With only the din of the office soda machine keeping us company, Dog Bites wallowed in a lonely and discouraging day on New Year's Eve, no soiree plans in sight. But suddenly, like Glinda the Good Witch gliding down from her diaphanous bubble, there came what every hungry journalist craves on a news-lite day: a media advisory about our fledgling mayor engaging in a treacly holiday photo op:
"Newsom to Join with San Francisco Kids in Making New Year's Resolutions," it read, adding that said resolutions "will be sealed ... until next year, when the Mayor and children will return to open them."
Almost giddy with anticipation, we exited our e-mail, mainlined a couple of Red Bulls, and headed out to the Columbia Park Boys and Girls Club in the Mission to see just what Newsom and his juvenile pals planned to resolve in 2004.
Sadly, we must admit that 2003 was a selfish year for Dog Bites. We failed to find time to donate a single can of string beans or ladle even one bowl of vichyssoise at a soup kitchen. The only morsel of charity we tossed from our plate was when we left a 12-pack of Natural Ice on 24th Street after someone rudely brought it to our party. A trip to Columbia Park would be good for us. Joining our new boy mayor as he made his resolutions would not only lend gravitas to our own decrees, it would also make us less able to break them.
Upon entering the gymnasium, we caught that unforgettable scent of children's sweat mixed with their anxiety about not looking like a geek in gym. A flood of fond memories floored us, reminding us of those years spent in the seventh circle of hell commonly referred to as middle school PE. After being pried out of the fetal position and helped to our feet, we spoke with Gavin Newsom, who'd just finished shooting hoops with the kids. (We arrived late, as usual.)
Da New Mayor was decked out in a dark blue pinstriped suit, beads of sweat poking through the pancake makeup on his forehead. Apparently he hadn't fared well. We asked him about his New Year's resolutions but he dodged the question, focusing instead on his basketball prowess, or lack thereof. Looking a tad defeated, he mumbled some vague words about his performance. Unclear about what he was saying, we politely asked, "You mean you sucked?" A club official quickly intervened: "Oh, I wouldn't use that word." But judging from Newsom's breathlessness, we would. Then again, we can barely dribble a ball, so who are we to judge?
Newsom reclaimed his blush-inducing masculinity when he reached up and touched the rim of the pint-sized net, showing us he could slam-dunk without even leaving his feet. And his wife, Kimberly Guilfoyle Newsom, was a vision in a post- Labor Day white belted jacket and Gucci-logoed heels. After the mob of kids dispersed, we approached her as if nearing a Fabergé egg. We tapped her on the shoulder, declared that we loved her jacket, and asked who made it.
"Thank you! I have no idea," she said, while opening the garment and directing us to read the label.
See, that's class. We can't count the number of times someone has asked Dog Bites who made the sweater or shirt we had on and we, feigning ignorance, guided them to the back collar, knowing full well it read "Missoni." An elegant technique.
Her jacket? Prada, of course.
We attempted to ask the kids about their resolutions, but drew back as they were too sweaty and spastic. No matter. We made two resolutions of our own: to buy better handbags and to exfoliate more often. Of course, those have nothing to do with helping the disenfranchised or feeding the famished. But there will be more clutches available at the Salvation Army, and our skin will appear less dull and more polished a boon to all, really.
So join us a year from now when, along with the mayor and the youngsters of Columbia Park, we shall unearth the resolutions of 2004. We promise to exalt the promise-keepers, scorn the perjurers, and especially sport a Dior bag.
Brock Keeling & Lessley Anderson
"So this is going to sound crazy," Chester Santos warns. He is sitting in a downtown cafe, a shuffled pile of playing cards in front of him. It took him only 10 minutes to memorize the deck, and now he can tell you its precise order, that the 23rd card, the 2 of Hearts, is followed by the Ace of Diamonds. Just how he knows this has something to do with a hen in a bathroom, pecking out the eyeballs of the host from Blind Date which Santos is about to explain. "It's going to sound really crazy," he says.
Santos is a shy 27-year-old software engineer for Sun Microsystems, just finishing up graduate work at Golden Gate University. Last year, he placed third in the USA Memory Championship, one of 10 competitors "mental athletes," as organizers insisted on saying, when they weren't calling them "warriors of the mind" who paid $25 to furrow their brows in a Manhattan auditorium. Santos also plans to compete in this year's Memoriad at the end of February. "I want to win," he says, "and I think I have a good chance." The tournament consists of five events: Contestants have to memorize 99 names and faces, an unpublished poem, a series of computer-generated digits, a list of 500 words, and a deck of cards. It's mental athletics, yes, but to hear Santos describe the process of memorizing 52 playing cards, it's just as much a kind of poetry.
Memory sports are a relatively recent phenomenon, especially in the United States, which didn't get a championship until 1997 (when it was launched by Tony Dottino, a consultant specializing in things like "mental literacy," and Tony Buzan, the author of several mind-improvement books and founder of the World Memory Championship in 1991). A few years ago, Santos saw a TV report on the U.S. competition and swore he could do better. "I just thought, 'Wow, they're getting so much publicity, and I can beat them,'" Santos says. "I've always had a good memory. I noticed it because in school I had to study so much less than everyone else." As an undergraduate at Berkeley, in fact, Santos rarely went to class, studying little more than the back of his eyelids. Come finals, he'd crack open the textbook, memorize the finer points of, say, molecular cell biology, and finish with an A.
But warriors of the mind need more than just a knack for easy recall. Soon, Santos began to study memory techniques, the various ways to trick the brain into retaining even the most trivial pieces of information the Roman Room System, for instance, which relies on familiar locations (such as the rooms of his boyhood home) to hang onto new and unfamiliar information (like the order of a deck of cards). The method was developed by Roman orators for long speeches; it's how Caesar could get from veni to vici without checking his notes.
And it's how Santos knows the Ace of Diamonds follows the 2 of Hearts. One recent Monday, he describes his method for memorizing the cards, which is a combination of several different systems. The first step, he says, is assigning a permanent image to each card. Santos uses something called the phonetic alphabet system, which pairs numbers with sounds. For the 5 of Clubs, for instance, he takes the first letter of the suit ("c" for clubs) and the sound designated for the number 5 ("l," in this system), then chooses a word that fits those parameters ("coal"). Next, Santos chooses a location his boyhood home near Fresno, for instance and "drops" the images, in twos, along a sequential route through the house, where he has also placed several of his friends. (To recall the cards, he only has to take a mental stroll through the house again.) The images interact with each other, the room, the people. The idea is to use as much of the brain as possible, Santos says; the result is the oddest sort of house party. After eight cards he's in his living room:
10 of Hearts, 7 of Hearts: "Now it's my TV, and whenever I go to my TV location, I imagine something playing on TV. So the 10 of Hearts is a hose, and I imagine this girl I know I don't want to say her name who represents that card [7 of Hearts], and she's getting hosed down."
Ace of Hearts, 2 of Diamonds: "Then I have my friend Lester. He's in my dining room, and he has this huge cowboy hat [Ace of Hearts] on, and he's throwing it into a pile of sand [2 of Diamonds, which Santos sees as a dune, or sand]."
4 of Clubs, 3 of Diamonds: "Now we're on my kitchen table, and my friend is eating an apple [4 of Clubs, or 'core'], and then he's throwing it into my jar that you keep all your change in [3 of Diamonds, or 'dime']."
And a few cards later, he's in the bathroom. There, the 2 of Hearts ("hen") is working over the Ace of Diamonds (Blind Date host, derived from "date"), and a friend of his is doing unspeakable things with the 5 of Diamonds("doll"), which then turns into the 9 of Diamonds (another girl Santos knows; he won't explain why she's the 9 of Diamonds). "I'm going to remember that, right?" Santos says, laughing. "That's the thing: You use your imagination, you will not forget it."