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In This Moment

what if it matters?

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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.

 

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So Beautiful

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

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

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

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

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

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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