Thursday, May 29, 2008

Parking Fantasy

I've been so cranky ... undermined by a low-bore cold that will neither mature into something worth staying in bed for, or just go away so I can resume my quotidien grousing. My blogger "dashboard" is littered with unfinished posts, every one of which shares only this ... irreducible irrascibility. Can't quite see my way out of it, so I am going to fall back on a post I have written in my head many times: how to solve the parking woes.


The key to understanding parking is to see it as a natural resource which is undervalued and largely given away free. ANd it is free parking that has allowed the suburban nightmare to choke the life out of this country and turn the vast masses into giant consuming vacuum cleaners ... mommy, I want more, more, more ... so let's hop in the SUV, head to the mall, and get the country further into debt.

So parking should always cost. But such an initiative cannot be merely punitive; it must be configured such that it encourages the desired behavior, and discourages the undesired behavior. So a city like San Francisco should announce a plan that will be successively introduced over a number of years so all can prepare, and it goes like this.

Start by constructing a series of satellite parking garages. Anyone can park for free, but there is an exit charge. It is the same charge if you stay for an hour, a day, a week, or a month. Perhaps the city might have to charge minimum monthlies to prevent people from abandonning vehicles or stockpiling them.

Vehicles should be divided into types by gas mileage ... maybve five types. And the exit charge should be multiplied by the type number. So, let's say that the exit charge is $5; a monster truck is $5 x 5 = $25. A Prius is $5 x 1 = $5.

100% of profits from the operation go to public transit.

Meanwhile, the city also has to build parking meter kiosks at every corner in the city. Parking on city streets is no longer free. The principle is that any car that parks pays something when it parks. There should be three ways to be assessed: purchase a subscription that comes with a GPS device; purchase parking using your cell phone; purchase parking at the corner kiosk. Street parking whould be per hour with variations depending upon time of day. You have to set the price so that it behooves the driver to leave the car in one place for longer. So a good driver citywise is one who parks his Prius for a week then drives a little on the weekend. But someone who drives his Prius to work every day, needs to pay more than $5 a week or he is better off than the former guy. So a day of city parking should be more than a dollar. Again, there should be a multiplier based on mileage per gallon.

100% of profits from the operation go to public transit.

All of this is eminently doable given modern databases and GPS. If the city applied to this problem the same intelligence the Walmart applies to tracking its plastic consumer froth, we'd pull it off easily.

There would have to be other sorts of payoffs. People with garages would have to rent the curb which they reserve for their own use. I park in a garage, but no one is paying the city for that curb. Why does the city give that resource away for free? And every private parking lot should be required to charge people an exit charge, 80% of which goes to public transit. So it you go to Home Depot (although there is none in San Francisco), you pay the $5 to leave just as if you were parking in a city garage. And the city would have to crack down on the explosion of fraudulent handicapped parking permits; fraudulent handicapped parking costs the city millions and creates the need for far more handicapped parking spaces than are needed. I see it every day ... able bodied people with a sticker running from their car, leaving it on the street for hours. Drives me nuts.

The effect of making people pay to park on the street and to pay only when they exit from parking garages or lots would be to benefit clustering of businesses, and to reward people for walking.

That is the broad idea. More on this later. Perhaps even some photos. I promise to get out of my funk shortly and start posting something other than fevered bureaucratic yearnings.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

AI ... and I don't mean artificial intelligence

American Idol: I was plain blown away that David Cook won. Not unhappy, but totally taken by surprise.

So first of all, it's seems pretty obvious that this is an artifact of the aging of the AI audience. Although the finale had records numbers of viewers, it declined slightly in the 18-49 "demographic"; the quotes are for this ... what the hell is the 18-49 demographic? What does an 18 year-old twit have to do with a 49 year-old beer guzzler? I think 18-49 means "not old". It stinks and it makes no sense.

That said, Cook is a more mature act, savvy and expressive. I would buy his album tomorrow. The more amazing instrument is Archuleta's, at least in terms of raw gift. I hope he sings for a long time, and I hope his amazing vocal talent grows and entertains for decades well past hi obvious trajectory in teenie pop. But Cook is ready right now to rock the world. His gig with ZZ Top last night was stellar. He was glowing. Louis Bayard on Salon put it perfectly:

The only goose bumps "American Idol" afforded me this past season came when Cook mangled a piece of pop confectionery into something bitter and scalding and virtually unrecognizable. Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," Lionel Richie's "Hello," Mariah Carey's "You'll Always Be My Baby" ... who would have guessed these songs could ever sound dangerous? And yet that's exactly the transformation Cook pulled off, thanks to his deconstructive sensibilities and his innate musical intelligence (and the example of rock iconoclasts like Chris Cornell).

I have to note that Jason Castro's Hallelujah was polished and sublime. That kid has a mark to make if he can get off his stoner ass and care, and figure out that he has something to say. Meanwhile, Carly and Michael proved that they belong on Broadway. Syesha was strangely held back. I got a kick out of seeing the stripper, David Hernandez, again, but he clearly also needs to see his future in musical theater.

All that said, a great season. The right guy won. A couple of career's were launched. And we heard a whole heap of moving song.

On another note, and playing the jerk who is the modern cultural hero
... they knocked Judge Judy off the air because there is a fire near Santa Cruz. Come on people, let's get our priorities straight ... annoyed bureaucrats at home in their pajamas want their nightly fix of a grand bitch chewing out some idiots. Real news ... Israelis negotiating with Syrians notwithstanding that they are thereby Nazis according to dubya logic ... or Ted Kennedy, one of the finest men in public life in American history, about to exit because of a glioma ... surely a beautiful word like glioma should refer to a musical genre or a mathematical concept, not to a killer tumor ... real news I can abide. But yet another fire in a state which will be entirely consumed in fire over the next few decades as the wages of driving SUVs are demanded by Papa Nature ... yet another fire ... sorry as I can be for the poor sods who live there. There's a guy on the news talking about community on the mountain. He was burned out once before when he was a child. But he still lives there. It's gonna burn.

Of course, in the coffee-and-upholstery vein, I live on top of ... or leastwise slightly to the right of ... one of the deadliest tectonic faults in the world. So I had better be prepared to be sanguine about the great shaking that awaits me and mine.

Still, here I have a few minutes to myself and I wanted Judge Judy to put paid to some moron who figures he doesn't have to pay up. Oooops, better flip to something else.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Lee Friedlander

Took the day off today, supposedly to do some computer upgrading at home. I did get a little of that done, but actually spent most of the day out and about, ending up at the SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) retrospective exhibit of Lee Friedlander's photography which ends on Sunday. I will get back to Friedlander a little later, but first a ramble on today's commercial exploits.

Hangin' with the Masses: I started at Kaiser Permanente getting phlebotomized, if I may. Considering the medical travails of some of my friends, I should hardly complain, but I don't like it. Still, Kaiser is awfully damned efficient, and I was in and out in a short while. I took a walk to the Curbside Cafe at California and Polk and had perfect brie, spinach, and sun-dried tomato omelette (see, Mom, I really am a Californian), then ambled back through the gathering record heat.

I need a coffee pot ... my 12-year veteran gave up the ghost Thursday morning ... so I headed to Mervyn's at Geary and Presidio where I picked my way through a thin crowd of lost 'burbanites ... why do these people live in the city; it always mystifies me? Everything was on sale, and they promised me another 15% off if I opened a credit card account. I have done that before for 10 or 20% off and then never used the card again ... Banana Republic, one of those Cargo-type places, and some other clothing store, who can remember which one.

I am a horrible shopper. I know what I need, I know what looks good on other people, but I haven't the vaguest idea what looks good on me. I gather my forces to pick something up, and then I see something else ... I get the jitters. What if I buy the wrong thing? I'm such a chump. I always figure the clerks are watching me and snickering ... I literally flush sometimes thinking what a fool I am. I can't even buy a pair of socks.

I did manage to get six pairs of socks ... buy a three-pack, get a second for 50% off. And I picked up a couple of different packages of underwear on the theory that the deal extended to underwear. But I wasn't sure, so I settled for a four pack of tight-fitting boxer thingies. Then I saw shoes, and I got real nervous. The last pair of shoes I bought started to squeak ... a 100 buck pair of New Balance shoes the right one of which has a light quack-like squeak as soon as I roll the ball of my foot. What is worse is that the squeak comes and goes, so I get optimistic that I have conquered the demon, and it dribbles back. This is just the kind of thing that makes me feel like chump when I shop. Someone at work tells me to complain, but I don't have the receipt, so I just act defeated and promise never to shop again.

Long story short, I ended up with 6 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of pyjama bottoms, 4 pairs of underwear, and a pair of brown shoes for $100. I will crow to the ladies at work on Monday. They enjoy my shopping idiocy stories.

But, ooops, I forgot the coffee pot, so I headed to Bed, Bath, and Beyond. (I lie a little ... I actually did shop for coffee pots at Mervyn's but I was so exhausted from picking socks and trying to decide whether my shoe size is 8 or 8 and a half ... I'm 55 years old, for chrissake, and I don't know my shoe size ... that I gave up after a few heart palpitations and headed to a store where I feel a little more comfortable.) Had a little parking lot episode in which an inordinately fat lady could not clear the spot I was trying to back into. Once she finally got her f.a. out of the way, she managed to beep her alarm-horn right in my face as I was getting out of the car ... all manners are lost in this society of "mee-mee-mee". Once inside, after long tormented consideration I managed to buy the 10-cup thermos-carafe Cuisinart product (my first Cuisinart, which makes me an underachieving fag here on the day after our big fag victory in the California Supreme Court). I got it home, unpacked the ecological disaster in which one participates whenever you buy a new widget, and read the directions. They referred to the "ladder" by which you measure the water you have poured. But I did not have a ladder, so I returned post-haste to BB&Y, fawlty product in hand. The humorless customer service lady of probably Philipino persuasion instructed me to get a new product which we promptly unraveled from its excess of packaging, whereupon we discovered that the directions were mistaken ... there is a plainly visible see-through strip whereby one measures the water, and there is no "ladder" in the 10-cup version ... the ladder is reserved for the more prestigious 12-cup version. So here is our poor customer service lady in an avalanche of plastic and styrofoam to no good end. I said, "I'm an idiot." No stir on her humorless face. So I add, "No, I really am an idiot." And I got a smile. And a polite suggestion that she would put the mess back together and I was free to go ... that is, leave ... now.

So home I went, and I tried the lovely product, and a fine cup of coffee was had. And thereupon, I headed to SFMOMA with my sainted ex to see Lee Friedlander.

Lee Friedlander: Looking at Friedlander reminds me of how the history of photography is so rapid. What he did in the 60s and 70s was radical and fresh, and it opened eyes and changed perspectives. But to do the same now in the same way would be a little hackneyed, at least in the "fine arts" area. I certainly enjoy photography that favors the accidental angle, "the American social landscape" (Friedlander, 1963), shadows and accident ... I like to think that I play in that area ... but a major exhibition of new photographs from someone doing what Friedlander did in the 60s would be corny.

Friedlander's black and white work is sensuous. He commands the texture in service to the oblique message. His photos of workers were a little more sentimental than his urban-scapes and rural-scapes in which his cold eye exposed the dialectics of living hot and temperamental and subject but innocent of a world whose human values are fading. But Friedlander manages to avoid being smug or condescending. The photography is crisp, it is a world we remember and about which, notwithstanding its bleakness, we can feel some nostalgia. That nostalgia, however thin, speaks to the depth of what he accomplished.

I noted, of course, the lack of cars despite Friedlander's inclusion of all manner of extraneous elements in his compositions. (There was a beautiful quote on this on the wall which I will type here if I find it.) There was a haunting picture of a lost Hollywood, California ... a quiet neighborhood with an empty street that has long since been drowned in the nightmare of monstrous vehicularity.

Friedlander's later work, especially since he went Hasselblad, is technically perfect but vastly less evocative. He once did for urbanscapes what an Ansel Adams did for nature. He is no match for the greats when he photographs shrubs. Nice stuff, though. They only had a few of his portraits of the great jazz and blues musicians of the 50s, and this is where he made his bread. Compelling photos, but it is his urbanscapes that startle and make one ponder what we have, what we had, and how much we can yet afford to lose.

I bought the book, as I am wont to do, and plan long slow sessions admiring the man's contribution.

By the by on Baseball: I think Magowan is stepping down because Selig told him to do it or he would hold his toesies to the fire. 66 (as in the years Magowan has had on the planet) is the new 55, and I don't buy his story. As I write this, he is rambling on about his 10 grandchildren ... whenever people starting burbling about children, you know that they are dissembling. I deeply respect Magowan notwithstanding that he felt that he owed Bonds that last year; that more than anything shows a loyalty that most eschew in favor of convenience. But more than anything, he gave us our ballpark, a miracle of architecture. It is his monument, and Selig can go to hell. Magowan, as he recounts it in an interview during the present game, states that baseball ... that is, Selig ... had all manner of objections to the peculiarities of the park. Of course ... because Selig sips his coffee decaf with extra creamer and nutrasweet. Magowan drank his coffee black and strong. A man among boys. We owe him a lot in this city.

Top photo by Arod of the new installation at SFMOMA. Subsequent photos by Lee Friedlander: Father Duffy and Times Square (1974); Memphis, Tennessee (2003); Aretha; Miles Davis (1969). Tonight's libation is a Negroni, with Junipero gin, Campari and Cinzano.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Metablog: One Year

It is exactly one year ago that I wrote my first real post for this blog. That makes this a good day, and it is the better because I am now clear of the big presentation that has been on my plate at MRU, the major research university at which I toil. And, moreover, it is the eve of my sainted mother's first cruise in the Caribbean with her two sisters.

When I started this blog, I didn't know what to expect ... I just wanted to write in a way that was more public than the years of private imaginings that had been my chief venue. That first post was just a ramble based on a ramble, and I promised myself that I would have no rules about writing except that I would not write anything which would lose me a job that I wanted, nothing that my mother would call disgusting, and otherwise anything I chose to write. I've stuck to that deal. Even though I know that the MRU legal office keeps its eyes on employee blogs about which it is cognizant, and even though lots of my colleagues know about my scribblings, I still have that one job that I want which is the one that I have. My mother, on the other hand, is easy to amuse but difficult to disgust ... I cannot imagine anyone so low as to want to disgust my wonderful mother ... and so I have kept faith, as it were, with my second rule. And, on the third hand, with a due nod to Click and Clack if you gather my drift, I have certainly kept my vow to ramble only in those fields in which I am native. So, a year comes to a close with a little self-satisfaction.

Now self-satisfaction ought to be one of the seven deadly sins. The real ones are lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. I think that lust is a virtue, one which only turns to a sin when practiced darkly and secretly; so I substitute self-satisfaction. The seven deadly sins should be divided into two types, to whit, those that are absolutely sins (gluttony, greed, envy, and self-satisfaction), and those that are sins only when their object is ill-deserving (sloth, wrath, and pride). I have blogged against the glutotny and greed of our society as it swallows itself in an orgy of preening over-consumption. And I always try to distinguish those moments when sloth, wrath, and pride serve us and when they undermine us. Sloth in the name of refreshment, wrath at injustice, and pride in contribution ... what's wrong there.

But I digress.

Isn't that the point of a blog ... but to digress?

So back to this morning's presentation. The way in which I produce the MRU course catalog is undergoing a massive change ... we are adopting a "collaborative, distributed content management system" in my own words, now immortalized in PowerPoint, that limitless destructor of the English language. The photos in this post are from the presentation. But, hey, if you're going to have a job you have to row in the direction the river flows, and we will make a great catalog this new way, and one that is more electronic.

Still, I will not have the pleasure of a go-to-press day quite like those I have enjoyed over the last seven years. But I will move onward and hopefully upward. And I will still get to ramble on here a little when the press of work is not too great.

Work is the biggest obstacle to blogging ... it is, in that same sense, the biggest obstacle to living free.

I have posted 184 times in a year, 185 if you count this one. That's better than one every two days, but the more recent data suggests that I will settle in to 2-3 posts a week. I have averaged 75 unique visits a day, which is sufficiently satisfying. It keeps going up, but the vast majority of the visits are via Google searches and Google image searches. Curiously, the single greatest source of search-visits is the short post on Barry Lyndon ... I suspect that the provocative photo is the source of the fascination. But I also continue to have numerous visits through people who search the name of Jaffar Kiani, the hapless victim of a religious stoning.

I am gratified by that for nothing so enrages me (see wrath above) as sanctimonious religious violence and hatred. No one who reads me can doubt my consistency on the notion of the inherent evil of religion. It has been a joy to express in one way or another my bottomless belief that any soul is free to believe whatever nonsense they want to, but religion is the curse of our species.

That said, I am fascinated by religious history, as I am by pretty much any history. Blogging has actually led to a decided increase in my reading habit ... almost back to the level of those halcyon days before I became a graduate student. Nothing quite sucks the love of reading out of a body as does a near decade of reading for graduate studies. I overcame that, though, and read again now for pleasure and reflection.

But as I look back on what I have read in the last year, it strikes me that I have left behind any number of good posts that I might have issued. I still want to write something about why Alfred was great, and why the very cultural success of the middle Islamic period came to guarantee the present airless immobility of Islamic cultures, and why the latter-day idolizing of figures such as Genghis Khan and Tamerlane are ill-placed, and why I think that a revisit to Frederick the Great will pay dividends.

Writing posts about history requires just a little more time than is allowed as I typically sit at the bar in the kitchen of the apartment I share with my famous roommate and bartender RL (on famous, see this post) drinking the nightly cocktail and watching him cook dinner as he is doing right now. Tonight, in celebration, we started with a Junipero gin martini, and now a Junipero gin Hearst with Barolo Chinato Cocchi. Writing lengthy posts sometimes takes more than a sitting, and that makes me feel as if I should not interpose a post on pithier and more rapidly produced subjects, typically cranky. I should be less bureaucratic about it, and I will try to live by that.

Speaking of dinner, I see the oven clock says 2 minutes, so I had best fade into tonight's pleasant warm evening.

In sum, love being a blogger, love the blogosphere, looking forward to this evening next year when I celebrate number 2 ... may it come, but may it come slowly.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Nirvana and Daddy's

Ended up in a gay bar last night. That doesn't happen very often any more. But there I was on Castro at 10 o'clock, and there was a bar with the pounding music and that big scrum of men, and I just thought I would walk to the back and back again. But a little context.

My good friend Louis and I had dinner at Nirvana, a self-styled Burmese-Californian place on Castro that I quite enjoy. Louis writes a fascinating blog on food and Amsterdam and sundry other topics; I think you will findhis 2007 trip blog (triplogue?), Amsterdam for Free, good reading. So we drank martinis and ate noodles and seafood and engaged in the rollicking discussions which are our friendship. Louis loves food and gives fascinating blow by blow descriptions of selcting, preparing, and serving it, most especially in Amsterdam which he visits annually. I always come away from a conversation with him feeling pangs at not being in Amsterdam right now ... it certainly is one of my favorite cities in the world.

We parted company as Louis mounted up on his Segway ... he is one of the original Segway guys, and to see him peel up the very steep Noe Hill to his home on the summit is thrilling and certainly a little unnerving. And I walked slowly up Castro heding home in the opposite direction from Louis.

Castro at night on a Friday is still pretty much entirely gay, but it is not young gay in the way it used to be. It is not that older guys and middle-aged guys did not hang around in the 70s and 80s, but rather that there were lots of young guys. There was everybody. That was the era of the clone ... boots, tight blue jeans, T-shirt, and lumberjack shirt ... a look I found sexy then and still do. On any evening, but especially the weekends, gay guys of all ages hung out in droves on Castro. But now it appears that young gay guys take little part in what we like to call the gay community. Partially this is real estate ... the gay community consists largely of refugees who collect in cities, and so the young guys are naturally less able on average to afford the real estate. But partially it is choice. I think they grew up taking gay liberation for granted, and they live much more comofrtably interspersed and unaggregated among their straight peers. That's what it seems. I don't actually know.

What I do know is that Castro Street is a decidedly middle aged and older gay street now. And the bar which enticed me, Daddy's Bar at 440 Castro is certainly a case in point. As I noted, I decided just to walk to the back, and back again. "Walk" is an odd word. "Slither" might be more accurate. I am good at bar-slithering, having practiced it more or less nightly for a couple of decades, and so I slowly and with easy strategy, made my way to the back through the press of bodies, up the 4 or 5 stairs, and past the back bar. That was my undoing. The back bar, with a big bald guy working his crowd like a trapeze artist, pouring and pulling and tilling and talking all in a swoop. I had a double Maker's Mark straight up, and I might better have decided that a single was sufficient because they evidently pour their doubles very liberally at Daddy's.

So there I was at the bottom of a mine pit of men with a tumbler of whiskey in my hand ... and this is quite literally the first time I have been in a gay bar in a year at least. So I propped up the wall and took to sipping and studying the passing manhood. It was as if everyone I had been cruising with 15 years ago was still there only 15 years older ... and no one new had come in. I counted four guys possibly under 30. Nevertheless, or possibly consequently, it was a friendly loud boisterous crowd of round and tall and bald and scruffy men, some just fat, some built, not very bloody many of them lean by any definition. I saw precious little of the shark-like cruising in which I partook so valiantly those decades past. This was about grooving to the incessant beat, and shouting the moral equivalents of huzzahs above the loud roil of the crowd. I enjoyed myself, and the drill of the noise was soothing, as I have always found it so in gay bars.

I slowly re-slithered the path I had pioneered earlier, stopping to prop up the odd post or wall. I let my Maker's Mark warm in my hand and in my throat, sip by sip. And when my glass was finally dry, I emerged, quite drunk, equally nostalgic, and feeling warm towards my gay brothers who have survived and still practice the art, warts and all.

Gotta walk the dog, so I'll try to add a few illustrative pix later.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Christians In the News

I want to start with Frank Rich's column on Sunday ... The All-White Elephant in the Room ... which, as usual, nails the point to the wall. I suggest you read it if you have not, and I will say of it only that he points out that the Rev. Wright is hardly unique in his extremist posturing on the basis of religion. If you want a taste of the sort of religious bigot that the teflon maverick McCain is sucking up to, try this little clip of the "reverend" John Hagee. Not surprising to Jews or gays, by the way, because these guys love to hate, and hatred is what fuels them. Wright, Hagee, or the tottering Pat Robertson who may finally have written himself into irrelevance with his imbecilic endorsement of Mr. oily himself, the cleanly forgotten Rudy Giuliani.

My problem is about why a man who ought to be an atheist like Obama has to pretend to christianity to have a career in anything. Or at least I figure he must be an atheist, because he is certainly smart enough. (Smug, self-satisfied grin.)

More to the point, though, is the obvious historical fact that christianity has always made a big business of condemning the society in which it resides for the monstrous sins of the occupants. Christ did it. Saint Augustine, the miserable old bugger who is the proximate cause of the bloodthirsty loathing at the core of catholicism, thought that he was surrounded by evil incarnate. The response of the great monk Alcuin, later in the service of Charlemagne, to the bloody assault of the Vikings on the undefended Lindesfarne monastery was to ask "Consider carefully, brothers, and examine diligently, lest per chance this unaccustomed and unheard-of evil was merited by some unheard-of practice." Not being of a graphic mind, albeit certainly possessed of pornographic suspicions, Alcuin did not specify the evil which God was punishing. But he was sure that the Vikings ... the Islamic terrorists of their day, and a damned sight more effective they were ... were God's vengeance on his own evil society.

Frank Rich rightly notes that the current outcry against the silly "reverend" Wright stinks of racism. I think it suggests that Wright, and by extension Obama, is a little less American than maverick war hero McCain. So the war hero can pursue a bunch of bigots ... the same bigots who worked against McCain in 1980 in concert with the dimwit who currently holds the office he seeks ... but that is all American. By the way, McCain's christianity has all the passion of Reagan's, who hauled himself off to church like the B-actor that he was. When the black Obama, raised by muslims, decides he wants the same christian cover used by politicians of every ilk ... well, it's just not quite as American. I think that is the unspoken paradigm. It is a way for the right wingers to express how unamerican Obama is without saying it. They plan to specialize in this particularly tawdry tactic.

From the tragic to the farcical, poor suddenly christian Jason Castro has been dumped from American Idol. I believe that he could have a career in christian music ... he is drippy enough, and he is dreamy enough, and he knows how to wear a cross. Of course he would have to get over the laziness or stoner mentality that doomed him. The careful reader of my tinklings will note that I sang his praises more than once, especially with reference to his sublime rendering of Daydreaming Boy. Sometime after that performance, he started to sport a cross. I assume it was a ploy for votes ... but then, as one might note, I assume that most religious display is a ploy of some type. I was disappointed. Still he managed a few more memorable songs, and he could have nailed both of the songs he tried last Tuesday (I Shot the Sheriff and Mr. Tambourine Man). He was made to sing those songs. But he could not rouse himself to care ... or he was just plain too dumb, as my friend TF notes, to understand the music. I figure he was tired out and wanted to give up.

But he always has that annoying cross to fall back on ...

(I later watched a YouTube clip of his "singing out" ... in other words closing the show ... he chose I Shot the Sheriff again and this time he nailed it ... he acted too. Really sweet. I hope he has a career, at least so we get to look at him, and I hope he abandons the cross when it no longer suits his hype.)

There is one more little cross to bear as well ... sweet Tim Lincecum of the Giants ... sweet, not this time his taut, "ripped" (to use Kruk's phrase) frame, but sweet, his fastball and now truly sweet change-up ... sweet, he may be, but he is sporting a cross as well. It is one of those broad seemingly titanium jobbies. It pops in and out of view tight around his sinewy little neck. He has always worn this leather thong thing around his neck, and I noticed that, so I have to assume that the cross is new given that I have never seen it before. Now it is not one of those bloody wooden "Mel-Gibson" crosses such as the most fanatical christian in baseball, Todd Helton, sports almost navel low. Some properly agnostic pitcher should complain that the dangling splinter is bothering his concentration and make him take it off. Anyway, it is depressing that wee Timmie has taken up the cross. Not sure if this is just the way he is, or if he was the victim of one of those christian lurkers who haunt locker rooms to try to take athletes as a kind of booty.

There is just such a lurker at the Sports Cafe at MRU, the major research university at which I labor. He is short and overfed, being overfed being no bar to christianity, notwithstanding all the humility and poverty stuff of which the Christ makes such a to-do in his big book, nor to mention the seven deadly sins of which gluttony is prominent. He drives another one of those monstrous SUVs ... I think it is a Land Rover, though I can't tell one from the other ... just that the thing is damned big, and the poor dwarf has to clamber out of it like a crab on a rock at low tide. He scurries across the parking lot, clutching the inevitable bible in hand, and then finagles some muscle bulging studly dude ... I have only ever seen him with males ... into a heartfelt conversation, heads bent low and whispering spittle-contact close. If he were trying to bed the dude, everyone would be outraged. We live in a society where a little nooky is outrageous, but duping innocent young minds with life-denying piffle is the work of saints.

Back to Lincecum ... still have to love him because the pitching is so sweet. I think I will hang my hat on the following, without even a jot of evidence ... I'm going to go with the cross as a beard to obscure the fact that he is gay ... yeah, that'll do it. They're all gay ... every damned one of them. Again with the smug self-satisfied grin.

Photos by Arod, both from a Sunday Walking with Loki. The church is from Fort Mason, and the poster is from a surf shop at Fisherman's Wharf. The Alcuin quote is from page 30 of Justin Pollard's Alfred the Great: The Man Who Made England which I am revisiting in preparation, I hope, for a post on accident in history. That said, I am being seduced by what appears to be an excellent history of Prussia ... hmmm, the dilemmas, the dilemmas.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Curse of the Starving Class

Nice day. Breakfast with friends. Car in the shop for a thousand dollar clutch and fly wheel job ... a thousand dollars for something I will never see. Went to the American Conservatory Theater's production of Sam Shepard's Curse of the Starving Class. And as I write this, the Giants are leading the Phillies in Philly 3-2 in the bottom of the 10th, Brian Wilson pitching, one on, one out. I'll keep you posted.

Now as to the play, first off, ACT again did itself proud with a spectacular set that evoked grinding rural poverty and desperation. They always amaze. I wish that they were a lot less stingy with images of their work on their web site ... it is general complaint with the web ... we are all aching to consume images, so let us see. Don't be stingy ... let us look.

As to the play ... I told RO, who is my theater muse and with whom I attend every ACT production, that it was like we started with a David Mamet and ended with a Harold Pinter. The play concerns a poor farmer family with a violent drunken father (Weston, Jack Willis), an aloof mother (Ella, Pamela Reed), an angry and confused son (Wesley, Judd Williford), and a wild 12-year old daughter (Emma, Nicole Lowrance). The first act is a lot of setup .... you certainly know, not merely because it is a Shepard play, that these folks are losers. But in the second act, it all gets kooky. Characters start switching roles ... the drunken dad dries out, and the son turns into Dad. So does the Mom.

Shepard does not have the facility with genuine dialog that Mamet has or Tom Stoppard. There are a lot of truly peculiar lines, including using the word "authenticity" at one point. So there is a bit of the theater of the absurd in the thing all along. You know these poor sods are about to be swindled out of their parched patrimony. If this were just tragedy, then, the deed would be done at long last and they would stand there bereft and abandoned of hope.

But even by the end of the play, the deed is not done. The father has fled, the daughter leaving as well, pre-teenaged to pursue a life of crime. I thought she was blown up in the off-stage car explosion that was near coincident with her exit. No mention was made. The explosion and the two toughs who entered to prance and threaten ... well it seemed too much.

But there is a method, one must assume, in this madness. Part of it is to underwrite the dark comedy that courses through this work. It is also that reflexive comedy of writing for the cognoscenti who want to think themselves versed in the ways of the ignorant and unwashed, presumably with a certain pride in the breadth of their wisdom ... or who want to experience again the vicarious emotions of having descended from the descents of society. In other words, using my own example, I am two generations away from a blacksmith, so Manhattan-fueled though I may be, I know my proletarian bitterness, "goldernit". In that sense, I figure that a couple of Okies spitting "authenticity" back and forth is Sam Shepard's little spit in the eye of the audience which he presumably loathes.

To be a playwright of bitterness is to spit in the eye of your audience, knowing that your audience gets the joke and doesn't think itself all wet thereby.

The Saturday matinée crowd is, shall we say, a tad more senior than the average crowd, notwithstanding that live theater these days is generally the province of audiences getting more elderly all the time. When the studly Wesley faced the audience to take a long labored piss on the shrill Emma's 4H project which shows how to cut up a chicken, one of those tall, built, upper class ladies who favor unfashionable and bulky heavy tweed knits decided she had had enough, and she up and left her seat in the front row. We habitually inhabit the back row orchestra by the door, and so were able to hear her mutter loudly to the usher as she passed, "I am too old for a display like that." Another large lady of upper class demeanor chose another tense moment to disturb a long row of people so she could walk out. Sam Shepard is not every bourgeoise's coupe de thé.

The other moment that might have occasioned faint-headed yet headstrong dudgeon was when Wesley appeared completely nude, picked up the live lamb in the crate, and exited stage right. He displayed, among other assets, an unusually round and muscular tush, if a fevered fag may be allowed to pass his professional judgment.

Such titillations aside, it was a creditable performance of a difficult work where pain and bad fate lurk in every moment. Shepard is a round caricature of himself, and he gets the joke. So the themes he treats strike home even when his realism is off the mark. Indeed, being off the mark becomes part of the mark. I think the actors got it, and that is why they succeeded.

Then again, I am usually wont to enjoy live theater. Perhaps my dear friend LP will finally start her theater blog and pass judgment with a little more sharpness and theatrical insight ... wink, wink.

And the requisite reviews ... Jack Willis was perfect, as he usually is, especially in roles demanding a characteristic American accent. Pamela Reed was creditable, but I think she tried to give her character more character than it deserved. This is a desperate empty women, stuck in her lot, and ready to screw anybody to get out of it. Judd Williford did well given the difficulty of the mix of confusion, innocence, anger, and bitterness demanded. He did innocent best; when he pissed on his sister oevre, it was hard to imagine the motivation. Nicole Lawrence was the least believable ... she just didn't seem 12, even considering the precociousness that a life of desperation visits upon the young. She was best when she was screaming and wailing. The other parts were all fine, although the bar owner was a little over the top.

Still, see it. Makes you think which is what it is all about.

Here's another take on this production.

Let me note, Manhattan (Evan Williams bourbon, Punt e Mes vermouth, and Fees Brothers bitters) in hand, that the Giants won on a great play at short by Burriss ... and as for the thousand dollar clutch job, well, it might seem harsh. But it's an 86 Honda Civic, and a thousand a year, which is what repairs normally amount to, turns out to be a lot better than four or five hundred a month for something new. And at 34 mpg highway, and not very much driving, I feel I am okay if not completely pure. And, notwithstanding my forefathers, neither the thousand nor the beat up auto makes me a member of the starving class ... or so I hope.

Photo of Sam Shepard from his site.