Starting 2000 in San Francisco

I’m busy packing, getting ready to head out to San Francisco for the first week of the New Year. King and Gwen are my hosts for this California adventure. Tune in to this page to check out some of the things I see & do in SanFran. Here’s where I’ll be staying.
map of SF bay

Look very closely at the GOLDEN GATE PARK (between the E and N in GOLDEN) and you may see me cavorting with a basset hound. Soon, anyway. (I’m expected to arrive at the SanFran airport tonight at midnight, PT.)


The Dynamic Figure

In looking through a stack of papers on my desk, I found this marvelous self-description — not written by me or about me, but it was sent to me (from Gwen) back in ’97:

“This is an actual essay written by a college applicant to NYU.
The author was accepted and is now attending NYU.

I am a dynamic figure, often seen scaling walls and crushing ice. I have been known to remodel train stations on my lunch breaks, making them more efficient in the area of heat retention. I translate ethnic slurs for Cuban refugees, I write award-winning operas, I manage time efficiently. Occasionally, I tread water for three days in a row. I woo women with my sensuous and godlike trombone playing, I can pilot bicycles up severe inclines with unflagging speed, and I cook Thirty-Minute Brownies in twenty minutes.

I am an expert in stucco, a veteran in love, and an outlaw in Peru. Using only a hoe and a large glass of water, I once single-handedly defended a small village in the Amazon Basin from a horde of ferocious army ants. I play bluegrass cello, I was scouted by the Mets, I am the subject of numerous documentaries. When I’m bored, I build large suspension bridges in my yard. I enjoy urban hang gliding. On Wednesdays, after school, I repair electrical appliances free of charge. I am an abstract artist, a concrete analyst, and a ruthless bookie. Critics worldwide swoon over my original line of corduroy evening wear. I don’t perspire. I am a private citizen, yet I receive fan mail. I have been caller number nine and have won the weekend passes.

Last summer I toured New Jersey with a traveling centrifugal-force demonstration. I bat 400. My deft floral arrangements have earned me fame in international botany circles. Children trust me. I can hurl tennis rackets at small moving objects with deadly accuracy. I once read Paradise Lost, Moby Dick, and David Copperfield in one day and still had time to refurbish an entire dining room that evening. I know the exact location of every food item in the supermarket. I have performed several covert operations with the CIA. I sleep once a week; when I do sleep, I sleep in a chair.

While on vacation in Canada, I successfully negotiated with a group of terrorists who had seized a small bakery. The laws of physics do not apply to me. I balance, I weave, I dodge, I frolic, and my bills are all paid. On weekends, to let off steam, I participate in full-contact origami. Years ago I discovered the meaning of life but forgot to write it down. I have made extraordinary four course meals using only a mouli and a toaster oven. I breed prizewinning clams. I have won bullfights in San Juan, cliff-diving competitions in Sri Lanka, and spelling bees at the Kremlin. I have played Hamlet, I have performed open-heart surgery, and I have spoken with Elvis. But I have not yet gone to college.”


Stillness, peace, and hope

Ah, Monday. Almost December, but you knew that. No sculpture class this upcoming month (I’ll post pix of my sculpted works here after they’ve been fired and scanned); no tap lessons, either (just wait ’til next year). But I am practicing to sing in Vivaldi’s Gloria with the Church of the Good Shepherd choir (up on Lookout Mountain) on Christmas Eve; scares me to death. Still making plans on where I’ll visit in SanFran. Still working on (or at least thinking about) that latest episode of my music documentary series. Still at Creative Resources. Stillness, measured with some peace, leavened with more understanding, and marred by hope.
Today’s favorite link:

I was favorably impressed today by the customer service and organization at the Sears Service Center (Amnicola Hwy). I took my Hi8 camcorder (a gift from King & Gwen a while back) in for repairs — probably something minor, but as long as they can get it to record and play back video I’ll be thrilled. They had preprinted estimate forms, 3-day turn-around, answers to my questions, reasonable rates — amazing combination for an electronics repair service.

UPS, however, is a different story. I got 64MB more RAM for my trusty 7500 from The Chip Merchant, chose 2nd Day Air, and today — almost a week later — I received the memory. Yes, it was the week of Thanksgiving, but seems like they knew that when they guaranteed I’d get it last Friday.

Jes’ for giggles, I checked on the current state o’ the art of high(er) speed access to the Internet from home. BellSouth offers ISDN (evidently around $30/mo for 128K, more stable than analog modem, and yet if I’m paying so much more I’d want it to be so much faster) and ADSL — except evidently I’m a mile or so outside their approved ADSL boundary maps. NextLec hasn’t called back yet about their xDSL (Lite!) offerings. Blue Star only offers xDSL at 144K speeds for ~$100/month. Comcast claims that cable modems will debut in Chattanooga “around February or March” of next year with speeds averaging 1.5Mbps and monthly fee around $40. I reckon I might as well wait on the cable modem (already planning a negative poster campaign to convince others on my neighborhood node that “cable modems are evil” and thus boost my access rates).



1999 web site
web site circa 1999

Yes, I’ve finally begun a renewal of my web site. (Y’know, once a year or so <grin>). So far today I’ve laid the groundwork for the past section. Later this week, more work on present and future. I’m expecting to make available an ongoing journal of my upcoming trip to San Francisco for New Year’s (each day’s excitement, or lacking that, each day from my perspective).

I’m getting ready to head out to see “Being John Malkovich” (possibly with my friends Trish, Emily, Harv, and others, depending on who shows up). Perhaps a review will appear here afterwards.

Looks like a busy week ahead. Monday night is a family dinner with my cousins (the Chambers) over in Soddy-Daisy. Thanksgiving in Atlanta with my mom. And, oh yes, updating my web page..



Another beginning.

As the poster that hangs on my living room wall says: Time is a whisper.
I guess you could say I’m very accustomed to new beginnings … to adapting a fresh existence out of the remnants of my old life. Once again, I’m trying to “turn it all around” and make sense from the chaos of my life. And sure-as-shootin’, sooner or later I’ll drift away and find myself distracted to the point of … well … distraction. Still, I’m determined to give it a shot. As I sit here in front of my computer, I’m staring at the poster on my wall:

Time is a whisper:
Rippling with soft urgency
Between now and then.
More than a glimpse
And less than a stare,
A feather’s touch
With a sledgehammer blow:
Time is a whisper.

I guess you could say I’m too accustomed to new beginnings, straining to hear the right time.


From Sterling To Signal View

I’ve been in my new apartment almost one complete month. In case you haven’t heard, I finally moved from my tiny, 200-square-foot efficiency in Riverview to a modern apartment off Mountain Creek Road. It only took some seven years for that transition, but it was worth it.

If you ever had the opportunity to visit my old apartment on Sterling Avenue, I’m sure you’d remember it: packed to the gills with furniture, books, shelves, clothes, electronics, magazines, books, and more clothes (or perhaps “laundry” is a better description). As my friend King described it: “It’s a great environment for taking 3-D pictures!” And in a word: cluttered. It was a good neighborhood, close to the revitalizing North Shore development (Frazier Avenue shops, Walnut Street pedestrian bridge, downtown Chattanooga and the riverfront). Good location, low rent, tiny space: the hallmarks of awaiting change. Back around Thanksgiving, Madeline Wieczorek (my landlord, who lives in the front of the house) mentioned that I might keep my eyes open for new living quarters, as she was contemplating the expansion of her kitchen. After searching for a new home, I finally settled on Q-270 at Signal View Apartments (formerly Lake Park), situated between Red Bank (the town) and Signal Mountain (the mountain).

I’ll load some pictures of the new apartment sometime soon; perhaps some of y’all are curious, and perhaps some of y’all are not. (grin)

I’m slowly getting acclimated to this 780-square-foot space… central air and heat… multiple rooms… more rent… comfy couch. Oh, well. Not much insight here, other than: change is good. And change is even better if you save it up in several plastic cups so that when you move you discover a hundred dollars worth of coins.


Naming the dead, without dread

It was more a firing line than a Vietnam skirmish. Assembled in a fairly straight line of chairs placed side by side, the seven of us sat facing an actual live audience — awaiting their reaction while trying not to anticipate it.

I spent last Friday and Saturday night engaged in this ritual. Our goal was to interpret an emerging script from a new playwright, giving voice to the silent words. And as the author, Buzz Sienknecht, sat in the audience, listening, his characters made their presence known.

My role was “Specialist Bone,” the weary medic assigned to patch up the injured soldiers arriving at B Med, Landing Zone English, Vietnam, early seventies. The rest of the cast: Jack Harkleroad as Smith (Green Beret heroin addict), Becki Jordan as Madame Dzu (provider of laundry and heroin services) and reader of stage directions, Andy Harris as Fat Cat Johnson (short-timer, enlisted, addict), Chris as Colonel Whitelaw (career Army, unit commander), Randy as both Rodriguez (crumbling sergeant) and Colonel Dzu (ARVN “ally”), and Gene Bartoo as Dr. Danny Lazarus (the new guy, the philosophical sort with no stomach for war).

We spent four evenings rehearsing by reading over the play, with Tom Conway directing and Buzz (the playwright) observing, occasionally explaining. As a “staged reading,” this form of theatre is intended to benefit the author of the play by demonstrating how the words flow (or fail to flow) together, creating (or failing to create) that dicey encounter termed the “suspension of disbelief.” As the actors, we didn’t have to worry about any stage movement or blocking (other than standing before delivering lines, and sitting when exiting a scene). The focus is on the content, the words, the essence of the play.

On Friday night, we performed “The Names of the Dead” in front of some sixty people in a studio at the Chattanooga Theatre Center. Their reaction often surprised us throughout the reading; at times I believed I could sense their intensity during the dramatic scenes as well as I could hear their chuckles during the lighter moments. Afterwards, there were favorable comments from a half-dozen people about the play, especially in terms of how it impacted them. The consensus seemed to be that the script was successful in conveying its impressions of the Vietnam conflict and in creating interesting characters that try to survive in their own way. The Saturday night performance also attracted some fifty to sixty people, garnering more positive feedback about Buzz’s work.

Though certainly there was an element of rapid motion in this activity (my total involvement was nine days), I enjoyed the experience. Making sense out of a brand new script (though five years in the making)…playing a dramatic character for an attentive group…working with interesting people…gaining perspectives on the Vietnam experience: as Smith would say, “How’re you gonna act?” With some nervousness, I’d say; and a sense of satisfaction.



Defragmenting my life

There’s nothing like a Monday to get me thinking about the future… thinking about assembling more pieces in this jigsaw puzzle of a life… thinking about what’s ahead of me this week and what’ve I left behind me after the last seven days.

I suppose I wandered into this train of thought earlier today, waiting for the computerized editing system to finish its weekly maintenance. It takes about two hours for the system (Power Macintosh 9600/200MP) to chug through the entire hard drive array (36 gigabytes, RAID 0) and defragment the storage. The array gets fragmented very easily, very often, given the amount of data we’re constantly adding and subtracting in the process of editing videos. Though it’s tedious to defragment the drives, I find that the editing system tends to run much more smoothly afterwards. It’s a way to optimize my own time, in a way: better to defrag now than to crash or hang the system later.

In fact, in an ironic turn, while the timesaving computer was churning through its fragments, I spent my idle time defragmenting my own schedule, my own priorities. (I’m sure you’re far ahead of me by this time, already guessing my pointed parallel between man and machine.) As it happened, the machine beat me to the finish line, but then, of course, it’s had far more practice at making sense out of what it contains. By lunchtime, the computer had a clean contrast between used and unused capacity, and I had a calendar with more things written on it than before… I had a sense of what to hope for in the future… I held a glimmer of possibility. And best of all, it was still only Monday.


(Poetry) Regular Thing

It’s like a regular thing
when I tell myself that I have a short attention span —
But a bridge can’t have a short attention span;
Otherwise it would be a ramp,
or just a place for people to stand around.

Maybe it’s just having a sense of the overall vision,
an almost-glimpse-from-the-corner-of-my-eye
and trying to see what time it is
— from the bridge.

Not impossible, but imposing.
The only line I can remember
from any French poet:
“The sun is drowned
in its clotted blood.”
And that’s because I have it written down,
ink bleeding on the page
from my chewed-up pen.
But if I wrote everything down,
when would I find the time
to throw it away?

All the envelopes, brochures, bills in the mail, daily newspapers with endless sections,
shows and songs and stories on TV, radio, satellite, microwave, novels, web sites,
essays, weekly magazines, monthly magazines, annual collected anthologies, tall
paper sacks filled with groceries, those plastic two-handled bags always about to burst,
stacks of shirts, computer megabytes, shoes, CDs and light bulbs and
a box of shiny black trash bags like the ones on the sidewalk I step over
walking down the street
toward the bridge.

I know,
this is like giving someone a picture of myself in a wheelchair,
even though I don’t need a wheelchair —
not right now.
And the picture is in full color.
Even if that sun I see
when I cross the river
at dawn or the end of the day
is bleeding its way across the sky,
minutes and seconds drip-dripping in its wake —
Despite my occasional — okay, frequent hibernations,
time spent standing still on one side looking over at the other side,
it’s like a regular thing,
telling myself I have a short attention span.
After all, what could be worse
when you’re trying to rhyme a verse
and you can’t remember the wordz
that you started off with?

But —
Sometimes, I can.


(Poetry) Returning Home

Coming around the
hill, on the Interstate
at the Ridgecut,
the city sweeps into view:
the trees on the roadside edge
are only partly blocking
nighttime lights,
only partly
obscuring the upside-down skyscape of white streetlamps
garnished with red and blue from signs and towers
and the spray of light from cars in motion.

even talk about residing here:
not so much difficult as often inaccurate,
needing a sense of humility from the teller and
eventually the sense of pride in the hearer.
Sometimes this trick is handled with finesse, and,
sometimes, the results dwindle with regrets.
Even so, the land remains the same —
especially the view from the Ridgecut on I-24.


(Poetry) Speaking Up

Is this some lingering embarrassment
we hide
from ourselves?
there is no hope.”
I mean to say —
if anything can be right,
then anything is right:
and nothing is wrong.
And my hopes, my dreams
starving, dying, R.I.P.
(as if there were peace
when anything is true.)

I say, if life is just random chance
and we are bouncy white balls on the roulette wheel
and we don’t even get a percentage of the take,
then perhaps our lives aren’t special
or important, or necessary at all.
And without any absolutes in my life,
I’d be right
(as much as right is right
when nothing is wrong.)

Look, when I’m hungry,
I find something to eat.
And it’s no great leap
to recognize my emptiness
and my awkwardness,
my lingering embarassments.
Well, even a simple recipe
has a basic sense of right and wrong,
and that sense
makes sense
to me
(like when
the belief that
some things are always true
is food for thought).


(Poetry) Mindset and Match

Icy rain hits the windows
of his apartment
as I smile and nod,
as I sit on a cast-off armchair
and listen:

“The entire organization
of salesmen
has been turned upside-down.
But I believe I can make
a special deal for myself.”

A deal, no doubt,
that’s pure commission
mixed in
with blind optimism —
searching for
something for nothing.

“I’ve never been sick
a day in my life,
at least until this last year.
I’ve always believed
that positive thoughts can heal
more than just medicine, but
I was real surprised
when I got sick.”

Matter of fact,
we share a cough
(along with a last name).
And I can’t help but wonder
what else might make us similar,
whether by genes or by choice.

“It was that time in that house
that brought us all together;
working through a hardship
did bring the family closer,
I believe.
It was an experiment,
and it worked.”

And now,
we are all apart.
I suppose it’s also true
that after surviving a heart attack
you might treasure each bit of life,
but I still wouldn’t choose one.

“Are you still planning
to go back to school in the fall?
I believe that’s the best strategy for you,
and I will take care
of all the bills.”

Again the carrot,
dangled in front of me.
My smile, my nod —
my only commitment
to his tangled schemes.

“I sincerely believe
that the human body
can live to be one-hundred-and-twenty years old,
at least.
That is, if you think positive,
eat right, and exercise.
So, I’m only halfway there.”

This strikes me deep,
as I consider if
more years
are better than
good years.

And if I were in his shoes,
would it be too late to choose?



(Poetry) On Selling Air

I’m not the only one
Who sees the truth
Beneath the skin
Of our stated promises and ideals.
Perhaps: my task, the skin to unpeel.

This issue from my work’s not said in jest, in fun;
And I’d rather not be mean, nor ruth-
Less in my avoidance of this apparent sin.
Still, in a haze of easy platitudes and legal seals,
I can see the effect our policy has: in what I do, in how I feel.

It’s said our goal’s to serve the public, as father to a son;
To inform, entertain, and educate all, from rich man to uncouth.
We share the airwaves with our commercial kin,
But we promote the unsolicited openness that heals
By nature of its universal appeal.

From these standards, the station
Has (in my opinion) wavered, just as a tooth
Can, with a simple slant, send
A row of teeth toppling, and reveals
The nature of a public enterprise that can, from the people’s trust, steal.

I’d rather expose our uncautious greed to the light of the sun
(And thereby purge my guilt by exploiting the enthusiasm of my relative youth)
Than live in sadness and fear of women and men
Who claim the higher moral ground with their dug-in heels
And yet break the rules set forth to protect the public’s commonweal.

As a co-worker says, “It’s video prostitution.”
How can I reconcile my ethics, or soothe
My conscience, when
This practice of “airtime for hire” and semi-secret deals
Is a poison that strikes the innocent who eat our television meal?



(Poetry) Ninety-Six Ice

Beginning on a Thursday night
The rain became sleet, became ice —
Later falling as snow.On Friday there was
A give-and-take:
The gift of weather
(A day off from work)
And the inevitable tax
(The power went out).

I remember Saturday,
But I don’t much recall
What I did:
The power had been restored,
And other than skidding
And sledding, and slipping
On the powdery ground,
I can’t say I accomplished

Sunday dawned, bright as
New days are bright,
And when sunset came
The darkness collapsed
On a day
(Did I mention
It was very cold?)
That resembled in style
The day before.

Though Monday glistened
And glared
With snow-white brightness,
Nevertheless I trudged
To my car, melted the door
And shaved the windows.
I drove to work,
Sometimes somewhat sideways.



(Poetry) An Hourly Rate

Trying to look forward
Into my uncertain future,
What I am feeling
Is more or less
A sense of gain shadowed by cost.
Yet, it “shouldn’t” be so hard:
The calendar, binding like a suture
Stretched across time (for healing;
Adding to the stress),
Stems the flow of days lost.

I do admit a perspective marred
By my inner voice, saying “Your truth — your
Search for meaning — is appealing
Perhaps only to yourself, not the rest
Of the world (though we are equally by time tossed).

“And these fears that name you coward,
Keeping you sated with old joy, versus new cheer!
By avoiding the risks that send you reeling,
You skim the highs, the lows, the worst, the best.”
(I can choose when to listen, for I remain the voice’s boss.)

There’s a quote that goes, “A life well-spent, its own reward.”
Should I then gather life’s currency as a beggar, as a moocher?
I like the thought of earning my keep (without even a debt ceiling)
And paying my way — with trust funds of experience — as a personal test
That the future might be sturdy, though shed of gloss.



Private Ice Age

Once again, I’m close to a dilemma. The icebox in my refrigerator is rapidly narrowing and soon–very soon–I will have one large ice cube. Still, it’s really not a surprise; two or three years ago I had the same problem.

Defrosting my refrigerator honestly doesn’t frighten me. This task, though supposedly routine, has achieved the status of a frustrating puzzle. My refrigerator teases me with its riddle every time I open the door and see the icy tundra closing like a fist around what few frozen food packages I can fit into the freezer box. Today, I can barely squeeze two thin frozen pizzas and two minature pot pies (beef, chicken) into my little cave. It’s time to defrost, and yet I can’t help but remember what happened last time.

I’d been living in my tiny apartment for about two years when I made the first attempt at The Big Defrost. Everything went smoothly in the beginning, of course–setting me up for the fall, I see now. I figured I could guess the steps involved in the process: turn off unit; remove contents; melt ice; replace contents; activate unit. Pretty cut and dried (or should I say, freeze-dried). I was even (in a small way that would later dwindle) proud of myself for handling this household duty.

First, I yanked the plug. All it took was emptying out much of the walk-in closet, since that’s where the back of the refrigerator sits. Perhaps I should give you a quick sketch of the small layout for my small apartment. Picture one main room, eighteen-foot square, with three rooms along the east wall: kitchen, closet, and bathroom. The kitchen is barely large enough for my size 13 feet (as long as I don’t move them), the refrigerator (on my right), the sink (straight ahead), the stain-left steel stove (straight ahead, to the left of the sink), and the kitchen window (to my left). There are a couple cabinets above the stove and sink, and above the four-foot tall refrigerator I’ve hung pots and pans on plastic wall hooks. To save space, the refrigerator was built into the wall it shares with my closet.

At this early stage, the unit was deactivated (and now I had boxes from the closet piled on my room’s floor, ready for “block and stumble” duty). Next, I cleaned out the refrigerator, which is ridiculously easy for me to do; living alone, I don’t store much food that can’t keep for less than a dozen years. I’m really making progress, I thought to myself. Leaving the door open to accelerate melting, I even noticed the handy little plastic tray suspended beneath the metal icebox, ready to catch the melted ice.

Then I waited.

Several hours later, I wandered into the kitchen (actually, it’s so small you can’t wander into it so much as you wander NEXT to it and then take one step in). Aha, I thought, the tray is full–in fact, up to the brim with the chilly water. I started to slide out the tray… and came face-to-face with the appliance conundrum that still plagues me today. You see, the refrigerator door is hinged on the left and only opens some 90 degrees because at that point it’s up against the sink. And those oh-so-useful compartments on the inside of the refrigerator door (compartments I had formerly praised for their handiness, for their ready availability of my butter, my mayonnaise, my ketchup)–those compartments were willfully standing in the projected path of the water-full tray. The tray would only slide out about a third of the way; I could pull out more, but it would require angling up on the tray to avoid the door. Obviously, I couldn’t convince the water to stay for the ride when the ride went uphill. So, I’m standing there on the cold kitchen floor, watching more ice tauntingly drip into puddles inside the refrigerator. I considered my options as my hands grew numb. Scooping out the water seemed a good gamble… until I tried it. The tray (less than an inch deep) was too shallow for me to gather any appreciable amount into a cup; the water sloshing onto the floor (and my bare feet) didn’t help, either. Next I tried ladling the fluid–but it was technically “spooning” since I don’t own a ladle, and your average size spoon isn’t much help in situations like this. If I could tilt the tray down, I might capture the water with a bucket or a bag (or, realistically, with the floor and my feet), but the only leeway I had was in tilting the front of the tray up, which tended to dump water into the refrigerator. Hmm, I thought: there MUST be a way to do this. After all, it’s evidently been defrosted before (though not by me), and I can’t see obvious signs of water damage here in the kitchen. I continued to experiment: pushing water into a pot (I think it’s fair to say that you cannot push water with any degree of accuracy); using a siphon (if I had possessed enough insight to stock my kitchen with a siphon, then perhaps this entire tragedy would have been averted–and I might as well open my psychic hotline service to the general public); even using a plastic garbage bag to capture the water (another victim of logistics: it seemed that it might be just as easy to build a series of aqueducts leading to the sink as it would be to blanket the volume of my refrigerator with sufficient bag coverage in order to contain the melted ice). Finally (just like in Driver’s Ed), I came to the Point of Decision, which leads inevitably to the Point of No Return.

I had decided upon the “clean-jerk-up-and-over” strategy. Ultimately relying on the natural viscosity of water, I planned to pull out the drainage tray quickly and smoothly, following an inclined path, and turning the tray away me, toward the sink, and down the drain. One big plus: my earlier experimentation had succeeded in lowering somewhat the level of water, though now it was on the floor. One big minus: my goal (the kitchen sink) was blocked by that ever-recurring hindrance, the refrigerator door. By this time, my feet were as numb as my wet hands, and I figured I might as well go for broke. I made the call: “Tray out!” Sliding back the plastic incarnation of evil, I “quickly” and “smoothly” (which may have appeared to seem “wildly” and “thrashing”) moved it out (Yes!), then over the door (Great!), and finally into the sink (Fine! Sure!). Luckily, some of the water accompanied the tray on its journey. The rest–in obvious panic–visited every wall in the kitchen, splashing on the cabinets, me, the stove, the floor, and–a definite insult–inside the freezer.

Yes, the ordeal was over, and despite the cold truth that I had indeed reached my main objective, I still shiver at the thought of engaging my refrigerator in another wintry battle. Maybe all I need in the freezer is ONE pot pie, after all.


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