12.31.2009

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot...



I have the immeasurable good fortune to end one year and begin another in one of my favorite places on Earth, the island of O'ahu: more specifically, Kahalu'u on the placid shores of Kane'ohe Bay on the Windward coast. The sun is steadily climbing in the morning sky and the sandbar in the middle of the bay is becoming crowded with boats staking out their New Years Eve celebration anchorages. Festivity here in O'ahu is in the air, and later tonight, clouds of firework smoke will be in the air as well. Hawai'i does New Years right.

I just wanted to wish you all a happy and healthy 2010 full of joy and peace. Remember that true strength is gentle and calm, happiness is slow and mild, wealth is measured only in the love you give to others. So, get rich this year. Love, love, love.

Much Love and Aloha,

Adam

11.20.2009

The Christmas Forest


View Larger Map

"Christmas Forest" on my "Talk Story" Podcast. Happy New Year!

-Adam

10.24.2009

The Art of Storytelling


I have entered the world of Podcasts with my "Art of Storytelling" Podcast. Click here to lose 15 minutes of your life.

8.07.2009

Poem-A-Day Project, Day Six - Iambic Pentameter

Laugh With Me

The act that I so love to act, in fact,

If not in deed, indeed, is not an act

At all.

This feat that makes me feel complete

Is transformation for its sake; to take

A cloudy visage, break it's habit bit by bit

And coax the sunshine from reluctance.

Me,

I say, the greatest act that I enact

Today is causing laughter to react

And clear grey storm clouds from your once-sad face.

8.06.2009

Poem-A-Day Project: Day 5: Cinquain

Sound
Ecstatic vibrations
Sounding and resounding
Solving my many mysteries
Music

8.04.2009

Poem a Day Project, Day 4

RAGE ON IN LONELINESS
A SESTINA

Everything is in its place on the table,
I sit menacingly at the head.
On either side of me, my arms
Are poised to strangle all of the life
From my past, which lies choked in grey death,
Gasping, rasping in a pool of blood.

I have furiously stumbled through my life,
Hoping to avoid an inevitable death,
Scrubbing in vain hands stained with blood.
At last I raise to the heavens my arms,
Held triumphantly above my head,
Standing rigid on top of the table.

I will rage on in loneliness inside my head,
Or until the last cards are thrown on the table.
And I will labor silently to cheat death,
Crushing that grim, grey Reaper in my arms.
Even though my wounds gush with blood,
I will fight until I drip my last drop of Life!


Note: This poem is not necessarily a true representation of my innermost feelings, but an excercise in form. The form I used is a Sestina, a highly structured poetic form that, quite frankly, I found VERY difficult. But I wanted to give it a try. There is a line from Jack Kerouac's debut novel, "The Town and the City" which ends a chapter that I have always loved: "So I will rage on in loneliness inside my head." I decided to use that line as one of the Sestina lines and then I had to pick the remaining five words that end all the lines ahead of time, so I picked ones that I felt would offer the most dramatic potential. -A.F.

Poem-A-Day Project, Day 3

Glare Haiku

Summer sun shines bright
Making my computer screen
Very hard to read

8.03.2009

Poem-A-Day Project, Day 2

Shook One's Lament

When I
Shake it like a Polaroid Picture
The image doesn't always
Develop
Quite how I envisioned

Sometimes
I break it
When I shake it
Pieces
of what my mother gave me
Lie scattered
Shattered
On the floor

Maceo commands us:
Shake ev'rything you've got!
And then what
Do I have left?
Bits of "ev'rything"
Shaken
Not stirred nor stirring
Strewn behind me
In my shaken wake.

So you'll forgive me
If I'm a little shaky.

Is it really that time?
Time to shake and bake?
All I can do is take
I've nothing left to give.

Nothing left to shake
So my booty
And my tail-feathers
And my Groove Thang
And my tambourine
And the dew on my ever-lovin' lily
just lie there

Immobile

Not shaking
Just
Faking.

8.02.2009

Poem-A-Day Project: Day 1

Morning in Sunset

A hill slopes downward
toward
Our house
Through the back window
The life of the hill
Reveals itself
Playing out
Before my eyes
Each and every day

Lavender
Buzzed by fumbling
Bumble Bees
Rosemary spreads
Expanding the limits
Of its tiny
Fragrant
Empire of green

Now
At the height of a fog-bound Sunset summer
That is no summer at all
The Lavender Blue
Dilly Dilly
And the Rosemary Green
Are surrounded by the
Straw-yellow of summer grass
The sand-brown of Sunset Earth
And the mist-grey of the Sunset Summer Sky

7.17.2009

Remembering one of my greatest days


On July 16-18, 2004, some of my most favorite people gathered together in Napa, California to help celebrate my marriage to Nicole. The ceremony and reception were at Churchill Manor, a charming Edwardian Bed and Breakfast on Coombs and Oak Streets not far from the Napa River. Our families (soon to be one family) took over the place, filling all ten rooms in the B&B with laughter and light. Nicole and I arrived on the morning of the 16th to check into our rooms and we were greeted by Nicole's parents and other family members that had come from out of town. The weather was beautiful, if a bit warm, and spirits were high. I knew that this was going to be an unforgettable experience.

That evening, after our rehearsal, we walked the two riverside blocks to the old Napa Mill and had a wonderful rehearsal dinner at Celadon. I had to keep pinching myself because so many of the people I cared so very much about were in one spot, some who had never met before. It was a glorious collision of worlds. The evening ended with Nicole's cousin Keoni, her Uncle Ned, my father and myself sitting on the wide veranda at Churchill Manor listening to Frank Sinatra and sipping Cruzan Rum and Glenmorangie 18-year single malt while cicadas sang in the dusk. To paraphrase Tony Bourdain, "Life was not sucking."

The next day was one I'll never forget. 150 of our dearest family (Some like my grandfather Irv, Nicole's cousin Harald, Chris Cello and Jack McCann are no longer with us) and friends were on hand to witness Nicole and I take the leap in the middle of Churchill Manor's Rose Garden. It was a hot day, but luckily the reception was shaded and things cooled off with the help of Champagne and iced tea. We ate, we laughed; we listened to toast after wonderful toast, we laughed; we cut the cake, we laughed; we danced and we laughed, laughed, laughed. It was a magical day full of smiles, laughter and love.



The best part of it all is that not only did I get to experience such a day, but I had the honor and great joy to marry Nicole. I know being married to me hasn't always been easy, to say the least, but I cherish her and thank God everyday that she is my wife, lover and friend. She saved my life.

So, to all of my friends that helped make that special day five years ago, mahalo nui loa and thank you from the bottom of my heart.

With a full heart,

Adam

4.02.2009

4512


In my childhood home there is a door jamb in the garage work room that has, marked off in indelible ink, lines with figures underneath.

Michelle – 5’8” 1979

Adam – 6’1” 1990

My father decided, within days of moving into our new house on St. Valentine’s Day, 1978, that the increasing height of his children needed to be documented. The marks are still there to this day.

In the southwest corner of the backyard, just spitting distance from the stranded North Fork of Putah Creek, about three feet beneath the hard Central Valley clay, there are four Star Wars figures who have not felt the warmth of the sun in over 25 years. Like the tenants of the Valley of the Kings, they await exhumation by some brave, adventurous soul with little feet and cow-licked hair.

In the room that was once my bedroom, my parents installed a built-in desk the length of one wall with cabinets above. This is where my stereo was, where I sat to complete or procrastinate the completion of hours of homework, where the trinkets and chotchkies of a vigorous and adventurous childhood lined almost every available inch of space.

The immense weight, the palpable gravity of memory is everywhere in and around this house. Everywhere I turn, not one memory but dozens shoulder each other for prominence. Walking toward the house from the sidewalk, I am immediately bombarded with the history that surrounds me, that has seeped into the earth beneath my feet. I look west down San Marino Drive and see, in my mind’s eye, the old eastern terminus of the Putah Creek Bike Path which was laid out merely a year after we arrived in Davis and was the pedal-powered trade route of my young life. I look up to see the tall pine trees that ring the front and sides of our lot, trees that I scampered up as a child as if I were a rigger on a Ship of the Line. I remember the day I climbed to the top of the tallest tree and was rewarded with a view of what was then most of the City of Davis, California.
I am on the curving, aggregate cement driveway. Even though the free-standing Basketball hoop that my dad sunk into concrete has been gone for years, I can still hear the ball bouncing on the rocks, I can smell the faintest whiff of salty sweat on my fathers arms as we play a game of HORSE; he has just arrived home from a long day of working with his hands and back and before he even enters the house, he has the ball in his hands and is asking me about my day. I can also see my sister, driven and focused, practicing lay-ups and building the techniques that would take her all the way to Division II College Basketball. I see the wooden board between the segments of driveway that had been designated the three-point line. I hear the crunch of pine needles under my feet as I pivot and jump for a rebound.

I walk toward the front porch and I see the dark grey lava rocks that I laid in the space between the porch and the driveway and the halved barrels that serve as planters. I immediately flash to the hot July day in 1991 when I emptied 40 lb. bags of those lava rocks. I remember sitting on the porch step, taking a break and drinking a root beer while talking on our new cordless phone to Sarah Martinez and marveling at the fact that I was talking on our phone outside. A hot July day, hard work almost done and endless possibilities stretching out before me as far as my mind could see.

I step onto the porch and recall lining the top of the bricks that comprised the lower half of the outer wall of the house with freshly cut boughs of pine with my mother one crisp December day. I also see my father putting up the Christmas lights while I feed him the string of bulbs.

I put my key in the door. The key I have had since I was in about fifth or sixth grade is temperamental and must be turned in the lock just so. The front door has been painted several colors and as it opens I get a flash of my mother in the doorway, making sure I have my lunch as I head off to catch the bus.

I cross the threshold and feel it instantly: home home home home home at last. The shoulders relax, the breathing slows and my heart rate settles into a steady but comfortable lub-dub. What an amazing gift! For so many of us, that is the feeling one gets when leaving one’s house. For many, home is the place to escape, to flee and to overcome. Not this place.

I feel the dark brown-red tiles under my feet in the small foyer and remember the wallpaper that is no longer there. Off-white background with burgundy tipped willow branches. One of the willow branches was missing its tip for some reason and my mother, a talented painter, matched the color and painted a new one on. I loved to try to find it, which was difficult, because my mother is gifted. Then I would see it: the faint brush strokes.

Directly ahead of me is the living room, scene of thirty Christmas mornings. The place where gifts where exchanged, where guests gathered and talked. Through the sliding glass doors looking out into the backyard I can see all the dogs we’ve ever had panting and slobbering on the sliding screen; Daisy, Babe, Butch, Boo and now Buddy. I can feel Sam and Pooter and Brandy and Tooter at my heels, meowing and nuzzling my ankles. I can see a younger me raking tinsel out of the old brown shag carpet that came with the house with a shag rake. Coffee Brown shag carpet. They made rakes specifically for shag carpets! There is the couch where the birthday celebrator would open presents. Years stacking on years of celebrations; smiles, laughter and tears flashing before my mind’s eye. I can hear Sonny Rollins playing “Body and Soul” on the turntable over the big speakers in that living room and dreaming of sonic voyages to undiscovered countries of possibility. It is also the place where serious things were discussed, where “I need to tell you” moments happened.

Between the living room and the dining room, the dining room that we rarely used, there’s a floor to ceiling mirror that went all the way from the door to the family room and the corner of the wall, so that one person could stand on one edge of the mirror and look across at the unnaturally symmetrical image of the person standing at the other edge of the mirror. Improbably impossible Rorschachian visions that could make a child laugh for hours.

Through those sliding glass doors is a deck. It’s only a foot off the ground. Two trees spring up through square portals in the deck and a hammock used to span the space between. I can feel the netting of the hammock pressing into my back and smell the mulberry tree and feel our dog Babe walking under the hammock as her tail gently flicks at the backs of my legs. It’s summer and I’m reading a book. The hammock would go up around the end of April and come down in early October. Our smallest dog, Butch, never simply hopped up onto the deck. He would take a long, improbable leap and just barely land on the edge of the deck with all his feet. He looked just like Mighty Mouse; all that was missing was the cape. In the southeast corner of the yard there was a fort that my dad had built shortly after we moved there. About five years later he added a deck to the roof of the fort that you accessed by climbing a rope ladder attached to a nearby sugar pine. I will never forget lying on the deck and watching Hailey’s Comet streak across the night sky with the smell of pinesap and creek mud in my nose. Our neighbor Jack Adams kept bees and I would watch the hives from that deck. It was on that deck that Lucas Taber and I dreamt our scheme for a company we would start, “Geniuses at Work”, and we planned on building the first car powered entirely by swimming pool cleaning chemicals. That deck was the deck of a ship that could take me anywhere my mind could dream up.

I have gotten ahead of myself. When I entered my front door, I almost never went straight ahead into our living room. I would either turn left to go to my bedroom or the bathroom to wash up for dinner, or I would turn right to go into the galley kitchen that also leads into the family room where we had a second fireplace and a TV. I can smell my dad’s MJB coffee brewing in the Mr. Coffee, I can smell the Kliner, Danish tea cookies, that we used to fry for Christmas, I can smell the Wolf Brand Chili (No Beans!) that I used to make myself for lunch in the summertime as I would sit down to eat it while watching reruns of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” or “The Andy Griffith Show”. My grandfather would give me a case of Wolf Brand every Christmas because you could only buy it in Texas.

My father and I would play baseball using a nerf ball and if the ball went into the kitchen it was a home run. The nerf basketball hoop on the laundry room door was sight of many a spectacular match ups and slam-dunk contests.

I have a vivid memory of going into the family room and sitting down while a Christmas party went on in the living room. Hearing the strains of Nat King Cole’s Christmas album and being alone in that room, knowing that all I had to do to join the fun was to simply walk into the next room. And so I sat for about two minutes, listening to the laughter, feeling the mulled cider transmitting itself through my bloodstream, smelling the smells of the holidays, and feeling a tremendous sense of gratitude and warmth. I downed my cider, stood up, refilled my cup and walked back into that place where smiles are born and memories are crafted in the crucible of sweet communion.

I remember my father sitting in his recliner, dozing off to sleep after a hard day’s work. When he fitfully starts awake and insists he wasn’t asleep. He urges me to make sure he is awake for the opening theme song for “Miami Vice”, “Hill Street Blues” or “Law and Order”, because he loves those theme songs. Or my mother sitting in her chair, playing her word puzzles, laughing at her goofy husband and son.

On the family room floor, in front of the fire place, I can see the white, quilted satin blanket that my sister and I used to spread out on the floor and pretend it was a magic carpet flying through the air; a raft surrounded by vicious sharks or a wrestling mat. I can also remember one of my first and vivid memories in that room and on that selfsame blanket. It was 1979 and I was 4. A babysitter watched me while my father, mother and sister where at my paternal grandmother Betty’s funeral. My father lost her when she was 49. 49. My mother told me when I was older what I said when she asked me if I wanted to go to the funeral.

“Can Honey play with me?”
“No, sweetie. She is in Heaven and we won’t see her again until we go to Heaven, which will be a long, long time from now.”
“Can she read to me?”
“No, sweetheart.”
“Can she hug me?”
“No.
“Then I don’t want to go.”

I can also see the desk where the telephone is, right around the corner from the kitchen. I remember that day in 1980 or ’81 when my mother answered the phone to receive the news that her grandmother had died. I had seen her shed tears before, but I had never seen her weep. Her vulnerability frightened me. It may have been my first inkling that life contained pains that could not be contained; pains that spilled forth without our permission or full understanding. That moment of grief is also my first remembrance I have of giving consolation. So one after the other, in that room, I learned the double lesson of the crushing power of sadness and the power of an embrace or a touch or a word to weaken that very sadness and keep it from metastasizing into a false yet cancerous significance.

One night at dinner, my sister and I were picking at each other, as we often did. My mother kept telling us to stop. My father pinched the bridge of his nose. We kept at it, and my mother grew angrier. My father pinched the bridge of his nose. We started up again, and my father shouted, “ENOUGH!!” while slamming his fist on the table. Then, many things happened at once.

At first, we were all shocked into silence. My father has a very long fuse, but when it burns out, he can flash out in anger. Not violence, but it is still something to see. It rarely happened. But that night it did.

Before I even had a chance to be afraid, his pounding fist slammed down on the very edge of a bowl filled with creamed spinach. It rocketed into the ceiling, just missing the overhead light and shards of bowl fell around us as the spinach was flung onto the ceiling. We all stared at my father as he breathed heavily through his nose. That’s when a glob of creamed spinach fell from the ceiling and onto his head. My mother laughed first. Then me. Then my sister laughed. My father, at first, had an incredulous look on his face like, “You’re laughing! But I’m still angry!” but it broke and soon he was laughing with us. We laughed for a half hour, even while my dad was standing on his chair and wiping the spinach off the ceiling.

We had a fish bowl and our goldfishes, Bud and Gilligan. One day, I crawled behind the end table with the fish bowl and, just behind the curtain covering the sliding glass door; in the corner I drew a little drawing on the wall in crayon. As soon as I did it, I was mortified. What have I done? I can’t erase that! They will know it was I! I was so terrified of the swift and certain punishment I would face when my domestic graffiti was discovered. My only consolation was that those curtains were never closed and that corner was not easily accessed. They may never discover it. I imagined archeologists in the distant future pondering the meaning of those cryptic symbols. I calmed myself; they may never know what I have done!

About a year after my act of anarchistic art, our parents told us about plans to paint the family room. It was all very exciting. Then, slowly, it dawned on me. My vandalism would be discovered! So, for the next few weeks, I lived the life of a condemned man. I knew what was coming. Discovery, interrogation, detention and eventual and decisive punishment. Each day as I returned home from school, I expected to walk in the door to find my furious mother waiting for me. Then, one day, I looked over to see the curtains gone and the wall that I had desecrated painted over with a fresh coat of eggshell white paint. It wasn’t until my father tucked me into bed that it finally resonated. I got away with it. The shock of it lasted for a week. If anything, it made me even more afraid to commit acts of mischief. It was as if God was messing with me.


I will never forget the Friday before Thanksgiving in 1986. Steve Walter, who lived down the street and was (still is) one of my best friends sat down to watch “Monty Python’s The Holy Grail”. My parents where watching T.V. in their room and my sister was out with her friends. We had popcorn and root beer. Life was good.
Steve loved coming to our house, because we always had more candy and soda than they did at his house. I loved seeing the look on his face when he would see a plate of cookies on the kitchen counter. His eyes would widen and in his best false nonchalance say, “Oh, hey. Cookies. Those look alright.” When I would ask if he wanted one, he would shrug and say something like, “I guess, OK, if you want me to.” Good stuff. But I digress.

There is a part in “Holy Grail” when animated trumpeters play a fanfare by placing their horns in an indecent place and flatulating tones triumphantly. Steve and I saw this and laughed for at least 15 minutes. Gut-busting, teary-eyed, hyperventilated, roll-on-the-floor laughter. Suffice it to say, that movie changed our lives.


Down the hall. Over the brown shag carpet (mercifully not anymore). First door on the left. The Sewing Room. This was the smallest of the bedrooms and served as a guest bedroom. Primarily, it was my mother’s Fortress of Solitude; the room where she keeps her sewing machine. It was also the room where we kept all the photo albums and the walls were covered with framed photographs of my forbearers. My great-grandparents from Denmark, looking so very much like Udl├Žndinge. My severe, wind-blasted great-grandmother from Texas, whose life had been tough to say the least, but still retained a spark of mirthful defiance I her eye. Her real eye, not her glass eye. Black and white photos of family gatherings, weddings, first communions; my mother as a little girl, something that was almost unimaginable to me; pictures of my father as a young boy that I just assumed were of me because we looked so much alike. I often wondered who those people I was with were and why I had no recollection of them. This was a room thick with memory; with memory I could only surmise but never remember. I can hear my mother’s sewing machine clacking away as she sewed on a salvaged Izod alligator logo onto a bargain polo shirt for my sister so she wouldn’t feel the crushing shame of wearing an off-brand item of clothing to Junior High School. I can’t even comprehend the horrifying humiliation she avoided because of my mother’s sensitive sewing endeavors.

In a small jar on the bookshelf were my father’s tonsils in formaldehyde. My father has never been a morbid or grotesque man, but he is, like me, sentimental. That may have been the weirdest thing we had in our whole house. When his friend and co-worker Gary was procrastinating getting a vasectomy because he was sure it was merely covert castration, my dad played along by bringing his tonsils with him to the office and setting them in front of Gary.

“See Gary, it didn’t even hurt. And I don’t talk in a high voice or anything.” That still makes me laugh out loud.

Leave the sewing room and walk down to the left turn in the hallway. Don’t enter the room just to your right; we will visit that room last. Instead, enter the bathroom directly in front of you. It was the bathroom that my sister and I shared for fifteen years. The place where I combed my hair before school in the morning. The place where I could smell my father’s Old Spice lingering in the air in the mornings. There was a spray bottle full of water that my father and I used to spritz our hair to tame our cowlicks. One summer, I put a little bit of peroxide in it to give my self just a touch of blonde (hey, don’t judge me, it was 1987). I forgot about it. A couple of days later, I noticed my dad’s hair had gotten noticeably lighter. I emptied the bottle immediately and refilled it. I remember him looking at his hair in wonder.

“My hair used to do this in the summer when I was younger, but it hadn’t done it in a long time. Odd.”

Yes. Odd. Yikes.

Across the hall from the bathroom is my sister’s room. Since about 1997, it has been the room I sleep in when I visit my folks. It now has a crib that had been for my niece and then nephew. Now it is full of toys and, well, stuff. I remember re-enacting “Pete’s Dragon” by lip-syncing it as it played on my sister’s turntable. I remember sleeping on my sister’s trundle bed on Christmas Eve and laughing and guessing excitedly at what our presents from Santa would be.

“Was that sleigh bells?” she would ask.

I have a vivid memory of my sister at the dinner table about a year after my father’s mother passed away. I off-handedly mentioned something about her, the way a 5 year-old would, and my sister furiously kicked me under the table.

“Hey! Michelle kicked me!”

“Shut up!” she said.

My mother asked why my sister kicked me. Her eyes filled with tears and she ran from the table. My father looked at my mother and said, “I’ll go.”

I found out later that my sister didn’t want me talking about Honey, my father’s mother, because she thought it would make him sad. My sister was a peacemaker and caretaker even then, and she was convinced that my big mouth was going to cause my father pain. He found her in her room and asked her what was wrong. She wouldn’t tell him, because she didn’t want to make him sad. Finally he told her that he missed his mother and it made him feel sad sometimes. He started to cry. But, he said, most of the time, when he thought of her, it made him very happy. My sister broke down and he held her until she stopped crying. That was an important moment for them.

My sister moved to Chico to go to Chico State when I was in 8th grade. I would pass by her room and expect to hear her voice and remember she was gone. But during my senior year in High School, Michelle moved back in while she obtained her teaching credential at Sac State. It was so great to spend my final year at home with her as a confidant and friend. I would hang out with her in her room after school and tell her about my day. I will treasure her council and humor during that time forever.

At the end of the hall was my parent’s room. They were very shrewd, because they hooked up the Atari to the T.V. in their room, so we had to ask permission to use it and they could deny us access to it if they wished. In fifth grade, I desperately wanted a Nintendo. My mother said I could have one if I bought it myself. For a year I saved up my allowances, dog sitting and lawn mowing money and finally bought it. My first Christmas that I had it, I got “Mike Tyson’s Punch Out” in my stocking and as soon as we were done eating Christmas lunch I ran back and played it for the rest of the day. At various times my sister, father or mother would come back and say, “Were having hot chocolate,” or, “’White Christmas’ is on!” but I would shrug them off and continue with my game. Finally my mom came back at about 8 PM and said, in a sad voice, “You only get so many Christmas Days. I hope you enjoyed your game,” and left the bedroom. I turned off the game and joined everyone in the family room as “White Christmas” was ending.

We leave my parent’s room and retrace our steps back down the hall to my bedroom. For about five years, from 1988 until 1993, I had affixed a slip of paper that I had taken from a hotel room that had been wrapped around the toilet bowl. It said, “Sanitized for your protection”. This is what greeted those who entered. It was a lie.

Now, my old bedroom is my father’s office. It sill has a similar feel to the way it did when I lived at home, but gone are the baseball and basketball posters, the baseball hats on hooks that ringed the top of my walls, the locker that my dad had painted silver and black in homage to the Raiders; gone is my captain’s bed and gone are my tapes, CD’s, gone is the fan-back wicker chair that was in my room through out high school; gone is the guitar amp, the bass guitar and the fiberglass upright Double Bass that all competed for attention and love in my inner sanctum. It was the place I first discovered the miracles of reading for pleasure and singing, the place that was my very own home within my home. It was the safest place in the world.

My room was the place where I would spend hours crafting mixtapes for my friends and myself. It was through that medium, the custom-made mixtape, that I would first express romantic feelings to a girl through Bono’s plaintive wail, through Otis’s soulful cry and Placido’s lusty tenor. It was in this room that I would map out my tomorrows and contemplate my yesterdays. I would stand in front of my mirror and lip-sync to Led Zeppelin, Luciano Pavarotti, Run D.M.C. and The Four Tops. To paraphrase Dashiell Hammett, “It was the place where dreams were made.”

So here we are. My home. Well, it was my home, but soon it will be no more. It will become someone else’s home, and what lucky people they are. I believe that love leaves behind tangible traces. If the new inhabitants continue forward in love and laughter, they will not be starting from scratch, but building on a foundation of years of love in action.

The sentimentalist, the nostalgic in me almost feels a sense of loss. In truth, I know that the place I call home is in my heart and mind. The place I remember is already only alive in memory. My current home is with my beloved Nicole and in the shared experiences I have with her and my family. In some ways, my “home” in Davis is already gone, because it exists in the past, in memory. And it is for that same reason that it is never gone.

My parents’ new home shares a fence with my sister in Stonegate, in West Davis. I admit, the thought of none of my family members living in South Davis is a bit disorienting. But their new home has a great vibe and as soon as I walked in I could instantly imagine them there. I could also envision memories being lovingly crafted in that place that will house their collective futures. I am comforted that they will be close to my sister and her family.

I am also grateful for what all of this has helped me understand. I have had the privilege of growing up in a loving house with food on the table and love all around me. Think of it. My parents lived in one house for thirty-one years. We weren’t impoverished. We weren’t persecuted, hunted or oppressed. We didn’t suffer from hunger, discrimination or war. My parents didn’t divorce, which, unfortunately, many of my friends can’t claim. To be upset about my parents leaving their home to make a new one would be petty and would miss the point entirely.

My home is built from the bricks of unselfish choice and the mortar of intentional love. This love is simply a series of choices, not a place, feeling or condition. It is a gift my parents and sister have given me. Like a home, love is something we create through every single choice we make. It is not bound by time, space or geography. Our lives are our home. Our home is our lives. If we want to, we can always go home. If you lived here, you would already be home by now.

1.13.2009

Henry's House of Coffee



Sometime in early 2001 I had seen an episode of "Bay Area Back Roads", a now-defunct local television program. One of the features was about an Armenian Bakery on Noriega Street at 22nd Avenue in the Sunset District of San Francisco. At the time I lived in San Jose, but my girlfriend (now wife) Nicole had just moved to the Sunset and one early morning I set off to find this Armenian bakery that made it's own filo dough from scratch and was purported to have the best handmade baklava in Northern California. I walked from Nicole's apartment on 19th Ave. at Lawton Street (ironically, we now live on 19th Ave. and Quintara Street, just five blocks to the south) and cut through the grounds of the former Shriner's Children's Hospital and arrived at the store, only to find a hand-printed sign on the door thanking all of their loyal customers for twenty years of happy filo making and expressing their regret at having to close the business due to ill health. The date revealed that I had missed the best baklava in Northern California by one day. Argh.

So I found myself on Noriega Street. Noriega Street contains a commercial area from 19th Avenue to roughly 31st Avenue. There were bars, Chinese bakeries and restaurants, A market, dentists and Optometrists, and a very cool comic book store called "Comics and Da Kine", for runner to the legendary "Isotope Comic Book Lounge" run by the equally legendary James Sime. I decided to explore.

One thing I began to notice was the incredibly enticing smell of roasting coffee. My nose lead me to 1618 Noriega Street. Henry's House of Coffee. My coffee Mothership.

View Larger Map

Henry's is not a cafe. There are no cozy, overstuffed couches; no Parisian cafe chairs; no funky murals or prints of pre-war Paris. There are three small tables inside and two small tables out on the sidewalk. Henry's House of Coffee is a "Coffee Store", if you will; a place for people who are serious about finely roasted coffee. The "bulk" of Henry's business, is whole beans and wholesale. He doesn't even bother with the Starsucks croud. As you enter the small store, there is a counter along the left side and a system of shelves on the right. Halfway down the counter is a scale for weighing coffee and behind that is the register. To the left of the scale are clear Plexiglas bins of various types of whole bean coffees. Behind the counter on the wall is a huge assortment of loose teas. To the right of the scale is a small assortment of fresh pastries (Irish breakfast rolls and scones are available. This is smart; as this is an Irish neighborhood and Henry's is right next to Whelan's Irish Dance School).
Next to the pastries is a large insulated pump thermos with the daily brew (Henry's own Bella Finca Central American blend is one of my favorites) and to the right of that is the espresso machine. On the other wall shelves full of different coffee makers, (including original Hario Syphon Brewers from Japan), Turkish, Persian and Armenian food products and various coffee and tea accoutrement. They usually are playing Classical 102.1 quietly in the background.

Henry Kalebjian is a fourth generation Armenian master coffee roaster. ALL of the coffee in the store is roasted on site, by Henry in small batches. Henry is a friendly man that remembers all his customers by coffee preference, if not by name. He has a personal relationship with most of the growers he buys from and his coffee is always delicious. He also employs helpful and friendly staff.

I love going to Henry's, even though it is not designed for hanging out. It is my own neighborhood spot, and I am so lucky that the coffee there is SO amazing. One of my simplest pleasures is to go there with a book, chit chat with the staff and drink some coffee while Henry roasts on the Franciscan Batch Roaster in the back corner of the shop. Paradise.



Henry explains why House of Coffee is so prized by customers.

Henry explains how he helps guide customers through the coffee selecting process.

Henry explains his personal philosophy of the perfect roast.

The Dance Begins

Legend has it that in the Ninth Century A.D. an Ethiopian goatherd named Kaldi noticed that when his goats ate of a certain red berry found in the highlands, they had abundant amounts of energy and appeared to "dance". Kaldi and his fellow shepherds tried chewing the berries and even the leaves, but this was rather unpleasant. These raw coffee berries traveled from Ethiopia to Egypt and then Yemen, where they were first roasted and brewed in a manner we would recognize today.

Another legend has it that an eleven year-old boy in Davis, California, while visiting his Aunt Cathy's Northern Italian Restaurant, "Ristorante Mangiamo", finally had the courage to ask for a decaf espresso, even though he had taken sips of his father Mike's coffee and hated it. Adam had spent much of his childhood in the kitchen and dinning room of "Ristorante Mangiamo" and had always marveled at the huge, brass and copper Elektra Espresso machine that sat near the door to the kitchen. He loved the sharp, smokey smell that emanated from it when espresso shots were being pulled. Aunt Cathy brought him his single decaf espresso with a twist of lemon peel. Expecting to hate it, the boy took a tiny, tentative sip. The flavor exploded in his mouth and he squeezed his eyes shut to deal with the sensory overload. He wasn't in love with it, but he definitely didn't hate it. A seed was planted and a quest for good coffee was now afoot.

Many memorable cups of coffee that I have had in the past are memorable for their setting, context, accompanying experiences and company as much, if not more, than for their actual quality. Some were just damn good cups of coffee. This blog will be a chronicle of my life with coffee. Coffee may not always be at the center of things, but it will be there, somewhere, lurking in the shadows or proudly front and center.

Let us begin.


"I learned it by watching you, alright!"


The incomparable Otis Redding's "Cigarettes and Coffee", one of my favorite "Java Jams".