Monthly Archives: June 2009

glen park

You know a neighborhood in SF has arrived when it has its own association newspaper. In the case of Glen Park, it’s the GPN (Glen Park News). The latest issue has as its above-the-fold headline: “Scofflaw Scavengers Spark Debate.” About the habits of professional recyclers who pick out cans and bottles for the refund money which, apparently, is illegal.

Kind of lame as an urban issue, granted. But I love this anachronistic little newspaper, and I love the neighborhood.

I’m moving from Glen Park this week, my home on and off for the last year and a half, which is leading me to wax poetic about the place.

My litmus test for a neighborhood is how far you have to walk to get a bagel and a newspaper. Not far, as it turns out, if you’re close to g-park center.

Check out La Corneta for the best burritos in the city, Glen Park Station (an old-time divey neighborhood bar) for the atmosphere and great happy hour prices, and Gialina’s for thin-crust brick-oven pizza and friendly servers. In fact, you’ll undoubtedly have to wait for a table at Gialina’s, so you might as well head over to Glen Park Station for pre-dinner cocktails. Plus, the neighborhood has its own little library – how cool is that – and a great used bookstore, Bird and Beckett.

There is definitely a small-town, even a village feel, to the place, despite close proximity to both BART and the highway. It seems insulated, in a good way, possibly because the center sits in a little valley and to get anywhere you have to go up and over hills.

The neighborhood is named after Glen Park Canyon, a yawning 122-acre split of the land that descends from nearby Twin Peaks and where you’ll often find dogs and their humans, or a softball game at the fields by the rec center. I’ve taken walks in Glen Park Canyon, and run along its edges on O’Shaughnessy. It’s an amazing ravine within the city limits, with trails both on the canyon floor and under the homes perched on concrete pilings along its rim.

Glen Park Canyon, ca. 1909

Glen Park Canyon, ca. 1909

I’ll sign off with a few pics of Glen Park through time courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library.

fighting the proposed highway ca. 1958

fighting the proposed highway ca. 1958

Bosworth, looking down Diamond toward Chenery, ca. 1948

Bosworth, looking down Diamond toward Chenery, ca. 1948

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dancing ganesha

At the top of the escalators in the Asian Art Museum is a statue titled Dancing Ganesha. And, at the feet of this elephant-headed Remover of Obstacles is a small slot where you can pay tribute.ganesha

Pauline, who led the tour of would-be museum volunteers (of which I was one), explained that many people turned to Ganesha at those moments in their lives when big changes are on the horizon – new job, starting a family, moving. Wouldn’t you know it? I’m mired in one of those moments. Looking for a new place to live, remaking myself after the end of a relationship, becoming an Asian Art Museum volunteer. I’ll have to spend more time with this stunning, whimsical little Ganesha …

The tour of volunteers took us into staff-only areas like the inside of the coat check room (not so interesting) and through the collection (very, very interesting). I was particularly moved by the Korean celadon pieces – pale green lidded ewers.

Some other artifacts to mention: a beautiful example of Zen brushwork, part of the “Lords of Samurai” special exhibit – a large charcoal-colored O painted onto a scroll. The O, a docent told us, is a key symbol of enlightenment in Zen Buddhism as it represents both everything and nothing. A stunning raku bowl fired by the man who invented the process that is named after him. A room with statues of Buddha representing different visual interpretations of this central deity by various Asian cultures.

Over the years, I’ve tried to reconnect with my Korean-ness – taking language lessons, for instance. But I’ve never been too successful. I’m hoping that being at this museum, steeped in history and culture, will give me more chances to examine and understand that part of me. Maybe now with Ganesha’s help it will be more possible.

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soup to nuts (redux)

According to an NPR piece that came across my news feed, there’s a fascinating dictionary of American Regional English that has been published in sections over the past 50 years. The final volume, S-Z, will be available next year.

The story begins with an anecdote about Bill Clinton:

In 1993, President Clinton was giving a news conference when someone mentioned that a certain Air Force official had criticized him. “How could he say that about me?” Clinton responded. “He doesn’t know me from Adam’s off ox.”

The piece goes on to wonder if regional phrases are dying off as we become more twitter-ized and therefore more uniform in our online, web-based writing patterns. This seemed to be borne out in the story:

But when this reporter tested out some words from the DARE at a Starbucks in suburban Detroit, none of the patrons seemed familiar with a “monkey’s wedding” (a chaotic, messy situation in Maine); “cockroach killers” (pointy shoes in New Jersey) or “mumble squibbles” (noogies, North Carolina-style).

(Her first mistake, it seems to me, was going to a suburban Detroit Starbucks to see if people were aware of regional phrases.)

One of the benefits of my job is that I get to meet teachers from all over the country. So I’ve definitely heard my share of regional expressions, which I love. “Rode hard and put up wet” is probably my favorite, said by Amy from Louisville one night describing the way Britney Spears looked as her image flashed across a tv screen. Apparently, it’s a horse-riding expression, so it makes sense that it comes from the land of the Kentucky Derby. And I’m sure you can guess that it ain’t complimentary.

Championing regional sayings is the equivalent to me of buying local to prevent the overrunning of our communities by look-alike chain stores and restaurants.

In fact, more than archiving these expressions in dictionaries, we should be figuring out ways they can be used in everyday speech. A facebook app, perhaps, that flashes and beeps you when your status updates are too regionally bland.

Not for nothin, I think that’s a good idea.

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Spent the day yesterday at the Bay Area Drupal (BAD) Camp learning some basics about Drupal, the open-source content management

As someone new to trying to develop websites in Drupal, the intro workshop I attended was both amazingly informative and overwhelming.

Apart from the explanations of nodes, modules, blocks, views and panels (whew), what I enjoyed most about the day was the communitarian impulse of the people involved in organizing the event. Kieran Lal, who is billed as Acquia‘s Drupal Adventure Guide, the first speaker during the session I attended, was both open and welcoming to us newbies and talked about his desire to make Drupal more widely available as a low-cost publishing option. Not just for the people in the room and their communities, but also for newspapers and magazines, which are being shuttered left and right in this era of cost-cutting.

Loved this. As an ex-journalist, I’m torn about the financial difficulties newspapers face. Selfishly, I don’t want my dead-tree Sunday New York Times to go away. And yet history tells me that journalism is a creature of evolution and will always exist in some form or another. It’s just the medium that has changed, from town crier to printing press to now blogs and Drupal.

Oh, and I’ve got a website idea … let’s see if I learned enough at badcamp to launch.

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Narrowly escaped serving on a jury for a 24-day trial. With my freedom, I decided to walk from Civic Center back home to Glen Park. A sunny day in SF, documented.





Twin Peaks in the distance



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soup to nuts

I was in a meeting yesterday and someone used the phrase “from soup to nuts.” The context: an older (and that’s saying a lot because I’m pretty old) colleague was explaining the process for planning a type of event and how one part of the process involved making apparent every detail, “from soup to nuts.”

That isn’t an expression I’d heard in a while. Though I know in the past it’s been a common part of our lexicon. I began to wonder about its origin (when I should have been, ahem, paying attention during the meeting). According to, which references The Dictionary of Idioms:

Origin: For centuries, any foods served at the beginning or end of a meal stood for the entire thing: the start and finish and everything in between. This expression was “from eggs to apples” and “from pottage to cheese.” In the United States in the middle of the 20th century, the expression developed into “from soup to nuts.” At many meals, soup is often the first course and a dessert with nuts is sometimes the last. The expression does not have to refer only to meals, however. It could be the selection of goods for sale or classes offered.

This got me wondering about other expressions that we know but don’t really use anymore (and their origins) – you know, something that you can clearly hear your mom or dad saying. I posed this question to a few people around the office and here are ones they came up with (along with what I found online as possible explanations for their original meaning):

cut the mustard

Origin: 1904

In the twentieth century, Americans were able to cut the mustard, that is, “to do what is needed.” The first evidence comes from O. Henry in 1904: “So I looked around and found a proposition that exactly cut the mustard.”

It is one of our most puzzling expressions. Does it have to do with cultivating or harvesting the mustard plant? Does it have to do with the slang expression be the proper mustard, that is, “be the real thing,” or be all to the mustard, “be very good”? Or might it mean “exceed the standard,” where cut means “surpass” or “excel,” and mustard is really the muster, or “examination,” as in the old expression pass muster? All these explanations have been seriously advanced by those who cut the mustard in lexicography, but they are only guesses.

pulling your leg

It has a criminal background, and those that used to steal from people in crime ridden London in the olden days… they used to literally have wires to trip people up which pulled on their leg, then someone else took their valuables whilst they were feeling rather compromised on the floor.

Over time this stumbling, mishap and the comical effect of someone falling over came to be adapted slightly to making fun of someone in general, and hence the origin of the phrase.

dead ringer

A ringer is a horse substituted for another of similar appearance in order to defraud the bookies. This word originated in the US horse-racing fraternity at the end of the 19th century. The word is defined for us in a copy of the Manitoba Free Press from October 1882:

“A horse that is taken through the country and trotted under a false name and pedigree is called a ‘ringer.'”

heavens to murgatroyd

‘Heavens to Murgatroyd’ is American in origin and dates from the mid 20th century. The expression was popularized by the cartoon character Snagglepuss – a regular on the Yogi Bear Show in the 1960s, and is a variant of the earlier ‘heavens to Betsy’.

The first use of the phrase wasn’t by Snagglepuss but comes from the 1944 film Meet the People. It was spoken by Bert Lahr, best remembered for his role as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. Snagglepuss’s voice was patterned on Lahr’s, along with the ‘heavens to Murgatroyd’ line.

I couldn’t, though, find the origin for an old-school slang expression that is one of my favorites (and was trotted out occasionally by a good friend, much to my amusement):

knuckle sandwich

As in, “If gay marriage isn’t legalized in CA soon, someone’s going to eat a knuckle sandwich.”

Got any on-the-verge-of-extinction phrases you’d like to add to the list?

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athens v sparta

My friend Evan and I went to the Giants game Saturday night. We were given great seats by our friend and co-worker Brent, who has season tickets but couldn’t make it. We sat close to the field, so close in fact that we almost caught a foul ball. A young kid a few seats down from us in our row wound up with the ball, which is how it should be. (At one point later in the game I walked past the kid and he was running his fingers over his souvenir absent-mindedly. I’m sure he’s sleeping every night with the ball stuffed into his pajamas.) Even if we didn’t have great seats, it would’ve been fine – AT&T Park is a beautiful stadium, with its gorgeous brick wall in right field and a view of the bay from the cheap seats.

photo courtesy of antman

photo courtesy of antman

After the game (which the Giants lost – shocker), we took Muni to the Haight. And on the Muni were tons of Cardinals fans. Co-existing peacefully with Giants fans.

Clearly, I am too recent an East Coast transplant because it seemed incongruous to me that Cardinal fans could be allowed to ride Muni unheckled. The last baseball game I’d been to on the East Coast was Yankees-Red Sox at Fenway Park. I kid you not, actual blood was shed, both during the game – a fight broke out right next to me – and afterward, on Lansdowne Street. The SF Muni is not unlike the Green Line trolley in Boston and I can’t imagine Yankees fans after a game riding without deep fear of being dismembered and sold for parts while crammed alongside Sox fans.

Yankees-Red Sox, I realize, is to some extent a special case because it carries the weight of a long-standing historical rivalry between cities. It’s basically our modern day Athens v. Sparta. Baseball is just one of the stages upon which the psyches of these two cities – Boston was once dismissed as “that town” by former NYC Mayor Ed Koch – duke it out for supremacy.

If you’re interested in reading a lyrical, engaging essay about the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, a piece that elevates their annual battles to that of Greek tragedy by one of the best baseball writers of our generation, then pick up a copy of Why Time Begins on Opening Day. Author Thomas Boswell is a sports writer for the Washington Post. The essays in this book are somewhat dated, but if you love the game or if you love great prose, you’ll love this collection. I read this and Boswell’s other essay compendium, How Life Imitates the World Series, in the mid-80s and fell in love with baseball writing.

Someone once said baseball must be a really boring game because people spend so much time trying to convince us how beautiful it is. Maybe. But before you decide one way or the other, read Boswell. Or Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu, the late John Updike’s piece about Ted Williams’ final game. And then let me know what you think.

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