Monday, September 29, 2014

San Francisco: The People

Eight years ago, Kent and I started planning a getaway to San Franciso.  We didn't list all the reasons we wanted to visit this city.  It was simply the place we each were drawn to when we sat down to choose a destination we could likely afford that would still hold plenty of the elements of an interesting and romantic vacation.  I came here once as a kid with my family.  I was around ten years old, and all I remember is driving Lombard St. and visiting my great uncle and aunt and playing with their Corgis.  For Kent, it was a family trip that brought him to the Bay at the age of 18.  He spent most of that trip analyzing his love life.  At the time, my cousin, whom Kent was pursuing, had recently told him they would never be more than friends.  Getting away from school and friends gave him the opportunity to clear his head and to see that I was the friend who loved him truly.  He came home and asked me to the Senior Dinner Dance.  Two decades later, here I sit with 14 hours left of our six-day stay in this fabulous city.  I have loved nearly everything about this trip!

If I had listed my reasons for choosing this destination, one would be the people.  I love social diversity, and I was sure I would find plenty of it here--especially in contrast to my hometown of Provo, Utah.  When thinking of San Francisco's diversity, it's GLBT community is probably the first thing that comes to mind.  However, I also knew that my colorful great great aunt Margaret--someday I'll write a book about her--was a child of San Franciso.  Though she probably couldn't explain how the city shaped her, she remembered the 1906 earthquake and knew the city when it was only half a century old.  San Franciscans love their city and its history, and I wanted to see who else was drawn to and shaped by this interesting place.
Our friend, Bri--here is a shout out to Bri who is kind enough to take on five extra kiddos this week!--emphasized that I must see a San Francisco drag show.  We happened to catch one Friday night when we went to the de Young Museum of Art to see what performing art would be displayed during that evening's extended hours.  I'd never before thought of drag as an art form, but the contestants in the Fourth Annual Tiara Drag Pageant certainly were performing!  Kent and I found the show a little too silly and were glad to have artwork to peruse as the music pounded away in the background.  We didn't stick around to see who won, yet I am grateful to those drag princesses and queen for encouraging snapshots, because I didn't take many pictures of the people we met during our trip.  At one point when I was dying to ask someone if I could snap their picture, Kent confirmed my supposition that I could only do so in a complimentary way if I had a good camera.  While I wanted to record the distinctiveness of San Franciso through the variety of its people, walking around as a tourist snapping pictures with my cell phone would be tacky.  I wanted people to know I found them interesting, but not freaks.  A cell phone camera would have crossed that line.  My words will have to suffice in describing most of the remarkable people I've seen and met.

With seven million people living in the San Francisco bay area, I should not be surprised that I've met several men named John.  There was the kind-eyed, gray-haired docent at the Point Reyes lighthouse who told us the basic information of the tour.  When we followed up with a few interested questions, we found that he was still just as fascinated with the history and mechanics of that machine as we were.  We learned that he was stuck behind a desk when he first started volunteering with California's Park Service; but it was getting out with the people visiting from around the world that now keeps him excited to descend and ascend the 308 stairs to the lighthouse each shift.  That, and the 50-mile motorcycle ride from his home to the coast.

John is also the name of the tall and pleasant volunteer at the Grace Cathedral.  After asking where we are from, he commented that he used to attend school at the university in Salt Lake City.  There was no emotion, positive or negative, betrayed in that comment, and it left me wondering whether John experienced rejection, acceptance, or none of the above in our mostly LDS culture.  Either way, we very much enjoyed our tour around the cathedral with John.  He has probably the best posture I've ever seen, and I was amused each time we paused to talk about an art piece or a chapel and he would plant his feet about two meters apart so he could address us at eye level.  As the tour was wrapping up, he put away his volunteer persona and talked a little more openly.  As a boy being raised in the Episcopalian faith, he had attended a Catholic boys' school, so he had found the overlaps and divergences in the two religions to be interesting.  I observed that the cathedral itself represented multi-faith influences, and John said that is the main reason he feels drawn to this place.  It was built in the likeness of Notre Dame, and the two cathedrals have swapped gifts: Grace Cathedral displays a beautiful stained glass piece of the virgin and her Son.  The Ghiberti doors, which were molded from a cast of the original doors made in the mid-15th century for the Duomo in Florence, Italy were another great addition to this cathedral of unity.  I especially liked the panel depicting Abraham's near-sacrifice of Isaac.  From our tour of the labyrinths to the Interfaith AIDS Memorial Chapel to viewing the bell tower, John's admiration for this peaceful place came shining through.  He concluded our tour by asking our names and making sure that we knew all the best places to visit before we leave this city that he loves.

In Carmel by the Sea, we happened upon a little Mediterranean restaurant called Yafa.  We were greeted by a couple of servers, including a blonde man who checked on us several times.  A few minutes into our meal, this man, Ben, came into the small dining room with a drum and three backup singers.  They clapped and sang a song of Palestine to their guests, and we all swayed to the beat with enjoyment.  The song ended and Ben came to ask us how we were enjoying the food.  We loved the filet mignon and the apricot chicken, and he gave all the credit to his grandmother, whose recipes were being served.  Throughout the evening, Ben would come chat.  I think he felt a connection with Kent, who studied Hebrew in college, and who is now a serial entrepreneur.  I asked Ben if this were his restaurant, and he replied, "Yes, but tonight it's your restaurant."  We learned that he came to America from Palestine eight years ago, and has tried several businesses, including the charming Yafa that opened last year.  When we left, I thanked him for a delicious meal, for the music, and for being a good host.  He took both my hands in his, gave a little bow, and asked us to come again.

There was also the server at Cafe Jacqueline who sported the best, bushiest, curl-tipped mustache I have seen.  You know those mustaches that are the trend on jewelry, clothes, and even cars right now?  He had a real-life one of those.  In his black-and-white uniform, with his gracious professionalism, he reminded me of the footmen from Downtown Abbey--with one charming distinction: the occasional use of a casual phrase, such as, "That's awesome", which reminded me that we are in California and not a French cottage.  He practically beamed with pride when I asked how long Jacqueline has been cooking souffles in her San Francisco cafe.  The elderly woman that we could see whisking around her kitchen with a scarf tied over her hair has been serving customers since 1979.  I'm glad we could experience the magic of her cooking, the romantic ambience of her cafe, and the delightfulness of her staff before her retirement, which I imagine must be any day now.

At the various museums we've visited, there was an interesting contrast between volunteers and staff.  I found that paid staff members tended to be aloof, not very helpful, and sometimes rude; whereas volunteers were personable and ready to share their fascination with the place we were sharing for that moment.  Maureen, a volunteer with San Francisco City Guides, led us through the Japanese Tea Garden at Golden Gate Park.  She forgot a few facts, but I liked seeing how much she loved the garden as she pointed out topiaries cut in the shape of clouds, told about carefully selected stones, and explained the history and people of the garden's creation.  There were also great volunteers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium who encouraged us to pet bat rays and to let the urchins suction onto our fingers.  One volunteer fed off my interest in the barnacles and told me all sorts of interesting facts about that little animal that has the longest penis in the animal world--12 feet!

We've seen hair colors in all the hues of the rainbow, and people in all sorts of interesting outfits.  Perhaps my favorite was the gentle giant we sat next to for the planetarium show at the California Academy of Sciences.  I approached this man who was wearing striped knee-high socks with sneakers, denim shorts and a plaid button-down shirt.  In his back pocket was a neatly folded, red bandanna that looked to have been ironed, along with a chain that linked to a belt loop on the front.  He had tattoos, a black spiral through each nostril, a grizzly beard down to his chest, and the largest ear gauges I've ever seen.  Seriously, he could probably pass a soda can through those gauges.
This isn't the guy, but his gauges
were at least this big.
Picture these pierced
through nostrils.

I noticed that he was cramped for leg room and asked if he would like me to leave a seat between us to accommodate his knees.  He said that at six-feet-six-inches, he's used to lack of leg room and invited me to sit next to him.  We chatted a little before the show started.  What I found most endearing was that as the average-looking man behind us snored at the end of the show, my carefully dressed friend led the applause.  It was one of those social situations where I wasn't sure if applause is appropriate; but I really wanted to let the planetarium know what a good show they have; and more so, I wanted to applaud the wonders of the cosmos and the fact that we insignificant humans have been able to start to figure out the vastness of creation.  It was pretty mind blowing.  So when my planetarium buddy started clapping, I heartily joined in until the audience was filing out.

I regret that I didn't ask his name.  I've been reading a book that has me thinking about the importance of our names.  In LDS temples, there is emphasis on names, and I'm beginning to think our names are more significant than just using for introductions and communication.  I've often found myself noticing name tags of cashiers and servers, but feeling weird about using those persons' names without a formal introduction.  Kent's mom recently sent the following link to Coca-Cola's new campaign--which, by the way, I think is brilliant marketing--and this video really has me thinking.  (It's a bit long, but much shorter than the reading time for this post, and well worth watching.)

I decided that starting in San Francisco, I would begin thanking store clerks, bank tellers, restaurant servers, and everyone else wearing a name tag by using their name at some point during our transaction.  Most people don't acknowledge that I noticed their name, but there was one clerk whose reaction let me know that this is an important practice to continue.  Kent and I were in a shop in Chinatown, looking for a kimono.  A young sales clerk approached to ask if we needed any help.  I tried to politely send her off by saying we were just looking around.  Kent told her I was looking for a kimono, and then she really dug in.  She showed me robes in a variety of patterns, fabrics, lengths, prices, and colors.  I am one who usually doesn't like help from a salesperson when I am just browsing, so I was a little irritated, but tried to let it go.  She stood back to give us a little space, and then jumped to help when I pulled three kimonos off the rack.  Eventually, I decided on a nice teal kimono.  She took it to her counter and asked if she could fold it for me.  My irritation disappeared as she snipped off the tags, carefully folded and tucked the fabric into a neat square, and then tied the bundle up with the kimono's sash.  She said I could take it downstairs to the main counter to pay for it.  I smiled and said, "Thank you for your help Suki."  Her reaction melted my heart.  Her mouth gaped in surprise, then she looked at the name tag hanging from her neck and in childlike honesty she beamed and gushed, "You know my name!  You must have seen my name tag.  That makes me so happy!  I'm so happy you know my name."  Names are important.  We need to connect with each other, and sharing our names is a big part of inviting another person to get to know us, even if for just a few minutes at a store counter.

Addendum: The People of Utah
While we were able to get to know the people we personally interacted with in San Francisco, there were hoards of people we passed with no acknowledgement exchanged.  It was so good to land at the Salt Lake airport and connect with strangers who share our home state.  As we climbed aboard the shuttle bus bound for long-term parking, we all played Tetris fitting our luggage and bodies into the cramped quarters.  None of us knew each other, but everyone was asking each other where we were coming home from, were their travels nice, what do they do for work, etc.  It was a friendly welcome home to a state that feels like we all share the same small town.  I love the people of Utah!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Word for the Day: Badinage

The last sentence of our family's mission statement is as follows: "We value humor, even when it gets us into trouble!"  We take humor very seriously in this family.  Take the following evening from last February for example.  We had gathered to sing, read scriptures, and pray for a few minutes before sending the kiddos to bed.  Theoretically, this should be a peaceful, winding-down time of the day.  Unfortunately, #2 found a party mask laying around, which gave her the idea to put it on and request "Scripture Power" for our song that night.  Not a bad suggestion, but the costume idea caught on too quickly with her younger siblings, and our devotional time quickly devolved into this:

I have to admit, my children are pretty funny.  I like to think they get their sense of humor from me; but Kent frequently reminds me that my humor is simply an attempt at Dad Humor, and I really should stop before I hurt myself.  I also have to admit that Mom Humor usually results in eye rolls from the kids, while Dad Humor does get them giggling.

This past year, though, Kent and I have discovered the power of understanding each other's humor to enhance both.  Last summer at a Corporate Alliance event for couples, each couple was invited to introduce themselves for about two minutes.  Not planning beforehand what we would say, Kent and I stood and he gave our names and added, "We've been married for 16 years and have three children that we love very much."  I gave him a quizzical look followed by an eyebrow raise before turning to the audience an adding, "And two others."

Friends sometimes approach me to repeat something Kent said to them and ask whether he was kidding.  My advice is that he is always kidding.  Kent likes having that reputation for keeping people on their toes, and I've come to like that I am the humor interpreter, because it gives me the opportunity to play along.  With 17 years of marriage now under our belts, I have a good grasp of when he's pranking someone.  Unfortunately for our children, they've only been around for 16 years or less and are often still caught off guard by his sense of humor.  Yesterday, Kent was even able to perfectly pull off a classic joke--one that the kids should have seen coming.

We were all gathered in the kitchen for a late Labor Day breakfast.  Kent had come through and kissed everyone goodbye as he headed to work.  (Yes, he is self-employed.  Apparently, Labor Day means something different to him than to the rest of us.)  A few minutes after driving away, he called the home phone, which #3 (12 years old) answered.  Here is the half of the conversation the rest of us heard:

#3:  "Hello?"

(Dad posed a question.)

#3:  "Mom, Dad wants to know if the refrigerator is running."

I glance behind me at the fridge and say, "Nope.  Tell him it is still right here in the kitchen where it should be."

#3, rolls her eyes at my lame Mom Humor:  "Mom, seriously.  Will you just check if the refrigerator is running."

Me:  "It's not running.  It's right here."

#3 with a sigh of consternation: "[#4], will you open the fridge please?"

#4 opens the fridge door, and #3 sees the light on.

I give a sideways glance to #1, who is beginning to see that this is a joke.

#3 to Dad:  "Yes, it's running."

This is followed by a BIG eye roll from #3 as she listens to her dad's response and my interjection that "I tried to help you!"  But she also can't help grinning, which just sets the rest of us chuckling as she hangs up the phone, drops her head, and braces herself with both hands on the counter against her parents' lame joking.  This makes all her siblings laugh, the younger two not even knowing why this is funny.

When the chuckling stopped, #5 (eight years old) asked #3 what Dad said.

#3, with a smile:  "If the refrigerator is running, then you'd better go catch it."

Ba-dum bum!