Thursday, January 31, 2008

Corrected updated blog entry about Saturday

As it turns out, I will not be signing some advance copies at the New York Hilton from 3 to 4 p.m. this coming Saturday. However, if you stop by and say hello, I will give you a postcard with some information about "The Cactus Eaters.'' These postcards, by the way, are absolutely free. Take as many of them as you want. So far, my visit to New York has been fantastic. I've heard readings by Russell Banks, Phillip Lopate, Victoria Redel and many, many others. So far, every one of the AWP presentations has been first-rate. Tomorrow I'm going to see Edwidge Dandicat and John Beryman. I'm attending panels and getting a lot of great advice for creative writing and comp classes. The only cause for worry is my diet. So far, I've consumed a large banana pudding from the Buttercup Bakery, a cream-cheese smeared bagel from Absolute, an enormous corned-beef sandwich at the Stage Deli, deep-fried zucchini pancakes from God knows where, and other rich gloopy foods. I'm going to be huge by the time I leave this place.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

New York

I'm just about to board a plane to New York. I will be out there for the next few days, talking to writers, editors and educators while raising awareness about my book. This means that I will be standing in front of Zabar's, handing out leaflets and waving around an inflatable cactus. Just kidding.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Someone on my street is keeping livestock in his apartment!

Well, maybe it's not quite that bad, but someone is raising a rooster out here. It's a little strange -- this is an urban area -- but I know it's not my imagination. Every day I hear the strangled sound of the rooster calling out -- "mawk-mawk-magooo!'' For a while, the sound stopped, and I felt bad for the rooster. I thought that it was some 'slow food' thing, carried to a ridiculous extreme, and that he wound up in a soup or as a capon. But the noises returned yesterday, louder than ever. I love all creatures great and small, but not at 5 in the morning.

Friday, January 25, 2008

My morning drive

My morning drive goes something like this: I race to my car, turn right on Divisidero, and the MUNI lurches up from the curb to cut me off. I switch on the radio. It's the same song every morning: Dynamite Hack's mellow folk cover of NWA's "Boyz-N-The-Hood.'' At the corner of Divisadero and Haight, I see the same homeless woman, holding a sign that says "Smile.'' I cut straight through the Castro, then down into Noe Valley, where I amp myself with coffee and a fistful of Noe O's. From there it's 280 South. Soon enough, I pass the charmingly inept sculpture of Junipero Serra and that Flintstones-looking house with red-brown paint. In San Jose, "She Rock The Hips'' beams into my car radio at the same time every morning. Eventually I lose the signal and switch to Greg Kihn in the Morning. An AC/DC cover band is playing "Highway To Hell'' in the studio. They are trying much too hard. By the time the song is over, I have arrived.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The screaming bush of Santa Cruz

I recently visited my old haunt, Santa Cruz, California, to catch up with some friends. I was hanging out downtown, standing in front of a shrubbery near the entrance to Book Shop Santa Cruz on Pacific Avenue. All of a sudden, the shrub began to shake and scream. The leaves parted, and out jumped a pasty shlub of a guy, laughing, while holding a bunch of branches in his hands. When I came to my senses, I realized that the shrub guy was in league with a second man, standing across the street, filming the whole thing. I guess the two of them were filming one of those 'gotcha' style comedy movies, where they bother people in the streets and then incorporate the footage into a narrative. Anyhow, the dummies forgot to ask their "victims'' for releases. If I see myself in their movie, I'm lawyering up.

Back to school

I'm teaching again, starting this Thursday. My new batch of students has no idea that my previous class called me "D. Money'' and "Professor Diddy.'' I'm counting on my readers --- all eleven of you --- to keep this under your hats.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Chocolate and bacon: a bad combination

Some months back, I posted about Vosges chocolates, some of the most experimental chocolate you can find. The people who make them are fearless. They will throw just about anything into their candies --- Banks Beer, rum, champagne, dried violets, powdered tea leaves, even dried-up kalamata olives. They have one chocolate that is so fiery spicy hot that it will make your tongue curl up in your mouth. During that posting, I made a facetious remark, saying that I would support these candy makers until they became too "daring'' and "weird'' and started putting sausage in their chocolates. Well, my fears came true. Their latest chocolate bar includes applewood smoked bacon as an ingredient. I tried a piece of this in Noe Valley and it just tasted ... well, not awful but weird and a little "off.'' When the chocolate melted away, odd bits of gristle remained.

In training, and plans for tour

I keep myself in reasonable shape; my freelance assignments involve remote, steep places. Because of this, I've decided to step it up a bit and train for my third marathon. San Francisco is a perfect place for this. It is pedestrian-friendly compared to NYC. Just getting to Noe Valley and back is a real workout; it's not long but the hills are steep. I love running on Irving. There are so many places to carb-load along the way (Arizmendi Bakery, for example.) The best part is the long traverse through Golden Gate Park. I love to run from the Haight to Ocean Beach and back, staying in the park for most of the way. Of course, there are occasional drug dealers stepping in front of me (the other day, I had 11 offers) For the most part, they are harmless. I think of them as speedbumps.
Also, I plan to be on tour to talk about my book soon (probably in summer.) I'm getting together a power-point presentation regarding the trail. Details to follow. This will be extremely low-budget (no brown m & ms and trashing motel rooms)
P.S., I am unfamiliar with drug nomenclature; wondering if anyone can translate "nuggets'' for me.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Gratuitous information: How to tip your waiter in Haight Ashbury

The following is an actual (handwritten) sign that hangs on the wall of All You Knead, a Haight-Ashbury restaurant.

"Attention, Foreign Travelers:
A quick guide to the wacky American custom of TIPPING.
20 percent -- great tip, great service
17 percent, good tip, good service
15 percent, fair tip, fair service
10 percent: another way of saying to your server, 'you suck and I hate you.''

Monday, January 14, 2008


Hoping to see old friends and colleagues at the AWP in New York later this month. I also just found out that I will soon be on assignment, exploring the backwoods of the deep south for a travel piece. I'll send updates when I get them. If any readers happen to be going to this, please let me know.

The Cloverfield monster -- a giant headlice?

Ugly glasses

When I was a kid, if you wore big goofy angular frames like the ones worn by Elvis Costello on his first record, or Oscar Wao, or Piggy from Lord of the Flies, you would get beaten up or stuffed into a Dumpster. Today, these are your only options! I wonder what poor old Piggy would think, to know that he has been reborn as a fashion icon. Today's trendiest glasses are all awkward, expensive and absolutely enormous, with huge black bug-eyed frames with weird jagged edges. Anyhow, I was at the eyeglass store in Noe Valley yesterday. The salesman tried a bit of divide-and-conquer. He had me try on some really big frames, and when my wife made a sour face, he waited until she was out of earshot and said, "I disagree with her but it looks like she has the say-so.'' Tired of the hard-sell, I went to Sears to try out their options but they were even worse. They have spindly frames that sit crookedly on your face no matter what you do, while pinching your nose and squishing the sides of your head. Instead of investing in new glasses, I'll stick with the ones I have and buy a seeing eye dog.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Haight Ashbury's incoherent drug pushers: why must they mumble?

Haight Ashbury's pushers should all take elocution lessons. How many times has this happened to you? You've been walking down the street, minding your own business, and some guy comes up to you and makes you an offer that you can't understand. "Hey you, want to buy some murgahblerghohgohablorojegt?'' Yesterday, when I was down in the Haight, shopping for paper towels, a pusher approached me at the corner of Haight and Cole and asked if I wanted to buy a small bag of "green-vomit mushrooms.'' I'm sure that's not what he meant but his pronunciation was terrible! Five minutes later, near the corner of Haight and Clayton, a pusher tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I wanted to buy a few ounces of "bagpipe sprouts.''

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Scary restaurants

My friend and writing colleague Sam Autman sent me a news story about his favorite restaurant being invaded by cockroaches and serving roadkill to unwitting customers!! I was disgusted. At the same time, I have a pretty strong feeling that many of my favorite greasy hotspots in NYC and other places have shady histories. For example, I've always had a strange feeling about my favorite roasted chicken place on the west side. They are nothing but kind to me, but the waiters seem tough. I have a feeling that if I ever complained about the food or caused a scene, no one would ever hear from me again. Long ago, I frequented a Connecticut sushi restaurant that (allegedly) had a double life as a bookie joint. It was right at the height of the designer sake craze. In a snippy and entitled voice, I asked the hulking bartender, "What kinds of sake do you have here?'' He put his big square head very close to my face and said, "HOT and COLD.'' I stuck to the Sapporo after that.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Say what? Plus --- fainting at book store

This morning, I had a Phillip K. Dick moment when I (in a rare moment of self-involvement) was surfing the Internet and stumbled upon an advertisement for a used (!) copy of my as-yet-nonexistent, soon-to-be published book. The Internet site assured me that there was "one used copy available'' and that I could get it in a week or so -- even though the book won't be published for five months!!!
I wondered to myself, "how can there be a used copy of a document that doesn't exist? And what would happen if I whipped out my credit card and pressed the 'order' button? If I did such a thing, what would the postman deliver? I had a vision of opening up a large manila envelope and having an amorphous Rosemary's Baby bolus of future prose slither out of the envelope and land with a plop on my apartment floor. In a panic, I called my publisher, who assured me that no book would arrive "until the book actually comes out.''
In other news, I fainted slightly at the Haight Street book shop while reading Karen Russell's intense new story about vampires in the latest All-Story. There are many spooky parts and references to blood in this one, and it was too intense for me. I began to plummet, face first, toward a teetering pile of Iowa Reviews before catching myself in mid-swoon. I'm not making this up. They should put advisory stickers on these things.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Thinking of calling Amnesty International

My wife says that if we don't purchase a television soon, she's going to make me see the new Katherine Heigl movie.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Corrected blog entry: The near-squishing of my car ( and my near-pickpocketing by a weird girl)

I've been trying to enjoy the storm. For example, I've been running all over my apartment, pretending it's a pirate ship sailing through gail force winds. "All hands on deck! Man the bilge, ya swabs. Fire in the hole.'' But there is no denying it. This storm is merciless and nasty. Today, an oak fell over and gave the car parked right next to my car a leafy smackdown, pinning it to the asphalt, slamming the hood, cracking the glass, totalling it. Scary. I had been parked three feet to the right, that would have been my squashed car. This storm is for real. Today, I visited Hayes Valley, and I almost parked my car near the general proximity of "Oak'' and "Fell'' streets. Not wanting to tempt fate, I moved.

In other news, a strange woman pickpocketed me right in the middle of a Castro eyeglasses store, but she gave me back the stuff she'd stolen, including my credit card, because the theft was just a "practical joke'' to point out the fact that there was a lartge hole in the wallet pocket of my blue jeans. "I couldn't resist,'' she said. "I just wanted to see if I could get away with it.'' Such hilarity!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Cheese shop ownership and psychosis: a direct correlation

Incident one: Just last week, I went into my very favorite cheese shop in town and asked the guy for a small wedge of Fromage D'Affinoir. And the guy's face fell! He wrinkled his nose and made a disgusted expression as if I'd just asked for the dumbest, most vulgar kind of cheese on the planet. He gave me the Fromage, but he practically threw the thing at me. I got out of there as quickly as I could.

Incident two: The other day, I went into my second-favorite cheese shop in town and asked for some fresh ricotta, which, as you know, is very hard to find. The owner asked me why I needed fresh ricotta. I explained that my wife was making me a lasagna from scratch, using a Kitchenaid standing mixer with a pasta-making attachment. "What is she, a mail-order bride?'' said the owner.

It is incredibly rainy here

All the MUNI buses have been immobilized. I'm charging up my solar flashlight. I feel like I'm trapped in that terrible in-flight movie starring Steve Carell and various animals.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Hawaii: mongoose, turtles and seriously chubby tourists

I just returned from a wild and crazy trip through Maui and the Big Island. It was a great, great time. I stayed in an actual yurt, ate pickled raw smelly fish, inadvertently annoyed a green sea turtle, stalked a tropical fish, snorkeled in circles and ate mahi mahi fish and chips until my brain was numb. It was an almost perfect vacation, except for the following strange things.

1. In Kona, our next door neighbors were such slobs!!! They never left their hotel room. They stocked up on stuff from Costco, including an enormous bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream, which they glurped outta the bottle. Then, they decided to hang out on their balcony while watching TV. To pull off this feat, they arranged their deck chairs with their backs to the water, and turned the TV set up so loudly that it shook the whole floor. We finally called security on their sorry keisters and shut 'em down. The guy kept trying to figure out who narced him out, but security refused to reveal my identity because I didn't want to get beaten to a bloody pulp on my vacation.

2. During an astonishing sunset on Maui, a very whiny woman came up behind me and started criticizing the sunset in front of her friends!!! It was beautiful --- the orb of light slowly sinking beneath the island of Malukai -- but she wasn't satisfied. She said that quite frankly, she'd seen better sunset, and that she was "rather disappointed,'' and that she was hoping that the display of light and colors would be "more varied and interesting. Really, I was hoping that it would throw up more lights in more varied patterns and have a wider palette of colors,'' blah blah blah.

3. On Maui, I saw a young woman standing at sunset in a pool of turquoise-blue warm water, letting the wind mist over her as the sky turned pale gold and red. But instead of enjoying it, she was standing there, text messaging her friends!!!

4. The small "commuter'' planes here are so terrifying. Don't ride them under any circumstances. I rode on a plane that was so small, and flimsily constructed, that it looked like one of those remote control gizmos that you see down at Rancho San Antonio in Cupertino. That plane bounced through the clouds like a bucking bronco. For every moment of that ride, i could barely stifle my screams. I seriously thought we were going to meet the fate of the Big Bopper. Somehow we survived to tell the tale.

Back from the land of mongooses

I have just returned from the land of the feral mongoose, Kona coffee and macadamia nuts. I promise to give a full report once I can shake some of the sawdust from my brain.