Sunday, January 26, 2014

Refining Style at

There was a time when I furnished my rented apartment with "finds" from the street, meaning a dresser that had a least two drawers left in it or a futon that didn't smell, and for art I'd tack up a cool page from Rolling Stone magazine. Then, and maybe it was from female pressure in my life, I upgraded to furnishing my whole place at Ikea. $69 for a Billy bookcase seemed like swell deal, and how about those poster frames for $13 bucks? Now my "art" collection could have some class. But times have changed and so has my taste. Forty years will do that to you, as will a bookshelf that falls apart when you try to move it to another room. Perhaps living with a stylie woman like Sonia Q. will also be influential. I'm not rich by any means, I'm a school teacher, folks. But, now instead of filling my life with whatever's convenient or absolutely affordable, I save my money and wait for that special item to come along. Sonia just brought home a rolling wooden bar that would look beautiful in Don Draper's living room. She'd been eyeing it for a couple of months at Salvage Style in Maplewood, New Jersey. My obsession for the last year has been a search for the perfect schoolteacher's bag. I wanted something leather, something vintage, something of a mix between Dead Poet's Society and Indiana Jones. Then I found it at the fantastic vintage site Colette Kuhnsman, and her sister Danielle, have the best eye for one-of-a-kind items like a vintage retro egg chair, a ceiling lamp that looks like an artichoke or those very cool wooden card catalogues from old libraries. And, amongst all their super cool vintage stuff, I found my dream school bag. I've been saving my money, and now I'm the proud owner of the Sandast Theo Leather Briefcase. Now I can part ways with my twenty-one dollar OfficeMax Mega Bag Ultra.
                                                   Check out the style at:

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Becoming Even More Brilliant

The summer before I went off to college way back when, my father suggested two options. Go to a university (I had chosen Boston University)-- $100,000. Or, find a cabin in the woods and read the hundred greatest books ever written--$1,267. Beyond the cost difference, my father was skeptical about school learning, claiming he'd learned almost everything in life by living it and reading books. He had a point, because I spent a lot of my college years buried in books that I could have buried myself in on my own with a little bit of discipline. On the other hand, I was studying theater and half that education required being on stage and interacting with other actors. Monologues performed alone in my log cabin wouldn't have gotten me far. Not long into my acting career, I decided I wanted to be a writer (I know, two lucrative careers!). I thought to go back to school but then figured, I don't need to go to school to write; I just need to write. And, I did well: I published a play, got a job at the NY Post and the SF Weekly, wrote an advice column for a big Canadian magazine; hell, I even have a Wikipedia entry that calls me an "American Journalist". Even with all that, I felt I could be a much better writer, and I wasn't able to do that myself. Heeding my father's advice, I bought up every book I could find about the craft of writing. The problem was, even with the best intentions, I never read past the first chapter, and my talent as a writer leveled out. One thing that life has taught me is that I need deadlines to do things (like become a better writer), and what better place to have deadlines then grad school. So I'm going to grad school (University of San Francisco), I'm hoping for the price, my writing, and this blog, becomes even more brilliant.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Just put this photo up on Craigslist because I'm selling my old dining room table. I've already set up the meet for 2:30pm today, and a woman named Rebecca is going to take it off my hands and make it her own for $45. I'm a little emotional and actually said a little goodbye and thank you to this table and gave it a tender caress with my hand. I know it's not a person and shouldn't elicit such feeling, but it has also been my table for the last eight years. I had it in my old life in NYC; I drove it across the country to my new life. I've eaten thousands of meals off of it, I created the first curriculum of my teaching career on it, I hosted board game night with friends on it, I've folded laundry on it, I've had family sit around it. It's solid wood top is charged with memory. It's a cheap table and a little wiggly, and I thought to jut put it on the street for some passerby to pick it up, but my emotional connection stopped me. I wanted to give it to someone who really wanted it, someone who would keep the charge going. So Craigslist, $45: a little effort to get it and a little money. Goodbye little table, I love you, and I hope you're all this and more for years to come.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Old-Fashioned Sexy

Well, this is a table filled with inspiration, with both a quick glance and a zoomed in closer perusal you'll see what I mean. My good buddy texted it to me today while he was walking through Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Said it reminded him of me. Old typewriters turn me on! I got a small collection of three. I type little impromptu haikus when I entertain guests at my abode. A recent one went like this: I bought tonight's meal/last minute from Trader Joes/but said I cooked it. I also collect old clapboard suitcases. Recently at a steampunk art gallery opening, a cool burning man, side show DJ spun records from inside such luggage and a vintage pin-up girl swung from a rope swing in the middle of the proceedings. I'm thumb-typing this blog entry from my galaxy transponder (my iPhone), but if I could post it from an old typewriter, I most certainly would

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Pirates, Cowboys, and Circuses

Cruising on Valencia St. down in the Mission there are some cool bookstores. Probably my fave is Dog Eared Books. I like bookstores that have new and used books on the same shelf. This means you can search your favorite author (I usually judge a bookstore by their Paul Bowles collection) and see an array of different covers of different editions through the years. When I'm traveling in other countries I love to find foreign editions of my favorite books. Funny, how much a cover gives a visual or mood of the reading experience. One of my favorite authors, Pat Conroy, has the worst covers; they're like sappy romance covers, and yet the stories are so cool. Salinger made a rule that his covers would be blank so some future artist couldn't mess with the mood of his storytelling. That's one of the bummers of these new e-readers; you can't see the covers of what people are reading. Same goes with mp3 albums; I couldn't tell you the cover of recent albums I've liked. But back to Dog Eared Books; they have a whole McSweeny's/Dave Eggers section. They also have a section dedicated to pirates, cowboys, and circuses. If you're ever looking for me, you can find me there.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Other People's Memories

They were selling these at the Museum of Modern Art's gift shop. Plastic wrapped packages of other people's memories! Someone's miscellaneous personal photos could be yours for $2.99. I've always been fascinated by this phenomenon. I was at a flea market a few years back and came across a table with a few shoeboxes of old family photos. I looked through all the memories and felt bad this fella had reached a point where he needed to sell his photographic connection to the past. When I asked him why he was doing it, he got outraged, and said they weren't his photos, he'd never sell his own family photos. And yet he had no problem selling someone else's. My grandfather passed away and there are whole photo albums of his past filled with people and memories I don't know. I'm keeping them for now, but someday will probably sadly let them go. Someday my photos will need to be let go. Maybe I'll throw them in a big bonfire or send them on a rocket into space. Or maybe I'll sell them to art connoisseurs at the MOMA.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Pirates and Thieves

If you live in San Francisco and your stuff is stolen, this is where you go to find it. Donut World on Market and 7th. The employees sell you donuts and the scraggly customers sell you stolen loot. In my early days living here, my front bicycle tire rim was stolen. I came down to Donut World, ordered a maple old-fashioned and mini carton of 2%, and sat at a sticky table in the corner. Eventually a shady guy approached trying to sell me an iPod. I told him I was looking for a bike rim and tire. He looked both ways and then told me he'd be back in five minutes. 20 minutes later he came back into Donut World, arms filled with bicycle rims of all sizes. I didn't see my exact one, but bought a similar one. He wanted ten dollars. I bargained him down to a buck. A year later, my entire bicycle was stolen. I went back to Donut World hoping to find it for 10 bucks. I was shown an entire rack of stolen bicycles a block away, plenty of nice ones too, but mine wasn't in the bunch. I thought to pay 10 dollars and upgrade to one of the stolen ones, but I didn't want to encourage this racket. San Francisco was once known as the Barbary Coast; a place of pirates, thieves, prostitutes, and tasty pastries. That world is still alive and well inside Donut World.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

My Sweet Ride

There are plenty of positives and negatives about having a sweet ride like mine. A big plus, seen obviously in this picture, is that it's a chick magnet. But there are other big positives. It drives forward. It's got those seat belts that automatically strap passengers in place. It can get into tight parking spaces because it's small like a clown car. It's got a rad cassette player and the speakers only rattle a little. It has solid AM radio. It can accommodate four dudes and their boards on a surf safari. Dents blend in. And, most importantly, nobody wants to steal it. But there are a few negatives too. It sometimes doesn't drive forward. It's got these beeping seat belts that automatically strap you in. It's small like a clown car. It's got a cassette player, and I threw those out in 1989. Dents are bold and plentiful. And, nobody wants to steal it. Even with these minuses, it's my sweet ride. Though, I do have two automotive dreams: One, to have a car that was made in the decade I'm living in. And two, to have a car with a key chain door remote. I'm just gonna keep dreaming, and maybe one day my ride will be even more sweeter.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Things Change

Jeeze, I'm starting to sound like an old man. I stand in front of my young students and paint a picture of my childhood, which doesn't feel that long ago, and they freak out like I was born in a impoverished, far away world. I talk about a time before computers, cell phones, internet, 1000 channel TVs, electronic chalkboards, mp3s, GPSs, and texting. I mention ancient things like CDs, VCRs, phones with cords, cardboard 3D glasses, encyclopedias, folding maps, handwritten letters, Madonna, JC Penny Catalogues, and snail mail. And, my students stare at me with a pitiful blank stare like I'm some Oliver Twist from a bygone era. But that's how I looked at my parents when they told me about sitting in front of the radio listening to the Lone Ranger radio hour, walking five blocks to watch the one black and white TV in the neighborhood, traveling by ocean liner, and walking to school both ways, barefoot through snow.  I showed my 93 year-old grandfather my iPhone and he said it looked like it fell out of a spaceship from an advanced alien civilization. I can't imagine what my students' childrens' lives will look like. They'll never remember a physical mailbox, and that's why this tree is eating one.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


I buy books based on their covers. I buy sports cars based on their curves. And, I buy wine based on its label. If I ran a winery and produced a wine, this would be it. If I ran a film company, this would be it. I'm even thinking about changing the name of my next book to this, with this exact cover. It says everything, doesn't it? Brings us back to a time when running to the end of a dock stretching into a endless summer's day lake, and launching into a hilarious cannonball was what it was all about. When I'm watching the diving at the Olympics, I'm always secretly hoping, during the tense finals, that the lead diver will plunge off the high platform and execute a perfect cannonball. Wouldn't that be joyous and life affirming? Yes it would.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Super Hero Dreams

The other day I was poking around my closet and found my long-lost childhood cape. It's a magic wizard's cape, purple on the inside and black on the outside, with stars. My mother sewed it for me when I was little. It used to go all the way to the ground when I had it on. There was a long period during kindergarten, I believe the whole year, when I wore it everyday to school. What an inspired, magic thing I thought, standing there at my closet, now an impossible 38 year-old. How wonderful that I wore my magic cape every single day and my 5 year-old colleagues celebrated me for it; at least, I think they did. I had pangs of sadness, of loss of youth, of death of super hero dreams, standing there with my childhood cape clutched in my hands. I decided, right then, that I was going to wear my cape all day, to work even. Thankfully I'm a teacher, and not a stockbroker, because my students loved it; at least, I think they did. Well, I loved it.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Is there any such thing as luck? That was the hot topic over drinks the other night with fellow conspirator, Harper Wortham.  He argued that luck was mostly out of our control, much like the Greek view of fate, and that it starts with the very circumstances under which we were born. Are we born privileged, do our parents push us to college, are we naturally social and thus do we mingle with opportunity? That like a row of dominos, lucky events are laid out in the stars, and fall across our paths. I passionately disagreed, feeling strongly that we make our own luck with being able too see opportunity and acting on it. To me, luck is hard work, preparation, and then when a vague yet enticing opportunity presents itself, seizing it. When people like to say, wow, you've led quite a lucky life, I think, no, it's just inspiration followed by hard work. That's not to say I don't have little totems to help me. I always hold my breath driving through the the rainbow tunnel in San Francisco and I always rub the head of Mr. Moneybags (pictured) when I pass him in the NYC Subway. And I collect my useless pennies and place them heads up on the sidewalk when I walk around town, spreading the inspiration. We are all lucky, and as Wortham says in his famous play, this is all a House of Lucky.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Best Cocktail Hour of my Life

My 93 year-old beloved grandfather has decided his time has come to dance into the next life. The family was notified, and I drove through the night to say my last goodbye. I sat at his side, held his hand, told him stories, cried a little. Then he whispered in my ear that he'd like one last cocktail hour with me. I looked over to the nurse who smiled and said anything is possible. I poured him his usual, a Smirnoff vodka on the rocks. I poured one for myself, too. He has been using this lollipop sponge to wet his lips with water, so we dipped that into the vodka and let him suck on it. He was happy as a clam. We dipped the sponge many times. We had many toasts. One to his great life, one to his safe journey to the afterlife, and one to a beautiful afterlife. When our cocktails were done, he whispered again into my ear, "That was the best cocktail hour of my life. I love you." 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Life in a Backpack

I dream, and fantasize, and pay a lot of money for this moment, pictured right here. This was actually quite a exhausting moment, trekking through Costa Rica and waiting for a bus that seemed to never come. And lugging a backpack that was too, too heavy. But the fantasy, and here the reality, is that everything I owned and needed was in that relatively small backpack. I had a great book, a journal, a map, a camera, two changes of clothes, and a bottle of water. My vast life was reduced down to those simple items, and it was wonderful and simple and clear. I am so often overwhelmed by the endless choices I can choose to occupy my rare free time with: books, magazines, cable TV, Netflix, internet, newspapers, friends, family, music, that 34-page article in the New Yorker. Traveling to a foreign place, with a small backpack, brings life back to the basics and time seems to elongate. Here's an honest to goodness truth: I travel to slow down time. To have a day feel like a week, and a week feel like a month. When you're ten, a year is 1/10 of you life-that's huge. When you're thirty-eight, a year is 1/38 of your life- and that flies by! A colleague of mine says it's simple mathematics. I'm committed to getting the best of those odds.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Writers as Rock Stars

A good friend of Inspiration Conspiracy, Julian Smith, recently came through Berkeley to promote his new book. His first book, Crossing the Heart of Africa. It's great. He put on his safari boots and retraced the steps of an Englishman who walked Africa, bottom to top, back in the late 1890's for a woman he loved. Julian did this, then wrote a book about it, then got it published by a big publisher, Harper Perennial. So he stopped at Books, Inc. on his well-deserved victory lap and even brought a slide show. And only 11 people were there!? What's wrong with the literary world? Julian finished a book! And his book is great. Have you finished a book? This kind of thing deserves a parade, a sold-out stadium. Not 11 senior citizens on folding, metal chairs. A decade ago, Dave Eggers came onto the scene with A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and not only was his title correct, but he also brought rockstar status back to being an author. He even went on book tour with a band, They Might Be Giants, and people were lining up around the corner to see him, and even scalping tickets. I saw Irvine Welsh read at the Elephant & Castle Pub, and there were hundreds of people, drunk and practically getting in fistfights to hear him read. And Sedaris, it costs $50 to see him read at a podium for an hour, and he sells out, and it's worth it. That's how writers should be treated, as the rockstars they are.