Search

In This Moment

what if it matters?

Tag

narrative

In

It’s hard to have perspective when you’re in something.  I just came down to the underground train platform in downtown Berkeley and the moment I passed the point on the short stairway where my view was the platform instead of the upper terminal, bam  that was it, I was in.  And now, guess what, the train approaches.  I’m on the platform.  Walking towards the train door, and, I’m part of the seat grabbing rush!  That was different because the transition was accompanied by a stressful activity.  Instead of a visual instantaneous transition it was not only invisible, but somehow unappreciated.  I look up for a moment and see ranks of people looking at their phones.  Or more exactly ranks of seated people all wearing dark clothes, and I happen to see one person focused on her phone.  And I glance to the right and the person next to me is holding her phone.  Accompanied by a frenetic clicking noise that it turns out is the seat rattling. Turns out her phone screen is dark and she’s looking at the blank screen.

Weeks later, months later let’s be honest, I still think of her looking at her blank smartphone screen and I think how often I’ve turned to the phone knowing it will hold something for me but not necessarily knowing what.  Like turning on the TV and channel surfing.  One step back from surfing the internet, surfing my own unique but similar world of things.  And God help me how different is that, really, from a blank screen?

I’m sure more goes on around me, and different things than I realize, far more than I know.  My question is not only Does it Matter to me, but is it even likely there is anything I can do to make it matter?  Look inside.  The truth is in there, carried with me from transition to transition, whether cleanly accomplished from station lobby to platform or murkily, rushing into a train without full awareness of my surroundings.  In all cases I carry with me an image of what I imagine is around me.

What matters to me has to do with its proximity in space and time. I honestly don’t remember whether I read that in a Buddhist book on meditation and life perspective or the book on Machine Learning that I’m reading.  OK, pretty sure it was the machine learning book but it really could have been either one.  That is a meta thought that matters to me because it consolidates and points to the area I explore in my writing.  I like to call it the moment.  The moment is what is here now. I believe there is a word for this in machine learning, and there is a dimension to it that goes beyond proximity in time and space.  That dimension is accesibility.  I make up in my head most of what I believe I know about my surroundings, therefore most of what happens right now, right next to me, is inaccessible.  So it may as well not be proximate.  I also have a feeling there is more than one dimension of accessibility within the realm of awareness.

What do I turn to to find out what’s around me?  The smartphone.  If I do this while I’m on the BART train I bring a different set of things into my awareness. The email a client just sent from Paris.  And I lose touch with the people on the train with me.  So what?  The main problem I see is the question of What am I In?  If I am no longer in the train but have stepped onto another platform, into another room, an email room, then OK but what are the characteristics of that room?  Can people see me, understand where I’m coming from, catch my attention and communicate as fully as possible with me?  I don’t know.  I read the email from Paris and I gather the transaction we’re discussing is a lost cause.  She wants way more than the building can likely sell for at this time.  My job would be to make this Owner proximate with someone who can actually pay her price.  That may take time, yet there is the chance that this Buyer is out there even now, standing in front of her property looking at it.  Yet Buyer and Seller are not proximate to each other.

I sit outdoors at a cafe in Berkeley and to whom am I proximate?  I distance myself from my email, from home, from work, and here I am. It’s an early fall day not really Indian Summer but sunny and OK for sitting outside in a sweater.  People are coming and going and of course I’m not really close to them.  I am significantly alone…although sharing this space, being seen by these others.  The short order cook comes out and presses down the garbage.  I smile and wave to him and he says “hi” so happily.  How can I call this alone?  He remembers me from ten years ago when my son was a toddler.  He hasn’t changed much but he works so hard, and he seems a bit sad.  Florencio.  His name that of the city where I began writing about moments almost twenty years ago. The hard work he cheerfully endures so different from the situations that I have been in these past decades, yet…he helps me recall Florence, and that ties together my passion for writing and travel over my lifetime.  Even though (did he say he has four children?) it doesn’t seem like he can travel much, as he puts on his helmet and wheels his bicycle into the street I wonder where he has been, the man who is always at the cafe.  I’m often at a cafe, just not always his.

I’m proximate to Florence and Florencio and an endless string of cafes and emails and photographs of places.  And of course stories that begin to tie them together into a meta-place where old men press down garbage for students and old men and women who scribble in journals long after their coffee is cold and bitter as death.

 

Advertisements

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.

 

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.

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.

Rain

It’s back. And I Ching says “immaturity is a household,” “a leader must bring children to knowledge” and “the child takes over the family.” Today I feel taken over.  Not only by the children but by the indirectness of my path. Yesterday I toured a building for a second time with a client.  Why do it twice?  And today I toured no building and yet made few sales calls.  I did swim in a pool, at 7:30am, that was so filled with people that at one point I had to circle, three to a lane.  After that the day followed no direct course, and I essentially sat by and watched it go, while came the wind, then the rain.

I read some hexagrams of I Ching and now the rain plaps and draps, trickles and shimmels around me in this room that I keep saying I’ll use for…this. Yesterday in the building we toured for the second time I saw a room within a suite that I hadn’t seen before. In the room sat a man at a desk facing a row of many-colored bottles before a window.  Quiet music seemed to come from an old wood-encased amplifier. He didn’t turn, in his modern, 1960s chair, to face us, but continued to work. This tenant has an office that is so much more beautiful than mine. Mine at work, that is.  At home, I’ve set up two offices. The first one is business and my wife uses it also, and the kids and she are in there now watching gymnastics videos.  Here I am, in a jutting peninsula of the house that presses into the rain, before a diamond-shaped window, the very desk and window at which I stood twenty seconds after entering this house for the first time fourteen years ago and thought to myself, “I like this.”

The rain is back. Perhaps to stay?  To end the drought.  I feel positive energy coming into me in this room. I thought I’d feel that in the other office that faces green trees and faces south. But I find recently that this quiet room facing north is the place that rejuvenates the most.  So I have my office retreat just like that other guy…I only have to remember to use it.  Corollary for my brain.  I only have to remember that my mind, my very choices, are opportunities to retreat, to build, and to create beauty.  I remember when I first bought this computer and began to use it as a writing sanctuary, a special place to work.  I tried to set up shop in various places, in San Francisco.  Tried to and it worked to some degree, but I wonder what is next.  Typing in the small quiet office at my home.  How fortunate I am to have three offices plus the ability to work anywhere with my laptop or my smart phone.  Really begs the question of what work shall I do, doesn’t it, and when?

The sun comes partially from behind the clouds and my wife turns around from the little table where she’s eating lunch to see what is all the fast typing.  She laughs and says she had imagined I was sitting here in this little office entering numbers on a calculator.  That’s about right: I’m always calculating return on investment from real estate.  And as a salesperson, much of the time the returns are not mine or even realized by anyone I know.  Just quick math on a calculator and then it’s over.  I even wrote an email to a client between when she laughed about the calculating and when I continued writing here.  Email said Hey look at the deal you’d be getting at this rent multiplier, do you want to proceed?  I actually did that.  So in a sense some of that furious typing was from making calculations.  Then back to writing.  Sun’s still out; rain fell hard earlier.  I’m passing time until this waterproofing consultant comes by to inspect some areas above our unit.  Then I have to pass the time before doing a tenant walkthrough inspection at another property.  Strange, but filling in these gaps with writing can work.  I’m not sure how it all ads up across sales, investment and writing, plus family, but I get the feeling I need to take a step back and see how things go for a bit.

I Chings says nothing because I’m not reading it.  Just sitting here at the quiet desk with my son looking over my shoulder.  It is early morning, barely seven, and I can hear the water trickling in the fish tank, the low howl of the water going to my wife’s shower, the clump as that water stops, and perhaps above all the sound of my son reading and exclaiming “Don’t say that!” to everything I write.  Now he’s hitting me.  He says Why do I like writing so much, only math is fun.  Writing should not be used in this way, to describe one’s situation, one’s momentary experience.  Now he huffs off to take his shower.  Quiet returns but is infused with his concern for me, his perspective.  I can feel where he head-butted me in the shoulder after I wrote the “Don’t say that” comment.  And still I Ching says nothing.

Now he plays his guitar while I type on the bed.  Older now, enough to be real but not felt, (a week, maybe less), so I can’t just say Oh it’s been three years, see how my life has gone… No, it’s only been three to six days so it’s hard to really say I’ve gotten older, surely not noticeably.  The children haven’t grown visibly taller.  But you know, they have grown more mature.  And I’ve changed a little.  I can see myself coming a tiny bit farther out onto the rim of the crater we seemed to fall into some years ago with the Great Recession (do people still remember that?).  Perhaps there’s another crater a few days ahead, but thank God I’ve crawled out of this one.  Uh oh.  Now he’s taking my computer and setting it aside before he jumps onto me for some wrestling, his once-tiny but always round chest hammering down on me, his legs strong enough to lift me off the bed even though I outweigh him two-to-one (correction: 1.5-to-one…when did he get that big?).  There’s nothing to get away from, only moments to attend.  Maybe the sun will come out and everything will be fun, fun, fun.  Or maybe it is already fun and can just keep raining.

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.

 image

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: