San Francisco—June 24, 2007
Katrine is back in Paris doing who knows what with whom while chain smoking unfiltered Gaulois cigarettes. I miss her and all those espressos—maybe even the smell of tobacco. But I'm getting more done now that she's gone.
Ya gotta wonder how interested the Homicide Section of the San Francisco Police Department is in solving some of its cases. As I reported a couple of weeks ago, I ran into an execution-style homicide down at Donut World on Market and 6th streets. Donut World is where all the dealers stop at least once a night to get their "fix" of coffee and pastry. As I've said before, make coffee and donuts illegal and they would be the hottest illegal substances sold in the Tenderloin.
But back to police indifference. Two calls to the Homicide Section of the SFPD, which claims on its website to be seeking help in "identifying a suspect" in the June 3rd shooting, produced nothing: The line was not picked up, and there was no message service on it. Then you can see for yourself what emails to the SFPD Public Affairs Office produced:
The first set of questions was only partially answered; the second set of questions went entirely unanswered, and the fact is the photo they published is useless in helping to identify the shooter. So what kind of help do they expect solving this? None, I would say. I hate the phrase, over used by so many tech folks, "garbage in, garbage out," but it seems to be applicable here. About all you can say from the photo is that the shooter appears to be of type homo sapiens.
I'm also concerned with the fact that SFPD did not talk to those who would most likely know something: The dealers and the homeless folks who hang out—sorry, more tech talk—"24X7" across the street on Market. I walked over a little after the shooting and asked one person how many shooters there were: "One" was the unequivocable answer. Previously I had heard that there were up to three.
Sure, there were lots of police cars on the scene, mile of yellow tape, and screaming sirens, but where was grandfatherly common sense? Retired and replaced by noise and excitement, so it seemed.
Now I don't want to sound like Supervisor Chris Daly insinuating that the Mayor uses cocaine—if he does, however, I would be curious to know where he gets it and what he pays—but there are some disturbing things about this incident: First, it gets an Oakland dealer off the streets, which is desirable, I believe, from a police point of view. Secondly, it has been suggested that some Tenderloin cops have deals with the dealers. Eliminating competition, if that is the case, keeps profits up, right?
Now, I don't really believe the latter about the cops having deals with the dealers. But why, if you want to solve this crime, don't you come up with a better photo than provided here?
The weather seems to be first warm, then cold, with a wind-blown fog to slap you around. I prefer fog that creeps along under its own power, that licks the streets clean and tumbles down that long set of steps on Taylor from California to Pine, but I take the weather as it is and always carry a coat in The City.
Good news: It is reliably rumored that Enrico's is reopening at the end of June. Doesn't give it much more time for that to happen, but it is good news, nevertheless. Some bad news, I guess, is that Andrew Jaeger's place on the corner of Broadway and Columbus is closing. No surprise to me. One drink there convinced me that its days were limited. My experience: an expensive drink by a preppie bartender who wasn't. I guess someone else will give it a try, but I have little hope for the spot at the corner with historical status that used to be Carol Doda's strip club, the Condor.
Stopped by Cafe Prague on Sunday for the poetry gathering. I don't read; I just listen. But it is a rich source of San Francisco characters. Poets run the range from genius to absolute lunatic, and in San Francisco the latter are well represented. But don't get me wrong. I like them all. They are all so expressive. Like the guy who comes each time with a different musical instrument that he can't play but nevertheless does and reads cowboy poetry with French lyrics. Where else do you get to hear something like that? If it gets something out of his system, it get something out of mine too. Or take the guy who comes dressed in feathers. His rants are reasonably short and his feathers colorful and clean. No problems there either. But this Sunday was different. As usual I arrived about 45 minutes late—I'm just not up to the whole show yet—and everyone, with the exception of the guy with the musical instrument, a violin this time, was gone. I decided that I would stick around anyway and have a glass of wine. Truth to tell, I had been thinking about the wine, not the poetry, the whole way over. But when I asked for a cold glass of white wine at the register by the counter, the young woman with the Slovakian accent said, "No alcohol until Thursday." I asked why this was but could sort of guess. Cafe Prague would serve toddlers if they had the money. In heavy accents, she claimed to not know. "Okay," I said, "then come back Thursday." But now I had my explanation of why the poetry event did not last the usual hour. Simple. No booze. Poetic genius and lunatic have at least one thing in common: They are drinkers.
Came to see? Came to drink, Mr. Burns. But you know that!
So I cut up Kearny to Broadway, saw the notices on the boarded-up Enrico's stating the intention to serve spirits ... then walked up Broadway to the corner, giving Andrew Jaeger's but a passing glance, as if to say here today, gone tomorrow; then, seeing evidence of what I had forgotten, namely that it was North Beach Festival weekend, crossed over to Columbus to avoid the short-sleaved mob and decided my best bet was Mr. Bing's, a place I have peered into but never gone into before. I was pleasantly surprised. It was cool and quiet inside, and the bartender was an easy-going older guy from, I believe, Gino & Carlo's. I asked if he had any cold white wine. He said he did. He pulled a bottle of BV Chardonnay from an aging refrigerator with a wooden door below the counter. "Wish I had some Pinot Grigio," he said longingly. "That would be nice," I said, "but BV Chard is good stuff." He poured the glass full.
There was a pool game on the big TV, but when a Filipino guy missed a shot that even I would not miss, I lost interest.
I began to read an article titled "Read All About It—But Where, Exactly?" in the Book Review section of the San Francisco Chronicle. It is an interesting piece in which Todd Oppenheimer looks at the whole range of journalism these days, from citizen journalist and blogger to main stream. Of main stream journalism, Oppenheimer paints a disturbing portrait in which business virtually purchases the type of news coverage it want to see, or at least heavily influences the decision-making process of news-room executive "editors." He cites an interesting story from veteran journalist Robert Caro about how he learned journalism. One night when Caro was a copy boy he is called into the editor's office and asked to cover a story, since all of the other reporters are busy. He tells him how to do it. "You go down to city hall," he says, "and listen for awhile until you think you know what is going on." The particular story involves a controversial building project. Then, he says, go and talk to whoever opposes the project. If you're confused, go back to the developer. If all makes sense, you're done; write it down. But if not, go back to the opposition. Continue to go back and forth asking questions until you have it figured out.
Sounds like a simple process, says Oppenheimer, but most main-stream journalist these days fail to do it. In fact, he says the Bush Administration would never have gone far with the justification for the invasion of Iraq if journalists had been following the rules of "Journalism 101." In steps the citizen journalist and the blogger to fill in some voids, but there is a problem here of training, says Oppenheimer. Would you go to a doctor who has not gone to medical school and is ignorant of the basics? Journalism requires a skill set that the citizen journalist and blogger lack.
Later in the evening I went over to Bix's to hear pianist Don Asher. Don is the soul of old San Francisco. He is a man of infinite good taste and discrimination. He plays lovely jazz classics at Bix's, but the racket of the diners often drowns him out. I applaud but few others, forks in mouths or lips on wine glasses, do. He is appreciated but not nearly enough. Know Bix's? It bills itself as a "supper club." It is old-fashioned San Francisco with waiters in white jackets who strut about thrusting out their chests with the confidence of ruling apes. It is not part of the game there to question the waiter. If anything, the waiter questions your right to eat there? I'm not sure I entirely like this attitude. At the bar it is even more extreme. While the waiters display "attitude," the bar staff seems to display hostility. What inspires this I do not know. It is attitude carried to extreme. Someone in authority ought to put a stop to it, but I'm not sure that anyone at Bix's is that much in control. Don't get me wrong. The conception is fine. Old-fashioned San Francisco service is a great thing. But I think you have to extract the essence of it, not the worst and most snobbish parts. Sam's on Bush Street may be a better model; there grace and friendliness prevail in an old-fashioned setting. No problem with the kitchen at Bix's, however. Bruce Hill, the executive chef, does a fine job. Just tell some of the wait staff to stop it. I don't know what you do with the bar folks. Maybe hit them with wet towels or throw buckets of water on them. It wouldn't make them any less friendly. They do not seem to understand the role of the bartender. The bartender does not just mix drinks and scowl. He or she also makes the customer feel like being there. If time permits, he or she even engages in a small amount of conversation with the customer. It is what some call the therapist role of the bartender. You are accepted, you relax, the world becomes a little more right; an internal adjustment occurs, giving you the illusion, perhaps, that all is actually well. But not so at the bar at Bix's; there you are made to feel that the world is one bad mother and you're part of the problem. Drink at another bar before you go? Not a bad idea. Mr. Bing's? It's nearby and a lot cheaper. Why not? Anyway, you're going to enjoy the food at Bix's and Don on piano.
Our chronos seems to be running in reverse here, so let's keep going backwards. We will stop short of imploding worlds and the end of time. We will back up only far enough to learn something, then move on. We may or may not stop for lunch.
The buses were late again. What's new? The cause? Same ol'. Running back to back. Guess that is fun if you're driving. Willie Brown, when he was mayor, chastised the muni for that. Now that he is out of office and riding the bus to his law office over in the Embarcadero, I wonder how successful he thinks he was at solving the problem. I was trying to get up the hill from Kearny to Jones Street. It's a long steep climb. Finally, after some 40 minutes, I started walking. At the top of the hill two buses are coming in back of me, one half full, the other empty. The City should make it open season on the back driver. There should be riots.
At Club 21 there was nothing new. The usual cast of characters. Hugh, for some reason, wanted to fight the "Indian" but Frank separated them, and they both seemed to be glad for it. The "Indian" was sitting next to a new member of the cast, a black woman who was there the week before but less colorfully dressed then. Now she wore a red-and-white-stripped sweater and a flower in her hair; her hair not Afro at all but rather 50ish. A perm you might expect of a Marilyn Monroe blond. Time-warp hair. But I'm not knocking it. Hair is hair and you have a right to wear the stuff anyway you want. Care for your hair always. Always and a day. A night to remember. Your memory, my song. Viruses everywhere. On the Net, in our minds ... Some curious chick, actually. I've not made her aquaintence Really know nothing. Got the visuals down but understand nothing. How 'bout you? Got the visuals too? Got what you need? Got the goods or still groping? Grop, group, gorp ... She hangs with another black woman who is tired looking and more of a Tenderloin type. Looking for a man, some business? Maybe. Still, I have no idea. I do not know her history but I'm sure she has one. We all have history. Do and will do, did and have done ...
Three guys next to me, black, and talking in a tongue I've never heard. One with a Styrofoam deli cup with lid that he keeps opening and spitting into. Chew, I guess. No smoking now in the Loin. Haven't asked Frank, but I guess the authorities put out the word: allow smoking and get fined. Strange to see these guys adjust so quickly, going outside for a smoke. Morino, however, lights up inside, then slowly walks to the door. Morino don't take nothin' from nobody.
Did I say that the police are behaving tonight? That's right. Not usin' nobody as a punchin' bag. I'm ready if they do this time. Gonna catch the bad cop smackin' somebody. But I think he knows what I'm up to. Maybe doesn't want to end up with Jesse Serna working in the office. Then you never get to smack nobody. Dat's da pits. 'cause smacking a guy, dat's where it's at. Show 'em who da boss. Put these damn niggers down but don't use the N word. Only stupid people use the N word. Better to just smack 'em. Smackin' 'em's da N word. The LMNOPQRST word, the TUVWXYZ word, the ...
Backing up still more: Le Central & Dave has the Elijah Craig. The Reverend Elijah Craig, that is. The Reverend invented Bourbon Whiskey. When the tax collectors from the North stuck it to the South, the South stopped making rye and the man of god and corn created something new. Too late for Adam but others in another paradise got a taste of the stuff. They said it was good. Very good. They sucked their tongues, savored it.
But now Dave was pouring me a glass.
"So Toni got it," I said.
"Yeah," said Dave. "No problem."
We had both sampled Elijah Craig elsewhere and agreed that it would be a nice addition to the selection of Whiskeys at Le Central. The only thing was getting Toni to order it. She's the boss of the bar. Dave caught her at the right moment—she can be moody—and she ordered it and now it was here and Louis cam to see.
There is a special flavor to Elijah Craig that is hard to describe. It tastes like it has paint thinner in it. Now I know that doesn't sound very good but it has a characteristic flavor that you do not get in less-complex Bourbons like Jim Beam. Woodford Reserve has this same flavor. I will surely have to come up with nicer words to describe it. I don't think they would ever let me write their ad copy.
Paul was there, and we discussed the sex industry, which the current mayor, Gavin Newsom, is trying to put a crimp in. I like the mayor but according to his arch enemy, Chris Daly, that is only because I don't know him. According to Daly, even Gavin's friends don't like him. So what kind of a friend is that? A friend with a mask, a smiley mask, I guess. My friends, who are few in number, do not wear masks. I spare them masks also. So, do the Mayor's enemies like him? Doesn't follow.
Ever since the mayor's affair with his press secretary he has been trying to shut down the sex industry in San Francisco. Why not just clean up your own act and stay out of others' business? Never seems to work that way. Give up a vice and hate those who still have it. The Major is pursuing the sex industry on the basis of "human trafficking." But does he know anything about it? My guess is no, and if he does, he probably would not admit it. At least not in an election year. So what is this all about? Here's the summary: He read one article by one reporter about a young Korean woman who was paying off her student loans by working as a prostitute and was caught. She blamed the industry. Said she didn't have a choice. I'm sympathetic to that, but then there are other young women in San Francisco who owe money who do not turn to prostitution. Is the idea of personal choice old hat these days? Did it die with Adam and Eve in the garden? Did the reporter talk with the other "girls" who were busted by Homeland Security? Was this story representative of the woman who work in the massage parlors in San Francisco? Have we found the truth? I don't think so. So what kind of comprehensive study do we have here? We don't. We have one person's story and another person's sympathetic interpretation of it. Is that journalism 101?
Simple fact: Most of the girls are here for the money. But why make them feel bad about it? A lot of people are here for the money in those offices downtown, and a lot of them cause a lot of harm.
I'm aware of a very real problem the massage parlors in town have. Getting robbed by gangs. Seems that all you need to do is walk in like a customer, pull a gun, and take the money and the jewelry and whatever. They don't call the police because, as one owner told me, it scares the customers. Also, it's a little hard to explain all the cash. But does anyone care about this? Nope! Robbing the "girls" is not a moral issue.
But now Paul tells me how one owner of a nearby parlor solved the problem. She kept an attack dog in the office. Gangs understand attack dogs. She used to dine at Le Central before Homeland Security busted her operation. Homeland Security, as you may remember, "disappeared" many of the girls a year or so ago and has yet to account for their whereabouts or money. Now what does "Homeland Security" do about stuff like this, which just arrived on my computer with many other similar emails?
Would they consider doing something useful? Dream on! They are here to take your money and shut down any business not approved by Bushmen and other unmindful hominids.
Well, let's make an exception for this one, which just arrived:
belfast breeches collocation braggart? Are the spammers would-be poets? But why not something along the lines of:
Something with some meaning: Was the duchess murdered? Did Alphonso do it? But instead we have curious, automated babble. Fun for awhile but better when sparked from a mind core.
Paul and I have been discussing the sex industry for some time now. It is shifty. Controlling it is like trying to control the sand at the beach. As much as some politician might hate the beach, where nature rules, the sand is largely out of his or her control. So why not leave it alone?
I see that Le Central advertises itself as a "Restaurant - Brasserie - Bar - Tobac." While it is all that and they do sell cigarettes there, don't expect to light up. Drinking is an approved activity these days but smoking is not. Drinking relieves pain. Government is fine with that, 'cause you can expect a lot of pain from government. Industry loves it too, 'cause your job is going to drive you nuts. But smoking? That is for dreamers, and government and industry hate dreamers. And sex? Fine, but on your own time. And you can't pay for it! Anything else in America you can pay for but not sex. That's 'cause it is special. Dogs do it, bees do it, birds do it, bears do it, mice do it, rats do it, foxes do it, deer do it, raccoons do it ... It's how you got here, but when men and woman do it, it is like a sacred ceremony requiring a license and approval by the gods. But don't forget April 15th and taxes. That's "special" too.
Now backing further up to Friday, on my way down to Le Joulins Jazz Bistro I stopped by Asia de Cuba on Geary and Taylor. I was curious about it. Earlier I had been prowling through craigslist.org for oddities and came across ads for a Maitre d' and a bus person. The strange things was this: For the bus person, at least one year of experience was required; but for the Maitre d', the ad only said that restaurant experience was "preferred." Now the Maitre d' is the head waiter, so I found this a little odd. Since I had never been to Asia de Cuba, I wanted to have a look for myself. You know, Journalism 101, maybe even ask a question or so. Here's my report:
Asia de Cuba is located in the Clift House on the main floor to the right side of the fireplace. "Fireplace?" you might ask, raising your eyebrows. "Yep, it's the one old-fashioned element. Makes you feel at home before you cease feeling at home." The place is mod looking with a lot of wood and a kind of reddish glow designed, I think, to make you feel horny. It's not bad looking, actually. It does make you feel warm, if not horny. The horny part depends more on your date, I think. On the other side is a bar of almost equal size. The sidewalk outside is the "smoking section." I have passed by it before. It is often cluttered with young people dragging hard on filtered cigarettes. They look like weekend smokers, not people enjoying the pleasures of tobacco. The current Maitre d' was a young, somewhat nervous-looking woman of light-colored skin and hair. Her hair, which was thin and neither short nor long, had declared no particular style of its own as it flopped from side to side as she talked. It did not match the mod look of the restaurant. Where her experience lay, I could not tell. A Montgomery Street office? A former stock broker's assistant? Possibly. One flaw in my report: I forgot to check out the bus people for signs of experience. Who know? Maybe with their year or more of experience they just didn't stand out. Here is some of the marketing poop for Asia de Cuba:
This is after it was remodeled from the old Redwood Room, causing shudders at the time. Things are always changing in San Francisco. One customer reviewed the bar this way:
Clutch, I think slow is slow. Better to ask if this was the bartender's first job!
One more review:
Cal, that's San Francisco sophistication. But if you want a different experience, go to Bix's first where the bar staff will hate you and the waiters will make you feel unworthy of your supper. Then stop your complaining about unfriendly and pretentious!