Friday, December 29, 2006

Breaking news.....

Here is a speech by the President in New Orleans……
This is real….not a fantasy


NEW ORLEANS, -- The President, calling on the nation to develop an agenda for the future, declared today that the war in I*** was finished "as far as America is concerned."

The President urged the beginning of what he called "a great national reconciliation" and added:
"We are saddened, indeed, by events in I****. But these events, tragic as they are, portend neither the end of the world nor of America's leadership in the world. Some seem to feel that if we do not suceed in everything everywhere, then we have succeeded in nothing nowhere."...

The President made his remarks in a speech to more than 4,500 members of the student body of Tulane University, who greeted his appearance and speech in the campus field house with prolonged and enthusiastic applause, particularly his comment that the war was finished as far as this nation was concerned....

"Today, America can regain the sense of pride that existed before the war," the President said.

"But it cannot be achieved by refighting a war that is finished -- as far as America is concerned," he said.


Ooops......You probably guessed: It was President Ford.....not Bush. He was speaking in 1975 about Indochina, not Iraq.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Arzak.....Old School? Nah.......

As we prepare to re-invade Northern Spain, Amanda and I have been prowling the internet. There is no such thing as vacation. Food is everything…..the Basques and Catalans still have the best food in the world.

The best meal we had last time in Spain was at Arzak in San Sebastian. But there may be better.

On the FoodFreak sites Sant Pau, on the opposite coast, is king. I haven’t read anything really nice about Arzak in a while. Arzak is/was often listed as one of the top three or four restaurants in the world, along with El Bulli and The Fat Duck. The cognoscenti seems to have deserted, though.

The King is dead…..long live the King?

Yeah, well……

So here is my Arzak story:

Amanda and I went to Spain exactly two years ago. We had no money, but we had to go away anyway….or in frustration shoot ourselves, or each other, or some hapless Cachagua idiot by proxy.

Now, Amanda doesn’t really like to leave her room, much less the COUNTRY. I knew this intellectually, but……

We arrived in Bilbao in the afternoon. Of course I had already booked a table for four hours after landing from the 15 hour flight at a one-star in Bilbao, over by the Guggenheim That’s relaxing, right?

Getting Amanda dressed was a freak show… possibility of just throwing on some random clothes and going out to munch. Fifteen hours in the air and I was ready to EAT and DRINK. Amanda was ready for a quiet, dark closet.

And of course the meal kinda sucked. One or two good courses…..but the sauces kept repeating, and the gnarly maitresse d’hotel kept such a lid on the girls working the tables that the place had all the joy of Tim McVey’s lethal injection chamber: all steel and glass, and starched uniforms with nary a smile to be seen. “Here is the sweet pepper aioli again, Mr. McVey….remember how you really liked it on the sardine three courses ago? Just close your eyes….It will all be over soon……”

By the next day…..unnoticed by me, Amanda was grasping around for some kind of control over her vacation. We battled: out of the parking garage, out of the city, and down the interstate.

By the time we reached San Sebastian war had been declared. The city was in full roar: Jan 20th is the celebration of the city’s liberation from Napoleon. Boys dress as either Napoleonic soldiers or mocking chefs and the girls all dress like maids. The soldiers march beating on their drums with the ‘pas de charge’ (the drumbeat that conquered all Europe), while the chefs and the maids march behind beating on flour buckets in derision…..just as had their ancestors two hundred years ago. The competing rhythms are like some crazy tribal poetry slam with drums.

No matter……We had our own rhythm:

”Fuck you!!”

“No….Fuck you!! Why did I come to Europe with you? You should not even have left the HOUSE!!”

“No…..Fuck YOU!! Vacations are supposed to be RELAXING!! You are the UBERSTURMBAHNFUHRER of food!!!! Relax!! Smell the roses!!!”

“Fuck you!! Arzak closes tomorrow for three weeks!! This is our only chance!!! You can sleep tomorrow…..”

All the while surrounded by squads of doting grandparents and aunts and uncles dropping off their exquisitely costumed offspring for the parades. I am fairly sure they all knew what “Fuck YOU!!!” means in American.

Somehow we got to the Pensione……showered and dressed in our shitty wrinkled American jet lag clothes, and headed out in the rental car for Arzak. There may have been white sox involved…….

Arzak is located on the Fremont Blvd of San Sebastian…..the Geary Street, or the 19th Avenue…..or Rt 22 in New Jersey…..a shitty, busy street with four lanes. We parked out back by the dumpster and tried to collect ourselves. I was ten minutes late for the appointed time, and full of fear that the priests at the high temple of cuisine would reject us for some reason.

“Fuck you!! I don’t care if we’re late!! I hate you!!”

“Yeah, well…..Fuck you, too!!”

We walked in to the place at 8:10….all wrinkled and damp. I think I did have on white sox. The giant neon sign “Stupid Fucking Americans” was still hanging over our heads……Damn. No one in Europe eats before 10pm but stupid fucking Americans.

Still, they were gracious. We were shown to a corner table in an elegant but not overbearing dining room. It was empty.

I ordered champagne….and thought about how to ask for a needle and a drip bottle in Castellano or Basque. Amanda glowered from her side of the table.

The Arzak daughter was our waitress….the maitresse d’hotel. She asked if there was anything we were allergic to, or didn’t like to eat: “I know you are a chef, but I must ask…..”

She knew I was a chef? How?

They must have googled us. We had been in town two hours, and knew no one.

Now they had my attention.

Amuse Bouche courses started…..all perfect and different. They came at a dizzying pace. The wine guy bought us something inexpensive and local… must have been the white sox. Amanda still glowered.
Did I mention that Amanda was served entirely different dishes than I was served?

About six dishes in I was brought an egg….and Amanda was brought a Miró. No way else to describe it. It was calamari, but it was a Miró. I know: I have the fucking Miró print. Four or five different sauces slashed over the plate with the calamari ever so……

Since Amanda had come to Spain for art…..and peace…..and refuge…..she instantly teared up at the sight of the dish.

Meanwhile, my egg was just a soft poached egg….with a wedge cut out and pulled back….the yolk oozing ever so. It was still hot. There was just a scattering of herb dust and a biscuit and just an egg.

Yeah, well…..It turns out that they had to know the volume and start temperature of the egg, the temperature of the water the egg was poached in, the exact temperature of the plate the egg was placed on…..and the BTU heat transfer as the plate was carried through the air conditioning to the dining room and put in front of me……..All timed with the Miró squid guy, the waitress, the wine guy….and the now half full dining room.

It was a huge Fuck You!! White Boy…..Welcome to My Place. You want Temple Food? Here is a fucking perfect egg……Don’t try THAT at home, Jackass…..

I was overwhelmed……this is what it is all about. Perfect technique in the service of Art. Etienne Merle was right after all!
Now I can die happy…….

I teared up. I looked at teared-up Amanda. We both sobbed…..and laughed. And sobbed.

Sra. Arzak ran over: “Que pasó? Is anything wrong?”

Me: “No hay problemas……No hay problemas…….I am sorry…..”

Entiendes: La differencia entre “llorar”…………. y “orar”…..est muy pequena………”

(The difference between “crying”…….and “praying”… very small………..)

Yeah, two letters……and my whole world………

Arzak rocks ass. They got serious after the egg course…..

As a final touch, they brought me a hamburger for desert: chopped 70% single source chocolate as a burger, a tiny little brioche for the bun, a slice of dried apple for the onion, and a raspberry coulis for the catsup.

Still watching you, Yankee Chef Boy……..

Nice sox!
San Sebastian, 20 Enero 2005

Platano con mousse de arraitxikis
Caldito de alubias con manzana
Pitahay con sepia y hongos
Morcilla con berza y vinagreta de bacon
Pina con piquillo

Clips de cogollos con mango

El carabinero con los verdes

Flor de huevo y tartufo en grasa de oca y txistorra de dátiles
Graffiti de huevo eliptico

Rape con taco de sopa de ajo y …….
Luguado con gelatina in esperada e infusion de cocido

Pato pescador
Corzo y ceirvo con naranja especiada

Tortilla fea de chocolate con lechuga
Hamburgesa de chocolate
Frutas pomposas
Pan de naranja con espinacas
Tarta de manzana con tapenade de aceitunas

Plus a bunch of other random shit…….

Bye, bye, Gerry......

Everybody has a Gerald Ford story. And everyone's Gerry Ford story is sappy and sentimental, as befits a genuinely kind old man.

Well, not everyone's.

My story is not exactly about President Ford....but kind of.

At the Crosby golf the AT& 1978, we were hired by a high-level San Francisco socialite named Clarissa Dyer to do a dinner party. She was sharing a house with Phil Harris and his wife, and the guests of honor were to be Betty and Gerry Ford.

We were excited, to say the least. My partner Valentine took care of all the hand-holding and the front of the house stuff while I did the food and the wine and booze. This was high end stuff for high end people: Clarissa's husband had a Maserati Countach parked in the garage of the house in Pebble. In 1978 it represented $300,000 cash up front, and a two year waiting list. Multiply by ten to compare to today.

I have no idea what the food was....something pretentious, no doubt.....and simple. We got to interface with the Secret Service, which was fine. The only place were were a little short was in staffing. We were new in town, and we had to reach out a little for help.

One area was the bar. We needed a real bartender, so that Valentine could walk the floor and run the captains.....and Tommy could run the waiters who would run the food. A friend of a friend suggested Camille, a bartender at Sade's in Carmel. Since Clint Eastwood was going to be a guest, and Clint was a Sade's regular, this seemed like a good move.

On the day of the big event, Camille showed on time and well groomed. She was a bit careworn, but presentable, and she ran a decent bar. At first.......

My kitchen was another story. I didn't figure on the counterspace necessary to layout the complicated appetizers and salads and soon every flat surface in the kitchen was covered. So, we expanded a bit.

Have you ever seen a Maserati Countach?

It is all about the flat surfaces..........

The Secret Service guys were cool. They mostly hung out in the back, like car parkers at a normal gig. A couple were up front, posing as waiters. They all had a good laugh at the Countach, buried in salads in the garage.

Very cool.

President Ford himself was just as cool. Not a rock star, just a regular golfing guy....who remembered everyone's name the first time.....even the staff of fifteen.

In the middle of the dinner service, Camille's eyes sort of glassed over and she started drifting. Now, we are used to a bit of gentle alcoholism and gentle drug abuse.....and gentle personality disorder......but this was different. Valentine steered her out of the dining room and the wine service and back to her bar. She was singing softly to herself......

Just as the entrées were dropped, Camille thought of something she just had to tell Clint, who was sitting next to President Ford. She headed his way, weaving through the tables with a look in her eyes that......have you seen ''Play Misty For Me"? Like that. Deranged. Full on Squeaky Fromme.

Valentine, smooth as could be, got to her just before she got to the Presidential table......just as the Secret Service waiter dudes were reaching for their pieces. (Ford had been shot at just a couple of years before in San Francisco). Valentine swooped up the chick and waltzed her gracefully back to the kitchen and out of danger without anyone noticing.

Camille was drifting through some universe I am not familiar with. We got her a glass of water....I got her some cash....we took her apron.....and gave her nice hugs goodbye. She seemed fine with it.....not even noticing she had just been fired in the middle of a gig for almost assaulting a president.

The next day I was doing the laundry, like all great chefs. I got to Camille's apron and felt something in the pocket. A business card. Embossed with gold. Nice.

Jerry Smith
United States Secret Service
Ford Protective Detail
Palm Springs, Ca

On the back was a note:

Camille: I really liked meeting you. Let's have some fun. Call me. Here is my private line: 555-1234. I am off at 11. Jerry.

We laminated the card and made a light switch pull out of it for our flourescents at the kitchen. It was there for years.

In the end, everything was fine with Clarissa about the party except one thing. We were short an entire case of Dewar's scotch on the gig, so we had billed her. The scotch had been in the garage as backup, with the Countach. The only guys back there were us and the Secret Service....We don't drink scotch, so.......a tip for the boys with the guns, right?

Mrs. Dyer was indignant: "The Secret Service wouldn't steal a case of my scotch!! They were here to protect The President!!"

She refused to pay for it, and never hired us again.

Simpler times: a decent man in the White House....two decent men in a row!!!......and the Secret Service not torturing terrorists, but trying to date them. With stolen scotch.....

I next saw Clarissa Dyer getting out of the limo right behind me at the Fairmount Hotel the next carrying a pig for Princess Margaret on behalf of the IRA.

I got the TV and newspaper coverage, not Clarissa.......and that was that.

It's OK to Eat Cloned Meat....and We're Killing Sadaam on Sunday.....

Strange days......Did someone put LSD in the water cooler?

Not my water.....Fox News' water cooler. And in The White House water cooler.

Is irony really dead?

The MSM finally noticed that we have been feeding cows to cows, and this is bad. And the MSM finally noticed that BSE in cows, and Jakob-Kreutzfeld in people, occurs naturally about one in a million times. (Richard Rhodes pointed this out in 1997 in his book about BSE, "Deadly Feasts". If you are tired of being scared of terrorists, read the book.....and be afraid of: sheep, lamb, deer, beef, minks, hospitals.....and especially the USDA). the math: There are 300 million of us in the US. There should be three hundred cases of JK. There are about 30 million cows slaughtered each year in the US. Thirty of them should have BSE......Plus the people (and cows) that eat the meat (fifteen tons) of the BSE cows have a strong likelyhood of developing BSE. Every year.

So....where are the cases?

A long incubation period for the disease is one issue: that BSE burger you had at 4th of July picnic in Telluride 1976 is just now starting to fuck with your brain organization (and you thought it was the LSD they put in the watermelon!!!).

Poor reporting and misdiagnosis are others. "Grandpa is whacky as hell! Must be the Alzheimer's.....or all the Grey Goose and LSD....."

I'm sure our government wouldn't be suppressing meat industry related statstics and science in any way.

The government is here to help us, after all. Look what they're doing for your suntan.

So.....dig in to your cloned burger, Junior. Mmmmm. There couldn't POSSIBLY be a problem.

And why does Sadaam's goodbye letter...... and Achmed "I-Am-A-Dinner-jacket" from Iran's letters....... sound more calm and Christian than our own Christians, even at Christmas? "I call on you not to hate, because hatred does not leave a space for a person to be fair....."

I am no big fan of that murderous, insane bastard.....but do the math again: We brutally slay a brutal murderer ......on the eve of a big Muslim holy day, Eid ul-Fir. This makes us......better in some way?

Eid is the end of Ramadan....and the occasion for the haj, the big pilgrimage to Mecca....where three million Muslims will gather next week. Eid "is a time to come together as a community and to renew friendship and family ties. This is a time for peace for all Muslims in the world to devote to prayers and mutual well-being........"

So....the US kills a Muslim leader to renew friendship and family ties in the Muslim world. OK, now it makes sense.

I am sure it will play well in Mecca next week.

What could possibly go wrong?

In Sadaam's honor....and in honor of the LSD in the water coolers there at Fox and Washington....I give you another quote, this time from John Lennon (A Spaniard in The Works, 1964):

Good Dog Nigel

Arf, Arf, he goes, a merry sight,

Our little hairy friend,

Arf, Arf, upon the lampost bright

Arfing round the bend.

Nice dog! Goo boy,

Waggie tail and beg,

Clever Nigel, jump for joy


Happy Eid.....

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Thank you, Mr. Atlee.....

Apropos of nothing.....

Service people really struggle at Christmas time.

We work all year trying to supply authentic emotional, social, political, and whatnot experiences for folk....and at Christmas it is more clear than any other time of year that we are not part of the game.....We are part of your parties......but we start at 6am and we go until midnite.

We are The Other.....

Last night after the last in a series of perfectly wonderful Christmas experiences: great people, perfect food, sweet emotions....I was driving home listening to KGO. Gene Burns was burning up time and was playing Christmas stuff.

A British voice came on and told a story. I listened with half my mind as I drove through the woods of Pebble Beach.....

Something about the meter and cadence of the story and the speaker rang a dim bell.

I know this guy.

I can tell an Eric Clapton guitar solo.....and a BB King solo....a Stevie Ray Vaughn solo.....Joe Satriani solo.......within a bar or two. If you are between 40 and 65 and you can't, it is time for The Home.


Still....something rang back in the dim hallways of.......

Chatham Township High School in New Jersey.....Mr. Atlee's English class.

This sounds like "Fern Hill"....

Mr. Atlee showed us that normal words, properly arranged...... could ring like bells........

Dylan Thomas. Gotta be......

Forty years ago, a bitter Welsh English teacher named Mr. Atlee laid down a ground work solid enough......that out of the blue, from a cold start, exhausted and slightly drunk, I could recognize Dylan Thomas the first time I ever heard him live........

Mr. Atlee planted a time bomb in me that only just now went specifics. But, who knows who much of my perceptions and thoughts were influenced by the quality of his teaching in the past forty years.

English is a bell that needs to be rung.

Public School.

No child left behind.......

I don't think this happens anymore. I wish I were wrong.

I wish my son Conall could have had Mr. Atlee......I think I was supposed to pass this stuff on, but I know I failed. I am a cook, not a damned teacher.


Thank you, Mr. Atlee. is a great Christmas story.......

A Child's Christmas in Wales

Dylan Thomas

One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.

All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find. In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen.

It was on the afternoon of the Christmas Eve, and I was in Mrs. Prothero's garden, waiting for cats, with her son Jim. It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas. December, in my memory, is white as Lapland, though there were no reindeers. But there were cats. Patient, cold and callous, our hands wrapped in socks, we waited to snowball the cats. Sleek and long as jaguars and horrible-whiskered, spitting and snarling, they would slink and sidle over the white back-garden walls, and the lynx-eyed hunters, Jim and I, fur-capped and moccasined trappers from Hudson Bay, off Mumbles Road, would hurl our deadly snowballs at the green of their eyes. The wise cats never appeared.

We were so still, Eskimo-footed arctic marksmen in the muffling silence of the eternal snows - eternal, ever since Wednesday - that we never heard Mrs. Prothero's first cry from her igloo at the bottom of the garden. Or, if we heard it at all, it was, to us, like the far-off challenge of our enemy and prey, the neighbor's polar cat. But soon the voice grew louder.

"Fire!" cried Mrs. Prothero, and she beat the dinner-gong.

And we ran down the garden, with the snowballs in our arms, toward the house; and smoke, indeed, was pouring out of the dining-room, and the gong was bombilating, and Mrs. Prothero was announcing ruin like a town crier in Pompeii. This was better than all the cats in Wales standing on the wall in a row. We bounded into the house, laden with snowballs, and stopped at the open door of the smoke-filled room.

Something was burning all right; perhaps it was Mr. Prothero, who always slept there after midday dinner with a newspaper over his face. But he was standing in the middle of the room, saying, "A fine Christmas!" and smacking at the smoke with a slipper.

"Call the fire brigade," cried Mrs. Prothero as she beat the gong. "There won't be there," said Mr. Prothero, "it's Christmas." There was no fire to be seen, only clouds of smoke and Mr. Prothero standing in the middle of them, waving his slipper as though he were conducting.

"Do something," he said. And we threw all our snowballs into the smoke - I think we missed Mr. Prothero - and ran out of the house to the telephone box.

"Let's call the police as well," Jim said. "And the ambulance." "And Ernie Jenkins, he likes fires."

But we only called the fire brigade, and soon the fire engine came and three tall men in helmets brought a hose into the house and Mr. Prothero got out just in time before they turned it on. Nobody could have had a noisier Christmas Eve. And when the firemen turned off the hose and were standing in the wet, smoky room, Jim's Aunt, Miss. Prothero, came downstairs and peered in at them. Jim and I waited, very quietly, to hear what she would say to them. She said the right thing, always. She looked at the three tall firemen in their shining helmets, standing among the smoke and cinders and dissolving snowballs, and she said, "Would you like anything to read?"

Years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlors, and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English and the bears, before the motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse, when we rode the daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed. But here a small boy says: "It snowed last year, too. I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea."

"But that was not the same snow," I say. "Our snow was not only shaken from white wash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunder-storm of white, torn Christmas cards."

"Were there postmen then, too?"

"With sprinkling eyes and wind-cherried noses, on spread, frozen feet they crunched up to the doors and mittened on them manfully. But all that the children could hear was a ringing of bells."

"You mean that the postman went rat-a-tat-tat and the doors rang?"

"I mean that the bells the children could hear were inside them.""I only hear thunder sometimes, never bells.""There were church bells, too."

"Inside them?"

"No, no, no, in the bat-black, snow-white belfries, tugged by bishops and storks. And they rang their tidings over the bandaged town, over the frozen foam of the powder and ice-cream hills, over the crackling sea. It seemed that all the churches boomed for joy under my window; and the weathercocks crew for Christmas, on our fence."

"Get back to the postmen."

"They were just ordinary postmen, found of walking and dogs and Christmas and the snow. They knocked on the doors with blue knuckles. . . ."

"Ours has got a black knocker. . . ."

"And then they stood on the white Welcome mat in the little, drifted porches and huffed and puffed, making ghosts with their breath, and jogged from foot to foot like small boys wanting to go out."

"And then the presents?"

"And then the Presents, after the Christmas box. And the cold postman, with a rose on his button-nose, tingled down the tea-tray-slithered run of the chilly glinting hill. He went in his ice-bound boots like a man on fishmonger's slabs."

He wagged his bag like a frozen camel's hump, dizzily turned the corner on one foot, and, by God, he was gone.""Get back to the Presents."

"There were the Useful Presents: engulfing mufflers of the old coach days, and mittens made for giant sloths; zebra scarfs of a substance like silky gum that could be tug-o'-warred down to the galoshes; blinding tam-o'-shanters like patchwork tea cozies and bunny-suited busbies and balaclavas for victims of head-shrinking tribes; from aunts who always wore wool next to the skin there were mustached and rasping vests that made you wonder why the aunts had any skin left at all; and once I had a little crocheted nose bag from an aunt now, alas, no longer whinnying with us. And pictureless books in which small boys, though warned with quotations not to, would skate on Farmer Giles' pond and did and drowned; and books that told me everything about the wasp, except why."

"Go on the Useless Presents."

"Bags of moist and many-colored jelly babies and a folded flag and a false nose and a tram-conductor's cap and a machine that punched tickets and rang a bell; never a catapult; once, by mistake that no one could explain, a little hatchet; and a celluloid duck that made, when you pressed it, a most unducklike sound, a mewing moo that an ambitious cat might make who wished to be a cow; and a painting book in which I could make the grass, the trees, the sea and the animals any colour I pleased, and still the dazzling sky-blue sheep are grazing in the red field under the rainbow-billed and pea-green birds. Hardboileds, toffee, fudge and allsorts, crunches, cracknels, humbugs, glaciers, marzipan, and butterwelsh for the Welsh. And troops of bright tin soldiers who, if they could not fight, could always run. And Snakes-and-Families and Happy Ladders. And Easy Hobbi-Games for Little Engineers, complete with instructions. Oh, easy for Leonardo! And a whistle to make the dogs bark to wake up the old man next door to make him beat on the wall with his stick to shake our picture off the wall. And a packet of cigarettes: you put one in your mouth and you stood at the corner of the street and you waited for hours, in vain, for an old lady to scold you for smoking a cigarette, and then with a smirk you ate it. And then it was breakfast under the balloons."

"Were there Uncles like in our house?"

"There are always Uncles at Christmas. The same Uncles. And on Christmas morning, with dog-disturbing whistle and sugar fags, I would scour the swatched town for the news of the little world, and find always a dead bird by the Post Office or by the white deserted swings; perhaps a robin, all but one of his fires out. Men and women wading or scooping back from chapel, with taproom noses and wind-bussed cheeks, all albinos, huddles their stiff black jarring feathers against the irreligious snow. Mistletoe hung from the gas brackets in all the front parlors; there was sherry and walnuts and bottled beer and crackers by the dessertspoons; and cats in their fur-abouts watched the fires; and the high-heaped fire spat, all ready for the chestnuts and the mulling pokers. Some few large men sat in the front parlors, without their collars, Uncles almost certainly, trying their new cigars, holding them out judiciously at arms' length, returning them to their mouths, coughing, then holding them out again as though waiting for the explosion; and some few small aunts, not wanted in the kitchen, nor anywhere else for that matter, sat on the very edge of their chairs, poised and brittle, afraid to break, like faded cups and saucers.

"Not many those mornings trod the piling streets: an old man always, fawn-bowlered, yellow-gloved and, at this time of year, with spats of snow, would take his constitutional to the white bowling green and back, as he would take it wet or fire on Christmas Day or Doomsday; sometimes two hale young men, with big pipes blazing, no overcoats and wind blown scarfs, would trudge, unspeaking, down to the forlorn sea, to work up an appetite, to blow away the fumes, who knows, to walk into the waves until nothing of them was left but the two furling smoke clouds of their inextinguishable briars. Then I would be slap-dashing home, the gravy smell of the dinners of others, the bird smell, the brandy, the pudding and mince, coiling up to my nostrils, when out of a snow-clogged side lane would come a boy the spit of myself, with a pink-tipped cigarette and the violet past of a black eye, cocky as a bullfinch, leering all to himself.I hated him on sight and sound, and would be about to put my dog whistle to my lips and blow him off the face of Christmas when suddenly he, with a violet wink, put his whistle to his lips and blew so stridently, so high, so exquisitely loud, that gobbling faces, their cheeks bulged with goose, would press against their tinsled windows, the whole length of the white echoing street. For dinner we had turkey and blazing pudding, and after dinner the Uncles sat in front of the fire, loosened all buttons, put their large moist hands over their watch chains, groaned a little and slept. Mothers, aunts and sisters scuttled to and fro, bearing tureens. Auntie Bessie, who had already been frightened, twice, by a clock-work mouse, whimpered at the sideboard and had some elderberry wine. The dog was sick. Auntie Dosie had to have three aspirins, but Auntie Hannah, who liked port, stood in the middle of the snowbound back yard, singing like a big-bosomed thrush. I would blow up balloons to see how big they would blow up to; and, when they burst, which they all did, the Uncles jumped and rumbled. In the rich and heavy afternoon, the Uncles breathing like dolphins and the snow descending, I would sit among festoons and Chinese lanterns and nibble dates and try to make a model man-o'-war, following the Instructions for Little Engineers, and produce what might be mistaken for a sea-going tramcar.

Or I would go out, my bright new boots squeaking, into the white world, on to the seaward hill, to call on Jim and Dan and Jack and to pad through the still streets, leaving huge footprints on the hidden pavements.

"I bet people will think there's been hippos."

"What would you do if you saw a hippo coming down our street?"

"I'd go like this, bang! I'd throw him over the railings and roll him down the hill and then I'd tickle him under the ear and he'd wag his tail.""What would you do if you saw two hippos?"Iron-flanked and bellowing he-hippos clanked and battered through the scudding snow toward us as we passed Mr. Daniel's house.

"Let's post Mr. Daniel a snow-ball through his letter box."

"Let's write things in the snow."

"Let's write, 'Mr. Daniel looks like a spaniel' all over his lawn."

Or we walked on the white shore. "Can the fishes see it's snowing?

"The silent one-clouded heavens drifted on to the sea. Now we were snow-blind travelers lost on the north hills, and vast dewlapped dogs, with flasks round their necks, ambled and shambled up to us, baying "Excelsior.

"We returned home through the poor streets where only a few children fumbled with bare red fingers in the wheel-rutted snow and cat-called after us, their voices fading away, as we trudged uphill, into the cries of the dock birds and the hooting of ships out in the whirling bay. And then, at tea the recovered Uncles would be jolly; and the ice cake loomed in the center of the table like a marble grave. Auntie Hannah laced her tea with rum, because it was only once a year.Bring out the tall tales now that we told by the fire as the gaslight bubbled like a diver. Ghosts whooed like owls in the long nights when I dared not look over my shoulder; animals lurked in the cubbyhole under the stairs and the gas meter ticked. And I remember that we went singing carols once, when there wasn't the shaving of a moon to light the flying streets.At the end of a long road was a drive that led to a large house, and we stumbled up the darkness of the drive that night, each one of us afraid, each one holding a stone in his hand in case, and all of us too brave to say a word. The wind through the trees made noises as of old and unpleasant and maybe webfooted men wheezing in caves. We reached the black bulk of the house.

"What shall we give them? Hark the Herald?"

"No," Jack said, "Good King Wencelas. I'll count three.

" One, two three, and we began to sing, our voices high and seemingly distant in the snow-felted darkness round the house that was occupied by nobody we knew.

We stood close together, near the dark door. Good King Wencelas looked out On the Feast of Stephen . . . And then a small, dry voice, like the voice of someone who has not spoken for a long time, joined our singing: a small, dry, eggshell voice from the other side of the door: a small dry voice through the keyhole. And when we stopped running we were outside our house; the front room was lovely; balloons floated under the hot-water-bottle-gulping gas; everything was good again and shone over the town.

"Perhaps it was a ghost," Jim said.

"Perhaps it was trolls," Dan said, who was always reading.

"Let's go in and see if there's any jelly left," Jack said. And we did that.

Always on Christmas night there was music. An uncle played the fiddle, a cousin sang "Cherry Ripe," and another uncle sang "Drake's Drum." It was very warm in the little house. Auntie Hannah, who had got on to the parsnip wine, sang a song about Bleeding Hearts and Death, and then another in which she said her heart was like a Bird's Nest; and then everybody laughed again; and then I went to bed. Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.

The Season to be.........oh, yeah. Jolly.

Trying to not be the Humbug....

Monday Night Dinner: a table of three. We have a ton (literally) of organic I made an adaptation of the old French Onion Soup deal. Lotsa leeks and carmelized onions. A good crouton with Grana cheese, blasted with the torch: have a nice day. I also did a cioppino-ish dish: the remnant heirloom tomatoes, leeks!!!, wild salmon, prawns, cannellini beans, kale, lotsa olive oil....and called it Salmon and Prawn Cassoulet.

The table of three ordered the French Onion and Leek Soup without onions.......and the Salmon and Prawn Cassoulet without salmon.

Fuck me......

703 area code......googled to a defense contractor.

No wonder we are fucked in Iraq.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Bird Flu the Coop......

First the good news: Last night we had our little Bah Humbug party for Vanessa Davis and her boys......the kids from the orphanage in Honduras. We did dinner...Pat Clark and Dave played.....and were joined by BearOnBear from UCSC. What a nice time! BearOnBear played acoustically: thoughtful, sweet, polite, intelligent, kind. Their EP was released today.....Email me if you would like a copy.

The star of the show was Vanessa, of course. She was nervous as a cat about her little speech, and showed us a short professional video from the orphanage, plus some of her own snaps of ''her boys''. What came through was her perfect devotion.....she glowed with enthusiasm.....and, no other word for it: love.

Wow, how corny. Even so, it was the perfect Christmas present for me, and I think for everyone else. Vanessa is the real deal: caring, smart, dedicated, spiritual, funny. Did I mention beautiful? And possibly even changing the world......


And the Cachagua Regulars ponied up $800, plus loot.... for Vanessa's Boys......It was nice to see the old axiom proved true: To give is better than to receive. Yes, Virginia.....there is a Santa Claus......Well, a Ms. Claus anyway.

Friday marked Brendan's return to the public after his ordeal......What ordeal, you say?

Well, BE AFRAID, people.....BE VERY AFRAID. If you thought Katrina was an example of grotesque mismanagement of a completely predictable event.....stay tuned.

When last seen, Brendan and Chloe were hanging out with the King of Thailand's entourage.....signing autographs, posing for fan pictures.....Paris Hilton style.....or Bankok Hilton style, anyway.

On the long flight home, Brendan started feeling bad. Then, very bad. Migraine, stiff neck, lungs filling with fluid. Fever. Cough.

He somehow endured the 15 hour flight, coughing and shivering. He got off the plane, got his luggage, went through customs, and got on public transportation for The City.....all the while shivering and sweating like a heroin addict and a coughing up a lung.

Remember how there is a special quarantine facility at SFO for incoming sick patients from Asian flights? How the airlines identify sick passengers, and the customs, and airport officials, etc and intercept them before they.......get on public transport and get into a big city?


I picked him up in San Jose at a buddy's apartment, painfully ill and still with a violent cough. I spent the two hours driving back to The Peninsula trying to find a doctor to see him.....and failing. He took an Imitrex and some Vicodin and started feeling better.

I had done a drop-off at CHOMP earlier that day, so we had to go back and pick up the mess. I tried to talk Brendan into going into the ER while we were there, but he just wanted to go home and sleep. He did go into the hospital to pee, though.

When I came back with the mess....the motor was running in the Jag and the heat was blasting. Brendan was shivering like jello....completely exhausted from his jaunt through the hospital to pee. We jammed home, stopping only for chicken soup at Safeway.

At The Casa, Brendan took a bath and faded. The peace lasted only a couple of hours. He was in a lot of pain. A lot of pain. All the hot water, Imitrex and Vicodin in the world could not cope. His fever hit 103.5....and he was sweating through his sheets.

Back to the ER at CHOMP.

Where they freaked out. Thailand, fever, headache, cough. They called in their on-call infectious disease guy. Gave Brendan IV morphine for the bonebrake fever.

First diagnosis: Dengue Fever. At this one, my girls were freaking out....regular readers will remember my crew trying to call in sick with Dengue on a Monday Night. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for Dengue beyond fluids, rest and morphine. Keep the boy away from mosquitos so it doesn't spread. Like there is a mosquito withing 500 miles of Carmel in December.

After a few hours, Dengue came up negative. Influenza came up positive. Uh oh. Bird flu?

So they rushed him into the Isolation Room of the Intensive Care Unit in the Brand New $750 million dollar wing of CHOMP. Fired up the super anti-septic air filtration systems.......or not. When they pushed the buttons, nothing happened. So they ran around and found a HEPA filter and put in the room, and said: Everything is Fine.

I have a HEPA filter in my room at The Casa.....and I don't have bird flu. I got it at Costco (the filter, not bird flu), and it was significantly cheaper than three quarter billion smackers.

Still, everyone wore masks and plastic garments they burned upon leaving the room, and there was an air-lock and all this. Plus a flat-panel HDTV!! Well, way up in the corner of the room, and not actually quite pointed at the guy in the bed, so it was hard to see....but, hey! If they had gone the whole BILLION......

By now it was late Friday and I had been working a party. Somewhat sleep. The hostess was worried as well, and poured me a fatty giant glass of champagne to ease my cares.....and another. And I might have had a sip or two of another along the way. At midnight, I finally arrived at the hospital, and set out to find the ICU.

I found a friendly security guard, and the two of us spent some minutes searching through the new wing for the ICU. We got close, and he bid me adieu. I spent another 20 minutes or so wandering through labs, empty operating rooms, a surgery center, some hallways filled with expensive equipment. I asked several people in scrubs where the ICU one knew. Eventually I found another security guy, who brought me closer. Eureka!

No one was about. I looked at all the patients.....none seemed Brendan-like. Lo...there in the corner was The Boy. I barged on in.

"Dad!! For fuck's sake you have to put on all the shit!! You just went through the wrong door! You have to go in the little room and put on all the shit and go through the other door!"

Too late now. I went back out the wrong door and into the little room. Put on a hat, an overgarment and a mask. Upside down. I may have torn the garment in a few places. Thumbs were involved in the sleeve part. Forget the gloves...well, I got one on. I went back inside to see The Boy.

''Jesus Christ, Dad. Everyone has to wear this stuff to keep the bugs from spreading. Or getting it yourself." Three hours of being coughed on in a Jaguar.....I figure I am already there.

The charge nurse came in. I mentioned that I hoped we weren't being charged ICU rates for a broken room. "Oh, no sir. We called the are only being charged the floor rate. Don't worry." He didn't notice my face mask was upside down, or the Michael Jackson one-glove thing. He also didn't seem curious as to why there was an elderly drunk in the ICU isolation room at 1am in torn plasticware....or even who the fuck the drunk was.

On the way out I swiped some outergarments.....Maybe I could get the girls to wear them....never mind.

The next morning Brendan started freaking out about the $11,000 a day room charge at CHOMP and decided to leave. The nice nurse got his stuff and signed him out: they were not treating him with anyting buy morphine why not?

Meanwhile his labwork baffled the hospital they sent it to Monterey County. They had never seen this before either, so they sent it to the state. Who scratched their heads and sent it on to the CDC in Atlanta. The CDC identified it as from the bird flu family, but deferred to the WHO in Geneva, Switzerland.

Meanwhile, Brendan was driving home to Carmel Valley....still coughing.

A few hours later, it dawned on the on-call doctor guy that his highly contagious patient with the yet undetermined bird flu like influenza had flown the coop. Oh, well. Friday had been his last day anyway, you see. He had resigned from the hospital and was moving to Seattle. Maybe we could call Brendan's family doctor if we had questions. turns out that Brendan lived through it: seriously ill, very uncomfortable, very weak.....but basically fine. It turns out that the most basic protective systems supposedly in place to protect the rest of society from contagious people.....not so great. Complete failures, actually. We Beta-tested the system....and to use the Katrina metaphor: everyone in New Orleans drowned.

And.....the WHO eventually told us that indeed it was the right family.....just one clone off from the fatal, person to person bird flu we are all anxiouslly awaiting.

And the ultimate absurdity: my late ex-landlord's family had hired to do his memorial service on December 30. Yesterday, a full day after Brendan and I had successfully passed the official quarantine period for bird flu.....the family called to cancel our participation in the event. They were worried that the grandkids might get the bird flu, two weeks from now.

Actually, I don't mind. The landlord, John Waldroup of The Barnyard fame, was a souless, bloodless cocksucker who in his time ground countless small businesses into dust and drank their blood. He gorged on dreams and ruled a kingdom of shabby pennies and I would much rather piss on his grave than serve food to anyone shallow enough to actually show up for his wake.

Bird flu would be an improvement on his bloodline.

But that is just me.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Jesus sends us pain.......

I had to pass this on.....

I was once trapped on a Christian ward at CHOMP. The nurse actually told me that Jesus only sends us as much pain as we can handle, and refused to give me pain meds at 3am....with a shattered leg and dislocated ankle.

This post is by Maia Szalavitz from Huffington Post:

25 Years for Taking His Own Meds

In a mind-boggling act of sadistic legal legal buck-passing (I can't bring myself to glorify it with the word "reasoning"), the Florida District Court of Appeals upheld a 25 year mandatory minimum sentence for a Florida man convicted of "drug trafficking" for possessing his own pain medication.

Richard Paey is a wheelchair-bound father of three young children. He has no prior criminal record-- in fact, he's an Ivy League law school graduate. He has not one, but two extensively documented and excruciatingly painful chronic disorders: multiple sclerosis and chronic back pain due to an injury suffered in a car accident that was treated by a surgery that made matters worse. (This surgery was so egregiously misguided that TV exposes and numerous large malpractice judgments resulted). Paey has already been in prison for three long years.
In prison-- a place not exactly known for medical kindness-- he has been given a morphine pump, which now daily gives him similar or higher doses of medication than he was convicted of possessing illegally.

So why is he serving 25 years? Tipped off by a pharmacist ignorant of pain management, Florida authorities decided that the doses of painkillers he was receiving were so high that he had to be selling the drugs, not taking them. They found no evidence of this, however, even after putting him under surveillance for months.

But they did manage to convince his New Jersey doctor-- who Paey claims authorized his prescriptions-- to testify that, in fact, Paey was forging them. The doctor was told that he would face a similarly lengthy prison sentence for trafficking if he'd authorized such high doses for a patient who had moved from New Jersey to Florida. (See here for why he had reason to fear, despite prescribing legitimately and appropriately).

To add to the exquisite ironies of the case, the reason Paey qualified for such a lengthy sentence was due largely to his possession of acetaminophen (Tylenol), not opioids. Paey was taking pills that included acetaminophen and oxycodone-- but the state counted the weight of the acetaminophen towards the weight of illegal drugs when it determined the charges that led to his sentence.

In upholding his sentence, the majority argued that it was not so "grossly disproportionate" as to be "cruel or unusual" under Florida's constitution. It is the legislature's role, they said, to determine the appropriate laws based on harm done by drugs to the community and prior case has law upheld lengthy mandatory minimums for drug crimes.

Essentially, since Paey's sentence wasn't death or life without parole, it was OK, even though it was a nonviolent first offense committed by a person suffering extreme pain without evidence that he was actually planning on selling drugs. Paey's family-- who had been hoping he'd be home for Christmas-- will have to wait.

The bottom line, for the majority, was that the law had been applied appropriately. Because the outcome was unjust in this particular case, Paey should seek clemency from the governor, not appellate court relief. Noting that the facts of the case "evoke sympathy" for Paey, they concluded that "Mr. Paey's argument about his sentences does not fall on deaf ears, but it falls on the wrong ears."

The only glimmer of hope was the thundering dissent by Judge James Seals. He gave hypothetical examples of situations in which an innocent person could be similarly convicted of drug trafficking by dint of simple possession of large quantities of drugs. He then concluded:
I suggest that it is cruel for a man with an undisputed medical need for a substantial amount of daily medication management to go to prison for twenty-five years for using self-help means to obtain and amply supply himself with the medicine he needed...

I suggest that it is unusual, illogical, and unjust that Mr. Paey could conceivably go to prison for a longer stretch for peacefully but unlawfully purchasing 100 oxycodone pills from a pharmacist than had he robbed the pharmacist at knife point, stolen fifty oxycodone pills which he intended to sell to children waiting outside, and then stabbed the pharmacist...

It is illogical, absurd, cruel, and unusual for the government to put Mr. Paey in prison for twenty-five years for foolishly and desperately pursuing his self-help solution to his medical management problems, and then go to prison only to find that the prison medical staff is prescribing the same or similar medication he had sought on the outside but could not legitimately obtain. That fact alone clearly proves what his intent for purchasing the drugs was. What a tragic irony.

In a letter to the governor requesting clemency, Paey's attorney, John Flannery, wrote, "In more than thirty years of practice as an appellate law clerk in the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and a federal prosecutor and as a practicing appellate and trial lawyer, I have never seen an opinion such as this in which the Court agreed the sentence was wrong but could not agree on how to correct it."

This is a sorry time for justice in America-- and an even sorrier time for the media, which continues to ignore the ongoing disgrace of our drug laws and their enforcement. (For more information and to help support Paey and others caught up in the war on pain doctors and their patients, visit the Pain Relief Network.)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

News of our Whirled....

Brendan and Chloe finally called on Monday in the middle of the chaos of Monday Night at The Store. They have been travelling in Thailand for three weeks.....and not a peep.

Well, on Monday they were walking through the palace grounds of the King in Bankok and got picked up by the Palace Guard. Figures. It is a huge celebration weekend: the King's birthday, anniversary, a huge regatta and a soccer tournament. Tight security.....there was a coup a couple of months ago, and martial law abounds.

But, not a bad thing......For whatever reason, the Guard was told to swoop up attractive foreigners to hang with the King on his birthday, and they got drafted. Brendan called from the Palace while being fitted for a suit. Chloe was getting a dress, and they were both ten feet from the King. They were supposed to be in the King's entourage for the festivities....

More anon......the kids return today.

Vanessa Davis, The Quarter Million Dollar Brain (the current total of her student loans from Berkeley) has returned for the holidays after a year working at an orphanage in Honduras. She is collecting Christmas presents for ''her boys''.

Since I am The Ultimate Humbug.....I hate friggin' Christmas.....I thought it would be nice to give our stupid, meaningless presents to Vanessa to give to boys who actually need them. I mean, really: I have bought or made my Mom more than 50 dumb presents in my life (including The Beatles ''Rubber Soul'' album in 1965). She has more perfume and scarves than she can possibly wear in this lifetime.

Worse, my STAFF buys me presents! Jesus, all I want is Your birthday OFF! I don't want my girls fighting the crowds in the malls to get me a trinket I will lose or break in days. I have enough STUFF! I assume they love me or they wouldn't put up with my shit the other 364 days.....Though last year they got me a t-shirt: ''Losing Faith in Humanity.....One Person at a Time!" In festive, seasonal black.

The last time I went to The Mall at Christmas, I wound up in a screaming match with a Cuban lady in the parking lot. She would not move, so I shoved up against the bumper of her Cadillac with my giant van and punched it......shoving her up the parking lanes, smoke pouring from my tires. And....of course.....that was the mom of the perfume lady at Macy's.

So....this year I am proposing (begging, demanding, insisting) that everyone get together and buy a present for a tiny, malnourished 13-18 year old Honduran boy. Sox. Underwear. Toothbrushes. T-Shirts. Tractor hats. Soccer stuff.

For a Christmas Party we will all meet at The Cachagua Store on Friday the 15th at 6 or so. Vanessa will show her PowerPoint deal. My UC Santa Cruz staff kids will come down to debut their band BearOnBear ( ). We will do some food. Alcohol will be consumed in the Spirit of The Season.

If you don't want to drive out...... drop off a gift, or send a check to Vanessa Davis, c/o Cachagua Store, 18840 Cachagua Road, Carmel Valley, CA 93924. Or, if you want to dig deep and get a tax deduction, the website is (Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos) and the parent organization:

Or don't bring anything. Just come out and listen to the band. But, if you say ''Merry Christmas'' in anything but Honduran......I will stab you.

Friday, December 01, 2006

A brief word from Our Sponsor.....ExxonMobil

We have started showing movies on Friday nights at The Store......mostly progressive documentaries like the WalMart movie and Iraq For Sale, but some fun stuff as well.

We have been looking forward to showing Al Gore's movie ''An Inconvenient Truth." I went to the Brave New Films website to buy a copy. They suggest that you buy two copies and give one to a I did.

When they arrived I called up and offered a copy to Craig Hohenberger, the director of the Whole Earth project at Carmel Middle School. They have an organic garden, a science center, even a wood fired pizza oven. Very hands on, a la Alice Waters.

Anyway, Craig was thrilled to get the film. And he was uncharacteristically fired up.....incensed, actually. And not at me, for a change.

It turns out that one of the producers of the film, Laurie David.....wife of the comedy guy from HBO, Larry.....arranged for 50,000 extra copies to be distributed to schools nationwide.

The National Science Teachers Association refused the donation. A little poking around revealed that the NSTA's major sponsor, ExxonMobil......objected and threatened to pull funding.

More links and info soon.......

Le plus ca change, le plus ca change pas.........