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thursday, august, 31

The sun finally came out yesterday. I wandered the Claremont Village, the four-block town center and my old high school haunt. I was thinking about life and death, Charlie and his stories, and everything else that's been swirling around me this week, when I found myself in Nick's.

Nick's was my first cafe. It's where I learned what a mocha is. It's where I'd go when I (stop reading, mom) ditched high school. I'd sit in the afternoon sun out on the patio and listen to the little old ladies talk. I learned more about life in Nick's than I ever did in the classrooms of Claremont High.

I walked in and ordered myself a mocha for old time's sake. As much as my life changes, Claremont never does. The place is a time warp, and it's somehow reassuring. I could come back in fifty years and the high school would still be grey and maroon, the trees would still be dropping leaves on Indian Hill, and Nick's would still be in the alley behind the hardware store.

Then I noticed the card on the counter – "Sign a card for Nick!" – and my heart dropped.

"Is Nick in the hospital?" I asked.

"No," said the high school kid behind the counter. "He's in Chicago."


"He sold the cafe," the kid said. He had spiky bleached hair, and the face of a boy.

I just stood there, stunned.

"To who?"

"That bald guy over there."

I turned and looked at the back of a balding man. "Oh," I said.

"You're not going to ... change it ... are you?"

"Well, we're keeping the name," he said. "But we're putting in carpet and repainting the patio area."

"Oh," I said, the knot in my stomach tightening.

"Why?" said the coffee kid.

"Well, just curious," I said. "I've been coming here for years."

"Really? How long has this place been around?"

"Well, back in the day it was called Nick's Cafe Trevi, because it was in this tiny triangle-shaped room over in Harvard Square. That was a long time ago. I used to come here in high school, and, well...."

I was beginning to sound like a fogey. I tried to stop talking, but it was too late.

"When was that?" the kid asked.

"Oh," I said, clinging to the out-of-control conversational roller coaster. "You know ... in the ... uh ... late ... eighties...."

The coffee kid looked at me. I felt myself wrinkle before him. My mind spun out of control. Late eighties? Can that be right? And then he was still looking at me. What? Is that so long? Hey! Don't stare at your elders!

I was about to go on a tirade about age and wisdom when he pointed at the register. "Three eighty five," he said.

Oh. Heh.

I paid and took myself out of the cafe before I had a chance to mention that the mochas were much cheaper back in my day.   + 12:12 PM


wednesday, august, 30

You don't know my uncle Charlie. And there's no way these words could paint a true picture of the man. What I can give you is facts.

Charles Powazek was the first born son of my grandma's generation. If it hadn't been for the war, he would have been a Rabbi. Many vexing sentences begin with "if it hadn't been for the war."

Charlie lived through several countries, three wives, and ninety-five years on this planet. He's probably the oldest Powazek to ever have lived.

No one knows exactly how Charlie survived the war, and few people dared ask. He took most of those stories with him when he went.

When he lived in Buffalo, his young daughter Irene complained that they didn't have a car like everybody else. Charlie's boss said that he'd teach him how to drive if he passed the written test. Back then, New York's written driver's test was ten true or false questions. Charlie strode in, fresh off the boat, and marked each one "true." He passed.

My own fondest memory of Charlie was him shoving nickels into my hand as a kid. He always did it as a secret gesture, just between me and him, when my parents weren't looking. As a teenager in LA in the eighties, I thought a nickel was pretty much worthless. But I also knew that this man was being kind to me, and kindness doesn't have to adjust for inflation.

Later, as an adult, I marveled at Charlie, 93, dancing with his grand-daughter Faye at her wedding. At the funeral, the Rabbi said that his family's love for him was unsurpassed, but he was wrong. His love for them could have lit the sky.

It was rainy in LA today, and the sun never did bother to come out.   + 1:59 AM

If it's one thing Jews know, it's death. It sounds like a joke, but I mean it. We do death like nobody's business. Here's a quick sampling of my favorite Jewish death rituals:

  • When someone close to you dies, you sit shiva. That means you sit on your ass and mourn and let your family and community take care of you. No working, no playing, just sit and mourn.

  • You bury the body as soon as possible, with as little fuss as possible. No ornate coffins, just simple pine. And no cremation. You're going back to the earth, where you came from.

  • The official mourning process goes in stages and lasts one year. At that point, you put the headstone on the grave and go on with your life. No more moping.

  • At the funeral, the casket is lowered into the ground after the Kaddish, a prayer that never actually mentions death. The immediate family then places dirt in the grave. At Charlie's funeral, there was a pile of dirt to the side with four shovels sticking out. My father handed me a shovel as he came back, his face long. I walked over, scooped up a good chunk of earth, moved the shovel over the grave, and turned. The dirt landed with a hollow thud six feet down. There's nothing like covering your uncle's coffin with dirt to drive home the finality of death.

  + 1:39 AM


monday, august, 28

Yesterday, when I called my dad to say I was leaving for Claremont, he reminded me to make sure I bought my black suit.

I got home after six hours later. I could tell by the way Jenny hugged me that uncle Charlie had died.

"The call came a few minutes ago," my dad said.

Today the family is gathering. My grandma and my dad's brothers are all here. Soon we'll drive the crowded LA freeways to do what must be done.

It's going to be a long day in Claremont.   + 2:24 PM


sunday, august, 27

You can see it all over San Francisco. The boxes, the trailers, the commotion. You can overhear it in all the passing conversations. "Don't forget the tickets," he said. "Are you sure that's enough water?" she said. The scrawl on the rental van down the street from me sums it up: "Burning Man Or Bust!"

I'm getting in my car today for a road trip of my own, but I won't be going to Black Rock City this year. That place has been ruined for me, and besides, I have family obligations to attend to this weekend. A wedding, definitely. And a funeral, probably.

To all my friends who are heading into the desert this week for their annual blast of hedonism, my memories are with you.

I'll think of you from highway five.   + 12:40 PM


friday, august, 25


Today I took the first step to becoming a Real Live Writer: I signed a book contract. For the next few months I'll be working on a book for Macmillan based on my Design for Community lecture series. I'm totally excited. Seeing my name on a book has been a lifelong dream.

Today is also my last day as an employee of Pyra. I did some good work here. I'm especially proud of the design of NewsBlogger and that other site you can't see just yet. I will miss my coworkers and the creative spirit we shared. But now is the right time for me to move on to the next thing.

Three months ago when I took this job, I talked about how clients are like relationships. And they are. In fact, all jobs are like relationships. In this case, dear Pyra, I hold only happy memories, and I wish you all the best.

Ever forward.   + 11:25 AM

  + 10:02 AM


wednesday, august, 23

New in sfstories: It took eight years, but Fred found his spot at last. (After you read it, check out more photos of Fred.)   + 12:45 PM


tuesday, august, 22

Next time I take a job, I'm gonna ask for a lego desk. Eric is a mad genius. Watch him build it from the beginning. Amazing stuff.   + 4:52 PM

Print your own fray day poster!   + 2:05 PM


monday, august, 21

Sigh. They were before their time.   + 8:13 PM

I found it in a dumpster.   + 3:13 PM


sunday, august, 20

Joy! A new episode of 0sil8!   + 11:09 PM

Are you coming to fray day?   + 6:13 PM

Remembering Italy

Italy, in general, was astounding. Breathtaking beauty, ancient history everywhere, fantabulous food, and some of the nicest, most sincere, most intense people I've ever met.

There are a million and a half ways to divide up people. Early risers and late sleepers. Red wine people and white wine people. People who like chocolate and, well, stupid people. Like I said, millions of ways.

But the one that matters most, at least to me, is the ol' repressers vs. expressers division. Expressers like to talk. They like to drink and smoke. They carry on. They love and hate with equal intensity. And they can be royal pains in the ass. (That's me, in case you were wondering.)

Repressers, on the other hand, hold it all in, get ulcers, say they're sorry a lot, and mostly live in places where it's cold too much of the time.

The Italians I met were all (can you guess?) expressers. I liked them. A lot.

So I'd like to say, here and now, that the story I'm about to tell is not a fair representation of my trip. Heather and I experienced so much beauty and hospitality and magic that it's hard to put into words.

But there was one moment that tested us. It's not the best story of the trip, it's just the most intense, so it got written first. It's here, for you, so I hope you give it a read. And like any good travel book, there are pictures, too.   + 2:50 PM


friday, august, 18

Maggie captures fleeting moments of beauty: crosswalk powder, lizard clouds, and drifting sailboats....   + 10:50 AM


thursday, august, 17

Priceless.   + 7:09 PM

Ciao bambino!   + 9:43 AM


wednesday, august, 16

Wonderful wonderful Bardi memories. Sigh. It already feels like a long time ago.   + 2:15 PM


tuesday, august, 15

I'd never been too much of a fan of Dave Eggers. I loved Might back in the day, but I haven't read his book yet, and, honestly, my eyes glaze over at McSweeney's. I guess that makes me uncool.

Which brings me to the point. Before you ever use the words "uncool" or "sellout" again, read this interview with Eggers. Squint through the ugly green on black and just scroll down to the addendum and then read every last word. Some favorite quotes:

    "Too cowardly to address problems of substance where such problems actually are, we claw at those close to us. We point to our neighbor, in the khakis and sweater, and cry foul. It's ridiculous. We find enemies among our peers because we know them better, and their proximity and familiarity means we don't have to get off the couch to dismantle them."

    "No is for wimps. No is for pussies. No is to live small and embittered, cherishing the opportunities you missed because they might have sent the wrong message."

    "In the end, no one will ever give a shit who has kept shit 'real' except the two or three people, sitting in their apartments, bitter and self-devouring, who take it upon themselves to wonder about such things. The keeping real of shit matters to some people, but it does not matter to me. It's fashion, and I don't like fashion, because fashion does not matter."

I am now a fan of Dave Eggers. [props to mathowie for the pointer]   + 5:45 PM


monday, august, 14

I wish my dad had a website when I was a kid.   + 6:17 PM

I'm totally stoked to be the first participant in Aaron's Photo Trust Project. I got the camera today. Now I just need to think of something to shoot on the theme: "oh, so that's why you're smiling." Fun stuff.   + 3:36 PM

scene from a photo shop

"If you don't mind me saying so," said the long-haired guy behind the counter at Presto Prints, "that looks like quite a vacation."

"Thanks," I said, my mind racing over the 12 rolls of vacation memories to try and recall if any of them involved both nudity and the camera. "Italy."

"Yeah," he said. "You've got some got some good shots in there."

"Thanks," I said again, fidgeting for my wallet.

"And some interesting perspectives. I mean, there's the shot of the leaning tower that's pretty usual postcard stuff, but the rest are very interesting."

"Thanks," I said. "Um, can I pay now?"   + 2:59 PM

Lance is groovy.   + 2:52 PM


sunday, august, 13

More photos from Bardi. That shadowy figure in the middle is me.   + 2:27 PM


saturday, august, 12

Home at last! There's nothing like an 11-hour flight to make a guy feel like the floor of an all-night movie house. But we're back in one piece and that's something. There are stories to tell, email to download, and film to process. But all that will have to wait. What I need now is a shower and a long night's sleep in my own bed. Sometimes the greatest thing about traveling is coming home.   + 5:49 PM


sunday, august, 6

The Bardi Web Awards were one of the most surreal, fantastic experiences of my life.

The old church was packed to the gills with politicos, webgeeks, and Italian Internet industry mavens. The thunder subsided and the lights stayed on and the audience endured a four hour ceremony. I was the last speaker, right before the winners were announced and everyone had dinner, so I tried to talk quickly.

I was going to talk about The Industry and Web Design Trends like they asked me to, but I thought everyone was tired of hearing about the web after hours of speeches and nominations. So instead I told an old story about a century plant that I blew up in my backyard when I was a kid. (Remember that, mom?) I was relieved that they laughed in all the right places. That led naturally into talking about storytelling on the web. My translator Ken rolled with my change of plans gracefully, and before long we were done, leaving the stage to happy applause.

I was so relieved to be done, I almost didn't notice that the MC pulled up this here site and started reading it to the audience in Italian. Heh. Good thing I didn't say anything too rude that day. (And if you're still reading, helooo Bardi!)

Today Heather and I hitched a ride to La Spezia, where we've been wandering the streets, taking photos like the good tourists we are, and getting wet in the intermittant drizzle. I'm writing to you now from a little internet shop, with Italian daytime teevee on in the background. Such a trip.

Italy is a beautiful place, stunningly different from San Francisco. I'm so happy to have the work part of my trip done, and to get on with the holiday part. It sounds like a terrible cliche, but it's true: Italy is a good place to be in love.   + 6:57 AM

Proof and more proof and yet more proof! Italian webgeeks are the coolest geeks there are....   + 6:47 AM


saturday, august, 5

It's thundering rain in Bardi. The lights keep going out in the old church where the awards are to take place in less than an hour. The violent weather is not helping to soothe my nerves much. When the first thunder clap hit, I grabbed a total stranger by the arm. Ugh. I'm going to go pace now.....   + 8:11 AM

For what it's worth, I hate Jerry Springer (but I love this interview). [thanks to gusset for the scan]   + 6:11 AM


friday, august, 4

Greetings from Italy!

I'm writing to you from a 16th century church in Bardi, where the town council has set up a computer lab. It's incredible. Beneath crumbling stones that were assembled by hand so long ago, the Italian kids next to me are downloading mp3s and rocking out.

Tomorrow night in this room I'll be giving a talk on storytelling on the web as the final act in the first annual Bardi Web Awards. If I told you I wasn't nervous, I'd be a liar. Fortunately I'm having too much fun to worry too much.

Last night I had the most amazing Italian meal that's ever passed my lips. On the way out, as I was babbling praise, Emanuele said, "that was not so good." I was dumbfounded. He's promised Heather and I a "real" Italian meal tonight. My mouth is watering. It's time for dinner.   + 10:59 AM


wednesday, august, 2

I'm in a mad packing binge, but I just wanted to stop for a moment to say that my friend Steve, who does all the hard work behind the scenes at fray.net, is one cool dude.

Now back to packing. Tonight: Italy!   + 2:47 PM


tuesday, august, 1

Have you ever held a hermit crab in your hands? I have. At tide pools and aquariums. You pick one up and shake its little world up and it sucks up into its shell. But if you put it in your hand and stay very still for what seems like forever, it will slowly creep back out. Eventually, if you stay still, it'll gain enough confidence to go scurrying around from hand to hand. But be careful, because a good solid bump will send it back into its shell. And next time, it won't come out nearly as fast.   + 6:30 PM

NewsBlogger lives! This is the project we've been slaving away on over at Pyra for weeks. Ev did the deal-making, Meg did the backend (with an assist from Matt), and I did the design. I think it's really cool and I'm stoked to see it finally go live. If you blog the news, you're gonna love NewsBlogger.   + 5:59 PM

I think I've finally figured it out.

The real reason the RIAA is going after Napster has nothing to do with copyright infringement or artist rights. That's a smokescreen. It's really all about channels of distribution.

The RIAA knows, deep down in their black little heart, that their days are numbered. Think about it. I, as a musician, don't need them anymore. I don't need a label or a recording studio. I could record a cd on my home computer and distribute the music on the net in mp3 with Napster all over the world in a day. Then I could burn cds and sell them online with PayPal. Blank cds are less than a buck a pop – I could sell my cd for two bucks and make more profit per cd than most musicians with label contracts.

The RIAA is scared shitless and they're going after the first clear target they've found. But don't be fooled by the copyright issue – that's not what it's about.

It's about power, ladies and gentlemen. And for the first time in history, we have it.

Are you using it?   + 11:16 AM

On the web, five years is a hell of a long time. Happy birthday, theobvious.com! *applause*   + 11:00 AM

 © 2000 derek m. powazek ^top