The Great Plotnik

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Life Moves On, Children

All you Tiaposians of today, meet the Tiaposians of yesterday. Aside from Plottie, L-R that's Claire, Ellen, Laura and Joan. The party was at Laura (Hanky Girl)'s house, so she could introduce her new John (Hanky was married to a different John in the old days). John The Second actually preceded John First because he and Hanky used to date in the Eight Grade and then reconnected at a 40th High School Reunion. It's long distance for now -- he's a working fireman in St. Louis.

We know, we know, no picture. Hanky, can you please send me a picture to post? Of John, not the chips?

Claire! Plotnik hadn't seen her in a long time, and she still lives in the most photogenic spot in the Bay Area, on the hill overlooking Sausalito harbor. Ellen has become a professional baker and is the Bubbela behind Bubbela's Rugelach, a few of which Plotnik got to taste last night, though it wasn't easy.

Joan went back to school and became a professional Marriage and Family counselor.

Any old Tiaposians reading that last statement may still be sitting up in bed rubbing their eyes. Plotnik suggests Visine. Life moves on, my children. Everybody seems happy.

John Two is courting Hanky Girl with bags and bags of these curly fried Frito-Lay barbecue crunchies that come in a yellow package. They are unavailable on the west coast and are ridiculously delicious. The Great Plotnik feels the boy has a good chance if he keeps that up.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Cantor Umpy

There are some people, on a faraway planet, who wouldn't be touched to the core by the film "One Hundred Voices," but probably nobody reading The Great Plotnik. It played last night as the final film in the 2011 Jewish Film Festival at the Castro Theater, preceded by a twenty minute performance by four cantors, two women and two men, accompanied by the Castro's fine old silent movie-era Wurlitzer.

Cantors Sharon Bernstein and Roz Barak are from Saint Plotniko and Cantors Nate Lam and Marcus Feldman are both cantors at Steven Wise Temple in Stiletto City. Cantor Nate (who Plotnik knows as "Umpy"), second from the right above, just happens to play The Umpire in "The Perfect Pitch," but last night he was presenting his glorious film made by a team of American Jews, including 75 cantors, who traveled to Poland to give concerts of chazzanas (the old Jewish liturgical music) in Polish cities and towns that were, once upon a time, the centers of the cantorial world.

It sounds dry, doesn't it? Tear jerkers about holocausts and Hitler and the awful Poles? Nope, nope and nope. The music is transcendent. Umpy has a brilliant barritone but you should hear Cantor Mizrahi and Cantor Mendelsson and Cantor Goel. You get insights into the cantors themselves and their lives (often sons and grandsons of famous cantors either killed by the Nazis or who escaped in the nick of time) and what drove these --- big -- men, while growing up in Brooklyn or L.A. or Greece or Israel or England, to want to become cantors themselves.

They are singing in front of a world class 100-piece symphony orchestra, with two choirs -- one made up of kids they brought from America and the other a choir of Polish children. Cantor Nate says that when he heard these Polish kids singing "Hatikvah," the Israeli National Anthem, everything began to make sense to him.

Women cantors? -- Well, this is an American thing. In the Old world you needed an enormous belly and bushy beard.

You get to see the astonishing burst of interest in now-disappeared Jewish culture, among young Polish people. The cantors sing in front of 16,000 people at an outdoor concert in Krakow, they fill up the Warsaw Opera House, they sing in the one remaining synagogue in Warsaw that predates World War II (out of 117 (!) synagogues that existed before the war, when the capital of Poland was one half Jewish), and everywhere they go they are mobbed -- this time with adulation.

Nate says they had no idea what they were getting into when they put this project together, and though it is written in the Torah that No Documentary Shall Ever Make Money, you can feel how important this labor of love was to everyone involved in it. It's too bad that the Jewish Film Festival felt it necessary to charge so much for this performance and film ($25 each) but after Cantor Sharon Bernstein (above left, holding the music), sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", in Yiddish (music written by Harold Arlen, the son of a Polish cantor), which immediately reduced Plottie to gobs of tears, he turned to Ducknik, wiped off his own face and said "OK. That was worth the fifty bucks right there." And that was before the film started.

(Before she sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" she introduced it as "the only song I would ever sing in The Castro.")

There is so much more to say.

When Plottie took Ducknik and The Great BZWZ to Poland in the year 2000, to find his father's father's home town, he was one of many Americans who make this journey. We want to know where, why and how come? It is a pull that is so difficult to describe to someone else, this need to go back to see the tiny shards of an enormous thousand-year-old intermingling of lives and culture, and yet it proved to be so fragile, so vulnerable and destroyable. Now, there is so little to see.

Christians can go to Jerusalem, or Nazareth, or Bethlehem, and they see, at the very least, the ancient streets, or the shadow of the streets, or the hint of the world that was.

We can't do that. The tiny villages, the wooden houses, the world that bred this music, has been obliterated, the people gassed, the towns themselves grown over with grasses and wildflowers with, in a few cases, a dusty monument stuck in the back of an old graveyard somewhere. Or not even that. The people who did this: all gone. The people who remember what happened: fewer and fewer.

Soon, Auschwitz will be like Chichen Itza. Who were these people? What happened here? Why? (Shrug)

But here, in 2011, we've still got the culture, the food, the music. The sense of making light out of dark, humor from despair, sense from non-sense -- this remains. But it too is getting older. Still, The Castro was full last night, full of complaining, coughing old Jews, talking too loudly on cell phones during the show, but also singing along with the ancient melodies -- dai dai dai dai dai.

The Great Plotnik feels proud this morning, thanks to Cantor Umpy. The lines from The Perfect Pitch: "Music from the Hemispheres, Music to Last a Thousand Years" -- this morning it all makes a little more sense.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Don't Eat at Barbara's

On Sunday Plot and Duck went on a really bad hike that wasn't a hike, it was a historical tour, but it wasn't even that. The little blurb in the Chron had said if we'd meet at 1:30, at the old train station in El Granada, there would be a lady from the El Granada Historical Something Or Other who would show us the fine old homes and other wonders of historical El Granada, down the road from Pacifica.

Blogmaid, you know this already, but we didn't: there is no old train station in El Granada. There is a restaurant, Taste of Yummy, on a corner of the highway, into whose parking lot, by blind luck, Plotnik decided to stop his car to try and figure out where the old train station might be. Turns out that restaurant USED TO BE the train station, at the beginning of the TWENTIETH Century, "Did they call it 'the old train station' in the ad again?" the woman said. Everyone laughed ho ho yuk yuk you freaking yokels.

Then, the historical woman made everyone stand in one spot while she traded insider jokes with the guy from the Historical Society of Redwood City and the guy from the Historical Society of Montara. Motorcycles roared by. You couldn't hear a word anyone was saying, though the three Historical People laughed heartily. Then they would walk us for five minutes and stop in front of a dumpster or old, sort of, parklet, in a way, kind of.

Trust The Great Plotnik, there is nothing to see in El Granada. Plotnik and Ducknik bailed after three quarters of an hour, each quarter worth less than the previous one.

The tour walked one way, Plot and Duck walked the other, heading for Barbara's Fish Trap, where a man on the tour said they "make the best clam chowder in the world." There was a line out the door at Barbara's, and you had to put your name on a list. "Best clam chowder in the world," said another guy in line. Plot put their name on a list and he and Duck walked down by Princeton Harbor, looking at the...well, at nothing. There is nothing at all to look at down there, but there was this one bench by the water. So they sat on the bench by the water. This red sailboat sailed by that building in the background that looks like a cannery from the Popeye movie. Plottie took a picture. The boat moved. Somewhere, a clam burped.

Then they got up, went back to Barbara's Fish Trap. The chowder probably would be delicious to someone from El Granada or Princeton Harbor, but not to anyone who has actually ever tasted real clam chowder before. It was the kind you drop those little round crackers into and the crackers sit on the top of the soup and you can't push 'em under because they just pop back up, gasping for breath. "Please," they beg, "eat us. Don't make us go back in there."

Boring tour, mediocre soup. Pretty sailboat though. Maybe they'll finish that tunnel while any of us are still alive.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Still Mad About That X-Ray

Plotnik didn't need that extra set of x-rays that his dentist Dr. U. Flossem insisted on taking yesterday, especially after he admitted to Plotnik that the only reason he was taking them was that new state standards limit the amount of radiation a patient can endure during any one visit, so if they're going to have a complete yearly set of x-rays, they have to do it in two shifts now.

Screw that. Plotnik should have said he didn't want the x-rays. He knew he didn't need them, and he also knew what ever they should show he wasn't going to do anything about it because nothing hurts.

I mean, when you go for your yearly physical, do they take a complete set of x-rays? No. If you tell them your foot hurts they x-ray your foot.

Dr. U. Flossem has been going on about one or another of Plotnik's wisdom teeth for years. First he says "Are you flossing the same amount as always?" and Plotnik says "hmmmm." Dr. Flossem doodles something on his pad and asks "Do you have any extra sensitivity in that molar?"


"I see. Well, we'll just keep our eye on it."

Which eye? The eye on the balance sheet or the eye that is hooked into the new computerized rating service? The one that sends you an e-form to fill out before and after each visit, rating your doctor and asking if there isn't anything else they can do to enhance your experience at the dentist? They want to know about their choice of music. WE DON'T CARE. They want to know if the receptionist smiles enough. WE DON'T CARE. They want to know if the magazines are all right. WE DON'T CARE.

Plotnik wrote them back the first time: "The thing I want from my dentist is my dentist. If I didn't like my dentist I wouldn't care about your stupid magazines."

He received a reply that sounded like this: "Thank you for taking the time to respond to your health care provider concerning the issues about which you took the time to respond to your health care provider concerning the issues about which you took the time to respond."

He wrote them back the second time: "Please stop taking surveys."

Anyway, nothing can stop them and nothing can stop the x-rays. Unless Plotnik says no. That's all he has to do. No surveys. No x-rays. Just clean the teeth. Clean the teeth.

P.S. --- come to think of it -- there was NO muzac yesterday. Plotnik's dental experience HAS been enhanced.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Luau, Bass Notes and Cheaper Wine is Better

In Hawaii, you go to a Luau and eat an astounding amount of pretty-good food while drinking a lot of sweet rum drinks. In Healdsburg... go to the once-a-year Luau at Amphora Winery and eat an astounding amount of pretty-good food...

...while drinking a ton of really delicious wine. Really delicious wine. The chicken was good. The wine was -- have I said this? -- really delicious.

This is Rick, the owner. And bass player in the band. Plottie talked to him earlier in the evening when he had no hair at all on his head. And then he came onto stage looking like this. Amazing what good red wine can do.

It's a luau. Everyone wears Aloha shirts, including The Great Zinfandini. The Great Ducknik opted for a different shirt, which JJ-aka-PP will easily recognize.

Plottie, Mrs. Zinfandini and Ms. Z's mom Carrie were fully Aloha'd.

These things are always fun, but Plottie is afraid he has to admit that when there's a band playing he can't hear a word anyone is saying. Even with his ear next to a person's mouth he was guessing half the time, but that may have to do with him cringing every time the bass player in the first band hit a wrong note, which was every other right note. Those of you for whom bass notes simply represent low sounds and you are able to pay them no attention at all: Say thank you now. Plotnik kept threatening to break one of the wine bottles over the guy's head. But that wine was too delicious. You've heard this already.


Wine tasting started with Chardonnay and continued through rose, two zinfandels, a cabernet franc, a merlot and a pinot noir until arriving at the cabernet sauvignon. Most of the wines were in the $20-$30 range (but 40% off last night), except for the cabernet sauvignon which is priced at $52 (no discount).

It was elegant. Pristine. Smooth but full of flavor. And yet...

Pricing is so interesting. For many wine lovers, a $52 wine this good is a pittance. But it's too much for Plotnik, not because he couldn't afford it but because he doesn't want to afford it. He has his own limit as to what any bottle of wine is worth. He knows after years of experimentation that the $5 Old Vine Zin from Trader Joe's is not as good as the $38 old vine Zin from Raffanelli or last night's Amphora Dry Creek Zin, but it's damned close.

That $52 cab tasted terrific last night but might not taste all that great at another time. Not worth it. Sorry. But the rose, discounted to $9 a bottle? Zinfandini and Plotnik split a case.

Who determines taste? The brain. And Plotnik's brain will tell him this rose tastes great, knowing it cost so much less.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Bumpy Path

The last two nights on the telephone, Mummy P. has sounded like her old self. It's astonishing, but makes sense. She's in less pain now so she's taking fewer pain killers, so her thoughts are not as jumbled and her memory has returned -- at least to where it was before she fell.

During this whole ordeal, Plottie has gotten many comments about his chronicling of his feelings about his mom's deteriorating health. Some have been complimentary, others not so much, and he suspects there were those who said nothing but felt he was betraying a trust by sending descriptions of a small portion of what was happening in Stiletto out into the cyber universe.

The choices are easy: Blog, and tell truth, or don't and don't. The reality is The Great Plotnik does not have a huge circle of associates crowding around World Headquarters, with whom he can share these thoughts that are sometimes a little desperate, sometimes a little hopeful, usually both at the same time. He's not going to bug his children and his wife has heard it all, plus she's in the middle of it too.

So this is what he does. There are places he will not go. Trust me on that one: you only got a piece. But it was an important piece to The Great Plotnik and has helped him move himself forward along a bumpy path, where you climb over one rock and smack into another one. But sometimes you get past that latest rock and the coast seems strangely clear.

Friday, July 22, 2011


Everybody is doing half-off discounts now, Groupon-style. But with the new PLOTTY-PON you can get up to 300% off on offers nobody wants.

For example, the above offer is from Carmine and Angelo's Bar/Spa in NoMo, as in once you come into our neighborhood you ain't gettin' out No Mo. You must respond within 24 hours or you win.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

One X%#^^$#%@ Run.

Yeah yeah yeah Plotzers scored one run yeah yeah yeah, pardon me, I've got more important things to do, I'm still flossing and then I've got to go watch a three day cricket match and then hurry to a Power Point lecture on the philosophy of feminism in Pakistan.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Waddaya Say?

What do you say when the weather is perfect, the sun is shining, there's a day game today with the Plotzers in town to play the World Champs, it only takes 20 minutes to ride the Plotkicycle along the Bay from World Headquarters to the ball yard, the Bike Coalition lets you park your bike for free in a protected pound under the stands and the Cha Cha Bowls are still delicious?

You say no FREAKING way am I going to watch the Plotzers get shut out by the Champs. No way am I spending money to cheer on this hopeless team, until they dump all the old guys and let the young guys play. You say you'll watch on TV until the Champs score their first five runs and then turn it off and stay pissed off until Laker season.

You say Rupert Murdoch seemed like a terrible owner at the time.

You say somebody needs to tell Vin Scully to retire, that if he reads one more puff piece about a player's wife we are all going to throw up.

You say you've got other things to do, like floss.

That's what I say, anyway.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Planet Texas

Cleaning out the attic, Ducknik and Plotnik have decided to confront the boxes of old cassettes. Plot bought a cheap Cassette to Mp3 deck which takes cassettes and brings them through a USB port into Itunes. But that means he's had to listen to a lot of old Plot Tunes, as well as many unmarked cassettes with Bud knows what on them.

First off, Plot advises any writers out there to take all the old work-tape cassettes, recorded when you turned on a microphone while you were working on a new idea at your old upright piano, wrap 'em all up and throw 'em under the first bus that comes by. Those song ideas that never became real songs? There was a reason, Bro.

But here's the good part. Plottie found several treasures. One is a version of his old friend Andy Parks's song "Planet Texas." Kenny Rodgers recorded that song and did a great job of it, but Andy's voice was unlike anyone else's. If you U-Tube it or I-Tunes it you'll find Kenny's but not Andy's version.

So Plottie decided to find Andy again, and it sure was easy. There he is, living in San Antonio, Texas. Plot sent him a friend request and he wrote back, saying he's currently in Paso Robles, putting a new band together, and was anxious to hear about what has happened in all these intervening years.

Plot will be happy to tell Andy about his piano -- it was in front of Andy's piano where Plot wrote a lot of good songs in L.A., as well as all those fragments he just threw out. Andy gave that old upright to Plottie when he and his wife were moving back to Texas, and Plottie and some friends hauled it up the stairs on Avon Street in EPark. Then, when they moved up here, they played it forward to a Chinese family who had no money but wanted their child to learn piano. Andy will be glad to hear it went for a good cause.

The piano was a tall old fashioned upright, looking like a player piano, and if you opened it up and looked inside it still had the signature of the person who had tuned it in 1915. Hope someone is still using it.

When Plottie just wrote Andy on Facebook, Plottie told him he would kill for The John Andrew Parks voice, and that he still might, so look out. He hasn't heard back yet.

Monday, July 18, 2011

From Shakespeare to Frost

Ducknik and Plotnik saw Macbeth on Friday night and a new musical called Fly By Night Saturday. In Macbeth everybody gets slaughtered, in the musical nobody does. Both shows invoke the supernatural, with a gaggle of old witches leading Macbeth to his own ambitious madness, while a gypsy fortune teller comes up with the best melody in Fly By Night. Damned if she doesn't pull that little riff right out of her crystal ball.

Plottie wants that crystal ball. He's usually pretty good himself at pinpointing the spot in the ether where the graceful melody lies, but some magical hardware would make the proposition a lot less iffy.

People often wonder where a composer finds his music -- after all, there are only so many notes and so many ways to put them together, and people have been using these Western scales for at least 500 years. How can there be anything new?

Same with words -- how can there be any new poems? Or screenplays? Or blogs?

OK, blogs don't count. Most people just copy each other.

But maybe that's what songwriters and poets do too. There are no new melodies, but there are an infinite amount of unique voices to sing them. Everytime a new voice intersects with melody, that melody becomes new too.

Everyone sees the world a little differently. That's why poets can use the same old nouns and verbs to show us a slightly different path.

This was written in 1916.

The Road Not Taken
Robert Frost

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sorry, Abby Wambach. Way to Go Nihonjin!

Plotnik watched a good half of the USA women playing the Japanese women for the World Cup Championship today. He'd never seen that much of any soccer game, and he has to admit that the women make it fun to watch. With the men, it's all flash and faking injuries and trying to fool the officials, but the women play with sportswomanship and grace. Plus they're in absolutely unbelievable shape.

The more talented, larger and faster team lost. The better team won. And isn't that a beautiful thing for Japan right now.

Plotnik will get into a rowboat anytime, in the middle of whatever awful calamity, with Abby Wambach. She's a winner all around.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Cautionary Tale

The Great Plotnik had a small revelation this morning. It was foggy and still a little damp on the streets, but he was on his Plotkicycle, doing his every Saturday hill-and-bagel run, and was just about to turn down Harper on the way over to Noe when he saw a guy in a blue windbreaker, like his, jogging down Harper Street in front of him.

Plotnik goes slowly down hills now whenever possible, so he didn't catch up to the guy until a few blocks later, on the first hill, between 29th and Valley. At the top of the hill as Plottie pulled abreast of the runner, the guy saw him and said 'We're like the Tour de France, riding and running."

Plotnik slowed down on the straightaways and they talked for awhile as they ran and cycled. For one thing, the guy was able to talk while running, without panting, which is pretty damned impressive since he was at the end of his workout while Plotnik was just beginning.

It turned out his name is Gerald and he is 60, and is involved in some way with therapy for athletes and others who have suffered debilitating injuries, usually later in life. He said this to Plotnik:

"I'll give you some cautionary advice."

"I'm all ears," Plottie said, as he braked down the big hill at 25th St.

"I see guys all the time," Gerald said, "usually runners, but sometimes other athletes, and also musicians."

"Uh oh," Plotnik thought.

"Here's what happens to the great majority of them. They're in athlete shape, they train religiously, they run, say half marathons or marathons, or they bike certain distances, and it's a regular thing with them. Then someone convinces them to kick it up several notches. They train hard for a double marathon this time, or a 200 mile run, and they feel good, and they go to Chicago for the race, and they go to bed one night and wake up and they cannot move their back. They are frozen."

"Really?" Plotnik said, as they stopped to let a few cars pass in front of them at 24th St.

"Really," Gerald said, "or I see musicians who practice every day, three hours a day, and then they decide to do a special recital, so now they practice ten hours a day until the recital. When it's over, their arm hurts. They've got tendinitis now and it will never go away and they'll never again be able to play like they used to."

"So it's the change?"

"I think so," Gerald said. "Your spine, your skeleton, your muscular structure, adapts to the strain you're putting on it. Then you change that pattern. The older you are, the harder it is for your body to change over. It seems that simple to me."

They headed up the hated Liberty Hill. Plotnik realized he could not pass Gerald. The man was in fabulous shape. "So," Plotnik said, "all those people who want me to get rid of this big old really heavy bike and get a new one, and I say I don't want to because even though it's heavy I know exactly how hard I'm working when I ride it, so though a new one would make the hills easier I'd have no idea what that would be doing to my muscles...I'm right?"

"You're right, brother," Gerald said, and turned to go home on 22nd St. Plotnik usually rides in a few circles at 22nd, just to catch his breath, but he couldn't let Gerald see him stop so he kept going to the top. It wasn't any harder than it usually is.

So, my good buddy NotThat, bear this in mind when you keep ramping up. You may not be an Autumnal Chicken, like Plottie, but you're not a Spring Chicken either. Just sayin'.

Friday, July 15, 2011

That Glass Again

It's been one of those really frightening weeks, where all the news has been pretty darned good so you know the big shoe is getting ready to drop. The Great Plotnik asks himself sometimes why the glass can't just be three quarters full for a change, instead of half empty and about to spring a leak?

Plottie stood outside Domin-Nik's house last night, talking with three other Tiaposian writers about the stories everyone had read or played earlier. They'd all been weird and fascinating. "We're all pretty wacked out, aren't we?" he asked, but it wasn't a question.

It was still light at 9pm. It was comfortable, no sweaters. There was that unmistakable, undeniable and unforgettable Saint Plotniko smell of sea and breeze and tomorrow's fog forming somewhere out near the Farallons, mixed with some entrepreneur cooking up something tasty in a bistro up on Cortland, or something less salutory but more profitable in his basement around the corner. Plotnik and Motorhead and Mushnik and Bombshell all smiled deep smiles as we got into our cars, with The Great Domin-Nik still inside, hopefully figuring out how to change that dog's diet.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Why Bail Out Grease?

Everyone is talking about bailing out Grease. Well, why not West Side Story? Maria loses her man every night and she can use the help.

And where do you stop? Once Grease is solvent, the others are going to fall, one by one. First it'll be Carousel and then Cats. We can let Cats go, but Carousel? You have to save Carousel because its economy is interlinked with The Sound of Music.

Personally, we think there are many musicals who deserve bailout money. But there are those that don't. Andrew Lloyd Weber can bail out his own dumb shows. Nothing with balloons or confetti and the end. No more perky lead actresses who all look like they were drawn by the guy in Korea who does the Simpsons. No stupid, sensitive really short lead actors.

In fact, nothing stupid at all. Stupid: Raise your own money. There's a lot over in the red states.

We endorse bailout money for shows that take chances, particularly if they're about baseball, music, the Umpire of the Earth and/or Bud, The Commissioner.

Grease, hmmmph.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Catch a Fish

It's only 11:26am and it's already one of those days. Plotnik needs to go catch a fish. But he's never caught a fish. How do you catch a fish, anyway?

Plotnik needs to drive out to the Marysville Peach Festival this weekend. But he has to review plays Friday and Saturday nights so how could he do that? Sunday?

Plotnik needs to stop trying to be rational with irrational people. It doesn't work, children, it doesn't work. You can't out-crazy them and they will not hear you if you try anything approaching common sense. All you can do is open the door and walk through it. Adiós, loco.

It's like the financial meltdown. You put a lot in, and then it was gone. Gone! But you didn't die, so you didn't lose. You can earn it again, write it again, live it again.

Plotnik needs to realize it's funny, not tragic, that his mom would curse out the plumber who came to install the safety bar in her shower. "I don't need this, who told you I needed this, who called you anyway?" He he he he, that IS funny, actually, if you're not the plumber.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Robert Sinks to the Bottom

The other day we took Nicholas Cage off the DO NOT WATCH EVER AGAIN list, due to his great role in Kick Ass. One good movie does not a comeback make, but it's a start.

Now we add another name to the list: Robert Redford. How many surgeries and zits and scars will it take to convince this man he shouldn't be the romantic lead anymore? Even if its Helen Mirren he's squiring around? Do NOT watch "The Clearing" unless you are out of lollipops. Robert, just cool your heels for awhile down there in the hole with Robin Williams and Morgan Freeman and Ben Stiller.

"I Love You. That's all I'll ever need."

Oh, puke. Thanks for comin' in. Don't call us, we'll call you.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Cat Fights

The Great Plotnik's partner in Stiletto has decided he's not talking to Plotnik anymore. The way they progress on their project is to simultaneously edit Google docs. His partner makes sure not to actually answer directly any question that Plotnik raises, even though Plottie knows he's right there because he can see his cursor on the document. Answering a question directly would constitute communication, while accepting or not accepting changes to a document is simply collaborating.

Fine. Whatever it takes. Plotnik doesn't know how collaborators continue talking to each other anyway. Most of them, in fact, don't. The ones who do are the successful ones. The ones who get mired down in endless cat fights about nothing, don't. There's not that much more to say about it.

Friday, July 08, 2011

She's On Her Way

He stares at her, wrinkled ankles, wrinkled wrists and neck, lying on the sofa, unable to make herself comfortable sitting, so she stands, with difficulty, both hands on a tv table to keep from falling over, in close-to-ninety-degree bent-over position, but that hurts too so she sits back down, shifts, lies down, struggles up, sits back down.

He watches. His own doctor told him the other day "you can't be your parent's parent. She's the mom, you're the son. It doesn't work for either of you to do it any other way. Just try to help."

So he offers encouragement, helps with an arm or a hand, sees how her mornings progress, her noons, her afternoons. It wouldn't matter if she could make herself comfortable, because once that would happen she would have to immediately leave the moment behind, struggle again to her feet, grab her cane for one arm and him for the other, to toddle over to the bathroom. When she's like this she seems to need that bathroom every ten minutes.

So count 'em up. How many hours do we all get? How many of hers are fully occupied with standing up, sitting down, lying down, getting up again and walking to the bathroom?

There are three bathrooms in the house and she has colonized two of them. Hers is filled with ointments, boxes of things, bags of things, bottles of pills, brightly colored pain killers, happy little tubes of unguents and merry big tubes of ointments, rolls of toilet paper and boxes of kleenex and packs of gauze, iodine, hydrogen peroxide. Now there's a nonskid rubber rug. This room is off limits.

The small powder room off the living room is hers to use too because if she's near it she'll go into it and it doesn't matter if you're already in there or not. So the powder room is off limits too unless she's asleep. And even then.

So everyone else must use the back bathroom. There, the toilet is broken.

Toilet World: The Ultimate Theme Park.

You have to remember to bend down and turn on the water to the tank before you sit down. If you forget, you'll rise, pull up your pants, hit the flush lever and nothing will happen. You'll remember you were supposed to not forget to turn on the water first, but you did forget, so you'll scream FUCKING FUCKING TOILET!, the volume depending on how many times you've done this already in the last two days, then you'll bend down to the floor, turn on the water, wait eternally for the tank to fill, then hit the flush lever, listen to the water emptying, then reach over and turn off the water again, so the next person, who VERY WELL MIGHT BE YOU AGAIN, can repeat the whole process.

If it's your wife, it's fun to listen to, but if it's you it just makes you want to cry.

If you don't turn off the water to the toilet, the toilet will fill, flush, fill, flush, fill, flush, fill, flush. All night long. No, you can't fix the toilet in Toilet World. Your bedroom is next to that bathroom. Fill. Flush. Fill. Flush. Fill. Flush.

"Darling, did you forget to turn off the water?"
"Sweetie, I think you used it last."
"No, lamb chop, I didn't."
"Well, fuck face, it wasn't me."
"Yes, it goddamwell was."
"I ain't moving."
"Fucking fucking toilet."

Toilet World, Tickets are Free.

What has happened? You were here exactly four weeks ago, when she fell. You and your wife helped her to her feet, called the paramedics, got her into the ambulance and followed it down to St. Joseph's and the ER, stayed with her all night in the whitecoated bizarrely-lit tri-initialed world of EMT, MRI, CRT, CPR, with artwork on every wall trying to make this cold and efficient place look like a day care center, water colors done by healthy and happy seven year olds, bright yellow suns and deep green trees, while the intercom crackles with STAT! EMT TO STATION TWO KIDNEY RNF BRAIN WJY STAT!

The next morning after they'd patched her up and did all the tests, and she was banged up, but she was still her, you got to take her home. She was weak but knew how lucky she'd been.

So who took that lady away? That was just four weeks ago. She was old and forgetful then but now it's a month later and she is ancient and immobile. Her helper says she's getting better -- you should have seen her two weeks ago.

But you saw her four weeks ago. Does it happen this fast?

The house used to stink of cigarettes. Now she hasn't had a smoke in a week. Can you believe that? Maybe that's why she's feeling so bad.


"Mom," you say. "I know it's weird for you to hear me say this, but...wouldn't you like a cigarette?"

"I would," she says.

"Then you've got to get out of bed. You can't smoke lying in bed. I'll walk with you out to the back patio."

"You're telling me I should smoke more?" she says.

OK, she hasn't lost irony.

"Now I might have a heart attack," she says.

Your doctor went through it with both of his parents. He said his mom kept having "interfarctal occult strokes," which boils down to tiny strokes you can't see or really measure, and which by themselves don't amount to much, but if they keep occurring, which they do, they add up to a lot. The brain can only process so many, and the older you are, the harder it is to recover.

"She's almost 97," the doctor says, with a look on his face that says "After all!" when he wanted it to say "There, there" or "It's all right."

But you don't feel like it's all right. It's all wrong. Not that someone who has managed to keep her feet on the earth this many years shouldn't be showing the results by now, but it isn't happening like you thought.

You're somewhat of a veterano. You saw a dad and two stepdads do this. You can't remember the first -- he went into a room, you think, and didn't come out. The second involved months of hospitals and he didn't come out either. The third made more sense -- he was old, he was ready, his heart was going to fail, everybody knew it, and then it did. The Chief's whole life was orderly and so was his goodbye.

She, of course, was there for all three husbands and did her best to shield your brother and you from reality. She was companion and nurse to three strong men who came into her life vibrant and excited and together they traveled the world. And then, boom. She went through this three times and kept you from most of it. Don't forget this.

She lies on the sofa.

"Honey, I can't tell you how much I appreciate you and Barbara coming here this weekend."

"Mom, it's Thursday."

"It is?"

Yes, it is. Earlier this afternoon, as she slept, with her mouth wide open in that scary way that looks so much like the Chief's last years, you kept looking at your watch.

"What time is it?" your wife would ask, sitting next to you.

You smile. You and she remember when you packed up stakes in Pennsylvania and drove to L.A. with your baby boy and whatever stuff you owned, ready to start a new life in California. The trip through the Mojave Desert is like no other. Every single road sign says:

"Barstow 130 miles."

You drive four more hours, through the absolute and endlessly stultifying rock and sand mono-color moonscape and there, in the distance, finally, is another road sign.

"Barstow 130 miles."

Time doesn't just stop in the Mojave Desert, it deflates.

You look at your watch, at your mom asleep across from you, at the familiar paintings above her, at the shimmering sun on the patio, at your wife.

"Barstow," you say.

"130 miles," she says.

You've got to leave in a few hours but they may take years. You and your wife have been racing around all day talking to bankers, trying to put in motion the processes of getting your mom's bills paid should she continue to be unable to even sign a check.

"No problem," they say. "Just bring your dear mom into the branch, the sweetheart, does she still know who she is? Yes? Oh, that's so sweet, all right, just bring her in and we'll..."

"No," I say, "I told you she can't come into the branch. She can't go into the kitchen. That's why we're here."

"96 years old? Oh how cute. Anyway, no problem. Just bring your mom into the branch and we'll..."

You'll what? You want to come up with me to Toilet World? What are you not hearing?

Mom wakes up and seems a lot better. You can see it. She has color in her cheeks and to your delight she immediately criticizes someone else in the family, first, and then you.

"Mom, you're back!" you say.

You hold her hand as she lies on the sofa. She seems clear, you can feel it, like the chemical veil has lifted. Maybe the painkillers have worn off.

"Mom," you say. "Look. I've spent some nights wide awake, these past few months, worrying about you, hoping you're getting better, feeling far far away."

"I know," she says.

"But I also know that I have never in my life spent one night, not one, with anywhere close to the worries you have had to go through, for hundreds of nights, never, not even once."

I knock three times on the coffee table.

"Knock glass," she says.

"Knock glass," I say.

"Do one for me," she says.

This is the equivalent of mom's own mom spitting over her shoulder to defeat the evil eye. It worked then, it'll work now. Knock. Knock. Knock.

"Knock glass."

"And thanks for saying that," she says. "Honey, we just do what we have to. You can't change things."

I nod. She squeezes my hand. Then she says "Do you know why Paula never calls me any more?"

"MOM!" I shout, pleased as punch. Barb lights up too. "Rose!" she shouts. We are both so happy. Paula, my sis-in-law, was just here two days ago and has been breaking her ass to try and take care of Mom.

Mom's back.

"Honey, you know, I think I'm feeling better," she says. "Listen, I've got to use the bathroom. Don't help me. I think I can do this by myself."

It's like watching your child take her first steps. Next thing you know, she's on her way.


Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Jewish Rapture

Cousin Brother Two names writes that the Jewish Rapture occurs next Tuesday from 10am until 4pm:

Corned beef sandwiches at Cantor's Deli for eighty cents.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The Mime Troupe and the Not Very Aerodynamic Crackhead

Go see the SF Mime Troupe's "2012-The Musical." The show is better than ever.

Nothing is more San Francisco than a free, green, power-to-the-people outdoor performance in the park being interrupted by a crackhead (2012 model--less aerodynamic and using more gas) weaving in front of the stage screaming "Get out of my fffffff___ing WAY!"

All the green this and queer that and co-operative and vegan the other thing and handing out manifestos to Save the Wall Street Ten. OK, I lied about the Wall Street Ten. Aging, potbellied, tie-dyes, sandals and bandanas. The smell of pot.

OK, maybe it's medicinal pot. Maybe it's artisinal pot. They rhyme, and the show's a musical.

It's always a gorgeous day to be outdoors. And this year there was a press blanket! No sitting at a 30 degree angle on the hillside!

If you're vigilant you might see Saint Plotniko's official father-son theater review squad in action.

Why would anyone live here and miss the Mime Troupe? It makes you feel young. If you're already young, it makes you glad you're not old yet.

Was July 4 only yesterday? Plotnik had his yearly physical this morning. How could he have packed all that worry into one day?

Monday, July 04, 2011

One Night in America

JJ-aka-PP is known as the person in the family with the good memory for details, but she couldn't recall much on the phone this morning. Plottie asked her for information on the first (and, probably, only) evening that Mummy P. and the Chief spent with JJ and Ducknik's mom and dad, at their home on Long Island. JJ-aka-PP was fourteen at the time, but perhaps she's getting older now. Can't remember a thing.

Ducknik remembers it was an important night, because her parents got to meet his parents, which meant they could see that Plotnik, though he may be little more than roadkill that their daughter had troweled off the highway, came from good, hard working midwestern stock, just like they did. He could grow.

Plotnik remembers almost nothing, except that he was similarly pleased that everyone got along and politics never came up. He is sure there were cocktails in advance of dinner, which were probably consumed on the back patio at 82 Valley Road. The Chief was a martini man but Joe Sr. was Mr. Perfect Manhattan (on the rocks with a twist). A few of those and everyone would end up the best of friends.

Now, as time has somehow shot so far forward at such great speed, Plottie is happy he got to see the Ducknik Family homestead, when JJ was still a teenage sprite, Joe Jr. was on a ship in Vietnam, and that next year of illness and heartbreak was still somewhere out there where nobody could see it yet, miles away from the back patio, with the brick walkway, and the rhododendrons and all that good liquor.


Sunday, July 03, 2011

Third of July Musings

The streets were empty on a Saturday night, as Plot and Duck drove to the East Bay for dinner at their favorite Persian place and a show at The Marsh Berkeley. Dinner was good, the show was good, empty Bay Bridge, no traffic in either direction. People must be out of town for the Fourth of July.

At dinner Plot and Duck were talking about President Obama. Plotnik truly does not want to feel disappointed in this man. He knows that he holds Obama to a stricter standard than the mediocre-at-best norm by which previous presidents have been judged. Obama's election seemed to promise so much, so fast.

What we have gotten is progress, but compromised down to very little, on a few issues like national health care, but on the great issues we seemed poised to tackle: little. Or nothing. Or nothing, disguised as something.

Whose fault is it? Who knows anymore? Republicans, certainly, and Americans willing to listen to tea party distortions of the truth wrapped up in patriotic nonsense.

But where is leadership on immigration reform? Tax code reform? Election finance reform? Why are we still in Afghanistan? Why are we participating in bombing Libya? How can we fire teachers and close libraries and kill preschool lunch programs? How can we bankrupt states instead of raising taxes to help them pay for all the programs we all want and use? Where are leadership and solid stands on the most important problems our country faces?

Plotnik heard a Republican congressman from South Carolina say yesterday that education was over-rated, that kids come out of college knowing no more than when they went in. This was to rationalize huge cuts in education spending. Really.

Osama bin Laden is dead, hoorah! We did it! We promised we'd punish them, and we did. So how about punishing the finance thugs who came within a whisker of bringing down the financial stucture of the entire world, instead of marijuana growers in Humboldt County? How about realizing that the Democratic Party is as corrupt and beholden to special interests as the Republican party?

How about admitting something that is obvious to everyone: the internet golden egg has hatched out and changed the world of commerce. All those jobs you talk about bringing back are gone forever. It happened a lot sooner to some than others -- want to talk about songwriters? -- but everyone has been affected. Don't you want to buy the cheapest car? Book? Airline seat? Computer? Cell phone? When was the last time you spent $12 for a movie, instead of watching it on Netflix? And did you spend $19.97 for your HDMI cable at Radio Shack or $0.60 on line?

So what are we going to do about it? Ignore it, right? Pretend none of this has happened? This is exactly what we will do.

Unless...and I hate to say this, knowing there is probably some guy with thick glasses and a red, white and blue cap stuck in a cubicle in Chevy Chase, Maryland, reviewing every word that is spewed into the blogosphere -- we have another crisis.

We don't move 'til we have to. Bush was SO ignorant, so 1950s. He had a chance to move us decades forward, and instead he took us back to Leave it to Beaver. Obama, too, has had a chance to bring an American vision to the world, after we pulled ourselves out of the financial compost pile, but he is quite possibly over his head too.

Plotnik is still in love with Obama, The Promise. He is willing to wait a little longer for Obama, The Leader. But if Obama doesn't wake up we will all wind up with General Petraeus or somebody like him in 2012. Is this what we want?

Maybe we do. Maybe we miss Ike. Maybe we really do need a tyrant to tell us to shut the f___ up and do what he says. Bush tried, but was too ignorant, and Obama doesn't appear to have those kinds of instincts.

And the Plotzers are in last place and deserve to drop lower.

Anyway, Plotnikkies: Happy Third of July from Saint Plotniko. America First Class. A Sparkler (and a bottle of Il Gioiello 2007 Mourvedre with notes of blackberry and persimmon) in Your Glass.


Saturday, July 02, 2011


When you live in a city with people chock-a-block on top of each other, you'd better get along with your neighbors. When you do, the whole experience becomes so much richer. Plot and Duck have been lucky that way. Last night their friends Keith and Cheryl from next door downstairs, who are seldom seen because they work or travel all the time, came over after dinner for a cup of tea and talk about all their travels. This weekend they'll be in a yurt in Big Sur, then they're going to Hilton Head for a family reunion, and then Keith is giving software training sessions in Tokyo and Seoul and Cheryl's tagging along.

What makes this lifestyle possible? Well, they've been living in an inexpensive apartment for seven years, both making good salaries and probably living on less than one, while putting the other away for house-buying eventually. (They're the ones who lend the Plotnik family their apartment when they go away at Christmas.) They have no kids. The apartment is furnished. They love Saint Plotniko but they know they'll never be able to afford a house here, so they're figuring they'll eventually go back east where both came from, with a pocket full of cash. Then they'll buy themselves half of Buffalo.

Their landlords Carlo and Athena upstairs are also nice people, also from the Northeast. Plotnik is moving their Prius (well what did you expect?) for them this month while they are in Paris for a conference and vacation, while their kids are in Philadelphia with their father. That house is filled with cool people.

Above them, Roxie and Jason on the corner, who bought Carlos's old house and have renovated it completely, are from Texas, he Dallas, she Houston. They are great people too, except that their dog Lenny reminds Plotnik a little too much of Mischief. And Steve and Ann three doors down are also delightful. Ann's from back East, Steve's from L.A. like Plottie. He's a shipwright. You don't see too many of those anymore. Their big old house still has the original working gas-lit chandeliers in the dining room.

Ray across the street is still mourning his wife Pat, close to three years after her death, pulling his black Chevy out of the garage every morning at 7am to go to the cemetery and do whatever he does at her grave. Pat's mom, Mrs. Daugherty, once owned the house next door where Carlo, Athena, Keith and Cheryl live. Pat grew up in that house but she's gone now.

Ray's got a big belly but his arms and legs are getting thinner and thinner. His daughter says he doesn't eat. Plottie goes and talks to him every week or so, listening to the same old stories, sitting in that little front room surrounded by pictures of Pat and their daughters. Plot is pretty sure Ray doesn't go into their bedroom across the hall anymore -- he sleeps in his recliner chair in the living room. He's a good guy and great neighbor. But what can you do for someone who is determined to mourn to the bitter end?

Plot was thinking about this because his Mom could so desperately use companionship of any kind. She's the old lady in a neighborhood that is getting younger and younger and there isn't anyone to go across the street or down the block to talk with her. The older people that were her friends are either dead or have gotten older themselves and sit at home. The newer neighbors are either movie people or lawyers, who can't be bothered, or Russians or Armenians who tear down the older houses and put up these garish faux-palaces to deposit their wives or mistresses. The only people you EVER see on the street up there are Latino gardeners, Latino plumbers, Latino housekeepers, or, on weekends, dog walkers.

Lilian, Mummy P.'s devoted housekeeper, knows them all. They talk, compare notes, gossip. They know who's doing what and where everybody comes from.

But Mummy P. knows nobody. And, in the end, companionship is everything.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Seven Years of a Good Mood

Seven years ago last Thursday, The Great Ducknik loosed her bonds of remunerated servitude, severed the cords of The Golden Handcuffs, told Mother Bank adiós, compañero and then she and Plotnik got on a plane and headed for Peru.

Seven years later, she's still in a good mood.

It's fun to have friends like Silent Bill and The Great Mushnik who like to eat as much as Plot and Duck do. The four celebrated at Chenery Park. OK, so Plotnik had a Groupon. So did everyone else in the place, which was packed.

Good moods are a little hard to come by these days. Yesterday was one of those You Have GOT To Be Kidding days, filled with incomprehensible conversations, both by phone and by email. The great thing about interhuman communications is that you can never figure out in advance what someone's reaction is going to be to something that seems perfectly obvious to you.

Plotnik found out his mother had a fight in the doctor's office with her caregiver who was trying to tell the doctor how Mummy P. had been feeling. Plotnik's mom denied everything, said she was feeling fine, didn't understand why she was there in the first place and certainly didn't need no steeenking MRI.

THEN the doctor got around to reading the fax Plotnik had spent three hours sending him the other morning. It listed all the stuff, including how anything Mummy P. said about her health, if it relied on her remembering anything she didn't want to remember, was no longer operative. THEN he scheduled the MRI, which she really does need. Otherwise, he would have taken her word over her caregiver's word.

Plotnik also was forced to remember that his partner, whenever a step forward is taken on their project, seems to have to try and sabotage that step with delusional and often vicious email slander. Plottie is used to this, but it takes him by surprise every single time. Shouldn't he know this is coming? So whose fault is that?

And of course, any time you try to mix family with money you end up with hurt feelings and people taking health decision issues personally. It just makes everything murkier. Everybody is trying to keep their head above water here, that's all. Fortunately, Plotnik had The Great PD to call for advice. Nobody can put Thomas back on the train to Johannesburg better than The Great PD.

It's a long story.

So it wasn't the best day, but then Plottie got to see Domin-Nik and Blond Bombshell and Mushnik last night and it was really fun. The Good Mood persists today. Plottie went to the skin doctor who told him he has a few "wisdom spots." That really is a lot better than "age spots," isn't it? It's all good. It's all good.