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.

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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.

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.