The Devil and Robert Johnson

I Can See Better Through the Fog is a storytelling podcast series in the vein of This American Life and the Moth. It tells the ongoing story of an echo boomer’s quarter life crises, featuring life, art, love, and San Francisco. Press the play button below to hear an audio recording of this latest entry. If it doesn’t work, you may need the latest version of flash software. (click here to download). Another troubleshooting tip would be to go directly to the soundcloud website. Sit back and let your ears do the work. The text version of this entry is provided beneath the list of selected tracks.

Runtime: 9 minutes and 30 seconds.

Selected tracks: Bob Dylan “The Times They Are A-Changin”, The Decemberists “A Cautionary Song” and Robert Johnson “Me and the Devil Blues”

A diffused blue hue hit my studio apartment at six in the morning. The sun’s light was filtered through layers of clouds and half closed window blinds. Jack was still asleep on the couch, curled underneath my spare comforter. Foghorns from the Golden Gate chimed in the distance as I stretched out in my bed.

It was only hours ago that I lay awake beside Jack, craving the entire twin sized bed to myself. That was something I was accustomed to having for the past twenty-five years of my life. “Are you awake?” I whispered. “Mmhmm,” Jack mumbled. I knew I had the option of asking him to sleep on the couch, as he had continuously offered throughout the night. He noticed I was unable to doze off with him sleeping in the bed. I capitalized on this out he gave me. “Can you sleep on the couch? It’s not personal, I just really need some sleep tonight. I volunteer early in the morning,” I barely squeezed the words out through an immensely apologetic baring of my teeth. I gave him a passionate kiss and reiterated that it wasn’t personal. The grip of his lips to my own clearly indicated no offense was taken. When my friends heard the story they were appalled that I “kicked him out of bed”. But in context I knew between Jack and I it was a rather sweet, charming, and memorable moment.

My long held fears, anxieties, and hesitations over sex had dissipated overnight. As I lay in bed, waiting to fall asleep after Jack’s embrace, I felt a rush of serenity. Jack’s acceptance and attraction had made my first time safe, special, and satisfying. Although the significance of this moment in my own history was not lost on me, it did not feel like the revelation I was expecting. It came with such ease which made me ask myself: What was I so afraid of for all these years?

Over the course of the next week Jack slept over twice more. We began to share more about ourselves. He met some my friends, and I met some of his. We watched movies, cuddled on the couch, had meals together. I found myself being more charming, witty, interesting, kind, and sexy than I ever thought possible. Upon closer analysis, I realized I had always had all of these qualities, I was no different than before I met Jack. It felt like a a key paragraph in a novel that is always there, but only becomes visible when a reader highlights it in neon yellow.

On Saturday night Jack stayed over again. We cuddled on the couch as we watched the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. We would sleep together afterward. Both of us, this time, in the same twin sized bed. Jack slept in Sunday morning as I read and made breakfast. At a quarter past ten, after noticing he had awoke, I climbed back into bed, making him the little spoon once again. “You ready for some breakfast?” I asked. He replied with a tired moan and then “But I like you right here.”

Before I finished cooking (eggs sunny side up, healthy ham from the skillet, and arugula on a toasted whole wheat English muffin with edamame hummus) I put a playlist from my itunes on shuffle. Mostly modern folk artists played: Fleet Foxes, The Decemberists, Edward Sharpe, Mumford and Sons, and Andrew Bird among others. Jack scoured through my music library, noting the recurring themes of folk, indie, and 80s new wave. I described to him the evolution of my musical tastes: 90s/00s pop to pop rock to alt rock which eventually branched into combinations of indie, folk, and electronic. “Slowly I’ve become more hyper-aware of lyrics,” I called out from the kitchen. “I think that’s why I’m into folkier stuff right now. Those songs are as much about telling a story as they are about giving your ears an orgasm.” I then cited Fleet Foxes’ recent hit “Helplessness Blues”, an ode to self analysis and the search for personal purpose. “The song speaks to me and marks, with surprising specificity, this time of my life,” I explained. Breakfast was now ready. Jack gave me a passionate “thank you” kiss. We shared songs all morning, back and forth. Folk from me, electronic from him.

——

Monday was another field trip day for Mr. Allen’s class. 826 Valencia in the Mission was today’s destination. Dave Egger’s non-profit center for reading and story writing. From the outside the building is very unassuming. Its windows are boarded up with only the numbers 8, 2, and 6 displayed. Once you’re inside it’s a different story.

Mr. Allen’s 4th graders examined the front room with awe. It was a lantern lit maze of wooden paneling, filled asymmetrical bookshelves, and various trinkets from famous literature. It was constructed to resemble the hull of a pirate ship. I’d never seen imagination brought into existence so tangibly. The design put Disneyland to shame.

The maze eventually opened up to an airy backroom, decorated with exquisitely designed rugs, long wooden tables and benches, and a projection screen sandwiched by two velvet curtains. A tall, slender man stood in front of the screen welcoming the students. Once everyone was settled he began his presentation. He performed with quick, animated, flamboyant movements, not unlike an exaggerated Pixar character. After establishing the most important elements to a good story (plot, setting, characters, arcs, originality), the cartoonish man brought up slides of an example story.

“Has everyone here heard of blues or folk music? Well this is the story of Robert Johnson, one of the most influential musicians in history, and how the Devil changed his life.” He went on to tell the story of the blues artist that inspired such folk legends as Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and Bruce Springsteen. Johnson was a terrible guitar player starting out. He was always out of tune. One day a man told him he could fix his inadequacy by waiting until midnight at a crossroad near the plantation in which he lived and worked. Johnson followed the man’s  advice and at midnight the Devil appeared. He took Johnson’s guitar, tuned it, played a few songs, and then returned the instrument. From that night forward, anytime Robert Johnson played his guitar and sang, pure brilliance followed. “All the Devil did was tune Robert’s guitar,” 826 Valencia’s doscent reiterated. “He was always playing the right chords, he just needed someone to adjust the tension in his strings.”

Advertisements

Jalapeño Bagels and a Little Spoon

I Can See Better Through the Fog is a storytelling podcast series in the vein of This American Life and the Moth. It tells the ongoing story of an echo boomer’s quarter life crises, featuring life, art, love, and San Francisco. Press the play button below to hear an audio recording of this latest entry. If it doesn’t work, you may need the latest version of flash software. (click here to download). Another troubleshooting tip would be to go directly to the soundcloud website. Sit back and let your ears do the work. The text version of this entry is provided beneath the list of selected tracks.

Runtime: 8 minutes and 44 seconds.

Selected tracks: Gorillaz “Superfast Jellyfish”, Belle & Sebastian “To Be Myself Completely”, and Bon Iver “Perth”

The jalapeños singed beneath a layer of melting cheese until their corners were black and crusty. Sizzling noises coming from the oven indicated to the cashier that my order of bagels were ready. She pulled out the tray and placed the fresh batch of jalapeño bagels into a brown bag. “Bet you’re glad you can have bread again,” the old Jewish woman behind the counter commented. She could only be referring to Passover, the most recent Jewish holiday past that includes a tradition of eating a special cracker instead of bread. With the last name she saw on my check card, and my unmistakable facial features, it was easy for her to guess I shared in her cultural heritage. I gave her a warm smile, a minimalist response. I was disinterested in getting into complicated specifics about how I was raised as a Reform Jew, but gave up most of the traditions and beliefs long ago.

I walked back to Ms. C’s class with the brown bag tucked under my right arm and my coffee glued to my left hand. When I reentered the classroom, the 2nd graders had already begun reading Jalapeño Bagels, a story about a boy who has a Mexican mother and a Jewish father. It was an especially accessible story to Ms. C’s class; they are all Spanish speaking ESL students. As I cut the bagels and prepared them for snack time, Sara, a girl I’d sat and read with several times, turned to me and asked, “Do you have a wife?” I kept cutting the bagels. “No.” It was another one of my minimalist responses. I wasn’t interested in explaining the whole a boy can have a boyfriend thing. “A girlfriend?” I began spreading the cream cheese. “No.” She kept her attention on me, dissatisfied with my one word answers. “So you’re single?” I cut the bagel in half and handed it to her. “Yup.” She took it and then replied, “Oh, ok.” She finally looked satisfied as she took small nibbles off the bagel.

—–

My cold feet toasted beneath Jack’s warm toes. “Cold feet, how torturously, hilariously coincidental,” I thought to myself. Usually I voice such play-on-word jokes, but that felt pretty awkward considering the two of us were essentially cuddling with a blanket over us. I still had not mustered up the courage to kiss him. One week after the awkward movie night, we found ourselves again on my loveseat, now watching a live feed of Coachella. The mood was quiet and romantic, as we enjoyed Bon Iver perform. What we were really waiting for was Radiohead. They were on next.

As we waited and listened we talked a little about our families’ histories. My own ran deep into San Francisco’s Jewish community. He was a first generation American who’s parents were born and raised in Mexico. Radiohead came on at eleven and played a two hour set. They were even better than when I’d seen them live three days prior. During their whole performance I could not get one of Jack’s tattoos out of my mind. On his back, just below his left shoulder, “Little Spoon” was scribbled in permanent black cursive. Radiohead finished their set past one a.m. Jack recognized my sleepiness and offered to crash on the floor for the night and take Muni back to his place in the morning. I obliged, only insisting I drive him home in the morning.

He sat patiently on the couch as I got a spare comforter from my closet. When I returned I had gathered enough courage to bashfully ask, “Do you want to be the little spoon tonight?” Jack smiled, and responded simply “Uh huh.” When we got into bed we both laid on our sides. Jack grabbed my arm and draped it over his torso. He held my hand lightly, giving it a subtle rub from time to time. Meanwhile, I was practically trembling in the dark. He could no doubt feel the physical manifestation of my anxiousness. “You don’t seem comfortable,” he whispered. “I’m used to sleeping by myself is all,” I answered. “Let me try sleeping on my back.” I shifted. He kept my arm around himself as I did. “Is that better?” he checked in. “Much better. But there’s one last thing I need before I can sleep comfortably.” I rotated my face to meet his. Then I kissed him. Although I intended to keep it short, Jack wouldn’t let me stop. Our embrace under the covers lasted for a couple minutes.

Finally, I lay on my back, adrenaline pumping, as I stared up at the white ceiling beam above my bed. I was not going to fall asleep. The gravity of the moment, and my adjustment to sleeping with another’s body in so close proximity for the first time, would not let me do so. Jack curled my arm around his shoulders. He was tucked under my right arm and used my pectoral as a pillow. Without moving he mentioned he had forgotten to ask about my past relationships when he had told me about his own. I waited for a moment, neither eager nor afraid to reveal my blank past. “None to speak of,” I told him. It was my third minimalist response in forty-eight hours. “Does that make you worry,” I asked. He thought for a couple seconds, continuing to use my chest as his pillow. “No,” he replied, in his own minimalist response.

Idle Worship / American Idyll / Idol Moments

I Can See Better Through the Fog is a storytelling podcast series in the vein of This American Life and the Moth. It tells the ongoing story of an echo boomer’s quarter life crises, featuring life, art, love, and San Francisco. Press the play button below to hear an audio recording of this latest entry. If it doesn’t work, you may need the latest version of flash software. (click here to download). Another troubleshooting tip would be to go directly to the soundcloud website. Sit back and let your ears do the work. The text version of this entry is provided beneath the list of selected tracks.

Runtime: 10 minutes and 57 seconds

Selected tracks: Radiohead “Morning Mr. Magpie”, “No Surprises”, and “Reckoner”

My feet glided in a circular motion on the elliptical. Beads of sweat ran down my cheeks and dripped from my chin. I barely noticed the steady, yet speedy, pace I kept. The music I’d carefully chosen had a quick beat and was dark and moody; suitable for both cardio and reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I remained engaged and distracted….for a time. Halfway into my hourlong exercise, two men on bike machines behind me began conversing. This wasn’t the first time I was forced to listen to the two talk, although its always really only one of the two that does all the talking.

The Talker is old and gaunt. By his looks, it’s unclear if he’s entering old age early, or is already old and holding onto a wirey middle aged body. His thinness and dry, wrinkled skin hints at current or past drug abuse. His dark grey handle bar mustache is accentuated by the blue bandana that always covers his forehead. Today he went on about Oedipus. “You ever heard of this guy Oedipus from Greek mythology? He was this guy that killed his father and married his mother.” The Talker barely stopped for a response. “What kind of sicko does a thing like that? I mean c’mon.” He was as loud and abrasive as ever, despite going on about a subject that didn’t warrant the assumed volume and intensity. As he went on about Oedipus, I began to recognize he had many of his facts wrong from the original myth, despite getting the just of the story.

He went on and on. From Oedipus to Frued and on to incest. “Diversity in your DNA is really important. You can get to be pretty fucked up if you don’t.” At this point paying attention to my music and my book was impossible. As my hour on the elliptical came to a close, I felt tempted to approach the Talker and confront him. I knew better, however. He was technically not breaking any gym rules, only social ones. I did not foresee either a civil conversation or a foregone solution. I was simply going to have to live with the talking. Once I came to this conclusion, I found myself strangely admiring one aspect of the Talker: his social vivaciousness. True, his choices of topic and voice volume were mostly undesirable, but he still could steer a conversation wherever he so desired. This is a key skill I’ve been trying to hone amongst friends and, most focally, on romantic interests.

I was able to read one last paragraph from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo before I got off the elliptical.

“She had been sharing a house with him a week and he had not once flirted with her. He had worked with her, asked her opinion, slapped her on the knuckles figuratively speaking when she was on the wrong track, and acknowledged that she was right when she corrected him. Dammit, he had treated her like a human being. She got out of bed and stood by the window, restlessly peering into the dark. The hardest thing for her was to show herself naked to another person for the first time.

Seeing a lot of my introverted self in the quiet, antisocial, enigmatic character Lisbeth Salander, this last excerpt stood my neck hairs on end. I became distracted again as I reflected back upon my latest romantic moment.

—–

We sat on opposite ends of my black loveseat. Both of us leaned against our own arm of the miniature sofa, unsure if any touch would be welcomed. Compounding the awkwardness, the British comedy I’d picked for us to watch was painfully slow and confusing. I invited this guy named Jack over to watch a movie. He was the last guy I’d been on a date with who I met on OkCupid. We hadn’t hit it off on our first date, but he was a nice guy that enjoyed my company.

I cringed during Brendan Gleeson’s scenes. His utterances were barely decipherable through his thick Irish accent. Every once in a while I’d voice a fleeting thought about the film, trying to break the uncomfortable mood. Jack would smile and respond. I’d keep it short, unsure if he wanted more to watch the movie or talk. Once the torture was over, we began a conversation that lasted over an hour. He showed me some of his tattoos and explained their meaning. He then asked me if I had any tattoos. “No,” I responded. “I can understand why you have them though. It reminds you of things that are important in your life. I get it. My life changes so much, so quickly. Yes I have values that don’t change. And yes I have friends that remain friends almost permanently. But a tattoo is so final. I don’t want something on me permanently that might not be as significant in my life down the road. I don’t want to continue looking at it if I don’t want to. But, again, I can understand it working for other people, like you for instance.”

As the hour wore on, I was surprised at both my ability to keep the conversation going and in my personal openness. Jack was sweet, kind, and polite. He had this charming way of being both boyish and gentlemanly. At the end of the night, I walked Jack to my building’s front door. “What are you up to this week?” he inquired. “Working, volunteering, and I’m going to a bunch of concerts. Radiohead and Andrew Bird.” His eyes lit up with excitement. “I’ve been trying to see Radiohead for years! I’m so jealous!” I laughed and told him I would let him know how it was. I hugged him goodnight, unsure if he, or I, was interested in more than just that.

——

Suspended yards above Thom Yorke, ten large lcd screens dangled from thin, black wiring. They flickered green static and images of all Yorke’s bandmates. The enormous screen behind them resembled a calm body of water. Radiohead was in the middle of playing “Reckoner”, their last song before two encore sets. As the song came to its close, Yorke bowed and exited the stage. The entire stadium of fans roared.

They idolized, and idealized, Yorke and his bandmates for the musical creation they produced and performed. Radiohead creates stunning, exceptional art, making it easy to forget that they are human like the rest of us. It’s difficult, for me personally, to build up enough self esteem to excel at anything when I’m idealizing whomever, whether an artist, a friend, a romantic interest, or otherwise. I’m constantly guilty of idolizing and idealizing. It can be socially, creatively, and professionally paralyzing when I believe I’m not participating at the same level I imagine others are.

On my way to the car after the concert, I texted Jack, confirming plans to get together for dinner over the weekend. Consciously I resisted the urge to imagine any idyllic moments with him. And I muted my overly analytical mind when it tried to idealize him. The subtle ways he showed his interest had caused me to gradually grow attracted to him. This was the bottom line. The rest, I told myself, I would let materialize in present moment thought and action.

De Tales

I Can See Better Through the Fog is a storytelling podcast series in the vein of This American Life and the Moth. It tells the ongoing story of an echo boomer’s quarter life crises, featuring life, art, love, and San Francisco. Press the play button below to hear an audio recording of this latest entry. If it doesn’t work, you may need the latest version of flash software. (click here to download). Another troubleshooting tip would be to go directly to the soundcloud website. Sit back and let your ears do the work. The text version of this entry is provided beneath the list of selected tracks.

Runtime: 7 minutes and 3 seconds.

Selected tracks: The Strokes “Machu Picchu” and The Talking Heads “The Book I Read”

Mr. Allen massaged the torn paper towel until it was flat atop his stool. He then dipped a butter knife into a jar of strawberry jam. Gripping the jellied knife, he moved his hand toward the flat paper towel. His class looked on in anguish. They sat on the rug facing their teacher. Many of the kids yelled out, trying to correct Mr. Allen’s actions. He continued bringing the jellied knife closer to the fresh paper towel. Until… Spreading the strawberry jam, he moistening the once dry paper towel. His entire class groaned in disapproval. “But that’s what the directions told me to do,” Mr. Allen shrugged his shoulders and threw up his hands. He wore a smug smile across his bearded face. “I guess this is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, because I followed all the directions.” He placed a piece of bread on the jellied paper towel, drew it up toward his mouth and prepared to take a bite.

The PB & J sandwich making activity was a lesson in following multi-step instructions. Standardized district wide testing was coming in a week. Mr. Allen was prepping his students for questions involving multiple directions. He asked his kids to write down, step by step, how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He then followed their directions. “I’m gonna be soooo hungry during lunch.” I chuckled as I sat on a chair behind the kids.

After I left behind a career in filmmaking, I began volunteering at elementary schools. It’s served as my exploratory phase into the field of education. Working with Mr. Allen has been different than all of my other experiences in the classroom. Before his class, I was accustomed to giving individual attention to small groups of kids. The majority of my learning in his class has been observational, rather than hands on. He plans a perfectly scheduled and balanced curriculum. And his lessons tend to require, and receive, full, uninterrupted attention. Mr. Allen uses teaching as his creative outlet. He does not just teach, he performs. And, it seems, he does not just rest on his improv, but continuously brings great material to class each day. Many times it feels like I’m watching Paul Rudd perform monologues written by Woody Allen, only aimed at children.

“None of these instructions you guys wrote down actually help me make my sandwich,” Mr. Allen continued. “What’s missing from all of your instructions?” He called on a girl with a fidgety, outstretched arm. She answered. “More details.” Mr. Allen walked over to the white board and wrote “details” in green. “Exactly. Suspend your belief for a second guys. What if I didn’t know how to make PB & J? Think for a second. Don’t skip,” he paused and held the peanut butter up, covering the PY on the Skippy label, “over any detail.” He wagged his pointer finger in a “no” gesture.

When Mr. Allen finished his lesson, I got a chance to sit and read with one of the kids. A girl named Mary, who spoke Spanish as a first language, needed to practice both reading comprehension and the pronunciation of her Ys, Js, and TH’s. I listened to her read Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. Whenever she came across a word with a TH, she’d pronounce it as if it were a D. “Brodder. Brodder.” I corrected her each time, then had her repeat the sound and then the word. “Brother. Brother. Brudder. Brother. Bru THhhher. Beh ru THer. Th. Th. Th. Er.” Despite her stumbles, she got through a respectable number of pages with my help.

Creating a bridge between Mary’s synapses was both engaging and ephemeral. I lost myself in the activity, much like I had in all phases of film production, from pre to post. Producing and sharing my ideas and stories with a mixture of moving pictures, words, and music brought such vibrancy, purpose, and community to my life. Since I gave up film, I’ve felt a creative void. In Mr. Allen’s class I’ve noticed myself longing for more one on one tutoring opportunities, like the one I had with Mary. Despite this, something vital, is apparent in Mr. Allen’s classroom. There are other options to spur and release creativity.

The lunch bell rang which signalled the end to my day. Mr. Allen excused his students. He then tossed the dirtied paper towel from earlier into a trash bin, with the residue of his lesson permanently absorbed.

Liz Le Man on Fire

I Can See Better Through the Fog is a storytelling podcast series in the vein of This American Life and the Moth. It tells the ongoing story of an echo boomer’s quarter life crises, featuring life, art, love, and San Francisco. Press the play button below to hear an audio recording of this latest entry. If it doesn’t work, you may need the latest version of flash software. (click here to download). Another troubleshooting tip would be to go directly to the soundcloud website. Sit back and let your ears do the work. The text version of this entry is provided beneath the list of selected tracks.

Runtime: 6 minutes and 15 seconds.

Selected tracks: The Heart’s A Lonely Hunter and Man on Fire

“I’m Max,” I introduced myself with a smile. The girl slipping into the booth across from me met my outstretched hand while reciprocating my smile with one of her own. “Lizzy.” Her hair was done Franklin Pierce style. Curly and swooshed to the right. Next to her sat my good friend Paola. In front of her rested a pint of Stella. It shimmered amidst the bar’s faint glow. Paola and I first met at work nearly a year ago. Over the course of the past two months we had become close. Her grandiose love affairs and minimalistic life style were and are both fascinating and inspirational to me. I find myself often living vicariously through her and assuming some of her habits that I so admire.

For the next hour, the three of us nursed our drinks. Paola knew Lizzy through her roomate Remy. They go to college together, but first met elsewhere. One morning Remy was late for the bus to class. Lizzy was as well. The two rushed together to catch it. Once on board, Lizzy discovered that he was just as outgoing as she was. “It didn’t surprise me at all when Remy told me he was a Libra,” Lizzy explained. “We Libras are best when we herd together.” Her witty and energetic sense of humor emanated from the crystalized green eyes behind her trendy thin glasses. “I guess that would make you and Remy Libros,” I joked. Lizzy laughed and turned to Paola. “I like this guy already.” I relayed how I knew Paola, followed by a short history of my coming out and dating record. We then migrated a mile west, away from the Mission, to meet up with some of Lizzy and Paola’s friends in the Castro.

Per usual, I found myself the lone gay man grouped with a league of lesbians. Glancing around the bar I noticed multiple guys I’d went on first dates with. This was my first venture to the bars since I deleted my account from the dating site where I originally met all of them. I kept my attention on Paola, Lizzy, and the rest of the lesbians, content not to make contact with any of the men from my digital age. “Sometimes I feel like Liz Lemon,” Lizzy admitted. “I’m just this nerd that screws up all my best opportunities.” I chuckled, then added,”I feel the same way, even though I’m not as quick or witty as her, or you. I guess you might call me a Liz Le Man.”

As the night wore on, a guy in the bar continued to catch my eye. His checkered black button up was tight in all the right places: shoulders, back, torso, chest and biceps. The nose was large, but it had a beautiful shape and blended nicely with the rest of his face, which was topped by long, dry, brown hair that was spiked forward. I looked over at Paola who was caught up in conversation with a girl Lizzy had set her up with. I turned to Lizzy and gave her a nudge. “See the guy in the black checkered shirt.” She looked his way and then gave me a flirtatious smile. “You want me to go talk to him for you?” I hesitated. After being so charming and outgoing with Lizzy I felt frustrated that I’d returned to my usual introversion and timidness toward strangers. Before I could answer, Lizzy walked out of my view and began talking to the guy in checkered black. She then ushered him over. “I’m Amato,” the guy in checkered black introduced himself with a thick Italian accent. I stretched my hand out to meet his. “I’m Max.”