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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.

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.

Time

My time is subdivided into small pieces.  The pieces twist like scraps of paper in the wind, each blowing away before I can read it.  Sometimes I catch a piece, spread it out, even write something on it before I turn my attention to another matter and the piece snaps out of my hand.  I let it go. So I am accountable, not for the wind but for letting my focus go with it.

If I stop writing now the BART train will carry me on to Oakland, a city filling in gaps between other places in the San Francisco Bay area. I head towards the Center.  San Francisco is less a center than an aspiration while for better or worse Oakland forms the center of gravity, if not the greatest power.  Honestly, the Center of Gravity of the Bay area is likely out in the Bay and south towards the salt flats.  But Oakland is probably the closest city to that center, which is probably just off the industrial shore of the worst part of East Oakland south of the airport.  Oakland’s a rising star but we need to consider the Center of Gravity either the sum of its parts, or better yet the hippest expression of new cuisine near the Uptown BART, or even better Ike’s Love and Sandwiches or a store that sells fine spraypaints for Urban Artists.

Five minutes, or do I have even that?  At my daughter’s music lesson.  Used most of the time reading business articles, and next I shall be cast upon the rest of my Sunday.  Could that possibly be a good thing?  Can I use these remaining moments in this quiet, resonant place to connect with a larger picture.  I have tried.  The Business articles are supposed to connect me with the world of work coming tomorrow.  I intend that this writing should connect me with the world of creative endeavor sustaining me through work and family.  And wouldn’t it be full circle if I reflected positively now upon the family time to come in one minute…

Which minute?  Today I’m parsing the time more carefully than usual.  A Monday, and after the weekend off I feel I must use every minute well.  So, that was a minute waiting for my transfer train back to Berkeley.  Everyone around me seems grumpy, if not despondent.  So it goes.  And despite my fear that trying to create an iPhone app is beyond my reach, I press forward into the unknown…  I have the feeling the fog this morning will give way to sunshine.  Nothing like purpose to create a sense of hope in sheer momentum.  I’ve completed board game projects, why not an app?  The doors of the train open and close.  I’ll be in Berkeley momentarily, then lunch and writing, and the app pursuit as the pinnacle above the rest.

Climbing, climbing to the pinnacle.  If you have read Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead you know about climbing the pinnacle, even if it is pointless.  Even if in the end you’re turned back by your team’s fear of some little thing, some stinging insects–a puny obstacle blocking a truly daunting and terrifying but pointless quest.  But the pinnacle that I seek to climb while eating duck in sweet sauce and sipping a tempranillo that’s a third try best choice here at the Spanish tapas bar, is the same pinnacle that you could guess a person in this society might seek to climb: making an iPhone app.  It’s so logical that I’m going to, laughing, throw in my lot with everyone else in this gold rush of the Third millennium.  And did I mention the buzzing hornets (from Norman Mailer’s novel…)?  I don’t think I’ve reached those yet.  My obstacles are simply the fatigue associated with keeping going, of sourcing and carrying my rations, just making sure my associates have blankets and dry clothes, keeping the body fit to carry on, trying to assure none of my associates falls off a cliff before we get to the top.  We may as well make it to the top because no matter what we’re going to die trying.  No particular morbidity intended.  Just, that’s life, right?

So, lately I’ve been pushing towards that pinnacle because Why not?  And I find the most amazing effect when I push upwards into the high, thin atmosphere of the pinnacle.  I get lightheaded.  Really.  For example, as I push to develop my own iPhone app, surprise, an hour or so a day leads to a huge amount of stress and uncertainty.  Because looking into it shows me how little I know.  Because climbing the pinnacle takes me away from my comfortable surroundings and into cold, clammy clouds, silence, giant blind drops into oblivion as far as I know.  Hanging by one hand on the side of a cloud-covered precipice, I could Just. Climb. Down.  And I do.  Each day that I test myself on this pinnacle, at some point I say to myself OK, time to go do some reading, or, Look, it’s time to take a break, or, My God I’d better deal with This Issue down in the farm kingdoms below where I’ve built  my homestead.  So down from the Pinnacle I come.  And what a relief!

 

 

 

 

French

The Uber driver has Frieda Boccara playing. Why do I like it better when the words are all French?  Happy day, though hard.  Lost my sunglasses, only have ten of forty calls done so far at work.  We’re driving all over Emeryville and Berkeley while a technician waits for me at home.  The driver constantly asking me where to turn.  I’m thankful for what I have: a ride, the chance to write, peaceful music, a sense of well being.  Uber is frothing up the social structure, giving people control over their employment and their travel.  My Uber drivers take Uber, and they seem to come from diverse backgrounds, here in the Bay area, not just the recent African transplants from oil work in North Dakota plus women in their sixties making some cash that we met in Seattle.  The weakness of Seattle is it’s a caste system despite its hipness.  Certain people do certain things.

New day.  Had our inspection for the water leak at home.  Somehow completed more than 55 outbound sales calls today to close the week above my 200 call goal.  Another errand to go, but the downhill side of the week on Friday afternoon.  My goal now to recover, recoup, balance the pressured work with deep breathing and small rewards. Sounds like Frank Sinatra, or similar but more gravelly.  Burger at the Bistro.  Shoe shine, maybe even a back massage.  French, Frank, burgers, fries, what does it matter:  I recall our trip to the Pacific Northwest, to Victoria which I saw for only a few minutes before boarding the tall ship towering over the grassy Landing.  Thank God for recall tying my life together, the promenade deck to my sales and home work engine rooms.

The engine rooms are kind of cool (literally) when I’m not constantly in them.  So, a question:  who is happier here at the Bistro, those who are escaping a life of work, or those who have nothing to do but be here or make their own work?  I see the difference in the make-work.  I make lots of work out of writing and am happy in this.  Each person here must have their own work and make-work and the work is the engine room that powers human happiness.

What are others doing here at Bistro atop Nordstrom in the City?  What does the staff think I’m doing here?  The way I’m dressed on Casual Friday I could be the well put-together husband of a woman shopping.  I think of that when I come here.  I believe that’s what my waitress thinks.  But that’s just a guess and I also guess she doesn’t care.  I tried several months ago to get my game design partners to meet me here to work.  I think they don’t care where we meet, they just don’t want to meet to make work.  So here I am not meeting my partners as the clock ticks and my home work in Oakland beckons.  And Victoria stands in my past, a distant, familiar, strange place out of sync with everything else.  Everyone in that smallish place probably wants to come to San Francisco.  Its allure is it seems to be nowhere and everyone there seems blissfully aware of it.  A trip to nowhere, a suburb out of place and time and not in the United States even though practically surrounded by it.

French is like that mysterious Other surrounded by ordinary speakers yet not a part of them.  So I like it.  On the way to the shoeshine I watch a father and son in Polo shirts and shorts travel down the escalator.  They seem so unlike me and my son and I’m not sure why I feel that.  The boy has a perfect light brown haircut and blue sunglasses.  My son doesn’t have that same pretty-boy look, but will he two years from now?  The man has the crafted grizzled look of an out-of-work movie star but his eyes are hard, as though he usually tells people what to do.  That changes things.  I’ve heard that nearly everyone who has money in America works.  Think of the irony in that.  I suppose the man’s grizzled Polo look trumps either suit-and-tie or my current khaki-and-tie for walking around Nordstom.  To what end?  That’s the thing with appearances.  And of course for value in my book Polo shirts are not exactly mysterious.  I’m trying to be fair, here, and not assign value just because it’s counter to the norm.  Just think, every year this Nordstrom mall gets a little more out-of-date.  And what will replace it?  Someplace that father-and-son will go after others have tread, worn and paved a path, or maybe they themselves are mall designer and designer apprentice, and I will follow them.  At $2.50, Nordstrom has has the cheapest shoeshine I can remember ever seeing.  And on the next escalator I’m behind two Homish guys with what looks like a homemade prayer pillow. Rabbis?  There are a lot of different people here and you know I really don’t know what the Polo dudes are up to.  Perhaps they play their own deeper game.

 

 

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.

Easy

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