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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.

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.

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Easy

Continue reading “Easy”

Cool

It’s cool under my mother-in-law’s house.  Here and more important writing I feel free even safe. The thump and crack of my youngest’s gymnastics on the floor upstairs is background.  Loud voices, television, blend with the whoosh of cars from the street farther down the hill.  Into my thoughts of the day.  I email my CPA, talk to my son, text my mom, view a LinkedIn post and a Facebook photo.  I feel the freedom to write or not and the texture of the moment, of my breath as I lie back on this little bed my wife’s mom has down here.  Making the feel of the moment mine.

Earlier I finished Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow.  No need.  Partway through it was clearly about taking control of the moment.  You let life carry you along or you take charge.  Tom Cruise gets the opportunity to try over and over.  Getting it right could take ten tries.  Or, despite the repeated chances it may never happen.  One could just take a half-step back, slow down, and do it now.  All I have to do is take control enough to feel it, to know I’ve done it…

When I’m not in control…is that when I’m uncomfortable with the way things are going, as when I’m with family and my situation seems out of balance because the kids are screaming, I’m tired and something seems missing?  Or is losing control when I feel good, like while playing a computer game or watching a movie?  If the latter, being in control is more difficult to test than just noticing that I feel good.  That could be taking control if I were purely a hedonist.  I’ve decided writing, reflecting and looking at sunsets is taking charge, but not because it’s hedonistic, because it’s a practice.  And taking charge happens in the actual moment, not just from stepping back.  It’s about technique.  The act is everything.  Take perspective; take action.

I could start a new vignette now at Cafe Strada.  Touchpoint: years ago my wife and I would walk here from the other end of town.  We’re closer now and I come with my children who listen to the students.  It was blazing hot while I worked on my taxes, ate and walked.  It was hot at home and the kids fought.  My wife was calm, thank God, but it was not cool there and no escape from the day though still early.  The early evaporated into consultation with my CPA and the next thing I knew I was across UC campus at Strada with my daughter on her bike and it was after six and she was pretty much not interfering with my writing.  And it was cool.

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