Wednesday, October 29, 2008

David Sedaris @ SF Opera House

There is one category of literature that has always escaped my appreciation -- the humorous memoir. I just don't "get it." Maybe it's presumptuous of me, but it's never seemed like much of an accomplishment to set one's absurd stories down on paper and trumpet them as somehow more compelling than (say) the absurd stories you hear every day from everyone that you know. I hear a lot of good stories day in and day out; my attitude is that you'd better have some damn good stories to justify my shelling out bucks when I've got plenty of friends and acquaintances who can regale me with entertaining stories for free.

David Sedaris is the bestselling memoir author whose wit has been compared to Mark Twain. Now, that's some f---in' praise you don't want to be throwing around lightly. After all, Twain is the guy who wrote, "Clothes make the man; naked people have little or no influence on society.")
I've heard Sedaris read numerous times on NPR and never really got much out of his stories; he always seemed more like Jerry Seinfeld than Mark Twain..."observational" humor about the foibles of family and friends. Sedaris adds florid language to Seinfeld's mundane insights, and the result is a literary elevation of Jerry's episode-intro sketches. But that's just one man's opinion; the fact is, Sedaris sells more books than just about anyone other than Oprah Winfrey, and lots of my friends swear by him.

So I finally took the opportunity to see one of his live performances at the Opera House, where he read a series of essays about mundane events that culminated in -- brace for it -- a lengthy description of a shopping trip he made to Costco.

In fact, I thought it was telling that the funniest bits of his performance were his re-tellings of jokes other people had told him. (Like the couple he met on a book tour, a Hindu man and his Jewish wife, who joyfully declared that they were "the Hin-jews.")

That's good stuff.

But maybe I'm just a playa-hater...I may well be the one NPR-listener in America who just doesn't get it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Adventures with Rob Baker

Photo essay time.

Rob T. Baker, Esquire: My old friend (and esteemed counsel for MGM) is a helluva guy from my brief tenure as an L.A. resident. In town for a Sigur Ros concert, Rob crashed with me for the weekend and we had a blast, drinking and eating our way through Berkeley and San Francisco. The photo below says it all about Rob -- this is not a posed shot, but rather a candid glimpse of an inspired guy making inspired points, his train of thought made somehow more commanding by the presence of an artfully gripped cigarette.

Speaking of Sigur Ros: I went to the show (at Berkeley's Greek Theatre) knowing nothing about the band. Here's what you need to know: They're from Iceland, and the singer sings in a falsetto in a gibberish language he invented himself...which he calls Hopelandic. With his usual gusto, Rob described their sound as "the lament of the sole Heaven's Gate eunuch who missed the Hale-Bopp comet." It was definitely a crazy show, but indisputably memorable, and it culminated in a beautiful crescendo that I happened to capture with my trusty iPhone camera:

...Noted in Berkeley:
It's been a while since I've had the pleasure of visiting Henry's bar (in the lobby of the Hotel Durant in Berkeley), so I took the opportunity of Rob's visit to drop in there. In my trip to the loo, I happened upon this wonderful Berkeley tribute to arch-rival Stanford:

The city:
This was some days later, during a quick detour off of the Bay Bridge onto Treasure Island. I got a view of San Francisco that I rarely get to appreciate and took the opportunity to frame an image of a city that never ceases to charm me. This is a place to be.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

New York and "Falling Man"

I landed in New York City last Wednesday evening, with just enough time to get to the W Hotel near Times Square and get a bite and a drink before bed. I was up at 7AM local (which was 4AM according to my nervous system) for a pair of business meetings and then caught a late-afternoon flight back to San Francisco. This is the fourth or fifth time I've made an overnight business trip to New York, with absolutely no time to see or do anything interesting in the city. In fact, the only reason I've been to the Empire State Building is because I was walking down the street between meetings and happened to look up and realize that I was standing right in front of it.

I usually come into Manhattan from JFK via the Williamsburg Bridge, which affords a sparkling view of the skyline where once I might have observed the twin towers.

They're gone now, of course. I never got a chance to see them. My first trip to New York wasn't until a few years after what Islamists euphemistically call "the planes operation."

I took a book along with me for the flight home, and the book was Don DeLillo's Falling Man, our greatest novelist's sad meditation on 9/11. I read it front to back over the course of the flight. As usual, the author casts no judgments about our times, offers no political opinion. He makes precise and haunting observations, and leaves it at that.

There won't ever be a time that I look out from the backseat of a cab traversing the Williamsburg Bridge at night to see the New York skyline lit up and don't imagine the towers, in the spot on the southwestern tip of the island where they once stood. There is a skyline in the mind that is more permanent.