The Race of the Jessie-O: pt. 2

“By Jove! this is the deuce of an adventure–something you read about; and it is my first voyage as second mate– and I am only twenty–and here I am lasting it out as well as any of these men, and keeping my chaps up to the mark. I was pleased. I would not have given up the experience for worlds.” –Joseph Conrad Youth

We were still waiting for the Harbor Cops to clear us on the Hudson when over the radio came a call that was a blow to morale for which we were not properly prepared.  “We are still half an hour from having this package cleared—please continue to hold”, the voice dead-panned.

“An announcement of delay came across the radio on our second pass to the start line, we were beginning to think this race was never going to get under way”, Jamie continued.  The delay was a result of the aforementioned black beast.  The SSN-21 Sea Wolf, a U.S. Naval Submarine, was preparing for sea trials.  She had one Tug, a Coast Guard Cutter, and an annoying little Rapid Response boat—what looked like a 330x Defender built by Safe Boats of Bremerton—running intercept on any boat getting too close to the Sea Wolf.

The race finally started at 12:05 p.m., an hour late, we slipped passed the start line first in our division, followed closely by the Aleyone, the only other boat in our division, though we thought there was another.  At the start we had 30 seconds, give or take, on her—but we would need to beat her back with 11 minutes to spare in order to win against her.  But she was the least of our problems, there were many more boats, many times quicker than our own, and we had to sail efficiently, with only half of the inlet to use; on account of the Sea Wolf, and her eager Coast Guard security detail.  We took the best possible route, and tried to hold that course for as long as possible.  Slowly we were making time on the Aleyone.  We were holding out on our first tack for as long as possible, but we were getting close to the shore, so we thought we would have to tack soon.  All of the sudden, with sails full—and no presently explainable reason, the boat quickly decelerated.  My dad looked over-board to see the bottom of the inlet less than six feet from the devil, with a shock he realized we had run aground.  Our 22 foot sloop, the Jessie-O, had a retractable keel, so it could be pulled up, giving us five more feet of clearance below the water.  “Crank up the keel”, my father yelled.  Quickly, Patso scrambled below decks to man the keel crank.  Up it came; we tacked, and were free.  Patso returned the keel, and went back to his job of trimming the foresail.  Glancing over the port rail we noticed that we hadn’t damaged our lead on the Aleyone too badly.  We were on our toes at that point, and really made some decent time on our way to “marker #2”, off of the east side of Waterman Dock.  Having put some distance between us and that ugly shallow spot we looked over the stern to notice that the Dulcinea had also run aground in the same spot we had just left.  She was a fixed-keel vessel, so she had to wrestle with the inconvenience a little longer than had we.  Her crew worked frantically to free her, but she was only one of a few boats that were behind us at this point.  We were the first to leave, one of two slow boats, and the Division 2 and 3 boats had begun to over-take us.

As we neared the marker we had to fight traffic that had already rounded, most of whom had been hassled by the Coast Guard, an unpleasant experience we had avoided by being in the right place at the right time.  The boats who’d over-taken us, now had right of away as they had the wind at their starboard rails.  We beat wind to get to marker 2 and we came in hot, made our tack, and headed south.  The Aleyone rounded the marker 7 minutes behind us…an encouraging sign, given the fact that we had three more markers to round.

We were being destroyed by the quicker, purpose-built, racing vessels and were not surprised.  However, there were two boats we held within reach, the Aleyone, and the Joannie II.  The Joannie II was ahead of us, and the Aleyone was behind us by around 30 minutes now.  We were on our second-to-the-last leg of the race, around an hour over-schedule when the wind died out, leaving us desperate.  We were being pushed by the current but that was only giving us about 1 knot of forward progress per hour…dismal, I went below decks to study charts, and remove myself from this frustration.  The mood up top was no better, when a crew looses wind they will resort to anything for a remedy.  I went back up on to deck, and performed several, Polynesian dances with the intention of intimidating the competition.  It seemed to work we were slowly reeling in the Joannie II.  We looked over our starboard stern to see the Aleyone clear across the inlet by the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard; she was not suffering for lack of wind like we were.  This was a problem.  We came up on the starboard rail of the Joannie II and made our pass.  We cut across her bow, in an attempt to make a straight shot for our final marker.  She held her course and passed us.  When doing so, she shadowed us and took what little wind we had for a split second…she beat us to the marker by 40 seconds.  Over the stern, it was clear the Aleyone was making up time hand over fist, and we were left with five minutes lead on her.  We rounded the mark and tacked, in an attempt to find wind…the wind changed direction at this point and we picked up speed as we made our final tack for the finish line.  We crossed the finish line, second to last, at about 4.5 knots per.  The Joannie II had beat us by less than one minute, and the Aleyone came behind us three minutes later, we had lost to her…we figured ourselves dead last.

It was not so, the Joannie II was a division 2 vessel, and hadn’t had a large enough lead on us, so she was last…we had two victories that day: we finished the race, which is not an automatic assumption, given the sketchy persona of Puget Sound winds, and we didn’t finish dead last.  That day marked the beginning of a bitter rivalry between us, the crew of the Jessie-O, and the scow—Aleyone.  She took us that day…we were resolved to not see that again.

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The Race of the Jessie-O: pt. 1

“The masts fell just before daybreak, and for a moment there was a burst and turmoil of sparks that seemed to fill with flying fire the night patient and watchful, the vast night lying silent upon the sea. At daylight she was only a charred shell, floating still under a cloud of smoke and bearing a glowing mass of coal within.” –Joseph Conrad, Youth

It was a cloudy, chilly morning.  We sat on the deck of a forty-eight foot sloop waiting for our turn to be let loose of the harbor in which we moored for the night; there had been a need for provision, and now we were stuck as the harbor police tried to sort out the mystery of an abandoned package at the end of the break-water.  The mood was lazy, with little to do but wait out this annoying set-back on our week-long tour of the Hudson River.  I was near dozing when all attention turned to the first mate as he began to tell a story from when he was a kid.

“It was a morning much like this”, Jaime began.  The crew was gathered at the slip prepping the Jessie-O for her first race of the year, we were already running late and the air was filled with a mixture of tension and anticipation.  I was the first mate and it was given to me to pick up on these things.  My dad was the captain of the twenty-two foot sloop and he trusted me to see to it that the ugly mood of the crew was as little a distraction as possible.  You may be tempted to the thought that I received my first commission as first-mate based solely on the fact that my dad was the captain, and I can assure you that any vocalization of this sentiment will find the business end of my right hand leaving you to muse both hapless, and confused.  I was first-mate because I’d proven myself able.  There were five of us, too many to be sure, but the old man wanted to make sure we didn’t end up short-handed at the last minute, which this shiftless crew was wont to do—leave a captain in the lurch on the day of the race.  The morning was such as to convince any man that the Jessie-O was in no mood to race.  But it is given to a few salty-dogs to push a vessel beyond her imagination, and we had a race to get to.  We were fifteen minutes late, and we made ready the sloop and got underway.

The first indication of the poor luck of the day came at the hand of the least able hand on the Jessie-O (though he was the oldest in years); we had barely cleared the end of the slip with the boat’s bow when he fumbled for the tiller, and engaging the outboard kicker’s transmission into the forward position, was given a clear order for “More Throttle” to which he shut the throttle completely down and stalled the motor, sending us adrift with little room for correction.  My dad scrambled back to the cockpit and revived the sketchy old Honda, and gave the tiller over to me and we headed out of the marina.  Having cleared the break, we fire-walled the outboard and were under way south to the Port Orchard Yacht Club to register for the race.

We were fighting current and wind when it was noticed that we were woefully low on fuel.  “That’s it!” said the captain.  “Send everything overboard that is not useful.”  We began to lose all unnecessary provision to lighten the burden.  We had disposed of every conceivable thing, and still we were running slow, add to that the weather had turned the kind of foul that makes one wonder if there were not a black cloud, or two, on the boat herself…having considered this possibility we began drawing lots to see who among us was the bearer of bad luck.  First one, then two deck-hands were cast over-board, leaving our crew of five reduced to three: my father Chad, myself, and the butter-fingered green-horn who’d set us adrift in the marina, name of Patso.  It was still clear that nothing short of a miracle would get us to registration on time, but we were not to be deterred that easily…we motored on.

The weather had begun to look better, and things were looking up as we swept passed the port rail of the registrars boat, and handed him the proper paper-work.  We proceeded past the rest of the boats already gearing up for the start of the race.  We shut the motor down, brought it out of the water and began hoisting sails.

Having run through various drills, and preparatory exercises, we were on our way back to the starting line with the intention of clearing it just as the horn sounded the start of the race for division one vessels, of which we were one.  It was not be.  There came over the radio an announcement of postponement, the race would not start for half an hour.  It seems the inlet was host to a foul beast, long and black as a moonless night.  She laid low in the water.  She test-fired her generators and her breath reeked of desiccated dinosaurs; her stench choked out the inlet—this cold-war hold-over.  Her atomic power was harnessed by the United States Navy, for the most part, but today she was nothing more than a nuisance, she and all of her “Coastie” bridesmaids.  We tacked back toward the southern tip of the inlet and decided to eat some sandwiches…the day was showing itself to be less than productive, and my mother’s BLTs were a great remedy for days stacked with crippling disappointment.

You Got to Lose Yourself

“Striking at mental apparitions
Like a drunk on a vacant street
Silently beset by the hands of time
Indelicate in its fury” –Greg Graffin

A dusty cowpoke once told me that “the more you leave, the less you lose”, but I’m starting to think he was losing his mind…but then again, how could I know?  I never got a good look at him on account of the fact that he was just a bunch of random magnetic impressions on a tape…in a movie.  For a time this was my M.O. (my modus operandi).  I lived my life and shared relationships as though I was gonna take off one day…soon.  This wasn’t because I didn’t like people; it was because I was always afraid of what people might think of me if they ever looked behind the curtain.  What a pitiful little wizard.

I never determined, at any point in my life, consciously, that I was not going to have meaningful relationships.  That was just my resting point.  Like the unfortunate people who, when not paying attention to what their face muscles are doing, sit there with their mouths a gape, watching American Idol.  My immediate reaction to intimacy, of any type, was knee-jerk, and visceral.  I didn’t even like to be touched, if someone put their hand on my shoulder, it found no soft purchase…I was tense.  While there were a myriad of reasons for this—horrible experiences that inform the most reptilian parts of my, still evolving, brain.  There was also a strange idea in me that I was not going to live to see Thirty…even well into my Thirties; hell I’m Thirty-Nine (in June), and I still think this at times.  Those who know me know that my math skills are sub-par, but this is a new low.  Maybe it was because I was so drunk on my Thirtieth birthday that I don’t believe it happened, or I believe I’m living out some Swayzian reality…though I’ve never been near a potter’s wheel.  Well I’ve been on one for some time now, and I guess that’s the point of this post.  Isn’t it?  Sorry, stupid question.  How would you know, unless you’ve read ahead?  (I’m starting to think that I sometimes write things just to make it easier to get to 1000 words…)

Anyhow, I was going along my merry way having many relationships the likes of which I thought were normal.  I was treating people as though they were expendable.  Not in the eighties movie-villain school of dismissiveness (no it’s not a word).  My cruelty was more passive.  I was just a dumb-ass who never considered that the relationships in my life were to be treasured—that they had value.

Then a funny thing happened on the road to dumbassness (I know, I know), I was blinded by the light of true love.  True love is a real mother-fucker (I don’t mean mother-fucker in an offensive, shocking way.  I mean it in the “first thing that comes to mind when you break your toe on a chair leg” way.  It’s the point when your life changes painfully and instantly, when having a cavalier attitude as you walk through the dinning room will never happen again).  I’m not talking about the love where you have to “love yourself, before you love others”…or the love where you “put others before yourself” because it’s the right thing to do.  I’m talking about the love that grabs your head…holds it firmly in front of a mirror…long enough for you to get over yourself and really look at the reflection that confronts you…and once you’ve met the dirty reflection’s gaze, this love tells you that it is real regardless of all the reflection tells you.  Like revolutionary love.

I’ve been married for nearly eighteen years now, and it is amazing to me that my wife has stuck it out for this long.  I am so aware of this inequitable transaction, the fact that I married way up, that there are times, when it’s dark and quiet, when I will wander around my own house and think, “I don’t know who owns this place, whose life this is, but when he finds out I’ve been here, he’s gonna be pissed.”  It is a strange thought.  I just don’t feel like I belong, on some level.  I’m learning, after nearly twenty years of relationship with Kristy, that she really loves me, I mean really.  It is a love that is undeserved and impossible to shirk; God knows I’ve tried.  The rate at which I’m learning this, however, is painfully slow.  There is a possibility that I am worse at relationships than math…though it seems improbable.

Another example of love, that stopped me in my tracks and made me take notice of its presence, is the love that I’ve received from my friends that I’ve met through the church that I attend.  Over the seven, or so, years that I’ve been at Seaside Church I’ve learned many things about love that have been able to inform me about relationships, not only present and future, but past as well.  The evolution of Seaside as a body is the story of my own evolution, my understanding love.  Through pain and heartache, both of my doing and the doing of some other imperfect person, I’ve been able to see what love actually looks like…true love, the revolution, the mother-fucker.

All of this love was motivated by one thing.  God’s love, not the distortion that informs Greg Graffin’s “God’s Love” (a beautiful critique on man’s understanding of God in the midst of suffering) (though not intentionally), but God’s love as demonstrated by the sending of a sacrificial offering, while we still hated Him, to heal the relationship that He longs to share with us.  A love that exposes all the lies we believe about ourselves (even the ones we like), a love that changes you in a way that cannot be explained by chemistry, or through empty platitudes, a love that endures.  This is the love that is the gift of Christ.  This is the love which my wife offers me…which my friends offer me…which I am learning to share…which we are all learning to share.  It is the answer.  It is what heals us from self-loathing, and selfish indifference.  The cowboy was right; the more we move, the less we lose.  If we never have deep relationships, we will never be hurt by them.  On a related topic, if you find you can’t quit pissing the bed, you could always just abstain from liquids.

The Things I Think pt. 1: Communism v. Capitalism

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”

–Karl Marx

Upon starting this blog, a blog that is, in some ways, more personal than anything I’ve ever written, I never expected to have people draw conclusions about my personal beliefs based upon their own predispositions on issues about which I muse.  Things like assuming I’m a Democrat simply because I poke fun at Republicans, or that I’m a communist (or socialist) because I feel free-market capitalism has some flaws.  I say all of this to make the point that my beliefs are a more complicated puzzle than the time tested tool of assumption is able to solve.  They are often too convoluted to pass as small talk.  It is not to say that I posses an insight that is more profound than anyone else, maybe it is my fundamental misunderstanding of politics or religion or art that makes it impossible for me to speak informally about the preceding subjects without feeling like a sell-out.  So this is a clarification…the start of a clarifying document about the things I think.

I was, first, accused of being a communist when I began wearing a red star that I had removed from a hat that I’d purchased in China.  The hat was a chotchkie replication of a hat one would wear along with the uniform of the Chinese Proletarian Cultural Revolution.  I didn’t wear it as a sign of solidarity.  I wore it because I was raised in the United States of America where the five-pointed star is a dangerous symbol.  Not all five-pointed stars.  America is quite proud of the white star and the blue star and the gold star and stars and stripes and fifty stars and the thirteen stars and dancing with the stars, but the red star…that color on that geometrical shape is untenable.  I found this aspect of the star fascinating and, as such, I decided that I must wear it.  The reaction was immediate, and the message was clear: The bulk of Americans cannot look upon this graven image without becoming a Manchurian candidate for capitalist propaganda.  The reaction is immediate and knee-jerk…and hilarious.  It is important to note that, in America, not all five-pointed red stars are created equal.  One example of this inequality is the Macy’s star; a symbol that inspires, in Americans, the will to struggle for the chance to suckle at one of its five teats.  Whoops—that might be too cynical, even for me.  I’ll erase that later.  I was never allowed the grace for the star on my hat that Macy’s received.  I still wear that hat from time to time, and people still accuse me of being a communist as a result.  This is odd because I’ve never accused anyone wearing a Seattle Mariners ball cap of being a Mariner.  I guess the thought never crossed my mind.  I’ve always been comfortable with the fact that their hat is a symbol of their being fans of the team.  It would be fair to accuse me of being a fan of communism.  One can be a fan of something without being in love with the entire ideology said thing embodies.  For instance, I know that baseball fans are not boring people just because they like a boring sport.  How’s that for open-mindedness?

The next time I was accused of being a communist was when, in the midst of an informal conversation, I mentioned that I was reading The Communist Manifesto.  Never do this.  This is the literary equivalent to wiping one’s feet ass with the American flag.  I actually started to read Marx’s manifesto because of my own predisposition toward its existence.  I realized that there was no other document of which I was aware that inspired, in me, such a visceral reaction though I’d never read it.  I determined that if I were to have an educated opinion about this document it would behoove me to give it a read.  I know; crazy.  I’m not this consistent with the entire canon of literature over which I’ve formed an opinion.  The Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey is a great example of a book of which I’ve formed a solid opinion though I’ve never parsed its pages.  I could never become a Satanist for many reasons, not the least of which being, it seems to involve unpalatable fashion risk.  So, I’ve determined that, it would be a waste of time to read it—but enough of that.  I learned by reading the manifesto that Marx is a great writer, and that there are many tenants of communism that I can get behind.  One of Marx’s ideas was to get rid of, what he referred to as, class antagonism.  His utopia was one of equality between the separate classes of people through the obliteration of the meaning behind those classes.  To remove the power private property has to oppress.  An idea that was employed in the first century church, as evidenced in the book of Acts in the Bible (ch.2 & ch.4).  It is a novel idea…the rich shouldn’t be treated any better than the poor; I can see why it is so unpopular in this “The Land of the Brass Ring”, a label that shows the level of commitment the U.S. has for turning fairytale into ethos.  The Communist Manifesto is only about thirty pages long, and I recommend anyone who has an opinion of it to read it, not as a skeptic (this is a simple-minded way to approach any piece of literature; it is rooted in fear and will work about as well in this instance as it would if an atheist were to read the Bible with a similarly skeptical point of view), but with the idea that you could learn something from it (read all things this way, you won’t regret it; unless you’ve a predisposition with regard to the width of your mind…then you might regret it).  It is a description of a utopian ideal and, as such, contains flaws, but it is also an interesting critique on the communist and socialist revolutions that had transpired prior to the 1840s.

I am no communist.  I just don’t believe the lie that capitalism is nobler than communism.  Communist utopias have the same weakness built into them as capitalist utopias, you…and, to a lesser extent, I.  Utopias are destroyed by people, including their inventors (I’m looking at you, Walt).  I find people are way too eager to point out that communism has been tried and doesn’t work.  They say this without irony as though America is the first time anyone has ever taken a shot at forming a republic whose economy is based upon free-market capitalism…and as though it is working swimmingly so far; don’t you think?  I also find that people are far more comfortable pointing out the former USSR as an example of the evils that come along with communism than they are pointing out black-market human-trafficking rings as an example of the pitfalls of free-market capitalism.  While there exist regulations that govern one’s ability to traffic humans, people who operate outside of those laws are participating in, what amounts to, a deregulated free-market.  Utopias, and their ugly, pragmatic step-children–republics, are toppled by greed.  And greed is ubiquitous and relentless in the circles which we find ourselves.

My Trip to SanFrancisco pt. 6: The Junk Pile

The junk pile: it is a term of endearment that I choose for this post.  To be clear, I will be concluding the narrative of the story: the hero makes his way home to his family, where they all live happily ever after…or at least until the morning of Thursday March 15, 2012; which is now…not now when you’re reading this, but now when I’m writing it…all this to say, we are happy now, who knows about tomorrow…or lunch time.  However, I realized that there were things throughout this series that I failed to mention in chronological order, so they will end up in this conclusion.  For instance, I left out most of the details pertinent to the places in which I ate.  Talking about a trip to San Francisco without including the details of the restaurants one visited is a little like looking at Kermit the Frog’s eHarmony profile and skipping over the medical history…irresponsible (he has crabs)(how blissful is your ignorance now, scratchy?).  Move on.

San Francisco is a “foodie” town, to be sure.  If you are unfamiliar with the term “foodie” it means they like food.  One could make the argument, based upon the aforementioned term clarifications that Bremerton (as an example) is a foodie town, which may be true, but I’m not holding my breath until the Travel Channel comes calling.  I am a lover of being fed, but I haven’t the passion about food San Francisco requires should one decide to roll up one’s sleeves and prepare for some serious eating.  In a nut shell, I had no idea what I was doing when it came to eating in Fog City.  I did come across a great Italian place called Uncle Vito’s on the corner of Powell and Bush.  Like a rookie, I went there twice; but I regret it not.  They have great “grinders” and I had to go back because I missed the fact that they had calzones until after I’d started to eat.  The second time I went there (you know, for the calzone), it was crowded and another guy was sitting by himself, so I asked him if he wanted to sit with me.  I don’t know if I was just feeling brave, or if Vito’s mixes liberal amounts of MDMA into their dough, but this was a great move on my part, we were seated much more quickly together than we would’ve separately.  It turns out Quinn, the man with whom I sat, was a great dinner companion.  He hailed from New Mexico and was in town for a natural medicine convention.  Quinn, an acupuncturist, was there with his business partner, a massage therapist and vegetarian.  As such, he was not likely to darken the door of an establishment like Vito’s as the air in that place has the chemical breakdown known as “O2P”, due to the high content of all things pig in the air…add to that the MDMA and—for omnivores, and carnivores—it’s bliss-out time.  Not great for vegetarians.  I learned some things from Quinn:

1) It is not impossible to be happy while living in the Southwest corner of the US.  Something I’d have never guessed as it is, decidedly, “red”.  Quinn was not your typical “red-stater”, and he seemed happy to me.

2)The Good Doctor used to say, “buy the ticket, take the ride”, in other words don’t fear experience…we’re all in this together, and it’s okay to break bread with a stranger (disregard previous point if your dinner guest brings up the fact that he owns a ranch in the Hollywood hills, and feels like it’s time to prepare for the beginning of a massive race war in the first few minutes of the meal) (not all strangers are created equal, Mr. Jefferson).

3) People have a way of changing you, of leaving their psychic imprint on you, good or bad, but the process of that change should not be feared, it should be welcomed with an open mind and an open heart.  Even crazy people are familiar—on some level—with truth (at least as familiar as everybody else, it’s just uncomfortable to admit).  Quinn was not crazy, as far as I could tell, and in as much as I am qualified to report on such things.

I know you’d love for me to tell you the specific things that I learned from Quinn, but that’d be impossible in any important way—his thoughts are locked up in the context of the night, and I would only do them disservice trying to explain them.  So my advice to you is to go find your own stranger with whom you could share a meal, you won’t regret it…probably.

I also ate at this little 50’s diner (yeah a different one) that was on Powell, it sucked…if you are on Powell about midway down the hill do not stop at the 50’s diner there.  I think it was called Lucy’s, but I will allow it no more ink.  The concierge at the hotel recommended it, and I will find it hard to forgive her this transgression.

I should’ve eaten in Chinatown, I walked through there just after lunch on my way to The Beat Museum and had I known that I was so close to so many great Chinese restaurants, I’d have never settled for a sub-par over-priced burger.  San Francisco’s Chinatown is a great example of Asian culture, and is a lot like walking the streets of Zhengzhou.  If you find yourself in Fog City, give Chinatown—at least—one of your meals and half of a day, you won’t regret it…unless you hate Asians—in which case you will completely regret it—and you have a real problem.

I also went to The Beat Museum, I found it to be delightful, though not for everyone (if you possess a bumper sticker—or any other type of conversational substrate—with the words “Rush is Right” printed on it, The Beat Museum is not for you) (possibly a wild generalization, but I stand by it).  It is on Broadway and Romolo Place.

Alas it was time to head back to the Airport…and, logically, home.  My next rookie move was to head to the airport about four hours too soon.  I wasn’t sure how long it would take for the BART to get me there, or how long to get through security once there.  “At least I’ve given myself enough time, that there exists no possibility of missing my flight”, I told my wife over the phone.  (Dear stupid, it’s me; future you…wake up and get on the stick, life is passing you by.)  When I got to the counter the lady gave me my ticket, and wrote down the gate number where my plane and I were scheduled to meet; as it turns out, it was the wrong gate.  I would’ve known this had I looked at, any one of, the thousands of arrival/departure boards I passed with my head down.  I have a habit that has served me well in airports up until this point in time; I keep my head down…I keep it down to avoid eye contact with anyone else, but particularly with single mothers who are there to board the same flight as am I…and especially if their child is a little girl, and that girl owns a teddy bear.  This may seem strange to you, so allow me to unpack it a bit.  One thing I’ve learned from watching movies about, and recreations of, plane crashes is that eye contact with a stranger almost always equals a flaming plane full of screaming people touching down in the cold gray Pacific Ocean.  The chances of this go up exponentially if the stranger is a single mother with a little girl who is playing with a doll, or teddy bear.  However, the real shit storm happens if said little girl drops said toy, and you swoop in to pick it up and hand it back to her, this inevitably leads to the revelation that one of the three of you is a terrorist…and—usually—it is you.  Not wanting any of these scenarios to play themselves out, I keep my head down.  All this led me to be the first person in history to arrive at the gate four hours early and still miss my flight.  I caught the next one and made it to Sea-Tac about 45 minutes later than expected.  My friend Rick picked me up, fed me a BLTcheeseburger from Jack-in-the-Box (which was great), and brought me home without further incident.  I hope to make it back to Fog City one day, for I left much undone.  Maybe, next time, they’ll be ready for me…

My Trip to San Francisco pt. 5: The Conference

“Constantly risking absurdity and death whenever he performs above the heads of his audience, the poet, like an acrobat, climbs on rhyme to a high wire of his own making.”
-Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Part five already?  Apparently having fun is no hard and fast prerequisite to time flying.  It’ll go on a wing, a prayer, and the twisted misrememberings of a backwater blogger.  I was sure of one objective in this mission.  I had about 300 business cards to hand out, and I planned on going through all of them…I didn’t; but the plan was sound.  There are, as they say, many a slip between cup and lip.  The business cards were designed by my brother, Ryan, who also designed the header of this blog (they are the same design, the cards and the header).  He designed it in about 33.57 seconds, and the logo makes me smile every time I think about it.  From there, my friend Mike—who I would call brother were it not for the fact that he is older than me—and I have always been the oldest, and taking second chair at this point in my life is something by which I cannot abide.  Oh pride, stand aside.  Mike is my brother, both in Christ, and in suffering; we’ve done a lot of it together.  He printed me these beautiful black cards with white text and they looked cooler than anything anyone else was handing out, so if nothing else—my cards were memorable.  It was a special joy to watch the faces of those who received my cards and pondered what it all meant…what, indeed.

It was a hard thing to do, waking up Friday morning to make it to the classes.  Thursday night was the first time I had slept in a day and a half or so, and I knew what awaited me was not a murder of foamy mouthed sycophants waiting with baited breath to hang on my every word.  No, just a bunch of people who eagerly awaited their chance to be heard; kind of like me, but better prepared.  I realized how prepared people were for this thing…and it scared me to death (now where did I put my bright red t-shirt with the word “FRAUD” spelled out across the front in 30pt font).  I don’t have such a shirt…but on some days, all of my t-shirts are of that design.  The first order of business was to head down to the lobby and get a cup of coffee from Café Ferlinghetti, a literary joke that I did not get at first (which is funny because I’m way into the Beats).  The coffee was no joke.  There was nothing jovial or jocular about spending two bucks on 8oz of shitty coffee, I’m a serious coffee drinker and I don’t appreciate my sacrament of consciousness being trifled with by a bunch of book nerds…but really that was more my tension headache speaking…please, pay it no mind.

The classes were great, for the most part.  On any given hour there were four or five classes, lectures, or Q&A panels, all of which were staffed by experts in their professional fields.  Along with this were three keynote speakers all of whom were worth the price of admission alone, they were: Lisa See, Alan Rinzler (my personal favorite), and Lolly Winston (one of the most heartbreakingly funny people whom I’ve ever the pleasure to listen).  There was no wont for qualified, sober-minded, yeoman literati to whom you could go for advice, should you possess the moxie to walk up to one of them and ask a question.  I spoke to a few, but like I alluded to before, my book pitches were not getting the response I expected.  Most of the reactions went thusly: “That seems interesting to a certain group of people, I am not one of them, as this is not my field of interest.  Perhaps you should broaden the subject matter in order to net a lot more people.”  Well intentioned advice, and supportive in its own voice, but not at all useful to me.  So that was disappointing, and yes—Anya—I did cry a couple of times, but not in a bathroom; I cried on the phone to my wife Kristy, who was very supportive and loving, and made it all go away.  She told me not to worry and just to have fun and—for once—I listened…I decided to have fun—to ignore the pressure I’d put on myself, and to just do my best.  The next few days were pretty much the same, there were a couple of long stretches when I was supposed to be in class, but I went out exploring the city—but I’ll get to those in the next post.  The last of the “Fog City” posts.

Before I end this one though, there was a special thing that happened to me alone in my hotel room.  It was Saturday night, and I was invited to an open mic poetry slam; a first for me.  I had written some pedestrian poems in the past, but when Brad, the guy who was running it, heard that I’d played in bands and was a singer-songwriter, he insisted that I would have a good time if I’d just come.  I told him that I’d think about it.  That night, after being encouraged by my friend Chris, I was preparing some lyrics that I’d written, to read as poetry at the open mic.  I decided to put on a record to which I’d not listened in a long time.  The record was “White Knuckle Ride” by a band called Straight Eight.  There are four songs on it, and I wrote most of the lyrics on three of them.  As I sat there alone in my room listening to this record on a loop, it occurred to me, that I had had a lot of fun working on that band, on those songs, playing guitar, singing, performing live, but the most fun that I had had was writing songs by myself, or with my friends Andy, Mike, Chris, and Johnny-O…I was satisfied during the times that I could turn a phrase, regardless of whether they came easily or had to be forced out like a breeched turd.  I realized—maybe for the first time—that, really, I am a writer.  I’ve been one for a long time, and I have no reason to be ashamed…and that some of my work didn’t suck…and maybe that was the whole purpose for my trip.  That night I read two poems, and they were received well, and I had no reason to second guess the good taste of those in attendance; they seemed to genuinely like my poems, and that—I decided—was good enough for me.

My Trip to San Francisco pt. 4: Into the Heart of Writers

“The reaches opened before us and closed behind, as if the forest had stepped leisurely across the water to bar the way for our return. We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness.”
– Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

I arrived at my hotel for the second time that day, Thursday.  I was still unsure of my purpose.  Was I here to pitch book ideas?  Was I here to make connections?  Was I here to learn everything my simple brain can absorb, organize that knowledge into a rough strategy for world domination, then—once home—turn that rough strategy into an active process of world domination?  I feel it important to take this moment to point out a philosophy that has served me well: if you’ve more than one choice about what you can accomplish in any given situation, go for all of them.  If you follow this bit of advice you will go far, young padawan (no wordpress, this is not a misspelling it is proper and apt, meaning: Jedi apprentice.  Why don’t you go watch a movie sometime?  It might serve you better than constantly judging my spelling against your—clearly—inferior understanding of pop culture).  As with all good advice, this bit is accompanied by a caveat: disregard if all indications point to the possibility that more than one objective would serve to be more of a pain in your ass than anything else.  I decided that while I probably wouldn’t commit to all three at this point, I would keep an open mind…and the third one sounded pretty great.  But enough of this nonsense, I had a meet and greet to attend.

It was my understanding—my naïve understanding—that I would be attending a conference filled with people who wanted to hear my book pitches, that every where I turned there would be another captive and eager ear which I could bend with my home spun charm.  It turns out, that if one attends a conference of writers; the company in which one finds oneself is a cross-section of the world’s most self-absorbed and impatient ass-holes.  That is to say, this place was filled with people just like me.  In most cases, it is a delight to find kindred spirits—unless the thing you’ve in common with the other spirit is an ugly reminder of your own shallowness.  Was that my purpose here, to learn about my short comings through the incessant cymbal-clang of my own proclivities?  God, I hoped not.  This is the nature of writers: we all have the greatest idea in the world, at this moment, and to allow some rube to go on and on about their—good, but not great—idea would be to do a disservice to said rube.  Every moment said rube fills with their sub-par ideas is another moment my idea lives in anonymity…this, my friend, will never do.  This is not to say that all writers are painful conversation companions, I met a dozen, or so, really fun people to whom I could talk.  In my own life, my friends who are writers are fun people with whom to converse.  I have a friend, name of Anya, who writes Young Adult Fiction; not the stuff that is popular right now.  She doesn’t write about the latest schmuck who was born into vampirism, whose quest is to learn about his powers in some castle-academy, nestled cozily in some clunky, cumbersome post-apocalyptic dystopian back-drop (I’m looking at you, Collins).  Rather, she writes very true and relatable stories about kids who’ve been left to parse issues that would be challenging at any age…world changing stuff.  My friend Matt is another writer friend with whom I love talking.  He is—not only—technically proficient (he edits this blog for me), he also writes poetry, that inspires —in me—heartbreak, and jealousy in one fell swoop.

At the conference I tried to pitch my books, but 75% of the folks were there to try and ride out this new wave of Fantasy/YA Fiction.  To these people listening to a pitch about a children’s picture book—or a memoir of a church music leader who’s had his struggles with disillusionment, and wants to protect other music leaders from facing the same pitfalls—was much like listening to nails on a chalkboard, those pitches went over like a wet fart in church…real lead zeppelins of flatulence.  On the bright side, I did learn to be a better listener.  Though I only employ that particular skill when I feel it will make me look like a better person…which is rarely.  All of these ideas churned in my mind during an hour long registration/meet and greet session.  I was also vaguely aware of the fact that a madness of a very specific bent was creeping around the peripheral synapses of my mind…an alarming fact, given the fact that my brain was turning to an unstable pool of gray at a shocking rate.  All of this was due to the fact that large buildings always feel like they’re moving under my feet.  The Mark Hopkins Intercontinental is nothing, if not big.

I did meet one very interesting gentleman who is working on a book about how to not lose one’s identity to the corporate idol.  We spoke at length about his interest in being a guest writer on this blog.  He was, unfortunately, the exception who proves the rule.

I went back to room, shaken to the core.  How would I survive a weekend with hundreds of soul-revealing, dream-crushing mirrors running amok in a five-star hotel high atop a hill in Fog City?  Thank God my room had cable TV.  Cable TV never asks me to examine myself, he just allows me to rest in his mind numbing arms, I fell asleep in his arms that night…Thursday night.

 

My Trip to San Francisco pt. 3: Occupy Gravity

They say the purpose of the story arc is to give one an artifact—real or imagined—with which one can plot out one’s story.  One of the speakers at the writer’s conference even had us make an arc in the air with our fingers “to help you visualize the arc.”  I made no arc.  There are, unfortunately, boring parts to every tale, and this one is no different.  Except the most boring parts of this story are what brought me to Fog City in the first place…  But this puts me way ahead of myself, and is possibly the worst first paragraph ever written, if, that is, the first paragraph is meant to pull the reader in, and it is, but I don’t really care about that as much as I should.  So I push on, and besides, we can take this out in post…so they say.

Once I made it back to land, I walked over to a little diner that I noticed on my way down to the pier.  Fog City Diner is a great spot to eat, their prices are reasonable for the quality and quantity of food you receive, which is great, but wasn’t why I stopped there.  I stopped there because it looks like a 50’s roadhouse diner (or is it roadside) (pain don’t hurt).  I was completely ignorant of the prices and the food.  The place, however, was beautiful to look at, and that was all I needed to decide I would like to sit there for an hour or so, and if a meal was to pass by my lips during that interval, all the better.  All that to say, if you’re ever down at Pier 33, having just returned from Alcatraz Island, and want to get a good burger, and have lots of choices for things to go with the burger or in lieu of it, you could do a lot worse than Fog City Diner.  This blog is already paying for itself.

I had no idea how long it was going to take me to get to my hotel from the diner so I headed that way.  It had been around 30hrs since I had slept, so the hike up the hill was going to be a long one, of that I was certain.  I had no map, but knew that if I walked uphill, more or less, I would probably find it, which was good enough for me.  While passing the Homeland Security building I heard a scuffle behind me.  This was disturbing to me—while walking through the substantial shadow being cast by this monument to citizen suspects (yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow…)…this bastion of big government nanny-statery…this welcome to the neighborhood gift of Bush-era conservatism—the last thing I wanted to hear was a fight.  I was not in the mood to hear anything save for some birds singing—but alas—they know better than to hang out under the long shadow of fascism.  Fascism, it turns out, is definitely not for the birds.  I don’t know why I get so edgy every time I see the Homeland Security logo…this is my homeland…I ain’t agin’ security, I’m all fer it (that last piece was meant to sound like an old-timey resident of the Ozarks, not the victim of a minor stroke—now that that is clear go re-read it for a good laugh).  No?  Well it was worth a try.  It turns out the scuffle was a one man show…a single protester in the “Occupy Gravity” movement who was laying down his well-being in protest of uneven sidewalks.  “Are you okay?” I asked.  “Yes”, he replied.  And I think he was.  At least from the fall, he had—as they say—bigger fish to fry when it came to his health.  This was evident as he scrambled away frenetically mumbling about something.  That was my cue shit had gotten a little too weird for me, and I made my way—post haste—out of the valley of the shadow of…I forget my point.

750 words in, and I’ve only traveled 5 blocks, and possibly two hours—in real time—into my story before I got hung-up on some anti-establishmentarian goat trail.  I fear this blog is becoming increasingly self-serving.  It is not my wont to spend excess time raging against faceless machines, but my mind is—at times—given over to this sort of rabid delusion.  I promise to get back to the story at hand, whatever that may be, soon.  Heavy is the head so they say… more times than not the head weighs more than the crown…but at times like this it is best not to get bogged down in the details of self-reflection.  One is rarely fond of the dirty reflection that faces one in the small hours of the morning.  Make no mistake: these are the small hours of history.  Homeland Security has been protecting us from ourselves since 2001, which seems like a big deal at first shine.  That is, until I realize that I have a rock in my room that has been protecting me from crocodile attacks for one helluva lot longer than that…and with more efficacy.  And no, the rock is not for sale.

My Trip to San Francisco pt. 2: A Coup on the Rock

I reached the top of the hill, finally, with no small thanks to the efforts of my Sherpa, Reggie (who makes one hell of a House Mouse Curry). I checked into the hotel, The Mark Hopkins Intercontinental, my temporary residence and the location of the writer’s conference.  It was also the most expensive part of the trip. Thankfully my wife splurged because she didn’t want me hiking all over Fog City every morning to make an eight o’clock start time.  The quickest route from “point a” to “point b” is still a straight line, but in San Francisco that line rises and drops at a 60 degree angle.  I left my stuff in my room and headed down the slope to Pier 33—the tourists jumping-off point for “The Rock”.

Alcatraz seems close to the city, but it only took a couple of seconds riding in a small ferry across the windswept San Francisco Bay to realize it was a lifetime away for anyone without either a boat or fish DNA…I doubt Aqua-man could’ve escaped this place without a boat…but, then again, he always was a fair-weather superhero…and make no mistake, even on its warmest days, there is nothing fair about the weather that surrounds “The Rock”.  Those foolish enough to brave the cold waters of the bay would—more than likely—die as a result of the perpetual currents on that body of water, or so they say.

Once on the island we were given some simple rules and a warning. Failure to follow said simple rules would be considered a federal affair, as Alcatraz is now a National Park.  I made sure to follow the rules.  There is something about the place that inspires uneasiness in my heart.  I don’t know if it’s because it was a prison, or because it was a military base…or both.  I’ve never been all that comfortable in Jailhouses, Hospitals, Schoolhouses, or on Military Bases.  They make me nervous.  Imagine groupthink not just as a way of life, but a necessary means of survival.

Evidence that life on “The Rock” was hard—physically, mentally, and spiritually—is everywhere.  There’s nothing soft about the place, save for the vegetation that surrounds the island and inhabits every square inch of soil that is not occupied by the footprint of a building, and some crumbling square inches that once were.  Plant life is taking over, that and birds, and is slowly dismantling the once powerful structure.  The gardens were planted and maintained by the inmates, and—as such—serve as a final “kiss our collective ass” message from the once powerless inmates to the once powerful institution.  There are efforts being put forth to restore Alcatraz.  On one hand, I like the idea of this place being around—until the end of civilization—for people to tour and draw their own conclusions about, but I also find the idea that the place is disintegrating into the waters as a result of the vegetation put there by former inmates to be a nice monument to poetic justice…Alcatraz itself dies trying to escape the island.  It just sounds pretty.  Alcatraz then would be, literally, for the birds, which make up the majority demographic on that island.  Everything on the island, from the small piece of grass—“The Yard” as it was called—to the small green cells, to the beautiful view of the city—one of the most striking views in the world—was there for one reason, not rehabilitate you, but to make you pay for your insolence.  But who cares. Everyone there deserved what they got…well, almost everyone…but if I were you I wouldn’t think too much about that.  If you start thinking about that stuff it leads you to ugly places of moral ambiguity and unpopular mistrust. Better to remain a citizen of nanny-state.  “Of course I’m pro-life and pro death penalty”, you say as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

I left the island in an ugly mood, haunted by my own ignorance, or by the ghosts of the island.  Whatever. There really wasn’t any time to think on that.  I had a city to explore, and all the guilty social consciousness that books have imparted to me couldn’t stop me from having a good time.  “Screw you books, I have an adventure to pursue.”  And I did…

My Trip to San Francisco, or What I Did for my President’s Day Weekend pt. 1: The BART Squeals for the Blood of Healthy Proletarians

It was a cold morning about 3–an ungodly hour, the likes at which I had not dragged my drowsy skull out of bed in half a decade at least.  But today was different. I wasn’t getting up for work or to find out what that noise was in the backyard; I was catching a flight to San Francisco.  I was excited, and though I hadn’t gotten a bit of sleep, I had energy enough to shower, shave, and pack the last remaining essentials.  My friend Chris picked me up at 3:30, for which I was thankful, as I didn’t know how my wife and kids would handle a ride to the airport during the same small hours that plagued Emily Rose…creepy.  I was also thankful for the heated seats in his Tahoe.  We loaded up and hit the road.

The drive to the airport takes an hour-ish, give or take, depending at what time you’re driving, and Chris and I talked about all manner of things, though I can’t recall any of them.  My brains were scrambled from a lack of sleep and the impending trial that lay ahead…the TSA.  Dropping me off, Chris offered me some water that I couldn’t take because entering an airport with a bottle of water is tantamount to burning the American flag on top of an Alaska Airlines desk…”No I won’t be checking this, thanks.”

Anyone who has had the misfortune of flying both pre- and post-9/11 (never forget), realizes what has happened to what was once the majesty of air travel, one of the rare times when the common man could get a taste of the good life.  No more. Those days are gone, and while the new system levels the playing field in its own sick way, it gives me no joy to see the bourgeois forced to walk barefoot like me.  The young will only know airports the way they are now…passengers processed for incarceration, the perfect example of “toe the line” humanity judged guilty without trial.  Guilty?  For what?  Who knows…  And who the hell are you to ask?  You’re not in America anymore, you mindless worm, you’re in the airport!  Those who have no prior experience against which to compare it are lucky.  Dutifully, I took off all that was asked.  I shoved all of my belongings through the machine.  I presented my papers.  I allowed a full-body x-ray of myself, arms in air.  I received my number, tattooed on the inside of my left forearm.  I grabbed a cup of Joe at one of the seventeen conveniently located Starbucks and headed to the gate to board my plane.

My seat was next to a nice couple who were also flying down to San Francisco for a conference. Not a writer’s conference like me, a teacher’s conference.  They were going to learn how to become better at their craft, shaping the future of our country.  It was stunning to see examples of two different vocational sects, both of whom are grossly under-compensated for their efforts, and how differently they allow that information to form their work ethic.  There is a stunning chasm between the attitude of the American teacher and the TSA worker…mayhaps it exists because teachers know that they’re needed, and TSA agents know that their jobs are akin to playing war against a pretend enemy in the woods.  Eventually you get tired of being ready to show force against an enemy who never shows up and the people on your team start to suffer.  Regardless, these teachers were great to talk to; they had been married for many years and taught in school districts that were 200 hundred miles and worlds apart from one another in Eastern Washington.  This was my first trip to San Francisco and their fifth so I asked them some basic info on what to expect, which they happily gave me, and which I happily forgot.  I was overwhelmed, but the conversation helped the trip fly by (How dare you! Of course that pun was unintended…What am I, a clown?  Do I amuse you?).  We landed at SFO without incident.

After much searching and following of vague signage, I found myself at the loading dock of the Bay Area Rapid Transit train…the BART.  I had no idea for what I was in store.  I found a seat and away she went.  That horrible snake screeched its way through tunnels, over railways, into the heart of the Golden Gate city with nary a rest or breath.  “Why does it squeal like a stuck pig?” I yelled, over the noise, to an Asian gentlemen sitting on my left.  “They say she first started screaming like that because she was hungry for the blood of the common man,” he replied, “but now the blood is too salty and full of fat for any right-thinking transit system to ingest.  Now she just screams in horrific mourning of days gone-by.”  There were a couple of respites from the screaming. We sat in a tunnel for around half an hour while the tracks were inspected for damage after a minor earthquake that I never felt.  Then I was at the bottom of a hill named Powell Street and walking up to my hotel.  I had had two months to think about this trip, and still had no idea why I was here…