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the master of sacramento street


After my haircut I asked to take Mr. A's photo and I was surprised when he agreed, though I've chosen to share only a glimpse of he and his precinct, in hopes of honoring the spirit of the temple he's created.

He's been here on Sacramento Street for over 40 years. The sign on the window is hand-painted, fading. There are two barber chairs--they came with the place he says--but only one Mr. A and so only one chair is used, the other covered by a large white sheet.

The shop is cluttered yet serene. An old wood-burning stove--it came with the place--slumps near a corner. The San Francisco Chronicle is neatly folded on a chair and magazines hang on the wall on wooden poles. A Japanese calendar and a Japanese print of a crane flying through the air are other notable adornments. And though there are hundreds of other visual images, everything looks as if it's in its right place.

As Mr. A cuts your hair, the phone may ring. He answers, deliberately, when there is that grace period between the process of cutting your hair and the number of times a phone may ring before it stops, and says "barber shop" and books a future appointment, for he is appointment-only, and then resumes cutting your hair as if nothing at all had intervened.

He still uses scissors, more than he uses an electric shaver, and takes the time to lather you around the ears and neck and shave you with a straight-edge. Several times during a haircut he vacuums your head and all the cuttings disappear into the large green Shop-Vac that sits in the middle of the shop like a Buddha.


Reading books more than once


 I'm reading George Eliot's "Middlemarch" for the 3rd time, in The Modern Library edition with the mercifully short introduction by A.S. Byatt.

Eliot's such an astute writer that everything she says of women could also be said of men, which is not to say that she does not discern or communicate the differences--she does--but is to say that her authorial perspective is such that a reader of either sex will recognize something about herself or himself in the other.

And, as in all books worth reading more than once, there is more there than in the previous reading.

I read Stendahl's "The Red and The Black" once a year for five or six years. Approaching middle age, with a family, a career etc., I needed to feel Julian Sorel's passion and the consequences of his ambitions. As I aged, Madame de Renal and Mathilde de la Mole became more sympathethic.

"Madame Bovary" is a book I've read twice, and Flaubert a writer who it's now quite evident is as eloquent about our time as he was of his. "The whole dream of democracy is to raise the proletariat to the level of idiocy acheived by the bourgeoise" he wrote somewhere, but not in "Madame Bovary."

I've read "Anna Karenina" twice and "War and Peace" once, "Tom Sawyer" twice and "Huckleberry Finn" once.
I made it through Joyce's "Ulysses" on the seventh or eighth try while backpacking in The Sierra's and only after reading Ellmann's bio at the recommendation of Tim Reynolds. I bought "Finnegan's Wake" and Joseph Campbell's 'key' and gave the project up after one sitting, unable to read two books at the same time.




Sometimes nothing is interesting and you have to go along with this.

Everything you see, feel, taste, hear, say is devoid of meaning.

Rummaging through past pleasures brings no comfort; no memory can be summoned that will save you.

Wherever you are is either indistinct or radioactive, and each environment is toxic in its own way.

Sleeping, you want to be awake and awake you want to be sleeping.

And if you go along with this, with what is happening with you, as you must if you are honorable, which is that nothing is happening, nothing has happened, nothing will happen, nothing will happen and happen and happen, then and only then you may be surprised.


Paris before Cuba

Tonight, twelve minutes before tomorrow, I want to go to Cuba to see what's there.

But first I must visit Paris and find a hotel near the studio of the artist who makes nothing and all things possible.


Flossie McGee, Laguna Hills, California, March, 2011