Barking Up The Wrong Tree

Inspired by a disastrous stint dog-sitting a few years ago. Possibly to be continued. Enjoy.

Barking Up The Wrong Tree

Winston promptly stepped in it as soon as he had finished, the warm, odorous feculence squishing and squashing beneath his small ivory paw. He jolted forward from the curb, attempting to pull my arm out of its snug little socket as he lunged menacingly at the squirrel squatting nearby, examining the acorn he’d stashed in the same tree that Winston had inadvertently fertilized. I yanked him back towards me which provoked a loud, grating bark, and Winston furiously stormed back at me, his beefy frame dawdling circles around my new beige suede boots.

The squirrel bolted, ditching its prized nut to flee this slobbering, wrinkled, wretched wildebeest referred to by most as a bulldog. I felt a pang of jealousy as I watched the squirrel spring off the ground and scamper up the delicate oak tree that gave shade to this square of Chelsea sidewalk, instantly out of Winston’s reach and removed from the various atrocities the brute might commit on the ground. Just then, as if to taunt me, Winston’s front left paw, fresh with warm excrement, swiped the tip of my new shoes as he pranced around my legs. “GOD DAMN IT!” I shrieked, cursing the day this beast had ever been brought onto this earth, but moreover the day I let my sister, Violet, sucker me into taking care of her newly adopted godforsaken dog child while she honeymooned on the Greek Isles.

“Ohhhh, hey there big boy, ohhh yes, that’s a good boy!” A cooing, patronizing, yet distinctly male voice came from behind me, prickling every hair on my neck and sending my blood pressure through the roof. Why did dog people insist on speaking to these animals like an overindulgent mother speaks to her newborn baby? It’s not a human, it’s an animal, and a hairy, smelly, sneezy, drooling one at that. This dog was a permanent infant, except 80 pounds heavier and constantly licking my shins like they had a Tootsie-Roll center. Never before had I ever felt an urge to Purell my kneecaps.

“Winston is super touchy-feely,” my sister had raved. “We actually keep a slobber towel in every room of the apartment, because he’s just never not really dipping saliva somewhere. Isn’t that a riot?” I had stared back dumbfounded at my older sister as she related this to me, utterly in awe as she proceeded to give the dog a treat and let him lick her entire face, starting with her chin and sweeping across her eyes. There was so much liquid I half-expected her mascara to run. Winston had just finished eating most of Zoey’s wet cat food, and I had wondered if Frank would come home later and smell the Friskies Classic Tuna Paté all over Violet’s face when he went in to kiss her hello.

“Yessss, dat’s a good boy!” The man’s voice was closer this time, and I grimaced at hearing a grown man talk like someone dangled a baby in front of him and ordered him to make it clap. In the few days I had spent dog-sitting, I was never quite sure how to act when taking Winston for walks – I was afraid people would take me for a dog person, so I tried to actively show frustration instead of pride when he did things like pee on flowers or stop in the middle of the crosswalk when we were already jaywalking. I spun around with a scowl on my face, hoping to scare off this hyper-feminine maniac who so desperately wanted to reach out and touch the four-legged monstrosity with fresh feces on at least two of his scruffy paws.

The full-blooded male specimen bee-lining towards me and the animal would have knocked me off my feet himself if Winston hadn’t done so first, capitalizing on my brief loss of concentration to fully bind me up in his leash. He stood there panting with what I could swear was a full blown grin on his face as he watched me lose my balance and land flat on my butt on the cold October sidewalk. My bare hands smacked down loudly on the concrete to break my fall, and I immediately felt a sting on my palms similar to the one experienced by my ego.

“Oh gosh, can I help you up?” The divine being rushed over to my aid, kneeling down to try and disentangle me from Winston’s woven web of hyperactivity. The scowl that had been plastered on my face melted into a gaping jaw, unable to answer the heavenly body’s simple question.

“Wow, he really pulled a fast one on you, didn’t he?” His soft, rosy lips moved and words burst forth from within, and I found myself nodding as his hands gently touched my calves when he slid the leash out from underneath. Winston seemed equally stupefied at the wondrous figure standing before us, this ethereal man who had in just a few short moments wound his way into our lives. The gargantuan dog was actually still, sprawled out like a leapfrog mid-stroke (the bulldog version of sitting on all fours) waiting for the god-like creature’s next move.

The tall, dark-haired, eerily handsome mortal raised himself up on a pair of sturdy, jean-clad legs and I found myself staring up to the heavens above. The sunlight gleamed and hit his jet black hair in such a way that it cast an aura around his head, and at that moment I truly believed in angels. With Winston’s leash firmly clasped in one hand, the exalted one extended his other hand to me and graciously hoisted me up off the gritty sidewalk.

“Thank you,” I managed to eke out, unable to look at the sublime male directly in the eyes. I skirted his gaze, nervously brushing myself off. I had dragged myself out of Violet’s cushiony king-size bed to take Winston for his morning walk, hoping to wear him out so he’d be too tired to make a ruckus while I crept back in my bed til noon. I had neither brushed my hair nor donned a bra, and I hoped that my black pea coat was concealing my lack of chest support.

“No problem! I spotted him running around you from down the sidewalk, kind of saw that one coming. You’re sure you’re okay though?” Oh, how sweet! He was genuinely concerned for my well-being, his deep emerald eyes giving me the one-over while checking for signs of distress on my body.

“Oh yea, I’m fine, you know, it’s, umm, mostly my pride,” I replied nervously, tucking a wisp of my corn-colored hair behind my ear. I examined the handsome stranger’s face – his dark hair rested perfectly atop his head where I could tell he pushed it back out of his mystifying forest-colored eyes. His square jaw was strong and harbored the most splendid, brilliant rack of teeth I’d ever seen. Freshly shaven, his skin radiated perfection save a jarring, jagged scar above his left eyebrow. Instead of distracting from his beauty, the scar only seemed to highlight his otherwise unearthly symmetry.

“I’m Erick,” the supreme being offered, presenting me with his right hand. “What’s your name?”

“Alice,” I heard myself saying while I absorbed the warmth and contour of his manly, deft hands. “You know, like Wonderland.”

“Ha! Nice! I guess you could say I’m Erick, like Prince Erick! Gotta love a Disney reference once in a while.” He winked, and my eyes widened. Oh! He thinks I’m clever! 

Erick turned his attention to Winston, kneeling down to give him a rough nuzzle on the head. The gluttonous critter was sprawled back out on the sidewalk, motionless in Erick’s aura. I’d never seen the monster so still.

“And what’s this little troublemaker’s name?” He asked, his voice getting all high-pitched and doting again. I bade myself to look past it – Everyone has flaws, I reminded myself. It must be his only one, there is no way this man-angel has two entire flaws. With that in mind, I forced a smile.

“It’s Winston,” I answered with as much enthusiasm as I could muster.

“Hey there Winston! Aw man, I love bulldogs,” he said with a slight, sweet southern drawl, earnestly looking back at me. “I actually grew up on a bulldog breeding farm out in West Virginia. I didn’t have brothers or sisters growing up, so I was kind of like a wolf-boy with these bulldogs. I played with them all day, everyday, they were like brothers to me. Is he yours?”

“Mine?” I repeated, my voice rising with a mix of anxiety and perplexion. There was a lot of information to process at that moment – A bulldog breeding farm? Wolf-boy? Bulldog brothers? But at that exact moment Erick looked back up at me from where his perfect body and soul knelt next to the hairy cousin of a hog, and I found the kindest, most searching eyes staring back into mine, unworthy of their gaze. He wanted me to say yes, he needed me to say yes.

“Yes,” I lied. “Yea, it’s mine. I mean, yes, he’s my dog.”

“Wow, you sure are lucky, I can tell Winston here is a special breed. He sure looks a lot like some of my old dogs.”

“Oh yea, I’m totally lucky,” I confirmed convincingly. “Um, how many dogs do you have?” I asked, not really wanting to know the answer.

“Too many to count back in West Virginia, but when I moved to New York a while ago I just brought my top three comrades – Johnson, Doc and Elvis. Wanna see ’em?”

Before I could say no, Erick whipped out his phone – three enormous, life-threatening dogs on top of a bale of hay stared acutely back at me out of the screen.

“My god, is that one a…” My voice trailed off. I couldn’t remember the names of any of those dog breeds. I could tell you all the provinces of Canada but I could never be bothered to learn the difference between a cocker spaniel and a German sheppard. They were all the same species of ick to me.

“Yea, Elvis is a Rottweiler. He’d been badly abused as a pup, but I took him in anyway, saw something in him, you know? He’s still got some anger issues, but it’s just a question of putting the muzzle on him when he’s around people. And I took out an insurance policy on him, just in case, you know, he gets carried away in public or something.” He began excitedly flipping through his photos of the four-legged monsters while I wondered what level of loose cannon a dog had to be before a dog owner felt compelled to protect itself against potential lawsuits it might provoke.

“Wow, you really must love animals,” I managed, trying to feign an interest and change the subject as far from dogs as I could. “So you said you moved to New York a little while ago, what are you doing here?”

“Well, I’d signed to this modeling agency, but once I got settled in and made a few bucks, I quit the biz and I’m currently getting my Ph.D in education at Columbia. I want to rehaul the public school system in the U.S., but specifically in Appalachia. It’s a region that’s dear to my heart. Not everyone had the same chances as me.”

I swooned. A do-gooder, a smart, Ivy League, good old-fashioned Southern do-gooder with Disney-prince looks. I shook my head, trying to wake myself up from this dream. Maybe I’d gone back to sleep after all.

“And how about you, Alice?” He asked me, the sound of my name leaving his sublime orifice ensuring me I was alive and awake. I told him about what I did, what I wanted to do, he laughed, I laughed, he bit his lip, I blushed, the sun shone and the birds chirped and the sun and the moon and the stars aligned and there was no more war or pain or poverty and wounds healed and eternal joy was reached and and then Winston spotted the same god damn squirrel scrounging around for that nut and proceeded to go entirely bezerk.

Winston leapt off the ground and charged across the sidewalk. A rickety old lady on her walker inching her way along the street found herself right in Winston’s path. The cheap metal walker went flying and crashing and the spindly old lady tipped back, slowly falling til she hit the ground, landing flat on her butt.

“Oh my god!” I screamed, rushing over to the poor, innocent, very senior citizen. Her bruisy, purplish, veiny skin was so frail, and I was scared she snapped her feeble wrist in half when she’d hit the ground.

“I am so sorry, oh my gosh, please don’t die, oh my gosh, this is all my fault!” I was panicking.

“Oh, hush dear, I’m quite alright,” the old lady assured me in a wavery, rattling voice. “I was a battlefield nurse at the Battle of the Bulge, I’ve been blown back by Nazi artillery much stronger than that little pup! How is he, is he alright?”

“He who? The dog?” I asked, bewildered. She wanted to know if Winston, the dog that almost ended her seemingly record-long life, was okay?

“He’s fine! I got ’em!” Erick’s chirpy voice sounded from behind me again, and Winston bounded up to me and the old woman, practically knocking her back down to the ground as he gave her face one big licking.

“Winston!” I shouted, trying to shoo him away from the poor old woman, but she just laughed.

“Ohhh, that’s a good boy!” She cooed.

“His name is Winston,” Erick added. “Isn’t he a catch?”

My upper lip curled in disgust. What was wrong with these people? An unruly dog nearly mauls a ninety-five-year-old war veteran to the ground and this is the reaction? I had to get out of there.

“I…I gotta go,” I stammered.

“Wait, what? Why?” Erick was confused.

“Well, umm, it’s late.” It was 9 a.m. I had to be in a bad episode of The Twilight Zone. I’d never actually watched The Twilight Zone, it was a little before my generation, but I was sure the plot lines ran similar to this madness.

“Okay, well hold on a minute, let me get your number. We could go out one night, or even better, we could take all the dogs out for a walk together! We could even make it a thing!”

I just about fainted at the mere idea. I shook my head wordlessly, unable to respond, felt around on the ground for Winston’s leash, and looked back into Erick’s big, beautiful, pleading puppy-dog eyes. I sighed.

“I can’t,” I replied, wishing so badly that I could.

“You can’t?” Erick verified with disbelief.

“No, I just can’t.”

And with that I thought I’d make a dramatic exit, mysteriously walking away from the dashing stranger on the random Chelsea street where fate had brought us together. But instead, Winston had laid back down again and wasn’t ready to leave Grandma, so I awkwardly tugged and pulled at the 80-pound beast while what could have been my Prince Charming helped the old lady to her feet, completely at a loss. By the time I made it into the lobby, I turned around and all that stood where Erick had once been was the scrawny squirrel, finally gnawing on its precious nut.

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Fav Foreign Singer of the Week: Carla Morrison

Carla Morrison…I came across her album Dejenme Llorar (and specifically the song “Eres tù”) this week as San Francisco has seen a sudden uptick in rain (first real rain since April). Her music makes me feel warm and cozy but also remember that there is still sol, calor, and sensualidad somewhere out in the world…

I unfortunately don’t know enough about Mexican music to say who she sounds like, but for me I’d say her sound is as if Patsy Cline and Linda Ronstadt had a surrogate child raised south of the border, born to strum the strings of a guitar and feel las emociones of all that is beautiful and heartbreaking in the human experience.

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Freestyle rap, 3 languages, NBD

Starting at 11 minutes in, Nico from the duo Nico & Vinz seamlessly freestyle raps in French, Norwegian, and English. A) That is a talent B) What a babe.

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11 Months

As I begin to write this and glance down at my computer calendar, I realize it’s been 11 months to the day since I updated this blog. What a pity! I used to be so diligent about writing but totally fell off the rails this year. Or, in the past 11 months.

11 months! What on earth have I been up to since October 2015? Clearly not writing anything groundbreaking on this here blog, although I can see people have been enjoying my accent tag and reading lots about the Navajo Code Talkers. I’d say slowly coming to terms with the fact that I live in a place, I have a job, I have an early morning routine, and I’m not about to buy a one-way plane ticket out of here anytime soon. Not because I don’t particularly want to, I’m just not going to.

So what’s happened in my life since 11 months ago, October 2015, or six months into my San Francisco stint/rest of my life/who knows? Recapping below for myself and anyone else who cares to know. I must say it’s been pretty damn good.

  • Travelled to Israel with my mom for my best friend from college’s wedding. Julia married an atheist ex-Haredi  Jew (took me a minute to figure out the right word order there), but the wedding in Jerusalem was hardcore Haredi. It was a Monday night marriage, Julia was veiled all in white. A wall was erected between the wedding hall, the women partied on one side while the men danced like they would legitimately never dance again. Linking arms, kicking feet, sliding on the floor, swinging partners, lifting each other up in chairs…Conservative men gone wild!

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Tel Aviv, mom said, reminded her of New York City in the 1980s with all the grit and graffiti, but set in Miami Beach. We were thrilled to be in Tel Aviv after four days in Jerusalem, we practically kissed the very ground of the wonderfully hip and edgy Boulevard Rothschild. Tel Avivians are effortlessly cool, toasted tan, uber sexy. Vegan food, Mom trying to speak Hebrew with everyone and their mom, beach cruiser bikes, a mischievous ex-Israeli solider, late nights in Dizengoff. Thought a lot about religion, traditions, belonging, and this crazy world we live in. Still a committed atheist.

  • Went on my first cross-country business trip and lived it up in the Hampton Inn of Hartford, CT for four days. The Tinder game was incredible, as was the Hampton Inn continental breakfast.
  • Punk Rock Alice in Wonderland, Halloween 2015. Would have been Alice Cooper in Wonderland but I couldn’t find a bloodied bat to chew on in quick enough time.
  • Eked out the tail end of a disastrous disastrous product launch alive. Alice alive. Out of my hands, I did what I could. Worked my a** off at a startup that amassed a terrific, talented group of people, many of whom I still call my best friends and still correspond with during the workday by iMessage or Spotify messenger since we can’t Slack each other anymore. Saw how poor leadership can derail morale and a great culture and workforce. Spoke up in front of injustice, occasional abhorrent chauvinism, poor decision-making, and for all the basic b’s out there 😉 Realized that at the end of the day you’ve got to look out for yourself.
  • Went through the stressful process of searching for another job while I still had one. So many “doctor’s appointments” I actually got myself sick. I think I interviewed at seven companies in three or so months. Phone screen one, phone interview, on-site, even a happy hour interview, final round. Tell me a little bit about yourself, why do you want to work at this company, what do you love about…, tell me about a time when… Being like, “Thank you so0o0o0 much for taking the time to talk to me”/this is literally your job.
  • Worked evenings and brunch at a restaurant on Divis. Waited tables all through high school and college, but a couple years behind a desk and I’d kind of forgotten how amped up you get during a busy shift, all the restaurant lingo. Two top getting up, clear it off, on your right on your right, BEHIND YOU!!, you want grits or toast with that, can I get you anything else, y’all have a nice day, vasos por favor! Probably walked six miles during a brunch shift. Bittersweet to leave.
  • Took a trip to LA, the place I somehow thought I would move to before I ended up in San Francisco. Cool city, but happy I ended up north. The entire time I was there I had “All I Wanna Do” by Sheryl Crow stuck in my head. This is Elllll Ay! Turned up on Hollywood Blvd at night and semi-fought off advances from an up and coming Bollywood star. Reunited with Harry for the first time in 10 years. Reunited with Andrea at the same Peet’s Coffee in downtown Santa Monica as in 2005 after a visit to the best Buffalo Exchange location ever. Saw a X-game snowboarders board down a 13-story snow-filled halfpipe in downtown LA. Rudimental were pissed, Netsky killed it, Incubus were absolute professionals. Brandon Boyd tears it up like he tears off his SSBD, tears to my eyes. I Miss You.
  • Took a Google Bus to Napa (or Sonoma? Still unsure) with 20 lovely ladies. Holy sh*t.
  • Turned 27 on April 13th. Last day at old job on the 15th, b-day picnic in The Panhandle with all walks of friends on the 16th, worked brunch the 17th, somehow was still able to start my new job on the 18th. An incredible birthday with all those I’ve had the pleasure of calling my people the past year. Most unique and (luckily) still unused gift was the rhinestone-encrusted taser from Keanu at the downstairs smokeshop. April was lit.
  • Celebrated my one year San Francisco anniversary on April 20th, 2016. Reminisced about being completely unacquainted with San Francisco when I arrived here one year before, falling in love with the hazy sunsets as I biked all over town while (very) patiently awaiting my start date and end of an era. The broken suitcase with 50 pounds of clothes inside that I lugged up to Bill’s 33rd floor office on Kearny Street, and dropped to the floor when I took a look at my first view of the city outside the window. “Blank Space” and “Style” on the radio when Matt let me borrow his car and I drove around the Outer Sunset to Ocean Beach, cruising down streets with Spanish names like Guerrero and Pacheco and Noriega. Regretting not bringing a sweater. “But it was sunny when I left the house!” Hating life biking up Taraval Street from the Y but forgetting everything at the top of the hill, the sweeping vistas of little boxes on the hillsides / little boxes made of ticky tacky. Walking in circles around the intersection of Market and Van Ness when I still took Muni. Accidentally ordering 500 ear plugs when the Tenderloin still kept me awake, but found the best home for them months later.
  • 11 months of great concerts: Rudimental, Wolf Alice, Air + Style, Rhye, CHVRCHES ft. Wolf Alice again, Yeasayer (sort of, they went on past my bedtime), Disclosure, Ja Rule & Ashanti, Netsky, Marian Hill and Bomba Estéro (this concert took the cake). Did not manage to get backstage at Netsky despite trying to woo the bouncer with broken Flemish. Can’t impress everybody.

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  • Developed legitimate tastes for kombucha and kale, as well as the preferred methods imbibing and preparing both. My friend Fern taught me the proper method of massaging the kale prior to eating it, and I’ve never looked back. She also taught me to stick the compost in the freezer, and it has been an absolute game changer. Kombucha is great for everything, especially after a long night out. That time I got carded for kombucha (it’s fermented, you know). Preference for kombucha on tap to kombucha from a bottle because bougie tastes better.
  • Had a workplace romance that actually remained unbeknownst to any colleagues.
  • Went out for tea with my Lyft driver from The Gambia. Flashback to Senegal, the goats, the names, the Fatous, the sand, the beaches, the textiles, sugar with ataya tea, over-cooked pasta with baguette, the heat, the flies, the rooftops, the waiting, the prayer, the palm trees, my bin bin, le francais, le wolof, le teranga, le mal de pays…The random connections we make in cars 🙂
  • Rode the roller coaster in Santa Cruz. Absolutely terrifying.

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  • Found the party in Japantown that goes til 6am. The woman in the Uber on the way home was headed out to run her third marathon. Priorities.
  • Drove down Route 1 in a Mustang convertible, although quickly realized Northern California is one of the last places you ever want to drive with the top let down (it’s cold). Best section is from SF to Santa Cruz. Around Pacifica you’re driving through a hazy sun-kissed dream of waves crashing, hills rolling, surfers catching, cars zipping, eggs and fruit for sale. They guy next to me in the car scrolling through his Facebook app as we flew up the coast at sunset – SMH.
  • Exasperated my swim club coach but finally learned to swim correctly. I am now a flip turner.

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  • Had my first whale sighting of the coast of Pescadero while eating something delicious called olallieberry pie right out the box.
  • Learned to take The Wiggle. Learned that Page Street from Market to Webster is a terrible idea regardless of it’s designation as an official San Francisco Bicycle Route. McAlister from Webster to Broderick never gets better. Any neighborhood that ends in Heights was certainly thought out. Learned that Google Maps on your computer will show you the terrain of your route but your smartphone will not.
  • Ascended Webster Street from The Marina to Japantown in a sundress and flip flops. Screw Redbull, poorly planned product launches and life crossroads give you wings.
  • Thought about dropping everything and enrolling in nursing school/moving back to New Orleans/opening a restaurant/becoming a real estate agent/buying a one way ticket to a banana republic to never think about SaaS subscription models again…
  • Unknowingly left my bike unlocked on 10th and Market for two entire hours. The feeling of horror when I realized what I had done, the feeling of sheer luck mounting it and riding off into the sunset. When Brian’s Airbnb guests saved my bike from the hands of a chainsaw-wielding psycho, not even knowing whose bike it was. What did I do to deserve this? #blessed #thankyou

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  • Went to my first California beach bonfire party in Land’s End. I felt so LC.

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  • Went to my first quinciñera! Que bonita!
  • Completely accidentally ate pot chocolate chip cookies and rode out the journey on a misting rainy San Francisco night in Chinatown and North Beach. Came face to face with the largest bowl of wonton soup I will ever order.

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  • Got double primed and contoured! Ahh!!!

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  • Nick came to visit for a whole week 🙂

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  • Still have not experienced a real earthquake, bracing myself for that one, but did experience simulations of the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes at Cal Academy of Sciences Thursday night blowout! Also saw seahorse shaped coral, a fish with double eyes (one set above water, the other set underneath), and an ethereal jellyfish.

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  • Grammy turned 91. Reunited with the whole Egan clan for another New England family reunion. Where will we all be in another seven years?
  • Recreated this Trader Joes “Punjab Eggplant” dish on my own and it was delicious. Directions: Buy all the vegetables and spices listed on the back of the box and throw it around the stovetop. Mmmm.
  • Realized I am an emoji.

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Next up? I suppose rolling with the punches in an early stage startup, wearing all the hats I can, as they say. Working as an inspector of the polls at a polling precinct on the mother of all election days (Tuesday, November 8th, please vote (for Hillary)). First Thanksgiving in three years at home in New York, flying to Colombia the day after. If you have Colombia tips, please email me. If you don’t have my email, text, FB message, Instagram message, Spotify message, or Linked In message, WordPress comment all work too. If you have my actual address, feel free to DoorDash/Uber Eats/ Amazon Restaurants/Instacart me some cupcakes with your Colombia tips included in the Notes section of the receipt.

And then who knows! It’ll be winter soon, but in San Francisco it’ll still be chilly in the morning, sunny by 11, nippy by the slightest drop in the sun at 4pm, hot enough to throw on the bikini at Dolores Park the next day, misting the next. So I still won’t know what time of year or what day it is based on anything except from what my iPhone tells me it is, and I’m thinking about just throwing it all away for a flip phone. Looking back on it, these past 11 months have been oodles of fun, even if I’ve mainly stayed put in The City (meaning San Francisco, all you New York-centrics!). Punctured with moments of complete loss and grief over being 26/7 and still not knowing what my **passion** is but knowing you gotta push on. So looking forward to good times with friends both old and new, bountiful opportunity, much more writing and buildings, and something to keep me on my toes.

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Alice in Photos, Age 16

I know I keep going on about it, but I had a very intense walk down memory lane this weekend. On the search for building shots for Beauty in Buildings, I brought out my old hard drive and went through ten years of photos. I found photos that brought me right back to the moment the button clicked, photos that made me giggle, and photos that weighed down on a part of my heart. And then just some really cool ones that I totally forgot about!

My best friend in high school was named Jacki, and she was into photography and high fashion. She had the coolest clothes, purchased at fancy boutiques with her mom or snatched out of her dad’s side of the closet. She could combine them into new outfits in ways I could never even dream of, rarely if ever repeating an outfit. One rainy day when I was 15 or 16 she dressed me up in a few different ensembles and decided to have me model in my first photoshoot ever, Jacki’s retro-style home the background for the shots.

The last photo in the set is actually from a few years later. Our moms took us to Paris together a few weeks before we graduated high school. A collection of beautiful photos from the trip exists, but Paris is when and where our relationship fully disintegrated and came apart, and it’s never really been repaired. Come to think about it, this photo is probably the last one we ever took together.

But I suppose that’s what’s nice about photos – they capture one single moment in time and freeze it. You have to ask in order to get a backstory about a photo, there is only so much it can say on its own. I remember the day of this photoshoot, happy to be alone with my best friend at her cozy house on a rainy afternoon, and those are the memories I try to think of when I think of her. It will never be the same between us and I accepted that long ago, but it’s sometimes nice to look back at pretty pictures and remember a time where we were still an unfinished book.

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One city, two takes

This weekend I’ve gone through about ten years of photos in search of material for Beauty in Buildings. It’s a cool feeling that even before Instagram existed or I even realized that I love learning about, appreciating, and photographing buildings, I was traveling to new cities and snapping shots of buildings! I found a goldmine of building photos in my old hard drive that I took from 2005 – 2014, from New Orleans to Amsterdam to Port-au-Prince.

In September 2012 I was still living in Brussels, and my ex-boyfriend and I decided to take a little weekend getaway to Cologne, Germany, which is just a short train ride away. Colm studied photography and is a graphic designer, and he’d very proudly purchased an old black-white-camera (I can’t remember the make or style) off of Ebay for one Euro. I brought my digital camera, and enjoyed walking around Cologne on Saturday taking photographs of the different neighborhoods and buildings we walked by.

I’ve been to two cities in Germany – Cologne and Berlin – and both times I was very taken aback at the look and feel of these cities. I’m American, and I’m always anticipating European cities to be a combination of antique, cute, and quaint, even the big cities. I arrived in Berlin and was shocked to be reminded of New York City – there were big wide avenues, lots of big modern buildings, and tons of Dunkin Donuts.

I’d done some research on what to do in Cologne, and Google flooded me with images of the Hollhenzollern Bridge and the Cologne Cathedral, both beautiful, ancient (the Cathedral being epically old, opening it’s doors in 1322. 1322!!!) structures in the city. But if the camera zoomed out to show the rest of the city that surrounds the church and bridge, you’d be shocked at how modern and new the rest of Cologne is! Lots of tall, boxy buildings undoubtedly built in the second half of the twentieth century. And that’s when it dawns on me the devastation that was left after Allied bombing campaigns during World War II. It’s pretty intense, and a miracle that those in charge did leave some of these buildings out of harms way, for history’s sake.

In my old hard drive I’ve got all my photos of colorful Cologne, and they lead right into the black and white photos that Colm sent me after the trip. The feel of the photos is so different! My photos came out vibrant and excited, while Colm’s were look thoughtful and serene. So much factors into how a photo comes out, to the feeling it invokes in the onlooker, and the message the photo sends – it takes me forever to choose a filter on Instagram or to finish editing a photo on my computer because the colors and lighting used can tell a completely different story from another, and sometimes I’m not sure which one I want to tell.

We actually took quite a few of almost the same shot a few times, as you’ll see below.

 

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Posted in Cities, Europe, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hikeventure on Nor Cal’s Lost Coast

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This city gal has become a bit more outdoor-minded as she’s gotten older -The woods have become less a place to burn one in secret and more a place to enjoy, explore, walk, swim, run, bike, and conquer. One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about moving to San Francisco is how easy it is to hop in a car, whether it’s your’s, a friend’s, or a Get Around, and find yourself quickly outside The City and in a redwood forest, on the beach, or in an Old Western-style town surrounded by mountains.

In a rather whirlwind turn of events, I ended up agreeing to join three friends on a three-day hike of California’s Lost Coast, a sparsely populated area up in Humboldt and Mendocino counties in Northern California. It got its moniker in the last half-century since this rather isolated region experienced large-scale depopulation back in the 1930s – Back in the day there were train tracks linking towns and lumber yards, but the terrain was too rough and rugged, so today, aside from a sprinkling of “towns” like Whitethorn and Whale’s Gulch, you pass through or by lots that has been abandoned, from towns to ramshackle houses to school buses overgrown with weeds and moss. Nowadays much of the Lost Coast is now part of the Sinkyone Wilderness State Park.

For a little reference, here’s where we were in reference to San Francisco:

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And here’s what we ended up hiking! Essentially, we drove up to Needle Rock, parked the car, a local chap named Owen drove us back down to Usal in his 4×4, and then we hiked all the way up the mountains and on the ridges along the coast back to Needle Rock. The blue-dotted route shown below is not what we walked (I think it’s a fire road), clearly Google Maps did not take the scenic route.

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It was my first multi-day backpacking adventure and I felt a mixture of wooo yea I can do this empowerment!! and why am I waltzing around bear country with 40-pounds of sweet and savory trail mix on my back? But Brian lent me his hiking sticks which were a game changer, biking up and down the San Francisco hills for the last 4 months was killer preparation, and the views were immediately blue and beautiful. In many vistas we came across during the day time it was hard to see where the horizon was as the blue of the ocean turned almost seamlessly into sky blue.

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We hiked seven or so miles on the first day, which the guy at the Visitor’s Center had said would be the hardest because of all the ups and downs of the trail. It was definitely challenging but that was to be expected, and by the time we set up camp in a clearing at the Little Jackass campsite, we were all pretty exhausted. We ended up all sleeping 12 hours, the shady forest clearing blocking the sun from waking us early.

Day Two: Holy sh*t. The guy at Needle Rock said this was supposed to be the easiest because we’d just be walking along a ridge with a view of the ocean. Well, you’ve got to get up to that ridge first, don’t you? We decided they call our camp spot Little Jackass because you feel like one trying to get out of there – We spun circles around our campsite for an hour trying to find the path out, practically wading through poison oak and spikey needle bushes and then a tree legit fell on Kevin, who handled it like a champ. Then it was just straight up hill for an hour or so which made me very cross, so I kind of just put my head down and busted it out til the trail did level off like they said it would. I whined, but the hike wouldn’t have been so rewarding if there hadn’t been a couple of obstacles to overcome!

To keep ourselves occupied between the deeply intellectual conversations had by all, including one recurring conversation involving the correct verbiage related to former President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinski, we sang. I had not sung like that since waiting around for dinner in the mess hall at Camp Kippewa for Girls. A shout out to Brian for filming and recording our musical debuts! Starting off with American folk songs, we spanned late 90s pop, 60s soul, and musical theatre, which exposed me and Chrysan as Sound of Music freaks of nature. We are waiting impatiently for the next Castro Theater Sound of Music Singalong. #JulieAndrews

Here’s us during a trail mix break singing along to the #1 played song during the candlelighting ceremony at your local bar mitzvah Saturday night:

We knew we were going to come up to Wheeler Beach, but figured we’d haul on to the next beach at Bear Harbor, which the next day would leave us with just three or so miles back to where we’d parked the car. On the descent down to Wheeler Beach, which, I admit I was glad not to be ascending, we passed by a father-son duo and asked them about the beach. The dad was just absolutely not having it that day, and grumpily responded that it was something along the lines of “open exposed black sand and water, no shade anywhere” mumble mumble boo hoo. Although to me that sounded like, you know, a beach, we were not sure what to expect…

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There was a beautiful black sand beach fit with magnificent wave action, cliffs, a brook, pine, and elder trees. While the waves were too big too go swimming, and the water much too cold, there was a shallow pool that had formed with calm, warm water. Chrysan and I immediately threw down our heavy backpacks and on with our bathing suits as soon as we arrived, and quickly realized that all-purpose biodegradable soap, sun, sand, and water is pretty much the key to a happy and fulfilling life.

The sunset was obviously quite alright, and reflected itself into the wading pool as we drank hot toddies and made s’mores. At this juncture in time I will take a second to note that semi-melted marshmallows make for excellent roasting marshmallows, as the sort of dusty outside coating disappears and you’re essentially just roasting the entire inside of the marshmallow. It is game-changing and addictive.

Perhaps it was the hot toddies, perhaps it was the build up of endorphins after a long day’s hike and an epic bath, but Chrysan and I became Celine Dion that night, and it felt almost as good as Rose felt when she stood up in front of her tipy toes at the party in steerage. “Oh, I haven’t done that in years!”

Day 3: Final Day. Didn’t really even register that it was coming to an end. We woke up on the beach (which is just a great thing) and then set off past the deep elder tree forests up into the redwoods. Treked for miles and miles til Bear Harbor, which another grumpy old man had told us “was you know, just a beach”, except yea it was PHEN-OM! There seemed to have been a parking lot nearby, so there were a few groups of young San Franciscans playing football and drinking beers. But since the beach was so majestic and immense the proximity of people and parking lots didn’t really register, and it still felt like we were miles away from the real world and work emails.

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The last part of the trail was mainly along the coast under the pounding direct sunlight, and I admit I was a little heartbroken when I saw the parking lot and Kevin’s sun bonnet in the near distance, knowing that the hike was over and accomplished. Giddy with emotion, Chrysan and I dealt with the emotional end the way any 90s girls would – a throwback singalong while we waited around for the menfolk to finish chatting up the park rangers. I was also pleased to find that my peanut M&M’s had not melted in the trunk of Brian’s car. They are a resilient candy.

We headed back down the same remote, winding country road we’d been on twice already, this time taking a minute to check out the haunting roadside abandoned bus which made us all whisper “Chris McCandless” under our breath 10 times.

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We also stopped off at the annual Labor Day fair thrown by the town of Whale’s Gulch, summoned by two of the greatest words in the English language (aside from continental breakfast, which we had on the way up north) – bake sale.

People out in this area of Northern California certainly have a clear-cut style. My rural fashion expertise relies heavily on observations made during trips to visit my relatives in beautiful backwoods New England (which I now appreciate),  which consists mainly of colorful Patagonia clothing and Life Is Good t-shirts from Cape Cod. Here is was a bit more down-to-earth – The Humboldt Country traditional Sunday garb consists of lots of long, white-haired pigtails for women, cargo pants or ripped jeans complete with hemp festival t-shirts and Teevas, and a sturdy pair of hiking boots. The people of Whale’s Gulch were super friendly, the food scrumptious and donation-based (although I admit I hesitated before taking a bite of a friendly-looking brownie), and children darted about amongst the pot smoke and vegan cucumber bread breadcrumbs. It was a very close-knit community.

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We drove back to downtown Garberville, where we’d stopped off for coffee on the way to the Usal campground where we’d started our hike. It’s an old fashioned sort of Californian town with one main drag with a Western-style main street smack dab in the middle of a massive mountain range. It’s quite striking, but it’s got some pretty shady characters. Some methy characters, to put it frankly, of which Northern California seems to have many. Dusk in this town was sort of like a few scenes in particular from Fear the Walking Dead, which is a sad thing to say but yea, Frank’s Food Place was real.

We spent the night in a motel which was needless to say, glorious. Motels are great. Then we drove back down south the next day, stopping off at the Vichy Springs Resort in Mendocino Country to hit up the hot springs. I thought we were headed to a national park but it was actually a spa, which we ended getting day passes for. I didn’t take much prodding on that front. We spent a couple of hours in Northern California’s only champagne baths, full of magnesium and something about lactic acid. My skin felt soft and smooth again after a few days in the woods, and my muscles not so sore anymore. Elton John once bathed here.

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Jamaican food in Ukiah, food coma, Brian drove, then we crossed the Golden Gate and were back in San Francisco.

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Hike Soundtrack – The Songs We Sang

Americana

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Erie Canal

America the Beautiful

Proud to be an American

Home on the Range

I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad

There Was a Great Big Moose

She’ll Be Comin’ Around The Mountain

My Darlin’ Clementine

I’m a Little Teapot

The 50 States

Musical Theater

The Sound of Music

Edelweiss

Favorite Things

The Sound of Music

Doe a deer

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?

Climb Every Mountain

Les Miserables

Look Down

Castle on a Cloud

Master of the House

At the End of the Day

90s Pop Music

NSYNC*

Tearin’ Up My Heart

Bye Bye Bye

It’s Gonna Be Me (may)

Backstreet Boys

I Want It That Way

Everybody

As Long As You Love Me

Britney Spears

Sometimes

Crazy

Hit Me Baby One More Time

Celine Dion

My Heart will Go On

Oldies

Build Me Up Buttercup Baby

Stand by Me

Disney

Just around the River Bend

Colors of the Wind

Chim Chimney

Spoonful of Sugar

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