Wednesday, July 13, 2011

letter to senators feinstein and boxer


I was shocked and dismayed to hear that our Department of Defense has denied a request by the families of seven missing fishermen to dive the wreck of their charter boat.

From what I've read it's a money issue, which I find ludicrous given the circumstances.

First of all, this is the Department of Defense, the one department of the U.S. government that will never be short on funding.

Secondly, these are 7 American citizens, 2 of which are Veterans of our Armed Forces, and the DoD won't provide the opportunity to bring some closure to their families?!

As a U.S. citizen I'm embarrassed for my country today. As a U.S. taxpayer I'm frustrated to see my tax dollars not being put to use where they would be doing tremendous good.

No doubt, Senator, if one of the missing were a relative of yours, you wouldn't rest until he or she was found. However, the families of the missing 7 face the possibility of never knowing the fate of their loved ones as long as the wreck at the bottom of the Sea of Cortez remains unexamined.

When I think of the defense of our country, I think of the Marines and their famous motto, "Never leave a man behind."
It's embarrassing our Department of Defense does not espouse this motto as our men in uniform do.

Please, on the families' behalf, lobby to have the DoD dive the wreck.

In doing so, you'd also help at least one of your constituents restore his faith in his country.


Todd Cincala

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

my friend's father and 6 others are missing at sea

Please help us find them. Here's the latest news report on their story, which has made national coverage.

The families have set up a Facebook page as well as a PayPal account for any donations you can spare to help in the search effort. Here are instructions how to contribute:

We are so appreciative of everyone's support. We hate to ask, but if you are able, we would appreciate any donation to help fund our search and rescue efforts. The funds will go directly to the people on the ground.

Here's how to make a donation:

  1. Go to
  2. You will need to login to your personal PayPal account or you will have to create your own.
  3. Once logged into PayPal, click on Send Money tab.
  4. In the TO: field, type


Note: it will show that the funds are being sent to Cheryl Wong, a good friend of the family! THANKS CHERYL!

Monday, June 27, 2011

wtf bird

At no time in my life before today did a bird ever fly into me.

I was walking home, up the hill from the shuttle stop at 24th and Castro, when a bird looking just like this one winged my shoulder. By 'winged my shoulder' I mean exactly that. He swooped in from behind and clipped my shoulder with his wing.

Startled I paused, catching the bird out of the corner of my eye as he flew past, before continuing up the hill. As I did, I tried to recall if I had ever been hit by a bird before.

After a moment I realized I had not. In fact, the only time I could remember even hearing of somebody being struck by a bird was in a Seinfeld episode when one flies into Elaine's head in Central Park, edifying her conviction that she had a big head, just as her boyfriend had told her. (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss does have a big head.)

Struck by the novelty of the event, I was reminded of the time I saw a squirrel fall out of a tree onto the sidewalk before me, and I was just about to put this freak occurence in the natural world on the shelf next to that one when, a block later, the same bird flew into my shoulder again.

"What the fuck, bird!" I shouted.

Fortunately I wasn't near a schoolyard when I uttered my obscenity (unlike my encounter with the squirrel) but an older lady walking her dog had just passed me, going downhill. I noticed her looking up the sidewalk at me as I spun around, trying to see where the bird had gone.

I could see that it had flown up to the eave of a house lining the street and was perched there, looking down at the sidewalk. Anticipating another dive bomb at my shoulder, I ran up the block.

Two facts that help explain my schoolgirlish reaction:

1) Whenever I remember any of my dreams (a fortunately seldom occurrence) I'm always being pursued.

2) My greatest fear is being consumed by tiny, little mouths. (The scene in Jurassic Park (2?) where the guy who likes to zap dinosaurs with a Tazer gets eaten by a pack of the little ones he zapped -- that's my worst nightmare. To be eaten by many small things. If given the choice, I'll always choose to be chomped in half by a Great White before, say, being dropped in a pool of piranha.)

As I ducked under the awning of the shop (a pet shop) on the corner of the block, I started to wonder whether it was one black bird or if I had been mistaken -- that there were two, and if so, how many more were there? Instantly Hitchcock's The Birds came to mind, and I began to wonder how safe I was seeking shelter beneath the awning of a pet shop in that case.

There was a bus stop on the corner. I dug my iPhone out of my pocket and quickly checked the bus schedule. Another wasn't due for more than 10 minutes.

I bolted across the street and crossed through the dog park there, thinking all the dogs and fetching going on might scramble a flock of birds' radar. It did. The rest of the way up the hill, every three steps turning crazy Ivans, I didn't see a single bird following me.

When I got home, my girlfriend asked if I had been wearing anything shiny. It had been my first thought once I was certain I was no longer under attack. I was wearing a black jacket, with black zippers. No jewelry, ever. Nothing reflective that would have caused a bird to spaz the way I'd seen my friend Ambrose's bird Murphy absolutely lose its shit in front of the mirror in its cage.

Now that I'm clear, and calm, I'm pretty sure it was just one bird. No evidence to suggest more. But I'm still baffled as to why I got dive-bombed. I walk the same route home from the shuttle stop every day. Was wearing nothing shiny and exciting. Can't think of any reason why I'd get hit twice in two blocks by a bird.

Unless it was trying to tell me something. Be the bird on my shoulder. The little bird that told me.

Maybe it was trying to say quit the job at Apple. Move away from San Francisco. Leave that girlfriend of yours.

Nah, I don't think so. To any of the above.

But what then could it have been trying to say?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

check, check

I'm truly astonished by my friends who are married and/or have kids -- every single one of them -- because I cannot comprehend how they have time to do anything. Yet they do. They are able to pursue careers full-time, go out to dinner, travel on vacation and do other time-intensive shit like read novels and learn foreign languages WHILE maintaining their marital relations and/or raising their child(ren). Absolutely phenomenal.

I can't even find the time to post a blog entry each month.

This is the first weekend I've had that hasn't whipped past before I knew it. So I'm taking these moments to pause and recap all that I've been doing, knowing that the next opportunity to write a blog post won't be coming along until God knows when.

In the last month and a half, I've been spring skiing with Scott and Rob for the first time in years (here we are, at the Ice Bar on the backside of Alpine Meadows during the last weekend of their ski season.) The following weekend, I celebrated the opening of yachting season out in Tiburon with Ben and Megan, who were in town visiting from New York. After they left, I spent all day drinking Mint Juleps with strangers after going to Golden Gate Fields to place losing bets on the Derby (and spending the rest of the weekend recovering.) Then I coordinated with my brother in Manhattan to fly home to Pittsburgh to surprise mom for Mother's Day. The weekend after that, I went over to Jon and Kim's for an evening of burgers, scotch whiskey and watching their daughter Franny show off her gymnastic skills on their living room furniture. This weekend, I visited Carv and Janine to eat Three Amigos burritos and play with their son, Liam the Destructor. Next weekend, I'm off to St. Helena to spend Memorial Day in wine country with Rob and Kate.

In June I'll even have less time at my disposal. I'll be entering the MFA program at the University of San Francisco. On top of my work responsibilities and my own writing (I pushed past the 100-page mark of my memoir manuscript last week) I'll have additional critical writing to do, not to mention a shitload of reading. So I doubt I'll have much else to be writing here in the coming months. Maybe I'll post an occasional critical writing assignment, or a chapter or two from the memoir.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

poultry night

I wanted to begin this blog post with a picture of the sky here on Twin Peaks. Alas, my camera sucks. Every attempt of mine to capture an image of the sky in all its awesomeness failed as badly as the crap picture of the city lights from my window in my previous post.

Instead, I lifted this shot from davidyuweb's flickr photos to give you some idea of what I'm talking about...'s the kind of sky you get when a pissed-off wizard is standing on a mountaintop.

I thought this image of the Twin Peaks skyline characterized my mood after returning from an open mic poetry reading a few weeks ago. When I moved into my new place, I vowed to seek out the various open readings in the city. The first I attended was at a bar in the Mission District on my way home from work. Oddly enough, I knew the bartender tending bar that evening -- Zoe. I knew her from when I last lived in the city almost ten years ago. Then, she worked at the Mauna Loa in Pacific Heights. Running into her was odd luck, and kismet that it happened to be on poetry night. She offered a perspective on poetry that I found interesting.

"We call it 'poultry night'," Zoe said, referring to her and the other bartenders.

"Why is that?"

"Oh, I don't know," she said.

While talking to her, I got the sense that this deprecating name didn't have to do as much with a dislike for poetry as it did with the less than tipping-friendly crowd that it attracted.

"You know what you should do? You should serve wings during 'poultry night'. I'd like to see poets try to read their verse while their audience was sucking away at chicken bones," I said. "It would separate the wheat from the chaff."

"You know, some of the poets are fun to hear," she said, "but most I'd rather not listen to."

"I hear what you're saying," I said.

After participating in one of the more forgettable poetry readings I've attended, I found myself thinking about Zoe's perspective and the reasons underlying its salience. There have been many essays written about the "death of poetry" or the "problem with poetry." They pose arguments in a myriad of meandering vectors that end up pointing toward one commonality -- either an implicit or explicit critique of our post-post-modern culture (Should I add another 'post-' to that? I don't know. I haven't been on a campus in a couple of years.) for either a) not being able to appreciate the nuanced art poetry is, and/or b) discouraging would-be poets from the practice by enticing our best and brightest creative minds in other directions. How many great poets have we lost to the advertising industry? Or screenplay writing? Or iPhone app development?

While reading an older essay of Stephen Dobyns, I began to wonder if the problem doesn't lie in how we try to cultivate an interest in poetry. Having had this interest cultivated at an early age, this is not a question I've really ever considered. I've been consumed with a nonfiction project these last few months and removed from thoughts about poetry, though. When I decided to return, having let too much time pass since I'd last read a poem or about one, I picked up Dobyns' essay. I read him with the understanding that his love and knowledge of poetry would inspire me as it had done before. So I was shocked to find myself disagreeing with him vehemently upon reading his analysis of the French poet, Jean Follian.

The poem he analyzes is "The Women Who Sew Livery" (in translation by W.S. Merwin). Here's Merwin's translation of the poem:

When night falls
the women who sew livery
stop and wait to be given the light they wish for.
The town is covered with snow,
it is then that they sing
and the passer-by hears in the birdless street
the warm clear voices rising
from those girls who make clothes for valets
and he goes off sad and alone
to phantom dinners.

I've read and re-read this poem (and typed it out here, as well) and for the life of me, I can't set this poem alongside the poetic genius Dobyns ascribes to it. The way he reads into it, you'd think this was a masterpiece -- and I would, too. Back in the day when I was a student, if Dobyns was my professor and discussed this poem in class the way he does in this essay ("The Passerby in the Birdless Street" in his Best Words, Best Order) I would think I was lacking in some crucial regard, that I didn't have the insight or capability to comprehend what this great poet Follian was expressing in his simple verse.

Fact is, this poem does nothing for me. And it's not because I don't understand it. (I understand it all too well after Dobyns' essay.) It's not lost to me through Merwin's translation (I know Merwin translated it as well as anyone could). I can place myself in the context and time period of the poem. I even agree with the argument Dobyns' is making in the essay -- that poetry educates the emotions, and in doing so provides us an invaluable service. It serves to remove human beings from their own existential isolation by linking them in an empathetic way through language to a better understanding of the human condition. It helps us understand others and ourselves better by tapping at our root humanity.

But I think Follian's poem sucks. I think many better poems could have been substituted in its place and provided stronger examples for his argument. When I was a student, I would be inclined to write a paper refuting the praises Dobyns touches this poem with (for example -- the line "and he goes off sad and alone" -- tell me that there isn't a creative writing professor, anywhere, that wouldn't red-marker the fuck out of this line if submitted by one of his or her students.)

That line is unimportant, though, so is the poem and Dobyns' reading of it; what's important is what I realized about a lot of the education in the art of poetry that I received -- that since the form more than any other is governed by the emotive, what is 'cliche emotive' and 'nuanced emotive' is entirely a subjective argument. I've had some colossally shitty poetry professors who've argued like lawyers for poems guilty of poetic atrocities, and I nodded my head in class to their arguments. And I wasn't the only one. Perhaps this is what sucks about poetry -- its arbitrariness -- but it's also what initially attracted me to it -- the fact that it is a lawless proving grounds where, like blog writing, anything goes. Maybe now that I'm getting older poetry seems too lawless; perhaps a sheriff needs brought into town. Total stinking dogshit can be argued to be sweet, sweet French pastry, and eventually you just want to give up arguing. You break down, throw up your hands and concede, "OK I'll eat this dogshit pastry now." I think this is what underlies the problem with poetry and why our night is disparaged as 'poultry night'.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Éirinn go brách

While driving home this Saint Pat's I was pining for some clover.

A parking spot opened in front of my neighborhood bar, and I pulled over.

Had a Guinness, a corned beef sandwich and listened to Where The Streets Have No Name.

Struck up a conversation with a shamrock who fell off her bar stool in pain

Either because she was too drunk, or I was too boring and sober.

photo courtesy of