Storm

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That’s the National Weather Service radar map for the Bay Area right now. That area of yellow and orange is heavy rain, and its moving pretty much straight east from the Pacific.  

‘Please Help Me Find Him’

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I try to make the 15-minute walk to work from the 16th and Mission BART station a little different every day. Change the walking route, maybe, or leave the station from an alternate entrance every once in a while. Just to avoid falling into too blindly regular.

Here’s what disrupted the routine today. A handmade flyer for a missing person. It was the message that made me stop and take a second look: “Please help me find him.” I didn’t study the rest of it. Just took a picture and figured I’d post this later as a little memento of the walk to work.

Then I downloaded the picture and studied it. In the BART station, I thought I was looking at a picture of a man standing in a kitchen. But no: This is clearly a young man, a kid maybe, in a laboratory of some kind. I recognized the area code as being in Southern California, the San Diego area. I looked up the name on the posted, which seems to have been added in ballpoint pen as an after-thought, Edgar Trujillo.

I did find mention of an Edgar Trujillo from San Diego. This past summer, a San Diego paper mentioned him as one of 35 students from around North America chosen to participate in a summer biology program put on by American Fisheries Society. He was working for the summer at NOAA’s regional fisheries center and getting ready to go to UC-San Diego in the fall. Well, the science program would fit with the lab in the picture.

I’ll call the number on the poster tomorrow to find out what the story is. Or maybe I’ll have one of our reporters do it. In the meantime, there’s something a little troubling to me in the brevity and directness of that request: “Please help me find him.” Of course, you never know. Maybe there’s nothing darker about this than a girlfriend looking for the guy who ditched her or a bill collector tracking down a deadbeat. Here’s hoping, anyway.

John Prine, Singing Mailman and Bad Boy

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By way of Kate, this note from The Writer’s Almanac: John Prine‘s birthday was Saturday (he turned 64). The almanac contains an anecdote I’d never heard before about how a well-known Chicago movie critic discovered him:

“[Prine] got a job working at the post office in his hometown, and he started playing in coffee shops, but no one paid any attention to him. Then one day, the film critic Roget Ebert went to see a movie that he didn’t like very much, so he walked out of the theater early and headed down the street to get a beer instead. He happened to go to the bar where Prine was playing as background music. And so instead of writing a movie review that week, Ebert wrote a review called “Singing Mailman Delivers the Message,” and suddenly John Prine had a full house every time he played.”

Which is a great story. In fact, here’s the transcript of a long and wonderful live interview Prine gave in which he recounts Ebert’s appearance. But as luck would have it, someone from a music rag called No Depression came along and checked some “facts” and came up with a tale that’s a little different than the one above:

“Movie critic Roger Ebert, who also did some music writing back then, was among the first to call attention to Prine after catching him in October 1970. Legend (with help from Prine) has rewritten the details a bit: Ebert didn’t walk out on a movie to get some popcorn and overhear people talking about this guy from Maywood singing and so headed over to the Fifth Peg. He had heard about Prine — and, he conjectured recently, probably had seen him — before. And the headline over Ebert’s column in the Sun-Times wasn’t the Variety-worthy ‘Singing Mailman Delivers the Message,’ but rather the awkward ‘Singing Mailman Who Delivers a Powerful Message in a Few Words.’

” ‘He appears on stage with such modesty he almost seems to be backing into the spotlight,’ wrote Ebert. ‘He sings rather quietly, and his guitar work is good, but he doesn’t show off. He starts slow. But after a song or two, even the drunks in the room begin to listen to his lyrics. And then he has you.’ ”

I was hoping to find the original Sun-Times article online, but this is as close as I got. The writing reminds me a lot of Mike Royko’s. Anyway, happy birthday, John Prine, from Berkeley. And in honor of the occasion, here’s the lyrics from “Bad Boy.” It contains one of my all-time favorite lines: “I never thought that now would ever catch up with then.”

I been a bad boy

I been long gone

I been out there

I never phone home

I never gave you not one little clue where I’d been

I’ve been a bad boy again.

I got a way of

Fallin’ in love

With angels that don’t shove

You into thinkin’ that you are committing a sin

I’ve been a bad boy again.
I’ve been a bad boy again
Now I’ve been a bad boy again

And all the trouble that I’m in

Makes me a bad boy again


I’ve been a bad boy again

Now I’ve been a bad boy again

And all the trouble that I’m in

Makes me a bad boy again

I must have walked ’round

In a real fog

I was your best friend

Now I’m a real dog

I never thought that now

Would ever catch up with then

I’ve been a bad boy again.
I’ve been a bad boy

I sung a wrong song

I took a left turn

I stayed too long

As you were thinkin’ that I wasn’t

Just like all other men

I’ve been a bad boy again.

I’ve been a bad boy again

Now I’ve been a bad boy again

And all the trouble that I’m in

Makes me a bad boy again

I’ve been a bad boy again

Now I’ve been a bad boy again
And all the trouble that I’m in

Makes me a bad boy again

That’s copyright John Prine. Used without permission, but in an honest, non-commercial spirit.

Ten Ten

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I could spin a yarn about October 10, 1979. Eamon–the guy on the left here–has heard all about it and probably has more interest in the story than just about anyone, since it concerns his arrival in the world. Today was his 30th birthday, and he and his wife, Sakura, and our other son, Thom (the lad on the right) spent the day here. No reminiscing, really–we just hung out together and enjoyed the spread Kate put together for lunch. Then Thom went off to see Bob Dylan at the Greek Theatre and the rest of us went over to San Francisco to eat some more. It was a pretty special day for the parents. Happy birthday, Eamon!

Your Autumn Forecast

We bump along from summer, into late summer, into fall.

We hear the usual complaints about June, and July, and August: too cold! too cloudy! When’s it going to be summer?

Then we have a nice run of clear, warm, dry days. Clear evenings. Brilliant twilights, some crowded with unusual shoals of clouds. It’s never been more beautiful, ever.

Just for a change, it rains in September, and everyone thinks about when’s the last time that happened.

The days get shorter, and then overnight summer’s not lingering any more. It’s dark early at night, late in the morning. And cool suddenly–the heat’s going to kick on any day now.

October. One thought holds off the chill: We’re due for one more good run of hot, dry days, maybe windy ones, that will remind you of fire in the hills.

Those days might be a week or two away or could appear right on the edge of November. Just wait.

And while you look for signs the wind’s about to shift and start coming down warm from the ridges, something else happens. Someone breaks into that slow turn of autumn. Someone breaks the mood as only an official government forecaster can:

...WET AND WINDY WEATHER EXPECTED MONDAY THROUGH WEDNESDAY...
THE WEATHER PATTERN IS EXPECTED TO CHANGE ON MONDAY AS A POTENT
STORM SYSTEM MOVES TO THE WEST COAST. THIS STORM SYSTEM IS THE
REMNANT OF FORMER WESTERN PACIFIC TYPHOON MELOR.
RAIN AND INCREASING WIND WILL BEGIN IN THE NORTH BAY MONDAY
AFTERNOON...SPREADING SOUTH MONDAY NIGHT. TUESDAY AND TUESDAY
NIGHT SHOULD SEE THE HEAVIEST RAINFALL AND THE STRONGEST WINDS.
RAINFALL AMOUNTS COULD REACH 1 TO 3 INCHES ALONG THE COAST AND IN
THE VALLEYS...WITH LOCAL AMOUNTS POSSIBLY REACHING 5 INCHES. IN
THE HILLS...RAINFALL AMOUNTS WILL RANGE FROM 3 TO 6 INCHES...WITH
LOCAL AMOUNTS UP TO 8 INCHES. AS OF NOW...THE HEAVIEST RAIN LOOKS
TO BE IN THE SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS. WINDS TUESDAY AND TUESDAY NIGHT
WILL INCREASE TO 20 TO 40 MPH ALONG THE COAST AND IN THE HILLS.
GUSTS TO 60 MPH ARE POSSIBLE IN THOSE AREAS.
Rain? Wind? You could swear someone said "typhoon." 

Ageless Stranger

I’ve lived in Berkeley long enough–more than 30 years, more than half my life–that I’ve become familiar with a whole cast of characters who are actually total, or nearly total, strangers. Store clerks, panhandlers, fellow passengers on the train, commuters who stroll through the neighborhood. There have always been a few of these unknown ones who don’t fit into any of those predictable slots. Just people I’ve seen over and over during my walks. Most memorable is a man with whom I happened to ride to San Francisco one day in the casual carpool from North Berkeley BART. I had seen this guy before and never had any occasion to interact. But on this particular morning, we wound up in the same car with a man driving over the Bay Bridge into the city. Somehow, the driver’s occupation came up. He was a doctor at San Francisco General Hospital. That information prompted my fellow passenger to disclose that he was on the way to see a doctor. He was being examined for prostate trouble, which he proceeded to describe in generous detail. Quite a performance, and for years afterward, whenever I chanced to pass this guy on the street, I’d ask, “How’s your prostate?” Coming from a complete stranger, the query always got a startled look.

There’s another guy I’ve been seeing on the street for decades. The reason I first noticed him was his hair: blond, waist length, and very lank and straight. He walks with an almost unnaturally erect posture and always seems to have a serious expression and to keep his eyes straight ahead. He walks a lot, I think, and walks a little faster than I do. I’ve encountered him dozens of times in different neighborhoods and even up in the hills. We’ve lived in our neighborhood since the late ’80s, which is probably when I started seeing this guy. I know I’ve aged in those years. He hasn’t aged much. We’ve never spoken in all those times we’ve passed each other, and I’ve wondered who this severe-looking hard-walking stranger is.

A few months ago, Kate and I were out on a Saturday morning walking The Dog. We made one of our regular turns, and up ahead I saw the long-haired stranger. He was wearing a white bathrobe and was picking up something from his lawn; I think he was dealing with a leaky sprinkler or something. We said something as we passed–“Good morning,” I guess–and he responded with a friendly “good morning” of his own. That’s all that happened. But it was enough to make me feel like I had some connection to this stranger after all these years. And for all I know, he (and how many others?) have been wondering about me, too.

You’ve Been Warned

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This was posted adjacent to the campus of Santa Clara University. We spotted it Saturday night when we were down there to watch soccer with Eamon and Sakura.

Let’s not even talk about what the reaction a poster like this is trying to elicit. Let’s focus on the wording. If prompted, my slogan might be, “Vaccines save lives.” Clearly this local leafleteer is of another mind. Fine–let’s resolve this disagreement in the marketplace of ideas. But here, the pitch isn’t “vaccines may be dangerous” or “Vaccines: use at your own risk”–statements that would probably be attention-getting and may not stray across factual lines. That’s not enough for this broadside, which says flatly “vaccines are poison.” In a world where apparently no one can be trusted to think–hey, which vaccines are we talking about here?–nothing but the most alarmist message will do.

[Update: NPR’s “Morning Edition” did a segment this morning addressing questions about the safety of the new swine flu vaccine. ]

‘To Be, To Do, or To Suffer’

So I tried out a presidential quote on my Facebook friends to see if they could guess who said it. The person in question described himself at one stage in his life as “a strange, friendless, uneducated, penniless boy.” I was a little surprised how quickly–immediately–someone came back with the correct answer: Lincoln.

So I brainstormed another favorite presidential quote: “The fact is I think I am a verb instead of a personal pronoun. A verb is anything that signifies to be; to do; or to suffer. I signify all three.” That’s another well-known one: U.S. Grant near the end of his struggle with throat cancer.

On one hand, I’ve always thought Grant was saying that illness and suffering were sublimating his presence as a person into something else: a verb, an action, an energized presence. And I think it’s natural to focus on the last part of the formulation: “to suffer.” By all accounts he was in a lot of pain as his cancer progressed. But there’s something else there that perhaps shouldn’t be surprising for someone who was as careful a writer as Grant was. In part, he’s quoting what may have been a childhood grammar lesson.

Here’s a passage from an 1831 volume by John March Putnam, “English Grammar: with an improved syntax.” It’s a pretty standard late 18th-early 19th century description of verbs and their function.

I think Grant’s sublimation is still there. But his “suffering” has another dimension to it–simultaneously, he exists still, he continues to act, and he is at the mercy of the forces ending his life.

Berkeley Crime Notes

We in our little middle-class Berkeley enclave do not feel we live in a big, bad, dangerous city. Yeah, we see stuff happens. Our house was broken into seven years ago, and we’ve had a car vandalized on the street in front of our place. Offhand, I can think of more than a half-dozen burglaries on our block since we moved here 20-some years ago, including a couple that happened within the last six months. Unbeknownst to anyone here, last week there were several burglaries on the street just west of us. As it happened, one of the homes that was broken into had security cameras installed. According to the Berkeley police, here are the images captured:

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burglar2.png If nothing else, these two look prepared: the bags. The baggy, anonymous white T-shirts that can be taken off and thrown away (“Officer, I saw someone wearing a white shirt. …”). I’d also note that the blocks where the burglaries occurred are within a four-minute walk of the BART station. Lots of students go in and out of there, and a couple of young people carrying big bags would attract no attention at all.

Wish I had a picture of the people who got away with my two laptops back in 2002.

‘Fight the Anti-Worker Capitalist Agenda’

socialism1.jpgsocialism2.jpg A couple of days ago, a young woman came down the aisle of my car on BART as we neared the Civic Center station. She was dropping postcards on empty seats. Strangely, she wasn’t handing them to any passengers. Maybe this is why: One of my fellow passengers picked up one of the cards, scanned it, and started to laugh. His companion said, “What’s so funny?” “Nothing,” he said. “Crap.” Then he tore up the card and discarded the scraps on the floor. Even here, the region some people would unhesitatingly dub the furthest left in all America, it’s hard to win people over to the fight against the anti-worker capitalist agenda.