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.

Take A Walk

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: 9 minutes and 21 seconds.

Selected tracks: Jack White “Missing Pieces”, Simon & Garfunkel “59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)”, and Passion Pit “Take a Walk”

I took a left on Fulton toward Alamo Square, walking down Divisidero, coming from the Fillmore. Not in the mood to hike an urban mountain en route to Hayes Valley, I took a detour across a diagonal gravel path that cuts through the small park that is Alamo Square. Hill management is a skill I’ve acquired over the year I’ve spent in San Francisco. I was avoiding the steep hill on Hayes Street that is east of Divisidero.

Timothy, a former childhood neighbor, and surrogate older brother, who’s known me since I was in diapers, had invited me over for dinner with him and his wife, Miki, at their Hayes Valley apartment. I was eager to talk to him in person. I wanted to get clarification on romantic wisdom he’d relayed in an email. “The best advice anyone can give you is to be yourself,” he wrote. “Don’t force things. As soon as you stop caring, that’s when you’ll meet someone; because you won’t be pretending, you’ll just ‘be’, and that’s the most attractive feature you have. The more you stress over it, the less likely it will happen.”

The first date I ever had with a man came not a month into my residence of San Francisco, almost exactly a year to the day. As a man of twenty five, without any dating or relationship experience, I had a lot of catching up to do. Over the past year, I’d been a fast study on first dates, but not relationships. Over twenty men, two kisses, a short fling, and a year later, I was a pro at procuring dates from dating websites, and finding common ground and chemistry over coffee or a beer. But my success at developing relationships was severely lacking. I looked to family and friends for advice, now that I was finally openly seeking out a partner. Everyone’s words of wisdom proved useful at one turn or another. However, I found many times where I could not quite piece together all the advice that was given into one cohesive strategy. It’s felt all the more difficult because I am not discernibly gay in my personal interests or external qualities, nor are the guys that I tend to be attracted to. In the sexually segregated society that we live in, I feel my options are far more limited than heterosexuals or more stereotypical homosexuals.

At the bottom corner of Alamo Square, where Hayes and Steiner meet, I passed an SF Chronicle distribution machine. It displayed the paper with the day’s headline: “Obama First Sitting President to Support Gay Marriage”. I then glanced back, getting one last glimpse at Alamo Square. The view of victorian homes and city skyline parallel to the park were featured in the opening credits to the ’90s uber PC sitcom “Full House”. I’ve always defined convenient ending monologues that wrap up stories as “Danny Tanner Moments”. That term came from my friend Ash, but I’ve long thought about the idea of it.

Danny Tanner, the father in the show played by on overtly sentimental and goofy Bob Saget, sums up at the end of each episode, with one long thought, the moral of each character’s story. The sitting presidents when the show aired were H.W. Bush and Clinton respectively. Their stances on same sex romance mirrored society’s: discomfort and disapproval. Time had evolved the country and now much of the disapproval had faded, but the general discomfort had not. This still left me feeling stranded.

—–

“We first met at the Hyatt Regency at the Embarcadero, you know, across from the Ferry Building,” Timothy began. “I was twenty and still going to film school at the Academy of Arts and Sciences. I’d actually given up on finding a girlfriend at that point.” I brought a forkful of Miki’s Japanese Curry and rice up to my mouth, latched onto Timothy’s every word. “After many breakups, I just didn’t believe I’d find anything worthwhile, ever.

“Anyway, once a week I’d walk from the campus over to the Hyatt and have lunch there. For a couple weeks in a row I saw this cute girl off in the corner, sitting at a table taking lessons of some sort.”

I looked at Miki and asked ,”What were you doing there each week?” “Uhhhhh….,” she had to think for a moment. “Oh, I was there for broadcast lessons.”

Timothy continued. “So six weeks after I first saw Miki, I went up to her and said ‘Hey, so what’s your deal? I see you here every week.’ We started hanging out after that, just as friends. We weren’t even sure if we were into each other romantically until a couple weeks later. Once love sort of just happened without either of us seeking it out in each other, Miki told me she’d be returning to Japan in three months. We both decided, what the hell, we’ll date until three months comes to a close. Six months after she left back home to Japan, I visited her there and, impromptue, we got married. Fourteen months later, we were together again, living in San Francisco.”

Timothy looked across the table at Miki and sarcastically remarked in a baby voice,”The best foundation for love you can have is friendship, right Miki?” Miki looked back at her husband with an exaggerated pouting face. “Right Timothy!”

While I waited for Timothy to find his hard drive full of his digitized vhs films and home videos from his teen years, I looked down at Hayes Valley from his top floor apartment. The beer garden bustled below at the corner of Hayes and Octavia. I took a sip of red wine as I turned and noticed Timothy plugging in the hard drive into his iMac. He scrolled through a long list of video files until he stopped on one labeled “Bodega Bay Vacation”. He double clicked and up popped a quicktime screen. It was our two families on vacation nearly fifteen years ago. Me, Timothy, and Miki hunched over the computer, laughing at the younger, naiver versions of ourselves. I had a high pitched voice, much lighter hair, and a large gap between my front two teeth. It was my prepubescent self. Those were the times not only where “Danny Tanner Moments” were still on air, but also when they seemed more relevant and more profound to me. Love and sexuality were not part of the equation yet. Now the illusion of life as fair and bending toward a certain, positive solution was gone. All I could take now were lessons that might help me find some piece of happiness.

I said goodbye to Timothy and Miki at the door to their apartment and thanked them for dinner and their stories. Once outside I set my ipod to Passion Pit’s latest release, “Take a Walk” and set forward down Hayes Street, back home to the Fillmore.

—–

“All these kind of places
Make it seems like it’s been ages
Tommorrow sun with building scraping skies
I love this country dearly
I can feel the lighter clearly
But never thought I’d be alone to try

Words I was at sundace station
Selling light and white camations
You were still alone
My wife and I
Before we marry, save my money
but my dear wife over
Now I want to bring family state side

To rock the boat they sail a while
Scattered cross the course
Once a year I’ll see them for a week or so
And most had take a walk

I take a walk

Practise isn’t perfect
With the market cuts and loss
I remind myself that times could be much worse
My wife won’t ask me questions
It was not so much to ask
And she’ll never flaunt around an empty purse

Once my money lacking
Just to stay a couple nights
In the silence she will stay the rest of her life
I watch my little children
As I’m putting in the kitchen
And I se them pray they never feel my strive

But then my partner called to say the pension funds were gone
He made some bad investments
Now the counts are overdrawn

I took a walk

Honey it’s this loan I think I borrowed just to much
We had taxes we had bills
We had a lifestyle of fun
But I swear tonight I’ll come home
And we’ll make love like we’re young
And tomorrow you’ll cook dinner
For the neighbors and the kids
We could rent the part of socialists
and all their ten taxes
You’ll see I am no criminal
I’m down on both bad ends
I’m just too much a coward
to admit when I’m in need

I took a walk”

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.

Simple Passenger

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: 12 minutes and 48 seconds.

Selected tracks:  Die unsichtbare Front, New Slang, and Simple Song

A board of departure times held my focus captive. The board hung high above four platforms, each shadowed by bullet trains. My eyes darted back and forth as I frantically studied the board. The numbers and words I tracked were decipherable, yet their meaning left no imprint. This left me no choice, but to simply pick one of the four trains. I stood facing the four platforms that ran away from the board. I could not bring myself to choose. I was caught up on the fear of picking incorrectly, brushing aside the bigger tragedy of being left behind all together.

Out of the corner of my eye a man went running past. My eye instinctively drew toward him and his rush to the third platform. The moment he stepped inside, the door to the train slid closed. The train then inched forward slowly, then faster, and faster. Soon it traveled out of view. I looked back up at the board. Platform 3. Departed. I noticed another change in the board. Platform 1. Departing. The train on the far right began to leave the station. Soon it too was out of sight. Now only two trains remained. My hand was forced. I speed walked to the second platform. Before I could reach the train, its doors slid shut. I quickly reversed course and accelerated my walk to a sprint toward Platform 4. My pursuit was in vein. It too left me behind. All hope had departed with that last train.

——

I woke up to drool hanging from the right corner of my lips. Rogue drops stained my white tshirt. A foot below, laying comfortably atop my chest, was my laptop. It stared back at me like a begging dog that has already eaten its fair share. A web browser was open to Facebook. I stared at it intently. It was my turn to act like the begging dog. I checked for any messages or notifications. None. My heart sank. I craved responses from anyone.

Discovering notifications gives me the same ecstasy I had as a kid when the phone rang. I remember I’d rush to the phone whenever it would ring, determined to be the first to grab it. I’d answer “Hello?” wondering who could be calling, and what they’d be calling about. Would it be my grandmother? My best friend? A neighbor? A cousin? The element of surprise is what made the experience so euphoric, so magical, so special. If the caller was someone I knew well, I’d talk to them about what was most exciting in my life: a book I’d read, a video game I’d been obsessed with, a movie I’d seen, or the sports I’d been playing and watching. Then I’d listen to what was exciting in their lives. One topic would unexpectedly lead to another. One simple detail, word, or phrase could spark an exciting new direction in our conversation. My own experiences when rehashed became refreshing. Family and friends’ stories over time became mythologized. At phone call’s end I’d hang up or hand the phone to my mother or father. After it was over I didn’t much think about the next who, what, or when. I got on with my life, accumulating information and excitement for the next unexpected, magical conversation.

Clicking the refresh button brought nothing refreshing to my Facebook homepage. I drew my attention elsewhere. First I unmuted my computer, preparing to listen to the new Shins album. My action released the classical score to “The Lives of Others”, which played from the film’s DVD menu. I’d finished the film just before dozing off. The menu was concealed beneath windows upon windows of my macbook’s applications. Oddly the windows acted closer to solid walls than literal windows. I then placed four fingers on my track pad, evenly spreading all the windows so I could see the different avenues I was using to numb my boredom. Facebook, DVD Player, Itunes, Gmail, Netflix, WordPress, Hypemachine, Lyrics.com, and OKCupid.

Before traveling to a website that would give me a free first listen to The Shins’ Port of Morrow, I decided to check my blog stats and edit a piece of my latest entry. My patience quickly wore thin. The lethal mix of my ambition and perfectionism crippled my will to write, as it had for weeks. Three minutes passed until I had an urge to check for messages and cruise for a bit on my choice dating site, OkCupid. The last guy I went on a date with had been my sixteenth. I’m a good counter. It ended with him wanting friendship and me wanting more. No messages were present in my OkCupid inbox. I felt discouraged to reach out to anyone else knowing something felt amiss after number sixteen. I then tried reading. My focus couldn’t handle it. It seemed nothing could ease my mental tension. Finally I acquiesced to the Shins.

With the Shins now providing a background melody, I dragged my cursor over the DVD player window and enlarged the menu screen from “The Lives of Others”. I wanted to see if there was anything interesting left on the DVD before I sent it back. The menu featured a frame from the film. The main character, Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler, wore earphones over his head. He led a rather depressing and lonely life as a Stasi officer in the German Democratic Republic. He was completely devoted to his job spying on citizens suspected for organizing and voicing opinions against the state. In his personal life, he hired call women. Sadly he found no true love and affection. The more time he spent spying on a playwright and his actress wife, the more he began to recognize true romantic connection.

Track two, titled Simple Song, from the album Port of Morrow played as I stared at Hauptmann with his earphones. This made me remember that I first discovered the Shins in the film “Garden State”. If only Hauptmann had a Natalie Portman to put some of her favorite music through his earphones, and replace that wiretap documenting the lives of others. Then maybe he’d be charmed and invest more in his own relationships. Which makes me think: What would happen if I let a Natalie Portman into my life (a male version of her of course)? What if I let someone in who came along at an unexpected moment, whether he started talking to me or me to him? This certainly would be easier if I didn’t shy away from extended conversations with strangers.

I pulled up the lyrics to Simple Song. “I know that things can really get rough, when you go it alone. Don’t go thinking you gotta be tough and play like a stone.” I decided I needed a break from Facebook for a while, and logged out, not to return until a month later. “My life in an upturned boat. Marooned on a cliff. You brought me a great big flood, and you gave me a lift.” I deleted my OkCupid profile. Sixteen dates was enough. As a beginner to dating men, it was a useful crutch starting out. Now it was clear that discovering any lasting romance was best left to real life. “Love’s such a delicate thing that we do, with nothing to prove, which I never knew.” I shut my laptop, determined to live life on one track, welcoming the unknown and unexpected, as I had once done as a kid.

Prologue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 the latest entry, an excerpt from the coming out letter I wrote to friends and family. If it doesn’t play, 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.

Runtime: 6 minutes

Bridging the Gap

Press play above 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)