Thursday, June 29, 2006

Tiny Chinese Guys and Me

Everyone goes to the DMV; everyone who drives, that is. And most adults I know drive, encompassing all social, economic and ethnic identities. If you drive, you must go to the DMV on occasion, where the great democratic equalizer is in effect. No matter who you are, if you go to the DMV, you will sit there, number in hand, waiting your turn.

Unless you make an appointment, which is another story entirely.

My point is that everyone, me, you, Michael Moore, Charlton Heston, Elton John, Colin Powell, Jr., Gavin Newsom, Snoop Dogg, we all go to the DMV. Why, then, is it that everytime I go to the DMV it is full to overflowing with very small, old Chinese men?

I went to the DMV today. Actually, it was requested that I go to the DMV today. Sandra Bullock, realizing that our infamous 8-year-old Subaru was in need of registration, left me a note: Register Subaru, it read, and also, pick up check registry. In a nostalgic recall of the years 1992-1997, she was long gone before I awoke at 9 am. With the Jawa gone this week, my internal clock has recalibrated itself to a comfortable 9 am wakeup time. This wakeup time is adding pounds to my already overloaded frame, as it does not allow for morning workouts at 24-Hour Fitness.

Meanwhile, today I am left with the note, so I drive down to the DMV, where I find, as usual, ten thousand elderly Chinese men. They are standing in line, some quietly, some reading colorful Mandarin-language newspapers, some dragging (even tinier) children, dressed in clothing even more colorful than the newspapers. Some are speaking loudly, at supersonic speed, on cell phones. But they are there.

Sure, a few others are sprinkled in. There's me, for example, clutching a newspaper, my Walkman, my registration papers, and the Krispy Kreme donut that drew me in because of its proximity to the DMV. If this was a test, I failed.

Also present are a few Mexican guys wearing cowboy hats and a handful of nervous 16-year-olds. All are overwhelmed by the little old Chinese guys. A small sampling of the DMV would suggest that San Francisco roads are occupied mostly by little old Chinese guys, and, now that I think of it, that sampling would not be entirely untrue.

Today's DMV experience, though labranthine, was not unpleasant. I sat, I ate my donut, I read about yesterday's NBA draft. A half-hour later, I joined 10,000 little old Chinese guys in the parking lot, then followed them out into the streets.

Later, I created a virtual DMV experience behind the wheel. This time, however, rather than navigating a confusing maze of lines on foot, I created my own confusion behind the wheel. My search for a B of A (where I could pick up check registry) took me through parts of South San Francisco I had never before seen. My every decision was wrong, taking me deeper and deeper into South City's dilapidated residential neighborhoods. It was as if the driving gods, recognizing that my DMV experience had not been unpleasant, decided to dole out a little on-road punishment to even the score.

Next time I'll make an appointment. Or do it online. I'll miss the tiny little Chinese guys, their brightly-clad children and high volume cell phone conversations, but I will save hours, leaving me free for further exploration of the mean streets of South San Francisco.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Too Quiet in the Morning

Now that we've discussed too many sirens, lets talk about quiet. As in "way too quiet," which was the status of my home when I finally awoke this morning. No chattering Jawa, no hurrying Sandra Bullock (who, by the way, is featured on the cover of this month's "Vanity Fair"), just me and the distant sirens.

To digress a bit -- I wasn't imagining the sirens. Two days after my last post, our neighborhood newspaper, the "Glen Park News," ran a story which recounted all of the recent crime in the neighborhood. "Glen Park Crime Wave?" the story asked, followed by an in-neighborhood cop's insistance that everything was status quo. Since then, there has been a noticable increase in police presence in Glen Park. I see a couple of cop cars a day now, whereas I used to see one a week. Is this good news or bad news?

Back to my silent home.

The Jawa, who has been driving us insane with his insistance on acting like an 8-year-old, left this morning for a week at his friend's beach house. That's right: a Jawa-free week. Even more upsetting is the fact that, following a quick overnight at home on Thursday, S. Bullock will then take my Jawa to her mother's new retirement paradise in Lake Chelan, Washington, for another week, leaving me all alone here in our crumbling San Francisco cottage.

What will I do?

If I were S. Bullock -- as we discussed last night -- I would already have a prioritized list of projects at the ready. Upon their return, my family would find rooms re-painted, previously out-of-control storage areas tamed and neatened. Perhaps they would find the backyard completely weeked, the car detailed and the mailbox rebuilt.

Three years ago this summer, the Jawa and I took our famed Midwestern road trip through Ohio and Indiana, to see Noodles' Mom and Big Jody's family. When we returned, the Jawa's bedroom had been transformed from "toddler" to "kid." I doubt my family will find any radical changes when they return. Our house, in fact, may look like it's been empty for ten days.

Unfortunately, this turn of events is staffed backwards. It would probably be a better fit if I was the one leading the road trip to Lake Chelan and S. Bullock was staying home. This time, though, I have to stay home and enter data, try to sell houses, and not spend money. Also, it is Mean Jean's retirement paradise they seek -- though my respect for MJ is legion, she is, after all, S. Bullock's mom, not mine.

So I stay home. Sort of.

You can't keep a good man down, and I can't bear the thought of ten empty days coming so close on the heels of the Jawa-less week, so I'm bugging out and driving down to my adolescenthood home in Orange County, at least for the first weekend. I haven't been there since my parents moved to Dell Webb's Sun City, and I am due. Plus, the lawyer Roger Hunt, Esq. is completing renovation on his new home, and I haven't even seen it once yet. Some friend.

But this morning, waking up to silence. When I was in grad school (the first time), pre-Jawa, S. Bullock was usually long gone by the time I even thought about waking up. I'm wired to wake up at about 11:00 am, and it has and will always be a real struggle for me to function according to a normal adult clock. Today, for example, Bullock slammed on the overhead light at 7:30, but I still slept another hour; hence, the silence.

Usually, I start my mornings listening to SB making the Jawa's breakfast, and then whatever conversation or argument that follows. I lie there hoping that this will be the morning that Bullock says, "You know, I'm going to leave a little bit later and hang around with you guys," but she never does. She's gone as I'm getting out of bed, the Jawa already at full strength. Normally, I then spend a half-hour struggling to get him from Point A (pjs) to Point B (ready for school / camp), exasperated and the recipient of much information about Pokemon, Bionicles, Legos, Star Wars, Spiderman, etc.

The Jawa did his best to test us prior to leaving. He threw tantrums, narrowed his eyes, bossed us around, to the point where we knew we would breath a sigh of relief at the glorious silence that would follow his departure. Then I woke up at 5:30 this morning with his head smashed up against my chin. This isn't his usual m.o. Normally, when he comes in to our bed in the morning, I get knees and elbows if anything. Today I got his whole self, and of course instantly forgot about how he rolled his eyes at me Saturday night when I asked him to do something.

Sometimes I tell him that the the worst thing is that as he gets bigger, I get older. When he returns from his trips, he'll be two weeks older, a little less the little boy he was when he left, a little closer to the aggravating teenager he seems to be rushing toward becoming. I am in no rush, and when he announced, in the car the other day, that I didn't need to come to Santa Cruz for one night because "you know, Dad, I've got to grow up sometime," I thought I felt ten or fifteen hairs fall out of my already-depleted head.

Meanwhile, silence.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Nighttime Musings

Lots of sirens in our neighborhood lately. Too many sirens. Earlier this week, I looked out the front window at about 10 pm to see an aid car tearing down the hill that runs by our house. The next morning, the Jawa and I left for Zoo Camp, only to find chaos at the main intersection of our little "downtown." A police car was parked halfway out into the intersection. A bunch of people milled around while the cops talked to some young kid. "Look Dad, it's the fuzz," said the Jawa, solemnly. Two fire engines broke up the next night, barreling down the hill while I was watching "Sportscenter."

And a few weeks ago, we left for the taqueria only to notice a helicopter hovering over our street. It seemed to be hovering directly over our house. We stopped and watched it, as I wondered what illegal activity we had participated in without knowing. "It's not a police helicopter," said Sandra Bullock. It was from a local TV station, which was different from the time about a month ago, when the Jawa and I arrived home after school to find a police helicopter hovering over the hills behind our house.

After dinner, we came home and switched on the TV. As if in a movie, our explanation immediately appeared. Speaking live from a park four blocks away, the reporter told us that three people had been shot at around 4:30 in that afternoon, two adults and one 11-year-old. Nobody knew the motive.

Life in the almost-city. I'm not complaining, but too many sirens lately.

Sitting up tonight, switching back and forth between ESPN Wednesday Night Baseball (Mariners 8 Dodgers 5) and various music channels, I noticed that country music singers seem much happier than the people on MTV, BET or even VH-1 Classic. Their videos often resemble picnics or barbecues, with lots of happy people dancing around in shorts.

I was up alone because the Jawa had insisted that S. Bullock go to bed at 9, his bedtime. She's been mostly gone this week, due to work commitments, so he has been given a full dose of me. This means poor meals and televised sports, with some Uno thrown in. So tonight, as he often does when she's been gone, he asked that , rather than staying up with me, she go to bed at 9 so they could lie in our bed and read. It's very cute, but he'd better enjoy it now. I remind him (more and more often with each passing year) that as he gets bigger, I get older. Soon I will not be able to easily hoist the sleeping Jawa up from our bed and carry him into his own. That will be a sad day, full of overwhelming reminders of my own mortality, indeed.

What in the world is wrong with Maury Povich? Several years ago...okay, 25...our local CBS affiliate ran a series of teaser commercials containing the phrase "Who is Maury Povich?" My mother, who, despite her massive determination and drive, often possesses an impish sense of humor, knew who Maury Povich was. Each time the commercial ran, she announced loudly, to whomever else was in the room, "I KNOW WHO MAURY POVICH IS! HE'S MY COUSIN JANIS' HUSBAND'S COUSIN!" Which made him our cousin, or at least that's what I told people.

Mom went so far as to call KCBS and tell them, "I know who Maury Povich is!" only to be met, I am sure, with confused silence. They asked. She answered.

Besides being Don Povich's cousin, Maury was then a news anchor. He came to Los Angeles, lasted awhile, and then disappeared. The Povichs were a journalism family, and included Hall of Fame sportswriter Shirley Povich of the Washington Post, plus my (actual) cousin Elaine, who has worked at many newspapers and the AP.

Maury married Connie Chung, making her every bit our fake cousin as Maury. My mother met them at some cousin's wedding, where my grandmother, who was not known for enthusiastic outbursts, enthusiastically introduced them to everyone.

Since then, I'm afraid, Maury has lost his mind. I see him when I'm at the gym, climbing endless steps on the Precor thing. The hanging TVs often play his show. Maury, seriously. You were once an anchorman. Granted, it was local news, but it was L.A., at least. Now you spend your time sitting around in a v-neck sweater and a white t-shirt, reading the results of paternity tests while overweight teenage girls cry under an assault of profanity from the faux gang sign-flashing losers who told them all along that the baby wasn't theirs.

You get accused of sexual harrasment, Maury. You act all soothing when two sisters prepare themselves to tell their mom that they've been prostituting themselves and darn it, they feel okay about it. You're feeding the beast, Maury. You've sold yourself out. Unlke Jerry Springer, you once had aspirations of respectibility. You married Connie Chung, for crying out loud, the original prototype for the cheery, Asian-American female TV journalist. That's j-o-u-r-n-a-l-i-s-t., Maury. You know, like you used to be.

Thank God my grandmother didn't live to see this.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Friends on the Move

Twenty-one plus years ago, Little Bake and I are setting up our sophomore year dorm room, when in walks the guy from across the hall. As I am not yet 20, from Southern California and showing off very long pink shorts, I have never seen a person like this before. He is urbane, impeccably dressed, serious, and speaks in the warm tones of the cultured. Using impossibly long strides, he covers the room in three steps, then grabs my box of Cheez-Its from my desk and starts shoving them in his mouth five at a time.

Six months later, now Fraternity brothers, this same guy teaches me how to open a Macy's charge account to get the Perry Ellis sweater I coveted, though I have (as usual) no cash. Sometime around then, he shows me how to be drunk with style, one night dramatically throwing a glass into the fireplace at the Fraternity house just for kicks.

Imagine, as a clueless and mostly classless Orange County kid, the impact that this Peter O'Toole-alike from San Francisco can have. But wait, it gets better.

Three months after we graduate from college, Peter O'Toole marries his girlfriend, Princess Grace. They stand untouchable, well above the fray, glamorous homeowners in Marin's most glamorous city at 22 as I move to Seattle, take up residence in the basement of a crack house, and begin a long, dreadful career as a waiter.

They come to Seattle in 1989. I have two clear memories of that visit. One is Princess Grace refusing to enter my crackhouse apartment because it smells awful. The other is sitting at a table with O'Toole, Princess Grace and my suddenly very young-seeming girlfriend at the time.

Many years pass. I recover from Seattle, move to San Francisco and meet the very efficient and down-to-earth S. Bullock. We schedule a meeting with O'Toole and Grace, me thinking that there is no way on this earth that my regular gal will have anything in common with the couple I've come to think of as my version of royalty.

To my shock, the (I later realized) unintimidatable S. Bullock immediately takes to the royal pair and they shortly become our favorite people in the entire five county area.

But we move back to Seattle.

I am here to tell you today that we would not have moved back to San Francisco if not for Peter O'Toole and Princess Grace. And that if not for the Jawa, they would not have their own lovable little twin moppets. I don't know, something happened. We all found a wide, comfortable wonderful middle ground. And then, when we moved back to San Francisco, we welcomed others into it. Ours became a good, almost magical place, something like the surface of Updike only with even more good stuff in the subtext.

Last night we all gathered at the tasteful, comfortable home of O'Toole and Grace, to wish them luck on their move to New Jersey. Seems that O'Toole, who -- if you'd never seen him shoving Cheez-Its into his mouth or wearing a tattered baseball cap -- would seem to have been born wearing a subdued, well-fitting business suit, has finally outgrown our small city and is being recalled to the New York metropolitan area.

So we all sat in a giant bubble of denial on their deck, looking out at Tiburon and the bay, with Berkeley in the distance, eating pizza, watching our kids do insane dances, which is something we do often, at each others' homes, or yearly for a three-day weekend at Stinson Beach. We debated whether they'd return, the odds of native Californians surviving just one New Jersey winter. And what the rest of us would do with our splintered group, now that our crown prince and princess were gone. Of course, we'll manage. In the past six years, we've become a tight unit, able to survive the loss of a couple of team members.

This is strange. Usually we're the ones who leave. As I wrote recently, time passes and you don't see the people you want to see. Things creep up on you. Months go by and you don't see anyone, even though you mean to. As I write this, we've got a line-up of people we're trying to schedule stuff with.

And yet, somehow, you manage to fit in the things you'll remember. A few weeks ago I drove through the bubble of denial into Tiburon, where I had an open house. It was a condo, and when I stood on the deck, I could see O'Toole and Grace's house, clinging to the side of a hill. I could also see the street where we take the kids trick-or-treating, the pool we take them to, the grocery store where we stop and buy a six-pack on our way up the hill every time we come over.

On my way home from the open house, I ran into O'Toole. He was driving behind me, so we pulled over and talked, and I laid on him my shock at how awful it felt to have them leaving. "We probably wouldn't have moved back down here if it wasn't for you guys," I told him, which wasn't fair. True, but not fair. I left out the part that, even if they never move back here again, it was more than worth it to follow our impulse and come down here.

On that day, I was the one wearing a tie. O'Toole was in his usual casual wear, some gigantic shorts and a tucked-in shirt, along with some sandals that Sandra Bullock could never, in a thousand years, talk me into wearing. There are many people with more in common than Peter O'Toole and I, and certainly with more in common than Princess Grace and Sandra Bullock. But for some reason, it's worked better than most anything I know.

Of course they'll be back. Princess Grace in Jersey?

Friday, June 16, 2006

Lost Connections

Here's something about growing up that sucks -- and no, I'm not going to reference my rapidly diminishing scalp coverage or using the bathroom in the middle of the night.

I had this dream last night, which I won't go into, save for the fact that at one point, I found myself sitting around a table with a bunch of people I've known forever but haven't seen or spoke to in almost as long. Among them was Big Jody, formerly of San Francisco, Georgia, London and now South Bend, Indiana.

Big Jody is one of "the eleven," the eleven people in the world who've never looked at me as if I were insane. We met at a wild Doug Davidovich party in 1991, sitting idly talking about turn-of-the-century baseball players while everyone else did grotesque dances to the Pogues. Big Jody and I have discussed Platonic theory in the Wilmington, North Carolina branch of Hooters. We've gone on at length about what is right and wrong about professional baseball, and all of the unanticipated joys of fatherhood. We sit, we drink beer, we talk. Sometimes in Mexico. That's about it.

Unfortunately, since they (they being Big Jody, his brilliant and feisty wife and equally brilliant daughter whom I some day hope will be my daughter-in-law) move around often and we are often flat broke, we seldom see them.

Even worse is the fact that -- and here's where the growing older part comes in -- we don't even call or email very often. I think about this guy and his family every day, and yet, seldom have any contact with him.

And he is not alone. Pretty much everyone sitting around that table in my dream (which, oddly enough, took place in Las Vegas) is someone I think about but never talk to. When I was single and in my twenties, I routinely ran up $200 a month phone bills talking to everyone, past and present, in my life. I go through old shoeboxes of letters I've received and am shocked to find that I used to regularly write letters to people I now haven't talked to in many years.

We used to drive long distances to see Big Jody and his family. Noodles' Mom, who also moves often thanks to her husband the Rocket Scientist's employer, Uncle Sam, generally managed to live no more than 400 miles from Big Jody, so we'd take off and meet them overnight somewhere like Asheville, North Carolina. Three summers ago the Jawa and I drove the length of Indiana to visit them, but now Noodles' Mom is in exile in the desert, so we have no anchor to set out from.

I have no excuse or explanation for not emailing people like Big Jody, Smike (who since college has been busy spreading the gospel in the former Soviet Union), Cheerful Scott (lives in Germany), Phred (Santa Barbara), Brian B. (here right in SF, for cryin' out loud!), Annie F. (Seattle -- and believe you me, I owe her plenty), Little Bake (Orange) and a host of other Seattle people -- Tony, Delmis & Scott, etc.

You'd think that technology would make it easier to keep in touch with everyone, but it just doesn't seem to work out that way. I think of all of you constantly. It's just what happens when you get older.

That doesn't make it suck any less.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

One Thing I Do Well

There are a few things that I am good at. This is one of them:

Yesterday was the last day of school. I joined all of the parents and children in saying "goodbye" to the Jawa's teacher, who will be taking her Judy Garland-as-Dorothy self back to South Carolina, where she and her husband have already bought a house, which is something two teachers can do in Charleston but not in San Francisco.


The girls all cried loudly as they hugged the teacher, who eventually broke down, too. The boys, being boys, generally ran around yelling loudly.

Also leaving was the class comedian, whose jolly, blue necktie (nak u tai in Japanese) was completely at odds with his stern efforts to hold back tears as he watched the only friends he's known since kindergarten all leave.

Through this chaos came the Jawa and his friend, the self-named Shaman, only child of the Hammer. They burst out of the classroom wearing gigantic smiles, ready for summer which, for me on this day, stretched out before us as five empty hours waiting for someone to fill with fun things to do.

On the way out of school, I also stopped to give a wave to frequent blog contributor Zelda on my way out. Apparently, she was a mess (self-proclaimed), but since I was also chasing two Jawas at the time, I didn't really notice anything untoward.

Five hours is a long time to entertain multiple children and, if it were a day like today, where the children are in the house with me, I might have just told them to "go play" while I worked. But yesterday was sunny and warm, and I know the Shaman well enough to know how he works. And as I said above, there are a few things I am good at. Urban Camp Counselor is one of them.

First, we blew off the traditional fast food establishments in favor of Whiz Burger, a run-down drive-up at 20th and South Van Ness. We dined with hip office workers, construction guys, high school kids and a few homeless people, sitting outside where the jawas could stretch their legs and speak in voices several decibels above what was required for conversation. Then, I smoothly manipulated the conversation to avoid going to Metreon or a playground at Golden Gate Park, offering up instead the "video game museum" at Fisherman's Wharf.

Now you're thinking, "But Lefty, Fisherman's Wharf?" What are you, an overweight tourist from Illinois? An ill-prepared German traveler in strange tennis shoes? No, and no. What you may not know is that children have the exact same interests as tourists. They like cheap electronics, wax museums, theme restaurants and sea lions. I have never had less than a great time with the Jawa at Fisherman's Wharf, so to the Wharf we went.

I love letting kids go nuts in city settings. Here, as a parent, your primary responsibility is just to get them to notice stuff they don't normally see, and to make sure no one steals them. It's a pretty simple job. You do alot of hovering, just out of view.

So I purposely parked several blocks away from the video game museum, knowing that in the time it took us to walk there, I would be enjoying many Art Linkletter-esque moments.

The first came when we passed Hooters. "My mom says that Hooters only hires women with big bazooms," blurted the Shaman. The Jawa considered this, and returned, "I'll bet it's a great place for men, then. Non-gay men."

"I'm usually gay when I play Life," added the Shaman, thoughtfully. "Last time I wasn't, though. I married a girl."

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, kids do say the darndest things. Especially in San Francisco.

It was almost 3 by the time we reached the video game museum, ice cream in hand. As the Hammer would say, we didn't walk, we "meandered." We ditched our ice creams and walked through Laughing Sal's mouth into the arcade, though the Jawa did offer up a warning, saying, "If that's really Laughing Sal's mouth, I'm not going in."

Once inside, the Shaman spent most of his quarters on the old-style arcade games -- where you put a quarter in and some robot dances around, or you see pictures of the Great Earthquake of 1906. The more arcade-savvy Jawa (that is an indictment of my parenting, not an endorsement) went straight for the games of my youth -- Centipede, Asteroids, Battle Zone.

In a short 25 minutes it was over. $10 was gone. We walked back out of Laughing Sal's mouth -- not actually walking, but more like stumbling violently, on my suggestion, as if Laughing Sal had consumed us and then thrown us up. 30 minutes and hundreds of thousands of tourist dollars spent on strange little items with "San Francisco" written on them later we were back at the car. The Shaman admirably tried to carry my own Jawa up Larkin Street, which I found amazing, and was done in spite of a rapidly declining Jawa mood, which at one point inspired the Shaman to say, "What am I doing now that's bothering you? Breathing? Existing?"

We were home by 4:30. Four-and-a-half city hours had passed in what seemed like a second. And as we were walking down on Fisherman's Wharf, I kept wondering what it is that makes a day memorable. Was this one of those days? All we did was drive, get a hamburger, drive some more, walk around and play video games. I'm hoping that the pace of the day -- their pace -- will somehow stamp it into their memories as this great day that happened on the last day of third grade. Either that or the Shaman will remember it as the day no one would give him $3.34 so he could buy that Nintendo DS game he wanted.

This I am good at. Today, though, the three jawas I have upstairs are running around madly while I try to put together a presentation I'm giving tomorrow. Entertaining jawas at home is something I am not good at.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Lazy Sunday Open House

If you hold a house open, and nobody comes, does it make a sound? Can you sell the house, or in this case, the condo? Will you get any new clients? Or did you waste four hours preparing for and then holding a place open (not counting ironing time), only to find yourself with a bad case of the lonelies as the minutes tick by.

And whose fault is it? I just got off the phone with this place's listing agent, the guy who let me hold it open. Between us, we had no clue. If nobody shows up, it's not because they find the place unappealing. They have to find the place first in order to find it unappealing. Was it overpriced? Not according to the research done by the listing agent when he took the listing.

I find the whole thing odd.

Things to do when nobody shows up to your open house:

1) Use the bathroom. This is only advisable if, like me today, you are holding open a condo with a front gate buzzer. It is inadvisable to use the bathroom if there is any chance that a potential client could sneak up on you while you're in there. Also, you must remember to wipe down all surfaces and remove evidence of running water before exiting the bathroom.

2) Read whatever they have around. I got lucky today. The condo, owned, as far as I could tell (and later research would reveal) by and older, gay couple who were moving to Palm Springs, were movie and music afficianados. My time passed much more quickly while I was absorbed in the "Rolling Stone" 1000th issue and Kenneth Turan's "Not Coming to a Theater Near You." Naturally, thanks to my front gate buzzer, nobody came into the condo to find me sitting at the owner's desk, reading his "Rolling Stone." The few times the buzzer did ring (five in total), I quickly returned the magazine or book to its original spot, and then buzzed in potential buyers.

3) Google the owners on your PDA. This is the real reason why realtors have Treos. Not so we can be reached and check email 24/7, though that helps. No, the real use of the Treo is to google the property owners during slow open houses. It helps if the owners have uncommon names. Today, for example, I learned that our owners, a Naturopathic doctor and a long-time professor of music at Notre Dame de Namur University, were moving to Palm Springs, where the music teacher hoped to continue teaching, though privately, and also acting as music director for small theater performances, something he has done often in the past.

4) If you have no Treo, or if the owners have very common names, you can also find clues about their lives in the property itself. Note that this is impossible with staged properties. Even before I googled them, I knew that today's property owners were spiritual seekers, Catholic-educated (Loyola, 1958) Jews interested in the true role of Christ, Buddhism, alternative cures and the cultural impact of marijuana. I also learned that they enjoy classical music and fine art, potted plants and have each and every light in their place on a dimmer.

They are fastidious. An entire wall of their office was taken up by files and plastic drawers for office supplies. They sometimes work from home and have to fax things. Each of them, that is. There were two faxes. They like to read, sometimes fiction but more often non-fiction. The fiction they do read is usually gay-themed. And they travel extensively, usually picking up a keepsake ranging from the extravagent (art, African masks) to the kitschy (a Buckingham Palace snow globe).

Unfortunately, they are not selling their house today, which must be adding a layer of stress to their Palm Springs move, a step they have probably been planning for years.

5) Look out the window. This, of course, is only possible if there is a view. Today there was. Though much obscured by fog, there was still enough of a panorama to reveal a strange, castle-like building flying a Canadian flag down the street. Our boys had a flag pole, but no flag. Did they sometimes fly the stars & stripes? Or were they more likely to unfurl the rainbow flag of gay liberation?

6) Stand quietly, watching the minutes tick away.

Naturally, there are limits to what you can and can't do in an open house. Early in today's stint, I was forced to open a desk drawer in search of tape. I didn't feel good about that. You can't invade. After all, they're trusting you in their home. So even if there's a big stack of mail sitting on the desk, or closets just waiting to be glanced at, you have to remember that you are a professional. And that the owners could possibly drop by unannounced, front gate buzzer or no front gate buzzer.

So today's open house was unsuccessful, for me, for the listing agent, and for the sellers. Now we huddle and try to figure out a way to get people to drive up that windy street, climb the three flights and check out the place. These are the mysteries of real estate, why you can't just take a 4-week class, get business cards and start selling houses.

Oh, wait, I forgot; you can.

Friday, June 09, 2006

To All the Haters

Here's a heads-up for all the people that hate me -- and I am certain you are legion. It is fine to be a hater. I don't deny that you have your reasons. However, you've got to find a more appropriate way to express your hate than posting anonymous blasts in my comments. This blog is for your enjoyment. It's not a place to drop creepy, somewhat threatening hints, pass blanket judgement on people you've never met, or post, for the entire world to see, concerns that perhaps would have been better served had they brought up directly to me. Lest you suffer the crack backs of Noodle's Mom, take a long look at your monitor before pressing "send." I do.

All of this being said, I have no problem with your barbs if they're funny, if they relate directly to material being posted, if they're meant in the spirit of semi-harmless fun. And if you are revved up and thinking, "Boy, that Lefty, what a jerk. He bags on everyone," try to remember -- and if you know me, it shouldn't be difficult -- that I save the cruelest jibes for myself.

Again, let me state: this is NOT a place for the airing of non-blog-related gripes. If I have wronged you, or if you have imagined that I have wronged you, or if I have offended your sense of what is right in the world, I invite you to contact me directly. And for pete's sake, don't fire off a rocket and then sign it "Anonymous." Seriously. How lame.

We now return you to the fun that was, is and will be this blog.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Hot Women on the Town

Why is it that being locked out of your new (and temporary) place of employment because you forgot your key card is somehow unacceptably embarassing if you are also holding a banana? And what's the good of working in the same place as your wife if she's not in her office to answer the phone and come let you in?

Monday night I rolled into Doc's Clock on Mission Street with five 40-and-50-something Jewish hotties in tow. Every mouth in the joint dropped. All wanted to be me, and who could blame them?

We sat at a table in the middle of the room, right next to the shuffleboard, too close to the young girls who shrieked in delight every time their puck knocked another one off the table. Over at our table, we talked about the ease and value in putting the toilet seat down after male use. Has there ever been an act that requires less effort and yet delivers such massive benefits?

Earlier in the evening, we had all attended the BHDS Volunteer Appreciation Dinner, the capper of Jewish Events Month. It was here that we sat casually, paid $5 for an Anchor Steam, ate tabouli and patted each other on the back.

For a few wiseacres, the Volunteer Appreciation Dinner offered a prime opportunity to ask if I was wearing my "pompous shoes." Unfortunately for these would-be Seinfelds, I had worn drab, black Hush Puppies, in fear that the bitter SF Susan herself would make an appearance, and grandly reveal to the crowd that I was wearing pompous shoes, thus destroying my hopes that I would be perceived as a tortured, misunderstood artist.

Later, at Doc's Clock, we celebrated the Mack Daddy's birthday (and her slick, calf-high black boots) along with Jenny from the Block, the Hammer, NYC Emily and the preternaturally groovy Dr. Melfi. At one point, a group of college-aged hipsters overheard us talking about school tuition. One drunkenly asked if we would pay his tuition at USF. Sadly, Stella was not going to get her groove back on this night. Instead, we shouted back at him en masse, something about how his college cost less than our kids' grade school.

How odd for him, to run into that during a Monday night of shuffleboard at Doc's Clock, I thought. Then I launched into my usual diatribe about how sad it was that young adults ape the social conventions and tired rebellion of their hippie parents, dryly pointing out the unkempt beards and sandals of the college-aged boys. Is that all there is?

I give them credit for having the good sense to try to work our table of real women. At that age, there's no way I would have tried my line anywhere outside of the 21-25 age group. I was, I'll admit, an ageist. Shame on me.

Give a shout out to the Jewish moms. Our evening ended at 12:30, long after the rest of the volunteers had gone home. Even to NYC Emily, who fumbled badly while ordering a drink.

Bartender: What would you like?
NYCE: (long pause) ...uh...BEER!

And so ends Jewish Events Month -- from the grandeur of a Presidio Terrace mansion to a beer-saturated table next to the shuffleboard at Doc's Clock. What will we do for an encore?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Graduation Day 2006

While many of you -- not the least of which being both of my sisters and my mother -- may violently disagree, I love the teenage years. I enjoyed being a teenager, enjoyed teaching teenagers. I'm not sure I enjoyed my teens as much as I would if I could do it over again, given the body of knowledge I've accumulated since, but I've got no complaints.

Please get out your sentimentality filters, because your otherwise notably cynical blogger here believes in locker combos, drama club, ham sandwiches on the quad, Friday night football games, teenage romance, signing yearbooks and the Junior prom, and I had to keep myself from shaking the shoulders of each and every high school grad present at today's party for one of our babysitters, a member of St. Ignatius high school's class of 2006 to remind them that Carly Simon was right: these are the good old days.

From my perch in life, teenagers enter and leave mostly as babysitters. When we see them, they are working, they are alone, on their best behavior, and generally loaded down with homework. In short, we see a well-behaved 15% of their overall personalities. Today I was reminded exactly what a group of teens at a party (granted, one with adults present) looks and sounds like.

This was an poised group of teens. Most were BHDS grads, class of 2002, and an unusually large percentage of them were off to impressive colleges in New York. Even at an emotionally stunted 41, it's strange to be at a high school graduation party as one of the faceless adults who come bearing gifts, then melt into the background, unimportant save for our function as caterers. Today we stayed in the shadows, talking about the kids, the guests of honor, and, in our case, the seeming improbability that our own 8-year-old, often volatile Jawa will one day stand poised onstage, holding a sheepskin of his own.

Out of the corner of my eye, I watched the grads pose for group pictures, hang out on the front steps, mill around drinking non-alcoholic beverages. They were conserving their energy for tonight's grad night activities. As I type this, they are all off on school-sponsored adventures, bussed to some place for casino nights, swimming, all kinds of things designed to hide the fact that this will be the last time they will all be together in this familiar and comfortable way.

I have seen high school graduation from three distinctly different angles. First, I was a graduate myself, duded up in the preppy gear of 1983. I remember being miserable because my girlfriend and I had broken up the week before. Where was the wise adult to tell me that this was "my time?" Instead, I picked my First True Love out of the crowd during the ceremony and stared at her, ignoring the speeches. Then Roger Hunt, Esq. had a party, which I remember mostly for the appearance of our favorite teacher, Jack Burke, his patchwork madras golfing pants and the neat drunken two-step he did down Hunt's front stairs.

Later, when I taught at Blanchet High School, graduation was my favorite and least favorite time of the year. We'd followed these kids for years, and now, as they proudly walked across that stage, I saw each of their lives -- both the real ones and the ones I'd imagined for them -- pass before my eyes. And I realized, in the same horrible moment, that they were leaving, and I was staying behind. Strangely, those graduations, more so than my own, were the ones I wanted to go on forever.

It's asking way too much for kids to be cognizant of what's happening as it happens. Though the grads I saw today were exceptional in every way, I don't expect them to try to stop time tonight as they hang with their friends one more time.

For some, like my sisters and plenty of happy, successful adults I now know, this part of their lives couldn't have ended fast enough. To sentimental fools like me, though, my wish is that all of the kids I saw this afternoon could all take today and tonight, put them in a jar, poke holes in the lid, then put the jar on a shelf, so they can take it down and look at it any time they want.

After the party, Sandra Bullock went to San Jose to have dinner with an old friend. The Jawa and I, newly reconciled and suddenly needing to spend time together, watched a movie and went to Whiz Burger so we could eat dinner outdoors at a picnic table while the Mission flew its eccentrics like a flag all around us. Later, he insisted I lay in bed with him and read, while he fell asleep, as always, with his covers pulled all the way over his head.

There's another graduation experience, one I'm still a few years away form. Personally, I've graduated four times. I'm probably done. And, as I said earlier, I've watched students of my own graduate, kids I've coached, and now, babysitters, children of friends. But I haven't yet stood in the audience and watched my own Jawa graduate, unless you count preschool graduation. Hard to imagine him up there, six feet tall, razor burned from the morning's shave, car keys jingling in his pocket, shutting down his teens on his way to finding his life's path, when a few hours ago he asked me to hold my book in my right hand, so that I could "read closer" to him.

I'm guessing that Jawa graduation may prove to be an experience unique among graduations. I can't wait.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Good Magazines. Bad Attitudes.

How happy am I to have my "New Yorker" subscription once again active? I have been adrift since it ran out a few months ago. With Sandra Bullock unwilling to give it priority on our unpaid bills list, I spent the entire Spring struggling along with "Entertainment Weekly," "Vanity Fair," and, surprisingly, "J", the Bay Area Jewish weekly, which I don't remember subscribing to.

Today, my first "New Yorker" arrived, and I prepared myself to relearn all of the great lessons I'd forgotten in the past few months. Soon, with the help of Hendrick Hertzberg, I will know how to poke debate-proof holes in Republican policy. John Seabrook will show me new ways to look at middle-brow culture, and Malcolm Gladwell will bring up things I never would have otherwise noticed. I love Malcolm Gladwell. It's difficult not to love a little Canadian guy with an afro who's much smarter than you but still loves sports.

Adam Gopnick will tell me about Paris. Lillian Ross will fill me in on goings-on among families on the Upper West Side. David Remnick will reel in any outlandish thoughts I might have had about pretty much anything, and Mark Singer will expose me to eccentrics all around the country. Yes, "New Yorker," I have missed you. And now you are back. Thank you, Sandra Bullock, for bringing my magazine back home.

The Jawa and I ended his day today by arguing fiercely. Worn out and tired after a dinner with Mr. San Francisco and family, a surly Jawa greeting my request that he brush his teeth in the following manner:

a) he ignored me
b) having that fail, he made sure to give me a pop in the leg while on his way to the bathroom.

Now. If he hadn't also shaken his butt at me this morning when I asked him to get dressed, I might not have reacted with the fervor that I did. Instead of blowing the leg smack off, I GRABBED him and began a continuing lecture that did not cease until I was satisfied that he had suffered enough. And Sandra Bullock told me that the punishment I had chosen (no reading before bed) was cruel and inhumane.

I now know that what can seem like unfair punishment is really the product of a parent stretched to his limits. Frankly, I had run out of solutions. He hadn't responded to any of my reasoning, threatening, small-arms caliber punishments.

I thought the "no reading" was pretty effective. He was in there moaning about how he wished he could be a good person (like us), and how he'd never get to sleep without reading. Finally, I thought, I have broken through. I went in to re-scold him, only to get the trademarked narrowed eyes of Jawa anger.

Finally, I admitted defeat. He opened a book, though still shell-shocked. Now he is asleep, and I'm almost certain that at some point tomorrow I ask him to do something and he will ignore me.

Frankly, episodes like this leave me more angry at myself than at him. Where's the parenting manual that tells you the perfect way to teach your Jawa the consequences of bad behavior? When I was a kid, my mom chased me around and my dad sat on the edge of the bed and bored me to death. Both seemed more effective than my lame attempts at discipline.

In awhile I will go into bed. As always, I will check on the Jawa on my way. He will be sleeping, peaceful, smooth-skinned, seemingly unable to produce the chaos I know he is capable of producing. And then I will continue into my bedroom where Sandra Bullock sleeps, and crack open this week's "New Yorker." The long dark Spring is finally over.