Tuesday, February 22, 2011

morning bun

It's pretty great living on the fatness corridor. Tartine is literally across the street. Delfina is next door. Bi-rite is halfway down the block. Pastries, pizza, and ice-cream. As Roger Taylor says: sheer heart attack.

Tartine is my coffee spot. I go every morning at 8 a.m., fill up my travel mug, and make the long drive to work listening to NPR or a podcast, sipping caffeine. There's no line on weekday mornings (in contrast to the ridiculous half hour lines that form on the weekends). Coffee costs a different price every day depending on who is charging me. Still can't figure that one out. But all the change I get for $2 I leave in the tip jar anyway, so why does it matter.

Tartine makes morning buns that are famed across the region. Morning buns are profoundly appealing pastries that combine the best elements of croissants and cinnamon buns - they're flaky, buttery, unheavy, not too sweet but studded with sugar crystals and atmospherically flavored with cinnamon and orange peel. I try to restrict myself to one per week. Hard to do when you live on the fatness corridor. If I eat one on the commute to work, I emerge from the car on the other end with buttery crumbs mashed into my clothes.

Friday I needed a few paralegals to stay until very late. I got emails from them up until midnight. Friday night. They saved my ass. I cannot say that more emphatically: they saved my ass.

So this morning I cleared Tartine out of morning buns. I ordered ten. Tartine is too gourmet to be the kind of place where you order ten of anything. The teddy bearish hipster with monster eyeglasses behind the counter said, "Wait - really?" I said, "I'm serious." He counted ten out and, with a wink, threw in an extra. My heart blew up.

I made this offering to the paralegals. They were effusively appreciative, to the point where I became embarrassed and hid in my office to avoid any more interactions with them. My favorite paralegal said she would bring the extra one to her daughter. My heart blew up.

I just checked the Yelp reviews for Tartine and saw that one of the paralegals posted a review today: "This is totally making my morning... I am lucky though - no need to wait in line - someone brought them into the office for me..."

The moral of the story: living on the fatness corridor will make your heart blow up, in more ways than one.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

drive zen

I started a new blog. Dumb title, but it was the first available one I thought of. It's primarily intended as a way for me to document the best of the audio that I listen to on my commute to work, but it might also help some of you kill time during the work day.

Each day I'll post a link to the most interesting thing I hear. Talks, music, readings, podcasts, quiz shows, etc. Check it out if you want to.

I'm also on the look out for more better audio, so if you have a new favorite podcast or musician, please send a link my way!

Thursday, February 03, 2011

thoughts on boo

I went home this afternoon to walk Boo, as I do every Thursday when the gardeners need access to the backyard. He barked as I approached, unsure of the unseen visitor, but danced with delight once I opened the door and showed my face. I stayed in San Francisco last night, so we haven't seen each other in two days. I patted his side a few times. It made that satisfying thump-thump sound that says everything is just right. He leaned against my legs and looked into my eyes.

(I love this dog. Palo Alto, February 2011)

As is our habit, I ate a lunch of leftovers while he waited, patient but visibly agitated, for me to hurry up and finish. He paced. Sat next to me craning his head toward my lap. Slumped onto the ground a few feet away. Sighed heavily.

I fed him bits of my sponge cake. He rejected these at first, spitting them back on the ground, and only ate them after I pointed at a piece and tapped my foot next to it. He very gingerly nibbled the first piece, then, recognizing its deliciousness, eagerly swallowed all the pieces I offered thereafter. He did the same with a fried chicken skin. When I said, "Ready to go?" in a high voice, he leapt up and wiggled with excitement, circling all around me like a shark as I slipped on my shoes, prancing toward the bushes opposite the front door, changing his mind and circling back, panting all the while.

While watching his excitement at our walking adventure, I started to feel that intoxicating combination of sadness and happiness that I guess one could describe as speculative nostalgia. The feeling that one day this happy view of my dog's comic trot, his shining black coat and bouncing tail and flopping ears and alert eyes and panting smile, his excitement at simply being in the sun and sniffing things - one day this would be gone. Have you ever noticed how cute and small a dog's feet are, proportionately, compared to human feet!?

I caught myself before my silly emotional trip went too far. Here was the thing itself, right in front of me - what was the point of preemptive sadness at its inevitable loss?

Lucky for him, Boo's merriment is oblivious to sad Asian clowns in business casual plus sneakers obsessing about mortality. He looped around an ornamental kale several times before dropping his rear to spray the plant with a stream of pee. He took a dump on the soccer field and then jogged toward me, ready to play ball. I bent to the ground with my inverted plastic bag, checking first to see if Marina Market had provided the kind of holey bag that every shithandler fears.

Though we love wrestling, tag, and tug-o-war, our favorite playtime activity remains soccer. Boo is defender, I am striker. I try to manuever his beloved yellow soccer ball around him, and he leaps from side to side trying to prevent me from getting past. He blocks the ball with his chest and body when I try to kick it past him. If I succeed, which I do one out of every four kicks, he'll chase the ball down and bring it back to a spot ten feet in front of me - never all the way to me, a confounding training failure on my part that I haven't been able to rectify. I know that this is over-anthropomorphizing here, but I swear sometimes when we're playing soccer on that big field in the sun, and he is dodging left to right trying to cut off my advance, it feels like he is laughing. And sometimes, if I'm not afraid that he'll die before I collect enough moments like these or distracted by other things, his delight catches me by surprise, and I'm laughing too.

(Driving in Vermont, August 2005)

Afterward I took the long way home and stopped at Grandma's to say hi. I left Boo in the garden with a dish of water while I massaged Grandma's shoulders and collected some of her beef jerky to take home. Grandma and I talked about those vibrating weight-loss devices that you wear like a belt, and the plants in the yard that despite a decade of nurture have never flowered like they were supposed to, Chinese New Year, weekend plans, birthday celebrations, everyone getting older. The weather was sunny and warm, so Boo lay out front against the cool cement and panted. When it was time for me to go, Boo insisted on pushing past me into the house to lean on Grandma's legs for a spell. "He wanted to come in and kiss me!" she said.

Boo has been so good to me in recent weeks, and my need for his companionship hasn't been greater. It scares him when I'm unhinged because he doesn't know that my fury isn't directed toward him, so his instinct is to cower under my bed and sink his head between his forepaws. But there was a moment last week, like many moments the week before, where I found myself alone in the house, cursing and crying, shouting things, leaving ropes of snot hanging from my face - that kind of crazy - when Boo forced me to pet him. Just like that. He flipped my hand up with his nose so that when it fell, it fell in a petting position. And he kept his head there and waited. When a cute dog begs you to pet him, you pet him. So I pet him. And a few minutes later, when my mind wandered and I went back to the craziness, he did it again. Flipped my hand again. And I laughed, because I finally saw what he was doing.

(Looking for love in Brooklyn, March 2006)

I've been talking to him because I read somewhere recently that dogs, like potted plants, like to be talked to even if you think they can't comprehend. So I have been holding one-sided conversations with him about S. "Still don't know what to do today," I will say. "Can you tell me what she was thinking?" No answer save for the same old sniffing around. I tell him my perspective on things, and what I think is hers, and what I know and don't know and fear. He could really care less. I tell him about seemingly unconnected events that I nonetheless tie back to me, to my stupid heart, like the couple I went backpacking with this weekend, Garth and Lindsay. Garth bossed Lindsay around in that familiar boy-on-girl way, directing her with in short, imperative sentences, being a know-it-all about camping despite having only marginally more outdoors experience than her, exaggerating the difference between his toughness and her helplessness notwithstanding his all-around incompetence and his unfit body. ("Now you ladies just go over there and let us men pee on the campfire". . . oh please.) Since neither of them had much camping gear, R. lent Garth a nice inflatable sleeping pad to give to Lindsay. Instead, Garth used that nice pad himself, and let Lindsay use a crappy foam pad. Garth carried a slim ultralight pack while Lindsay carried a big old piece of shit borrowed bag. Garth ate first, then handed the trail mix to Lindsay. So I relate these facts to Boo and say, "All the bad parts of masculinity with none of the good. All chauvinism, no chivalry! What kind of partner is that? That's what's out there to be discovered, can't you see?!"

Again, Boo doesn't give a shit. It's really not clear who I am talking to.

I moved up to San Francisco this week. The apartment is clean, spacious, sunny, and in the dead heart of the yupster neighborhood. Already, in three days, I've felt more stimulated living here than I have in a year plus living in Palo Alto, though granted the latter I conceptualized as a holding pattern en route to New York. Last night was Japanese vegetarian noodle soup on Valencia with J. and afterward playing Beatles duets with two guitars in my bedroom. This morning I woke early from the sunlight and went for an exhausting trot west through the Castro toward Twin Peaks - I didn't make it, it was too hot, too sunny, too beautiful, I couldn't take any more of the 17% grade. Afterward I stretched under my windows and then went downstairs for coffee and a morning bun from Tartine. A man stopped to take a photo of a cat lounging in a bay window. I want to rush to the phone to tell S. about everything that I'm experiencing, everything I think she'd like to experience too . . . but I can't, I won't, I don't know if I exist in that way anymore.

When Boo saw me packing my things all of last week, he seemed upset. He hates the sound of packing tape. He hid under the bed. Here we go again. He's seen me pack up and move now five times. Each time I abandon him in a different way. This time it's not like I'm moving to some shitbox in Brooklyn where I'll neglect him to prize my own social life or academic plans. Or Chicago, which will only release me to see him three times in a year. It's just San Francisco, thirty-five miles away, and I return to Palo Alto every day for work anyway, and I'll still visit a few times a week and take him for walks. And I need to go, because his nose under my hand is not enough to keep me from falling apart in Palo Alto. I must be on my way. But there is no way to communicate this to him. He only knows that I'm going somewhere. He doesn't know why. He doesn't understand that I'll come back. Things are changing. Change is scary.

That's the difference between his kind of anxiety and mine: I worry that I will lose him so I take pictures, walk with him, write about him in my journal, spend as much time with him as I have; I have methods for managing this kind of anxiety. He worries that he will lose me but there isn't a damn thing he can do. He hides under the bed. He pushes his nose under my hand when I'm there. But when I drive away, as I did on Monday night, he watches helplessly from the garage, silhouette slumping, convinced I'm gone for good.