Things Consumed

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Sunday, July 13, 2008



The thing I like about calling an artwork "untitled" is that it really isn't possible. By pulling a label on it that says "untitled," you are, in fact, titling it.

This is like when a colleague of mine cleaned off his marker board at his cube to make a sort of statement about his last few days in the office. I went over while he was away and wrote, "[This space left intentionally blank.]" It achieved the same purpose, but more directly, I thought. (For this, he told me that I am brilliant. :-))

Black Francis at the Uptown Nightclub, Oakland, California, in the early hours of July 10, 2008I have been tired most of this week, and the best thing that made me tired was seeing Black Francis at the Uptown Nightclub in Oakland on Wednesday night through Thursday morning. The Uptown is a great little club near 19th Street BART station in Oakland, with a divided layout so that the bar is separate from the main performance space. The stage was projected onto a fabric screen over the bar near the front entrance, so you could keep track of what was happening while getting an iced drink. (The club also has immaculate bathrooms and good service at the bar.)

I missed the first act entirely. The second act was a children's band, and I wonder even now if their parents had to explain the significance of the act they were opening for. They were so young, ("How young were they?" They were so young that...) they had a dedication to 'all you over 21s out there,' which was unique in my historical concert attendance experience. They also had a song about how annoying it is to go home and have your parents hassle you. This was the subject of amused commentary between myself and the other audience members born in the late 60s and early 70s who appeared to be in the majority. (In another era, 'in the majority' would be a joke about age, but no one uses 'majority' to talk about coming of age anymore, do they?)

The arrival of adult roadies on stage marked the arrival of the grown-ups' portion of the program. Frank's/Francis'/Charles' roadies spent a great deal of time dealing with a problem with the drummer's microphone. I have never seen so many frowny, sulky facial expressions on a group of roadies, only in part because the club is very intimate (perhaps as intimate as Cafe du Nord, but with much higher ceilings) and I could see every nuance of facial expression made. I had found a spot against the stage in the corner where I could catch a hint of breeze from the backstage door and had spectacular views of the show. I'm rarely standing in a spot where I can exchange looks with the drummer (for no particular reason), so this was novel.

Frank came on stage in the early hours of the morning, and was stellar in every respect. He played a range of songs from different albums, despite his stated intent of emphasizing Bluefinger, and mesmerized the audience.

It was the best show I have been to in ages. I was thrilled to the core, and he didn't even play my most favorite songs from his early solo albums - it was such a remarkably high quality show, and the energy of the audience was just so good...


Black Francis at the Uptown Nightclub, Oakland, California, in the early hours of July 10, 2008I'd had a long, overheated work day before the show, a mediocre dinner at a Cambodian place I had once loved, and a difficult time finding a place I could feel comfortable waiting for the club to open; I was somewhat discouraged that I had no friends who were also late-night fans who could attend the show with me; and by the time I returned to Oakland from a cafe in Berkeley, I had feared that I wouldn't be able to stay awake. But I liked the club, and wound up initiating friendly conversation with other fans around me, who were quite pleasant, and provided commentary while we watched the roadies frown. As soon as Frank's set started, I was internally electrified. I left the show completed elated at about 1:40 a.m. (only the slightest bit disappointed at the lack of encores), and thus barely missed the hourly All-Nighter AC Transit 800 bus that was going to take me back into SF for a mere $3.50.

I considered drinking until 2 and then waiting an additional half hour for the next bus, but decided that I lacked the patience to do that, so I pulled out my iPhone and got a cab company directory. The first company didn't answer. The second answered only to tell me that its last driver had just gone off shift. Mind you, this was at 1:45 a.m., and I began to worry that I would not be able to return to the City easily. Nearby was a handsome young man who was on his cell phone, and I could hear his conversation: he had just advised a taxi company that he needed a cab back to SF, and that he could wait a few minutes. There was a time, in my distant youth, when I would have just stood around, and then approached his cabbie about sending another taxi for me, but that time is very distant. I walked over to him asked him if he'd be willing to share the cab back to SF, since I'd had no luck in raising so much as a possibility of a taxi. He agreed. We got to watch Frank and his crew load their equipment bus (and fuss over the lack of hard cases for the beautiful Vox amps), and had a pleasant chat on the way across the bridge, during which it was revealed that he is new to SF, and pretty much just finished college.

I did not pinch his cheek.

We had several things in common: he had friends who don't stay out late, who aren't as enthusiastic about live music as he/we are, and who leave shows early rather than staying through to the (glorious, encore-filled) end of them. We came to be fans of Frank Black late, after having loved the Pixies for a long time. We hadn't been interested in the Pixies reunion tour, partly due to the lack of new music being released by the band. We both LOVED the show.

It worked out delightfully for me: the nice young man paid for his own full fare over, and so I only paid for my own ride across town, which was worth every minute that it saved me in trying to return by other means. The cabbie was pleasant and just as chatty as works at that hour of morning. I was in bed by 2:45 a.m., and slept until after 7 so that I would be able to stay awake through a social dinner planned for the evening. I went to Peet's, and was reinforced by a large cup of their deceptively delicious, remarkably powerful soy chai, which kept me up chatting with friends late the next evening.

Even now, days later, I remain giddy just thinking of the show.

I'm so very glad I went.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:10 AM

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Things that can wake me up from a pleasant sleep during the night.

The moon shining into the bedroom.

The moon ceasing to shine into the bedroom.


The cessation of rain.

The heater dispensing heat into the house.

Birdsong. (In spring, there is often distressed birdsong at odd hours of the night. Specifically, between the hours of 1:30 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. I suspect that laying eggs is truly uncomfortable.)

My lips becoming dry.

Excessive foot heat, most often caused by socks worn to bed.


Earthquakes of greater than 2.0 magnitude on the Richter scale.


Strong artificial fragrances.

My spouse's absence from bed, even if known in advance of drifting off to sleep.

Especially reflective fog banks.

Recollections of unfinished deadline projects at work.

My own breathing (during allergy season).

Dreams about noisy things.


posted by Arlene (Beth)11:20 PM

Thursday, April 03, 2008



Those of you who knew me before the days of the WWW know that I wasn't much for sleeping. It's not that I don't LOVE sleep with a remarkable intensity; it's not that I don't fantasize about sleep during some of my working hours... I'm just not very good at it. I was not good at sleeping as a child (when I had the flavor of insomnia in which I failed to fall asleep at appropriate times) and as an adult (when I fail to remain asleep through some convenient period of time, such as "night").

I discovered a cure for this: bicycle riding, and especially bicycle riding to and from work. Bicycle riding has become a great passion of mine for many, many reasons: one of those reasons is that it allows me to experience blissful, deep, profound states of sleep.

[*shiver of delight at the thought of deep states of sleep*]


Alas and alack, since... what are we calling it. The Incident? My unfortunate encounter with the earth? My passionate, uncontrolled bonding with streetcar tracks? A day that will live in cycling infamy? Anyway, since I "shattered" my arm last year and went through my subsequent surgery and multi-month recovery period, cycling has had a different flavor for me. (No, not blood. Not vicodin, either.) It is still something I love, but now it is tinged with fear, and I weigh the risks of making a trip differently than I used to.

As a big-city urban person, just about all encounters with the outside world are fraught with peril and risk: the risk of standing near someone who smells bad, the risk of seeing a really good foreign film that you'll be boring your entire peer group with for ages, the risk of being killed while crossing the street on a green light by a person in an SUV having a conversation so inane that they will be ashamed to describe it to the police ("It involved a sale at Lowe's, a bag of cat litter, and jug wine..."), the eternal threat of discovering a completely addictive coffee place, or seeing a good art show, or hearing a really stupid argument... Death is on that list, of course, as it is anywhere, indoors or out. Having my bike stolen due to improper locking or foolishly leaving it anywhere in the greater Civic Center region was always on that list. But doing something that might cause me months of pain is a new item that has me re-evaluate all sorts of things, and not just biking.

Under my new risk evaluation scenario, I find myself unwilling to bike places that are not inherently fun. So, for example, my bike ride to work at my company's offices to Emeryville are fun-deprived. No matter which of the three main routes I choose (and I usually choose the longest to get in the most biking), I'm never really wallowing in the sort of pleasure I get from biking in the City.

I don't really enjoy the one mile bike ride to BART here in SF: although the street is now buttery smooth on the BART-bound side due to some water main work, it's just a mile. I don't even warm up. And I have to bike past (and cross) the spot where I crashed each time.

I don't really enjoy the ride from West Oakland BART to Emeryville. I like MLK drive, with its landscaping and odd mix of Victorian buildings and what appear to be steel mills, and I like hearing the geese flying overhead and honking... But I nearly always bike there alone. Or with big rigs that want to make right turns through me. I have to cross all those tracks, and the sewage treatment plant imbues several long blocks with an aroma that defies pleasant characterization.

Yes, I love the morning light. But it's just three miles! By the time I pass Semifreddi's and smell the garlic bread, I'm just warmed up, and the ride is nearly over.

Biking in the City is so gorgeous. Yes, I bike down Third Street now and then, and the industrial areas along the port, but... It's still SF!! I still get views of the rest of the City! My City! I get to see the bay, the lights, the vistas! And there are always, always, always other cyclists... (Not that I'm scared when there aren't, like when I bike through the Presidio's residential sections at night, or any of Terry A. Francois. But I know there will be cyclists thereafter, at any hour.)

Biking in the City is such a reward in and of itself, and I love being here so much... My Oakland commute just isn't the same. It's about 8 miles round trip, but in such awkward little increments (1 mile, 3, 3, and 1)... It's just not satisfying. And it's something of a relief to figure this out, because I thought that I was unmotivated because of a fear about biking, when really it's that biking where I happen to bike in Oakland isn't much fun, and especially isn't much fun alone.


It turns out that my BART & Emeryville bike commute isn't rigorous enough to prevent insomnia, either. :-(


Recent bike-related dream 1: cruising down Market Street from the top of Portola, I am doing an easy 40 mph (with moderate break riding) as I approach Castro Street.

There are streetcar tracks at Castro, where the F turns around.

I see them, I consider my speed, and I cannot figure out how to avoid having a crash. I begin to turn to hit the turn in the tracks completely perpendicular, but that will launch me into a curb and then a planter. I begin to panic. I wake up.

That was a nightmare.

Recent bike-related dream 2: Jack Black, acting like many of his characters, has a shop on 29th Street near Mission where he tricks out bikes. His custom jobs are wild, funny looking, and often completely impractical, involving a tall bike with high handlebars with its wheels resting in a contraption that puts the power into small, toy-truck skates at the bottom, for example.

I bike (on a road bike) south on San Jose Avenue from his shop, where the hill tops out at Randall (!). There is an odd, triangular intersection where Dolores blends in, and on the intersection is an odd building, made of wood, with a second story veranda and a grass or bamboo roof, which is a bike bar. There are bike races going on upstairs on the veranda: one of the riders lays down her bike in a turn, and pieces of the bamboo railing fly down onto the street, while she skids to a stop without making the drop. [And then... other stuff that I forget, though I continued south on San Jose.]

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:37 PM

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