaysia, when we roused a giant sea tortoise that immediately sped away seaward. (These creatures may be slow on land, but they can move just fine in the ocean.)


I have no idea why tonight I am swept away by memories of Oceans Past. I have not been for a swim since Hawaii in '05 and Mexico in earlier '05. I'm not sure I've been on any kind of real vacation since then, I just don't remember, but if I have been, it certainly was not tropical.

I've long been a sucker for the tropics, even if I rarely go there. That kind of environment seems to unlock something hidden deep inside, a part of personality that somehow survived a childhood in the frozen north, like a spore waiting for warmth to activate its growth; or, more graphically, a male organ waiting for the visual stimulation of a female before starting its inexorable stretching expansion to a width and length that epitomizes male desire, and therefore the continuation of our species, at least until the advent of the Petri dish.

To me, there is no distinction between a tropical beach and sexual desire. They are one and the same. But a beach is so much more than that. It is a place where something much more profound may flower, and that, of course, is insight, and ultimately, potentially, love.

We all wander along the beaches both of our imagining and our choicing. Whether your naked feet in fact touch the sand is beside this point. If you can feel the sand, smell the water, and sense the breeze that hovers just offshore, you're able to be where I'm talking about.


Today, on the way to work, the boys and I listened to Forum, hosted this day by Scott Shafer, like Michael Krasny, a gifted journalist. Scott had a guest arguing that gays and lesbians undermine the morale of the military, and need to therefore be excluded. His other guests, unlike her, seemed reasonable, thoughtful, and nuanced in the comments they delivered.

My boys were talking among themselves and I heard them utter the word "Umbrage," which at first me to believe they were speculating why this negative creature was taking such umbrage at the notion that people of diverse sexual orientations might be able to function as loyal military representatives, just as other minorities have before them.

The boys, though young, are not exactly ignorant in these matters; one has written about the much-decorated "Go For Broke Brigade" of Japanese-American soldiers who fought in World War Two; and the other wrote an imaginative essay from the point of view of a Chinese girl during the Gold Rush.

Of course this is San Francisco, where we've long stopped segmenting ourselves one from the other on the basis of trivialities like gender or sexual orientation. Even so, and despite their excellent intellects, my boys were not employing a rather obscure word in the way I had inferred.

No, they were referring to a despicable character in the Harry Potter stories, a certain Umbrage who represents the worst of humanity in a wizardly sort of way. Upon reflection, I decided they had gotten this particular analogy precisely right. I, for example, take umbrage at those who continue to deny human rights to gays and lesbians.

Why? Ignorance, fear, and prejudice -- these have always baffled me. But then again, I was today only another driver, a commuter, listening to a radio program as I navigated down a highway, spewing waste chemicals out of my tailpipe, squiring my sons to the magic valley of silicon chips, where men still think machines are amazing when they tell them, not a new truth, but exactly what they want to hear.

Where men play with gadgets in fantasy worlds, while the bodies of the poor rot in fields of poverty where we rich men never go.

You see, for me, it is a fine line indeed between my own deep attraction for technological solutions to our huge mutual problems and the indulgences of fools. I walk that line every day, not just now, but ever since I embraced the emergence of the Internet.

None of this technology matters one whit if it doesn't help us learn to care for one another more than we have to date. But, before that can possibly happen, we have to be self-aware enough to calculate our potential effects far outside our self-enclosed bubble.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Lights on the water

It's a cold, wet night in San Francisco. Finally, tonight, with the season half-over and the Giants' fate as a last-place team pretty much sealed, we made our first trip to the park.

Barry Bonds didn't play (after last night's 13-inning marathon) but young pitcher Noah Lowry was masterful and the Giants beat the Braves, 2-1.

We were able to go courtesy of my friend Tom, who supplied us with tickets. From a few rows above the visiting dugout, the view was perfect -- the best way to watch a baseball game. The players are so close; the sounds of the game so loud.

Walking back to the parking lot afterward, we saw the kayaks, a ferry, and the Hornblower yacht hovering offshore in McCovey Cove. As the night aged, the winds fell, the sounds of the ballpark echoed over the Bay, and the happy crowd dispersed home -- to the east, south, west and north.

My house is barely ten minutes away from the park.

I'm only a few days away from my first trip to France in 20 years. The rest of my family that is going has already arrived in Nice. I continue working in the Valley, as if the times were normal.

If this post is boring, I apologize. Sometimes all of our lives become small. Right now, tonight, I'm avoiding big thoughts or ideas. I'm thinking about the sound that the home run Rich Aurilia hit made. There's a certain crack of the bat that signals a homer, and I've been around long enough now to recognize it, as easily as I recognized the small caliber handgun shot that rang out in the night a week ago, or the low rumble of the earthquake that struck here pre-dawn last Friday.

Little moments, like the shards of seaglass I collect. That's me in these types of moods. I see my fan twisting back and forth, I hear it, and twice in every cycle I feel the fresh relief from these hot flashes that course through me.

I think again of Kipling's India.

The local night may not be hot, and no one else around me is, either, but I am drenched in night sweats, unable to find relief. This, too, will pass; all things must.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Foggy Bottom

This isn't a fair title that I have chosen tonight, because I have no intention of writing about the U.S. State Department, one of the less effective government agencies these days. But the fog is settling down on us here, so it feels right.

Nope, tonight, my thoughts are more mundane -- I'm focused on 753 and what it will take to get to 756.

As you may or may not know, the world of sports, American style, is coming to grips with the prospect that Barry Bonds, the greatest and also most controversial hitter of this (and perhaps any other) era, is poised to break the all-time MLB home run record.

There are only three names in America when it comes to HR's: Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, and Barry Bonds. The Babe hit 714, which in my boyhood was considered the record that would never be broken. But Hank Aaron did it, and ended up with 755. Now, Barry Bonds sits two HR's away from tying Aaron's record; three from breaking it.

Tonight, against all expectations, the commissioner of baseball, Bud Selig, announced that he will try to attend the game when Bonds breaks the record. He is at the park tonight, though so far Bonds is 0-2.

This is a much bigger symbolic move than you might appreciate if you don't follow baseball. I believe the reason Selig has changed his position (until today he implied he would not be present for Bonds' big moment) is that Bonds, much more media savvy than most people realize, graciously complemented Selig in a press conference recently.

Flattery will get you everywhere. Barry knows that. Bud showed up. The rest is history; and just in case tomorrow is the big date, we will be there...


Monday, July 23, 2007

What is killing me

One photo by me and five by Junko.

My life is so flawed, despite the joy that must be evident in these photos, that I feel like an idiot.

Sometimes I think we are at war, the creative people vs. the logical people.

We do not understand each other, and maybe we never will.

The only hope, I feel, for romantic spirits is to connect with each other and defend our type against the relentless march of the robots who threaten to render us all irrelevant.

I'm certain I cannot fit into the logical future; my sort can only be comfortable in a more ambiguous world.

Can I say it? I hate what some people do to me, never apologizing, blaming me, it is so unfair. It's hard for me to post this, but if the shoe fits, wear it, baby. And from now on, please leave me alone!

The World Without Me

photo by Malaika Costello-Dougherty

Alan Weissman's new book, The World Without Us, is vision of earth without humans. On MyWire tonight, there is an Editor's Collection of articles about the book and its message. There also is this imaginative video:

Even as I am celebrating my precious daughter's marriage, or maybe because of that, I am acutely aware of how vulnerable we as a species are, and that makes me sad. We continue to live our lives, most of us, as if we had an inalienable right to be on this planet.

But all the evidence points to the rise and fall of all species. Each has its time; few are able to persist. "Nature" is harsh.

At the wedding reception, Uncle Ty was telling my 12-year-old Aidan about his 20 acres of swampland on Sanibel Island. Over the years, Ty has laid boards throughout his property, so that people can tour this otherwise inaccessible paradise without damaging fragile plants and animals in the process.

You can also kayak back through the jungle in narrow canals. Here and there, an alligator surfaces and thrashes frighteningly. There are spiders, snakes, lizards, insects of many varieties, shorebirds, eagles, ospreys, raccoons, possums, many fishes, and (possibly still) a rare Florida Panther or two.

In the jungle, it is easy to feel small. The mangroves are twisted and filled with poisonous hazards. Their roots are above the waterline at low tide and they catch bits of the seashells that are the building blocks of these sandy islands.

As the globe heats up, courtesy of the chemicals we continue to arrogantly pour into the atmospheric cloak that allows us (and other creatures) to breathe and to avoid frying from solar radiation, in the name of modern refrigeration, air conditioning, and automotive convenience, among other atrocities, we are creeping closer to the moment of destruction.

It pains me as a man, a father, a grandfather, that those younger than me, including all of these relatives and friends I hold so dear, will likely bear the consequences of a world gone mad. There is no comfort in knowing my time here is growing shorter, that each day that passes finds me walking slightly slower, slightly more bent, my hair whitening and dying, my skin wrinkling and blotching, my memories either escaping me (which is a real pisser) or torturing me (with unwanted clarity).

In the end, I imagine, all that will be left of me is my voice. I'll write, if I can, until I die. As with all other writers, I do this because I have to. There is no other option. Tonight, in the middle of so much happiness and beauty, perhaps the peak of what any human could wish for, I feel that we all are like flowers, doomed to bloom from small buds, open slowly, accept what is given to us, take what we are able to, in kindness or by aggression, in happiness or depression, with serendipity or by tragedy, with wholeness or in part, by collectivity or utterly alone, in weakness or by strength, mindlessly or with wisdom, but that, in the end, none of it matters, because all flowers die.

Tonight, I smell the sweetness of Thai orchids in a bowl in my kitchen, and contemplate my lovely daughter's amazing humanity.

It is tomorrow that I dread.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Magical Time

When my first child was very young, she believed in magic. She invented entire worlds, some of which were based in nearby Golden Gate Park. (We lived in the Haight.)

At that time and in that place, magic was not necessarily as foolish as it may appear to be today, in an era of irrational rationalism.

In any event, yesterday the gods were on *our* side. Sandwiched between two cold, dark, windy, foggy days, my first-born's wedding day was graced by perfectly gorgeous summer weather.

I like to think that San Francisco, the place, was just paying her back, for growing up here, and casting her beauty so unselfishly over this little peninsula.

Now her home is far away, down on the southern tip of South America, but for Laila, San Francisco will always be home.

Her mom wrote a children's story that I do not think has ever been published that captures the essence of growing up in GG Park.

The wedding and the party afterward were so much fun. As my son-in-law Loic observed, it was a great party since the police showed up, ~2 a.m., responding to complaints about the noise.


Last night was the kind of night you wish could never end; the time when everyone and everything is so perfect that if only you could stop time, and preserve the moment, the experience of being alive would be pure ecstasy.

But, of course, all good things must end.

Though, in our memories, the most special moments of all love on, forever and ever. That is how this night was for all of us, Laila and Loic.


Maybe my favorite moment was when Melissa sang a beautiful rendition of "Crazy," Patsy's Cline's classic, for Laila and Loic's first dance.






Magical Time...

Thank you, Laila & Loic.

Love, Dad