The New ATM Machine

It has been quite a while since I’ve had to use the local ATM machine at my credit union. My tax return check had come in so I made plans to deposit it with speed and efficiency.

I had it down to a science. I had a stash of ATM envelopes at home so I could put in my deposit slip, endorse the check and fill out the required information on the envelope in the comfort of my home. Make my run, pop in the card, tap the buttons, insert envelope and I’m out of there in about two minutes max!

Slick, right?
I prepare my deposit slip, endorse the check. I go to the ATM at the credit union and see it is a new machine. Nice!
I do the usual punch button routine and get ready to ‘insert envelope.’ I find that it no longer takes envelopes! There is no slot big enough for an envelope. It just wants the naked check!

Fibble fumble with an envelope that now thinks it is Fort Knox and refuses to open.
The machine, of course is demanding the naked check, humming, hissing and clanking irritably.
I finally get the envelope open and feed in the check. I didn’t notice I had also fed in my deposit slip so the machine took umbrage and spat both back at me, rather contemptuously, I might add.
I drop the check
Being old and creaky, picking up a check now laying, nay, clinging, flat on the ground is something of a battle.
I finally pick it up and feed it into the now nearly furious machine.
Mission accomplished! Charlie Chaplin would have been proud!

The four people waiting for me to finish my act, not so much…

From The Bar~ An Almost Ghost Story

Another segment of a project The Rise and Fall of a Saloon in the Latter Part off The Twentieth Century. These excerpts are not chronological. In fact very little logic prevails…

When I worked for The Bar I dressed up a bit on weekends. I added a vest to my basic attire of long sleeve shirt, medicine bag and The Hat. Not being a fan of neckties, I instead used silk scarves cleverly tied so the knots were invisible. This added a dash of color to my outfit and allowed me to avoid the constraint of total conformity. We called it an “ascot” although it didn’t tie like an ascot normally does. I still dress this way when I want to dress more or less formally.

For almost a year I favored tie-tacks, an accessory meant to keep a necktie from drifting out of alignment. I had a few of these and liked the bit of sparkle they added to my weekend costume.

One night a young man came in. He was a friend I had known from the Gelb days. He was something of a Grateful Dead fan and he told me he had been to the recording session the Dead did in Cairo, Egypt, in 1978. While he was there he said he had climbed to the top of the largest pyramid of the three at Ginza, the Khufu monument, and brought back some small pieces of it. He gave me a small chunk of this material. It wasn’t very large. It was a little smaller than an M & M peanut candy.
Well, of course, this bit of sandy colored stone just radiated MoJo!

I decided to make a tie-tack out of it. I got some sandpaper and very carefully rendered the thing into a small pyramid. It was soft… something like sandstone, easy to work. I had a flat surfaced tie tack so I very carefully mixed some epoxy and glued the mini-pyramid onto it and let it set for the required period.

The weekend was approaching so I checked to see how my glue job went and it looked good. No excess glue and the little pyramid seemed firmly anchored. It was a Saturday night, a band night, a night I usually wore my ‘dress’ outfit, the vest and scarf/ascot and debuted my fragment of pyramid on tie tack. For whatever reason I was extremely conscious of the thing. I was very aware of it thinking about its antiquity and the history and mystery of the edifice it came from.

I went down early and remember it being a moody night, weather-wise. Forecasters had predicted wind and rain so I figured I’d better get there before the inclement weather struck. The duty doorman, Dan York, was a good friend and was already there when I arrived.
I told him about my new tie tack. He had been there when the young man gifted the bit of rock to me and was pleased with the effect. It didn’t particularly stand out but he could definitely see it was a mini-pyramid and pronounced it a good job. I told him I liked it except my very colorful imagination had me being followed by two robed, bald headed guys who saw no humor in my using a piece of their ancient temple for a bit of frippery.

Well, the weather guys were correct. We had a noisy squall pass through our area… rain, darkness, lightning, wind…a very noisy storm front. Right at the peak of the squall, the door to the bar opened and a well dressed man with a swarthy complexion came in and walked up to Dan and myself. He spoke oddly accented English and asked for directions to somewhere…exactly where escapes me now… and Dan cheerfully provided the information he required.
I was curious about his accent so I asked him where he was from.
“Egypt.” he said.
Well, you Know that set the hair on my arms to rising!

Oddly, the storm abated in the next half hour and it was clear the rest of the night.

…and when I got home that night the tie tack was gone. I never saw it again…

The Creation of the NormHead Avatar

This is one of those stories that may bore you to tears but I do get asked about this from time to time.

My avatar. The “norm head” drawing, cartoon, silhouette, of the hat, beard feather and glasses that I post just about everywhere. “Avatar” is defined thusly:

“In computing, an avatar is the graphical representation of the user or the user’s alter ego or character.”

Mine came about in this way…

I was reading a book by the cartoonist Bill Mauldin. He achieved fame, actually won a Pulitzer Prize by drawing black and white cartoons for the military “Stars and Stripes newspaper during WWII. His works were usually about two war weary GI’s “Willie and Joe,” tired, unshaven and irreverent.

In any case, as Bill described his venture into cartooning he made specific reference to a certain brush he used. It was a Winsor-Newton Series 7 #2. He said it was a standard tool used by all the cartoonists of the day.

At the time I read the book I was making my own forays into art. Water colors. I eventually did a lot of paintings of women and called them “Paper Dolls” after that old Mills Brothers song.

What was so special about those brushes? Well, what it was that they would “point” when you loaded them with ink or color and gave a snap of the wrist or a tap on your rinse tank. This tendency to come to a point allowed the artist to control the shape of his line from straight and thin to a taper or swelling in the line. If you look closely at some of the lines drawn by the great pre-computer cartoonists you’ll see what I mean.

So I went and bought one. Relatively expensive for a brush that almost looks like the one you got in your tin watercolor kit as a kid.

I took the thing home, opened my black ink bottle and tried to think of a way to test my new brush. So I just did a quick self portrait. It couldn’t have taken more than thirty seconds. It covers and area about six inches square. This was in December of ’85.

I liked it. It was a lucky shot that came out well.

Just about that time I had decided to change banks. I asked the check lady if I could put my own logo on my personal check. She actually sort of sidestepped it. “It will cost you extra.”
“How much?”
“Twenty five dollars.” And you have to have camera ready artwork.

A piece of cake! Off I went to the Xerox machine with my self-portrait and made a copy and brought it to her.
“Oh!” she said, “It looks just Like you!”

So, there it was! I had it on my checks! Heeee…! It looked Great! I have since changed banks three times and oddly, they always made a fuss about having the checks done that way but when I told them I would take my money elsewhere if they didn’t allow it the barricades fell.

Some time later I spent a bit of money and had stickers made of it about the size of a five cent piece. I used those as property markers and around 2010 had “norm head” pins made to pass out. Those have been Great Fun and it is a warm feeling to know that people actually asked for them.

Of course I used the avatar, as it was defined earlier, in just about any application computer-wise. Any chat boards I belong to that allow avatars has the now nearly trade-mark like norm head avatar. I figured out how to make my computer include it in a return address form on the left end of my envelopes too. I even had one put on a coffee mug! Fun!

My beard is a lot whiter now but it still looks like me in profile. That little quick test sketch with the Winsor-Newton Series 7 #2 brush in 1985 has stood me in good stead over the years.

So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it…

A Contest Lost…An Effort Saved… A Soul Remembered


I wrote this as an entry in a “Write Like Herb Caen” contest. To those of you unfamiliar, Herb was an iconic columnist in the San Francisco Chronicle until he died in the late nineties… By the way… I didn’t win the contest. I carefully kept mine in the same word length format Herb used. The guy who won…his was considerably longer…
But I liked the flow of this. I thought it was too good to waste and present it here…

Baghdad By The Bay

A “Herb Caen Write Alike Contest” so called…

I dunno…is that even doable?

Writing like Herb would be seeing like Herb, smiling like Herb or sipping a Martini like Herb…
We can all see, smile and sip…but to write like a man who did it for a living, producing columns that read like quiet inner thoughts…
Tricky, indeed… for there’s more to it than clacking 3 dots…
Would you need an Olympia typewriter and carbon paper to do it right?

It takes the soul of a Poet mixed with the wit of a Punster, one who takes things seriously Only When Necessary…
The City Herb loved so much seems largely gone. Much of it floating away in the yellow rivers of uncaring urine generated by the uncared for yearning… The Homeless almost outnumbering the Tourists and the Tourists don’t tour like they used to…
The Chron he loved isn’t what it once was… but then is anything ever what it once was and was it even what we thought it was at the time?

The Mayor would have been a constant Source for items… but using Politicians for items was as easy for Herb as spotting is to a Seagull…
It would take a month of Write Like Caen to even touch the Washington crowd we have today both in sunlight and shadow… mostly in shadow…
But The Fog is still here…
And The Bridge…
And Alcatraz…
Write Like Caen…? You have to start there first…with the Fog…the Bridge and Alcatraz and from there try to find the city’s Heart, now broken and lonely, that Herb loved so much…
And Herb would find it if anyone could. And he would have told us our quiet, inner thoughts about Baghdad By the Bay…
…three dots and all…

Through another’s eyes…briefly…

A certain reviewer for the San Francisco Weekly, Casey Burchby, had arrived at the Fox Theater on a Wednesday night to see and write about a certain character making an appearance there.

For those of you who don’t know, there is a night club setting adjunct to the Fox Theater called the Club Fox and it was my habit to go there on Wednesday nights.

When I go to Club Fox, since it is a music venue I go in “full regalia” that being black boots, pants, a black vest, white shirt a very colorful cravat and my legendary black hat with its long tail feather from a Blue and Gold Macaw and a gold filled ebony walking stick.

Some nights I would go there with Kevin Jarvis and some nights I would go alone. On my ‘loner’ nights I liked to take a cab.

Imagine my surprise when the owner of Club Fox told me this Casey Burchby had written about me…

You wonder how you look to others…

Sometimes you find out…

There were no costumes, sadly, amid this Wednesday afterwork crowd. There was, however, a very tall older gentleman who alighted gingerly from the rear of a limousine in front of the theater, sporting a Western-themed mode of dress, a long salt-and-pepper beard, and an oversized black cowboy hat with a two-foot pheasant feather sprouting from its band. Sadly, my technical ineptitude with the camera means that there is no photographic evidence of this cane-wielding Deadwoodian character — but he lives in my memory like a mythic specter of the old West.