Saturday, June 26, 2004

Day by the Bay

My nephew, the newly minted college graduate, flew in last weekend. One of the benefits of seniority is that I have over a month of accrued vacation, so I took an unplanned holiday on Monday and played tour guide. We walked south along the Embarcadero, past the renovated Ferry Building, past Cupid’s Span, to Red’s Java House.

The unpretentious Red’s is one of the few wooden structures remaining on the waterfront and serves a burger on toasted French bread, fries, and soda for about five bucks. For less than a dollar more, I could have substituted a beer for the soda, but not today: I was driving and had to set a good example for the youngsters.

We sat on the deck in the back, a slight breeze taking the edge off the heat.

After lunch we retraced our steps back to the Ferry Building and boarded the ferry for the 30-minute ride to Sausalito.

The comfortable interior of the Sonoma, with its well-stocked bar, is a civilized way to end the day for Marin County commuters. Today work was far from our mind, so we paused at the lounge only briefly before going up to the deck to take in the views of the bay.

The fire just north of the GG Bridge was quickly controlled.

Disembarking in Sausalito, we stopped for coffee and ice cream, then strolled through various art galleries and candy shops in the time-honored tradition of tourists everywhere, looking, but for the most part, not buying. My wife met us with the car, and I took the wheel and headed home. An extra large garlic pizza at Toto’s in San Bruno capped a perfect day.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Thought for the Day

No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.
--Samuel Johnson

Wednesday, June 23, 2004


The independent bookstore Book Passage, based in Marin County, scored a marketing coup last year when Senator Hillary Clinton autographed copies of her White House memoirs, Living History. On June 28, 2004, exactly one year later, the bookseller will land the big fish himself: Bill Clinton will be autographing copies of My Life at Book Passage’s outlet at the Ferry Building.

One week before the Big Event the line to reserve a place in next Monday’s line was consistently 5 to 10 persons deep. Women in my office have already submitted their forms.

“You’re going to buy the book anyway, so why not get HIS autograph?”, said a forty-ish credit executive who intimidates all her male colleagues. A finance VP told me how the ex-President looked terrible during the Dan Rather interview, but the faraway look in her eyes betrayed that the long-forgotten schoolgirl in her would readily swoon in His presence.

Next Monday lawyers, doctors, professors, and CEO’s will take extra time to fix their hair and make-up. When the fever passes, as it did when they surveyed the wreckage of their stock portfolios at the end of the 1990’s, they will ask themselves, “What was I thinking?”

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Happy Father’s Day

I remember when my Dad:
  • Drove me to Little League three times a week and helped me work on my pitching motion every day after school.
  • Worked three jobs so that we could buy a house, which explained why he was always tired.
  • Installed all the wiring when the church put in its pipe organ.
  • Bought me a violin for $350, which was a lot of money in 1965.
  • Quit smoking, for his sake and ours, when the Surgeon General issued the first warning on cigarettes.
  • Gave me the family car when I learned how to drive.

    Hope you had a great Father’s Day, Dad.
    ---Your grateful son
  • Saturday, June 19, 2004


    I just saw Chuck on the 10 o'clock news. Chuck was distributing information to reporters outside the scene of a home invasion and homicide in the swank city of Hillsborough, where he has been a cop for over 20 years. (The news accounts were quite confused, and none of the police were talking.)

    I used to kid Chuck about what a soft job he had, until he got dog duty. He and a German shepherd would chase fleeing burglars over the hedges of the Hillsborough estates, so Chuck had to stay in good shape to perform his job. He and his wife Jerri are godparents to our older son, as we are to their daughter, but after they divorced we didn't stay in touch.

    Recently we've been running into him at restaurants on the Peninsula. And we just saw him with some of his buddies in the parking lot at the Sharks game last March. Now that he works at a desk and doesn't have to chase crooks, he's put on a few pounds, but haven't we all? © 2004 Stephen Yuen

    Wednesday, June 16, 2004

    San Diego Dreamin'

    Last Friday we headed south to fetch our freshman. We averaged about 75 mph on Interstate 5, cars passing us all along the way, and in five hours reached northern Los Angeles, where traffic precipitously halted. Although the day of mourning for Ronald Reagan was a semi-holiday, cars were bumper-to-bumper; it took us three hours to wend our way through LA to southern Orange County. The frequent braking and over-90 degree heat made us thankful once more that, many years ago, we had taken the road north.

    We pulled into the parking lot at UC-San Diego around 7 p.m., and my hopes for a return trip the next morning were dashed when confronted with the state of disarray in the freshman’s room. The freshman’s mother took charge, shooing me and the pre-teen out of the room. She sorted and folded until 11 p.m., while I made myself useful by checking in at the nearby Marriott and hauling the luggage upstairs. That strenuous task completed, I rewarded myself with age-appropriate liquid refreshment.

    On Saturday morning I bought bungee cords and duct tape to secure the containers we were storing at UCSD. Despite leaving behind several cubic feet of material, we nevertheless filled the van with suitcases of clothes, boxes of CDs, DVDs, and electronics equipment, a rarely played viola, a five-foot implement used in one of the more obscure martial arts, dilapidated shoes that Goodwill would not accept, and a rectangular watercolor whose value could only have been sentimental.

    UCSD threatened to impose a fine on rooms left in a substandard condition, so the mothers of the freshman and his roommate spent hours cleaning and vacuuming and picking up until the room gleamed like a diamond amidst the squalor of the all-male suite.

    After an unbelievable transformation, the room is ready for inspection

    The mothers then turned their attention to the common area furniture and scrubbed off organic substances of indeterminate origin. By 3 o’clock they were done.

    We drove to Seaport Village, San Diego’s counterpart to our Fisherman’s Wharf, and celebrated the completion of the freshman year by dining at the San Diego Pier CafĂ©.

    We were paying for the view, but the fish was fresh and perfectly grilled, and after decades of frugality I find it easier to rationalize loosing the purse-strings. © 2004 Stephen Yuen

    After dinner we strolled to the USS San Diego memorial

    Monday, June 14, 2004

    Remembering Louis

    Last month we attended Louis’ memorial service at St. Luke’s. Louis (pronounced the French way, LOO-ey) and his wife Eliane moved across the street twelve years ago. They were Montreal natives who had spent most of their working lives—and raised their children—in the States. After he retired from GTE, Louis and Eliane sold their home in San Mateo and returned to Canada to live their remaining years in well-earned comfort and quiet. But the Bay Area had sunk its hooks into them, and our temperate weather, the cosmopolitan community, and the nearby presence of their children and grandchildren proved an irresistible lure.

    Ten years ago Louis bought an Apple Macintosh (68040 processor, I don’t remember the model number), his first computer. Our phone would ring at odd hours, I would hear his anxious voice, and I would run across the street with backup System 7, Quicken 4, and utility disks. He was a regular visitor at the local Apple distributor, typically to ask for a warranty repair or return equipment that didn’t work; more often than not, his complaint was justified. (That distributor is no longer in business.)

    Louis looked after our house when we were out of town. He corrected our son’s French essays, undoubtedly helping him win the French award in his senior year. Louis was a familiar sight, with his shock of white hair, strolling with his dog to the grocery store. To his amiable “good morning”, I would shout “bonjour”—the extent of my French—and he would smile. Louis looked younger than his 84 years.

    Louis and Eliane kept an immaculate house, both inside and out. Louis would often make friendly suggestions about painting, landscaping, and sundry improvements. Of course, it was his way of telling me that our homestead was looking a little long in the tooth, and my blank expression, I hope, communicated that his hints were sailing right past me.

    Well, Louis, finally, we’ve gone to the City to discuss our remodeling project, and we’ve hired the architect. I hope you like the way it turns out.

    Monday, June 07, 2004

    Salad Daze

    The salad bar was busy today. The steep cost of $5.25 per pound did not dissuade low-carb dieters and sleek bobos from filling their plates. Unemployment is no longer a widespread worry, so people are opening their purses and wallets instead of packing leftovers from last night’s dinner.

    Salad bar behavior provides ample evidence that profound differences still exist between the sexes. First, the patrons (matrons?): most of the customers are female. Second, women, especially when they travel in groups, dawdle over their selections. They like to ooh and ahh over each dish, speculating on its provenance. When they finally....excruciatingly....conclude through multivariate analysis that the dish meets with their exacting standards, they daintily dole the portions, teaspoon by teaspoon. Each crouton must be individually placed, just so, in its proper position on the bed of lettuce. A veritable objet d’art.

    The men’s expressions alternate between exasperation and resignation. Some cast knowing glances at each other. Expectations of a quick in and out are dashed. Shoulders slump as they see the brake lights coming on ahead.

    Behavior in salad bar lines is remarkably similar to that displayed at shopping malls. Unless the store purveys electronics or tools, men make a beeline to the object of their desire. Back to the car, a quarter on the meter with time left over.

    For women, the journey is the destination. On the way to the shoes, one has to stop and smell the perfume, and from the perfume to the jewelry, and from the jewelry to the blouses, and…just what was it I came for anyway? And though they fondle it, inspect it from all angles, and carefully measure its length, there’s still a 50/50 chance that the item so painstakingly purchased will be returned.

    At least you can’t do that with the balsamic vinegar. © 2004 Stephen Yuen

    Saturday, June 05, 2004

    Yin and Yang

    At the base of our office tower, just before one crosses the street to the Ferry Building, is a whimsical sculpture entitled “Yin and Yang” by Robert Arneson. This work was part of the aptly named “egghead” series that was originally commissioned by the University of California at Davis, where Arneson taught. The Eggheads are very popular fixtures at UC-Davis, and few can resist sitting on them, or just running their hands over the smooth surfaces.

    The San Francisco Airport had ordered the work, but in the aftermath of September 11th, felt that the two bodiless heads represented too violent an image and declined to install the sculpture. As for me, I’m happy that I can look at Yin and Yang every week.

    Robert Arneson is best known for the controversy surrounding his sculpture “Portrait of George” that was commissioned to honor the life of assassinated San Francisco mayor George Moscone. Arneson’s bust of Moscone does not have the solemn expression that is typical of a commemorative work of art and might seem vaguely disrespectful although well within acceptable bounds. But it was the pedestal, with its five bloody bullet-holes and scrawling of BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG, that caused a furor. Dianne Feinstein, then Mayor of San Francisco, refused to accept the sculpture when it was completed in 1981, and it now resides with a collector in Arizona. Emotions seemed to have calmed with the passage of time, and now-Senator Feinstein and members of the Moscone family are reconciled with the piece some day returning to San Francisco.

    Wednesday, June 02, 2004

    Things That Go Squish

    When people ask (in a nice way) why I don't move back to Hawaii, I cite familiar reasons: Honolulu's traffic, the sometimes oppressive humidity, and the lack of job opportunities. But that's the left brain talking.What I don't miss at all are the things that go squish.

    As a child I was very careful to watch where I was stepping, especially at night. African snails made a distinctive wet crunch,and their dark slime was hard to clean from the ridges of one's slippers. The milky fluid from the warts of a giant toad was rumored to be poisonous, so I gave them a wide berth. Flattened toads could be found on almost every street, and in the Hawaiian heat it only took a couple of days for the carcass to dry to a leathery texture.

    I hold a special place in my heart for the giant cockroach. On a breezeless night these flying sacks of bacteria would swarm near the palm fronds, and you would be well advised to keep your mouth closed when venturing outside. Even in the cleanest of houses they could be found scurrying around the kitchen at night, and I had an unpleasant experience in a sleeping bag when I slept over at a friend's.

    On the bright side, I have no aversion to and even like snakes, probably because there were no experiences of snakes during my youth to trigger long-lasting phobias.

    Biking home on Memorial Day, I paused to let him pass.

    Tuesday, June 01, 2004

    Memorial Day, Coyote Point

    Before cancer weakened him, Fred could beat me at everything: golf, swimming, biking, or just plain walking. True, he was a champion diver in college while I was a couch-potato geek, but he was 30 years my senior. I like to think his superiority was due to his training and desire, although it was more likely a sad commentary on my own poor conditioning.

    As he entered middle age Fred smoked, ate and drank all the wrong things, and internalized the stress of trying to keep his business alive. A “mild” heart attack was his epiphany. He started swimming laps in the community pool, took up golf, cut the fat from his diet, and sold his business. His physique hardened to that of a man half his age.

    He took full advantage of his daughter’s decades of employment at Delta Airlines and traveled the world under a parent’s pass. He visited us two or three times a year. I accompanied him to the golf course, but made excuses not to go with him to his daily workout due to the embarrassment of not being able to keep up.

    Fred would borrow our single-speed bicycle and take off for nearly three hours. He would cruise the path north to Coyote Point, disembarking to tour San Mateo’s marina and natural history museum. He encouraged me to join him, but I never did.

    Yesterday, prompted by his memory, we left the confines of Foster City and biked to Coyote Point. It was much farther than my usual distance, but the miles passed easily because the breeze always seemed to be behind us. © 2004 Stephen Yuen

    SFO is just north of Coyote Point.