Cunning Crow Books

Books, poems, and sketches by Dan Richman and friends

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Houses that have been shut up for a while, that have had no humans living in them, or probably no animals either besides rats and mice and pigeons swarming on the sooty window-sills, are disturbing. I find that to be so, anyway, and having been a builder in San Francisco for more than thirty-five years, I’ve had the experience more than once of pushing open a stubborn door and setting foot on a creaky floor that hasn’t felt a human foot for months, maybe years.

That is, a living human foot.

I say that because I did see a ghost once. Read the rest of this entry »



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 »

Whatever Helps

I was out on 21st Street one foggy morning at 8:00 AM. A bluejay screamed down at me from one of the many wires that dissect the sky. Her metallic yelping pinged off the walls that rise on either side of the street. A woman hurrying down the sidewalk toward the bus-stop paused and asked me, “Is that bird squawking at you?” ”Yes,” I said. “She wants her cashew nuts.” Which was true. I had been feeding the jays every morning, but that morning had overslept. The woman laughed and said, “Thank you. I needed something to get through my day.” And she clattered off on her high heels.

Tigers in the Tank

A young Palestinian grocer friend of mine has a 50-gallon fish tank in his store on Douglas Street which is his pride and joy and the subject of many of our excited conversations, since I too am a “fish-fancier” (what a poetic expression!). Last night he told me that his oscars, potentially ferocious fish, had lived peacefully enough with gentle tank-mates, until his naughty cousins, keepers of the store while he vacationed, introduced live goldfish into the tank just to watch them be pursued and devoured by the oscars. Now, he says, they are are satisfied with nothing but live flesh, though for two years he had fed them “sliced turkey meat and they smiled.” The result is that every other fish in the tank, hitherto unmolested, has been devoured by the three devils. Read the rest of this entry »


Reading on the bus about African wildlife, I thought of a thing that happened twenty years ago, when I brought a girl-friend’s ten-year-old son to the SF Zoo. He was…well, how should I say it? A very bright, very bad boy. Insanely willfull, anyway. Completely contemptuous of authority. Zinging with energy, much of it malevolent. Though he and I got along well enough. I suppose he really needed a father and I was the guy with the long pants on for a while anyway. Read the rest of this entry »


Today, in the very last half hour of a strenuous carpentry project, I managed to drill my left hand with a screw gun – plow it like a harrow in soil.

Oh, the blood! It fell in big thick bright red drops. Right on the fresh redwood treads of the stairs I had built. It’s a good thing they’ll be painted.

How red my blood was! I don’t believe I’ve ever see anything redder than my blood this afternoon. Read the rest of this entry »

The Mussel Trap

My daughter Rachael told me she saw a young duck floundering on the mud-flats at low tide near Larkspur Creek in Marin County. On closer examination, it turned out the dumb duck had stepped into a carpet of open mussels, who of course snapped shut on her feet. So now the poor thing was held down by a black vise attached to a hundred others by those strings of theirs, while vainly trying to shake another off her other foot – with, naturally, the tide rising. Good souls showed up and with a shovel picked up the hysterical duck, mussels and all, pried them off the bird, then turned her over to the Animal Control people. I’m waiting for the movie of this – “Mussels From Hell.”

Stand-up Guys

Published in Medium 2014

Blessings upon the soul who shot the stand-off between the local Mission District boys and the techies, then later fed it into the internet for all the world to see. The Chronicle ran a front page article immediately after the video went viral. It was cleverly headlined, “Turf War,” but was subtitled something like, “More evidence of the lack of soccer fields in the city.” Read the rest of this entry »