A New Years Poem
I have a desperate attraction to new beginnings
Sometimes the numbers on the calendar look so beautiful
Today’s the day I drink less and run more
No smoking, all veggies
Honesty, integrity, self-reliance, perseverance, creativity,
No fear, live large,
Dream big, be bright, believe in love and believe in yourself!
And I do
Today is an auspicious day
Today is my new beginning
Sometimes I just feel it, on a Tuesday
Today’s the day I keep doing yoga
I don’t back down when I’m right
I go to bed at a reasonable hour, pay my bills on time
Clean out the toe jam, learn all those languages
All the little steps start here and I’m climbing
I can feel it now, right now, and I won’t look back
This is it!
Today is an auspicious day
Today is my new beginning
Then I find myself making the same mistakes
Who manufactured the grooves in my record?
How would it feel if the dj scratched me across the turntable?
The dissonant rip, like a zipper coming undone
A cut away from the 4/4 time that I was trying so hard to hold
But this is why the crowd came to the club
To hear the sound of the universe tearing into a new song
The maligned has become music
We throw our hands up and we dance
I am scratched across the turntable and the crowd is screaming
We are scratched and screaming
And the dj takes it back, and the song plays
All of it is beautiful
Every moment new
Every moment auspicious
Every moment beginning
Sunday was blissfully warm and sunny. In the early afternoon I went into the Noe Valley neighborhood of San Francisco to have coffee with my friend Peter Grenell.
For those of you not familiar with the City of San Francisco, it is a city of distinct neighborhoods. Noe Valley is one of the few that has gentrified gracefully. In the forty or so years that I have observed the area’s evolution, escalating home prices forced a few people to move out by. Most happily sold into the rising real estate market and moved to Danville or some place like that. Chain stores, although some exist along its main commercial street, have not overwhelmed the area.
The area began as a working family community of attached wood sided single family Victorian homes and duplexes. In the mid-sixties, the working class families, as was fashionable at the time, moved to the suburbs in a mistaken belief they would finding a better life and schools there. Artists seeking lower cost accommodations moved in, followed almost immediately by the hippies. The neighborhood transformed into a hip, funky, artsy scene.
They were in turn followed in the early seventies by young marrieds, often civil service employees, looking for a hip locale and attracted by the relatively inexpensive property prices at the time.
After a brief flirtation with the City’s lesbian community that was searching for a Castro District they could call their own, the dot-com inundation broke upon the neighborhood as the new young millionaires saw the area as fitting their ideal lifestyle, hip and expensive. Fortunately for the neighborhood that tide rapidly crested and the area retained its now somewhat upscale but still mixed appearance and atmosphere.
Some working class families still live there along rapidly aging artists and hippies, a few pioneer lesbian couples and the remnants of the now significantly less wealthy dot comers. The young bureaucrats, most of whom have made it into the upper reaches of the bureaucracy remain usually in same houses they purchased 30 years ago.
For about a decade I lived there too, in a 100-year-old Italianate Victorian two unit building. Before I purchased it, the building had served as a well-known crash pad for artists and hippies who had left the East coast in search of California dreaming .
Some of the old shops persist, like Haystack Pizza and Tuggy’s Hardware and Shu Fat’s grocery but others like Herbs Cafe are gone.
I met Peter, a man of about my age, at a coffee shop that had occupied the same spot for many years but was now called Bernie’s’ Cafe. It was owned by a woman named Bernie who had worked there during its previous incarnation and eventually purchased it.
Peter and I sat in the sun on benches in front of the shop, drank our coffee, stared at the parade of neighborhood people strolling by (a number of whom I recognized) and reflected about how lucky it was being old as we were to sit in the sun like we were and not be anxious that there was something we needed to do.
After a few hours, we walked up 24th St. ( the main commercial street) about a block to a bar called Bliss something or other to hear some live jazz.
Most Sundays, Larry Voukovitch, a mainstay of the SF jazz scene for as long as I can remember, performs there. A colleague of mine, Kerry Shapiro, was Larry’s manager when Kerry wasn’t otherwise lawyering.
Larry was appearing that day with his geriatric Croatian quartet. I really do not know it they were Croatian (although they clearly were geriatric and a quartet), but the base player, from whom Peter is receiving lessons in the instrument, was originally from that part of the world. On sax was Peter Yellin another fairly well-known and aging jazz musician.
There were also about 12 to 15 other people about my age there to listen to them. Additionally, two young japanese women from Tokyo in their early 20’s sat there attentively. One was a teacher (music I assume) and the other an aspiring jazz singer here to learn at the feet of the masters. (Peter and I deduced the aged and balding bass player and the willowy japanese jazz singer were an item. We guessed this after observing them walking hand in hand align 24th St. Aren’t we the little gossips now.)
Thank God or the vagaries of chance, that there exists in this world a nation like Japan full of obsessive compulsive personalities willing to travel the world to obsessively immerse themselves the dying western musical performing arts. Should the dark ages descend as some predict, I believe the Japanese will assume the role of medieval monks and keep alive the remnants of western musical culture.
As I listened to them play, I was reminded of New York in the late fifties and sixties when the cool sophisticated New York jazz sounds of musicians like Oscar Peterson could be heard in dives in Greenwich Village and elegant nightclubs like the Embers just off Times Square.( Of course then we, the audience, were usually drunk and stoned. I, however, now listened to Larry and the Gang on nothing stronger than lemonade.)
During that era the centers of music and jazz in the US were New York, Chicago, New Orléans, St Louis and San Francisco, until they were driven out by the sounds of rock and rhythm and blues coming primarily out of Memphis and Detroit.
During the bands second set the Japanese singer (named Miyomi) got up and sang a pretty good version of Gershwin’s Summertime.
Letter, as the sun set behind Twin Peaks and the temperature cooled, I walked the mile or two back to where I was staying. In San Francisco the sun does not simply set, after it passes behind the peak, the City east of the mountain lies in shadow while the sky remains brightly late afternoon for an hour or so.
Even when one is experiencing great sadness life can be wonderful. Don’t miss it.
1548 – The Hispaniolan Edible Rat becomes extinct.
The kitchen of our Bangkok apartment is infested by rats (the non-edible kind) that at night after the lights are out gaily scamper about the room. Recently the maid put out an anti-rodent device that consists basically of a plastic sheet covered with a glue type substance that traps the rat unlucky enough to step on it and results in what appears to be a cruel and painful death of the creature.
My feelings about the Rodentia situation in my apartment are somewhat ambiguous. I feel neither fear, sympathy or disgust for the circumstances of either the infestation or the rodenticide. It is more like the feeling one has when one seeks to avoid meeting with someone one prefers not to meet, on the one hand one feels a bit cowardly skulking away while on the other-hand one also is generally aware that forcing a meeting through some misplaced moral sense is probably as stupid a thing to do as can be imagined.
This ambivalence about rats I find strange given my history with the species. Growing up in New York I generally fell asleep with the sounds of rats scurrying through the walls. As a child, I was never able to settle on whether these sounds in the walls by my bed frightened me or comforted me.
When I was about Hayden’s age my family was homeless for a while. Ultimately we found an empty store that we moved into and soaped up the glass front for privacy. There was neither heat nor hot water and at night the large Norwegian roof rats would enter the room through the spaces between walls and ceilings of the store and the various pipes and plumbing servicing the residential apartments above and the grocery store next door.
Every night my mother would remain awake armed with a knife to chase away the rats while my brother and I slept. One evening while so armed and on guard she fell asleep sitting beside the kitchen table. She was suddenly jolted awaken by the sound of the rats scrabbling to get into a cake box on the table. The rats startled by her movement, leaped on to her face and head as it was the highest point in the room between the floor and the exposed pipes available to them to make their escape. She fell to the floor in an epileptic seizure beginning a 10 year period of seizures and hospitalizations.
After her being taken away in an ambulance that night, I spent the next four years living with various relatives and strangers who took me in but mostly with my grandparents. I never knew where my brother lived during this time.
After a few years and hospitalizations we began living together again but her periodic fits continued until I was about 17 years old and in a surprise to everyone mom became pregnant again with my sister and the seizures stopped. She considered both the pregnancy and the curing of the epilepsy a miracle. I was not so sure.
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