Saturday, March 24, 2007

Fog City Saturday

Later on, looking back, those of us who are soccer moms all remember these times as some of our best -- clutching our arms around our thin coats against the fog and the chill, sipping our coffee (hopefully Peet's), and cheering for our kids as they race up and down the field in shorts, numbered jerseys, cleats, shin guards, knee socks, and looks of determination on their youthful faces.

It's easy to mock all of this, if you never experience it, but there's an existential aspect to being a soccer mom. Your youth is either gone, or watching your child reminds you that it will be fading soon. Even as you try to concentrate on what they are doing out there on the pitch, your mind will wander and you'll find yourself gazing upward as a seagull circles gracefully, or westward, as the white fog streams inland from the Pacific, coating your face with a sweat from the outside, as opposed to the one that emerges from within -- which requires hot days.

This exterior sweat, as I call it, is neither salty nor refreshing, as you stand on the sidelines. It coats you as if you were a tree, perhaps one of the cool, tall redwoods like Julia Butterfly Hill lived in for over two years.

Interior sweat, by my reckoning, is altogether different in form and substance. It carries a distinct odor (your unique, personal smell) and it tastes of salt. Your bodies secretes it to cool you down when the outer world makes you feel too hot.

Interior sweat is the type that interests me now, on several levels. First, it is within my memory that body odor was identified by Madison Avenue as an aspect of our living bodies that could be exploited. Thus, the modern phenomenon of deodorants. Consumers had to be trained to think that the odor of their own bodies might be an offensive thing -- something requiring a product to keep under wraps.

When I was a boy, people all had a distinctive odor, and that's one of the ways you knew who was approaching, even as your back was turned. Grandpa smelled one way, an aunt another, your own mother another, this sister another, that teacher another, and this certain person -- one that you found ever so attractive -- distinctly another.

It's ironic in this more advanced age of science that we are "discovering" that one of the ways lovers locate each other is by the smells we emit. By masking these natural features, we allow ourselves to become confused, perhaps falling for a perfume as opposed to the actual body we will soon be finding ourselves next to.


I seem to have become distracted, a congenital deficiency. Please excuse me, kind reader (should I have any). Athletes also produce interior sweat as they work hard to accomplish their gaming goals. They literally burn fat tissue -- lipids -- as they race around to the best of their ability, and they also become dehydrated in the process, regardless of the weather.

Thus, my little daughter could rush over to say, "I'm burning," and grab the water bottle, even as I stood shivering on the sidelines. She tried so hard today. Her coach has told her to try and become more "challenging," which is the best advice to give a player who has always tended to hang back, following the game as if in a parallel universe, always in the right place but rarely touching the ball.

Ironically, when she does, she has a great kick, which everyone tells her. Thus her nickname: Thunderfoot.

Today, we saw the first results of this coaching. Twice she broke away from the cluster of other players and raced toward the goal. Twice, she unleashed her best kick. Twice, she failed to score. One was saved by the goalie; one went wide of the net.

Afterwards, she was almost inconsolable that she had not scored a goal. She never has scored a goal, so far as I remember. But, she was so down on herself, it required quite an effort to remind her that (1) it's only a game; (2) scoring is only one part of that game; (3) if she keeps at it, she will eventually get a goal.

She eventually came around, and started smiling her infectious smile again, but I'm not sure if it was because she let go of her sense of failure in the game or because I took her to lunch at In-N-Out Burger.


Friday, March 23, 2007

Where do they go?

I'm clear on what happens to our bodies. I've watched the whole process, from the births of my six children, to their steady growth until the onset of puberty, where their transformation is one of the most terrifying yet liberating experiences of the whole parental journey.

On through adulthood, and the laughter of 20-somethings, the biological clock of 30-somethings, the terror of 40-somethings as they feel like they "lose" their looks, to the 50-somethings, where truth suppresses once and for all those destructive youthful impulses.

I'm about to embark on the next stage, and I can't say it pleases me. Even though media reports suggest that 60 is the "new middle age," it doesn't feel that way to me. So, I guess I'm in a rebellious mood; after all, I'm not yet "old," no, I still have a few weeks left.

Outside, on point, the weather has yielded a summery San Francisco night, the kind where romance hangs in the air. I turned down an extremely attractive proposition to go out drinking with some youthful folks, one of whom is a friend, because I don't usually do that anymore.

But I recall when I did, so I wished her well, and I hope they have fun.

Later on, beyond my stage, all of the wrinkles and blotches and etches that define our lifetimes as physical beings start to take over our bodies completely, until we become rather scary -- dead people not yet dead.

When death comes, we look entirely different again, and it is impossible to describe that difference. I sat my both of my parents as they passed away. I stroked their hands; kissed their cheeks, spoke to them in low tones.

I wonder whether my children will also be able to do that for me on some future day or night, or if I will die alone. Who knows? Circumstances beyond our control always determine our endings, unless, of course, we choose to take this into our own hands.


So, that is the physical cycle, and I get it now, fully. As to our mental selves, our cerebral lives, I've got a pretty good handle on where that stuff goes. We either write or we don't write. Everybody I know well I've urged to write -- maybe just a private journal, or maybe a public blog like this one -- anything, but just a record of their ups and downs.

My sweet friend Michelle told me she can tell from my blog whether I am "up" or "down," and she's right about that. Because whatever I write in whatever manner, I cannot truly mask my moods, the feelings that swarm up through me, day after day and night after night.

And that is what I am wondering about tonight: Where do our feelings go? I'm quite clear about how our flesh disintegrates, stealing our beauty and turning us into scary skeletons and ghosts. I know we preserve our ideas and our thoughts in our writings, letters, emails, books, articles, etc.

But, where go our emotions? What is it that so shakes us as we pass a redolent tree, suddenly sniffing a memory? What about when we actually look into another's eyes and are startled by the recognition of something long misplaced? Why can we bite into a piece of food and then experience a rush of memories we'd long thought we'd forgotten?

Why, when holding each other in an intimate embrace, do we suddenly remember another, long gone? Why, when I walk down the street, and a pretty young woman passes by, do I feel an urge to explain to her that this will not last, this state she enjoys?

Why, when my young sons drive themselves way beyond the point of exhaustion in sporting events to try and help their teams win, do I savor the moment with such urgency that tears fill my eyes?

Why, when my daughters marry, and I escort them on my arm toward their husbands-to-be, do my emotions overwhelm me so much that I am a true basket case, crying there in the first row, after I give her "away?"

Why does every transition cause me such pain? Every good-bye, every leaving?

Where do our feelings go? When a woman I have loved deeply hugs and kisses me for the last time, and then drives away, crying; while I am left stupidly, dry-eyed, standing in the middle of an intersection where nobody knows or cares for me, do I suspect that I do not know what is really going on?

All of these feelings, so powerful yet so ineffable.

I could be the greatest writer in history, which I am not, but I couldn't pretend to tell you where our feelings go.

It's a mystery.

Maybe is this why, at the end, the supernatural (i.e., religion) holds such a grip on humans?

For me, there are other explanations, such as the lines written by one our greatest poets, Hank Williams:

Im a rollin stone all alone and lost
For a life of sin I have paid the cost
When I pass by all the people say
Just another guy on the lost highway

Just a deck of cards and a jug of wine
And a womans lies makes a life like mine
O the day we met, I went astray
I started rolling down that lost highway

I was just a lad, nearly 22
Neither good nor bad, just a kid like you
And now Im lost, too late to pray
Lord I take a cost, o the lost highway

Now boys dont start to ramblin round
On this road of sin are you sorrow bound
Take my advice or youll curse the day
You started rollin down that lost highway

Judge others, if you must. Men's feelings, as painful as this may be to accept, often grow out of "a womans lies." That is the story of the lost highway so many of us end up traveling.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Spaghetti for 50, baseball for one

For his math assignment last night, Dylan had to calculate the total ingredients he would need to create a meatlesss spaghetti to feed 50 people. In case after clicking on this image (which makes it bigger) you still cannot make out the recipe, I will reproduce it here for you:

*600 cloves of garlic
*12.5 cups of olive oil
*200 quarts of water
*75 tablespoons of salt
*50 pounds of spaghetti noodles
*50 cups chopped parsley

Now, I am not quite sure what happened to the tomato sauce in this recipe, but there you have it.


As the major league baseball season is about to begin, perhaps a quick tutorial on fantasy baseball might be in order? This is a game based on one's ability as a manager to field a team day-in, day-out, with real big-league players on your roster. Depending on how they perform each day, you are awarded points. Without going into more detail, it requires you to field players at each position capable of garnering at least 300 points per season if you are to be competitive.

Here are my "keepers," the first half of my 24-man roster.

(1B) Adam LaRoche 321.5
(2B) Orlando Hudson 257.5
(3B) Chipper Jones 332
(SS) Julio Lugo 179.5

(SP) Greg Maddux 323
(SP) Dontrelle Willis 317.5
(SP) Matt Cain 293
(SP) Jeff Francis 287
(SP) John Patterson 68

(RP) Takashi Saito 228.5
(RP) ?
(RP) ?

(OF) Andruw Jones 408
(OF) Chris Duffy 105.5
(OF) ?

(C) ?
(U) ?

You can see that I have many holes in my fantasy lineup, which I must fill in the draft, which occurs this coming Sunday. But I also have some exceptionally strong players, who if they play well this year, could help my team, the Mud Lake Mafia, thrive.

It's spring here. Play Ball!


Wednesday, March 21, 2007


I found a penny the other day, or rather it found me.

It had been sitting in exactly the same place for many days; not even the recyclers who pass through this neighborhood much like the kochi nomads in Central Asia, thought it worth their time to stoop and scoop it up.

Maybe out of pity for this cast-off coin, which over the course of my lifetime has lost almost all of its value and most definitely all of its self-respect, I bent to pick it up.

More likely, it was out of respect for my long-dead maternal grandfather, Alexander Anderson, who seemed to value one of my attributes as a little boy only, and that was my uncanny ability to find lost things, especially money.

He urged me to keep an eye out for pennies and to save every one I found, so I did. Over the years, I amassed quite a collection, the residues of which now reside in a paper bag under my bed. The collection grew so heavy at one point it cracked the glass vase I had been using to house it, thinking it might make a pretty display of some sort, you know, on top of the fireplace or maybe the piano.

But neither of my wives agreed to this particular form of artistic display.

So, the collection has always been stuck away in corners, closets, under beds, where it occasionally grows still, long after I stopped following my grandfather's edict. Like everyone else, I pass these little copper coins by; I toss them in ashtrays at corner stores to serve as someone else's change, etc.

My first three kids grew up in an era when pennies did not exactly matter but could be poured into paper holders and then turned in at the bank for something that, to them, felt like real money. Thus, on many a rainy weekend, they packaged up $10 or $25 worth of pennies, learning their counting skills in the process, and when we went to the bank to reap their rewards, they came away with enough currency to buy a toy or a book or whatever it was they wanted at that moment in time.

Even with all of these withdrawals, the collection persisted to grow, mostly because more often than not until the past decade or so, I would scoop up cast-off pennies and take them home, like orphans welcomed into a foster home. Who knows how many pennies we now have here, but 10,000 seems like a reasonable guess.

In other words, one hundred dollars.


The penny I saved the other day was marked, as all coins are, with the date it was minted. In this case, 1971.

What a year that was! I quit my job as a pizza deliveryman for Cottage Inn Pizza in Ann Arbor; my wife quit hers as a waitress in said establishment, and we drove our old white Chevy van with "Ft. Myers, Fla." stenciled on the side, all the way across America, until we were chugging up Fell Street, turning right on Fillmore Street, until just before Pine Street, we arrived at the world headquarters of Running Dog, Inc., publisher of SunDance magazine.

Before we could publish this new magazine, we had to build out the office, and we did so, sheet-rocking walls, painting the space, refinishing and shellacking the floor. As a flourish of sorts, we sealed a penny into that newly shiny floor just before we finished preparing the space that would see an amazing menagerie of the famous and the crazy walk through its front door over the coming two years.

Many years later, when SunDance was a distant memory, I happened to be in what was by then known as the "Upper Fillmore," and I stepped into #1913 for the first time since our magazine dream had died, decades earlier.

The space was by then a boutique, I think. I feigned interest in the women's clothes on the racks, but what I was actually seeking was the sweet spot in that floor, set long ago. The sheetrock walls had long since been dismantled, the walls repainted many times, the track lighting overhead much cooler than in our day, for sure.

When I spotted it, I stopped dead in my tracks. There it was -- the penny, still imbedded in the hardwood floor. Its date: 1971.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Tears and Laughter

It's hard to know how to start a post that digs into your heart so painfully that even as it makes you laugh, sadly, you can feel the damage that will never be able to be reversed. I am in the midst of my second divorce, yet it is not so much painful, to me, as it is silly, even comical.


First, because it has been such a drawn-out affair, it's becoming ludicrous. More importantly, at the end of any domestic relationship, the legal system attempts to rationalize the irrational. There are formulas and culturally-determined assumptions, none of which capture the unique nature of our uniquely tangled relationships.

No mathematical formula can ever capture the elusive hopes between partners who lose what they had, and who once hoped for so much more. Nor can it predict the elusive futures they now cannot envision.

And the contract of marriage, once broken, can never be put together again, rather like Humpty Dumpty. Once it is broken, not even all the king's horses, etc., can help.

That this makes me smile may seem strange, but it does. Divorce decrees attempt to preserve all the worst parts of being married, while dismissing the best parts as meaningless.

Getting divorced, finally, is like being sentenced to jail. A cautionary tale, this, to anyone contemplating marriage. The informalities that are precious may get lost; the formalities may prove costly.

And no one can legislate trust.

It's the raw material for a joke. This one will be on me.


Monday, March 19, 2007

small corrections

There was the little problem of a running toilet. I didn't think a lot about it until our water bill arrived and my housemate was shocked to see it had doubled! She's a lot better at this stuff than me, and explained, based on our previous usage, that it couldn't possibly be accurate.

Thus, set off an enjoyable series of events whereby both of us, our landlady, two of her handymen, and two inspectors from the water department all tried to figure out where all that water went. PG&E, the utility monopoly, has even been drawn into the case, just because we assume they're responsible for mostly everything that goes wrong around here.

Besides, they occupied our neighborhood like an army for many months, eating up the streets willy-nilly, doing who-knows-what. At one point a hole opened up in the (newly poured) cement at the base of my neighbor's front stairs. Afraid she would step in it as she hurried off to work one morning, I asked the PG&E guy to fix it or cover it or something.

He seemed a bit reluctant until I mentioned casually, "By the way, she's a lawyer."

Soon after, our basement flooded but I can't say this was unexpected. Most winters, when we have too many heavy rains around here, the sewer backs up and fills the basement with about six inches of foul fluids. The landlady, who is from India, was suspicious that PG&E was responsible for the flooding, though to be fair, I don't recall them occupying our block in the previous winters I've lived here, which also led to basement backups.

Anyway, she hired a fellow to clean it up and apparently he sprayed lots of water down there in the process. You know the routine, throwing good water after bad...

Back to that running toilet. The handyman who pulled it out and replaced it with a new one is one of those guys who is virtually impossible to understand. In a town of many accents (most of which don't faze me), his accent might be called "marble-mouth-mumbling" in a kind of Splanglish.

I like this guy, who's name, wouldn't you know it, is "Able." Even though I can never understand what he tells me, he always shows up wearing a smile as he cheerfully proceeds to break whatever I have asked him to fix. This time, he cut an enormous hole in the bathroom wall and placed the new toilet more or less against it. To close the gap that remained, he laid in a line of caulk. That had the effect of making it impossible to raise the lid of the toilet when it, too, started to "run."

(I like that image -- of a running toilet. Sounds like a children's story.)

Anyway, the caulk never set firmly; maybe he used a perpetually soft type. In any event, over the coming weeks, I was able to struggle the top of the toilet off and stem the running when it occurred.

Then I noticed that the entire toilet appeared to be gradually migrating westward into the hole in the wall.

I cannot even begin to tell you how much this amuses me. It feels like fair retribution from the ghosts I upset in the backyard by digging up all these lost treasures from the old privy, closed up sometime in the late 1880s. That's what my housemate believes.

I guess we all had better be careful before messin' around with someone else's shit, eh?