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.

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.

Summertime Brainstorm

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: 5 minutes and 12 seconds.

Selected tracks: Rilo Kiley “Capturing Moods” and Justice “Newlands”

“KABOOOOOM! BAAARRROOOOOOM!” Jessica read the capitalized words softly. “Is that how loud thunder is?” I asked her. She looked back at me with her doe-ish eyes. Her blank face slowly transformed into a smiling one. She shook her head no. “KABOOOOOM! BAAARRROOOOOOM!” She shouted this time.

I’d worked with Jessica on her reading fluency over the past couple weeks. Her marked improvement gave me an immense feeling of satisfaction and pride. Today I noticed a pattern. When she could visualize and act out the text, she read more fluidly and gracefully, and with few mistakes. When she’d get stuck on a word or phrase she didn’t understand, she’d lose her footing entirely, incorrectly pronouncing words I was confident she knew.

On one occasion Ms. C had me test Jessica’s words per minute. We practiced the test passage once together, then I timed her next read. It seemed she suffered from test anxiety. Her untested read through was her better fair. On the timed read, she rushed and stumbled over words she knew and had long pauses when she was petrified by words she didn’t recognize. After the test, I had her read once more. I told her I was not going to time her. I lied. I secretly started the timer once she began reading. On this run through she was as flawless as she’d ever been. When the timer went off, she looked at me and said,”Hey!” My trick had been insightful.

Today, when we came to the last page of the story Thunder Cakes, I reiterated it’s main idea. “The little girl overcame all her fears,” I told Jessica. “Milking the kicking cow, climbing the trellis, taking the eggs from the mean hen, and going out in the storm, to help her Grandma make thunder cake. She did all these brave things because she was so focused on what she needed to do that she forgot to be afraid.”

“Good work today Jessica,” I commended her. We walked together out of the reading room. The class was lined up ready to go to lunch. There were twenty days left until the 2nd graders became 3rd graders. This meant summer vacation for them. And no more volunteering for me. I wasn’t ready to relinquish this activity. It grounded and balanced me. Plus, I felt my work was unfinished with a handful of struggling readers, Jessica among them. I was determined to build upon my skills as a reading tutor, but I had not yet sought out tutoring opportunities for the summer. I foresaw taking the summer off as a stoppage in my progress.

“I really hope you volunteer with us again next year,” Ms. C suggested as the lunch bell rang. “I’m thinking I probably will,” I replied. “In the meantime, I’m looking for tutoring opportunities over the summer. I get a lot out of reading with the kids and I’d like to improve at helping them learn.” Although it didn’t occur to me until after my talk with Ms. C, reading with kids had renewed my faith in stories. Three years working in the film industry had broken it. I found personal connection to the themes of many stories I read with the kids. It helped me understand and cope with a multitude of things happening in my life.

Ms. C responded, “I’m more than willing to refer you to my students’ parents. God knows they need the extra help. I’m sure you’ve noticed many of them need to practice their reading over the summer.” KABOOOOOOOOM! “And some friends of mine started a reading center in the Mission called 826 Valencia. They’re a great place to volunteer.” BAAAARRRROOOOOOOM! The thunderous realization was loud and clear. I could now visualize the arc in my own story I desperately wanted.

Substitute (Part 2 of 2)

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: 5 minutes and 39 seconds.

Selected tracks: Explosions in the Sky “Be Comfortable, Creature” and Lykke Li “Love Out of Lust”

The kids filed back into the classroom after recess. Mr. Garza plopped into a chair in the reading corner. Connie herded the kids over to the rug outstretched before the stoned substitute. If I wasn’t so emotionally sensitive to the Mary Jane, I might have considered asking Garza about his stash. Anything to cool my angst was a welcome idea.

“Now I’m going to recite to you a poem by a far out writer named Langston Hughes,” Garza announced. “This beautiful piece is called ‘April Rain Song’.” The kids shifted around on the rug, their energy from recess not yet expelled. “Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby. The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk. The rain makes running pools in the gutter. The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night. And I love the rain.”

Mr. Allen’s class now lay still and silent, soothed by Mr. Garza’s lyrical recitation. All I wanted was to let the tears rain down for what I had lost, but they would not come. My stoicism relegated my healing process to the inside.

Garza continued to pique the kids’ imaginations by reading a chapter from Percy Jackson in which Mr. Allen had left off. With the students’ attentions parlayed, Connie prepared a lesson on atoms and static charges. In the middle of her preparation, a well dressed Asian woman in her late 50s entered the classroom. It was Connie’s professor, there to observe her teaching. She bore pearl earrings, a short bob of black hair, trim, stylish glasses, and mulato leather boots that anchored just below her knee caps. Post arrival and greeting, the professor clomped to the back corner of the room and set up shop. She carefully pulled a macbook from her tote and placed it on the desk before her.

Connie walked over to the reading corner and caught Garza’s eye. He finished the last paragraph he was on and handed the class back over to her. “You remember Monday when Mr. Allen rubbed balloons on your heads and your hairs stood on end?” Connie recalled. The class gave an ecstatic confirmation. “Well, we’re going to learn why that happened today.” The professor was now typing away robotically at her macbook.

At the kids’ desks were tiny marshmallows atop paper plates. Drawn on each marshmallow was one of three symbols: a negative sign, positive sign, or a zero. “Everything, everywhere is made out of something called an atom,” Connie explained. She stood at the bow of the classroom, beside a projected drawing of an atom and its charged particles. “You, me, this table, a dog, a lion, everything. We’re all made from tons of atoms so small we can’t even see them with just our eyes. And each atom has a couple things inside them. They’re called protons, neutrons, and electrons.”

Connie continued her lesson until the charges in atoms and the attractions between them were sufficiently explained. She then set the kids on an activity of building their own atoms with the marshmallows provided.

“What do two neutrons do again?” a student named George asked me. “They lay beside each other, side by side. They coincide, but they don’t stick together,” I answered. George proudly responded “And protons are attracted to electrons!” “Right,” I commended him. “And two protons or two electrons hate one another. They repel!” George had it right. “Does everything always have the same charge?” he asked. I pondered his questioned for a moment. “No. Not always. Some charges can change under certain circumstances. Luck of the draw sometimes. But that’s life.” George looked on at me confused. He was too young to fathom and accept all of this world’s complexities.

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.”

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.