French Hotel. Fall. Berkeley. With my Americano I have the sense of times past, Italy and train stations, of wandering freedom. An older woman sails across the cross walk towards where I sit. She looks so much like a man I’m sure she is for a long time. But as she stands and talks with the other elders gathered outside the cafe I see something feminine in her features and then that she wears a dress. The elders have this guy with them that I’ve seen many times before who is clearly autistic. They talk as though they’re having a council meeting. Anyway, not that the dress is definitive, just that it confirms by observation that the person’s features are distinctly feminine.
I’m waiting for pickup time for my kids. Late in the day and only three p.m. There’s something old-style about this cross walk with all the old people using it, as though a bridge back to the sixties and seventies, whether by way of seventy-year-olds who were in their twenties and thirties then, or by way of people in their twenties and thirties who carry yoga mats and dress in seventies styles now. What’s the difference if you put them into a place like Berkeley where all can focus internally on their own life path? The youngsters have more natal chi, but they waste it. The elders floating across the cross walk or gathering for their meetings hoard it and use it…to what end? The circle: young frivolous seriousness and old serious frivolity. Where is my coffee; this is a bit much for my fifty-year-old brain, halfway between thirty and seventy. But those ages don’t matter, do they, all in the mix. More important I’m half-way between 20 and 80. Those are real ages, moments in life when we’re something unmistakable. Logical follow-on question: at fifty, am I an unmistakable age, or am I unmistakably mistakable in my place in this continuum?
The cross walk is an old crossing in front of the BMW’s and Acura’s today. Actually I bet it’s newer than the traffic lights at the two nearest corners. A mid-block cross walk to a cafe. Those cars have to stop or-at-least-slow-down while oldsters and youthful acolytes drift across their way like ducks or metal targets. Microcosm of Berkeley. The French Hotel, Gourmet Ghetto next to the cross walk is not gourmet and seems the opposite of ghetto. The opposite of a ghetto would be a truly integrated city, and Berkeley isn’t. Berkeley is nearly a ghetto town in which each ghetto is a ghetto of one single person living a fantasy of his or her own. How well I fit with the misfits…
I feel my most recent work here was one of those targets, floating through time, shot down by an undeciphered error message while I sat at a little table in a new restaurant serving oversize sushi rolls. Sumo. I trusted their wi-fi network, thought I was so smart, and all the updates since the elder crossing were lost. Now I climb from Sumo to the Rotunda at Neiman Marcus. This feels like a ladies’ place with all these salads. I mean tell me if I’m wrong about that, I didn’t even look for the steak, just accepted what they suggested for me; I always love trying the press-button solution. And it’s good. I would hazard to say it’s better than what they have at the Nordstrom Bistro on top of that institution. And the wine seems pretty good. I’d love to see a comparison of how much food, wine and experience quality you get for the dollar at different places. Can you guess my guess? I propose it would be the-more-you-pay-the-better-it-is. I know practically everyone who writes about things or pursues things tries to get a deal, tries to see how one thing is better than another for reasons other than price. Do you see the fallacy? All these people writing about things and thinking about things are the ones making sure that it’s an even playing field: if one restaurant is a relative bargain then everyone will want to go there and try it (long lines theory of quality). If a restaurant is overrated in terms of price per increment of value then fewer people will attend and I can’t help thinking it will be in a hotel (or a department store?) and people in pajamas will be nursing coffee refills at three in the afternoon, or a stampede will be there at 9:30am if you happen to be there then. The point: my wife says I’m a hedonist and I’m having a pretty darn good glass of wine many floors above Union Square at 2:30 in the afternoon. I bet the people around me are filthy rich but what do I care, I’m not going to try to proselytize them, in fact I’d rather read about the downfall of the Comanche empire a century and a half ago than look at their pale white hair, their clenched Asiatic jowls, or listen to them go on about how the project the one hired the other to do was so…successful? Just a project. I bet the white-hairs have made real contributions to the University of California, San Francisco, the Asians own a lot of San Francisco property and I’ve called them on the phone before, and the interior designers know someone whom I could use for both my home remodel and the exterior project in North Oakland. Just being practical, there is no way in I’m going to approach any of them. Oh well. I find in writing this out I’ve actually generated a wish to do exactly what I am saying I shall not do, make contact. Deep breath. Other projects first. Maybe in a dining car on a train through Russia.
Break. Work for several hours, receive relentless complements on my cuff links, sweater, hat and tie, buy Christmas presents for the kids, read about the Comanches, eat, drink wine and write. That’s a perfect day. I found a Chinese restaurant in a Chinese mall today with a tiny front filled with hanging ducks and went back inside to where they don’t speak English well. The hostess shooed another patron over so I could sit at the big round table and there I read about the Comanches and ate steak with brownish sauce. Good.
How many things I could do. I didn’t expect to find presents for the kids here at this other mall (Nordstrom, Westfield) in San Francisco. But I did. There’s a building I’m selling that I’d really like to look at, but as darkness falls and I’m burdened with two bags of presents I won’t venture into that neighborhood. Not the plan but here’s what is: another day. I’ll come back (maybe tomorrow!) and I’ll see that building. God help me my source of energy is this balance of personal pursuit with work. If I had gone up to that building today after already exceeding the planned time on real estate work it would have led me to a place where I’m less happy, less successful, less alive. Dangerous abyss one skirts working for oneself, working sales. I must keep some balance or lose all hope.
Fall. Nordstrom Bistro. So many meetings this week and last week. I’m swimming in them. December 16. That’s Fall, but barely. So many meetings that my life is swim, meet, eat, family. Answer emails and make a few calls. Field questions from clients. Write. Wonder why it feels like a treadmill. Start over the next day. I’m on the outside looking in at my life, in a way. How can I get back in? Hello, you at the table at the Nordstrom Bistro, listening to Frosty the Snowman, sipping Cabernet, asking your assistant to do things for you. Yes you. You’re buying a charmed life. Hope the tab isn’t more than you can pay. Hope you’re having fun.
And you know what? I am having fun. For seventeen years now I’ve been grinding away at real estate and I actually like real estate. So that’s lucky. I like writing too, and the real estate seems to support that as the late almost shortest-day-of the-year sun reflects off a seven story building for a moment into my eyes atop Nordstrom.
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