October 30th, 2008

This 2008 election season has become a real part of my life. Not a huge part, just a mild component of my daily environment. I feel like it’s always been here, and it always will. It’s a comforting piece of national drama to have an opinion on, important enough to be above the level of following celebrity gossip, but more or less feeding that same candy craving. I think I’m not alone here. This has been quite a titillating political campaign, not to mention the giant span of time it’s covered. The question of who will be our next president has been so integrated into our day-to-day discourse, I don’t know what we’ll do when it’s been answered.

And yet the end is rapidly approaching. It’s always crazy to me that months of speculation and research and polling and lies and gossip and all the rest are in preparation for one day. It ends, resolved, after this single night. (Not speaking, for the moment, about the year 2000.) This year, in particular, is beginning to remind me of all the Y2K hype. All the talking about change and belief, all the fear being stirred up around the victory of one candidate over another, if you really let it sink in, it sounds a lot like the potential crash of computer systems worldwide, not to mention the possibility of the end of times. When the stroke of midnight hit on December 31, 1999, we pretty much knew that life would continue as before, but there was still a nice charge in the air, the faint idea that it might not. Just so, I think, with this coming election night.

And so we’ve decided to draw this comparison even tighter. We’re throwing a party! When people ask you where you were for election night 2008, we want you the say you were with us. We’ll have pizza, cake, champagne and our best effort at a non-partisan environment. Come celebrate with us the passage from one time into another, even if we all kind of suspect we won’t really be able to feel much difference.

October 29th, 2008

Earlier this year I recommended a piece of experimental performance to you all. I don’t know if any of you took that recommendation, don’t know how it went over if you did. It was a pretty intense experience I was trying to send you out to have. I say this now because they’re back. Or, actually, Keith is back. Keith Hennessy, the director, under the same company name, Circo Zero, has put together a completely different cast and is working with a completely new concept. It’s called Delinquent, features no one over the age of 24 and takes the juvenile detention system as its theme. The assembled cast was chosen based on some ability to relate to that theme and come from a variety of disciplines. This is all I know, which is way less than I knew about the last show. But I trust Keith like I trust very few assemblers of performative experience. He’s super intelligent and keeps strong commitments to making work that is both relevant as contemporary art and fiercely political, but because his politics lead him this way, he also insists on making shows that have popular appeal. You will never have a night of esoteric contemplation when Keith is in charge, but nor will you ever feel like you were mindlessly entertained. In short, I love him. I follow this man wherever he wants to take me. One of the strongest recommendations I can make about anything I know in the world is that other people do the same.

But the show I’m describing is only playing one weekend, at the Yerba Buena Gardens Forum in San Francisco. If you’re here already on business, then I absolutely insist you go. If you’re not scheduled to be here, the decision is yours. You’re getting this newsletter because you have regular business in Silicon Valley. Surely you could find some reason to come at this time.

October 26th, 2008

A friend of mine recently wrote a story about a professional conversationalist. It was fiction and he imagined his main character visiting the houses of the lonely, talking with them about their lives and their thoughts. Comforting the alienated was her job. It failed, the story, because his professional conversationalist was awkward. She fidgeted, was distracted and was coldly professional in the way we have come to think of prostitutes as professional. No person seeking genuine human interaction would have asked that character back week after week.

If I were to re-write that story for myself, I would model my professional talker after Frank, our bellman and weekend bartender. To chat with Frank is like curling up on an oversized, worn leather couch with a big soft blanket. It’s just so easy and comfortable. He asks lots of questions and really listens to the answers. He talks unselfconsciously about himself, his interests and projects. I think I didn’t properly understand before talking to Frank how much of a difference it makes when a person is really open and free when they talk about themselves, how much easier it is, then, to ask questions and be in a dialogue.

This makes him an excellent hotel employee, and we have appreciated all of the nearly three years he’s given us. Perhaps some of you readers can relate when I say that traveling, especially for work, can be lonely and alienating and so Frank is, not surprisingly, beloved by guests. But if all of this is making you want a little face time with Frank, come quick. Eventually he will move on to the career that his studies in marketing and advertising lead him to, but his even more immediate plan is to continue those studies on the big island of Hawaii. This move is most likely a year away, but the time will pass and then so will he and trust me, this is a guy you want to meet.

October 23rd, 2008

This is a story about the best marketing tool I have ever witnessed in my life. Well, maybe witness is not such a good word. Fallen victim to could perhaps paint a better picture. Because really what I’m talking about is a trap that has been laid in a completely nondescript, apparently unassuming strip mall in San Jose. Nearly invisible in a cluster of small businesses, on a giant but undistinguished busy street, surrounded by seemingly identical concrete clusters, Tony and Alba’s sits, quietly emitting the most decadent, hunger inducing, mouth watering smell I have encountered anywhere outside of my friend Sean’s kitchen. Sean is the best cook I know, and so now that you’re in on my reference you can understand with me that Tony and Alba’s smells really very good indeed. Except that Sean’s kitchen only smells that way when he’s cooking and I only get to smell it when I’ve been invited for dinner. With Tony and Alba’s, it’s constant.

My family first encountered this establishment when I was in middle school, so a few more than a few years ago. We were coming to rent some videos from the place next door. We had just eaten dinner and were wanting to end the night with a movie, when, suddenly, we, collectively, got blind-sided by this attack odor. Dizzy and powerless, we stumbled toward its source. We emerged after some unknown interval, greasy bliss all over our faces, clearly recognizing danger. We knew we would have to be careful in the future. It was possible to continue to rent from this, our favorite, movie rental place, but we would have to maintain our guard when we approached it. Sometimes we would slip and get sucked back in. Fine, we would say, every now and then is fine, so long as our core resolve remains strong.

This is Tony and Alba’s, neighborhood terrorist. They will never have to worry about business and they certainly don’t need my advertising help, but if you’re just visiting, the threat against you is minimal so you may just want to check them out.

October 18th, 2008

I think the only way to begin writing about the Ferrari-Carano winery is by admitting that I chose it this month with slightly disingenuous motivations. With the global economy having, yet again, fallen victim to the greed of a wealthy few, I opted for the winery with Ferrari in its name, hoping for the chance to be a bit snide. I picked the wrong winemakers, if this is what I was looking for.

The first surprise about the Ferrari-Carano winery is that, although this is the rightful name of the enterprise and, as such, it is used liberally in everything they write and do, no mention of the name Ferrari comes up in any of the stories about the foundation or management of the business. Carano is the name of the couple that started the whole thing up in 1979. But the Ferrari? The best I can do is to speculate that they tacked it on as a sort of a goal for themselves. Cultural associations with the name Ferrari are rich and plentiful, as I demonstrated by choosing them this month. In bad economic times, greed and decadence are what I think of. In a world going green, inefficiency and waste also come to mind. But in 1979, Ferrari would have been a gleaming jewel of a name to try to live up to.

And speaking of inefficiency and waste, because that is partly what I was looking for here, I would guess that there is approximately none at this winery. What they seem to be moving toward is a full restoration of the natural environment, with some vines in the middle. They are integrating sheep and cows, as an alternative to pesticides. They have bees for fertilization. They have nesting boxes and perches to attract the birds that will keep away rodents. They are replanting the native trees. They use only biofuels in all of the vehicles on the property. They pave their roads with tree sap. If I was looking to indulge my cynicism at someone else’s expense this month, these are not the right people. I might even have a little less of it to vent on someone else.