Sam's Grill has been around in one form or another since 1867. It's one of a handful of businesses remaining from the Gold Rush era. There's also Tadich's Grill, The Mechanics' Institute, and, of course, Levi Strauss.
A few years ago Sam's was set to close and a group of customers banded together to buy the business. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, they remain anonymous. Since then there have been management changes and even a lease to renegotiate, but Sam's endures.
Stories like this keep turning up. Borderlands Books on Valencia Street was set to close when customers and neighborhood folks showed up with cash and expertise to keep it open. At the time this was referred to as "the public radio model."
We may be witnessing a merger of the non-profit and the for-profit. Sometimes, it seems, we don't believe in survival of the fittest. Maybe we don't want to live in a world populated entirely by the fittest.
This recent (2017) suspense novel compares well to classics such as I Married a Dead Man (film version: No Man of Her Own) by Cornell Woolrich, After Dark My Sweet by Jim Thompson, and Nothing in Her Way by Charles Williams.
In each of these, the hero struggles not only with adversaries (law enforcement, con artists and thugs), but also with her or his own defects that result from a traumatic past. The conflict is both internal and external. The hero's problems are both in the present and the past.
Greyson's The Girl Who Lived is a pleasure to read not only for the complexity of the puzzle and the intensity of the hero's struggle, but also because the prose reads effortlessly. To use a figure of speech, not an ounce of fat.
We celebrated the holiday by going to hear the Golden Gate Park Band play "Music Celebrating American Independence." This year that included "America Forever" by Malinda Zenor, "Lassus Trombone" by Henry Fillmore, "Armed Forces Medley" arr. by Roc McNaughton, and others.
Now in its 137 season, the band is sponsored by San Francisco's Recreation and Parks Department and is compromised of members of American Federation of Musicians Union Local #6. It plays free concerts on Sundays from May through September. To my ear they sound mighty fine.
It is such a pleasure to hear instruments play without amplification. The soft passages are perfectly clear; the loud passages are easy on the ears. The band shell lets them be heard perfectly throughout this section of the park.
I sat back and felt proud of my country.
Originally titled Hell Hath No Fury and published in 1953, The Hot Spot is "what many consider to be the ultimate Charles Williams book" according to Rick Ollerman. That may be true, but the other novels by Williams I have read are not far behind.
The Hot Spot includes all the tropes that made the paperback originals of the 1950s a commercial success. A drifter down on his luck, a get-rich-quick scheme that can't miss (until it does), a villain we love to hate, a good woman who could make our hero happy, and a bad woman who takes him for everything he's got.
The Hot Spot has the intricate plotting of Nothing in Her Way and Dead Calm, and excels in evoking the the hero's terror as he struggles to carry out his schemes.
Despite excellent storytelling, Williams never became a household name. There was no major Hollywood film adaptation of his work in his lifetime. Even now, it's difficult to find used paperback copies of his novels. Most are available as ebooks.
A lot of people in San Francisco and Oakland see the clock tower of the Ferry Building more often than the Golden Gate Bridge. After all, this is where you get on the ferry to cross the Bay.
The building itself (behind the palm trees) was completed in 1898 and survived the earthquake and fire of 1906, and the Loma Prieta quake in 1989. It has had a checkered history, but since a renovation in 2002 has been a great hall of restaurants and vendors of locally produced foods.
Justin Herman Plaza, seen here in front of it, is controversial both for its modernist fountain and because Herman presided over redevelopment in the 1960s that displaced many residents in poor neighborhoods.
About halfway through the fourth Nicole Tang Noonan mystery, Nicole and Pat walk through the plaza and turn north from the Ferry Building along the Embarcadero to watch the light show installed on the western span of the Bay Bridge, glimpsed just to the right of the clock tower. Then they come back to the Ferry Building to have dinner overlooking the Bay.
Yerba Buena Gardens is one of the lovliest urban open spaces I've seen. It's winding paths invite a change of pace. It has a pleasant mix of wooded and open spaces. The outdoor stage frequently offers concerts and dance troops in the warmer months. The sound of its waterfall sculpture buffers the noise of the city.
On a recent visit I found it filled with people wearing ID badges, gathered in circles, studying workbooks, and talking earnestly to one another. I asked a couple of them what was going on and learned this was a leadership conference for "managers and up" of the corporation that runs Panda Express, the franchise restaurant.
The corporate presence in San Francisco seems to grow daily. On this day, it spilled into Yerba Buena Gardens and a place for rest became a place for work.
On my way to lunch with a friend, I passed this bit of street art. The drawers reassembled as planters on the city's utility poles were the first in my experience. I hope they survive, though I have a feeling they won't pass inspection.
The painted bench is delightful, and neighborly. There are two more alongside this house, which stands on a corner.
Sidewalk planter boxes are seen occasionally, but nowhere so extensive as at this address. The attached seat backs are especially charming, and I love the yellow swing hanging from the tree limb:
The Inner Sunset is one of the few neighborhoods in San Francisco to remain this easy-going. I know that goes against the city's "groovy" reputation, but in the golden age of tech, so many places have gone upscale. Perhaps that's why I decided Nicole Tang Noonan's home is in this neighborhood.
San Francisco's city hall was built following the earthquake and fire of 1906, which destroyed three-quarters of the city, including the old city hall. Legend has it the mayor at that time, James "Sunny Jim" Rolf, insisted the top of the dome be higher than that of the US Capitol, thus ensuring bragging rights.
Citizens come and go on routine errands: getting a marriage license, attending meetings of the Board of Supervisors, visiting the offices of the Planning Commission and many other government offices. All this is done in an interior as magnificent as the exterior.
City Hall is the grandest of the grand buildings that surround Civic Center Plaza, including state and federal court houses, the Asian Art Museum, Main Library, and the Civic Auditorium built for a world's fair in 1915 and renamed for Bill Graham in 1992.
I recently wrote a scene for the fourth Nicole Tang Noonan mystery in which Nicole and her friend, Irene, are strolling through Civic Center Plaza, admiring the magnificent buildings, and observing the pitiful life of the people on the streets. Irene asks, "Why did the French Revolution happen?" Nicole says, "The rich got too rich, and the poor got too poor."
Memorial Day at the Presidio felt like the reunion of a very large family. Veterans, active-duty personnel, teenagers from military academies, couples, families. Some wore the uniforms of bygone days, World War II, the War in the Phillipines, the Civil War. The mood was surprisingly festive, considering all were there to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
I felt like a member of the family, which was strange since I've never served in the armed forces. I stood around in my vest that says "Presidio Trust/Volunteer" and gave directions to the restrooms and the road to the national cemetery. I even helped one woman find where the Buffalo Soldiers are buried. At the end of the day, I joined the volunteers folding the garrison flag.
Toward the end, as Ann and I were handing out boxed lunches, a Vietnam-era vet thanked me for my service. Made my day.
When the Smuin Contemporary Ballet does a program entitled, "The Best of Smuin," they refer to choreography by the founder of the company, Michael Smuin. Over several seasons, I've seen dances he choreographed to the music of classical composers beginning with Bach as well as dances to the music of the Beatles, Xavier Cougat, Leon Redbone, and hundreds more.
The spring 2019 program included a solo dance to the song, "Fever," by Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell. In the 1950s, it became Peggy Lee's signature song. More recently Madonna and Beyonce have had success with it.
In Michael Smuin's choreography, the song, with its obsessive refrain, "You give me fever," becomes an encounter between a woman and a folding chair. This photo by Chris Hardy of company member Erica Felsch suggests the mood of the dance, but the variety of interactions must be seen to be believed.
San Francisco's Asian Art Museum has occupied the former main library since 2003. It's vast collection has been built upon donations from Avery Brundage and Chong-Moon Lee among others. Even a cursory viewing of the 18,000 objects in the collection will convince you that, as the website says, "Asia is not one place."
Currently on display outside the front door of the museum is a sculpture by Yoshitomo Nara, entitled Your Dog. According to the museum, Nara's "blending of cute, creepy, and vulnerable" has earned him a cult following and comparisons to Jeff Koons and Keith Haring.
Early in the fourth Nicole Tang Noon mystery, Nicole pops into the Asian on her way to the Main Library. Both stand along the eastern edge of San Francisco's Civic Center. You'll have to read the book when it comes out this summer to find out why she goes there (beyond the obvious, to see great art).
Everyone found out who Bernie Madoff is in 2008 when he was arrested by the FBI and charged with securities fraud. It is estimated he stole $18 billion through a Ponzi scheme he operated for at least twenty years.
He certainly wasn't the first infamous confidence man. In 2002, Steven Spielberg released Catch Me If You Can, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale, who stole millions while pretending to be an airline pilot, a doctor, and ironically a prosecutor.
There have been other high profile cons, but, as Maria Konnikova writes, most scams "are never because prosecuted because they are never detected." Apparently the true con artist not only creates a story to separate the victim from his money, but also creates a story to leave him thinking it was all bad luck.
Her book contains plenty of documented examples, but her analysis of who commits these crimes, how they do it, and why is most fascinating. It seems the typical scam artist is psychopathic (lacking empathy), narcissistic (entitled), and Machiavellian (scheming). Add to this genetic predisposition circumstances in life that provide motive and opportunity, and you have a confidence man.
The portrait of evil is compelling and seems to apply to other types of criminals as well.
Like many titles of paperback originals, this one has no connection to what happens in the novel, at least none that I can detect.
The hero of this short novel is Kid Collins, an ex-boxer, so punch-drunk he flew into a rage and killed a man in the ring. Thompson wrote other books featuring killers, notably The Killer Inside Me, but the hero of After Dark My Sweet, is different. He knows killing is wrong and knows he can't control himself.
Collins runs into Uncle Bud, a grifter who has a plan to make a quick fortune. Collins joins in the plan, but Uncle Bud apparently doesn't know how dangerous he is. When the day comes to put the plan in motion, will Collins do what he knows is right, or will he lose control?
In the film adaptation of the same title, Jason Patric gives a fine performance as Kid Collins, and Bruce Dern as Uncle Bud once again shows the world how to play the kind of characters that reliably turn up in noir films.
Rachel Ward gives a fine performance as Uncle Bud's girlfriend, Faye Anderson, but readers of the novel won't recognize the character. In the novel she's an alcoholic in a downward spiral, and her lust for Kid Collins has Oedipal overtones. The screenwriters made her into a woman who is too young for Uncle Bud, and therefore a better match for Collins.
It is not unusual for Hollywood to make noir a little less bleak.
San Francisco's Opera Plaza is two blocks from the opera house and is near other civic amenities. The ground floor surrounding this fountain contains a deli, a cinema, some professional offices, a florist, and a Peet's coffee shop. The second floor also houses offices. Above that are several floors of condominium apartments.
For the fourth Nicole Tang Noonan mystery, I recently wrote a scene in which Nicole and Irene meet at the Peet's coffee house to compare notes on their joint investigation. The cafe is crowded, and they are concerned about sensitive information being over heard, so they move out to a bench near this fountain.
Since the action of this novel is set in November, the weather is chilly, they have to make it quick. There probably would not be flowers blooming in the planters.
Hitchcock/Truffaut, the 2015 documentary film about the book of the same title, includes interviews with ten present-day directors. Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, Martin Scorcese, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, and others testify to the enduring influence of Alfred Hitchcock on their work and film-making in general.
In Still of the Night (1982), director Robert Benton borrowed many techniques from Hitchcock and also created a pastiche of Hitchcock's films. It's fun to watch this movie and pair up its scenes with the scenes from master's catalogue: the auction-house scene, the dream sequence, peeping in the windows across the across the way, etc.
There are also scenes that are genuinely suspenseful, ironic, and scary. Even if you never seen a Hitchcock film, you can be well entertained for 90 mins by this thriller.
Vincent Canby spotted the movie's chief shortcoming when he said the magnetism between the stars, Roy Scheider and Meryl Streep, is too weak to drive the action. Both actors are great, and the director won an Oscar for Kramer vs. Kramer, but the spark is not there.
Still there are chills in this movie about a psychiatrist and an expert in antiques and their obsessions.