Back to BART

I’ve been driving my car over to Union City for the past dozen or so appointments with my Korean doctor in Union City

Yeah, not very green, not very cheap, either: these days it takes about four gallons of gas, roundtrip. That’s in the neighborhood of $14.00 in gas alone. Add in the $5 fee for the Bay Bridge and we’ll call it $20. BART costs exactly half that, and I get to read or write or sketch or just zone out while getting there. And getting home.

There’s honestly nothing interesting about the East Bay as seen from BART. It emerges in West Oakland, then goes back underground through Oakland, then re-emerges past that and down to Union City. Well, all the way to Fremont, actually, but south of Oakland, it’s really all the same. Sometimes literally.

Oakland Skyline The Oakland skyline only got interesting after those twin mini-towers with the pyramidal rooftops went up ten or fifteen years ago, and like I said everything south of there just looks all the same.

Well, except for the palace of a church sitting way back there up in the Oakland Hills, directly East of the Fruitvale Station. I think the Mormons put that up there: it is awfully, awfully white. Pretty, honestly, but standoffish—like of the Plastics from Mean Girls.

Now, I didn’t say that all of the East Bay is boring [try not to giggle, try not to giggle] just the view from BART. For instance, if you go to Hayward you can see quite easily where the earth jolted in 1989 and shifted the ground a few inches: look down a line of parking meters and see that it’s no longer a line. Oh, and the City of Hayward built a new City Hall building before Loma Prieta guess where? Right on the faultline. And whose fault (groan) is that? No matter, damage done: the building is as far as I know uninhabitable. Oh, and the city does have a Casper Dogs.

Then there’s South Hayward Station, right near where that fucker of a quack of an “Independent Medical Evaluator” asked me:

  • What’s 3 x 3? It took me a couple of seconds to be sure of my answer
  • Spell the word WORLD backwards. Still not sure if I spelled it D-L-R-O-W or D-L-O-R-W
  • Who’s the President of the United States? that one came to me immediately, scowl and all
  • Is the United States currently at war? I said yes, even though I knew it wasn’t really technically a war—Congress made no Declaration—but this guy couldn’t give a shit about listening to anything I had to say, short of short answers—think shyster lawyer cutting off a witness a la “have you stopped beating your spouse?”

And that, gentle readers, was the entirety of a “Concentration Test” which demonstrated that I was fit to debug a giant, complex, not-written-by-me application. Gods Below.

Union City though, is different. Wait, no it’s not. It’s suburban, beige sprawl, replete with fast food joints and unremarkable, usually single-storey office buildings and apartment complexes so unutterably bland that you’d need a map to find your own apartment until you remembered the exact set of turns and stops that gets you home. And that’s just the part of the trip where you’re already inside the complex. My friend Don (see banner pic) was the one who introduced me to the term Condolandia, but he was referring to Redwood Shores. Wait, same thing. Except that the water is East rather than West.

But Dr. Chon is there, and that makes the whole East Bay interesting enough. Well past Enough.

Finish What You Start

I was at my Korean doctor’s office last Wednesday, as I do every Wednesday. She started the fire jar qi (cupping) right at the off: first the vacuum chambers are placed with vaccuum applied. After a while, she removes each, punctures the skin about 70 or 80 times where the vacuum chamber was, then puts the vacuum chamber back on and applies suction.

No, it’s not painful, but it’s not exactly comfortable either. She started the acupuncture at the same time: also not painful, but not exactly comfortable.

At that point, it’s just a waiting game. Blood leaves the body into half a dozen bounded oblivia proportional in volume and darkness: the worse the pain right there , the darker the blood will be, and there’ll be more of it.

So, the rice was already cooking and the rest of the food just needed reheating, so she started to massage my head, explaining that I could (and should) do this for myself. It wasn’t a massage, like you’d massage your temples if you had a headache. It was a light drumming, staccato fingertips (“not nails!”) over all parts of my head.

She paused, seemingly at the point where she’d demonstrated enough for me to have caught on. I thought she was going to go attend to lunch, but instead she kept going. And going and going and going.

She actually ended up completing the massage, then hurried out of the room to get lunch together muttering, “Boy, you gotta big head!”


Medicine Food

I’m sitting here, alone, eating medicine food: a patty made from rice flour and from the crushed residue of three different herbs. I know what the herbs looked like: the Doctor pulled some of each out of the giant containers from the back wall of the her clinic. The seeds of some flower which looked like hollow acorns. More seeds, smaller, from a plant I’d never heard of. Diagonal cuts from the white meat inside what had to be a huge root.

She served these patties to me, but cut in slices, bathed in a salty (probably anchovy) broth with kimchi, pickled root (not the same root) and also—I forget.

It was so good, mostly because of the exquisite peasant chewiness of the starchy strips. Medicine Food.

I could not stop smiling and telling her how much this food reminded me of my childhood and today, both at the same time. I was smiling as I ate. I kept telling her about the texture. And I kept smiling. Over and over, eating, smiling, telling.

Korean food years ago became a comfort food for me, because of Soonae and Jong and now, later, because of the doctor as well. This particular dish combined comfort, old and new. And did I mention I was smiling?

I got up from her desk after lunch. Time to leave. Always a slight tug trying to keep me inside. Outside is pain; in here? Care.

I said goodbye and turned toward the door. “Wait!” she said, and I realized what she was doing back there behind the counter when I was finishing up my lunch: she handed me a small ziplock bag—two patties of the medicine food!

I felt my smile before I realized the Moment: dark pain clouds had, for the space of two breaths, evaporated. I’m not sure if anyone else can appreciate what a major thing this was. No pain. At all. Sheer happiness that she was so generous, happiness that I had more of the medicine food, happiness that if anything good will ever come from this catastrophic sidebar of a life it’s Dr. Chon. And it’s almost worth the pain just to have enjoyed her company, her help, her generosity, her food.

[I began writing this entry the day before—actually only minutes before—January 12, 2008. Why? January 12 is Allen’s birthday—would have been his 50th birthday. I was angry and I was frustrated and I was off, off in the sidebar of a life where comments and references and asides are the only entities, entirely dependent on the main body of work. Body. Work. Nope, still not together, at least not then.]

But the frustration wasn’t about my pain, my diminished capacity. Nothing about me except commentary, references and asides on the corpus of a corpse. Of Allen.

First there are the why’s. Why did he have to leave? Why didn’t he take me with him? Why did he and I match so well, even though our lives didn’t? Why have I never felt jealous that George got so much more time with Allen than I did? Why could I never manage that tangled timeline that had his leaving me and his joining me becoming one and the same thing? Why am I still here and he is not?

And the are the how’s: How could he do this to me? How did he manage to comfort me when he never had a moment’s physical comfort? How did I remain emotionally intact after? How could he manage to look at me with a single expression that said both “We are Home” and “I am not your destination”? How could he keep the subsumption of his consumption away from certain parts of him? How did he know I would be alright, eventually?

And finally, the wishes: I wish he were still here. O, how I wish, and how does that wishing still allow no regrets of time passed since then with other men? I wish I could see him just one more time and tell him how much I resent him and how very much I love him. I wish he didn’t get sick and die. I would have given up ever having been with him just to have him back in this world (no sickness, no death of George which made it possible for Allen and I to be together).

Why did my life go on and how have I managed to both move away from him and bring an image of him far from graven within arm’s reach while realizing that wishing does not make it so for anything but the smallest of things and only, seemingly, in San Francisco?

I am publishing this on January 21, 2008. I started writing before the midnight which inaugurated his date of birth, January 12, 1958, and stopped before that same midnight: I would not and could not bring myself to fashion a golem to stab harsh words into for the day. On every other day of the year (including his date of death) the man is a totem who lights my way from oblique angles, showing me details and perspectives I’d have failed to see before I ever met Allen.

But on January 12 of every year I spend the day alternately silently toasting his life, cursing his absence, drubbing his choices or his neglects or his trusts or his whimsies, whatever context, situation, self-image, self-esteem or broad social ignorance resulted in his seroconversion to HIV+.

It’s all too tied together, causality loops and predestination absurdity, too confusing for the apodictic Abolutists who retard themselves into blacks and whites, straights and narrows, linearities and goals. Invidious, small people who read this may dismiss it because it turns on itself just as easily as it slips into raillery and back out into paradox. I dare because I am who I am, what life has made me, what deaths of loved ones have made me.

But what I dare not do is cast a long shadow on his day of celebration. All this slinging of perfervid whinging and foot-stomping can’t happen on that day.

As I learned from the Koreans, when preparing food or medicine (or Medicine Food!), the care you take is crucial: Medicine made in anger is not palliative; food made with resentment is somehow always bitter.

It took me quite a while to complete this entry (after 12:01, January 13) because Today is always more important than Yesterday, and Now stands atop all our thens. All our yesterdays inform all of our tomorrows.

And when you love someone, his birthday should be joyous and special.