The Great Plotnik

Monday, August 31, 2009

She's Wearing Great-Grandpa Chiefie's Cap

Isabella is getting scary cute.

Plot and Duck are setting their fall schedules to include time to get back East. Halloween and Belly's Birthday seem to be good candidates.

Every time Plottie starts planning trips to the Big Apple he gets excited about all the zillions of things he wants to do there. He wants to see museums and eat great food and travel through the boroughs on Dan's bicycle and drive out to Pennsylvania and up to Maine and the fact is he and Duck will probably be ecstatic to do nothing but hang around Clinton Avenue and soak up all the good stuff there. Then they'll head up to Providence and do it all again with The Beez. Maybe if they're lucky everyone will manage to get together somewhere at some point.

The going there is the easy part. The coming home is the tougher call.

If they had their way, the Plotniks would maybe stay for a month or more, but that's only what Plotnik thinks now. It never takes him too long to start feeling useless and in the way when he's away from his own stuff. He writes verses like

"I miss the noise
And my trucks and my toys
I believe this old boy's going home."

Which of course leads to the inevitable conversation he and Ducknik are not ready to have yet. The facts are clear: life is so much nicer on the West Coast than on the East, where each week you're saying to yourself "Man! THIS is GREAT!" for one day and "This place SUCKS!" the other six.

That one great day in the Apple is better than all seven in Saint Plotniko. But the other six aren't. He and Duck already did the math once. Plotnik was crazy about The Big Shmapple until it was time to get the hell out of there. And once was enough.

But then they look at those two pictures again and the even larger truth comes into hard and clean focus: God, she is beautiful.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Great Shakespeare and Awful Chinese Food

Every time Plot and Duck venture across the BOB (Big Orange Bridge) into Marin County, Plotnik remembers there is a completely different world up there. The people speak English, but more thoughtfully, perhaps because they are chewing on really awful Chinese food. You drive through the Waldo Tunnel and once you're on the other side the fog is gone, the sun is shining and there are lots and lots of Volvos, older, dusty Volvos with empty containers of reprehensible Chinese food littering the back seat.

Last night Plot and Duck went to the outdoor amphitheater at Dominican University and saw "Julius Caesar," written by this English guy in 1599. There can't be a nicer place in the world to see Shakespeare: second or third row, warm, gorgeous night under the stars, terrific actors and excellent staging.

First they stopped at Ping's Chinese Food For Dummies Restaurant in San Rafael -- you know, the kind of gringo crud where everything is covered with sweet, thick sauce flavored with Toxic Avenger Powder. The waitress asked Plotnik "How were scallop?" and he just stared at her. "I bring you check," she said.

"Julius Caesar," on the other hand, was wonderful. This play is like your favorite "Greatest Hits" soundtrack. Every few minutes you hear another famous quotation you hadn't realized first appeared here and then has been repeated by half a zillion people for the next 400 plus years.

Such as:

Marc Anthony, to the Roman people as he stands over Caesar's dead body:

"Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him
The evil that men do lives after them
The good is oft interred with their bones
So let it be with Caesar."

Caesar says of Cassius:

"Let me have man about me that are fat
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o'nights.
Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look
He thinks too much; such men are dangerous."

Marc Anthony eulogizes the dead Brutus:

"This was the noblest Roman of them all
All the conspirators save only he
Did that they did in envy of great Caesar
He only, in a general honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mix'd in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world: "This was a man!"

The senator Casca says:

"This is all Greek to me."

The soothsayer tries to warn Caesar:

"Beware the Ides of March"

Act One is wonderful, as Shakespeare generally is, though Act Two becomes bogged down in offstage battles, all of which lead to each conspirator committing suicide, one by one, which may have been the theatrical convention in Shakespeare's time, but today is pretty damned boring. Act One is worth its weight in gold; Act Two just makes you appreciate Act One.

Plotnik may have gotten old enough to appreciate Shakespeare. He never has liked it much before, but he has generally seen it from the back of the Fifth Balcony, or in Middle School productions.

When he hits seventy he will make another attempt at opera.

Plottie forgot one other great speech. Brutus is telling his fellow generals, after Caesar's death, that they shouldn't wait any longer to confront Marc Anthony's legions, because:

"There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat;
And we must take the current when it serves
Or lose our ventures."

Here are two more ways to say the same thing:

"Strike while the iron is hot."
"Shit or get off the pot."

As always, Shakespeare says it better.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Old Tiapos Brothers and Sisters

Sister Luci hasn't aged one day, she is as beautiful as ever and still looks like she wouldn't pass the age and height limit test at Kiddy World. Brother John must be taking flaxseed oil or the Anti-Aging Clear. Since Luci stepped away from TIAPOS she has written most of the Lonely Planet Hawaii books, while John is unquestionably one of the two best writers you've never heard of. John used to write his TIAPOS stories on the back of his arm at a taco shop ten minutes before he knocked our socks off with their audacity.

Jeez, dynamiting the cat? And hiding under the car as the pretty girl's high heels clank along the asphalt? John's daughters Meghan and Natalie are now 20 and 15, but we watched and heard them growing up from little kids, week after week.

Last night Luci and John, as well as Beth, Ducknik and Plotnik assembled at Hanky Girl's incomparably, uh, clocky home on Arguello Street. Luci lives in Vancouver now and was in town for a yoga convention and decided to accept Hanky Girl's offer to stay with her for a few days. So Hanky decided to have a small get-together in the late afternoon. It stretched far into the evening.

How could it not? So many stories to tell. We talked about everybody -- all these folks miss TIAPOS and all the funny characters we got together with every two weeks for more than ten years, telling secrets to each other in stories that we certainly never told wives and husbands. Authors trust each other and as you get to know each other better that trust gets deeper.

We talked about the other Best Writer You Never Heard Of -- Carol O. She is not doing well these days, so the story goes, but her stories live on. Every Christmas John still tells his kids Carol's story about stealing the Christmas Tree from the grocery store with her son, and how it was so much fun that they made a family tradition out of stealing another Christmas Tree together every year.

And the one about how, years before that, she and her friend decided one day, in a deeply depressed state, to commit suicide together. They'd end it all by sticking their heads into an oven. The problem was neither of them had an oven, so they had to borrow a friend's apartment and they couldn't get the friends to leave the house for a few moments so she and her friend could finish themselves off, but finally the oven was available and the apartment was empty but--it was a small apartment with a small oven, and both of them couldn't fit. And they couldn't decide who should go first. So they sat back and lit up a cigarette to talk about it, forgetting they'd already turned on the gas. Thank God she lived to tell about it because Plotnik is in hysterics even now, just thinking about Carol reading that story in her flat Michigan accent.

Oh, man. No one ever made Plotnik laugh as much as Carol O.

Hanky Girl is as wonderful as ever and Beth hasn't gotten any less sweet, nor less loony.

Who else but Hanky Girl would paint her bedroom red and buy red flame sheets and then decide, upon reflection, that it looked a little bit like a bordello?

The evening all went by 'way too fast. Plotnik and The Great WantzANewName-Nik are the only two Tiaposians left from those days, though there were other wonderful folks who came in between, like The Great Dance-Nik and The Great Sparker and Tim and Big Blogs and Nguyen Michael Jackson Goldberg and others Plotnik is certainly forgetting to mention.

So, memo to Blonde Bombshell and Chef Pickle and Mississippi Motorhead and The Great Large Pants and the Great Mushnik and Domin-Nik and Plotnik too: it's a great thing we've still got going.

Plotnik dedicates this post to our buddy Wally in Eugene. Your ears must have been burning last night, old pal, because we kept talking about you and Julie.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Plotnik Goes to Confession

Dear Doctor Blogstein:

Plotnik is confessing. He hasn't been to Confession in, well, ever, but maybe it's time. Plotnikkies don't technically believe in Confession, but Plotnik sometimes talks to a butterfly he thinks is his grandfather, so how different is that?

It's only August. He wants to tell you about yesterday's Plotzer game.

The Great Plotnik had looked forward to having this crucial Rockies-Plotzers game on TV. In the top of the First Inning, Rafael Furcal walked and then Matt Kemp hit a home run. Once the Plotzers were ahead 2-0, Plotnik couldn't watch anymore.

At first, it was just the Rockies who he couldn't watch. In the bottom of the First he left the room, came back in the top of the Second, left in the bottom of the Second, missed all the Third, came back in the top of the Fourth, left in the bottom of the Fourth.

By the Fifth, he couldn't even watch the Plotzers bat. He sat in the hallway outside the TV room, with the TV on and Vin Scully calling the game, but staring at the wall not at the TV screen, listening to Andre Ethier pop up with the bases loaded. He heard James Loney do the same thing the next inning.

Then, Ducknik got home from school. "What are you doing?" she called. "I'm (unspoken: sitting in the hall, not watching the game) downstairs," he said. Ducknik does not understand but she does understand that she will never understand. She fixed lunch, and seeing as it was the most beautiful day of the year, said "why don't we eat outside?"

You can see what the sky looked like yesterday. It was so gorgeous, Ducknik had to take that picture.

"You go ahead," Plotnik said, "I'm going (unspoken: "to go sit on the floor in the hallway like an idiot) downstairs."

When George Sherill relieved in the bottom of the Eighth with the Plotzers still ahead by one, Plotnik couldn't even take sitting there anymore, he had to go out and start weeding the garden. He weeded. He transplanted. He raked. Baseball takes a long time to do anything. He weeded some more. He picked some epazote. He doesn't even like epazote.

When he went back to check, it was the bottom of the Ninth.

Apparently it was a tense half inning, but Plotnik missed all of it. He sat on the floor in his and Ducknik's room, talking to her about vacation plans and her class and half-listening to the ballgame, WHOSE SOUND HE HAD NOW TURNED OFF.

By the time he checked again the game was over and the Plotzers had won.

What a great game, Dr, Blogstein! You'd-a loved it!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Other Side of the Samurai

This is a hand crafted Japanese basket. It's not from the Samurai exhibit, because you're not allowed to take photos of the Samurai Exhibit at the Asian Art Museum, even if you are The Great Plotnik and are getting your own private tour. Plotnik's friend and ex-neighbor, Lois, is a docent at the museum and Asian art is her world now. So Plotnik got to see this extraordinary exhibit alongside his own walking, talking, well-informed sidekick. What he saw is nothing less than several of the most beautiful -- well, anythings -- that he has ever seen.

There is this one long screen, on which is painted -- trees. A few huts. A few people. That's it. Man! You should see those trees. Sorry, no pictures.

Japanese art is probably what interested Plotnik in studying the Japanese language in the first place, when he and Ducknik first arrived in Saint Plotniko. The idea of a culture as bellicose as the Japanese, on one hand, and so devoted to artistic expression, on the other; or to put it more simply, a people so tight-assed outwardly but inwardly so longing for elusive beauty, fascinated him then and still fascinates him now.

The Samurai were simply knights in shining armor -- not much different than their counterparts in Europe, except it all happened a few hundred years later. Their purpose was to defend the Shogun's land. So they built castles surrounded by moats and defended them to the end. Nothing new here.

What's different is the devotion they put into their art and the art they put into their everyday lives.

Take the famous Japanese Raku Pottery. The Shogun (from the same family who, 18 generations later, sent its patriarch to Saint Plotniko to officially open the Samurai Exhibit a few months ago -- the exhibition is composed of art which has all been borrowed from the Hosegawa family's personal archives) decided he needed new bowls for drinking tea. He admired a certain ornamented roof tile, which, it turned out, was crafted by a Korean tile maker. So the Shogun sent his Samurai on a mission to invade Korea in order to go to the village where the Korean tile maker's family still lived, kidnap them all and bring them back to Kyoto.

Once that was accomplished, the Shogun gave the family a place of honor, built them a palace next to the best clay beds in Japan, and put them to work. He told them to go make tea bowls, but not just tea bowls, the best, most glorious tea bowls anyone had ever seen. And not only that -- he wanted something completely new, no Chinese influences, no Emperor's court stuff. Brand new art so he could drink his tea more pristinely. Roof tiles: tea bowls.

And you better not screw up. They didn't.

He gave the family a new, honored name: Raku. Today, Raku Pottery is still considered among the finest in the world, and is still being made by the 15th generation of potters whose family was originally kidnapped from Korea because they made really swinging roof tiles.

A lot of people had to die to get those potters to Japan. That's the other side of the Samurai.

Ah, but their demented language. It's like their castles. Do you know that Samurai castles were all mazes? If you managed to get across the moat and over the sloping walls and past the archers you ended up on a street that went nowhere.

The Japanese language goes nowhere. You listen and you listen and you wait to see what the HELL is the point of what the speaker is saying, but the verb doesn't come until the very, very end and by then you've forgotten all the rest.

We say: Hello. You are very welcome. Come on in.

They say: Hello: Honored person of great exalted station, to my poor unworthy dogs piss on the walls castle of no value whatsoever I should myself stab in the left eye having invited person so noble so wise so perfect to waste valuable seconds breathing wife barf in the kitchen food so inedible smells, wasting your time you are, but in come. I guess.

Like I say, a maze. The Emperor isn't home anyway, he's painting the perfect peony.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What Happened to Baby I, and Nice Dr. Eyeball.

The Great PapaNik looks at this photo and says to himself: Can this grown up BellyBone playing in the sand with her shoes off be the same person as this little Baby I?

Plotnik went to see Nice Dr. Eyeball this morning. He hadn't had an eye check in four years and figured it was time to see how his glaucoma, macular degeneration, tumors of the iris and eventual dark, defeating blindness were coming along. Just fine, it turns out, a slight weakening of the eyesight in the left eye and slight improvement in the right.

With all the talk about how doctors hate...well, everything about everything when it comes to changing the health care system, Plotnik thinks Nice Dr. Eyeball has it made working for Kaiser. He makes a hefty salary, comes in at 8 and goes home at whenever, 5?, does no accounting nor bookkeeping and has his daughter's and wife's paintings on his wall. What's not to like? The fact that you can't make half a million or a million dollars a year doing plastic surgery on starlets or heart transplants for chihuahuas?

Plotnik kept his chin on the plastic piece and his head against the metal and sometimes said "The First One" and sometimes said "The Second One" while the doctor jiggled the lenses in the machine. Occasionally he would look over at Nice Dr. Eyeball's wife's two very colorful beach paintings. The sand was white-sugar white, the ocean was cobalt blue, the trees and vegetation on the shore were tropical greens and deep yellows and brilliant reds.

"Where is that, Haiti?" Plotnik asked.

"Santa Cruz," said Nice Dr. Eyeball.

", our Santa Cruz?" Plotnik said, instead of "I think your wife needs to have her eyes checked."

"Uh, yes. My wife...likes to use lots of color. LOTS of color." He smiled a very nice Nice Dr. Eyeball smile. This man seems so kind and sweet, he doesn't look like he could ever tell someone: "I'm so sorry, Mrs. Kim, but you'll be blind in a week and dead two days later."

But he might just add some color. "Mrs. Kim. Now, your reds are going to become muted and your yellows less clear. Shortly thereafter, you will develop an intimate affection for black."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Place Was Sold Out: Lying On Your Back Room Only

Plotnik found this photo on Baby Lyla Rose's blogsite this morning. He has always been able to make his audience jiggle its fingers.

Monday, August 24, 2009

New Shows Starting

It has been a slow summer for theatre watching, but now the 09-10 season is bringing new previews and premieres. Plus, some of the good-o's of the summer have been extended. One of these is Don Reed, whose "East 14th St." at the Marsh is funny and lighthearted, though Plotnik thinks this performer is so talented that in a future show he may choose to dig a little deeper, and then his comedy will really grab you. As it is, you laugh a lot and have a great time with the rest of the audience. You can read the San Francisco Theater Blog of "East 14th St." here, but you'd better put away that Panama hat with the feather.

This week Plot and Duck will go to see some classic plays -- including Julius Ceasar from Marin Shakespeare this weekend. It's time to get the old copy down from the attic and read it through before the show.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

T-Mokie's in Town and Then She's Gone

Saturday was a fun day, starting with a visit to the Ferry Building to see T-Mokie, who was back from Vietnam and Cambodia for a few days on her way to Michigan for a couple years. Plotnik hadn't been to the Ferry Building on a Saturday in years. Holy Smokes. T-Mokie and Ducknik and Nguyen Lopez Tyrone Goldberg posed in front of the circus that Saturday mornings has become down there.

Cousin Jeff took pictures at Mummy P's 95th. Here is one of them.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Cousin Two, Cousin E and Cousin Lyla Rose

Baby Lyla Rose is on her way back to Stiletto City with her parents, Cousin Two Names and Cousin Emilio.

She's really a delightful little baby, happy and pretty. Cousin Two and Cousin E were here for two days, on their semi-frequent trek to Napa to buy a year's supply of wine from their favorite winery, Sattui in Saint Helena.

Don't EVEN think you can sneak a Milano with Mint past Cousin Two Names.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Nice News All Around

The Great Large Pants's new poetry book has been released to the enthusiastic and critical acclaim of his fellow TIAPOS members. It really is nice looking, and The Great Domin-Nik's red stairway photo is on the front. Domin-Nik herself has a large feature coming up in a photo magazine -- after years of being an editor and writer she has really stepped into her own as a photographer. And Blond Bombshell had a photographer come over to her house to take her picture for a spread in the Examiner next week (no, not that kind of spread, but a very nice one ), and Chef Pickle's cookbook is scheduled for release in December, if she can ever decide which wild mushroom soup is the exact best wild mushroom soup.

It was such a great group last night -- everybody has nice things going on and it feels great to share them all around. Mush-Nik we missed you.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thanks RR. And Backwards from Campeche to Isla Mujeres (1965-4)

There must be a ReIndoctrination Camp down in Half Moon (But Which Half?) Bay. Five Year Old Ryan has already caught the fever. What she doesn't realize is the Plotzers are already taking care of her problem for her. By the time this game comes up, it very likely won't even matter anymore. Blogmaid, you've got a perfect idea here for designer wrapping paper. No kidding. And many thanks to you and to multi-talented RR.


So, picking up from yesterday, we're now in Campeche, Yucatan, Mexico. But Plotnik's memory is lax -- he can't really remember what happened between Campeche (great shrimp) and Merida (great everything) and Isla Mujeres (a billion stars).

He knows he visited the ruins of Chichen Itza, because he remembered them when he went again with his family 25 years later. He knows he stayed at a cute little pension in Merida where they had huge glass bottles in the courtyard with taps on them. There were large handwritten signs on these bottles that said: "Agua Potable: Safe Drink Water."

One night Plot caught the night watchman refilling the water bottles with a garden hose.

At the time he thought that scandalous, except that the city of Merida sits upon artesian water springs and the water is all safe to drink. But you couldn't convince the tourists to drink it unless you put it into phony bottles and tacked an "Agua Potable" sticker on the outside.

Plot has previously mentioned dysentery. The second or third day of this trip, by now several months earlier, he had gone swimming in the ocean at San Blas, on the Western Coast below Manzanillo. Always a good swimmer and comfortable with the ocean, he was astonished to get caught in a riptide and be unable to paddle back to shore. It was quite frightening -- he had to tread water hard just to stay in one place and absolutely could not help being swept slowly out to sea. To make things worse, a school of manta rays had come in, swimming all around him -- huge fins poking out of the water, enormous spikes on their backs.

He shouted SOCORRO! (HELLLLLLLPPP!) -- good old Spanish class -- and eventually someone rowed a boat out and pulled him into it. When he got to shore he was dehydrated and exhausted, so they took him into a little cafe. The owner graciously poured him an ice cold Coke in a glass filled with ice cubes. It was the tastiest Coke ever, but...he probably should have thought twice about those ice cubes, made with local water.

Or maybe it was the strawberries that his friend Pulga and he ate in Guadalajara the next day, covered with delicious local cream. By the time they got back to their hotel that afternoon Plotnik was beginning to feel very very very bad. But he was nineteen, so he figured he should be OK to board the bus for their 6 hour schlep across the mountains to Morelia. Que moron!

Plot and Pulga sat in the very front seat. Pulga was tiny ("Pulga" was her nickname, which means "flea"), but Plotnik's legs had to be held in the air for his knees to rest against the metal barrier directly in front of him.

The bus driver had a bunch of bananas suspended next to his rear view mirror. The road was very windy, and the bus smelled of overtaxed diesel fuel -- and bananas. Half way up the mountain Plotnik realized he was going to be incredibly sick. Above all, he needed not to have his legs up in the air anymore, if you catch his drift, but the bus was filled with standing passengers and there were no other seats. Diesel fuel, over-ripe bananas, nausea, the likelihood of imminent explosion, nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

It was an express bus. No stops. The next three hours is a hideous blur. At the Morelia bus station, he ran for the bathroom. Pulga parked herself on a bench outside the men's room door, every fifteen minutes or so calling in "Estas bien?" and Plot would yell "Si. O No. No se."

As you can tell, Plot and Pulga had decided, before they left Berkeley, that they would speak only Spanish on this trip, despite the fact that she was fluently bilingual but Plotnik, though a Spanish minor in college, was far less conversationally capable. They pledged they would not speak English to each other, no matter how difficult it might be for one or the other.

And though they had known each other quite intimately in school, they were not lovers, not exactly, and really could have used a language both spoke well to define how they were feeling, about what they were experiencing and about each other.

It was easy for Pulga and gruesomely difficult for Plotnik. He would get frustrated at not being able to express himself to her, then blurt out something in English. But she would simply stare at him, and if she answered at all it would be in Spanish.

(The girl was born in Flint, Michigan. It's not like she was English-deprived.)

He was learning fast, though he didn't realize it. One night on a rooftop in Mexico City, with the sounds of traffic pulsing below and heat lightning dividing the sky into quarters, Pulga told him the story of her life, and it had some very sad parts in it, and she said it all in Spanish. He was amazed to realize he could understand her every word, even through tears.

Like: "Que diras tu, si te digo que te quiero?"

It's the same in every language, isn't it? When somebody tells you she loves you and you're not ready for it, you never ever know what to say. Many years later, Plotnik did the same thing to Ducknik, on the Lexington Avenue Subway, and she stood there, flabbergasted, unable to utter a syllable.

Plot must have responded on that rooftop, though he doesn't remember what he said, and he supposes it must have been in Spanish. It seems to him, though, that this is the moment their trip began to flow downhill. He probably hadn't considered "love" to be a component of "summer vacation."

As their voyage stretched on from the sickness and eventual recovery of Morelia to the dry desert of Tula and Guanajuato and the amazing cosmopolitan high life of Mexico City, then down the highway to Puebla and Oaxaca where we first began this story, Plotnik found his frustration increasing and his desire to keep the language workshop running greatly diminished. He was tired of the whole thing. Or maybe he was just ready for a break from La Pulga, although he liked her even more than he realized at the time.

He figured that out the minute he was on the bus to the ocean with Kate and Marlene, realized they spoke no Spanish at all and he would have to be the communicator from now on.

But the dysentery -- that's what we were talking about and what's love got to do with it? -- never left him.

Whatever he ate, whatever he drank, out it came. He lost a ton of weight. (Plotnik weighed 160 pounds in college, maybe 10 pounds less than he does today, but by the time he got home that fall he was down to 130 -- Mummy P. didn't recognize him when she opened the front door.)

In those days sanitary facilities in the cheaper sections of Mexico, the only places Plot and Pulga traveled, were basically nonexistent or so awful you only used them in the direst of straits. But dysentery is dire, and can be sudden. You don't get to choose where you're gonna have to go. This part of El Gran Viaje was not very pleasant.

Plotnik was a Southern Shmalifornia beach kid. All through the interior of Mexico he had been looking forward to getting back to the ocean. When he and La Pulga parted company in Oaxaca and he and Marlene and Kate ended up in the tiny pueblito of La Ventosa, on the beach, sleeping on hammocks suspended above the rocks, where you jumped into your hammock from dry land, to rock yourself to sleep at night to the sound of gently lapping waves, but by the time you woke up in the morning the tide had come in and you were now swaying above the sea -- he had made a decision.

He would just stop eating. That's the only thing he could think of that could keep him out of those awful shitholes. And that's what he did.

While everybody was exulting over the glorious shrimp that were brought in in large misshapen nets at 8am from the shrimp boats who had just caught them out beyond the breakers, and the other travelers were inhaling the incredible rooster fish caught each night by the young boys high on the cliffs using pepsi bottles for fishing poles around which was wrapped strong fishing line -- these could be 100 pound fish and often these boys would be swept off the rocks into the ocean -- they always just swam back to shore and climbed back up onto the cliff -- and the local women smoked the fish all night in a communal oven lined with corn cobs -- and they served the smoked fish with steaming hot tortillas and salsa and lime juice -- by then Plotnik was eating only a little soup.

He tasted the rooster fish (it was amazingly good, especially given how hungry poor Plottie was) but he ate, at most, one meal a day and a small one.

He is here to tell you it worked. Whatever had tormented his stomach got sick of waiting and took off. Finally. By the time he and Kate and Marlene had gotten off the ferry boat and stepped onto what was then the almost uninhabited island of Isla Mujeres in the Caribbean, Plot was hungry as hell and wasn't gonna take it any more.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Train to Campeche (1965-3)

So what happened down the road, after the great Cockroach Battle of Villahermosa?

(If confused, see yesterday, and if you want to know how they got there, see the day before that.)

Pues. First of all, the city of Villahermosa, which means beautiful mansion, is truly a city of mosquitoes in the summer. Second, the amazing relics of Villahermosa, which are ancient Olmec heads, with flat, swollen faces that look more Pacific Islander than African or Mesoamerican (the statues are four feet tall, carved from rock and so old they can't even date them accurately), are mostly situated along the coastline, where the mosquitoes are heaviest. Obviously, the mosquitoes had not invented dengue fever yet, because Plotnik didn't catch it, despite coming back to the Balneario Hilda, after walking in the coastal park, with his face as distorted as an Olmec head.

The three boarded the train for Palenque, But. With Mexican trains, even in their heyday, there was always a But.

You could catch the train, but you had to take a local bus into the jungle to get to the train station. In those days the train was was the only means of transportation for local people to get from their village to their sister's village, since there were no roads so no local buses, and no rivers of consequence, so no boats. You could walk, or take the train.

At the small train station, which was a concrete block building surrounded by tropical vines and banana trees, you could buy a train ticket, But. You could only buy a second class ticket or a third class ticket, But. No matter which one you bought, the train was always very late arriving (It was twenty hours late! the day Plot, Marlene and Kate decided to head for Palenque and the Yucatan. TWENTY HOURS!

(Now, who's complaining about the 8 minute delay on the 24-Divisadero bus?)

The train approached, let out a whistle before it came into view. Upon hearing the whistle, the station erupted into mayhem. People who had been resting in the underbrush burst onto the platform. Before the train, which looked like an old woodcut of "The Little Engine That Could" had even stopped, people were clamoring all over it. Women with baskets of food on their heads and small children by their sides, men in cowboy hats carrying enormous, ancient duffel bags whose contents were spilling over the edges of the broken zippers, grandmas holding pens of terrified, squawking chickens, plus an army of twelve year old vendors running through each jam-packed car trying to peddle small, unbelievably bitter citrus fruits or tiny, two centavo boxes of gum -- and three tourists from three different sections of Los Estados Unidos de America, all were competing for a few old, hard wooden benches with upright backs.

This was in Second or Third Class, Plotnik never did figure out which. He hadn't realized there was also a First Class, But. First Class was only for people who could purchase their tickets in hotels in big cities. In First Class, so it is said, accommodations were pristine and there was a uniformed soldier at each end of each car to keep out the indigenous people.

But he wouldn't have bought a first class ticket anyway. Plotnik cannot tell you how old he was before he realized being a little more comfortable was not a personal affront to Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa and Jack Kerouac, but it certainly hadn't happened by age nineteen, between his junior and senior years at Berkeley.

Kate and Marlene found a seat -- or a bench with room for three on one side. They were crunched together closely, with no room at all for their feet, because across from them an entire family of at least eight people, from several generations, were squashed into that one opposite bench, taking up every available centimeter with no apparent discomfort.

The aisles were so filled it didn't seem possible one more organic body could ever be squeezed in, nor could anyone who had to get off ever manage to do so, But. They did both. The train stopped every few kilometers at another jungle village, and the same craziness ensued each time. People got on and people got off. The train traveled very slowly, with lots of clicketys and clacketys.

Plotnik thought he would take out his guitar. Ha ha ha ha ha ha. He couldn't even reach his hand down to the case.

It took many hours to get to Palenque, the ancient Mayan citadel only recently rediscovered by archeologists and opened to the public.

Except guess what? This train was not stopping at Palenque! There appeared to be an insurrection of some kind in that sector of Tabasco and Chiapas, so the train simply arrived, slowed down, and then heeded the negative waving of arms by the company of green-camouflaged soldiers assembled on the platform, picked up speed and kept going. Anyone needing to stop in Palenque or the half dozen villages on either side of it, was s.o.l.

Plotnik was really disappointed -- Palenque was a high point, one of the places he had been dreaming about seeing -- and yet, what was going on inside the train car was its own version of Anthropology 2-A, Sociology 3-A and International Relations 5. It was so uncomfortable that nobody was uncomfortable.

Do you know what I mean? Everybody was jammed together, and this includes dogs, chickens, people, over-ripe fruit, freshly butchered packages of meat -- and, of course, there were no facilities to use so if you had to pee (or worse, Plotnik supposes, but perhaps he will explain to you some day how he took care of that vexing problem), you had to figure out how to stand up, fight your way to the end of the train car, walk out onto the bouncing train coupling and let fly.

The train car had windows but few had glass in them. Use your imagination.

Plotnik does not know how Marlene and Kate managed, but he doesn't remember seeing them get up from their seat until the next day.

He also doesn't remember one complaint. So many families with very young children and so much discomfort, but Plotnik neither saw nor heard outbursts from children or from parents. Perhaps it's the indio way, or maybe these families were just good and used to it.

People shared food with each other. Plotnik tasted something that was thick and corn-y, handed to him and to Marlene and Kate by a hand over the back of their seat. It was enclosed in a banana leaf and was explosively - incendiarily - hot with habanero chile (which grows wild in the Yucatan). It tasted very good before the chile exploded all the heat sensors in the Gringo brain, and after that nobody was hungry anymore. What a great weapon for a slowly chugging train.

Water was the big problem -- this was long before the days of bottled water, and Plotnik had had dysentery already for the better part of two months. He didn't want to drink any more local water. But at every train stop the little pigtailed girls boarded the train with their wares and they always had warm Cokes to sell. Several times Plotnik bought a few Cokes and handed them around.

After Palenque was passed by, Marlene, Kate and Plotnik decided to stay on the train until they got to Tenosique, on the Guatemalan border. Plotnik was thinking he wanted to set foot in Guatemala, see (yes, we know he hasn't changed all that much), and had just about convinced the dubious women to accompany him.

But no one was exactly overboard with enthusiasm, so when they arrived at Tenosique at 2am, and were told the train would not be stopping there either because of yet another insurrection in the jungle, nobody minded all that much.

There sure were a lot of insurrections in Southern Mexico in 1965. And a ton of soldiers at each station. What Plotnik didn't realize until later was that the Army had its own train car at the rear of the train. The train would slow down at each jungle outpost just enough for soldiers to jump off and on.

By morning, the train was stopping in villages again, and the crowd had thinned out. There turned out to be a dining car several cars ahead and there was enough space in the aisles to actually get to it. The dining car had a bathroom too.

Plot remembers his breakfast on the train: fresh squeezed orange juice, eggs with tomatoes, white bread and hot chocolate. Really good hot chocolate. Really, really good hot chocolate.

Think about it: The Mayans discovered chocolate, But! They had no sugar! The Arabs invented sugar and brought it to Spain, and the Spaniards brought sugar to America, where the chocolate was.

Yes, yes, they also brought smallpox and shackles and the Inquisition, but don't discount sugar for the chocolate.

Not making light here. Just sayin.'

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Balneario Hilda (1965-2)

Continuing from yesterday...

(We pick 19-year-old Plotnik up in the back of a cattle truck heading for Villahermosa, state of Tabasco, Mexico.)

It wasn't so bad in the trailer of the cattle truck. Plottie only had one old cow to deal with, and she said little, but chewed and chewed and chewed. Plot actually enjoyed himself after the sun went down, because there were zillions of stars to stare at, and the ride was rough -- he felt a little more like Kerouac when he was moving and could feel the road.

In retrospect, the cow was probably easier to handle than the truck driver and it didn't smell much better up there either. Later, Kate said the driver's hand mysteriously kept appearing on her thigh, like clockwork, every five miles. Plus, he had a terrible cough, and kept smoking cheap cigarillos the whole way.

At 10PM or so when the truck pulled into Villahermosa, the driver suggested the three Americans stay with him at his regular hotel, which Plotnik remembers to this day was called the Balneario Hilda. The driver had his reserved room, and he intimated that either dark haired Marlene or blonde Kate, or both if neither were able to convince herself to pass up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, were welcome to come up to his habitations and pass the evening with him. Both declined.

The Balneario Hilda was not exactly a resort. Plotnik isn't sure what the symbols are for accommodations that measure that far below No Stars. He remembers that the room cost maybe 75 cents, but as things turned out was still considerably overpriced.

But it was cheap, and they had one room left with three beds, so the hotel desk clerk walked upstairs to show it to them. He had the only key, a large iron one on a rawhide string. The terrible moment came: the clerk opened the door and Plotnik heard a sound like a small army decamping -- or a herd of cats clomping on the floor. When the clerk pulled the string on the one bald ceiling bulb with a flourishing "Para Servirles, Senor y Senoritas!" all three screamed in unison: AIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII-EEEEE!!!!

There were at least a thousand cockroaches swarming in the room. They were everywhere, on the floor, on the beds, on the walls, and running out the door, and they weren't the little laughable light brown tiny muchachos we call roaches but the big, red Mexican Chris Crafts, the ones they call cucarachas but we give the grander name of palmetto bugs. God DAMN there were a lot of them.

The clerk was unfazed, and so was the truckdriver, who showed up at the door upon hearing the screams. Both men took off their shoes and so Plotnik did too. For the next twenty minutes it was carnage, as the three hunted the room on their knees, cornering scurrying palmetto bugs and squashing them with one shoe in each hand. After the shock was over, Marlene and Kate took the two thin bathroom towels, soaked 'em in the sink and began mopping up the bodies.

When every palmetto bug that was visible was now also dead, and an outlandishly large red pile had been perfectly placed just outside the door like a really bad room service order, the clerk smiled, bowed, said once again "Para Servirles!" and went back downstairs, unfazed, like this was part of his everyday job description.

Same with the truck driver, who realized he wasn't going to score any American Pie that evening, especially now, despite his good deeds of the afternoon, and so gallantly turned back down the hall with a "Muy buenas noches, viajeros. Que les vaya bien!"

Plot shut the door. He, Marlene and Kate each took a bed and sat down on it, staring at each other, saying nothing. It was really hot in the room, but the one window was stuck, which was probably a good thing because more palmetto bugs would just climb in, to say nothing of the swarming mosquitoes.

And also -- this was the first night the three had spent together.

Backing up a bit -- Plot had met Marlene in Oaxaca, and Kate too, who did not know Marlene previously either. How the three of them ended up hooking up and taking the bus together down to the Pacific Ocean and Salina Cruz, and then a few weeks later continued their trip into the Yucatan, Plotnik really cannot remember.

He does remember he had been traveling with another woman, a good friend with whom he had begun his trip in California and had been hanging around with for a month or two already. Then he met these two. Ai yai yai, don't ask questions, por favor, because Plotnik doesn't have answers.

There is always the question of how much modesty new traveling companions of the opposite sex can engender when it's 100 degrees, 100 per cent humidity and you've spent the last seven hours in a cattle truck and then down on your knees squashing palmetto bugs -- you kind of know each other already.

They were hot and exhausted. Kate decided she'd use the shower first.

Plot discreetly put on his one clean pair of basketball shorts while Marlene and Kate went into the bathroom. The water in the shower went on. Ten seconds later he heard first one AIIIIIIII-EEEEE! and then another AIIIIIIIIII-EEEEE!

Marlene threw the door open and pointed to the shower. Now it was just Kate who was screaming, in the shower, behind the curtain. Plotnik had many thoughts at that moment (one of them was probably that he'd love to go see what the problem was) but was not sure how to proceed. HURRRY HURRRRY HURRRY! Kate screamed and threw open the shower curtain.

Oh, Plottie would love to leave you here wondering, but he won't.

When Kate threw open the shower curtain, covering herself as best she could, the Young Great Plotnik, gentleman that he was, instinctively looked down first, DAMN, and there he saw the half dozen monster palmetto bugs swarming on Kate's foot and ankle, feelers twitching, getting ready to head north. One seemed to be chewing on her big toe. Apparently there was a nest in the drain.

"M-F Chingada maricon puto Mother-F!" Plot shouted, bilingual in a time of crisis. It's hard to convey to you just how disgusting this was. Now The Great Plotnik was mad.

There were no towels, they'd already used the only two in the room to mop up dead insects. Marlene stripped a sheet from the bed and threw it to Plot -- Marlene refused to come in the bathroom -- who handed the sheet to Kate. "Hang on!" he shouted and ran out and got his tennis shoes. This time he put them on.

"Just M-F sweep the M-Fs off you and I'll M-F kill the M-Fs with my M-Fing shoe," he shouted and stepped into the tub. Kate screamed, shuddered and swept down with the sheet. When a roach would hit the tub Plot stepped on it. In the tub, with all the water, it made a sound like jello. Squarch! AIII! Sweep. Squarch! AIIIII-EEEE! Sweep. Squarch! Soon they were all dead. Plot was breathing hard like he'd just run a marathon.

They stopped up the drain with the sheet. Plot stepped out of the tub. It was still really hot. Humid. Mosquitoes. Palmetto bugs. They hadn't eaten all day. Their room was a horror movie.

But here's the deal: None of the three ever thought about ending the journey here. Plotnik remembers thinking if we survive this night we're all gonna have a great time. It's really easier to be nineteen.

Kate and Marlene slept in one bed. Plot slept in the other. The cockroaches could have the third.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Caballero and the Cow (1965-1)

Ok, one last hitchhiking story.

In the middle of Plotnik's illustrious college career, Berkeley changed over from semesters to quarters, meaning Plot got a 5 month summer vacation! The next thing he knew he was in Southern Mexico, hitchhiking with two American girls, whom he had just met, dark-haired Marlene from Massachusetts and blond Kate from Ohio. The three were attempting to get from La Ventosa, a tiny beach village south of the larger town of Salina Cruz, near Tehuantepec (look at the Ithsmus, where Mexico gets skinny on the Pacific Coast), north to Villahermosa, on the Gulf of Mexico. The plan was to then take the train, which you could still do in 1965, if it didn't derail, which it did periodically, because Mexican rail workers were not allowed to strike so they'd show their displeasure from time to time by wrecking the tracks. Villahermosa was the rail junction for the train into Yucatan which stopped in the jungle at the ruins of Palenque.

You'd think it would be easy to hitchhike with two beautiful women in rural Mexico. And it was, at least at the start, where there was a relatively large town and therefore trucks and therefore truck drivers with skinny moustaches.

The first truck dropped them on the other side of Juchitan.

(This was a tiny road-crossing village where Plotnik had a week earlier bought a beautiful nylon stringed guitar from a guitar maker. Plotnik was carrying that guitar as he waited by the side of the road with his two friends.

(The guitar maker promised Plotnik he had not used green wood. But a month after Plottie got back to Berkeley, when the weather got a little cooler, the guitar split all the way up one side. Green wood.

(A month or so earlier, Plotnik had also purchased a case of 12 bottles -- glass bottles -- of horchata, a delicious rice and almond drink he had tasted in a market somewhere in Mexico City, and asked the horchata maker to MAIL THE 12 GLASS BOTTLES back home. Three months later he got a call from the post office telling him to come pick up his package and bring a mop.

(Our children wonder why, when they do stupid things, we are not completely astonished?)

A ride in a small pickup with a farmer and his family dropped Plottie and the two women somewhere in the middle of nowhere. And it was July or August and HOT HOT HOT HOT and the three gringos were now standing on a strip of steaming asphalt, at the epicenter of nothing and nothing, with one road in view, stretching off into the dry cactus on one side and dry cactus on the other, and after the little pickup pulled down a dirt road there was not one other vehicle that passed for the next three hours. Did we mention HOT?

They took turns. Plot stood on the road while the two girls rested. Then one of the girls stood out there. Then the other. Then Plot. But why bother? There were no cars, no buses, no trucks, not even a burro, nowhere to walk to and, of course, they were college students. They had Plot's canteen with water in it and that would not last for long.

Finally, from out of nowhere a huge tractor-trailer came lumbering up the road. Plot and the two women saw it and heard it for five minutes before it got there. They decided on the sure-fire option. Blonde Kate stood out on the asphalt and held out her thumb with the most winning smile possible, while Plotnik and Marlene waited in the ditch.

The truck's brakes SQUEALED! He slammed to a stop up the road and the three Americans took off running and sprinted to the truck's cab. Fortunately, Plotnik had been learning Spanish. Here's how the conversation went:

PLOT: Hello, sir. Thank you for doing us the honor of stopping. Allow me to...

TRUCKER: The girls are with you?

PLOT: Yes, yes. The two women are of good families and...

TRUCKER: Both the girls? You?

PLOT: Why yes, sir. We...

TRUCKER: I only have room for the two women.

PLOT: Ah, well I'm sure we can squeeze in and...

TRUCKER: No, I only have room for the two women. It's against to take more.

(Interjection here: The LAW? The LAW? In rural Mexico in 1965 or 1865 or 2065? Are you freaking KIDDING ME?)

GIRL ONE (hopping into cab next to the driver): I'll go.

GIRL TWO (also hopping into cab, next to Girl One): I'll go too.

TRUCKER: You can ride in the back.

PLOTNIK (looking into rear trailer, spotting a cow): But...

TRUCKER: Look, Caballero. I've got to go. Do you want a ride or not?

GIRL ONE: Yes we do.

GIRL TWO: Yes we do.

PLOTNIK: Pinchi mierda.

Oh, there is so much more to this story, which doesn't really end until Isla Mujeres, but let's just say here that Plot climbed into the rear trailer, which was open to the sky, and populated by one old, skinny cow, tethered to a heavy rock. On the floor of the trailer were a lot of cow pies and other clumps of organic origin. There was hay. The truck started up and the exhaust stack spewed directly into the trailer. Plot heard the radio switch on in the cab.

For the six hour ride to Villahermosa, Plot rode under the sun, and then the sunset, and then the stars, and it was really hot and then it got really cold. Every once in a while he could hear laughter from the cab, when the wind was right, like the prisoners on Alcatraz used to smell Veal Cordon Bleu wafting from the restaurants along the Embarcadero on New Year's Eve. Also, trumpets from the Norteno music on the radio. Laughter and trumpets. The driver and the two women, Plotnik and the cow.

But a gig is a gig. And it all worked out, eventually. But first, the cockroaches in Villahermosa. Ohmigod, the cockroaches. We'll go on tomorrow.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Riding the Rails

Seen by The Brooklyn PD Family this morning at a coffee house in Great Barrington, Mass.

Who wishes they'd gone to Woodstock? Nobody Plottie knew at the time, and of the people he knew who actually went, nobody said they had a good time. You had to be up front to hear anything, and you were swamped in mud and soaked to the skin for several days. Traffic in and out was impossible. Of course, you were also so stoned you may not have been sweating the small stuff.

Writing about the Beatles concert the other day got Plottie thinking about the Righteous Brothers, who opened the show, and whose performance Plotnik actually got to see and hear every note of, because no teenage girls fainted for them, not until the second after the announcer shouted: "AND NOW, FROM LIVERPOOL ENGLAND, THE BE..."


Plot had seen the Righteous Brothers once before, at a really small Orange County night club, the next night after he and his friend Hubbsie attempted to ride the rails home to LA from college in Berkeley.

That first jump onto a moving train was exhilarating -- there used to be (maybe still are) freight train tracks down by I-80, where the trains slowed down to switch whatever it was they switched. When they were going slow you could, so the story went for everyone who had been living Kerouac novels, hop into an open boxcar and then ride for free! Hallelujah! Except for one problem.

Plottie and Hubbsie crouched in the weeds by the side of the yard, waiting for the railroad bulls, familiar to all those who had been living Steinbeck novels, and eventually a train chugged down the line, and while there was no boxcar there was an empty flat car. It slowed down, as promised, and when they thought the coast was clear, Hubbsie and Plotnik rose from the bushes, ran like hell towards that flat car, got one foot up onto the coupling and jumped onto it!

The train really wasn't moving very fast. And we still haven't gotten to that one problem.

Now they were aboard. And now the train stopped. It must have been the end of the line. The two eighteen year olds stared at each other for awhile, and then, when they had tired of lying down and staring at the stars, and talking about where the train would probably take them, when it started up, if it started up, and then realizing the train wasn't actually going anywhere, they jumped down, walked out onto the freeway and stuck out their thumbs.

Plot doesn't remember much about that hitch, except that they ended up on Highway 99 (this was probably before I-5 was built) as the sun was coming up, and stayed in that one spot for quite a few hours, waiting for a truck to finally pick them up. After a few rides in semis, and one station wagon, they ended up close enough to home that they could get to the Righteous Brothers concert at that little club that next night, carrying their knapsacks, and Plottie had his well-worn copy of "On The Road" in his shirt pocket, still next to his heart.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Few Random Photos

Plottie has several great photos there has been no time to post until now. The above shot is of Ducknik with stepsister Judy, Daughter of the Great Chief. Check out Duck's new party dress, which comes to sandal level.

The next one should clear up any questions as to why the Great BigFella is named BigFella.

How did he get that way? This was the first part of his lunch at Taco Loco: three eggs with ham, tortillas, salad, rice and beans, plus two huge side orders of guacamole, which he followed up with a chicken taco. The guy at the counter didn't even bring him the taco because he thought BigFella must be joking.

This is a fertility god. No, that's a lie. The truth is it ought to be a fertility god, but it's actually a double coconut, on display at the Conservatory of Flowers.

At The Conservatory of Flowers and the Japanese Tea Garden.

Going back to the first picture, Judy recently gave Plot and Duck a color copy of a painting she has done of the Rear Acreage at The Great Plotnik World Headquarters. She painted it from a blog photo! Plotnik is afraid a scan of the copy won't do it justice, but he'll try it anyway one day soon. Judy is really turning into an exciting painter, with impressionism all over her. Plot and Duck are excited to see what she comes up with next.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Second Hundred Years

The Great Plotnik has completed eight songs in his Best of Tiapos project, which though it may be subtitled "How To Distort a Vocal Without Trying Too Hard" is still the most satisfying work he's done in several years. Now it's time to return to the beginning, to the first song he tried to record, which is a love song called "One Hundred Years."

When he first wrote, re-wrote, re-re-wrote, and re-re-re-wrote this song, agonizing over every comma and syllable, it was really hard to get settled with. It's personal, it's a dedication and it's for The Great Ducknik. He was afraid she wouldn't like it, so he probably spent a little too much time trying to couch the music in hipness.

It's hard to explain what this means -- suffice it to say that now, after spending six months or so recording other songs, he has realized something important: he's not a great singer, but he can have great moments. He's also the only singer who can sing these songs, because Wilson Pickett is dead. No, because Plotnik is the one who wrote them. he knows what they mean better than anybody else.

The Great Plotnik spent several decades writing songs for other people to sing and always being unhappy with the versions these people would record, no matter the income the song might or might not generate. Oh, Lord, Meredith Baxter Burney and her husband.

But he doesn't have to do that anymore. This project is for him, not them, and hopefully for you, people who already know him, and you cybersignals who haven't tuned in yet.

So next week he will go back to "One Hundred Years," remove the dissonant guitars and start almost over. He will re-sing the song, this time a lot easier and from the heart. It might work. It might not work. He is sure to hate it in the end -- unless he is as happy as he is with everything else that is rolling out of the computer these days.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Great BigFella and Look Away, Allen

The Great Plotnik was heading down to the City Hall Farmer's Market yesterday when he saw The Great Bigfella walking up 30th Street. He and Duck had been expecting him for a short two night stay, before he picks up his daughter Katherine in the East Bay and the two head out for a several week drive through most of America's National Parks.

So Bigfella strapped on a bike helmet, grabbed a bike and he and Plottie headed downtown. The Farmer's Market was packed with shoppers, as well as raspberries, strawberries, tomatoes, oranges, greens, browns, reds and yellows.


A few Vietnamese sandwiches later, they headed home, in time to go to Pazzia for dinner. Duck celebrated her birthday with a a bottle of Italian wine and a plate of Pennette Putanesca, plus tastes of Plotnik's Lasagna and Bigfella's Veal Scallopine.


Of course, before all that came the best pizza in Saint Plotniko, if not the whole world. Plottie will put Pazzia's Margherita Pizza with Sausage up against any in The Big Shmapple, that's just the way it is. This is The One. Sadly, it got eaten up too fast for a photo.

Ah, the earrings. Well, you can see one. Closeup tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Look Away, Dance-Nik

Yesterday, The Greats Mushnik and Silent Bill took The Greats Ducknik and Plotnik out to lunch to celebrate Duck's birthday. They went to Dance-Nik's old neighborhood, one of Plottie's favorites in the whole shebang city, and to a very cool restaurant on the corner.

They paused in front of Bloom's Bar, looking through to the amazing view out the rear windows...

...and then across the street to, well...

In deference to Dance-Nik, no one walked into Farley's, though it was filled inside with people spilling out onto the sidewalk tables. "Doesn't anyone work around here?" wondered Mush but, hey, we were out messing around too.

It was one of those Saint Plotniko Chamber of Commerce days, just enough heat, just enough wind, only a wispy beginning of the afternoon fog, sun illuminating all the little corners at 18th Street and Connecticut and poking into the alleyways like a nosy tourist peeking over the fence.

We talked about Manhattan and Brooklyn (Plotnik's been writing a song about New York so it's on his mind) but kept coming back to Saint Plotniko. It's smaller here, all around. Fewer stores. Fewer fun neighborhoods. The buses don't run as often. Less people on the streets and too many of them homeless.

But a city is only about the friends you've got there. We could live in Hindustan if our friends came along too.

Today is Ducknik's birthday. She's got slick new earrings. Feliz Cumpleanos, Mi Pato.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Yummy Sandwiches

Memorial get-togethers are never any fun, but, like funerals, they're supposed to at least be cathartic. This is the way it works: you cry and feel awful, and then eat and feel better. Right?

Maybe it was that Aunt Margie's four kids, Plotnik's cousins, had been through plenty already as they watched their Mom go from perfectly healthy to deteriorating quickly, and then the hopeless emergency surgery, and then the end. Maybe they just didn't want to talk about it any more.

So Margie's Memorial Service was a strange one -- to be sure, it was catered, with uniformed servers bringing tray after tray of yummy sandwiches and grilled vegetables to the dining table, and there was a valet service to park cars on the quiet suburban street, and there must have been close to 100 people milling in and out of the house, from people in their eighties to tiny great-grandchildren.

But nobody said a word about Aunt Margie. Nobody told a story, no one offered a toast, her name was barely mentioned at all, except for people to quietly comment in a hushed voice as to how surprised they all were. Plotnik brought some old photos and showed them to a few people and he waited for a chance to tell the story his Mom had told him that morning, about meeting Margie some 70 years ago on the south side of Chicago, but the opportunity never came up. Before he knew it, people were saying good-bye and exiting the house, and that was pretty much that.

Mummy P. was not feeling well enough to attend, and Plot was glad. There were too many people there -- she is not handling crowds these days, and Margie's health and ultimate death had been depressing Mummy P. for weeks. So Ducknik stayed home with her while Plotnik ground his way at 25 mph down a series of half a dozen freeways, thinking he was lost twice -- can it really be this far to the 101, the 5, the 605, the 405?

Plotnik is always conflicted about funerals. He despises the phony religion and feigned official sympathies that get ladled on top of the mourners' heads like clods of earth being slapped onto the casket, but cut through all that and what we are doing is saying hello and good-bye: good-bye to the person who died, and hello again to the people who are gathered together, most of whom you probably saw at the last one of these and won't see again until the next one.

But there was none of that at Aunt Margie's good-bye. It might have been a child's graduation from high school or a baby shower. Plot hates to admit this, but he probably could have used a dog-faced rabbi who had been hired for two hours to pretend he had known the deceased, or someone in tears threatening to throw themselves into the...well, in this case they would have had to throw themselves onto the buffet table next to the turkey and provolone wraps and the hummus.

The thing is, Plot is sure Margie wanted it this way. And Plot really does love his cousins, they're such good people. He's sorry his Auntie had to leave the way she did, and what can you do anyway? You can't bring her back. Maybe the point was exactly that: let's have a good time and move forward.

When Plotnik left his mom's house at noon she looked awful, and Plot told his brother at the memorial that they would probably have to cancel the party the next day. But by the time he got back at 4:30, Duck had worked her magic. The two women were sitting on the sofa laughing and telling stories. Duck says she didn't do anything, but the party was back on.

Here's what Plotnik was thinking about his Mom's party, on Saturday night, after being at Margie's memorial: when you're young most of your family gatherings are happy ones. The older you get, the more often sadder occasions get mixed in. At Mummy P's age, you almost never get to bring the family together for a happy reason. So how special this would be. Lots of food. Lots of laughter. And it was.

So many people wrote Plotnik's mother to wish her happy birthday. That's so nice. It's hard for younger people to imagine how alone older people can get, when their friends are gone, with the days when they were needed fading further and further into a memory it becomes more difficult to access. It made her feel good to get those calls and cards and it made Plotnik feel good all over again when he saw the cards arranged in her family room. Nice. Thanks, everybody.

Moving forward. Quack! Guess who's birthday is tomorrow?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Mummy P's Birthday Party

The Plots are home, on Monday at 3:45pm, which ends a weekend of furious activity mixed with questions about whether the birthday girl would stay out of the hospital long enough to have her party.

It all turned out to be worrying about nothing. After saying she didn't think she could stand her headache any more and that they'd probably have to cancel the party, at the last moment she relented.

What happened was a blast of fun and family. Plot and his brother Schmeckl kept the guest list down, against all odds, and the food level up, despite entreaties of "Why are you serving meat? Why are you making so much food? Why haven't you invited X, Y, Z, Z Prime and Z Squared?"

The menu was all recipes that were Mummy P's specialties through the years: Butterflied, bbq leg of lamb, cheeze blintzes, zucchini and pine nut casserole, carrot cake and poppy seed cake, plus lots of salads and other recipes too. She blew out the one candle, after making a wish. Shmeckl and Plottie sang a new version of "16 Candles" called "95 Candles," Plottie read his Mom's Brisket story and Cousins Cindy, Jerry and Judy recalled some funny stories, one of which no one had ever heard before.

It seems that one night in 1966, Grampy P. took a gift out of his jacket pocket for Cousin Cindy and Cousin Karen, then teenagers. They were flabbergasted because in his hand were two tickets to see the Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl.

The problem was Cindy's father refused to allow his daughter to go see an evil rock and roll concert. Uncle Morrie had a head of stone -- once his mind was made up, there was no changing it. Which is when GrandMummy P. stepped up to the plate and used the only logic he would listen to: the girls should be allowed to go the concert (the tickets for which Grammy P. had herself stood in line for hours with a neighbor to buy), because: "It'll be good for the Jews."

Why exactly would that be? No one could figure it out, but the girls got to see The Beatles. The Great Plotnik was working at the Bowl that night, ushering for the concert. He was astonished to see Cindy and Karen come running by, laughing their heads off in happiness to have actually gotten out of the house. Cindy says Plotnik yelled out "What are YOU TWO doing here?" but they were having 'way too much fun to answer.

Cindy and Karen sat at the very top of the Hollywood Bowl. If you have never been there you cannot imagine how far away that is from the stage. They could barely see the bandshell itself and couldn't see the Beatles at all, but they could hear 'em. It turned out the same for Plotnik, who could hear everything quite well but spent his entire evening with the other ushers hauling unconscious teenage girls to the infirmary, all of whom had passed out cold the second John had led the Beatles onto the stage.

Mummy P's party was filled with stories like that. Not so Aunt Margie's memorial the day before. Plot'll tell you about that tomorrow.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Andre, Sophia and Max

Plotnik gave up in the 8th Inning last night, then Andre Ethier hits the game winner in the 9th. Obviously, the Plotzers win if Plotnik stops paying attention.

In two hours it's time to walk to the train to the bus to the plane. Plotnik found some fine old photos of his Aunt Margie to take to the memorial her kids are having for her on Saturday. He loves the one of his Grandma Sophia and Grandpa Max posing in what was probably a photo booth, probably in an amusement park somewhere in Chicago, around 1907 or 1908. It's beautiful to see your own grandparents, that you only knew as older people, cavorting around like kids, and they look like kids -- well, kids in long dresses and three piece suits, one in a bonnet, one in a rakish hat. Plottie will scan these pictures when he gets home for everyone to see.

Thursday, August 06, 2009


The Great Plotnik had too many things passing through his small brain last night, so he woke up ridiculously early, unable to get back to sleep. There are three big things to take care of, and two smaller ones, and while most people would just let 'em happen, Plottie is required to worry about each one in order.

So he got out of bed and walked upstairs and out onto the deck. The sun had come up just a bit before and was shining on the Bay Bridge in a way Plotnik hadn't seen in awhile. He ran down and got his tripod.

The bridge looks like it could be in Cleveland or Gary or Buffalo, doesn't it?

Then he got an email from The Great WantsaNewName-Nik. Plot and Wantsa wrote two country songs once that are on a Truckdriver Christmas album somewhere (the royalties they throw off each December are occasionally two figures! Two figures!), so they needed country names. These names are Pee Jay and Harlan Lewps.


The above, apparently, is how Harlan Lewps looks in Gaelic, or perhaps Greek. Plotnik doesn't know why the computer did that to his country songwriter name but he has to admit he loves it. And his gingham-wearing bleached blonde long scarlet fingernailed songwriting partner must be named “PeeJay�.