Thursday, November 15, 2012

awesome

Now it is my habit to drive to Palo Alto from San Francisco every Saturday to visit Nai Nai. I usually give her a massage. Only recently did  I realize that loving touch might be something she hasn't experienced in decades, my grandfather having died thirty years ago and having been who he was for the forty years before that, and the rest of my family being very loving but not physically demonstrative with her, and that the experience of it might bring her happiness and comfort.

So I start by opening her waist brace and putting my hands on her lower back. Then her hip flexors and IT bands, her knees, and the rest of her lower body. More often than not when I get to her feet, she giggles and says, "I'm ticklish!" or "Your hands are cold!" and I tug on her toes until both my hands and her toes have warmed. I'm always surprised at how little muscle tone she has and how the skin on her body is still mostly smooth and elastic, though she is 90. Then it's onto the rest of her back, her arms, her neck, and finally her head and face. I get in there: scalp, ears, forehead, eyebrows, maxilla, sinuses, jaw. We end with me cradling her face in both hands and rolling circles into her cheeks with my thumbs.

Each time my hands touch her flesh I imagine our skin glowing orange as if illuminated from within. I may not say the word "reiki" even in my mind but what I envision are billions of neurotransmitters called love jumping the gap between my body and hers and transforming into white blood cells that attack the sources of her pain with bayonets and bludgeons.

It has not been a good few months. Desire alone makes the hands of the clock turn no slower. Days go, and bodies age. And they get dizzy up top and frail and pained everywhere else. There was talk of moving Nai Nai to an old folks home so that she could have access to 24-hour care, but the logistics were difficult. "Will we move my hot water kettle?" I heard her ask my uncle. I stopped listening after this question because the details bothered me so much.

Once after the massage I lay down in bed next to her because my back hurt from being bent over for an hour. We stared up at the ceiling and played with our hands. I showed her the trick where you pretend to disconnect your finger. She couldn't do it herself, but she was totally delighted to watch me do it.


I fell asleep and woke up half an hour later to find her sitting in a folding chair next to the bed, nodding off.

I saw the word "awesome" written in English on an envelope in her kitchen, along with some other English words. From the context, I gathered that she had been reading an article and had written down unfamiliar English words. She'd written translations in Chinese alongside the English, but even without recognizing the Chinese words next to "awesome," I assumed the translation was wrong. So I took a minute to explain it to her. The moment at 1:07, when she realizes what "awesome" means, then points at me and says, in English, "Hey! YOU are awesome" is one of my happiest. I'm so glad I was recording on my phone:


I write this as a reminder to myself and to anyone who knows any part of me based on what they have seen on this blog: this is what matters to me.

Apropos of everything else, C. said to me tonight, "Congratulations on getting the most American prize: freedom."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

this is the closest i will get to writing literally about sex

I prefer writing about sex in metaphor, especially without signaling at all to the reader that any comparison is meant to be drawn. For example:
  • Beat two eggs in a bowl with a fork.
  • Pour the eggs into a pan over medium heat.
  • With a spatula, stir the eggs until they solidify.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.
What at first glance appears to be a recipe for scrambled eggs is actually a delivery boy-housewife fantasy involving floaties* in the backyard pool. Betcha couldn't tell! (*First incarnation of this word: "floaters." TOTALLY DIFFERENT MEANING!!!)

I attribute this inclination to general prudishness. 

I believe the circumlocution makes for poetry and one day I hope to write a book of cunnilingus tips, once I have developed the expertise, all in metaphor. 

So in keeping with my recent habit of publishing portraits of people a few years after they are most likely to be discovered, here's one that displays the closest I will come to writing literally about sex:
Here is what I know about X: he is a tall, heterosexual white man with broad shoulders, symmetrical features and a square jaw. He went to [fratty Ivy school] and played lacrosse and football. His law degree is from [urban Ivy school]. He is considered one of the best ultimate frisbee players of all times - on message boards, people still talk about the frisbee giants of the 1980s, the great X, sundry others. His name suggests royal lineage and has three plosive sounds in two syllables. He drives a luxury sedan. He lives in an expensive small city in the hills in an expensive house. He is a partner in one of the largest, richest, and best known law firms in the country. He has a wife and two children. Once I saw him in the fitness room; he trained on the elliptical machine in front of a television documentary about Bob Marley's death, but pushed himself like no other fifty year-old I've seen on an elliptical. His legs spun violently and he wrenched the hand grips and grunted. He saturated himself and his machine in his sweat. Before the left the room, he turned to me (I was trotting on the treadmill as fast as I could, to impress him) with the remote control and said, "Should I leave this on?" I said, "Why not! I didn't know that's how Bob Marley died." He said, "Do you like reggae?" I scoffed and said, "Sure I do; who doesn't? But dub is more my speed." Then I mispronounced the name "Jimmy Cliff."

X arrived late to the law, returning to school in his early thirties after a first career, a creative one. I don't know exactly what he did, but between college and law school wrote an off-Broadway country music musical, published a children's book, and wrote an episode of He-Man.

A few months ago, when we were talking about music, I asked him why he didn't stick with his creative aspirations. "Well, it became time to start a family," he said. This was sufficient explanation, I guess, for why one becomes a lawyer. "Look, this is how the music industry works," he said. He pointed to his index finger. "Seventy-five percent of people are talented - talent has nothing to do with this - but they can't hack it at all in the industry. They're great musicians, perfect rhythm, perfect playing, but they can't find a way to turn that into money. They don't even try." He moved onto the next finger. "The next fifteen percent try to make it, but they're barely making ends meet, touring all the time. It's unsustainable. It's a struggle just to pay rent and eat; the starving artist thing. Most of these people will drop out pretty quick." The ring finger now. "Of the remaining ten percent, most will find a comfortable way to live. It won't be a lot of money, but maybe they can be session musicians, maybe they can sell music here or there, maybe they have a second stream of income in the house. It's not riches, but it can be a career." Finally, the pinky. "At the very, very top, there is maybe a fraction of one percent of musicians who become wildly successful in the way that you hear about. Fame, fortune, fans, tours. The chances of this are so slim, but the rest just hold out for the possibility."  That's just how X said this. There was no final sentence to this paragraph connecting the state of the music business to his own aspirations, so I was left to infer that X fell into the top 24% of his hierarchy.

But X was not interested in being a 99th percentile person. So he became a lawyer. He became a handsomely-paid, well-known commercial litigator for a big, rich law firm. Corporations entrust bet-the-company lawsuits to this type of firm; the stakes can be in the billions. He is invited to speak at conferences in Europe, to which he flies perfectly supine in his first class foldabed. I know nothing about his family other than what one can glean online of his wife (who has kept her last name) and their joint charitable donations, except once he told me that his children are soon to go off to college, and after they left his dream was to build up a music studio in his house and invite friends to come over and play.

When X approaches, my body reacts. I can't tell if it's fear or lust -- they have the same physiological symptoms for me, and probably the same psychological trigger too. Who doesn't want to be fucked by something terrifying? He has only seen me red in the face, because there is no other face I have around him. I sweat profusely when he is in sight. The closer to smelling distance he gets the more flooded the center strip of my underwear becomes. If we are in even a large room with many people, I know exactly where he is at all times, and I stumble and twitch because I am convinced that he is watching, even though he is most likely not. 

But I am not unbold around him. I am scared, but not unbold. Especially on paper, I can be brash. He entered my office once, very shyly - the only time I have seen him even slightly hesitant or vulnerable - and asked me some preliminary questions about my musical interests before blurting out, "I recorded a couple of songs." I said, "Oh, can I have a listen?" He said, "Actually, I have them here" - and reached down to the odd square bulge in his back pocket and pulled out a CD of his songs - "and I wanted to know if you could give me some feedback on these. You know, as a composer?" I wrote back an email full of language like "I want more of you" (I meant I wanted to hear more of his voice on a particular song; at least that is one of the things I meant) and muddier blandishments like "You're sweet and dark in the high registers." I described his sound as "gentle and perfect." I thanked him in German for his edits on a paper I am writing for him for a conference in Germany. "Mit tiefer Dankbarkeit," I said. "Jawohl," he returned. He said he liked an image I chose for the PowerPoint I put together; I replied "Don't we all." I slipped the German language lyrics to "99 Luftballons" into the hard copy of the presentation. He said, "Do you have a cold? Your voice sounds like maybe . . . ?" and I grinned and said, "This is just my natural speaking voice."

I want to please him and I am dismayed when I fail. I mistakenly cited to a case without noting that it was the dissenting opinion, and I hated myself when he told me the error was significant. How many times have I rehearsed this dialogue in my head?:

Me: Do your children obey you?
Him: What?
Me: Your children must be very obedient. You have a personality that encourages obedience.
Him: What?
Us: [tender embraces] ["How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You," in duet]

Just kidding. In my imagination we sing, "Closer," by Nine Inch Nails.

There are two strands to my imagination here. The first is very standard. The first imagines that he is exactly who he appears to be, the phenotype, the mesomorph of the mind, the success, the society, the Man. These imaginations are quite boring and can be found by the billion on cut-rate porn sites. "Get on your knees," and other commands, control in the bedroom as in the boardroom, etc. No need to belabor this here.

The second imagines that when he peels back his sweaty athletic socks, the toenails will be painted a soft vermillion hue and the corns will have been professionally scrubbed. Under his button-down shirt is a grey t-shirt with a cartoonish face drawn in the center. (Actually this is not an imagination: he took a redeye this Tuesday, and he arrived at work wearing sweatpants, sneakers, and this cartoonish t-shirt.) He lifts it to reveal a chest that shows signs of age, e.g. a topiary of chest hair still luxuriant but now gray, skin that slackens slightly above the muscle tissue, chapped nipples, navel piercing. He says, "Are you ready?" For what? I am confused . . . I am not driving this car, I am a passenger, I am a traveling canine companion who pants out the side window . . . but then he hands me a hard plastic cornichon and tells me he is ready too. "What is this for?" I ask. He turns over, slowly, sweating, and waits for my move.

Well! That is not how I envisioned this writing exercise to end!
I have embarrassed all of you and shamed my ancestors and now it is way past my bedtime. You're welcome.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

seven years

Some new music. I fiddled this with for a few days and heaped on some layers (drum, bass, and harmonium) and finally trimmed all the frills back and now it's just guitar and voice(s). Amazing how a swing on the ride cymbal can turn a glum song into a jazz tune - but you don't get to hear that version yet.

Keywords: idle time, wandering memory, divorce.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

bananagrams-o-grams

I'm pretty excited that my new roommate communicates via Bananagrams.

She made soup. I wrote a post-it telling her I ate four bowls between midnight and 2 a.m., but there seemed to be just as much soup as before, so the only conclusion I could draw was that she was Jesus, feeding the multitudes. Her response:


I went to Costco and bought some food to share (and then rearranged the fridge):


A few hours later, this message appeared:


My response:


My morning message to her, and her afternoon reply on the bottom line:


So far this roommateship is going AWESOME.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

unlearning shyness

When I introduced myself to the high school mock trial students whom I would be coaching, I said, "I am interested in being a coach because people once thought I was shy, but I knew that I wasn't.  Now I am here to help you unlearn shyness."

As I said this, I tried to control the shaking in my voice, because the fear was still there. Never mind the message. No matter the audience, the fear is still there.

Rewind and let me set the scene.

It was early September. We were going to meet the students for the first time this season. The head coach and a few other coaches and I left work early to drive through slow game day traffic around the ballpark to the foggy canyon edge where the school sits.

In the main atrium were young ones, some being slouchy, inappropriately attired old-person's-stereotypes-of-teenagers, with skateboards, who stared at us. There were eucalyptus leaves underfoot. Girls whose hair fell into the faces chased each other up a ramp. A trio sat on their instrument cases and looked about to break into a jazz odyssey.

"We are going to tear your limbs off," say their contraposso stances.
I couldn't remember the last time I had gone onto a high school campus when students were around. Maybe June 2004, my last day as a social studies teacher? I had to take calming breaths before going through the doors.

The moment the head coach entered the classroom, he was mobbed - mobbed - by mock trialers, who surrounded him and shrieked his name. They squeezed in for a peristaltic mass hug, then peppered him with questions about how his summer had been. With each returning coach, this same loving rigmarole. More mobbing, shouting, interrogation, and then more shouting. That they could keep this level of chaotic enthusiasm up for so long defied my understanding of physics. One girl had made glittery "Mock Trial Princess" sashes and distributed them to other girls on the team. Eventually they returned to their desks, which they sat in or on top of, and then shouted at each other and the coaches from across the room.

The room belonged to Ms. C., an English teacher, who had covered the walls with artifacts from foreign cultures and bumper stickers that read, "Television Is Drugs," "Feminism Is The Radical Notion That Women Are People," "Don't Postpone Joy," and "I love my country...but I think we should start seeing other people."

This was when I said to myself, Yesssssssssss.


Re-post from below. I loved teachers like this in high school.
There was the meet and greet. When asked to speak individually, the kids showed off different levels of confidence, the earlier clamor notwithstanding. Some upperclassmen boys knew how to grip and return a handshake; others were clearly mortified at the thought of introducing themselves to strange adults and ducked eye contact; the most nervous fiddled incessantly with the ends of their hair or tugged at the bottom hem of their t-shirts. We asked each to stand and deliver the most basic of introductions (name, class year, other extracurriculars) and some students defused their nerves by forgetting, or pretending to forget, what facts about themselves they were supposed to state, because nobody had taught them the skills embodied in maxims like Fake It 'Til You Make It and Go Big or Go Home and it was still easier aim for dopey likability with, "Hi, my name is X, and...umm, what was I supposed to say again??" than to risk failed sincerity, to stand straight-backed and say, "My name is X and I am a freshman in band." I saw glimpses of the gulf between who a kid wanted to be and who she felt comfortable being, and then I saw how a teacher could bridge the distance.

Rewind further back to a few scenes of my own shyness.

Two involve not being able to speak up on public buses when I should have.

Scene one: M10 bus, 2002. The bus barrels past my stop on 8th Avenue because the driver has missed it and I am too shy to cut through the loud Manhattan chatter to shout "Stop!" Instead I tug the cable for the next stop and walk the extra few blocks, loathing myself.

How did I end up in Washington Heights??? 
Scene two: Chinatown bus, 2001. I'm seated next to a quiet man until we reach the McDonald's rest stop. We pee, then get back on the bus after the break. The quiet man is not sitting next to me. The bus starts pulling away. I see we are getting near the on-ramp. I know we have left the quiet man behind. I start looking wildly at my neighbors, but none of them notice. I raise my hand halfway as if to call someone's attention, and make some guttural suggestions, but ultimately fail to speak. Half an hour later, the agitated instructions coming through the radio system confirm that some 20 year-old fool paralyzed by shame could have prevented the situation just by opening her damn mouth.

Another scene involves Palo Alto calling Northfield, Massachusetts, 1999. My girlfriend and I were both home for the summer. Her dad answered. We had met several times. "Is M. there?" I asked. "Yes, hold on a minute. Is this [Bananarchist]?" said her dad. I froze. Would I have to make small talk? Would have I have to explain why I was calling his (closeted) daughter so many times? Would I have to use words that white adults use, such as "how odd"? So I said, "Nope! This is not [Bananarchist]." But my voice has a pretty distinctive timbre because of the enormous sarcastic-looking mouth God has given me. Her dad paused. "Are you sure this isn't [Bananarchist]?" he said. I had no choice but to stick to my guns. "Nope!!" I try not to imagine what kind of pathological liar he thought I was.

Add to these all the times my face has reddened when I know that officemates can hear my phone calls, when I've read book spines at parties in order to seem preoccupied, the two years of college I spent without talking in section. My reaction to being cold-called for the first time in law school, during the Carbolic Smoke Ball contracts class, was to tug my sweatshirt off and get the thing stuck on my head (I continued answering the question despite the muffling); five minutes after the questioning ended I got a spontaneous nosebleed and ran out of the room clutching my face. In the final ten minutes of a middle school volleyball game I asked my coach to take me out because I thought I wouldn't be clutch enough to handle the intensity.

Of a volleyball game. In the seventh grade. For the B-team. Against Burlingame.
This ball represents failure.
I am still not as bold as I would like to be, but good God nor am I longer the drooping houseplant I once was.

So when I saw the mock trialers struggling with their introductions, my mind conjured a half dozen shyness unlearning techniques unprompted. I have a mental archive of them - for my own benefit, as exercises in case I want to do boldness calisthenics, and also because I feel a Promethean urge, probably based also in some self-aggrandizing, let's just be honest, to teach other people the things that have helped me. They range from the basics (like classic icebreakers, e.g. filling out bingo sheets with information about other students in the room or everyone answering an amusing check-in question, or simple unstructured socializing time) to the pedestrian (like shouting when a bus driver misses your stop) (reread for the pun, reader) to the experiential, off-color, wacky, and bold.

I want to arrange these techniques into a curriculum of progressively more difficult unlearning shyness assignments:

EASY
  • Visualize yourself owning everything you see, and approach the thing accordingly. 
  • Record yourself reading "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" with different accents. 
  • Moot a TV debate with a fellow student on a ridiculous topic (e.g. "What is better, pie or cake?")
MEDIUM
  • Give a stranger a compliment.
  • Organize a party. Send a mass email inviting both friends and acquaintances (a.k.a. people you don't often casually reach out to) to it. Follow up with phone calls.
  • Wear something outrageous and don't explain anything when you get quizzical or hostile looks. 
  • Sing instead of speaking for the length of a conversation. 
HARD
  • Give a two minute speech without planning on the first quote you open to in a book of quotations. 
  • Phone bank. 
  • Do contact improv dance (with animal noises) for an audience.  
  • Canvass a farmer's market for donations to a campaign. 
HABANERO
  • Busk. 
  • Perform on a karaoke stage. 
  • Give a toast at a wedding. 
  • Gibbous peach to a friend, a classroom, a boardroom, a school gathering, a plenary audience, Star Search, etc.
And so on. The outcome of this curriculum is to become that person who feels comfortable exclaiming to the dentist's receptionist: "A cat calendar!"

There are similarities between these exercises and pickup artist, drag, and improv etudes. Advanced confidence has emotional valence - e.g. when you truly esteem your blotchy, flatulent self, you'll feel comfortable lifting your arms overhead while dancing - and insincere confidence smacks of sleaze, but for the sake of the uncomfortably shy person who wants to make the first step, let's say that confidence is mostly about the successful performance of confidence.

Om calls the goal shamelessness, which is the poet's way of wrapping confidence, comfort, self-awareness, self-love, and poise into a nice word with lots of pleasing hissing sounds.

I talk a lot with Om about this because at her current job she has built a team from nothing (literally, nobody) to a critical mass of hard-working, spirited goofballs, many of them in high school or college. Some were probably as shy as my shyest mock trialers when they joined her team, but they've all seemed to become people who can call strangers and have twenty phone conversations a night on the topic of same-sex marriage. The office is like an atom buzzing with electrons, which makes possible the random, momentary collisions that build special intimacy, stuff like eye contact with a raised eyebrow, questions shouted from one room to the next, ten minute couch naps in other people's offices, sidling past someone in a narrow hallway, joining conversations just to make one clever comment and then walking away. One of Om's staffers said the moment she realized she loved the work was when she was carrying telephones from one room to another. She accidentally dropped one on the ground, and before the clatter ended she could hear Om's voice from an office thirty feet away saying, "You're fired." Everyone seemed to be having fun doing the exhausting work of an electoral campaign. Both times I visited her office, her staff lingered late into the night, long after work hours, just to be in this circusy atmosphere.

It makes me think about how the unlearning shyness curriculum alone is not enough. You also need reciprocal support from people around you. There should be minimal judgment and maximum positivity, reinforced over time through multiple unscripted interactions. This is not a new concept. This is a team.

During the mock trial introductions, many of the kids used the word "family" to describe why they wanted to participate. They said that being on the mock trial team made them feel like they were part of a family. I noticed how the returning students roped in the new kids, who at first sat at the fringe desks but by the end of class had relocated closer to the core. It didn't take much to bring the new kids in, just smiles, nods, and other expressions of attention and affirmation from the returning kids.

Of course, Manny being Manny, I don't experience pleasure without an accompanying dose of caution.

Most of us (those socialized as women, at least) have experienced the difference between team and clique. I think it will take some coaching to keep the mock trial team from turning the support of the former into the crutch of the latter.


Your hair emboldens mine.
Recently I wrote Om after watching a different campaign-related presentation by a team-turned-clique:
I felt slightly disappointed with the in-group attitude. I felt like I was at a fraternity beauty contest where the message, in the form of inside jokes addressed to the other frat brothers, was that XYZ was cooler than Sigma Chi. I think some of the younger folks in the audience - the potential-frat demographic - might have been dazzled by the coolness, but to me it felt like a missed opportunity to build community, to include. Like, y'all think you overcame your shyness because your team had your back, but you're still shy if you're only bold when you address each other. Why didn't anyone teach you to mingle with the other regional field directors, hmmm? (Am I a turd for saying this about kids? I don't blame them; I blame the frat they pledged.) 
Om's response described how leadership could guide the culture of the team:
i love this statement: "Like, y'all think you overcame your shyness because your team had your back, but you're still shy if you're only bold when you address each other." (capitalization intact to preserve your business casual (how does one phonetically represent what happens when one tries to shorten "casual"? i need a linguist)). this is why i want to work with young people. i don't blame young folks for the lack of inclusivity, but i blame adults for fostering environments that replicate/emulate the same dumb dynamics that most of us have felt terrorized by. we should all know better. but a part of me also feels compassion--we all have things to unlearn. at work we talk a lot about radical welcome. i think you asked me what it was and i gave you a lukewarm, possibly sassy, totally unsubstantial answer, but this is what it really is: to radically welcome someone means to do everything you can to make someone feel at home in the space. it means conveying to someone that even if it's your first time in the space or your 100th time, you have a place here and i am excited to have you do this work with me. and it is radical because it doesn't happen often enough! all of our experiences out in the world tell us that we need to work our asses off to be accepted and included, or we have to have a certain kind of look, or charm, or intelligence. fuck that. of course you can sit at my table.
The brains! The heart! Swoon!

A few weeks back, the mock trialers went to a pizza party for all high school kids in San Francisco participating in a mock trial program. Recall memories of middle school dances and you'll have a sense of how awkwardly segregated the atmosphere was, this time by school instead of by gender. I burst with pride when one of the kids on my team went up to a table of kids from another school and extended a hand, saying, "Hi! I'm C! I'm from Q High School!" I wasn't the only person who noticed this. Pretty soon the rest of the kids from Q High School were prying conversation loose from the students from other schools. I deserve no pride because I have nothing to do with C's instincts. I approached her afterward and thanked her for modeling fearlessness for her teammates.

Monday will be the first time that I meet with my small group and start practicing in earnest. I get six hours per week for the next five months with the same few kids. I have Googled "how to help students get over stage fright" and bought a book of theater techniques by the improv guru Viola Spolin. I have begun drafting the questionnaire I plan to distribute to my kids on the first day (a mix of personality test and OkCupid questions, mad libs, and creative writing exercises). I am really, really excited to start eradicating unwanted shyness from the world!

Imagine crosshairs.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

october 14, 2010


Om and I were talking last night about how relationships with your relatives develop as you get older, and then I found this journal entry from that strange period not so long ago where I was 30 years old and living with my parents in Palo Alto, which is not so much about relationship development as it is about having more words at 30 to describe feelings that bothered me just the same as at 15:

Big fight with Dad this week. He can be so cruel. He was yelling at Mom for wearing what he thought was a really ugly outfit. He said some really mean things to her. I said, "Dad, stop it!"  He said, "This is MY marriage, and I can do what I want! Don't interfere with my marriage!" I said, "But she's MY mom, stop yelling at her!"  Then he said, "Get out of my marriage! Look what happened to YOUR marriage! Who are you to say anything?" 
Even writing it right now makes me really angry and sad. I don't know how it happened that my parents' approval can mean so much to me and their judgment can make me feel so bad. I had forgotten that I spent a lot of energy as a younger person trying to distance myself from my parents' desires, not only because I disagreed with what they wanted for me but also because I hated feeling their disapproval. In the last eleven years, I did a good job staying away and doing what I wanted, so to be thrust back into an environment where their wishes, strange habits, and stubbornness dominate leaves me exposed to emotional risks that I had very carefully guarded against. It's still not really clear to me what it means that I am living at home, but the patterns and feelings are starting to emerge more clearly. 

After he made that comment, I stalked out of the room, then returned with my middle finger extended and said, "Fuck you," and then slammed the door to my room and locked it. Good God. I haven't made a move like that in many, many years. I'm thirty. Good God. And then I cried.
I spent Sunday at work, partly because there were documents to be reviewed and mysteries about 28 U.S.C. Section 1782 to be solved, but partly because I did not want to be at home. Mom and Dad weren't even there - they'd intended to go see the Blue Angels flying over San Francisco for Fleet Week. But I just could not be in that house. 

I have the option as a thirty year old to leave. I have a workplace close to home but private to me, unreachable to them. I can sit in my Aeron and face my ergonomic workstation and work at things I don't really care about, two and a half miles from where I spent my childhood. Should I hide like this, at thirty? 

The emotions took a long time to subside. S. called later in the evening and we tiffed about something really stupid. I can't even remember what it was. And we were getting into that part of the fight where we were making motions to be conciliatory but still fighting, the "I'm sorry, but..." portion of the festivities, and I asked her, "Please just be nice to me." And she paused, then said, "Yes, but..." and I interrupted to say, "Please, please, I had such a hard day, please be nice to me." And then she stopped talking for a long time, and I just cried. It wasn't about S. at all; I was just still upset about Dad. To her credit, after the long pause, she relented, and encouraged me to visualize her petting my head. 

Just last week, while scraping food into the garbage can, I wondered when Dad and I were going to fightagain. I opened the trash with my knee, and dumped not-yet-rotting food onto half-rotted food that was in turn layered onto now-indecipherable decomposing organic matter. We fight in a horrible way once every 12-18 months. In 2004 or 2005, about burnt toast scraped into the garbage can. In 2007 about who knows what, ending with my declaration that I never needed to speak to him again. In 2008 about a dog barking. In 2009 in Taiwan, he looked upset one afternoon. I sat down on the bed next to him and put my hand on his shoulder. "What's wrong?" I asked. "Some people have daughters who perform in front of other people," he said. "What do you mean?" I said. "Some people's daughters dance around in front of other people." It dawned on me that he was talking about the time I invited him to see my rock band perform in Chicago. I had been so desperate to please them that night - to schedule the show while they would be visiting, to arrange the day so that they would come, to get them into a cab headed for the venue, to rustle up as many friends as possible, to perform as charismatically as I could - because I had wanted them to see that I could make it alone, that I could find people who liked me, that I had talents, that I was strong and capable and confident and unique. 

So there was Dad's takedown. Something I had wanted so badly - just their fucking approval - had turned into his distant, offhanded insult. "Some people's daughters dance around in front of other people."
It makes my heart heavy even to write this now.
Dad sensed that he had committed a big error by being so cruel to me about my divorce. I mean, who does that? Make somebody feel shitty about a divorce? Is that something that I need help feeling shitty about? I guess he wanted to apologize. When I came home, there were post-its up along the fence to the front door, then post-its all over the hallway to my room, and post-its all over the door of my room, and then post-its all over my desk, my bed, my computer, my water bottle. Each was slightly different, but most had a variation of "Love, Mom and Dad" and "M & D" (with two interlocking hearts), or "Mom" in one heart and "Dad" in another heart. I pulled the post-its off my possessions but left the ones in the hallway and fence up. It is day three or four now of the silent treatment; not so much any intentional shunning, but just a feeling that I am so hurt that I cannot bring myself to talk to him.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

read my weave you wasted pony czar

Me: What was the last thing you did before reading this email?

R: The last thing I did before I read this was look up what the longest word is that can be typed on one hand of the standard keyboard position: left hand tie between aftercataracts, tesseradecades and tetrastearates. Right hand winner appears to be hypolimnion.

Me: OMG ridiculous!!! Tesseradecades!!!!! My desktop password is "defecate" because I anticipated I'd want to be eating a sandwich with my right hand each time I log into my computer! A fun game is to come up with sentences that alternate between left-hand and right-hand only words: Savages limn faces in feces milk. Try it!!!

R: breasts in area kill erect oily secrets.

Me: effete polyp secretes monopoly crazed pinky

R: read my weave you wasted pony czar

Lesson learned: I am so lucky to have the friends that I have.

Read it, you pony czar!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

December 31, 2001, 3:18 a.m.

Thoughts of a twenty-one year old.

December 31, 2001, 3:18 a.m.

H. died two days ago. He was drunk and he slipped and he fell under the Tube, the subway in London. He died like that. Some suspect suicide, but information is incredibly sketchy. He was an only child. M., his mother, collapsed when she heard the news. He used drugs. He constantly smoked pot and was either almost kicked out of or actually kicked out of Cambridge for selling drugs. He was frequently drunk.

He lived in Palo Alto for a while, and went to Paly for a year. We were freshmen, and he was in my photo class. I remember his curiosity about the edges of life, and those beautiful eyelashes that always made him look angelic, no matter what he was doing. I heard through the grapevine that he had (facetiously?) suggested to B. that they were so intelligent they could easily kill someone and get away with the murder, because they knew how to plot and plan perfectly. I was afraid of him after I heard that he’d said this, but the last time I saw him, we were both nineteen and he was rolling a perfect joint. He was spending that summer in Palo Alto, after years of living in Kazakhstan and England. I never really knew him. I thought he was a curiosity. Once K. told me that H. thought I was interesting, and she said he’d said this with a hint of a sexual suggestion, and I was at once flattered and intrigued by this grapevine knowledge. Everything I heard about him I heard about through grapevines, because have spoken to him directly very few times. When we were fourteen, we played soccer with C. in the mud pits behind Paly. C. had a crush on him and I did also, but I didn’t know how to express that and I didn’t know how C. and I would reconcile that. I knew so little about him. Years have passed since I’ve thought of him.

Today, I arrived at T.'s house late for a night of board game-playing.  T. said to K., “Does she know the news?” and immediately I knew something was very wrong. K. said, “No, I don’t think so.” And then she paused. “H. died.” T. released a paroxysm of laughter. I was shocked, holding a donut in my lap that I’d picked up to eat. K. reprimanded T. for laughing, and I felt disgusted that T. had laughed, but mostly I was scared and stunned by the news. I hardly knew him but it turned my stomach to think of it. “He was very drunk and he slipped and he fell under the Tube and was hit.” Everything turned leaden and I struggled to breathe. "Why did you have to show up late?" T. said. "We went through the same trauma earlier."

We chatted, nonsensically, about the possible circumstances of his death, and how we would tell our other mutual friends, and whose task that would be, and how his family was dealing with his death, and finally, about memories we could piece together about a person briefly and vaguely in our lives. K. knew him best among us in the living room but B. had spent a summer as his best friend. The summer capped with an expression of desire undercut by fear. B. is in Turkey with his family on vacation. K., unwilling to write him an email, left a weeping voicemail instead and now we dread to see how B. will take the news.

I’m frightened of it, the premature death of this insanely taut-skinned youth. But mostly I didn’t know H., I didn’t know him when he became "Fred" in London, and I knew almost nothing of the person who slipped under the Tube. Would he have killed himself? Why was he so drunk? Who was he with? What did he think those last drunken seconds as he was waiting for the train to kill him? What of those plans he’d made to go to grad school to major in “rocket science,” whatever that was?

K. and O. and I, unwilling to go home without having spoken, drove out to Lake Lagunita on the Stanford campus, and stood on a drain cover for two hours talking and balancing on the metal lip. When we arrived the stars were clear and the moon was full, but by two, a thin layer of storm clouds covered the moon entirely. O. didn’t say much of anything, but K. wanted to talk. And I was relieved that she expressed sentiments similar to mine; we grieved, but we didn’t know why, or really, for whom. Neither of us knew him so well, and we felt guilty in our grief as we knew we’d feel guilty if we didn’t grieve. We didn’t know if we pained for him, or for his family, or for the generic fact of a young person dying. K. loathed herself for not feeling immediately able to grieve for him as a person, but rather for the circumstances of his death and for his devastating youth. I didn’t know how to respond to her but to understand, to empathize, and to stand silently beside her on the drain, hands thrust into pockets with shoulders shrugged. We stayed late and then drove home, talking distractedly.

After we dropped off K., O. and I drove to her place in silence. I hugged O. when we arrived.  She is leaving for Seattle tomorrow. I feel like this is sort of an end, because most of our high school crew will graduate this June, and then scatter indefinitely. What now? Our friendships have survived through college, with the aid of the regularity of our returns to Palo Alto. O. is going to grad school next year and can probably be counted on to return, but where will everyone else be? I will be at Harvard, and then I will visit Palo Alto and write very similar words in my journal about the crushing ennui that is Palo Alto, this and that, etcetera. I will sit at this desk and sleep in the bed that is now four feet behind my back, and I will swim in Rinconada if I am still able to swim. I don’t want to move on. I don’t want to think that I cannot always see everyone I love, all at once. I don’t want to think that there won’t be the reassuring regularity of board game nights, or movies where we all scream and clutch at each other and annoy the other theatergoers with our commentary and giggling. O.’s leaving tomorrow, K.’s going back to Boston in four days, R. is going to Vancouver. I detest the ends of things. They leave me so hollow. I don’t even know if this is the end but I'm not considering it. I don’t know anything else. I didn’t know him so well.

Friday, September 21, 2012

twenty-two photos

1. My morning commute. This is my bike ride to work. Past the Vietnamese supermarket, left at the climbing gym, dog park on the right, under the highway to the roundabout, dodge left, dodge right, follow the train tracks, zip past the new architecture, watch out, techies from the Caltrain! and hit the Embarcadero for the cruise. The bike is named Killer, but the name is no longer appropriate because I fixed the brakes and secured the rear wheel. It has a coffee cup holder, to make the mornings easier.


2. The bay. This is the waterfront. The gantry cranes you see are at the Port of Oakland. I bike with this view for a mile. I accelerate when I go under the Bay Bridge because I remember the 1989 earthquake. Many days it is sunny. Moody days it is foggy and immersive. 


3. The space shuttle.  This is the waterfront with a space shuttle in the middle of it.


4. The piggyback. C. had told me to expect the flyover of the Endeavor, but I hadn't planned to watch. The crowds on the waterfront this morning convinced me otherwise. It was delayed coming west from Sacramento. Thirty minutes late. I was happy to have applied sunscreen this morning. The natives grew restless. Youngish smartasses I read as Googlers (they were making fun of Leif Ericson - who else would do that?) pointed at every airplane and said, "There it is!" Heads spun. Then the shuttle appeared, low to the ground, touring Oakland. It flew west over the Golden Gate. Then, finally, it passed over the Bay Bridge. Those grumbling about the delay stopped grumbling. Thousands of photos were taken. Murmurs in the crowd: "Wow." R. called it "cute": a shuttle piggybacking on a plane (with a T-38 trainer escort). I put down my camera and gaped. A seagull could have shat in a thousand open mouths then, had it had the initiative.


5. The oceanic crowd. People everywhere. The rooftops were filled. The waterfront was lined. When the shuttle dropped out of sight, the streets rang with applause. It made me shiver. "Good job, NASA," said one youngish smartass.


6. My office. My sweetheart the drunk sent flowers and macarons yesterday, to ease a difficult morning. Ordinarily I keep my things more orthogonal, but anyway it's a losing battle because the window is an arch and the muntins are angled. At least my binders are color-coded.


7. My view. I look out onto the Ferry Building marketplace. It's an internal view but there is a skylight so the light feels natural. Every day I look at the fruit stand for a while, to see if I will catch a shoplifter in flagrante delicto. It hasn't happened yet. Ordinarily this walkway is crowded with people. The din reaches my office but the reverb acoustics of the space makes it an indistinct background sound that feels sometimes like companionship.


8. From the skybridge. I am lucky to look upon this geometry every day.


9. Friday night at the Ferry Building. The mezzanine level is sometimes rented for parties. Maker's Mark held a "country"-themed one. Barrels were rolled in; a wooden shed was erected. This was late at night on a Friday. Why was I in the office? I rolled Killer through the throngs to reach the stairs. I hope my blinky lights and fluorescent green safety jacket added to the intrigue.


10. Saturday night at the Ferry Building. The Saturday before Labor Day, I worked until 4 a.m. on a research project that made me say to myself, "Fuck yeah, genius!" and also, "What the fuck am I doing, here, now, how, why?" On the weekends there is neither heat nor light in my office. I spent eighteen hours at a desk without speaking or laughing. When I left the bakers had already started the day's work. It was just the lawyer and the bakers, toiling. I paused to take this photo.


11. Market Street at 4 a.m. Here is one of the busiest streets in San Francisco, at one of the least busy times of day. Mid-Market felt like an apocalypse. No cars, just disturbed people staggering in the street.


12. Supermarket. Instead of going home that night, I biked down Market until I got to the 24-hour Safeway in the Castro. Why? Because between work and rest I need a spell of being alive. Everything was empty, quiet, and off. People inside were either restocking the shelves or homeless and staying warm. Here is where one leans a single-speed commuter bike and fills one's basket with unprocessed food.


13.  Walkways not for walking. The aisles become work sites.


14. Dairy in the dark. The supermarket shuts off the lights in the dairy section. To save money?


15. Consumer decision making. One pauses before the cheeses for five, ten minutes. Which of these fragrant plasticities to place into the basket? One molests one, and sniffs another. Finally one settles on the least likely choice, a "raspberry Wensleydale," perhaps recalling Wallace and Gromit. One's cheese selection is disgusting, but must be ingested for the next two weeks.


16. Rainbow fantastic. Unicorns have apparently come alive to sprinkle processed foods with fabulousness. Why do GOLDfish need to be multicolored? I had to leave after this, because I was losing my mind. It was 4:30 in the morning.


17. Fish car. From Castro to the Mission is mostly downhill. I threw my weight into the turns and hopped over the tracks at Church. Nobody saw me. Then I ran into this, parked on my street. A Burning Man art project, a dusty van that looked like a piranha. This day turned out to be one of the best I've had in San Francisco.


18. Bumper stickers. The English teacher whose classroom hosts our mock trial practices is the best kind of English teacher, someone who lets you feel free to be your weird-ass self.  I guess that is what happens when you love expression. Here is her podium, which captures only a third of the bumper stickers posted around her classroom.


19. Double rainbow. B. stepped out of my house recently and screamed, "Oh my God!!" This is what she saw. The color of the atmosphere was an unreal shade of pink. Directly in front of us was the most magnificent double rainbow, visible end-to-end, spanning the sky. We walked out to 18th Street, where people were leaving restaurants to look at the sky. I overheard conversations people were making to their loved ones, to share the moment: "You have to look outside right now . . . "  I left breathless voicemails. A woman in a van driving the opposite direction craned her neck out the driver's side window while still rolling the car forward, exclaimed, "DAAAAAMN that shit is HELLA beautiful!!!!" It only lasted fifteen minutes.


20. Dahlias. They're in bloom at the dahlia garden next to the conservatory of flowers in Golden Gate Park. Mom, Dad, Boo and I toured it last weekend.  Daaamn that shit is hella beautiful!!!


21. S&M flag. I stepped out of the Muni yesterday and heard a popping overhead. It was this bedroom-sized S&M flag snapping in the wind above Castro Street. This weekend is the Folsom Street Fair. This city plays to its strengths.


22. Naked pedestrian. I saw this man strolling down Castro immediately after I noticed the S&M flag. He is wearing flip-flops, sunglasses, and a fedora. I happened to be walking the same way as him for four blocks, so I took this surreptitious photo (haste indicated by finger in lower half of photo). Most people didn't look twice, until he passed, and then they gaped. He ambled along. I bubbled with delight. A tourist murmured, "Is that even legal?" I responded, "It's legal, but it's cold." Because it was shady, and windy, and cold.



Thursday, September 13, 2012

work culture

This was a journal entry from my last day at work at my last law firm. Just some thoughts on the work environment/culture that I need to be happy:
I dressed in a suit yesterday. I spent some money putting this outfit together, but I wanted to go out with a bang. Black suit, skinny black tie, red silk pocket square, high heeled spectator shoes, pompadour. People noticed. I showed up at my going away party and they gawked. I wonder why I waited so long to be this person. I wonder if I had been more daring with my expression earlier, I might have been happier? 
I stopped by John's office to thank him for teaching me legal writing. This was sincere. As much as I've been unhappy with his management style and the culture he creates around him in the last two years, John is a fine lawyer and a fine person to learn writing from. I told him that I remember working with him as a summer associate and him being the only person the entire summer to pay attention to the work I was doing. I said, "I learned a lot just watching you take the first draft to the final." He said, "Stay out of trouble," a few times, because I don't think he knew what else to say. The first time he said it, I said, "Wait - no. I can't guarantee that I will."
I asked him, finally, about having ass-length hair and facial piercings at the start of law school. I wanted to know where that person went. We talked about his nipple piercings. I told the story of Jessica Rockstar shooting me in the face with her breastmilk, how the piercing left holes that made the spray come out like a showerhead. He talked about his brother's Prince Albert doing the same. Yesterday at my going away party I felt like I could express my personality, say the slightly off color things that are so important for me to say. Not even risky stuff, but things like, "I want to eat my own name" when offered a slice of "Good luck, [Bananarchist]!" cake. M. talks about being a prankster at work, of disregarding hierarchy and being playful. I'm fascinated. This is the person I need to be in my workplace, otherwise I'm not going to like it. Why did I wait so long to wear a suit? 
I took the suit to Home Depot and Ikea yesterday. I was running some errands. People really don't know what to do with a person of indefinite gender wearing a tailored women's suit, a necktie, a pocket square, and high heels. Double takes and stares. The kind of staring where you look back and they look away quickly, as if they were just looking at something in your direction. This used to bother me so much when I was young. When I would get called sir. I would feel the urge to correct. When people would say, "Are you a man or a woman?" But now, the running dialogue in my head is not that they stare because they hate or judge or anything negative. I say to myself, they stare because they have never seen a person so striking and attractive. If someone asks me, "Are you a man or a woman?" I want to answer, with a smile, "I don't know! Take your pick!" and lick the side of their face. The latter I mean metaphorically only. I wore a chest binder yesterday for the first time. Note to self: ask boi friends how to get in and out of the thing without dislocating a shoulder.

Monday, September 10, 2012

a lesson on dominance

Watch this performance of power, then pant. 


Wednesday, September 05, 2012

richard bigman

Readers, for many reasons, the absence.

One, the last year involved considerable low-level angst of my own doing, precipitated by life changes I was pretty smug about at this time last year but turned out came faster than I was ready to process. The ambiguity is deliberate because somebody told me not to write the specifics, says the asshole who signals the specifics in the very sentence claiming to suppress them. At the lowest levels I found myself asking my empty office, aloud and alone, "Is this it?" It's hard to write when one is not happy with oneself.

Two, Angst beseitigt, I write now for my best reader, in private. Sometimes the parts that would not trigger diabetes make it onto the blog, e.g., thoughts on Justin's Beaver, but you're really just getting the dregs.

Three, this blog is at 972 posts. 972 posts. EIGHT YEARS. I told myself long ago that I wanted to do something with it before I hit 1,000 posts. A child born when I started this blog could have grown big enough to span the distance between San Francisco and Portland, Maine. Yet this blog remains the same old shit it was eight years ago, evidence of my continuing failure to mature past the "Why do girls make me cry???" stage of boihood development, now with legal vocabulary. Well, I cannot blame the girls, because in pari delicto melior est conditio possidentis.

What in the fuck am I saying?!!!! One thing this blog has taught me is how to be totally obscurantist in my writing, because I want to share, but I am afraid to be too public. So I just write in puzzles! SOLLY! The first time I joined an online dating website (screenname "DogEater") I embedded my personal email address into the profile, in an acrostic, to see if anyone would bother to decipher it and write me directly. Nope! I dismissed the entire universe of online daters as literalists I would not want to date anyway.

Two years ago I took a memoir writing class. Not much came out of it, except I wrote notes on one of my classmates and said to myself, "I'm going to post this on my blog in two years, when I have let enough time pass that there is little chance the subject would discover his portrait."

Well, it's two years later, so you get to read about Richard Bigman. The name is slightly changed but is very true to the original, in spirit.

Richard Bigman

This class is giving me insight into one of the most self-centered people I have ever met. The very pejorative meaning of the word is hard to escape but that's not exactly what I mean - Richard is not cruel and petty, but merely unable to conceive of the world as separate from his inner life. He is like those infants you read about in child developmental psychology textbooks who delight in peekaboo because they believe the thing disappears when they cannot see it. Though he is mostly blind to other people's needs, and this leads him to say and do appalling things, he is nonetheless appealling because he is friendly, positive, scruffy, stupid, and well-meaning. In this way, Richard reminds me of America.

A few examples of what I mean:
  • Professor tells a story about her afternoon. She is riding the bus in San Francisco, reading a book of poetry. A man approaches her, looks at her face, looks at the book of poetry, and says, "Now that's an old girl with a dream." A kind of mean but funny thing to say. I point out that it requires insight to see a poetry reader (especially an older woman reading on a city bus) as a dreamer. Richard follows up: "Oh yes, was this person black? He sounds like he was black. Black people are just so insightful! They are just more intuitive than other people. They just really feel things. Have any of you all found this to be true?" He looks around the room, nodding, expecting support, not noticing the horrified rictuses on our frozen faces.
  • Professor asks us all to bring an object with deep personal meaning to discuss at the start of class. Her object is a fragile coral necklace - so fragile, in fact, that it breaks as she is handling it, scattering red beads across the table. She gingerly re-ties the strand and passes it around for us to inspect. We each cradle the necklace like a baby bird, handing it carefully to the next person. When it is Richard's turn to pass it on, he drops it on the table and slides it four feet to the person sitting to his left. Nobody notices this, because somebody else is talking, except Professor, who gives the necklace a quick glance, and me.
  • Richard tells a story about the year he spent living on an Outer Banks island after his divorce. He picked up some new hobbies, including collecting sea shells. Around the holidays, he thought it would be a cute idea to write messages onto the shells - one letter per shell - and send them to his friends. M-E-R-R-Y C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S, and so on. "When they got the packages, they didn't understand," he said. "It was just jumbled up letters." It wasn't some fun word game he was playing with them. He just failed to understand that letters on sea shells would become jumbled in a shipping box and would be hard for other people to decipher.
  • He is obsessed with sex. He is a flaccid-bodied 65 year-old man, but he is obsessed with sex. His stories feature girls' tits and asses; not in any crass way, but in that deeply interior and self-centered way, as in when his protagonists think, "Why do girls wear thongs in churches? They must know how easy we men are!" He also says, in his stories, that he knows when it is gross when older men hang around younger women, hoping. He praises stories as "sexy" if they involve sixteen year-old girls getting a little bit of tongue kissing from 37 year-old men.
R.W. brought a game called Stix and Stones to game night last Friday. It's sort of like Pictionary, except with a limited set of drawing utensils. You're given a clue, and then given a certain number of plastic twigs and rocks to illustrate it. Gets pretty difficult when your teammate draws a three-stick triangle and you guess "hat" but he means "pizza slice." The game really shines a light on the dark inner workings of another person's mind. It's all about the execution of an inner vision. For example, I tried to draw "UFO" - it looked so good in my head! - but on the coffee table looked exactly like a vulva. O.L. made something that looked like the kind of pronged branch you use to spear marshmallows for roasting; the clue was "gondola." S.E.'s two-story house with a chimney? "Ice." One woman illustrated something patently nonsensical, directed us to look at a certain portion of it, and could not understand why we did not see it as "tunnel."

I think this is what is going on with Richard. He sees something in his head. Most people see things in their heads. What's notable is that Richard's vision is farther from the truth, and he believes his vision much more strongly than most people do theirs. Add to this the fact that he is a white man named "Dick Bigman" who feels entitled to speak his mind, and you get this very weird, chummily ignorant man who cannot control at all what he thinks and says. I am more appalled then intrigued, but nonetheless I am still intrigued.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

so happy i could die

I set up a music studio in my basement. Here's a piece of candy I recorded. Thinking of you.

Friday, August 31, 2012

if i was your boifriend

I'm interested in Justin Bieber's transition from clean teen pop cute to aggressive masculine sexual. As you can see from the video, the transition is not yet complete and the signs of his coaching are obvious: someone has said, Justin, lick your lips when you touch a woman's abdomen, because it signals desire, and Justin has duly performed.


Also obvious is that his talent is for music, not for dancing, but aggressive masculine sexual pop stars must dance, so some quick edits have made his four seconds of jerking toward the end serviceable even if not special.

Even with these limitations, his image remake feels successful, and I wonder in five years when his jaw and body have hardened how they will be promoting him. Maybe by then he will have just become a sex toy, like the NJoy Pure Wand, which would make singing and dancing impossible, but damn would he know how to entertain.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

i can not argue with you from a long ling time ago... but as i'm a father..

Mom is turning sixty today. I'm driving down to Palo Alto in an hour to celebrate with her, in the modest way we usually celebrate (serve-your-own-salad buffet restaurant with Grandma, stroll around the block with Boo).

Events in recent days have turned my attention to the past. I'm digging through my emails for clues, but I'm finding more questions than answers. How did I miss this? Or, What does this mean? What erratic wind blew me back and forth from fretful to bold twenty times in a day? It sounds neurotic but actually the exercise has lots of pleasures. One of them is unearthing this email from Dad, from last August:

dear [bananarchist],

i have been bullied since my 2nd job.

my boss then, was a half-german half ugoslavia man, has very bad temper, looking down on me all the time.

( my english was even poorer than it of today, and just changed major from math to EE, with no lab experience )

Gave me all the dirty jobs to do, i have to wake up at 6:30AM and show up at work around 7:30AM every day,

Listened to him in a narrow office for more than one hour for job status of me or other colleagues, often got humiliated by him, then worked until midnight in the Labs.

i endured for 5 years until i got green card, we're in US immigration office SF 2~3 days before you were born, then the next mondy day i applied transfer and got accepted to test engineer department. my boss got divorced a few weeks later and stayed in mental hospital for several weeks after 5 guys quit him the same day.

We've done it for our family to stay in a safe country, U.S ( Taiwan was kicked out of UN few years before we left, communist was looming to take over ), to find a still considered as a good job to feed our family and for my kids to have better opportunity for healthier educational environment.

but at least i've learned or developed some skill that i can use to transfer to other group.

I got more bullied for my next so many jobs, assigned with dirty jobs on almost all holidays and weekends.

Mom was also bullied by her Taiwanese boss, M.X., almost every day, enter dollar values of thousand piece of receipt with her finger, no zero fun. physical abuse ( no heating the winter, and seat next the the chilly door) in combination with harassing to replace her with other newly interviewed candidates, and she interview everyday. She has same culture.. same town in taiwan, same street, in Zhong Li..

They has their own circle, we are always outsider. Same culture , same race.. no difference at the end.

Unless you own a business and have business partners and you guys run a successful, money making business.

Then pretty soon you're suspicious about each other, there will be more politics .

If you decided not to have family with kid that you can sacrifice for , may be you should endure more for you present work,

Do every dumb thing they told you to do, but , hermetically learn every skill they know, then hermetically find a new job then hermetically learn ...... in these cycle until you are ready and have found partner, chinese/indian/mexican etc, to start your own kingdom, and in parallel to this process , you are investing your enviable high salary reward, marching toward your 40 year old retirement, as a backup measurement.

forgive our poor IQ.

a poor dad. and mom ,

love you

cupcake

Yesterday on my bike commute home, I saw something brown and soft drop from the window of a big rig in front of me. It hit the ground heavy.

I rolled past it a few seconds later. It was a Hostess cupcake, smushed.

At the next red light, I peered into the cab of the truck. The three guys sitting inside wore their facial hair in trimmed, narrow, straight lines, in the manner of certain heavy-lidded men in their early 20s who live in cities and get the munchies and drop their cupcakes out of trucks. 

I shouted up into the cab, "You dropped your Ding Dong!"

"Whaaaat?" They smiled.

"I said, YOU DROPPED YOUR CUPCAKE!!"

"I knoooow!" said one.

"It's so sad!"

"Awwwwwww."

I turned right at the next intersection and I will never see those boys and their cupcake again.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

In defense of Magic Mike

The scene that ends the first act of Magic Mike layers irony on so thick it's hard to remember what your expectations were in the first place. The eponymous character should be the embodiment of power. He is a lantern-jawed, tall, symmetrically-featured, white, straight, male, 30-something mesomorph who has all of his hair. From his mouth comes charming banter in unaccented English. On him are a suit and a tie and an expensive wristwatch. The setting is a private office in a bank. 

The cleaners ruined my favorite shirt!
But he is sitting on the wrong side of the table. Not lender, but borrower. He needs a loan to start a custom furniture company. His various day and night jobs - mobile auto detailing, roofing, and, most spectacularly, on weekends, headlining a male stripper troupe billed as "the cock-rocking kings of Tampa" - don't cut it anymore. He has ambition, but he needs a lender to realize it.

So he begs. The woman sitting behind the desk bends the slightest to his appeal - in the manner of the successful pick-up artist he is, he flatters her with individualized attention, and presumably because his sweaty testicles emanate invisible spores smelling of evolutionary supremacy, she responds  ("That is a really nice necklace!" he says, to which she responds with flustered self-molestation) - but his Magic Mike ethos fails to persuade her logos and she says that his all-cash income doesn't give him the credit score he needs to secure a loan. The audience can barely watch as he becomes first desperate, then angry, powerless even when holding a comically large stack of bills, telling the banker, "Distressed? Does this look distressed? I read the news, lady, and the only thing that's distressed is y'all."  Nobody wants to see a straight white man lose. Pathos wins. 

In Louis C.K.'s bit about white male privilege, he says, "If you're a straight white man in this country and you're not the president, then you've failed."  Perhaps my understanding of power is primitive, but when I take my change back from the cashiers at the organic co-operative market/cafe/vaginal suppository shop in my gentrified hipster neighborhood, sometimes I want to ask, "Did you learn this at Vassar?"  (Spare me, for one moment, the homily. Whenever you feel like criticizing any one, just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had, blah blah blah I know.) 

What makes Louis C.K. funny is what makes Magic Mike feel so topsy turvy. The movie asks its viewers to suspend disbelief of this fantasy of disempowerment. 

That it succeeds makes the ticket worth its price.

Because you find yourself rooting for this guy . . .

Hark! hark! the lark at heaven's gate sings.

. . . even when your mind knows Channing Tatum doesn't need your help at all.  But you still care, because we have all felt infantilized and disempowered in that way, where you are a god in an arena you suspect doesn't really matter - lord of the stage at a stripper bar, owner of the stiffest fauxhawk at a queer dance party, head of your household, most upvoted commenter on YouTube, seventh most-shared meme on Facebook, huge in Japan - but a loser when it comes to the rest of the world. Outside of the party this fauxhawk is just a silly crown on an androgynous thirty-something clown who has to walk the lonely half mile home with a cheap liquor headache. Outside Club Xquisite, Magic Mike is just Mike, no magic.

Another irony that is pleasurable to watch is the inversion of the normal chiasmus. We have two simultaneous narratives, one character's rise and another's downfall. A desultory musclebound youth everyone calls the Kid attaches himself to Magic Mike. The younger adores the elder. "I want you to be, like, my best friend," he says after a night of drugs, sex, and swimming in Tampa bay shitwater. The Kid's star is on the rise. He starts out a violent, apathetic college dropout who can't talk to girls and ends an equity partner in a Miami business venture who can, as he says, "fuck anybody I want to fuck."  On the other hand, Magic Mike is nearing the end of his dancing career (he is approaching the age where his stripper acrobatics could herniate discs), he has lost six years of savings to angry drug dealers, his fuck buddy stops returning his calls, and a preening narcissist named Dallas (Matthew McConaughey, playing himself) tells him he is cold product. 

Shining, shimmering, splendid.
But here is the thing: Magic Mike's is the upward narrative. The Kid's fame and fortune foretell his fall. Redemption in this movie comes with traditional values! 

I have managed to get through this post without talking about the most obvious reason to go see this movie: MAN FLESH.  Copius, chiseled man flesh, forty feet high in high definition. Moving athletically, squeezing here, thrusting there. R. accused me of watching this movie because of my "undying thirst for gyrating meatheads." Which he then described with this picture, of shawarma:

The epilogue: when dancers retire, they can feed a village.
Mea culpa. Yes, the visuals will titillate generations of straight women and gay men. But don't hate the movie because it's beautiful. It's also pretty on the inside.

After the movie, M. looked over and asked, "Are you straight now?"

Yes, yes I am.