China Basin 2

Continuation of my autobiographical reflections - autobiographische overpeinzingen

Often obscured by the new development, the spirit of blue-collar, industrial San Francisco still exists around the abandoned docks and old shipyards known as China Basin and Mission Rock along the eastern edge of SoMa. Not much goes on here now, but the area has an isolated quality suited to desolate walks. The easiest way to reach the area is to follow Third Street south from Market as it curves round to meet the docks at the switchyards where the drawbridge crosses China Basin Channel. 

In the 1930s the docks were the site of deadly clashes between striking longshoremen and the city police, one of the country’s largest labor uprisings of the twentieth century; to this day the union maintains a reputation for radicalism. Later, it was here that Jack Kerouac worked as a brakeman in the Fifties, at the same time writing the material that was later to appear in Lonesome Traveler, detailing scenes of SoMa’s skid-row hotels, drunks, and whores. This was also the location of the former port where freight ships used to dock from Asia. Today, the odd ship will sail by, but it’s more likely to be the military ships from the Oakland Naval Base cruising the bay than the freighters that used to jam the waterways. A few small boat clubs remain along the waterfront, but most people come on weekends to visit The Ramp, a creaky wooden structure on Pier 50 that offers beer and burgers. The site of several distressingly large homeless encampments, the area is generally best avoided after dark.


South Beach

It has actually been a few weeks since I wrote the first part of China Basin--see: felt a bit inadequate to continue with the story for various reasons--but now I am ready to go on. I am typing this once again in the office of my friend Brahm, where I occasionally indulge in a bit of indoor golf--in a large vacant office space he has set up for the purpose. But today I am just here to write, after our regular coffee get together at the Venue Cafe.

It is a fairly cool but sunny, windy day in the City. I left you last time with my Econoline Van ready to take off with its nine occupants. Louis and I actually made two such trips and to tell you the truth, I tend to confuse the people and circumstances a bit when trying to remember them--its been such a long time. But to the best of my recollection, that first trip went off fairly well: we had an interesting mix of passengers--let me describe them.

En vert, la Suisse romande.

There were this rock musician from la Suisse Romande going by the name of Chicken and his Scottish girlfriend--who had purchased a brand new Rolls Royce in Europe with the objective of selling it on the West Coast at a profit. Actually I suspect they were broke and had been hired to buy the RR for some Hollywood type who wanted to avoid import duties by having someone drive it around a bit in Europe before transporting it into the U.S. That's in any even what my old Calvin College room mate Henk van Sluys used to do every summer for our landlord Tom Knoll in Grand Rapids. Except they dealt in VW's, not RR's....a little corruption is good for the soul I guess--as any former real estate hominid can tell ya. I have no idea what happened to Henk--except he got his divinity degree from Boston University while I got my law degree in Ann Arbor--and he became for a while the chaplain at Oberlin College. But he is nowhere to be found on the net.

Next there were two very cute young girls from the Bronx, blond and nubile to the max, as well as a wisened hippy type who spent half the time playing with everyone's feet, whenever they let him. Then of course Louis and myself, and finally this character called Giovanni, or Jimmy Tate, a pseudonym he used. I won't reveal his real name, but it was Italian--who was the real reason for my trip out west to begin with. There may have been another, but I can't remember anymore who that might have been. Others I still remember I'm pretty sure were passengers on our second trip, in December 1974--which I may write about at some future time. 

What can I say about this Jimmy or Giovanni? Well, I met him in Brooklyn Heights at the apartment of an casual friend named Raymond we had both met a few weeks earlier at the huge Man's Country Baths in Brooklyn Heights, a place that went under fairly quickly and appears to have left no traces on the internet.

I think I saw him, Ray, doing laps in the olympic sized swimming pool and we got together. Ray was a cute blond blue eyed eighteen year old Irish-Italian kid, which can be a real killer combination--who had allowed Jimmy, like I said, to stay with him temporarily. I was doing moving jobs at the time and offered Jimmy a job one day, and afterwards, sitting in a cavernous, nearly empty Brooklyn Heights piano bar after the job, Jimmy told me the sad story of his life. It sounded like something from a novel. He had this real hangdog face, handsome in his own way--but not my type, to tell you the truth--and I decided to believe his story. In those days possession of even a tiny bit of weed, like just a part of a single joint, was punished severely--I believe Nelson Rockefeller was the governor of New York at the time when they tried out this shortlived zero tolerance policy--and poor Giovanni had been caught with a joint and sent to the Bordentown N.J.  jail for five years. Is that insane or what? Just a good story?

He escaped from there, by his own statement, by hiding under the belly of a milk truck and made his way back to New York City--where he didn't know what to do for the authorities were obviously looking for him. I am not in the habit of harboring fugitives, but his story was so pathetic that I decided to go with the compassionate part of conservatism and allowed Jimmy to stay with me and Nina for a few days and help him get his act together with a few jobs. It turned out that all of Boerum Hill soon got to know about Jimmy. The women in particular went ape feeling sorry for him--it was almost kind of like the old underground railroad--and our friend Richard Brown Lethem :: Artist even did a portrait of him after I took him to one of the popular drawing classes Dick had started providing in his Dean Street attic. Here's a picture of Dick Lethem and two paintings I found on the above website: 

home pic

Dick certainly appears to have gone on to substantial success with his painting, and I am very happy for him, for in his Boerum Hill period he appears to have been in somewhat of an impasse, probably having to do with the pressures of raising a family while fixing up a brownstone--pressures I was only too familiar with myself. I remember Nina and I had borrowed one of his larger canvasses (some 10 x 12 feet in size) to hang on our parlor floor wall: it showed a huge female floating over Manahattan--or something like that. I wonder what happened to that canvas. In any event, here are some more Paintings by Richard Brown Lethem and another site on Richard Brown Lethem :: essays.

But back to Giovanni, or Jimmy, whatever--he helped me do my Jiffy Light Moving Jobs for a while, then started talking about his idea of going back to California, maybe make some money by playing the horses, which he loved to do, and then eventually  open up a wine bar in Los Angeles, which was his dream. In view of Nina's plan to spend the summer with her parents in Stockholm and perhaps in Gotland on their farm--Mulde near Klintehamn, with the kids, I decided to lend Jimmy a helping hand and take him to the West Coast myself. Not an altogether non-self-serving decision, since, as far as I was concerned, he had overstayed his welcome at my place.

But before I go on, let me make a small side excursion to that farm called Mulde, where my son Geoffrey once used an huge old Viking ship-shaped grave as his playpen, but which has been sold by now and appears to have been converted into some kind of a fritidsby, which my limited Swedish would translate as a 'free time village'  or vacation resort--at least from my check on the internet, where I came upon: Gotland | Cottages | Mulde Fritidsby.

The old manor is not visible here--probably occupied by the new owners, but I actually stayed in the little white building--the large red structure were the horse stables, while the smaller red fronted cottage was rented out to summer folks from Stockholm. Ingemar Bergman used to have his own summer place not too far from Mulde.

The name Mulde itself is etymologically connected to words like mill, miller, mulder, mildew and mold, there is of course a river Mulde in Germany and the names Moldau and Moldova are linguistically related as well. But more directly the name Mulde seems to have to do with some sort of a Silurian event, also called the Mid-Homerian Mulde Event--cf: Carbonate platform evolution and conodont stratigraphy during the ...

Evidence from sedimentology and conodont biostratigraphy is used to reinterpret the mid-Homerian (Late Wenlock) succession on Gotland, Sweden. A new conodont zonation includes from below: the Ozarkodina bohemica longa Zone (including five subzones), the Kockelella ortus absidata Zone and the Ctenognathodus murchisoni Zone (two taxa are named, Ozarkodina bohemica longa and Pseudooneotodus linguicornis). These new zones are integrated with facies in order to correlate strata and infer the major depositional environments and the controls on deposition during the mid-Homerian Mulde Event.

I have no idea what kind of an event this might have been: the farm was ancient and some of the buildings dated back many centuries, but certainly not to 'Homerian' times. Maybe it had to do with a Rolling Stones concert, but then even Keith and Mick can't be that old. For me one of the main Mulde events was when Nina's father, Dir. Ing.  Eugen Meyer--a fascinating character who really needs a whole book to do justice to--asked me to help him bring a dead sheep back from a far corner of the 500 acre property by loading it into the trunk of an old SAAB and then driving it to the manure pile behind the horse stables--inside of which mound the late Mr. Sheep was laid to rest.

As a true blue city dweller I couldn't run fast enough to the one and only shower on the property to cleanse myself of the filth and the stench. But Ulla, my sister in law, claimed first dibs on the facility because she had been raising horses on the farm next doors. It was not a pleasant afternoon and I was not amused. Years later I still felt empathy for that Mazello character in the Wooly Boys (2001) who played a NYC teen kidnapped by his dad to assist on a sheep farm in the Dakota badlands. But his worst experience had to do with helping deliver a baby sheep, I guess they call that a lamb--not with burying the week-old corpse of its grampaw in the manure pile. Vies, bah! as my very clean loving mother used to say: dirty, yech! But Gotland had its good points too--not the least of which were the sumptuous breakfasts offered by Mama and Papa Meyer: I remember breakfast at Mulde started with beer and vodka to prepare the palate for, then to accompany, and finally to wash down small kaviar paste sandwiches--the kaviar paste was salmon colored and squeezed out of a kind of toothpaste tube. Very salty, but molto delicioso, mycket läcker, erg lekker--especially with the Absolut so liberally dispensed by Papa.

There is a lot more about my Swedish sojourns and especially the story of Papa Meyer I hope someday to recount, but for now, let's get back again to Giovanni, Louis, and the rest of the passengers in my Econoline van. First a word about the van--I decided to modify it by spending $200 to put in windows so we could all look out. Then I constructed a 6x6 foot platform to allow for extension and rest of our weary bodies from time to time--and when the luggage overwhelmed the available space underneath the platform and on the roofrack of the van, I permanently rigged open the rear doors and fashioned a kind of additional luggage balcony in between them.

I thought it was a rather elegant solution and none of my passengers complained. Necessity is the mother of invention and who wants to argue with that mother? Most of the trip Giovanni and I sat in front as driver and navigator. Behind us sat two or three passengers on the edge of the platform, and behind them the remaining three or four folks could stretch out, have a ball and do whatever they wanted with themselves or each other. 

Like I said--no one complained--and I, as captain of this prairy ship, had full jurisdiction to let freedom reign as we navigated, prora puppique carentem, across the Appalachian undulations and the endless Saragossas of Iowa and Nebraska. When boredom threatened at night we would punch holes in various beverage cans we had consumed and by using flashlights projected a lightshow on the ceiling while listening to rock music. We drove non-stop and made the trip in 80 hours coast to coast all along Interstate 80. We got one speeding ticket and were taken to a JP in Iowa in the middle of the night--where I had to pay boter bij de vis, butter by the fish, meaning in cold cash. We got stuck onetime as we ran out of gas in the desert of latter day saints somewhere in Utah, but as luck would have it, within walking distance of a small oasis where we were able to obtain some fossil fuel.

We barely stopped in San Francisco and headed straight for a mountain resort in Sequoia National Park  to drop off the two girls from the Bronx, who had an aunt there running the lodge. That was our first really proper full night's rest after the long ride: Sequoia and Kings Canyon Interactive Map . It is also where Louis and I took a shower together that weekend and discovered some mutual interest that had escaped us till then.

The next Monday we took off again and I delivered the other passengers to various Lalaland locations. Louis went to Costa Mesa to stay with his brother Edward's family. Giovanni and I stayed overnight at the house of a friend of his who was a campaign aid for the future L.A. Mayor Bradley. But then Giovanni and I said good bye to each other--we thought for good, but were mistaken--and I returned to Costa Mesa to pick up Louis again, for he had called to suggest we go down to Baja. I liked the idea and this time we went just as friends out for some fun.

We drove into Baja as far as Ensenada, Baja California - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia where we visited a truly mediaeval scene in a local herberg, auberge, albergo or inn that you would never see in the U.S. these days. I can't even begin to decribe it, but if you'd ever see the movie From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) you might get an idea of what the architecture and ambience looked  like--except there were no vampires, I think, just innocent campesinos.

On a much later trip down to the southern part of Mexico, I remember once a similar experience where we stopped in a tiny hamlet in the middle of the night, somewhere between Tepic and Guadalajara--and a real wild west character shows up out of nowhere and says to us, as he grabs his ancient gun: Yo soy la autoridad en este pueblecito!  I am the authority in this town! He scared the piss out of me! But he just turned out to be the suspicious and somewhat xenophobic local cop--forthunately Louis had the required charm and charisma, and  Spanish to soften him up--with nary a bribe. We were less lucky a week later on crossing El Zocalo--but that's another long story.

I will include this wonderful picture of the Alameda Central in Tepic, a town which reminded me in many ways of some of those restful, leafy old towns in the East Indies, --this picture actually doesn't do it justice either, for it is much to well kempt, but anyway, you get the idea--Tepic is a bit like Savanna, or at least the part I drove through seemed to whisper: siesta...siesta...siesta--and I'm getting sleepy already.













But let me continue for now with my present story. On the way back from Ensenada, I almost killed myself climbing a very steep ridge which I thought was solid rock, but turned out to be made of hardened but easily crumbling sand. I had taken an alternate route from the one Louis took on the way back from the beach--and he probably didn't even know where I was. I could already envision myself lying at the bottom of this lonely ravine, with broken limbs and unconscious, or worse, in severe pain, and Louis running around trying  to figure out what had happened. All kinds of thoughts were flashing through my mind, like: how the heck would he be able to get an ambulance for me even if he found me? Would the fire department come when summoned? Would some coyote feast on me, or would the waves of the ocean bring sharks to end it all? But alles is reg gekom, as the Afrikaners would say, alles is terecht gekomen, everything came out all right, I was able to extricate myself, lived to tell the story and the rest of our tour was pure pleasure. 

We had wonderful cook-outs on the beaches, we did drawings, we talked about the crises in our lives, told each other all kinds of stories and Louis and I discovered that we enjoyed each other's company tremendously. As it turned out, we seemed to feel very much at home with each other wherever we were for the next sixteen years.

In fact Louis decided after our Baja trip that at this time the grass was greener in New York City after all--and came right back with me after I had gathered together another set of paying passengers from a sign I had posted on local college campuses. I am a little foggy on who these returning passengers were, except for one. He had come back from Costa Rica after a year of hanging out on the beaches there for less than $3000--and was on his way back to Boston to make another fast $3000 so he could return again to a year of the beachy life in Costa Rica. His story got planted in our minds, and when Louis and I eventually returned to the West coast, a year and a half later, it was with the initial objective of going on to Costa Rica and the easy life there. Instead, we got our heads so stuck in the honeypot of San Francisco that we never moved on--not because it made us blind, like winnie ille pu but because it didn't turn out to be such a maxima calamitas* to be stuck in a city of such charm and beauty as San Francisco. *cf: forthuyse - The MS Victoria was in the Indian Ocean and also: Winnie ille Pu - Vicipaedia

Maxima calamitas!--Winnie The Pooh might have said in Alexander Lenard's best selling Latin translation entitled Winnie Ille Pu: Liber Celeberrimus Omnibus ...

I will leave you here for now, for it is after eight PM à l'Alliance Française, Ligue du bon roi Henri Quatre--and I don't want to be locked inside that huge tall blue iron gate again as I once was many years ago--when they had forgotten I was still at it in the reading room while a party upstairs was closing down and before I knew it I found myself like one of those prisoners at Alcatraz--able to look at the city but unable to get out from behind the bars.

I did of course, but I had to risk life and limb for the gate is very tall and has some difficult angles and curves on the top, with some very sharp thingies that stick out, scherpe dingetjes die uitsteken--and from the top it is a sheer drop of twelve feet down to the sidewalk. The thought of another Ensenada like fiasco with broken bones etc. makes me think I better get my act in gear before they imprison me again.

So bon soir--et à demain, tot morgen, till tomorrow.


Well--it is morning again and after doing some editing on what I sent you all last night, I feel I have to add an important post-scriptural addendum:

CALIFORNIA MAJORITY BACKS GAY MARRIAGE / Field Poll director calls results a milestone
Field Poll / Voter opinion on same-sex marriage. Chronicle graphic by Todd Trumbull

It looks like the unkind and incompassionate folks out to take our constitutional rights away come this November just when the California Supremes finally found them may be fishing behind the closing net.

As we say here among the Francophonies: Zee times zay are a-changin'....I wonder when the French themselves will catch up--why have they not yet adopted gender neutral marriage legislation--it can't be their religion, for they almost have none left. In fact Adi Da - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia  once remarked that the French were the least spiritual people he ever came across--so what is holding them up? Adi Da had no problems with homosexuals or homosexual practices--so what is eating the secular French? Could it be just a problem of kleinburgerlijkheid, petty bourgeois victorian attitudes? Then maybe it is the recent influx of immigrants from other parts of the world? It takes a while to adjust to the idea of a separation of church and state. But the aboriginal, autochtonous French? What's their problem? They are so unspiritual that when the French describe someone as un homme spirituel, what they mean is not a spiritual man, but a witty man.  Of course that could just be a matter of faux amis, false friends.

In any event, the trends toward greater acceptance and tolerance will catch up with all of them as well, j'en suis sûr. Last weekend I was watching the national presidential debates among the Libertarian hopefuls, and guess what: every last one of their many presidential hopefuls running for the nomination was against the Defense of Marriage Act, and for gender neutral marriage legislation--even Robert Barr, the arch conservative former Republican Senator, who eventually clinched the Liberatarian Nominatio

Here he is, le voilà, ziedaar!

Yep, it's the same old Robert Barr who introduced that DOMA Defense of Marriage Act at the time. Guess he made like a latter day saint and had a change of heart--and now has vowed to take that DOMA down. I heard him say so myself on C-Span folks! The cat's out of the bag now. He's still the most conservative when it comes to drugs: he only wants to legalize Mary Jane, but not her siblings--the others want to legalize all drugs--not that they are for drugs, or for homosexuality, for that matter--just against prohibition.  And that's just fine with me--I won't question anyone's motives as long as they stay out of my bedroom. And if they don't, guess what: they won't find me praying in my closet either.

Nevertheless, some folks have their doubts about Bob Barr--the very popular runner up, Dr. Mary J. Ruwart rudely, ruwelijks refused to consider joining him on the ticket, intimating she didn't consider him a true Libertarian but a Johnny come lately to the cause of freedom--and here's another web site expressing some doubts about Robert Barr as well--but not about the Libertarians as such, bless their freedom loving souls:

Anti-Gay Barr To Run As Libertarian? / Queerty

There’s an old saw about how libertarians are just gay republicans who like doing drugs.

Not true--I saw no such hanky panky, nor anyone stumbling about or off the stage and I actually liked Mary Ruwart--she also came closer to being nominated by her party than Hillary ever will by the donkey folks still hedging their bets on our human rights. Here is some more information on Mary, for she really seemed to have been the heart and soul of the Libertarian cause, more so than Bob Barr--but Barr will undoubtedly siphon off more votes from Caspar der Friendly Ghost come this November--more than der Nader will take from der Ghostbuster, Barack.

But another thing Barr may do is to persuade other fun and freedom loving people that it is never too late to join the gay parade: Libertarian Nominee Bob Barr Now Opposes DOMA | News |

Barr, 59, authored DOMA in 1996 as a Republican congressman for Georgia's seventh district.

Oh I almost forgot: here is the Holy Wikipedia on Mary Ruwart - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

I kind of like the fun and freedom loving Libertarians as a bunch, in particular Steve Kubby - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia , a long time cancer survivor, who ended up supporting Mary Ruwart before she was done in by the combo of Robert Barr and Wayne Allyn Root. If only they weren't so gung ho on Ayn Rand and guns as wel.  But if you insist on having no or almost no government to protect you..., well, then a gun might come in handy--as we can see in the Middle East. Bang Bang Bang, you're dead! 

It takes a higher form of awareness to handle anarchy well--and gun toters usually are not that high on that totem pole. I think  Mike Gravel seemed to make that point as well, perhaps more diplomatically than I just did. And he, old gruff and gravelly Mike Gravel - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, has to be one of my all time favorite politicians. What a great character!  

Unfortunately he announced his irrevocable retirement from politics at the end of the convention, after coming in fourth on the fourth ballot after Barr, Ruwart and Wayne Allyn Root - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia --who now will run as Barr's VP.

An honorable mention would have to go to yet another interesting nominee, physics professor George Phillies:  Phillies Salutes California Marriage Decision | George Phillies Bravo Phillies! Good physics.

This concludes my postscriptural addendum. The roofers here at the Alliance are still having their wildly exuberant Hispanic party right over my head--scaring off the birds, I'm sure--but I'm ready to go home.

Hasta luego muchachos!