The Great Plotnik

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Jesus Hopped the A Train: 4 1/2 Stars with Three Tokens

Whatever San Francisco Playhouse is eating, we want some. One production after another jumps off the stage and grabs the audience by the throat. This season we've already had 'Reckless' and 'Three Seconds in the Key' and 'The Ride Down Mt. Morgan,' all first-class, well acted and tightly directed productions, and now Stephen Adly Guirgis's 'Jesus Hopped the A Train' takes us through nearly two hours of subway-crunching drama and leaves us jumping up to beg for more.

Man! You're going to have to look long and hard to remember two more perfectly cast leads than Carl Lumbly as Lucius Jenkins and Daveed Diggs as Angel Cruz, both killers, both incarcerated, both guilty of their crimes and like them, you want them to get out of jail...well, maybe Lucius could go live in a far-away neighborhood if not on another planet.

As always, Susi Damilano is perfect as Angel's lawyer and Gabriel Marin, as the sadistic prison guard Valdez, would steal the show if it weren't for Lumbly and Diggs. But the real star is playwright Guirgis's dialogue, helped along by Bill English's crisp direction. It is clear that Guirgis has never matched the power of 'Jesus Hopped the A Train,' his first success (written in 2001), not even with last year's good-but-not-on-this-level 'Our Lady of 121st Street.'

Four smashes in a row. You've got to wonder how far SF Playhouse can run this string?

The Great Plotnik Theater Awards Division awards 'Jesus Hopped the A Train' 4 1/2 stars with three tokens: one for Valdez's smirk, one for Lucius's barely constrained fury while doing leg kicks -- Lucius and Valdez make us want to run for our lives -- and one for Daveed Diggs who has honed in on Angel's sense of terrified bravado. Him, we want to hug.

Go see this show. You've got until April 8.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Rooming House is Calling the Shots * * *

Few people know the post-war history of Japanese-Americans and African-Americans in San Francisco. The Fillmore had once been Japan Town, but, when the Japanese were removed to detention camps during the war, blacks, mostly from the South, moved in to work in war industries and in the shipyards. Then, after the war, the Japanese-Americans came back but were not welcomed, while the African-Americans lost their jobs to returning white servicemen. Eventually, much of the Fillmore was razed for urban development. This is the historical backdrop to Philip Kan Gotanda's 'After the War' at A.C.T.

How is the show? Well, to begin with, the set is amazing -- Donald Eastman's circa-1948 San Francisco rooming house in the Fillmore District revolves 360 degrees on stage, as the house lights land on various characters residing in each room, each of whom has a story to tell. Actors run down stairs and up fire escapes as one scene ends, the house revolves, and another scene begins. The set is a tour de force.

So, 'After the War' is fantastic, right? Well, it's going to be. Right now it feels a little like watching As The World Turns. The scenes change so fast that few characters have any time to connect with each other, especially in the critical relationship between Chet, the Japanese-American trumpeter, who runs the rooming house, and Earl, his African-American roomer and friend. It's as if the rooming house is directing the play, showing itself off to the detriment of the plot.

But this is the kind of thing that happens in World Premieres. It will all change as everyone gets more familiar with his role and they simplify characters and tell the rooming house to chill a bit. 'After the War' is going to be great, but it isn't yet. I'd think about getting tickets for the end of the run.

Now, then ratings: The Great Plotnik Theater Awards Division awards 'After the War' a star for the set, a star for the story and a star for Mr. Oji. Three stars, but it shoulda been more. Woulda been more. Will be more.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Urban Homestead: Pictures of Stiletto City

Last weekend, The Great Plotnik took this photo out the window of the Flyaway Bus on its way from LAX to Union Station. This Urban Homesteader is about to enter his urban homestead, which he has set up on the sidewalk above the Downtown Clover Leaf Interchange.

In this photo, taken ten seconds later, he's inside his house. The bump is him. Shortly afterwards, as the bus sat waiting for a light, Plot saw the tip of an umbrella pop through the blue plastic, as Homie was trying to use the umbrella as a tent pole. Then, the bus roared away, coating the homestead with diesel glurrpp.

When people think about Stiletto City, they see Hollywood and Beverly Hills and Malibu Beach. If they drive on the freeway they see endless tract houses, mini malls, auto repair shops and burger joints. Few know about the neighborhood where PD, 5H and B-I live, studded with glorious Crafstman homes and even some beautifully restored Victorians.

Sooner or later, anyone who comes to the old hood ends up at Cafe Tropical. Baby I has been there many times, and she's only four months old.

After a fantastic cup of cafe con leche, one or two empanadas de queso and maybe a slice of guayaba pie, it's time to think about dinner. You really can't go wrong with El Caserio -- an Italian/Ecuadorian family restaurant where the Italian food might be good, but nobody knows because we always order from the Ecuadorian side of the menu, like this Churrasco.

And don't forget the flowers blooming at Mummy Plotnik's in March: golden kalanchoe, purple and white azaleas and red and orange clivia.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Dang, She's Cute

You've got to have some tiny little feetsers to fit into these pink shoes.

Baby I has taken several jumps forward since a month ago, when The Great Plotnik and The Great Ducknik saw her last. She can run and jump and play piano and hold her head up to look around, and OK so I lied about the first three, so sue me. But almost.

Staci has pointed out that when a little girl wears pink, everyone thinks she's a girl but if she wears anything else they think she's a boy. If a little boy wears anything at all they think he's a boy, unless he wears pink, depending on his hometown. Baby I probably confuses people in this outfit, but The Great Plotnik thinks she looks like a million bucks.

If the OLI job really does dry up, Plot has found another employer. This guy puts on his Dodger jacket, festoons his guitar with an American flag and hangs around the Flyaway Bus Stop at Union Station, singing this song: "In America, the women are the boss, the women are the boss, the women are the boss." He must need some time off. Plot could play this song on ukelele.

Dang, she's cute.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Home is Where the Sushi is

It's Tuesday night and the Plotniks have finished their take-out sushi at home after a several hour delay at LAX for mechanics to put a new starter in the starboard engine of the 757. The delay wasn't really all that bad, seeing as flying home on one engine would have been so much worse. The best thing was that the captain kept everyone updated every few minutes, and when he said estimated takeoff time has been changed to 5PM, he meant 5PM and the plane actually took off at 5PM.

Delays are part of flying. Plot used the time in the airport to have a conversation with a guy from the Gaspe Peninsula, below Newfoundland, who had flown into LAX from Ontario and had a seven hour layover for a 15 hour nonstop flight to Australia. Now THAT'S a long day. You get off those long nonstops and your legs are like olive oil.

It's very cold and windy here tonight, after delicious heat down South. It is recharging to Plot to see Mummy Plotnik looking so good and feeling relatively chipper these days. She slows down when she has to so she can speed up if she needs to. She really is remarkable. Plot has said it before and he'll say it again: does this lady in red look anywhere close to 92 years old?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Baby I Has Learned a New Trick

Yes, she's a little kisser now. Yesterday, as Plot and Duck were babysitting for her, she also learned to clap her hands to the beat as Plot played the guitar and Duck moved her hands. It was a successful attempt to get her to take a nap. After the 250th verse of "Pretty Baby Isabella," sung in any number of languages, she finally closed her eyes.

Tonight P and D will sleep at Baby I's house. Oh, boy.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

No Isabella Sightings

Sunday morning in Stiletto City. Plotnik drove Ducknik through his old neighborhood last night, and even into his old High School. It was all mildly amusing, except for the Hummer parked in his old driveway.

In The Great Plotnik's High School days, his school was called the Braves. Now it's the Patriots. The old logo was some kind of tommahawk. Now what is it, a Cruise Missle?

Just north of the school, past the old donut shop that used to continually get busted for concealing drugs (we never knew what kind) in the cherry jelly donuts, the neighborhood has become Vietnamese, Persian and Central American. The food's a whole lot better than it used to be, but everything else looks pretty much the same.

No Isabella sightings yesterday. Shall make up for that in an hour. It's time for Cafe Tropical, a Cuban cafe con leche, guayaba con queso and a big glass of kisses from Baby I.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Yes, Blogmaid, There is a Computer Cable

We finally remembered the cable that connects the digital camera to the computer. Here in Stiletto City, there are babies everywhere, but only One Baby, if you catch my drift.

Yesterday afternoon TGP and TGD spent time with Baby I and her parents, and last night more time with Mummy Plotnik, Baby I and The Great Five Head. Everyone around here is totally exhausted. Isabella has a voice box on her, and has learned to use it. When she falls asleep people around her do too.

Yes, PP, that's your giraffe she's cuddling. She's so gorgeous. It's that in-between time, after cute little Baby but before Cute Little Toddler, when it's hard to figure out what is bothering her. In the meantime, Grandpa loves every minute he gets with her. His ears are shot anyway.

Last night, while four generations of Plotniks were eating takeout Thai food, The Great PD was at a LA Bachelor Party. Can there be any other city in the world where one of the items on the menu would be a Kobe Beef Corn Dog?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Hi there Wally

Time flies, doesn't it? TIAPOS was fun last night, but it was always better when Wally was there and Julie came to pick him up.

Leaving for the Magical World of Baby I in a few hours. Keep you posted.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Staying the Course

The more you read about all religions, the more similar they all get. Most of the time the message boils down to this: I was Weak, now I'm Strong. I was a Slave, now I'm Free. I was Empty (before I discovered Ra) but now I'm Filled (with Ra).

Most importantly, when I die, I will go to Ra. I will live forever. Depending on which Ra I believe in, there may be virgins.

The Great Plotnik has been preparing to host a seder at World Headquarters this year, for the first time ever, and this has led him to much reading about ancient history, which is basically about Ra, and about warfare. It is always important to remember, when reading about warfare, that you're only reading the history that the people who won the war want you to read about, and the first thing conquerors always do, after killing, enslaving and whooptydoo, is to outlaw the old Ra and establish the new Ra.

We think Bush has a hard head? Read about Pharaoh and the plagues. God visits one misery after another upon Pharaoh: Frogs. Locusts. Famine. Boils. Death of Livestock. Death of First Born. One disaster after the other, and all Pharaoh has to do to stop the carnage is let the Israelites cross the river and go back to Canaan where there's another famine raging anyway, big deal.

But Pharaoh knows in his heart that Ra is on his side, so he insists on staying the course. And stay the course he does. Cue the Angel of Death.

We all know how the story ends. Yul Brynner chases Charlton Heston to the Red Sea, and the friendly gefilte fish use all their gelatin to part the Red Sea so the Israelites, who are carrying their matzos and jars of horseradish, can get safely across. Then the gefiltes swim away and the water sweeps down and drowns Pharaoh's army and that's that.

But the thing is: supposedly this all took place around 1420 B.C., but it wasn't written down until almost a thousand years later. I ask you: what do you remember from 1,000 years ago? Plotnik can't remember where he put his keys yesterday.

So historically accurate, it maybe isn't. Still, the important part is this: Yesterday we were slaves, and today we're free. That's a great message and one worth celebrating, and all thanks to Ra and the friendly gefiltes.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


The Great Plotnik had never made gumbo until yesterday (and the day before). It always seemed a bit daunting -- making a roux, and all that seafood, and at least twenty steps -- but he and Ducknik have been living next door to The Gumbo Doctor for years and they've tasted unbelievably delicious concoctions that have come out of GD's gumbo pot, and some day maybe she's gonna move to Sonoma, or the Plotniks to Argentina, and then what? Fortunately, the fabulous Pat Conroy cookbook came along, and there was the recipe for the gumbo Conroy made while writing The Great Santini, and the logic goes like this: Pat Conroy is a great writer so he must be a great cook. Plotnik is a pretty good writer, so how bad can his gumbo be?

Two days later: YUM-MO.

The first day you simmer a chicken in herbs for your stock, and make your roux. The next morning you skim the fat off the broth, drain the excess oil off your roux, then cut up the chicken, throw it into the stock pot with the roux and continue simmering, adding more herbs and spices and vegetables, then more file to thicken it up a bit, then your andouille sausage and tomato puree, then at the very end you add your crayfish tails, shrimp and scallops. Meanwhile, that broth just keeps reducing and adding more flavor.

At the last moment, The Great Plotnik realized he had just made gumbo for 15 people. So he got on the phone and called The Great Domin-Nik and J-Whacky and got them to come over to sample the goods.

Gumbo is a lot of work. Is it worth it? Yeah. But the better alternative is to get invited to the Gumbo Doctor's house and eat up all the different gumbos that occasionally turn up over there -- her mother's, her brother's, her friend Sunny's, and of course the Gumbo Doctor's Gumbo. How does Plotnik's stack up? Oh, probably not as good as any of them, but it sure tasted nice over brown saffron rice.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Ice and Advil.

"Yes, ice. That would be a good idea. What do you think?" says Dr. U-Think? when Plotnik finally gets hold of him Monday evening. At some point during the last basketball game of the morning on Sunday, Plot felt a pain in his heel that only got worse as the game went on. He could have, should have, thought about, wanted to say "That's it for me, guys," but his team had just won the game before, and there were only 10 guys left, including Plot. If he'd have gone home, the game would have been over for everyone, and there would have been at least a few thinking: "He let us down. He's old."

So he played, and when the game was over and his team had won? lost? he grabbed his bag, hopped back over the fence, drove home, took a shower, and realized he was going to have trouble walking.

At dinner Sunday night it was harder than it should have been to dodge the hobos in the Mission. Monday morning, it was worse, which was when Plotnik called Dr. U-Think?.

The truth is, the older The Great Plotnik gets, the more these seemingly inconsequential things happen. A right heel that hurts to walk on means pressure on the left knee, and that's his most vulnerable spot. If he tweaks his left knee again, it'll only be a few weeks 'til the right one acts up. This is like lose Vietnam, lose India, then Europe, only this time it's true.

Plottie has always figured he'd crash and burn on the court, but has never thought about what is more likely: he'll just twist something and tweak something else and turn something else and bruise something else and when all the twists and tweaks and turns and bruises add up he'll be playing billiards or riding around in a golf cart.

But in the meantime, there's ice. Ice and Advil. It's amazing what good medicines these two are. Even Dr. U-Think? said so. "Advil, yes. That's a good idea. And ice. Yes. Ice and Advil. What do you think?"

Monday, March 19, 2007

Allen Iverson's opinion about the chicken. It's chicken! It's just...chicken!

Many thanks to The Great Dancenik for alerting TGP to the Borowitz Report today. Indeed, the Zyprexaâ„¢ March Bipolar Disorder (new, sponsored and more politically correct name for March Madness) is right around the corner.

Once again, The Great Plotnik appears to be out of step with his fellow restaurant reviewers. Though the two women at the table announced that the Fried Chicken at Maverick is delicious, TGP has to rate it no better than third of the three fried chicken establishments that the Shmonikle rated the three best in SF.

For one thing: 2 pieces for $18! Come on Dudes. How many Ps can you put in Pretentious? This is fried chicken, and it's good fried chicken, but it's not great fried chicken. Plotnik is starting to sound like (NBA Reference Alert) Allen Iverson: Chicken! It's chicken! It's just...chicken! Chicken! It's just...chicken!

The Front Porch is the juiciest and The Hard Knox Cafe is the best. Maverick...maybe terrific for $10. But $18? With a thimble of mustard greens? Jeez, Louise, it's chicken! It's just...chicken!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Wearin' o' the Reddish Brown

Little Jack's Dad and Little Jack's Mom really know how to throw a party. Their plan is simple: invite everybody you know, plus everybody in the neighborhood, plus all your brothers, sisters, your in-laws and their parents, plus grandparents, children and all the friends who go school with anyone else's children, at St. Cecilia's or St. Ignatius or St. Matilda's or Holy Mother of Sacred Beef of Corn. People pour in and out of their house all day and all night like beer from the tap, and, incidentally, there's a ton of that too.

This is Little Jack's Dad. He is the bbq chef, and he doesn't do anything in a small way. Yesterday he only bbq'd 80 pounds of corned beef. Yes, 80 pounds, and it's the famous corned beef, the recipe Plotnik stole after the first time he tasted it, the one where you boil the corned beef in Guinness and then finish it on the bbq with a dijon/honey/brown sugar glaze. Gawrshallmighty.

This means Plot and Duck were blessed to eat two St. Pat's corned beef dinners this year, the first scrumptious one at Silent Bill and Mush's and the second at Little Jack's Dad and Little Jack's Mom's house.

This is Little Jack's Mom. She is your Basic Green, Irish to the leprechaun core. She has 15 brothers and 24 sisters, or maybe more, and they all live within half a block of each other. They all seem like really nice people too. Actually, Plot and Duck know that's true because they've been blessed for years to be invited to various parties or camping trips with the Lucases and Monaghans, mostly Monaghans.

This is the corned beef. Reddish brown and ridiculously, idiotically, perhaps criminally delicious.

This is the Irish Soda Bread. No pictures of the potatoes, the cabbage, the carrots, the salads, the appetizers, the cream puffs or the little shamrock cookies.

This is Little Jack's Dad with his brother Little Jack's Uncle. The intersting part here is that Uncle Jim, on the right, used to work with Plotnik at On Line for Idiots, and it was he who introduced the Plotniks to their contractor, his brother, and the rest is history.

How many of you have used a contractor you ever wanted to see again after the job was finished? Only the Plotniks. Little Jack's Dad is a fine contractor but damn, can he cook.

But let's be honest. Plotnik let everyone down. Unless they're kidding: when he was invited to the party he was asked to bring his accordion. Naturally, he figured that they were joking, that like all his other friends nobody ever really wants to hear the accordion, that he would walk in the door with his accordion strapped on and people would start to hoot and haw. Wrong. He has now promised on the Sacred Reddish Brown that he will never, ever, come to another party at Jack's house without bringing his accordion...unless they really are still kidding.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Dervishes

Can it be three years ago this month that the Plotniks were in Istanbul, watching in awe as the dervishes whirled, 'way too fast for the lens to keep them in focus?

Friday, March 16, 2007

I Dunno. Wadda U-Think?

Spring has sprung. Yin has yanged. The first red and white fuscias, the first blue native iris, the first yellow tulips, the first coral daylilies. The tomatoes are in their pots, already planning their greatest production for whenever Plot and Duck are traveling somewhere else.

Man, these keys are loud! Yesterday, The Great Plotnik had his meeting with Dr. U-Think? Plot has decided to call him Dr. U-Think? because no matter what Plotnik asks, the answer is I Dunno, Wadda U-Think? Thankfully, despite unparalleled amounts of previous worry, Plottie appears to be reasonably healthy, at least for the time being, and thanks for asking, though he does wish Dr. U-Think would stop saying things like "Humans are programmed to live until around 35. So, as we age, our bodies are trying to kill us off. Each organ is trying to fail. It is my job as your physician to keep you alive."

"You think?"

Plot has not been hearing all that well lately. Since he was in the office anyway, he reported to Dr. U-Think? that his, Plottie's, hearing was failing. In the middle of his story about Great Uncle Izzie who was stone deaf but until he died at close to 100 insisted on calling on the phone --



"Oh, hi Uncle Iz."


... Dr. U-Think? suggested he look in The Great Ears, before he fit Plot with a hearing aid. Imagine Plot's surprise when the prognosis was that both ears were completely clogged with, well, let's call it Heroic Material.

"Is this something you can treat, Doctor?" Plottie asked.

"I dunno, wadda U-Think?" said Doctor U.

It took five minutes. Today, both ears having been washed out, Plot is hearing trebles he had forgotten about. The refrigerator gives a little vacuum whoosh when the door opens. The You-Got-IM signal is in three parts, not one. The furnace doesn't just go on, it makes a clicking noise first. That is a really annoying fretboard finger noise during that guitar slide.

In sum, The Great Plotnik heartily endorses checking one's ears, and the best reason is you can also hear your wife better. Is this an improvement? I dunno, wadda U-think?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Better See it Now

Yesterday, the Great Plotnik took a ride on the Art Train, which was a special run of the brand new T-Third streetcar. Also along were local journalists, a camera crew and all the artists who had participated in creating artworks for the individual streetcar stops. The concept was fabulous.

The delivery was not. Oooh, those microphones that don't work, those commissioners who can't pronounce anyone's name, those artists who should not be attempting to speak in public. But worst of all was the realization that these shore birds carved into the concrete, these African symbols, these names of historic ships, all done with the finest intentions, will, in very short time, be ground underfoot into the invisibility of grime. MUNI is always broke: they're not likely to be able to maintain streetcar stops on a line that travels through a minority neighborhood. Wish it weren't so, and Plotnik does not have a crystal ball. Hope things change.

Meanwhile, along the line one can see some glorious old buildings, like this church, which stands near a corner of a block that has four other churches and a mosque. Four churches and a mosque on one block means religion is the biggest business here. The city's idea, of course, is that development will follow along the streetcar line and improve living conditions for people who live here. So let's enjoy this church before it becomes a Blockbuster.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

She loves hugging her sockplotnik.

Baby I loves her sockplotnik a lot. You can see by her smile that it reminds her of The Great P and The Great D.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Message to BZWZ about the Fish in the Jar

The Great Plotnik would like to share this article from March 16, 2003 with his daughter, the one who thinks you can't have Passover without stinking, quivering, and now-we-know-talking jellied fish that comes out of a jar with a screw top:

Gefilte fish calls on Iraq to disarm
By Reuven Koret March 16, 2003

A jar of gefilte fish, opened in Israel, has reportedly issued an ultimatum for Saddam Hussein to abandon his weapons of mass destruction. Coming on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Purim, the day that President George W. Bush has defined as a "moment of truth," the fishy comment has electrified the local community.

The utterance comes close on the gills of another talking fish story from the United States, published in The New York Times, regarding a large carp about to be gutted which reportedly shouted in Hebrew to two men, one a Hassidic Jew and the other an Ecuadorian immigrant, that "the end is coming" and "account for yourself."

The Israeli man who opened the gefilte fish jar, Garel S. Karp of Bnei Brak, said that the voice was speaking in English, but with a Yiddish accent. "I twisted the cap off the jar, there was a little pop, and suddenly there was a squeaky little voice saying: "Oy, vey, tomorrow's the day. Time has come for Mister Saddam to show his bomb." Karp expressed uncertainty over whether the last word might have been "bum."

Karp's wife, Sadie, confirmed his account. "I couldn't believe it. Garel and I were sitting around the dinner table and we hear this little voice coming from the jar, just after he opened it. I looked inside the jar and I could see the jelly still quivering."
OK, Great BZWZ, is this it? Is this really necessary? Well, if it is, The Great Plotnik is pleased to inform you he has found these options: Sugar Free Gefilte Fish, Pre-cooked Gefilte Fish and Carb Free Gefilte Fish with Splenda & Apple Blintzes.

The blintzes do a mean version of "If I Were a Rich Man."