Al’s Attire, I should have known and so should you.

This guy makes basketball shoes. As in he takes basketballs, cuts them up, and makes them into shoes. These aint Nike they are Spalding couture. He does the same thing with baseball mitts- turns them into purses. He is designer, tailor, and a brand all of his own making.

I didn’t know about AL before I wandered into his shop. I was just window shopping, sort of strolling along San Francisco’s North Shore neighborhood and it was just the next door in a row of others, I had just gone ga ga over cheese in a spot across the street, so I was already in a good mood. I stepped inside and was struck by what I found.

Let me state clearly that my not knowing about Al’s before I got there was a personal deficiency. I have since learned that not only is he not new, but he has been a front running outfitter for the cool kids since I was a child. When I struck up a conversation with him I recognized the sort of approachability and openness that I have found in so many other true leaders in their field. The ones who no longer need to prove themselves to anyone. The ones who have shown their worth to all who matter long ago and are still doing what they do, but out of love for their craft- not chasing status. Those people are always happy to talk with anyone, even those like me who have absolutely nothing to offer, if you are talking about the work.

Al’s stuff felt new. Not new like fast fashion plastic and tin foil from Forever 21, but new like ideas. New, like a digitized camouflage suit jacket , which would never be my thing, but kept me transfixed when I saw it on his hanger. I will not venture to say that he is the first one to make a camo jacket, but he did it in a way that felt right, not like a gimmick.

That is his magic. He does new odd ball stuff sans gimmick. Sans social media marketing department. Sans pretention.

But with a double dose of creativity and cool.

Slightly Choppy: Scott makes cool stuff

Scott saw me gawking through the open door and invited me in. The studio isn’t in a general retail space, situated upstairs from a real estate agent, but he didn’t appear all that surprised to see a visitor. I suspect it happens regularly.

Scott Richards runs, or rather is, a company that produces hand painted nautical flags denoting the West Coast’s favorite surf spots.  I asked him if he considered these triangular canvas flags nautical, or if they are pennants, and he just shrugged. That sort of technicality, or rather strict terminology, does not appear to be his concern. He rather offhandedly added that he would suppose they are pennant like in their one sidedness but nautical in their construction, which tells me he has thought all of this through, he is not flippant, just casual and unconcerned. What is important is that he makes them, and that people, including himself, like them.

I like them too.

Scott went to art school and came out as a “visual communicator, the air quotes were all his. He went on to work with all the cool kids at the cool companies, Quiksilver et all, but has now decided to spend his time just making cool stuff. Less corporate, more making, and if you wander around his studio space, because he will let you do that, it is obvious that this guy is tactile. Little knick-knacks and block prints fill all the open spaces on shelves and in corners, objects and made images, the sorts of things that aren’t ads, but advertisers work hard to incorporate. This place isn’t so much projecting an “image” but is very much making the base level stuff on which images are built. It is hard not to love it. All of it.

We chatted a bit about art, about surfing (how I’m really bad at it), and a bit about business. He is doing a National Park series, all sorts of custom orders, it looked like things are going great but mostly they just seemed relaxed and happy. I left appreciating not just what Scott Makes, but enjoying the whole thing. Scott’s studio, the company, the company he keeps, the way he goes about all of it. It is materialism done right.

Less of needing and wanting more stuff and accumulating or winning- more of the taking what is tangible and crafting meaning and value.

For me, it’s Doheny.

CRT Simplified, Day 7

Microagressions are small, often unintentional slights, not even necessarily insults, but little pin pricks based on a marginalized characteristic (such as race, sexual orientation, gender, nationality).

Any one instance of such would be no big deal, but the thing is, they add up.

It’s like when my older brother used to hold me down and begin tapping me on the forehead till I could name ten fruits. It wasn’t painful but man it was annoying and made it super hard to do something that was normally simple- naming ten varieties of fruit.Microagressions are just like that, except instead of my big brother its American society and instead of naming ten fruits, Black people are just trying to live life.

The concept of microagressions fit solidly within CRT in that they become very evident and pervasive (endemic) when we listen to non-white people (counter-storytelling).

Now is the Time for We Who Have, To Give.

It rained this week for the first time in 7 months.

I took the time to go walking in the foothills so I could smell the sage brush’s sweetness thick in the air. These days I spend most of my time at home. We all do. Or should.

I commute down the stairs, shop in the kitchen, dine-out on the patio. I work on a screen with a keyboard and camera. The kids are at school upstairs. I can hear one running in place for gym while the other discusses a book with a teacher she has never really met. I talk and I type. I toggle from one platform to another, meeting after meeting, spreadsheets and PowerPoints.

I have ordered 23 bottles of non-alcoholic spirits online. I have learned to mix zero proof martinis, Manhattans, even a gin fizz. Seven months ago I had never mixed a thing. My hair is long. I have cut it once since we all came inside, I paid a private person to cut it in their kitchen. I think I like my hair long and my professional world doesn’t seem to mind, so it stays. It is like the young me is trying to peek through the wear, tear, and weight of the me sitting here now. He is welcome as long as he behaves and doesn’t try to crowd out the better me I have become.

I have oft complained about suburban life and its anti-social construction. Out here we put up walls and fences, gates to our neighborhood, rules about lawn height and house paint. We move about in isolated metal boxes only coming within ten feet of another person in the grocery store or the mall. No one comes into our personal space unless we invite them in to see our new granite counter tops or we need them to fix the air conditioner.

I find it incredibly uncooperative and over protective and now I have to admit it may be saving my life. I am relatively safe from COVID-19 and I am absolutely living in comfort.

A lot of people are not.

Many have jobs and homes but work in those grocery stores or hospitals. Some have lost their jobs and worry they will now lose their homes. Some are staying home with unpleasant people while others are locked down all alone. Some, too many, have moved from homes into hospitals. Others even worse. I should be, and am, grateful.

But gratitude feels a little like gloating if it isn’t accompanied by something other than taking and keeping. I feel there should be a next step. A more. But maybe not just giving back. Giving back to others who have given turns those gifts into transactions. Those are fine, if that is what they are, but in closing that loop we remain closed in- or off. These circles don’t help anyone outside a preexisting loop, and most of us that are doing fine, are doing so in large part because we are lopped in.

So I need to open up. We need to give out. Gratitude for what I have is best expressed by sharing with those without.

And how do I do that while locked inside my safe suburban home? COVID safe behind closed doors and community safe within my gated community? I have to do it. Me. I have to think, try, and follow through. If I can spend on mixed mocktails I can also spend on a shelter. If I can Zoom and click for what I want I could find ways to do the same for others, and I should. If I have comfort than I can surely give more. If others are without, I should help. I could give more. I could give almost all. I really could.

I know I could and should give more because in this time of turmoil, where I have a new couch and armchairs, where payroll automatically deposits checks into my bank every month, where the temperature outside doesn’t influence my clothing choices at all, where I click a button and people bring me things right to my door, the things that have made me happiest, are first:

the people in my home, but second- is the dusty smell of the sage brush wafting above the damp ground.

Now is the time for me to help those who don’t have those things.

I will be fine.

Punk Rock Where You Don’t Expect: out of place in Mexico City

IMG_2546We went to that part of town to visit a library full of books written in a language I can’t read. I had never been to Mexico City before and this library’s design is world renowned. The shelves hang from the ceiling rather than standing on the floor. It is giant, cathedral-like, and filled with books written in Spanish.

 

I don’t Speak Spanish.

 

But I know what looks cool, and that spot is cooler than most, so we went.

 

As we opened the Uber door and stepped to the curb something unexpected happened.  Right next door, in a graffiti covered alley, was something loud that I recognized.

Blaring horns, a solid bass rhythm, and a heavy back beat. Played fast. I did not expect to hear punk ska in Mexico but expectations don’t matter so much when you are in the moment, and in that moment, I followed the sound.

 

The alley was packed full of temporary booths and tons of people. Ramones t-shirts, black leather jackets, and Doc Marten boots were both stacked on tables and worn by the crowds. A thousand or more people sporting full mohawks and spiked collars pushed their way through crowded stalls looking at stickers and buttons. I saw Bad Brains cassettes and Sex Pistols albums, anarchy logos and large gauged earrings everywhere.

 

And we joined in.

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My buddy looked at where we were, looked me up and down, and just started laughing. He shook his head and said, “Dude.”

 

I had to laugh as well. It wasn’t just my Anglo skin and bullet straight part -I was wearing khakis.

 

I was the very visual embodiment of “The Man”, a square, the epitome of suburban dorkiness, middle aged middle class might as well have had a flip phone clipped to my belt; shouldering my way unabashedly into a Mexico City punk fest.

 

I didn’t care.

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I didn’t care because I have rarely felt I fit in anywhere.

 

It isn’t that I haven’t wanted too, in fact I have made all sorts of efforts to find my place. It is more that in those efforts, on that journey, I have traversed so many spaces and places looking for a fit, that what I mostly found was overlap. It is natural (more so for some demographics than others) to see ourselves as the center of the world’s Venn Diagram, but I think my overlap was a little less centered. A bit more marginal. Like I am the outside circle of a million other group’s graphics but rarely checking off multiple boxes, or enough boxes to gain full membership. On such a journey one must either find a place and conform, or gain some sort of peace being a misfit.

This place had Misfits gear galore.

 

I didn’t care how I looked because I knew all the words to all the songs on those bootleg disks and coming out of those speakers. I learned them when I was 12. I learned them alone in my room listening to alternative radio or lurking around that one back rack of the record store. And here it all was in Mexico?

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I loved it.

 

I had no idea what the live bands were singing, but skankin’ just needs that rhythm and a mosh pit was never really content driven.

 

I fit just enough to feel at home.

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Toro

The hardest part, is watching,

when a bull doesn’t want to fight.

To see this muscled and behorned beast stand in the middle of the ring, looking around, shuffling its haunches trying to shake off whatever it is causing that pain in his back. He looks at that fool on the horse, those men waving those blankets, and all of us up in the stands, and he just stands there. Done. He wants none of it.

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But he is not done- yet.

 

This is when I learn a large part of the matador’s job, a part I had not considered, is to maintain both the attention and ire of that bull. The taunting, the waving and twirling, is not merely pageantry but an attempt to focus a confused animal in a raucous arena, on fighting when it might rather just die.

 

And the bull will die.IMG_6088

 

With blood flowing from its hump, spears protruding from his back, he will get the sword and he will fall. He enters the ring a raging beast and leaves a carcass drug across the dirt by draft horses. There really is no excuse for this being entertainment. It is not just blood sport but execution for pleasure.

But when that bull is mad.

When it fights.

 

That is a show.

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The bull is built to win. Strong, fast, aggressive, with its goring weapons built in. The man cannot do anything without the help of some other tools. Spears, swords, the walls of the arena, the entire arrangement is built to grant the matador some advantage, and yet his victory is never quite sure- though the bull’s defeat is definite. And it is fascinating. It is one of the oldest evidences of a completely first world behavior, the risking of human life in the process of doing something that could be done much better, safer and efficient, in some other way, almost any other way- in the name of sport. For fun.

 

For money.

Sitting in the grand stands of a giant arena, eating a chocolate churro filled with cream, my American friend and I are stunned into a silence when the first bull fell. All around us people are shouting Spanish words I do not know, waving white handkerchiefs in the air, and a brass band begins playing a dramatic dirge. The two of us pause, unused to confronting the death of an animal, or anything for that matter, live, right in front of us. We live and work in offices and restaurants, parks and museums, clubs and suburbs, all insulated from the death we know exists. We order a steak at Ruth’s Chris, bloody rare, drive past a dairy and complain of the smell, fully aware that we exploit both life and death for our own sustenance, and despite our knowledge and awareness of it all, we find ourselves ignorant in the presence of that moment of death.

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I do not like it.

 

I am not comfortable. It makes me ashamed in a way I did not expect. Not simply ashamed for participating, or being complicit in a blood sport, but surprisingly ashamed that despite my awareness of death, my acceptance of it, I look away when in its presence.

 

I am more comfortable when someone else does it. Somewhere else. Where I can’t see.

 

Prosciutto, jamon, bacon, whatever, and I am fine with it. I can move past ignoring the devouring of what was once living, comfortably into rationalizing and prioritizing, but it is at the point of doing that I cringe.

 

My inbred ideas of manhood are offended not by the death itself but by my repulsion to it. I can work my way past the masculinity only to then be halted by class. I have the privilege of enjoying the fruits of others destruction, rejecting any value in being the one to do the work or endure the pain.

 

In my own self-loathing, respect for those down there in the ring begins to grow.

 

No matter what I think of any of this, I sit up here judging while they are down there doing. Confronting. Risking. Acting.

 

They can be wrong about all this and still be better than me.

 

And then, thanks to my inbred training, hundreds of years of practice, I work myself through all the ways I am not so bad. Sure there is this or that, but there is also that other this and that, and when taken in bulk- I am good.

 

And if I am good while sitting up here in my feelings and those brave enough to act are better- then they must be great.

 

So I too start to cheer.

 

I learn to love the flair and the bravery of man versus beast. I appreciate the vain glory martyrdom of fighting in the face of sure defeat. I respect the idea of offering one’s self up to do that dangerous thing in order to give the condemned a chance for one last win.

 

The matador, offering himself as potential sacrifice, so the condemned have a chance to condemn another to a shared fate.

 

Brave and dignified.

But then that bull just stands there.

 

Hurt.

 

Tired.

 

Confused.

 

And we show ourselves, all of us, for who we really are.IMG_6095

University of Washington

The University of Washington opened in 1861.IMG_0127Fifteen years later the school granted its first degree, to a woman.FC6FFD36-14BE-4319-B90C-0DBEC874188C Thirteen years after that, Washington became a state.

UW is ahead of its time.IMG_0191

Today U-dub shelters more than 47,000 students from the Seattle rain. The university boasts one of America’s top medical schools, perennial powerhouse sports teams, and possibly the United State’s western-most statue of George Washington. It really does smell like rain and coffee, people really do wear flannel shirts looking like grunge rocking lumber jacks, and there is not a flat piece of ground on the entire campus. Just strolling around is a serious workout.IMG_0180It is notable that Bruce Lee attended UW before dropping out, as did the world’s favorite glass-blowing pirate Dale Chihuly. Ken Jennings, that super nerdy guy who kept wining Jeopardy, didn’t drop out but instead transferred to BYU. Bill Gates, a famous college dropout did not attend UW, but his dad did. Kenny G attended UW where he, fittingly, studied accounting.IMG_0172

Things Worth Skipping Sleep for in Seattle: part 3

I myself am quite hefty.

I got this way in large part by enjoying a good meal. Seattle accommodated.

I had fried salmon- because “Worth It” told me to,

Elk and huckleberry sausage because it was a biergarten,

Small batch chocolate because it’s always the best,

Charcuterie at a speakeasy bar because I am me,

But best of all was Rachel’s.

I have scoured the nation, all of it, for good craft sodas, and while I make no claim that I have tried them all, I do claim that the best destination in all the land for ginger beer,

Is hands down Rachel’s.

20 flavors of house made ginger beer on tap.

Cayenne, blood orange, pineapple mango, all go surprisingly well mixed in ginger.

Large and small refillable growlers.

There is also a window off to the side selling fried chicken and poke’.

 

Get on a plane and go there now.