Duly Recognized

Giggy on the Mound

An appreciation…

On a perfect day, with puffy clouds drifting in a picture-postcard Carolina-blue sky, across a field of impossibly-green grass, 400 feet away, a bouncing, running, laughing, grab-ass playing group of identically-clad teenaged boys burst from an opening in a center field fence. At this distance, they look more like one solid mass in form and movement, than a group of individual ballplayers.

And yet, it takes me no more than a blink-quick second to pick him out, my son, Giggy. It’s the loping stride, that comes from growing so much in the past year that he can scarcely keep track of his arms and legs, much less direct them to meet his precise will. It’s the constant talking and joking, which he does lots, even off the field. It’s even the turn of the head in that way he does when he’s listening intently to a teammate or coach or friend (certainly not parent) deliver instructions he’ll be expected to follow, or joke he’ll want to repeat.

Then he starts to throw and all doubt is removed. His rubber-band whip resembles no one else in his tribe. Once I see him throw, I scarcely need to see the number on his jersey for confirmation.

That’s Giggy, alright.

It’s All In Your Head

gertrude_ederle_channel_crossing

Years ago, when I was just a kid, I remember television coverage of someone finishing the swim across the English Channel. I remember the swimmer completing her singular feat, then wobbily stepping out of the water, still covered in lard, or whatever open-water swimmers wore in that long-ago era, to insulate themselves. A robe or towel was immediately wrapped around the swimmer’s slumped shoulders by attendants.

As far as I was concerned, it might as well have been someone walking on the moon, which I would, funny enough, watch on television but a few years later. Felt the same way about that, too. I knew in my bones I’d never actually accomplish either. Pretty much accepted I’d never even know anyone personally who would. Both feats seemed just that other-worldly to me, relative to my life expectations and experience.

When I was young, my own and my family’s life expectations for me were pretty, um, realistic. For the most part, my grandparents were dirt-poor immigrants when they came to America. My parents, although born here in the US, grew up during the Great Depression and had pie-in-the-sky life dreams wrung out of them early. Their guidance to me was to keep one’s life plans real.

This was not so much by the issuance of fiats but by the setting of expectations [dialogs below from real life]:

  • Purposeful education at elite academic institutions? “Sure.”
  • Playing in the NFL? “That’s for guys much bigger and better than you.”
  • Becoming an actor? “Wanna starve?”
  • Olympic bobsled trials? “Grow up, already.”

Life, however, is a funny thing. Sometimes it surprises you.

DolphinClub-1

I still don’t know anyone who’s walked on the moon (although I did just meet the brilliant director of NASA’s amazing Voyager program) but just last month, a pal of mine by the name of Arnie Oji swam the English Channel, together with some mates from San Francisco’s historic Dolphin Club.

Although, without question, an awesome accomplishment, it wasn’t, of course, an out-of-the-blue miracle, any more than playing professional-caliber sports is. Arnie and the other Dolphins had been open-water swimming and training for years in preparation for this Channel crossing.

The difference between my young and ‘realistic’ conception of possible and Arnie’s adult one is all in the mind; we do, as it turns out, make many of our own barriers.

Thanks so much, Arnie, for your recent real-world demonstration of that life principle.

2 - half way to Lanai

This One Time

6077daa5018d285d2cc553a85f75eb1f.wix_mp_1024

We got back from a few family-only days at our little cabin in California’s Sierra earlier today. Time at the cabin is slow, quiet, restorative and purposefully unplugged. We don’t have TV, don’t play the radio, don’t read big-city newspapers.

Occasionally, we come home to discover significant things have happened in the world, like today, when I discovered, unhappily, that a friend and former colleague had lost his battle with cancer.

Anthony Turney packed several lives in his time on earth – soldier during the Suez Crisis, organizer of communities during periods of challenge and crisis, supporter of the arts, member of the clergy. He had a deep and affecting voice and he could tell a story like nobody’s business. He was gracious and generous.

When we worked together at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, cash-strapped as it was, Anthony found a way to host moving exhibitions of art that quite literally transformed the place, not to mention the people in it. He presided over prayers for California’s prisoners condemned to die and the annual war remembrance service that many of the other cathedral clergy found too schmaltzy for their tastes; as a combat veteran, I think Anthony found remembering wars an absolute necessity in a civil society.

Once, a young man came to the church, distraught and unbalanced. Anthony found some cake and the two sat together for tea and talked. As they parted, the young man promised to come back, then plunged to his death off a nearby roof that very afternoon. His parents expressed sincere gratitude their son had been given the human comfort and hospitality of the church in his final hours. Anthony was understandably upset but, typically, professional.

The last time I saw Anthony, he was walking his dog at the same preserve where I typically walked mine, at Fort Funston, on the bluffs overlooking the mighty Pacific. Anthony was characteristically warm and pleasant, although even then fighting against the cancer that would eventually kill him, happy as always to run into an old friend.

I am the better for having known him and we are the poorer for having lost him.

I hope he rests in the eternal peace he richly deserves.

5Anthony-Turney-waiting

A lovely remembrance of Anthony is here.

 

It Takes a Village

Village 4

We live in a little-known San Francisco neighborhood called West Portal, so-named because it’s located at the western entrance (or, that’s right, portal) of the public transit tunnel cut under Twin Peaks.

One of the first businesses we patronized when we moved here, some 22 years ago, was Village Grill, a definite step back in time, in a neighborhood that felt like the San Francisco I remember from my youth. It was a place with simple food, good and ample. It was a place where you’d run into friends, friends of parents, off-duty MUNI drivers and mechanics, the local dentist and, every so often, politicians and reporters.

The Village Grill was hospitable to everyone.

On one Sunday morning, when the place was too crowded to get a table or a booth, Erika and I sat at the counter and met a lady, about a decade older than my mom, who told us about her honeymoon at Yosemite in the early 1930s.

The servers became friends, or at least confidants. The cooks were blurs of activity and sweat.

Village 1

It was always active, without ever being too noisy to talk. The food was good and basic. It never became cute, trendy, or fashionable. They did, a few years ago, add a full Irish breakfast to the menu, but that was an accommodation to the many Ireland-born tradespeople in the neighborhood, not any foodie pretensions.

Sadly, I have to use the past tense because, as of tomorrow, the Village Grill will be no more. The owners have sold to the owners of the very-foodie Toast, a place that deals in much loftier fare and atmosphere. Neighborhoods, change, it is true, as my neighborhood proves. We’ve long since lost our Payless Shoe Store. But this loss hits me hard.

For me The Village Grill was living proof that my neighborhood wasn’t growing too big (or trendy) for it’s purposefully old-fashioned britches.

Village 3

 

Douchiness, Defined (Humor – NSFW)

douche

Someone who has surpassed the levels of jerk and asshole, however not yet reached fucker or motherfucker.

.

I’ve lately been brought into discussions about douchey men because my beloved daughter is going off to college in a few months and I very much want to prepare her for what she’s liable to encounter.

[As an aside, about a year ago, and quite out of the blue, my daughter asked me why boys her age are so stupid. I told her that, if she's really really lucky, males her age would reach her level of maturity about the time she hits her thirties. She asked if they wouldn't be there in college and I responded that, no, males are at their stupidest and most immature during their college years.]

The first question I’m often asked when discussing the definition of douchiness is, “When describing someone, is it ‘douchiness’ or ‘douchebaggery’?” To my mind douchiness is the quality of being a douche. Douchbaggery is a word to describe the action or actions of a douche.

Clear?

If not, let’s look at some concrete examples of douche characteristics – I often find this helpful.

Car they drive, or aspire to drive: BMW

College they attended, or at least wear the hoodie from: Princeton (see also Princeton mom)

Sport they play, or pretend to know about: Lacrosse (abbreviated ‘LAX’)

City they live in, or are from originally: Dallas, Texas

Tech leader they admire: (tie) Justin Rosenstein and Bryan Goldberg

Drink they order to impress when out at a bar: Artisanal bourbon or pretentiously expensive champagne

Accessory du jour: Warby Parker monocle

Wardrobe they’re habitually seen in, whether event-appropriate or not: shorts, polo shirt, no socks (an aging classic but still reliably indicative)

Favorite passtime: beer pong

Got the picture more clearly now, honey?

67d68690bro-uniform

.

[And before I hear from every guy I know who plays/played lacrosse and doesn't think himself a douche, or mom of a kid who plays lacrosse and isn't (yet) a douche, let me stipulate that not all such people are douches. (Just a large majority.)]

Well, Look At Us

DiversityIndex

Every single day in my hometown, and without much incident, close to a million people get out of their beds, bathe, eat something and get themselves to work, or school, or somewhere else they believe to be worth getting to.

Some climb, (granted, with fingers crossed, perhaps), onto our city’s public transit system, called MUNI, or the regional transit system, called BART, or onto AMTRAK, or Caltrain, or into employer-provided buses, or their own cars, or bikes, or even walk; again, mostly without incident, to speak of. Now, MUNI can be insanely crowded, late and filthy. By all rights, there could be riots on the rails every day about some offense or other but there are just not. Mostly, my fellow San Franciscans and I get on, get off and get about our business.

628x471

We go to workplaces and schools and studios and stores to buy food – or maybe eat out with our friends and families on Sunday nights, or special occasions. We’re productive, hardworking people, just like most people in most cities are, trying to do well by ourselves, our families and succeeding generations.

F201209240830519516717322

In my hometown, we residents and our families originally come from places all over the globe – China, Russia, Italy, England, Cameroon, Indonesia, Cambodia, Sudan, Algeria, Lebanon, Japan, Afghanistan, Vietnam and even Greece, like my family did. We’re Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, Sikhs, Muslims and Druids. And, miracle of miracles, there’s no faith-based violence to speak of – not even much evidenced expression of faith-based hatred, anger or enmity. And this isn’t because there’s no overt expression of religious belief or practice – there are more places of worship in San Francisco than bars (If you know anything about this city, you know that is a significant statistic.) – as some would have you believe.

prettiefly creative commons_0

And we’re people of all genders and sexual orientations and identities. And – witness any public gathering – widely diverse aesthetics as well.

San-Franciscos-annual-gay-pride-parade_5_1

This city – any large and diverse city – only works because we collectively agree to accept, appreciate, and even celebrate the diversity in which we live and pretty much let other people get on with their own lives as they themselves see fit.

(Go in peace, my brother.)

The fact that we try, day in and day out, is both extraordinary and startlingly common to all modern cities of any scale.  The fact that it works and has worked here for over 150 years, without widespread insanity and violence, day in and day out, is nothing short of absolutely miraculous.

There’s a lesson in this, for those who care to hear it.

1-close_up

Goodbyes, Last

417548_6

As a kid, I looked out the front windows of our house onto a city playground and its monkey bars, basketball courts and sandbox. Torture, when I wasn’t allowed to go outside and play, because I hadn’t finished my homework or chores, encouragement to finish when I was close. In either case, I could pretty well know at a lightning-quick glance when my friends were available for play. The front room, which we called the living room, although we never did much of anything in it, was always ready for guests (i.e., pretty much off-limits to us).

Our kitchen was the actual real-life heart and brains of the place; almost every memory I have of that house centers on cooking, or food, or eating. Every conversation of any substance whatsoever over the course of my entire young life happened there. We ate at the kitchen table, not in the dining room, where dinners with company would happen. I had my first drink of booze – not my first drink of wine, which happened pretty much routinely at dinner but real booze – mixing an insane concoction from off-remnants in my dad’s liquor cabinet in the kitchen. (A particular mistake never repeated.)

I shared a bedroom with my older brother until he went to college but, even then, the room stayed the same, double beds, matching desks and bookcases, cowboy motif. By the time I hit my teen years, I scarcely noticed the decor; I was in my room pretty much solely to sleep. At night, I kept my windows open, weather allowing, and heard the sound of the old Golden Gate foghorns, now replaced by electronic tones, as I fell asleep.

My grandmother, whom I called Kato YiaYia (Greek-speakers among you may understand), lived in an apartment downstairs. She would highjack me many afternoons when I’d come home from school or practice and feed me a full dinner of roast chicken and potatoes, pilaf or macaroni, bread and salad (and wine) before I’d go upstairs to choke down my second dinner. She kept the garden, which was out her apartment’s back door, well; she knew all the folk wisdom of planting and pruning and phases of the moon and months of the year. After she passed, the garden was turned into a faux-Japanese meditative garden; no more fresh herbs and fruit trees.

Those are my memories of this place on 27th Avenue in San Francisco’s Richmond District.

We’ve just sold the house to a new young family that will make its own history and create its own memories there.

Over the course of my 50-plus years, I must have walked in and out of that house a million times. And soon, any day now, some random exit will be my last.

photo-34

Busing Google

google_shuttle

As is standard operating procedure for this burg, what can at first look like small things get perceived and communicated about in epochal ways.

Latest example: luxe private buses that whisk high-tech employees from their homes in San Francisco to their Silicon (née Santa Clara) Valley corporate headquarters have incited world-class neighborhood ire. Many of the city’s most-affected residents say these companies are using public infrastructure (e.g., public bus stops, city streets, etc.) without compensating public budgets. Further, they suggest, by running their own private transit systems and simultaneously campaigning against higher taxes and public expenditure on infrastructure, they are starving the very systems ‘regular’ San Franciscans have no choice but to use in getting to their places of work, schools, shopping, entertainment and other necessities.

As a consequence, a war of words, sometimes nasty words, has ensued.

‘Techies’, as high-tech workers are sometimes derisively called, are accused of being everything from social Darwinists to fascists to elitists. Neighborhood activists are called luddites, socialists, envious of high-tech workers’ incomes and job perquisites. Some words, obviously, have more truth to them than others but the back-and-forth has done nothing to illuminate the deeper and, therefore, real issues or to resolve the conflict.

So, let me add a few hopefully helpful words here. I start with a bit of background.

San Francisco is my hometown. I say that because I was born and raised here and have spent the vast majority of my 50-plus years here. I went to San Francisco public schools from kindergarten through high school. I had a large high school graduating class (almost 1,000) and I still run into classmates around town. Today, they’re cops and actors and firefighters and bus drivers and doctors and steelworkers and lawyers and skilled craftspeople. My parents were also both born and raised here and, in fact, spent their entire lives here (excepting breaks for war and college). My grandfather Vasilios was a neighborhood grocer, going back to the 1920s. My grandmother Zafero was a seamstress. They had a flat in the Mission, where my mom and uncle were raised. My grandfather Mitchell was a merchant seaman and saw the horrible events of Bloody Thursday – a waterfront labor riot in 1934 – with his own eyes. They and people of their generations built today’s modern (post-1906 earthquake) San Francisco.

There are a great many San Franciscans who are proud of their hometown, some of whom have lived here a long time and also worked hard to build the city that exists here today. Sad fact: some of them can’t afford to live here anymore.

Back in the 1990s, during an earlier wave of tech expansion in San Francisco, highly-paid people flocked to neighborhoods like the Mission and brought with them some positive things (e.g., chic and trendy places to eat) and some negative (e.g., much higher home prices and rents). Many long-time residents had to leave because it was too expensive to stay. The place changed and then, soon after, the tech bubble burst. Many of the 90s-era ‘techies’ and their most-favored eateries simply moved elsewhere but the continuity of the neighborhood was destroyed. There was no taking that back. So, families that had loved living in the Mission for generations were gone, many for good. Many long-time residents would say, “We got kicked out for nothing.” Their Mission changed to serve no lasting or positive purpose.

Population turnover and change can be healthy for a city. And, God knows, San Francisco can be root-bound in trying to preserve tradition. But I’ve seen time and again the value of having people stay around for the long haul. You probably don’t remember how graciously and hospitably and charitably neighbors treated each other after the 1989 earthquake but I do. We made it through some tough times by leaning on each other. People who are in and out with every one of the latest fads don’t get that kind of support, and don’t tend to give it either. Our city would be immeasurably poorer as a place if the composition of our population were completely dependent on temporary vagaries of the economy. (Anybody really want to base our shared identity and welfare as San Franciscans on the probability of, for example, Zynga’s long-term success? Yeah, didn’t think so.)

Now, another wave of well-heeled tech hipsters has discovered the joys of living in San Francisco. And they’ve re-made a number of old family-oriented neighborhoods in their own images. Bernal Heights is now the ‘hottest’ neighborhood in the country according to one recent magazine poll (San Francisco is also, no coincidence, the third least-affordable city in the world.).  Who can blame them for loving life in this city? Certainly not me. You have money earned from your hard work. Good for you. Enjoy. Spend it well. Live. Eat.

But I ask my newest fellow San Franciscans to understand some measure of the anger directed at them. When you see people yelling at your luxury buses, remember that these people are taking public transit. Filthy. Crowded. Undependable. No (gasp) Wi-Fi. It’s not that they wouldn’t like to share your plush ride. It’s that they can’t, and probably never will. And it’s that they know, sooner or later, living in their hometown is likely to get too expensive for them. And they’ll have to say goodbye to a neighborhood and a city they’ve loved being a part of for a long time. And they’re angry at that. And they’re angry at you, as you blithely skip down Cortland Avenue, drip-brewed artisan coffee in hand, talking loudly about your latest plan for world conquest into your Bluetooth and step onto your private chariot for the drive to Mountain View or Redwood Shores or Cupertino or wherever you’re going.

[And when your business goes south, as it may one day do, chances are you'll be off to the next latest hot neighborhood in Austin or Brooklyn or Raleigh-Durham or Dubai, leaving behind only sad people and empty spaces.]

Don’t worry about the neighborhood people, though; their shitty old MUNI should be along any time now.

6483705571_58e38f9881_b

Farewell, My Sweet Girl

DeeDee at Funston

We met her about ten years ago during an icy rainstorm in California’s Sierra. Visiting the Tuolumne County Humane Society had been pitched to me by my kids as a healthy alternative to sitting inside our dark cabin for the 3rd straight day. I was encouraged, both by their initiative (They found a listing for the shelter themselves and unprompted while reading the local newspaper.) and their interest in looking at dogs (We’d lost our beloved Buck a couple of years before and none of us showed any real interest in finding a new pet after that heartbreak.).

There were lots of dogs available for adoption when we walked back into the drafty, bunker-like, concrete room, each in their own chain-link enclosure. Most seemed to clearly understand what it meant when people, that is to say strangers, walked in, so the noise and activity level rose accordingly. Some dogs barked and jumped, many ran up to their kennel gates, tails wagging.

On the other hand, there was DeeDee, even then marching to her own beat. She moved to the front of her enclosure – I don’t remember any deliberate speed or particular noise about it – and sat at her gate.  She didn’t bark or whine. She simply leaned against the fencing and looked up at us with her big brown eyes.

That, as they say, was that. Within the hour, we were talking about the particularities of adoption with the center staff.

They told us she’d not been treated well. She’d been mostly, almost entirely, chained outside. She’d not been part of family life. She’d been hit, abused, cursed, yelled at, intimidated. She would be, we were told, a challenging pet: a good family dog, eventually, with the right family.

We took a walk outside. She seemed to like us well enough. Our kids adored her immediately. So, we took our risks, signed the papers and loaded her in our van. Thus began our journey together.

The quirks and issues surfaced more or less immediately. Since she wasn’t used to an indoor life, she urinated more or less wherever she pleased. While she chewed shoes, gloves and other handy pieces of clothing, she hadn’t the slightest idea what to do with an honest-to-God dog toy. She loathed water; she wouldn’t easily allow herself to be bathed and wouldn’t swim. Also, she barked and growled fiercely at men, especially men with facial hair. And the UPS delivery people were apparently objects of special hatred not visited upon the USPS, FedEX or representatives of other delivery enterprises.

3041_83676569125_5675138_n

Why? Was it the brown uniforms? We hadn’t the foggiest notion.

Eventually, we guided her away from those unpleasant habits we could change and mostly tolerated those we couldn’t. DeeDee became our sort of in-house, daily, canine reminder of the AA prayer.

The longer we were together, of course, the more her loving and playful side came out. She loved chasing balls – could do it all day on the right day with the right partner(s). She loved walking together on the bluffs above the mighty Pacific, at Fort Funston. She loved playing in the snow. When in the right mood and with the right person, she loved being hugged and whispered to. She loved laying by the fire at our mountain cabin after a day in the great outdoors.  She would lay down with each family member in turn every night as they went to bed – Giggy first, then Ella, then Erika and I, where she would generally make herself comfortable on our bed for the duration.

And yes, she was a terrible bed hog, couch hog, chair hog.

It was only a few months ago that DeeDee’s cancer was diagnosed, so her period of visible suffering was brief; in that I can take some measure of solace. Since her early life was marked by pain, emotional and otherwise, I thought it completely unfair that she should suffer at the end of her life as well but no one assures us that life follows our particular conception of fairness. What I can say is that DeeDee spent her final day on this earth in the company of people who honestly loved her, will miss her and will keep her memory as long as they live.

We hope you rest in peace, dear friend.

4941_106348439125_6938755_n

A couple of endnotes:

  • Colorado State University runs a leading center for research on animal cancer. The results are promising not only for pets but also people. When our dog Buck died, also of cancer, we contributed to support the center’s work. You can learn more here: http://www.csuanimalcancercenter.org/
  • DeeDee passed in the care of Dr. Elyse Hammer of VCA Veterinary Specialists in San Francisco. Dr. Hammer was extraordinarily humane and gentle with DeeDee (and the family) and we thank her most sincerely along with the rest of the VCA staff.

1013407_10152013845299126_700890409_n