Going to California

Michael Jackson ThrillerWoke at 7 AM, got last items together, Mom packed us some food…

THIRTY YEARS AGO today I started my first-ever journal with those words. It was also the day I started my driving trip to move to San Francisco, a trip I took in my pale-yellow Subaru with my sister. Culture Club, Prince, Toto, and “Billie Jean” provided the cassette-and-radio soundtrack to the cross-country drive. Without getting too dramatic about it all, February 9, 1983, could also be seen as the start to my real adult life, since I’d be living on my own for the first time. (In some respects—most, maybe—I was a late bloomer.)

I don’t think I saw it as such a big deal at the time. I had been on a few cross-country driving trips already, and so this felt like another one of them, except the car was loaded with all my worldly possessions. (Well, not quite all—I had my books and records shipped.) I had bobbing-head animals glued to the car’s dashboard and a set of pink flamingos I’d set up for a photo in every state. I was going to California to live, though, and the closer I got, the more I realized I was taking a big leap, leaving the house in Americana Terrace I grew up in and nearly everyone I knew for the opposite edge of the continent.

Gone are the days you can just load up the car and head to San Francisco with a few dollars in your pocket and no real prospects. A college friend had been living here, and she introduced me to her friends who in turn lent me a couch and pointed me to Roommate Referral…and the rest is, as they say, history.

It’s embarrassing to lDave X Robb in 1983ook back through the pages of that journal, to see how dumb and green I was. I even spelled espresso with an x, for god’s sake! But it’s not the spelling errors and writing style that make me wince so much as the evidence that I was pretty clueless about everything, including especially my own cluelessness.

So, I won’t be serving up excerpts from those pages. It’s just too awful, too unconsciously self-conscious in the worst possible sense. It was 1983, so even the fashion was bad. I was trying so hard to forge some kind of post–art school, post-punk, post-breakup (with a girl!) identity, trying to find myself. I earnestly wanted to do something with my life, which was pretty much a blank slate at that point, at least from today’s perspective.

Although I wouldn’t begin coming out, even to myself, for another year or so, I find it impossible to imagine that I didn’t choose to move to San Francisco, at least on a subconscious level—I was very deep in denial—in order to explore my sexuality in a city that offered acceptance and support for that kind of thing.

I’ve come a long way in 30 years. I joke about what a loser I was back then, but I realize it was just me doing the best I could with what I had, as we all do. At least I knew how to cook a chicken or grilled cheese or spaghetti and meatballs. I knew how to do housework. I bought good records. I knew how to use a library and how to type a resumé. That’s about all. But, as it turns out, that was enough.

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November challenge

Dia de los Muertos San FranciscoPosting on here as much as usual, around once a week, has been something of a challenge so far this month. I knew it would be busy because I was taking on the NaNoWriMo challenge — that’s National Novel Writing Month, and it’s a race to write 50,000 words in 30 days. You don’t get a big prize at the end, but you do get bragging rights. And you get to write a rough draft of that novel you’ve had kicking around in your head for however long. For me, that’s almost as long as the grilled cheese restaurant idea.

In the days leading up to November 1, I cleared my calendar, alerted friends that I would not be as available socially, and got done a lot of annoying little projects I knew would nag at me and pull me away from my writing if they were left hanging. I knew it would be a tough challenge — once you figure in sleep, work, eating, and commuting between and preparing for all of the above, let’s face it: most of us have 3 or 4 hours of free time a day and that’s all. This was going to require discipline.

I mapped it all out and tried to be realistic, giving myself days off like BayBee’s birthday, Thanksgiving, and a couple of others, when I knew I would not be able to write. That left 25 days where I’d write 2,000 words. I didn’t quite know how long it’d take to write that amount, but I guessed almost all of my free time would be taken up.

Never mind that I didNaNoWriMon’t have much of an idea what I would write about. I’d figure that out as I went. I knew it would be about relationships — what makes them good and how they fall apart — and I came up with a structure, inspired while writing a recent blog post, of having each episode correspond to a hit song by the Carpenters. I even had a working title, “What to Say to Make You Come Again.” I was ready.

I got home from work on November 1 and churned out 2,244 words nonstop. No editing, no looking back, just letting things flow…quite a change from my usual way of writing, but a good one. I even had a few passages I liked.

Next day, I received a phone call from my dermatologist saying the mole he’d biopsied two days earlier was cancerous: melanoma. We hear words like this all the time, and know they’re bad, but what did I know about melanoma? I googled it while still on the phone and learned “melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. It is the leading cause of death from skin disease.” Oh great. He needed for me to come back in right away.

Good thing I had gone to that half-day workshop and meditation on death and dying at the Saraha Buddhist Center just a few days before. Seriously. Life can be funny that way. I was a little freaked out, true, but mostly I felt an amazing sense of calm and clarity. Did I mention this happened to be Dia de los Muertos?

I got an emergency appointment to have the area excised that same day and spent the next few days getting blood work and x-rays done, meeting with the melanoma specialist and surgeon, and having what sounded like a pretty minor surgery but ended up feeling pretty major. I’ll spare you the photos. They’re gross. I’m still kind of amazed the entire process took just 10 days.

Pre-op self-portrait with markingsSo now I’m recovering and waiting for results with fingers crossed. I’m also back to my writing and am not even all that far behind schedule, now pushing 20,000 words. It’s actually good that I have a big project to occupy my time since I’m spending so much of it at home recuperating. And, of course, playing my records in reverse chronological order. Gary Numan graced my turntable today.

Wish me luck. Because in this life, so much can be planned, but it really almost all comes down to luck.

Addendum (November 16, 2011): Good news just in: They got it all, and there’s nothing in the lymph nodes. That means I just need to heal, and get checked every 3 months, and stay out of the sun, and stop taking my shirt off, and write like the devil. Thanks to all for your love and support. It means the world to me.

Hello, Marsha

I’ve been thinking of starting a blog since before blogs existed. I don’t claim to have invented the idea, but I really have thought about doing something like this in one form or another since early adulthood. I’ve also been thinking of starting a grilled cheese restaurant for about the same amount of time. A grilled cheese restaurant opened in San Francisco’s trendy South Park neighborhood a year or two ago, so I can give up being the first to do that. Damn.

I think too much. I still might open one some day. It won’t be the first, but it’ll be the best. Ask anyone! Meanwhile, here I am. Finally.

MarshaI wasn’t thinking of beginning a blog with a memorial to Marsha, but upon registering at this site, I discovered that I had been here once before to post a comment remembering her. As luck would have it, it was three years ago today that my ex–best friend Marsha Gonick left this world. She would have liked to see me writing a blog, I think, and would have had a lot of things to say.

She still pops up from time to time as “online” on yahoo, I don’t know why. I wrote to her once on there, a few months after she died, but she didn’t write back. Nonetheless, I expect she might make an appearance here if the spirit moves her, especially as talk turns to 70s music, politics, religion, sexism, sex, food, wine, grammar and spelling, movies, books, travel, or any number of other things that Marsha and I used to talk about for hours on end.

The last conversation we had was at the stroke of midnight New Year’s 2008, when we talked about growing old together and listening to 70s Motown soul together in the old folks home. Since Marsha and I had drifted apart a couple of years before that, I kind of doubted that it would actually happen. Still, it was a happy thought, and I hold on to it as a nice last memory of my friend.