A Dead Language

When I was a pre-teen and earning a few extra bucks as a babysitter, I sat for a family who had two young, rambunctious boys. They were a good family but those boys were a nightmare to babysit.

Since the parents would usually be out late, the mom liked for me to write up a little note before I left for the evening so that in the morning she could review what the boys ate, when they went to bed, how they behaved, etc.

Those little creeps knew they were hellions, and so when it came time for me to write up the note, they always were at each elbow to try and see what I was writing so they could get ahead of it with their folks.

Well…I fixed their wagon. I started writing the note in cursive. They were both too young to have learned cursive in school and it drove them *bonkers*.

Under the steely gaze of their dad, the older boy generally denied anything and everything and the younger boy sang like a canary. It was awesome.

Personally, I don’t generally use cursive writing in my day to day life anymore. I don’t know why, but somewhere along the line I stopped. My handwriting is so sloppy anyway that the addition of cursive made it damn near unreadable.

About the only place I still both to use cursive writing is when I write a check, and then only on the line where you have to spell out the amount and my signature.

And who writes checks anymore anyway?

Still, I’m a bit sad to hear all the talk lately of schools opting not to teach cursive writing to school kids anymore. I guess with computers, iPhones and iPads, it’s become, well, a dead language. Known only to the elders of our little (6 billion strong) tribe.

I love to look at old letters from my parents, grandparents and even great grandparents. My paternal grandmother had an often difficult to read tight scroll. My maternal grandmother’s hand was a bit more open and looping.

A letter from them was easily identifiable by their handwriting. It was like a thumbprint.

Within just a few years, kids won’t be able to read these old letters, or as the blog MoxieQ notes, the original US Constitution or even the original Declaration of Independence.

Original US Constitution, in cursive

Declaration of Independance

If kids see these documents while on a field trip or in a book, it will simply look like a foreign language.

That seems….wrong.

I get that the times, they are a changin’ and the call for cursive writing is less and less, abandoned in favor of teaching touch typing earlier in school (I had it in mid-school but by early grade school, kids need to know how to interact with a computer).

But still, cursive writing is a basic foundation of our culture, not just being able to express oneself in written form, but as its own language. It was a rite of passage to learn to write in cursive. Suddenly my mom’s shopping list went from being a bunch of scribbles to making perfect sense (except when she wrote it in stenographer’s shorthand, another dead written language).

I guess the rite of passage now is when a kid gets their first cell phone or iPad. I suppose in the end it’s ok, as long as we keep finding ways to express ourselves.

I’m still a little sad about the change, though….

Happy Hour!

Oh happiest of Happy Fridays. Sure, I was on vacation Monday and Tuesday, but I’ve packed a week or more of work into the two days I’ve spent back in the office and more more lies ahead. Yeesh!

As I rolled into work on my morning commute, I thought “today’s a real good day for a Happy Hour” which got me to thinking about all the bars I’ve visited in my little life.

Which got me wondering about what are the best (and by best, I the biggest dive) bars I’ve been to.

Here’s my top five, in no particular order:

  1. The Grant & Green Saloon (pre-renovation, when it was still a blues club), located conveniently at the corner of Grant and Green streets in San Francisco.

    It was in this dank, cave-like (it was painted black), seedy SF joint that I first saw the irrepressible Johnny Nitro & The Doorslammers.

    I still can’t believe I used to go to this place *by myself* Ah the stupidity courage of youth.

    One main feature of this dive was the bathroom. The ladies was located at the end of a weird dark hall. The door had a questionable bolt latch. The toilet tank was held together with a metal strap. The broken toilet seat was patched with heavily road worn gray duct tape. When you sat, first the tape would stick to you, and then the seat would give way a bit.

    When your business was done, you’d stand, and the seat came with you. It stuck to your leg just long enough for the seat to shift back together and pinch a good amount of thigh skin between the broken pieces. It hurt like a sonovabitch and I’d come away with a welt and left over adhesive from the tape. Curse words were uttered.

    Also, the boys loo at the front of the hall would stop up with some regularity, so when it was busted, the drunk boys would lumber to the end of the hall and shake the door to the ladies room. Regulars knew if you shook the door hard enough and long enough, that weak bolt would give way and *surprise* you’d be caught in a squat facing some drunk lumbering boy.

    I learned to pee really, really fast. Also, I’ve never been one of those girls to go to the bathroom with friends, but I did at the G&G. It helped to post someone outside the door to keep watch. (the door was too far away from the toilet to be able to both hold the door and do business).

    Despite all of what’s gross about the G&G, I saw some of the most amazing live blues there. I was actually heartbroken when they fixed it up, painted it white and put in new plumbing. It’s never been the same since….

  2. The Saloon just down Grant street from the G&G, in San Francisco

    Oh the Saloon. It contains what can only be called a “funky smell”. Sunlight never hits the inside of this place, and that’s probably for the best.

    Established in 1861, it’s San Francisco’s oldest continually operating bar. The Saloon holds some history. Legend has it the local firefighters saved the building from the fires that raged after the 1906 earthquake due to the prosperous brothel that operated on the upper floors.

    There are plenty of stories about young men having their fill and stumbling out onto the foggy San Francisco night, then waking up on a boat out to sea. An unwilling member of the ship’s crew and unable to return to port for months or years at a time. The colloquial term for that is Shanghaiing.

    All of that history invades the place, and you feel it. There is still live blues seven days at week at The Saloon (and two bands a day on the weekends).

    It’s strange, smelly, filled with weirdos, and a tiny dance floor (but the bathroom isn’t so bad). I’ve had some of the greatest nights of my life inside that place. The timbers jump when the base player thumps that thing.

    It’s fantastically beautiful. And Fresno alley just outside the door is a place filled with all sorts of shenanigans (including photography, the light there is awesome).

  3. The Alive just over the border in Juarez

    I couldn’t find any links to information about this place, other than wistful memories from many a person who was there back in the day.

    The Alive was actually underground, you had to navigate this long, steep ramp to get into the place.

    Just an aside….does it seem like a good idea to YOU to be in an place when you are 18, in a foreign country, underground, drunk and there is only ONE entry/exit? Ah the stupidity courage of youth.

    This was a place for cheap Coronas, thumping dance music, and a bathroom that I can hardly even describe. There were no lights in there (probably for the best). With my walnut sized bladder, I did my best to hold it for as long as possible. Once, I went in there (couldn’t wait anymore) and I slipped into a stall. SOMETHING was moving on the surface of the water in the toilet. It was alive. I have zero idea what it was and it scares the sheeeit out of me to think about it now.

    I held the door handle for my life and leaned back, doing the best I could to be the farthest possible distance I could get from the seat and still hit the water. I prayed that door handle wouldn’t give way. I prayed whatever was in the water wasn’t bitey. I prayed I could just get this done and go home.

    I survived and emerged unscathed. It took three tequila poppers (some called them slammers) to get over the trauma.

    Then I danced and tried to forget.

    I used to have such fun in Juarez. The danger made it more interesting, I suppose. Of course, these days it’s ill advised to slip over into Juarez. Too much awful business going on there. I’m afraid The Alive is an experience that is long gone (and maybe that’s for the best).

  4. A bar attached to the Steven’s hotel in Carlsbad

    At least I think it was the Steven’s Hotel. This was a bar that was located on the backside of a hotel on Canal Street in Carlsbad (it’s been soooo many years since I lived there.)

    I don’t actually think this bar exists anymore. I can’t seem to find any record of it from a Google search.

    To get to the place, you had to ascend these steep metal stairs. Going up wasn’t so bad, coming out was a bit treacherous once you were a little wobbly in your shoes, and especially if it had rained a bit. People slipped and bobbled down those stairs in droves. A big pile of borrachos at the bottom of the stairs. I wish I was kidding.

    The bar hosted Pot Ash miners, local cowboys, and us college kids. This was something of a volatile combination. The plate glass windows were replaced by plastic after too many fights in the bar kept smashing the glass. You couldn’t get beer in a bottle or glass. Only cans and plastic cups held drinks.

    The mood was weird, and tense. But the beer was cheap and whatever half ass local band was playing would getcha dancing. And hell, it was somewhere to go and something to do in Carlsbad. So ok.

    I had some odd, yet fun times there. Strange spot and strange people.

  5. Cowboys bar in Las Cruces

    Who knows what this place is called these days. At NMSU in the 80’s and 90’s this was THE place to be.

    A band called Easy Money used to play there. The lead singer was named Toby Keith. They were a pretty good band. The lead singer was a complete arrogant ass. Nobody liked him, and now he actually is somebody. (I still think he’s an ass)

    At one point they introduced a special where on Fridays, if you bought a pitcher of beer, you could eat as much pizza as you wanted. Big mistake. Hungry and broke college kids can eat a LOT. And if we all put in a dollar, we could get one, maybe two pitchers of Coor’s Light. So there.

    That promotion didn’t last long.

    I danced until my feet hurt many a night at Cowboys. God I loved that place.

    All night drinking and dancing, then after the bar closed, a group trip to Village Inn for late night pancakes. Why do pancakes taste so damn good at 2 am?

Whooo doggies, that was quite a trip in the Wayback Machine. I think I need a smoke (and a vodka drink) after all of that. (no, no, just kidding, I don’t smoke….)

Sadly, I won’t be at ANY those places tonight. Instead I’ll be at the Red Couch Saloon where The Good Man tends bar.

He knows which wine goes best with Cheetos.

Happy Friday everyone! Enjoy your night.

Photo of the interior of the Saloon, Copyright Scott Palmer.


(Warning: this is me blogging on hardly any sleep and LOTS AND LOTS of caffeine. A dangerous combo.)

Oh fabulous wildebeest, woolly haired cattle of the African plains.

You feed on grass and travel in packs.

You are so unpretty and yet so graceful!

Sometimes you hang out with zebras. Strength in numbers, dontchaknow? Heck, with your stripey coat, you look like you kinda could be part zebra, too.

The good people of Masai tend to find you tasty in the form of biltong.

You are an odd looking creature and…..

Hmm? What? Wassthat you said?

Oh. Really?

Ooooooh I see. New. The word “new”. That’s the Theme Thursday this week. Not Gnu? You sure?

New. As in “what’s new?”

Myyyy baaaaaad.

Here’s what’s new.

We just had a 3.2 magnitude earthquake. Just a little rattler, really. A teacup shaker.

My boss is visiting from the UK. He’s freeeeeaking out.

It’s all new (gnu?) to him!

Ok, I’m done here. Carry on.

Image by Muhammad Mahdi Karim is from Wikipedia and is used here under a GNU Free Documentation License. (hee! What’s Gnu with you?)

A Face From The Past

While visiting L.A. this weekend, we had a chance to pile into a convertible and take a drive up and over the hill to Burbank.

It was there I ran into a childhood friend.

A face I can never forget.

Last time I saw this creepy somnabitch he was in Albuquerque, standing on the corner of San Mateo and Montgomery, right across the street from Del Norte High School.

He showed up once or twice in the high school parking lot, too. Looking an awful lot like this:

In fact, over the years he hasn’t changed a bit.

Ok, sure, that hairdo is wildly outdated. Those shifty eyes make me nervous. And those plaid pants! Ugh!

But he still cooks up a real fine breakfast.

Photos from the Burbank Bob’s Big Boy, originally opened in 1949. All photos by Karen Fayeth and subject to the Creative Commons license displayed on the right column of this page.

Finding Inspiration

And so, after many visits and many tries, I finally found the way to really, really *get* L.A.

The secret is this…if ya are gonna go to L.A., then really go to L.A. proper. None of this staying in Burbank or camping out in Pomona. No.

L.A. proper, and more succinctly, Hollywood, is the center of what matters. All the rest of those suburbs just serve to water down that which makes L.A. a goddamn fun place to be.

So you gotta stay in L.A., or to quote Wang Chung perhaps you live and die in L.A., and you only visit all of those other surrounding places if you need to. Mainly, you stay put, because there is plenty to see.

As my amazing cousin lives in West Hollywood, we wanted to stay somewhere nearby. Walking distance, even. The Good Man scored us a room on the Sunset Strip, and that’s where I finally learned to bond with a town that has vexed me for years.

Yes, I know, the Sunset Strip is to local residents what the Vegas Strip is to local residents, a place to go only when company is in town.

But I don’t care.

Our hotel was directly across the street from the famed Rock n Roll Hyatt also known as Riot House. We were also next door to the famed House of Blues.

So here’s my recipe for finding the soul of L.A.:

You get off highway 170 and you roll past the Hollywood Bowl. That street is called Highland. You stay on Highland until you get to the corner of Hollywood and Highland. Is that address familiar? Yes, it’s where the Kodak Theater is located, that place of red carpets and award shows. Be careful to look only at the Kodak, because if you look in the other direction it’s not quite so glamorous.

Turn right on Hollywood and drive slowly (you have to, traffic is a bitch) and let Grauman’s Chinese Theater roll by your car windows. For such a profoundly historic place, it’s so physically tiny.

Keep rolling. No need to stop here. See the stars on the sidewalk whip by as you pick up acceleration and keep rolling down Hollywood Blvd. As you leave the jam packed area, you find yourself among 1960’s era apartment buildings and that uniquely L.A. look of tall palm trees on both sides of the street. You’ve seen this in the movies. It’s as familiar as if you’ve been there before.

Onward to Fairfax where you take a left, then at the next light, turn right.

There you are on Sunset. Beautiful, ugly, magical Sunset Boulevard.

Park your car, check into the hotel, ditch your bags. Get out on the street and walk.

Yes, I said walk. Screw what the Missing Persons said about nobody walking in L.A. In this part of L.A., you do. If you don’t, you’re sorely missing out.

From the Rock n Roll Hyatt, walk west on Sunset past the House of Blues. There’s the Viper Room. There’s the Whiskey a Go Go. There’s the Roxy Theatre. Do you like music? Have you ever listened to Rock and Roll? Well hell, you have got your head and your feet solely in the middle of history, baby.

But there’s other things to see along the way. How about Book Soup, L.A.’s answer to San Francisco’s City Lights? And the Rainbow Bar & Grill. And even a few empty shops and a whole lot of restaurants, new and old along the way.

You note, as you pass each shop door, that everyone has etched into the glass “Established in ____” Yes, everyone has to publicly announce the year they got their start, even if it was only last year.

And when you comment on this to The Good Man, he gives you the quote of the day, perhaps of the whole trip: “In a town with little authenticity, everyone has to manufacture it.”

God he’s a smart man.

But then you take a turn somewhere. Doesn’t matter where, could be Olive or La Cienega, but head south and walk down the hill. Because Santa Monica Boulevard is down there and that’s a whole other place entirely.

Now you are smack dab in the heart of West Hollywood, and yes, the heart of the LGBT part of Los Angeles. There are less historical places to see, and more of just a thriving neighborhood. This place is practically buzzing with life. This is one of those “ain’t got no destination, I think I’ll just walk” kind of places.

Well, ok, I’ll turn off Santa Monica and drop into The Abbey because even though I am straight, I’ve never had a bad time at this place. The drinks are strong and the music is loud and the atmosphere is crazy. And lots of fun.

And it’s on a warm Fall night on the Abbey’s patio, over the top of a vodka tonic with The Good Man and my supremely cool cousin that I think, “you know….this ain’t so bad.”

Shove over, Frank Sinatra. L.A. might be my lady, too.

(No worries, I still hate the Dodgers.)