Congratulations, San Francisco!

“Congratulations, San Francisco! You’ve ruined pizza!” ~Anger (Inside Out)

san-francisco_sightseeingI miss California — the smell of the ocean being wafted to shore on the breeze. That scent of salt in the air, there’s just nothing like it. The seagulls swooping in with the tide, landing on the sand as if they were cats and the beach was one giant litter box. There’s just something about San Francisco, with its slanted street, with its Golden Gate Bridge, with its hippie pizza places, that makes me feel like I’m home.

I’ve never lived there, mind you. In fact, most of what I know about the city is through television shows and movies that depict it, but the small amount of time I spent there was enough to draw me in, to spark my imagination in ways that it has rarely been sparked before.

When I was 12, the Giants went to the World Series, and while I wasn’t really a baseball fan back then my favorite player was Will Clark, and he played for the Giants. So I was fascinated by that World Series, by that entire postseason really. Before every game I would study the lineups. Because the series was a “battle across the bay,” there was a lot of coverage of both Oakland and San Francisco, so I got to see a ton of footage from those cities. I loved every second of it.

I had been there myself just a few years earlier, while traveling with a couple of elementary teachers and a passel of students on a summer trip cross-country. We had seen so much on that trip, but what stuck with me the most was those two days in San Francisco. Only two days out of a dynamic summer, but there was just something about the place that gave me chills.

fisherman-wharf-san-francisco1Fisherman’s Wharf was phenomenal, that cool air, all the thick, corded rope that blocked off the end of the platforms, the restaurants that stretched on for what seemed like miles on end. We rode a double-decker bus and a trolley through the city, one mode of transportation a day, and both had extraordinary views of the city in all its unique glory. I remember wondering if we were going to fall off the edge of the world when we were on that trolley going almost vertical down one of the streets.

And even though that was nearly 30 years ago, I will never forget it. I haven’t forgotten it. It’s funny that the setting of my favorite animated film, Inside Out, was San Francisco, because it reminded me of all that was wonderfully strange about the city itself. From the organic pizza parlors, to the hippie vibe on the streets, to the thriving art scene, the city is a prime example of everything “different” in this world.

When Anger said, “Congratulations, San Francisco! You’ve ruined pizza!” I nodded right along, and let out a few laughs as well, because to him ruining pizza means putting broccoli on it, and I love that topping.

Maybe that’s why I miss California so much, and San Francisco in particular, because I like things that are odd, situations and places that are off the beaten track, that don’t conform to any expectations. Because that’s who I am as well, and a city after my very heart is one I won’t forget any time soon. And that Golden Gate Bridge all lit up at night is my idea of heaven.


Like Church Clothes

“What I wear like church clothes you wear like jewelry. All the simple things you revel in, they just suffocate me.” ~Matt Nathanson

846b1ff3b79965c69bafa9f8e1f4b5deI remember dressing up on Saturday mornings, pulling on my starched pants, crisply ironed shirt, dress socks, belt, and clip-on tie. They would be laying there spread out on the bed in the positions they would occupy on my body, like some disembodied ghost waiting for pixie dust to make them move. But I would move them as I got dressed, no ghost involved, piece by piece adorning my body for the inevitable. These were my church clothes.

Every week like clockwork I would get out that suit, those button-down collared shirts, those multi-patterned ties, and my fake smile, because it too was part of my church clothes. I wore that smile just as carefully as I wore everything else on the Sabbath, like if I let it drop I would never be able to pick it up again. And the judgements like rain would come down on my head, drenching me in their cacophony. Just like those church clothes had to be positioned just right, so did my patented smile.

There were some weeks when I would hold court, sitting in the main lobby and welcoming newcomers to the service, and to the strange creature that was honoring the Sabbath instead of some Sunday day of reckoning. I would sit there with my enormous smile, with my ironed slacks, with my starched shirt, and tell them things I didn’t even believe in. Of course at the time I didn’t know what I did believe in. I just knew it wasn’t what they wanted me to embrace.

I think I pasted that smile on my face because I didn’t know what else to do, because it was expected of me, just like those church clothes laid out for me on the bed. I couldn’t just leave them there and go in jeans and a t-shirt. There were expectations. There were lofty aspirations given to me from day one, so I had to embody them. I had to be the person they all wanted me to be, because if I wasn’t then their ideas of the future of the church would come crashing down along with me. So I smiled.

lecrae_these_are_my_church_clothesBut it pained me just as much as getting my wisdom teeth out, maybe more so, because wearing that smile weighed on my soul as much as anything could. It branded me a liar, a traitor to my own religious principles that never meshed with what the church told me I should think. I remember once questioning the pastor about it because I was torn up, and he told me it was a natural “questing,” that I would sort it all out and be better for the journey. It seemed to me like the self-help ideology I could never embrace, but how could I have expected him to make things better for me?

I still call them church clothes, by the way, even though I haven’t regularly attended a church in 21 years. When I pulled out one of my suits the other day, a suit I have never worn to any church, I said, “Time to put on these church clothes,” like it was time for that selfsame ritual once again, even though it wasn’t. I imagine it’s like a former gymnast remembering an Arabian flip years later, even though he can no longer do it anymore. The clothes still have the connotation, despite the fact that they will never enter the building.

So it’s interesting to me that I can still pull that smile out on command. Just like “church clothes.”


A Thousand Pictures


I have photographs, many of them. Some are in old, dusty albums that sit on a shelf until I deem them worthy again. Some are printed out in envelopes, and under papers, and stuck in books as markers. Some are on my external hard drive, thousands and thousands of them from years of taking digital pictures with various devices. But the vast majority of the photographs I have taken over the past two years live on my phone, in folders I put together in a hodgepodge fashion. And I have absolutely no idea what I will eventually do with all of them.

14991962_10211103393045845_3195557822219860074_nIt used to be that photographs were rare because of the time it took to set up the camera, to take them, and to get them developed. I recall waiting in line at the pharmacy while the men in white behind the counter flipped through folders to find those gems from family vacations, from family weddings, and from family reunions. Back then photographs were all about family.

Now we take pictures of our food and post them to Facebook. Just because. Now we take a million selfies and utilize something called duck face. Just because. Now, just because we can, we take more pictures than a few, and we share them with just about everybody. I was talking with someone the other day about their family and they started to tell me something about their life, and I realized I already knew it. Because I had seen all of their pictures on Facebook, because I had seen it all chronicled on Instagram, because I had the type of access absolutely no one had when I was growing up.

And we don’t develop anything anymore. We don’t have to. We probably end up “trashing” more pictures than we keep, because we can. Because in this world where everything needs to be perfect, or as close to perfect as possible, why keep photographs we don’t absolutely love? I remember probably about 10 Christmases ago, before we got a digital camera, we took about a roll and a half of holiday photos because we hoped that when we got them developed at least one would be usable. We had absolutely no clue what any of them looked like when we took them. Then, when they came back we laughed our asses off because so many of them were so useless.

944691_10209820887584010_4635596514194234540_nBut that was the glory of the non-digital age. Now we are raising children who have to see every single picture we take and who veto any that they don’t like. The second the picture is on our phones we can manipulate them and turn them into masterpieces that would have taken true professionals to achieve even fifteen years ago. With all these photo editing apps it’s crazy what a picture can end up looking like when we are done with it. All the spontaneity has been sucked out of the process.

Don’t even get me started on Snapchat.

My point is that photographs used to be treasured for their rarity. When asked the question of the one thing we would save in the event of our house burning down, the answer used to be unequivocally the photo albums. Because those were our memories, our precious links to the events chronicled on their glossy pages. But what millennials have physical photo albums anymore? Maybe some were passed down through their families, but more often than not they’re like me. All of their photos are in their phones, decorating their Facebook pages, and being used as wallpaper for their tablets.

A photograph is no longer special because we have been saturated with our own pictures for so long now. And the adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words” is simply no longer true. Because we now have a thousand pictures where there used to be just words, and they just don’t say as much.



Hating On Matt Forte


For one night only I am an Indianapolis Colts fan. I don’t just want them to win, but I want them to win big, and for no other reason than that I don’t want the Jets to get to run the ball with Matt Forte. Nothing personal, Mr. Forte, but you’re on the team playing against me with the fantasy playoffs on the line. In fact, you’re the last player on the opposing team, and if you score more than 22.6 fantasy points tonight you will doom my team to no playoffs.

So, yes, I hope the Colts get up early, and keep scoring, so that Ryan Fitzpatrick will have to spray the ball all over the lot and Matt Forte stays stuck in neutral.

All day long I’ve been imagining the dreaded scenario of Forte scoring a quick touchdown, and even worse of scoring a long touchdown, the double whammy of a lot of yards plus the touchdown. I’ve been thinking about watching the game tonight, my blood boiling over, as Mr. Forte takes it up a notch against a poor Colts defense. And I know it’s just football, and fantasy at that, but the season’s on the line, and I need just one face smiling down from on high. Just don’t make it Matt Forte’s face.

On the other side of things, there’s a woman in my league who is hoping the exact opposite. For her, the season also balances on a razor’s edge, the difference between her and the playoffs a Matt Forte 22.7 fantasy point performance tonight. She will be staring at her television screen praying that the Jets get to run early and often against that abysmal Colts defense because her fantasy team lost this week. It’s the perfect storm, everything reliant on a running back on this final Monday night of our fantasy regular season.

The game starts in two minutes, and I can only whisper a prayer that Forte doesn’t do well enough to cause this woman celebration, that I can be popping the metaphorical champagne myself when all is said and done. But there is really nothing I can do about it except watch and hope it all comes out my way. And I know, it’s just a game, but I’ve become invested, and there are worse things to be invested in.

Just so long as Matt Forte doesn’t hit those 22.7 points. Go Colts!


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