…some guy walked down Alabama Street, jauntily whistling Darth Vader’s theme.
Archive for May, 2003
“Are you going to eat your dinner? No? D’you mind if I do? I’m an athlete, see, and I need to carbo-load. There’s a whole group of us, we’re on our way to Tokyo, did you see us? Yeah? So do you guys live in Sydney or Brisbane? Where? San Francisco? Wow, you must have heard of our sport then! Sport aerobics? No? But it’s huge in San Francisco! San Francisco’s like a, world center! Well, it’s sort of like a cross between gymnastics and, have you ever seen competitive cheerleading? You have? Yeah, well it’s totally like that! A lot of us who do it, we came out of gymnastics. Me for example, I did gymnastics up until last year, and then I started out in sport aerobics, and this year I was picked as second seed for the championships in Tokyo. All the first seeds compete against each other, then the second seeds, and whoever wins the second seeds, say if it’s me, I get to compete against the first seeds too. Okay, so it’s judged on the quality of the movements, right? And the difficulty of the steps? And also, this is really important, the judges really look at this, your facial expression.”
As she said that, she circled her face with her finger; in case, I guess, we didn’t know what a facial expression was.
My Madonna lily has five (five!) flowers, because the Mama-fu is strong in me.
Claire loves avocado, her first solid food, but the consequent nappy changes are to be deprecated.
As for me, I don’t care that Big went to 41 the other night, or that he had foie gras or cauliflower puree or apple jelly. Anyone who knows me would tell you: I don’t even like food.
R: That guy surprised me. He’s the CEO who came in after the founders, and yet he’s not an utter moron.
Martin, our new CEO, perfectly deadpan: Yeah, you have to watch out for those guys.
R: Oh, Martin, not you! (much laughter) Okay, see? That would be an example of my famous tact.
There seems to be something about a trans-Bay bridge that brings out my sadistic side. On Saturday we were heading west on 92 over the San Mateo, Hedwig zooming past the wetlands, the peninsula lost in the blue haze.
“So there was a show-jumping competition,” I begin.
“Oh yes,” says Jeremy skeptically.
“Yes. It was in an arena with a hay-loft at one end. Okay? And this guy rode around the course, and he knocked down one fence, so that’s four faults, and he got one time fault as well. And since the finish line was towards the hay-loft – are you with me?”
“Oh yes,” says Jeremy patiently.
“He decided to call that his Hay-ward Fault.”
“It’s amazing how I can tell it’s going to be a bad pun as soon as you start telling it. You get this particular voice.”
“I have no such voice. Unless you call it before the punch line, your observations are flimsy and unsupported.”
“Okay then,” says Jeremy.
The water is silver and green, the endless sky a pastel blue. The pelicans on the lamp-posts look down their beaks at us.
Big: We figured we’re paying extra for a garden we never use. We’re looking in Enmore and Surrey Hills. All I need is a lock-up garage. But Mark pointed out that he might need a soundproof bedroom.
R: Why doesn’t he just build a dungeon in the basement? That way he can keep them a day or two before he throws them back.
J: He should tag them with radio collars, so we can study the wild population.
I am lost. Claire gazes up at me trustingly, sucking her thumb. I can’t find Greeter Dan, so I call Jeremy at work. He hacks into my goop mail and discovers that I am on the wrong corner of 24th and Mission, and five minutes early, not ten minutes late as I’d feared. I cross the road and find Dan immediately.
A native-born San Franciscan, Dan runs Time for Walkies every few weeks, taking a bunch of like-minded freaks on surprise jaunts through various parts of town. This is my first time out, and by sheer good fortune our path winds its way through my absolute favourite part of the city, the north-western slope of Bernal Hill, above Mission Street, opposite Sutro Tower, where pretty Victorians and Edwardians are drenched in late afternoon sunlight and the smell of roses and jasmine.
“I read a story about a guy named Shotwell,” says one of my fellow walkers, Steven. “I don’t think it’s the one the street’s named after, though. He came to a bad end. Shot.”
“Did they do a good job?” I ask.
“Actually he did a Dan Quayle. He picked up the gun the wrong way round, and shot himself. Goes to show, if you want something done well, you have to do it yourself. It took him an hour and a half to die. Can you imagine dying knowing that your name is Shotwell and you’ve shot yourself?”
“It was only a flesh wound,” I claim. “He died of embarrassment.”
Claire gets hungry. We take a milk break at the top of a slippery slide that runs beside a staircase. Everyone else slides gleefully down and runs laughing and breathless back up for another ride. It’s like when we were kids and used to play together after school, only it’s more fun.
There are hundreds of people and dogs on Bernal Hill. The sun sinks behind us and we watch closely for the moon to emerge from the photochemical haze over Fremont. When it appears, people yip like coyotes, just as they do at sunset and sunrise on the playa. The moon is the colour of smog or old blood, a spot of deep darkness staining its heart. You can see the penumbra move across its obscured face. We watch for a while.
“Hey, there’s the moon!” yell some freaks further down the hill.
“Okay,” they yell, chagrined, “so we’re slow.”
The sun’s light begins its return to the moon like a diamond on a red ring. We walk down to Mark’s apartment on Lundys Lane for Earl Grey tea and Indian pizza. Biddy offers to drive me and Claire back to the Moonbase. We arrive moments after Jeremy gets home from work.
Shannon calls and wakes me from a nap. The sun is flooding in the window. Claire is asleep on my lap with Jenkins’ Churchill draped across her. We organize ourselves and walk to Kara’s pretty apartment, a block and a half away, where I find Kara with Ruby and Jackson, Shannon and Cian, Travis and Latrice. We sit in the lovely south-facing kitchen and eat pears and pine nuts and gossip about babies and mothers-in-law and house music and fiction and golf.
When Ruby gets tired and needs a break, Shannon, Cian, Travis and I retire to the St Francis for sandwiches and soup, then I head up 24th Street to a party at Steven’s wonderful library of a flat on Capp Street. Claire and I are the first ones there. We chat with Steven about citizenship and democracy and Canada and South Africa until everyone else turns up.
The Mission is a wonderful place to have a child. Young men I would once have written off as gang members catch my eye and grin at the baby. Older women stop me in the street to play with Claire, who beams gummily. The guy in the burrito wagon coos at her. She coos back.
My house is full of books by people I know. Al sent me a copy of his play Melonfarmer, Salome lent me Eben’s mother’s book The Trauma of Gender, and I bought After Long Silence, by the brilliant and discerning Helen Fremont, as a gift for myself, how festive.
But I haven’t read any of them yet. Except for a couple of restorative side-trips into Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters and Trollope’s Autobiography, I’ve been hard at work on Roy Jenkins’ barnstorming Churchill for more than six weeks. Longtime readers may remember it as the book that sent me into a deep blue funk over my failure to become a senior cabinet minister at 32. In fact Churchill’s greatest achievements, for which his earlier life can be seen as a series of elaborate preparations, came after his 67th birthday, a far more cheering prospect for your average ageing wunderkind, ie me.
Churchill was, and stop me if you’ve heard this before, an extraordinary man – Shakespearean in his effortless combination of power and charisma and insight and courage and dedication with utter, unforgivable stupidity on a handful of key points, such as, oh I don’t know, say India? Turkey?
My pet theory of geopolitics states that wherever you see a straight line on a map, it’s the bloody legacy of well-meaning but inept European post-imperialists carving up what they can never hope to understand, Stoppard’s conspiracy of cartographers, the rabbit-proof fence extending over the sand dunes and out of sight.
A straight line on a map represents a catastrophic failure of the imagination. The rough equivalent in technology is the network cloud; in science, it’s the subject of Sid Harris’ funniest cartoon, “I think you should be more explicit here in step two.”
As a rule, ho ho, oversimplification is the tombstone of thought. God and the devil both dwell in the details, chuckling together over bone-dry martinis. As Byron said of his sprawling, messy poem Don Juan: “confess that it is the sublime of that there sort of writing; it may be bawdy, but is it not good English? It may be profligate, but is it not life, is it not the thing?”
Yesterday was my first mothers’ day as a, you know, combatant. It was lovely. Jeremy made me breakfast in bed. We found parking and a table at Tartine, and even though they’d run out of their (fabulous! amazing!) olive bread, we had wonderful quiche, excellent coffee from their new espresso bar and the best pain au chocolat I have ever tasted, hot from the oven, the berry-rich Scharffen-berger melting between intricate strata of yeasty pastry.
We dropped by some friends in the East Bay then drove up to Tilden, stopping randomly at the first trail head that beckoned. We’d happened on the Arroyo Trail, and turned out to be the exemplar of a Tilden trail, winding up through oak woods beside a running stream, past a whispering eucalyptus grove to high meadows riotous with wildflowers: gorgeous, emergency-orange poppies like fierce little flames, purple clover, blue harebells, scarlet paintbrushes, crimson Andes grass, butter-bright dandelions and various flowers that until we moved to California I knew only as the names of rabbits in Watership Down: loosestrife and feverfew and speedwell.
We sat on a rock near the hilltop with the North Bay silver and splendid beneath us, Mount Tam crooked like a sleeping woman’s hip, the northern pylon of the Golden Gate Bridge suspending its cables over a white haze. Another family followed us up, their boy about four.
“What do you see, Noah?” asked his mother.
Noah surveyed the scene. “Chemicals!” he said.
His parents exploded with laughter, and so did we, but as soon as they were out of earshot Jeremy said: “He’s quite right.” Even leaving aside the Richmond chemical-industrial complex directly below us, the entire scene was composed of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon and their compounds and cousins, arrayed in visually pleasing forms.
I fed Claire and Jeremy took photos of a determined little ladybird climbing a blade of grass.
“This is the imaginary version of parenthood,” I told him. “Sitting on a hill in the sun with flowers all around us, and my beautiful daughter inspecting a piece of clover. I didn’t think it would really be like this.”
“This is how my mum always described it,” he pointed out.
“I keep thinking I’m going to wake up.”
We stopped on College Avenue for a surprisingly pleasant Italian meal, and zoomed back over the Bay.
“The toll collector must think he’s seeing double,” I say as I pull in behind another silver Jetta, Hedwig’s twin.
“I think toll collectors are probably quite used to seeing silver Jettas,” says Jeremy.
“I’ve seen them everywhere since we bought Hedy. There’s been a rash of them.”
I think for a minute.
“It must be like, if you become a Rastafarian, you suddenly start seeing Rastafarians everywhere. And there’s a rash o’mon.”
I pause for effect.
“But that’s another story.”
“It all depends on how you look at it,” says Jeremy.
We laugh excessively. The laughter subsides. I think some more. Jeremy starts to chuckle again.
“I love the way you move your lips when you’re rehearsing another dreadful pun,” he says.
The silver car speeds us home.
John: So I’m thinking of blowing off Burning Man this year, going to New Zealand instead. Have you guys been?
Jeremy: Yeah, my mother grew up there, I spent a lot of time there when I was a kid.
John: Is it really beautiful like they say?
Jeremy: Yep, it’s amazing. Geothermal in Rotorua. Fjordy in, well, Fjordland. Those films, The Two Towers, they were pretty much documentary as far as landscape goes.
John (interested): What, and they have the little hairy people as well?
Jeremy: Pretty much.
John: Maoris, or white people?
Jeremy: Err. Both – it’s complicated –
Rachel (proudly): Claire is one-quarter hobbit.
John: She’s so cute! And there’s only, like, four million people in the whole country, right?
Jeremy: Right, but four hundred million sheep. A hundred sheep per person.
Rachel: When you arrive, they issue you with your own personal sheep.
John: I’d like that, as long as I could have a little sheepdog. So these tiny sheep-people, are they illiterate? Are they, like, peasants?
Jeremy: The universities there are very good.
1. Sprawling on the sofa at the Moonbase, drinking Irish Breakfast tea.
Salome: I read your blog every day while you were away, but I got really upset when you were talking about all the delicious food you’d had, and you said you’d eaten veal.
Rachel: Grass-fed veal.
S: What does that mean, grass-fed veal? What, do they poke grass through the bars of the crate along with the syringes full of antibiotics? I mean, even my Dad knows not to eat veal.
R: I agree with you. Commercial veal farming is the worst. Which is why I haven’t eaten factory veal in years. But grass-fed means grass-fed. In a paddock, full of grass. Like Niman Ranch beef. Which you eat. At Burger Joint. Every chance you get. And wait, didn’t you go to McDonalds last night?
S: I had this whole screed ready to post to my blog, with pictures of suffering calves.
R: I knew you would. I thought of you when I wrote it. That’s why I said grass-fed! I actually considered leaving it out, or saying beef, but I felt I owed Yatima the truth!
S: I ended up not posting it because you were so far away. In case you got mad at me. Failed to see the humor.
R: I’m like that.
R: And yet I knew you were annoyed. My mental model of you is superb.
R: It was absolutely delicious.
S: Shut up.
R: Melted in my mouth.
R: Poor ickle wickle calfie.
R: I love animals.
R: They’re tasty.
2. Perched among the boxes at Chateau De Haro, drinking margaritas and eating guacamole in celebration of Cinco de Mayo.
Kathryn: I wish I could take ecstasy with my Dad.
Jeremy: Your Dad doesn’t even eat avocado!
After an all-but-offline holiday, geekdom has reasserted itself. Claire has been pounding on the keyboard, gazing intently into Goom, Jeremy’s favourite music-to-graphics software. At length she became dissatisfied.
“Claire’s having creative differences with the visualizer,” Jeremy explained.