Friday, July 30, 2010

Trip to the northland.

It was a good trip north from many standpoints, friends, family, food and frivolity. I got up tuesday morning with some difficulty and started driving tired. Made my normal pit stop at the Whole Foods in Pasadena and onward through the Grapevine. I was so tired I stopped at a rest stop and slept for about fifteen minutes and ended up totally recharged for the rest of the day's driving.  I got off on the exit for the Lost Hills Highway and passed a young man with a cardboard broke and hungry sign. Being judgmental I decided to pass on aiding this young man.

I certainly panhandled when I was a broke young man in New York City and I believe in helping people in need. But the nature of the beast has changed. This guy was one of the new breed of professional beggars that are sprouting up all over. I met a guy at a corner in National City with such a sign, a native american. I gave him a few bucks and asked him about his life and his exit strategy. He laughed, this was his job. Many of these people make it a career and can make a pretty good haul, giving everybody the sad eye day after day.

These new destitute beggars have little pride and a permanent gig. Most look pretty well fed. It seems like a less than ideal place to park my hard earned money. Like throwing it down a hole guaranteed never to benefit anyone but the person who dug the hole. I drove past this man, barely making eye contact. In front of him was a cowboy hitchhiking with a saddle. He I would have given a ride to. As I repared to stop I was beaten to the punch by a trucker.


My first stop is my old pal Vladimir Smyth's home near Laguna Seca. Vlad is married to Susan and they have two gifted children. Vladimir is a brilliant man who used to write and film advertising. Cutting edge and always pushing the envelope. He has one of the great repositories of recorded music and video in the western world, stacks and stacks of the finest jazz, rock, pop and television errata. I requisition Blood on the Tracks Dylan outtakes and he obliges. As usual, we power into the early hours and I wake up the next morning with a cloudy head. Vlad shows me one of Bob Dylan's egg cartons, a cultural artifact for future generations procured by one of Dylan's ex landscape men.


Blood on the Tracks is probably my favorite Dylan album along with Nashville Skyline. The word is that he cut the album originally in New York and was unhappy with it. He was up in St. Paul visiting a music store and was buying an old 30's Gibson when he asked the guy who worked there if he could play. When the guy demonstrated that he could, Dylan purportedly asked him to grab a few friends. These amateur players proceeded over the next three days to play on what is arguably the most definitive and poignant Dylan album of all time. Never received any credits. A few years ago, they all got together and played the album for a thirty year anniversary in St. Paul at the packed old Pantages Theater.  Dylan happened to be playing in town that week. He never stopped by.


The next morning I drove up to the lovely town of Woodside, a Brigadoon type of town nestled in the verdant hills of the South Bay. I had to pick up a painting from a client that I should have grabbed ages ago. My client is a most intelligent Doctor who teaches Bio Ethics at Stanford. Has a passion for 19th century California paintings. We got into a very interesting conversation on the dangers of embryo farming and a lot of other perilous pitfalls of the new technology, technology whose pace is moving far faster than the attenuated underlying moral questions can be sorted. Cloning, stem cells, he shocked me by having a rather stark pro life stance. But I defer to him because he is trying to grapple with some very difficult ethical questions.  He said something quite thought provoking and I paraphrase; The world is sadly missing a real or imagined hell, it caused people to understand that their actions have moral consequences. If I lived closer I would think we would develop a strong friendship.


Zipped up to San Mateo and saw Michael. who gifted me with an italian dry salami, which I gnawed on until it grossed me out and then it got jettisoned. Blasted up to Marin to see a friend going through a breakup and then drove to Oakland to see Gary and Melissa, my foodie friends newly back from Scotland. Gary brought back two exceptional bottles of single malt and like a good guest, I shared a nip with him. Pure and firey. Eventually we drove past Lake Merritt and over to Chai Thai Noodle in East Oakland for a great dinner.

The meal started with toasted rice salad, rice that has been recooked and crunchified with mint and basil, lime and lettuce. Simply fabulous. We went on to sample a delicious pumpkin and chicken curry and a quail course that honestly paled next to the quail at Le Cheval but I kept my mouth shut. Dry and not nearly as juicy. We had a nice duck dish covered with a strangely gummy rice coating and a rather stringy pork dish. A nice meal, well prepared.

After dinner we headed back to Berkeley for ice cream. We stopped and waited in a long line at Ici on College. Some great flavors and lots of tastes obligingly handed out - I tried the Brown Sugar Gingersnap but settled on a boysenberry vanilla ice cream sandwich. Very high quality ice cream but rather expensive.


For breakfast Melissa broke out Black Currant jam that she absconded with from Scotland on good Acme bread. I took off to drive to Fresno to see my father. Past Altamont and the army of wind machines. Rows and rows of tree crops and a sea of grapes. The normal road was blocked so my GPS took me on a strange alternate and I finally rolled in.

It has been such a week. A---'s death as hit me like ton of bricks as more and more details start to rise to the surface. My father has been in a difficult space for months and his cognitive powers are quickly dwindling. When questioned, it becomes apparent that he can't remember my name nor the names of any of my brothers and sisters except my eldest sister Lisa. He calls his wife Shela of over thirty years his second wife's name, Betty. I think he feels a little shame but I just sit there and love him. What the hell can he do? He can no longer read I am informed and he can hardly walk. I try the same trick I played last time, a few hands of cards, a good indicator of his grasp of logic. He wins the first game fair and square, a great sign, then makes some major synaptic errors in the next two games and we stop. My father was an ace mathematician, accountant, logician and card counter but these faculties have now deserted him. Thank god for my stepmother. It will be us someday, maybe sooner than we think.

I listen to two great baseball games on the way down - Padres beat the hated Dodgers and the Giants, who are nipping at our heels with a hot streak, lose to the Marlins. Salazar hits a game winning walk off single for the Pads.


I am now back - tonight was a great Taste of Fallbrook block party. Leslie had belly dancers. Aunt Kizzy's Boyz, the great local blues band fronted by Sugar Ray, was in rare form. Just a lot of great folks on the street. I have a lot to do tomorrow as I get ready to leave for New Mexico next week.


Sanoguy said...

We did not make it to the Taste of Fallbrok. Instead, we went to a free in-the-park concert in Carlsbad. They have free concerts sponsored by the City on several Friday nights in the summer.

We saw "Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers". They are a very well known blues band. I surf with Rod at San Onofre. He is a great surfer and a better blues guy.... he plays the mouth harp and sings. Cool tunes!! They put on a great show and the price is definitely right. There were 3-4,000 people on a baseball field in the park You can find info about the concerts on the City of Carlsbad web site. They have a couple of more this year.

Rod has played there the last 3 or 4 years. Look for them next year!! It's a great show!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Robert,
I read part of your blog--and I thought I would reply about three things you wrote about.
First--the Dr. Sues quote; it stinks, it is wrong, and people should not do it. Words can hurt. You never tell anyone. "you're getting fat," especially your loved one. I once had an argument with the lady with whom I had a relationship--we had been having some difficulties. I wrote her about what was bothering me--essentially that I thought she was excluding me from too much of her life--and also that I was tired of taking orders. She must have read what I wrote differently than what I meant--so "it was over." That hurt both of us. People who care for us are the ones we hurt by careless words--and the people who don't care for us don't have any interest in what we say or think.
Regarding the pan handlers. Did you people in Southern Cal read about the "crying girl" in Davis and in a few other smaller cities around here. She was a pretty young woman, and she generally approached older men--I wasn't hit on by her but one of my friends did succumb to her charms. She had tears streaming down her face--trying hard to hold them back--and she told the old guy how she was stranded--how she just needed $20 to get a bus ticket home. Did you know that old guys are real suckers for pretty young ladies--especially those in need. Chuck gave her the $20--believed he had done his good deed--that is until he read in our local paper how many other old guys in Davis and Vacaville had contributed.
Finally, I was sorry to read about your father. Being disabled is a lousy way to live and to die. Me--I am lucky. I think I still have all my faculties--I think I can do mostly every thing I ever did, it just takes me longer. But I do some stupid things. What I just did is buy a new car--a top of the line Malibu. I have just programed all of it features into it. You will receive an e-mail containing the picture of my car and me next to it. My insanity, though, now that I think of it, was buying a bright red car with a clear coat over the red paint--a car fit for a pimp.
What I should brag about, and I will, is the results of my physical exam yesterday. The only thing wrong with me is old age--and I am able to handle that condition by yelling when my right thumb is stabbed or my left knee wants to rest when I still have to walk home. About the only thing the doctor was worried about is the 35 pound loss of weight--he really didn't believe it was intended--not caused by some physical illness. He asked me what caused me to totally change my life style. I told him I had not. The reason I lost weight was that I had bought a new electronic scale for my home and I didn't want that $30 purchase to go to waste.

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