All posts by Greg Q

Secrets

Originally posted September 10th, 2013

My parents were late blooming hippies. They met in the summer of ’68, still in plenty of time to latch on to the whole hippie vibe. I was born in ’69, and around that time my father joined the army.

Why he joined the army depends on who you ask. If you ask him, he’ll tell you it was because he wanted to give something back to this country that had done so much for him. My father had been forced to leave his homeland, Cuba, when he was 11 years old. He’d had everything taken from him, and in the United States he’d found a land of amazing opportunity. To this day, he swears that joining the army was his way of giving back.

My mother will tell you it was because he was looking to piss off my grandmother as much as possible, and the only thing more aggravating than marrying a gringa was to join the army and possibly get sent overseas to fight in Viet Nam.

He didn’t get sent to Viet Nam, and instead I spent the first 4 years of my life growing up on army bases around the south. Four years later, when my father’s term was up, the whole hippie thing had started to fade, and my parents had some serious catching up to do.

They bought a VW bus, which they immediately installed flowered curtains over every window in. They took off the VW symbol on the front of the bus, and replaced it with a hand-painted yellow sun. And they started smoking pot. I can still remember running into my parents’ bedroom, jumping on the bed, and nestling in with them, the bottle of Blue Nun wine (more of a jug, really), and the ashtray with the roach clip on a leather thong with wooden beads.

These moments were the pleasant balance to the times they fought, when I would have to stand between them and hold up 1 finger towards each of their mouths. My 5-year old sign that it was time to stop yelling at each other and calm down.

Early on, I thought our family was just like every other family. That we were the norm. I thought that every TV only got PBS (my parents hid the knob to change the channels, and told me that was the only channel we got) I thought every TV only got PBS until I attended a friend’s birthday party and spent the entire time glued to the screen, watching King Kong with slack-jawed awe.

I thought everybody’s dad talked to lots of other pretty women on campus whenever they went for bike rides through the local University without mom.

And I thought that everyone smoked pot. There was one time, in the Sears Roebucks, when we were looking for a specific tool my father needed. He was always working on that VW bus, it was the only way it would stay on the road. At my first show and tell in kindergarten I proudly announced that I’d spent the weekend helping my father drop the engine on our bus. He would call out the tool he needed from under the bus, and I’d dig through the tool box and hand it to him.

So there we were, in the Sears Roebucks: I was scouring the aisles, looking for the tool my father wanted when I came across a treasure trove of an entirely different kind. I’d found a bin, full of something I immediately recognized: “Hey, dad, check it out: Roach clips!” I shouted at full volume across the tools section.

He ran over and quieted me down, quickly acknowledging what I’d found, and informing me that I was never to call them that in public. “In public,” he said, “we call them alligator clips.”

“But why?”

And that was when I found out that our family was different. Our family had secrets.  And I was tasked with keeping them.

When my mother threw the 5-gallon gas can at my father in the midst of their last fight, calling him all sorts of names and unaware that I was watching from in hiding behind our car – I knew that stayed with me.

When my mother started dating my father’s sister’s ex-husband after my father left us, I knew I couldn’t call him uncle Steve anymore. At least, not in public.

By the time uncle Steve moved us to a 120-acre plot of land in Mendocino County to start his own pot farm, I was an old hand. I knew the drill. (He’s dead now, and all of the ex-partners from that venture have moved on, so I can talk about it without fear of being hunted down)

And in my teenage years, when my mother would call me into her room to drunkenly lament how our father, or uncle Steve, or Cincinnati Jim, or whoever had let her down: I would hope that this was only my secret, and that my brother wouldn’t have to shoulder this burden once I went to college.

When I met my wife, we both agreed that we didn’t want to repeat the mistakes of our divorced parents. We committed to do all of the things right that they had so gloriously done wrong. We have an 8-year old son, and he couldn’t keep a secret to save his life.

I view that as a sign of stellar parenting.

Azealia Banks’ “212” Translated for 40-somethings

Originally published February 25th, 2013

Being a 40-something who grew up listening to hip-hop and rap isn’t easy. Most of the (c)rap that passes for hip-hop today sucks. And when you do find something incredible, it was performed by someone who was born the year you graduated college and seemingly speaks a foreign language.

Azealia Banks’ single, “212”  is incredible. And completely unintelligible for anyone over 40. What follows is a translation of “212” written by a 40-something for 40-somethings. If you were born after 1980 you don’t need to read this, and in fact you should be out having fun doing all of the things I wish I could: like seeing a movie without getting a babysitter. Seriously, enjoy life while you can: soon you will be old too.

Actual LyricsTranslation for Old People
[Verse 1][Holy shit, what is this?]
Hey I can be the answerIf you don’t understand the first stanza, this translation is for you. And you are old
I’m ready to dance when the vamp upI am prepared to dance once the hook is established
And when I hit that dip, get your cameraWhen I do dance, be prepared to take pictures. Of course I mean digital pictures, since film is for dinosaurs. Like you.
You could see I been that bitch since the PamperNote that I have been extremely talented since I was but a baby (Around when you were in your 20s).
And that I am that young sis, the beaconAlso note that I am now a young, attractive woman
The bitch who wants to compete andAn extremely confident young woman who desires her shot
I could freak a ‘fit, that pump with the peep andIf I chose to I could look extremely desirable in a more typically feminine pair of high-heeled shoes with open toes
You know what your bitch become when her weave inMuch like the woman in your life does when she dresses well
I just wanna sip that punch with your peeps andMy desires are simple: I’d like to have a drink with your friends;
Sit in that lunch if you’re treatingJoin you for lunch, should you be willing to purchase it
Kick it with your bitch who come from ParisianHang out with your girlfriend from Paris
She know where I get mine from, and the seasonWho not only recognizes the labels of the clothes I wear, she can also tell what time of year I bought them
Now she wanna lick my plum in the eveningBy nightfall she will be so smitten with me that she wants to perform cunnilingus upon me
And fit that ton-tongue d-deep inLike those pornos you “never watch”
I guess that cunt getting eatenI am so confident/carefree with my sexuality that I will carelessly allow your woman to go down on me
I guess that cunt getting eatenAlthough the sheer repetition of this line
I guess that cunt getting eatenWill certainly make you think
I guess that cunt getting eatenThat maybe I will also go down on her
[Verse 2][Wow, that was cool! She’s dirty. Wait, where is this going?]
I was in the 212I was in the Manhattan borough of New York City
On the uptown A, nigga you know what’s up or don’t youRiding the A train towards Harlem, surely you know which direction the trains run in New York
Word to who made youI pay respect to my elders, specifically your mother
I’m a rude bitch, nigga, what are you made up of?I am also exceptionally “street”, a quality I believe you lack
I’m-a eat your food up, booI will take that which is yours, starting with your bare necessities
I could bust your eight, I’m-a do one too, fuck ya gon’ do?I will either: 1) Open your 8-ball of cocaine and snort it all, or 2) I will render your 8-line battle rap useless with my 8-line battle rap. Either way, you are impotent before me
I want you to make bucks, I’m a look-right nigga, bet you do want to fuckI believe there is room in this market for the both of us. I being a pretty woman, and you a man who would obviously like to have sex
Fuck him like you do want to cumBut I am so much better than you, your only hope is to sleep your way to the top. With other men.
You’re gay to get discovered in my two-one-deuceYou have forsaken your sexuality in an effort to make it in New york
Cock-a-licking in the water by the blue bayouIt all started when you began giving blowjobs to producers in New Orleans
Caught the warm goo in your doo-rag too sonBut even that you suck at, as you let them ejaculate on your headwear.
Nigga you’re a Kool-Aid dudeNow you lack street credibility and will follow anyone
With your doo-doo crew son, fuck are you into, huh?Do you have any idea how far you and your friends are in over your heads?
Niggas better oooh-run-runYou should all leave town: melodically and quickly.
You could get shot, homie, if you do want toOnly bad will become of
Put your guns up, tell your crew don’t frontYou and your friends pretending to be gangsters
I’m a hoodlum nigga, you know you were too onceI am willing to do anything to succeed, a position you were in before (her intended target has changed to another female rapper)
Bitch I’m ’bout to blew up tooNow I am on the verge of obtaining complete success as well
I’m the one today, I’m the new shit, boo, young RapunzelMy fresh style and long hair make me more relevant today than you
Who are you bitch? New lunchFor what are you really but fodder for my rhymes?
I’m-a ruin you, cuntI will steal your market share and your fans
I’m-a ruin you, cuntBecause I am more worldly than you
I’m-a ruin you, cuntEvidenced by my British use of the word “cunt”
I’m-a ruin you, cuntWhich I obviously learned while in London
[Bridge][The part of the song you will (try) to sing around the office tomorrow. It is also addressed to herself]
Ayo, I heard you’re riding with the same tall, tall taleHello, word is you continue to represent yourself with familiar fictions
Telling them you made someBoasting to the world that are successful
Saying you’re grinding but you ain’t going nowhereAnd claiming to be hard-working, yet you are unsuccessful
Why you procrastinate girlStop wasting time
You got a lot, but you just waste all yours andYou are talented, but allow said talent to go to waste
They’ll forget your name soonStardom is fleeting
And won’t nobody be to blame but yourself yeahAnd you are the only one holding you back
[Hook][Wait, what? I liked the melodic part! I don’t understand this screaming]
What you gon’ do when I appearI am looking forward to seeing what happens to you
W-when-when I premiereWhen my album is released
Bitch, the end of your lives are nearThe date of which shall signal the end of your career
This shit been mine, mineAs my hostile takeover of your fanbase and market share is so assured I refer to it in the past tense
[Verse 3][I’m lost, but I still like it]
Bitch, I’m in the 212Lest the bridge has made you think I’ve gone soft, I will remind you that I still lack respect for you. I remain in Manhattan
With the fifth cocked nigga, it’s the two-one-zooWhere I carry a loaded and cocked handgun, because it is a wild and crazy town
Fuck you gon’ do, when your goon sprayed upYou may think this is all fiction, but I sincerely question your ability to respond well to one of your friends getting shot
Bet his bitch won’t get him, betcha you won’t do muchBecause you are lame, by extension so are your friends and their girlfriends. Whoever shoots one of your crew need not fear retaliation from anyone, especially you.
See, even if you do want to bustShould you actually have the courage to fire your weapons outside of a shooting range
Your bitch’ll get you cut and touch you crew up too, PopEveryone in your life will come to harm, Old Man
You’re playing with your butter like your boo won’t chewYou are so pathetic that your woman refuses to please you forcing you to please yourself
Cock the gun, too — where you do eat poon, hon?You’re impotent even with a loaded weapon, and you perform unrequited cunnilingus upon your woman
I’m fucking with you, cutie-qOh, have I hurt your feelings? I’m just pushing your buttons. I still want you to buy my albums
What’s your dick like homie, what are you into, what’s the run, dudeSo let me flirt with you just enough to make you feel manly: Are you well endowed? What acts will you perform on me? What can you tell me about what’s going on?
Where do you wake up?Do you currently have a girlfriend?
Tell your bitch keep hating, I’m the new one too, huhExplain to her that she is now your ex-girlfriend.
See, I remember you when you were the young new faceAnd to all you other rappers out there: I remember when you were “it”
But you do like to slumber, don’t youNow that you’ve made it, you are coasting on your fame
Now your boo up too, honNow your fame is up
I’m-a ruin you, cuntMy career shall supersede yours.

The (Mostly Legal) Guide to Finding the Quarry from Stranger Things & The Walking Dead

Originally posted February 19th, 2013, updated w/Stranger Things references

Bellwood Quarry was one of the iconic settings in season one of both The Walking Dead and Stranger Things

Let’s say you’re a fan of Strangers Things or The Walking Dead visiting Atlanta for a couple of days. And while you’re in town you suddenly decide you’d like to visit the iconic quarry where Eleven kicked ass, or we first met Shane, Lori and Carl. Your timeline is tight, however, and you haven’t planned ahead, so none of the “official” options are open to you.

No worries: this step-by-step guide will lead you to the borders of Bellwood Quarry, and even get a look at the gorgeous setting itself – as long as you are willing to take a few risks. Hey, it’s a zombie apocalypse we’re talking about, who isn’t willing to take a few risks?

Search long enough on Google and you’ll find a Four Square check-in that gives you the GPS coordinates for the quarry. Follow the directions to those coordinates, however, and you’ll find yourself at a large gate with a security camera on the other side looking your way. Getting into the paranoid nature of the assignment, I opted to park where my license plate wouldn’t be on camera.

The park surrounding the quarry is huge, offering more than one approach from more than one street. Find your way to the intersection of Johnson Rd and Rockdale St NW. It’s an industrial neighborhood, so keep your head up, and don’t leave anything visible in your car that you’d like to keep. Make your way on foot Southeast along Rockdale St, past the two abandoned houses on your right. Enjoy the sense of adventure brought on by abandoned houses, a complete lack of traffic and the sense of following in Rick or Glen’s footsteps.

Follow this road leading West from the second abandoned house

Just past the second abandoned house is an overgrown road leading West (right). The road has been blockaded to prevent dumping of trash, but I didn’t see any “No Trespassing” signs anywhere.

Make your way between the debris into the field beyond. Once you are in the field, stay close to the left (South) edge of the field.

Cut through these woods

You should be able to easily find a path to follow West along the field. Once you get about midway across the field, start looking down and to your left (South) for a way to cut through these woods. Any Walking Dead fan worth one of Daryl’s crossbow bolts will be able to pick out a path leading South through the trees.

If, however, you have lots of time on your hands and are a total Woodbury pussy, make your way all the way across the field to the dirt road and make a left. The rest of the group will be waiting for you when you grow a pair.

The field leading to the North end of the quarry

The trees get a little thick, but nothing insanely dense. Once you come out on the far side you’ll see a wide open field with a barb-wire fence  making a perimeter around Bellwood Quarry. Resist the urge to head straight for the South side, and instead following the road towards the North end of the quarry.

Here at the North end you’ll find a gate that would offer the easiest way over the fence and into the quarry, if you were willing to break the law. My lawyers have requested that I point out that the City of Atlanta has Bellwood Quarry fenced off for good reason, and anyone foolish enough to put their life at risk by climbing over an obvious fence to stand on the edge of a cliff does so at their own risk.

The Quarry!

The quarry!

In all seriousness, if you do decide to get a closer look at the quarry, stay the fuck back from the edge.

What looks like a gentle hillside past that initial stand of conifer trees is actually a cliff, waiting to break your legs and make you feel stupid, possibly even dead.

But if you do hop the fence, you’ll be rewarded with your first views of the quarry. And your first real flirtation with danger.

On the outside of the fence, make your way South clock-wise, past the warning-laden security gate. That whole thing about closed-circuit cameras is no lie, as you’ll see soon enough. Continue South along the fence, picking up the trail leading around the perimeter. Note the large pole with 3 security cameras and a solar panel. If you want to touch the bottom of the quarry, you have to make it past this contraption. I didn’t have time.

“Some friends and I made it into the quarry yesterday, and on the path up from the water, we were greeted by 4 cop cars.” – someone who went all the way to the bottom of the quarry. Do so at your own risk

I wanted The Photo of Atlanta’s skyline as seen in so many shots from season one. So I kept going around the Southern border of the quarry until I was just about at the large power plant, and snapped this photo:

The Atlanta skyline, seen from that angle so familiar to fans of The Walking Dead. Stay out of the power plant. I shouldn’t even have to tell you to stay the fuck out of there, but my lawyers assure me that since I’m encouraging irresponsible behavior I should point out that under no circumstances should you enter the power station.

Make your way counter-clockwise until you come to a large gate. If you were going to try and get a look at the Southern end of the quarry, this gate would give you your best shot to climb over. Should you decide to break the law and put your life at risk, you’d do well to follow the path inside the fence for about 75 feet until you come to the 2 concrete traffic barriers.

This is as good a view as you are going to get. It is also as dangerous as it gets in here. Just a few feet past those concrete barriers is a sheer cliff, dropping 70 feet to the road below. From the road, it looks to be another 120 feet to the water. Get your photos, but don’t be a hero and try to get the “look how sheer this cliff is!” photo.

Bellwood Quarry at sunset

Now that you’ve tasted the view of the quarry from the lip, maybe you’re hankerin’ for a closer look. Maybe you’re even feelin’ froggy enough to try and make your way past the security cameras and down to the water. I went totally Dale at this point, and climbed back over the fence and made my way back to my rental car. If you do decide to make a run for the bottom of the quarry, do me a favor and send me a photo. I’d love to see it, and will post it here.

Reader submitted photos:

Macey B visited the quarry in 2016, and submitted these photos of her adventure:

Coming to Terms With Rooting for Football

Originally posted February 1st, 2013

Football was my first love in the sporting world. I was introduced to rooting for the 49ers in 1981, when I was in 6th grade. Like so many 49ers fans that season, I was treated to a storybook season that made me a lifelong fan of the game and the team.

Social issues weren’t part of the fabric of sports at the time, or I was very shielded from them. The focus was never on the culture of the game or the locker room, just on the performance of the team. It was a blissful ignorance.

Chris Culliver, trying to apologize for being a homophobic idiot.

Colorful characters made for good press, of course. Gene “Hacksaw” Reynolds, so named because he purportedly used a hacksaw to cut a Jeep in half. Ronnie Lott, who cut off a digit so he could play in an important game. But their stance on civil rights issues was never a measure of their character.

As I got older, I would become intimately more familiar with the macho culture surrounding the game. My high school football team locker room was a treacherous place to be anything but part of the herd, and the herd was not accepting. Hazing took place frequently, and it was hard to stand up for yourself, let alone anyone else.

Freshmen were forced to compete in head-butting competitions with upper classmen. Two guys in full pads would line up in 3 point stances 15 yards apart, and then charge headfirst at each other, full speed, until you either proved your worth or “had your bell rung”. It was stupid. And dangerous. And the coaches looked the other way.

I didn’t play football in college, but I had my share of run-ins with the UC Berkeley team between 1987 and 1991. One red shirt defensive lineman in the stands near me didn’t like the fact that I was lamenting how badly we got our asses kicked in the big game in 1987, and hit me in the face. Forget the fact that I was a fellow Cal student, or that it was assault.

One night, a Samoan guard was on the verge of beating up some poor kid 200 pounds his junior outside of my favorite bar. When I pointed out what an unfair fight it was, he turned on me, picking me off of the ground by my throat and shoving me against the wall.

“Oh yeah,” I gasped, “this is much more fair.”

Football is a game of violent poetry, played by men who are often sheltered from personal responsibility by authority figures with a vested interest in their on-field success. By the time a player reaches the professional ranks, he has at least a decade of validation for who he is – bigot or otherwise.

So how can I root for them? How can I support their product? How can I encourage my son to become a fan of the game, knowing what I now do?

I’ve been wrestling with this question all season, as my 7 year old son becomes more aware of the nature of the game. But it was brought into more poignant focus the week of SuperBowl XLVII when 49er safety Chris Culliver revealed what a sheltered life he has led by espousing horrifically homophobic statements.

I don’t have any easier answers. I love sport, and I love their sport specifically. I believe that the positives of participating in and rooting for sports outweigh the negatives.

The culture of sport isn’t going to change overnight, and it certainly isn’t going to change as long as we as fans continue to support The Product.

But how many products do you support that are made in questionable ways, or by less than stellar humans? Do you shop at Wal Mart? Do you buy products produced in sweatshops or inhumane factory conditions? Is there a difference?

Something to ponder as you watch the SuperBowl on your made-in-China TV, tweeting on your iPhone this Sunday.

Yo Jay, Check This Out

Originally posted January 31, 2013

Hip Hop was the first music that was truly mine…

Christmas, 1980. I was 11 years old, roller skating in a park in Miami, and I happened upon a kid about the same age as as me captivating two of his friends. He was regaling them with a tale of prowess, bad dinners, and stealing SuperMan’s girlfriend, and he was doing so with a lyrical style I’d never heard before. I, too was captivated, and tried as hard as I could to listen in without looking like I cared.

Jam Master Jay was the one in charge…

Eventually I had to move on (one can only skate back and forth along the same 15 feet of sidewalk before you start to become obvious, after all) but the singing I’d just heard was imbedded well within my brain. That night, as we were decorating our Christmas tree, the song that kid in the park had been singing came on the radio. My dad went to change the station, and I pleaded for him to leave it on. It was the full-length version of the Rapper’s Delight, all 15 minutes of it.

My dad only lasted 7.

I had for the very first time discovered a music that the adults around me didn’t like. I had something that was mine. However, It wasn’t the taboo that was attractive; I was absolutely taken with the music, the lyrical style, the stories these guys told. I also lived in a small town in Northern California, and when I returned home from visiting my dad for Christmas, it would be a long time before I heard any of that music again.

I had almost forgotten about it by 1983, but when Run DMC released their first album, Run DMC I was immediately drawn back in. Rap, as I would learn it was called, changed my world. Rap resonated deeply within my soul, and made me want to dance. Rap brought with it an energy that didn’t exist for me anywhere else, and Run DMC spoke a language I understood. The stories they told applauded chivalry, underscored the importance of education, and gave hope to powerlessness.

I learned every lyric, and knew each and every part by heart. Some songs I’d do just Run. others DMC. Sometimes I’d bounce back and forth, playing both parts and running out of breath faster than a smoker in a marathon. More than anything, I loved the creativity of the man behind the turntables. I knew every scratch on that record by heart. The moves I made to imitate the scratching may have been wrong, but the timing and intent were always right on.

To this day, Jam Master Jay is my favorite track on that album. I was blown away by Jay’s creativity, his musical sense of humor, and his incredible skills. I was a trainspotter long before I knew what it was called. I would constantly be amused and enthralled by Jay’s use of self-referentiation on subsequent Run DMC albums. Jay always made it fresh for newcomers, but rewarded the faithful with samples off of past Run DMC records. His sense of humor and skills set him as one of the all-time greatest Dj’s to ever put the needle on the record.

Jay pioneered Dj’ing into the mainstream, taking the art-form to places no-one else had ever been able to before. He merged rock and rap for all the world to see, sending Run DMC to new heights and reviving Aerosmith’s career at the same drop of a needle. He set the standard for Dj involvement, respectability, and commitment. He gave back to his community, and fought hard for the right to do so.

More than anything, he made me want to be a Dj.

Peace, Jay. The lives you changed continue to change more lives, and the wheel keeps coming ’round.

Me and Coolio up in the Nosebleeds

I got the call at 12:40pm on Sunday. It was my cousin Tessa, who I hadn’t seen in years. She was looking for her brother Justin, who had spent the night at my house.

“Is Justin there?”

“No, Tessa, he left about 10 minutes ago to head down to meet you, with parking and everything, he should be at your hotel in about 15 minutes.”

“Damn. I’ve been trying to reach him since yesterday, and I just checked my messages and got his message that he was staying with you. Do you like basketball?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I like basketball!” I was trying not to sound too enthusiastic. Tessa was staying in the St. Francis Westin Hotel as a guest of the NBA, Justin was on his way to meet her to sit courtside at the NBA All Star game. I’d been preparing to test my new disc golf rain gear out against one of the nastiest storms to hit the Bay Area in years when the phone rang. Now I was holding my breath.

“Well, it turns out I have an extra ticket for the game. You want to come?”

And like that, I was on my way to the All Star Game.

As I walked into the lobby of the St. Francis I could tell that I was quite suddenly immersed in an “event.” Security guards hustled to and fro. There were checkpoints waiting around every corner. There was nothing but beautiful people, every direction I looked in. As I rounded the corner towards the elevators I spotted a group of young boys with pens and basketballs, waiting for their opportunity to capture a small piece of their heroes. The atmosphere was loud, busy, and hurried. Everyone was on their way to the game. So was I. For once in my life, I was in.

I smiled and got on an elevator going up. I didn’t bother to check the directions in my pocket, and headed straight to room 708. No answer on the door. The woman cleaning 709 informed me that she’d just finished up with 708, and they were long gone. For just a moment I panicked, the sensation of inclusion rapidly fading. I gathered my wits about me, and in a flash of brilliance decided to consult the directions. Aha! Room 703, I’d closed the loops on the 3 in my memory. A single knock on the door, and suddenly I was in again.

The last time I saw Tessa she was 9 years old. Now she was 16, with all of the hip and swagger of a teenager who is confident and comfortable with life; and a backstage pass to the NBA All Star weekend to boot. Tessa and her friend Nadia co-founded ClubActive –a service club at their high school-and applied to NBA TeamUp for a grant to help fund their efforts. They wound up getting more than just a $2,000 grant: they wound up getting back-stage passes, ring-side seats, and first-class treatment for the entire NBA All Star Weekend.

As Tessa donned her NBA All Star 2000 sweatshirt and slung her NBA All Star bag over her shoulder she started telling me about all of the things and people she’d seen over the weekend. She sat next to Vince Carter’s parents during the Slam Dunk competition. She met Magic at a party on Friday night. She laughed, and said that her 15 minutes were rapidly expiring, but that she was having the time of her life.

In the lobby I smiled as Rebecca Lobos walked by. She was taller in person than I ever imagined, but not as beautiful as she looks on T.V.

In the van on the way over the Bay Bridge, Tessa and Michal told us all about the weekend they were having. Michal complained of how corporate the whole All Star weekend had been so far. How the NBA was driving regular fans out with the high price of tickets and the vast numbers of tickets reserved for suits. “When Vince Carter slammed that first dunk home yesterday, hardly anyone stood up and cheered,” she said. In my head I admired the work that NBC had done with the microphones to beef up the sound of the crowd.

Tessa told me that the ticket she had for me was a last-minute addition, and that I was sitting by myself, “way up top.” As our van driver wound his way through the crowd of people trying to make their way through the rain to the coliseum I noted that even the shitty seats for the NBA All Star game cost $150.00. As I jumped one puddle and jogged three paces to the awning of the VIP entrance to the Oakland Coliseum I jibed myself for wearing my rain gear. There are no turnstiles at the VIP entrance, just nice carpets to wipe your feet off on. As we made our way to the elevators I couldn’t help but notice Magic Johnson talking to some VIP staff behind a satin rope. I wanted to shake his hand and tell him I infinitely respected all of the work he’s done to educate the athletic world to the realities of AIDS. Short, white, and wearing corderoy pants, I suddenly felt very much the outsider again.

Tessa, Justin and I split up, and I headed for my seat: Section 217 Row 6 Seat 1. Upper deck. I wasn’t going to complain. After all, if it wasn’t for Tessa, at that very moment I would have been out in the rain with Tolstoy, playing disc golf. I headed for the bathroom, then bought a Sprite and a hot dog. As I was heading through the tunnel back to my seat I spotted Coolio heading through the tunnel ahead of me. I acted calm, and gave him the most subtle eyebrow raise and head-nod in my repertoire. It seemed to do the trick, as he subtly flexed his left eyebrow and headed up the stairs. Not only was I in, I thought to myself, but I was in with Coolio!

As Coolio walked up the stairs to his seat, a youth on the aisle held out his hand for a shake. Coolio smoothly gave him five and headed down my row of seats. The kid grinned ear to ear and made sure his friend had a)Just seen what happened, and b)Completely recognized who that was. His witness firmly in his back pocket, the kid went back to grinning like a madman.

We spending all our lives, watching from the cheap seats with bad eyes

I gave Coolio and his two-man posse the casual once-over as one of his homies jumped on his cell and began harranging who I assumed must be Coolio’s assistant or agent or somethan’. “Look up towards the motherfucking roof,” he said. “OK, now look towards the…where you sittin’? Oh, fuck. OK, I’m standing up now(he was). Yeah. Right. 217. Fucking nosebleed. Well git your ass up here and help us out then.” He hung up and sat down. Throughout it, Coolio looked too cool to be bothered. He unzipped his leather All-Star jacket and propped his brand-new contruction boots up on the seat in front of him.

I sipped my Sprite and tried to focus on the game down on the floor. A few minutes later an incredibly beautiful young black woman, dressed very well and smelling wonderfully, squeezed her way past me apologetically. “Here are your tickets to the after party,” she said to Coolio and the boyz as she handed over a plastic baggie. “I’ll see you guys there.”

As she turned to make her way out Coolio spoke up, “How about some better seats?”

“I’ll see what I can do,” she cooed as she ducked around the corner and down the tunnel.

Ha! It suddenly dawned on me: Coolio was fucked, just like me. He knew He had friends down at floor level, and yet he was stuck in the rafters with me. I repressed a giggle, and made sure not to look his way as I began making up my own versions of rap songs:

“1, 2, 3, 4, Coolio’s stuck up far from the floor
Can’t even really see the damn referee…”

“Come along and sit up by the Rafters
High, high, up in the sky, if you hop the rail you fall and die…”

The game was wonderful to watch, the ideal NBA game to see in person. With nothing riding on the line, and no real game-plan in place, the “best athletes in the world” were free to showboat with everything they had. The game was like an endless highlight reel –even the misses were amazing. Stuart Scott and Kenny Maine spent the afternoon in the back of my head, calling plays in real-time. When Shaq grabbed a rebound and raced the length of the floor to finish with a slam, I found myself chanting, “He! Could! Go! All! The! Way!”

At half time we were treated to the vocal stylings of 90 Degrees, Mary J. Blige, some woman who’s name I forget, and L.L. Cool J. I have to give props to David Stern and the NBA: they have created an entertainment extravaganza. As the huge satin curtains fell to the floor to reveal 90 Degrees I was struck by the beauty and execution of the opening to the show. By the time the curtains hit the ground, however, I was wishing that each one of the singers would somehow achieve 1,000 degrees in a pyrotechnic fireworks of spontaneous combustion.

No such luck. But they did only sing one song, which I remain eternally thankful for. In the realm of halftime shows, there is never room for more than one quick number.

Mary J. Blige was amazing. That’s all I’m gonna say. Oh, that, and I almost cried.

The next woman was, frankly, non descript. I couldn’t tell you how she Was dressed (but Mary J. had on this incredibly colorful pant/jacket/hat combination that enabled me to spot her for the rest of the game), what type of music she sang (I remember thinking “country western? really? no!) or what kind of hairstyle she had. But I do remember that she ended her number standing triumphantly, surrounded by all of the NBA All Star Dancers in various poses bending over, on their knees, or lying on the floor, and I thought to myself, “God, I’d fuck each and every one of them. Even the men!”

She exited the stage, and me and the rest of the crowd got pumped up for L.L. As he hit the floor and encouraged everyone to get up on their feet, I casually declined. I didn’t want Coolio thinking I was frontin’ on him, after all. As L.L. barked into his microphone, ranting about peace and fly honies on his jock, I marvelled at how big L.L. has gotten since he first came on the scene. I remember when L.L. was a 130-pound stick, ranting about how loud he liked his radio. Now he looks to be all of 230 pounds, the vast majority of it muscle. Over 16 years, L.L.’s been on the scene. What staying power.

I couldn’t help but wonder what Coolio thought of L.L. and the spectacle; if he felt any jealousy, trapped on the upper deck with a career in limbo while L.L. flirted with all of the dancers on the floor. As the fireworks exploded, showering the floor with sparks and the confetti rained down from the ceiling I stole a glance at Coolio, to see how he was reacting. Feet keeping time up on the chair in front of him, shoulders firmly pressed back in his chair, Coolio was taking in the spectacle like the rest of us: eyes wide open, and mouth partially agape.

Wanting to blend, I took his lead and directed my attention to the floor.

Touching The Void

Originally posted on January 30th, 2013

There’s nothing like a death in the family to put things into perspective for you. My grandmother was a Cuban farm girl. She swore someday she would rise above her upbringing, and become part of the class that made things happen on the island. I was never able to get the full story of how she met my grandfather, but I know that early on they were very much in love.

My brother has pictures of the two of them tearing around Havana on a Harley Davidson in 1937, and they look like they are having so much fun together. They built a wonderful life together, successful at business and at home. When Castro took over, my family was forced to flee the island, leaving behind all but what they could carry. They rebuilt, but Abuela never forgave the world for what it took from her with that revolution.

Somewhere along the lines, she picked up cigarettes, and she never gave them up. In the final week of her life, she made a choice between facing a potentially debilitating stroke down the road and the risks of open heart surgery. She was doing fine after the quintuple bypass, telling nurses what to do, ordering people around. Just like old times. Then five days into recovery, a slight tear in her aorta revealed itself, and she died.

Cuban Catholics do funerals in a big way, and Abuela would have hers no other way. Open casket viewing from 2pm – 11pm on Sunday, Funeral on Monday, all of it was a bit overwhelming after a redeye that left San Francisco at midnight on Valentine’s Day. During the viewing, I was amazed at how still she kept, throughout everything. I kept walking into the room, and finding myself surprised that she hadn’t budged. People move, after all. When I finally worked up the courage to touch my grandmother one last time, I understood. It sunk in.

You can temporalize death all you want, but touching it, when it’s had its hair dyed, make-up done, and has been sitting under an airconditioning vent for 24 hours: that will straighten things up for you.

Star Wars Day at AT&T Park, 2012

Originally Posted September 13, 2012

Best. Family portrait. Ever.

onday, September 3rd 2012 was Star Wars Day at AT&T Park. After showing up in only Star Wars t-shirts the year before, in 2012 we were well prepared. We opted to ride MUNI to the ballpark, since it would eliminate parking and be totally fun to be out and about in costume.

Just your everyday commute to the ballpark. I love how the Boba SFett comm link happens to point at the ballpark on the MUNI map

The train ride was as fun as you’d expect, on the way to a Giants’ day game on Labor Day. As more people got on the train our son became a bigger and bigger celebrity. Of course, we never took the masks off, either.

Our son managed to get in on every photo, all day long.

Possibly best of all, our son was chosen to be the Junior Announcer for the first three SF batters to come to the plate in the bottom of the 3rd inning. Too bad he couldn’t do it with his Darth SFader helmet on…

Ryder rocking as the Junior Giants Announcer. Too bad he couldn’t be heard through the Vader mask…

Of course it came down to Buster Posey hitting the game-tying double in the bottom of the 9th. And we had just the sign ready to go…

This year’s Star Wars day was unbelievable! We had a blast in our costumes. Ryder got to be the Jr Announcer, and the Giants came back in the bottom of the 9th to send the game to extras where Scutaro won it in the 10th.

We’re already looking forward to Star Wars Day at AT&T Park in 2013. It will be hard to top this year’s amazing experience, but then again the force will be with us. Always.

Preparing for Star Wars Day at AT&T Park

Originally published September 13, 2012

When we attended the debut of Star Wars Day at AT&T Park in 2011 we thought we were being so clever by wearing hard-to-find Star Wars T-shirts with our Giants gear. We hadn’t thought through just how far one could run with the whole Giants/Star Wars theme, and were blown away by the people who converted full-blown Star Wars costumes into Giants gear.

Especially this guy. Oh, and this couple who did the whole AT-AT Walker thing together. We swore that in 2012 we would have our revenge. Or at least try a little harder to creatively honor the theme.

I knew from the onset that I wanted to be a Giants Boba Fett. So I found this Jango Fett helmet on Amazon for $26. My 7-year old son wanted to be Darth SFader, so I got him one of these Darth Vader voice changer helmets on eBay. Finally, my wife decided that since he and I were going to a) be in lots of pictures, and b) have our faces covered she better abandon her PrincesSF Leia idea and get with the masked side. A quick trip to Target did the trick.

Preparation for spray paint essentially required loads of painter’s tape, news paper, and patience.

I find your lack of paint… disturbing

My son insisted that he wanted his helmet to be orange with a black stripe down the middle, which seemed easy enough to mask off.

Glossy black spray paint was easy to find. But a glossy orange that would bond well with plastic was more challenging. Eventually I found the perfect orange at Franciscan Hobbies on Ocean Ave.

It came in tiny little cans, and after the first can of paint ran out I was freaked that it simply might not work. As you can see from the below photo, the orange looks like crap after just one or two coats.

After just one pass, the orange looked horrible.

On the next trip to Franciscan Hobbies I picked up a couple of spare cans of paint, and resumed spraying and huffing with vigor. It wound up taking 3 cans of paint (and who knows how many brain cells) to get our helmets all well-coated.

If I had more time for the project, I would have experimented with a lacquer or sealant to protect the orange. As it was, my son’s SFader helmet chipped in a couple of places in just one day of wearing it.

As it was, I put the final layer of orange on the night before the game. And that night, while the helmets dried atop the sports page, I knew we were in business.

A few coats of orange later and the Darth SFader helmet is popping. The clone trooper mask only took a couple of coats, since it was white.

My son needed a cape, so we went to Beverly’s and scored some awesome SF Giants micro-fleece that my wife quickly converted into a cape.

And with that, we knew we were ready to storm Jabba’s stronghold…follow to my next post for photos of us out and about on our way to Star Wars Day!

The Business of Breaking Hearts

Originally posted July 31st, 2012

Word just came out that the San Francisco Giants traded outfielder Nate Schierholtz to the Philadelphia Phillies. That statement means nothing to you if you do not follow baseball, a little more if you do. The vast majority of Giants fans will simply see the potential for upside in the addition of Hunter Pence to the lineup.

My son, however, is going to cry. Just the thought of breaking the news to him is making me sadder than I already am. We love Nate Schierholtz in our household, and as badly as we want the Giants to succeed, seeing him go hurts in a way that surprises me.

Sports in America have become such a mega-business that it is easy to forget why they are able to exist. As a collective whole, we fans will sporting teams to exist. It is our passion for the game, our love of our teams and our willingness to pay top dollar to support them that enables the most talented athletes to become rich and the already-rich owners to reap even more profits.

Most professional ball players will give lip service to “not forgetting their roots” and “giving back to the fans”. But as their careers skyrocket and seasons progress it becomes easier and easier for them to insulate themselves from the yearning masses who enable their lifestyle.

My son, Ryder, just turned 7. We started taking him to games 4 years ago, and it was 2 years ago that he started to become interested in the actual game and the individual men who play it. His rising interest coincided with the Giants’ “August of destiny” that saw them erase a 10 game deficit in the NL West and go on to win the World Series, turning him into a die-hard fan. He can recall with amazing accuracy plays, statistics and moments from games he heard on the radio.

You think you know Giants baseball? I dare you to put your knowledge of the game up against Ryder’s knowledge in his lifetime. How many men were on base when Renteria hit the home run to give the Giants the lead in game 5 of the world series? Who were they? What bases were they on? How many Giants pitchers have hit home runs in past 2 seasons? What was the count when Cain hit his last home run? How many men were on base? These are just a few of the random stats he has recalled on his own recently.

Ryder loves baseball and the players he follows on a regular basis. L-O-V-E-S. He can’t separate his passion from “the business of sports”, can’t temper his love for his favorite players with the ever-lurking threat of a trade.  In August of 2010, Ryder announced that he wanted “to meet Buster, or Timmy, or Panda.” So in 2011 we started trying to give him the chance to get autographs.

We managed to meet a few of the Giants, even one of his faves (Romo!) but it was the day that he met Nate Schierholtz that changed his life. Mr. Schierholtz was kind enough to come over to the fence that separates the players’ parking lot from the public after the last game of 2011 and sign autographs for the few kids who were hanging around out there. Not Timmy. Not Wilson. Not Buster. Not Cain. Not even the rookies, Belt or Crawford. We watched them all get in their cars and drive off.

Nate Schierholtz heard the plaintive cries of a young fan who wanted nothing more than a few seconds of his time, and responded by showing a generosity that illustrated his humanity and his connection to his own baseball roots. The business of baseball has treated Nate pretty well, even if he has to uproot and move to Philadelphia. Try explaining that to a 7-year old who is going to be heartbroken when he learns that one of his favorite players left town on 24-hours notice.

No, seriously: you tell my son that Nate Schierholtz just got sent packing. Because I don’t know if I can tell him why the business of baseball just broke his heart.