Wednesday, February 29, 2012


I was outside smoking when one of the drivers caught in the three non-moving lanes in front of the building pressed on her horn. Long and loud. Good three minutes of blaring outrage.
I guess she really needed to be somewhere.

A young woman standing nearby with a cigarette reacted fiercely.

“Shee-hit, somebody should reach in and slap the biatch, teach the f****ng c**t how to act like a g$d d$mn$d lady!”

I agree. She’s right.
That horn was the same as a finger.
Which is not how a lady is supposed to behave.

Though I am male, I am somewhat of an expert on such things.

[As a drag-queen on Polk Street once said, “it takes a real man to be a woman”. ]

Consideration, perception, and ethics.

A concern for the dignity and sensitivities of other people is essential, but how a person is perceived is just as important. And without a sincere sense of ethics, it's all rather pointless.
Someone who cannot treat others without offending them or hurting their feelings is not worth associating with, while individuals whose sense of ethics is flawed are dangerous to know.
If they don't actually cheat you or steal from you, your association with them will tar you.

In order to be both considerate and ethical, honesty sometimes must take a back seat. Most people instinctively know that total honesty, while often commended, can actually be cruel and unnecessary.
It is sometimes better to obfuscate when it comes to personal matters, much more so when someone else is involved.
Often simply not saying anything at all,and safeguarding the privacy and emotional well-being of others as well as your own is the far better choice.

For the most part, etiquette means being kind, thoughtful, and keen to make a favourable impression, as well as maintaining one's own dignity and composure.

I'm not entirely convinced that the young woman who uttered the line above quite understood that.
But I'm fairly certain that the driver of the motor vehicle failed.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence. ==========================================================================


On Sunday afternoon I joyfully concluded that haahm dan sou (鹹蛋酥) was the perfect food. It has a slightly flaky crust, and contains a blob of lienyong (蓮蓉) inside which a salted egg yolk is nestled.
Lovingly (!) nestled.
Sweet, dense, slightly salty, with crumbs.
Rather like a mini mooncake.
It is to like.

[鹹蛋 (haahm dan): salted duck eggs; brine-soaked, then coated to preserve them.
Tasty with porridge, or as an ingredient in savoury or sweet foods. 酥(sou): flaky, friable.
蓮蓉 (lienyong): a sweet paste made of ground lotus seeds, similar in some minor ways to marzipan. It is used as a filling in pastries, especially mooncakes.
月餅(yuet bing ): mooncake - a rich and dense confection consisting of a dough crust surrounding a sweet filling, often containing one or two whole salted egg yolks, which add to the richness and contrast nicely with the sweetness. It is strictly seasonal, available in early autumn to celebrate the eighth moon of the lunar year. Though I know of at least one bakery in Manila near North Ong Pin Bridge that has them year round.]


I ate the haahm dan sou at the office while checking my blog stats.
Would you believe that the post I wrote a while back entitled "Naked Middle Aged White Man" pulls in several visitors EACH DAY?
It's my most popular post, by a very wide margin.
Naked. Middle-aged. White. Man.

What is it about the concept of naked white guys that so attracts people?
Dang this pastry is good!
Yes, I know most of the people cruising the internet for nude white dudes are probably homosexual and quite desperate, rather than cute females with a scholarly bent wondering if they're missing out on life. Still, fascinating.
Unclothed Caucasian males.

I've got some crumbs in my crotch, let me flick them.

The post itself, if you're scared to click the link, is quite safe for work.
Mmm, lotus seed!
In it I described a typical Saturday afternoon after my roommate has left to be with her boyfriend.
I have a long soak in the tub, letting the hot water soothe the aching joints and induce dreaminess, while I read a bit and smoke small cigarillos.
Sweet and crumbly!

Need a cup of tea now.

Then I get out, dry myself off, briefly check out my fairly decent physique in the hallway mirror, before getting dressed and heading into Chinatown for coffee and snackipoos.
Masculine torso, distinctly Caucasian, not excessively fuzzy, nice hands.
Dang, another crumb. Seems to have fallen into my breast pocket.
The weekend is snackipoo time; I live on snackipoos.

Such as, for instance, haahm dan so.

In that post I wishfully speculated a bit about being joined by a small woman in the tub (which is not large enough to include a big woman), who would probably be reading her own mystery novel while lazing in the hot water. Conceivably one with an appetite for snackipoos that equaled mine.
In which case I would have visited Chinatown well before the long soak.
To pick up a selection of suitable bakery products.
Not only haahm dan sou, but also dowsa bing (豆沙餅), kaipao (雞飽), kalei kok (咖喱角), lo po bing (老婆餠), yiuk song pao (肉鬆飽), and cookies.
Plus yummy dantaaht (蛋撻) from Kam Moon (金門餅家).
These are all delicious, and go well with either hot coffee or milk tea.
After enjoying our bath for several hours, we would get dressed and go have dinner somewhere.

As it is, however, there is no small woman with whom to enjoy such things.
No independent-minded person of the female persuasion who seeks a place to avidly read her mystery novels on the weekend, companionably amidst the fragrant steam, occasionally nibbling.
While soap suds pool charmingly in her navel.

Picture instead a somewhat lean and not at all badly formed middle-aged white guy, smooth and clean from an hour and a half in the tub, sitting alone in the teevee room having a fresh cup of coffee while clipping his finger nails. With a pipe in his mouth.
It is an angular straight-stemmed pipe which compliments his chin.
There is the faintest aroma of soap still lingering near the skin.
Whisps of tobacco smoke curling upward in the sunlight.
The apartment is quiet, there is no one else about.
Mid-afternoon; perfect time for snackipoos.

A typical naked white man weekend.

One haahm dan sou has more cholesterol than the recommended daily intake.
I ate three haahm dan sou by myself on Sunday.
Well, I would have shared them......
Except I was at the office.
Not in the bath.


Please note that there has never been any companionable soaking, to my regret. I would say 'stay tuned for further adventures of naked middle-aged white man', except that if companionable soaking ever happened, you would not hear about it on this blog. There would be pleased gloating, yes, but it would be private.
Very pleased, and very private.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Tzipporah, I’m sorry!
Every time I cruise into your blog, my mind changes the headline on your February 2nd post to: “man, starting a bitchness is hard”.

It's not you. It's me.

In no way does it reflect on you.

It's just the way my mental eye works.

This has happened every day since 02/02/2012.
You need to post something new soon.
A mind is a terrible thing.
Mine especially.

It's a bitch.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.


It was one of the first sunny days this year. I wandered around parts of the old neighborhood that I had not visited in ages, remembering things. That over there was where the Hakka girls from Suriname ran the family grocery store, it now appears to be a bulk rice and kitchen appliance wholesaler. This is the bar where the fat guy got stabbed; he recovered fully AND in record time, and he cannot even remember what he said to that woman.
That place didn't used be Vietnamese-Chinese..... what was it before?
Have to try it sometime.

I ended up at the new location of a familiar business, scarfing down some small items with coffee.
A tourist and her three children came in and negotiated the purchase of food, then sat down in the corner. Four identical items, four cans of coke.
How.... sad.
What is the point of eating together if you aren't going to share?
There's enough here that you can experiment.
Have a number of different tastes.

But, you know, some people aren't much used to that.
I'm sure they enjoyed their food, though.
At least, I think they did.

I'm not entirely certain about the table with old Toishanese codgers behind me either. Not 100%.
Yes, they had a selection of scrumptious items to go with their coffee, and it indeed appeared that plates were being passed back and forth. But there was an animated argument going on in which an absent party was being excoriated for his slavish adherence to Japanese merchandise, and, it was implied, 'foreign' manners, morals, and standards. The missing person had his defenders, and the resultant give and take resembled civil war. In between loud smacking sounds.
I do not understand much Toishan dialect, even though it is similar to city Cantonese, so it's impossible to reproduce any part of the argument.

However I did grasp that Japanesity was worse than acting too Western.
On that point at least there was a semblance of unanimity.
They were animated. And whoo! were they loud.
They were also sharing food and drink.
Surely they must have been happy.



675 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133.
Tel. 415-781-6923

咸水角, 煎堆, 芋角, 燒賣, 腸粉, 蝦餃, 糯米雞, 蘿蔔糕, 馬蹄糕, 春捲, 蛋撻, 叉燒包, 菜肉包, 雞飽 ......

Having a selection of tasty things and someone to share them with expands the pleasure of dining, there is so much more to try with another person at the table. Good company makes the food even more delicious, and vastly improves the experience.
It's fun to eat in a cheerful noisy place. Their new location is bigger and brighter than the old, and it seems the quality has improved.

As I filled my pipe, I tried listening in on the counter-woman chatting with a good friend.
Her language was more intelligible than the old guys, though at times made far less so by reason of the food in her mouth.
It was fascinating watching her stuff a meat-pao into her face, take a giant bite, then before adequately chewing, laugh and spew out a muffled response. Her friend spoke too softly to hear what she said from my table, so I have only the slightest clue what the conversation was about.
Food, possibly, as the expressions "good to eat" and "nice taste" cropped up.
Really, she should have used some of that coffee to clear her mouth.
It might not have gone well with her choi-yiuk pao.
But it would made her easier to understand.

Time fleets. One has to double-task.
Eat, drink, talk, simultaneously.
Go full tilt, woman, live life.

I'll probably go there again sometime soon. It's a much more pleasant place than the joint down the road with the frazzled grumpy waitresses, and far cleaner too.
A place to share food after a Sunday stroll.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.

Monday, February 27, 2012


When I worked at the Indian restaurant, at the end of the evening I would pay the under-the-table employees in cash, imparting words of wisdom as I handed over the money: "don't blow it on wine, women, or horses, and don't spend it all in one place".
I like to believe that made a difference.
Moral improvement, graciously given.

At least putting ideas into their heads.

Part of their education as college students. That's why they came to this country.
Inspiration, followed by experiences.
Pursue knowledge, gentlemen.
Learn something!

On Saturday I breezed into the only bar in San Francisco where one can smoke, emitting a bright cheery "good evening", because several people at the bar whom I knew had turned around to see who came in.
Without a word they turned back.

Not the salutation I had expected.

Is it my smell?

No, can't be that....... it's a cigar bar. Everyone here will end up smelling idiosyncratic by the end of the evening.

Something I said?

In what horrid universe is "good evening" an unpalatable phrase?

I didn't stay very long. Sat at the far end with my pipe.
Paid up partway through my second drink and left.
Yeah, I know it's grievous to waste good liquor.
I just wasn't in the mood anymore.
A funk had festered.
Much so.


On October 12 last year, the day before my birthday, I was at a bar on California street when I finally realized that as a representative of the older generation, several of the regulars could not relate to me in any way at all. Worse, they considered me the "amusing" old pervert in the corner.
Without intending to, they very kindly and thoroughly reminded me that I am a super-annuated old fossil who should not be out chatting with vibrant young people.
Zombies and antiques should be home in bed by seven o'clock, sipping their nice warm milk.

Thanks, guys.

I haven't been back.

Several weeks ago at a place up the street from the apartment, after having gotten roped into a pointless conversation that had an 'oh lord ain't the Irish grand!' theme, one of the people who had earlier asked the rhetorical question that got me involved in his hibernian pride orgy remarked that he hadn't a clue what I was on about (Brendan Behan, JP Donleavy, Roddy Doyle, et autres of that ilk).
This was the opportunity for some of the regulars to happily agree that absolutely no one did, it was a common problem, why heavens everyone there considered me a rather odd fish.
And really, all of them now agreed, it was pointless talking to me.
They had just been waiting to mention it.
Glad others thought so too.

I no longer go there either.

The cigar bar will still get my business, because all five of the owners have shown that they like me, as have one or two of the weekday crowd.
Besides, it's the only place in San Francisco where I can light up quietly in my corner and spend a few hours smoking a pipe indoors.
Without being considered either the elderly pervert who shouldn't be among the beautiful young pigeons, OR the baffling problem case who uses words of more than one syllable.

I should mention that women were involved in both situations that have made me avoid the other two places. And women were among the crowd that did not respond to "good evening".
I like women. As an intellectual concept.
But given that clearly I don't 'play well with others', the question is why.

By and large I've entirely given up on bars (and coffee shops) as social environments.
Not fond of drunks, nor of the men chatting up the giddy young damsels flattered by their status as goddesses in such places.
Nor even the giddy goddesses themselves.
Heck, don't like most drinkers, period.

Pity that there isn't a race track nearby where a man can smoke indoors.
Especially one that bans liquor, fruity drinks particularly.
As well as tattoos and eye-shadow.

On second thought, I wouldn't have a good conversation with the horses.
They don't understand words of more than one syllable either.

'Good evening' has three syllables, btw.
Though written with four.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


Once could imagine vampires and ghouls hiding out there. Instead, you found cats. At whatever time of day or night, felines prowled among the trees. In the darkness underneath the leaves there was rustling in the ivy that covered the ground, and occasionally a furry body brushed up against your legs.
What attracted them was the life that teemed among the trees.

I don't think the cats caught much. But the prospect lured them in. It was never entirely quiet there, the evidence of small creatures and feathered snacks was everywhere.

Well-fed urban felines aren't the best of hunters, and when one of the females is in heat it disturbs the routines of all. The yowling and crashing around probably entertains the resident rodents and birds more than it scares them; it is hard to fear something that so rambunctiously betrays it's presence.
Although you might occasionally find a desiccated little corpse among the grasses. Not often.

There were benches along the paths that twisted among the trees. In summer it was cooler there, and because of the shade and sense of isolation not very many walkers from the park beyond ventured in. It was probably the perfect place for quick trysts or long canoodling behind convenient bushes - bring a blanket to cover the ground - but all I can really remember hearing was the felines and their prey, perpetually dancing around each other in wide wide circles.
And, occasionally, yowling.

It wasn't very far from the Hertog Jan College, and after school I came to read.
In Autumn, when cutting classes, I would hide out there. The amount of privacy a park affords is immense.
Once or twice I saw another person, usually on a far path. In the afternoon it would be empty for hours, the twilight slowly gilding the trees, the ivy changing hues as the rays limned the leaves.

There were no lights along the paths. When darkness fell, it was time to leave.
During the years of my mother's illness, I sought out places like that more than I sought people.
You will dream a bit while you're elsewhere, and return refreshed from having been away.
Sometimes you just need to have a place to be yourself.


When I started going to school in Eindhoven I discovered the Stads Wandelpark, which also promised such sanctuary with its shrubs, trees, and haphazardly manicured greens, but unfortunately did not deliver on that promise.
For one thing, there were too many children of various ages all around, for another, the dark private parts of the park harboured lurking degenerates. The first time I met such a person I thought he was a British expat because of the way he sounded, and, remarkably, he spoke fluent English too.
A few seconds later I was on my bike speeding away, feeling quite disturbed.
Let's just say the unwelcome advance was an eye-opener.

Unlike modern teenagers, for me the sexuality of other human beings in those years was not so flamboyantly obvious. Or maybe it was, but I just wasn't capable of recognizing what I saw. When I found out that one of my classmates was living with her boyfriend it was a deliciously titillating bit of knowledge.
So adventurous! So bold!
So unexpected among the younger than university age crowd.
It never struck me that either one of them was sexual.
In hindsight, I realize that they must have been.

For the next few years I often headed somewhere for tea after class. Did my algebra and geometry homework while high as a kite from all the caffeine, clearing out before the dinner rush when they would need the table.

In retrospect I could have been a bit more social during those years. Among other things, I could have noticed girls .......
If I had actually interacted with the opposite gender it would have most likely been a sweeter adolescence.
No, I probably still would have been oblivious to the sexuality of other people.
Quite unlike today, when it is hard to overlook.
Though given my present life, I'm doing a fine job ignoring my own.

I have a hard time associating the Netherlands with 'sexuality', but considering how overpopulated the place is there must have been quite a lot of that there. Both historically and during the present age.
It isn't as remarkable with humans as it is with cats, though.
Far less yowling and crashing through the undergrowth.


When I came back to the United States I was inexperienced in a number of areas. Socially I must have been somewhat of a lead weight, and it is likely that the people around me then didn't know what to do with me.
Certainly I frequently felt that way about them
Over the years that has changed somewhat, but there have always been moments when I preferred the company of trees and felines to that of humans.
I truly enjoy having people nearby, but I don't want to have to interact with them at all times, nor am I as freely talkative as most folks.
Unless they are very likeable individuals.
For that, I'm wide open.
I'll make time.

While living in Berkeley during those early years the sexuality of others was often obvious; American society after the hippie era was more open, more demonstrative, and clearly more blatantly oversexed. It has gotten more so.

In the Netherlands, most drinking establishments were places where people went to socialize over coffee and drinks; in the Bay Area, many bars are the hangout of the sex-deprived, the sexual opportunist, and the deviant hunting for random acts of nookie.
It's a bit disconcerting.

Coffee shops are marginally better, but getting wired to the eye-brows leads to absurd trains of thought and lying awake at night counting the cracks in the ceiling. Plus other patrons, equally animated by caffeine, may impose an unwelcome rant upon the nearest listener.
Naturally I avoid North Beach cafés most of the time.
I also avoid most bars.

I often wish there were a deep grove of trees where I could sit by myself in silence for a while during twilight.
And, if it was mutually agreeable, enjoy the company of someone else.
Then perhaps even crash around the bushes, yowling.
Or something rather like that.
It's a fantasy.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.


You might assume from what you have read here that my weekends are an interval of dreary solitude. But the opposite is in fact often the case.
Yes, if I stayed at home I would remain quite alone.
My roommate spends the entire weekend outside the house - in addition to the many hours she spends with her boyfriend she also does volunteer work - and consequently the apartment is silent, and it would be quite pointless to stay there.
So I leave.
Once I've headed out into the city, I am surrounded by people.
Vibrant, alive, interesting, noisy, and sometimes slightly crazy.
Free entertainment.

I like people.
They're fascinating.
It's what they're good at.


In Chinatown there is almost no place where you can not hear other folks.
One is never alone when people all around you are shopping, eating, or vehemently discussing.
Or doing all three simultaneously, with varying degrees of verve.
Almost without trying one will be involved in a conversation at some point.

In North Beach it is often wise to NOT be pulled into a conversation; if it happens one may find oneself entangled in a long shpiel that inevitably features someone else's stupendous ego.
Many North Beach regulars have taken raging individualism to heart, but they just aren't very good at it. They lack the necessary perspective.

One can be unique without being a flaming egomaniac or a crashing bore.
Numerous intense individuals North of Broadway do NOT grasp this.
They are the centres of the universe, surely everyone agrees?
If you tolerate imposition, you will end up drained.
Whatever you give them, they'll want more.
Better not meet their gaze. Ever.
Ignore, ignore, ignore.

However, if those individualistic North Beach types were in Chinatown, they might indeed be the centre of attention. The Cantonese just love folks acting goofy, and nothing quickens quite so well as street theatre. No, they won't come close to the person loudly making a fool of himself. But they'll happily drink in the display from a safe distance, and will remember any wild behaviour with considerable joy.

At restaurants in C'town on a weekend there's also the delicious possibility of observing domestic quarrels (married non-Chinese), tantrums (small non-Chinese), exhibits of random randiness (young non-Chinese), gibbering idiocy (mostly non-Chinese), flamboyant bad taste (tattooed non-Chinese), or, if one is truly lucky, the likeable side of a different culture, which makes perfectly clear that despite all their seeming differences, those people really and truly are loveably similar - and remarkably often, non-Chinese.

你嘅仔女咁叻, 點解佢哋唔識聽廣東話?

['neige tsainui gam lek, timkai keuitei m-sik teng kwantung-wa?']

Non-Chinese, by the standards of many Cantonese, is a category that includes American-born Chinese who are mono-lingual in English, as well as Mandarin-speakers, Shanghainese, and other foreigners.

"Your kids are so smart, why don't they understand Cantonese?"

Chinese people, as you must realize, speak Cantonese.

For Cappucinos and remarkable Italian pastries, go to North Beach.
To observe many different types of people, Chinatown.

Bring a friend, and share a meal.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Per Wikipedia, "Gowrie (Scottish Gaelic: Gobharaidh) is a region and ancient province of Scotland, covering most of the eastern part of what became Perthshire. The province is the home of such ancient Scottish royal sites as Scone and perhaps Forteviot.
Its chief settlement is the town of Perth. Today it is most often associated with the Carse of Gowrie, the part of Gowrie south of the Sidlaw Hills running east of Perth to Dundee.

[Read more here:]


The reader will now recognize a resonance; this explains why Charles Rattray named one of his tobaccos thus.
Perth is where mr. Rattray opened his own shop after several years in the trade elsewhere.
There is no tobacco grown in Gowrie, the climate is unsuitable.

The product is described as Virginia with a hint of Perique, and fully rubbed out. That isn't strictly accurate, as to my mind it requires a little more reduction to make it pack properly in the pipe. Fortunately it is moist in the tin and can be handled without crumbling.
Let it dry a while ere lighting up.

As with most of the Virginias I have been enjoying of late, the best smoke is the one I have after having a bite to eat in Chinatown on the weekend. These are the contrast, the capstone, and the dessert rolled into one.
Virginias have a sweetness on the tongue and a sparkle on the palate which can be utterly enchanting, and I have long associated them with young ladies of wit, charm, and strong character.
Sparkling eyes, expressive faces, and a hint of fruits and herbs.

There is no young lady in my life at present; a relationship of many years came to an end in 2010.
I wish it hadn't. But what is done is done.
While there is nothing else, good pipe tobacco ameliorates much.

Mr. Badger had a chicken bun and some siu mai for lunch today, followed by a full bowl of Old Gowrie while sitting in the sun. Old Gowrie has a sweetness similar to Marlin Flake, albeit with a somewhat browner profile and broader flavour-spectrum. The smell in the tin is fruity-spicy, definitely reminding one of the colonies.
A very fine product made with much more flue-cured tobacco than some of the popular English pressed tobaccos, and consequently no need for the degenerate funkums which mass-market manufacturers spray on their leaves.
It isn't really a VaPer ("Virginia - Perique blend"), and therefore might not satisfy the afficionados of that type.
Who are troll-like people of ursine build, with fur on the outside of their chest, and hair on the inside.
No, they will likely not be pleased.

But civilized creatures, like badgers, beavers, and even some ferrets, will find it quite delicious.
On sunny days they will leave their burrows, wearing a nice tweed coat or a jaunty cap perhaps, and amble through the tall green grass of early spring, humming to themselves while whisps of smoke trail behind them. Life is good, that siu mai was truly excellent today, very juicy. Then they will sit for a while on a fallen tree trunk (in my case, a concrete bench), enjoying the warmth and brightness, while the remainder of the bowl attracts their attention.
Sweet, fragrant, soft.......

A suggestion of plum, of prune, of apricot. Tea or chocolate.
Old Gowrie possesses an almost syrupy quality.
The Perique is just a subtle hint.
Flue cured dominates.

If Old Gowrie were a human, she would be youthful, slim shouldered, and vibrant. Possibly wearing a dark blouse and a pale skirt - one can imagine a little black brassiere underneath, with a matching pair of panties....... nothing visible, but she knows about them, and she can feel the smooth cool fabric against her warm silken skin.
For innocent middle aged men like myself, thoughts of such things provide a sweetness to the day as delightful as Old Gowrie itself.
And at least I've got the pipe tobacco.
That is a reason to smile.

Emptied out the ashes after my smoke and headed East along Washington Street, past the insane man standing on a bucket chanting "happy happy happy", past the park where a Chinese violin prefaced an air from a Cantonese opera. The singing sounded better when I got a block further down, distance having mellowed the static from the amplifiers and softened the edges of the song.

It was one of the most enjoyable lunches I've had in a while.


NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.

Friday, February 24, 2012


Wasps and fish are a bad combination. If you've ever had 'Fish and Chips', you know this.
Realistically, the only fish that the average Anglo-Saxon knows how to do right comes out of a can and goes into mayonnaise.
Perhaps with minced pimientos and capers added.

The problem with Fish and Chips is that both items get tossed into the hot fat at the same time, and pulled out when either the fish is done and potatoes are soggy, or the fries are golden and the fish turned to oil-drenched shoe-leather.
Far too often the result is unspeakable horror.

Properly made fries are wonderful.
That means submerged in hot fat twice - once to pre-cook, the second time to crisp, with an interval of at least thirty minutes in between. The first time, three or four minutes at 320 degrees Fahrenheit, the second time at close to four hundred till they look right.
Obviously, darkened oil with a whiff of yesterday's dead haddock is unsuitable, and the fish itself should really be done in a separate fryer with a proper batter till just cooked through, rather than coated with industrial starch paste and nuked brown.

It goes without saying that the English are not up to the task, as might be guessed from their habit of drenching the results with malt vinegar.
Americans, unfortunately, do an even worse job.
Either way, the acid indigestion can keep you up all night.
And no amount of dark beer will bring relief.
Though it may render you oblivious.

English-speakers on either side of the Atlantic tend to overcook fish to a fare-thee-well.

It is far better that they step away from the stove, and let a Dutchman or a Fleming tend to the seafood.



Purchase a live fish of between one and two pounds, and bring it home.
Smack it over the head with a heavy object, gut it, clean it, scrape it, and rinse.
If it is particularly thick, slash it on both sides.

Bring a large cauldron half-filled with water to a roiling boil.
Slip the fish in, and when it boils again, lower the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for two minutes.
Turn off the heat and let it sit for between seven and ten minutes (depending on how large your fish is), at which point it will be done just right.
Remove to a platter and strew very finely slivered ginger over.

Heat up a little oil in a fry-pan, and sauté a little coarse-chopped garlic. Add a splash sherry or rice wine, a drizzle soy sauce, followed by a hefty pinch of sugar. Boil briefly together, then pour over the fish.
Add some cilantro and shredded green onion.

If you quail at killing your own fish, I recommend that you move closer to Chinatown, as that is the only place where you can buy them alive and have them made ready for the kitchen while you watch.
Dead fish from the supermarket is not suitable, and may actually serve no useful purpose at all, though I am told that fish planted with food crops provides adequate soil-fertilization.
Let me be the first to compliment you on your wonderful vegetable patch!

As an alternative, you can steam the fish.

After gutting, cleaning, scraping, and rinsing, rub it with a little oil (sesame and plain oil mixed) and place it on a plate. Whether you add sliced ginger, cut scallion, or even slivers of green chilipepper around it, is up to you - these will aromatize the fish, but as you plan to discard the steaming juices anyway, they are not really germane.
Bring a large steamer to a boil, set the plate therein, and steam for about seven to ten minutes, according to the size of the fish.
Undercooking is best, as once you remove it from the steamer the heat remaining in the flesh will continue to affect it.
When you take the fish out, slide it onto a clean plate.

Garnish with shredded ginger and scallion, and pour a little sweet soy sauce (ketjap manis) over.

Fish either steamed or poached, with some stirfried kailan or yuenchoy, a few pieces of boiled potato avec persil, and plain white rice, is a feast.
As with everything, a dab of chilipaste on the side is nice, but not necessary.
If you really wanted, you could even have it with fries!

Do not serve a dark beer with this.
May I suggest a nice dry sherry, or plain tea?

[Indonesian Sweet Soy-sauce]

Half cup each: sugar (white, or white and dark mixed), Kikkoman soy sauce.
Two tablespoons each: sherry, dark vinegar.
One teaspoon salt.
One whole star anise, one or two slices of ginger.

Put everything except the vinegar and half of the soy sauce into a saucepan. Heat gently, stirring, till the sugar is fully dissolved and the liquid syrupy and starting to foam. Stir in the remaining soy sauce and in a minute or so turn off the heat. Let it cool and strain it into a bottle. Use the dark vinegar to swish the remaining syrup coating the inside of the saucepan, and add to the bottle.

You'll find any number of uses for it. It adds something special to nicely grilled lamb chops, and a little drizzled over chicken or vegetables is very nice. Eventually it will be indispensible in your cooking, not only for fish.

NOTES: A fish cooked either way is enough for two people having a simple meal together, or a larger table with several other dishes. If you're worried about the shredded ginger being too strong used raw, place it in a small bowl to steam along with the fish, then arrange it over the fish afterwards. That's easier than trying to keep it on top when removing stuff from the steamer.
Ginger is good for the stomach and soul, and mildly tonifying. It keeps you healthy.
For visual appeal, shredded red bell pepper treated the same way is a lovely addition, and will add a subtle fragrance of its own.
When sugar is mentioned, cane sugar is meant specifically. Not beet sugar; cane sugar.
I could say something snarky about beet sugar, but I won't.

For ideas on what else to serve in addition to the fish, go here: "eight easy dishes".
Or click on the label below (菜譜), which will bring up all posts with Chinese recipes,
most recent one first (which right now is this one). Just scroll down and browse.
For a few other fish recipes, go here:
inlaid fish.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:

All correspondence will be kept in confidence.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


So I return home, and I find a note in the hallway, being presented by a large fuzzy froggy person ("The Froad") and the small oddly coloured sock-sheep (the "Head Sheep").

This what it says:

"Dear 'Atboth',

"Wheelie Boy"
(not his real name, it's what I call him) is in pain and I'm going to see him. Please don't worry. Staying overnight with him. I've packed for work tomorrow".

Darn. If I had known his pain would do this, I wouldn't have wished it on him.

Yes, I know I should be sympathetic and understanding of a dude in a wheelchair.

But seeing as after you dropped me you took up with him, I can't make myself. Actually, I'm kinda hoping your precious boyfriend rolls into the bay and sinks out of sight. Splash, blub blub blub, aaaack.

I still remember what you said when you told me it was over. Withouth even intending to, you left me mentally bleeding and damaged.

Then, by my standards far too soon, you found him.

I was there for over twenty years. I supported you, comforted you, praised you, and reassured you that you were a valid and precious person all that time. I appreciated you far more than your family.
I didn't act Cantonese.

During those twenty plus years, I remained the repulsive secret that you never told your relatives about.
You never introduced me, you never mentioned me, they never met me.
I did not exist.

And I understood why. Nice Cantonese American girls do not have affairs with white men. It just isn't done. Good people don't carry on with kwailos. Period.
You met my relatives and old-family friends.
Heck, you met most of my people.
But they're rather white.
So I understand.

I still remember what you said when you told me you wanted to break up.
You weren't angry at me. You hadn't stopped liking me.
It just wasn't working for you any more.

Apparently, I no longer excited you.

Wheelie Boy excites you. And you've introduced the bastard to your relatives.
You notice his pain. It's something he communicates well.
The past two years have been hell for me.
More or less.
I guess I'm just too good at hiding such stuff.
But he's a very sensitive man, and doesn't hide a darn thing.

Forgive me, sweetie, I cannot be moved by his pain. It's probably just acid reflux. The poor dumb son-of-a-bitch likely ate something.
You know how it is with those sensitive types.
Might have been too much garlic.
Or something.

Maybe it's constipation. He should eat more vegetables.
Too much meat makes him feverish.
But yeah, go comfort him.

The other day you told me: "Toad, I could smell that pipe all the way in the bathroom, can you PLEASE do that outside".
I went into the kitchen, like I've done for two decades, to keep my pipe from bothering you.
Our kitchen. The only place in the apartment I can smoke.

I've should have told you that The Toad died back in the summer of 2010, when you dumped me.
There is no toad. He doesn't exist any longer. He's quite utterly dead.
Don't know what I am now, I'm still trying to discover that.
But I haven't been The Toad in over a year and half.
The Toad is part of the destroyed past.

Shan't mention 'Mr. Badger', a persona that has cropped up on this blog.
You will never call me that. You cannot call me that. Ever.
That is not something you have the right to do.
It's reserved for someone else.

Still love you. As a friend. But crap I feel burned.

You've often said you worry about me staying out late.
I haven't had company, companionship, love, or a physical relationship in nearly two years. At least I get the first one of those when I stay out late.
It ain't much. But it's better than nothing.
And at present it's all there is.

I ate the entire pack of Pepperidge Farm Geneva Cookies, by the way.
All of it. Every single one of them. Because I felt like it.
It was the best darn dinner I've had in two years.
Probably going to regret it tomorrow.
But I won't say anything.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.


Fantasizing about something is nothing like actually experiencing it.
One may dream of cake, but unless you have it in your mouth, that will never be even close to eating it.
The texture. The floofyness. The mouthfeel. The cream.

I can imagine the Red Stapler Guy from Office Space fantasizing about cake.
As indeed I've been doing this entire morning.

[Red Stapler Guy: played by comedic actor Stephen Root, who also voices Bill Dauterive in King of the Hill, and was memorable in the role of Jimmy James, the extroverted station owner in NewsRadio.
As Milton Waddams, whose prize possession is a red Swingline stapler, he embodied the everyman of every office better than the other actors, not only by his sad-sack mumbling and permanently put-upon demeanor, but especially by his threats to burn the place down, or complain to the manager, or put strychnine in the guacamole. At times we've all wished that he would do exactly that.]

Cake. Coconut cake. Dundee cake. Angel food cake, with peaches in the layer of cream separating the two halves. Chocolate cake.

No wait, maybe not chocolate cake. Too rich.

A slice of cake, on a pretty plate, with a cup of strong tea.
And a teddy bear in one of the other chairs.

I have not had cake in ever so long!
Perhaps I should treat myself this weekend?
Except I know of no place where they would not look askance if I came in with a teddy bear, and the tea would probably not be properly done either.
It's quite a problem.

I cannot stop thinking of cake.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


On Monday I was at the office despite the holiday, and one of my customers called regarding his invoice. He regularly places large orders and had promised to settle his account after the trade show.
Normally, phone conversations concerning bills and payments can be rather short – essential information is imparted in a friendly and efficient manner, salutations are exchanged, and both sides put their phones down ecstatic at the outcome – but one out of three or four customers will want to talk longer.
Much longer.
Maybe it was because the office was empty, or because of the caffeine coursing through my veins, but Monday’s conversation lasted quite a while.
More likely the caffeine.

People love talking to me. And many of my customers are themselves fascinating without even realizing it, so it's a pleasure listening to them.
They read, they are well-informed, and with a little prompting they will voice interesting opinions, or mention fascinating details of their lives and recent experiences.
I am often surprised and enchanted by what I hear.

This customer was on the East-Coast, surrounded by co-workers and hot pizza. There was a close connection between the co-workers and the pizza - he had bought the pizza because they were working late.
Orders had to be shipped, and pizza works miracles.
Pizza, as you are aware, inspires!
Pizza is a minor deity.
Brain food.

I got the impression it was very good pizza. Even with the sodas and caffeinated beverages that accompanied the delivery pie. While my customer was detailing his plans to go to Brazil later in the year, and come out to California for the mountains and pure spring water, happy comments about anchovies and crispy thin thin crust could be heard in the back ground.
I actually wanted the conversation to last much longer, as being among vibrant people cheerfully scarfing down good pizza while stone cold sober is a charming experience, even if only by long distance telephone connection, but once we had finished discussing mountains, heavy metal, rambunctious dancing, languages, Italian food, and elements of mediaeval literature, the pizza was all gone.

I can offer you an ear over the phone.
The pizza you'll have to take care of yourself.
Please feel free to call me up with your mouth full of food.
Consider it both multi-tasking and going for the totality of experience.


Years ago I was at a late night pizza joint when someone claiming to be a doctor ordered two large pies to go, while trying to put the make on a middle-aged woman of extremely doubtful stability.
She managed to verbally sidestep all his advances. Very ably, too.
Even if he had been sober she would've wiped the floor with his flirting.
As it was he didn't stand a chance. Drunk, crazy, out of his goofy mind. And loaded up with two boxes of cheap pizza, extra cheese.

Mediocre cheese pie is not, strictly speaking, a powerful inducement to a night of passionate romance. At least not without a strong element of fantasy and vodka for both parties involved.

After he left, the friend I was with and I speculated what might have happened if the "doctor" had succeeded in picking up the woman. Likely he would've woken up the next day, disheveled, greasy, hung-over...... bed sheets crusted with smears of stale cheese and tomato sauce.
Apartment a total mess.

No, his wallet would not be missing, but his shoes and socks might be.
Just to show that she also could've taken the wallet.
Or prove some other point.

Actually, we don't KNOW why she would steal his socks and shoes. We had our doubts about her, and I did mention her 'doubtful stability', so there's no telling what exactly might motivate her to take off running like a deer with his socks and shoes after he got naked and started eating pizza.
Possibly because it just felt right.
But we are 100% certain that if Doctor Pizza had taken her home, shoes and socks would be missing.
Possibly even multiples of footwear.
Several pairs of both.
Boots too.

If you ever see an elderly woman around town wearing shoes that are five sizes too large, with smears of cheese and tomato sauce on them, you'll know why.
It's only a matter of time.

We're also fairly sure both of them are still unhitched.
Probably because of the footwear.

I am delighted that I have customers who can fascinatingly discuss such things as mountains, heavy metal, rambunctious dancing, languages, Italian food, elements of mediaeval literature, and pizza.

Especially pizza.

It makes for wonderful memories.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.


This post is not directed at you, even though you're reading it. It is directed at the people who never read this or probably any other blog, because their lives are so perfect and complete that they require absolutely no new stimuli.

Dear "Perfect People",

Thank you so much for taking time out from your busy and fulfilling lives to offer me non-constructive criticism. You cannot imagine how flattered I am by your attention. That you consider me in some way responsible for an irritating speck on the shiny surface of your own existence is, as no doubt you intended it to be, extremely ego boosting.
Truly, I never expected you to ponder my many flaws, and I am pleased and not a little humbled that you did so.
It was an effort of which I am not worthy.
Consequently I would beg of you not to take any more trouble.
I'll just take comfort in observing the shiny beauty of you and your lives, and LEARNING from the experience.
Now please, go back to shopping like consumer whores, yattering on about the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills - Atlanta - New Jersey, AND the Kardashians, and letting everyone know what a blast you had at that club the other night when you drank so much oh my god totally wasted it was a hoot.
You totally deserve all the blonde buff goodness that comes your way.
People like us only live to live YOUR lives vicariously.
At least I do. Yes. I'm fascinated.
Thank you for being!




As I said, readers of this blog are not the intended recipient of the little love letter above. The actual targets, however, do not read - they are too busy texting, getting tattoos that express their artistic and unique individuality, and telling everyone else valuable things, like details of their love lives, what they bought recently, and where they partied so nicely the other day.
They are perfect. They would like you to know that.
Any criticism they offer is merely meant to communicate that datum.
And should be understood as a charitable act that restores balance to the world.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


In another five days the Academy Awards will be announced, in what promises to be an exciting television spectacle of razzle dazzle, pomp, and over-the-top splendor.
For that last item, please read “tasteless vulgarity”.
As in previous years, I shall not watch, and will remain uninterested.

Coarse ostentation be damned.

Life is too short for dross.

While they're on the screen actors can be fascinating, in real life, especially when they're preening themselves, most of them are stultifyingly boring. The only thing mildly curious about them is that they remain convinced that their opinions count, and the world and their weird ego-boosting causes and cults benefit from their attention.

One exception: John Cleese
Note that he is the ONLY exception.

The exhibit of ego-tripping is set for Sunday evening.
Four hours of it, if I remember correctly.
Next Monday I will hear all about it.
In dreadful and torturous detail.
Without even wanting to.
Rampant tedium.

I would encourage everyone with common sense and good taste to avoid their television set till it's good and over. Do something else. Have a whirlwind love affair. Crash your car. Go out binge drinking. Experiment with face paint. Eat oysters.
Have a social evening with friends.

I do believe next Sunday would be the perfect time to go have dinner at the restaurant mentioned in a previous post, the one with frog and salt fish. Either that or the place I mentioned yesterday. Either one would be a darn good idea.
Both seem like environments where the Oscar hoopla will be viewed with considerable apathy and complete non-interest.

After that, maybe a nice long walk.

Imagine a world without vulgarity.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.

Monday, February 20, 2012


Brash young boys and elderly roués smoke strong Latakia mixtures or Turkish blends. Scholars and well-bred young ladies, however, vastly prefer good solid Virginia flakes.
I am somewhere in between youthful brashness and aged rake - where exactly depends on my mood - but there are also times when the pressed flue-cured tobaccos hold my attention.
For the past four months I have smoked a fair amount of such.
Particularly products manufactured under the Rattray name.

Charles Rattray of Perth made four stellar Virginias which have become standards, and which have attracted fans for generations.
It is not known how many of those aficionados were intelligent little women with sharp intellects.
One suspects rather an awful lot.
Those that didn't smoke Rattrays may have instead preferred Samuel Gawith, but Rattrays was nevertheless a standard in their universe.
One or two of them may have loaded their pipes with a navy flake, but they were just asking for trouble.
Probably liked dark twist and shag tobacco too.
Some people are eccentric.

Even today, here in San Francisco, there are probably numerous bright-eyed bespectacled misses who keep a canister or two of Charles Rattray's fine leaf in a desk drawer, to be stealthily enjoyed while their older sisters are out of the house or their parents are asleep.
When all is quiet, and the rest of the family has gone off to that dreary clan-association banquet at the large restaurant on Pacific Avenue near Stockton Street, they pull a favourite book from the shelf, fill a bent sandblast with tobacco, and settle down in the battered wicker chair behind the pantry for a good long read.
One match. Puff. Tamp.
Ah, heaven!

Let us explore the tobacco preferences of brilliant demoiselles in the descriptions below.


Broken flake.
Slightly comparable to Escudo and McConnel's Scotch Cake, earthy with a fruity tin aroma.
Hints of molasses and chocolate due to a Kentucky leaf addition, low level of Perique.
Clean and rich, if puffed slowly. It is mellow, and a good solid smoke.
Leaves one a bit light headed if too much is smoked.
Renders to a fine white ash.


Long folded strips of pressed tobacco.
When fully rubbed it provides a soft smooth smoke with considerable character.
Not really similar to McClelland's or McBarens products, though some have drawn comparisons, possibly because a prune - plum - fruitcake redolence.
Mixed mostly dark and flecks of bright. Toasty, tangy, slightly tart.
A milder flavour than Hal O' The Wynd, but seemingly more nicotine.
One can smoke a full deep bowl, or two pipes in succession.


Ready rubbed brown flake.
Semi-sweet, spicy and toasty. Reminiscent of good black tea, with a natural aroma of fresh-mown hay and summer fruits.
Delicately spicy. A fine Virginia (perhaps with a touch of Kentucky?), and a mighty good introduction to its class.
Burns easily, requiring little thought. Soft and smooth, simple and straightforward for the most part .
There is a slight darkness near the end of the bowl, a hint of hidden complexity and character.


Ready-rubbed Red Virginia flake.
Presents a spectrum somewhere in between peaty, fruity, herbal, and earthy.
Zesty and complex, but with a straightforwardly satisfying quality. This is a tobacco that has both brightness and a very likable character.
In many ways the most old-fashioned of the lot, with a beguiling room-note.
Probably the one which this smoker will open up again and again.

The type of young lady who smokes any one of these four products probably also has a favourite tea cup and saucer. Maybe willow pattern, if she has a sense of irony, or a lovely mille-fleur for the sparkly type, even plain ivory glaze with a blue line around the rim café style, or celadon for a sense of summer.
Her tastes are neither loud nor brash, and she tends toward quietness.
What's certain, however, is that she is unique among her friends and kin, and does not read the same books or pursue the same interests.
An independent type, of considerable character.
Charming, attractive, but self-contained.
Keen, strong-minded, and resolute.
Someone worth knowing.

NOTE: a few years ago I spoke ill of Kohlhase & Kopp in Germany who now manufacture the Rattrays product line, based on bad experiences with some of their products. Since then I have been quite favourably impressed. Not only by their approach to Charles Rattray's legacy, also by other horses in their stable.
Consequently I must take back what I said then.
It was undeserved.


NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


If you see a fine figure of a man in Chinatown tomorrow, that will be me.
The office will be closed in connection with President’s Day. Naturally I will head in to the financial district at some point, stopping in C’town for snackipoos, and dinner later.
Should you notice me, feel free to speak, as I do not bite.
In fact I would love to stop and chat.

And note that by “fine figure of a man” is meant a trim masculine person of medium height, with a small beard and streaks of silver in my hair, possibly smoking a pipe at that time. A mature individual, with sparkly eyes behind reading specs that ride low on my nose.
I wear the glasses primarily because I do not wish to smack myself in the face with a coffee cup. By the time you are my age, it becomes difficult to focus on stuff less than a foot away from the face.
Such as, for instance, a fast-moving coffee cup.
Or rice bowl.
Yep, got warm rice all over my nose once.
It entirely changed my perception of dinner that day.


Strolled into a favourite restaurant around four thirty, and left half an hour later full of noodles, soup, and Vietnamese drip-coffee. First food since a snack standing at the kitchen sink late last night, but nowadays one actual meal a day is sufficient. Especially if it is a nice one.
I can mentally revisit fine food or good company for hours afterwards, and though I’m writing this after nine in the evening, I can still acutely remember the happy sense of expectation while raising slick toothsome noodles to my mouth earlier in the day.
The staff there recognize me now, and in conversation they and I mix Cantonese and English either way.
They’re good people. Hard-working, hospitable, intelligent.
It is wonderful to be there.

One slight problem.......

They have wide screen televisions hanging from the ceiling. Two of these show alternating views from the security cameras - the street in front, the alleyway beside, a shot from the door area, a focus on the register and counter, the dining hall with cheerful people - and one of them shows pictures of their food.
Beautiful evocative glowing portraits. Of. Food.
Yummy looking food.
Food porn.

Kung pao chicken (宫保鷄丁 gung po kai ding). Fried fish balls (炸魚蛋 za yu daan). Bitter melon fish slices over rice (涼瓜魚片飯 leung gwa yu pien fan). Beef ball noodle soup (牛丸湯 ngau wan tong). Pan-fried noodles with satay sauce chicken (沙茶雞肉炒河 sa tsa kai yiuk chao ho). Pork kidney with ginger and scallion (姜葱腰花 geung tsung yiu faa). Shrimp satay sauce noodle (沙茶蝦球 sa tsa haa kau). Hot and sour chicken (酸辣鷄球 suen laat kai kau). Oyster sauce steamed lettuce (蠔油生菜).
Plus numerous rice plates.
It was all very lovely.

This was the first time that the screen had been directly in my line of sight.
I was RAVENOUS by the time my soup came. Even thinking of ordering some fried fish balls.
Which would have naturally lead to a far greater ingestion of Sriracha hotsauce.......
And perhaps ANOTHER ice coffee.
Fortunately I restrained myself. Manfully.
Tomorrow will be a better day because of it.
Heck, wide open, with multiple possibilities.

Might even go there tomorrow and order the fried fish balls.
Za yu daan look like an excellent breakfast, although a whole serving could be too much for just one person.
Yes, there might be other folks at the office tomorrow (not very likely), but though they are nice enough, they aren't very adventurous eaters; I've heard them talk.
Fish balls and Sriracha, followed by shrimp satay noodles and oyster sauce lettuce, would probably frighten them.
So I had better not ask any of them to join me there.
I would rather not eat with timorous people.

Still thinking about what to do tomorrow.
Good food, naturally, is an important part of the picture.

Warm glistening noodles, firm textures, fragrant soup.
Listening in on the conversation of others.
An environment where eating is fun.
Plus strong sweet ice coffee.
Alone, but cheerful.

Fish balls.



NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:

All correspondence will be kept in confidence.


Enjoyed the last of the tin of flake in the television room last night while my roommate (Savage Kitten) was asleep. My chamber opens into the t.v.r., whereas her door goes into the hallway. Consequently she never noticed that I was smoking, though whisps of pressed Caledonian may have crept in and favourably influenced her dreams.
Had it been the other way around, I'm sure they would have done so to mine.
Unfortunately, she doesn't like tobacco.

This is the thirtieth time I've fired-up a load in the Savinelli that I got at the smoking competition.
It is finally fully broken in, and has become a very nice companion.

No, I didn't win, but I was probably the only person to tap out a fine white ash at the end instead of wet shreds. That isn't so much praise of my own pipe-smoking hand as it is a testament to the oddness of the tobacco provided in a two gramme measure for the contestants.

[It really should have been 2.2 grammes, but the dope-dealers' electronic scale did not measure so finely - there's a lot to be said for analog devices.]

Really, there are NO winners when everyone is combusting a vanilla-cream and fruit essence funk-a-roo. We are not Europeans!

Savinelli makes some damned fine pipes. Pity so many of them will be loaded up with aromatic funkums. Many Euries don't know any better.


My father's stern lecture to me when it was discovered that I was a secret teenage smoker many years ago still rings in my ears: "good tobacco does NOT smell like a Turkish cathouse!"
Profound words. I took them to heart.
Good tobacco requires no aromatic jazzing up.

His advice on what I put in my pipe was as succinct AND as excellent as his talk about sex. In which he explained that one should ONLY have congress with someone very nice, preferably a good friend.
He did not specify gender, but I believe he meant 'opposite'.

Once I explored the non-aromatics, I realized what a horrible sin it is to doctor a decent product with a cheap skank odour.
Not only tobacco, but also coffee (no toffee, no hazelnut, no amaretto!), liquor, and tea.
Good coffee is strong and bitter. Good alcohol is not augmented with vanilla - cream - berry - cherry - mango syrup.
Good tea does NOT contain fruit by-products and cheap spices.
And very nice people do not reek of Hello Kitty perfume.

Rattray's Marlin Flake is an honest product with real tobacco flavour. It has that faint herbal scent that aged Virginias are known for.
Mellow, on the sweet side.
It needs to be fully rubbed and dried a bit before it can be used.
But fresh from the tin it is malleable, and a bit of effort yields pillowy mounds of medium-hued shreds.
An hour's exposure leaves these perfect for the pipe.
Smoke it contemplatively.

Last of the can. Once I've also finished all of the Samuel Gawith's St. James Flake, I may crack another tin. Either that or one of the other Rattray's Virginias.
I particularly like the Hal O' The Wynd.

I learned a lot from my dad.

One thing I learned on my own happened last night while I was smoking the last of the Marlin Flake.
When you pull a football-team sweatshirt over your head, because it is freezing in the teevee room at one in the morning baby and you wish to be warm, it is wise to remove the pipe from your mouth and the reading specs from your face.
BEFORE you attempt to put on the garment.
Not during.

My nose still hurts from having my glasses jammed down hard on the bridge, and I'm sure that the Medrash Gohova sweatshirt will now always reek of burning Scotsman.
At least right around the middle-chest area.

It was a very good smoke.
Quite a lovely smell.
Educational, too.


NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


The usual street people are not present in the financial district on Saturdays.
I wonder what they do on weekends? Life on the edge cannot be easy when there is no one else around.

During the week I give them a little money and say hi. It's not much, but it is human contact. For a moment there is an acknowledgement that they are individuals. Most pedestrians regard them as hardly more than part of the landscape, and pass by without even looking at them.
The sad-looking black man who sells street sheets.
Elmo, who always tells people that today is his birthday.
A wheelchair gentleman maintaining a chipper sense of humour.
And an elderly Cantonese lady who speaks not a word of English.

If it weren't for their obvious need, you could very well imagine them as friends, Romans, countrymen.
But I fear that many of my fellow citizens would rather not do so.
It might force them to realize that San Francisco is not a kind city at times.


I'm in constant awe of people who manage to treat others gently, no matter how rushed they are and no matter what the situation.
Someone who can just act natural and decent, even when circumstances might prompt irritation or frustration.
In San Francisco, that ability is a bit rare. The average urbanite can be cynical and brittle. As well as self-centered.
It didn't used to be like that, but we are more anonymous than we were years ago.

Text messages and social networking sites have made matters worse while in some ways alleviating the problem. Do you really need to interact with strangers, when your 'friends' are at your fingertips?
Instantaneous access to the same people always.
There is no need for the social graces.
I have never owned a cell-phone.
Consequently I don't text.
Nor do I tweeter.

I'm quite willing to call others on their cell-phone and chat, because I realize that their land-line might be tied up by a teenager using the computer. Or there might be other perfectly rational explanations for why they aren't near the phone jack, such as their goat or their pet rabbits having chewed through all the cords, or inquisitive relatives listening in.
They have good reasons for cellularity.
But by and large, if you need to speak with me, there's my office phone or my home number.
If I'm not near either of those, you'll have to meet me somewhere.

I'll gladly talk with you in person, I would love to hear what you have to say.
As well as see your facial expressions..... the arched eyebrow, the twitch in the corner of your mouth as you keep from giggling, the bemused expression, or the lips parted in surprise or pleasure.....
None of these are part of the text and tweet world.

Coffee, tea, or cocktails and hors d’œuvres.
Snackipoos & pastries, hot noodle soup.
Fresh mussels in tangy saffron broth.
Hungry? How about roast lamb?
Or rice and chopstick food.
I know a few places.

You cannot break bread with your thumbs alone.
More is required.


While some people decry computers and e-mail as spelling the end of literacy in America, and lament that people never write each other anymore, I am not one of those. Several of my closest friends communicate marvelously be e-mail, and anyone who takes the time to compose a coherent paragraph is doing something wonderful. Not only for the intended recipient, also for themselves. Formulating your thoughts, paying attention to meaning and phrasing - what better way to increase your own comprehension?

There are numerous people I have never met but with whom I would dearly love to have coffee.
I know them because of their blogs and their e-mails. They are no longer 'anonymous', they have by exposing me to their eloquence and their insights, in their essays and electronic epistles, become as familiar and beloved as 'real-world' friends.
I doubt that that can ever be achieved by texting and tweeting.
An interesting letter is a gift.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.

Friday, February 17, 2012


By inclination I am a social eater, but I hardly ever eat with other people anymore.
Partly this is due to my entirely non-existent love life and my limited social life.
Part of it is because I've realized that I do not have particularly much in common with many of the people I know.
With some of them, there is absolutely no overlap whatsoever.
It is better to eat alone than with strangers.

My social malaise was made clear yesterday evening when we were drinking farewell to a departing colleague who had been with the company for twelve years. A number of us headed out for cocktails after five.
Clinking glasses, jokes, and pleasant chatter around the table.
I listened, but did not take significant part in the conversation.
Their interests are not the same as mine, their lives are quite different.
We have very little in common, and I do not really know them.
Given our dissimilarity, there is neither need nor any inclination to change that.
I'm sure most of the people now working at the company consider me a queer sort of fellow, if they even consider me at all.

There are only five people in the San Francisco office who also came over from the old building eight years ago, and almost nobody left to talk with.
Our Hong Kong office has many more people who have been at the company as long, longer even, but I've never met them, and likely never will. In fact, I don't even know the people outside Ops, International, and Finance.
Other departments in the company used to be much more interesting and vibrant, but there have been changes and departures; the folks presently staffing those desks are somewhat unknowable.

Finding someone with whom to have a discussion is rare.
I am fortunate that there once were several such people at the office.

I am beginning to think that the world is becoming a duller place.

Either that, or I simply need to find good conversational company.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.

Search This Blog


Sometimes, out of the corner of your ear, you hear something that tingles. While we were eating she mentioned that she admired crows because...