Ever since I moved to San Francisco I've been bouncing from one neighborhood to another. Nomadic life obviously comes with its drawbacks. But at the same time, living in several very different neighborhoods has been an awesome introduction to San Francisco.
Noe Valley was my first home here in the Bay. My friend Greg was incredibly gracious in opening his AMAZING home to me. It's nestled on a large hill with a view that stretches all the way to the East Bay on a clear day. Breathtaking for someone who lived for three years in flat South Florida. But the price for the view was the crazy incline of the hill up to his house. Honestly, just walking up the hill was an ordeal, forget about biking it.
I often complained about how difficult it was to bike in San Francisco in general (this was before I learned the routes around the larger hills), but Greg just shrugged and wondered how hard could it really be. And then one day I was sitting on the computer checking my email when Greg burst into the room from the garage crying out, "oh my god!" He was red in the face, wheezing, and just in a total state of disarray that my thoughts ranged to "did he just get mugged?" to "did he get in a car wreck only blocks away?" He stumbled to the sink, splashed himself with water repeatedly and just had this wild look in his eyes. Turned out he bought a bike and rode it home for the first time. When he could finally speak again he uttered, "what the hell! Those hills! I thought I was going to die!"
Living with Greg was great, but it was only meant to be a launch pad for my own place in SF. In November 2005, I moved out of Greg's place in Noe Valley to my friend Nik's house in Glen Park. Nik and I met through Craigslist, as we were both interested in vegan cooperatives, particularly ones that were gay-friendly. He and a friend Yosef were trying to get one started so I decided to join. Another vegan guy, Chris joined us soon after. While the four of us scouted for places for our eventual coop, Yosef and I moved in with Nik for a month of rent-free living. Unfortunately, Glen Park had even harsher hills than Noe Valley. Honestly, the final hill to Nik's place was the worst hill I've climbed so far in San Francisco.
Initially I was closer with Nik, mainly because Yosef was a hardcore straight-edge straight boy. Queer-friendly of course, but I think after my experience with hetero straight-edge men in Boston I was friendly but didn't go out of my way to hang out with Yosef. That all changed the night we discovered our shared love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
On our first night watching Buffy together, we watched about 10 hours straight of season 4 on DVD. And we still couldn't get enough. Over the next month we watched it almost every night all the way to the end of the series in Season 7. Good times!
Sadly, the coop idea fell apart. Trying to build something up from nothing is a hell of a lot harder than joining an existing coop. Communication was breaking down a bit, and to cover myself I began to look for a place on my own. Back in August I landed a role in "Enigma", a local independent feature film. As with most small budget productions, there was no financial compensation for the role. BUT, Paul (wonderful, wonderful Paul) offered me his apartment in the swanky neighborhood of the Inner Sunset. And he let me live there rent-free, woot! It was a one-bedroom apartment, but Paul fell for one of his stars Dex Craig (pornstar name, no?) who also doubled as the lead cameraman. So, despite having a lease until the end of March, Paul moved to Dex's place in the Castro. Thus, on December first, I began my long-term house-sitting gig in what I call the "Hetero Castro."
The Inner Sunset was a fun place. It's adjacent to Golden Gate Park and has tons of great mom & pop shops. It's also the home of Arizmendi Bakery, hands-down THE BEST bakery in San Francisco. Each day they offer a different gourmet vegetarian pizza. And each one is mmm... I am drooling like Homer Simpson just thinking about it. Three stand-outs in their line-up are:
Shiitake, Portobello, and Button Mushrooms with Sesame-Ginger-Garlic Vinaigrette Pizza
Roasted Winter Squash, Red Onions, Goat Cheese, Rosemary Olive Oil, & Parsley Pizza
Roasted Eggplant, Red Onions, Smoked Mozzarella, & Garlic Olive Oil Pizza
My friend Brandon was with me the day I first had the Smoked Mozarella pizza and he was just floored. He was never a fan of vegetarian pizza, but the taste had him moaning (always a good thing). I had a crush on Brandon a while back. But he turned me down gently and we've remained good friends. Anyway, back to the vegetarian pizza that Brandon actually liked. It probably helped that the cheese tasted like sausage, no doubt due to the process of smoking it. Another cool thing about Arizmendi Bakery is that it is a worker-owned cooperative.
Brandon and I talked about that for a bit, as it was a timely topic for him. He was formerly a Starbucks barista but was fired due to a complaint by some bitchy customer. The way the whole matter was handled was ridiculous. Rather than the decision being made by his direct manager, who knew the situation, knew Brandon, and wanted him to remain an employee, the decision was made by a corporate drone who dealt solely with "customer satisfaction." The whole concept of decisions being made by people who are so completely disconnected from the situation boggles my mind. I love that San Francisco is a city where cooperatives can thrive in this age of huge corporations.
The Inner Sunset is also home to the Irving and 9th Bank of America branch. San Francisco is heavily Asian at 33% compared to 41% for the white population. The Inner Sunset never struck me as particularly Asian dominated, and then I walked into the Bank. Though the patrons reflected the diversity of San Francisco, every single employee, from the bank tellers to the manager, was Asian. Anyone who knows me knows that I bring the Asian presence of San Francisco up ALL the time. It all stems from being a 1/2 Asian kid growing up in South Carolina.
Kindergarten through second grade I attended Hopkins Elementary, a school that had a lot of Army brats like me, so being biracial wasn't that much of a big deal. But because my mother was Asian, I was automatically placed in the remedial reading class. Of course, my mother wasn't going to have any of that, so she met with the principal and got me placed in the advanced class. Sadly this solidified my mother's decision to not teach me Korean. She feared that knowing Korean might interfere with my English ability. She regrets it now, as do I, especially whenever I meet people who are bilingual.
During the summer prior to 3rd grade, my parents bought a liquor store near downtown Columbia, far, far, far away from Hopkins Elementary. I was too young to be a latch-key kid and my parents didn't have the money for daycare. So they decided to change our home address to the business address for the purposes of school zoning (illegal) and have their little third grader stay hidden at the liquor store after school (very illegal).
Though Hopkins Elementary had irritating moments like that, nothing compared to my first day at Brennan Elementary, the school nearest to the liquor store. At recess I was surrounded by a good portion of the student body who said all those stupid things that Asian kids in mostly non-Asian locales hear. The crowd favorite at Brennan Elementary was to chant in a singsong voice, "I'm Chinese!" while holding the corners of the eyes up then "I'm Japanese!" while holding the corners of the eyes down, then the big shouting finale of "I'M PEKINGNESE!" while holding one corner of the eye up and the other down. Clever.
"I was born in Korea," I tried to correct them, as if that meant anything to South Carolinian third graders. After all that, the mob then demanded that I teach them karate. I told them I didn't know it, at which point none of them believed me. When it was clear I wasn't going to show them any back handsprings and karate chops through blocks of concrete, they got bored with me and dispersed. So I spent the rest of recess by myself on the school steps and watched all the other kids play.
Soooooo... yeah... those sort of things stick with you. Being here in San Francisco with tons of chinks, japs, gooks, flips, and everything else with slanty eyes, inscrutable mannerisms, and inherent martial arts ability -- yeah, it's a damn good feeling.
Though I loved the Inner Sunset, I knew I would eventually have to leave. So it was back to searching on Craigslist for me (which btw has one of its physical offices in the Inner Sunset). To be honest I wasn't in the mood for scanning through tons and tons of houses and apartments, so instead I posted a "housing wanted" with the tagline "Gay Vegetarian Male." It's great that in the Bay area, the more specific you get with your niche, the more replies you seem to get. After narrowing down a few replies I called one place that was located right in the Castro. I set up an appointment with Natasha, but she then called me the next day to say that the room was no longer available. Wtf?
I chalked it up to another round of California flakiness, but then a few days later Natasha called me again to explain that she and her roommates were still discussing the particulars of renting out the living room and she didn't want to start interviewing people until they hammered out all the issues.
So I finally got to see the place. It was perfect in so many ways. It was right across the street from my friend Matt's place, only a block away from Paul and Dex, and within walking distance to Café, the club I frequent on Friday and Saturday nights. And then the place got even better. Natasha mentioned her roommates Ketan and Sylvio. The name Ketan rang a bell, and then I remembered him. Dex had introduced me to his Italian-Indian friend Ketan back at Thanksgiving and the two of us instantly bonded over our love of Indian food as well as our stories growing up biracial and gay.
I had to leave, as I was entertaining my friend Eric and Tommy from Oklahoma, but then Natasha called and asked if I could come back to meet all three of the housemates together. So I let Eric and Tommy explore the Castro on their own and went back. The first thing Ketan said when I sat down was "he cooks amazing Indian food!" Though Sylvio and Ketan are not strict vegetarians and eat meat outside the house, all meals in the house are vegetarian, an arrangement which is quite common in San Francisco. Sylvio and Natasha were curious about all the food Ketan and I were talking about, so I directed them to my blog. The next day they called and offered me the room :).
A few days later I found out that Ketan wasn't the only coincedence with the new place. Natasha was dating Jay, my temp agent at Smith, Hampton, and Devlin, who I've been working with for the past several months. Small world.
The first thing I did after moving in and having a toast with Natasha and Ketan (Sylvio had to leave to give a speech at a demonstration) was to cook. Right across the street is a small natural food store, "Buffalo Natural Foods." My first meal in the new place was Saag Chole (Spinach and Chickpeas) and Til Aloo (Potatoes with Sesame Seeds). Unfortunately, I still don't have a digital camera, so no pictures. Definitely something I'll get eventually, but right now I'm saving up for a computer.
A nice bonus is that the place has two cats. Last night when I returned to my room after taking a shower I found both of them sitting on my bed. I love cats. The smaller one is Hazel. She's the more actively friendly of the two, I think by default because the other one is a little heavy and kind of plods around. Sadly I can't remember his name. His nickname of "football" is the only name in my head at the moment, as his belly is shaped like a football. Most cats, even if they like getting their bellies rubbed can't resist clawing or biting playfully, but Football just rests on his side and yawns. Mmmm... just writing the word "yawn" can be contagious. Time for a nap. I really think I am going to like it here.