Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My year in cities, 2008

I'm blatantly imitating Jason Kottke here, because I think it's a cool idea.

Like Jason, I'm listing cities in which one night or more was spent, and placing an asterisk next to those in which I spent non-consecutive nights.

Berkeley, CA *
San Diego, CA *
Austin, TX
Prague, Czech Republic
Pardubice, Czech Republic
Vienna, Austria
Budapest, Hungary
Sherman Oaks, CA
Portland, OR
Tumwater, WA
Minneapolis, MN
Santa Cruz, CA
Santa Barbara, CA (thanks for the reminder, baby!)

Napkin art from 2006

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


The highlights:

January: Performed at the FronteraFest in Austin, Tex. Spent late nights laughing with Tracy and Mahmoud. Marveled at ice on the windshield.

February/March: Europe for a pre-honeymoon. Prague, Pardubice, Vienna, and Budapest. Spent two days in Vienna croaking because I'd lost my voice. Ate a lot of goulash. Stayed in successively sweeter hotels. Heard piano music streaming from a concert hall in Budapest.

April: Justly and thrillingly married.

May: Sang to a lot of YouTube videos.

June: Cooked good meals and welcomed nine o'clock sunsets. Also began the revise of my memoir. I'm now at 64,000 words.

July: Spent two days at Green Gulch Zen Center. Marin never looked so sweet.

August: 100-degree days in Portland, then drove up to Washington on a whim. It was raining. Who knew?

September: Minneapolis. If it wasn't the tundra, I'd want to live there.

October: Walked the lake. Thought a lot. Watched the days grow shorter.

November: Played with my brother's dog and watched him fix his hoopty. Drove too fast. Laughed some and cried some. Ate some chicken parmesan. It was good.

December: Got to spend more time with Adam than in the past three months. Wonderful. Watched a woman with not one, but two parrots on her shoulder walking outside of MoJoe Cafe. Celebrated a year of working out. Got all excited about Santa Barbara for New Year's. Happy to be alive.

"Death by telemedicine"

In August 2005, John McKay, a 19-year-old Stanford student and former high school debate champion, committed suicide by rolling up the windows in a car at his mother's Menlo Park home and piping in exhaust fumes.

In the next few weeks, a Colorado doctor who had prescribed a generic form of Prozac for McKay after receiving his request over the Internet, without ever seeing or examining him, will go on trial in Redwood City on possibly precedent-setting charges of practicing medicine in California without a license.

I started taking Lexapro in mid-August. By November, my depression worsened and I'd suffered several suicidal episodes.

I stopped the Lexapro and switched both doctors and drugs, to far better effect. I continue to monitor myself and my reactions, and should anything arise, my doctor is four miles away in Oakland.

I can't imagine prescribing an SSRI -- or any drug -- long-distance. I have no doubt McKay had troubles before Prozac, but I can absolutely see how the drug backfired and seemed to magnify things.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Days of play

First Street Cafe, Benicia.
First Street Cafe.
First Street Cafe. I call this masterpiece "Why, it's Greased Lightnin'!"
Nice taters.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sat on their park bench like bookends

So great to see Amy tonight. I've known her almost a decade and even though she's lived in Maryland for a year and a half, when she walked in tonight we just picked right back up where we'd left off.

We made Vietnamese curry soup, or rather, Adam did the majority of the work while Amy and I sat and yacked. The three of us always have fun together. Tonight was no exception.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

End of an era

After 15 years, Cafe de la Paz is closing.

Adam and I were married in the courtyard downstairs and had our reception in the Fiesta Room. Years earlier, we had a momentous conversation upstairs.

We just got the email. We're in Davis, enjoying a day away. Adam said: "The wedding is not the marriage."

He's right. While I'm sad to see many places I love folding, I know others will rise in their place. The most important thing is who's sitting next to me right now.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Saw "Synecdoche, New York" this weekend. Some smart moments, but not Kaufman's best. If you're going to go long with the absurdity, you've got to ground it in characters who we can feel. He did it well in "Eternal Sunshine" and "Adaptation", but he went a little too far here with not enough solid ground.

Still, I'm glad I saw it. Kaufman's always a favorite and an inspiration.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Everyone tells me I married a nice guy

I know better. Adam looking at a picture and being an asshole:

"She looks like the BART balladeer ... Are they mother and daughter, because their necklaces look so similar?"

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Wrote this poem in '05

I've got my quibbles with it, but there's also aspects I like ...

This Is Between Us


I will keep this secret:

Coming home
from wine country
you detoured,
exited at Gilman,
climbed your tires
up the slope,
holding my hand,
stroking my fingers.

We had dissonance.
You wanted resolution.
I wasn't speaking.

You found my nape
where hair and scalp join.
I wanted to keep the anger
but it was lost
to your open roof.


I will not discuss:

How we came
to the playground
on Euclid,
in the hills,
and I swung,
leaning backward
to confront the sky,
my feet pointed
in the direction
we all want
to go in the end.

I took the slide
too fast
and tore
sensitive skin
on my hand.

A tunnel took us
to the street's other sight:
The Berkeley Rose Garden.
It was unlocked.
They know, I told you.
Berkeley knows.


This is between us:

How you held my hand
walking past petals,
how you kissed
my bleeding finger
and how the wound
came together
within hours.

I won't use the word magic.

Your face
bent to mine
once, then again,
and no one
needs to know.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Bon voyage, Dave Morey!

The KFOG voice is retiring. At least we'll still have him for 10@10, my favorite radio show ever!

They're playing Joni Mitchell's "Urge for Going":

I awoke today and found the frost perched on the town
It hovered in a frozen sky, then it gobbled summer down
When the sun turns traitor cold
and all the trees are shivering in a naked row
I get the urge for going but I never seem to go

I get the urge for going
When the meadow grass is turning brown
Summertime is falling down and winter is closing in

I had me a man in summertime
He had summer-colored skin
And not another girl in town
My darling's heart could win
But when the leaves fell on the ground, and
Bully winds came around, pushed them face down in the snow
He got the urge for going
And I had to let him go

He got the urge for going
When the meadow grass was turning brown
Summertime was falling down and winter was closing in

Now the warriors of winter they gave a cold triumphant shout
And all that stays is dying, all that lives is getting out
See the geese in chevron flight flapping and a-racing on before the snow
They've got the urge for going, and they've got the wings so they can go

They get the urge for going
When the meadow grass is turning brown
Summertime is falling down and winter is closing in

I'll ply the fire with kindling now, I'll pull the blankets up to my chin
I'll lock the vagrant winter out and bolt my wandering in
I'd like to call back summertime and have her stay for just another month or so
But she's got the urge for going and I guess she'll have to go

She gets the urge for going when the meadow grass is turning brown
And all her empire's falling down

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Cafe Bajer

My favorite cafe in Pardubice has a website! Don't miss the video -- you'll see the place where I spent the majority of my six months in the Czech Republic. Ah ... memories. (And videnska kava!)

Today's writing

Years after I walk through the front doors of The Clinic, a woman will undergo an historic operation: She’ll receive a new face. The procedure is controversial, risky, and the last straw. Her face is damaged beyond any conventional means of repair. She has no nose, no palate. There is an opening in her windpipe that allows her to breathe, to eat.

A car crash? An extreme beating? We’ll never know. We only know that her face was so crucified that she was taunted on the street, that small children fled in fear.

What is life when you can’t leave the house? When you can’t walk down the street or do any number of errands, when you must fear appearing in public? When you are singed by cameras, eyes, mirrors? What do you do then?

She risks her life. The surgery will take nearly an entire day and require a hefty medical team. The buildup to the procedure will take years of planning, constant consultations, reality checks, warnings.

After surgery, she will take antirejection drugs as long as she lives. Rejection, the reason we dive from so many cliffs.

The legend of Skippy

I love dogs.

Okay, scratch that. I love most dogs. The kind that don't yip, or yap, or menace, or bite.

Smash cut to Rancho Penasquitos, the mega-suburban portion of deep suburban San Diego, where I spent my early childhood. I lived on Black Hills Road, a sloping street with lots of unfaithful daddies, quasi-alcoholic mommies, and kids on our Penasquitos Girls and Boys Soccer teams. We played out in that street: kickball, tetherball, trading baseball cards. We stayed out past dusk, until our mothers started screaming for us in that tone that meant business.

I liked to ride my bike down Black Hills. I loved my bike. It was a powder-blue thing with streamers flowing from the handles. Yes, streamers. That's how much I loved my bike. I decorated it like a Tijuana whore on clearance.

I was in Mrs. Owens' class -- again -- so I must've been in second grade. The year earlier, I'd been bumped up to her class from first grade for some reason that still eludes me. It pissed off my parents and they bitched to the principal, but to no end. "Fucking Poway school district," my father liked to grouse. "We moved here for what?"

It was an afternoon in April, somewhere close to my birthday. I rode down Black Hills, past the house my parents called the car wash because the postman who lived there was always out washing and waxing, past Glyn's house. Glyn had a dog. That dog was Skippy.

Skippy was the six-pound fount of my every fear.

Oh, I was no pussy. I could stand up to every other dog in the neighborhood, including the aptly named Mr. Big, who used to pad around and scare the shit out of my brother. But Skippy was a hateful little mutt, and he had it out for me.

I cruised down the street, hair and streamers both flying back behind me. I was wearing a red jacket, pigtails, and a big old grin.

Then I saw Skippy.

I screeched.

Slammed on the brakes.

Soared over the handlebars.

Hit the ground and skinned everything there was to skin.

Then the worst happened: Skippy came to get me. He was running, barking. His tongue was out. I lay there, too freaked out to move.

He reached me and began to lick my knee.

I went out of my fucking mind.

Three doors up, my father had just pulled his always-worse-for-wear Plymouth Fury into the driveway. He cruised in and said to my mother (who, as always, was cursing the fact that he'd come home): "I just saw this kid in a red jacket go flying over the handlebars." He popped a beer and propped up his feet. "Where's Allison?"

I burst in the door, bleeding, Skippy hot on my heels. My mother took one look at me and went -- as my father called it -- straight to panic. I was right there with her. "Skippy's coming to get me!" I told my family.

My brother Adam walked over. At that point, Adam was the delicate one in the family. The sensitive soul, the sweet boy, he hadn't yet grown his thick skin.

He stamped his foot.

The dog fled.

From then on, I pedaled uphill.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Really, we're all a bit wasted

Erotica versus pornography

From a set of submission guidelines I received yesterday:

We consider Erotica as a literary or artistic portrayal that arouses or sexually stimulates using sensual imagery. Erotica includes foreplay, intimacy, and a mutually satisfying experience for all involved. In its literary form, it serves to gradually arouse the reader, giving one the sensation of “being there”.

Pornography, on the other hand, is blunt and tends to focus on one thing and one thing only. Think of the old phrase “wham, bam, thank you ma’am”. Pornography seldom if ever uses sensual imagery. Pornography does not bother with the descriptions, perceptions, and sensibilities seen in good erotica.

Erotica is a process where pornography is a goal, or to put it another way, erotica is about the journey, while pornography is all about the destination.

Interesting -- I've never before seen it broken down quite that way. I would also add that pornography is chronological: he did this, she did that. It's a reporting of sorts, a recounting. Erotica can make leaps of time and go nonlinear, which often makes for far more interesting storytelling.

That said, there's plenty of erotica I find dull as dishwater. Combine erotica and porn, throw in a dash of laughs and surprises, and maybe you'll get something really worth reading.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Get it right, get it tight!

It was decided yesterday that Bubba Sparxx has the best rap line ever in "Ms. New Booty":

"Ass be deliverin."

Don't hate.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

From something I received over email today

Don't worry about people from your past.
There's a reason why they didn't make it to your future.

Found this in my copy of Prozac Highway

I wrote this while I was at the colony.

The writers I like:

- Tell it like it is -- no bullshit, no pretense
- Are funny
- Are usually men
- Are profound without being overly philosophical (Houellebecq straddles the fence here)
- Are tender without being sappy
- Are smart
- Are unique
- Integrate story with theme.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Over the last year, I've worked my ass off and dropped a bunch of weight. There's more to come, but I'm off to more than just a great start. The changes I've made over the last year mean that I can look at myself and like what I see.

We took this (admittedly blurry) picture at the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park today. I just showed it to Adam and said: "I can look at this picture and see what you see in me."

He said: "I've always seen it."

The Greenhouse, San Francisco

ME (to Adam, asking about his former AZA advisor): Was he the one you were telling me about, the one who liked to play footsie?
HIM: We weren't Catholic.

Random journeys

Last night we wound up in Santa Rosa, drinking coffee. As we drove back home over the Richmond-San Rafael bridge, looking out over the city, an iPod playlist on the radio, I thought about those small moments that I'll always remember:

Sitting with Scott in his car, not quite sober, at the edge of Sausalito overlooking San Francisco, singing Willie Nelson.

Back-to-back on a power box in my neighborhood with one of my high-school best friends, Tom, caterwauling TV theme songs.

Passing out on David's floor (no Jews allowed on the furniture), half-watching Maury Povich, the last words I hear before my eyes close: "You'd better not be falling asleep!"

Friday, December 12, 2008

Cake - A True Story

Spread all around
tables and tables, as far as I can see
Chocolate, carrot, and cheese, it's all for me
Then I awake.
"I dreamt of cake," I say.
My girlfriend, she is so jealous.

- Adam, San Francisco, July 25, 2006

Yelles, over email

I was expecting your memoir to be something involving your hardscrabble childhood working the land in North Poway.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cooking Meditation No. 623

For a moment just now, you are totally in the moment while chopping celery.

Did you ever notice the sound celery makes as the knife parts it? Gutteral, bearish grunts when the blade is slow; high, almost gleeful clicks as you pick up speed. The scent too is released while you work, perfuming the cutting board, the knife, and your hands. It is something close to fresh and new, an innocent being born of a hopeful earth.

Finally you pick up the wet half-moons and gather them in a bowl. This moment of introspection has come to a close.

Cholera rampant in Zimbabwe

Read this story and feel the disgust for a cruelly incompetent government. In short:

A ferocious cholera epidemic, spread by water contaminated with human excrement, has stricken more than 16,000 people across Zimbabwe since August and killed more than 780. Health experts are warning that the number of cases could surpass 60,000, and that half the country’s population of 12 million is at risk.

The outbreak is yet more evidence that Zimbabwe’s most fundamental public services — from water and sanitation to public schools and hospitals — are shutting down, much like the organs of a severely dehydrated cholera victim.

Zimbabwe’s once promising economy, disastrously mismanaged by President Robert G. Mugabe’s government, has been spiraling downward for almost a decade, but residents here say the free fall has gained frightening velocity in recent weeks. Most of the nation’s schools, which were once the pride of Africa, producing a highly literate population, have virtually ceased to function as teachers, whose salaries no longer even cover the cost of the bus fare to work, quit showing up.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

From the sky, literally

I was at the gym when the news broke: An F-18 crashed into a house in San Diego. That was it. That was the news they had. I peered around the woman on the treadmill in front of me and tried to figure out if I recognized that particular set of red roofs. Then they reported that the crash was two miles from Miramar and I relaxed -- none of my family members live that close to the air station.

Such a sad, terrible story. Hug your kids. Hold your loved ones close. Do it now.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Looking up

I've been taking it day by day, but I'm definitely feeling better.

Yesterday I was sitting on the couch, writing. I was able to just be in that moment, in that slow and rich process of putting one word down after the other.

I'm grateful to be alive.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Random thoughts walking back from the gym

Spicy cauliflower soup.

I wish the plum trees were here. Then again, no, I don't. They'll be here soon enough, in February, and gone soon enough, in March. Enjoy the anticipation.

Stan, the retired fireman turned Pedal Express bike deliveryman, always has new poems, news articles, and meditations posted on his dark-brown wood fence. One of today's:

The Purpose of Time Is to Prevent Everything from Happening at Once

Suppose your life a folded telescope
Durationless, collapsed in just a flash
As from your mother's womb you, bawling, drop
Into a nursing home. Suppose you crash
Your car, your marriage—toddler laying waste
A field of daisies, schoolkid, zit-faced teen
With lover zipping up your pants in haste
Hearing your parents' tread downstairs—all one.

Einstein was right. That would be too intense.
You need a chance to preen, to give a dull
Recital before an indifferent audience
Equally slow in jeering you and clapping.
Time takes its time unraveling. But, still,
You'll wonder when your life ends: Huh? What happened?

- X. J. Kennedy

Overheard in Santa Cruz yesterday

"It's bomb."

"Is it hella bomb or just bomb?"

"Just bomb."

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Today's writing

I hadn’t counted on my mind gluing my ass to the couch. I hadn’t planned on all this time-consuming – what the hell is this?


A golden retriever or a terrorist.

I can’t figure out whether to strap a leash on the damn thing or run for the door. In his mutt moments he rolls on his back, regards me with eyes whose black would be impossible were they not so merry. “I’m the end of the road,” Depression says in his bouncy dog-voice. “Come with me and you’ll never have to fight again.”

Then he’s a terrorist, hiding in all the safe places, retaining the sweet canine countenance, presenting cruelty that is kind, lulling, seductive. “I’m the truth,” Depression tells you, and you believe him, managing even to ignore the rifle tucked under his right arm. “I’m comforting,” he says, and you need comfort. He will choke you with soft hands. He will insert his needle into your lifeblood, drawing it into a black vial.

Friday, December 5, 2008

On this date

Two years ago, I was in Costa Rica.

A year ago, I was in Tokyo.

Today, I am home in Berkeley. Not so bad.

He was so clean-cut!

Adam's dad posted this picture yesterday ... it was right around his graduation, I think, which would be two years before I met him. This is totally how I remember him looking when we first met. What did I do to him?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Thought for the morning

My erstwhile neighbor, KFOG, would probably not have a perpetual cough if he stopped smoking like a goddamned chimney.

Thank you, and to all, a good morning.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Martha Stewart moment

I like to cook -- not just for other people, but also for myself. Tonight the place is all mine and this is what I'm making:

Curried Red-Lentil Stew with Vegetables

* 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
* 1 medium onion, finely chopped
* 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
* 1 (2- by 1-inch) piece peeled fresh ginger, quartered
* 5 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
* 5 1/3 cups water (less if needed - you be the judge)
* 3 teaspoons curry powder
* 1.5 teaspoon ground turmeric
* 1 teaspoon ground cumin
* 1 cup red lentils, picked over and rinsed
* 3 medium carrots, quartered lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
* 2 medium zucchini, quartered and chopped like the carrots
* 1 head roasted cauliflower
* 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
* 1/4 teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes

Accompaniments: basmati rice

Heat 1/4 cup oil in a 4- to 5-quart heavy pot over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then cook onion with 1/4 teaspoon salt, stirring occasionally, until golden, 8 to 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, purée ginger, garlic, and 1/3 cup water in a blender. Add purée to golden onion and cook, stirring, until water is evaporated and oil visibly separates from onion mixture, about 5 minutes. Add curry powder, turmeric, and cumin and cook over low heat, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in lentils and remaining 5 cups water and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes. Add carrots, zucchini and roasted cauliflower and remaining teaspoon salt and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender and lentils have broken down into a coarse purée, 15 to 20 minutes.

Season stew with salt and pepper. If necessary, add enough water to thin stew so that it can easily be ladled over rice.

Just before serving, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a small skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then cook cumin seeds and red-pepper flakes, stirring, until fragrant and a shade darker, 30 to 45 seconds (be careful not to burn spices). Pour hot spice oil in a swirl over stew.

Today's writing

Shelly takes one more deep breath. “I cheated on him,” she says. This pleases the audience enormously. They pump their fists and holler. Shelly’s thick lips twitch. She looks down at her shoes until the shouting stops.

She’s been with two guys. They’re romantic. Joe’s not romantic.

“Can I tell you something, Shelly?” Maury asks. He’s looking at her with such eager empathy that you know it’s all bullshit. What if I really had been on his show, had to face his false music? I’m lucky to just sit and watch.

“Shelly,” he says, “I don’t care what Joe says or what he does. It’s not your fault.”

“Yeah,” I say to Oliver. “It’s not my fault.” This would be his cue to do something cute like put a paw on my knee, but he just curls his tail tighter around his body and continues to sleep.

Would life be better if I were a Shelly and I had a Joe? There would at least be someone. Granted, that someone would be a shlump who was apparently boffing half the population of the Eastern Seaboard, but we all make sacrifices.

It's for The Project, I swear

So I'm doing research by watching Maury Povich clips on YouTube. Specifically, paternity-test clips.

I've found a classic: One cracked-out whore is yelling at the other one. At one point she says: "Look at that face. That's Mr. Ed's sister!"

Monday, December 1, 2008

Adam's great out-of-context line

"It hit my gag reflex and came right out."

Greed is not good. Greed does not work.

I'm angry and you should be too.

Irrational exuberance -- also known as greed and wanting more, more, more -- got this country to where it is today. In turn, greed has kicked off a global recession that is only getting worse. People are losing their jobs, students are finding it harder to get the loans they need to stay in school, and responsible would-be homeowners who did the right thing and held off on buying a house until they could afford it are now hard-pressed to get a loan.

It was all built on greed. Greed, that sandcastle with a smile and no solid base. Greed, the sugar high that made strawberry pickers think they could afford a three-quarters-of-a-million-dollar house, and the toxin that led lenders to slip them the money to buy it.

Greed and stupidity. Interest-only loans. Stated-income loans. Forty-year loans.

What the fuck were we thinking?

What are we to do now?

Writers' rooms

Lorraine sent me this slideshow from the BBC. Some of these places are cluttered as hell! Damn writers.