Yesterday, when I walked out of the pharmacy in HMB, I saw a cat on a leashâgently tied to somebodyâs green backpack resting on the ground.
Iâm a cat lover, the owner of two bobtails, so my heart went straight to this multi- gray striped cat with a tailânot just because it was on a leash, which is unusual enough to make anyone look twice.
But this cat was calm and unafraid– even though I thought it was clearly vulnerable.
Its fur was shiny, slick and clean. And its clear knowing eyes told me, lady, Iâm no ordinary cat.
This was a worldly cat, an experienced cat– a wise and patient cat.
All this flashed through my mind when the catâs owner walked out of the store.
He looked a little travel-worn but he didnât notice me. To the cat he said, âIs everything all right?â?
I guess everything âwas all rightâ? because he sat on the cold concrete next to the cat, resting, looking at nothing in particular. I noticed he had a jagged cut above his right eye but I decided not to ask about the wound.
Instead I asked about the cat.
âIsnât your cat afraid of dogs?â?
âHe IS a dog,â? he answered. âHe grew up around dogs. He knows how to handle them. He can protect himself.â?
Then he told me the most remarkable thing: âThis cat can swim. We were in Santa Cruz over the weekend, â and the rest trailed off.
âReally?â? I marveled, imagining a swimming cat. One of my cats, the girl, tentatively tests the drinking water in her green bowl with one paw, but I couldnât envision her stepping into any body of water.
Hoping for more stories about this intrepid animal, I said, âYou take great care of him.â? I thought he must brush him all the time but he informed me, âHe grooms himself. He licks himself every two minutes. I take good care of my cat.â?
Our conversation was coming to an end but I wanted to know one more thing. âWhatâs his name?â?
âBubba. We were supposed to go to Alaska, âhe added almost absentmindedly. ââ¦ catch a flight out of Oregon.â?
These two, Bubba and his owner, were one, inseparable, and I left them that way in Half Moon Bay, wondering how these traveling companions would deal with the harsh Alaskan weather in the dead of winter.
But if the cat can swim, Iâm sure they can survive anything.
Here’s one of the photos Roger Ressmeyer (http://ressmeyer.com/, http://www.sciencefaction.net/) took of Meryl Streep at the San Francisco Symphony in the early 1980s. I was there to “interview” the great actress (see previous posts!). L-R: Leon Fleisher, Meryl Streep and Edo de Waart. Photo by Roger Ressmeyer (Corbis.com)
Meryl Streep flanked by Leon Fleisher (left) and Edo de Waart (right) photographed by Roger Ressmeyer (Corbis.com)
A post or two ago I wrote of a long ago assignment to “cover” Meryl Streep at the San Francisco Symphony.
The only physical memory I had of that “many moons ago” nightt was a picture taken by then famous San Francisco-based photographer Roger Ressmeyer. He took a picture of the two of us waiting for the actress to enter the room backstage at the symphony.
I had a lot of fun that night–and you can sense it from the Ressmeyer pix.
Midway through my “Me, Roger & Meryl” post, I asked the skies of the Internet, if Roger should read this, and he still had the Meryl Streep photos from that night, could he email them to me. And, of course I wanted to know where life had taken him. It had been more than 20 years.
Guess what! A friend has a”google alert” on Roger’s name and as soon as my post was up, Roger heard about it–and, attesting to the magic of the Internet, he got back to me (“As you requested, in your blog”, he emailed) and not only updated me on his incredible career–he sent me a “lightbox” of the Streep pix from Corbis.com.
I’d forgotten who was with Ms.Streep–in the photos Roger sent I could see that with her was Leon Fleisher and Edo de Waart.
Much more fascinating was being able to catch-up with Roger Ressmeyer’s life. He has a new business at www.sciencefaction.net (pretty pretty cool) and his portfolio can be viewed at www.ressmeyer.com.
Roger says, ” My complete collection through 1995 was acquired by Corbis in 1995 lock stock and barrel — they’re first major acquisition…. Three years working there, four years as a VP at Getty Images, and I’m back out running my own businesses out of Seattle.”
He and his wife have a six-year-old boy and recently adoped a two-year-old girl from China.
“Life is sweet,” Roger says.
To me, it’s almost unbelievable that my “Me, Roger & Meryl” post–and the hope that Roger Ressmeyer would see it–really happened. And it happened fast, within hours! All courtesy of the power of the Internet.
In 1983 I was assigned to “interview” Meryl Streep–she was appearing at the San Francisco Symphony, reciting verses from The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
There are quote marks around “interview” because Ms. Streep, at least that evening, wasn’t going to do an interview, as we think of interviews. That was the deal. I couldn’t ask her any questions, not one question. It was weird. (I can’t help thinking that’s why I was sent!)
With me was nationally known San Francisco photographer Roger Ressmeyer–the piece, if it ran, would be Roger’s photo of the star with a caption, which I would provide the details for.
Meryl Streep’s fame was soaring, having recently starred in Sophie’s Choice and Silkwood. I can’t deny I was excited even if I couldn’t ask her any questions.
Meanwhile Roger and I waited for the star to arrive. We waited in a special room with a lovely piano backstage at the San Francisco Symphony’s Davies Hall. There was also a couch. (That’s Roger and me waiting in the photo at the top of the page).
To forever remember the unusual occasion ,Roger set his camera on a timer so he could have a picture of us waiting together.
Roger! If you see this, do you still have the photos of Ms. Streep?
Well, the moment finally came. Meryl Streep swept into the room, (accompanied by someone), she sat down on the couch and sang a little and chatted, all to herself. I was mostly there to observe. I think the famous actress was diappointed to see me, not the viper-type, ready to sting, but a harmless-looking stringer-reporter.
I never knew Ken Kesey personally but one of the first books my father gave me was “One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest”
“Cukoo’s Nest” made such a deep impression on me, and when I discovered that he lived in woodsy, isolated La Honda, and I saw the cabin he lived in, I felt very close to this author I so admired.
It was the 60’s–almost “romantic” now–remember Kesey’s day glo spray painted bus (now in the Smithsonian museum, driven there by Kesey himself a few years before passed) and the Merry Pranksters.
The folks in La Honda did not appreciate Kesey choosing their neck of the redwoods to live and write and play in. Legend has it that on more than one occasion Kesey walked to his mailbox outside to find bullet holes in it.
And of course Ken Kesey had his share of legal problems–I’ll try to get into a more detailed bio of the famous author in a future post because his past directly relates to the writing of that great book, “Cukoo’s Nest”.
Ron Duarte of Duartes Tavern in Pescadero, Ron’s Aunt Carrie, now gone, once told me Ken Kesey came down from the mountains to take out books at the local library. She was the librarian, she would get to know everybody who took out books.
When I was on the San Mateo County Historical Museum’s Board of Directors some years ago, I wrote Ken Kesey and asked him if he would contribute an article–or even a “fragment” to our historical publication, “La Peninsula”. I typed the letter on a typewriter, I think, and mailed it to his farm in Oregon. He had moved there from La Honda. I’m sure life there was more peaceful.
Was I surprised when I received an answer from Ken Kesey. I must have been jumping up and down–he had used my typed letter to create a work of art with his magic marker pens.
Here’s Kesey’s response to my request that he pen “something” for the county’s historical journal.
(Imposed over my letter Kesey’s colorful magic marker words read: “La Honda is a slingshot at the sky!”)
When Ken Kesey was delivering the historic day-glowed magic bus to the Smithsonian in D.C., he stopped off in San Francisco at a book fair and I almost talked to him but he was in motion, moving here, moving there, physically, a small man, but he was a muscular ball of energy.
I never knew Kesey personally but I will never let go of my old copy of “Cukoo’s Nest”, both a reminder of the culture-changing 1960s and of a great book filled with truths that will remain relevant forever.
Burt and I had to go to Las Vegas on business– the magical glittering town’s ad campaign advises “what happens here, stays here”, but, for me, it’s simply not possible to stay too long. Two nights is just perfect, I think.
It was dark when we flew out of Oakland– but getting there was filled with the kind of terror you feel when you’re on time and then you’re really late. Traffic was terrible and we couldn’t figure out why until at the airport exit there was an injury accident and the most fire engines I have ever seen.
We thought we were on the last flight out and calmed ourselves by being cool, Well, whatever happens, happens.” In reality, of course, we were gritting our teeth.
With minutes left to get to the Southwest gate we sprinted out of the car and into the terminal, with one piece of carry-on luggage and this small but ancient, heavy suitcase that we had to bring. Luckily a uniformed woman directed us to a security checkcpoint that had no business. We were getting a break but I forgot to wear shoes I didn’t have to remove and in my rush I forgot to put the carry-on on the conveyor belt thingy, all of which made me and everybody else dizzy.
Here we are with no minutes to spare and we learn that our gate is the last gate in the terminal and while the carry-on can be rolled, we’ve got this heavy old suitcase that has to be hand carried. What a nightmare.
At the gate the ticket-taker said, “We were about to give your seats away.” We were the last pair to board, with seats at the very back of the full plane. But we made it.
Burt was carrying the old suitcase and it looked like it hadn’t seen light in a long time prompting a passenger to say, “Next time why don’t you dust the suitcase before you bring it.”
“You can see how long it’s been since I’ve traveled,” Burt quipped.
Next to us sat a young Irish fellow who had lived and worked in San Francisco for seven years. In Vegas he was meeting the rest of his large family, siblings and mother who lived in Dublin–they had never seen the eighth wonder of the world and he wanted to be there to enjoy their reactions.
We talked about Ireland because I had heard there was a big real estate boom, with housing prices skyrocketing, and Chinese restaurants on every block, and, in general the economy was prospering due to high tech. He confirmed all of the above but cautioned that the prosperity wasn’t benefiting everybody–it was a bit picky.
Most interesting to me was that he said he never wanted to go back and live in Ireland. He visited the place of his birth a couple of times a year but he said he loved America.
An hour-and-a-half later we landed in Vegas. We got in the taxi line which was moving fast and the dark skinned, very muscular looking guy wearing two earrings in front of us captured our attention.
“Are you a wrestler?” Burt asked.
“I used to do cage wrestling,” he said.
“You’ve got the look,” Burt said.
He said, “I work for the government now, I’m a pencil pusher.”
Burt and I looked at each other. He didn’t look like a pencil pusher.
A few minutes later he said, “No, I’m a bounty hunter. I’m the one they send out to bring the bone back home. Somebody else got my guy so I’m just relaxing.”
The wrestler-pencil-pusher-bounty hunter disappeared into a cab and so did we.
Our trip to Vegas was turning into a movie.
On the strip where imagination rules the building of hotel-palaces and gambling casinos, there is an incredible building boom going on. This morning there was a story about a tacky-looking shack selling for over 1 million buck. In this desert of dreams, condos and houses are going up in the least likely places,in fact, they’re going up any old place. Two experts I know, one an economist, the other a Midwest realtor, said when the building bubble bursts, it will start in Vegas.
The first time I visited Las Vegas was with my father in the late 1960s. There was no terminal. We stepped off the plane in the searing heat and walked across the field. I don’t recall any large buildings. I was there because a high school friend, Danny, had asked my father for my hand. Danny was going to UNLV in Vegas and worked as the assistant to a state senator. Danny was a sweet Catholic boy who had been kicked out of Sacred Heart in San Francisco for playing too many pranks. He ended up at Lincoln High School where I was going and that’s how we met. We didn’t marry.
(PHOTO, Below, right. This is Danny in Vegas, back when. I always wanted to be a writer and he once said, “I hope I get a chapter in your book.” Well, Danny, I hope a graph is okay for now. )
I’ve been to Vegas many times since. Burt was there even earlier, when the Stardust was being built, or another hotel with a romantic history.
When Burt and I were there over the weekend, we took a cab to the Mandalay Hotel’s Convention Center. Our cab driver was a woman from Eastern Europe, very interested in world politics. Like the Irish fellow we met on board the Southwest flight, she loved America and never wanted to go back to Europe. She had lived in Italy, a beautiful place, but said you can’t find a job there unless you know somebody. The police was a good place to start, she said.
I don’t know if you’ve seen those Vegas convention centers but the one at the Mandalay is mammoth. Long, long halls, long, long walks. Everything is extra large in Vegas.
Somewhere along our travels we learned that Bill Clinton was coming to town, staying at the Bellagio for a fundraiser.
Yeah, I gambled at the Venetian, where we stayed on the concierge level, both a lovely and quiet experience. I favor the slots but most of them don’t crank out real coins anymore. You get a piece of paper and I guess this is an extension of the cashless society. While the paper is printing there is the recorded sound of coins coming out–I like the slots because it’s mindless work that cleans out the “mind’s disk”.
To wrap up, we were picked up by a friend who was taking us to his brother’s home to look at some things he wanted appraised. His 70-year-old brother had died a few months earlier–for decades he had been a casino manager. It was clear that the 1970s was the peak of this man’s life. The house was built in the 1970s, and, as a single man all of his life, his home underlined that sort of lifestyle. I could see it as a partyhouse. His car, though a late model, had the furry seat covers. There was a photo of him with that fluffy hair look.
The ride from Vegas to the airport was fascinating but I’ve thought about it, and I can’t, not now, anyway, tell you about that conversation with the cabbie. Another time.
Let me explain: A long time ago I decided to do a story about wrinkles, you know, about how obsessed women are with them and the lengths they will go to eliminate them–that was the idea– but my story was going to have a lot of humor. My story was going to be very funny.
Wrinkles are funny, right?
I took the idea to the San Jose Mercury News’ magazine–which was very hot at the time. The editor and his magazine were widely admired, and I convinced the editor to let me write this “laugh your head off” article about wrinkles for his great magazine.
I worked hard on the piece–I wanted it to be everything I promised it would be–there was the well known San Mateo County dermatologist who told me women should stick Scotch tape on their faces in order to prevent laugh lines and crows feet from developing. Stunt them before they grow– especially when talking on the phone, he said, women should wear Scotch tape in strategic places.
I interviewed a Berkeley author who had just published a book about my subject and then died in a freak car accident soon after. Besides the usual advertising promises from the cosmetic industry, I collected unusual and ancient rememdies for wrinkles like special, smooth rocks encased in what looked like a lovely jewelry box.
I also interviewed a couple of Coastsiders, one of them was Pete Douglas, the famous Miramarian ( one who lives in Miramar) and runs the world class jazz house, Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society. Anyone who knows Douglas knows he is opinionated, has a wry sense of humor–and most importantly for me, who was writing a humorous story about wrinkles, Pete has a craggy face. I thought: this man knows facial lines and from his vantage point at the Bach he is a great observer of life.
But the interview with Pete turned out to be far more serious than I ever thought he’d be. Very understanding and sympathetic.
To the bitter end, I believed my wrinkles piece was hilarious and didn’t get the hint that things were going badly–even when I read excerpts to my friends and didn’t get laughs. Not one. The truth was, the story flopped, and in the end, the magazine gave me a “kill fee” for it. They paid me to go away.
In the next post, I’ll write-up the interview with Pete.
okay, I have finally found my story called “Wrinkles,” the piece I sent to the San Jose Mercury News magazine when it was hot, and that would be in the mid-1980s.Of course, what I wrote did not jive with what the magazine wanted. I was paid a non-run fee, which I didn’t event want. I mean, if my work isn’t good enough, should I take a fee for it, anyway? It wasn’t my style; I still feel guilty about it.
Actually, I now see that this is not the article but a treatment for a documentary type show. At one time that was a dream but it died. So here is the treatment for “Wrinkles.” I know it’s crummy, but it is what it is.
The wrinkle is being attacked. By whom? The baby boomers facing wrinklehood. Everywhere there’s talk and concern. And psychological fallout, especially among women, the primary target of the billion dollar beauty industry.
Wrinkles make a man look distinguished while women just age.
“…You all know that gray hair and wrinkles give a man authority, dignity and importance and give a woman reason to rush out for hair dye and a face lift….” said “keynote” speaker Geraldine Ferraro at the 1983 New York State Convention on Midlife and Older Women.
But wrinkles affect everyone. Even movie stars get wrinkles; even men get eye tucks.
The overall reaction is how to get rid of, minimize, or disguise wrinkles. So, bottle after bottle, jar after jar of anti-wrinkle potions line cosmetic counters. Their names run from the exotic to clinical….Sperm Whale Oil, Zyderm Collagen, Bilberry Juice, Goodbye Wrinkles, and Formula 405.
Collagen injections, laser treatments, face lifts and acupuncture are the heavy laser treatments. New prescription topical medicines such as Efudex and Retin-A promise to resurface or “grow new skin” –although there’s the price of discomfort to pay. Books tell how to eliminate wrinkles with special facial massages–and even hot spoons to iron out wrinkles. (Ouch). And if all else fails, psychiatrist can held clients cope with the inevitable.
But there’s another side to this story. And, that is, up-lifting the wrinkle’s bad reputation through their beauty, and the forgotten art of face reading which determines a person’s fate from facial lines.
“Wrinkles” is a 30=minute show, which shows all sides of the lowly wrinkle–the lotions and revolutionary treatments, the fears and the humor of living in a wrinkle-less society.
Wrinkles: The Treatment
[I don’t know what they do today; but in the 1980s a writer had to submit what was called a treatment, which was the visual way the show would be filmed. Does that make sense? I tried but it’s a tough business and I couldn’t get it right.]
We open with an extreme close-up shot of wrinkles. They look like a tributary of rivers or cracks in a parched desert. The narrator advices viewers that what they’re seeing is not what it seems to be. Maybe it’s the Brazilian jungle, maybe it’s the ancient seas…maybe….
Pulling back, we see a man in his 40s staring in the mirror at his face. He’s closely examining his wrinkles, one by one. He talks about the history of each line. Some stories are funny; some sad. He talks about a broken heart, a job as a lifeguard and a dangerous expedition he went on into the Himalayas.
Fade into a shot of a woman looking at her wrinkles in the mirror. She,too, has stories for each line. The baby, the problems at work, divorce, and being left without funds to support herself and child.
Wrinkles have lives of their own. Their own stories.
We move to shots of crowds of people with wrinkles: every conceivable shape a wrinkle can take, radiating from the eyes, baby lines, and older ones that follow their own trails. The narrator is being pro-wrinkle, showing us beautiful and artistic lines.
In the early 1960s in San Francisco when I was in junior high school, today called “middle school” some of the more adventurous boys got together and formed “gangs”. In the Sunset District it was pretty harmless stuff. By that I mean, all they did was give themselves a scary name and buy the same jackets.
Names I recall were the orange-jacketed “Street Saints”, the “Intrepids” (not sure about that one but it sounds good), the “Courts” from the Mission, and the purple-jacketed “Athenians”. The Street Saint boys were from the east side of the Sunset and the Athenians from the west, much closer to the beach.
Basically the Street Saints went to Hoover Junior High where I went. The Athenians went to Giannini and they looked tougher but they really weren’t at all.
I knew them both. The Athenians hung out at Playland By The Beach, and for awhile I liked to take the streetcar down there with a girlfriend and walk around.
At the time some girls and boys were called “barts”. Being a bart, like it’s opposite, going “league” (ivy league) was a fashion statement having to do with the color black, and wearing these boot like black shoes and make-up, lots of make-up. I really wanted to wear those boots but my mom wouldn’t let me. I couldn’t wear the make-up because I didn’t how to put it on.
Going bart or league was kind of like being a Rolling Stones or Beatles fan. The barts thought they were on the outside, rogues, wild westers, while the people who wore the ivy league clothing walked down the halls of school singing “I’m In With The In Crowd”.
Portrait of (Skip) an “Athenian” wearing the gang’s purple jacket. Photo surely taken in a booth at Playland.
I am bringing this up because in my next post I want to talk about what happened to Bill Wheatley, a former Athenian who went to Vietnam.