Presidential Follicles (Nov. 5, 2003)

Voters don’t insist that presidential hair be life-like. It needn’t boast colors found in nature, but is expected to behave obediently, even opposing gale-force winds. Here in California, the archetype — the iconic coiffure — remains that rigid, pumpkin-toned pompadour sported by Ronald Reagan during his gubernatorial starring role and its sequel. He stuck with […]

Book Review: The Culinary Underbelly

It’s tough enough for a stage comedian to make you laugh out loud; more remarkable still when a supposedly comic movie does so. Rarest of all is an author achieving such result in print. A short list of novels inducing audible chortles from me would include Catch-22 (Joseph Heller), East Is East (T.C. Boyle), and […]

They Said I’d Never Make A Fortune

So many cubes of braised tofu, countless Hunan broccoli specials; turned out they could legitimately be written off and called research. Frequenting of Sino-American eateries, from an IRS perspective, had been strictly recreational — until the Ding Ho job. The assignment got ladled into my wok in completely unexpected fashion. Prior to that serendipitous recruitment, […]

Rereading Charles Bukowski

There are those who have attained infamy — and flocks of admirers — through their flamboyant self-destructive pursuits, talent or no. Then there are gifted lunatics, always aflame, iron constitutions allowing them to create masterpieces despite reckless consumption of massive quantities of intoxicants. You’d have to put Hunter S. Thompson (early on, at least) in […]


As I prepared last week for a tour of Civil War his­toric sites with forty history teachers from northwestern Minnesota, I looked at the itinerary and wondered if I would get anything out of touring battlefields. Although I enjoy history, history buffs who get their thrills out of battles at the expense of all else […]

Found Objects

Found objects — objets trouvés, if you opt for high-toned Gallic terminology — have always appealed to artists. Recently read about a scavenger who’s harvested bushels of discarded paper shards, selections from which will be exhibited at a prestigious gallery. Personally, I haven’t picked up all that much, but while walking, I’m forever scanning gutters, […]

Downtown Denizens

Every fortnight, the San Francisco Chronicle publishes something it deceptively brands a “magazine.” Before they achieved their monopoly, said pamphlet was a weekly — go figure. Overall, we’re talking sorry product, particularly in a city with a (literal) embarrassment of journalistic talent. Travel-book excerpts, bridal-gown fashion-spreads, wine-country get-away advertorials. Delivering the final insult, editors opted […]

Chippin’ Them Rocks

This summer’s extraordinary rescue of nine trapped Pennsylvania coal-miners verged on miraculous. Scarcely noted was the hellish nature of everyday conditions below. Those who work down there seldom live long, or well. Like many horrific occupations, mining has acquired something of a cultish cachet. Our quintessential California hippie band, for instance, the Grateful Dead, performed […]