My Small (home)town.

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Well I was born in a small town
And I live in a small town
Prob’ly die in a small town
Oh, those small communities

I have a complicated relationship with my hometown. Anyone who knows me would easily confirm this. I am not sure if everyone has similar complications with the places from which their roots emanate, though I suspect that fewer and fewer people actually have places that they feel rooted in. Or at least that is how the world feels to me these days.

But not me. In spite of all my best efforts to make it not so, I have a hometown.

Educated in a small town
Taught the fear of Jesus in a small town
Used to daydream in that small town
Another boring romantic that’s me

This relationship was not always so complicated. For a long time I was wholly committed to total disdain for my hometown. I think a lot of kids just want to get out of wherever they are at some point, but I was sophomorically certain that I was never coming back. Not ever. Because this small town was simply not ever going to be big enough for the likes of me. And I left, like most of us did at some point. Most, but not all.And I kept going… further and wider with little thought as to why, it just seemed like my destiny.

As is often the case, something changed.

I think the first thing that I noticed was that my hometown somehow along the way became a place people wanted to be. Like people were really busting a move to try to get there. It got hip. Or something. Suddenly, the little hick town was a destination.

What?

But something more substantial about my relationship with my hometown was revealing itself to me with more and more strength the further away I got from home (in time and space). As I met more and more people and saw more and more things, and observed the relationships that all these other people had with their people and places, I began to see that the foundation – the roots – from which I came gave me not only a healthy perspective from which to engage with all these people, but actually was the entire reason I could do the things I was doing. I had a safety net: my hometown. No matter what happened to me, or the choices I would make (wisely or not so), I had a place I could return to.

Regardless of the severity of the road or cliff I teetered off and away from, Petaluma was there. Contrary to Robert Frost’s sentiment, in many ways it is not the road but the point of origin which has made all the difference for me.

I have people from my hometown I have known a lifetime who remain steadfast in their commitment to each other – and me. Although I didn’t always see it, in my own way I was there for them, too. And we are unique in our connection to each other, to our families, to our memories, to our town. The world, and our experience in it, being ever-changing and dynamic, means the intricacies of the relationship I have with this place and the people in it continue to change, but our foundation allows for these changes to feel like stretching, not severing or breaking.

But I’ve seen it all in a small town
Had myself a ball in a small town

When I go back to visit now, it feels very different. It is so much bigger and “cooler” than I will ever know how to work with, but some little bits of it stay the same. There are still the ever familiar family names, the small town gossip, the drama, the expectations… even if I don’t know a single person I see downtown.

Which is not entirely true either – I do know these people. And I no longer recoil when greeted with the same questions every time I see the same folks: “Not married? No kids?” These days, even though I still fall right back into my adolescent awkwardness, I can embrace it a little more fully and just say, “Nope, not yet.”

I mean really, shared roots or not, I have always been a little bit of an oddball.

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I am hugely grateful that I can go back to Petaluma and be reminded that there are people who really know me deep down and even in non-acceptance, they accept me. I am so grateful that my parents have facilitated this chance to see my hometown in this way later in my life. And my goodness I am grateful for my friends who, all differences included, feel so much more like family than just friends after all this time.

No I cannot forget where it is that I come from
I cannot forget the people who love me
Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town
And people let me be just what I want to be

You can thank me for this amazingly coiffed John Cougar later. a video circa ’87 just felt so right.

Slow. And mostly steady.

I am slow to let people in. Anyone who knows me at all will attest to this truism. I am, as of yet, unconvinced as to whether this is a good thing or a bad thing – or if that really matters, maybe it is just a thing. I do know it has caused drama in my life on occasion. For example, Ms. Cort always loves to tell the story of the school picture in 8th grade: she asked me for my photo, I responded by asking why she would want my picture when she didn’t even know me. This did not go down incredibly well, but more than 30 years later we are still friends so I suppose it served its own purpose. (And really, I was a total social misfit and had no idea that school photos – and the number of them – was a status symbol at good old PJHS.) Other times it has caused me more serious drama: the shortest man to ever be my boss did not renew my contract at Albany High School my first year back in the States (instigating a wild week of insane self-doubt about everything in my life: coming back to the US, my career, my personhood) because he said, “You’re not friendly enough.” Of course in the end, it was – as all experiences inevitably become – a universal godsend, but damn son, you basically just told me I need to smile more. (For what it’s worth – his career was in many ways as short as his stature.)

It is not that I am categorically unfriendly. Maybe guarded would be a better word (although that doesn’t sound healthy either). My mom has said, on more than one occasion, that I will talk about anything. Unless it really matters. Maybe. I do know that the few times I have abandoned my habit of being slow to let people in it has almost always been with men, and always a disaster. Fools do rush in, it seems to me.

I was thinking about this today before my yoga class began. Okay, I was still thinking about it as class began and I was trying to clear my mind of the chatter… but hey, baby steps. The reason it came to mind as I walked in to class today was that I saw a friend of mine in the room and we waved at each other as I walked to an available spot. This may seem like a ridiculously small thing. It may actually be a ridiculously small thing. But it stood out to me. I have a friend. From yoga. In fact, I may have more than one. It is weird. I have been going to this yoga studio almost daily for nearly five years. So, why would it be odd that I have friends there? I don’t really have an answer for that question except that for me, it is odd.

Over the past few months, maybe even the past year, I have been noticing a shift, I guess it is a shift in myself, but whatever, something is changing because I seem to have somehow developed a bit of a community at this yoga studio. It is small, and it seems somehow a little fragile – like maybe I shouldn’t eve talk about it out loud, but it is there.

This little group includes a few yoga students I have met simply because we sit – for hours – with each other in often humbling positions. It includes a few yoga teachers, people I am probably more inclined to let into my circle, but nonetheless, slow to do so. The circle also now includes some of the people who work (and practice) at the studio. And there are a few people who I knew otherwise and have come into my yoga experience. It is interesting to sit and think that slowly this has become sort of a group. To which I belong.

Belonging is a strange sensation when you feel used to being on your own, or an observer.

I remember my guruji in Hong Kong telling me he wanted me to be more open and friendly with the people I practiced with there and I explained to him – as I have often done here – that I come to yoga for the quiet and the solitude, that with a job and a life like mine I need that. And Veer simply said, “No.” He said that the quiet I needed did not come from solitude in a group. It would be found in my head through practice and that it was important to be in the group -as an active and willing participant – in order to ever really find the quiet I was looking for. And with that one word that was a clear direction from my teacher, this small, tight-knit group of Chinese women became one of my circles. My friends. They are still people who check in on me (and me them) from afar, and strangely, language and culture aside, we are friends.

So it is not a new phenomenon that I am reluctant to expand my circles. But this very familiar turn of events got me thinking today. Who do I let in? Who do I keep out? Why? Is it some sort of test? Is it a trust issue? Do I like being part of these communities or no? Then my teacher said this:

Who would you be if you weren’t so sure of who you are? Release your gripping and your stories just a little…

And I was like… WOAHHHHHH.

I thought about how much time we spend thinking about who we are, and what makes us “us.” And I thought about how easy it is to use that information to justify our habits and patterns and excuse the things in us that maybe we might need to adjust or change…

Who am I?

  • daughter
  • teacher
  • friend
  • laugher
  • niece
  • cat lady
  • student
  • music lover
  • athlete
  • singleton (tragic spinster?)
  • cousin
  • gluten consumer
  • traveler
  • “writer”
  • talker
  • yoga practitioner
  • sports fan
  • DeadHead
  • shoe lover
  • tattoo wearer
  • control freak
  • ENTJ –> INTJ
  • body dysmorphic
  • fan girl
  • observer
  • neat freak
  • animal lover
  • beer drinker

And what would I be without all that? Just me I guess. Sitting with these people who have their own long lists of who they are, and who have, lists aside, become my friends.

Slowly.

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A San Francisco Stay-cation: Basically a week long advert for my city.

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The last time I blogged about a week spent with the fabulous Ms. R was two years ago on my return from a whirlwind tour of NYC for spring break. A month or so later she joined me for a compare and contrast week on the west coast, but that one didn’t make the blog, because at the time, I felt like it was silly to do like a vacay blog for my own city.

But, if one’s city is San Francisco – how silly is that?

Two years to the week later Ms. R was back in SF, and this time we took the time to both take in, and take on, the City by the Bay.

Spring break comes at such a desperately necessary time for people in my profession. The ides of March seem to know no end for a teacher, and there is not a more liberating feeling mid-year than the final bell on the Friday afternoon leading into the Easter holiday week (although, working in Berkeley, you are not allowed to call it Easter break, lest you offend… but a spring holiday by ANY name would be as sweet.) And on 27 March, at precisely 3:32 I was out the door and on my way home to… well, to home.

The last two years I left town for the break to New York City as I mentioned, and more recently Seattle. But this year, I would be here: a stay-cation. But not just a week of me doing all the things I do – yoga, cooking, reading, taking photos of the cats – I would be hosting Ms. R for a week of Bay Area shenanigans (and, doing all that other stuff too.)

Ms. R was my first friend in Hong Kong when I arrived in 2005 and we seem to have a mutual appreciation for each other that has stood the test of time. One of the more British Brits I know, Ms. R brings a certain standard to all things (and a clear opinion on how all things should be done) that I find educational, entertaining, and enlightening.

And I was prepared:

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From the moment the wheels touched down, we were taking full advantage of all things La Mission and SF. And it went something like this:

Friday: 
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The first night of a vacation may be the sweetest, in the same way that the last night brings a certain melancholy that is unavoidable in its predictability, the anticipation that greets the first Friday is delicious. Home early to kick up my feet, have a beer, watch some basketball and revel in what was to come. It was a segue of perfection.

R arrived around 8:30 out time, and I knew she would be knackered, but we were not missing El Farolito. I mean, come on, it is the Mission. And then we were ensconced in my none too spacious apartment, both so exhausted that it was all we could do to catch up with the basics before heading to bed.

Saturday:
First day out and about – up so early as jet lag can do, but a lovely morning, yoga and then  at least two neighborhoods by foot…

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Through the Mission to Zeitgeist we went for cold beers in the hot sun. (“Your people are just so friendly!”) Then on to Hayes Valley where I sadly learned of a designer I will never afford but will forever covet: Dries Van Noten. This is why Ms. R is:

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Along the way we had macarons and cupcakes from Miette, cocktails and salty snacks at Absinthe Brasserie & Bar, as you do, and discovered far too many:

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But Ms. R has a system… it’s all look-y look-y loo… (until it’s not) and seems haphazard – until it’s not. It is like stages in the Tour de France or something – and when we got to Alpe d’Huez…. wowsa.

After a gorgeous day strolling the Mission and Hayes Valley, we had dinner at home and watched basketball. And really, burgers, beers, and basketball can make for a pretty great evening in.

Sunday:
Again, we were up early, figured there was no reason to sleep in – if on London time for Ms. R, so be it… more time to do things. Sometimes the things were like me doing yoga and R taking a walk, and sometimes it was sitting around and chatting over coffee – the coffee still a constant struggle… and although no SF barista has yet had the gall to try to purvey a misto (that is not a word! I hear her declare!) it is still an adventure to find the suitable cup for Ms. R. I had a hair appointment on Sunday and Ms. R was up for the cup and got a blowout as well – so we were all dolled up thanks to Revamp as we headed to Hi Tops to catch some more of the Elite Eight. Because there’s no kind of sports bar like a gay sports bar. [“Yay sports!!”] Plus, as Ms. R pointed out, no other sports bar was going to have a kale salad on the menu, which, it turns out, goes nicely with beer. #healthydrinker

I wanted to get a selfie. It did not happen. Ms. R is not a fan in general.

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After the game we headed downtown for another round of shopping, because: Good Hair.

And eventually we found ourselves back at home. One of the best parts about vacation is that moment you get home on a Sunday night… and you are like, ‘Hey – I don’t have to get up for work tomorrow!’ So, then that was happening.

Monday:
Up early for yoga. Super early, but as was voluntary, freakishly easy to manage. And it was good to get it out of the way because we were entering the Alps [if we are to keep the Tour de France metaphor rolling (yeah, I just did that), which seems apropos as Ms. R will be cycling the whole of the UK later in the year, from bottom to top, as it were] and headed downtown. To shop.

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It is amazing how much shit you never knew you needed when you get out there in the land of the consumer. And while Ms. R had a legit list of things she wanted needed to get while she was here, it turns out that just being in the proximity of a shopper can have an infectious effect on me. And a shopper I became.

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Shoes, dresses, pants, shirts, sweaters, make up… more and more and more. Frankly, it was rather impressive. But we eventually had to cut it short to get to our foot massage at my local, followed by cocktails at one of my Top Five Dives: The Latin American Club and then dinner at my favorite place. Gayle Pirie does such an amazing job with this restaurant – everything is always just right – and her love for the Mission and her local clientele is remarkable. We had a great meal, perfect wine, bubbles and dessert.

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Tuesday:
Started out with a lovely morning at home (I think I even prepared an acceptable cup of coffee…. then some yoga. Then brunch at Plow with my hair guru. Ms. R got to see a few more neighborhoods today – Potrero, the Fillmore, Pac Heights, Union Street… Which of course Ms. R loved. I should have taken her out to Cow Hollow. Next time.

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And eventually, the East Bay.

After a brief respite after our breezy day on the streets of SF, we headed out to one of my favorite venues, The Fox Theater in Oakland. It is a great venue and the surrounding area is just coming up and up and up. So up in fact, it is hard to even choose where to go pre-show. We chose Dogwood and it was a solid choice. A couple of cocktails and some snacks and on to get down with TV on the Radio. This might have been the fourth or fifth time I have seen TVOTR, but every time, they bring it, and this Tuesday evening was no exception. I told Ms. R to observe what happened as soon as the lights went down… and she was suitably impressed (for lack of a better word): “Your people smoke so much weed.” Was her general consensus (although I am sure she was getting used to it with the prolific exhalations from my downstairs neighbor.) And it is sort of funny that smokers have to leave the Fox to smoke cigarettes – but weed? No worries: spark up.

I wanted a selfie of us again. But, no dice.

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Wednesday:
April Fool’s Day. Really, this is such a ridiculous day. Eventually I am going to have to learn to just stay away from social media, because really: lame. But, for now, Noe Valley for breakfast and a strategic strike to Omnivore Books. Then off to Dolores Park, via Rhea’s Deli.

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An afternoon in Dolores Park is hard not to love, even when the wind is beginning to kick up… I suggested a selfie, but…

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We topped off this evening with dinner at a newish neighborhood restaurant called Plin. This restaurant is in a locale with bad juju. The Thai restaurant that used to be in the same space was not very good (likely why I was able to get a table for 18 for my 40th birthday) although they didn’t seem to mind when I stood on my chair – for more than 10 minutes – which could have something to do with why they went out of business. Anyhow, Plin, still has weird juju. Or feng shui. Or whatever you want to call it. And this is too bad because the food is actually really very good. But our consensus was that it will struggle in a neighborhood replete with dining opportunities that are also very good.

After dinner we walked home – and it is just so nice to be able to walk through the neighborhood and enjoy it all. We stopped into The Velvet Scoop for a super yummy treat I was introduced to last fall: frozen custard.

We walked home simply pleased with another full day in the neighborhood.

Thursday:
This would be the one day that Ms. R and I did more or less our own thing… AS I mentioned, she is a young woman with a plan and she had really panned out her trip to perfection. It was an important day – and I will just say, it could not have been more lovely for what was on the agenda.

For me, I reverted back to my more typical routine – did a couple of yoga classes, took care of some errands, and through it all sort of saw the City really differently as I seemed a lot more tuned into things around me, thanks to fresh eyes, I suppose.

San Francisco really is such an amazing city… with all the boroughs, as Ms. R likes to call them, and the vistas, and the sights (“It’s so small. I don’t need a picture of that.” – Ms. R to the Mrs. Doubtfire House.) But also amazing in less fantastic ways, with a painfully abundant homeless population – which simply defies explanation to a person who comes from a nation that provides care for its most vulnerable. There is no acceptable way to explain how it is that so many of our people live without the care they need, on the streets, and this is really apparent when you speak to a European. The same confusion comes up in conversation when in flipping through the news channels it is one violent crime after the next and the question comes up: “What is the deal with your gun laws?” Yeah, I got nothing for you on that. The juxtaposition of our national experiences is fascinating.

When Ms. R returned after her day on the road (“Are you good with driving a car here?” I asked. “I drove a Porsche in Beirut, I think I will be fine.” *crickets*) her comment on American drivers was how much the adhered to the rules of the road. So, yeah, I guess we are better than Madrid and Beirut in one way. Not sure that is winning, but we will take it.

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We had another great neighborhood night in the Mission… We met up with Little E and had drinks at The Chapel, dinner at Tacolicious (a nice challenge for me who has given up chips for lent – the second coming cannot come soon enough when you are staring down a bowl of guacamole and not having tortilla chips), apres dinner drinks at ABV, mildly disrupted by an incredibly short and freakishly intoxicated Mexican man literally being held up and force fed by his amigo… a scene wholly incongruous with the vibe of the bar, but got me ready to go because: vomit potential. Plus, there was ice cream in my future, so why linger?

Friday:
This was my mom’s birthday, and in good form Ms. R agreed to give up some time with my padres. And R was coming up too. So my momma got to have some birthday shenanigans with all her kids.

But before that was going to happen, we headed out to do a bit more shopping. For real (though in returning to the nearly forgotten Tour de France metaphor, we were very much in the final time trial at this point.) A high point of the afternoon was definitely a light lunch at The Rotunda at Neiman Marcus. Very posh. I also have to say… the shoe department at Neiman’s will make a grown woman (without a trust fund) cry. Wowsa.

Then it was back to the hood to meet the ‘rents and R. Once all rendezvous’d we started at El Techo for drinks and tapas. Then it was on to pie, because, as T said, “Who doesn’t like pie?” Well – no one, except for R who was off sweets until #HeHasRisen. Plus, there is nothing more hipster than a pie shop in the Mission, except maybe if it were in Bushwick, so you know, when in Rome… And it is really freaking good pie.

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We tried to watch a movie when we got home, but Into The Woods is a really long fairytale mash-up musical for a post cocktail Friday night. I am still trying to work out when that would not seem long…. We failed. But without much disappointment, because one of our most all-American experiences was on the horizon.

Saturday:
Let’s Go OAKLAND! Up early to make our way back to the East Bay with R to see the final exhibition game of spring training – and drink beer, eat hotdogs… and a super-jumbo corn dog too!

I love baseball, and one of the coolest things about Ms. R is that she gets sports, and was not only enthusiastic about the March Madness, but totally for the cup to go to O.Co (especially a cup full of beer. But not Bud Light because, “How many calories are we saving on this beer R?” “Maybe 50?” “Oh, love, no. We are not drinking that again.”)

It was a gorgeous day at the ball park – perhaps a little too gorgeous for my Brit Abroad though. Fortunately a very friendly one of my people had a sachet (packet) of sunscreen – though, in truth too little too late, but the thought was on point. I hope at this point she has gone totally brown.

Although the A’s did not win (insert sad emoji here) I did get to see my adored Barry Zito take the mound in the green and gold once again (last pitches before heading to Triple A Nashville, but hey, I have been wanting to go to Tennessee.) And that was awesome.

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I suggested a selfie of the three of us all kitted out in our A’s gear. But no.

After the game and a lot of laughs (and eye rolls) we headed back to the City where we watched Wisconsin upset Kentucky (WHAT?!?!) and then a a final stop at the local taqueria, followed up with a stroll down to Humphry Slocombe, because one must. Then home for silly movies. I am not sure what it says about us that we made it through We’re The Millers.

Sunday:
He has risen (though, for the first time, the sun did not come out…) And although, I would like to claim some higher spirituality about this – the reality is I was pretty psyched that chips were going to be back on my menu. Initially, when I had been trying to arrange things for the week, I had been unable to find anywhere for Easter brunch. However, apparently we were so charming when we had dinner at Foreign Cinema, that they were able to magically manifest a table for us on Easter Sunday. The perks of being a local I guess. Or good tippers? (No, that couldn’t be, I was with a Brit. Ha. Like the coffee conundrum, Ms. R has substantial issues with tipping. And don’t even get going on the tip jars for counter service…. “You Americans are ruining it for everyone!” So we are friendly and generous. Not too shabby!)

One other thing that Ms. R had wanted to do while here was to try SoulCycle. I have to say, I was more up for this than I thought I might be. It was early and unfamiliar and hard. But it was kind of cool too. So, spinning, packing, and foot massages took us straight into a gorgeous Easter brunch that Ms. R’s mum treated us too, which was pretty sweet. And this was the second Easter brunch Ms. R and I have shared in the past three years, so it is kind of a tradition. Okay, maybe not totally, but it could be. I tagged the two of us in the following photo, because: not a selfie from the week.

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After brunch, it was the load out.

And then she was gone.

The Sunday doldrums can really sneak up on you, something I find particularly perplexing as there is no surprise in their arrival. This Sunday totally faked me out, and not only for it being Easter Sunday, but because it began with all the activity that the past week has brought into my more typically solitary home life, and then, just like that… it was over. Evening arrived, and in spite of it being the brightest moments of an otherwise grey day, all was quiet and still; as if the week itself had not actually happened.

I thought back on Ms. R’s synopsis of ‘my people’ – which always cracks me up:

  • Friendly
  • Weed obsessed
  • Good teeth
  • Big
  • Poor fashion choices
  • Unable to make coffee hot enough
  • And I just have to come back to friendly – because we gotta focus on the bright side…

And as I climbed into bed looking ahead to super fun and amazing Monday morning meetings back at school, it dawned on me:

Yep, this all just happened. In a single week, we did it all. Even without a selfie to prove it.

One week of 2015: A review

I spent my New Year’s Eve with some lovely people who collectively believed that 2014 was a little less than ideal, if we were being honest. 2014 was like one of those people you want to be friends with initially. Like, it looked like a total good time: well, dressed, fresh start… you know, the one with the great new outfit, so great in fact that you don’t notice the any other potential deficiencies. And 2014 sucked me right in.

And I got my ass kicked.

On the eve of 2015, we looked around at our abundance of champagne, and heaps of amazing Chinese take-out let out a collective sigh of relief.

“What do you want the for 2015?’ was the question.

For me, I would like 2015 to be a little gentler. Less death. Less social strife. Less disappointment from those in whom I have put my trust.

But really, as we sat with each other and watched people we have barely heard of orchestrate the Times Square ball drop (and how many coats does Jenny McCarthy need? I bet she was feeling a little sick and is worried because she refused her vaccinations….) we agreed, we were pretty damn fortunate: healthy, working, roofs over our heads, more Chinese food than you could shake a handful of chopsticks at…

The host insisted that 2015 was going to be all about good juju. I was down with that.

So, one week in, how has it been?

I have to say – pretty solid start. I have done yoga everyday. All my bills are paid. I have been embracing self-care by cooking amazing meals, getting massages, reconnecting with people. I spent the night of the 2nd with a group of women I have known since I was 12 years old (how many people can say they have those kinds of friendships anymore?)

And no one died.

I eventually got a little stressed out about going back to school after a rough start to my overdue break and the fact that I had done not one single bit of work (well, I wrote some last minute letters of recommendation and put out a few fires… but, yeah, not much else) but even that was not really that big of a deal when I really thought about it – I mean, it was  a choice how much anxiety I allowed, so why get mental?

I did not.

And although I had the requisite dread that all students and teachers have on the eve of the return, as I generally discover, the actual return is really usually pretty alright. And it was: a really nice day. And each day since has been just fine. And I have kept doing all the things I want to do along with taking care of all the things I am responsible for.

Here I am a full week into the year and it feels manageable. Doable. Light. And all of that is exciting. My New Year’s host had this to say yesterday:

First week of 2015 was awesome. Light airy energy, clear directions, and full of possibilities.

I cannot help but agree. Weekend getaways, festivals , yoga retreats, European excursions all await. In addition to the little things that make a life real: a clean house, time to write, time to stretch, to practice, to cook, to be creative… It has been making me wonder why it seemed like I did not have time for it all before. But I guess it doesn’t matter since I am making the time now.

I am grateful for the life I have, icky bits and all, but I am certainly open to 2015 bringing me a little sumpin’ sumpin’ for all the effort.

I believe in the good things coming.

I believe in the good things comin’, comin’, comin’ comin’
I believe in the good things comin’, comin’, comin’ comin’
Out of darkness lion heart pumpin’, pumpin’, pumpin’
Into white light all things runnin’, runnin’, runnin’ runnin’
Who have I been, who am I becomin’?
Come in, come in, come in
Deep breaths for a young man learnin’, learnin’, learnin’
Take a walk with the cedars hummin’,
Cityscape, pink sunset stunnin’
Every empty space is fitting’, every fire kindle burnin’

The San Francisco morning today is glorious. Truly, the kind of morning that gives a person pause and makes you wonder how a sky can really be that blue. It is cold and quiet and still (not always the case in my neighborhood) and I am warm in my tiny apartment surrounded by cats, light, music, and the smell of strong coffee. I feel rested (pretty much), and healthy (mostly), and interested in what another new year might reveal.

The New Year always brings with it the collective desire to reflect, recall, project, plan… hope, I suppose. Or at least for me it does. I love the new year like I love the start of a new school year, (and the upcoming lunar new year as well, if I need a quick opportunity to have a 2015 mulligan… and if that fails, there is always Songkran) because there is this sense of a fresh start and yadda, yadda, yadda. The funny thing is – the reality (because reality IS funny) – is that this sense of a fresh start is available anytime, right? I mean, every spiritual teaching, 12-step program, life coach, preacher, teacher, whatever… has been saying this forever (maybe Buddha didn’t, but he probably knew it.)

Still, there is something culminating and bigger about the turning of the calendar year that I know I will always choose to embrace.

This year feels very different to me. I get it on some levels… Last year on New Year’s Eve I said a forceful goodbye to the Cowboy – now #6 – and had a lot of alone time in the transition from 2013 to 2014 to consider how it was again that I found myself in such an unpleasant predicament. (Yeah, yeah, yeah… lessons not learned… I know.) But I am unclear (in an optimistic way) about what it is about 2015 that feels so different. Maybe it is, as Jung said, that “life really does begin at 40, up until then you are just doing research” and as the traditionalist that I am, I had to complete a four year program of study to work shit out. Regardless, it feels different.

In some ways I played a lot of the same mental games this year that I have long been working to overcome – fretting over not being good enough at work, body issues, looking for love in all the wrong places – how fucking banal. But I do feel like these particulars have been less significant, or at least I have been able to look more objectively at the ridiculousness, and walk away.

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In other ways this year was devastatingly different than years past. Perhaps it is related to age, perhaps it is a consequence of the life I have lived and the experiences I’ve been offered, but this year was colored with loss in ways I was not prepared for – if you ever are.

In May Stuart died. This touched me in surprising and important ways. It was also a catalyst to halting another relationship I had come to depend on in (likely) unhealthy ways. It was a transformative experience to be judged for my honest and deep feelings around this loss, and it taught me that authenticity matters more than reception, and that was immeasurably cathartic. Nothing good gets away.

This November, while at our fall student retreat in the Marin Headlands, I was talking with my team and noted that my life since returning from Hong Kong had been so uniform in its distribution of loss: I had lost someone very significant in every school year since I had come home. My first year back I said good bye to my grandmother. My second year, a person who had been a sister to me in some ways because her brother – also no longer with us but will always remain the Hunter to my Thompson, was violently taken from us in a story that still rings incompatible with the ideas I hold about my life. In my third year back, I lost a cousin in literal ways, although he had left us metaphorically years before, but whose death in its mystery and isolation cut deep. Then there was Stuart. I said to my colleagues, not lightly, that it gave me pause to think about what this school year would hold.

Less than two weeks later, over the Thanksgiving weekend, I found out a college classmate and friend had died suddenly leaving a wife and three young children behind, a long time friend from Lamma had died – home and alone, and my friend Sue, someone I considered a kindred spirit in so many ways during my Hong Kong transformation, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I was stunned as I sat with all the news in my parents’ kitchen in Petaluma.

So I suppose it is not without reason that I sit quietly at this new year and wonder what will come.

Suddenly, maintaining something – anything! – simply because it is how it’s always been done, or it is safe – or, god… the most horrible adjective I heard this year to describe a life: it is sustainable – seems not just uninspired, but… terminal.

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I am ready for big changes, while knowing nothing comes easy. I am ready to let go and really see what is on offer. Because, really what other choice is there?

So what of 2014? Well, according to Facebook it was something like this:

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I guess that captures a lot of it: LIFE. LOVE. FEAR. REMEMBER. ACCEPT. FEEL. AMAZING. BETTER. SOMETIMES. WORK. SAY. SOMETHING. CHOICE. PEOPLE. YOGA. FRIENDS. STUDENTS. TEACHER. GRATEFUL. CARE. TOMORROW. PERSPECTIVE. EXPERIENCE.

According to Instagram it was something like this:

And truly, I am – to a degree – a sum of these parts. But like everyone you meet… I also am more than that.

I am more than the solitary girl taken by surprise as I found myself again on my own on the eve of 2014, and although so relieved and happy for it, deeply sad. January got into dark corners as I emptied what I hope will be the last storage space I have to deal with for a very long time, took me back as I pawed through old photos and had two new years in one month as the lunar new year fell on the 31st. The symmetry was necessary.

I am more than the girl who went home to watch her coach in his regular season finale on the home court all these years later, with one of the best friends a person could ask for by her side, reminding her all the while that everything is only what it is. February was brief, dark, busy with field trips and shitty professional evaluations, papers to grade, cats to pet.

I am more than the girl who had to bust some of her favorite students for smoking weed at our overnight retreat and only wanted to retreat herself. March, as it does, brought with it the promise of spring break… if we could just get through. There were moments I was unsure of the outcome and in my struggle I recalled the words of some of my heroes… HST, Bukowski, OkGo… This too shall pass. And it did.

I am more than the girl who took an extra spring break – first going to the Pacific Northwest and catching up with a traveling companion from Europe ’93 while melting into my second family on Fox Island, and second, heading to Indio to return to Coachella. April seemed like a reward I was unsure I deserved for something I was unsure I had done. This precariousness would manifest with a vengeance in May.

I am more than the girl who sat with the news of the death of the man who had asked her if she would “stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back?” And warned her to stay clear of pirates though he was one… and shook with grief. May showed me that there are those who will always be there for you regardless of time or distance, in the best or worst times, and there are those who will not. And when things seem worse than you can imagine, there is always another music festival to go to in order to restore your spirits: De La Soul is not dead.

I am more than the girl who got out of another school year alive, and with some noteworthy successes along the way. With June came the euphoria of another summer break. Yoga, the Petaluma fair, Oakland A’s baseball, time with mom, and gorgeous weather all served to remind me that great rewards will only ever come from concentrated effort, and that is okay.

I am more than the girl who knew at the core of her being that it was time to return to Hong Kong, to Lamma, to the family who had taught her that she was a true citizen of the world and launched her into a previously unknown realm of possibility. July found me in other roles I was unaware I would take on but was glad to be available for friends and family in deep and important ways… and ever grateful that they were there for me too. I was definitely feeling Fancy from SF to Hong Kong-o.

I am more than the girl who made the most of her last weeks before returning to school at Outside Lands and in the wild outsides of North Idaho, places I had not visited since 2010. August was healing, and familial, and musical, and fun-sicle. Unless you were a young black man. There were bikers, unicorns, beers, sunsets, earthquakes… and police shootings. I went back to school with a great manicure, without a principal, and in the wake of another young black man dead at the hands of the state.

I am more than the girl who got to add one more year to her life repertoire as the fall equinox arrived. September is a month I always love – and not just for the birthday it brings with it – but I love the segue into fall weather, the ever-optimistic return to school. In some ways it has an appeal to me in the same way January does. This September I had the chance to have lovely dinner dates; to be reminded of the beauty of Tahoe – a place I called home for nearly a decade; to witness the unprecedented demise of my much loved baseball team; to garner my 15 minutes of fame as a featured educator on television for my work integrating technology into the classroom, to see more live music, and to watch the Umbrella Revolution unfold in Hong Kong. It was a full month.

I am more than the girl who remains optimistic about love in the face of ridiculous disappointments. October was incredibly full with festivals and field trips, fleet week and sailing on the Bay, and of course the total destruction of my lovely neighborhood (again) as a response to the SF Giants winning the World Series (again.) I took 20 students to see Anita Hill speak truth to power, I saw Lena Dunham speak, met up with friends and one of my bebe cousins at HSB in the park. The month was punctuated by meeting someone seemingly transformative at TIMF. I suppose he was transformative really, though hardly in the way advertised.

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I am more than the girl who was asked, “are you the one? are you the one? and will you wait for me… to see if my life is sustainable?” November brought the hope of the holidays along with this other strange element of hope. But as one of my yoga teachers, Samrat Gupta, warned long ago: beware the euphoric highs… they will be met with equal lows. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Elections (low), field trips and class speakers (high); connecting with someone in a truly unique way (high), being devastated by news of the loss and suffering of dear friends (low); being called to speak about the Ferguson decision on the radio (high), the Ferguson decision (low). November was the penultimate teacher I would face this year… and she was tough. But December would be even more challenging.

I am more than the girl who, in some kind of symmetry – found herself rocked by the male of the species again at the end of the year, but quickly saw the insignificance of that as cancer took one of my soul sisters on the Winter Solstice. December, always frantically busy, was next level for me this year, which is not necessarily a bad thing – but it certainly is a tiring thing. Getting out of school by the skin of my teeth, saying a long goodbye to dear friends who will set sail for places unknown in the very near future, art exhibitions, concerts, parties, Vegas, family, family, family, friends, my hometown. It was so full – and my responses to this fullness were not always right, or healthy, or wise… but I daresay they taught me a thing or two.

I am more than the sum of my parts.

I am all of this along with the gifts left by those gone too soon, the legacy (and lunacy) of my extended family, the strength of my body, the unknown trajectory of my professional direction. And I am more even than the clear intentions I am taking into this new year with me:

Some people say we should not look back, only forward. I am not sure. Maybe it is the historian in me, but I think acknowledging the past is crucial for our ability to make sense and purpose of our present and future. I go forward with hope and clarity that I’ve not felt in a long time, and for that I am grateful for the rather harsh lessons that 2014 brought down upon my head somewhat like a certain silver hammer.

I am ready for you 2015.

 

This is for Stu and Sue and all the rest we lost too soon. 

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More pages more words to my story, more grace, more meaning unfoldin’
Take a drive rain park cascadia
Feel the warmth in my cold hear radiant
Two shakes and I’m feelin’ weightless
Heart aches but its actually painless
Take a vow in the Pale moonlight, moonlight, moonlight
Take a look at myself through my third eye..
Everything’s already alright, always alright, always alright…

How the Grammercy Tavern redeemed NYC: Springtime in New York City, pt. 2.

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I have been thinking a lot about my New York minutes since I have returned home to the place that I call The City, with no other descriptors required. Part of this is because visiting NYC has made me see SF in a different (even more flattering, truth be told) light and also because my hostess, R, will be heading west to do her own comparison in less than a week. I keep looking for a nicer way to say that i think NYC is completely overrated, because that seems so generic and uninspired as criticism goes. But on the other hand, I doubt any New Yorker would give two shits about how their criticisms appear to anyone else, so, so be it.

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If I were to attempt to synthesize my NYC experiences, I would have categories like food, interpersonal interactions, reflections… rather standard travel blog stuff. In a week I did do a lot, and ate a lot. And the whole time I was there I felt like I was looking. Looking for something, someone… I am not sure. Lots of folks had told me how I would see a lot of similarities to The City while I was in NYC. I did not. Brooklyn is so NOT like the Mission. I had been told that Williamsburg is so hip-hip-hipster. I just though it was odd. (More on that to come…) Frankly, I thought the East Village was more like the Mish than anywhere else I visited, and it was like my neighborhood in the way that makes me want to go to another neighborhood. Brooklyn Heights was nice – very Noe Valley. But cold. The parts of NYC that I like the best were the ones that seemed unlike any other place – quintessentially “New York” as people might say. And I suppose that is the point of going to New York City. I mean, the human habit of comparison, while helpful for building context certainly seems to do very little to enhance experience.

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I loved the Upper East Side. Why? Mostly because the people I interacted with there were the nicest ones I ran into anywhere. But on telling New Yorkers this they seemed shocked so I guess I just got lucky. I thought Columbia was beautiful and it is totally unsurprising that I would find the academic acropolis inspiring and comfortable. I found Central Park to be depressing, but that could be seasonal – I know no other completely deciduous park and so things were very sparse and brown. The daffodils were coming up though and I related to their longing for nicer weather on a visceral level. I loved the mythology of New York that I could conjure up in my mind… but then things would happen that would bring me right back down to reality, and I would find myself saying, “Are you fucking kidding me?”

Fortunately I was staying with a Brit, and like New Yorkers, the British have no problem being clear about how things should be done: all things, all the time. Unlike New Yorkers, the Brits can be rude in such a posh way, people seem to not realize what is happening until it is all over and there is nothing to be done about it. THat definitely helped in dealing with some outrageously hideous service in a city that is supposed to be so… I don’t know, serviceable I guess. Or maybe it is not. I am not sure. Either way, the examples that come to mind are R’s battle over the misto and the ridiculousness at Buvette. I will start with the story of the coffee, as is leads into nicely to trying to have a coffee at the aforementioned restaurant.

R likes her coffee strong. And ridiculously hot. As such, she feels that regular coffee (drip or french press I assume) is too weak, and so her chosen drink is an Americano. [Do not get her started on the notion of iced coffee, because she cannot even begin to conceive of why such a thing would ever exist. Of course she thinks the same of iced tea, “That is just cold tea. Why would anyone want cold tea?”] However, R does require a milk infusion in her Americano but, as previously mentioned, she likes her drinks to be scalding hot, so using cold milk in her Americano is not okay. Therefore, R orders her coffee as follows: “Could I please have an Americano with steamed milk?” This seems simple.

It is not.

“So you want a misto?”
“I want an Americano with steamed milk.”
“A misto.”
“Fine, a misto.”
“That is $4.00.”
“What?!”
“Four. Dollars.”
“An Americano is $2.50.”
“But you want a misto.”
“No. I want an Americano with steamed milk.”
“That is a misto
“That is a made up word.”
“No, it is an Americano with steamed milk.”
“Where does it say this on the menu?”
“It doesn’t.”

You see how this will go. On principle, R is annoyed to be paying extra simply because she does not want cold milk in her coffee. And on principle the baristas are confused by this because apparently it is cool to pay more for coffee. R finally did get someone to admit that misto was a made up word. And in another instance she got an explanation that it was the amount of steamed milk that changed the name and therefor the price of the drink. Also, it turns out if you just tell people you want hot milk, this does not cost extra. Though there was much concern among the barista population surrounding the burning of said milk. I think we had coffee at maybe five different places in an effort to expose the fraud of the misto. We did find a place that steamed the milk and did not charge extra, nor did they ask a lot of strangely redundant clarifying questions. [We did enjoy some $4.00 cookies… though R had also initially taken issue with the price of the cookies, until she ate one – and I must concur: epic and worth way more than $4.] All the while I just drank my regular old coffee with cold half and half – after I let it cool a bit.

I think we won in the end.

On our sojourn through the West Village, we took a timeout at Buvette. Make no mistake, this place is completely cute and had we not had big plans for dinner, we might have had a more substantial stopover here, but we both wanted coffee and this place seemed perfect. In hindsight, it may have been a bit too French. Anyhow, we came in and sat down at the counter, but then realized that there was a better seat in the window. So we moved so that we were both sort of facing the front window, though, not sitting directly adjacent to each other. The waiter, who was clearly French, and looked exactly like this, walked over and got a really pained look on his face.

“Oh you are sitting there?”
“Yes, is that okay?”
“It is just so complicated.”
“This is a seat, right”
“Yes, but,”
“So we can sit here right?”

At which point the waiter who is decidedly not Christopher Abbott, let out an audible sigh and walked away. Are you fucking kidding me? Wile he went over and pimped the most expensive wines to a table across from us another server took our order. A third server brought the coffee. And one of those final two brough the bill while the other collected it. French Not Charlie never came back. I guess it was just really too complicated. And don’t even get me started about the guy with the headband hat at the main bar.

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We spent Easter Sunday in Harlem. There had been some discussion around attending a gospel church – for the music, but that ended up not panning out and on walking by the church wherein we saw many tourists coming and going from the church we felt glad to not be partaking. Unsure of where we might eat we considered this place, but there was a substantial wait and there was a decidedly theme park vibe with an entirely black staff in prohibition-era garb and an entirely white clientele. So we stepped outside to contemplate our options. While we stood there a young black man wearing headphones came bouncing up the sidewalk. He appeared to be rapping, like maybe along with whatever he was listening to. I looked at him while R continued checking out restaurant options in the area. The next thing I know, this young man is in front of us and I get the feeling that he is going to try to get us to take a flyer or a CD or something because he is approaching in that manner. But he never breaks stride with his diatribe – the initiation and context of which we had no idea – and the next thing I know he is fanning out a handful of twenty-dollar bills in his hands and getting in my face saying, “Yeah, I got my hundred dolla’ bills. You’re not used to seeing a black man who is not financially indisposed are you? Are you? Yeah, that’s what I thought, you ugly white bitch.” [Say it with me: Are you fucking kidding me?] As he moved on, I looked at R and we mentally recapped what had just happened, unsure if we had both simultaneously misconstrued the event. Nope. It happened. And, ugly? Brother, please. You do not know ugly.

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Moving on, we decided to try Melba’s and it was an excellent choice in every way… except for the route we took to get there. In a nutshell, I would just say avoid 114th Street east of Frederick Douglass Street. You won’t be sad you did. We were seated at the bar, had excellent food, excellent service, and top shelf Bloody Mary’s – one round for free for an oversight on our order. It was good enough to put us in a dangerous food coma for much of the rest of the day. Somehow it seemed appropriate for a grey Easter Sunday in NYC and we did some churchin’ – we checked out the Cathedral of St. John: The Great Divine, disputably the largest cathedral and Anglican church, and fourth largest Christian church in the world. Plus we passed a beauty parlor/mortuary which seemed really apropos for anyone preparing for a resurrection.

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We survived the day, the vodka, and the unending stream of R’s people who seem to have completely infiltrated and assimilated to NYC down to the iced coffee. [We ended up walking behind a pair who both reminded me of Colin Frissel, and surely came to America because they saw Love Actually, and were extolling the wonders of iced coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts. “It is amazing, like the aftertaste is so much smoother.” I feel fortunate that we were able to recover R’s eyeballs from the great heights to which they rolled.]

We did go to Brooklyn, twice. Once was to check out Roberta’s on A’s advice (bearing in mind A is mildly obsessed with Girls and so, Brooklyn.) The thing about Roberta’s is that it is in a completely dodgy neighborhood (Bushwick is supposed to be up and coming. I’ll defer to “coming”) and after getting a great deal of press for the food as well as some haters and a naked waitress. We were also warned that even going at 8 pm on a Monday night, we could expect no less than an hour wait. For pizza. [Yes, you know it is coming: Are you fucking kidding me?] Everything about Roberta’s turned out to be true. The neighborhood is shite. The building is a hovel – though clearly intentionally so: “You realize we are essentially in a shack?” was R’s observation as we embarked upon our wait time. And the food was really, really good.

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Our wait ended up being only 30 minutes, the service was great, the super-hipster servers were just all pretty happy to be there, or at least they could pretend to be happy way better than that tosser at Buvette. And if I did not say it already, the food was great. If you go, do not miss the olives or the brussels sprout salad.

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And then we left Brooklyn. Which was a relief, because you know you’re out of place when after never EVER blending in Manhattan, I suddenly looked like I belonged in Manhattan.

Things were definitely looking better in my eyes, though granted, no New Yorker would ever give a crap about that.

The pièce de résistance though, save for seeing R and F.B. had to be the Gramercy Tavern. This was sort of a perfect day. We had gone to R’s new gym – the ever bougey Equinox, complete with Khiel’s products in the locker room – for spin class. This was new to me and seemed like a really NYC thing to do. And anyone who says yoga is cult-like, I will raise that claim with a spin class: Holy Rollers up in there. Then we met F.B. and saw his amazing new place. This reminded me that ALL city experiences are greatly enhanced by having shit loads of money. I had been generally feeling like the commensurate quality of life in NYC was way lower than in SF. Then I saw F.B.’s place and died. His doorman is called Igor and is for sure a Pre-Soviet Russian. It was lovely, and would inspire in me dreams of the possibilities for real estate, if I wanted real estate. We got to hang out all day and catch up and R and F.B. finally got to meet after having missed several opportunities in the UK and that was a stellar connection, which is always pleasing. We talked about the differences between the East Coast and the West Coast… and the only thing we could all agree on was that there were many. [“People in NY wear black because of fashion, in SF they wear black to match their moods.” F.B. “People in NY think they are so important because everyone wants to move here: Are you fucking kidding me? And by the way, black is slimming.” Me.]

And then for dinner, there was the Gramercy. We walked in and got the last table in the tavern, and things only got better form there. The food and service made us never want to leave. Even the couple – likely on a Match.com date who were practically mating two tables away, didn’t mess things up. I did not photograph the food, because, you know, look like you’ve been there and all that. But here is what I ate, along with a lovely cocktail and a bottle of wine:

Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Goat Cheese, Pecans and Pickled Onions
Celery Root Chowder, Clams, Mussels and Ham

Then was dessert. I let R choose. So the Chocolate Pudding, with Salted Caramel and Toffee Popcorn was a delicious surprise. However, not to be outdone by any Meg Ryan character, R wanted to try the Roasted Peanut Ice Cream. If you look at the menu you will see that her choice was not included in the Selection of Ice Creams (Vanilla Bean, Coffee and Butter Pecan). Nevermind. There was also conversation about the cheese plate. But upon hearing there was no appropriate fruit, R was aghast, the waiter improvised. He brought the pudding, the ice cream selection with roasted peanut added, AND the cheese plate (Chef’s Selection of Farmstead Cheeses: Kunik – goat and cow, Warrensburg, New York Landaff – raw cow, Landaff, New Hampshire Bayley Hazen – raw cow blue, Greensboro, Vermont).

It was ridiculously indulgent. So of course we had champagne as well. And never an eye was batted at a single request. It was the kind of night that could make a person fall in love with New York.

Of course, I mean only a person who did not live in San Francisco….

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It’s really just too complicated: Or, springtime in NYC.

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I spent spring break in New York City this year. I had not been to the BIg Apple since 2004 and in terms of relative time, that was really another lifetime that barely seems like it was my own. That was before I really got in touch with my love of cities… at that point I sort of knew I loved cities but… being stuck in Reno one can’t really focus on what one loves, one must focus on more basic things like not killing yourself or random people around you. Why New York? Well, I have been dying to take a trip for more than a year, and it turned out that a dear friend of mine had Jedi mind tricked her employers (located in Madrid) to not only facilitate, but fund her wish to work from Manhattan for three months. [If you would like to schedule an appointment with her for some handy tips on how to make your employers do insanely rad things for you without having to sell your soul, just let me know, I will see what I can do.] Further, it seemed like it was one of possibly two times of year that I might be able to tolerate the climate. And I was going to get a chance to see Fun Bobby for this first time since I left Hong Kong, which frankly, has been an unacceptable situation. So, it seemed like kind of the right time to go. Plus, I was thinking it was gonna be all like this. I gotta be honest though, it started out a whole lot more like this though. And really when one is on vacation, ain’t nobody got time for that. New York is supposed to be so very, you know. I’ve come to my own conclusions, but we will get to those presently. Suffice it to say that New York is (as Jerry Garcia said long ago about The Grateful Dead), like licorice. Not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice, REALLY like licorice.

Anyhow, here it is. New York City Chapter One: In which we determine that everyone really does want to be in the cast of Girls, the East Village has a sidewalk cafe that smells like ass, as well as another one that serves tequila slushees, and Gangstagrass might actually be a thing.

It started this way. A morning flight to O’Hare. Crowded. Middle seat. The best part about this middle seat? I was between two people who were traveling together but hated the middle seat so much they booked the window and the aisle on a sold out flight. I understand hating the middle seat thing, but seriously? These two talked over me for four and a half hours. That takes true dedication and stamina. Who does that?

Then I landed in Chicago. (Previous question answered.) I had some nostalgia as I thought back to my last trip to Chicago wherein there was Lollapalooza and Alinea and museums and such. Mostly I love Chicago because there is no where on earth I have visited where I feel so tall and thin as I do when I am in Chicago. It is like an instant ego boost. Therefore, I do like the Midwest. But – on to the next one, please.

Seeing a friend you haven’t seen in nearly four years is pretty amazing. In every sense of the word. If it is true that the measure of a (hu)man is in their friends, it appears I am awesome. And I am grateful for this. Arriving was simultaneously exciting and expected, which is cool. There was much catching up to do and Brooklyn Lager to drink and take out to order. It was past midnight my time, but hey – there are better times to sleep. And however it happened, I woke up the next morning ready to go. Who knew I still had it in me?

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It was sunny and clear and R’s apartment, directly adjacent to the Manhattan School of Music was deceptively cozy. It was cold outside. Really. Cold. I think one of my issues with New York has to do with the cold and the dilemma of outerwear.* One must have a plethora of coats and jackets to get by out there and for travel this is mightily inconvenient. Having brought my warmest coat that does not belong on a ski mountain was smart, but totally limiting. I mean a full length cashmere and wool coat *only* looks good at night. Any other time it looks totally stupid. But since all domestic airlines charge for luggage now (except my favorite… you know who you are Southwest!) it is neither feasible, nor economical for the solo traveler to bring the requisite “plethora of outerwear.” Sigh.

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With a series of not entirely ideal layers we headed out. It was fun to see the city and get a sense of the neighborhoods. From Morningside Heights down through the Upper West, through Lincoln Square to the Theater District where I could take the awkward tourist photos and later forward them to my non-tourist Brit. Through Midtown to the East Village… I figure we logged ten miles or so. I have been hearing all about how Brooklyn is the hipster paradise, but was overwhelmed by odd facial hair, late-90s fashion choices with a splash of American Apparel for that contemporary edge and muchos fixies. (R calls them onesies which really makes me laugh because I just picture the hipsters riding around in rompers with attached feet… but then I had to stop laughing as it dawned on me that with little encouragement that could really be a thing and then I would be sorry to have ever conjured the thought.) There was much to see and admittedly it was quintessentially “New York”. And even a San Francisco kid can appreciate that. I didn’t see many of the hawkers selling the fake bags and such out on this day [Prada? Gucci? Louis? What you want? You tell me, I put on the label…] though I did see my pashmina men, and since I can no longer hustle down to the lanes in Hong Kong, and my cat eats textiles, I was in need. “How many do I buy to get some for free?” (The answer is ten, btw.) As R noted, apparently you can take the girl out of HK…. Hey, he understood, and I got something free, even though I couldn’t find eleven colors I liked, R picked out a leopard print and we were good to go. We were all happy.

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Looking around lots of things kept coming into my mind. I thought about the Maurice Sendak/Carole King Really Rosie collaboration a lot. Rosie always seemed so cool in her eight year old New York way, and she was really Rosie, but I am pretty sure she was from way don in Brooklyn and I had yet to check that out. Still… I thought about movies like… well none really in particular, it is just that a lot of New York feels like a movie set. I thought about how lame I find the today show as I looked at all the people mooning outside their windows. Is that show even on on Saturday? I thought about how Matt Lauer has fallen from grace. I didn’t really care that much about it though, because I was getting hungry. So much so that I missed my chance to see ScarJo walking by. And some other guy who is famous apparently, but I still don’t know who he is. Fortunately, as in the city where I live, the biggest issue when one gets hungry in NYC is choosing where to eat.*

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For a minute it got warm enough to unlayer and so we celebrated with champagne cocktails. It seemed like the right thing to do. This was my first experience of shockingly bad table service in NYC (and also my first table service.) Granted, I can appreciate that I am approaching middle age, and this fact may be exacerbated when I hang around with my “younger” friends, which R certainly is, so I may not look as cool as the other customers, but logic seems like it would dictate that older people have more money for say, tips. Regardless, this waiter was either suffering from some sort of facial palsy, wearing a dirty diaper, or just really that sour. He even made us switch tables. Saved money on the tip in the end. (Tipping was a fairly constant topic of conversation on this trip though as the Brits are definitely not on board with tipping the way that we are, and they believe we are “ruining it for the rest of the people” with our tipping practices. I am still thinking about this.)

After this interlude, we headed further into the East Village because we were after tickets for a show at the Mercury Lounge that evening. This fairly lengthy hike warranted another reward and so we had pink lemonade margaritas at another sidewalk cafe. They were slushees with booze. We also ordered nachos, which was a mistake, particularly for a girl from the Mission. Regardless, R, it turns out, has a little love for bluegrass, and in her search for some local bluegrass, she came across Gangstagrass. Yes, they are a thing. Had either of us ever watched the show Justified, we would have been apprised of this band, but we had not. And since they were playing in town we had decided to go. In our effort to purchase the tickets (it did not work – the girl at the booth was locked out of the computer) R saw that another band, The Stone Foxes was playing later in the week. Should we get tickets? She thought she liked them, she had them on her iTunes… We got those tickets with instructions to get the Gangstagrass ones prior to the show at the door. Interestingly, the band on her iTunes turned out to be the Fleet Foxes, but no bother.

Tickets in hand, we opted to cab it back up town, to get ready to come back downtown… It was a treat to be back in a city wherein the biggest issue in getting a cab is that they nearly crash trying to simultaneously get your fare.

We turned it around in record time and headed to the show. The opening band was Kamara Thomas and the Ghost Gamblers. Her eye make up was troubling, but it turned out to be more troubling for her than us as she accidentally smudged it pretty bad and none of her peeps told her about it. That should be in the band code: tell your frontman when they smudge their Robin-styled eyemask make-up. At least, if I were in a band I would make that a rule. Then came Gangstagrass. And I gotta say, totally not disappointing. I might even watch Justified now.

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One day, nine or so neighborhoods, eleven pashminas, three bars, two wanky servers, myriad hipsters, three outfits, one train, two cabs, bad eye make-up, fusion music, late night pizza; all in a city that is not my own.

And that made all the difference.

*First world problems.