Viaje a la Luna

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.

Selected tracks: Animal Collective “No More Runnin'” and Best Coast “The Only Place”

The bus driver looked down at me quizzically. He had obviously noticed I was carrying a box full of school supplies: books, games, lined paper, legos, flashcards, and a large toy clock. Ms. C. had given me these tools to use for tutoring over the summer. Carefully I walked up the steps onto the bus, flashing my flimsy paper Muni slip with one hand and balancing the heavy box with the other. The driver nodded in acknowledgment. Quickly I plopped down into a seat in the first row that faced forward.

Coming down from my ritual morning caffeine high, I relaxed soon after sitting. My volunteering for the school year had just officially ended. However, just before leaving the school, I’d been introduced to a shy little first grader named Luna. Although she didn’t utter a single word when we met, I knew she spoke mostly Spanish. Ms. C. was going to have her as a 2nd grader next year and knew she could use a jump start over the summer with her English. I was simultaneously nervous and excited at the challenge that lay ahead.

Her father was there when I met her. He wore a weathered black ball cap. He was tall, built like a construction worker, and had a black caterpillar mustache. His dark eyes were kind. Luna’s first grade teacher had to interpret for us, as he only spoke Spanish. We set up a schedule for me to come to their house twice a week. I would be as independent in my educational volunteering as I’d ever been.

Normally I read when on the bus, but I was too preoccupied to focus on a book. Instead, I observed the other passengers on the bus. A bald man in his late 30s with a black beard read The Economist. A teenage boy with braces, dressed formally for graduation, wrote on the back of his high school glamour picture. An old Asian woman thumbed through the groceries in her plastic bag. And in my peripheral vision, I noticed a guy sitting next to me with a red plaid button up, short dirty blonde hair, and a boyish face defined by rosy cheeks and left over baby fat that clearly hid his true age.

The contents in the box on my lap shifted as the bus took a sharp turn. My post coffee relaxation slowly evolved into a daze, as I zoned out staring at the upcoming park. Suddenly the boy next to me spoke up.

“You work with kids?” he asked in a high pitched, decidedly feminine voice. He was a she. I snapped out of my daze, puzzled how she could guess that I worked with kids. I then remembered the firm grip I held on the box and noticed the toy clock peaking out of it.

“Yeah,” I responded. “I volunteer at an elementary school. Well, did. Today was my last day for this school year.” I turned, smiled, and made eye contact with the girl sitting next to me. Her oceanic green eyes glistened with a striking balance of warmth and nervousness.

“I used to work with kids back in South Carolina,” she said. I noticed now the Southern drawl in her voice.

“Where’d you work?” I asked. “At the YMCA,” she responded.

“So I guess it was easy for you to spot the toys and stuff in the box,” I smiled. “I’m actually going to be working with a Spanish speaking first grader over the summer.” The girl looked on, intrigued. “I just met her for the first time. She’s quite shy. I felt awful. She cried when she first met me. She’s very uncomfortable with new and strange situations and people. I’m sure she’ll warm up to me though. And her parents don’t speak any English. I’m nervous and excited about the whole thing really.”

“I can see that,” she said. “I think it’s great what you’re doing. I’m sure it will be a wonderful experience.”

“Thanks,” I responded. “I’m Max, by the way.” “Ashley,” she said. “But my friends call me Moon. That’s my last name.”

After a short pause, I asked, “So what brought you to SF and how long have you been here?” The Asian woman with groceries got off at her stop. “I’ve actually only been here for three weeks. My girlfriend got a promotion at UPS, and that’s what brought us out here.”

“So you’re no stranger to boxes either,” I joked. “So did you leave your job back in Carolina to come out here?” She nodded. “I’m actually just coming from an interview at Wells Fargo.”

“How’d it go?” I asked. “Pretty good, I think.” She ran her fingers through her hair. “It was a group interview with eight other people.” The teenage boy with braces texted across from us on his iphone. “Reminds me of what you need to do to get housing here,” I said. “Intimidating open houses with like 20 people you have to aggressively outmaneuver.”

Moon laughed as she eyed the upcoming stop. “Luckily we didn’t have to go through that process. This is me.” She stood up out of her seat.

“Nice to meet you Moon. Good luck with that job. And welcome to the city.” Just before she stepped off into Japan Town she called back, “Good luck to you too.”

I returned my attention to the contents of the box Ms. C. had given me. I rotated the hour hand on the toy clock to 12, pondering how I would teach Luna the difference between noon and midnight.

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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”

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.

Cut Short

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.

Selected tracks: LCD Soundsystem “Someone Great” and Anton Karas “The Harry Lime Theme”

Strands of Jack’s dark hair peaked through the space between his fingers. He let his shiny, soft hair through the cracks at the length he wanted it trimmed. I stood behind him, making eye contact in the mirror. I held the buzzing electric clippers at my side. “Don’t worry, it’ll be fine. Just buzz the hair that’s between my fingers,” Jack reassured me. “But I  like your hair long. I like running my fingers through it,” I pleaded. Jack smiled. “It’ll grow back soon. I promise. My hair grows pretty fast. And don’t worry about cutting my hands. You won’t. And even if you do, I’m sort of a masochist anyway.”

I hesitantly began trimming the hairs from the back of his head. When I was finished he took the clippers and shortened his sideburns. Eventually he trimmed what little facial hair he’d been able to grow. He then paused, evaluating his hairdo in the mirror. He was visibly unsatisfied. “I didn’t make the side even enough. I’m gonna have to shave them off.” I looked on in horror as he balded the sides of his head and left the top close in length to how it was before. “How’s it look?” Jack inquired. “Actually, not that bad,” I responded with surprise. Jack smiled again. “I would have left one side unshaven, but I didn’t want to be that pretentious douche you always see in the Mission.”

After Jack used my shower to rid himself of stray hairs, we lay together on the rug in the center of my studio, cuddled, and talked.

In the late afternoon we took the 43 to Fort Mason for Off the Grid, a weekly gathering of food trucks. Jack ventured off to find a Korean barbeque truck as I stood in line waiting to order a palak paneer burrito from an Indian truck. Hoards of nomadic diners swarmed around the queue, inside the ring of trucks. As I stood waiting alone amongst the crowd, I found myself missing Jack’s company, even for the slightest time. It was an alarming realization. To allow myself to be so emotionally attached to someone threatened my emotional balance. Yet, in the same breadth, investing myself in a partner balanced me like I never had been before. The conundrum vexed me as I continued to stand, famished, in line.

Once I sat down to eat my specialty burrito, Jack walked up with two crab tacos. “Not my first choice,” he said. “But still pretty good.” We decided to stroll beside the marina as we ate. Early into our walk Jack got a text from a friend who was coming to visit. In addition to these preset plans, he worked early the following morning. Our day had to be cut short. I saw Jack to his bus. Since our schedules don’t coincide, I kissed Jack goodbye, not knowing when I would see or hear from him next.

I awoke the following morning craving Jack’s kind and gentle touch. My conundrum had already been revisited. That afternoon I went to a screening of the classic film noir “The Third Man”, starring Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton. At 1pm the lights inside the Castro Theatre dimmed. A single spotlight illuminated a miked lectern, stage left. Out of the darkness, a mustached man in his late sixties walked up to the lectern. A SF Film Festival staff badge dangled from his neck. He went on to somberly dedicate the screening to the late, deceased director of the SF Film Society. He articulated the director’s boisterous, opinionated personality, passion for film programming, and the profound impact he had in his short ten week tenure as director. Although I knew neither the speaker, nor the one he spoke about, I found the speech to be quite moving. Once the brief dedication concluded, the spotlight faded and the 16mm reels began to spin.

The opening credits rolled over the vibrating strings of a guitar. I was instantly reminded of the score’s playful theme, an antithetical guitar melody to the film’s dark subject matter. As the film progressed, I found a deeper reading in Anna Schmidt’s part of the story than I had in past viewings. She mopes thoughout the film, destroyed by her husband Harry Lime’s murder. Nothing can break her depression. When word reaches her that Lime faked his death to escape the authorities, she refuses to aid in his arrest. Orson Welles’ Harry Lime is so charming and charismatic, it’s easy to imagine the joy he brought to Schmidt’s life.

It pained me to admit it, but I missed Jack and had an irrational fear of losing him to whatever end. I didn’t want this sort of emotional chaos, but it came with the territory I had entered. Had opening myself up to let Jack in been worth the internal turmoil I felt? Was there I way to avoid that turmoil without giving Jack up? I turned to Harry Lime for an answer: “Don’t be so gloomy. After all it’s not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

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.”

Idle Worship / American Idyll / Idol Moments

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

Runtime: 10 minutes and 57 seconds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—–

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

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

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

——

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

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

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

De Tales

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

Runtime: 7 minutes and 3 seconds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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