Cunning Crow Books

Books, poems, and sketches by Dan Richman and friends


rachaelThey say one sign of nobility is the ability to accept a gift graciously. Some people seem to have a great deal of trouble doing that, even those who are generous to a fault when it comes to giving gifts themselves. Hand them a gift or do them a favor and they freeze and clam up. They become sullen, even angry, certainly resentful. It’s as if in receiving a gift or favor, they then feel obligated in a serious way, enslaved even, to the giver. It’s not enough for them to say thanks and mean it, I guess.

Walking past the store on the corner of 20th and Valencia today, a memory came up that illustrates for me that strange human problem better than anything else I can think of. Not long ago a Botanica stood there, una tienda latina that sold candles, incense, charms, religious statues, and so on. It also offered a service or two. One was the advice and skill of a brujo, a wizard. Read the rest of this entry »


Arm Signals

Young men are cursed with the need to display their worthdame for the benefit of other men and, of course, women. This male occupation we find throughout the living world. In the Mission District and elsewhere I’ve been interested in the symbology of arms. Guys – and in my long years of observation I’ve never seen a woman do this – who are driving cars or trucks stick their arms out the window, and how they do it means things.

My guess is a mere protruding elbow means, “I’m too old for this. I’m married. I have four kids. But still…check it out!” Next we find the entire forearm stretched along the window-sill, not hanging down at all, but resting horizontally. To me this says, “I’m not so bad-ass as I was last year, but look out anyway.”

Then we begin to get serious. An entire forearm will be hung out the window, straight down. Uh-oh. But check out the hand. If the palm is faced inward, toward the door, that’s one thing. But if the hand is turned so that the palm is facing out, that signifies a man who will face the whole goddam world if necessary, and with a bitter smile on his lips. But worst of all, if that turned-out hand holds a burning cigarette between its pointer and middle fingers – well, just hang back a little at the next red light. Don’t pull up next to the guy if you are not particularly interested in glaring contests, especially if you don’t want to listen to boom-boom music as loud as the end of the world.




My friend Jeff Whitley was a general building contractor around the time I was, and he told me this story.

He was converting a garage into an apartment on 5th or 6th Avenue, just off Lake Street. At the end of a day’s work, when all his guys had taken off and Jeff was about to lock up, an old woman appeared at the door.

She must have been in her eighties,” Jeff recalled. “But she still looked good – slim, good posture, high cheekbones, bright eyes. Must have been a knock-out years ago. She wore a heavy overcoat over pants and a sweater. All of it looked high-quality but ancient. ”

She was lost, she told Jeff. She couldn’t find her house. Could he possibly help her? Read the rest of this entry »