Monthly Archives: December 2011

Unrecorded

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One great pleasure of life is a late-afternoon walk on a clear New England late December day. The highest branches of the bare trees glow orange-gold in the last half-hour of sun, and the sky turns an infinitely deep icicle-sharp shade of blue. Northern Cardinals flit about the lower branches, redder than red against the brown leaves and grey bark. The air rolls down your throat as refreshing as ice water. Walking in solitude becomes a choice of beauty.
And I recorded none of this.
I chose to leave my camera phone and digital camera at home.
After taking tens of thousands of pictures and digital film recordings, I have learned the virtues of leaving some experiences unrecorded or left to the imagination. Sometimes life is best if it is only described. Sometimes life is best lived if it is lived unrecorded.

The Happiest Woman at SFO on Christmas Eve

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She sat with her husband & newborn, awaiting their Delta flight. The parents took turns holding the baby and bottle feeding. And when people happened to look at her (and a lot of people wanted to look at her) she turned toward them with her biggest smile and made sure they got a good look at her face.
This was the most horribly disfigured face I have ever seen in person.
The two-inch flaking white blotch on her forehead sat next to a two-inch bright-red blister. Peeling skin and scabs covered her nose. More peeling skin, scabs, blisters, bruises and blotches covered her left cheek. Add a few more of the above to her chin.
And she was happy.
My hypothesis: whatever happened to her, the doctors thought she wasn’t going to survive. Yet here she was with her husband and her child, probably going to visit family. Think about it: the rest of her life is one big Christmas present. How could she not be the happiest woman in SFO on Christmas Eve?
I hope all of you have just as joyous a holiday as hers.

Maggie the Theater Dog on Her Throne (The Dark Room, 3/25/2006)

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Maggie is a rescued French Bulldog who took over The Dark Room theater in San Francisco’s Mission District as soon as she moved in and became the resident mascot and service dog. She’s quite a character, in more than one sense of the word; every once in a while, she’ll escape from the kitchen in back and trot onstage during a show, forcing the cast to improvise around her. This red chair sits in the theater lobby and serves as her throne when humans don’t occupy it, and sometimes when they do.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Silhouette – The Painter on the Roof, 11/27/2007

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Photo Dated 11/27/2007

This is the time of year when San Francisco enjoys glorious sunrises, and during the month of November 2007, a gentleman across the street took advantage of them. I had never seen him before, and I have never seen him since.

Alive & Living the Live Life @ The Fillmore, 12/16/2011

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Good Evening:

Cumbia Tokeson (http://www.facebook.com/TOKESON) is a very good genre-bending sweat-inducing dance band that plays high-energy live shows showcasing their blend of Colombian cumbia, reggae, punk, 70’s guitar, funk and whatever musical spice that happens to be within arm’s reach. Although a relatively new band, they’re good enough that they received an invitation to be the opening act at one of the Fillmore’s biggest annual shows on Friday night, the 16th. They knew that this was a huge opportunity, and they responded. Every opening act dreams of blowing the headliners off the stage, or at least winning over a crowd that has never heard of them. From my vantage point in the back corner, Cumbia Tokeson easily won over the crowd, and I cursed the back injury I suffered the night before in a fall in my living room. The crowd liked C. T. so much that it seemed the headliners would need some time to win back the crowd. And the headliners did need some time.

Ozomatli must have needed, oh, I don’t know, at least twenty seconds.

There is precious little out there quite like an Ozomatli show. Ozo is a Los Angeles band that takes every kind of music you’ll hear if you drive down the East LA streets on a warm Friday night with your iPhone off and the window down, and then blends all those sounds into one non-stop dance party. They have performed a December show at the Fillmore for many years, and to this day the band members approach each Fillmore show as if an oracle had told them, “You will never play another song after tonight, and whether you go to Heaven or to the other place depends entirely on this performance.” Some performers whom I shall not name play live shows with a “Since you have obediently shelled out $150 per ticket, I shall graciously condescend to permit you to adore my prerecorded voice for 90 minutes” attitude that can drive me up the wall in maybe two seconds. Ozo is a “We are here to make you happy for the next 2 1/2 hours for less than 40 bucks!!” group that will sometimes let their hardcore fans vote on the playlist for upcoming shows at their website.

A band that’s been playing for 16+ years that still plays as if their lives and souls were at stake, loves their fans, and concludes every show by walking through the crowd still playing their instruments. Nice. They were generous enough to invite Cumbia Tokeson back onstage for one song, and it was pretty obvious that C. T. were long-time fans; one member of Cumbia walked clear across the stage just to shake hands with Raul Pacheco. Very nice. I am already looking forward to next year’s December show.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–Incidentally, if you want to win a bar bet, Ozomatli was one of the day signs in the Aztec calendar, a monkey who was in charge of music and dance, among other things. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aztec_calendar

I Went to the Theater…

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Good Morning:

I went to the theater and a wedding broke out.

Even in San Francisco, this is a little bit different. I attended an evening of one-act plays the other night because one of the actresses had done an outstanding job in a reading of my play The Possibility. I met her mom and her boyfriend (whom I thought was her husband) before the show, then settled in for a pretty good evening of theater.

After the show ended and the cast had taken their bows, the techies played Brudda Iz’ classic medley “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” an odd choice given the overall dark and doomed tone of the plays. The producer/playwright stepped onstage to introduce one of the actors in his everyday role as a judge, complete with robes. My actress friend walked onstage in a vintage wedding dress and bouquet, her boyfriend bounded onstage in the role of a groom, her mother was shocked out of her mind because she had received no advance notice, the judge flubbed his lines the first time but eventually got them right, and the City is home to one more happily wedded couple.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–Israel Ka’ano Kamakawiwo’ole (or Brudduh Iz to non-Hawaiians like me) was an outstanding singer and ukelele player who died much too young of obesity-related problems (he weighed over 750 pounds and that is not a misprint).

Fire Spinners near the Cliff House, San Francisco, 1 July 2011

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I believe that Serendipity is a life skill that can be mastered. As a member of a San Francisco photography club, I joined them one afternoon & evening for an expedition to the Cliff House and nearby environs to photograph the area during the so-called “Magic Hour” and maybe catch a great sunset as well. It turns out that a local club of fire spinners chose that same evening to meet and practice their craft. Photographers love interesting subjects, interesting subjects love photographers, so the leaders of both clubs quickly made a deal; in exchange for becoming their adoring audience, they would become our adored subjects. I have an old Nikon D40 DSLR, and discovered that a very simple setting (2.5 second exposure time) sufficed for my purposes. This photo benefited from a lucky break; a camera flash went off during the 2.5 second exposure (visible camera left).

The Hooligan vs. the Madman on the 6-Parnassus

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Good Evening:

I was riding the 6 into downtown one recent evening to attend a meeting of my playwrighting group when a loud young fellow with a loud blonde buzz cut and a louder foreign accent loudly stomped onto the bus loudly condemning the overall wimpiness of San Franciscans. This time I was sitting in the back, and he loudly took a seat near me, still loudly condemning the overall wimpiness of San Franciscans. I thought I might try and calm him down.

I asked him, “Where are you from?”

“England!”

“Oh, yeah? Who’s your team?”

He did not expect this. Testing me, he said, “City!”

“You mean Manchester City.”

He did not expect me to know what he meant. Obviously, I kept the conversation away from the 2010 World Cup and England’s embarrassing performance, and I managed to keep him fairly quiet for a while, but he soon returned to condemning the overall wimpiness of San Franciscans. A homeless mentally ill individual sitting near us took exception to this and threatened the Englishman. The Englishman returned fire with an impressive volley of threats, insults and expletives that so intimidated the homeless man that he fled at the next stop.

Now one thing about me that you might not know is that one of my specialties as an actor consists of playing villains. I happen to have the “gift” of being able to smile exactly like Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. Sometimes I can even impersonate his voice perfectly. So when my new English friend turned to a fourth person and launch another stream of invective condemning the overall wimpiness of San Franciscans, I waited for my moment. Finally, I quietly spoke:

“That’s what I like about San Francisco. I’m mentally ill, and I don’t stand out.”

The Englishman looked at me, and I smiled at him, and he got off at the next stop.

I received a sitting ovation.

Victory.

Vonn Scott Bair

I Do Not Understand Reality, Special Flavored Vodka Edition! (12/11/11)

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Good Afternoon:

So I was walking down 10th Street en route to my weekly shopping when I passed a billboard advertising two new vodkas. Pardon me, two new flavored vodkas. Pardon me, two new flavored vodkas for which the public has clamored. Evidently.

Whipped Cream Flavored Vodka

Marshmallow Flavored Vodka – “Fluffed!”

I did not know that the people needed Whipped Cream Flavored Vodka and Marshmallow Flavored Vodka that is “Fluffed!” This is why I wish I was a normal person. You see, normal people will sit down at a bar and say, “Bartender! I want a vodka! But not an ordinary vodka, I want a flavored vodka! But not just any ordinary flavored vodka, I want a marshmallow flavored vodka! But not just any ordinary marshmallow flavored vodka! I want my marshmallow flavored vodka ‘Fluffed!’”

If I were normal, I wouldn’t think this was weird.

Believing that Bernardo Bertolucci gave conformity a bad name, I remain,

Yours Truly,

Vonn Scott Bair

I Do Not Understand Reality, 11 December 2011

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Q: How many Santa Clauses live in the Lower Haight?

A: I don’t know either; I lost count after about a hundred.

San Francisco experienced its annual gathering of Santa Claus impersonators yesterday, with several hundred to possibly a thousand meeting in front of City Hall and then fanning out all over the city, not doing what Santa Clauses do; instead of handing out presents and letting children bit on their laps in department stores, a thousand Santas went pub-crawling. Either in bars or on sidewalks walking to the next bar. And that is what I do not understand; isn’t that something Santa would do on December 26?

Then again, this is San Francisco; in simple English, we don’t do normal Santas. We do Santa differently here. What follows is a list of as many unusual Santas that I can recall:

  1. Hundreds of Santa Claus-ettes in Santa Claus dresses with hemlines all the way up to there, and I bet their legs got awfully cold once the sun started going down and the wind started kicking up.
  2. A Protest Santa, carrying a protest sign: “Occupy North Pole!”
  3. A Gandalf the Grey Santa.
  4. A Dr. Frank-N-Furter (from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”) Santa.
  5. A transvestite Santa.
  6. A George Clinton (Parliament-Funkadelic) Santa.
  7. Female go-go dancer Santas.
  8. Male go-go dancer Santas.
  9. A tap-dancing Santa Claus who asked for my business card, but I think I’m much too old for her. But I could be wrong.
  10. A blue Santa Claus who was not singing “Blue Christmas,” so he probably was not a fan of the Indianapolis Colts.
  11. A Patrick Willis Santa Claus (linebacker, #52 for the San Francisco 49ers, and anything but a Santa Claus to opposing offenses).
  12. A Cowboy Santa Claus, yep with a red cowboy hat and red velvet chaps (possibly a Brokeback Mountain theme?).
  13. A 19th Century St. Nicholas in the traditional brown and green outfit.

However, and I feel proud of my city to be able to write this, I did not see even one Elvis Santa. This is San Francisco. We have imagination here. Now if only we didn’t have so much of it

Vonn Scott Bair

Who Wants to Feel REAL Old?

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Good Afternoon:

Wow. All of you. That’s cool.

What’s astonishing about San Francisco is that not only is public transit so interesting, so are the destinations where public transit takes you. So yesterday I visited the Apple Store on Stockton near Market to purchase iLife 09. When it was my turn to buy, I approached a young lady in her very early twenties who reminded me of a college girlfriend and said, “I’d like to pay with cash.”

Her eyes widened a little, and she replied with one of those high-pitched, “Um, OK” lines which actually mean, “Um, not OK.” It was obvious that not only was I the first customer of her day to pay in cash, she had had almost no experience dealing with the green paper. She rang up the purchase in good order, accepted my money very, very, gingerly as if she had never held cash before, and tried to give me my change.

Here is where she got stuck. She was unable to give me change because she was baffled and befuddled by an object in her change drawer that she evidently had never seen before.

A paper-wrapped roll of pennies.

She really was puzzled. The young woman tried to pry open the roll at one end using her blunt fingernails, which of course is not possible for paper rolls that come from the bank, and having failed at that, called over a manager. He was slightly older than her, but no more than 25 years old, and with his comparatively vast knowledge of the ways of the ancient world, said, “There’s a trick to opening these.”

That trick, in his experience, consisted of trying to slip his fingernail underneath the end of the paper in the middle of the roll and unrolling the paper until the pennies, freed from their straitjacket, burst onto the counter and into the change drawer (some even went into the penny section!). But they didn’t lose any pennies. I said, “The trick is that you crack the roll open against the edge of the counter.” They looked at me as if I had spoken to them in a Japanese-Klingon hybrid language. They literally could not understand.

People are growing up today having no idea what cash is. It is becoming a concept whose only physical manifestation is a rectangle of plastic. Even we old folks have been swept up. How often do you use ATM cards for purchases? Think of the financial advisors who recommend that you keep a lot of money in cash. They don’t mean cash. They mean something like CDs or money market accounts, which have become online financial instruments, and your “cash” is really a collection of dark pixels on a light background. Even my laundromat has switched to card-operated machines.

Cash is dead. Long live “Cash.”

Vonn Scott Bair (originally posted to my friends on 2/8/2009)