On a Sunday morning stroll to procure dim sum, beer, and books by Messrs. Sturgeon, Ellison, and Bradbury, the FMA and I encountered this elderly Chinese accordion player faithfully belting out "Silent Night, Holy Night" and "Oh, Susanna!" while sitting in front of the Moscow and Tbilisi Bakery Store on Geary Boulevard. Considering that yesterday was also Pi Day (3.14 for you mathematically disinclined) and the x birthday of Albert Einstein, I felt that we successfully charted at least one star from the major pop-culture constellations in one swell foop. Bless his cotton socks, the accordionist spoke little English and enthusiastically encouraged us to sing along. Instead, we tipped him a buck or two and headed on towards Clement Street and Fine Literature. P.S. My e-mail list was broken yesterday, so you might've missed this update: "Why Children Turn to Alcohol".
It is hard to find a sane person who doesn't mark the progress of time through either nostalgia or birthdays. Nostalgia, of course, is the wistful longing for some long-since-mutated characteristic of the past. Birthdays, plural only, refers to somebody besides yourself getting older. Not just a not-you aging, though, but a person to whom you're surprised is suddenly 30 and not, say, 15. This special "birthday human" is different for everybody, and can be more than one person. Generally, though, people who have spawned tend to confer the birthday clock onto their children: "I can't believe how old you are," "Just look at you," "You've gotten so big," and other insights designed to induce alcoholism and other suicidal tendencies in their targets. Which is a shame, because there's nothing sadder than a 7-year-old desirous of a drink, but hardly even knowing what tequila is. Anyway, I've been fortunate enough to have lived far, far, far, far, away from my family for most of my twenties. No doubt, they felt the same way. Perhaps more so. So although this distance in time and space has forced me to concentrate to remember that my Parental Units have, in fact, gotten older since I left for college, their personalities have changed only incrementally. Which makes me nostalgic for that well-worn Simpsons episode where everybody's favorite yellow-skinned, four-fingered family uses electroshock therapy to give each other what they deserve. The point being is that I've found myself surprised that my siblings are no longer the ages that they were when I left San Francisco a few days before my 18th birthday. In some part of my brain, there's always a slight recalculation to remember that my sister is no longer 12. And when my the opportunity arose to visit my brother as he turned 30 last weekend, my initial reaction was, "Who's turning 30?" Of course he's 30. I'm 32 - and a half, if we're being picky - and so therefore basic mathematics dictate that he should be 30. But in my head? There was that initial reaction brain-scratching moment where I assumed he couldn't be 30, because he's not even 16 yet. When we take our leave of certain friends and close relations, any repeat encounters seem to mentally reference our last engagement until we see them regularly enough to forget about that "last" encounter. At least personally, I've seen it occur with close friends, too. One friend whose wife is due with their first child next month will always be hunched over his computer in my head, coding or Warcrafting as a rum-and-Coke sweats a small puddle next to the keyboard. Or another friend, who had a significant other who was particularly memorable, will always be dating that person for just a moment more before I remember that their relationship has long since run its course. The specifics aren't important, just the vague, burning memories of ghosts long past. Even ghosts of the living. So it goes. So we use the birthdays of others close to us to remember times past. Some involve these nostalgic instigators, and some don't. With my brother on the Vermont-New Hampshire border, it's imperative that I visit my Boston friends. Almost to a person, I find my martial arts buddies stronger and tougher, my non-fighting friends wiser and even better looking than before, and a tsunami of memories crushing me in the best way possible at every corner. Here's where I used to see Bela Fleck and the Flecktones: now my employer has an office there. Harvard Square is where I used to carouse for books: now I avoid it like I used to avoid the fancier parts of Newbury St. Here's where I used to stumble, bleary eyed and on too little sleep, for Saturday morning beatings: well, that hasn't changed, at least. And Redbones is still around, and a dear friend who had a spate of horribly short rentals has been in the same place for years now. Everything changes, and nothing is truly lost.
Arthur Seidelman has been directed more films, plays, and TV shows than you realize. He was also the first person to direct Arnold Schwarzenegger, although he swears he didn't have a hand in casting him. I got to listen to him speak to a small group at the Jim Jarrett studio in San Francisco over the weekend, and he re-iterated that most important of lessons: follow your dream, and work hard at it. Actors need to hear that lesson repeatedly, apparently, given the business-oriented nature of their Mecca, but it's not a bad lesson to keep at the front of your brain, no matter what you feel your calling is. It's even harder to remember during this Great Recession, when food and health become acutely more pressing than art, but perhaps that makes it even more important. However, I'd be remiss in my duties if I didn't recount that I asked Mr. Seidelman about Arnold. It was apparently Seidelman's film directorial debut, as well. He said, in a far funnier manner, that the Governator was a charming man. He also reminded us that it was he who was quoted in Newsweek on the Governator's political triumph as having said that Ahnuld was as suited to being governor as Gray Davis was suited to being an action star, but that he and Arnold had remained friendly. It's so good to know that the Governator has friends. And now, back to the dream.
For 21 years, a small group of San Franciscans have gathered on Ocean Beach to symbolically expurgate the previous year's woe by collecting discarded Christmas trees from around the city and setting them on fire. As rituals go, the Post-Yule Pyre isn't too far from various pagan ceremonies. People of all ages gather for the event, which is brief by necessity and by science. Christmas trees are dried husks, and they burn fast. Also: throw several dozen dead trees in a pile and ignite them, and good luck not attracting the police - even if you are at the southwestern corner of town, on a dark beach. There were young children that parents kept a respectful distance from the flames, and there were heads of gray hair a good deal closer. I didn't know anybody there, but when we met up at the Java Beach Cafe - the latest resting place of the last of the Doggie Diner heads - it became apparent that this would have more than a couple dozen folks. As a group, we dragged the gathered trees to the beach, and invited the curious onlookers to leave their living rooms and join us. The waning moon had not yet risen, and the tide was on its way in, so we were bereft of both light and the heady smell of outgoing salt water. This wouldn't last long. The trees were piled up and people fell into a circle around them, and the light waft of pine needles was soon replaced with smoke and the roar of the flames. We could see the steam evaporating from the wet sand beneath the pyre, adding a slightly ethereal quality to the event. I didn't notice the police presence until they gruffly asked us all to leave, but apparently they'd been watching us for some time. This blog post summarizes the event nicely, and why it's a carbon-neutral event. As quickly as we had gathered the trees and built the pyre, we dispersed. Some went for drinks at the Riptide, and the majority of us went home. My 2009 wasn't the horrible-no-good year that others have had, but it wasn't great. Maybe a little ritualistic fire is all the spark that 2010 needs to get going. Oh, and for what it's worth, the second photo above was picked as SFist's Photo du Jour, and featured by Laughing Squid, too.
Car 798 of Duboce Yard first came to my attention during the holiday season of 2008. I bike past the yard every day on my way home from work, as many San Franciscans do. If you're heading west, on the left is a mural marking the sights you see transversing the City. The Duboce Yard is one end of The Wiggle bike path, a series of right-angled turns that minimize the incline between Church Street, the Castro, and the Mission with the Panhandle, the Sunset, and the Richmond. Car 798 is usually an nondescript railcar, and if it's due for the road there's a lot of work to be done. The railway car depot is off of Market, just as Buchanan begins its climbs up and down the city's hills as it heads north. Trapped behind a black fence, Car 798 is only visible if you head straight at it, and although a few people walk the path between the head of Buchanan and the foot of Church Street, most of those who transverse it are commuting bicyclists. What brought it to my attention a year ago was the destination board, listing the North Pole, and the wreath. I missed my chance to take a photo of it last year, and was pleased to find that it had returned this year. It took a week of mental reminders, but I eventually brought my camera on a ride. The small irony of Car 798 is that, even though S.F. does experience colder winters than other large West Coast cities that shall go unnamed, it's nothing less than a bit of holiday humor to imply that our slightly-below 50 degrees Fahrenheit winters have anything to do with the frigid cold of the North Pole. Nevertheless, it's hard not to appreciate that the Muni mechanics at Duboce take a bit of extra time to spruce up a car that doesn't seem to have any intention of leaving the yard. However, its colors are red and white, which must give public transit fans from Tokyo to Amsterdam a thrill to think that Santa rides a standard gauge, and not a reindeer-pulled sleigh.