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.

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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.

Substitute (Part 2 of 2)

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

Runtime: 5 minutes and 39 seconds.

Selected tracks: Explosions in the Sky “Be Comfortable, Creature” and Lykke Li “Love Out of Lust”

The kids filed back into the classroom after recess. Mr. Garza plopped into a chair in the reading corner. Connie herded the kids over to the rug outstretched before the stoned substitute. If I wasn’t so emotionally sensitive to the Mary Jane, I might have considered asking Garza about his stash. Anything to cool my angst was a welcome idea.

“Now I’m going to recite to you a poem by a far out writer named Langston Hughes,” Garza announced. “This beautiful piece is called ‘April Rain Song’.” The kids shifted around on the rug, their energy from recess not yet expelled. “Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby. The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk. The rain makes running pools in the gutter. The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night. And I love the rain.”

Mr. Allen’s class now lay still and silent, soothed by Mr. Garza’s lyrical recitation. All I wanted was to let the tears rain down for what I had lost, but they would not come. My stoicism relegated my healing process to the inside.

Garza continued to pique the kids’ imaginations by reading a chapter from Percy Jackson in which Mr. Allen had left off. With the students’ attentions parlayed, Connie prepared a lesson on atoms and static charges. In the middle of her preparation, a well dressed Asian woman in her late 50s entered the classroom. It was Connie’s professor, there to observe her teaching. She bore pearl earrings, a short bob of black hair, trim, stylish glasses, and mulato leather boots that anchored just below her knee caps. Post arrival and greeting, the professor clomped to the back corner of the room and set up shop. She carefully pulled a macbook from her tote and placed it on the desk before her.

Connie walked over to the reading corner and caught Garza’s eye. He finished the last paragraph he was on and handed the class back over to her. “You remember Monday when Mr. Allen rubbed balloons on your heads and your hairs stood on end?” Connie recalled. The class gave an ecstatic confirmation. “Well, we’re going to learn why that happened today.” The professor was now typing away robotically at her macbook.

At the kids’ desks were tiny marshmallows atop paper plates. Drawn on each marshmallow was one of three symbols: a negative sign, positive sign, or a zero. “Everything, everywhere is made out of something called an atom,” Connie explained. She stood at the bow of the classroom, beside a projected drawing of an atom and its charged particles. “You, me, this table, a dog, a lion, everything. We’re all made from tons of atoms so small we can’t even see them with just our eyes. And each atom has a couple things inside them. They’re called protons, neutrons, and electrons.”

Connie continued her lesson until the charges in atoms and the attractions between them were sufficiently explained. She then set the kids on an activity of building their own atoms with the marshmallows provided.

“What do two neutrons do again?” a student named George asked me. “They lay beside each other, side by side. They coincide, but they don’t stick together,” I answered. George proudly responded “And protons are attracted to electrons!” “Right,” I commended him. “And two protons or two electrons hate one another. They repel!” George had it right. “Does everything always have the same charge?” he asked. I pondered his questioned for a moment. “No. Not always. Some charges can change under certain circumstances. Luck of the draw sometimes. But that’s life.” George looked on at me confused. He was too young to fathom and accept all of this world’s complexities.

The Devil and Robert Johnson

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

Runtime: 9 minutes and 30 seconds.

Selected tracks: Bob Dylan “The Times They Are A-Changin”, The Decemberists “A Cautionary Song” and Robert Johnson “Me and the Devil Blues”

A diffused blue hue hit my studio apartment at six in the morning. The sun’s light was filtered through layers of clouds and half closed window blinds. Jack was still asleep on the couch, curled underneath my spare comforter. Foghorns from the Golden Gate chimed in the distance as I stretched out in my bed.

It was only hours ago that I lay awake beside Jack, craving the entire twin sized bed to myself. That was something I was accustomed to having for the past twenty-five years of my life. “Are you awake?” I whispered. “Mmhmm,” Jack mumbled. I knew I had the option of asking him to sleep on the couch, as he had continuously offered throughout the night. He noticed I was unable to doze off with him sleeping in the bed. I capitalized on this out he gave me. “Can you sleep on the couch? It’s not personal, I just really need some sleep tonight. I volunteer early in the morning,” I barely squeezed the words out through an immensely apologetic baring of my teeth. I gave him a passionate kiss and reiterated that it wasn’t personal. The grip of his lips to my own clearly indicated no offense was taken. When my friends heard the story they were appalled that I “kicked him out of bed”. But in context I knew between Jack and I it was a rather sweet, charming, and memorable moment.

My long held fears, anxieties, and hesitations over sex had dissipated overnight. As I lay in bed, waiting to fall asleep after Jack’s embrace, I felt a rush of serenity. Jack’s acceptance and attraction had made my first time safe, special, and satisfying. Although the significance of this moment in my own history was not lost on me, it did not feel like the revelation I was expecting. It came with such ease which made me ask myself: What was I so afraid of for all these years?

Over the course of the next week Jack slept over twice more. We began to share more about ourselves. He met some my friends, and I met some of his. We watched movies, cuddled on the couch, had meals together. I found myself being more charming, witty, interesting, kind, and sexy than I ever thought possible. Upon closer analysis, I realized I had always had all of these qualities, I was no different than before I met Jack. It felt like a a key paragraph in a novel that is always there, but only becomes visible when a reader highlights it in neon yellow.

On Saturday night Jack stayed over again. We cuddled on the couch as we watched the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. We would sleep together afterward. Both of us, this time, in the same twin sized bed. Jack slept in Sunday morning as I read and made breakfast. At a quarter past ten, after noticing he had awoke, I climbed back into bed, making him the little spoon once again. “You ready for some breakfast?” I asked. He replied with a tired moan and then “But I like you right here.”

Before I finished cooking (eggs sunny side up, healthy ham from the skillet, and arugula on a toasted whole wheat English muffin with edamame hummus) I put a playlist from my itunes on shuffle. Mostly modern folk artists played: Fleet Foxes, The Decemberists, Edward Sharpe, Mumford and Sons, and Andrew Bird among others. Jack scoured through my music library, noting the recurring themes of folk, indie, and 80s new wave. I described to him the evolution of my musical tastes: 90s/00s pop to pop rock to alt rock which eventually branched into combinations of indie, folk, and electronic. “Slowly I’ve become more hyper-aware of lyrics,” I called out from the kitchen. “I think that’s why I’m into folkier stuff right now. Those songs are as much about telling a story as they are about giving your ears an orgasm.” I then cited Fleet Foxes’ recent hit “Helplessness Blues”, an ode to self analysis and the search for personal purpose. “The song speaks to me and marks, with surprising specificity, this time of my life,” I explained. Breakfast was now ready. Jack gave me a passionate “thank you” kiss. We shared songs all morning, back and forth. Folk from me, electronic from him.

——

Monday was another field trip day for Mr. Allen’s class. 826 Valencia in the Mission was today’s destination. Dave Egger’s non-profit center for reading and story writing. From the outside the building is very unassuming. Its windows are boarded up with only the numbers 8, 2, and 6 displayed. Once you’re inside it’s a different story.

Mr. Allen’s 4th graders examined the front room with awe. It was a lantern lit maze of wooden paneling, filled asymmetrical bookshelves, and various trinkets from famous literature. It was constructed to resemble the hull of a pirate ship. I’d never seen imagination brought into existence so tangibly. The design put Disneyland to shame.

The maze eventually opened up to an airy backroom, decorated with exquisitely designed rugs, long wooden tables and benches, and a projection screen sandwiched by two velvet curtains. A tall, slender man stood in front of the screen welcoming the students. Once everyone was settled he began his presentation. He performed with quick, animated, flamboyant movements, not unlike an exaggerated Pixar character. After establishing the most important elements to a good story (plot, setting, characters, arcs, originality), the cartoonish man brought up slides of an example story.

“Has everyone here heard of blues or folk music? Well this is the story of Robert Johnson, one of the most influential musicians in history, and how the Devil changed his life.” He went on to tell the story of the blues artist that inspired such folk legends as Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and Bruce Springsteen. Johnson was a terrible guitar player starting out. He was always out of tune. One day a man told him he could fix his inadequacy by waiting until midnight at a crossroad near the plantation in which he lived and worked. Johnson followed the man’s  advice and at midnight the Devil appeared. He took Johnson’s guitar, tuned it, played a few songs, and then returned the instrument. From that night forward, anytime Robert Johnson played his guitar and sang, pure brilliance followed. “All the Devil did was tune Robert’s guitar,” 826 Valencia’s doscent reiterated. “He was always playing the right chords, he just needed someone to adjust the tension in his strings.”

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.

De Tales

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

Runtime: 7 minutes and 3 seconds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Perks of Being a Sunflower

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 23 seconds.

Selected tracks: Accept Yourself and Love Like a Sunset

Absorb…the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s definition.

1. to take in and make part of an existent whole

2. to suck up or take up

3. to engage or engross wholly (as in absorbed in thought)

4a. to receive without recoil or echo

4b. to transform into a different form

—–

“Did you finish it?” my friend Rebecca eagerly asked. I hadn’t. Less than a week ago she lent me what she proclaimed to be her bible from her teen years, “The Perks of Being A Wallflower”. It’s a fictional first person narrative about a boy’s freshman year of high school. “You need to read this book right now. It impacted me so much when I was going through what you are at this point.” Since coming out at age 25 and finally allowing myself to pursue romantic relationships, I’ve felt like I’m playing catchup with everyone else. Essentially I’m living through the teenage romantic angst that everyone has already gone through. This is why Rebecca wanted me to read the book. “Ok,” I assured her. “I’m not as fast a reader as you, but I’ll get through it. I promise.”

Two days after she gave me the book, I pushed past the first couple pages. It  referenced many cultural landmarks that I personally connect with, like the band The Smiths, the book Catcher and the Rye, and the film Rocky Horror Picture Show. As I continued reading I noticed select sentences and paragraphs she highlighted. It was insightful to see what moments popped out to her back when she first read the book. I felt like I was coming to understand Rebecca more as a person and getting a chance to closely examine lines she thought would be useful to me. Into a couple chapters, a quote she highlighted stood out. “We accept the love we think we deserve.” I leaned back in my chair at my kitchen table and applied the theory to people I’ve known and to myself. It worked in every case. I then pulled out my phone and texted Rebecca the quote. She responded: “That line is specifically why I wanted you to read this book.” I then texted back: “I’m still learning I deserve more than no love at all.” Rebecca then added: “You need to love yourself before you can let anyone else in completely.” This was not the first time I’d heard this statement, but the impact of it felt especially powerful this time.

——

Ms. C started writing on the white board with a green marker. It was my day to volunteer in 2nd grade. On the board she wrote 7 sentences each having at least one blank line in it for the students to fill in. “The unit were working on this month is life cycles. I want you to read with your elbow partner the book I give you about a certain living being. For example we have a horse, a sunflower, and an ant. I want you to fill in the blank of each of these sentences describing the different stages of their lives and what attributes they have in each of these stages.”

Ms. C turned to me and asked if I could sit with a student she had me working with earlier. We’ll call her Sarah. Sarah was a Hispanic student who struggled with her reading and writing in English. Her elbow partner was a bilingual Chinese girl, who spoke both Cantonese and English. We’ll call her Jennifer. I sat down next to the two girls just as they were handed a book on sunflowers. They began copying down the sentences Ms. C had written on the board. The first question was easily handled. “A sunflower’s first stage is a seed.” They wrote. After a couple more answers they came to a difficult fill in the blank sentence. They needed to answer what a sunflower can do once it is fully bloomed. Jennifer, the Cantonese speaker, turned to Sarah, the Spanish speaker, and answered: “A sunflower can absorb the sun’s rays after it grows its petals.” “That’s very good,” I praised.

“What does absorb mean?” Sarah asked. I responded: “It takes in the suns energy. It soaks it up in order to grow.” All I received was a blank stare. There was no confirmation behind her large dark pupils that she understood. I paused for a moment, thinking of a different way to explain the word to her. My mind shifted through everything that can absorb. I knew I had to pick something that would be easy for her to visualize. Then it hit me. “You know what a sponge is, right?” Nothing. “How about a paper towel?” She nodded,”Uh huh, ya”. “What happens to a paper towel when it gets wet?” I asked. She took a moment to think and then looked back at me, looking for the answer. I rubbed my face thinking what avenue to try next, then it struck me. “Hold on.” I told her.

I walked over to the classroom’s sink, grabbed a white paper towel, yellow water color paint, and a cup filled with water. I set it all down in front of Sarah. She and Jennifer observed intently. “You see what the paper towel looks and feels like right now?” “Uh huh,” Sarah answered. I dropped an ounce of yellow paint into the water, and stirred it with my pinkie, tinting its color. Then I dunked the paper towel into the water. Both girls focused intently on the paper towel and the cup filled with yellow water. I pulled the towel out of the cup. It was now soaked and yellow. “Is the towel different now than it was before?” I inquired. “Ya its yellow!” Sarah replied. “What happened?” I asked her. “You put it in the yellow water.” she answered. “That’s what the word absorb means,” I explained. “The paper towel absorbed the yellow water.” Sarah nodded confidently. She understood now.