On the other side: Oakland-born Amy Tan has written about people who see dead people, and Winona Ryder has portrayed a person who sees dead people. The author and the Petaluma-bred actress and Saks shopper were among many stars who came out for Litquake, a two-day fest celebrating the local and the literary last month in San Francisco. Readings featured East Bayites April Sinclair, Rebecca Walker, Beth Lisick, Sylvia Brownrigg, Paul S. Flores, Guy Johnson, Robert Hass, Wendy Lesser, Pam Chun, Rabih Alameddine, and Edie Meidav -- not to mention the disparate likes of Po Bronson, Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler), and Irvine Welsh. An invitation-only party at the Backflip found Dave Eggers, Stephan Jenkins, and Vanessa Carlton schmoozing poolside. As the Türi vodka -- Estonia's finest -- flowed, a female guest swam a few laps in her underwear, then was toweled dry by an obliging quartet of naval officers in dress whites: it was Fleet Week, after all. Trainspotting (and, this year, Porno) author Welsh was the vortex of a tight circle that Press Here was either too cool or too uncool to intrude upon, choosing to eavesdrop instead. The Scot was clearly overheard saying, "And he fuckin' fell asleep!"
Cowering in Concord: More than one hundred exorcisms performed on grave sites in Concord's Black Diamond Preserve have not quelled the occasional sound of ghostly laughter and weeping, not to mention bells tolling, reports Dennis Hauck in Haunted Places: the National Directory (Penguin, $16.95). Not only that, but a poltergeist is said to have tormented workers in an office building on Franklin Street in downtown Oakland, and a photographer is said to have snapped a picture of a phantom hand emerging from the lawn under UC Berkeley's campanile, off which a student had recently jumped to his death.
Hauck, who is the California coordinator for the Ghost Research Society -- and also happens to be an alchemist -- still remembers clearly his own scariest experience:
"I saw claw marks form on the side of a house in Grass Lake, Illinois. They formed right before my eyes like an invisible hand was making them, and they dug deep into this old sun-faded redwood siding, revealing fresh wood underneath. No one could have faked that, and I became convinced that we are dealing with some kind of real force at work that very few people understood."
Using a technological metaphor, he says hauntings can arise when "the energy of some specific event is 'recorded' on the premises where it occurred. In these cases, it is 'replayed' for sensitive people. These do not necessarily have to be traumatic events. There are many cases of ghostly presences playing the piano or gardening or reading -- doing something they greatly loved in life."
Which might account for the specter that Hauck says haunts Room 219 of UCB's Faculty Club: It reads poetry aloud. That is so Berkeley.
Hello, sailor: The USS Hornet is haunted, too, according to Barbara Smith, who in her new Ghost Stories of California (Lone Pine, $10.95) describes an apparition that has a way of appearing and disappearing en route to the engine room of the aircraft carrier, which is now a tourist attraction on the Alameda waterfront. An Oakland ghost and yet another spectral Alameda swab are among many others in this collection of putatively true accounts. But the most haunted part of the state, Smith says, is Hollywood. While there on a research mission she was staying at the Hotel Roosevelt -- which is where Bill "Bojangles" Robinson is said to have given Shirley Temple her first tap-dance lesson, and which is allegedly haunted by both Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift.
"On my last night there, I was sitting in bed with the light on, writing some additional notes so that I wouldn't forget the 'color' of the place. It was very important to me that I do the best possible job in order to show respect for the film greats of the past -- especially the women. As I sat and thought, the bedside light turned itself off. Fully a minute later it turned itself back on. I felt oddly comforted by the anomaly and have always wondered if that simple act -- ghosts love things electric and electronic -- was one of the spirits' way of indicating their approval of my work."
Time out: In his second baseball time-travel novel, Two in the Field (Plume, $14), Berkeley's Darryl Brock sends a modern San Franciscan back to Cincinnati in 1869, where in this book's prequel he was a member of the first professional baseball team, the Red Stockings. Prodigious research brings Samuel Clemens and General George Custer into the cast of characters. If Brock himself had the magic to actually meet the Red Stockings, he says, "I would want to work out with them, to see how they played the game then -- sans gloves, masks, shin guards, or other protective equipment. And to see what tactics they employed, hear the slang they used, try to judge to what extent their attitudes resembled those of pro players today."
Speaking of which, how would Barry Bonds fare back then if race was not an issue (although it was)? "He would perform superbly in any era," Brock asserts. "One thing he would love about playing in 1869 is the fact that intentional walks hadn't yet come into use, so opponents would definitely pitch to him -- for a while, anyway."
Fly girls: In Japanese animation, girls have the power. "The situation comedy Bewitched was very popular in Japan and helped give rise to the entire 'magical girl' genre, of which Sailor Moon is a prime example," explains Patrick Drazen, whose exhaustive Anime Explosion! ($18.95) is new from Berkeley's Stone Bridge Press.
Culture Spy - February 23, 2:42 PM
What the Fork - February 23, 2:12 PM
Culture Spy - February 19, 1:45 PM
What the Fork - February 15, 2:00 PM
Culture Spy - February 15, 10:30 AM