How To Carry a Heavy Heart

Pick up Thai food takeout after work, from a waitress too busy to meet your eye. Carry the styrofoam box to your car like a newborn, warm and fragile. Drive home, a protective hand on the bottle of Savignon Blanc in the passenger seat. Blast Nirvana’s “All Apologies” on 99.9 FM, a station you never listen to. Pull into the driveway, blinking twice to wet bloodshot eyes. Pick your reddened cuticle, click the garage door opener. Carry the wine, the Thai food, your work bag, and a vase of cut daisies you bought to cheer yourself up into your bedroom. Put the flowers and the wine bottle on the end table and the takeout on your floor. Put on your favorite pajamas, taking your time to pick out the right pair of fuzzy socks. Untie hair and sift through it with your fingers, yanking on the knots. Send three emoji hearts, each to separate concerned friends. Join the noodles on rug, untie bag, open box and dig in. Open laptop and go to Netflix. Click on something, anything, mindful of any romance described in the description. Open bottle of wine, pour a hefty glass. Sip, wait, repeat.

What’s Hot and What’s Not: Berkeley, CA

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I’ve been in Berkeley going on 3 months now, enough time to get a decent feel for the Bay Area and to compile my own personal list of Hots and Nots.

What’s Hot

1. The Mint Mojito Latte (Sweet & Creamy) from Philz Coffee

This is by far my favorite culinary discovery in Berkeley thus far. Sure, the food is pretty good, but this drink gets points for deliciousness and creativity. While it isn’t actually alcoholic (sorry, guys) it captures and blends the flavors of a sweet and creamy latte and a minty mojito perfectly. It comes iced and with actual fresh mint on top, which never ceases to impress me. Delicious.

2. Ze Bohemian Vibes

Now, this category has a lot to do with my host mom/boss, Marisa, and her grasp of aesthetics. She keeps colorful fresh flowers in the kitchen and the bathroom at all times. She has piles of shells, drift wood, sea glass ornately situated on window ledges and in bowls on the porch steps. She regularly uses her clothes line to dry out loads of boho garments and billowing bed sheets. Her dance-y world music often wafts out the open windows into the backyard (where I have my little studio). Her attention to the details of the house make it a homey, comfortable, artsy, vibrant space that I just love being a part of.

East Bay as a whole too is bohemian, but “Start-Up” culture seems to have completely pillaged the free-spirited feel that San Francisco used to be known for (Bohemians of the 60s and 70s wouldn’t be caught dead in the posh Haight nowadays). As a result, the hippy culture has bled into Oakland and Berkeley and these east bay cities are becoming the major cultural hubs instead.

3. Telegraph Ave

Telegraph Ave is enormous–it runs through both Berkeley and Oakland, the carotid artery of the East Bay. To your right, dreadlocked street vendors sell sterling silver rings, gemstone bracelets made to cleanse your chakra, Tibetan singing bowls to enhance your yoga and meditation practice, handmade glass-blown pipes and Bob Marley vinyl. To your left, there is any and every type of hole-in-the-wall eatery you could desire: Burmese, Thai, Tapas, French, Italian, Indian, you name it. Ahead of you, you’ll see college kids in blue and yellow Cal Bear tee-shirts, belly dancers, a singing guitar player busking for spare change, a woman painting with her easel out, and families of every ethnicity and creed. East Bay is a very diverse place, but it’s on Telegraph where all the diversity comes to a head.

4. Bike Culture

Have I mentioned that I’m getting into awesome shape here? I have my car, but I only use it to cart around the kid I nanny and for lengthy trips. Within Berkeley and Oakland, I ride my bike everywhere because, not only are their awesome bike lanes and laws here, but the area is fairly flat (unless of course you venture up towards the Berkeley/Oakland hills, that’s a whole other story.) I ride my bright red road bike all over; to bars, to my friends’ houses, to cafes and restaurants, to yoga class, and now that I zip-tied a milk crate to the back, to Trader Joe’s to get groceries! I’m gettin’ some major thigh muscles because of it.

There is a lot of support for cyclists here too. Berkeley alone has countless bike shops that will fix your bike for dirt cheap. My personal favorite place is Missing Link on Shattuck Ave because they have a box of communal tools that they allow riders to use for no charge, and, more excitingly, because they offer free, indoor, secure bike storage for the entire day. As Berkeley has an astronomically high bike theft rate, I am IN LOVE with this service.

5. BART

Seattle’s public transportation is total crap compared to the BART and Muni system in the East Bay. BART is like a subway system that goes all the way from south of San Francisco to the northernmost parts of the East Bay. It’s super cheap, relatively fast and a greener option for those who commute from East Bay to The City (or vice versa) for work. But aside from that, the COOLEST people ride BART. Maybe it’s just that I’m a fairly extroverted, open person, but I have met and conversed with so many interesting people while riding. I met a Bio Chemist from France, a traveler from Montreal, a professor at Cal Berkeley, a graduate student from Russia. Everyone gets a little confused when first riding BART, but the community is so welcoming (and made up of lots of transplants and new people learning the culture of the area) that it’s super easy to approach people, befriend them and ask for aid. The times I have felt the most welcome and connected to others here has been while riding the BART. I love it.

What’s Not

1. Live Music=Meh

Granted, I have been spoiled in this department my entire life (growing up with a musician father in Seattle then going to school in Bellingham where live music is alive and well,) but I can safely say most of the live music I’ve seen here has been…meh. (Caveat: I know a ton of super talented musicians in the bay area (you guys know who you are and know I love you!), but they’re just aren’t that many venues for them in Berkeley! One exception being Freight & Salvage, that place is lovely.)

San Francisco has great music, of course, but I’ve been looking for good local indie rock/pop/bluegrass/etc I can ride my bike to. No dice. The one place riding distance away that has live jazz is a bar called “Jupiter” but they’re idea of jazz is weirdly electronic, fusion-y, smooth jazz that I loathe. And despite the fact that this is a college town, there aren’t that many college bands that are locally famous and have a following (Think Blue Scholars at Gonzaga, Pole Cat in Bellingham) so I never know if I should take a gamble on a cover charge. The data I’ve collected so far says, don’t. Maybe I just haven’t found the right places, but I figure if it’s this hard to find good music, that isn’t a good sign…

2. Hella Dudes

There are definitely exceptions to what I’m about to say, but by and large Berkeley guys are bro-y, macho, frat boys that pretend to have some hipster flare. If that makes no sense, picture an L.A. guy who’s ashamed of his SoCal roots and thus puts horn-rimmed glasses on and pretends to listen to Bob Dylan. It’s a hard thing to describe, because it’s a subtlety, and it has to do with my radar for genuineness. As one guy told me candidly outside a bar, “There are a lot fake people in this hood.” It is really true, and really off-putting. I mean, the other night I was 2 beers in and I still remember thinking, “There is not a single person (girl or guy) that I want to get to know here.” That was when I knew it was time to call it a night.

Oh yeah, and as the stereotype says, they use “hella” way too often here. I am really hoping it doesn’t rub off on me.

3. “I work at a Start-Up”

This phrase gets thrown around too much. Mostly because it’s true, there are a ton of Start-Ups in this area (businesses that are just getting off that ground and thus are hiring lots of fresh grads. Usually they’re inventing apps, etc.) but I think it’s also thrown around because there is this whole “glamorous” culture that comes with being part of a Start-Up. Start-ups are usually funded by generous share holders like Google, and thus they have money for a whole slew of amenities that have become the status quo in a start up job. Free meals. Hip office spaces. Happy Hours and Parties. All that coupled with a built-in network of young people to be friends with and a job that could potentially earn you a lot of money. Awesome, sign me up!

But after knowing a few people that work at start-ups, you get to know real quick that the glamour is mostly an illusion. You work crazy long hours, you hardly get respite from coworkers and work talk, and more often than not start-ups fail and leave you in the lurch without a job. Not to mention, the atmosphere in general seems really intense and stressful. Realistically, it’s this intense and stressful way of life, and yet people throw their membership in start-up culture around as if it’s some badge of instant superiority. It’s annoying.

4. The Drought

It never rains here. In the three months since I got here, it’s rained three times. In fact, it’s hardly ever overcast.  As a Seattle girl raised on Gortex and polar fleece, this just feels fundamentally wrong.

5. The Parking People Eaters

Um, for the life of you, never leave your meter a minute longer after it runs out, park on the wrong side of the street during street sweeping or god forbid, forget to pay for parking in downtown Berkeley. The parking police must be bored because they are the more thorough than a fine-toothed comb. They’re ruthless too: they will not hesitate to give you a $50 ticket for 5 mins of unpaid parking. More than once I’ve been caught running down the sidewalk in high-heel wedges to stop them from tagging my car. I refuse to let the Parking People Eaters win. I downright REFUSE.

Serendipidous Meeting

His dented brow in the black-orange light

turned me inward.

He explained a fall down an apartment staircase,

a scarf that staunched the bleeding,

a mother holding vigil by his hospital bed.

His lips, two pink parentheses, framed, “I’m not sorry about it,”

and he gazed into his drink with a cock-eyed furrow.

Lifted, I uncrossed my arms and spoke of my own lost footing,

no longer clinging to the deceptive railings

that’ve kept me upright for so long.

“I wish that’d happened to me,” I even said,

though it came out as insensitive and naïve.

I wish I had a scar to show

for my own impaired sense of direction.

Things tumble down, but we tumbled out, there,

swathed by barroom chatter and our tall-back booth.

I traced my forefinger over his jagged scar, his dimpled temple,

and recognized the heat, the pulse of letting go.

Begin Again

(This is a contrapuntal poem, so read rows from left to right then columns.)

Before you                   work                           we cook             the sunny side

and I                               come                           in                                       to

groove                           morning                     Motown                  barefoot

together                        (this is                     “Gypsy Woman”          soul)

Let’s                                 live                              playing                          Let’s

spoon                             sugar                           in the                              wake

Honey bunch               let’s                             back                                 up

and                                savor                             home                           again

Forget                           days                              like                              tomorrow

Detour

You can go your own way,

but when I go absent-mindedly

against that pesky one-way

at the end of N. State Street,

coffee cravings fall to the wayside

and I’m orb-eyed and snorting,

an insubordinate, spirited filly.

 

I should’ve seen the signs,

or had a second thought at the lack

of forward-facing stoplights,

but instead I sang distractedly

to Joni’s Mitchell’s Amelia,

(“Until you get there yourself,

You never really know,”)

and challenged the yellow lines,

ripping their reins away.

 

As if some gate were lifted,

I  sprint beyond the eddies of oxytocin,

the vales of mom jeans and Aerostar minivans.

Yet nurture strong-arms my nature,

And like whip to flesh,

I conform.

 

Beside an SUV I lock eyes

With a pig-tailed girl writing poems

in window condensation,

her finger scribbling like a compass needle.

I fear the pull of this arterial is stronger than

she knows, that her poems will be lost to

doodled dream houses and baby names,

the longer she follows this supposed one-way.

I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down

 

Sun teased in its last copper hour,

a keyhole in a red oak door,

revealing a room

where night wears nothing,

but black tresses

and dabs of rose water.

 

She whispers to her vanity

in the hush of self-solace

and fingers the latch to a

strand of marquise

like fetters

 

She’s captive of a masquerade

chaperoned by a hourglass;

Each bisous

tepid as a forgotten bath,

each diamond

a cigarette burn

on naked flesh.

 

 

Mercy

I’m sorry for that place you last lived, if that was living. I hated its tired floral décor and it’s endless wings, strewn with wheel chairs, walkers and nurses’ stations like an obstacle course. I’m sorry that when the man in the open-backed gown reached out his hand, I pulled away. I’m sorry I didn’t play Chopin waltzes on the piano for the bored, haggard women in the cafeteria. I’m sorry that I didn’t start the VHS player for those vacant eyes glued to the fuzzy screen. I’m sorry all those twisted, Cubist faces so haunted me.

I’m sorry the numbers on the clock scrambled, the hands circled counterclockwise, that your favorite velour sweater sets began disappearing, even after my mom carefully scripted your initials on the tags. I’m sorry that to you, the Nigerian nurse who brought your meals was a “spook.” I’m sorry that you took more pills than you could swallow. I’m sorry you had to relieve yourself like a child, strapped into a plush diaper. I’m sorry that your sudden attachment to an old stuffed animal of mine—a plush duck—disgusted me. It’s sweet, mom said. I’m sorry I kept it.

I’m sorry I didn’t hold your hand as you drew a last timid breath through those plastic tubes, hanging like tentacles around your bed. I’m sorry it smelled like urine and that the nonsensical shouts of your neighbor kept you up at night. Until you could do nothing but sleep, that is. I’m sorry that I shouted to your gaunt face in those enunciated staccatos, that I replaced compassion with frustration. I’m sorry I pretended you were already dead but hated that you were dying. I’m sorry you became a burden, an annoyance, a door that wouldn’t stop creaking.

I’m sorry that losing our golden retriever, the summer after you passed, was harder on me. Your death felt more like mercy than pain. I cried all night when he died, but only a few relieved moments when you did. I’m sorry that mom, dad and I sat consoling him when the vet pushed something poisonous into his veins, I’m sorry all three of us laid our hands on his grayed, copper face, his arthritic hips, his straining rib cage. I’m sorry he heard I loved him as his eyes shrunk to glossy slits and his heartbeat slowed. I’m sorry that he is buried and marked in our backyard, but that your ashes are still un-spread in the Sound.

Marine Park

Through the windshield the stars

are huge, distorted asterisks,

while my hands trace the steering wheel,

and my mouth cinches tight.

Tears mark my thighs like–

black holes,

age spots,

ellipses.

 

and I go through my universe

wishing

 

I was lost,

but I am found here,

on the hood of my Honda,

empty warmth at my back,

and infinity overhead.

 

The night is beautiful

despite your absence,

to say that it needs you to be so

wouldn’t be love,

but to say that your absence is felt,

despite the beauty before me,

is.

 

I turn over sickly, hum in agony,

until the jagged edges of life’s key

click into the ignition,

catch and push me forward

down this far-stretching shadow of road.

Exactly

My body is this opaque casing

for a spirit achingly transparent,

If it weren’t for my rib cage

it

would slip down my forearm,

out the half-moon of my sleeve.

I will tell you what I want you to know,

I will love you all I want to love you,

(despite convention or fear),

because when this world comes down,

I want you to know,

exactly

how and who I am.