Monday, October 23, 2017

Saturday Evening, On and Around Base

Saturday, 8pm

A. and C. are baking. Everyone else is off...doing something. (Bar? Karaoke?)

A. and C. are not baking for us--the All Hands volunteers and staff--but better. It's Saturday night so tomorrow is Sunday, and what they're baking is thank-you treats for the community at the church. A thank-you for putting us up--the All Hands volunteers and staff--in the church's dorm / gymnasium / I-still-do-not-know-what-that-room-normally-is.

Meaning this room--the annex, with the kitchen and tables, in which I have sat writing all of these things--is quiet and empty except for the bustling, cheerful patter of A. and C. baking.

It's wonderful.

The air conditioner hums, loud. White noise. (Actually: brown, I think. Really!)

C. has just asked A: "So what sorts of things do you like to bake?"
A. is responding with a laughing, self-effacing answer. She compliments C.'s superior technical skills.
A. and C. are terrific.

I'm tempted to pipe up, because they are terrific. I want to join in. I'm glad when I don't.

Today, earlier: we finished more "mucking and gutting" at the same public housing. We finished 'late', which actually means pretty much on-time, because Team Rubicon runs on a different schedule from All Hands. So I went for a run straight from the showers instead of showering and heading back to base before a run, because-- logistics, skip skip.

The run was hot, but it felt fantastic. It felt good to move and--this is weird--sweat, freely and out in the open. It's 'weird' cuz I'd been sweating profusely all day. But like: up a ladder! chipping at drywall! with a p100 on! That's an example from the end of the day, and of course part of a complete whole that was, as each day here has been, a gift.

Baking, right now: C. has just told A. that she has "such a love-hate relationship with some of my baking!"
They are having a detailed back-and-forth, with a rich and complex vocabulary, about their own baking foibles. Their baking hangups.
The gist is: the practice is pleasurable, but it incites their obsessive tendencies.
They're laughing about this, and about how they're both introverts, so that's why they gravitated to doing this baking fun-thing together. ("Let's hang out! Up to a point!")

They met today -- yesterday, maybe.

They are improvising a little. Not all of the ingredients they requested wound up coming back to base, with the last shopping trip. But most did. A. and C. are in motion.

Run! Back to earlier! So I'm on my hot, slow, great run. I'm not pushing myself hard on runs, this week. I'm running every day (so far. touch wood.), which I don't usually do. And though the work--mucking, gutting, debris--isn't a workout per se, it does tire you out. It could do worse than tire you out, if you let yourself get dehydrated or are unsafe, but everyone is careful about all that in my experience so far.

As I am running, a beat up old Cutlass cuts me off. Not abruptly, but clearly. Pulls in front of me as I'm moving to cross a street, stops, winds down its window.

I pop off my headphones.
The woman driving has a weathered face, red hair; maybe sunspots (maybe. memory).
At first I think she's just asked, "Do you want a lift home?"
I smile. I don't recognize her. But I have an All Hands shirt on, so maybe she recognizes that. Or is making a joke. "Sorry?"
"—ve seen a little white dog?"
I click into this, after a second. "...A little white dog?"
"Little white dog, not big. I'm up from Corpus Christi and somebody just dumped her."
"No I, I'm sorry. What's her name?" I definitely said 'her'; I thought about it and said 'her'.
I make the woman repeat the name. I'm pretty confident that I've gotten it right.
"Blacka. Little white dog, big titties like she just had babies I didn't even know she was pregnant. Big ears," she cups her hands to her head: ears, big. "Black patches."
She does nothing that I can convey with my limited language to you here, but: it is very clear that the black patches are on the dog's ears.
I have a clear mental image of Blacka. I tell her I'm sorry. I haven't seen Blacka. I'll look.
She looks sad.
I ask her her name. (Her name, not the dog's).
She tells me. Just her first name, at first. Then, in the pindrop moment in which the futility of all this hangs between us, she adds her last or perhaps middle name, stringing it with her first, which is what she is "on Facebook."
I repeat it, her name. And I tell her I'll look out for Blacka.
I still remember her name, now, sitting writing this.
I continue my run as she rolls down the window.

I look for Blacka, throughout the rest of my run. I see many barking, fenced dogs in the homes around here. Some houses destroyed, some damaged, some untouched. A pair of Chihuahuas really makes an impression, as always: they pace me, yapping like mad from (thankfully) the other side of a fence.

I wonder how many and which of these homes will wake up on Sunday, get into cars for a short drive to church, and arrive within meters of where I am now sitting to find A. and C's baked goodies waiting for them.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Debris; It'll All B O K; Some Shorts

So I almost wrote last night--rather, I did write last night, which is now two nights ago cuz now it's the morning after I started this. But, two nights ago, what I wrote was internal and navel-gazing and did not include much new information, perhaps because I had again mucked and gutted all day (two days ago).

Yesterday, however, we did "debris." And I am animated by novelty of experience and the prick of emotions; I don't even really understand these emotions, of course, because that's how emotions are. But I wanted to share some.

Also, I got some shorts.


We--the team I am on with All Hands; I have been on the same team every day, a team led by B. and D., both of whom are great and on both of whom more, later; I think I am ride-or-die with B. and D., even though you get to choose a team every day, and even though the Team Rubicon partnership entails slightly longer days.
The board on which I, daily and perhaps quixotically, have thus far done no more than affirm, reaffirm, and re-reaffirm allegiance to B. and to D.

This loyalty is not because other teams or people seem bad, but rather because I like my team and team-leads and with only one week here it seems nice to go deep. Also D. calls me "Shaggy", which, y'know-- how do you not just embrace a man who knows how to use all the tools with precision, is kind and relaxed, and calls you-- and don't get me started on how good B. is at her job, which I've touched on in the last post and will touch on again. Which--

Okay! I'm gonna go ahead and start that sentence again for ya.

We (⇐ where we went off the rails, 'graph above; the sentence did not get far) arrived at the Team Rubicon FOB ("forward-operating base") to learn that there was...a "change of plans." Instead of heading back out to the Section 8 Housing we'd been working our way through the two days before (that was the "gutting and mucking"), we took yesterday to do debris work on a large property.

What's "debris" work?

We arrive at the property. I'm sure you can imagine it, wherever you're from. A broad flat sprawl of green-ish but unkempt land off a small asphalt road. The property has a mobile home raised up on a wood-scaffolded foundation; it has another mobile home, too, off on what looks like a separate lot but is just the lot next to it. It has an RV at the back -- you can't see this, yet, but are not at all surprised when you do. It has a bunch of knotted and gnarled trees, as well as a few tall ones. It has five or six cars, or most-of cars; it would be surprising if any of them worked. A truck out front, which looks like it does run just fine.

Now savage this property with wind, rain, flood.

So what you have is these same things now covered with clotted grass--this awful hay that clings and clumps up and sticks to everything: I don't know which factor of the weather events tears this stuff up and distributes it around, but it's all over so much here, almost any uncleared structure features at least some, maybe as much as a foot deep of it. Those knotted, gnarled trees are now largely knocked over, splintered out of the ground. One of the mobile homes, the one to the left, and also the unsurprising-RV at the back are in catastrophic shambles: their contents saturated and slurried by water, knocked aside and in pieces by wind and water, covered in silt, walls and roofs stoved in, and in some cases their contents ripped from them and spread on the property like the guts of an animal cruelly and wastefully slaughtered.

'Debris' work is...clean all that up.

The work is outside, which is nice! It is also hot, sticky, and that kind of physically draining that no one really likes: not like a good workout, but like a trudge with punctuated moments of effort. It's also very satisfying. Anyone who likes "tidying up" will relate to this. What you are presented with is a big, awful mess. Your mandate and your service is to make that mess better, or at least get it closer to being more manageable.

So, while it's sticky and sweaty--working under the sun, hauling broken toilets and fragments of sheetrock and insulation (which sucks: fiberglass, be careful), the work is very satisfying in itself, before you even factor in the psychological income that comes from the sense that you're maybe helping someone. De-constructing things can be satisfying; making a pile of heavy big things disappear by moving them with a team of people you like is sweaty, but satisfying.

BUT WHO CARES ABOUT THAT ARE YOU CRAZY. I'm serious; and these thoughts kind of live simultaneously through it. Because: that's your story, all that stuff I just said. And your story does not matter at all in all this; or, no, no need to be mean to yourself about it. But, if you are emotionally sane, your story is immediately and completely eclipsed by the real story here: that of the homeowners, residents of this place.

The greatest difference between my day doing doing 'debris' work and the two days before, doing and 'mucking and gutting', was not the work itself -- though the work itself was, in itself, very different. The difference was the presence of the humans whose space and stories you've entered to do this. The situation at the Section 8. housing, where the tenants have mostly vacated, is apparently atypical; in most cases, the residents themselves have petitioned the org (sometimes through an intermediary, local collective) and as such they are present. Which was the case yesterday, as we did the debris work. So, if your story [narrowly viewed] goes like mess ⇒ work werk work ⇒ cleaner! pretty satisfying!, that is quickly submerged by the actual narrative of this place, which goes

home, life ⇒ STORM ⇒ ??? ("oh, my G*d...")

This is so starkly true there's not that much more to say, descriptively speaking. But I'm saying it because I know that I find it easy to lose sight of what we're really reading about when we read, in the news, "X,000 residents displaced" or "XY,000 homes damaged by flooding."

We spent much of the afternoon clearing the remains of one of those stilted-up motor homes. Once we were done, what remained was a ruined stage: the ceiling and walls had been damaged and cleared out before we got going; we had cleared the debris that was left, and now this thing that had been a home was a bare, shattered floor with some hazardous holes (water damage) and the ramp leading to it.

As the bulldozer (which Team Rubicon refers to as one of "the heavies"; they have all this big equipment and call it "the heavies") came in to tear this last remnant down, I happened to walk past K.: one of the home-owners. She and her husband, V.--I'm almost sure they were owners; certainly, they lived here in a structural way--had been present all morning. K., in particular, had been vocal and warm and grateful to us throughout. sidenote: Not that he, V., had not been. He just spoke less English, I think, and also was active with his own salvage activities. end sidenote So I happened to walk past K., just as the bulldozer began tearing into the wooden base of this structure, making the big ripping splintering sound that that makes. And I saw something come over her. A physical shift, a clear physicality like a shimmer through her muscles -- one of those things that when you see it it's not being nice or considerate to reach out, just your body does it for you before you think. So I said, "Are you okay?"

And she nodded, but clearly was feeling something. So I hitched up my step and paused by her and gave her a fist bump. And she raised her fist, bumped mine, said "It's going to be okay," and started to cry. She'd been sunnily and even cheerfully thanking us, all morning -- she was visibly tired, but her affect towards us had been totally giving and generous, despite the ruin of her life all around her. What she was doing right now--sitting in the shade, crying--seemed completely, completely appropriate.

She was sitting I was standing; I sort of moved to hug her and she leaned for it; we hugged for awhile and her tears got on my cheek, they were warm.

I repeated her, saying that it was going to be okay, a few times. She gradually retracted and I smiled at her and...went on working. Once I got out back, where we were clearing debris from the catastrophic remains of the not-surprising RV, I told A. what had happened and said maybe K. could use a little company and off A. went. [The initials are confusing, here, reader-Friend: I'm sorry. You have met this A. before, though. She is not the expert veteran A. who explained about drywall; rather the fellow-noob who started when I did, but is much better than I am at everything. And I'd noticed, earlier that day, that she'd--with ease and immediacy--fallen into chattily empathizing with K. earlier that morning).

A. went off for few minutes. Later, she told me she and K. had had a good talk, about K. and V.'s lives. And about how the work we were doing would hopefully help.

Here, I Have These Shorts

I didn't pack perfectly for this trip.

I didn't pack awfully! I was prepared, packed before, etc. In fact, the main way I packed poorly was in that I overpacked, and in my defense I was just bringing all the things that they said, even though I suspected--and indeed, was correct in suspecting--that they'd have many of these things, in surplus, at the base.

But I forgot a couple of useful things, the main one being a pair of comfortable shorts not for running (brought those), but for hanging out at base in the evenings.

Buuuuuuuut: there is a "free stuff" box! And, on my first day, you better believe that I rummaged right through it. And found--yes!--shorts. They are these; they are perfect. They are a woman's size 10 pair of Old Navy black shorts. The waist is very big on me, and the rest of them are...not so big, so I really need a belt to wear them or it gets little risqué.
The shorts, which I know you'll agree are like perfect.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

How To Handle Old Nails When You're Gutting and Mucking

I am sitting in the (I think) annex / community area of a church in Aransas Pass, Texas. I am conscious of the fact that I am being antisocial, maybe conspicuously so: I have headphones on, and I'm writing this, during evening hours that most people are using to socialize. One table over, eight of my fellow volunteers are playing laughing, merry poker.

I am volunteering with an organization called All Hands, which is active at a number of domestic and international sites of natural disaster; they do immediate response and--they emphasize this, so I mention it--more long-term community rebuilding as well.

I spent the day "gutting and mucking" houses in a low-income housing development; we (All Hands) were teamed up with another nonprofit (Team Rubicon) for this work.

It is weird, me at this moment: headphones on writing with everyone shootin' the sh*t. But y'know there's a whole thing here, which I think is in earnest, of 'look after yourself', 'you can't work well if you don't'. I'm a weird, solitary guy. This is how I look after myself. I hope they understand. I think I was an okay team member today, doing "gutting and mucking." I tried to be.

"Gutting and mucking"--I'm sure that my definition is incomplete--is when you go into a house that's been damaged (flood; rain) and basically rip out everything that's inside. You of course clear the house, first; of debris, for example, if there was a major storm that ransacked the residents' personal effects. And then you really just gut it. You rip out drywall and insulation--in case of water damage, like ours, the insulation and interior spaces may be riddled with fungus/moss: blackened with visible spores. If there's a lot of this stuff, you wear one of those full body suits like in movies, just less dramatic and more flimsy.

There's also more advanced work, for those who know better than I do: removing water coolers, gutting plumbing out (bathtubs), etc.

But if you're a grunt, as I'm lucky to be, the anchor of your work will be dealing with the drywall and then doing "QC". Dealing with drywall is very straightforward: you kind of lever behind it with crowbar and hammer, and pull it from the wall in the biggest chunks you can muster. Sometimes you bang through it with a hammer, first, to gain purchase; but the idea is not to just go around hammering out every square inch of drywall (inefficient). "QC", at least as All Hands uses the term, is what you do after the drywall's all gone. I think it stands for "Quality Control"; if I'm right, that doesn't quite make sense to me, as it's really a part of the process. Regardless, what "QC" is: pulling out all the nails. I'll explain! You're ripping out drywall and insulation, right? But not tearing down the house. Not knocking over the wooden frame structure. The idea being that the house has been riddled with (say) moisture and moss, and you need to gut it but not tear it down. The bones are fine; the skeleton of this house will remain, and get muscles and nerve and skin put back on. For example (end metaphor): drywall will be reinstalled. And in order to have--

Sorry, it occurs to me: this blog post is probably comically ill-informed, to many of you. Or that other thing, where someone has just discovered something so it's new to them, but it's not a new thing at all, so the fact that they are explaining it as if it is is either a little bit charming or a little bit embarrassing or sometimes a bit of both. To many of you, my whole explanation here is probably a bit of that second thing! And indeed, I'm writing explain it in the way that I'd need it explained. i.e., veeeery simply.

So, in order to have new drywall properly installed on the preexisting, reclaimed wooden structure--in order to rebuild this house that's been "gutted and mucked"--you have to be able to fit that drywall flush to the existing wood structural elements. Which means, obviously, there can't be a great bunch of gnarly bent-a$$ nails sticking out every which way. The problem being that that's exactly what you are left with, after pulling the drywall: as even I knew, drywall is silly and brittle; it crumbles and breaks much more easily than (say) a well anchored nail into wood, the result being that the drywall as you remove it mostly crumbles off around the nails that had fixed it in place, leaving them there.

So this is a thing that I learned today, then, because I wound up for much of the day doing "QC". What I learned was the trick of getting these nails out. A., who has a movie-star grin and hazelgreen eyes and one of those haircuts where the side is all buzzed beneath a longer top (on one side), and who has been a volunteer for twelve months and is absolutely capable of taking that water cooler out,explained it to us outside. We were all having this problem where the heads of the nails, like the part that you hammer, would PTANG! get torn off when you pulled with your hammer (that back part of the hammer that you use to grasp and yank nails out), so you'd be left with a naked ungraspable shaft of tiny metal stuck deep into wood.

We were outside, on break, wondering why these nails were so annoying: if they were crappy, or just old; if the fact that this is government housing meant that the lowest-bidding contractor did the work; if the fact that this is government housing meant that the lowest-bidding contractor did the work and then perhaps used even cheaper materials than they'd promised to in their bid; etc.

And A., who has been at this stuff for a year, said a thing:

Well, until the 1980s or so, drywall was always secured with nails -- not screws. So a lot these buildings built in the 1960s and 1970s, you see this with the nailed in drywall.

Which was a very tidy way of diagnosing, based on the development of building practices and materials, the age of these buildings and why these (old) nails kept on breaking.

I will note, further: later that afternoon, up on a ladder, ripping some drywall away from wood beams (I did a lot of the higher-placed drywall; I'm tall-ish), I found a note from 10/1/1975 in chalk; it seemed to be marking someone's work hours, C, I think: C had started sometime after 9am and knocked off around noon, and someone else had initialed and OKed this.

I am not claiming this proves A.'s factoid true; I am saying that I do not care to further investigate A.'s factoid.

Let's review:
-- anecdotal evidence of satisfying explanations for things I know nothing about can be, itself, satisfying and compelling to me (esp. up a ladder with a hammer and crowbar)
-- it is way better to get the nails out! if you do not get the nails out, you have to hammer them in so they are embedded in the wood: the point is that the surface must be flat and pretty smooth for the reapplication of drywall. (B., our able team-leader, talked me through this)
-- if you fail to get the nail out with a hammer, you still can remove it, but you have to do this thing with pliers that takes a long time. (winching the stupid nail back, back and forth, denting the wood, watching out for glass (as, once, stupidly, I failed to))
-- but: it's hard to get the nails out with the hammer! Cuz the stupid head of the nail snap right off when you pull it! stoopid old nailz!

In response to all of which, here is what I learned. (A lot of it's in the wrist; I felt that, during the day, my wrist getting smarter.) (I also felt, and feel, my fingers and hands, unaccustomed to some of this work, tightening up). But a lot of it is a consciously replicable and expressable thing:

I initially approached the challenge of pulling a nail from deep wood as being mainly about levering  pressure with that back part of your hammer, using that head of the nail to grip onto. You slip the head of the nail in that v-slit at the back of the hammer, the head catches when you pull, pull against it. voila. Except not 'voila', since as I've said that head of the nail breaks off.

So: you get good at eyeing the placement of the nail, and do a crisp quick motion where CHAKK you drive that backside of the hammer against it; i.e., you jam it in such that the nail itself gets wedged in that biting v at the back of the hammer: you're not using the head to pull up, you've jammed the nail in the bite of the v itself. And you use that torque, judiciously, and


pull it out.

It's fast and it's good! You can get many nails removed this way, even ones that are awkwardly placed.

I would not have been able to figure this out, because I would not have known what to do at all, or even how to be safely inside of that house, without the help of B. and A., aforementioned, as well as E., J., C., and (other) A. -- a fellow noob but a more skillful one.

Tomorrow, we're gutting and mucking again. I might learn something new. Might just do more of the same. We'll see.

I'm glad I'm here. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Alone vs. Lonely / Talk 2 Ppl

I have been going to this terrific coffee shop in the mornings; I'm generally there at opening, 6am, though I try not to be actually loitering at the doors as they're unlocking them because that seems weird/annoying.
Here is the coffee shop, much as it looks when I arrive in the morning. I'm not sure how to credit this picture; it's not mine; it's from the website. The restaurant in which it's embedded is also good (I think); true to my rigidities, however, I've marked it as a place I go to for coffee and (usually) a freshly-baked good in the morning, and by the time the restaurant starts to fill up and the kitchen is open I'm out. Also, to be fair, I've basically gone off places where another human being takes your order and brings you food (unless I'm out with friends).
This morning, my rigidities were disrupted. I'd had this whole conversation with myself starting at 4:56am about what to eat, based on a delicious-nutritious thing that I'd baked (in the fridge), temporally proximate baked goods at the coffee shop, less temporally proximate but also relevant other good food because today's Saturday which means the Calabasas Farmer's Market will open up at 8am right outside (right outside; parking lot) the coffee shop, PLUS the fact that the Topanga Library opens at 9am today which seems like a nice thing to take advantage of and is relevant to what I'm eating at 5am because...well it's all part of a plan, right?

Let me pause: I think I come off as crazy in the paragraph above in a way that I am, but not as much as it may make me seem. A narrative schema that I often admire in novels and plays is when you're put inside the lived reality of a protagonist and themes strongly emerge--anguish, suspicion, fixation on clouds, whatever--and you're given no explanatory exposition for why this theme should be so central (because the point of the story is the story, not some book-cover summary bullsh1t approximation of the concept of the shape of a thing like a 'story') until maybe some glancing reference 2/3s of the way through.

I admire that a lot in novels and plays, but it's maybe not so super-great for blog posts so let me be clear: there's backdrop lore here that's useful to this post (and, perhaps, others). My living situation is in transition, in an accelerated and unexpected way, with some stressors attached. This is not a big deal; even mentioning it, I feel silly. But I guess I'm weak enough that it is in some ways acting on me, and that's a relevant backdrop and good to acknowledge. It's affecting productivity, logistics, mood, etc.; certainly, it's relevant to why I'm loitering outside coffee shops at 6am.

Anyway, so this morning, all my plans came to naught because I'd taken the delicious-nutritious snack from my fridge with me when I left the house at 5:30am (see backdrop lore, above) but not eaten it, on the promise of temporally proximate baked goods at the coffee shop, and--reader, brace yourself--there were no baked goods at the coffee shop. Not only that, but there was some new guy behind the counter who didn't know all the stuff (and: didn't know me) and we had a not unfriendly but y'know static-y interaction re: baked goods and coffee. Again, to make the story actual, let me be clear. I wasn't like, "Dude, where are the fucking muffins?" It was more like one of those things where we each had to say things twice; we both misunderstood each other a couple times. Static-y.

And when I went back for my refill I decided: basta, not good enough, slimb. C'mon. So I tried to be a little more of a viable human being. I was like, "Hey, are you new? I'm here lots of mornings and haven't seen you, I'm" etc.

And he was like yeah no, I worked here for awhile but then I was gone for a few months but now I'm back, I'm etc.

And I almost let this conversational offer pass (I often mess things like that up; sometimes consciously, sometimes not). But I didn't! I was like, "Oh was it a fun trip or what?" This question isn't quite as anodyne as it may seem (although that'd be fine, too: anodyne questions make the world go round). This coffee shop, for those who did not hit the link at the top, is part of this interesting complex that is coffee shop / restaurant / bike-shop. It serves lots of people in lycra with fancy bikes, and some people who work here are into that too, so I thought maybe this young hipster/granola- lookin' dude might have gone on a big bike trip or something.

Interruption: a guy with a charming and shambling sheep dog of some sort just came in the front (the entrance to the restaurant, not the coffee shop); he saw me brighten and mark and, as I took off my headphones, launched into an apology about how they were "just going straight through to the coffee shop" which trailed off at once when he saw that I was just happy to see his cool dog. He and I (the man; not the dog; don't know the dog's sex) had some bantering about the water backpack the dog had on, how he could now go and fill it with coffee. 

I'm actually a little confused about the breed of his dog because it was strikingly (gorgeously) hetero-iridiatic or whatever the right dogword is for that thing with the eye color. It was white with black speckles but kind of long-haired;
what the heck kind of dog is that? Beyond a good one, I mean. Clearly.

Anyway long story short, nope the young guy had not been on a long biking trip; he was on tour with his band, which he's in with his brother and another guy and whom I went and listened to after we talked, as I started this post, and then I went back to him and was like, "dude, you guys are grand!" and he thanked me in a way that I immediately recognized: very much over the idea that every time someone compliments your work that means you owe them some kind of performance (cuz, um: you know that your work is good. you have known this for years. it's like: the one non-objective fact that you know, beyond loving your friends and your family), but at the same time: it is, in fact, nice every time someone says something nice re: your stuff.

So now this moment of static and (absurd, privileged ⇐ duh) disappointment had become a nice small moment of connection. And I flipped from one feeling to another. Which--what is this, two-thousand words later?--is what this blog post is about.

I spend some time being "lonely", and I think I've written here about what that word means to me. Maybe you feel this sometimes, too; for me, basically, it is not net-net a bad thing. We're dealing with functions of margin, and the bad side--occasional loneliness, falling over the line--is like an inevitable overflow function of a very good side: solitude, focus, governing my own time. So in fact, if I never felt lonely, it might be a good diagnostic that I'm doing something wrong, and indeed there are times in my life when I've sure not felt lonely and man it's not good. So, in fact, "loneliness" takes on a bittersweet niceness, in memory for sure and even in the moment, because it's an acknowledged part of a whole that is, on balance, a blessing and full of very very good things.

But then there's "alone". Which is totally different, as I experience and understand it.

Here's a physical metaphor for this whole thing. I like to move my body and do fun, sometimes taxing things with it; the fact that I like to tax my body (and mind, I guess; or my fear, or whatever) means that I'm sometimes in physical discomfort or low-level 'pain'. But, just like loneliness, that 'pain' takes on a bittersweet niceness. Everyone else in the world has observed this as well ('no pain no gain'; 'pain is weakness leaving the body'; blah blah blah) so while I'm not into the fetishization of pain I'm also not into the shying fetishization of not-pain; I accept and to some extent even embrace a certain kind of pain and discomfort as the indicator that I am at the right margin, pushing the right limit.

But pain injury, this example. Pain doesn't equal chronic, sustained pain. Both of those things--injury, chronic pain--are really hard things. I don't want to say anything flip about them. They're hard and people managing them deserve deference and respect. If I could do away with discomfort, with the 'pain' of pushing yourself while training...I probably would not. But if I could do away with injury and chronic pain? Hell yes. Hell yes. Erase it forever, 4 u & 4 me.

So let's SAT analogy this whole thing (the "analogy" section was part of the SAT that...y'know what nevermind):

loneliness : alone
no-pain-no-gain type 'pain' or discomfort : injury or chronic pain

Do you see? The thing on the right is a sh1tty bad thing -- I'd free all of us from it forever if I could. The thing on the left...mmm. Life's not perfect! Maybe we need it. And obviously it's a continuüm: exposing yourself to the thing on the left is a gateway risk to the thing on the right. But again, tradeoffs; so...

So here's the point. It actually brings in every thing that I've said in this ramble-a$$ post, which is kind of a pleasant surprise.

The retrieval of my glancing interaction with the musician (whom I encountered as a barista: we've all gotta do what we've gotta), from a static-y interaction to a kind-of-nice interaction, underscored for me that I've pushed past the margin a bit on the lonely vs. alone thing. Because of stuff with the housing, mainly. The difference is safety, security; when I feel 'lonely' I don't feel at all unsafe or insecure--in fact it often accentuates feelings of safety, in a cozy kind of way. 'Alone' is different. And again, #JFC, this is not a big deal; I know I'm writing all this but I'm not a deranged narcisso-solipsist. But it's also how I feel, so I am writing about it.

And if you read it, all these words: thanks you.

I hope you have a great weekend with lots of good things. And perhaps a sprinkle of some not-great things, just to balance the mix. But none of the bad things. No bad things for you, ever.

last beat: The young dude setting up the bar (different dude), 
is having trouble with beer taps. They're stressing him out. 
I hope, for his peace of mind,
that he is able to forthwith resolve them.
Although I also hope, tbh, that those taps don't need use for a good many hours.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

"Supercut", a Lady, the blue Pacific Ocean

"Supercut" is track 9 on Lorde's fantastic album, Melodrama. It's that song right at the end of a great album (Melodrama has 11 songs [don't give me sh1t about that "reprise" meaning there are only 10; that reprise is like a totally different song from the song it's reprise-ing]) that's like "oh u thought I was done? WH-HWAM: not done. Ur welcome."

What you probably should do is just go listen to Melodrama, or at least "Supercut", then come back to this post.

The song (sorry if you just listened to it! now I'm describing it--anyway), "Supercut", is one of those spectacular songs that are probably my favorite kind of song: it is poppy and catchy but it is about sad things. It has some driving plonky-plonk stuff that builds; at one point Lorde's voice cracks in the most surprising burst of emotion I've heard in straight pop perhaps ever (the first time I heard the song I was cooking; I stopped when she did that, went and rolled the track back just to hear the bit again; I couldn't believe what I'd heard, how great it was). So it's like a feel good chill-roll jam that you shout in your car but it's about...y'know who knows exactly, this is a pop song (in a good way), but it's about loss and a relationship that once was and the images she holds in her mind of that person? At least that's what I think it's about. I'm happy with what I think it's about.

"Supercut" was playing as I came up on the Parker Mesa Overlook in the middle of a Long Slow Distance (LSD. lol) run today; I was doing an LSD as a total audible; I called the audible mid-run, and instead of doing a shorter run-and-then-take-a-yoga-class-later type plan I redirected my whole day around the LSD as part of ongoing efforts to figure out how to master myself and my time.
This isn't the most interesting pic of the Overlook, but it's clear and representative. The Lady was on the bench on the right; I was on the bench on the left; I took her picture in that gap in the middle.
As I came up, no music in my ears, the only other person there was an Attractive Lady.

"You ran the whole way?" She asks this before my headphones are out, but I'd smiled at her so it doesn't seem weird.

I nod-smile and  she asks me how long that was.

I don't know how I know, but I know--from the manner of her taking pictures, from I don't know, I just know--that she isn't a trailhead.

My response to this realization is to give her, of course unintentionally, the most convoluted trailheaded answer possible to her question, based on the fact that I don't know where she's come up from and there are all these different...anyway. At one point I interrupt myself with "sorry this is way more than you needed" and she says something like "No I asked" which I thought was nice because it was friendly, but it also acknowledged the clear truth of the situation, which was me failing Casual Social Interactions 101 (I am a bad student in this class, in general, and have mostly stopped trying unless someone else's reputation or well-being are involved in my behavior).

Then she approaches and with what feels like summoned pluck says, "Well you're going to take my picture." She holds out her phone. It's in a pink case that perhaps even has a sticker or something like that.

I laugh and start wiping my hands; she says "so...that's all sweat" which I can tell she does not intend in a mean way but is a's not so much calling attention to the fact of my being sweaty (I'm, like, so sweaty) but the way it sort of focuses both of our attention on my combined semi-nakedness and sweatiness. She is not that naked at all, for a person on these trails; she has an ordinary summer dress on that is not short/revealing, and a hat.
I was this sweaty, with this much clothes on. (I had shoes on. Such as my running "shoes" are, at this point.)
So I take her picture and I suggest that she take her hat off and I think for a second she thinks I'm either hitting on her or being artistic and then she relaxes and is like, "Oh for my face."

And I'm like "Yeah, so we know it's not a body double."

And she's like "Yeah, ha, that's me." The way she inflects 'that's me' makes me realize that she's playing on the idea that what I was saying was a compliment or comment on her body or something, and I feel bad about that but she doesn't seem upset (not that this means she isn't upset; she just doesn't seem it) and we roll on.

I take a few more pictures of her; she does things with her hair, which (her hair) can only be describes as being in 'tresses.' She does things with her tresses, floomping them out to the side, I think because they were all kinked up inside her hat.

Does anyone ever have a tress? There is a singular form of that word.

I hand her back her phone

and we have a few volleying back-and-forths;

she offers information about her not coming to LA very often; she says a thing about where she's from (in the totally sensible format of comparing this hike to hikes she's familiar with, in her local geography).

I'm friendly, I think; I guess I don't offer equivalent information about myself but I felt I offered a lot answering her as I did, showing up as a sweaty half-naked man on this hilltop in the middle of the mountains.

Anyway it's a positive interaction. Or, y'know.

And then I say "have a nice walk down"

and she smiles and says something I don't quite make out through the music, but it's a wave-goodbye type of thing,

and I'm back down the trail towards home
and "Supercut" plays again: building beats, tight melody line, words about who knows but I think:
having once been with someone and how that was nice and you're not anymore but you have the sad beautiful pictures left in your memory.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Entries Past #3: "Valiant Hearts: I liked this game"

Title Valiant Hearts: I liked this game

Much has been written

i add only




gameplay - yeah, silly

but i've played worse.

Date Lost to history, but must be around April 25th, 2015

Rating 11/10. Would blog-review this videogame again

Notes First of all, if you want to check me on this or any game, check me here. Now, to this post. I think I was moved to write it because I thought this game was flawed but had real heart? I guess? I don't really exactly know I thought I should write a blog post "reviewing" this game; the whole idea seems super-crazy to me now.

That said, I admire my choice to write the review in free verse prose poetry. Very brave.

If you haven't played Valiant Hearts, I do recommend it. It is an unusual game, more than anything else, on both merits and flaws.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Entries Past #2: "Europe is great. So is America."

Title Europe is Great. So is America

BodyI was walking around Zurich tonight with D------, an amazing old friend. And it was rainy and wet which is unusual, so everyone I'd encountered was telling me how I'd picked the worst day to be there. But it was still beautiful; it's a beautiful city.

At one point, we were looking across the Limmat, the river that snakes up from Zurichsee ("Lake Zurich") and runs through the city. And D------- pointed across at a group of stately old buildings, and told me how they all belonged to the guilds. And how the guilds (Zunfte; organizations of various tradecrafts and professions) used to sort of run the city, but have faded in influence since an actual strong representative government has been put in place. And I thought of another friend, with whom I just in fact stayed, who is a member of something not really similar, but reminiscent in my limited American understanding: The Mercer's Company, the "Premier Livery Company of the City of London." D------ mentioned that there is still a festival at which the guilds get to parade and do their thing, and that membership is rather exclusive osed on alss

Date 02/23/15

Rating ******* / *****

Notes It is a real loss to the world that this post was not published. It contains both important original research and a novel engagement of the "old" / "new" world dichotomy. I think the point of the title was...I think it was going to be something like "it's super-cool that Europe has these cultural forms and traditions that are built on an edifice of hundreds of years of history; that's like a cool thing that the U.S. doesn't have. But then also those things are like a weight, a constraint." No one has ever made this observation, so it's a shame I did not.

I am a little interested in what kinda went down right @ the end, there. I'm thinking probably I fell asleep at the keyboard. That happens a lot.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Entries Past #1: "Holy Crap, Part One"

My New Year's Resolution in 2015 (i.e., going into 2016) was to tell no lies ever to anyone. I knew that I'd fail (and recorded my failures, whenever they inevitably came), but it felt and feels like a good goal.

Unsurprisingly, it's most challenging in semi-trivial social situations. Like--I hope!--most of us, I don't go around lying to my friends, or even chalking up the small misrepresentations that under this rubric do get tagged as 'lies'. But in semi-trivial social situations--not totally trivial, where you just breeze through, but with people who aren't quite friends either--I found I had the frequent impulse to lie ("absolutely! dinner soon!" ⇐ This is a lie, if you know it won't happen).

It was important, from the start, to establish a sense of the line between 'omission' and 'lie'. The best example of something at the line is answering "How are you?" It's probably obvious that it's not a 'lie' to answer that question by barfing up every single thing about 'how you are' at this moment to whatever poor person has unwittingly put themselves in the cross-hairs of your radical transparency. On the other hand, a bright 'yeah, great!' when really you're not is probably kind of a lie. What a lot of it comes down to, to me, is the intention; 'how are you?' is a pretty reflexive question -- in most day-to-day situations the person is explicitly not saying, "unburden yourself unto me." BUT, in most day-to-day situations, they probably are saying, "hey, person that i know: what is up?" So that's where the measure of what an 'honest' answer to that question comes from.

Why am I talking about this?!? Because! This is a space that I perceive to be between me and my friends. While that's literally true, it's also figuratively true: like it is for many people, the act of writing this stuff out is an act of friendship for me. NOT LIKE I THINK I'M DOING YOU SOME SERVICE!! Oh my gosh that'd be hilarious. No: but I think the space, if you will, of this blog is a friendship space defined mostly by your presence here right now as a reader, and it is a solace and relief to me that I'm grateful for.

So I feel bad that I've lied to you.

Remember the line between 'lies' and 'omission'? I was looking over my drafts of unfinished blog posts--these go back years--and my sense of it began to push from the (okay) to the former (not). The issue was the volume and scope of things I have left unsaid; things I have wanted to say but--and here is the crux HERE'S WHAT'S HARD ABOUT NOT LYING MOSTLY (unless you're a nefarious thief)--lacked the skill or time to say in a way that was worthy of reading, rather than some simpler lying way that fell back onto established scripts that shield the speaker and obscure the essential specific truth of a given instance.

Buuuuuuuuuut...also, these are posts from years ago, and a lot of them are not "good" ideas, or "good" posts. I certainly do not want to spend hours writing up bad ideas I had six years ago.

Thus, this series: "Entries Past".

In "Entries Past" I will give quick and rough treatment to each of these drafts. There will be a format, perhaps fine-tuned over time but outlined quite clearly in the first entry, below. And that's it! Will cruise through 'em! Sometimes, I will not remember what the heck I was getting at. These will be the best ones.

Title Holy Crap, Part One

BodyLast Tuesday I mistimed a dusk run out and back on Westridge, a trail in the Santa Monicas that runs about 3.5 miles (during which time you do about 500 feet in elevation). I was 25 minutes later than intended, and my dusk run became a night run in its latter half, for which I was unprepared, particularly in that I had no light. Running along the Westridge fire road - a trail wide and clear enough for a car -  is pleasant and challenging during the day, and nice enough at dusk except that apparently there are invisible rattlesnakes who want to kill you. At least this is how my predicament who was explained to me by a woman running ahead of me on the way down, by which time it was quite dark.

Date 10/16/11

Rating 11/10

Notes I totally remember this run. I hadn't lived in L.A. that long (I moved here in March of 2011, but volleyed back and forth between the coasts that summer and didn't start to settle until July (6 years ago!!!)). I remember being on the Westridge fire road as dark descended more quick and dark than expected; I remember losing first the fine then the broad contours of the trail, my pace slowing and step getting more careful in fear of twisting an ankle. And I remember this lady, who 100% got way up in bizness as I passed her, about the snakes and the lateness and how unsafe it was to run at night without a headlamp.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Bearded --> Not; But Really: Erra

I've been feeling caught in the time suck of Hotel California (you will not be surprised by the link, don't...fine. welcome back). I've been feeling as if I've been doing the same thing for years, spinning through a cycle of seasons that blend. I feel this way because it is taking so long to finish Erra, of course.

And I am right. It's true.

It's also not THAT true.

This post is about that. Because in a series of pictures taken almost exactly one year ago, I recall that just one year ago I had that preposterous freaking beard -- in fact, I'd had it for months! And, and, just one year ago I was in the midst of mending my psyche after getting rolled by a ♀. And, just one year ago, some neighbors who were always very generous to me performed one of their most-generous-ever services: improving my face by removing that beard.
What preposterous beard, you ask?
It would be disingenuous of me to be like, oh, WHAT I was thinking?! that thing looks so stupid! I mean yes: it looks stupid. But I mostly thought that throughout the period that I had it, too. I know exactly what I was thinking. (Did I explain here, ever? I can't remember -- I said it to so many people. Sorry if I did.) What I was thinking was: I am obsessed all the time (Erra). My obsession is 'captivating' in both good and bad ways. In order to be in good faith with those around me, I should wear some mark of this obsession, some aspect so that people can know--even if they do not know what I'm obsessed with--that I am a person deranged and obsessed.

Also, I was thinking that I look dumb with a beard--it grows strange on my face--so yeah basically I'm punishing myself to get this thing done.

And what's a little...okay, "interesting" is a stretch; what for me is interesting is that these pictures of me and my idiot beard, recalling the thinking and actually having the thing on my face, help me recall more about the arc of the process with Erra.

What I remember is swims. The swims of the summers of 2016 and 2015, and how they were different.

Here we are, now: 2017. I will withhold account of what my swims are/were/will be "about" this summer. Let's see!

The summer of 2016--that's the summer you're looking at pictures of now; the summer during which I had then shaved off this dumb beard--I was spending long ocean swims kind of zoning out (not like that, mom -- don't worry; very attentive to surroundings). My brain would lapse into rhythm and pace and stroke count. But, in that state, I would also kind of roll around with thoughts, considerations. And the essence of these thoughts/considerations was VERY uneasily slipping into the idea that making Erra as good as I believed and believe it could/can be is going to take way too long; that this crazy notion I'd had a few months earlier (Jan/Feb 2016), this idea of going back and reworking Column 5 just a bit, was a good idea in that Column 5 needed it, I wasn't futzing around.

But it was also a very bad idea in that...well, it is now 2017. I'm working to finish up Column 2, having taken this approach all the way back to the beginning. So, y'know: bad idea as well, clearly.

Then, if we go back another summer--to the summer of 2015--I recall different swims. In these swims, 2015, my mind was wandering in ways that seem funny to me, now.

I was trying to figure out the story.

I knew the story, but I wasn't satisfied with it. Crucial elements of the first draft that I'd written...almost two years (?!?) before that were just not clicking. NOT "in need of reworking"; I hadn't found quite the right things: events, plot widgets. Plot widgets, mostly. And I would spend these swims trying to find them: feeling a rush as I attached myself to some idea that occurred to me, even as I knew elsewhere in my mind that this idea wasn't it

stroke-stroke ocean ocean "there's a pelican, that's so nice"

And plot widgets, again.

I don't remember the summer of 2014 in this way, one way or another. I'm not sure how much I was swimming then. I did not have a beard. I've only ever once had a beard, during this latter part of 2015/first part of 2016 that we're temporally dancing through here.

My point is, I guess, that the maddening incrementalism of most kinds of progress--at least "progress" such as I'm currently able to achieve it--might sometimes obscure ways that things are indeed changing, progressing. Perhaps improving, although honestly that seems a bit much.


game on.
This was a fun for, like, a transitional day

Monday, June 19, 2017

The "Cherokee Triangle" of Louisville is Great: photojournal

Two people I love got married in Louisville this weekend.

Part of their goodness is generosity; characteristically, they put a bunch of us up in a very nice house in a part of town that is called the "Cherokee Triangle" and/or the "Highlands". I thought these were abutting neighborhoods but per Wikipedia: "[Cherokee Triangle] is considered a part of a larger area of Louisville called The Highlands..."

We were pretty wrapped up in wedding stuff, but I got to do a couple of runs and had a long walk to yoga (solid!) Saturday morning, which gave a taste of the neighborhood. 
Highlands ("The Highlands"? the "Highlands"? anyway)
is a lot like this mural.
I know nothing about Louisville. I've never been here and have no ties or family here.

I really liked it.

Okay so you know how glossy publications that do long-form sometimes throw in pictures with captions that are on the same topic as the overall story but kind of a different thread, thus surreptitiously shoehorning in content that didn't make the main copy? [note: Slimbuttons has no idea if this is "why" they do this. --Ed.] That is how this entry will be: some pictures thrown in, while the words are about two Lyft rides I took.

Lyft #1: B
First of all: both of these Lyft rides were good. Nice, responsible drivers picked me up on time and efficiently took me where I needed to go. Both were friendly; both were chatty, once I signaled that I was receptive to that.

First was B.

B tells me that he's originally from Iraq; actually, as he shortly clarifies, he is in fact from the mountains of Jordan. His mother is Arab is father is Kurdish. He does a thing with his hands, stacking right-to-left: "Iraq, Jordan, Israel". I wonder, as he does this, why he includes Israel, which never otherwise comes up in discussion; if you're going to throw another nation-state in that geographic layout it seems like the comparatively very big one immediately to the south would better anchor the map; I wondered and still wonder if B illustrates Jordan's location in this way because he assumed that I, as an America, would be more familiar with/interested in Israel?


Most of our conversation is located outside the complexity of B's point of origin. It comes up, but glancingly, and in much the same way that my being from Manhattan comes up: we are talking about the upsides and downsides of places like Louisville vs. places like Chicago (rather: we talk about the upsides and downsides of Louisville vs. Chicago, those actual places). Cosmopolitan-ness, diversity, food, nightlife, etc.
I saw this walking to yoga Saturday morning.
F*ck yeah, St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School.
Towards the end of the ride, we gravitate towards questions of how long he's lived here and continue from there. B is excited about America in a contagious way; this has already been made clear in our conversation about cities and comes up again with an assertion he makes that, essentially, people in America from different backgrounds all feel "American", even if they also feel "African-American" or "Chinese-American" or what have you.

Then we loop back more explicitly to his own point of origin and sense of identity. We start talking about the Kurds--with no expressed animus to "the Arabs", he makes it clear that he speaks Arabic because of his mother but that he himself is/feels Kurdish. Once I say a couple of things that signal my interest in and basic awareness of the topic, he dives into the question of Kurdish independence and the position they find themselves in: caught between Turkey's wishes, the current Iraqi government's wishes, and their value as a coalition partner to external actors (not least: America) seeking reliable forces on the ground to assure stability.

B connects this to his enthusiasm for America by saying that, in terms of how he feels, he used to feel Iraqi first, and then Kurdish as a sub-categorical identity. But since the invasion and subsequent fracture of the Iraqi state, B no longer feels "Iraqi"; he seems unsure what that means or to whom he'd be giving allegiance.  It is clear that, while he is enthusiastic about America and living here, he feels negatively about the invasion and its impact on the civilian population. I do not ask how directly he has experienced some of the things that he mentions.

That's about it. We reach no conclusions. It is a "good talk."

B drops me off at the thrift store whose revenues benefit a non-profit that supports individuals infected with HIV; my parsing of Yelp has led me to believe this place will be good. I need clothes for the wedding of these wonderful people -- for a variety of Slimbuttons-typical reasons I have no appropriate clothes even for just like being out and in public, nevermind attending a wedding.

Lyft #2: R
The thrift shop is great! It has a good selection and a friendly gentleman minding the till who is thoughtful--perhaps clocking my appearance--about making sure that I in fact purchase everything a man would require in order to be presentable at a wedding.

I do that. It costs like thirty-three bucks. Thrift stores: great.

Waiting for me upon completion of shopping is R.

I think, from R's Lyft pic, that a young woman is coming to pick me up -- the little pic in the app shows a face with finely plucked eyebrows, light make-up, wide lips pinched in a sensuous moue. The sex of the person who picks me up, of R, is male; R's gender is male as well, but my misunderstanding is not a random accident.

R and I get to chatting and the two-- no, the three things that become clear at once are:

  1. R is gay
  2. R is young; maybe 20? I wonder what Lyft's minimum age is
  3. R is in a place where the transitional process into a public gay life still feels tentative to him

He presents a mix of caution and candor that is sad and inspiring. His Lyft pic is obviously a kind of declaration; as are the rainbow-striped sunglasses he wears. But he soft floats balloons throughout our conversation, and when I'm gentle with them--asking about them, rather than either puncturing them or letting them fly up and away to spare us both what I guess would be the awkwardness of my disapproval--he increases his frankness and specifies his terminology.
I approve this message.
So, for the first leg of the ride we are talking about how Louisville compares to the small town in Kentucky where he grew up. And the diction here is of people "like him", the lack of such people and the negative view of such people and what he experienced as a claustrophobic and judgmental social environment.

Then--just to skip a bit--by the ride's last ten minutes, R is telling me in some detail about his gig in Louisville as a drag queen (!!!) whose name I will not share in case he'd prefer I not do that but which is pretty great, and the freedom of inhabiting that persona and how he is proud that she is not one-dimensional: that he can play with different looks and makeup and songs all within the same persona (i.e., not "playing" a different character, but rather adding layers to this one persona, who is his alter-). And he talks about the "friend" (I'm putting that in quotes, but actually by this point in the conversation I think that this person maybe was in fact just a friend, that R might use a different word if this person were something else; but I dunno!) who kind of swept into R's small-town and helped R not recognize his own orientation (he, R, had had no trouble recognizing his own orientation) but helped R live it and--specifically--introduced R to the drag scene. R says that he'd not even know what "drag" was.

R opines that the drag scene in New York and other big markets is more about extravagance and being OTT, whereas in Louisville he characterizes it as being more about being "feminine" and "beautiful."

It is expensive. "You can't just buy something off the rack"; it's still a drag show -- you have to be a creation, fantastic.

He loves it -- it's clear.

But he's taking a break!

Sometimes, "you know how it is" (it had relaxed R a lot when I'd said that I used to be an actor; that I was unsuccessful but did get some work and share some of his feelings about inhabiting a persona), sometimes R feels a little underappreciated and (my editorialization) the scene sounds kind of political/dramatic. So R, though he loves it, who after all is a freaking kid in a state of identity flux, says that he's taking a break.

An urban place without some measure of picturesque decrepitude
is, at best, a suspect urban place.
Which is perhaps how I had the good fortune to get a ride from him.

We also talked about how nice the houses were getting as we drove towards my destination. Then we got to my destination and parted with handshakes and wishes of good luck.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Don't Know What She Looks Like

So here's an odd thing: I've thought so much on this post that it was basically written when I logged in tonight; written and in-fact revised a few times. Which meant I was certain I had in fact drafted it. But I hadn't! I'd just spent lots of time in my head.

You now know my inner life. It may looks much like yours, with different particulars.

Here are some of my particulars:

You know how it is, that it sometimes only takes a couple of instances for a practice or habit to become that thing that you do Mondays (or whatever)? A version of that that I'm having is this: I've been five or six times, in total, but a thing that I like to do Mondays--when I can--is go to this yoga teacher's really excellent class at Yogaworks (gorgeous) Westlake Village location. I go early, to "avoid traffic", even though in fact there is very little traffic in either direction between Topanga and Westlake Village at any time of day; I camp out in a great place to work for the afternoon (I never buy food; I buy one cup of coffee, take advantage of refills, and semi-surreptitiously eat protein bars; I tip well).

What's good about this teacher's class for me is that it is about music and flow and has a distinct and I would say joyful energy; it's not particularly technical re: what she calls out but it's athletic and moves fast and is a class where she gives you the room to do stuff that you want and the vibe of the class validates that: doing stuff that you want. It's a class where people think it's fun, or at worst cool wutever, if there's a sweaty guy in the front doing arm balances, rather than people thinking that's...whatever. Anyway.

The point of this post is
I've been to this teacher's class I'd say five or six times,
I'd like to go a bunch more,
and I have very little idea what she looks like.
I'm trying to keep it that way.

It started the first time I went to her class. I had pushed myself to do a bit of an exploration; Westlake Village isn't that far from where I live, but you have to want to go there from where I live. And/but I was having trouble finding classes I liked close to me, so exploring seemed smart. And so I'd pushed myself to do this afternoon exploration, and I'd done the thing with the coffee and sneaking my protein bars, and I was either tired or pissed off or one of these dumb stupid things that I get, so for the preamble to and the start of that very first class I was on my back, then face down and just doing the flow, not looking around, not saying hi to the teacher. And she is particularly mobile, particularly vocal: she's a chatty and dynamic presence, padding around, making jokes/observations (another reason I like her class: my favorite thing is when yoga teachers simply do not do the "yoga teacher talking" stuff. BUT, if they must, it's better if it is interesting/not dumb. This teacher is uniformly interesting, always generous, and never dumb; she veered into woo-woo like, one time for one sentence, and immediately laughed about it and etc.).

Anyway the point is I got about half-an-hour into my first class with her and I realized two things:

  1. I really liked her voice; both for itself (she has a nice voice, she says good stuff), and for the quality it had, bouncing around in this gorgeous high-ceiling'ed studio; and
  2. I had no idea what she looked like. Which was a little bit helping me love her voice, more.

So basically I decided to just go with that. And I have.

I know that she is a slim, Caucasian woman. I know that she has dark brown or maybe black hair. I have a couple of concepts regarding her nose. But beyond that: nothing. I do not think I could pick her out of a lineup. When I got that link for you, above, the one to her website, I averted my eyes from the screen where it showed so I again saw just "slim white lady dark hair".

I know that this affects my affect in class. I say "thank you" at the end, of course, or I do when the opportunity arises (it's a big class; she's very popular, chatting with regulars after). But I do not look up and make eye-contact during; I have never engaged with her, directly face-on. This is probably not weird from her viewpoint, at all; it's not like every yoga student has lots of face-on interactions with every yoga teacher. But it's a little weird for me: I tend to like connecting at least once or twice per class with teachers I like; a smile, a joke, whatever. If she has perceived any aspect of this, at all, I imagine she thinks that I'm shy or whatever. Or possibly cold, I guess -- I'd prefer not to think that but I suppose it could be.

But it. I love not really having a physical concept of her. Having nothing to do with blahBLAHblah all that; I just love knowing her only as a presence, a voice. It makes her exist purely as a presence, a voice. And of course she is a whole person, with a whole-person life, and in fact because she has added nice things to my life I wish her nothing but goodness in that whole-person life. But as she weaves through my life: she's a good yoga teacher; that's her principal role. And until the day--it will come--when I glance up at the wrong time and BAM: FULL INSTANTIATION -- until that happens she lives as a voice and a form and a practice and thoughts I enjoy and appreciate exactly for themselves.

Monday, June 12, 2017

HliAT #25: it's the airport so u r sto0p1d Edition

How long it actually Takes to...

sit at the red light in the shuttle from the parking garage, on the way to your flight, about thirty minutes after you wanted to be there, 
thinking "if I could just teleport to the moment when I'm at the front of the security line I'd be fine" because you're stressed about what the security lines will be like; 
then you get through the red light and ask the shuttle driver if you should just walk from terminal 1 to terminal 3 because traffic's so bad 
& he laughs and's like, "I'd say no need" 
and then laughs again like (but not saying) "but don't blame me, friend" 
and you say (out loud) "don't worry I won't blame you" 
and he laughs again;
then you get through terminal traffic 
and to the terminal 
and hop out and everything goes pretty smoothly: 
security isn't that bad 
and here you are at the front of the line, the place you wanted to teleport to this much time ago,
taking off your shoes: 12:18.87

side-note: you arrive at the gate nine minutes before boarding, just as they start making announcements.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

HliAT #24: Graduation

How long it Actually Takes to...

(actually, this shouldn't be "Takes to..." ⇒ "Takes for...") the lady saying the kid's name to say the kid's name and the kid to stand up and come down from the bleachers and walk across the floor, and then the lady says the next kid's name while the first kid is still traversing, shaking hands, taking pictures and getting diplomas so the point is we've got the time from the start of one name to the start of another: 0:10.24

At 10 seconds per name, if there are (say) seventy young women in the graduating class, that's 700 seconds = a little under 12 minutes for the "say names, shake, get diploma" bit. I'm not going to guess about other class sizes, because maybe they'd say the names more quickly if (e.g., like at Stuy, there are more like 800 graduates).

Thursday, June 8, 2017

HliAT #23: OmiGOSH HOW Can I DEAL with this THING with the GARage

How long it Actually Takes to...

drive all the extra flights all the way up to the top (ninth) floor of the garage at Hot 8 Yoga Sherman Oaks that you have to drive because of the deal that Hot 8 has with the office building in the office of which this location is set, and then validate at the 9th floor (so they know that you did that -- drove all the way up) and then take the elevator down to Hot 8, which is on the ground floor: 05:35.70

How long it Actually Takes to...

not have to do all that; i.e., just park in like the first available spot (generally on ground or 1st floor) and walk into Hot 8, because it's the evening or the weekend and the weird thing with parking is not in effect: 02:49.65.

So we've got a difference of just under three minutes, here.

Pretty sure this one speaks for itself.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Hong Kong June 2017 #2

Wut wuuuuuut #HongKong.

I'm gonna keep doing this thing senza sorted thematics.

A Haircut!
So I tweeted about this $100 voucher I got, for the "spa" at the Mandarin Oriental. My first thought was: "awesome, I will get a massage!" Turns out that massages at the ol' MOHK start at about 3x the value of my voucher. But I semi-need/want a haircut; the voucher was good for the salon; I got one! The main differences I experienced between this ~$60  men's haircut and the ~$60 men's haircuts I've gotten in America--my data on these are about a decade old; I stopped getting fancy haircuts awhile back--was that, in this haircut, there was no expectation at all that I'd chat with the fellow who was doing the cutting (M.). M., by the way, did a thoughtful and terrific job -- he was the opposite of some fancy/stuffy haircut guy; he was kind of intuitive and precise. Anyway: he absolutely did not expect me to chat, or try to pass the time with chat. WHICH O MY GOSH I APPRECIATED SO MUCH. A big part of why I stopped getting fancy haircuts, in fact, was the craziness of spending a lot of money to sit in a chair and have to do something I am bad at and don't like: make conversation. M. was very friendly the few times I did say a thing, but for the most part he made the whole thing about my hair; he got me a magazine; he moved around the fact that I was catching up on The Economist Espresso on my phone, gently nudging me where necessary.

Anyway, this was worth it -- a good use of time and the gift of the voucher. Now I'm just a tiny bit concerned that, because my haircut took place in the "barber shop" and not the "salon" despite the fact that I called the "salon" I won't be able to apply the voucher but...that is kind of a dumb thing to be concerned about, obvs. Not that that'll stop me.

Leaving the Hotel omigosh All These People
This was great.

At dinner with the senior colleague with whom I am taking this trip, he had mentioned (he's an old hand at the ol' MOHK) that it was very much worth it to check out how "the streets [are] transformed" on Sundays. I thought that he meant they were totally crowded and, y'know, whoa! Like that. He did not. He meant this:

Chater Road


Ice House Street

and, when I went out again later on in the evening, this:


Assuming you don't know wut's going on here (I sure did not), let me first just tell you literally what you're seeing.

What you're seeing is major streets in downtown Hong Kong, full of people in tents and in gerry-rigged kind of cardboard...hangouts; the streets are formally closed off, no traffic's allowed on them. The people are everywhere, and there is food all over: packaged foods and meals and also some music playing in the distance. The people are Filipino, pretty much uniformly, and the atmosphere is relaxed and a little festive. Like a Sunday barbecue, or people hanging out in a park on a nice day.

It turns out, that's exactly what this is.

As it was explained to me later by a couple Hong Kong-ers: an aspect of HK that you, reader, may be know and that if you do not know may not surprise you is that Hong Kong has a large population of people who work in various service capacities (housekeeping, home health-aids, etc.) from the Philippines. Now, apparently, (I don't quite get this, because Hong Kong has a lot of parks; I'm not being salty I'm just saying I don't understand) there is either not enough or not enough accessible communal hangout space for these folks to kick back on Sundays -- which is, as in many places, often a day-off. SO, there is some kind of formalized thing where they take over the streets like this; it's not even that rowdy, they're just hanging out. A white guy walking through them taking some pictures was paid zero mind; totally chill.

So, clearly: I loved this. Thanks to my colleague for encouraging me to check it (I thanked him like, actually, too. Not just on this blog).

Mak's Noodle
Readerfriend, I'll be str8: I'm crushing it this trip with the "go to that place you've been meaning to go to." So, in the afternoon, when I sallied forth and encountered the festive tented streets, I marched m'self to this famous noodlery. I bought these shrimp wonton and noodles for $40HKD.

It was good! And I, personally, appreciated the fact that the bowl was not that big. I don't like having a like bucket of noodles thrown down in front of me.

In fact, though: not only was the bowl not very big. An apparently DIVISIVE fact of Mak's wonton is that they are traditionally sized, which means small. Apparently a "traditional" wonton should be able to fit on a teaspoon? Or something.

Turndown Service
Let's stop talking about food (don't worry: just for, like, three seconds).

I am struck by how quickly I'm adjusting to aspects of the preposterous luxury in which I am swaddled, here at this hotel. My first evening, when a woman showed up at my door to do "turndown service", my instinct was that it was obvious she shouldn't come in: I was in a robe, in the room, working. She--in the least pushy way possible; in a very gracious way--seemed to make an opposite assumption: that "turndown service" was a service offering that happened around the guest, to make the guest's time and space nicer. And I kind of went with that, and it was fine -- the little things that they do for turndown (the thing with the bedcovers; leaving a little gift of candy or some personal grooming product) are nice: they do things with the lights and the shades and generally make the room feel nice and calm and evening-y. It weirded me out a small amount when she kneelingly placed the slippers closer to me, as though to minimize the steps I'd have to take without them. But it was nice; I felt weird the whole time, but it was nice.

Anyway my point is that literally by the second evening, I was looking forward to this. I was like, "hey, where's that turndown service?" and was happy when it came, and much more comfortable, and felt much more like, "how nice. someone is so nicely looking after my room to make it and me ready for evening. how nice."

I'm gonna have more to say about all this luxury stuff, but that'll come (if it comes) at the end of the trip.

Lan Kwai Fong: Finding the Right Part of Wellington Street
So, when I wrote in the first entry how Central was different, and I didn't think I'd find the same scrappy, good stuff (restaurants), I felt a flicker of, "well, you don't know where to look." This is a feeling I'm accustomed to, as a New Yorker -- I remember being in the Met Bar in London where my then-girlfriend was a waitress, and having some kind of marketing/promoter guy explain to me how New York didn't have stuff to do at night ("it's shit -- people talk about New York at night but it's shit") and quickly accelerating past angry to, like, wow, dude, you're a knob.

So I knew I was a bit of a knob, saying that about Central. There are places everywhere. Anyway: fixed it.

So a "famous" "walky area" of Central is this distract of smaller streets called Lan Kwai Fong. I knew about LKF from previous trips: it's a thing. And/but because it's a thing, I had written it off. I'd walked LKF, I'd found a couple of places, but y'know it was not as good as the places in K-town that I liked; I assumed that because it's the kind of place with a hundred things on the Internet "100 Things You MUST Do in Lan Kwai Fong," and because so many of the things I apparently 'must' do are like stand on some rooftop and pay $20 (US) for a f#(king cocktail, I was get it.

So that was wrong, also. I just had to walk it.

Specifically, you just have to keep going northwest up on Wellington Street, past the break where Lyndhurst Terrace jukes off and Wellington gets smaller.

where Wellington picks up...

Don't get me wrong: it's not K-town. It's more touristy, more backpack-y, etc. etc. But it's good: a lot better than what I'd been seeing. It's the kind of place where you can find

Goose Web!
So, a little echo of the thing from my first entry of this trip, where I kept thinking that I was ahead of Hong Kong but really I was behind it. Small one but I think it's basically the same thing. I'd seen "Goose Web" on a few menus; it of course caught my eye. I'd tried to order it once but been turned down ("out!"); in my state of denied-ness, I imagined that "goose web" was like the goose's neck wattle (do geese even have neck wattles? also what is a "neck wattle"? deliberately not linking, here), somewhat awkwardly translated onto the English menus.

Instead of being an awkward translation of this thing that I'm not even sure it exists, "goose web" is a perfectly straightforward translation of, y'know, the "web" part of a goose -- meaning pretty much the feet.
goose web!
Culinarily, this was a little bit less exciting. I like eating the feet of poultry--I like chicken feet, a lot--but I've had them before. The webbed-ness of goose feet just adds some skin and (maybe) fat, it's not super-exciting. But they were tasty and knobbly and deliciously sauced.

The place on good-Wellington that finally set me straight re: the web of the goose is called Wah Fung Roast Meat Restaurant [note: I really like how on OpenRice the "didn't like it" emoji is the yellow face crying; it's like: "how much did you not like this restaurant? wow."). It's a lovely place, where the waiter was totally nice. The goose web there is good, as is the roast duck, which I ordered but won't post a picture of here. wtf is this, a food blog?
mission creep
Also--remember, we're on "good" Wellington now--Wah Fung is a place where you can get roast duck + goose web for $206 HKD, which is by no means cheap but is also not crazy: it's basically two meals worth of protein (or kinda protein-ous gristle, in the case of the goose web) for about $26 USD.

I'm just STOPPING when these entries are done because they don't have a point to reso