Archive for May, 2010

Flowers II

May 29, 2010

Sign of the times: Employees of Oakland’s medical marijuana facilities are attempting to unionize. California is in such bad shape there is a serious possibility that the voters will approve legislation to legalize the drug for recreational use just to produce a new source of revenue.

After coffee on Friday morning I registered for the conference and then after looking at the hotel’s breakfast menu, I wandered across the street to a small takeout shop for a bagel that cost $2, as opposed to the Hyatt’s $21. The place advertised Vietnamese sandwiches, most of them with pork and one with head cheese, but also a vegetarian version with veggie “ham” and tofu.

Following my breakfast foray, I wrote the blog, then met Diane to plan our conference session. She’s got so many letters and clippings about my mother. I am so happy to be paying tribute to her. After we finished, Diane and I wandered through the book exhibit and looked at some of the literature.

First impression of the conference: Vampires are in vogue this year, and they’re surfacing in works by Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, as well as in a bunch of children’s books.

And copies of my book are for sale through The Scholar’s Choice. I autographed one of each so whoever buys the display copies will have a nice surprise.

Then I went for a walk from Embarcadero Center down to the beginning of the seriously congested tourist area. Gorgeous and bright, windy and bright. Most others were business folk out for lunch and a handful of joggers, bikers and walkers. On the return I went to takeout shop and discovered a new taste sensation. Served on a baguette, the veggie Vietnamese sandwich has onion, carrots, jalapeño, and cilantro with a spicy sauce. Yum! A couple of too-large spears of cucumber were the only drawbacks.

Before the Ann Petry session, I dropped in a panel on Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop which benefitted greatly from the recent publication of more of their correspondence. Motivated me to go back to their poetry. The conference went well, though at the beginning we only had one audience member. People gradually wandered in so that at the end there were 5, plus Ash, Kathryn and Skylar. Will find out how well it went when Ash sends a copy of the CD.

After that we traded offspring – Skylar went back to U.C. Santa Cruz as he’s completing his final two weeks. Julian arrived and drove us to dinner at Beach Chalet, which is at the west end of Golden Gate Park, with a fabulous view of the sun floating down into the Pacific. Besides spectacular views of the wind-swept waves, the paragliders, the bonfires, the marsh-mallows and beach pines, the Beach Chalet offers excellent salads, calamari better than any I’ve ever had (sorry, Cypress), and a novel take on salad Niçoise with six large prawns in place of the tuna. Kathryn had a crab Louis salad, which subbed butter lettuce for the iceberg but otherwise seemed to follow the traditional recipe.

Ash and Julian had various forms of beef, accompanied by garlic fries, which Kathryn swore were smothered in butter. We all munched on terrific sourdough bread.

We were treated to a vision of a couple of hundred bicyclists pulling up on the beach, followed by an equal number of motorcyclists roaring past on the way to who knows where. Following a quick look at the fresco by Lucien Laboudt on the first floor I returned happily to the hotel and fell asleep at what my body thought was two a.m.


No Flowers in My Hair … Yet

May 28, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO – After a few delays I arrived safely in the City by the Bay. First Larry and I had to detour around an accident on 91 North. Then we encountered a massive backup from the other direction because another crash on 84 West, which backed up traffic on 91. He had to detour around it on the way home.

The flight from Hartford to Denver on Southwest was uneventful but really noisy with a couple of crying babies and a bunch of loud talkers. I plugged in my iPod and let Coltrane and Mingus and Sonny Rollins drown out the racket. I sat next to a young woman who was meeting a friend in Salt Lake City. She played games on her iPhone and filled an actual paper book with answers to word games. Also said it was the first Southwest flight she’d been on where the crew didn’t crack jokes. When we landed I grabbed my stuff and ran because I thought I’d only have a half hour between flights. Got to the board to check the gate and discovered the flight had been delayed for almost two hours. We didn’t find out until we finally boarded that the cause was thunderstorms and hail in San Francisco, which is apparently very unusual for this area at this time of year. Of course coming from Connecticut, where we broke heat records with a temp of 99 on Wednesday, I was not the least bit surprised. Then I learned from Anna today that the area around the Denver airport had tornadoes and hail on Wednesday. So, wacky weather all around.

The second leg of the flight was a bit more rocky, because of the Rockies and the crew put on a show. After the plane did a brief shudder, the pilot said, “Would whoever is shaking the plane please stop it.” The female flight attendant, a young black woman with a blond Afro, teased her very large partner, asking the passengers if he looked like Denzel Washington. He didn’t but he said better. Then he came on the intercom and asked if we’d seen her hair, and then said, “Ch-ch-chia!” There was a gasp from the passengers.

Ashley was waiting when I arrived and we zipped through rush hour traffic, a great feat in this part of the world, to the Hyatt, which is gorgeous. Here’s the view.

Room With a View

My room looks out on the a piece of the Bay and while I was watching a piece of the global economy floated past – a giant container ship, loaded almost to the with cargo bearing the name Yang Ming.

When I step out of my room, I look down on the lobby through rows and rows of LEDs suspended from the ceiling with the Tiffany looking elevators floating up and down across the opening.

Ash went to run an errand and I called Larry, unpacked, talked to my friend Lucey. Ash picked me up again and we zipped through more rush hour to meet Kathryn at the taqueria in the Mission where we had lunch last fall and then came back to the hotel for a nightcap. Kathryn had a gimlet made with a very special gin and Ash and I had French Ginger Lemonade made from Grey Goose, ginger liqueur lemonade. I was not impressed. It tasted watery and contained a nasty surprise of undissolved sugar at the bottom, the result of insufficient stirring. At that point my body clock was telling me it was bedtime, so I trundled off. It is now 6:30 and the sun is coming up – gorgeous.

Quick Hits

May 26, 2010

A couple of quick things. I’m running behind, and the computer decided to go through its interminable update this morning. This truly depressing story shouldn’t have to happen. I hope the cities get their sidewalks. P.S. What are “signalized crosswalks”?

AT&T had a massive failure of Uvoice yesterday. The problem may or may not have spread to TV before repairs could be made. But no one is saying why it happened except that it was an equipment problem. How helpful.

Am still behind on magazines but took great joy in a Jill Lepore’s April 19 essay “Untimely.” I had no idea of the depth of the “spat” between editor Harold Ross of The New Yorker and the owner, publisher, etc. of Time, Life, Fortune, etc. Henry Luce. My previous acquaintance with the conflict, which seems to me far greater than a spat (one commenter termed it a feud), was a sentence from a profile of Luce that appeared in The New Yorker in 1936. The denizens of Gotham (how Times-ish) took issue with the plebian pub’s syntax and skewered it with the following: “Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind.” Love it! Our family always read both but gave up Time long before The New Yorker.

What’s Andrew Weil trying to tell me? The same issue of The New Yorker contained a piece on the families that own and operate tugboats in our rivers and on the high seas. (Link is just to the synopsis because the story has gone into the archives). One of the old salts mentioned that Weil had tried to hire on as a deckhand but that he seemed “unnatural.” Mind you, the speaker on occasion wears high heels and a feather boa, so considering the source, I’d look for a second, third and fourth opinion.

I wouldn’t have noticed Weil’s name except that I had just finished reading a copy of the NY Times Book Review from March 21 that included a blurb on The Harvard Psychedelic Club. Names included in the subtitle were Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and … Andrew Weil. He sought out Leary et al. but wasn’t allowed in on the experiments because he was an undergrad. That must have been the only rule those other guys didn’t break. Anyway, the reviewer thought Weil was a hypocrite for first criticizing Leary & Co. and then co-opting their methods to become a multi-millionaire health guru. All of this info may be the second source.

P.S. The issue of Time that contained my mother’s death notice had Dr. Andy on the cover. One of the last books I gave her was his Spontaneous Healing. But she would never use a doctor if she wanted to communicate with me.

Way Too Much To Do, Again

May 26, 2010

Spent the day doing errands and wrapping up loose ends in prep for San Francisco. Not much time for blogging, so I’m linking to this terrific site. I knew someone would find humor in that whole mess in the Gulf and it’s all at BP’s expense.

Concussion Discussion

May 25, 2010

Quick update: Here’s an article that supports Barbara Beckwith’s views. Thanks, Harv. Too bad Ms. Palin is too knee-jerk to understand. And now Arizona wants to ban public schools from educating its students to be able to function in the world the rest of us know. The new law prevents the teaching of classes “are designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” I’m using my best New England accent (people with “heavy” accents are prohibited from teaching English) to say WTF?

Quick hit: Why does Pennsylvania’s attorney general think that tweets fall under an exception to the First Amendment? He’s subpoenaed Twitter records for people who have been criticizing his run for governor. He’s a public figure and the examples cited seem to fall squarely under the purview of protected speech. Ah, Pennsylvania, the home of some of the most questionable governmental activities in the country. Google “judicial corruption.” The accounts work their way backward from 2010 to 1980s and before. For special excitement, Google “Paul Dandridge” and “Arlen Specter.” Yes, that Arlen Specter who tormented Anita Hill and lost his bid for the Democratic endorsement for the Senate seat.

To the main topic: I was a brief captive to ESPN this afternoon when the coverage turned to congressional hearings on concussions in football. I didn’t catch the name of the young man who had been a victim of serial concussions, but it was painful to watch him struggle with his mom (?) acting as interpreter. I never did learn whether any of the damage is reparable but it shouldn’t be tolerated under any circumstance. This video is equally disturbing because the adults involved are aware of the risks and don’t do everything possible to prevent the injuries. The featured kid was playing with a 20-year-old helmet! If “Friday night lights” are such a big deal, you’d think the schools would spend the money to protect their MVPs. Another suggestion: If the kid goes down hard, take out both him and the player(s) who hit him long enough for a trained professional to evaluate the injury.

Watching the snippets of games in the videos, I can hear my father saying, “No one under age 18 should be allowed to play football.” He spoke from experience, having played at DeWitt Clinton High School and later at Columbia. His injuries were to his joints (though sometimes I wondered how many hits he took to the head). By the time he reached his sixties he couldn’t bend his right knee. Ten years later he couldn’t turn his head. Eventually he couldn’t bend to tie shoelaces. He lived to 93 and I know he regretted every single one of those games.

If he were alive today, he’d probably say no one should be allowed to play football.

Eye Opening

May 22, 2010

Barbara Beckwith has done a brave and wonderful thing in writing What Was I Thinking?: Reflecting on Everyday Racism. I’ve long believed that no one in the United States is without racism. It’s impossible to live in this country and not harbor prejudice of some sort. I acknowledge a problem with white southerners. The accent makes my skin crawl, and I just assume that they won’t like me because I’m black. Rational? Of course not. But understandable since I was shot at in Virginia when I was sixteen by two good ol’ boys in a pickup truck with a battle flag flying from the antenna.

My dad, whose prejudices were far more ingrained than mine, (I called him the black Archie Bunker because he seemed to dislike every ethnic group except for Jewish people, who had helped him get an education), did point out that white southerners who liked black people could be much friendlier than cold northerners. And I’ve recognized over the years how limiting my attitude is. But the reflex is still there. I hear Mitch McConnell or Jim DeMint and strains of “Deliverance” play in my head.

Barbara has presented an unvarnished look at her own perceptions about people who are different from her. The result is truly revelatory.

She describes herself as “white, upper-middle-class, currently able-bodied, and heterosexual.” Until she entered the work world, her contact with African Americans bordered on deprived: the nursemaid, a neighbor’s chauffeur, and two college classmates. She doesn’t mention other minorities as part of her early years, so I suspect they were nonexistent. I am filled with admiration that she stepped out of her comfort zone to attend a workshop on white people challenging racism and then continued to write and speak about bias in the world around her.

What Was I Thinking? is a small book, a mere 40 pages, but it contains a powerful message – that white people have myriad opportunities to overcome their prejudices.

The writer in me particularly enjoyed “Words Matter,” in which Barbara examines the transmutation of labels for people from Central and South America, for gay people, for Jewish people, and for my people who have been colored, Negro, black, Afro-American, African American, and are now back to black (with “of color” thrown in). Barbara issues the challenge that we need to decide what impact these the labels have on how we perceive people and to use the each group’s choice of labels as a way to examine our feelings about “other.”

Beckwith’s essays and speeches should be required in every public school in the country. Her musings on racial jokes put in words feelings that I’ve had that it shouldn’t be OK to put down any racial group, even if the group being mocked is one’s own. My attitude is beyond strict, and it came from my mother, who kicked my dad’s oldest brother out of our house for telling a Polish joke. I must have been five or six years old, but her action had a profound effect.

And the chapter titled “ ‘Aha’ Moments” was a revelation for me as I have obviously never known the benefits of white skin. I did wonder, though, if some of the privilege comes not just from whiteness but from her class status. After all, I doubt that UPS would have allowed a shabbily dressed white woman or a young white punk with tattoos and a baseball cap on sideways to skip the credit card requirement.

In any event, I thank Barbara Beckwith for giving me a great deal to think about and urge others to read and reflect.

Fun Stuff

May 21, 2010

Took the evening off and went to a lingerie party.

Too Much To Do

May 20, 2010

Blog will be spotty until I get my act together for the lecture and reading in San Francisco next week. I will post it when it’s in some kind of shape.

In the meantime, with thanks to my friend Harv, here’s the best video I’ve seen in a long, long time. Lewis Black still rocks!


May 19, 2010

This post should have gone up yesterday, but I wanted to read and contemplate the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. vs. Comstock. What with shopping and cooking and writing the ode to shad, there wasn’t really time.

I was fascinated to learn that the decision came down as a 7-2. Everyone but Thomas and Scalia decided that Congress has the power to order civil commitment of a convicted sex offender who is also mentally ill and is completing a federal prison sentence. There was no debate that the handful of people involved have chronic problems from which they have not been rehabilitated in prison (quelle surprise!). The issue does not arise often since most sex offenders are convicted in state courts. The feds become involved when these guys (all male) violate mail fraud statutes and whatnot. Major ick factors involved, in other words.

The folks challenging the federal statute claim that it violates the Tenth Amendment, which has always been interpreted to limit federal power and reserve all unspecified rights to the states or the people. In other words the states can commit these folks but the feds can’t. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that the statute falls into an exception to the Tenth Amendment because it is part of the “implementation authority” granted by the Necessary and Proper Clause. That clause says that if the constitution grants Congress a power, it has all attendant powers “necessary and proper” to implement the law. The challengers said the statute went way beyond that limit. No, said Justice Breyer, it might be a step or two removed but still necessary and proper.

As soon as I read about it yesterday a little bell went off in my head and I harkened back to a law school class – not necessarily a good thing, but in this case not so bad. Here’s what Justice William O. Douglas had to say in Griswold vs. Connecticut, which invalidated Connecticut’s statute banning the dissemination of birth control to anyone, including married people: Having surveyed a series of cases on the question of freedom of association, Justice Douglas wrote: “The foregoing cases suggest that specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance.” Those guarantees, he said, create “zones of privacy.” Emanations? Penumbras? On the plus side, please note the blessed brevity of the opinions, especially Justice Potter Stewart’s dissent.

While Justice Breyer was careful to point to the very limited extension of federal power in  Comstock, it still looks as though the court has wandered off into at least the edge of a penumbra. I do find it odd that all but the most conservative justices agree with “penumbras” when it comes to the power of the federal government,   Pundits seem to agree that this decision is a proxy for how the court will rule on state challenges to health-care reform. If so it bodes well for the efforts to change an impossible system.

Shad, Glorious Shad II

May 17, 2010

Spring has officially arrived. We had blackened shad at the restaurant two weeks ago. Tonight we dined on Ma’s traditional version. I supplied the Petry family sides: new potatoes boiled, drained and then tossed with parsley and a tiny bit of butter; asparagus cooked in scallions, fines herbes, and about two tablespoons of water. Oh, what a great meal!

Ma takes a filet of shad and places it in a baking dish with stuffing made from onions, bread crumbs, celery, probably poultry seasoning, and chicken broth, then tops it with another filet. She omits the bacon topping for me, but the result is truly glorious even without the smoky salty flavor. The double stuffed filets are enough to supply Larry and me with two full meals and some leftovers.

Now that we’re digesting, I plan to take a walk and then come back and heat the biscuits and whip the cream so we can finish with strawberry shortcake.

Spring, as I said, has arrived!

Next up: fresh-caught bluefish, fresh garden tomatoes, and blueberry muffins.