I’m Not Dead Yet…

Eric in a pondering mood.Geez, it’s been awhile hasn’t it? I’ve been kind of busy and haven’t had a chance to post anything lately, but I just wanted to let you know that I’ve got a few things that I’m working on that I’m going to get started on tonight and hopefully will be able to post them soon, that is if I can keep my daughter from interrupting me every five minutes to drop something in my coffee instead of her just walking up to me and saying hello.

There’s quite a few interesting things I’ve run across lately that aren’t making a lot of attention in the news so I thought I’d share them with you. Some of them have taken some time to gather more information on so that I had all the information first and I think I’ve got that part down so I’ll be writing tonight and through the week to get some of this out of my head and into your eyes.

Oh yeah, here’s recent pic of me so you don’t have to look at me eight years ago anymore.


A Night At The Opera

A Night At The OperaSeptember 6th was the San Francisco Opera’s opening night Gala event. It was also my birthday, but that’s another story. I was down near the Opera House as people where arriving and it was kind of interesting to watch people in their finery walking down some streets of somewhat ill repute.

There is nothing so humorous as a woman in her finest Vera Wang gown drenched in jewels stepping around a homeless person with a cup and not even dropping a dollar in for him while trying to maintain her elegant decorum. I don’t normally feel so strong a need to help the homeless, but when you have someone wearing a $5000 gown that she probably won’t wear again who for some reason can’t afford to drop $1 or $5 in a guys cup there just seems something a bit wrong to me.

Of course that’s not the only thing that seems kind of wrong about the evening to me. All the the glitterati rich and famous come out for the opening night of the Opera and I was reading all about it. A lot of the people you don’t recognize who are along with the recognizable until you read their names and note that there were lots or people who’s surnames were either the names of big companies or streets in San Francisco [because they came from very old money that they’ve been living off of for a century or so].

The pictures of the Opera’s opening gala in the news were all about who wore what dress and jewelry, what food was served, how ornate the decorations were yet I couldn’t for the life of me find a single mention of what was being performed that evening. It’s like a tailgate party for the rich and famous where you never bother going in to see the game.

Mark Twain has a vehement dislike for the idle rich and even wrote a society column in San Francisco once were he just threw in several French words to make the people sound rather important. Madame wore a fine pate de foi gras lovingly draped in an amuse bouche of taffeta and chiffonade haricot vert. That line always stuck in my head just because I knew enough to laugh at Twain’s description of a woman dressed in goose liver and an appetizer of chopped green beans as being rather hilarious.

I’m not sure if any of these people show up for the rest of the season, but I have to admit that the men get off easy. They just need a tux which is pretty easy to fake. All you need is a black suit that you add a bow tie and cumber bun to a tux shirt and you’re done. You could probably do that for under $100 if you already have a black suit [hint: Goodwill store].

Overall I strongly believe the arts need support and if that means that you need to have a night where the rich get to dress up and show off so the rest of us can get some benefit I guess I’ll have to be OK with that as long as the rest of us do get some benefit from it.

OK and before I forget, the evening featured a monumental work of choral grandeur and melodic richness that was Mephistopheles by Arrigo Boito.



The Audium

The AudiumThere are truly few weird and wonderful places left in San Francisco today. Yes, I’ve talked about the relics from the 1915 Pan-Pacific Exposition and 1938/1940 World’s Fairs that are on display at the Musee Mechanique, but a place I had forgotten about was brought to my attention the other day — The Audium.

The original concept started in the 50’s when experimental music was in a bit of an underground heyday. Enhanced by somewhat more affordable recording technology there were lots of people who were creating music from the sounds of the world around us or Musique Concrète. These were some of the early days of electronic music as we know it today. The music as it were could be the sounds of construction, cars driving by, people talking which could put you in a place without having to go there, or it could simply be a bizarre array of sounds that you really wouldn’t know what to make of it.

The Audium would fall into a bit of the later category. The room is circular and looks a bit like a space ship on the inside. From the ceiling are 136 hanging speakers as well as built into the walls at it’s current location at 1616 Bush Street. The Audium is best experienced rather than described. With all of those speakers individual sounds can be moved around the room in a way that 5.1 Dolby Surround or even 7.1 Dolby Surround can’t replicate. After you enter and take a seat the low level lighting is lowered to complete darkness. The room isn’t really warm or cold, but everything is set up so that the main focus of the evening is on your ears and the story that the sound will play for them.

Each work is performed live by Stan Shaff every Friday and Saturday night who mixes the taped audio in a different way each time. You could probably make the analogy that Stan is like a 3D sound DJ. Call it genius or insanity, but after you’ve experienced it once you’ll have a completely different idea of what sound it. Tickets for each performance are $20 [cash only] and a limited number of tickets are available pre-show through the City Box Office. Children under 12 are not allowed as, well, it’ll probably be a bit weird for them and they’ll start asking questions which kind of defeats the purpose.

The Audium is a place that everyone should go to at least once in their life if they intend to spend any time in San Francisco. It’s just a little bit of weirdness that helps create the character of our City.

A View Of San Francisco: 1955

Thanks to a friend on FaceBook, I found this great video of San Francisco from 1955. It’s a travelog sort of film that makes San Francisco look like Disneyland in many ways. If you think you know the City, see how many places you’ll find that are different today than they were then. I honestly got all of them even though Sutro Baths was closed just after I was born. I’d like to do a remake of this film using the same voice over and locations, but with today’s scenes. Sounds like fun anyone in on it with me?

Three Dot Journalism

Herb Caen BustA friend of mine asked me about the term three dot journalism the over the weekend realizing that I now had something else to explain to people besides Baghdad by the Bay. It was a term coined by Herb Caen to describe his style of writing and it stuck with him to the point that Herb Caen Way… in San Francisco even had the three dots after the name.

Asking my wife, the writer, for a bit of background information, she mentioned that the three dots [called an ellipsis to English teachers just to make you feel stupid, but had no other use] was a technique used by writers to separate the end of one thought they had written before starting the next thought. It was a sort of sledgehammer way of saying I’m done and now I’m moving on. I’m not sure if it’s used much anymore, but it was not long ago because on a Macintosh computer if you hold down the option and his the semi colon you’ll get … .

Herb’s columns had a lot of information on a lot of topics so it seemed fitting to separate them so people reading the column wouldn’t get lost. If you want to see an example of three dot journalism today you’ll have to ready Willie Brown’s Sunday column in the Chronicle. He’s taken to the topic like a pro. Say what you will about Willie, but he’s the closest thing we have to Herb Caen today. Yes, there is Carl Nolte who also writes for the Chronicle, but Carl is focused on the old times of San Francisco that Herb Caen wrote about when they were new. Willie is continuing on to write about current news and his somewhat opinionated take on it. I look forward to reading Willie’s column every week. Sometimes I even agree with him.

Herb Caen would talk about politics, then … then a trip to the symphony … then a guy who he ran into at lunch that asked him a question he had to think about until he got back to the office and wrote about it then … then something else entirely. Everything was different, every day was different, but the three dots held it all together. It was the glue that made it a newsworthy column and not just the ramblings of boy from Sacramento who was enthralled with the city of San Francisco.

Defenestration To Be Demolished?

Defenestration HouseI’ve always loved the word defenestration. My fourth grade teacher Ms. Hallacker used to say it when kids in the class didn’t behave the way she wanted them to but since we were fourth graders we didn’t know that defenestration meant being thrown out of a window. Since it was only boys she would yell, I’m going to defenestrate you! and the word rhymed with castration we all assumed the worst. Every boy understands castration for some reason.

This memory leads me to a building at 6th and Howard that has been an art project since 1997. This date surprised me since I felt like it had been there much longer than that. Brian Goggin created the work and now the city is having talks about demolishing the abandon building with furniture and appliances stuck all over the outside. It’s a sparse minimalistic work that unfortunately [in my mind] doesn’t live up to it’s potential. The best way to see it is from the street which means that you have to drive by it or get hit by cars and that only gives you a few seconds to take in the bizarreness of the place.

Your other option is to stand across the street or right underneath some of hangings, but then you can’t really take it all in at it’s best. The objects stuck onto the side of the large building are rather small and appear at times to get lost in the wash of despair of the emptiness of the abandon building. Geez, I’m beginning to sound like an art critic now. I suppose college did pay off for me.

The city is debating whether or not to demolish the building possibly to replace it with mid-market condos. No one’s saying what might go there yet, but the sad story is that to many destroying public artwork will bring the area up. Not so much for the artwork, but the fact that it’s art on a decaying building that could get more use than being an empty shell. If you think about it, it’s probably one of the most expensive artwork installations in the world given what San Francisco real estate goes for even in the bad parts of town.

I tried to do some digging to get more information on the piece, but other than a sparse website, like the artwork itself it’s tough to find anything. I was hoping that Herb Caen had something to say about it, but he died just before the piece was finished, though I won’t make any correlations between the two events. Overall I think it is a piece of art that has outlived its time in San Francisco and if it were to reappear then I think they should find a smaller place where you could add more stuff falling out of windows and better viewing angles to encourage people to be able to appreciate it more.

Building REsources

Sometimes you make stupid mistakes. I was fixing one of my toilets yesterday being all plumber like and had the misfortune of shattering the tank cover. Now my house was built in 1954 and not too much has changed since then. Our downstairs toilet is a 1963 American Standard model #4043. Searching for replacements found me seeing $50-$275 price ranges and I just didn’t want to spend that kind of money. Then I came across Building REsources.

Building REsources is a non-profit group [701 Amador Street, SF, CA] that accept donations of things like old sinks, windows, shutters and yes, toilet tank lids. It’s actually a pretty awesome place to walk around and just look at all the stuff that’s available there. I saw a collection of light fixtures, table lamps, a really nice pair of huge Koss speakers, tumbled stone, piping, etc. The list could continue on forever. The best part is you’re buying something that was previously owned by someone else and most of the stuff is in pretty good condition.

You will get dirty there so don’t go picking around in your white Sunday suit, but what you’ll find there is a steal. I saw a Mom and Daughter who were obviously picking out stuff for art projects. I’m sure a lot of the Burning Man people have made many a visit to the place. Every time I’ve gone there I’ve found it to be rather warm, surprisingly so even. That doesn’t mean it never rains there as I found while looking through toilet tank covers and picked one up off the top shelf outside only to find out it was filled with water.

That was the only time I can say I got soaked at the place. In the end, I didn’t find a #4043, but I was able to find an American Standard #4050 which is almost the same dimensions as what I needed, just a 1/4″ deeper, cost – $10. So my tank cover sticks out a bit, but that works fine for us. If you go by be sure to ask for Wayne, he said he’d give you a 10% discount. He might have been joking, but things are so cheap there it won’t hurt if you don’t get it. They had some nice bathroom sinks already installed in granite countertops. I might go back and check those out and see if I can find a replacement for my downstairs bathroom vanity.

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Journalistic Twits

Twitter is all the talk of the town recently since they want to stay in San Francisco and San Francisco doesn’t want them to leave. This means SanFrancisco is Twitter’s bitch and has to give it up for them to stay. They’re doing this by giving Twitter significant tax breaks. All well and good if you’re a techie and see Twitter as essential. At times, San Francisco and it’s techies act a little more Victorian steam punk and and don’t see why they should get a break.

Well, I like electricity and I’m not a steam punk. I tried Twitter out long ago and couldn’t see why there was anything worth having an account where you essentially were sending out 140 character posts that essentially said, “Dig Me!”

Then the day came when I wanted to integrate Twitter into this blog and I discovered something new. A local community serving the local community. I find with Twitter that I can get more up to the minute news in San Francisco from people on the scene with their smart phones who photograph or video what they see and share it with others. A few days ago when Ocean Beach was hit with a tornado I was staying in from the rain and didn’t realize that there was a tornado touching down a mile from my house. Follow up tweets told me that West Coast tornados that touch down on water aren’t as strong as the ones you hear about in the midwest that rip houses apart and suck cows and diesel trucks up in the air hurling them at people all around.

When I’m out and about and happen to see something going on that is news worthy I share it with my community of followers on Twitter whether it’s a homeless guy sleeping on the streets in the Sunset or a car crash that snarls up traffic for others. These Twits like @obbulletin, @Njudah, @_laughingsquid and @SanFranciscoPro are reporting what they see. No opinion, just check out what is happening here. That’s what journalism is supposed to be as I was taught. If you want some funny opinion pieces I like to read what @DaBakedBaker, @BayAreaGreenway and @UppityFag [Hugh Jackman isn’t gay, he’s just singing and dancing with an orchestra in SF! #gay #fag] has to say because they admit that they’re stoned or drunk and are being funny, something opinionated journalism from Fox News won’t admit.

All these Twits [and I’m using that term affectionately] are beating the newscasters to the punch so much so that the guy who shot the video of the tornado got his footage used on local news and was interviewed to boot. That’s not too shabby a way to get your 15 minutes of fame. I really like the democritization of journalism that’s happening with Twitter when it’s done right. Yes there are a few haters on Twitter, but I don’t follow them. I do like to follow the local politicians who seem to fond of using foursquare to check in where they’re at so that people who don’t like them can hunt them down quickly. I do like @AlohaArleen who must have stayed up through the night after the earthquake in Japan to give everyone an early warning from here home in Hawaii when the tsunami hit. I do think Twitter can be done right. You just have find those people to follow.

Photo of the day: 20081125

Museé Mechaniqué

©2008 Eric Kauschen
©2008 Eric Kauschen

A place to experience what life in San Francisco was like prior to the invention of videogames, cell phones and social networking. This photography is from a diorama of a country fair where after you insert 50¢ it comes to life. You can see this at Pier 41 on Fisherman’s Wharf.