april, 2005

Wed Apr 6 13:42:21 PDT 2005

Urban Woman (Swatch) My old watch -- the one I almost left in Security on the way back from Paris -- having now been through the washer one too many times, has, despite Swatch's promise of water-proofness, finally kicked it. The bottom of the plastic broken off; the band (my second, the replacement having been gained auf Hochdeutsch in Zürich) came loose, and I poked at the pin while answering questions during my second round of Google interviews on Monday. Friday, CalTraining back from Mountain View through the city, I got off the MUNI at Powell at found my way to the small Swatch boutique, where I presented them with my battered, beloved old watch, and hoped they would have an identical replacement. No such luck; they've discontinued it. But the new one is subtly different: its hands are not solid silver but have glow-in-the-dark centers; its blue band looks incongruous on my wrist, usually next to an orange sleeve, yet somehow more sophisticated.

And now, next to my sleek iBook as I type in Gina's green-polka-dotted sunporch whose owner is curled up on the end of her bed, partaking in a pleasure afforded only those too young to enjoy it, students, and the unemployed -- afternoon-catnapping on a weekday -- my new watch ticks loudly.

I never used to like this about this watch, or this brand: this ticking. I would take it off my wrists at concerts, muffle the inadvertent metronome in my pocket. Over these two years, though, the noise has diminished, or I've noticed it less. But hearing it again here, now -- in spring; in California -- carries metaphorical weight.

I haven't noticed here the progression of winter to spring. No tiny shoots poke their heads from beneath a layer of liquid mud as they might in any climate where it had snowed; rather bloom a year-round cycle of bougainvillea, angel's trumpet, crimson bottlebrush trees, redolent jasmine, the local orange golden poppies, and wisteria bred not out of the dead ground but rather continually rich, breathing soil -- not quite its eastern cousin (the shrub next to the patio in Madison; the vines drooping over the side entrance to Lang), but close enough to mix memory and desire with enough acuity.

I look up these flowers in my new California Gardener, gifted me on the way to Cha-Am Friday last. A reference work as a present: one more reason to keep him around. Instead of fairy tales, flowers read out loud that night at bedtime.

But whence, then, given a heartfelt week of unawkward comfort and lovely interaction (an art opening in the city, jointly speaking French to the artist; Santa Cruz to make a castle on the beach; exchanging names of flowers) this phone call two days later? It had seemed too perfect, sitting caffeinated at Nomad yesterday, watching the unique sun illuminate the remains of a latte: this new job (yet unofficial, without the formal offer); this beautiful place; this mature, thoughtful boy. I suppose it was. Roller-coaster this may yet be. But a rarefied atmosphere, asphyxiation dangling rainbows in front of my eyes while I forget to breathe, I do not want, and we do not have; rather, feet jointly on the ground. Or so I thought. With my heart it my cheeks like this, I can hear its beating in the ticks of my watch.

I am constantly revising my working theory of love. Having found a definition I like, and one that lets me breathe, I would be sad to see its manifestation dissipate. If it does, this gorgeous California sun will be tinged a slightly different color.

Sun Apr 10 14:13:04 PDT 2005

Mint in the garden! -- enough to make mojitos for an army, I told Emily upon its discovery the other day. I had been trying to wash the outside of the house's windows (though huge, old, woodworky, and with tons of potential, the details of the Goat House weren't exactly attended to before we moved in, the years-old alluvial buildup of rain on the windows clouding views into the overgrown front and back yards), and found that the 20-foot stepladder wouldn't get close enough to the house for me to reach the glass, due to a patch of sage and mint fiercely guarding the perimeter, herbal sharks in a moat.

So the top kitchen window is yet unwashed (a chair fit the bill better than the ladder, but I'm too short to reach the top window), but we've been eating the results of this discovery: my curried mint-millet pilaf accompanied braised greens (some unidentified kind of chard from the overgrown jungle of that the backyard was until yesterday) and chocolate-covered strawberries ($0.99 per basket at the Bowl); yesterday, we invited over a small army of mostly Macalaster and Northfield types to trowel up the disparate strawberries hiding under the green vegetal canopy and replant them in a bed next to the eastern fence, weed the cute yellow oxalis and overgrown mallow trees -- in general, to tame the jungle. Rakes and hoes from the library and mojitos from the garden, proof (as if we needed more) that these things will grow and thrive.

Vegetables all over. Last weekend at Lulu's, she handed me first kohlrabi, then green garlic, neither of which I'd ever seen before. Today, at the Berkeley Bowl post-Thai-Brunching (still the weirdest Sunday-morning food ever, but sooo welcome), Garett and Charlie lead me through the produce section: long green beans? Indian bittermelon? Keffir lime leaves for thirty-nine cents? Stalks of lemongrass longer than my shin bone? And not only a cornucopia of exotic vegetables, but cheap. I tried to show the boys (well, not Irish Ross, who was lost in raptures in the UK section) the opal basil that I'd serendipitously discovered when I'd been aiming instead for Thai basil, intent on making an eastern pesto for a pizza topping for roommates early this week but having gotten to the Bowl too near closing to have gotten the variety I wanted. Pennies. I almost didn't get the keffir lime leaves, recalling plastic packets of two leaves per for half an hour's salary at Whole Paycheck in DC (which I started abbreviating in my checkbook, a testament to how frequently I walked by there on my way back from work, up Rhode Island and detouring up 15th for the only place to get lemongrass within the Northwest quadrant). But, they freeze well, urged Charlie, and for change I can find under the cushions of this sectional blue curving couch now situated comfortably in our avocado-green living room, why resist?

I will get spoiled here. Thai soup for everyone! Sea beans in the afternoon; purple asparagus and white eggplant in the evening!

I still don't really believe that I'm not just on vacation to some exotic vegan Disneyland, that no one's going to rip the VR blindfold off, yank the headphones from my ears playing bird cheeps, and malevolently sneer, "welcome back to reality, kid. That was just a fairy tale." Three kinds of basil; mint in my backyard. Gina stole a branch of rosemary from a neighbor's shrub on the way back from the library (which is a whole nother post's worth -- a functional library system!); fennel, which Emily accidentally mixed into the chocolate, giving rise to waves of moaning as we voraciously licked the pan, using the leaves as miniature green brooms to hold the oily cacao/vanilla dregs (oh god).

It's not a fairy tale: I'm here, and slowly believing that rye berries come in bulk, and that the subtle Meyer lemons aren't just the local variety of the piquant yellow citrus whose juice Mom had to buy bottled to be cost-effective in Wisconsin.

Note that, despite this foodie's absolute living reverie, it's not my utopia (the under-sixty-second political conversation over beer & pizza at Lanesplitters in Oakland the other night confirmed that -- I left to go to the bathroom, and when I'd returned, the entire table had agreed on a stance and moved on!). But that's a topic for another time. For now, back out into the minty lawn ...

Wed Apr 20 15:41:14 PDT 2005

Lovely as this is, I've now officially gotten to the I-should-be-doing-something-with-myself phase of my lovely unemployment. Not only is cash getting low (hey, I only opened a savings account a bit over a year ago, when I realized that music school might cost something), but, as I've known for a while, I'm really bad at doing nothing. Need things to fill my time, fill my brain.

Not that I've been doing nothing, exactly. I'm pleased that I've been finally getting around to checking off items on my Things To Do While Unemployed list, finally taking a bit more advantage of Berkeley. I'm here, and footloose! This should be a free-wheeling, exploratory joy -- but for the fact I've had no income, and have been enjoying the unstructured time to get to know my house, my new town. But activity is welcome: Last Tuesday, over dinner, Gina mentioned something about Tahoe. We both asserted casually we could go tomorrow, then blinked for about thirty seconds, iterating in turn, "I'm serious." "No, me too." The next day, despite my persistent sickness(!), we were in the car with a picnic, and headed for the Sierras.

This has been on my to-do list! -- to harness a friend with a car, and, great-American-dream style (with the same sense of wheels and entitlement that underlie the recent proposed slashing of the Amtrak budget -- always a bugbear of mine!), were off into the mountains in Gina's all-wheel-drive station wagon. Hills evincing strong glacial activity rolled around ravines until Sacramento; afterwards, a steep ascent into the snow-capped mountains was confirmed by the concomitant pressure on my eardrums from a quick 7000-foot rise. Within three hours, warm April had turned into its Midwestern equivalent: feet upon feet of snow, and cold! But the bright, supersaturated-spectrum sunlight reminded me I was still within this strange country of California's borders (nowhere in Wisconsin do you get light like that on snow -- sun, yes, but bouncing in glares off the icy surface and washing out the sky; not sustaining a seeming paradox of warm, illuminating light and glacial drifts of snow).

A carrot cake and wood-fired evening later, we awoke to the thought of skiing quickly quashed by my ignorance of how, prohibitively expensive lift passes, and wind and cold (warmer, it's true, than it was in the Alps when I tried to learn how to snowboard). But friends at ski shops can apparently be useful things to have, and Gina's came through with flying colors, offering snowshoes within ten seconds of greeting us. These we happily took and used to tromp around a mountain, gleefully jumping on the clawed, size 50EEE shoes that afforded us six times the stability of our own small feet. Even my sniffles abated as I shed layers on the way up the slope.

Yesterday, too, was undeniably on my tacit to-do list, and undeniably on any sentient person's Reasons To Live In The Bay Area list: Awoken by a call from Google (they said only: "we're still stringing you along; sorry we suck"), I found Emily dejected, her first day of work postponed until today. "Do you want to come to the marina with me?" says she. --"yes," say I, and within some reasonable bagel-eating, tea-drinking, and paper-reading time, we were on borrowed bikes and heading northwest towards the bay. In a half-hour's ride in the most bike-friendly city on earth, we had crossed the pedestrian bridge into the marina, and were on a bench overlooking the handful of miles to the Golden Gate, the shadows of the city and faint hills of Marin to the north, watching sunlight on the rippling water and sea lions sinuate near the shore, and sipping the remains of a bottle of the mile-hence Takara sake.

And, while not fulfilling on a quintessentially-Berkeley level, I spent all of Monday crossing off an item of my Geek To-Do list: writing a Google hack. My linguistically-oriented, OCD friends keep bombarding me with questions along the lines of "'listserv' or 'listserve'?", so, being the geeky little programmer I am in one of my hearts, I coded up an application to tell me. Most proud of the fact that it uses, among other geeky-street-cred-y things, a MySQL database, something I only learned about for the purposes of my ongoing Google application. Heh.

So, yes, I've been pleased to have had the freedom to do these things, and others like them -- like biking up along tree-lined, designated bike boulevards to the central library branch today, and wandering through it marvelling at how places like Berkeley and Madison value public access to knowledge, and how inimical DC seemed to be to that (the pathetic branch a block from my house, and its catalog's pathetic selection) and how much I love that. But now I need a job to earn the money to buy a bike, so I can stop stealing Gina's. Had I unlimited savings, I might find more projects for myself and be able to continue to enjoy this unstructured time more. But, needing an income -- as well as a sense of accomplishment to my day -- I'm starting to itch. Socially-conscious, liberal, gorgeous-environment, fresh-amazing-produce paradise or no, I need to feel like I have at least temporary existential purpose in order to keep deluding myself that not pursuing music actively, and NOW, is remotely okay. (Which is, after all, what I'm doing.)

Sat Apr 23 16:13:01 PDT 2005

Hit rock bottom of this unemployment gig yesterday. "It's Friday afternoon, and not a moment too soon," announces the WCPE deejay, and I scream because I've been sitting in the blue armchair in the green living room all afternoon, writing email and looking at how much money I don't have online. It's surprising to me how quickly this came on -- happiness to discomfort to abject, outright unhappiness; only three days in the recent downward spiral.

I need a list: of things to do; of places to find; of places and activities with which to furnish the new, empty apartment of my Berkeley life. Like Alyssa's at A Feral Hat: Things to Find: 1. Bars with mojitos and lesbians. &c. Certain things I've already checked off:

  1. A grocery store. The Berkeley Bowl is one of my ideas of heaven, the Park Slope Food Coöp nonwithstanding.
  2. An awesome café with good soy lattes and wifi. Nomad is the hands-down best, even cooler for its proximity to my house (4 blocks away).
  3. A good fabric store. Stone Mountain & Daughter, right up Adeline, seems to be all I need; on the other hand, I won't be making much use of it until I can finally get a sewing machine. And that is contingent on me having disposable income.
  4. A library! Tangentially, good, independent local bookstores! Both sadly lacking in DC. Here, the library system rivals Madison's (yet more parallels between the two cities, and explaining why I feel very at home here in some ways). I biked up to the central branch on Gina's bike the other day, finding the next in the trilogy I'm reading, and marvelling at four floors worth of tables and lamps, public computers, and books. Here, as far as bookstores go, one has one's pick of Pegasus, Moe's, Cody's, and many more whose names I can't even remember yet. Glory be! Gone be the days of furtive half.com seeking; forever resorting to stocking my dwindling shelf space in order to read anything new!
Awesome as these are, I'm still searching for the following:
  1. A good Chinese grocery store / ceramics shop. Along 14th Street in Oakland today, Emily and I ducked into a little Korean grocery store which provided sencha, fresh noodles, and frozen gyoza. Still, I need to find steamable spinach buns, cheap sandalwood soap, and soba in large packages.
  2. A hardware store. In DC, I had Logan, where pierced dykes helped you find drill bits and pick paint colors; here, the best I've done so far is a little Vietnamese-run joint where not much English is spoken, or Orchard Supply, which is huge and warehousey, but doesn't feel friendly and local.
  3. A good bike store. I have a feeling that the only reason I haven't found the perfect one of these yet is that I just haven't been to the Missing Link, again for want of money.
  4. A good dance venue in the East Bay for weekend nights -- that is, one that will give me alternative transportation home after the BART shuts down at midnight. There's only a small list of things that DC does better than the Bay Area, or so I've yet found -- but keeping the Metro open until three on weekend nights was a stroke of genius.
  5. A quartet. This, clearly, is needed to make me sane. I have a few leads -- a friend of Sara's whose boyfriend plays clarinet at Cal; a potential housemate we interviewed a few months ago who plays violin and is looking to form a group -- but have yet to follow up on anything. Arr. Soon.
  6. And, clearly, a job. Google wants yet more interviews (not the fault of the team that's interviewing me), and I'm starting to get antsy. Must look for alternatives.
And, one that has just gotten checked of today:
  1. A good dance studio with an awesome West African class and a community feel. In DC, this was The Dance Place, where Mama Marcia put a happy roomful of all ages and abilities through our paces Tuesday nights; here, thanks to National Dance Week and its seven days of free classes all over the Bay, I've just learned that this is Malonga.

So, hurrah for dance, and for projects to my life. We'll see if this helps.

Mon Apr 25 21:16:20 EDT 2005

Diana comes over this morning, before I've even eaten breakfast (resolved last night to get up early, but decided at 8:30 AM that sleep was more valuable than feeling productive, at least for a few hours); proceeds to prove her awesome-future-roommate-ness: drinks tea, washes the cup; makes me a salad with carrots and ginger, dill and parsley, garden-picked kale and orange nasturtium flowers, culled from the blooms along the back fence.

I sit on the patio (well, the end of the driveway, but it abuts the garden, so it counts), lingually contemplating the tahini-Braggs-spirulina dressing she'd brought with her, amazed at the saffron-colored blossoms in my bowl (which match my nails, chrome hunter oranged thanks to a new bottle of polish bought yesterday as part of a retail-therapy outing that ended up including new books and music). Sun on the toes warms the few Wisconsin-frostbitten ones that invariably go white if I read the paper too long in our uninsulated living room. And, munching on nasturtium petals, I remember:

since the thing perhaps is
to eat flowers and not to be afraid.

In these past few days, after all, I've tried to think conclusively about what I'm doing here, where I'm going, and what I might be gaining by this. Heavy questions, heavier still as the night wears on each evening. But in my lucid moments (that is, on days when I've been running, dancing or biking -- god, but these endorphins are a necessary drug!), I acknowledge that I myself used a counterargument in my relationship not that long ago: Do [I] need a direction in order to be happy in [my] present state? Perhaps, in both cases, in the long term, the answer will be yes. But for now, in both cases, the thing perhaps is / to eat [nasturtiums] and not to be afraid.

Sat Apr 30 19:31:50 PDT 2005

Gina dragged me out to the San Pablo Nursery yesterday, just as Olivia and Alyson dragged me to Bratislava. Poking through it, my California Gardener in hand, I resist the temptation to cry over both the book's provenance and the seeds for the orange California poppies he told me I should plant in my garden. Too easy to novelize one's life, to talk about eating flowers, and to get caught up in metaphors.

Oh well; I suppose this is what I was looking for -- to be "young and single in Berkeley," I remember phrasing it, before we started dating again. Be careful what you wish for, they say. Harumph.

It would be April. (Thought I'd almost escaped that.) Damn you, Eliot.

all this İnori heikkinen, April 2005

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