Thursday, September 28, 2006

Vulnerant omnes, ultima necat

------------------------------ 1933-2006 ---------------------------
The end for the Esquire Tavern came suddenly like the death of an old relative that you never even knew was sick. We always remember where we were when we receive news of a catastrophe. I got the news late in the afternoon on a very hot day, at a mild, little watering hole called the Bar Lay Low.
“Did you hear the news?” the bartender asked me, as I was tipping into my third bottle of beer. “They’re going to close The Esquire. Tonight’s the last night”
“The hell you say,” I said, annoyed that anyone would even joke about such a thing. Sadly, though, it was not a joke. He produced an article in the San Antonio Express News confirming that last call had indeed come for one of my closest, oldest, and dearest friends.
Without delay I gathered up some people and made the trip downtown to see the old place for the last time.
I don’t remember the first time I ever went to the Esquire, but it it was probably in 1976. . Every time my grandfather took me with him on his downtown errands, and it was just the two of us, we would almost always end at the Esquire.
For years, it was the only place I could get an underage beer. They served me because they knew my grandfather. Even after he passed away, in 1989, I could drink there without hassle, as long as I sat in the booth in the back, so that I could slip out the back door to the Riverwalk, in case the authorities walked in the front.
It was strange walking through those doors, on 155 E Commerce St, knowing it was going to be for the last time. Those doors have offered welcoming shelter to generations of San Antonians, and visitors from afar, since 1933. To the left is the longest long bar in the State of Texas, stretching almost the entire length of the room.
On the right, the row of high backed wooden booths that had offered me anonymity and safety, were all filled up. We had to wedge ourselves into the crowded bar, amid the regulars, and fans, and the gawkers that had come to watch the old place go down in style.
After talking to a few people I found out that the two fat-cat grossero owners, who had bought the bar out from under the original owner 15 years ago, had, at last, tired of the place and had decided to rape the place for her charms, and dress her up into another trendy tourist trap. Blame it on the Riverwalk Expansion Project, or on progress, or on greed.
Whatever the reasons, however, it was evident that The Esquire was making her last stand.
"They're keeping the light fixtures and the bar, I think," said one patron. "But I think they're going to rip out the wall-paper and paint over the murals on the wall."
The ceiling, I found out, is also going to be kept. It's a wonderful goddamn coffered thing, a real work of art, the kind of thing that makes it look like a real saloon. Photographs don't really do the wall-paper justice, but that too is part of the whole Old West Saloon feel. It's textured, and old, and feels like touching the past.
"I offered to buy one of those lamps on the wall," he went on. "But the they won't sell me one." He took a deep swallow off his longneck beer. "I'm going to steal one when no one's looking," he chuckled.

The jukebox was playing something up-beat, and there was a band setting up in the back, so we stood at the bar drinking beers , with an occasional shot of tequila or bourbon, to mark the passing of a landmark, trying hard to forget how fast the clock was moving.
We are always aware of the mortality of our favorite places, the intense fragility of a time and a place, but one expects a certain level of venerability of such a thing as an old bar. When one of them is taken from you it strikes you hard, and leaves you feeling stunned and hollow, like a batter giving it your all and still coming up one run short.

News of such a tragedy hits different people in different ways. Some of them weep openly, others enter into a state of denial, and still others stoically belly up to the bar and take part in the age old ritual known as The Wake, wherein fond memories and bitter-sweet recollections are passed around like a bottle. Pain shared is pain lessened, as the old bar room adage goes.
A booth opened up and my party went to sit there, but I stayed at the bar, talking to Joe Anthony, who was so proud of having just been interviewed for the Express News. He told me how he remembered coming to the bar with his mother, when he was a child, and raising cain until she took him to the Woolworths down the block to buy him a toy. "I'll still keep coming here when they reopen it. It's the only bar I haven't been thrown out of," he chucked. "And I've been thrown out of lots of bars."
But I won't be back. A few years ago I had a friend come all the way from Tasmania to visit. For most of her trip, she found some way to unfavorably compare things to her country. Now, it’s always been my habit to take tourists and friends from My Famous Alamo Tour to the San Fernando Cathedral, by way of The Esquire. It’s right along the way, from either the Riverwalk or the street level.
With her, I cut the Alamo tour short, and herded her into one of those tall wooden booths, where for the next two hours, she sat in wonder, drinking cold beers, and rolling her own cigarettes, finally giving me the satisfaction of hearing her say “We have *nothing* like this back home.” How can I top that in a "Family Friendly Atmosphere"?. No. I won't be back.
A little later, I was at the bar trying to get a bartenders eye, when I met a lovely couple from Houston. They were intensly absorbed by the extra innings of the Houston v. Pittsburgh game (Go Astros!), and I struck up a conversation. It turns out that they just needed to get away, came down to San Antonio, and had found the bar by accident. He lamented The Esquires fate, correctly blaming it on “the yuppies”. It turns out that the same thing is going on in Houston, the "trendification" of historic sections of town, sacrificing historical value for the mighty tourist dollar. I was glad that, even on her last night as a real Bar, The Esquire could still pull them in from near and far.
I stood there, at the bar, glad to be there at that time, and at that moment, letting my hands drink in the rough, worn, wood on the lip of the bar, as if I could, somehow, infuse myself with a small part of the place, take it with me when I left, and carry it forever.
When I was a kid I remember watching men in Western movies step up to the bar and order a shot of whiskey, toss it back, flip some money on the counter, and walk out. Even when I was in Cairo, where I'd honed my drinking skills to a near expert level, I had never had occasion to do that. So, one afternoon, after a particularly sour date, not long after my return to San Antonio from Berkeley, I walked in to The Esquire, feeling low, and ordered a double shot of Wild Turkey. I swigged it down and paid before the bartender could even blink, and I walked out of there without a care in the world, feeling just like Jesse James. It's not something that I do often, nor is it something that I recommend for the faint of liver or will, but I do think everyone should do it, at least once.
Later, I sat alone in a booth, listening to the loud rockabilly stylings of Mitch Webb and the Swindlers, and I thought about some of the musicians I'd met here, over the years.
The Esquire was never known for being a music venue. Live music is not a staple in such a narrow and enclosed space, but I could list some names that have shaken the pillars of heaven and hell with their music. Legends whose music still moves with me and will always be part of the sountrack to my life. To not only have heard their music, and met them, but to have shared a beer with them, talked to them. That's a rare thing that will not come that easily again.
Some of them are dead already, and some of them are on their merry way, but for me, they will never sound as good as they did when heard from one of those little booths in that long, old, narrow room, with a cold beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Maybe that's they way it'll be when I get to where they're at, and maybe they'll sound just as good as they did back then, but I have a feeling that, wherever it is, it will look and feel a lot like The Esquire.
As one patron said that night : "Damnit, if they take away The Esquire, where the hell is Jesus going to go and get a drink when he comes back?"
I had been there a couple of hours, that final night, roping up memories like strays, and drinking beer like it would actually do some good, when I noticed that several people wandering around the bar had adhered bits of masking tape to themselves, and on them they had written little messages in support of preserving the old place. It was pleasant to see them doing this, and they all seemed to be really into the idea of saving The Esquire, but, I felt, it was too little too late. Where were they when the plans were announced?
To be fair, however, if the gant-hawk owners had bothered to let the people know of their intentions ahead of time I am sure that these people could have mounted one of those industriously futile, grass-roots, kind of movements to try and Save the Esquire, the way they do in cities that actually give a rats fat ass about their heritage and history. Maybe it would have gained some support from the city drunks, maybe even from the old timers from the court house across the street, who used to wander in for a lunchtime triple shot and an ice cold bottle of beer. Maybe it might have actually done some good. Unfortunatly, however, all we had left to offer were little ticky-tacky scraps of tape with which to offer feeble support for a cause that was lame from the moment it left the gate. I noticed that hardly any of the regulars were wandering around the place with pieces of tape stuck to them. Certainly none of the Staff.
In fact, I noticed that the staff seemed quite surley and bothered by the fuss. Maybe it was the crowd, the rush for .75 cent beer, that made them cranky, or maybe it was that they felt the loss in a very personal and deep way that they chose not to share with the public on the opposite end of the bar, but I did notice that the moment was not wasted on all of them, that at least this one took the time to take a picture of the crowd.
After seeing the little strips of tape everywhere I had to go in search of the people that were scribbling these tags, and fighting the good fight. I couldn't confirm that they came up with the idea, but I was led to this couple with the tape and the marker. It seems that they had moved back to their native San Antonio from San Franciso, and had found out the terrible news much the same way as I had, and had to hurry down to the bar, to give it their fond farewell.
I reminisced some with them about the bar, and some good times in the Bay Area, but, after a round of drinks, I realized that, sweet as they seemed, they were not at all the type of people that would have ventured out of the City unless they had to, not into the DMZ of the part of Oakland I loved, and certainly not into Connolly's bar, at 4822 Telegraph Ave. It just wasn't their kind of place, and neither, for that matter, was The Esquire.
I remember when The Esquire carried a certain kind of seedy respect, when it was the kind of place that you didn't take a respectable date, and you took your life into your own hands by just walking into the place. The Esquire has always had a shady, sort of rough reputation. In its 73 years of business, more than one patron came to a messy end mid-swig and unaware. This prompted the management to hire security to frisk patrons at the door.
One chilly night in December of 1999, I went in there dressed wearing my winter long coat, tall combat boots, mirror shades, and black leather gloves and young, plump security guard was suddenly busy elsewhere. Since I wasn’t frisked an entire section of the bar moved closer to the back door, and every conversation stopped when I settled in. For the duration of three beers and four shots, I generated enough nervous energy in those people to launch the space shuttle. Being a total nerd, however, I was oblivious to this until my uncle told me about it later. They thought I was going in there to take some one out; they thought it was a hit.
Just as near back as then, there were not yuppies in the bar, and people didn't think it was trendy to go there; they hadn't yet built up the balls to "slum" it in that side of town.
I think of all the places here in San Antonio that have been taken over by the young, and the fashionable, and the altogether clueless, like the Bar America, and the Mission Drive In, and the entire south side of downtown, and I suddenly don't feel so bad about how The Esquire went out.
She didn't get taken over by the tourists, or the cash-rich, or the fraudulently cool, like so many other places in this town. Whatever they open up in her place might have the same name, but the intention was made clear already to make it a "family" "BBQ" establishment. In other words, The Esquire of my youth is dead, and nothing can change that, but at least she didn't fizzle, and reek, and fester in the throes of transition, at least she didn't get her spirit squashed out by the invasion of the trendies.
My grandfather was the same way, a relic from a different age. The weekend he died, he went partying on friday night, saturday night out with his girlfriend, and then to church on sunday morning. . That night he took me in his arms and gave me a monsterous bear hug that made my spine crack, and it was strong, and memorable, and forever. Monday by noon-time, he was dead. Just like that. No illness, no worry, no fear. That's the way I'd like to go.
I'm glad that he went out that way, and in the same way, I am glad that The Esquire did, too. We should all be so lucky.

Every (hour) wounds, the last kills

- Inscription on Roman Sundial

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Pope, Dope, Get a Rope


By now, I’m sure, everyone has heard about the furor caused by the comments Pope Benedict XVI made during his recent trip to Germany. He was quoting from an argument between Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos and a Persian emissary.

"Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
(Full Text)

First it is important to remember that the Pope was not claiming this to be his own views, but rather, was questioning the idea of Jihad, or “holy war”. Also, the historical context of these statements is very important to remember when considering what the Pope meant

The Ottoman Empire, at the time, was a sudden super power, and was threatening to overwhelm The Byzantine Empire, an event which eventually happened in 1453. (That’s why it’s now Istanbul, not Constantinople.) In other words, Manual II was the third to the last of the rulers of a doomed kingdom, who had lived his entire life in the shadow of war, defending a crumbling empire, losing family and friends in war with the invading Muslim horde.

Now, that the Pope was taken out of context is one thing. Misunderstandings happen. What is no mistake, however, is that the hostility and violence that Muslims worldwide demonstrated in the past couple of days has, in many ways, proven what Manuel II said as correct. Muslims can be a violent people, who will use any excuse to show this violent behavior to the world.
It stuns me to think that, in the 21st century, Islamic clerics can condemn the Roman Catholic Pope of being “medieval” and “Ignorant” when they repeatedly call for violence against people and nations, murder of their enemies, political mayhem to those who disagree with them, and all in the name of a very strict and temporally provincialist, ethnocentric religion.
I am reminded of an incident that happened to me in Cairo, back in the innocent days before the world fell into it’s present state of chaos. I was having lunch with an exceptionally snotty bunch of Western students, who had made no effort whatsoever to fit in, or make native friends, or get to know the people in any way at all. I listened to them share their overtly PC and saccharine thoughts and opinions about Islam, and when I’d had enough, I blurted out, ”You’re all full if it. Islam makes people stupid.”
Now, this was back in the days before the Islamofascist movement had taken a strong foothold in Cairo, otherwise, I may have been rent limb from limb like a bastard in the street. Fortunately, all I succeeded in doing was shocking my innocent Western brood. I went on to explain that Islam, by its very nature, calls for mindless submission, suppression of individuality, and drone-like servitude. I used the notion of praying 5 times a day, at intervals which interrupt a person’s sleep schedule, to show that one of the religions main purposes is to manipulate and warp. Sleep interruption and deprivation is a well known and time tested technique used to break down people’s will, and soften them up for mind control sessions. This has been used by interrogators, cult leaders, and bitchy domineering girl-friends for centuries, and usually leaves the broken subjects open all sorts of suggestion. Quod erat demonstrandum.
Now, it was not my intention to insult Islam, and yet, any Muslim listening to me would have been shocked and appalled, and probably visited upon my person great violence and harm. In this way, Islam keeps free dialog and debate from ever happening, and prohibits progress and open mindedness. The Pope, it seems, has had to learn this the hard way.


After my post on Tom Cruise I took some flack from one of my biggest fans over the rancor and ire that I heaped upon the wacky Hollyhood star. It made me think about why I dislike the guy so much, and if I was perhaps being irrational about it. I realized that I started to dislike the guy when he went off the deep end with this Scientology crap.
Those thugs are dangerous and have infultrated the American Film Industry to a dangerous degree. Take this story from RadarOnline.Com.

"According to a high-ranking media executive, Paramount Pictures honcho Grey had a highly unpleasant run-in with the Church during his tense negotiations with Cruise over Mission: Impossible 3. Grey, who had recently joined the studio, entered the talks determined to make Cruise accept a smaller share of the gross revenues than he had from the first two installments in the franchise. (For those films, the actor reportedly took home an unheard-of 30 percent of the total revenue.) Leaving the office one night, the diminutive Grey, walking to his car in the Paramount lot, suddenly found himself surrounded by more than a dozen Scientologists, who pressured him to ease up on the actor, according to the source."

So, now it comes out that one of the main reasons that Paramount Studios decided to end their contract with Tom Cruise is that he resorted to strong arm tactics to try and extort a better deal from executives. Now, surely, this is not the only times this kind of thing has happened in Hollywood. I saw the Godfather. But this is not the Cosa Nostra. We expect actions like that from Tony Soprano, or Don Vito Corleone. This comes from the Church of Scientology. Now, I'm no expert on cults, and, this being The United States of America, a person is free to worship in any way they choose to do so. However, when their church uses methods normnally reserved for orginized crime or dark Op's Government agents, then I start to get worried.
I start to wonder how many of our beloved hollywood celebreties are being held against their will by this strange and whacked out cult. Kirstie Alliey, John Travolta, Emelio Esteves, Candice bergen, Juliette Lewis...the list goes on.
Perhaps there is something more to this whole Scientology boondoggle than meets the eye, a sinister and dark plot to control celebreties and their money, who can in turn, control the very fabric of American cinema. If that is the case, then we must ask ourselves...What would Ronald Reagan do? What would John Wayne do? Maybe there is a link between the Scientology connection and the level of bad stinky acting coming out of hollywood in this day and age?

Get a Rope

Venezuelan strong man Hugo Chavez is at it again, stirring up trouble the day after a somber United States commemorated the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In a speech to supporters he has started to support the fringe conspiracy theory that the United States was responsible for the events of that awful day.

‘The hypothesis is not absurd ... that those towers could have been dynamited…A building never collapses like that, unless it’s with an implosion…Why? To justify the aggressions that immediately were unleashed on Afghanistan, on Iraq.”

Now, this insulting idea has been spreading like a fungus around the internet for years, mostly, I have found, by anti-American foreigners who are looking to add insult to injury. There are several Americans who seem to believe this non-sense, mostly out to discredit the Bush administration, and bring dissent and doubt to the people. These subversives are probably bolstered by foreigners.
I’ve run up against the idea that the American Government was either directly responsible for the attacks, or allowed them to happen. Mostly, the unwashed masses that spew out this misinformation are barely literate, trouble makers who are as likely to protest the moon landing as they are the attacks. They use the flimsiest of “proof”, and illogical queries to dissemble their misinformation. They ask that rational people prove that it did not happen the way they say it did, without realizing that the burden of evidence rests with them to prove that it did.
To date, not one of their arguments has stood up to scientific scrutiny, and I believe that little green men from Mars will be proven to exist long before these nuts can present their ideas in a clear cut, scientific, and logical manner.
This, however, doesn’t make them go away. Remember, “They who know not, and know not that they know not…Shun them.”
They are relentless, assaulting the intelligent person with a barrage of meaningless questions as though their lack of answers of evidence somehow proves their point correct, and yours wrong. It’s like arguing with a Creationist, or a Liberal, there’s no winning, because they have already made up their mind that you have lost. It is these nuts that are letting the terrorists win. Chavez is just showing his true allegiance. In fact, in 2002, Free Republic News reported this:

“The private pilot of Hugo Chavez, Major Diaz Castillo has since defected and
has started to talk. As the trusted insider who flew the president's Airbus, he
was an eye-witness to secret meetings between Chavez and some of the top
dictators in the world. He was also in charge of organizing one million dollars
worth of assistance from Chavez to Al Qaeda.”

So, it’s very likely that, although he is aware of the truth in the 9/11 attacks, he is doing what he does best…Adding fuel to a fire. One day, though, that fire is going to burn him, and when it does, I hope it will be broadcast live on CNN, so that there’ll be no mistake who did what, to whom, when, and how.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

It's a Girl?

Vanity Fair revealed the cover of their new issue which features a photo of the happy Cruise family. The wacky couple chose this way to reveal their bouncing baby Thetan to the world, whom they have named Suri.
Much fuss has been made over Tom Cruise and his overt weirdness over the last year or so. His strange antics on the Oprah Winfery Show didn’t win him any fans, and his bizarre outburst with Matt Lauer on the Today show, where he calls Psychiatry a "Pseudoscience", and bashes Brooke Shields made even Tom Arnold voice in, calling Cruise's comments "Ignorant". You know it's bad when Tom Arnold gets a dig on you.
Brooke Shields responded as well, in a her usual classy way, and has recently said that Cruise apologized to her. But the damage was done. Even Legendary actress Lauren Bacall was quoted in July of 2005 as saying "His whole behavior is so shocking. It's inappropriate and vulgar and absolutely unacceptable to use your private life to sell anything commercially, but I think it's kind of a sickness." (link) Earlier this year he made, what some would consider, a distasteful promise to "eat his baby's placenta" after it was born.

His belief in the strange cult of Scientology has brought him nothing but the ridicule and ire millions of people, and ultimately led to his being fired from Paramount Studios. In fact, his "erratic behavior" was one of the prime reasons cited by the Studio for dumping him. His antics hit the studio where it hurt the most, the Bottom Line. The long anticipated Mission Impossible III took a beating at the box office this summer, and I, too, believe it was because he hasn't been able to control himself.
But now that he and his Katie-beard have their freaky little alien baby, will he still act like a total, freaking, nut-job? Of course he will. If there’s one thing we can all count on in this mixed up world it’s that this freakish little midget psychopath will still be out there, whooping it up and spreading his particular brand of crazy for the whole world to see.

I know his kind of crazy. I have seen it before in the eyes of religious zealots and fringe fanatics. I’ve seen it on the faces of people who are ready to take it to the line and are absolutely certain of the veracity of their beliefs. There’s lots of different kinds of crazy in the world today, tin-foil hat wearing nerds, twisted little geeks who spend hours chasing conspiracy boogey-men. Tom Cruise fits in there somewhere between them and a teenage suicide-bomber in Baghdad, and mark my words, sooner or later, this little weirdo is going to push it too far, and blow his 30 year career and celebrity status off the face of the earth in one horrible, beautiful, resounding, ka-boom. You can also be sure of another thing: When the hammer falls on him we will be there to watch it happen…And we are going to laugh.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Steve Irwin Killed By Stingray

Lovable Australian Steve Irwin, "The Crocodile Hunter" was killed this morning swimming off the Low Isles off the Queensland coast. He was 44. Details are still sketchy but initial accounts say he was stabbed through the chest by a stingray. It is a sad day for Animal lovers and fans of this enthisiastic and boyish television personality who brought joy to so many.
It is my belief that the murderous stingray should be caught and made to pay.

Steve Zissou: I'm going to find it and I'm going to destroy it. Possibly with dynamite.
[a woman asks a question about the shark Zissou is hunting]
Festival Director: [translating] That's an endangered species at best. What would be the scientific purpose of killing it?
Steve Zissou: Revenge.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)



It seems Steve Irwin was filming a childrens documentary with Phillipe Cousteau, on the Great Barrier Reef for the Discovery Channel ("Worlds Deadliest Sea Creatures" or something like that) when he came up on a stingray in the sand and the evil bastard stung him in the chest, (some sources say "in the heart").
"The stingray barb that struck Steve Irwin would have been as deadly as a rifle bayonet driven into one of his vital organs, Australian wildlife filmmaker David Ireland said today." (link)
Rescue was about 30 minuntes in arriving since a helicopter had to be called to the nearest island while Croc One, his boat, raced him toward help. Irwin was not concious and went into cardiac arrest. CPR was administered on the boat but by the time medical attention arrived, he had already passed away. He leaves behind two young children and a very loyal and loving wife.
"The world has lost a great wildlife icon, a passionate conservationist and one of the proudest dads on the planet," John Stainton, Irwin's friend and producer, said in the statement. "He died doing what he loves best and left this world in a happy and peaceful state of mind. Crocs Rule!"(link)

I still think this Stingray needs to be hunted down and killed. (Yes...Possibly with dynamite.) I know it goes against the whole spirit of Steve Irwin, and I know that it's not what he would have wanted, being such a staunch activist and defender of the Animal World, but I cannot help feeling that the stingray must be made to pay. I mean, there are millions of stingrays all over the world, but there was only one Croc Hunter, and now, because of one ill-tempered (and I suspect malicious) stingray, Steve Irwin is gone.
Phillipe Cousteau should launch an expedition to even the score. I bet ol' Jacques would have done so. Maybe Jack Hanna, Steve Irwins friend and fellow animal lover, should do it. Or maybe they should team up with the Widow, Terri Irwin, and all go after the mean bastard together. They could put that on the Discovery Channel, or on Animal Planet, and make a whole event over it. What do you think?