Questions asked…and answered

Periodically, a fellow blogger will pose and answer random questions in the context of a “blog award nomination.” The most recent person to do so decided, with commendable egalitarianism, to threw open the question-answering door to any and all entrants, so I decided to consolidate a series of questions (and my own idiosyncratic answers) into a single post.

You are very welcome.

Questions and answers are in no particular order.

Let the games begin!

Do you have any pets?

We have a four-year-old golden retriever named Ruby, who has epic patience:

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If you were a reality-TV show star, what would be the premise?

My life presented as a film noir.

What is the book you are currently reading?

By my count, I am currently in the middle of 14 books. Some ceased to interest me, some are bedside reading, some are research-related, and the rest are for fun. The book I will most likely finish first is Alan Rode’s biography of Charles McGraw.

Last month, I read and enjoyed Lawrence O’Donnell’s Playing With Fire: The 1968 Election and the Transformation of American Politics and Chris Matthews’ Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit.

Share something we don’t know about you.

Not sure I can top that time I dressed as Oscar Wilde, but…

In four consecutive summers (1978-81), I was a day camp camper, an overnight camp camper, an overnight camp worker, and a day camp worker.

That, dear readers, is efficiency.

Michael Jordan or Lebron James? Wilt Chamberlain, because he went to high school with my mother and aunt.

OK, OK…Michael Jordan.

What is your favorite reality show?

The way I prefer to define “reality show:” the entire prime time (7pm – midnight) weeknight MSNBC lineup of Hardball with Chris Matthews, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell and The Eleventh Hour.

We tell time ‘round here by MSNBC. Generally speaking, the girls are in bed, or close to it, by the end of “Chris Matthews.” If I then do not yell “Tonight on All In!” we fear Mr. Hayes will not know how to open his show. Final snuggles (and lights out) are supposed to happen between “Thing 1/Thing 2” and the start of “Rachel.” Nell and Ruby generally go to bed around “first commercial, Lawrence.”

However, if you insist on the more conventional definition: Food Network Star.

What’s the most important thing in your room right now?

Our four most recent holiday cards, each featuring our daughters’ smiling faces, propped up just to my right as I type this.

Well, those…and my fedora, of course.

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Does the sight of blood make you feel ill?

Yes.

And yet…in early June 1991, my mother was opening a jar of cocktail sauce. Somehow the glass shattered in her hand and severely gashed her thumb. My friend and I had just walked out of the apartment when my mother, sounding shaky, called to us from the balcony.

The way she was pressing the towel to her hand, she clearly needed to get to an emergency room.

The problem was that she was wearing nothing but a short blue kimono and underwear–no bra or pants. Despite the hemorrhaging, she insisted on getting dressed—including wearing a bra.

Guess who had to help her put on that bra?

Did I mention my mother was a very buxom woman?

By that point, I had forgotten all about the blood.

What is your worst habit?

You mean, besides my inability to tell a story in a direct, concise and linear fashion without footnotes, irrelevant tangents and a dozen false starts?

I will say…biting my cuticles.

Are you named after anyone?

My Hebrew name is Moshe ben David Laib (“Moses,” son of “Lion David”). I was given the name because my father was David Laib ben Moshe (David Louis, son of Morris), and his father was Moshe ben David Laib (Morris, son of David Louis), whose father was…you get the idea.

My secular name came down to Matthew or Michael, neither of which is a family name, but my mother liked both.

Matthew was chosen, though I have no idea why my middle name is Darin.

When was the last time you cried?

I tend to get weepy at stories involving fathers and sons, or when I witness acts of simple kindness and generosity.

Last night, there was such an act at the end of Season 4, Episode 5 of the outstanding Investigation Discovery series A Crime to Remember. My cheeks may have become a bit damp.

If you were another person, would you be a friend of yourself?

 If I were another person, than the “yourself” referenced in the question would not exist, so I cannot logically answer this question.

But do I like myself?

Yes.

Do you use sarcasm a lot?

Noooo, not at all.

I am a Jewish-raised-atheist northeastern urban intellectual. What do you think, he asked with a wry smile.

What’s the first thing you notice about people?

Overall demeanor, as in “let a smile be your umbrella.”

What is your eye color?

Brown

Scary movie or happy endings?

There is more overlap in the two styles than the question implies, but given the forced choice, I would say happy endings.

Except that many films noir have no such happy endings (The Last Seduction comes to mind), so, you know…

Favorite smells?

Off the top of my head: bacon frying, coffee brewing, freshly-baked bread, lavender, pine needles, Laphroaig.

What’s the furthest you’ve ever been from home?

By distance, that would be in July 2000 when I saw the US-Mexico border, just south of San Diego—a distance, on average, of 3,022 miles south and east of where I then lived.

Do you have any special talents?

Besides doing arithmetic in my head…I have a knack for sequencing tracks on mixes not by “title” or “theme” but by “musical flow.” Forget genre or artist, I want the chords, mood and tempo of the end of one track to flow seamlessly into the start of the next track.

Where were you born?

The long-since-closed Metropolitan Hospital in Philadelphia, PA.

What are your hobbies?

Other than crafting essays for this site, writing a book, all things film noir, following the Phillies and playing with Excel spreadsheets…

I used to have a pitching ritual. I would carry a bat (wooden—aluminum is for cans and recycling) and a bag of baseballs onto a baseball diamond. After tossing a few balls at the plate to loosen my arm, I would engage in the following warmup (using a ratty old red turtleneck as my strike zone): 10 four-seam fastballs from the windup, 10 from the stretch, then repeat the pattern with sinkers, sliders, curveballs (well, only five from each starting position) and circle change-ups. I might toss a few forkballs, as well, though I could never get the feel of them (or the knuckleball, for that matter).

I would then pitch a simulated game—or at least a few innings—alternating pitching and hitting (as in, throwing the ball up and whacking at it…so many ground balls to short)

I was no superstar (though I have a decent sinker), but it was a hell of a workout.

Now, it is mostly backyard Wiffle ball games with the girls, which are excellent.

What did you want to be when you grow up?

I went through a phase centering in 7th grade when I wanted to be an archaeologist.

But if you had told me then I would spend nearly 20 years as a health-related data analyst before beginning to write a book inspired by my love of film noir, I would have given you the blankest-of-all-possible blank look.

Who was your first best friend?

To protect privacy, let’s go with the boy in this tragic story.

How tall are you?

5’9¾”, but I freely admit to “just under 6 feet.”

How many countries have you visited?

United States and Canada, so far.

What was your favorite/worst subject in high school?

I generally loved them all…but let’s go with math (sorry, Mr. Leitham’s U.S. History and Mrs. Pertschuk’s AP English class), given my exceptional leadership of the Math Team senior year.

Excluding gym (except for gymnastics, at which I was surprisingly good), my freshman year biology was my least favorite class (though I did get to give a cool presentation on forensic evidence—blood stains, fingerprints, Bertillon measurements, etc.).

What is/are your favorite…

 …drink(s)?

Non-alcoholic: lemon Polar Seltzer, hot black coffee, water, fresh-squeezed orange juice, POM Wonderful blueberry-pomegranate, chocolate strawberry banana frappe (my creation) from Cabot’s (seriously, if you are ever in the Boston area, do yourself a favor and visit this family-run ice cream parlor and restaurant), and those Lifeway kefir mixtures I drink every night.

Alcoholic: Barring a really good single malt Scotch whiskey (with a drop or two of water to bring out the aroma and taste), I will happily drink a Johnnie Walker Black, light on the rocks, with a side of club soda; a rye and ginger ale or Coke; red wine, especially in the burgundy or pinot noir families; an ice-cold lager or pilsner; a rye Manhattan; or a No Sleep ‘til Brookline. Bourbon will do, in a pinch.

…animal?

Dogs, with horses a distant second.

…perfume?

 Do soap, shampoo, mouthwash and/or antiperspirant count?

What sports do you play/have you played?

As much as I detested summer camp, I discovered a knack for archery. I was pretty good at gymnastics in high school.

Otherwise, there are those one-on-one games of baseball I have played with various friends over the years. One buddy and I actually started inventing unusual teams, ever since a day in November 1995 where he decided he was going to field a team of famous English bishops—who did not run the bases so much as move in a stately manner about them.

The best team I ever created was a “pre-punk/punk/new wave/alternative” All-Star team I devised in June 2000. The only time I ever faced off with my buddy “as” this team, David Bowie doubled home Ralf Hutter and Brian Eno in the first inning for the games only runs (we played a full nine innings that day).

Who are some of your favorite YouTubers?

When I crash late at night (not a creature stirring and all that), I flip on the big screen TV and open YouTube (our television is an internet-connected computer, apparently). The sites (channels?) I most frequently visit (strictly off the top of my head) are WatchMojo, WhatCulture, CineFix, Wow Lynch Wow, the VlogLady and TopTenz.

The single most wicked awesome thing I have seen on YouTube is Orkestra Obsolete’s jaw-dropping cover of New Order’s Blue Monday:

How many girlfriends/boyfriends have you had?

Based upon a three-month minimum, I count nine, including my current wife Nell, with two relationships lasting, on and off, more than 20 years combined.

Favorite memory from childhood?

Spending the summers of 1974 and 1975 at the long-gone Strand Motel in Atlantic City, NJ.

How would you describe your fashion sense?

The avert-your-eyes love child of L.L. Bean and Brooks Brothers.

Or maybe simply

bowties-are-cool-dr-who

What phone do you have?

An iPhone 5, I think. I would love to have one of these, though…

Wall crank phone

And with that, I throw open the floor to other souls willing to answer this panoply of arcane queries.

Until next time…

NOIR CITY 16: A photographic epilogue

In this follow-up to the chronicling of my recent trip to NOIR CITY 16 in San Francisco, I take considerable artistic license with photographs of San Francisco. To read the entire series, please start here (or with this related, more analytic post).

It is an open question whether I would have grown so inordinately fond of this film festival if it were held anywhere but San Francisco, a city I loved long before I attended NOIR CITY 12 in 2014.

In my recent nine-part travelogue I focused primarily on my sojourn in NOIR CITY 16 (January 26 – February 4, 2018). As a result I elided San Francisco locales I visited during prior festivals but not this year.

I will redress that oversight in two parts. First, I will describe specific places not mentioned in the NOIR CITY 16 posts. Second, I will present quasi-artistic photographs of streets and buildings, with a brief digression on the street-facing fire escapes endemic to San Francisco. I then conclude with a haunting question.

Part I: Specific Sites

Following an early-morning flight from Boston that deposited me in San Francisco at 12:30 pm (all times PST) on Friday, January 24, 2014—leaving me so sleepy I watched my brand new, monogrammed suitcase and valet bag ride around the luggage carousel many times before a helpful airport worker pointed them out to me–I met my friend PH at the Prescott Hotel.

The Prescott was the “official” hotel of NOIR CITY (that honor has gone to the Hotel Rex since 2016), and they greeted me in style:

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I quickly made myself comfortable…

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…in this small…

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…albeit unusually decorated room (this painting in the bathroom enthralled me).

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Sir Francis Drake Hotel. PH and I walked the one-and-a-half blocks east on Post to this storied boutique hotel (one block north on Powell from Union Square), where PH’s friend worked in its diverse bars and restaurants.

We found her tending the quiet main lobby bar.

As we sat, drank (unwise given my exhaustion level) and ate surprisingly-unappetizing flatbread pizza, this imposing model of Drake watched over us.

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The hotel did achieve culinary redemption when PH and I ate at the superb Scala’s Bistro my last night there (Monday, February 3, 2014); PH’s friend waited on us with amiable grace.

Aquatic Park/Ghirardelli Square. On Sunday, January 26, 2014, I took my first meandering walk through Nob Hill and Russian Hill. Here, I look south on Kearny at Vallejo…

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…before looking west on Vallejo.

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Here I look north on Mason at Grant…

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…then climbed Lombard Street before arriving in Aquatic Park and Ghirardelli Square.

Sometime before 3 pm, I wandered into the Winery Collective, located in the nautical-themed Argonaut Hotel, in response to a very full bladder.

The rest rooms were located in the connecting lobby of the Argonaut. Returning to the winery, where I had deposited by stuff, I started a long conversation with the charismatic African-American oenophile working behind the counter.

She did require much persuasion for me to sample these wines:

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My view as I sipped:

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You cannot go to San Francisco and not order a sourdough soup bowl. I took this photograph some 20 minutes later, in the Blue Mermaid Restaurant, located in the lobby of the Argonaut.

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It was a chilly, foggy day—which made the view of the Golden Gate Bridge from Aquatic Park even more dramatic

 I actually explored the park—and Ghirardelli Square—when I returned in 2015.

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This park serves as one end of the Powell & Hyde cable car route. After my wine and soup, I waited a long time to board a cable car to return to the Prescott. In fact, I ended up running so late that I needed to take a taxi to the Castro Theatre, arriving just in time to enjoy two films noir from Japan—Yoidore Tenshi (Drunken Angel) and Nora Inu (Stray Dog)—both directed by the legendary Akira Kurosawa.

Unique Sweets. My wife Nell and I started regularly watching Food Network and Cooking Channel in the early 2010s. An early Cooking Channel favorite was Unique Sweets.

The third episode from Season 4 (“San Fran Sweet Treats”) highlighted three desert-themed restaurants: Craftsman and Wolves, Dandelion Chocolate and The Ice Cream Bar. Originally airing December 1, 2013, I re-watched it OnDemand before leaving for San Francisco.

On the morning of Monday, January 27, 2014, I set off in search of the first two, conveniently located next to each other on Valencia Street.

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Yes, that is sipping caramel.

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The aromas in Dandelion Chocolate are so enticing they blur your vision.

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I still have that gray fleece.

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As for the Ice Cream Bar, just bear with me.

PH lives near Haight-Ashbury, so on the afternoon of Friday, January 31, 2014, we toured this iconic  neighborhood.

I had been hearing (and seeing) a great deal of Bettie Page vintage clothiers, so we stopped in.

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After lunch at Crepes on Cole, where I took this photograph for our vegetable-chomping younger daughter…

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…we traveled back in time to this vintage ice cream/soda fountain.

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John’s Grill. Towards the end of The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett writes:

Spade went to the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company’s station in Powell Street and called Davenport 2020. “Emergency Hospital, please….Hello, there’s a girl in suite twelve C at the Alexandria Hotel who has been drugged….Yes, you’d better send somebody to take a look at her….This is Mr. Hooper of the Alexandria.”

He put the receiver on its prong and laughed. He called another number and said: “Hello, Frank. This is Sam Spade….Can you let me have a car with a driver who’ll keep his mouth shut?….To go down the peninsula right away….Just a couple of hours….Right. Have him pick me up at John’s, Ellis Street, as soon as he can make it.”

He called another number—his office’s—held the receiver to his ear for a little while without saying anything, and replaced it on its hook.

He went to John’s Grill, asked the waiter to hurry his order of chops, baked potato, and sliced tomatoes, ate hurriedly, and was smoking a cigarette with his coffee when a thick-set youngish man with a plaid cap set askew above pale eyes and a tough cheery face came into the Grill and to this table.

“All set, Mr. Spade. She’s full of gas and rearing to go.”

“Swell.” Spade emptied his cup and went out with the thick-set man.

I first visited John’s Grill in November 2003, while in San Francisco for a scientific conference—and of course I ordered “Sam Spade’s Lamb Chops.”

On the evening of Monday, January 27, 2014, I returned.

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This is the actual prop used in the iconic 1941 film noir.

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Almost one year later (Thursday, January 15, 2015), I returned; the novelty had worn off, though.

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The Ferry Building (on The Embarcadero). PH and I caught a ferry to Sausalito from here on the morning of Tuesday, January 28, 2014.

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Sears Fine Food. Lured by the neon sign and its apparent historic importance, I stopped in here for a snack on the late afternoon of Monday, February 3, 2014 (my last day in NOIR CITY 12).

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The place was not exactly hopping.

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As someone who has watched many episodes of Restaurant: Impossible, that made me nervous. I do not recall what I ordered, but it was nothing special.

Part 2: No Particular Place To Go.

Arresting buildings and interesting views. From 2014, in no particular order, we begin with this vista in Haight-Ashbury…

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…before moving to these gorgeous “noir” buildings on Powell between O’Farrell and Ellis.

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Here the street-facing fire escapes are plainly visible.

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Fire escapes are often a visual focal point in films noir. Like Venetian blinds, prison bars and slatted stairwells, they allow light to be broken into jagged shards, mimicking German expressionists.

But these fire escapes were often in the rear of apartment buildings, allowing private ingress and egress (did nobody lock their windows between 1941 and 1959?), perhaps to frame a detective for murder (e.g.¸ The Dark Corner) or simply as part of daily life (e.g., Rear Window). Or a young boy could sleep on them, inadvertently witnessing a murder, as in The Window.

Our Brookline neighborhood’s rabbit warren of alleys, paths and stairways is littered with rear fire escapes—and I love their metallic glint in the muted glow of street lamps and safety lights at night.

But having them front and center the way they are in San Francisco is such a visual contrast to how they are typically seen (or, to be precise, not seen) that they fascinate me.

Here is my 2018 photograph of the Rex, cropped to emphasize its street-facing fire escape:

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One final shot from 2014, looking up from Powell and Ellis.

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From 2015, again in no particular order, we have this building looming over Chinatown at the intersection of Grant and California.

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This is the Transamerica Pyramid as seen from Kearny, just south of Pacific.

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It is a long descent to Alcatraz from the corner of Green and Taylor.

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Looking toward the Bay Bridge from Broadway and Taylor.

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Looking up on Taylor from Ina Coolbirth Park, between Vallejo and Green.

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I was smitten with this vintage trolley on 17th Street, just around the corner from the Castro.

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Here are additional vistas from 2018.

The Bay Bridge seen from Vallejo, between Mason and Taylor.

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Looking northeast from Vallejo and Taylor:

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Looking south on Mason from Washington.

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This alley off Stockton, between Post and Bush, caught my eye…

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…as did this view looking east on Geary from Powell, at the southern edge of Union Square.

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Daughter-inspired. I took these first two photographs by Dragon’s Gate, at Grant and Bush.

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This now-defunct store on Powell seemed intended for our highly-imaginative younger daughter.

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From 2015, we have this storefront on Grant, between Bush and Sutter.

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 I took this photograph in 2017 for our athletic bookworm eldest daughter.

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Noir-tistry. I achieved these John-Alton-inspired effects by setting “Light” and “Color” to -100 and “Clarity” to 100.

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Look—another street-facing fire escape.

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Oddities. I took this photograph at 535 Valencia, just north of Craftsman and Wolves/ Dandelion Chocolate, in 2014. As far as I know, my mother never made sushi…or mixed particularly interesting drinks.

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One final question (unanswered since 2015): What did John do to deserve this fate—and in what “one way” will it happen?

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Until next time…