Monday, February 27, 2006


When the London Ballet visited in the mid 1960’s, San Francisco was excited by the glamour of its leading couple, prima-of-the-world Margot Fonteyn, and the newly defected young Bolshoi sensation Rudolf Nureyev. The biggest news during their stay was the couple's arrest at a Haight-Ashbury “pot party,” having “danced across rooftops,” according to the Chron, trying to evade police.

More impressive to me were comments made to a local interviewer:

Interviewer: What do you think of San Francisco?
Nureyev: It’s a toilet for dogs.
Interviewer: What do you mean?
Nureyev: Everywhere I walk there is dogshit.
Interviewer: But really, don’t you think it's a beautiful city?
Nureyev: I don’t know. I can’t look up to see it. If I look up, I step in dogshit.

A decade and a half later, SF’s new elections-by-district produced the first openly gay legislator in the country, Harvey Milk. Supervisor Milk’s assassination by a right-wing ex-cop was followed by the killing, moments later, of the first-term liberal mayor, George Moscone. Having Milk and Moscone in office had represented a sea change in San Francisco’s historically conservative local politics.

A sweetheart prosecution by the assassin’s DA friends resulted in outrageously light manslaughter convictions, which spawned the White Night Riot. Civic Center streets were taken over, a dozen police cars were torched, and City Hall was surrounded and besieged, trapping inside for hours Diane Feinstein, who had run for mayor twice, and lost, but then, thanks to Dan White’s bullets, had become acting mayor, then, thanks to incumbency and the city’s sorrow, had been elected Mayor in her own right.

Presumably most of the rioters were gay, angered by the killing of Harvey Milk. News footage showing cop cars burning in the night, their sirens shrieking, made a deep impression in San Francisco’s memory. Since then, the gay community has been respected and courted by local politicians, and homophobia has been the hate that dare not speak its name.

Mayor Moscone had wanted to throw at least a few crumbs to the disadvantaged. Without the assassination, Feinstein’s political career might have ended in San Francisco, downtown interests might not have dominated local politics for the following fifteen years, and maybe a real Democrat would have vied for her senate seat.

Harvey Milk’s brief tenure in office might seem only symbolic, but he was responsible for a major improvement in San Francisco’s quality of life. Dogshit has mostly disappeared from the city’s footpaths and playfields. It’s gone away, and stayed away for twenty years now, thanks to Harvey Milk’s pooper-scooper ordinance.

Saturday, February 25, 2006


An impressive piece of real estate.

Someone blew the crap out of it.

It's all fucked up.

To understand the anger, I think, what if some asshole bombed this?

or this

or this?

Mommas, tell your children, "Don't blow up architectural treasures. It's really shitty, and no one will like you."

Friday, February 24, 2006


The oldest tennis player of my acquaintance is a guy I see at Golden Gate Park every so often named Spencer Kern. Spencer is 85 and still plays tournaments, singles only. As the number of potential opponents in his age bracket dwindles, he travels farther and farther to get matches, usually in his big ol’ 1962 Cadillac, which appears much closer to demise than its owner.

A devout Christian Scientist, there is nothing in his religion that forbids name-dropping. One of the first things Spencer tells you about himself is he once won four games against an eighteen year old Pancho Gonzalez. Obviously, Pancho lost many games in his illustrious career, but still, it’s like striking out Babe Ruth.

Recently Spencer mentioned a tournament he’d be playing the upcoming weekend down near San Jose. There were only three entrants in the over-80 division and Spencer said their names. The first I’ve forgotten; the second was Wayne Thiebaud. THE Wayne Thiebaud? I asked. Spencer ignored me exclamation, but went on to say something about Wayne’s tennis skills—forehand or serve or something—with no reference to the guy’s status as one of the great American artists of the last century, and, so far, this.

Spencer was not dropping Wayne Thiebaud’s name. For all he cared it could have been Joe Blow. And it makes sense. Let’s say you’re putting together a competitive USTA tennis team and some new guy shows up at practice to try out. You don’t care if he’s some famous brain surgeon, or musician, or even if he’s fabulously rich. What you want to know is can he serve, can he play doubles, can he help your team beat the other teams in the league. And thusly, when it comes to opponents his age, Spencer is mostly thinking “warm bodies.”


We sleep, we feed,
we plant our seed.
We're men, goddammit!
We're men.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


The 1990s stock market boom was partly fueled by fraud, most famously the Enron criminal enterprise. It has become clear that Enron never had a viable business plan. Headed by a Bush best friend, the Texas company prospered extravagantly for a time by executing not a business plan, but rather a crime plan.

There was one analyst, the story goes, who refused to recommend Enron stock and was fired for it. (Partial interview with John Olsen below.) The reason he gave for withholding his approval was that he could not understand Enron’s financial statements.

Of course, no one understood Enron’s financial statements, they were incomprehensible by design.

Before judging the rest of the genius analysts, (whose defense against a charge of complicity is that they were bamboozled), consider the predicament of the courtiers in the old fable, when their emperor so proudly displayed his new (birthday) suit.

The kind of personality that would pipe up “That bloke’s fucking starkers!” could never have gained admittance to the Imperial presence in the first place. He or she would have been de-selected, if not de-headed, early in a career at court.

So there they are, pre-screened for prudence, nodding when the first sycophant praises the cut, the color, the fabric of the non-existent garment. They even murmur some compliments of their own, as necessary, they calculate, to maintain their pampered but tenuous positions.

My hero is the young brokerage underling, Douglas Faneuil, in the Martha Stewart case who refused to support his boss’ and Martha’s lie, and testified against them (told the truth). Presumably he’s blackballed from Wall Street forever; and he knew that would be the price. I salute him not for his supposed sacrifice but because his choice was a wise, joyous one. Who the heck wants to spend his life in the company of liars and thieves?

And he’s cute, too. He can bag my groceries anytime.