Monday, November 05, 2007

First Week at The Oakland Grotto

Today I went to my office in Oakland and finished out a week of isolated writing. The Grotto is a writers’ collective, and it’s expanded. I’ve been fortunate enough to land a sublet.

My novel is about rockstars and drugs and strippers and trailer trash and pimps and whores and elderly social security scamming drug mules. It’s about gun-toting, motorcycle revving insanity and it’s making me half crazy. The paradox is this: I’ve never taken drugs (besides prescribed) so I’m not familiar with the world of huffing, snorting, chopping, shooting, blowing or anywhere else your imagination can go. (Injecting your cock, check. Morphine suppositories, check.) I’ve been reading up on my Moteley Crue and other notorious rockstars and drug addicts. It’s sickening. I have a few rock star friends. I recently asked a few of them to tell me about their experiences and was shocked at what they told me about the sneakiness of it all. The up and up of the prescription drug addictions, and the nicknames for street drugs.

So imagine you’re me. You are, for some reason (maybe it’s an unresolved past life, a unspent teenage rebellion, the fact that I was raised Catholic) obsessed with drugs, but you are scared as fuck to ever take any. So all you do is write about them. It throws the “write about what you know” theory out the window. Now imagine you’ve cooped yourself up in an office, reading about habits, and paranoia, paraphernalia and strippers for hours on end. It’s fourth grade reading by glam rock stars who only have a quarter of their brain cells, but you have a feeling that a personal “informational interview” (although it could be arranged) would involve a mirror and a razor blade. Now imagine you’re thirsty. And you know there’s water downstairs, next to Mary Roach's (author of "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers") office, which may or may not be open.

If you have tea, you will have to pass her office. This will surely elicit a hello, and some type of friendly banter. You crave human conversation, but yesterday’s exchange was about cadavers and rotting flesh, so you don’t know if you can stomach another rendevous (you’re kind of sick to your stomach since reading about “bumping rails” off of a stripper’s ass). You walk downstairs and the door is open. You are wearing heels and they announce your entrance. It’s likely you have been heard. Great! Now you are paranoid! You don’t want to seem anti-social, so you head toward the microwave. (Never leave a microwave in a rockstars’ motel room, by the way, it will be used to cook crack-cocaine.) You’ve been so wrapped around your novel about DRUGS and SEX and ROCK and ROLL that you can’t figure out how to run the microwave. Yes, the microwave oven, that thing that’s been around since 1984.

You stand in front of the microwave that won't open. You start to freak out a little bit, and Mary appears, smiling, and asks about what you’re working on. You say, “I’m working on this story about these two characters born in poverty and drugs and they end up in rock and roll.” It sounds so low concept you may as well have told her you were working on a child's picture book. She smiles, supportive. She tells you about a celebrity event she’ll be attending. It’s a Zen event that she also attended last year, but this year she’ll be the celebrity guest speaker. She uses that word: Celebrity. You feel like a retard because you realize that you can’t get the microwave door open, and she tells you to pull on it and you do, but it still doesn’t open. So she pulls on it, and it opens. Of course. Celebrities!

Your tea is hot and your hands are burning. Seriously. You are getting third degree burns listening to her talk about this Zen event she will be attending later on for terminally ill senior citizens. You realize that you are smiling and she is talking about terminally ill patients. Terminally Ill! Smiling! (See Microwave Instruction Manual.)

She is such a lovely person, and her writing is so good. You have made a fool of yourself with the talk of sex and drugs and rock and roll, not to mention the stupid faces while she spoke of the terminally ill and then there was the fact that the microwave didn’t compute in seconds but gave a menu like “SOUP” or “PIZZA.” Well, what about “TEA while a CELEBRITY is STANDING NEARBY?” Didn’t think of that Mr. Toshiba Man?

Turns out you’re not done saying stupid things. If you knew this, you would have quit while you were ahead with the third degree burns on three of your fingers and a thumb. She asks you what rockstars you know, and you tell her. You think this will redeem you. You end up sounding like a name-dropper. Then she says, ‘Oh, my husband loves her!” and nod and say, “She’s great.” She asks how you know her, and you say that she has some of your art. You explain the heartwork movement but it just sounds new-agey and weird. And to top it all off, you can’t think or talk clearly because you’ve been isolated like a monk for seven hours in an office that kind of smells like mold and car exhaust, reading books about drugs. She asks you how old Rockstar is, and you say, about 50, I think. Then you talk about being on tour and say, “It would be really hard to be around a bunch of cokeheads, especially if you were going through menopause.”

She agrees, and you can hardly believe what has just come out of your mouth. Were you just talking about your Rockstar friend and Menopause? WTF? You decide it’s time to make a getaway, so you politely do.

You throw the tea away because it’s burning your fingers. You go to the bathroom and run your hand under cold water and can barely look at yourself in the mirror. But when you do, you mouth the words ROCKSTAR? MENOPAUSE? WTF?

You sit at your desk and you can’t get it out of your head. It reverberates in your brain because of the silence, it’s all you got going on. Your stupidty, her kindness. You decide to shine on and punch out the pages, and you do, getting back with the people who accept you as you are, like a three-legged puppy— your characters—the boozers and losers, the rockstars and derelicts. You leave the celebrities and terminally ill to people who know how to operate a microwave oven, in the real world.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

I'm a Yoga Dropout

Renee and I walked to yoga today at the rock climbing gym. There's hills out here. The last thing I wanted to do after hiking to the gym was the downward dog.

Yoga hurts. Don't let them lie to you through the smoke and incense. Joints snap, tendons burn. I felt like a retard because I couldn't pretzel my leg behind my back while looking to the sky. Don't carnie rats get PAID to do this for a crowd?

In yoga, it's hard to know when the class will actually...end. There's no marker, like a set of jumping jacks, where you say, alright halfway done. It's just stretching, then more stretching. It sounds cheesy, I hear that yoga makes you more connected to your body. (I dated a guy who said he didn't cry when his mother died, but he once broke down in a yoga class.)

On the walk home, I thought maybe if I watched really sad movies while doing the child pose or hanging out on my yoga ball, it might be the same thing.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


I was once told by my Creative Director in New York: "Being a writer is not an easy life. It takes thick skin." I had asked for her feedback on an ad campaign I wrote for the Museum of Sex in Manhattan. She had told me the ways that it failed, and my disappointment must have showed.

I remember her big office in the sky with two corner windows, the way that people and cars looked like mechanical grids below. I remember feeling about as small as the ant-people below after getting her reaction. Maybe I've mentioned in a posting before but this interaction in particular stewed in me as I was spit out on the streets of Madison Avenue, feeling unworthy. I had wanted to impress my boss with my wit and muscled sentences. I was 23, maybe 24, newly graduated, and thought everyone would be dazzled by my words. I wasn't one of those people who thought she might kind of wish to be a Copywriter. I was a Copywriter who could turn any phrase on it's side, draw on pop references in a split second, create compelling brands. Or so I thought. On the subway to Brooklyn, I was sweaty from the summer humidity and miserable. This was punctuated by the sounds of clanging and screetching in the tunnels, the rickety cars held together with cable and steel, but seeming like they could come undone, just like me.

At my apartment, I decided to call my college Journalism professor, Ann Maxwell. Her steady advice had gotten me through the rough patches. This was before cell phones were prevalent, and long distance calls were a big deal. I went to the bodega on the corner and bought a "calling card" from a Puerto Rican pock-faced man, who checked me out in the creepiest way when I approached the counter.

I spoke for a long time to my Professor about my meeting. I described how hard it was living in Brooklyn, and how things were happening fast, but not fast enough for me. I was on a "career track" in advertising and felt after six short months, I wasn't meeting my milestones. My professor listened carefully for awhile, then paused. "Well," she said. "I guess you have to ask yourself something."

"What's that?" I asked, eagerly.

" 'Am I willing to be a beginner?' " she said. "You have to ask yourself if you're willing to start again each day with a beginner mind. You have to pace yourself to be open. Because this is the important stage. Right now. Being a beginner."

That was the most solid advice I'd ever recieved. She was right, I was so concentrated on the next step that I wasn't focused on the work in front of me. I looked at my Museum of Sex ad. I could see with fresh eyes that it really did suck. I wrote twelve new ads and produced four of them.

Now, here in Iowa City, I have to be in the spirit of giving and recieving feedback. It's a generosity that can be a challenge for some writers, but I feel like the next draft and the next can only improve. Even so, the truth hurts. I sat in Java House today, punching out a new story, when one of my classmates voices made me look up from my computer. "Hey, I didn't see you," she said.

I was "in it" and didn't notice her either. "How ironic. I'm reading your work now," she said.

This scared me because she was hands down the most critical of the writers in my workshop. Just yesterday she told a writer up for workshop, "There's no story in this work." or "I wanted to like these characters." or "I looked for the plot." I was essentially scared of this innocent, curly haired Midwesterner. She waxed philisophical about classic writers and stretched her hands behind her head to display her hairy armpits, giving her credibility somehow.

There was an uncomfortable pause, because I had work to do and didn't know what to say to her. She spoke first: "How do you spell 'awkward'?" she asked.

"A-W-K-W-A-R-D. Awkward," I said like a Spelling Bee finalist.

"Oh. Okay," she said, nose down. I went back to my work, looking up at times to note her fierce underlinings on my manuscript. That's when it hit me.

"Did I just spell awkward for you so that you could write that on my manuscript?" I asked.

"Yeah," she said with non-challance. "Is that okay?" she asked me like it didn't matter, I had no choice.

I inhaled and nodded, biting the inside of my mouth accidentally. She went back to her critique and I went back to mine. "Are you willing to be a beginner?" jumped in my mind, like God herself whispering in my ear.

"Yes," I told her, even though she wasn't listening.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Dorm Living At The Ritz Carlton

A few months ago, while arranging my visit to Iowa City, I searched for an apartment. Last year I rented a quaint attic-like apartment for a month. It was, cozy. One of the women from the Nonfiction Writing Program had left on assignment to Chile for the summer.

Being from San Francisco, we don't really do air-conditioning. We leave doors open and get a breeze. So I suppose having the air-conditioner on with the windows open wasn't the right move. My apartment could be hot as hell. It was cute, but I never wanted to be there. So this year, when I craigslisted an apartment sublet, I hoped for the best but didn't expect much.

A sophmore at University of Iowa wrote to me and said he was going to Italy for the summer, and was subletting his apartment. "It's high security," he told me. "You have to be a student to live here." How did that translate? Dormotory.

Since he had already left for the Italian Riviera, I met up with one of his friends to get the key. I had already been through a day of driving, a day of classes, and was facing a hundred pages of homework. A girl named Angel with a heavy Chicagan accent looked at me tenatively, asked my name and then proceeded to give me directions. Angel looked Filipina, and wore a coral dress with a Juicy belt wrapped around her chest. Her makeup was flawless, I remember that. I figured she was going out.

The key itself was a wide piece of plastic attached to a small metal chip. "This will get you in everywhere," she said. Everywhere as in the basement laundryroom, I had supposed. The apartment was located on the outer rim of Iowa City, and it was built so recently it didn't show up on Google Maps. I learned this the hard way.

Tired, and just wanting to sleep, I became lost. I was looking for a pentitenturary looking place, made of bricks and cement and possibly gated with steel wire. When I finally took what I thought was a wrong turn, curving up a long road to an upscale resort, it hit me. This was the place. This "resort" was where my apartment for the summer would be.

About ten nineteen and twenty year olds crowded around a Costco sized BBQ pit at the front entrance. Some of the women half clad in bikinis because there was a hot tub beside it. This was the entrance to one of the buildings. Men laughed hard and drank beer and the smell of marinated things waffed through the air. I asked where Building 2 was, and one of the women in a baseball cap said, "We're going that way."

The entrance opened up to a large stone fireplace that reached the skylight. It was in the center of the building, with mahaghanny chairs and tables around it. Plants and large works of modern art peppered the walls and mantle. My apartment itself had (what looked like) brand new modern couches, and a TV larger than the one I have at home with instructions for Tivo. My room has a closet the size of my bedroom in California. I was too tired to check out the kitchen, but it was more of the same.

For my first night, I fetched minimal needs until I could really unpack. I walked past three guys on my floor playing pool, hunched over the red felt. They looked up in unison, and I put my head down. I walked around the other side, though it was longer, to get back to my apartment. Something about the realization that I was possibly 10 years older than them, that they might ask me to join them really spooked me.

The only unsophisticated thing about my new digs was my bed. I considered at first that it might be an actual box spring. It was that hard. Laying on this cardboard-like slat, I tossed and turned, unable to shake that I would possibly be the oldest person in this College Co-ed haven. I calculated all the benefits of being older. I use 700 count sheets, have a nicer car (or have a car at all), have worked in large cities and lived in a ski resort town. This did not comfort me. I looked in the mirror, examined one side of my forehead and wondered if I needed Botox already. I stretched the corners of my eyes to rid my imaginary wrinkles.

I decided to watch TV to bore myself to sleep. The name, "Mark Ruffalo" appeared as I clicked on the television. I love Mark Ruffalo, so I kept it there. The movie was "Rumor has it..." Jennifer Aniston's narrative explained that her family was quite possibly the source of the book and movie "The Graduate" and that "Mrs. Robinson" was her grandmother. Really though? This is what I get? The only movie worth watching is interwoven with tales of The Graduate?

I woke up the next day and walked through the quiet halls to the parking lot. Even though it's summer, these hot young guys seem to be everywhere. I mean, really though? At 8 am? Isn't that why people go to college, to sleep in until noon? Again, head down, I passed a guy with a deep tan, wrinkled t-shirt and a baseball hat.

"You from California?" he said, eyeing my license plate.

I unlocked my car with my key fob, something I rarely do. It whirled out it's two tone security sound, which embarrassed me a little because to his crappy used Ford, I'm sure it seemed flashy.

"Yeah, I guess so," I said, stupidly. How can someone "guess" they are from someplace?

"Cool," he said. "Nice car."

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Hammer Time!

Adam and I went to the Giants Yankee game on Sunday. We had great seats and we won! As we left, Adam goes, "I think MC Hammer just walked by." I saw a guy in a white shirt and silver cross around his neck. He was surrounded by a family type posse. I walked up to one of them (not one to miss a celebrity sighting) and said, "Excuse me, I feel like I know (pointed at Hammer) somehow." The guy who is holding a baby said, "That's my Dad."

Adam insisted he was 100% sure it was Hammer. After that, Hammer said, "Yeah. You probably right. You probably right." Then he turned to pose with me for the picture. As Adam snapped the flash, I could hear people all around me saying, "HAMMER! I knew it was you, man!"

I felt bad for outing him, but thought you should know: "Can't Touch This!" is a myth.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Little Blue Saab, Baby U're Much 2 Fast

Last night we went to my old neighborhood in Russian Hill. The Red Devil Lounge is a two level bar that plays rock concerts for usually formerly known rock stars, or musicians you're just as likely to see on Celebrity Fit Club. Since I know the city best, I directed Leanne up through the Tenderloin, past Nob Hill to Polk Street. After a couple of blocks, Leanne wanted to park the car in a garage. She has self-admitted "parallel parking" issues. Not to toot my own horn, but I'm a parallel parking master. That's what living in San Francisco, navigating your parking brake on a hill while rolling into the parked car beneath you will do.

I also believe in parking karma. I call it Parkma. I was feeling the parkma last night, so Leanne and I Chinese-firedrilled it so that I could get us a parking spot. About four blocks later, just past the parking garage, a wide open space. And the parking? I should offer parallel parking lessons to teenagers.

We ate some decent Pad Thai and some kinda scary Curry Chicken at a restaurant I hadn't seen before. (Thai Spice?) Anyhow, it wasn't as good as Lemongrass, but we would have had to walk six blocks, and I was vetoed by the Leanne's. (Leanne's friend Leanne was with us...) We stopped off at the Red Devil Lounge and saw Pop Rocks, a cover band that was dressed in country outfits with large foam cowboy hats. This getup was misleading, because Pop Rocks plays covers from the 80's and 90's. We got a prime spot on the top level, which was great, except it's sort of isolated (and the floor shakes, which is a little scary).

Two drinks in, we were rocking out with the rest of the crowd. The lead singer often let the audience sing entire sections of songs. As previously mentioned in other posts...I have and even worst voice than American Idol's WIlliam Hung. But, surrounded by other enthusiastic bad singers, I fit right in. You haven't really lived until you've seen (and heard) and entire concert crowd rock out to Journey. Guys were air guitaring and then air guitaring each other's air guitars. These people were seriously into it. Even the air guitaring dude (Tiger Claw) made an appearance. He was wearing an Incredible Hulk shirt, a terrifying version of just the Hulk's eyes, teeth and clenched fists. You know how I feel about the Hulk...

While I lived in New York, my friend and I went to a karaoke bar. I really hate karaoke--doing it, hearing it, watching the karaoke "professionals." I got the bright idea that we should sing "Little Red Corvette" by Prince. We did. It was awful, or better known as "let's go outside for a cigarette" time for the regulars. This isn't the first time this happened to me. When I was 22, I went on a cruise to Alaska with my sister and my mother. I signed my sister and I up for "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." We evacuated an entire room, leaving my mother sitting there clapping enthusiastically. "That's a really tough song," she would tell us as the DJ took out his foam earplugs. That Cyndi Lauper is no joke. The year previously, in college, my roommate Amy and I sang "Sugar Pie Honey Bunch." We were too drunk to understand how bad we were...We actually thought we were the stuff of legends until we realized that the DJ had turned off our mics.

So public singing is not my thing. But screaming cheesy 80's music with other karaokaphobs, apparently is. I sang Little Red Corvette, realizing that "Little Blue Saab" doesn't have the same ring to it. But since everyone was tone deaf with the sound of their own voices, I improvized.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Countdown to Iowa City

I'll be writing/studying in Iowa City again this summer. Tonight I was looking at some old manuscripts and seeing how transformed they are from last year this time. It's hard to recognize the progress of something until you look at it on paper.

My classes are geared toward short story craft instead of novel, like the one I took spring semester at Stanford. Short stories tend to come easily to me, and if I can find time, I am inspired to write a couple of new stories to have workshopped for class in Iowa City. Writing short fiction is a very specific exercise which develops (for me) the writing muscle by reminding me about timing, minimalism, and plot. Surprisingly, I have developed more as a writer because of my advertising experience as a copywriter. Every project becomes an exercise into distilling a product into one compelling strategic message. I find when I have only seven words to say what I really want to say, I edit out the words that are not absolutely necessary and meaningful. This practice into the ecomony of words has served me as a writer.

The weather here has been unseasonably hot, and I am particularly sensitive to heat. I take cold showers and drench my head in cold water, although the only thing that seems to make me comfortable is being in the lower half of the house (my room) where it is cold. Suffering through the winter cold has it's summertime perks, but I won't be here to enjoy it since I'm leaving for Iowa in July.

Adam is flying out here in a week. He's never been to San Francisco, so I feel some pressure to show him everything--my city is so fantastic! I have come to peace with there is no way to show him everything, we will be so exhausted we wouldn't enjoy it. But there are a few key things and places no visitor should go without seeing. Namely, the annual PRIDE Parade. It's the most colorful display of gayness anyone could ever want to see, and an institution of San Francisco. That happens the morning of the Giants/Yankees game, so we'll have to start there. (Incidentally, I am told by my roommates that Giants Singles Game is also on Saturday. So they'll be in the singles bleachers while I'm in Right/Centerfield catching Barry Bonds #756.)

If you live in San Francisco, you should post your favorite place to go in the city. You can post anonymously, so no one has to know that you're really into doggie fashion shows in Nob Hill, or transvestite BINGO (called ba da bingo! not that I would know) in the Castro.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Your Fears are Probably Just as Fictional as Mine

Today Leanne and I took the convertible over the Golden Gate Bridge to San Rafael. We went to an Italian Street Painting Festival. In Italy, I recall the chalk art as large, 3D, unearthly creations by hunched over Italians, only looking up to yell for an espresso. Because that's how they roll in Florence.

I don't know what I expected to see when I sipped on my Italian beer and watched pretentious artists walk around with black chalk on their faces like they were taking on an Ash Wednesday mass-going maration. But I will tell you what I did not expect to see: a snake. A real, live, fat, snarly-eyed snake! Noooo sireeee.

It's a running joke among friends (and legend among the San Francisco comedy scene) that the only thing that scares me more than snakes, is the Incredible Hulk. Yes, the fully fictional, sometimes animated action "hero." This very deep and real fear of the Hulk made me cringe at bus advertisements and billboards that lorded over my apartment in the city. And just when I'd thought that he'd gone away since the torturous four-year season in the late seventies, he reappeared some twenty five years later bigger and weirder than ever.

In 1978, when The Incredible Hulk television series aired, I was barely four years old, and just starting pre-school. Looking back, this was probably the age where I started to negotiate what feelings were to other people on a basic level (smile=happy, crying=sad, etc). I lived one of the most northern parts of Washington State, and because cable pretty much didn't exist in certain areas, we got only Canadian channels. This means, depending which way the tinfoil bent, we got all the crappy Canadian networks (CBC) and commercials (Zed's, anyone?). Since I grew up on a farm and spent a lot of time with my sister, we didn't really spend much time with the television, so my imagination filled in the gaps for much of what I could not understand. I assumed that everything around me was real: plants, animals, parents. So for television to tell me that a man could turn into the hulk because he was exposed to too much sun and scientist chemicals, did not compute.

It was also during this time that my father worked at a cement plant. It was a scary, dirty place with punched out windows that filtered shifts of men with grey lunchboxes through a side door. Smoke churned out the top, and industrial sounds reverberated from it's shaky sides. My Dad worked really hard there as a welder. He showed us big fire pit ovens of spitting sparks as he approached with his shovel and welders mask. He wore white t-shirts under a dark blue uniform covered in soot. It was a factory for nearly heroic people who could manage something as fluid as fire. That's what I thought then.

When the Hulk aired, I could only absorb what I saw: a man in a lab mixing things, getting struck by "rays" and becoming superpowerful when he became angry. The Hulk wore white t-shirts like my Dad and was exposed to a lot of light, so why didn't my Dad turn into the Hulk when he got mad? This kept me up many a four-year old night. I asked my Mom, who said, "You can't believe everything you see on television." But what about the news? That was real. What about the advertisements for real stores? My Dad said, "It's just make believe." But why would they make that up? Why not make up fun stuff, instead of scary stories about widowed men who get mad and turn green? Did all men have these powers, or just Dad's, scientists and strong guys who wore white t-shirts? I became suspicious of men everywhere, thinking they might just have some superpower that I might not know about. I kept hanging out with my Dad, waiting for him to turn into the Hulk. Of course, that would never happen.

Fortunately, in 1982, the television show went off the air. I was already on to my next big fear--snakes. I wasn't a queamish kid, either. I had witnessed calves being born, my dog Molly have her puppies, and seen pieces of a coyote carcass that the animals had gotten to in the middle of the night. But snakes were unexpected and were cropping up whenever my guard was down. They slithered out of hay bails, or around my flip flops in the garden. They whipped themselves around the sides of the barn faster than I could move away. In the summertime, Jamie (who later became James) and I rode our bikes with salt in our pockets to sprinkle on slugs. That was one of my favorite things to do. But if I saw a snake in the road, or in the fields by the creek, forget it. I was doomed.

I realize this fear is just as unreasonable as my once fear of the Hulk. Although I would never go to see The Incredible Hulk movie, I wouldn't freak out at pictures. But snakes have this awful effect on me where I can't seem to even look at a photograph. The worst is being at a movie when they appear and saying to the person next to me, "Just tell me when it's gone." Or, if David Letterman has the animal guy on with a snake I am screwed because then I can't get to sleep.

Today at the art fair, I was standing near a wall and checking out the art, and Leanne says, "Ohmigod. Did you see that lady? She's got a snake around her neck." A million thoughts raced through my head, something of a fight or flight situation was on my hands. I could feel my body stiffen, "Where?!"

"She was over there. I don't know. She's just wandering around," Leanne said.

We were talking to a rocker guy with intellectual glasses who was telling us about a local band, and I knew that this interruption was rude. "I'm sorry, I am terrified of snakes," I said. He nodded. Right then, Snake Lady walked toward us with a shiny green snake kinked over her shoulders. I felt like all the blood was flowing through my body the opposite direction with a sudden jerk. "Oh, shit!" I said, and fell back as far as I could into the brick wall. There wasn't anywhere for me to go, and I know I must have looked a fool.

"Tell me when it's gone!" I told Leanne.

There's just no way to look cool after that. Leanne could tell I wanted to get out of there. "Let's not go that way," I said, pointing into a massive crowd.

"Because there's a certain snake there?" Leanne said.

"Yeah. That kind of freaked me out," I said, and threw my plastic beer cup in recycling.

The rocker guy looked a little shook up. "Me, too," he said. "It should be illegal to carry those things around."

Let me know when you run for office. And tell me where to sign.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Filling 50-Minute Hours Since 1992

In the Fall of 2001, shortly after 9/11, I was living, writing, and painting in a Tenderloin apartment. I paid a stupid amount of money to a landlord who had some savvy marketing skills and knew how to tell a girl like me that I was "four blocks from Macy's" in "Lower Nob Hill" and that, yes, there was a concentration of stubbly faced "women" in the area. It's another time I had a terrible case of Insomnia. When 9/11 happened and I had freshly escaped the streets of New York City, all because a random psychic chased after me on a Sunday afternoon and INSISTED that I do so. She mapped out my life in a way that creeped me out. I was admittedly niave then, and believed in every possible sign. Now I see crazy people where signs once were.

My old job was just blocks away from the World Trade Center on Exchange Place near the World Stock Exchange. I remember going to happy hours and meeting up at bars more or less underneath the World Trade Center. I remember looking up at how totally massive that building was and feeling so small. (If you only knew how big I was at the time, you would know how funny that really is.) But seriously, sometimes when I think about 9/11, I don't think about planes or terrorists or our shitty president. I see a room of loose-tied, laughing, fresh-faced men, and smiling women with manicured fingernails carrying pints of ale to overcrowded booths. I think about how, as difficult as it all was then, it was so easy and given that there was, for all of us, at the very least, gonna be a tomorrow.

Just because I am sleep deprived it is no reason to get all depressing on you, my two cherished readers. I know for a cerifiable fact that at least two of the two of you are currently in therapy, so I will not take up any of the fifty minutes in your therapy hour. I got on the 9/11 track because I was thinking about a painting I did in the fall of 2001 about insomnia for none other than Ms. Kim Cattrall of Sex and The City fame. It was a San Francisco cityscape that I called, "San Francisco: The city that never sleeps for the girl who has insomnia." Kim (with her then husband) let out this punctuated laugh. I told her that I was dating a couple of SF weirdos, and she said, "So you're the San Francisco Samantha?" I wasn't quite sure how I felt about that, but before I could have an opinion my friend Dave overheard and it was nothing but "San Francisco Samantha" jokes and CD compilations after that. If he had the money to make personalized t-shirts for the neighborhood, I'm sure he would have done it.

And you wanna know something else? Like something else totally off subject something else, ready to lose your mind something else? Well, okay then. So guess who is going to see an American Idol LIVE concert this summer? I mean, nevermind that I have tickets to a Giants/Yankees series game and that they haven't played in San Francisco since 1962, and nevermind that I have two tickets to see Feist at the Fillmore in June and there are NO tickets available. Noooo...throw all that and everything else you know and love about the entertainment business out the window. This is American Idol, and I'm gonna see Blake Lewis beatbox, and Sanjaya Malikar get his hairdo on, and LaKisha kiss Simon on the lips, and just one time I hope I see Melinda Doolittle pretend like she is a wide-eyed deer caught in headlights, "What, me? Know how to sing?" That will really crack me up!

And you really wanna know something else? okay, well. This American Idol gig is going down in Indiana. As in Indianapolis. Territory of all things Adam. The place I'll be after school in Iowa. Like a fish out of water, wondering where the palm trees grow.

Actually I hate to admit it, but I kind of caught myself smiling over my bento box lunch with a friend today. It was pretty inappropriate being as we were talking about the breakup of her eight year relationship. But I couldn't help myself: American Idols LIVE! I couldn't shake how awesome it would be if Kelli Clarkson made an appearance. And how I should really take it down a notch and get over my unnatural excitement over these no-name, mostly no-talent singers before I come off a little nuts. (Too late.)

Since I've ruined any credibility I may have had with you, my two dear readers, I may as well blow the lid off things. I secretly kind of hope one of the perks of being a California fish in Midwestern water is that I can finallly get me some Olive Garden and no one can say anything about it.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Same Profile, Different Site

After a Memorial Day BBQ, and lounging around a pool with cosmos, Leanne, Dawn and I recovered with our favorite guilty pleasure, "E's Girls Next Door." Lately, I'm feeling especially maternal. I want a puppy, or something like it, but probably a puppy. So I've been surfing the Internet at the rescue shelters. They show quasi-messed up pups and their descriptions with their desperate little faces.

Meanwhile, on the couch one over, Leanne and Dawn are surfing for men. On that is. They give me the whole it's-better-to-have-loved-and-lost speech and I try not to throw up in my mouth.

They are tough critics, laughing at a guy who says he likes Rolling Stone..."But he spelled Rolling with one l!"; or "What an idiot! Looking for a girlfriend posing with his last one!" (A little too close to be his sister.) There's also the person who says they want someone "intellegent" and the guy who says his turn ons are power and tattoos. Um, Seriously? Because that makes me no, and no.

Dawn tries to find a guy from Israel with one key prerequisite: "I have to have a guy who takes care of his toenails." Everyone's got their dealbreakers.

The most heart-sinking, gut-churning moment comes if you see one of your exes. Especially if it's you who is cropped out of the picture. Ouch. It's an enlightening read to learn that he's really interested in all of the cool things and places you turned him on to. At least you had some influence. But it sucks to see that you were actually too short for him anyway, were the wrong religion, and had the wrong color hair. If only you had met on effing match. You could have saved yourself a few months.

But no, not me. I'm "old fashioned." I meet someone and think I see hearts and stars and unicorns. If I was smart, like my girlfriends, I would have a membership to a matching service to sort by income, religion, height, smoking section or non, how many kids wanted, divorced, separated, age, and on and on. They call this being "informed", I call this sucking the mystery out of dating.

This is why I commend my girlfriends for having the motivation to get out there (get on the net, that is). I just don't have it in me to jump on the carousel, when all I really want is to adopt a puppy. I'd rather cruise the dog rescue shelters on the Internet. The descriptions are the the same. They talk at length about their personalities, what they like to eat (beef jerky), their age, height, if they play well with children. They don't have pictures with their ex-bitches hanging off their shoulders. They don't lie about their past. They straight up tell you if they've been hurt or abandoned. They proudly advertise their flaws. They don't tell you they're perfect when they just want a home and someone kind and loyal to feed them.

I could be biased, but I find their desperate little faces a lot cuter.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Call The Number On Your Screen To Vote For Me

Today I drove to Morgan Hill to meet Annette and a couple of her girlfriends at a wine/art festival. I drove separately because I wanted take a drive in the convertible, and afterwards they were going to look at wedding venues for one of her friends. So far, this summer, I'm bridesmaid free so if I can avoid any bridesmaidly like tasks, I will. I stopped off before hitting the 101 to get my car washed. I drove up to a white line and a big red stop sign, kinda feeling like I was at the DMV, when a man who smelled like a pack of Marlboro Reds jumped in the passenger side and started vacuuming. Another kid who looked about twelve offered me car "perfume" for an extra dollar. I took a look at Smokey. That was a no brainer.

I drove a cruise-controlled 70mph, hanging out in the commuter lane with with good pavement. I have this thing I do whenever I drive alone. I arrange playlists, and CDs. I DJ up my trip in concerto with my mood and mileage. Then (usually with the top down and quite shameless) I "sing." It's not really singing, as I am tone deaf. It's more like either talking loudly, mumbling, or passionate screaming. I can imagine it's not pretty, scary even. But trust me, I cannot help myself. I've tried. I've tried to not sing as I go past car windows, or only sing when my convertible top is up. I can't do it. I just don't care enough to stop.

A couple of days ago, I was headed down the 101, singing, or whatever it is that I do, and I actually started to notice that people were slowing down and smiling (laughing?) and giving me the thumbs up. When I exited, another guy in a convertible did a full turnaround and gave one of the saddest pity grins I've ever seen. Even the cranked out homeless dude who talks to EVERYONE scooted past my car a little afraid of the bizarre pitchiness emitting from the Saab. I'm pretty sure he didn't ask me for a dollar because HE actually felt sorry for ME.

I think I officially have a problem, too. I go to great lengths to travel solo as to have time to rock out. Now, I repeat, I cannot carry a tune, not even a little bit. As a teenager, when I babysat, babies used to start crying when I would try to sing a little lullaby. I have my father to blame for this. He has the worst singing voice I've ever heard. Ever. The most embarrassing part was growing up Catholic, at church every Sunday, my Pops thought he had a magnificent voice, so he would sing LOUDER. Can you imagine? People would grab their hats and glasses and clear out right after chomping down the communion wafer just to escape my Dad's finale after Father Buckalew's "Now Go In Peace To Love and Serve The Lord." (And apparently run away from your fellow parishioners for singing as bad as a level ten fart.)

Adam and I were supposed to drive from San Francisco to Indianapolis this summer. My Stanford classes end in a couple of weeks, and my University of Iowa classes start up the first week of July. Last year I did the trek alone, but didn't know if I'd have the energy to do all that driving by myself. Adam thoughtfully offered, and it's a beautiful drive, but I considered a few things. I thought about how many days I'd be in a car with another person, but more importantly the absolute deal-breaker, how many days Adam would be in a car with my singing. Or my suppressing my singing, or some combination of the two. My terrible singing is like a bad tic. I'm pretty sure Adam would leave me at a truck stop 300 miles into the trip if I sang Kelli Clarkson songs over and over and over and well, you get how totally uncool I am?

I do listen to cool music. I just don't like to sing cool music. If Simon Cowell ever heard me, he would tell me that I should move to Berkeley start a karaoke club with William Hung. I actually hate (not too stong a word) karaoke bars. They say you don't like what reminds you of yourself...well, some of those pitchless sentimental freaks must stike a bad chord with me, because I won't even stay for a free drink at a karaoke bar. At least I don't subject others to my tone-deafness, at least not on purpose.

When I was 23, my sister, my mother and I went on an Alaskan Cruise. One night, we thought, "Karaoke sounds fun!" I had never been. I didn't know that PROFESSIONAL singers that perpetrated like innocent lil first time undiscovered Christmas Caroler types. I mean, these people had MOVES. Before we knew what we had gotten ourselves into, we had signed up to sing, "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper. Ms. Lauper hits some very high notes, which isn't something you think about when you sing in the shower, or with your girlfriends. When it was our turn, I kind of blanked out. I sort of forgot how to read. Remi had to keep it going, and when I finally jumped back in, it was so awful, that I overpowered my sister's nice singing voice, and CLEARED THE ROOM. I'm not exaggerating. My mother was the only one left at song's end, sitting there, smiling big. She clapped frantically like fifty or more people did not just exit as though they had lifevests waiting for them so they could safely jump. As if that wasn't bad enough, the DJ (whom I should add could not escape because he was in a corner behind our web of black audio wires) actually turned off our microphones.

So, even as expensive as gas is these days, or as awesome as my car looks, if I ever offer you a ride of any sort of distance, best you heed Nancy Reagan's sage advice, and Just Say No! It's not that I don't value your friendship, it's just that I've come to terms with the simple fact that I can't help myself from committing S.W.D. (Singing While Driving) and as far as addictions go, anyone who tries to stop me will probably be disappointed.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

For The Kids!

Tivo Grey's and join Renee, Annette and I at One Brick's Happy Hour around 7pm on Thursday at JayBee on 20th in the Mission. Afterwards we're going to The Guardsmen 4th Annual Bachelor Auction to watch money buy some A-Listers some love. Or at least to see who Gavin Newsom will blame his recovering-alcoholic womanizing ways on next. The Guardsmen will be auctioning off 20 of San Francisco's Most Eligible Bachelors for Bay Area disadvantaged youth (and possibly a few disadvantaged single women).

Ruby Skye
420 Mason Street
San Francisco, CA

Tickets $25
Complimentary Cosmos 7 - 8:30 pm.
Event goes from 7:00 PM - 2:00 AM.
DJ and dancing after the auction.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut: A Literary Legend is Dead

Kurt Vonnegut died last Wednesday at 84, several weeks after suffering a fall. To me, Vonnegut was a guy who wrote Slaughterhouse Five. In recent years he stood against America using war as a leadership tactic and wrote columns collected in a book, A Man Without A Country: A Memoir of Life in George W Bush's America. He was a guy who went to the famed Iowa Writers' Workshop, lived on the east coast, but called Indianapolis home. He was a brilliant writer, and the saddest of these iconic goodbyes is that, unless discovered under a mattress, there's no hope of another manuscript.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

I Love My Mechanic!

My convertible hood was sticking. With my past experiences in paying, I don't know, roughly 600% more than I should have, going to a mechanic rivaled getting a bikini wax. Even so, I knew I couldn't manually open the cover by myself. I went to a garage that had cleaner floors than a hospital operating room; I couldn't watch while the mechanic manhandled the cover.

Today my mechanic showed me a broken piece the size of an ant, choosing to fix it instead of replacing a $3,000 motor. I can't be sure, but while he explained this to me, there appeared to be a glowing halo around his head while a cello and flute concerto whispered in my ear.

I'm Pretty Sure the Sky is Not Blue

Let's just get this party started by letting you know that I looked like a turquoise marshmallow.

The earrings matched the scarf, which was held together with a vintage fake diamond pin. Couple this with a white t-shirt, a pair of jeans and a Hello Kitty bandaid, and it's almost like I never left middle school. Until I threw that turquoise down Michelin Man vest over it all.

We went to see Lorrie Moore read her not yet published stories at St. Mary's College in Moraga. She read with the finesse of a great storyteller, even singing when it was called for by the character. I was encouraged as she said she is often inspired by the imagery of her dreams. I've thought through many short stories or plot twists through the sharp and sometimes upsetting visuals of my dreams. I think this is how the story works itself out if this is how it comes.

Driving to Moraga, the convertible opened to the big beautiful sky with clouds of pink and orange. My sight isn't perfect, but I'm guessing the sky was really pink. Unlike the puffy vest, which was blue in natural light and turquoise under fluorescent.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Jedi Mind Trick

Tonight I go to the bookstore to pick up Cathy Day's book, The Circus in Winter. I'm not sure what to do about funding, but I'm considering University of Pittsburgh's admission to their fiction workshop this fall.

A little fat man in an apron with a long white beard approaches me. "Speak and I will answer thee," he says.

I'm not even sure if he's an employee until I see his black and white lanyard around his neck that says WIZARD. I tell him that I'm looking for a Cathy Day book. I tell him I'm looking for a Chuck Kinder book, too. He corrects my pronunciation and simultaneously schools me on the origins of German namesake heritages. "Okay," I say. "Kinder." (Keen-der) I sound like I have a Scottish and Canadian accent mix, but I roll with it. I repeat Kinder's name four times. Kinder? No, Kinder. Kinder? I get the impression this man (read: lawn troll) will not help me unless I pronounce Kinder's name correctly.

He stands behind the screen of his PC relic. "Ahh yes! The Honeymooners! As in ritual of wedded beings," he beams. He is waving his hand in front of me, clogged with tarnished silver rings featuring snakes and witchcraft symbols on them. He sticks his ring finger out. His chubby fingers can hardly pry themselves apart from each other, like they would need to take yoga lessons to regain flexibility. His ring finger has a silver ring with a sculpture of a bat, but I can't be sure. "C'mon," he tells me, "I'm a psychic Wicca. Let's take a little hike."

I don't know what that means, but it's a Monday night and I've got nothing on the books. I follow him, and he turns around to say, "Don't get creeped out. I'm a Wicca. We're the good guys."

"You're just taking me to get a book, right?" I ask, looking around for other employees. There are none.

"Oh, yes," he stops, stares at the bookshelf, closes his eyes and points his finger in a slow circular motion. I live in San Francisco and have seen everything, but this is serious entertainment. He finds the book as if by magic. "I sensed its vibration," he tells me. We found Cathy Day's book first. "Ahh, The Circus in Winter. Does this look familiar?" he asks.

Of course, it doesn't, as I am not a psychic and have not yet read it. "The Circus in Winter?" I grab the book. "I actually don't know about it. Do you?" I'm being polite, but I realize later that since he belongs in the circus in winter, it might come off like I'm a smartass.

"Well, thanks," I say. And then just because I'm curious, "Is your name really Wizard?"

"Oh, yes!" he says, adjusting his smudged glasses. "I'm a Jedi Knight of the Wiccas. We're the good guys. Don't get creeped out."

I'm not creeped out, just intrigued. He is the smallest full grown Jedi I can imagine.

"You know what a Jedi Knight is, don't you," he asks.

"Of course," I say, "Sort of. Actually, I don't have a clue." There's no fooling a psychic.

A grumpy lady clad in Laura Ashley passes us--his manager--and he says something to her about it being a nice night. She smiles at him, half centered and shy, and I feel like I just saw something take place I wasn't supposed to. Now I feel creeped out.

"Yes, well, you see that door shield armour?" he asks.

"You mean the alarm?" I ask.

He nods, and glances sideways. I can tell that he's multi-tasking the explanation of the Jedi Knight with his Wizard Charmery on the Manager. "The Jedi Knight always has one of those to fight evil, and if you are a Wicca, then you stand for all that is good," he says.

I'm still a little unclear about if he believes he has an invisible bookstore alarm with him at all times, and who exactly he considers evil, but I decide to just buy the book. When he rings me up, he says, "Don't worry. I can't get fired. On the basis we are discussing my religion."

That thought never crossed my mind. I grab my book and reach out my hand. "It was nice to meet you, Wizard. I don't know anyone in the Jedi Knight industry."

He smiles and I exit through alarms I will never look at quite the same again. In the fall, if I go to Pittsburgh, I sincerely hope I pronounce Professor Kinder's name correctly. I'd come off like a freak on my first day if I tried to explain that a Wizard told me to pronounce it wrong.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Holy Hammock!

I had a flashback combination a-ha moment today. It made me laugh.

When I was in the third or fourth grade, I was huge. Baby fat for ten year olds, I suppose. Anyhow, my father came home from work with a hammock for the backyard. We tied it up to two plum trees. I was the first one in my family to give the new hammock its inaugural whirl.

I was so excited I hopped right in and my sister swung me as high as she could. Looking back, I was probably a safety warning illustration waiting to happen. But I remember it being really, really fun.


I fell through the hammock. It hurt, and I got grass stains on my big elastic waist banded polyester pants. But I got up and the whole family stared at the big hole in an otherwise bleach white hammock. I was bewildered, having flown a bit from my cheap seat carnival ride, so I asked no questions when my Dad said, "Get in the truck. We're taking this thing back!"

Before the massive takeover of chain stores, returning merchandise wasn't easy. Nowadays, a giraffe could return a used toothbrush to Target two and a half years later without a receipt and no one would bat an eyelash. No siree. This was 1984. You had to give receipts, reasons, and talk to managers. If managers weren't around, tough luck. You had to come back the next day. This was "Jafco." Bellis Fair Mall has cemented over what used to be Jafco-- one of Bellingham's fanciest "everything" type stores. (Think Bed Bath and Beyond meets Good Guys.)

My parents told my sister and I to go play while they straightened out the hammock situation. I'm pretty sure my sister was there, anyway. My sister and I were so close in age; it was like having a soundtrack playing. I can't ever remember her not being around.

The "exchange" took only a few minutes. My Dad pointed at me a couple of times. I can only imagine what the cashier thought when I wandered in, grass-stained and muddied, with a broken hammock that my Fat Ass clearly broke. Besides the pointing and sympathetic half-smiles, I have no idea what my Dad told the saleslady, but it worked.

Whatever happened, it honestly did not occur to me until tonight, over twenty years later, that my weight had any part in the hammock debacle. My parents orchestrated that whole exchange, without blaming my weight, during such a formidable time. Perhaps the impact was I never thought anything was wrong with me, or that I needed to change or be different.

That little memory was a hilarious jolt into a time I don't think about often. But it's these bittersweet details that are the foundation of why I see the glass half full and rising. They're the reason, when I was ready; the "baby fat" came off so easily. Because I'd gotten the message. Nothing was wrong. It was unnecessary to escape myself or be upset with the before.

Monday, February 26, 2007

I'd like to thank the Academy...

A couple of months ago, I was thinking about my favorite creative nonfiction authors. David Sedaris, Steve Almond, Sarah Vowell, Pam Houston, to name a few. I applied to a conference in Minnesota--at Bemidji State University. They accept around ten people every summer in each genre, so I thought I'd give it a shot.

I sent off a piece of creative nonfiction, called "Mr. Hollywood Diet." It was about meeting someone with statuesque good looks at a party who was once an ex fat-kid just like me. A number of factors went into the demise what could have been between me an Mr. Hollywood Diet. It was Laundry Day, I fell down and my face was bleeding a tad, and there was the part when he told me (two hours later) he "kind of" had a girlfriend. (The rat!)

Upon submitting my story, there was a space to put a cover letter of some sort. After agonizing the past few months over personal statements and getting to know way too much about myself, I just can't take "talking up" another second of myself. Seriously. Enough already. I just want the writing to speak for itself. Plus, the battery on my computer said 0:02, threatening to erase my story out if I didn't just send it.

So I ended up writing something like: "Hello. I'm applying to be one of the writers for your creative nonfiction workshop with Steve Almond. I'm submitting the story "Mr. Hollywood Diet" which I wrote awhile ago and realize makes me seem like a huge loser. I wish I could tell you that has changed. Look forward to hearing from you soon."

Then my screen went black, leaving me to wonder if my submission had actually gone through. Until I received an acceptance letter by mail a few days ago to study in Steve Almond's creative nonfiction workshop.

So friends I'm headed out to Bemijdi, MN in mid June. And thank you, Mr. Hollywood Diet wherever you are, for leaving me with a broken heel and bloody chin on the corner of Haight and Ashbury, The Streets of Love. I just knew you'd be good for something.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

826 Valencia: You Could be a Writer! (Or a Pirate.)

Lately, I've been really excited about my volunteer work at 826 Valencia, San Francisco's inner city writing program. We tutor students after school. They have workshops like converting poetry to song lyrics, podcasting, writing autobiographies, writing about art, and writing short stories. Students K-12 complete quarterly lit mags. Famous local authors line the walls with their marked-up manuscripts to illustrate that perfection doesn't happen the first try. 826 is the brainchild of author Dave Eggers, and features a pirate shop in its storefront, complete with fake eyeballs and eye patches. So if you're interested in being a writer, a volunteer, or just an ordinary run of the mill pirate, click here.

Friday, February 23, 2007

You Might As Well Jump

As most of my friends know, I applied to a few grad schools. Well, ten. Why so many? Because the programs I chose were so highly selective, they only accept 2-25 people out of anywhere from 300-800 applications. Even though it's too early for notifications from most schools, I got some good news on Tuesday.

The University of Pittsburgh admits 7 fiction writers, and so you can imagine how happy I was when they emailed this acceptance letter:

Dear Ms. Attolini,

The MFA Admissions Committee has concluded its consideration of applications, and I am delighted to report that we will be nominating you to the Graduate Dean for admission to the MFA program. The Admissions Committee was extremely impressed with both your creative and your academic work to date, and we sincerely hope that you will choose to continue that work here at Pitt.

If you have any general questions about graduate studies here at Pitt, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me. For questions specifically about the Writing Program, I’d like to refer you to its director, Professor Chuck Kinder.

Please do keep me posted about developments on your end. Meanwhile, let me say how eager we all are for you to join us here at Pitt in the fall!

Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies
Department of English
University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, PA 15260

I was in a cafe and hadn't checked my email all day, even though it was sent at 10:30am. I think I may have screamed or laughed or maybe some strange combination of the two. Two elderly men were sitting beside me. I packed up my laptop and books to find my friends and celebrate. "Hey!" one of the guys yelled after me. "You forgot your coffee."

"Thanks," I said. "But I don't need it. I'm going to get a drink."

This is the first school that has gotten back to me, and I'm hoping that's a good omen for receiving an acceptance to the others. For now, I'm thrilled. A couple of months ago, I made an "Acceptance CD." I went to Costco and stocked the fridge with wine and champaigne. I've instructed my roommates that we will rock out and party when I am accepted. I've turned our refridgerator into a fallout shelter. Around here, we're prepared for the best.

Tonight the UPS guy brought an envelope. It wasn't for me, but my roommate said, "Maybe they're overnighting your letter!"

I had to laugh. Maybe the vibe is a little too positive around here. We never speak the "R word." I'm not sure if my roommates--all scientists--know just how fiercely competitive these programs are. "Yep," I said. "Tomorrow they're gonna send flowers."

Even though I have a dozen other things to say, I'll write again soon. I think it's only fair, in celebration of Pittsburgh's invitation, that I share my "Acceptance CD" playlist.

1. Hell Yes-Beck
2. Not Too Soon-Throwing Muses
3. Under Pressure-David Bowie
4. Le Disko-Shiny Toy Guns
5. Lazy Eye-Silverspun Pickups
6. Love Me or Hate Me- Lady Sovereign
7. Icy Blue-7 Year Bitch
8. Upside Down-Jack Johnson
9. Good Times Gonna Come- Aqualung
10. Five Star Day- Aqueduct
11. Hey Ma- Cam'ron
12.#1 Da Woman- Tricky
13. London Bridges- Fergie
14. Jump-Van Halen

It's cool if you wanna rock out a little. Nobody's watching...

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Forgotten Class

As a volunteer for One Brick, I had the privilege to serve the homeless at Glide Memorial today. Glide soup kitchen is in the heart of San Francisco's notorious Tenderloin District, and as I had the chance to experience today, is the heart of the Tenderloin.

The volunteers rotated responsibilities. I collected tickets in the disabled room, where people with wheelchairs, walkers and canes have easiest access. Many were amputees, and several others brought their children in strollers. Each person received two tickets, which allowed them two trays of food. I watched as a woman stuffed the food in a baby bottle. She handed me her ticket while another volunteer handed her a second tray of food. I took the ticket while a security guard in a yellow jacket stared at me. He had given us strict instructions. A ticket gets a tray. A person gets two tickets.

When I was in the clear, I placed the ticket under the woman's tray. "His ticket," I said, nodding my head toward her son's stroller like MacGyver making a time machine out of a styrofoam cup and a pepper packet. So what if it they were sneaking a piece of bread, some wilted lettuce and soggy zucchini. Humans shouldn't be desperate for food that looked like it had been through a garbage disposal.

If you've seen The Pursuit of Happyness, you know exactly where I was today. The long lines weren't Hollywood special effects, and the face of American hunger is indelable. When I first started volunteering, I wanted to have the coveted job at the end of the soup line. That person gets to say good morning or hello to every person and hand them a tray. I was three people from the end, and I could see the line that wrapped endlessly around the building. On every side, people's eyes were filled with survival. Their focus was on getting a tray and then devouring and hiding their food before using a second ticket. Anyone in physical proximity could feel their emptiness.

The suffering was so insatiable, at the second hour, I no longer wanted to be in the prized greeter position. I didn't want to be on the other end of that kind of gratitude. My heArtwork project, most of it having been anonymous, has sheltered me from its impact. As a volunteer, I get to be uncomfortably confronted with the type of human hurt I feel that my own best efforts and compassion cannot heal.

I had been told that one thousand people come through the Glide line every day. I spell it because although those citizens are a forgotten class, they aren't a number. One thousand hardly seems to meet the six heArts I gave out today.

But I was mistaken. The organizer told me that Glide feeds one thousand people THREE times a day. I spent most of my time next to a sixteen year old boy, who was doing community service. I knew he could see everything I had, through the filter of his own experience. As the steady stream of seemingly hopeless faces passed, I personally felt grateful for health insurance, my sister, a warm home, a good doctor, caring friends and two healthy parents.

The boy beside me looked up and nervously adjusted his plastic gloves. "Hey," he said, lifting his chin in a jerk and narrowing his eyes. "This is hard work, huh?"

I blinked hard and looked down. At that moment, we were just acknowleding each person, occasionally telling them we were sorry that we didn't have forks.

"Yes," I said. "It is."

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Walkie Talkie Time in the Mexican Riviera

Since my father retired, he's become a Cruise-aholic. He loves vacationing on cruises. My father's Christmas gift to my sister and I was a family vacation to the Mexican Riviera. It was a generous offering, and naturally we were thrilled. I previously thought that taking a cruise wasn't an authentic way to travel. Afterall, this adventure would be void of the usual stresses of worrying which youth hostel to stay at, if we could really trust the person "watching"our bags, or if their directions and money exchanges were any good at all. I've traveled alone in Europe like that, and have many adventurous stories about hip escapades that almost always revolve around an unexpected, exhausting detour. In another language, I might add. But after taking a different kind of vacation with my family aboard the Carnival Spirit for an eight-day voyage to the Mexican Riviera, I've opened my mind about alternative travel. We stopped off in Acapulco, Manzanillo and Ixtapa. I traveled by Mexican taxicab and drank out of a coconut that took the bartender fifteen minutes to find. I rode a horse along the beach on a wooden saddle. When I asked what the horse's name was, the man laughed. "Mary..." he stuttered, "....Juana." True to her name, Marijuana was a little slow. A woman in our group insisted on riding a pony. The poor pony looked tired after an hour. As soon as we turned around, the pony started to pick up and run a little.

My father and his girlfriend had dinner with my sister and I every night. Five course dinners. One course for each pound I ended up gaining that week, and so worth it. On land, my sister and I spent a few pesos on strong margaritas that contained "purified" ice. We prayed it wouldn't give us food poisoning, but we weren't willing to waste a perfectly tempting pitcher of margaritas.

We communicated with my father through walkie talkies while on the ship. Sometimes it the glass elevators, the deck, the dinner room or the theatre. Places you aren't prepared to hear your father say--full blast--"HOT DOGS ON THE LIDO DECK! GIRLS? REPEAT. WEINERS ON THE LIDO DECK! OVER."

I must have been a trucker in a prior life. Or perhaps it was all that construction work I did in college. With instinct, I said, "Copy hot dogs, Dad. No can do. Already eating in the Empire room. Over."

"Okay," my Dad's voice blared, "10-4 that."

It was my idea that we all got trucker names. You know, each of us our own "handle." My Dad already calls me Jay or Jaybird, so that would probably be mine. I wanted to be something more truckerish, like "Good Buddy" or "Beefcake." We couldn't think of a good name for my Dad's girlfriend, although I thought "The Lady Friend" was a real winner. My idea was vetoed, yet I couldn't stop my trucker tendencies to use "the lingo."

A few walkie talkie malfunctions aside, we had a blast. I got to wear all my big jewelry and no one could say anything. They had 24-hour ice cream cones, waterslides and free room service. I got a head to toe massage at the spa. We had a beautiful deck view from our room. They made towel animals and put chocolate on our pillows at night. I'm telling you with certain giddiness, it's the closest thing to heaven I could imagine.

I've been served like a queen and treated like a princess for a full eight days. After the harsh 2006, I'd be a fool if I didn't admit it's a little hard getting back on land--eating Mac and cheese, paying bills, and making my bed-- and coming down to earth.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Oops! I Did it Again.

Last night, I finished my last grad application, and worked through seven pages of writing toward the rockstar story. The past month or so, I have become a social shut in. I have left my phone off for days, and have a reminder bell that goes off every few hours to remind me to eat. Otherwise, day turns to night turns to morning.

Everything has been on hold. I had planned to go to Vegas to ring in the new year. Two of my friends had rented suites at the Palms and the Rio. When my girlfriend called me from the Palms I swear there was an echo. She said there was a hot tub in the room and a "pole" in one of the bedrooms. After that call, I was glad I chose to stay in California, celebrate low key and work on my writing.

I knew that Annette was meeting up with some friends at Pure. What I didn't know, was that I was on the V.I.P. list to Britney Spears party. When Annette arrived, her friends asked where I was. She said I was too busy to come to Vegas. She was then swept through bodyguards up to the roof deck where Britney herself was partying with about 70 friends. She told me all the fabulous details of their seven-course meal by Pure's Larkspur chef.

I'm sure I'll have another opportunity to see Britney, but this will go down in the books as the biggest V.I.P. Party I missed.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Who are you, and what have you done with my friend Jaynel?

I may have been M.I.A. for awhile, but I'm around. I'm not myself lately. I'm eating weird combinations of starches, consuming caffiene by the truckload, and staying up very very late. Even though I write every day, preparing applications is different. I didn't go home for Christmas, and I haven't gone snowboarding with friends. I turned down a free trip to Vegas for New Years. I've become a recluse, spending my winter sending out my writing samples and my personal statement to a few schools. I just know that getting an MFA is my calling after studying in Iowa City this summer. It's a degree I never knew actually existed before last June. But as easy as creative writing is for me, the personal statement is hard. You're supposed to write about yourself...for two or three pages. I can't wait to get back to "real" writing. After a hundred revisions, I am so sick of myself already.

Most of November and December was consumed in applications. As promised, I got an invite to GenenProm, Genentech's swanky annual holiday shindig. It was at the San Francisco Marriott. We were coralled in several lines and had to be scanned with blacklight laser beams and invisible ink stamps. (No telling if they simultaneously took DNA samples.) The party was akin to the Oscars, hosting at least 7,000 people. It had three dance floors with separate bands, a casino, free henna and temporary tattoos, and psychic readings. All three of my roommates work at Genentech, so they had tickets, and I scored an extra ticket for Andrew. I wore a Ralph Lauren gown with pearls and he wore...a suit. Really, it was stunning. We invented this new dance, and we drew a crowd and clap circle. We'll see if it catches on.

A couple nights before Christmas, Andrew and I met my friends Kimberly and Leland in Dolores Park for "Unsilent Night." It's an event that started in New York City in the early 90's. Each person brought a boombox, and the organizers handed out cassette tapes and CDs. Each has a different sound. We walked throughout San Francisco's Mission District with the boomboxes on our shoulders, as the music mixed into beautiful, unpredictable sounds. Andrew thought that he'd skip our CD ahead, but his boombox was super crappy, so it just kept playing the first part over and over. Even so, it was peaceful going through the city, watching people gather at their windows with their children to wave.

Here's wishing you all the best in 2007. I hope you get into the school you really wanted, are surrounded by laughter and good health, happy friends, and that you fall forget-the-world in love! ( that's what I want. Forgive me. I'm still in "personal statement" mode, where it really is 'all about me.')