The Great Plotnik

Saturday, May 31, 2008

"That Woman is a One-Man Band..."

...said the innkeeper at Ferngrove, in Guerneville on the Russian River. She was referring to the lady who organizes the annual Stumptown Parade and Whiskereeno Pre-Parade. These take place today at 10, but by then Plot, Duck and many others who are part of tonight's wedding will be hiking on the beach South of Jenner.

Sarah Lucas is getting married tonight, and it's a special occasion. Sarah's Mom, Susan, was The Great Plotnik's mentor and friend in college, and when she and her husband Chuck migrated to New York, Chuck's office-mate at the New York Federal Reserve Bank just happened to be the lady who would transquackify into The Great Ducknik.

So Susan made dinner in her Upper West Side apartment and Chuck invited Duck and Plot, and the next thing they knew...well, not the next thing. Duck was ill. She took one bite of the lamb and knew she was going to throw up. So Plot drove her home.

Still, sometime later, Plot and Duck tried again and this time it took. And here they are, MUCHOS years later, at the wedding of Chuck and Susan's daughter Sarah, who was born five days after Plot and Duck's wedding.

Chuck is now married to Debbie, and theirs is the miraculous home in Deer Isle, Maine, where Plot, Duck and The Great BZWZ spent the marvellous week the summer before last.

Last night in Northern Shmalifornia, everyone drove down to The Big Yellow House, a picturesque lodge in Monte Rio, including quite a few people Plot and Duck hadn't seen in more than thirty years. There also were the children of old, old friends. The kids are now grown up. One's a brain surgeon. One's in her third year of medical school. One's finishing her doctorate at Yale. One's finishing his at Scripps. And Sarah is involved with economic development in Africa, where she has been in contact with The Great BZWZ.

Plot and Duck are grownups themselves. It's weird.

Lots of stories. Now, after hot scones in the motel, it's time to head for the coast.

Friday, May 30, 2008

So Long Lafitte

It is with sadness that The Great Plotnik announces the passing of the infamous Lafitte Pussycat (can't find a photo, but we will), the terrorist cat who lived next door and made our cat R.L.'s life so miserable for so many months when we first moved to World Headquarters.

Lafitte was a big, orange Alpha Pussy.

Poor R.L. was very disoriented when the Plotniks wrenched him from Stiletto City, took the vet's advice and gave him a sedative (never again) for the ride up, then plunked him in his new house. When he woke up, he took one look at things and ran into the backyard and was not seen for several days. When he finally showed back up, he was starving, had a scar on his ear and a new orange enemy living next door.

Not really an enemy, though -- Lafitte saw his job as enforcing territorial imperatives. He had long considered World Headquarters his headquarters, and wasn't about to let a newbie gray-and-white Hollywood kid change his mind.

What R.L. had going for him, though, was fat. He was twice Lafitte's size. It was probably that brawn, and R.L.'s non-Alpha nature (he was probably a Psi if not a total Omega) that allowed the two to work things out and become, if not friends, certainly respected compatriots whose passing one another on the garden path deserved a twitch of the tail but not much else.

Then, when R.L. was dying, Lafitte decided he would watch out for him, to scare away the demons that cats must fear when they crawl into a dark place to spend their final moments.

R.L. chose the artichoke plants at the rear of the yard, and Lafitte plunked himself down fifteen feet away to wait with him. Nothing and no one could budge him. If you came near, Lafitte would arch his back and snarl. This went on for several days. Plotnik has always considered Lafitte's stewardship of R.L.'s final passage to be a supreme sign of friendship, and he loved Lafitte even more afterwards.

The old boy moved to Sonoma last year, and was about to celebrate his 21st birthday. A little frail and quite thin, apparently he fell into the swimming pool, thrashed around and was unable to get out before he had a seizure, and...well.

Adios, Lafitty Kitty, you were a fine old boy. All we Plotniks wish you well. When you see R.L. we hope he kicks your ass just once, before settling down to a comfortable life together of old times, stories and endless self-opening cans of tuna.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Happy Birthday to Commano and World Headquarters, Too

Congratulations to No More Commas, Period, otherwise known as Commano, on her third Bloggie Birthday. Clearly, they have heard of her in Stiletto City too, to which this Diamond of Honor on Shmentura Boulevard attests. You can access Ms. Mush's Commano here.

Thinking about Commano's birthday made Plottie look at the dates on his Archives, and lo and behold! He, too, celebrated a meaningful birthday a few days ago. On May 25, The Great Plotnik completed three years of continuous posting, of driveling while Plottish, of getting into the agreeable habit of pausing each morning to consider what it was that made the previous day special, that caused a particular photo or story or election result or plate of food or song or poem or flower in the garden to be worthy of being recorded for posterity.

Man! Remember this one from New Orleans when the flood waters were still rising?

Blogging is the ultimate ego-stroke, because it allows us all to blast our personal sentiments into the Blogosphere, like individual rockets heading from our house to your house. If you don't read them, or don't comment, the blog postings keep going anyway, zipping around the world, where they touch down in the most unexpected places. When something in the posting makes you wish to comment, it is the blogger's finest moment. He/she feels justified.

The bane, as well as the glory of blogging is that there are no editors, other than self-imposed ones. Plotnik has discovered what happens when his feelings collide with those of people he loves. But that's the price you pay to write and compose. Communication can be messy, sticky, convoluted and confusing.

But it's the best chance we've got to stay together. There are only two rules: Be honest and, like Elvis said, don't be cruel. Love from The Great Plotnik World Headquarters to The Great Whoever And Wherever You Izzes.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bobwa's New Toy and Other Stiletto Contemplations

Gwamma Bobwa got a new fire truck. Belly showed her how to play with it and press the buttons to make a voice go "Help! Fire!" Bobwa LOVED it!

Poor Belly. Every breath she takes, every move she makes, someone is taking her picture.

If she looks up, SNAP. If she plays with a new puzzle, SNAP. Bompa (previously Ampa) really can't help himself.

Belly and her family live in Old Stiletto City, which is not New Stiletto City. There's the new city, which stretches from the Ocean to Dodger Stadium, and there is the old one, which starts at Third Base in Elysian Park and heads East and South. New Stiletto is filled with Very Important People who live in houses with huge doors, who drive extremely fast and who are indignant about illegal immigration behind the backs of their Mexican and Salvadoran house helpers. Old Stiletto City is where the helpers live. Old Stiletto is filled with with taco stands and kim chee factories and tire recapping shops and check cashing huts and they also have the only Urban State Park in America.

People in New Stiletto eat Nouvelle Sell-ebrity Food, tiny portions on large plates, where every green bean has a name. But in a few places, there is still the memory of the real stuff.

The Old City, though, has sushi, bhan mi, kal-bi, entomatados, bbq from Mongolia and Bangkok and Alabama, laksa, amazing combinations like Ecuadorian-Italian and the most delectable shrimp tacos you ever tasted.

At Union Station, in Old Stiletto, you can catch a train or a bus or wait by beautifully crafted ironwork fences for a Flyaway Bus to LAX.

The Great Plotnik grew up in what he would now call New Stiletto, but lived as an adult in Old Stiletto. He now lives in Saint Plotniko, which is new and old at the same time. On the airplane on Friday, Plot sat next to a couple from London who had been on a round-the-world plane ticket and were finishing up their trip. They had gone London-Shanghai-Hong Kong-Tahiti-LA and were heading back to London.

But they had just bought a house in Saint Plotniko, in Clarendon Heights. They said S.P. is their favorite city in the world -- just the right size. Which is what Plotnik thinks. So there.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Home is Where the Mojo Is (Hopefully)

Plotniks are home. Photos, as always, tomorrow. This one was taken on the street in front of Chez PunquiDunqui. Right now, there is some important mojo to deal with, and it involves all four limbs and Plot's not sure his will bend in the right direction. Game Four Mojo can be exceedingly involved.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Ampa, Bobwa and Wo

Finally, sunshine. Mummy Plotnik keeps her house really hot but nothing like her poor, very ill neighbor Beanie, down the street, where Plot and Mummy P. walked yesterday. Plot checked the thermostat in Beanie's house and it was set at 84, and the poor woman was cold. Next to that, it's positively balmy at Mummy P's.

Plot and Duck baby-sat Big Mouth Isabella last night. It was a total gas. She has a million words now, many of which sound roughly the same, but her parents can understand them and Plot and Duck are getting really good at it too. Plot is still "Ampa" and sometimes "Bampa" and Duck is "Bob-wa" and Mummy P (whose real name is Rose) is "Wo."

Punky-D and 5H have a beautiful photo from their wedding, Plotnik's favorite photo in the world, maybe. It shows Punky and 5Head dancing in the second line on the streets of New Orleans, on their Wedding Day, in their wedding clothes. Next to Punky is Mummy P, and next to Mummy P is Grandpa Chiefie. He still had two years to go, then. The looks on everyone's faces, as they dance down the street together, is pure bliss.

So Isabella walked up to that photo the other day. PD said: "Who is this?" and she looked at her Dad in the photo and said "Da-Dee." Then he said "Who is this?" and she looked at Mummy P in the photo and said "Wo!" Then he said "Who is this?" and she looked at The Chief in the photo. She thought awhile and said "Bye-Bye."

Ah, out of the mouths of Babes. Heading for LACMA today to walk through the American Art wing, home tomorrow.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Saturday in the Old Nabe

Yesterday, Plot and Punk found themselves in Lincoln Heights, a Latino/Asian neighborhood just north of Chinatown, which looks like a shopping street in Mexico City, but which also looks back on some very picturesque views of downtown. Best of all is Tacos Chapalita. Ai, yai, yai, you get four shrimp tacos and a Coke for $5 in a little box, and they are impossibly tasty and crunchy, plus hot as hell. Sure, you don't HAVE to swallow the little green grilled chiles, but, yo.

Nicky lives around the corner from the taqueria, it is said, and Plot half-expected to see him at the little outdoor chairs, wolfing down a few baskets of shrimp. If you're reading this, NP, great neighborhood.

Plot and Punk sat on Valentine Street talking with Sue Borden for half an hour before heading out to Lincoln Heights -- Sue is a very old friend who still lives around the corner, in the old neighborhood. Sounds like things change but don't change, people come but don't ever quite go, just like Plotnik. Her daughter Mandy was The Great BeezieWeezie's very best friend all the years the Plotniks lived a block away.

BZ phoned -- she'll be in Senegal next week. Trips to Africa are starting to feel like part of the normal conversation.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Walking with Belly, Mischief and a Little Mojo

The mojo was tested last night, here in Stiletto City. Although the Lakers were playing at 6pm, Plot, Duck, PD, 5H and Belly decided to go have dinner at The Great Five Head's favorite sushi bar in Little Tokyo. It's a small spot, and Plotnik is here to report their spicy tuna rolls were the absolute best maki he has ever eaten, anywhere, anytime. It was a fabulous dinner. But there was no TV. Plottie wasn't sure what he'd find when he got back to Chez PunquiDunqui in the 3rd Quarter.

Not to worry. The Spurs were overmatched last night. Plot was sure not to leave his chair once he sat down in it in front of the TV, but aside from that no other inter-alien connections were necessary. Sunday is the next game, but that venue changes to Texas, and in Texas all bets are off. Plottie will have to concentrate on the proper angles, the correct motions and all other Whizbangs of Wonder. He will do his best. You know he will.

Belly is moving really fast. She's as cute as ever, no, cuter, and trying to talk about everything. PD and 5H are still able to keep up with her, but just barely. It's just a matter of time 'til she hacks their credit cards and flies off to Pamplona for the running of the bulls.

Yesterday was the first time ever that Plot and Duck went for a walk with Belly and Mischief when Belly was walking, instead of being pushed in a stroller. She wants to hold Mischief's leash while she walks, except that he's always in a hurry to get to the next clump of sniffable greenery. So she tries and tries to hang on, but he eventually pulls the leash out of her hand and Plotnik runs and gets it, while PD consoles Belly and tells sad-eyed Belly that Mischief is just excited and that's why he walks so fast and she can try again. And then she tries again. We didn't get very far but we had a wonderful, wonderful walk in the sun.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Upselling in the Age of Xog

Here is the story Plotnik read last night at TIAPOS.

Upselling in the Age of Xog

What has happened to the surly, obese, job-guaranteed-for-life warlocks from Xog who used to work at the Post Office? Now they're glad to see you. It's all about upselling.

"Would you like any envelopes with that?"

"First Class is $2 but for only $2.35 more we can slice a day off the arrival time."

"How about stamps? Do you have enough stamps at home?"

Across the street at the bank, a branch once filled with jowly men in fat, shiny shoes carrying out high-volume transactions, but now deserted, a young woman in a neat, black pants suit with her hair pinned high calls out: "Hello! Welcome to Bank of America!" She is wearing high heels and everyone else in the bank is Chinese. She looks like the Olympic torch. With an upturned palm on the end of a slender wrist, she motions Plotnik towards the teller windows.

"Good afternoon and how may I zerve you?" says the teller with a suspicious smile. It's Mr. Grumpy, the same dyspeptic Eastern European with the terrible skin who usually just sneers and stamps your deposit slip with a motion so disinterested that the ink smears. It is disconcerting to see Mr. Grumpy has teeth, to realize he is on the front line of B of A's search for the New Age Customer.

Plotnik would like to smile back at Mr. Grumpy, but Mr. Grumpy is not very convincing. The phrases don't exactly leap from his heart, they hiss like steam from a busted radiator cap.

"Vould you like to know about our auto loanz. Zis is terrific time to refinance you boat. Is zere other tranzaction I could help you vit. Vell, den. Sir, have great day."

Something is going on in America. It can't be good. There was a time when the guy at the bank and the woman at the post office had prized, respected jobs. But TV changed that. Now, the only respected job in America is a life of crime. Bank tellers and post office clerks have been forced to spend their careers envious of everyone they see.

And economic conditions have gotten worse. The world is running out of food and fuel. It's harder to survive. Xog is paying attention. If you want to keep your job in America you have to upsell. You have to be nice.

Even at Bell Market. Bell Market was sold last year to Ralph's and Ralph's has now sold it to The Vigilant Vegan, a fancy health food store. So all the employees know their jobs are going to disappear within the year, which makes them as friendly as artillery fire. Asking a Bell Market employee where they keep the olive oil always leads to a dispirited discussion about labor and management. Still, they must try to upsell.

The store manager walks by and sees Plotnik staring at the cookies, the same cookies that are two bucks everywhere else but four bucks here.

"Could you use some help locating an item, Sir?" he asks.

"No thanks, I..."

"Have you tried these, mmm yummy mmm?" he says, pointing to the chocolate covered Hope Diamonds, for $7.75 a box.

"No. Have you?"

"Ha ha ha. That's really funny. Well, please let me know if we can serve you in any way," he says, whistling as he walks along his invisible plank, towards the sea teeming with unemployed sharks.

In truth, all the upselling and customer service makes The Great Plotnik gag. He dreads the moment he will pass through the checkout line and store rules will force the poor checker to try to pronounce Plotnik. Meester Pulotaneek? Meester Pa-la-ta-niki? Meester Pulo-tana-neese? Deed I say heem right?"

But there is one safe spot in Bell Market: the fish counter. There is no upselling at the fish counter at Bell Market, because no one is ever behind the fish counter at Bell Market. There are shrimp in the display case but no one to weigh them. You absolutely cannot get service at the fish counter in Bell Market.

There is a little button that rings a bell, so Plotnik, slave to false expectation, pushes it. He hears the bell ring somewhere in back of the fish counter. No one comes. He rings it again. Still, no one comes.

At the other end of the fish counter stands a thin, Japanese man making sushi. He is wearing striped pants and a starched cap. He has a thin mustache. He is working right next to where the fish man would be, if there were a fish man. Plotnik rings and rings the bell, but the sushi maker refuses to raise his head, though it would be impossible for him not to hear the bell ringing. He pats his little fish, he rolls his little eels, he seasons his little rice. But he will not raise his head. He is the sushi man, not the fish man.

Everywhere else in America, employees are trying to upsell their dwindling customers. If this were the Bank of America, the sushi man would be diving into the fish display counter and pulling shrimp out with his teeth, as many as Plotnik wanted. If this were the Post Office, the sushi man would be convincing Plotnik to buy envelopes to send letters to all his friends inviting them over for sushi. But not at Bell Market.

Plotnik can't stand the upselling, but would love a little service. So he walks down to the sushi man's end of the fish counter and stands in front of the thin, Japanese man in the striped pants and starched cap, with the little mustache, who sees Plotnik coming and purses his lips tightly. He pats, he rolls, he seasons, but he will not look up.

"Where is the fish man?" Plotnik says.

"Ling bell," the sushi man advises.

"I have been ringing bell. I have rung this bell for eleven years. No one has ever answered this bell. You know no one will answer this bell."

The sushi man shrugs. "Ling bell," he says.

Some things never change. Plotnik's day has been made. He feels good, justified. It's hard not to smile.

The Great Plotnik thinks: If I were Christian and not Plotnikkish, I might say: "Thank you, Jesus, for this fish counter, for this one piece of the old neighborhood that has remained the same."

Somewhere in Heaven, a little bell rings. Jesus calls down: "Would you like a little Buddhism with that?"

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Mulling the Mojo

You will note that this photo of Kobe is not from last night's game. There are certain rules of mojo that may apply. Or they may not apply. It may be bad mojo to post a photo from last night, from a series that is still going on. Or it may be good mojo. That's what makes rooting for a team so difficult. You never know what you're supposed to do.

In the first place, Plotnik didn't realize the Lakers were playing at 6PM, so when he tuned in, an hour later, the game was already tied at 33-33. So it was Plotnik's fault that the Lakers had been outplayed by San Antonio. At halftime the Spurs were 10 points ahead and Plotnik hurried upstairs to bbq some fish for dinner (some fish come from lakes. Lakers. Get it?).

He and Duck ate in a hurry and Plottie ran downstairs: the Lakers were now down by 20. (20. OK, stop watching for 20 minutes.)

So he ran upstairs, told Duck the Lakers were getting smeared, and stopped to wash the dishes and clean up the kitchen.

You never know what will break the spell. Omens are hard to read. What did it this time was cleaning up the kitchen, but that might not help next time. It may have had something to do with the number 20. Or not. Just writing this entry today may be a jinx. Or it may be a boon. How the Hell can you ever be sure?

What is clear, however, is that by the time Plotnik got back downstairs to the TV the San Antonio lead was down to 12, and not too long after that it was only 5, and then the Lakers tied it up, and then they went ahead and then the game was over and it was Victory for the Good Guys.

Right around the same time the Lakers took the lead, the Plotzers, whose game Plottie was monitoring on the computer, scored four unearned runs and went on to defeat the Reds. It is obvious that something happened in the Universe to spark both a Laker and Plotzer victory. The problem is that something is unreadable, unknowable, unfathomable. It can never be counted on.

And yet, you can't win without it. So how do you determine which spell is active and which is inactive? Thinking a little more, Plotnik may have figured it out. It could have been the dryer.

He felt it at the time. When the dryer buzzer went off and Ducknik called out "Honey can you get that, please?" Plotnik knew enough to shout "No!" He knew if he had gotten up from his chair, to turn off the dryer, the Lakers' run would be over (and possibly the same for the Plotzers; this is less clear).

So he stayed put. Games over. Clothes dry. He got lucky.

Plotnik knows he could screw it up completely next time. Damn, this is hard work.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Soon The Radio Can Go Back On

The nomination process is finally almost over. It looks like it will be Obama running against Karl Rove. That's OK. We're ready.

Although Plotnik thinks Alice Cooper would be a fine choice for VEEP, he heard Senator Webb from Virginia speaking yesterday. He's an intelligent guy, a writer who has written, like, books! He also happens to be a Vietnam vet who was Secretary of the Navy. He's white. He's from Virginia. He wears less makeup than Alice. He's a bit full of himself, but is probably the perfect choice.

Of course, there's still Hillary Clinton, who would also be an excellent president herself, not a bad job qualification for the office of Vice President.

This morning, Plotnik heard George Bush talking about, oh, whatever. He's a sincere man, give him that, as we send him out the door and back to Crawford where his village can reclaim him. Never having to hear his malfeasant, malodorous drawl again will be Bush Two's greatest gift to America.

Yes, Plotnik is an elitist. He prefers capable people. The good thing is that all three of the candidates running to replace Bush are intelligent people. This doesn't mean that they will necessarily do intelligent things, but at least any of the three will have the intellectual capacity to understand the issues.

None of the three grew up with silver spoons in their mouths. Maybe they can actually understand what it's like to try and survive in a country where gas is $4 a gallon and Daddy can't buy you a baseball team to run or an oil company to manage.

Neither Obama, Clinton or McCain are born-again. Maybe they won't allow intolerant doctrine or 16th Century religion to cloud their judgement about how America must approach the 21st Century and beyond.

One of Bush's greatest failings was trusting his Texas friends to run the country. There's nothing to suggest that the next President won't do the same thing. But at least these three will have the last eight years to use as a template for how to run a country into the ground. Look at where we were in 2000. Look at us now.

Then start counting. That man's voice is almost silenced from our national debate. Soon, we can turn our radios on again.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Saffron. Save-on. A Paronym?

The Great Plotnik only wanted to know a little more about saffron, so he did a little research. He discovered a very cool new word in the bargain.

It all started because when he went to Rainbow Grocery the other day to take advantage of their excellent spice selection, he noticed he could buy a tiny vial (1 oz.) of Spanish saffron for $6.95 but a different vial (also 1 oz.) of Persian saffron only cost $3.95.

The Great Fefnik, being Persian herself, gave Plottie a huge supply of Persian saffron last year for Christmas. She said there had been floods in Iran so the saffron supply was limited, but her mother had found a source. Fefnik has always insisted that Persian saffron is the best in the world.

This contradicts what the saffron seller in the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul told Plotnik several years ago. He claimed Persian saffron is often adulterated and that Spanish saffron is the very best. "How about Turkish saffron?" Plotnik asked him, but he said "We get ours from the Persians."

Never mind. Spanish saffron is more easily available here, but often only in powdered form, which is not the best way to buy saffron. Once it is crushed, or powdered, it loses its fragrance and some of its taste, though it keeps its prized ability to yellow all food it comes in contact with, such as Persian (or Spanish) rice.

Saffron is the most valuable and expensive spice in the world, by weight, since it comes from the stamens only of a flower that blooms for a short period and must be hand-harvested by Persian (or Spanish) dwarves (or not).

You can also buy Mexican saffron, but it's not saffron at all. It does have some yellowing qualities but no taste.

The important issue here is that The Great Ducknik has become an absolute Saffroholic. The second Plotnik crumbles his teensy bit of crocus sativa stamens into the simmering water in the rice pot, a happy voice bubbles over from Ducknik's desk: "Are we having saffron rice tonight, Hon-neeee I love you I love you?"

OK, one portion of that sentence was a stretch. But Ducknik does have a phenomenal saffron sniffer.

So now the word. When Plotnik was reading about the origins of the English word "saffron" he discovered it comes from the Spanish azafrán, which comes from an Arabic word which itself is a PARONYM of the Persian word.

A paronym refers to a word which sounds ALMOST the same as another word, but has a different meaning. Like "collusion" and "collision." Or "differ" and "defer." Or "Shrek" and "Schmuck."


Of course, Plotnik bought the Persian saffron for $3.95 instead of the Spanish saffron for $6.95. And guess what? It doesn't smell quite as good nor have the same taste. It's still very good. But Ducknik was sitting at her desk and never said a word.

Monday, May 19, 2008

These Comrades Were Funny

Well, Plot and Duck did not score the hat trick last night, but their third theater event of the week was nonetheless quite entertaining. You can read the SF Theater Blog Review of "The Cooking Show with Karimi and Castro" here, but you can't go see it because the show is over, nyah nyah.

Ratings and reviews are always a bit unfair. It's possible that if the Great Plotnik hadn't seen "Bug" on Wednesday and "Octopus" on Saturday, then he might have rated the Sunday performance of "The Cooking Show" a bit higher. But theatre is theatre, and it doesn't seem fair to compare a true legitimate stage piece that has lighting, staging, set design and music with what is basically a set piece for improvisation.

On the other hand, Plot and Duck laughed a lot with Comrades Karimi and Ex last night. And the duo made food and served it to the audience and it was delicious.

Plot is trying very hard to take in as much alternative theater as possible, just to keep his palate cleansed. He knows that he tends to draw the line on certain themes, such as violent/bondage/dead children/animals dismembered, or anything with more than four of these letters in the title: G,L,B,T,U or Q, because he is bound to be unsympathetic before the show even starts. He also rarely goes to dance or opera because he can't stand opera and doesn't understand dance. Except for tap. Tap is different. Tap is life. Can't get enough tap, and thanks to Hildeb for her news today about Brother Slyde and the link to the story about the man's life.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Octopus is Everywhere

Plot and Duck have seen two fabulous plays this week, with a shot at a hat trick tonight. Last night they saw Steve Yockey's "Octopus" at the Magic Theatre in Fort Mason and they haven't stopped thinking about it yet. You can read the San Francisco Theater Blog review here. Yes, for a few minutes there are four naked men on stage.

After the show, Plot and Duck wondered aloud whether or not this show could have been written with two heterosexual couples instead of two homosexual couples. Maybe. But having a gay backdrop means that the specter of AIDS becomes a character itself. And with all the talk of gay marriage and gay this and gay that, the fact is that every relationship has to overcome the same obstacles. The Octopus lurks.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Tie, a Frying Pan and a New Person to Talk About

Some questions arose about whether or not The Great Fashion Plate had actually worn a tie in Memphis. This should put those snarkly chucklers to rest.

This is Plottie's favorite picture from Graceland. Elvis had more money than King Tut but this is his kitchen. We can see him cooking his bacon in that cast iron frying pan on the electric stove with the little print canisters on the side (God knows what he kept in there).

The other day Plotnik heard, for the first time, a comment doubting Michelle Obama's patriotism -- he had no idea what was being referred to, but then yesterday he read an article about how the GOP in Tennessee is targeting her for her comments.

Is she a Muslim terrorist too? No, wait, that's her husband. Don't tell me: another outspoken black person! And a woman!

Get used to it, friends. This is how the game is played. They did it to Clinton, remember...Bill that is? Hillary and not wanting to bake cookies? When they can't touch the man, they go for the woman.

There was a poll on CNN yesterday, about whether or not attacks like these are justified. Plotnik thinks they are. This is politics. Everything is justified and everyone is fair game.

None of it matters. If people want a justification not to vote for Obama, they'll find it. If they want a justification not to vote for McCain, they'll find that too.

Look. This is not easy to say, but that's never stopped Plottie before. It may be that many people in America cannot trust a person of color to be the number one officer of the land. This does not make them bad people, it is part of the way all of us are raised. This is OK.

And, you may have good reason to dislike Barack Obama's wife (or Bill Clinton's). This doesn't make you a racist.

Of course, Michelle Obama isn't running for President. Her husband is. Plotnik might ask people who criticize this candidate's spouse: how do you feel about Laura Bush? She seems like someone who deserves a lot of respect. And how's her husband doing?

Anyway, this is life. Slowly, things change. Look around you: it's happening. And the world keeps turning. Amen.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Bug, and Heat

It's hot! But not too hot to go see "Bug" at SF Playhouse. You can read the SF Theater Blog Review here, but be prepared to be scratching yourself for a few days.

Feet are baking. Underarms are sweaty -- stink is in the air. It burns to walk barefoot in the garden. Bicyclists have disappeared. Dogs have disappeared. Street life has disappeared. Poor Saint Plotniko is laboring under the kind of rare weather endured by the rest of Shmalifornia six months a year.

There's a stairway up from Plotnik's office to the kitchen. It's 10 degrees different down to up. He's not that hungry.

The tomatoes are in love, as are the poppies, but the Tuscan kale and arugula have given up the ghost, bolted in two days to yellow and white flowers.

The snow peas didn't sign up for this either and neither did Plotnik, though he thought he did at the time. In 1993 Plottie was used to hot weather, and smog, and temperature inversions, dashboards and seat backs sizzling to the touch; with the smell of apricots rotting on the bare ground, and garbage broadcasting its steaming bacteria, and clothes that you couldn't wear for an entire day, and blisters on top of the big toe joint and the side of the pinkie toe, and sandals that stuck to the pavement and hat hair. Of course, he had more hair then.

Fifteen amazing years later and Plotnik no longer thinks sweating is sexy. He complains about the fog, but welcomes it. He knows July through September will be cold and bleak with little sunshine in his city by the Bay, and he will whine loudly to anyone who will listen; still, the rare broil of April and May bring him little comfort. There will be another two hot weeks in October and that'll be that. Neighbors will still complain when it gets to 70, but they won't mean it. Now, they mean it.

Tea poured over ice in a tall glass with slices of lime, cold purple borscht in a white bowl with a scoop of sour cream, sugar cones of Macapuno ice cream with raspberry sorbet, chilled salads with pomegranate seeds, frozen Snickers bars, ice water.

It must be close to 90. Humidity: zero. In Nashville or Atlanta or, God knows, New Orleans, this is pleasant winter. Miami: fawgeddaboudit. But not in Saint Plotniko. Poor poor Plottie. What a wuss he has become.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Belly in Wisconsin

Belly went to Wisconsin with her Mom for Mother's Day, to be with Grandma Joy and family. Her Chopin is improving, though the Liszt is still giving her a little problem, especially since her feet don't reach the pedals. But it helps to play while holding your favorite giraffe.

Of course, when in Wisconsin, Grandma Joy and The Great FiveHead get to play with Belly's hair.

Joy leaves in a few weeks to teach in Trinidad, so she had to get in some Belly time first. Plot and Duck know just how Joy feels. It's tough to be far away from this little mamzer, as the Chief would have called her.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ducks at the Peabody

So picture a grand hotel, Waldorf-Astoria style, plush and ornate, in the middle of downtown Memphis. Outside the Peabody, wood and tile inlays have been set into the concrete, along with names and designs, like the ones in front of the Chinese theater in Hollywood. There are five inlays and each has a name: Four are Belz (the Belz Family owned the hotel for decades) and one is Presley.

The design on all the inlays is duck webs.

Walk through an arcade into the lobby, and there are more inlays on the polished floors: More ducks!

Pause at the glass display cases, inside of which are jade ducks and wood ducks and sculptured ducks and hand crafted duck decoys and jeweled ducks. Adjoining shops sell duck shirts and duck shoes (!) and duck aprons and duck bath towels and diamond earings shaped like ducks.

The Great Ducknik's ears and eyes have perked up and her heart is a-flutter.

In the center of the lobby is a fountain, bedecked with flowers. Outside the fountain is a small stepstool with two steps. Swimming in the fountain are three duck females and one mallard drake.

At 6PM, every day, rain or shine, the four ducks jump up onto the fountain edge, hop down the red-carpeted stairway and onto the marble tiles and Oriental carpet, form a single line with the drake in front, cross the lobby and waddle past well-dressed patrons smoking cigars, heading in front of the display cases towards the elevator. A keeper pushes a button and the ducks pad into the elevator. Presumably, one of them jumps up and presses Eleven.

At Floor Eleven, the ducks waddle out of the elevator onto the hotel roof, where they continue in a straight line to the Duck Palace, which is a little pool inside a structure which has been built for them. The keeper opens the wire enclosure door, and the ducks settle in for the night.

Tourists come stare at them in their pool in their palace, and then walk down to the bar and buy a cocktail or two to sit and talk about how the whole world is going quackers.

It couldn't be cooler. Yeah, there's Graceland and barbecue and Civil Rights, but come on! Ducks! Go, Memphis!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"Long Distance Information..."

"Long Distance Information, Give me Memphis, Tennessee..."

The Great Plotnik can imagine himself living in a city like Memphis, perched on the east bank of the Mississippi River, nearly halfway to New Orleans from St. Louis, and with a unique tradition of great music and lots of barbecue...for awhile. But it's a smaller city than he and Duck had imagined, and it certainly feels far more Southern than Nashville, the other major Tennessee city where Plot and Duck once both lived.

The river influences everything -- certainly the weather, and the historic passage of commerce and ideas and people and chord progressions. Memphis is venerable, but feels modern. On the other hand, when Plot, Duck and JJ-aka-pp drove to Oxford, Mississippi on Sunday, they felt like they'd gone back in time, to the battles between James Meredith and Governor Ross Barnett over integrating the University of Mississippi, and before that to Civil War days and plantations and slave cabins and King Cotton. Those images are probably cemented by the Confederate stars and bars that still wave on the Mississippi state flag.

The ghost of William Faulkner hangs benignly over Oxford. (The Great Plotnik kept humming Bob Dylan's "Oxford Town" -- "Oxford Town, Oxford Town, everybody's got their head hung down, the sun don't shine above the ground, ain't a-goin' down to Oxford Town" -- but neither Duck nor JJ had ever heard of it. So it's Faulkner.)

A bronze statue of the great writer sits on a bench in the town square. He holds his pipe in his hand and waits for people to sit down on the bench and discuss literature with him. Ducknik studied under a professor in college who was heading to Oxford to live with Faulkner and write about him, but Faulkner suffered a sudden heart attack and died. The professor never got over it and had a nervous breakdown the next year. Duck told Faulkner he died too soon.

Rowan Oak, Faulkner's home, sits out in the woods. (From the old cabins in the back you can hear cheering from the University of Mississippi baseball stadium. There's a path through the woods that students use, from Ole Miss to Faulkner's house. The university maintains the property.)

It's a fine old Southern home, not at all fancy but graceful. Faulkner bought the house in 1930, when he was 33, and lived in it until he died in 1962.

Elvis was only 22 when he bought Graceland. It's on the outskirts of Memphis, and on the way in, passing the Hound Dog Animal Center and The King Burger and the Don't Be Cruel: Sleep Here Motel, Plot and Duck expected the very, very worst. Instead, they found themselves surprisingly touched. Elvis, through all the shtick and grossness of his public life, was probably a pretty good guy. Plotnik doubts Elvis had all the pictures of himself stuck around his house then that they've put there now.

There are many artifacts on display, jewels to an Elvis fan, but minimally interesting to someone like Plotnik who loved his pop songs in the early days when they symbolized rebellion, but grew to picture Elvis as little more than a fat, bloated carcass who had become a caricature of himself and, worse, nonmusical.

One building at Graceland displays all his movie costumes, his jump suits and even the clothing he and Priscilla wore when they got married. Is all of this interesting? A little. Is it worth $28? Ummmm....

One thing you have to give Elvis: he overcame poverty (the low income projects where he lived as a teenager are pointed out on the Tour Bus), and was willing to listen to and learn about rhythm and blues in an era when the races didn't mix at all, even through music.

The Civil Rights Museum hammers that point home. It is dedicated to all the people who spent their lives working to overthrow the apartheid that America and Americans willingly endorsed for so many years, but in particular to the memory of Martin Luther King, who was murdered on the very spot where the museum now stands. Plotnik was surprised to have his heart jump into his throat when he turned the corner and saw the famous motel sign and balcony.

Inside the museum, the visitors are both black and white. Older black and white people tend to stare at each exhibit in detail, turning inward. Each image reminds them of something unsettling. Young black visitors tend to laugh and kid around, perhaps a bit uncomfortably, until they get to the part about lynchings. Seeing young black men hanging from trees surrounded by leering Klansmen and smiling onlookers gets everyone's attention.

Memphis has its own Bourbon Street: Beale Street. Once the main thoroughfare in the black part of downtown where many great jazz icons reigned, it is now little more than a too-familiar, soul-less mix of night clubs and curio shops. On weekends college kids walk Beale Street with beer cups in their hands, looking for a party or a corner in which to throw up.

Britt was in college in Memphis for four years, so she knows Beale Street, even worked as an i.d. checker at the door of Silky O'Sullivan's. So she took Plottie, Ducknik and JJ-aka-pp in to the Silky to see the two dueling pianists (playing baby grand pianos which had been hollowed out to replace their innards with electronic keyboards) and have a Guinness in the courtyard.

Britt's the last, there are no college kids left in the family, and she leaves for the Peace Corps, somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, at the end of the summer. Her graduation from Rhodes College was held in an outdoor green patch on campus. Everyone was happy, especially Britt's sister D.C. Niecie.

Plotnik can't put his finger on it, but he knows there is a thread that runs through Oxford and Memphis, Elvis and Big Mama Thornton, Rhodes College and sub-Saharan Africa, race relations in America, food, music, art and culture, church and state, barbecue, hush puppies and chicken-fried steak, politics and Real Life.

Everything is changing. As JJ-aka-pp says to all sides about the Confederate flag: "It's 2008. Get over it."

A young black man, an old white man and a middle aged woman are running for President and one of them will win. Shit happens, but so does change, most of the time too slowly for us to recognize, and always in fits and starts, violence and misunderstanding. But in the end we know we will sit down at the table, look back and say: "Y'know what? It's all good. Why was this so hard, anyway?"