june, 2005

Wed Jun 1 19:40:04 EDT 2005

Only having one day at work this week was, admittedly, silly, but I didn't realize it would be Memorial Day on Monday when I made these plans, weeks ago, to run out east, having just been out to Chicago. Barely have I begun to appreciate the grind (and believe me, I'm appreciating it!), when I throw myself in yet a new direction. Not, maybe, how I would have planned it -- but I suppose there's no convincing the Alumni Office to move reunion just to better fit my schedule.

I've been all over the Bay of late, and that even since coming back from the Midwest. Saturday morning, Dad and Delia, outfitted in their new bigger-than-a-reasonable-car, smaller-than-a-reasonable-RV, picked me up. Followed a weekend of me showing them Bay Area food, and them showing me Bay Area birds: Vik's Chaat House amazed them as much as it had me when Dave took me there for the first time; down the stunning beaches and vistas of Highway 1 to Pescadero, digiscoping starfish and sea lions on the rocks; through the city and across the Golden Gate, which Dad & I had never traversed before; up to Muir Woods, where the trees grow taller and more lushly than anything I've ever seen; Thai brunch; out to Mount Diablo to camp, stargaze, and bird, where they close the campground at dark, and with good reason -- the road leading up to it is approximately ten feet wide and three inches from the side of the mountain, with no guardrail.

I realize I haven't gotten to just hang out around Dad these past, oh, six years. Between Thanksgiving and Christmases, we have some time; but the odd heart surgery doesn't really make up for it. While it's nice to be young and moblie, and to take off for California with relatively few considerations, it does have a way of putting one farther away from one's family.

All this rocketing around, plus the stressors of the new job (any new job) -- minor daily performance adrenaline; learning the ropes; getting set up with things I can do while other minutiae sort themselves out -- has left me exhausted. I've been waking up mornings almost unable to get out of bed, feeling as if I were hung over, and dehydrated. Is it the sniffles I contracted the day before I started work? The long commute on the shuttle and BART? Just the new job? A chance comment of Dad's this past weekend triggered a relization of what it must surely be: caffeine withdrawal. Before Google, going crazy in my own home, I would sit instead happily at Nomad, sipping amazing soy lattes. At Google, not only does the illy have a slightly peaty taste and the Soy Dream in the fridge curdle in it, but my residual sickness and the adrenaline of a new job have warded off any desire for more caffeine. As a result, outside of work, I've been a big slug for two weeks.

So, what better than another vacation, to exacerbate it clear it all up? Like I said, not quite what I would have planned, this shooting through New York, Philly, and Swarthmore that will be my next fiveish days. But, since I now keep Pacific daylight time, I find I must venture out east in order to see everyone I left behind on the opposite side of the country (or at least as many of them as possible).

Ironic, no? That I want a routine when I don't have one, and want to escape it when I do. Thankfully, the former prevails in me more than the latter. I'll get a better sense of this job soon enough.

Mon Jun 6 17:32:23 EDT 2005

Sitting on the tarmac at LaGuardia for an entire afternoon wasn't exactly how I'd planned to end this Alumni Weekend (nor, for that matter, is it how I plan to end any future one). But, since I appear to have used up all my transportation karma in the past few days, I guess it's only my due. Rides have abounded; I must have spent a total of $12 on public transportation this entire trip.

Given the lovely distraction of the last handful of days, however, I can countenance this air-traffic annoyance (bad weather all over the East coast) a while longer (just so long as I don't get stuck in Atlanta, my connecting city, tonight). Four solid days of old people, good people: beginning in New York (because, after all, to have gotten delayed on a connecting flight both ways for only a two-and-a-half-day vacation would have been ugly and unbearable), down I-95 to Swarthmore on Friday; up leisurely through Philly yesterday; and back to Brooklyn. (Hopefully soon this itinerary will end in Berkeley, but there's no telling, stalled on the runway here.)

Chris says reunion for him (his fifth) was unremarkable, but then again, (a) he did only go down for one day, a whirlwind Saturday; and (b) his close-knit group of Swatties -- the original Lodge 2ers et alia -- has held their own since graduation (c.f.: Dudesmas; Dudeoween; &c.). And we have, too, at A Feral Hat in Philly for a holiday party or the election; congregating for the March for Women's Lives last April in DC -- but with my recent move out West, I feel the need to reärticulate our need for regular gatherings. I'm no longer an easy jaunt away from the verdant stomping grounds of the Scott Arboretum, as this ludicrous delay is making abundantly clear.

So it was not merely seeing the myriad people I did this weekend that made it shine, but, more precisely, the dynamic of the group as a whole. Several overlapping social circles (I shared a dorm room in Pitt with Berkeley-and-DC-roommate Emily, whom I barely knew in college; unexpectedly ran into Spoonhead Julie, who convinced me to call up Dane and beg for violas with which to play the Mozart Requiem reading) Venn-diagrammed and reasserted the need to do this more frequently than the once every five years into which pattern, unassisted, it will otherwise fall.

Now, halfway through Adam Langer's Crossing California, picked up this afternoon as accompaniment to this interminable hopscotching back to Berkeley, I read the out-of-context noun phrase:

... the alums walking down the hallway with an air of nostalgia and ownership ...

Only two years out, and yet our first real alumni experience. Being back on campus to drink beer and consume strawberries on the beach while visiting '05ers hasn't really counted, it seems; with friends still in undergrad, it's hard to picture yourself as very distinct from the place. But the last class I knew even a fraction of just graduated (yes, the fact that I don't know any '06ers is my own damn fault, from having switched majors and taken ten credits senior year), even one who took twelve years to do it. There's a new science center, beautiful and with expanded CS space; they've completely renovated not only the patio outside Sproul, but the Sun Lab -- my Sun Lab -- that used to be there is gone (and Robot Lab! with its combination lock, the code for which I knew illegitimately in the marTin era; legitimately once I'd declared). I stared at the Alumni Relations offices now inhabiting that space, appalled.

But some things never change. Having [quickly chopped off the six salient fingernails and] borrowed violas from magnanimous Dane, Julie and I brought the instruments up to Lang to warm up. And, upstairs in a wall-to-wall-carpeted room, a viola under my chin, it was as if no time had passed. It was every year I've been at Swat, but most specifically my first two: trying reconcile the academics I was there to do with the music I refused to put down. The reflection that stared back at me from the practice-room mirror was perhaps a little older, but perhaps no wiser. Julie (other Julie) has just gotten into Mannes; Oliver's already there; I must be honest with myself if I am to stay in this lucrative software field and either find a good way to incorporate music, or to admit that I'm not, and that that's okay -- which it's not, so the only possibility is the former.

I am still new at this California lifestyle. Three months and change may seem like a while (and the fact that it's already somehow June boggles my mind, in that all-too-recently-familiar tempus fugit way), but I'm still establishing patterns, ways of balancing what I need with what is most apparent and easy.

This is why travel is good -- contextual shifts afford new perspective. Oh yeah, and the opportunity to see my friends, too. Makes me not even begrudge haven given the college money. I think the only begrudging going on this weekend was of me, by my liver.

(Update: After three hours' delay in Atlanta, I'm now scheduled into Oakland a bit past midnight. This only confirms the fact that I can't run East just every other weekend to see these people. Good thing they're worth it.)

Fri Jun 10 14:04:32 $DT 2005

I can't suppress this feeling of exuberance, goodwill, optimism, and situatedness, welling in my solar plexus. It began perhaps on the shuttle home, the sun streaming across the hills from the Western windows, having just solved Leif's delete-not-emulating-in-remote-terminals problem (having had it twice myself within recent memory), and been shown in return how to use virtual desktops on my Powerbook. The newly-discovered Franz Ferdinand streamed into my earbuds (I just can't hear the difference between ogg and mp3 on these things, I found myself opining -- that I should switch so fast! nay, not so much, not a year!); on my way home.

(Or perhaps it started on the corner of 10th & Arch, under the shade of a tree dappling the sunlight as protecting from the warming of the entire coast, waiting for parties to assemble for lunch at Penang, then caffeination at Olde City Coffee later that Sunday afternoon, post-Alumni Weekend, before Mark drove me and Julie back to New York.)

And, upon exiting the BART around 7:20 -- the earliest yet! -- and making my way up to the Berkeley Bowl, past the little orange Jamaican café with a bright orange butterfly bench outside, I realize that I haven't been able to buy food on a weekday since I started working in the South Bay, almost four weeks ago. On to the Arcade Fire, I wander through produce, pricking lemons with my thumbnail to make sure they're not Meyer, buying one ripe avocado for the evening and one yet-green one for later. What provender!

It's reasserted itself, this luxuriant goodwill, with half a glass of Anchor Steam on my desk, the sun and a band on the patio at lunch, eating gingered bok choy, falafel, stuffed red pepper. Death Cab for Cutie streaming off someone else's iTunes on the subnet; the promise of not only more beer and more music this afternoon, but a ride back to the East Bay from a college friend, and a potluck à la Delafield, à la Rosemont, promised at the Goat House for the evening.

Distilled, it's a mixture of happiness with various aspects of my life: my friends; my job; music (though I am not currently making my own, the constant feed of others' suffices in the short term). These all seem to flow together to confer a sense of possibility, and of rightness with what I'm doing. The heady buzz of the beer helps, but only accentuates, this prevalent vibe. I'm so glad I moved.

Mon Jun 13 11:50:50 PDT 2005

Okay, so maybe this place has seasons. Despite the two days of rain at the beginning of last week that had everyone in Silicon Valley rummaging for their contracts ("Where's that weather clause? I thought they said no rain between March and October!"), it reached the upper eighties in Mountain View today. Perfect conditions for sitting inside in a cool room with several computers silently purring around one.

And perfect weather for a Thai soup. Again, providence struck, and light traffic up 101 plus speedy BARTs put an exuberant me into Ashby at 7:20, whereupon I made straight for the place that is, having been deprived from it for so long, clearly my favorite: the Berkeley Bowl.

Gina complains that it's loud and insane around closing time, a zoo for mothers with small babies trying to get home and get food on the table. Usually I brave the crowds with my iPod; today, The Shins ended halfway up Adeline, though, and I put them back into my bag. The music of the produce aisle is enough for me!

I'd intended to just get bagel things -- more tahini and lemons for the spread; poppyseeds to last me through the week -- but I've been craving more vegetables than I've been getting recently. And before I knew it, I was loading my basket heavier than I could carry with green beans, fresh scallions, baby bok choy, a Japanese eggplant, Thai and sweet basil, lemongrass, ginger, more garlic, a mango ... the list spilled into two bags.

And, having destroyed half the kitchen with my vegetable peels and ginger-juice remnants, I easily found eaters in two of my unfed roommates and one of the fed ones. I don't even care that I've been destroying my fingers for my art: yesterday, Sara's French press slashed the tip of my pinky; today, as I was slicing Manila mango for the sticky coconut rice, I underestimated the blade on Emily's new paring knife, and cut through its peel to the middle joint of the same little finger the way I haven't been stupid enough to do since middle school (when I mistakenly assumed a serrated plastic knife couldn't possibly be sharp).

It works out well that I most want eaters, and my roommates (especially Sara, a.k.a. the Pigeon) want to eat. I would have made this for myself, but would have been less happy about it; they would have eaten something, but wouldn't have enjoyed it as much. Ahh, the symbiosis of food.

Sun Jun 26 24:24:24 PDT 2005

Washing dishes tonight after the third weekly Goat House potluck -- Lulu at the sink; Emily and I each with a towel in our hand -- I look straight in front of me at Gina's shelf, and notice the pieces of my rice bowl from Japan, shattered, in a plastic bag. My heart catches. When did this happen?, I ask. Last week at the potluck, Emily tells me. Someone was washing dishes and it just slipped from his hand.

I know there are perils of living in a group house, and the demise of a small dish should perhaps be thought of as par for the course. But my host family in Japan gave me that when I stayed with them for two weeks in 1998, on tour with WYSO, lacerating my feet while jetskiing, surviving high-30s-Centigrade temperatures, playing a surreal Finlandia with a German orchestra and Korean choir on a platform carved out of a misty mountain, arguing with my 3-year-old host brother Yuusuke in his native language about whose shoe it was. Shin & Nana Yodogawa. She drew me a picture of how you make Japanese curry that survives in my Oda a la Cocina cookbook to this day. This was not just a bowl.

So, still thinking that this is one of those bits of cookware to which I have an attachment that Colin would have never understood, and feeling slightly silly for the emotion, I hand my towel to Emily, and quietly step out the back door into the nasturtium that threatens to take over the stoop in peppery orange flowers, and I cry quietly for my bowl.

I think I've just needed to cry, recently. Martin surfaced last week out of the blue, adorably sending me the first copy off the presses of his first-ever hardcover publication, The Debian System, sweetly inscribed on the title page, yet dedicated to his girlfriend. It seemed logical to cry about -- things past and lost; our having moved separately on -- but I couldn't bring the tears to my eyes. And this unwitting telephonic nebulousness with one more recently lost has only so far succeeded in making me alternately resolute and completely at sea, but nothing to the point of catharsis.

(And the summer. The summer wilts, sunflowers opening up their dry petals, troping towards the helios; the orange nasturtium spreading itself thin and brown; a lone whiff of jasmine on vines previously rife. In what climate is summer the dying season?!)

So I focused my brief weeping on the little precious Japanese rice bowl (which can probably even be superglued), preferring to illogically cry over a piece of ceramic than logically over lost loves.

Wed Jun 29 19:02:01 PDT 2005

This fog, I've heard of. You don't tell tourists about the weather in July and August! accuses Eddie Izzard, dressed to kill, miming his way across a street as if the mist were heavy curtains. Nick spoke of it on the Caltrain up to the Giants game last week, 40's in hand, smalltalking unawkwardly with the new girl, the only one on the team. And the next morning, there it was in Berkeley: mist rolling in off the hills to the east, obscuring the top of the striped Lawrence Berkeley Labs building, veiling the carillon tower that once tolled out Bartók, seducing me West. But by the time I'd get down to Mountain View, it would be gone: an early-summer morning greeting me at the door of 44 as I walk inside to turn my back on it, forsake it for LCDs in triplicate. (Making up for lost light, I make sure to find a sunny patch of grass for lunch.)

One could get Seasonal Affective from these mornings. So easy to wake up, hard to shake off the night's dreams, into the grey morning, and let that set the tenor for the day. It only becomes manic somewhere along the Dumbarton Bridge, crossing a mile of the bay, sometimes the clouds high enough for those who look up from their bouncing laptops to discern the outline of the city's buildings; sometimes the fog still thick enough to make it appear as big as a Great Lake.

But Chicago weather, this ain't. The shuttle breaks down briefly on the side of 280 just now, and the clouds roll in. Tendrils of mist hover in patches above the stagnant highway, and the boy next to me falls asleep heavily on my shoulder. The wireless goes down (but I keep on Pythoning). It comes in thicker, so even the tops of the ranch-style houses are invisible.

And then, just as suddenly, the sun comes through, incongruously highlighting faces of the houses stuck into the hillside on the Peninsula. The boy shifts in his sleep. As we roll into San Francisco, it looks for all the world like the end of a sunny summer day, provided one doesn't look up to the surrounding hills. Back on the opposite side of the bay, the vibrant sun ignores the heaviness hanging above the Pacific. Such heliotropes are we! -- I could get Seasonal Manic out here this summer.

all this ©nori heikkinen, June 2005

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