Sunday, April 08, 2007

Telegraph Avenue

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07 Gone.mp3

I found myself on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley on Saturday, dodging crowds of students, the mentally ill, and street vendors selling band logo patches. It occurred to me that I had navigated this obstacle course on a semi-regular basis ten years ago when I lived in San Francisco. On Sundays I would refrain from responding to messages left by my aunt and cross the Bay Bridge in my Honda Civic hatchback (that I could barely drive, as it was a stick shift with a sensitive clutch and I was not adept) in the early afternoon. I would proceed to Vik's Chaat House, where I would eat and be an audience for the FOB groups and couples who studied at the university or worked in tech. Then I would drive up to Telegraph to hit Amoeba Records and Cody's and Moe's Bookstores.

As has been the case for most of my last twenty years, it was a solitary existence buoyed by musical and literary consumerism. I was dating a woman -- I was 27, she was 22 and just out of an undergraduate business program -- with whom I was in a long distance relationship for six or seven months. Our parents were family friends from the old days in Westchester and we were basically pre-engaged at the end of month one.

I had finally broken up with her after spending a weekend with my law school friends at a conference in New York. We were all meeting in the hotel lobby to go out for dinner on Friday evening and my good friend and his wife were sharing an armchair. When I sat on a sofa across from my girlfriend, she noticed. At some point that weekend another friend took me aside and gently scolded me, asked me what I thought I was doing with this young woman. I had no good answer and we broke up on Sunday. After we had the conversation and she cried, we went to see Secrets & Lies at the Quad on 13th Street and I contemplated how to break this secret to my parents.

When I returned to San Francisco I felt triumphantly relieved of a relationship that I had been struggling to sustain for many wrong reasons. The first days of April 1997 were to be glorious and I planned a few quasi-dates, including one with a brilliant Stanford Law student with whom I had briefly worked. She was bi, had short spiky blond hair, and was a progressive intellectual. She talked about seeing hawks on a trail in Marin County. She represented my future rather than my past. (We went out once. I don't remember if there was a lack of chemistry or whether I made her unattainable myself.) After that short euphoric period (not hyperbole, it was truly euphoric) my life settled into what I described above: coffee at Starbucks on 9th and Irving in SF, followed by the drive to Vik's, and CD and book shopping on Telegraph.

I was obsessed with reinvention in that period, needing to remake myself to be the man I wanted to be but not knowing how to do so. Instead, I shopped and wandered. I had good friends and went on hikes and saw my uncle and aunt periodically. I also did some good things at work (one of the programs I co-founded has flourished in the last ten years). But I most remember that sense of heaviness and lost-ness and my attempts to abate those feelings with Telegraph Avenue.

I felt the heaviness again on Saturday. I found some used Sigur Ros CDs (track one from ( ) caught my attention in the film After the Wedding) and successfully fought off any book-buying. When I went to Cody's and Moe's in those days, I was hungry for intellectual content and searched for critical legal writing and the more academic work of Cornel West. Now I am less enamored with the glamor of intellectualism, having failed in spite of many opportunities to earn depth of thought through hard work in the intervening ten years. In fact, I can now barely stand to browse the law and critical theory shelves and found myself looking for mysteries by Walter Mosley and George Pelecanos in the Pocketbook section.

When I had a quick meal at House of Curries on Durant just before my taxi ride to the airport for my overnight flight, I took in all of the desi kids and Berkeley families eating together in small groups. I sat at a large table for four, with my crinkled yellow/red paper Amoeba bag. I thought about 1997 and all that time had and had not changed.

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Sigur Ros - 2002 (...

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