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Archive for October, 2009

This is probably a meaningless post unless you know a little about San Francisco. But if you are somewhat familiar with the city, you may recall or have heard about the Jack Tar Hotel.

This relic of another era at the corner of Van Ness and Geary in San Francisco is going to be demolished and eventually replaced by a hospital.

Once upon a storied time, the hotel was one of many in a chain of Jack Tar Hotels. I’m working from memory here, but I believe there was also a Jack Tar in Dallas and several in the Caribbean. I don’t know what happened to any of the hotels in those locations, but the San Francisco Jack Tar somewhere along the line was sold and became the Cathedral Hills Hotel.

I mention all of this because the Jack Tar Hotel has occupied a central part of my life’s story. No, I didn’t attend any galas or other social events there. I didn’t hang out in the bar. I didn’t meet beautiful women in the hotel lobby who took my hand and whispered, “I love you so.” In my eyes, The Jack Tar was a 400-room monstrosity, a garish blot on San Francisco’s otherwise pristine landscape.

Why, then, and how has the hotel remained in my memory since I first became aware of its existence as a young, very young male, hovering in that twilight zone between adolescent stupidity and age-of-consent certainty?

I received a moving traffic violation in the hotel’s underground parking garage. It happened this way.

I was accustomed to driving in Oakland where a U-Turn was legal unless a sign specifically said “No U-Turn.”

One day, I had some business at the Jack Tar. As usual when I drove to San Francisco, I came off of the Bay Bridge and headed North on Van Ness. On this day, the traffic was heavy, and as I reached Geary, I had to wait in the left-turn lane for the light to change.

The traffic in the opposite direction was also heavy, and I knew if I didn’t make a quick U-Turn ahead of the oncoming traffic, I’d have a long delay. Since I saw no sign prohibiting a U-Turn, I decided to chance it.

So, the instant the light hit green, I immediately stepped on the gas and swung around, catching the right lane on Van Ness. From there, I immediately swung right again into the entrance to the outside parking area before the oncoming traffic had moved into the intersection. I had good reflexes in those days.

As I drove slowly into the parking area, I heard a deep-throated motor behind me. I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw an SFPD motorcycle officer. Thinking nothing of it (I was also oblivious then), I continued through the outside parking lot into the underground area looking for a spot to pull into.

The parking garage was virtually full but I finally found a lonesome spot as far into the bowels of the garage as I could drive without bumping the back wall. All of this time, the motorcycle officer hung right with me.

By the time I had parked and stepped out, the officer had already placed his bike directly behind me and dismounted. He said, “You made an illegal U-Turn.”  He asked for my driver’s license and car registration, inspected them, and began writing me a ticket.

Like every idiot who has ever been surprised by a ticket, I tried to explain my way out of it. “I live in Oakland and we can make a U-Turn unless a sign says we can’t.”

This is the old out-of-towner excuse that might work in a tourist area, but I was no tourist and the officer knew it. He merely continued to write the ticket, all the while saying nothing.

I don’t remember now whether or not I signed the ticket. I probably did. But one thing sticks in my mind. The officer never said a word beyond his introductory remarks. He merely wrote the ticket, handed it to me, re-mounted his bike and cut out.

I probably would have argued a little more, but a couple of things gave me second thoughts: the officer’s silence and the knowledge that my company would pay the ticket.

Oh, and one other hint of my absolute stupidity in those days. While I waited for the light to change, the officer who followed me into the Jack Tar parking garage had been sitting on his idling bike in plain sight on Van Ness. I remember he looked very professional.

Little known fact: Jack Tar is a British Navy slang term for a sailor.

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Be honest now, men. If you had a chance, would you pose full-frontal nude in Playgirl Magazine if the editors invited you?

A lot of men have actually exposed all in the pages of that publication, including Burt Reynolds when he was still a hunk. Now, Levi Johnston, the father of Sarah Palin’s grandson, is getting ready for a nude photo shoot. His unadorned pecs and abs and er…equipment…are expected to grace the centerfold of Playgirl’s next issue.

Why is Levi opting for his 15 minutes of fame in the nude? He’s a hardened Alaskan male who, if he wants to pose, would make a more lasting impression as a really masculine guy shooting at a rabbit with an AK-47.

But standing or sitting or whatever in a position carefully calculated to demonstrate his manliness in another way is dangerous. A lot of men are going to see him in Playgirl. Men are not kind when assessing the endowments of other men. In fact, regardless of the size and appearance of his equipment, Levi is going to wish he were on the moon to escape the inevitable razzing.

Besides, his fame may be short-lived. It may dissipate long before his 15 minutes expires. America’s magazine buying public prefers female over male nudity. Playboy is still going strong after 35-plus years. Playgirl’s print version is already out of business. The mag is strictly an on-line publication now.

Which brings me around to the question I used to introduce this post: would any of you men pose full-frontal nude in Playgirl like Levi?

Here’s my take. Your courage would be directly proportional to the length and girth of your appendage. If you were well-endowed, hell, you’d catch the red eye to New York in a heartbeat. If you were lacking, you’d kill any son of a bitch who came within a hundred yards of you with a camera.

This is why I believe Levi is well-endowed. And I think we can expect an exciting Playgirl issue when it hits the internet.

I’m wondering, though, if money plays a role here. I’m sure Levi will be paid for his services. But in your own personal case, how much money would it take to get you to strip naked on a beach on Maui and pose in front of a bunch of gawking giggling tourists?

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When the story first broke, I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to CNN News. CNN is the news outlet after all that continually flashes “Breaking News” or something similar across the ticker at the bottom of the screen. Every thing is “breaking” or “developing.” My mind numbs itself in self defense.

But then something caught my attention. I heard the words “Richmond High School.” There are other Richmonds in the U.S., including Richmond, Virginia. I went back to my latest issue of Country Weekly magazine.

As I read, I heard the announcer, I think it was Kyra Phillips, mention California. My ears perked up. The gang rape occurred on the grounds of Richmond High School, Richmond, California. Once upon a time, I attended that very high school. My tenure there was brief, but still, things stick in the mind.

Richmond when I lived there was a classic All-American town, or perhaps I should say a classic California town. However, I’ve lived in many towns and the habits of teens weren’t substantially different from the habits of Richmond’s teens.

In Richmond, as in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, cars were a big deal, and every Saturday night, McDonald Avenue, Richmond’s main drag, would be lined with cars full of kids dragging the street from 23rd Street in the east to the train depot at the west end of town.

If the kids weren’t tooling up and down shouting at one another or at a gaggle of girls walking along the street toward the movie, they were parked in or just idling in any available spot near a drive-in with real live and often good-looking girls taking and delivering orders.

If you want to get a good idea of Richmond then, watch the movie American Graffiti. The movie wasn’t filmed in Richmond but in several nearby towns like Petaluma (the primary filming location), Pinole, Concord, Larkspur, Mill Valley, and San Francisco.

Mel’s Diner in the movie was filmed at a diner (since torn down) on South Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco. And 4th Street in San Rafael was used for many of the street scenes. Another coincidence: my wife and I lived on 4th Street shortly after we were first married and then later in Petaluma.

Times have changed since American Graffiti was released in 1973. Most of the towns where the movie was filmed have undergone dramatic growth spurts accompanied by an influx of people from other areas of the United States and from foreign countries.

Richmond has also experienced its share of changes. But unlike the positive changes in many other Bay Area communities, the changes in Richmond have been mostly negative.

The reputation of Richmond today is a place to avoid. The town is widely known as the murder capital of the state. In 2007 (last year I have a figure for), there were 37 murders in this town of roughly 100,000 people. And, the part of I-80 passing through Richmond has achieved dubious standing as a war zone based on the number of shootings that happen along that short stretch of the highway.

To compound these negatives, the Richmond-San Pablo area has become rife with gang activity that often erupts in violence. And lesser crimes such as robbery and burglary are beginning to spill over into once small and peaceful enclaves like El Sobrante.

The causes of Richmond’s decline have often been attributed to its ethnic shift. While the town was once overwhelmingly white, today whites make up about 25 percent of the population. The balance consists mainly of Blacks and Hispanics.

However, the attribution of Richmond’s ills to its ethnic balance is a specious argument. So many variables come into play that it’s difficult if not impossible to narrow the root cause or causes to one factor. More likely, the cause lies in both economics and a failure of civic leadership to address Richmond’s burgeoning crime rate and rapidly declining infrastructure. McDonald Avenue, for example, that one-time image of Americana embodied in American Graffiti, became an absolute, decaying roadway to nowhere before the civic leadership seemed to wake up.

Regardless of the reasons for Richmond’s decline, there can be little doubt that many of the students at Richmond High School are products of the current culture of violence, poverty, drugs, decay, and a nation-wide attitude that drives individuals to seek the immediate gratification of their own desires.

Given such an environment, it was probably inevitable that violence would eventually reach the ground of the high school. In fact, at least one of the active participants in the gang rape apparently wasn’t a student and shouldn’t have been at the homecoming dance to begin with.

Don’t get me wrong. Most of the school’s students are undoubtedly decent individuals doing their best to make it in a cruel environment. Moreover, the high school wasn’t exactly pristine when I attended it. There were fights, usually between individual boys over a girl, and other students would gather and watch, cheering on one or the other of the gangly teens.

But there were no rapes on campus, gang or otherwise. Those were different times. In retrospect, so innocent. Sadly, once upon a time will never come again.

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Another child murdered. Another family in turmoil. Another mother in pain so excruciating that she collapsed on television. This mother now joins other mothers forever deprived of the pleasure and joy of loving a child and watching it achieve in life and in school, attending proms, graduating, heading for college, and eventually having its own family.

What monster could perpetrate such a crime? What kind of twisted personality could snatch a child walking from the school bus to home in virtual plain sight of the child’s friends? Who in God’s name could murder an innocent young human being and toss it’s body on a garbage dump as if it were a piece of trash?

This is what happened to Somer Thompson and her family in Florida. One day, they were happy and loving, the next day, they were thrown into absolute chaos, forever touched by a vicious murder, lives forever dark and brooding. This family and this mother will never “move on” They will live their lives forever in the grip of depression and a Post Murder Syndrome (PMS), which seems to be a peculiarly American disease.

As much as it tends to trivialize and remove the human element from despicable acts, the statistics of child abuse and murder stagger the imagination. Every year in America, about 3,000,000 incidents of child abuse are reported to various government agencies. Sure, not all of these turn out to be legitimate cases of child abuse, but if even ten percent are valid, 300,000 children are the objects of some sort of abuse. That is staggering and it suggests a society that hasn’t come to grips with its acceptance of cruelty against children.

The numbers on homicides are also mind boggling. From the time that statistics on murder began to be reported to the federal government in the early 1900’s until the present time, more Americans have been murdered in this country than have been killed in all of the wars America has engaged in since the birth of the nation. If you doubt this statistic, do as I did. Visit your local library and take a look at a publication called The Statistical Abstract of the United States. Tabulate the number of murders per year, beginning with the first year on record, 1900. My own tabulation covered the years 1900 through 2000, and the total number of murders was just short of 2,000,000. That’s almost two million dead people in a span of 100 years, an average of about 20,000 murders a year. Of course, the number per year will vary. In some years the figure may be less than 20,000 and more in others. But the total number of almost 2,000,000 is still there.

The number of Americans who died in America’s wars, roughly 1,000,000 (I’m working from memory here), pales in comparison to the number of murders. But at least we can understand and accept death as a result of military conflicts. We cannot understand and we ought not to accept senseless murder and child abuse.

What in God’s name can we do to prevent the violence against innocent beings in our society? At the moment, solutions seem elusive. When a murder is sensationalized in the media, we get on a roll and the air and cable waves are loaded with talking heads and experts of all sorts who raise our righteousness to a new level the way a balloon with a (rumored) six year old boy in it rises and soars across the Colorado prairie. Then, as soon as the current murder or sensational event loses its immediate emotional impact and hence its revenue potential, those same media twerps file the story in the bin of yesterday’s news. Remember Elian Gonzales?

Concurrent with the loss of media interest, our righteousness subsides and the victim loses its identity, relegated to the obscure and forgotten pages of The Statistical Abstract of the United States. Unfortunately, there are no solutions in this obscure government publication.

As individuals, we may be powerless to effect change, but as a society, we ought to be ashamed.  Shame, however, is un-American. Murder is the price we pay for freedom.

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I’ve encountered a writer’s block of unparalleled density. I’ve been chipping at it in my mind for about a month without a great deal of effect. A friend of mine once observed, “We can saw off the leg of an elephant with the wings of butterflies if we saw long enough.” I might add that other variables come into play, such as the cooperation of the elephant, but my friend wasn’t speaking literally. He was talking about persistence. We can do just about anything within reason if we stick to it.

That’s what I am doing at this instant, trying my doggoned best to initiate some persistence by writing a few random thoughts. For instance, I have this feeling that the so-called Balloon Boy hoax is a hoax all right, but it isn’t a hoax perpetrated by the Heene family. Rather a mainstream media that lives on sensationalism combined with a sheriff who seems rather oddly discordant to me equals a hoax in my mind. These feelings are difficult to explain, and I may be wrong entirely but that remains to be seen.

Cougar is another code word that seems to have captured the media’s attention. I am not certain that the average American cares whether older women pursue younger men or not. Of course a few hidebound old relics of the 20th Century may be stuck in the mores of a distant age when sex for men was okay but unacceptable when women wandered into male territory. I’ve often wondered where these licentious old men got their sex, considering that women were condemned to hell for merely thinking about it. The current interest in women as the aggressors seems to have had its origins among the media when ABC aired a new show called “Cougar Town” starring Courtney Cox as a 40-plus divorcee with a penchant for wrinkle free studs. Courtney is actually 40-plusherself and let me tell you, she has a body like a 25-year old woman in the prime of sexual attractiveness. I think ABC has a hit, although I don’t particularly care for the show. I just watch it in the interests of journalistic curiosity.

The preceding is about all I can think of at the moment. I’m probably entering a change of life. I’m in the midst of a couple of cataract operations, and if nothing goes wrong, I will leave the world of the partially blind and enter the arena of the seeing. I am thinking that Courteney Cox will look even better in a couple of weeks.

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I’m watching the President’s Cup golf match televised from San Francisco’s Harding Park Golf Course. This magnificent example of San Francisco’s beauty winds around Lake Merced not too far from the main campus of San Francisco State University where, in a moment of insanity, I once enrolled.

The President’s Cup is a golfing match between a United States team of top professional golfers and a team referred to as the International team, meaning it’s players are from various countries around the world. At the moment, the U.S. team is leading, but the skill level of the international players could mean anything is possible before the fat golfer swings.

One of my disconcerting habits when I watch golf is a tendency to spend more time looking at the galleries than the action on the course. For me, that’s normal behavior. I can hear the announcers and commentators as they explain what’s happing but I am equally interested in spotting notables in the crowd. For example, I wonder if the Mayor of San Francisco is following his favorite golfer. He’s an amateur golfer himself, so I imagine he’s been there on and off, although he probably doesn’t spend a whole day in attendance. Maybe, and this is just a guess, he’ll show up on the last day when the trophies are handed out.

I also wonder if any members of San Francisco’s famed Cougar Class are lurking around, waiting for a chance to pounce on a healthy young golfing stud. A large proportion of the gallery consists of females, but it’s difficult if not impossible to separate a Cougar from the pack. Human Cougars ordinarily don’t wear signs or stripped blouses.

As I’ve watched and admired the golf swings of the world’s top golfers, a disconcerting thought occurred to me. Neither the U.S. team nor the International team has a single woman player on it. In this land of equality and freedom for all, you’d think PGA officials could at least acknowledge the existence of the women in our society. After all, the President is the President of women as well as men. Sure, the PGA has a ladies golfing division, which is appropriately called “Ladies Professional Golfer’s Association” because it has no male members. The LPGA has its own tour and tournaments, so women professional golfers haven’t been totally ignored.

Still, one would think a match so important that it is called “The Presidents Cup” would in some small way include women players as well as men. It’s only fair, and America is, after all, a land of fairness.

So, here’s my modest proposal. The Presidents Cup matches would consist of two divisions, The Presidents Cup for men and The First Ladies Cup for women. One advantage of a First Ladies Cup is that the ladies are, in general, more attractive than the men and they wear shorts, thus giving the galleries a look at some fine legs. Think of the number of Male Cougars that might suddenly develop an interest in golf.

This would be gender equality at its finest.

Update: A commentator just interviewed Condi Rice. Now that the weight of office is no longer on her shoulders, she looks quite relaxed.

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Gavin Newsom continues to reveal his lack of judgment and absolute insensitivity to the feelings of those he has harmed.

His newest revelation about his affair with the wife of his campaign manager appeared in Details Magazine in response to a question about his lowest point. Here’s the money transaction:

Details: Was your lowest moment in 2007—after news of your affair broke?

Newsom:  No—not even close. There was clarity then. Honestly, the things that have hit me the most—I’ve been at some homicide scenes that were much more devastating.

Let me see if I understand this. His betrayal of his best friend and campaign manager and the destruction of his family don’t even come close to being the lowest moment in his life. He places more value on a deceased person he doesn’t know than on living humans. By his own words, he characterizes his betrayal as virtually nonexistent in the scheme of life’s low points.

One wonders, if the revelation of his affair was “not even close” to his life’s lowest point, how many other low points rank ahead of it. Two, five, ten? What were those higher ranking happenings: snubbed in the 4th grade by the plainest girl in class? Petulant because Alex and Ruby aren’t still campaigning for him?  The beat goes on.

Contrast Newson’s trivialization of his betrayal (not even close to being his lowest moment) to recent statements by Patti Solomon in The San Francisco Weekly. Solomon, a former receptionist for Newsom’s campaign organization and a close friend of Ruby, said Ruby has struggled immensely. “She lost her husband. Her job. Her identity…She’s working on getting that back…She did get the shaft really bad.”

Her words verify the devastating aftermath of the affair and its effects on Ruby and her family. Moreover, it is clear from Solomon’s statement that Ruby, unlike Newsom, feels an almost overwhelming sense of guilt and remorse.

On the other hand, Newsom suffered no repercussions from the betrayal of his former best friend.  In fact, his fortunes have sailed to new heights. He was reelected Mayor of San Francisco with 73 percent of the votes cast. And recently, he received the endorsement of Bill Clinton, a major money raiser for Democratic politicians.

Still, the cruelest aspect of the entire matter is Newsom’s failure to acknowledge the harm he has caused to others. He continues to trivialize his betrayal and its devastating effects on innocent people.

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