The Great Plotnik

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Packard Clipper

You don't see a Packard Clipper on the side of the road very often, but when you do it's going to be in the Mission. Not half an hour after Plotnik got off his Plotkicycle to take this photo on 24th and Mission, he saw a classic white Cadillac sedan, same vintage, parked on 18th and Valencia St. The vatos in the Mission sure know beautiful automotive machines.

This looks like one of the last Packards -- and Plotnik knows exactly when the company stopped making passenger cars, because his Little League Team was responsible. Packard sponsored the team -- paid for the uniforms, balls and bats. It must have been 1956. Plot's stepdad Harold was the team's coach.

Because of Harold, Plotnik got to pitch. Harold also kept score, so although the Packard Clippers lost most of their games, Plottie managed to bat around .800. Every time he touched the ball, Harold credited him with another base hit.

What a great year. Harold got to take all the baseball equipment home between games. This meant Plotnik and his brother Schmeckl got to run out into the back yard, pour all the balls and bats and catcher's equipment onto the ground, then put on the shin guards and mask and pretend they were hot stuff.

The next year, Packard went out of business. So did the Plotnik Ballfield -- the city acquired their house and ploughed it under to extend the Ventura Freeway. Two years after that, Harold died.

Plotnik still loves those old Packards.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Two More Meals

'More Meals, Please,' has been the consensus lately among the Great Plotnik's vast readership. Here is a plate o' lamb chops with cumin, cardamom, lime and garlic, Tuscan Black Kale with Raisins, a salad of avocado/yellow pepper/tomato/scallion in a lemon vinaigrette, Tabboule a la Plotnique, which uses parsley, cilantro and arugula, and that great thick Pita recently discovered at Samiramis' Palestinian store on Mission St. (Sami also sells spices, including three different kinds of za'atar blends - Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian.)

These two barbecued pork shoulders were taken off the grill after smoking and baking for five hours, the meat pulled apart and placed in a large platter, then covered with a sauce made from a two liter bottle of root beer which had been reduced to half a cup, plus vinegar and other spices. Pulled Pork is the specialty of Sofia Martin, who is only three, but knows her 'cue. As good as the pork was, the wine was maybe even better -- a classic 2000 Rafanelli Zin being as outstanding as outstanding gets.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

CAR WASH $3! (Ken Lay in Training)

Fritzie the VW Plotzmobile is a mess. Birds have defiled his Grayness. Plotnik figured he'd find a cheap car wash somewhere.

Yesterday, Ducknik and Plotnik drove to Marin to help some friends paint. On their way home, they saw some girls in t-shirts by the side of the road, waving signs that read: CAR WASH $3!!!!

"Three bucks for a car wash? Let's do it," said Duck. Plottie turned into a dirt area in front of the weathered bricks of Sir Francis Drake High School.

A girl with glasses approached the car: "There are two car washes here," she said. "The first one is for the church. They want to take a trip to Mexico."

"What's the second one?"

"That's for US!" she cried. "The Drake High School cheerleaders!"

"My choice is church or cheerleaders?" Plotnik asked. "Easy. I take cheerleaders."

"Over There!" said the girl, and Plotnik drove Fritzie the VW Plotzmobile over to a spot next to a SUV, which was parked next to another SUV, which was parked next to another SUV, which was parked next to a huge, black Off-Road Guzzler with enormous, studded tires, each one as tall as Fritz.

He ambled over to some steps, where a bunch of teenage boys were lounging while swearing loudly to each other, thinking that was impressing the cheerleaders, who seemed to be interested only in squirting a hose in the vague, general direction of whichever car they found themselves standing next to.

Plotnik instantly remembered the dynamic in those boys' hormonally challenged heads: "I am lusting after every one of these girls. I want that one. And that one. And that one. But they don't want me, they want college guys. My only chance is to impress them. I know! I'll swear a lot!"

Poor sods.

Then Plotnik asked a girl with brown hair who was carrying a cashbox: "So, the sign said $3. Is that the price for the church and also for the cheerleaders?"

"Oh, no," she said. "The church charges $8."

"Wow. How about you?"

"We charge $10."

"Wait," said Plot, glancing at Duck, who was already starting to laugh. "The sign says CAR WASH $3!!!! but the church charges $8 and you charge $10?"

"Heh heh, yes," she said. "The sign's wrong." She held out her hand, waiting for her cash for the bad car wash.

"Heh heh, no," said Plotnik. "We pass."

Duck and Plot got back into Fritzie and left the swearing SUVs, drove onto a sidewalk and back onto Sir Francis Drake.

Dishonesty in advertising? Nah. No remorse. No "Sorry, Sir." Just hands out for my money.

"Ken Lay in training," said Barb.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

R.I.P. James Plotz

It's sad to say, but the Saturday morning plotzketball game may be over.

When Plotnik moved to Saint Plotniko, the first thing he did was to find a pickup game. Once that was accomplished, and not until, could he then locate a grocery store, learn the name of his street, memorize his new phone number.

Then, every sunny weekend Saturday for the past 13 years, Plotnik faithfully rode his bike up, down, up and down again to James Plotz Middle School, to play ball. At the beginning, two courts were always running at the same time. If you lost on one court you could usually get on the other without waiting too long.

Originally, you had to be there by 7:30AM or you'd wait. Then, people stopped showing up so early, and 8AM was OK. Then 8:30. Then, Greg moved to Orinda. Rico now lives in Antioch. Skip, Sherlock, Mike, Reece, Cadillac and others live in Oakland. Terrence moved out to Marin. Bobby lives in Pacifica and Adili and Cleve drive up from Burlingame. Vince hurt his back. Brian rolled his ankle and doesn't play on concrete anymore. Tony got hurt too. LaMont is said to be running from people even bigger than he is. Big George stays in bed on Saturdays. No one has seen Chuy or big Alex or little Alex for years. Joel and Nick and Rab and others from the old days got tired of the squabbling on our court and formed their own game where we, it is said, are not welcome.

Plotnik and Sam and his son Shawn are the only ones left who still live in the city. Plus, the guys have gotten older. For over a year, it's been hard to fill up even one court.

Then, this year, the winter rains came. Man, it never stopped. For four months, every Saturday morning the court was wet. People would show up, shake their heads and drive back home, or find other games.

But this morning the sun was shining, the court was dry. Plotnik had been out of town for two Saturdays, and he was really excited to play, as he pedaled over the hills to the court.

He tied up his plotkicycle, hopped over the fence, took his basketball from his backpack, did his stretches, started warming up, running, shooting, sprinting, getting ready. Every few minutes he'd look over his shoulder at the street, to see if Sam...Sherlock...Bobby...Rico...anybody was coming?

No one ever did.

What could be sadder than a gray-haired Religious Leader with a red and white headband, dribbling up and down the court by himself, surrounded by blue skies and an empty patch of concrete with two nets dying to be filled?

And now, what?

Friday, May 26, 2006

No Writing Today

Sometimes you just don't feel like writing.

It's better to look at the flowers, although some have secondary meanings... the columbines. Too bad about that High School.

Plotnik needs a Pastrami Sandwich. (But the Second Avenue Deli, where Bron got the potato pancakes and Uncle Bob the pastrami, is closed. Talk about sad.)

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Parting Shots

A few last thoughts and photos from Plot and Duck's trip to The Shmapple:

If Plotnik and Ducknik had bought these two buildings on Karen's street in 1925, they might have paid $5,000 each.

Here is the outside of the Essex Street Retail Market on the Lower East Side, where Emma the Incredible Edible Pickle Works lady, and Shmuel the Meat Man and three generations of vegetable and notions merchants used to set up their stands and pushcarts.

Today it's the Essex Street Bar. Here's what it looks like inside. Shmuel and Emma can come to Happy Hour.

Now, THIS is a tree. (It's the trunk of the great copper beech growing on the lawn in front of BZWZ's office.)

Trees grow in Manhattan too.

Traveling is all about the feet. You've got to figure out a way to air out the little puppies, or they'll make you miserable. The Great Plotnik figured it out, much to the dismay of the lady to his right, who pretended to keep reading.

What does this shot of BZ at Venice Beach have to do with NYC? Nothing.

Or this? Nothing either.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Two Hot Scientists and One Hot Mama

Here is where BZWZ works, a half hour-45 minute bus ride across the George Washington Bridge from where she lives. It's a gorgeous old estate, once owned by a finance tycoon, now part of Columbia University. Many geeks run free here, and do some amazing research into matters so arcane they hurt your teeth to think about them. Like, the effect of catastrophic climate change on cranial growth. The Tree Ringers have their own building. So do the Oceanographers, and so do all the mystery folk working merrily away at the I.F.E.- L.D.E.O.

We in the West forget how green things can get in the East, after a real winter. Winter has been harsh, Summer will be humid and full of mosquitos. May rocks. The Duck stands under a flowering dogwood tree.

Here are two hot scientists and one hot Mama.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


As always, it's great to be home, for the second day in two weeks. Travel sometimes leads to new adventures and sometimes to exotic locales, but these two weeks had something better -- friends and family. From Dan's graduation, The Great 5.3Head's Announcement and Mother's Day in Stiletto City to spending five days with The Great BZWZ and old friends in The Big Shmapple, there were plenty of highs and no lows, except for one night in Colorado when the Rockies got 4 runs in the 9th off Danys Baez.

It has been mentioned that The Great Plotnik doesn't always remember things with perfect clarity. BZWZ reminds Plottie that the Shmapple has never been cheap, so stop whining. She's right.

A Pastrami sandwich at Katz's is now $13.45, but it's still the best on Earth. You have to make the decision. No Broadway show, not even Spamalot, is worth $120 at ticket. But, if you want, you can stand in line to buy a standing room ticket for $21.50. So it's up to you.

You have to take a city on its own terms -- in the Shmapple's case crowded but exciting, concrete but electric, expensive but delicious -- or you shouldn't take it at all. Looking for a raw, green vegetable or a great cup of coffee is a waste of time. Latch on to your bagel-with-shmear and pretend it's good for you.

It is good for you. It tastes great.

The $2 are cookies are really quite good.

In the end, Plotnik and Ducknik leave BZ's apartment at 10AM, take the 2-express to 42nd St., transfer to the E-train to Jamaica Station, hop on the Air Train to the terminal, and get to JFK by 11:45. Delta 675 leaves at 12:45, gets into SFO at 4, our time. Another Sky Train to BART and a walk up the hill and it's home in time for dinner.

SFO looks small. The Sky Train is puny compared to JFK's. There's nobody on the Dublin-Pleasanton train, even though it's rush hour. The streets are quiet. The surface noise is just a few dogs occasionally barking. As a 20-year-old, SF would probably have driven Plotnik crazy. Now, it feels just about right.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Everything but the Red Checked Tablecloth

Spaghetti and meatballs, real spaghetti and meatballs, the marinara just sweet enough, the meatballs dense with beef and pork, the broccoli rabe soft and bitter and flowery with garlic, the artichoke drenched in lemon butter, the calamari chewy but not too, the fetuccini with mushrooms containing more mushrooms than fetuccini, the garlic bread crunchy, the Cornish game hens grilled with rosemary and served with mashed potatoes, and the two bottles of Fat Cat cabernet from Trader Joe's on Union Square corked and poured by a happy waiter who tastes the wine himself and says "mmmm, well, you know, I get licorice." (But Plotnik knew the waiter wouldn't like the wine when he learned it cost $5 a bottle.)

Pisticci's in TGBZWZ's soon-to-be-old neighborhood of Broadway and 124th St, will be a place we come back to again and again. It's everything but the red tablecloths and chianti bottles, but a new generation of great cooks has pushed this food forward.

BZWZ and Ducknik are finishing Day Two of painting Bron's new room. Her new neighborhood is more real -- projects, West Indian and Puerto Rican accents on the streets, great restaurant we have to try -- the Malecon, where everyone seems to be eating fried bananas and Dominican Fried Chicken.

And so far, no mice, no water bugs. Plotnik had forgotten how much he hates those big, red, antenna-twitching, stove-hiding-behind, come-out-when-you-turn-off-the-light bastards.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Still thinking about that $7 water.

Maybe you really can't go home again. Or maybe home isn't where you think it is. Or maybe as you get older you need trees. Any tree. And a little grass underneath it. That may be it.

A bar called The Tenement. The Tenement Bar. Sheesh.

The Big Shmapple used to be quaint. Now it's chic. There used to be ethnic neighborhoods in Manhattan. Now, the Italians all live in Brooklyn, the Jews are on Long Island and the ethnic group in charge is Young Hipsters.

Happy, smiling Young Hipsters lining up to rent apartments in Harlem, in Hell's Kitchen, in Alphabetville. Avenue C is 'happening.' Bed-Stuy is probably next, followed by the South Bronx, and then Attica.

Your misfortune is someone else's Theme Park. Perhaps the Tenement Bar Corp. will open another one. They could call it Typhoid. They could serve kooky cocktails like The Konsumption.

Sure, the old Avenue C was atrocious, dangerous, filthy. Now it's hip. The National Treasure's friend was knifed to death on her doorstep in front of her children, while trying to open her door on Avenue C to bring in her groceries. Why would anyone rhapsodize over that neighborhood's previous squalor?

Maybe pushing the Puerto Ricans and the Jews and all the artists and the drug dealers and mom-and-pop shops (some of them drug dealers) into another borough improves Avenue C. It's certainly not scary there anymore. A cup of tea costs $2.75.

But The Great Plotnik loves Italian food and Jewish food and Puerto Rican food. He doesn't like Young Hipster food. Not at these prices. That $7 bottle of water is still galling him.

If he ever moved back here he'd go straight to Brooklyn. Maybe he'd live under the Williamsburg Bridge where he got robbed in his taxicab in 1972. Maybe he'd take a flat in that freaky building in East New York into which he chased the junkie who had run out of his cab without paying. Oooh, Plottie was a foolish youngster sometimes.

The streets weren't even paved in East New York then. You can probably get a studio there for under $2,500 a month now.

These young kids living in these neighborhods don't need any more thieves. They're getting robbed already. This city used to feel like the Heart of Soul. Now...$7 water?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Back in the Shmapple

The Big Shmapple:

1) Sight: The streets are narrower and the buildings are taller. It's like being at the bottom of a canyon of commerce. Hucksters are on the ground level giving away come-ons, while billboards thirty floors high compete for your disposable income. A bottle of fizzy water in a restaurant costs $7. That's a few pennies per bubble.

2) Smell: cigarette smoke, grilled hot dogs, greasy zeppole, bus exhaust, the patina of tension. It smells like home.

3) Sound: If 0 is silence, then the basic amp setting for Manhattan is 8. Trucks, taxis, buses, trains underground, planes overhead, people shouting into cell phones in many languages. This is why Plotnik has to shout into Ducknik's ear to be heard, even while walking down the street.

4) Space: Zero. The Great Dancenik's apartment is clean and tidy and a wonderful place to crash. But The Big Shmapple gives you little room for breath, let alone reflection. This used to be a plus, at 23 years old. The attraction has passed. Except...there is really really really a lot to write about here.

But $7 for a bottle of water. Where are we, Shmokyo?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Gillian knows fractions.

One of these women really knows how to do fractions. She knew exactly how to divide her piece of pizza equally into 4 sections. First she ate off the thin part until it looked even, and then she divided the rest into 4 in her head, and finally she ate each piece. Gillian is going to be President some day.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Back Briefly

The Great Plotnik really does need to acquire the technology to download photos to TGP in real time. The photo you're looking at here, with The Great PunkyDunky being mugged by his sister while he wears his new Masters Degree Robes, was taken last Friday, and here is it Tuesday.

This one was Mother's Day. All the mothers are seated while their children are on their laps. The two exceptions are Schmeckl Plotnik, who has Mummy Plotnik on his lap; and Bailey the Blue Eyed Devil Dog.

Yesterday, Ducknik and Plotnik drove up the 101 and stopped for most of the day in Carpenteria, where Plot has an assignment to photograph the town. He and Duck are seen here surfing at Rincon Point. Plotnik is standing up on his board, Ducknik is getting up on hers and Bailey the Blue Eyed Devil Dog is behind them barking her head off just because she can.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Great Five-and-a-third Head


The Great FiveHead is currently The Great Five-and-a-Third Head, and by November there will be another Plotnik in the world. It was no longer possible to keep this secret a secret, and although Mother's Day was supposed to be the Day of Announcement, it had to come at Dan's Graduation on Friday, because...well, there he/she is, if you look really hard, in this tiny little roll of sweetness around Staci's middle.

Lots of screeches. Lots of smiles and tears, followed by more screeches. Mummy Plotnik said "Oh my oh my oh my."

Plotnik and Ducknik have been sitting on this news for several months, barely able to keep it in. The CIA should sign them up, because obviously they will not crack under torture.

Names have been suggested. Danastasia. Little Putz. The Great BrandNewNik. But it's hard to think when you're smiling this much.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Happy Birthday Commano

Here is The Great Mushnik, celebrating her First Year Birthday of No More Commas Period. Congratulations, Mush, we raise a glass of Pixie Dust in your honor.

Meanwhile, go see Peter Pan. Cathy Rigby has been playing Pan for 15 years and she's retiring after this tour. Go see Peter Pan. Captain Hook is evil and Smee is hysterical. Go see Peter Pan. Tiger Lily the Indian princess has a serious six-pack o'abs. Go see Peter Pan. John and Michael and Wendy and the Lost Boys and the crocodile. Go see Peter Pan. Go during the week, it's cheaper. Take your little kids. The theater was filled with children and there wasn't one cry. Adults love it too. The Great Plotnik cried, and it wasn't even a dog story. Go see Peter Pan. It's at the Orpheum downtown.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Two Proud Parents

Very good news from the World of Employment:

1) The Great PunkyDunky: Employed.
2) The Great BeezieWeezie: Employed.

Both kids have found interesting jobs that pay real money in the towns they live in, and, outside of those towns being a total of 3,000 miles from Saint Plotniko, their parents are bursting with pride.

BZWZ is working at the Earth Institute in Palisades, NJ. Among other assignments, she is coordinating research for a program in Africa dedicated to diminishing hunger. One of these days the machinery of University Bureaucracy will actually clank a few gears forward, and she'll get paid.

TGPD just accepted an offer to become a Producer for KCRW in Los Angeles. He graduates with an M.A. in Journalism on Friday and starts work Monday. The boy will work his ass off, producing two shows a week, and commuting back and forth from Santa Monica to the palacial home where he and The Great FiveHead live in the Echo Park Marina Seaview Estates.

That's a joke. Every street in L.A. is named 'Seaview.' You couldn't see the sea through the smog with the Hubble Telescope.

Also, there is no marina, unless it's for beached Honda Preludes with no plates.

Everybody's on the move. If PD stays with this job, they will probably move. BZWZ wants to move too, from the Mouse House to an apartment where the landlord actually answers the phone. To be equidistant from their children, Plotnik and Ducknik will probably end up in Phlat, Kansas.

These kids have two very proud parents today. And there is more news too. Gimme a few days on that one.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Rose and Iris

The first Scentimental Rose.

The first maroon Bearded Iris.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Plotnik Witness Protection Program

The Great Plotnik sent his son last week's Plotnik about Immigration. His son thought it interesting enough to send it to a friend of his who is a lawyer who works on immigration cases. The lawyer got the blog entry and decided to read down a bit into previous entries. In doing so he discovered that his friend, son of the blogger, was known on the blog by a certain Plotnik Name.

That night, the lawyer and the blogger's son went to play in their weekly basketball game. The blogger's son drove to the basket and hit a difficult layup, after which he heard this shout: "NICE SHOT GREAT PUNKYDUNKY! WAY TA GO GREAT PUNKYDUNKY! YOU'RE QUITE A FINE LITTLE GREAT PUNKYDUNKY!"

The Great Plotnik had not foreseen this possibility. He thought concealing people's real names would be enough, but NO.

The Great PunkyDunky may now have to go into the Plotnik Witness Protection Program, or stop stealing the ball from the immigration lawyer.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Can this be Pappalardo's?

This may look like a loaf of bread to you, but it's a lot more than that.

In their Lasagna Days, when The Great Plotnik first arrived in The Big Shmapple, he and Ducknik discovered an old-world bakery on Mulberry Street. It was named Papallardo. It was still being run by ancient, white-haired Mr. and Mrs. Papallardo, he short and she shorter, using the brick ovens that they had brought over from Bari, Italy, brick by brick. There was a glass case in the front of the shop, into which Mr. Pappalardo poured long, thick loaves from short, flat wooden peels. The breads piled in on top of each other, and when a customer walked through the front door, jingling the little ice cream bell over the archway, Mrs. Pappalardo walked forward, wiping flour from her hands onto her apron, smiled, reached into the case to pull out several loaves, then wrapped each hot, sweet-smelling beauty in white paper, took a few coins for each one and waited for the door to jingle again, as the happy customer walked out into the narrow street, before she returned to the back of the shop to help her husband.

Their bakery supplied bread for the famous Luna Restaurant next door -- in fact there was a private door in the back that connected the restaurant to the bakery.

In a neighborhood of Italian bakeries, in a city of Italians who took glorious pride in their baking, in a region of the country where bread and pizza dough were the true measure of a man's wealth, there was no bread as perfect as Pappalardo's Italian Bread. None.

One day, to stop Plotnik from his continuous whining about it, Mr. Pappalardo told Plotnik his two secrets were using graham flour in the dough, and the particular heat he got from his brick ovens. But there were other secrets too, and apparently Mr. Pappalardo never told anybody what they were, because when Mrs. Pappalardo died, and Mr. Pappalardo closed the bakery, that bread was gone forever.

Now, the bread you got at Luna's with your plate-a linguini, half-a shrimp, half-a clams, became ordinary. Plotnik and Ducknik never again tasted that extraordinarily chewy, dense but moist, flavorful bread from the heavens. After moving West, they forgot all about it.

Until last night. Living in Saint Plotniko, P and D have said many times, to anyone who would listen, that Acme and Semifreddi and Metropolis and a handful of other, small, artisan bakeries in Saint Plotniko, Smokeland and Berserkley turn out the finest loaves in America. So, last night, when this very loaf you're looking at was brought to their table at Lupa Restaurant in Noe Valley, OK, not THIS loaf, but its two late brothers, both of whom were consumed like wolves by P and D, it should have been a surprise that at the very same moment Plotnik looked at Ducknik and Ducknik looked at Plotnik and said: "Pappalardo's? Can this possibly be?"

But it was no surprise. That amazing bread had imprinted itself in both their brains, so strongly that 35 years later and one taste was all it took to bring it back.

After dinner, the waiter took pity upon the Plotniks and brought another loaf to the table for them to take home.

Memory is not what it once was. Plotnik can't remember where he puts his keys and Ducknik always claims she tells Plotnik things that she hasn't. But Plottie never forgets a bite of anything he has eaten. This bread at Lupa's, made in the back of the restaurant, comes as close to the sainted memory of Mr. and Mrs. Pappalardo than any bread either Plotnik or Ducknik have eaten in the 35 years since Pappalardo's little ice cream bell stopped jingling.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Tenement Soup Museum

Our friend The Great Fatenik just told me this morning that there is a Tenement Museum on Delancy and Orchard on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. A Tenement Museum. Fatenik even stayed in a fairly fancy hotel on Orchard Street, which was a renovated old-law tenement. Orchard Street, where Jews came to simmer in the summertime broth, was never more than unky. It couldn't even afford the f.

Some things are easier than others for The Great Plotnik to grok. Neighborhoods changing, of course. People spending huge sums to live on Avenue C, well, OK. But a Tenement Museum? Will anybody who goes into that museum understand how miserable those old dark, stinking, one-bathroom-per floor, cold water flats with six kids sleeping on a mattress, really were?

And the other side: that these hell holes were somehow far better than what the immigrants had had in the old country? Is this story beginning to sound familiar?

If they'd asked Plotnik, he'd have said: "I want to make a Tenement Soup Museum. In each room of my museum, I want an old lady in black, wearing a babushka and an apron, stirring soup on a wood stove in the corner. Each room: different soup. The Hall of Minestrone. The Gallery of Cream of Chicken. The Beef Barley Exhibition Space. The Great Salon of Sancocho. Today's film: The Borscht Whisperer.

A Tenement Soup Museum -- that's one The Great Plotnik would stand in line for.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

"A Number": Three Stars with a Thought Balloon

Mush is right,but don't forget that ‘A Number’ is short, only slightly more than an hour. Just about the time you’re starting to get into the rhythm of Caryl Churchill’s totally thought-provoking drama, out come Josh Charles and Bill Smitrovich to take their bows and the show is over. If you’re expecting Act Two: Don’t.

If you're like The Great Plotnik, you go "Awwwwwww, Wha,(sputter)."

Not that the play isn't great, it is. Charles (pictured above) has the role of a lifetime. He portrays each of three grown sons after they discover they have been cloned by their father (played by Bill Smitrovich, who you keep wanting to sock). Dad did it, but we don't know why, and if we think we're confused, think about each of these kids. One is nervous, one is angry, and the third one...well, there's the rub.

How would you like to discover you have at least 20, secret, identical-twin brothers? As the three try, in turn, to figure out exactly how they fit into the big picture, many questions pop to the surface, such as does a parent have a right to start over with an exact copy of a child who isn’t working out the way he’s supposed to? Is it true that 30% of our genes are the same as lettuce?

This show is tough to rate. If they ever write Act Two, it would have the chance for Four Stars. Critics are gonna love it for sure, but we go for free. Plotnik liked it a lot, but in general he likes dessert with a one-pot meal. So The Great Plotnik Theater Awards Division awards 'A Number' Three Stars with a Thought Balloon. The Thought Balloon says Awwwwwww, Wha,(sputter).

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


The Great Plotnik had never heard much about The Outer Banks of North Carolina until he started researching a travel feature about them yesterday. Now, when he sees O.B.X. mentioned on travel sites, he knows they are talking about a huge, hundreds-of-miles-long barrier reef which protects the Coast of the Carolinas from hurricanes, and is itself filled with birds, sea life, old inns, lighthouses and American History.

The first Europeans to try to settle in America landed here, on Roanoke Island in 1587. They ended up pelican food.

Plotnik and Ducknik would like to see all the pockets and corners of their own country some day, but they figure if they're lucky enough to get older and still in one piece, they'll do it then. Right now, Argentina, Tasmania and GodKnowsWhereistan still sound more exotic.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

That Cheesy (Not Chintzy) Black Shirt

The Great Plotnik accompanied The Poet Large Pants last night at a poetry reading at a local bookstore. The piano was in tune and the Poet Large Pants was too. It was a fun evening, and PLP's poems are more and more beautiful every year.

Plot has been playing mostly guitar lately, so it's been awhile since he had his back to an audience. His fingers hit the keys and the audience went silent. He kept playing. Nobody was saying anything. Plotnik thought: "Uh oh."

Here is Plotnik's favorite spot in 'Stepping Out,' where The Poet Large Pants describes wearing his favorite cheesy (not chintzy) black shirt:

"You wear it on a Friday night
when the weather’s warm
and the light of the sinking summer sun
is kissing the highest palisades
of the apartment buildings on your street,
lighting up the bricks like a pinball machine
without the bells, and the breeze is rustling
through the chestnut leaves
and you have an hour to entertain a thought
of how God will feel when it’s all over,
when the universe is all played out

and you, God, have Nothing on your mind anymore,
and you notice that having Nothing on your mind
is your highest function, greater even than spinning out
star nebulae, or blowing the top off of Mount Etna,
or crafting the Hawaiian Islands, or squeezing up
Mt. Everest like a giant pimple of dirt.
Having Nothing on your mind is higher than all these,
subtler than the Northern Lights, compelling
as the perfect wave. That’s when you wear this shirt,
when you feel like God stepping out
into a new universe, and you feel good."

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave

Balmy Alley
Originally uploaded by thegreatplotnik.
Today is Boycott for Immigration Day. As usual, politics and race have taken the important points of the issue and tossed them aside. Who gives a tortilla about whether or not somebody wants to sing the National Anthem in Spanish? So freaking what?

Here's The Great Plotnik's take on the issue.

There are millions of starving people around the world, many of whom see America as their only chance for survival. The problem is most of these people are brown and uneducated. We prefer white, Protestant starving people with advanced degrees, but there aren't nearly enough to go around.

Do we want our inner cities to be over-run with illegals? No. We have our own ex-slaves for that.

Do we want our schools to be over-run with illegals? No, unless they promise to stay out of private schools in Orinda.

Do we want our hospitals to be over-run by illegals, having babies and getting sick and all that nasty stuff? No. We're not going to supply Health Care to our own people, so we're damned if we're going to give it to Mexicans.

But The Great Plotnik is no fan of an endless stream of illegals from any damned place. People from Someplace Else are always the enemies of people from Right Here -- until they get integrated into society. Then they immediately become the staunchest defenders of Right Here.

If you employ them, they will come. And you will employ them, if you can pay them less and watch them work harder. It's how we built the railroad. It's the American Way.

You're eating Chinese food tonight because of that railroad.

Guess what: everybody suffers. Get over it. Immigrants are going to come to America because it's the greatest place in the world to live, whether you despise George Bush, as anyone with a brain larger than a split pea would, or whether you don't. Build a high wall, they'll tunnel under it or climb over it. That's what you do when you have no other choice.

So find a way to make them legal. Tighten up our borders. Once you do that, those new citizens become the army who fights to keep the others out and works to keep your food cheap and your streets cleaned.

Their grandchildren may become the Mayor of your city or the President of your University or Secretary of State. That's the way it works in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.