Kitchen Table

The Bungalow wasn’t always blue.  Built in 1926 in the outer, outer, outer, outer Excelsior, by the time we first saw it, in 1999, it was color of day-old oatmeal.   We painted it the same color as Batman’s cape circa 1967.

It’s likely that at some point in its first 74 years, the kitchen was remodeled, but there was little evidence of such.  It still had that old knob and tube wiring which meant that we couldn’t work the toaster and the blender at the same time.

But Nurse Vivian loved that old kitchen.  As did I.  Many of the drawers wouldn’t open.  The sink backed up every other Tuesday, and no matter what temperature I set the oven at, it still didn’t bake anything in under three hours.

The Thanksgiving after Nurse Vivian died, Pop visited.  It was the year of the triplets, and he took us out to Ikea to buy a kitchen table, as my mother had said that and the statue of Saint Jude were my inheritance.

In almost two decades, that table got burns from my chili, and fork marks from the boys.  The rungs on the chairs had been chewed through by some twenty-one rescue dogs all and all, and one of the legs was lower than the rest, so it was always like eating on board a rowboat.

And one day, I think it was either the day we got the thousand-dollar phone bill or the day Aidan got his head stuck in the staircase, we decided to renovate.

Four days before Christmas, we boxed up all the dented pots and PepsiCo glasses and closed the door on our ancient kitchen.  The contractor came in, and reduced it down to the studs and plaster. Everything went wrong that winter: Zane got suspended and Krypto passed away.  

We had moved the refrigerator to the porch.  Brian and I picked up a dozen frozen dinners at Safeway on the theory that we could microwave our way through the crisis.  The next night, the power went out in the entire outer, outer, outer, outer Excelsior.  I walked out to the porch and it started raining.  There are few things less appetizing than unfrozen tv dinners in soggy cardboard boxes.

I stood there and cried.  Zane came out.    By candlelight he saw the turkey meal in my hand, mashed potatoes now paste.  He put his hand on my shoulder, “Some days Dad, you got to tear down the whole kitchen if you want to make it better.”

We would have starved had it not been for Bravo’s Pizza.

When the contractor was almost finished, we had to pick the paint.  Zane chose turquoise, the exact shade of Superman’s costume.  We took weeks to schlep up all the dishes and Wonder Woman coffee cups from the basement.

We never got round to moving the table back.  The kitchen had shrunk somehow, and it no longer fit.

So dinners moved to the dining room.  Prior to that, that walnut table was used for Thanksgiving and maybe Christmas, but now we sat down there every night, held hands, said grace and toasted the best boys on earth.  Bandit quickly figured out where to sit under the table for maximum begging but for me, I feel a little “off.”  The view is better in the dining room, and Aidan has been pulling the leather off the chairs so that they would look as beaten up as the kitchen ones but it still feels sacrilegious to eat Hamburger Helper under a Waterford chandelier. 

He wasn’t quite ready for Zane’s absence to mean such focus on him.  When dealing with Zane skipping an entire week of school, Aidan’s C Minus in Social Studies never caught our attention.

But for now we helicopter.  Brian started looking for a science project, five months before the fair. We sit at the dining room table and review the Math, the Biology, the Vocabulary: “Aidan, what does ‘interrogate’ mean?”

“It’s what you do with my homework.”

 “What is the antonym for ‘sullen’?”

“You know I can’t tell an antonym from a cinnamon. “

“Or between a homonym and a heteronym,” I sighed.  To his questioning look I said,  “Heteronyms: when the way you pronounce a word changes its meaning. It’s the difference between tear in my pants and tear on my pillow.”

“Dad, you do know I’m going to be a heteronym when I grow up.”

It’s been a rough year, but we’ll get through this, even if the kitchen table doesn’t fit anymore. We’re down to the studs and the plaster, but sometimes you got to tear down as well as tear up if you want to make the family better.

Candy Soup

One hundred and ten years ago this week, America celebrated the first Father’s Day. Sonora Smart Dodd sat listening to a Mother’s Day sermon and thought of her Dad, Henry Smart, who had raised five children without benefit of a mother.  Couple of questions come to mind:

1.   Was one of Henry Smart’s children named Maxwell?

2.   If Henry was really “Smart” why was he parenting alone?  Trust me, one of the big reasons that Brian doesn’t divorce me is that he doesn’t want to get stuck with sole custody of the boys.

Nevertheless, the idea caught on.  It never got as big as Mother’s Day, mind you, but Hallmark Cards did see it as having potential for revenue during its slow season.  Nevertheless, all of the presidents, from Teddy Roosevelt all the way through Lyndon Baines Johnson, passed up on the chance of making it an official event.  It wasn’t until Richard Milhous Nixon, in one of the last acts of his presidency, signed the holiday into law in 1972. Forget China.  Forget Watergate.  Thanks to the 37th president (and Sonora daydreaming during a sermon), every third Sunday in June, we get to celebrate the male nurturing spirit.

Back in South Ozone Park, Pop was good about making sure that we celebrated Mother’s Day.  The day before he drove Brother X, Brother Not X and me around, first placing flowers at Grandma Sadie’s grave, and then making sure that each of us had a decent gift for Nurse Vivian the next morning.  Worked every year, except for the year that Pop got drafted to work on that Saturday, so he gave Brother Not X a twenty and told him to pick out something.  The next morning, he presented a bronze statue of a monkey scratching his head and holding Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.  God bless Nurse Vivian.  She put it right on top of the television.

But Nurse Vivian was not quite as good about the reciprocal holiday, so on Father’s Day Pop got three very colorful, very polyester neckties that he wore once on each of the next three Sundays at Saint Anthony’s.

Father Fusco, the rector of that church, fussed over Mother’s Day, belting out the Ave Maria in his worst Queens accent, telling us how every mother was connected to Mary.  He paraded a statue of the Queen of Heaven around South Ozone Park and the parishioners were expected to tape money to it: sort of a Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Virgin-Mother.

But by June, Father Fusco had run out of steam.  He spent his sermon yelling at the parishioners who stopped coming to mass for the summer, and never mentioned St. Joseph, who Brother X called the “the Frosted Father of God.”

Pop never complained.  And we went home after mass, and I burnt his bacon, Brother X broke the yolk on his on his sunny side up egg. 

Even in a classically-structured family, Father’s Day is the Rodney Dangerfield of holidays.   But in a two dad family, we each have to sneak the boys away on the same Saturday so that both of us get surprised.  It’s a little more complicated this year, as Brian has yet anotherdance tour starting this Sunday, so I have to sneak the boys away to get a surprise for him, then a surprise for myself. And I will probably have to wake up early to surprise myself with breakfast in bed.

Zane says that this is why he likes being in a two father household:  he only has one parent’s day to worry about, and Papa does all the work. This is another reason why I love Papa: he has never once given up on this family.

Favorite moment of fatherhood:  three years ago, Aunt Dorla took mercy on us, and took the boys over to her house to make brunch.  She asked Aidan what he wanted to make, and he said, “Candy soup!”

“Candy soup?”

“You take a big bowl and pour candy into it. Then stir it up.”  Sounds like a recipe for family to me.

So this is my advice to my beloved readers:  don’t buy a polyester tie for your patriarch.  This much I learned from my father, and is true of me a half century later.  Dads don’t want gifts.  They want words.  So start this Sunday morning off with the following: “This is why I love you Dad:” then come up with at least one good reason.  

Feel free to throw in a bowl of candy soup.

Life Cycle

We don’t change the world.  We only change the corner that we live in.   We do that by being kind. In our case, that means making the bedlam bungalow in the outer, outer, outer Excelsior a better home for the family we chose.

This column talks about the sons who chose us: Zane and Aidan.  And the dogs who chose us: Buddyboy and Bandit. Brian still says that he didn’t have much choice with me in that I was a rescue husband, but it not true that he found me in a pound.

But before the boys, there were the triplets, and that in itself was an entire book, A Song for Lost Angels.

But before even that there was Tim.

Tim was Brian’s roommate when I met them both in 1985.  They lived in a coldwater flat above a funeral home in Jersey City, and within six weeks, I moved in as well.

Living with Tim was like living on a craps table, and we never knew where the dice were going to land.  We came home and found that he had painted the dining room Pepto Bismol pink.  He took a nap once, forgetting he had left his keys in his pocket, and poked a hole through the waterbed, producing a little rainforest on the coffin during someone’s wake. He brought home stray cats and stray boyfriends, and Tim had bad luck with both.

I couldn’t fight with Tim, because the only steady job Tim ever had was writing pornography, so whenever we argued, he would make my aunt or my mother a character in his books.

But family is the people you love even when you’re mad.

In the summer of 1986, Tim and I took the Long Island Railroad to the ferry out to Fire Island, and there, sitting on the dunes, he told me that he was infected with HIV.  At the time it was a death sentence, but Tim was determined to fight.  We put up an ironing board on Christopher Street and raised money.  We joined the first group of ACTUP in New York.  Tim and Keith Haring and I painted bloody handprints on the sidewalk to protest the Mayor’s indifference.  We got on a bus, put on clown masks and protested that the President.

No, we weren’t the cure.  But little people like us, protesting in our little corners, coaxed money for research and cocktail therapies and protease inhibitors.  But not in time for Tim.

As Tim got sicker we all moved to San Francisco, because Brian and I wanted to live here, and Tim wanted to die her. He became a Wiccan priestess, and started his own coven.

Tim’s last night in Davies hospital, I sat in a vinyl chair reading Isabel Allende’s Zorro to him.  By this time, he was almost blind, and his sister had mailed him Nells, anisette cookies, and the two of us sat there chewing on the wafers, a last communion of sorts.   Brian arrived, and he asked one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to watch then-baby Zane.  He asked the nurse to disconnect Tim from all his tubes for just five minutes, “to get a breath of fresh air.” I wheeled him to the outdoor deck, and Brian pulled out a pack of Marlboros.  Tim shrugged, “What the heck?  At last a guilt-free cigarette.”  Took three tries to light it in the wind.  Tim and Brian inhaled, their own communion of frankincense and nicotine, as the fog swirled down from Buena Vista Park. I asked. “What do you think happens next?”

Tim replied, “Not sure what I’m gonna be doing.  I guess that depends on your religion.”  He grabbed my hand.  “But, Kevin, remember what the Wiccans say on Halloween: ‘They are dead, so I must live!’”

We remember Freddie Mercury, Rock Hudson, Isaac Asimov, Robert Reed, Anthony Perkins, Alvin Ailey.  And Tim.

There are an estimated 1.1 million people living with AIDS in the United States. There are more than 36 million people living with AIDS in the worlds, and, sadly, an estimated million persons die from AIDS each year.

What can I do?  What can you do? Our friend, Rich Bennett, rides 545 miles on the AIDS/Lifecycle Tour to raise money for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, first established in 1982 and dedicated to the mission of making San Francisco the first city to reach zero new infections.

So do one kind thing today. Go to www.tofighthiv.org/goto/RichardBennett.  Donate a dollar or two.  Make your corner of your own outer, outer, outer Excelsior just a little bit better

Ticked Off

Nurse Vivian went on every one of my field trips, and so I go on every one of the boys’. Not always a good idea. The teachers know what I do for a living, and they know how “spirited” my sons are, so they tend to put the other “spirited” kids in my car. They’re the first ones on the roller coaster vomiting up cotton candy. True story: On the trip to the Exploratorium, two boys had a contest to see who could put more sand in their ears. So when Ms. Munoz asked for chaperones on the hike to Mount Tamalpais, my son Aidan made sure that my name was on top.

 

Father does not always know best, despite whatever Bud Anderson may have said. No, fathers are frequently wrong.

 

My son Zane is 14, which means that Father never knows best. The problem with 14-year-olds is that even when I say, “I told you so,” he doesn’t believe me. I quote Mark Twain, who said, “When I was 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in 7 years.” Zane rolls his eyes.

 

We are in that rough patch of letting go that is called teenage. It is the age when any normal boy, let alone a spirited boy, breaks the rules just for the sake of breaking them.

 

I was 14 once and I picked up my own bad habits, which makes me something of a hypocrite when I judge his. Brother X made me memorize the words on the Budweiser label before I took my first underage drink, and I wish there was such a test nowadays for my child before he embraces a new vice.

Maybe that’s the issue. He is no longer “my child.” He is “my almost adult.”

Though I cannot control high school, I’m still in charge of weekends, and so we went up to San Anselmo to visit our friends Stephanie and Mordecai (the SASBs). The SASBs also adopted children, and even though theirs are not quite as “spirited” as ours, they still understand the road we travel: extreme parenting.

 

Stephanie’s the sensible one. As soon as friends pull up the driveway, she uncorks a bottle of wine and lets the adults visit while the children ignore each other by playing on electronic devices. Mordecai, however, has this eccentric notion that children really want to spend time with their parents, and so he yelled out to his boy, some neighbors’ boys and my boys, “Let’s go for a hike.”

 

Two thoughts went through my head: (1) Maybe I should do a practice hike before I take on Mount Tamalpais and (2) Mordecai’s a vegan. He’ll never be able to handle my two sons out in the woods. So I put my sneakers on and said, “Let’s go.”

 

Aidan nodded, but Zane said, “No.” No coaxing could prevail. “Dad, I’m gonna try being reasonable with you. Trails have woods. Woods are full of spiders. Arachnophobia. Most common fear of a 14-year-old boy.”

 

I hunched my shoulders: “Zane, you can’t live your life afraid of one little bug.” Aidan and I ambled off, following Mordecai onto the Solstice Trail. I knew I was in over my head when we passed the sign that read: “DANGEROUS ANIMALS may be present including MOUNTAIN LIONS & RATTLESNAKES.”

We do not define the journey. The journey defines us.

We climbed on, past the star lilies, periwinkles and fiddleheads, over streams and up rocks.

 

Aidan stuck with me the entire time, even when the other four boys disappeared up a creek bed, searching for frogs, finding a snake.

 

We wandered back, just as dusk was sliding through the Monterey pines. We bid adieu to the SASBs and drove south through the fog. As we crossed the Golden Gate, Aidan complained, “My back is itchy,” and I had no cure other than scratching. We got back to the bedlam bungalow in the outer, outer, outer, outer Excelsior, and my always-wise husband, said, “Aidan, take a shower.”

 

It was then we discovered the scariest tick ever to inhabit the Northern woods. Aidan panicked. I panicked. Papa calmed. As we called the emergency room, ready for another journey into the night, Zane whispered, “Daddy, it’s still nice to say I told you so.”

 

Drag

After twenty-three years, I’m out of jail.  Fortunes change, and I’ve been re-assigned to work in the crown jewel of San Francisco: City Hall.  Built in 1913, it’s the tallest rotunda dome in the United States, 307 feet. The story goes that Mayor “Sunny Jim” Rolph sent someone down to DC to measure the nation’s capital building, and then went ahead with a building 42 feet higher.  With a dome in 23.5 carat gold leaf, no less.

There’s a grand staircase of Tennessee pink marble.  Harvey Milk used to walk up it every single day that he served on the Board of Supervisors, saying “when gay people walk into City Hall, they should walk right up those stairs to let people know they are here.”

Gay and straight, about thirty couples a day stroll down that escalade to get married. 

One of the ways in which City Hall is different than jail is that here people are betrothing themselves every day.  This is, after all, is where Joe DiMaggio married Marilyn Monroe, and, what the hey, even though the honeymoon only lasted 274 days, it was still a storybook wedding.

Brian and I also got married here, looking decidedly less glamorous than Marilyn. Our sons Zane and Aidan served as the ring bearers, so it looked a little less like a shotgun wedding and a lot more like a semi-automatic.

But each day, as I walk those stairs, I see hoop skirts, and empire cuts, in white, as each bride putting rings on their Prince Charming.  It makes me smile to see people so dressed up, so full of hope.

Which brings me to last Wednesday night.  Didn’t feel like cooking, so I called the husband and asked where he wanted to go to dinner, knowing that Brian only ever has four restaurants he will choose from, one of which must serve fortune cookies.  He surprised me by saying that Hamburger Mary’s had re-opened, in the Castro, and that he would meet me after teaching at ODC.  After a stopover at Cliff’s Variety Store (I walk in to buy a screwdriver and walk out with a Le Creuset Dutch Oven), the boys and I walked into the restaurant, and Loma greeted us at the door.

Loma is a drag queen.  Just like those brides at City Hall, Loma was dressed up in her Sunday best, in her case a black bustier a la Madonna, all full of hope. As we ate our fried pickles, chocolate milkshakes and nachos, she sang “Express Yourself.” Zane’s eyes lit up.  He grabbed a couple of bills to hold up, ecstatic.  “Papa” he smiled at Brian.  “This is just like Ru Paul.  How come you never took us to a strip club before?”

Funny the things we gay dads miss.  We’ve coached the boys in soccer and basketball, taken them to Giants games, gave them the birds and the bees speech, but we somehow never got around to explaining the difference between a strip club and a drag show.

This was, of course, more of Brian’s lane than it was mine.  I’ve only done drag twice, the first time being October 31, 1963, when, much to my surprise, Nurse Vivian dressed Dennis McCormick and me as gypsy queens for Halloween.  Even then I made an ugly drag queen, but I was surprised sixteen years later when she expressed shock that I had turned out gay. The bigger question in my mind was: how did Dennis McCormick turn out straight?

But my husband Brian is the drag impresario in the family, having been paid to put on a dress and tap shoes eight performances a week in the original production of La Cage Aux Folles.

Most gay history was suppressed so it was never written down.  Thus there is considerable debate about where terms like drag queen arose.  One apocryphal story was that it came from the stage direction, “DRessed As a Girl” but more likely it came from theater slang in the 1870’s because the performers had to dragaround huge skirts to pull off the effect.  Thus, drag has always meant larger than life.

As Uncle Jon used to say, when he put on his silver lame shift, “You can’t be subtle and still be a drag queen.”  And as Zane and Aidan danced around Hamburger Mary’s, chili French fries acting as faux cigarettes, I realized that was probably an aphorism that best describes the Fisher-Paulsons.  We may not be as glamorous as Marilyn. Or Madonna. We’re loud.  We’re inappropriate.  We are NOT subtle.  

But we arelarger than life.

Crisis on Infinite Donuts

In this column, I’ve talked about Mordecai’s midlife crisis, which consisted of him getting a divorce from red meat.  I have not discussed my own mid-life crisis, which consisted of me buying a piano.  Why?  Men my age shopped for either a Corvette or a 20 year old, but I couldn’t afford the upkeep on either.  As my father used to say about Nurse Vivian, “When your mother turned 40, I tried to turn her in for two twenties, only then I found I wasn’t wired for 220.”  So I got an upright, and even though I can barely plunk out Jingle Bells, every time I play it I feel young.

 

This column has not talked about Crazy Mike’s midlife crisis, which consisted of him exercising himself back to the weight he was in 1976.  No matter how many times I told him that wrinkles and gray hair weigh a lot more than youthful contempt, and that therefore it was impossible to get back to the weight he was 42 year ago, he runs mile after mile after mile just to prove me wrong.

 

The exercise addiction began with an e-mail from his ex-girlfriend, who for reasons I do not entirely understand, began a correspondence with me the same day, and though I resolutely avoid running, she and I still exchange fudge recipes.  Point of clarity:  Crazy Mike’s wife never reads my column, but if this is the one day that she does, please be assured that the ex-girlfriend was a continent away and never in any danger of losing the “ex” status.  The romance is long over but the fitness routine remains forever.

 

No one gets happy by running.  They get happy by walking.  The one and only thing that Brother X and I have in common is that we both walk ten thousand steps a day.   When I jog I’m too busy sweating to notice that secret duck pond in McClaren Park. But when I stroll around the outer, outer, outer Excelsior, I notice the little things like the cow on John’s roof having changed out of its Easter bonnet in favor of a Cinco de Mayo Sombrero.

 

Which brings me to food.  Raised in South Ozone Park I never developed those New York prejudices about things like bagels only being edible if they were boiled in Canarsie after sunset on a Saturday.  No, I admit that in my Hoboken days I had a thing for the Dunkin Doughnuts on Washington Street.  True Story:  Zane’s godmother, Amanda, and I once drove from New York through New Hampshire through Rangeley Lakes, Maine, up to Quebec, all in search of an open Dunkin Doughnuts, finally finding one near St. Johnsbury Vermont at five  in the morning, only to find they were fresh out of doughnuts.  Words to live by:  Don’t go to Dunkin Doughnuts for the chipotle croissant.

 

One of the sweetest memories I have of Brian’s mother is that every time we went to visit her in Maine, she had a cinnamon sugar waiting in the car.

 

Having moved out here in 1991, I pretty quickly transferred my affection to Krispy Kreme.  What can I say?  I like it when my breakfast is both alliterative and convenient.   Krispy Kreme has been making doughnuts since 1937 when Vernon Rudolph brought a secret recipe from a chef in New Orleans.  I have actually tasted every single flavor there, the glazed sour cream, the Kitkat, even the watermelon, which is terrible, but not as bad as a chipotle croissant.

 

Last week, when I refused snacky supper and Mitchell’s ice cream both, Aidan tricked me into a doughnut dinner.  We can only do this on nights that Brian works late, as he does not subscribe to my theory that chocolate is a vegetable. We made the pilgrimage to Daly City, and pulled into the lot.  I opened the door of Krispy Kremes only to find they had betrayed me.  There, in bright gold lettering next to each flavor was the calorie count.

 

There are some things you should know the calorie count of:  like carrots or water.  These help us to feel virtuous.  But not doughnuts.  When I’m staring down a balloon of vanilla cream icing separated from a rooftop of chocolate frosting by only the thinnest membrane of fried pastry, the last thing I want to know is that it’s gonna cost me 339 calories.

 

Zane, in the infinite wisdom of a fourteen year old, took my hand and said, “Get the Karamel Kreme, Dad.  We’re the only family I know that has doughnuts for dinner.  Enjoy it.”

 

What the heck?  It’s less crazy than getting back to 137 pounds.

Easter Fool's

Nurse Vivian only ever once pulled an April Fool’s Day joke on me.  She ran into my bedroom, threw open the curtain and said, “Look Kevin, there’s a circus in town.”  There was no circus, never once in South Ozone Park, unless of course, you consider Brother X and Brother Not X to be a clown act.

We’re a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n roll in the outer, outer, outer Excelsior.  Zane goes to public school, so he is off the week before this week, and Aidan goes to parochial school, so he is off the next week.  This saves me from having to take the family on a spring break vacation, but makes scheduling my husband Brian’s four jobs, and my two jobs a little difficult.

What we do know is that all four of us will be off on Sunday, April 1st, which is the first time that Easter has fallen on April Fool’s Day since 1956, which was before even I was born.  Easter Fool’s Day. Someone should have thought of this a lot earlier, because it’s a great way to mix the sacred with the profane.  The Fisher-Paulsons think of ourselves in the Roman branch of Christianity, but in truth we are Secular Catholics:  we go in for the culture and the singing, but generally skip out on the genuflecting parts.

Before Brian and I ever drove those seven Pekingese’s across the country, in our great escape from New Jersey, we had read Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City.  So when we got there we found the Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista Café, and we knew to pronounce the chocolate “Gear-uh-deli” (or should I say “see”?), and I figured that round about the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox, I would get to the Sunrise Easter service on Mount Davidson.   Here’s today’s fun facts:  the 103-foot cross on top of Mount Davidson was built specifically to host the Easter Service. It was made out of concrete because the one before it burned down.

Never did get to that service.  This wasn’t a crisis of faith as much as a crisis of caffeine.  The notion of climbing to the highest point in San Francisco by six-thirty in the morning just seemed daunting.  This will be its 93rd year, and I still doubt I can make it up that mountain.  More likely, we will go to Most Holy Redeemer in the Castro, where they have their Easter Vigil at a respectable hour, and the next morning in the Bedlam Bungalow, I can throw a vegan ham into the oven, and ready for Easter dinner with the SASBs.

Sigh.  Brian, Zane and Aidan all hate lamb.  Mordecai turned vegan for his mid-life crisis.  Sasb is just about the only diner at the table easy to please (“if it goes with wine, it’s good.”), so I might be serving raw carrots with Pinot Grigio.  It is one of two days a year the Brian bakes bread, and that is just about all the holiday we need. That and family.

But we’ll miss the five hundred other events in the rest of Fran Sancisco. That’s the problem with this city:  too many damn things to do. There’s the flower show at Macy*s, this year called “Once Upon a Springtime.” There’s the Easter Egg Hunt at Fort Mason, on Easter Sunday from 10 to 11.

If you’ve got a bonnet, hop on down to the 27th Annual Union Street Spring Celebration, begin at 2 pm.  It’s the “biggest little parade in San Francisco.”  There will egg rolls, egg tosses, a bunny hop and best hat award.

And speaking of the sacred and the profane, The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a fabulous order of queer nuns, are hosting their 39th Easter Celebration, this year at Golden Gate Park, in the West Hellman Hellman Hollow. The theme this year is “Sacred Jesters and Wise Fools.”  Get the kids in early (10-12) for the egg hunt and face painting (mascara not included), Stay for the Easter Bonnet contest then get the kids out, cause after comes the truly secular Catholic stuff: Hunky Jesus and Foxy Mary contest.

And for the not-quite sacred, and not-quite profane, San Francisco will host its 40th Annual St. Stupid’s Day parade, on Sunday, April Fool’s Day, starting at the Transamerica Pyramid and meandering through the stations of the stupid over to Washington Park.  Wear something silly, bring confetti and prepare to be dazzled by the two-and-a-half-minute talent show.

The difference between South Ozone Park and Fran Sancisco?  Here, there’s always a circus in town. 

Blunt

Nurse Vivian was blunt.

As she was my mother, I was in no position to complain, but her bluntness wasn’t always a good thing.

The story goes that when I was born, Pop showed up with a Brownie camera.  It was a brown leather box with a hole on two sides, from which black and white pictures appeared several months later.  Pop loved that Brownie and had taken pictures of Brother X as Peter Rabbit, and Brother Not-X’s first holy communion and the two brothers joining the boy scouts.   But Nurse Vivian held her hand up, “Harold, put the camera way. This is the ugliest baby I’ve ever seen.  And I should know.  I’ve worked in a delivery room for twenty years.”

The camera went into the bottom drawer of the china cabinet, underneath the pinochle cards and the flatware that Nurse Vivian had won on Stairway to the Stars.

From 1958 until 1963 there were no pictures of the Paulsons in South Ozone Park.  Whenever Grandma Sadie visited, Nurse Vivian turned me face down in the crib, saying, “Doesn’t he have lovely hair?”

But in Kindergarten, Sister Mary Florence sent a note home telling the parents to send in a picture of their child for the bulletin board.  Nurse Vivian sent back a picture of Brother X, who was renowned as a beautiful baby.

But Sister Mary Florence was no nun’s fool.  The kindergartener in front of her did not have blue eyes, dimples and curly hair.  She called Nurse Vivian, “Simply put, Mrs. Paulson, it is your Christian duty to take pictures of your son.  I don’t care how he looks.”

Nurse Vivian, a devout Catholic, took the Brownie out of the drawer.   And every time she picked up pictures from the camera store she said, “Oh well, I guess you don’t get to choose family.”

We talk a lot about chosen family in this column, and most of the time chosen is off the record.  Uncle Brother-X and Uncle Brother-Not-X both live on the east coast, and the boys have only seen them a handful of times so for a while, the going rate was that if you took the boys to the movies three times you got Uncle status.  After Dorla, our neighbor, had taken Zane for his fourth walk to the top of McClaren Park, Zane announced, “You Unca Doya now.”

And since we have chosen family, we choose our holidays as well.  And this Sunday, March 25, is adoption day.  We don’t often get the chance to make those we love into legal family but it was on this day in 2005, that Zane Thaddeus officially became a Fisher-Paulson.

Brother X came out for the occasion, as did Mrs. X and son of X.  Annamanda flew out from New York, Nana flew from Maine, and the Alameda Courthouse was packed with uncles.  Turns out that Brian had taught ballet to the Judge’s daughter, so even she started crying at the adoption of the handsomest boy in the world.

For a family that loves ritual, there wasn’t much ceremony to the event, really just a lot of signing papers, the last of which Judge Nancy announced, “And this will be his new birth certificate.”

There we saw typed:  "ZANE THADDEUS FISHER-PAULSON" and right above that "Father:  Brian Fisher."  Took me a moment to figure it out, but there it was, right below, "Mother:  Kevin Thaddeus Paulson." 

"The forms are outdated," the clerk stammered.

"That's all right," Crazy Mike offered. "We already knew Kevin was an ugly mother."

Judge Nancy announced, "Zane is now adopted."  Much cheering, much applause and more than a few tears. We drank champagne, and then went to Yet Wah's for Chinese, the traditional restaurant for adopting babies.   My fortune that night?  “Your children will inherit your wit.”

But not my looks.  Thank God, not my looks.

I tend to farm out my vices, but not my looks.  Just as Brian is my designated drinker, Zane is my designated curser.  I expect Aidan will have to have an affair with a twenty-year old, another vice I’ve never quite gotten around to.

Nurse Vivian may have been blunt, but I get in the last word.  Let me quote the Velveteen Rabbit, “When a child loves…then you become Real.… Generally…most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But …you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

So Happy Adoption Day.  Choose to make it a great day.

Tooth Fairy

I do believe in fairies.

My son, Aidan, walked into the living room, an envelope in one hand, a thick marker in the other. He sounded out each word as he wrote: “Contents: one tooth. Please leave $5 under the pillow.” He looked me in the eye and said, “Apparently, the tooth fairy hadn’t noticed my loss.”

My husband, Brian, paid no attention. Normally a helicopter parent, except for two weeks every four years, he sits when watching slaloms, quadruple salchows and half-pipes and whatever else passes for an Olympic sport. There’s some kind of event with brooms and a hockey puck, but I’ve never figured that out.

But Aidan made sure I noted the delinquency of the pixie who visits the outer, outer, outer Excelsior. And, this, this was the very last of the 40 milk teeth that will ever leave the Bedlam Bungalow.

The boys have maintained a great relationship with Santa Claus, who, despite the behaviors of all four of us, has never once left a lump of coal. The Easter Bunny is a little more tentative in that he keeps forgetting neither of the boys eat hard-boiled eggs, but he has started bringing hot Cheetos and sour gummies.

But this was the end of an eight-year relationship.

On June 6, 2010, Zane earned his first dollar. Ms. Francis, his first-grade teacher at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, said 10 months earlier, “If any of you finish first grade with me in June without having lost a tooth, I will give you a dollar.” Twenty-two kids each with 20 choppers, her odds were roughly 440 to one that she would have to pay off. But Zane loved a long shot, and no matter how many candy apples and corn on the cob that kid went through, he made it with all 20 pearly whites intact.

That night, Maya, the girl-next-door, invited Zane and Aidan over for dinner, a celebration of the end of the school year. They watched “Tooth Fairy,” a film about a little girl who had lost her tooth, and a hockey player telling her she wasn’t getting anything for it, and how they both learned he was wrong.

I should have seen it coming, but as the credits rolled Zane asked, “Tell me the truth. Is there really a tooth fairy?”

Belief is such a fragile thing. Doubt is much easier, but once you start suspecting miracles, then nothing seems certain. This was the kid who had asked me, “Who’s faster? The Flash or God?” and I no longer had a neat little theological package for him.

So I took advantage of the boys’ ADHD, and suggested playing on the Wii, knowing that whatever else they questioned, their faith in Mario and Luigi was steadfast. I never did have to answer the question.

The next day, Zane dropped a bicuspid. Maybe it was Maya’s popcorn. Maybe it was a test of faith. But a dollar showed up under his pillow, and all was right with the world.

Aidan saw easy money. Started wiggling incisors, and by the next morning he had a buck.

He gave me a big hug, which I especially enjoyed, because he doesn’t like me quite as much as any of his uncles. From that day, he worked the chimerical personages who visited: “Daddy, do you think Santa knows I want an Xbox?”

“Daddy, I hope the Easter Bunny knows that I don’t like Peeps. They take up all the room, when I’m really just looking for chocolate.”

“Daddy, are you sure there’s no such thing as a birthday fairy?”

Aidan was just the opposite of me. Each visit to Dr. Moyer, I hoard my teeth, fearful that this was the time no root canal could save that molar from six decades of abuse. No, I treated each and every tooth like it literally had a gold crown. But Aidan kept ripping out premolars, sometimes by the root, and each time, he announced, “This one’s worth at least two bucks.” True story: He tried to pass off one of Krypto’s teeth as his own.

Watching a luge run down the track, I finally had the answer to Zane’s long-ago question: Doubt is easy, but when you get down to it, there’s no payoff in doubt. Once you no longer cherish mystery, you stop enjoying the moment. The real magic in the world comes from believing when there is no proof, allowing for sprites who pick up used teeth, trusting that there is such an improbable thing as love, and that families are made out of this love, no matter how strangely they are put together.

Aidan woke up to a five-dollar bill.

Hearts and Ashes

 

By Kevin Fisher-Paulson

February 12, 2018 Updated: February 13, 2018 3:18pm

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Photo: Kevin Fisher-Paulson

No Fisher-Paulson will ever get into the liturgical calendar, though I like the idea of Saint Aidan, Patron Saint of Video Games and Saint Zane, Patron Saint of Avoiding Homework.

Hearts and ashes. It’s what you get when you mix lunar with solar.

In A.D. 325, the Council of Nicaea established that, for Catholics, Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox. Ash Wednesday is 46 days before Easter. (I get into this argument every year, but, trust me, the Sundays in Lent don’t count as Lent).

 

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Valentine’s Day is not a Catholic holiday. Like most of the early saints, St. Valentine is the subject of a lot of different stories, some of which might actually be true. The one I like talks about his time as a priest. The Emperor Claudius II had forbidden soldiers from marrying, because he thought that the army would fight harder if there was the prospect of raping and pillaging at the end of a campaign.

But Valentine wore an amethyst ring bearing the image of Cupid as a secret signal that he was willing to solemnify marriages. At the end of the wedding, he cut a heart out of parchment paper to remind the soldiers to be faithful while away: from this was born the Hallmark card.

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In 1969, however, Pope Paul VI reorganized the liturgical calendar and gave up two of its best franchises: the Feast of St. Nicholas and Valentine’s Day. I can understand offloading St. Dorothy (patron saint of rainbows) and St. Zephyrinus, but Santa Claus?

Historical irony: He issued this edict (Mysterii Paschalis) on Feb. 14.

Nurse Vivian, my mother, was not big on Valentine’s Day. She thought it was a lace-curtain-Irish holiday, where those who could afford it got a box of Russell Stover’s candy, and Pop was notoriously bad about gifts. One birthday, he actually bought her a rowboat.

She was as devout as an Irish Catholic could get. The hottest July of the ’50s, at nine months pregnant, she still knelt though every night of a novena to St. Jude. She hated hats, but she wore one every single Sunday because St. Paul told her to do so.

Her crisis of faith came with this edict: Among the martyrs who got the boot was St. Viviana.

Nurse Vivian took us all out to dinner — me, Pop, Brother X, Brother Not X — to the fanciest restaurant in South Ozone Park: the Airport City Diner. She ordered herself a highball, Pop a godfather, and her three sons Shirley Temples. We toasted “all the saints who weren’t good enough for Vatican II.”

Here was the lesson I got: The guy in charge might be technically correct, but that doesn’t mean he’s right. When in doubt, go with your heart.

Speaking of which, for the first time in 73 years, Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday. Aidan’s school had already announced that the celebration was getting smooshed into Mardi Gras the day before, just in case any of the sixth-graders were giving up chocolate.

But I was ready to be resentful. We’re not supposed to eat meat on Ash Wednesday, and I’d already made a reservation at Le P’tit Laurent, craving coq au vin for the big date night. Even the scallops have bacon on them. I was all set to openly defy Pope Francis with my protein choice, but then I couldn’t find a babysitter.

Don’t really have a spiritual adviser, so I get my insights from random friends like Mordecai, who went vegan for his midlife crisis. We had dinner together last Saturday, and over his alfalfa sprouts he mentioned that the consumption of beef causes 11 times more greenhouse gases than any other food, and that reducing red meat consumption is a more effective way of cutting carbon emissions than giving up the car.

Sometimes we define the journey, and sometimes the journey defines us.

Didn’t think I was ready to give up sirloin as a lifestyle choice, but I figured that even I could skip a hamburger for six weeks. So tonight, I take Brian, the love of my life and dinner partner for 33 Feb. 14s, and my two sons out for dinner, and I will ask for the Veggie Valentine option. I count on my readership to keep me honest for the next 46 days, except of course for March 17.

Won’t get us into heaven. In fact, no Fisher-Paulson will ever get into the liturgical calendar, though I like the idea of St. Aidan, Patron Saint of Video Games and St. Zane, Patron Saint of Avoiding Homework.

But this family will remember that the holiday is not about what we eat, but whom we love.

Not So Great Expectations

Let go of expectations. I say that a lot when it comes to raising “spirited” sons. On the night I take the family out to Le P’tit Laurent, I shouldn’t expect that the boys will actually use forks rather than their hands to lift escargots.

 

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Letting go starts with me not assuming that what made me happy will make my children happy.

Back in Ozone Park, Queens, at Elizabeth Blackwell Junior High, I was the nerd of nerds, and only under duress did I join an athletic team, and that was a bowling league, which counts less as a sport than it does as a means of preparing an adolescent for a lifetime of beer drinking.

So it came to me as a complete surprise that Zane would be on the junior varsity basketball team and Aidan would be on the soccer team. Even more of a surprise was that I was coaching soccer, a sport about which the only thing I knew was not to touch it with your hands. Like escargot.

In management class, they talk about the Pygmalion effect. In Greek mythology, Pygmalion was a sculptor who carved a statue of a woman out of ivory. The statue was so beautiful that he went to the temple of Aphrodite and begged her for a bride as lovely. The goddess smiled, and brought Galatea to life.

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The theory of the Pygmalion Effect is that the more that you believe in a person, the better a person’s performance will be.

Too often, I’m the pessimist: Even though the glass might look half full, somebody will knock it over in a few minutes anyway. They call this the Golem Effect. Golem was another statue. He was created by the Jews of Prague to protect them, but the longer he worked, the more violent he got and eventually had to be destroyed.

In the outer, outer, outer Excelsior, if the couch is broken, I assume Zane stuck a Lego in the works. If the sump pump breaks, I assume that Aidan was conducting another science experiment. True fact: If you flush 42 magnets down a toilet, you will need to purchase a new sewage line.

Despite all my pessimism, the Fisher-Paulsons keep failing to meet my predictions of disaster. For the first time in recorded history, Zane and Aidan made the honor roll. (Alas, back in Elizabeth Blackwell Junior High, I only ever made the dishonor roll.) But still and all, when Aidan announced that he was participating in the science fair, I assumed the worst.

Now, I stopped taking science classes at the very first opportunity and I never have liked the idea of a science fair. How come they never have an English fair or a social studies fair? Or better yet, a math fair, where after everyone integrates, they sit down to a piece of pi.

The only scientific experiment I had any interest in was the negative effect of science fairs on parents of middle-school children: high blood pressure, insomnia, stress. The night before the experiment was due, I got no fewer than seven phone calls from sleepless parents: “What kind of oak tag do we use?” “Do we have to have a hypothesis?”

Aidan, with his love for animals, had decided to study wolf packs and their territories. I decided to do my own experiment and try being Pygmalion rather than Golem. I said, “Aidan, you have a better head for this than I ever did. If anybody can do it, it’s you.”

Aidan rounded up Uncle Jon to look up websites, and Uncle Paolo to interpret radio collar signals, and me to run out for inkjet printer cartridges, and Papa to cut and paste and make aesthetic judgments, and he ended up with the conclusion that wolves are very much like the Fisher-Paulsons. There is always an alpha, who makes the decisions (Papa), there is always a beta, who snarls at everyone, but really just wants to keep the pack safe (Zane), there are hunters (like Uncle Jon and Uncle Paolo) and nannies (that’s me), and there is the omega. Turns out almost every pack has an omega pup, whose job is not to fight or bite or even howl, but just to break the tension and make the other wolves laugh: That is Aidan.

You may not have known it, but the Randall natural history museum was recently renovated, and the grand reopening is Sunday, Feb. 11. One of their first exhibits (Feb. 25 to March 3) is the best science fair projects in San Francisco middle schools, including “Where Wolves Wander,” by Aidan Fisher-Paulson.

Every once in a while even a Golem can be surprised.

Ashes

The bungalow was built in 1926, when the outer, outer, outer Excelsior was even farther from downtown than it is now.  They insulated the house with rolled up old newspapers.

The house wasn’t blue at the time.  In fact, when the bungalow found us in 1999, it was mustard yellow, with brown trim.  The summer that we moved in, we painted it the color of Batman’s cape.  One of our new neighbors asked, “Was there a mistake at Home Depot?” and we knew we would live there happily ever after.

In the winter of 2001, Tim moved in with us.  He was dying of AIDS, though none of us knew it at the time, and he moved into the small bedroom.  In March, it started raining and we learned the roof leaked.  In April, we hired a roofer.  Five days later, the contractor said, “We’re almost finished.  All we have to do is solder the seams on your gutters.”

You know that I’m Irish, which means superstitious, and the fact that this Friday was the 13th and Good Friday as well struck me as a particularly bad omen. But Brian was dancing with ODC/San Francisco, and it was opening night, and this was long before children, so Tim said, “Go. Have a date night.  I’ll watch the contractor. I’ll take care of the dogs.”

The performance ended, and as Brian handed me a glass of champagne, the phone rang.  Our friend Jon (long before he earned his status as uncle):  “Come back now.  Your house is on fire.”

Brian, grabbed his backpack, and hurtled to the car.  We raced to the outer, outer Excelsior, where sirens wailed and lights flashed, and a half dozen fire trucks stood in the intersection, Tim sitting on the sidewalk, four rescue dogs in his lap.

The firefighters extinguished the blaze quickly, but to do so, they flooded the old gumwood dining room.  Brian walked in, sat on the floor and cried.  Three in the morning, still in his dress velvet, he mopped the floor to get rid of the excess water, Wolfcub’s tail occasionally flicking the ashes.  Every towel, every t-shirt, every pair of socks smelled like soot.

Jon was married at the time, and his wife’s boyfriend had recently moved in. The three of them blew up air mattresses, so that Brian, Tim, me, Wolfcub, Miss Grrrrl, Daphne and Diva could all sleep in his living room, with one very nervous looking parakeet hung in a cage above us.

Jon woke up the next morning, brewed a pot of coffee, and handed me a cup, just as four hounds howled that they needed to go out.  As I searched for leashes, I said, “Thank you for doing all this.”

To which Jon replied, “We’re all neighbors.”

 

 

 

The Chronicle has great reporters who tell us the news. But I am not a reporter; I am a columnist who tells stories, some of them true.  I cannot fathom the scope of the hurricanes in Puerto Rico, the earthquakes in Mexico, the shooting in Las Vegas.  I understand only this,that great tragedies are made up of little tragedies.

There is an order of nuns called the Ursulines, who follow the teachings of Saint Angela Merici, a mystic who believed that service to the poor was service to God.  The Ursulines are dedicated to teaching, and since 1880, they have maintained a chapter house in Santa Rosa.  Last week, the Tubbs Fire burned that convent to the ground, leaving in its ashes only one thing intact: a statue of Saint Angela herself.  Sister Shirley and Sister Lil, who run the school that Aidan attends, drove up that day, and spent the next fifteen hours working with their community to find homes for all of the displaced nuns.

Both of them showed up to work at Saint John’s school the next morning at 630.

Another hero is Lindsey Margett, who got a call that there were two mares in a pasture with the oncoming fire. She went to rescue them, only to return to find her own home burning.  She and Lisa O’Connor of Sunrise Horse Rescue have evacuated hundreds of horses since.

“We’re all neighbors” and Santa Rosa, Napa Valley and St. Helena are as much a part of San Francisco as the outer, outer, outer Excelsior.  So donate clothes and blankets. Or money.  Be kind to a nun. Go to www.sunrisehorserescue.org and buy a horse a cup of oats.

Or just make a friend a cup of coffee.

Aptonym

 What’s in a name? A rose, by any other demonym, would smell as sweet.

 

One of my readers figured out my street address. He sent a google map of the blue bungalow, which really creeped out my husband, Brian, but me not so much. I admire a little detective work, just so long as the guy doesn’t ring our doorbell. The Fisher-Paulsons are more infamous than famous, and our celebrity extends as far as the Diamond Heights Safeway, where someone in the produce section will invariably ask Zane or Aidan, “Which of you got his head stuck in the concrete staircase?”

 

This reader insisted that because we lived south of Geneva Avenue, we did NOT live in the outer, outer, outer, outer Excelsior but rather in the Crocker Amazon.

 

Geography is relative.  Tomaaaytoe.  Tomahtoe.  To some of you the East Coast means New York and to others it means anything past Tahoe.  Personally, I side with O.Henry, who said, “East is East and West is San Francisco.”

 

The Excelsior, the last working class neighborhood in San Francisco, may literally mean “ever upward,” but to me it will always mean “ever outward.”  The reason I don’t claim the Crocker is a question of aptronyms and demonyms.

 

The term aptronym was coined by Franklin Pierce Adams of the Algonquin Round Table and it means a name that particularly fits a person, an apt name, like Doctor Angst, the professor of psychiatry; or Sara Blizzard, the British meteorologist; or Thomas Crapper, the sanitary engineer.  I hear tell that in that other Californian city, the one to the south of us, there is a lawyer named Sue Yoo.  And not to kick a man when he's down, but Anthony Weiner?

 

In French the word “trompe” (pronounced Trump) means to deceive.  It doesn't get any more apt than that.

 

An inaptronym, therefore, is a name that doesn't fit, like Lance Armstrong, who was more famous for his legs or Don Black, a white supremacist. In 1976 Pope Paul VI elevated the archbishop of Manila to Cardinal...Sin.

 

Demonymics is the study of how we name people from a place.  Sometimes we add an -er as in Michigand-er.  Sometimes we add -ite as in Ludd-ite or -ian as in Boston-ian.  Weird abbreviations work like Okie or Burqueno. Sometimes it's some random reference as in people from Indiana getting called Hoosier.  My favorite example of this is that of my cousins who live in the Pittsburgh/Johnstown Pennsylvania, area, who call themselves “Yinzers” because their second person plural is “Yinz guys,” as in “Yinz guys want a pop?”

 

This leads me a new category, apt nameplaces. Or aptdemonymics.  For both my husband and my buddy (Crazy Mike), their hometowns  add –iac to make Main-iac and Guam-aniac.

 

When Brian and I moved out here twenty-seven years ago, we had had enough of the boroughs.  We had been Brooklynites, Hobokeneers and Jersey City-ians, but never Manhattan-ites, or New Yawk-ers, proper.   Always a forty-five minute subway ride away.  So we were willing to pay the premium to live in Paradise.  No offense meant, but we didn’t want to be Oakland-ers or Daly City-ites or Marin-es.  We wanted to live in this beautiful town, where we change the Francisc-o to Francisc-an, even if it does occasionally confuse us with an order of monks.

 

Maybe the Board of Supervisors ought to take this up, and change our demonym to a nickname like Golden Gates or Fogheads or maybe just a  better abbreviation, San Frans, Friscos or my favorite: Friskies.

 

San Francisco is a city of neighborhoods, but neighborhoods make for awkward demonyms. Growing up I was never called an Ozone Parker but I was frequently called by my borough (Queens).

 

But here in Frisky, I’ve hear people say, “I’m from the avenues,” but never, “I’m a Sunsetter.”  Maybe if we remembered to call ourselves by where we lived we might have a better sense of neighborhood.  Nob Hill, for example, lcould go back to origin.  The railroad barons built mansions 376 feet above the waterfront more than a century ago.  Nob is a contraction of the Hindu word for wealthy person, Nawwab so they could call themselves Nabobs. Those in Telegraph Hill could be the Telegrams, or Teletubbies. The Mission-aries might embrace their brotherhood.  

 

That insistent reader may not have realized how much of a inaptronym it would be to call the all male Fisher-Paulsons, the house of lost boys, Amazons.  Wonder Woman herself would shudder in horror. No, we much prefer to call our ourselves outer, outer, outer, outer Excelsorians.  Yes, our family is EXCELlent.

 

 

Total Eclipse of the Heart

The worst part of living in San Francisco is leaving.  Even an eclipse cannot lure me.  Tempting as it may be to drive up north for twelve hours to sit in the darkness for eight minutes, I’ll stay in the outer, outer, outer Excelsior.

Growing up in Ozone Park, I knew that I would eventually get out. The only notable who had ever lived there was Jack Kerouac, and he only got famous by writing a book about getting On the Road away from there.  Today’s coincidence:  Jack Kerouac and I lived at either end of Crossbay Boulevard.  No wonder we both discovered California.

I went to college in Indiana, which was, at the time, the farthest I had ever been from Queens.  I began to hear about the Golden West.  Daina’s friend, Aina, commented that of all the cities in the United States, San Francisco was the most Parisien.  Not having been to France this seemed terribly glamorous to me.

In the mid 1980’s, when Brian and I were living above a funeral parlor in Jersey City, he went on a lot of dance tours. When The Wizard of Oz played the Cow Palace, I jumped at the chance to meet him there.  Another dancer in the troupe took Brian and I to Muir Woods, and it was there, standing in Cathedral Grove, that I knew where we must live.

So a few years later when I got a job offer that I was totally unqualified for, working for a start-up software company, Brian and I loaded up a Ryder van with all our furniture and comic books and litter of newborn pekingeses and drove across the country in the hottest driest August of that century.  But we escaped from the burning sun on a Friday afternoon, as we drove up 101 North, just past Candlestick Point, the fog cascaded out in silver swirls and invited us to stay in Avalon.

For the rest of the country, San Francisco is the favorite place to visit, but for a lucky few of us, it is home.  Try this:  ask a friend what he or she likes best about San Francisco, and I guarantee you that no two answers will be the same, and that in asking, you will learn something about the city you didn’t already love. 

When I asked Crazy Mike, he said, “Because I have the ocean, a lake, a forest and a Safeway, all within walking distance.”

My friend Michele came up with: “the little cable cars, the rainbow crosswalks of the Castro, the organ player at SF Giants game, the China Town gate, Belden Alley, the installation of the Pink Triangle, the Moraga steps, Asia SF, the Tonga Room, the Alemany farmer’s market at sunrise.”

Long time reader of this column, Kay Coleman (the mayor of San Anselmo) said, “Impressionism.  And hats.”  She’s right.  A hat never looks quite as fashionable as when it is on the head of a San Franciscan.  I never owned a hat in Jersey City, but here I have baseball caps, trooper hats and even my very own Barney-Fife-Sheriff’s cap.

Kevin, who once upon a time, danced with Brian at ODC San Francisco, said, “The life I was able to build for myself.  It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty damn great.”

Mark Hetts named two favorite things: 1. The nooks and crannies and 2. The wildlife coexisting with the urban: hawks, owls, coyotes, parrots “…though we could use a few grizzlies to keep people alert and make them leash their dogs in public.”

My husband? He likes Le P’tit Laurent, the little French restaurant in Glen Park, where I really do feel like San Francisco is part of France. He also likes the white alligator and the butterfly exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences.  And on the subject of lepidoptera, yet another thing that I like about San Francisco is my career:  as the captain of the San Bruno facility, one of my responsibilities is guarding the last refuge of the endangered Blue Elfin Butterfly.  It doesn’t get any more poetic than that. Tell me you could get that job in Los Angeles.

The two best answers came from my sons.  Zane said simply, “It’s the place I can call home.”  And Aidan, what the thing you like best about Fran Sancisco? “No bugs.”

So on Monday of next week, let the umbraphiles race up to Oregon.  Here in San Francisco we don’t need the moon to eclipse the sun.  We have the fog.

Coffee

Every once in a while, even the President says something that makes sense. 132 days into his term, at 12:06 am, Donald Trump tweeted, “Despite the constant negative press covfefe.”

 

Disclaimer from the outset: I am part of that constant negative press.  Proudly.

 

Covfefe?  The twitterverse exploded with questions, and Sean Spicer, the Press Secretary stated, “The president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant.” And then the item got buried under the news of Comey, Sessions and obstruction of justice.

 

But in one of this thousand follow up tweets Trump wrote, “Who can figure out the true meaning of Covfefe? Enjoy!”

 

This is a man incapable of a philosophy longer than 140 characters, and yet he got it right.  Covfefe means nothing. Some days there is no explanation for why the good guys do not win.  But in the meantime savor the mystery.

 

There is no reason why fire killed those people in the Grenfell Tower or why three UPS drivers were murdered in San Francisco.

 

In the outer, outer, outer Excelsior, the workings of the universe also seem random.  There was no rationale as to why Brian and I lost the triplets. Or why Tim died from AIDS.  Or why both of my sons were born drug exposed, and will always be considered “special.”

 

John Lennon once sung that “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”  There is as much wisdom in that as there is in Covfefe.

 

When Zane was a baby, before even his first expulsion, as I was changing his diaper, I noticed what I thought was the largest hunk of snot that I had ever seen in a child’s nose.  I took a swipe at his nostril and out came a lima bean.

 

Now I was tired, as was evidenced by the fact that at three in the afternoon I was still in my bathrobe. But what made this even more inexplicable was that I never cook lima beans.  I do not serve lima beans.  I’ve never actually tasted lima beans.  This dates back to Nurse Vivian who had a reputation for ruining vegetables.  Example: she boiled kidney beans in vinegar and corn with mayonnaise. So the night she surprised us with succotash, I took a stand, She coaxed, but if I inherited nothing else in my Irish genes, I got the stubbornness, and I said, “I am never going to eat a lima bean.” This is just about the only promise that I’ve managed to keep for 51 years in a row.

 

So I asked Tita Ann Mabutas, who had been baby-sitting Zane and she said, “Oh, yes, I fed him leem-a beans three days ago.”

 

When she looked panicked I said, “Tita Ann, ithappens.  Babies get lima beans in their nose.  I just want to know how.”

 

Tita Ann told me of a baby who grew a plant out of his belly button, and so she theorized that Zane had stuck one in his ear, and it had traveled down his Eustachian tube into his nose.

 

There was a more pragmatic theory: that I was a lousy housekeeper who hadn’t noticed the leftover vegetable in his high chair, which Zane found and stuck in his proboscis three days later to see if he could get his old Dad going. The lousy housekeeper theory would also explain the bathrobe at three in the afternoon.

 

And the third possibility is Divine Intervention.  The Universe may have decided that my boycott had gone on too long, that it was time for me to stop and smell the lima beans.

 

What do you think?  Sloth?  Passage through the Eustachian Canal?  Lima Bean Transubstantiation? Me, I’m going with the third answer because I like a little mystery.  When it comes to faith, it’s just as likely that the universe has a reason as that it has no reason at all, so I might as well pick the solution with the puzzle, because it makes life more interesting.

 

Eleven years have passed since the miracle of the lima bean.  I don’t know any more answers to the meaning of life, other than perhaps covfefe.  All I know is that this week that little boy walked home from school on his own for the very first time.  A decidedly different kind of miracle.

 

It strikes me that I have just said a nice thing about Donald Trump, so with regret I must report that I am no longer part of the constant negative press.  Make that just most-of-the-time-negative press.

Raised by Nerds in the Wild

Raised by Geeks in the Wild

Neither Zane nor Aidan has any problem on the schoolyard explaining that they are two straight sons being raised by two gay dads.  Oh, Zane has gotten into a scrape or two, mainly defending my honor.  Aidan once explained to me that the coolness of being both a deputy and a coach outweighed the dorkiness of me being gay.

Neither Zane nor Aidan has any problem on the schoolyard explaining that they are a black son and a mixed race son being raised by two Dads who are white.  At the Black Student Union, Zane points us out as the overachievers, the only ones celebrating Kwanzaa with color-coordinated mkekas.

We come from different minorities, so it’s hard to translate.  The problems of a straight black thirteen year old in 2017 are not the same as a gay white thirteen year old in 1971.  I wasn’t likely to get suspended for twerking and he wasn’t likely to wear bell bottoms and platform shoes.

My husband Brian does the heavy lifting, sitting down at the kitchen table and talking about everyone from Harvey Milk to Maya Angelou.

No, the only issue that either son has a hard time explaining is that they are two normal sons being raised by nerds in the wild. 

We are geeks, which is a subset of nerd.  The word nerd is just a little older than I am, coming from a 1950 Dr. Seuss book If I Ran the Zoo: “I’ll bring back…a nerkle, a nerd and a seersucker, too!” but as the term evolved, it came to mean the kind of person who studies a subject no one else is interested in.

“Geek” comes from the traveling carnivals of the early 20th century.  The geek was the one who did bizarre acts, like biting off the heads of live chickens.  Nowadays, a geek is a person very knowledgeable and very enthusiastic about a particular topic, as in wine or minecraft or Star Trek.  Nerds might always win Trivial Pursuit, but Geeks run the category in Jeopardy.

In our case, we are comic book geeks, as in the kind of family whose college fund consists of the first two hundred issues of the Uncanny X-Men, near mint.  Brian is only a geek by association, but I’ve been reading comic books since October 1963, when Pop bought me a copy of Teen Titans versus Ding Dong Daddy, the Demon Dragster of Doom.

You’d be surprised how much fifty-four years of comic-book reading affects a lifestyle:  for example, the bungalow is not just blue.  It is 1958 Batman cape blue.  The Christmas card pictures have included the Fisher-Paulsons dressing up as Superman, Johnny Quest and Captain America.   The boys have learned not to complain about this, by the way, because the year they rejected the Justice League motif, we took the picture of the entire family, including the dogs, dressed up as the Village People.

Thus, Zane never complained that we skipped the first game of the NBA finals to go to the premiere of Wonder Woman

I don’t worry about the gayness or the whiteness rubbing off on my sons, but I do worry about the geekiness.  Aidan now knows the effect of every different color of Kryptonite.  When we get into our car, the Kipcap, Zane says, “Atomic batteries to power!” to which Aidan replies, “Turbines to speed!” and then we move out.

But Zane takes geek and turns it into chic.  When I wear a Batman costume I look like Liberace in leotards whereas when Zane throws on a mask and cape, the girls come a-courting.

Aidan and Zane were good sports about the Flash costumes for the Silicon Valley Comic Con.  You want Geek?  The master of ceremonies was Steve Wozniak. We posted pictures on Facebook of the four of us posing with Imperial Stormtroopers and Nichelle Nichols and Green Arrow and Grant Gustin.  My friend Phyllis wrote to say that “I love that you are such a geek and a Sheriff’s Captain at the same time.  I love that your boys can experience the adults in their lives as complex, not easily identifiable.  It will serve them well in the future.”

Yes, it’s likely that other parents do a better job of explaining infield bunts and screen defenses.  But our sons will grow up in the Batman blue bungalow in the outer, outer, outer Excelsior knowing that any boy can grow up to be a hero.

Captain of the Nerd Patrol: not a bad legacy. 

Mitzi in the Window

Mitzi’s real name is Maisy.  She is a rescue dog, mainly Schnauzer, living in the Crocker Amazon with a very kind woman who my sons call Aunt JJ. Aunt JJ looks a lot like Mitzi Gaynor. She also has a rescue dog name Murphy and a rescue cat named Mopsy.

Mitzi likes to sleep in the window.

My boys go to two different schools now, at opposite ends of San Francisco, and so the drive home in our little Prius is spent with the boys trying to convince me that I like hip-hop and me trying to convince them that they like National Public Radio.  But we always drive west on Baltimore Street, two blocks out of the way and play the game, “Is Mitzi in the window?”

This is a very simple game: guess whether Mitzi is in or out of Aunt JJ’s window.

Aidan always guesses “In.” Zane always guesses “Out.”  My husband always says, “I am waiting to be inspired.” And then, just before we turn the final corner, he says, “Out.”

Took me a while to realize that these guesses were statements of faith.  Aidan says “In” because he believes that Mitzi, like God, like love, like his Daddies, would always be in the window, waiting for him.

Zane says “Out” because he believes that although Mitzi loves her home, she loves adventure more, and is always looking for one more car to chase, one more cat to conquer.

Papa says, “I am waiting to be inspired” because he believes that dancing and parenting, are leaps of faith, and that out there in the universe some force is waiting to inspire, or breathe life into his spirit.

And me?  I go back and forth: In or out?  In or Out?  And even though I cannot tell Mitzi from Maisy or Mopsy, I end up saying “In” just to even out the vote.  In that way, two of us are right, two of us are wrong, but all of us are together.  Just like life.

Juneau

I flew down to the sky glaciers

when the summer mountains still held snow

when the light limned longer than my solstice

and an eagle circled, searching.

 

When the summer mountains still held snow

a fire burned in ancient timber

and an eagle circled, searching.

I went looking for a hump-backed whale.

 

A fire burned in ancient timber.

The deep fjord declared my journey.

I went looking for a hump-backed whale.

A bear broke salmon for her cubs.

 

The deep fjord declared my journey.

As night crept in the borealis taunted.

A bear broke salmon for her cubs.

We each did what the rain forest teaches.

 

As night crept in the borealis taunted,

ice cascades to river to the sea.

We each did what the rain forest teaches.

I carved a totem of that eagle.

 

Ice cascades to river to the sea.

I flew down to the sky glaciers.

I carved a totem of that eagle

when the light limned longer than my solstice.

The Last Drag

My hair askew with

                                    that lopsided look I got from

sleeping in a hospital chair,

            the copy of Isabel Allende’s Zorro

                                                            fallen to the floor.

He had woken up before me, humming to the drip

                                                                    drip

                                                                     drip of morphine,

crumbs of the Nells on the white sheet

scenting the room in anise.

He pointed to the tin his sister sent:

“You’d think on my deathbed

she could bake them from scratch.”

 

A nurse walked in with marigolds,

            walked out with a bedpan.

 

Like thieves we unplugged each tube

                                         each canula and

I lifted his ninety-eight pounds into a wheelchair.

                                                            We scurried down the aisle and out to sky.

From underneath his gown came

one last secret Marlboro.

Three tries to light it.

We sat with the sweetbitter smoke of cigarette curling

into the fog around Mount Sutro, the ashes turning into

                                                                        dust of angels

                                                                        dust of devils

                                                                        dust of…

Since last We Met

Since last you whispered in my ear I learned

to sleep

with men.

 

Since last your cinnamon eyes looked into mine I lost

a biker with a tattooed thigh and married a man I like.

A lot.

 

Since last you smelled of new cut grass I earned

a star I wear each day and bought a bungalow.

I painted it blue.

 

Since last your fingers gripped my shoulder I gathered and

I lost

a family of broken angels

 

Since last your soft dry lips kissed mine I lost

the easy faith that you had

shoved into my back pocket.

 

But when the lights go out and fog

gathers round the bungalow,

your shadow crawls beneath my pillow

and that cold whisper

must be

enough