Tag Archives: city living

Glenn’s Plan to Shake Things Up…

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I came into the coffee shop to write, walking past a homeless black man holding a sign asking for change. I didn’t make eye contact; I read the sign surreptitiously. A few minutes after I walked by, Glenn came in. A large middle aged black man, he was loud and happy. He greeted the baristas by name. He mentioned his friend Reggie sitting outside with the sign.

“I’m sorry for being so boisterous this morning,” he smiled broadly to me.

“Not at all, I love it!” I said.

We began a conversation. He was a man who didn’t believe in negativity.

“You do look like you pumped yourself up before coming out this morning,” I said.

“You know it,” he chuckled.

“Do you really know him? Reggie?” I asked.

“I try to talk to every black man I see on the street,” he said, “find out what their story is, what they’re doing. Because they can’t stay on the street.”

“They can’t,” I repeated back.

“No. The street’s not a place to be. ‘Cause the cops are going to come. You think they’re going to say, ‘You want some coffee and a donut?’ They’re not. They got a job to do. My uncle was a cop. They got to do their job.”

“Do you give them resources, tell them where to go?”

“The black muslim temple’ll take him in anytime any day. But you can’t be on the street.”

He talked about race. I listened. I opened my mouth to confirm one of his viewpoints once. His head tipped and the polite look he gave me was chastening. It wasn’t mine to affirm. It was my turn to listen.

He talked about Colin Kaepernick and his comments about the flag.

“I’m gonna have Colin come out and talk to Reggie,” he said, “right here on Post and VanNess. ‘Cause this is who he’s talking about. And maybe he doesn’t know. There’s BlackLivesMatter, the new black panthers, and this guy you may have heard about, Barack Hussein Obama. I mean Barack Hussein Obama! You know where he is, right? He’s not a senator. He’s in the white house.”

He shook his head, “You gotta love this country. How is the black man supposed to accomplish anything in America if they hate America? We need to love America like Barack and Michelle. We gotta have their mindset.”

We talked about generational messages of negativity and oppression.

“How do you break chains of generational messaging like that?” he asked, quizzing me.

“Little by little, one generation at a time?” I asked.

He chuckled, “I’m afraid it’s gonna take something a little more drastic than that. Let me tell you. You want to hear my plan to shake things up?”

“Yes.”

He leaned in and locked eyes. I had no idea what I would hear.

After a long pause he said, “We abolish the NBA.”

“The NBA?”

“The NBA.”

He continued, “We take all these fine African American men and put them in college and see what they can do.”

“By taking away options?” I said.

“Options?! There’s Google right here. The world doesn’t need another LeBron! We need a black Mark Zuckerberg!”

He called himself a social engineer. I found out he was a writer, self-published author, and Christian. I told him about my kids. He told me I needed to self-publish my book.

It wasn’t a long conversation. In the time I could’ve read an article and share it on Facebook, Glenn and I did the work of two strangers reading each other. In the time it would’ve taken me to click through a link and read Colin K’s comments, we shared a conversation.

Land’s End Landscape…

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I have been coming to Land’s End Trail of mornings. I sit on a bench in the chill and mist and watch the grey ocean spread beneath me like the dull side of a piece of aluminum foil crumpled and pressed smooth. It rolls out to the wide Pacific on my left, and on my right under the bridge and between the fingertips of reclining landmasses. My nose threatens to run and my shoe grinds a bit of sandy dirt as I settle.

The fog is thick and heavy just above the water, a single stanchion of the Golden Gate Bridge visible as if I am under Lady San Francisco’s skirts catching a glimpse of a sacred ankle. The shoulders of Marin are a curve more sensual today, the tops and less modest tips hugged by the lacy undergarment of fog.

Two lights, one standing on the last rock before the ocean, the other midway between that and the bridge blink on and off slowly, conserving energy for their eternal task. A fog horn sounds from somewhere, its own little joke, since visibility is perfect on the water. Small dots of light scratch white lines into the grey past the point. If the law would have these craft leave their lights on until an hour or two past sunrise it would be hard to know by the filtered light exactly when that was. A single fishing boat is in front of me, a red light at the top of its mast, deciding to rest inside the arms of the bay, comfortable to sit here with me.

To my right I can see where the ocean is making the shore, the never-ending group project of seven seas. Black rocks and blurs of darker textures spill across the sand here and there as it curves to meet the red bridge. The bridge swallows it all into its width or expectorates it, possibly the initial seed of fruit from which the earth springs forth. The road to the top is a perfect Bob Ross zig of paint scraped between the darker green of Presidio trees and descending speckle of beach shrubs. The road looks from this angle to curve straight down to the bridge, but I know it disappears over the hill, taking a turn and under a damp stone underpass before drawing its line of red light to join the others who for some reason are leaving the city at this hour.

Behind me to my left the grit trail runs straight disappearing abruptly into the cypress forests, standing on long stems, all looking like they have been treacherously betrayed by their hair product and a sudden gust of wind. Small dark birds bounce or zip, its hard to tell, across the path. And I can hear the incessant hiccough of a sprinkler on the golf course. I cannot tell if the smell of humidity is coming from there or from above. Occasional strings of birds indistinguishable from each other at this height fly low across the water until they complete a picture of a zipper with their reflection, unzipping and zipping as they ever alter altitude. The much larger pelicans fly closer so that I can make out colors and single indignant feathers.

I dab at my nose and shift my weight on the wooden bench to the other buttock. I wonder how long I’ve been sitting here. It’s grown warmer maybe; but I’ve gotten colder as my blood has cooled down from walking.

The lights are going out on the cars driving over the hill. My fishing boat has turned off its red light and is pulling out into open water. Lady San francisco has hiked up her skirts past her knees, and the view is a bowl in front of me, so much, with rivulets spilling out to the west and east and into my lap.

Dominic…

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I was having an unprecedented moment alone in a cafe. I had a book open and a cappuccino by my right hand. A special needs man walked in. I’ll call him a boy for the purposes of this post because I never caught his name, but he was early to mid twenties, white, in a sweater a mother might select, with hair parted on the side like a young boy’s. His care giver, I assumed she was, was a petite middle-aged hispanic woman, almost two heads shorter, her hands folded in front of her at the wrists, a black purse hanging from a forearm. They talked over the breakfast menu like conspiring thieves. She didn’t feel the necessity of eye contact but whispered back over her shoulder. The young man was excited and loud. His voice echoed through the whole cafe, “Think there’ll be berries on mine, Denise? Think there’ll be berries?”

She moved this way to see the menu and he followed by a step to maintain distance. They ordered. Setting her purse on a chair she told him she’d be right back and headed to the restroom. He sat, his leg bouncing, glancing at the bathroom, setting and resetting the silverware. A server came over, a big hispanic man, tattooed to his neck, and looking every inch like an ex-con (because this suburban white girl has been told what ex-cons look like).

“Hey, man,” the server said followed by some subdued conversation.

“Hi, Dominic,” the kid gave him a high-five, loudly again, “Hi, Dominic. Where’s Denise? Where did Denise go, Dominic?” hand now bouncing off his leg which was bouncing off the floor.

“She’s just in the bathroom, man. No worries. Here she is.”

“Denise! It’s Dominic. It’s Dominic, Denise!”

Denise smiled and offered her hand primly. Dominic shook it, placing his other hand on her shoulder as if to stabilize her against the enthusiasm of his shake. And he returned to work.

I heard the young man telling Denise how the guys had made him his own custom smoothie. “My own smoothie, Denise!” How they had promised he would get Nutella and raspberries on his crepe. “Nutella AND berries, Denise!” They must come here all the time, I thought. I looked around at these fine people who took such care of this young man.

Everyone who worked at this cafe was apparently a relative of Dominic’s, face or knuckle tattoos not a preclusion from employment, biceps-the-size-of-my-torso a must. All of them were beaming over register and hot food line at this kid.

Their food arrived shortly after.

“Try this, Denise, You’ve got to try this!” Denise ate bites off of his fork and made faces of approbation, content to let his volume speak for both of them. Dominic came to check on their breakfast.

“It is so good, Dominic! Look, they gave me Nutella and raspberries, Dominic!”

Dominic came back at the end to take their plates. I watched Denise insist on her young man getting a picture with Dominic. Her only moment of command, “Stand there.” The boy posed proudly, Dominic smiled, chest out, chin up, with an arm around him.

They left and about ten minutes later. I was done and putting my book away in my purse.

“Are you done with this?” a voice.

I looked up and smiled. “Thank you, Dominic,” I said.

He was surprised I knew his name. I thought how wonderful it would be to be known by name for something kind. I motioned by way of explanation to the empty table where Denise and the boy had sat a moment before and smiled my gratitude for the scene.
He laughed when he got it.

“Do they come in all the time?” I asked as Dominic took my tiny espresso cup in his giant hands.

He looked surprised again. “Oh, no, that was the first time. I’ve never seen them before.”

The Multitasking Poop Post (Contains Expletives)…

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I just had the poop sucked back into me. I’ve been having trouble with my bowels and have also been sick for a few days. I was looking forward to a satisfying poop. And I’m sitting there on the potty and my two-and-a-half-year-old is climbing into the tub and my five year old girl is in the room getting naked on top of my feet and my seven year old has a book open in the doorway trying to get me to commit to the type of tree that is growing in his pot (breaking news: it’s a weed, not the peach pit or the plum pit or the apple seed you planted in the backyard. “But MOM, I’m pretty sure it’s a peach tree.” “It’s not a peach tree. I’ve seen lots of peach trees. We used to have four peach trees. They have long thin leaves that can be slightly fuzzy.” “This one HAS fuzzy leaves, Mom!”) And I had to tell my daughter to please go take her collection of clothes off of my feet and into the room where they go and her brother beaned her for fun on her way through the door and she yells at him and the oldest is shoving the book in my face and the water is roaring into the bathtub next to me and my long slow comfortable poop climbed back inside my rectum and said, “Well, then, I think we’ll just stay in here.” Yes. Yes, Poop. I would, too. I would go hide in that quiet dark place, too, if I could.

I’m writing this post about multitasking. I began about two hours ago and have had to stop for innumerable reasons: unloading the dishwasher so I can load the dishwasher, washing the banana off the kid-scissors. finding the banana from this morning in the colored pencils, cleaning poop out of the bathtub, assuring my eldest that I have cleaned the baby’s poop out of the bathtub, singing Aladdin Jr. songs to the baby for twenty minutes in hopes he squeezes the rest of the poop into the potty, wading through two giant north american classification tomes trying to prove this damn weed, picking up all the baby wipes that were thrown at sister, crying for a minute with sister (she had her reasons I had mine). I mean…

I hate the way my brain is on Facebook. I tell my kids that you are good at what you practice and I practice the Facebook bounce, boy, do I. Political essay, kitten video, necessary social justice article, pictures of Kate and William and the babies, the latest Jimmy Fallon video, don’t vote for so-and-so article, photo of a sunset, vaccinate your kids, totally meaningless sentimental meme, blah, blah, blah… an hour later, AN HOUR LATER!?!?

They used to say multitasking was a good thing. Those were supposed to be the capable talented people. But now we’re learning that human beings aren’t supposed to multitask. Human beings are supposed to concentrate on one damn thing at a time, like pooping. We’re supposed to sit on the toilet and poop in one giant unified movement of bowels and brain. I have never been a multitasker, most creative people aren’t. Multitasking is very very bad for creative people. You need to sit with a thought or an idea. You need to let ideas tumble on top of each other organically. It get’s crazy busy up there.

Only now I’m a mom so now when my brain begins a blog post, for example, and I’m thinking about what I want to write I have to stop because some weed grew exactly where my son remembers planting a pit or a seed last fall and it is now in a pot on my kitchen window sill.

Motherhood makes you a multitasker by necessity. And now that I have three and they are each older with unique trains of thought on different rails (and this includes the little guy now, too. He’s verbose dammit.) my train keep jumping tracks a zillion times and, well, my life is a giant Facebook bounce all fucking day long and that’s why a stupid hour can go by without me realizing I’ve only been scrolling Facebook because this is what I practice!

So, I’ve been having trouble with my bowels, like I’ve said. Last week I actually went to the doctor. And then within two minutes of telling her my symptoms she pops out with, “Well, we’ll do the medical tests just to make sure we can rule things out, but did you know they call the intestines the second brain?” No. Who? Who is calling the intestines the second brain? I’ve watched every single season of ER, House, and Grey’s Anatomy and no one has ever referred to the intestines as the second brain. At any rate, she then says, “You’re stressed.”

“I’m stressed?”

“What do you do to relax?”

“Well, I’m a creative type, so it really depends. If I have hours or a day, even, I—“

(I just had to go take a break to change a poopy diaper because I put the baby in a diaper at bedtime. He was so coy.)

As I was saying, “I’m a creative type so if I have hours or days I might try to write or paint but if I have less than that it can actually be more frustrating than ever starting in the first place.”

“So, what do you do if you have less than an hour?”

I kinda laugh, “Uh, well, the same thing as anybody, I guess, have a drink, eat some cookie dough and watch a show.”

That’s when she made me take the depression test. It was this basic ten question test that any mother would fail, I mean, am I tired? Do I overeat or not eat? (YES.) Do I ever feel guilty? (Uh…)

And she brought in a very nice therapist for me to talk to and THEN they heard more about my life and THEN they agreed that it was indeed stress. I felt horrible. How can I claim stress? I’m really happy with my job, my kids’ school. I get to do this awesome school play. My husband is actually very helpful. Everyone’s in good health. I don’t overcommit; I have no problem saying “no”. My kids have zero activities outside of school. What a luxury for this white American mom with a full fridge to have nervous bowels because of stress?!

But maybe, they said, stress doesn’t have to be big or hard or negative things, just lots of things. Well, I have lots of things. Yes, they said, you have lots of things.

And my wise boss lady, when I told her about it later said, “You’re thinking about the stressors you don’t have because you live in this culture, but don’t forget that this culture does come with a lot of stressors of its own. A person in Kenya has a sky full of stars and not a lot of options. You have a few stars and are inundated by a surplus of options every where you go.”

(And now, would you believe that the moment the kids go to bed I need to poop again. It was a nice comfortable poop. I lit a candle, for ambience!, and now I am typing by candlelight.)

A multitude of options has always been stressful to me. (Remind me to tell you the story of how I broke down weeping all over my stoic Japanese advisor during freshman registration. “There’s[heave]too many[heave]classes[heave]that I want[heave]to take.” It’s a good one.)

I love my job. I love my kids. I love a lot of things. I have a lot of interests. And the feeling like I need to be creating goes with me everywhere. I KNOW I am grateful. I guess I am stressed. And according to ten questions I am also “moderately depressed”. I also have a higher blood pressure than I usually have. And I am also the thinnest I’ve ever been which is slightly alarming considering all that cookie dough.

Anyway, reader, here I am, trying to figure it out. Trying to un-Facebook-bounce my very bouncy life. (Which is a little like being the one person of five who stops jumping on a trampoline, don’t you think?)

Ibtissam…

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Her name means smile.  And boy does she have a good one! I met her once before, months ago, on the playground around the corner and we stumbled along in French. I’ve since tried to ring her door bell a few times but we haven’t managed to find each other.  Until two weeks ago.

She was at the park by the kids’ school. I recognized her underneath her hijab and we began at once just where we left off. By the sometimes miracle of six months, our babies were actually old enough to play without our ever-intervention.  So we chatted along in French in the sunshine, with the line of Presidio trees rising along our shoulders to the left, the city blinking bright below us on the right.

I noticed a woman watching us and edging closer.  I turned to her and smiled.  She stepped over.  Our French had reached her ears and she came to sit by us.  As it would turn out she just moved from Paris six months ago. She introduced us to her darling baby and confessed to knowing no one, a couple French families, she said, but no Americans. We exchanged numbers and promised to have coffee.

I was going to walk back and invited Ibtissam to walk with me.  She went one step further and invited us into her apartment for a full Moroccan tea.

Like any hostess she apologized for the mess and hastily moved toys aside. Her two daughters played with my three kids. And we talked happily while she set out cookies in beautiful little crystal dishes.  She showed me how to scoop the mint and tea into a pot, how to steep it and how much sugar to add.  We had a feast of peanuts and pistachios, beautiful butter cookies dipped in chocolate, and little gold rimmed glasses of sweet hot Moroccan mint tea. When those were finished off (by many little fingers besides our own) she got out two beautiful flat disks of homemade bread and olives in oil for dipping.

We ate and talked well into the dinner hour and as it was getting dim we tore ourselves away. We had talked about the similarities between Lent and Ramadan. We had shared about our faiths. We had talked about the loneliness of motherhood. And we had shared what makes us ourselves outside of these domestic spheres. “This,” she said, spreading her hands, “Sitting like this with friends. This is what I love.”

I am thankful for the gift of language that has enabled me to get to know one of these beautiful mothers. And I am thankful for this experience that has forever changed how I see the women underneath the hijab.