This is my Dad

tennis with Jack on Sundays; a twenty five year old mustache that was cut off; the luckiest backgammon player I’ve ever fucking seen; hits the treadmill level 13, speed  3.9 three times a week; afraid of dogs, cats, or anything that can jump up past his waist (though he claims he once had a dog for about three weeks); wavy, Hungarian hair; pink nose; smart enough to win Jeopardy; loves television; sad to see 24 end its run; he hates Larry King and news anchors – all of them – but because he loves television so much he’ll sit through it if we’re watching.

He know three great Jewish jokes, and is a master at telling them; he’s been to India twice and wants to take us there; he’s never been to Auschwitz and hates Germans; I’ve seen him make three things in my entire life: toast with cream cheese, matzo brie, and tuna with celery.  My brother Gil says my Mom and Dad are getting older now. “You’re away now and don’t see it,” and now he’ll ask them if they want tea or a sandwich or some cut up fruit.

He wakes up every morning at 6:15 for his first shower of the day, shaves his face (my dad has no neck), and suits up. Black for court. Gray for the office. Always pump. On Friday he has no clients – so he’ll wear a twenty seven year old pair of Levis and an orange Ralph Lauren polo I got him as a present when I was thirteen. He ends all his emails with love, always Aba and I think it’s the double lower case which makes me soft inside every time I read it.

At 7:20 every morning, has a cup of regular French Vanilla coffee and a wheat bagel smothered with cream cheese. Sometimes he puts the coffee in a paper cup, sometimes he doesn’t. But he wraps his bagel in a napkin and rips off a mouthful before the front door. The impact of his large teeth, the softness of the bagel, and his tough hands cause one sixth of the cheese to get smeared into the napkin. A quarter of the cheese will not make it into his mouth – it will smear into the paper napkin, or onto his shirt. In which case my dad will utter, “Fuck” or “Goddamn it” himself, without anyone of us hearing a word.

Skull & Bones

I fly into Atlanta with too much hair on my head. It is time for a cut. My house sits across the street from the city cemetery. MLK was born here. He is buried here. So are hundreds of Confederate soldiers.

All train stations sit underneath dirty alleyways. It smells like piss and first rain asphalt. I run through.

I overshoot the MARTA. I walk a mile through Midtown. The guys here are very, very friendly. I ask one for directions.

Me: Hey. Do you know how to get to Great Clips? Piedmont? I’m lost. I just got here.
Dude: I don’t know where that is. I don’t get my hair cut by white people.
Me: Gotcha. Well, do you know…
Dude: Yeah. (Points) It’s right there. 10 blocks. You gonna cut that? You should shave your chest too.
Me: No. No way. Secret to my powers.
Dude: Yeah. It’s nice.

The city design of Atlanta would make an urban planner’s head explode. The city was designed by monkeys. Roads aren’t straight/ you can’t see street signs/ no left turn lanes/ no sidewalks/ no walking areas. It’s bad.

I walk a mile. Google lies. There is no Great Clips. It’s a barber shop. I see a guy slinking in. You guys cut hair here? Yeah. Is this the place for me? Yeah, man. Yeah.

Twelve heads turn to me. Five more are getting their hair combed, beards trimmed, heads buzzed. Clippers stop clipping. The five barbers stop in the middle of their jokes. All I hear is a TV in the corner of the barbershop.  ‘Skull & Bones.’ Like the people in the room, all the actors in the kung-fu movie are black.

Fuck it. I sit down and start reading the news on my phone. You know how you want your haircut? I don’t even have to look up to realize the young woman, short and birdlike, is talking to me. It’s on already? 90 seconds have passed and I’m in the barber’s chair. She starts buzzing, the other barbers resume swearing. The boss throws out an alcoholic who pesters me. Yeah. I’m white. There’s a sense of brotherhood here, I feel. My skin is white, my nose is big, and my hair is more African than Kofi Annan. It works. She works at my hair with the buzz buzz of her weapon. I get the best haircut of my life.

When presented with choices, it’s easy to over think the outcome. The mind runs in circles of consequences,walls of impossibilities. Biases and irrational laws of tradition hijack our sense of adventure. We choose the safe road. Anything new and innovative is read dangerously. That’s why, it helps to shut off the left side of the brain sometimes. Logic does not apply in certain cases. Failure to follow can lead to great things. It may lead to loss, but even scars tell a great story.

the man in burning man – photos+words

The more I asked what Burning Man was like, the more evasive my roommates became. Every discussion culminated with Michael bending his head forward exasperatedly. “Just buy your ticket and GO. Then you’ll get it.”

So I did.

First night we spent in an underground earthship in Cedar Edge. The trip took 17 hours. There were four of us: two beekeepers honey magnets from Longmont, a fifty year old software engineer in a tie-dye tank top + John Locke’s hippie twin, and me, a Burner Virgin with no expectations of what the next nine days would bring.  We arrived at the gates at 2.30, watching the sunrise blank out the stars as the line moved along. I met up with my camp early on, running into them at Center Camp. Amazing.

First some definitions:

BRC

<Black Rock City or BRC> The official name of the land area that holds the festival.
<The Playa> The open space of BRC. Where the Man, the Temple, and art installations live and art cars roam.
<Esplanade> Burning Man is composed of rings, like a giant C. Esplanade is the inner most ring, full of theme caps and sound systems.

Playa dust is magnetized with luck and divine occurence. Manifestation is built right into the alkaline sand. Wish for something and it will come your way. Pancakes and chai tea in the morning, goths in steampunk sidecars, talk ofthe paradigm shift in 2012, a ride back to Boulder. Anything. It will happen.

Picture 15

We camped at 4.30 and J. Next to the veggie disco, the suck ‘n fuck saloon, and the hammock hangout. A guy stood at our intersection during morning bathroom runs, yelling at people on a bullhorn to watch out for the invisible children. “Just killed another one! Please look out! The road is littered with the invisible carcasses of all the invisible children you keep running over. Have a great day!”

Burning Man is more than just a party, even if the event is entirely drug inspired. How can I put this? An alien organism of creations, a psychedelic freak show of fire. The Disneyland Main Street parade on a triple dose of acid that grows more chaotic every day. Always circusy, sometimes sinister,  both spiritual and hallucinatory. There are no words equipped to describe what it’s like to stand frozen in the middle of the playa, spinning 360 degrees, overwhelmed by the lights and fury, the sight of gigantic polar bears, two story steampunk haunted mansions, and dubstep magic carpet rides. (These are the art cars, better named mutant vehicles).

Picture 10

It’s impossible and dishonorable to articulate the synthetic pandemonium, exploding brilliance, 30 foot mindfuck sculptures, the crisscrossing of bike lights against the backdrop of firedom. I’m in the middle of the fucking desert, fucking Nevada, fucking NOWHERE, wondering what portal I just stepped into, and how I can stay here forever.

Even with the frenetics there are those moments where you find yourself completely alone and zapped away from the chaos around you. Riding along in the dirt trails left by others, onto to the the next episode. Dust storms and scraping winds stripping replace masks. The lone venture outward (and thus inward) sinks in gently. The playa is mine – to protect, cherish, and explore.

Picture 9

Then the sun goes down. Flamethrowers light up the sky like vintage artillery. Sound systems come alive to celebrate the lull in heat, the heavy bass telling you what’s up as it shakes the cartilage in your knees. Momentum builds as Black Rock residents come together. Thursday night we raged past dawn, and the streets were empty, silent. It’s as everyone operated on the same schedule.

The night of the man. Our crew dressed all in white. I had been wearing the same clothes for about three days by then, living off of body wipes, Bloody Marys and Clif Bars.  The dust storms were brutal that day; I jumped on the Veggie Disco art car, cruising around the playa in a dust mask and goggles, and even WE had to hold still during a blaring white out. You can’t see 6 feet in front of you. It was bad. But U2 and Michael Jackson held it down. Anyways.

Picture 10

Our crew hunkered down in the blue bus. Levi, Joe, Andrew, KJ, Brooke, Lyndsey, Me. Sanjeev was playing drums by then, shedding past lives by the firedancers. It was like being in Baghdad with a bunch of exhausted, wheezing, playful kids, ready for some fun. The dust soon died down. The bombscare was over. Justice was playing on Drew’s iPod. Camelbaks filled, food packed, glowsticks broken. Goggles on. Let’s get walking.

Art cars surrounded the 40 foot man in a ring of sounds. Heavy on the trance, cutting up it up with the glitch. The boost starts to rise up, as torches set the pyre ablaze. The flames are slow and steady, and it looks like it will take some time. No one there is ready for what happens next. Red and blue and orange and yellow sparks of light explode into the sky, straight up out of the sockets of the man. It was the most amazing pyrotechnics show any of us have ever seen.

Picture 17

The cataclysmic energy seeps up into the sky. The passion is tremendous with the breaking open of the heavens and everything we know instantly shatters as the man bursts into an overwhelming ball of fire none of us can take it our hearts explode further and further, smashed into the fabric of the man in all of us. We are growing, we are dying, we are nothing, we are growing, we are growing, and we are everything all at once.

Picture 18

This is now. This is life. This is living. Breathe this all in. THIS IS HAPPENING ALL THE TIME.
You are not dreaming any of this.  None of it. You are the main character and this is your movie. How will yours play out?

Picture 16

Before I Cut the Cake

I turned 26 years old last week. Go me!

I don’t get the idea of birthdays. You’ve made it! Great job! One year closer to death! But I do appreciate the alcoholic traditions associated with the holiday. Because isn’t that what birthdays are? Holidays? Except this time, we’re celebrating you.

Here in SF, friends gathered together for parties and pints. I was there, too.
In LA, the family I currently speak to raised hell over kebabs and Persian rice. Edahn and Varda presented me with a 21.5-inch monitor after I cut the cake.
It is huge. And yes, that is what she said.

Spirits soared the day previous, when after my daily dose of chi kong, I discovered an email from the internship coordinator. I clicked on the email.
The message opened. I began reading.

Congratulations. You will be attending the Crispin Porter and Bogusky Greenhouse in Boulder, Colorado for your summer quarter away. First day of class is Monday, July 6th and ends on Friday, Sept 11th. Please bring oatmeal cookies and Belgian beer for the entire creative department.

CP+B is the mother agency of the school. We are its suckling babies, mouth closed tight on its creative nipple. They keep their people busy busy busy, and I don’t plan on sleeping much during my Ad-venture. Ha. I love puns. Suck it.

In short, next week the Bay Area will release me from its grip for six months.
I hope to return stronger, wiser, and able to survive on four hours of sleep a night. Boulder first, then who knows? Paris, Tel-Aviv, Sydney? Choices, choices…So many choices! Well, as the old saying goes: Never complain if you’ve got too much peanut butter on your hands.

Enter the Dragon

How come no one talks about Bruce Lee’s karate instructor? We think he was born with these mythical powers, but at some point, Bruce was getting his ass kicked by the older kids: Frank, that tall kid named Ken Yoo, and John Wong (the one with bad acne). They all beat the crap out of seven-year-old Bruce Lee after school in Hong Kong…and some twisted part of me takes comfort in knowing that.

larusso

My mom had us take karate lessons when were younger. Gil and I never made it past orange belt, but we still had fun dicking around in our shin guards and foot pads, breaking boards with our elbows and sending kids to the mat with a swift kick to the chest. We were likewise destroyed by older kids with mustaches during weekly sparring matches who should’ve never been let into class.

Nicky, one of the older kids – and by older, I mean 12 – would warm us up. Stretching and leaning and punching the air, i.e. wasting time. Pops was the owner and main instructor of Sherman Oaks Karate. He’s short, more heavy than set, and has maniacal Einstein hair. Frizzy and comes out from the sides. He probably has a lot of ear and nose hair too. My dad, the litigator, often runs into him waiting in line at the Encino Washington Mutual. Fuck you Chase. My bank will always be WAMU dammit.

ANYWAYS. My older brother Edahn, actually did make it far. He competed in a Kumite. Yeah, just like in Bloodsport. I was seven, and watching the jujitsu weapons competition was much more interesting. Kids my own age playing with Sais and Daggers and Spears! How fucking cool! Awestruck, I had to be pulled away to watch Edahn fight.

Edahn, under Pops’ tutelage, had quickly advanced up the ladder. Squaring off against kids from other LA studios, my heart filled with pride and acid reflux from all the soda. Meanwhile, Edahn was executing dragon sweeps and axe kicks on kids from Inglewood. The Small boys are famous for their long legs, and kids from all across the city learned their lesson that day.  Edahn was up 3-0 and moved forward. This big Asian kid came up next. No. Not Asian. MONGOL. A descendant of the Khan himself! Eight foot five, 280 lbs. at least. Danny Larusso versus Johnny from the Kobra Kai.

The fight started with points on either end. Minutes later it’s 2-2, first one to 3 wins. Sherman Oaks Karate was lighting the place up. My dad was taking pictures. My mom was putting Iraqi curses on the other team. Edahn was out for blood, cool and convincing. Gil and I were eating popcorn and confused as to what was going on, but excited when our brother dealt or received violence.

The ref started the action, and they went at it. The Mongol heaved forward for a punch. Edahn sidestepped him, then clocked the guy in the back of the neck with a ritch hand.  The ref blew the whistle. My brother was disqualified for an illegal move. Turns out Edahn was Johnny, making US the Kobra Kai.  He went home with a big trophy that came up to his knees. But I swear – when we brought that piece of fake gold and machined marble home, it towered over all of our heads.

This will sound completely pathetic

I can’t remember the last time I’ve been through this much consistent rain. We’re facing the worst drought EVER. I get it. But tomorrow, or perhaps just for a few hours, I’d love to see the sun cut through the gray antimatter above my head. I’d like to avoid that panging odor of San Francisco concrete shitwater permeating through my mass transit commute. When it rains, all the MUNI busses remind me of muddy ice-skating rinks, minus the smiling parents and children.

My brother Gil and I took figure skating lessons for about a month at this place in Van Nuys. I was about 11, he was 9, and we were already too cool for school. We didn’t really make friends in our group, and my dad didn’t care. We spent most of our time racing each other and crashing into walls.  It was winterland during the summertime. Our boots were green and brown and laced up to the ankles. We rocked the house.

I’ve never been that great at sports. Well not all sports. Just those which require balance. Or coordination. I don’t get soccer, nor do I understand people’s obsession with it. Ninety minutes to watch a bunch of overpaid guys run around on a field, back and forth, sweating like rabid puppies? Because it’s very likely that that game will finish 0-1, and I’ll more stimulation and gratification to stay interested. In that span amount of time, I could do laundry, make espresso, and learn about the weekly Torah portion, and Facebook stalk your sister.

Basketball I can roll; running is life; I get nervous when I play baseball but still enjoy it; chess is not a sport but something I’ll get into whenever there’s a table lying around and the Scrabble board is missing. But ice skating was fun. It was fun because I was good at it. The boy who can’t balance himself on anything can suddenly glide on a huge block of ice. His 145-pound frame resting on nothing but a millimeter wide sliver of metal. If that makes sense to you, then explain it to me.

Not being good at something, I naturally have little interest in keeping up. I go through moments where not following sports becomes something of a handicap. Here’s how it usually goes down:

“Hey, did you guys hear about the next Laker trade?”

(1) Reference something about the sport and sound intelligent. Ask question, and mention that you’re asking a question. Extra points if you make a false or made up metaphor. “My question is, who’re they getting that’ll play down low? Bynum is a junk bond trader and that cupcake knows it.

(2) Look vaguely interested in the topic, and mumble something agreeable. “Yeah, I mean, I’m just saying, what an opportunity to take the advantage.”

(3) If all else fails, my go to strategy is to sound so ignorant of the topic being referenced, the joke will deflect your very ineptitude. “How many points is a super touchdown?” In San Francisco, there’s some law of diminishing returns here, and this has not worked as well as I would have hoped.

So ice skating and Apples to Apples remain my hobby of choice. I haven’t gone ice skating since senior year of college, and it’s possible that drinking a bit beforehand contributed to a hairline fracture of the elbow. It had to. I will accept no other argument. Ice skating is the one thing I’m good at, and nothing will take that away.

But why am I holding onto that nostalgic memory of success? That one when you were young, you were king or queen for only a moment of something. It’s nice how that moment remains even crystal clear today. You still remember raising your arms when you were 12, better at something than everyone else. For a second, you simply owned. And it never goes away. We were absolutely convinced we would be dancers, painters, sport newscasters, travel writers, photographers, architects, car mechanics, pasty chefs and bookstore owners. Then we grow up. We grow out of our dreams, or let our dreams outgrow us. There’s no moral arc here – life moves and we can choose to move with it. We go through phases where we can accept change with a sense of realistic optimism, or devastating panic that the party’s crashing on us. But as you move, keep track of those times on the rink. No matter what, it will never disappear. It stays cold forever.

watch the coldness set in

The adventure has subsided, at least for a while. Paper planes dropped me in San Francisco, airport downtime used to draw up a mission statement with my goals for the quarter.

It’s helpful to write things down – one element though, is not talking about a project until its executed, so hold steady till there’s something tangible in my hand, or in my head.

Weirdness followed with the family: Andrew + Karen + Joe + Lindsay + Kirby + Levi for dancing and mad hatter weirdness. pasta. 6 hours of sleep.  air mattress. life conversations. scarves and fashion shows. dinner @ b star.

My head is heavy from ginger beer and energized from their beet salad, slowing down with some flying lotus and water drawing in the bathtub. I’m finally home. Home has changed.

The city is much colder now than before I left. I’ve lost that someone to keep warm with at night. It sucks. now there are things I miss, feelings I can’t describe to someone else or pay to replicate.

its 47 degrees and supposed to rain tomorrow. But I will still go outside, with a bittersweet loaf of bread that surrounds my heart. even though the score didn’t end up exactly in each other’s favor, we did it right. And we didn’t even have to bring out the pairing knives.

Israel’s air force wages war in Gaza. They say 400 civilians die. Tzipi Livni, badass in line for PM, says there is no humanitarian crisis. There is nothing to stop. And no ceasefire. My guess? Those troops won’t hold at the edge of the line for much longer. Boys are going in, and people are going to die.  The Middle East embroiled in conflict – what else did we expect?

the water is running. bath salt sounds so perfect right about now.