Sunday, August 24, 2008


During the first meeting of an SF City College music class titled simply “Woodwinds,” the teacher asked us, “Does the flute have an octave-key?”

The other two instruments to be taught are Sax and Clarinet, which do have special keys that facilitate movement between octaves (actually “registers”) but the flute simply doesn’t.

The simple answer is No.

But one of the students took the bait and suggested that a particular right-hand pinkie key might be what he meant.

“No,” the teacher said, “where is the octave key on the flute—anyone else?”

No one else spoke so I answered, “In your imagination.” This apparently was also wrong.

Then an experienced student, (one can take the class four times) piped up with what he knew would be the answer—“In the embouchure [lips].”

And that’s what the teacher said. … which is a correct answer to “How do flutists change register since the flute has no octave-key?”

I bit my tongue, as per my mom’s story from five decades earlier.

In the late 1950s I was about eight when my mom took a class at LA City College, some English thing.

One of the questions on her first homework assignment was “List five words that can be used as both a noun and as a verb.”

One of the words my mom listed was “see.”

The teacher marked that answer wrong, explaining that the noun was spelled differently, S-E-A.

My mom told us kids that the teacher was wrong. The noun “see,” as anyone should know who wishes to be thought literate in English, is the common name of a Catholic bishop’s jurisdiction. If nothing else, we’ve all heard of the pope’s jurisdiction as “The Holy See,” which is not, repeat not, a body of water.

My mom explained that the embarrassment the teacher would feel and any resulting backlash were not worth correcting such a small injustice.

At the time I dismissed her attitude as mere timidity—if a teacher mistakenly marked one of my answers wrong I would have raised Cain. I would have gone to the mat, hell, to the gallows, insisting that “see” is a noun.

Higher education prepares us to work for large corporate and governmental bureaucracies in which it is essential to agree with one’s superiors, even if they are dead wrong, unless disagreeing would somehow be a positive career move.

Theobald Boehm developed the modern flute that we see in western orchestras these days. There are flutes from various cultures, as well as historic flutes, such as the recorder, from European culture.

The first level of distinction, when a flutist is asked what type of flute he or she plays, is Boehm versus non-Boehm.

A major impediment to this discussion is the pronunciation of Mr Boehm’s name. Here in California it’s pronounced simply “bame,” rhyming with game lame tame same and name.

Anyway, next class maybe I can impress the teacher by announcing the flute octave key’s true location—in the trash heap outside Theobald Boehm’s workshop.

It's kind of strange to think that I'm going to get a grade for this.

Then I can really get on Mr McCarthy's good side, our teacher's name is Charlie McCarthy, by inquiring about the welfare of Mortimer Snerd.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008


Early yesterday morning I saw workers setting up temporary chain link fencing in the west end of Golden Gate Park.

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Fencing within Golden Gate Park is erected for events that require paid tickets. Such events, in my small mind, are antithetical to the idea of public parks, but nobody seems to care any more about that—everyone’s grabbing what’s left.

The area being fenced for a three day rock concert, which includes unprecedented nighttime performances, is a huge part of the park that includes the Polo Field.

Radiohead and Tom Petty seem to be the headliners. For such as they you pay $85.00 per day or $225.00 for all three days

I’m reminded of a previous concert at the Polo Field that included:
The Grateful Dead
Jefferson Airplane
Quicksilver Messenger Service (lead singer Janis Joplin)
Steve Miller Band
Additionally, there were appearances/speeches/readings from:

Dick Gregory
Allen Ginsberg
Timothy Leary

According to Wikipedia, Owsley made a special batch of LSD and distributed it for free at the event, which was billed as “A Gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-In.”

I didn’t get any of the acid which is probably a good thing. I was only three months past my eighteenth birthday facing enormous pressures regarding the draft, and just beginning to confront my gayness. My senses were already sensitive enough.

The word Be-In has entered our vocabulary without its pun value.

There were maybe twenty or thirty thousand people there, though I recollect that the venue seemed too large for the crowd. It was a brilliant winter day. There weren’t any particular problems.

It was free of charge. There was no temporary chain link fence. No tickets. This was in January 1967, five months before the “Summer of Love,” which began the conversion of hippie into a commodity.

Anyway, I got a mailer recently from Barack stating that a core Democratic value is that we want to give our children more prosperous lives than we had ourselves.
Besides the idiocy of this perpetual-motion idea, we all know that American prosperity reached its peak in the mid 1960’s, when state-college tuition was free and so were the Dead, the Airplane, and QMS (which legendary groups were billed on the above poster simply as “San Francisco Rock Bands”)

No one in this presidential race has uttered the words “human population growth.” Hell, in all the Olympic coverage we’ve heard nothing about China’s one-child policy.

The kind of prosperity experienced by regular Americans in the 1960s is largely an outcome of World War II. Unfortunately, short of the world finding a humane way to control its population, such prosperity will come again only on the other side of a major Malthusian event.

So it doesn’t matter who-the-fuck’s on the Supreme Court.

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Saturday, August 09, 2008


I resolved to report/comment on any good news as soon as I hear it.

It may not be news to you, but I just found a source of cheap Nag Champa in Eureka Valley (“the Castro”).

I thought the price was pretty standard, around $0.13/gram, a little more for the 15g box, less for the 40g box.

Then, the Bead Store near the Castro Theater raised their price for the 15g box from $2.00 to $3.00.

This is still incredibly cheap when you consider that the raw ingredients and the packaging, not to mention labor, all have a cost that is greater than zero, and then the shipping halfway around the world, then the merchant’s markup. I wonder what the price could be FOB/factory.

I was unaware that Planetweavers with their glitzy uckteen-dollars-per-square-foot fa├žade [pictured below] on Castro was the same group as the funky erstwhile shop on Haight, or I would have tried them.

So I saw some moving-in activity at a storefront next to sfmike’s favorite dildo emporium on 18th Street and checked it out. Turns out it’s Planetweavers. I guess rent is an issue. [They haven’t updated their website yet; to find them follow the directions to Autoerotica.]

Planetweavers has a large selection of incense including the most popular Nag Champa at $2.99 for the 40g box. This works out to $0.0748/gram. At the counter the guy even gave me a 25% discount.

Good news has been rarer than sunshine in the Sunset District lately. And there’s no escape. Gas costs too much. Biking or walking burns unaffordable food calories.

But, hey, incense is still cheap.

I light up a stick of Nag, close my eyes, and it’s like I’m in India.

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