the circular runner

Posts Tagged ‘reflections’

what’s so great about Mad Men?

In humor, life, media, observations, writing on March 3, 2012 at 7:28 am


NO!  I’m sorry.  I’m trying to be more open about things. I’ve only seen one complete episode and a handful of others I couldn’t finish because I could not get into a show about corporate dudes of yore who look like modern-day hipsters.  I’m sure there’s a lot more going on.  I’m sure that people think this show is great television for some reason I am missing.  I don’t get the appeal of skinny ties and suit pants, personally.  (I get a lot of that with the hipsters walking around SF.)  I also don’t get the appeal of people who drink all the time and make their living selling shit, either.  But I can’t imagine it’s the profession of the protagonist that would turn me off.  I like Braking Bad, and that’s about a meth dealer.

In my younger days, I would belabor this question–even more than I do now.  I would seriously wonder why it is that I missed the boat.  To a certain point, I still think there are explainable/empirical reasons why people like the things they do, and though it’s ridiculous to admit this, I still kind of hope that if someone can explain their likes, I’ll get it and join.  At the root of this, if you haven’t figured it out, is insecurity.  I feel like odd-man out, and I don’t want to be odd.  It’s all just a little too-high school except that the stakes are higher than the fear of not being in the cool group.

Here’s a question that arises for me: what if the real mad man is me?  And by mad, I actually mean, untalented.  What if my lack of seeing the greatness of a supposedly great show is is a sign that when it comes to greatness as a storyteller, I got the short end of the stick?

I’m 40.  It took me most of my 20s to discover that writing was something that made me feel good.  It took my 30’s for me to decide and to admit to myself that I wanted to make storytelling a career.  I’m a late bloomer. I accept that–most days, I try to.  But at the end of the day, am I kidding myself?  Am I on the path and I just need to keep at this until the day I hit with something?  OR, am I the writer’s equivalent of the community theater actor?  That guy who loves to do his craft but who ends his days doing King Lear at the Elks Club.  No way to know.  So I keep on writing.  But it’s hard. (How’s that for wisdom?)

I’ve decided that writing is kind of like love.  You throw yourself where your heart leads.  You have to go on and love even if you don’t know for sure that that love will pan out.  No guarantees, right?  Hate that.  Hate it Hate it. Hate it.  Not as much as I hate Mad Men, but it’s close.


why does my espresso taste like i’m throwing up backwards?

In humor, life, observations, Uncategorized, writing on February 21, 2012 at 6:35 am

I live in San Francisco. Because I am a teacher and tutor-for-hire, half of my trunk looks like a library. Because of where I live, the other half looks like a sweater store. San Francisco is not a big city, but the micro-climates are legion. In the course of any given day, you have to be ready for everything from California heat to arctic windstorm. At night, things tend to stabilize, which means it just gets cold. This is why we have a ton of coffee places in most neighborhoods.

But I have noticed a disturbing trend among these purveyors of java, good ol’ joe, the elixir of the Gods. The fancier the place, the worse the coffee. Many people in the know give me blank stares when I point out that the coffee roasters most famous here, Ritual and Blue Bottle being the best examples, serve stuff that tastes like burned vinegar. Recently, I met someone for a meeting at the Blue Bottle-owned cafe downtown. The person I was meeting was one of those in-the-know kind of guys, so I figured he liked Blue Bottle. I also knew that the espresso there was like puking backwards, but I didn’t want to be a downer. That, and the fact that another person-in-the-know, told me my experience with Blue Bottle was not authentic since I was not drinking something made by Blue Bottle coffee gurus.

After waiting in line (because so many people seem to love the stuff) it was my turn up at the altar of caffeine, so I asked the guru-in charge if she could make a hot chocolate for me and dump a shot of espresso in that. Regardless of what I’d been told, I just wanted a decent coffee experience. (If you’re asking why I didn’t just have a straight hot chocolate, I’m not sure. For some reason, that didn’t seem like an option at the time, which I take as a sign that I needed the caffeine to think more clearly.)

Anyway, the Blue Bottle guru looked at me like I was crazy. “We don’t do THAT to our product,” she said. “Don’t you like our espresso?”

To which I answered an unusually honest and blunt, “No. Actually, I don’t.”

It’s not just one place. If you Yelp the best places for espresso in the city, the top nine roasters all produce cups of pain that, to varying degrees, make me feel like I’m puking in reverse. These places do wonderful business. People rave. I puke in reverse. Now, either my buds are off, or I live in the wrong city for coffee, which makes me so so sad. I went to Seattle last year, and it was like every espresso was better than the last. I don’t think my wife is going to allow us to move for my coffee needs, but it’s hard. It’s hard for a man to puke backwards unintentionally.

There are still a few places that serve a decent cup of joe in town–usually, they’re old school places that don’t even specialize in coffee. I have a bakery down the street that serves something called Mr. Espresso, which sounds completely lame except that it’s so much better than the fancy tripple-roasted beans washed by fairly-traded coffee technicians in Sumatra. But the bakery sorely lacks something I need, two hings, actually: seats and wi-fi.

Look, I know I should suck it up and brew my own damn coffee, but the last few months, I have become addicted to sitting in coffee houses while writing. I’m just so much more productive sitting on dusty and dingy chairs, plugged into crappy wall sockets while sipping at my double espresso alongside the new moms and dads and their slinged children. If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, then you know that I was doing the Starbucks thing since it was so close to my house, but that sign about something called acrylamide or some such thing and how it’s in their products and might cause cancer, well that freaked me out, (Also the ventilation was horrid and my wife told me that all my sweaters smelled like crappy coffee and cat pee–she thinks all Starbucks smell like cat pee.)

I’m starting to think that it’s just a hipster thing. Hipsters like skinny jeans and stupid fedoras. I do not. Maybe they like burned vinegary pukey coffee, which you could call the coffee equivalent of skinny jeans. They’re taking over everything in town–the cheap housing, the book stores, and now the coffee places. I used to go to this other place owned by a Neapolitan guy–a f-ing Italian, and the coffee was just plain old Lavazza and it was magnifico. Then his business started doing well. He hired some hipster-chick to help now, and wham-bam, I’m puking mam. It’s a conspiracy, I’ve decided. But I won’t give into it. I will keep looking for good coffee and chairs and WiFi. It’s a dream, I know. But you gotta shoot for the stars sometimes. You gotta have hope.

is the woman making my espressos really a woman & why do I care?

In humor, life, observations, Uncategorized, writing on February 3, 2012 at 1:55 pm

A few words for context: a friend is working on a documentary about transsexuals. It’s a topic I really didn’t know much about, admittedly. But I helped him out on the shoot, and he was gracious and patient as I asked my questions beforehand. Maybe it’s a sign of the times, but when entering a new community, as I was about to do working on this movie, my biggest concern is not to offend. Then again, I’m a Libra, so I tend to like to be liked, so there’s that.  I enjoyed helping out. I learned a lot. And I’m glad to say that I think the doc will turn out pretty nicely. Check out the movie’s kickstarter campaign if you are interested, but come back if you want to find why it’s made me confused–more so than usual.

It’s been about three weeks since the shoot, but a question has arisen for me more than once while walking the streets of San Fran: how many of the women I am seeing are actually women?  And to make things more interesting still, what do I mean when I say, “actually”?

If I learned anything about the transsexual community, it’s that the whole distinction between real and not-real is not as real as I once thought, or at least, the standards by which I define real and not real may not be as steady as most of us like to think they are. The women on the movie–post operation or pre–are women. They see themselves that way. They live their lives that way. So they are women.  And then again…I say this and I hear the voice of one of the producers of the doc who in private admitted that though he would never want to disrespect the individuals he was filming–i.e., he would refer to them as women to their faces–he didn’t really think they were.  I think this is where my conservative friends would jump in with a nod and say, “yup, just ’cause you call yourself something, doesn’t make you that thing.”  You probably can hear those voices chiming in, using the argument by extension: “if someone said he was a llama, and ate like a llama and hung out with llamas, would that person be a llama?”  My flip answer would be, if a person could have an operation in which he was transformed to look like a llama and have sex like a llama, then, I’d probably be willing to think of that man as a llama.

But let me go back to the producer and his point because though I don’t want to agree with him, I do find myself having some sympathy for what he said. Maybe sympathy is the wrong word. But here’s the thing, I have another friend who kind of got into this movement called, transhumanism, which pushes the idea that eventually, humans will incorporate robotics into their bodies, thus erasing the human-computer divide. Generally, I think that’s creepy, and I don’t want to accept the premise that me and my Apple will soon be indistinguishable–though I do love my Apple, it should be said.

So, why is it that I can accept that a person who has an operation to erase the gender divide is ok, but not so much for the guy who wants to become bionic?  Isn’t kind of the same thing?

The only difference I can come up with is that in the case of the transsexual, there is this heartbreaking idea of being born into the wrong body. I cannot imagine being a physical man who feels he should have been a woman, or vice versa. Maybe the transhumanist thinks her body is not right without some kind of robotic thing inserted into it, but those people seem a little more cold and clinical, as in the sense that they feel their bodies should be more perfect and can only be so with some computer chip swimming around their bloodstream. In one case, the operation points at being happier and humaner; in the case of the transhuman, the goal seems to be to become less human.  Of course, this is probably my bias.

And so, as long as we are referring to biases, let me add another to the list. Because for all my talk of acceptance, I find myself wondering about this one women I see almost every day.  She makes my awful espresso at the local Starbucks. I don’t know why I suspect her of being transsexual. I don’t know why I care. Maybe I don’t really. I don’t know what it is I feel. Is it rude for me to think of a person who feels like she is born in the wrong body as a misfit? I count myself in that club. I have always felt that way, but the misfittedness that I feel is more internal, and I know how to cover it up. Its dumb. I’m probably an asshole. But there is a part of me that wants to break down the covering-up that I am doing and that I think she is doing and get up on a faux-rickety table while the faux jazz plays at my Starbucks, and powered by my faux espresso, I want to reach out and tell this person that I am one of the club, that I feel the pain of not fitting in.

Of course, I am not part of the club. Not her club. She may not even have a club. She may not see herself as being anything but a she. She may have been a she since birth for all I know. So, I guess it all boils down to me. I’m the misfit, and that’s really all I know.  Now what?

a teacher’s quandary: when’s the right time for tough love?

In life, observations, teaching & education, Uncategorized on June 14, 2011 at 9:19 am

teaching in the Mission is full of but's

I hate waking up early when I’m up late the night before.  (The fact that I’m always up late basically means I always hate getting up early.)  But this morning, I got my tired butt up so that I could take a student to her last exam of the GED.  This student can be, for lack of a better word, a piece of work.  She has cursed me out for helping her, she shows up to class often after partaking of her “medicine”.  (This being the Bay Area, medicine is code for pot.)  And though she can be sweet, she has some pretty radical mood shifts when faced with variables and radicals.

Still, I have love for this person because I feel like she’s one of those damaged people who just needs an extra hand.  This is why I was willing to get up and give her a ride, and why I have put up with her.  (Though I did kick her out one time when she was too much–even by her high standards.)

Because I know she is deathly scared of writing, and this morning, her exam required her to write an essay, I knew she needed some support.  I also should’ve known things weren’t going to work out when I called her to make sure she was up.  She was groggy and she was kind of annoyed, but I pushed on and told her to be ready.  When I got to her house, she was all set, but something told me to ask her if she had her ID.  (The state requires ID for her to get into the test.)  She said no, and then went back into the house and didn’t come back.  Minutes passed.  I called her, and she told me she couldn’t find her wallet and that she was mad.  Then the line went dead.

There was a not-so small part of me that wanted go up her door and give her a curse-out.  I wanted to tell her to stop being such a f*ck up.  She’s pushing forty.  She needs to get her life together.  I’m not paid to be her chauffeur, etc. etc.

I said none of these things, of course.  I drove off, went to a bakery near my house and bought an orange bun, which I will spend the evening having to run off.  Tomorrow or Friday, I will text her and remind her to come back to class.  I’ll also go sign her up for a make-up test, and she’ll take it in July and pass it.  And if you’re thinking that I’m being a dumb-dumb about this, and that if not yell, I should at least have a serious talk with her, I’d say I can see your point, but…

But sh*t happens, and anyone can misplace their wallet.

But I am her teacher, not her parent.  And as such, my job is to get her to achieve this elusive goal of finishing something–anything–she started.

But she actually has the following signature on her text messages: “motivate in 2011”, which means she knows she’s struggling, and piling on is not going to help.

But my anger is personal and a little selfish. Though I want her to pass so that she can move on, I also wanted to add her to my pass column so I can show my boss and my funders in City Hall that I run a great program.

But, but, but, but.

My life as a teacher of people who struggle to do what many of us take for granted is full of buts.  But (yes here is one more) it is full of joy and hope.  I like what I do–even when I have to get my tired butt (another but, but different) up out bed only to eat an overly-caloried piece of goodness.  Tough love sounds good.  It is sometimes necessary.  However, (note: I avoided yet another but) at least for me, it is a tool of last resort.

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