Category Archives: San Francisco

Toenail and I

I woke up without a toenail, covered in bruises and scrapes. My head was pounding and everything seemed just a little bit foggy.

Ah, the vicissitudes of aging.

It seems that I am no longer the herculean drinker and doer of deeds that I once was. Time and my body have betrayed me to the point that I can no longer sustain the epic feats of debauchery that would have made my undergrad years so unforgettable (if I could remember anything that happened during them). You would think being in law school would mean that I am still in touch with the youth of America, but the truth is that their bacchanalian revels now leave me spent and wasted, battered and broken. Other people don’t seem to have this problem. Maybe it’s because my law school is only a law school and not attached to an undergrad university so I am not surrounded by college kids all the time. Or maybe it’s because the school is in a city and I’m no longer in a college town. Or maybe it’s because I am old and decrepit. In any case, I can’t handle this sort of thing any more.

Take this past weekend for example. My exams are over, the 1L year is officially behind me (assuming nothing devastating happens during the grading process) and the SemanticSister is town visiting so I was in a festive mood. Unfortunately, San Francisco was conspiring to use my desire to settle back and let off some steam as a means of luring me into damaging myself.

Things started off well enough at the Oyster Festival at Fort Mason. This was actually my second annual visit to the show, and the second time that the headliner band was an Irish rock band. This time it was Dropkick Murphys, which is another band I love but one with a slightly more aggressive sound than last year’s mellower Flogging Molly. That did not bode well.

Things started out calmly enough. The weather was nice and breezy after the unexpected heat wave that had been plastering my shorts to the back of my knees for the last few days. The sun was shining, the grass was freshly mowed, and the oysters flowed freely. I now live only a few blocks away from Fort Mason, so I decided to spend the morning doing some pre-drinking on the roof deck. I would soon learn that a half bottle of Bushmills before noon is a mistake. The powers that be decided to streamline the oyster fest experience by making everyone by tokens in order to buy beer. This had the effect of shortening the beer lines, because there was no messy mathematics involved. 1 Token = 1 Beer, nice and simple. The downside was that the line for tokens was ridiculously unwieldy. Intelligently, I bought an assload when I first got there and it proved to be more than enough to keep me heading back to the Port-O-Potties, as well as towards my doom. For most of the day and most of the day things were fine. I sat on a hill and listened to all the Bands Who Were Not The Dropkick Murphys played. I sucked back my oysters and all was right with the world.

It’s not so much the drinking that did me in, but what the drinking inspired. I had decided before hand that I would not be gracing the mosh pit with my presence. The kid was gonna sit on the bench for this one, and in order to encourage myself to stay out of the fray, I decided to attend the Oyster Festival wearing flip-flops, which should have been enough to keep my fat ass on the sidelines. But the whiskey and the $7 beers wouldn’t let me sit by the wayside while everyone else was rocking out. I tried to stay out of it. I stood with my girlfriend and listened to the first song or two, but before “Shipping Up To Boston” had even kicked into the second verse I was leaving my flip flops and hat with the civilians and waded barefoot into the middle of the pit, a look of stupid determination on my face.

I’ll spare you the gory details, but when all was said and done my left big toenail was gone, my knee was swollen and I was forced to limp home without my hat. 45 minutes of fruitless searching had revealed neither the hat nor the missing toenail even though I had claimed someone’s torn-up t-shirt and was running around waving it like battleflag in order to draw everyone’s attention to my quest. There was nothing to do but head home, order some Chinese food and Drunk-Dial my friends back in Florida and yell at them for not living in the same state as me. Good times.

But that wasn’t the end of the fiasco. San Francisco saw fit to follow up the Oyster Fest with the Bay To Breakers. Not so much a race or marathon as a never-ending parade of drunken lunatics in garish costumes pushing shopping carts filled with kegs up hills. I missed the event last year, so this was my first exposure to it. I was torn about whether or not to attend.

On the one hand it involves both running and fabulous costumes, neither of which I like.

On the other hand it is also about drinking and rowdiness, both of which I like.

It also takes place at an ungodly hour of a Sunday morning. 8:00 AM is a time when most normal people are at home in bed, moaning softly to themselves as they try to regrow missing body parts and catalog the multiple bruises running up and down their arms. In a concerted effort not to be lame, I dragged myself out of bed and threw myself on a bus headed directly into the heart of darkness. I did not run. I did not wear any gold lame. I just stood around, beer in hand and watched the madness unfold around me from my vantage point of the mid-level hill wear Hayes crosses Fillmore. Water balloons were thrown. This being San Francisco, there were more than a few prominent displays of full-frontal male nudity, but no one seemed to really care.

There were an inordinate number of pirates, and more than a few superheroes. The women seemed to favor uber-80s aerobics-instructor style looks with lots of leg warmers and body stockings. The men seemed to favor short shorts, and there were even a few Spartans present.

On Monday I was a wreck. A mere two days of drinking, moshing, walking, and hanging out in the sun took its toll on me. In my younger days, it would have been nothing. A weekend like this would be nothing but a warm-up for some real debauchery. At no point did I lose control of my basic bodily functions, or even feel “the urge contrary to swallowing” which were the bare minimums for a truly blow out FSU-style drunkfest. Yet, I was still physically destroyed. Even two days later I am still a wrecked empty shell of a man. I had to attend an unrelated doctor’s appointment and was told in no uncertain terms that I look like shit. The dude at the post office seems to concur with this diagnosis.

Better luck next year.

1L Dispatch: The People That I Meet

The charter for my law school requires that the college be within a certain proximity to the courts. This gives us access to the center of legal practice here in San Francisco, but it also means that the school is centered in the Tenderloin – as wretched a hive of scum and villainy as you’re likely to find in the Bay Area. It is euphemistically called a neighborhood in transition, but it appears to be a transition from crackden to crazytown.

It’s not that the area is overly dangerous, although we do hear about the occasional incident. But every day on my way to school I get to see something new, be it making my way through a gaggle of annoyed drag queens or watching some of the more colorful Tenderloin denizens ply their wares.  This lady, for example, gave the end of my day a little extra excitement:

Tenderloin Follies

I know that street performers are nothing new, but I felt she really had something special going for her. She is in fact dancing around in her underwear. Outside the United Nations building. In the middle of the afternoon. With a violin (or possibly a lute). The best part: her instrument had no strings and there was no music coming from it or anywhere. San Francisco. Sigh.

Thank You for Being My Friend

Today on the #22 bus line, all the way from Lombard St. to Potrero Hill, I was sitting behind a certain gentleman. It was 4:45 in the A.M. and we were the only two riders on this particular bus. The gentleman weighed approximately 400 pounds, and was wearing a skin tight pink belly shirt with purple beads glued to the back spelling out the word “Sorgum.” He topped his ensemble off with a saucy pair of camouflage pants. He had an old-school ghetto-blaster boombox on his lap. It was at full volume, playing the theme song to the Golden Girls in a never-ending loop. I guess he must have recorded it that way, and the same minute or so played again and again for the entire 45 minute bus ride. All day I’ve had it bouncing around the inside of my skull.

Thank you for being a friend
Traveled down the road and back again
Your heart is true your a pal and a confidant.

And if you through a party
Invited everyone you ever knew
You would see the biggest gift would be from me
And the card attached would say thank you for being a friend.

Every time I think I have a handle on this city I get hit with something new.

S.F.-ari: Pubcrawling San Francisco – Giordano Bros.

This Friday night, instead of taking refuge in the blue light of the cinema I actually went out into the City. (I still went to the movies on Saturday, though). Somewhere along the way, and I’m not sure exactly when it happened, I became kind of lame. I used to be a bar person. I wouldn’t necessarily say a drunk, but certainly someone who felt at home keeping a shine on the bar with the sleeves of my coat. It’s been too long since the epic days of my youth and I no longer have a television to keep me occupied at home, so I’m making a concerted effort to go out more and reacquaint myself with the places where people in San Francisco gather to consume.

My first stop was a place called Giordano Bros., a bar and grill in North Beach with a decidedly Pittsburgh-ian theme. From the giant inflatable Steeler in the corner to the black and yellow decor, this place really sticks to its roots. A sandwich shop by day, there is a full menu of meaty sandwiches, all of which are served with fries and coleslaw served on the sandwich. It’s a little wacky, but evidently it’s a tradition and a tasty one at that.

But when I went, the lights had been turned down low, and a band was setting up for an evening of live music. There was definitely more of a bar atmosphere in the space. But a generous happy hour and low starting prices make it a good place to knock back a few. There were no beers on tap, which I found troubling. But they make up for the deficiency by having some good bottled beers and offering them in bucket form. I ordered one and sat back on the long bench that dominates one side of the room.

Live music can be iffy for me. There are too many shitty cover bands mangling Jimmy Buffet and Dave Mathews before disinterested crowds. Even good bands can approach the gig like they are having a concert that we bar patrons are attending. This is not the case. While there is a always a sampling of the band’s mothers, girlfriends, and groupies, the majority of people tend to be bar customers who want some background music. At least for me, the level of annoyance rises proportionately with every notch of the volume dial the bassist cranks past and every time I have to repeat what I just screamed into the ear of my friend who is sitting six inches away. The band at Giordano Bros. was a delightful exception to this trend and they filled the bar with mellow rock that I didn’t have to tear my lungs out to have a conversation during.

There was a server and he was efficient, if a little sweaty. He took a liking to a young lady in my party and he paid a great deal of clammy attention to her, hugging and kissing her cheek a great deal. It was all very friendly, and not in a totally creepy or unwelcome way but I can’t imagine he gives the same kind of service to every customer that goes through those doors.

I’d spend another night drinking at Giordano Bros., but I can’t help but think the bar is aimed squarely at displaced Pittsburgh-ers and I’m sure the place hits a certain frenzy during Steelers games. In fact, there was a definite feeling of a sports bar waiting for a game. But for a laid-back bucket of beer, a choleste-riffic (but delicious) sandwich, and friendly atmosphere, you could do a lot worse.

Wordcamp 2007: The Next Topic

1:00 PM Lorelle Van FossenKick-Ass Content Connection

 

  • We would have gotten a free book, but UPS has proven unreliable. It is possible that a certain British Boy Wizard has gummed up the shipping works.
  • Problem with Blogs (according to her Israeli pal): Too many posts look like they were written in 10 minutes by bad spellers and deficient typists.
  • Secret to good blogs: “Show something new.” Failing that, “Show them something old in a new way.”
  • Search before you write. Try to ignore the ubiquitous and focus on the fresh. Look for what is missing on any given topic. (I like the way she speaks. She is animated without being annoying about it.)
  • You are the editor and publisher. Inspect your content, and thereby find the holes.
  • Lay off the feeds first thing in the morning. Look at them at night, and sleep on it. Think about before writing (unless you blog the news) because you cannot be the first out of the gate so don’t bother trying.
  • Blogging in the moment causes haste, you process without thinking and your readers will do the same as they read. Calm posts lead to calm readers, and calm readers will perceive you as wise.
  • “Relationship Blogging” is the new black. Comments create conversation.
  • Check out Liz Strauss. She says that you blog for yourself. What are you saying? Blog for yourself and to yourself. You create a sense of home and a place unique to you that will create the same sense in the reader.
  • When a blogger is faking it –
    • Inaccurate Information
    • Too many ads
    • Linkdumping/blockquoting without your own words
    • Reposted Twitter feeds (Someone in audience has been accused of having intercourse with her computer. She doesn’t deny it).
    • “Dear Diary” events from boring people’s boring lives without engaging the audience. No one cares what you had for breakfast. Unless you were ancient and blogged about it on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Then, it’s gold.
  • Blog for the future. Blog well. Blog for the children. (She’s reaching a bit here.) In Israel, there is a saying about “fucking the land” inserting yourself, penetrating it so that you build something for future generations.
  • Stop whining about not having any commenters. Improve the conversation:
    • Stop writing for your 8th grade teacher because she was probably a bitch.
    • Purposely leave things unfinished to encourage readers to fill in the blanks. Incomplete thoughts allow readers to complete them. Lists of 6 or 7 encourage readers.
    • Responding to every comment is crap. Trick your readers into thinking that you respond to every comment. (They are a cowardly and superstitious lot.)
    • Don’t ask “What do you think?” It doesn’t work. Pretend that your reader is like an old friend or your partner in an old married couple. Make readers finish your sentences.
    • Blog about what other bloggers are writing about. Link to meaningful conversations. Memes are stupid.
    • circularcommunications.com a guy made an interview by blockquoting her old posts. (She finds her own ideas brilliant. Who’s to say she is wrong?)
    • Comment on other blogs, preferably in an intelligent manner. This will encourage others to click back and find out just how clever you are. Comment incompletely. Help each other carry on the conversation.
    •  (She is now giving shout-outs to members of the audience, including a guy who gave her a ride on a motorcycle. She also talks about Israel a great deal in the manner that people who have lived in foreign countries are wont to do.)
    • Be generous in your backlinking.
  • Return to the spirit of the pioneer.
  • Entertainment Blogs:
    • “Blogotainment” (A ridiculous word that the speaker did not come up with.) Disclosure of intentions is important.
  • Stick to your themes. Stay within the scope of your blog.  
  • Use triumvirate of spam controls:
    • Akismet, spamKarma, Bad Behavior
    • Join the fight against comment spam! (She’s giving a call to arms.) Kill it dead.

 

I’m at Wordcamp 2007

I’m sitting in the Swedish American Hall in San Francisco with a gaggle of other bloggers at Wordcamp 2007 . We are listening to other WordPress users talk about blogging. I got up way too early for this, but so far it’s worth the bleary eyes and the hosts were kind enough to give us free coffee. I’ll try to post my impressions throughout the day. Please bear in mind that they are my impressions, and I give them to you free of the restraints of linearity in the order that makes the most sense to me.

Regarding the Blogs vs. Journalism Panel:

  • On Blogs and the Mainsteam Media
    • Dvorak: Blogs being coopted by mainstream media
    • Malik: Blogs see stories as ongoing processes, not finished events. Covers evolution.
    • Dvorak: Digg got biggest upsurge from Paris’ Hilton’s PDA- Bloggers fall for non-news celebrity tripe as much as mainstream media
    • Dvorak: Blogging = “Institutionalized Ankle-biting” -scrutinizing mainstream media, which the big dogs find annoying
    • Dvorak: New York Times is designed after the Onion. Bloggers suffer from being typecast as “only a blog,” partially because of simplicity of template. If they had slicker design, people would have more faith
    • Dvorak: All Bloggers are citizen journalists, even if they report on nothing but whether or not their cats can have cheezburgers.
    • Malik: Bloggers should make attempts to call the subjects of stories, this
      covers their ass legally
    • Dvorak: Bloggers should maybe take one journalism class, look into libel law. You
      can’t legally call someone a crook, but you can call them a douchebag. Is
      calling someone “shady” libelous?
    • Malik: Big media sites should engage smaller bloggers and engender a sense of trust with readers. NYT does a poor job of this. NYT does not use audience effectively.
  • On Comments:
    • Malik: Comments good, bad, and ugly show a level of engagement and involvement
    • Dvorak: If your filters are worth a shit, they will do most of the moderating for you
    • Malik: Like a bar, you decide what kind of bartender you want to be and what kind of joint you want to run
    • Dvorak: leave some of the “You suck!” comments in, if they offer evidence for why you suck
    •  Dvorak: rated comments are bull (except for reviews) because they are prone to partisan smack-talking
  • On Mistakes- Permanence of Articles v. Changing Copy
    • Dvorak: changing the text after mistake is noticed is fun because it can make commenters look like dopes
    • Malik: write the post, step away for 15 minutes then check again before posting
  • On Blogging Internationally:
    • Malik: mostly via mobile phone, especially in India
    • Malik: Australia not good at cricket, may or may not be good at blogging. Blogging is directly correlated to availability of broadband
  • There is a NYT Blog worker here and we are experiencing our own little Crossfire. The last word? Dvorak says the NYT are clueless. (Possibly douchebags, although this goes unsaid).

    Remember, It’s Not the Gas Station Owners Who are Bending You Over. Rather They are Joining You in Being Bent.

    Everyone hates paying the ridiculously high price for a gallon of gasoline, even if it is less than they pay in other countries. I live in a city where the gas prices are among the highest in the state, in a state where the gas prices are among the highest in the country, in a country where the gas prices are the among the highest middle of the road/lowest in the world. While I don’t drive often and use public transport as often as I can, it’s easy to get frustrated when it seems like you have to sink your entire paycheck into your gas tank. But before you try to drag your local gas station attendant through the pay window and lay a beatdown of biblical proportions on their ass, stop and reflect.

    The owners of your local Kwik-E-Mart are not responsible for the pinch. In fact they are victims of it to a much greater degree than you are. Owners of gas stations make virtually nothing from the sale of petroleum products alone. Think about it: How often do you see a gas station that sells only gas? Probably never. They almost always sell snacks and porn or do mechanical work and that’s where the real money comes in. The profit margin on a gallon of gas is next-to-nothing. The Freakonomics blog reports one local Shell station owner is fighting back against the company kamikaze-style. Like an enraged Viking Berserker, the owner doesn’t care if he drives himself out of business as long as he drags his opponent screaming down to hell with him. The owner bears the improbable and slightly hilarious name of Bob Oyster plans to fight back. He says

    “that Shell and other big companies are squeezing service-station owners way too hard, and he plans to shut down his station soon anyway. “I’m going out with a bang,” he said. “And I don’t care if I don’t pump a gallon on the last day.”

    His plan is to jack up the prices even higher than what the oil company sets for him in order to create negative branding when the people associate his inflated numbers with the shell logo.

    Get ’em, Oyster.

    link (via Freakonomics)

    Oysters and Beer, Oh My

    This past Saturday I got together with about 19,999 other San Franciscans to attend the Oyster and Beer Fest at sunny Fort Mason. It was a gorgeous day with enough sun to turn my face a mottled pink (that still hasn’t faded) but enough of a cool breeze to keep the sweat from dripping into my oysters.

    Nothing ruins the taste of a briny/fishy gob of snot with hot sauce more than a few drops of salty sweat. Consensus seems to be that the oysters themselves were hit-and-miss with regards to quality. My own seafood tastes runs more toward the fish end of the wading pool, but I can shuck and suck with the best of them and I thought they tasted like oysters (which is to say like nothing really, except for the sauce you put on them and a little salt). The idea of the festival was to celebrate the way Guinness and oysters go together and I must admit I concentrated more on the latter than the former. Though I consumed some shellfish:

    There was plenty of beer on hand, although since the event was sponsored by the “Big G,” the variety was limited to Guinness, Harp, and Smithwicks. That was more than enough to satisfy me, but as the festival went on I ran into a common problem:

    They did what they could, but things got crowded at both the port-potty area and the beer tents. After being forced to endure a half-hour wait for that precious foamy liquid and forty-five minute one for its expulsion, I had no choice but to slow things down and teeter on the elusive borderland between sobriety and its opposite. Turns out this is the ideal frame of mind to enjoy the real reason I went to the show, which was a concert by Flogging Molly. Other bands played during the day, and they were all right but I was really there to see my favorite Irish rock band.

    Unfortunately, I had to keep some distance from the stage due to a slight legal misunderstanding I had with Bridget Regan, the fiddle player. (Some day she’ll come around and see the truth. Just because someone makes a life-sized doll out of another person’s old hair and garbage doesn’t mean he’s obsessed; just a dedicated fan. On that day she’ll lift that restraining order and I’ll climb down from my treetop post and we’ll be together forever.)

    But I digress. My position on the field was pretty good. I was not alone:

    And although I am, as they say, “getting too old for this shit.” I was so appalled by the quality of moshing that I felt compelled to enter the fray. I don’t know if it was just a laid-back day but the moshers were bopping around like somnambulent children. I miss having no regard for my own body, and so:

    That’s me in the Guinness top. (Which incidentally has been to more Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys shows than I can count, presuming I can’t count higher than six.) I was pretty much unopposed as the dominant force in the pit, except for one determined Marine who made it a point to tackle me when no one else dares. He knocked me down once, and was once knocked down in return. Semper Fi, my friend, Semper Fi.

    Except for someone pouring an entire Smithwicks on my head when my back was turned, it was a fairly sedate mosh pit. I was unperturbed. I found the cold liquid refreshing, and the clinging beer smell in my hair and on my shirt served as a pleasant reminder of an afternoon well spent.

    Mosh pit aside, I had a great time. I never get tired of seeing Flogging Molly or drinking beer, and I had ample opportunity to do both. I know all the songs by heart, but I still love to sing them. I was also struck by how seemingly lax the security was. There was nary a bouncer in sight once you got past the entrance, and the police presence was minimal. My friend Oliver suggested it was probably unnecessary as San Francisco seems mostly devoid of the speed-crazed rednecks that can turn most outdoor festivals in my home state of Florida into nigh-riotous brawls without a heavy security detail. It’s not that Northern California is lacking in aggressive no-goodnicks, but perhaps rather that they are less destructively preoccupied with ruining everyone’s good time.

    Whatever the reason, I eagerly await next years festival.

    I am Jack’s Inflatable Moose Head…

    Well, I got some bad news this past weekend…

    rantrabies.jpg

    After some navigational woes caused me to miss the reading in San Francisco this past Friday night, I was forced to head out to Berkeley to catch Chuck Palahniuk on Saturday. He is one of my favorite authors, and has been since I read the first line of Fight Club. I went on to read his entire oeuvre, and every book has been, if not a masterpiece, then a solid chunk of writing with a distinctive voice and flair for language. He is on the road to promote his newest effort Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey.

    I’ve never seen him in person before, and I didn’t know quite what to expect. It turned into a very cool evening. The first thing he did was distribute fake cigarettes to the audience, little plastic cylinders with fake little cherries. They were loaded with chalk powder, so that you could simulate a cloud of smoke if you blew into them. He apparently had them shipped here, along with several boxes of goodies. The cigarettes featured prominently in the first story he read, an unpublished short story he keeps just for readings like this one. It made me feel exclusive and cool to think that so few people would ever get to hear “Death Nest.” He also read several letters that he received, and another unpublished story “Cold Calling.” They were both great stories, written in the inimitable Palahniuk style.

    In between, he solicited questions from the crowd. I had two things I wanted to know about him, and luckily they were both asked. The first had to do with the little facts and instructions that pop up in his writing, things like the automotive insurance stats in Fight Club, the medical mnemonics in Choke, and the etiquette/housecleaning stuff from Survivor. I always wondered if he has a research assistant or something, or if he finds out all those bizarre bits of knowledge for himself (its the latter). I also wondered about his recent shift to multiple points of view. Most of his books are written in the first person, and the one criticism I have is that they can (kinda sorta) sound alike. After a while all his narrators end up sounding a bit like Chuck Palahniuk. That’s not necessarily a bad, thing but I was glad to see him branching out into other forms of narrative. he did it in Haunted,he did say that was a conscious choice, and with Rant, he wanted to explore a Rashomon-style retelling of the same event from multiple points of view. So I got my questions answered even if I wasn’t the one who asked them. Everyone who asked a question got a bouquet of flowers tossed to them by the man himself.

    chuckmoose.jpg

    He alternated the Q and A with trivia questions, grilling us with bits of esoterica from his novels. Those who answered his questions correctly were rewarded with an inflatable moose head, signed by the author. And guess what:

    moosebook.jpg

    I named him Tyler.

    That’s right, dear reader. I won a prize. It was actually the only one he asked that I knew, so I lucked out. What bit of trivia enabled to bring home this majestic moose? The question had to do with Choke. “Why couldn’t Victor read his mother’s diary?” Because it was in Italian, of course. Having proven my mettle, I settled down for the rest of the reading. It was a great experience, and he told some killer stories. He knows some fucked up people, and cited them as his source of fucked-up stories. The coolest was the story of the initiation of French veterinarians, which in a typical display of Gallic strangeness, involved being sewn inside a dead horse and crawling your way out.

    I was really struck by the way he said that every story he tells is a way of dealing with loss, and that every single novel could be traced back to the death of someone he loved. It was heavy, and it made me realize how little emotional weight my own writing has. I’m way better at reviewing comic book movies than contextualizing pain and achieving catharsis. Anyway..

    After he ended the reading by tossing plastic severed feet and giant hamburgers into the crowd, I got my copy of Rant signed. I haven’t read it yet but it apparently has to do with a man who spreads rabies and runs an underground demolition derby. (Hence the stamp on my autograph page, and the reference to giving me head refers to Tyler the Moose, you pervs.) I also had a picture taken, but in a another bit of authorial quirk, he would only take pictures like this:

    meandchuck.jpg

    That’s not normally what I wear when I go out, even in San Francisco but who am I to say no? It was fun, and you can see if Chuck is coming to your town here. If so, I suggest you shell out the eight bucks. You won’t be disappointed and you might get a moose head.