Namaste Motherfucker

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 49 seconds.

Selected tracks: Fiona Apple “Every Single Night” and Beck “I Just Started Hating Some People Today”

Sediments of left over tea danced like snowflakes in a snow globe inside my reused Snapple jar. Waves of foggy tap water crashed against the bottom side of the bottle cap. The few drops of water that escaped were soaked up by the green beach towel the bottle nestled against. With my yoga supplies tucked beneath my arm, I walked down California Street.

As I approached Fillmore, thirty yards down the street a white billboard with an orange flower logo hung at the top of a door frame, perpendicular to the victorian building on which it was attached. It matched the logo from the yoga studio’s website. On this free weekday morning, an unusual occurrence for me, I’d decided to try yoga to curb my habitual, torturous, and excessive anxiousness.

I walked down a narrow hallway, painted the same shade of orange as the logo out front, to a set of stairs. At the top of the stairs and to the right, a doorway waited for me. Peering into the studio, I saw only a reflection of myself in the mirror across from me that ran the length of the studio. Wondering if I missed the office in the hallway downstairs, I peered back down the steps. There was no indication I’d missed anything. Peeking my head further into the studio, I noticed a cubicle tucked away in a nook to the left and behind the door. A middle aged man with blonde sprouts, that were unlikely to grow back in full, and big green googly eyes stared at a computer screen hidden by the concave wooden desk he sat behind.

“Are you a new student?” the man asked, shifting his attention from the computer to me. “Ya. I’m here for the introductory thirty days for thirty dollars,” I answered. The man behind the desk smiled and handed me a form attached to a clip board. After filling out the form, I returned it to him with my check card. He typed away at his computer. “You’re all squared away Max,” he said. “Thanks. And what was your name?” I asked. “Venis,” he smiled.

By the spelling on the website, I’d thought his name was pronounced like the planet of the same spelling, but he said it like the canal linked city in Italy. “You can take a seat anywhere you’d like,” Venis called, as I was placing my belongings into a square cubby. I migrated over to the front left corner of the empty room and lay my towel down. Atop it, I breathed in and out methodically, relaxing my mind before the session. It was over 90 degrees in the room, the antithesis of the foggy weather looming just outside the sliding glass doors that lead to a backyard deck.

“This is so strange,” Venis called from his cave. “Usually we’re packed by now.” It was seven minutes until showtime. As ten o’clock scrolled closer, only three others roamed in. By the way Venis greeted each of them, I guessed they were semi-regulars. At ten sharp, Venis left his desktop and shut the door to the studio. “Well, I guess it’s just us today,” he commented. I didn’t recognize until he was out from behind the desk that he wore a light purple tank top and short shorts. He was beginning to remind me more and more like Richard Simmons.

“We’re going to start out today with a breathing exercise,” Venis began. “Stand up straight and face the mirror. You can put your towels to the side for now.” I folded up my towel and let my feet firmly press against the rough carpet. “Now take a deep breath in through your nose, and I want to hear a loud breath out of your mouth.” Me and his other three students followed his lead. After a few medium volume breaths, Venis interjected. “I can’t hear you! There’s four of you and one of me.” He took his own breaths, which were inhumanly louder than the four of us students put together. “I can barely hear you. Louder! Breeeeeaaaaathe!” My anxiousness was replaced by chagrin.

As we continued into different poses, Venis kept pushing. “We’re going right into the next one. Don’t forget to breeeeeaaaaaathe!” Venis beckoned. Venis indeed was Richard Simmons, if he were cast as the drill sergeant in “Full Metal Jacket”. Finally we came to our last pose. Our raised, contorted arms lifted all our shirts just above our navels. “Now turn your back!” Venis commanded with the intensity of a military commander. I twisted to the right, wincing in pain. Across the spectrum of tense, sweating students, I noticed a black bumper sticker on the registration nook. It read “Namaste Motherfucker”.

This Isn’t Our Parade

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 23 seconds.

Selected tracks: Santigold “Big Mouth” and “This Isn’t Our Parade”

Weaving through a series of over the top floats and costumes, I searched for my friend Kelly. She’d invited me the previous night to march in the San Francisco Pride Parade with the organization she interned for. I passed shirtless boys in suspenders, policemen with rainbow beads around their necks, a San Francisco trolley full of same sex parents and their children, marching bands, cheerleaders, and a group with long balloons of all colors attached to their backs, making them look like coordinated peacocks.

Coming across an intricately designed float featuring a cartoonish ten foot model of the Golden Gate Bridge, I paused to listen to live music. At the back of the float, just below the bridge, was a blues band consisting of all black female musicians: the bassist had her head shaved, the lead guitarist wore long dreads, and the drummer covered her ‘do with a Rastafarian hat. They jammed to the beat of the marching band a few floats behind them, improvising to fuse the collegiate beat with their bluesy style. The bassist smiled down at me and mouthed the words “Happy pride”. “Thank you,” I mouthed back. “Happy pride to you too!”

I moved further down Spear Street, approaching Mission. Kelly was still nowhere to be seen amongst the gobs of people. My phone then buzzed from within my pocket. “Where are you?” I asked Kelly. “We’re in the yellow shirts, right next to the Golden Gate float,” she yelled over the cacophony of noise. I turned back to the direction from which I came, keeping the phone to my ear. “I see you,” Kelly yelled abruptly. I scanned the crowd until I caught her wave. She was positioned in the back of a group of thirty people wearing light yellow t-shirts with the name David Campos printed across them in patriotic colors.

“You look so cute!,” Kelly commented on the purple collared shirt, black tie, and acid washed slim jeans I wore. My fashion decision would soon be rendered useless. Kelly then handed me a David Campos t-shirt. “Uh,” I said hesitantly. “What am I supporting by putting on this t-shirt?” I trusted that if Kelly enthusiastically volunteered her time to a cause, it was a cause worth supporting. But I still wanted to have more information to go off of. “David Campos is running for reelection as Mission District rep.” She then listed a few of his legislative achievements, which included free municipal service for youth. Assured enough, I pulled the yellow shirt over my head, popped and refolded my purple collar, and draped my black tie over the V and M on the David Campos t-shirt. As long as I was going to walk for Campos, I decided I still would remain an individual. I wanted the true celebratory spirit of pride to remain in some regard.

One of Campos’s lead interns began hitting on one of Kelly’s girl friends that she had recruited. He wore black hipster sunglasses and smiled with an uninterrupted mischievousness during every word he spoke. First he asked what she did in the city, then what college she attended. He chimed in that his father had taught at her alma mater, and proceded to reminisce inauthentically. He was smooth and friendly, but his slick, polished social skills hinted at an ulterior motive. As a presumed student and practitioner of political strategy, he acted on behalf of his professional ambition, not to mention his penis, rather than any type of altruism.

The floats and paraders ahead of us began to inch forward. The parade was commencing. We marched down Market Street, clapping our hands to the beat provided by the blasting speakers on the float in front of us. Crowds of onlookers cheered and waved at us for blocks from behind barricades on both sides of the street. At some points the crowd was five people deep.

As I continued to walk and clap as enthusiastically as I could muster, a short, slightly pudgy hispanic man wearing purple tinted sunglasses and a soccer jersey approached me. “I’m David,” Campos introduced himself to me. “Thanks for coming.” He moved onto the next volunteer. I took no offense by his disinterest in carrying on more of a conversation than what he gave. We were in the middle of a fracus and it didn’t seem the most appropriate time to talk extensively. Yet it reinforced my view that politicians value winning more than their constituents’ lives.

We approached the block before the Civic Center where the parade would come to its end. Campos’s lead operative cupped his hands over his mouth and yelled back at us. “Let’s pick up the energy guys,” he pumped his fists in the air to “It’s Raining Men”. “There’s one last group of camera’s here at the end. Let’s make David look good!” He then began chanting “Campos” as a camera on a crane swooped down from the right. I scurried past it, not feeling the need to be seen through a lens.

On the last turn I noticed a beautifully robust girl in a painted tank top and a fashionably torn skirt leaning on a barricade. She carried a sign that read “Free Hugs”. I separated from Campos’s group and trotted over to her. We made eye contact, and hugged. We squeezed each other tight, with compassionate strength. “Happy pride,” she said. “Happy pride,” I reciprocated.

Carry the One

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

Runtime: 6 minutes and 23 seconds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something Old

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

Runtime: 10 minutes and 3 seconds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apartment 14

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

Runtime: 7 minutes and 56 seconds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whoa Nelly!

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

Runtime: 6 minutes and 43 seconds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twin Peaks

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 9 seconds.

Selected tracks: Eric Burdon & The Animals “San Franciscan Nights”, Norah Jones (covering Wilco) “Jesus, Etc.”, and Old Crow Medicine Show “Hard to Love”

His room was empty, save for a queen sized bed, the mattress clinging to the floor, and a single ordinary nightstand. The white nightstand matched the rug and walls. I was surprised at how undecorated the room was, especially considering he’d moved here from Kentucky almost a year ago. The only decoration he had was a name tag sticker slapped onto the beam next to his sliding door closet that faced the bed. It was from a career training program his company put on with middle schoolers. And it was confirmation of some of what we had chatted about over drinks.

We met at the Mix, the first time we’d met up in six months. Eric had thought I wasn’t so interested, so he didn’t push hanging out any further. But he had been mistaken. He came on strong through texting, which made me uncomfortable, but it did not fully diminish my interest. When I spotted him in the bar, he was heads above everyone. I’d forgotten how tall he was. A trait I often find very attractive.

We bar hopped twice until we came to Twin Peaks. Because many consider it to be the first openly gay bar in the nation, the crowd there is mostly veterans of the gay community. Not being of that generation, it hasn’t been on my radar of hang outs. However, I’ve always felt it was a place I needed to try. As I sat and sipped my rum and diet coke, Eric began to rub my leg under the table. I tried to ignore it as best I could, continuing to talk about random things. Two older bears sitting at the table next to us looked on. “Awww, look at the little cubs,” one commented at us. I gave the bear a rudimentary half smile. “You should come back to my place at Twin Peaks and see the wine I’m making and the garden I’ve got in my backyard. It’s just a five minute bus ride.” Eric’s offer was enticing, but I needed a little more convincing to get out of my comfort zone. “C’mon. It will be an adventure.” Adventure was the word that got me.

Inside his dimly lit room, he pulled out what felt like an ancient Dell laptop, which in fact was probably less than ten years old, and asked if I wanted to watch something. “Sure,” I said, indifferently, still taking in his bare bedroom. We both got undressed. He was quicker than I, and began looking for something on Hulu as I pulled off my jeans. Once I climbed into bed, we started kissing. Both of us soon forgot about watching anything.

In the heat of the moment, I climaxed long before and unbeknownst him. My mind had already been wandering, far off from my body’s actions. And now it was completely invested elsewhere. This was not love, I thought. This was physical gratification. Eric continued, not knowing I was miles away at that point. Because our conversations over drinks went well enough, I was uncertain if this was just sex to him. I admit the physical part of it felt good, but I knew I did not want to seek out a relationship with him. So here I found myself, in bed with someone of quality social characteristics, but just not ones that fit well with my own.

He finished and then we lay there together. “You hear that?” he said, as I lay my head on his broad chest. “No, what?” I asked. “It’s my wine. It’s the bubbles.” I lay still and quiet, looking up at the stars through the long, rectangular window over his bed. I heard the popping bubbles coming from his closet, in the big jar he was using to ferment strawberry and raspberry wine.

In the morning I walked home from Twin Peaks. He saw me out, showing me his spectacular view of the downtown skyline from his living room window. We kissed each other goodbye and made loose plans for getting together again. Neither of us made any mention of defining what we were out for.

That evening I took a walk to the Presidio, blowing off plans I had to see friends. I needed some alone time to think. I put in my ipod, listening to a cover of Wilco’s “Jesus, Etc.” by Norah Jones, a soft and contemplative version of the song that relies heavily on a bluesy electric guitar. As I walked down Lover’s Lane, a sloping diagonal path at the bottom of the Presidio, I pondered what to do next.

Being with Eric did not feel bad, but there was something that just didn’t feel right about it. I’d suddenly realized that the type of intimacy I sought was more social, psychological, and emotional than anything else. It felt great that I had dissipated the hesitancies I had over physical intimacy, which was a huge personal obstacle to overcome. However, it left me feeling sort of empty. Now that that challenge I’d fully invested myself in for so long was over, what mountain was left to climb?

As “Jesus, Etc.” faded out, I heard the birds chirping amongst the trees in the Presidio. I took out my earbuds to listen to them and the howl of the wind through the trees. Gradually, I began to hear something else. In the distance, echoing through the canyon of pines, cypresses, and eucalyptuses, was the sound of a bluegrass band. I moved further into the Presidio, crossing grass valleys, roadways, and old brick Naval barracks that had been converted into offices and homes. I accelerated my steady stroll into a speed walk. “Don’t stop playing. Please don’t stop playing before I get to you.” I said to myself. The music got louder and louder.

Finally, the full power of the speakers ripped through a central grass area in front of the Walt Disney Museum. The bluegrass band was set up on a small stage next to a huge screen that looked to be used for a movie showing. There were four band members, one on stand up bass, one on guitar, one on banjo, and one on fiddle. They played a cover of Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Hard to Love”. The man on stand up bass sang. “The blackest crow that ever flew, will never turn to white. If you will prove your love to me, I’d turn my day to night. Well, it’s hard to love and not be loved. It’s hard to please your mind. When you’ve broken the heart of many a poor boy. But you’ll never break this heart of mine.”

The crowd, mixed of kids and their parents, applauded at the end of the song. “Wish we could say we wrote that one,” the man on stand up bass admitted.

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.

Oh Deer

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.

Selected tracks: Hot Chip “Flutes” and Santigold “Disparate Youth”

Light poured onto a cluster of worn desks. They were all pushed just below the classroom’s large set of back windows. Mr. Allen leaned against a bookshelf beside the cluster. His students were divided evenly into two groups. One group to the left of the cleared room, and the other to the right. He flicked his eyes to the left group, then the right, then called out, “Oh deer!”

Both groups instantly reacted to his signal. Annie, one of his students in the left group, shot her hands up into a triangle above her head. Some kids did the same as Annie, while others mimed two other gestures: cupped hands at their mouths or fingers inside their mouths. Once Mr. Allen was satisfied with what he saw, he shouted, “Find your resource!” The mad rush began. The group on the left darted for the stationary group on the right.

Annie ran across the gap in the classroom. She weaved through the stampeding herd of her classmates, deadset on a peer who held his hands in a triangle above his head like she did. She reached him safely. Annie had survived this round.

“Ok,” Mr. Allen broke in. “The deer who survived and found their needed resource, whether it be water, shelter, or food, go back to the left side. Resources, if you were used, go to the left side, you’re a deer now. You’re the procreation. Deer who didn’t get the resource you needed, stay to the right. You’ve decomposed and are part of the earth. You’re a resource now. Resources who were unused, stay to the right. You’re still a resource.” The class shuffled after absorbing Mr. Allen’s directions. There were more deer now than resources.

It was my last day volunteering in Mr. Allen’s class, at least for this school year. They were playing a game called “Oh Deer”, a lesson on the fluctuation of animal population over time. Mr. Allen wore a broad grin on his face that grew as the game continued.

I looked beyond my teaching mentor at the view of the Golden Gate. The bridge’s two peaks were hidden by the morning fog. It was an unreal sight I’d grown accustomed to seeing every volunteer day.

“Adjusting to your style of teaching took some time,” I told him while the deer began to overpopulate his classroom. “I wasn’t quite sure how to best aid you or the kids until the last couple weeks.” Mr. Allen looked on intrigued. “Your lessons are so engaging and ongoing. You’re either engaged with them as a whole or you have them engaged with each other. It’s so different than most of the teachers I’ve volunteered with. It’s refreshing and I’m better off for experiencing it. I’m excited to come back next year.”

Mr. Allen smiled back at me. “Glad to have you back.” Then he asked, “So, should I introduce the effects of the industrial revolution and pollute the water that exterminates the deer and resources?” His grin grew maniacal. “I guess this game could be applied to humans,” he added. “We’re due for another die off soon. But it’s the end of the school year. Maybe we’ll keep it a little less morbid.”

At this point Mr. Allen was playing god, dictating how many of each resource there could be. The large population of deer began to siphon off. Annie, thus far, remained a deer.

“It must be reassuring that you’ll be teaching 4th graders here again,” I said. Mr. Allen nodded and then responded, “Yeah man. If we didn’t wind up meeting our school-wide fundraising goal, I would’ve been close to the top of the chopping block, since I’ve only been here this year. We just made it, so we get to keep the status quo for next year, at least.”

The deer population slowly dwindled down to one. Annie was now the only deer left standing. She looked across the room at all her classmates. “Oh deer!” Mr. Allen said one last time.

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”