Forgiveness

Since coming out and fully embracing my attraction to men, I’ve only been able to wonder what kind of reaction it would illicit from the devout Mormon friends I had as a kid. We’re all adults now. Most of my childhood friends are married with children, so says Facebook. In the year since coming out, I caught up rapidly on adulthood, going on upwards of twenty dates, sleeping with a few men, and now on the verge of a full fledged relationship.

Sex and romance are delicately intertwined with adulthood and maturity, as I have observed over the past year. Experiencing it distances us from our parents and mentors, allowing us to see them as human and not unlike ourselves.

I’d always thought I needed the acceptance and embrace of my childhood friends to feel whole. The hateful, exclusive attitudes toward same sex partnership embedded in my friends’ minds by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came to life in day to day conversations and constant homophobic aphorisms. Although they were never directed at me personally, as I didn’t come out until the age of 25, they had a long lasting, tragic impact on my psyche. It made me feel like I could not become a respected and enjoyable man without a female partner.

Through close analysis of my deep anxieties, I’ve managed to repair much of the damage I helplessly let occur. Now, as I have done for many years past, I sit and wonder what it would be like to be in the same room as my childhood friends, with all the cards left out on the table. Would I need their acceptance and embrace anymore?

Probably not as much as I needed it in the past. But in these times of rapidly changing social norms and attitudes toward same sex partnership (we were friends during both the Reagan and ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ eras), perhaps I would be surprised by their current response. There’s nothing quite like the catharsis provided by forgiveness, whether or not it is preceded by an apology.

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Carry the One

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, love, music, and San Francisco. Press the play button below to hear an audio recording of this latest entry or listen to it on iTunes. 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 23 seconds.

Selected tracks: Grizzly Bear “Cheerleader” and Band of Horses (covering Grizzly Bear) “Plans”

The elementary school’s cafeteria lay still and empty. My steps echoed through the halls filled with vacant classrooms. I stopped in front of a dining bench, pivoting to survey the vast, vacant space. After taking a deep breath, I took a sip from my coffee thermos. The Dark Sumatra blend sizzled on the tip of my tongue and cooled as it trickled down to the bottom of my throat. A large refrigerator hummed from the kitchen, yet I could now distinguish a faint set of voices coming from a classroom just outside the cafeteria. My tutoring supplies shifted softly inside my backpack as I made my way toward the voices.

A Harry Potter reading poster covered most of the square window at the top of the classroom door where the voices were coming from. Tilting my head to its side, I peeked through what little peep space was provided by the poster. A young Asian woman, with a short, stylish bob hairdo, and a white summer child care t-shirt sat in a tiny chair next to a child of maybe seven. I tilted my head further, which revealed more kids inside the classroom.

I opened the door cautiously, as to not abruptly interrupt their activity. The child care teacher directed her attention to me as I crept inside. “Hi. I’m here to tutor Jose. Mari said you would be here waiting for me,” I said softly. “You must be Max,” the young Asian woman said smiling. She came up to me and shook my hand. “Teresa,” she introduced herself, then walked over to a black binder atop a bookcase beside the door.

“Jose isn’t here today. Although he’s supposed to be.” She began flipping through the binder until she came to a page she examined. “Let me see if he’s coming in later today.” Teresa scanned the page of phone numbers with her pointer finger until she stopped on what had to have been Jose’s. She cradled the binder and carried it two steps to the classroom phone.

While waiting for Teresa to get an answer, I scanned the room. There were two other adults aside from her with a mix of fifteen or so students. Some were Spanish speakers, and some were Cantonese speakers. I recognized Gloria, a student from Ms. C’s class. She smiled when her eyes met mine, then ran over and gave me a big hug. “Hi,” I said. “I know you’re excited, but are you supposed to be working on something?” Gloria nodded. “Math homework,” she said with regret. As Gloria returned to her seat Teresa got a hold of Jose’s father.

“He’s in Mexico?” she repeated for clarification. “Family emergency? And when will he be back? Hm. Alright. Let us know when he’s back.” It was the second student I’d lost over the summer to a family emergency in Mexico. Which made me wonder if the cases had similarities and what the whole story was in each case.

Teresa bit her lower lip in thought. She then rotated her head, looking at a student working from a math workbook at the table nearest her. “Jonathan, you’re in Ms. C’s class next year, right?” Jonathan looked up from his workbook and nodded. Teresa looked back at me. “Jonathan could use some help with his math. Could you work with him every Monday until Jose gets back?”

“That’ll be great,” I told her. With that I walked over to Jonathan and sat in the tiny chair next to him. “Is it ok if I sit here and work on this math with you Jonathan?” I asked. The whimsical smile accompanying his nod caught me off guard. It was an unusually friendly and welcoming gesture for a kid to give a stranger. “I’m Max,” I introduced myself.

Looking over his workbook, I became anxious. It was all in Spanish. I was going to need to decipher some of the questions before I could think of helping him. My eyes drew first to the words I knew. From there I inferred what the directions were. It was a variety of first grade math problems. Jonathan seemed to be struggling the most with double digit addition problems. “Let’s start with this one,” I told him, pointing to the equation 61+77. I then pulled out the building blocks I’d used in a game with Luna earlier in the summer to give Jonathan a visual aid and proceded to teach him about the ones and tens columns.

Something Old

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, love, music, and San Francisco. Press the play button below to hear an audio recording of this latest entry or listen to it on iTunes. 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 3 seconds.

Selected tracks: Regina Spektor “Small Town Moon”, David Byrne & St. Vincent “Who” and Beach House “Myth”

The dry cleaning dangling from my right hand grazed the glass front door of my father’s midtown house-turned-duplex. I turned the key then pushed the door open with my left shoulder. Despite the solstice not being for another two weeks, Sacramento’s summer waited for me in my father’s lower unit. His place was silent, save for the pre-summer wind whistling through the window crevices. My dad was away for the afternoon at a recently deceased colleague’s memorial.

As I walked into the dining room I noticed opened moving boxes on the table. Strewn out beside them were heaps of photographs. Some small, some large. Some were even panoramic. They were a mixture of color and black and white prints. I draped my dry cleaning over a chair. The plastic coating over it purred softly as it came to rest. I sat down, looking over the scattered piles of captured memories.

At first it appeared my father was preparing for my best friend from childhood’s wedding. That was in fact why I was in town for the weekend, Frances’s wedding. On the top of the many piles of pictures was one of me, Frances, and Mitch, her high school sweetheart, and now her husband to be. In the 8×8 color print we stood together outside my childhood suburban home, dressed for junior prom. Our legs were kicked up to the right in unison. We were posed in the can-can dance position. Smiles were spread across our faces. Behind my own was a nervousness more complicated than the picture could possibly show.

I went with a beautiful girl who was a year ahead of me in school. She was my co-anchor on the daily morning announcements. Her intensely curly, blonde highlighted hair, sparkling green eyes, and bubbly personality appealed to droves of other boys. I asked her because I enjoyed being around her infectious positive energy and it seemed the easiest “yes” to get from anyone. She was a friend beyond anything else. Our prom together was enjoyable, but I kept it even tamer than a G rating. I didn’t even to attempt to kiss her at the end of the night. Part of that was a fear of rejection and the other part being a stronger interest in the boys. But at that point, I hadn’t given much thought to dating guys. Asking them to the prom seemed out of the question.

I began flipping through the black and white pictures eventually coming to one of my grandmother in her wedding dress. Her posture was better than I had ever known. Perhaps she was past 5 foot at her wedding. I’ve known her only in her below 5 foot days. She’s seemingly shrunk in height, but not personality, each passing year.

Noticing many pictures of my deceased grandfather, I remembered my father had organized a memorial hike for him in a few weeks time. Maybe this was why he took all the pictures out. To find one to bring to the hike. I stumbled across a picture of my grandfather at my Uncle Steve’s bar mitzvah. He stared stoically into the camera. A tallit was draped over his shoulders and a yamaka rested on his head. His facial expression dictated: “I really don’t know why you have to take this picture, but if you must, go ahead, I’ll play along.” It’s the sort of attitude you want subjects to have in a photograph. A sort of truth comes out when people are just able to be themselves despite the camera’s gaze. So often moments captured on film fail to give a true depiction of a person or time because people adjust themselves to what they think the camera wants: a smile, a weird face, a respectable posture. Once the camera’s off them, they return to their natural state.

Dogs, however, are naturals when it comes to being photographed. They don’t know any better. I flipped through some pictures of Buddy, our old golden retriever. In one photo, he lay in the grass, soaking in the sun. However, in many of the pictures he refuses to face the camera, not knowing what my dad wanted from him. So maybe dogs are not always the most photogenic creatures, but they still know how to properly ignore the camera.

I moved back over to the black and white pictures. I then came across a photograph I had wondered if was in existence: my grandparents’ house as it was being built by my grandfather. I gripped the picture and sat back in my chair, staring at the wooden skeleton. The design was unmistakeable: steep sloping driveway, pointed roof to the left, and a long, ranch style frame to the right. In the distance were the tree laden hills of Marin County. In the 4×4 print the carpenters atop the tiny forest of wooden beams were barely visible.

Setting the picture back down on the table, tears started to form. It was my father’s home. It was my grandfather, the renaissance man, doing the work he loved and was revered for. It was the home I used for months before finding a place to live in San Francisco. It was the home my grandmother had to rent out because she couldn’t live there any longer without full time care. Time stood still as I continued to stare at the picture. I’d known this house in its finished form all my life. It’s the only way I knew it. Which left me taking it for granted, believing it eternally existed. The memory captured in the picture had become immortal. Yet, it was also a stinging reminder that all things in life, and life itself, have a beginning and end.

My dad walked in just as I was moving onto more current photos. “How was the memorial?” I asked him. “Hard,” he responded. “I knew Carol for a very long time. She was a really great person. Wish I had known her better.” He went to the kitchen. His keys jingled as he set them down on the counter.

“Are all these pictures out because you’re picking one to give Frances and Mitch tonight at the wedding, or for grandpa’s memorial hike?” My dad walked back into the dining room with a glass of pineapple juice. “Actually, it’s for your Aunt Shirley’s memorial.” I felt ashamed to have forgotten the most recent in the family’s long list of passings. “Oh, right,” I said somberly. “So you went to Jeremy’s graduation last week.” I reminded him of his nephew’s graduation. “And a memorial earlier and a wedding later today. How does it feel to be involved in such different types of ceremonies?”

My dad gave out a long sigh as he leaned on a chair. “They’re all celebrations of life really. Youthful achievements, unions, and honoring the entire arc of a person’s life. They just celebrate different blocks of life.” My dad shrugged, not knowing what else to say. I nodded in understanding, agreement, and satisfaction over the content and brevity of his answer. He took a sip from his glass and looked thoughtfully out the window at the trees blowing in the wind. With that I peeled back the protective plastic sheet covering my dry cleaning and began to get ready for Frances and Mitch’s wedding.

Apartment 14

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, love, music, and San Francisco. Press the play button below to hear an audio recording of this latest entry or listen to it on iTunes. 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 56 seconds.

Selected tracks: Danger Mouse, Daniele Luppi, & Norah Jones “Black”, Vampire Weekend “California English”, and Beat Connection “Invisible Cities”

Ricardo, Luna’s father, lead me through a series of dimly lit halls. The maze leading to his family’s unit, inside their Tenderloin District apartment building, was lined with eroding white walls and stained 70s style carpeting. We turned a corner and went up a set of stairs. A window followed us up a floor.

The sun’s light trickled in through the thin gap between the window and the brick wall outside of it. I peered outside as I climbed, noticing the dark rusted fire escape that was wedged between the two buildings.

Finally we reached apartment 14. Luna stood bashfully in the front doorway. Her brown hair was done in pigtails. Each of her two braids were held together by thick, blue hairbands made from elastic fabric. I crouched down so that my eyes were even level with hers.

“Hi Luna. You remember me?” She looked up at her father, then nervously smiled and nodded at me. “Max.” I reintroduced myself, putting out my hand. She shook it. Ricardo motioned invitingly for me to step into the apartment. He said something to Luna in Spanish which made her disappear momentarily into the kitchen.

It was a one room apartment, with a single window that gave the same restricted view as the one in the stairwell. The rug was dark green, making it feel ever darker in the room than in the apartment building’s hallway. I waited for Luna, eyeing two bunk buds that took up half the apartment.

Luna returned with a bulky set of flashcards, held together by a flimsy rubber band. She handed them to me. The first card read “laugh”. I turned to Ricardo. “This is great! Esta fantastico,” I said ecstatically. I flipped through the flashcards as Luna and her father took me two steps further into the apartment, into the kitchen.

Luna sat across from me at a circular, wooden table pushed against the wall, as to keep maneuvering room for the cooking area. I zipped open my backpack, pulling out some of the materials Ms. C. had given me to use. Ricardo set up a chair in the doorway between the kitchen and the main room. He sat and watched attentively as I pulled a cluster of first grade level books out of a plastic ziplock bag. I shared the front cover and title of each book with Luna. Once all the books were spread across the table, I asked her to pick one. “Mean Bean,” she said, pointing to the book with the most animated and colorful characters on any of the covers.

It was comforting to have my mother’s thirty years experience as an elementary school and special education teacher to lean on. Using the strategy she had recommended, I stopped after each page and asked Luna about the pictures she saw. “What are those?” Luna pointed at one of the pictures. “They’re his eyebrows,” I told her as I rubbed my own dark, bushy brows. “Oh,” she said. She then rubbed her own brows. “Sejas,” she said.

Periodically Ricardo would comment in Spanish, using an English word here and there, repeating some of what I was teaching his daughter. “Why do you think Mean Bean was so mean?” I asked Luna at the end of the story. “Because he wasn’t happy,” she stuttered.

Ten minutes were left in our hour long tutoring session. I pulled out a couple games from my backpack: a deck of cards, bingo, dice, and a set of multicolored, plastic building blocks. I let Luna choose which game she wanted to play. She placed a hand on the blocks. “This,” she said. “Ok,” I responded. “I’ve got a game we can play with those.” I grabbed the two dice. “We’ll take turns rolling the dice. However much is on the dice, is how many blocks we get to use that turn.” With that, I rolled my die. It rotated until it rested on a three. I took three blocks, two pink and one blue, and connected them in a straight line. “You get how to play?” I checked in. Luna nodded.

As the game progressed, the structure I made with my blocks became more and more avant guarde. Luna’s closed in on a recognizable figure. “That looks like a person jumping,” I commented. Luna pointed back to the cover of “Mean Bean”. “It’s him,” she said.

At twelve noon we cleaned up the table occupied by blocks and books. Ricardo said something to Luna in Spanish again as I was repacking my backpack. Luna then spoke up. “I have books in English.” She led me back into the main room and showed me a pile of kids books in English. “Will you pick a book out to read to me for next time?” She nodded and smiled more confidently this time. I turned to her father and communicated in the best Spanish I could call upon. “El mismo tiempo en jueves es beuno?” Ricardo nodded and responded, “Si.”

I walked back through the dark maze. Outside the brick apartment building pigeons nibbled at cornbread that was stuffed in a bent aluminum tray in the gutter. I took a deep breath of fresh air, intensifying and embalming the high I felt.

Whoa Nelly!

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, love, music, and San Francisco. Press the play button below to hear an audio recording of this latest entry or listen to it on iTunes. 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 43 seconds.

Selected tracks: The Whoa Nellies! “I Call Your Name” and Quinton Sung (8-Bit cover of Radiohead) “Paranoid Android”

An evening fog creeped over the hill separating Noe Valley from the Castro. I gazed at it in the distance, beyond the tennis courts of Dolores Park, beyond Dolores Street pedestrians, and beyond the busty lead singer of the Whoa Nellies!, who swiveled her broad hips like Elvis Presley inside Dolores Park Cafe. A coffee drenched piece of chocolate chip cookie waited in my lobster claw to be eaten.

The local band’s drummer, a friend from work, pounded away at the drums with his usual humorous style: somewhere between Jeff Bridges’ ‘The Dude’ and Jack Black. I sipped my coffee from a steaming pint glass, tapping my converse sneakers to the beat. My hand kept gravitating to my pocket during the whole set. Live music, caffeine, and chocolate was enough to make me content, but meeting up with a fuck buddy would make the night more pleasing.

A week ago I’d asked myself two important questions: what kind of relationship did I want with Eric and what goal did I want to set for myself now that I’d overcome my timidness toward physical intimacy. The two answers I’d come to were a fuck buddy and the new goal would be to become more creative, passionate, and illustrious in bed.

Leigh Crow, the lead singer of the Whoa Nellies!, invited her equally busty and rotund, red haired, burlesque dancer girlfriend up to the stage to sing. A black and white polka dotted dress hugged her full figure. My friends Ash, Tati, and Paola, stood behind me, watching Crow’s girl perform “These Boots Were Made for Walkin'”. All three of these friends were instrumental in my coming out and me becoming more comfortable and confident in my own sexuality. Yet, today I felt odd anytime I talked to them about how a flirtatious text I sent to Eric was waiting to be answered. Their reactions were not of discomfort, but more of a waned interest. They’d lead me as far as they could, and now I had to learn the rest on my own.

After the Whoa Nellies! finished their second set, I headed back home. Upon entering my apartment, I plugged my phone into its charger and powered up my Nintendo Wii. The latest Zelda game had been waiting for me to play it for months. I flipped on an 8 bit style cover of Radiohead’s album “Ok Computer”. This wasn’t the optimal Friday night activity, but considering my phone hadn’t buzzed at all, it would have to do. I was feeling horny and regrettably anti-social. My single mindedness, I suspected, was alienating to those around me. Being alone tonight was the best decision I could make.

Many music lovers consider “Ok Computer” to be Radiohead’s greatest compositional work. To me, it is a musical representation of isolation. Quinton Sung recreates “Ok Computer” using tones and sound effects from early Nintendo games. His reinterpretation of the album’s second track, “Paranoid Android”, brought me a new appreciation for the song’s composition. I thought its effectiveness in stirring emotions rivaled any piece of classical music. It magnified how insular I felt at that moment.

Tilting the joystick with my right thumb ever so slightly creeped Link forward. He was in the silent realm, a stage in the game where he must avoid being seen by ghosts and ancient, armor clad guardians. The ultimate goal in the silent realm is to retrieve fourteen glowing orbs, scattered around a designated area. Link will gain a new ability and be freed from the silent realm once he obtains all of the orbs. As a floating, hooded ghost carrying a burning lamp approached Link, I held down the A button causing him to sprint forward across a pixelated cobblestone path. In the distance, the first orb began pulsating blue.

I selfishly played this single player game, realizing I’d compromised my friends in the name of physical gratification. I needed to adjust my focus and honor what I valued most: my friends.