Remembering ‘Pay Dirt!: San Francisco, The Romance of a Great City’

My late uncle Maury B. Campbell edited this lavish, spiral-bound love letter to San Francisco in 1949. As a child, I was a little scared of the old prospector on the cover but found myself drawn to the photographs inside. If you search for the book on Google, you’ll find it for sale (used) for $30 to $50.

Like Tony Bennet, I left my heart in this town and saw Pay Dirt as a book of dreams about the place where, one day, I would return. After all, the Campbell family could be found in multiple cities throughout the Bay Area where I was born.

The book comes to mind today because there was a thread about it in Facebook’s “San Francisco Remembered” group that my brother Barry and I follow. I said something like “nice to see the book edited by my uncle showing up here.” Barry did me one better, he posted the news release that came out when the book came out. That was a surprise to everyone but me (since I know Barry has scanned in copies of everything).

The book was, I believe, well received by the city’s movers and shakers and is in demand today by people who love Frisco. As for me, I went back a few times and briefly had an apartment there in the Mission District when my ship was in port in Alameda. The J Church streetcar ran past my front door (and still does). I looked at real estate values lately and see that the three-flat building where my aunt lived is now valued at over a million dollars. That’s why I never went back for good.

But, I digress; The news release begins like this:

After all these years, how nice to see people are still talking about it and looking for copies.


Refuge Eye shows us the world through the eyes of refugees

The world, and our understanding of it, expands when we read the stories from other cultures. The online hub Refugee Eye facilitates this wondrous expansion of our knowledge. In addition to its other work, Refugee Eye recently created a museum exhibit called “MY GAZA: A City In Photographs” which opened on March 11 and runs through May 8 at a new San Francisco gallery at 849 Valencia Street.

According to the organization’s website, Refugee Eye is a visual storytelling hub where we redirect the refugee’s content to the public, attempting to bridge between dual worlds in a time of building walls—adding up refugee perspectives to the public discourse by offering vivid stories from their exile environments.

​”Through Land and sea, millions of refugees leave everything behind to their uncertain fate. The towns and villages where we live or come from are getting connected more than ever before. So it’s inevitable for our progressing world to start collectively examining and thinking out the challenges we face. Refugee Eye is a home for personal narratives and a bridge between worlds. We spread awareness and spark creativity.”

Co-editor Lara Aburamadan said in a McSweeney’s interview, “We’re attempting to capture images that bring authentic experiences to the refugee policy debate at a time when the international community’s ability to respond to these crises is stretched thin. We hope to refute the stereotypes about refugees, spread empathy, and help lead the next generation of refugees by meaningfully contributing to local issues on the ground in our countries of origin and the U.S.” Her co-editor and co-founder is Jehad al-Saftawi.

The website will soon add an E-Zine. The site is looking for volunteers to help staff the gallery exhibit and to contribute their stories to the E-Zine. Interested parties can learn more at

Jehad al-Saftawi said that “Conceptually, Refugee Eye is the experience that refugees like us undergo when moving from everything they have ever known into a totally new environment, all in search of a sense of belonging.”

They have stories to tell us.


Here’s why you can’t go home again

You can’t go home again because, by the time you get there, they will have torn it down in the names of “progress” and “development.” Or, should you find your home, the neighborhood will be gone, especially the most historic homes and buildings that made the place what was.

Looking at Atlanta’s penchant for tearing down the historic old in favor of the nonessential new, the late historian Frankin Garrett called this so-called development “municipal vandalism.” I had the good fortune to know this man who had a great office filled with old reference books at the Atlanta History Center. He had a photographic memory of everything that ever happened in Atlanta, but was the most nostalgic and angry about landmarks that had been wantonly bulldozed for parking garages and new buildings without souls. Atlanta’s city planners learned their craft from General Sherman’s “urban renewal” work there in July of 1864.

When I was in high school, my mother told me my father couldn’t go home again because the natural forests and even the orchards of his youth had all succumbed to development. In many cases, houses–as Peter Seeger would sing about in “Little Boxes”–that were made of ticky tacky and looked all the same. I didn’t really understand what Mother meant until I reached the age my father was when she said it.

I have many memories of one of the first houses I knew as a child in Decatur, Illinois, a wonderful Queen Anne home with a beautiful vegetable garden and adjacent sidewalks which were perfect for my new tricycle. However, municipal vandals bought the land and tore the house down. This current patch of grass, entry drive way, and parking lot represent anti-progress:

Google Maps Photo

My brother, who still lives in Florida and makes occasional trips to Tallahassee, still drives past the house my parents owned between 1954 and 1986. When we closed up the house for good, the front yard was still filled with pine trees. The current owners have decided to celebrate concrete with a few landscaped areas for decoration. Our “personal fifty-acre wood” behind the house has now been converted to an “upscale” subdivision that can be seen from the backyard of this house where I grew up. I’ve seen both via Google Maps, but I haven’t been back since 1986 and that’s just as well, for I would probably destroy all that hardscape with dynamite and a backhoe:

My bedroom was the room on the far right. Google Maps Photo.

The older I get–and today’s my birthday–the longer my “municipal vandalism” list gets; places I never want to see again because of what people have done to them. My memories are much better than reality. I last saw San Francisco in 1987; I was surprised then by the amount of “development” that had occurred since my family lived there. “Progress” continues to occur, so I’ve retrieved my heart from that my city by the bay and hidden it in a forest that people have yet to “develop” into something that pales when contrasted with Nature’s work. I won’t bore you with my personal list of places where one bastard or another had no sense of history and/or no sense on the environment.

You probably have your own list.


P.S. I set my novels in the past because, in my imagination, it’s still there. The most recent of these is “Lena,” the third novel in my Florida Folk Magic Series.




Book Review: ‘Bitter Orange’ by Marshall Moore

Bitter Orange - Cover - 1600x2500 - 300dpiMarshall Moore follows his collection of enigmatic and delightfully twisted short stories, Infernal Republic, with an equally inventive novel about a character we can’t always see. Notice how protagonist Seth Harrington is already fading away on the book’s cover.

If Bitter Orange were a feature film showing at your local theater, a sign on the door would say: ABSOLUTELY NO ONE ADMITTED DURING THE LAST 15 MINUTES. The why of things doesn’t appear until the final pages and it’s well worth the wait.

The problem Seth Harrington thinks he has isn’t the worst problem he has. Personally impacted by 9/11, Harrington has allowed his days and nights to take on an out-of-focus aimless quality as though he isn’t engaged in his life. In spite of a fling with Elizabeth in Spain, he can’t connect with people, either because he isn’t sure of what, if anything, he wants or because others aren’t seeing him as he is.

Others not seeing him is the problem he thinks he has. By fits and starts, he is becoming invisible—literally. But unlike the daring-do characters out of comic books and high fantasy, Harrington not only can’t control his growing ability, he doesn’t seem inclined to use it to save the world or fight crime. In fact, he first uses it to steal a bottle of wine from a convenience store.

Other than his aimlessness, Harrington’s a likeable enough everyman trying to negotiate the world while getting past bitter memories and making sense of the seemingly random chaos of his daily life. In Spain, after telling Seth that Seville Oranges are bitter and bullfights are cruel, Elizabeth says, “So we came all this way for bitter oranges and cruelty to animals. And we meet here instead of back home in the States. What does that say about us?”

Back in San Francisco, Elizabeth—who becomes Seth’s tattoo artist of choice because she’s very good—wants to remain as important to him as she ever-so-briefly was in Spain. While Seth is, or potentially is, more attracted to his roommate Sang-hee (even Elizabeth begrudgingly sees it), he cannot seem to embrace the life he prefers. He speculates about just what that says about him.

As the invisibility problem becomes more complex, Seth travels to Portland and Las Vegas to try and find himself. He notes that the people in those towns can’t see him either. He feels bad taking advantage of that fact.

Marshall Moore tells an inventive story, one with prose as likeable as his protagonist, though some readers may want a  more highly focused plot. Moore keeps both the reader and his protagonist guessing about just how and why a man becomes invisible and whether the problem Harrington thinks he has is literal or figurative.

The solution to the problem provides a fitting climax to a well written, fanciful tale. Poor Seth: he didn’t see it coming.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy novels, including “The Seeker,” released this month by Vanilla Heart Publishing.