The Great Plotnik

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Gray, Red and White

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It's cold and gray today, but despite that Two J's, One K and one J-K are about to head across the Bay Bridge and up the I-80 to the Carneros, followed by a trip to Eastern Napa, followed by another into the Maycamas, followed by dinner at the legendary Mustard's, followed by the drive back across the bridge to World Headquarters. The forecast is for more gray, but also red, white and perhaps bubbly.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Joe Sr., Joe Jr. and the Star

Everyone who comes to The Great Plotnik World Headquarters and Meatball Kitchen comments about the star. The star was once on the wingtip of Joe Sr.'s training airplane in the Army Air Corps before World War II. Joe Sr., who was The Great Ducknik's father, decided flying these rickety machines was far too hazardous to one's health. But there was only one way he could avoid having to fly them anymore: he would have to wash out of flight school.

This was not a simple task. What Joe Sr. decided to do was to put the airplane into a dive in front of the flight school commander. He pulled it off, and that was it for flight school for Joe Sr.

A few years later, though, he still ended up in the middle of the soup, on a lonely destroyer doing picket duty in the Pacific Ocean, a target for Japanese kamikazes swooping down out of the sun. Fortunately he and his ship survived the war, and they ended up in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese occupation began.

When Joe Sr. left flight school, his flight mates cut the wingtip off his training plane, and gave it to him as a parting gift. They each signed their name and home town on the wingtip. This is a long time ago now. Those names and hometowns have faded almost to invisiblity. But you can still see a few: A.F. Joss, Altoona, PA. ___ Kanchasezski from Worcester, MASS. They used to be a lot easier to read.

Ducknik took the wingtip and mounted it on a backing so it could always be displayed. Plotnik has it right outside his office door. Every time he sees it he remembers Joe Sr. He also remembers how thankful he is to Joe and Joss and Kanchasezski and all those other millions of soldiers and sailors who did what they all had to do. He is especially thankful Joe Sr. made it on through, and so are The Great PD and The Great BZWZ.

Joe Jr., Ducknik's brother, has always looked a little like his dad, especially when you see their photos side by side, each wearing their dress white uniforms. Joe Jr. saw combat off of Vietnam, also on a destroyer, but in the 1960s, which seems like a long time ago now too.

Like most ex-military personnel, Joe Jr. does not voice his opinion about military affairs, like Iraq. The loudest and shrillest voices always seem to come from people who never served. Which is why Plotnik tries to be careful about his own point of view. Just like he is suspicious of non-writers telling him how to write, he is equally suspicious of civilians telling the military how to run their wars. No matter how convinced he is that the U.S. has blundered mightily in the Middle East, he never wants to forget that he is not there. He is here, where it's a little chilly, and a little windy, but that's the worst it gets.

All of this is apropos of nothing. It's nice to have Joe Jr. and Pat here. Maybe Joe will teach Plotnik how to drink beer.

Monday, January 29, 2007

A Macho Gazpacho Kind of Afternoon

It was a gas to see Jim Z. play vibes yesterday with his quartet at Susan and Michael's house in Bernal Heights. They removed the furniture from the small dining room and the band (vibes, bass, drums and sax) crammed itself in. People stood in the kitchen and hallway or sat on chairs in the living room and listened while Jim alternately played his beautiful tunes and explained some of the processes involved in writing the songs and playing that demonic-looking instrument. A sweet, old, grooving black dog walked in and settled under the vibes.

It didn't look like anyone in the room was under 40, and that might be a kind assessment, but then bop and straight-up jazz are not the flavors of the month to 20-somethings. But this music sure appeals to the rest of us, especially when you're standing so close to the guys playing that you feel you're just waiting your turn to solo.

The Salon idea, where people throw open their homes for artistic events, is an idea for our times. Even more important than the music, or painting, or photography, or short-story writing or poetry that attracts friends to these afternoons, is the sense of building a community of like-minded people.

In the end, all our Think Pads and IPods point our lives towards self-absorption. We can do it all ourselves, so we do. We hole up in our offices and Think. We download music and Pod. It's cheap. It's easy. And it makes us crazy. We need community. That's what the Salon does.

Jim Z. is a professional drummer by trade. Drummers are not like other humans -- they can do different things at the same time with both hands and both feet. Some even sing at the same time. Jim Z. didn't sing yesterday, and he was playing vibes instead of drums, but he did manage to hold four mallets in two hands and make each mallet sing for him. His tunes have names like Prints of Whales and Macho Gazpacho. The Great Plotnik knows this because he was staring over the shoulder of the saxophonist, following the music charts, while he took his imaginary piano solos in his head. What a great day.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Very Nice Sunday

It was wet outside on the deck when Plotnik awakened this morning, so he decided to forego another knee injury on the slippery basketball court and ride his bike instead down to Trader Joe's. Saddlebags filled, the trip up the hills back home gives at least as much cardio as playing basketball, though it's not nearly as much fun.

Now, the Lakers are on TV, and Jim Z. is giving a vibraphone concert this afternoon. I mean, how much better does it get?

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Two Damned Ferries. Just Two.


Nice Squid

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Nice Eggplant

So, the question of the morning is: How important is ambience in a restaurant? How much more do you want to spend than the food is worth, to get a view of the harbor or candles on the tables or an accordionist who knows 'Volare?'

OK, scratch the part about the accordionist, because Plotnik would spend anything extra to have that. What we're really talking about here is the harbor view.

He keeps saying he's not going back to the Slanted Door, but he goes back anyway because it's indisputable that out of town guests love the Slanted Door, crave the Slanted Door, want to have the Slanted Door's babies. Everyone else does too, apparently -- it's jam-packed, even on a cold and rainy Friday night and as noisy with diners happily shrieking to be heard across the table as any restaurant in the city. If Plot were Tony Soprano he'd come eat here and talk freely about the next hit, because neither the FBI nor even Christopher would be able to hear him.

And last night Plotnik wasn't even paying -- the Crow picked up the hefty tab.

The dinner for four, in order of arrival:

Slanted Door Spring Rolls: very average. No better than the $1.50 specials on the counter at Saigon Sandwich Shop. C.

Rice Cakes with tiny shrimp: Good. Not Great. C.

Fish Soup: Terribly bland. Tasteless. Honestly, Plot would give it an F, but the Crow liked it, so make it a D.

Shaking Beef: The house specialty. Fabulous. A. Well worth the $26.

Spicy Squid: Average. C. Tough, rubbery squid.

Eggplant in coconut sauce: Delicious B.

Stir fried Tuscan Kale: Very Good B.

Cellophane Noodles with Crab: Good. Plot liked these more than anyone else, because he could flavor his rice with them. C.

Vietnamese Coffee: You have to like your coffee sweet and rich. Plot does. Very good. B.

Add it all up: Fabulous (A): 1. Very Good to Delicious (B): 3. Good to Average (C): 4. Mediocre (D): 1.

If Plot were reviewing the Slanted Door, he'd look at these numbers and give it two stars plus, or three stars minus, not three stars, certainly not four stars. But the public's response has been overflowing in its praise for the Slanted Door since the day it opened.

So we return to the original question: How much extra are you willing to pay to receive excellent service, have the table ready for you when you arrive, even though the restaurant is filled up (Big Plus), and watch a total of two ferry boats steaming out of the harbor? If the food is basically Good Plus at best?

How much? 10%? 25%? 50%?

This much we can say for sure. The Slanted Door will not have Plottie to kick around anymore -- he's got family arriving this week and they'll go someplace else. And when they get home their friends will ask them excitedly if they got to go to the Slanted Door?

Friday, January 26, 2007

Of Course There is a Gift Shoppe

It's nice to have friends in town, so you can take them around to the tourist spots you would not normally bother with. The DeYoung Museum has been re-open for more than a year and The Great Plotniks hadn't been inside yet. What a mistake that was.
Luckily, they and their friend Finch caught the tail end of the wonderful Ruth Ozawa exhibit downstairs. The way Ruth Ozawa uses hanging wire shapes along with their shadows as part of the whole presentation really opens your eyes to what is possible in sculpture. Ruth Ozawa is still alive too -- she lived up on Noe St. for many, many years.

Walk upstairs and you move from celebrating the peace of nature to chronicling how primitive people dress for war. The collection of New Guinea art is the largest Plotnik has ever seen, and by far the most interesting. This stuff usually bores him -- a mask here, a canoe there, a spear over there -- but the DeYoung's is no normal collection. Even Ducknik, who studied New Guinea Art at Ohio Waterfowl University, was bowled over.

Don't forget to walk upstairs to the Ninth Floor Observation Deck to look around. Of course there is a Gift Shoppe there. But the view is a different one than anywhere else in the city, and you don't have to buy the calendar or the coffee mug if you don't want to.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

$5 Lunch for Two, Entrant # 3

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The eternal search for the Great $5 Lunch For Two has found another entrant, to join Saigon Sandwich Shop and La Palma Mexicatessen. Tortas Los Picudos makes enormous Mexican sandwiches which sell for $5, and which feed two people easily. You can see the menu above -- go for the Guadalajara-style pierna desebrada -- basically pulled, shredded pork on a long grilled bolillo, spread with guacamole, jalapenos and probably some other stuff too.

Grease flies off the grill, which is packed with your lunch and everybody else's too. How they keep track of what's what is a mystery to El Gran Plotniko. If you back up too quickly after you give your order, you will knock the potato chips off the rack with your butt.

Tortas los Picudos is packed around lunchtime with all the different people who live in or on the neighborhood. English is spoken, in a manner of speaking. If you want to add on to your cost, they make really good strawberry licuados, smoothies, and they make fresh tropical juices too. This place is a find.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Moscow in February? Are you Nuts?

You've got to be kidding. Moscow in February?

The Great Plotnik's guitar player partner in Stiletto City has received a preliminary invitation for four players, including Plotnik, to travel to Moscow at the end of February to play Sephardic music for some kind of festival.

Is the invitation on the level? It...well, it appears to be.

Do they pay a lot? No

Do they pay for plane, hotel for five nights and a small daily stipend? Yes

Do they provide instruments, visas, transfers and a guide? Yes

Can they promise there will not be the freaking Blizzard of the Century in Russia in February? No

Has Plotnik always wanted to go to Russia? Oh yeah

Did this just blow in from out of the blue? Yup

Will it happen? Stay tuned

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Smiling Bill's Birthday, and a Discussion About Fried Chicken

All that work and all you get is one lousy candle.

To discuss the Front Porch's fried chicken, you have to go back to The Big Shmapple. Once, in that great city, before The Great Plotnik won the cold war, there were two great delis: Katz's and The Second Avenue. The Great Plotnik favored Katz's pastrami and The Great Ducknik favored The Second Avenue's pastrami. Both were awesomely pastramolicious, and the correctness of Plotnik's opinion was never verified, until the Second Avenue suddenly went out of business. Plot and Duck were in town and walked up to the front door, and it was barricaded. People were milling around on the corner and a woman from Hartford, Connecticut, who had driven all the way down to NYC just for a Twin Double, was crying.

So Katz's outlasted the Second Avenue. That doesn't necessarily prove that Katz's pastrami is better than the Second Avenue's was, and, in memory, the Second Avenue's Twin Double with Fries (one smaller sandwich of corned beef, one of pastrami) was really hard to beat. The Second Avenue was red booths and a large menu. It was second generation, a bit refined. Class: Middle. Katz's is linoleum floors and grumpy counter men, first generation. Class: Lower. The Second Avenue used to have cream soda ON TAP. At Katz's you get Dr. Brown's in a bottle. Both were world-class, and one still is.

In this way, y'all, we move to a discussion of the Best (non-homemade) Fried Chicken in San Francisco. The Front Porch is the Second Avenue Deli. The Hard Knox Cafe is Katz's. Mush, Bill and Duck favor The Front Porch. The Great Plotnik is still leaning towards The Hard Knox. The Front Porch has a hipster bar and draft artisan beer. The Hard Knox has aluminum walls and if you want wine you can probably score it from the guy lying on the street around the corner.

True, the Front Porch's chicken is moister, but the Hard Knox's is spicier. At the Front Porch you get two smallish pieces (Chef Kirnon insists on small birds that she says are tastier), but at the Hard Knox you get three large pieces. The Front Porch is a buck or two more, but those

The greens and corn muffins are better at the Hard Knox. The slaw is a killer at The Front Porch. You can get smothered pork chops or shrimp creole at the Hard Knox. You can get dungeness crab in a bowl of grits at The Front Porch. The background music at the Hard Knox is '60s blues. The background music at the Front Porch is '90s Hipster. Both are great.

The phone just rang. It was The Great Fatenik, reminding Plot about Adelman's Deli in Brooklyn. He says it's still as good as ever. In that spirit, Plot has to admit he has heard that Maverick's, in the Mission, also has superb Fried Chicken. Further research is clearly needed. Happy Birthday, Bill.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Happy Birthday, Bro' Streetnik

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Brother Jimmy Streetnik turned 60 yesterday, amazingly enough. He's still playing his saxophones, clarinet and flute, still up in front of crowds, still working his rear end off, still sounding sweet with a tone like butter.

The Street Brothers had a lot of fun for a long time, and made some money too. Above all, they made music, and The Great Plotnik learned a new vocabulary of songs and styles. Before he met Jim, Plot had basically never played anyone's songs but his own. Afterwards, he realized how many masters there were to learn from.

So Happy Birthday, Brother Streetnik, may your reeds never dry out, and may we someday find out what happened to that bride who smashed the groom's face into the wedding cake.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Tings Dey Happen: Three Stars * * *

There is a fantastic play running at the Marsh: Dan Hoyle's 'Tings Dey Happen.' Hoyle spent a year in Nigeria, and then wrote the one-man show to comment on the crazy world of oil politics there. He performs in short, manic segments, playing at least two dozen characters -- the warlord, the preacher, the ambassador, the gang leader, the oil worker, the defense contractor, the stage manager -- and let us not forget the brilliant Yellow Man whose soliloquy closes Act One and basically sums up the history of African colonial politics.

Hoyle is a funny guy, and he's an actor: he becomes each character, infusing each with a spot-on accent to match. He's not pandering to the audience either -- that Africa pidgin spoken by the gangsters in the Niger Delta is next to impossible to understand, but Hoyle's fluid body language conveys to your eyes any meaning you miss with your ears.

If you were watching this show at the Orpheum or the A.C.T. theater, you'd probably call it a work of genius. But at the Marsh, with its bare minimum packing-crate stage and lighting that looks like it comes from flashlights, that's a hard word to throw out there. Still, no one can deny that 'Tings Dey Happen' is brilliant. And remember, the Marsh is the most user-friendly theater in town -- several nights during the run are pay-what-you-can. Now, that's genius.

The Great Plotnik Theater Awards Division awards 'Tings Dey Happen' one star for the writing, one star for the performing and one star for all the accents, plus a phantom half star for the costume changes -- there aren't any, but half a star might have been waiting with a hat here or a beanie there. Just a thought. Great play, though.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Catastrophic but not Apocalyptic: Vocabulary to the Rescue.

It looks as if the Big E's fire was catastrophic but not apocalyptic. He got back into his room briefly yesterday and found his wallet and his laptop. His guitar and cello were not burned, but they were soaked, so they were left to dry out on his bed. Hope Northhampton doesn't have any disaster scroungers. What a terrifying thought: you're jarred awake and have only a few seconds to flee. It's the nightmare we usually wake up out of.

E, if you glance at this blog, you'll either be pleased or horrified to know the family is checking Plotnik to find out how you're doing.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Wake Up Call

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At 6AM the phone rang. As always, The Great Plotnik was wide awake the split second the phone rang him out of sleep. He checked the caller ID on the early morning call, and when he saw it was BZ, hit the illuminate button on his watch. 6AM. That means 9AM New York Time. Things are probably OK.

Except they're not. In the middle of the night The Big E's house in Northhampton, Mass, burned down. E is OK, and BZ is in New York, but E woke up to his neighbors screaming. When he opened his eyes the front porch of his house, right outside his room, was in flames.

He probably had that two-second OhmiGod, which goes with "What do I grab NOW?" But he had no more time than that. He made it out to the street with clothes that he threw on. Luckily, he had left his car key in his car. So a car and a sweater is what he's got right now. What he doesn't have is all the rest.

When Plot and Duck hung up the phone, they looked at each other, AGAIN. How many times do people have to have this conversation before doing something about it? Oh, they'd packed their Go Bag after Katrina, but it's been broken into so many times (Honey do we have any AA Batteries? Take some out of the Go Bag) that it's basically useless now.

Here are Plottie's thoughts this morning: Coincidentally, he bought a small but powerful external backup drive last week on Ebay -- brand new it's still only around a hundred bucks, and will back up his computer and Duck's computer, photos and all. He'd thought he'd keep it next to his desk, but no. It's going in the Go Bag, which will be packed where it can be grabbed in an instant on the way out the door.

When the Plots head down to Stiletto City, he'll ask PD and 5H if they want to backup their computers on the drive too. At 350gigs it can backup a whole bunch. Same for BZ. It only makes sense.

Now, The Big E doesn't have his wallet -- it wasn't right where he could grab it. So that's the next step: Wallet, keys, glasses, next to the bed each night. Shoes in the Go Bag for sure. With glasses you can see your wallet and with your wallet you can replace everything else.

Except...oh, the guitar. E lost his guitar too. Now that really hurts.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Good Bye, Dirk.

For years, TGP's boss at On Line for Idiots gave Plottie an 'overhead' account, which meant he received free OLI internet service. Then, when his boss got canned a few weeks ago, Plot was warned nobody would maintain that account. Since OLI no longer charges for internet service, it wouldn't much matter, right?

Wrong. This morning when The Great Theater Reviewer tried to log on to OLI he was unable to. His account has been terminated. And he can't get a new, free account, because the system still shows him as part of the old boss's empire. Plot learned all this when he finally got a live person on the line, speaking from a noisy, wet closet under a curry factory in India.

"Hello, my name is, uh, Dirk," said the service representative.

"I am The Great Plotnik," said The Great Plotnik.

"Oh, Mr. Great Plotnik, may I call you Mr. Great Plotnik?"

"You may."

"Thank you, Mr. Great Plotnik, but you see you must be calling the person in charge of this account," said Dirk.

"But that person has been fired. He no longer works for OLI," said Plotnik. "And there is no account. It has been cancelled. You just said so."

"Oh yes, thank you but we are unable you must see to help in this current situation difficulty you are experiencing without the permission of the person in charge."

"There is no person in charge."


"The person formerly in charge of the account has taken very ill. Very, very ill. It is so sad. Can you not help me out here, Dirk?"

"Ah. This, Mr. Great Plotnik, is without a doubt presenting a most unfortunate set of experiences."

"Dirk," said The Great Plotnik.

"Yes, Mr. Great Plotnik?"

"Dirk, we are getting nowhere here."

"Thank you, you are being correct, I am sorry to having been no help in the resolution of your diffi..."

"Good Bye, Dirk."

So here he is. His OLI phone numbers are all on line and he can't get on line. Well, he can, but not with OLI. Is any of this current turmoil mattering thank you?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Got to Have Yo Mama

Last night, The Great Plotnik broke his rule about frozen fish. He bought a package of frozen Japanese scallops from Trader Joe's, several bunches of broccoli rabe from Rainbow and made a romesco sauce out of almonds, tomatoes, roasted peppers and garlic. The plate went like this: romesco under rabe under seared scallops under more romesco. Brown saffron rice went around the edges and a Rosenblum Syrah topped it all off.

Not counting the wine, it really wasn't worth the effort. Frozen fish just don't have any natural Yo Mama left. Now, TGP has a pint of fresh romesco and more broccoli rabe. He also didn't cook all the scallops and he ain't gonna. He may just go bury them in the garden for R.L. Pussycat.

This morning's food section contains a feature on Fried Chicken. They left out the Hard Knox Cafe, which invalidates the entire issue; still, the featured chef was talking about his secrets: buttermilk and brining. But Chef Pickle has been talking about buttermilk and brining fried chicken for years, plus -- of course -- a hefty serving of Yo Mama.

You got to have the Yo Mama, Her Mama, Somebody's Mama, or food just doesn't taste right. The freezer is where Yo Mama goes to die. Pickle believes you can bring her back with enough duck fat, but Plotnik isn't so sure. He remembers his relatives, many of whom had their lives shortened on the staple Eastern European diet of chicken fat and chopped liver. Not one of them made it past 104.

He went to bed thinking about that romesco sauce. The truth is -- he doesn't like romesco. It's 'way too bland. Spanish food does not float Plottie's boat. Ham, ham, ham, ham and octopus. Nobody's Mama.

Cortez came to Mexico because he was sick of ham and octopus. When he was done plundering and pillaging he found chiles, tomatoes and chocolate. Almost gives plundering a good name.

Plottie woke up this morning thinking about tacos.

Yes, the blog listing you are reading just ended. Yet, here is a coda: Did you know President Bush hates scallops? Plot just read this from the New York Daily News:

"President Bush hates scallops, but former White House chef Walter Scheib says the humble mollusks shouldn't be blamed for his ouster from the First Family's kitchen..."

Apparently Chef Scheib insisted on serving Bush scallops, until they canned him. Now, this man has soul. Maybe even Yo Mama.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


The Wisconsin chapter of Grandparent, Inc., just was in Stiletto City visiting Baby Isabella, Baby Isabella's mother and Baby Isabella's father. BIM: Fine. BIF: Fine. Who? Baby I? Why yes, HERE'S A NEW BABY PICTURE!

Then wadda they do? They DRESS HER UP!

Man, this is fun. Thanks, Joy.

Monday, January 15, 2007

'Strangers We Know': 2 1/2 Stars * * -


Word for Word shows are like no other live theater performances, because the entire cast is performing every word in a selected short story, including the 'he said' and 'she commented, while descending to the Metro.' As a result, the ensemble becomes far more important than any individual actors. Success or failure always hinges on the writing -- we already love the ensemble, because they're working so inventively, but do we also love the stories themselves?

With 'Strangers We Know,' at Fort Mason, the review is mixed. The first story performed is 'Mlle. Dias de Corta' by Mavis Gallant. It is interesting, but although Susan Harloe is a danged fine old Frenchwoman for someone who is not an old Frenchwoman, the story stays on one emotional plane. The message is subtle, and subtlety does not seem to work nearly as well as comedy in these productions.

'Which is More Than I Can Say about Some People," by Lorrie Moore, on the other hand, is hysterically funny. Sheila Balter and Patricia Silver (seen above) are a daughter and mother taking a car trip through Ireland, the daughter's marriage having dissolved and the mother determined to push on until she can make things better. They are a teriffic team, and there's a nice twist at the end. Moore's writing is full of insight and humor, and I'll bet you never knew what you really have to do to kiss the blarneystone.

Word for Word shows are always well worth the price of admission, just to watch the vocal and physical choreography of the cast. Maria Candelaria is great as the young heroine in the first story and she's a teriffic sheep in the second. Paul Finocchiaro looks grumpy as the dead husband in the first story and...come to think of it, he's equally grumpy as a leprechaun tour guide in the second.

The Great Plotnik Theater Awards Division awards 'Strangers We Know' a star for the Gallant and another one and a half for the Moore. There is talent in the Gallant but the Moore gets more.
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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Three Seconds in the Key: Four Stars * * * *

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In the hands of an actor with less chutzpah than Amy Resnick, 'Three Seconds in the Key' might seem like any other play that contains the New York Knicks, a woman dying of cancer, a black athlete learning Yiddish and a major role for an eight year old. But Deb Margolin's story of a woman struggling with Hodgkin's Disease, desperate to survive long enough to raise her sports-mad son, is so clever and heartfelt, and Resnick is so good and so funny, that together they manage to pull out a victory at the buzzer and win our hearts at the same time.

Mother (yes, that seems to be her only name, played by Resnick) and her eight year old son (played by Gideon Lazarus) have seen her disease restrict their lives to a small apartment with a small TV, on which they watch New York Knicks basketball games. It's a season when
their beloved Knicks can't win for losing, and, seemingly, neither can the hard luck Mom and boy, until…well this is where the fun starts, and it's not easy to explain. We get God, preachers, basketball, parenting, living, dying, winning and losing, but we also get basketball as a metaphor for life, and beautiful moments between Mother and Player Number 1 (a tense and touching performance by D. Anthony Harper).

SF Playhouse's temporary home on the third floor of the Shelton Theater has a very small stage with two large support columns, which forces the cast into some strange basketball moves. But it's a Technical Foul, not a fatal flaw. Rather than hinder, the tight quarters enhance the intimacy of the story.

Don't expect to understand everything, and don't be upset if all the loose ends don't tie up neatly. Just know this: on Opening Night Deb Margolin and her now teenage son were in the second row. Since 'Three Seconds in the Key' is the author's true story, it's nice to know that life, as well as theater, can have happy endings.

The Great Plotnik Theater Awards Division awards 'Three Seconds in the Key' Four Stars, flat out. They might have earned another quarter if Artistic Director Bill English hadn't missed that left handed layup during the cast's standing ovation at the end. Three Seconds in the Key scores big.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Rude Boy has a Sore Throat


"The One Man Show has a throat infection," said the apologetic lady at the entrance to the Marsh Berkeley Theater. "Also, our electronics board blew out."

Plot and Duck, gasping, stared at each other. It had just taken them a full hour in grinding traffic to get to Berkeley, another half hour to discover the restaurant of which Plottie was supposed to take a picture no longer stays open at night, fifteen more minutes to slog up Allston Way into Downtown Berkeley, fifteen more to find the theater (unmarked, of course), fifteen more to find a parking place, and let's add in the ten minutes to gulp a bowl of soup each and then five minutes running up Shattuck Avenue because they didn't want to arrive late to the one man show.

"Oh, you are a reviewer! We DO hope you'll come back!" gushed the lady at the door.

Big smile from Plot. Big smile from Duck. The thought balloon over their heads shows a pig cashing his frequent flier miles.

But, no. Plot wants to see the Rude Boy. He'll go back. He will. It's possible. Really.
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Friday, January 12, 2007

What Happens to the Mean Green?

Since it's January, it's time to get out the ol' briefcase and see what stickers are missing. Last year the only sticker they bought was in Guatemala and that's not nearly enough.

But in order to travel somewhere, you have to pay for it. So, for the past two days The Great Plotnik has been totalling up his expenses for the entire year 2006. It is not a pretty picture.

Are you kidding? That much for food? That much for restaurants? That much for TRAVEL? Oh, and INSURANCE? How about gas and car repair?

In their own little minds, Plot and Duck think they live frugally -- they own one seven year old car, they do their own home repair, they eschew those expensive cash guzzlers everyone else seems to love, like cruises and going to movies, and their mortgage is no worse than other people's rent. So how in the world did Plotnik, once again, spend more than he made? How is this possible?

True, they and their friends eat well.

True, they have been known to have a glass of beer.

...and occasionally a sip of wine.

And, of course, there's Baby I.

To augment his income this year, The Great Plotnik figures lottery tickets and the World Poker Championships.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Tragedy of Love is Indifference: 2 1/2 Stars

Somerset Maugham, known largely as a novelist ("Of Human Bondage," "The Moon and Sixpence"), was also one of England's most popular playwrights. Audiences loved to see Maugham's irreverent takes on love and marriage, to say nothing of his joy in setting up the upper classes for ridicule. During World War I he was also a member of England's "Literary Ambulance Drivers," that included writers like Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, and E. E. Cummings.

Maugham's theater pieces were the darlings of London's West End. 'The Circle,' first performed in 1921, is a satire about the vagueries of love, as seen through the eyes of the aristocratic Champion-Cheney family. It is basically an English Days of Our Lives: young Elizabeth has eyes for Edward, but is stymied by her marriage to Arnold, whose mother Lady Kitty suddenly appears for the weekend at the same time as Arnold's father Clive, to say nothing of the man Lady Kitty ran away with 30 years earlier: Lord Porteous.

Sadly, Lady Kitty sums it up best: "The tragedy of love is indifference." It's hard to get involved with any of these characters. Lord Porteous has bad teeth. Lady Kitty is a sow. Young Elizabeth is in love with love and young Edward, in that order, but with all the chemistry of the Flu Shot line at the Free Clinic; Arnold is in love with himself (he has two passions: politics and interior decorating). Edward wins Elizabeth, and the audience, after three acts and two long intermissions, says Capital! and Ripping! and Ho Hum.

We know, we know, we know: it's a satire. Like, Dude. You still have to light a fire.

The show is beautifully staged (one of those glorious sets that causes the audience to break into applause as the curtain rises), and you can always count on Somerset Maugham for great one-liners, like Arnold's "After all, a man marries…because he doesn't want to be bothered with sex and all that sort of thing."

Now, if you could bring in the ghost of Ezio Pinza from "South Pacific" to play young Edward the planter, and make us give two figs about the purported illicit romance? Hmmm...maybe set the whole show in a prision camp in Thailand as the Japanese army is closing in? Now we're on to something. "The Circular Bridge Over the River Kwai?"

In the meantime, 'The Circle' is fun, and stunning to look at. The Great Plotnik Theater Awards Division awards 'The Circle' two stars for the set and another half because Ducknik was an English Major (English majors love Maugham). It earns another half because half of it was really funny, but has that half removed for Rampant Foppishness. Two and a Half Stars for 'The Circle' but there is another three quarters waiting if Edward should ever burst into song.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

It's Harder to be Truthful than Clever.

The Great Plotnik woke up yesterday thinking about his friend Jonny. Today he started a new song. It's definitely harder to be truthful than it is to be clever.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Show Must Go On

OLI (On Line for Idiots) is cutting back, AGAIN. Employees at the Head Office in Stiletto City are cutting and pasting themselves into new jobs as fast as they can. The latest job loss is the lady who designed the software program Plotnik uses to turn in his work. She's moved over to Disney.

Plotnik knows this because yesterday his software became corrupted. It can no longer be accessed without a major fix. So Plot IM'd the designer, to find out she no longer works for the company. She never got around to teaching the software to the person who replaced her, which makes sense because he will probably jump ship soon too. So Plot is SOL at OLI.

Without the software, the simple reporting process becomes far more time consuming for Plot, and infinitely more difficult for his editors.

But that's the only bad part.

The good part is that theater goes on anyway, the lighting, costumes and set designers, the playwrights, actors and directors, the publicity wonks, theater operators, ticket sellers and ushers all still show up on time, and everyone breaks their rear ends trying to tell a universal story in a unique way, whether Plotnik's software is working or not.

Out on the street, the guys you can pay to watch your car still gather in front of the Orpheum, the a cappella singers still show up to sing for tips as people are filing out of the Geary, the old lady with the roses still hustles up and down Valencia in front of the Marsh, the guy in the new parking booth at Fort Mason still puts on his cap to explain patiently to everyone why they can no longer park for free at the Magic, and when the old bejeweled palaces like the Golden Gate Theater and the Curran are dark, their entrance alcoves are still protected from the mean western wind. It's a nice place to sleep off a bottle of Thunderbird. Everyone has a job to do.

So life goes on. Tomorrow night is the first of four shows in five nights, the first at ACT, the second at the Marsh Berkeley, the third at SF Playhouse and the fourth at the Magic. Could possibly layer a Dan Hoyle show in there too.

At home there are lentils with feta, tabboule and Mauritanian Shrimp. It might not be a bad day for Domin-nik to be hungry at lunchtime.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Stupid is Worse.


This morning, The Great Plotnik drank up the last of his Semiramis Blend coffee with cardamom. So down he went to see Samir to have him blend up some more.

When he walked into the shop, Samir was watching Arab TV-news on a TV screen filled with static.

"So Samir," Plotnik said, "you've been in America for 53 years and you're still watching the news in Arabic?"

"Yeah, I get the other side that way. Then I put both sides together and try to sort out the bullshit."

"Do you think Bush is going to send in more troops to Iraq?" I said, and that was like removing the cork from the bottle and somebody had been shaking Samir up for awhile.

"That f---ing a--hole, that stupid f---ing a--hole," is how he began. And ended. Plus more in the middle.

Scooping the French Roast and the Kenya Roast and the cardamom seeds together, he said: "He's gonna kill his party and give power to the crazy jihadists. What an a--hole."

Stirring the beans and cardamon together with a wooden spoon and pouring it into the hopper to make a Turkish grind, he said: "He's gonna make a lot of boys dead, too, and for what? Just because he's..."

"A f---ing a--hole?" Plotnik suggested, as Samir took the beans from the grinder and poured them into in a brown coffee bag.

"No, my friend. A stupid f---ing a--hole. That's a lot worse," Samir finished. "Nine dollars."

Plot paid Samir, picked up his pitas and coffee and came home, which is more than those poor sods that get sent to die in the desert will be able to do, all because of Guess Who.
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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Calendar Error/Default: New Baby Picture


The Great Plotnik made an error on his calendar, which led to Plot and Duck arriving at SF Playhouse last night to a dark house. The show is next Saturday, and what was supposed to be today's Word for Word is next Sunday.

So, instead of a very interesting theatre review, you get: NEW BABY PICTURE!

To complain, press One. To prefer a baby picture over a theater review, press Two. To ask why The Great Plotnik would have gone to play basketball this morning on a wet court, knowing what happened to his knee the last time, bring some ice and stay on the line.
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Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Week of Reviewing Dangerously: Killing My Lobster

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*Thanks Notthat.

It's the Week of Reviewing Dangerously. The Great Plotnik has five shows to cover in eight days, and his only complaint is there are no shows on Monday or Tuesday.

Last night he and Duck saw Killing My Lobster Faces the Music, a sketch comedy/musical which had a full house of 30-and-unders hooting and howling. Sitting in the Bob Uecker*Best Seats at ODC Theater, Plotnik was able to count all the bald spots in the audience (one), gray heads (1, maybe 2) and all others over the age of 40 (2, maybe 4). The other 170 or so all seemed to know each other and sounded like they'd seen the show lots of times before: they laughed repeatedly at lines Plot and Duck couldn't even hear.

It wasn't age that mitigated against comprehension: it was the ol' $5 Sound System which tried in vain to integrate cordless, headset mikes with speakers they must have bought used from the DMV. What a shame -- the lines that were audible were really funny and well written. MORAL: Get there early and sit in the front.

The First Act plodded along until: THE BURRITO SONG. The actor's name is Danny Krueger and, standing in front of a gospel trio and a beggar on a rolling flatboard (don't ask), he proceeds to list every taqueria and burrito joint in the Bay Area. No...not list -- preach! Lawdamercy! "Cancun Taqueria 27th and Mission!" he cries and "Yes! Yes!" screams the audience, feeling the divine Hand of God on its shoulder (with a side of guacamole). Act One closes and everyone flies from their seats to seek chips and salsa. The Burrito Song is not a great song but it's a GREAT SONG.

Act Two is wonderful from start to finish, including a use of bagpipes you probably hadn't thought about before. Tickets are inexpensive and, since we're talking about live, sketch comedy, the sketches probably change every night. The ensemble is having a great time, so the audience does too.

OK, somebody ought to tell the drummer/bandleader he is not conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. Small niggle.

The Great Plotnik Theater Awards Division awards Killing My Lobster Faces the Music Two Stars for the Burrito Song all by itself, and another Star and a half for Act Two, minus a quarter star for that sound system and another quarter because they HAD A SOUND MAN FAWGODSAKE, who must have been sucking on the Purple Sticky. Three and a Quarter Stars and remember it's Wintertime and the Parking is Easy.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Resoultion Four: Love Conquers All. (Subtitle:) Maybe He's Not Black? Maybe She Is? Maybe The Great Plotnik is Dreaming?

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Last night at TIAPOS, The Great Plotnik and The Great Large Pants told Blonde Bombshell and The Great Mushnik all about the Boise St. victory over Oklahoma in the Whatever-It-Was Bowl on New Year's Day.

The two women got particularly interested when the story got to the part about the star tailback, who had just scored the most improbable winning 2-point conversion in college football history, proposing to the head cheerleader fifteen minutes later on nationwide TV.

WHAT a story! The TV movie must be in production as we blog, because Plot saw this morning that the popular U-Tube video has already been removed from U-Tube at the request of Twentieth Century Fox.

And yet -- what about the painfully obvious other part of this story? Can Plotnik allow himself to feel hopeful about American society? That is -- the almost completely white underdog Boise State team defeats the almost completely black huge favorite Oklahoma team, and afterwards the mixed-race halfback proposes to the white head cheerleader, gives her a big slobbery kiss (and a diamond the size of the check this couple is likely to receive from Twentieth Century Fox) on nationwide TV, she screams YESSSSSS into the camera and jumps into his arms, and not one word is spoken about race?

Lord, Lord, have we come this far? Is it possible?

Or ... is the 400 pound gorilla still in charge here? The gorilla who says we will NOT discuss race, we will NOT discuss racial equality or inequality, but we WILL pretend everything is just ducky across the land?

Dang it, Plotnik, will you STOP being such a damp sponge? Isn't it obvious that the best cure-all for problems that might seem insurmountable to one generation, but fall naturally in the next, is the passage of enough time? Has enough time really passed, then? Plotnik looks at his watch. He didn't think so, but...hey.

This was not supposed to be another New Year's Resolution, but why not? Resolution Number Four is: Believe that Love Conquers All.

Tomorrow: Tinkerbell.

(Plotnik! Will you Shut UP!!)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Resolution Three: Finish The Damn Stories.

Resolution Three is simple: Finish the damn stories. Finish the damn songs. Finish the damn music. Here, commit yourself to print:

1) The Bakery Stories. Are they stories or songs or both? DECIDE! FINISH THEM! RECORD THEM OR PRINT THEM OR THROW THEM AWAY!

2) The Family Stories. FINISH THEM!

3) 'Who Will Be Our Mandela,' 'The Dream Dies Hard,' 'Watsonville,' 'Bum Be Um Be Baby' and 'Culiacan.' They're DONE, DUMMY! RECORD THEM!

Also, work seriously on that jump shot before it disappears entirely.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Resolution Two: They Can't All Have Four Feet

"It's a good thing the kids don't live in the same city we do," The Great Plotnik heard himself saying yesterday. "This way, we have to make some friends."

What Plottie meant was his children have gone home. BZ left early this morning and PD, 5H and BI left New Year's Day. But anyway, kids and friends are different. Kids walk in the house and its theirs. They sprawl out all over it, occupy every inch, go into all the rooms, know what's in the closets. They're comfortable: they know where you keep the beer. When they get tired, they lie down on the sofa and fall asleep while you rub their feet.

Your friends know they're at your house, not at their house. This means they are polite, sit where they are told to, and when they get tired they don't stretch out on the sofa to take a nap. And when you go to their house, you sit on the sofa, or at the dinner table, and if you feel like a taco you don't raid their refrigerator to find tortillas, salsa and avocados.

But we all need closer friends. To do that, we need to be closer friends. Women have closer friends than men do, but women need closer friends too. Everyone does.

In this convoluted manner, Plotnik has come to his Second Resolution of 2007:

Get to know the friends better that he already has.

Making new friends is fine, but Plottie doesn't need more friends, he needs better friends.

If The Great Plotnik asks himself 'who have I run into in these last few years that I liked instantly?' he could probably list...half a dozen people, anyway, maybe more.

If he asks himself 'and what did I do to move this friendship forward?' the answer would be: 'Basically Zippo.'

The only addendum to this resolution must be: They Can't All Have Four Feet.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Resolution One: No More Huge Prawns

The Great Plotnik has decided to devote this week to New Year's Resolutions. The problem is he is pretty sure his New Year's Resolutions for 2007 were his New Year's Resolutions for 2006 and not much has changed. Clearly, new, more easily achieved resolutions are called for here.

So for 2007 Resolution One, The Great Plotnik resolves not to order any more large prawns, unless he is in a place where they have just caught them. Mozambique, yes. South Africa, yes. Peru, yes. Great Barrier Reef, yes. New Orleans, probably. But in California they are nothing more than supermodels -- pretty, but not a scrap of taste.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Chiefie's Birthday 2007


It's the Chief's 96th birthday today -- or his third, depending on how you look at things. The Plotniks toasted him over the holidays, and are thinking about him this morning.

Last night, Team Plotnik went to La Ciccia for dinner. Some of it was delicious. It was a red-letter evening all around, because everyone was together in one city in one spot for one countable period of time. Afterwards, BZ went to a party and PD and 5H intended too, but...well, you get tired earlier than you expect sometimes. So Five Plotniks watched the fireworks over the city at the stroke of midnight, while four drank a celebratory vodka cream and the fifth waited for hers a little while later.

These are special moments. Everybody knows it. All of us also know how lucky we are. If 2007 can possibly be as good as 2006, The Great Plotnik will be a righteously happy man.
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