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”.

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Apartment 14

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

Runtime: 7 minutes and 56 seconds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Summertime Brainstorm

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 12 seconds.

Selected tracks: Rilo Kiley “Capturing Moods” and Justice “Newlands”

“KABOOOOOM! BAAARRROOOOOOM!” Jessica read the capitalized words softly. “Is that how loud thunder is?” I asked her. She looked back at me with her doe-ish eyes. Her blank face slowly transformed into a smiling one. She shook her head no. “KABOOOOOM! BAAARRROOOOOOM!” She shouted this time.

I’d worked with Jessica on her reading fluency over the past couple weeks. Her marked improvement gave me an immense feeling of satisfaction and pride. Today I noticed a pattern. When she could visualize and act out the text, she read more fluidly and gracefully, and with few mistakes. When she’d get stuck on a word or phrase she didn’t understand, she’d lose her footing entirely, incorrectly pronouncing words I was confident she knew.

On one occasion Ms. C had me test Jessica’s words per minute. We practiced the test passage once together, then I timed her next read. It seemed she suffered from test anxiety. Her untested read through was her better fair. On the timed read, she rushed and stumbled over words she knew and had long pauses when she was petrified by words she didn’t recognize. After the test, I had her read once more. I told her I was not going to time her. I lied. I secretly started the timer once she began reading. On this run through she was as flawless as she’d ever been. When the timer went off, she looked at me and said,”Hey!” My trick had been insightful.

Today, when we came to the last page of the story Thunder Cakes, I reiterated it’s main idea. “The little girl overcame all her fears,” I told Jessica. “Milking the kicking cow, climbing the trellis, taking the eggs from the mean hen, and going out in the storm, to help her Grandma make thunder cake. She did all these brave things because she was so focused on what she needed to do that she forgot to be afraid.”

“Good work today Jessica,” I commended her. We walked together out of the reading room. The class was lined up ready to go to lunch. There were twenty days left until the 2nd graders became 3rd graders. This meant summer vacation for them. And no more volunteering for me. I wasn’t ready to relinquish this activity. It grounded and balanced me. Plus, I felt my work was unfinished with a handful of struggling readers, Jessica among them. I was determined to build upon my skills as a reading tutor, but I had not yet sought out tutoring opportunities for the summer. I foresaw taking the summer off as a stoppage in my progress.

“I really hope you volunteer with us again next year,” Ms. C suggested as the lunch bell rang. “I’m thinking I probably will,” I replied. “In the meantime, I’m looking for tutoring opportunities over the summer. I get a lot out of reading with the kids and I’d like to improve at helping them learn.” Although it didn’t occur to me until after my talk with Ms. C, reading with kids had renewed my faith in stories. Three years working in the film industry had broken it. I found personal connection to the themes of many stories I read with the kids. It helped me understand and cope with a multitude of things happening in my life.

Ms. C responded, “I’m more than willing to refer you to my students’ parents. God knows they need the extra help. I’m sure you’ve noticed many of them need to practice their reading over the summer.” KABOOOOOOOOM! “And some friends of mine started a reading center in the Mission called 826 Valencia. They’re a great place to volunteer.” BAAAARRRROOOOOOOM! The thunderous realization was loud and clear. I could now visualize the arc in my own story I desperately wanted.

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 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.