Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Ol' Reacharound

After the gig on Saturday night, Stan and I rehashed the show as we drove across the bridge. “That sucked” or “It wasn’t so bad” or “I actually had fun” were the 3 main categories of analyzing the show.

We’ve been doing Live Karaoke for 15 years at a handful of clubs in SF. Attendance and enthusiasm has dwindled consistently, as our friends get tired of hearing “I Will Survive” for the 100th time. Stan cares - he always cares - but I’m somewhat indifferent. It gets me out of the house and I usually have fun no matter how many people are there. Actually, that’s not true.

This night was no different than others. We talked about a punk kid who sang “Beverly Hills by the Circle Jerks, who told the audience to fuck off; a drunk, younger woman who sang “Here I Go Again” by White snake, who ended the song by swinging the mike and throwing karate punches and kicks; and yet another drunk woman who sang “Heartbreaker” by Pat Benatar, who decided to throw herself into our drum set, continuing to sing while halfway into the kit. Stan decided it was a good idea to sit on her. They sang as a team with their heads in the bass drum, while finishing the song. Oddly, this is not abnormal Live Karaoke behavior.

As we descended the east side of the Bay Bridge, Stan said, “You know that girl that sang Heartbreaker? When I was sitting on her she reached around and crabbed my…” Stan hesitated. I quickly finished the thought: “She grabbed your balls? “Yeah, it wasn’t a loving grab, she squeezed them hard.” I was dying of laughter, tears running down my cheeks. Stan continued: “After the show, she approached me, looked me in the eye and said, ‘You know I grabbed your balls, right?’ I wasn’t sure how to respond so I just said yes. There was an awkward pause and she said, ‘Well, aren’t you going to thank me?’ She was scaring me so I thanked her.”

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Extra Strength T-Gel vs. Extra Strength Rogaine

It worked its way down my forehead from my widow’s peak, In 2 trails of irritated red, slightly raised. I assumed it was lice or scabbies and had something to do with my poor hygiene and/or dreaded hair. I figured there were repercussions for not bathing and this was one of them. I was taking one for the team - the team being me.

Not too worried about my appearance, I let it go on way too long. The trails got longer and more pronounced, looking like bulging veins. After the first Frankenstein comment, I did what every 19 year old would do: I called my Mom and asked for help.

She made an appointment with my childhood Dermatologist, who had helped me with teenage acne and fungus warts. I returned, the prodigal son, looking like a relative of Bigfoot, with map like trails running down my forehead. Looking good.

He looked at me and then the trails and then back at me and said, “You have Psoriasis.” I got the feeling that that he was more worried about my appearance more than the Psoriasis. It was a relief. Explaining Scabbies to my Mom would’ve been awkward.

The Doctor prescribed tar shampoo and politely explained it was a lifelong problem and that I’d need to shower more frequently. The latter comment exposed what we all knew and caused me to bow my head and embarrassed my mom.

25 years later I’m at Long’s looking for off-brand tar shampoo. The trails on my forehead are long gone, beat back by weekly dosages of tar shampoo. And, with age, the Psoriasis has spread to the backs of ears and crotch area, showing its face only when I revert back to non-cleanly ways. I’ve learned to live with the chronic problem.

The tar shampoo was on the bottom right at the end of an aisle. It wasn’t a popular seller and didn’t warrant prime, eye level, space, so you had to search it out. I was used to this. A large gap occupied that space that the shampoo was supposed to be. The cheap version was sold out - it’s always sold out. Next to it was the fancy, blue, eye catching packaging of T-Gel, the Hummer of tar shampoo. However, a new product by T-Gel, in red, which boasted extra strength, caught my eyes. As I stood there and looked at the 2 products - regular and extra-strength – I actually pondered which one to buy. Call me obtuse, but the answer should be obvious. Do you want a little Psoriasis or do you wanna get rid of the shit? The same goes for Rogaine? Do you want all full head of hair with Extra Strength Rogaine or do you want that attractive balding look with regular strength Rogaine? I don’t get it.

I got the extra strength.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

2.3 Liter Engine Under the Hood

My first car was a black 1981 Plymouth Champ with gold pinstripes on the sides. Sporting a manual transmission, hatchback and good gas mileage, it honored conservation and was a reaction to the Jimmy Carter era gas crisis of the 70s.

On Saturday nights of my youth, gear-head enthusiasts and muscle car owners would park their cars on the edge of the parking lot of the local high school, facing the main drag, with their car hood’s open. They’d either sit on the front fender of their cars or they’d travel in groups, going from car to car, ogling the toothbrush-clean engines.

When there was nothing to do, I would go down there with my friend Dave and open up the hood of my Plymouth Champ. Eventually, the gear-heads would wander over and vibe me and Dave or play along with the shtick:

“So, what’s she got in there?” looking under the hood of the Champ.

“2.3 liter engine with the option of power or economy,” I would respond, proudly.

The power/economy option would always warrant the same question:

“What’s the power/economy option?”

Having explained the power/economy option countless times, I refrained from being smug and starting the response with, “Well, I’m glad you asked…”

“Well, it’s pretty simple. Power is when you wanna go faster and economy means better gas mileage.”

Most people would shrug and move on. One guy, though, said, “If this were my car, I’d always drive it in power!” He had a good point. He invited me to check out his vehicle – a blue monster truck. I took this invitation as acceptance into unofficial car club.

While driving to work this morning, I heard an ad for the new Honda Insight hybrid. It boasts an “Eco” button. When you want better gas mileage, you push the button. And I would assume, when you want worse gas mileage (like we all do) or when you’re street racing a Prius, you keep your hands away from the button. It’s a little fancier than the power/economy option of my Plymouth Champ, but it’s basically the same thing.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Lawnmower Dance

The ceremony was as nice as a backyard wedding could be. Julie came over and said hello, giving me a dramatic kiss, wrapping her right leg around me like a stripper pole. Julie liked having a good time and was prone to giving the “Ozzy” (the universal sign of Metal) and saying “Par-tay!” Oddly, for almost everyone in the world, this would be annoying and grounds for dismissal, but it very natural and endearing for least for now.

Because it was a backyard wedding on a budget, Julie had recruited her friends’ metal band to play the reception. They were a “real” band by night, playing in the clubs of SF, so they had to learn lots of covers for the event. I’m sure there were longs talk about the integrity of the band and “respect” and shit like that; however, they agreed to play and got paid, the latter probably being the deciding factor.

They opened with “When a Man Loves a Woman,” the Otis Redding classic for the newlywed’s first dance. Because they were a metal band and used to screeching more than singing, they enlisted a friend with a beautiful voice to handle vocals. As she sang, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that she listened to the Michael Bolton version of the song, not the Redding version.

They played everything from Journey to Billy Ray Cyrus. While playing Acky Breaky Heart, Julie ruled the grass dance floor, leading a gaggle of guests in what she called the Lawnmower Dance. In unison, 12 people in 3 rows of 4, walked forward like they were pushing a lawn mower and then walked backward with one hand pulling back the lawn mower while the other hand waved at a non-existent neighbor across the fence. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds, and a good boyfriend would’ve been out there supporting his lady, but I was somewhat mortified. Not necessarily by the dance (yes, it was lame but so was the Macarena, the Funky Chicken and all those other types of uniformed dances) but by Julie’s expression. While walking back and waving she had a crazed look on her face and her jaw moved slightly up and down like chattering teeth at a toy store. And the dance, like the song, went on forever.

Julie was a musician too. She played bass and had a nice voice. Due to her talent and being friends of the band and part of the wedding, she was slotted to sing a song.

As the time approached for her to sing, I found myself wandering around the house, looking for something, anything to distract me from what was coming. I went in the house, and then out of the house; sat down at a table and got up and got more drinks - always acting like I was on my way to do something important. Not knowing anybody and basically fending for myself because of Julie’s multiple bridal duties, I drank too much.

Between the sliding glass doors, I stopped and watch Julie sing Surrender by Y and T. The stage was facing away from the door so I only saw her profile, as she was singing to the people in front of her. While reaching for the high note in the chorus, her back severely bent and her mouth open wide like David Coverdale of Whitesnake in the Here I Go Again video, her mouth shivered, ala Mariah/Whitney/Christina/Jessica. Dropping the note, she demonically looked over at the band, smiling like the devil. It was creepy.

I was startled; moving slightly back like this type of behavior could hurt me. Maybe it was the alcohol, maybe not, but it gave me a visceral reaction. I looked around and I was the only that had this reaction.

Julie’s drunken Mother appeared beside me. I acknowledged her and we stood in silence, while the song ended. “You don’t like me, do ya?” she said, her candid question surprising me. I was as drunk as she was and I must’ve done something earlier to offend her but I couldn’t remember. Maybe it was the water stain on my trousers.

Without missing a beat, knowing her daughter and I were history because of the mouth chomping singing thing and the Lawn Mower dance, I said, “No.” That was it. That was all we said. She walked away and I started looking for a ride to BART.
I slept on the couch in the living room with my suit on. The next morning Julie and I rode home in silence. I would assume her mother informed her of our little conversation. It was over.

Friday, April 24, 2009

I'm Usually Polite to the Workingman

At 4 am, drunk and tired, I left and walked to 16th Street to catch the 22 Fillmore home. It was pouring rain and the 2 blocks to the bus stop left me drenched. I waited for about 5 minutes and then, knowing that the bus only ran once an hour at this time of night, walked toward home, following the path of the bus line.

At 16th and Julian, I paused, leaned against a lamppost and looked across the street at Poncho Villa, my favorite tacqueria in the Mission. On countless occasions, while getting my regular super veggie burrito, I witnessed burritos being thrown away due to problems with the order. While standing there, this visual popped in my head. I was hungry, drunk hungry. And I wanted a burrito. Despite being long closed, I knew (for some odd reason) that their dumpster was in the alley next to Esta Noche, a Latino drag bar. And, in my mind, I knew the dumpster was full of super burritos wrapped in tinfoil.

The streets were empty except for junkies looking to score at 16th and Mission. Before entering the alley, my streets smarts kicked in. I stopped, peered in the shadows and moved forward. It was still raining and the only light was from the street lamp across the street.

The dumpster was enclosed by a 10 foot chain-link fence. It was green with a black plastic lid and was not locked. I knew burritos were in there, I just knew it! I grabbed the fence and pulled myself up but my sneakers slipped on the wet chain. I tried again and again, my hunger and drink driving this futile act. I eventually gave up and continued walking the bus line, hungry.

At Church and Market I made a decision to stop and wait for the bus, no matter how long it took. The rain had stopped and continuing on meant risking going through the Fillmore and Western Addition at 4 am on the biggest drinking holiday of the year. I sat on a bench on the edge of the Safeway parking lot and waited.

Across the street a woman was spray-painting a horse on a boarded-up business. I recognized the style of the horse immediately. They had been popping up all over town and were signed Reminisce. Without thinking, I got up and walked over to where she was. I wasn’t sure what I was going to say - maybe something intelligent like, “Cool, cool. I like your stuff.” Sober, I’m the most eloquent guy, so this is not far from the truth. Halfway across the street, I noticed 2 guys flanking her, walking toward me. I quickly turned and sat down. I was in no mood for conflict.

The bus came and I took a seat behind the back door. Looking out the window, the streets were empty except for fellow drunks going into Safeway for frozen pizza and chips. Reminisce was long gone and the bus wasn’t moving. As we sat there, I fiddled with the zipper on my jacket, ran my fingers through my damp hair – anything to occupy time. I’m thinking, “Dude, what the fuck? What are you waiting for?” IT was a legitimate question. IT was now 4:30 and I seriously doubt somebody was running down the street trying to catch the 4:30 am bus at Church and Market. This is MUNI, for Christ’s sake. They’re never on time!! What is he waiting for? Finally, I couldn’t take any more. I reached up and rang the bell 3 quick times and cried, “Come on,” sustaining the word “on” for a few seconds. This type of behavior was unusual for me, as I was usually polite, especially to the workingman. I watched his reaction in the rearview mirror. Slowly, the back of head tilted, looking into the mirror. Our eyes met and he slowly shook his head side-to-side in disgust. We both went back to doing nothing.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The White Jehovah

After 5 years of stopping at the 7/11 on MacArthur Blvd. in Oakland, 5 days a week, to get a Big Gulp of Diet Pepsi for the commute, the Jehovah Witnesses that stood out in front had never approached me or even moved to give me a Watchtower, their periodical that helps explain their ideology. At first, I figured it was just a black and white thing or a culture thing, as they were all immaculately dressed, well groomed, attractive African Americans (Who knew this religion attracted such a pretty bunch) and I was a godless, affected, tired looking white man. Or at least that’s how I felt and looked. They were not dumb - my type had a low conversion rate and I wasn’t worth wasting a Watchtower on. So, they left me alone.

3 Jehovah men and woman adorned opposite sides of the entrance to the store - men on one side and woman on the other. They rarely socialized, keeping to their own sides. When they did, it was to pass some sort of pertinent information. After the information was relayed, they returned to the safety of their side of the double doors. It was very 6th grade without the immaturity and cattiness.

While waiting for customers to enter the store, they held the Watchtower breast high, facing toward the street. It was an awkward position - not natural, but you had to assume that this was a proven tried and true recruiting tactic, a failsafe method just in case an errant potential Jehovah candidate slipped by their ranks unnoticed. However, this was highly implausible, as they always kept an eye out for walk-ups and cars pulling into the lot. Therefore, this pose made them look robotic

During lulls, some read the bible or the Watchtower and the others just sat there passively. This is what they did - their job - and they were good at it.

One morning as I walked past them, I overheard a conversation between one of the Jehovah’s and a civilian, which gave me insight into their recruiting process. The two talked and appeared to be friends. This was not unusually as they knew a lot of people in the community:

Civilian: “How’s your son?”

Jehovah: “Fine, thank you. He’s working out in front of Richmond.”

I thought: “Out in front of Richmond? What does that mean?” To most it was an innocuous conversation, but to me, I read between the lines. It had to be that his son was working in front of 7/11 in Richmond, pushing Jehovah. I had never thought that this proselytizing was a well thought out web, placing the right people in front of the right stores in the right communities; and that there were probably meetings to discuss strategy and share tips and recruitment goals. It all became very fascinating and started to make perfect sense. Or, I was crazy, which is always a possibility.

After years of observing people, they knew who were receptive to God and who wasn’t. They were not there to recruit me or anybody other white person, they were there to flip black Christians and prey on the occasional non-English speaking Latino immigrant. This is why they never paid me no attention and I could walk though them unscathed.

It was pretty simple how they worked:

Candidates would pull into the parking lot, get out and approach the double doors, where the Jehovah’s stood. They would usually make eye contact with the candidate and then go back to talking. I would like to think that the group would make a snap assessment of the candidate and nominate the best Jehovah to approach them on the way out: the young cute Jehovah; the older, sophisticated Jehovah or the salt-of-the-earth, everyday man Jehovah. Whatever the Jehovah calls for.

When the candidate returned, after getting a Big Gulp, cheap coffee or Tacquito, they would wait until they got to their car to approach them, if they felt they were open to conversion.

They‘d catch their eye, raise their periodical and wait for a positive or negative affirmation. If yes, they’d walk over and hand them the pamphlet and make chit chat; if not, they’d smile and walk back to the fray, waving their hands and wearing forced smile as if to say, “That’s cool. Sorry to bother ya. Have a nice day.” They were never pushy and always polite, unlike other people who hang out in front of stores. That’s how the Jehovah’s do it.

One morning I pulled up in front of 7/11 and there he was: a white Jehovah Witness. After 5 years of observing them, watching their every move, I couldn’t help but think that they recruited him to convert me. This made no sense. Why else would he be there? This 7/11 was predominantly patronized by African Americans and because of this, 6 black Jehovah Witnesses were out front 7 days a week (they brought in the retired Jehovah’s on the weekend for part-time shifts) attempting to recruit African Americans. Simple marketing: black-on-black, white-on-white and Latino-on-Latino.

This new addition to the Jehovahs unnerved me. My sensible side said that it was a fluke - this guy moved to the area and requested a transfer; the paranoid and fantasy driven side said that he was there for me. I couldn’t help but think that at one of their recruitment meetings, I was on the agenda. My face would be projected onto a white wall, a picture they clandestinely acquired from one of my many visits to 7/11. They would throw out ideas on how to recruit me. Eventually, someone would say they have a white Jehovah friend from Pleasanton who had been very successful at recruiting tough demographic markets. They would agree to bring this guy in temporarily to the Macarthur store. Brilliant. This was the guy.

I waited in the car and watched them. The white guy was wearing a dark suit, a long wool coat and had a thick mustache with a combed-out side part. He was over friendly like a concierge and broke protocol by mingling with the women. You could tell he was annoying and trying too hard. Maybe he was nervous, knowing that he was there for a specific job.

I slowly opened the door, keeping my eyes on them. One of the men noticed me and turned to the person next to him. I swear he said, “There he is.” I smiled and the white guy caught my eye and nodded. I acknowledged his presence. Fuck! He was there for me!

Up until this moment, I had an unwritten agreement with the Jehovahs: we would smile, maybe say hello, but that was it. We never broke rank and mentioned the weather or inquired about our well being. No, we smiled and kept moving.

Breaking the threshold of the double doors, I greeted the clerk in a similar repetitious style:

“What’s going on, brother?”

“Nothing much, brother.”

The clerk was there all the time and in the 5 years we had never asked each others’ names. Our relationship was simple and to the point, never progressing beyond pleasantries. You need low commitment relationships like this. The only deviation of our relationship was Fridays, when I would say, “Have a good weekend.” But I soon stopped saying this upon learning that he also worked the weekend. I changed the valediction back to: “Have a nice day.”

I kept an eye of them through the front window, while I poured Diet Pepsi into a Super Big Gulp cup. They didn’t appear to be rehearsing or finalizing a plan on how to get me; there was no flurry of chit chat nor were they patting the white guy on the back and saying, “Good luck. Go get’em.” But this didn’t mean he wasn’t there for me.

Before leaving I paused at the door and gathered my thoughts. Leaning forward, I crossed through the door a little faster than usual, with my keys in my right hand and Big Gulp in the other. The beep of the electronic lock rang out. Because both my hands were occupied, I put the soda on the roof of the car while simultaneously opening up the door. This gave them time to react.

I made the mistake of looking up. I was intrigued, of course, and kinda hoped that something would happen. The white guy caught my eye and gave me a look like, “Hey, I’m here. Let’s do this thing.” I sat down and looked out the window. HE was walking toward the car with the Watchtower pointed my way. We locked eyes. His eyebrows were arched with anticipation and he continued moving toward my car door. I gave him the biggest forced smile and shook my head “no,” mouthing the words “No, thank you.”

As he was trained, he stopped and waved his hands, mouthing, “No problem, thank you,” bobbing his head. As he walked back to the group, he continued to smile and wave. The Jehovah’s were nice.

The group was waiting for him. I figured there would be lots of slaps on the back and words of “nice try” or “he’s not worth, he’s too far gone.” But he chose to walk past them and be by himself. He paced for a bit and then returned to the group.

The white Jehovah was only there for a few weeks and then he disappeared. I assume he was transferred back to Pleasanton…disgraced.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Girl, I'm Gonna Miss You

Listening to Casey Casem’s Top 40 countdown on the fourth of July in 1988, with a six-pack of Sharp’s near beer on the passenger side seat, I drove the back roads of Alabama in search of meaning to a fledgling life. Through tree-lined streets strewn with American flags, I threw empty beer bottle after empty bottle out the driver’s side window, trying to hit telephone poles. It was the south and I wearing a hat that said “American by Birth, Southern by Choice.” I was playing the part of ugly American on her birthday. And playing it to a “T.”

Nearing Fort Wayne, Arkansas, Casey announced the number one song in America. As with tradition, he read a letter from a listener before playing the song. The letter was from Gina Trifletti from Akron, Ohio:

“Casey, a year ago I lost my daughter to cancer. In the year after her death, there have been many times I thought I couldn’t go on - suicide was always on my mind. I quit my job, alienated my friends and didn’t go out of the house. “

“Last week,” she continued. “I was vacuuming the living room when a song on the radio grabbed my attention. I sat down and listened to the lyrics of the song and started to cry:

“Like a honey bee, you took the best of me. Now I can't erase those memories...I’m gonna miss you. Girl, I’m gonna miss you.”

“I opened the cutains and the healing process begun,” she said.

“And there you have it,” Casey said. “The number one song in America: Girl, I’m gonna miss you by Milli Vanilli.”

Like young lovers dancing to Open Arms by Journey, it was both touching and pitiful.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Great Shadow Breast

At the corner of O’Farrell and Polk, San Francisco’s most reputable strip club, the Mitchell Brothers, has been entertaining men in suits and young men in baseball caps for 4 decades.

I’ve never enjoyed the inside of the club, but I do enjoy the augmented women in Juicy Couture sweats, oversized sunglasses, toting roller luggage that circle the place and then mysteriously slip through the front door. I’m sure these women are using the proceeds of their trade to pay for college.

If one of these bleach blonds were to stand in the middle of the street outside the club and look west, she would see St. Mary’s Cathedral, or sometimes known as the washer machine, due to its organic shape. And if one of these librarian-foxes-turned-hot-teacher happened to be standing in the middle of the street at 10 am in October or April, she would see this.

Yes, it’s a great shadow breast on the side of St. Mary’s Cathedral.

Like Christians seeing the Virgin Mary in the wood grain of a bathroom door, Strippers from all over the world come to San Francisco in mid October and April to worship the Great Shadow Breast! All bow.

Monday, April 20, 2009

It’s a Personal Thing…Like a Phil Collins Song.

“We Built This City on Rock-n-Roll” by The Jefferson Starship is a cliché. It has become one of those go-to jokes that everybody is in on, but is still constantly brought up like it’s breaking news? “Have you heard that song by the Starship? It’s horrible.” It’s a lot like pronouncing “Target” (department store) as “Tar-shay” (like cliché). We get it; we’ve heard it a 1000 times.

Cliché aside, it’s really a horrible song and deserves all its negative accolades. Really, if the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame had any balls, they’d ban them for life for this song. Regardless, the songs give me some kind of visceral enjoyment, the same way I find enjoyment in movies like Pointbreak and Roadhouse.

Awhile back the SF Tourism Board asked my Live Karaoke band to play a gig at Pac Bell Park. Yes, the place where the SF Giants play ball. The idea was this: hire bands that represent the diversity of San Francisco and have them play in luxury suite at Pac Bell that represent the neighborhoods of SF (for example, a Salsa band would play in a suite called The Mission. I’m not sure what neighborhood we would’ve represented) and invite SF party planners and pretty much anybody that worked in jobs that dealt with tourists. It would be like a big, multi-culti, look-how-great-we-are SF hug..

Guests would walk down the hallway the led to the suites and partake in different musical flavors that were emanating from the suites. At the end of the evening, partygoers and band members would proceed outside and watch the Jefferson Starship on a big stage in center field. The Starship would play a short set, and then all the band members – including us - would join them on stage to sing “We Built This City on Rock-n-Roll.” It doesn’t get much better than this. I would’ve played this gig for free.

Unfortunately, it was a bad idea – a real bad idea and some smart person at the Tourism Board nixed it. Idiots.

Friday, April 17, 2009

My Old Lady's Into Malsteem

Whether I’m playing to sugar- drenched 5 year olds or drunken 22 year olds, I’ve had my fill of talking about rock and bullshit after playing shows. Not drinking may have something to do with this. I now prefer to stay on stage and perform roadie duties. It gives me something to do and keeps me away from crazy-ass toddlers or drunken EL Rio live Karaoke singers who want to talk song selection or want to sing just…one…more…song.

Many, many years ago at the I-Beam in Haight a normal looking guy, slightly overweight with a flannel, came up to me after we played and said, “You know, my old lady plays a little guitar. She’s into Malsteem.” How do you respond to something like that without sounding like a dick? It’s almost impossible. The obvious response is, “Who the fucks cares?” But years and years of a polite Pleasanton upbringing renders me incapable of such a response (In print, yes; in real life, no). I don’t remember how I responded but I’m sure I said one of 3 things: “Oh, really, that’s cool,” “My old lady is into Satriani” or “Yes, I hear he’s very proficient on his axe.” And then I walk to bathroom. Having to go to the bathroom is great way to get out of any conversation. Take note, people.

That same night, an energetic, skinny guy, who looked a little out of place, approached me and earnestly said, “You know, New Kids on the Block are good dancers.” I had no idea what he was talking about, and then it clicked - I was wearing a NKOTB shirt. In one sense, it was extremely sweet that he thought there was no irony to my shirt and that I actually liked NKOTB. Explaining irony is pointless and only makes you look stupid – you either get it or don’t. And it was even sweeter that he found something good about NKTOB to approach me with. I had to be nice - he had me. “Yeah, they are good dancers, “ I responded, with a half smile across my face. I almost wanted to hug the skinny guy and take him home.

And then I went to the bathroom again.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Hum Track (Not Gross)

There was no window between the mixing booth and the area we recorded, so we relied on headphones to communicate. I was layering a song with an acoustic track. Mel, Tom, George and Jonathan the producer were in the other room, looking at every musical instrument and amp that we owned:

“How was that?” finishing the song.

Jonathon clicked in on my headphones.

“Do you wanna come in and hear it?” He asked.

Feeling the creative urge, I said, “No, I trust you. I have an idea for the song. I want to add a hum track.”

Through the headphones, I heard them talking. Inaudible sounds.

“Foot, what’s a hum track?” Tom said in a mixture of curiosity and half laughing. His voice was distant. I pictured him sitting in an armchair behind Jonathan, who was in an office chair in front of the mixing console.

“I want to add an ambient hum throughout the song. When we mix, we can pick and choose where we want it.”

There was a long silence. My headphones clicked in and once again there were inaudible sounds of them talking.

“Greg, you’re rolling, count it off.” We were paying Jonathan $3k for this record. Rough Trade gave us $1800 for the first record and $3000 for this record. We gave it all to Jonathan, so he was ok with adding a hum track, despite it being a horrible idea. He was paid to endure bad ideas.

For 3 minutes, I hummed. A very long 3 minutes. Regardless of how I thought it was going - it was pretty obvious that it sucked, but I was gonna finish the excruciating 3 minutes.

The headphones clicked in. Unlike the other times of distant chatting and ambient noise, I was met with wild laughter.

“Fuck off.” I said, shaking my head and smiling. I kinda enjoyed the abuse. More laughter. “Fuck off.”

Doing his best to appear professional, Jonathan said, “Greg, do you wanna come it and listen to it.?”

“Fuck off, Jonathan”

More laughter.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Trust Me, Elisa is Totally Gay

Near the top of the hour, the students filed out and were replaced by a new bunch that was just as loud. I had gone from grumpy to acceptance, justifying their obnoxiousness as youthful audacity and tried to remember how I was like when I was their age. When I do that, I intellectualize and justify their actions.

There were 2 women in the new group who were exceptionally loud and intriguing. The leader and louder of the 2 had on an on oversized track jacket, boxy jeans, multiple face piercings and a plaid baseball cap with the letter “A” on it; the other woman wore dirty jeans, Harley shirt and appeared to be pining after her friend. She agreed with everything she said, laughed at all her jokes and addressed her as “Sweetie.” She had a paternal feel that reminded me of Rosanne Barr in Rosanne: brash but sweet. It was obvious that they were friends, not partners. Like the other students, they talked about fellow students and teachers.

Every opportunity the piercing woman had to express her sexual preference, she did…with gusto: “I don’t care what they think, I’m gay and there ain’t no way I’m going back,” she expressed, looking around to garner attention. She was also fond of outing other students: “Elisa in English class is totally gay. Trust me.” She repeated the same statement with many different people.

I was putting the final touches on my Britney essay when she caught my ear. I only caught the tail end of what she was saying: “Martha thinks that just because I’ve got piercing and don’t wear dresses, I don’t have great legs. I’ve got great legs.” The woman in the Harley shirt agreed saying, “Yes, sweetie.”

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Mathematics on Dating

My math teacher is crazy. She loves saying she’s crazy, is prone to ending every personal anecdote with “haha” and, anytime she can work the word “lover” into her lecture, she’ll gladly insert it. Because she’s so unique, I spend as much time writing down her quotes as I do working math problems. It’s worth it, though.

Here are a few treats from the first day of class:

“If you’re gonna miss class - let’s say your kid is sick or your daughter is dating someone and you have to be home…Ha-ha!” (On reasons why you might miss class)

“When we first started dating, we treated each other like Kings and Queens. When we got married, we’d wake up in the morning and go UGHHH!” (On her husband)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Jesus Christ, Lips Shit His Pants

Lips Foal arrived in front my high school in a freshly painted orange Ford Pinto with mag wheels. There was no irony in this vehicle. It was 1980 and the Pinto was somewhat of a popular car. Lips was a friend of my sister and we played on the Varsity Tennis Team together. I got in the car and we drove to practice, a mile away in a local park.

Lips was very flamboyant and would yell “Bad Boy” and “Silly Billy,” referring to himself, when he missed a crosscourt forehand or an easy volley at net. One time when we were playing a match, he missed an easy drop shot. He looked to the sky, threw his arms in the air and yelled, “Teacher, leave us kids alone.” We were indoors, so his words resonated throughout the cavernous sports club we called Tennis Town. Players on opposing courts stopped and looked our way. I was 14, a freshman in High School and I remember thinking it was the oddest response to anger. I preferred ‘Fuck” and “Fuckin’ Shit” when I missed a shot. But Lips was different.

Lips turned and walked back to the baseline to serve. He was heavy-set, hairy and sweated a lot. I watched him as he walked: his shirt stuck to his back, forming a trail of sweat down his spine. The same sweat pattern mirrored the back of his shorts, but it was darker and appeared to get even darker as it neared his anus, forming a bull’s eye of sorts. I thought to myself, “Jesus Christ, Lips shit his pants.”

He served and we continued playing like nothing happened. As the match continued, the shit stripe became a little more pronounced and the bull’s eye darker. I came to realize that he didn’t poop his pants, but something was definitely leaking. Since he was a sweaty guy, he was probably used to this feeling.

The next day at practice, I told everybody that Lips shit his pants. I was 14 and this news was too big to keep.

Many years later, when I was cab driver, I picked up Lips and a friend on Market Street in San Francisco, going to the End-Up Club on 6th. I recognized him right away but didn’t acknowledge it. Halfway through the fare, Lips must’ve looked at my medallion displayed on the dash.

“Greg Kim? The Greg Kim from Pleasanton?

I hated picking up fares that I knew, especially ones that I hadn’t seen since high school. Driving a cab is a sure sign that you’re not doing well, at least if you’re from Pleasanton.

I responded in a monotone cabbie voice, “Lips Foal, right? How are ya?” I was a Brooklyn accent short of saying, “Fuckin’ Lips Foal. How the fuck are you?”

Lips proceeded to tell his friend about how we used to play tennis and that he was friends with my sister in high school. Lips was "queenier" now and definitely out. By the looks of him, he appeared to be successful and doing well.

He handed me $20 dollars for an $8 dollar fare and said to keep the change. It was awkward. I drove away thinking about the time he shit his pants and he was probably thinking about the time I told the whole tennis team that he shit his pants.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Frosty Freeze

Behind the bathrooms a 40 foot rock wall led up to the highway. It formed an amphitheatre of sorts, which caught a cacophony of sounds cascading from the campsite. I could clearly hear the Christians singing songs and the low hum of campers moving about.

From across the campground, a lone voice yelled, “Shut the Fuck Up.” It was obvious that the Christians were making the most noise and the comment was directed at them. The campground was silent. Without missing a beat, the youth minister yelled back, “It’s not 10 PM.” As campers know, it’s hush-hush after 10 PM. Before that, it’s fair game. The Christians knew their camping rules. They went back to singing and the campsite grumbled with noises. The lone voice of dissent was never heard from again.

I walked into the bathroom and all the stalls were occupied. Taking a cursory look under the doors, I deduced the people in the stalls were in there for the long haul. I have no idea how I came up with that theory - maybe they were reading newspapers or all their shit was laying on the ground in front of them. Either way, I made the ill-advised decision to crap in the shower stall and push it down the center drain with my feet.

This decision came from knowing my bowel movements. I’m not of those people that don’t go to the bathroom at work, waiting until they get home to explode. No. I can pretty much go anywhere. The one problem is that once the telephone call comes down from the bowels saying it’s time to go, and the time limit is given, there’s no stopping the impending movement. It’s like a 10 minutes stop watch: if I don’t find a bathroom in 10 minutes, I’m going in my pants or on the side of the road, or in a box in a back of a van. This knowledge helped me make this decision. I’ve crapped in the showers many times, almost always at home, so this was no big deal; however, the call came and I needed to go.

It was a pay shower, so I came prepared with 4 quarters. By this time the stopwatch was down to 30 seconds. My knees were touching and I moved in an accelerated motion. I put quarters in the receptacle, turned the handle and nothing. Nothing. I panicked. It was broken I was about to crap on the floor of the showers. I knew that no amount foot stomping would get a turd successfully down the drain without the constant flow of water from a shower. I was fucked.

I was camping with my girlfriend’s family, who were not necessarily fond of me. They had a reason not to be: I didn’t have a job, preferring the income of General Assistance; I had a drinking problem that would get worse and I was prone to verbal bursts of low self-esteem masked as self-deprecation. I was in a band, though, that I tirelessly worked to implode anytime we played. I was a catch.

I somehow knew that shitting on the floor of the campground showers and leaving it for the next campers would somehow get back to me. I envisioned forcibly being removed from the campground in front of my girlfriend’s parents:

Park Ranger: “Are you the guy that shit in the showers?”

Even if I denied it to the end, everybody in our campsite knew I was capable of such an egregious act, except for her parents. It was all too much to bear.

Standing naked in the stall, butt clenched, I came up with a plan. Pulling my Chicago Bulls baseball cap from my head, which I found on the side of the freeway, literally pulling over and running to back on the shoulder to get it, I squatted and placed the baseball hat in my right hand - upside down – under my ass to catch the falling poop; my left hand was used to pull my left ass cheek as far away from the anus as possible. This would allow a clean fall into the cap.

Since I had to go real bad, building up to the final countdown, it came out like a frosty freeze ice cream. A day of drinking, eating chips and shitty foods contributed to the unfortunate texture. I breathed a sigh of relief, carefully putting my clothes back on, taking extra special care with my shorts. I opened the shower stall door and all the bathrooms were still taken, so I decided to wade into the lake and clean off.

It was a beautiful night and besides the troubles I just had, i was happy to be somewhere that was different than San Francisco, where my life was cold, foggy and depressing. My troubles were at least suspended for a weekend in the waters of a warm lake. I was happy.

Wading into the lake, I held the ball cap full of poop by the head area, not the brim. When the water flooded over my privates, I gently turned the cap over. The crap reluctantly fell into the water. I immediately started pushing water toward it, while moving backward. Once I was far enough away, I plunged the baseball cap into the water and vigorously scrubbed the areas that were soiled. I did the same with my shorts.

Before going back to camp, I dunked my head under water, to appear that I took a shower.

I wore the cap for the rest of the weekend.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Pee Stream Shadow

There was a sign on the entrance to the 1st floor bathroom of the main Library that said, “Do not shower in the sink.” I was a bit befuddled. I thought this was common knowledge or, more like it, not possible. They were shallow sinks so you couldn’t even stick your head underneath the faucet. However, because they felt the need to post a sign stating such, you would have to believe that people were getting naked and getting wet in the sink

Upon seeing this sign, most normal would look elsewhere or just hold it. I, on the other hand, wanted to see what was going on in there. Public bathrooms are a wonderful source of material.

The door had long been taken off, for security reasons. A long hallway, wide enough for 2 people with large backpacks, opened up into a large bathroom. An island of sinks divided the room; the urinals and stalls were plastered to 3 walls.

I looked around and was disappointed. It was your typical Greyhound/Trans Bay Terminal bathroom: guys washing their faces and under arms, crazy people taking pisses on the floor, the homeless guy passed out in the stall with the door open and the floor drowning in a quarter inch of water (I hope). I had seen it before and wasn’t in the mood for it.

Being a library vet, I took the elevator to the 3rd floor to a little known, small bathroom that exists to the east of the elevators. I walked in and was delighted by what I saw.

At the only urinal was a crazy man, with his pants down to his ankles, taking a piss. Typical crazy guy fare, yes, but he was a good 5 feet from the urinal, his clear urine forming a long bridge from his penis to the bottom urinal.

Without giving it much thought, I lined up a little to the right of him, to get a good view of the urine bridge. I must’ve got him early because he had a good, strong stream going. It looked like it would last forever, but I knew that wasn’t the case. About 15 seconds in, the urine bridge began to fall. This was what I was waiting for. Like a fuse to a bomb, it made its way down the urinal, onto the back wall and on the floor, stopping between his feet. It was a first for me.

He pulled up his pants and left. I widen my stance and went to the bathroom.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Lying My Ass Off

I was in the bathroom at a burrito place on Mission at 23rd. I was pissing in the urinal when a phone rang. The sound appeared to be coming from the adjacent stall. The guy in the stall answered the phone and said, "Honey, I told you not to call me at work...I'm working!" He came out, smiled and said, "I'm lying my ass off."

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

59 Pancakes

Sometimes I like to go to 2nd or 3rd floor to go to the bathroom. I work on the 1st floor and the bathroom can get a little crowded. So, if upstairs doing something work related and I get a small inkling from my bowels or bladder, I’ll detour and go to the bathroom.

Last week I was in the second floor bathroom. While I pee’d, strange sounds were coming from the stall, but this was not unusual. Most guys (I can only speak for my gender) are used to various grunt and groans emitting from bathroom stalls when somebody is taking a crap. It’s not pleasant, but it common. When grunts are mixed with pleading (“Come on, man Come on.”), I finish my business and get out of there. Gross.

These sounds were not normal. A mixture of mumbling, squeaking and wild laughing, I figured it was a challenged individual in the stall, as we utilize challenged groups at work. I had heard these sounds before.

The squeaking was abruptly interrupted with a yell: “59 pancakes!” It was brilliant and startling. I could only assume the individual had a hell of a breakfast and was now paying the price.

A co-worker walked in and pushed open the door to the adjacent stall, not knowing what had just happened. A few seconds later, the familiar sound of flatulence escaped under the door of his stall. Immediately, a cry of laughter came from the next stall. 59 pancakes thought this was funny. As I left, my poor co-worker did his best to hold it in.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Wolfie's 5th

My little boy turned 5 yesterday. It was a beautiful day, in the mid 70s and not a cloud in the sky. We celebrated with our friends, a bouncy house, a popcorn machine, bubbles flying in the front and balloons swaying in the back. It was as perfect gets.

Prepping for the party was another story. There were cupcakes to make, ice to get, beverages to be bought and pizzas that needed to picked up. Our morning started at 8 am with the doorbell ringing.

I jumped out of bed, knowing exactly who was at the door, but not was what time it was. Our alarm clock suffered a severe injury to its face plate a while back, due to an errant paw from our cat Tuxie. Actually, it was a calculated blow. The cat wanted food, we were asleep and he felt we weren’t moving fast enough. Knocking the clock radio to the ground was the answer.

I put on my pants, found my slippers and shuffled to the door, half asleep. Forgetting to turn off the alarm, I opened the door and the alarm went off. The bouncy house guy laughed at me, it was 8 am. They were an hour early, which was a good thing.

While they set up the bouncy house, Wolfie and I went to get bagels, coffee and money. It was gonna be a long day and we’d need all three to survive. On the way back, I paused to think about the upcoming day and the struggles it would present: the mixing of school parents and our friends, ill-behaved kids fucking up Wolfie’s toys and our house, and trying to remember everybody’s name. All things that made me anxious

I looked in the back seat and Wolfie was high on anticipation. I made a vow to handle all situations and enjoy my son’s 5th birthday. I thought about when he was born and how the past 5 years have been the best of my life. It was a cliché, yes, but the little guy in the back changed my life forever and filled me with love, joy and fear, which wasn’t necessarily bad.

It was a great, great day.