I spent the weekend standing around a lemniscated pool of lukewarm water at the center of an architecturally-confused Hyatt filled with 17 acres worth of scattered beaux-arts fountains and statutary, buddhist bas reliefs, bird engravings from the nineteenth century, and, on this particular occasion, hundreds of brilliant and gorgeous women. I have had worse weekends.
And it's a good thing that as a result of frantic packing on Friday afternoon, I forgot my stash of potent opium, because I just know I would have had a bad trip, perhaps imagining myself as a lowly eunuch confined to childcare duties or fanning Ariana Huffington in the stately pleasure dome of Kubla Khan's court, while laid-off dad frolicked among the Abyssinian maids and damsels with dulcimers and I just stood there with the dour, bitter countenance expected from my detesticled kind; so, instead, after snarfing down two bottles' worth of free wine, I found myself at my lowest point, elbows on the bar telling the perverted bartender in my drunk's voice: "just mix whatever combination of reds and whites you got left, bub." In such a state, I'm sure I offended in both conversation and odor, speaking wild-eyed and belligerently to whoever was kind enough to engage me in a drunken colloquy. So I begin this post with an apology to all the fine women bloggers who tolerated my crashing of the pool party at their postmodern Mediterranean hotel.
In ancient Rome every year the mysteries and secret rites of the Bona Dea (the "good goddess" of both chastity and fertility) were held and men were not allowed. During the rites, even paintings or drawings of men or male animals were forbidden in the rooms. The secret rites became the subject of widespread speculation among Roman men, who imagined it to be something along the lines of Roman Matrons Gone Wild, with the lifted togas and woo-hooing and all that. The mystery became too great a temptation for the patrician demagogue Publius Clodius Pulcher, who dressed up like a woman and snuck into the rites in 62 BC, which were being held in the home of Julius Caesar (think of John Belushi right before the ladder fell from the sorority's window in Animal House). The outrage of a man seeing the rites in Caesar's home grew to rumors that his wife had arranged it in order to sleep with him, so Caesar divorced her outright, responding to all the evidence that his wife was innocent by saying, "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion." What a dick.
Any illusions I had of kinship with Pulcher in drag, despite all the boob cupping, butt smacking, crotch grabbing, and face licking going on under the palm trees in San Jose, were dashed when I saw how many other men were at BlogHer. Dozens and dozens of dudes. I had believed this was going to be a space for women, free from the burning evil of the male gaze, and I was prepared for my presence there to be brief and limited, respectful of a space that was clearly not designed for the likes of me. Partly, though, I had also hoped to use the lack of other men as a crutch for my shyness, for my intense social awkwardness, and as a reason to walk away from a crowd rather than joining it, as I have always done at events like this, listening with immediate regret to the sound of laughter slowly evaporate behind me.
It turns out I didn't need that crutch.
For much of the day on Saturday, while Wood was attending the sessions I sat with Juniper by the edge of the swimming pool trying to coax her into the water. Early that morning, she pointed out of our hotel window towards the pool and said "wa wa!" and I asked her if she wanted to go swimming and she responded, "yeah." I put on our swimsuits and carried her into the cool morning water of the outdoor pool. She dug her fingers into my flesh and started screaming as soon as her toes struck cold. I could not calm her until we were back in our room.
Later that morning, while Sarah Gilbert's sweet little Truman splashed on the steps of the pool, Juniper again expressed a sincere interest in the water. This time I let her approach it at her own glacial pace, shifting towards Truman, taking a step back for every two forward. I asked her now if she wanted to go in the water but her response was a singsongy "Nooooo." For hours she looked at the pool and pointed at the other "babies" who were swimming, and a yearning to join them was clear in her brown eyes. And yet, even after Wood got in the pool, and we sat on the edge together and showed her how her doll could swim, Juniper's reticence eclipsed the allure of the water. She never swam that day.
I see so much of me in her, from the sometimes-crippling shyness, to the eons it takes for her to warm up to something she knows she's supposed to love. I feel a strange compulsion to try to help her overcome these things I've struggled with my entire life. It seems absurd that I'm still trying to overcome them myself.
On Friday night, Wood and I spent an hour by ourselves, drunk, talking with our feet in the pool. Saturday night somehow found us joining multiple conversations that the previous evening I had been too nervous to jump into. Melissa has described some of her relationships as "friends with training wheels" and over the weekend I was unable to shake that idea from my head. To pilfer her metaphor gayly, it felt like having water wings in a tumultuous sea of strangers, some of whom weren't strangers at all but faces you recognized from the flicker of 1s and 0s through a series of tubes, and hearts and minds you partly understood from having read thousands of their words and thoughts.
But God, it is so eerie to look across a pool and see a face and read its eyes which seem to say, "I know you."
I spent the weekend standing around a lemniscated pool of lukewarm water at the center of an architecturally-confused Hyatt filled with 17 acres worth of scattered beaux-arts fountains and statutary, buddhist bas reliefs, bird engravings from the nineteenth century, and, on this particular occasion, hundreds of brilliant and gorgeous women. I have had worse weekends.
While Dutch may have resigned from his job two weeks ago, he's still working; yet this morning I somehow woke to find a laid off dad sleeping on my living room floor. Dutch is still here, too, even though he should have left for work an hour and a half ago. It's all very confusing.
For today's Thursday Morning Wood, I put together a mix of songs I've been enjoying this summer. Click here if you want to hear it as a mix, or click on the individual songs to download each mp3.
1. kinsbury manx- pelz komet
2. jolie holland- crush in the ghetto
3. the essex green- don't know why you stay
4. chad van gaalen- graveyard
5. lambchop- you masculine you
6. band of horses- funeral
7. belle & sebastian- sleep the clock around
8. the mendoza line- mysterious in black
9. ill lit- los angeles
10. knife in the water- I sent you up
11. calexico- letter to a bowie knife
12. m. ward - to go home
13. camera obscura - country mile
There are a couple boxes of pampers stacked next to Juniper's crib. Last Sunday she woke up from her nap and played sweetly in her crib for a few minutes. She hopped over to the diaper boxes and pointed directly at a little picture of Elmo on the box, and said, clear as anything: "Elmo."
"Holy fuck Wood, did you hear that?"
"She just said E-L-M-O."
"Have you been letting her watch Sesame Street while I'm at work like that woman you know from playgroup whose German husband doesn't want their kid watching TV but she lets the kid watch it all day anyway?"
"No, I swear. She's never seen Elmo on television or anywhere else as far as I know."
"Don't say that name, you'll encourage her."
"Where did she learn it?" asked Wood.
"Elmo!" said Juniper. "Elmo, Elmo, Elmo."
Don't get me wrong, I harbored no illusions that Juniper wouldn't be stricken with inevitable adoration for that self-narrating mangy-red-haired orange-proboscised muppet. One could easier cheat the grim reaper than avoid the dreaded Elmo. Still, I didn't expect it so soon. Wood and I sat around trying to figure out where she could have learned it:
"When she was about eight months old I let her hold an Elmo doll that my secretary has in her cubicle," I offered.
"I think there might be an Elmo book on the shelf in the YMCA's daycare," Wood speculated. "I know they read her a Barney book once."
The thing is, I don't really think anyone needed to tell her who he was. Elmo has simply found his way into the collective unconscious. Children are now born knowing his name; they just wait for their lips and tongues to be capable of saying it.
Eleven days ago I asked for readers' recommendations of places for us to stop on our long drive across the American continent, and I promised that I would write this post about our favorite "not in the guide book" things to do in San Francisco. The responses to that post were brilliant and overwhelming, and I thank everyone who e-mailed us. Given that this week is the BlogHer conference, and so many people are going to be visiting the Bay Area, I thought I'd do this now in case any readers are going to be up in the city, looking for something to do. Wood, Juniper and I will all be down at BlogHer, so if you're coming you should say hello. I may not go into the conference (Wood will be there Saturday, but I fear my extremely masculine genitalia might make me feel a bit out of place), but I will be hanging around the hotel minding Juniper and maybe making an excursion to see the sights of San Jose. Are there any other BlogHer widows planning to loiter about menacingly?
Sweet Juniper's Top Ten Things to See and Do in San Francisco
Here's a promise: When we move away from this place, I won't write, ad nauseum about how much I miss San Francisco. Missing this city is inevitable. Having spent more than four years here, it is clear to me that it's one of the greatest cities in the world, and arguably the most beautiful. It seems like every week one of the ten or so local publications list and rank the "top" attractions of the city, and like the tourist guide books, these lists hardly reflect what I've found so special about San Francisco. So we've done our own list. And we're going to miss every one of these places. Keep in mind this is not a comprehensive list, just a few of our favorites. I'm going to start with our favorite neighborhoods, because I think visiting the outlying neighborhoods is the best way to get a sense of this city.
1. Clement Street.
I take everyone who visits us to Clement Street. Simply put, it's everything I love about San Francisco on twelve short blocks. Among many other things, it has Chinese junk shops and restaurants that smell like rank hutongs in Shanghai, French baby-clothes boutiques, old-school pizza parlors, Russian thrift stores, and the greatest ramshacke independent bookstore in a city full of great independent book stores. I've already created a Flickr adventure extolling the virtues of this stretch of San Francisco, but the street is so much more than just the wild stuff you can find in the shops. It's worth a visit for the Asian restaurants alone, or you can just compare the dim sum at a dozen different storefront dim sum counters along the block.
To get there: Take the 38 (or 38L) Geary from downtown, get off at Arguello and go one block north. Alternatively, take the 1 California, 2 Clement or 4 Sutter. From The Mission, Castro, or Haight, take the 33 Stanyan.
2. 9th and Irving
There's nothing really all that spectacular about this completely untouristed neighborhood, except that it simply shows what makes all San Francisco neighborhoods so spectacular: there is no shortage of coffee shops, pizza parlors, sushi bars, Indian, Korean, Middle-Eastern and Chinese restaurants, in addition to bars and lots of quirky shopping. The feeling you get walking the streets in this area is that this is what every town, every neighborhood in America wants to be. People are outside, businesses are thriving. Plus, it sits right on the edge of Golden Gate Park at its point most dense with not-to-be-missed attractions, such as the arboretum (check out the geezer band that plays Sousa standards on Saturday mornings), Stowe Lake, the Japanese Tea Garden, and the De Young Museum (all of which should already be on every tourist's checklist---particularly the De Young).
To get there: from any MUNI metro station, take the N Judah outbound. Or the 71 Haight Noriega MUNI line. Get off at 9th Avenue.
3. Dogpatch/Mission Bay:
By the end of the year they are threatening to begin light-rail service to this long-isolated working class neighborhood of San Francisco. This whole area has been steadily changing every year it seems in preparation for that event: real estate speculators, architects, and hipsters have all followed the artists and original pioneers that resurrected this area from the blight that followed the demise of the shipbuilding and shipping industries in San Francisco. Along the waterfront and up to the slopes of Potrero Hill there are old dry docks, warehouses, empty factories and abandoned piers. Many of the old industrial buildings were long ago converted into cool live/work loft spaces. There are also several blocks of beautiful pre-quake Victorian housing that is a little more proletarian than what you'll find in other parts of the city. These were worker's houses and cottages. I like to just walk around down here. The buildings are really old and beautiful. It is still a bit gritty and dingy and you should see it before the inevitable yuppification completely swallows its character.
Along the bay in Dogpatch is also a great place to go for graffiti pictures. Particularly Warm Water Cove (AKA Tire Beach), down by the MUNI graveyard where 24th meets the bay. That's one of the coolest places in the whole city.
To get there: take the N-Judah past the ballpark, continue up 3rd Street along the light rail tracks.
4. Hayes Valley
When Wood and I first moved to San Francisco, we lived in Hayes Valley. It was the first place I was ever mugged, so it holds a special spot in my heart. This neighborhood's main drag on Hayes Street is now so gleefully extravagant that I can't really hold its ridiculous prices against it. This is the place to go for a pair of $120 Japanese socks that will make your kid's feet look like lizards, a $240 bra, and a $300 pair of Italian pumps designed by a local Italian. Half of Juniper's wardrobe comes from the sale rack at Lavish. There's a nice little park for kids to run around in at Hayes and Octavia. The off streets of Hayes Valley, too, have their charms: hidden off Hayes Street are yarn shops, a custom corset manufacturer next door to a really cool back-alley coffee shop, great Italian restaurants, and little clothes boutiques. For food, Suppenkuche on the corner of Hayes and Laguna is loud, kid-friendly and fashionable. We love the brunch menu there.
Hayes Valley has a pretty dense concentration of locally-made stuff for sale in its shops. No one I know can really afford it, but it's there and fun to look at. There are quite a few design stores with unique, interesting furniture well out of the Design Within Reach mid-century mold. One time when Wood's mom and stepdad were visiting we took them into one of the tony home design shops and her stepdad accidentally bashed his bare shin (right above his white knee socks and sandals) into a piece of uber-modernist clear-plastic furniture and he started bleeding profusely. The fashionably-gay owner of the store looked up from his internet browsing and I swear I read the word "shit: lawsuit" pass his lips. He rushed out of the store and looked in the glove box of his Ferrari parked out front for a band aid, then went to the convenience store across the street to buy him one. This is the kind of service you can expect when you travel with two lawyers.
To get there: Take the 21 Hayes, the 5 Fulton from Market Street, or get off at the Civic Center BART stop or the Van Ness MUNI stop.
5. Jackson Square Historic District/Upper Grant
You can't avoid a visit to Chinatown or North Beach if you come to San Francisco (nor would I advise avoiding them---both are fun), but you can easily miss two great spots that sit on the edge of each. Jackson Square is a rare part of downtown San Francisco where many of the buildings survived the 1906 fire, and it gives the best sense (other than photographs) of what the city looked like before the rebuilding. This was the area known as the Barbary Coast, and there's a great book of that name by Herbert Asbury that describes what this area was like in the early wild days of the city:
"The upper part of Pacific Street, after dark, is crowded by thieves, gamblers, low women, drunken sailors, and similar characters, who resort to the groggeries that line the street, and there spend the night in the most hideous orgies. Every grog shop is provided with a fiddle, from which some half-drunken creature tortures execrable sounds, called by way of compliment, music. . .These ruffian resorts are the hot beds of drunkenness, and the scenes of unnumbered crimes. Unsuspecting sailors and miners are entrapped by the dexterous thieves and swindlers that are always on the lookout, into these dens, where they are filled with liquor---drugged if necessary, until insensibility coming upon them, they fall an easy victim to their tempters. In this way many robberies are committed, which are not brought to light through shame on the part of the victim. When the habitues of this quarter have reason to believe a man has money, they follow him up for days, and employ every device to get him into their clutches. . . .These dance-groggeries are outrageous nuisances and nurseries of crime. . . ."
How can you stay away from a neighborhood that was once filled with "nurseries of crime?" It's now one of the quietest parts of the city, and I walk here nearly every weekday to get away from my office. I love the old brick buildings, now occupied mostly by design and architectural firms and upscale antique and home design shops. There's a great architectural bookstore at Montgomery and Jackson. It's hard to imagine all the actual whoring that took place on Pacific Street in the old days, but not entirely impossible.
When you go to Chinatown, try to walk down any street but the main thoroughfare, Grant Avenue. On the side streets and in the alleys you are less likely to get accosted with menus from lousy restaurants, and more likely to see some lady doing something crazy and Chinese, like washing her hair on her fire escape. If you do end up on Grant Ave, stop in the Empress of China restaurant's elevator lobby and check out the photos of all the celebrities from the 70s who made this restaurant a stop on their San Francisco jet setting circuit. Go upstairs for an overpriced drink. This place is totally old-school touristy, but I still love it. They have this pamphlet that describes their chef as:
"A cookery authority from China with a repertoire of great depth, [who] personally selects the best products of land, sea, and air. He presides over a corps of chefs, each an expert of his native regional fare. They ply their culinary arts in hygienically clean, air-conditioned stainless steel kitchen. The 71-foot Chinese wok oven range is the largest in the Unites States."
The pamphlet also describes the kinds of drinks that Sammy Davis Jr. and Eric Estrada probably enjoyed during the restaurant's halcyon days:
BREATH OF THE EMPRESS: "a whisper of events to come."
EMPEROR'S WHIM: "two will make you an emperor, three a conqueror!"
TIGER'S TAIL: "a portentous drink, will increase what you have, regenerate what you might have lost!"
The wait staff is exclusively tuxedoed octogenarian Chinese men who all look as though they could use a few quaffs of Tiger's Tail. Sadly, if you actually order anything more exotic than a mai tai the bartender will have no clue. I showed the bartender the pamphlet that was being distributed less than twenty feet from his liquor shelves, and he just looked at me and shrugged.
If you continue down Grant and cross Columbus into North Beach, keep walking uphill on Grant street. We've had clothes made for Wood at Al's Attire, and I love browsing for medical curiosities and old French photographs in Aria, and the Asian antique importer next door has more cool stuff in two huge rooms than the ten blocks of mass-produced gewgaw shops in Chinatown put together. If you continue on Grant up Telegraph Hill, between Francisco and Chestnut streets are a bunch of steps that lead up to a little park that this guy created all by himself back in the 1960s. It's one of the best views of the city and there's hardly ever anybody there.
Back in North Beach, stop by Molinari's Deli (est. 1896) for a sausage sandwich.
To get there: Go to Chinatown, walk towards the bay (downhill) on Jackson or Pacific.
6. The Columbarium:
I discovered this place by accident walking around our neighborhood three years ago, and it is still one of my favorite places in San Francisco.
San Francisco doesn't have any real cemeteries. There's a small one next to the Mission Dolores and a military one in the Presidio, but that's it. That wasn't always the case. All of Lone Mountain where the University of San Francisco now sits was once called the Laurel Hills cemetery, and it was surrounded by a huge Masonic cemetery (Masonic, the street, is named after the cemetery) and well as an Odd Fellows cemetery.
None of those were planned with proper perpetual care agreements. After the money ran out there was no way to pay anyone to mow the lawns, plant the flowers, repair or replace broken tombstones. Crypts were raided, mausoleums vandalized. Columns and obelisks were turned over and shattered everywhere. Neighborhood folks would hear clanking sounds coming from Lone Mountain, the muffled echo of sledge-hammers, vandals looting the vaults of bronze flower urns, silver coffin handles. The cemeteries were havens for drifters and hobos and bootleggers. College fraternities held their secret rites in the vaults and mausoleums.
San Francisco decided to do away with the cemeteries, and all burials were stopped in the city in 1901. In 1916 or so the city fathers ordered the disinterment of thousands of bodies to be moved down to the necropolis of Colma. Nobody with any sense truly believes that they moved all the bodies out of San Francisco. A few years ago, down at the Legion of Honor, they were doing some digging and they came across hundreds of bodies. That area had been the Golden Gate Cemetery where they had moved many of the graves from the old downtown pioneer graveyards. They found 300 gold rush era bodies in a potter's field. They found a tiny box that contained a human heart. They unearthed a dude still wearing an original pair of Levis in good condition. The Levis Corporation tried to buy those jeans for their museum.
I bring up all of this history for a reason: on the edge of where the long-gone cemeteries were, at the end of an innocuous cul-de-sac and hidden from busy Geary Blvd by a Kinkos and a '76 Station sits an neoclassical domed building (built in 1897) that houses the mortal remains of 30,000 San Franciscans that is the last vestige of the sprawling Odd Fellows cemetery that once covered this peaceful neighborhood. The word Columbarium means a building with little niches where doves live before being sent out with messages. In this building, there are thousands of little shoebox sized niches where people's ashes rest in urns. People also put little things in there to tell you a little bit about who they were, distilling their whole life down to a little bottle of Johnny Walker Black, or a mug shaped like Elvis Presley. There's a lot of tacky shit in there. There are a lot of faded bittersweet photographs. Many of those buried there are men who died during the 1980s AIDS crisis. I have spent entire afternoons walking around this beautiful neoclassical building, which gyres up four levels, with little rooms filled with urns and light streaming through stained glass. Two things I have seen there have haunted me more than anything else: a photograph of twin boys from the 1920s, in one niche, filled with two urns, one of which is occupied and the other is still waiting to be filled; the other is a little notebook hanging from a niche where a girl has been writing notes to her dead mother for years.
There is something about this place that fills me with a sort of quiet philosophy. None of the bullshit that we think is so important (jobs, money, technology) seems all that important after you've spent some time in the Columbarium.
If you're lucky, the caretaker Emmit Watson will be there and he can tell you about some of the "people" he takes care of. The place is full of his stories. I learned almost everything above about the history of the area from him. Emmit is a real character, he's proud of the work he's done to the building and will not hesitate to talk about how it was virtually abandoned for much of the 20th century, how before he started restoring it there were raccoons and birds living in it and mushrooms growing on the old metal niches. He keeps one unrestored to show how much work he's done. He told me there were many anonymous cremations in one of the top rooms for which no provisions were ever made, piled in small white boxes that had long rotted together and the dust of dozens of people commingled. And he told me he still finds human bones once in awhile when he's digging in the lawn.
To get there: The 38(38L) Geary stops at Arguello and Geary. You can see the dome of the Columbarium behind the old Coronet Theater. Walk one block south on Arguello, turn left on Anza. Walk two blocks to Lorraine Court. The Columbarium is behind the tall fence at the end of the street. It's only open until 4:00 p.m. [there's a Columbarium in Oakland, too]
7. Exploratorium/Palace of Fine Arts/Wave Organ:
When they moved the cemeteries, they brought some of the granite tombstones down to the bay to make piers and jetties (they also used them to make the sidewalks and drains in Buena Vista Park on Haight street: some of them were installed face up and you can see people's names). Some of those tombstones were taken down to the Marina, close to the Palace of Fine Arts (a worthwhile tourist destination) to build a jetty. If you're going to the beautiful Palace of Fine Arts (a Romanesque folly of ruins built for the 1915 World's Fair) or the hands-on Exploratorium kid's museum, check out the Wave Organ on the jetty out in the bay by the marina. The Wave Organ is a wave-activated acoustic sculpture created by artist Peter Richards. There are 25 PVC pipes sticking out of the old cemetery stones at various levels and angles and in conjunction with the tides they emit this low level wail when the waves hit the pipes. It's pretty spooky. The view down there is the best part, with the full vista of the Golden Gate Bridge to the west and Alcatraz to the northeast.
To get there: I have absolutely no fucking idea. We drive.
You see a lot of visitors touring the city in double decker buses or fake gas-powered cable cars or duck boats or even on the dreaded segway. This always astonishes me, because the best way to see San Francisco is on its unfairly-maligned, amazing system of public transportation, known as MUNI. I will take off my jacket and my spectacles and raise my fists against anyone who complains about it. You clearly have never sat on Woodward Avenue in Detroit watching a crack whore with a giant blue wig scratch at her crabs with four-inch fingernails for an hour and a half waiting for a chugging diesel 53 bus to take you 4 miles down the road." Neither have I, honestly, but if you think MUNI's really all that bad you've either got an enormous sense of entitlement or you've just never experienced how miserable the public transport is in other cities with a population of 750,000.
MUNI is the single thing I will most miss about this city. I love getting everywhere I need to go without worrying about a car, or parking. I fucking love MUNI. Even the 1 California. The 38 Geary will take you all the way from downtown to Land's End. And the drivers all have those awesome poop-brown uniforms.
I am partial to two MUNI lines that I would recommend as a tour, primarily because both will show you the highs and lows and in-betweens of San Francisco like no other tour will.
9. The 33 Stanyan:
You can pick the 33 Stanyan up either in Potrero Hill at one end or at Clement Street on the other (technically it starts out in front of the hospital where Juniper was born, but for convenience I'd suggest picking it up at Arguello and Clement). This bus line is also one block away from the Columbarium, discussed above). From there is heads south on Arguello (past our favorite sushi restaurant and the coffee shop where Wood gets coffee every day) and up around the corner of Golden Gate Park. From there the 33 turns left on to Haight Street, stopping directly in front of a McDonalds. This is where you stop if you want to buy marijuana of dubious quality or go next door to one of the best record stores on the planet. The 33 continues along Haight street, but I would suggest walking this part and hopping on the next 33 that comes along 20-30 minutes later. There's lots of shopping on Haight, and you could spend hours here. The 33 turns uphill at the famous corner of Haight and Ashbury (now home to a Ben & Jerry's and The Gap) and goes past the Grateful Dead house, and further up the hill, an inconspicuous house a friend of mine once lived in; she told me that back in the 1960s Charles Manson had rented her room. The 33 climbs past Ashbury Heights and heads over to Upper Market. Enjoy the amazing view of the downtown area from the bus as it approaches the wacky turn onto Market. The 33 then dips down into the Castro, San Francisco's gayest neighborhood. When he visits, I take my dad here so he can have something to tell all his homophobic friends when they sit around fixing cars on Saturday afternoon. You can ogle the homosexuals in their native environment from the bus, or, even better, get off at 18th and Castro and walk around. They won't bite (unless you want them to). From Castro along 18th you can hop back on the bus or just walk: you'll get to Dolores Park and eventually the heart of the Mission, San Francisco's petri dish of uber-gentrification. Get off the bus and get a burrito. Every asshole out here has a favorite taqueria. Ours is El Toro at 17th and Valencia. There's fun shopping on Mission Street, too. I tried doing one of my photographic adventures here, but abandoned it because it felt mean to pick on the Mexican stuff. The graffiti murals in the Mission are famous but a bit underwhelming to me. I like my street art a little less legit. Still, if you want to see them, after popping in to replace your CyberSkin double-dong dildo vibrator's batteries at Good Vibrations, duck around the corner to Clarion Alley. Then walk up Mission to 23rd Street, go left past Folsom and check out Balmy Alley. If you stay on Valencia, there is some of the more fun shopping in the city as you edge up closer to the 20s. One of my favorite stores in the city is X21 at 20th, it's like a museum of wacky-ass mid-century shit. Juniper loves to stop in Paxton's Gate to look at the taxidermied animals, and it's next door is Dave Eggers' pirate supply store at 826 Valencia. My favorite store to buy clothes for Wood is Dema, at Valencia and 22nd, and if you like the clothes there check out Minnie Wilde around the corner on 21st between Mission and Valencia. If you are with a kid, there are decent playgrounds on Hoff between 16th and 17th street (Kid Power) and between Valencia and Guerrero on 19th street. You can catch the Stanyan again at 18th and Valencia. From there, it's on to Potrero Hill, which is mostly residential but you can slog over it to get to the Dogpatch (above) or get off at Portrero and 18th and catch the 22 Fillmore going the other way.
10. The 22 Fillmore:
The other bus I recommend for a tour is the 22 Fillmore, which highlights this city's stratified class structure if nothing else. It can be picked up in Potrero Hill, at 3rd and 20th. The 22 goes through the Mission, along 16th Street, avoids the Castro and veers towards Market at Church Street. The 22 heads up around Dubose Triangle and into the Lower Haight, a decidedly seedier (and better) part of Haight Street than the more heavily-touristed gutterpunk version up the hill. There are decent restaurants and good bars down here and some shopping. Haight and Fillmore is where Wood and I almost bought a condo two years ago. The 22 heads up Fillmore and a good place to get off is at Hayes. From here you can go down the hill into Hayes Valley (see above), or you could head up Hayes to Alamo Square Park so you can see where Danny, D.J., Stefanie, and the Olson Twins romped in that opening sequence of Full House. Good playground there. If you're hungry, the Alamo Square Seafood Restaurant at Fillmore and Hayes has one of the most unusual menus in the city: cheap French food, particularly the prix fixe before 6:30 p.m. and no corkage Wednesdays. The 22 drops down into the neighborhood known as "the Fillmore," an area famous for its history of jazz and being one of the few places in San Francisco where black people still live. Across Geary, the 22 goes past Japantown up into Pacific Heights, where far fewer black people live, but enough white people have shopped at "Shabby Chic" to have kept that wretched hive of scum and villainy in business for years. Pacific Heights is full of beautiful women who can smell a man's bank account from two blocks away. There's a brand new playground a few blocks west of Fillmore in Alta Plaza Park, where you can see plenty of examples of what those women turn into when they sink their teeth into the right bank account and have a kid. Or, at least, you will see the quality of their nannies. The 22 crests the Fillmore hill, the ocean comes into view, and the bus labors down into Cow Hollow and the Marina. I confess I don't know much about the Marina. I guess the Marina is nice if you really like white people. The 22 ends its route there, having traveled through some of the city's most interesting areas to sit idling just a short walk from the glorious Palace of Fine Arts/Exploratorium and the bay, discussed above.
I know I cheated. Really there's only nine things on this list. I think I'll update it someday with a tenth, when I'm really missing something that I didn't even think I was going to miss.
And now, locals, here's your chance to offer some input as to all of the incredible shit I don't know about or forgot. What are your favorite off-the-tourist-trail things to see and do here?
One night last week when I came home from work, I could see Juniper in the window wearing only a diaper and running towards the door, shrieking with excitement. I ran up as quickly as my heels would allow, and my heart did a couple of backhandsprings inside my ribcage. I stepped inside, crouched on my knees, spread my arms wide open and closed my eyes, waiting to feel her tiny body collapse into mine. And then I heard it: the sound of strange child's voice. I opened my eyes to see Juniper gleefully chase a 3 year-old black girl right past me into the dining room. I then noticed our neighbor sitting on the couch, and as I stood up, realized that the kid must be her granddaughter. Juniper was so thrilled to have another little girl in our house that she didn't even notice that I'd come home. For the next fifteen minutes, while I waited awkwardly for our neighbor to leave, I followed Juniper around the house trying to get her to sit still long enough so that I could smell her. I'd spent all day missing her smell. When I finally sunk my nose into the crease between her shoulder and neck, she was filthy and stinky.
Predictably, being back at work hasn't just been all aeron chairs and fast internet connections and cute clothes, there's the expected downside: my baby doesn't need me very much anymore. She doesn't cry when I leave the house, she doesn't notice when I come home, and she is thriving under her father's care.
She doesn't even need me to take a bath with her.
Until recently, the very suggestion that Juniper would take a bath alone without Dutch or I in the tub, was enough to cause her to run from the bathroom screaming, refusing to let us undress her. We were sort of embarassed about the shared tub time, rarely admitting to people that we still bathed with her, but at the end of every day when we were tired and eager to get through the nightly routine, one of us would reluctantly strip down and join her in the tub. When Dutch was working, he enjoyed this time with her on weekday nights, and after grilling me about what we did that day he would sit with Juniper in the tub and ask her a long litany of questions, to which she always responded "yeah." I'd hear them from the other room: "Did you go to the playground today? Yeah. Did you see baby Olivia today? Yeah. Did you a ride a dog down Fulton street today? Yeah."
Last night, for the first time Juniper didn't need one of us to get in the tub with her. She just plopped right in and started playing with her animals. At first, I was grateful that I didn't need to go through the completely unnecessary wettening and toweling off, but now I'm kind of bummed. I understand why Dutch wanted to take baths with her when he got home from work. I need that time with her.
So I sat on the closed toilet while she splashed in the tub, talking to herself and her animals, only occassionally noticing that I was in the room. While I was taking these pictures, she was telling me all about the elephant's butt. Where did she learn the word butt? There may still be work to be done with this kid after all.
Last week Juniper and I met Dutch downtown for lunch. It was one of those rare hot days in San Francisco that cause everyone here to complain loudly on their cell-phones about the unbearable heat and the sweatiness of our thighs, only to be greeted with a well-deserved "fuck you" from people who live in the kind of places where the temperatures don't top out at 85 degrees. Still, riding the stinky bus downtown with Juniper perched perilously on my lap, trying to keep her entertained every single second of the bus ride to ensure that she didn't start running her hands through the natty hair of the homeless guy next to us wore me out. When we got to the financial district, I emerged from the bus looking like a withered, sweaty frump in mom clothes.
With Juniper slung on my back in her ergo carrier, running her hands through my 3 day-old wash'n'wear hairdo, I noticed that all around in the financial district were beautiful, fashionable people. They weren't wearing pants smeared with cracker spittle, and none of their shirts looked like they'd been yanked from the dirty clothes basket that morning. The warm day just seemed to add a pleasant, summery glow to these smartly-dressed professionals, and they strolled across the streets well-coifed in coordinated outfits on the way to their $50 business lunches while sipping cups of Peet's coffee without spilling a drop on their neatly pressed shirts.
As a particularly well-dressed woman passed us and shot me a glance of pity, I quickly retailated in my mind: "Ha, ha! Laugh now, but in a measly seven weeks, I too will wear red high heels with a charcoal pencil skirt and a black blouse! I am returning to the workforce, and I will do it in style! So long food stains and frump, hello formal businesswear!" I threw my shoulders back, brushed some more crumbs off my pantlegs, and continued up the block to meet Dutch.
As soon as I saw him, I told him about my realization: I couldn't wait to go back to work so that I could wear nice clothes again, clothes with buttons and collars and shoes with heels and pointy toes, and maybe I'd get a hair cut that wasn't so shaggy, and maybe I'd even start blow-drying it, and probably I'd have to buy some new clothes because the ones I have aren't right and don't fit well enough, but the bottom line was that very soon, I would be looking clean and fashionable again and there wouldn't be a single toddler finger around to so much as smear a line of snot across my lapel because I would be at work.
It was right after I said the words "at work" that I started to sob.
I am a lawyer. At least, I have been, and will be for the next few weeks or so of my life. This is something that I haven't written much about, primarily because it's boring. Despite hundreds of hours of television research over the course of my life telling me that lawyering is exciting and dramatic, in reality the only exciting thing about being a lawyer is the indigestion you get from the 17 cans of diet coke you consume every day. It's a grand illusion, television lawyering. I wonder if the same is true for detectives and surgeons: the only other two professions with at least 4-5 prime time shows devoted to them each network season.
"When kids apply to law school promising to do public interest, the admissions officers just laugh," writes one of our readers. And it's probably true. Everyone enters this game ready to pursue justice, to defend the weak, and to change the motherfucking world. Everyone envisions themselves the next Clarence Darrow, but the vast majority will end up like me, sitting in an Aeron chair in a nice office overlooking some big city somewhere trying to look busy while wondering why a voice inside them begs them to quit, begs them to do something else; eventually some suppress and even laugh at that voice, because it, unlike the law firm lords and masters, can't provide the security of a six figure salary. Occasionally you meet a law student in an interview who tells you some bullshit like, "I'm really interested in mergers and acquisitions," or "I've always found corporate transactions fascinating" and you stare at him like he just told you that he's really interested in licking mud-encrusted emu testicles, and so you say, "Don't bullshit me, Keanu. You're just here for the money."
I made a lot of money as a lawyer but I could never really figure out why. What was I doing that was so valuable? Defending some company that got sued, I guess. Some other lawyer decided to sue that company so that company came to me to defend it, and we lawyers all huff and puff a lot and the company pays me and then eventually gets sick of paying me so it pays the lawyer who sued less money that it was sued for and then we all shake hands. It strikes me that this whole industry is little more than sanctioned racketeering.
Last Friday my mentor and the partner who has assigned the bulk of my work took me out for lunch, and after some talk, while picking at a cool hunk of salmon draped on a bed of potato-crab hash I told him I had to resign. My voice sounded hollow, dull and distant when I spoke, he sat there stunned and silent, and I went on and explained, saying the things that anyone who reads this blog already knows. There was a tremendous pressure in the front of my face, between my eyes, and I felt tears in those eyes, and I rubbed my cheek. The partner reached across the table and gripped my hand, and he looked at me with tear-filled eyes and said, "James, you know I care about you. You know that, right?"
For four years I have been "James" at work. That's not what Wood calls me, or what my parents call me, but it's what my resume said when I applied and it's what everyone has called me when they saw me in the law firm's halls for the last four years. I know when I'm at home and someone calls my cell phone asking for James, it's about work, and my head goes straight to where it needs to be to talk about work, because when I'm home and spending time with my baby, I don't want to be James. I don't want to think like "James" at all when I'm home.
There is that famous quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne: "No man for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true." I looked at the partner, who has been a father figure to me trapped out here on this coast so far from my family, and we gushed on and on about how much we've enjoyed working together and all the good we thought of one another. I realized this man was one of the truly great people I would meet over the course of my life, and I held him in a reverence I'd always saved for my most dazzling and brilliant college professors. Had I been lying to him all this time, or had I become truly bewildered as to who I was? We spoke of a future that I pretended, for his sake, to want: a future much like the path he had taken, or as close to such a future as I could get, having just that hour forsaken the path that would have led to exactly where he was.
I have never been good at quitting jobs. Even the Russ job. I never really give a damn about the company, or the job itself, but what I care about are the people who have come to depend on me. In some ways my entire life feels like a desperate effort not to disappoint anyone.
When I got back to work I just stood in the empty elevator bank with my back against the wall and I listened to the whistling of air and elevator hauling people up and down 28 stories. I've worked a thousand days here. Six thousand times or more those elevators whistled me up and down. How could I let myself become such a duplicitous fuck? I sat there and listened to those elevators long and long. I went back to my office and looked at the pictures of Juniper, my engravings of John Brown and Walt Whitman, my photos of Clarence Darrow and Charlie Chaplin on the wall. My feelings towards myself softened. In the end, it is good that what I will miss about this place are the people, and not just the paychecks. Some other sap will come along and get my office and my Aeron chair and he'll bill hours and realize that these are good people and this is a good place to work. And maybe he'll stay, and maybe he won't.
And I'll be somewhere else. With Juniper. Change isn't always easy, but it is necessary if you can't suppress the yearnings deep inside you, if you haven't yet fooled yourself into thinking you know exactly who you are. All I'm really sure of now is that I'm not James.
Carl is the Rottweiler protagonist in a series of textless children's books where a child's mother repeatedly leaves her in the care of the dog, Carl, for several hours before returning completely unwaware of the madcap adventures and zany hijinks that have taken place while she was gone (stuff like, "oh snap! Carl got into the jelly again!"). I've looked at these books with Juniper so many times I am banging my head against the cardboard out of boredom, such boredom that I began to wonder what a Carl book would be like if the baby's mother was a hobo:
I've always loved to look at foreign travel guides for the places that I've lived, particularly San Francisco. It's so interesting to see the places that the authors recommend: the sights, the bars, the restaurants. I often wonder what city it is they describe, considering how different the experience they recommend to an average tourist is from my own knowledge of the city. It warms my heart to think of my own naivete in traveling: the difference between the Rome I know and the Rome of someone who lives there. Wood and I once spent a week in her Uncle's empty house in an unremarkable neighborhood of Vienna, and it was so nice to shop at grocery stores where nothing was made convenient for foreigners, to drink liters of Zwickel in a neighborhood Bier Beisl where despite our best efforts to blend in (and speak German) every patron stared in wonder at who we were.
Beyond some shallow yearning for "authenticity" (I don't even know if I believe in authenticity), I do prefer to lurk in such places, primarily because I am cheap and the prices are so much better in untouristed areas. At the suggestion of a SJ reader I am working on a huge post about our favorite things to see and do in San Francisco that aren't in the tourist guides. We figure almost everyone comes here at some point, and so many of you will, and if you think this website is worth reading maybe you'll think some of our favorite things to do are worth doing.
But before it's done, I have a favor to ask of you: I want to do a collaboration with some of you. In late August we are going to pack up our stuff and drive across the country with Juniper. This creates two questions:
1. How do you travel long distances with a kid? Are there any tricks or useful advice you have learned through hard experience that you wouldn't mind sharing with us? [I should add that any great advice we get on this could turn into something very big (it's a secret) but we promise to give you credit]
2. (and this is the big one) Do you live (or have you lived) within an hour of highways 50, 70, or 80, anywhere between Reno and Chicago?
If you can answer "yes" to #2, I want to hear from you via e-mail. Specifically, I want you to tell me about your favorite thing to see or do in your city or town. It doesn't need to be any more detailed than (a) what it is; and (b) why you love it, but please, be as detailed as you can. I may want to follow up and ask you more (or "interview" you about it). See, my inner Charles Kuralt really wants to plan a trip that allows me to get off the highway as much as possible and see things that really mean something to local people. I hate the monotonous conformity of interstate highway culture and would love to experience something that you feel really gives your chosen (or former) home true character and meaning. It could be a simple diner, a nature preserve, a historical landmark or museum, an awesome thrift/antique store, a single piece of architecture, an abandoned factory or a ghost town, a swimming hole, a cool playground, a cemetery, a roadside attraction, a crazy guy who puts all kinds of random stuff in his lawn, a cheap dive bar with unbelievable olive burgers, a department store that's been around for decades, an old insane asylum, a beautiful courthouse: anything that makes you proud of where you live or that you think defines the character of where you live (the more things, the better).
If you no longer live there, please write to me about something that you miss. I am very interested in the way we both love and loathe the places we're from. I find this ambivalence fascinating, and I think too often people talk about why they don't like where they live or where they are from rather what they do like about it. Probably because people just like to complain. If you've been reading this blog you probably know that I don't like chain restaurants or big box stores, primarily because I dislike the way they disrupt the culture of a place. I have a bit of Miniver Cheevy in me and I like to think about the past and history of a place. If you've been reading SJ for awhile and some clue about something any of us would especially like given our apparent tastes, all the better.
Depending on the response, I want to map out a route that allows us to stop and see some of the recommendations, and then I'll write a blog entry about it from the road. If you'd like to meet us and show us around, all the better.
Please e-mail us: sweetjuniper at gmail.com. Give us a reason to get off the goddamn highway.
Last night Wood and I set our signatures in blue ink on the freshly-delivered contract for our new 3-bedroom, 1470 square foot home in downtown Detroit with central air and a finished basement and a garbage disposal and a dishwasher and a full-sized washer and dryer. As the ink dried, the sound of trumpets echoed from all around and the walls of our tiny one-bedroom apartment rattled violently and the sheet that we've hung between our bed and Juniper's crib to keep her from gesticulating crude mammary gestures at us all night fluttered as though a strong gust of wind had ruffled it, and the apartment-sized washer/dryer combo that have been the bane of Wood's existence cowered in the corner of the kitchen, jiggling the doorknob to the fire escape, and the stuffed animals, all those goddamn stuffed animals whose depraved nightly inter-generic orgies have caused their number to swell to the thousands, and all their bizarre hybrid progeny, they whimpered in fear that one day soon they would be confined to a closet or a bedroom and no longer allowed to graze freely on cookie crumbs throughout our living room, and finally the hardwood floor of that very room (in the very spot where my mother-in-law has slept during each of her sixteen visits) opened up into a fiery, roaring maw of Charybdis from which resonated the cackling of Moloch in Pandaemonium and the barking of hellhounds returning to the womb of sin to gnaw at her entrails. . .
I put a rug over it and assured Wood that now we were going to get out of this hellhole for good.
Remember little Billy Grosspietch, the three-year-old kid who liked to breastfeed his doll "num nums"? Well, in about 27 years, little Billy is going to be draped in an afghan, drinking a steaming cup of tea and talking about his problems to a room full of people and he's going to look across the circle of afghan-draped tea slurpers and see young Graysen June, a towheaded chap who liked to suck on Barbie's tits when he was two years old. What will the name of this support group be? "Children whose mothers sent pictures of them to Mothering Magazine and whose middle school classmates found the pictures by googling their names."
Check out the closeup:
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I submit this question to you: how intimidating can a tattoo parlor possibly be when it has enough toys in its lobby to entertain a seventeen-month old child for two hours while her mother gets stuffed with ink under a screeching needle upstairs? I love that my wife was more intimidated by the prospect of getting a tattoo from a hipster queercore punk rock star (literally) tattoo artist than the neo-nazi redneck on parole who did her last tattoo. Everything went just fine, and the tattoo is beautiful.
Maybe Wood will post a picture later today.
I'm still waiting for the day to come when I'll wish she was younger. It's like a refrain with us: she'll smile or say something or scoot along the ground in some woeful imitation of running and Wood and I will look at each other and say I don't want her to grow up---this is the perfect age. Then a couple months later we'll say that same thing again. Often I'll see someone else's baby in some earlier state of infant evolution, and I'll think, God I'm so glad Juniper's not that age anymore. That age is no fun compared to this one. It gives me some hope that we will never see the day where we'll wish she's something she's not.
The last few days were full of such superlatives; for example, we were sure that Monday was her sweetest day ever, watching her cling to Wood's belly at the beach in Santa Cruz, afraid of the water, watching her slurp down a milkshake and shriek along the sidewalk of Pacific Street, parting waves of admiring old ladies with each step. But then we said it again yesterday while she romped around the sculpture garden outside the De Young Museum rushing us with kisses and then hiding from us, giggling behind trees in the Shakespeare Garden. With two days off work I was able to spend four full days with Juniper: four days without her clinging to my shins while I hunt for my keys in the morning, no need for those hard byebyes. She's laughing so much these days; she's showing us that she has a sense of humor and she plays little jokes that she finds absolutely hilarious. She's talking so much more, finding words for the things she wants. Wood remarked that it must feel so powerful to suddenly find yourself able to ask for something and then actually get it, to say "ca-ca" and have two crackers appear out of nowhere to fit snugly in two hands. My favorite thing about this Juniper is the way she responds to your voice when you ask any question: she nods with such baseless certainty. "Juniper, are there monkeys in those trees?" [vigorous nodding] "Juniper, don't you think that Heath Ledger is only marrying Michelle Williams because she got knocked up?" [nod, nod] My favorite thing to do at the end of the day when I come home from work is to sit with her in the tub and ask her about all the things she did that day, and have her look up at me with those big brown eyes and nod in answer to every question.
Despite her overeagerness to affirm, it is clear she does understand so much more than she can say. I love watching her think, watching her "twist the shapes of thoughts into the stony idiom of the brain." I get so absorbed in her words, I whisper and repeat them in her ear on long walks. I am so eager to converse with her, her every correct answer to my mild interrogation feels as powerful to me as it must feel for her to get what she asks for. "What does the bus say, Juniper?" Vroooooooooooooo. "Which way to the ducks?" [she points] While walking down our street and she suddenly says "leafs," I'll lift her high above my head and she reaches her arms up into the boughs and branches of the trees and she shrieks as the fleshy blades and the petioles tickle her palms. "Again," she tells me, as we draw near a gingko at eye level and I stick my nose into her neck and she giggles and the gingko leaves run along both our cheeks.
I remember years ago when I first moved to San Francisco I went out for sushi with a friend and during the entire meal I was distracted to dumb wonder by a father and his teenage daughter eating together at the next table on a late Sunday afternoon. This should say something about what kind of 23-year old I was, to sit there and fantasize about some future meal with some imagined daughter of my own who would want to sit and have sushi and talk with me when she's sixteen, to laugh and talk about important things or things that weren't important at all, but more importantly to sit across from her and hear her voice and hear her shade and knit anew the patch of words we've gifted her, to sit and marvel and gasp at the wonder of this thing that's sprung from me.
Just when you've spent an hour sitting with your daughter by a pond in Golden Gate Park, resting under the ferns and feeding the ducks among the lilypads. . .
. . .and it's so idyllic you half expect Ellery Channing and H.D. Thoreau to float past on a punt discussing the virtues of wanderlust. . .
. . .and you're struck with a sudden sense of mourning for this park, its beauty and and its giant presence in your life and the life of your child, and how much you will miss it when you move. . .
. . .then suddenly a mangy rat will scuttle out from its den of filth and snatch up the last crumb of crust that your baby has tossed out to her friends, the baby ducks.
And you'll tell her it's a mouse.