And, for this lunchtime at San Rafael Bay, we have choppy waters. The sky is clear here.

At the horizon, five Bay Bridge towers peak out from a fog bank (behind the closer Richmond Bridge): the two towers of the west span, two peaks of the old east span’s support structure, and the new east span’s tower.

I see a thin dark plume to the south: the Mount Diablo fire.

The Stilts’ Gait

The water is nearly still on San Rafael Bay at lunchtime.

The lagoon behind me is nearly full for the first time in two months, the salty cracked soil mostly covered. The black necked stilts are wading along the shore with their heads tipped down, studying the water in front of them, the area that can be covered within one or two steps of their springy gait. The bird in front is being chased by the one behind him. They run at double speed, the chased bird calling out little peeps every few steps.

A stray dog has circled around from the opposite shore. He slows when he spots me watching him. When I sneeze suddenly, he turns and flees.

John Muir

“Arriving by the Panama steamer, I stopped one day in San Francisco and then inquired for the nearest way out of town. ‘But where do you want to go?’ asked the man to whom I had applied for this important information. ‘To any place that is wild,’ I said. This reply startled him. He seamed to fear I might be crazy and therefore the sooner I was out of town the better, so he directed me to the Oakland ferry.”

-John Muir, Yosemite

Monkey Business

Zeppo and Co-star
The captain asks the first mate how he knows that there are four stowaways. “Why they’re singing Sweet Adeline,” the first mate answers.

Viewers who take this to mean that all four Marx Brothers are singing, even Harpo, are missing the joke. The humor of that line is that the first mate doesn’t specifically say that he heard four voices singing, he only infers it from the fact that the song they’re singing is Sweet Adeline.

And when we enter the ship’s cargo area in the next scene and hear the voices for ourselves, we hear them singing in the style of barbershop quartet. But listen, there are only three voices. The voice singing in the lower range is obviously Chico. The tenor voice matches Groucho’s straight singing voice. That leaves one more voice, a comic falsetto, which would fall to Zeppo rather than Harpo.

Monkey Business is the shortest Marx Brothers film, but it seems to gives Zeppo more screen time than the other four that he appeared in. Very little setup or backstory is given, so the roles of each of The Brothers (and other archetypical characters from the Cocoanuts formula) is less defined than in the other films. Each of The Brothers is less constricted by an assigned role. He sinks or shines based exclusively on his performance. Zeppo is not Groucho’s paige, he is simply on the loose. He does okay.

Zeppo has an interesting scene that I want to point out: He pauses, while being chased by the crew, to decide which direction to run in and is distracted by his first glimpse of The Love Interest (played by Ruth Hall). He turns to follow her. When crew members come into view, he jogs up alongside her, takes her arm and says something bold and charming. She rebuffs him.

The crew passes out of sight quickly. So Zeppo can forget about the pursuit for a moment and can focus on her. He catches up to her again and drops a handkerchief conspicuously. He picks it up.

“Pardon me. Is this yours?” he asks her. He is turning the old dropped handkerchief trope on it’s side.

She responds, “No,” coldly.

He stands, dejected, and watches her walking away without breaking her stride. Then a few steps on, she purposely drops her own handkerchief. Zeppo’s face brightens, he scampers over to retrieve it. But before he can reach it, she picks it up. “Is this yours?” she asks him. “Why, yes,” he answers. They lock arms and walk away together.

The handkerchief gag follows a very Marxist (to coin a term) logic. Zeppo’s costar goes with the Marx logic in a way that few outsiders do without getting confused or going mad. She accepts the logic of the scene and even gets the better of Zeppo. Her passions turn in a moment for no apparent reason, very Marx. This may be her only comic bit in the movie, but it’s a good one. Also, notice how Zeppo pockets her handkerchief before they pass out of camera range?

Make Way

On my rush hour drive home today, a CHP officer stepped out in front of a semi (excuse me, a “big rig”, as they call them here). He gestured for the big rig to stop using a two fisted hammering motion — the closest thing to a wave that he could make while holding two fists together. The car in the next lane slowed in turn and he stepped in front of it. He hammered toward me, in the third lane, and I slowed to a stop. Cars to my left followed suit and the officer crossed the other southbound lanes. A second man, holding his hands out in front of him in the same manner, followed.

The men were carrying something. I looked carefully and realized they were each carrying a fistful of ducklings. They stopped in the carpool lane and looked back toward the right shoulder. I followed their gaze and saw that the mama duck was there toeing the white painted line anxiously. The two men waited and she took a few timid steps into the first lane and then lifted off — taking a skittish flight to the barrier at the freeway median.

The two men climbed over the barrier to repeat their performance across the northbound lanes. Traffic on my side waited for a moment, though there was nothing stopping us from moving. I took the initiative, stepping on the gas. Cars behind me and in the other lanes followed suit. Two hundred yards ahead, I was back in 15 mph traffic.

Lucky Penny

Today I walked past the apartment where Scott lived for a year when he was a student at California College of Arts and Crafts. He lived there fifteen years ago and I flew down one time to visit him and to spend some time in San Francisco.

I’ve been on that street seven or eight times since I moved to the East Bay — five years ago. Three or four of those times were in the last three months, as I recently moved to an adjacent neighborhood. Today I thought to look down at the sidewalk, at a spot where one afternoon (fifteen years ago) Scott had stopped and turned a penny over as we were walking from his apartment to Piedmont Avenue. Pennies are lucky when they’re heads up, he explained. That penny had been tails up. Not lucky for me, he said. But it would be lucky for the next person to come past.

Today, the spot that I selected as the place where this had happened was a narrow path of newly poured concrete crossing the older weathered sidewalk, filling in where a sewer lateral had been replaced on a house that had been lifted for a new foundation.

Lunch Hour

In the wetland area on the landfill side of the San Rafael seawall, a limber white and black patterned bird tips its black needle-nose beak into the alkaline water. It has twiggy orange legs with ankles at it’s legs’ halfway point — looking like backward bending knees. It stalks something with short springy steps. A couple of sparrows intrude in its space and it takes flight, low over the water, scattering the sparrows.

I think that I should keep a record of the birds that I see there. It will give me a sense of the seasons passing. Later, at home, I check the field guide. A black-necked stilt. It’s non-migratory. It’s not going anywhere.

Chacewater Sierra Foothills Zinfandel 2010

A neighbor had a range of different grape varietals at a backyard party last year. I tasted the Zinfandel grape and realized that it was the grape varietal that lined the south property line of the home I grew up in. There was something elemental to my appreciation of that wine, I thought.

That was before the season of good wines that began with my sampling of the Instant Wine Cellar. In the course of the last few months, I’ve lost my taste for the cheap unbalanced wines that I used to favor. I had a few bad super fruity Zinfandels recently, and I was ready to cut that varietal out entirely.

A bottle of Chacewater that I still had on hand provided me with some perspective. This wine is complex. The fruity Zinfandel character is balanced out with a lot of other smoky and spicy business. (Trying to describe these tastes, I understand why wine descriptions are always so absurd.) This is a good well-priced wine.

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Into Darkness

With all the call backs to previous episodes, I’m not sure whether I just watched the Star Trek movie or the new season of Arrested Development. Then again, with Oakland’s cameo during the climax, maybe it was a Pixar film.

Categorized as Words Tagged