25 Ways to Find Love in San Francisco

lalalovela1. Go to a taqueria and buy a burrito for the person behind you in line.

2. Go to The Mint karaoke bar and sing anything by Neil Diamond. Use the musical break in the middle to tell a story. Someone in the back will notice.

3. Take the N Juda and smile at the first person you see who looks interesting. If he smiles back, follow him home. If he doesn’t get scared when you confront him at his front door, ask him if you can come inside.

4. Pay close attention to the sidewalks. If you pass a house that has a handprint pressed into the concrete outside, check under the blue flowerpot.

5. Give the next ten Uber cabs you order five stars and unlock the special weekend chariot. When it shows up sit in the front seat instead of the back and drink the free water.

6. Go to the De Young and stand in front of a painting you just don’t get. After two hours, look harder. After three, blink three times and scratch your head. After four, begin to feel faint. After five, look around to see if anyone else is seeing this. After six, you’ll begin to understand.

7. Go to any local bookstore and write your name and phone number on page 37 of Tales from the City.

8. Next time you pass a discarded pile of clothes on the street, check the pockets.

9. Memorize a poem, any poem. Get drunk at Vesuvio and and stand up on your stool as you recite it to the whole room. Even if you’re too wasted to get the words right, someone will buy you a shot and ask you where you’re from before the night is over.

10. Go to Bourban and Branch and tell them you have a reservation under Neroda. When you get to the back room find Ricardo and ask him to make you a drink that’s bittersweet. Drink it all, wait for the ice to melt, then finish that too.

11. Bring a red bottle to Blue Bottle Coffee and ask them for a drip. If they can figure out a way to make it work, offer them the first sip.

12. Get a red Sharpie pen and draw a heart on the sleeve of your favorite denim shirt. Keep your eye on the first person who notices. She might be the one.

13. Write your three favorite adjectives on the palm of your hand. Share lunch with the first person who fits two out of three. The third will come with time.

14. Don’t bring your lunch to work. You’ll never find it that way.

15. Go out into the fog and remember that it is only a cloud that has touched the ground. If you happen to bump into someone while wandering through the mist, ask them if they’d like to get lost with you.

16. Wear a scarf. Everyone in San Francisco loves a great scarf.

17. Tell a stranger thank you. When they ask what for, tell them everything.

18. Next time you’re in a crowd, close your eyes and listen. There will be a lot going on but if you wait you’ll hear it. Don’t worry, it’s there.

19. Next time you’re at your local bar draw a picture on a coaster and give it to the bartender as a gift. If he puts it on the wall next to the cash register, keep coming back.

20. Walk home and look in every window you pass. Knock on the door of the house with the best art on the wall or, if you’re shy, just stand outside and enjoy.

21. Give up your seat on the train to someone who is young and healthy and standing. It’s nice to be asked and they are more tired than you know.

22. Go to the ocean. As often as you can. Put your feet in the water, no matter how cold. Never, ever wear shoes on the beach. Whatever you do. That’s just wrong.

23. Find someone who doesn’t speak your language and tell them a secret.

24. Stick your tongue out at a small child with her mother. If she sticks her tongue out back, cross your eyes at her. If she crosses her eyes at you back, let her win. Most young children don’t know how to cross their eyes yet.

25. Smile. Sometimes that’s really all it takes.

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The Wonders of Life

“Beauty plus pity—that is the closest we can get to a definition of art. Where there is beauty there is pity for the simple reason that beauty must die; beauty always dies, the manner dies with the matter, the world dies with the individual.” -Vladamir Nabokov

This quote doesn’t have to do with much in my life right now but I think it’s pretty and true and a little bit sad so I included it. The picture is City of Books by Ma Chevrette—a print I got off her etsy the other week. I think it has a lot to do with my life right now. But then, books and art always do. And a city made out of books? Well, that’s just too perfect.

I wonder if she pitied the books when she turned them into buildings. And I wonder if she pitied the buildings after she created them.

But I’m feeling oddly poetic and a little dreamy at the moment so I’m wondering a lot of things.

 

This is a picture of my car with a missing tire:

No tire

Ha, with a missing tire. As opposed to, without a tire. I don’t know why I chose to say it in just that way, but it goes to show that when you lose something you gain something. I may have lost a tire but I gained a missing tire. And a story to tell. An old friend of mine once said, “Isn’t that what life is all about? Having stories to tell?” I’ve always remembered it.

This particular story is simple:

I woke up.

I walked to my car.

It had a missing tire.

It had a missing rim as well.

I put on my spare tire and drove to the shop.

I got two new tires and a rim.

Now I park my car closer to my apartment.

The end.

Ha, it’s a cautionary tale I suppose. Don’t park your car next to shady characters. Wasn’t it just a few posts back when I was talking about how excited I was to find a good place to park my car? I think I may have even used the words shady characters. Ooops. If I was capable of reading my own life the way I read a novel, I might have been smart enough to see that one coming. It’s such obvious foreshadowing.

 

I went to the symphony with my good friends Laurie and Scott. I’ve never been to the symphony before and I’m not the most knowledgeable person when it comes to classical music but it it was wonderful. It makes a big difference when you’re there and experiencing the music live, when you’re surrounded by it, and with other people.

Scott told me how the main violin player, essentially the first violin, of the San Francisco symphony gets to play this violin that the symphony owns that’s over 300 years old. Could you imagine? Playing something with such a history? And having something that was built in such a real and lasting way that it survives 300 years of existence? And not just any existence, actual use? That kind of stuff just blows my mind.

I have to say, going to the symphony for the first time felt like how I imagine some people must feel going to a baseball game for the first time. (There is so much history there–in the building, with each player, instrument, composer, each sound and note, and even the owners and operators. It’s just like baseball…only it’s so much older.) So yes, I loved it.

 

I’ve been running more lately and, even though I try to look up and take in my surroundings, I tend to run with my head down. (I’ve always done this–spaced out and looked at my own feet when I’m running or walking. I feel like half of my day is spent reminding myself to look around me instead of just watching where I’m going.) But it was during one of my city runs, with my head down, looking at my own feet, that I started to notice all the messages people had drawn into the sidewalks.

There are a ton of messages and art and hands and pictures and just random stuff drawn into the concrete on the sidewalks of San Francisco. The first thing that really made me take notice was the scene above. The Wonders of Life. I mean, come on, how can anyone with even an ounce of romance in their soul not find that completely delightful? They even drew a sun, and stars, and flowers. Clouds and birds. Very nicely done.

So yes, I started a tumblr: http://somethingconcrete.tumblr.com/. Thanks to one of the many wonders of life, new technology, if I happen to find a fun message or picture drawn into the concrete I can snap a picture and post it right away.

 

I’ve been watching the Ken Burn’s documentary on jazz. In addition to listening to Louis Armstrong and The Hot Five all weekend, I’ve been obsessing over this quote from Sidney Bichet:

Whatever kind of thing it was, whenever it happened, the music put it together…What it is that takes you out of being just a kid and thinking it’s all adventure, and you find there’s a lesson underneath all that adventure–that lesson, it’s the music. You come into life alone and you go out of it alone, and you’re going to be alone a lot of time when you’re on this earth–and what tells it all, it’s the music. You tell it to the music and the music tells it to you. And then you know about it. You know what it was happened to you.

There’s so much that’s beautiful and perfect in that.

One of the men in the documentary was talking about Louis Armstrong and described genius as the ability to hear something that isn’t there, something that doesn’t exist, something that nobody else can hear. Louis Armstrong heard a sound that didn’t exist, and then he made that sound. It’s incredible when you really think about it. Reminds of how Galileo saw stars nobody else could but it’s more than that. It’s not just seeing stars nobody else can see. It’s creating those stars. It’s constructing realities. Whole new sounds and ways of hearing. It’s changing the world. It’s the stuff you talk about when you’re young and up late at night, drunk and a little crazy with ideas and learning and loving and making mistakes. It’s genius.

My brother once told me that music is freedom. I’m sure he wasn’t the first one to say it, but it was the first time I listened. I’ve always remembered that too.

 

Despite the fact that he looks sweet and innocent while napping in the sun, Rupert is now a full-blown killer. He kills birds and mice and tortures them. And he gets very upset when I won’t let him into the house with his new toys. One night last week he stood outside my back door meowing this creepy meOOOOooowwphfff, that was really him trying to meow with a huge mouse in his mouth. That was actually kind of cute. You know, in that meowing with a huge dead mouse in your mouth sort of way.

He is averaging one kill a week.

Earlier this week I got home and a bloody wing was sitting on my back porch in front of the door. I don’t want to know what that’s foreshadowing. Sometimes these silly things happen and it seems like such an obvious symbol that it’s hard to remember that in the real world a bloody wing doesn’t mean anything other than my cat killed a bird.

I’m totally using that in a story some day though. And then it will be symbolic of broken dreams or, I dunno, destroyed innocence or something like that.

 

I went to SFMOMA again, not this weekend but the last, and there’s a new installment by Klara Kristalova that I really liked. She works with ceramics and her pieces play on different fairy tale and folktale traditions. Some are more whimsical while others are more creepy.  I really like her style though. It’s childlike and rough and that’s exactly why it works. Here’s a sample:

Kind of different for me, but I like it. The pictures don’t do her justice, so if you’re in SF and get a chance you should check it out.

 

My friend Victoria had her first Banned by the Bay event for Banned Book Week today. It was a great kickoff at the San Francisco library and I’m stoked for the rest of the week.

So there’s more fun to come. More adventures to be had. (And under the adventures, lessons to learn.) Ha, all the wonders of life–300 year-old violins, a bloodied bird’s wing, ceramic owl heads, and a city of books.

There are so many beautiful things to pity these days.

(heartfelt sigh goes here)

Stuff that has happened and stuff I have seen

My cat killed a bird last week. He has never done this before and yet he dragged a headless sparrow into my apartment.  (I am calling it a sparrow because it looks like what I imagine a sparrow looks like but really I have no idea what it was, or if sparrows even live in San Francisco–perhaps it was the only sparrow here, perhaps it was the last sparrow of San Francisco and now my cat has killed it.) It was early in the morning (around 2:00) so I just let him in and he played with his sparrow in the dark–tossing it up, throwing it down, ripping it up–for a good ten minutes before I finally realized that he was romping with his catnip mouse with just a tad more enthusiasm than was usual. I had to scoop the poor bird up and throw it away.

And then, two days later I went to the Picasso exhibit at the De Young and there was a painting of a cat with a bird. This painting:


And it looked so much like my cat, and it seemed so odd and fated and connected somehow that there should be this painting of my cat at this exhibit (and all in the same week) that I had to buy the ridiculous print. It’s hanging above my head now. I kind of love it.

“Maybe he was Picasso’s cat in a past life,” my friend Stephanie, who was with me at the time said.

I always have called Rupert the Hemingway of cats (from an old conversation Victoria and I had about him) so it would not surprise me at all if he had hung out with Picasso. A cat’s life is A Moveable Feast afterall. And everyone hung out in those days. I know because I saw them all together in the movie A Midnight in Paris, that was playing at the Kubuki Theater last weekend. And then they were also all in The Stein’s Collect exhibit that’s at the SFMOMA. (That’s not to be confused with the Picasso exhibit I saw at the De Young or the Five Stories exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum.)

I like when all the museums in San Francisco get together. It’s like the whole city is having one big conversation about art.

(I say this like it has happened to me before, like I know all about this connection between museums, but really this is the first time I’ve noticed this supposed connection since it’s only the second month I’ve lived here.)

The man who works at the corner store across the street from me (the corner store across the street, I think I like that) asked me what I do for a living tonight. I told him and then he asked me, “What is marketing?”

I didn’t know how to answer so I laughed instead. The man had just sold me a sandwich I didn’t want or need. (I’m eating it now and it’s delightful.) When I couldn’t explain my position he asked me where I worked.  After I told him in the financial district he said, “Did you know that I have two sons?”

I didn’t know the answer to that either so I laughed again.

This is a common pattern with me–unknowingness and laughter.

There is another, completely different man on my way to work. He works in the hotel that’s connected to the building I work in, but on the other side of it. I noticed him waving at me when I walked by the glass door he works behind. I’m usually kind of out of it in the morning, lost in my own thoughts and walking and daydreaming, listening to music. But I looked up and caught his eye once and he waved at me. At first I didn’t really think he meant to but then the next day I checked and he did it again so I waved back. I started checking every day and he waved at me every day and so I waved back every day. Then I started looking forward to waving back. At first I thought I was special, like I was the only one he waved at, but then I noticed… Other people were waving at him too!

There are a lot of us. I knew for sure what was going on when there was this old woman who stopped in front of his door and waited for a good oh, minute or so (he must have been talking to someone) for him to look over and wave. The sidewalks are busy in the mornings, especially at this spot, but she stopped and she waved and she got her wave back. After that, I started noticing all the others. You can tell who knows about the man because they pause a little bit before approaching his door. And, I have to admit, he’s a great waver. He doesn’t just wave. He smiles. He smiles big and he waves like a little kid–full of enthusiasm. Like a little kid in the back of his parents’ car on a really long boring roadtrip. Huh, and maybe it is in a way.

But it’s just about the best, most beautiful thing ever, his wave. Anyone who knows me at all knows that it’s things like this that get to me. It’s like being in on a secret. It’s such a small silly thing but it makes me smile. And when I think of how many people he must wave at, how many people that must be in on the secret too, it’s like joining some kind of amazing waving club. It makes me giggle to myself every time. It makes me smile like a little kid too.

There is an old woman I met on the J the other night. She wanted to know where I had gotten my New Yorker. “I’ve looked all over the city for one,” she said, “and I can’t find one anywhere.”

I found this hard to believe but couldn’t be sure if she was exaggerating or not since I have a subscription. Still, she told me about how she had just moved here from Florida to be close to her daughter–she had been living with this daughter and her husband but it was “time for her to get her own place.” I told her I had been living with my brother and part of the reason I moved here was that it was time for me to get my own place too.

“Family shouldn’t live together for too long,” she said.

Which I thought was hilarious because isn’t that part of what a family is? People who live together? Not for long apparently.

I met a cab driver who hates traffic. “Funny thing, a cab driver who hates traffic, ” he said, “but I HATE it.”  Seemed kind of expected to me.

I got this print at the SFMOMA exhibit:

It’s by Marie Laurencin and shows her, Picasso, his mistress, and a poet named Apollinaire who was Marie’s lover. How scandalous it all seems and yet how dignified they all look. (Except maybe the girl in the bottom right corner, who is Laurencin the artist.) Something about it makes me happy. Maybe it’s just the story. Or maybe it’s the dog. I like thinking of artists all hanging out and loving and making mistakes with each other. I know it’s me romanticizing again but ha, isn’t what I’ve been doing this entire post? Isn’t that what I always do?

I’ve been reading a beautiful book. Here is a quote:

Because Momik has this gift, a gift for all kinds of languages no one understands, he can even understand the silent kind that people who say maybe three words in their whole life talk, like Ginzburg who says, Who am I who am I, and Momik understands that he’s lost his memory and that now he’s looking for who he is everywhere even in the garbage cans, and Momik has decided to suggest (they’ve been spending a lot of time together on the bench lately) that he should send a letter to the radio program Greetings from New Immigrants, and maybe someone would recognize him and remind him who he is and where he got lost, oh yes, Momik can translate just about anything. He is the translator of the royal realm. He can even translate nothing into something.

All of the kids in Noe Valley dress like princesses and superheros. If you go out on a Sunday, or even a weekday or a Saturday (but always on Sundays), you will see them skipping around the streets or tugging on their parent’s hands–Little princesses in Disney costumes somewhat at odds with their bicycle helmets. Boys wearing spiderman pajamas and crocks. It’s like stepping into another world where everyone is magic and has lots of money.

I’ve been listening to new songs recommended by an old friend. They make me happy and sad at the same time. But then, most everything worth loving usually does. Except for maybe dogs, potatoes, and ice cream. They’re always perfect.

I found a dive bar by my house where the bartender dances, they play Johnny Cash and Bonnie Rait, and the other night when I was walking by on the way back from the grocery store everyone was singing take me out to the ball game during the 7th inning stretch of the Giants game.

That. Is. So. Cool.

I was talking on the phone today, and I wanted to finish my conversation so I sat down on some steps before getting on the MUNI on Montgomery. A man saw me sitting there in my dress on the phone, I might have looked worried though I’m not sure why, and he came up and asked if I was okay.

I told him I was great but it was nice of him to stop and check.

I like it here.

What I’m reading… And thinking about and looking at…

Who Would Dare
by Roberto Bolaño
from The New York Review of Books

“After that, after I stole that book and read it, I went from being a prudent reader to being a voracious reader and from being a book thief to being a book hijacker. ”

“What I remember best about my visits to those bookstores are the eyes of the booksellers, which sometimes looked like the eyes of a hanged man and sometimes were veiled by a kind of film of sleep, which I now know was something else. I don’t remember ever seeing lonelier bookstores.”

“What book would you give to a condemned man? he asked me. I don’t know, I said. I don’t know either, said the bookseller, and I think it’s terrible. What books do desperate men read? What books do they like? How do you imagine the reading room of a condemned man? he asked. I have no idea, I said. You’re young, I’m not surprised, he said.”

I’ve read Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives and the collection The Last Evenings on Earth but it’s been a while since I’ve picked up something of his. This short essay on books and thievery and the dim light of Mexico City nights made me remember why I love him so much. His writing is so simple and yet so poetic at the same time. It has a beauty to it that doesn’t seem forced or flowery but real. I always imagine if I ran into Bolaño on the streets that he would talk just like he writes–which probably isn’t true but maybe that’s the thing about good writers, they write so convincingly that you don’t care if it’s true or not. That truth doesn’t really matter anymore.

Anyway, something about Bolaño gets to me. I dunno, his words and his stories, his short descriptions and how he floods his writing with lists of the authors and poets that he’s devoured over the years–like they’re all a part of his history and his country’s history and all of our histories. It’s powerful stuff.

Postcards to My Peeps
by Carolyn Sewell’s
A fun flickr of postcards she created for her friends. Here are some favorites:

The Imperfectionists
by Tom Rachman

But I assure you of this: news will survive, and quality coverage will always earn a premium. Whatever you want to call it–news, text, content–someone has to report it, someone has to write it, someone has to edit it. And I intend for us to do it better, no matter the medium.

I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while now but was able to hold out for the paperback edition to come out. I must say, I’m glad I waited.

The book is a collection of stories about a world newspaper that’s based in Rome. Each story focuses on one member of the staff and then there is a series of short one to two page explanations in between each story about how the paper got started.

There are some stories that are really great. The first two are my favorites–one on the Paris correspondent and one on the obituary writer. The inside look at the newspaper business is fun to read about and I like the setting of a busy office and the details of copyboys and staff politics and the way business decisions affect what we report on. I like the commentary (like the passage above) on where newspapers are headed. But…

For me, nothing is very exceptional about this collection. Overall, the writing just isn’t as strong as I wanted it to be and certain paragraphs and sections of dialog sound almost immature–like something from a cheap paperback.

Unchanged: this is how she thinks of herself. Fresh as ever at forty-three, legs long and strong under the business slacks, tight midriff under tight waistcoat, lustrous chestnut hair with only a couple of strands gray. She takes unearned pride in her looks.

Really? Uck… I hate these types of paragraphs–where an author feels like he needs to give you a quick summary of a character before he dives into the main story  so he does it through clichéd descriptions of the character’s physical attributes. Sure, these descriptions have their place–in the first page of a romance or a male adventure novel for example–but to find such a passage in a book that I felt should have held itself to higher standards was disappointing.

I dunno, maybe I’m becoming more of a snob. I just felt like it was a good idea, and there was good content, but the execution could have been stronger and the book as a whole could have been a much stronger, more enjoyable, even powerful read if the prose were more… what’s the word?… mature? strong? better? Yes, that’s it more better. Ha.

But the collection is still worth reading and I’m not going to abandon it. I wouldn’t recommend it but it’s nice to have something light to get into (but not get into too much) before bed.

The Very Nervous Family
by Sabrina Orah Mark

She doesn’t like that phrase. Dead bolt. It reminds her of getting shot before you even have a chance to run.

Mrs. Horowitz gathers her very nervous son up in her arms, and gently explains that families who ice skate become the ice they slip on. The cracks they fall through. The frost that bites them.

I love this poem. There are some beautiful phrases but there’s also this great contradictory tone. Everything being said seems somewhat absurd–Afterall, they are a very nervous family. So things are exaggerated. Milk is not spilled in their house, or even dropped, it is killed.

All they ask is that they not starve, and now their only son is killing milk.

It’s such a ludicrous thing to say. And the parents come across as silly for thinking in such extreme terms. And yet, there’s something very real and disturbing about their fear that speaks to a reality that may not be in the poem itself, but lies just outside of it.

And oh, how I love that. I love it when poems do that.

The New York Trilogy
by Paul Auster

Stories happen only to those who are able to tell them, someone once said. In the same way, perhaps experiences present themselves only to those who are able to have them. This is a difficult point, and I can’t be sure of any of it.

What he did not know is that were he to find the patience to read the book in the spirit in which it asks to be read, his entire life would begin to change, and little by little he would come to a full understanding of his situation… But lost chances are as much a part of life as chances taken, and a story cannot dwell on what might have been.

To be inside that music, to be drawn into the circle of its repetitions: perhaps that is a place where one could finally disappear.

Oh man, I loooooved this book. I could easily have written out every passage in here and relived the entire thing again.

You may have noticed that I like to quote things. I keep a reading journal of my favorite passages from the books I read. I find it helps me remember what I’ve read but it, I dunno, helps me internalize things more too.

Either way, sometimes this habit of mine makes me think of Holden’s lament in Catcher in the Rye and how he never understood why people read books and highlighted certain passages and not others. Didn’t the author write it all down for a reason? Isn’t it all important and not just some of it?

My favorite books make me feel this way. I used to write in my books (I stopped because it annoyed the people I lent them too) and just about every single line in my copy of The Waves is underlined or starred or has brackets around it…because it’s all so good. It’s all amazing.

And The New York Trilogy made me feel this way. Though it isn’t my new favorite book, it is my favorite book I’ve read recently. Auster is just so, so very good. And every line, every word, is so packed with meaning and it’s all put together so perfectly. (Hmmm, maybe I shouldn’t have been so hard on Rachman up above since he’s what I read after finishing the Trilogy–a hard act for anyone to follow.)

But yes, I am completely devoted to Paul Auster now.

Stories: All-New Tales
edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio

And in talking, we realized that we had something in common: That all we cared about, really, were the stories. What we missed, what we wanted to read, were stories that made us care, stories that forced us to turn the page. And yes, we wanted good writing (why be satisfied with less?). But we wanted more than that. We wanted to read stories that used a lightning flash of magic as a way of showing us something we have already seen a thousand times as if we have never seen it before. Truly, we wanted it all.

I picked up this collection a while ago and have just started breaking into it. And, okay, can I just say this?…

So. Much. Fun.

In fact, these stories are so much fun I think I’ll get back to them now.

Hopefully, I’ll have more to say later. It’s been a rainy week here in Santa Cruz. The power went out one night, and though I didn’t read by candlelight (which would have been much more romantic) curling up in bed with my headlamp, a glass of wine, a scared dog, and an overly-cuddly cat was just as much fun.

Rain is good for reading. So are lazy Saturday afternoons. I almost hope it doesn’t let up.

Ha, almost…

Well, that and the monsters…

The first time Bethany escaped through a piece of art she didn’t know what she was doing, let alone where she was going. Everyone knows that art has the ability to take you to another place, but very few people know that this is literal. The truth is that art is one of the world’s earliest forms of transportation. In some cultures you even have to buy passes like you do for the bus. Sometimes there is a fare like the one you pay for a taxi. Other times you have to barter. (I know of at least three people who’ve traded the shoes on their feet to walk through a Van Gogh.) We’re lucky because in our world art-transportation is free. That’s why they keep it a secret.

Well, that and the monsters.

And what was this weight?

In a world where we can become so accustomed to the over-sized, to the pretension of the monumental, here was this thing, this tiny object that I could hold in my hand, smaller than a paperback, but carrying more weight than anything I’d seen in I-don’t-know-how-long. And what was this weight? Whatever it was, it seemed to flow through those halls like lava: dense and slow, but hotter than you can imagine. And it filled those spaces with a power to preserve the old as new, and leave the new cowering in shame and in awe.

Beautiful thoughts on beautiful things from the Atlantic article Cloisters: A Good Place to Start by Andrew Baker.