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Archive for January, 2016

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Although I am traveling, I still manage to put in time reading novels. Recently I read Arturo Perez-Reverte’s latest. Perez-Reverte whose taut but lush adventure and mystery novels generally take place in Spain during its long sad decline from world empire until the old order was finally snuffed out by the armies of Napoleon. His series of books, featuring the melancholy but indomitable soldier and peerless swordsman Captain Alatriste, are classics.

The Siege, as its name implies, takes place during the interminable multi-year siege of Cadiz where the armies of Napoleon and his brother Joseph, the imposed King of Spain, had chased the government of the tattered empire and its inconsistent allies, the English. Cadiz, however still had access to the sea and many of its merchants, smugglers and privateers flourished even while the bombs daily rained down on parts of the city. The plot revolves around the attempts by the brutal and corrupt Chief of Police to solve a series of exceedingly vicious murders.

Unfortunately, Perez-Reverte introduces a sub-plot, a bodice ripper straight out of Danielle Steele — A romance between the dashing but crude and dangerous, curly-haired, handsome and muscular captain of a privateer, Pepe Lupo (Joe Wolf) and his employer, the refined, learned, capable, aristocratic, accomplished and almost beautiful owner of one of the city’s premier shipping companies, Lolita Palma. Lolita, virginal from to tip of her leather boots to the top of her lace mantilla, unfortunately, is 32 years old and unmarried. In the Cadiz of that time, at 32, she hovered between the twilight of fuckable and the onset spinsterhood. Perez-Reverte, damn him, shamelessly introduces a scene where Joe confronts Lolita at an elegant ball, causing her to snap open her fan and rapidly cool down the rising warmth of a blush.

“At least,” I thought, “he does not have the poor woman wet her drawers.” Alas, not more than a couple of dozen pages later, as Joe Wolf’s cutter heads off on another venture in legalized piracy, the still virginal Lolita, standing behind the crenellations of the tower above her Palacio and staring at the corsair’s ship as it disappears over the horizon, does just that. Arturo Perez-Reverte, you should be ashamed of yourself

Nevertheless,
Pookie says “check it out.”

“…all things have their allotted time in the suicidal order of things— in life, and in its inexorable outcome, death.”
Perez-Reverte, Arturo. The Siege: A Novel (p. 358). Random House Publishing Group.

Note: Reading this book makes me wonder if getting involved in the shithole that was Spain at that time was not as great a mistake for Napoleon as his march into Russia. It is usually the inability of empires to know their bounds that bring them to ruin. I wonder if that was the genius of Augustus Caesar; to recognize there were limits to the expansion of empire beyond the need to establish secure boundaries. It probably enabled the Roman Empire to survive for another 1000 years until the thugs of the Fourth Crusade finally put it out of its misery.

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A BRIEF SOJOURN IN SAN FRANCISCO:

After tearing through the Sunday NY Times in the morning and downing some strong black coffee, we left Mendocino for The Cool Grey City of Love to visit my mom for Mother’s Day.

The 98-year old’s short term memory may be in decline and her heart weakening but she gave as good as she got in the exchange of good-natured intra-family insults that characterize our family get-togethers.
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The matriarch and family.

After leaving the nursing home, I visited with Peter Grenell at Bernie’s Coffee Shop in Noe Valley. Peter just had part of his shoulder replaced and was still feeling a bit of pain. We sat on a bench outside, drank our coffee and, in the increasingly halting style of the aging, swapped tales. Given that anyone over 70 has passed his dispose-by date, I lamented that our age we have become little more than cartons of curdled milk. Peter responded by advising, “when all you have is curdled milk, you might as well make cheese.”

On the way back to Peter’s house where I was to have dinner and spend the night, Peter pointed out the incredible prices commanded in the Techie Paradise that Noe Valley has become. The following photograph shows a house about three doors down from Peter’s that is on the market for four million dollars.
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A Four Million Dollar House

At dinner that night, I played with their granddaughter a one-year-old two-fisted eater whose Hawaiian name I do not recall but it sounds like Aurora. I also learned that Barrie, Peter’s wife, swims an hour every morning in frigid San Francisco Bay. I was shamed. I refuse to swim anywhere the water temperature is below 80 degrees.

In the morning, riding on the J Church on the way to the Amtrak office downtown, a large androgynous African-American female and a small, skinny equally androgynous white male began a loud altercation right above where I was sitting trying to avoid eye contact. They were shouting at each other about something; or rather the larger of the two was shouting and the other cringing while pleading with the driver to call the police. I pictured myself appearing on the local television news as the unwitting and unwilling victim of an only in San Francisco perplexing racial and gender contretemps. Luckily for me, at the next stop, the larger combatant ran off while the smaller continued trying to explain to the driver what happened.

POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN EL DORADO HILLS:

I am back in El Dorado Hills. Alas, adventure does not seem descriptive of anything one does here. I get the impression that even a change of seasons can cause anxiety among some of the denizens of these golden hills.

It has been four days since I have returned and I can happily report the rose bushes in the back yard are in bloom — now the weekend cometh. I leave for NY next Wednesday.

On Thursday evening, the rains came. I was eating pepperoni pizza at Mama Ann’s in Town Center when the storm hit full of lightning and thunder. Like in the tropics, the deluge flooded the streets but lasted only about two hours. It departed as suddenly as it arrived leaving the air clear of pollen and dust. I slept well that night.

I read somewhere a doctor observed that patients as they aged experienced an ever increasing series of maladies most of which were curable but eventually they begin to occur so rapidly that the body simply gives up the fight. Today while eating breakfast at Bella Bru Cafe a piece of a tooth fell out and embedded itself in my bagel. Since I leave in a couple of days, I will be forced to travel with a dark black empty space in my smile until I find a reasonably priced dentist to insert a bridge.

The weekend flew by like an osprey falling on its prey. The weather was cold and overcast so no swimming for me. Instead, I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road to get my blood pumping.

HRM’s flag football team lost the championship game to the hated Seahawks 34 to 6. The coach was devastated. The kids were happy with their ice-cream after the game.

Since I seem focused on aging this week, I thought I should mention the three phases of aging among old men: First you forget to zip it up; then you forget to zip it down; then you die. I am at phase-one. I’ve taken to wearing long shirts outside my pants because, no matter how much I try to remember, at least once a day I forget.

Monday came in cold and cloudy. I leave on Wednesday, so I set about on last minute things, the bank, the pharmacy and tackling the conundrum of how to pack a single carry-on for a two-month trip.

The last day before I bolt town. What have I forgotten?

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Another weekend crept in. For the retired, it promised little different from any other day of the week. On Sunday, however, as I was swimming laps, a beautiful iridescent dragonfly flew by. During its beguilingly aerobatic performance, it dipped too low and splashed into the pool. After making my turn, I swam by again and spotted it entrapped in its aqueous meniscus struggling to rise from the water and failing. I took a few more strokes before I suddenly stopped like I had been netted. A feeling of need to save the dragonfly engulfed me.

“Why?” I thought. “If it were just a fly, I would let it die and a mosquito I would try to kill even before it hit the water.” I felt caught as Tuesday Next would say, “within a dense cloud of moral relativism (Fforde).” Nonetheless, a belief that I had to do something for this particular creature overwhelmed any internal debate on the nature of ethics I may have contemplated. So I cupped it in my hands and brought it to the edge of the pool and placed it where I hoped it could recover.

As I watched it struggle to dry its wings and rise, other thoughts struck me. “It would probably die here too weakened by its dunking; a death perhaps worse than if had it had died in the water. So, what had I accomplished except to prolong its agony?” “What about the possibility one of the many birds in the area would swoop down on it in its weakened state and devour it?” “So,” I inquired of myself and generations of existential and moral philosophers, “why did I do what I did in the first place?” Suddenly everything began to go dim as I found myself standing on the edge of the abyss staring into a solipsistic nightmare.

I jumped out of the pool and rushed home where I buried myself under the covers in the hope they would muffle the screams of dying dragonflies, long dead metaphysicians and legions of moral philosophers.

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A few years ago, I lived in a Bangkok apartment infested by rats (the non-edible kind). At night, after the lights were out, they gaily scampered about the rooms. At one point, the maid put out an anti-rodent device consisting basically of a plastic sheet covered with glue that traps any rat unlucky enough to step on it and produces, I am sure, a cruel and painful death for the creature.

My feelings about the Rodentia situation in my apartment were somewhat ambiguous. I felt neither fear, sympathy nor disgust for either the infestation or the rodenticide. It was more like the feeling I have when I try to avoid meeting someone I prefer not to meet. On the one hand, I always feel a bit cowardly skulking away while on the other, I generally am 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 sound 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 six-years-old my family was homeless for a while. Ultimately, we found an abandoned store that we moved into and soaped up the glass front for privacy. There was neither heat nor hot water in the place and at night, the large Norwegian roof rats would slink into the room through the spaces between walls and the various pipes and plumbing servicing the residential apartments above us.

Every night, while my brother and I slept, my mother armed with a bread knife would remain awake to chase away the rats. One evening while so armed and on guard she fell asleep sitting beside the kitchen table. Suddenly she was jolted awake by the sound of 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 and had an epileptic seizure, beginning a multi-year period of seizures and hospitalizations.

After my mother was 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 many hospitalizations of my mom, we began living together again but her periodic fits continued until I was about 17 years old when, in a surprise to everyone, mom became pregnant with my sister and the seizures suddenly stopped. She considered both the pregnancy and the curing of the epilepsy a miracle. I was not so sure.

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On Wednesday, I left the golden hills for the Bay Area to meet with the trustee of some coastal property in order to advise him about options available to the trust. We met for lunch in a building that survived the ’06 earthquake. The building was the home of a men’s club established in the latter half of the Nineteenth Century.
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Club membership includes the captains of industry and commerce in the area. About 50 years ago many doctors and dentists were also allowed to join, as well as some Italian-Americans. I recall that when I was growing up the emphasis was exclusively on the word before the hyphen. Then, through the efforts of some of the least ethical and most dourly aggressive and greedy members of our community, some of us gained enough wealth that American began to gain prominence in our minds and in the minds of many of those exclusively pale hyphenated Americans whose ancestry did not include the word Native.

I remember when the darkness was bleached from my soul and I simply could call myself an American and look down in sadness at the dark souls of members of other hyphenated communities who had not yet received the miracle of the Blessed Bleach. I remember fondly that day when I noticed that my skin had gotten two shades lighter than it was the day before

In all likelihood, there are only one or two members of the club that are Democrats. On the other hand, most of the staff are.

I learned that many of the members also belong to an organization called the Greco-Roman Dentists’ Fishing Society (truly, it was organized by the Greek and Italian dentist in the club). They gather once a year somewhere in the northeastern part of the state for a weekend of fishing and other things.

Since I was to sleep that night in one of the club’s guest rooms, I ate dinner there and met a few of members. One guy was referred to at the “Corn King,” another owned a string of radio stations. He was forced to sell because Rush Limbaugh was not pulling in the listeners like he used to. I had a pleasant conversation with a man whose parents came from Genoa. Like many of the club members, he had a few vacation homes. One was on the beach in the Italian Riviera.

I met the manager of the club. He used to manage the well-known men’s club in Sacramento. When I worked in that city, I received some minor notoriety by refusing to attend meetings and conferences there because of their policy on women members. Of course, I would periodically slip in there for lunch. My moral standards permit minor acts of hypocrisy and one or two large ones now and then.

All the governors that I was familiar with had been members and used the clubs facilities extensively — except Jerry Brown who refused to step foot into the place. Apparently, Governor Arnold used to impress the club members by carrying a large marble chess table from room to room. The members were not so thrilled when the same immigrant governor placed armed guards at the elevator and prevented the members from using the floors where he lounged about — relaxing, I assume, between feats of strength. The members told the muscled one that, if he ever did that again, he would be publicly thrown out of the club.

That night after dinner we played poker. I also thought it would be appropriate to celebrate the recent diagnosis clearing me of lung cancer by smoking a cigar. At the table with me were the Corn King, the Media Lord, a dentist, a retired gynecologist and a few others whose professions I did not know.

Now, as a rule, I do not like gambling and avoid it whenever possible. It was one of my father’s most appalling vices. However, when I do play poker, I have a few rules:

1. It is always preferable for the other players to believe you do not know what you are doing.
2. Fold early and fold often. Unless by the first bet you know you have the best hand on the table, fold. Hoping to improve your hand is as worthless as drawing to an inside straight.
3. Never raise someone else’s bet.
4. If the game chosen by the dealer allows wild cards, quietly fold before the first bet.
5. Never forget that it is not how much you win that counts but how little you lose.

The retired gynecologist was the big winner followed by the Corn King. I was the only other winner.

That night I spent in the club’s guest room. For some reason, I was unable to sleep well and woke up muzzy. After breakfast, I headed back to the golden hills. Because I was so out of it, I kept taking the wrong turns and ended up in Stockton by way of the Delta. Normally I would enjoy a ride through the Delta, but not today. I was lost. This being California I knew that as long as you do not drive around in circles you will eventually cross a freeway. And so I did, except the on-ramp was closed for construction. So I continued east and eventually found another freeway and wound my way home, where I immediately went to bed and slept the rest of the day.

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In one of my favorite books, written by William Kotzwinkle (E.T. The Extraterrestrial, Walter the Farting Dog) the main character Horse Badorties carries a battery-operated hand-held fan everywhere to keep him cool in the NY summer heat. In one chapter, Recently I ran across the following blog that captures the essence of the novel and I thought I would share it with you.

Why “Dorky Days”?

There is a book — a novel — called The Fan Man by William Kotzwinkle. It is about a hippie named Horse Badorties who lives in New York City. To the reader, he has no job, no life, no direction, no this, no that, etc. To HIM, he is a very busy, important man. Think of The Dude, and then take away the White Russians and the car and replace them with bottled Piña Coladas and a stolen school bus. You end up with Horse Badorties….

…Horse Badorties spends a lot of time recruiting fifteen-year-old chicks to join The Love Chorus, a choir he instructs at St. Nancy’s Church. Horse Badorties is also very much sexually preoccupied with fifteen-year-old chicks. He isn’t a pervert — he just likes ’em that way. In fact, I think that Horse Badorties just prefers to assume that every attractive woman he sees is fifteen-years-old….

…Horse Badorties is dead set on making sure that The Love Chorus gets to perform a concert live on television. This book has no real plot (fuck plot), but if any Hollywood asshole ever gets his hands on a copy of this book and decides to make a movie, I’d say that the bit about The Love Chorus going on TV would probably be distorted and exploited in all sorts of bullshit ways. Anyway, our hero manages to tell the head of NBC about the concert. How? He’s Horse Badorties….

…Horse Badorties may also be a drug dealer. Well, I guess he pretty much is. Throughout the book he makes phone calls to various people regarding recent shipments of “carrots,” or how he’ll be by later with the “Swiss Chard.” He and a beautiful girl smoke “alphabets”…

…All right. I say I don’t identify with Benjamin Braddock (From The Graduate) anymore, and then I go on this long tangeant about a transient named Horse Badorties. First of all, he isn’t a transient — by the end of the book he has four “Horse Badorties pads.” Second of all, I don’t identify with Horse Badorties, but I dig his dogma: every day is an adventure, nothing is that big of a deal, and every woman in the world is a beautiful fifteen-year-old chick with a voice like a lark.

There is nothing wrong with the book. The book is perfect. It’s hilarious and irreverent and unpredictable and unpretentious. It’s about packing up your Horse Badorties satchel, getting on the subway, and seeing where the Hell the day takes you. It’s about playing bizarre musical instruments with people on the street and making thousands of copies of rare sheet music. It’s about freedom and love and hope and nirvana.

Sometimes, it’s also about loneliness.

So what the Hell is Dorky Day? Once a month, Horse Badorties spends an entire day repeating the word “dorky” over and over. Out loud. This day is called “Dorky Day.”

Constant repetition of the word ‘dorky’ cleans out my consciousness, man, gets rid of all the rubble and cobwebs piled up there….
fan_manhttps://dorkydorkydorky.wordpress.com/

Pookie says, “Check it out.”

Note: There have been times in my life when I thought of myself as The Fan Man — the reincarnation of old Horse Badorties himself. At other times, I believed Horse Badorties emigrated to California where he became our beloved Maurice Trad. Actually, Horse Badorties was really Keith Lampe, that irrepressible hippie that haunted the streets of San Francisco during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Keath hauled around with him a seven-foot single stringed instrument he called a drone that he would thrum and accompany with incomprehensible wordless lyrics often while sitting on the back seat of a Muni bus. Keath decided to give up speaking instead communicating with various shouts, growls and whistles. Occasionally at night, he would climb out onto the balcony of my upstairs neighbor’s apartment and bay at the full moon.

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It was biopsy day.  Dick drove me to the hospital where I was admitted, placed in the preparation room, laid on a gurney, stuck with needles and subjected to various tests and questionnaires designed to protect the hospital from liability. About four hours or so I lay on that gurney waiting to be taken to the room where the procedure would be performed. During this time, I fell asleep for about three of those hours. When I awoke I noticed that a mob of nurses and technicians milling about. None of the other patients on gurneys like mine had been moved. I asked a nurse what was going on. She said she could only tell me what she was instructed to say which was the doctors were busy on other procedures and would get to us as soon as they can.

By this response I guessed that either the doctor was drunk, stoned or otherwise incapacitated — or the doctor had made a grievous error on another patient and the poor soul was lying on a gurney like a clam oozing out of its broken shell — or, Muslim terrorists had taken over the lobby of the hospital and were methodically moving down the halls shooting everything in sight.

About an hour later the nurse announced she would now take me to the treatment room. She wheeled my gurney from the room and about 20 feet down the hall where she parked me against the wall. I remained there about another hour watching gurneys pass by containing people lying on them in various degrees of wretchedness. Finally, I was wheeled into the room where I was again prodded with needles and subjected to more tests and hooked up to the only thing that day I looked forward to, the narcotics that I was told would be administered just before the procedure began.

Now, I have had needles stuck into my chest before, one for two days while they pumped back up my collapsed lung. I have also had other biopsies, as polyps and bits of ugly skin were snipped off my body for examination. But, for some reason, this time, I was more anxious than I had ever been. Perhaps, given my age and the inevitable approach of the Big Sleep, I was more appreciative of the short span of human life — or, perhaps it was just another bout of hypochondria.

As the table I laid on slid into the machines giant donut hole, I followed the instructions to breathe in, hold my breath and exhale — once, twice, three times. There was a long time between breaths and an even longer time after the third one. Suddenly the doctor stood over me. I could tell he was the doctor because he was young and there was a hint of sadness in his eyes.

“We can’t find the nodule,” he said.

“Say what,” I responded.

“We can’t find the nodule,” he repeated. “It’s disappeared. We’ll set up another CT scan in six months or so and see if it returns.” And, with that he disappeared. I got up. After the various needles and machines were detached from my body and with a sad glance at the bag or narcotics hanging on its hook, I dressed and went home.

I am embarrassed and humiliated.  It’s all Obama’s fault.

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