june, 2008

Sun, 1 Jun 2008 17:36:58 -0400

I'm hurtling north on the tracks, from Philadelphia's old 30th Street Station to New York's Penn, on Amtrak, which still seems to me the only civilized way to travel -- certainly more civilized than the airline's computers going down nationwide for an hour or so the morning of my flight out of SFO on Thursday morning, causing me to miss the cutoff for checking a bag, even though I'd (uncharacteristically) left enough time to, and to subsequently throw out liquids larger than stupid three-point-somethingarbitrary ounces and declare my cute red suitcase a "carry-on" for the flight. Harumph. Though I suppose taking a train across the country would be significantly less fast, and I wouldn't have made it up for Olivia's bachelorette party in Philly that evening.

But bachelorette no longer: She's a "Missuz" now, as the pastor at the wedding and the announcers at the reception gleefully proclaimed (Mrs. His Name, of course), as the gift cards were all addressed to. From white jeans and a toy veil on Thursday night (note to self: see if hordes of random, cute men will buy me drinks if I wear same while out on the town), to her mother's 28-year-old gown at the early ceremony on Saturday, to a silky brunch jumper this morning, she dressed the part of the beaming bride, and the extra ring on her finger (it took me far too many years to realize that women get two!) confirms it. That, and smiling Charlie by her side (in dapper cravat, complete with pin, and morning coat for the event itself), every bit the happy husband.

It shouldn't be a shock, really. Certainly they're not shocked -- she & Charlie confirmed this morning, as they opened place settings of their chic Vera Wang china pattern -- that they "feel married." (Perhaps the most surprised is her mother, who sat in half-catatonic shock Saturday night, too exhausted for the moment to show her happiness.) Of course, it's not exactly out of the blue: We all planned for this, put it on our calendars, booked tickets, bought dresses and presents, took vacation time in preparation. But then there's the different reality of the sight of the new couple toasting with champagne, sipped from new matching crystal flared flutes at their table for two on the edge of the dance floor; the rested pair, back from their honeymoon suite, receiving serving platters, linens, china -- they're married, all right.

It's just an interesting time of life, I suppose: On the train into Haddonfield, I was just finishing Urban Tribes, a book by a then-single, thirtysomething San Franciscan whose every scenario -- driving to Burning Man with friends; lorge dinners and parties at a group's respective apartments; scarily precise and accurate enumerations of the moronicity and commitment-phobia of overeducated, coeval men -- mirror my own experiences with near letter-perfect reflection. (Okay, so I revolve in a few overlapping yet distinct circles in the city instead of one solid "tribe"; so our groups are seemingly less cultish than the author's -- the point holds.) It's supringingly validating, and refreshing, to read of my lifestyle painted as a broad social trend that's been accellerating for half a generation, rather than a set of aberrations made up of my unmarried friends (most of them) and me. Look, Ma, no ring! we all seem to say -- and we're apparently not all weirdo software engineers hanging out with nerdy boys (the best kind) and partying it up in San Francisco.

It certainly can seem like that, surrounded as I was at this weekend's events by enough bejeweled left ring fingers, and even a baby and a half (the fraction still in utero). Even of the Swatties, whom I for some reason trusted to hold out longer than any one high-school contingent, most were engaged or well on their way, if not already married. Compared to these girls, I feel fat and behind schedule.

I think I'll skip the Sunday Styles (and its wedding section) today.

Fri, 6 Jun 2008 17:19:20 -0400

Every time I come to New York, it seems, the city grows on me more and more. It started off the big, scary place whose only function was the printing of the paper that Ben's father read while we ate bagels with gruyère, drank green tea, and studied linear algebra in high school; Mom & I flew into it for my ill-advised, senior-year Juilliard audition (I played Marin-Marais, for chrissakes; Mom took pity on me and bought us tickets to Khovanshchina afterwards, whether as congratulations or in condolence wasn't quite clear). It was right there in college, too, just up New Jersey transit and past a bit of broken-boxcar-and-trash east coast countryside, for a day trip or to visit a friend. Even for a few New Year's Eves after college, and for the radiant Gates, I never mapped it out mentally, never understood it to be anything more than too much city, never even really figured out the grid numbering of avenues and streets.

But last time I was here, instead of blindly putting myself in my friends' hands and being led from chocolate shop to café to restaurant, I bought a map. And this time, I received more: We squeezed together onto a sweaty banquette at Botanica, watching twentysomethings of all shapes, colors, sizes sift through piles of clothing at this swap, our free shots of Jim Beam in front of us, when he brought the collection of maps out of his bag: Brooklyn, Manhattan, subway, 5-borough, wallet-sized. The visual display of quantitative information about an exciting city: mmmm, cartography.

And so this time, not only was I armed to to the teeth with maps, but I also had a certified New York City tour guide, an urban historian, a climber of bridges and flouter of locks, a lover of the town, head over heels with its stories and structures. "Ask me anything," he said, as we drank Boddington from cans lying on the grass in the park under the Brooklyn Bridge, the twinkling lights in the sweeping panorama of the opposing Manhattan skyline surrogate stars. He too quoted Marvell; I read to him about congeners and esters in Scotch. "Is that the Empire State Building?" I asked, pointing at the deco spires of the Chrysler; he laughed and kissed me on the street corner. He steered us by turns towards whiskey; an old carousel; a hammock late last cool, breezy night on top of a Brooklyn loft, strung between rusted struts of a partial tower. We walked over Delancey and stared up at the towers of the Williamsburg Bridge; later, we peered down its cables across the East River, the city's reflected lights on the water from between the treads of its flying stairs.

On a rooftop of a gallery in DUMBO overlooking the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, music playing and photographers swarming, I remarked to him that I don't generally get far outside of my immediate demographic (read: software engineers & grad students, somewhat exclusively): Though we've all apparently somehow become professionals (Emilie's passed the bar and is a real lawyer; Abby's ABD; they assert that somehow my now over-3-year stint with Google constitutes a legitimate career, too), these artists, explorers, these urbanites exuded a different kind of energy.

I begin to really see, I think, why people ardently love this city, why they'll vociferously defend it in the face of all contenders, even the usual trump card of San Francisco, and why they'll never leave. Its solid cityness, its packed-in life, makes it a contiguous environment like no other: a fully alternate world in which people on the sidewalk move (for once) as fast as I do, not everyone is married or skinny or geeky or in school. There are tattoos to rival San Francisco's; there are probably as many vertical feet of elevator track as there are horizontal of sidewalk; and there are its passionate enthusiasts: rangy, bohemian, beautiful.

It helps, I'm sure, that I was here during a perfect late-spring, early-summer week, the humidity still at bay, the temperatures hovering still in the human realm (which they're not projected to do through the coming weekend down in Swat). And I'm sure I'll be deeply happy to see the late-afternoon sunlight through the fog creeping over Buena Vista hill, down Duboce, when I return to San Francisco on Monday. But oh, if travel is about making friends with new cities (making friends; new cities), then my guide has succeeded admirably with this one (this trip, this city). Thank you.

Mon, 9 Jun 2008 18:49:40 -0700

"Have you ever thought of moving to New York?" Glen asked over our biweekly Slice lunch this afternoon back in Mountain View, as we slurped hippie drinks and cauliflower-miso soup. And I guess I'd been extolling my time in the city last week, since even though I wasn't conscious of ever articulating that thought, he was right to extrapolate. So before I could say "no" reflexively, I had to pause: Hadn't my narrative been logically leading there? I certainly hadn't shot down any of the New Yorkers who'd said something similar last week: Carla, over afternoon macchiatos at 9th Street Espresso in Chelsea Market, asserted I should; Alyssa even, as we stood in the sticky Swarthmore heat in front of Trotter, had said, "you know, there are boys who like books in New York." (She would know; she's found one!)

Not that anything like this is on the horizon. Not that I'd be so silly as to move to that coast during one of their gross, humid summers, or run away just yet from what is, as I told Glen when he asked, the geographic place that feels to me culturally analagous to how Swarthmore did academically: Unlike a big state school that had everything, but at which you'd need time and luck to really find your niche, SF (Swat) just fits me, without having to tease out vegan enclaves, burners, snowboarders, world-class opera premières without pretense, yogis who sweat more than they chant, geeks who read telltale O'Reilly books on planes back home, sunshine and perfect coffee and my favorite table-for-two Italian restaurants and judicial progressivism and homemade date-walnut sorbet. I don't have to find these things, because they just are. Whereas, in the same way that I could have taken Urdu or learned capoeira at the monolithic UW-Madison but I would have had to look for people to not mock me while I sang rounds in Old French with them in the school's belltower (cf. Sunday afternoon in the cool stone shade with Emily, Alyssa B., Amelia, & Julie), I'm sure my grooves and my niches exist in New York, but would just require serious legwork to achieve. Legwork and luck.

But the instinct is a familiar one: It's all in the name of forward motion, that same thing that made it so extremely, resoundingly weird to be back on campus this last weekend (that, and the oppressive close-to-100-F heat plus humidity). A larger school -- one with roads through it, say -- wouldn't have had this set of triggers; but at Swarthmore, each pathway between buildings, each block of the courtyard between the erstwhile CS lab and Paces, even the smell of the goddamned soap(!) sends me painfully back, and not in a redolent way, but more like fuck-I'm-still-in-college. I'm twenty-seven -- I don't want to be 19 again, nor 20, 21, or 22. I've moved on from that place, that time, those buildings, those pathways and statuary, those mugs of chai at that air-conditioned coffee bar, those red plastic cups of bad beer at those school-sponsored parties that played Like A Prayer.

The only thing I don't actively want to leave behind is the people, of course. I want to keep seeing them -- and really, all of them: those with whom I do keep in touch, those I don't but mean to, and those that have just slid over the years -- at weddings (or other similar gatherings, if there are any) -- just not, please not, back at college, where we so easily slip back into old habits of mind, old ruts and behaviors. Old routines and neurohardwired autopilot routes take over and I find myself trying to take a path up to Tarble that now dead-ends in a basement -- how both literal and figurative! So I fucking hoisted myself up over the ledge and kept going. But it's disconcerting to stub one's toes along the old pathways of memory.

I worry a bit, sometimes, that this is pathological of me -- I don't want to go back to DC anymore; Madison is weirder and less nostalgic every time I end up back there; I don't even want to cross the bay into Berkeley! Upward, onward, forward, toward: It's not that I've rejected my experiences in those places (not at all that), but just that, once I've left, I don't want to return.

And it's just that, then, that would (note the subjunctive) be the impetus for something as stupid as trading this sweater-wearing climate, this vegetable-eating playground for the hurly-burly, commotion, and solipsism -- to say nothing of the price of an apartment -- of this city's eastern counterpart. Forward motion.

But for now (and I mean the long now), fuck, am I glad to be home: Home, in this temperate, coastal climate of fog in the city (projected ever cooler into next week, in the embrace of the fog as it begins its annual summer courtship); to my apartment stocked with my favorite things (red-dotted sheets; double-bergamot Earl Grey and several teapots; green glass drawer handles on my new dark West Elm desk); of hoppy beer and complex cocktails; of, still yet, my heart.

Fri, 20 Jun 2008 22:24:49 -0700

I had one of those all-is-right-in-the-world moments this afternoon: I'd just gotten out of yoga, the Friday-afternoon class I'm always a bit late for because it's really still during any reasonable person's work day (though, I reason, if I stay at work much past 4 on a Friday, I'll end up drinking whiskey and playing Sheepshead anyhow, so I may as well be healthy about it). I wasn't planning on having anything sweet after class -- as we did one-legged urdhva dhanurasanas, while upside-down, I'd been turning over in my mind the idea of polenta -- but then Les said, That Bi-Rite is going to taste so good after this. So, seed planted, I headed to Naia after class, making my way through throngs of lesbians queued up down the block from the Castro Theatre for the beginning of the Gay & Lesbian Film Fest, and got a cone of vegan nocciola gelato.

So I walked back up Market from Castro to Church, my hair back in its orange scarf, my mat slung over my back, in my stretchy yoga pants, licking a soy hazelnut ice cream cone on one of the few real summer days we get here: good 'n' hot, so much so that, like a kid, I had to keep licking to stop the cone from dripping down my hand. Sun shone; huge rainbow flags flapped enthusiastically from every light standard (the California Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage still so fresh in everyone's mind! City Hall was abuzz on Tuesday, the first day ceremonies were performed); it was only around 6 PM, the middle of a summer afternoon.

"It's amusing to me how much you compare SF to other cities," says Sean, "only to declare SF the winner of the contest to make you most happy." And I suppose I do -- the fixer in me ever-optimizing, perhaps?. But, with archetypal moments like this, it will continue to win.

all this Šnori heikkinen, June 2008

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