Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Exploring ancient ruins in Utah

I'm heading off to Utah to take a look at some very old pictographs, petroglyphs, granaries and other ruins in a remote slot canyon about three hours from Salt Lake City. I'm doing this for a magazine assignment. I'll give a full report when I return next week. I'll make sure to bring plenty of water this time!!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Revolting "healthy snacks" for Halloween

I've never liked Halloween, America's annual nod to Satanism, but at least I took some cold comfort in the junk food: infant-sized versions of Mars Bars, York Peppermint Patties, Milk Duds, Junior Mints and Raspberry Spree. In the past, if a parent departed from the protocol and tried to drop an apple or an organic cracker into your treat bag, the response was simple: you reported them to the police. Now, the kids of today have nothing to look forward to in terms of Halloween. Health-conscious parents are phasing out the wonderfully slimy and bad-for-you artificial snacks of yesterday and replacing them with sustainable "health food'' options that take all the fun away. Listen to these stomach-churning new Halloween snack options that parents are handing out to unsuspecting corpses, Darth Vaders, Vampires and pint-sized Tila Tequilas:

1. Small lumps of artisanal cheese. In the past, if someone dared to hand you a lump of cheese for Halloween, you would call Child Protective Services and let them handle it. This year, parents are handing out lumps of three-fourth-ounce reduced fat farmhouse cheddar to the little Britney Spearses of the night.
2. Vegan options, organic and gluten free.
3. Organic Fruit Splooshers.
4. Organic Prunes. (Can you imagine someone handing you prunes for Halooween????

5. And, last but not least, Airborne Power Pixies.
Yes, I swear I'm not making this up. Adults are actually handing out little packages of "immune boosting formula'' to kids on this night of fake bloodletting, fang-wearing, cross-dressing and sugar gobbling. Don't get me wrong. I support Slow Food, organic produce and all kinds of low-impact eating options --but Halloween is supposed to be the one night when a kid can rip his fillings out on Juju Bees and eat Abba Zabbas all day long. I say, leave the prunes and Fruit Roll-Ups alone and pass the Sweet Tarts.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

San Francisco has the ugliest couches in the world

In light of all the terrible things going on in the world at this moment (and, when you think about it, every moment) it might seem flippant to complain about this city's selection of utterly hideous sofas and couches, and the fact that Craiglist in San Francisco offers nothing for sale other than the most stained skanky cat-claw-punctured sofas and futons I have ever seen. However, I think it's worth mentioning, considering there is so much ugly furniture in this town. So far I've gone to about a dozen stores in search of a bearable sofa. I've seen sleazy black leather couches (the salesman assured me that they "never wear out, they only wear in.'') horrible mixed-plaid couches, and showroom couches that looked like they were dragged from the side of a Kern County highway. After more fruitless net searching, I decided to stop looking for nice couches and focus on the hideous ones. Thankfully, I found a one-stop shopping site ( with a great selection of truly vile couches. Check this site out. They are even worse than the ones on Craigslist.

Southern California blazes

I am watching these California blazes with grave concern; I have family not far from the fires, as well as a backpacking friend who is out there hiking in the backcountry, solo, not far from some of the blazes! Be careful down there.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Frank Zappa's posthumous beer

The other day, I decided to celebrate my recent graduation by ordering extra-spicy Thai take-out from my favorite restaurant in Cupertino, and then washing down this meal with a bottle of Frank Zappa Kill Ugly Radio, a commemorative offering from the Lagunitas brewing company. The bottle has a picture of Frank's face from the Mothers of Invention years. Anyhow I ate a huge mouthful of pad thai noodles, and it was so fiery hot that I poured myself a large helping of the beer and tried to cool off my mouth with it. For some reason, the Frank Zappa beer only made the situation worse! The beer, like Frank Zappa, is complex, surprising, and more than a little bitter. Somehow, the Kill Ugly Radio beer, combined with the thai spaces, caused a fiery sensation to wash over my mouth, quadrupling the agony. I think Mr. Zappa would be pleased.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Graduating today

This week I am graduating from Columbia's MFA program. I am very excited about this. Three years ago, around this time of year, I relocated myself, my wife Amy Ettinger, and Robert (our huge, obese cat) to New York City for the program. I can't be there in person, so I'll have to hum the "graduation song'' remotely while I extend my congratulations to all the other writing folks who are getting degrees this week:
Fayne Ansley
Pranav Behari
Jeff Bender
Augustine Blaisdell
Thomas Blaylock
Michelle Brotherton
Marie Elia
David Francis
Ruth Galm
Cristine Gonzalez
Nadine Gorelik
Alena Graedon
Matthew Hamity
Melissa Heltzel
Adam Katz
Adina Kay
Doretta Lau
Elyse Lightman
Krista Manrique
Filip Marinovich
Joshua Martinsons
Ashley Murray
Matthew Passet
Gabriel Pilar
Miriam Schiffer
Anna Selver-Kassell
Chandler Klang Smith
Patricia Sonntag
Rhena Tantisunthorn
Stacy Torres
Johnathan Donald Wilber
Alexis Wolff

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Dancing the MUNI macarena

As I've said before, this is a nice city. However, I am not enjoying MUNI. Part accordion, part bus, part cable car, part marionette, the MUNI takes forever to arrive and makes strange squeaking noises as it makes its slow, poky way through the city. I hate sitting on the little reversible seats while waiting for MUNI. They aren't really designed to hold a human being's weight. In fact, they have a tendency of dropping you right down onto the indescribably filthy sidewalk if you aren't careful. But the worst part of it is the 'transfers' they give you once you pay your fare. The transfers are printed on what seems to be one-ply Charmin Ultrasoft Toilet Paper. These transfers start to disintegrate the moment you put them in your hand. Also, they are insanely easy to lose. That's why you always see all kinds of panicked people on the MUNI, clutching their chests and hips while making all kinds of desperate faces and mad gyrations as they tear open their wallets and turn their pockets inside out in their efforts to find the vouchers. It looks as if they are dancing.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Mindful suffering in a natural setting

Last year, one of my students turned in an essay that really summed up my feelings about the outdoors.
"I think it's very important that we all take some time out of our busy schedules to commiserate with nature,'' he said.

Haightful behavior

You shouldn't hang out in my neighborhood unless you like revisionist hippies who were born long after the Summer of Love (a period of peace and harmony that revolved around the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets and lasted --- according to cultural historians -- for approximately three and a half seconds.) I don't understand the embittered people who skulk around the Haight just so they can scrap with helpless hippies. The other day I was hanging around near the organic food store -- the same one where I knocked the strawberries into the street -- and I saw a small bulldog of a man screaming at a hippie who had asked him for spare change.
"I won't give you a handout,'' said the bulldog man. "I'm not the government.''
"The government takes money away from me and gives me nothing,'' said the hippie.
"But I'm not the government so leave me alone.''
"But if you're not the government, why don't you just give me money anyhow?''
The conversation devolved to the point where the bulldog man started threatening to stab the hippie in the neck with a set of car keys!
Anyhow, the point of the story is: if you dislike people who smoke Thai stick while wearing pilled-up alpaca sweaters and walk the streets in packs of 11 or 12 people while carrying ferrets and walking huge clumps of dogs tied to leashes made out of hemp, you might want to go somewhere else. Personally, I have no problem with these behaviors. After all, I'm from Santa Cruz.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

and I almost forgot --- more info on the Steinbeck Fellows reading

A few of you asked me for a more detailed run-down on last week's Steinbeck Fellows reading at San Jose State University's MLK Library. Peter Malae read from his novel. Lysley Tenorio read a short story. I read a brief nonfiction piece involving my thirsty trek across an arid region of the southern Sierra Nevada range. It was great to get a good-sized (and enthusiastic) turnout. I was also glad to see so many SJSU students there. In fact, the evening went so well that I hope we can get even more people into the next event. By the way, I'm hoping that we'll do a reading up in SF soon (I'll post that as soon as I get the details.)

The other Dan White

It's very strange to be named Dan White and live in this particular city. I'm a calm, quiet, law-abiding person --- and it feels strange to share a name with such a notorious local person. Imagine how you would feel if your last name happened to be "Manson" and you found yourself moving, for some reason, into the Panamint range. People would talk. Or what if your last name was Ripper and you found yourself living in Whitechapel, England? I've already had a couple of mildly awkward interactions because of this.


I think it's time that people phased out this awful expression. What does it mean, anyhow?


I love San Francisco. However, I'm noticing a small problem. Skinny, vintage-clothes-wearing, Conor Oberst-worshipping, authentic-dive-bar-seeking hipsters have taken over this city. They are starting to affect my life. For example, I am in serious need of new glasses but I can't find anything that doesn't have thick black wire rims to broadcast an ironic-nerdy look. I'm afraid that if I wear such glasses, the irony will be lost on a lot of people.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

A recap on the Steinbeck Fellows reading. Plus --- John Prine returns

Thanks to everyone who showed up to the Steinbeck Fellows reading. It was a great time --- and the crowd was so much bigger than I expected (standing room only. Cool.)

in other news, John Prine played for free at an enormous festival at Golden Gate Park this weekend. I joined a small throng of Prinefreaks who made a single-file line that snaked its slow way to the very front. Prine is one of my heroes; his songs are so precise. (no word or phrase feels out of place to me. He can switch gears from heartbreak to comedy and back again. Sometimes he'll even figure out ways to combine these things in the same three-minute song.)

Prine sounded great to me; he battled throat cancer a couple of years ago, and, if anything, his voice sounded scratchier, deeper, croakier and more distinctive than before. More than this, it was great to see all the twenty-somethings and teenagers close to the front, 'discovering' his music at long last. His songs sounded more relevant than ever (especially his Vietnam-era classic, "That Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore,' which drew a lot of rueful laughter from the crowd, along with an almost violent rebuttal from a fellow standing close to me who decried the song as "disgusting.'' Prine must be doing something right if he can get under someone's skin like that.)
As I was walking home from the set, I heard an unusually beautiful live version of Nick Lowe's "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding.'' Upon further investigation, I realized that Nick Lowe himself (!) was the man on the stage singing the song. All in all it was a fantastic festival. My only quibble is the fact that so many people showed up to the festival for the sake of talking very loudly, in braying tones, during the performances. That's just plain rude. The louder acts held up just fine but quieter acts (such as Gillian Welch and David Rawlings) got lost in this sea of lame kibbitzing.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Steinbeck Fellows Reading Tonight --- reminder

Come out and see us read at the MLK Library, fifth floor, at 7 p.m. tonight (Thursday, October 4.) I will be reading a very sad story about cacti (and one cactus in particular)