Saturday, April 29, 2006

Shutting Down the House

Sometimes, there are no guys shouting out things in French, no unusual jeans or creepy ex-husbands trying to seem like good guys. Sometimes, there is just a big empty house.

Danger Girl called me earlier this week to see if I would babysit her while she gathered the last of her stuff from the house she used to live in. Her French boyfriend couldn't make it. I was her last hope. "I can't do this alone," she said. "I just need some moral support." Yesterday, I met her at the house.

This house, which is soon to be for sale, is beautiful. Located in the inner Sunset, it's 80-something years old and huge. 2700 square feet, with gorgeous original wood details throughout. They plan to market it at $1.6 million. But it's also dark, and it's heavy, because its contains within its walls the recent memories of a family that fell apart.

We didn't have to get much, just a few things. I basically followed Danger Girl around, carrying what I could, then stuffing things into the trunk of her Jetta. My real job was to nod in the affirmative when she pointed out all of the vindictive things her ex-husband has done, to wince appropriately when she finds his new girlfriend's clothes in one of the dresser drawers, and to thank my lucky stars to have unlimited access to my Jawa as she goes through her daughter and son's things, trying to keep it together as she divides everything up: "I bought her this, it comes to my house; he bought her that, it stays here."

You know, I see this every week. In addition to seeing dead people's houses, it's normal to run across a few divorce sales each week. You'll see a beautifully staged house upstairs and a garage full of the rise and fall of a family -- cribs, toys, golf clubs, clothes, tools -- all of the things that can be argued over when a couple calls it quits.

Somewhere in the city, Danger Girl's ex-husband is at a meeting. Back at his house, we're heading up a ladder to the attic. I stand at the base, holding the ladder steady as Danger Girl climbs. She's lost a bunch of weight and was skinny to begin with, and as we've walked through the house, she's sometimes broken into an involuntary shudder. "I can't take this," she says, "I feel like I'm going to vomit."

When she reaches the top of the ladder, she looks into the attic. "Oh, my God," she says, and starts to cry. Things start raining down on me as she tosses them -- three fuzzy blankets, some stack of children's books, a small pair of shoes.

Eventually, Danger Girl descends the ladder. There is a large pile of children's items on the bed. We both regard it ruefully. "Do you still want to get back together with him?" I ask.

"No way. I can't imagine it. I'm just sad for my kids."

I once saw a picture of the fire that followed the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. In it, a row of apartments in the Marina burned. The part that surprised me, though, was that the unburned buildings were just standing there as if nothing was wrong. They should have been cringing, or trying to get away, or something. That's the way it looks to see the ex-husband's things hanging in closets, the remaining pictures on the refrigerator, the schedule from their daughter's school. All these things are there, as if everything is still normal.

But it's not normal. For one, Danger Girl is now absent from any picture on the refrigerator. In her place is a picture of the ex-husband sitting somewhere on a rock, holding a dog. And his things are in every closet, even the ones that used to be full of her things. And a few, as we noticed earlier, are full of his new girlfriend's things.

And there are boxes. He's been doing work on the house, getting it ready to sell. He's been painting and packing and cleaning. Soon the stagers will come and fill the house with new, unused furniture, and generic art, photos of people Danger Girl and her ex-husband have never met. It will look like a Pottery Barn landed on top of the house, all the better to move the focus from who has lived there to who will live there.

A new family will move into the house. They will bring with them children, hope and big plans for the future, just as Danger Girl and her ex did when they moved in a few years ago. The house will get another chance to start its life over as a home.

Danger Girl's ex-husband, a man who always has a plan that's better than your plan, is going to "rent for a year, and then buy." Danger Girl herself will try to hang onto the house I sold her back in November. "I'm just starting to feel like I actually live there," she says, just in time to probably have to sell it and move into an apartment herself.

Homes get second and third chances. They can reinvent themselves. Paint and sandpaper can work miracles. Here's to hoping it can work that way for people, too.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Religious Experience

I received a bedside plea this morning, a few minutes before 7. I had planned to wake up, go to the gym, then attend to a full slate of meetings. This is how it would be until 6:57, when an agitated Jawa burst into my chamber of slumber and manipulatively began..."Daddy, I know you won't want to do this, but..."

He is many things, my Jawa.

"...can you go to Tefillah at my school today?"

Note for the uninformed, gentile, everyone whose kid doesn't attend a Jewish Day School, basically me four years ago: Tefillah is a weekly service they have at the synagogue next door to our school. All the kids and teachers attend.

I am bad at morning. Just doesn't work. But I summoned up all of the charm and goodwill that I had left from the previous evening and said, "Of course I'll go."

Change of plans: get up, take shower, shave, put on clothes. Pants are six years old and designed for the 34-year-old Lefty, not the expanded 40-year-old version. "Sorry," they seem to be saying, "You've gotten bigger. We haven't." I imagine that I am just a few pounds away from Haggar sans-a-belt double knit slacks. They can be quite attractive in chocolate or wheat.

The Jawa was pleased. I took him to school, sat in my car "stealing" wireless from an institution that gets $18,000 from me each year, walked up to the synagogue, donned my kepa, and settled into my seat to enjoy the show.

I am not a religious person. I was not brought up particularly religious, and in fact, until the Jawa began school at Brandeis, unconsciously assumed that being Jewish meant to resent the intrusion of any religion, including my own. My mother used to threaten us with temple, if I remember correctly.

So I am no more at home in the tefillah setting than I would be at, say, the infrequent masses I attended while teaching at (Bishop) Blanchet High School in Seattle, Washington. Or that time my born-again Christian girlfriend made me go to church with her and everyone was holding their arms up to the sky. Okay, that one was just plain freaky.

This was a special tefillah. Rabbis from all over the Bay Area were brought in. Each led us in prayer. I drifted off, imagining that I should be feeling my Jewish roots very deeply, transporting myself to the temples of biblical times, or to the shtetls of the more recent past.

Not really. It took me most of the service to spot the Jawa with his class. Once I did that, I just watched him to see if he was screwing around. He wasn't, but he did look bored. And he was sitting next to Mikayla, which must have made Rachel insane with jealousy.

I did, however, think of my father, who lately has taken to commenting in this blog under his Hebrew name. I don't remember him being particularly religious, either, when we were growing up. I know that he grew up in a far more secular home than my mother, who can relate childhood stories of brushing the chametz (leavened bread) away with a feather on erev pesach.

As he gets older, my father gets, if not more religious, than certainly more Jewish. And as I have learned over the past 4 years, or maybe since 9/11, how religious you are has little to do with how Jewish you are. Very few people at our school will admit to being religious. It's hilarious. At our first parent-principal breakfast, an argument erupted over the teaching of Adam and Eve to our then-tiny tots. "Only at a Jewish school," I related to Sandra Bullock, "would the Jews complain that it's too religious."

But back to my father. I'm not sure why, but he is reclaiming his heritage. This is a man who once tried to join the Israeli army, but who never attended temple and once proclaimed himself to be "an anti-semitic Jew!" (he also once claimed to be a member of the "B'nai Birch Society.") I think his transformation began twenty years ago, when he first visited Israel. "I got off the plane," he said later, "and felt like I was home." When they were shopping for a retirement place a few years ago, he initially suggested Israel. They ended up in Arizona, which is a desert where you are unlikely to get blown up by a brainwashed teenager seeking 72 virgins in heaven.

He was pleased when we decided to send the Jawa to Brandeis. It seemed to me that my father was glad to see that someone was going to give a nod to our history, that even though his children all married outside the faith, at least one of the grandchildren would be raised with a connection to our roots.

It was my father who asked us to have a bris for the Jawa. He approached us at a cousin's wedding and said, "I don't ask you for much, but I'm going to ask for this one thing." And it is my father who is very happy in Arizona, but today I was feeling a little bit sad to not have him living close enough to attend things like tefillah. I think he would have enjoyed it.

Sorry you couldn't make it today, Dad. You would have enjoyed the many rabbis. There was an orthodox guy with a beard and a big New York accent who sung beautifully, and a young guy who spoke loudly and asked the kids questions, then ran through his prayers in a rush. There was a lesbian rabbi whose kid goes to our school, and an old school guy whose kid, he said, had been a second-grader at Brandeis 23 years ago, and now lived in Jerusalem. One guy had died recently, and so they sent a young, Australian woman in his place.

I'm not sure why the Jawa wanted me to attend this particular tefillah, but I'm glad I did. I know I can't have my dad at things like this, but at least the Jawa can have his.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Weird Showers and VIPs

How many of you would enjoy having a shower in the middle of your bedroom? The people who renovated the $1.895 million house I saw today think that many of you would. How else to explain why they stuck a large clear glass shower on the wall between the master bath and the master bedroom? The effect is as if someone dropped a 5-foot square, eight-foot high cube in one corner of the bedroom.

I can understand the thinking -- not only can you discuss the day's events with your spouse, you can also gaze out at the breathtaking view of San Francisco readily available out the floor-to-ceiling bedroom windows. If you are one who feels comfortable standing naked in front of floor-to-ceiling windows, this is for you.

Speaking only for myself, I don't shower for the enjoyment of others, no matter how intimate our relationship may be. I've never seen a video of me showering, but I can safely bet that most of what happens in there is not for public viewing.

And knowing my client, NY Steve, as well as I do, I'm tempted to bring him to the house just to enjoy his reaction to the shower. We once looked at a place that not only had a shower open to the bedroom, but had an entire wall of glass functioning to separate the bathroom from the bedroom. "Oh, great," said NY Steve, "now I can watch my wife take a dump in the morning."

I doubt the shower would elicit such a classically "quit wasting my time with this," comment, but I'm sure it would be worth the trip to Noe Valley.

We realtors spend lots of time in houses. Eventually, you stop saying "hey, I've been in that house," which makes your wife much happier. When we are not in houses, we are in our cars, lurching around the city, getting terrible gas mileage, listening to music or talk radio and assessing the skills of our fellow drivers.

And now, after almost a year of driving around, I offer up this: driving, like life, is a much simpler task if you just don't care about anyone around you. If you have no problem cutting people off, not waiting your turn at stop signs, tailgating and speeding, then you are sure to get to your destination more quickly than those of us caught in the morass of concern for our fellow drivers.

My dad's first driving lesson to the 16-year-old me was to "assume that everyone else on the road is a homocidal maniac." By that he meant everyone in addition to my mother and two sisters. I have always tried to remember his advice while behind the wheel, though I have been guilty, especially as a realtor trying desperately to see 15 properties in one hour, of being overly agressive.

But now I realize that this is what is slowing me down, on the road and in life. A few years ago I became obsessed with the idea that the only thing holding civilization together was this unspoken pact we all had, to basically do what is expected of us; we don't cut in line, we don't hit people, smash our cars into each other, say rude things to each other. In short, we try to fulfill our responsibilities as citizens. Mostly.

Everyone wants their little slice of the power pie, which is understandable. And much of what we see daily is a reminder that we deserve that power. It's ours for the taking. Turn on the TV sometimes, open a magazine, look at a billboard: our world is now filled with products that will show "the man" that we're not going to sit here quietly and accept the garbage that is dealt to us each day. We are going to get what we want, pamper ourselves in the way we deserve to be pampered, and rebel against whatever there is to rebel against. Bad cola, for example. Slow, boring vehicles. Unacceptable treatment from fast-food employees.

So now everyone is a VIP, and if you don't believe me, they've got special VIP rooms in bars, clubs and airports to hold up as proof. Fortunately, no one's figured out that this VIP status is based only on how much money you've spent in a certain place; they're just glad to finally be recognized as the VIPs they've always known themselves to be.

And if you think a VIP is going to worry about the rest of us non-VIPs, you're sadly misguided. VIPs understand that the key to getting what you want is to make yourself the other guy's problem, rather than giving him the chance to be yours, or just to dismiss him and his lowly needs entirely. Screw him, they think, I've got important things to do.

Ouch, this soapbox is making my feet hurt.

I know, I know, you've heard it all before and from people way more eloquent than me. Six years of watching young, able-bodied men shove past my child to get onto the BART, followed by the past year of watching how people act behind the wheel, pushed me over the edge. And yes, this means I've completed my transformation from angry, shouting driving guy to guy who gets tailgated and flipped off by angry, shouting driving guys.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Time Machine

Really, who doesn't want a time machine? I know that a time machine cannot exist unless all time happens at once, but that hasn't stopped me from wishing I had one on more than one occasion. I don't want to get your hopes up, but on Thursday, I think I found one.

You have to go to the Excelsior, one of the San Francisco neighborhoods that doesn't show up in any of the brochures. Out there, amidst the taquerias, 5 and dime stores and nail salons is the Granada Cafe, a holdover from the days when the Excelsior was the neighborhood Italians moved to when North Beach got to feeling too crowded.

I've toyed with the idea of the Granada Cafe before. One time Kathleen and I, in our never-ending precious search for "authenticity," parked and walked up to the door of the Granada Cafe, only to chicken out because the place looked empty. Which was not unusual, because it usually looks empty. Its sign hangs askew. Ancient Christmas lights seem to still be hanging only because they're too tired to fall down. The windows are either tinted or opaque from 50 years of cigarette smoke. In all, not an inviting place.

Unless you're me, that is. On Thursday, having been left alone with the Jawa in Monterey with his Boston-based pals the Fusco Brothers, and S. Bullock out with friends, I found myself with 20 minutes to kill in the Excelsior as my pizza cooked. I screwed up my courage and entered the Granada Cafe.

Inside were about a dozen people. The youngest was 2o years older than me, not counting Tommy, the bartender. I guessed that the decor hadn't been updated since 1956, and judging by the date on the nudie calendar hanging on the wall, I was right. The bar was wood-grained formica. It was old without any of the winking kitsch that usually plagues these places. Nobody, except for a dozen seniors who'd probably been coming here since 1956, had discovered this place yet.

"Can I get an Anchor Steam?" I asked Tommy.

"No you can't," he said without smiling.

"Uh..." I said.

"We've got Bud, Coors, Miller, Heineken and Moretti," he continued.


By the time I realized that I'd entered a time machine, I'd already embarassed myself. I looked foolish in my 1969 jeans and retro sweatshirt. They suggested that my only interest in the Granada Cafe was for camp value. Not so.

I sat back and soaked it all in. The Giants were on TV. Everyone besides me had moustaches. Even the women. Dave bought Brian and his wife a round. All three raised their glasses and said, "Salud!" Time passed easily.

Brian's wife has a birthday coming up, but she needs nothing. Jewelry? Nah. A new TV? Not a chance. What she wants is for Brian to take her up to Reno, and then, upon their return, to a good dinner.

"House of Prime Rib?" asks Brian.

"Of course," she says.

The Giants were up 4-0. Everyone was talking at once. Nobody but me was drinking beer. Brian and his wife ordered dinner, then dug into the anti pasta plate that arrived as an appetizer. I sat there wishing I was invisible, so I could get close enough to sample everyone's conversations, and thinking, "These are the people who own all of those houses I see every week."

Soon my beer was gone, and my pizza was ready. I stood to go, knowing that, even though I was an outsider, Tommy would thank me for coming in. He did. I walked 50 years through the front door, arriving at the present. Two kids wearing NBA replica jerseys and gigantic pants were loitering out front. The store next door advertised, in Spanish, great deals on cell phones. Cars sped by on Mission Street.

You can argue that my interest in the Granada Cafe is merely anthropological; just another ironic white kid skimming along the surface of other people's cultures. And you'd be right -- to a point. I guess for me it's simple: it's another way of going to North Carolina, only this time it's a chance to visit 1956.

Which is a place I've always wanted to visit, even if only for 20 minutes.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Carolina in my Mind

Get ready to pile on.

I've had a difficult week in real estate. Now some of you, namely Sandra Bullock, would respond to a difficult work week by hunkering down, identifying the reasons for the difficulties, and then formulate a logical plan to not only get past the present difficulties, but also to prevent them from every happening again. In this way, S. Bullock is the opposite of crazy.

She is also made of much sterner stuff than I. My response to this difficult week has been as follows:

Monday -- try to hide the stress from the Jawa, with whom I was sharing what appeared to be a carefree Spring Break day. During the run-up and afterward to seeing "The Wild," (Kiefer Sutherland's voice coming out of a lion. Creepy.) while the Jawa played at Metreon, I made 32 phone calls. Each call seemed to take me farther from resolution, rather than closer, and by the time my phone imploded -- while I was playing virtual bowl at the arcade -- my head felt like it was going to do a Linda Blair, then burst from inner pressure.

The poor Jawa. His Spring Break was compromised by my inability to handle pressure.

Tuesday -- confusing, because the four parties I was trying to put on the same page all seemed satisfied with what they were saying to each other. Unfortunately, they were all saying different things to me. After lunch, I took the Jawa to the zoo, where he showed me all of the animals. I felt my stress easing away, so I told the Jawa: "Thanks for helping me de-stress."

"Don't mention it, Dad."

I figured I'd make just one more phone call, which unfortunately served to restore my level of stress while making me look like a lousy workaholic dad (as if), yelling into the phone while his child tries to get his attention long enough to show him the Tapir, which has just emerged from its cement pond.

Today I figure I've done everything I can, and I've taken the tone of yesterday's final phone conversation as proof that I'm starting to fold under the pressure. So, rather than leap ahead like S. Bullock, instead I've shut things down, choosing to send a few emails and mentally go to North Carolina.

When the world here in San Francisco gets to be too much for me, I go to North Carolina, which to me is a place where you can get a nice house for $300,000, sit on your porch and rock back and forth, and then walk down the street to the bar, where a band made up of sincere young guys wearing plaid shirts is playing songs about girls they miss.

I know, I know; North Carolina is in the South(!), and, if I'm not mistaken, is a red state. Its Wal-Mart per capita is exceeded only by its Baptist Church per capita. It's got bugs, snow and extreme humidity, but I don't care. This is my own little flawed fantasy, so please don't wreck it with facts and/or opinions disguised as facts.

It's sort of like the reason I watch country music videos. They always seem to take place in sunny fields, or in some small town where mortgage brokers don't yell at you and nobody's going to get in your face because you threw your Coke can in the trash, not the recycling.

And before you all tell me why I wouldn't want to go to North Carolina, remember that I think Dayton would be a great place to live, too.

Now fortunately, I do have S. Bullock to remind me to get back on the horse. Though her reminders can be blunt, and my initial response to them can resemble that of a cornered mountain lion, I do appreciate her pragmatic approach to life, hers and mine. She has already given me loads of advice as far as how to avoid these problems in the future, how to cover my butt with my superiors, etc. It's all very useful, and as soon as I return from North Carolina, I will be sure to consider each and every one.

Ironically, the North Carolina I imagine probably resembles most the Pennsylvania I lived in as a little kid, only with fewer coal mines. And I've always maintained that, if done correctly, living in a city was not that different from living in a small town. More expensive, with more restaurants and stores. And crime.

Somewhere out there is North Carolina. I may be living in it right now, too myopic to figure it out as it stares me in the face. It might be here in San Francisco, or in Seattle, or Dayton, or even, God forbid, Phoenix, Arizona. One thing I know for certain, though, is that North Carolina is not at Edwards Air Force Base.

And I apologize for the title of this post. In reality, I can think of almost as many reasons to hate James Taylor as I can the Grateful Dead.

Monday, April 17, 2006

61 Reasons to Hate the Grateful Dead

1) At their Colma store, Sprint PCS has programmed some of their sample phones to not only play a Grateful Dead song, but also to flash iconic "Dead" images -- the hippie skeleton, a crown of roses, etc.

2) Jerry Garcia once said that he "produced art like some people sweat." Besides being a pretentious thing to say, no fat, hairy guy should ever draw the conversation towards sweat.

3) Bob Weir has performed in little shorts and a polo shirt since the early 1980s.

4) Bands with two drummers suck.

5) Entire generations of children have been forced to believe that this medium-tempo, country-blues music was somehow better than anything produced since.

6) In the words of Diane Arn, "I don't get what this (pointing to stage) has to do with this (pointing to audience hippie doing falling-down-the-stairs dance)

7) Unlike punks, Deadheads don't fight back. If you slam into them, they give you a hurt look and continue grooving.

8) Body odor. Plain and simple.

9)White guys with smug, self-satisfied expressions doing endless arhythmic undulations and making darn sure that you know what a great time they're having.

10) Slow, old vehicles lacking catalytic converters actually pollute more than efficient, modern ones.

11) Dogs wearing bandanas and oversized sunglasses are not funny (see previous entry).

12) Pop songs are not meant to be 25 minutes long.

13) They hijacked a set from John Fogarty during the 1992 Bill Graham Tribute concert at Golden Gate park, proving that the Grateful Dead can make any song sound identical to the one they just played.

14) You could go to a Grateful Dead show and set up a razors and deodorant concession. You'd go broke.

15) Phish.

16) The adjective "noodling," as it applies to guitar solos.

17) The band has a 100% death rate for keyboardists. And keyboardists aren't even cool.

18) During the 80s, did you ever peek into a friend's cassette collection and find 150 homemade tapes with dates and places written on them? "1/15/77, Red Rocks."

19) They hijacked many punks (including my once fierce little sister), making them into what they once hated, hippies.

20) "Hey, dude, I've got no beef with you! Mellow out!"

21) Tie-dye should, by all rights, have never lasted as a (bad) fashion choice beyond 1971.

22) They were the highest-grossing touring act in the world for the last 5 years of their career, and yet continued to promote themselves as part of a roving community of like-minded peers.

23) My little sister's friends humiliated my dad by telling him he "looked like Jerry Garcia!" while undoubtedly wearing beatific, vacuous smiles.

24) Body odor. Oh, wait, I already said that. But have you ever been to a Dead show? It's strong enough to merit two mentions.

25) Mardi Gras shows included gigantic heads being paraded around by guys wearing stilts. I ask you, where are the mimes?

26) Jerry Garcia died, and yet the band continues to re-form and play under various names.

27) Now that they're old (the ones who aren't dead), the surviving members of the Grateful Dead intend to carry on their public personas as rockers and members of the cultural elite. Witness Mickey Hart's books about drumming.

28) Mickey Hart's books on drumming and percussion have opened the eyes of legions of Babyboomers to drumming from around the world, thus setting up very uncomfortable situations for teenage boys who enter their date's home, only to be assaulted by faux-hip parents grooving to indecipherable drumming.

29) Drum circles.

30) Crop circles. Okay, that's taking it too far.

31) The verb "grooving."

32) The fact that the only good brew pub in the Haight is called "Magnolia," after the Grateful Dead song, "Sugar Magnolia." You can have the psychedelics, but please leave us the beer.

33) 22-year-olds shouldn't listen to 40-year-old rock and roll. It's just wrong.

34) Vegans who smoke cigarettes.

35) When we lived in Seattle, the Grateful Dead would play shows at Memorial Stadium. Two things would happen: 1) The entire of lower Queen Anne would be overrun with hippies. 2) We could hear the freaking Grateful Dead from our place on Capitol Hill. There was no escape.

36) Panhandling kids from upper-middle class homes.

37) My neighbor has a gigantic Grateful Dead tattoo.

38) Twenty-minute drum solos that include bongos, timpanis and weird, gong-like things.

39) Sometimes a Deadhead will talk for more than an hour about the intricate musical changes that took place after Pigpen died.

40) Deadheads somehow equate following a band around with being an artist. Sorry, making friendship bracelets doesn't count.

41) My brother-in-law the Rocket Scientist professes to like the Grateful Dead. It seems unlikely, because he's as straight as they come, and he has a very dry sense of humor, so I'm not sure if he was telling me the truth, but frankly, he kind of intimidates me so I was afraid to ask.

42) Dreadlocks on white guys.

43) Massive groups of people laughing uproariously at stuff that's not at all funny.

44) Dirty, naked kids running around because "they're free."

45) Each member of the Grateful Dead lives in a gigantic house. I live in a small, 2-bedroom place. I'll bet your house is closer in size to mine than theirs.

46) There is in-fighting among the surviving members of the group and mismanagement of the group's business. Dude, mellow out.

47) The word "mellow."

48) The fact that any group with a strong, grassroots following and a good live stadium show is automatically compared to the Grateful Dead.

49) Too many band members. Again, two drummers? Two guitarists AND a keyboard player? Do the guys on stilts wearing the oversized heads get the same percentage of the cut as the guy who hits the timpani?

50) Dirty hippies saying "trips" and "bud" as you walk through the parking lot.

51) Hacky-sack is not a sport, though it is kind of fun to walk up to a bunch of hippies kicking that thing around and say, "I've got winners, okay?"

52) Some of Jerry Garcia's country-tinged side projects were pretty good. As a result, however, Deadheads now claim country and bluegrass as their own, and nothing can destroy a good country or bluegrass show as quickly as a couple of hippies doing the falling-down-the-stairs dance alone in front of the band while everyone else is just watching.

53) Deadhead dads still think that putting their kid in a tie-dyed t-shirt is a totemic expression meaning "I'm not uncool like those other, old dads." Even worse, tie-dyed t-shirts that say "Grateful Dad."

54) Suede boots with soft soles. Totally impractical

55) Tevas with white socks. Tevas with skirts. Tevas with camping shorts. Tevas.

56) Jerry Garcia OD'ing on cocaine in the front seat of his Jaguar.

57) They ruined Ken Kesey. Okay, maybe it was the other way around?

58) Creepy skull.

59) Deadheads seem to lack any critical skills. Or perhaps it's more of a willful jettison of them. Either way, it's hard to debate someone who's bobbing their head and humming.

60) Everything is most decidedly NOT cool and mellow, and sometimes there ARE worries.

61) Even now, some ten years after Jerry Garcia's death, this band who recorded their first single in 1964 still dominates Bay Area culture enough to annoy me.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Chocolate of Doom

Cleverly switching religions, we sit poised on the edge of Easter. That, as the joke goes, is the day Christ was risen, saw his shadow and we had six more weeks of winter.

I'd like to apologize to my Christian readers for the previous remark.

But I'd be lying if I said there were not 21 plastic Easter eggs hidden all around the living room, or that I wasn't eagerly anticipating the four-pack of Cadbury caramel eggs S. Bullock got me for Easter.

Today, as I casually tossed two chocolate Hershey eggs into my mouth, I tricked myself for the thousandth time into thinking that the present situation -- having bowls of chocolate items in the house -- was temporary, due only to the season. Of course, if you back up, you can easily draw a direct line from Easter back to Valentine's Day, then to Christmas, Thanksgiving and Halloween. Fill in various birthdays and anniversaries and what you have is one middle-aged Jew in chocolate denial.

Chocolate recognizes no diveristy in Faiths. It does not consider cholesterol levels, weight gain or the very real possiblity that there exists an addiction to chocolate quite similar in nature to those of alcohol or drugs. More than once I've chastised Sandra Bullock as she empties yet another bag of special pastel-colored M&Ms into the candy dish: "If I were an alcoholic, would you keep beer in the house?" Of course not.

She is still amazed when she buys chocolate and then finds it gone within 48 hours. This, I find very irritating. She knows who I am, after all. I suppose this is comparable to my continuing amazement each weekend when I wake up to find that she's re-organized the basement (that was this morning) or completing an addition to the house. S. Bullock is very fortunate in that her neurosis are all expressed in outwardly positive and productive ways.

I once had a discussion with my father. I said, "Dad, when you sit down and eat ice cream or chocolate, do you ever stop eating for any reason other than social embarassment?"

"Of course not."

I can't speak for Dad, but I have never eaten enough ice cream or chocolate to make myself sick. I have no time for those wimps who eat a half a piece of cake and then start whining about how, "Oh, it's too rich!" No. You stop because it'd be embarassing not to stop.

So any long-time readers who have been wondering about my obsession with chewing gum, the picture should be getting more clear: if you are chewing gum, you cannot continue to eat chocolate. Or ice cream.

We are lucky that chocolate and ice cream can be purchased at reasonable prices. I would hate to have to turn to a life of crime to support my habit.

And as long as I'm on this topic, I'd like to re-state a position I debated with Bake while we were roommates at Santa Clara: The trend of adding caramel and/or peanut butter to existing, perfectly good candy bars is a reflection of the inability of people's taste buds to mature to the point where they can handle the pure taste of chocolate.

Yes, I still do the occasional Milky Way (dark), Three Musketeers, and even enjoy, in my grown-up moments, the sublime flavors of Fran's truffles. But I am still hoping to someday be sophisticated enough to handle the hard stuff.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

District 5 and Passover

To have a family in San Francisco is to dream of someday owning a home in Noe Valley. It's just one neighborhood over from us, but it may as well be on the other side of the world. Where we have small, two-bedroom "cottages," they have expansive, 2300-square foot Victorians. Buy-in price is well over $1,000,000, but for that you get the San Francisco approximation of a working family neighborhood. How these people all managed to get $1,000,000+ together for a house remains a mystery, for they all claim to be middle class.

Every time I think I want to move to Noe Valley, I pick up the latest edition of the "Noe Valley Voice," which cures me of wanting to move there. Halfway through, I have to ask myself -- "Why would someone who thinks sophisticated humor involves a dog wearing a bandana and giant sunglasses feel qualified to make political commentary? And worse yet, why would anyone listen to them?"

It is then that I remember the cloying, "I may get older but I'll never grow up" sensibility that covers most of Noe Valley like the dashing Indiana Jones hats worn by so many of its male citizens. Those hats look great with a white ponytail peeking out the back of them.

I have already admitted that I am vulnerable to what Sandra Bullock calls "Noe Valley Lust," the condition of coveting they neighbor's comfortably affluent neighborhood, but it is just the convenience of their large commercial strip that I long for. I would love to walk out my front door and have a solid 8 blocks of stores, restaurants and bars. Here in Glen Park we have a small intersection.

Unfortunately, here in Glen Park we still have guys in Indiana Jones hats, hybrid cars suffocating under a malignant layer of bumper stickers and the aforementioned dogs wearing bandanas and oversized sunglasses. In fact, you'll find that in most San Francisco neighborhoods, save for the ones that actually admit they're full of millionaires. For those neighborhoods we save our most bilious distaste. We sit smugly in our own million dollar homes and call them "yuppies," thus demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of the term "yuppie."

It is a regionwide problem. Or condition. Depends on your point of view.

But I digress.

Tonight is erev Pesach, the eve of Passover. To celebrate, we attempted to cobble together some kind of Seder, the big dinner where you read a bunch of stuff, say things in Hebrew and eat Matzohs. We were hoping that the Jawa, with his extensive Jewish Day School education, would lead us, but he demurred. Our effort was patchy, at best.

The Jawa put together a Seder plate, but I'm pretty sure that we were supposed to do a blessing before chowing down on the hardboiled eggs. And we couldn't find a lamb shank, so we went with a Popsicle stick. I assumed the role of Seder leader, after a lifetime as the kid asking the four questions and finding the afikomen, and I think I did well, though S. Bullock interrupted me early to ask why I was "using that strange, booming voice." I wanted to add some burning bush gravity to the proceedings. After that, though, I resumed in my normal voice.

Let me say, though, that Sandra Bullock stands alone among daughters of men born in rural Arkansas when it comes to making Matzo ball soup. There is none other with twin uncles named Lester and Vester who can slap together dense, heavy matzo balls like her. Even with a goyishe punim like that.

How's my Yiddish, Mom?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Volume, Air Displacement, Torque

"Dad, I can burp the first half of the ABC's." The Jawa has made this boast before, but has never delivered.

"Oh, really? Let's hear it."

What follows is a gutteral reading of A-L. I went to college; I've heard someone burp the alphabet. What I'm hearing now sounds like Cookie Monster reciting the alphabet, but not at all like a burp.

"That was a fake burp."

"I know. But I'm working on it."

For the remainder of the 10-minute drive to school, I see him reflected in the rearview mirror, gulping down litres of air, hoping to have them come back out with volume, displacement and torque. But it is not to be. Instead, he forces the air back out in tiny, barely audible yips.

"Keep working on it."

"I know."

The eight-year-old sense of humor is at times a joy, but mostly it is something to be endured. It is a test of patience. Burping is the least of it. I truly believe that God could have come up with a more efficient way to release gases. No way can anything that makes a noise like that not be intended to be funny. Plus, it comes from your mouth, which is a major line of delineation, at least for me, which is an important distinction completely lost on an eight-year-old.

Finally, six minutes into the drive, the Jawa remembers that he alone has been blessed with a reflex action that turns coughs into burps. This leaves us with four minutes of "Cough! Brraaap! Cough! Baaaalurrp!"

"What if you burped, hiccuped and coughed at the same time?" he asks.

"What if you burped, hiccuped, passed gas, coughed and sneezed at the same time?" This has him stumped. I have taken what he thought was the most outrageous bodily function imaginable and raised the stakes.

"Hmm...I don't know. What would happen?"

"Your body would collapse into a cube."

I know this as soon as the words leave my mouth that this is a mistake. I see his expression change from bemused confidence to naked terror. He is imagining himself as a small cube in the backseat. "That wouldn't happen," he says, tentatively. Already, he is working out a way to avoid ever having all these actions happen simultaneously.

"Of course not!" I say this heartily, backpeddling fiercely, making it obvious that I have made a joke. Eight-year-olds are very literal, something I already knew, having learned it during a long-ago, never-used Masters program in Teaching.

"Cough! Burrrrp! Ha! Ha! Ha!"

For the past two weeks, he has been so focused on burping that he's lost all sense of manners and decorum. He burps at the dinner table, while visiting my workplace, in class, whenever and wherever he can manage. I guess he figures that, since he can't yet do it on command, he's going to make the best of every chance he gets.

Though he is too young to wonder if an unwitnessed tree falling in the forest makes a sound, he understands that a good burp ripped off in private is worthless unless you can recreate it for your friends. This is why he must share last night's 6.0 on the Richter scale with Josh K. and his dad as we leave school today. "Last night, I was walking down to see my dad, and a burp just flew out of my mouth!"

"It just about knocked me over," I add, because I've always got my Jawa's back.

And I know that he is not the only belching afficionado in the group. Josh K's response was to refer to a recent unwitnesed earth-shaking burp of his own. And the Jawa's own cousin, Noodles' brother, sometimes answers to "Count Burpula."

Tonight, at dinner, he looks directly at me from across the table, opens his mouth, and with all of his might forces out a tiny "burp!" Briefly, he forgets that he is about to get in trouble, so he continues to look at me with a satisfied smile, waiting for my uproarious response.

Instead, the scoldings come hard and fast at him from two directions. He is shocked enough to claim that he "didn't mean to do it." As if. For the thousandth time in the past six months I explain to him that it's important to "know your audience," and that what his friends find funny may not always resonate with adults. Sometimes, when I'm failing as a parent and near the outer edges of my sanity, I'll add, "Remember: annoying is not the same as funny," but I'm emotionally stable enough tonight to leave that out.

The funny thing is that no matter how much scolding this child gets, how many reminders of how obnoxious his behavior has been -- and trust me, an hour of Uno with the Jawa can fill anyone's obnoxiousness coffers to overflowing -- at bedtime, he still wants me to lay there next to him for a few minutes so we can go over the day's events.

Crazy Jawa.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Road More Traveled

A short aside to apologize for being a barely-present friend to the effervescent Jen D., my bookfair partner and yin to my yang. For reasons only known to God, the San Francisco Association of Realtors and a couple of wacky publishers in Minneapolis, I've been almost entirely MIA since the crowning glory of our bookfair, back in November.

From September to November, Jen is my "other wife." (so dubbed by Sandra Bullock herself, in a moment of uncharacteristic irreverence) We count on each other not only to stage this huge event, but also to keep each other (plus our team of volunteers) mostly sane during this surprisingly stressful time.

So Jen, though I am preoccupied, rushed and occasionally surly during those brief times we see each other at our kids' school, be assured that I am always looking forward to the next time we can meet around beverages, be they chocked full of caffeine or alcohol, or the kind that come in a small box and contain at least 25% real fruit juice.

Last weekend we got together for what has become one of my favorite social events, the dinner club. We started this thing three years ago with three other like-minded couples. Unlike most well-intended scheduled social functions, we have not only carried on consistently but have thrived, explanding our slate of activities to include everything just short becoming godparents to each others' children. Religious differences would not allow this, otherwise we'd probably do that, too.

Some scoff at the dinner club, because it includes the word "club" in its title, involves 8 people whose wardrobes are comprised almost entirely of 100% cotton or wool, and because I don't actually eat most of the food prepared. In fact, had someone told me prior to moving here, that I would be involved in a half-San Francisco, half-Marin "dinner club," I probably would have sneered as well. "There goes my street cred," I might have said, ironically. There is nary a tattoo among us, and often we speak of business in hushed tones, using language I barely understand.

On Saturday we were at the home of Teduardo and his Phd. candidate wife Yo Yo Ma. They live near Castro Street in an Edwardian-in-progress with drop-dead views of downtown. We were lounging around the kitchen after Yo Yo Ma nervously gave us a short cello recital in preparation for her dissertation defense. I took a step back. I watched us. And from my vantage point, we all looked like we had the world by the tail. Life is good.

To the me of 1992, we're a pack of yuppies who listen to boring music, wear boring clothes and bring our loud children to restaurants with no regard for the needs of other diners.

Thank God it's not 1992 anymore.

In 2006 I know us well enough to understand (mostly) that we are more than the totems we give to the world with which to perceive and judge us. I used to depend on what I thought were counterculture totems -- leather jackets, bad jobs, motorcycles. The reality is that I've spent most of my time stuck in slow traffic on the road more traveled, unable to join the line of normal people effortlessly zooming along in the fast lane, yet likewise unable to find the off-ramp to the underground.

Of course, in 2006, I understand, with the help of my friends in the dinner club, that getting up to speed in the fast lane is anything but effortless, and no less interesting (at least to me) than the secrets awaiting on that dirt road that lies beyond the off-ramp I still can't quite find.

So maybe laughing loudly in Yo Yo Ma's kitchen is proof that you have the world by the tail. And is it bad being the misfit God of underachievement in a group of people who know that, accept it, and yet keep rooting for your to break out of it?

Also last weekend I read a good book by Beth Lisick, someone whose life seems like something I'd want. Her upbringing was, if anything, more mainstream than mine. She found the off-ramp. Like my former temping friend Johnny Rods, who is 39 and plays rock and roll to rooms packed with 150 worshipful fans. The funny thing is that Beth Lisick's life includes people from mine, including a fellow real estate agent at my firm and a mom from school that I know pretty well.

Then again, Johnny Rods lives in an apartment with his mom, and the critical favorite author of the book I read still occasionally has to take jobs handing out flyers at lunchtime downtown.

I hated handing out flyers downtown.

And so we beat on, etc. etc.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Longest Five Hours of My Life

I have been unemployed for the better part of three of the four years the Jawa has been in grade school. As a result, I have had the pleasure of taking part in more than my share of school-related activities. I volunteer for events, coach sports teams, chaperone field trips. I'm even the guy who leads prospective incoming parents around on tours of the school. It is, on the whole, more rewarding than any 9-5 job I've had, and pays only slightly worse than some of them.

This year, I have had to scale back on my volunteering opportunities, because I now have, if not a job (job: a field of endeavor which offers a salary in return for time and effort), than a very time-consuming expensive hobby. When I heard that today's field trip needed volunteers, however, I jumped at the chance to step in.

Field trips are fun. You round up some kids, wear a name tag, ride a bus, and get to see some place you would not normally see. Best of all, volunteering for a field trip offers bonus Jawa time, during which I get to see him in his natural habitat, school.

Speaking of "habitat," today's field trip took us to the Oakland Museum of California, where we were to discuss animals and their various habitats. We met outside the classroom at school, split into our groups (mine included the Jawa, the agreeable Josh S., super-intense jock Danny, plus two girls I didn't know well, poncho-clad Camilla and Sophie, who was very small but extremely poised for her age, except around tarantulas) and then walked single file, to the bus.

When was the last time you rode on a yellow school bus? Twenty years ago? The seats have shrunk. And when was the last time a teacher counted on you to keep five kids under control? Never?

There is a very specific and peculiar feeling to chaperoning a field trip. You are not quite a teacher, and have absolutely no specific training (other than being a parent) in controlling multiple kids, but you feel that you should be able to do it. Do do otherwise is to fail. So when the assistant teacher -- ASSISTANT, not even the actual teacher -- has to scold your group for "not sitting on their bottoms," your ego takes a substantial hit.

Buses bounce. They sway from side to side. You ride high off the road, in direct line of vision with long-haul truckers, who usually will offer up a friendly wave to the 38 screaming children riding alongside. Bus windows sometimes fall open unexpectedly with a guillotine-like crash. The wind that follows is icy and strong.

I sat with the Jawa, in the back of the bus, where all the boys want to sit. Nearby, Gavi's mother, who is brilliant and unexpectedly profane, sat quietly, knitting. Every single child on the bus spoke. I imagined that if you saw our bus from a distance, it would have huge exclamation marks coming out of its windows.

We arrived at the museum and, in training for the general admission rock shows they will someday attend, every kid on the bus stood up at once and rushed the door. The teachers, both young women much smaller than me, restored order admirably.

By now our single file line had become more of an informal "Red Rover" sprawl. I considered it an accomplishment if I could manage to get 3 of my group of 5 to walk in a line for more than 10 feet. After that, one of them would suddenly remember something and stop, or peel out to the side to get a better look at a newspaper box. Somehow, we made it inside, but not before the assistant teacher called a couple of my group members out. My self-esteem was battered, but we soldiered on.

Apparently, the applicant pool for museums in the Bay Area is limited to two demographics: retirees and hippies. Today we would get time with both, starting with our first docent (a word I neither understand nor tolerate very well), whose concern for the earth was reflected in her last name: Compost. Very soothing in muted plums and browns, her graying dreadlocks swayed as she introduced our first activity: we would meet a tarantula AND a boa constricter, and be given the opportunity to actually hold the boa. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the Jawa begin an attempt to compress his body into a small, dense, easily overlooked cube.

Fortunately, our children were savvy and nice enough not to point out the docent's prominent moustache. Maybe they didn't notice. I was not as fortunate. Adulthood demanded that I keep a cool head, but I am telling you here that if you are planning a career working with children, please, for your own dignity's sake, grab a tube of white out and apply liberally.

The docent was overwhelmingly nice and patient, even after it quickly became obvious that our urban children would be more comfortable making reservations for dinner than handling small forest creatures. Sadly, I was unable to appreciate any of this, because I spent the entire hour staring at the docent's facial hair. Please.

Every child in the group held the surprisingly small boa, except for one. The Jawa actually retracted his arms into his shirtsleeves for fear that Rollie Fingers would somehow think he actually wanted to hold the snake. Some of the girls actually went back for seconds, declaring the snake "cute," which was wrong. Overall, both the snake and tarantula were big hits. The kids were excited, ready for the next phase of our visit.

At this point, the tour ground to a halt. Though Gavi's mom assured me that "the docents were great," for our museum tour, our particular retiree could not connect with my rowdy group. Camilla and Sophie gave it the old college try, but the combination of Josh S.'s overwhelming and obvious boredom and the Jawa and Danny's slapstick pratfalls almost had old Barbara going Code Blue before we'd even gotten to the diorama of the chaparral.

"Boys, boys!" she shouted as Danny and Josh wandered off in search of a more interesting display. She shot a look at me that said, "What a terrible parent you must be. You have no control of these children." Barbara had obviously prepared, and obviously enjoyed walking around the museum while wearing a vest covered with small, animal-themed pins. Normally, I thought, Barbara is able to hold groups much larger than ours, perhaps groups like the ones also milling around the museum, in rapt attention. No Josh S. begging me for a stick of gum, no Jawa and Danny flopping around the floor while impersonating a crane.

I promise in my next life to have girls, as Sophie and Camilla quietly tried to support Barbara, responding to her questions and adding a few of their own. Occasionally, the Jawa would drift in from whatever fantasy land he'd been occupying, toss out a comment from one of the thousands of science and nature-themed books he reads, then return to the Laurel and Hardy homage he and Danny were accidentally performing. Josh merely wanted to go home. No, he wanted a stick of gum. Then he wanted to go home.

I would have been bored, too, had I not been busy trying to keep Danny and the Jawa under control, fending off Josh S.'s gum requests and insisting to myself that I am a good parent, though I cannot keep my child and four others under control in a museum.

Time began to drag. Barbara soldiered on bravely. She believed in her curriculum and had probably served hundreds of tours of duty with docile, interested children. I tried to form a quiet alliance with her, suggesting that the Wasp Tarantula was "easily identifiable, because it was the tarantula wearing eight-legged pants with tiny sailboats embroidered on them." She gave me a blank look. Finally, we reached the end.

Our children are urban children, but they are sheltered urban children. They are not urban children with big puffy jackets and pants around their ankles. Those children were sitting on the steps near us as we ate lunch in the cold. Our children didn't know what to make of the ancient woman digging through the trash in search of uneaten food. In the abstract, they wanted to enact legislation to help that poor woman get three squares and a roof over her head. In the concrete, they wanted to stay as far away from her as possible.

I am constantly amazed by the fact that most kid humor has the half-life of plutonium. For example:

Jawa: Hey, Josh. Want five bucks?
Josh: Sure.

(the Jawa bucks his head into Josh's shoulder five times.)

Josh: Ow!
Jawa: You said you wanted five bucks!

Explosive laughter from both children.

Back to the bus. By now, the children were antsy. Their strategy was to make the bus ride as annoying as possible for everyone, including each other. For his part, the Jawa engaged in a strange back-and-forth with Camilla and Sophie, throwing ever-smaller bits of our nametags at each other, then, when I'd confiscated every scrap, simply resorting to odd noises and faces. Again, the assistant teacher had to step in. My self-esteem had vanished at this point. I had learned that mine is not the only child to find me ineffectual. Other children agree.

Finally, we reached school. It was 1:40, five hours since we met in front of the classroom. As we got off the bus, the Hammer paused and remarked, "Wow, that was a long one."

I rushed up to the classroom and got my coat. When these field trips end, there is no de-brief. You get out of there as quickly as you can. As I ran to my car, I saw the Hammer again, in her Toyota Avalon, accompanied by another parent who'd been on the trip. "We're going somewhere where there's no children," she commented, and drove away, leaving me there, exhausted and beaten, in the parking lot.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Head Case

There are people, like, unsurprisingly, Sandra Bullock, for whom a headache is a sometime thing. Two, maybe three times a year she will look up quizzically and announce that she has a headache. Naturally, since it is such a rare occurance, I immediately fear the worst.

That's generally the extent of her complaint - a quick acknowledgement, a slight dip in productivity, and then it's gone. This, I assume, is an inborn trait of the white and sturdy. Or the "lean, precise and consistent."

On some unconscious level I assume that headaches are the exclusive domain of Jews, like elevated cholesterol and a tendancy to argue passionately over unimportant topics. It's easy for me to reach this conclusion, as I am living proof of this unprovable opinion as fact.

In retrospect, I guess yesterday was stressful, only in that it did not go as planned. And when yesterday's schedule blew up, it took with it an anticipated large sum of money. Okay, whatever. It didn't seem bad at the time. It was only at 8:30 pm, when I arose from my customary TV-watching spot on the living room floor, only to suddenly feel as though my head were caught in a vise, that I realized I'd had a difficult day.

How difficult became obvious at 2 am, when I awoke to find that the sadist operating the vise around my head had turned it a few clicks tighter. Normally, sleep plus Tylenol equals no more headache. Not this time. This headache was so bad that I actually dreamed about having a headache. No escape.

At 5, I took some more Tylenol, went out to the living room and tried to read. No dice. I slept on the couch for a while, then came back into the bedroom.

At 7:30 S. Bullock and the Jawa woke me up, reminding me that I had a sales meeting at 9. I went back to sleep, woke up at 9:40, head still literally pounding. Back to sleep.

At 10:30 I dragged my sorry, pain-wracked self out of bed. I missed the meeting, but at least had to make some phone calls and send some emails. Since the Tylenol was useless, I tried option #2: sugar.

At this point, I'd like to ask the makers of Lucky Charms why they thought there was a need to update an already perfect product? Adding the berry flavor has only made it taste weird and harshly interrupts the expectations of the Lucky Charms consumer.

The most intense headache I ever had occurred the morning of the Jawa's bris (for the Gentile of you, please Google "'bris."), August 17, 1997. I woke up at 7 in the morning. It was already 85 degrees in Seattle and my head felt like someone had disassembled it and then reassembled it backwards during the night. I threw on some shorts and stumbled down the street to Safeway, squinting, looking to anyone who passed like someone with the worst hangover in recorded history.

Two donuts, a can of Coke, three Excedrin Migraines, several silent prayers and two hours of sleep later, the headache had receded enough that I could function. I was shaking uncontrollably, but the headache was under control.

Right now, the headache is winning. My entire head is clenched like a fist. My nicely ironed work clothes are still on their hangers. Thank you, internet, for allowing me to do work from home while wearing flannel boxers and a t-shirt.

But this is nothing. I once had a headache for two years. From October, 1999 to the fall of 2001, I had a headache. Every day. And not the usual headache, either. This one came with all the accoutrements -- nausea, dizziness, neck pain, sensitivity to light -- it was impressive, to say the least.

I went to 16 doctors. Nothing. Sixteen diagnoses. Weekly visits to a chiropractic neurologist, who cranked on my neck and then ran a red-and-white strip of paper in front of my face. Dentists, homeopaths, regular M.D.s, and one particularly frightening experience with an MRI at the scarily named "tumor center," where the admitting nurse responded to my, "Well, hopefully this'll be the only time I'll have to come here," with, "That's what everyone says."

Tinctures, beta blockers, low-grade antidepressents, massive supplements, self-taught meditation. Four jobs in two cities. Two rented apartments and the purchase of our first house. Daycare to kindergarten. Eventually, I woke up one day and felt normal.

"The Headache" comes back occasionally, usually after prolonged periods of high-pressure situations. Today's version is more of a simple, intense tension headache, running from my neck to my forehead. Debilitating as it is invisible, it is today's personal cross to bear.

Almost noon. Time for a Coke.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Big in Glasgow

If I were big in Glasgow, I'd start to pepper my speech with Scottish slang. Not that I would be so immersed that people would begin to confuse me with Irvine Welsh, but I my Glasgow following would send me up-to-the-minute sayings and terms that would separate me from all of the wannabe Glasgowphiles crawling the streets.

Like the young, ambitious bands I used to write about, I'd summon all the aw-shucks humility I could when referring to my standing overseas. "Well, sure," I'd say, "I've got a small following in Europe."

"Glasgow, mostly," I'd add, as if that were nothing, not Paris or London, but Glasgow. Maybe I'd mock myself for it. "Oh, yeah, I'm huge in Glasgow." I'd soft sell it, so that the listener might assume that one of the reasons for my Glasgow popularity is my humility. "If only that were the norm," they'd say to themselves. Since this conversation would likely take place in San Francisco, they'd extrapolate and conclude that I should be the face of American communications to the rest of the world. "If our hated president were only that humble, maybe our reputation abroad would improve."

Their appreciation of me would last only as long as it took them to find whatever opinion I didn't share with them. Then I would again be just another enemy of the moral and righteous. But I would still be big in Glasgow.

I know very little of Glasgow; what I saw in "Trainspotting," plus assumptions I've made and whatever Mooshi Mooshi San tells me. Though she may be talking about Edinbrugh. I apologize for forgetting. I picture mist and abandoned factories.

For awhile, I thought that the dance- and drug-happy sound of mid-90s dance music came from Glasgow. Eventually, I realized that I was thinking of Manchester. I'll readily though not proudly admit that I am less educated regarding the U.K. than most.

If I were big in Glasgow, I'd vow to make the most of my Scottish connections and someday take a trip to Scotland, where I'd have a ready-made peer group to hang out with, thus avoiding the pratfalls of the everyday American tourist. My vacation photos would be of laughing Scots with small hoop earrings, wearing "jumpers" and "track suits," in stark contrast to my Banana Republic black t-shirts and jeans. Since I would be in with the locals, I would return to San Francisco garbed in up-to-date Glasgow gear. This would shock my friends and annoy our own local hipsters, who would be aghast to discover a bald, middle-aged dad rocking a look more current than their own.

In return, my Scotland friends would be welcome when they occasionally came to San Francisco. Sometimes they might lose my contact info, but other times they would have it, and we would meet at Zeitgeist or the Edinburgh Castle in the Tenderloin, which they probably would have already heard of, as it is to San Francisco Scots as Belden Lane is to the French; that is, the epicenter of their exported culture. At first, I would find their accents difficult to understand, but as with the Irish contractor I met today, soon I would come around. Eventually I would learn to approximate the accent myself, thus replacing the flat-out awful cockney I try as my go-to U.K. accent.

And maybe Glasgow would only be the jumping-off point. Through word of Scottish mouth I would spread to Edinburgh. Maybe one day I would be, if not huge, than at least measurable, in Belgium, Sweden, Monaco and Italy. Latvia. Greece. It al begins with Glasgow.

Right now, I am tiny in Glasgow. At least I think it's Glasgow. It could be Edinburgh. I'm not sure. That being said, it does seem strange to me that my presence in Scotland is larger than it is in Idaho. I have absolutely no toehold in Idaho, which is unlike the bands I used to write about, most of whom were actually quite large in Idaho. Boise, mostly.

You never know.

Today I met with a prospective client named Mary. As our meeting went along, we realized that there was a very good chance that I had once checked her ID at a bar called Watertown in Seattle, circa 1988-89. Odds were also favorable that we had played volleyball together at an open gym on Queen Anne hill sometime from 1993-1996. We did not look familiar to each other, but I'd say that there's probably at least a 60% chance that we have stood no more than 10 feet from each other at one time in the past. Even better is the chance that, as we drive around looking for a nice 1 bedroom TIC for her to buy, we will come upon some person from Seattle whom we both know. It will happen.

So if that can happen, is it really so far-fetched that I will one day be big in Glasgow?

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Cat was Away...

Bachelor weekend is over. I spent it well, reaching a level of debauchery previously acheived only by English nannies and smurfs. Even my wife was embarassed by my lack of ambition.

Bullock (upon calling at 8:45 Saturday night): I didn't think you'd be home. What are you doing?
Me: Watching "Sportscenter" and eating popcorn.
B: That's pretty sad. Why aren't you out?
M: I don't know. Didn't feel like it.

But don't get any crazy ideas that I completely towed the line. For example, the remote did not return to its home in the drawer all weekend. It stayed right in front of the TV, where it was easy to find.

On Saturday morning, after a night spent sleeping diagonally and using three pillows, I did not make the bed. Instead, I merely pulled the covers up, folded them down halfway. The accent pillows were left sloppily arranged on the rocking chair. On Saturday night, I used the bathroom and left the toilet seat up.

This after leaving it down for most of the weekend.

Prior to her departure, the always-efficient S. Bullock managed to crank out a load of dishes, which then sat, clean, in the dishwasher until roughly 30 minutes before her return.

Though I did not consume gallons of alcoholic beverages, my diet was atrocious. On Friday, I ate pretzels. Bags and bags of pretzels, washed down with not one but two Black Cherry Vanilla Cokes. I'm coming around to the new Coke flavor, already preferring it to regular and Cherry Coke. However, I have noticed a certain desperation in recent Coke advertising. Something is going on there.

Here is what I ate on Saturday:

cheese sandwich
couple of slices of pizza
malted milk balls

Yes, I know, gross. And I also know that this is a sad indication that, once we pass our nightlife prime, we are reduced to that which we knew in childhood. I am the first to admit that I have the pallet (sp?) of an 8-year-old. And that I ate the popcorn in an attempt to overcome the sluggish, sugar-coma feeling that came with the malted milk balls.

Actually, I spent most of the weekend working, in-between receiving periodic Legoland updates. I thought I'd have these long, relaxing mornings, followed by a little bit of work and then some hardcore bar flying. Instead, my mornings seemed not quite in synch, I worked longer than I'd planned, and no bars were flown.

Tomorrow, I will hit the gym.