Monday, November 29, 2010

The Officious Offalness of the Office

Two out of two Pawlie Kokonuts daughters are fans of "The Office," the television series (the American version, not the British, original rendition).

While I will while away an idle moment or two watching "The Office," I cannot claim to be a fan (nor a public enemy). (Notice how the previous sentence used "while" as a conjunction and as a verb? Mrs. Rivers of Burdick Junior High School, in Stamford, Connecticut, in the early 1960s, would be delighted that I can make this parenthetical statement.) Why don't I delight in "The Office"? It's simple: it's too much like Real Life (no, not the Albert Brooks movie "Real Life").

Who cares to relive the petty crimes of the cubicle cosmos? The accumulated humiliations perpetrated by hubris-brimming "leaders" and unmanageable managers?

Not I.

I don't miss it.

It would be weird, wouldn't it, in an Andy Kaufman sort of way, to portray in my own office of entrepreneurial independence the twisted power plays and poses of office life, all played by The Laughorist?

Yeah, it would be.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Into the Bright Night, Loudly (part 5)

Before joining the throng streaming out of our well lighted place, I paused at the last "window." Ignoring the prod to move it, move along, I soaked it in: the revelry, the players' jubilation, the crowd, the stadium, lights, the cheers, the emerald grass -- almost looking dew-laden. I paused. This is It. This is why you came, let it be "felt along the blood," to use Wordsworth's phrase. Felt forever, and now: the aftermath of a victorious Game 1 of the 2010 World Series.

Our little underground community continued to exalt but was being dispersed into a diaspora of evangelical true believers.

How to describe the exiting crowd? Raucous, rowdy, manic -- to be sure. But not mean-spirited, not yet. Simply riding a wave of tidal emotions. I made my way past the Juan Marichal statue and then headed toward the Willie Mays statue, icons of history, markers of long-suffering awaiting redemption. Two policemen were standing nearby, watching the crowd, not far from a tented stand where Fox broadcasters were. I blurted out to one officer about how far I had traveled, etc. When you are happy, you just want to tell someone, anyone, everyone. The policeman I was talking to got a nudge from a fellow officer and they had to tend to a commotion. Drunken young lady on the violent side. But no arrests. I apologized to the officer for interrupting his duties, but he was cool.

Then when I get to the Mays statue I see a bunch of activity, some buzzing and yelling. A clutch of young men has climbed and swarmed onto the statue, for some reason chanting "Fuck that shit!" The hostile sound of that remark puzzled me. Was it a rebuke to those who predicted the Giants would fail? A harsh jab at the national media? At the Texas Rangers? I mostly wrote it off to some sort of vulgar hip-hop anthem unknown to me. Next, one of the youths managed to climb atop Willie's shoulders, standing perilously above the cadre of celebrants, if we can still use that word. (I called Craig excitedly on his cell to give a firsthand report on how crazy things were.) Part of me wrote this off to pure excitement; the other part of me characterized it as pure disrespect. But it was "monumental" in the way that fallen statues of toppled dictators make for lasting images; fortunately, this did not end that monumental way.

Voices. Snippets of conversation. An old guy, in his eighties, trudging happily forward with the aid of a walker, accompanied by younger men, some of whom are ostensibly sons. "Oklahoma City," I hear. I counter with Syracuse. Did I hear Vancouver, or imagine it? And is this the type of conversation that is exchanged en route to or from Mecca?

I walked closer to the Fox outdoor broadcast tent, swarmed by chanting fans. One placard said something like: "Shut the Buck up," referring to the Fox master of monotone, Joe Buck. When I got bumped hard and realized it was some drunk falling into me, I knew it was time to go. Who knew how wild this would get? upon departing the premises, I was pleased to see that the Mays statue was no longer crawling with revellers and was not toppled.

I went to the AT&T Park windows that sell Muni tickets. $2. "Excuse me, I need to get to Van Ness. Out near the marina." "Take any one of these trains and get off at the fourth stop." I got conflicting guidance on the street, from cops and local citizens and whoever. "Walk a few blocks to Market." "Take the train." "Take the bus." I was tired, having been standing, I now realized, for who knows, seven hours? Worn out. Upon walking to the train platform, I saw a guy with a "Say Hey" jersey and we chatted. He seemed much more bothered about the statue takeover. I told him about recent books I'd read: "Willie's Boys" and "Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend" by James S. Hirsch.

The train was packed but orderly. I found a much-appreciated seat after one or two stops; talked with a woman who was a partial season ticket holder. Then she got off. When I got to my stop, I was terribly disheartened to find myself by the Walgreen's or whatever it was on Market near Van Ness, the very spot I had walked to on Tuesday after arriving from the airport on the BART. Very disappointing to a tired oldish man. I really thought, naively I guess, that I'd be near Van Ness by my hotel, near the marina. But I was still very much downtown. And it was quiet. A few people waiting for the bus, the same bus I took on Tuesday during rush hour. And quietness in a city is not as welcoming as lots of people, at least for me.

The bus was to arrive in 10 to 12 minutes. I took up conversation with a sane and sober young lady who had watched the proceedings at a party near the ballpark. Works for Salesforce, a marketing diagnostics firm I had had some small interaction with a few years ago. She spoke of hundreds, if not thousands, of employees at the company party. I was so tired. After she indicated she was headed to near my hotel, I suggested we share a cab, if we could. I held my hand out and after not too long, just before the approaching bus arrived, we had a taxi stop for us. Marnie and I shared the cab, I gave her $5, said goodbye, and walked into my spartan hotel room, aching to remove my shoes and lie down. The loud hum of silence.

I "wound down" by savoring Internet accounts of Game 1, trying to fall asleep in advance of a 6:45 a.m. trip to the airport the following morning (which would be the morning of Game 2).

Pleasant dreams indeed.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Through a Fence, Brightly (part 4)

Comparing our earthly existence to the next life, my namesake Saint Paul famously wrote, at least according to the King James Version, "For now we see through a glass, darkly." Well, the so-called Knothole enabled me and the other chosen few there to see through a fence brightly: the celestial dazzle of Game 1 of the 2010 World Series. The Knothole is simply a free viewing area behind right field of AT&T Park in San Francisco. Even the name evokes sentimental, Norman Rockwell-ish scenes of kids peering through a hole in a wooden fence to catch a free glimpse of baseball.

The Giants, at least theoretically, let in 100 to 125 people who stay for three innings and get shuffled out. So as I waited in line, I became part of a small community; you get to know a few folks. Some stayed; some bailed. Before the game, we saw the antics on McCovey Cove and then got soundly jolted by the roar of jets zooming by closely overhead as a part of a pregame display. Someone tossed a football from the Cove to us -- great arm, "sign 'em up for the Niners!" -- and and it
went back and forth, with dramatically good tosses, until it landed a second time in one of the upper pews of the festive baseball cathedral, and remained there. We heard bits and pieces of John Legend singing the National Anthem. In the early innings, I heard Tony Bennett -- really? in person? yes! -- singing "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," a song that left me quietly sobbing with joy last year after our first game at AT&T. I was on the verge this time, but held it off. In the line, I met Dennis and Linda from Modesto in back of me, and we learned about some similarities in career paths and our shared Giants passion. (They later skipped off to near the Willie McCovey statue, but it was a treat to get a call from them when we Won It All.) Others, who were nameless, shared reports from transistor radios, supplementing the information we gleaned from crowd silence or roars. It was like the 1950s with radios sneaked into school, hidden in desks. A gray-haired guy perhaps a few years younger than myself reported on the Giants falling behind in the early going, 2-0; scared looks crossed our faces.

The line shuffled along, very slowly, almost imperceptibly at times, or not at all. I left the line briefly at one point -- my place held for me by my new friends-- to walk toward the front just to see if anyone was selling tickets. Nope. I traded calls and texts not only back East but with San Francisco-area contacts and friends. Others in the line scouted ahead more toward the center field section, along our waterfront promenade, only to report ominously that people were being allowed in to the Knothole from that end. Confusing. Chaotic. A bit dispiriting, which is why some bailed. Such as the stolid guy in front of me, such as Dennis and Linda, and the relative of the fellow directly in back of me (they got separated, one without a phone).

Our hope perked up when the Giants tied it at 2, and soon we had moved up close enough to catch action on TVs we could watch through windows that appeared to be in luxury boxes within the stadium. But as we moved toward the middle innings, there we were still in line, not really knowing for sure if we would ever get a free glimp
se, feeling too much like herded livestock -- but eager and relatively happy livestock. I read later in USA Today that the Giants gave out wristbands for those awaiting free viewing. No such thing for Game 1. And as Freddy Sanchez, Aubrey Huff, and Cody Ross propelled us into a solid lead, exuberance rebounded. If the scheme of Knothole viewing were to hold true for us, we would view in the under-the-stands cubbyhole for the last three innings. But it really began to look iffy. I figured: hang in here; stay with it. And when Uribe's ball sailed out of our view, accompanied by raucous cheers and water cannon, we knew he'd hit a homer and we high-fived anyone we could reach, maybe twice.

Then we found ourselves in a railed in area, within a gated barricade. Good sign. Maybe there is some order to this. Then the guards were checking bags and seemingly ousting some people. One guy who was clearly on the promenade (but not in line) was now in the Knothole! Hunh? It appeared that he had cut in. So, our mini-community was encouraged when they started shuffling out the previous Knothole gang of 100 or 125. I confess I got a little nervous. I walked up to the security gatekeeper who was trying to keep order. "Hey, look, I came here all the way from Syracuse, New York, and..." "Don't worry; y'all will get in. Stop pushing, people. Hey!" It was a little frantic, not riotous but tense. But by the top of the 8th inning (alas, we did not even get in by the "allotted" 7th inning), our batch was filing in. "Hey, let those kids in first. Syracuse! Hey, you, Syracuse, come here." In. I texted my daughter. "In the Knothole."

I'd have to say the wait was worth it. You're in a cavern looking through a chain-link fence, so you're drenched in game light. As far as I can tell, you are at playing-field level. Exactly. You cannot say that about the most expensive seat in the house. You are directly in back of the right fielder and gain an unparalleled glimpse of the spatial challenges any outfielder must face. You get a tremendous sense of that difficulty. Nevertheless, as rough as it was, I had to laugh when someone in our group yelled to Vladimir Guerrero, "You'll always be a Montreal Expo!" Ouch. And he proceeded to make two errors. Vlad looked tired and beat. The Rangers looked tired and beat. But although we rejoiced in some more scoring we also withstood some customary "Torture" in the 9th, as the Giants' season has been termed.

And when victory was finally, inexplicably, and outrageously ours, our little family down there hugged and fist-bumped and high-fived (more than once, thanks) and howled and screamed and cried gloriously: the kid formerly on his father's shoulders right at the fence (from Reno?) (watched by a "stranger"); the Asian woman my age; the mother and daughter (or were they friends?) who teared up when the heard my little story; the young lady who is an architect, originally from Canada, I recall, who fed me game updates from her ear buds, thank you; the graying guy my age with the baseball cap; the young Latinos and Latinas; the young and old; the men and women and boys and girls; the single and married; the black and white; the Orange and Black.

And me.

We won Game 1! We beat Cliff Lee! We can win the World Series.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I Returned My Heart (and Soul) to San Francisco, part 3

So I had agreed to meet Craig (Big Flavor, Magnus Flavorus), progenitor of the Giants-proud and smart blog, at MoMo's around 2:30 or 3. At around 1 p.m. or so, yes, the atmosphere was galvanic, but it was still manageable. (The sequence may be off on some of this, but who will sue me?) I called my brother in Boston, a baseball fan, and told him of my media mugging and hogging camera time and tried to convey the scene. "Stay out of harm's way," he said. Harm? In paradise?

I strolled out to McCovey Cove, out on the other side, out by the statue. I felt bad I had not paid homage to it and to Stretch last year. Willie McCovey is kind of in exile out there; last year, I thought it unfair, a slight to position the statue out there. Not sure now. I like the view. Took some shots, had someone take a picture of me, saw a nice little kids' ballfield nearby. Does anyone use it? A Mercury News vendor had Fear the Beard placards. Beat the Rangers. Four for a dollar. I grabbed one for my younger daughter. Gave the guy a buck. It was a feeding frenzy, like sharks. Wild. You'd think they were gold nuggets. Then I went to the Dugout Store, having promised my wife and daughter some swag. It was already filled with excited customers, lines snaking confusedly throughout the store. I easily dropped over $100, plastic: three shirts, program/scorecard, and a lanyard with a plastic pouch for a World Series ticket I didn't have and knew I wouldn't and didn't care all that much. I might've been in the store close to an hour. And that was being fortunate enough to get into one of the shorter lines. Great chat with a few very smart fans, partial? full? season ticket holders who were bowled over hearing about my pilgrimage. "Had to do it. Wouldn't you?"

By the time I exited the store, maybe 1:45, nearly 2, the whole nature of things had changed. Guards were letting people in and out, lines were formed outside. It was crazy. I figured I'd better get over to MoMo's because I was getting hungry and I knew it was going to get crazier and I was thinking maybe Craig was already there. MoMo's was a mob. Bouncers. Party. Loud. Patio packed. Craig had said, "I'm 6 feet 6," and we both had seen photos of each other. In one email he said, "I'll have a Giants hat," and I was naive enough to take the bait, briefly. "You and 300,000 others." I got into MoMo's, which itself was not easy, with hurly-burly lines and bustling and hustling. I scoured the bar and the dining room. No Magnus. Every other guy looked 6 feet 6, with a Giants hat. So I thought maybe he had made reservations, and inquired at the front desk. "We don't have anything for that name." (His real name.) I stood outside on the steps. Overcast sky. Rowdy crowd. I don't drink and don't like bars and I almost just bolted. (One interesting side note: I think one of the bouncers almost mistakenly turned away the owner's trophy wife. Almost. Funny.) I decided to go inside and try to eat. After all, every place was going to be crowded. Ordered a burger and fries, soda. Two young ladies with Giants jackets who were sitting at the bar helped me to get the bartender's attention. They came from L.A.! Love the Giants and are huge Lakers fans! Strange. One of them let me take her seat while she roamed around and went to the bathroom. Perfect. A sitdown meal. Then I got a text, or was it a call? or both? from Craig. He was nearby. 2:30 or so? I walked across the street and stood by the Orlando Cepeda statue and we exchanged texts, and as I was calling him, there he was. Tall. Probably even 6'6''. He bestowed a necklace of black beads on me like a Hawaiian potentate conferring honors on a visiting diplomat from Iceland, or Syracuse. We must've walked around the whole stadium. Once. Twice? It was an instant connection, and we both marveled at what was taking place before our eyes. And we were part of it. No mistaking that. Things were getting even more amped up now. The Cove had literally dozens of kayaks and boats; it featured one boat with young curvaceous dancers gyrating against and around a mast quite, um, professionally to the beat of music.

Craig: "So you're just going to stay out here?" "Yeah." "That's great." He had a free ticket through the generosity of a boyhood friend (in fact, it was possible some other Flappers were going to meet us; didn't happen; logistics. And I had made tentative and potential plans to meet my friend Peter, a local guy, but that didn't happen either, though Peter and I spent valuable and valued time together Tuesday evening, including dinner at Bund Shanghai in Chinatown; Mongolian lamb. And did I forget to tell you that Nancy Pelosi and crew walked right by me just after I arrived at SFO on Tuesday? No, I hadn't told you; she was on her cell; I was on mine, talking to Denis in 'Cuse. But I parenthetically digress). Craig had to arrange to meet his friend inside the cathedral, the inner sanctum, but figured he'd get to see me again. "I think I'll just stay out here by the Cove and get in this line over here. This looks like the line for the Knothole; it looks as if this is the line." "Really?" "Pretty sure; if not I can just hang out here or even see through those archway openings a bit. Yeah. Enjoy the game." "All right, man." Before that, he got someone in the line to snap some pix. It was pretty funny. The dude was all fussy and bothered and put out and Craig gave it right back to him. "It's just a picture. I don't want to tire you out or anything." The guy just didn't get it. And we departed.

And thus began my standing in line for, what, three or four hours. Awaiting the pure voyeuristic delights of the Knothole. Maybe.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I Returned My Heart (and Soul) to San Francisco, part 2

From my late-morning perch at Piazza Pellegrini, I proceeded to the iconic TransAmerica Building just because, and just because I had a client to meet with nearby. (Or what I thought was nearby.) (Hit the parallel bar thingy on your screen signifying "pause" for a sec. "Client"? Yes, ever since my visit in the summer of 2009 I had reached out and nurtured a possible relationship with a firm -- a relationship that finally bore some fruit several weeks before. Hence the legit use of "client.") (Hit the right-arrow symbol for "resume play.") Some high school kids dressed in Giants garb were sporting around the gardens at the base of the building, taking photos of each other, jubilant. ("Sporting"? My English lit prof in college declared this line by John Milton, in "Lycidas," the dirtiest line in the English language: "to sport with Amaryllis in the shade..." Really? OK. To each his own.) But you have to realize this: living in Syracuse, a black and orange SF hat is a treat, a conversation starter. "You going to the game?" I asked. "No; we're just taking pictures for a class." Fair enough. So, I walked down Montgomery, asked a stranger where Sansome was, hailed a cab, and instantly hopped into one. (I was so tired, I didn't even want to walk the five or ten blocks I need to travel. I didn't know that I had overshot my destination. Energy had to be saved for -- pause reverently this time -- the World effing Series!) I did indeed meet with some folks at the firm and even received a call there from another office, to confer on our project! Yikes! What a day already. (All the while, this little boy inside my chest is screaming, "Daddy, Daddy, take me to the game" even though game time was nearly five hours away.) I asked the receptionist for help in taking the bus to the ballpark -- not just any ballpark but AT&T Park. I walked to Broadway. Guy sitting on a metal bench. I sat on an adjoining metal bench. I asked a cop, "Is this the way to catch a bus to the game?" No need, of course, to explain which game. (Memory is faulty: was the policeman on a motorcycle?) At first, the cop did his best imitation of a New York City cop (insouciant dismissiveness), but as a bus approached (help me out, gang, the number 12?) he said, "Take that bus" and get off at so and so. Since it was not quite noon, the bus was mostly empty, a sprinkling of Giants fans. I immediately struck up a conversation with a lady bedecked with all things Giants, around my age, sitting near the back of the bus. "I guess I know where you're going." "I work there," she replied. Kalane told me she supervises the club level. Ushers. Keeps things organized. Cool. We traded stories about the season and her job, etc. She's a retired principal. Loves the Giants. "Say, if someone's brother's sister's cousin is having a baby and can't use their ticket, here's my card. Please call me." "Well, you never know," she said. "When my brother visited from Pittsburgh..." And, of course, I told her about my trip to Pittsburgh this summer, baseball road trip with two guys. She told me where we should depart the bus, and we did.

The street was electric. Already. Hawkers, gawkers, stalkers, talkers, walkers. You could just feel the radioactive currents in the air. ("Bye, Kalane. Call me, if you hear anything about tickets, okay? Great to meet you. And good luck to our Giants! You never know!") Yelling, hollering, buying, selling, partying, buzzing. And I was still a block or two from the park! And there it was! Better yet, there I was. Home. Three thousand miles from home, but home sweet tears-inducing home.

Movement everywhere. I soak in things I missed last year. Wall of fame placards, inscriptions on the Cepeda and Mays statues. For the heck of it, I inquire about tickets at one of the windows. I'm directed to other windows, which have a sign describing the inevitable SOLD OUT. I read quotes (not all the quotes; some dumbasses stubbornly sat at the base of the statue as if they were beggars) on the pedestal of the Willie Mays statue. I put my face in front of cameras. "Interview me!" "Why are you here, sir, and where are you from?" And I actually started -- almost -- choking up, telling about my Syracuse trip that stretched back to 1955 in Stamford, Connecticut. "Who are you?" I asked. "The Wall Street Journal online." "Good newspaper, but a bit too right-wing for me, but a good paper. I used to work at a paper; we loved your heds." She, the reporter, said, "Well, it's San Francisco. Thanks! Enjoy the game." She was visibly moved by my story. Or so I fantasized. Then, I put my mug in front of another camera. Publicity hog. Manic me. This time: NBC. The camera guy was from SU. I repeated my saga. (Wish I had given an explicit shoutout to The Flap; to this day, don't know if any of this aired anywhere.) Would I have enough energy for the game itself, now some four hours or more away? Oh yeah!

[more to come, including Kokonuts meets Big Flavor, a.k.a. Magnus]

Monday, November 15, 2010

I Returned My Heart (and Soul) to San Francisco, part 1

Encouraged heartily by my wife ("Go; you may never get the chance again; you've got to go out there"), I grabbed a cheap flight ($388) to San Francisco, from Priceline, from Rochester, staying in Henrietta, NY, the night before the early Tuesday morning flight. This flight was 56 years in the planning.

Game 1 of the 2010 World Series, the Fall Classic, was on Wednesday, October 27. I slept until 9 or so at the Heritage Marina Hotel on Van Ness ($69 a night) and strolled out to a crisp and bright day, turned right onto Filbert Street and started walking up the steep hill. I paused and looked left, looking downhill and seeing the Golden Gate Bridge in the morning sun. As I climbed, crossing Polk, Larkin, and Hyde in succession, I took photos and called friends back East. My voice was breathy from walking and sheer excitement, pun intended. At one of the crests (you think you’re at The Crest, and you go higher!), I was able to look in one direction and see the Golden Gate area and in the opposite direction see Coit Tower, Telegraph Hill. Having walked Filbert down to North Beach on the night before, I crossed to the left side of the street. Why? I recalled walking in a Japanese tea garden this past summer, back in the Syracuse area. The woman who owned the garden and the tea house admonished the visitors: “You cannot take the same path out once you’ve been in the tea house. You’ve already been that way. You must take a different way. You cannot go back.” A good lesson on this day, a good omen. So I walked down the sharp hill, on the left for most of the way, as opposed to walking downhill on the right side of the street the night before, seeing a co-op laundry and many Chinese people coming out of a former grammar school, now some sort of community college campus. I thought to myself, isn’t this supposed to be an Italian area? We’re not in Chinatown yet. So be it. I proceeded to Washington Square, turning right on Columbus Avenue. Piazza Pellegrini restaurant faced the park and Sts. Peter and Paul Church. I asked the fellow in a little caboose-type structure if I could have breakfast outside. Sure. I needed a newspaper. I walked in to the restaurant proper, where workers were getting ready for lunch. It was now 10:30 a.m. or so. “Do you know where I can get a newspaper?” “Yeah, there’s boxes right up the block.” “Thanks.” And I told him of my mission, why I was in San Francisco at that moment. The 2010 World Series. Without tickets, thank you. “We’re going to win,” he said. “All right!” And we talked about the Giants and the Long Wait and how we deserved it and it was our year and, yes, Tony Bennett, pictured on the wall, comes there, he’s a friend. Perfect. So I sat outside, robust coffee, croissant, and the Sporting Green. I fielded a call from my wife, trying to relate the scene before me. This delicious and anticipatory interlude, before the game, in front of Columbus Avenue, al fresco, was a highlight of my trip. Reading how Cliff Lee, the Rangers’ starting pitcher, when asked about our hitters, talked instead about our pitchers (as if the hitters did not exist!). Enjoying a late breakfast; soaking everything in. It was one of the moments in life when you know you will remember it as perfectly as it is, without idealizing or embellishing it. The Moment. I was tired from long travel and walking the day and night before, and this was a perfect haven before the gorgeous storm of emotion awaiting me at Game 1.