Suffer the little children

I have no opinion about KinderGuides, which publishes picture books based on works of classic literature designed for 6-10 year-olds. So far, they’ve got “On the Road,” “The Old Man and the Sea” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Their version of Kerouac classic does not mention drinking, drug taking, casual sex, unacknowledged homoerotic thoughts, or unsafe driving.

It is, apparently, like an adventure story, with some talky guys involved in G-rated hijinks. I haven’t read it, so (as I say) I have no opinion about it. As to whether classic novels should be repurposed as kid’s books — well, if I came out against it, I would also have to oppose movie versions of books, television mini-series based on books, satire and pastiche, interpretive dance and murals, and so forth. And I don’t oppose those things, so I cannot oppose kiddie books based on adult favorites.


Also wants to learn where Zaphod Beeblebrox is

Apparently, the issue of whether Holly Golightly was a prostitute (and she was, of course) is not brought up in little people’s version of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” so apparently she’s just a high-spirited girl with an independent income. Who…well, it’s hard to see how a version of the story without the sexual tension would interest anyone, much less a seven-year-old girl. But what do I know? If I knew how to write successful children’s books, I’d be living on Maui, importing celebrities for raucous  games of strip poker, and making personal appearances with stuffed toys bearing the likeness of Maybe Henry, the hero of my ghost/adventure series The Maybe Gang.

“The Maybe Gang Meets The Headless Horseman” has been translated into 13 languages. But I digress.

Nor do I have an opinion about Cozy Classics (I am not making this up), the book series that reduces classics to just 12 words. (Real example, for “War and Peace”: “Soldier friends run dance good-bye hug horse boom! hurt sleep snow love”). This seems more like a conceptual art book for adults rather than a real kid’s series, but apparently many parents are buying them and leaving them around the playroom for their offspring to find.


Also wonders what happens to the ducks in Central Park in the winter

Still, not everyone was happy. One Amazon reviewer described the Cozy take on “Jane Eyre” as “weird, dark and not the most appropriate for kids who are reading board books.”

Well, (a) it’s a book in which a madwoman locked in the attic is a central plot point, so what were you expecting? and, (b) who says kids don’t like dark books? Some parents seem to have forgotten what it was like to be a child. Sure, there are innocent childhood delights, and wonder at unexpected things that adults are too jaded to appreciate, but there’s also fear, lots and lots of fear, and many mysterious threatening things, some of which can be put down to wind during a rain storm, and some of which can be put down to abusive drunk dangerous parents.

We don’t live in a totally sunny world, and our kids live in the same world we live in. Nothing can protect them from darkness and weirdness, certainly not dark weird people like us. The Grimms were right: Children need stories that tell them they are not crazy, that homicidal wolves and wicked stepmothers are indeed part of the landscape, whatever Sesame Street says.

What did I love most when I was 7 or 9? Edgar Allen Poe stories, for one — “The Pit and the Pendulum” I found particularly enthralling, and when I realized what was going on in “A Cask of Amontillado,” I was genuinely thrilled. Plus lots of gore and soupçons of sex (sex!) in science fiction and murder mysteries; hints about dark secrets as yet unexplored. My whole life was sort of a murder mystery; I kept trying to figure out what happened to my dad.

My, that turned weird all of a sudden. Proving my point.

Lemony Snicket understands that. J.K. Rowling understands that. What do people think is going on in Harry Potter, anyway? A very evil entity kills Harry’s parents, and he spends seven books seeking bloody revenge. Plus, there’s Stephen King. He writes books that young people read, whether they are appropriate or not.

(My experience: Calling something “inappropriate” is a sure-fire marketing tool. Big cover blurb for “Flesh Eating Zombies of the Apocalypse” goes like this: “It’s inappropriate! — Your parents.”)

Wonders if she too is being borne back ceaselessly into the past

May I make a serious point? I think parents are way too fretful about what their kids read. With some obvious exceptions (let ’em watch pornography in secret, as God intended), parents should just open the keys to the library and let ’em browse. And when the kids hit the Internet, it will be time to acquaint them with the real facts of life — people lie. Unwitting people repeat the lies. Don’t be caught! Think for yourself! And when your kid asks you for cites on some unsupported piece of bullshit you’ve just promoted, you can congratulate yourself on having done your job well.

If your kid is a smart-ass, so much the better.

And finally: What you do when your kids are around is far more important than anything they read. Inevitably, it is your behavior they are copying — not the behavior you recommend, but the things you actually do. The apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree, and you’re the tree. Water, prune, fertilize, don’t commit murder. The metaphor just broke down. Writing is hard.

The way to make sure that your kid is a good person is to be a good person yourself. Or as Cozy Classic might put it: Child watch kindness generosity imitate help homeless heal kiss grandma read books!


A whole damn column without Donald Trump. That felt good, didn’t it?

Does not care at the moment who John Galt is

Photography by Tracy “I have too many children!” Johnston

Useful services by Michelle Mizera









Local knowledge

The last column I wrote (and yes, I’m going to call these things columns, because everybody does, and also because “blog post” is ungainly) got a lot of readers, ten times the usual number and still climbing. I am glad it’s getting read, because that way Dunn is remembered by even more people.

And thanks to John Schwartz for the lovely mention in the New York Times. It would of course seem like log-rolling if I were to mention his very fine book “Oddly Normal,” so I will just make do with a simple wave of the hand.

It does feel weird that the death of a friend should be a good career move. It’s the sort of vampirism that’s common in my line of work (I have sunk my fangs into all variety of family joys and sorrows), but it’s particularly creepy in an obit. Nevertheless, I shall continue clawing out a career on the backs of dead people.

I realized I wouldn’t write a column that good for a while, so I decided to do something ordinary before I froze up. So this is it, ordinary as all fuck. Hey, new readers! Love ya!

You look gorgeous


You may have heard about the Millennium Tower, the tallest (at the moment) of the high-rises looming over downtown San Francisco. I hate them all, because I remember the past, and the funky down-at-the-heels charm the old neighborhood had. Now it’s just another plutocrats’ playground.  It’s happening in New York and Paris and London too, rich people turning old and valued neighborhoods into amusement parks for the jaded.

On the other hand,  don’t listen to me. I didn’t like the Transamerica Pyramid when it was built either, and now it’s an iconic symbol.

Now here’s the thing: The building, which opened in 2009, has sunk 16 inches and tilted two inches off vertical. There is no indication that it will stop there. Naturally, this concerned Mayor Ed Lee, who last week asked for a thorough examination of the foundation.

Last week! Check the foundation! What?

I am a Californian. If I lived in  coastal North Carolina, I would know a lot about houses on stilts and evacuation routes. But I live here, so I know about earthquakes. I am a homeowner, so I ask questions about foundations. I ask questions about cross-bracing.  That’s why I live in a wooden house, because wood is flexible and able to roll with the shock waves better.

The Millennium Tower is not built of wood. That’s OK, provided certain other measures are taken.

I know about liquefaction. That’s what happens to landfill during a earthquake; it turns from apparently solid dirt into oatmeal. I’ve seen geological maps, and the areas around the bay, where humans turned a lot of water into land by pouring dirt into it. And those areas are clearly marked “Danger Will Robinson.” Really, that’s what they say. I’ve seen them.

So Lee is inquiring just now about the foundation.

And what did he find out? Millennium Tower is built on piles sunk 60 to 90 feet into bay mud. No bedrock! No wonder it’s bloody sinking; it’s built on mud. I believe there’s something in the Bible that mentions the foolishness of that plan. Naturally the residents are upset, but they apparently didn’t ask the question either. In Oakland, we ask that question, right after the one about raccoon-related cat deaths.

But we really are overdue for a big earthquake; 99 per cent chance in the next 30 years, say people who know.  You’d think that people raising a very tall building in San Francisco (a city already destroyed once by an earthquake and fire) would pay attention to the issue.

But no! The folks at the Planning Commission looked at the plans and said, “Cool. You guys rock.” (They haven’t released the engineer’s report yet, but the builders went ahead and built the tower, so we assume everything was hunky-dory on their end). And why did they approve such a flawed design? We’ll never know, but let us guess. The Millennium Tower has made a lot of rich people even richer. Stopping the building until the developers agreed to go down 20o feet to bedrock would negatively impact expected cash flow. They tried to keep the sinking quiet too, but there were complaints, as in: “My possessions are all in one corner of the room and little Bobo can’t make it uphill to the front door.” I am absolutely making that up.

And finally Lee inquires about details. He doesn’t condemn the builders as sleazy quick-buck artists, because that would be rude. Meanwhile, is anyone fixing the problem? Why no. They’re blaming each other. Dueling corporate press releases! The excitement never stops!

All cities are corrupt; I understand that. All nations are corrupt. But the developers and their allies could still have made a shit-ton of money even with the added expense of reaching bedrock. But no. They’re stupid avarice junkies, and now they’ll be fighting lawsuits for the next 30 years. In fact, they be should be put in stocks in the public square and pelted with fruits and vegetables. Fruits like cantaloupe, watermelon and green papayas, the big kind.

See what happens?


The Giants’ dismal season is sputtering to an end.  I do not know at this writing whether they, against all odds, made it to the playoffs — let us hope they do not court further embarrassment by actually winning.  (If that sentence turns out to be utterly wrong, I will be the happiest lad in the universe. Nevertheless, I stand by my pessimism.)

We shall let bygones be bygones, however. We shall move on. No blame. Next up, as nicely summarized by Henry Schulman (from whom I stole many facts) in the Chronicle: Saying goodbye to old friends. The contracts of six key players are up, and it’s doubtful that any of them will return. They’re old and failing, and baseball is cruel to those who try to hang on too long.

Two of the players were responsible for most memorable moments of my Giants fandom. The first is Sergio Romo, a teeny little pitcher of great guile. I remember where I was exactly. It was in 2012. I was in Boulder, Utah (not Colorado), hiking in the badlands of Capitol Reef by day and watching the World Series by night. Deciding game, bottom of ninth, two out, Romo pitching. He had been getting people out with his slider, a wicked breaking pitch that started out over the plate and then dove down and away to right-hand hitters, causing pathetic swings from confused batters.

Up at the plate was Miguel Cabrera, at that moment the most feared hitter (44 home runs, 139 RBIs, OPS .999) in the game. Two strikes. Everyone in the park knew that Romo would throw another slider. Cabrera would try to get it, maybe even reaching out the strike zone. Who would win this epic battle?

And Romo threw a fast ball right down the center to the plate. Extremely hitable, except Cabrera was not expecting it. He stared at it. His bat didn’t move. He stood there looking like a man who’d just seen a vanishing elephant. The pitch was insanely gutsy, and Romo strutted in a fury of machismo. I had trouble breathing just for a moment. Strike three! The Giants win the series!

Romo is 34 years old. He’s had injuries. He’s been a Giant his entire career. He’s a beloved figure. Maybe they’ll keep him (says Schulman), but even then, statistics say he’s going to be forced to retire pretty soon.

Also slated for abandonment: Angel Pagan, the source of my guiltiest baseball pleasure ever. The date was April 25, 2013. I was in the ballpark that day. I usually only go to one game a year, and I enjoy myself whatever the score. The Rockies were in town, ho hum.

Again, bottom of the tenth. Giants behind by a run. Man on base. Pagan hits a screamer to the far corners of the ballpark. Runner scores easily; tie game. But what’s this? I started screaming, “he’s going to go for it! He’s going to go for it!” Pagan did not slow down. He kept churning around second, around third, hair flying, mouth clenched. The throw came in, but too late: Walk-off inside-the-park home run. How many times has that happened? (Not that often, but a guy named Tyler Naquin had one just last month).

There was an astonishing explosion of joy in the stands. We were cheering and hugging and high-fiveing each other. It’s the most fun you can have in baseball, screaming with strangers over an improbable and victorious turn of events. I talked about it for days.

Guilty part: Pagan hurt his hamstring on the miraculous play. He was never quite the same again. The joy went out of his game. We rarely saw his poker-faced pleasure at his own skills, the dugout salutes when he reached base.  He’s still playing; still hitting. He’s 35 years old. He’ll catch on somewhere, but probably not here. Damn.

Of course, it is unnatural for someone to feel personal shame because an entertainer who is making $10 million a year injures himself while seeking to be more entertaining. But being a fan requires signing on to an alternate reality, where enthusiastic young men bounce around a playing field while coping with injury, heartbreak, triumph and, of course, a bald kid with cancer who gets to throw out the first ball — all for the love of the game.

It’s the very first form of reality television, except there’s an almost unimaginable level of skill involved. I get off on it. Wait til 2017!

We shall be triumphant



Photography by Tracy Johnston

Assistance from Michelle Mizera