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During a casual conversation with a friend of a friend, the subject of L-theanine supplements arose. My mom had sent me a bottle of pills containing this “natural mood enhancer” and I can’t deny they added a little kick to the day. The only reason I even gave it a chance is because I once worked at a tea lounge for a hot minute, where I learned all the health benefits of tea. L-theanine is actually a natural mood enhancer found in tea, especially in white tea, that promotes “calm alertness” as the monks call it. Trust me, it’s good stuff.

So a few months later I run into Friend of a Friend on the bus. We chat for a few minutes and he suddenly takes on a serious note. “can you tell me again, what was the name of that pill you told me about?”

I told him and even texted the correct spelling so he wouldn’t forget.

“Oh good, thanks. I went to Trader Joe’s and couldn’t find it so I asked if they had Happy Pills. The stockboy looked at me like I was crazy and said, ‘You mean cocaine?'”

Well, maybe not that happy.

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Although the windowless room with little kid desks reminded me of driver’s ed- the Census ain’t half bad so far. We get to sharpen pencils (ahh the smell of elementary school) and even fill out our name, social security number, and signature 500 times on separate papers (I’ve started to really question my signature, time to come up with something more loopy and illegible). Meanwhile I have three things to look at: a janky poster taped to the chalkboard, my crew leader’s poofy curled bangs, and Jesus quotes all over the wall. You would think the Fillmore Church of Christ could pull down the yellowed xerox propaganda for the US Government, but hell what do I know. Their messages are cryptic: “YOU CAN’T BE WHO YOU ARE IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHO YOU ARE. YOU ARE GOD’S OWN CHILD,” but I think they really meant, “GOD KNOWS YOU HAVE WEED IN YOUR SHOE and He will allow you to GET SHANKED in the projects if you don’t GIVE IT TO YOUR PASTOR after Sunday School.”

While blocking out the woman reciting government jibberish from a book, I slyly peek over each shoulder to check out the other Census troopers. A few old guys, one homeless woman, and three other 20 somethings. Immediately I start looking for what’s wrong with them. Black eyes, train track veins, lobotomy-induced twitching? Surprisingly they are all normal and seem to be in my exact situation.

I fill out my basic information over and over and thank the lord that high school and STAR testing are ancient history. I pity my future children for suffering no. 2 pencils and bubbles for decades. I bless the lord for this once in a lifetime chance to zone out in the general direction of my job manual while racking up $22/hr just for being there, not to mention the paid commuting time and reimbursed bus fares.

Next are fingerprints. We move to the “social room” which is an x-80s prom auditorium. There are rows and rows of picnic tables with bright yellow plastic tablecloths, and I count about 214 identical vases of  fake yellow and red roses in the whole room. The wall is plastered all the way around with photos of the alleged congregation. I sit with the other previously funeomployed kids and talk about our favorite Burmese spots in The City. I sell my identity to the government in an extremely thorough fingerprinting session, pencil in my hours including the anticipated commute home, and ride off into the sunshine at 3:30pm. Not bad for my first day on the job.

Up all night preparing, up at 8am to check and recheck. Shower, makeup, hair, outfit: all’s in order to present myself. My gold Casio beeps the hour and I launch out the front door. Shit! Staples! I forgot staples. All my two-pagers are just floating in the folder, they must hold hands! Ok just get on the bus and get there, worry about staples later. The bus is pulling away but it waits for me, I board, sit down, and exhale. Knowing myself as having a horrible sense of direction, I am on my way with an hour to spare.

The neighborhood changes. I glimpse the almighty view of downtown that can only mean I am in Bernal Heights. Suddenly the scenery changes and dark black trees slowly lean toward the road until we are barreling through a canopy of gloom. Houses disappear behind us and only the desert is ahead. The pavement disintegrates to rock and dirt and the bus driver hollers back at me, “this’ yer stop.” I hesitate before stepping off the platform. Where the eff am I? Too late, the bus has vanished. A lone tumbleweed lolls past, and then I am alone again. I make the call.

“Uh, I think I’m at the wrong place.” Yes, he confirms, I am on the other side of the city with no hope of reaching the appointed meeting place in time. I dial every cab company in town and recite the nearest address. Dial tone. Call again. “Yes, I need a cab at 3003 3rd St.” Dial tone. Stranded. Not a car in sight, not a human within reach to ask for directions. I see a looming sign over the road that reads “Recycling Center” in tarnished, twisted metal as 18 wheelers emerge from the black tunnel and barrel past me. I turn left down the half covered rail tracks and walk.

My high heels crunch the rocks and barbed wire underfoot as I work hard to maintain balance. Through the fog I see a faint light, I pursue it. Appearing next to me are half-men digging through trash, their black eyes shining as they howl and pant at me. I run. Suddenly it is bright and I am on the road again, sun beating on my dirtied collared shirt and wilting hair. I call another cab and wait dutifully next to the designated address. A hoodlum creaks past me riding his shopping cart full of soiled clothes and blankets, hissing and pointing for me to jump in the cart.

Twenty, thirty minutes go by and I anxiously await my carriage. Finally I see a speck of yellow in the distance and I jump into the middle of the road. The cabbie sees me  and pulls over, welcoming me into the front seat with him. He is jovial and talkative, immediately informing me of my luck for getting a cab out in the middle of Hunter’s Point. “We no go there cuz we no wanna die, haha. Every night we see dead bodies in road here.” We zip away from the ghetto and blast back into the city. I see water, I see trees, we fly by the ball park. I relax. Ten minutes later I am best friends with the cabbie and forgetting my previous trauma. Totally missed my interview, but what the hell can I do now? He assures me, “never take bus to interview. Always take cab. No bus, no worry!” Damn right.

As I pull out a wad of cash to pay the man, I stop and ask, “Do you happen to have any staples?” And I make a chomping gesture with my hands.

“Why yes! Haha you pick right cab” And he hands over the precious tool. I pull out my folders, carefully staple each document, and jump out into the sunshine. An hour late, sweaty and on the verge of tears. But at least I got my staples.

What a Grind. Hyde @ Post, San Francisco. I come here because a) they accept card b) they have an amazing veggie sandwich c) coffee is a buck and d) there are two comfy couch chairs that no one else seems to enjoy occupying. Basically it’s perfect for reading, writing, texting and thinking on a cold day like this one.

Though people are always popping in and out, the sitting area is quiet and open. Usually I find three or four greys sitting around the center table talking about politics. They speak slowly and deliberately, their freckled hands shake when they gesture, and man do they have opinions. I imagine these are the folk that have lived in the Tenderloin -or more likely, on Post and Hyde- for the past 30 years.

The owner is a Palestinian guy, judging by the “Free Palestine: End the Occupation” bumper stickers slapped onto his coffee makers. Today he asked about my job and we got onto the subject of art. He then shared with me,

“Two things I could never do in life are draw and play music. I’m only good at three things. Politics, business, and women.”

Politics and business, still got it. Not so sure about the third, although I did look him in the eye real quick to see if I was missing something. Nope, big old guy with grey balding hair. Either way, he runs a tight ship here working by himself and keeping everyone happy. The brew’s hot, the internet’s fast, and my tan lazy boy is oh so comfy. Coffee House Revival round two, success.

There’s something about this stone. So grounded, immovable, final, safe. It drowns out all noise from outside, from the city streets. Like lying in the heart of a ship floating in the dead of night through a lost sea. So peaceful. The air is heavy like a sauna. Heavy like floating in the waves.

I first met Joshua Petker over the interweb in 2008 (gasp! so long ago) for a little interview on The Citrus Report. Soon after, I moved to San Francisco just in time to meet him at The Shooting Gallery (that was actually my first time there- who knew I would work there a month later). No matter how much I stare at his paintings or even see them in the background of our inventory room, I never tire of them. In fact I love them more. And this is the true test of a painting: working everyday in a room surrounded by art, the honeymoon stage fades within a few weeks and the true gems emerge. The test of time says much about your connection to a piece.

Anyway, Joshua Petker. Sharp jawlines, happy colors, dark undertones, tons of emotion. Love em. These are paintings worth saving your bus money for (ride a bike!) and I have my heart set on one of these in my living room within 10 years (better start making scrill cuz I already ride a bike). So until he makes it back up to SF check out Between Butterflies at the esteemed Corey Helford Gallery on April 17th. Can’t wait to see what Josh has up his sleeve, hopefully lots of watercolors because they are quite something.

Scope JP’s website and twitter updates for more.

Oh, and of course I love his repeated use of unicorns. And older work:

I am stuck in a conundrum. However much I adore texting, I am equally perturbed by iphone/smart phone abuse. Yes I have a crappy Blackberry. But rarely will you see me in a group of friends searching for BB apps and cruising facebook (updating facebook is another story- but mobile uploads take 30 seconds tops).

I hope that the iphone Nation is a period of adjustment, like when a new drug floods the street. Everyone overdoes it, abusing the drug, overdosing and eventually readjusting their daily intake until to functional levels. We could be in that initial phase of uninhibited consumption, where mobile google is to 20 somethings as Adderall is to 5 year old boys and desperate housewives.

Example One:

While watching tv for the first time in months, I witnessed an alarming commercial that didn’t seem to phase my friends. A man is bragging about the new and improved “everywhere” wireless service on his netbook or Droid or whatever (irrelevant). A series of appealing scenarios unfold to convince that this new technology will improve your quality of life. Said man is shown in a campsite surrounded by woods, nature, and friends. As five or six buddies sit around a campfire, what activity dominates their interaction- smores? Whiskey? Tales of their daily hunt while roasting fresh halibut? No. The men sit in silence, heads bowed, shoulders tense, completely engaged in their smart phones. They are oblivious of their temporary liberation from the cubicle and from the city, but by god they are connected to the global nervous system.

Next scene: Same man (now alone) boasts his newly possible dining options via breakthrough mobile technology. Sitting in a restaurant with white tablecloths and smiling waiters, he is served a generous plate of gourmet cuisine. He grins with pleasure and, head bowed, attends to online business through his handheld device. Assumably, he ditched his dinner date so as not to offend him/her by his excessive phone addiction. Man’s best friend has been replaced by a needy, high maintenance, loud, cold piece of technology with a 2 year shelf life. Looks like Nano Babies were training us for this colossal transition back in 1998 through some twisted orientation of small, mobile, computer beepy “toys” with fuzzy, cute, lovable life companions THAT LOVE BACK.

Example Two:

A friend back home recently went through a dramatic breakup. His texting, calling, and facebook messaging for consolation was tiring, but we indulged him (being the good friends we are). When he flew up to The City for a mini weekend vacay, us friends were eager for a lil heart to heart time (or enough whiskey to make him shut up and have some fun). Five of us old buds set out to cook a nice dinner at home, drinks flowing and burners burnin. We started telling stories and laughing it up when we noticed that Mr. Weekend Visitor was nowhere to be found. When we finally discovered him on the patio (smoking and texting) we dragged him back to the couch. The gravity field of his iphone was so strong that food, drink and friends could not compete: his head immediately bowed in submission to the iphone apps awaiting discovery at his fingertips. We teased the disengaged buddy, but he didn’t even hear.

By the end of the night, two more of the dinner party got sucked into Visitor’s trap. The three sat together on the couch, heads to their screens, mumbling once in awhile about the new apps they were stumbling upon. I was left alone with the only remaining non-iphone owner in the room, laughing and chatting and enjoying the beer induced break from real life. We dubbed ourselves FAT: Friends Against Technology. The truth is we love technology- this particular friend and I spend the majority of our waking lives on a MacBook Pro. But in that exact moment, we were indeed FAT.

The End:

The three amigos simultaneously downloaded “Bump,” an app where trading contact info is easy as touching two iphones together. Boom! Wazaam! This is a physics-defying transfer of information that could change the future (for good or for evil, impressive and scurrry). ANYWAYS us FAT kids looked on in horror/amazement as the iphoners raised their devices in a toast of informational exchange. An innocent and fun gesture, right? But in a flash of premonition, I saw the Bump taking the place of traditional Cheers. I foresaw old friends passing each other in the street and throwing up a Bump in the place of warm hugs. Visions of suited businessmen exchanging Bumps instead of handshakes. Horrors of Spanish friends giving “dos Bumps” where there was once “dos besos.” Bump is the new 21st Century hug, just as those cuddly little Nano Babies forewarned.

Conundrum. I heart texting, facebook, mobile uploads, twitter, blogging, and my dear external hard drive always within reach (mobile google). Am I afraid of the iphone Nation? Not really. Do I poke fun by constantly taking pics of group texting sessions (with my camera phone)? Yes. But please, for the love of god, take a moment to think about the electronic leash and to consider the ideals of FAT. And don’t forget to text me later about dinner.

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