May 30, 2001

It was the hottest day ever today. Ok, that's not true, it wasn't even the hottest day ever in San Francisco, but it was 91 degrees at 5 p.m. I have the pleasure of having an office with west facing windows so by 5 p.m. it was about 102 degrees in my office. About half of my coworkers were thrilled by the sudden heat. I'm always surprised at how many people who love hot weather live in San Francisco. It's not the natural mecca for sunworshippers. The moment the sun started coming out around March, my coworker Teresa was wearing sandals and short skirts. My friend Angie sunbathes as soon as she can lie in her backyard without getting frostbite. My sister takes off her sweatshirt in the middle of winter if the sun comes out so she can catch a few rays. I think it's hilarious when the weather shifts from dense fog to bright sun in the same day out in the sunset where I work and I see the same person walk by in a sweater and jeans in the morning then tank top and shorts at 2.

I fall on the other side of the spectrum. One of the reasons I moved to SF was to live somewhere relatively temperate leaning towards cool. Growing up in the Midwest I learned to hate the extremes of weather--the incredibly hot, humid summers and the bitterly cold winters. My favorite few weeks of the year were early spring and autumn. Neither season lasted very long. I also, during a period of insanity in my life, lived in Sacramento. My clearest memory of that time was lying in the middle of the living room with the ceiling fan directly over me, completely naked, so hot I couldn't muster up strength to turn on the TV. I knew I was not long for Sacramento. I do occasionally complain about the inconsistency in weather that San Francisco is known for--the fog meaning heavy coat one day and the sun meaning sandals and capris the next--but it's something I'm more than happy to deal with. There are others who are on my side. Andrew in my office complained bitterly about having to walk just a few blocks in the noon-time heat today. I have a few friends who, the moment the thermometer cracks 80, head straight for the nearest cold beer. ('Course they do that in the winter, too.) My dad has a similar constitution as well, preferring not to sweat and sunburn.

There is one thing I love about hot weather. I was going to walk home tonight, but with the heat I just didn't have the energy. So I took the bus most of the way. When I got off the bus, which incidentally was STIFLING, I went into the little corner store and bought...a popsicle. I can't justify eating frozen sugar water any other time of the year. But when it's 90 degrees and you have several steep hills to walk up to get home, there's plenty of justification. My favorites are the multi-colored, multi-flavored ones like Astro-pops. The one I bought at the store today was called an Itzakadoozie. Frankly, the sillier the name, the better for me. It brings me back to my childhood. It helped that I was wearing pigtails today, too. The walk uphill seemed effortless.

I saw something today I'd never seen before, which is always an exciting thing to say. I saw a man sitting on top of a bus stop dusting it--with a feather duster. I'm still boggled by this fact. Amazing what the city will think a suitable thing to spend money on.

Posted by Alyssa at 10:43 PM
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May 22, 2001

I had the best day yesterday. It started out with a wake-up shower listening to American Hi-Fi--specifically my new favorite song "Flavor of the Weak". Then, while getting dressed, I watched the opening cheer in "Bring It On"--possibly the greatest movie in the history of civilization. Then I rushed out the door and went to walk in Bay to Breakers.
I had never done Bay to Breakers before, but my parents have done it three times. As my mom said, after we finished, I never would have thought of doing the race a year ago. But I made up my mind several months ago, after having walked for a few months and started getting in shape, that I would do Bay to Breakers this year. It's a 7 1/2 mile race. It was something I'd always wanted to do but was never in good enough shape for. I was very excited.
My parents were late, as was I but they were later than I was, so I waited for them and took photos of the crowd. It was impressive.

There were some great costumes. The hamster in the wheel was my favorite, but there was also the invisible man, the rolling blackouts, the tiki hut bar and attendees (which I'm told is a staple), the crabs, the penis, the gourd guys...

Mom and Dad showed up and we put on our numbers (I didn't aim the camera well with mine) and we took off.

It was amazing being in the middle of this huge group of people. It reminded me of Halloween in the Castro only warmer and a little less crowded. I looked in front of me and behind me and there was nothing but a sea of people. And everyone was having a good time. There were a number of people with shopping carts with kegs in them. There was a group of people with martini glasses. There was even a group of guys with a grill, cooking sausages.

Speaking of sausages, there were plenty of naked people. As I said to my parents, why is it always the people you don't want to see naked who are quick to take their clothes off? A few examples, the faint at heart should avert their eyes:

However, there were some naked people who looked pretty good. And the naked people who were dancing and having a great time looked especially good in their joyousness.

The infamous Hayes Street Hill was all I had heard about since people started finding out that I was doing the race. It's murder, people told me. My parents said it was no big deal, but then they're used to climbing Mt. Tam. I was concerned, but not afraid. As it turns out, that was the most fun part of the walk. There were spectators everywhere, hanging out of every window of every house, playing loud music to keep us going, hosing us down, taking pictures. Everyone was laughing and having a good time showing off their costumes, looking at everyone else's costumes, drinking their beer, pushing themselves to go faster up the hill.

Again the views were fabulous, thousands before and behind, and when I topped the hill I saw the painted ladies with the city laid out behind it. It was like an initial prize, given at that early mark. It was exhilarating to top the hill, everyone grinning to have made it. Even the Vikings.

It was a little disheartening to turn the corner onto Divisadero to discover we'd only hit the 3 mile mark. Our spirits were raised immediately when 6 gorgeous men appeared on top of a roof--a cowboy, a police officer, a biker, a construction worker, a sailor, and an American Indian. As the strains of YMCA began to the squeals, screams, howls and applause of the racers, we all stopped to watch. After laughing, screaming, and dancing while watching them for a song, I felt energized to go on. Not to mention a fresh burst of sexual energy caused by the cowboy's chest. Woooooo.

There were more spectators along Fell Street, a man rapping from a second floor window, a little boy singing along with Cab Calloway on the steps of his house as we all sang "Hi-dee-hi-dee-ho" along with him. There were the boys offering free breast exams in an effort to enhance their sexual life, much teased by the female walkers. There were the men with a sign asking all nude runners to stop there. I saw a woman flash them much to their delight.

When we entered the park, things calmed down. It got quieter, fewer spectators, people started getting a little more serious. We started walking into the fog, which felt great after the intense sunlight earlier. My battery started to die on my camera, sadly. I just got pictures of the mile markers after that, and didn't even get the last few. But don't think that means I didn't finish.
We were walking through the park and I saw the buffalo for the first time. I've lived in this city for almost 6 years and had never seen the Golden Gate Park buffalo. Hard to believe. And they were every bit as shabby as I'd been told, though seemingly healthy, hair hanging off them in clumps. People were starting to mellow out, tired or just playful, stopping to have a drink or throw a football. My feet started to hurt. Dad's hips started to hurt. Mom claimed to be pain-free. She's a tough one.
At the 6 mile mark they took our picture. I'll be excited to see it, though it will be interesting to see what pose we're in. My dad kept raising one of my arms, with me protesting that my armpit is not the most flattering part of my body, my mom put her arm around me. I suspect in the photo I will be tugging my arm down with my dad grabbing it and with my mom tugging me toward her. Or maybe there will be a nice one of us all laughing. Or maybe they'll have missed us altogether. Hard to say.
At the 7 mile mark I stopped feeling the pain in my feet, knowing we were almost there. People started speeding up, trying to better their times at the last minute. Considering all the loitering to drink, play, ogle, dance, it was hard to believe anyone still cared about their time. Finally we crossed the finish line. It was an oddly anti-climactic moment. I knew I could walk the whole race, knew I wouldn't give up, and I knew it wouldn't even be that hard. I've walked so much, I knew I could handle it. So when I crossed the line, it was kind of a "yeah, so?" moment. But then mom said what she said, about me not thinking about doing it a year ago. And I realized how far I've come. I hated gym in school. I was never an athlete. I was never good at sports that involved moving much, being much better at badminton and volleyball. But here I was, walking 7 1/2 miles without even thinking twice about it, without even being winded, though my feet still hurt. Suddenly I wanted to take up tae bo and soccer and yoga and dancing and every sport that involved being strong and energetic. Because I knew I could do it. I can do everything they said I couldn't do in gym class. I can be something that I never thought I could be. And how fucking exciting is that to realize?

Later that night, after the most satisfying nap I've ever had, I went to the Great American Music Hall to see one of my favorite singers for the first time--Eddi Reader. She was the lead singer for Fairground Attraction and has had a solo career for some years now. She's Scottish and my friend Nate introduced me to her music right before I went to live in Scotland so I have an extra fondness for her. She was opening for Hothouse Flowers. I went with my friend Kelly who also loves her. Neither of us knew much of Hothouse Flowers' music so we were excited to see what they were like, too.

When Eddi took the stage, I was struck by how beautiful she was. Her jacket photos hadn't done her justice. We were sitting right over the stage in the balcony and I was so close I felt like I could touch her. When she began to sing, I did want to touch her. I wanted to hug her to thank her for the beauty of her voice and her music that she had brought into my life. I got that butterfly thing in my stomach when she sang, that I always get when I see someone live whom I've loved through their music. I wanted to jump up and down. When she left the stage, I was so sad, I wished she could have kept singing for the rest of the night.

Kelly spotted her a few minutes later, much to my surprise, over by the CD table. I had already bought both of her CDs that they were selling. Kelly encouraged me to go down, even though I didn't know what to say. He told me to thank her. I grabbed my purse and ran down. I thought I could get a picture of her. When I got down there, I was too afraid to take her picture, didn't want to seem like too much of a goon. But she was signing CDs so I pulled out a CD for her to sign. I was going to have her sign both of them, and started tearing off the packaging from the one in plastic. My hands were shaking. I felt foolish as I struggled with the adhesive on the CD. Finally I ended up handing her the other CD, a live CD. I told her my name and she told me it was pretty. I thanked her. Then when she was finished signing I nervously told her thank you for your voice and your music and how wonderful I thought she was. She looked vaguely embarrassed. She said how sad she was that it was their last tour date. I asked if she was going back to Scotland and she told me yes, after London. I told her that I had lived in Scotland for a few months and that I had discovered her music just before I went and how much it meant to me. She asked where I'd lived and when I told her Stirling she started telling me she'd met someone else from Stirling just a few minutes ago and started looking for him, saying I should talk to him. I thought it was charming, as there were so many people there was no way I was going to find him. I thanked her and said goodbye. I told Kelly later that I didn't think I could ever do that again, my heart couldn't take it. I was still shaking as I sat down.

Hothouse Flowers came on then and they were fabulous. The lead singer was amazing, dancing around and playing his handheld drum and piano and guitar and tin whistle. The band was wonderful as well, and darn cute, especially the bassist. They played an amazingly wide range of music, from rock to blues to folk to old Irish ballads. Everything they did was great.

At least half the audience was clearly in love with them. After an especially gorgeous ballad, one little asian woman hopped on stage to give the singer a big hug. He accepted happily. Later, toward the end, a young woman with a black bob jumped on stage and started dancing. She danced over to the singer on the piano and danced next to him, bumping butts. She danced back to back with the guitarist. throughout the song she danced with the singer, each of them taking turms copying each other's moves. At the end of the song she hugged them all and took bows with them. She was bold and excited and we were all in awe of her for going for it with such success. I've never seen a more welcoming, warm band, especially the singer who walked on the tables at the front of the stage to touch everyone's hands and give them kisses before he left the stage. I left feeling sublimely happy. I got home and went to bed grinning ear to ear, thinking about the most wonderful day I had had.

Posted by Alyssa at 12:28 AM
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May 15, 2001

I've begun to suspect, a mere 10+ years since I was one, that I've no clue what the deal is with teenagers. This isn't a new thought, I know. Parents everywhere say the same thing. And yet, I always thought of myself as fairly hip; I listen to modern music, I'm alert to trends, I shop at Wishbone (extremely hip, expensive store near work)... I never thought I would be someone who just didn't understand the next generation.

I ride the bus every morning with teenagers. Crowds of them. They mostly sit at the back of the bus talking loudly, sometimes playing music, often looking like they know a lot more than me and I'd better watch out or they might tell me some of it. They scare me sometimes, with their knowing looks and low pants.

I don't know how involved I want to get in a discussion of their fashion sense. Sometimes I look at them and I want their outfits.

Sometimes I look at them and want to burn their outfits. There's the scarf tied over the hair, the low pants, the glued-down hair (I haven't had the guts to get a good picture of this yet, but trust me), the puffy oversized jackets, the knit caps, and plenty more...

I guess I don't get their fashion in the same way my parents didn't understand my fondness for off-the-shoulder sweatshirts and legwarmers. However--a word about low pants. Why are these still in style? I saw a boy walking from the bus toward his school the other day; he bent down to tie his shoes and his pants dropped to reveal his bare black butt. I startled my fellow bus riders with my uncontrollable laughter. I just don't know what low pants wearers are thinking.

Fashion aside, I hear things come out of their mouths sometimes that startle me. I'm not really easily startled when it comes to language. I can deal with whatever swear words or ethnic slurs used in friendly way they might use. It's more the content that stops me. I heard a girl and boy talking the other day--"I've never seen anyone die before," she said. "Really?" he said, surprised. It was the "Really?" said with such surprise that chilled me. Then he asked her if she was taking her SAT's on Saturday. Another day another girl was talking to a boy about Oakland. They were saying how much better it was there than here in San Francisco. She explained how she'd seen a boy get robbed (though she used some slang term I can't remember now) on the bus the other day by a couple of kids who were stopping anyone in blue. The boy just nodded, blase, like it was the most natural thing in the world. Then there were the two boys talking about hash. One asked the other if he wanted any, as he knew of a good deal. The other boy said he was going to buy a quarter but he didn't have the money. He had to buy prom tickets. These kids talked loudly and naturally about all these things.

The subjects they're talking about, things I wouldn't have even gotten near at their age, growing up in the Midwest, disturb me. But I think what I find even more bizarre is the contrast between subjects, the easy shifting from startling realities of the world to everyday school small-talk. They're at once average kids and more worldly than I am.

I remember my ex getting upset riding the bus, hearing a couple of teenage girls talking about getting abortions. One of them had had two. Again they spoke loudly and unashamedly, like it was the most normal thing in the world. He railed at the idea of raising kids in the city. I have to admit, I've had my confidence shaken. I don't know what I would do if I was to have a kid while living in SF. I can't see moving away from here. I love the city. I love being able to walk everywhere, to take public transportation pretty much anywhere, to go to any movie I want at any time I want, to have concerts and plays and events all easily within my grasp. And I would want my child to have all these things as well. I always loved the idea of a child growing up in a cosmopolitan area, so different from what I had. But I see now how that could backfire. I question whether being sheltered from a lot of the real world until you're old enough to face it on your own could be a good thing.

Then there are my coworkers. Lillie has three kids, all great kids, one in high school like the kids on the bus. She's very sweet, teaches swimming to kids in the summer, volunteers at a day care center. Teresa has 4 kids, one 19 who still lives at home, goes to art school, and is apparently an ideal son. These kids all grew up in the city and turned out fine. So I know it can be done. Still, I'm glad it's not a choice I'm going to have to make anytime soon.

I guess I'm not a total loss with the latest generation. The above kids I can relate to, and I understand their fashion. My cousin is 17 and we get along well, I love the way she dresses, and she talks about normal 17 year-old things (well, actually she's pretty mature but not in the hash/abortion way of the others I mentioned). I still "get" their music, Eminem and Britney Spears aside. And I don't think they should be dismissed as simply scary.

Even when they're talking about people dying and buying drugs, I see other qualities. They're more mature than they should be, that's certain. But they're not completely gone. They still talk about their prom dresses, they still tease each other about the boys and girls they "like", and they do their homework--even if it is last minute on the bus (I did that, too). I see the normal-ness in them. I see that maybe they're not growing up the way I did, but they are growing up and surviving in a very different world than the one I grew up in. They're still a little scary. But the fact that they still laugh and tease and get embarrassed when their pants fall down shows me that they're also just kids.

A woman who's looking into the future without fear--my coworker Lynn--

Pregnancy Watch 2001


Posted by Alyssa at 12:59 PM
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May 01, 2001

Yesterday I was walking during lunch, which I do when I'm running too late in the morning to walk then. I can't walk without a destination; it makes me restless. So I walked to Walgreens, down at 23rd and Irving, and bought lipstick. My lipstick collection is starting to reach my jewelry collection proportions and I know I should stop. And yet...

So I was walking back from Walgreens; I'd just stopped to get a new Fastpass for the bus for May, and I was walking across 9th Avenue when I saw a big arrangement of flowers on the sidewalk outside Jamba Juice. As I came up to it, I realized it was a sort of a shrine and there were several other people looking and reading something on the wall.

I used to walk to the bus every night down Irving Street to 9th Avenue and wait for the bus in the stop there. I would pass Jamba Juice and every night there was a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk outside, between JJ and Luba, a clothing store. He was very gray with a long beard. He never said anything, asked for money or anything, just sat there with a little cup for change and was often reading a book.

I hadn't seen him in awhile, as I don't walk that way for the bus anymore, until the other night when I had dinner with my parents. We walked by him on our way back to their car. He yelled at my mom, which I thought was strange, and I noted that he was there. I thought to myself that I had always meant to go into Jamba Juice and buy him some soup or some juice but never had.

So I was looking at this shrine, with a gorgeous arrangement of flowers and a big sign that said "We'll Miss You, Dennis" pasted on the wall behind. There were candles burning and a piece of paper with a poem on it. I looked closely and saw a photo on the sign--sure enough, it was a picture of the homeless man and some young people whom I suspected were either Luba-ites or Jamba-people.

I wasn't moved by the man's death, I have to admit, as I didn't know him at all. I just felt a bit sad that he had died, as I would for anyone who died. But I was moved by the display, the shrine, that these people had created for him. It's so easy to see homeless people as merely nuisances, if you notice them at all. When I worked at coffee shops, the homeless people were problems: they would come in and ask for free coffee, they would bother the customers for change, they would camp out on the front porch for hours at a time, scaring away anyone else who wanted to sit there. It was hard sometimes to just see them as people, hard on their luck.

It's hard to see any homeless people that way these days, too hard not to be cynical. Now that I've met the guy who comes up to me with an elaborate story about his car breaking down and he just needs $2 for bus fare, when the bus only costs $1. Now that I've heard the reports that people begging on the medians on Van Ness make more money a day than I do. Now that I've been yelled at more times than I like to remember for not giving them money, for simply shaking my head as I pass instead of politely saying no, for not smiling when they claim all they want is a smile. Now that I've been hit up for money on Haight Street from kids who could easily be working or going to school but instead have a pot glaze over their eyes. It's hard not to see the homeless as anything but a nuisance.

So it was nice to see the shrine yesterday. Many homeless people just disappear and no one ever knows what happened to them or misses them. So even though seeing the shrine meant the man had died, it also meant to me that there were people in these stores who had taken the time to talk to him, know his name, even to take a picture with him. He had meant something to these people other than just being a nuisance. He had touched them in some way, and they had created this loving tribute to him.

Posted by Alyssa at 03:49 PM
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