Wednesday, May 31, 2006

That's "Dr. Temp" to You!

Please make a note: this is my 70th post. What began as a way to make sure I was writing every day has grown to be... a way to make sure I'm writing... almost every day.

Today is also the 40th birthday of my first love, now an ex-Mormon who's still totally attacking life and living in New York City. I am commemorating by watching endless reels of VH1 Classic Alternative. I tried to talk Sandra Bullock into making out on the couch by the light of videos by the Red Rockers, the Polecats, and OMD, but she went to sleep early tonight.

Finally, today was also my first day at a part-time summer job. Yes, I am 41 years old. And a realtor. But real estate slows down during summers, and besides, my real estate career seems to be a bit dormant at present, so Sandra Bullock and I decided that 10 weeks of data entry at -- where else, the very biotech company that employs her -- would be a good idea.

So today I showed up in my realtor clothes, having spent the morning driving around, looking at houses with a very slim super marathoner who started his career around the same time as me. Normally, I tour with a saucy Frenchwoman, but she hasn't spoken to me since the New Israel Fund dinner. Was it something I said?

There I sat, in an empty office, in my realtor clothes, reading thick packets of SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) guidelines. How strange it was to be here in this role, already known to most everyone as S. Bullock's fun and low maintenance husband, always good for a laugh at the Holiday Party, able to carry on conversations even as my wife cuts a rug out on the dance floor with any number of enthusiastic gay dance partners.

Many people came by my office to say "hello," and inquire gravely about the state of the residential home market. "It's not a burst bubble," I'd say, mustering up as much authority as a 10-week temp can manage, "But the market has definitely softened. I like it that way, because I normally work with buyers."

Some of whom occasionally turn out to be as crazy as everyone else told me they'd be. And some of whom lose interest and stop returning my calls and emails, leaving me in an office, reading SOP manuals.

Late in the day, S. Bullock came by and cheerfully offered up a very small Milky Way Midnight, which was thoughtful and yet reminded me once again that, while the makers of soft drinks and salty snacks have been deviously increasing the size we think of as a "normal" portion, the makers of candy bars have been just as deviously trying to convince us that a much smaller size is in fact "fun." And as if that weren't enough insult, now they have shrunk the "fun size" even more, so that a bag of Milky Way Midnights seems now to contain individually wrapped molecules.

S. Bullock and I had been emailing back and forth about the Jawa's summer camp agenda, which we would have been doing regardless of my location, though it did seem a bit odd to be emailing as if we were in normal configuration when in fact she was sitting in an office less than 50 feet away.

Walking to the bathroom was a challenge as well. To get there, I had to pass not only S. Bullock's office, but also the cubes of at least a half-dozen people I had been drinking with a week ago at a Giants game. They all seemed to take it well, generally making great light of the idea that I was now a peer, or at least a sub-peer in the manner that all temps must admit to. For once, I aspire to no more.

I'm done with wondering what people must be thinking about the elderly temp in their midst. Money is money, and we could use some of it right now, no matter the source. Last month, I put in about a hundred hours in service of a client who eventually backed out of a deal and then accused me of trying to push her into something against her best interests. Once you've had that email in your inbox, sitting in a room and reading SOP manuals is child's play.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Closing in on the Record

Just back from our state's capitol where, despite their best efforts to convince us otherwise, we will never be staying in a Residence Inn by Marriot ever again.

We were up there for my grandparents' 70th anniversary, which leaves them at least 10 years behind the record holders, Percy and Florence Arrowsmith of Hereford, England. Among the barrage of relatives, toasts and organization to make sure everything would happen, I noticed a few things:

- My cousin is slowly turning into my father, not his. This was outlined most starkly this morning, when we arrived at my grandparents' house to find him lounging on the couch wearing a faded Hawaiian print shirt worthy of those that fill Dad's closet from end-to-end.

- When travelling, try to allot at least 250 square feet of hotel room per child. If you try to fit several children into multiples of less than 250, the result will remove years from your life expectancy.

- I embarassed myself by trying to impress my somewhat distant cousin, the "other" writer in the family, and refusing to admit that I am, in fact, a realtor, and not an artist hiding out in a garret somewhere, producing reams and reams of misunderstood genius.

- I do, however, occasionally wear pompous shoes.

- Sacramento, a city I like very much, is full of young guys who look like they're about to go water-skiing. Their female counterparts waste no fabric at all in covering their lower halves with denim. Only the minimum is used. They are conscientous demin consumers.

- The jawa: not a huge child. A huge baby, yes, but not a huge child.

- Once again, the similarities between my older sister, Noodles Mom, and Sandra Bullock are striking enough to leave me with an uneasy feeling. If not for them, there would have been no 70th anniversary party.

- Do NOT stay at the Residence Inn. This trip marked the second consecutive time we'd been given a smoking room, despite our well-in-advance reservation of a non-smoking room. Sure, they knocked $30 off of the price (twice), and sure they did everything they could to make it up to us, but fool me one time, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

- To expand on that, why is it that hotels that feature breakfast attract either swarms of teenage sports teams or enormously huge people wearing "No Fear" T-shirts? It's got something to do with the free food, I know. Isn't there some law that forbids morbidly obese people from wearing flip-flops? If there isn't, there should be. Flip-flops are a privilege, not a right.

Family gatherings, of course, effect people different ways. Some people use them to demonstrate how much they've accomplished and/or grown since the last gathering. Some try to address various issues they feel have need to be addressed. Some like to bask in the accumulated glow of having a bunch of people they've known their entire lives in one place. Everyone chooses their Barry Levinson-inspired role and runs with it.

I prefer to take a background role during these events. The larger the event, the more low-key I try to be. Sometimes this involves leaving the adults and hanging out with the kids. I learned this tactic from my father, I realized, as I sat on a bench in the sun outside the restaurant on Sunday, watching the kids play high-and-seek in their dress-up clothes. Is there anything better than a bunch of kids, all dressed up, combed and bored out of their minds at a family event, finally freed from the meal table to play hide-and-seek?

Now that is the real deal.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Standing in the Shadows of Giants

With last night's BHDS board dinner, Jewish Events Month is almost over. All that remains is the Volunteers Dinner, scheduled for June 4. And that one's casual, unlike last night's dinner.

I have been having a tough time with Jewish Events Month, I have to admit. Seems like every year about this time I start wanting to dive into the rabbit hole, shut the door behind me and brood for a few months. Summer comes just in time. I return in the fall, refreshed and once again normal, ready to put in some time to help the school and by extension, my child.

Witness my response to last week's Walkathon, a fine event produced by fine people who care every bit as much about the school as me. Indeed, people better than me, with advanced social skills and patience expanding far beyond my own. I am the first (and frequently also the last) to acknowledge who is at the core of my occasional and unattractive misanthropy: that would be me.

It was with this baggage, plus the outfit I wore to Greg & Tracy's wedding in 2003, that Sandra Bullock and I arrived at the Board Dinner, where I would, along with Jenny from the Block, Mr. San Francisco and a Marin parent, be honored with the or chadash award, for the top volunteer of the year.

Actually, Mr. San Francisco and I were being honored with a special or chadash thanks to the trip we took to Texas in the fall. Unbeknownst to almost everyone in the world, and continually not accepted by those I repeatedly tell, Mr. San Francisco did pretty much everything for the trip. I just rode along and wrote dispatches home.

So it's not like I don't feel like a total fraud accepting this award, or anything like that.

This is not my point, however. My point is that, despite all of my grousing, I was listening when the board president and head of school spoke, and felt a familiar surge of pride as they spoke about the school. It was nice to be reminded why we're all here, and to feel a part of a community. And after we received our award, it was nice to have my hand shaken (is that the proper tense?) by all of these people. I really felt appreciated and acknowledged, if not for the trip than at least for all the other stuff I do at school. I've certainly never gotten that from any job I've had.

I returned to my seat and said to Sandra Bullock, "I deserve this, but not for that trip." She agreed.

At this time, I'd like to extend my condolences to the faculty of BHDS. When I was a faculty member at Bishop Blanchet High School in Seattle, our end-of-the-year dinners were casual drunken blowouts. We made sure to drop by our classrooms, beer in hand, just to savor the sheer decadence of it, and always ended the evening at some really corny karaoke bar in North Seattle, where at least one teacher feared not only by students but by other faculty would suddenly develop a pressing need to perform "To All the Girls I've Loved Before." That was our tradition.

I can only hope that our BHDS teachers have a similar tradition, one that we are not privy to. They were kept completely buttoned down at this event, given a half-hour of cocktails followed by an uncasual dinner. I can only hope that their post-party gathering somehow resembled those of my former cohort. After all, when the indie rock nerd teacher goes the extra mile and throws a sportcoat over his usual Weezer-esque gear, you've got to reward him by cutting loose a little.

I will check today at pickup. Maybe some teachers will be moving a little slowly.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


For reasons known only to God, I have been obsessing over the fate of Barbaro. Before Saturday, I had no idea who Barbaro was. I didn't know that he'd won the Kentucky Derby or that he had a shot at horse racing's Triple Crown. In fact, I didn't know that he was a he. If you'd asked me who "Barbaro" was, my first response would have been, "That lumpy kid who acted all tough on our little league team that time."

I was scared of him, naturally.

However, as a sports watcher, I would inevitably cross paths with Barbaro. He ran the Preakness on Saturday, in search of the second leg of the Triple Crown. Instead, less than one furlong (sp?) into the race, Barbaro pulled up short. 200 yards in, he'd snapped his right rear ankle.

I'm not a horse racing fan, though naturally, as a "misunderstood artist," I've often thought it would be cool to be a guy who hung out at the track, betting on the ponies. Still, after seeing the video of Barbaro's mishap, knowing the usual outcome for horses who snap a stick on the track, I became rivited.

So, apparently, were actual race fans. Witnesses had them crying as Barbaro was loaded up into his horse ambulance and carted off.

From there, Barbaro was flown to New Bolton Center, the veterinary hospital affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania. The put him in a huge sling.

It is now Tuesday, and Barbaro is not out of danger. Recent reports say he is doing very well, but the big challenge for gimpy horses is giving the break a chance to heal. Barbaro is used to running. Now he has to stand still.

That he has come this far is a testament to modern veterinary medicine. When Ruffian broke her leg during a match race with Foolish Pleasure, on July 7, 1975, they had to put her down on the spot. It is also, naturally, a testament to Barbaro's value. Thousands of horses with less severe injuries are put down each year, because their owners either can't afford or can't justify the time and expense of horse rehab.

Again, I have no interest in horses, and Sandra Bullock finds it strange that I have become obsessed with this one. When I was the Jawa's age, my older sister, Noodle's Mom, took horseback riding lessons out at some tin barn. Everyone assumed that I would follow in her footsteps, but there was no way I was getting near those beasts. Not even when I saw my third grade teacher, Miss Tedesco, there, was I swayed. She was smoking, by the way.

And now, with my niece, Noodles, completely consumed by horses -- to the point where she enthusiastically wears the t-shirt we bought her that reads "No Boys. Horses." -- I again spend time in tin barns watching little girls ride around in circles. Still no interest. I ignored Derby Day, though it sounds like a good party. But for Barbaro, horses would occupy less than 1% of my total thoughts. That 1% is maybe a little high, too, based as it is on an assumption that I will be watching Noodles ride around in circles again soon.

I kind of wish that Barbaro would galvanize people like Baby Jessica did when she fell down a well. I'd love to be able to share Barbaro talk with my peers, if only as a distraction from housing prices, PG & E and the dreaded soccer controversy. Instead, I keep vigil alone.

Barbaro is doing well, but he has not yet turned the corner. Each positive report get him one step further from the glue factory. Unfortunately, I must now turn my thoughts to Legos, as the Jawa has lost interest in creating his Lego City alone.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Dark Curtain Unfolds

I would like to apologize to every human being I came in contact with Sunday, from the Jawa, who had to endure 90 minutes of wild-eyed road rage to the Hammer, who I left standing at Tamalpais High School without even saying goodbye. It wasn't a good day.

Generally, I am not one to let fly with venomous, midguided Susanesque rants. Generally. More likely, you will see instead a slow burn, strangely aloof behavior, or the sudden, unexpected complete loss of patience and social skills. This, unfortunately, was what two campuses full of BHDS children and parents were exposed to at yesterday's Walk-a-thon. To my credit, I'll bet very few of them actually realized that I was in a lousy mood.

Oh, but I was.

I spent last week mostly at home, thinking I was taking it easy. In fact, I was mourning the death of my deal, and hiding from my fellow BHDS parents. As May is Jewish party month, I find that, as the month comes to a close, so does my desire to attend Jewish parties. Or any parties. Or talk to anyone. Not many people expect Lefty to go down the rabbit hole, but he sometimes does. This is one of those times.

But I needed to take the Jawa to his walk-a-thon, and so we set out, Sunday morning, giving ourselves time to get around the Bay to Breakers race, an "only in San Francisco" event where they take something boring (a 7.4 mile race) and adorn it with naked guys, feathers, people dressed as the Fruit of the Loom guys, and a few serious racers. The race effectively cut the city in two until late Sunday afternoon, making it nearly impossible to get from Glen Park (our home) to Mill Valley (site of the walkathon).

We tried to go around it to the east, with no luck. Twenty minutes of sitting, parked, in Embarcadero traffic, and we decided to head West. One hour of squealing tires, illegal u-turns, man- and child-sized rants involving the word "idiots!" followed, the whimsical costumes of the Bay to Breakers transformed into hideous, demented masks. Finally, we crossed the park, but not until well after the walkathon was to begin. A debate ensued.

"I am NOT going to be late!" (Jawa)
"I'm afraid we're already late." (Me, ruefully)
"Idiots!" (J)
"It's not their fault. Actually, it's your school's fault." (M)
"It's NOT my school's fault." (J)
"Yeah, it is. It was stupid to schedule this the same day as the Bay to Breakers." (M)
"My school is not stupid!" (J)
"No, no, but doing this was stupid." (M)
(frustrated crying)(J)

Bad dad.

By the time we arrived, I was in no mood to talk to anyone, least of all the people I'd been talking to non-stop for the past nine months. It was in no way their fault, all mine. A week in the basement had made me a misanthrope. I did not want to talk about the Soccer Coaching Conspiracy, next year's bookfair, the upcoming board dinner, Friday's slumber party (and the Jawa's failure to fall asleep before midnight). Mostly, I wanted to read the paper or maybe talk about what a lousy mood I was in.

Last year, I walked several laps of the walkathon with the Jawa. It was a great bonding moment. This year, nothing. I hid and read the paper. I sneered at my good friend (and great person) Mr. San Francisco, threw out snide comments to the good-natured baby boomer band playing classic rock ("Do you guys know anything written after 1980?"), and generally, to paraphrase their hero Jerry Garcia, "had bad vibes coming off me as other have sweat."

Then it started raining. The poor Jawa, who had already suffered two injuries in the jumpy houses, begged to stay longer. "No!" I snarled, shocking my friend Jenny from the Block, who had earlier led a massive mobilization to get me a Benadryl when my allergies started acting up.

As we walked back to the car, a half hour earlier than the Jawa wanted but just in time to avoid a downpour, we passed a high school baseball game. I paused and watched one pitch, just one, but that was enough to remind me that if I'd just seen that an hour ago, I could have passed one blissful hour watching amateur baseball, and maybe that would have been enough to take the edge off.

An hour later we were home. I presented the dirty, tired Jawa to S. Bullock, dropped the lawnchairs that she made us bring but we never used on the floor and walked directly downstairs. The feeling of being irritated by everyone and everything had taken an actual physical toll. I couldn't even read the paper, as it, too, was full of irritating opinions and ideas, so I flipped on some baseball, or maybe basketball, or maybe it was that show about guys fishing for crab in Alaska. It didn't really matter. I closed my eyes and fell alseep.

So my apologies to my peers and their children, to baby boomers, Marin parents, hapless San Francisco drivers, my wife and my own child. When I turn to the dark side, it's generally quiet, but no less ugly than it would if I were a demonstrative grouch.

Friday, May 19, 2006

A Question of Faith?

May is "Asian American Awareness Month" here in San Francisco. Given the population demographics of our city, one month seems inadequate.

For me, however, May is "Jewish Community Events Month." Counting last night's "New Israeli Fund" dinner, honoring a co-worker, I am now halfway through this month's four (4) Jewish-themed dinners/parties, not counting the ones that include kids, like this Sunday's walkathon.

Four-and-a-half years ago, we went looking for a grade school to fit our outstanding pre-school aged Jawa. Armed with paranoia, anxiety and a lot of free time (me, can you imagine, jobless), S. Bullock and I pored over the available options, finding that, in general, San Francisco private grade schools fell into one of three categories:

- Hippie schools
- Society matron schools
- Specialized, small schools

Along with a few wild cards, like schools for "gifted" kids and religious schools.

At first, naturally, I refused to consider any of the religious schools, including the Jewish ones. "I wouldn't send my kid to a Catholic school," said the partially Catholic-educated (and former Catholic high school-teaching) me, "why would I send him to a Jewish school?"

To me, growing up mostly in Orange County, being Jewish meant a few things. It meant that we sat alone in class when everyone else went to Christian Release Time. It meant nasty comments when I complained that we shouldn't have Christian New Wave bands play on the quad at lunch. It meant Richard Parks presenting me with an attractively wrapped box of Matzoball soup mix in drafting class, then sharing a hearty laugh with the rest of the class (and the teacher) at his cleverness. It meant finding the presence of any religion, including my own, boring at best, offensive at worst. It meant my teenage love story complicated further by my girlfriend's mother reminding me that as "a nice Jewish boy," I couldn't possibly figure in her future plans. And that wasn't the last time that happened, either.

It meant weird-looking people speaking a weird language, re-affirming whatever outsider status I already felt, being a kid from a small town in Pennsylvania suddenly thrown into the wolf's den that was Southern California in the 1970s and 80s.

I cannot say that I developed any kind of Jewish identity, other than to wince when otherwise nice-seeming acquaintences would "Jew someone down," and congratulate themselves for getting a good deal. You're there, but you're not there; part of the crowd but not quite part of the crowd. And unlike other minority groups, you blend in enough that people don't know to watch themselves around you.

And most of the truly hot blonde California girls were off-limits, because we were going to Hell.

This is not to say that I ever became a true self-hating Jew, like the guy who owned the bar I worked in when I moved to Seattle. I tried to Jew-bond with him during the holidays, and he said, "I don't want to hear any of that Jewish sh-t!" Not a practicing Jew, and not altogether comfortable with the otherness, nevertheless I always made sure people knew that I was Jewish, except around other Jews, of course. When S Bullock married me, I begged her not to take my name. "Why would you want the hassles of carrying around a Jewish surname when you're not Jewish?" I wondered.

Back to 2001, and we're looking for a school. In San Francisco, that means tours, interviews, sometimes IQ tests. It's a several months-long process, promising nothing, and San Francisco parents love nothing more than to complain about it.

At first, we considered only 4 schools -- a wealthy matron school, a hippie school, a specialized small school and a gifted kid school. We were encouraged to consider more, and were running out of options, so we visited the Jew school, against my wishes.

Surprisingly, my response was immediate and visceral. I felt it in my gut: these were my people. As I have said many times since, "Being Jewish means you can run but you can't hide." We chose the Jewish school, over even the exclusive gifted kid school that sent 11 of its 15 graduates onto Ivy League universities. On the first day of kindergarten, we passed a fellow parent in the parking lot. "I'm pregnant," she announced. "I've had three miscarriages, so I'm being extra careful." Sandra Bullock blanched. "Welcome to Jewish school," I whispered.

Now, four years later, non-Jewish SB, the Jawa and I are all active members of the local Jewish community. We subscribe to the Jewish newspaper. I personally have raised my Jewish identity to obnoxious levels, to the point where I sometimes test myself to see how long I can talk to someone before making it very clear that I am Jewish.

Naturally, I am no more devout than I was 4 years ago. I still think temple is boring, and if pushed, wouldn't really know the answer to "is there a God?" I've found that how religious you are has little to do with how Jewish you are. I'm angry that I can't answer "Jewish" when someone asks me my ethnicity.

I can't say that claiming your Jewish identity makes life easier, certainly not in San Francisco, where, as a friend told me recently, "facism comes from the left." Ours is not, and has seldom been, a popular cause. It seems that any nutcase who comes into power immediately decides that his first task will be to get rid of the Jews. I have had fiery arguments with people I normally agree with about everything, and I'm not the type to have a fiery argument and then just chalk it up to healthy disagreement.

It's still something I grapple with, daily. We drive me crazy, at times. Some of the stereotypes turn out to be true. And I am amazed to find how myopic my Southern California-generated understanding of us is. I have never lived in New York, Israel or Los Angeles, so I don't know what it's like to live where Jews are quarterbacks, contractors or tough guys, where we live among, as liked and feared as, everyone else.

We are unique, often strange, and the only religion you'll find actually ridiculing itself during services in a house of worship. Only in Jewish school will an almost-unanimous furor rise from parents who learn that their kindergartenders are learning Creation. Probably doesn't work that way at St. Brigid's. "Only in Jewish school," I told Sandra Bullock, "will the Jews complain that it's too Jewish."

The good part is that as I get older, I'll get funnier. Who's funnier than old Jewish guys? And I have learned to feel okay taking real pride in what we've done, as a people. Even the part that happened in the 60s. There is great reason for pride. We've done some great things.

As Daniel Pearl said, just before they cut his head off, "I am a Jew, and I am an American." For better or worse, that's how it shakes out. You can run, but you can't hide.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Curse of the Middle Class

This is what "middle-class" looks like in San Francisco: I just finished lunch -- a frozen (vegetarian) corn dog, popcorn and a Coke. It is 63 degrees in our house. I am debating whether to go put air in the tires of our 1998 Subaru Outback, with its 105,000 miles and persistent fan belt rattle, or to stay here, look for potential homes for my inactive clients, and listen to my favorite baseball team, the Seattle Mariners, get trounced by the local Oakland A's.

I am sitting in a house almost entirely devoid of fruit. Earlier I went to my usual go-to fruit source, the blue bowl, only to find one sad, lonely lemon inside. I am not the type to just eat a lemon. I left it alone. No pretzels, either. Not even the Jawa's sub-par tiny twists, useful only when we have run out of my superior honey wheat stick things. Fortunately, we had convenient, 100 calorie single packs of popcorn on hand. Please hold the transfat.

Most of you know that Sandra Bullock is very successful. She has been in her industry since 3 weeks after college graduation and has traveled a steady path of promotion since then. Her latest promotion made her a Director at her company. And yet she drives our paint-peeling, fan belt-rattling, 100,000+ miles-having Subaru to work each day. "The BMW guy who parks next to me noticed that my tire was low," she said to me last night, so she left the Subaru home for me today.

National polls and various statistics that I will refer to but not back up in any meaningful way will try to convince you that we are wealthy. According to this web site, Sandra Bullock's salary puts her among the top earners in the country. And yet, if I were to go out right now and buy a $15.99 CD, there would be real trouble when I got home and revealed my contraband purchase to the rest of my family.

Sandra Bullock and I both usually wear clothes that are several years old, except for the ones we get twice a year when Ken Dunque slips us the passes to the GAP friends and family sale. "This t-shirt is older than the Jawa," she will sometimes point out. When she does this, I assume and hope, she is not drawing attention to my lack of earning capability. Instead, she is ironically noting that, in most of the country, regardless of what pennies I can manage to earn, her success alone would translate into a comfortable lifestyle. Perhaps we would live in a sprawling, 3,000 square foot home, drive not one but two autos with less than 100,000 miles on them. Our child would attend a comfortable, non-scary public school and we would take vacations when we chose. People would find it refreshing to see a family where to mother made the money and the father was the "primary care giver."

Meanwhile, back in Glen Park, the wind whips through our aged aluminum frame windows. We San Franciscans make these sacrifices to live in our progressive, liveable, open-minded city. It is, after all, an "E" ticket ride. We can't imagine living anywhere else. Most of us, anyway.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Crime Doesn't Pay. Neither Does Art

My mother sometimes moans that her children "all have the souls of poets." If the qualifying factor to having "the soul of a poet" is never earning a decent living, then she is correct. It just doesn't pay.

Bill Dunlap is a painter who lives in San Francisco. I'd never heard of him until today, when we visited his house, now for sale and part of the Zephyr tour this week. The house was in district 3G, a foggy, wind-strewn blot on the western edge of The City. Bill's neighbors don't take very good care of their homes, and crime in the area is traditionally very high.

In fact, I don't make a habit of looking at houses in this area, but we stopped by today because we like the agent who had the listing. This is a rule of mine, when doing the Zephyr tour. I look at places that might fit the needs of my clients (unlikely), places that seem interesting, or places held open by agents I like and/or respect. It seems like the right thing to do.

So out we went, blowing off five of the places on our tour, to the Ocean View, district 3G, to look at Bill Dunlap's place. At the time, of course, I didn't know it was Bill Dunlap's house, just thought it was another run-down place out there, with some old guy trying to make a killing on a place he bought for $10,000 40 years ago. Not so.

Bill and his wife have done nice things to their place. Bill's art is all over the walls. I figured that, since most of the paintings looked similar, they must be the work of the owner. It turned out I was correct. "He's an artist," the agent told me. "He's had a few showings at local galleries."

Bill and his grad student wife were moving home to Virginia where, everyone assumed, they would pay $200,000 for a nice house but then -- horrors! -- they'd be living in Virginia.

Maybe, I suggested, Bill and his wife will buy an old building downtown. Upstairs will be their cool loft, and downstairs will be a gallery to show Bill's work. There is, as far as I can tell, I told them, no laws on the books in Virginia making it illegal to be cool. "They want to get away," said the agent. "He works in tech and he wants to paint."


Living where I live, and doing what I do, I come across vast numbers of people who make a claim to being some sort of artist. Everyone is a painter, writer, photographer, actor, etc. They just do this other stuff to earn a living. I immediately put Bill Dunlap into that category and figured, that's smart; he's going to pursue this stuff and he's taking the steps necessary in his life to make it work. Way to go, Bill! Your stuff shows promise!

I'd buy one, I thought. I wonder how much he charges?

Then I came home and googled Bill Dunlap.

Bill Dunlap just won a Virginia Center for the Creative Arts fellowship. That's why they're moving to Virginia. In the past 3 years, he has done 9 solo shows in San Francisco. He has been the featured artist in 3 art publications does drawings and illustrations and, just as an add, has published short stories in various literary magazines.
In short, Bill Dunlap has achieved success as an artist beyond what most of "us" could imagine. And yet, I sit here in my comfortable Glen Park home while Bill sells his one in the 'hood so he can move back to Virginia. Just as my old Seattle pal Johnny Rods can hold a crowd of hundred rapt with attention as he plays smart rock and roll, and then go home to the apartment he shares with his mother.
It's weird, though not something that surprises me. Obviously, I have made a choice at some point to not sleep on people's couches at whatever cost.
I would take my hat off to you, Bill Dunlap, except that when I was in Santa Monica, I did that and my head got sunburned. So instead, I bow to you, to Virginia and your cool folk art-influenced paintings. I wish I could sell your house, but none of my clients are brave enough to live in your neighborhood.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Cross I Bear

Note to Sandra Bullock:

This year we will celebrate our 14th anniversary. During that time we've lived in 7 apartments and 1 house, brought one outstanding Jawa into the world. You've had 3 jobs. I've had, I don't know, something like 50. I've lost most of my hair, while you seem younger each day. We've owned 3 cars. We've seen friends' marriages fail, seen babies born.

And yet, during that time, you've owned just 1 coffee maker. Now is the time for you to know just how much I hate that coffee maker.

I hate it with the white hot heat of a thousand suns. I hate it more than I hate hippies. I hate that I know that the first time I empty the dishwasher after Sunday, it'll be there. And I'll have to dig it out, reassemble it, and then shove it into the lower cabinet. Why always the lower cabinet?

I hate that it's scratched. I hate that it's red. I love the color red and hate seeing it spent on such a vile instrument. I don't even like coffee, have never used the coffee maker myself, and yet am forced to deal with it each and every Monday.

I hate that it sits there on Sundays, full of old coffee, with a spoon laid out on the counter in front of it. I hate that, when put away, it shares space with our toaster, overshadowing its retro cool by drawing attention to its own broken-down, utilitarian countenance.

Each year Flush Puppy and I try to make you buy a new coffee maker. I felt we came close on Saturday, but in the end you backed off. "I don't want to use (the gift certificate her dad gave us) on something just for me," you said. And then, "I don't want the kind that grinds for you!" with surprising vehemence.

So home we came, back to that ancient, dying-a-slow-death embarassing coffee maker. "It still works!" you say cheerily, I'm sure impressed with the idea of a small appliance that, despite its worn appearance, continues to function adequately. I know you have a soft spot for unassuming yet efficient items. But the truth is, I just can't look at the thing anymore. I can't be assaulted by 15-year-old coffee smell every Monday. I can't stand its little percolating sound, how I wake up on Sunday and hear it there, doing its job while long past its prime.

I've seen the present -- coffee makers are now sleek, chrome machines. They offer a number of coffee-making options. They come in a wide range of prices and features.

Somewhere out there is a coffee maker for you. It won't break the bank. We can retire the red coffee maker. I won't have to struggle to fit the filter into the top thing, then re-fit the top thing into the base when it predictably comes apart. Nor will I spend thirty seconds of my life -- time I will never get back -- trying to slip the lid into its housing on the glass pitcher.

I have thought many times about that glass pitcher, about how good it would feel to fling it against a wall or drop it from a tall building. I have approached the Jawa about sabotaging the entire works. A thin, glass pitcher shouldn't survive 15 years. It should have been dropped long ago. Then we would be free, our home unmarred by decripitude.

Please, I beg you, you have a birthday coming up. Can we please buy you a new coffee maker?

The Social Season

It is May, and we are in the midst of the Brandeis Hillel Day School social season. Everyone who has participated in any committee or event is invited to various parties, where they can meet other people who've participated and talk about people who have not participated.

Our introverted, saintly (can I say that in regards to a Jew?) Head of School must attend all of these parties. He usually shows up, is brown-nosed, makes an elegant, low-key speech of some kind, and then quickly ducks out. This is in stark contrast to our former head of school, who loved the spotlight so much that he even took the mic to belt out "Mustang Sally" each year when the old school baby bommer parents' band plays at the Walk-a-thon.

As the most powerful poor person at BHDS, I attend many of these parties. It's understood that they will take place in homes much more lavish than mine. Last Saturday's IA (Institutional Advancement, i.e. fund-raising) party was an extreme example of this. Held at an impressive Presidio Terrace home and yet oddly co-hosted by our own Director of Institutional Advancement, this party promised "jeans, casual dress," which I later found to mean "small tassel loafers, pressed jeans and a silk shirt and/or sportcoat. I made the scene in my usual Banana Republic wear, accompanied by the Hammer, who stood in for Sandra Bullock while the latter babysat both our Jawa and hers.

We arrived early. Too early. Early enough to spend a few minutes gawking at the party being held a few houses away at the home of Senator Dianne Feinstein. DiFi's party was not casual, not even in a loafers and sportcoat way. Mercedes SUVs lined the street. Hispanic men in white coats served as valets. Inside DiFi's enormous, thatched-roofed home, San Francisco society flitted from room to room. Outside, feeling more than a little Oliver Twist-like, the Hammer and I pulled our coats around us to block the wind.

Our school is in a period of transition. It is moving from a hippie-centric parent paradigm to a more traditional private school population. In other words, the establishment has crashed the party.

I'm cool with that. They bring money, which makes it easier for the school to get new buildings, keep teachers, and throw a little bit of tuition assistance our way. I do not cringe in the presence of wealth. Or at least I try not to.

I do, however, cower in the presence of accomplishment. Early in the IA party, I found myself talking to our host, Big Exec 3B, finding that he is in the same industry as Sandra Bullock. Given that his home is 10x the size of mine, I'll assume that when he says he "works" at a company, he means "runs" the company. I stood there bathed in sweat, trying semi-successfully to hold up my end of the conversation. At least now I can say "realtor" when people ask what I do, which leads to a short exchange about "the market." Imagine what it was like when all I had to offer was "high school teacher" and/or "some kind of writer."

There was no beer at this party. I know this, because I asked one of the caterers. I feel a connection to caterers since, like most people pretending to pursue a career in "the arts," I spent plenty of time with a tray in my hand during my 20s. Now, though I walk among heads of companies, mothers wearing impractical pashminas, and political operatives, I like to take at least a moment to be nice to the caterers, because, you see, I am a man of the people. Some of the people, anyway.

A half-hour into the party, wrung out, sweaty, incongruously holding a glass of white wine and not daring to eat, lest I drop a big chunk of Brie on the Persian rug, I defaulted back to my comfort zone. Barely a polite handshake went to the Marin campus parents -- all of whom were easily identifiable as Marin parents, due to their casually hip style and complete lack of potato shoes -- and I began searching for a safe spot.

I found it in the corner among a gaggle of Sun Devils. Unique to our school and formerly of Phoenix, Arizona, by the year 2009 the Sun Devils (including their rebellious Wildcat brother) will comprise a full 2% of the BHDS student population. Tonight the clan was well-represented by the 2 goateed brothers and their wives. I knew them barely before tonight, but I got a good vibe. And besides, I've been curious about Sun Devils and their mysterious, vaguely blue-collar "family business" for awhile. We deconstructed the party, bemoaned the limited alcohol selection and marvelled at the sheer size and scope of our hosts' possessions.

The party ended early, as such parties do. This is not a place of Cheever-esque excesses. Nobody threw their keys into a bowl or drank too much scotch and embarassed their wife in front of the boss. No teenagers stole a bottle of wine and disappeared downstairs. This is not New England and we are not frustrated ad execs taking the train into The City. Everyone thanked everyone else and the men in sportcoats disappeared into their sensible cars -- we are, after all, not DiFi's guests but only humble parents brought together for a common cause: our children.

Not me, man, and not Sun Devils or the Hammer. We went to a bar.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Cute is as Cute Does

The Jawa is cute. I say that knowing that it sounds arrogant, but enough objective strangers have commented that I think it may be more than parental bias. Full disclosure demands that I also include comment on his often explosive temper and inability to accept a command without suggesting an alternative.

He is never as cute as he was tonight, walking beside me from the Daly City BART station to the Century movie theaters. We had planned to meet Sandra Bullock there and see "Hoot." The Jawa and Bullock are reading the accompanying Carl Hiaason-penned novel for their new Mother-Son book club. Since S. Bullock is not known for reading books quickly, we figured she could augment her experience through cinema. Besides, the Jawa has been begging to see the movie since his cousin Noodles saw it last week and proclaimed it "the best movie ever."

In S. Bullock fashion, our tickets had been purchased hours in advance, via Fandango, the useful online service marred by truly annoying commercials. The plan was for S. Bullock to drive to the movies, park in the huge parking garage, and then meet her urban, BART-riding boys. The Jawa and I were free to casually stroll to the theater(s), then sit near the fountain and wait.

I said that he was never so cute as he was tonight. He was also never so tween as he was tonight. At 8.75 years old, he has entered a new demographic. Witness his camouflage (sp?) pants, slip-on Vans with tiny skulls all over them, and "Vote for Pedro" t-shirt. And his favorite expression, when not burping, is a drawn out, ecstatic, "sweeeet."

Witness also the pre-teen girls -- a few years older, looked to be 10 or 11 -- who checked him out as we walked by. It was subtle but unmistakable. As we passed, the Jawa as usual in the middle of a finely detailed explanation of the evolution of the Rebel X-Wing fighter, I saw two of the girls try to lock eyes with him. Their eyes followed as we walked by. They had no idea that they were checking out a clueless little boy, not yet a true tween, but he was cute, so they persisted.

We sat by the fountain. I caught a glimpse of something colorful around his ankle. "What do you have there?" I asked casually, knowing what he had there. "Oh, Mikayla gave me this." He lifted his pant leg to reveal a two-toned friendship bracelet around his ankle. "She gave them to everyone in the class."

Quick flashback to 1987, my senior year at Santa Clara, the only time in my life I've flirted with a hippie appearance if not lifestyle. I sported several friendship bracelets and spent hours in my apartment, trying to teach myself to play Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" on my guitar. This phase lasted only until I attended an actual Grateful Dead show, where I decided almost instantly that I was among my least favorite people in the world.

I ditched the dogma, but kept the bracelets. Later that year, during the few months I was in Australia, pretending that I (and most everyone I met while there) wasn't a middle class college kid killing time before being sucked into the adult world, I collected friendship bracelets from anyone who was handing them out. I had them on both wrists, both ankles; it was part of the look. They replaced the black, gasket-like things that girls had worn by the hundreds the year before.

I like cheap jewelry things. Sometimes I still long for Puka shells.

But the Jawa is cute, which is fortunate, because I'm not sure how far an encyclopedic knowledge of Godzilla will get you in the dating world.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Conflict Avoidance

Are you curious about real estate? Would you like to know how a deal falls apart?

Probably not. Instead, how about a little glimpse at the effects of a falling-apart deal on the buyer's agent? Said agent, being well into his 40s and going soft around the middle, should probably not have eliminated 24-hour fitness visits from his schedule this week, as the resulting malaise has only added to the frustration of putting in long hours, trying to smooth over rough edges of various personalities and, perhaps most difficult (my mother can attest to this) for me, keeping a calm, smiling countenance under the most dire of circumstances, ones that normally would call for a cutting yet incredibly perceptive remark on my part.

At the end of it, we have no deal. I sit here at work, deal-less. There will be no check forthcoming.

I saw this coming, which made my week no better. Instead, I continued to put in time, all the while waiting for the axe to drop. This morning, finally, on the last day for it to happen, it did. My client, who had been perched on the edge of ambivilance since first getting into the deal, decided she could go no further. We backed out, and another bridge in the education of a realtor was crossed.

Last night, after 2+ hours at a contractor's inspection, I returned home feeling no unlike Jack Arnold from "The Wonder Years." If I had a perky blonde wife and two sons, it would have looked like this:

Perky Wife: Welcome home! How was work?

Me: Work's work.

CUT TO: sons scattering in various directions, PW standing, confused, holding a casserole dish. Me going straight for the bottle of bourbon, loosening my tie, turning on the TV and sitting in my Archie Bunker chair.

Rough week. I hate conflict, and yet conflict was at every turn. Attend a meeting of the Bookfair Committee? conflict. Take a call from your client? conflict. Try to get your kid to brush his teeth? conflict. Go to a party for the Marketing Committee? hidden and subtle conflict.

Everywhere I look: conflict.

I declare today conflict-free Thursday. Starting right now. If anyone needs me, I'll be in a darkened room, in the fetal position.

Monday, May 08, 2006

41 oz. to Freedom

Today I am 41. No longer 40, but now "in my 40s," I am old enough to remember that 41 was Tom Seaver's jersey number. This morning I sneaked a celebratory donut, while Rita Coolidge's "All's Forgotten Now" played over the donut store's stereo. That song has always reminded me of waiting for the bus to come to take us to school in seventh grade. That, of course, was 29 years ago.

The woman who sits next to me at work arrived today with a horrible sunburn. She was born the year I graduated from high school, 1983. 41. Whatever.

Last night we returned from our trip to Santa Monica. Three steps into the house I was met by a projectile Jawa, who launched himself into my arms before I had a chance to put down my luggage. At that point, 41 was not so bad.

Los Angeles freaks me out. Still. It's a strange feeling, made up of equal parts revulsion, anxiety and envy. Nothing is as it seems. The quaint mom and pop coffee shop on the beach sells $5 scones. My waiter is really a composer. The young mother pushing a stroller down the sidewalk is wearing $300 sunglasses and $10,000 breasts.

But this is all the cliche you've heard before. The part about Los Angeles that freaks me out the most is that no matter what cool and hip place you're at, there's someplace nearby that's cooler and hipper. Likewise, no matter how cool and hip you may feel, there is definitely someone within shouting distance who is cooler and hipper.

"This town will chew you up and spit you out." Sage words from Jason, the 37-year-old recovering alcoholic who chatted me up, unsolicited, at a coffee shop Saturday morning. I was undercover, disguised as a local (I did this by replacing my usual running shoes with flip flops and leaving the top two buttons on my shirt undone), quietly reading the LA Times, when Jason sat down at the next table, lit a cigarette and began talking.

"I've lost twelve pounds in the past three weeks," he said. "I lost my license. Got a DUI (pronounced dee-wee). Now I have to ride my bike everywhere." He smiled and ran his hand through his hair. "It's good, though. I'm glad it happened. I was out of control."

Jason had owned "a few businesses" with an un-trustworthy partner. But really, it was his own fault when the partner fled town, leaving a mountain of debt in Jason's name. The pressure was too much. After a year of sobriety, Jason figured, "I'm sober, but my life is falling apart." He went back to alcohol and drugs.

But now things are good. Though he did not buy the house he should have bought a few years ago for $360,000 (it is now worth "over $900,000), and though the girlfriend who insisted he not buy it is now gone, sobriety and a fresh start appeak to Jason. He certainly seemed jaunty. When I left, he gave me a stiff salute and a thumbs up.

We certainly had a good time with the Fuscos and the Rock Stars. So much so that we're planning some kind of Mexican villa getaway next Spring Break. Something about cooks and chauffers and 8 bedrooms. I was too full to pay close attention. We ate alot.

Celebrity sighting -- here is how you can tell the celebrities from the wannabes: the celebrities are the ones who look like slobs. On Sunday morning, Sandra Bullock and I took a long walk on the beach from Santa Monica to Venice. At one point we spotted caustic actor Dennis Leary coming out of the chic Shutters hotel complex. Leary, taller and more angular in real life than on the screen, sported aged Adidas sweat pants and an old t-shirt. He passed by us and continued walking out to the beach, where he spent fifteen minutes laying out a precise frisbee golf course.

LA lives up to the cliches: We did plenty of walking, and passed plenty of people speaking loudly into cell phones. I eavesdropped as best I could. Most were talking about movies. "That was the biggest flop I ever saw," said an older guy as he charged down the beach. "I think they liked me. I got a callback," said a young black guy drinking coffee at the Coffee Bean on Main Street.

Those who were not walking and talking were driving glamorous European cars. If Cow Hollow on a Sunday afternoon is an Audi owners club convention, Santa Monica at any time is seventy-five Mercedes SUVs and Porsche Carrera 4s fighting to see who can get into the parking garage before the glowing sign outside tells them that there are 0 spaces available.

And the women, if not gorgeous, were certainly getting the most out of whatever gifts they had. No one could accuse them of not living up to their beauty potential. Eyes hidden behind enormous sunglasses, theirs is not the sweats-and-a-GAP-baseball-cap kind of casual chic.

These are the people from elite East Coast colleges who came West because that's where our best and brightest now go. It was a street hockey game I saw in Venice that reminded me of this. Young East Coast guys, I thought, hockey lovers. They graduated from Cornell then came out here to be agents, producers, studio executives. Anxious from a week of taking non-stop grief from some higher-up and depressed over the Lakers' Game 7 loss the night before, they met for their weekly hockey game to work out some aggression.

I can't say I hate LA. I'm freaked out by it, but also intrigued. And driving back to the airport, it looked enough like Orange County to get sentimental and not be ready to leave. I'm not sure I could ever live there. My San Francisco snobbery was working overtime this weekend. But I can see the appeal.

Oh, wait, I'm 41 and it's 2:30 in the afternoon. It's probably time for my nap. Right after my prostate exam.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Mean Jean in the House

Here we sit in relative calm, our home having passed the imagined inspection Sandra Bullock assumed her mother would conduct upon her arrival this afternoon.

The jawa and I endured the frenzy of cleaning cluelessly at first, then with a little resistance, and then, finally, by retreating to our respective hiding spots -- him in his bedroom with Legos, me downstairs with the NBA playoffs. Once safe in the basement, I remembered that, while the anticipation of guests always results in insane cleaning by S. Bullock, the pending arrival of her mother, the unsinkable Mean Jean, whips her into a Tasmanian Devil-like cleaning fury usually seen only in the wee hours of the morning, following the hosting of a party.

Ironically, Mean Jean asks nothing of us. Unlike the cliched domineering, demanding mother-in-law, Mean Jean generally strives to make the smallest impact as possible on the lives of her hosts. I have never heard her say one negative thing about our living conditions, save for the time she visited us in North Beach, and that was more an amazement that anyone, not just us, could live in such crowded quarters, than it was direct criticism. Her daughter has married a dreamer with a career drift rather than path, and yet she has never complained or belittled me. At least not when I'm in the room, I guess, and that's plenty admirable in my book.

The city is a riddle for Mean Jean, who, along with her peaceful, crew-cut second husband has twice chosen to spend their retirement in rural paradise. They recently moved to Lake Chelan, a small town in central Washington State, where they are building a gorgeous log home with unobstructed views of the lake and surrounding rolling hills.

I had a busy day as a realtor today, and so was out of action until the conclusion of normal business hours. By the time I returned, my wife had returned to her usual, semi-relaxed state. I entered to find M. Jean and S. Bullock enjoying Cointreau margaritas with chips and salsa, all laid out attractively in a terra cotta bowl made specifically for that purpose.

By Friday, I will be coming at you from Santa Monica, where S. Bullock and I, sans jawa, will join the Boston-based Fusco Parents and our Santa Monica-based friends who live, compared to us, like Rock Stars. We met both couples during preschool here in San Francisco. The Fuscos fled when their third (3rd) son was born, to avoid a potential $60,000+ per year in grade school tuition. The Rock Stars, who pursue flashy careers in advertising and film, went south for career opportunities. They have two (2) kids. We have one (1) jawa. You do the math.

We love entering the fast-moving world of the Rock Stars. They lived pretty large here in San Francisco, once sending a busload of people to the San Jose Film Festival for a screening of Rock Star Terry's short film. Since moving to L.A., they have ratcheted it up to another level entirely. We met Helen Hunt's boyfriend at their son's 5th birthday party.

Our jawa will stay here with Mean Jean, who will have the opportunity to learn more about Bionicles and Judaism than ever seemed possible during the first 60 years of her life. I am concerned that she will not be able to produce the accurate representations of "Star Wars" characters' voices that I have frankly nailed while reading the novelization of "Episode IV: A New Hope" with the Jawa for the past couple of days.
Here are some tips:

C3PO: Effete, upper-class English accent. Generally exasperated in tone.
R2D2: Beeps, whistles and blips.
Storm Trooper: put hand over face and talk as if speaking into a walkie-talkie.
Vader: James Earl Jones. End of story.

Catholics out there, make the sign of the cross and give your best wishes to Mean Jean this week as she enters a flashback period of child-rearing. Then again, she raised S. Bullock and her brother, Little J-O-E, all by herself, so she is more than capable. We have great faith.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Fight Back...With Maltballs

Radical kindness has reared its benevolent yet ineffectual head once again. At dinner tonight, I sat tight-lipped while Sandra Bullock and the Jawa explained how, in the book "Hoot," which they are reading for their mother-son reading group, the protagonist should NOT have punched the bully in the nose.

So I guess we won't be screening "My Bodyguard" anytime soon.

Let me tell you something: when I was ten years old, new to Orange County and getting the crap beat out of me by Earnest, #1 bully at Riverdale Elementary, I tried to mix in a little reasoning while fending off blows. Either Earnest was hard of hearing or I wasn't using the right strategy, because whatever I said made absolutely no difference. In fact, it might have made him even more angry.

I have never struck back, not in my life, save for that time I beat up John Rock and his older brother in kindergarten and when I fought to a draw with Tommy "Fat Slob" Villano in 4th grade, and I can't help but think that maybe if I'd sat up and popped old Earnest, maybe he would have backed off a little.

As it was, it didn't matter, because within days I transferred out of that school to one full of dorks and weirdos just like me. I left without saying goodbye to anyone. Didn't even clean out my desk.

I'm sure that Earnest -- who, I've got to admit, seemed a little unbalanced and frankly, not too bright -- went on to an unexamined life. Meanwhile, I continue my search for the perfect maltball.

On that subject, amidst today's pro-immigration protests, I discovered a second source for the best maltballs in the world. Previously, I found them only at the old, trying-to-be-upscale grocery store by the Jawa's school. At $3.99 a pound, they're bigger and more chocolatey than the gourmet jobs found in bulk at organic food stores and Andronico's. Granted, those maltballs do contain a much more flavorful malt center, but at $6.99 a pound I'm priced out of the market, even though I usually only buy 8 or 9 balls at a time.

Why do I buy only 8 or 9 balls at a time? Because if I eat all of them. If I bought 80 or 90 balls, I'd eat all of them. We all have our own coping strategies.

On the corner of Valencia and 24th Street, in the hipster quadrant of the Mission, there is a non-descript market trying to look organic. It is no more organic than the liquor store across the street, but it has a green awning and bulk grains. It must be working, because every time I go there, the store is full of young white people.

At this point, I can tell which stores are likely to have maltballs. They usually have green awnings. You can buy expensive soda there, but not a regular Coke. The larger of these stores often sell very interesting soup. Valencia Street is lousy with stores packed with the food of the righteous, but they usually only sell maltballs of the $6.99 variety. In fact, I'll swear that I've bought $6.99 maltballs at this very store in the past. Not this time.

Since I was not in my car, I could not honk if I supported immigration. Instead, I entered the store and went straight for the bulk foods. There, uncomfortably wedged between the yogurt pretzels and some kind of nut were the maltballs. I'll admit that I shoved past some sandal-clad guy who was eyeing the fake Rice Krispies bin. In doing so, did I exhibit worse behavior than the all-natural fiber-clad grad student I later heard dropping f-bombs on her cell phone in the library? According to the annoyed librarian, no.

A nondescript sign described them as "chocolate malt balls." Underneath the sign were the magic numbers: $3.99 per lb. I looked into the bin and noticed that they were larger than normal. In fact, they were the exact size of the Holy Grail maltballs.

My heart began to beat faster. I shoved Sandal Boy out of the way, reached into the bin with the plastic scoop and pulled out exactly 9 maltballs. Then I paid my $1.06 and tore into the first maltball.

Instantly, I felt the satisfaction previously only felt at the Parkview Market. It put a little spring into my step, one to rival even that of the hipsters draped in the green, red and white of the Mexican flag who were flooding the sidewalk, shouting slogans and waving signs. Nowhere else in the city had I found these particular maltballs; not at Safeway, not at the gross candy place in the Stonestown Mall, not even at the bulk-heavy Mill Valley Market. Only at the Parkview and here, at the corner of 24th and Valencia, a half-block from the library, where I would now go, free to browse the new books shelf while popping wonderful maltballs in my mouth every few minutes.

I don't ask for much. I ask for the Earnests of the world to leave me alone, even though they know I won't fight back. I ask for my child to understand that radical kindness may not be the most effective approach for each and every situation. And I ask for multiple locations where I can get top-flight malted milk balls at $3.99 a pound.