When: September 2009
Where: SF State, below the Cesar Chavez Center
Weather: Extremely foggy
Humbug was another dense, inaccessible album from 2009. In the face of the same hyperproduced late-noughties wilderness period that brought us Passion Pit, Arctic Monkeys retreated into the comfortable embrace of Josh Homme and his Palm Desert Sound. It can be argued whether or not the album is a failure, but I was going to see them in concert; I had to keep my hopes high.
Next: I am pleasantly surprised.
When: December 2008
Where: My dorm
Weather: Cold, foggy
My roommate was kind of a dick. He smelled funny, got high all the time, and used to bring in his chonga girlfriend to spend the night. But his taste in music was interesting.
Next: 2009 (Our darkest hour)
When: 22 November 2008
Where: San Joaquins en route south
Who: Assorted strangers
Book: More Information Than You Require by John Hodgman
The first time I went home from San Francisco, I was more nervous than I’d ever been. The bus connecting me to the station at Emeryville left the ferry building downtown at 4:00 AM, and I’d booked it not wanting to lose any time during Thanksgiving Break. I didn’t want to be late; in high school I had recurring nightmares about missing the bus which, to be fair, only came once an hour, and it was still in my system.
My answer to this was to wait until the last minute to leave my dorm, catch the last M Car, chill out in the subway station for the next three hours until it was time to go. The station closed at 1:00, so I was left to sit outside. It was Embarcadero Plaza, on the water, in the middle of the night in November. It was freezing and terrifying. I passed the time listening to Radiolab and reading More Information Than You Require under whatever light I could find. Finally the bus came. It started to get light in the East Bay, and I was on the train almost immediately.
I’d heard this song before, but found it conducive to the fast-moving bucolic landscape between SF and LA. I’d be home in time for lunch.
Next: Meet the Roommate
When: After dark, 15 October 2008
Where: Stonestown Galleria
Weather: Cold, foggy
The situation with Caitlin hadn’t gone well. I’d invited her to see Christian Lander in the Haight, but she never got back to me. To SF natives, the Haight is the most loathed neighborhood in the city, not because it’s dangerous, but because relatives from out-of-town will always ask you to take them there, and there isn’t much to see. Christian Lander was super-cool.
My rebound lasted about half as long as my first relationship, and even then we never saw each other. It’s a peculiarity of this short window of time that I had the lingering confidence to hold onto her for so long, but for no real reason. My dreams of dating a Jewish girl were dashed, and my thoughts returned to Jeannie, constantly crossing my path, refusing to fade into myth like the others, and I always fell into the trap of pining for her all over again.
Instead, I decided to take on some of the music of San Francisco, something that would cheer me up, and naturally I picked Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. The first time I listened to the album, I had extreme difficulty picking it up again, but I could never forget that initial spin. I took a walk outside, unprepared in my windbreaker for the cold and dark of the furthest, most inhospitable edge of San Francisco that one could imagine. I wandered into the mall, not seeing anyone or anything of interest, The words repeated over and over I began to feel sick before the song descended into a dark, dizzying jangle of mad guitars.
Next: A dream of Thanksgiving
When: 25 October 2008
Where: Cole Street south of Haight
Who: Christian Lander
Weather: Somehow not as cold as September
Caitlin first met me on the platform at the SF State Muni station. I don’t remember what exactly we talked about, but she was charmed enough to give me her email address and ask me out… to the first meeting of SF State’s Hillel.
How did she know!? I wondered, as even I had kind of forgotten I was Jewish. But a date’s a date, so I followed my instructions to go to 33 Denselowe Street. Nothing, these were just people’s houses. Thinking she’d got the number wrong, I continued, door to door, all fruitlessly.
When I got back to my dorm, I found an email reading, “It’s not Denselowe, it’s Banbury.” Son of a bitch. “Maybe next week,” she said. This pattern continued for six weeks, until finally, I made an offer. I was going to see Christian Lander read from Stuff White People Like in the Haight, would she like to go? She had to check with her parents, casually noting that she was 17, and I never heard from her again. But I went anyway and had a great time.
This was my Dandy Warhols phase, and Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia is still excellent. I felt alright after meeting Christian Lander. Things were going to get better.
Next: It gets worse.
When: 20 September 2008
Where: My dorm
When I was 18, I had a crush on James Franco. This was not a man-crush, which is platonic. Dee on my floor asked me, “would you suck his dick?”
I replied, “Without hesitation.” I had replied without hesitation. According to Jimmy Dore, you can have one and it’s not gay. And then James Franco got weird and I stopped paying attention.
But this was September 2008, and I was looking forward to seeing him host Saturday Night Live. The episode was mediocre, but the musical guests were Kings of Leon, who I’d just heard of four months earlier. I didn’t think the music was great, but was pleased that I’d bet on a winning horse.
The following month, my mom visited me, and reported much to my surprise that Kings of Leon were actually very popular. This was all news to me, who didn’t listen to the radio and had been concerned with other things, but while the music wasn’t great, I felt it was a personal victory. I needed whatever I could get.
Next: The Rebound.
When: late August 2008
Where: Stairwell, Mary Ward Hall, SF State University
Weather: Contemptuously cold and windy, with fog and no heater
“Where do you think this relationship is going?” The eight scariest words I had ever heard.
In the immortal words of Popeye Wynn, “Shit, I just got here.”
So we were on a break now. Jeannie was spooked that I helped her move into her dorm. She mistook my effort to do the right thing as an act of creepiness, which nobody I know can understand. My efforts to figure it out at the time only made things worse.
And the question was completely out of the blue. So she let me off easy. We were on a break. But not really. After every effort I’d put in to get this far, up to San Francisco, only to have it blow up on the second day. It went badly, and I spent the remainder of the week in a sour mood. I couldn’t bring myself to listen to The Kooks for a very long time.
My confidence hadn’t worn off, but suddenly I felt as if I had no reason to be at SF State.
But I thought to myself, “shit, I just got here,” and I stayed anyway. It went badly.
Next: The SF Years.