Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 In Review

In the film "Citizen Kane,'' which Orson Welles made in 1941, there occurs my favorite passage of movie dialogue. Old Mr. Bernstein is talking about the peculiarities of time. 

"A fellow will remember a lot of things you wouldn't think he'd remember,'' he says. "You take me. One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry, and as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in, and on it there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on. She was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second. She didn't see me at all, but I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since that I haven't thought of that girl.’’—Roger Ebert

This year's music:


I met Lucia through an artist friend when I was 19. She was attending the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, where I hoped to apply. Lucia was a graduate of the Hockaday School. I’d never heard of it, but it sounded expensive. She had grown up in the Highland Park section of Dallas, and her father put the Wall Street Journal in front of her at breakfast each morning. I’d graduated from a fair-to-sinking public school. I still lived with my parents on the far south side of town, and read the Dallas Morning News.

We met for drinks on a hot, golden evening at Stoneleigh P.  Lucia was tall, with thick blonde hair and green eyes. She was a few years older than me, in her mid twenties. Lucia asked me how I knew our artist friend, and which teachers I’d studied with at Southern Methodist University

After half an hour she took my hand dramatically, looked into my eyes and said, “John, I know something about you, just from talking this short while. I’m telling you this for your own good; you must get out of Dallas. Dallas is run by just a few families and I know all of them. There’s nothing for you here and there never will be. You need to come to Philadelphia. Do whatever you have to do, but get out of here.” 

Naturally, I was moved. I’d soon find out that every minute with Lucia was high drama, but so what? I needed encouragement to take this big step. I’d have moral support from this living Barbie doll. Whoopee!

At the end of September I flew to Philadelphia for several days. Lucia acted as my tour guide, introducing me to the city. She lived in a building called St. James House, on the corner of 13th Street at Walnut. 13th street was narrow, only one lane wide, with sidewalks and stone towers facing across. We walked out into the night. It was a new experience for me, walking around a city at night, meeting other art students on the sidewalks. I loved it. I wanted to return and prayed I’d make it, literally. I flew back home and worked for another year, writing to Lucia occasionally. She never sent me a letter in return, but whenever I phoned her, she responded with great excitement. 

I moved to Philadelphia the next fall, and again, Lucia met me at the door of her apartment building. She’d fallen in love with a good-hearted Italian boy named Michael and he’d moved in with her. After a cup of coffee in Lucia’s tiny room, we walked across 13th Street. She’d arranged for me to stay a week at a friend’s empty apartment, on the 10th floor of the Chancellor. Lucia went down to the building office and got the key to another apartment that was available for me to rent, if I wanted it, on the twentieth floor. I looked across the room to the east-facing windows. I could see over the building tops to the old part of town, South Philly, the Delaware River and Camden, New Jersey. I told Lucia I loved it and she kissed me on the lips. 

We two friends began the fall semester, living just a few horizontal feet from each other. Surprisingly, I didn’t see Lucia much, after school started. I was disappointed, but not devastated. I was learning about the different kinds of people in the world. I noticed those who came close to me quickly tended to ricochet off in new directions, just as quickly. 

My brief encounter with Lucia was entirely positive. Knowing me only slightly, she'd given me invaluable help when I needed it. All I could do was express gratitude. I still feel that way today.

As our school year slowed to its end the following spring, Lucia called me from across the street, to catch up on the news we’d missed. I told her about my fascinating year, and the job I’d lined up for the summer, back in Dallas. Lucia was leaving Philadelphia for good. She had come to dislike the general environment, and decided not to marry her boyfriend Michael after all. She regretted all the upheaval in her life, but now that it was over, we would get together when we both returned to Dallas, in just a few days.

The last evening I saw her, she stood in the doorway of St. James House, waving sweetly, this glowing, blonde Texas debutante. Once more, she promised we'd meet up again in Dallas and trade stories. I never saw her again. 


For sixteen years, my parents lived in a pleasant, one-storey ranch house on a large, park-like lot. I graduated from high school while living there. Here is a photo of my niece and nephew by the front door, circa 1990.

When my parents left the house a few years later, it was still a nice place, well-maintained. This is a photo of the house today.

I often think about buildings and the people who knew them. A long time ago, plans were laid out, a foundation was poured. Did the construction crew feel pride, when they finished their work and drove away for the last time? When the last family left the house, did they realize no one would ever live there again?

Max Park

When Max was little, we took him to a park on Vicente Street in San Francisco, specially designed for young children. We called it “The Max Park.” The park had places to climb and swing, but Max spent most of his time there digging in the sand box. It was our closest, safe place for playing with other children outdoors, so we went often. 

The park was nice enough, but the wind from the ocean always blew cold over us, and there were few places to sit. Every visit became an endurance contest, and when it was over we had to get the sand off Max before he entered the house. By that time, I was cold, tired, and wanted a drink.
This went on for several years. As Max got bigger, we rode our bikes to and from the park. 

One day I asked Max if he wanted to go to the park, and he said, “No.” His Max Park time was ended. The last day we’d gone to The Max Park was the last day we’d be there together, but neither of us knew it at the time. Most endings happen this way.
As the days and years pass by, I see ending after ending. 
Every day is the last day.
The last day we’ll see that sandwich man at our neighborhood Subway, the last time we’ll swim at this beach, the last message we’ll get from this friend. We can’t know what ended until later, but we’ll certainly do something for the last time today.

I think about those lost experiences and those lost people, the woman I saw on the sidewalk of Bush Street every day, when I walked from my apartment on Nob Hill to my job downtown, the woman with ratty hair, walking her little dog. What is she doing now? Did she wonder what happened to me, when I moved to the Sunset in 2002, or did she even notice? And which people remember me, that I never noticed? Are past events lingering in someone's brain, or have all traces vanished, as if they never happened?

If there were any wisdom (and there isn’t—there’s everything and nothing to be learned) it would consist of learning to fall freely. For we are in full, flaming descent, but we move so slowly we imagine we can hold on to certain things (at least this friend, at least this moment). If we fell faster we’d call out in panic. But our speed is slow if constant and some things and people are falling at the same rate; relative to them we don’t seem to be moving at all. But then something we are holding . . . . accelerates and slides out of our grasp — and suddenly we glimpse blackest, rushing night through the gap.   —Edmund White, Caracole


Nevertheless the time passed.
—Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Journey to the End of the Night

We were more settled than in 2014. We did not have to sell or buy a house. The facts:

We are older.


Max is bigger.

The big picture is not finished yet. Compare with last year to measure progress. You may ask, "Why is it taking so long?" There are two reasons: 1. The picture is complicated. 2. I'm slow.

We went to Alaska on a cruise ship. Misa and Max wandered around the ship. I mostly sat on the balcony and watched the water go by. We all ate. A lot. Alaska was pretty.

Please write if you feel so inclined, we enjoy hearing your thoughts and news. Wishing you well in 2016.