Friday, September 29, 2006

It's Not All About the Math

In a three-hour stretch of algebra formulas and fractions about situations involving row boats and the percentage of cars on the freeway during any 30-second window on a leap year, we hear gunfire. I don't look up from my book, because I somehow feel that I'm very close to solving the important issue of how many gallons of gas it takes Billy to visit Suzie if Suzie lives twenty percent further than Billy had planned, and if Billy drives 10mph faster than the speed limit.

I wanted to draw on my algebra archives from 1992, but I failed algebra in high school. No kidding: F. I remember taking that one home to my Dad and watching him shake his head, "We're getting F's now?" It can really make a kid feel bad when suddenly, because you're more into Depeche Mode and your spiral perm, you've somehow given your Dad an F in algebra, too. So I made sure to get at least D's, with the cameo C after that. My strategy paid off. While all the "honors" students became burnouts before their Freshman Orientation, I stored up my stamina for college. I had several semesters-over a year-long run-of straight A's. Including an A- in Calculus.

What does this mean? I still failed high school algebra. And I was writing poetry in the margins of my geometry tests. "If only you could focus on your geometry the way you do poetry," Mr. Wark tsk-tsked, a subtle threat to swipe my teenage angst and share it with the class. Trust me, lame as my poetry was then, an impromptu reading could have really livened things up.

But now, seems even neighboring gunshots can't distract me. I tell myself it's probably just kids lighting up those 4th of July leftovers. Nevermind that I'm in the heart of the Financial District in San Francisco-and it would pretty much be an alien sighting to see a child. Like seeing a lit cigarette in a California bar- it just doesn't happen. Our GRE instructor, a guy our age that is way too excited about integers and exponents, lets us out 15 minutes early.

"We should walk out together," the girl sitting beside me said. "I think I heard gunshots."

We got in the elevator and walked down the dark city streets, not saying too much. It's not that we were concerned about rampant gunfire, or our signature San Francisco aggressive homeless. Our heads hurt from too much algebra, and I was still personally baffled. Did Billy have enough gasoline to make it to Suzie's all right, and if he did, what if Suzie wasn't home?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Air Guitar and the Rockstar of the Future

In the Mission last night, I met up with Andrew and his roommate, Michael. Andrew had called earlier to tell me that there was this guy at his work who was a serious Air Guitarist. Andrew, a San Francisco native, set up his friend Dan (aka Tiger Claw LeFever) with a gig at 12 Galaxies.

I had to see it for myself. A guy who worked in a corporate mailroom by day, and went into clubs, masked and armed only with his air guitar by night. That's entertainment. When I arrived, a middle-aged man in a Shriner's hat with a blinking blue light sat on stage with another, probable twin. They were an act called Ask Dr. Hal. People from the audience could ask Dr. Hal anything, and they did. From the gross (Do unborn babies poop and pee?) to the curious (Which country makes the best chili: Israel or Palestine). A large man with bad home highlights sat in the corner on a computer, googling images to go with the corresponding question. If it doesn't sound interesting, consider that there was a lot of dry ice-just what a doctor needs to make him credible while fielding totally ridiculous questions from the semi-intoxicated.

Then came the star of the show, the main act...TIGER CLAW LeFEVER! He sprang to the stage in a red animal print shirt, mask and pleather. Behind him, dry ice and a slide show of the 80's glam rock greats played. It was the perfect backdrop for an Air Guitar performance. He may not look like your typical polished American Idol, but Tiger Claw is going places with his air guitar. One of those places being the 1st Annual Air Guitar Festival, here in San Francisco. Tiger Claw was a contestant, until he got onstage and the music began to play. They were playing punk, which according to him is a stepchild of rock and metal. There are no solos. He then threw down his air guitar on stage and stormed off. Any serious air guitaristwould never perform to Punk!

Tiger Claw LeFever explained to me that Finland has the longest running air guitar festival. The Finland Air Guitar Championships have been going for 10 years. Air guitaring has roots from a Joe Cocker performance at Woodstock, but didn't take off as a household name until the 80's when bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest took the reigns along with the MTV Generation.

Don't look for a Greatist Hits album from Tiger Claw leFever, though. "I'd love to make one, but it's all copyrighted," he once told Andrew. Ah, the classic Air Guitarist dilemma. Maybe we should call Dr. Hal about that one.

Monday, September 11, 2006


I dream in running the way some people dream in other languages.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Allegedly a Lady

I went for my first ever mandatory drug test the other day. The director gave me the paperwork and directions, saying, "I don't know why they have us do this. It's really no big deal."

It was an elaborate lab slip. And I know lab slips. There were wrist bands, stickers, code words and numbers to match. I sat on a folding chair in a waiting room with an empty water cooler and ripped up, worn out "Parents" and "Child" magazines. Apparently they weren't just testing for drugs at this fine establishment.

A teenage boy, at least six feet tall with a constellation of zits all over his face sat with his mother. He hung his head down. He put his baseball cap on backwards, then forwards, shifting in his chair. "Stop figiting," his mother said, her lips pinched together so tightly it's amazing any words could escape. It's as though, for my sake, she was trying to be a ventriloquist of discipline.

A man with a military haircut and a starch-white shirt and labcoat said, "Atto-lon-ni!" His teeth were kinda yellow which made his labcoat look all the whiter.

"Attolini," I smiled.

"Are you ready?" he said.

I nod and he tells me to come on back. I notice the dirt around the door knob because that kind of thing is gross and shouldn't exist in a quasi-medical facility- or at least in a place where they take blood. In a back room, he takes several plastic cups out of his pockets and begins to label them. He goes through the paperwork, my basic information, height, weight, job, marital status. He tells me to wash my hands and instructs me which soap to use and how much. He watches me do this. He hands me a towel. I say thank you and ask if I should pick out the colors for my manicure. He is not amused.

The irony here is that I've never done a hard drug in my life. It's not that I haven't been offered them, or haven't been curious, but when the moment to actually take them came, I just...well...said no.

I've often wonder if this strange sort of virginity has clogged up my subconscious. All of these missed experiences at parties, backstages, barbecues, study sessions, concerts, camping trips, road trips, or just the trip in general- has been the cause for it to appeal so graphically in my fictional writing.

He tells me to go behind a curtain with the cup. Under no circumstances am I to flush the toilet, or use the sink. There is blue stuff sprinkled on the toilet. There's warning signs on the walls, but they are all written in Spanish, so I can't read them, but they look like they mean business.

Of course I will pass this test. After going vegan, they'd be lucky to find traces of corn syrup.

He shoos me into the makeshift bathroom and sits on a folding chair a foot outside the bathroom. I can hear him: rustling with my papers, tapping his foot, humming. "Excuse me," I open the curtain, "Could you give a lady some space?"

"No can do," he says suspiciously, like I'm allegedly a lady. "Rules say I sit here till you finish your sample."

A minute or two pass, then five. He's making me nervous. I think I have to go, but I can't. I imagine waterfalls, rivers, overflowing dams, and still the guy is giving me stagefright. I've done this a million times, but never in a "lockdown" situation. I'm too freaked out.

I finally give up. "Listen, I'm sorry. I can't do this." I say. I hand him the empty cup.

"I must inform you Ms. Anto-lo-ni that if you do not go right now, you will be not be able to be tested for another hour and will not be able to leave the facility. Otherwise you must contact your boss and be administered new paperwork," he dictated, a memorized imprint on his brain from a Manager 101 seminar. I'm kind of worried for a minute that this "paperwork" will be difficult to get, expensive, and was coded just for me.

I nodded my head like a kid in trouble for not winning a game, producing results. But I was relieved to escape from behind the dingy curtain, and worse, the aura he cast on me that I was already guilty. "Sorry you had to the chair for me, Sir," I say. I'm surprised at myself for calling a guy just a couple of years older than me, or possibly younger than me, "Sir." He seems to eat up the faux respect. "I'll just talk it over with my boss." I tell him.

"You do that. I guarantee he will not be happy!" he decides.

I do not tell him that my boss is a woman. I do not tell him that this test is so that I can continue to VOLUNTEER my time to people, many who are sick, and some who are dying. I nod, head low like the teenager in the lobby, resigned to his small world of doom, scowls and crookery.

I walk down the hall with over-trafficked carpeting near the doorways. Places where people walk especially fast, to get away from the evidence they have left behind. Especially if they may wonder how they might handle, if they suspect they have something to worry about, whatever is ahead of them. Namely the truth.

Fortunately I'm not one of those people. I'm just a girl who cannot pee on demand.

The man in the labcoat is walking behind me. "So what's your novel about?" he asks.

"Oh, It's about trailer parks, rockstars, drugs," I say.

His eyes sharpen. "I see," he says.

I tell him that it's not autobiographical or anything. It's fiction. He hands me a piece of paper. "Don't come back until you have new paperwork," he says. "Exit on your left."

Driving home, thinking about nothing at all, I feel uncomfortable with the five gallons of water I downed earlier. I pull over at a Borders Bookstore, and wait in the automatic ladies room line. I'm certain that's why our life expectancies expand another seven years-to compensate for the time we spend waiting to go to the bathroom.

When I see my boss, I explain to her what happened. She laughs a little as she opens a file cabinet stacked full of the paperwork that once seemed so exclusive.

"Don't worry about it, Jaynel" she tells me, "It's really no big deal."