Tuesday, March 30, 2010

room and bored

S was here this weekend for a visit, and in addition to watching the perfect sunset over the Pacific and hiking the steep green hills of Sunol and eating bibimbap naked in a Palo Alto backyard, we enjoyed yet another activity that makes the San Francisco Bay Area so uniquely pleasurable, couch shopping for a Brooklyn apartment at a national upscale furniture franchise. My dear S commandeered my car-driving and bag-holding services and bullied us to the SoMa outpost of Room and Board, where couches are given human names, where she sat on one couch after another, declaring each one more suitable than the last, praising most excitedly a pink tweed sofa that felt like a lady's coat and forced the sitter into an alert, upright, secretarial posture, and where I struggled valiantly to stay awake but eventually succumbed to catatonia on a giant, pillowy brown couch reminiscent of a country mother's ample bosom. Other bored children exiled from the adult's showroom literally kicked each other off pumpkiny ottomans next to me as I half-dozed, half-died. Though I had chosen my own exile, my imperious girlfriend nonetheless saw fit to decree an order ("Now stay there, and don't move," she said, piling her crap at my feet) before she headed, nearly salivating, to try a couch named Eugene in a fabric called "Titan Putty." In my stupor, I heard two people pause in front of me; one declared, "Now THAT looks like a comfortable couch!" and they walked off gaily, tittering like piccolos. After ten minutes, I rose and wandered from room to room depressing cushions with the toe of my shitty sneaker, and eventually saw S approaching the spot where she had left me. Her body language said, "I told her to stay right there!" Huff! We wandered around together for ten more minutes until it came time to request fabric swatches from a frowny-faced saleswoman surnamed - not making it up! - Rath, at which point I found myself in front of a showroom laptop simulacrum, which looked like a PowerBook but was hollow inside, typing a Dear John letter to my lover, Couchzilla. She was apparently undaunted by the message, for she kept on fingering the fabrics and saying, "Yessss, I would like a sample of Tatum Spice, and a Xanthelasma Barley, and a Thrush Spot." For her camera, I modeled reading a book in a supine position on that coat of a couch and noted with delight that the title of the showroom book I had chosen described exactly what I was doing: "Laying Down the Law."

S's sofa-fever was only overcome by her need to get on a plane and return to her apartment, which shall henceforth be known only as the mortgaged space surrounding Eugene, a trusted expensive friend whom we take turns sitting upon.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

i love your long shadows and your gunpowder eyes

I freaked out about right brain atrophy last week (too sunny here for anguish and art!!) and downloaded a bunch of albums, not new but 2009 albums, as if that would really stop the rot.

Here's one theme in the music I selected: I miss Freddie Mercury. I was looking for a new young thing eager to entertain, ridiculous and gigantic in costume and stage affect, theatrical, clever, playful, musically adventurous. Above all I wanted the voice. Here's a nice description of it, from Freddie's biographer via Wiki: "[it] escalat[es] within a few bars from a deep, throaty rock-growl to tender, vibrant tenor, then on to a high-pitched, perfect coloratura, pure and crystalline in the upper reaches."

(A sweet, pretty song that lets you hear his voice clearly.)

I know that hoping to find in new music what you already know and love is just a set up for disappointment (and stagnation), but nonetheless I hoped. I tried Adam Lambert's For Your Entertainment, Mika's The Boy Who Knew Too Much, some Lady Gaga, even Ke$ha's Animal, because apparently Ke$ha takes Freddie as an inspiration. These are all promising and talented musicians, even messy Ke$ha with her San Fernando voice and obliviousness to Mick Jagger's leather handbag-looks. Lady Gaga's awesomeness everyone has already written about, and I concur.

Mika is often touted as a Freddie because he is a white-looking brown British immigrant and flaming 'mo who plays piano and writes his own music and dances around energetically and has a fantastic vocal range, but tends to write perkier, happier tunes than Freddie. I like his promise. Often he goes to an irritating runaway falsetto, but it's still very impressive that he can do that.

Adam Lambert was last year's American Idol second place finisher. He's also a queeny male lead, emphatically sexual, like Freddie, with a nimble tenor and a show tune presence. But the album is not very good. Adam Lambert doesn't write his own music and his album was clearly churned out quick from the pop mill to cash in on his celebrity. It's catchy and danceable but totally unchallenging, which is a shame because he seems to have a lot of original personality, in addition to the talent, to tap into. Again I found myself wanting Freddie, who could write and perform weird-ass lines like, "Fear me you lords and lady preachers, I descend upon your earth from the skies / I command your very souls you unbelievers, bring before me what is mine":

(Oh dearest Freddie, what is all this nonsense about?)

But let's face it, when it comes down to it, Adam Lambert's facial expression on "once I'm in" at :50 could pretty much convince anybody to have hot gay sex.

And his album cover is perfect.

I also picked out some indie albums, including Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion, which I would have chucked onto Highway 101 had I not been concerned about traffic safety and letting phthalocyanine dye to leach into the bay. I got through four songs at a high volume with a heaving stomach. I guess they're supposed to be good for what they do, but hemorrhoid cream is good for what it does and I don't go around putting that shit in my ears. If I wanted to listen to the 200x amplification of burning embers, I would have stuck my head in a friggin fire, okay??

Also, Neko Case's Middle Cyclone. Overall consistent with her older stuff, but one song really stuck out to me. I liked the pulsing brush on the snare, the surf guitar, the vaguely Middle Eastern minor key, and the line she repeats twenty times, "I love your long shadows and your gunpowder eyes."

In an unrelated note, my recent viewing of Muppets Take Manhattan has me concerned that I am Ms. Piggy to S's Kermit.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Notes from Wednesday I am too lazy to properly type. A story in sentence fragments.

j standing in the parking lot, my stupid question was "which car is yours?" lessee:
infinitis and bmws for partners
pontiacs and corvettes for playboys
bmv suv for sophisticated midlevel assoc
priuses, corollas for the rest
gray bike w reflective stickers for lesbifrump
then one fifteen year old station wagon spilling over with crap, lefty bumper stickers up to rear window, bike rack but no apparent bike, burned things inside, wicker basket with espresso boiler, paper bags
on dash, sage brush burnt on one end "with car lighter, or my other means of starting fires"
tree air freshener stuck somewhere in the car when she bought it 2d hand, couldn't find it, maybe between cushions, tried to mask with burnt sage
remember: her sleeping in car from SF to telluride - what 19 year old girl sleeps on the side of the highway?; her driving us to arches national park at 75 mph in dying red hatchback with no seatbelts; subway sandwiches on the way to santa fe; "listen to your heart" my favorite song then
relationship of coloradans to cars
grow up driving the only way out of box canyon
live here four years but get lost on the one major road in PA
why was she wearing winter clothes
"wanderlust" tattoo
on afternoon of same day, a break from work to walk to swimming pool on stanford with memories: 1) strange autumn light on summer day, not terribly hot, 2) MB at midnight, 1998, 3) nc-17 underwater motions with m.; fences remodeled, easier to climb; now not willing to disobey the law, a terrible reason to be disbarred; wondering whether j would be interested in a swim
j immediately launched into story about pele, hawaiian goddess she said was out to get her
the goddess of small irritations
rental car accident, bad travel companion, ear infection, car break-in
there are ghosts in the mountains
things stolen out of car: thift store shirts, ancient camping gear, pee funnel
also goddess of genuine tragedy
swine flu death of her supervisor who moved to alaska to make money (why go to alaska to make money?)
saturn returns (again)
her anger at ex-bf not wanting to be around, his idea of "contractual obligation"
too much happening at checkout (balloons, chinless man in bike helmet) to have proper conversation
chocolate stout beer in coffee cups
sandwiches, andes mints, pickles
walk to park on birch street
total darkness except windows of occasional night train on tracks 100' away
eating sandwiches in dark
boys on bikes making retching noises
opposite paths - me only money, no time; her only time, no money
no hurry to get back to moab except she has no money left
camping bf (?)
love languages test
i didn't say much until 8:30, then "i need to go back to work, shut up and eat your sandwich and i'm going to talk about myself and you just listen"
me admitting a nadir in last four months
small pleasures - walks, trees, quiet, sunshine, listening to albums in entirety, space, boo hopping with joy at my return, dad's nonsense commentary
fear of new york
her challenge to pele was 15 mile hike alone without food ("i had a cracker with peanut butter in the car") and minimal water at 13,000ft on dormant volcano, which i called "stupid" and "idiotic." j said i was only the second person with that reaction, most others were admiring, i said again it was stupid and she could have died
time slows when with j
enough history here that when time passes it's not tedious to catch up

[I wrote "dogs who love each other..........................." in margin of the post-it but I think this was empty doodling not related to J.]

muppets take manhattan


Monday, March 15, 2010

notes from the week

Pho on Castro Street with new friend, JF, whom I met at a conference in August. She directs the LGBT youth group I participated in when I was a youth. It wasn't like we were new friends at all, she was so welcoming. "'Cause we're both metal monkeys, remember?" Something about the coincidence of our zodiacal signs and our materials. I was worried that she might be more hippie than me (she has an "altar" and "a spiritual practice," but didn't follow up so I don't know what she meant), or just different (she mocked me for using the word "euphemism" and said things were "tight") but in the end we could give and take about our silent meditation retreat experiences, short hair, girlfriends who lived far away. "Skype is my best friend." Nice and easy. I liked the way JF did things. She handled noodle soup. She looked pretty sharp in a tweed blazer with wide lapels and a crewcut, and seemed comfortable in her identity. I asked about pronouns; JF raised an eyebrow and said, "He, she, or they. Anything but 'it'." I have few gender non-conforming friends out here, especially down on the mid-peninsula. Hope we'll see more of each other soon.

Very last showing in Bay Area of Avatar in IMAX 3D with B preceded by diner meal where each of us polished off discuses of turkey breast and B berated me for leaving some fries uneaten. Gulped and rushed to theater only to find ourselves two of only a few dozen patrons in a giant room, and the only two attempting to take cell phone photographs of ourselves wearing 3D glasses in the near-dark. B drawn like sailor to siren song of Junior Mints. Before movie started, B looked me up and down and said, "Wow, the 3D is so convincing!" After movie started, B made grasping motions at Jake Sully's 3D chest hair. At pivotal moments we braided our hair together and stage-whispered "THEY HAVE SEX WITH THEIR HORSES!!" Also, if that shit was so close to that huge planet it would have been absorbed and burned up in its atmosphere, and damn, are they mammals? Because thanks for the mammaries, James Cameron!!!

Friday rainy lunch with L at a favored sushi spot. "Why should I pay three times as much for sushi that tastes about the same?" she said. Leapt over puddles in wool biz cas pants on the walk back to the car. Then 5:30 p.m. insta-meeting in VIP's office. "You know that part of the Godfather?" He was talking about the scene where the gangsters "go to the mattresses" (which apparently means let's work really hard and NOT let's all kill each other) but I made a comment that might solidify my legacy at Law Firm as the associate who believed unbilled waking hours would be punished with interoffice delivery of severed horse heads. "You should be here 24-7 minus sleep." This is a pep-talk? Nervous twitters, moment of silence for carpal tunnels.

Santa Cruz, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, Fall Creek Unit with R, OZ, D, B, O, N, C. Bagels, pastries, coffee, and skim of Palo Alto Daily News first: Measure A would increase per-parcel schools tax by $534, vote by mail. Perfect in sunny valley, chilly in shaded mountains. D wore an orange hiking layer, then a black hiking layer, then an orange hiking layer. "I was going to wear my orange vest too, but that just seemed like too much." Turned around twice driving to the trailhead; turned around once getting lost on the trail. What was supposed to be seven miles turned out to be eleven, but even exhausted spirits ran high. OZ asked if I knew who Toby Gerhart was and seemed satisfied by my half-hearted guesstimate. O, who wore a sun hat, pulled a spruce brush from the ground and pretended it was a mustache. We passed rusted, crumbling remnants of a limestone quarry and barrel mill. Took trompe l'oeil photos of N pretending 6" banana slug was a tongue. C talked about a job giving hundreds of mice cancer and then trying to cure them. The trees, mix of redwoods and various conifers, were so tall and thin that one felt like humans on Pandora, or hobbits in Fangorn Forest, etc. Fall Creek was loud, clear, and full. We passed only a handful of people, including one lone smiling sociopath in flip flops. It took more than three hours to walk to the midpoint, a mid-sized redwood marked by a placard reading "Big Ben Tree." We focused our frustrations with the conditions of the hike on the tree and teased it like a bespectacled schoolboy. Mediocre, we called it, Mid-height, Unimpressive. N slammed open the chocolate orange on its burnt bark. D shared tuna fish with capers. I shared Pocky. We walked back at a clip playing the song game with the words "white," "name," "river," "car," and "discostick." B told me about the problems with Teach for America. Plans to hunt down balut vendors in the East or South Bay were made. We took a group photo under a tree by balancing a camera on the trunk of a sea foam Corolla and then piled into cars and drove away. R called for a pit stop at a place called - she squinted - "Coffee Eat." We're older, our eyes are going, it was "Coffee Cat." I bought a box of Samoas from a shivering Girl Scout outside Safeway and R read the ingredients. "I don't eat transfats. Or high fructose corn syrup. You see? Partially hydrogenated canola oil." O and I ate five cookies, then I left the box of transfats at the bottom of a trashcan. I drove back with the sun in my eyes and mysterious South Bay reservoirs revealing themselves to the right and R talking about the reprehensible romancing habits of a half-blind boy she knew. I intended to go to a housewarming at night but could not find the willpower to change out of my pajamas. Instead I watched Internet television and layered out of tune vocal tracks for a new saccharine song.

At bedtime, couldn't sleep, rolled from back to side to stomach, stripped jacket, stripped pants, redonned both, drank water, applied chapstick, peed, turned on fan, took pills, pounded a pillow, squeezed out a few frustrated tears, crawled under bed and held Boo's head for companionship, played Don El Don but all the words that came to me were related to this litigation I've been betrothed to for six weeks. Insomnia is so lonely. Long after daylight savings I thumbed a frantic text to S, and then passed out. All I did on Sunday was resolve the fallout from the frantic text, stare at photos of S, debate the virtues versus shortcomings of futons with S, buy running shoes, run, and work.


The following are the words that came out of Dad's mouth in one two-minute span:

Don't stand next to the microwave, you'll die. You'll get cancer. Don't eat rice. Eat more vegetables than rice. Rice is death by fatness. Why is there so much dish soap left in the sponge? Did you wash your tupperware? Did you leave soap in your tupperware? If you left soap in it, you'll get sick. I'm going to rewash this. It's all soap. Don't touch your dog while you're eating. You see? You're using your right hand, which is the hand you're using for your chopsticks. Don't eat chocolate. Chocolate cancels out running. All that running you did will be no good if you eat chocolate. Don't touch his eyes!! There are secretions!!

After this, he found his way to the piano and spent thirty minutes playing the right-hand part of Sunflower Slow Drag very slowly and very badly.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

somos las chinitas

I was tidying up my eight-track when I found this mariachi song that O and I composed and recorded in July 2009. Please forgive: http://www.myspace.com/thecleaverstreeters.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

i don't care where i'm going as long as i get there on time

I got a new toy yesterday.

What a difference a banjo makes.

Here's the first truly bluegrass-sounding thing I've recorded. It's about 2009.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

cripple creek

I'd be pretty psyched too if I were that horse.

Monday, March 08, 2010

notes taken over a weekend

Dinner with R and O on Friday in city. Blind restaurant. Dining in complete darkness. Ate food with hands. Dropped pants just to make a point. Communicated by dictating. My hand is reaching toward the bread. I'm handing you this glass. Poured wine by ear. Made predictions for 2010.

Morning jog with R and O. Talked about our ideal partners. We listed the things people always list. Shared interests (R needs outdoorsy), humor (can't take self too seriously, can't be pissy about camping in the rain), intellectual compatibility. "At this point, I'll settle for living and breathing," I said afterward, only because it is something the clown always says. We jogged the loop of the Baylands slowly. It was very hot. There were many unhappy dogs. Face turned red all over.

Afterward biked to the train and took it up to the city. I wanted to go to the MOMA to look at different things. I wrote in my journal on the train, and then I read a few pages of A Gathering of Old Men, but wasn't captivated. MOMA was good; biking there was good. To remember: curatorial description of Andy Warhol screens of skulls as "portraits without the flesh?" LMAO. Old man chuckling and rhythmically thrusting pelvis in the dark, at his lonely end of the bench in screening of Bruce Connor's Ray composed of images of naked writhing women set to Ray Charles song. Diane (Dee-ANNE) Arbus photos...seen them before, but they're old friends good for a visit. One nude shot of herself in bedroom mirror she sent to her husband. Twins from Roselle look weirdly like KF. Portraits could be gothic mockery; in college I thought they were beautiful, ruinous, and indifferent; now I think that she must have made these people believe she cared about them but must also have known that to document them as they were would be to betray them. I noticed how direct the titles were. Ewen Gibbs' fine line drawings (finer than pointillist) of San Francisco city scenes - WOW. Exhibit of photography of California. A state photographed since its inception; photography invented ten years before Gold Rush. Staged photography used to counteract San Francisco's deserved reputation as lawless land of unwashed testicles. Early photos show lumberjacks with axes in front of 63-foot circumference redwood sections. This one felled to be a single-piece dinner table for a party of forty in Europe; this one to serve no apparent purpose other than making grinning men feel triumphant. Later photos of unassimilated Chinese grocers selling yams. Chinatown. Handpainted signs with terrible calligraphy. Some description of the "exotic pageant of America," a cliche but for the first time I thought about the reference, and imagined a slow-moving parade of weirdos of all different skin tones, heights, and nose shapes. Liked photographs that Ed Ruscha took of giant empty parking lots in Los Angeles; lines looked like leaves. Walked through Yerba Buena on way back to Caltrain and read about the carousel that had escaped 100 years of fire, earthquake, and destruction and made it from the heavy hands of the German craftsman to the sticky fingers of two boys shouting "I want the camel! I want the camel!"

Took train home listening to C grouse about seven hour Saturday CLE and then me making hurtful uninformed declarative statements to S. Biked back feeling bad, went to dinner with family.

Sweet Tomatoes salad buffet restaurant, Santa Clara. Across the street from Costco. Completely filled, even the plastic-penned outdoor seating area. 100% of patron population was multigenerational East Asian and South Asian families, and large white people. 90% former, 10% latter. Servers Mexican. Tomato-print carpet. Bedlam in salad line, broken windows theory, tuna tarragon and Asian Chicken Salad and shredded beets spilling out from serving bowl onto tray onto floor. Crusts of bread missing single bites left on trays to be cleared. Unskilled balloonist making swords and dogs for tips but popping every other balloon, startling patrons. Zero to fourteen year-old children everywhere. Dad looking so wistfully at young Chinese families I thought the teeth were going to be wisted right out of his beatific head. Remind R and A to hurry up and reproduce. Shuttling soups back to Grandma, who sat next to her cane. Uncle Five making fun of Dad for (1) carefully composing salad, then deliberately upending bowl of steaming New England clam chowder on top in lieu of dressing; (2) carefully spreading vanilla soft serve on pumpernickel bread and urging us to try the same; and (3) shouting nervous admonitions re: not getting into car wrecks from the bitch seat of the car. Mom using hand sanitizer before filling salad plate, then again after filling salad plate. Me rolling up four cupcakes and a fistful of sunflower seeds into a napkin destined for the ziploc in Mom's purse. Helping Grandma to car. Getting home. Getting on phone. Feeling bad, feeling stupid. Slept like dead dogs under dead logs.

Run at Crystal Springs cross country trail. Fifteen degrees colder than Palo Alto, windy, foggy. View of San Carlos (?) on east, reservoir, hills, and 280 at west. Mud splatters everywhere, inside shoes. Few people. Enough elevation that I had to think about running while I did it, self-berating for motivation. "Sheep Camp Trail" that started promising but was merely a straight half mile of gravel downhill to a turn-off from 280. Drove back to sunny Palo Alto slowing on highway to look at absurdly picturesque gathering of oblivious cattle sunning on bright green grassy hillsides with no structures but highway and gigantic steel satellite dish in sight; thought of driving up 280 holding S's thigh and telling her that I resented these particular cows for their simple happiness. Sat outside Wahoo Fish Tacos with bag of dimes and nickels growing warmer in my hand and naked thighs cooling to subzero temperatures while attempting by telephone to restore S's confidence in her fickle lover. Work on Sunday afternoon: a metaphorical fire, a panic, fire squad runs in circles with hands waving overhead, fire miraculously dies. Home, work, phone, journal.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

why do girls make me cry?

A new song.

do not, kissing photos

Dad sends me forwards in Chinese that I can't read. Gmail offers the following translation of one, line breaks in original:

"The rise of environmental consciousness, it was bought drink bottles, put
the empty bottle left behind when the water bottle,
"But the doctors said saved to
"The ball, you may forfeit their own!
"Experts, examine the bottles, once the heat hit, only about 40 degrees,
the plastic material will be released
"Put carcinogens ─ antimony,
[ . . . ]
"So poisonous, why should we spend fast printing system?
"Do not ask me, I am not willing to!
"Who called you a half-hour cross-pieces should be the boss .. "
"* Please keep in mind **: *
"* Do not, kissing photos *.
"* Do not, take photos of food pad. *
"* Do remember to take finished photos ** you wash your hands. *

At least the tone of panic comes through.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

ragtime nightingale

One day in late January, L asked me to go to her house to be there when she received the delivery of the electric piano she had bought off Craigslist. We took a break at 9 p.m. from our document review to head over. I was wearing shorts and a thin shirt - I had wanted to run; it was only .8 miles; I had been sitting in front of a computer all day - but L was worried that the delivery would arrive soon, and so we climbed on our bikes and rode. I didn't have time to change back into pants before we left. Goosebumps rose along my arms and legs, and I alternated breathing on the fingers of my left and right hands to keep them warm.

Her house was a two-bedroom bungalow across the street from the graduate housing dorms at Stanford, with a duplex rented out to strangers behind it. Much later, she gave me a lemon from a tree growing out of the gravel in the yard. There were no lights on in or in front of her house, so she used a green keychain LED to find the keyhole. It cast a funny glow on her front porch. We left our bikes there, and I went to stand in front of her radiator.

There were almost no furnishings in her house, just a black upright piano ("utter garbage," I think she called it) and an old sofa in her living room; a spool-shaped wooden table with two white folding chairs in the dining room; a neglected fridge; and a simple desk with a laptop in the office. I didn't look in her bedroom.

That afternoon we had had a conversation about music. She mentioned that she was working on a recording project involving the works of Joseph Lamb. I said, "I love Joseph Lamb." She looked surprised that I recognized the name. I said, "Of course, he and Joplin are the two most famous ragtime composers." I felt that I sounded forced saying this, and drank hurriedly from a cup of hot water as soon as it was spoken.

I couldn't remember the name of the Joseph Lamb song I loved, my favorite rag, one I had tried to learn as a guitar duet in 1999 with M, who refused to participate. I looked it up in the afternoon: "Ragtime Nightingale."

In her house, L moved quickly from place to place. She turned a flame on under a pot of water and said, "All I have are these frozen Russian dumplings, but have as many as you'd like." Neither of us had had dinner yet. She moved to the piano and played the first few measures of Ragtime Nightingale.

The delivery of the electric piano interrupted her. She instructed me to watch the water while a man unloaded the instrument and its stand from his little hatchback. She murmured appreciations ("Oh, this is perfect" and "This is exactly what I wanted") as he bent over with the plug to the socket. I rolled ten dumplings into the boiling water, and burned my hand on the splash.

The man left, and L sat down to test her piano. She pushed a few chords down, then ran a chromatic scale over all eighty-eight keys. She tried the concert grand, electric piano, and organ voices, then started Ragtime Nightingale from the beginning.

L is slim, poised, and quiet, and she plays that way. There was very little movement in the house: her hands moved very lightly over the keys; I sat very still just to the right of the keyboard and watched them as she played through the rag; in the kitchen, the dumplings gurgled and overcooked. The music came very naturally from her memory. L played a fourth section that wasn't on the recording I owned. I mentioned this and she said, "But it is in the song."

After the performance, L went to the kitchen, fished the ten dumplings out of the water, and served us five each with sour cream. We talked about our immigrant parents and our plans for escape, but mostly I put my head into the food and made shoveling motions with my hand. After dinner, we biked back to the office. I was freezing on the way back, too.

L is a ragtime composer. This is my favorite of L's compositions: