Tag Archives: san francisco

Lame Adventure 463: Way Back Machine Encounter with a Rock Legend

Like many hardcore New Yorkers, I was born someplace else. In my case, it was San Francisco, a lovely city where I did my earliest lame adventuring. Bruce Thiesen, a Bay Area native who writes the blog, Ram On, recently published a post featuring verse by Patti Smith that triggered memories of an up close and personal encounter I had with her in May 1978.

Patti was on tour promoting her latest album, Easter. It featured her biggest mainstream hit, a song she co-wrote with Bruce Springsteen called Because the Night. It reached number 13 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. She had also just published a book of poetry called Babel. I saw her on that tour when she played a fantastic concert at Winterland Arena. The next day, the San Francisco Chronicle’s music critic, Joel Selvin, published a rave review of her performance. He compared her “to a young Mick Jagger”. Mick was 34. Patti was 31.

Patti was appearing at B. Dalton Booksellers on Sutter and Kearny Streets in San Francisco’s financial district where she was signing Babel. I had a copy that I wanted autographed. I also packed my camera, a 35 mm Minolta SRT201. That was my parents’ reward to me for both graduating high school and getting accepted into San Francisco State University. It was their way of encouraging their slacker to graduate college, a feat that took me seven years to achieve, just like Sarah Palin. I attended my class in some subject that made absolutely no lasting impression, and then jetted over to Dalton’s. I was such a sloth it never occurred to me to cut class. That was very Bozo, for there was a line of people streaming out of the store and down Kearny Street; what appeared to me to be far more people than those that attended the concert. The cynic in me, who coincidentally comprises most of me, sensed that these were people that were there only because they read Selvin’s review and very few were actual fans.

It was apparent that I didn’t have a hope in hell of getting in to have my book signed, much less to take her picture. But I knew that my camera looked professional enough. A young guy in front of me, who had attended the show, held my place in line so I could slip into the store to take a shot.

So near and yet so far.

So near and yet so far.

When a store worker came outside to confirm my fear that we would not gain entry, I spewed a bald faced lie. I claimed that I was supposed to photograph her for the Phoenix, State’s campus newspaper. Swallowing the bait whole, he instructed me to go to the freight entrance where she’d be exiting.

Freight elevator door opened. black speck between hoodie man's shoulder and guy inside is Patti's bowler hat.

Freight elevator door opened. Black speck between hoodie man’s shoulder and guy inside is Patti’s bowler hat.

So, there I was, 19-years-old but I could still easily pass for 12, with the real deal all-male press. When she exited that elevator, in a bowler hat and a ratty fake fur jacket, I jumped in front of all those guys, and started snapping shots.

Shooting while making my move through masses of males.

Shooting while making my move through masses of males.

What I didn’t anticipate was Patti wrapping her arm around me and holding me close. I kept taking pictures. My adrenaline was pumping.

Patti Smith's profile while I am taking pictures of her.

Patti Smith’s profile while I am taking pictures of her.

Me (thinking): Patti Smith is holding me! This is so cool! I can see up her nose!

Looking up Patti Smith's nose.

Looking up Patti Smith’s nose.

When she saw the beat-up VW van her record label had waiting for her, she said in an incredulous tone:

Patti Smith: I came early and I stayed late and this is my limousine? This is the best that Arista* can do for me?

She turned to me:

Patti Smith: Wanna go to San Diego?

She held me closer and insisted:

Patti Smith: C’mon!

A security guard the size of a redwood approached.

Mr. Big: Let the kid go.

Just as he was going to grab me, she let me out of her grasp and entered the van.

Patti's hand as she entered the van.

Patti’s hand as she entered the van.

I can still see her gesturing at me to get in. But I didn’t pursue my groupie moment further. I had to head over to Petrini’s, a supermarket near my house, to pick up the fish for the family dinner that night. If we were the type of family where the parents were inclined to ask:

Parents: How was your day?

I would have answered:

Me: I almost went to San Diego with a rock star leaving you guys to eat canned tuna!

I also dropped off that role of film for development at my neighborhood camera store.

I also dropped off that role of film for development at my neighborhood camera store.

Sometimes I wonder what might have happened had I accepted her invitation and entered that van. Then I reason that that no-nonsense guard probably would have pulled me out with such force I might have ended up in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

But there is an epilogue to this lame adventure. Consider it another lame adventure that happened thirty years later here in New York. Patti and I met again. I was at a screening of a documentary about her that played the Film Forum.

Proof of my sister, Dovima's claim that we're a family of hoarders: Film Forum ticket stub circa 2008.

Proof of my sister, Dovima’s claim that we’re a family of hoarders: retained Film Forum ticket stub.

My friend, Albee, urged me to have her sign those photos I shot in 1978. He joked:

Albee: Maybe she’ll try to pick you up again?

That lightning didn’t strike twice, probably to the relief of both 61-year-old Patti and 49-year-old me, but she was still as cool as ever in person. Maybe even cooler. I finally got her autograph.

I got my satisfaction.

I got my satisfaction.

*Arista was her record label.

Lame Adventure 441: My First Public F-bomb

If dogs had life spans that equaled humans, my childhood canine companion, Mean Streak, would have turned forty-five this Friday. Meanie only made it to sixteen years and four months before he started leg lifting on the Pearly Gates.

Mean Streak was my brother Axel’s dog. We got him on December 26, 1969.  Axel wanted a dog for Christmas, but our parents were anti-dog. There was no puppy under our tree. Instead, they gave my brother $20 and extended anemic approval to him to find his pet.

With our sister, Dovima, driving our mother’s 1963 Chevy Bel Air, we spent December 26th combing San Francisco Bay Area pet shops in search of Axel’s four-legged friend. We discovered that the day after Christmas all that remained were the rejects. Axel felt that if we did not return home with a dog that day, we ran the risk of our parents changing their minds and telling us that we had to remain dog-less. We were determined to find a dog.

We met an adorable tan Cockapoo, but that dog was too small. We encountered a very exuberant Bluetick Coonhound mix that so desperately wanted to go home with us, her nails got caught in Dovima’s wooly sweater. Axel was concerned that she might be too big when fully grown. If he came home with the second coming of Marmaduke, he’d never hear the end of it. We kept looking.

As our hunt drew to a close, we went to Teddy’s Pet Shop in West Portal, not far from where we lived. A litter of just weaned puppies was playing in the window. The pet shopkeeper told us that these pups were exactly six weeks old. Off to the side, Mean Streak snoozed by himself. Axel selected the little sleeper, erroneously assuming that that pup was the most peaceful one of all. We later realized that Meanie was just being his usual anti-social self.

Meanie was a feisty, mighty mutt who was born to bark. He was very protective of our house and made it clear to all visitors — friends, neighbors and extended family members:

Mean Streak: I take no prisoners!

Puppy Mean Streak on the alert for trespassers, or anyone.

Puppy Mean Streak on the alert for trespassers or anyone.

Even though Meanie weighed only thirty-five pounds, no one ever called our dog’s bluff. He was equal opportunity and would gladly rip out the lungs of any perceived intruder i.e., every single visitor outside of my siblings, parents and grandmother, but he granted an exemption to my pet turtle.

Mean Streak: I cut the turtle a pass.

When my turtle died and I buried him in the back yard, Meanie, who was not a digger, dug him up. I could have lived quite nicely without ever having seen that sight. My dad reburied my turtle in another hole so deep in our yard Meanie would have had to dig all the way to middle earth to reach that corpse again.

Axel said I could own a five percent stake in  Mean Streak. I was allotted Meanie’s tail. A few years later, when my brother got a part time job, he paid me a dollar a week to walk Meanie when I got home from school. I  liked the job, but there were these two old guys with big dogs that were bad news. They walked their dogs unleashed, flouting the leash laws. They lumbered slowly and their dogs walked far ahead looking for trouble.

One day when I was walking Mean Streak, we encountered the two old guys exercising their pony-sized unleashed beasts. Both hounds from Hell came barreling at us. They pounced Mean Streak. The two old guys thought this was hilarious. I was a whippet thin twelve-year-old whose dog was under attack. I didn’t get the joke.

Me: Get your dogs off my dog you bastards!

They quickened their pace and pulled their dogs off of mine.

One Old Guy: You’ve got a mouth on you, little girl!

Me: Fuck you!

That was the first time I dropped the f-bomb on anyone in public. I reported back to Axel what had happened, including my use of profanity. Axel approved. He hated those guys and had his own share of run ins with them. One of the bullying big dogs died prematurely. We attributed it to the owner’s bad karma.

Looking back, those “old” guys were younger then than I am now. If there is an afterlife, I hope that Mean Streak is nipping them in the ankles for eternity.


Lame Adventure 429: A Heartfelt Farewell

Some of you may have noticed that I have been absent from the blogosphere for a while. I was in San Francisco with my family. A week ago today my dear old dad died. Naturally, a part of me is bereft. I am now an orphan and I hate that. But Dad was 87, terminally ill with cancer and had suffered from a serious heart condition that worsened significantly when he reached his ninth decade.

Dad on his honeymoon in 1951.

Dad on his honeymoon in 1951.

Since October 2012, the going only got tougher for him. He was in and out of the hospital several times. After every hospitalization, his dwindling supply of energy further depleted. For much of the past year he told anyone who would listen that every night before going to bed he prayed that he would die in his sleep. Four weeks ago, following a collapse, this ferociously independent man’s decline accelerated at warp speed.

Lovebirds: Dad and Mom.

Lovebirds: Dad and Mom.

Soon, Dad was too weak to get out of bed. My siblings who lived near Dad, Dovima and Axel, made the painful decision to start hospice. Initially, Dad wanted to die at home. My brother, Axel, had checked in on him daily for the last fifteen months. Dovima volunteered to be his primary caregiver during Dad’s final days. I flew out to join her, but Axel was always near.

Fit and trim at 50.

Fit and trim at 50.

Dad loathed the indignity of home hospice. During one particularly rough night when he cried out in pain, Dovima came to his rescue. When he saw his eldest daughter he spoke two last words to her:

Dad: Oh, crap!

His last word to me was about how he was feeling:

Dad: Lousy!

His last utterance to Axel was a monosyllabic, a groan when Axel said:

Axel: Dad, it’s me, Axel.

Still buff at 74.

Still buff at 74.

We shifted into overdrive to enter Dad into a hospice facility. We heeded the advice of our Pathways social worker and got him into Zen Hospice, an oasis of nurturing and tranquility. Dad was so far gone there was concern that he might not survive the ambulance ride from his house to Zen. We knew he no longer wanted to die at home, so even if he bought his rainbow in transit, we decided that we were responding to his revised wish. I was allowed to accompany him in the ambulance, a bumpy twenty-minute journey. Dad, who could no longer speak, looked scared. I promised him that he was going to a place where he’d get great care and we would still be there with him. Dad survived the ride. The wonderful staff and volunteers at Zen backed up my claim.

Clowning for his 4-year-old photographer, granddaughter, Sweet Pea.

Clowning for his 4-year-old photographer, granddaughter, Sweet Pea.

At Zen, Dad was no longer restless, his dignity was returned, and he was comfortable. All of us, Dovima, Axel, my niece, Sweet Pea, brother-in-law, Herb (with a silent h) and Cousin Lou, held his hand and let him know how much we loved and appreciated him. Two days later, with Dovima and I at his bedside, Dad drew his final breath. His wish was granted. He died peacefully in his sleep.

Chirstmas 2012 (l to r) Axel, Dovima, Sweet Pea holding Thurber, Dad, Me photographed by Herb.

Christmas 2012 (l to r) Axel, Dovima, Sweet Pea holding Thurber, Dad and Me photographed by Herb.

Following our father shedding his mortal coil, there was a lovely ceremony at Zen where his caregivers took turns washing his face, hands and feet. They each said words of comfort. Dovima and I were invited to participate, but the pain of losing our father was just too fresh. We sat and watched. When Dad was carried outside, his face was exposed to the sun and he was showered with flower petals. Dad had told Dovima that when he died, he wanted to make his exit under tons of flowers. So, that wish was granted, too.

Dad's flower petals.

Dad’s flower petals.

This past Tuesday, we had a traditional funeral, but it was not a morose affair. We celebrated Dad’s life in pictures, and with many of his own words in a program we created that showed his wit and wisdom. A sample of his wit was what he liked to say to me when he thought I was behaving like a flake:

Dad: You have more crust than a pie factory!

A sample of his wisdom:

Dad: Do good and forget about it. Do bad and think about it.

But I agree with Axel, who wisely said:

Axel: Let’s be careful not to make him bigger in death than he was in life.

Our father was not a perfect man; possibly this was his most familiar expression:

Dad: God damn it!

But he was the perfect father for us.

In conclusion, I would like to share a tale about Dad in his prime, call it an early Lame Adventure. Our father was a very athletic man. In high school he lettered in Gymnastics and he maintained those skills well into middle age. He could be quite a show off; something my siblings and I loved. After Sunday dinner, he would take us out on walks in our neighborhood. He loved to sing an asinine ditty, John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, at the top of his lungs. I recall doing a duet with him on it. It is an understatement that we had nothing on Nat King Cole and daughter Natalie’s duet on Unforgettable.

On this particular Sunday in 1966, as we were walking down Holloway Avenue at Denslowe Street, I begged Dad to do “the flag” as we approached a signpost.

An historic place in  family history.

An historic place in family history.

The flag was an extraordinary feat of physical dexterity. My dad, who had phenomenal arm strength, could extend himself completely perpendicular to the signpost.

Historic signpost.

Historic signpost.

It was quite a sight to see.

Witness's rendering of quite a sight.

Witness’s rendering of quite a sight.

As we were marveling at Dad’s truly awesome feat, a motorist slammed his or her brakes and we heard an awful screech. Looking back, the sight of a 39 year-old-man suspended completely perpendicular from a signpost into the street must have been discombobulating in 1966 … or maybe even today.

The father of Lame Adventures.

The father of Lame Adventures.

Lame Adventure 400: Signs of the Season

The signs of the holiday season are everywhere these days.

Looking forward to January.

Or bracing for SantaCon.

Big Bird multitasking as holiday eyesore.

Big Bird multitasking as holiday eyesore.

The other night I was walking east on Houston Street with my pal, Coco. We paused to observe the elaborate manger scene inside the gates of St. Anthony’s church when I nearly suffered a coronary.

Me: Coco, look! Jesus is missing! Is nothing sacred? Who steals Jesus?

Where's the life of the party?

Where’s the life of the party?

Coco: LBJ isn’t there because he doesn’t come out until Christmas Eve! We don’t have to get all CSI or re-enact the Lindbergh baby kidnapping!

To emphasize her point, to make me feel like the consummate stupido, Coco stabbed her studded, black leather-gloved finger at potential suspects.

"Did you take LBJ?"

“Did you take LBJ?”

Or you? Did you take LBJ?

Or you? Did you take LBJ?

I could not get my mind off Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Me: What has the 36th president got to do with this?

Coco: LBJ is Little Baby Jesus you dumb bell!

It was enlightening to learn that my friend leads a double life as the female Jay-Z. After Coco and I parted ways, I went home to the Upper West Side, where I saw another holiday display, this one in the window of the Citarella market on Broadway. It’s an edible replica of the Flat Iron building, their contribution to the Gingerbread Extravaganza.

This might not taste as good as it looks.

This might not taste as good as it looks.

This extravaganza is for a charitable cause, City Harvest, an institution that helps fight hunger in New York. To see all of the gingerbread structures in competition click here.

When I was growing up in San Francisco, a sure sign that Christmas was coming was when my mother would drag me with her to the Emporium, our go-to department store. Every year, a section of the store would be devoted to their made-to-order holiday cards. The cards were displayed under cellophane in thick oversized books that my mother would scrutinize for hours. If in reality we were only there twenty minutes, I was so bored it seemed to last an eternity. My mother, a perfectionist who was always more high strung than usual during the holiday season, would make mincemeat out of me if I dared touch one of those books. Those books were for adult scrutiny only and about as thrilling as math class. All of those cards were capital d Dull. The card my mother would select was always a variation of the same theme: a somber nativity scene. Snore.

When the cards arrived, Mom would spend hours at the kitchen table working on them, addressing each envelope in her perfect, flowery script. She would write thoughtful notes inside. Eventually, she cut herself a break in this masochism and stopped licking each stamp personally and began utilizing a sponge. It amazed me that she would send out hundreds of cards. My parents seldom ever had friends over. Who was she sending all of these cards to? Pages of random people in the phone book? I never asked. I knew that when she was in Christmas card mode to stay far away. If I could have moved to Mars I would have done so.

My salesman father would send cards to his customers. He’d be on the road filling his car with gas, notice cards on sale next to the motor oil and pick up whatever the grease monkeys were selling. This probably took him a total of six minutes and he even got his windshield washed. When my dad did his cards, at warp speed at his desk in the room he shared with my mom, I was allowed entry. I could light myself on fire, run in circles and scream at the top of my lungs.

In 1970, he came home with a card with a picture of a moose that had a red and white candy cane protruding from its mouth. Inside it announced, “Merry Christmoose!” I thought that was the greatest holiday card ever. Granted, I was only eleven, but I had never known there could be a funny Christmas card. When we received a card from someone that did not make my mother’s list, she had a meltdown. She had given out all of her made-to-order cards. My father had some extra Merry Christmoose cards. He offered his to her. The expression on my mother’s face was as if he suggested she write “Merry Christmas” on a dead seagull. She went out and bought a card.

This year is the first time in thirty years that I have not sent holiday cards. Milton wanted me to design my own, but I didn’t get around to it. When I visited a card shop in my neighborhood, I immediately noticed one I would have sent.

Inside caption: "Merry Christmoose!"

Inside caption: “Merry Christmoose!”

Unfortunately, this card was not available in a multi-pack. But I did send one to my dad.

Happy holidays Lame Adventurers.

Lame Adventure 118: Bottoms Up

Will Skyy respect you in the morning?

I know this billboard is supposed to make me want to don my red vinyl leggings, strap on a coordinating pair of ankle spikes and proceed to get intimate with the nearest Stanley Cup-sized bottle of Skyy vodka.  That is the message here, right?  Yet, every time I look at this ad when walking down West Broadway en route to the Chambers Street subway station, all I can think about is suffering a glass shard in a very intimate soft body part.  The thought of finding myself bleeding profusely in the emergency room due to a self-inflicted extreme act of embarrassment does not make me lust a supertanker of vodka.

My clear spirit of choice is gin but I do have a taste for sake, too.  Since I’m more dull center than cutting edge, I prefer both while sitting upright and holding a glass.  In the case of the sake, a wooden box, or a handle-less miniature cup works nicely, too.

A little background about Skyy vodka, for those of you that read Lame Adventures primarily for its vast educational component … it was created by Brooklyn-born inventor and entrepreneur Maurice Kanbar, who launched it in 1992.  Now 80-years-old, Maurice resides in San Francisco, where Skyy is produced.  He could be lifting a glass of Skyy vodka today in response to the Giants trampling the Rangers for the second straight game in the World Series.  Among his vast and varied accomplishments, Maurice is the mastermind behind the D-Fuzz-It sweater comb and New York’s first multiplex, the Quad Cinema.  He owns much of Tulsa, Oklahoma and in 1997, he opened his wallet and donated $5 million to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, so the film school is now called the Skyy Vodka Institute of Film and Television.  Possibly I’ve gotten the name in that last factoid wrong.

No Grey Goose for Maurice!