Saturday, March 03, 2007

a Josh Kornbluth about town

Two Josh Kornbluth sightings in two days. What’re the odds?

For those of you who don’t recognize his name, Josh Kornbluth is the writer/director behind Haiku Tunnel, which for my money is funnier and truer than Mike Judge's workplace classic, Office Space. Mr. Kornbluth also performed a one-man show here in San Francisco, Ben Franklin Unplugged, which apparently wasn’t such an apt name. Jeff Ubois told me that he went to it expecting something biographical about Ben Franklin, and instead the monologue spins off from Josh Kornbluth's own uncanny resemblance to the canonical portraiture of history's most famous flier of kites.

To me, Josh looks a lot more like The Critic's Jay Sherman than he does like Ben Franklin. That's not pejorative either: I love that cartoon.

Anyway, the first sighting was in the line snaking up Castro Street in front of the Castro Theater, a historic venue right down the street from me. It'd be convenient if I were more of a movie buff. Then I would've been in line too. As it was, I just caught a glimpse of Josh Kornbluth as we passed by the Castro Theater in the car.

I turned to Mark and said: “Isn’t that Josh Kornbluth?”

He said, “Who?”

I said, “Josh Kornbluth. You know. The guy who did Haiku Tunnel.”

And he's all, “Which one is he?” as he glanced over at the throng of people waiting to get into the theater.

There was no way Mark was going to recognize Josh Kornbluth. Mark doesn’t even remember the few movies that we do see. This trait allows him to enjoy the same films over and over again, unspoiled by the repetition. We mostly don't let the movies that we rent run all the way to the final credits either. Somewhere amid the tension of the plot's climax, we both agree that the damned thing is making us nervous -- really nervous -- and we invariably turn off the movie. Click. Then Mark falls asleep on the couch and I start tap-tap-tapping on my computer.

Sometimes we even pretend we're going to watch the final half hour some other time, but now that movies are distributed on DVDs, we're not apt to even know where we left off once we've stopped the thing and taken it out of the player. The World's Fastest Indian sat in the DVD player for over a month, waiting for a particular viewing to be wrapped up. I finally stuffed it back in its red Netflix sleeve and mailed it back to the mothership.

By the time I could point Josh out to Mark – There he is! That's him! Standing in line for the Ken Burns film and personal appearance like every other history buff in town – Mark was already beeping the horn, distracted. The guy in front of us was dropping off a passenger, probably to join the growing line in front of the Castro Theater, well behind Josh Kornbluth.

We were in the white Honda, the little one, heading for neighbor Evert Grobbelaar’s art opening, which was somewhat peculiarly situated at Good Vibrations, "a diverse, woman-focused retailer providing access to sex-positive products." It's a mission statement that makes sex sound a lot like dental hygiene.

Evert’s art opening, though, is an event we'd been anticipating for some time now. We’d heard the preparations for the opening for weeks. It seemed to involve lots of nighttime pounding, drilling, and sawing. At 2 am. At 3 am. At 4 am.

“Those people never sleep,” I’d say to Mark, who at this point was invariably just a snoring hillock under the covers. I often repeat pronouncements like this to Mark several times, knowing full well he’ll neither wake up nor remember me talking to him by morning.

Even without the artistic thumps and whirs coming from next door, Lumpy and I are insomniacs, padding around the upstairs in the dark, hoping sleep will eventually overtake us. Actually, only I am hoping sleep will overtake me. Lumpy is hoping beyond all hope that I’ll consider offering him a fifth or sixth post-midnight snack. A cat can get mighty hungry in the middle of the night thudding up and down the stairs and clawing the Ikea sofa to shreds.

The noise next door turned out to be connected with the construction of frames for Evert’s photographs, not with the production of the photos themselves. The photos were mostly nudes, mostly men who I’d seen around the house for the last year or so. The photos have a surreal quality created entirely from pre-photography effects, not post-photo photoshopping. He’d paint his friends, literally, using their skin as his canvas or bathe them in textured multi-colored lighting, and get some odd and interesting effects.

So we were driving to Evert's opening, Mark at the wheel, me with my toes gripping my socks and sweating from the nausea that accompanies prolonged fear. No time to focus on whether or not that was really Josh Kornbluth in line to see Ken Burns. Better to focus on, say, a last will and testament.

We're not going to make it.

Mark’s driving really does scare me. Like most couples I know, we can’t drive anywhere together. As wasteful as it is, we’d be a lot better off taking separate cars.

“Evert’s opening goes ‘til 8.” I said. “You don’t have to drive like this, Mark. Really.”

“Fuck that guy. Why're you stopping there? Drive, mister! Fucking tourists!”

“You’re scaring me. Fuck! Watch that taxi! There's a pedestrian! Why aren't you turning on Franklin?”

And with that, we entered one of those spatial discontinuities that are so prevalent in San Francisco. Four right turns won’t get you around the block. And there seems to be no way of getting back to where you want to go. It just heightens the tension.

It’s heart-stopping riding with Mark. Honestly it is. It's always a relief to get to get to your destination intact. The ride always overshadows the event.

The art opening, incidentally, was like most art openings I’ve been to, especially the ones where you like the artist’s work, but don’t have much to say about the genre. I’m awkwardly recognizing that some of the subjects are here in person, staring at the nude photos of themselves. They look pleased. The photos are pretty cool. I kind of wished they were in a regular gallery with good lighting, not in the back room of Good Vibrations.

It smells funny in the Good Vibrations back room. And not funny in a good way.

Behind me a girl is saying, “Yeah. I mixed the white wine with some of that fizzy cranberry stuff. It was warm!” And I turn around to catch her making some kind of face.

“When’s my turn?” her companion calls out to Evert. Most of the models are men, and I think she wants to make sure she's at least in the queue. This is no Ken Burns documentary; the seating is limited.

The thing about art openings is they only last until the wine is gone. But by the time we hit the streets again, enough time had elapsed that the traffic had subsided and Josh Kornbluth had disappeared into The War.

San Francisco isn’t Manhattan. There aren’t GawkerStalker-quality celebrities in this town. You gotta take what you can get. If you recognize someone you’ve never been introduced to – Josh Kornbluth, Bruce Vilanch, or even Willie Brown – you've got to think of it as a major sighting.

Of course, it’s not as bad as College Station, where when we spotted the local KBTX TV weatherman at Garcia’s Mexican Cafe, we got all excited.

"Look!" I said to Mark. "Over there! Over there! Doesn't that guy look familiar?"

Every hair was in place. Perfect.

"Yeah. That's the weather guy from the 6 o'clock news!" Mark's enthusiasm matched my own. "Wonder what he's having. Probably the catfish with green salsa."

That said, I’d completely forgotten about Josh Kornbluth by the time Jeff Ubois and I walked into the Fertile Grounds Cafe on Shattuck the next day. We’d just listened to Peter Brantley, the new head of the DLF, talk about all kinds of interesting things, including digital preservation, our shared interest. The plan was to hang out with Art Medlar, an old friend from Xerox and the Internet Archive, and drink coffee and eat middle eastern food.

There are lots of coffee places in Berkeley. Lots. And each one has a better pun in its name than the last. You wouldn’t even consider going into that Starbucks on Oxford.

“I’d rather eat No-Doz,” I told Jeff as we passed the Starbuck's. I didn’t want to explain about the pink caffeine pills or Wal-AWAKE or any of my other favorite caffeine supplements, the ones that you take if you're not getting enough caffeine in your normal daily diet.

I’m not afraid of getting my nutrition from a pill. Bring it on! So convenient.

When we walked into Fertile Grounds, it was as quiet as a library. It was much, much quieter, in fact, than South Hall, the old library school building at Berkeley where we’d just come from.

Students occupied almost every table. Each had a Macintosh laptop propped open on the table, earbuds in their ears, and long-emptied beverages beside their keyboards. It was quiet-quiet. Only a vague hint of music leaked from any of the earbuds.

“Is the kefir cheese made out of goat’s milk?” I asked the counter guy when I ordered. My voice almost the echoed, the way it does when you talk too loud in a library. I don’t like goats’ milk. I don’t like the imagery it conveys; I don’t like the taste; I don’t like the smell. The counter guy said something back to me; I’m not sure whether he was speaking in English, but he said something back to me about "sandwich." I asked again about KEFIR CHEESE. He re-answered SANDWICHES? Then he pointed at the rack of potato chips.

These miscommunications are funny on SNL; not so much so in Berkeley cafes.

If I hadn’t just shut up and pointed up at the menu, I might’ve ordered TWO broiled tractor sandwiches with goat, hold the crushed-up BBQ chips, instead of kefir cheese, tomatoes, and pita bread. Several students had looked up from their laptops in a mix of irritation and curiousity. What were these odd strangers doing trying to order food and beverages in a café?

Jeff and I started talking and eating. Art arrived soon afterward. And we were yakking it up, much to the annoyance of the other, uh, patrons. The curly-haired guy at the table next to us gave us the ol' evil eye and moved to a quieter corner.

But then who walked in but Josh Kornbluth. He had an enormous backpack on his back, the kind that students carry. He sat down at the table next to us.

Two Josh Kornbluth sightings in two days. I mean, what’re the odds.

A friend joined Josh Kornbluth too, and the two of them were yakking just like the three of us were yakking. They’d send a look of annoyance our way every once in awhile when we became particularly raucous. I was so engrossed in our own conversation that I never even eavesdropped on them.

This is not normal for me.

Even if we were bothering them though, they couldn’t have moved. Every other table was full. One student, one laptop, one empty coffee glass. Tap-tap on the keypad. Some small local indy band on the iPod. Berkeley. So Berkeley. How Berkeley can you be?

As soon as one of the students left, Josh Kornbluth and his friend stuffed themselves around a smaller, one-person table. Perhaps to get away from us, or perhaps to get out of direct range of the draft that was blowing through the place through the front door transom. Who can tell?

After they’d moved, and Jeff could stand on one of their chairs – the one right by the front door – to close the transom himself, a move which summoned the catatonic counter guy. He came quickly when he noticed what Jeff was doing. That’d really be the way to order something – just go behind the counter and start making it yourself.

With the transom shut, I was pleased to note that the café was warm and we were the noisiest people there. The kefir cheese was actually quite good and didn’t smell at all of barnyard. I’d showered recently, so nor did I.

I’m not so sure that Josh Kornbluth was as pleased with situation as I was, because he left soon afterward. Maybe he was finished with his conversation. Maybe I hadn’t showered as recently as I thought. Maybe he isn’t interested in digital archiving.

Hard to tell.

“Was that really Josh Kornbluth?” I asked Art and Jeff after he’d left.

“Yeah. That was him.” Neither Art nor Jeff seemed particularly surprised that he’d been sitting next to us in the café.

“I went to see him in that Ben Franklin Unplugged thing. I was disappointed.” Jeff said. “I thought it’d be about Ben Franklin.”

We all decided we admired Ben Franklin.

“But it was about Josh Kornbluth’s neurotic family instead.”

It was a Being John Malkovich moment. I savor these things.

Today I told my brother I’d seen Josh Kornbluth twice in two days.

“Josh Kornbluth. Yeah. That name sounds familiar.”

"I think he’s got a show on PBS.” I said helpfully.

“Oh. Right. I associate him with doing dishes. I always listen to NPR while I’m doing the dishes,” my brother said.

I told him about the line of people in front of the Castro Theater, all waiting to get in to see the latest Ken Burns documentary and asked him if he knew what the documentary was about.

“Ken Burns does documentaries about nouns. Sometimes proper nouns like Thomas Jefferson. And sometimes just regular nouns like baseball. Maybe he should do a documentary about lunch.” That was my succinct brother's analysis of Ken Burns's oeuvre.

I thought that was a dandy idea for Ken Burns to produce a documentary called (simply but eloquently) Lunch. Perhaps it could even star Josh Kornbluth. We'd surely review it in our scholarly journal Lunch: an international journal of the midday meal.

Two Josh Kornbluth sightings in two days. What’re the odds?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Cathy - for some reason I googled "Myrtle Thiess" and your blog popped up ... Hmm, I thought, I wonder which "Cathy" this is? The names Leanne Goetz,Cheryl Parana (she was sooo cool!) and Dore Fingerhut (who's name was very near mine in the phonebooks) clued me in that you are probably a year or so ahead of me .... Nonetheless, Mrs. Thiess also read the army ant story to our class -- I still remember the manner in which she showed us the size of the ants as compared to her thumb .... 6th grade was not my best year.

4:56 PM  
Blogger Cathy said...

Wow. Now I'm dying to know who you are, Anonymous. Were you in Dore Fingerhut's class? She was one year ahead of me.

As you can tell from my blog posts, 6th grade was not a stellar year for me either. Did Mrs. Thiess tell your class that she was a fashion model when she was younger? I was obsessed with her shoes, and had a difficult time picturing her as a fashion model. She absolutely hated me and my obsession with her shoes, and tried to get me transferred out of her class.

5:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, I didn't even know Dore Fingerhut ... I think I just thought her name was really interesting. Mrs. Thiess never told us anything seemingly personal (that I can recall). I SO remember her shoes though. She was very very tall. Do you remember her "bad mood" skull & crossbones flag? I am Caryn, by the way ... I graduated in ... boy, 1970 I think?

5:44 PM  
Blogger Cathy said...

You graduated from Ridgecrest in 1970? I did too (our yearbook was magenta, if that helps place it).

Mrs. Thiess was still teaching when my brother was in junior high, ten years later. Our parents worried she'd take her hatred for me out on my brother, but luckily she didn't associate the two of us. She must've been close to retirement by then. I remember her as ancient (and yes, very very tall). She didn't say much personal stuff--that's why I remember the model bit.

I do remember the skull & crossbones flag, although I don't remember her using it (which is not to say she never got mad--I think she pulled Chuck Simpson out of class by the hair). Those shoes were so ugly--huge orthopedic shoes. I used to draw cartoons of her with the shoes.

I also remember having to cut 'current events' articles from the newspaper (this I always did at the last possible minute), and her pronouncement that "a successful person always has a neat notebook." She gave me some of the worst grades I ever got. I liked my 6th grade math/science teacher much better; that was Mr. Bowen. He was cool, although I don't remember learning anything at all in either class.

I wonder if you had the reverse schedule (I had ESS in the AM and math/science in the afternoon).

6:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We must know each other. I can't remember the color of the yearbook. I had girl named Pam Smith in my class -- she was a fantastic runner. I was in the same graduating class as Julie Willes? I don't remember Chuck Simpson, but I vaguely recall his name ... I think you may have been a year before me. I recall Mr. Bowen, but I didn't have him ... I had a red-headed guy ... Mr. Miller (very young, I think). I barely remember the "current events" we had to cut out. I don't recall whether I had ESS in the AM or PM. In 7th grade, I had Mrs. Sale for ESS -- she took us on a field trip to the beach!

6:22 PM  
Blogger Cathy said...

I remember most of these names. We must've been off by a year, at most. In 7th grade (which was even worse than 6th), I had Miss Christina for ESS, and Mr. Lloyd for science, but I remember all those other teachers you had. I had Mrs. Smith for Spanish--she invited kids (especially boys) to her house to go swimming. A little creepy in retrospect.

It's hard to dredge some of these things out of my memory. I think I repressed 7th grade--it was so dreadful. 8th grade was so much better.

6:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, I loved Mrs. Smith and was never invited to her house for swimming. Nonetheless, I got an A in Spanish. I have given this a bit of thought and I am fairly certain you were a year ahead of me. You have a photo (perhaps in another entry) where a bunch of kids are lifting up two boys ... I think the girl in front is a girl named Leslie? I remember her ... she was a year ahead of me. She seemed "tough." I was a weird, shocked-out squirrel of a girl. Junior High was full of mean girls and flirty boys. Do you remember Jimmy Breedlove? He and his girlfriend (was that Cheryl Parana?) used to make out in front of the lockers in one of the quads. I was a very impressed 11-year old. I am probably still impressed.

5:52 PM  
Anonymous Tamara said...

Hi Cathy - Well I did the same thing that "anonymous" did and Googled "Myrtle Thiess". She was my 5th or 6th grade teacher in Compton, CA. It was a rough time for me and she took me under her wing for a time. Do you know where she is now?

4:09 PM  
Blogger Cathy said...

Goes to show that different kids have radically different chemistry with their teachers. I'm not sure whatever happened to Mrs. Thiess. When did she teach in Compton?

5:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! Searched for "Dore Fingerhut" and up pops your blog, Cathy! Cathy Marshall?? How the heck are you?! Your photos keep popping up all over the RHHS page on FB! And where in the world is Dore Fingerhut??

And I'm a different "Anonymous" than all the previous Anonymouses (anonymousses?).

8:21 PM  
Blogger Cathy said...

Hi there, Anonymous! I'm just fine. I'm always surprised when someone from RHHS finds my blog. Recently I started changing names in my blog posts because people are taking them waaaay too seriously.

You can tell me who you are--it spoils the fun for me when I don't know. I know SO MANY anonymouses these days. (Anonymousses. I like that. Anonymice? Anonymeece?)

Or maybe you can do a slow reveal--just tell me your initials.

11:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please be aware that if you were a friend of Evert Grobbelaar and was at his home and used his toilet upstairs at any time till 2010, then he would have video taped you. He was secretly doing this to everyone that used his toilet since 2003. All his closest friends were vidoe taped.
I recall seeing a tape with Cathy writen on it. A police case was opened against him and is currently in the Courts of San Francisco, see "Shane Banning vs Evert Grobbelaar". BEWARE of this pervert!!

6:20 AM  

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