Lieu, co-owner of The Basement, a hip, happening new bar in the Tenderloin. Lieu and I went to the same high school in East San Jose, and he's roughly my age, 51 or so, although, with my white hair, I look like his granddad next to him. The Basement used to be occupied by Club 222, with the legendary Black Hawk jazz club next door. (It's now a parking lot). Musicians from Miles to Coltrane used Club 222 as a green room before they exited its back door to enter the Black Hawk.
At The Basement, all the beers are microbrews, with nothing under $5. Lieu doesn't want the Tenderloin's riffraff to wander in to order a can of Bud or Miller. "This neghborhood is moving up," he said.
"Ah, man, won't you miss people defecating on the sidewalks?"
"Get that shit out of here!"
This night, there was a comedy open mike. I asked Lieu if the poetry slam crowd had approached him.
"Yes, but I turned them down."
"Poets don't drink enough."
Man, that's a sure sign of a collapsing society! The two bartenders were young, pretty women, with one white, one Chinese. The Basement also has a Swedish guy to attract the ladies.
There are a lot of Vietnamese in the Tenderloin, by the way, and my stepmother even had a restaurant here two decades ago. She made most of her money as a sports bookie, however.
Yuppies, hipsters and Twitter Headquarters have moved into the Tenderloin, and with continued gentrification, scenes like this will gradually disappear from this part of San Francisco. If the economy collapses, however, and it will soon enough, you will see this spread all over.
Man watching the Wendy Williams show inside the Florence. Before walking in, I asked an old guy on the street which bar was open, and he pointed me to the Florence by saying, "Charlie is outside, so it should be open."
The Niles District of Fremont was the Hollywood of the silent film era. Charlie Chaplin made five films here.
In the South Bay, I saw more help wanted signs than anywhere else in the US, but it's nearly impossible to live there on a low wage. With so many eateries, it's hard to pay more to attract workers, however. Competition for diners is fierce. Besides fast food joints, there are many cheap Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian and Mexican restaurants.
My father opened his first restaurant in 1980 and has operated several Chinese buffets, then a Japanese restaurant called Kobe on El Camino Real. I worked as a cashier at one of his restaurants, and in the kitchen at another.
My brother's house. This was my first time in it and I had to come to Santa Clara because our 83-year-old father is gravely ill. Vincent bought me the plane tickets and even treated his older brother to an A's game. Vincent came to the US at five-years-old, worked at Macy's in dumpy Eastridge Mall during high school, went to University of the Pacific in grim Stockton then managed our father's restaurant after college. Sick of that, and our psycho stepmother's ranting, Vincent quit the restaurant to join Yahoo, where he's been the last 19 years. His wife, Gina, grew up in Turlock with 11 other siblings. Gina's dad emigrated to the US at age 53 from the Azores Islands of Portugal. In Turlock, he and his oldest sons earned a living milking cows. Gina now teaches second grade in a public school. My brother and his wife, then, have clawed their ways into the middle class, and their two sons are near straigh A's students. Fifteen-year-old Tim, the older, already has a web business selling hip clothes, Pocket Tims.
Vincent's original name is Phong, but he changed it because he got sick of the other kids teasing him, with some calling him "Fonzie." Vincent can still speak passable Vietnamese, though he cannot read or write it. Vincent goes to church weekly, has drank maybe two six packs his entire life and his most scandalous curse word is "darn."
Born in Vietnam in 1963, I came to the US in 1975, and have also lived in Italy and England. I'm the author of two books of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), five of poems, All Around What Empties Out (2003), American Tatts (2005), Borderless Bodies (2006), Jam Alerts (2007) and Some Kind of Cheese Orgy (2009), and a novel, Love Like Hate (2010). I've been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, 2004, 2007, Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, Postmodern American Poetry: a Norton Anthology (vol. 2) and Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, among other places. I'm also editor of Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and The Deluge: New Vietnamese Poetry (2013), and translator of Night, Fish and Charlie Parker, the poetry of Phan Nhien Hao (2006). Blood and Soap was chosen by Village Voice as one of the best books of 2004. My writing has been translated into Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Icelandic and Finnish, and I've been invited to read in London, Cambridge, Brighton, Paris, Berlin, Reykjavik, Toronto and all over the US. I've also published widely in Vietnamese.