City Desk

The tunnel vision I have because of my caffeine high is beginning to fade. I’ve never been so into looking at such ordinary family pictures.

I raise my head and look around the lounge area of Starbucks on Geary and 19th, and notice everyone is looking at me and my roommate, Josh (not Lorenzo, whom you hear me talking to in Episode 1. Different roommate.) We’ve been so consumed and hyper-focused, we’ve used three round tables to sprawl out the contents of the dusty suitcase we’ve just found in a dumpster on our block. We have piled old black and white pictures next to our cappuccinos and pastries.

It feels like we’re doing something illegal, like jumping a fence to explore an abandoned building. The kind where you need to be sure you bring a flashlight and wear good shoes, because there’s broken glass everywhere. That’s how haunting and intimate this feels.

But here we are, virtual voyeurs, trespassing into a stranger’s life in pictures.

A family, clearly Japanese-American, occupies our speeding thoughts. Most of the time, people force you to look at family pictures and I’m almost always uninterested. There’s something about albums that constrict pictures into mundane household décor. The posed ones are selected and organized chronologically and the bad ones (usually candid) are bunched up in a jumble in the back. This suitcase contains it all. Prim and clean to out of focus and accidental, it even has rolls of film and negatives. I want to inspect every single one. Here are some of them:

This young girl keeps showing up. There are several pictures of her in this mustard colored dress. It looks to me like a high school graduation. Perfect event for a photographer in the family. She’s seen in cap and gown. Then a dinner party. This seems to be too precious to trash. The owner of this suitcase must be related to this girl. Her father? Mother? Uncle?

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Here’s an incredible picture of a mom and her child on a backyard swing. One with the mom and one with just the kid. The second one has the mom’s worried hand in the shot.

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And there’s this series of camping pictures. Tall redwoods, sprawling blankets, and reluctant children playing in a river. Beautifully done against the backdrop of the American West. This tells me this family is so assimilated into quintessentially American past times like camping, they must be first or second generation.

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This one is one of my favorites. A cropped shot of a ship from the point of view of the dock. Notice the reflection of the busy, rippling water on the bottom of the ship. These waters must’ve been pretty clear. Where the hell is this? Is this a San Francisco dock? The ship looks anchored. Was this taken when it was leaving or just arriving?

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This picture was clearly taken in Japan. Those imperial buildings erupting with pointed rooftops. Is our photographer visiting his or her homeland? Or were these pictures taken earlier? Perhaps, its his or her parents.

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Look at this woman! Her outfit, her glasses, and her hair. Check out this mod/mid-century modern background. And she’s holding this awesome old-school mic so daintily with two fingers.

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Is this the little girl that graduates later?

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Who was cut-out of this picture?! The cut seems very neat and straight.

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I love this candid picture of this jolly man. It looks like a joke has just been told or maybe a reaction to a hit and run snapshot.

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Finally, this has got to be a picture taken on a dock. Everyone seems to be looking up at something and waving (greetings or goodbye?) The guy in the wool coat looks worried or a little troubled when everyone else looks excited. Was this taken the same day as the ship picture? Or this family is just well-traveled?

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The best part about these photos is that they’re taken so incredibly well. It’s obvious that our mystery photographer did this professionally or as a serious hobby. The different sizes and formats show that he or she is versatile. There are multiple takes of the same subject, showing an effort to get a perfect shot. But what’s killing me:  WHY DID I FIND THIS IN A DUMPSTER?? Such good quality family pictures should be kept forever, right? Do photographers ever throw away pictures? Especially ones of their family?

What is the story here?

When we started working on SonicSF, back in the day, a few AMAZING individuals decided they believed in our vision and wanted to help make it happen! We love you people! Because of you, we were able to buy some gear to get this thing off the ground! We promised you a thank you song, and here it is!

SonicSF Correspondent Rob Little penned this ditty just for you! And in his song of thanks, he also thanks the SF Celebs who made guest appearances at our fundraising salon/dinner party! What does that mean? You’ve hit the big time, baby! Thank you for caring!

My brother is a well-known fashion designer in the Philippines, and when his name became a brand he found he needed an office and a workshop. My grandparents were looking to sell their house so they suggested selling it to my brother.

But this house wasn’t your typical Quezon City house with its flat roofs and dull, flat-brown paint. In fact, it also used to be my grandmother’s leather goods shop.

My brother has often told me stories of walking arou

nd my grandma’s backstock, smelling the strong musk of leather hide, and seeing my grandma immersed in her creative flow as she designed wood carvings to be pressed on leather, experiences he says inspired him to experiment with making clothes today. He instantly grabbed at the chance to establish his flagship store in the same space as her old leather goods company, knowing a lineage of craftmanship is in these walls!

Fourteen years has passed since I left my motherland, and two weeks ago I returned, at almost the exact mark on the calendar in the month of July. July is the storm season of the Philippines. I was expecting hot tropical sun but I got something deceivingly similar to San Francisco (or at least where I live in the Outer Richmond). You know, that skyless grayness? But that’s just the sky. Once you walk outside, it is humid and hot. And guess what? All parts of my outer body can produce sweat, even my elbows.

The trip was riddled with revisting the part of my brain that contained my Tagalog vocabulary, reopening the pocket in my stomach where rice usually goes, and, of course, heavy…heavy nostalgia.

One of the things I was excited to see was my brother’s shop, to explore the mingling of old and new.

I expected to see at least one piece of vintage mechanical equipment that churned out leather bags or wallets. I wanted to turn an old rickety iron leather straightener (that’s an actual machine right? Probably. You know those machines you imagine when you don’t really know anything about machinery). I wanted to blow dust off metal templates that had my grandma’s name on it and I wanted my brother to show me framed ephemera that he’d salvaged, holding on to memories of our trailblazing family artisan.

But rather than a monument to the past, I found a space alive with creativity, and a craftmanship solidly of the present: rooms filled with fabric and cloth from China and India, shelves lined with jars of buttons and “motifs”. There were racks upon racks of outgoing gowns and suits ready for praise at their designated wedding or soiree.

In the office of the creative staff, up to date magazine cut-outs colonized a cork board, whether for inspiration or perhaps milling out competition. Next to them, paper cut-outs of new designs that would eventually be translated into fabric.

And then, my brother, working in his office drawing up his newest design for his 11 o’clock client. I was enamored by the intense pace of activity.

For the last several years I’ve been coming across my brother’s name, buzzed around in Hollywood-esque gossip media shown on Filipino channels, and even seeing him featured on America’s Next Top Model, when he designed couture dresses using Hello Kitty products.

During my high school prom I wore my Francis Libiran penguin-suit with pride as I showed my classmates the tag that bore my last name.

Finally seeing his workshop was fulfilling in a way that I can’t explain. It was inspiring! I felt like his younger-self must’ve felt walking around my grandma’s leather shop, wide-eyed and unconsciously brewing an inclination for artistry. Thus realizing the possibility to turn creating into a profession. It was intense for me to see the magnitude of his fame, but even more so how comfortable and confident he was practicing his craft. I love that he loves what he does and is so good at it.

During a long car ride to one of our island hopping escapades, he showed me a magazine that featured the “25 Most Influential Fashion Designers in the Philippines.” He’s in it of course and he also pointed out the older designers he originally looked up to. “I used to clip magazine cut-outs of their gowns and pieces when I was your age and now… I am one of them,” he said.

When Lorenzo first reads one of Ellison’s mysterious letters aloud, he mistakes the postage date for 1951, instead of 1957,  and reads the P.S. about the World Series. We wondered which was actually the better year for baseball. Turns out it was 1951.  In 1951, when Major League Baseball hadn’t yet arrived on the west coast, what would make somebody from San Francisco mention the World Series in a letter to his wife? When Ed asked Elsie who she thought would win the World Series, there had to be some serious historical significance to be worth mentioning.


The 1951 Major League Baseball season isn’t remembered for who won the World Series, or for that fact that Joe DiMaggio retired that year, or because it was the rookie season of future Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, or for the death of MLB legend and member of the disgraced Chicago Black Sox Shoeless Joe Jackson, but for Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard Round the World.” 

Entering the 1951 season, the Philadelphia Phillies were the favorite to win the NL Pennant following two very strong seasons including an appearance in the 1950 World Series. They seemed to be on the rise as the most dominant team in the National League, with the Brooklyn (soon to be Los Angeles) Dodgers and New York (soon to be San Francisco) Giants nipping at their heels. In the American League, the powerhouse New York Yankees were the favorite to win the World Series for the 3rd year in a row, and for the 4th time in 5 years.

What made the 1951 season so significant was the drama that surrounded the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Early that year, the Giants struggled tremendously and appeared to be careening toward a disastrous season. On August 11, 1951, 100 games into the season, the Giants were well behind the Dodgers who were cruising toward a National League Pennant. Then something incredible happened; the sort of incredible that creeps up on the you.

The Giants won 37 of their next 54 games including 16 in a row to pull into a tie with Dodgers with only one game left in the regular season.

Sunday, September 30th 1951 – final day of the regular season: Both the Giants and Dodgers were scheduled for a 1:35 p.m. start time. The Giants easily took care of a lackluster Boston Braves team in just 2 hours to pull ahead of the Dodgers by half a game in the standings. The Dodgers would find themselves locked in four and a half hour marathon against the one time contender, now wannabe spoiler, Philadelphia Phillies. In the bottom of the 6th inning, with the Dodgers trailing the Phillies by three, the final score of the Giants/Braves game was posted on the out-of-town scoreboard.

Needing to win that game just to stay alive, the Dodgers managed a dramatic 9 to 8 come-from-behind victory and rejoin the surging Giants atop the National League standings, setting up a crosstown best of 3 between the two NYC franchises in only the fourth tie breaker in major league history.

Monday, October 1st 1951: the series opened at Ebbets Field in Flatbush, Brooklyn, home of the Dodgers. As if tensions and excitement weren’t intense enough already, the game was the first in Major League Baseball history to be televised live from coast to coast.

The Dodgers were exhausted from the previous night’s game against the Phillies and were handed quick and clean 3 to 1 defeat.

Tuesday, October 2nd – Game 2: was at the Giants’ home field at the Polo Grounds in Upper Manhattan. Both stadiums were demolished decades ago, but they were only 15 miles apart! Imagine two rival fan bases, in a late season showdown to determine who would go to the World Series, in the same city. Yeah. Intense. Anyways, the Dodgers came back with a vengeance and scorched the Giants 10 to nothing to even the series.

Wednesday, October 3rd – Game 3: 1:30 p.m., do or die time at the Polo Grounds, home of the NY Giants. Winner goes on to face the Yankees, loser goes home. The Dodgers struck first with a run in the top of the first inning. They held that lead until the bottom of the seventh, when Bobby Thomson (remember that name) drove in a run to tie it up at 1. The Dodgers struck back immediately in next inning, the score now 4 to 1. Jump ahead to the bottom of the ninth, the Giants needed a miracle to win the series. Three of the first four batters reached base, scoring one run, and setting up one of the most dramatic and defining moments in Major League history. Down 4 to 2, with two runners on base, Bobby Thomson stepped to the plate. First pitch, strike.

Second pitch, fastball up and in, Thomson turns on it and rips a screaming line drive down the left field line. That 3 run home, game winning home run instantly embedded that moment and Bobby Thomson into annals of baseball lore forever.

That radio call by the Giants’ play-by-play man Russ Hodges WMCA has been immortalized, having been played over and over throughout the decades, never losing its magic.

In the next day’s New York Herald Tribune, Red Smith wrote of the “Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff, “Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.”

The Giants went on to face the defending World Series Champion New York Yankees but were no match. The Yankees took care of business and won the best of 7 series in 6 games for their 3rd consecutive World Series title. The Yanks would go on to win the next two titles for 5 in a row!

Over the next 10 years, three of the eight National League would be relocated to other cities in the US. The Giants to San Francisco, the Dodgers to Los Angeles, and the Braves to Milwaukee. Baseball would never look the same. What a way to send off that early, great era of Major League Baseball.

*Coogan’s Bluff is a promontory overlooking the former sight of the Polo Grounds and is regarded as the boundary between the Harlem and Washington Heights neighborhoods in Upper Manhattan. Read the rest of Red Smith’s article here:



A funky dancing enthusiast, Ezra is Manhattan born but Bay Area raised. He has always gravitated toward the more obscure and misunderstood.  He is a traveler, taking time to explore the beautiful and expansive United States, before eventually taking on responsibility again.

@goldezra on twitter & @ezragold on instragram