Those Carefree Days That Fly

2441 Haste ave atque vale

Twitter handed me a shock yesterday afternoon, and from an unexpected source. The Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive [@BAMPFA] posted this item:

BAMPFA fire tweet

"Haste/Telegraph" rang a bell, so I launched a quick search and turned up this story from the Daily Californian:

As of 2:45 p.m. Saturday, the fire was still technically burning, according to Gil Dong, deputy fire chief for the Berkeley Fire Department. Dong said this is the largest fire — which has now gutted the building and burned for nearly 17 hours — he can remember in the Berkeley area since the East Bay Hills fire in 1991. Dong and city spokesperson Mary-Kay Clunies-Ross both said the building is structurally unsound and could collapse. Clunies-Ross said the intersection at Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street will be closed for at least a week.


Flames engulfed a building at the corner of Telegraph and Haste — which is home to Cafe Intermezzo, Raleigh’s Bar and Grill and Thai Noodle II on the ground level — late Friday evening and early Saturday morning during a fire that took firefighters more than six hours to contain. The roof of the building has collapsed and firefighters will stay on the scene all weekend to knock out any hot spots that may occur, according to Dong.


The fire broke out at the apartment building at 2441 Haste St. just before 9 p.m. Friday....

Also, a gallery of photos of the blaze, and this video:

I dwell on this for only one reason. During my senior year at the University of California (1977-78), that apartment building—the Sequoia Apartments, to give it its proper name, built circa 1935—was Home.

The photo at the top of this post, slightly processed and filtered for an added air of nostalgia, is of the front door of the building. I took it about seven weeks ago, on October 1, on a visit to Berkeley with my still-best pal from those college days, Rick Coencas. It was only the second time that I have been back since I graduated in 1978. To circle back to the Twitter item that began this, we were in Berkeley to see the Kurt Schwitters exhibition then running at the Berkeley Art Museum. Rick took this photo of me, standing in that doorway, squinting a bit into the overcast glare of an East Bay autumn morning:

Moments before that picture was taken, a then-current resident of the building arrived and entered. We spoke with him briefly as I stepped out of his way. He noticed we were about to take a photo and I identified myself as a former tenant of the place. He marveled that the building had been an apartment as far back as the late '70s and that such aged beings as we could exist, and we parted. I do not know his name or anything else about him, other than that he has surely lost his own place there, and perhaps has lost whatever amounted to everything he owned.

I have lost only the physical site of memories and snippets of the past by this fire, hardly comparable to the losses of the most recent occupants of the Sequoia, but the destruction of that building has been lingering with me overnight far more persistently than I would have expected. Why, I wonder, should I be so affected by the destruction of a place that I lived in for fewer than nine months, and that more than three decades ago? 

I think that the answer lies largely in this fact: That apartment at 2441 Haste is essentially the only place that I have ever lived alone.

I lived at home until I went off to college. My first two college years were spent in the Cal dormitories, the third in an apartment shared with three fellows I had met in the dorms. Within days of graduation, I had entered into my first marriage, and I have shared a home with my current beloved/spouse (and our sons) for the last 25 years. For those final terms at Berkeley, I was truly on my own in a sense that I have never been before or since, living in an upper floor studio apartment that featured an actual Murphy bed on a pivoting section of wall that also served as a closet door. 


Paradise. Lost.

This is a "personal" blog, not a "confessional" one. It would be boring, and occasionally creepy I suspect, if I recounted the intimate details of my life in that apartment. There is nothing particularly scandalous or unusual to report, as these things go, but it was a concentrated course in what conventionally falls under the rubric of Growing Up. Looking back under the influence of this past weekend's fire, it seems to me that I did a good deal more Growing Up while living on Haste Street than I had ever done before, and more than I have done in the much longer period from then to now. I may have gained all manner of experience and technical knowledge and such in later years, but I often feel that my emotional maturity advanced mightily in those nine months and has rather plateaued ever since.

I am not generally one to swan about, mooning over the past, but the sudden loss of that place has sent me off in that direction in a way that revisiting the place itself, while it was still standing, never did or could. What once was home is now a sort of fiery madeleine, carrying me back unto the irretrievable days of yore.

You really do not, it seems, know what you have got until it is gone.

In that studio apartment, there was a former walk-in closet, with a window and desk built in, that served me as principal workspace. Much of my best work was done in that little room, in the hours between midnight and five in the morning on the day an assignment was due. Poetry of dubious quality was written in there, impetuous youthful schemes were hatched, delusions of grandeur were entertained, and occasional [sic] glasses [sic] of wine or sherry were drunk. Among the clippings and such taped to the wall was a William Hamilton New Yorker cartoon of two earnest and preppy young people, obviously English majors akin to myself, with one saying to the other: "I can never remember whether Robinson Crusoe is seminal or pivotal." 

As Thanksgiving (US) approaches, some portion of my thoughts will be with those who lost much last Saturday night, but another portion will linger over what seems more than ever to have been, whether seminal or pivotal, a central and critical period in my life. I am plentifully grateful for my current lot, but a part of me will always miss those bright college days and that very particular, now extinguished place. Hail, and farewell.

To close, a good if only tangentially relevant song: "What we lost in the fire we gained in the flood," whatever that may mean. 

The Mynabirds - What We Gained In The Fire


For Veterans Day

An American Flag by Beverly & Pack

A Box Comes Home

I remember the United States of America
As a flag-draped box with Arthur in it
And six marines to bear it on their shoulders.

I wonder how someone once came to remember
The Empire of the East and the Empire of the West.
As an urn maybe delivered by chariot.

You could bring Germany back on a shield once
And France in a plume.  England, I suppose,
Kept coming back a long time as a letter.

Once I saw Arthur dressed as the United States
Of America.  Now I see the United States
Of America as Arthur in a flag-sealed domino.

And I would pray more good of Arthur
Than I can wholly believe.  I would pray
An agreement with the United States of America

To equal Arthur's living as it equals his dying
At the red-taped grave in Woodmere
By the rain and oak leaves on the domino.

--John Ciardi

(From Poets of World War II (American Poets Project).)

As I said last year:

    "May all Soldiers someday be Veterans."


John Ciardi's poem was previously posted here November 11, 2003.

Photo by Flickr user Beverly & Pack, used under Creative Commons license.


"The Bemused Smile of True Genius"
(The Clever Man is Father to the Fool)

What was going on in this country eighty years ago today, you ask?

On June 2, 1930, architect William A. Delano, fresh from the opening of his American pavilion at the Venice Biennale,graced the cover of TIME magazine, in company with a story on "the sixty-third Convention of the American Institute of Architects, an exclusive body devoted to the preservation of professional standards, the solution of problems" in Washington, D.C.:

Architects have one thing in common—they are the least advertised professional men in the world.  They do not sign their work.  Advertising copy writers never get a McKim, Mead & White or a Warren & Wetmore account.  Even in the pages of architectural journals you will look in vain for architects' advertisements.  Everyone has heard of the Woolworth Building, the Lincoln Memorial and the palatial Pocantico Hills residence of John Davison Rockefeller, yet few laymen can name the designers (Cass Gilbert, Henry Bacon, Delano & Aldrich, respectively).  The feats of great lawyers and even doctors are popularly associated with their names.  But if you want an architect you have to go and get him, and the information you have as to his worth is usually conveyed by word of mouth.

On June 2, 1930, the Wall Street Journal reported that Sears had begun to experiment with a five-day work week, and that National City Bank of New York was confident in an early economic recovery.  Press and business leaders nervously eyed the final committee negotiations on the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which Henry Ford correctly predicted would "stultify business and industry and increase unemployment."

And, oh yes, my father was born in Toledo, Ohio, which makes today his 80th birthday.

My father spent a good part of my childhood as an automotive engineer for Chrysler, toiling in architect-like obscurity while attached to the company's high performance and racing programs.  In that connection, he spent more than a little time roaming along with Chrysler's teams on what would eventually become the NASCAR circuit.  The story I have always liked to tell -- the beauty of it being that it it true -- is that our family liquor cabinet once held a Mason jar full of clear liquid from the personal still of Richard Petty.  No one ventured to open it, and eventually the liquid in question ate through the lid of the jar.

When Bobby Isaac went to the Bonneville Salt Flats in September 1971 and set 28 speed records in four days, my father was not only there, he occasionally rode along, one hand on the roll cage:

Retired Dodge engineer George Wallace went along with Isaac and the K&K Insurance Dodge team when they set the records at Bonneville.  Known for riding along in race cars during practice to check instrument readings, Wallace took advantage of the opportunity to ride with Isaac on the salt flats. 

'Normally at Bonneville for long distance records, they run on a circle, but with the condition of the salt that year, they had to run an oval,' said Wallace. 'It was basically two-mile straightaways and three-mile turns, for a 10-mile lap.  I rode with Bobby while they were setting the car and it got to about 205 at the end of the straightaway. He wouldn't lift.  He'd throw it into that three-mile-long turn like he'd throw it into a half-mile dirt-track turn.'  

He's George Mills Wallace; I'm George Mills Wallace, Jr.  I don't use the "Jr." professionally, because there is no likelihood of confusion between us.  I know nothing about automotive engineering, though I would be wiling to bet that my father would pick up the practice of law like a shot if he were so inclined.

Somewhere along the line, one of the high performance automotive journals -- I can't rightly recall which -- published a brief profile of my father.  The writer described him as possessing "the bemused smile of true genius."  That has always sounded right to me.

I took two attempts to get marriage right.  My father managed on the first try, and he and my mother will reach their 56th anniversary before the month is out.  Tonight, with my two sisters, my wife and my two sons, I will be joining my parents for a celebratory 80th birthday dinner.  My father is badly slowed up by Parkinson's at this point, but remains ultimately himself.  The still vital essence at the core makes the physical ravages that much more aggravating.

I have never had a strained relationship with my father.  Neither he nor I are ones for flagrant or overt shows of affection, the one for the other.  I believe, though, that each of us has always known that he has the love and deep rooted respect of the other.  I know for certain that my father has mine, and always will.  Everything that I consider remotely worthwhile about myself, I trace in one way or another to my parents.  I could not ask for a better father.  (I could not ask for a better mother, either, but this post isn't about her.)

Happy 80th birthday, Dad, with all the abiding affection and gratitude I can muster.


Photo: a speed demon and a collection of lunatic engineers, circa 1971, via MOPAR Magazine.  My father, and his autograph, are at left.


And Darwinner is . . .

Darwin has a party by Colin Purrington

Charles Darwin is 200 years old today, and I believe him even if too few of my fellow citizens do. 

In honor of the grand old man, this fool presents the highly evolved setting of Ravel's "Bolero" from Bruno Bozzetto's 1977 Fantasia send-up, Allegro Non Troppo.  Here is Part 1:

And here is Part 2:

(Better quality, but non-embeddable, versions are here (Part 1 - 10:43) and here (Part 2 - 2:16).)


Photo: "Darwin Has a Party" [at Swarthmore] by Flickr user Colin Purrington, used under Creative Commons license.

Songs of Our Climate


For Independence Day, I was thinking perhaps I might wade into the ongoing public discussion of the various flavors of American Patriotism.  Unfortunately, as with so many public debates in our great nation, the discussion is so thoroughly awash in Self-importance, Self-interest, and Sentimentality that it is difficult at the best of times to sift through to much that is solid or meritorious.  Plus which, there is little that I could say without the risk of succumbing myself to the 3 S's just mentioned, so on second thought I have chosen to more or less give it a miss. 

At bottom, I sympathize with the likes of Matt Welch and his disdain for those of our politicians who insist that one who loves his or her country "must" do this or do that, a sentiment on which he expands a bit here:

Lord, how I despise every inch of this conversation.  There is something juvenile yet creepy -- [colorful and vulgar simile omitted] -- with the spectacle of people who wake up in the morning dreaming up new ways to draw the precise boundaries around what it means to be sufficiently patriotic.  Especially when the definition of patriotism is in opposition to enumerated freedoms.

And there's something both authoritarian and myopic with the bizarre notion, mouthed constantly by politicians, that the most authentic manifestations of patriotism are military service, government employment, and 'community organizing' . . . as opposed to say, hitchhiking around the Americas, or getting (maybe even creating!) a damned job doing something you love.

Here's a little number that is all about "hitchhiking around the Americas, "sung by a pair of lifelong New Yorkers with whom you may be familiar.  It feels, as it always has, appropriate to the Fourth of July: 

After 36 years in California, Michigan seems like a dream to me now, too.

My own patriotism tends to be of the "concerned but hopeful" school: cognizant of flaws and follies (and worse) in our nation's direction, but basically confident that we will sort things out for the best in the end, even if the end does not arrive so soon as one could wish.  Paul Simon, solo this time and sporting a mustache such as can only be sported in a free and proud republic, performs one of my favorite expressions of that point of view:

Finally a somewhat gruffer, but still I think hopeful, patriotic song from Joe Henry, featuring a major American retailer, a selection of garage door springs, and the greatest center fielder of all time.

Have a hopeful and tuneful Fourth, fellow patriots.


Illustration: The new Ferris Wheel on the Santa Monica Pier by Flickr user Marco Siguenza, used under Creative Commons license.

When I'm It Was '64
and '67 and '86 and '88 and -- HEY!


Ross Douthat included the photo above in a post about Mitt Romney and voters' attitudes toward Mormonism.  I am not going to talk about that post, though you are welcome to read it.  The young fellow with the cowlick on the right in that photo is Mitt; the gentleman on the left pointing out the sights is his father, then-Governor George Romney of Michigan, later the first member of the Romney clan to make a run at the Republican nomination for President of These United States. 

My reason for reproducing that photo has nothing to do with current events, Romney-related or otherwise.  No, my concern is with the past and with where and when that photo was taken: at the site of the 1964 New York World's Fair in Flushing Meadows, Queens.  I attended the Fair with my parents and the elder of my two younger sisters (the youngest being yet too young at the time), and that trip is one I remember fondly to this day.

The New York fair was memorable for any number of reasons.  Several of the U.S. exhibitors hired Walt Disney to construct attractions for them and a number of longstanding Disneyland attractions premiered in Flushing before being transplanted back to Anaheim: Abraham Lincoln was constructed for the Illinois pavilion; the dinosaurs encountered when circling Disneyland by train come from the Ford pavilion (Gov. Romney's arm is stretching across it in the photo); the now long defunct Carousel of Progress was featured in the General Electric pavilion (accompanied by a very loud demonstration of nuclear fusion, power source of The Future).  For better or worse, the Pepsi pavilion was the original home of the infernally catchy "It's a Small World."  (American tourists were smaller then, too.)

Despite the Cold War, the Fair touted a theme of "Peace Through Understanding," and the world's cultural riches were sent to New York without any of the security concerns of today.  Spain sent prime masterworks of Goya (a clothed Maja, not the naked one); Jordan sent some of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Perhaps most remarkably, the Vatican pavilion imported Michelangelo's Pietà from St. Peter's.  Eight years later, the scuplture would would fall victim to the sledgehammer attack of Laszlo Toth.  (One viewed the Pietà in New York from a moving walkway, and I distinctly remember it being lit a sort of undersea green.  That recollection is borne out somewhat by the cover of the March 28, 1964, edition of the Saturday Evening Post.)

1964 Fair resources:

  • is an extravagantly thorough site devoted to the Fair, with copious maps, photos, etc. 
  • Modern Mechanix reproduces the entirety of a 1965 article on the Fair from National Geographic.

The New York Fair did not qualify as a "real" World's Fair, as it lacked the imprimatur of the Bureau International des Expositions.  Among other things, the BIE objected to the Fair running over the course of two years.  (True World Expositions are supposed to run no longer than six months.)

  • The comprehensive ExpoMuseum includes extensive coverage of New York, notwithstanding its unauthorized status.

The World's Fair bug bit me bad after that 1964 trip.  My contemporaries are welcome to their Summer of Love, but for me the summer of 1967 will forever be the summer of the [BIE-endorsed] Expo 67 in Montreal.  A true Universal Exposition, the Montreal fair was built on the all-encompassing theme of "Man and his World."  It is memorable among other things for the pavilions of the USA and USSR glaring at one another, each nation touting its prowess in the space race.  The Soviets were toasting the 50th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, and were quite chuffed with themselves.  The U.S. Pavilion was architecturally notable as well, designed by R. Buckminster Fuller and housed in an enormous geodesic dome.  Damaged in a fire in 1976, the dome's remnants remain as the Montreal Biosphère.

  • Film Trivia: The abandoned interiors of one of the Theme Pavilions from Montreal, "Man the Explorer," were used as the sets for Robert Altman's obscure 1979 dystopian thriller Quintet.

I ended a nineteen year gap in Expo attendance on my honeymoon, which included several days at Vancouver's EXPO86.  Our last Expo venture was to Brisbane, Australia, for EXPO 88.  We flirted with the notion to taking a run at Seville in 1998, or possibly Hannover in 2000 -- electronic music afficionadi know that Expo 2000 featured an advertising jingle by Kraftwerk -- but those plans came to naught. 

There have been no sanctioned world expositions in North America since 1986, and none in the U.S. since New Orleans in 1984.  The U.S., in fact, has not been eligible to host or to participate in an exhibition since 1991, when it was expelled from the BIE for persistent failure of Congress to authorize the payment of dues.  Several Canadian cities are reported to be planning bids for a smaller scale 3-month exposition in 2017, the 50th anniversary of Montreal and the 150th anniversary of the Canadian confederation.

Next up in official expositionary circles is Expo 2008, to be held next year from June 14 through September 14 in Zaragoza, Spain.  This is an International Exposition -- the official site helpfully explains the distinction between "International Expositions" and "Universal Expositions" -- and is to be built around the wholesome theme of "Water and Sustainable Development."

Researching this post, I turned up two notable tidbits relating to the Zaragoza fair.  First comes this little fellow:

This is Fluvi, mascot of Zaragoza 2008.  You may not be able to tell, but Fluvi is "a courageous and funny little drop of water . . [who] will shape a greener and less polluted world with a little help from his friends."  Yes, he's courage, humor, environmental goodness and friendship, all in one soggy little package.  No upstanding mascot such as Fluvi would be complete without an opposite number, of course, so there must be Sec,


formerly "a humble slub," now transformed by environmental contaminants into "an evil being who wants to make everything filthy and vile."  You just know Sec has an incompetent henchman, don't you?  Indeed he does.  Sec is the epitome of the oversimplified environmental villain: he pollutes for the sheer wicked joy of it and he has a lousy HR department selecting his cronies.  Surely he cannot prevail.  (To find out, we will all need to travel to Spain to watch Fluvi, the series.  Be sure not to miss the episode in which Sec reveals "a new design of lavatories that dazzle everybody" but that use waaayy too much water.  It's a good thing there are market forces and thrifty consumers Fluvi and his pals to stop him.)

Now that you have read this far, you have certainly earned a reward, and here it is: Better by far than Fluvi, it's -- New Bob Dylan!

On behalf of Zaragoza 2008 and in keeping with the exposition's aquiferrific theme, Bob Dylan has recorded a new version of "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall."  This rendition is in the loopy, loping "ol' man Bob" mode most recently on display in last year's Modern Times.  I think that approach defangs the song a bit, but "Hard Rain" is 45 years old now so perhaps it has mellowed with the rest of us.  In any case, it is still a fine song.

A video for the new "Hard Rain" currently appears on the Zaragoza 2008 home page, linked above.  More information can be found on the related Únete a Expo site, including an array of additional Dylan-related videos and the opportunity to download (descargar) an MP3 version for free.  We are all about service here in the forest, so you can also listen or download right here:

Now, I have hunted about through Google and Technorati and Bloglines and the Hype Machine, and so far as I can tell I have beaten all of the other weblogs on the block to the punch in posting this tune.  So, for what little it is worth, I proudly declare this A fool in the forest Exclusive! at least until someone else writes it up and I am obliged to define exclusivity down.  Take that, all you cool kids d'un certain age!  And be sure to tell all your friends you Heard It Here First.

After the jump: the video of my personal favorite version of "Hard Rain."  Stay dry, friends.

Continue reading "When I'm It Was '64
and '67 and '86 and '88 and -- HEY!

Tipping Point

Sometime in the past 48 hours or so, I reached and passed through the moment at which I had spent exactly half of my life as an attorney.

Does this mean that, as happened to the unfortunate Darth Vader, I am "more machine now than man"?

Ah, but enough about me.  Let me take this occasion to wish you each and all a Happy Repeal Day!


Repeal Day reminder via and Eugene, Oregon, bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler, who writes:

How many forms of pleasure are guaranteed by the Constitution?  None, unless you’re one of those who get an inflated sense of ego from holding a firearm or speaking in public.  Me, I’m going to stick with alcohol.

Salud, freedom lovers!

In Praise of Student Athletes (obs.)

Being Michigan-born, I have long had an affectionate spot for President Gerald R. Ford.  The University of Michigan, where Ford played football so successfully in the 30s, is my father's alma mater -- my mother also attended the U of M for a year before transferring to and graduating from Alma College -- and it very likely would have been my own had we not moved to California.  I know which team I will be rooting for in the Rose Bowl on January 1.

Gerald Ford's college football success and his decision to turn down professional offers in order to attend Yale Law School (while also serving as an assistant coach to the Yale football team) have been noted in many of the reports and reminiscences surrounding his passing, and it has causes me to mourn those long gone days when university athletics really involved Student Athletes -- meaning players who were students first and athletes second.  The collegiate playing fields of the 1930s produced a President (Ford) and a respected Justice of the United States Supreme Court (the University of Colorado's Byron "Whizzer" White).  The last college (and pro) football player that I can think of who was taken seriously as even a candidate for the nation's highest offices was Jack Kemp, who spent his college days competing a few miles from where I sit now, at Occidental College.  (Are there any more recent examples I am missing, or was Kemp the last of his kind?  If we expand our college sporting criteria to include basketball, we can get to Bill Bradley, Princeton '65 -- who earns extra prestige by having gone to a school that had no athletic scholarships -- but that is as recent an example as my admittedly limited knowledge of sporting matters yields.)

Today, of course, at the most prominent Football Schools, student status is strictly secondary to athletic prowess.  Those Bright College Days are merely a pit stop on the road to hoped-for NFL riches, and a Super BowlTM ring a more sought after long-term goal than public service in high office.  In the contemporary world, it is hard to imagine a serious contender for President coming from college football, or even from the ranks of those who have merely assumed the role of a college football player.

So hail and farewell, Mr. President.  The sons and daughters of Michigan are proud of you.  And to the Wolverines: get out there next Monday and win one more for Gerry.

[Photo, Gerald Ford on the football field at the University of Michigan, 1933, courtesy of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library.]