Monthly Archives: August 2009

B is for Boys

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I am tired from starting off my first semester teaching community college. Wow. It really takes a lot out of you–but you go to bed happy and then wake up to a stack of papers to grade and lesson plans to create. Still, I make time to write for a few hours, two days a week. Even though today, I’m so tired, I’m not sure what to do with the Muse if she should happen to visit me during vigil.

But it’s time to jog my head back from teaching to the world of writing…

And thus, I will blog the 2nd installment of Alphabet: A History. I’ve done A (for Aub Zam Zam), it is time for the letter B.

Having just written a a post called My Berkeley, Berkeley is taken. I riffle through the B’s in my life: Beijing, Barcelona, brioche, bologna, butter, Barney Lake, Burgundy (the region, not the wine), burgundy (the wine, not the region), Berkeley Bowl, bees,blue, butter, believe…

(I wrote the above list because I couldn’t let any of the other B’s of my life go without at least a mention).

Boys

My first best friend was my brother. We were inseparable, and once someone asked if were twins, and I thought that was just brilliant. We began pawning ourselves off as twins from that point on, even going so far as to tell our nursery school/daycare that we were twins.

When my brother’s birthday in February rolled around, the teacher assistants asked me, “How come it’s not your birthday? Aren’t you twins?”

I had to think fast. “My birthday is a few months later,” thinking that twins just meant being the same age. “My birthday is in August,” not realizing that the human gestation period would not allow one child to be born in February and then another in August, six months later, from the same mother.

“Ohhh,” said the lady. I was six, my brother was celebrating his fifth birthday. I felt something unsettled in the air. I stopped telling people we were twins after that.

*

My second best friend was a boy named R******. We still keep in touch today, although being opposite gender, married, and living four hundred miles away (and now across continents, for he has moved to Australia), keeps us at quite a distance. He was a groomsman in my wedding.

I was new to the school. I was seven. When the teacher gave mimeograph worksheets and asked students to pass them down the row, the girl next to me made sure to tear the corner off my sheet before handing mine to me. Her name was Bonnie. I did not know exactly why she did that, only that she did it to my paper and no other, on a consistent basis.

I didn’t know with whom to play at recess and with whom to eat at lunchtime. I’d always lived in cities, and this was my first (and last time) living in the suburbs. I remember staring at the expanse of the playground and feeling very very small. There was so much space that everyone seemed to be standing very apart, even if they were standing next to each other.

I missed the city. I missed a classroom in which no one tore my paper before handing it to me.

A boy came up to me. He said his name was R****** He looked like Opie, strawberry blonde hair and all. “Hi, my name is R******. Do you want to play together?” I grabbed his hand. We ate lunch. We walked around the playground, holding hands to the melody of other kids singing, “R****** and ____ sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g!”

We weren’t kissing. What were they talking about? We ignored them, and played in the dirt below the trees. I remember one thing we used to do was take a kitchen magnet and run it through the dusty soil…what emerged were a million particles of metal hanging onto the magnet, like fuzzy hair. We collected the metallic dust into plastic sandwich bags. For what purpose, I do not remember. It was just fun, and I thought, interesting.

No one talked to me except for R****** and for that, he was my best friend. He was also the smartest boy in our class, and we got top awards throughout elementary school. He and I were crowned “king and queen” academic achievers at the end of sixth grade.

When puberty hit, my parents said I could no longer be friends with him. I thought that was unfair, and I did not understand their reasoning. They didn’t tell me their reasoning, but I knew, years later, what they feared: that I would become romantically involved with him. He was a good boy, but I was not allowed to date. And he was not Korean.

(Our separation was otherwise convenient–R****** was moving, and going to attend junior high school in a different school district).

Later, I would date. And I would marry someone who was not Korean, and who was Jewish. Haha.

Also decades later, R****** told me, “I was new to school that year, too.”

What? I asked.

“Yah, I had just arrived the week before.”

Two new kids. Best friends.

*

I was not allowed to date boys. Whenever a boy called the house, my father would get on the other line, and listen, only to invade a few minutes in and say, “Hang up.” A boy could only call me for a strictly pragmatic purpose: to ask for the homework assignment, to inform me of some official event, and that was it. No chatting.

I snuck out on one date during high school. I liked him–I felt he could see through my bitter/emo facade somehow. My square/academic clique friends were horrified by him (he smoked, he was brash, he said things that no one else dared to say, he put his feet up on his desk when he was in class), but I was not. I felt he was a very good person, underneath his “I go smoke in my car during lunchtime bad boy” facade. (At my high school, smoking in your car at lunchtime was a big indicator that you were “bad.”)

We went to El Torito. I had never had a fajita before. I was so nervous I ate like, ten fajitas. I think I didn’t stop talking. It was, by every definition, a horrible date. I felt a cloud of apology swell inside of me. All I wanted to say was “I’m so sorry, I suck at this.” But I couldn’t “be real,” whatever was inside me that needed to be said, was being stuffed down by fajita after fajita.

I learned on that date that fajitas were delicious.

He took me home. I said, “Please don’t walk me to the door,” knowing I could not be discovered by my parents.

J*** insisted on walking me to the door. I wanted to throw up all the fajitas.

My dad opened the door. J*** stuck out his hand to greet my father. My father slapped his hand away and ushered me inside. “I’m sorry, J***,” I said, the apology finally out, as I waved bye to him.

I just reconnected with J*** on Facebook. He is now a rabbi (he wrote me, self-mockingly, “Can you believe it? I’m a rabbi now!”). And as good a person as ever–and who was gracious when he said he remembered me and said he rather enjoyed that date.

I told my dad that the guy I snuck out with was now a rabbi. I told my dad, what difference would it have made for me to have had a little fun in high school? I would still have been just fine.

“I didn’t know,” said my dad, apologetically.

***

Joining Charlotte’s Web in working through the alphabet with short, memoir-like pieces. It’s called Alphabet: A History.

Previous letters:

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Teaching

I am teaching. Boy, I am exhausted. But I had a fantastic first day of class. Now back to vegging out in recovery.

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A is for Aub Zam Zam

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In the Haight, just a few blocks from Golden Gate Park, in the heart of hippiedom, sits a very un-hippie place: the Aub Zam Zam room. A martini bar. And inside the bar used to reside a very decidedly anti-hippie bartender: Bruno. Bruno Mooshei, to be exact (Bruno passed away about nine years ago but the bar still remains). And Bruno hated hippies. I watched him kick person after person out of the bar with a frank, “I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” or “I think you would like it a lot better at the bar down the street.”

Bruno wore the uniform of someone who might be anti-hippie: white shirt, black vest, a tie. He was stout. Making a martini was a delicate affair of engineering. He made change out of an antique cash register. Even while wearing jeans at that bar, I felt like I was wearing a Christian Dior dress out of the 1950s.

In the early days of my twenty first year, my boyfriend, who at the time lived above the Panhandle, and I used to wend our way down Clayton over the narrow track of grass called “the Panhandle,” and down to the Haight for dinner after a listless afternoon of my angst and what I now see as his thirty year old bored amusement of my angst. Oftentimes, we would stop at the Persian Aub Zam Zam for a martini.

There are two visits I will never forget.

The first time we went to the Aub Zam Zam, I didn’t have my ID on me. I was twenty-one. But Bruno let me in, not without first staring me down with a look that made me wilt and want to turn around and say, “Nevermind, I don’t need a martini, really.” He turned to my boyfriend and said in his stentorian voice, “You’re lucky she looks so young.” And proceeded to make me a martini.

I’d ordered a “gin martini,” and Bruno answered right away, “Young lady, is there any other kind?!” Because Bruno never ever served you anything other than a gin martini, stirred. Ask for vodka, and you might get kicked out. Ask for your martini to be shaken, and you might get kicked out. Ask for a whiskey or a cosmopolitan, and you might get kicked out. And you sit at the bar, not at a table, even though the place is clean and all the tables look ready to receive you. Because otherwise, you might get kicked out.

There might be people drinking something other than a martini, but they were on a whole ‘nuther level, possibly Bruno’s friends. You didn’t dare follow their example.

Still, the martini was fine. The best, really. And Bruno was an excellent host if he approved of you. He laid down a napkin for me, “because a lady always needs a napkin.” And he would compliment you–again, in a voice that sounded like he was berating you so that if you were a dog you’d cower in the corner because you wouldn’t understand English to differentiate the content of his message. And the place was clean, and the Moroccan door so old fashioned and…awesome.

He’d berate the street urchins, wish for the old days when the Haight was “not like this, full of punks.” And most of all, it was fun to watch the other people get kicked out. One night, a bunch of folks came in and said they’d just finished dinner and would like a martini.

Bruno kicked them out. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” When they resisted he continued, “Don’t you know a martini is not an after dinner drink!” They left, one of them laughing, delighting in the privilege of being kicked out.

Being a “good girl,” I was horrified at the prospect of being kicked out. And yet I delighted in watching others turned away from the bar at which I sat. Another party entered and before they even got to the bar, I knew he’d kick them out. They were boisterous, their laughter and swearing filling what had seemed like a peaceful martini tomb. They got kicked out.

I sipped my martini like it was privilege.

The other time I won’t ever forget…is the time I actually GOT kicked out. I had returned to the bar with another boyfriend-now-husband. This time he was twenty-one, and I was older by eighteen months. It was his second time at the Aub Zam Zam.

We ordered our martinis. Gin. Stirred. Cold. And were sipping. Watching other people get kicked out. I don’t remember who it was Bruno had just kicked out, but I’d had my entire martini, and I was feeling giddy, and I couldn’t help myself: I giggled.

“Young lady? What’s so FUNNY?” Bruno turned his short, stout body to me.

I was horrified. “I just thought something was funny.”

“We don’t LAUGH like that in PUBLIC. You are being VERY RUDE. I have to ask you to LEAVE.” I’d heard him say those lines before, but now they were directed at me. Oh. I could hear my boyfriend-now-husband sucking down his martini next to me, finishing as quickly as he could.

We walked out, my head hanging in shame. My boyfriend-now-husband, knowing my relationship with authority and approval put his hand on my shoulder and said he thought it was funny.

I looked up about to argue that it was NOT funny, this was SERIOUS! But then I saw we’d entered a different world full of street urchins, second hand clothing stores, the air heavy with incense. I guess it *was* sort of funny.

***

Joining Charlotte’s Web in working through the alphabet with short, memoir-like pieces. It’s called Alphabet: A History.

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more time lapse photos of the vegetable garden

I’m so excited about my triamble squash–got only 2 squash hanging off the vine (the plant aborted all the rest, including one squash halfway through maturation)…but it’s beautiful!

And growing at a rapid rate. Here’s one squash’s life over the past 3 weeks:

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And then…

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And vroom! The weather got warmer and the squash took off! Now the size of an infant’s head…

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And this morning, I can confidently, say it’s the same size as a small child’s head…

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(A week later, as of August 22, the size of an adult’s head and turning a bluish green)…

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And 2 weeks later:

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I was hoping to have more than 2 triamble squash, hoping to have enough to give away to friends, but I may end up with just two. Still, I’m happy!
(Update: I ended up harvesting 5 triamble squash this season–and they are DELICIOUS. Thank you bigtime to my friend Novella who mailed me the seeds. It was a tough growing season, but I’m happy with my yield).

My garden has been a living metaphor for the act of writing ever since its inception in 2007. It has been a microcosm of the world–with its unexpected twists and unexpected guests (gopher), and it has given me knowledge and joy. Not bad for a little piece of land, some dirt, seeds and water, right?

Every year I learn something new from my plot of land. That squash plants often abort squash, especially the first few squash, and sometimes inexplicably. We lose our ideas. Sometimes our initial ideas don’t pan out. We have to try and try and try. Also in another metaphor, I’m reminded that I’m not alone in my struggle with infertility. (Every morning, I would hand pollinate the squash, and smiled, thinking about IVF/artificial insemination).

I’ve also discovered, on a practical level, that Fox Farm planting soil kicks ass. The top level of my garden is 100% FoxFarm soil. The bottom level is random very cheap soil with a touch of Miracle Gro planting soil thrown in. We cheaped out on the lower level because I’d spent so much on the top tier two years previous.

The top tier is doing great–the bottom tier–you can tell the soil isn’t great, even though I supplement with Fox Farm peace of mind fertilizer. Still, it doesn’t matter–my momotaro tomato plant is ailing (it’s not blight…but i think some sort of vitamin deficiency because the NEW leaves are ailing and the older leaves are just fine). The squash keeps aborting.

Invest in your bottom line…put a good foundation (soil) in, in whatever you build or do. Don’t cheap out.

Also, next time, I’m going to try to get some free compost from the city of Berkeley–I hear they give out free compost every couple of months (from the green bins they collect from all the residences in town).

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