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”

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Odds and Ends to Even Beginnings

Sixteen white medieval trinkets, arranged in two rows of eight along the edge of an eight by eight checkered board, wafted in and out of the shadows. On the opposing edge of the playing field lingered another sixteen pieces, color being the only distinguishing factor between the two evenly matched platoons.  Above the tv tray sized, wooden portable table on which the game board rested sat two men. “You first,” said the host competitor, a man in his late sixties, wrapped tightly beneath a maroon cortex hooded jacket. Smudged dirt could faintly be seen across the mid section of his face as the lamp post short circuited five yards away, causing diffuse light to fluster through the dense fog. A heavy set black man with a tattered beard sitting across from the host pushed forward a white pawn using a single sausage finger. The host stared fixedly at his collection of soldiers, adding up the possible moves he could make.

——

Ringtone chimes awoke me from a long slumber. Wrapped deeply inside the warmth of my comforter, curled cozily in the fetal position, I was hesitant to leave luxury to see who had sent me a text. The fan at the foot of my bed spread a light wind barrier between me and my phone. Over the course of the night the sound curtain the fan provided was much more welcome. One. Two. Three! I catapulted forward, clicking off the wall of wind, landing in an upright position at the edge of my bed.

Picking up my phone, I glanced at the screen’s upper left hand corner. A tiny black dialogue box with a face smiled back at me. Dragging down the menu bar I gaped at a message. “Let’s exchange sexy Santa pictures.” I quivered, but not from the cold. Strange, I thought to myself, very strange. There was nothing from our date a week prior that brought me to expect such sexual aggressiveness so soon. My heart and mind were piqued during our coffee meeting, but the physical attraction was still a question mark, that I was now further hesitant to seek out.

——

Santa Barbara winds carried ocean air into my dorm room through my open window. I sat across from my fifteen by fifteen inch television, lining up my shot on Nintendo Gamecube’s Mario Golf. Green Day’s most recent melancholic hit “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” oozed from my Imac G5, the current pinnacle of consumer technology. Covering the itunes application window on the screen flashed a web browser with my Facebook profile. The social network was still in its infancy, catering only to college students. My status read “Beaten and battered down, can’t be feeling worse than I am now”. The melodrama I hoped would both be cathartic and an answered call for help.

An instant message window popped up on my computer screen. I shifted my chair slightly left, askew from the television, to read it. It was from a girl who lived in the hall downstairs, one I enjoyed as a friend, but nothing more. “Try listening to this. It should make you feel better.” A file transfer request popped up inside the AOL Instant Messenger window. I accepted and an mp3 of Radiohead’s “Optimistic” began to download. Minutes later I replaced the sounds of Green Day with her recommendation. Although I’d heard of Radiohead before, I had never listened them. A cacophony of depressing noise is all my ears perceived. Despite the distaste for the song, I thanked my friend for sending it to me. Her sentiment was welcomed.

Weeks later, long after the storm had passed, I received an instant message from this same girl. “Can I tell you something?” she asked. “Sure”, I replied. What followed was a confession of her romantic interest in me. I was unsure how to respond. She was my friend. On the one hand I didn’t want to see her desires go unmet, while on the other I felt uncomfortable offering something that was not going to be truthful. Through all the calculations I made in my head, I couldn’t build an equation that added up correctly. Ultimately, in my youthful naivety, I made the mistake of assuming the role of boyfriend, only to recant less than 24 hours later. She was heartbroken. To this day I believe she has never fully forgiven me for my mistake.

——

“My dad was a math teacher, but I always liked literature and English more.” Struggling to catch every word, I regretted sitting at a table so close to the speakers in Mojo Bicycle Cafe. Their voice battled the artist Neko Case’s for my attention, however my focus and interest did not waiver. “Naturally me and my sisters were above average at math. In the end though, I became better at writing and reading because I liked it enough to put more effort into it. My work at the [advertising] agency is pretty much only numbers. I’m great with the numbers, it’s in my blood. But ultimately if they were just numbers, I would get bored. The only way I can keep myself motivated and keep the work interesting is if I keep a story in mind while I delve into the numbers. There has to be a narrative behind the them.”

At the end of our date we headed our separate ways, north and south down Divisdero, the street that divides the city in two. Despite a physical attraction and personal connection, things didn’t add up. There was sparse chemistry and they mentioned nothing to indicate a desire for another go around. It was especially disheartening when I recalled the odd text that retreated my interests in the last romantic possibility.

Days later I found myself at a friend’s masquerade party in Noe Valley. Masked figures danced to the pulsing symphony of Passion Pit. Deep into the night I made my way to the restroom, a pit stop before a forty minute walk home to the Fillmore. On the windowsill, above the toilet, was a framed note. It politely, and wittingly, instructed bowl users to be kind and only flush toilet paper. The house often hosted couch surfers from across the globe, and a universal set of rules needed to be communicated to passers-by. I could never let complete strangers sleep at my place, I thought to myself.

On my way home, I walked down Haight Street. I passed the closed down Red Vic Theater, Ashbury Street, and eventually turned toward the Panhandle. Over the course of eight months the cityscape had gone from foreign to familiar. The streets were filled with personal landmarks that now defined home.

Pandora’s Android app skipped from commercial to it’s next track: Radiohead’s “Optimistic.” I whistled the melody from what had become, over the course of time, my favorite band. Thome York’s haunting and encouraging falsetto chimed into the flutter of electric guitars and carefully timed drumming. “You can try the best you can, you can try the best you can. The best you can is good enough.” Goosebumps tickled my skin, as vivid memories of the past swept rapidly through my veins. Over seven years their sound had transformed from chaos to vibrance for me.

Turning the corner at Masonic onto Geary I noticed two creatures scurrying across the street. At first they looked like cats. But as I staggered drunkenly closer and closer, their form became clearer and clearer. The two pudgey, furry figures wore masks across their faces and stripes on their bushy tails. Urban raccoons. Out of view they went, rounding an alleyway to the Kaiser Hospital.

Passing the sleeping homeless man who frequented the steps to Sinai Memorial Chapel, I noticed his chess set. A quick glance revealed the game had ended at check mate. There were few pieces left on the playing field. The white king was left defenseless.

Math is logical. Love is not. Whether it be the love of a band, a person, or even a board game, at one moment we can be exuberant, and at the next we can be disinterested. In math, the sum of two odd numbers always equals an even one. In love, an oddity can cause unevenness in our reactions and relationships. An over eager text here, a piercing guitar flare there. The strange strain causes us to put on our protective mask, and walk away, hoping for another opportunity to be so vulnerable, vulnerable enough to put down our wall of defenses and let euphoria in.

Black claws gripped the check mated white king and ripped it off the board. The raccoons faded into the night, camoflaged by the masks nature provided them.