Thursday, December 31, 2009

A New Year

I decided to have a look at my last post from 2008, a year ago, and it is entitled Loss. And then my first post of 2009, and it starts with "I just cannot get a "write" on. Back to work this week after three weeks off, and the mind reels from idea to idea."

I'm kind of morose right now, and I am still having difficulty getting a write on.

But none of that should obscure that 2009 was an excellent year in my life. Notwithstanding the stress and the inevitable fits and starts, the job has advanced in precisely the direction I seek, and I am more or less in the position that I hoped to be when I thought about it a year ago. I cannot say that I am bubbling over with glee at facing the office again on Monday, but what confronts me is not drudgery but rather a set of opportunities just waiting for my energy to transform them.

The job was the proximate driver of the most significant personal changes that I made in 2009. I got my first set of full-time glasses ... extremely fashionable German mykita frames. Curiously and serendipitously, the model name of the frames is Richard ... the Germans go in for this sort of cloying naming, evidently ... and Richard is my sainted ex. So, all bedecked in the new glasses, I importuned Richard to accompany me to Macys Union Square Men's Store in order to upgrade my appearance. I was looking for newer khakis, frankly; Richard suggested I look at some dress pants. "There is no way that I am going to ..." I sputtered, and as I looked up from my protest, there approaching was broadly-smiling, nattily dressed Leland, as I later learned. "I heard that, and I think I can help."

Leland is a young middle-aged, evidently gay, black guy, and I think he will have to be my 2009 Man of the Year. Since that fortuitous and, at least from my point of view, unplanned meeting, Leland has transformed me into the sort of middle middle aged guy who is not comfortable under-dressed in public. I virtually never go to work now without a tie, and I always wear dress pants, and a fine shirt. That's a change, and it is more than cosmetic. It is accepting that I am 56, that the job is critical to my happiness, and that 56 year-olds look better tarted up than slumming it. The simple choice: elegant elder or schlumpy old goat. I choose the former.

Ooops ... friends have arrived for a little local new Year's celebrating, so I shall return to this tomorrow.

Turned out that we had a perfect Traditional Kielbasa New Year's Eve Party. Perhaps I will explain the origin of this "new tradition" at some point ... what you need to know is that it is all tongue in cheek ... but the end result last night was that the five inmates of the two-flat building in which I live noshed on cheese and sausages, drank elegant champagne cocktails, and toasted each other at the fated hour. The two rather more "pop" of our company had a momentary panic when it became clear that there was no local TV coverage of the moment ... they almost fled in horror ... but we held on to them long enough for a toast and a hug. Then off they went to the roof to watch the fireworks on the Embarcadero from afar.

Back to my earlier ruminations.

Last year was a reimagining of the image and my quotidian modus operandi. That was good. I have no resolutions for this year other than to continue the reimagining. If I am as advanced in my job a year from now as I am now advanced over a year ago, then it will have been a good year. That's the queen's message at this point.

The break is always a little difficult because the free time comes with the commitments and mania of the season, and it also and contrarily affords a respite into which to pour the exhaustion of a year of constant running. In the days after Christmas, I fought off a sore throat by lalley-gagging about in bed for a few days. Eventually I forced myself into some action beyond reading and ruminating, and the immediate result was a trip to Mama's, pictured above, in Mill Valley. If riches suddenly descended upon me, I would probably spend a month or two doing nothing but eating breakfast out, reading my book, walking the dog, and staring into space ... and the week after Christmas is just like that. Mama's is a great little place, and they are genuinely glad to see you.

So I luxuriated there a while, then rolled on to Berkeley via the Richmond/San Rafael Bridge, and made my way home for some more indolence and reading and puttering.

And so the days went ... until the Monday looming when I will strap on one of my new ties and get back at it. Bound and determined not to bracket myself in the gloom which I quoted above from last year. Bound and determined to soldier on and be grateful for the good position in which I find myself, notwithstanding the banal horrors which so many more face.

There's a post, friends ... and here's to another new year. May yours be wonderful and bright and better yet than any before.

Photos, top and bottom, of me by Tony Fox at the War Memorial Opera House when we attended the Nutcracker on December 27; photo in the middle of Mama's in Mill Valley by Arod.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Sleighbells Sing While We Jingle ...

It's Christmas Day! I took my Christmas walk all bedecked in crazy Christmas hat and scarf, and said Merry Christmas to any one I passed. Again, it is Russians and African Americans who seem to best know how to respond to a Merry Christmas with a warm and jovial "And A Merry Christmas to YOU too!" I forgive the yuppies, in the spirit of the day, for their bland "uh-huh's" and "you too's". A very aged and tiny and frail Chinese woman being pushed in a wheelchair fairly lit up at the greeting, though she was too weak to reply. That was very sweet.

We had our Christmas party last Saturday night. I have pictures on Facebook of the good folks who graced us with their warmth and good cheer. We caroled too, though that lacked a certain something because our old friend Solin was absent due to illness; her crystal soprano lights up the room. Thanks to Steve, our resident baritone, whose booming honey tones lead the merriment. His is half the audible voice, and given that the rest of us would make ice crack in full winter with our tones, it is a good thing that Steve drowns us out.

We had food galore. The company polished off three turkeys (thanks to Ian and Dave), a ham (thanks to June and Dolores), and three loves of bread (thanks to Roy and Jim), not to mention innumerable deserts and savory dishes. Such a joy to watch friends eat!

Christmas is nostalgia. A large part of the annual party is nostalgia for all the lost friends, especially Kurt who invented the party with whom Tom and I first joined in being hosts in 1989. The photos above and below are of the tree in the AIDS Memorial Grove. I'll put up some pix of my own tree later, but for today, let us ruminate on that tree and think of those gone, those we loved and love. I think of my nephew Kris who died at 26 last summer; my sister's family is alone together this season in the shadow of his loss. Christmas is hard that way. It is both the sublimely beautiful and the sublimely unforgettable.

Ahhh ... but Christmas is not just for nostalgia. It is also the pure joy of pure joy. It is remembering that from the deepest, darkest depths of winter we rebound to spring and summer again. It is making light out of the dark. It is hearing songs out of silence.

It is also about Santa Claus ... for me at bottom it is the festival of Santa Claus. He knows when you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake. He brings presents for all, but he has a stick in his back pocket to chasten those who have been unwisely bad. Whether giving or chastening, he smiles and chuckles. A lonely man whose solitude resounds in the waves of joy reflected back upon him. He is an elf and trickster in a world that has banished elves in favor of angry paternal gods who maim and torment. He is satisfied to give of himself on bu tone day and leave the rest of the year for us to be ourselves and make of what we have what we can. O Santa, thank you for being so good to me!

Well, I have to choo-choo off to the second and third of my three Christmas parties ... to see Kerry with whom I have celebrated the sesaon since 1989, and to see Solin and Winfield with whom we have had Christmas dinner for over a decade now.

My favorite day, too soon over.

With that, let me wish a very Merry Christmas to all!

So I haven't been blogging, and now I am going to start again. That's all I plan to say at least for the time being about this accidental incidental hiatus. For those who know me, everything is fine, nothing is the matter. Onward and upward.

All photos by Arod, taken today in the AIDS Memorial Grove.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I Picked Up Two Monks Today

I picked up two monks today as I was driving back from my Sunday morning dog walk through Fisherman's Wharf and North Beach. It was at Scott and Eddy; they were standing there all a-crimson and orange be-robed. Late-middled-aged white guys, one had a guitar case. The intersection was slow and as I waited, the seeming leader of the pair put out his thumb and gave me a little smile. I waved them in on a whim, and off we went. They needed to go to 22nd Avenue and Fulton, an entrance to Golden Gate Park most proximate to the day-long concert in celebration of the 40th anniversary of Woodstock.

The guitar-laden of the two got into the back. These were big fellas, and I have a tiny car with a large dog of occasionally dubious temperament in the back seat. So there was some maneuvering. The transplanted suburban yuppie Frau-mit-Kindern in the giganto SUV behind me, impatient, pissily swung around to pass and gave me that little lippy look that really deserves a good slap if said slap would not sully the hand that delivered it. But, whoops, I have two Tibetan monks climbing into the car, so I stilled my pique and calmed my heart and diffused into the joy of the sublime.

The guy in the back kept chatting away as if I were not there, so I interrupted and focused entirely on the guy in the front seat. He explained their particular devotions which are ecumenical in the Buddhistic sense, though it seems that the central affiliation is with the Kagi sect of Tibetan Buddhism.

It turns out that the Moody Blues is playing the park today. I told him that the first concert I ever attended was the Moody Blues at Massey Hall in Toronto. According to their web site, "Massey Hall was a gift from the Massey family to the city of Toronto in 1894. For over 115 years, its famous red doors have welcomed audiences to a stunning array of events, personalities and artists. It has earned a unique place in Canadian music history." It's a cranky old building, but famous for its sublime acoustics. We broke in that night ... it was November 29, 1969. Perhaps I should do a 40th anniversary celebration. I do not remember the concert very well, but I remember breaking in with my friend Sara who was expert at it. We managed to get into the Mariposa Folk Festival for free once also. I was very nervous in both cases ... I do not have the constitution that would be required for criminal activity, even back in those days when I participated in the notion that everything ought to be free. That notion is still around, but only CEOs actually practice it legally.

Back to the monks. I told them that my friend Michael Merrill, dead these 20 years, was a co-founder of the Hartford Street Zen Center, and that I had been a guarantor on the initial real estate purchase. Their web site says it was founded by Issan Dorsey, but that is a long-standing myth. Issan was a distant adviser as I remember, but he was such a larger than life character that the tale is juicier when he is founder. But it didn't happen that way. I must have all that paperwork around somewhere since I never throw anything out. Perhaps I willl send it to them some day in favor of historical accuracy.

The front seat monk thanked me for my efforts given that he lived at Hartford Street for a while.

I told him that Michael had died at the hospice at Hartford Street, and then quickly corrected myself as Michael actually died in a hospice on Geary Street. He tried to die on Hartford Street, but in extremis he was moved to Pacific Presbyterian Hospital and pumped up with fluids. They have their own hospice on Geary Street, and Michael clung there to life for two more weeks. He died as I drove south to the Pac-10 tournament in 1989 with my friend Jack Green, who is also now gone.

But I didn't tell that to the monks. We kept it light. I didn't want to be proselytized; one has to be "catholic" in the rejection of religion. Swanning around in red and orange is certainly less damaging to human life than being a papist or a fundie or a mahometan ... what's in a name ... but it is still delusion. Warm fuzzy delusion, but delusion. Of course, one does not want to be put into a position where it would be necessary to bring up the bloodthirsty history of the Tibetan lamas as they actually ruled. They were rather fond of extractive torture ... eye-gouging, tongue snipping, amputation ... in aid of their hegemony. And that's the point with religion: it's all cutesy when people are blessing each other and wandering around in a haze. But religion in power, even near power, is always brutal.

I figure if I ever were to find myself in a prison, though, I would be a Buddhist. Perfect religion for atheists, they have a rich literature unlike the literature-starved post-Sumerian monotheisms that dominate the world, and the meditation would pass the time nicely.

None of this came up with my monks. I liked the guy in the front seat. The fellow in the back seemed non-plussed that his conversational dominance had been usurped by the driver of the ancient Honda Civic. Maybe he was just grumpy ... I can grok that.

I pulled around the corner at 22nd and Fulton and they piled out. The front seat monk gave me his card and invited me to drop him an email if I needed a blessing or anything. I admit I was tempted ... that is how religion gets to you. I smiled, but did not proffer my hand. I don't think monks like ot be touched.

No pics yet. I am still channeling my inner Aperture, and I should be able to make it a more worldly effort shortly.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


I appear to have sailed on to a bit of shoal in my psyche. I am prone to these things, and once I am sufficiently convinced of the problem, I apply what my great friend Michael Merrill, deceased these twenty years, used to call "main force". So I am in the process of gathering main force.

One thing I have done is to force myself to spend a half hour at lunch reading the manual for Aperture, the more advanced of the Mac products for photo processing. iPhoto was so bloody easy, but I had to decide to upgrade and I have lost control of where anything is. And I hate creating posts without photos. So that is one of those effective ways of stymieing oneself in the modern era. A tight little circle of pointless self-undermining.

I think maybe I will buy a little more memory for my laptop ... that'll surely jog something.

I'm also planning to buy one of those horrible earpieces to improve the cell phone life. I loathe phones, and double-triple loathe cell phones. But that is like a baby loathing mother's milk or a Bostonian loathing the Red Sox. Amusing but ineffectual.

When one is on the shoals in the present era, one spends more time on Facebook than is sensible. Facebook is like a pile of gravel where Twitter is like a pile of sand. Doesn't matter in either case the shape of your shovel, you're still gonna miss more than you observe. But dig away, dig away. That's the spirit.

So trying to buck up - perhaps I should feel fine that Congress attached our right not to be beaten to a bloody pulp to some military expropriations bill ... ooops, that's appropriations ... and now we will soon have the majesty of federal law on our side when some gaggle of thugs take out their frustrations at not being able to ball each other without shame.

In that vein, catch this ... no homo ... for crying out loud ...

Of course, protecting people from hate offends religious sensibility. I mean, what would religion be without hatred.

Crappers ... trying to buck up, here. Maybe the Manhattan that sainted roommate and bartender RL just handed me will help.

I'll go with that ... and the fact that I have posted something, anything. More anon.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Brief Encounter

This is what the San Francisco Chronicle wrote about the American Conservatory Theater/Kneehigh Theatre production of Noël Coward's Brief Encounter: "Every so often a theater piece comes to town that is so brilliantly conceived and executed, so entertaining on every level, that you want everyone you love or even like just a bit to see it. Brief Encounter ... is that kind of experience."

Couldn't have said it better. It's on until October 17. There is a really cool site including a trailer that doesn't do the piece justice here.

The work is based on Coward's well-known 1939 play Still Life, and there is a better known movie, which of course I haven't seen, called Brief Encounter. The present production melds film, stage, railway, song, movement, and audience into a new, and yet old, retake.

It's about love. There are three love affairs: the central one in which two middle class folks come to the edge of losing their good sense, and two background love affairs among the railroad station cafe staff. The latter are bawdy and humorous; the former is dark and heavy, ultimately unrequited.

All that fun on the stage and I came to want some fulfillment. Coward, of course, would never end the thing in death ... perhaps someone can correct me if I am off-base here ... but there is a little death in the soul-destroying return to the sensible. All the fulfillment is in the bawdy joy of the other two relationships.

The essay in the program pointed out the poignancy of one of the songs ... Room with a View ... because of what it would have represented to the then marginally closeted Coward. He could not have true love because that was denied to homos. He could only have the bawdy slap and tickle stuff, and that only when he kept it quiet enough that it did not "scare the horses." So the contrast between the two bawdy relationships and the furtive and ultimately unfulfilled middle class liaison reverses itself ... the homosexual author lusts after a formal relationship without all the middle class nausea about the sensible.

Enough said. Very enjoyable.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Heading Home from the Gold Coast

I'm starting this post in the Auckland airport, this time at dusk ... six in the evening ... finishing it as we take off over the dark South Pacific heading home to San Francisco. The bright modern architecture of Auckland's new international area is suffused with low sunlight. There are four big goofy teenage boys in some kind of all black uniform at the next table, giggling and glancing at me as I have obviously noticed them, as hard as I try to pretend I have not. New Zealander youth, from my brief experience, seem to wear a lot of black. These black T-shirts are emblazoned with "Oceania Penrith 2009" on the back and New Zealand Canoe Polo on one sleeve, and i-4 on the other. The good life.

Sad moments as we said our several goodbye's earlier in the Brisbane airport. Not just the departure from family half a world away from everyday life. But the underlying tragedy that struck us a month ago; see my post xxx for those details.

But life moves on. Mother's 80th birthday is tomorrow, and that was the proximate cause of this trip. My sister brought mother here as a birthday present, and I decided it was the ideal time to make my first pilgrimage to the country my sister adopted as her own three decades ago. Life has always been too packed with immediacy to spur me to make the trip before and, besides, I saw her every couple of years in Ontario. I feel bad about that, the more so because of how much I enjoyed Australia.

Except for the one day in Brisbane, I spent the entire time on the Gold Coast and its immediate hinterland in the Great Barrier Range. Again, not the plan, but the great dust storm had its way. I spent all of every day except one with sister, brother-in-law, and nephew, and also visiting mother.

The Gold Coast where my sister's family has lived for nearly two decades is decidedly new. Explosively new. Not just the skyscrapers of Surfers' Paradise, but the sprawling suburbs that wrap around the canals and manmade lakes. That said, it really does feel like the good life ... the sun, the g-day mates, the broad visible happy middle class, the lack of any discernible poverty or misery. A tiny slice of the land down under, mind you, and the failed trip to Sydney is the more unsettling because the slice is broader and bigger and more troubling there, I am quite sure.

But this thing slice of the good life kept me thinking about my own good life. The pros and the cons. I'm not going to go through a laundry list, and indeed I have not been going through a laundry list. I've just been thinking that this is the time in life when I need to husband the pros and nudge the cons out of view. As those immediacies become less inistent, the broad generals need more attention.

Early in the week, we visited Tamborine Mountain, and I have been humming Hey Mr. Tambourine man, sing a song for me ever since. The Bob Dylan version is a song from my youth, when there was a lot of immediacy to everything, where every tiny slight or setback felt like an avalanche in my face. Notwithstanding that, and notwithstanding that I was a decided hothead politically and intellectually, I thought of myself as on some level cool, and music was the locus of the cool. So it was ironic to be humming Mr. Tambourine Man as an old guy who cannot help but be a lot cooler than he ever was if only by reason of how much energy it takes to get worked up. Not that I don't get worked up; I just don't like it any more.

The trip was very Mr. Tambourine Man, laidback, contemplative, sing-a-song-for-me, in the warm embrace of famly that endures and hugs.

I always want to learn something when I travel, and that's what I learned ... sing a song for me. I thought of it as tearful mother disappeared up the ramp in Brisbane ... a day shy of 80, hardly a gray hair on her head, remarkably spry and sharp. I thought of it as I hugged my sister and brother-in-law goodbye, feeling the pain of their loss, and vowing that our ancient connection needs all the attention it deserves, vowing to sing a song for each other, warm and laidback.

What else to make of Australia? I watched a couple of "footie" games, a Rugby League semi-final and the Grand Final of Australian Rules Football. In both cases the team that we were rooting for lost. In neither case do I remember the name of a single player. Both were excellent games, but the AFL Grand Final was gripping. It's a great sport ... wide-open, fast, athletic, spectacular men, both speed and pure force. A lot like hockey in that the game just keeps going, although the coaches have even less direct control over the actual game than hockey. I love AFL, and I wish we could see more of it in the States

But isn't it curious that the Australians have invented two complete games pretty much just for themselves, their own version of rugby and AFL? They call them, as well as Rugby Union which is rugby played by the universal rules, "footie." I'm a footie fan! And footie, it seems to me, expresses something about Australia ... old games made new.

Australia is a new land built on the most ancient continent facing the new challenges for which the known answers will not be enough. Even so, they enjoy the surf and sun, they dig the footie, they groove to their own language.

So, not to put too fine a point on it, what I learned from travel in Australia is that my own life is a new life, insofar as I have marched to my own drummer, but yet it is still built on those ancient dynamics of surviving and finessing the challenges for which no known answer can be ultimately enough as time drones on. I kept thinking about how isolated Australia seems when one is not there, and yet it is fully "here" and not at all isolated when you are there. Just like one's own life. Just like wherever you happen to be. So as I ruminated on the good life ... and that in the context of the personal pain we felt at our family tragedy ... the easy life amid the universal dross, I vowed to redouble my own commitment to those parts of my life that are good.

One more point, and then I'll put this computer away and lean back into the enjoyment of a 12-hour flight ... no sarcasm there at all ... and my current re-re-read of the Persian Wars. My nephew just came back to Australia after a half-year trip around the world, including to family in Canada. Aussies travel. But when they come back home, they settle into where they belong, back to the good life of the special secret Aussie joke on the rst of the world ... the one we all know about but don't quite grok.

Again ... we all have a little secret conspiracy, and the world doesn't quite get it. We smirk back at the world, knowingly, laughing, hoping that in some way our personal conspiracy is funny enough to carry us on in some kind of comfort and personal joy.

How odd. From this trip, from my communing with the Aussies, I found again a new urging to the quiet joys that are available to me, that are there for simply basking in them, sunning myself. Not what I expected; not what was on the agenda. But that was good.

Photos by Arod.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Homeward Bound

Flight leaves in 7 hours ... vacation over. ... back to the good life on the Bay.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Getting All Short

Saturday morning ... only today and tomorrow left in Australia before the long trip home. Work on Tuesday.

As with most vacations, I have read and sent email pretty much daily. That's the way work is. It is also the way that vacations are ... no matter how far away you go, you are still there. Nothing remarkable in my thoughts on this. There's a piece on Salon today, Is the Internet melting our brains?, that again and once again tells everybody to chill out and recognize that change happens and the species does not disappear. On the other hand, a nice piece by San Francisco's Mark Morford about the impossibility of communicating with dedicated morons.

So yesterday was a trip to the sylvan mysteries of Springbrook including a sweet long waterfall. Today is garage sales with Gordon and Diane, old friends of the Australian family, both Americans who have been resident here for many decades. They live in a little house right on Palm Beach, retired and enjoying it ... truly the good life!

We had a couple of beers on the patio at the Palm Beach Surf Club last night. Cool scene. A fetching young waiter was mightily impressed that I lived in San Francisco ... he was almost tongue tied, wanted to know about baseball. One of the nice things remaining about our fair city, notwithstanding that it is getting rather dowdy and unexceptional in so many ways, is that it is still view as a fable elsewhere. I shouldn't be too cranky about San Francisco's new-found inner frump, though, as I am looking forward to being home. Like everyone, I hate when vacations come to an end. But this has been a rather long one for me, and there is an itchiness to reconnect with my life. I still feel a little let down by the Sydney mishap ... I'll probably be within shouting distance of 60 when I do finally see the city. But there it is ... I will return to my fabled city with my eyes still innocent of Australia's fabled city.

After our beers by the beach, we went to the little casino in the Surf Club. I bet a dollar and won a dollar. My nephew bet 10 and ended up with 165!

Let's call that a metaphor.

Photos by Arod: Purlingbrook Falls, the family on Palm Beach, north of Byron Bay from the lighthouse.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Good Life

I just realized that I have been posting these Australia travel notes with San Francisco times ... I will have to go back and adjust the previous ones, and this note will disappear when I have done that.

When one travels, it is hard not to imagine that things are inherently better or worse somewhere else. Certainly things are different, but I would like to operate from the notion that notwithstanding vast differences in practice and expectation, not to mention material well being and circumstance, that most groups of people average the same amount of laughter and sorrow. I would like to operate that way, but not sure if it is right.

The most "exotic" places I have traveled ... and that probably means the place the furthest from my life experience ... are Haiti and Papua New Guinea. In the latter, people laughed a lot and life seemed good notwithstanding the rather restricted range of foodstuffs available to the highlanders. There is a good life in Papua New Guinea that would not seem very bloody good to me if I were compelled to live it. In this sense, Australia is probably the least "exotic" place I have ever traveled because the foodstuff range is pretty comparable to here I come from, the people speak English, and the expectations seem broadly similar.

Even so, the good life in Australia has a different timbre than the good life in San Francisco.

It's quite chilly this morning ... I even have a "jumper" on. A few days back it was warm in the morning, and the TV news was reporting that the weather was nice. The morning heat filled me with a certain foreboding because I fear the insufferably hot days for which this place is famous. The real foreboding should have been that the heat was a predictor for the dust storm of the century.

My point here, as attenuated as it apparently may be, is that the good life here is bloody hot. Most people go about their lives, working and doing, but the tiny strip where sand meets surf is where the good life abounds. The famous swagger of the semi-clad Australian youth points to and derives from that strip, and from the blazing heat and the quenching waves.

Some years ago on the island of Nias, Ian and I were walking through Gunungsitoli to a boat that would carry us back to Sumatra. Blazing hot. A bunch of Aussie surfer guys loudly declaiming as they strutted along, their accompanying women trailing behind, pouting, clearly not having quite the time of it that their males were having. We were cranky about them because they had interfered with our idyll at Teluk Dalam, on the south coast. The Aussie's claimed the western point of the bay on which we were staying because the surf was good there. As we sought inner peace and solitudinous reflection in the evening, they drunkenly whooped it up and made asses of themselves.

This is the favored fable of Aussie surfers. Life has moved on, of course, and Aussie women are as liberated as women anywhere else. But the actual swagger I witness here is not loud and aggressive, but sleek and self-assured. Notwithstanding that there is something cloying and annoying about people who are beautiful, athletic, unemployed and fancy free, yet evidently still with sufficient means to enjoy the good stuff ... the beach bums are the proximate definition of the good life here. They don't seem to need to rub it in or lord it over. They just strut along the street secure on the corner of the good life that has accrued to them. Of course, this notion would be considerably disabused were I to venture to the notorious nocturnal drinking binges where alcohol and youth conspire to turn the good into its opposite ... but I am not looking at the dialectic of sublime and crass here. Rather, I am trying to put my finger on what passes as the middle middle Australian sublime.

Yesterday Shane and I toured Byron Bay, surely one of the most exquisite places anywhere in the world. Natural beauty, beautiful people, leisure ... alas, artless architecture obscuring the few traces of an older more genteel world, crappy souvenirs, cars everywhere. Exquisite these days is not what it once was.

And there's a point ... worldwide, exquisite used to be reserved for the rich, and now there is increasingly an exquisite that crassly goes well down the social ladder. Australia is a particularly pointed argument for this, because it is a place founded broadly on a principle of elevating the working class. There is a leveling force here that brings the very broad middle up. The good life here is for everyone if they make the right choices ... work hard all year and go to the beach on your holidays; that's the meme.

Shane complains about the louts who live on the dole, clog up the streets, do nothing, get drunk and stoned, and view the good life as entitling them to a lifetime of free stuff and fun. Cranky, me too. When you work for a living, you resent those who game your taxes for leisure and indolence. Of course, long-term those who ply this thin trade find diminishing returns; we saw a few of those, skinny, leathered skin, shoeless, ambling. I think most of the beautiful surfer types do it until they marry up and family down.

This is just not a society which believes that the ordinary life is a trap or a failure ... this is not a society that sees Michael Jordan as success and everything else as not good enough. This is not a society that runs by the moronic motto that "you can be anything you want to be if you just try hard enough." The American mythology of excess is tempered here. They have three "footie" leagues that are very successful and barely known off the continent. No athlete in Australian society is making 20 million a year. But they are successful nonetheless.

The night of my dust-induced discomfiture, I asked of the family that we do something out there, something other than the warm embrace of togetherness and familiarity. I was disappointed that my excursion to Sydney was drowned in that now infamous red dawn. Let me wax a little personal on that ... this has been one of those middle-aged voyages of self-discovery in which settling in with my intimates provides an inner warmth and recovery that I probably could not have managed so freely when I was younger. That said, I did want to have my indefatigable wild streak massaged as well. The 24 hours in Sydney was my chance to be a fag, that is a self-actualized, self-defined individual, unknown in the big city, observing, being observed, haunting and strutting in such a strut as I still manage. It was my mid-50s version of the good life, formed up and pared down to a single day and night of forced-march tourism, as I like to call it. It's really all I needed. And the fact that it was stolen by nature's sudden descent did not reduce the humbling that it induced. I am over the humbling now, and back to smirking about how little our little conceits matter in the larger frame. The memory of what I missed is not part of my inner self-mockery, and that will be my mental souvenir. That, and the vow that the next time I come to Australia (in three years for my nephew's promised graduation) I fly into Sydney and do it first.

So back to the family's night out. We went to the Currumbin Surf Club ... an Australian style institution which supports the good life by plowing the profits back to supporting the surf patrol. Leslie and Shane are members; Scott, my nephew, came along as well. Mother was enjoying a Happy Hour with my sister's mother-in-law at the seniors' development. And, to set the scene, Currumbin is surely the coolest town on the coast here, seemingly least developed, most like it ought to be, low rise, long beach, laidback.

We didn't get a table right away, but drank our beers on the balcony ... the air was still filled with dust, though we could see the moon and one start. The In The Bin Film Festival "Board Shorts" were showing on the flat panels when we got our table which was right next to where a bunch of dreadlocked musicians were setting up for what promised to be a bloody loud set of music. Hmmm, we nervously, middle-agedly, fretted. Can we thrust these burgers down fast enough to get out of here before the racket interrupts. Mother was waiting to be picked up at 8, we got our table after 7 ... so this was the big night out on a foreshortened schedule.

And then the band started. They were incredible ... called a FRENCH BUTLER called SMITH. They say of themselves that they are a world music band that plays "high energy Latin, funk, instrumental fusion" ... a little Chick Corea, a little didgereedoo, lots of funk, jumping and jiving. The guitarist, Scott French, was a wave, and the bassist, Jake Martin, was a babe and a force of nature. There was a sax and a trumpet. Wow.

So that was my little sight of the good life on that dusty evening. The Surf Club, the world funk jive grooves, the crowd mixed of middle aged and youth. A skinny kid in a German hunting hat, as I call it, tapping his foot and watching to see who watched him. Huge burgers. And the roiling sky outside, still plugged with the dust that is the harbinger of the ultimate end of it all.

I did buy the CD, and had a sweet chat and a tap of the arm with the sexy bassist pictured below. Ah, the good life.

Photos by Arod. 1. The Lighthouse at the easternmost point in Australia. 2 and 3. Byron Bay. 4 and 5. a French Butler called Smith in performance at the Currumbin Surf Club.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Global Warming Bites: No Way to Sydney

Somehow, nature hit me in the bulls eye yesterday. If I had chosen a flight 3 hours earlier or 3 hours later, I would probably be in Sydney right now and I would not be writing this post. I would be emerging from the Wattle Hotel on Oxford Street, heading to a long purposeful march through a city I have hankered to visit for decades.

But no! The dust storm of the century hit me ... and pretty much the entire East Coast of Australia ... between the eyes. Sydney was the land of the red horror. Meanwhile, I was trapped in the Gold Coast airport figuring that luck would not abandon me, and I'd still make it out. After four hours, they canceled my flight. I'm probably out about 200 bucks, but I might end up getting some of that back if I pursue it diligently.

But that, of course, is not the story.

The not so big secret of Australia is that it is the driest continent. It also is sustaining one of the most rapid population growth rates in the world. And, speaking of bulls eyes, it is feeling the earliest and most devastating effects of global warming. The causes of this unusual dust storm are drought, warm spring, and denuded farmland. The red dawn in Sydney was the sight of people waving goodbye to the topsoil that has fed them for a century.

Even so, there we were stuffing fast food garbage into the bins at the airport which serves this explosively expanding tourist spot with nary a care other than our shattered plans to photograph Sydney Harbor from the Manley ferry, or whatever equivalent mattered by person. I actually grabbed a water bottle from a girl's tray as she dumped it into the garbage and told her that was recyclable ... the recycling bin was 6 inches away, so perhaps it was too much trouble for her. She gave me a pissy look.

I sat for a while across from a large happy Chinese family ... speaking Chinese, but I thought they were Australians. The older boy, obviously the family's apple-eye, pouted and pushed away the boxed individual pizza that Auntie brought him; the pizza went straight into the garbage. The boy later stretched and yawned in front of daddy who took a moment from his interminable cell phoning to rub his scion's fat belly. Meanwhile, the considerably skinnier and younger girl was left to her own devices.

On the upside of the people watching in the terminal where no one left, a surfer dude unconsciously pushed his T-shirt up and picked at his navel.

In the course of my slow resignation to the aborted Sydney trip, I ordered two coffees from the same place ... we established that the correct order is double-shot, short pull espresso, half full in a small cup ... and was charged a different amount for each order. They botched the second one, but I downed it anyway while looking out the window (photo above), peering into the gloom in hope of catching a few rays of hope from above. I tried to read my book ... a fevered popularization of the Greek/Persian Wars of the fifth century B.C.E. called Persian Fire. But even the cavortings of Darius could not distract me from my disappointment.

Later, I had a nice night out with the family instead of cruising The Oxford. I will report on that shortly. But right now, I want to feel sorry for myself ... which, as the Republicans will point out, is so much more important than doing something about the headlong dive into disaster into which our accumulated selfishnesses is pitching our planet.

Photos by Arod. Top one of the runways at the Gold Coast airport, bottom one of mannequins inside the airport ... one of a long series of mannequin photos.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

First Day of Spring

Yesterday was blazing hot in Brisbane. We walked around downtown ... sister, brother-in-law, mother, and me; nephew went off with his cousin. This is a very family trip, and I have been the happy recipient of all-in travel planning. Everyone has been very patient with my shutterbug-itis. I have been less patient with my own inability to keep up with the photo processing.

The second to last stop in Brisbane was a wonderful bookshop called Archives that advertises itself as having over a million books; it inhabits the building pictured above. Almost worth moving to Brisbane for. They claim to have a web site, but it is broken right now. It did seem a little pricey, and one of the online reviews had the same opinion. Not sure how much used books cost in Australia. I ended up buying two souvenir tomes, one a 1925 geography of the world with an old school library checkout form pasted in the front page, the other a small 1941 book of reminiscences on Australia intended for servicemen on duty. The title is Australia: My Country, and the author is Charles Barrett. A very sentimental volume. I was fretting over whether to buy it until I saw that one of its short pieces is an essay on climbing Mount Tamborine before the road was put in.

It turns out that I am a day ahead of myself in this report. Because two days ago we went up to Mount Tamborine which looks out over the Gold Coast as it shelters a national park and a little tourist town of artsy shops. Just before the town, though, we were witness to three young men who through themselves off the mountain, albeit attached to gliding devices that lofted them high. The guy with the sail device ... alas, I do not know the terms ... was ghoulishly wrapped head-to-toe; I assume that it must get cold at the heights which he quickly attained. The fixed wings guys drifted downward until they found a thermal over which they spiraled back upwards. I do not have the risk/thrill personality type, but even so I could not help but fantasize at how exhilarating the ride of the first fellow must be. It seemed like he was in airliner country up there. How peaceful how serene, how utterly terrifying.

After that we settled into the little town of Tamborine with its crafts and tourist gee-gaws. I bought a bar of convict soap that said "Gentle after 50 lashes". Now it is stinking up my bag. I also bought a couple of non-local pieces of colorful glass that will go in the garden. And we settled in for some chocolates and coffee at a nice little place where the espresso machine was out of doors. The young woman confessed that she never guessed where people were from because they would invariably be offended if she guessed wrong. People are such twits.

From Tamborine to the Knoll, a part of Tamborine National Park. My sister is a high muckamuck in the Queensland government land use administration. She has moved through the ranks, and knows so much about land use, climate change, endangered and invasive species. Always a delight to tour with an expert. We had lunch in the Knoll, and the Brush Turkeys and Magpies harassed us. Speaking of birds, Ibis are as common as muck ... they flocked in great numbers in the cooling pools of water surrounding the power plant next to Swanbank where we took the steam train yesterday.

Leslie and I took a brief jaunt down a trail to see the rainforest ... some unidentifiable brown birds about the size of robin were mucking into the mulch, actually burying themselves, and paying little attention to our approach. We left them to what we presumed was their worming. We would have taken a much longer stroll ... rainforest is unendingly repetitive, and thereby meditative ... but my game and hearty near 80-year-old mother does not hike with quite the vigor of years gone by. She is game, and interested. But the body does place a limit.

On the way down the mountain, we were witness to some ancient car, overfilled with humanity, that was blowing smoke and bout to collapse, its last mission cut short by overly optimistic modern drivers who decline to admit that there is, in fact, a limit to everything.

So back to Brisbane. Quite a city, and one, by my sister's report, that has exploded from sleepy town to urban giant in the space of a couple of decades. The ancient buildings were nestled into the mushrooming modernity. Leslie is moving from a middle-aged skyscraper to one of the latest shortly ... I want a photo of her new office from where she will reign over Queensland's exceptionally rich land resources.

Mother struck up a conversation with another old lady in the food court. She was a bushwhacker, one of 10 children, raised and resident in the outback. In Brisbane on some errand. I did not hear the conversation, alas, but Mother was fascinated and the two hit it off like old friends while I dug into a massive Japanese rice bowl.

We did a little public transit in Brisbane ... a catamaran ferry down the river, and later a bus back from downtown to the car park in South Bank, a beautifully developed park and play land. Public transit is the best cheap way to know a place.

My only regret in our five hours of rapid deployment is that I did not get much of a chance to photograph the fabulous bridges of the Brisbane River. I'll look for post cards instead.

Heading to Sydney today despite its being in the middle of a red dust storm. Domestic flights seem to be still on track. If for any reason I get bumped, there are no refunds, so I am going to hang on until they chase me out of the airport if it comes to that. I have about 26 hours on the ground in Sydney, and I want to make use of every second.

Photos by Arod. Falling behind on Flickr, but will keep after it. Not likely to upload anything until after I return from Sydney.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Rain and Steam

Not necessarily in any order.

Before I get to our trip to Swanbank ... It rained briefly last night. Tropical rains are so sensual. The big drops, the loud patter, the sweet odor. It reminds me of the best tropical rain I ever felt. On the Trobriand Islands in 1983 with my friend Ian. We had just arrived and set out for a walk. The rain arrived suddenly, heavy, warm, inundating. We just kept walking as children laughed an pointed from under banana leaves. We ended up in the closest thing to a town ... Losuia, I think ... drenched to the skin. But by the time we were back at the hotel, we were only damp ... as damp as you might be in the tropics if there hadn't been a rain.

That hotel in the Trobriands was owned by an Aussie ex-pat who had his ear glued most of the time to a short-wave radio with the footy on. Footy would be football, and my nephew Scott informed me today that it is spelled with a 'y' not an 'ie' as I had assumed. I enjoy Australian English ands train to hear its varieties as we wander about.

Wandering included a trip to Swanbank where we boarded a classic, restored steam train on Sunday, the Queensland Pioneer Steam Railway. A total hoot! The billowing black steam was the most 19th century part of the deal, but the cramped cabins, the beautiful wood, the unannounced stoppages ... it all made it so easy to imagine rail travel in another time when distance meant so much more than now. We waited in the torpid heat in our car, the Bonnie Dundee, on a siding as the crew prepared to offload one car and connect up to another ... reasons were not provided. This was in the middle of a bit of a railway graveyard, and all the slow decaying metal made me shutter-happy.

At some point we got talking about how much further away Australia was in the mid-70s when my sister first moved here. For good or ill, the world is contracting. That said, I still send three postcards wherever I go, and those are ready for the post some time today.

Gonna take a break and make some coffee ... no matter that I am half a world away from home, I am still bolt awake at 5!

As I say, we sat in the Bonnie Dundee, and we were the only group without wee children. One said children was a messy looking little girl who was not squirm-free for more than a flash the entire journey. She particularly liked hanging out of the window, and her father, a hale-fellow-well-met lad of a man, only occasionally saw fit to haul her back in. Mother and I, sitting together right behind, cringed in unison. I mentally timed my leap across the seat in front of me to see if I could retrieve her from disaster. Her accompanying young brother, in the care of what appeared to be the grandfather was more the muttering type whose excursions were limited to purposeful trips up and down the aisle. Even so, he was more than once perilously close to tumbling off the balcony. What a grump I am ... I wish there were options for child-free outings ... or at least outings where the children where sworn to the seen-not-heard standard of yesteryear for which I loudly hanker.

So after the train ride, we went into Ipswitch, an old mountain working class town that is feeling the pressure of gentrification. It is a straight-shot train ride to downtown Brisbane, but it still has that old small-city charm. I can see why people would want to live here, notwithstanding that the lack of ocean breezes makes it hotter by day and colder by night than the coast.

We went to the Ipswitch RSL ... Returned Servicemen's League, I think ... for lunch. It seemed such a characteristically Australian place. A club, with membership and special rules for non-member entrance. A bar, a buffet, food to order, entertainment, and slots. The club funnels its profits to assorted community ventures. There was an enormous old guy propped up on a stool at the bar, and it was obvious that here was his spot which he guards with dull alacrity day in and day out. The underlying socialism of this decidedly capitalist country is part of that secret conspiracy of which I spoke a day or two ago. All the Aussies get it, and you have to admire it ... but I'm not quite in on the punchline. Back to the prosaic ... enormous feed, hearty food. I erred in having a bourbon on the rocks as I was ready for bed for the rest of the day.

Photos by Arod. I am uploading a whole lot of them to Flickr as I write this, and will add the link here when the upload is done.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ay Currumbin, Redux

So there we are walking along the beach with the art in the Swell Sculpture Festival. Nice stuff ... some of it compelling. The crowd was laidback, children hither and yon, sometimes climbing on the sculpture. I could not get a picture of some helicopter-themed piece because the young-uns swarmed so much about it. I like my pix of art, and architecture, human free. Human beings are fun to photograph, but mostly I am looking to pull something out of context, to isolate in aid of drawing the mind to the less obvious view, the mental path not yet taken. That's the goal.

There's a paradise aspect to it all ... watching the surfer dudes grabbing the last bit of the underwhelming waves as the sun set. Anything to get wet and stay wet.

After the Swell festival, it was on the In the Bin Film Festival, an annual affair of a single night of shorts under the stars on 2 screens in the park. We brought lawn chairs and a meal and plenty of beer. The A/V folks were having a hard time of it, but nary a complaint from an audience that was perfectly happy to chill and be and drink in the evening air. At long last, it all started, though we did have to watch the sponsor commercials a grand total of three times over the course of the evening.

I enjoyed the Not so Green Eugene Green piece by Michael Hill, an animation piece about an unusually socially alienated man and his encounter with a woman, equally socially inept but in a different and incompatible way. And also a completely sacrilegious Last SupperAngus Ml Sampson in which a rowdy drunken dozen apostles ridiculed the savior portrayed by an aged aboriginal with false teeth. Judas Iscariot got stuck with the bill and tried to do a dash and dine.

There were a couple of pieces that dealt with life and death, and in the dark that made for some reflective and sad moments for our family in light of our recent loss referred to in an earlier post. I am always amazed at human capacity for soldering on, and I especially impressed by the strength of character my sister's family shows. Hard to find words.

So Currumbin is quite a little town, blissful by the sea, using its good fortune for art and conservation and creativity.

Photos by Arod from the Swell Sculpture Festival, More photos on my Flickr site, and more to come as I get time to upload them.

Ay Currumbin

photo of art on the beach in Currumbin
After we came back from the Gold Coast, there was only the briefest pit stop at home before Shane and I headed out to buy some groceries via a circuitous route through sundry communities south of here, specifically Coolangatta, Tugun, and especially Currumbin.

The story in Coolangatta is a low bore Surfers' Paradise ... the financial value of development bit by bit squeezing out the old and characteristic in favor of vast cookie cutter high rises. Not entirely ugly or unappealing or without justification. But the value of moderation or diversity is lost in the face of seemingly permanently escalating property values. I looked about for signs of the old, the faded beach shacks and cool low-rise wooden structures. Few to be found except in Currumbin.

Still, it is paradise. Apparently there is a saying that 60% of the days here are great, and the rest are perfect. It is especially perfect for the semi-amphibious, and as I mentioned this morning, they abound.

photo of art on the beach in CurrumbinPlenty of public art about, most of it apparently having caused controversy. The piece above is atop a hill in Coolangatta. I had to lie on the ground to get some of the photos, and then get the bejeezus outta there as a crowd of young drunks was on the verge of a punch-up ... still in the happy phase of abject inebriation, but we all know how quickly that devolves into smash mouth.

photo of art on the beach in CurrumbinThere is still a lot of what makes living on the beach a sweet life in Currumbin. Later in the evening we returned for a two-fold arts festival. First there was the Swell Sculpture Festival, an annual competition that attracts a swell of visitors ambling along the beach at dusk taking quickly composed photos and contemplating the art. I'll have more pix on Flickr soon enough ... the problem with travel blogging is that it takes time, and I am supposed to be having a good time, not being a self-employed three-dot lounger.

I have to admit that I am tuckered out and broiling hot ... and dinner is shortly on the way. "Tea" as they call it. So I am signing off from this pedestrian post, and will try to cach up as soon as I can.

Photos by Arod.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Up and Down the Gold Coast

Yesterday: a poetic day by any measure. The sweetest poetry on the Gold Coast is the riot of bird song that greets in the morning. I am sleeping in a little alcove in Leslie and Shane's rambling and idiosyncratic wood frame home at the pinnacle of Elanora, and beside my head is a screen door that allows the sounds and the sweet early spring air to caress me as I sleep. And because sleeping on vacation is one of its best arguments, this arrangement is, well, poetic.

So yesterday was a focused trip up and down the Gold Coast. Elanora, where I am staying with family, is slightly inland and at the southern end of the Gold Coast, Queensland's sun, sand, water tourism mecca. We set out northbound, a snug five in the family Hyundai, heading to Surfer's Paradise and ultimately the Spit. I was vaguely expecting a slowly modernizing beach resort with a bunch of strip malls and old haunts. Was I in for a surprise.

photo of the skyline of the Gold Coast from a beach across a body of waterThe Gold Coast is an explosion of high rise haunts for the rich and proud and those who like to hang around them. You can readily see by the age of the buildings how rapidly the development has occurred. Bright and white-washed and modern as if there never was anything old. Not entirely unpleasant ... there is a breeziness and unaggressive self-assurance to Australian that makes is forward character so much more palatable than, say, the forward character of the aggressive American self-absorption. Not, of course, that any world traveler has not at some point or another had to move spritely to avoid a gaggle of Australian drunks. But the underlying warmth of Australia makes a place like Surfers' Paradise easier to handle than its Miami analogue.

Oh, yeah, and then there are all the bods ... man ... living the life of surf, sun, and water makes the dudes damnably pretty ... head-turners all about. I didn't have time for the candid people shot thing ... that takes patience, stealth, and solitude. So I only managed this one shot of the beach crowd. You get the idea.

photo of a skiff anchoreded off the SpitWe ended up on a still natural sand peninsula called the Spit. Hot. Seemed like the sort of place I would want to bring the dog at dawn for a long walk before mad Mr. Sun would start to burn a hole in my good mood. Two young guys pulled up in a rant-a-skiff and we watch as one of them anchored it to the sand. He walked up the rise and kept looking at us ... evidently he wanted a greeting and Shane gave him one. Again, a national sort of consciousness ... I have always felt that Aussies act as if they are all involved in a big happy conspiracy that they know about and everyone suspects ... but everyone else just doesn't get the punch line. Good natured, open to a good time.

Later, wandering around Surfers' Paradise was a lot more like the world-o-glam-tourism that leaves all of our clan cold. We were on a collective anthropological expedition, and we had a nice time doing it.

Gotta fly ... off to the Ipswitch classical steam engine train. Will try to catch up later this afternoon.

Photos by Arod ... plenty more when I get time to process them. I'll upload a big batch to Flickr and let you know.

Friday, September 18, 2009


I'm in the Auckland airport, feeling nostalgic for a place I have never visited but have long adored. Everyone is speaking English here, but in a variety of patois, mostly Australian. There's a rugby game on one television, the BBC international news on the other. Short men with treetrunk legs and cannonball buttocks on the one screen and skinny black youth in a garbage dump in Africa on the other ... I'm not sure what the story is.

I tried to pay for the Internet here, but it couldn't handle the transaction ... not sure why. I did manage to pay for a double espresso with a credit card, and I plan to pay for another one once I get up from my labors here. (I'll post this when I get to Australia, but adjust the date accordingly.)

I love long flights, and this one was uneventful. 12 plus hours, around 7 of which were spent uncomfortably in the arms of Morpheus. I have a bum left shoulder which responds to Ibuprofen, but only for so long. And speaking of buttocks ... not the cannonball sort ... why can we not invent an airline seat that handles the buttockal demands of reclining contorted in a chair for hours without putting the pitied pair to sleep. We've all got butts ... let's let science get a grip on this!

Reminds me of my old friend, turned enemy, now deceased, Maurice Flood, the driven pioneer of Canadian gay liberation who was, characteristically for Canada, an American exile. After he first met me, he reported to a mutual friend that I had the cutest ass but a face that would stop a clock. My friend relayed this to me, and Maurice was embarrassed and apologetic. He should not have been ... I laughed about it and still do. I know my face would stop a clock ... it probably has.

What am I rambling on about? O yeah, buttocks and beggars on the TV. The buttocks get the best of it, and that, my friends, is the way it goes in history.

For this recently closed flight, NZ 7, I brought along a 4 month supply of New York Times Review of Books which my good friend Roy gives me week by week. He attaches a stickie on the front with page references to the relevant articles ... useful given that Roy and I are likely to read the same ones. The press of everyday life is such that it takes me a while to read these things, and I often do it in concentrated sessions. So this is what I got, inter alia: God is not dead, but he might as well be since he doesn't exisst. Whores tell interesting, pithy, but literally flawed stories, and ... shock ... people have sex. Donald Rumsfeld is a force of nature whose one good idea eventually set an empire to ruin. And academics should not devise financial strategies.

All of these stories illustrate that third principle that adorns the top of this blg: any force given long enough turns into its opposite. Religion may have been the proximate attendant upon the founding of civilization, but it is the root of all modern evil. Sex is good unless it is bad ... or se is bad until you admit that it is good. Beware the smiling ideologue for surely he will lead you to hell. And god save us from experts and know-it-alls.

Gotta fly ... literally. I plan to mount this ramble without editing ... except for the sake of my own pride, I will fix any spelling errors.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Out and up for Down Under

So I am heading to Australia. And I have not been blogging. The things are vaguely connected. I didn't mean things to go this way, but there it is.

The trip to Australia was planned months ago ... a long-delayed visit to my sister's adopted homeland of over 30 years. Summer is always exhausting for me, as the conscientious reader of my poultry scratch will know. And I was just pulling out the miasma when ... well, when tragedy struck. I want to be delicate and not name precise names for the sake of the peace of mind of those closest to the tragedy.

My 27 year-old nephew, who suffered for more than a decade from a debilitating case of chronic fatigue syndrome, took his own life. He would be my Australian sister and brother-in-law's older son; he has a younger brother who is hale and hearty, and crushed by the loss of his brother, as were his parents.

So the trip to Australia has a deeper, more sober, undoubtedly more reflective tone than was promised by the original plans. It turned out this way, and it turns out that I can be there for those I love, grieve with them, look to the past and future together with them.

Kris was the first descendant of my parents to pass from this vale. Counting my parents, there were ten of us across three generations. Now there are nine. It's been a rough passage.

His death knocked the last bit of wind out of my sails, and eventually I gave in to my writer's block and let the blog go on hiatus. But that will be over now ... I plan to blog furiously on this trip which will last until September 28. I even forked over $7.99 to tmobile for a 24-hour airport pass that I will use for one hour to get this post written.

I enjoy travel blogging ... wish I traveled more so I could do more of it. This one will be mixed ... the joy of reunion, the fascination of the new, and the irreducible sorrow of a young man gone before his time and by his own hand.

So to wrap it up for now, here is what I wrote to be read at his funeral; I will post over the next week or so the writings of all of us that were read as his family and friends said good-bye.

Remembering Kris

I am Kris's uncle in San Francisco. I last saw him when the whole family came to my annual gala Christmas party in 1998. All my friends still remember my fabulous Australian family, and they all remember the quiet teenage boy who smiled and did not say a lot.

That Christmas in San Francisco and later in Winchester was the last time I saw Kris. I wish I knew him better ... but I feel that what I do know is that he was one of us, the brave son of my sister and the love of her life, the boy who did not say a lot, but who persevered as long as he could.

His passing has given all of us here great pause. My friends have given me their time to reflect on life and choices and the difficulty of imagining what it is to be in someone's else's place. We must learn even from tragedy, and Kris's moment now strives to teach us not to judge what others find necessary no matter how much pain we feel.

Even so, nothing reduces the quiet, the hollowness of loss. I am reminded of a Malay poem I have long loved:

The angel’s trumpet blooms flowery white
oysters lie stranded along the beach
I want to embrace the mountain, its might
what’s the use, the hands don’t reach

Our lives and loves and learning are founded in striving. But there are some things we cannot touch, we cannot reach, we cannot understand. In remembering Kris, I think of that. I think of what he understood about what he could and could not do. I wish he had made another choice. But who am I to say. Who are we to say.

May he rest in our memory, beloved, so long as we have memory.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Saturday Night is Ear Cleaning Night

I got a laugh out of that line at work. I keep 'em laughing at work ... I try to keep 'em laughing wherever I go. To make 'em laugh, you have to play the fool a bit, the cynic a bit, the wry observer. You have to be aware of your own tomfoolery. Yes, mostly you have to play the fool a bit.

I can keep 'em laughing almost all the time, but occasionally the stress load gets sufficient that I crumble a little and the response time is down. Notwithstanding that I got a laugh out of ear cleaning night, that is how I have been feeling. The annual course catalog ... regular readers will remember that I string type together for a major research university (MRU) in exchange for a twice-monthly supply of alphabet soup ... gets to be a grind as it nears the end. This year, we are entirely online, and so we went live on August 1. But live and online is bloody different than going to press. Since go-live, we have been tweaking the courses site daily, and cleaning up the degrees site regularly. I am in the final, final phase, where I make a giant pdf of the thing. In other words, I still make a book; I just don't send it to a printer.

The pdf production is where my lifetime as a copy editor drives me crazy. "Nuts!", to quote Inspector Kramer of Nero Wolfe fame. Nuts. The technology is cranky and backward, and I come face to face with the thousands of prose discourtesies that emerge from the mouths of the careless and the overweening. I won't say the ignorant because most of this prose is written by people with PhDs. So one has to wonder where they imbibed the notion that prose is about slapping a few dashes hither and yon, and capitalizing any word that makes them burp with satisfaction, and stringing puffy adjectives before and after the noun so as to hide the meaning.

All of this is to say that I will be free to return to my more airy being as incipient curmudgeon this weekend.

And I will get back to photography, most of which is not the shooting of the photos but the manipulating of the stream of resultant files.

I didn't mean for this post to go this way. It is the fifth hour in the morning; I went to sleep at 10, so that condemned me to be awake before 4. I just heard the coffee pot chirp ... so brb, as we say in chat ... be right back ...

Coffee in hand at 4:47. So you're wondering about ear-cleaning. That would be the dog's ears. I have committed to dog and vet that I will clean his ears weekly in aid of preventing the hidden fungal infection that was the proximate cause of the head shaking that was the proximate cause of the hematoma which sucked down 2 weeks and $800 of my affection for the great beast. He is all snuggled up beside me on my pillow-bestrewn "Chinese wedding bed". That is what we have long called this Malaysian-manufactured, cast-iron, mother-of-pearl inlaid, canopy bed (sans canopy at this point) where I nightly sleep and play with my laptop, not necessarily in that order. My old friend, now gone, Kurt bought it when he was a Peace Corps dialysis technician in Malaysia in the very early 70s. The shopkeepers told him it was a Chinese wedding bed, and notwithstanding that I do not know of a Chinese wedding bed tradition, that's what I call it.

Dog with ear midst pillows. That's where we are. The vet shaved his ear, drained the hematoma, sewed it up, wrapped his head in a bandage, and told me to make sure he didn't make a mess of himself. For two weeks. During the busiest time of my year. And, by the way, my 86 Honda Civic asked for and received a brake job in the middle of all this.

So it's been a cranky period, and the result is that I have dedicated Saturday evening ... leastwise 5 minutes of same ... to cleaning the dog's ears.

How Saturday has changed. I never go out on Saturday evening. Many were the decades that Saturday evening was a fright of activity. Let's not be bashful ... it always ended up with cruising in whatever was my favorite bar of the moment. All that will be a fond fond memory as I swab dear Loki's wet and quivering ears.

I meant to talk about my new hobby ... gardening ... and leave this on a positive note. That'll have to wait. Feeling my warm inner cranky. Besides ... it's 4:57 now. Feet on the floor by 5:29 ... that's the rule. So I have a half hour to catch up on the news.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Can You Row?

Notwithstanding that my web sites are live ... see previous post ... and that the period of my annual course-catalog-related discomfiture is formally ended, I am still under the gun. One more week of that ... I could bore you with the details, but let this suffice ... pdf! Yes, the pdf ... in other words, even if you no longer have to print the damned thing, you still have to make a pdf so that the hangers-on can print something like what used to be printed and handed to them. So the only part of out-of-the-print business that I can really embrace is that I no longer have to spend a day with sweaty truck drivers tking delivery of 40 tones of books.

Ah, the pdf ... this week's torment.

But that is not the story. On Friday, I worked from home and that involved a vast amount of walking. Have I noted that the dog, my sainted Loki, took the opportunity of my annual deadline insanity to sprout a hematoma on his left ear. That bloody left ear has cost me a couple of thousand dollars over the course of dear Loki's life. We're into this episode to the tune of $800 and counting.

So on Friday, I took him to the vet's in the morning to have the bandage changed, and to board him there so that my assistant and I could spend the rest of the on Dreamweaver and our annual celebratory lunch. But that had to wait for breakfast ... so I left the vet's and walked along Fillmore heading to the Sidewalk Cafe on California.

The Fillmore is an historically Black district that was Japanese before WW II. Like everything in San Francisco, it's historic character is crumbling in the face of the cheap money of the rich that is infecting our world. But it is still Black at its core. So there I am walking along Fillmore in the early morning, and a dapper man, dressed to the nine's, looking every bit a Black church deacon, calls out to me as I pass, "Do you row?" Say what, I said. "Do you row?" he repeated. I made a gesture in the style of a man rowing. And then I looked a little more closely. The dapper old man proffered a bag of marijuana and some papers in an obviously arthritic hand. He was saying, "Do you roll?" But for middle age, a job, and a decided preference for whiskey and martinis in the evening, I could have turned my non-arthritic fingers into an early morning toke. I made some awkward excuse and rolled on, as it were.

When I were a young fart ... "as it were" ... I got a job at a place in Windsor called Canadian Bridge where we manufactured hydro-electric transmission towers. What we did was to manipulate steel "angles" that would be combined into the aforementioned towers. At one point, early in my short career, I was assigned to assist an ancient Polish man famous for his raging anger and quick temper. My job was to feed angles into a device which cleaned then with some sort of metal shot prior to their being galvanized. My Polish workmate ... his name has long since vanished form my memory ... starts yelling at me "Sha - een". I was befuddles, and he yelled it again. "Sha - een". This went on for a while and my Polish workmate worked himself into such a froth that I finally called the shop steward to protect myself. It turned out that "Sha - een" is the Polish-Canadian pronunciation of "chain". The man wanted a chain.

The can-you-row thing reminded me of the Sha - een episode. And it reminded me of the madness of work where words matter no matter how weird the moments may be.

Sunday evening ... haven't been blogging enough ... the week looming ahead will be the last nasty week of this season ... that's where I am hanging my hat ... that's where I'm rolling my chain.

Saturday, August 01, 2009


Both sites went live on time: Explore Degrees and Explore Courses. Gawd, I'm ecstatic, relieved, gonna take Sunday off.

We now return to a regular blogging schedule.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Note on how it is

It's almost 10 and I am still working ... editing course descriptions, which is something I can do in my sleep, and often do before I sleep. I loathe sloppiness in prose ... loathe .. and the closer one comes to the humanistic core, the sloppier the prose. So I am growling now from having to correct infantile errors made by humanist scholars who ought to care more about the quality of their words. I rarely have to spend much time on scientific or engineering prose; those folks produce lists of terms that occasionally demand Googling, but not much else. But the humanists seem to think that excesses of froth equal better content. Yech.

I am a week from going live with the course catalog for MRU, the major research university where I clip verbiage for a living.

Worked from home today, as I often do in the period. Instead of lunch, I went into the back yard and yanked great strings of trumpet vine from the bushes. It was the proximate meme for yanking BS from humanist course descriptions ... not to mention other prose obscenities. I could ramble on.

I loathe sloppy prose, and I utterly fail to understand how any educated humanist could sleep with a puddle of such filth on their conscience.

Still, only a week to go.

The dog has developed a hematoma on his ear. Not critical or an emergency ... but why now, my sweet friend? Why now? We have an appointment for a draining and possible sutures on Tuesday ... that would be four days to go-live. I am obsessed at his discomfort ... notwithstanding that he is sound asleep, dog-like, three feet from me.

Better prose on this blog, at least as I see it, shortly ... specifically after August 1. And more photos.

For the moment, one more slurp of bourbon and then sweet, sweet Morpheus.

And wondering ... a life with deadlines ... they torment me. Who would I be without them?