Brothers From Other Mothers

Being an only child kind of blows. Sure, I’ll be the sole heir of my audiophile father’s obscenely expensive stereo (a multi-component beast that easily fills half of his living room) and modest real estate holdings, but I’ll never be able to look a sibling in the eye with that ‘comrades in war’ gaze and give him or her that, ‘Can you believe we lived through this shit?’ look that we both understand perfectly without saying a word. There’s no other living being who can remember, along with me, the scent of the anise bush outside our small house on Belvedere Street, or the fashion shame of my Dad’s really loud ‘airport’ shirts. I have a stepsister, of sorts, with whom I lived from about 7th-9th grades, and we do share a lot of absurd and amusing memories, but I think it’s a bit different from someone with whom you are share DNA and all 18 hellish years of coping with your parents.

Perhaps thra&chavis is why I seem to have spent a good portion of my adult life nurturing relationships with quasi-brothers, from the four guys I shared a Natoma Street warehouse with in the early 90s to my very best friend of nearly 20 years, whose life I am so intimate with he might as well be my own blood brother. I know him better than he knows himself, and vice versa, his Mom calls me her own, and his little brother I consider family as well. We both grew up in differing but equally traumatic hells on different ends of the state, and this survivor badge has been an epoxy-like bond between us, growing sweeter with the years and accumulated history.

Several years ago, while still married, I was in dire need of a sofa for my new gaff on Dolores Street. Cruising Craigslist, I found an ad titled ‘Big Ass Couch,’ and since I’m pretty fondchops of big-ass anything (my ex-husband once looked around our flat at the oversized chairs, coffee table, couch, armoire, etc., and said, “It looks like giants live here,”), I knew this was the couch for me. It was, at the time, currently in custody of some dude called Choppy over on Grove Street, and when I went over there to look at it, said dude opened the door and there was an instant connection. A few months later the ex-husband moved out and Choppy, looking to start a new phase in life, moved in. He had a girl and soon I had a new boy and thus, the timing was never right for anything more than a tight friendship, which was probably a blessing because we’d have stabbed each other by now and instead have become virtual brother and sister, since we’re both ‘lonely onlies.’ He has a great tattoo – the word ONLY in script on the right side of his chest, followed by a sun on the left (‘only son’) – which I found disarming and utterly perfect. He’s got the same crusty, protective air as any brother rightfully would – he hates all my boyfriends, hassles me about my footwear, comes over to paint my walls, and we tease each other mercilessly as if we really are sibs.

nemsMy last love was the middle of three boys, raised in the ‘half-hippie, half-redneck’ town Bolinas in West Marin. A little gunshy, it took several months before he would introduce me to his brothers – and though they’re cagey cats who keep their cards close to their vests, I guess I grew on them and last Christmas I got sloppy hugs and tipsy, ‘You’re family, man, you’re family,’ admonitions from their lips, and I know if I ever needed a fresh salmon, a fridge moved, or a bad man’s kneecaps broken, these guys would be there for me, even if they’re not big on the phone calls and Christmas cards or whatever.

In this American, west coast, Sixties-hangover, topsy-turvy world, family is a lot more than just shared lineage. I’m closer to my mates who’ve been through it with me for the last decade a half, folks who know all about the Sisyphean nature of my love life, the banality of my work, the maddening charm of my storytelling, and the various pairs of shoes and jeans I’ve rocked, than I am with my relatives, who, while lovely people, are not even close to being capable of comprehending my reality. In this day and age, I figure you take what you can get. If your family comes in the form of non-DNA sharing snarly photographers, tough-yet-tender working guys, or aesthetically particular and furiously independent Latin homothugs, so be it.

Still, I’ll never stop wishing I had a real blood brother. I keep hoping that someday a lovechild who’s been searching for myhussDad (if he only knew what he were about to find!) will come out of the woodwork and appear at my door; a man with blue eyes like my own, tall and lanky, who can fix car engines and calculate wind drag. Some guy who’s left-handed, like me and my Dad. A bloke who makes the same goofy faces I do. Another ‘lonely only’ who has all his life been longing for a kick-ass sister like me.

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Ode To The Octopus

I went to haveoctopus dinner at my friend Charlotte’s house tonight. I’ve never been to her new gaff, since she lives in an area where parking is abominable and not at all convenient to my windswept westside lifestyle. But, in an effort to both represent for my girl and live up to my Lenten commitments, I decided to cowgirl up and do the deed. Suffice it to say that driving from the beach to the Mission (where I had a late-afternoon interview) to Hayes Valley during rush hour (complete with a power outage around Valencia Gardens that created near-gridlock) made me positively apoplectic – but after a plate full of biryani and several hours of quality conversation, I was feeling pretty chill.

At about 10 I decided to split. On the three-block walk back to my car, I had the chance to see what’s become of Hayes Valley, which, when I moved to the City, was a blighted, hooker-trodden no man’s land underneath a ghastly freeway overpass (my little ratty ’78 Corolla once ran out of gas down there and I had to walk home to the Upper Haight – an interesting night). It’s now a chic little hipsterville of quaint (and expensive) shops and cute restaurants, and has a sweet, almost West Village-y vibe.

Feeling sated and philosophical, I was meandering down the sidewalk when I passed a shop called Plantation and was absolutely captivated by this amazing blown-glass octopus in the window. I stood there and gazed at it longingly, imagining where in my house I could find a place for such a delicate masterpiece. I thought of giving it its own shelf. Or own table. Perhaps even its own room. I took photos of it with my cell phone and vividly fantasized about glass-octopi ownership, which is about as remote (once I got a price quote – $395! – via email) right now as home ownership. Though a penchant for blown glass runs in my blood, I have other financial priorities at the moment (you know, like $350 power bills) that preclude such fancy and whimsy.

But still. I want it, I want it, I want it. Badly! 

Powdered Sugar Sky

Over Christmas Break 1997, when I was finishing my last year of school at Mills, my Grandmother took me on a cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Acapulco, the entire point of which was the passage through the Panama Canal. Though it was relaxing, to say the least, and a total thrill to see Cuba off the side of the boat, it was full of bluehairs and families with young children and I pretty much had to find ways to make my own fun. And I did.

 

I had been hanging out with this guy Gentry Bronson at the time, whom I met on a production gig and picked up with the line, ‘Well, you can take a nap in my Jeep anytime, and who had a vast musical background, including a year or two DJing in Prague. Prior to my departure Gentry did me right and made me an awesome mixtape (remember those?) which I tucked into my bag along with my Walkman (ditto).

 

On the boat, I made friends with this cool redheaded Canadian chick, Connie Lemon, who worked in the gift shop, and she took me below deck to see the crew quarters (a major no-no). One of my fondest memories is of her and I standing at the rail outside the Crow’s Nest bar at the tippy-top of the ship when she suggested we finish our drinks and throw the glasses overboard. I balked for second, feeling environmentally guilty, and she said, ‘Yeah, but think about it – our glasses will be on the bottom of the ocean forever to commemorate this night,’ so we swilled to the last and tossed them over the side, into the white spray. I hope they ended up as homes for some little sea creatures.

 

I crept around the boat and found all sorts of little hidey holes. In that era of the blockbuster Titanic, the bow of the boat was darkened and generally not open to passengers (probably in an effort to stop any copycat canoodling), though that didn’t stop me. I had been really into this flowy little black and white polka-dot dress at the time, and I remember so vividly going to the bow of the boat in the middle of the night, in that dress, taking my sandals off, putting my headphones on, and dancing to Gentry’s mixtape, all alone while we plowed through the warm Caribbean sea and my skirt swirled around me in the maritime breeze. I remember how the beat of DJ Shadow’s ‘Midnight In A Perfect World’ so perfectly captured the huge rolling  waves beneath the boat, and how the vast, horizonless black sky was covered with so many stars it looked as though God had sprinkled powdered sugar all over the ceiling of the world, and there was no one in it but me to see.