China Basin 1

Autobiographical Reflections - Autobiografische Overpeinzingen

There I go, sliding  toes first into the open mouth of Kronos, or perhaps Moloch, whatever, you decide:

image used in a ad placed in the Nation magazine

Oops, wrong picture--this poor guy looks like he's going head first into Bush. That's not me.

Let me start again: yesterday was a beautiful day and I had an appointment with this huge machine--made by Philips Gloeilampenfabrieken, NV--over at the UCSF oncology center in China Basin, where I had been participating over the last few years in a special heart study for Dr. Hsue from UCSF, who is one of the attending physicians at SFGH, where I get my regular medical check-ups. 

I enjoy being part of studies like that for everyone is superfriendly. They seem to love their job--even those scary phlebotómic vampires that suck your blood into little glass vials--they all treat you like royalty--and when fasting is required the night before, they will even give you a large bag of all kinds of goodies you can munch on after the session is all over--as well as containers of juice or milk--and these sessions rarely last more than an hour.

Anyway, I am heading or rather toeing into the hungry mouth of that Phillips machine, right through its O-ring lips that spin at the varying speeds of a bicycle wheel and sometimes tilt slowly or even give me instructions with a metallic voice, like "Take a deep breath and hold!" Then after a few seconds: "Breathe!"  And you do of course--Yes Sir, Mr. Kronos! Or Ms. Moloch, whatever--you don't want to offend whoever is feasting on your toes, or your chest or other even more sensitive parts. And of course you hope and pray to be degurgitated all in one piece.

I am glad I don't suffer from claustrophobia--and that I am not an astronaut, for they must be going through such routines all the time, with cold little sticky suckers applied to your skin all over the place and little wires connecting your bodily parts to who knows what kind of grey-hued extraterrestrial lab assistants. But the whole experience is really not all that frightening once you enter the trance state it puts you in. A good trance, or goodspell, is great to make you feel really secure and safe so you can just relax and enjoy whatever may be happening, even being  swallowed up by the God of Time or roasted in the mouth of Moloch.

China Basin, where this dubious ritual took place is an area near downtown on the bay where ships of the China trade used to moor, and there was a huge cavernous building there, what we call een loods in Dutch, a barnlike structure several blocks in length used for loading and unloading activities. But San Francisco got gentrified and all the blue collar jobs were sucked out of town across the bay to Oakland, which inherited all the shipping from San Francisco. A kind of regional outsourcing. As a consequence all those shipping locations on the wharves have been, or are in the process of being converted to more upscale uses. The nation as a whole could learn a lesson from that.

So China Basin was put up for sale a few decades ago, and a young Chinese architect I had gotten to know back then in the mid seventies by the name of Vincent Tai bought it up for a song. He converted it into a set of huge office spaces and because of its location, location location near an expanding and renewing down town area, the enterprise became very successful. Wannabe real estate tycoons take notice! It made Vincent quite rich and he then invested some money into the production of a movie, called Dim Sum: Vincent Tai from Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart - at

Vincent seems to be a very private person--so you won't find too much personal information on him at the above site, but here is another link: Round Top, Straight Edges - Honolulu Magazine - February 2008 - Hawaii

And this is a picture of the house Vincent designed for himself and his family in Hawaii:


But let me tell you some more of my interaction with Vincent. Shortly upon our arrival in San Francisco, Louis and I met these two young architects, Vincent Tai and Max Woo in the late summer or fall of 1975 when they responded to a small add in the Bay Guardian we had placed to advertise our services as carpenters, painters and all round handymen--or perhaps I should say handyfolks, these days.

We had been living in the Haight on Central Avenue where I had become the resident manager of a small victorian apartment house, whose owner, Eldon Reilly, was an acquaintance of mine. I had met him while climbing a huge tree in the middle of Buena Vista Park and found this guy oberving me from below. When I came down, he asked me to have a drink with him. I happened to be wearing red socks and sandals that day and I guess Eldon, an Irishman from Spokane, must have been some kind of a Red Sox fan. Anyway, he turned out to be a USF law professor and had just bought this fifteen unit inmvestment property on Central and Haight where he needed a live-in manager--while I was looking for a place of my own, since Louis had announced his intention to move back to New York City. Of course I told him, the grass is always greener....till you get there, or anywhere.

As it turned out, Louis changed his mind eventually, not so much because of the wisdom of my words, but because of 'the intense urgency of now' when Eldon invited me to accompany him to Europe for a sabbatical he had planned. I frankly told him and Louis that my decision hinged on what Louis was going to do. Stay with me or leave for greener grass in NYC. Louis changed his mind at the last possible moment--and I don't think we ever regretted that. In any event we were looking for more income, apart from the free rent we got from Eldon in exchange for our chores--so we advertised and also developed our skill as flea marketeers--something Louis was especially good at. But our apartment was five flights up--and it was a pain in the neck to load and unload our stuff every weekend. So we advertised as handymen, etc. and one of our early calls came from Vincent Tai, who had just bought 1840 VanNess Avenue together with his partner, Max Woo.

If you click on Christopher Wing 1840 Van Ness Avenue, Apt. 3A 510.776.2223 http ...  you will find an interesting article on the history of that area.  

We originally signed a contract to paint and sand the floors of nine huge eight room apartments with a kazilion windows which also needed to be rehung--and to do so in three weeks. Of course I knew this was not possible, Vincent knew this was not possible, so we kept renegotiating as time went on--and since he knew Louis and I were hard workers but pretty much judgement proof  the only solution was to come to a reasonable settlement--which was that we ended up as the live-in managers in that building with a nice five room apartment plus small back yard for $150 a month. I was getting the hang of it now, for after leaving Boerum hill, where I had of course managed my own property, we ended up becoming the live in managers first on Eldridge Street in lower Manhattan as soon as the absentee landlord discovered who the fools were that actually sent him a rent check every month, then on Page Street in Haight Ashbury where we became resident managers within weeks of our arrival, by virtue of having managed to set fire to our apartment on Christmas Eve--and then being hired by a grateful landlady, who got much more money from her insurance than she needed to pay us to fix the damage--and then next of course Eldon's probably equally self serving offer on Central. But Eldon had gone off to Europe by the end of that summer to teach at Trinity College in Dublin for the semester, so we moved to our new place on Van Ness and lived there until Vincent and Max sold the place at a decent profit--which Vincent then used to purchase China Basin and eventually to produce Dim Sum--the award winning movie about San Francisco's Chinatown and its inhabitants.

Within another year both Louis and I landed secure jobs with the City and County's Social Services and we had to move when Vincent and Max sold the building. Our next adress was at the beginning of Heart Break Hill on Hayes, as recently described in 

My next connection with China Basin was that I passed my real estate exams there, a few years later. First of course the regular real estate license, which required a 70% passing grade--and then the broker's license, which required a 75% passing grade on the same test--but for which you have to fulfill a number of additional academic requirements--plus some years of actual work experience as an real estate agent. On account of my JD law degree the work experience was waived, but I did have to take four or five serious real estate courses, including appraisal and property management--which I did by attending night classes at City College, where I had become a Financial Aid Adviser by then. We also had moved on to a more comfortable place on Pine and Larkin, which we both truly enjoyed, for we always loved the Polk Street area more than any other part of this great City.

Again, however, after a few years the propert was sold, but only after they bribed us to vacate the premises--which we could have refused under the law--by paying us $15000, a tidy sum which helped us get together our down payment on the Grove Street building, a three flat victorian built in 1887. At least we thought it was three flats, but soon found out it was actually one top flat and a lower duplex. Since I never quite understood the art of bribery as well the previous owners might have, it cost me three years of hard work to get around all of the 25 violations the city threw at us as soon as we had gone through escrow--but prevailed in the end. I still have the fat file to show all the paperwork I had to do--never mind the physical work itself, which Louis and I shared. It was probably for that very reason (the impending violations we never knew about until it was too late) we had been able to pick up this property for as little as $189,000 back then, in 1983--so there is always a  golden lining.

My reason for getting the broker's license was so I could avoid having to pay other brokers when purchasing the properties Louis and I had started to accumulate since 1983. On our last purchase, my share of the fee amounted to a cool $15000, which I used as part of the down payment on the $550,000 Walter Street property.

Unfortunately, that last move we made from 695 Hayes to 47 Walter proved to be too much for Louis. He had been unhappy with the Hayes Street place because it was a very noisy corner--even when the Bay to Breakers was not going on--and he needed to sleep during the day because he worked the midnight shift at SFGH in the emergency reception area. They have a great trauma center at SGFGH, the kind where you will see the most horrendous things, guys lying on stretchers with a severed limb next to them. Things like that tend to rattle your nerves. I myself by then was interviewing the first AIDS patients that came in with KS (Kaposi's Sarcoma)--and after that mostly the ones with PCP (Pneumacystis Carinii Pneumonia) for I was assigned to the intensive care units. One of my early interviewees was in fact the famous Marlboro Man, Chris Haren--his real name actually was Chris van Haaren he told me at the time. The 'funny' thing is that when Brokeback Mountain came out, the tobacco dukes of Marlboro protested a tad too much that this film about gay cowboys (is there any other kind?) was detracting from the image of the Marlboro Man--so someone did this faux Marlboro ad: The Great American Smoke Out - Towleroad, More than gay news for ... which contained...

... references to Christian Haren, a gay man who appeared as the Marlboro Man

I was there at his bedside interviewing him when Chris, sadly,  first got his AIDS diagnosis--which he did survive for many years, but finally succombing to the disease more recently, perhaps a year or two ago.

In any event, by 1988 Louis and I had just refinanced all of our properties, the 'three' flats on Grove, (I managed to use a loophole in the law to convert the lower unit to two floors with three guest rooms and a community kitchen on the parlor floor, with minimal changes in the lay-out) three on Hayes and six on Broderick, and were left with just a little over $150,000 in our savings account after paying off all our non-mortgage debts. Of course we'd always already been leveraged to the hilt, so the better part of wisdom would have been to stick our sudden cash windfall in the stock market at the time to establish some balance in our investments. Besides, three properties with 30 tenants was plenty to deal with when you have a regular full time job, not to mention the evening classes I was taking as well--but Louis's concerns and the intense exitement the hunt for still another property always brings with it drove us to go for broke and find a really nice victorian building at 47 Walter, half a block from Duboce park in a very desirable upper Market Street area. We both hoped it would be our home for a long time to come.

The place was perfect for us, with three seven room flats, a large basement as well as a wonderful garden--but it proved to be our undoing. The night after our big move into the ground level flat Louis had a severe astma attack in the middle of the night and by the time I woke up in my separate bedroom and was able to find the telephone amidst all of our unpacked boxes and stacked up furniture to call 911, Louis's condition had become quite critical. That was before cell phones made life easier.

Part of the problem was also that Louis and his daughter Malu had spent several hours cleaning the parquet floor of his bedroom with a chemical solution that must have affected his lungs badly--while I was busy loading and unloading numerous rental truck loads of our stuff together with several hired hands. When we finally went to bed both of us were exhausted. We had experienced such emergencies before, but Louis had always managed to survive them. This time things were complicated by the circumstances and the unfamiliarity of our new place--a fatal combination.

By the time the medics finally came to transport him to Davies Medical Center, he had been deprived of oxygen for too long and lapsed into a coma causing irreversable brain damage--and he died three weeks later at Kaiser Hospital, where he had been transferred. It was a heartbreaking time.

But maybe I should go back in time a bit and begin at the beginning of our sixteen year story together, which is actually Brooklyn, in fact, Fort Green, then still an up and coming gentrifying neighborhood not far from Boerum Hill in downtown Breukelen, or Brooklyn as the name of this former town is now spelled. I say former town for it is now of course a borough of the former Nieuw Amsterdam. I was still married to Nina then, but our situation, after almost seven years, was showing signs of reaching the end of its happier days.

It seems to be a built-in condition in relationships, that seven year cycle of renewal or replacement. A little bit like having been in the same apartment for seven years, driven the same car, or done the same work assignment. We even completely change our skin every seven years. Seven years is a time you want to move on and out, or take a good look at things and redecorate the place and readjust a relationship.

Mea culpa, for the most part, for I had discovered I was gay--and in the then prevailing social climate of the late sixties and early seventies with all the experimentation in alternate life styles for both gay and straight people, relationships frequently came under even greater pressure than those of the ordinary seven year cycle--and I must say I did not handle myself as well as I should have--although at least I was honest about it from day one--I mean when I finally fully realized I was gay, I told Nina without delay, and after all these years, with a few years interruption, Nina and I are still loving friends and will always remain so--which is important in the long run. Even more important then some intense but forgettable serial 'soulmate' relationships that so frequently go under the name of marriage these days. But I'm hardly the one to pontificate--even though it was an honest mistake, it was my mistake: hence I'll say it again: mea culpa. A lot of it had to do with economic pressures as well, for living in NYC was a real struggle--read on about that.

But we have some really fine kids we are very happy with and are immensely proud of.That counts for a lot too.

Anyway, let me go on with the story. One of our Boerum Hill friends was Dan Icolari, who I located on the web:

Dan Icolari,

My Photo

Dan had recently moved out to Fort Green into a slightly larger, nicer brownstone and he was pushing this kind of sad looking Mexican guy gently down the stoop (that's what we call steps in Breukelen, from the Dutch word stoep) and into my modified, medium sized baby blue Econoline Van.

Nina and our daughter Saskia in 2007 on the stoop of our former Boerum Hill townhouse

  Smaller sample Boerum Hill townhouse--and a sample Fort Greene brownstone

That Mexican I mentioned was Louis Erasmo Lujan and we eventually became ever loving and quarelling domestic partners for over sixteen years. Louis was going through a similar marital break down, or up.

Come to think of it, break up and down sounds better, but doesn't make sense really, because you must first break down a relationship before you can break it up. Mine had broken down, but not yet broken up--but Louis seems to have been a few months ahead of me in the process, for he had already been thrown out of Paradise by his wife, Gail: see Carol Robinson Gallery :: Artist > Gail Paradise and gone several times back and forth--or actually forth and back, but again, that doesn't sound right, what can I say, in this case I'll just go with what sounds better--and in the last attempt at seeing his two kids he had cut himself while breaking up a plate glass window after failing to break down the door. That's how he had sustained a badly cut throat which had almost made him bleed to death--so he was understandably glassy eyed and barely knew what was up or down when Icolari gently --but firmly, for after several weeks his sense of friendly hospitality was getting frayed--made him enter my Ford Econoline van. Not a most auspicious beginning in our unexpectedly long term relationship of over sixteen years. I was not impressed with him and he barely noticed me on the long trip out to the west coast.

Just as an aside: the way Icolari found out that I was looking for some paying passengers for my impending trip to the West Coast was because Nina and I found ourselves standing next to him in the New York Gay Parade that year, by sheer coincidence. He quickly suggested I include Louis and that's what happened.

Louis and his wife, both struggling artists then, had been living in Punkiesberg--now called Cobble Hill in a literal translation from the originally Dutch nomenclature of Nieuw Nederland and Nieuw Amsterdam--in a unit about two blocks away from the Henry Street adress where Jenny Jerome had been born a century or so ago. You should probably know her name for she eventually became the Dutchess of Marlborough, I think--or was it perhaps the Marchioness of Bedford-Stuyvesant? The Earlene of Lucky Strike? Some brand name like that anyway--and Jenny Jerome's  primary contribution to the world was that she gave birth to Winston Churchill at Blenheim Palace--apart of course from her stunning beauty, great intelligence and exceptional social skills--all of which helped qualify her for the job of civilly registered and ecclesiastically sanctified ducal procreatress after having passed the more essential financial examination--for her daddy was rich--and Blenheim Palace was awesomely  expensive in the upkeep.

I am providing you here with some pictures of the Marlborough-Jeromes since I don't think they have a flickr site:

Jenny Jerome, Randolh & Jennie, their Blenheim Palace, Jenny & kids and the Jerome's Punkiesberg brownstone

But I got waylaid from my story--so let's get back, shall we? Both Louis and I had made the cross country trek before in various vehicula, but never yet in a modified baby blue Ford Econoline van with nine people in it.

You see, having given up my legal career in some disgust and frustration during the Nixon malaise of the early seventies, when our firm, Haseltine Lake & Co saw their business so far reduced they had to lay off some 25 attorneys and patent engineers, and since I hated standing in the unemployment line, I had maxed out on my one and only Mastercard by borrowing $500 and buying myself a small van to do jiffy light moving jobs with in and around Manhattan and the other boroughs. I even called myself Jiffy Light Moving Jobs (what else?) and added with a flourish on the second line in the Village Voice ad: Please call...with my number. That last little flourish did the trick for my first caller--as he later told me, for that very first call I got within days was from Jean Tinguely a musical/kinetic sculptor: Here's is one of his Chaos sculptures and next to that Jean Tinguely himself:


And here are some more links to this interesting artist:

Tate Collection | Jean Tinguely 

Tinguely owed much of his great popularity to the wit, charm, irony and sincerity of his objects. The movement of his machines was not logical or sequential, but haphazard and simultaneous. Sometimes the working of the parts and thus of the machines was quite unpredictable, resulting in a bewildering abundance of processes. With the frequently discordant sound effects that accompanied some of them, they are like caricatures of the utilitarian, mechanical world, embodying Tinguely's critical posture towards technological optimism and his divergence from the Italian Futurists' belief that movement imbued with technology represented the most important objective of modern art.

Museum Tinguely - The Museum - Jean Tinguely - Biography - here are some samples from this last link:

1990, Tinguely-Ausstellung in der Tretjakov-Galerie  1988, "Fontaine de Château-Chinon"  1970, Baubeginn von "Le Cyclop"

There is a wonderful Tinguely museum in his hometown of Basel, Switzerland--while he also once shared a studio in Paris with his brother Jacques, an engineer. My jobs for him were to transport smaller kinetic sculptures that also were used in electronic music to and from the Waddell Gallery on 57th Street in Manhattan. He like my ad primarily as I already mentioned because of the word 'please' which he said none of the other adds included. It takes a European artist to be thus finely constituted.

I have tons of stories about the work I did with the Waddell Gallery itself as well. I will mention one more: Paul van Hoeydonk, the Flemish 'cybernetic'sculptor who was doing work intimating space flight and cybernetic structures of all sorts, using parts of electronic machinery to put together robotic looking legs, torsos and so on--for example:

What was interesting about Van Hoeydonk (notice that in Dutch/Flemish otrthography the article like 'van'  takes an initial capital (like Van) when not preceeded by names, titles or initials--at all other times it is small cased: van) he became, and presumably still is, the first and only artist to have his work deposited on the Moon--I could not find an image but here's a link:

Acta Astronautica : ESA and the arts: A programme in the making ... - 4:20pm

... Belgian artist Paul Van Hoeydonk which was sent to and left on the Moon

It was a tiny scultpture of a man--a sort of gumby man but made out of titanium that NASA took with it on one of the Apollo moon missions--here is an image of the real Gumby, which is just what the scultutre also looked like:


A few years later Waddell and Hoeydonk both got into some trouble because they tried to make some cash out of replicas of the titanium Gumby--to my regret for Paul Waddell was a fine gentleman and a good customer of mine.

OK, so I had this Jiffy Light Moving business which I did for a number of years, while working on the restoration of our townhouse at 178 Bergen Street, in Boerum Hill, and helping to gentrify the neighborhood by our gentile presence and especially by planting a tiny little tree in Brooklyn  which has now grown out to a giant sycamore.

Then the time came a few years after my son Geoffrey was born--like Saskia, also at the Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan--that the pressures in our marriage became too much and Nina decided to visit her native Sweden with the kids, but without me. There were reasons I had to go to California--which I won't go into now, because they were also quite complicated and perhaps I will describe them some other time--but it was a mutually agreeable decision at the time. After the summer, we were to meet up again in Boerum Hill and see what was going to happen. So I adverised for paying passengers ($60 a head, not bad) which would pay for the trip one way plus some spending money--and on the way back I figured I'd do the same thing again, getting student passengers from the UCLA bulletin board--which worked out fine. That's how I met Louis, honest to goodness, and it was no love at first sight, as I mentioned before. Each of us were more interested in the other passengers for most of the trip, for we had some interesting characters among them. But I am going to take a break now and continue tomorrow or whenever. So hang in there and good night!