Go the King to Sleep

I finished reading Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep on Friday. If it was any other author, I would’ve tossed it aside after the first 50 to 100 pages. Really disappointing. I regret now cancelling my library reserve on it and wasting a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card on it.

My main complaint with it were the characters. I didn’t care for them at all. Another thing that irked me was how the bad guys called humans “rubes”. That was a description he used in his previous novel, the outstanding Joyland. Kinda soon to be recycling research material, don’t ya think, Uncle Stevie?

Speaking of the bad guys — essentially vampires — I did like how they didn’t do the old cliche by sucking blood, but instead lived off “steam”. Very nice.

What also irked me about the novel was the way that Danny Torrance hit rock-bottom with his alcoholism. It didn’t seem like rock-bottom to me. My dad, his liver almost spent, then mowing down a fence. That’s rock-bottom. My uncle threatening to throw himself in front of a bus. That’s rock-bottom. But what happened to Torrance. Please.

Oh, and getting back to the bad guys. I thought it was lame how Torrance and the good guys always had the upper hand. It didn’t seem like a level playing field; it would’ve been more dramatic if the bad guys (the True Knot — a rip-off of True Blood?) were one step ahead of Torrance and company. That’s what was so great about the Harry Potter series: Voldemort claimed some victories.

Part of my irritation with Doctor Sleep has to do with my reading tastes. Ninety-nine percent of the prose was pedestrian in this Shining sequel. Nowadays, I’m looking for almost every sentence to sing, which is why I’m jazzed to reread Moby Dick soon.

I guess titling this novel Doctor Sleep was appropriate, since I was nodding off through most of it.

Reinhold Niebuhr’s zingers

I finally finished reading Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society. Heavy read, and surprising how relevant it is today despite being written over 80 years ago. But what I loved was how it dispensed wisdom with regularity:

Justice is what love looks like in public (p. xiii, from Cornel West’s foreward)

“Where there is history, there is freedom; where there is freedom, there is sin.” (p. xxiv, from Landgdon B. Gilkey’s introduction)

…a laissez faire economic theory is maintained in an industrial era through the ignorant belife that the general welfare is best served by placing the least possible political restraints upon economic activity. The history of the past hundred years is a refutation of the theory; but is is still maintained, or is dying a too lingering death, particularly in nations as politically inompetent as our own. (p. 33)

Patriotism is a form of piety which exist partly through the limitation of the imagination, and that limitation may be expressed by savants as well as by saints. (p. 66)

Usually the individual is saved by the grace of God, while society is consigned to the devil… (p. 70)

The truest visions of religion are illusions, which may be partially realised by being resolutely believed. For what religion believes to be true is not wholly true but ought to be true; any may become true if its truth is not doubted. (p. 81)

The greed of the capitalistic classes has sharpened, but not created, the imperialism of nations. (p. 90)

…philanthropy combines genuine pity with the display of power and that the latter element explains why the powerful are more inclined to be generous than to grant social justice. (p. 127)

…every society has an instinctive desire for harmony and avoidance of strike… (p. 129)

Nothing proves the prejudices of the middle-class world more clearly than its unwillingness to recognise the genuine morality of proletarian aspirations. (p.162-3)

The question which confronts society is, how it can eliminate social injustice by methods which offer some fair opportunity of abolishing what is evil in our present society, without destroying what is worth preserving in it, and without running the risk of substituting new abuses and injustices in the place of those abolished. (p. 167)

The middle classes believe in freedom, but deny freedom when its execise imperils their position in society; they profess a morality of love and unselfishness but do not achieve an unselfish group attitude toward a less privileged group; them claim to abhor violence and yet use it both in international conflict and in the social crises in which their interest are imperiled… (p. 176-7)

We have seen that it is difficult to prevent the centralisation of economic power without giving the political state tremendous authority. A powerful state necessitates dangerous concentrations of political power in the hands of a few individuals and a small group. There is no certainty that this new power can be brought under either perfect ethical or social restraint. Ethical restraint is provided, for the moment, in Russia by the moral idealism of revolutionaries who espoused the cause of revolution before it offered the rewards of power. Even the idealism is no guarantee against the abuse of power. The abuse of power by communistic bureaucrats is very considerable, and is bound to grow as the purer revolutionary idealists are supplanted by men who have consciously sought for the possession of power. Though the equalitarian traditions of the revolutionary movement prevent them from using their positions for private economic gain, the abuse of power is a fact for which economic equalitarianism only partially compensates. An officious bureaucrat may cause intolerable injustice, even if he eats the same food and wears the same clothes as his victim. (p. 192-3)

The theory of communism is, that the dictatorship is only a transitory state and that it will become unnecessary as soon as the whole communism and no one challenges the regime. This theory fails to do justice to the facts of human nature, revealed not only in the men of power but in ordinary men. (p. 193)

The American business oligarchy is not as hereditary as European landed aristocracies, but is for that reason neither more virtuous nor less tenacious in clinging to its power and privilege. (p. 193-4)

The hope that the internal enemies will all be destroyed and that the new society will create only men who will be in perfect accord with the collective will of society, and will not seek personal advantage in the social precess, is romantic in its interpretation of the possibilities of human nature and in its mystical glorification of the anticipated automatic mutuality in the communist society. The symbol of this romanticism in communist thought is the virtual anarchism which crowns the structure of communist theory. (p. 194)

The hope that there will ever be an ideal society, in which every one can take without restraint from the common social process “according to his need,” completely disregards the limitations of human nature. Man will always be imaginative enough to enlarge his needs beyond minimum requirements and selfish enough to feel the pressure of his needs more that the needs of others. Every society will have to maintain methods of arbitrating conflicting needs to the end of history; and in the process those who are shrewder will have some advantage over the simple, even if they should lack special instruments of power. (p. 194)

Sentimentality and romanticism is the disease of observers who dream of an ideal goal without seeking its achievement. (p. 222)

…they consist in inequalities, which history sanctifies and tradition justifies. (p. 233)

…coercion and conflict. (p. 234)

It is important to insist…that equality is a higher social goal than peace. (p. 235)

Oppressed nationalities, Armenians fighting against Turkey, Indians against England, Filipinos against America, Cubans against Spain, and Koreans against Japan have always elicited a special measure of sympathy and moral approbation from the neutral communities. Unfortunately the working classes in every nation are denied the same measure of sympathy, because there is no neutral community which is impartial with reference to the claims as with reference to the claims of oppressed nationalities. In the case of the latter there is always some group in nations, not immediately involved in the struggle, which can achieve and afford the luxury of impartiality. Thus Europeans express their sympathy for our disinherited Negroes and Americans have a special degree of interest in the struggle for the emancipation of India. (p. 236)

Individuals are never as immoral as the social situations in which they are involved and which they symbolise. (p. 248)

However large the number of individual white men who do and who will identify themselves completely with the Negro cause, the white race in America will not admit the Negro to equal rights if it is not forced to do so. (p. 253)

Jesus did not counsel his disciples to forgive seventy times seven in order that they might convert their enemies or make them more favorably disposed. He counselled it as an effort to approximate complete moral perfection, the perfection of God. (p. 263)

Be convinced that it is better to suffer wrong than to commit it. (p. 268)

…all egoism must be morally disapproved. (p. 271)

The selfishness of human communities must be regarded as an inevitability. (p. 272)

A technological civilization makes stability impossible. (p. 275)

Bay Area playlist

Since I’m now living in the Bay Area, thought I would create a playlist saluting the area.

Took a few tries, but I think this one’s a winner sequentially. Enjoy!

Side 1:
paid advertising
“I Left My Heart in San Francisco” by Tony Bennett
“(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding
“Do You Know the Way to San Jose” by Dionne Warwick
“Lights” by Journey
“Tania” by Camper Van Beethoven
“Fake Tales of San Francisco” by Arctic Monkeys
“Left of the Dial” by The Replacements
“San Francisco” by Alkaline Trio

Side 2:
“City by the Bay” by J Church
“San Francisco Thespians Part 2″ by J Church
“San Francisco Fat” by NOFX
“East Bay” by NOFX
“Tenderloin” by Rancid
“Journey to the End of East Bay” by Rancid
“The Ballad of Wilhem Fink” by Green Day
“Welcome to Paradise” by Green Day
“Condition Oakland” by Jawbreaker
“West Bay Invitational” by Jawbreaker
“Moon over Marin” by Dead Kennedys

SF apt. hunt (including Taste of the Tenderloin)

It’s Monday, February 11 as I write this. It’s a little after 4 pm PT. I’m on the plane back to Philly after spending the weekend in San Francisco looking for a place to live for when I move here on March 2.

My flight on Friday arrived on time around noon PT. I rushed to the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train to head to South Berkeley for my 3 pm appointment to view a one-bedroom pad. Took about an hour to get there; there was a Timed Transfer where I had to switch trains, which worked out smoothly — no standing on the platform waiting…waiting…waiting.

The place I was scheduled to see was on Ashby Ave., about two blocks from the BART Ashby stop. One of the my SF supervisors said to get a residence that is close to a BART station, since my shift will end at 11 pm and there’s a BART station under the building I’ll be working in. So during the past week as a scoured through Craigslist postings, I tried to stay with places within a half-mile of BART stations.

Anyway, I got there a little before 1:30. A block away was a Greek restaurant staffed by Hispanics. I was starving (no meals on the Virgin America flight), so I inhaled the gyro I ordered. Drowned it with a can of Pepsi I bought two storefronts away at a corner convenience store.

Then I cruised around the neighborhood to get a better feel for it. I also talked with a few people on the street. South Berkeley is on the edge of North Oakland. Looked like the ‘hood is half-white, half-colour, with the vibe being lower middle class — didn’t seem like a high-crime area.

Around 2:20 I stood outside the building that housed my potential future living space. It was a yellow-and-white, wood casa with what looked like four apartments. I passed the time by reading Louise Wener’s memior. Eventually, an Asian college student, with a few grey hairs, popped out of one of the first-floor units. I told him I was waiting for the landlord, Sylvia. He was soft-spoken, so I didn’t catch everything he said, but he didn’t recommend living there. I asked why; all he did was shrug.

Sylvia never showed. I did leave her a voicemail that if she was around Saturday I could swing by, but mentally I put the place at the bottom of my list because she was a no-show and what the Asian tenant said.

Before hopping back on BART, I walked about a half-mile to another place on my list. It was on Julia Street, around the corner from Malcolm X Elementary School. The 1904 Victorian house the studio looked good, though I was a little trepidatious about Julia St. Across the street, at the end of the block, there was an utilitarian apartment complex: two floors, dung-coloured. It looked low-income, like the type I’ve seen in Los Angeles in movies where drug addicts or career criminals temporarily reside.

I was glad to check into my room at Hotel Bijou, two blocks from the Powell BART station in SF. All afternoon I had been lugging around my carry-on luggage, and that was getting real old.

Hotel Bijou advertised that it’s in the Union Square neighborhood. That’s a little misleading because it’s right on the edge of the Tenderloin, SF’s most crime-ridden neighborhood.

Like most hotels, my key was a card. It took a while for the gay guy at the front desk to fix it. Both of my key cards came in a paper sleeve with the following GUEST SAFETY TIPS:


I wasn’t worried because my room was on the third floor.

The free wireless wasn’t that great. Took forever to peruse Craigslist for any late-addition postings.

Around 8 pm I headed across the street to an Indian/Pakistan joint for some takeout chicken curry, white rice and that garlic bread (forget what it’s called) that looks like a pizza without cheese and tomato sauce. Oh, and I got a serving of Indian lemonade. The meal was a mistake. It didn’t give me any energy because I fell asleep almost right away. I’d been up since 5 am ET and it was now 10 pm PT.

Saturday I got up at seven for a $7 continental breakfast in the hotel. Ate three pancakes and drank a glass of orange juice. The former was a real treat, since I haven’t had it in probably five years.

Around 9:30 I was back in South Berkeley, a 20-25 minute BART ride from my hotel. There was a 10 am open house for a cottage on Ashby Ave., a few blocks from the place I was supposed to see Friday (I never did hear from Sylvia). It was on my list because of its low rent: $900. One plus for it was the Whole Foods a block away, but the nearest gym was over a mile away.

I was about five minutes late for the open house because I messed up on the address (transposed the first two numbers in the the four-number address). Some girl in her 20s was talking to the landlord about it. He gave it to her. Even if I had gotten there first, I wouldn’t have taken it. The cottage was basically a fiberglass toolshed he picked up at Lowe’s and plopped in his backyard garden. It was — all total — no more than 100 square feet. The left side consisted of a teeny-tiny kitchen and slender shower stall. I didn’t see a bathroom. The Craigslist posting did have pictures but I thought there was more to it. To paraphrase the beginning of Bosom Buddies, “Now I saw why it was so cheap.”

No worries, I hopped on BART for Downtown Berkeley, the next BART stop on the line, which only takes about five minutes. The next open house on my agenda started at 1 pm. I was determined to show up early in case this cottage was top-notch. Didn’t want to get pushed aside by some chubby, pimply hipster.

As soon as I got up to street level, I fell in love with Downtown Berkeley. Since it’s a college town, there’s plenty of retail, though nothing really high-end. Lots of cafes, a couple bike shops, and a McDonald’s at a main intersection. I loved the whole vibe. Felt like a hybrid of Princeton, NJ and a classy shore town like Sea Isle, NJ.

At 12:55 I crept up the driveway to the cottage in the back. There was a young couple already there. Damn!

The landlord showed us into the place. I glanced around. Everything looked like the Craigslist posting. It was a 200-square-foot, skylit cottage, which included the petite kitchen area. In the back was a shower and toilet separated by a wall. I told the landlord I would take it. He had me fill out a half-page application. I told him I was only in town until Monday afternoon. He said he goes through all the applications, then makes a decision. I tried to be earnest without being too overwhelming, though I may have overdid it with my parting words, “I’ll keep my cell phone on!”

It was now about 1:10. The open house in South Berkeley on Julia Street was from 1 to 2. If I booked it, I might be able to make it, because I needed a backup — I was going to have a lot of competition with the Downtown Berkeley cottage.

I actually made it to the S. Berkeley open house around 1:30. The studio was around back. The seven pictures on the Craigslist post were representative. It was about 200-square-feet with the kitchen to the right (nice black/white marble counter). In the back was the bathroom with a tub, no shower.

I told the landlord my situation and he gave me the five-page application.

Back at the hotel, the crazies from the Tenderlion district were out and about even though it was still daylight. No stream of winos lying against the one side of the hotel, like last night, but there was this skinhead kicking the air chest-level. One of his kicks landed on an iron utility pole. He stopped kicking to peel a sticker off the pole his foot had landed on. He then went around the corner, kicking again. I ain’t gonna lie to you. He really scared me. I jaywalked as soon as he had hit that pole.

In my room, I filled out the application for the South Berkeley studio. I really wanted the Downtown Berkeley cottage but needed a Plan B.

After having the front desk fax the application, I cruised Craigslist for any new postings. Then I worked on dinner.

I was in the mood for chicken parmigiana. If I walked in the opposite direction of the Tenderloin, I was in Union Square and the posh City Centre. None of the expensive eats had chicken parmigiana, and I didn’t feel like doing takeout from a pizzeria.

Thanks to my smartphone, I found a place that I believe was in the Mission District. It was a chintzy Italian place with cliched Italian celebrities on the walls. Their chicken parmigiana wasn’t the best I’ve ever had but it was good enough and a nice price was $13 (came with a mound of spaghetti). I washed it all down with a mix of iced tea and lemonade.

For the rest of the night I caught up on some newspaper reading. Unfortunately, I didn’t sleep well. Too worried about my SF living situation. I probably wasn’t going to get the Downtown Berkeley cottage, and the S. Berkeley studio was probably a shoe-in but it wasn’t the best neighborhood. If I had a normal 9-to-5 gig, I wouldn’t worry, but I would be getting off work at 11 pm — in a neighborhood like that, it’s safe during the day, but the freaks, peeps and thieves come out at night.

Sunday morning I did the continental breakfast again, this time eggos and OJ. There was an open house on my schedule that started at 10 am.

The open house was in North Berkeley, about 5 minutes from Downtown Berkeley. Per usual, I showed up super-early to scope out the neighborhood. N. Berkeley is a quiet residential area, filled with respectable California homes. At least that’s what I saw in my 10-minute walk from the BART station.

I gotta admit, the apartment complex looked really out of character in that neighborhood. You have all these family homes, then on the corner a grey four-unit complex with the apartment up a set of steps (I think garages were on the bottom).

Around 9:30, I stood on a corner and thought that if this place in N. Berkeley will take an immediate offer, I may have to take it. Last thing I wanted to do was head back to Philly empty-handed. I didn’t want to fly out here March 2nd and stay in a hotel until I sublet a place then hunt for a permanent residence; some sublets charged as much as $100 a day. Thats $3K a month!!!

Fortunately, as I was standing on that quiet N. Berkeley street corner, my phone rang showing a restricted number. It was the Downtown Berkeley landlord. Out of 12 applications, he narrowed it down to three. I was at the top of that list. Could I meet him at 1 pm to sign the lease? Damn straight I could! Though he did want a cashier’s cheque for the deposit and a post-dated cheque for the first month’s rent.

I hopped on the next BART to take me back to my hotel. I was afraid I was going to have to take the money out of the ATM, since my bank wasn’t open on Sundays. But the lady at the front desk let me know the Post Office opened at 11. It was a few blocks away, and oddly enough in the basement of Macy’s. I asked for a cashier’s check and they gave me a money order, well, actually two, since there’s a $1,000 limit.

Around noon I back in Berkeley. Signed the lease, handed over the money orders and paid the first month’s rent. It’s $1,195 a month, which includes utilities (except Internet). I love the location: the gym and a laundromat are both only a few blocks away, and it’s a 10-minute walk to BART — such a safe neighborhood, I doubt I’ll get jumped coming home from work at midnight.

I did have to pay rent for the last half of February. My mom and sister Diane didn’t like that, but I had told the landlord I would pay it when he mentioned it on Saturday. Obviously, I would’ve preferred to keep that $597.50, but his Craigslist ad did mention that it was available for immediate move-in. It’s possible that if I said I wouldn’t pay before March 1, I could’ve been last out of the final three, or not even considered. I didn’t want to take that risk. It was my first choice, and I was on a time crunch. Plus Downtown Berkeley is so beautiful! And I’m only 20 minutes from SF!!!

I got back to the hotel around 2:30. For lunch, I did a repeat of yesterday and went to this little corner sandwich shop. Saturday I had a turkey sandwich, today I had a ham sandwich. Probably should’ve had a salad, but their sandwiches are awesome: toasted, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, thinly-sliced cucumbers.

After lunch I finally replied to the S. Berkeley landlord. He had emailed me after I got the phone call from my soon-to-be new landlord. I didn’t want to reply to the S. Berkeley landlord until I signed all the paperwork. The S. Berkeley cat said he hadn’t made a decision yet on who to offer the studio to, plus he promised to show it to a few people next weekend. I was actually a little surprised by his email. I got the impression he was looking to fill it quickly. Jeez, talk about totally misreading someone. No matter, I now had a place, though he did say I made the short list. Can’t help thinking that I said something that might have turned him off. Maybe a 42-year-old moving across the country unnerved him. It’s not standard, I’ll give you that. Oh, well. . . .

In the late afternoon I ducked into one of the two convenience stores on the block. There was a dude in there with a piece of brown beer-case hanging around his neck. It said: “Why lie? I need beer.” That made me smirk. Almost as good as the beggar I saw when I got off the BART on Friday  on my way to the hotel. His sign said: “Will take verbal abuse for change.” I was tempted to give him two bucks for creativity.

For dinner I walked around the posh area near my hotel until I found a hi-brow place. I was in the mood for a seafood broiled combo, but their crabcakes looked good enough. Two were over $30, so I just got one along with garlic mashed potatoes and a big bushel of broccoli. The whole meal with tip was $37, but it was worth every bit.

I fell asleep around 10:15 pm and slept pretty well until 7 am. It’s good to head back to Philly with my mission accomplished.


Interesting post over at New York Times’ Goal blog, with the head of FIFA (the international soccer association) calling the MLS (Major League Soccer) a waste. I was going to post a comment but I thought it would be more appropriate on my blog, since I wouldn’t have added anything to the conversation — I just wanted to say how much I like the MLS.

I appreciate how the MLS has soccer-specific stadiums and the tickets are reasonably priced. Hell, I have season tickets next year for the San Jose Earthquakes. If you would’ve told me 20 years that one day I would be a season ticket holder, I would’ve told you to get out of my way so I could grab another Busch beer.

Plus, I love MLS LIVE! It only cost $60 for the year and I could watch any match, though some were blacked out for 24 or 48 hours. That didn’t really bother me. I got plenty of other stuff to do to pass the time.

I have tried following European soccer while I wait for the MLS to return (why must March be so far away?), but I just couldn’t get into it. Probably because they don’t have anything like MLS LIVE; at least that comprehensive and affordable. Only way to watch European matches is by going to a bar. And since I don’t drink anymore, bars only have one use in my life: picking up middle-aged ladies.

MLS may not pull in the numbers of other countries, but I think that has to do with the fact that America is a country of dumb-skulls. What other reason is there for not embracing the world’s most popular sport?

why Krugman rocks

Really good post by him the other day:

Sitcom Kabuki (Trivial)

OK, so I’ve just spent a number of hours on domestic flights, the kind that show sitcoms on screens down the middle of the aisle. (Which is why I was too tired for Friday Night Music — next week). I didn’t listen to any of the dialogue – I was reading – but I did find myself watching some of the acting. And with the sound off, you can really see just how artificial the conventions of sitcom acting are: the telegraphed double-takes, the faux-angry declarations of the men, the perkiness of the women, etc., etc. – none of it resembling at all the way real people behave. It’s an art form, if you like, that’s as deeply stylized and full of conventional signifiers as Kabuki theater or Chinese opera; the actors might as well be wearing ritual masks representing their alleged characters and emotions.

It’s also, of course, a cultural form that’s very, very stupid.

Well said. . . .

It’s All in My Head

Been listening to my Lookout Records playlist a lot recently on my iPod. I’ve been starting the shuffle with Screeching Weasel’s “It’s All in My Head”. I think part of the reason it’s been on my mind is because of the little bouts of lightheadedness I’ve been experiencing — probably excitement about moving to San Francisco in March; and maybe a little anxiety because one-bedroom apartments in my price range (under $1,200) aren’t too plentiful on Craigslist. I may have to do the flatmate thang. . . .

two thoughts

I think I’m going through a mid-life crisis in slow motion — the tiniest things make me angry. Fortunately, I haven’t acted on them. Internalizing has the main (only?) benefit of not making an ass out of yourself.

Second thought is that new Ben Affleck movie, Argo I think it’s called. Can’t help thinking it’s part of the propaganda to wage war with Iran. The critical reaction seems so gung-ho. Could just be a coincidence. Maybe it really is a good movie; after all, The Town was awesome. Then again, America is an excellent example of inverted totalitarianism.