Friday, March 31, 2006

Goodbye to Crackpotville!

"No city invites the heart to come to life as San Francisco does. Arrival in San Francisco is an experience in living"~William Saroyan

Thursday meant it was Jen's day off work, and it became my second day in SF of doing absolutely nothing besides sitting on the couch. It's my vacation, dammit, and I don't have to do anything. Right?? Thursday night was dinner at old standby Cha Cha Cha for Sparky's 39th birthday with the Procsters, the Roger&Kellies and Ol' Dutch. The food hasn't changed here in 15 years - chicken paillard, warm spinach salad, marinated mushrooms and cajun shrimp are still cooked with gallons of cream and butter; sangrias are drunk; you still have to wait for a table; and the Latin American-styles alters lining the walls are striking. And honestly, it's still good.

My journey of pho took me to Turtle Tower on Larkin near the Phoenix for a bowl of Pho Tai made in the North Vietnamese style, meaning no herbs or bean sprouts, and a clearer, less dense broth. The noodles are hand-pulled (read: FRESH) and the broth is light with very little oil. Wow, it was really good pho made even better by a rainy SF day, although I think I prefer the Southern Vietnamese-style that first caused me to fall in love with pho....I met Sparky at the Walnut Creek BART station to go up to Arnold for the weekend, where Kellie and Roger have a cabin in the foothills of the Sierras. Arnold is about an hour Northwest of Yosemite, near Angels Camp and Sonora in old Gold Rush country. I got a tour on Saturday of your various Wild West sites, including the "Mark Twain Cabin", a structure (re)built in 2003 because he MIGHT have stayed on this hill while writing his first novel, "The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County". Quite a big trade in frogs and Twain paraphernalia in these parts. The old gold rush towns are pretty cool, varying between towns developed to attract weekend traffic from the Bay Area, and towns that are rundown with very little going on -- shades of small Ohio towns with no jobs. Nice to spend a couple days with the Sparkster and the Williams-Collins', and sharing their refuge from the city......Back to SF on Sunday night for time with Denise and her gorgeous 9-month old baby boy Dino. What a lovely, happy child, and great to see his mom in fine form as well. Motherhood is doing her good. We had a semi-pricey but only adequate dinner at Luna Park on Valencia Street, where we masqueraded in a photo as "that nice lesbian couple" for someone's parents who were visiting. A couple drinks and a music swap with EM at the 500 Club and then it was off to bed......

And by Monday night, I was back in Brooklyn, the visit reconfirming for me that I do not want to live in SF again. Great to visit, surely miss my peeps out there, a gorgeous and a liveable big city, but living in Crackpotville is just not for me. (I really think SF has the highest rate of people who talk to themselves in public in the world) I can't quite put my finger on it, as to why I was so happy there once but now know that it's not where I want to be. I think I miss the edge and confrontation of NYC when I'm away, and while that gets tiresome too, I still find it invigorating and know that it's my home. I'm more comfortable here. Something about SF makes me want to tell racist jokes just to tweak the liberalist-of-liberal attitudes that come with California. And not that I disagree with the attitudes, but walking the PC party line all the time wears me out and makes me contrary. Lastly, I find myself wondering after a week of nostalgia for times past and renewing friendships, do old friends know you the best, or only know who you once were? And how do you absorb each others' changes, but still retain your connection?

Friday, March 24, 2006

San Francisco is a lady?

"Chicago is the great American city,
New York is one of the capitals of the world,
and Los Angeles is a constellation of plastic;
San Francisco is a lady~"
Norman Mailer, author and frequent visitor

Monday found me on the dreaded Haight Street, location of my first non-Ohio apartment in 1991 with Mikey and Craig at 1462 Haight btw Ashbury and Masonic. We each paid $231 for rooms in the 2-bedroom apartment, working part-time jobs and knitting together our own family, often to a Seattle soundtrack and copious amounts of intoxicants. Man, the building is super rundown but maybe it always was and we were too young to care. Onward down the St Mark's of SF, always chock-full of burnouts, scammers and smelly people to the finest record store in America, Amoeba Records. They have everything, and thus picked up Jolie Holland, the newest Mary J., The Decemberists (mistake), an older Patti Griffin and the Isobel Cambell/Mark Lanegan album......Dinner found me at Los Jarritos, a colorful and delicious family-run Mexican restaurant on South Van Ness, eating with the always exceptional and enlightening Eric Moffat. After dinner, we walked over to my old stomping grounds, the Latin American Club on 22nd, where several acquaintances who hung out there 10 years ago still sat, and conversation turned to the apparently popular SF topic of 9/11 conspiracy theories. We retired to Eric's home for a smoke, while swapping inappropriate stories about, ahem, "otherly-abled" persons, and amusing tales of public girl-on-girl action in Texas (Eric having just returned from SXSW). At about 11:30, I realized that our conversation had already been the best it could get, in my favorite EM style, so it was time to go back to Jen's.

On Tuesday, I made my regular trip to a San Francisco landmark, Swan Oyster Depot, my favorite oyster bar ever, and a place I wish for when I think of SF. The six brothers and their family who have run these 19 stools in welcoming and impeccable fashion since 1912 do it right -- no frills and with the freshest of seafood, plus family banter behind the counter thrown in for free. A perfect meal of a dozen oysters, a bowl of NE clam chowder and two Anchor Steams makes me giddy with pleasure, and immediately want to return the instant I step back onto Polk Street.

Out to Ton Kiang on Geary Street between 21/22nd for Wednesday lunch, a big giant GORGE of dim sum with the Beldens. I ate so much I couldn't do anything after the food expanded in my stomach but go lay down for the rest of the day. It's all the dim sum dumplings and fried goodness I've tasted, only much better quality and somehow lighter than the old-school dim sum places in NYC. It's as if the places in NYC were still cooking in a 50s do-wop style, while Ton Kiang is more early 80's new wave style. And no, you really CAN'T this good of dim sum anywhere in NYC, including Flushing......Back to the LAC on Wednesday night with the company of the Jens, the sass of the ParkerandAmy/Gibbs Mo crew and a hiliariously self-deprecating and filthy Mark Eitzel. Several drinks were drunk before going to 12 Galaxies to change our scenery by hiding upstairs from the obnoxious Japanese band DMBQ.

"What fetched me instantly (and thousands of other newcomers with me) was the subtle but unmistakable sense of escape from the United States."~H.L. Mencken, writer

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The coldest winter I ever spent...*

I'm in San Francisco this week, eating my way across the city and catching up with lots of old friends. Although I haven't lived here since June of 1996, some of my favorite people and restaurants remain. It's been a great, relaxing, filling time in a fantastic food town, and maybe the only place I could come to visit, and feel like I'm still at home while simultaneously being on vacation.

I headed off the plane on Saturday afternoon, straight into brunch with AnnandDerek and Jen at Foreign Cinema on Mission Street. Always making an appearance on friends' recommendation lists of "Good restaurants that have opened since I last visited" (although I think it's been open 7 years?) sitting outside here in the secluded screening area on a sunny Mission day complimented the bloodys and small-plate, pretty brunch. One cannot go wrong with Duck served with poached egg.....Saturday night found myself and the Jens Janian and Moffitt in North Beach dining at Bocadillos, a Spanish tapas place. Sixty-five dollars per person included 2-$40 bottles of California Grenache, with the food highlights including grilled quail, and big ol' shrimps-with-the- heads-on, and a pintxos bocadillo of chorizo with a walnut parsley spread.

Sunday was shopping on Fillmore Street at Jeremy's, a great spot for discounted designer clothing. (I scored a pair of green Sigerson Morrison flats for $155 SIZE 12 so they fit! whee!) Lunch on 16th Street at my favorite falafel place ever in Truly Mediterranean, where $5.95 gets you hippy food fleshed out by grilled eggplant and potatoes wrapped up in lavash. Fabulous and filling......Dinner and the second episode of the Sopranos at AnnandDerek's (aka the Cleans, aka the Beldens) Victorian manor on Oak Street was the best part of the day. Dinner was prepared by the supremely talented former chef, current food stylist and artist Ms. Belden making us a savory osso bucco, with the continually charming Mr. Clean providing great conversation and much laughter.

*...was a summer in San Francisco." So said Mark Twain, and that truism remains. Damn, no wonder I left. Its so often a bone-chilling, damp cold in SF. Get some insulation and heaters in your houses, people!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Another Average White Male

This story about my friend Sue Power's brother is down right unbelievable. Sue was my boss at This Old House for four years, and a finer boss and friend one could not have. When her brother went missing on August 1st last summer, she was completely beside herself trying to figure out what could have possibly happened to him to make him leave his life behind. She was sure he was still alive, always continually keeping the hope he would turn up.

And now he has.

She better get a good lawyer to get those film rights in place!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Montreal: O Montreal

In my third trip to Montreal since the first of the year, I finally got to see some of the city. And, as I had expected, I dig it. Very much. The parts I liked the best remind me of neighborhoods in Brooklyn, like Red Hook and a less gritty Cobble Hill. I was able to drive around a ton, alternately sightseeing and working at the three printing plants needed to print V Man 6 (which turned out really nice, again with the invaluable work of Transcontinental Printing and Dave, my favorite hot French-Canadian pressman).

After moving from Boucherville, I stayed one night at Hotel Nelligan, in Vieux Montreal on cobblestone-lined St. Paul Street. Right in the heart of Old Montreal on the oldest street in the city, this is an excellent hotel - a fireplace and ginormous jacuzzi in my room that gave me heart palpitations, I heated it so high. I have to admit, I love boutique hotels like this. All the services, the good food, the amenities, the ass-kissing staffs, the amazing breakfasts. I would be such a hotel whore if I could afford it all the time. Vieux Montreal is gorgeous, well-maintained if a little sleepy at night, and chock-full of historical sites to dork out over. And yeah, we've all seen cool churches all over the world, but Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the more special ones.

Lunch was eaten at Schwartz's, a Jewish deli in the Plateau neighborhood that specializes in smoked meat. What is smoked meat, you ask? It's not pastrami, not corned beef but it's simply...smoked meat. Schwartz's was the Montreal answer to Katz's, only I liked this kind of huge meat sandwich better than whatever I've had in New York. Even if it meant waiting in line for 20 minutes in the sleet.

I had a delicious dinner at Toque! (pronounced two-KAY, not TOOK, by the way) in downtown Montreal. Toque! has been lauded as a premier dining spot for 10 or 15 years, with chef Normand Laprise being one of the first to use mainly Quebec-produced products. However, I got the feeling that Toque! has seen better days. It just didn't seem that innovative to me, with a lame hotel bar decor and kind of a rote presentation. Don't get me wrong - it was good (sucking pig! uhmmmm....), but seemed to be resting on it's former laurels as the best restaurant in Montreal. Perhaps that was in 1997.

I do like the fact that before meals in the fancier spots here, you always seem to get an Amuse-bouche (def: a small complementary appetizer that amuses the mouth) to whet your appetite.

The neighborhood I liked the best - and only saw because the UV coatings for the cover were done there in a big industrial building that contained tons of creative services - was Point St. Charles, a neighborhood just west of downtown and south of the Lachine Canal. It looks like Red Hook, or parts of Williamsburg. And not that that means that it's pretty by any means, but there's lots of single family homes mixed with industrial buildings, tucked away between the river and the canal. And big surprise, it used to be a rough working-class Irish neighborhood, now slowing changing over to condos, with bike trails along the canal. Can I pick 'em or what? I guess I only like neighborhoods where cancer is a daily danger.

Lastly, I have to learn some French. I embarrass myself on an hourly basis in Montreal by mangling French pronounciation.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Detox 101

Today I started this detox diet plan, where I don't eat bread/wheat, dairy, eggs, meat, sugars, yeast, processed food of any kind or alcohol. This is harder than I thought it would be, seeing as how I live on cheese and bread much of the time. I seriously don't think I've ever gone a week without cheese - and I mean, in my whole life. Dairy is the really hard one for me to cut out. But I've been feeling sluggish and my body is just "off" so I figured I'd give this a try for as long as I can. I'm off to San Francisco for 10 days next Saturday, and that will have to be when the detox ends - there's lots of socializing to be done while there, plus too much good food to be on a restricted diet.

There's lots of stuff to read on the inter-web about doing a detox, and opinions really vary as to whether or not this does any good for a body. I tend to think that if you eat healthy most of the time, you are fine anyway, but it also sure can't hurt to try it for a week and see what happens.

What I can have is nuts, all kinds of veggies, brown rice, lentils, tofu, seeds, beans, fruits, herbal and green teas, and loads of water. Of course, fruit has lots of sugar, but there's really no way I could do this without fruit. I'm taking Vitamin C and Milk Thistle to stimulate the cleansing process. Basically, I'll be laying around the house this weekend feeling light-headed and a bit tired, but totally self-righteous while planning my next exciting meal of nothing. We'll see how I feel in a couple days. My stomach's rumbling.

Auf Weidersein, Project Runway.

Chloe! C'Mon. How can a woman whose dresses all look like prom dresses without backs be American's next top fashion designer?? Amazing seams, sure, but the next big designer needs to make more than satiny-looking dresses without backs! While I wasn't that sold on Daniel V's, or Santino's collections either, I HATED boring old midget Chloe's stuff. Santino, for all his irritating traits, surprisingly had the best final collection, even with him toning his crazy styles down far too much for the finale. Bring back some of those crazy couture ruffles. But I'm not the expert. Heidi Klum, plus her two co-bitches in judging, Michael Kors and Elle-fashion-director- Nina-Garcia (whose name is always said in that long phrase, with Ms. Klum really putting on the Spanish accent), BLEW IT. Even if the job is with Banana Republic.

Ah well. The new season of America's Next Top Model has begun. I'm only an hour into the two hour premiere, and already six girls have cried on the first episode. Tyra has annoying hugged and comforted three, while getting "black" with two. Words do not describe how self-congratulatory and lame she is. Or how lame I am for watching the fifth season in a row.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Quotes I Have Liked

Hallmark card portion of the program. Sometimes things I have read stick with me. Go figure. I guess it has to happen sometimes. Skip this post if it's all too deep and shit for you.

We are the same people, only futher from home.
--Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Stop leaving and you will arrive. Stop searching and you will see. Stop running away and you will be found. --Lao Tzu

I thought that in New York, the charming eccentricity of someone in his twenties can become a grotesque deformity when he enters his fifties, since this is a city where no one conforms to a general, civilized code of behavior... --Edmund White

(Banville) conveys the narrator's anguish, as he comes to an understanding that 'we are defined and have our being through others;' and must realign ourselves when those closest to us disappear
--from some book review in the New Yorker

Sunday, March 05, 2006


I really don't know where I've been, but how have I never read anything by Edmund White?? Currently whipping through "The Farewell Symphony", which is more or less his memoir of gay life from the 60s to the 90s. White fucked his way through these years with a few thousand partners, while struggling to be recognized as a writer. Taking place alternately in New York, Rome and Paris, this book serves as an elegy to the exuberant and joyous gay world that was destroyed by the onset of AIDS. His turns of phrase are gorgeous, the images fresh, and his prose simply slays me. I haven't read anything in awhile that excited me as much as his writing does. And not just because of the super-graphic sex scences.

Back to Montreal on Monday night for a few days. I am determined this time to actually see something of this city besides the inside of a printing plant, and the crappy restaurants in Boucherville (i.e. the suburb where the plant is located 20 minutes outside of the city). I keep reading about Montreal and hearing nothing but fabulous things. This month's Gourmet magazine is devoted entirely to the city, and got me all worked up about experiencing it properly. Thus, me staying an extra day in a schmancy hotel with a fireplace en suite in Vieux Montreal... Me and Montreal: we have a crush on each other, but we don't know each other that well. My elusive lover and I are gonna get busy this time around.

I went on an internet date with my friend last night as a last-minute escort. It was her first time meeting someone from the online, and while she was fine going alone, I happened to tag along at the last minute for the hell of it. He seemed like a very nice, pretty hot boy. I had to keep my mouth shut because I was trying not to ask too many questions of him -- after all, it was her damn date! Anyway, it was a success and they will be going out again (sans the escort service.) I've done the internet dating on and off for a few years, where I try it for a while, get horribly annoyed/disappointed/indifferent, get off line for a few months to just "live my life" and meet someone "normally", then realize that since I don't hang in bars so much any more and am older that it's harder to meet someone, get back online, etc. etc. repeat cycle indefinitely...Frankly, it's a lot of energy and work to meet someone, and I want it to be easier. Fat frickin' chance. The internet dating makes sense to me intellectually, and I know that it has worked for plenty of friends, but in practice I find it a real pain in the ass. Ah well. Of course, I have plans for a date with another new one sometime next week....

Big excitement over here on Calyer St, as The Haas makes her way back to residency on this block, specifically on the 4th floor of my building starting April 1. Am very excited to have her as a fully moved-in upstairs neighbor, instead of just as the de facto mayor of Franklin Street, and the offical cat/house sitter for Apt 1L, (plus the rest of Greenpoint.)

Could Dolly Parton be more genius? Probably not. And for that matter, how about Ray Charles' Genius + Soul = Jazz album? Dug this gem out of the vinyl yesterday, after not hearing it for a few years. Damn. Brother Ray will always be THE Genius.