Monday, November 24, 2008

An Interesting Thank You

Most days I wear a basic uniform of jeans and more often than not a white t-shirt. I wear them with my jeans, with cargo shorts, under my sailing bibs, to bed with PJ bottoms, under my button down shirts when I go to work, etc. Truth is, if I am not showering or swimming (or doing any other naked-type things) there is a high likelihood I am wearing a white t-shirt. I like 'em. Like the way they feel. Like the way they look. Like the simplicity. But not all t-shirts are created equal and I like the Nautica men's white crew size L (and not just because they come with a little blue sail embroidered on the bottom).

I order a few packages of these t-shirts as the old one's get dingy or stained by my uncoordinated meanderings through this red wine, red-sauce, dirt and grease filled world. I order these t-shirts online from a company named "Freshpair." My most recent order of shirts arrived this week with a little note from the president of Freshpair. This is what it said:

Thank you! We're honored you've chosen us to help enhance your underwear collection. We hope you'll be back soon to browse our virtual aisles again.

Michael Kleinmann

"Enhance" my "underwear collection"? Yes, my standard Nautica mens white crew t-shirts size large have really enhanced my extensive and varied underwear collection. I simply sparkle and am the envy of many. So enhanced is my underwear collection that people have been coming up to me asking, "wow, you look so good....what have you been doing lately?" I shrug and say, "it's nothin'....I just enhanced my underwear collection with sparkly new white t-shirts from Freshpair."

Note: My middle-aged female body looks nothing like the male model in the picture...but isn't that t-shirt just fabulous?!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Back To Central America!

The thing about traveling far, making new friends, finding new places and people to love...the thing about it is I gotta go back. I gotta hug my new friends again, share another drink, see the place with fresh eyes, experience the old-new as the now-a-bit-familiar, experience the returning...and surprise everyone by keeping my damn word. Show them all I meant it when I said I would be back. And so I am going. Another December in the lower latitudes...another holiday season in Antigua with my new brothers and sisters. This time I go with a clear head, a mostly healed heart, and just a little bit, and I mean a little bit more Spanish.

I will again write a rough-on-the-go journal sitting in uncomfortable chairs in cramped internet cafes in unlikely places. I decided to revive my travel blog for these sloppy ramblings. So if you wanna know what I am doing in December go to:

And for those who might be interested here's the general plan.

November 30
LA to Guatemala City and Antigua, Guatemala

December 12
To La Ceiba, Honduras

December 13-20
To Utila (The Bay Islands), Honduras

December 20
Back to Antigua, GT

January 2, 2009
Guatemala City to LA

January 3, 2009
LA to Oakland

I also intend to see the Pacific Coast of Guatemala (the sea turtle hatchery in Monterrico) and head into El Salvador at some point....alone. It's gonna be good even when it's not. Even when it's hot and crowded and bumpy and buggy and scary and lonely. Even then.

I really like hearing from folks when I am traveling for I encourage you to make a comment on the blog or shoot me an email. Trust me, it will mean a lot.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

What Is Your Favorite Word?

This is the question that I recently posed to friends and family and I received some very interesting, educational, and often hilarious responses....which of course I can't help but share. I asked people to not think too much and to respond quickly.

But I will start this by sharing my favorite word: "yes." This is assuming I get to ask the question to which "yes" is the "I won the lottery?" or "Is it sunny out?" or "Wanna have sex?" or "Am I free to go now?" or "Do you love me?" or "Will I die happily in old age with my friends and family around me?" or....well, you get the point. Many of those who responded offered their second (and sometimes third and fourth) choice(s) I offer the same.

"Pleasure" is my second fave and this choice is the culmination of a lifetime of thinking too hard about too many things too often. In the movie Venus, Maurice (Peter O'toole), an aged aesthete unapologetically groping (pun intended) for some final connection with carnal beauty, is asked by his aged friend, "Do you believe in anything, Maurice?" Maurice responds, "Pleasure, I like. I've tried to give pleasure. That's all I'd recommend to anyone." It is a very hedonistic "power of now" sorta thing uttered by a man teetering at the brink of death. And I see his point. When all the constructs and romantic narratives crumble at last and the promise of any replacement is gone...there is yet the capacity and desire for him to give (and receive) pleasure. For Maurice, it is the value of pleasure, at last, that endures.

But looking back there have been many words for which I felt a significant affinity. Heady words like "ontology" or "epistemology" or "existential"... the last word being the one I looked up whenever I checked out a dictionary (I used to love looking at period dictionaries...weird, I know). And then of course there is the ineffable word "love"...a word I have more and more committed to just feel and express versus robustly understand and explain.

And lastly there are the more base words that seduce me (again, puns intended). "Lust" and "fuck" are two favorites....and when realized in the order presented, well, we are back to "pleasure." And as my birthdays and contemplations have accumulated I keep coming back to these two simple words, "yes" and "pleasure." And when these two words are married, well, saying yes to pleasure? That works for me.

Next I offer you the responses from my friends and family presented here with only the most insignificant editing and in no particular order.


Zane (age 10)




I so appreciate a foul-mouthed femme!



I think she means it in the British-slang sense....especially since she is a paramedic!



"My favorite word off the top of my head is 'panacea' not to be confused with 'pancetta."
The cure-all or the ham? Wonder what she meant?

"Topolobampo', it is the name of a port city in Mexico (I've never been there) but I love the word! It sounds kinda like falling down stairs, but in a good way, as though perhaps tequila was involved..."

"Delicious'...even when it is used out of context it is perfect."

"First thing that came to mind is 'perseverate."

Brother-Inlaw John
"ac·cou·ter·ment or ac·cou·tre·ment (-ktr-mnt, -tr-) n.
1. An accessory item of equipment or dress. Often used in the plural.2. Military equipment other than uniforms and weapons. Often used in the plural.3. accouterments or accoutrements Outward forms of recognition; trappings: cathedral ceilings, heated swimming pools, and other accoutrements signaling great wealth.4. Archaic The act of accoutering."
John is nothing if not meticulous!

"Tintinnabulation - since you asked me not to think too much - I like - succubi - quite well as well."

Sister Marcy
"appreciation" was her first submission but she changed it to "empathy"

Sister Laurs
"Aujourdhui''s French and means today......have always loved it."

Brother Jimmy

Brother Outlaw Jonald (whose name we have bastardized to distinguish him from the other John)
"YES !!!! (a wise woman named Mer told me that one)"
Aww...thanks Jonald!

Nephew Ian (age 10)

Brother-Outlaw Ron
"Phoopie' a Chico State spawned PG f-word replacement."

Sister Julie
"Mine is fun because I seriously like having fun. I want to go to amusement parks and play computer games and read and go to museums and play board games. I search out fun things to do and then look forward to them. I like to laugh and I think a lot of things are funny. One of my favorite sayings is “Some people think life is a battle. It’s not; it’s a game.” The best games are challenging, interesting,…and fun!"

Neice Devyn (age 10)
"Whizpopper - it comes from her favorite book, The Big Friendly Giant by Roald Dahl. The giant drinks soda but in his world, the bubbles go down instead of up and they make farts, which he calls whizpoppers."

Nephew Trent (age 8)
"Trent’s is cheese, which comes from one of his own sayings that he has repeated often: 'I like cheese', said with a dramatic flair. It’s usually said to fill the silence (because god forbid there be any of that) or as a transition to a new topic or as an avoidance (eg, Trent, what are you going to write for your sentence on your homework?....'Um…..I like cheese!”)

Devyn and Trent submitted their words via Julie (their mom).

Niece Riley (age 8)

Niece Avery (age 5)
Her father's name!

And last but hardly least is a most hilarious rambling from my friend Andie. I present it here unedited for your reading pleasure.

"It's a tie between topography (plain old word I get to use often) and Ollantaytumbo (place name I rarely get to use but gets stuck in my head randomly and often; so does it count in your weird little world?). But then there is also archipelago and Titicaca (another place name, but in English I just can't believe how lucky we are to know there is a place with such a name out there! Named far before Bevis and Butthead were created!). I don't like single favorites. Top 5, top 10, maybe even 2 favorites - but in a world with so many amazing choices how can you ever pick just one? Especially if you are a Libra? OK, that was off the top of my head, but I love words so there are plenty more. OOOooo, like rungeechungge, the Nepalese word for colorful. Or Appalachian, but it has to be said correctly. I am working! Damn you! You miss me, don't you? And you get to see me soon. Are you going to put a list together of peoples favorites? I want to see! I bet Ollantaytumbo wins. Well actually, it would probably depend on what kind of words you like, whether foreign words count (anaranjado and pantalones and zappatos are all great), and whether anyone gets to "win"....Didn't you say quick? I will stop now."

Take a breath Andie! And by the way, YOU win for the most longest and hilarious submission! Congratulations!

Thanks for humoring me folks.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Day at the Office and a Rancher Called Pete

There is a small hydro project in California that X utility decided to decommission because relicensing said facility would simply not be cost effective. The decision was also informed by the fact that decommissioning the project would help create much needed habitat for anadromous fish (i.e. salmon). The decision to decommission the project will result in the loss of a small reservoir that is currently used as a fishing hole by a small population of folks living in the surrounding rural community. And these anglers are pissed.

I have facilitated several public meetings where the decommissioning decision and process has been explained…including the fact that the decision is legally irreversible. Utility X has given up their license and can no longer operate the project. They are mandated to develop a decommissioning plan and implement it. This has been repeatedly explained and public input for the plan has been solicited on several occasions.

Recently, utility X hosted yet another public meeting to present a draft of the plan to the public and provide an opportunity for additional comment. The community folks came to the meeting still pressing utility X to “save” the reservoir for recreational use. Antagonistically they challenged the utility on the logic of their decision, at times pleading for them to reconsider.

Part of my job is to manage the conversation and expectations…to act as a hinge and help clarify key points including the stated legal parameters of a given proceeding. In this case, NOT decommissioning was NOT a legal option. Representatives from utility X reiterated this fact again and again in straight forward language and then I repeatedly paraphrased things in an attempt to foster understanding. And, well, it just didn’t take. Many of the local folks, mostly ranchers and farmers, were not accepting reality.

At one point a woman aggressively interrupted me and stated, “Come on. This is the United States of America and we can do anything if we really want to.” Hmmm, I thought, this is interesting logic. This woman feels that “we” should violate the Code of Federal Regulations and the Federal Power Act to save an insignificant reservoir so a few folks can have a nice little fishing hole in rural California which is a ginormous state with an astonishing amount of recreational opportunities including prime fishing in the areas surrounding this community. “We” should do this even though it would cost millions and would thwart the habitat restoration for anadromous fish which over the past 100 years have loss 90+% of their habitat on the west coast. This same women went on to say the following (I am paraphrasing but I am pretty close here including the awkward syntax):

“When you take away the reservoir then the animals like the mountain lions and the bears will lose a source for getting water and then they will come down to the ranches and I used to have 11 cats and now I only have two and I have a young son. What are you going to do when you are liable when a mountain lion can’t get water from the reservoir and comes to my ranch and kills my son? What are you going to do about that?”

I am not kidding, this was her statement/question late in the meeting….a “when did you stop beating your wife?” question with such grossly faulty presuppositions I was amazed. This is one of the more creative bits of reasoning I have observed….and believe me, I have heard some crazy shit at public meetings. Mr. XX from the utility did an excellent job of handling the question, carefully explaining that the loss of the reservoir would not be a significant impact on animal habitat and there are innumerable water sources in the area for the thirsty mountain lions that she fears will eat her son as a snack while seeking to quench their thirst.

Again, when I facilitate public (key word here) meetings I often think of it more as playing referee…hopefully I help foster a little more understanding between parties but mostly I just set the tone and manage the meeting so no one starts throwing shit. Public meetings are not the most enjoyable part of my job…except when I get to meet men like Pete.

Pete is a quiet man, a rancher of maybe 60 years. His family has ranched on his land for generations and he and his wife and two daughters continue that tradition. I don’t get the sense that Pete or his family is formally educated beyond high school. Pete and his family have real concerns regarding the potential impacts that decommissioning the project may have on their water rights. There are some structural changes that will occur that may result in rerouting their water diversion. His concerns are neither fishing nor mountain lion attacks.

I remember the first public meeting over a year ago when I met Pete and his family. He wore his NRA hat and a pair of Wrangler jeans held up with suspenders. We shook hands and I felt the calluses of a working man. He smiled and looked me in the eye and told me I did a good job running the meeting. He introduced me to his family…earthy folks of few words. At each subsequent meeting Pete and I always greeted each other. We sought each other out through the crowd and said hi and he usually complimented me on my performance no matter how mellow the meeting may have been.

I have reflected that we come from such different worlds and I am sure our politics are mostly diametrically opposed. I am a butch queer city slicker (ok, not that slick) consultant contracted by the seemingly monolithic utility X. He is an NRA supporting rancher living in the California bible belt. Yet there is some sort of connection between this man and me…something that transcends the obvious differences in our worlds. We meet each other in some way.

The most recent meeting I facilitated was really tough. I worked hard for two and half hours straight dealing with irrational questions and borderline belligerence on the part of many of the community members (see above). My job is to manage the volatility enough so it does not erupt into more dramatic dysfunction. It is an art, not a science and it involves being hyper-present and attentive and relating in a way that can be exhausting. When we adjourned I plopped into a chair and just sat there for about five minutes barely talking to anyone. Finally, I got up and scanned the room for Pete. He was engaged in conversation with folks so, exhausted, I decided to leave without saying hello. I headed out the back door into the parking lot when suddenly I heard Pete’s voice, “Marie.” I turned to see he had chased me out the door and he had a big smile on his face. “You earned your money tonight. You did a good job. I just love watching you work.” I walked towards him, “Thank you Pete. I really appreciate your feedback.” Our conversation was brief and we shook hands…we both smiled big at each other and sincerely wished each other a good night.

I have often said that the less tangible benefit of my work is the personal and spiritual growth that results from interacting with folks I would probably never otherwise encounter in my life. This is a man that many would reduce to a cliché, some stereotypical Republican-NRA-supporting-idiot not deserving of consideration. He is someone that folks in San Francisco (myself included at times) might summarily dismiss because of the profound cultural differences. But I got to meet him, shake his hand, see his sweet smile and sparkly eyes, meet his wife and daughters, hear some of the history of his family’s ranching and his legitimate concerns regarding his water. I got see his gentle and respectful way of participating in the crazy public meetings. And he got to see me do my stuff at the front of the room and he appreciated me for it….this butch dyke from the city. There is something about this man that has touched me and I can say that I am truly grateful to know Pete the rancher…

There you have it. A little slice of my days at the “office” trying to keep the peace.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Current Favorites, Preoccupations, and Distractions

Mr. Zog's Sex Wax
The best smelling surfboard wax known to's my potpourri. Seriously. Have a bar sitting here right next to me. I'm a huffer. I huff surfboard wax.

Pine nuts and currants on salad. Can't imagine life without the pignoli. Toasted of course.

Book Title:
I Don't Believe in Atheists by Chris Hedges
Haven't read the book yet but I think the title is hilarious.

Journal Article:
Why Ivy Leagures Can't Think: The Disadvantages of an Elite Education by William Deresiewicz in The American Scholar, Summer 2008
Articulates wonderfully much of what I have thought and preached for years...but he makes the critique as an insider after realizing he doesn't know how to have a conversation with his plumber.

Magazine Article:
Why is There a Universe at All? by Adolf Grunbaum in Free Inquiry, June/July 2008
Get out the truth tables and philosophy dictionary for this rambling exploration of "primordial existential questions" and "the null possibility" and "the ontological spontaneity of nothingness." I studied the article and there is a much more accessible way to say this stuff...but then, maybe I got it all wrong. After all, my education was not an elite one. So I decided to answer the primordial existential question for myself by expressing awe at the ontological spontaneity of nothingness and quoting Neutral Milk Hotel: "Can't believe how strange it is to be anything at all." I guess I will always land with the NMHs or the William Blake's of the world over the positivists and haughty logicians. Nonetheless, I do enjoy the intellectual meandering.

I recently injured my back while working out. Got to hurtin' so bad I resorted to two days of serious drugs which is unusual for me. The vicadin made me sweat and have nightmares, but the good thing about being on a narcotic is that one doesn't care so much about such things. And my back didn't hurt. Feeling much better now thanks.

Dr. Bruce
My hyper-competent, caring, and hilarious chiropractor who completely appreciates my perverted and irreverent humor. He hurts me so and then soon after, I feel better. We have such a physically intimate relationship for two people who barely know each other. God bless the chiros.

Bed Buddies:
I used to sleep with women but now I sleep with books. All kinds of books...even comic books. Sometimes I sleep with magazines or journals. When I change my sheets I find books or magazines I had forgotten about...books that slid into the cracks or got lost under a pillow, old magazines with crinkled pages and yesterdays news. Although it is my intention to sleep with women again, books never snore or hog the bed or fart in the night...and I will leave it at that for now.

Conflict Resolution
Love teaching but got a little depressed when I found out that several of the students couldn't write at a graduate level. Some couldn't write at an undergraduate level. Told them I would fail their asses if they didn't get help and stop turning in crap. I was slightly more diplomatic. Only slightly. Most everyone got their shit together and odds are there will be no failing grades.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Why does Coke bottled in Mexico taste better than Coke bottled in the US?

Because they make it with sugar in Mexico and high fructose corn syrup in the US. Next time you are in a taqueria check the label yourself. Isn't that fascinating?

Thursday, August 14, 2008


If you haven't seen this movie and you love surfing...or appreciate those who do, or like stories about nutty folks who jump off the grid and choose a very different path, check it out. An eccentric Jewish Stanford doctor drops out, gets back to surfing, meets the love of his life, screws every day, and raises 9 kids in a 24 foot camper. They roam the states, the Americas, and surf the west coast like it was their job. In fact, he made it their job. Fascinating story. And here are a couple interesting quotes from the old dude (he's 86 years old now).

Fucking to me is the word of god. Right here in America, we're a bunch of weirdos. Our culture is going to pieces and no one is saying, well, it's all because we're awful fuckers and the more awful fuckers we become, the more pornographic, the more promiscuous, and the more prurient and x-rated we become. Cultures that are all fucked up about sex, about fucking, are the cultures that will decline and in the process of their decline they will cause war.

~Dorian Paskowits

Interesting perspective. I suspect there is more than a little truth to it.

Surfing recreates you. I have gone into the water literally ready to blow my brains out and come back out of the water a warrior.

~Dorian Paskowits

I relate deeply to this statement. Although I have never been ready to blow my brains out, I have certainly, many times, experienced the profound healing affect of riding a wave on my board. An hour in the water is worth a thousand hours of therapy. It is one of the most restorative things I have experienced in my 44 years of living.

Picture: Me over a decade ago at Angels Camp, K74, Baja, Mexico. I still ride this board every summer (9'), although she has a few more dings and I now only go out on small waves (and now my hair is grey!) But I aspire to be like Dorian (and Woody, from Surfing for Life...if you know that movie) and still be surfing in my 80s. Seriously.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

What Do You Sip and Read at Midnight?

When I don't have to be up early, I am often quite the's often when I think, write, read, contemplate my naval and other fascinating subjects. Recently, a new friend noticed on my gmail-chat that I was up at midnight and she started a conversation. She is quite the witty one and asked me what I was doing up so late...and then wrote: "I picture you sipping whiskey and reading Voltaire." Voltaire? I haven't read Voltaire in over 20 years and have no plans to do so now. And I hate whiskey, with a passion. So I tongue-in-cheek confessed that I was sipping a Bud Light and reading People magazine. A more representative answer would have been sipping mescal and reading La Cuadra. But the truth is, I was drinking a Blackberry Honest Tea and reading the dictionary.

I am always amazed how we human beings formulate impressions of each other. I have contemplated this topic for years, formally and informally, trying to cultivate some rudimentary understanding of what informs our sense of who we are in the world, our subjectivity, our sense of connectedness and belonging....or not. My friend Jill and I have had many conversations exploring the idea that in so many ways we are our relationships...what others reflect back to us, the good and the bad, is the fodder we use to create our internal subjects, our internal constructs of "self." We use this feedback and it informs how we dress, talk, parent, fuck, work, etc...the list is endless.

There are those relationships that have long informed our sense of self, provided the fodder for our cumulative internal construct of "me" that provides the foundation for our ego-ic existence. Our family, old friends, people who see the best (and the worst) in us and consistently reflect it back in their words and deeds. And then there are the newer relationships, those with little history...for me, folks who never knew the angsty teenage Mer or the jock Mer, or dare I confess, the makeup wearing Mer (it was wrong, so very wrong and so long ago!). They only know the contemporary Mer, the Mer developed over 44 years of living and processing input from countless interactions and relationships.

So back to my late night gmail-chat. How does this women, this new friend come up with Voltaire and whiskey? And what do I do with this information? What notion does it fuel in me? It's fresh....a compliment, succinct, isolated. She thinks I am smart because Voltaire is not simple. She knows I drink...whiskey? Sort of masculine. She knows I am butch and queer and appreciates that about me. None of my family or old friends would have guessed such a thing as they have too much history and knowledge. Typically, the shorter the time one knows someone, the more weight each comment or observation carries, if it is valued. There is a liberty in being perceived fresh and anew...and there is a comfort in being known for decades by those who love me. The former brings opportunity and exploration, new fodder for growth and reinvention, a weightless and fresh immediacy. The latter brings comfort, a sense of safety and familiarity. Each has it's unique brilliance.

The next day I told my brother about "sipping whiskey and reading Voltaire." I asked him what he would sip and read at midnight? "Wheat grass and Deepak Chopra," he lied. That's as believable as me sipping chardonnay and reading Bridal Magazine! My brother? A Fat Tire and Spin Magazine. There is no doubt. So what about you? What do you sip and read at midnight?

A Social Equation

mer + brother + indie rock show + The 500 Club = trouble

I formulated and solved this one all by myself!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

True Dat!

Some people follow their dreams, others hunt them down and beat them mercilessly into submission.

Neil Kendall

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Creative Avoidance, My Male Brain, and Getting Sir’d in DC

Creative avoidance…that’s what I call it. The joys of internet wanderlust… distracting and illuminating, the contemporary office-bound-procrastinator’s drug of choice. I have a stack of papers to grade, assignments to read, a lecture and an exam to prepare, two RFPs to sort out, two draft essays in progress, a poor excuse for the start of a novel, and a half written book proposal…all things vying for my attention. Yet today I found myself sitting at my desk in my office looking at a website that informed me I have a male brain. That’s right. According to the diagnostic test I took on a BBC website, I think like a man. And so I will continue to creatively avoid my work and prattle on a bit about what I learned.

The BBC worked with a bunch of shrinks who have developed various tests exploring the differences in the way men and women think. These tests are being used to conduct further research on the subject of brain sex differences. This hybrid test is available online for anyone to take and supposedly discover where they fall on the “male-female brain continuum.” If you want to take the test before reading more about it, go to:

The researchers present a continuum that starts at zero and goes to 100 on a female side and 100 on a male side. I scored 50 on the male side…this is the average score for men (the average score for women is 50 on the female side). I think and perceive certain things like the average man. Oh joy.

The first part of the test is the perception and comparison of angles. I have seen other experiments where women were asked to identify a plum line or a horizon line relative to another angled line. I watched as they failed miserably and the men got it with ease. I remember feeling uneasy about this…thinking I could do better but fearing I actually couldn’t. And for some reason I remember really caring about my potential performance and ability to spatially comprehend my world (I also remember reading about women having better digital dexterity which lead researchers to suggest they would be better at brain surgery….for some reason this didn’t bother me…hee hee). But back to the angles. I did the exercises and got every one right…20 out of 20. Yeah! As a sailor and navigator, activities that benefit greatly if one can distinguish horizons and differences in angles, I was elated. The average score for women: 13.3/20, and for men: 15.1/20.

Other fascinating things purported to make my brain male: my right thumb being dominant when I cross my hands, a long ring finger relative to my index finger (which indicates left brain dominance), a lack of sensitivity in noticing moved objects, the ability to identify 3D shapes in different positions, being attracted to feminine female faces, and the inclination to ask for money (take the test and this will all make sense).

But the part of the test I found most interesting was the section where I was asked to identify a persons emotions by looking at their eyes. I didn’t do so hot. I scored 5 out of 10. The average man scored 6.6. This result surprised me because I have actually actively studied facial expressions and their associated emotions.

Dr. Paul Ekman has spent many years studying facial muscles, expressions, and their associated emotions. He asserts that there is a universal correlation between human microexpressions and our emotional responses. Microexpressions are facial expressions that may last as little as a quarter of a second and reveal our initial emotional responses. According to Ekman’s research, these microexpressions are universal in their presentation, cannot be faked, and are the same for every human being. He has studied people from all over the world (including people from Papua New Guinea who have never been exposed to western culture). Ekman asserts that learning to read these fleeting microexpressions can help people better understand the emotional responses of people with whom they interact.

As part of his work Ekman has developed an interactive tool (available on CD) to develop one’s ability to read these microexpressions. He claims one can learn this stuff in an hour and I have found this to be true. A couple years ago I bought Ekman’s CD, took the diagnostic test and scored about 70%. I then did the tutorial and took another test. Within one hour my score rose to 97%. I was amazed. Recently I used this tool in a class I am teaching. Preparing for the class I took the test again (about two years since the first time). With no review I scored 96%. And when I used the tool during class, I watched as the students just as quickly developed their skills. Interestingly enough, contempt and disgust are the easiest to identify. My students came back the next week amazed at how much contempt and disgust they had not been seeing in their lives.

Despite the skills I supposedly cultivated using Ekman’s interactive CD, I scored poorly on this section of the sex-brain test which further solidified the notion that I think and perceive like a man.

But this isn’t the only time research has categorized me as male-ish. I remember in college taking a speech class where the teacher would often talk about male-female differences in communication. Once she told the class to freeze in their desks and then look around and see the differences in the way men and women occupied their seats. For the most part, the men took up more space, legs and arms spread open. The women kept their limbs closer in…took up less space. And then there was me, leaning back, legs stretched way out and open, arms up clasped behind my head. I had one of the most “masculine” postures in the class during that little experiment. The teacher pointed out that these are generalizations and not always applicable. But this was not the only time in the class I was the exception…and by the end of the semester the teacher would jokingly say, “Except for Marie, how many of you women have…yada yada yada.” I was almost always the exception to the generalized differences between men and women that were presented in class. What a shocker.

So all this got me to thinking about how much I have been “sir’d” lately. That’s what I call it when people call me “sir” despite the fact that I am female. A few months ago I was in Washington DC for work. Now I know the East Coast is more conservative than the west coast in many ways, including playing with gender, but DC was astonishingly clueless. I arrived in DC by train and jumped in a cab and headed towards the downtown Hilton. When the cab pulled up the doorman opened my door and said, “Welcome sir.” I nodded with a grin. I paid the cabbie, grabbed my bag, and headed to the counter to check in…”Hello sir. Welcome to the Hilton.” I handed the man my reservation paper which had my name on it. He looked at it and welcomed me again ending with “Mr. RainH20.” He hadn’t noticed that the paper had my full name, Marie RainH20. He hadn’t considered that most men are not named Marie. “One or two keys sir?” “One” I answered. He stood there prim and proper, providing extra respectful service, and utterly clueless that he was missing something. Grinning, I watched him work. He then came around the counter to hand me my key, explaining this and that, ending with, “Sir, the elevator to your floor is right this way. Have a wonderful evening sir.” I stood there with my hips and tits and ass, grinning….he never did figure it out. He thought I was a man. Perhaps he noticed the way I folded my hands…right thumb on top. Maybe he noticed my relatively long ring finger. Or the way I so adroitly perceived all those hotel lobby angles.

Half an hour later I am back in the lobby asking the concierge where to eat. Again, very prim and proper, he greets me with, “Good evening sir. How can I help you sir?” I ask him my questions about local restaurants and he starts to answer…and then I see the recognition emerge. He softens a bit, embarrassment fueling a new eagerness to be helpful to me…and then he bids me a sir-less goodnight.

Now for the latest mystery I am grappling with regarding my manish-male-brained self. I have a personals profile on the website and a valued feature lets me see who has viewed my profile. Lately, straight women have been checking out my page with baffling frequency. This mystifies me…women who clearly state they are looking for relationships with men. I don’t understand since I clearly state that I am looking for connections with women….oh, and I also disclose that I am, in fact, a woman. It puzzles me because any search they would initiate looking for men would filter me out. Are they somehow picking up on and following my very male-brained ways and jumping across the dyke/straight divide?

Anyway, my work beckons and I am now guilting myself into responding. Thanks for reading.

Mr. RainH20

Monday, July 7, 2008

Further Confirmation That I Am Not An Intellectual

An intellectual is a person who has discovered something more interesting than sex.

Aldous Huxley

Sunday, July 6, 2008

From "No Profanity" to Mayhem…and One Not So Graceful Exit

It took only seconds to realize we had made a terrible mistake. My brother Jimmy and I looked at each other as the lights went down in the basement theatre off Union Square …. “this ain’t right” we said to each other without speaking.

The night started out promising, Jimmy and I both happy to head to the city for some dinner and theatre. We quickly scanned the last minute half-price tickets. Sam Sheppard? No, not in the mood for depressing. No musicals, on this Jimmy and I agreed. So we ended up with some obscure little six-acts, two actors, two chairs, one-door and no intermission-thingy. Could be interesting. But it was off Union Square…not the Mission. We should have known.

We showered, dressed, jumped in the Mini and zipped to the city. Before the show we stumbled into some fancy steak house bar and had oysters and salads and talked movies and conjectured as to why a beautiful woman dining next to us (with two well dressed fags) kept staring at us. Who knows.

Soon enough we were sitting in our theatre seats reading the program which bragged that the six acts were written targeting “general audiences everywhere” and had “no profanity.” They had this in the program…as a selling point! Shit-fuck-damn! They aren’t gonna cuss? They’re targeting middle-America? Eighty-five minutes long? No intermission? Jimmy and I look at each other…a mild panic rising. I chastise Jimmy for picking seats far from the door complicating our escape. Fuck.

Then the lights went down and it was just awful. Really really awful! Jimmy and I looking at each other in the dark whispering “When should we leave? Can we slip out after the first act? I don’t know, maybe we should stay for two acts?” More awfulness unfolds on stage. Mercifully, the first act ends then the lights go out for the “set” change. Shit, we can’t see a thing. How are we gonna get outta here? Lights go back on and we are into act two. Jimmy can’t stand it anymore…he leans into me and unambiguously asserts, “We ARE leaving after act two.” Ok Jimmy, I am with ya buddy. We are in the front row and we study the landscape so we know where to go when the theatre goes dark again.

Act two ends and the lights go out. We jump up and shuffle blindly across the theatre to what we think is the exit….shit, the door is locked! My god! They’ve locked us in this basement! Wait, that’s not the door we came in…we can’t see a damn thing. There are four doors, I grope for another one. Nope, locked. Jimmy tries a third door…it opens. We start to go through…wait! It’s an elevator! Shit. Now the stage lights are on…act three is starting….we’ve become a spectacle banging around trying to free ourselves from this maze of a theatre. I push through the last door…the lobby! Thank god! We quickly climb the stairs…we get to the top and open the door. Behind it there is a closed gate! My god, they have truly locked us in here! I push on the gate. It gives. Jimmy and I walk briskly down the hall and onto Sutter Street and start laughing.

Now this has been a mildly entertaining evening so far, but it is early and Jimmy and I ponder what to do. How about a movie? We grab a Guardian and look at our options. Gonzo, a Hunter S. Thompson documentary, or Savage Grace? Both are dark and debauched. Fitting we thought since the awful play had no cussing….lets swing the pendulum real wide. We agree on Savage Grace. We get to the theatre early, pick the best seats and wait. An older couple comes in right after the movie starts and sits directly behind us. The old man keeps talking and loudly hacking up phlegm. Again, Jimmy and I look at each other in the dark…are you fucking kidding me people? We move, stretch out in the handicap seats in the last row…much roomier.

We then proceed to watch the true story (spoiler alert if you wanna see this one) of a really rich family where the father leaves the mother for the gay sons young girlfriend and then the mother fucks the son’s male lover and the son at the same time…then the mother fucks just the son and then she tries to kill herself but the son saves her…mother and son continue to fuck until the son stabs and kills the mother. But wait. He’s not done yet. The son spends years in a mental institution for the criminally insane but then gets out and goes to live with his murdered mother’s mother whom he also stabs within one week of his arrival. But wait, it’s still not over. He goes to prison and then kills himself. Now it’s over. We swung the pendulum wide indeed. There was definitely cussing…and much, much more. Too much more.

After the movie we head towards the parking garage. Confused, we stand in front of a non-responsive elevator for some time before figuring out it doesn’t go down to our floor. Seems we are still struggling with exists. We both resist the urge to go to the 500 Club and have a drink. We go home and Jimmy has one beer and goes to bed. I sit down and start writing.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Tales From the Bungalow

Jimmy is an awesome roommate and often puts the clean dishes away...but where he puts them I know not. Hmmm...where would I put the vegetable steamer if I were Jimmy? Or the salad tongs? Smiling, I patiently search the kitchen...

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Freaked Out By Google Earth!

For the past couple years I have heard people refer to Google Earth and what an amazing website it is...but I paid little attention. Years ago I had poked around on the USGS satellite site and figured it was a similar thing...decades old high-altitude satellite shots of the rooftops and city streets. I thought "been there done that" it has taken until today for me to venture onto Google Earth. Well, what a bloody shock it was to find out that there is the high-up plan view of my rooftop...but there is also a closeup of my house! Taken June 2007! And not only can I see my house but I panned around to see my neighbors houses and down my street. I was astonished!

As I spewed expletives and stared at the screen my brother was in the room and sarcastically asked me where I had been for the last few years. He explained that a fleet of big vans rigged with wide-angle-lensed-cameras drive around photographing our world and posting it onto the web for all to see.

I ventured to the marina where my boat is berthed. I found my was empty. A June day...I was out sailing. Then I panned to the parking lot and saw where my little mini was parked.

Ok, that is fucking freaky. For many reasons. The world is shrinking from such technology while it simultaneously isolates many of us, relegating many relationships to being virtual...we no longer smell, touch, see, hear each other if we don't want to. Professionally I am being called upon to do more and more online facilitation....tethered to my phone by a headset, staring at a computer screen while someone miles away edits. All this technology is liberating in some ways but I ponder the costs.

For some reason this whole discovery leaves me feeling a bit unsettled and I am not completely sure why. Perhaps I fear that the next time the van comes I might be innocently sunbathing nude in my front yard or some such thing. But I think it is much deeper than that.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I Love Michael Tallon's writing...

...because he writes things like this, a crafty, scathing critique of pampered, over-educated hippies in his Guatemalan bar professing an ignorant and ahistorical cultural relativism regarding Guatemala's chicken buses. My friend, Mike, the Surly Bartender, was havin' none of it! He rants:

Pathetically and predictably, the hippies in the back [of the bus] took the opportunity to flaunt both their arrogance and their ignorance by shouting the oldies down, arguing, I guess, that driving like a fucking sociopath is part of the “cultural heritage of Guatemala.” The Hippies said that to ask the driver to slow down was “cultural imperialism” of the worst kind. How dare they! Fascists.

That sent the Surly Bartender over the top. This, in essence, is what I screamed at them:

Listen up, you hacky-sacked pack of jackasses! Hurling an ancient school bus from the United States down a poorly constructed highway at Mach II is not a manifestation of an ancient Mayan tradition. It is the logical and predictable consequence of the “free market” taken to its extreme.

In his essay, Mike goes on to historically, economically, and politically situate the notorious chicken buss phenomenon - the overcrowding, the insane speeding and whatnot. He clearly and incisively links decades of exploitative US foreign and economic policies in Central America, and the brightly colored buses that cheaply and aggressively move Guatemalans (and the occasional ignorant hippy) all over the country everyday. And later in his essay he notes:

The Chicken Bus system of Guatemala is as free and unfettered a market as one might find anywhere in the world. It is what the shills of corporate globalization champion. It is the tell-tale stain on the bed linens after a neo-con’s wet dream.

I love Mike's writing because he is really fucking smart - he makes the connections and communicates them in concise and sardonic language - his commentary is biting, heartbreaking, and bitter-sweetly entertaining all at once.

And I love Mike, the man, the Surly Bartender, - not just because he is smart and can write. I love him cause he gives a shit. He calls himself the Surly Bartender...but it is just a veneer, a laminate over a hardwood of idealism and hope. He gives a shit in the face of so many reasons not to. He harbors hope while knowing so much of what is so horrible to know.

He hails from New York City, but now lives in Guatemala, a country that is struggling with the unimaginable hangover of a 35+ year "civil war." A place where any past political stability rested on a cornerstone of exploitation and repression largely linked to US policies and intervention. He lives in a country where, with the help of western activists and forensic scientists, Mayan families in the jungles of the Peten are working to identify and reclaim the bodies of their dead relatives slaughtered and buried in mass graves. He lives in a country of endemic poverty, high crime, and inept and corrupt "civic institutions"....and these circumstances continue to be hugely informed by the practice and residue of unconscionable US policies.

Mike lives in Antigua, Guatemala....and there he drinks, he talks, and he writes. And I have sat across the bar from this man, talking for hours, drinking and smoking and discovering a common language...a common sensibility...and in the end, a common idealism and a seemingly unjustified hope.

In another essay, Mike laments the passing of one of his favorite writers, Kurt Vonnegut. His piece starts with him at the bar listening to a young couple fresh from the states ready to do good and change the world.

It is good that these kids are willing to dedicate their spirits to what is most certainly a losing game, because the only causes worth fighting for are the lost ones....[sic] My only hope is that they do so with the wisdom of men like Vonnegut whispering in their ears.

He sits and thinks cynical things and then shifts...channelling the wisdom of Vonnegut: hopeless. Be completely, utterly hopeless. But make it a hopelessness of your own design.
Off the shelf hopelessness – the kind you get by watching too much television, or hanging out with pious assholes – is a poorly woven hair-shirt; it is a bed of nails. Instead, take Kurt’s implicit advice and look at this world, and your own frail body. Know that the world-wide and centuries long forces of greed, avarice, violence and injustice are beyond your abilities to remove or repair.

And then set to removing them and repairing them anyway.

We’re all in a sinking boat, but the stars look beautiful tonight. Bail.

Be what Kurt showed us we could be: positive nihilists.

This shit breaks my heart because I totally relate. The inherent and intellectually irreconcilable tension between reasons for hopelessness and hope...and god damn it, I remain hopeful. Even after liberating myself somewhat from the yoke of my early western education, the barrage of disinformation presented in a historical vacuum - the simplistic narratives with the neat and clean arc and resolution of half-hour sitcoms.

The other day I read Mike's latest essays in La Cuadra and thought to myself, "I went to Antigua and met a little slice of my conscious. His name is Mike Tallon." And when I put on a clean shirt, go to the city and eat something delicate and self-consciously prepared in some urbane restaurant...there's Mike, among others, sitting on my shoulder tap-tap-tapping on my conscious, "don't ever forget all that you've learned...and enjoy your dinner."

The first night I stumbled into the Surly Bartender's bar and started drinking in what would become a long, liquor-soaked evening of disclosure and waxing philosophical, I heard Mike say to someone, "It is amazing how water finds it's own level." I looked at him and asked what he was referring to...."you being here," was his response. I'd known Mike a couple of hours and yet I knew of what he spoke. When people meet thousands of miles from home and recognize in each other something that transcends the can I already love this man I have known for only a couple of hours? I stop myself. It doesn't matter, Mer. Don't let your analysis get in the way of truth. Be wise enough to just accept it. And so I did. I smiled and nodded. Indeed Mike.

Mike, keep hoping and writing buddy. Keep challenging us to do something hopeful in the face of hopelessness. Keep writing for me and the many others you continue to challenge, touch, and inspire. We'll all be the better for it.


The essays quoted above appear in La Cuadra and are titled:

On the Chicken Buss, by Michael Tallon
God Bless You Mr. Vonnegut, by Michael Tallon

Read them online:

To read the state departments perspective on crime in Guatemala visit:,+guatemala&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=3&gl=us

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Horoscopes for Barflies

This astrological insight is written by Mr. Snuggles and the advice appears in the magazine La Cuadra which is published by my really fucking smart mescal-making-and-drinking buddies in Antigua. The mag is a wonderful mix of history, political and cultural commentary, unadulterated irreverence, and drunken humor...and Michael Tallon's writing always moves me (more on this soon). But for now, at the risk of being sued for copyright infringement, I give you my faves from the latest issue:

We just figured we'd be the first to tell you that the cool new Chinese character tattoo you got does not mean "strength." Idiot!
(I am an Aquarius and have decided to avoid Chinese character tattoos!)

After a night of wild partying, you'll finally find a safe place to lay your head. On the reassuring, cool and piss stained linoleum of your bathroom floor.
(My ex is a Taurus...hmm)

Don't believe what inspirational speakers tell you. Your dreams suck. Follow someone else's.
( for thought!)

There are times in your life when it seems like everything is possible - true love, compassion, chocolate covered mittens, giant buildings shaped like lava lamps. Remember, during these times you are very very stoned.

I am sure some will find these little bits of wisdom puerile, but then, such folks are probably not barflies. And they probably don't know Mr. Snuggles. I think they are hilarious...and I read them sober.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Deep Questions

Spent a day walking around the Mission in San Francisco. You never know how or when the deep epistemological questions are going to present themselves....

I Was Attacked by An Agave Cactus!

The little fucker plunged one of it’s spines about a half an inch into my knee causing some dramatic looking blood loss and a swollen softball sized bruise! But I reckon I should start from the beginning.

I am not a gardener. I actually have a rather brown thumb. For this reason I have always appreciated cacti and succulents…they thrive if you leave them alone and I am really good at that. But every spring I give the nursery some of my money and come home with some plants and flowers to brighten the yard for the BBQ season. And so it was last weekend….me and the marigolds and a big bag of potting soil.

Towards the end of my once-a-year gardening day I was innocently putting some new flowers into a pot. This pot sits next to a large spiny plant that usually causes me no trouble at all. I ignore him for the most part…I occasionally look his way with a fleeting sense of appreciation….but I rarely go near him. He has his little corner, I have the house and yard. Seems fair. But this day I needed to get to the empty pot next to him to fill it with flowers. Well for some reason the spiny dude chose to stab me viciously with one of his stiff sharp spines. It fucking hurt!

At the time of the attack I was holding root-balls and was covered in dirt and sweat so I decided to just let the wound bleed and deal with it after my chores. The blood poured out for a bit and then stopped. Cool. I finished the potting, watering, cleaning up, and headed to the shower to scrub the dirt and dried blood off my body. I got dressed for dinner in the City and forgot about the attack and the spiny dude.

Had a wonderful dinner at Range with my buddy Jill and afterward we ambled into an art studio on Valencia to have a look. Walking about after a couple of hours sitting for dinner, I suddenly became aware that my knee was aching. I leaned down and felt it through my jeans…it had swelled up. I pulled up my pants and saw a giant bruise and the bull’s-eye hole in the middle where the spine had breached my flesh. Shit. Jill looked at the spectacle, made a face and said, “oh my god Mer!” I immediately went to the bathroom and dropped my drawers praying I would not find giant reds streaks crawling up my leg towards my heart! Nope. All clear. Just one motherfucker of a bruise.

So Monday I am in Auburn facilitating a meeting with all sorts of scientist-y people. At lunch we are gabbing about this and that and somehow I work in the story of the cactus attack. I show them my leg and most everyone is thoroughly grossed out by the sight of my huge bruise. It was dramatic. One of my scientist-y friends (a herpetologist…if you don’t know what they do, look it up…they are often particularly fond of frogs) sends me a note suggesting that the offending plant is an agave cactus. I go to google images. Mother fucker! I was attacked by an agave cactus I have had for years and never knew was agave! So why is this so significant to me? Read on.

I have been drinking tequila and mescal for probably close to 30 years. Not everyday. Not every week. But I have probably had at least a couple shots a year since the start. And just for the record, the early days often involved driving 3 hours south to the border to Tijuana where my under-aged-self bought $2 bottles of mescal, the ones with the worm at the bottom (now I drink top shelf stuff!). And late last year I ventured south to Antigua, Guatemala, where I met a scrappy gang of dudes (and a couple of chicks) who have an over-the-top affection for mescal. And they can drink a lot of it….in one night.…and then the next night. They so enjoy this libation that they started their own label, Ilegal Mezcal.

When I was down there, I too drank a lot of mescal and tequila. And most nights, I paced and held my own. After all, I have had some experience. Or so I thought. Perhaps I got a little cocky….maybe just a little. Maybe I needed a little humbling. Maybe I wasn’t ready to play with the big-boys….at least not full time.

Of course my last night in Antigua was spent at Café No Se sipping and shooting mescal with my new best friends. Because this was my last night, folks were quite eager to buy me a shot and make toasts…to new friendships, good booze, smart folks….whatever. They bought me a lot of shots. We made a lot of toasts. And at about 2:30am I suddenly realized I wasn’t right. The feeling was unmistakable…Mer, get to the head ASAP! Until that night I had thrown up from alcohol exactly three times and all three times I was sober, had drank beer on an unsettled stomach, and was a teenager. And so it was early that morning in the Café No Se bathroom I broke a 27 year no-vomit-from-booze streak. Humbling.

Now, why the hell am I rambling on about my history of boozing with tequila and mescal? Well, if you don’t know this already, these two spirits are made with the agave cacti. So I am now considering all this context and history. I am trying to assign meaning to this incident of attack by an agave cactus I never knew I had and is used to make spirits I have drank for decades. What does it all mean? Why did the spiny dude attack me? Is it divine retribution for drinking too much? For indirectly participating in the killing of fellow cacti? Was this little incident reminding me to get my ass back to Antigua ASAP? To drink more tequila? (Also recently recommended by my doctor…but that’s another story). Maybe the little guy just wanted more attention and was acting out? Well, despite the metaphysical meanings I have yet to discern and/or decide on, the story doesn’t end here.

So back to my frog-loving-scientist-y friend. After I show her my disgusting bruise and wound and tell the story, she looks at me quizzically and says, “Why don’t you just prune the spines off?” For fucks sakes! Told you I wasn’t a gardener! So today my little spiny pal lost his spines. I cut those little buggers right off. And then I reminded my little pal that he did not need them in my yard anyway…no predators. Besides, I noted, I am the one who waters his sorry ass a couple times a year when the rains stop! So I think we have reached a truce. But one thing is for sure, I will never again forget he is there. He now stands out…even without his spines. And he has made his mark….and apparently it will be around for a couple of weeks. This is what I found describing the affects of an agave cactus stabbing:

If the skin is pierced deeply enough, by the needle-like ends of the leaf from a vigorously growing plant, this can also cause blood vessels in the surrounding area to erupt and an area some 6-7cm across appear to be bruised. This may last up to two to three weeks.

I got out the tape measure. Three and one quarter inches my bruise measured. That converts to 8.3 centimeters. That fucker went in deep!

Well, I think I will go pour myself a shot of old spiny’s cousins….and maybe check on flights to Guatemala….


Spiny dude before pruning. Notice lovely flowers to the right?

Spiny dude after pruning...not so spiny anymore!

Close up of spiny dudes weapons. Damn!

Now, go check out this video of Chris Walken, a plant-phobic gardener who uses googly eyes to manage his fears.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Tales From the Bungalow

Jimmy and I out for a drink on Friday night. I pick him up at Ben 'n Nicks where he has landed after an REM concert. He's got a head start. We head to the Lucky Lounge. Too many home boys and our black boots and 501s don't mix with all the baggy pants and white tennis shoes. It's not our scene. We check out The Ally. But this neighborhood tavern/piano bar was positively geriatric...not saying that is inherently a problem, but we weren't in the mood. So we end up at the gay bar around the corner. A couple Coronas and a shot of tequila poured by a lovely and flirty bartender who matches me with a toast and a squeeze of lime. Jimmy gets chatted up by a switch-hitter....women love him, even in gay bars.

We get home late and Jimmy is lit and starving. He makes scrambled eggs and toasts a piece of bread over the stove flame while drunkenly cursing me for not owning a toaster. He gets eggs on the floor I just mopped...I watch him from the deck, laughing. Cosmo eats the fallen eggs and Jimmy eats his fare from a paper towel while I make fun of him (I DO own plates!). Here are a couple shots I took of the action at the bungalow at 2:30 in the morning.

Cosmo always hoping for mistakes made by human-food-handlers...Jimmy proves fruitful tonight!
I like this captures something I can't find words for. Took the pics with no flash and I like the blurring affect and the lighting that resulted. The kitchen shot flooded by the track light....the porch shot, Jimmy silhouetted by the kitchen light juxtaposed with the yellow porch light. It speaks something of the mood of the night.

And the parting shot, a tribute to Jimmy's ineffable good nature. Breakfast of champions! Of course none of these shots can capture the crude hilarious conversation taking place at the is a strange little middle-aged-queer-straight-family-bachelor pad Jimmy and I are creating!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Post Script

I fixed the boat. Replaced the fuel filters, cleaned the separator globe, bled the fuel she is purring like a diesel-kitten.

And I bought a new VHF handheld purported to be an order of magnitude better than the one I already owned. Next time I need help, hopefully my transmission will be heard and I won't have to talk to some ditz in Virginia!

When You Dance With the San Francisco Bay, She Leads

There is this old adage, “Want to make god laugh? Tell him your plans.” The same could be said about the SF Bay. But let me start by sharing a little about the superstitions of maritime culture. I have read a bit of history regarding the last few hundred years of sailing….European sailing during the age of world exploration. A time before engines and the reliable clocks needed to calculate longitude. A time when getting a fix on a ships position would include taking sextant sights on a bucking square rigger and then spending the entire day doing a series of extremely complex trigonometry equations to get a rough and often unreliable estimated position. It has been written that during this time when a ship left the sight of land, sailors were basically lost. Even after a reliable clock was invented in the mid 1700’s sailors had to follow the trade winds, navigate without charts, work in unimaginably harsh conditions, eating shitty food, often suffering from scurvy, enduring the often brutal and absolute command of the captain. So it is not surprising that this culture gave rise to a rich and enduring set of superstitions…many of which influence sailors to this day.

These superstitions include: avoid flat-footed people when beginning a trip; never start a cruise on a Friday (I have read stories of contemporary sailors who have violated this one and believe they have paid a price!); always place a silver coin under the mast to ensure a successful voyage (just talked to a couple today who told me about the silver dollar they placed under their mast when they recently had it re-stepped); flowers and bananas are unlucky on board; it is unlucky to board a ship with the left foot first….and it is worse if you also sneeze to the left while doing so. In the North of England, during the caulking of a wooden boat a shipwright could claim a ‘caulking kiss’ from any passing girl. If she refused him, she had to pay a shilling (never tried this when doing my caulking…don’t know if it is honored in the SF Bay or on fiberglass boats).

Sailors have also always regarded the naked body of a woman as a luck-bringer, whether in reality or in the form of an effigy (well, I have had it both ways…sometimes lucky, sometimes not). And of course whistling aboard ship is supposed to invoke an adverse wind, which could harm the ship and crew. There are more, many more. And pervasive among contemporary sailors, good sailors, is a profound respect for the power of wind and sea. You are the guest, the sea is boss, be respectful and humble, and don’t tempt fate.

Day One
So fast forward to May 2008. It was about 11am and Val and I readied the boat for a sail, taking off the sail covers, tying the sheets to the jib, donning life vests, turning on the battery and instruments, starting the engine. It was warm and I was in shorts and a light jacket as we motored out of the marina and into the channel towards the Bay…the two of us chatting about where to go. The predictions called for mellow tides and currents and so we decided to head for the gate. It wasn’t an hour later that the wind predictably increased and things got cold…soon I was below putting on my foulies and a fleece. Maybe 20 knots…typical.

Val can sail, so despite the increasing winds we kept heading west beating into the wind, the waves and chop gaining height and intensity. West past Alcatraz we were in 25 knots. Again, typical. We both love all points of sail, the quiet calm of a broad reach and the noisy dramatic splash-filled ride of beating into the wind. Undaunted we kept heading west.

We gabbed and gabbed about sailing and life. Val is a butch dyke, 10 years my senior. I taught her to sail a couple of summers ago and she has taken classes and improved her proficiency. Usually we start out talking about sailing and boats and then move onto the subject of grrls when we hit Alcatraz (Val and I have logged a lot of hours together on the Bay and we have noticed this pattern). Suddenly Val’s attention moved beyond our conversation….she noted that the fog was moving in under the gate, moving at a quick clip. Yep. I looked around and noticed we were also getting flanked by the fog as it creeped over the city behind us, moving towards the space between us and my marina in Emeryville. Hmmm...noted. Then I made a stupid error….I unknowingly taunted the gods. I simply said, “Ya know, in all my years sailing the Bay I have never been caught in fog thick enough where I couldn’t get where I was going.” Val looked at me…you shouldn’t say that right now. Mer, I exclaimed in my head, what the fuck were your thinking! Keep your pie-hole shut! Don’t casually make such stupid observations while in the middle of the Bay in 25+ knots of wind with the fog booking in. Just don’t do that! It was too late. My fate was sealed.

Change of plans. Lets duck behind Angel Island. We’ll keep good wind. Great. We fell off the wind, adjusted the sails and settled into a calmer rhythm of a beam reach….then a broad reach. It was sunny and easy sailing as we cruised through Raccoon Straight between the mainland of Tiburon and Angel Island. We could no longer see the gate as we emerged east of the island….it was sunny and warm. Then we looked south. Fog. Dark ominous fog so thick we could no longer see the Bay Bridge, downtown Oakland, SF, Treasure Island….all of it obscured. Val and I looked at each other and contemplated what to do.

We talked it over and agreed to go for it….to make our way through the fog back to the marina. We headed towards the closest channel marker and figured a compass course to the next one. Red 6 channel marker. Yep, we know where we are. Headed to the next one….we were back in the slot. The wind was gusting to over 30 knots. We were over powered….too much sail up. I went to start the engine to pull into the wind to furl the jib….the engine sputtered and died. Oh shit. We can’t get the jib down. I lost steerage….shit. Wait for the sails to fill….steering again we bucked too fucking close to the buoy…almost hit it. We can’t see anything to the south…all of sudden a ship as big as a building heading north pops through the fog to the west. This is insane. We could head north to Richmond and duck into the sunny Marina Bay. We agreed that we could fight it all, but why? We turned the boat around, got behind the island again…the winds moderated and we headed NNW towards Richmond. At the Richmond harbor the engine started and kept running. Thank god.

At the dock at Marina Bay a couple of little kids sat on the stairs looking down at my boat. They saw the Jolly Roger flag blowing on my stern flagpole…is that a pirate ship they asked with sweet innocence. That’s my boat. They gasped, are you a pirate? Yep. They stared at me wide-eyed and stunned. Just kidding guys, it’s just for fun, I don’t steal. I walked away feeling the hypocrite….the Bay had just kicked my sorry ass, had me fleeing north with my tail between my legs. Pirate? Hardly.

Val and I put the boat away and took a cab to Emeryville. Exhausted, we bid each other a goodnight. I called Jimmy. You’re sailing tomorrow buddy, we gotta get my boat home.

Day Two
Next day Jimmy and I sleep in, are lazy, get a late start. We get to the marina mid-day. Shit. The fog is already in thick and dark. We drive to the point and look north…the fog is still high above the water. We can see through to Richmond. We drop Jimmy’s car at my marina and haul ass to Marina Bay and ready the boat. We head outta the harbor and the wind is already strong. Into the main channel of the Bay we are beating into strong waves…the ride is rough. Into the slot, we are now into gusts above 30 knots. It’s noisy and physical…waves crashing over the bow, showering us. Again, we decide to drop the jib to get more control, reduce our power. I go to start the engine to pull the boat into the wind….she won’t start. Sputtering…again and again we try. I instruct Jimmy to go below, open the engine compartment, try to prime the engine….pump the fuel line. He does it. Nothing. She won’t work.

We are now seeing gusts close to 40 knots. That is really fucking windy. To someone who has never sailed it is hard for me to describe the noise and intensity of the experience. And when you are in charge of the boat, well, the experience is exponentially more intense.

Jimmy is nervous…but I suddenly realize that doesn’t matter. Jimmy, the boat is hard to control. I need to be at the helm. You have to go forward and fight the jib in while I steer….that is the safest option at this point. You have to do it. He understands that I am right despite his fear. He trusts me. I am not negotiating or playing nice…there is not time for that. I am the captain in charge of our safety and I have made the decision and he understands. I talk him through what he needs to do. Release the halyard and then rush towards the bow on your knees. Stay low, hold on, and pull the jib in at the stay. It will be noisy and chaotic and hard because the wind will fight your efforts….so move quickly. I turn the boat into the wind…we are bucking violently into the waves…the bow crashing through them. Jimmy heads to the mast, releases the halyard, crawls towards the bow. I am screaming directions…he fights the sail in…he’s being tossed about. He finally ties down the sail…secures the halyard again…crawls back to the cockpit. He’s soaked but safe…he is breathing hard…he rests and regains some composure. I tell him he did good….he rallied. This is not fun. For either of us.

Next I radio Vessel Assist to send a boat to tow us into the marina. I am on my handheld VHF radio and the local captain can’t hear me well…can’t hear my position. He tells me to use my cell and call central dispatch. I do. A woman in Virginia answers and asks me if I have my membership number. Fuck no! I am in the cockpit helming my boat in 35 knot winds! I am pissed. She takes my name…she fumbles around…putting me on hold…asking how to spell Emeryville. She is clueless. Tells me the boat is coming from Bethel Island! Are you kidding me? That’s hours up the delta! I know she is wrong. I know the skipper comes from Alameda. She gives an hour ETA. I hang up. I hope he is coming. We wait, sailing back and forth into the intense winds….holding a position far enough off shore to stay safe. It is cold, rough, noisy. We are hungry and exhausted. Alas I think I see Captain Gary heading under the Bay Bridge. I call on the radio and ask if that is his position. Affirmative. I say I am just off his port-bow with a reefed-mainsail up. Roger. He sees me. We’re safe now. I sail towards the channel with Gary following on my quarter. At last he says he’s gonna tow us through the channel instead of coming along side….too rough. We’ll raft up to you in the harbor. Roger. His deckhand tosses the lines, Jimmy secures them. A half hour later we are in my slip where it is relatively calm.

We start cleaning up the Donna Clare…the mess in the cabin, putting the sail covers on, hosing her off, hosing each other off in our foulies, washing off the saltwater. We settle into the cabin changing into our land clothes. We debrief. Jimmy looks at me seriously and asks if I could have picked him up if he had fallen in while fighting the jib. Probably not. Not without hurting him. It was too rough. I explain I would have circled him…thrown him the life sling to keep him tethered to the boat….called mayday…waited for the coast guard to pluck him up. Clipping him into a halyard and winching him up would have beat him up…would be safer to wait for the coasties. Their response time would probably have been 10 mintes. We were close to the station. He nods.

The Bay is cold….low 50sF. Depending on the individual response one could stay conscious for 30 to 90 minutes if they stayed still, didn’t panic, conserved their heat. One could easily die within an hour or two of immersion. Jimmy knows what to do. We have gone over it many times. If you go in, you will immediately start hyperventilating. Let it happen. Don’t fight it. It will last about two minutes and then stop. Your job is to curl up and let your vest float you. Don’t move. Don’t swim. Conserve your energy/heat. Let help come to you.

I tell Jimmy the steaks are on me. We go home and take hot showers and head to Quinns, a lighthouse bar and grill on the Oakland Inner Harbor...a place of brass and wood and model boats. We often go here after a sail. It's fitting. We watch the sunset over the boats all safely nestled in their slips. I think back….did I greet a flatfooted soul before the weekend? Did I whistle? Did I board with my left foot? Sneeze to the left? No bananas or flowers on board…of this I am sure.

There is another sailing adage I heard years ago and it is burned into my sailor-mind because it is as concise as it is true: you can learn to sail in an afternoon, but it takes a lifetime to learn seamanship. I am a humble student. I think back on the weekend…I could have made different choices. Could have hid behind the island and hove to…tried to bleed the fuel line underway. Could have tried sailing into the marina…but I don’t feel skilled enough for this. Could have headed back towards Richmond…but I had a busy week ahead and that would mean a week as a guest at the marina.

Another rule of thumb for sailing: never sail on a schedule. It leads to poor decisions. I have read many accounts of this one in action. When I invite people to come sailing they will often naively ask if I can have them back to the dock by say 4:00pm sharp. I smile. Nope. Can’t promise that. I am not that good of a sailor…and when you dance with the Bay, she leads. There are too many variables. I offer that the odds are really good that I can have them back by the end of the day…by boat or by cab. But ya never really know....

Friday, May 16, 2008

Friday, May 16, 2008

It is 190 degrees in my office, there are 7 million bugs in the house and the yard….agressive spiders are multiplying and plotting an attack on humans, the dogs are shedding 3 pounds of fur an hour, I am suffering from heat exhaustion…and every homo in California is getting married except me! And, well, the whole situation has me on a hyperbole bender…

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

“Oh boy…”

This is not something you wanna hear uttered from the mouth of your doctor! But today, that’s exactly what was said as Dr. Bruce rubbed my back, felt my spine and shoulders….”oh boy.” Of course I started laughing and explaining that these were not reassuring words to hear. Bruce is a kind man, a gay man, a family man with strong, confident hands and a quirky sense of humor. Our appointments are always a nice blend of me moaning and the both of us giggling….me confessing my self-abuses, Bruce counseling me, giving me instructions for stretches and telling me what I already know and need only get better about practicing. So after he opined about how bad my back looked, we got to talking about the things you don’t ever wanna hear your doctor say, like “woops” or “it’s bad” or “oh boy” (with a sigh).

This of course led me to share one of the most unusual compliments I ever received. Last year I had to have surgery to remove an ovary because of a cyst. It was done laprascopically and I had the strange privilege of getting pictures of the procedure….pictures from the inside. I took these strange photos with me to my appointment with my regular doctor, Beth. Beth studied the photos and without looking up said, “You have very nice looking insides.” I said, “Beth are you kidding me?” “No! You have very healthy looking insides.” Of course I laughed and also felt good that my doctor was telling me my guts looked healthy.

When I shared this story Bruce laughed and said, “ baby! You could probably attract a doctor!” I cracked the fuck up! So now I am sitting here pondering the wisdom of adding to my personals profile one or two glossy’s of my guts. Hmmm.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Jimmy Move's Into the Castle...Now the King has a Jester!

We did the math, it’s been almost 20 years since we last lived together. We were kids then, technically adults, but we were really just kids sorting our lives, trying to figure out how to move through the world without the comfort and company of our dear mother.

I have known Jimmy his whole life, and he has known me for his whole life…and I have known only a few young years without him. I remember my mother being pregnant with the twins, Jimmy and Lauri. She was a petite woman, maybe 5’4” and 120 pounds…but she was as a big as a house with those two little ones nestled inside her. It was early June 1968 when the doctor finally heard two heartbeats….twins. That explained why she was so big. Ten days later they were born 6 weeks early (typical for twins). Jimmy came out first, the older brother by 15 minutes. Laurs lingered a bit. Premature, they had to stay in the hospital for a week in incubators….weighing only a couple-three pounds each. I remember going to the hospital, to the garden outside where one at a time my father lifted Juls and I up to the window so we could peer into the nursery and catch our first glimpse of our little brother and sister.

I taught Jimmy how to play sports, football, baseball, basketball….rough games of smear-the-queer (hey, I wasn’t socially conscious when my age was a single digit). I kicked his ass, taught him how to ride a skateboard, a bike….and I played sergeant to his private, he and the other little boys my little platoon. I also gave Jimmy a hard time. He was a little goober with a lazy eye that had him in thick glasses with a patch over one eye. He wore his pants up near his armpits with his belt pulled so tight we called him Sinbad-the-Sailor (after the Saturday morning cartoon caricature). He would neurotically rub his head on his bed and make a snarled mess of his hair and my mother would brush it out as he protested with loud cries and screams. He was sensitive and we teased him relentlessly.

Jimmy and I were friends for a long time, until we weren’t. He was in high school and I am not sure what all informed it, but we had a split. Home was a complex mesh of comfort, familiarity, pathology…..alcoholism, my dad’s inability to connect or be kind. I took the brunt of my dad’s criticism and antagonism, but Jimmy was not that far behind. We were rough around the edges then, tough, angry….Jimmy and I more alike than not in our sensitivity and emotion and neurosis. I remember the day we stopped talking…we fought, although I don’t remember about what. He was insulting me, mean-below-the-belt insults, sitting on the stairs, baiting me, saying “why don’t you just hit me? Come up here and hit me! Right now!” We were yelling. My mom was there….I looked at her and with controlled rage said, “you better tell your son to shut his fucking mouth before I come up there and hit him…cause he’s big now and I will hit him hard so he doesn’t get up.” She told Jimmy to shut his mouth. I turned and left. After that Jimmy and I didn’t talk for a year. We lived together, but we didn’t talk.

My mom finally decided to get sober and insisted we all go to some family therapy session together. We did. We all sat in that little room with couches and pillows to hug, the seven of us, wanting to be supportive but also sighing and trying not to look too interested. Mike, the counselor, asked my mom what she needed from the family for support for her sobriety. The first thing she said, “I want Marie and Jimmy to start talking to each other again.” Jimmy and I looked at each other, shrugged and said, “ok.” We’ve pretty much been the best of friends ever since.

I have always been the big sister. The tough big sister. Jimmy has always been the antithesis of macho. He was born a skinny dude and has had the experience in life that comes with that biology and being male. His strategy has always been to lay low, don’t confront, make people laugh instead. When he would hear a scary noise in the backyard at night, he would come into my room and wake me….ask me to check on things. I would check it out. Don’t worry Jimmy, it was just a cat in the wood pile. He would go back to bed reassured.

There was the big kegger party I said Jimmy could have if I chaperoned and controlled the door (when the folks were outta town). I got diverted because Juls’ dog got hit by a car and I had to go with her to the emergency vet (a whole other story unto itself). I returned a couple hours later to a house teaming with drunk teenagers and cops everywhere. It was completely outta hand. The cops left and I continued to clear the house of all nonessential party friends and family. One guy was resisting and being belligerent as I pushed him to the front door. A dear family friend said, “hey why don’t you just leave you are not wanted here?” The guy hurled a really un-cool insult at her….that was it, you don’t insult my kin, insult me, but not them. I shoved his ass through the front door. He lunged back at me and I shoved him again and slammed the door on his fingers, breaking three of them. He was a big guy. He was coming at me. He was drunk. I wasn’t gonna fuck around. Jimmy’s friends were all around me and I knew they would have my back. He left injured and filled with rage…kicked a huge dent in the family wagon. Jimmy turned to me, “You don’t understand, that guy is crazy. He’s gonna kick my ass.” A few days later, said crazy guy approached Jimmy at school, fingers in a cast. Jimmy’s heart pounding….the guy says, “hey dude, I am sorry I was such an asshole. Tell your sister I am sorry.” Jimmy lived. No ass kicking. Although he feared it, people weren’t inclined to hurt him.

Then there was the time right after my breakup with my first girlfriend Tanya. I was devastated….could barely function…could barely get up in the morning and put on my shoes and socks. I was working at the homeless shelter….sitting in my office, unable to move, I called Jimmy. I don’t know what to do, Jimmy, I can’t move. I’m coming to take you to lunch….he was there in 10 minutes. We were poor back then and I remember Jimmy bought me a hamburger at some fastfood place and I was so touched by this simple generosity. We ate. He gave me tough love. Told me to stop analyzing. To accept she just doesn’t wanna be with me….whatever the reason. It no longer mattered the reason. It was a turning point. My little bro being my big bro. I was wounded and small and he was right there for me. He always has been.

There are countless stories I could recall and write about my little bro…but these came to mind on this day that Jimmy is moving his things into the front room of my little house in Oakland. I read this to Jimmy asking him to confirm my memory was accurate….he opined a little on the timing but said yep! That’s the way he remembers things too. He offered that I should add the story about knocking out his teeth. So here goes.

We were little kids playing football on the front lawn, I gave Jimmy a hard tackle and he slammed face first into the grass and his two front teeth flew out of his mouth. He got up, bloody, crying and ran into the house with me following feeling bad for hurting the little guy. My mother grabbed his face and assessed the damage and then turned to me seething with anger and said, “You get out there right now and find your brothers teeth!” I tried to comply… crawling around the front yard on my hands and knees, poking through the blades of grass….it didn’t happen. The teeth were gone forever….an offering to the gods of childhood football games. There are a few family pictures with Jimmy with no front teeth. I had knocked them out before their time….but eventually his grownup teeth came in and all was well and my mom forgave me.

So tonight we had a little welcome to the hood party for Jimmy. A few of my friends came over and we ate artichokes with garlic butter and drank sangria and sat around the fire pit telling stories. Then we bbq’d steaks and chicken and gathered round the table to eat….and the evening moved towards the predictable, Jimmy going off on some monolog that had the rest of us near pissing our pants! He was the only man at a table of queers….and he had us all laughing till we cried….Revi begging for mercy as she sprinted to the bathroom!

Jimmy and I are gonna be good roomies. He asked what the rules are….put down the toilet seat. He agreed. We move very easily with each other…we can talk about anything, like little boys in many ways, talking about sex or poop, whatever….nothing is sacred and our jokes are ridiculously crude and irreverent at times. But we talk easily about the serious stuff too….about feelings and relationships and all that shite so many men struggle with. Not Jimmy. He is very comfortable in his own skin.

I cringe at the thought of trying to use words to articulate the love and respect I have for my brother, for such a gesture would fall so grossly short. Suffice it to say, I love him unconditionally, feel the same in return, and respect him enormously. And lastly, something that I think speaks volumes, I regularly crave his company.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Zen and the Art of Sailboat Maintenance

A Phaedrus (Pirsig’s) am I at times, classical in my approach, trying to figure things out through reduction, methodical deconstruction and rationality, mechanistic exploration…looking for the rules and laws, the predictable, repeatable, dependable. Logic-ing my way to fostering a diesel engine to perform. I have sat with the manual spread out in front of me as I compare the pictures, the metaphors, the representations of that which sits real, tangible before me, hundreds of bulky pounds of metal nestled into the hull of my boat. Loosen the nipple, drain the accumulated water from the separator…loosen the nut on the fuel filter housing, loosen the injector nut…pump to bleed the fuel line of all air, create the needed integrity, then tighten the bolts, push the start button. It works. It serves.

A Phaedrus am I at times, the romantic, contemplating how one can know a value, the quality of that which cannot be reduced, quantified, disassembled. Working to understand the intuition, the impressions, the art…people, love, respect, integrity, family, affinity… the possible, the infinite, the sublime, the ecstatic….anticipating the epiphanies.

A Phaedrus am I at times, fearing that I too will be reduced from the effort, rendered unconscious, a heap of human lying on the floor in a puddle of my own urine.

Perhaps I should take to the Pacific in my boat, the analog to Phaedrus’ northern plains on his motorcycle? Perhaps I should have a son so he could come with me….or maybe my dog Cosmo will do. She in many ways seems to already have it all figured out.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

What Makes Me Jump Up and Down, Point and Squeal Like a Little Kid?

Seeing porpoise surfing the waves next to my boat under the Golden Gate Bridge! Fucking awesome!!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Something Interesting I Recently Read About Love...

To love always knowing the tragic end looms, if only in death itself - to give freely nonetheless, to say in the moment, yes, my soul swells with sweetness that I will brave not to deny; foolishness or wisdom - I choose the latter. To embrace the ephemeral nature of affinity and the transcendence of love, to simply sit still in the moment and quietly say yes. Not for the return on investment but for the splendor of the singular moment of truth, for the insatiable drive to be in alignment, if only for the fleeting moment. For the truth of love that we so many work to deny in so many minutes of so many days until we are near the end, supine, infirm. Stripped of our pretenses, no longer a servant to fear, it is then that so many of us transcend our shame and confess that we do indeed love. It is when we are supine and infirm that we no longer fear what interpretations will be made of our words, or who will recoil for fear of expectations, or who will recoil for analysis, or who will recoil with suspicion. Those who suffer the luxury of contemplating tomorrow often indulge in fearing it, believing fear will protect. Sad thing is fear does protect. It protects us from daring, protects us from possibility, protects us from the joy of loving enough to feel the pain of disappointment, the pain of rejection, the pain of loss, and the pain of betrayal. But the cost of this protection is high, and in the end, it is a net loss.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Hey Dad

Sometimes I stand with the fridge door open for a long time, contemplating the contents. Sometimes I have the heat on in the house with the window open in my room. Sometimes I drive my car with the window rolled down and the AC blasting. Then I remember I pay the bills. I note that wasting energy is just not very responsible. So I close the fridge. I turn off the heat. I roll up the window. But I have to admit a certain satisfaction in the momentary defiance. But ultimately, I realize, you were right.