Y2K vs. the Martini 8

January 14, 2010

Has it really been ten years since this happened?!  On December 31, 1999, I was arrested while scaling the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge with a backpack full of Martinis. And I don’t even like Martinis! Back by popular demand, here’s the story, as originally published in Twisted Times.



A True Crime Story

By Jack L. Lopes

There’s an old superstition that says whatever you’re doing at the stroke of Midnight on New Year’s Eve is what you’re going to be doing all year long. I sure hope it’s not true. At the cusp of the new Millennium, as the clocks chimed Y2K and another dead calendar page fluttered off into the void, seven friends and I were getting arrested for climbing the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Our plan to welcome the new century with an enviable view and a perfect martini did not come to pass. Instead, we became the last arrests of 1999 and the first police report of 2000. At the stroke of Midnight we were on a pier-side police barge, being searched and handcuffed while the fireworks went off around us.

It’s an odd and unlikely story that begins back in February of 1995, when my friend and fellow traveler Sebastian Melmoth suffered an unfortunate arrest on the Bay Bridge for drunk driving, and subsequently swore an oath that no liquor would touch his lips until the year 2000. His fierce will did not fail him, and he kept his promise to the end, but as the years went by he developed a powerful thirst.

A veteran urban adventurer and a connoisseur of the industrial arts, Melmoth has a particular fondness for bridges. He has climbed dozens of them, in this country and in Europe, and has introduced many enthusiasts to the pursuit. His first choice, and arguably the ideal spot to toast any new era, was the Golden Gate Bridge, but after actor-activist-moron Woody Harrelson and a few angry friends got arrested stringing propaganda banners from that span, the Bridge Authority went berserk on new security measures, welding access doors shut and installing surveillance cameras from top to bottom and end to end. By late 1999, Melmoth had settled on the idea of a Bay Bridge celebration, but he kept the final plans to himself, knowing he would have to pick just a handful of climbers from the army of friends and friends’ friends who had by now heard rumors of this unique New Year’s Eve celebration.  I got the call a few days beforehand — one of the lucky few. There were to be eight of us, and two boats. We would meet in the city at 9:30.

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2009 Best Books

January 12, 2010

I go through a lot of books in a year: new and old, fiction and non, borrowed and bought. At year’s end I like to look back through the stacks and call out a few titles that really stood out. So here you go.


Zeroville by Steve Erickson

Erickson was one of my happiest discoveries of the year, a wildly imaginative writer with an enviable prose style. I’m about halfway through his back-catalog and this is my favorite so far, a dark fable of Hollywood that’s right up there with “Day of the Locust” and “Barton Fink.” This guy really knows his movies – the book is riddled with enough film references to keep even a cinemaniac running back and forth to IMDB. And he creates a truly mythic character in Vikar, a “cinema savant” who’s so in love with the movies that he has a scene from his favorite film (A Place in the Sun) tattooed on his head. Erickson is also on my super-short list of writers who really understand L.A. – in good company with novelists like Didion and Chandler. I just couldn’t put this one down.

The Border Trilogy (All the Pretty Horses/The Crossing/Cities of the Plain) by Cormac McCarthy

McCarthy, IMO one of our greatest living writers, is finally getting his due with the back-to-back successes of “No Country for Old Men” and “The Road.”  This trilogy is mid-period Cormac, halfway between the Faulknerian whimsy of “Suttree” and the gaunt minimalism of “The Road.” In this mode he reads a lot like Hemingway: lots of ands and ands and very few commas. The dialog is unattributed and unpunctuated but fairly easy to follow, except when it gets into Spanish, which is pretty often. Unless you’re bilingual you’ll want to keep a Spanish dictionary close to hand. But it’s entirely worth the hassle. I don’t think I’ve ever read a better Western saga, postmodern or otherwise. These stories are set in the 1940s but the cowboy action is timeless. Young men in love with horses, Mexican women, and an obsolete sense of personal honor, not necessarily in that order. There’s enough gunplay and knife-fighting for a whole season of “Deadwood,” and some truly unforgettable characters.

Terra Nostra by Carlos Fuentes

Epic and kaleidoscopic, full of profound weirdness and stunning, hallucinatory prose. Magical-realist, yes, but forget comparisons to Garcia-Marquez; this is more Pynchonian in its lucid irrationality, a waking dream of Spain’s conquest of Mexico that straddles multiple centuries, from Aztec creation myth to Millenial apocalypse. Alternately frustrating and mind-blowing – I came close to quitting it more than once, particularly in the first book, “The Old World” – but Fuentes kept dragging me back with his wild imagination and beautiful writing. The second book, “The New World,” stands on its own as an epic re-imagining of Mexico’s origins and conquest. And the third book, “The Next World,” is just a complete mind-bender, with side trips to ancient Rome and a savage version of modern Mexico, where human sacrifice has been reinstated and dissent is suppressed by the US military. A dark & twisted masterpiece from the lion of Mexican lit.

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Santa Cruz Travel Notes

August 18, 2009

IMG_2414As a transplanted Sureño, one of the things I miss most about SoCal is being able to spend a nice day at the beach. San Francisco’s Ocean Beach is a great place to catch pneumonia in a foggy riptide. Alameda is nice as far as Oakland beaches go, but it’s hardly Laguna. But just an hour away there is Santa Cruz, a little spot of sun and sand that’s as good as anything in the O.C. I’ve been touristing in Santa Cruz since the late 70s, and no summer is complete for me without a few visits. While I’m hardly a local, I’ve traveled there enough to know what I like, and here are a few of my favorites.

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Meat Parade Memories

August 4, 2009

“Great idea,” I said to my friend John when he proposed that we enter a meat-themed float in the “How Berkeley Can You be?” parade and cover it with meat-grilling, meat-gnawing, cigarette-smoking freaks dressed in leather and fur, spewing clouds of charcoal smoke, under a banner reading PETA: People Eatin’ Them Animals. “Great idea, except we might get killed. Those peace-loving Berzerkeley moms will rip us to pieces.

“We need our own protest marchers,” I suggested. “We’ll field our own counter-demonstration.” And thus was born the VegetAryan movement, a brave cadre of brown-shirted, jack-Birkenstocked, sign-waving, slogan-chanting thugs, violently opposed to all things carnivorous and willing to disrupt the “meat people” by any means necessary.

Thanks to the efforts of DocumentAryan Puzzling Evidence, we can now enjoy the thrills and (grease) spills of this epic confrontation and its sequel (“Meat People II: Straight to Video”), in which we returned to the streets of Berkeley the following year with more meat, more fur, more cigarettes thrown to children, more pig heads on stakes, more Read the rest of this entry »

Ghosts of Old New Almaden

July 15, 2009
Petra and Pascal Michel, my grea-great-grandparents from Sonora

The Michels, my great-great-grandparents

While I’m hardly a genealogy nut, I do consider myself the keeper of the keys when it comes to family history, and I try to keep opening old doors whenever I get the chance. One research trip that’s been on my list for way too long is a trip down to the New Almaden Mining Museum south of San Jose. According to my mom, her great-grandfather Pascal Michel worked there in the 1850s as a mining engineer, and I’ve always wanted to check the payroll records and get the full story. A few years back I phoned the museum and they confirmed that they had tons of records dating back to the early days, but they told me I’d have to come down and do the research myself – and only on a Saturday or Sunday.

Weekends are tough for me, since I usually work – but finally the planets lined up and I had the time, so I hit the road for the 90-minute drive down to the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. On the way down, munching a chorizo burrito and blasting Los Cenzontles to get me in the mood, I reflected on what I knew about Pascal Michel. A French Mexican, he was either born in or emigrated to Sonora, where he married Petra Murillo, an eductated girl from a good family in Hermosillo.  Mining was the family business, and he plied the trade in Sonora for some time before heading north. According to the stories, he and Petra started a family together down in Mexico, but all the kids from that first batch were wiped out in an epidemic, which had a lot to do with their decision to start over in Alta California.

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100 Great Stories

May 17, 2009

Because so many Top 100 lit lists are so full of crap, I’ve decided to make my own. No Proust, no Joyce, none of those put-you-to-sleep, emperor-has-no-clothes writers that we’re supposed to like but really don’t.  Just good ripping tales well told — works of fiction that I’ve read and enjoyed and can recommend. If you want to read any of them, great. If you want to argue about what’s on or not on my list, or recommend other titles that you think I ought to like, that’s also great. Friend me on Goodreads.com if you really want to mix it up.  Anyway, here’s my list, sorted alphabetically by author. Enjoy!

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The Ghost of Christmas Present

December 26, 2008


Sure, there are lots of reasons to hate Christmas, and my list only grows longer with each passing year. Holiday e-cards, for instance, or Christmas-morning text messages on the olde cell phone – both make me want to toss my fruitcake. But on the other hand, there are plenty of reasons not to hate the Yule, even if you’re a mean little Scroogy McGrinch like me. Here’s my short list of 5 things I’m not completely hating about Christmas this year:

1. Hard Times. Believe it or not, our recent financial implosion is about the best thing to happen to Christmas since Prince Albert stepped out of his can and dragged a dead tree into Buckingham Palace. Mrs. M and I decided to give each other the gift of not buying gifts, with jolly good results. We used the time, money, and goodwill we saved to take in a few shows, jaunt off on a short roadtrip, and generally indulge each others’ whims. And this year we actually celebrated our wedding anniversary, which usually gets lost in the wrapping paper, with a fine dinner at Lalime’s on the 23rd. Sure, we bought a few presents for our daughter and her young man – I mean, Christmas is for kids, even when they’re 26 – and we mailed off some kitchen-crafted goodies to the diasporic family, but that was the full extent of our gifting this year. No receipts, no returns, no regrets – and no scary Visa bills in January. Read the rest of this entry »