I heard that Angel Pagan was at Taco Bell the other day giving away free tacos. Have I ever mentioned that Angel Pagan is one handsome dude? I know that it seems like I lust after any breathing man… insert Blanche Deveraux or Samantha Jones hashtag here.
The CAL event that I worked last night was for the This American Life reporter Nancy Mullane, who wrote a book called Life After Murder. Since college, I have been a sucker for anything related to This American Life and NPR. College was, in fact, when getting into NPR was the cool thing to do. It felt smart. Nowadays everyone seems to tell everyone else what NPR shows to listen to and what NPR podcasts to download.
Whenever we sell books at CAL, we like to remind customers that the author will (usually) be signing books afterward. I made such a reminder last night but one customer replied politely with: “No, thanks. I’m not into signings.”
He was a young guy. He had the air of a college kid, and the blue and gold Cal sweatshirt also sort of gave it away. In the midst of the crowd and all the transactions — it was a sold-out event — I fleetingly reflected on being his age. It seems like whenever I reflect on those years, my instant reaction is one of regret, and failure. It only feels like yesterday that I was in school and it felt like my whole life was ahead of me. Nowadays, it’s not that I feel like my future is gone; rather, it’s more of a chore, a thing that I have to force myself to believe, to remind myself that I still have that future. The only difference between now and then is that the years have naturally and necessarily toned down the youthful exuberance. No longer am I so quick to believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel just because I am young and new and starting out. Now I have to make myself look for the light. I have to earn being there.
But what most impressed me about that kid was his remark about not being into signings. The remark was a breath of fresh air. What was even better was how his companion said that she wasn’t into them, either. It made me think about the parade today, and how there will be a lot of people there, and how they will all be crowding together and likely fighting each other either to catch a glimpse of the Giants or to stake their claim in a moment of history. There are a few hours yet until the parade and in fact the schedule worked out that I have today off (to which my boss jokingly remarked that he must have known intuitively to give me this day off when he planned the schedule two weeks ago, before anyone knew that the Giants would overcome the Tigers in a sweep of four games). During the day of the parade in 2010, by this time I was on my way to having a celebratory breakfast with Ray at Lefty O’Doul’s downtown; this time around, I have a physical therapy appointment at eight for my sprained wrist. The appointment is at a clinic that just happens to be next to my store, which just happens to be down the street from Civic Center, which… and you know where I’m going with this.
What I’m not going to is the parade. At this moment all I want to do after my appointment is head straight home, perhaps order a pizza and catch up on General Hospital or whatever is handy on Netflix Instant. Just thinking about the crowd is overwhelming. I was there in 2010, not really out of obligation but because I legitimately felt the desire to stake a claim in history, and also as a dedicated fan. What incenses me about the crowd that will be at this parade is directly tied to the riots that erupted in the Mission on Sunday night. Instinctively I want to say that it is perplexing to me why people would act without civility after such a good thing like the Giants winning the World Series but the answer to me is really quite clear: our American society is so large that prosperity and common joy gets stretched thin. People lead hard lives. When there is even the slightest reason to celebrate, and by “slightest reason” I mean something like victory for a sport that one doesn’t actually even follow, one will use that as an excuse to feel good. I am not excusing rioters, and in fact the trend of commuting into San Francisco to trash the city and then go home again is also what mars Pride and Bay To Breakers, among other festivities. (Even Hardly Strictly Bluegrass has lost its charm because of folks looking for a Good Time.) At the same time, I cannot outright judge or slander the idiots — whoops — who set fire to street corners and commandeer buses all in the name of celebration, of breaking from the bonds of a hard life.
And anyway, I’m not into crowds. Like that Cal student, signings are also not my thing. In a world where it seems like every other person will stampede over someone else just to get the thing that they want the most, his one remark really made me feel better about life in general. That Life After Murder event was also a revelation. Nancy Mullane’s book was about ex-cons… and the ex-cons she wrote about were with her. They all spoke on stage together and they signed the book with her. After the talk, I worked alongside them, directing the signing line, sliding books their way. The thought going through my mind was not Oh my God, I’m standing next to ex-cons. Rather, the singular notion with which I was privately stricken was the redefining of the expression “hard life.” Whatever I might be going through, whatever was presently invading my heart and soul with stress and existential doubt, was suddenly paled next to the lives that each of those men endured and how their choices affected the lives of many others. I felt quite small and insignificant when Kate, the daughter of CAL’s esteemed founder, introduced me to them. As is the custom at the end of these author talks, I am always introduced as the bookstore guy who will take the guest or guests to the signing table. This time, Kate hustled up to me after the introduction and said into my ear, “Hey, do you prefer being introduced as Joe or Joseph?”
I thought about it for as long as I could during those hurried moments when the large audience was emptying the auditorium to get in line and we were escorting Nancy and her five companions to the table. I am not sure what came over me but what I am able to pinpoint was a sensation of age, the passage of time, and of the realization that I am in fact 30-years old and there are some things that I have to say and do to prove to myself that I am at a certain point in my life.
“Joseph,” I told her, and I spent the rest of the night surprised at myself.