Monday, March 21, 2011

of serendipity and San Francisco

There's one experience I had as a teenager that I remember more vividly than many others. It wasn't the most life-changing or noteworthy thing that ever happened to me. I can't really explain why I remember it so well.

It was St. Patrick's Day 2001, and I was a senior in high school. There were eight of us -- my brother Matt and six of my best friends and I -- waiting in a line that wrapped around the west side of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, California, around 3:00 pm. We had traveled far that weekend (far for us, we were but teenagers) to see our collective favorite band, Weezer.

Trevor brought his guitar. As most of us were in bands at the time, and we were all avid show-goers and music lovers (evidenced by the distance we had just traveled), it was a normal thing us to entertain ourselves by sitting down with a guitar and belting out songs (most by Weezer) till we were blue in the face and sore in the fingers. However, we were nervous that our brand of fun wouldn't be readily accepted on the streets of San Francisco so we strummed the guitar quietly and our voices were hesitant.

Then something happened we didn't expect. People in the line ahead and behind us began singing along. And a small group formed around us. Others began shouting requests, b-sides like "Jamie" and "You Gave Your Love to Me Softly," not just the hits like "Say It Ain't So" and "The Sweater Song." I don't know which would be the dependent variable in this case -- our voices or the crowd -- I just know that as one grew larger so did the other.

== == == == ==

Exactly ten years later -- which happened to be this past weekend -- I once again found myself in San Francisco. The serendipitous occasion was the wedding of my college buddy Zach.

Not only was it great to be back in Bay Area (where I had since lived for a three month internship in 2008) but it was even better to see so many great friends that I don't see often because of the distance between us all. (Maybe we should all get married more often.)

== == == == ==

The St. Patrick's Day 2001 concert was Weezer at their best. While the concert was memorable -- how could I forget seeing "The Good Life" and "Only In Dreams" live for the first time? -- I feel like the event itself will be forever overshadowed by the spontaneous sign-along that happened before the show. When you make your own fun, sometimes it just goes better than when others try to make it for you.

== == == == ==

After the wedding reception last Friday night we -- a group of friends, less than a dozen total -- boarded a train in South San Francisco for the hour-long ride back to our hotel across the Bay in Concord (if you want to sound like a local, pronounce it like conquered). We were in good spirits from the wedding and one another's company so I guess it was only natural for us to break out in song as we sat together on the train.

Our repertoire consisted mostly of off-key 90s jams, interspersed with tunes from other decades, and rarely did we finish singing an entire song. I think most of our fellow passengers were indifferent to our potentially obnoxious musical outbursts but there were two who vocalized their opinions. One middle-aged man found our singing off-putting even though he kept a good sense of humor about it. Another passenger, a college age girl, thanked us for an entertaining ride as she disembarked the bus.

The next morning we took the train back to San Francisco for a day of sightseeing and touristy activities. About halfway to the City (don't call it San Fran or 'Frisco) who should step onto the train? The very same girl who voiced her appreciation of our musical stylings from the previous night. Of all the trains, of all the cars, she ended up in ours less than 12 hours later.

Of course, we beckoned her to come sit by us and we got to know her a bit as we made our way into the city. She helped us find our way around the city, and in the evening she even came out and hung with us for a bit. I don't have many 'small world' experiences; it was cool to be a part of this one.

== == == == ==

It goes without saying but I'll say it anyway: I'm anxious to get back to the "city by the bay." Thanks again, San Francisco.

Additional Reading: "I Left My [unconditional love for Weezer] in San Francisco" by Trevor: Trevor's account of our San Francisco Weezer adventure

Saturday, March 12, 2011

I wanted to have a line from a Lady Gaga song as this title but I don't know too many of her songs, so I couldn't come up with one that fit

I rarely remember my dreams. But last night I had a dream that I was being held hostage by Lady Gaga. Which was almost as memorable as the time Carl Winslow tried to eat me.

Everyone knows -- and it's well established in the hit documentary dream film Inception -- that you never really have an explanation for how you get to the place you're at in your dream -- your dream just starts there. This dream was no different. I'm alone at my mom's old house that she just sold. It's the middle of the night and I'm in the family room. The lighting in the house reminds me of Christmastime when we'd turn off all the lights and leave on the the Christmas tree lights on. (Sigh.) Except there is no Christmas tree.

I'm sitting by the fireplace. In the fireplace there is an egg carton. Don't ask me how, but somehow I know that in the egg carton there is a bomb. And somehow I know that this bomb was planted by Lady Gaga, and unless she gets what she wants, she will detonate the bomb.

Her demands are that I deface a rare original painting by painting over it. The painting I'm supposed to ruin is by John Steinbeck. I oblige her and paint a clown over the painting and it looks pretty darn good. Deep down inside I must know it's not a big deal that I paint over this supposedly rare painting; it has to be fake because homeboy Steinbeck was not a painter, he was a writer. So really, the joke is on Gaga.

At that point Lady Gaga herself shows up. I'm disappointed to see her wearing a frumpy maroon t-shirt and faded mom jeans with her hair in a pony tail. I mean, it's Lady Gaga. When has she ever looked like she could blend into a crowd? Disappointing.

That's all I remember of the dream.

Naturally, I was curious what this all could mean. So I consulted Everything was so vague -- any old interpretation could fit -- so I dismissed it. But I woke up singing "Bad Romance" to myself. So here's the simplest -- and most likely -- explanation for this dream: I was incepted to have Lady Gaga stuck in my head.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


I think I've mentioned here before that Speaker for the Dead is probably my second favorite book. If I haven't, I'll say it now: Speaker for the Dead is probably my second favorite book. That said, nothing saddens me more than when I hear of people reading Ender's Game and they don't bother to read Speaker for the Dead. What saddens me more than that (even though I already said "nothing saddens me more") is when people do read Speaker for the Dead and they don't like it as much as Ender's Game, or worse, they just don't like it. What saddens me equally as much as the first thing that saddens me is when someone starts reading Ender's Game and a year later (give or take) they still haven't finished it (you know who you are).

Speaker continues the story of Ender's Game protagonist Andrew "Ender" Wiggin in his travels as Speaker for the Dead -- a type of humanistic 'preacher' who recounts the deeds and misdeeds of the deceased as a way for the departed's loved ones to find truth, understanding and reconciliation in the wake of death.

About a year ago I decided to put my neglected subscription to good use by downloading the complete Ender Saga (there are nine novels and countless short stories that make up said saga). They're fantastically produced, and according to Orson Scott Card himself, having the stories read aloud to you is the optimal medium for experiencing these books. At the end of some of the books, OSC provides an ad-libbed afterword explaining how the book came to be and so on. I love what he says at the end of Speaker:

If you really understand someone well enough to speak for them when they’re dead, you will end up – probably – loving them. Now, that’s a pretty bold thing to say – because what if you had to speak for the death of Adolph Hitler or Joseph Stalin or somebody like that – but I really think that if you knew enough about them you could at least understand how they got set on the road that led to the terrible things they did. And you don’t pull any punches, you name their sins for what they were, you talk about their flaws, you talk about their horrible choices, the viciousness, the violence, whatever they did. But you also say, "But at one point, this was a child. At one point this was a kid who wept, or a kid who wanted to be loved, or a kid who tried to well at this or at that." You look at the war experiences that shaped Adolph Hitler, or you look at the deep hunger for influence or control that drove Joseph Stalin in his childhood, and it doesn’t excuse anything, but it makes the person comprehensible. [...] You don’t eradicate them, you don’t glorify them either, you just face them for what they were, good and bad – you understand how it is a human being could get to where they are.

It's impossible to have such a complete understanding of someone, even of those we love the most. But simply knowing that we can't understand everything, and knowing there is a motive behind each action, and believing that the majority of people are inherently good -- all that is the first step, and it's quite a large one.