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Center of Gravity

If you live in the San Francisco Bay area you live in reference to the City, San Francisco.  Yet interestingly that city is on the westernmost edge of the continent.  So everyone in the Bay area faces west until they get to the City, then they stop.  Does San Francisco face west?  Arguably it has been the portal to the Pacific.  But I wonder which way San Francisco does face?  First thought is inward, as it tries to incorporate its exterior constituencies into itself.  The city contains much Pacific Rim culture, China, Southeast Asia, Japan, Australia.  It contains Pacific Northwest.  And more of late it contains Silicon Valley.  For better or for worse.  On a recent trip through Silicon Valley to Cupertino, through Los Altos and out to Santa Cruz I noted, as always, the oak trees, open hilly spaces,  mid-century architecture.  There’s no way San Francisco contains that.  But the life of Silicon Valley, those young hipsters, they face San Francisco and San Francisco consumes them.  So who will win, the oak hillsides of Sand Hill or the restaurants and bars of the City?  The secret is the South Bay was always a staging area or a retreat from the City.  So you enjoy your horse farm and your vineyard in the hills south of San Francisco precisely because you can afford a retreat from the City.

I grew up in the East Bay.  The light industrial side of things.  There are so many people out there, UC Campus, lots of malls and community colleges.  It’s not the heavy industry of the areas immediately north and east of San Francisco, the refineries and former shipyards.  Just lots of people spreading out towards Mount Diablo, washing around it actually, a 4,000 foot mountain that will get a tiny bit of snow sometime during the winter on its deserty scrub and oaky slopes.  The dreams of those people are dreams under an oak tree in summer, ephemeral and gentle.  I see my high school classmates becoming more and more puffy and hunched over as they walk.  I suppose the best of them are like oak trees with a solid, enduring air.  Anyway, that is Walnut Creek.  I had a taste of Concord, also, with its working classes and cheese cooperatives, back in the 1970s.  Who knows what they do now in Concord.  I think it’s a back office city, so what goes on there is subsumed within the expression of multinational corporations to the world at large.  Seen in downtown Walnut Creek, where everything is actually sold.  A hub within the East Bay, a Chicago for the Bay Area.  And what of the Bay area’s Atlanta?  How will Oakland fare this time when it has taken some of the wind out of Little Chicago’s sails?  The wind blows through but as yet no large cranes catch the air and drive development forward.  Will they come this year?

In the meantime I can go to San Francisco to write, or just kick it in one of these other cities.  There’s a ferry from here to Oakland, the 3rd nicest city to live in in the US.  Or I can just have lunch here in the City and remember eating out with my family in Seattle which looks towards San Francisco past the heads of certain high tech giants.  We had a great week there and I can sit here and look back on that week in the city that looks back at San Francisco.  Yes a lot of mirrors and reflection.  And fewer beards here, less competition there.  You notice that’s two things about Seattle, not about San Francisco.  The consumer and the consumed — in a gritty reality contest you know Seattle would win.  But that’s like a contest between the brain and the stomach, the parent and the child, the theatergoer and the director.  Who is in charge?  Who writes the script and who approves it?

The Financial District is a bit unexplored for me.  I’m in a little burger bistro on a restaurant alley I didn’t know about.  It’s 1:30 and everyone suddenly left, except a few of us.  A couple of executives, a man with his sister, two men at the bar looking like they need to discuss important matters with the bartender, a big man and a woman at a high table.  The fast kids left.  Back to work.  The buildings are tallest here.  The water pretty far away.  These pedestrian alleys are cool, right in the shadow of the TransAmerica tower.  The servers seem happy.  Everything is so fast, how could anyone complain?  In the mania of it it almost feels like it doesn’t matter what all of us is doing, just that we’re doing something, and we care.  Counterpoint, my junior colleague at work chooses a pace that gives him lots of time for self-doubt and moaning and groaning.  What’s the point?  Why not drown your doubts and sorrows in enthusiasm and more work, instead?  The doubts and sorrows may go away.

What about me?  I definitely need to keep the momentum going.  And so I go in to work and scream through my calls for the day, finishing them quickly so I can shift focus to follow-ups and projects.  It’s like I’m in a whole different world from my junior colleague.  This woman calls me from Paris and says I’ve promised her an offer on her building.  I have people lined up to gather the info we need, analyze it, write the offer, schedule a follow-up call.  We will execute.  Meanwhile I hear the song Jessie’s Girl playing and celebrate Bruce’s enthusiasm but not his assumed pathos.  If you want a girl like Jessie has, you just have to go out and get her.  Probably in San Francisco, although that is one of the places in this world where you’d have to work harder than anywhere else.  Better try Chicago or maybe some weird hub city like Cincinnati?  Berlin?  Rio?  Goa?  Just don’t stay in that little suburb that Bruce is singing about, where everyone holds on to what they have as prosperity slips away.  Then you’d just have to be satisfied as Jessie’s sidekick.  What girl wants to go out with a sidekick?  Sidekick girl.  Still, that would be a more wholesome song than Jessie’s Girl, much more Marvel.

Over a thousand words.  I have a secret for you.  Wait for it.  Tainted Love plays and all but one of the guys at the bar and a big group praying in the corner leave.  One quiet male couple arrives to snack on sliders and salad…but we’re energized by the unseasonable heat and the Herculean efforts of those who have already gone back to work.  Those two guys don’t seem worried.  Seems like they could be sitting in Puerto Vallarta.  Maybe they own the restaurant.  Thank you, calm, shorts guys; if there’s anything I actually like better than Puerto Vallarta it’s idealizing Puerto Vallarta, and reliving the moments there that seem to have just the right combination of otherworldly and familiar, gay American and homophobic Mexican (or will Donald Trump and Jessie and his Girl have it the other way around?  Homophobic American and permissive, tolerant, long-suffering Mexican).  Just as an aside, Hillary Clinton actually called all of us racist in her effort to highlight the racism of Donald Trump.  Better to admit it and try to change it than to cover it up and have it come belching out under the influence of whatever makes us feel at home.  A woman stomps out of the corporate group praying to the ideals embodied by the leader, the one paying for lunch, in her high-ish heels — a commonplace late Admin exit.  You can hear someone bossily expounding over there.  Almost 2 PM.  Can she finish up in time to catch the Clinton/Trump debate t0night?  Did I mention it’s hot today.  Oh yes, but down here in the artificial valleys of the financial district there are cool breezes and U2 plays.  We shift quickly, here.  Mad rush to cool afternoon.  You find your place.  The secret is this place is not essentially different from Puerto Vallarta, or that pathetic town where Jessie’s sidekick watches his girl.  I have a feeling Puerto Vallarta and Sidekick Girl beat Jessie in his San Francisco suit every day.  The secret is Jessie dreams of escape and he’s probably always had a thing for Sidekick Girl.

 

So Beautiful

On BART.  Again.  This time the fog hangs thick and low, cool over all. The trains swish in and out of curly tendrils, down into the heart of the cloud.  So beautiful, and the moment is mine.  Mad Max: Fury Road won a lot of Oscars yesterday and my kids saw the whole social-political spectacle.  A line from the movie mentions that our life is in the moment.  Every existential pain I feel is tied to this feature.  I don’t exist outside of it so I’m constantly under pressure when I try to bridge the gap between one perceived moment and another.  Why do neurons have gaps?  Humans have separate male and female counterparts?  The short circuit is death, life is in the gap, in the movement from one place to another.

In the gap time has passed since Mad Max took the Oscars home.  Months.  If I were Mad Max wandering the desert I might wonder how many months and see the stubble on my chin in a broken shard of mirror and laugh at death coming swiftly for me.  Have you noticed six months is 160th of a lifetime, an eightieth of a working career, a thirty-sixth of a childhood?  So if Mad Max looks in the mirror and it’s a flash of time since six months prior, and if that’s a single frame of a film he’s in he’s got 4.4 seconds of life since his birth.  Of course we don’t know what 160th of a lifetime is, because no one knows intuitively what anything from a thirty sixth through a 160th is, so it doesn’t matter to us (we can understand 4.4 seconds, though, it’s a long intake of breath).  How about this:  I’m likely to stay in a home for six years, stay in a career for nine, watch my kids go from preschool to college in thirteen.  Take any one of those items and six months is between one twelfth and one twenty-sixth of the whole.  That’s something anyway.  Impressive?  No, we have no idea what anything as small as one twelfth is.  Oh well, I just had the idea that six months is a big chunk out of a lifetime.  I know it is.  I know by the time I slowly draw breath (4.4 seconds) the leaves will blow through this narrow outdoor corridor of this cute restaurant in Walnut Creek once more and I’ll be dead.  What will my kids think?  What will those 4.4 seconds look like on screen, if anyone watches?  It’s getting so cold here, and you know what warms my heart?  The knowledge that I’ve changed so much about what I’ve written, today, that I will not publish it yet.  I’ll wait for a day, a week, a month, God knows how long, to review, revise and consider publishing.  My stand in defiance of the impossible power of the passage of time:  I’ll wait until the moment is right though it cost me everything, though the writing is stillborn, incomplete, or even a soul that never was…

Picked up this thread, So Beautiful, because I’m at Cesar, the tapas place with the good wine.  Thought it appropriate to appreciate beauty here.  More than wine, the bartender last week said their cocktails are of higher quality.  I’m usually disappointed with cocktails.  Because of the lower quality.  Take a mimosa.  Why adulterate champagne with orange juice…unless it’s not very good champagne, and then why drink it?  To get high from cheap champagne and also have a heart attack drinking orange juice?  Here at Cesar they play Spanish guitar music I can’t Shazam and take home with me.  Sometimes they come up with fresh garden vegetables you couldn’t get at the Chez Panisse.  And Cesar has a collection of Scotch that’s So Beautiful — varying shades of brown.  So I sip my Cabernet and observe their Scotch collection surrounded by Old People from Berkeley.  I’m relatively young here in this un-Shazamable place.  If you don’t know what Shazam is then Google it.  If you don’t know what Google is then congratulations to you.  Just kidding, of course.  You know what Google is.  But the point is I’m not a big Scotch drinker and yet I appreciate this Wall of Scotch.  It adds to the credibility of the place.  Even though I only sip the wine here.

Did I mention why I came to Cesar?  No?  If I do will you let me know, because I’m unsure.  And more than that:  I’m not at Cesar, I’m at Va de Vie in Walnut Creek.  Watch out, the transition from one place to another can seem instantaneous, even though a day, a month, a year or a decade passes.  Would I dare pick up this same piece after a decade?  Would it give you a chill if I said that’s what I’ve done?  I came (to Cesar, to Va de Vie) as an exercise.  I’m writing the script of a life, so wherever I choose to go and do becomes the story.  That’s obvious, but the point is my choices aren’t existentially important for what they produce but for their stories.  God, it just went from hot to cold at Va de Vie as the sun passed into shade and the wind picked up.  I’m reminded, as I have often been, of The Swimmer, a story in which the protagonist swims his way home through friends’ pools in the neighborhood but finds his self-absorbed focus takes him on a much, much longer journey through the loss of his social credibility and many of his friendships, and his youth before he can ever complete the simple exercise.  4.4 seconds.  An in-drawn breath.  I try to get my outbound sales calls at work completed by noon each day, and then shift my environs at noon.  For lunch.  But also to tell a story, the story of a creative afternoon.  Does it matter the exact course it takes?  No, the point is it’s not an office.  My client just called me after I sent him multiple prospects to review.  Another several weeks pass with no further contact with that client and another client calls me in person for the first time and says “Oh yes, I am open to doing this transaction” that would make half my year’s goal.  Half my year’s sales calls all realized in that one statement if it turns out that it’s realized…  Uncertainties and perhaps 18 months of extended transaction ahead.  What are the probabilities?  Has this intrusion into my creative time defined a success?  Or a half-hour step farther into the darkness of failure.  Or, guess what, no one knows and yet I am here, I am here, like the smallest Who crying out to the unknown.  Do I sit next to a high mountain peak in Colorado sipping Cabernet with family members?  No, but given I’m having lunch, having lunch, having it again, I can call my client back and the moment and the paella form a bridge to that mountaintop (and don’t forget the steak, and dare I mention one hundred other meals?)  A creative afternoon.  Maybe I’ll close a deal with my client (which one?), but not at the cost of my soul, I hope.  Not entirely, anyway.  A discount half price sale on souls for half a day today.  I have a break, the story has a twist, and today it was Cesar, I mean Va da Vie, I mean, shall I claim a future lunch date with myself, before it arrives?  The wind has died down.  It feels warmer… Notice the lie because there is no future.  Our family plans to go swim in the pool of an old friend of mine soon but be clear, please, we can only claim the plan.  And as we seek a date the weeks shift from September to November.  Big difference for a swimming date, though. 

Not on BART, or Uber, now.  Certainly not driving.  Getting places is important to the story, but how much more important being there?  Here.  Being here.  By the time my fingers reach the keys to type out where here is, it likely won’t be Va da Vie.  It’s not. It’s called Desco and they have great espresso. Looking back, too, perhaps this alley was once not paved with stones and dotted with tables (Perhaps?  Come on, you know it wasn’t.)  But the wind very likely blew leaves from the enormous oak tree even before either of the brick buildings formed an alley there.  Of course that tree was once an acorn, perhaps 120 years ago?  The current length of a human lifetime without accident, disease, or genetic failure.  I’m 50 in so far, so I’ve got a ways to go if I fight for it.  Or maybe 7% chance if I don’t?  Or, what, 20% chance if I do and the world continues on its current elitist development course?  And what does fighting mean and by fighting do I change my in-drawn breath from 4.4 seconds to 5.3?  Since I live in Berkeley I may as well eat at Cesar, seeing the vehicles swiftly pass on Shattuck Ave in the Gourmet Ghetto.  So close to the Chez Panisse I can see the shadow of its Chez Panisse (connifer?) tree.  I talked to their gardener the other day when he picked me up in his pickup to take me to a potential job site for him.  And he told me the name of that unusual tree that you see in front, and that surrounds the most cute dining area in the cafe upstairs that Bill Clinton probably didn’t get to sit in because his entourage was too large (all probabilities, of course, and what I wonder is what was actually on his mind and did he care whether he could sit with the unique bunya-bunya framing his, for that moment, Arts & Crafts window?  Did he know about the tree?  Did he notice it?  Would he have cared?  I think he would have, if someone (the gardener?) talked with him about it.  And I am here, in the shadow of the Chez Panisse and its bunya-bunya, listening to un-Shazamable music.  Oh, one of the pieces got Shazamed, but I don’t know which one, and it’s not available on iTunes.  For some reason this reminds me of visiting the famous main library in Seattle and my daughter hurt her leg running on the escalator and the Uber driver waited for us on the far side of the building.  I got so little satisfaction out of that visit because my daughter complained the whole time.  And in memory I have nothing immediately before or after.  Pike’s Place chaos market before?  Our tiny Airbnb apartment after?  Logical.  Still, I just remember beautiful escalators suspended in air, and my daughter falling on one and whining, whining.  The quality of her whining is so demanding, so confident.  I feel like the world had better watch out for her.  We’ll see.  Always in the shadow of something, I write so late in the summer that who can remember it’s summer?  The fog coming and going, mostly coming, over Berkeley, and at 2 PM in late summer of course it may be typical, if not the Indian Summer delight we look for.  Yet how can it be Indian Summer when it is still actual summer and so we must endure the summer fog.  And if six months have passed who can say whether that’s a big piece of my life.  I know it is.  And yet Seattle was barely six weeks ago.  Seven.  Eight.  Is six weeks long?  Seven, eight?  Is time long?  And when was it we were at the boardwalk in Santa Cruz and did not ride the tram cars, the cable ride, the one where you dangle your legs over the park as you travel over it?  My wife got beautiful and cheap sunglasses there.  And we got passes that we haven’t yet used.  Maybe we will soon.  Oh yes, Santa Cruz, I have you in my sights.

We Have It All

Chaamah, or something like that. Adele’s Rolling In the Deep plays as the background. Both kids are here.  Went to the Magic shop, the earring shop, and we’re eating at the Thai place my daughter found on Yelp, near Union Square.  Was about to write my kids were “turned off” because they’re watching TV.  But things move quickly: dinner comes and goes, squabbles over shrimp pass as dark clouds, suddenly here and gone.  Diners pass through.  The kids order dessert.  Feels like nighttime now, so quickly…

The place has become crowded at 7:30 PM on a Sunday with people looking in from the street.  The waitress doesn’t understand the word “dairy.”  For a moment back there I tasted the green curry and recalled a recurrent dream of a trip to Thailand.  In the dream I can eat at any restaurant in a whole park full of restaurants, and there are so many, and something heavenly about having my choice, and they are all good.  For a moment tasting that green curry I’m there, the dream is here, this little hole-in-the-wall Thai place in San Francisco is one of the Good Places.  I think Paris and eat Thai.  In other words, moments that feel good can connect and momentarily coexist.  Paris is a place of mind, a background for experience, a lot of yellow gravel walks and noisy cafes.  When the sound becomes just loud enough you rise up into a different plane…and it’s easier to experience this Paris when you’re not there.  The kids learn about magic and discount deals on earrings, we enjoy half-price Uber rides on a darkening Sunday and the patrons press in while the waitresses with their broken English try to help and the busboy with gold rings folds napkins and laughs with them.  He may as well be in Thailand, or Laos or Vietnam but of course with his gold rings he is definitively in America.  I’m momentarily as much in his place as he in mine while I dine in his restaurant.  And the ultimate secret of Paris and Thailand is revealed while the kids grow restless and the arguing starts, and it starts to seem ludicrous that we’re holding this table while the kids fight over a bite of mango.  The secret is it isn’t just a place.  And there is no milk in this sticky rice sauce, and despite too much broth in the soup there was a moment when the music mixed with the fast motion of the staff here, and their positive energy, and it all came together.  As we weave our way through the narrow entry corridor to the sidewalk, those outside add a final push of value to here even in the moment that it becomes there for us.

Another day.  If I think hard about Paris, recall the summer I lay out on the grass in the park after rising at 5 AM to buy croissants leaving my newlywed spouse to sleep, I feel it  pressing down onto this unusually hot Berkeley street side.  Sitting in the shade at the beginning of a UC Berkeley semester while the heat of Paris comes down onto the roofs of the single-story retail shops on this street.  In other words I sense the world, the hot, dry world, all around me as I sit at my table at the side of the pedestrian way.  Yesterday, deciding how to spend my time while the kids were in school I found I’d divided it up finer and finer until there was little pleasure in it and after a meeting with my boss that morning regarding best sales team strategy I wondered if I’d spent the last minute before 2pm the best way I could.  Actually the minute was well spent, it’s just various other minutes of which I’m unsure.

And today, as always the minutes pass while I, wander?  Not quite, the Uber Pool brought me on a random walk to my several destinations.  A less expensive, erratic path, nevertheless arriving with certainty.  And I wrote during the last-minute again before arriving this time at my house.  No one in it and still it was distracting.  I have a lot of collected experience there.  So much easier to write at a sidewalk cafe…  And I’ve invited the kids to come down here and work with me and they are not here.  So there is a gap between the potential to be with them and the actuality of it.  It all happens in the gap.  A former Berkeley professor called it liminality, the moment that you step from one thing to another.  Really the only moment that matters.  I step from here to Paris to Thailand and back, and you know, all these people driving and walking about North Gate at Cal are doing it too, I’m sure of it.  It begins to feel like home.

Ferry

Feels like I’ve been here before.  On the bench at the Ferry Terminal in San Francisco.  The difference is I’m not with family — that’s important, as when I am with them I see the environment both through the eyes of one who is with them and also from an imagined traveler’s perspective.  The challenge, in returning here, is to be the traveler and not the hurried business luncher.  Today I’ve managed to watch, as a childrens’ book narrator watches, myself and my surroundings.  Present in the same way I was when visiting my Grandmother in Texas as a child.  I have no more grandparents, only this lesson in how to notice the ocean air gently blowing on my face.  Gentle as a San Francisco summer afternoon is not always gentle.

Seagulls cry as the ferry line grows.  The terminal bridge creaks.  Five minutes to departure; I didn’t really see people getting off but some people passed me in that direction.  Is the boat already empty?  The line moves, fast.  Getting shorter, in fact disappearing.  The woman at her laptop on the bench already got up and stood in it.  At 3:11pm the sound of cars on the Embarcadero suddenly seems louder.  A shift.  People heading home.  And the seagulls.  Does anyone recall the moment, in The Lord of the Rings, when Legolas saw his first seagull?  Far up the Great river from the Sea. The cry meant Legolas could never again be satisfied with Middle Earth, that he’d have to leave for to the Elvish land across the sea.  I notice he did travel around Middle Earth for a while first with his friend Gimli, not to mention finishing the War of the Ring.  So, like Buddha he helped out those of us still on earth before he travelled on.

I don’t think I’m Legolas, but I do like to take a photo and color it creatively, make reality just a bit different.  Take the horrors of our own underworld and let them blend just a little with the color of the bright San Francisco day.  And can I claim to brush in a bit of color from a better place?  The intention itself colors all.  I know that I can claim only one thing and that is this moment.  The price I pay for it already discussed in past musings.  Too simple and yet too dear.  My life, my time, my soul.  The ferry with its seagulls appeals so much that I want to ride it again today.  Such a curious experience, before, riding alone, as Bernard Maybeck and Charles Keeler did over 100 years ago, before they met and built their first house together.  What if I could live in that same house 121 years later?  What if I too could ride the ferry across that same Bay?  All I know is being out on the water is magic, much more so than the subterranean ways of BART.  The water moves out behind the ferry as it crosses under the Bay Bridge.  It moves so enthusiastically, so brightly, as I move upon the same waterways the Spanish sailed half a millennia past, with Inquisitions behind them and hope of something different up ahead.  Anything.

And now I sit in a Peruvian restaurant eating food garnished with giant pieces of corn.  I think they call it something else… On the water.  I see the Sausalito ferry depart.  The fog given way to summer sun and a stiff breeze.  A guy at the next table talks knowledgeably to a group of listeners about “disruptive” forces.  How much of his talk of disruption is purely his hope that his company can come into power?  He’s paying for this entire table of people who look spacey.  They’re on their break, right?  Eating at the Peruvian grilled meats restaurant.  Two admin people just jumped up and said they have to get back to work.  Now the guy is talking about how Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld had beliefs that were stupid.  I’d actually like to hear what he was trying to say using those saw horses as examples.  An Indian looking guy with a Texas accent.  Too nice.  Yet kudos to him for taking charge of all this.  I’ve been debating whether to use his company’s name here.  My decision is made by the fact that I can’t remember it.  Touch-something.  “You guys don’t have to wait (get back to work).”  That’s right, Mr. Touch, better use all your niceness and your charm and your whip and your luck.  Then maybe you can be a disruptive force and maybe you can benefit from that disruption.  What I hope for you is that you enjoy the process.  Anyone who has come across the sea to this place in the past half-millennia had better enjoy the process.  There’s no going back.

Happy

Happy for now.  Somehow the good feeling spikes each time I hear a chop of the machete, eight floors down by the cobblestone street.  Seriously, cobblestones.  Does anyone around here realize how valuable is the texture of cobblestones set in cement?  Even more, the irregular pattern, the patches, the inconsistency of it. How nearly impossible it would be to recreate the depth of experience and history of these Mexican cobblestones.  And someone has planted bougainvillea in the hairpin turn down there. The commons works well enough for me in this pinnacle of costly condo development above Puerto Vallarta.

The cathedral bell tolls, like a gong, quickly and frenetically.  Not like Italy, any of this, yet so much like.  I look forward to Spain–I have no idea how cathedral bells toll in Spain.  And just like that we’re out and driving around the Bay of Banderas towards the airport to go home.  Am I happy now?  It’s so hot and dry and, commercial, out here on the busy highway.  I haven’t seen any of the poorer parts of Puerto Vallarta.  Our cab driver says he lives out in the country with three horses.  I gather he’s fortunate.  He speaks calmly and intelligently on a range of topics from the benefits of Spanish to the distance one can see land across the ocean.  He delights in counting the horses beside the road and complements my wife on her Spanish.  The handmade bracelets and the dolphins are behind us.  The frantic cathedral bell.  The walks in the morning to get coffee and sweets.  The quick debates about where to catch a taxi.

Mexico, I don’t question your charms.  What better way to reflect upon them than to next see Spain? Though the idea resonates the moment isn’t happy.  Strange, because now I’m back in the Bay area, though I don’t have to work tomorrow I feel frustrated.  There is talk about our cute dog, oohing and ahhing at photos of her exploits while we were abroad, the kids bang their water bottles they’ve found in the back of the airport limo, and I have a headache.  I feel like everything in the car is happening inside my head as everyone seems to talk at once.  Perhaps it’s just me.  If I relaxed a little maybe I wouldn’t mind so much?  That presupposes I can let go of the pressure I feel to perform so I can travel more.  Let go and be happy.  Maybe I ate something with gluten earlier.  So the headache could be from that.  Welcome home!

I remember sitting on a beach at the end of another trip to Mexico, also Puerto Vallarta.  I’d been traveling that Winter, first to Hawaii, then Mexico.  As we prepared to return home, with our two very young children, I sat with my youngest on the beach while she played on the sand and I watched the sunset from a beach chair next to her.  I said to myself “We’ll come back as often as we like.”  Then life whisked me away, back to California.  And the kids grew up.  I won’t say we came back As Often As I Liked, but I eventually got to plan a train trip with my daughter and read Calvin and Hobbes to her.  Years later I did get to walk down to a restaurant on the beach at Old Town with my son and write while he played on his computer.  From the restaurant I could just about see the Melia, up the bay, where I’d sat most of a decade earlier watching the sunset while my infant daughter played in the sand.  And the decade hadn’t been all bad.  And I could have told myself again that I could come back as often as I’d like.  But I didn’t.  And my son is two-thirds of his way to eighteen, and in ten years these childhoods will be gone.

The Great Outdoors

It’s the name of the dining area I’m at with my kids on the stern of the smaller mega-cruise ship coming into Victoria. The fruit is ripe today and the captain announces it’s sunny. Fresh ground coffee from the machine. Breeze light across my face as the kids play on a computer.  Some magic happens and I later think this moment on the deck came after Victoria.  There’s nothing after Victoria — we wake up and we’re on the dock in Seattle again and the electricians are tearing open the ceiling panels in the hallways and the show has ended.

Back in Oakland remembering this trip — I mainly feel a desire for a vacation (vacation from the vacation), to sit by the pool at a Mexican condominium, to walk past the pool in the 9 AM morning cool and see a caretaker cleaning and know I’ll be able to sit next to that pool later, in a languorous early afternoon with a drink.  The kids, happily playing…  There may be a discussion of heading downtown to the beachside cafes.  There must be a way to not complain that pools on cruise ships are crowded and not relaxing.  Part of the Mexico vision I’m having is the ground doesn’t sway under my feet and it’s quiet, so quiet and empty in that condo complex, except for that one worker tending to a hose, or probably walking off to check on something elsewhere.  Probably not even around, in the cool morning uphill from the beach resort, with the fresh-cut grass and the little broad-leafed plants everywhere about the pool.

Had a gluten-free waffle in Berkeley after my seventeen-day trip to Seattle and Alaska.  Good enough.  Main thing is my choice to go there — I don’t usually get to.  The Heirloom where I got my waffle is particularly disliked by others in my family.  It seems there isn’t enough salt.  And true, some or most dishes are odd, even undesirable.  So how can I complain if they complain?  The problem is I’m seeking an experience significantly about anticipation and the process of discovery.  So knowing a lot of the dishes are wacky doesn’t stop me wanting to go in, appreciate the manicured garden, sip their yellow turmeric digestif and anticipate the gluten-free desert and waffle.  Found medium-rare meatballs to eat with the waffle.  More than good enough.

At a place in San Francisco I haven’t previously liked, Volta.  In the city officially to get a new wallet because mine’s falling apart.  Truly here to reclaim sanity, the process of coming to Volta shaded by intent different than culinary pursuit, intent to survive emotional hits, intent to establish a beachhead of sanity.  Pretty sure that’s what I do most of the time.  Is that what we all do, or am I different?  A song plays here by Carla Bruni; I don’t understand a word.  That’s the point of it being French.  Someone told me that I’m only happy for ten minutes when I’m sipping Cabernet — was that the same person who told me, earnestly, that I’m much more easy to get along with when I’ve been drinking?  I have found a good Cabernet and I enjoy Volta.  And I’m certain that I must sometime more thoroughly evaluate that statement from years past about the drinking.  There is a Buddhist teacher who says your neuroses come to light when you drink?  All right well we all know it is used as a social lubricant…  Laughter from another patron coming in with her partner mingles with a song, Autumn Leaves, still no English.  Volta is a concept and they have a good playlist.  I could live a long time on Dr. Who episodes and the Volta playlist.  So what if their herring tastes like it comes from that same Costco jar at home?

And the trip?  Seventeen days, maybe more, following several in Santa Clara for the Olympic Trials.  And the Intel museum.  Busy month.  Wondered the whole time whether my job was bringing me forward in life.  A good question not necessarily best asked while traveling, but then again what better time?  The answer, now I’m back for the first day in weeks?  Not nearly enough.  Daniel Amen, M.D., publishing writer, says we’re supposed to think positive thoughts.  My thought is I’m not accelerating in my career.  A seventeen day trip tells me that.  Tells me I must get moving again, and faster.  Who knows, with a few gluten-free waffles, an occasional trip to a Mexican poolside, and lots of writing and reflection, I may become more productive and successful in real estate sales.

Out of the frying pan into the fire.  Instead of travel now it’s the day-to-day.  If I write quickly, eating this halibut chowder supposedly-not-full-of-cream at Volta, listening to their music skipping forward when a song comes up the powers-that-be don’t like, will that save me?  I remember wanting to go on the submarine ride at Disneyland and I was too small.  The image of burning blue flames from a little highbrow bar-restaurant on College Ave in Rockridge right on the border of Berkeley and Oakland reflects the locus of desire for beauty imprisoning me.  Burning.  On my way to a pricey restaurant I didn’t previously like, passing two choices closed up or at least not open on Mondays, I walked over so much human urine and past so many lost homeless and was asked over and over how to get somewhere or buy a BART ticket, and so came to doubt my quest was valid, began to feel myself a tawdry lost soul wandering in the 11:40am August heat, the stink of urine rising up to the sun and the gods and the empty wasteland of the sky.

While I ponder, the soup I just ate sits for the moment happily in my stomach and I buy a copy of the song Birds by Emiliana Torrini and remember being in Florence writing for a month and can’t help wondering whether I can just write and somehow all will be OK.  My client who has corresponded with me for three years about selling his building texts me that his knee is much better.  Real estate brokerage is such a tease.  Can I work for several hours and then write, suspended amongst several pinion points — kids demands: travel, activity and dining options limited by them.  Work demands: time and life choices limited by those?

Victoria was beautiful.  I got my family to go to a little gastropub in the young Canadian suburb with only moments (hours, minutes) to stop before our cruise set sail.  Ended up a late night on the ship.  We made it back.  Our final stop, bracketed by breeching orcas and pushing my chair in on the cruise deck for the multitudes to pass while I sip my coffee while the kids delve into their videogame.  A whole pod of orcas, by the way.  But Victoria, so small, so green and humble, the pub in a nondescript shopping center.  A second or third rate musician singing live while we ate mussels and I sipped red wine.  That moment with wife and kids, bracketed, but invisibly, by other events, remains in my memory as a moment of departure.  Perhaps because it was my one true venture into Canada in a seventeen day trip on its borders.  Canada was different, even more different than Alaska.  And this was the European trip called off and re-planned as Pacific Northwest because of terrorism.  And the cruise ship was the same.  So amidst the taxidermy, the outdoor passion and the nativism of Alaska, the urbane, San Francisconess-with-beards of Seattle, the hollow,  cattle-run opulence and excitement about what’s on stage of the cruise ship, rests this tiny gem of European flair.  And upon my return it falls to me to choose celebration of that which is worthy or losing myself in details that don’t matter in the end.

Coffee

I feel so much better.  Sitting down with my kids at Namaste Indian cuisine listening to the soundtrack of the latest Ballywood release, finishing a small cup of Peets coffee.  Finished.  The beat goes on.  My kids eat and read and burp.  Now my son reads over my shoulder, trying to delete what I’ve written, and, upon being told to keep his hands to himself, concludes that an alien has taken over his father’s body.  Now I feel out of breath from arguing with him…

There’s a movie I want to be really good, London Has Fallen. They probably advertise it on the sides of buses, I’m guessing, because fans rate it almost a perfect five stars while the critics Fandango surveys give it 28 out of 100.  Experience indicates that means it’s a bad movie.  Saw it.  Was what it promised.  Wisdom from main character to bodyguard: “I never criticize my children,  just teach them to treat others as they would want to be treated.”  There you go.  As long as you can twist that into killing lots of people who get in your way you have a morally intact action movie…”Thank you so much for shooting me, that was just what I deserved.  Glad to be of service: I would appreciate the same in return if I were an enraged terrorist…”  Take note, if you read the Magicians series (is this a spoiler, or just a general characterization of the weird vegetarian god?) of Umber wiggling his goaty body eagerly in anticipation of being killed…  So it does happen, at least once in the history of literature (does Socrates count as an example also?).  All right who knows maybe there are legions of heroes asking to be killed (Martin Eden, The Awakening, both about heroes who come to themselves and then drown themselves on purpose…).  Wait, my point was meant to be that those terrorists in London Has Fallen surely didn’t want to be killed, but the tidal pull of our morality is strong, the deadly and apparently deranged Other, so scary that it’s easy to be drawn under.  Yet wait again, they were revenge seekers, and that is classically an end in itself whether the seeker of revenge lives or dies the cycle continues until it burns itself out.  Maybe the US President quoted in the movie actually would want the same treatment if the roles were reversed (If I’m nothing more than a tool for revenge then put me out of my misery)  Wait, he actually did make his Bodyguard promise to do exactly that.  When we’re willing to give up our lives things become so filled with potential.

And now?  The coffee has worn off.  A couple of weeks later it’s late afternoon.  I kind of had a nap and I’m here again in this quiet room I set up for writing.  One problem with this setup is since I always write about whatever is in the moment, that’s going to pretty much be me sitting in this room, right?  But isn’t a monk supposed to sit in a cell, a meditator sit with closed eyes, mystic use whatever is present even when not a lot goes on?  That’s right.  And this monk just at a cold linguica sausage.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  Now I feel like I can’t get enough water and air and standing and stretching to get all that orange grease to…do whatever it’s supposed to do.  Late afternoon, no coffee, orange grease…a miracle I’m still writing.

How about this.  I’m noticing this weekend every dad at gymnastics, soccer and the school band performances looks and acts just like me.  Not one or two of them.  All.  They talk sardonically to their buddies, look furiously at their cell phones, talk too loudly to their children so that everyone around them is offered the chance to overhear their worldly wisdom, even stand around looking forlorn and gray.  Weird.  Are they all exactly fifty, neighbor-challenged, tired from dealing with kids who no longer think daddy knows everything, and looking for what happens next in their lives?  So much for being distinctive and unique because I have a feeling these men are indeed all in roughly the same place I am.  Berkeley Dads with time for kids.  Kind of cute.  Much cuter with coffee, or with internet that works well enough to look up the word “linguica.”  There, finally.  Bad spell-check, underlining a properly spelled Portuguese sausage.  OK, I’ll forgive you because you helped me spell Portuguese, and OK.  And just thinking about drinking coffee tomorrow morning makes me fell better, sausage notwithstanding.

Fall

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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