Memorial Day

Dear Jim,

You would have liked today. I left the apartment at 5:45 to walk up to the park.

It was already real light and I loved listening to the birds. I stood on the wet lawn and read essays by an Argentinian writer that I tore out of his book so I didn’t have to worry about carrying it with me. I just throw the pages away.

It’s an old paperback. It smells, but not as bad as that other book I told you about.

Usually in collections of essays the publication date of each essay is listed. But there was no list in this book. I don’t think it even had a copyright date.

I can’t tell you when he wrote. 50’s, 60’s, 70’s. I don’t know. But I’m sick of looking at a computer, so I will not look him up. Eventually I will order a new copy to see how my reading of Spanish has improved. There are so many words I don’t know that I only look up a few.

He’s from Buenos Aires. I think he is to Buenos Aires what Charles McCabe was to San Francisco.

He writes about all the different neighborhoods in Buenos Aires. When I read him I think, ”I wish Sacramento had colorful, rich, distinct neighborhoods.” But it doesn’t.

We are boring. I wouldn’t know what to write about if I had to write an essay every week about Sacramento.

Maybe I should try. There are a lot of great murals. There is a barbershop that serves liquor. I walked by a new community garden yesterday. It had all kinds of stuff growing and weeds between plots. It would be a nice place to sprawl myself out in.

But there’s no pzazz. No soul here. I can’t see myself loving Sacramento except for the weather and the trees.

And today the birds. I always complain that there aren’t a lot of birds, especially with all our trees. But today they have been chirping all day. It feels magical.

Dad and I talked this afternoon. He wasn’t in a great mood, but we had a nice conversation.

You know how I loved to drink as a kid? Well, I’ve always been fascinated by the famous old bars in San Francisco. So today I asked dad about Harrington’s and McCarthy’s. He told me where they were, then said he hardly ever went to them.

The place you worked at. Were those bars still there then? Did the staff go there a lot?

Bars are bad news. Remember the sports columnist for The Examiner who wrote a column like it was an episode in history? When he died of alcoholism at 37, you and I were upset. He was one of the few things about growing up in San Francisco that I liked.

McCabe was another. He always talked about his own drinking, but if it killed him it wasn’t until he was old.

On Saturday is a party for our great nephew. He graduates from a Catholic elementary school on Thursday night, then will attend a public high school when school starts again.

I will take the long tiring trip to Sis II’s on Friday afternoon. I hardly ever go there in Summer.

Our nephew is easy going like we wish all kids were. He’s a whiz with his hands. He loves the times he lives in. Just the opposite of me.

It will be a challenge for me to attend a milestone party for someone who will be a success in the modern world that failed me (and you), and what I have failed in.

As they say in Spanish, un abrazo.

As mom used to write,

xxxxxx’s

Love,

Dave

Copyright © 2021 by David Vaszko

Sunday, March 18

Dear Jim,

It’s funny weather – overcast. It reminds me of The City.

I’ve been thinking a lot about The City. I want to go there so bad, but it scares me.

Yesterday I looked at a San Francisco travel guide. I wrote down the names of the major streets between Van Ness, Market, and the bay. I want to walk all the ones running north to south.

The other way, Sacramento Street, would be daunting even if I were young. So I won’t try to walk many of the east to west streets. It would be stupid to try to do it now. If I did, I probably would not be able to walk again.

We Vaszko’s are walkers. Mom and I are the weakest. You and I did the most walking, then dad when he retired. Walking was part of your identity and mine. I had a great walk, but now I don’t wobble or waddle or whatever I did as much as I used to.

I think the reason I want to walk in The City is to feel like I accomplished something and went somewhere. When I walk in Sacramento I keep track of how far I walk, but that is only to make sure I don’t get too far out of shape. I usually don’t feel like I accomplished anything, and I don’t feel like I have gone anywhere, unless I walk to the river after a big storm in a rainy winter to watch the logs float down and to gawk at how wide the river has gotten.

Walking is as much a part of my identity as a car is to the identity of people who drive. If and when they lose their car or their license, they feel like they are not free, that they are not a man anymore.

When my legs go out, I will not be free. I will feel very small, like life isn’t worth living anymore, that God has destroyed the legs that carried my incredible passion for him.

God I love to walk. Being confined here in Sacramento, I need the vistas and rhythm of San Francisco. Up one hill, stop, a great view. Up another hill, a different view. Go down a hill, a different rhythm. I need to do something great like this while I still can, to be inspired not just by a great view in a great city, but because I struggled up a hill and feel proud.

I can see where San Francisco gets it’s air of superiority. If you can walk up all those cold windy hills, you are tough and you can toot your horn. But just because you walk up all the hills with great views doesn’t mean you can act as if you are the one who created them. But that’s human nature.

One of the attractions of walking in downtown San Francisco is that north of Market, the streets have names not numbers. You see the early heroes – Washington, Jackson, Clay and the later heroes – Polk, Taylor, Grant. Plus Geary and Green – the local heroes.

San Francisco had the imagination and patriotism to name it’s streets after great men. It had a sense of destiny about itself and the nation. Sacramento wasn’t a city of dreamers and did not feel a sense of destiny about itself. It was very patriotic, but naming all it’s downtown streets by letters and numbers didn’t give magic to the city.

The guy who was a dreamer was Sutter. He was in Sacto before it was a city but he failed in his dream. Even so, there’s a hospital, middle school, and gentlemens club named after him.

He was a great dreamer and a great failure. He helped others get started on their dream, so he was a great inspirer. He got old young, like a lot of us have.

A very human man. Sacramento should have named one of it’s major streets after him, honoring him as the original dreamer who got thousands of other dreamers to come to California. Only rather than get old young like Sutter did, thousands died young from chasing their foolish dream.

Sutter was a man of great selfishness, vision, foolishness, and generosity. So he is great for young people to study. How could he refuse to support his family but help hundreds of strangers? Do you lie to get what you want? Will you abuse your power? Will your dream make for a better world like Sutter thought his would?

Sutter took advantage of Indians. Will you invest in 3rd World sweatshops? How do you think Sutter felt having his land stolen and swindled from him? If you fail in your dream, what will you do? If you succeed, will you be happy?

Remember when we went to Sutter’s Fort in the eighties and we were full of wonder? I remember you saying it must have smelled terrible when all the dirty travelers slept in the same room passing gas.

I don’t think Sutter fills too many people with wonder. The focus is on destroying Sutter by calling him a racist. So if there is ever a time when people want to rename the hospital or middle school, I will fight it. He helped a lot of people and was such an extraordinary man, he should be remembered not forgotten.

I’m glad San Francisco named a street after him. It appreciated his daring-do. He was by nature more of a San Franciscan than a Sacramentan.

One of the reasons I haven’t gone to visit The City since dad has been in a rest home is because it would not be fair to him. I hardly ever visit him so I shouldn’t be going to San Francisco unless I visit him all the time. You would probably go every week, even without a car.

Another reason I haven’t gone to walk in The City is I’m not sure my legs will hold up. It would shame me knowing I can’t do it anymore – all this beauty but I can’t glory in it. I want to make peace with the city I never felt part of, even though it is beautiful. But if I can’t walk in it, I will have to make peace with myself in a different way.

You know how when we talked about religion you often talked about forgiveness? Well, I was thinking about forgiving San Francisco for it’s pretension, for it’s refusal to make an eccentric like me feel welcome in a city that used to be known for great characters, but since the fifties is known for people making a spectacle of themselves.

I will stand at Powell and California, then walk up to the hotels. I’ll look over the city Tony Bennett loved. I’ll try to forgive The City, then I’ll beg it, ”Let me feel like you are mine.”

I have always wondered why there was so much drinking in San Francisco. Why do you need to get loaded in a city that should make you naturally high?

I think most of our lives are bitter disappointments. You walk up a hill and see a great view of the bay, then shiver thinking how unbeautiful your life is, how the grand dreams never came true. You failed in all this beauty. You’re in the city of dreamers but you let yourself down, or life let you down. So you drink.

Well Jim. You are nine years older than I am. You might not be able to walk now. That’s a scary thought.

I hope my legs hold up until after dad dies.

Love,

Dave

Copyright © 2021 by David Vaszko

Friday, August 25

Dear Jim,

How are you? Did you watch the eclipse on Monday? I wasn´t interested.

It was cool on Sunday and very cool on Monday. Monday reminded me of being South of Market. I wonder if the eclipse was why it was so cool.

I´m sitting outside at my favorite coffee shop. It is beautiful. It´s cool but not breezy, so you don´t get colder the longer you sit here. I got here at ten to seven.

I like coming here on Friday because the staff is in their street clothes. Usually they wear black, so their bright clothes bring the place to life.

There wasn´t much in the paper this morning. There was a big fight between a catcher and a batter at a Yankee-Tiger game. The Tigers are way back and the Yankees are 5 games back.

The Giants are 39 games out. Isn´t that funny? In May they weren´t drawing very well, so I don´t know how they are drawing now.

I´ve only been to one game at their downtown stadium. It opened around 2000. I went with dad and his church group around 2005. I can´t remember. It was a beautiful night and it is a beautiful stadium. You would like it.

There is a great view of the bay. The stadium is so nice it would be a wonderful place to sit during lunch, look out on the bay, then walk back to work.

The City has changed a lot. South of Market was a skid row when you started high school. By the time I graduated it was mostly rubble. Now it´s an area of ugly modern buildings, except for the stadium.

There are a lot of expensive apartments and condos, very tall and as ugly as the new office buildings. And there are still a lot of slobs, especially at the Cal Trans station. People who have a ticket can´t sit in the sun outside the depot because all the slobs sit out there and come in to use the bathroom. It´s a disgrace.

A city council guy in Sacto wants to see if there is a way to get the homeless guys working. It sounds like something from the fifties where an employer would come to skid row, pick up a bunch of guys, then drop them off at the end of the day.

I tried to call dad the other day – three times. He has a new friend who he was talking with, so the woman who runs the place kept telling me to call back. After the third call she explained what was going on and asked me to call another day.

Dad needs all the friends he can get. So do I. So did you. It´s amazing, the isolation of the three of us. Dad had mom and has always had God. I don´t think he felt isolated when mom was alive, but he always wished he had more friends. The guy from the navy he loved died in the eighties. The other guy dad really liked got Alzheimer´s in the nineties.

You and I had each other, but that was changing when you died. I tell people we were drifting apart when you got killed, that your death could not have come at a worse time for me. I say, ¨I don´t think we would have become affectionate again.¨

It would have been wrenching if you lived. We would have had to talk things over why I am a failure. If we didn´t, or if we did and things didn´t improve, we both would have lost.

We are different. I am the eccentric. You hated the anarchistic times. You were big on authority and order. I am defiant, so I fit right in to the fuck you society.

Even though today´s America is perverted and anarchistic, it is also very conformist. You can go to the river to get buttfucked, but you are a weirdo if you sit for three hours looking at naked trees. You can scream that you have the right to say any profane thing you want to, but if you quietly say we should remove all the surveillance cameras, people feel threatened by you.

I think you felt that I should have grown up, stopped rebelling, got a career. I look at all the tattooed idiots, all the sluts, all the queers and say, ¨You guys are pretenders. You don´t know what it´s like to be different.¨

We are different Jim. That is what made our drifting apart scary and heartbreaking. I needed you for your respectability. You needed me for my free spirit. I hated the respectable world more as I got older. You felt I needed to rein in my free spirit.

That´s it for now.

Love,

Dave

Copyright © 2021 by David Vaszko

Friday, August 4

Dear Jim,

It’s overcast today. Just like downtown San Francisco.

I’m sitting outside at my favorite coffee shop. I just finished reading an article about the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love.

It made me ill. You and I hated the hippies. I have always felt that the hippies milked San Francisco for everything they could, then went out to make as much money as they could – and do as many illegal and immoral things as they could – just like the capitalists they hated so much. I know you agree with me.

You had a more difficult time with the hippies than I did because you were their age. They hated western culture. You loved it. They hated Christianity. You loved Catholicism. You read great books. They read the North Beach horseshit. You were sick because of what Vatican II did to The Church. They wanted to rock out at Mass or pretend they were Buddhists. They loved The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. You liked Glenn Yarborough and Ed Ames. They smoked dope every day. You were never drunk or stoned. They were promiscuous. You weren’t. They thought they were cool. You knew you weren’t and you hated their arrogance and hypocrisy. They thought it was their God-given right to avoid Vietnam. You felt guilty that you got out on a medical but other people had to die.

The hippies broke your heart Jim. You had nothing to be part of, even though you opposed the war and had the highest hopes for Bobby Kennedy.

You were close to Sis I, but you had nothing in common with her hippie friends. The Church you loved had gone to hell. Even though you had a great career ahead of you, you didn’t feel a part of the times. You didn’t love America. You loved baseball and you loved the family, especially mom and dad.

I remember when you said you wished you had gone to Berkeley instead of S. F. State. You said you would have been exposed to more interesting people. I think you meant people who were not from the U. S. The weather might have had something to do with it too. The weather at state is horrible and the campus was ugly. Berkeley gets lots of sun and back then the campus was beautiful.

In 1991 I went to Berkeley one Saturday – one of the famous streets near the university. It was like Haight Street in 1967. I was disgusted. I haven’t been back.

I haven’t been to The City, except to catch the peninsula train to Sis II’s, in a long time. I sure won’t go this year. The Summer of Love my ass. It was the summer of promiscuity.

I remember being on Haight Street before it got jumping. A buddy of mine and his mother had moved over from The Haight. She saw what was coming and wanted to keep her son from it. He ended up being a stoner and a drug dealer.

Anyway, he said “Let’s go over to The Haight and see the beats.” So we took the bus over.

I assume it was 1966. It might have been 1965, but I don’t know if dad and mom would have let me go that far in 1965.

It was sunny so it had to be Spring or Fall. It wasn’t cold. There were some guys with really long hair who looked weird to me.

We went into the liquor store with all the pussy magazines, then looked at Cavalier and Carnival. Remember those? I had never seen such a thing.

The guys with long hair may have been weird, but the neighborhood wasn’t. Just different. There wasn’t trash all over like in 1967.

I didn’t return to Haight Street until dad and mom and I, and maybe Sis II, took that woman from Ohio over to see the hippies in the summer of 1967. It was foggy as hell and all the slobs were bundled up and there was trash everywhere. The woman was astounded. Between the fog and Haight Street, she probably never forgot San Francisco.

Our great aunt and uncle hated the hippies, though they would never say it. What had San Francisco come to?

One sunny Sunday after dinner I went with dad to take auntie and uncle to their apartment on Bush Street. There was a concert in the Panhandle and hippies everywhere. We passed a hairy bastard just as he was letting go a humongous loogie. It astounded even me. Auntie was disgusted.

What’s amazing about the hippies and their getting wasted was that they did it in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It dawned on me in my forties that if you live in San Francisco and have to get stoned every day, you are an idiot.

It’s not that I never got wasted. I did a lot. But I could walk for hours in Golden Gate Park without being stoned or drunk and marvel at the beauty. I could sit for an hour at the beach looking at the horizon and dreaming.

I’m naturally high. That’s one reason I have contempt for the motherfuckers.

One more story before I go. When I started gardening I was 30. One of my customers was 65. She knew I grew up in San Francisco.

After a few visits she came out to me while I was weeding. We started talking. The she said, “What were the hippies like?”

My blood began to boil. I put the trowel down. I looked at her. I said, “My grandfather had all the prejudices of his day. But he was honest. He went to Mass every Sunday. He knew he was a sinner.” Then I said, “The hippies weren’t honest. They didn’t believe in sin, but they were the biggest sinners of all.”

This was fun Jim.

In our next life we’ll live in San Francisco when it’s beautiful.

Love,

Dave

Copyright © 2021 by David Vaszko

Friday, July 21

Dear Jim,

Another tiring Friday morning. When I got home last night I wound down by winding myself up reading a used book that arrived for me.

I ordered it a week ago. It’s about art. It came in a ripped package and is signed by the author for a guy she knew. She wrote it in 2014.

She says that contemporary painting and sculpture are horseshit, that the successful promotion of abstract art and skillless art has been a great con job. You would agree.

We went to look at art a lot. I usually did not like it. You often explained it to me.

What I remember more than anything are the photographs of the Nazi parades at the S.F. Museum of Art when it was on Van Ness. The photographs were terrifying – thousands of people watching in silent fear as the hot shots walked up the aisle in silence with their uniforms and medals. Those photos gave me a better understanding of the Nazis than any photo of the holocaust or any book, and I’ve read two great ones, about the Nazis.

Another great trip was when we went to the new cathedral right after it was built. There was a sculpture of three of the Church Fathers. They weren’t walking or running, but there was an incredible sense of motion in it.

You thought so too, and there was Gregorian Chant coming from downstairs. Remember? Then we walked to the big window with a view of the Mission and you commented that the architect captured the purpose of The Church – to watch over the city.

That’s interesting because several years ago the parish where Sis2 lives tore down the old church and built a new one as modern for today as the cathedral was for the seventies. The problem is that it doesn’t feel like a church – it feels like a performance center. It’s great to be in. It would be great as an office or to see an acoustic band. But it doesn’t feel awe inspiring or otherworldly.

The old churches had stained glass windows that when the sun shone through them gave a glimpse of what heaven must be like.

The cathedral had a vista of the city we ask forgiveness from, Yo confesio antes Dios todopoderoso, y antes ustedes hermanos…, while we pray to God for the courage to tolerate and embrace the city so we can save ourselves in it.

But Sis2’s church. Well, the priest prances out from the side of the altar, walks across the altar (the stage), smiles and says “Hi everybody!” “Hi Father!” Then he begins a Mass that I can’t take seriously because he doesn’t take his function as a priest and the purpose of the Mass seriously. During the sermon he hopes his favorite team wins the game this afternoon.

Two or three miles from the inspiring cathedral is the church on 24th and Florida one of our uncles used to go to. The neighborhood and parish are Mexican. There’s a famous alley near the church full of Mexican schlock which all the artists claim is highly skilled and profound work.

The church! Christ. The church is painted showing the slaughter of the Aztecs by the conquistadors. It’s terrifying. I wonder why the archbishop allowed the painting. Did he not have the balls to say you guys are nuts; our parishes are meant to welcome anybody, not just Mexicans?

It doesn’t bother the white artists though. Six years ago when dad could still walk pretty good, I said let’s go downtown to see this art exhibit. Dad said sure so we went.

We walked up Powell from Market to the gallery. It was showing paintings by a famous San Franciscan.

The paintings were okay. What I really liked was the old building. I always like old buildings the galleries are in more than the art. The buildings have character but not the art. I would rather talk to the architect about architecture than the artist about art.

When we were done the owner or manager or docent or whatever he was talked to us about the art then asked us to make a donation. Then he gave us some literature and told us the gallery of white artists was raising money for the young non-white artists in the Mission. I thought, “These guys can’t wait to destroy us.”

I know now most white artists want to destroy the European tradition. Just let it flow man. I can’t remember whether we gave money to the gallery.

I remember the rest of the walk. We went a few blocks up, over to the Ritz Carlton, down into the Stockton Tunnel and then to Union Square.

I kept looking at the huge photos of NFL players at one of the stores. They filled me with wonder more than the crap in the gallery.

It was the best memory I have of dad. He enjoyed the gallery. We enjoyed each other.

I usually don’t feel comfortable in San Francisco. It’s really better when I’m with somebody.

That’s it for now.

Love,

Dave

Copyright © 2021 by David Vaszko