Saturday, December 27, 2008

Down Days

So much for plans. My knuckle continues to swell up and the hand is discolored. it hurts but not a lot. But driving for long periods is out of question. So I'm confined to San Francisco for now.

Here are today's shots:

Shouldn't type a lot. It's getting dark outside, and a bit gloomy. A sense of inevitable doom settles over the city. With night come the window smashers and thieves, the homeless and the army of recyclers through this poor neighborhood.

Some inflamed organ or two battles with the swollen hand for my attention. Pain here, pain there, aging is not fun.

Still, many were out on the streets this day. Many shoppers, bargain-hunters, I guess. Myself, I bought gloves, a basting kit and dish detergent at the dollar store for $3 and $0.26 tax for the state, which is broke.

California needs a bailout. The budget deficit is larger than many countries' GDP. The Governor wants drastic action; the legislature is hopeless. Services for the old, weak, hurt, poor, and damaged are being cut. More and more "middle class" people are showing up seeking meals at the shelters and food banks.

Corporate contributions have been cut, so the stores of foods are dwindling. It could be a long, cold winter.


Friday, December 26, 2008

A Visitor to a Barren Yard

Our favorite neighborhood cat, Oliver, stopped by today just in time to cheer up my friend as she was feeling down in the dumps. It's a bummer to be sick during a holiday, but sick she is, with a fever and body pains.

A planned road trip hangs in the balance. Will we actually go or not?

The city is emptied of many residents, who are traveling for the holidays. This includes all of my children, three of whom are visiting the mountains of Oregon and three of whom are sunning on Sanibel Island in Florida.

Here, an unknown miscreant is breaking into our cars at night. My car was hit Monday night, my Chinese neighbor who smokes on her back porch awoke on Christmas to find her car's driver side window smashed in, the hood sprung, and anything she might have had inside gone. Her Dad told me another neighbor's car window had also been broken recently.

As I am care-taking my second ex-wife's car for a few days, I've been parking it directly outside my bedroom window at night, alert for any sign of trouble. Last night, I woke up periodically and went outside. Once, I spotted a suspicious fellow who seemed to try to shrink from my stare.

I came back inside, but stayed at the window. A few minutes later, this man passed quickly, pushing his grocery cart of recyclables. That, to my mind, makes him an unlikely suspect in this wave of break-ins.

Later, during a rather feverish night, I had to fight off some bad guys in my dream. Somehow, I managed a muffled roar and a vicious punch to the face of the main leader, and then awoke to the painful reality that I'd smashed my right fist into the metal headstand of my bed.

How do you know if you have a broken knuckle? Is the swelling, discoloration, and a moderate degree of pain significant? I doubt it.


Meanwhile, in Japan, one of the most intriguing developments in recent years has been the rise in popularity of the "cell-phone novel" genre. These keitai shosetsu are typically written by very young women entirely on their mobile phones, and published under one-word handles.

The actual identities of the authors remain mostly unknown. Their stories concern love and loss, tragedy and recovery, betrayal and resolution. They are written interactively, i.e., a girl will start posting her "diary" on a site called "Magic Land," where many others read it and urge her on.

These novels are becoming so popular that eight of the top ten selling novels in book form this year are republished keitai shosetsu.

Each of these tales is divided into short, tantalizing excerpts -- the typical post takes about three minutes to read, which is also the average time between stops on the Japanese train system. But this new literary form is heavily criticized by the entrenched book publishing industry in Japan, which prides mastery of the much more traditional forms of Japanese writing, even though it remains male-dominated and out of reach of all but a small group of intellectuals.

In this way, the keitai shosetsu represent a revolutionary literary development in a land where women remain oppressed in ways Americans can barely imagine.


Sidewalk's Christmas

"Sidewalk Christmas Tree" (on loan from Sidewalk Images.)

It's that special time of year when our sister site, Sidewalk Images, reviews the year in photos, which so far means 189 entries for 2008.

Overall, since 2006, 483 images have been captured at the site, mainly in the streets around our World Headquarters here in the Mission district of San Francisco. This year, alas, Sidewalk Images, feeling the effects of a down-turned economy, is not publishing the popular Sidewalk Images Calendar.

Popular is a relative term; although extremely popular here at World Headquarters, the calendar has failed to find much of a market elsewhere. Sales, in fact, still stand at zero but our ever-hopeful marketing division continues to generate hopeful reports about the potential market that may eventually develop out there, somewhere.

We do occasionally receive inquires from place-oriented blogs that aggregate such work about carrying Sidewalk Images, which we always gratefully assent to. We also have been known to indulge our own viewing pleasure by flipping back through some of the 483 posts.

It was, indeed, quite the year in the stories and patterns that emerged from our streets.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

No Horse, and no Sleigh

To my way of thinking, the most amazing part of any religion is the part that asks a person to suspend logic and just believe in magic (or faith).

But even that idea is revealingly ethnocentric, as I have learned from my many friends and lovers from other cultures. Most people in this world actually believe in ghosts, spirits, little beings, and other inexplicable forces.

But in our empirical world, everything we do can be measured, and is. Apparently, as Americans, that means our consumption habits establish how much we matter. Mind you, as an old Marxist (since reformed) this offends me deeply.

But in the spirit of being a true-blue American, I am about to reveal to you my most inner secrets (apparently) in the form of my consumption today, the "last shopping day of the year before Christmas."

Ugh, I hate crowds, spending money, and most stores. This at once makes me both a typical male and an un-fun companion for most females. But, over the course of my already quite long life, I've learned to moderate my biases and preferences now and then to accompany the females in my world.

Let's put it this way: If you are a female and have ever had even one good shopping experience with me, that was as large an expression of my love as I have to offer to you.

Let's leave all of this philosophy for some future digital archeologist to reconstruct, shall we? Today, two of the most important females in my current life and I invaded the downtown shopping sector. We found shoes (for my 10-year-old) and shirts (for my 14-year-old) for a total expenditure of $75, ate lunch ($30) at a diner, and paid for our parking ($6), so that comes to $111 we inserted ino the American economy on this, the last shopping day before Christmas.

Personally, I'd rather fantasize about Santa Claus, and all the stuff he might bring me. But that, of course, is better discussed either in therapy or with the cops who wonder why you are wandering around alone on this, the night when anyone with any kind of intact family isn't alone but deeply embedded in the familiar folds of unquestioned love.

Do not misread me. I am not on the street; I am in my home, surrounded by the evidence of the love from so many who sustain me, but tonight my heart is with those who do not have what I have. They don't have money, so they've spent nothing. In American terms, they are of zero value.

Rather like the baby born 2,008 years ago in a manger, no?


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Four Paths of Life

Here is my theory. My beloved car broke down yesterday because I've only given it a North-South experience all these years.

A bit of background: In my youth, having grown up in Michigan, my first cars were big American cars, manufactured in the '60s. They were old by the time I got them, and they broke down with a regularity that provided the bookmarks for the various chapters of my youth.

The last of them was a van of questionable quality, emblazoned with the words "Ft. Myers, Fla." on its sides, which I finally sold to a group of Hawaiian surfers for three $100 bills from our place on Pine Street, in the early '70s, after a burglar had ripped off most our of treasures from Afghanistan from it when it was parked on the alley (Wilmot?) next to SunDance, at 1913 Fillmore, late in 1971.

From then on, I only purchased foreign care -- Volvos and Hondas -- until the year 1999, when we were living in Maryland and I rediscovered Americans cars, specifically Saturns. I shipped the first one out here when we moved back west in 2000, and it did fine, so when the time came in late 2003, when I was a still youthful 56, to for the first time ever to buy a new car, of course, I bought a Saturn!

That little car has performed well these past five years, but the great majority of its service has involved commuting up and down highways 101 and 280, between my home(s) and Excite@Home, Stanford, MyWire, and these days, Predictify.

Last night, my car decided to cry out in protest. The clutch pedal popped up six inches, making it extremely difficult to nurse homeward, where we encountered the dramatic geyser I described last night in this space.

Still later, some desperate soul smashed in one of my rear windows, no doubt seeking something to trade for drugs, alcohol, food or whatever.

But I was oblivious to this early today when I drove the clutch-challenged vehicle to a mechanic a mile from here. I did sense more noise and air from the rear right, but I was too focused on the fog, rain, and faulty clutch to notice that my backseat was filled with broken glass.

When the diagnosis came in, I realized how badly I've treated this loyal friend of mine, this automobile. I bought it at a very low moment, psychologically, after my Mother had died, quite suddenly, and a very special girlfriend had left me, flying off across the Pacific, never to return.

So today, contemplating all of this, I wondered whether I might have prevented my car's breakdown if only I had also allowed it to migrate west and east, which might have provided some of the balance that an auto no doubt covets, as do all creatures, natural or created, here on God's great earth.

The problem is that here in California there is no west. If you try to drive that way, you will have no option but to disappear below the riling surf of the violent Pacific, which continuously slams into our mountainous coast, ripping rocks, trees, bones -- anything his continent has to offer -- down into its foamy brine to be reduced to tiny particles of reminders of what once seemed impregnable, impressive, alive.

You can drive east, but if you do, you will hit first the valley, then the foothills, and then the mighty Sierra. Be prepared. If you are not, this season of the year, you may come face to face with one of the enduring stories that make us Californians shudder -- the Donner party.


Monday, December 22, 2008

One Street's Geyser

You never know what awaits you when you get home to this street at night. Tonight, it was like a visit to Yellowstone Park. A massive geyser had sprouted, spawning an impressive new river flowing down Hampshire Street.

My neighbors were as mesmerized as I was -- we gathered, snapping photos, and trading jokes about who among us was responsible.

When I spoke with one of the street workers wearing hardhats standing just clear of the huge spray, he told me, "We struck a 2-inch transmission pipe." Indicating the cluster of people gathering to witness this urban wonder, he added, "Gives 'em somethin' to talk about."


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Our House to Your House

Happy Holidays 2008.

Cold and Wet is the Shortest Day of the Year

Winter Solstice, 2008.
Post #1,199

This blog has chronicled around 32 months now at the rate of 1+/day. It shows no signs of petering out any time soon, so here's today's report:

There's a large pork roast in the oven, a small, fresh new tree in the window, pumpkin pie on the counter, and a candle burning.

Most of my relatives are enduring fierce snowstorms this weekend. Here, we have cool temperatures (for us) and soft rains. I'm not really participating in any shopping frenzy this year. Money is tight, my jobs are demanding, and there is a division of responsibility over such matters.

My friend regrets that I do to enjoy shopping. She described a scene yesterday, at the downtown shops, with so many men patiently waiting and carrying bags while the women scoured the shelves for deals.

They were, she thought, like dogs. (She likes dogs.)

I'm a domestic Dad, but in different ways. After filling our kitchen with groceries, I savor cooking meal after meal for my large family, and the occasional friend who drops by as well. Much of this particular weekend my four youngest are here with me, including all three sons.

There was a popular TV show in my youth -- "My Three Sons." I always fantasized being in that position; little did I know I also could produce a show about "My Three Daughters;" and by late summer, it now comes to be, I can produce yet another show called "My Three Grandchildren!"

Yep another little descendant is on his or her way up in Portland town!

Meanwhile, way up in Traverse City, my dear niece Kristin is about to deliver her second child sometime this winter.

'Tis the season to be frugal. This year's tree is a mini-tree, which costs a quarter of last year's. Given the state of our economy, and my personal feeling of zero security at work, it only seemed appropriate to keep as much change in our collective pocket as possible.

I will be legally single any day now, either late this year, or early next year. Then, Act Three can officially get under way...