Monday, October 30, 2006

Erev Halloween

We are less than 24 hours from trick-or-treating and are just now getting around to creating the Jawa's Halloween costume. As a result, everyone is in a bad mood, especially the already-overworked Sandra Bullock.

In fact, she does not know I am typing on the computer right now. She thinks I'm helping the Jawa create an "ammo belt," by coloring empty raisin boxes with a black marker.

And what is this costume we are creating? Yes, it is a Jawa costume. Finally. At age 9, our own Jawa has already donned the heroic duds of Obi-Wan-Kenobi, plus various superheroes, followed by a three-year Godzilla run (ended, mercifully, this year, when we talked him out of being either the three-headed King Ghidora or the mechanized Mecha Godzilla.) Last year's Rodan costume looked suspiciously like the San Diego Chicken, so it is probably better that we are going for something with fewer variables this year.

The problem is, we waited too long. Normally, we're done by now. This year, though, with S. Bullock getting slammed at work, and me doing whatever it is I do that seems to fill up my weeks and yet is not at all lucrative and/or profitable, we let the costume-building task slide. Now it is 7:39 on Monday and the would-be Jawa costume is laid out on the living room floor. S. Bullock is "trying to figure out how this hood goes on," while the Jawa tortures our dog in the name of "playing."

The most important part of the costume, of course, is the weapon. Earlier this week, the Jawa came far too close to convincing me that what he really needed, to achieve Jawa costume credibility, was a toy rifle. We would then take it and add some kind of cylindrical attachment, and it would resemble the Jawa blaster used in "Star Wars, Episode IV" to blow away R2D2.

I am not unlike you, fellow San Franciscans. I would never have a gun, have never bought my child a toy gun and have gone out of my way to discourage any interest in firearms. And yet, all of this effort seems to have had very little impact.

He almost had us convinced. And yet.

We came to our senses. "I don't think it's a good idea to be walking around with a fake gun," said Sandra Bullock, coolly. Maybe if it were 1976, but it is not. It is 2006, and I am not prepared to hold up my end of the fierce and rightous wrath that could come down on me from some well-meaning San Francisco parent who objects to my child hauling a fake .22 disguised as a Jawa blaster around on Halloween.

No blaster.

Personally, I hate Halloween. I hated it more as a child, recoiling from the pressure of not only having to be invited to a fun party but also having to come up with an interesting costume. And then you have to put the thing on and risk showing up somewhere as the ONLY PERSON IN A COSTUME. How humiliating that would be.

So I never had a good costume, because I always wanted to wear something that wouldn't look entirely foolish, were I to show up somewhere as the only person in a costume. Usually it involved a suit and a tie, either an oversized one (the year I went as a hobo), or a small, smartly-fitting one with sunglasses (3rd grade, I was a "European industrialist").

As an adult, my responsibilities are limited to following the Jawa around while he trick-or-treats. Each year I threaten to dress as my dad, and wear white Vans slip-ons, "dungarees," a gray zip-up hooded sweatshirt, and stand about twenty feet behind our group of kids, smoking.

Until recently, when the Jawa began choosing his own trick-or-treating cohort, we spent Halloween in Tiburon, guests of Peter O'Toole and Princess Grace. We loaded up our young, costumed children and set out for Peninsula Avenue, where people our ages lounged around with Kennedy-esque grace in well-appointed homes. Every third house seemed to be having a party: candy for the kids, cocktails for the adults.

Afterwards, as we drove back into the city with the Jawa asleep in the back seat, I'd tell Sandra Bullock that I was being "seduced by the dark side," after an evening of high-end Americana in Tiburon.

Last year, the Jawa decided that Halloween was his holiday, not ours, and that we would be trick-or-treating with his friends, not ours. And then O'Toole and Grace went and moved to New Jersey. Fortunately, our back-up -- trick-or-treating with the Shaman and Tony Hawk -- involves parents we truly like, plus the added benefit of access to the truly fantastic homes of Pacific Heights. And then I sat and handed out candy with the Man About Town and Wine Guy, as all of the parents smiled at what they undoubtedly assumed was a nice group of mature and stylish gay men, too old for the hijinks of the Castro but still enjoying Halloween.

So it is that tomorrow we will go back to Pacific Heights. The Jawa just came into the living room wearing most of a Jawa costume -- the robe minus the hood. Looks like we're going to make it just under the wire.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Indian Summer Sticks Around

I was art yesterday, or rather, I was Art.

Just 24 hours after meeting a guy who really was Art, and yet resembled art in no way, I strolled into the Westlake Center Starbucks and became Art, if only for the time it took them to make my hot chocolate. Embarassingly, I was not the only Art in Starbucks. The other Art -- who may have actually been Art if not art -- got his beverage first, fortunately, and was long gone by the time the faux Art, me, received his.

After that, I completely squandered whatever art/Art credibilityI had by sitting there and reading the sports section of the paper. Next time, just to shake things up, I'll be "Bruno" or "Flash," but I'll make sure to be very obviously reading the A & E section instead. After all, at one time my dream was to teach creative writing while wearing shorts and holding a Coke.

And never forget: life is serious, but art is fun. Or Art is fun.

Speaking of fun, right now you probably couldn't swing a cat without hitting someone here in San Francisco who'll wax eloquent about our recent weather. Thanks to the melting polar icecaps, Al Gore, Texaco, etc., we've enjoyed a string of 75 degree, cloudless days and 55 degree, starry nights.

This is fine, especially when your newspaper writing work takes you poolside for the Mills vs. Terra Nova girls' water polo match. And then follows up by sending you again poolside to watch the PAL Ocean Division champion Sequoia Cherokee boys water polo team conduct their final practice of the year.

As much as I love covering high school sports -- and I do. If it paid more than $50 a story, I'd love it that much more -- and as much as I enjoyed sitting in the sun, especially when the Sequoia girls' coach gave me a Jamba Juice he had left over from the ones he'd given his team, I still like a little Autumn with my Autumn. Which is a very long way of saying that when you swing that cat, if it hits me you won't find a cheerful advocate of 75 degree October afternoons.

One thing I miss about Seattle is the weather.

There, I said it. Without irony and not for effect. I truly do miss the weather in Seattle.

At first, like everyone else, I hated it. I remember winter days in 1988, huddled in my apartment rocking back and forth like an idiot, repeating, "If I could only get warm; if I could only get warm, etc.," and then going to see the movie "Heathers" with my girlfriend on Memorial Day weekend and commenting about how wrong it was that you could see your breath in late-May. "The rain keeps Seattle green," she beamed. This was a few months before she slapped me at a New Years' Eve party in front of my friends, leaving me to spend the first few hours of 1990 wandering, freezing and distraught, through the mean streets of Ballard.

The first year Sandra Bullock and I moved back to Seattle (1993), there was no summer. None. A woman I worked with cheerfully informed me, in mid-July, that "sometimes we don't get summer."

It used to infuriate me that the weathermen would act like nothing was wrong. "We'll have showers and then afternoon sunbreaks!" they'd crow, as if they were telling us to remember to bring extra sunscreen. "WHY DON'T THEY JUST ADMIT THAT THE WEATHER SUCKS!" I would yell at my 12-inch TV screen.

Eventually, I came to tolerate, and then like the weather. And now I miss it. Once I stopped worrying about the calendar, I realized that it was going to rain and rain, and then one day I'd wake up and it would be sunny. It snowed for 2 weeks every winter. Each snowstorm was treated as an weird anomaly, Mrs. Claus trading a warm day at the North Pole for a good old fashioned Christmas snowstorm in Southtown. Every so often we'd get a real New England-like autumn day, too, which I missed very badly today as I debated whether or not to wear shorts.

Toward the end of our stay in Seattle, I became like the weathermen, happily trudging off on 2-hour walks regardless of the weather. Practically all of my late-night memories involved shivering in heavy coats (often more than one at a time), the sky glowing a strange white-gray and a light rain falling.

I'm not sure why endless days of identically pleasant skies are considered God's gift to us, which is probably because it's been so long since I shared the Easterner's lust for sunny California, my father proudly walk through the snow in his shirtsleeves to board that plane in Scranton because we were MOVING TO CALIFORNIA, and then us arriving here and swimming in the Holiday Inn pool on March 22, 1976 because we could.

Now I like some texture to my weather, and God forbid the mercury should rise above 85 degrees, convincing people that it's okay to walk through cities in Tevas, their toes bared as if a ride on BART were actually a mid-summer camping trip. It's not that I don't like warm days; I just prefer to visit them than actually live in them.

We brag about our Indian Summer here, though I'm pretty sure no one would dare call it that within city limits. We suffer through the gloom of summer, to be rewarded with summer in October instead. Me, I don't care about the summer. Who does it really matter to, besides kids? We go to work anyway, whatever the calendar says.

Give me some red and yellow leaves, some rain, a reason to strap on a nice wool sweater and envelope my balding dome with a warm and stylish hat. Some of those dramatically cool cloud formations that would halfway cover the Olympic Mountains for most of the year. I'll shovel some snow. I don't mind.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Jawa: Horn Player

Everyone sing along:

Hot cross buns
Hot cross buns

I still place the saxaphone within the paradigm of Hawaiian shirts and Rob Lowe's seminal performance as troubled rock and roll horn player Billy Hicks in "St. Elmo's Fire." You all can shake your heads in disapproval and argue the unrivaled cool of the Charlie Parkers and Sonny Rollins's of the jazz world. I can't get the image of Brian Setzer's brass and woodwind section, clad in their matching Hawaiian shirts, performing choreographed moves and wearing "shades."

Despite this, I feel some pride at the seriousness with which the Jawa is approaching his new musical instrument. We just spent a half-hour in the bedroom while he practiced, playing along to the CD given to him by the BHDS band teacher, Ms. Seigal.

Hot Cross Buns
Hot Cross Buns
One a penny
Two a penny
Hot Cross Buns

So far, his interest has not flagged. In fact, I'll put myself out there and say that the half-hour he just spent playing the saxaphone represents his second-greatest sustained period of concentration today. The greatest came when he realized his new "Star Wars" miniature was waiting for us when we got home from school and the dentist.

I'd been trying for years to get him interested in a musical instrument, dating back to the day I noticed he was singing along to the Pixies' "Space (I believe in)" on the way home from preschool.

Jefrey with one F Jefrey

At the time, I imagined him ripping out Kurt Cobain-esque distorted riffs as I looked on proudly. Though my own guitar-playing barely reached the campfire stage, I would pick up the instrument again and he would become a low-fi father-son indie band, a la The Spanic Boys.

Then I thought he would play the drums, which was the worst kind of wishful thinking and projection of what I think is cool onto an unsuspecting child. To begin with, there is nothing in his genetic makeup that suggests he would be able to play the drums, and besides, The Mack Daddy's daughter has been pounding out a serviceable beat since she was in kindergarten. If he was going to be a drum prodigy, we'd know by now.

We went so far as to buy him a guitar last Christmas. (As a sidelight, the celebration of winter holidays is a complicated matter in our home, as Sandra Bullock was raised in the great tradition of grand Christmas celebrations, the kind that only non-religious white people can truly appreciate.) Rather than buy him a "toy" guitar, we bought a 3/4 size student model with steel strings, apparently forgetting the four-week period in 1973 when the 8-year-old me, interested mainly in emulating my older sister and thus receiving from her the acceptance that had eluded me since she tried to exclude me from the 1968 Crest Drive Veterans Day Parade, spent consecutive Wednesdays in the downstairs studio of a youthful, moustachioed guitar teacher until I realized that I had no interest in actually learning how to play the guitar at age 8.

The guitar has sat in his room, unused in its handsome soft case. Sandra Bullock and I nagged the Jawa about it through March, and then gave up. Sometimes the family credo -- pose first, learn later -- can have dangerous repercussions.

And then -- thanks to the free 4th and 5th grade band program implemented last year -- the Jawa has chosen an instrument. It is the same instrument Lane Meyer used to romance the French exchange student. It is the instrument the legendary Dr. Bandeau played in high school, marching past us in his cardinal and gold band uniform on his way to perform at half time as we drank Cokes and ate 25 cent hot dogs in the stands.

To a -- to me, at least -- surprisingly large demographic, it is, in the words of the preternaturally groovy Dr. Melfi, "Sultry, like John Coltrane. Picture a guy leaning out a window of a tenement, playing in the night." If you add Melfi's inimitable Detroit accent, it sounds really funny.

He's interested, at least. Whether this means he will grow up, move to New Orleans with the Shaman and begin a jazz combo, as the latter child has promised, is up to him. And I've tried to be supportive. I like 1950s doo-wop music, and some of it has saxaphone parts. And I was a Springsteen fan before he went all political, so I can encourage the Jawa to don a flashy white suit and a Panama hat, like the Big Man, and dance around snapping his fingers. And I appreciated the inclusion of Saxa, the aged, mystical horn man, in the 1980s-era music of the English Beat.

Maybe it's as the sainted Chaim Heller, respected Head of School, says when he refers to the Hebrew our children learn every day. Heller says that learning a second language, any language, has been proven to aid in brain development and make learning a third, fourth or fifth language that much easier. Perhaps we will some day be the proud parents of a multi-instrumentalist.

Then again, Heller's kid is the lead singer of a "punk goth" band in Santa Cruz. And you know, I'm pretty sure the band includes a saxaphone player.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Cocktails for 25

Last night there were more Jews in my home than the sum total I knew in high school, college, grad school and while teaching high school. The number you are looking for is 25. In 1997, we had to import Jews to make a minyan for the Jawa's bris; last night we could have stocked multiple minyans, had there been any male infants needing God's blessing for their circumcision.

The occasion was a cocktail party for parents of the Jawa's classmates. Sandra Bullock and the Hammer got roped into being class parents, so we were responsible for hosting some kind of get-together. Being who we are, we eschewed the usual picnic for a child-free cocktail party.

Actually, almost child-free. Somewhere in the basement, the Jawa and Shaman lurked, eating pizza and playing with their "Star Wars" miniatures.

Early in the evening, I played the "Dad who'd rather be downstairs with the kids" role. It always takes me awhile to warm up to a crowd, even more so when I'm self conscious about the how the polo shirt I'm wearing doesn't seem to be as flattering as it was when I bought it, so I hid downstairs for awhile. The Jawa kept telling me, "Dad, you can stay down here," which was touching, but even he knew my responsibilities lay upstairs. So up I went.

Two summers ago, S. Bullock and I had a joint 40th birthday party. It came late in the season of 40th birthday parties, so we had quite a template to draw from. Would we have a catered, formal affair? A family-friendly hoedown, complete with backyard bouncy house? Or would we stay consistent with our populist beliefs and recreate the boistrous college parties of our youth?

We chose the last option, and to this day there are about 100 people whose memories will forever hold the image of Princess Grace poised to inhale 12 oz. of Coors Light through a beer bong.

At that party, many of our BHDS invitees stayed in semi-isolation in the living room, creating their own Jewish ghetto of casual taste, preferring the taste of well-chosen red wine to the blue-collar joys of the keg out back. The Wine Guy manned the stereo, sprawled out atop a bunch of pillows on the floor, feeding the CD player with whatever classic rock he could find in my extensive but too-often marginal CD collection.

I think everyone had a good time, but it made me wonder, as we prepped the house yesterday: will the Brandeis crowd sit quietly in the living room? What was in store for us on this night?

I am happy to say that the crew of private school parents chose last night to let their collective hair down. They arrived shortly after seven and began to consume cosmopolitans as if they were Kool-Aid. It wasn't long before even my lame and tired "Oh, be careful, I hear that stuff will leave an awful stain on your skirt," joke, aimed at Mr. San Francisco for the sin of enjoying peach cosmopolitans, seemed fresh and hilarious to the assembled crowd.

In the absence of the wine guy, I tried to provide music that would surprise and please, but soon realized that the high decibal level was drowning out each of my clever and sophisticated choices. The loud, innate New York-ness of everyone in the crowd -- and you know that if you are a Jew, whether or not you're actually from New York has little effect on the level of your New York-ness -- had risen to the surface.

At a little after 8, the Jawa's teacher, the seemingly Indie Rock guy, arrived holding two tubs of antipasta. He was quickly cornered in the kitchen, first by Mr. San Francisco, who engaged him in a conversation about educational policy. ("I had to stop," Mr. SF later said. "I didn't want to be that dad that cornered him and wouldn't leave.") Two by two the parents approached Indie Rock guy as I lingered nearby, eavesdropping. Most had something to say about education and/or schools.

Eventually, I went out to the living room, to make sure everyone was having a good time, and finally, after five years of sharing the same school, revealed to The Real Journalist that he and I were in the same business, albeit me in a more sophomoric, far less profitable way. We ended up talking about Bob Dylan with another parent, a small, red-haired mom who produces small, red-haired daughters with big, Bette Midler-like voices.

I am almost certain that the people who attended last night's cocktail party all had a good time. I am unaware if anything scandalous was said or if anyone's feelings were hurt. I do know that one parent who plays down the fact that he once shared the stage with Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, got slightly miffed at me when I didn't know who brought the spanikopita. Otherwise, good feelings were all around.

"I hope at least one person has a hangover this morning," I announced to Sandra Bullock as we shuffled around our surprisingly clean house today. "The Skyy vodka bottle is almost empty!" she announced cheerily in response. S. Bullock and I have always prided ourselves on being good party-throwers. Though the days of parties where windows are broken and TVs thrown off the roof are long over, it's nice to know we can still rile up a bunch of private school parents enough so that they wake up hoarse the next morning.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Surprise Visit

Lately it seems that Sandra Bullock, the Jawa and I have become the cliched "family on the go" we swore never to be. Or rather, I swore never to be. I'm not sure S. Bullock does much "swearing never to be," and the Jawa is pretty much open to anything.

I take no pride in being the family on the go, nor do I abhor it as a version of the loathesome sell-out I feared for so long ... until I realized that I was giving it away for free. Waiting tables in your twenties so you can brag about not being one of those chumps who wears a tie to work, and then being required to wear a tie to wait tables will lead you easily to that conclusion.

For the family on the go, each element of its carefully planned schedule must go as anticipated, or else the family on the go becomes the family in chaos. Yesterday, our schedule was interrupted in a good way, by a surprise visit from my old Seattle volleyball pals, the Sports Guys. They were in the middle (literally) of a Seattle-to-Ensanada cruise and had the day in San Francisco. "We're here until 9 pm," they said.

I began working our schedule. I could easily pick up the Jawa at Hip-Hop dance class, then pick up the Sports Guys, giving them time to do the shopping they so love, have Sandra Bullock meet us somewhere and have dinner, then deposit them back at their boat by 9 pm.

Except that Shack would need dinner and a walk, and, oops! Sandra Bullock had a basketball game at 7 pm. So she was out.

I picked up the Jawa, called the Sports Guys and found they had already had dinner. My plan to take them to a place in Noe Valley with the Jawa after swinging by the house and giving Shack dinner fell completely apart.

"Okay," I told them, thinking quickly while simultaneously turning right towards home rather than going straight towards Union Square. "I'm going to take the Jawa home, leave him with Sandra Bullock. Then I'll get on BART and come downtown."

"Well, we should be at the boat by 8:45, and it's at Pier 39."

So the relaxing part -- me on BART -- vanished. Instead, the Jawa and I drove home, fed Shack, and wondered what we'd do for dinner. "DAD!" shouted my resourceful son, "WE HAVE LUCKY CHARMS!"

Two bowls of Lucky Charms later, we stood waiting for S. Bullock to honk the horn, remove the Jawa, and leave me to drive downtown to meet the Sports Guys. BART was out. At the last minute, Bullock decided to come upstairs, but not until I got her a water bottle and towel and put them into a bag that wasn't where she said it would be.

At 6:45, I finally left. "I THOUGHT YOU WERE TAKING BART!" Shouted a slightly annoyed S. Bullock as I got into my car. "No, I'm going to drive to save time!"

I met the Sports Guys, plus Mike from Denver whom they'd befriended on the boat, in front of Old Navy downtown. I had to pull into the cutout because everyone behind me was angry that I had the nerve to slow down to a crawl on Market Street. Now that I think about it, I don't blame them.

"We have one more errand," announced the soothing, Dad-like member of the Sports Guys. We had to pick up the Intimidator, former coach and setter on our volleyball team. The Intimidator is an angry guy and the kind of coach from whom silence is considered a compliment. He moved down here a few years ago and I have not seen him, have not wanted to see him. He makes me too nervous, too intimidated. Though facially he closely resembles the professionally casual Darius Rucker, of Hootie and the Blowfish, the Intimidator is anything but laid-back.

So we drove around and finally stopped in front of the Intimidator's place of work, and waited. And waited. Finally, he came out.

Eventually, we landed at the very appropriate Rogue Ales Brewery in North Beach, because I found a parking spot. And I remembered how much I missed the Sports Guys, and how much I miss playing volleyball and being part of a team. They'd just finished second in the Portland tournament, which is pretty good for a bunch of guys pushing or past 40.

I loved those tournaments, loved traveling to weekend tournaments with the Sports Guys and the rest of our team, and eventually built most of my Seattle social life around them. I've never felt more accepted -- and had S. Bullock and theJawa more unconditionally accepted -- than I was while playing NAGVA (North American Gay Volleyball Association) volleyball with the Sports Guys.

So hanging out with them, and Mike from Denver, and even the Intimidator, provided a good break from our rigid family schedule.

After we dropped the Sports Guys and Mike from Denver at the boat, I was left alone to drive the Intimidator home. And he talked. He has had it with San Francisco, he told me, and though he lives in the heart of the Castro, he seldom goes out. He takes the bus, along with every freaky, aggressive, racist idiot in the City, to work. He still works out, but he's gained weight.

I dropped him off at his apartment, and he thanked me, said we should go catch a Warriors game sometime. He can get tickets. I watched him walking to his apartment, where he hoped his roommate was gone for the evening, and drove myself home, relieved to be free of the tension I felt around him.

I was thinking about the Intimidator today. I thought about how angry I was last night, sitting outside the rental car agency he works at, watching him take his time as he shut down the office. "He knows we're out here," I thought at the time, "but he's going to take his sweet time, to show us that he's still in control."

Twenty-four hours later, I had a different take.

The Intimidator is 42 years old. He's single, works at a rental car agency, doesn't go out, and has been battling H.I.V for many years. He wants to leave his hometown because the people in it are driving him crazy. He's opinionated and abrasive, and happiness, when it does come, shows itself as something forced and artificial.

And with several years and twelve hours time to reflect, I saw the Intimidator in a new light. The guy is just trying to hang onto some dignity, whether things are going well or not. I thought about him methodically shutting down that rental car office while we sat out there, and realized it wasn't about making us wait, it was about holding onto his dignity while a bunch of his friends sat outside and waited for him to finish work.

You know what, Intimidator? It worked. Your are plenty of things, and a good deal of them rub me the wrong way, but you are a dignified man. Everything else can disappear, but you'll still have that.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Single Parent Weekend

Highlights from a single dad weekend:

Saxaphone practice. I sat in the makeshift waiting room, conveniently equipped with a washer and dryer, in case I wanted to do some laundry while the Jawa wailed away nearby. He has taken to this musical instrument, but I am going to hold off a few months before filling his closet with the requisite Hawaiian shirts.

Then he gets a call from his friend Tony Hawk, who wants to have a sleepover way the heck out in Pacific Heights. I am slightly saddened, having planned an evening of father-son bonding, but also wondering if I can find anyone to go see the Long Winters at Cafe du Nord. My old temping friend John is in this band.

Sadly, though John is still hip at 40, I am unable to find anyone to accompany me to this show. Instead, I got to Tower Records and buy several CDs at 15% off. The Jawa has decided to make the sleepover dinner instead, so I would not have been able to go anyway, which is okay, because I kind of wanted the Jawa at home with me anyway. He returns home at 10:00, after a wild ride in Tony Hawk's dad's Porsche. With the top down, even though it's 54 degrees outside.

Hoping, even dreaming that the child would let me sleep in, I awoke at 7:10 to find him standing at the foot of my bed, weak with hunger. As I love anything involving the preparation of food almost as much as I love completing said tasks in the a.m., I enthusiastically sprung forth from the sheets and prepared four frozen waffles. Malnutrition was avoided for another 24 hours.

From there we drove to the Mission for Shack's first day of class. Shocked to find that the Jawa was the only child present, I took a back seat and watched as he held his own among the 42.9% gay couples crowd, making sure that he was listening as Fawn, our instructor, seriously dissed TV's "Dog Whisperer," and then taught us how to get our dog "DOWN!"

We were joined after this by the Shaman for a 30-hour sleepover. Imagine two children encircled by a thick cloud of "Star Wars" miniatures jargon, barely able to see out, me barely able to see in. Words could not penetrate this barrier, so I left them alone. They broke out long enough to spend $10 each at the Low-Fi Customs warehouse sale, and I patted myself on the back for being so hip as to lead two nine-year-olds down a urine-soaked Mission alleyway in pursuit of t-shirts with pictures of motorcycles and skulls on them.

At soccer, several dads and I stood disgruntled on the sidelines, secretly seething as our boys got trounced again. As it is certainly not good politics to notice that our boys get crushed weekly, we formed a small circle in which to shield our complaints from the outside world. Oh, but if the competition were "Star Wars" miniatures, the opposing team would have found themselves in a dog fight.

Not satisfied with my level of hipness, I was determined to reveal even more street cred to my unsuspecting charges. "We'll go to Haight Street," I announced, "and have pizza at Escape from New York." The boys, clad in matching knit hats from Low-Fi Customs, accepted this challenge.

We were joined by Tony Hawk and his father, The Man About Town. They, too, arrived in matching hats, but since they're a little more stylish than us, theirs were Kangols. We accept their elevated sense of style. Tony Hawk shops at Zara, not GAP Kids.

Naturally, being completely ruled by nostalgia, I paused for a moment while the boys pressed their noses against the glass case holding skateboard wheels at FTC. Was it 30 years ago that Dave K. and I haunted the skateboard shops of inland Orange County? Will the Jawa be the same age I was when we moved to California in only one year? And are these boys now old enough that a Saturday night jaunt down Haight Street isn't a novelty to all passers-by?

After all, they led us to the stores they wanted to see. Kid Robot, Giant Robot, FTC, that store with all of the novelty stuff ... we just hung back and watched. I watched. The Man About Town, always working, always learning, occasionally chatted up the store owners to learn more about how they do business. And that's why the Man About Town is the Man About Town and I'm a guy sitting at his laptop.

I began to feel badly for the Shaman. He had taken off his hat, maybe to point out that, of the boys present, he was the one whose dad was in Italy. Had the Wine Guy, his dad, been there, the tableau (my new favorite word, by the way) would have been complete. Instead, like my own Jawa on Grandparents' Day at school, the Shaman had to piggyback on Tony Hawk and the Jawa for Dad time. He was the first to tire of Haight Street, so we went back to the car, pausing frequently so the Man About Town could poke his head into businesses and learn more about them from their owners.

I drove everyone home. The boys went to sleep. I watched Sportscenter.

The Jawa and I (he had joined me at some point during the early morning) awoke at 7:45 to find the Shaman eerily standing in the doorway of my bedroom. More waffles were in order. I was starting to get the hang of this single dad thing.

I took them to Berkeley, to indulge their disgusting side at a Lawrence Hall of Science exhibit called "Grossology." Berkeley is a nice place that would be nicer if everyone who lived there left. As we strolled the Lawrence Hall of Science, joined by the Hammer, who took much of the pressure I felt in my command of two children, I took notice of all the Berkeley people in their sandals, a rainbow of races and ethnicities all wearing and saying the same things. What better place for this than a children's museum?

Perhaps too much joy was taken in learning about burping. Perhaps not enough wisdom was gleaned from the exhibit on nose-picking. Both the Jawa and the Shaman were beginning to wind down, with predictable results: the Shaman lost energy while the Jawa got more combative.

By the time we arrived home, the 49ers were down 42-19 and I was ready to hand the reigns of Alpha Dog back to Sandra Bullock. Two hours passed with me watching football and the Jawa busily shopping online for "Star Wars" miniatures. Finally, completely relaxed from various spa treatments, S. Bullock arrived home. I gratefully walked down the hill to get us burritos, noting that this was the first time I'd been alone for quite some time.

Tomorrow will find us overwhelmed once again, our lives a tangle of school, work, band practice, finding time to feed the dog and meetings at the school. I would manage to make S. Bullock feel guilty enough that she not only bought me a new 12-pack of Black Cherry Vanilla Coke, not only placed it in the downstairs refrigerator, but also opened the box, leaving the first Coke waiting conveniently for me just as it was designed to do.

But tonight, re-united as a family, we rest.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Shack Debuts

Welcome me back from our maiden trip to the dog park, where no one has a name except the dogs.

As I said a few weeks ago, I'm still using training wheels in the dog owner scene. Today was no exception. After hauling Shack around town for an hour, I thought I'd reward him by taking him to the dog park up the hill. He hasn't been able to go yet, because he didn't have all of his shots. Now he has all of his shots, though he is still not "fixed," which, I found out today, is something that is mentioned casually in the dog owner scene as an explanation for dog personality quirks.

You may not learn people's names in the dog park, but you'll learn all about their dogs, how they deal with their dogs, the dogs' tendancies around other dogs, and exhaustive deconstructions of dog behavior. And everyone knows everyone else's dog's name.

Faced with no other options, I faked it. I reminded myself to ask the name and age of each dog, to at least appear to be listening to all the stories -- made doubly hard by the fact that it was cloudy at the time, offering me no sunglass-generated eye ambiguity. And since I recently learned that, 6 inches tall or not, Shack should not be jumping up on other dogs, I offered up a seemingly perturbed "Shack! Down!" each time he jumped.

But really, who cares if he jumps? He's 6 inches tall. The other dogs don't seem to care at all. I guess the Jawa and I will find out tomorrow when we begin "puppy class."

Sandra Bullock will not be there. I just packed her into the Volvo for her weekend spa trip with her wacky and creative friend Carrie Bradshaw. Many years ago in Seattle, Sandra Bullock was actually Carrie Bradshaw's boss. Now she is our good friend, sometime stand-in babysitter and the sole remaining single woman in our social circle. Each year they go on this spa trip to Calistoga.

To prepare for her trip, S. Bullock raided my CDs of every title recorded between 8 and 10 years ago, plus "ABBA's Greatest Hits." Then she went down to the cheese store and bought some creepy-looking slimy stuff that I would never eat, happily telling the girl behind the counter that "It's not for 'you guys,' it's for me!" She came back, threw the cheese into her "bistro basket" (looked just like a picnic basket to me, but such is the wondrous and sometimes unintelligible Sandra Bullock vocabulary) and drove away, smiling ear-to-ear.

She'd had a rough week.

This leaves the Jawa and me together for the weekend, with a piggyback appearance by the Shaman for a Saturday sleepover. Cue the commercial for Polaroid cameras where the father and son are rolling around in Autumn leaves, riding bikes and then playing catch. Or at least buying a new pair of Vans on Haight Street, riding BART and going to Berkeley to see the Lawrence Hall of Science's new installation, "Grossology." Parenthood, I continue to argue, not being the same for everyone.

One scene you will not see this weekend is the one where the father and son team up to create some wonderful dish for dinner. Imagining the Jawa and I in aprons, happily sauteeing something atop Sandra Bullock's prized Viking range can bring only shocked outrage and/or barely tolerant eye-rolling to those who know us well. Imagine instead the father and son sitting at a picnic table outside WhizBurger, or emerging long enough from the 24th Street BART station to grab a burrito somewhere. That would be a much more accurate picture.

Shack is completely comatose following his dog park debut. His legs are twitching, though. Even in his sleep, he's still running. When we arrived at the dog park today, he was so excited that he peed on himself twice. I think, though, he was only the second-most excited being I've come in contact with today.

The most excited person I talked to today should be crossing north on the Golden Gate Bridge with her friend Carrie Bradshaw

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Knock Knock

Parents, how do you tell your child that he or she is boring? What I mean is, how many knock-knock jokes can you endure before your head explodes?

I hate mornings, far more than a 41-year-old ought to. By now, you'd think I would have adjusted, much as my mother did, if I remember correctly. Once she entered the work world (with a flourish, I might add), she taught herself to be at least semi-functional in the important hours before 9 a.m. I have not been so savvy.

As you might remember, sleeping until my body clock tells me to wake up (usually around 9 - 9:30 a.m.) has its risks. This past weekend, I slept until 9 a.m. both mornings, then awoke to find that Sandra Bullock had dismantled my downstairs office and replaced it with a guest room.

That was Saturday, and to be fair, the guest room was only in Beta stage by 9. She'd taken an air mattress and placed it in the middle of my late office, to suggest the layout if it were to be a guest room. "We'll have room for a little night table," she said, overjoyed at finding a new, not obvious tweak for our house.

On Sunday, she stepped into more professional grade work. I awoke to find that she had patched two holes in the walls with sheetrock, then taped over the sheetrock. She was preparing to mud the finished walls, still wearing her pajamas and slippers. I squinted at her through barely awake eyes. Seriously, it was a chore to get down those stairs that early.

Do you understand what I'm saying? MY WIFE DOES DRYWALL AT 7 A.M. ON SUNDAY MORNING.

I went to go get the paper, only to find my effervescent neighbor Eric returning from playing tennis. At freaking 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning. S. Bullock saw us out there and called down from the living room window. Her pajamas were full of drywall dust.

Knock knock!

Who's there?


Axe who?

Uh... axe me what's going on!

(attempted laugh, but sounds more like RRR...aaaa...blbft.

You can understand the challenges I face. It's difficult enough to generate tolerance for knock-knock jokes, but to do it while still in a painful semi-conscious state is simply heroic. And I am no hero.

Today, on the advice of a contributor to this blog, I tried out the Westlake Center Starbucks. I was half-asleep and knew that I had a difficult day at the biotech ahead, so I bought a newspaper, got a hot chocolate (as "Ted." I was going to be "Boris," but I panicked at the last minute), and sat on a stylish, comfortable chair to read my paper.

It's not at all difficult, in a public space like Starbucks, to appear to be reading a newspaper while actually studying the people around you. Today, since the large group to my right was speaking Tagalog -- and greeting each other with a cool, casual fist bump instead of shaking hands -- I focused instead on the guy sitting across from me. It was easy, because he was obviously obsessed.

He had a stack of napkins in front of him. On the first, he drew two similar shapes, parallel to each other, and then connected them with a line. He did this slowly, methodically, with purpose. Then he relaxed and ate some of his muffin.

Soon he had another napkin out. On this one, he drew the first tableau, then added some other lines. Maybe, I thought, I'm witnessing the birth of a billion dollar idea. Or maybe he's like Richard Dreyfuss in "Close Encounters of the Third Kinds," held prisoner by these shapes, this image. It haunts him. He can't get it out of his head. Lacking the required mashed potatoes to create a model of the shapes, he instead draws them repeatedly on Starbucks napkins.

The last napkin was the most elaborate. This one had arrows pointing to angles and joints, several bomb-shaped ovals, connecting lines, and tiny explanations and descriptions written in the "margins." What was he drawing? I had no idea. A woman sat next to me and began writing in a notebook. The was no chance to see what she was doing without being obvious, and the napkin guy had packed up and left, so I finished reading my newspaper and moved on, without getting a cool fist bump from anyone speaking Tagalog or any other language.

As I left, I wondered how many of my fellow patrons had used fake names. Now that I know that even uber-sane people like The Hammer use the occasional pseudonym, I have to wonder if everyone isn't seduced by the possibility of being someone else for a few minutes.

Here's my best shot: "You know, by the time you get to be a grown-up, you've heard pretty much every knock-knock joke a thousand times."

From the back seat, very small, and only vaguely paying attention. "Oh," followed by the Jawa quietly asking himself, "knock-knock, who's there, will you remember me tomorrow? etc."

And then, to me, totally undaunted, "What about riddles?"

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Lefty is No Fun Today

I believe that it is time to give up my subscription to Vanity Fair. The once-beloved, 400 lb. magazine, fondly called "upscale People" by no greater authority than Peter O'Toole, still delivers the scandals of society people with comforting regularity, and I look forward to wondering how Dominick Dunne continues to insist that he's straight, but I find myself leafing through more and more of the periodical each month, skipping all of the hysterical political columns about how red states are actually more morally bankrupt than blue states, how the president is personally slaughtering mustangs in Montana, and (my personal favorite) how anti-semitism actually helps Israel.

Six years ago, upon the election of our most recent president, I read an article that explained how, after eight years of relative calm, art would now gain relevance and passion, since we'd elected someone who fit the profile of a guy most artists hate.

This has come true, in spades. In fact, where I live there is no art that isn't about how badly the present administration has screwed up, and how dumb the Chief Executive is, how evil his minions, and how the whole thing has put our country in a worse spot than anytime in recent (or otherwise) memory. No more boy-meets-girl, or even boy-meets-boy. That's for lightweights ... like me.

And that's fine. I like a little dissent. But at this point, six years in, the consistency, the negativity, the overall loudness of the message has gotten, well, a little boring and shrill. Call me shallow -- what else would you call a guy who obsesses about carbonated beverages and gum -- but I wouldn't mind mixing in a little non-political art here and there.

Back to Vanity Fair. Graydon Carter, editor of the overwhelmingly slick magazine, was one of the founders of Spy, the greatest magazine of all time. Like Al Franken, he used to be funny. And clever. Unfortunately, he has become the Lenny Bruce of magazine editors, spending his efforts -- and our reading time -- making sure we know what he thinks of the state of politics and politicians in America. Being upscale People is no longer good enough for Graydon, he of the stylishly beat-up jeans and dark sportcoat. Now he wants to be editor of Harpers.

And frankly, if I want to read Harpers, I'll pick up a copy somewhere; but only if they're out of ESPN: The Magazine.

So good-bye to VF. I've been a reader since I got comfortable with the idea that I was an avid reader of what was essentially 600 monthly pages of advertisements for a life I'll never lead. I never really minded that, though. I do mind one-trick ponies, though.

Look; I live in San Francisco. I have to search long and hard to find the few books in our public libraries that AREN'T about how evil and moronic the President is. Whether or not I agree is not important; what is important is that we get access to lots of ideas, so we can be a little well-rounded. I speak not of my deteriorating physical condition here, but of the seemingly long-lost art of public debate.

When everyone's a pundit with the same opinion, is anyone a pundit anymore? If you present a fake name to the barista at Starbucks and then drop your drink, does it make a splash?

I didn't hate politics until I moved back to San Francisco and they elected a guy who would have been a fine commissioner of baseball to the highest office in the land. Now I'll cross a street, portage a large craft from one body of water to the other, wear a disguise, whatever I have to do to avoid talking about politics. And please note that I've been very careful to make no statements of political opinion here.

But really, more important to me is the fact that I'm going to stop reading Vanity Fair. That'll give me more time to catch up on those pesky New Yorkers. And before you jump on me and say, "Wait a minute -- he's sick of Graydon Carter's politics but he reads the New Yorker? What a hypocrite!" remember that I didn't say I won't read magazines that contain politics. I said I didn't want to read about politics in Vanity Fair.

Unless they come from Christopher Hitchens and he's drunk.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Name Game

Sometimes, when I'm in the mood, which is usually, I'll give a fake name at the coffee place, or Jamba Juice, or any place they ask for a name. Back when I was actively pursuing a variety of soul-deadening "careers," I did it most every day.

I enjoyed the few minutes I'd spend as someone else, and loved the idea that this person making my hot chocolate, my Jamba Juice, whatever, looked at me and saw not someone saddled with my real name, but instead a streamlined, easy-to-understand "Pete" or "Chuck."

Then I'd get back to work and IM my friend the Connie Monster, who'd always insist that next time I tell them my name is "Furious."

On Mondays, days I'm not supposed to be working at the big biotech but have been, I like to stop off at a Starbucks near work -- only because it's the only hot chocolate outlet available in South San Francisco -- get my hot chocolate and use a fake name. Last week I was "Frank." I went in this week, though, and panicked: same counter worker.

See, I have a rule. I can't use the same name twice. And believe me, it's a tough rule to follow. There was a stretch when I wanted to be "Marcus" every time, but you've got to have boundaries. So I went in there last Monday and realized that if I continue going to that Starbucks, eventually that counter worker is going to realize that I have a different name each time. And she'll start to wonder about my sanity, which is pretty funny, because her wondering would be based on ... truth. Yes, I am a guy who makes up fake names when he goes to Starbucks. As for what kind of person would feel the need to do that, I'd really rather not spend much time thinking about that.

Backed into a corner, I relented and went with my real name. I figured that she probably didn't remember me yet. What happened moving forward was more important.

Connie Monster insisted that I would never pass for "Matty," anyway.

My proper San Francisco friends would be loathe to hear it, but I love television. While they work to eradicate the hated "idiot box" from their lives, I bemoan the fact that I don't watch enough TV. On a good week, I only get an hour a night, more if I stay up to watch "Sportscenter."

Not only that, but I know and value the people in my life who are good TV-watchers. To me, that's as important as being a good co-pilot on a road trip, or assuming the responsibility to be gremlin-like if you are the one stuck sitting in the back seat.

Here are some people who are great to watch TV with:

My mom, who knows the name of every actor who ever appeared in anything, and who went on and on about how obvious Charlton Heston's toupee was while we were watching a "Planet of the Apes" marathon.

Either of my sisters. My older sister likes to talk to the TV as much as I do, and my little sister, well, during the summer of 1984 we watched "Valley Girl" so often that we started deconstructing it to the point where we felt it could have been taught in an undergraduate literature class.

Fred Luna, who once even made "Star Trek" funny.

Roger A. Hunt - he loves TV more than I do, but sadly, doesn't get as many chances to watch as he'd like. He could teach a graduate-level class in 1960s and 70s sitcoms, however.

Sandra Bullock, when she's not absorbed in some catalogue.

Mike Westover. Poor Mike. He's been living in some unpronounceable third world country where I doubt they have television, and if they do, it probably exists only to broadcast verbal attacks on Jews by the local Imans.

Flush Puppy: Oh, there were days of glory, when we all lived in the same apartment building and had "Melrose Place" potlucks each Wednesday. I hope her new home comes with a TV room.

Peter O'Toole, especially if there's Ben & Jerry's in the house and you're watching the red carpet prior to the Golden Globes.

Special sports-watching category for Ken Dunque.

One of my roommates when I lived in Boston. I can't remember her name but we made a commitment to watch "Doogie Howser, M.D." together each week.

Will I teach the Jawa to love TV like I do? Probably not. It's not like being an avid TV-watcher is something I'm proud of. I understand that it's base and crude, and that I'm supposed to be too sophisticated to sit and watch 9 hours of football on a Sunday.

I once paraphrased Allen Ginsberg to a teacher I had in grad school. "I saw the greatest minds of my generation," I began, "Memorizing the lyrics to the 'Brady Bunch' theme song." I pretend like it's heart-breaking, because I know I'm supposed to. I'm trying to hold on to whatever intellectual street cred I was supposed to grow up to have.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

41 + Books = New Pain

Here is another reason why I am not a yuppie: I am old. If I had any doubt about that, if, say, my chronically adolescent lifestyle and habitual wearing of baseball caps, gigantic shorts and black t-shirts had convinced me that I was successfully fighting the effects of time, I was reminded this morning in the most harsh of ways that this is not the case.

I am not a small person. I'm not freakishly large, but certainly no one would describe me as "slight." Certainly I am large enough to lift three bags full of books out of my car without suffering injury. Certainly, unless I were 41 years old and had not stretched sufficiently before attempting to lift three heavy bags of books, that is.

But first, a quick summation of my pre-existing conditions: I've had a crushed bone in my left elbow since age 11, chronic tendonitis and calcium deposits in my left shoulder since I was a mediocre 18-year-old high school pitcher. Atop that I have the usual aches and pains, but no knee problems, ankle problems or back problems. Leg problems, I figure, usually develop following traumatic injuries, while back problems, I've always assumed, are the exclusive domain of tall guys. Sometimes I'll have something like this week, where on Monday, at the gym, I tweaked something in my lower back. Nothing major. In fact, I only noticed it when I was sleeping.

I have this mental game I like to play. I invented it right about the time I turned 40. How about this, it says: instead of having spent the past 23 years semi-engaging in a variety of careers, what if I was a 41-year-old lefthanded pitcher, nowhere near the dominant flamethrower I once was but still able to get lefthanded hitters out with regularity? What if the chronic shortage of lefthanded pitching -- especially with the watering-down of talent due to repeated expansion -- had made it so that some team picked me up, paying me a reasonable $800,000 for the year, knowing that I could help the club.

I'd still be me, after all. And this year would be the year that Sandra Bullock tells me to think about hanging it up, but I still love the game and love the competition, so I stick it out for just one more year. Sure, my shoulder gives me fits, and getting in shape is more difficult each year, but darn it, I love the game. Next year I'll retire and spend more time with the Jawa. I'll become a writer or something. After all, I did major in English in college.

That's my fantasy world. True, it is a simple one, and probably reveals plenty about my self-esteem and lack of ambition. After all, if you're going to have a fantasy, why not make yourself a superstar? You take your fantasy; I'll take mine.

Meanwhile, back at the car, I reached in and pulled out the three bags. With the third, I felt a sharp pain in that spot I was only noticed when I was sleeping. "Ooow-wow!" I said.

Then it went away. I carried the three bags into school, up a flight of stairs, and deposited them in the library. I walked back down the stairs, stopped to talk to Jenny from the Block, went back out to the car and drove away.

I am now sitting in a chair. It is several hours later. Every three minutes or so I squirm, trying to find a position that does not result in shooting pains down my leg. I have been stretching, fidgeting, laying on the floor, on the couch, standing up, sitting hunched over, sitting straight up, lying on my side in the fetal position. Nothing helps. Sandra Bullock has promised me Tylenol laced with codeine. Maybe that will help. I am now, at least for today, a guy with back problems.

All day I have been announcing, "I AM NOT A GUY WITH BACK PROBLEMS!" to which the low-key but occasionally sly woman who sits next to me at the biotech said, "Yes, but you are 41."

Today was a celebratory day at the biotech. They've secured a big private funding deal and signed papers that will eventually allow the company to move into San Francisco. To mark this, the entire company -- save for contractors whose wives hold lofty positions within the organization and feel that having their lowly husbands present might cramp their style -- took off work at 10:15 and loaded up into buses that took them to the Embarcadero, where they then boarded a luxurious yacht to enjoy a bay cruise.

Contractors whose wives hold lofty positions within the organization and feel that having their husbands present might cramp their style were officially invited to this party but unofficially discouraged from attending. Instead, they stayed behind, wracked by back pain so new and unexpected that it would not have been inappropriate to say the shehechyanu over it, squrming in their office chairs as they filled out endless equipment status forms with only the Woman who Speaks Loudly on her Phone About Food for company.

As you may have guessed, this arrangement did not last until the previously agreed-on 3:00 end time. Once I realized that we had forgotten to work out Shack's lunchtime feeding, it was very easy to rationalize the idea that I should leave at 1:00 pm and continue my status forms at home. In pain, but without the persistent hacking cough of the Woman on the Phone, the day brightened considerably.

As much as a day that involves your back constantly reminding you that you are 41 years old, that is.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Volvo-Driving Yuppie

I drive a Volvo now, and I think that means I am perceived differently by other drivers; also by other bloggers, I suppose. It hadn't occurred to me that this would happen.

I've kind of enjoyed being a "Volvo-driving yuppie," (I saw this term in a comment to one of my favorite blogs, as in "I hate Volvo-driving yuppies.") wearing that title with the dripping irony that only a 41-year-old, underemployed writer with several failed careers in his rearview can employ. But I was reminded this morning that when I drive my new car, I travel in a world vastly different than the one I traversed in my 1998 Subaru. Yes, I have enthusiastically chosen my fate, but I'm not sure I'm altogether ready to assume all of the responsibilities that come with my new ride.

I was casually steering the Volvo up John Daly Boulevard in Daly City, on my way to the gym, a place I go in the morning since I don't have a regular job to go to instead. As I pulled away from the light at the corner of John Daly and Lake Merced Boulevard, I noticed ahead of me an aged Nissan Pathfinder. Next to me was a Toyota Celica. NOTHING SUGGESTED THAT THE TWO VEHICLES WERE RELATED IN ANY WAY.

The Pathfinder took off. I followed. Then I noticed the Celica sliding over into my lane. I slowed down, it slowed down. I sped up. It sped up. Then it tentatively cut me off, leaving me 18 inches from its rear bumper.

Forgetting that I was in a Volvo and thinking I was in my working-class beat-up Subaru, I stayed on the Celica's tail for awhile. Then I remembered what I was driving, under-driving most of the time, if you want to know the truth, so I seized the moment, pulled out and put my foot into the floor, all the better to utilize my turbo, passing the pathetic Celica in a blur of metallic blue Swedish snobbery.

As I passed, I turned my head to sneer, only to find that the woman driving the Celica was waving her arms at me in an animated fashion. "Nuts," I thought. "Cuts me off and gets mad. Whatever."

A few seconds later, as I put some space between the Celica and me, the Pathfinder suddenly found that its path belonged an erratic 18 inches from the front of my car - the same 18 inches, not coincidentally, that the Celica had used earlier. "Everyone on the road is insane," I murmured. Inside the Volvo, 300 watts of stereo were pumping sports radio into my eager ears. My leather seat perfectly supported my body, having memorized my seat settings weeks before. All was well inside, but outside I was surrounded by apparent lunatics.

I came to a stoplight and shook my head. The Celica woman shook hers violently. "WHAT DID I DO?" I said loudly, to myself. I could see her chattering animatedly in her car. We took off. This time the Pathfinder pulled up next to me. Inside, a guy a few years older than me but taking his cues from the culture of my youth glared from behind his wire-rimmed, light-senstive lenses. At home, earlier today, they had been clear, but now, taking their cue from the sun peeking out from behind some clouds, they were tinted a UV-filtering photo gray.

Another red light. Same guy glaring at me. "WHAT DID I DO?" I mouthed, then rolled down my window, genuinely curious at why this team of erratic drivers had chosen me to harass.

"THAT WAS MY WIFE," he said, the words angrily emerging from beneath his large moustache.

"Okay," I said. "She cut me off."


Well, that part was true, but I had my reasons. "Really, she cut me off. Was I not supposed to notice?"


I rolled up my window, not sure of how to respond to his logic. My Volvo is plush, but it is not equipped with the GPS equivalent of ESP. I thought about this for a second, then rolled down my window again.

"You're both insane," I said.

"NO. WE'RE NOT," he answered, then returned to glaring at me. "YOU'RE USING YOUR CAR AS A WEAPON." A phrase which, were I to summon a visual, would look just like a guy in a 1990s Nissan Pathfinder violently swerving into my lane, 18 inches from my front bumper. That sort of offended me.

We pulled away from the light and my confusion turned to anger. In the time it took us to get to the next stop light, I formulated a vast and deep pool of clever questions and comments to share with Moustached Boy given the chance. I rolled down my window and waited, but at the light, he just glared at me and did not roll down his window. We pulled away, me driving soberly, so as to not confirm any assumptions he'd made about my style of driving, them both suddenly driving 20 miles per hour below the speed limit.

I gave them every chance to follow me, maybe toss out some more moustache-and-sunglasses enhanced intimidation, but they wouldn't take the bait.

As I drove, I fumed. I was angry that they hadn't given me the chance to reveal their collective nuttiness and that they were probably going to get wherever they were going and then share their disgust at the yuppie in the Volvo.

Eventually, I calmed down, as a good Volvo yuppie will do. After all, in the end, I'm supposed to be so impressed with my yuppiness that the barbs of a moustache guy in an old SUV is nothing more than confirmation that the world is full of undesirables not worth my time.

But everyone is worth my time, so I thought about this guy and his wife, him leading the way while she tries to follow, unsure of her skills on the road, enough so that she can't handle the idea of another car coming between them.

They were heading down the Peninsula, maybe going to pick up some new furniture they'd stuff into the back of the Pathfinder. Then she'd go off to work, as an office manager or something, while he'd go home, having taken the day off from his job so he can build (with careless and expert ease, naturally) this new piece of furniture they've picked out together.

In the end, I liked that he stood up for his wife, no matter how wrong she was. And make no mistake, she was wrong. She was a menace on the road, tentative and entitled, forcing others to take the blame for the dangerously sloppy execution of her poorly planned decisions. But she was his wife, and he was leading her somewhere, looking after her, making sure she was safe in a crude, straightforward way that included getting right after anyone who might put her into some kind of danger. If that means setting straight some Nancy boy yuppie in a new Volvo with a series of shaky logic and menacing glares, so be it. She was a crappy driver, yes, but she was his wife, and he loved her.

I tip my hat to you, Pathfinder guy, and your unsafe at any speed, hair-trigger tempered wife. In the future, I will concede that stretch of John Daly Boulevard to you and yours. And yes, I know that your rage probably had nothing to do with the fact that I was driving a shiny new Volvo. You just didn't like seeing your wife get tailgated for cutting someone off.

But if any counter-culture blog commenters need me to be their lazy stereotype of what's gone wrong with the world, I'm here for them.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

September 30, 1976

On September 30 each year, for some reason I can't get through the day without, at some point, remembering September 30, 1976. That was the year, 30 years ago yesterday, that I got to school and something was weird.

I was 11 years old and starting sixth grade at La Veta Elementary school in Orange. We'd moved from Clarks Green, Pennsylvania six months earlier, resulting in a sea change that my sisters and I are probably still adjusting to. I'd been dropped into a grade school in Anaheim where even the girls traveled in gangs, and, as mentioned here once before, a bully named Ernest decided immediately upon meeting me that something about four-eyed Jewish kids with big vocabularies from Clarks Green, Pennsylvania really bothered him.

After a couple of months of playing tetherball alone at recess, then breaking land speed records running home from whomever was chasing me after school each day, I transferred to La Veta Elementary, where each day I waited with Mark Woollett for the bus to take us to a school full of wack jobs like ourselves. They called it the "ELP program," and then later "MGM." where "gifted" kids could seal themselves off from the "regulars," who, like Ernest, often wanted to beat us silly just on principle.

Sixth grade started and I found myself a like-minded wack job who sometimes comments in this blog as Dave K. Together we created an alternate universe made up of skateboarding, cartoons, theatrical rock and roll bands and making reel-to-reel tape shows based on Monty Python skits. This lasted until the evil Annie Zatlin and Diane Rader interrupted our self-contained world, then kicked us to the curb to remind us that freaks like us had no business feeding pomagranites after school to upper-class sixth grade society girls like them.

On September 30, 1976, none of this had yet happened. Dave and I were becoming fast friends, though I did find it strange when he'd worn a paper Groucho Marx moustache and eyebrows to the last day of fifth grade.

On September 30, we both arrived at school with the vague but uncanny idea that something awful or strange was going to happen. For the entire day, we sat on fences and stood apart from everyone else, convinced that the world might end on September 30, 1976. I remember that I was wearing my yellow baseball sleeves and my Garanimals jeans, and that the ground could have opened up and swallowed Orange, California whole that day and it wouldn't have surprised us one bit.

There was a strange noise in the background all day, too. Sounded like jets coming from far away, and it was there the entire time. Dave K. and I couldn't figure out what was going to happen, just that we were certain something was going to happen. Everyone else thought we were crazy. Crazier than they were, which is saying something. As I learned many years later, when we had a reunion for all of the kids who were in the ELP program that year, we were quite an eccentric bunch.

The day ended, Dave and I went got on our buses and went home to our respective houses. Nobody chased me home, thank God, though by the end of the year Tino Younger had identified me as his archenemy, and continued to think so right up to our 10th high school reunion in 1993.
The next day, October 1, Dave K. came charging up to me. "There was an earthquake yesterday," he boomed. It had registered something like 3.1 on the Richter scale, so we hadn't felt it. But knowing that something out of the ordinary had happened, some act of God however minor, proved to us that our experience from the day before was proof of intuition, not lunacy.

I later learned that composter Louis Fourtestier died that day, so maybe we were assigned to share some of the oddness that his family must have felt. James Dean died on September 30, 1955, and on September 30, 1659, Peter Stuyvesant decreed that no tennis shall be played during religious services, and in 1935 "Porgy and Bess" premiered in Boston.

So you can look at it a few ways. Dave and I got caught in some kind of "Twilight Zone" seam that day, and it made enough of an impact that I remember it still. Did we waste an entire day of our 11-year-old lives worrying about a disaster that never came? Or did we identify each other as kids who were wired a little bit differently, but enough the same to catch the same weird vibe simultaneously?