july, 2007

Wed, 04 Jul 2007 17:38:47 -0700

Usually, I'd need music right now, or some sort of auditory distraction. There's nothing going on but the hum of the fridge; shouts of revelers in the background; conversation of passers-by on the street through my open kitchen window; the odd ambulance siren. And I'm almost at a point where I'm starting to need it again -- probably, tomorrow at work, I'll put on my headphones as usual, crank up the classical -- but not just yet. Not having been in the woods for four days.

Sara and I were sitting at an outlook off the gravel road leading up from Sunset Trail Camp at Big Basin two afternoons ago, waiting for the sun to set -- turns out you have time to do that, after a strenuous morning hike, nap, afternoon snack of trail mix (chocolate chips for her; I've been too gorged on Greg D.'s gourmet Cluizel et al. recently not to turn up my nose at the American Tollhouse morsel), and after an early dinner -- just watching the shadow come over the mountain from the west as the sun descended over the peak to the west, lengthening the shade on the top of the rolling redwood canopy; and it took me a good twenty or so minutes to realize that the dull roar I heard in the background was not a highway (we must have been 6 miles from the closest one), but rather the wind through the high-up branches of the ancient trees.

Driving back, we took 280 north, to escape the humdrum, Silicon-Valley commute of the 101. Sara offered to put on music (I'd brought along Allison's mix tapes from ye olden days, played while driving to and from Swat and really any time in my orange behemoth of a car), but I demurred -- needed to decompress, I said. Plus, we were in the blondies' (Andrea & Karina's) little blue Aspire, whose broken AC compelled us to roll the windows down the entire way, blocking out whatever other sound the tape deck might have been making. But four days in the woods is still enough of a removal from the everyday to make one not want to plunge back into the thick of it.

Not that I don't love my city, the trappings of my life here. (On the phone with Jaime after another REI trip today, she commented that I'd become a "prodigious shopper." Means something, coming from her!) Not that I haven't been drinking all the clean, Hetch-Hetchy-watershed running water I can get my hands on (i.e., an infinite amount) since coming back and not having to drop tablets in a Nalgene and wait four hours until it's potable. Not that I'm not rejoicing in my clean hair (O what a luxury!), comfortable sandals, and non-Deet-y skin. But it was lovely to be away, really away, for a bit.

(These are thoughts I feel like I really should have had in college. But I didn't go camping in college, so bear with me.)

It makes you wonder just how much you've learned about the world around you. Were you dropped into this setting, with only the woods around you, could you last, let alone rebuild a microprocessor? I could probably get as far as Turing on my own, but nothing past. And for all my hifalutin' ideas about vegan food being all natural, what was I eating in the woods? Instant mashed potatoes. (Am happily chowing down on an avocado with salt from my mill right now, on a new Anthropologie dessert plate, using a spreading knife I brought back from Thailand.) What would I end up eating? Mountain lion, if it didn't eat me first; squirrel, I guess. I wonder if lizards are edible. It's damn nice to stand on the shoulders of those who went before you. Thanks, ancestors.

My friends, as I told the guy at REI today fitting me for new boots (the pretty orange ones I'd gotten last week turned out to pinch my little toes brutally on the downhill (but ironically, I only blistered today, trying to lace up new candidates; not at all during the hike); God love REI's lenient return policy!), have been giving me shit for a while about never having been really camping. Oh sure, I've been car-camping, or been out in the woods for a few days in cabins, but never lugged all my gear on by back between places, miles at a time, set up camp, made something food like on a cute little camp stove, purified my own water, and then torn in all down and moved the next morning. There's something to be said for that.

The dirt factor -- rather, the lack of being able to clean up after getting dirty factor -- did bother me a bit. I'm as happy as the next boy to get dirty, sweaty, and gross; but please, may I wash my hands afterwards, at the very least? My face? My hair? My sleeping bag (I got one rated 15+, on the advice of people who told me it sucks to sleep cold) was, as I'd feared, too hot; I should have just slept outside, but maybe was scared that banana slugs (we saw our first ones!) would slime all over me (okay, or maybe that raccoons would eat my face. Or bears). Maybe I need to camp closer to streams.

But even though I have a different relationship with dirt than, say, some boys who have accused Jaime of same, who sleep approximately 15 degrees warmer than I do, and who have no hair of which to speak let alone get dirty, I'd like to do this again. Get out of everything, forget how to type briefly, put my house on my back (but no smoky beans and rice this time!), and get out into the trees. And next time, with non-pinching (though they'll be non-orange -- sob!) boots.

Mon, 9 Jul 2007 09:13:18 -0700

Even though I've had a grumpy weekend, kind of (in that, while I knew I didn't want to go salsa dancing with James et al. Saturday night, I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was, exactly, I did want to do until later that evening; in that I hated the most recent volume our Goat Book Club read and said so at our discussion at Coffee To The People on Sunday (Sara, on me being dismissive of the young author's accomplishment of having produced it: "Do you know how long it took her to write this book?" Me: "Do you know how much of my life I wasted in reading it?"); in that the third pair of my favorite jeans ripped, in the same place as always), it still managed to be a beautifully SF one: I ended up twice at the canonical Zeitgeist, meeting old friends and making new, pitchers of my lustfully-described Racer 5 IPA; before, later in the weekend, the fog started to pour over Twin Peaks and bathe the feet of Sutro Tower in white opacity, Mike us on took the motorcycle down to Sunday brunch at Pomelo, and then, idly, up to the big shiny Powerbookesque Mecca of the Apple Store, where we wandered and ogled expensive, sleekly-designed toys (he already has his iPhone; I'm waiting for the dust to settle) and their accessories; on the bike, I watched my reflection zoom through the windows of the downtown storefronts, bare calves in my pocketed hiking pants and clogs, old bad-vegan Barcelona leather jacket with its diagonal stripes across the chest, huge helmet: badass.

As I am now reminded, facing backwards on the shuttle with my Monday paper and small Sigg thermos of tea, watching the city recede as a busful of Googlers heads down to Mountain View: I love San Francisco.

Mon, 16 Jul 2007 19:24:22 -0700

I had a dream last month, maybe after a Movie Night in Dolores Park, full of hipsters huddled up with flasks, joints, and blankets against the rising June fog (now fully matured into the opaque, almost alluvial July stuff), half watching the old, moralizing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and intermittently buying provisions from the familiar woman wandering through the park, her cooler keeping warm her wares inside: the Tamale Lady. I dreamt, that night, that she sold vegan tamales. It would have been like Rosamunde is to Toronado, the vegan spicy tofu sausages with mango chutney transforming an otherwise flyover storefront into a pillar in my mental map of the Lower Haight. But obviously, there was no way she would. I filed it away under "crazy hypnagogic fantasies" and forgot about it.

And then Sunday afternoon (well, evening -- "let's do something with the last of the fading light," said Dave around 7:30; and then "I've never been to Zeitgeist" which sealed the deal) there we were at the urban beer garden, the image of which was made even more Bavarian by the smooth Hefeweizen in the pitcher I started us off with, and she wandered in. Jane went over to get some; I decided, well, it can't hurt to ask -- after all, there's a chance: this is San Francisco! and came back, three dollars later, with a black-bean tamale.

There's a crappy little cellphone-camera picture I got Dave to take of me with vegan tamale in hand, which I promptly blogged right after I devoured it. In the photo, I'm grinning maniacally, a bit too wide, as in the sophomore-year photo of me at some wee hour, post-"rave" in Upper Tarble, with a candy necklace staining my skin (I think it might have been taken right after I found God in Galen's chocolate mousse). I've got my German beer in one hand, my San Franciscan vegan tamale in the other, and you can just hear me thinking holy crap, I'm never leaving this city, ever.

The realization of my far-fetched dream sort of corroborated my weekend: In addition to my perennially blissful yoga, I made it twice to Ritual, consumed (over two days) two unassailable vegan donuts and two Soy Lattes That Should Redefine The Word; made it to Brian's housewarming, where I cornered drunken geeks and made them talk about their unit-test coverage and philosophies of release cycles, and from the walk home from which, over Potrero Hill(s) and down following the T line, I'm still picking burrs out of my hair and jeans; woke up too early for a brunch that didn't happen but was otherwise productive; walking back from Ritual through the Mission, the fog coming in over the western hills brilliantly backlit by bright yellow California afternoon sun (as if that wasn't enough), I heard the strains of Boléro coming from Dolores Park, and marched through a game of dodgeball, around discarded fixies whose owners were comparing tattoos, and watched strangers do a collaborative, interpretive dance as the San Francisco Symphony played Ravel from a pavilion.

Sometimes, I wonder if this will get somehow taken away from me: the Big One (according to Richter); some marital or professional obligation; the simple passing of years. This fear is unfounded, and doesn't temper my crazy passion; rather, it makes me all the more ardent. (You may have noticed.) Did I mention I'm never leaving?

Tue, 24 Jul 2007 17:43:02 -0700

Tessa's reading Harry Potter 7 next to me on the early shuttle, apparently one of the few others on the planet who hasn't yet finished this, the final installment of what Kakutani in the Times called a "bildungsroman" -- Joe, brother of the bride, stayed up until some ungodly (unwizardly?) hour the night before the wedding, the night it was released at midnight, when six of us -- me & Fritz making up the two Swatties; and four fellow grad students of Andrew, the groom, at U-Mass -- left the pub where the wedding party had gathered to drink Yuengling on tap, sing along with Joel to "American Pie," and welcome their friends, and made our way up to Gallery 30, a little art-store-cum-bookshop that was the most central, if not only, place in the one-horse town of Gettysburg, PA participating in the biggest publishing event of the century. I'm still only around 250 pages in, and dread opening my browser every day, am scrutinizing all links that purport to be web comics as if wary of phishing, fearing spoilers. My copy is actually in my bag next to me, but, since I managed to put it off for a wedding this weekend, it can wait a few more hours.

This talk of "bride" and "Gettysburg," of course, can only mean that Andrew Stout and Julie Gregorio (yes, she's keeping her name -- just ask the mulleted wedding announcer at the reception, who was shouted down when he prepended a "Mr. and Mrs." to his name only!) got married this weekend. I've been to a million weddings, but always as a paid violist; this was the first time I've seen friends get married, people whom I actually knew, whose futures together I cared about. And they looked radiant. Albeit not dressed in black this time, I still had my old wedding prop (my viola) with me, and my disengaged wedding-violist mode kicked in with the preludes: I, IV, V, I; stick to first position (though adventures into second were so tempting, with all those open D's!). But then Laura in her pinkish-salmon dress started walking down the aisle; and then Emily; another bridesmaid; and Elena, the maid of honor; and seeing Julie in flowing-trained, white Italian satin, walking with her father to (of course) a prelude from The Magic Flute, brought home who I was watching. Olivia didn't start to tear up until she saw Andrew's face during the ceremony, and she needed her breath for her flute. We played a few recessionals; I tried to sign the Quaker marriage certificate legibly; and, officiantless, it was done -- and the rest was photos, birdseed-throwing (so as not to hurt the little birdies' stomachs), dancing, brunch, even round-singing over paper cups of coffee and vegan apple bread the next morning. How wonderful for them!

(Laura looked around the dance floor that night, in between verses of Jump Around, and enumerated the married, engaged, or well-on-their-way couples there: we were surrounded. But the idea of marriage among your peers feels less freaky, I guess, when you're happy for them all individually.)

It was even less of a schlepp, this whole thing, than I thought it was probably going to be, given the logistics even of getting three people there and four back, plus a viola: rental car, hotel room, dress and shoes, gift, flights, vegan provender (figs and cashews supplemented Laura's flask of Talisker) so I wouldn't starve in rural PA. But, even despite the cross-country flights it necessitated, it managed to turn into something of a small vacation. I blew through DC Friday night for an evening with Colin, the urban air steamy, full of good Scotch (Oban 14; Caol Ila) whose Moroccan tea glasses beaded in condensation with the added rocks, and Tintin read out loud in the French; a morning of tofu and tea (sadly no art, due to respectively constrained schedules). Collected Fritz; replaced my torn contact lens; collected Laura; destroyed my sunglasses and almost ran over them with the rental car, but sustained no fatalities, and got Laura to the church on time. And with the rest of the weekend filled with events centered around the ebullient happiness of the newlyweds, how could this fail to be anything but fun?

I hear this is but the beginning of a spate of nuptial bliss on the part of all my friends. (Babies will freak me out even more.) I hear I'll become jaded, even adamant, like a certain party this weekend, swearing up and down she was done with weddings (except her own). But for now, this first one, so genuine, I'm just unreservedly happy for the couple. Congratulations, Andrew & Julie.

Mon, 30 Jul 2007 18:44:27 -0700

To be driven by someone else, as I am on the shuttle right now, almost feels strange, given the amount of my own driving I've been doing recently (remarkable, only, to this city girl, whose usual driving consists of Zipcar hourlies for errands to a Peninsula doctor, or to chase between sporting-goods stores for teeny, urban-bike-messenger Timbuk2 bags instead of packing for a trip): Not only the rental last weekend at Andrew & Julie's wedding, but again this past Saturday, down past Google into the Santa Cruz mountains, down the twisting Highway 17, blasting Smashing Pumpkins (old and new) the entire way. I put Mellon Collie on briefly on the jerry-rigged boombox at Sibley & Nina's place, only to have the heavy guitars of the 1990's immediately vetoed; but my coeval passenger on the ride up sang along to Zero, and recited the rest of the canon of our middle-school generation: Green Day (Dookie); Nine Inch Nails (Downward Spiral); They Might Be Giants (Flood).

The car, it turns out, provides a perfect listening space: seldom do I get the opportunity to focus on especially rock music. And though I found myself driving more aggressively with the band's singular drummer Martin used to always comment on rocking out in the foreground, when else was I going to get a chance to carve out an hour or two to reäcquaint myself with this album that I should have lapped up in grade school, as I did the inimitable Siamese Dream? When I got my hands on the [relatively-]new Yo La Tengo this past spring, it sat on my desk for two solid weeks until I capitulated, allowed that I would never find the dark room, the headphones, and the lack of distraction I wanted to really just listen to it.

To this problem, there are two solutions: The solitary commute, which I refuse to do; or the rock concert, on which I am actively spending all possible spare time and change. Daft Punk, at the Greek on Friday, was unremarkable musically -- I heard all this stuff six years ago, with the release of Discovery! -- but I don't know that I've ever spent an hour (yes, only an hour; poop on Berkeley's noise ordinances and on the band's late entrance!) focused solely on the wall of beats the two DJs in black jackets with red neon piping were spinning (and I mean like a turntable and a web) -- to say nothing of the thousands of screaming compatriots I had, there to do exactly the same thing I was. Smashing Pumpkins at the Fillmore on Tuesday, however, exceeded the mere sum of these freebie factors, singer and drummer moving between old (melodic) and new (anachronistically angsty, as in early '90s grunge), incorporating new bandmembers into the reconstituted group so well that no one, I think, cared that they weren't quote-original-unquote, and we all screamed (the rock equivalent of a bravo!) unreservedly for them until close to 1 AM.

And so it was that theirs were the CDs nearest my reach, as I grabbed for something to play on the drive down to Santa Cruz to attend my second wedding in as many weeks. And, though as populated with Swatties as last weekend's, what a different scene: from attire (Sibley began in a Swarthmore Physics 1996 t-shirt) to accommodation (I took my new sleeping bag outside to the clearing, where apparently I inspired the neighbors) to afternoon activity (Emma, other-Tim and I made improvements to the outdoor shower, bending wire mesh into a soap dish, retiling the planks of its temporary floor, constructing a bench from which to wash one's feet (as I did Sunday afternoon, post-beach) which doubled as a device to direct water away from the electrical bits; there was, afterwards, tree-climbing, during which first Richard and then Sibley scrambled up into the upper spokes of a redwood while the rest of us drank port from the vantage point of the forest floor and speculated on their likelihood of death) to the definition of "open bar" (Nina, Val, and Kyle took turns making various margarita-like concoctions using the couple's new bicycle-powered blender). Sunday, donning bathing suits and collecting frisbees, those of the party yet-undissipated found an uncommercialized stretch of oceanfront, ate tamarind-flavored popsicles, and walked up and down the beach, close to the cold surf. That afternoon, and the previous night, having abandoned dancing downtown for the quieter ocean and a full moon, I tried to recall the words to Whitman's On The Beach at Night Alone -- but of course, I wasn't alone: I was surrounded by friends both older and younger, old and new, Swattie and hippie. Santa Cruz has perhaps never been so lovely, even last year this time. I think I'm starting to like weddings.

all this Šnori heikkinen, July 2007

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