Showdown at Tower


“She’s trouble!” yelled the cowboy as he loped across the parking lot shaking a finger at the old woman in the wheelchair.

“Don’t do it!”

What I was doing was giving her a dollar.  Fumbling in my purse to help out a woman with swollen legs,  walking her chair forward from her seated position.

“Not your business!” 

“Everything here is my business,” he boomed.  “I own this building!”

No way, I thought.  No way the building that houses Tower Theatre and Tower Cafe could have been commandeered through the decades by this, this…interloper.

“She looks like she’s IN trouble,” I said, handing her the bill and watching her wince away from us.

Bearded, old cowboy—maybe more than 6 feet tall in his stiff-brimmed hat and western belt buckle—took three giant steps with snake arms flailing   and landed in front of me.

“Back up! You’re harassing me!”

“I wish you weren’t so generous!” he boomed.

“I’ve been stabbed in this parking lot!  I’ve been attacked by people like her!”

“Maybe it’s because you’re an asshole!”

He whipped around to view real trouble—my early dinner date, a purple-haired activist who still wears tie-dye and swings her purse like a boomerang.

“I think you’d better get in your car and leave,” she told the cowboy.

He turned and headed for a gold, Porsche SUV, and then turned back, came within breathing space of us, and began shouting again.

“I own this building! You don’t understand! YOU’RE THE ASSHOLE!”

Au contraire, I  muttered as I fumbled for my large cell phone.  He watched as I tried to find the camera app.

Oh, shit!  Who am I fooling! By the time I find the video feature, he could pull out a  gun….

“OK—get in your car, Cowboy, or I’m calling the cops!” I heard myself say.

“Hello, 911—we have a threatening man who says he owns The Tower and is harassing us in the parking lot.”

Cowboy turned as I dictated the license plate.

“He’s in a rage.  A small crowd is gathering, but no one wants to get involved….he’s screaming and could be leaving, but that’s no comfort to other drivers….He is out of control and now, it looks as if he’s driving into the sunset!”

With his exit, we stayed  home on the range where we have chosen to break bread for nearly 30 years in a garden of statuary and foliage.

They make a mighty good jerk chicken at Tower Cafe.  Jim Seyman should consider re-naming that signature dish after himself.


The Fall

It is nearly fall,  Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell and Fidel Castro are dead, and Truth is about to follow them down. If that isn’t enough to startle you, trees are starting to shake and shiver  on the outskirts of the coming plague.

This could be our last season of soup. Soup with carrots, white beans, chicken, celery, and herbs from Provence. Soup without poison.
Even herbs in France could shrivel after the election.

Hopefully, purple herbs will retain their gay accent. Even our artisan variety cultivated by people formerly known as Food to Fork denizens might taste of the gutter.

So let us pray for a real Jewish deli before it is too late in this City of Trees, where sterile buildings will reach beyond the 16th floor and hide the angry sky.

Let us drool for real pastrami hugged by two slices of Jewish rye and dream of Grandma’s mushroom-barley soup so thick that it stuck to your chin.
We didn’t taste the sweet fall and winters. We thought next year would be better. We should have listened more to Sartre than Satie.
Soon enough, we might wish we never wanted to be thin. We can only hope that we will have forgotten the pablum Florence Henderson dished as we hold out our pie plates for a ladle of gruel.

Grave Diggers


First we honor you.  Then we dig your grave

For once in our lives, we focus on you instead of ourselves:

  • Carolyn, who downplayed her writing talent, uploaded the best hugs  and perhaps engineered her wish to die before Charlotte.
  • Cliff, who greeted everyone from his wheelchair with esprit and that damned Giants cap.
  • Senator McCain, who made us feel patriotic again and gave us courage to delete people blind to their cruelties from our last rites.
  • Aretha, whose example and music makes us want to live—at least for today.
  • Brent, spirit friend, who designed cottages in Sacramento for the homeless decades before Tiny Houses sprouted in San Francisco.
  • Tom, who, after seven years of co-habitation, asked a woman to marry him when she lost the sight of one eye
  • Barb, once a homecoming queen, who became an artist of depth and sorrow.
  • Mychelle, confidante and fearless beauty, who only an ancient oak tree could have stilled before she turned 57.
  • Herb — hilarious, talented Herb —  whose only public misstep was referring to his third wife as “the lovely, provocative….” 

Mom, dad, sister, grandma, grandpa, aunt, uncle, one cat, two dogs, more friends, many acquaintances.

The rest of us are still alive, digging our way out of the mud into the dust.

A Dirty, Rotten Shame

The lump of coal jammed her email just before the new year.

She was on probation.

It was cheerfully signed with first names of the latest advisory board  of The Fremont Community Garden. Nathan. David. Debbie. Wendy. Lynn. Aicha. Marylee. Alan.

She squinted, trying to put faces to names, but could only see lemons.

After a few years of  prolific Armenian cucumbers, curly parsley, strawberries, cheese cauliflower, broccoli, poppies, mache lettuce, and one cantaloupe that could have been a blue ribbon winner at the California State Fair, her days as an urban gardener seemed numbered.

Perhaps they had videotaped the collapse of her baby watermelon?

Most able-bodied  gardeners in the City of Trees wait an average of three years for an empty plot at 14th & Q Streets, owned and permitted by the city Parks and Recreation Department.  (If it were a hotel sight, a certain American family would be borrowing money like crazy to change its wrought iron gate into gold.)

It was less than that for her, because she qualified for one of the few,  raised, disability plots.   Bad luck rounded the corner after she rehabilitated from a shattered left femur.  She could no longer bend to garden on the ground, thanks to the steel rod in the left, shorter hip, but neither did she have to wait so long that her ashes would be mulched before she could plant a tomato.  An elevated garden spot became available and she limped quickly toward the opportunity.

The board of directors at the time seemed to be as loose as an organic bunch of carrots.  Members told her not to worry about logging time spent working in common areas on the tablet in the tool shed.  Able-bodied gardeners would pitch in.  If she had a good day, pull that weed in the walkway, trim that dead branch on the fruit tree.  Otherwise, relax.  This is a healing garden.

Besides her continuing rehab, she was caring  her husband, who had been diagnosed with dementia.  She finally had a nearby place to which she could withdraw for two hours a day.  Eventually, she found the courage to sing to the plants and offer spare veggies to passersby.

She even wrote a love poem to her “good dirt.”

Then, earlier this year, a new board of directors sent an email instructing her to log hours spent in the community area.  She responded by explaining that she  could not often bend to contribute as she wished.  There were never “hours” to log.

Then came the new year spoiler:

“….your plots have had consistently high scores.  However, your hours logged have fallen short to being able to register for 2018.  We’ve discussed it as a board and feel that as gardeners who have been in good standing before that in this instance second chances should be offered…please understand that 2018 will be a probationary year and that you will need to pay closer attention to being sure to log your hours worked in the log book in the shed.”

By this time, her husband had Alzheimer’s Disease.  She responded by informing them and asking how they could strike with a shovel instead of understanding, that they could not expect her to bend to their surreal insistence.

“It was certainly not our intent to offend or imply that you were being asked to leave the garden,” they wrote.  “Far from it!  We appreciate the effort that you are able to put in.  We’re merely asking that all gardeners be sure to record their hours appropriately…The work you are able to do including the time it took for you to donate hose nozzles [to replace the stolen ones] to the garden certainly count.”

She realized that she could scream from Tower Bridge that her contributions don’t amount to enough to fill a pack of seeds and they would be deaf to it.

She sent one more email.  For many of us, she wrote, the garden is respite from crazy political reality.  And now it has taken root here.  You are soiling my community garden experience.

She asked for a definition of  “probation”  the day that Gov. Brown pardoned two illegal aliens.

Could she get a reprieve?

If not, she told the directors that she will wait until her broccoli matures and take her automatic drip system and depart.  And bequeath the blind enforcement of bureaucratic garden rules to the stinkbugs.






No One Loves Blacks More Than Me

I’m hoping that Harriet Tubman will accept my invitation to the White House for Black History Month.
Get it? Black abolitionist going to the White House?!
 You see, I’m the leader of ALL the people in this great country. Not Europe! Not Asia! Not Africa! Not Mexico! But the USA!
I don’t need a Bruce Springsteen photo op when I can stand next to Harriet. (I hope I can call her “Har”; she can call me The Donald.)
Kellanne gave me this postcard with Harriet hanging her head down, holding a pan that seems too big for panhandling. Did she think she’d catch a lot of gold with it? Was she going to bake a pie? I bet it would be a big Mammy peach pie! Love those, although I sure hope she wears gloves when she cooks with those old looking hands.
No one loves Black history more than me (except maybe Jews, who I never said were anything but smart, although not smarter than me). No one loves hats more than me, either, and the way Harriet Tubman wears it in that picture gives me the idea that to make America great again, we should bring back millinery. Black women love to wear hats to church. We could make them right here by hand again, instead of sending the work to machines in Mexico or Santa Monica. We could charge a lot of money again for a top-dollar hat!
This card with Harriet on it says that she is an abolitionist. Well, so am I! I will abolish everything holding back Black people and the coal industry. (Get it—black as coal?!!!)
I just hope that we don’t have to waste time at lunch with food. I hate grits and frankly, Melania says I’d better cut down on pie or we can’t dance any more, which is actually fine with me.

The Fall

It is fall and Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell and Fidel Castro are dead, and if that isn’t enough to startle you, trees everywhere are shaking and shivering on the outskirts of the coming plague.

This could be our last season of soup. Soup with carrots, white beans, chicken, celery, and herbs from Provence. Soup without poison.
Even herbs in France could shrivel after its election.  Hopefully, purple herbs will retain their gay accent. Even our artisan variety, cultivated by people formerly known as Food to Fork denizens, might taste of the gutter.
So let us pray for a Jewish deli before it’s too late in this City of Trees, where sterile buildings will reach beyond the 16th floor and hide the angry sky.
Let us drool for real, juicy pastrami hugged by two slices of Jewish rye and dream of Grandma’s mushroom-barley soup so thick that it stuck to your chin as if thickened with marshmallow.
We didn’t taste the sweet fall and winters. We thought next year would be better. We should have listened more to Sartre than Satie.
Soon enough, we will wish we never wanted to be thin. We can only hope that we will have forgotten the pablum Florence Henderson dished as we hold out our pie plates for a ladle of gruel.

Tune In

At the appointed hour, about 20 people sit in front of their computer screens. All guests booked for interviews on NPR, they are about to SKYPE with an intern-trainer so that they know what to expect. A blonde who’s a dead ringer for Amy Schumer blinks onto the screens.

Trainer: Hi. Let’s get right to it, folks. You may be a musician who only the host likes. You may be a writer only the host likes. You may have a name more recognizable than the host’s. No matter, when the host says,”Thank you for being here,” you say, “Thank you for having me.” Got that?

Guest: Excuse me… “Having me” has a connotation I don’t like….

Trainer: You don’t have to like it. Just say it.

Guest: How about my just saying, “It’s my pleasure.”

Trainer: No one can say that.

Guest: Barbra Streisand said it.

Trainer: It’s StreiSAND, as on a beach, not StreiZAND, as you pronounced it.

Guest: OK. Barbra StreiSAND said, “it’s my pleasure,” so the door is open for me to say it.

Trainer: You’re no Barbra StreiSAND.

Guest: And you’re no Terri Gross.

Trainer: I’ll have you know that I’m helping intern Terri’s intern as well as preparing guests for the privilege of being interviewed by her and what’s-his-name.

Guest: What’s-his-name?

Trainer: Yes. Do you know?

Guest: You mean the guy on Saturday mornings?

Trainer: Yes—him!

Guest: Ira Glass?

Trainer: No, not him. The other one.

Guest: The older one with the adopted daughters? The one whose mother died before he wrote a memoir  and interviewed himself about it?

Trainer: Yes, him.

Guest: I don’t know.

Trainer: It doesn’t really matter, because you’re going to be interviewed by…let’s see…It says here that you’re going to be interviewed this month by every host we have, since your book is now a best-seller, so he might actually be included. By then, we’ll all remember his name.

Guest: That’s exactly why I should be able to say anything I want, like Barbra StreiSAND.

Trainer: Scott Simon will never let you do that!

Guest: Who’s he?

Trainer: I’ve been here one week and you’re the worst group of guests I’ve ever met.

Guest: Actually, I’m warming this seat for the real guest.

Trainer: That’s not allowed!

Guest: Mr. Trump? C’mon in. The seat is hot for you!

Trainer: WHAT? WHAT?

Trump: I’ve been listening from the doorway and you really aren’t cut out for broadcasting, little lady. Actually, you’re a too-big lady….

Trainer: Neither are you….what are you doing here?

Trump: Been trying to get on the air here for months. Only way I could.

Trainer: Let’s say I say, “Thank you for coming on the show.”

Trump: I am prepared to say, “Thank you for having me.”

Bigger than Death

Before Grace visited her husband’s grave for the first time, she swung by his first wife’s grave.

She should have done it decades ago.

“She was nothing!” Grace exclaimed.  “Just a headstone and grass.   I always felt so inferior to her. But she was no big deal.”

Being dead is like that.  Nobody says that you’re “bigger than death,” the way they say that you’re “bigger than life.”

My mother was in the latter category.  Dead for 53 years, she shadows my aging like the raven.

When my hyena laugh leaves the room, it would be just like her to tuck me in.





Deliver This Letter by September 11

Chance directed me away from Flight 93. Two nights before September 11, I phoned United Airlines to change my reservation to September 10.

You were the reason. The boss was in New York City and my vacation in that metro area was almost over. Our Pacific News Service office in San Francisco was such a chaotic place…. I  pictured you walking in on your first day of work to discover a bird squawking near the editorial desks, a toddler chasing a dog, and no one knowing what you were supposed to do.

So I incurred the disappointment of my best friend (who wanted one more night of reminiscing about The Shirelles in our native New Jersey) and cut our visit by 24 hours. I invoked the tired joke that this is why I was paid “the big bucks.”

I awakened in San Francisco before 7 a.m. to her screech on the phone: “Turn on the TV! Hurry!”

From opposite coasts, we watched The World Trade Center crumble—over and over.
Listening to each there breathe heavily, we said little but “Oh my God!” over and over.

We didn’t know that Jonathan’s wife was crawling down the stairs of the building with her law firm on top and that she would be one of few survivors and that she would never really survive.

We didn’t know that the plane I was supposed to board had gone down in Pennsylvania.

We didn’t know that you and I would probably remember  each other every September 11 for the rest of our lives.

And that I would bless you, Sandip Roy, over and over, and be sentenced to wonder if I deserved the extra time.

Good Dirt: Chapter 2

The watermelon could have qualified for a New England Patriots’ football. Deflated. Worthy of public shaming by garden members who take photos of overwatered plots and email them to the rest of the community.

Hopes were so high in June, but so was the heat. And that’s what everyone says killed it—heat that peaked long before the promise of August.
There was one cantaloupe, though. And what a specimen! Sweet orange flesh inside rind that told us when it was ready by literally sliding away from the sturdy vine. (Do they all do that?)

Vines. That’s what remained in August. Vines cascading over the sides of the raised-bed garden. Vines with unrequited pollination.
“Love me!” they whispered to the bees, who passed them by for French and English lavender, and thank goodness, the few Armenian cucumber flowers holding the promise of one last plump one.

“Screw you!” retorted the strawberries, whose flowers have been fertilized continuously, although we never took home the fruits. Ate them right there as we watered, red juice dripping.

“Give me some sugar,” plead the cantaloupe vines.

Time to yank out watermelon vines, herbs that didn’t survive. Time to toss them away without emotion.
Too early for broccoli. Too early for peas. Too early for anything much but kale.

Evil drought. Evil human race that created Global Warning that killed the rain.

I hate kale.