The Harvard Humblebrag

The lovely young woman has been admitted to the master’s program at Berkeley’s School of Public Health and she is seeking my advice. She’s also been accepted to Harvard and several other top schools, she says, and is weighing her options.

I make the appropriate comments. I have nothing negative to say about Harvard, or any other of the schools of public health she is considering, I tell her. Each has its pluses and minuses and so forth and blah blah blah.

From the Summer 2013 A New Deal issue of California.

A Moment’s Grace

To call it a birthday party would be a bit of a stretch.

It was my 22nd—not a particularly celebration-worthy year to begin with. I also didn’t have any friends with whom to celebrate. I was only a couple months into what would be a year-long stint as an intern at The Bakersfield Californian, and furthermore—since I was in the employ of a newspaper reporting news—planning ahead was a shady proposition.

From the Spring 2013 Growing Up issue of California.

Out of the Gate

My son, Danny, returned from an exchange semester at Berkeley and treated me to a recitation of Beat poet Allen Ginsberg’s Hadda Be Playing on the Jukebox. Robert Haas’s American Poetry class had introduced Danny to the Beats, and he wanted to know whether I had read Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. I hadn’t.

From the Winter 2012 Culture Shock issue of California.

Cold Jungle

The Yosemite of Chile is located in Northern Patagonia about 60 kilometers, as the condor flies, east of the city of Puerto Montt. Its true name is El Valle de Cochamó—and that is where we were headed, four of us on horseback, riding slump-shouldered in the pouring rain.

The horse I rode was called Miti Miti, for mitad mitad, or half-and-half. Fabián, who owned the horses, explained that when they were gelding Miti, one of the animal’s testicles retracted in terror and they were only able to complete half the job.

From the Winter 2012 Culture Shock issue of California.

Jumping for Joyland

We first noticed the giant Ferris wheel in Jinjiang park right after moving to Shanghai. But much of the wheel’s accompanying amusement park looks anemic and rundown. Of course, we are used to theme parks stateside, and it is hard to compete with the lands of Lego and Disney. So we avoided the place.

From the Fall 2012 Politics Issue issue of California.

Mouths of Babes

“Speak only truth,” says little Ray, as he raises his arms above his head, clasps his hands, then in a prayer-like gesture, places them over his heart. Ji Hun, giggling in delight, knocks over a stack of toys. I proceed with our lesson and say nothing—Ji Hun earned my loyalty the day I showed up with only a maraca, having forgotten my boom box: He was the only one who kept flawless time.

From the Summer 2012 North South issue of California.

Heart of Japan

The sharply dressed man on television bows, then proceeds to talk in a soft, polite voice. I can understand perhaps a quarter of what he’s saying—mostly just conjunctions and pronouns. I miss all the essential nouns, like, oh, radiation, nuclear meltdown, and disaster. Lucky for me, he has a model of the Fukushima reactor in its current state of disintegration.

From the Spring 2012 Piracy issue of California.

Ladies of Arabia

Annabella’s doorbell resounded with the strains of Maurice Jarre’s Lawrence of Arabia film music: daaah da, da-da-da-da daaah da! Large and swathed in a Bedouin robe, an imitation Hejaz dagger tucked into her belt, she bade me enter with “a thousand salaams” while her poodle Feisal yapped his own welcome.

“Nice place,” I said, and she responded, “Yes, but it is far from Damascus.” She sat cross-legged on kilim cushions in the dim living room and offered me stale dates and mint tea, a veiled reference to T.E. Lawrence’s memoir, The Mint.

From the Winter 2011 Taste issue of California.

My First Job

In 1978 I was a sixties dropout, trying to crawl back into The System at Berkeley ten years later. I was also having an affair with my graduate advisor, which wasn’t popular even then. As a result, it was politely and nonverbally communicated to me that I shouldn’t bother applying for any fancy tenure-line jobs when I got my Ph.D. and why didn’t I just kind of go away?

From the Fall 2011 The Good Fight issue of California.

Out of the Gate

It is the middle of the day and I am celebrating my 22nd birthday in the tasting room at a local distillery in my hometown of Alameda. And while it seems a bit strange to be imbibing so close to noon, I am doing it in an atmosphere and in a manner of sophistication—like wine tasting. I’m still technically drinking in the daytime, but sipping instead of chugging; therefore it’s classy. Oh, and my parents and brothers are with me.

No, this is not your conventional family birthday party. But then my family is not your conventional family.

From the Summer 2011 The Soundtrack of Berkeley issue of California.

One Percent

It’s a rainy Saturday night, and I’m huddled in a doorway, pleasantly buzzed after a few drinks with a beautiful Russian girl I will never see again. The sky is wet iron, tinged with bronze from the reflected light of San Francisco. Rain patters the concrete and nips at the hem of my jeans. The moment is broken when a distinguished man hurries towards me and says:

“Listen, you’ve gotta help me. My name is Roland Chase. I’m from Burbank. I was driving up the coast when I was carjacked. They took my wallet, man.”

From the Spring 2011 Articles of Faith issue of California.

Out of the Gate

A dozen friends and I sat around an apartment on Piedmont Avenue, celebrating the end of our grueling first term as graduate students at Berkeley in 1967. Amid the wine and merriment, we were listening to a Beethoven piano concerto on the radio.

“Say,” I remarked, “Saturday is Beethoven’s birthday.” Peter Miller added, “Schulz hasn’t said a word.”

From the Winter 2010 Inside Out issue of California.

Tale of a Mid-Sixties Swim Babe

Twenty-eight years ago I took up swimming after I finally quit smoking for the last time. I was 39 and believed I was teetering into middle age. Up until that point, I rather scorned athletics and sports as bourgeois. After Berkeley, I’d gone to New York, where the only exercise I got in was running in the streets as an anti-war-activist. I saw myself as a French New Wave cinema femme fatale wielding my cigarette and louche look as powerful sexual weapons of conquest.

From the Summer 2010 Shelf Life issue of California.

A Sitting Decoy

I called my sister. “I’ve just met the President,” I said. “I drove a car in his motorcade.”

“Good for you,” she said distractedly. “President of what?”

“The United States.”

“What? You met him? What did you say?”

Two years out of Berkeley, I am a scruffy, marginally employed hipster. Meeting the President and driving a van in the motorcade is unexpected, if not absurd.

From the Winter 2009 Food for Thought issue of California.

Out of the Gate: All the President’s REMs

There was no doubt that working at The Daily Californian prepared a young newspaper reporter to get to the bottom of things. Anyone who could sit through a meeting of the Academic Senate and remain reasonably conscious was surely ready to dredge the depths of human activity. Turned loose on the real world in the mid-1970s, I found myself interviewing with the city editor of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, a wiry fellow who smoked cheap cigars down to the tip.

From the Spring 2010 Searchlight on Gray Areas issue of California.


Subscribe to Perspectives