Monday, January 31, 2011

Greg Kim Not Greg Kihn

Besides being an object of curiosity in the Korean community because of my last name, and burdened with a face that cries, “You look just like…,” I also share a very similar first and last name to the 80s popster Greg Kihn. It didn’t help that we both lived in the Bay Area.

In high school, people would acknowledge the similarities by simply stating the fact: “Greg Kihn” or sometimes “Rock Kihn Roll” or even “Kihnspiracy” -- the last 2 being records by Greg Kihn. Even though I always knew their intent, my response would disappoint them: “Yeah, Greg Kihn,” said with the most blasé look I could muster. They were hoping that they were the first to think of it.

As I got older and older and Greg Kihn went away, the comparisons dried up. But in the 2000s Greg Kihn made a comeback as a local DJ and once again, any time somebody learned my name or something required me to show I.D., I got “Greg Kihn!” Luckily most of the name callers forgot the names of his records.

However, a few weren’t simply stating facts, some thought I was actually him. Innocuous statements were turning into questions: “Are you Greg Kihn?” I didn’t like it one bit. Mostly my vanity had a problem with the age difference between us. Wasn’t it obvious I was way too young to be Greg Kihn? Or was the age gap closing as I got older?

A few months ago I brought in two crappy guitars to a local guitar shop to get fixed (set up). The shop had been around forever and was owned by a guy named Skinny Cat, a semi famous local hippie. I usually went there because it was cheap and you didn’t have to deal with the pro rock guitar snobs of the vintage shops. Skinny Cat sold shitty Japanese and put-together guitars for a good price. He was a big hippie and his staff moved at a hippie snail pace, but it was still better than the rock dicks.

While Skinny Cat helped a customer, I looked at the 100s of unique guitars on the wall. Two Jamaicans had set up shop in the corner, one playing a 5 string bass and the other playing a beat on the body of an acoustic guitar. Their eyes were closed as they “jammed.” It made me uncomfortable.

Skinny Cat gabbed on and on while I tried to look knowledgeable, moving from one side of the crowded, small shop to the other, flipping through the hanging guitars like shirts on a rack.

Finally, the customer left, not before mentioning Rush 3 times. The pro rock guys were starting to look a lot better.

I gave Skinny Cat my guitars and explained what was wrong with them. He took out a small notebook and asked me my name and phone number: “Greg Kim?” I knew where this was going. Even though I pronounced my name correctly, emphasizing the “m” in Kim, he repeated, “Greg Kihn?” I let him go with it and the trip down memory lane began.

He talked about the clubs “I” played in Berkeley in the late 70s and Beserkeley Records, the label that “I” was on. I kind of knew what he was talking about – my sister had been around back then - so I tried pandering: “I really liked the first Pearl Harbor and the Explosions record. You know, she was married to Paul Simonon of the Clash.” He quickly corrected me: “They weren’t on Beserkeley, they were on 415.” I gave up.

Besides the age difference (which I’m harping on), there were the guitars - the crappy guitars I brought in. Even though Greg Kihn’s last record was probably 20 years ago, I’m sure he had many vintage Fender guitars that he called Darla, Maggie or Aretha:

“Aretha’s not feeling well today,” Skinny Cat. “Treat her kindly, ok?”

Wasn’t it obvious?

Before edging out the door, I asked:

“So, what’s the significance of 36? Why is 36 your favorite number?” When he was helping the RUSH guy, he told him that 36 was his favorite number. This caught my attention.

Expecting 36 to be the age of his wife when they met or the year his dad was born, I got something different: “1936 is my favorite year for music and my favorite year for cars. I have a ’36 Olds out front,” he said with no irony.

In front of the store was a ’36 Oldsmobile with a personalized license plate that said 36. The car was hand painted head-to-toe in puffy clouds and blue skies. “Smoke Weed” was written in spray-paint on the passenger side door.

You get what you pay for.

(Image: Greg Kihn, Next of Kihn)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Leaning Man and the German Tourist

I called him Leaning Man. A few people knew his real name, but I wanted none of it. To me, he was Leaning Man, not Bob, Muhammad or Esteban. Just Leaning Man!

He did most of his leaning in the spring and summer and concentrated most of the leans in front of his apartment or next to the Kentucky Fried Chicken. However, I once saw him leaning at 6th and Market Street. Seeing him there, out of context, got me interested in him. Some would say obsessed.

I informed my co-workers, who had offices on the west side of the building, to be on the lookout for Leaning Man. They knew me and my eccentricities and would usually indulge my rich fantasy life. This was no different.

Before long, I started receiving calls: “Greg, Leaning Man is out front.” After a while, people worked in their own vernacular into the call: “Greg, Leaning Man is getting his lean on.” Sometimes I would get people on their cells: “Greg, I’m over by KFC and Leaning Man’s at the bus stop.”

I would run to the west side of the building and watch Leaning Man strike his classic poses: right elbow resting on a parking meter with right leg slightly bent, crossing in front of his left leg or leaning against a wall with his right leg bent, resting against the wall. I called the latter the Marlboro Man.

After a while, I tried getting close to Leaning Man. I’d get the call, grab my camera and discretely walk across the street, where Leaning Man was leaning. Out of respect, I’d keep my distance, but I tried leaning too. He would notice me and move on. After a few months of observation, I learned that Leaning Man didn’t like people milling around his leaning area. He would get anxious and move on. I would later understand this.

Eventually the lean craze died down and I replaced him with a new distraction - the dysfunctional, chaotic customers of Subway. Subway was about 20 yards from Leaning Man’s favorite leaning spot, so many days I would see him out for a fresh lean when going to get a sandwich.

One day, after getting my usual - 6” turkey on whole wheat – I walked around the neighborhood, looking for a stretch of sidewalk that received direct sunlight. We were going through a cold spell and I wanted a little natural warmth.

Kitty corner to the Subway was the Civic Center Inn. I crossed the street and leaned against the waist high metal grate fence that surrounded the parking lot. After about 5 minutes I grew bored and returned to work.

I repeated this process for a few days, hoping to last a little longer than 5 minutes. Eventually, I grew more accustomed to the boredom, counteracting it by counting the number of cars between red lights. However, the metal grate fence never worked for me. It was at an awkward height and the grating made it uncomfortable. I decided to sit on the fire hydrant that was directly in front of me.

The hydrant was way more comfortable, but it had its own problems. When I leaned against the grating, people tended to leave me alone; the hydrant, though, was an invitation to a party. Who knew the subtle change of scenery would be so drastic?

Like Leaning Man, I didn’t appreciate people in my area. Even though I wasn’t leaning - I was sitting – I felt domain to the corner. Maybe I didn’t notice it before, but everybody was now hovering around me: the kids from Larkin Street Youth Center, dealers asking me if I was ok and a user inquiring if I was holding. The latter received an indignant glance with a side of anger.

I told my friend at work about my problems and that the kids and users were driving me back to the grated fence. I also expressed empathy for Leaning Man.

On my first day back on the grated fence at the Civic Center Inn, I encountered a German tourist named Franz. In his early 20s and round faced, he was holding a map of San Francisco.

“Do you know where the Tenderloin area is?” he asked.

My first response: “You asked the right person.” I loved giving direction. If I were rich and didn’t have to work, I’d set up at table at the Cable Car turnaround at Market and Powell with a sign that said: “Free Directions (and advice).” That’s how much I love giving directions, especially to tourists. It makes me feel like an ambassador of San Francisco.

Thinking he was going to a specific place in the Tenderloin, I replied, “Where are you going in the Tenderloin? Do you have an address?”

We went back and forth on this issue. His English was adequate, but I had no idea where he wanted to go - somewhere in the Tenderloin, that’s it.

Finally, he said: “I don’t want to go to the Tenderloin, I don’t want to get shot.”

Ahh, now it all made sense. A few months prior, a German tourist was shot and killed on Mason Street. It was big news in SF and I’m sure even bigger news in Germany - another story of American violence that scares the shit out of foreign tourists. But they still keep coming.

I felt bad for him. Obliging his original request, I showed him the Tenderloin, taking my hand and spinning it 360 degrees.

He said, “I hear you get shot in West and South Oakland.” Not correcting the South Oakland mistake, I tried my best to explain violence in America, being as gentle as possible. Finally I blurted, “I live Oakland, I’m 47 and I haven’t’ been shot.” It was concise and easy to understand.

As simple as it was, he responded to it. I could tell he thought I was some American badass, since I lived in Oakland. I did nothing to dissuade his opinion. I enjoyed my new status.

With both of us feeling empowered, I said, “Listen, the Tenderloin is full of career drug users looking to score drugs. There’s not a lot gang kids down there. If you’re not buying drugs and it’s not dark, you should be fine. Hold your head high and walk with authority.”

We shook hands and parted ways. He stomped off at a good clip down Ellis Street, on his was to downtown.

I was proud of him and proud of San Francisco.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Embarrassing Moments In My History

She was the daughter of my mother’s co-worker. I didn’t agree to it, but I didn’t really have a choice. My parents were worried that I wasn’t dating and concerned that my interest in girls was not up to par compared to other 16 year olds. For parents, it’s a legitimate concern.

A date was arranged. Officially, it would be my first driving date.

I borrowed my mother’s ’72 Mustang and picked up Laura. She was petite and had dark hair with bangs like Emily Strange. She went to church. I was replacing my Yes and Pink Floyds records with The Clash and The Ramones. It was an important distinction.

At the Drive-In, I bought a large bucket of popcorn. I used it as bait to lure Laura into the back seat. She didn’t bite. I watched the movie from the backseat, in-between the front bucket seats.

When I dropped her off I said, “Nanoo Nanoo. Shazbat,” and flashed her the Nanoo Nanoo hand sign.

It still gives me chills.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Shepard Fairey Ruined Art

“It’s gonna be fucking rad,” she said, screaming into her cell phone. “Reception is shitty up here, sorry.” Drawing from a Bud Light tall, she paused to listen.

Wearing Ugg boots, ski pants and a t-shirt, she stood in the back of a pickup truck, leaning against the cab. Parked in the farthest corner of a muddy parking lot, she had a perfect view of the Leland Meadows Snow Park, a park specifically for tubing and sledding. And for children.

Opening the hatch of my mini-van, I shot her a long gaze. I was with two 6 year olds and I wanted to let her now that I disapproved and loathed her. Our eyes didn’t meet.

I got the two 6 year olds out of their skiwear and into dry clothes. Imploring them to let me do the same, I sat on the hatch, wiggling out of my snow pants. The back of the min-van was strewn with articles of warm clothing and discarded chip bags from the ride up. She continued to scream into her cell.

“It’ll be fucking rad,” I was gathering she was fond of this phrase, “we’re gonna go to Frisco and stay at the Hotel des Arts.” This pricked my ears. Just the idea that she was going to San Francisco - and calling it Frisco - bugged me. “We were gonna stay outside of Frisco, but we said fuck it. We booked the Sheppard Fairey room. You know, Obey.”

The Hotel des Arts is a small art themed hotel in downtown San Francisco. All rooms are designed by local artists, including a collaboration by Fairey and another artist.

She didn’t look like the art type. I pegged her as someone that lived in the rural suburbs of Sacramento, listened to country music or indie metal and dabbled in speed and ecstasy. She probably smoked Marlboro lights and drank Diet Coke. This was an easy assessment, given that she was an adult without children at a children’s snow park; she was drinking beer in a muddy parking lot in the back of a pickup truck and she was wearing Ugg boots, a personal bias.

By mentioning Fairey, we shared common ground, albeit a very, very tiny parcel. I found myself being protective of him and dismayed that a “woman like this” knew about an artist like Fairey. It was completely irrational. I had no cultural ownership over Fairey or art.

Why did I feel this way?

Despite his success in the past years (Obama!!), Fairey retained his punk DIY credentials. At his last show in the City at Whitewalls, when buying his propaganda art for 20k entailed a waiting list of 200+ people, Fairey could’ve attended the opening, drank a few PBRs with the beard set before taking 50% of the proceeds. He didn’t do that. Instead, he arrived a week early and wheat pasted the city with posters of work from the show, risking jail time and hefty fines. Even though the Obey brand is a close second to Ed Hardy in douchebag wear, and most fine artists would agree that Fairey (and Banksy!!) ruined art, Fairey is the goddamn Ian MacKaye of the art world and I respect him for it.

“Yeah, everybody’s coming.” She continued. “I’ve been working my ass off. I should have 10 pieces in the show, but I’m only giving them 9 because I can't part with one of them. It’s totally fuckin’ rad” She paused, waiting for the other person to ask her about the prized art. “I’m in love with the Radiohead piece. I’m gonna hang it above the mantel.”

Before she finished, I grabbed my iPhone from my pocket and clandestinely filmed her. A friend of hers with a scraggly beard approached the truck and asked her where she’d been. She replied, “I hurt my fucking back.”

I grabbed my phone and erased the video. She popped another beer. We left. It was fuckin’ rad.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Dead Pigeon in a Kentucky Fried Chicken Bucket

Jessie met her in the alley, the same alley where I saw a dead pigeon in a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket. I will never forget that. It was 15 years ago on December 23rd. My band had played a show at the Great American Music Hall with the Mother Hips and I got drunk, really drunk. So drunk I lost my car. More like I couldn’t find my car.

While walking the alleys of the Tenderloin looking for a 1982 Dodge Champ, I stumbled upon the KFC bucket.

Eventually I gave up looking for the car and went home. This is where it gets blurry. In this time, I must’ve called the cops and reported my car stolen. How I knew the vehicle identification number or license number and how I managed to sound sober while reporting the car stolen, I have no idea.

At 7 am I was awoken by the doorbell. I got up, inquiring who it was. It was the police. They said they found my car in the alley where the KFC bucket was at and that they towed it to Pier 27. I’m sure they knew it wasn’t stolen, but lost. I knew the drill; I’d retrieved my car more than once from Pier 27.

Before going back to bed, I checked the answering machine. A call came in at 4:30 am from Mr. Pizza Man: “Hello, Hello! You ordered a pizza. Are you there? Hello?” This also wasn’t the first time I’d heard this. I looked around the room and my dog was lying against the door. Regardless of the night, I always remembered the dog.

Jessie and the girl exchanged glances, but never spoke. She was tall, thin, blond and had a dog, which she walked from one end of the alley to the other. By all accounts, she was pretty. The guys all said so. I had my doubts. These guys were dick for brains and could find a way to justify ugly and transient. She lived in the alley, for Christ’s sake.

My first response was, “Is she a guy?” This was a legitimate question. In our work neighborhood, it’s pretty well known that pretty women are guys. But she was different they said. She was white. White male to female Trannies tend to be large, draggish and easy to spot. If she were Filipino or API, it would’ve been a different story. They’ve cornered the market on pretty trannies. But she wasn’t, so we debated her gender. Were we witness to the lone pretty, white tranny (PYT)?

One morning, she approached Jessie: “You know, I’m not a guy,” she admitted. Jessie told us this and we debated the validity of her statement. I told Jessie that he should marry her. In the history of relationships, “You know, I’m not a guy” could be the best opening line ever. He agreed, but he had his doubts.

They talked a bit and she asked him to visit her at work. She worked the desk at a SRO in the alley. Jessie agreed, but never made the date. He said something in his gut told him not to go. It wasn’t the tranny in her that scared him - Jessie was no stranger to trannies. He said it just didn’t feel right.

A week later I was in line at Subway. A woman matching the description of the girl in the alley was in front of me. She had a dog. I meticulously observed her backside looking for clues: her neck was elongated, she had gentle facial features, no Adam’s apple, small feet, round butt, hips. I thought, “Definitely a woman.”

Thursday, January 20, 2011

You'll Get Your Money When I Get My Discover Card: Letter #1

Greg Kim
123 Main Street
Oakland, Ca 94605

July 2, 2010

Student Services
c/o Holy Names
3500 Mountain Blvd
Oakland, Ca 94619

Dear Holy Names,

Enclosed please find a check for $656.66 – exactly 1/3 of what I owe Holy Names. Consider it a token payment until my 0% interest Discover card arrives in the mail. When that glorious day comes, I will call and put the remaining balance on the card. However, something may arise that may negate the aforementioned promise. This is a distinct possibility because I keep receiving a “1-800…” call on my cell phone. I know it’s Discover calling to confirm my existence and wanting more information that I may or may not be willing to give. If things go awry with Discover, you will receive a letter like this in a month or so with more hyperbole and a check.

Well, thanks for your patience and remember - all promises may be mitigated with excuses.


Greg Kim

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

First the Mayans and Then Stryper and Now This Guy

The technician knocked and entered my office.

“Luis called about a duct problem? He said it was urgent?” Usually, I tell guys like this my stock answer: “Front door.” But on this day I was feeling magnanimous.

“Hold on,” I said, “let me see if he’s around,” picking up the phone and dialing 326.

Before I got off the phone he had picked up a Stryper record that was on the end of my desk. I felt kind of stupid and was going explain that a volunteer gave it to me but he seemed generally interested in the record, flipping it over and examining every member’s photo.

This wasn’t the first time the Stryper record had garnered attention. However, this was the first time a real fan or Christian or Christian sympathizer picked up the record and generally seemed to appreciate it. It was refreshing. Usually the record, a cliché at best and easy punch line, was an inside joke, full of wink-winks and nod-nods of the liberal intelligentsia. We all felt superior in our mocking.

“Wasn’t Bobby Dahl in the band?” he asked, assuming we were on the same team and that i knew about Bobby Dahl.

“You mean from Poison?” I said, responding in a way that said I was a formidable opponent in rock trivia. “I didn’t think he was in Stryper. Was he?”

I paused, pondering the question. Had Bobby Dahl played in Stryper at some point? Why would you go from Poison to Stryper? It was some heavy thinking for early in the morning.

The Stryper record was called Isaiah 53:5. On the cover was a very dated Ghostbusters-like ambulance, painted in yellow and black horizontal stripes. The members posed in front of the vehicle holding various assault weapons, hand guns and rifles. They were dressed in yellow and black stripes, too. I assume they were soldiers of God and the ambulance was for taking injured soldiers to the hospital. Smart thinking. Be prepared.

The technician continued looking at the record, shaking his head and taking a walk down memory lane. Maybe he was a soldier of God? Without taking his eyes off the album, he said, “Isaiah, that’s some heavy shit. “ More head shaking. “It’s like Daniel, the Old Testament. I’ll have to look it up when I get home, but I think Isaiah is about Jesus coming back and being pissed, I think.” This appeared to resonate with him.

I was totally out of my league and didn’t want to appear ignorant so I said, “Yeah.” That’s it.

Luis showed up and took the technician. As he was leaving he said, “It’s coming soon.”

I assume he meant Armageddon. And he wasn’t joking.

(Image: Stryper fan art. Lead singer praying)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Looking For Fluffy and the Fire Fighters

Fluffy and the Fire Fighters was 8 weeks overdue. Even though I received multiple emails from the library, imploring me to give it back, and I had driven by the by the library with the book in my possession, planning to return it, I never did. In 8 weeks it had moved from nightstand to entry table to my bag and back again. For some reason, I couldn’t seem to return the book.

On the way to work this morning, Fluffy sat on the front seat of my car, with the intent of returning it to the library. Instead of taking the usual 7th street, I changed direction, taking 9th to Larkin, which put me right in front of the library.

As I dropped off Fluffy in the return box, I wondered if they were waiting for the book. Were they pissed at me? I would like to think I was mentioned at their morning staff meeting:

“Ok, settle down. I’m gonna turn it over to Mr.Grover, our Book Recovery Specialist, and he’s going to talk to you about a few clients with overdue books,” said head Librarian Miss Weatherbee.

“First off,” said Mr. Grover, “thank you for attention. I know it’s frustrating when clients do not return books, especially kids’ book. We all know that the kids depend on the check out and return system to work and when it doesn’t it’s the kids that pay” The staff nodded, shaking their heads up and down.

He continued, “Specifically, I want to talk about a client that has Fluffy and the Fire Fighters. It’s 8 weeks overdue and I’m beginning to think it’s not coming back. The client’s name is Greg Kim. Does that ring a bell? Yep, I’m sure it does, he was late returning Fluffy Goes to School and Fluffy Meets the Tooth Fairy. Do you remember that fiasco?” A few clerks nod, looking around the room for validation.

Grover continued: “Because of the previous two Fluffy books, we gained some important intel on Kim, but I digress. Does anybody know Kim?” Grover looked around, waiting for a lone hand to rise. The clerks looked too. No hands. “Ok, we know Kim lives in Oakland,” Grover pauses to let the murmuring die down. He overhears a clerk say, “Oakland…typical.” Grover continues, “And he works near here - that we know. Also, our surveillance cameras caught him entering the library 4 weeks ago. He entered on Fulton, went into the bathroom and immediately left through the Larkin exit. Somebody in the bathroom probably tipped him off that we were looking for him.” Grover handed out copies of video from the surveillance camera. “Ok, that’s about it. If you see Kim, don’t engage him. Call Library security and let them deal with it. Have a good day and be careful out there.”

This was my morning fantasy.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Door Opened and I Walked Through With My Rock Credentials

He was a soundman and appeared open to conversation, unlike most of his ilk. With dark, short hair, an oversized black pullover hoodie, black Dickies that came down a little below the knees, white socks and black low tops, he wasn’t breaking any ground in roadie/soundman fashion. Whereas the musician/soundman relationship is usually adversarial, wrought with ego and competition, I could tell right away that he was different. He wasn’t put out doing sound for a Karaoke band at a corporate party and immediately gave me the vibe that we were in this together. And we were in this together.

Through my eyes we were peers, having shared common ground in music, culture and experience. I felt I knew him or his kind and could take a picture of him that was close to being accurate. Or, really, I felt he might understand or take pity on me if I talked to him about things that happened when he was in grade school or not born.

In reality, there was at least 16 years between us. I’m sure he could clearly see this, being much younger, but I couldn’t. I tend to look at 30+ year olds and think I look like them. It’s amazing how delusional your eyes can be. Oddly, to anybody under 30, I try to give off a fatherly, non-threatening vibe. I like to imagine myself in a wool blazer when I’m playing this character.

I was the first to arrive for sound check, loading my amp on stage. I said hello to the soundman (Dave) and did my usual self-deprecating shtick about being in Karaoke band. It usually breaks the ice. He nodded politely, smiled and continued setting up.

“So, what are you guys?” he abruptly said, stopping what he was doing.

I gave him our stock answer: “We’re a live Karaoke band - you sing, we play. You pick a song from our song list, sign up and sing with us. We know about 550 songs.” This is usually met with 2 responses:

“Interesting.” Interesting is a euphemism for bad idea or stupid.

“What a good idea.” Creative types and advertising people say this. This is why we’re hired for parties. We’re part of the Dog and Pony Show, playing between the henna artist giving fake tattoos and the stylist doing rock star makeovers.

“Kinda like Me First and the Gimme Gimmes?” He responded.

The door was open and I was walking through it with my backstage pass and rock credentials. Let the old guy pandering begin.

“You mean Fat Mike’s other band? I quickly replied, establishing that I knew who he was talking about by identifying a member of the band.

I continued. “I saw Fat Mike about 10 years ago on Divis and Fell. He looked like he just got off tour. Is he still married to what’s her name? You know he lives in St. Francis Woods?” Everything I could remember about Fat Mike I blurted out. It was pitiful. All my information was at least 15 years old and dated.

He was polite and corrected my inaccurate information: “I don’t think he lives St. Francis Woods anymore” and “I don’t think he’s still married to that girl.”

This didn’t stop me. “Doesn’t Greg Hetson from Circle Jerks play in that band, right?” I really had no idea if he did play with them, I just wanted to establish my old punk credentials. His responses never varied from one or two word answers. I decided to try another route:

“Do you like the White Stripes?” Jack White and the White Stripes were common ground. Everybody liked them or said they liked them, right? They offered enough hipster cache and made me look younger, I thought.

“Yeah, they’re ok.” It was a lukewarm response, not what I was hoping for. Ignoring the warning signs, I trudged on: “I saw Jack White on Conan last night. He played this original 50s rock-n-roll song and made it sound great, adding his own style. Even with Conan playing guitar on the song, it was really good. His voice sounded like The Killer.”

I regretted saying The Killer right away. I could’ve said Jerry Lee and left it at that.

Again, a lukewarm, polite response: “Oh really, I didn’t see it.” I couldn’t tell if he was “hipstering” me, but it seemed like he’d never heard of Conan. I didn’t take him as the “kill you television” type. Maybe I misread him.

Jim, the other member in the band, arrived and we asked Dave if he wanted us to do a sound check to get levels. He thought it was a good idea. Lev wasn’t there so I played drums and Jim played guitar and sang…like the White Stripes. I was painfully aware of the similarities, feeling very uncomfortable. To make matters worse, Jim suggested we check with Pretty Good Lookin’ by The White Stripes. In most circumstances this would be the appropriate song, given we were a 2 piece, but not today.

I reluctantly agreed, playing as lackluster as I could – not looking up. If a mask were available, I would’ve worn it.

I caught Dave’s eye and gave him a look that said, “Watcha gonna do? I’m 47. I’m trying, man. I’m trying. Give a brother a break.”

(Image: White Stripes Fan Art)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Searching For Alcohol in the Garbage

Dad worked at Karastan in NYC selling rugs to the northeast. He and 3 other salesmen had season tickets to the Mets, which they would give away to clients. He knew I loved the Mets, so he’d holdback a couple a tickets each year and he and I would go to the game.

The tickets were on the 3rd base side. A metal banister surrounded the 8 seats, giving off a false sense of space. A small plague dangled from the aisle bannister that said Karastan.

While Bud Harrelson and Felix Milan turned double plays, my dad would overhear inane ballpark baseball chatter and would feel the need to chime in, either adding to the conversation (“Did you know that Ed Kranepool’s family invented chlorine?”) or making corrections (“Actually, Kranepool’s slugging percentage in the month of July was 986%). If the intended target didn’t respond or ignored him, he would say it again…louder.

6 years later I’m at the Oakland Coliseum watching an A’s game with my friends Billy, Bob and Dave. Before the game, we stopped at Terry’s liquor store to get beer. Even though we were only 15, a friend of ours worked there and would take beer out with garbage. We’d retrieve it from behind the store, separating the coffee grounds, cigarette butts and other grossness from the alcohol. It was worth it.

Billy was a lot like my dad. At the game, he’d talk to strangers about baseball, acknowledge a good player insult by a fan with a thumbs up and would stand and argue every hit, pitch and error. It was exhausting seeing a game with him.

We arrived early, a little buzzed from the beer. Our plan was to sit in the bleachers for an inning or so and then move to better seats. This was always are plan. At the time, there were 2 gates on either side of the bleachers, blocking the riff-raff from the people who paid for the good seats. Large guards were posted at both gates. To gain access, the youngest and smallest amongst us would tell the guard that there was a banner or souvenir he wanted that wasn’t in the bleacher concessions. This usually worked, due to our age, but on this day the guard was having none of our bullshit.

Since we were early, we found front row seat in the general admission bleachers. From the get go, Billy was on the opposing team, the California Angels, telling them they sucked. In-between innings, while the Angels’ center fielder and right fielder tossed the ball, Billy yelled, ”Go home, Anderson, you suck.” A pretty tame insult for Billy. 2 sections over, a man in his early 20s yelled, “Hey!! Hey you,” trying to get Billy’s attention, “It’s not Anderson, It’s Harlow.” He was laughing. Billy was called out for casting insults at the wrong player.

Billy didn’t like this. He stared at him long and hard, letting him know his displeasure.

For the rest of the game, Billy was surly. His chitchat quieted to intermittent claps; great plays were met with blank stares. Billy’s sole focus was looking at the guy that called him out. We knew how this would end.

During the 7th inning stretch, Billy abruptly got up and walked in the direction of the guy. We knew where he was headed. There were only 100 or so people in the stands, so his path was quick. We pretended not to notice, but all of us were intrigued, if not scared. We were younger and the guy and his friends were way older.

It started with a push and then a punch. They grabbed each other and rolled on the concrete, wrestling in-between the bleachers. Before we rushed over, we grabbed our coats and whatever we came with, knowing this was the end of the game for us. By the time we got there, security was escorting Billy up the stairs. In a single line, we followed behind Billy and the guard to the exit. We knew the drill, as we rarely made it past the 7th inning, thanks to Billy.

Monday, January 10, 2011

If I were gay, I’d blame it on Rusty Staub.

Staub played right field for the ’72 Mets and was my favorite baseball player. He wasn’t the greatest player, but that wasn’t important. What was important was his hair and how he ran off the field. Odd attributes for an 8 year old to latch on to.

Staub, born Daniel Joseph Staub, had longish, auburn hair that gently escaped his cap, curling upward like smoke. I had similar hair that reacted the same way to ball caps. His socks extended to his kneecaps and he kept his jersey loose, which was odd at the time, and often rolled up his shirtsleeves, exposing his freckled arms. He looked a little unkempt.

At the end of an inning, Staub would take off his glove and place it under his left armpit before running off the field. His oversized uniform bounced in rhythm to his stride as his left arm, saddled to his side, secured his glove. Whether it was the addition of the glove or just the way he ran, Staub’s movement were very effeminate, fey. Even to an 8 year old, I could tell that he didn’t run like the other players.

38 years later, his hair and effeminate manner is the only thing I remember about him. A quick check of the Internet reveals that Staub played 22 years in the majors - a huge feat for a baseball player. And it also revealed that there are others out there like me. I’m not alone in my assessment. Along with Johnny Bench and Mike Piazza, Staub is 3rd inline to be outed by the Internet. However, for as many outers, they’re an equal amount of “straight defenders.”

Like I said, if were gay, this would’ve been a great story. My Wonder Woman, my Barbie, my Ken, my Rusty Staub.

Friday, January 7, 2011

C is for Community College

I intently looked at my boy and drew a rectangle in the air. “See, Wolfie, a rectangle. Do you see…a rectangle?” We were looking at a mixed media piece on the fourth floor of the SFMOMA. Alex pushed him in his stroller, while I ran interference in the front. We moved from piece to piece, asking basically saying the same thing: “See, Wolfie, a circle. Do you see the circle?” I would draw a circle in the air and then we’d move on. Repeat. Parents don’t know better.

We came upon a piece that looked like a loose interpretation of the letter “H.” At the same time, Alex and I both blurted out:

Alex: “H is for Harvard.”

Me: “H is for Homer” (the dumb one)

Alex went to Harvard, I went to City College. Hmmm.

(Image: Richard Tuttle)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Little Counting Crows or The Richie Sambora Tribute Couple. Part 2 (rough)

Past the security line a Chauffeur held up a sign that said, “Galbraith, Delaney, Kim.” He looked like a Chauffeur: black suit, black tie, white shirt and black Greek fisherman-like cap.

Sizing us up, he asked, “Which one of you is Kim?” I knew what he wanted. He was Korean and he was intrigued that one of us wasn’t Korean and he wanted to know why. This was not unusual. My whole life Koreans have been interested me, the Great White Non-Korean.

Even though he hadn’t asked, I replied, “I’m adopted, my parents are Korean.” It was a lie, but I’d learned that it evoked no response and sometimes looks of pity. Pity was good. Telling people the truth - I’ve got a weird Scottish name or another lie – I am Korean sometimes led to a challenge.

The elevator led to the parking garage. We didn’t check luggage, stuffing our guitars and one carry-on containing our suits and various guitar and drum accessories into the overhead compartments. The Chauffeur pushed the down button and said, “I picked up the singer yesterday. “ We assumed he was talking about the singer of the Counting Crows. And we assumed that he assumed we were part of the Counting Crows. We said nothing. He continued, “He’s kind of…” his voice trailed off. His outstretched hands replaced his words, pantomiming a very large stomach or a very pregnant woman. One us of yelled, “Fat? He’s fat?” Ignoring the answer to his charades, he continued, “He was with a very pretty woman. How does he get women?” Befuddled, he shook his head and pondered the injustice. We laughed. Lev added to his disbelief: “He arrived a day early to scout out the chicks in Phoenix.” He shook his head, not knowing whether to believe us.

The limousine was a Ford 350 passenger van. Another man joined us, possible a roadie for the Counting Crows.

On the drive to the Hyatt Scottsdale, I looked out the window at the treeless terrain. Everything was brown: strip malls, stucco houses, signs, landscaping, everything. I thought of the old Saturday Night Live skit that sold nothing but scotch tape. People would come in asking for recording tape and the clerk would say, “Nope, just the sticky kind.” For some reason, it stuck with. Somewhere in in Phoenix/Tucson there was a paint store that sold nothing but brown paint. And they were making a fortune.

A preoccupied woman from the New York City production crew met us in the lobby of the Scottsdale Hyatt. She said another van would pick us up in 2 hours to go to the other hotel where we were playing. We checked in, went to our rooms, met poolside to sample southwestern faire and met back in front of the hotel to go to the show.

A new van driver helped load our guitars. We got in the van and he said, “You guys in the band? I used to play in the 60s.” Great. I was thinking about the girth of the Counting Crows singer’s stomach.

To be continued...

(Image: Christmas '10. Michigan)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Little Counting Crows or The Richie Sambora Tribute Couple. Part 1 (rough)

At 26,000 feet, I was sitting in the aisle of the back row. This wasn’t unusual. I’m not the type to wait in line to get a good seat or order plane tickets in advance or have the wherewithal to check-in the night before. I can’t remember the last time I sat near the front of a plane.

Sitting next to me was a redhead that looked like the one of the guys from Mythbusters. He was wearing a large brimmed brown hat, cargo pants, wired rim glasses and dusty work boots. To the untrained eye, he appeared to be going to Phoenix for some desert adventure on bald mountain with rattlesnake and a tent, but I saw through his façade. To me, he looked like a Boomer Berkeley liberal. I bet his lady looked similar. Old, childless Boomer couples tend to eventually look and dress like each other. This doesn’t mean he wasn’t going to the mountain top.

He was reading The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman, a popular non-fiction book at the time. I had read a few chapters of the book before returning it to the library, so I felt I was qualified to discuss it. I’ve learned that most literary discussions I have with strangers never got past the title and author. For example: “I loved Ulyyses by James Joyce.” That’s it, no more than that. You don’t need to say anything else. If they’ve read the book (which is doubtful) and want to discuss, excuse yourself and go to the bathroom. Simple as that.

Like Guns, Germs and Steel, The World is Flat is one of those books filled with great cocktail facts. However, if you’re like me, who retains very little, I end up looking like a fool or half-wit when I try to conjure a passage from a book: “the role the potato played in populating Europe was fascinating.” It sounds good and all, but I’m not really sure if it’s true. If I stick with title and author only, I don’t open myself to questions or corrections.

Between a pause in reading, I leaned over to Red and asked, “How’s the book? It’s good, isn’t it?” I didn’t really care about the book or wasn’t interested in chit chatting, I just was being nosy, spreading my wings of book knowledge. By the way he looked, I knew he’d give me something I could repeat at dinnertime. Something weird, unusual, funny. He responded, “I just started it. Have you read it?” I lied, of course: “Yeah, it’s pretty good.” Employing my literary tactic, I changed topic, asking him where he was going and where he was from, a typical question on a plane. Red was from Berkeley (told ya) and had a brother from Santa Cruz who surfed, lived off the grid and made money being a magician. Now this was a topic I was interested in and wanted to explore.

Red didn’t oblige my magician/surfer fantasy, returning to the boring book. I listened and nodded saying the right things: “so true,” “exactly” and “really” as he talked about the first few chapters, the same chapters I claimed to have read.

Red tried to make a correlation between the book and his situation. I gathered that Red was either unemployed or looking for a new job, involved in the tech/software world and was rather dismayed that that all the hires at wherever he worked were 22 years old and had rich fantasy world in role playing games. The latter really bothered him. He said he in interviews they ask him if he “gamed.” And because of this question, Red started to “game.” Somehow he said this was what the book was about: learning to “game” to compete with the modern workforce. Like I said, I knew nothing about the book, so maybe he was right. Doubt it, though.

I tried to bring the conversation back to his magician brother, but Red was having none of it. He was angry about change, getting old and looking like his so-called wife, if he had one. The conversation generally petered out, as they do on flights; he went back to reading and I fell asleep.

The plane landed and I retrieved our guitar and bass from the overhead compartment. 2 rows in front of me a couple stood and retrieved their carry-ons. They caught my eye. Dressed all in black with matching conchos belts, leather jackets (his fringed) and black, flat brimmed hats, I could only describe them as a Richie Sambora tribute couple. Given that we were flying Southwest to the southwest, it only made sense that that this couple would rent a PT Cruiser and drive immediately to the 4 Corners, where they’d buy as much turquoise as they could carry.

Past the security line a Chauffeur held up a sign that said, “Galbraith, Delaney, Kim.” Off to the show, the Counting Crows were waiting.

(Image: Cedar Alley at Larkin. 1/5/11)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Subway Chronicles: #1

It’s raining. It shouldn’t rain before December. Bullshit, man.

Yesterday at Subway there was some sort of corky lunch outing going on. At first I figured it was standard faire, just the regulars from the street discussing Street Sheet sales and local scams. But as I eyed them, it appeared two of them were in charge, the two that looked like Social Workers.

I ordered the regular and sat in the third 2-person booth against the wall. Number one was occupied by an older black lady, dressed in a robe; two was occupied by a Chinese lady. I knew number one was going to be fun. She periodically stood up and walk around the place, gumming her 6” sandwich. The end of the sandwich – the gumming side – looked as if it were wet. During one sojourn, she came back with peppers in a small, sample-sized cup. She gave it to the Chinese lady. Were they together?

Unprovoked, number one said to number two: “Lay’s is a good thin chip. It’s easy to chew.” Spoken from an expert.

(Image: Cedar Alley, Tenderloin. Morning. 1/4/11)

Monday, January 3, 2011

All Up In My Fuckin Business

I see her every Thursday. We talk and she asks me for things: a calendar, my business card and anything on my shelf. Most of all she always asks me to send her a card for various events: her birthday, 4th of July, Christmas. Her birthday appears to be a weekly occurrence. Once a year she receives a birthday card and every week a business card.

She is severely mentally disabled and mildly physically disabled; her speech barely recognizable. I intently listen, picking up verbs and nouns and filling in the rest. I’m pretty good at this.

All her thoughts end with: “Is that appropriate?” I assume years of therapy have taught her this word. Her capacity to comprehend is little to none, so my advice to her question is short and concise and not taken. But she always asks for my opinion. Playing the role of therapist, I’ve learned to respond, ‘Well, what do you think, is it appropriate?” This makes me feel like I’m helping.

I’ve learned that she lives with her sister. Her mother and father are dead and her grandmother just recently passed. The latter makes her anxious, revealing insecurities about living with her sister. She has a boyfriend and best friend named Audrey. They like to go to the mall.

One Thursday, early in our relationship, we talked about her boyfriend and how Audrey was telling people she had a boyfriend. She didn’t like this. In a clear voice, she articulately said: “Audrey is all up in my fucking business.” I was astounded and stunned.

Every Thursday after that, I would begin our conversation by asking about her boyfriend and Audrey. On cue, she would tell me that Audrey was all up in her fucking business. And then I’d give her my business card.