Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The SF Redemption, Part 2

Good hair on the Pacific
In the month of July I was able to set foot on both the East and West Coasts of the country. Not a huge feat, maybe, but, hey, I think it's kinda cool, and I'll take whatever small accomplishments I can get. I wanted to, and I did. I win! Right?

On the morning of July 31st, I went to the Atlantic Ocean to complete the second half of my coastal double bill. It's only about 10 minutes away, so this part was especially not a great accomplishment... though it did take me, probably, a good whole two minutes to find a parking spot and then walk to the beach. Once I finally got to the beach, I walked in the sand for a minute, sweated through my shirt, dipped my feet in the water, and sat down on a bench to read. I couldn't focus, though; I couldn't retain what I was reading and, though I noticed it, I couldn't truly appreciate the warm saltiness of the tropical air or the crystal blue of the morning ocean. My mind was somewhere else.

At the beginning of the month, when I had had my hands (it was too cold for feet) in the Pacific Ocean, my mind was nowhere else. I wasn't thinking of a thing other than what was on that beach, and maybe what I was going to eat for dinner that night in San Francisco. I was breathing deeply, listening intently, and definitely appreciating my chilly, gray, gorgeous surroundings.

So, what was the difference, besides a few weeks time, a few dozen degrees, and a few thousand miles? Well, on the morning of my visit to the Atlantic (and most of each day for the last week) my mind was preoccupied with, even fixated upon, the looming appointment that was recently added to my calendar. I have a job interview. It's for an actual, full-time teaching position. Things just got real and my brain is reeling.

My mind cannot stop. Will not stop. The beach could not quiet it. Sleep has not provided respite. My mind endlessly turns, turning over the simultaneous problems of, A) how to have a good interview and get the job, and B) how to be a successful teacher on the chance that I actually get the job. Problem B is really the more troubling of the two. I think about it, I dream about it, I worry about it, yet, so far, I have diligently avoided coming up with any helpful answers. My interview is later today. I'll keep you posted.

But, for now, I find a writing window has briefly opened, and my mind wanders through it, back to Ocean Beach, the cool summer Pacific, and part two of my vacation in the city...

Days 2 through 11 - As Seen Through a Thin Film of Butter

The next week and half of my return to SF was a blur of movies, friends, walking, and eating. I had come to San Francisco with but one absolute must-do: I had to pay a visit to what many (hipsters) would call the bread capital of at least the city, if not the country. I had to go to Tartine Bakery & Cafe, in the Mission. The cookbook from the owner of this place is the one that gave rise to Morty, who has become more than a mere hobby to me. In truth, Morty is like an adopted son from a foreign country, and going to Tartine was like visiting that country in order to learn more about my son's roots. Tartine is the motherland.

Someday you will all be mine! Muahahahaha!
Arriving at Tartine for the first time, at about 11am, I was too excited to take pictures of the outside. All I could think to do was get on line and wait, menu in hand, mouth watering. It all looked so good, and I had not eaten breakfast; I was thinking I might have to order everything in the pastry case and everything on the bread counter. But, I had come for the bread and I did my best to stay focused. I ended up with an open-faced croque monsieur spicy turkey sandwich, a croissant, and, my coffee beverage of choice lately, an Americano. I got my food and, since it was standing room only in the small dinning room full of cool people, I ate it standing by the front window, looking out at the ever growing line out the door of cool people. I attacked the croissant first, all flaky goodness on the outside and creamy, buttery euphoria on the inside. I was in my happy place. A good croissant, to me, is not only one of the perfect foods of the earth, but also one of the prettiest works of art you're likely to see in real life; and this was the best croissant I've ever had. The sandwich was righteous, too, especially the thick cut of country bread it was served on. This is the type of bread I make at home with Morty, and I was pleased to see that I had been doing a pretty good job! Morty looks and tastes mighty close to what I got at Tartine.

Buttery outside
Buttery inside
So, I stood there, savoring my baked goods and coffee, watching the crowd of regulars and food tourists alike roll in, each in their turn awed by what they saw and ate. By the time I was done and got to taking pictures of my surroundings, the lens on my camera phone was greased from the butter on my fingers. I rather liked the effect... Tartine will always exist in my memory, soft and ethereal, as seen through a thin film of butter. This is as it should be, I think. I went back again several days after my first visit. The crowds were the same, the brioche bread pudding with plums was awesome, and I left fully satisfied and newly inspired to bake, bake, bake. Now, a buttery gallery of my memorable meals at Tartine:
Bread for lunch and dessert
Pure bliss inside a croissant
Bread pudding. There's bliss in there, too.
The crusty underbelly of Monsieur Croque
Morty in Cali
Finally, a picture of my own San Francisco baking project. Morty survived the cross-country trip in my suitcase and was raring to go on the other side. In fact, I let him loose on the town without protection and he got exposed to some new California bacteria. Since he's a bread starter and not a person, he felt pretty good about himself after that and performed beautifully. I think Danie and Jesse each got a pretty good loaf. When I left, I left California Morty behind for Jesse to experiment with... that's right: I left my wild-yeast-sourdough-bread-starter in San Fran-ciscooooo. Doesn't have quite the same ring to it, but, rest assured, wherever Morty goes, so goes my heart. Besides, Florida Morty was home patiently waiting for my return.

Well, let's see, when I wasn't shoving carbs into my face, what else was going on? Oh, movies! We watched lots and lots of movies; from mainstream and completely mediocre (or worse); to indie and quite good; to cult and pretty terrible (in an ironic way, of course). In short: if you are thinking of seeing The Trip, do it, ya British comedy nerd! If you are thinking of seeing The Last Airbender, shoot yourself in the head instead! If you are thinking of seeing Jonah Hex, go ahead because it's only, like, 20 minutes long and will be over before you can even load the gun. If you are thinking of seeing The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, do it only if you can see it in a movie palace as beautiful and transporting as The Castro, and only if you think Jeff Goldblum is hilarious, and awful movies can be so bad that they're good.

Speaking of so bad it's good. Reality TV. Danie is a fan, I'd say, and she coerced me with the force of her fandom into watching way too many hours of Hoarders, a show that almost immediately hurt my heart. Yet, I couldn't look away. I don't think I've ever been so simultaneously angry and sad at someone, as I was with these hoarders. It's hard to sit on the couch watching, unable to do what I inevitably felt needed to be done so desperately; namely, slap some sense into these people and then cry it out. They're all just so broken, each with some awful story that has brought them to this point in their lives, each with a good reason for acting so unreasonably. The people on Hoarders just happen to have been broken in such a way that manifests in a particularly vile, filthy, infuriating way, but they deserve no less empathy than the rest of human kind, each of us walking around everyday with our own personal accumulation of emotional garbage in our metaphoric houses. There are just so many broken souls walking around in the world, and if you ever stop to think about it, if your friend ever makes you watch the saddest show on TV, you might become so heartsick about it that you'll not feel like going on. Then you'll watch another episode; shit is addicting.

Danie looking at the
"stupid hipster girl and her stupid,
never-ending bag of elaborate, organic snacks."
An approximate quote.
There were many much happier times remaining during my trip, though. For instance, a free Neko Case concert at Stern Grove! Free! Neko Case! Beautiful park with big trees and a shady log for Danie and me to sit on! This is the kind of thing that happens in big cities, the kind of thing you don't end up taking advantage of enough when you actually live in one of these cities. It's always much easier to not go, but I've always been glad when I have gone. Crowds can be annoying, but, you know, that's the cost of doing business. And, it so happens in this case that I love Neko Case. Really, I've found I love female singers in general ever since a 16-year-old coworker at my college job at The Museum of Science and Industry told me about Sleater-Kinney. From there I went to the Heartless Bastards, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fiona Apple, Regina Spektor, Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings, Janelle Monae, Wye Oak, Beach House, and many other groups discussed on NPR. I fall in love with their voices, and then, since they're girls, I can comfortably worship them without the gay panic associated with being a fan of a male rock star. Although, it does feel a little weird singing along with their lyrics sometimes. But, their voices are so good and I am secure enough in my manhood to sing about all the troubles I'm having with the men in my life.
Neko Case is on the stage. I promise.
Later - or was it before? Who can say. - Danie and I took the ferry to Sausalito. It's like the Staten Island Ferry, except cleaner and not free. I was excited because this was the first time I had actually been out on the Bay. The weather was perfect, and, of course, it was very classically, San Francisco beautiful. Look! There's the Golden Gate enshrouded in fog! Gotta take a picture of that shit. Sausalito was a nice little rich person/tourist town, too. We walked the docks amongst the many, many yachts and sailboats. We got some famous salt water taffy. We got back on the boat and returned to the big city.  

I did lots more, but, really, enough already. Let me sum up: Ball game! Garlic fries and Ghirardelli ice cream sundae! Beers are 9 fucking 50! Sat next to 45-year-olds on a date. She was an annoying, drunk, baseball-ignorant Padres fan. The guy shot me a look, as if to say, "Hey man, I know. Sorry, but I'm doing what I have to do to get laid. Someday you'll understand." Got myself my favorite souvenir t-shirt ever; it truly was the Dia de Los Gigantes! Fulfilled my California In-N-Out requirement. Ate amazing Mexican food, Indian food, and Thai food. Went on an Irish pub crawl of Union Square with Jesse's Dad and Mom. Had giant plates of roasted meats at two separate SF legends: Lefty O'Douls and Tommy's Joynt. Put up a shelf (barely), and helped establish a "study" in Danie's redecorated apartment. Walked my feet raw. Got diverted to Oakland for my departing flight. Had the time of my life.
"The fuck?"
The Jensens
The shelf!
The park
The End

Yesterday, midday: I'm walking through Staples, now Target, I see the "back to school" section, I am sick to my stomach. Queasy. Want to vomit. Is this good nervous or bad nervous? I guess I'll find out soon.


  1. hilarious, joel. enjoyed reading all about San Fran. I'm jealous you got to go to Tartine, my favorite kind of place! We have no good bread here in Branford, Ct. I thought about you and morty and think I need to start up my own baking project....I need ciabatta!

  2. Thank for sharing i really enjoyed reading.