Saturday, October 31, 2009


I had to warn my 13-year-old son, who is quite possibly the most gentle being on the planet, that he has grown so tall lately that his choice of a black Israeli gas mask to complement his all-black Halloween outfit might actually frighten a parent here or there along his route tonight.

Still, if anyone looks through this scary mask to his eyes, he or she will sense his essential sweetness, I trust.

So my question is, why does such a sweet boy choose such a scary outfit? Maybe the answer is too obvious.

Meanwhile, what is going on with his little sister's soccer team? These are the kids who lost 19 straight until a couple weeks ago when they won a game 1-0. Then they tried another team 0-0, in their final regular season game.

That allowed them to make the playoffs. Today they beat their opponents 4-0. Huh? Do things change that fast. Are they now a powerhouse?

Apparently, in the world of kids, anything is possible.

Maybe us oldsters should think about that. When was the last time you thought anything was still possible for you?

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Slave's Revolt

Yesterday I went downtown for a meeting with an idea in my head.

That idea was to carry my broken sunglasses in the pocket of my suit coat and hope to find an eyeglasses place that could fix them.(*) I had about 15 extra minutes in my travel plans to make this happen.

Why only fifteen minutes?

Because that is, sadly, in this modern world of ours, about as much padding as a busy urban professional can ever spare for something so...unprofessional.

Many people, I suspect, find themselves looking at a broken pair of sunglasses as an opportunity to try their basketball moves, you know, a hook shot to the trash can.

Fewer, probably, when the sunglasses are prescription models (as are mine) but even then, given that everything is made of plastic these days, it's arguable whether you are better off tossing the crap once it breaks vs. replacing it with a new style the cute Asian girl at your eye doctor's office will inevitably recommend to you.


In the middle of all of this drama, or at least what passes for drama in my little life (as Monte Python would say), I started recalling an exercise I once participated in at a teachers' retreat. The predication for the exercise was John Hersey's classic book, Hiroshima, which if you have never read, you simply must.

As I recall the work, he posits that six people who survive that horrific bomb find themselves in a raft or small boat, bouncing around the ocean, and suddenly realize their complete inter-dependence on one another for their continued survival.

In the intellectual exercise I participated in, all of us were newly sensitive to how valuable those of us with concrete skills -- like plumbers, carpenters, electricians, nurses, farmers, welders -- are when our very life depends on them being here for us.

I do not recall any role, however, for story-tellers, photographers, comedians, painters, poets, or technicians, which actually puts a huge proportion of us in our modern culture at risk of being eaten, should calamity strike, once you begin to think about this in any determined way.

Me and myself, the son of a working class man, have both always been modest in our heart(s) about what (we) have to offer you, our fellow occupants of that metaphorical boat. The very best I, for instance, can ever do is to tell you a story. Every time I keystroke in words here, at this virtual space, that is what I am trying to do.

I have no other value to you. If you like the story, you will feel better for the experience. Maybe you will even come back. Maybe you will even comment, or (God Forbid!) take a more useful action, those actions that must not be spoken, according to the terms of being a blogger with ads on his site.

The Blog Police are watching. If I even hinted at what would help me to keep doing this work, I would be exterminated.

Such is what the world of a marginal member of that vulnerable human raft is, circa 2009. We are not even allowed to suggest what others could do to help us keep going, even as one of the richest companies in the world benefits from our content work.

If this blog ever disappears, that will be why. Or else that I have died. I am just one of many slaves of the 21st Century, and only you, dear visitor, can cut our chains.

(*) Assuming I do not forget, which is a major assumption, I will soon tell you how my sunglasses got fixed, not at an eyeglasses company, which in turn is a very relevant conversation we all should be having...


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Loving and Watching

You know, as a writer, that your "voice" is back when you start dreaming entire stories, blog posts, even books at night. I've been "writing" so many things in my mind these past 24 hours that no matter how much (or little) time I actually have left as a sentient being on this planet, only a portion of these writings will ever achieve a form that anyone else can experience.

That's a good problem to have, if you are me. Better to have too much inventory than too little, eh?

Much of these unwritten writings in my mind are about love of all kinds. I think we sometimes are too limited in our definition of love, and how we express it to one another.

Some loving acts hurt -- badly. These can take the form of truth-telling when the recipient doesn't want to hear that truth.

Some love is subversive. It erupts spontaneously in ways and at times that could not be more inconvenient. But it still is love.

Some is predictable. If you devote yourself to another, through thick and thin, as the cliche goes, you may not experience the highs and lows of romantic love all that often in your life, but you may find a deeper meaning by staying connected to your soul-mate.

Perhaps no one knows about the "inside of love" (Nada Surf) as much as two ninety-year-olds who have been together seventy years. At least that is my fantasy idea, one utterly unconnected from my kind of life.


Then there is the ache of the love of a father for his son who his hurt and cannot compete.

That's him, with the red hair, between his coaches. His swollen, twisted ankle precluded play today, but he was with his team as they accomplished something no one associated with the school's soccer program can recall happening -- they beat the mighty Lowell team 1-0 -- at Lowell.

They did this with less than half as many players. And with about six of us as fans against maybe 50 from Lowell. (Nobody attends high school soccer games in San Francisco.)

So the regular season is over and now they go to the city playoffs next Wednesday.

I'm trying to ice my son's ankle tonight in order to get him ready to play next week.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Who I Am

Maybe it's funny.

From many of the comments I get on these posts, visitors seem more worked up by my random political views or my business opinions than my personal concerns, but when it comes to my personal passions, they remain diametrically opposed to this sort of world view.

I know any of my children, at whatever age, could put any visitor straight.

That when I embrace liberal, conservative, radical, libertarian, mainstream, or outlier views, I am really only engaging intellectually. Like many people who have worked as professors in colleges for years, I tend to indulge in the exchange of ideas mostly as an educational process.

Any good teacher knows that when you venture into territory where you maintain some uncertainty yourself, you will likely prove more effective in the classroom.

On the other hand, if you adopt a know-it-all approach, and just lecture, your students will probably become bored, and let their attention wander.

In addition, as a journalist, I have spent a professional lifetime cultivating an informed state of uncertainty -- of not really deciding, you might say -- about issues that others feel passionate about.

It is important for me to do so, because it is important for some people in a society like ours to keep channels open with all sides on the issues that divide us. And to remind all of us that, like it or not, we are all in this thing together.

So, if you ever scroll down to read some of the comments my posts elicit, you will find that often people seem quite opposed, or angry with what I've written. Does this bother me?

Never. I welcome the debate over ideas, although I admit to not share enough passion about the particulars to engage at that level of true-believer stuff. If I had anything close to that strong a belief about abstract issues like the amount of government that is needed, or the degree of market freedom that is optimal, I would not be me.

I would not be a journalist.

More importantly, I would not be David.

Tonight, David remains unconvinced about the administration's health-care reforms or its financial system reforms. He remains uncertain about most of the great issues of our day.

But he is very worried that his 15-year-old son's ankle injury may be worse than he originally believed. The pain and swelling today were substantial. After all this kid has accomplished, the idea that he may not play tomorrow in the final regular season game, or even worse, next week in the city playoffs for the championship, is utterly heart-breaking.

There is nobody else in this kid's life who is going to lift a finger to help him in this matter. It is uniquely his father's role. And that would be David. If not for me, today he would have walked many blocks up and down a steep hill, no doubt ending his season in the process. He deserves a better fate.

So today at dawn, after a fitful sleep, David went to the boy's mother's house and drove him to school. At one, David drove back and picked him up. He bought him a brace. Later, he gave him Ibuprofen.

He talked with the boy, reminding him about the importance of rest, ice, elevation. Of not walking uphill or downhill, of not trying to do too much too soon.

Finally he warned him that his season could be over. A father has to tell the truth, even when it hurts.

I'm no hero. I am nobody but just somebody like anybody trying to be a good Dad. That is all I strive to be, pure and simple, because it is so hard and it is such a heavy responsibility.

In the process, I did no real work, which always carries dire consequences in this world we have to live in. Were my own needs met? In no way. They seldom are. This was in fact a bad day, for me, especially in any professional sense. A very bad day. But it would have been far worse, in the end, if I didn't do what I did, for him.

I don't give a damn, right now, about health care reform (Sorry, Obama) or bailouts, or the war in Afghanistan, or any other national issue. There are many of you who can worry and debate about those very worthy issues and others.

All I care about is that my kid's ankle heals enough so he can participate in the game next Wednesday afternoon that will help determine who is the San Francisco Unified Public School District's varsity high school soccer champion.

That's it. Politics, economics, theory, money, the right or the left -- they can all wait.

That is who David is. And also his son.


Goodbye to Saturn: My Car's Company

Six years ago I bought a new car for the first time in my life. I bought it the American way -- on time. I didn't feel I could afford a full up-front payment on my paycheck at the time, but I figured I could afford $300/month, which included 60,000 miles of "bumper-to-bumper" maintenance.

It's been a pretty good deal.

But yesterday the car company sent me a letter that confirms this brand is being discontinued.

The name of the company?

Saturn, a former part of GM.

That's America, circa 2009. In a nutshell. My youngest son saw the letter and asked me what it meant tonight.

As I was explaining it to him, he asked me what I was going to do. Financially (without a job for nine months now), the option to buy another car is not there for us. We are ponying up some $800/month just to get health coverage for the kids and me.

At least next month is the final installment of that $300 auto payment.

Money. Some people have more of it than they know what to do with. Most of us have been cutting corners for so long we wouldn't know the next corner if it flashed us from our odometer.

GMAC, the financial arm of GM has already been bailed out by the Feds and is asking for more help. I don't think they should get it.

Plus I know this much: They are not in the red because of my loan. I've repaid every installment, over all 71 months since they kicked in.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Health Care = Soccer Defense (Trust Me)

In my effort to regain my writing voice, tonight I'll return to familiar territory. No more sexy garden stories, for now! But stick around if you don't like sports. I'll get to health care reform, I promise.

My freshman soccer star and his teammates did something that hasn't been done at his large urban high school in a long time, apparently almost three decades. They won their tenth game -- against three losses and two ties.

And in case you think there is anything at all sexy about high school sports, look at those stands.

Empty. That's right. Nobody supports this team, just a tiny cadre of us parents who are either unemployed or retired, and therefore available to root for our kids at 3:45 in the afternoon on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

He's a defender by choice. For those who are not familiar with soccer, there is nothing particularly sexy about being a defender. The best shooters ("strikers") are always closing in on you with their best moves intended to outwit you so they get a clear shot at your goal, and your lone keeper, who will have to make a play if you fail to stop their advance.

The bad news is my kid got hurt today. He twisted his ankle, an ankle that he has injured in the past. So, I do not know how much of the rest of this season he will be able to play (one regular season game and one or two playoff games for the city championship.)

The good news is he again played well, as he has all season, and his team has that record of 10-3-2 after a long period of frustrating, losing seasons.

He's been a big part of this success. He and his fellow defenders have given up only 1.3 goals per game, while their offense has scored 3.2 goals.

That is how you win games.

In the larger world of life, other formulas are relevant. The national health care reform effort now revolves around what kind of relief (or lack thereof) working people will get under the massive reform package now working its way inexorably through Congress, which is to say, through the offices of fat lobbyists, on both sides of the aisle.

I am disgusted, particularly by Democrats, and of course also by Republicans, because they are all on the take.

At the present state of play, the great majority of Americans, who work hard but earn only $40-70,000 or so, will face prohibitive health insurance costs under the current plans.

This is simply unacceptable. Though it is unfair to blame the President, who got this whole thing rolling, it is now on him to get things back on track.

After all, as the father of a defender, I know a few things about how a big-time player, under pressure, learns how to deliver.

It is time for you, Mr. President, to stand and deliver -- not to the poor or the rich but to the vast majority of us stuck in the middle, struggling just to get by. BTW, we are the ones who got you elected.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Sexy Garden Story

Probably, I suppose, whatever it is you do for a living can sometimes elude you; you may feel your skills have departed, or that the world has changed in ways that renders you less relevant.

For a writer, losing your voice is scary. It's as if someone turned the (very loud) music off inside your head, and all that remains is silence.

That's what has been going on with me lately. I'm aware of some of the reasons I've gone silent, but other causes exist that mystify me. Usually, I'm pretty good at cutting through noise and chaos around me to tell a story.

Not lately.

So, tonight, let me try to tell you a little story. I'll turn to several elements that usually work for me: Nostalgia, love, sex, change, aging and youth.

Turning a familiar corner recently, at the bottom of Cortland Street on Bernal Hill, I looked at the long-vacant Goodman's Lumber Co. building, and remembered a summer 15 years ago, when I was getting married.

My best friend Howard had come out to be my best man. He came out about a week early, I think, stayed in our spare room, and helped me garden. He also helped my friends Camille and David establish their garden that week.

We lived on the south side of Bernal; they lived on the north side. We had a tiny yard; they had a massive one.

Howard and I commuted between Floorcraft, a garden center across Bayshore from Goodman's, and their yard for a number of days, as he carefully designed a garden plan based on Camille's wishes for an English-type theme. We planted heather, lavender, and the like.

Today, I turned at that corner again, and suddenly Goodman's was gone! In the space of a few days, its old building has been demolished. The other day, I thought about stopping to photograph it. Now it is too late.


I bumped into some old photos of a girlfriend, when we were very new at dating. We were up in Gold Country, picnicking and sunbathing next to a river. In my favorite photo, she is looking over her shoulder at me, smiling. She looks like she feels adored.

I also remember having sex back in our hotel. Before we left to return to San Francisco, she said, "Please let's do that again."

Love is a fragile companion. It is there, as it was when I married and when I was in Gold Country. Sex goes along with love, not always of course, but at the best times, it's there.

Why everything has to fade and break is a mystery. Slowly, love fades away.


I don't get this aging process. My oldest son tells me that if I make it to age 90, I'll never get sick again. By then, he claims, I will have basically developed immunity to everything out there.

My youngest son ran in a race today. Competing does not come naturally to him but he did just fine. The venue was a private school where his big sisters studied for some years in their elementary years.

Next to the school is a city golf course where I used to play the game with my father. He always loved to tell about the hole where he'd overshot the fairway, parted some bushes to search for his golf ball, only to see the mighty Pacific Ocean churning below.

Every story has to end. I think I'll end this one with that image.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Climbing Toward 11

Birthday party day for my youngest daughter: She chose a rock-climbing venue.

The girls climbed up again and again; one of her brothers did also.

They're all getting so strong; her teammates from her soccer team, whether this was one of their first attempts or the latest of many, all did well.

These are the kids who had lost 19 straight games before winning last weekend 1-0, and tying yesterday 0-0. Like her big brother, my daughter plays defense, so she is part of this extended scoreless play against more experienced teams.

I guess I raise defenders, as opposed to defended people.

San Francisco turned extremely hot this weekend, which makes the cool evenings welcome. My writing has fallen off lately; I'll try to regain my rhythm this week. Writing depends on moods and enough private time.

Neither dependency has been optimal lately. Let's see if I can begin to provide better material in the days ahead.