Archive for July, 2013

WHEELS AND PAWS

This past week, a cyclist named Chris Bucchere pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter. In March 2012, he ran several red lights on his bike, hit and killed a 71-year-old pedestrian. Bucchere received three years probation and a thousand hours of community service. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon believes that this will send a message to other cyclists. I doubt it. If Gascon really wants to affect cyclists’ behavior, he should have them spend a few hours walking a dog. More on that in a moment.

As to cyclists, most know the law. Ninety percent—my personal observation—don’t obey it. I walk a lot. I’ve avoided being hurt by anticipating cyclists thinking that both stop signs and red lights mean speed up. Several weeks ago following the Gay Pride parade, Carolyn and I walked to a favorite restaurant—Sweet Maple—on Steiner and Sutter. Two cyclists hurtled down the sidewalk along the east side of Gough Street. We couldn’t see them—an apartment building stood on the corner. They came within a split-second of hitting—and perhaps killing—us.

Then there are drivers. Many isolate themselves with windows up and music blaring. They make phone calls on their cells. And they text. Stop signs? If they stop, they often do so only after entering a crosswalk where pedestrians have the right of way. Then they take off looking left towards oncoming traffic but not right where a pedestrian might be approaching. I can’t tell you how many times vehicles have sped past me, a stop sign prominently displayed, without a clue. A few days ago, the driver of a truck screeched to a halt at a stop sign when he finally saw me on the corner. What? He otherwise would have run it?

Now here’s the thing with dogs—and their owners. Off-leash, some can be a pain. Dogs that is. People, too. But most dog owners seem much more thoughtful than cyclists and drivers. Maybe that’s because they move more slowly; they’re pedestrians, too. But I think what really keeps dog-walkers under control is their immediate, visceral connection to another living being. A person and a dog form a relationship, not a gang.

Dogs calm people. Humans’ blood pressure goes down in their presence. Yes, we know about people who raise fighting dogs—a menace—but they’re only a small minority. When you have a dog, you accept the responsibility for the care and wellbeing of another creature that wants to give love as well as receive it.

I have some personal experience here because Carolyn and I often care for our “grand dog,” Saffy—a Chihuahua-something mix. I never had a dog before. I’m not likely to acquire one now. Yet I’ve experienced this special connection between human and canine. (I write about that in my next novel appearing in February, The Boy Walker.)

I wonder whether cyclists and drivers who habitually ignore pedestrians have dogs. I’m guessing most don’t. That’s too bad. If humans with wheels had special connections with creatures on four paws, they’d probably improve their connections to those on two feet.

I’ll be taking a few weeks off. Look for my next post later in August.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first three chapters of David’s novels SAN CAFÉ and SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. You’ll also find online ordering links for iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com. 

HURRAY FOR HOLLYWOOD

Hollywood used to make movies about performers suddenly discovered and thrust into stardom. It happens to some. But most take their careers a day at a time, becoming highly accomplished but not necessarily famous. I’ve seen it first hand.

My wife Carolyn is a very fine actor. She’s had small roles on two network TV shows—Chuck and Grey’s Anatomy. She’s also done wonderful stage work. And work it is with endless classes and countless auditions. A performer’s rise to public acclaim comes through great effort and the occasional shedding of tears—all usually hidden.

My son Aaron is a very talented dancer now concluding his career. He discovered his passion for dance as a freshman at Humboldt State. He won a spot with the Eisenhower Dance Ensemble in Detroit. Years with ODC/Dance in San Francisco and Alwyn Nikolais Dance Theatre of Salt Lake City took him on many trips to Europe and Southeast Asia. Audiences saw the beauty and athleticism. We knew the sweat and the pain.

I’m also proud of a new “not-quite-yet-but-maybe” overnight sensation—my son Yosi. Wednesday night, Carolyn and I flew to Los Angeles to see Yosi perform (fiddle and drums) with Hurray for the Riff Raff at the Hollywood Palladium. The band just signed a contract with ATO Records and opened for one of the hottest groups in America—and their label-mates—Alabama Shakes.

Yosi’s road has been long. He started playing drums in middle school. At San Francisco’s School of the Arts, he became an outstanding percussionist. After high school Yosi wanted to play the viola, but that was too big an instrument to take on his travels around the country. He bought a violin on a Friday and was playing on Sunday. He’s taken lessons from outstanding teachers and practiced with unwavering determination.

Then there’s the road. For years Riff Raff has played gig after gig across America, many in small clubs, bars and even private houses. Glamour? Not exactly. Riding in a van means too little sleep. A tight budget means limited food choices. Even a dressing room can be a luxury.

But Riff Raff keeps going, and each year they rise. The band has appeared at big festivals like South by Southwest in Austin. They’ve toured the United Kingdom three times and played on the Continent. Yosi and Alynda lee Segarra, the band’s fabulous singer/songwriter and leader, even appeared on Treme, HBO’s series set in New Orleans (where Yosi used to live). Their CD’s are rightfully acclaimed, and they’ve won many thousands of loyal fans.

There are no guarantees, but their hard work seems to be paying off. Las Vegas and Vancouver dates with the Shakes are coming up. There’s the Vancouver Folk Festival on the 23rd. On July 25th they open for Judy Collins in Waterford, Connecticut. Two days later they play at the Newport Folk Festival. On August 10 Hurray for the Riff Raff appears in New York at Lincoln Center’s outdoor Roots of Music Festival.

So Hurray for Hollywood. And a bigger hurray for every artist rocketed to stardom one exhausting leap after another.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first three chapters of David’s novels SAN CAFÉ and SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. You’ll also find online ordering links for iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com. 

HEROES SEEN AND NOT

Check out the news, and you can’t help taking a grim view of humanity. Yet heroes walk among us. Some we see. Many we don’t.

After an Asiana Airlines plane crashed on landing at San Francisco International last Sunday, heroes got to work. The flight crew and first responders removed passengers from harm’s way. That only two people died seems incredible.

But death has a hunger. Nineteen firefighters—members of the Granite Mountain Hot Shots—died fighting a fire northwest of Phoenix. Fighting huge fires entails a great deal of danger, and these folks accepted the challenge. If you’re looking for heroes, look to them, too.

We often honor our military personnel for their sacrifices in Iraq and Afghanistan. We can dispute the value of those wars but not the courage and endurance of our people sent into harm’s way, often on multiple deployments. They’ll tell you they’re just doing their job. But just being out there entails a large measure of heroism. After all, they volunteered to risk everything while so many of our citizens risk nothing.

But while it often takes a disaster to place some heroes in the spotlight, many others never get attention. Maybe what they do is modest in comparison to aircrews, firefighters, police and military personnel, yet what they do matters.

I saw a number of those heroes at the Irwin Memorial Blood Center (Masonic at Turk) last Tuesday. They took time out of their day to help people they will never meet or know. And they’ll never get recognition.

One young hero, a 33-year-old skateboarder, gave blood for the first time. He became a little woozy in the chair—not unusual for first-timers. Getting a needle stuck in a vein and watching your blood come out—if you watch—takes getting used to. When he was done, he was shaky but proud. He had a right to be. He overcame a natural fear to possibly save the life of another human being.

As for me, I’m no hero. I’ve been giving blood for decades. It’s routine. I kick back, catch up on my reading then pig out on juice and a donut (or two). Imagine my surprise when, because it was mid-afternoon, the donuts were gone. Still, that double-chocolate cookie was good. I limited myself to one because it was my birthday and I was going out to dinner that night. As it happened, we went to an acclaimed restaurant, and I didn’t like the desserts on the menu so I didn’t order one. But given the circumstances, nothing would have topped that cookie.

As August approaches, I think about First-Lieutenant Howard Jon Schnabolk, US Army, about whom I wrote in “Courage.” Howie saved the lives of countless wounded men flying a medevac helicopter in Vietnam. He was shot down and killed on 3 August 1967. We all have our heroes. Howie is mine both for his service and many charitable acts.

If I’m choking up as I write this, you’ll understand. And you’ll know why the present I most enjoyed on my birthday was the one I gave in Howie’s honor.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first three chapters of David’s novels SAN CAFÉ and SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. You’ll also find online ordering links for iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com. 

THE 4TH AND ISAAC NEWTON

Yesterday, July 4th, brought to mind Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This thought emanated from reasons historical, personal and contemporary.

On July 4, 1776—or close to that date depending on which historian you read—the American Colonies reacted in equal and opposite measure to such British practices as taxation without representation. The Continental Congress announced that Americans would represent themselves to their own government. If they paid taxes—not a popular thought—they’d at least pay themselves.

Human nature being imperfect—the Preamble to the Constitution expresses the desire to form a more perfect union—fulfilling the American Dream has required ongoing employment of the Third Law of Motion. Freedom in the U.S.A. did not instantly translate to freedom for all. Yet every hypocritical act of repression spawned an equal and opposite reaction. Thus in 1826 Maryland, founded to protect Catholics, finally passed the “Jew Bill” granting Jews the right to sit as members of the state assembly. In 1865, the 13th Amendment banned slavery, although securing equal rights for African Americans took another century to enshrine into comprehensive law and subsequent efforts to put into practice. Women didn’t achieve suffrage until passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

For gay men, a lesbians and transgender folks, the struggle continues. But we’ve come a long way. Carolyn and I celebrated with our son Aaron and son-in-law Jeremy when they married last August in Vermont. Last Sunday, we marched with PFLAG—Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays—in San Francisco’s Pride parade.

Which brings us to Newton’s Law beyond our shores. In Turkey, massive protests constitute an equal and opposite reaction to a democratically elected government cramming Islamic law down people’s throats. Ankara responds with its own “equal and opposite reaction.” Besir Atalay, one of four deputy prime ministers, pointed the usual finger at outside agitators—including “the Jewish Diaspora.”

In Egypt, a “soft coup” removed President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood from power. Egyptians developed their own equal and opposite reaction to the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak by deposing him. Secularists led the way then saw their efforts undermined by the nation’s one highly organized civilian group, the Brotherhood. Many Egyptians boycotted the election won by Morsi. After a year of Islamist power grabs and an economy descending from (very) bad to (much) worse, massive protests created another equal and opposite reaction. The military stepped in to avoid chaos. Another reaction, if not quite equal, already has spawned violence as the Brotherhood protests.

It’s anyone’s guess what further reactions await in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and possibly Iran under a new, more “liberal” president.

Fortunately, every attempt to establish authoritarianism prompts men and women to react in opposition. Their efforts are fraught with danger. When they manage to create a new government, the flame of freedom remains fragile. But the spark never dies.

May those people and parties who seek to impose narrow, rigid systems with an iron fist give more thought to a brilliant man whose contributions to physics also reveal much about politics and human nature.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first three chapters of David’s novels SAN CAFÉ and SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. You’ll also find online ordering links for iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.