Friday, September 28, 2007

Time Travels

So, we're all older now. Most of us have gained weight and lost hair. What hair remains on our heads tends to be gray, white, or silver.

Beyond these superficial changes, however, those of us who contributed to building Rolling Stone magazine over 30 years ago remain much as we were.

A few of our crowd have become famous, rich, successful to a degree that few attain in any era.

Others of us have been reasonably successful, living more or less normal middle-class American lives.

And the rest of us are dead. Like Hunter.

Reunions have never been my thing. But this is a season of reunions for me. The 30th reunion of the Michigan Mafia. The 30the reunion of RS's departure from SF. Earlier this year, Mother Jones' 30th anniversary.

These things go on and on.

The older you get, the more you try to go back in time. When you are young, by contrast, you can't wait to grow up, to be older.

That is a human dilemma. We rarely seem to be capable of appreciating our current age and circumstances. Yet, that is what we have now, not back then or not necessarily in the future.

Live in this moment.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Our eyes

I don't know how to begin this story, so I guess I'll just wing it.

Once upon a time, there was a man. He was nothing special, just an ordinary guy, except that he couldn't turn the voices off inside his head.

Throughout his childhood, he throttled these voices as well as he could. After all, who wants to be branded a weirdo?

A complicating factor about this man was his name gave itself to an all-too obvious nickname among the cruel classes, who of course surround us, and that nickname was "weirdo."

So, that is as it is and was, and there's nothing particularly significant about his situation. That he may have been overly sensitive about the insults hurled his way only shows how privileged he was, growing up as he did in a place and a time where words were the main weapon hurled at outsiders, as opposed to machetes that cut off your head.

Still, weirdos have to grow up just as inevitably as those in the in-crowd. We all have to take our place in the natural order of things.

This boy-man managed to navigate his way through his 20s and 30s, achieving a modicum of success along the way, before his mid-life crisis hit with a thundering roar like a desert windstorm in the Valley of the Dead.

Ever since then, he has been a wanderer, moving here and there, seeking what comfort as is offered, following the setting sun and the rising moon. He's just another "guy on the lost highway."

The nice thing is whenever he makes eye contact with a fellow traveler, they both know exactly what I am talking about.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Bye bye baby, baby goodbye*

As hard as it may be to believe, all things, good or bad, do come to an end. Tonight was that time in San Francisco. I took my lovely 13-year-old, who cannot even remember a time before Barry Bonds, to an exceptionally emotional baseball game.

Does that seem strange? That a "game" can be as emotional, say, as a wedding or a birth or a funeral?

My son and I earlier drove to the medical clinic where he had a growth removed from his inside lip last week. This was a routine follow-up visit, to make sure everything was fine, and it apparently is.

Then, we headed to (pick your) Telephone Company Park. Let me pause to say I absolutely hate AT&T, the third pathetic company to hang its name on what should rightfully be known as Barry Bonds Park.

If Yankee Stadium is the "House That Ruth Built," our fine downtown stadium truly is "The House That Bonds Built."

It was a joke of a game. The Padres destroyed the Giants. Barry batted three times, in the 2nd, the 4th and the 6th. He grounded out weakly twice and then hit a monster fly ball that fell just short of the center field wall in his last at bat in a Giants' uniform.

We, his crowd, stood for every pitch he saw as a batter for our team for the final time. We so much wanted to see one more home run, but it was not to be.

He was playing hurt, which was all too painfully clear. I recall only three defensive plays in this, his absolute last game as an outfielder. (If his career gets extended next year, it will be as a DH in the AL.) He sort of scuffed at two drives, diving but missing one, and dropping the ball in both.

He ran a long way and made a catch on the third.

But he was limping visibly the whole night.

Is baseball emotional? After he almost, but not quite, hit a HR in his final at bat, he hugged the pitcher for the opposing team, pointed into the opposition dugout in a gesture of respect, and disappeared into the Giants' dugout.

We all knew that this was it; that the end had come. A tremendous thunder erupted from the throats of 40,000+ fans in China Basin at this moment. It is not something you can explain rationally. It was a primal scream.

Bonds came out for one last curtain call, and then it was over.

This, too, must pass. He's an old man, Barry Bonds, with more demons and ghosts than most of us carry around in this life.

As we walked to our car afterwards, my gentle, yet fiercely competitive, athletic son captured our night: "Dad, I felt like I wanted to cry when Barry went off in the end."

That is the male dilemma, you see. We feel like crying but we don't. Not on the outside, anyway.


* The Four Seasons (as covered by Bay City Rollers)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


First of all, that good-looking guy in my mirror was not trying to make a fashion statement. Here's what happened. He was worried about some stains on various articles of clothing and bedding in his flat, so his gal pal told him about this amazing product called bleach.

It truly is magic. The aforementioned stains disappeared so nicely that when our hero spotted a stain on his favorite jeans, he simply added the bleach to the wash. Unfortunately, the jeans were not alone in that particular load. There were T-shirts, boxers, socks, etc.

Even a particularly sad-looking towel, which we will not embarrass by showing here. (Who knows, towels may well have feelings.)

This week's visit to the beach featured a different tide (low), no wind whatsoever, and some nice big surfing waves yesterday afternoon. I'd imagined it would be a good day to find seaglass, but I was wrong.

On the other hand, it was a great day for pretty stones.

These are weird days. When you are between jobs, everyone has an opinion as to what you should do. (Sort of like being a single Dad.) Me, I just feel like floating for a while, considering all options.

The Happy Family is still hanging around, and they have not yet offered to pay any rent. Luckily, they are all slowly growing smaller, taking up less room, and they never make any real demands.

Today I went downtown to my buddy Tom's office. I was amazed by the transformation of The Embarcadero around the Ferry Building. Tom generously gave me two prime tickets to tomorrow night's Giants game. That, of course, is scheduled to be Barry Bonds' last home game ever in San Francisco.

My 13-year-old, still recovering from his dental surgery, and I, will be there together, thanks to Tom, at a sold-out ballpark primed to pay tribute to the greatest hitter any of us will ever see.

Meanwhile, tomorrow is a big day around here for another reason.

The Japanese member of our little family is coming back from several weeks in Tokyo.

We've been cleaning the old place up for her.



Monday, September 24, 2007

Jews in San Francisco History.1

Many times I have said that the best thing about American society is our cultural, racial, ethnic, and religious diversity. Tonight, I want to talk about a book recently published by Rabbi Edward Zerin, entitled Jewish San Francisco, and also recommend that anyone interested in the history of the Bay Area give it a read. (The book is easily available via

Ed sent me a signed copy of the book recently; he had been a "student" in one of my memoir classes for people 50+. But, long before he attended my classes, which in the words of my friend Susan Hoffman were more like "performance art pieces," Ed was an accomplished writer, having published a number of books on Judaism.

The thing I love about Ed's latest book is how he clearly lays out the major contributions Jews have made over the past 158 years to make the San Francisco Bay Area a major metropolitan area. Today, we have the third largest Jewish population in the U.S., behind only New York and LA.

Here are a few of the names and the details that make Ed's book such a joy to peruse:

* By 1880, San Francisco's population of 233,000 (which was a quarter of the entire state's population) made it the most important city on the Pacific Coast. Of this number, we had 16,000 Jews.

* From the beginning, the European Jews who came here (escaping persecution in the old World) devoted themselves to establishing successful businesses locally, and supporting diversification through many avenues, including philanthropy and other forms of social responsible activities.

* The names of our Jewish pioneers read like a Who's Who of the builders of this great city, most of them starting in the most modest of circumstances: Adolph Sutro, Levi Strauss, Jesse Seligman, the Lazard Brothers, the Haas Brothers, Anthony Zellerbach, Lazarus Dinkelspiel, Alexander Mayer, and many, many more.

* Local Jews contributed massive resources to rebuild San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fire. Rather than take donations from the Red Cross, they turned to the wealthier members of their own community for funds. This left the other charity available for poorer people.

* Another set of names: Steven Breyer, Supreme Court Justice and graduate of Lowell High School; and our two senators from the state of California, bot local Jewish girls: Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

* Let me crib one last list from Ed's fine book, that of some of our local foundations established by Jewish families: Baker, Columbia, Diller, Gold, Goldman, Friedman, Haas, Hellman, Koret, Lauder, Levine-Lent, Maisin, Osher, Rosenberg, Schultz, Saal, Swig, and Taube.

Anyone who has tried to raise money for any worthy cause is familiar with at least some of these organzations.


In other posts, I'll detail some of the contributions of many other groups who built San Francisco -- Italians, Irish, Chinese, Japanese, Russians, African-Americans, Pacific Islanders, and of course Mexicans, who established this town and called it Yerba Buena.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Parting Times

It can be very hard to let go of an old friend, even one you've never actually met, but who has moved into your life far more vividly than some of the people you do know in conventional ways.

You pretty much can find images of our biggest sports hero in every room of our house. My kids have grown up on images of Barry Bonds slugging baseballs hither and yon.

As frequent visitors know, until recently I stuck with Bonds through every controversy, not unlike that most sacred of vows -- "'til death do we part." But then I heard what it is like to tolerate the man's behavior inside the dugout from the perspective of a true team player and competitor, Benjie Molina, and my commitment snapped.

Not just mine. The Giants' management, which has long tolerated Bonds like the selfish, overly-indulged brat he is, finally saw more logic in life without Barry than life with.

It happens, thus kind of parting, in professional and personal terms. Hell it happens to me every year! If I don't lose a job, I lose a special girlfriend, if my marriage doesn't falter my company goes bankrupt.

These are turbulent times, as Alan Greenspan might say. (I've added his book to my Amazon "wish list," or at least I tried to. There seems to have been a tech-ni-cal glitch, as in, I goofed up again.

I never said I was perfect. In this world, there aren't many people who are. But some come closer to perfection than others. They are the old souls among us, even when they still are of a tender age.

One such friend looked in on me this morning. This person would never even consider the notion of perfection when looking in the mirror, but I know a huge heart when I see it, and I can feel its beating.

This truly has been a challenging period for me. My rakishly beautiful 13-year-old red-haired athlete had to have a swollen salivary gland surgically removed on Friday. Before the operation, he had to be given general anesthetics intraveneously. I sat by his side and held his hand as he went under.

Then, an hour+ later, I went back in and held his hand as he started stirring, his swollen lower lip stitched, and the growth shipped off to a lab for analysis. There may not be more trying experiences than sitting with your child when he is ill. I've never had a job that was important enough to miss being with my child at such moments.

I know this was a routine operation, one that should not be a cause for alarm. But it made me once again aware of the terrible helplessness parents feel. Our love can be great, but our power over the real things that matter is so modest as to render us bystanders witnessing whatever fate our offspring will meet.

For a former control freak, a would-be superman, still struggling to understand the difference between what I can control and what I cannot, these are preciously scary, tender, and unforgettable moments.

Forget your stupid jobs. I wouldn't have been anywhere else in the world on Friday but at my son's side. You can't pay me enough, there is no "indecent proposal" that obviates this kind of love.

I understand my limits. I cannot protect my beautiful son from all kinds of threats and dangers. But I can sit next to him in a scary moment and hold his hand.

My dear friend Mark threw a party for me last night, cooking all the food himself, and I got to reconnect and say a better goodbye to some of my colleagues from the office where, until two weeks ago tomorrow, I worked these past two years. We had it at my house & I cleaned the place up specially for the occasion.

Whaddya think? Spiffy?


Our Mud Lake Mafia are in a battle for 9th place as the fantasy baseball season ends. Just a week left.