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.

Jalapeño Bagels and a Little Spoon

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

Runtime: 8 minutes and 44 seconds.

Selected tracks: Gorillaz “Superfast Jellyfish”, Belle & Sebastian “To Be Myself Completely”, and Bon Iver “Perth”

The jalapeños singed beneath a layer of melting cheese until their corners were black and crusty. Sizzling noises coming from the oven indicated to the cashier that my order of bagels were ready. She pulled out the tray and placed the fresh batch of jalapeño bagels into a brown bag. “Bet you’re glad you can have bread again,” the old Jewish woman behind the counter commented. She could only be referring to Passover, the most recent Jewish holiday past that includes a tradition of eating a special cracker instead of bread. With the last name she saw on my check card, and my unmistakable facial features, it was easy for her to guess I shared in her cultural heritage. I gave her a warm smile, a minimalist response. I was disinterested in getting into complicated specifics about how I was raised as a Reform Jew, but gave up most of the traditions and beliefs long ago.

I walked back to Ms. C’s class with the brown bag tucked under my right arm and my coffee glued to my left hand. When I reentered the classroom, the 2nd graders had already begun reading Jalapeño Bagels, a story about a boy who has a Mexican mother and a Jewish father. It was an especially accessible story to Ms. C’s class; they are all Spanish speaking ESL students. As I cut the bagels and prepared them for snack time, Sara, a girl I’d sat and read with several times, turned to me and asked, “Do you have a wife?” I kept cutting the bagels. “No.” It was another one of my minimalist responses. I wasn’t interested in explaining the whole a boy can have a boyfriend thing. “A girlfriend?” I began spreading the cream cheese. “No.” She kept her attention on me, dissatisfied with my one word answers. “So you’re single?” I cut the bagel in half and handed it to her. “Yup.” She took it and then replied, “Oh, ok.” She finally looked satisfied as she took small nibbles off the bagel.

—–

My cold feet toasted beneath Jack’s warm toes. “Cold feet, how torturously, hilariously coincidental,” I thought to myself. Usually I voice such play-on-word jokes, but that felt pretty awkward considering the two of us were essentially cuddling with a blanket over us. I still had not mustered up the courage to kiss him. One week after the awkward movie night, we found ourselves again on my loveseat, now watching a live feed of Coachella. The mood was quiet and romantic, as we enjoyed Bon Iver perform. What we were really waiting for was Radiohead. They were on next.

As we waited and listened we talked a little about our families’ histories. My own ran deep into San Francisco’s Jewish community. He was a first generation American who’s parents were born and raised in Mexico. Radiohead came on at eleven and played a two hour set. They were even better than when I’d seen them live three days prior. During their whole performance I could not get one of Jack’s tattoos out of my mind. On his back, just below his left shoulder, “Little Spoon” was scribbled in permanent black cursive. Radiohead finished their set past one a.m. Jack recognized my sleepiness and offered to crash on the floor for the night and take Muni back to his place in the morning. I obliged, only insisting I drive him home in the morning.

He sat patiently on the couch as I got a spare comforter from my closet. When I returned I had gathered enough courage to bashfully ask, “Do you want to be the little spoon tonight?” Jack smiled, and responded simply “Uh huh.” When we got into bed we both laid on our sides. Jack grabbed my arm and draped it over his torso. He held my hand lightly, giving it a subtle rub from time to time. Meanwhile, I was practically trembling in the dark. He could no doubt feel the physical manifestation of my anxiousness. “You don’t seem comfortable,” he whispered. “I’m used to sleeping by myself is all,” I answered. “Let me try sleeping on my back.” I shifted. He kept my arm around himself as I did. “Is that better?” he checked in. “Much better. But there’s one last thing I need before I can sleep comfortably.” I rotated my face to meet his. Then I kissed him. Although I intended to keep it short, Jack wouldn’t let me stop. Our embrace under the covers lasted for a couple minutes.

Finally, I lay on my back, adrenaline pumping, as I stared up at the white ceiling beam above my bed. I was not going to fall asleep. The gravity of the moment, and my adjustment to sleeping with another’s body in so close proximity for the first time, would not let me do so. Jack curled my arm around his shoulders. He was tucked under my right arm and used my pectoral as a pillow. Without moving he mentioned he had forgotten to ask about my past relationships when he had told me about his own. I waited for a moment, neither eager nor afraid to reveal my blank past. “None to speak of,” I told him. It was my third minimalist response in forty-eight hours. “Does that make you worry,” I asked. He thought for a couple seconds, continuing to use my chest as his pillow. “No,” he replied, in his own minimalist response.

Idle Worship / American Idyll / Idol Moments

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

Runtime: 10 minutes and 57 seconds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—–

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

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

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

——

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

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

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

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.