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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.

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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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