46. On Poetry

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I have a dear old friend who recently published an amazing book of poems.  I’ve been reading them over and over again at work when I’m bored and right now, at 3:30 AM, I’m inspired to write a poem of my own in which I will attempt (rather poorly I’m sure) to emulate his style.

Insomnia

I have a little journal on my nightstand
     (a file cabinet at the foot of my bed)
that demands I write a few lines every night for 5 years
with a separate page for each day of the year
     (I hide the journal when girls come over)
and on March 30 of last year I wrote:
 

“Today was the day I was gonna
propose to [X]. Instead, I
had sex w/[Y] from last week.
I was hoping [Y] would be ‘the one.’
I have a bad stomachache.” 

Of course, by March 30 of 2013,
[X] had already been gone for a year and a half
but two years prior, on March 30 of 2011
I had already picked the date
on which I’d pop the question. 

Sometimes I can’t tell if time passes
like molasses in the wintertime
or lightning in the dirty south
but I read that entry
when I went to bed at 11 PM
     (just a few minutes ago)
and now it’s 3:30 and I’m still awake.

Einstein was full of shit.

45. On Other Places in Which I Have Lived: Washington, D.C.

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Before I forget, HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYBODY!!!

I’ll warn you in advance: alternative titles to this post included “On Not Being an Adult,” “On Friendship,” and “On Being Single.”  In fact, this post may end up being a little more personal and a little less about a city.  That’s okay—if you’re my close friend, you’ll totally dig it.  If you’re a complete stranger, you’ll also dig it, unless you’re some kind of Philistine who wouldn’t know brilliant writing if it bit you in the ass.  It’s like the emperor’s new clothes—if you can’t appreciate the sheer genius of my blog, then you must be a fool.  Also, I’m writing this piece in the nude.

There’s sort of a “young liberal U.S. city circuit,” and when you meet somebody between the ages of 25 and 35 in SF, chances are that she has lived in at least one of the following before arriving in the city by the bay: LA, NY, DC, and/or Chicago.  I am proud to say that I’ve lived in all but the last, mainly because Chicago is too darn cold (note: she may have also lived in Boston or Philly for school, but those don’t count, mainly because I never lived in either and I don’t want to bring my average down).  Many people know about my time in NY and LA (particularly if they’ve been closely following this blog), but not everybody knows I spent time in DC.  Admittedly, I was only there for four months—is that enough time for me to truthfully say that I “lived” there?  Yes, I think it is.  And I make the rules.

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As you may remember from my insightful post on El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciúncula, I was not a huge fan of the city of broken dreams, so after 2.5 years of law school at UCLA I made my escape.  UCLA has this wonderful program in which students are allowed to spend four months externing for a government organization in D.C. all while receiving a full semester’s worth of school credit. When I was in law school I thought I was going to be an environmental lawyer, so I did my externship at the White House Council on Environmental Quality (the “CEQ”).  That’s right, ladies: I worked at the White House.  Kind of.

It was a dream job.  I got in at 9, left at 5, and while I was at work I spent my time meeting with intimidatingly intelligent people to discuss incredibly interesting things, like carbon sequestration and Asian carp and adaptation-based approaches to climate change.  I wrote a couple of memos, helped write (one short paragraph of) a Supreme Court brief, responded to FOIA requests (in a sort of rude manner, when necessary)…you know, the whole government lawyer shebang.

Even though I’m now writing about the political center of the U.S., I don’t want to make this into a political post.  However, I should say that after working in the government for just four months, I can start to understand where Grover Norquist is coming from.  Under George W., the CEQ had at one point as few as 3 people.  When I came on in January 2010, one year after Obama was inaugurated, there were 46 people in CEQ.  Were they all necessary?  I don’t think so.  I went to a lot of meetings in which a lot of nothing was discussed, and everybody would leave and turn to their colleagues from their various agencies and say, “goddamn Department of ________!  Wasting our time again!”  Each agency recognized that these meetings were 90% useless (plus or minus 10%), and was doing its best to blame the lack of progress on somebody else—Forestry Service, Fish and Wildlife, and Department of the Interior were always good targets.  Your tax dollars at work. I’m sure there were a few other agencies that are also useless, but I can’t remember them right now.

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When I was at the CEQ, the agency had about 20 interns, and they were rapidly multiplying.  Do interns ever provide any sort of value add?  Not really.  True, they cost nothing, but they take up valuable space, and they actually did end up costing the CEQ money because a number of the “more important” interns insisted on traveling with the Chair to various “events” (i.e., mediocre publicity opportunities) in national parks across the country.  I remember that there was this one kid, maybe 22 or 23 years old, who was appointed as the Chair’s “Chief of Staff,” which meant that he would organize meetings, wear suits, and attempt (unconvincingly) to speak with authority.  You’d better believe that when I was 28 years old, I had a rough time not laughing when a 23 year-old kid with an expensive suit and a bad haircut tried to boss me around.  And our tax dollars were paying to fly this kid all across the country.  Damn you, Obama.  Damn you to hell.

D.C. is full of 23 year-olds who think that they’re really important.  They inhabit this space known as “The Hill” and apparently there’s a whole “scene” there.  I avoided it like the plague when I was there, but every now and then you’d meet a kid who spoke like he owned the damn town, and you knew he was probably a staffer.  I never understood the appeal—does not having any money and being really boring get a guy laid in D.C.?  There’s a reason why female inhabitants often refer to the town as “Douchebag City.”

douchebag-mcgrath

I want to get off of this topic, but I feel the need to narrate one little anecdote of district douchebaggery, because it’s a story that begs to be told.  Towards the end of my time in D.C., I was at the 4 Ps Irish pub (which has since closed down) in Cleveland Park, my old stomping grounds, with a good buddy of mine.  We had been putting away pitcher after pitcher and were pretty far gone, when we noticed a pair of attractive young women and decided to chat them up.  I had a girlfriend at the time (more on her later), but my buddy was into one of them and I was being a good wingman.  Things were going pretty well and we decided to go out front for a cigarette.

4 Ps had a narrow front porch, and so we found ourselves sharing relatively tight quarters with a pair of young, Aryan-looking gentlemen in collared shirts and knit sweaters (my buddy and I were both wearing hoodies).  One of the young men grabbed the woman my buddy was into by the arm and asked what she was doing.  Shaking him off, she replied that she was talking to her friends and turned away from him.  My buddy, ever the friendly one, turned to the Mayflower-descendents and asked what they did in D.C.  “We’re lawyers,” the grabber replied.  “That’s great!” my buddy said, “we’re 3Ls in law school.  I go to American and my friend goes to UCLA.”  Knit sweater #2 then turned to the women and said, and I’m not joking here, “the guys you are talking to go to crappy law schools.  We went to Georgetown and now we work at [insert names of biglaw firms].  We make way more money than your friends are going to make, so you should talk to us instead of them.”

The women said no thanks and the four of us went back inside.  When our new ladyfriends went to the bathroom, my buddy looked at me and said, “we should go outside and beat the crap out of those dudes.”  We discussed it for a minute and decided against taking that action.  After all, we were both taking the bar exam in the summer and if the cops were called, that could put our future legal careers in jeopardy.  Also, we were both the products of suburban upbringings and Ivy-league educations, and thus not accustomed to settling disputes with fisticuffs.  Still, one of my biggest regrets in life was that we did not go back and pummel the crap out of those dudes.  By not beating the shit out of them, we were denying them an important life lesson, and I honestly feel bad about that.  Then again, they probably would have sued us.  Fucking pansy-ass lawyers.

* * *

I’m writing this piece on an airplane, as I’m flying from D.C. back to SF.  After taking virtually no vacations my first 3 years as a lawyer, I decided to take one for the New Year.  My co-workers were quite confused at my choice of D.C. for my vacation destination, because apparently when you go on vacation in the wintertime you’re supposed to go somewhere where the climate is warmer, not colder, than where you live.  What can I say, I don’t do what everybody thinks I should; I’ve always been a loner Dottie, a rebel.

A number of my friends from different walks of life have moved to D.C. over the past 15 or so years, and as a result I had so many people to see during my trip that I literally did not do any D.C.-related things.  I did not see a single monument, and the only time I entered a museum was to visit my friend who worked in the Postal Museum, but we just sat in the staff lounge and talked the whole time so I didn’t see any actual exhibits.  A friend in San Francisco had requested that I go to H Street NE and compare what is happening there to gentrification in the Mission/Western Addition, but I barely left the general Columbia Heights/DuPont/Chinatown area.  My one semi-touristy endeavor was going out to Annapolis to visit a friend, but while there all we did was go to a couple of bars (I mean, I wasn’t about to miss the 49er game, right?).  The trip to the bar was a success on multiple levels: the 49ers won, and I saw this street sign:

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I was nervous about going to D.C. because I was afraid that it would make me think of my ex (the same woman whom I was dating during the 4 Ps douchebag incident…I told you there would be more on her).  She stayed in D.C. after I left and we tried the long distance thing for about a year and a half.  Our break up fucked me up pretty badly, and I was hesitant to return to D.C. because I was afraid I would (a) bump into her or (b) be reminded of her in a painful way.  However, two years after the fact, I am happy to say that I managed to go to D.C. without any painful memories (I also know that she goes to the Bay Area every year for the holidays, so by going to D.C. during that time I managed to avoid bumping into her on both ends).  Because we were only together in D.C. for a short time, there aren’t really any places in the city that remind me of her.  In fact, the only time any memory of her was triggered was when I passed by the Royal Palace strip club.  I took her there once on a date—it was her first time in such an establishment.

But enough about her—back to my trip.  All I did during my D.C. vacation was meet up with friends, sometimes one-on-one, sometimes in small groups, for meals, drinks, coffee, or to party.  I engaged in many intense and scintillating conversations that made me reflect deeply on life, myself, and my relationships with others.  I laughed more last week than I think I had in the 50 preceding weeks.  The whole week is kind of like a blur, but in my mind I am replaying the highlight reel, a series of vignettes and epiphanies that I hope do not fade from my memory anytime soon.  And in order to ensure that they do not, I am going to recount some of them here, in this very blog.  I know, I know—you came here to read about D.C., not the rantings of some oft-lonely, always-depraved, hirsute Jewish San Franciscan, but trust me, friend, there are plenty of pearls of wisdom to be cleaved from the oyster that is this blog post.  If not pearls, then certainly nuggets.

I stayed at a friend’s house in Columbia Heights.  She and her husband were out of town until my final night in town, so I had the place to myself, which was nice. As I was giving myself a tour of the digs, I noticed that they had a credenza on top of which sat about two dozen Christmas cards from various couples, about half of whom had children.  It then occurred to me that my friend and her husband were adults.  They are married.  They own a house.  They receive Christmas cards from a bunch of happy couples, some of whom have successfully procreated, and they put them on a credenza, which they also own.  I didn’t mention it yet, but my friends also own a dog (he was at doggie daycare when they were gone.  At first I was bummed, but it was probably for the better, given that I spent very little time at their place during my vacation).

I thought of my own station in life.  I am single, and I’ve been single long enough that I (and my parents) often wonder if I’ll ever get married.  I live in an apartment.  I think this year I received two Christmas cards, which I placed on top of my desk for about a week, next to my car insurance bill (the Christmas cards were thrown away when the bill was finally paid).  I don’t have a dog, and I’m actually afraid that my plants may be dead when I arrive home (note: arrived back home—one out of two of the plants survived).  I am years away from ever remotely considering having children.  When I see my contemporaries (and people 4-6 years younger than me) achieving all of these milestones, I’m not necessarily jealous, but I do feel kind of like I’m not an adult.

In San Francisco, nearly all of my coworkers have achieved or are in the process of achieving these societally-accepted (if not arbitrary) indications of adulthood, and many of my non-work friends have as well.  Thus, much of my time is spent drowning in conversations about wedding photographers, mortgages, and poopy diapers.  I’m not gonna lie—it kinda sucks.  In D.C., on the other hand, with the exception of the couple at whose house I was staying, all of my friends are unmarried (although a few are in long-term relationships), childless, and still renting, despite being in their early thirties.  There’s some sense of comfort that comes from having other friends in the same boat at this magical stage in life, and this commonality (combined with high-quality whiskey) led to a few enlightening moments, which I will now share with you, dear readers.

*            *            *

I met up with my former roommate (and dear friend) for coffee at Tryst in Adams Morgan.  We had lived in Cleveland Park together and used to frequent the cafe (not all that frequently).  Last year I had seen on the Facebook that this friend was participating in a “vegan lunch club,” which is something that young professional liberal women do in D.C. (I say that based on the fact that I know two people who fit who description and who do it).  In a vegan lunch club, every week (or day), one member will prepare a vegan meal for everybody in the group, and the group will sit together to enjoy the meatless, eggless, dairyless bounty.

My friend had quit her VLC.  I asked her why, and she said that while she had no qualms with the “vegan” aspect of the arrangement, the “lunch club” bit was starting to get to her.  In short, she did not enjoy the obligation of spending an hour every week with this particular set of colleagues.  “When I joined vegan lunch club, I was excited,” she explained.  “I thought we were going to discuss current events, movies, books, things like that.  The rest of the group wasn’t interested in discussing these things.”  “What did they want to talk about?” I asked.  “Other people,” my friend answered.

This point really registered with me.  Talking about other people is unbearably tedious compared with pretty much any other subject of conversation (besides the weather), and yet it’s probably what we talk about the most.  Some amount of talking about other people is appropriate—for example, on this trip I obviously had to show all of my friends a recent photo of my nephew and gush about how he’s simply the awesomest kid ever.  Also, we often learn funny stories about other people that are worth sharing.  However, it’s very easy to slip into lashon hara (that’s Hebrew for “talking shit”)—sadly, this sometimes helps us to feel connected with others.  While it’s important to feel connected, I’d rather feel inspired, and lashon hara may effect a lot of emotions, but inspiration is not one of them.  At the request of one of my best friends, I have made a new year’s resolution to surround myself with people who inspire me more, but I realize now that anybody can inspire me if we can shift our conversation to something, anything, beyond other people.

lashon hara comic

*            *            *

I got pretty fucked up with my friend in Annapolis.  We started by going to a tavern a little off the main drag so that I could watch the 49er game.  My friend had been told that it was a “hipster bar,” but it was really just a sports bar, filled with Ravens fans who reminded me that outside of the liberal cities I mentioned at the beginning of the post, much of America is pretty darn obese.  However, they had “Sweet Baby Jesus” (peanut butter chocolate porter) on tap and some darn good buffalo wings, so we really had no choice but to start drinking at 4 PM.  After the game my friend took me to a bar that brewed a number of beers in the 8-12% ABV range, and then we went back to his place where he had a bottle of Woodford Reserve waiting.  In college we used to drink a lot of Jim Beam, but I’m proud to say that at the very least, we’re now adult enough to afford better quality booze.

“You know what sucks the most about being single?” my friend inquired.

“The loneliness?  The lack of regular sex?  The fear that you’ll be alone forever?  Not having a second person to help pay the rent?  Going to restaurants and movies by yourself?  Bitterly cooking for one every night?  Trying to date and realizing that all of the best women are taken?  Getting bitter every time you see an ad for a romantic comedy?  Having no one to kiss on New Year’s Eve?  Everything about Valentine’s Day?”  So maybe I had thought about this before.  Just a little.

“No!” my friend shouted.  “It’s when your friends who are couples are so fucking condescending!  Do you notice how they do that shit?  How they look down on you and make fun of you for being single?  Like you’re some kind of freak or something?”  I had to agree—in fact, just last week I had been the butt of a joke of a pair of couples friends due to my singledom.  I won’t go into details, but it really chapped my hide.

Single Man Seeks

The truth is that in your thirties, it can become hard for singles to remain friends with couples.  Couples like doing shit with each other.  It would be weird for me to go on a ski trip with three couples.  Sometimes it’s awkward going to dinner with couples…or if not awkward, annoying.  There’s often a sense of “you don’t understand—you’re single,” and while this is probably true, y’all don’t gotta rub it in, okay?  Soon some of these couples will start having kids, and the ever-endearing cries of “you don’t understand—you don’t have kids” will begin.  I can hardly wait.

“Put that shit in your blog!” my friend shouted, slamming back another bourbon and laughing so hard he nearly choked on his ice cube.

*            *            *

For New Year’s Eve, a friend of my friend threw a private party in a DuPont watering hole.  We had the upstairs to ourselves with an open bar, and everybody took advantage of the situation. It was an interesting collection of people, with the core group being my friend’s Skeeball team (see: stuff white people like), and all of their friends.  There were many people over the age of 30 who were not married, who did not own homes, and who did not have children.  In fact, I’m fairly sure that nobody at the party had kids—because once you have kids, you don’t go out to wild parties.  As far as I could tell, there was only one married couple, and they had gotten married earlier in the day.

I think if we were all 5-10 years younger, the whole scene could have erupted into a Bacchanalian orgy.  Instead (and to my slight disappointment), when midnight rolled around, the atmosphere was somewhat subdued, and most people who had came alone did not engage in a smooch (sadly, I was included among these ranks), except that one chick made out with the Russian dude.  There’s always that one chick who makes out with the Russian dude.  Another highlight was the 23 year-old girlfriend of one of the Skeeball folks flipping out because she wasn’t getting enough attention and shattering her champagne glass on the ground.  That relationship probably won’t last…but I suppose that’s what happens when you try dating a 23 year-old.

It made me very happy to be in a room of belligerently drunk 30-somethings.  There was no vomiting or overly-obnoxious behavior, because we 30-somethings can hold our liquor, but there was plenty of ribaldry and bawdy conversation, and a fair amount of dancing (although not as much as I would have liked).  All in all, a damn good time for this old man, and it gave me hope that although all of us are becoming adults at our own paces and in our own manners, I will always be able to find kindred spirits with whom I can get shitfaced.

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One final note: on NYE, prior to heading to the party, my friends showed me the video for Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball.”  It was my first time hearing the song or seeing the video, and I will admit that I wept.  After seeing that video, I was so disgusted with the present state of female singer-songwriters that I insisted that we watch the videos for Lisa Loeb’s “Stay,” Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn,” and Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” all in quick succession—whenever I start to panic at the state of music in this day and age, I just revert back to the early 90s version of the applicable genre.  Fiona Apple had more sexy in the top joint of her pinky than Miley Cyrus will ever have in her whole naked body (which I guess I have now seen).  However, I admit that Fiona Apple, and Natalie Imbruglia, and probably Lisa Loeb were all waaaayyy too skinny.  I’m really glad that as a society we have moved away from that whole “thin is in” thing.

*            *            *

I’m sorry if you clicked on this post expecting more about Washington, D.C.  Once you get away from all the monuments it’s a pretty nice town, with a few good restaurants, some excellent museums, decent live music and no shortage of fun bars.  Everybody is really smart—in fact, I fear that D.C. could potentially beat SF in a trivia contest.  D.C. has a burgeoning tech scene (supposedly) and I could waive into the D.C. bar without taking another test, making it one of the few places in the country I would consider moving.  But then again, the fact that I stepped off my plane (which had been delayed at Washington Dulles for 3 hours for “de-icing”) into balmy 47-degree weather and felt warm is an indication that D.C. is no place for me.  Also, “Washington D.C. Love Affair” does not have the same ring to it.  So it looks like I’m going to stick around SF for a little while longer.

Right before I got on my plane to come home, I received a group email invitation from a friend back in SF.  She was organizing an impromptu get together to celebrate the closing on a house she bought with her fiancé.  The gathering was to take place at a restaurant in Oakland that was “baby friendly.”  I just laughed.

And speaking of Russian dudes:

Yes, I understand that the band itself is German.  Stop overthinking this shit.

44. On Patent Trolls

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Before I begin this post, I really need to share this:

Great version of a great song.

As some of you may know, outside of being a world-renowned blogger, I live a secret double life as an intellectual property (“IP”) lawyer.  I’m not joking!  It’s my 9-5, just a little something I do on the side to pay the bills.  I’ve been tempted in the past to write about IP-related issues, but I hesitate because if I were to write a post about IP law, I’d have to include a disclaimer that explains that I AM NOT YOUR LAWYER and NOTHING I WRITE HERE SHOULD BE TAKEN AS LEGAL ADVICE and of course NOTHING I WRITE HERE IN ANY WAY REPRESENTS THE VIEWS OF MY EMPLOYER, and I’d have to mention that YOU SHOULD NOT AND CANNOT ASSUME THAT ANYTHING WRITTEN IN THIS POST IS ACCURATE and that HALF OF THE SHIT IN HERE IS MY OPINION—HONESTLY, CAN YOU NOT FIGURE THAT OUT?  And I’d need to mention that THIS POST AND ALL TEXT HEREIN IS DELIVERED “AS IS” AND I DISCLAIM ALL WARRANTIES, EXPRESS AND IMPLIED, INCLUDING THE WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY AND OF FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE and most importantly, I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE OR LIABLE FOR ANY LOSSES OR DAMAGES YOU SUFFER AS A RESULT OF RELYING ON THIS POST.

In other words, if you read my post and then get in an argument with your extremely irritating libertarian uncle at Christmas and he pulls out his iPad and provides evidence disproving one of your arguments that is based on something you read in this post, then I am not responsible for any pain, suffering, humiliation, or distress that you may suffer.  Besides, you probably interpreted my post wrong.  Schmuck.

But enough fine print.  As I mentioned above, this post is about IP law.  The story of how this anti-technology Luddite became an IP lawyer is kind of bizarre—I tried to become an environmental lawyer and got lost along the way.  I will say that in the end, even though I often bitch about my job, I find the field of IP law to be endlessly fascinating.  Technology is evolving at an insane and unprecedented rate, and the law is struggling to barely keep up.  Unlike environmental law where there are clear bad guys and good guys, the distinction between right and wrong in IP law is not as easy to demarcate, and I often find myself taking both sides in solo philosophical arguments (a.k.a. “two-handed mental masturbation”) after I hear of a new case or issue.  If I’m on Muni at the time, this causes people to stare at me…standing on a packed train car, muttering something about copyrights and the right of first sale to nobody in particular.  It happens.

Today’s “audible conversation between J and J” had to do with the new anti-patent troll legislation, H.R. 3309: The Innovation Act.  Don’t worry, you don’t need to read the whole thing…I didn’t.  As I discussed the merits and problems with the bill (speaking in a low, gorilla-like voice for the “yay” side and a chirpy, squirrel-like voice for the “nay” side), I recalled that in the past few weeks, I’ve had to explain the concept of “patent trolls” to three laypeople.  In my mind, that was enough to justify writing a blog post on the subject…so here it is!

Hold onto your hats and glasses; I am now going to completely over-simplify some very complicated concepts.

First thing’s first: What is a “Patent Troll”?

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No, it’s not that.  In short, a “Patent Troll” is an asshole.

Wait, before we get any further: What is a patent?

I think we should probably settle this first.  Unless you’re an inventor or an IP lawyer, you probably think that a patent is a piece of paper that says that you created something and own it.  This is not quite true.  A patent is nothing more than a right to exclude.  It’s the right to say, “I invented this whatchamahoozit, and for the next 20 years, you’re not allowed to use it, make it, sell it, offer to sell it, or import it unless I allow you to, bitch.”  If somebody wants to do any of the aforementioned verbs with your invention, he or she (or more likely, it) needs to obtain a license from you in order to do so.  You can give away licenses for free, or you can receive payment in a lump sum or in the form of royalties (i.e., for every whatchamahoozit you sell, you owe me five dollars). If somebody uses, makes, sells, offers for sale or imports your invention without a license, that person (or company) is infringing your patent, and you have the right to sue his or her (or its) ass in court.

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In short, the point of the patent is to allow you to make and sell a product you invented without worrying about others doing the same and taking away your business.  I repeat: the point of the patent is to allow you to make and sell a product you invented without worrying about others doing the same and taking away your business.  I wrote that last sentence twice and put it in italics because it’s a very important concept that we will return to later.  Here is the most amazing video ever made about patents (although it’s cut off):

A patent seems really helpful right?  You invent something cool, some jerk steals your idea, and then all you have to do is wave your patent around in court and you get all sorts of cash money—easy peazy lemon squeezy, right?  It would be…except there’s one thing you need to take into account.  That jerk who stole your idea is probably going to hire a lawyer.  The lawyer will stand in the front of the courtroom, and say, with a straight face, “ladies and gentlemen of the jury.  The plaintiff’s claim of infringement is completely preposterous, absurd, and downright insulting.  The plaintiff has a patent for a mousetrap in which a mouse tugs on a piece of limburger cheese and a 500-gram lead weight is released onto the mouse with a steel spring.  This is not remotely similar to my client’s mousetrap, in which a mouse tugs on a piece of limburger cheese and a 500-gram lead weight is released onto the mouse with a titanium spring.”  And if the lawyer is expensive enough, the jerk will probably win, and will possibly have your patent invalidated in the process.

The US Patent and Trademark Office will tell you that filing for a patent costs somewhere between $200 and $2000 (depending on a variety of factors we need not get into).  What they don’t tell you is that in order to obtain a patent that’s worth anything in a courtroom, you need to have an expert attorney draft the dang thing, and that’s going to cost you between $20,000 and $200,000 depending on the complexity of the invention.  And then once you obtain the patent, if you want to use it to sue somebody, you have to prove infringement, and as my boss told me early on in my career, “proving infringement is a one-to-three million dollar endeavor.”  Why?  Because lawyers, that’s why.

So if obtaining and enforcing a patent is so bloody expensive, who the hell can afford to use the patent system to actually protect their inventions?

Very wealthy corporations.

Oh.  That sucks.  Well, can anybody else use the patent system to get money?

Yes indeedily-do.  It’s time to talk about the focus of this post: PATENT TROLLS.  As I mentioned before, patent trolls are assholes.  Why?  Allow me to explain.

There are two kinds of people in the U.S.: makers and takers.  This is a very simple concept that the Republicans have been chanting for years, and yet it’s pathetic how few people have actually espoused the philosophy.  It’s pretty intuitive: makers are people who make things, and takers are people who don’t make anything and just mooch off of makers.  One would think that society would reward the makers and punish the takers, and yet we do the exact opposite.

Consider the example of the dude who works at McDonald’s.  He makes hamburgers, thus, he is what we’d call a maker.  I am not a huge fan of McDonald’s hamburgers, but I acknowledge that the company has served billions of hamburgers to hungry customers over the years.  These hamburgers are not made by robots (yet); there are human beings required for the hamburger cooking and assembly.  And how do we reward these makers, without whose hard work millions of people would starve each and every day?  By paying them the bare minimum required by law, which is not anywhere near enough to support a human being.

McDonald’s justifies this by repeating the taker mantra—that every dollar given to a maker is a dollar taken away from the shareholders, who are more important than those serving on the front lines.  These shareholders are the ultimate takers—in the past they have acquired large sums of money (perhaps by being makers themselves), and now they can sit back and do absolutely nothing, while taking money from the makers (because if anybody needs more money, it’s the rich).  Do investors deserve some kind of return on their investments?  Yes.  Should it come at the expense of the makers?  Absolutely not.  As the wise Republicans have taught us, we cannot live in a society where the makers are forced to give up money that is rightfully theirs to the takers.

makerstakers

Patent trolls are another form of takers.  They obtain patents through various means, occasionally by inventing something, but usually by just waiting for somebody else to invent something and patent it and then buying the patent from the inventor.  Once the patent troll has obtained a patent, it does not use the patent to make and sell a product it invented without worrying that others will do the same and take away your business, which you will recall is the bloody point of having the damn patent in the first place.  Instead, the troll will wait for another person or company to make and sell a product that might be similar to the product covered by the patent, and then will sue said person or company.  This other person or company likely does not even know that the patent exist, because the patent troll is not making anything that is covered by the patent.  In other words, rather than making anything, the patent troll will use the patent solely for the purpose of taking from others who make.  The worst part: by bringing these suits, the patent trolls have fundamentally changed the patent system, as now more than half of all patent lawsuits are brought by patent trolls.

Patent trolls come in a variety of flavors.

troll variety

In the interest of time, I am going to focus my analysis on just two: the “Nagging Little Bitch” patent troll and the “Big Fatass” patent troll.

1. The Nagging Little Bitch Patent Troll

I mentioned above that proving infringement is a one-to-three million dollar endeavor.  The corollary to this statement is that defending yourself against somebody who is trying to prove patent infringement is also a one-to-three million dollar endeavor.  While this is great for lawyers, it is not so good for a maker who doesn’t happen to have one-to-three million dollars saved up.  The Nagging Little Bitch patent troll (“NLB”) is well aware of this fact and will use it to his advantage. For years he lay in wait, watching the rich drive up the costs of patent litigation.  Once it got to the point that the average Joe could in no way afford to enforce a patent or defend against a patent suit, he pounced, and as noted above, he has completely fucked up the patent system.

Here is the general idea: he finds somebody who is making a product that bears a modicum of similarity to what is covered by his patent (for example, if the patent is for a paperclip, he might sue a company that makes devices for fastening paper, such as staplers and brads).  Even if the case is absurd, the defendant does not have the time or money to fight the suit, so the NLB offers to settle.  The settlement will likely not be completely crippling, but it still sucks to have to pay somebody just because you’re actually making something, while he sits on his ass armed with nothing more than a lawyer.  If the defendant refuses to play ball, the NLB will continue to file motions and push the lawsuit forward.  It’s like when you get a rock stuck in your shoe and it’s really bothering you but it’s not quite worth the energy to remove your shoe and dump out the rock.  Then the rock gets bigger and more uncomfortable and you have to pay a few thousand dollars to make it go away.

The worst part is that these NLBs don’t just go after makers, they also go after customers of makers.  And the worst worst part is that there are lawyers out there who will assist them in their efforts to make the world a shittier place.  As I am wont to say, the 95% of lawyers who are assholes make the rest of us look bad.  If you are looking for another reason to dislike those members of the “noblest profession,” this article is a good one—it seems that some guy has claimed that he invented the concept of sending scanned documents as emails and claims that every single person who has ever hit “send” on a scanner owes him money (so yes, that includes you).

NLBs are little pains in the ass, and are the reasons that most people hate patent trolls.  But what most people don’t realize is that there are much larger patent trolls out there who are taking millions upon millions of dollars from large tech firms and driving up the costs of nearly all consumer goods (and certainly electronic devices).  These trolls, which are huge, multi-national companies, seem to avoid all of the blame associated with other patent trolls, and are skillfully avoiding all of the current legislation.  So what exactly do they do?  Allow me to introduce…

2. The Big Fatass Patent Troll

One thing that has always bothered me is that as a society we demonize small-time crooks but allow, nay, encourage, theft of millions if not billions of dollars to occur on Wall Street every day.  There is a parallel concept in the patent troll world where the House has passed the Innovation Act, which is mainly targeted at NLBs, and yet nothing is done to address the biggest patent trolls who do their best to make life miserable for large companies and consumers alike while contributing nothing to society.  Whereas some of the NLBs may have at least made something at some point, the Big Fatass patent troll (“BFA”) simply has a lot of money, and does what those with a lot of money do best—takes from others in order to make even more money.

BFAs lurk around, waiting for companies to go out of business, and then snatch up as many patents as they can from these vulnerable companies that need quick cash.  BFAs will also sometimes buy patents from smaller inventors, pointing out that enforcing a patent is very expensive, so it’s worth it to take a smaller pay-out.  BFAs have a ton of money and are not afraid to litigate.  In fact, they’re able to expend most of their resources on litigation because they’re not busy actually making anything.

Also, chew on this: in many cases, a large company that owns many patents will refrain from suing another company because that other company owns patents as well, and when we’re talking about the top industry players, you can assume that everybody’s products are infringing on somebody else’s patents.  In a way, there’s a bit of mutually-assured destruction (although, obviously, this doesn’t stop a number of large technology firms keeping folks like me in business with patent suits and settlement agreements).  BFAs can sue anybody with impunity.  After all, they don’t have any products that can possibly infringe another company’s patents…because they don’t actually make anything.

BFAs usually go after big companies that you’ve heard of, and while of course we need not be too sympathetic to an electronics giant that is getting sued, the prices are taken out on the consumer (of course).  In other words, your new tablet would be five dollars cheaper if it weren’t for some damn BFA…and would probably be a hundred dollars cheaper if it weren’t for 5 damn BFAs.

burnsmoney

What bothers me the most is that BFAs advertise themselves as though they are taking morally righteous positions, like they are the ones responsible for allowing companies to develop technology. If you go to a BFA’s website, it may claim that it spurs innovation…because nothing spurs innovation like getting sued.  Perhaps the theory is that launching a patent suit against somebody is analogous to poking her in the ass with a big-ass cartoon trident in order to make her run faster.

Hmm, I was hoping I could find a good image of that with Google, and I did not.  However, I did find this:

Pluto_ass_001-794044

Alright, so now can we please talk about the Innovation Act, and what it’s doing to stop patent trolls?

Sure!  The Innovation Act (which has passed in the House since I began writing this post) will make it more difficult for NLBs to bring patent infringement suits.  Here’s a (not-so-helpful-but-kinda-cute) video made by some folks in favor of the bill.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (“EFF”) has written a pretty good summary of what the Innovation Act will do [https://www.eff.org/cases/six-good-things-about-innovation-act].  Assuming that you’re too lazy to click on the link, the EFF lists six positive aspects of the bill:

1. Heightened Pleading – Patent plaintiffs actually need to specifically state why they are suing defendants in their complaints (they don’t really have to now).

2. Fee Shifting – If a patent plaintiff loses, then it could have to pay the winning defendant’s legal feels (it wouldn’t have to now…which is kinda ridiculous).

3. Limiting Discovery – The Innovation Act limits both the amount of time spent on and scope of discovery.  This will lower defendants’ legal fees…which is the main leverage point NLBs use to drive settlement.

4. Transparency – Patent plaintiffs will need to state which patents they own that defendants is allegedly infringing (apparently they don’t have to now…wtf?).

5. Customer Suit Exception – Allows manufacturers to step in to defend their customers (so Hewlett Packard would be able to defend you against that bullshit scan-to-email troll).

6. Covered Business Method Review – I don’t really know what this is all about, and I think it may have been removed from the Innovation Act or limited or something, but I spoke with a patent prosecutor about the bill and this was his favorite part, so it must be good.

Also, if you didn’t click on the EFF link, here’s a rad image that you missed:

eff troll-2 The EFF doesn’t mind that I posted that picture.  In fact, just about everything on the EFF site is available to copy on an open source basis [https://www.eff.org/copyright].  That’s the thing about the EFF—in general, they are for the abolishment of most intellectual property protections.  Dirty socialist hippie commie pinkos…gotta love ‘em.

There are two general complaints about the Innovation Act.  The first is that it addresses the NLB problem but does not deal with the BFAs.  You can read more about that here.  The second is that, just as the Innovation Act makes it harder for patent trolls to bring suits to enforce patents, it also makes it harder for small businesses to do so.  Most of what I’ve read regarding this argument has been by Fox News, so I tend to take this position with a grain of salt.  However, I admit that it does make sense to me—a patent is only worth something if you can enforce it, and if it’s now even more difficult to enforce a patent, a small business owner will be even more likely to sell off the patent…possibly to a BFA (ugh).

I think I’m generally in favor of the Innovation Act, although my opinion could easily be swayed if somebody were to send me an article arguing the other way written by an intelligent liberal (and if you have any such articles, please feel free to send my way).  As for dealing with BFAs, there’s some stuff going on in the wild world of corporate IP law that’s pretty interesting, but I want to wait and see how it develops a bit more before writing a blog post on it.  Also, I think this post is way too long, and if you read it all, you are a fucking trooper.  Here is my favorite Swedish Chef skit:

43. On Black Friday

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I was originally going to title this post “On Fellatio and Cunnilingus.”  It was going to begin as follows:

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Last night we had a big Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ house in Marin, with 17 family members ranging from 5 to 70 (or maybe 71) years of age.  The turkey was succulent, the cranberries (prepared in 3 ways) were sweet and tangy, and the pies (apple, pumpkin and pecan) were the stuff of which dreams are made.  To answer your next question, yes, there were also latkes for Hanukkah, with cranberry applesauce. During dessert, I mentioned that recently I had been buying more records, and my dad took it upon himself to dig through some floor cabinets and retrieve his old, dusty vinyl LP collection.  After leafing through some Dylan, Limeliters and my dad’s personal favorite, “Double Time!  The Sounds of Basic Training” (an army training simulation record from 1959), he got to the musicals, which were always favorites in my family (yes, we were that kind of family).  After briefly singing refrains from Mame and The Music Man, we came across Hair, which was immediately selected to be the soundtrack for the rest of the evening.

My mom told a story about how in 1966, during a wine-soaked Shabbat dinner, her mother (a poet) had enlisted our cousin (a musician) to help her write a musical about the San Francisco hippy experience of the 1960s.  The group present at the dinner had ultimately decided that this was a silly idea, but then Hair came out the very next year, and 46 years later, there we were, belting along to “Age of Aquarius” in the living room.

There was about 2 seconds of anxiety preceding “Hashish” and “Sodomy,” as we acknowledged that three children under 10 were present and the lyrics were about to get decidedly R-rated.  But hey, they need to get exposed to drugs and sex somehow, right?  It may as well be through a musical!  When they’re a little older, we can use Rent to teach them about AIDS.  The lyrics to “Sodomy,” in case you aren’t familiar, are as follows:

Sodomy, fellatio, cunnilingus, pederasty
Father, why do these words sound so nasty?
Masturbation, can be fun
Join the holy orgy kama sutra—everyone!

Oh wait—you can just watch the video:

When I first heard that song when I was 8 or 9 or 10 years old, I think I was only familiar with maybe 1 or 2 of the seven or so sexual terms rattled off in that list.  20+ years later, I know a tiny bit more, and I feel that I have enough knowledge to focus a post on two of the terms: “Fellatio” (referring to the oral sex act, not the Shakespearean character), and it’s counterpart, “Cunnilingus” (Latin for…well, you can figure it out).

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After that, I was going to accuse you all of being perverts, then point out that the beginning of this post was just a ruse to get you to check out this post in the first place.  I decided against this after speaking with somebody who pointed out that a number of people would not read a post entitled “On Fellatio and Cunnilingus” written by me, because believe it or not, people have no desire to read my pontifications on that particular subject.  Whoda thunk?

Those of you who have been paying attention recognize that it’s Black Friday (or really the day after Black Friday—sorry, I got really busy yesterday hiking with my family and making more latkes), which can only mean that it’s time for (drum roll please)…

J’S THIRD ANNUAL CHARITY CONTEST!  HECK YES!!!

Admittedly, I was thinking about not doing the charity contest this year.  Last year I received some backlash from friends and family members who said that my charity contest was gauche and disingenuous.  “There’s a difference between being righteous and being self-righteous,” I was told.  Real mensches donate anonymously—that is the highest form of mitzvah.  And so on.

And so I thought, if people don’t like me asking friends and family for advice on causes to which to donate, then maybe I shouldn’t take that route.  I can still donate, of course, I just don’t need to make a show of it.  I was just about to crawl off into my cave when a couple of my dear friends emailed me last week and asked if I was doing the charity contest this year, saying that they had some great ideas for worthy causes.  It was kismet—I realized that I had to continue the tradition.  After all, I believe that I said I’d continue doing it as long as I worked for the big evil law firm, and 3 years later I’m still there.  Besides, I make a show of everything.

For those of you unfamiliar with the contest (“n00bs,” as I believe is the common parlance), here’s the quick and dirty:  The concept of Black Friday and consumers pushing, shoving, and literally killing each other over flat-screen TVs sickens me.  I feel like people should do less consuming and more giving, period. I love the idea of donating to charity during the holiday season, but I am too busy to really do proper due diligence to ascertain which charities are the most worthy of my limited donation dollars.  Every year I ask my friends and family (note: if you’re reading my blog, we’re “friends,” even if we’ve never met) to advise me on their favorite organizations.  I do some research and choose the top 5, then donate accordingly.  Each donation is made in honor of the person who suggested it.

Please send your ideas for charities to sfloveaffair@gmail.com or any other email address you may have for me, or shoot me a private message on Facebook.  You can send more than one idea.  If you’ve sent me a charity idea in past years that I didn’t select, feel free to send again—it may have been a great idea that was narrowly edged out.

For avoidance of doubt, you don’t need to donate money—just give me names of charities.  However, if you were able to not spend all of your money on Black Friday, then I highly encourage you to consider donating to some worthy cause this year.  If you are a lawyer working in a big law firm, please consider giving to charity—I know you can afford it, and your donation will most likely be tax-deductible, which is awesome.  If you don’t know where to donate, please consider the California State Bar Justice Gap Fund (if you’re in California) or your state’s equivalent.  Yes, the bold font was necessary there.  We all know that lawyers only read the conspicuous text.

Tips for winning the charity contest:
–If you work for an org or have a close connection to one, that helps.
–I prefer local charities that focus in on a particular problem in one city or area, rather than those that collect money for nationwide disbursement or a more general, nebulous cause.  I’m partial to charities based in the Bay Area but open to other areas as well.
–These days, I’m most interested in charities that help underserved humans, but I have a soft spot in my heart for environmental organizations as well.
–You can increase your chances of winning by providing me with some background information of the charities you send, in particular, why they’re special to you.
–International charities are totally okay too!

To give you an idea of the kinds of charities that I dig, here are last year’s winners:

Fifth Prize, $50: WildCare Bay Area (http://www.wildcarebayarea.org/site/PageServer)
Fourth Prize, $100: New Mexico Library Foundation (http://www.nm-lf.org)
Third Prize, $250: My teacher friend’s donorschoose.org project.
Second Prize, $500: Women’s Community Clinic (http://www.womenscommunityclinic.org/)
First Prize, $1000: Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto (http://clsepa.org/)

I will accept submissions until the Winter Solstice (December 21), and winners will be announced within seven (7) days after that date.  Send in your entries today, and soon you can be guzzling down the creamy, salty, white, sticky juice of charitable victory!

42. On The Games People Play

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Hello ladies and germs!  Today we’re going to talk about games.  When I say “games,” I don’t mean video games.  It bothers me how the video game industry has completely corrupted the word “game,” how a “gamer” is somebody who plays video games, and how when I told my friends I was inventing a game, they all immediately assumed it was a video game (note: my game development has not been going very well.  Stupid apathy).  We’re also not going to talk about gambling games or drinking games, although admittedly those can be fun sometimes.

Usually when I think of games, I think of those games I love the most, which include Dominos, Boggle, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, Risk, Chess (although I am not very good.  A lot of people assume that I’m good at chess because I’m descendent of Russian Jews and I was a math major.  But nope—not that great, although I still don’t like losing), Mafia (best. party game. ever.), Celebrity, Taboo, Scattergories, Scruples (highly underrated, but utterly, utterly brilliant), Shlaflaff (a summer camp favorite), Monopoly, Backgammon/Shesh-Besh/Tavla, Sorry!, Clue (or “Cluedo” in the U.K.), Rock-Paper-Scissors/Janken, Euchre, Hearts, Spades, Bridge, Uno (especially Speed Uno), Spoons, Othello, Kamps (or “Crepes” or whatever it’s called—that French card game that I’m really, really good at), Crazy 8s, Spit, Frustration (a.k.a. “Double Spit”), Mille Bornes, The Game of Life, Payday, The aMAZEing Labyrinth, and Jenga.  I don’t like Apples to Apples, and I’ve never played Cards Against Humanity.  I’ve never played Bananagrams either.  I say this because I know that you’re probably freaking out because I didn’t mention them.

This post is not about these games.  I just felt like writing out that list—it brought back many warm, fuzzy memories, of playing board games in front of the fireplace with my sister, or in the common room at Jew camp.  No, the point of this blog is to talk about those awkward games that society forces us to play with each other every G-d-forsaken day of our dismal lives.  I acknowledge that Eric Berne already wrote a book all about these games back in 1964, and although this post is meant to be a 2013 take on the subject, there’s a high probability that Berne already said what I am about to say, and in a much more scientifically-accurate manner.  I’d check for myself, but I’m currently using my copy to prop up my TV and if I pull it out the whole kit and caboodle will topple.

IMG_0494

Anyway, without further ado, here are the games!

1. The “How Are You” Game

It’s been over 6 months (more like 7 or 8), and people are still finding my blog thanks to Jason Evanish.  In fact, statistically speaking, there’s a 90% chance you found this blog because of him, and if so, I’m thrilled that you decided to read another one of my posts.  Earlier this week I received an email from a pretty young woman who graduated from an Ivy-league college recently and just moved to SF.  I know that she is pretty and a recent Ivy-league graduate because I Google stalked her.  Yes, I do that.  She asked me about the absence of a “blogroll,” and admittedly I was not familiar with the term, so I looked that one up on Google as well.  Apparently, a “blogroll” is a list of other blogs that I like that I’m supposed to link to my blog.  I guess the general concept is “if you like my blog, check out these other blogs!”  There’s a well-founded theory that if you link to somebody’s blog, then maybe they’ll link to yours as well, and both of your hit counts will be increased.

Truth be told (and I assure you, dear reader, that I am always truthful with you), the reason I don’t have a blogroll is because, for the most part, I don’t read other blogs. For the most part, I find blogs to be irritating. I’m sure that there are many brilliant blogs out there that would put mine to shame and that I would truly love, but I simply don’t have time to find them, let alone read them.  There’s only one blog to which I will gladly devote my precious free time, and that is The Annotated Zoetrope.  The author is a beautiful, dear friend of mine, and her blog is probably the most stunningly intelligent and emotionally powerful display of pure, unadulterated truth that the Internet has to offer these days.  In her last post, she waxed poetic (in elegant prose) about, among myriad other things, the importance of lying when asked the simple question, “how are you?”

I’ve actually thought of this a great deal over the years.  In my freshman anthro class in undergrad, the professor taught us how in every culture humans have developed some form of “talking to avoid talking.”  When we see an acquaintance, we are not allowed to simply ignore him.  On the other hand, we usually have no desire to actually have any sort of meaningful interaction with him (and yes, I realize that I’m using the “royal we” here, but you know exactly what I’m talking about).  For a moment, we appear to be navigating our dinghy of human-to-human communication between the Scylla of agonizing awkwardness and the Charybdis of unabashed dickery.*  Fortunately, the laws of interpersonal relations have given us a way out: we simply say “how are you?”, our acquaintance replies, “fine thank you, yourself?”, we drop a “fine too, thanks,” and both parties go their separate ways, neither feeling irritated or like a jerk.

“How are you?” is not a question, it’s a prelude to a pattern.  In Japan, students learn through rote memorization that the correct answer to “how are you?” is “I’m fine thank you, and you?”  They do not know the actual meanings of the phrases; they just know that when an American says “how are you?” to you, you’re supposed to respond in a certain way.  This has some rather comical results.  Perhaps you heard the story of the Japanese middle school exchange student who went hiking with his host family and fell off a small cliff, breaking his leg.  They rushed him to the hospital, where the nurse asked, “how are you?”  Through tears, the boy spurted out, “I’m f-fine…th-thank you…and y-you?”

Why don’t we actually answer the question?  Because we definitely don’t want to hear anybody’s answer.  In Israel, there’s a common insult called “nudnik.”  Google defines nudnik as “a pestering, nagging, or irritating person; a bore.”  The Israeli definition is much better: a nudnik is somebody who, when asked “how are you?”, will actually answer the question. None of us wants to be a nudnik when we can avoid it, so we have to play the game.  It’s a fairly simple game and there are no real winners of losers, unlike the next game on this list…

2. I Totally Know What I’m Doing

This is a game often played by young professionals in their late 20s/early 30s who are just about finished with their educations (because we all got graduate degrees, right?) and are now dipping their cute widdle toesies into the frothy class-5 rapids of the real world.  The object of the game is to convince people that you are worth the ridiculous amount of money you are getting paid, even though you are hilariously incompetent.  At all times, you must fight the overwhelming urge to throw your hands in the air and say, “for the love of G-d, I’m a freakin’ moron, why the hell do you trust me to produce any sort of passable work?”  Unfortunately, you can’t let your bosses, coworkers, clients, customers, investors, or shareholders know the extent of your unfathomable suckitude.  That’s the game, plain and simple.  Some people think that the point of the game is to “fake it ‘til you make it,” but that’s for beginners.  The advanced mode is “fake it ‘til people believe you, despite the fact that you are not remotely close to making it, you pathetic excuse for a lawyer.”  Or doctor, or architect, or whatever.

I heard a scary story the other day about a friend of a friend who graduated from law school around the same time as me at the top of her class and joined the ranks of a biglaw firm in a small satellite office.  She was doing M&A and kicking ass…or at least faking at kicking ass.  The partners grew to trust her, and within two years she was leading deals with little or no supervision.

Then she fucked up.  Don’t get me wrong—this is completely normal.  I fuck up all the time, but that’s why people above me review my work.  In her case, however, those above her were under the impression that she was infallible, and thus nobody bothered to check what she was doing.  Something happened.  I was not told the exact details, but yada yada yada bad things happened for which she was at least in part responsible, and she quit her job somewhat involuntarily.  You may say that she “lost” the game, but after she left the firm she traveled in Africa for 6 months.  I wouldn’t call that a loss.

As a biglaw lawyer, when you fuck up and nobody catches you, somebody might lose some money.  Big fucking whoop.  Not long ago I had surgery, and right before I went under the anesthesiologist gave me an explanatory chat/pep talk.  He was young.  Like, really young.  Like, younger than me, fresh out of med school, wet behind the ears, just beginning his residency, doesn’t know a catheter from a ham sandwich young.  I was probably among the first 100 people he was putting under.  He spoke confidently, like he knew what he was doing, and all I could think the whole time is, “I speak confidently like that to my clients all the time.  Hell, I’ve been doing it since I was a first-year.  I’d speak confidently, gain their trust, and then completely fuck up.  Is he going to completely fuck up?  Because if he does…” and then I went to sleep.

giggles

3. The World Is My Pissing Contest

I’d imagine that in most parts of the world, men prove their worth by engaging in contests of strength—sports and the whatnot.  There’s a lot of grunting involved, rolling around on the ground with a slew of beefy combatants while your chest hair gleams with sweat—your own and that of others.  Or maybe kicking a ball down a field, or getting from one end of a swimming pool to the other as fast as possible using only your arms and legs, or using a weird paddle with strings to hit an object over a net so that it eludes your opponent.  The general theory is that, as in the moose community, the male who is the most physically able gets to mate with the most fertile females.  Makes sense.

San Franciscan men on the other hand, G-d bless us, are complete pussies.  The only “sports” you will ever see San Franciscan men play are air hockey, skeeball, and a friendly activity we like to call “cornhole.”  This is what cornhole looks like:

cornhole

Don’t worry, I was also a bit disappointed when I witnessed cornhole for the first time. It’s basically like horseshoes for frat boys and hipsters.  I think it comes from the Midwest.

Despite our non-athletic nature, we San Franciscan men still desire to one-up each other, but instead of doing it with our arms and legs, we do it with our minds…or at least that part of our minds that collects knowledge of obscure cultural references that nobody understands.  When two San Franciscan males meet, they will often engage in this battle of the wits, which is similar to the “pissing contest,” an age-old tradition in which two men, fighting for a woman’s attention, would whip out their cocks and each try to shoot a stream of urine that is more powerful than that of his foe.  Here is a breakdown of a typical San Franciscan pissing contest:

The Scene: A bar on 16th street, just after midnight on a Saturday.  An ATTRACTIVE FEMALE stands at the bar, attempting to order a vodka soda.  SAN FRANCISCO MALE #1 is standing next to her, having spent the past 7 minutes trying to get the attention of the SNOOTY BARTENDER, who is wearing a Misfits/San Francisco Giants T-shirt and has no fewer than 6 piercings on his face.  SNOOTY BARTENDER finally addresses SAN FRANCISCO MALE #1, who is about to order a PBR when he notices ATTTRACTIVE FEMALE standing next to him.  With a nervous and cracking voice, trembling from head to toe at the sight of ATTRACTIVE FEMALE, SAN FRANCSICO MALE #1 decides to make his order a little more interesting, in the hopes of impressing her.

SFM1 (loudly, so AM can hear): Excuse me, what do you have that’s malty, but not too hoppy?  Something kind of Belgian-style, preferably imported (of course)—do you have anything that’s like a combination of Delirium and Hobgoblin?

Meanwhile, SAN FRANCISCO MALE #2 has been sitting on the barstool on the opposite side of ATTRACTIVE FEMALE, tweeting about he’s stuck in a bar that’s totally lame and full of doucehbags, with a crappy jukebox that doesn’t have any punk rock other than the Ramones and Sex Pistols, which are total sell-out “punk” bands that only corporate suits listen to these days (on an unrelated note, SAN FRANCISCO MALE #2 is currently trying to found a startup with his bros that improves customer experience in online shopping platforms).  Upon hearing SAN FRANCISCO MALE #1, SAN FRANCISCO MALE #2 looks up from his phone and notices ATTRACTIVE FEMALE standing next to him.  Perfect—a chance to display his San Francisco-style manliness!

SFM2: You should try the Drake’s 1500.  It’s an American extra pale ale.  Their brewery is actually just in San Leandro—I sometimes ride my bike there on the weekends.

SAN FRANCISCO MALE #1, realizing that another male is competing for the attention of the female, ratchets his game up a notch.

SFM1: I’ve had Drake’s before.  I’ve never been to the brewery, thanks for the tip.  I’ll go there next weekend before hitting up the Trappist.  But actually, I don’t think I want beer now.  (To SNOOTY BARTENDER)  What kind of scotch do you have?

SFM2: You’re going to get scotch?  I only drink scotch when I’m in Scotland.  You can’t really get any of the quality stuff in the U.S.  You can get good bourbon though—Portrero is nice and pretty smooth.  It’s made by the Anchor Brewing Company.

SFM1: Well, I can’t really afford the good stuff.  I’m fine with my Johnny Walker Red and Jim Beam.

Here SAN FRANCISCO MALE #1, realizing that SAN FRANCISCO MALE #2 has him beat on knowledge of alcohol, tries out a new strategy: “poorer than thou.”  Females are always impressed when a guy doesn’t have a lot of money but still manages to be cool (on an unrelated note, SAN FRANCISCO MALE #1’s father is a real estate mogul who has given, and will always give, SAN FRANCISCO MALE #1 money whenever he asks for it).

SFM2: I love Jim Beam!  It reminds me of the good ol’ days. I drank a whole bottle of Jim before I snuck into Slim’s to see the Mr. T. Experience when I was 16!

SFM1: It reminds me of the first time I saw the Residents at the Great American—I did shots of Jim with their manager.  She was gonna let me meet them but I got too drunk and ended up passing out in the men’s room.

SFM2: That’s like the time I saw the Mutants in a reunion tour in Mexico City.  I told them I was from SF and partied with them after the show!  They said that they were clean and sober, but you know they weren’t…

The two SAN FRANCISCO MALES are now combining three forms of one-upmanship, “I am down with more obscure bands than you,” “I have more crazy drug and alcohol stories than you,” and “I have had partied with more famous people than you.”  Meanwhile, ATTRACTIVE FEMALE has ordered, received, and paid for her beverage, and now returns to her FRIEND.

AF (to FRIEND): Ugh, just once I’d like to go out in this city without getting caught in between two douchebags having a pissing contest.

pissing contest

4. Let’s Avoid Looking at Each Other

If there’s one thing that human beings hate, it’s being forced to interact with other human beings, except in special designated “human interaction” times (such as hoe-downs and box socials).  In order to avoid interacting with other human beings at all costs, we’ve developed all kinds of distractions that enable us to get lost in our personalized tiny universes.  I suppose it all started with books.  When you’re reading a book, you are clearly focused on the pages in front of you and not the world around you.  However, books do have covers, and a particularly astute (and/or creepy) observer, upon seeing somebody reading a book that he or she either enjoyed immensely or is interested in knowing more about, may interrupt the reader to ask a question or otherwise initiate a conversation.  I remember two such instances when it happened to me.

The first was when I was in 16.  I was in Israel, on a summer teen tour, and on my free weekend I was riding a bus in Jerusalem to my savta’s apartment in Rehavia while reading Jitterbug Perfume.  As I was nearing my stop, an American woman, maybe seven or eight years older than me and dressed from head to toe in hardcore orthodox garb, said, “is that your first time reading Jitterbug?”  When I replied yes, she said, “I am extremely jealous of you—to get to read Jitterbug Perfume for the first time, not knowing what you’re in for.”

The second was about ten years later, when I was flying across the country reading A Prayer for Owen Meany.  I finished the book just before landing, and as I was disembarking from the plane, an elderly woman tugged at my elbow.  “You just did one of my favorite things in the world,” she said.  When I asked what, she replied, “You just finished A Prayer for Owen Meany.  I was sitting in the row behind you across the aisle, watching you as you read.  I could tell that you were loving it—I saw the hairs on the back of your neck prick up.  I’ve been a writer all of my life, and whenever I read that book, all I can think of is, ‘plot!  How do I make a plot work like that?’”  I suppose that had I been an elderly man, and approached a young woman to tell her that I had been watching her read from afar, that would be a little off-putting.  But this woman was pretty adorable.

Of course, many anti-human-interactionists got irritated with people commenting on their reading habits (“Oh my G-d, I love Steig Larson!”), so some depraved introverts in Japan invented the walkman.  After the advent of such a device, no matter how many of those grating chatter machines known as “people” surrounded you, blissful isolation could be achieved simply by putting on your headphones.  This opened the floodgates for personal electronic devices capable of generating social force fields, and soon the streets, elevators, busses, subways, airplanes, and even family cars of the world were packed with zombies, locked into their diskmen, Gameboys, iPods, iPads, iPhones, and Kindles, like prisoners in a chain gang who are forced to wear blinders, but who, for whatever reason, are under the impression that they’re enjoying themselves.

iphone-zombie-girl

For the most part, our devices allow us to avoid talking to, or even looking at, other humans at all times.  When I lived in New York a decade ago, people would talk to each other on the subway.  Now they are plugged into their phones.  Not only is this antisocial, it’s actually problematic, as people fail to notice when an elderly person step onto the train (or at least they pretend to fail to notice), and unless that elderly person is particularly vocal, he or she may be forced to stand.  I actually witnessed this on BART a couple of weeks ago and had to intervene to ask the Berkeley students sitting by the doors to make room for a septuagenarian gentleman who was teetering on his cane.  I was quite disappointed; I expect this kind of obliviousness from Stanford brats, but not from good-hearted Berkeley liberals.  I suppose that I’m naïve to believe that kids these days aren’t all freakin’ morons.

This game is not confined to public transportation.  A café used to be a place where you could make new friends or chat up cute girls.  Now when you step into café it feels like you are diving into a sea of laptops.  Or consider the workplace—in my office, it is considered rude to have your headphones on in the elevator.  But don’t worry—they’ve installed a TV inside so you can watch on the 30-second ride up to avoid ever having to exchange awkward small talk with your coworkers.

I recently suffered a brutal loss at the game of LALAEO.  It was last week, on Monday.  I normally ride my bike or walk to work, but I was wearing a suit so the former was tough (wearing a suit is a rarity for me, but I had an important client meeting) and I was running late so the latter wasn’t an option.  Instead I took the Muni.  On the platform I saw a woman with whom I had gone to high school.  This happens when you grow up in Marin and move to San Francisco.  Back in high school I was friends with her, but people grow apart and now we’re at “good acquaintance” level.  One night last year I bumped into her in the Mission and we realized we both lived in the same neighborhood so we exchanged numbers and talked about how we should meet up, but that meeting never materialized.  You know the deal.

She was plugged into her iPhone, so I tapped her on the shoulder and said hello just as the train was approaching.  We boarded the train together and she removed her earbuds.  It was packed and I said my usual “packed train” line: “come on people, there’s plenty of room.  In Tokyo subways they have a rule: if you can still breathe, there’s room for one more.”  Some people laughed, but she did not.  We then realized that we would probably have to talk with each other for the 10-minute train ride downtown.  Re-inserting her earbuds was not an option; that would have been rude.  Instead, she asked “how are you?”  The correct answer would have been, “I’m fine thank you, yourself?”, to which she would have replied “I’m doing well.”  Unfortunately, that would have left us with 9 remaining minutes of uncomfortable silence.  The “how are you?” game really only works when you can make an easy escape.

What could I do?  I answered her honestly, nudnik-style.  It was a Monday and I had an important client meeting, but had also awoken to a dozen emails from Tokyo telling me all sorts of ways that my day/week was going to be ruined.  This was just a tip of the iceberg—I was also slowly getting deeper and deeper into my existential crisis that comes with being a dirty hippie communist luddite working as a technology lawyer in a large corporate law firm.  And I just got a ticket because I forgot to move my car for the street cleaner, and, oh, is this your stop?  It was so nice to bump into you—have a great day!

Needless to say, she was happy to arrive at her destination.  You win some, you lose some, I suppose.

5. Spread the Love

This one isn’t necessarily a game people play, but it’s one that I hope more people in San Francisco, and the U.S., and the world, engage in as much as possible and eventually master.  The way it works is that if somebody does something nice for you, you go and do something nice back for them.  A more advanced version is where you just randomly do something nice for somebody, even if they didn’t do anything for you first.

I’m going to play a round of STL right now.  If you’ve read this whole post, I consider that to be something very nice that you’ve done for me.  This shit was more than eight pages—that’s ridiculous!  Who the hell has time for that?  You, apparently (I mean, you didn’t skim it, right?  Because that would be cheating).  Anyway, to reward your kindness and patience (and masochism), I will gift you something special.  THE FIRST FIVE PEOPLE TO SEND ME AN EMAIL WITH THE SUBJECT “GAMES PEOPLE PLAY” WILL WIN A FREE MIX CD!  And if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s making mix CDs.  I say so on my online dating profile, so it’s gotta be true (along with my height of 6’4”).  My email address is sfloveaffair@gmail.com.  It doesn’t matter if we’ve never met, or if you live in Ouagadougou.  And if you don’t have a CD player (because apparently people under the age of 29 don’t have CD players), you can steal an external disk drive from work and use it to burn the CD into MP3s and onto your iPhone (at least that’s what a friend of mine for whom I made a CD did recently).

If you do send me an email, please include:
1. The first concert you ever attended.
2. The most recent concert you attended.
3. The best concert you ever attended.
4. Your mailing address

Also, in the subject line, please include your spirit animal.  If you want to be clever, you can do some kind of variation on the proposed theme.  For example, you can say “Games Walruses Play” if your spirit animal is a walrus.

THERE IS ONE ADDITONAL RULE TO THIS GAME.  If I have ever sent you a mix tape, CD, or playlist, then you are disqualified.  Sorry!  The game is call “Spread the Love,” not “Deposit More Love Where You’ve Already Put Some.”  However, if I’ve ever made you a mix, that means you’re probably a dear friend of mine, and if you give me a call I’d love to catch up with you.  I’m sure I miss you a ton.

Happy playing!

 

41. On Books

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The other day I received one of the greatest emails I have ever received in my life:

“Hi,

My name is Jen and someone here at Litquake came across your blog.  Litquake is doing a fabulous fundraiser next Friday in which Litquake will be hosting its first ever singles event.

In addition to inviting hundreds of literary singles to mingle and cavort, we’re presenting a literary interpretation of the old “Dating Game” show – with un-coupled gay, lesbian, and hetero authors as the objects of desire.  Each contestant will compose 2-3 literary-type questions. (i.e. What famous fictional character are you most similar to? Elizabeth Bennet? Lolita? or Lisbeth Salander?).

Would you like to participate? If so, you would earn two free drink tickets and a possible date!

Feel free to ask me any questions, and thank you so much!
Jen”

If you follow the link (assuming that I actually finish this blog post before Friday the 20th, which is not likely), you’ll notice that, as suggested from Jen’s email, Litquake (SF’s largest annual literary festival) is holding a “Dating Game”-style event for prominent SF-based writer.  In other words, somebody out there thinks I am a prominent SF-based writer.  This is made all the more flattering by the fact that Jen herself is actually a prominent SF-based poet.

I wrote back:

“Hi Jen,

I would totally LOVE to be your bachelor #3, but unfortunately, next Friday is the night of the Lee Fields concert — he’s kind of like the musical version of the Dating Game, assuming that the Dating Game ends with making out hard.  Nonetheless, it is truly an honor to be considered in the same pantheon of SF literary hotties as the Adonis-on-earth Evan “Bull Nuts” Karp and reknowned sex kitten Wendy “Maybe It’s Maybelline” Merrill.  It looks like it’s going to be a fabulous event (and for the record, I’m kind of a cross between Raskolnikov and Portnoy, and I’d dump Jane Austen, fuck Maya Angelou and marry Margaret Atwood).

Best Regards,
J”

We emailed back and forth a bit more, and Jen informed me that the women of Litquake requested that I sell my Lee Fields ticket on craigslist and attend their event instead.  Although very flattering, I’m still declining the offer.  Admittedly, there’s a little fear of missing out (or “FOMO,” as it is sometimes called) involved; I have a vision of 70 year-old me, sitting in my apartment all alone and unloved, thinking, “damn, if I had only gone to that Litquake Dating Game, I might have found true love.  Instead I’m sitting in my apartment all alone and unloved, naked, eating Lucky Charms and playing Super Mario 3 on my old-school NES from the 80s.  The 1980s.”  Actually, that doesn’t sound all that bad.

The email from Jen, with its literary undertones (or undertones that kind of sort of have something to do with literature) partially inspired me to write a post about books, and the deal was sealed the following morning during a gchat conversation with a friend.  We were having a heated debate over whether a Kindle was better or worse than actual bound volumes with paper on the inside, and words written in ink on the paper.  I have nothing against Kindles—they’re very convenient, environmentally friendly, and I am in favor of any device that encourages more people to read.  I kind of purchased one myself, in fact.  Before I went on my 4-month bar trip, I bought a Kobe (sort of a poor man’s Kindle), which came with 100 books available on the public domain.  I enjoyed Anna Karenina, Ulysses (well, most of it—I didn’t quite make it through the Nostos), several plays by Oscar Wilde, and a few others.  When I got home, I placed my Kobe on my Ikea bookshelf, where it has stayed since.  Why?  Because I prefer to read books.

And now, I’m going to write about them.

I love old books.  Books that have been passed around to uncountable friends and family members before finally settling on a dusty basement bookshelf, where they sit for 30 years before being discovered by the next generation, or perhaps the generation after that.  The fragile pages of old books have a comforting and nostalgic smell, with a scent that reminds me of those argyle cardigans wrapped in plastic in the back of my grandpa’s closet, or a piece of decades-old driftwood found on the beach, smoothed down by years of fine sand being swept across its cracked face.

My friend argued that books get old and deteriorate, but I believe that aging makes books sacred and gives them sentimental value.  Kindles are designed to be obsolete; nobody is going to still be using the same Kindle in 10 years, and probably not in 5 (or even 3).  The stories in the Kindles are digital copies—they will disappear without gaining any value, sentimental or otherwise.

A book, on the other hand, is simultaneously a time capsule and an unborn child.  As I write this, I’m looking at my first-edition New York Trilogy by Paul Auster from the mid-1980s.  The simple design of the cover evokes a darker, pre-Giuliani Lower East Side, making me nostalgic for a time during which I never lived but with which I am strangely familiar.  However, the first time I read the books, they yanked me into as-of-yet uncharted territory, as I was introduced to Auster’s genre-defying take on sinister, existential surveillance.  A brilliant novel reminds us that throughout history, human beings have always experienced the same dark emotions.  Let’s face it—few, if any, brilliant novels really delve into happiness.

auster

The Auster books were a 30th birthday present from a very dear friend, which brings me to another advantage that tangible books have over their digital counterparts: you can gift them.  Books make excellent gifts, although they sometimes confer upon their recipients great responsibility, or even awkward anxiety.  If somebody gifts you a book, she expects you to read it.  Unlike movies or music albums, a book takes time and effort to complete, and your friend will be extremely disappointed if you don’t put forth this effort.  There’s a good chance that she’s already read the book, and she’s dying to discuss it with you, in painstaking detail, at some point in the near future.  She’s kind of relying on you, and let’s face it, she could have given it to somebody else, but she chose you because you loved Oracle Night, so naturally you have to love the New York Trilogy, back from when Paul Auster was Paul Auster.  Truth be told, I actually didn’t love Oracle Night at all as much as I loved the New York Trilogy; Oracle Night kind of reminded me of Murakami in that it involved some guy getting trapped in a tunnel right before the plot of the story just kind of disappears.  I swear to G-d, that’s every Murakami book ever.  I still don’t understand why I read so many of them.

I myself love gifting books, and when I read a truly inspiring book I always feel compelled to give it to somebody so that it becomes something we can share.  As a result, I own very few books, and most books I currently own (other than those that were gifted to me and that I would feel guilty if I gave away) are actually not that great, as they are the books that I don’t particularly want my friends to read.  I actually plan on donating most of my book collection to the Prisoners Literature Project soon, because when you are locked in a cage, you’ll probably read anything, even if it’s Stephen King’s The Regulators (which he wrote as Richard Bachman, years after everybody knew who Richard Bachman was) or Chuck Klosterman’s Killing Yourself to Live.  On second thought, maybe I shouldn’t donate that one to the incarcerated.

I believe that giving books as gifts can change the world, and I have a great family story on this subject.  40 years ago, my maternal grandmother divorced my grandfather, married an Israeli man, and moved to Jerusalem to be with him.  She thus became my savta (and this took place before I was born, so she has been savta to me my entire life), and received great accolades as one of the greatest English-language poets in Israel, not to mention translator to many of the most-recognized Israeli poets.  She received the President’s Prize from Shimon Perez himself 6 or 7 years ago.  No, really:

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My savta amassed quite an incredible poetry library in her apartment.  It included some classics, with a fair amount of Shelley, Keats, Yeats and Elliot, but the real focus was on the beats—after all, my savta had been at the original reading of Howl (maybe).  I spent many hours devouring her collection of Ginsberg, Brautigan, Ferlinghetti and Snyder (whom was personal friend of savta’s; she had several hand-written letters from him).  Maybe that’s how I became so damn cool.  And of course, my savta had copies of all of her own books. Her writing truly got better with age; each new collection of her poetry was more amazing, inspiring, and haunting than the one before.

My step-grandfather, my saba, was born in South Africa and served in Italy during World War II (in Italy, not for Italy).  He fought in the Israeli War of Independence in 1948 and stayed in the country, eventually joining the faculty of Hebrew University and becoming one of the foremost professors of British literature in the world.  He was fiercely stubborn, quite racist against Arabs (as was par for the course for Israelis his age), a borderline alcoholic (and it was sometimes difficult to tell on which side of the border he sat), and kind of an asshole, but I still loved him nonetheless. He received the Israel Prize (which is basically the Israeli Nobel Prize) 13 years ago for his lifetime of contributions to literary scholarship (I don’t have a picture, but believe it or not, there was a time, 13 years ago, when we weren’t all carrying cameras constantly and the notion of “pic or didn’t happen” seemed absurd).

My saba had a library of his own in his study, filled with early-edition copies of the British classics: the entire Dickens collection, everything by Conrad, a ponderous, elaborately-decorated complete works of Shakespeare (of course), and everything in between.  He also had a few “modern” British books (i.e, from the 70s)—mainly mysteries, but also a few comical novels (he got me to read Changing Places by David Lodge, which I thoroughly enjoyed).  Of course he had his own books, academic texts on his favorite authors: Dickens, Hardy, Conrad, Woolf, Lawrence, and two others I believe.  I admit that I never actually read any of his books.

When saba died in 2010, my mother and her two sisters (correctly) determined that my savta could not continue living in the apartment in Jerusalem on her own, so they moved her to a nursing home in Oakland.  Two months later, my aunt returned to Jerusalem to dispose of savta’s and saba’s possessions—my savta’s mind was rapidly deteriorating, and my mom and aunts figured that she was no longer compos mentis enough to care about all of the dusty, moth-chewed crap sitting in some apartment on the other side of the world.  Some clothing was shipped to Oakland, furniture was donated to the Israeli Goodwill (whatever it’s called), and my saba’s children and grandchildren claimed some of the more interesting tchotchkes, but nobody wanted the massive book collections, mainly because nobody had room in their home for all of those books.

Then my aunt had a brilliant idea.  Everybody in my family had read Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life by Sari Nusseibeh.  If you want to understand the story of Israel from the Arab and Jewish perspectives, please read this book, and then read A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz.  Or read them in the opposite order—it doesn’t matter.  Nusseibeh’s book had a particularly profound impact on us; we already knew the Oz side from talking to my saba and our myriad Jewish-Israeli friends and family members, so to read about how a Palestinian lived through 1967, 1973, 1982 and everything beyond, and still was in favor of peace, was quite incredible.

nusseibeh

Nusseibeh is the president of Al-Quds University, an Arab university in east Jerusalem that is refreshingly progressive (to give you an idea of what that means, since 2008, Al-Quds has had a “sister university” partnership with Brandeis).  All universities need books, so my aunt emailed Nusseibeh, and a day later he met her at my savta and saba’s old apartment with a U-Haul.  To be clear—my aunt and Nusseibeh were not old friends, she had simply looked him up online.  He just happens to be incredibly kind, charimstaic, and, like any president of any university in the world, thrilled to receive any sort of donation.  Would my saba be thrilled about his personal library, which had taken him a lifetime to amass, being donated to the Arabs?  Probably not, but who cares?  His family certainly didn’t.  I’m sure that my savta, who was a member of the ultra-left wing meretz political party in Israel, would have loved the idea of hip, bohemian Arab-Israelis thumbing through her dog-eared volumes of Michael McClure, and maybe presenting one of her own poems in an upper-division seminar.

Thanks to my aunt, Jewish Israel has given Arab Israel the gift of imagination, passion, history and emotion.  This is a form of humanitarian aid for the soul.  I truly believe that if everybody in the world gave each other more poetry, there would be no war.  If peace will come to the area, it’s going to begin with Nusseibeh’s students at Al-Quds, so anything that benefits them brings us one step closer to lo yisa goy.*  I like to think that my family’s donation is the catalyst to a new era of literary love between Israel and Palestine.

And speaking of new eras (awkward segue alert!)…

My favorite English teacher from high school had painted on his wall the Henry David Thoreau quote, “How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.”  I never quite understood why this quote is not a question, but that is neither here nor there (I also never quite understood how to correctly use the phrase, “but that is neither here nor there,” but that is what it is).  I think I can actually define a few of the different eras of my life through books…at least my life pre-law school, when I used to actually have time to read for fun.  If there’s one thing I hate about my job (and there’s just one…), it’s the fact that I read so much at work that when I come home, the last thing I want to do is read, and thus I end up reading one book a month if I’m lucky.  My work has ruined a hobby that used to bring me immeasurable joy.  But that is neither here nor there, and it’s depressing me, so I think I’ll go back to talking about the eras.

It all started with Dr. Seuss.  How could it not?  He was an artist like none other, creating otherwise unimaginable creatures and giving them names to fit his bizarre rhyming schemes.  I read every single Dr. Seuss book tens or hundreds of times, but my absolute favorite was There’s a Wocket in my Pocket.  As a young boy I was scared shitless of monsters, but through Wocket, Dr. Seuss found a way to convert my deepest fears into cute, cuddly, furry, smiling blobs.  Until I discovered scorpions, which still scare the bejeezus out of me to this day.

wocket

The picture book era was a joyous one–filled with trips to the children’s section of the San Anselmo Public Library, where I would sit on the huge, turtle-shaped bean bag with a pile of books about robots and dinosaurs until I had whittled down the stack to the three that I wanted to read over and over again, and would bring them to the front desk so that the tiny, shriveled, octogenarian librarian could stamp the card in the little slot glued on the inside of the front cover with a satisfying metallic “ca-chunk!”  It’s truly wonderful to explore this era again vicariously through my five year-old nephew.  He loves Maurice Sendak and will happily shout out Pierre’s most famous line.  I like using him as an excuse to revisit Harold, wielder of the mighty purple crayon, who was kind of a hero of mine when I was my nephew’s age (much to the chagrin of my parents, who came home one day to find that I had drawn purple squiggles all over the kitchen wall.  That led to a spanking, if I recall correctly).  A couple of weeks ago I babysat my nephew and he asked me to read him a story from one of the Frog and Toad books, in which the two of them go swimming and Frog gets all of the animals in the forest to laugh at Toad in his swimsuit, completely humiliating his so-called “best friend.”  Seriously, Frog was kind of a dick.

I don’t know how old I was when I first encountered Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic.  I’m sure my parents read me all of those poems from when I was in the crib, but once I got to the age when I could read them myself, that was when I entered the next era in my life.  For years, every morning I would greet my parents with, “I cannot go to school today,” to which one or both of them would respond, “said little Peggy Ann McKay!”  My life-long love of poetry began with those books.  Well, and I guess Dr. Seuss too.  Shut up.

My “geeky dungeons and dragons-type shit” era started shortly thereafter.  When I was in fourth grade, I had a horrible flu and was stuck at home for a week, and my mommy bought me the first three Redwall books by Brian Jacques.  If you missed out, Redwall is kind of like Lord of the Rings meets The Mouse and the Motorcycle.  The series takes place in a medieval world where the good guys—cute woodland critters (mice, otters, bunny rabbits, etc.) protect the land from the evil yucky rodents (rats, ferrets, weasels, etc.).  I became as addicted to this series as kids in the 2000s were to Harry Potter, and am excited about my nephew getting just a little bit older so I can introduce him to them.  Don’t worry, I’ll also give him the Chronicles of Narnia.

Redwall

Fast forward to my sophomore year of high school.  For my advanced English class, I read Brave New World, and my life has never been the same.  Not a day goes by when I don’t think of dystopian futures.  Sure, I had been introduced to the genre before (Ender’s Game, House of Stairs and The White Mountains (and the rest of the Tripod trilogy) being my favorites), but Huxley’s words registered with me and from them on, I started worrying about society’s rapidly impending demise.  Are we living in 1984?  Is an Oryx and Crake-style plague just around the corner (and yes, I know that MaddAdam just came out and I am super-stoked for it)?  Am I a clone, like in Never Let Me Go?  Is humanity just straight-up completely fucked?  I ask myself one or more of these questions every single day.

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I think the next book that brought me into a new era of life was Crime and Punishment, when I read it for the second time, as part of the classic “Literature Humanities” course at Columbia.  I had read it two years earlier in AP English, but hadn’t cared for it much at the time.  That’s one problem with high school: you read some of the most amazing books in the history of literature—To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye, Pride and Prejudice, The Great Gatsby—but you don’t particularly enjoy or appreciate them.  Why?  Because you’re in high school, and you don’t particularly enjoy or appreciate anything.  Freshman year of college, you suddenly believe that you have this intense understanding fof all of the world’s intellectual and esoteric offerings.  You also become more in touch with your darker side…at least I did.  Raskolnikov became my literary alter-ego (finally replacing Adrian Mole, with whom I had very closely identified since I was 13).

Sadly, I don’t think I had any era-defining books between the ages of 19 and 32.  Don’t get me wrong—I read a shit-ton, particularly before I started law school—but nothing really stands out as a supreme game changer.  Then, last month, my sister gave me Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein, and my world has been completely turned upside down.  Let’s just say that I’m returning to my dirty hippie roots, at least mentally (unfortunately, my job requires that I bathe regularly).  I can’t write about this book or the philosophies it contains right now, but trust me, I will some day.  In a nutshell, fuck Babylon (see previous parenthetical regarding my job).  I know I’ve always felt it, but now I actually want to act on it…just give me another year or two, okay?

Although there may not have been other books that defined new eras of my life, I certainly went through a number of very important literary phases: the Roald Dahl phase (if you haven’t already, check out his short stories for adults), the Douglas Adams phase (it was mostly harmless…yuk yuk yuk), the Kurt Vonnegut phase (junior year of high school–I definitely would not have survived without KV), the Calvin & Hobbes phase (which lasted about 20 years), the Tom Robbins phase (Jitterbug Perfume remains one of my favorite books of all time), the non-fiction about Japan phase (while I was living in Japan)…I could probably write individual 7-page blog posts about the lasting effects each of these discoveries had on my life.  If only I had more time, I’d start a separate literary blog (along with my separate music blog and my separate blog devoted entirely to Pad See Ew).

I want to wrap this piece up, and I end it with one last reason why books are infinitely better than Kindles.  Picture this, if you will: you somehow manage to bring a beautiful, brilliant, artsy chick home.  She has long brown hair that looks like it was straightened with an iron, John Lennon-style glasses (none of this Warby Parker hipster bullshit), and a jet black beret.  She’s sitting on your couch, naked so her tattoo of Bettie Page posing on a spider web that extends from her upper thigh to the middle of her ribcage is exposed, with her legs crossed in such a way that you can just catch a glimpse of her pubic hair, creeping out to form a subtle invitation (okay, maybe not so subtle).  She’s sipping on a glass of red wine from your most expensive bottle, which she opened while you were in the bathroom nervously looking in the mirror to make sure there were no remnants of your expensive French dinner stuck in your teeth.  She’s turned off the lights and lit a few of those tea candles that you keep in the top drawer of your desk in case the power goes out.  As you go back into your living room, where she sits naked (except for the beret and glasses), with her perfectly-shaped ass digging a groove in your otherwise immaculate couch, sipping on a crystal goblet of that malbec for which you played a bloody fortune, she asks, nay, begs you to read her some Pablo Neruda, claiming that his poems make her “go wild.”  Do you honestly think, for even half a second, that you’re gonna get so much as a peck on the cheek from her, let alone anything else, if you pull out your Kindle?

For fuck’s sake son, you don’t know shit about romance.

* “Don’t stop after beating the swords into plowshares, don’t stop!
Go on beating and make musical instruments out of them.
Whoever wants to make war again will have to turn them into plowshares first.”
–Yehudah Amichai

40. On Being a Dude in His Early 30s

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I’m extremely picky and judgmental, and I hold people to ridiculous standards that I could never dream of meeting myself.  This in part explains why I’m still single at 32.  But honestly, how hard can it be to find a half-Japanese, half-Brazilian Jewish supermodel with a Ph. D. (not in anything engineering-related) and lots of tattoos who is into Star Wars, the Simpsons, The Clash and karaoke and who is attracted to brash, balding, neurotic Jewish men?  Truthfully, I once dated a woman who had many of those qualities.  She dumped me pretty quickly.

My absurdly critical nature does not stop with the fairer sex.  For men, my expectations are equally lofty, if not even more unrealistic.  And this isn’t about marriage—this is just about me respecting a man enough to talk to him for more than 10 seconds.  I’m sorry—if you’re a dude around my age, particularly a white, straight dude from California, there are certain concepts, phenomena, and flotsa and jetsa of pop culture with which you simply must be down.  Period, end of story.  And yes, you can call me sexist, but there are some gaps of cultural knowledge that are forgivable for women but not for men.  For example, I could date a woman who has never seen Star Wars (as long as she’s willing to watch with me).  I’m not sure I could be friends with a dude who could not pass a basic Star Wars trivia quiz (e.g., “Han Solo was frozen in ________”).  I’ll take a girl on a date if she only drinks girly drinks, but I’m not gonna get a beer with a dude who doesn’t drink beer.

Then there’s music, which is a whole other can of chili.  I sometimes date women who are only into Top 40 crap.  I probably shouldn’t, but I do.  However, if you’re a guy and your CD collection (or mp3 collection or Spotify playlist or whatever) contains little more than various iterations of “Now That’s What I Call Music Volumes 39-47,” then I’m sorry, you have failed as a man.  Seriously dude, turn in your penis.  And call me old fashioned, but I believe that it’s the man’s job to teach his girlfriend about music, if she doesn’t know much already.  If I start dating a woman and the only tunes on her iPod are Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, the Glee Soundtrack and “Don’t Stop Believin’,” I seriously want to hunt down her ex-boyfriend and give him a stern shaking.  What the hell was he listening to when hanging out with his girl?  He should have at the very least introduced her to Massive Attack and Thievery Corporation, right?  Maybe a little Pixies?

When a dude is in his teenage years and 20s, he often tries to be cool.  By the time a dude is in his 30s, he needs to just be cool, period.  It’s too late to learn new tricks, or to make up for a lifetime wasted drowning in the mainstream.  I’ve complied a list of tidbits from the past 30 years that should make dudes around the same age as me smile, nod their heads, and say “heck yes.”  If you’re a dude, and you aren’t down with these, I just don’t think we can be friends.  And if you’re a woman, and these things don’t remind you of your man, then please email me at sfloveaffair@gmail.com and we’ll see if we can help salvage your love life.

Without further ado, here is the TOP 10 LIST OF THINGS THAT DUDES IN THEIR EARLY 30S SHOULD KNOW AND LOVE:

10. The Big Lebowski

If you’re a dude in your early 30s, you need to have seen The Big Lebowski.  At least 20 times.  Before you were 24.  There’s a game we sometimes play; it’s called “The Big Lebowski Game.”  Here’s how it works: first I say a quote from The Big Lebowski.  Then you say one.  Then I say one.  We keep going until one of us runs out of quotes.  When we play this game, it should last a long time.

“8 year-olds, Dude.”
“Say what you want about the tenants of National Socialism, at least it’s an ethos.”
“3000 years of glorious tradition from Moses to Sandy Koufax, you’re goddamn right I’m living in the past!”
“See what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass!”
“Donny, you’re out of your element!”

Note: you don’t have to do only Walter quotes—that’s just what came to mind.

9. 80s Era WWF

You know…back when it was the WWF and not WWE.  I’m talking the Hulkster, Big Boss Man, Macho Man Randy Savage, Andre the Giant, Jake the Snake Roberts, George “The Animal” Steele, The Ultimate Warrior, Demolition, The Honky Tonk Man, The Undertaker (back when he was The Undertaker), “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, among others.  Back when were men were men, and we were really excited 10 year-old boys.  Before Steve Austin and the Rock.  Before professional wrestling became a soap opera.  If you’re a dude in your early 30s, all of those names I just listed should give you a fat hard-on.  In a non-sexual way, of course.

Is there anything on TV today as incredible as that?

8.  Soul Music

I think one goes especially for the white dudes in the audience tonight.  Your make-out playlist needs to have Al Green, Marvin Gaye, and Otis Redding on it, bare minimum.  It had damn better have some Aretha Franklin too, some Stevie Wonder (a little more funk than soul, but still important), maybe some Isaac Hayes, some Sam Cooke and Smokey Robinson, and while we’re at it, some Lee Fields.  The fact that I have to explain this embarrasses me.  And if this shit don’t make your girl’s panties wet, if she tells you to turn it off and put on some Rhianna and Black-Eyed Peas, then you kick her the fuck out of bed.  I mean it.

A couple of months ago I went to the wedding of an old high school buddy.  He’s a pretty talented musician (or at least he used to be), and I had very high expectations of the song selection for the couple’s first dance.  They did not disappoint:

You could tell just from that first dance that my friend’s marriage is going to last.  I certainly would not say the same for any couple that chose “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz.

My lord, is that marriage gonna be ugly or what?  Fucking white people.

7. Mickey’s Forties

I will give you a pass on this one if you didn’t grow up on the west coast—if you’re from elsewhere, Old E is acceptable.  As long as you can safely say that you consumed at least 20,000 ounces of malt liquor between the ages of 13 and 23, then I think we can be buddies.  In fact, chances are that if we are close friends today, there were many nights in which we consumed a forty or three together.  And then we probably got citations for public urination.  It happens.

I think I like Mickey’s the most precisely because you couldn’t get it on the east coast, so I really only experienced when I was in high school.  But also, there is definitely a difference in taste–I’ll take the Pepsi challenge when it comes to malt liquor.  Just don’t give me any Steel Reserve.  That was complete piss.

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You gotta get ‘em started young.  Bonus: Mickey’s also came in 12-oz. “grenades” and 64-oz’ jugs!

6.  The Konami Code

Don’t fuck it up.  It’s up up down down left right left right B A B A (select) start.  Don’t mess up the ups and downs.  Don’t mess up the Bs and As (although I’ve been informed that you only need to do “B A” once and it will work—will somebody with a working old school Nintendo please verify?).  Just do the shit right so we can get our 30 lives and beat the shit out of Contra in like 10 minutes.  If you’re a dude between the ages of 30 and 34, this needs to be hardwired into your thumbs.  If it’s not, then something went horribly, horribly wrong during your upbringing.  But I’m sure you’ve already explained this to your therapist.

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Somebody thought this was a witty 30th birthday card to give to his buddy.  Little did he know that by fucking up the code, he essentially killed his friend.  Dudes don’t kill their friends.

5.  The Stonecutter’s Song

I’m not going to hold it against you if you don’t know all of the exact words.  I will hold it against you if you haven’t seen every single episode of The Simpsons from Seasons 3 through 8 multiple times, and can’t come up with a witty Simpsons quote or reference that is appropriate for nearly every moment.  For example, while reading this post, if you are a dude in his early 30s who is worth his salt, you are probably thinking “Sixty-four slices of American cheese…” or something to that effect.

The Stonecutters episode isn’t my personal favorite (that would be “Deep Space Homer”), but it’s probably in my top 10, and I bet if you asked all dudes in their early 30s to list their top 10 Simpsons episodes, and implemented a point system in which each dude’s number 1 pick was worth 10 points, each dude’s number 2 pick was worth 9 points, etc., and then tallied up all of the scores for all of the episodes and listed the top 10 episodes in terms of points scored, the Stonecutters episode would most likely make that list, in part due to this song:

4. Cindy Crawford

If you ask a bunch of dudes to name the hottest chick in the world today, you’ll probably get a number of answers: Beyonce, Scarlet Johansen, Jessica Alba, Kate Upton, or maybe Selena Gomez (if you’re asking a pedophile).  According to Maxim, Miley Cyrus is the #1 hottest woman in the world right now, which means that some time in the past 20 years, the entire world went to shit.  Because 20 years ago, if you asked any dude to name the hottest woman in the world, he would not have hesitated for a moment before ejaculating “Cindy Crawford!”  Yes, that was meant to be a double entendre.  Here’s one example of what I’m talking about:

You’d better believe we were jealous as heck of Richard Gere, and this was before all of that gerbil stuff came out.  I think Dennis Leary said it best:

Can I get an amen?

[Note: I know that most of the time, none of y’all actually watch the embedded videos on this blog.  Do yourself a favor and watch that last one.  It is nothing short of incredible.]

3. The Bridge in the Sublime Version of “Scarlet Begonias”

A couple of years ago I took a day trip up to Tahoe with a coworker buddy of mine.  If you’ve ever done the SF to Tahoe day trip, you know it’s kind of insane—wake up at 4 AM, drive up to the mountains in a daze, pound a 5-hour energy, shred all day, then come back to the city by 10.  You ended up spending the same amount of time in the car as on the mountain, which is kind of a pain in the ass, but you also can sort of bond with the person with whom you’re driving (as long as he’s not sleeping).

Eventually, you get to that point where there’s no longer any reception for any radio stations, so you switch to iPod mode, and your friend will scroll through your iPod, looking for something he knows and likes.  If he’s a dude in his early 30s from California, there’s a pretty good chance that he’ll just put on Sublime’s “40 Oz. to Freedom,” because hey, we all know and love that album.  And so, on that very early winter morning two years ago, my boarding companion put on 40 Oz., and we spent a while talking about the 90s California punk/ska scene.  Eventually “Scarlet Begonias” came on, and during the bridge we had to stop to sing along, because if you’re a dude, that’s what you do.  Come on, you know the words:

“It was the summer of love, and I thank the stars above
Because a woman took her lovin’ over me
And just to gain her trust, I bought a microbus
Because I’d sold off all my personal property
A tight tie-die dress she was a psychedelic mess
We toured to the north, south, east and west
We sold some mushroom tea, we sold some ecstasy
We sold nitrous acid opium heroin and PCP
And now I hear the police coming after me
I hear the police coming after me
The one scarlet with the flower in her hair
She’s got the police comin’ after me…”

And then I knew my coworker was cool, and was willing to give him a ride back to the city at the end of the day (because you’d better believe I’d leave a dude on the mountain if he doesn’t know all of the words to the bridge of the Sublime version of “Scarlet Begonias”).  As for you, dude, you’d better have gotten those lyrics right.  You lose major points if you mess up the order of the mushroom tea and opium and all that.

2. The State

I own 6 DVDs: Battle Royale, Girl Next Door, and the 4-DVD box set of “The State.”  When the DVD box set was released, I was the 8th person to order it, and my speed was rewarded with a free State T-shirt, which is now featured in heavy rotation.  I still think about The State all the freakin’ time, and follow all of the cast members.  For the most part, anything any of them touch is brilliant—from Wet Hot American Summer to “Stella” to “Reno 911” to “Wainy Days” to The Ten (yes, I liked The Ten—it was highly underrated) to “Party Down,” to all of those random cameos by Michael Ian Black and occasionally even Kevin Allison.  I really think they revolutionized funny.

By the time The State came out in 1993, my friends and I were already pretty into Monty Python, Kids in the Hall, and sketch comedy in general.  The problem was that Monty Python was a bit too British, and Kids in the Hall was a bit too Canadian.  Both shows were just a tad on the weird side.  Also, their sketches were too long and drawn-out for our American short attention spans.  The State solved all of these problems. Its sketches were shorter and for whatever reason, more accessible, at least to me.  The show used popular American music (best use of The Breeders’ “Cannonball” ever), and the meta MTV parodies were hilarious (I particularly like the MTV Sports one where they play golf). The sketches were immediately quotable, and I remember bus rides to and from the Marin City flea market during which we’d shout over and over again “I wanna dip my balls in it!” or “I’m outta hheeeerrre!” or “I reckon a fella can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a sado masochism bar down there!”

Back in the 90s, every circle of dude friends that was remotely cool had that one extended-play VHS cassette with a dozen episodes of The State, which was passed around and played over and over again until the magnetic tape went bad.  When it was your turn to hold the tape, you’d view it over and over again until you had memorized every moment of every scene, and then you were ready to pass it on to the next dude.  This memorization process was an important rite of passage for a dude, and the effects of it have lasted for twenty years; to this day, every time I wear my State T-shirt in public, at least 5 dudes will comment on it or give me a high five.

It took me a good 20 minutes to decide which State clip to post.  I was tempted to go with “Froggy Jamboree,” but I think B&L is more classic.

1. The Princess Bride

If you do online dating, and you browse profiles on women between the age of 27 and 37, you will learn that a lot of women list “Ender’s Game” as one of their favorite books.  This came as quite a surprise to me, as when my friends and I were going through our Orson Scott Card phase in middle school, I don’t remember any girls taking an interest (speaking of which, if you haven’t read “Lost Boys” yet, I highly recommend—it was kind of forgotten with all of the Ender hype, but it’s probably my favorite book my OSC—also, I wouldn’t boycott OSC just because he’s homophobic; Roald Dahl was anti-Semitic, but he remains one of my favorite authors of all time.  Separate the art from the artist).  Nonetheless, it’s certainly true, at least among women in San Francisco.  I asked a female friend if there was an equivalent for dudes, something that most dudes will list as a “favorite.”  The answer: The Princess Bride.

It may not be the “manliest movie”; I mean it’s not like Braveheart (which incidentally, I don’t particularly like), but it’s hilarious, exciting, sweet, and it has just enough 10 year-old Fred Savage so that those of us in our early 30s, who saw the movie when we were 6-12 years old, felt like Peter Falk (best. grandfather. ever) was telling the story directly to us.  Also, it introduced us to the single most quotable movie line ever in the history of cinema, which finally beat out “here’s looking at you, kid.”

Honestly, I should not have to write any more about The Princess Bride, because I already know you love it.  I pity the foo’ who doesn’t.

So that’s it dudes—if you’re not down with the 10 things I listed above, then you’re not even worthy of licking the little rubber piece of my flip-flops that gets jammed between my big toe and my index toe.  Now that we have that settled, who wants to be my friend?

39. On Other Places in Which I Have Lived: Marin County

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I was born in San Francisco, and don’t you forget it.  I came into this world in the UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion, right on Divisadero.  This makes me a native, gosh darnit!  That’s right—I have a ton of street cred.

Then, when I was 6 months old, I moved to Marin County, where I stayed until I was 18. I didn’t establish permanent residency in the actual city of San Francisco again until I was 29 years of age.  When I used to live outside of the Bay Area, and particularly outside of the country, if somebody asked where I was from I would reply “San Francisco.”  But I can’t do that living here, because in the very, very off-chance that the person asking is a native, he or she will further grill me about where I grew up, and eventually I’ll have to sheepishly admit that most of my youth was spent not in San Francisco, but in Marin.  Make no mistake—I’m more of a native than all of the “San Franciscans” here from Boston, Maryland, LA, Ohio and even San Jose, but I’d be lying to myself and to you if I said I grew up in the city.

Nope, I’m “from” Marin County.  There, I said it.  For those of you who don’t know Marin County, have you heard of the Golden Gate Bridge?  If you’re in San Francisco, and you go north across the Golden Gate Bridge, you end up in Marin County.  No, not Sausalito.  Not necessarily Sausalito, anyway.  Sausalito is a town.  Marin is a county, comprised of numerous towns.  Sausalito is very touristy and not representative of all of Marin.

Since I know many of you are NY-centric, perhaps this map can help:

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Here, Marin is unfairly and inaccurately analogized to Westchester County.  Yes, I’ll admit that like Westchester, Marin is north of a major city and very wealthy.  However, there are two key differences between Marin and Westchester.  (1) Westchester was founded by puritans and Marin was founded by hippies, and (2) Westchester Country sucks.  Item (2) is not true of Marin.  Remember that band Stroke 9, who sang that “Little Black Backpack” song?  Long before they hit the big time, they wrote a song in which they declared, once and for all, that “Marin County’s a-ok.”  True story.  You can listen to the song here, on Stroke 9’s myspace page.  I’m sure you can find them on Friendster as well.

I’d like to write a little bit about Marin, because for what it’s worth, growing up there had a profound effect on me and played an integral part in making me who I am today, for better or for worse.  I don’t know if this post will dispel any myths about Marin County or if it will just reinforce the tired stereotypes.  I also don’t know if anybody who is not from Marin will find this entertaining or informative.  Hell, I’m not sure if anybody who is not from Marin will even read this.  But if you are from Marin, I hope that this makes you smile, nod your head, and say, “yup, that’s just about sums it up.”

I think it’s best to start by pointing out that Marin County is completely beautiful.  Take a look:

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That’s pretty much anywhere in Marin.  We also have a coastline:

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This is our Civic Center.  You know, where you go when you get a speeding ticket:

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Our Civic Center was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  Who designed your county’s Civic Center?  Was it somebody famous?  Because Frank Lloyd Wright is pretty famous.

Most people who grow up in Marin (excluding, funnily enough, many of my closest friends) develop an early love for hiking and the outdoors, just by virtue of living so close to exquisite nature.  If you’re into mountain biking, we practically invented it, so I’ve been told.  I actually have friends from Westchester who told me that they’d go drive several hours to the Catskills to go hiking.  From my parents’ house in Marin (and most people’s houses), you can walk a very short distance to get to the Mt. Tamalpais watershed, with its 5 lakes.  Speaking of which, this is Mt. Tam:

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This is a statute in front of the Bon Air shopping center in Greenbrae that is supposed to depict Mt. Tam (speaking of “completely beautiful”):

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But Marin County is not all about natural beauty and hot naked statue chicks.  If it was, nobody would make fun of you when you mentioned that you’re from Marin.  Unfortunately, people do make fun of you if you’re from Marin, mainly because Marin is known for being very rich and very white.  On the latter, consider this: I went to a public high school and in my graduating class of 250, we had two black students, two girls who both had the same first and last names.

I didn’t understand how rich and privileged we were in Marin until I finally left the confines of Marin and headed to New York for college.  Actually, that didn’t help much, because most of my classmates were from Westchester and were even more rich and privileged than me.  But that is neither here nor there.  I was one of the “poorer” kids in my high school in that I didn’t get my own Beamer or green Ford Explorer when I turned 16, and instead had to drive my mom’s Subaru hatchback to school.  Or maybe my dad’s Audi A4.  Dammit.

My high school was very suburban “in-crowd / out-crowd,” and given my general bitterness at the world in my early 30s, I bet you can tell where I fell in that spectrum as an angsty, awkward teenager.  I do chortle a bit when I see pictures of groups of folks I knew growing up in Marin who are still friends with each other today, banded together drinking red wine in Napa or in the ski lodge in Tahoe, looking like a J. Crew ad.  So that’s why they make fun of us!

You don’t have to skim the WASP-y, Westchester-like surface of Marin too far to find the seedy underbelly.  My boss at the law firm now often jokes that because I’m from Marin, I must be some kind of drug addict (she is from Berkeley, but like many other law firm partners has lost her sense of irony over the years).  While I am not and have never been a pothead, alcoholic, cigarette smoker, or addict of any other sort (hell, I don’t even drink coffee, which is very rare for a LAWYER in SAN FRANCISCO), I can understand where she was coming from.  While my yuppie classmates were putting on their polo shirts and getting rides from their drivers to the racquet club on the weekends, my pals and I, with our long hair and Converse All Stars, were taking bus #20 or hitchhiking to the now-defunct Marin City flea market to buy Zippos, knives and old rock and roll T-shirts (I had a great black Led Zeppelin tee I wore for many years, as well as a Sonic Youth one that said “Pretty F*ckin’ Dirty” on it, which was totally awesome).

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While my white bread classmates were going to the polo fields in Golden Gate Park to actually play polo, my buddies and I were hanging out on Haight Street, eating cheap Chinese food and buying Doc Martens, or as we called them, “Docs.”  You know, before it was cool.  Note: I never actually bought Docs.  I did however, have long hair down to my shoulders, and I constantly listened to the Grateful Dead and Phish.  I was also really into flannel and Seattle grunge.  Basically, my friends and I were badass compared to everybody else in Marin.

There’s a downside to all of that badassery, as you might expect.  I had a lot of friends with drug problems.  I had a few friends who ended up in jail, and a few who O.D.’d.  Believe it or not, but money doesn’t cure all of life’s and society’s problems, and in some cases potentially exacerbates them.  Take this little anecdote: last month I had a wonderful reunion with two of my very close friends from the old country (let’s call them L and S), two kids whom I’ve known for over 20 years each.  We were sitting in my one friend’s apartment in Oakland, as he smoked cigarettes and played some Lee Fields on his record player.  I sat far away on the opposite end of the couch, avoiding the cigarette smoke although I knew it had infected my clothing the second I walked through the front door.  “I’d ask if we should get some beer,” I said, “but I think both of you are sober, right?”

“Yup,” said L, “I got sober in the city 6 years ago, B got sober in Marin 5 years ago, and S got sober in the east bay 4 years ago.”

“That’s right, J,” added S.  “When are you gonna join the club?  You’re the only one who still drinks.”

“That’s true,” said L, “but on the other hand, J is the only one who didn’t completely fuck up his life at one point.”  To think that I survived drug addiction, even though I grew up in Marin!  Every time another friend goes to rehab, I always think, there but for the grace of G-d go I.  I remember getting to college and being amazed by how sheltered the rest of my class seemed.  I was the guy from the lily-white super-rich suburb—should I have been the sheltered one?  Then again, what do you expect from the county that invented the concept of “4:20”?

I don’t like cops—Marin taught me that.  To this day, I get nervous when I see a cop car, whether I’m driving or walking.  Marin cops don’t have much in the way of serious crime to attend to, so they spend their time breaking up high school house parties, giving out tickets for rolling stop signs at 2 AM, and confiscating forties of malt liquor.  Such experiences taught an already rebellious young J to further question authority.  For all of last month, there was constantly at least one cop car on my block, to prevent squatters/homeless/protestors/lords-knows-who from getting into the empty lot that was formerly the Hayes Valley Farm.  Just seeing those cop cars made me feel less safe, and with good reason: for every cop in Hayes Valley, there was one less cop in Hunter’s Point or the Mission or some other neighborhood that actually can use cops.  Whether in a yuppie suburb or in a yuppie neighborhood of a big city, cops without real crime are bad news.

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My parents still live in Marin (in the same house!), and I also have a few close friends there, so I find myself heading over the bridge usually around once a month.  Have you ever gone back to the place of your childhood?  It can be very bizarre.  There are memories hiding everywhere that leap out at you when you least expect them, triggered by a sight or location you haven’t seen or been to in years, and on surprisingly not-so-rare occasion they knock you flat on your ass.

Sometimes I’ll get a full-blown flashblack, like the time I went to the Candy Stop in Corte Madera and got a slush puppy and then went to the picnic table and remembered that time that A got super drunk in the middle of the day and started harassing people and P, sporting a pink mohawk, chased him down and awkwardly swung his fists down onto A’s shoulders, knocking him down and into a state of unconsciousness.

Sometimes I’ll have a vision that’s like a montage of “greatest hits” moments, like the time I drove past the spot where Old West (a.k.a. “Old Meth”) pool hall used to be and I remembered the time I won a mini four-person pool tournament with my friends and the time I got the high score on the Cyclone pinball machine and the time I kissed my third girl ever in the parking lot and the time we went onto that houseboat and A ended up huffing VHS tape head cleaner at the suggestion of this really tall black gay dude who looked kind of like Grace Jones and then fell onto the floor and started shouting “I feel warm! I feel warm!”

And sometimes I won’t have a specific memory, but a general overwhelming flood of emotion, like when I drive past my old high school (Redwood High School—Go Giants!) and I suddenly feel like I have long hair and zits and I’m awkward and lonely and depressed and terrified of girls.  It’s a really unpleasant feeling for me, thinking of the way I was in high school, but at the same time there’s this strange comfort.  To this day I often feel like I’m cheating fate or really lying to myself when I display any sort of self-confidence or extroverted tendencies.  It’s funny, people who meet me today don’t believe me when I tell them I’m shy, but people who met me in high school don’t believe me when I tell them I’m not.

I get a little sad when I go to my parents’ house and I realize that I would have to make ten times more money than they ever did to have a house like theirs in Marin (or anywhere in the Bay Area, really).  Marin County would be a wonderful place to raise your kids.  I remember one time when I was 14 or 15 and I wanted to sneak out to meet some friends on a Saturday night.  I put on my clothes and tried to quietly sneak down the stairs, but when I got near the front door my parents came out of the T.V. room and saw me.  “Where are you going?” my mom asked.  “Uh…I was just getting a snack.”  “Then why did you get all dressed up, just to get some oreos?”  “Uh…I…”  “J, you don’t need to sneak out.  Just tell us where you’re going.  We don’t care.”  You wouldn’t tell your kid that if you lived in a big city, would you?

Of course, my mom probably wouldn’t have let me out that night if she had known that I was going to meet up with two of my more hoodlumesque friends, and that we were going to hitchhike to Larkspur, get an older person to buy us a fifth of rum, get wasted on the picnic table behind the fire station and then go to Denny’s for a Moons Over My Hammy (or if we were feeling adventurous, a “Moons Over My Bacon”).

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Kids who grow up in the suburbs always complain about how boring their hometowns are.  And yes, underage drinking and trips to all-night chain restaurants do not exactly make for the most exciting childhood.  Nonetheless, I must have gotten some enjoyment from those halcyon days of my youth because to this day, when I drive across the Golden Gate Bridge and back into Marin, I almost always can’t help but smile.  I guess there’s something to be said about that.

Oh, also, apparently my hometown is no longer boring.

38. The San Francisco Purity Test

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Hello loyal SF lovers.  It’s been a while since I did a post, but not for lack of trying.  Concurrently with “On Homelessness,” I was working on a piece entitled “On Vagina,” but I got 3 pages into it before it sort of fell apart (it was a look at gender relations in the year 2013, but when I bounced my ideas off of various people, I realized it was a bit ahead of its time).  Then I got 5 pages into “On Republicans,” but needless to say, it was recycling the same old preaching-to-the-perverted-choir points that have already been written much more intelligently by this guy.

Meanwhile, all over the Internet, people are writing listicles.  And what is a listicle?  “Listicle” is a portmanteau of “list” and “testicle.” In other words, a list with balls.  For this listicle I’m going to do an old favorite: the purity test.  I’ve done a few over the years and I think you’ll agree that they’re a lot of fun.

And so, without further ado, I present to you THE SAN FRANCISCO PURITY TEST!!!

You know the rules: score one point for each of the following that you’ve done.  Cheating is encouraged.

Since you’ve lived in San Francisco, you’ve…

1. Jaywalked.
2. Jay-biked.
3. Jay-biked on Market Street, like a fucking idiot.
4. Smoked a cigarette.
5. Smoked a marijuana cigarette (reefer).
6. Smoked a marijuana cigarette in public.
7. Smoked a marijuana cigarette in front of a cop.
8. Smoked a marijuana cigarette with a cop.
9. Eaten a pot brownie.
10. Eaten a pot brownie on Alice B. Toklas Street.

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11. Driven down the windy part of Lombard Street.
12. Driven up the windy part of Lombard Street.
13. Driven down the windy part of Vermont Street, along McKinley Square (which is actually windiest street in the city).
14. Ridden your bike across the Golden Gate Bridge.
15. Ridden your skateboard down the hills in Pac Heights.
16. Ridden your land luge down the hills in Pac Heights.
17. Referred to the hills in Twin Peaks as the “North Nipple” and “South Nipple”.
18. Exposed your nipples on Twin Peaks.
19. Exposed your nipples and/or other body parts that are not normally meant to be exposed at Bay to Breakers.
20. Exposed yourself in all of your naked glory on a random day anywhere in the city, prior to them passing that silly no-nudity ordinance.

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21. Looked up your district supervisor.
22. Written an angry letter to your district supervisor.
23. Complained about the lack of housing in the city, but then complained more when a developer threatened to build more housing in your neighborhood.
24. Stepped in dog shit.
25. Stepped in human shit.
26. Defecated on the sidewalk.
27. Defecated on the sidewalk, in front of a playground, in the middle of the day when there were lots of kids on said playground (note: I didn’t do this myself, but I definitely saw it happen in my neighborhood not too long ago).
28. Lived in the Mission.
29. Lived in the Marina.
30. Made fun of people who live in the Marina.
31. Made fun of people who live in the Marina, but then slept with one or more of them anyway.

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32. Turned around to look at a girl’s ass when she walked past you wearing yoga pants.
33. Turned around to look at a guy’s ass when he walked past you wearing yoga pants.
34. Stared at a transgenered person’s package sticking out of her yoga pants.
35. Been hit on while walking down the street.
36. Been hit on by somebody of the same sex while walking down the street.
37. Been not hit on by somebody of the same sex while walking down the street, and gotten offended because of it.
38. Entered into a polyamorous relationship.
39. Dated multiple people at the same time and called yourself “polyamorous” to justify your whorish behavior (note: the term “whorish” here is a unisex term.  One can definitely be a man whore).
40. Avoided getting into a relationship at all costs, but entered into multiple “it’s complicated” situations, sometimes simultaneously.

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41. Received a street-sweeper ticket.
42. Received a texting-while-driving ticket.
43. Driven while drunk, gotten pulled over, and not received a ticket.
44. Thrown away a recyclable item in the garbage can.
45. Thrown away a compostable item in the recycle bin.
46. Yelled at or otherwise shamed somebody for throwing the wrong item into the wrong bin.
47. Defecated into the compost bin—which technically would be the correct thing to do.
48. Gotten wasted at a Giants game.
49. Gotten wasted at a Niners game.
50. Gotten wasted at a wiffleball game in Golden Gate Park.

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51. Eaten a truffle purchased in Dolores Park.
52. Attended the Pride Parade.
53. Attended the Folsom Street Fair.
54. Dressed up in costume on a random day (not Halloween, Bay to Breakers, Arbor Day, etc.)
55. Made an ass of yourself singing karaoke at the Mint.
56. Made an ass of yourself singing karaoke at the Mint, while thinking that you were singing really well.
57. Walked into a gay bar thinking it was a straight bar (I’m sorry—who would’ve guessed that a bar named after a Herman Melville book about manly sailors was a gay bar?!)
58. Walked into a straight bar thinking it was a gay bar.
59. Gone to Ruby Sky.
60. Had a homosexual encounter if you normally identify as straight, or a heterosexual encounter if you normally identify as gay.
61. Given up on the whole “normally identify as____” thing when it comes to sexuality.

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62. Made love to a homeless person.
63. Made love to a native San Franciscan.
64. Hell, met a native San Franciscan.
65. Consumed a bacon-wrapped hot dog.
66. Consumed a bacon-wrapped tofu dog.
67. Eaten some ‘shrooms in the city.
68. Dropped some acid in the city.
69. Taken some ecstasy in the city.
70. Taken some “Molly” or “moon rocks” or whatever the fuck the kids are calling it in the city.  Honestly, kids these days.

molly
71. Gone to Burning Man.
72. Skipped Burning Man, but didn’t shower for a week anyway.
73. Had sex with somebody who worked at Google, Apple or Facebook.
74. Contemplated having sex with somebody, but then decided against it when he or she revealed that he or she worked at Google, Apple or Facebook (ironic, since he actually thought that would get him laid.  Chump).
75. Had sex with somebody who works at a startup.
76. Contemplated having sex with somebody, but then he or she said that he or she worked at a startup, so instead of having sex with him or her, you decided to punch him or her in the mouth (or at least seriously considered doing so).
77. Worked from home naked.
78. Went to your office naked.
79. Decided you were “over” the Mission.
80. Decided you were “over” the Castro.
81. Decided you were “over” Rice-a-Roni.  San Francisco treat my ass.

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82. Seen your rent double.
83. Seen your rent triple.
84. Decided that SF rent was bullshit, and moved to Oakland.
85. Decided that SF rent was bullshit and tried to move to Oakland, but then realized that you couldn’t afford to live there either.
86. Started a tech company.
87. Started a tech blog.
88. Started a food pop-up.
89. Started a food blog.
90. Had sex with a blogger. (Note: if you are a foxy chick have yet to check this one off your list, please email sfloveaffair@gmail.com immediately)

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91. Made out with the Tamale Lady.
92. Made out with a transgendered person.  What, did you think there was only gonna be one measly trans reference on this list?
93. Had your bike stolen.
94. Stolen a bike.
95. Ridden with the Dykes on Bikes.
96. Fantasized about Gavin Newsom.
97. Waited in a very long line for a pint of Pliny the Younger.
98. Worn some sort of bondage or S&M gear in public.
99. Gotten naked in the naked section of Baker Beach.
100. Taken a girl or a guy to your top-secret romantic make-out spot (that involves walking up a secluded staircase), only to find that a bunch of teenagers had gone there that same night to smoke pot.

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Scoring brackets (with the names of famous San Franciscans who fall into each bracket)

1-20: You are boring as fuck.  Please just move to Mountain View and stop driving our rents up.  It’s closer to where you work anyway. (Herb “Wet Blanket” Caen, Lars “Whiney Bitch” Ulrich)

21-40: You might have been pretty edgy in whatever small town you grew up in, but you’re gonna need to do better than that to survive in the city that invented the fortune cookie.  (Mel “What’s up Doc” Blanc, Johnny “Butterbean” Mathis)

41-60: You’re average.  Unfortunately for you, in San Francisco, as in Lake Woebegon, all of the children are above average.  That means you are less than a child. (Joe “Bull Nuts” DiMaggio, Natalie “The Goods” Wood)

61-80: You’re pretty fucking depraved.  (Lawrence “There Once Was a Man From Nantucket” Ferlinghetti, O.J. “Horshack” Simpson)

81-100: Bill O’Reilly cries at night thinking about you.  I want to be your friend. (Bruce “Mambo” Lee, Nancy “Bull Nuts” Pelosi)

37. On Homelessness

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“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” – Anatole France

A while ago I posted to this blog a piece advocating the slaughter of our nation’s homeless masses as part of the solution to America’s most troubling economic problems.  The piece was satire and my audience seemed to appreciate it, although one of my more conservative friends (yes, I do have several) later told me that he enjoyed my piece immensely until he realized that I was joking.  Joking or not (and, for the record, yes, I was joking), I suppose there is some irony in the fact that the very next day I had what was, to date, the longest one-on-one encounter I’ve ever had with a homeless person.  I’d like to share that experience with all of you while it is still fresh in my mind.  [Note: I started writing this piece a month ago and then work consumed my life…you know how it is.  The memory is still there…it just might be slightly tweaked, that’s all.]

There’s a café around the corner from my apartment called Café Mercury.  I go there for lunch at least one weekend day pretty much every week, and always order the caprese sandwich on a French roll, which is served with a small salad.  The whole plate is drowning in olive oil and balsamic vinegar and it tastes like heaven.  I often bring a book to the café, or a crossword puzzle, or sometimes my laptop (yes, it was in this café that I wrote that particularly fun and creepy post about the pretty girls of San Francisco I’ve gone back to the café nearly every week and have yet to see either of those two women again).  I went last Saturday and brought my book, but after finishing my sandwich I realized it was truly glorious outside, so I decided to try reading in the little Hayes Valley park—you know, next to Smitten the beer garden (something bothers me about calling it a “biergarten”—I’m normally all about using the ethnic names but for whatever reason it seems so pretentious in this case, even for me).

The park was crowded, but I managed to find an empty bench in the sun.  It was one of those perfect SF spring days when it’s sunny and beautiful and the clean air smells like fresh laundry, but it’s not at all hot so you can be perfectly comfortable in jeans and a sweatshirt and your Keens.  Yes, I wear Keens.  I pulled out my book, went to the page held by my Book Passage bookmark, retrieved the bookmark, and placed it in the back of the book while holding my current page with my pinky finger so I could read it several seconds later.  You’ll understand why these details are important in the next paragraph.

I had scarcely read half a page when a man sat down on the bench next to me and immediately asked, “hey, why do you have the bookmark in the back of the book and not on the page you’re reading?”  This question struck me as incredibly moronic.  Who the hell keeps a bookmark on the page he’s reading at all times?  Doesn’t everybody stick their bookmarks in the backs of books when reading?  I glanced over to my left and out of the corner of my eye noticed that my companion on the bench was a homeless man. I shifted my gaze back to my book and said, in a quiet but assertive voice, “I’m keeping my bookmark in the back of my book while I read.  When I’m finished, I’ll retrieve the bookmark and place it after the last page I read.  To ‘mark’ my page, if you will.”

“Oh, that makes sense. What are you reading?  Is it any good?”  I’m normally pretty social, but I was in no mood to engage in a conversation with a homeless man.  Not today, not on a rare day off from work when the sun is shining in San Francisco.  I knew I couldn’t just pretend I didn’t hear him, so I answered him rather curtly.  “It’s called ‘Swamplandia!’ by Karen Russell.  I like it.”
“Who are your favorite authors?”  Was this guy fucking kidding me?  “I don’t know, I tend to like books more than authors, but I guess Margaret Atwood and Kurt Vonnegut.”
“Oh.  Who’s Margaret…what was her name?”
“Margaret Atwood.  She wrote Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake, two of my favorite dystopian novels.”  My gaze was glued on my page, hoping that somehow, if I didn’t look up, the guy would leave me alone.  I was starting to smell the cheap red wine on his breath.
“I like Bukowski.” Of course he did. “And Steinbeck.  I used to love to read Steinbeck, but it’s hard to read when somebody keeps talking to you.  Am I bothering you?  I don’t mean to bother you, I just wanted to know what you were reading.”  I put my book down, but kept my eyes pointed straight forward and not at my inebriated conversation partner.  Yeah, he was definitely inebreiated.
“What’s your favorite Steinbeck book?”
“Huh?”
“You said Steinbeck was your favorite author.  What’s your favorite book by him?  Mine is East of Eden.  It’s one of my favorite books of all time.”
“I love East of Eden!  I even memorized a chapter.”  He started reciting.  I don’t remember what he said.  I was contemplating Googling East of Eden right now and then copying the first lines that come up, but that would be dishonest to you, fair reader.  And you know that I would never, ever lie to you.

Although I don’t remember which chapter he quoted or how it went (I read East of Eden in high school and don’t remember much more than “Timshel!” and the fact that I really loved it), I was very impressed.  I lifted my head up and got my first good look at my benchmate.  He was tall, and kind of pudgy, wearing a dirty olive green sweater and faded blue jeans caked with mud.  His hands were huge, and rough, callused and covered in dust.  He had a very scruffy red beard and natty red hair peeked out from under his plain brown baseball cap.  His face was covered with a mix of freckles, scrapes, scabs and scars, and his teeth were yellow and rotten.  His tongue was purple from the cheap fortified wine he was drinking out of a Welch’s grape juice bottle.

“Not bad,” I told him.
“But my favorite Steinbeck book is Grapes of Wrath.  I memorized a whole lotta that book, too, I read it so many goddamn times.”
“I didn’t like it.  Couldn’t get into it.”  It’s true—in fact, I never finished it.  I got about half-way and then gave up.  Then again, that was when I was 14 or 15.  I should try it again now.
“How could you not like it?  It’s the story of the romanticism of the American West!”
“Is that right?”
“Nomads, like me.  Just travelin’ round the country with no real cause.”
“Weren’t they migrant farmers?”
“But you know what I mean.  About the traveling around part, at least.”
“How did you come to San Francisco?”
“First time I came here was on a freight train.  This time I came in a car.  I got a ride up from San Diego with my friend’s brother.  My friend is Belinda.  Have you seen her around?  She’s this one-legged lesbian punk rocker with a bleached blond mohawk.  Sometimes she’s at Market and Gough, and we panhandle together.  Maybe you’ve seen me—I have a sign that says ‘Ugly, Broke and Sober.”  Me and Belinda been friends for a long time.  Hell, I was friends with her when she had two legs!”
“How did she lose her leg?”
“Hopping a train.  She tried to hop in the boxer, the idiot.  You NEVER go for the boxer.  I always go for the unit.”
“The unit?”
“It’s the car up front.  There are usually one or two of them, sometimes three.  And they have seats that are pretty comfortable, and a bathroom—it doesn’t have running water, but it’s better than trying to shit out the side of a boxer.  And there’s a first aid kit, so you can wash off your hands with rubbing alcohol.  And the best part is that it’s easier to board than the boxer!”
“Is that right?”
“Yeah!  You just wait in the bushes for the engineer and other guys to get on the front, then you can hop up the stairs in the next car.  There’s a little ladder for you to hold onto and everything.”
“And nobody is in the next car?”
“Nope.  All of the train folks are in the very front car, but there’s usually another one or two units that are empty.”
“What if you get caught?”
“I mean, the engineer usually comes by, but he doesn’t mind.  Sometimes he’ll bring you food too.  They’re usually pretty nice.  The only guy you gotta watch out for is the pitbull.  The railroad cop.”

My homeless companion started staring off into space, and then took another huge swig from his grape juice bottle.  At that point I put my book down.

“You’ve ridden on a lot of trains, huh?”
“Yup.  I’ve never been across the ocean, but I’ve been to every single state except for Florida, South Carolina, and Hawaii, and the only reason I ain’t been to Hawaii is cuz no freight train goes there…yet!”
“So what’s your name?”
“My name is Richard Michael Touchey, Jr.”
“What a coincidence.  My middle name is Michael too!”
“Oh yeah?  What’s your first and last name?”
“J and K.”
“J Michael K.  Very biblical sounding.”
“Well, I am Jewish.”
“Oh yeah? I’m Italian.  Or at least part Italian, I think.  That’s where I get my olive skin.  Well, it also comes from sleeping on the streets.  That makes you all ashy, like me.  Hey!” he called out to a smoker passing by.  “Gotta an extra cigarette?”  The smoker didn’t look at him.  “I guess not.”  Richard turned back to me.  “You wanna know my favorite alias?”
“Yes?”
“David Bryce Cooper.” Pause.
“…Should I know who that is?”
“When the cops stop me, I tell them my name is David Bryce Cooper, and then I sign my name D.B. Cooper!”  And that, my friends, is awesome.
“That’s awesome.”
“Yeah.  Most of the time the cops don’t get it, but one time one did and he started laughing.”  Cops today are young, keep in mind.  Younger than us.  And if you’re my age, don’t feel bad if you don’t know who D.B. Cooper is.  I only know ‘cuz of my dad.

“And then look at my backpack!  It’s got two names on it, and neither of ‘em are mine.  There’s this one on the front—he’s the original owner of the backpack I think.  But then this one on the back is my friend Shelly.  She gave me this backpack.  She’s in Seattle now but I really hope she comes down for my birthday.”
“When’s that?”
“July 12th.”
“No shit—mine’s on July 13th!”  Richard got excited and flashed a huge grin, then put out his fist for me to pound (or “fist-bump,” if you prefer).  I gave him the rock.  His knuckles were extremely rough; it felt like punching sandpaper. “How old are you gonna be?” I asked.
“40.”
“That’s a big one!”
“Sure is.  I remember when I turned 30.  I spent the whole night trying to hook up with this girl.  I didn’t that night, but then we did a little later.  Then I hooked up with this girl who was my best girl friend.  Not my girlfriend, like, my friend who was a girl.”
“Oh yeah?  How did that turn out?”
“I think it coulda been really good, but I fucked it up.”
“Oh yeah?  How so?”
“When I went to prison, I chose another girl instead of her.  This new girl was nice and all, for a while she sent me letters and money.  Then she stopped.  The other girl, the one who was my best friend…she was the sweetest girl in the world, and I fucked it all up…”

I certainly did not want to get into a conversation about fucking it all up with sweet girls…I spend more than enough time thinking and talking about that as it is.  I changed the subject to one I found more interesting. “When and where were you in prison?”
“I’ve been in 11 different correctional facilities, for, let’s see…I did 3 and a half years the first time, a year the second time, and then little stints here and there…maybe I’ve spent 6 or 7 or 8 years of my life behind bars.  I don’t know.”
“Oh yeah?  How is it?”
“Fucking sucks, man.  I ain’t never going back, not if I can help it.”  I have often heard conservatives complain that prisoners have it so good, with their flat-screen TVs and 3 meals a day, at the taxpayer’s dollar.  I challenge any of those conservatives to spend one night in prison.  One night, and then tell me how great it is.  If you don’t like spending your tax dollars on prisoners, then stop sending people to prison.

Richard told me more about prison and incarceration in general.  He said the first time he went to jail was when he was 17, for beating some kid up at school.  “They sent you to jail for a schoolyard fight?”
“Yeah, it was bullshit, but my dad had a bad name around town, and everybody associated me with him so they were trying to make my life miserable.”
“What town?”
“Missoula, Montana!  Shitty place.”
“I’ve heard Montana is beautiful.”
“It is!  Not Missoula, but the rest of the state.  We used to go to this river to go swimming, and…”  At this point, Richard told a long story about going skinny dipping in ice cold water.  When he started telling the story, it was as if he suddenly became incredibly drunk, or rather, that he had been able to contain his drunkenness for a while, but his self-control fell apart when reminiscing about the halcyon days of this youth.  I tuned out—there’s only so much mindless babbling I can take.  At one point a pretty girl walked by with a cigarette and Richard asked her for one, with quite a bit of slobber. She pretended not to see or hear him.

He eventually noticed that he had become incoherent, and tried to steer me back into the conversation.  “Hey, wanna hear a joke?”
“Sure, I love jokes.”  I really do.
“Okay…okay.  I see you got that bald spot, so here’s what you do.  Don’t use Rogaine or any of that shit.  Here’s what you do.  You get a piece of bologna and put it right on the bald spot, okay?  Then you put on a hat, and you wear your hat on the bologna on your bald spot for 2 weeks.  Don’t take of the hat and don’t wash your hair or nothin’.  Then, in two weeks, when you take off your hat, your hair will be bologna in the wind!”
Not only was the joke not funny, but it kind of pissed me off, because I’m pretty self conscious about my bald spot.  “That was your joke?  That wasn’t funny, Richard.”
“Wait, wait, I gotta another one.  Wanna hear?”
“Okay, but if it’s as bad as that last one, I’m leaving.”
“Did you know that chickens die after sex?”
“No.”
“Well, they do after I fuck ‘em!”  Now that, my friends, was my kind of joke!
“That’s pretty good, I got one too.  What’s the hardest part about eating a vegetable?”  Thus began our game of “joke tennis.”  This is when you keep telling jokes back and forth until one person runs out.  I’m really good at joke tennis.  After the vegetable joke, he told an oldie-but-goodie about pedophilia that I had been telling since I was 14.  That exhausted Richard’s joke arsenal, but I told a few more.  The jokes I told were a little too inappropriate for this blog, but my “winner” for our game of joke tennis had the punch line “twenty-seven.” Shoot me an email and I’ll tell you the first part…although it’s really one of those jokes that is best told in person.

Just me and a homeless dude, sitting on a park bench in Hayes Valley, telling dirty jokes.

An elderly Chinese man walked past us, smoking a particularly smelly cigarette.  Richard asked him for one, and he stopped, gave Richard the stink eye, spit on the ground, and walked away.  At that point, two sexy Latina women walked past our bench.  They actually looked like a mother-daughter combination.
“Did you like those ladies?” Richard asked me.
“You didn’t think they were pretty?”
“Not my type.”
“Oh yeah? You prefer blondes maybe, like her over there?”  I pointed at a stunning blonde walking across the other side of the park.
“Aww man, you just like her cuz she’s got that tiny miniskirt on.”  Kinda true.  “Nah, all of these girls are too skinny for me.  If I fucked any of them, I’d break them in two.  I need a woman with a big butt.  I’m talkin’ huge!  The bigger the better!  Like that chick over there!” Indeed, judging by Richard’s female of choice, he certainly likes his women large and in charge.  And there sure as hell ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.

Just me and a homeless dude, sitting on a park bench in Hayes Valley, checking out the ladies.

I looked at my watch and noticed that it was getting late and I had some place to go, so I excused myself.  The whole time I had been speaking with Richard I had been anticipating that he would ask me for money, but he never did.  This was a good thing—I had no cash on me and I was kind of dreading that awkward moment.  Then again, he had his booze, his clothes, and a bag full of food (I didn’t mention that part before, but he had food, including a box of Triscuits.  During his incoherent babbling about Montana, he had mentioned how his grandmother won some Triscuit recipe contest 60 years ago). What more did he need?

“Richard, what do you do all day?”
“You know, the usual…try to take over the world.”
“How are you gonna do that?”
“Panhandling.”
“I’m also trying to take over the world.”
“What do you do?”
“I’m a lawyer.”
Richard looked down at his wine, then back up at me.  “I think my way is better for taking over the world.”  He certainly had me there.

I checked my watch–we had been chatting for nearly an hour and a half.  I was meeting a friend for dinner, so at that point I said goodbye and started walking home.  I passed a man smoking a cigarette and asked him for one.  I was hoping he would give me one, so that I good be an obnoxious liberal and point out that people pretend not to see the homeless, but will do something nice for the handsome and gainfully employed.  However, the guy didn’t even look at me.  It was only when I got home and looked in the mirror that I realized that in my unshaven, hungover state, with my unkempt hair (this was before I got a haircut), baggy jeans and 10 year-old gray hoodie, I probably looked almost as homeless as Richard.

Epilogue: Two weeks later I went back to the park after eating lunch at Café Mercury.  Richard was there with a friend.  His face was bloody, with fresh stitches above his eyebrow.  I said hello, and he kind of recognized me, but not quite.
“Richard, what happened to you?”
“You know how it is–you win some, you lose some.”
“Do you need anything?”
“Nah man…I got my smokes, my food, my…” he opened his jacket to reveal a small bottle of cheap vodka.
“Sounds like a great Saturday afternoon.”
“I’ll say.  A great fuckin’ Saturday afternoon.”  I left Richard with his friend and walked back to my apartment, trying to pretend that the situation didn’t depress me.

I won’t try to sound like I have a lot of street cred by saying that Richard is my “friend.”  I don’t know much about him.  I would not introduce him to my single female friends as a prospective date.  I would probably not invite him over to my apartment for dinner. But he’s a human being and he has a story to tell—that’s enough for me to at least appreciate his company.

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