The Great Plotnik

Saturday, January 29, 2011

So Long Mark Bittman

Dance-Nik and The Great PD report digging themselves out on Clinton Ave in Brooklyn. It's a nice feeling to do that. Here, the weather has darkened a bit, but as long as it doesn't rain until Monday, when the bbq and deck chairs and tables can come out of the kitchen and go back onto the decks, we're good.

(It's raining now, lightly.)

Fantastic Finch-nik has sent Plottie the final column in the NYTimes from one of his favorite food writers, Mark Bittman. In tomorrow's paper Bittman will feature his choice of the best four regional Italian restaurants in Saint Plotniko, a city he says has the best regional Italian cooking in America, if not the world. (Why not in Italy? Because in Italy you get Roman cuccina in Rome and Tuscan in Florence and Genovese in Genoa. You don't find food from Bologna in Sicily.)(But you do in Saint Plotniko.)

His four choices are Perbacco (downtown -- food from the Italian Piedmont in the North), La Ciccia (around the corner from Great Plotnik World Headquarters -- food from Sardinia), Pizzeria Delfino (in the Mission, food from Naples/Rome) and Farina (also in the Mission, food from Liguria in the Northwest near Genoa).

Plot and Duck like La Ciccia and Pizzeria Delfino, haven't been to Perbacco or Farina. Clearly, it's time. And so long, Mark Bittman. His "How To Cook Everything" is still Plotnik's favorite and most often-used cookbook.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Remembering Winter

The Brooklyn Bridge covered with snow. This is the beautiful. Then you get the city bus mired and stuck. This is the not so cool.

The Great PD sends these photos and calls and texts how much he loves this first part of winter, the gorgeous first fall of snow, or the second, or maybe the third, and how the city is so quiet and lovely. Plottie remembers all that. Plot was a transplanted California kid once too, and has never forgotten how those snowstorms look, from the gently falling flakes to the untouched white blankets on top of the dogshit-laden concrete streets below.

When they were -- well, a little older than BZWZ but just a little younger than PD and 5H, Plot and Duck spent astonishingly beautiful winters in New York City and then in their own little farmhouse in the Pennsylvania countryside, where PD was born. Plot remembers sitting in front of the fireplace, having split a huge pile of fallen logs for firewood that afternoon and now getting to sit and enjoy his labor; or the crack of dawns outside on the front porch listening for the deer who would graze with their fawns in the day lily beds, ears and eyes alert for the slightest noise; or the short walk up to the henhouse with baby PD, wearing his red snowboots and blue jacket, to grab a few eggs from under the hens for breakfast, snow crackling underfoot and Plotnik's mustache turning instantly white with frost.

He remembers how content he felt, the night so cold but the farmhouse toasty warm, baby PD sleeping in his crib, Ducknik in her easy chair. Piano over there. Food in there. Cats down there. Plottie could feel like he had accomplished something really important -- safety for his family from out of the bitter elements.

He's not describing this right. It was more than just contentment. It was completion. Victory. For the day. That's not it either. Sometimes language just doesn't get it.

He remembers his first snowfall, on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan on New Year's Eve, when he looked into the neon and saw white soft stuff falling onto his eyelids from out of the sky. What is that? he wondered, catching it in his mittens and watching it turn into dewdrop. He remembers driving his cab down Broadway when he was the only car on the road. In New York City! The bums were stretched across the boulevard, making drunk snow angels, no trucks or buses to worry about. He remembers the view of the Empire State Building in the snow from Ducknik's old apartment before they moved in to the Cockroach Arms. He remembers how his West Coast fingers, ears and nose could not find anywhere to hide from the wind, not at first, no matter how much fur and flannel he put over them, not for a season or two.

So The Great Plotnik gets it. He gets it. When you live with only two seasons (Real Estate Signs UP and Real Estate Signs DOWN), four seasons are special, in January.

Come February, not so much. Come March, when what you hoped for (sun) is not what you get (wind and slush), less so.

On the farm, we planted our tomatoes on April 30, and that was a stretch. It's a long way from January 28 to April 30.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Writer's Food For Thought Number 12,000

January is breaking Plotnik records for sunshine and great theater. Another day of sun today, which follows last night's epic "Clybourne Park" at A.C.T. Plotnik is always excited to get to see so much live theater, but the shows this month have been very, very special, and the month ain't over yet either, with the new SF Playhouse and Magic Theater productions still to go.

If you want to find out how to write an Act Two, go see this one. Act One makes you want to scream, but you find out later that all of that is on purpose. Wow, what a tour de force. You can read the San Francisco Theater Blog Review of "Clybourne Park" here.

As at many A.C.T. shows, the press material is fascinating and informative. Bruce Norris, the author of Clybourne Park, is talking about the difference between tragedy and comedy, which is a question you ask yourself while seeing this show. Act One is supposed to be funny -- and you hear many people laughing. But during the intermission the woman sitting next to Plotnik (not Ducknik -- on the other side) turned and said to him "Boy! That made me feel REALLY uncomfortable. Why were all those people laughing?" Plotnik felt exactly the same way.

Norris writes that to him Act One is a tragedy and Act Two is a comedy. His reason is that, for him, tragedy is only possible when everybody understands each other, when they share the same sense of themselves. In this way, when something awful happens, everyone experiences it and feels it.

On the other hand, comedy happens when nobody understands each other, when the same act creates totally different reactions in different people. This is funny, because nobody is on the same page and their different reactions crack us up.

Writer's Food For Thought Number 12,000.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Svinina (Tsimmis)

Plotnik is following a recipe today for a Russian dish called Svinina, which sounds like 'swine' but looks to him a lot like a tsimmis -- meat (pork, in this case, but veal or beef for a proper tsimmis) browned and then stewed in stock with baby onions, dried apricots and prunes.

"Don't make such a big tsimmis out of this," you hear people say when a little problem is about to turn into a big problem, or put another way, when you're adding too many things to the stew and everything is boiling away to nothing.

Plotnik loves the origins of food. Meat stewed with dried fruit is pure Persian, brought no doubt into Russia after many centuries of being neighboring countries. The difference will always be the herbs available and the fat used to brown the meat. The Persians don't eat pork so they brown their lamb dishes in vegetable oil -- the Russians prize pork so they savor their pork fat. The Poles and Germans had access to veal and beef. If the tsimmis, or svinina, is Russian it will probably contain dill and parsley; if it's Persian, where it's a lot hotter, you'll probably find mint and sumac and if it's Polish or German, where cultures kept crossing and mixing (war does that) you might find anything at all tossed into the pot.

Carrots. Everybody has carrots.

Plottie suspects Cousin Doris made a pretty snappy tsimmis. Is he right, J of J J Seattle? What was in it?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

So Little for So Much

Plotnik is reading "The Long Walk" by Slavomir Rawicz, which has been made into a movie that may already have been released. It's the story of a Pole who fights against the Nazis and is then imprisoned by the Russians. He is an intellectual (i.e., went to college) so he is automatically assumed to be a spy. He is tortured, packed into a cattle car and sent to the gulags in Siberia, from whence (Plotnik isn't up to that part in the story yet) he escapes and walks across Siberia and China and the Himalayas and eventually ends up in India.

But Plottie isn't thinking about the long walk so much, but about how this man was a Pole. His country was invaded by Germans so he fought against them, and then his country was invaded by Russians so he fought against them too. It's what we would all do.

It's human nature -- or at least man nature. It is imprinted in the DNA of men. We carve out our area, where we will raise our families, and we protect it against any and all comers. No one will fight more fiercely than a man protecting his family or a woman protecting her brood.

And we never feel better either.

When you think about this against the backdrop of our nation of wealth and favor, who no foreign power has invaded since 1814, who has every natural advantage and is surrounded by long-time allies and friends on all sides -- friends who count on us for their own economic and military protection and therefore will defend us in turn -- you at first find it impossible to understand the Jared Loughners and other armed-to-the-teeth lunatics, whose desire to kill seems to have no purpose, no reason. It doesn't make sense.

But they're almost always men, aren't they? It's as if they can't find an enemy so they have to create one. They must defend their turf, their family, their brood, even if they are so psychotic there is probably no chance they could ever aquire one.

They see themselves as hemmed in on all sides, and they see everyone else as, if not an enemy, at least a potential enemy. We call it mental illness but they see it as self defense.

They want to feel good too.

A man this morning blew himself up in an airport in Russia, killing many people like you and me, hanging around the international terminal waiting to pick up friends and family and drive them home. How many suicide bombers activated their deadly bombs yesterday in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Lebanon, India, Pakistan, Tunisia? Forget the politics or religion here.

Allah, Jesus and Moses don't kill people. People kill people. Plotnik sounds like the NRA here.

These are people making what are, to themselves, rational decisions. To them, they have already been riding on the cattle car for too long and finally have a chance to take some of the hated enemy with them.

From our vantage point they are idiots. This is lunacy. And it is. It accomplishes so very little, in exchange for so very much.

Monday, January 24, 2011

One Show to Laugh With, Another to Sock You in the Gut

What a weekend -- two fantastic shows, both completely different. For pure escapism Saturday night there was a remake of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Thirty Nine Steps," at Theatreworks in Mountain View, which was inspired silliness and belly laughs; last night was Mike Daisey's "The Agony and Ecstacy of Steve Jobs" which will be one of the best shows of this year or any year. Funny but gut-wrenching, this Mike Daisey show helps Plotnik understand why there is so much buzz out there about this man. You can read both San Francisco Theater Blog reviews here.

The Thirty Nine Steps

The Agony and Ecstacy of Steve Jobs

It must be a lot of fun to put on a show like The Thirty Nine Steps, where four actors play at least forty roles. It can't be fun to do The Agony and Ecstacy of Steve Jobs every night, because Mike Daisey agonizes over the dichotomy we all should face but don't: Cool, brilliantly designed Apple products made by hundreds of thousands of Chinese laborers working under conditions unimaginable to Americans.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

First Tooth Fairy Application

This young lady, who lives next door to Great Plotnik World Headquarters, and who had just removed her necklace made out of bread to hold in her mouth for the photo opp, just lost her first tooth.

It brings back a lot of memories, especially of BZWZ losing hers on Cozumel and TGPD diving down into the mud and dredging it out for her.

Sun, nothing but sun. The Great Plotnik's children would not believe it, because it always rains when they're here. But it's sun and nothing but sun into the near future. The doves are back in their nests. Bulbs are breaking through. Lemons all over the trees. Man.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Flag is at Half Mast

The Great Plotnik World Headquarters flag is at half mast today because Doris Lederman passed away yesterday. Doris is the mom of faithful Plotnikkie J (of J and J Seattle) and nobody who ever met her could have possibly had any opinion other than "Dang! What a super nice lady!"

When we were all a little younger and everyone still lived in Stiletto City, Doris's house was where you went for delicious meals and lots of laughs with her and her husband Harry, who has been gone now for several years. Plottie really enjoyed those evenings.

So on we go. At least Doris's passing was sudden -- it's harder on the suprised people who are left, but of course a lot easier for everyone in the long run.

So Plotnik sends Doris a, he has to amend that. Doris Lederman was one of these woman who you don't hug, she hugs you. No air kisses here. She was big, and busty, and when she pulled you in there for one of those "It's sure great to see YOU!" hugs, you didn't get away easily. But who wanted to? Getting hugged by Doris let you know there is still a lot of love in the world, and it's right here and right now.

This time passing business is no fun. Judy, thanks for this wonderful photo. It looks like she's just in the other room, with that big smile, waiting for us to come in and say hi.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Lot of Fun in Stiletto

It was like old times in Stiletto Monday and Tuesday as Brother Virgil came to town from Nashville for two days of recording on The Perfect Pitch.

As you can see, Plottie had some very high parts to sing.

Virgil is one of these people you run into in cities like Nashville and Stiletto -- people who are so gifted at their craft -- in this case, singing -- that you can't figure out why they are not household words. It's not even the wrong place at the right time or the right place at the wrong time, because Virg and the rest of us were often in the right place at at the right time. But spit happens. It's usually a fatefully bad decision - Virg would have been the new bass player for Poco which led directly to the Eagles, but...turned 'em down. Same with Davy Blue -- should he take that job with the Paul Williams band and end up writing with a guy who made jillions of writer bucks? ---nahh. He had another gig.)

It reminds Plottie of his old buddy Jon who was asked to produce this young bimbo with no talent, or so he thought. Jon turned down Madonna.

As far as The Great Plotnik is concerned, this is part of the job description. When you decide to be an artist of any kind, you know that the 99.999% most likely outcome is great pleasure but monetary insecurity. The music business is like that SUBWAY Super-Hero we ate yesterday -- a bit of meat to sink your teeth into, but it's surrounded by chemical-tasting lettuce and black olives from a can. A few great moments plus several almosts, a couple almost-almosts and one or two ARE YOU KIDDING ME? HE JUST WHAT? DROPPED DEAD? TODAY? HE CAN"T DO THAT! WHAT ABOUT MY RECORD?

But it does lead to a lot of great stories and, in Virg's case, one cherry '57 Chevvy truck. And let me tell ya, Brother Virgil can still sing. He hasn't lost a note.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Great Name

There's a sporting goods store on Robertson Blvd. near Pico that is called The Merchant of Tennis.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Studio City Farmer's Market a great one. It operates on Sunday morning and while reaching a IBY 8.5 (The Index of Baldfaced Yuppiness), they have so much wonderful Southern Shmalifornia produce to choose from.

Mummy P. wonders why we like to shop there. "I have food here," she says. Ah, right.

It was really nice to see Homeboy Bakery with a booth at the Farmer's Market. This is full-circle economic development, folks. Homeboy Industries is a fabulous organization begun by Father Greg Boyle twenty-some years ago, to try and keep gang kids out of jail, or rehab the ones who went in and got out. Their Mexican restaurant on North Broadway is run 100% by really scary looking people, but the food is cheap and authentic and delicious. And now their bakery (from which Plotnik bought a sourdough olive loaf for...get this...$7 bucks!) sells its just-baked breads and pastries ("Hey, we got up at four, homes, to bake this stuff. We had to wait 'til it cooled off to get it into the paper, shee...") in Studio City, not exactly known as a hotbed of gangland activity.

Crystals. You can buy crystals. Vegan towels. Kale tamales. But also mushrooms. Lots of chantarelles, morels, many others too, Chef P. Nothing less than $20-$60/pound.

Plot is making dinner tonight for Ducknik, Mummy P. and cousin Lilalee. Looks like Greek Tycoon Burgers with mushrooms (of course), sourdough olive bread (of course) and lots of fresh spinach and baby romaine (of course).

Then it's two days of being buried in the studio, from which Plot will arise at some point Tuesday night and fly home.

Any of you Plotnikkies who expressed a desire to hear "Rabbi Karpas," you'll get a CD in the mail if you send me a street address. It's 'way too big a file for e-mail.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Fifty Four Minutes

Plotnik has been working on a story/song to give his Mom for her Christmas present, since her CD player is her lifeline to the outside world these days. The story is in five parts. Plot recorded the narration and then had The Great Wes McBoopy play guitar on as much of it as he had time for. (Wes McBoopy is the stage name for the artist also known as Isabella's Father.)

(Plot had parts for McBoopy's sister to sing too but everybody runs around at Christmas. There wasn't enough time.)

So Plottie finally got the project done and got ready to email it to his children, and then he realized it's 54 minutes long. Does anyone really want to listen to a 54-minute long story-with-music? Do you know how long 54 minutes is? 500 megs. That's half a gigabyte for one story.

So forget e-mail. He burned a few CDs and will take one down to Stiletto this weekend. Plot and Duck will visit with Mummy Plotnik for a few days and then Plot will stay on and do some recording on The Perfect Pitch Monday and Tuesday.

The story is called "Rabbi Karpas Hates Me." It's about the time Plottie got cabnapped in Bangkok in the middle of a thunderstorm, while trying to get to a gig to play music for a bunch of Orthodox Jews, in a country where Jews are unknown. The amazing part is that every word is true; the more interesting part is that after seeing two wildly different monologists on stage this week, one who is a friendly guy, and one who comes off as a total a-hole, Plot realized something about any story -- especially a travel story:

It's never about the place -- it's always about the person who went there. It is no longer possible in this day and age to find anywhere on the Earth, no matter how remote, where somebody isn't twittering about it already. So you can't be first, and since you can't you'd better do some personal growth while you're there, or you'll bore the hell out of everybody.

A 54 minute story may do that anyway, unless you're 96 and almost blind. But Plotnik thinks it's pretty damned good.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Difference in Critical Opinion

It is not easy to write a review about a show you both liked and didn't care for. The Great Ducknik and The Great Plotnik differed about this one. Plottie found it fascinating, while the Duck did not cotton to being screamed at for two hours. But there is a lot there. You can read the San Francisco Theater Blog review of "The Last Cargo Cult" here.

Fortunately, the performer is doing two shows in repertory, and we get to see the second show, called "The Agony and Ecstacy of Steve Jobs" in ten days. The more Plotnik thinks about last night's performance, the more excited he is to see the next show. It's the kind of thing that sticks with you.

And this show violates most of the monologue rules, which Plotnik likes too. However, Duck has already announced Plotnik can go to the next show by himself or take somebody else. She had enough last night.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Heat! Nice Heat!

Nice heat. Nice heat. Good boy. Good boy. Nice heat.

The culprit was probably the rust you see on the furnace inducer motor. What's an inducer? Oh, it's that thing that catches all the rust. Most importantly, all the pieces ended up fitting. Which is to say Plotnik went to the plumbing supply house, hung around until they figured out which motor he needed, ordered it from Texas, they delivered it on time, the heating man went and picked it up at the shop and came here this morning on schedule, took out the old and put in the new, turned on the unit and:

WHOOOOOSH! Heatheatheatheat!

So that little winter interlude is over. What's next? At least not snow like this.

You're looking at a photo of Clinton Avenue in Brooklyn taken by the Great PD at 8am yesterday. Not here. Plot is sitting at his desk without two sweaters and a hat. Nice. Nice heat. Good boy!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Glad We're Not in Australia

It's warmer outside today, so the temperature in the house has gone up too, from 50 to 51. Tomorrow they promise our furnace repair -- no, that's not true. They don't promise. Promise would indicate some sense of surety. They hope. We hope. That's it.

We're really glad we're not in Brisbane, Australia or anywhere back East.

Out here, Plot and Duck are used to it by now. It's not really that big a deal. All you need is one comfortable room, especially if that's the room with the internet and tv and guitars.

It would be wayyyyy worse to have your power out for a week. And almost as bad to lose internet for that amount of time.

It makes Plot and Duck appreciate their house a lot. Comfy bed and down comforter. Fairly well insulated rooms which keep the temperature from dropping too much inside. All that extra work they did each time they renovated, like adding extra insulation and sound proofing, which is also insulation, seems to have paid off. At least so far.

Also, it's Shmalifornia, not Brooklyn, not Providence, not Atlanta, not Washington DC, not Seattle and definitely not Queensland.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

One Eleven Eleven

Mark your calendars, it won't happen again for another century.

Day Two at the Frostbite Palace is proceeding just fine. The P.O.S. heater from Lowe's turns out to work after all. (You never want to build up a head of indignant steam and then when the guy who was "currently serving other customers" for half an hour finally does get on the line you go off on him, only to hear him say "Did you press the start button?")

(And then you don't want to compound your entry into the Idiot Customers Hall of Shame by laying into him with "but your *$&&%)# manual doesn't SAY anything about a start button!" but then actually LOOK at the manual and, well, there it is.)

Anyhow, his ego a bit flatter but plenty still to go, Plotnik's studio is a cozy 68 degrees now. Ducknik is working on the sofa and Plotnik is typing away with warm fingers and we'll be just fine as long as the power stays on. The furnace repair, supposedly, is scheduled for Thursday.

Has this happened to you? Last night Plot and Duck went down to Pasta Pomodoro for dinner and when they got done Plot saw a couple in the corner smiling at him. He smiled back and they waved hi, first the woman and then the man. Plot figured they were waving at someone behind him, but when he turned to look there was nobody else there. So he pointed to himself questioningly, "me?"

They smiled again and when he got a little closer to their table he recognized that he did know the woman, but his brain would not call back her name.

Her husband said "Plot and Duck, right?" Then they introduced themselves and, of course, the instant they did so Plot and Duck remembered that they are dear friends of their ex-neighbor Pat who had lived across the street for quite a few years. (In fact she sold her house to another ex-neighbor John the King.)

Plot and Duck had seen this couple and their kids many times at Pat's house, and always enjoyed them a lot. It's probably been ten years, at least, since they saw them, but shouldn't Plot have remembered these faces?

So last night Plotnik dreamed about the couple. In the dream they lived in an enormous and elegant home on grounds as expansive as an English estate (which is what comes from watching the new PBS English aristocracy drama the other night), except it was here in Snowy Valley. The husband showed Plotnik his warm studio, where there were many banjos.

Banjos? Banjos. Plotnik is stumped by the banjos.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Cold cold cold. Cold hands. Cold fingers. Cold nose.

The P.O.S. furnace died yesterday. We heard its last gasp --- probably the last time it actually turned on, it was the sound of metal bearings scraping against blackboards to the acompaniment of screeching iron. And then -- nothing.

And it's cold up here! Anyhow, this morning Plottie took the original P.O.S. motor, which had been replaced eight years ago but saved against this very occurrence, down to the plumbing and heating supply place. A few hours later a new one has been ordered, but the company that made it became another company that became another company that became the third company and that one is in Texas and it'll take several days to get here.

There's a spiffy new Lowe's down where dependable old Goodman's Lumber used to be. Plot drove into the spiffy new parking lot and walked into the spiffy new Lowe's and bought a spiffy new space heater and got it home and turned it on and the P.O.S. new space heater doesn't work either.

There is a phone number for help. Plotnik has counted "All our representatives are serving other customers. Please remain on the line" seventeen times already. He will probably have to take the P.O.S. space heater back to P.O.S. Lowe's and he's more pissed off about that than he is about the P.O.S. furnace biting it.

It's 50 degrees in the living room. The studio is warmer. It's warmer outside than inside. Sounds like dinner out and a day at the coffee house with the computer.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Tiaposians Together for Once

The entire Tiapos gang plus a few groupies were at The Great WantzaNewname's house last Thursday.

From left: G. Large Pants, G. WantzaNewname, G. Sparker, B. Bombshell, G. Mushnik, G. Plotnik, Chef Pickle, M. Motorhead, J-Whacky (Groupie 1) and Montreal Val (Groupie 2).

The photo was taken by Wantza's son Will, who now speaks English with a French Canadian accent. It's not the most flattering picture of either of them, but that's the photographer's fault. Will actually looks like a tree trunk and Wantza reminds us all of Meredith Baxter Birney's early films.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Saturday and Up for Air

Buried once again in a long track, this time close to an hour long with so many parts to deal with, Plotnik rises for air on Saturday afternoon. No blog yesterday? What was yesterday?

Well, last night was Plot and Duck's first show of the year. The wonderful story teller Jeff Greenwald brought his "Strange Travel Stories" to the Marsh in Berkeley. He told three travel stories. The first, Plot and Duck had heard before, about a hike through rural Nepal, involving an unfortunate roast chicken. The second was about an astonishing scuba dive at dawn in the Philippines. But the third was the really funny one -- a description of the "Left Luggage" shed at the Culcutta Airport.

You listen to Jeff tell stories and you want to get out of town and see the rest of the world. At least, Plotnik does. So many pin-less holes in the map.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Blurt and Mull on the Deck

Plottie (Mull) and Davey Blue (Blurt) on the deck. This is the first good photo in years of Plot and his old buddy. It's got to be a good sign that Dave is smiling again.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Blue Water and Hot Sun

While we were all dodging the rain on New Year's Day, famed children's book author Nguyen Goldberg Tyrone Lopez was kicking back in southern Thailand. She's on her way to helping the elephants at a camp in northern Thailand but it looks like she could stay right where she is for a good long while.

Thinking about those long long airplane rides to get to S.E. Asia does not exactly float Plotnik's boat these days, but on the other hand if you want sun and sea there are fabulous places a lot closer. The Plotniks are honing in on another sailing trip with their Mainer pals in the spring and that should do the trick quite nicely.

Of course (knock knock) there are a lot of things than can happen (spit over shoulder) between now and then (rub rabbits foot).

Monday, January 03, 2011

2011's First First Prize

The nominations are in for Best Video of the First Day of the First Week of 2011. And the winner is...

Belly Bone Stomps on Dominant Force-Nik.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

The Hundred Year Old Man

The Chief turned 100 yesterday. Sadly, he couldn't come to the party. But we all remembered him. If Duck and I had been in Stiletto City we'd have made the big boychik a martini.

Here's a story Plotnik wrote about his stepdad, just after he died.

Chiefie’s Last Chocolate Bar

I could drop dead tomorrow. A cabbie could run me over in the crosswalk. A chunk of granola could block my carotid artery. Leukemia, carcinoma, stroke, all possibilities. I’ve got to live for today, this hour, this minute. These are the kinds of thoughts I have when people I love die.

No matter that the person in question was one week shy of 94 years old. For months Harry the Chief had been telling me “Listen to me, boychik. I’m 93. I'm not going to last forever.” We didn’t want to listen. We thought he would live at least as long as his mother, who made it to 99.9.

But a week before Thanksgiving, Harry blacked out and fell. My Mom saved him that time, but he fell again a few days later. This time, when the paramedics took him to the emergency hospital, his heart valve was practically sealed shut. He was no longer to be allowed out of bed, even to walk to the bathroom. Living like this was not an option for The Chief.

They tried a risky angioplasty to repair the valve, but found a blockage in his carotid artery. They fixed the first blockage but found a second. After each procedure, Harry was re-confined in the Intensive Care Unit. ICU’s are staffed by humans, who have priorities. You help the child or the young mother before you help the 93 year old man. He kept picking up hospital-borne staph infections. When I saw him last, he was delirious, convinced he was in a bad hotel where no one would tell him the check-out time.

Two nights later, his heart raced and his oxygen levels fell. He had signed a Do Not Resucitate order, but they tried to bring him back anyway. The Chief wasn’t buying. And that was that.

In the end, I feel blessed that I got to know this man -- he lived several lives and had many different layers, as we all do, and you can't complain about 92 1/2 years of good health. I met Harry when I was 15. Forty four years later he was still solid as a rock. He bailed me out of jail in college and never told Mom. "Boychik, why don't we just keep this to ourselves," he said. For that alone, he's in my Hall of Fame.

We had a nice visit that last Monday. I bought him a chocolate ice cream bar. I can see him now, chewing his ice cream in the ICU, smacking his lips, smiling. I kissed him goodbye on his bald head and he smiled again. I like having that smile in my mind now, because it was one of my jobs in life to make The Chief laugh. I always saved my best jokes for him. He particularly loved the ones with elaborate setups: “A rabbi, a priest and a one-legged bear are playing golf in Paris...”

And then he died. The next day Mom asked me to accompany her and Harry’s two kids to meet with Rabbi Shmotsky, who was to give the funeral oration, although he'd never actually met the Chief. We’d talk to the rabbi about The Chief, to give him something on which to base his eulogy, and he'd take it from there.

The Chief was proud to be a Jew but his jaw would have dropped if he could have seen Rabbi Shmotsky. I changed into a sweater and nice shoes to meet the man, but the Rabbi opened his office door wearing a Hawaiian shirt and cargo pants. Two guitars and a banjo were spread around the room. He kept glancing at his watch, as if he was late for an audition with The Singing Nun.

I was stunned. But I was mad at the whole process -- the Chief was gone. At the gravesite, citing the tradition that says “We don’t let strangers bury our dead,” the rabbi allowed time for each of us to toss shovelfuls of dirt on top of the coffin in the grave, then had us back away so the mortuary laborers could finish the job with a back hoe.

Returning to my mom’s house, our family and friends ate corned beef and turkey from Art’s Delicatessen, Harry’s favorite. At sundown, after most of the people had left, one of our religious cousins decided it was time to say Kaddish. This is a sacred obligation Jews like Cousin Jake take very seriously. One is supposed to face East, towards Jerusalem, and stand and repeat the obligatory prayers.

At the risk of offending Cousin Jake, to me the Kaddish sounds like it was written by Monty Python: “Oh God, You are So… Big! And Gosh, Lord, We Are So… Impressed!”

To do this for The Chief was distasteful to me, but Harry probably would have enjoyed it. He'd have said: "Take it easy, Boychik, I don't mind." Still, when Jake asked me which way was East, I pointed him North. So sue me. I say it was accidental, Barb says not. Either way, I now have another smiling photo in my mind of Harry enjoying the vision of the whole family facing Nova Scotia as they went through the rituals about which he couldn’t have cared less.

Later that night, and all the next day, we sat around my Mom’s house telling stories about the Chief. My son Danny laughed about the night in the Armenian restaurant, after Harry had lost much of his memory. He kept asking for coffee, but couldn’t remember drinking it. “What the hell do I have to do to get a cup of coffee around here?” he would yell at the flustered waiter, as cup after empty cup piled up in front of him.

Staci remembered Harry chastising a Save-On clerk for not realizing that Harry, an old Jewish man, and Staci, a young African American woman, were related. “What, you can’t see the resemblance?” he barked at the clerk.

My brother Ric remembered Deck The Rabbi. Ric’s wedding to Paula took place only six months after Mom married Harry, so it was the first event we had had with Harry standing in the Dad position. After the large, gala ceremony, Harry, Ric and Mel Meyer, Ric’s best man, went into a back room with the Rabbi to sign the Wedding Certificate. The Rabbi then insisted Ric pay him three times his agreed-upon fee. He said he was worth it. He also said he wouldn’t sign the Wedding Certificate unless Ric complied.

This Rabbi was a weddings-and-funerals guy, not anyone who knew the family. So he didn’t know about Ric’s infamous hot streak. My brother spoke softly. Had he heard Rabbi correctly – had he really asked for three times his fee?

“Pay, up Sonny,” were the last words the Rabbi spoke before Ric slammed his right fist square into the Rabbi’s chin, knocking him unconscious. The Rabbi dropped to the floor, landing directly on Harry’s shiny black wedding shoes.

Harry looked down at the Rabbi lying on the floor, then up at his new stepson. He nodded his head, didn’t say anything for awhile. Then, he put his hand on Ric’s shoulder and said: “Boychik, you killed the rabbi.” They all waited for the rabbi to wake up, stand up, sign the paper, accept his $100 gladly, and stagger to his car, then the three marched back into the party.


When it was my turn, I remembered a very different moment. It was Mom and Harry’s 25th Wedding Anniversary and the whole family assembled for the weekend in a rented house on Lake Arrowhead. On Saturday night we played the Desert Island game, where everyone wrote the name of his or her favorite song on a piece of paper and dropped the paper into a hat. We would then pick a song from the hat and try to guess whose favorite song it was.

It was simple to know a Sinatra song was Judy’s favorite and an Aretha song was Barb’s favorite, but I was surprised when I pulled from the hat a piece of paper on which was written the title “Is There Anybody There?” Although many in the room hadn’t heard this song before, I, of course, knew it well, because I had written it. And when I looked at Harry’s beaming face, I knew it was he who had chosen my song as his favorite.

At that moment, an Oscar and a Grammy could not showered me with more pride. I can recall that feeling right now, as well as see The Chief’s smiling face chewing the hell out of that chocolate ice cream bar in the ICU, enjoying it the way we’re all supposed to -- as if it would be his last.

Jan. 2005

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Fireworks and Falling Leaves

As the Plotniks were sitting around wondering if they'd have enough energy to head over to the New Year's Eve party at John and Christine's last night, the phone rang. It was Silent Bill with a dinner invitation for the evening, which Plot and Duck gratefully accepted.

Prime rib, mashed potatoes, peas and two kinds of rugelach, plus the company of dear friends under whose dining table the Plotniks have been fortunate to spread their feet many times.

Then it was time to head home and over to the party -- but Ducknik wasn't feeling 100% and somehow, well, you know how these things work. The sofa and a rented movie looked too inviting to pass up. At midnight Plot and Duck walked out onto their deck, wearing heavy jackets (cold, cold, cold), in time to hear people all over the city starting to shout Happy New Year! while the fireworks went off with a bang down near the Embarcadero, somewhere in the distance behind the avocado tree and around the corner near Holly Park.

Then this morning Plot went out to his car to find it covered with East-Coast style colored leaves, as if fall fell from the trees last night, just in time to continue a short cold streak on the way to a beautiful and prosperous spring.

Plotnik ran into his neighbor Vaughn, who shouted over "the year started off bad but ended up good!" to which Plotnik replied "Let's keep it going this year!" What can we do but search out the beautiful music, no matter how much crud continues to surround it?

This is Plotnik's story and he is sticking to it. Let's have a Great Year! How about it?