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Photo illustration by E. Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly

Downtown Nocturne

By Eric A. Carlson

"Should not the giver be thankful that the receiver received? Is not giving a need? Is not receiving mercy?" --Nietzsche

FINALLY, WALTZING WITH THE BONY BACK LADY in the Dolphin Cafe, I was able to relax. It had been a night of bad photography and odd circumstances involving the mayor of San Jose, the Preservation Action Council and a bevy of hallowed San Jose historians.

A waxing-gibbous moon gyred over the Bank of America building (1927) at the corner of Santa Clara and First streets. At ground level, the Bankers Club was the locale for the 10th Anniversary Celebration of the Preservation Action Council of San Jose (an organization notorious for ruthlessly preserving historic buildings and wantonly saving from destruction such buildings as the Jose). I was early for this gala event, at which I was tasked with taking "candid" photographs. I killed a few minutes by crossing the street to a building marked VTA. It proved to be an immense room containing two racks of bus and train schedules, and several folks selling tickets for same. As downtown parking places are eviscerated, this service will become vital.

Inside the Bankers Club my heart sank. It was dark. Stygian. Equipped only with a cheap flash, I would literally be working in the dark. While photographing Mayor Ron Gonzales, I couldn't get enough light. "Having a little trouble with the camera, sir, hang on just a sec," I importuned, as I mashed down on the shutter-release button in vain. The shot finally popped and the mayor hurried off to his next assignation. It would not get any easier. And I would have other problems to contend with soon enough.

I forgot to bring enough money. Or a checkbook. And spread out before me was a smorgasbord of California history books for sale and the authors in attendance to sign "To Eric, a lover of history." I did have the lucre for Linda Larson Boston's new opus, San Jose's Vaudeville House: Theatre Jose, and Eiichi Edward Sakauye's Heart Mountain. Which left me with six dollars for either two glasses of merlot, or to get my car out of a San Fernando Street parking garage. An awkward sequence of the evening ensued when I discovered Mary Jo Ignoffo and her fine new work, Gold Rush Politics: California's First Legislature. I wanted this book badly. And it was only six dollars. I waffled so much in front of poor Mary, complaining that I wanted her book but didn't have enough money, that on her way out the door she handed me a copy, saying, "It's a gift." I didn't have the heart to stop her yet again for a dedication. Before the evening was over I did purchase some merlot and borrowed 10 dollars from John Olson, the president of PAC, to get home.

Getting home was not straightforward. Earlier in the evening, historians Harry Farrell and Patricia Loomis arrived and asked for help in toting their books, which were in Harry's car several blocks away. I was happy to help, and at the end of the evening I carried their unsold books out to the curbside on Santa Clara Street while they went to get the car. I waited with the boxes. And waited. Harry and Pat had gotten lost. It can happen to anyone, even San Jose historians. There I stood on Santa Clara Street, guarding three boxes of San Jose history books. Muscular cars growled up and down the avenue, neon lights crackled as far as I could see, buses roared up dropping off citizens. I was in no hurry to leave such beauty.

Harry and Pat recovered their bearings and pulled up to the curb. After loading the books, I was generously thanked. "I want to give you something," Pat said. And she handed me a small glass jar labeled "Pat's Raspberry Apple Jam-2000." A splendid gift. And they were off. Harry's right-turn signal was blinking merrily as he turned left into Santa Clara traffic and disappeared into the darkness.

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From the November 30-December 6, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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