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[January 2002]

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January 2002

crime, international connections and deep thought

Best thing that happened
The Small World Brunch
Worst thing that happened
The theft of my camera

A positive start to the new year

I spent a lot of December trying to work out what to do for new year. My previous new year experience, that amazing party in Melbourne, was a tough act to follow, so I didn't want to go to just another party. I'd been invited to various raves and sex parties, but what I really wanted was to spend New Year's Eve with some close friends.

I ended up doing just that with Hope, Sinboy and Christine, over dinner at Park Chow and a couple of beers at Lucky 13. We stuck together throughout the night and were at Twin Peaks in time to watch the fireworks at midnight. Even though major fireworks go hand-in-hand with New Year in most parts of the world, many Americans don't seem to even realise that they have new year fireworks. Still, the display over the bay was quite nice.

We ended up on the beach by a campfire, looking back at 2001. It's an easy year to be pessimistic about, especially if you're living in the USA, and even if you're thinking before September. That year may be over, but I was still feeling a bit pessimistic. My friends took that opportunity to comfort me, though, and they reminded me about the bigger picture. Over the decades, despite the selfishness and ignorance of people in power and all the horrors of the world, humanity had made some positive steps. Recent setbacks in global environmental policy trends haven't undone all of the advances of previous decades... we're still recycling more, more land is protected from deforestation, organic farming is a reality, and we're generally still a lot more enlightened about the world than we were before my time. This is only part of the story, of course, but I preferred to go to sleep in an optimistic mood that night.

Resolutions

I don't normally make new year resolutions; I prefer to make resolutions whenever I think they're beneficial. It just happened to be about new year when I decided to start actually scheduling days to do things, instead of just trying to keep days free for them and hoping I'd get around to them. I'm mainly talking about projects that I've procrastinated for years, like keeping my web site alive, doing some cool Java development, and perhaps doing some creative writing. January 2002 showed that my new approach works, or at least that it works better than anything else I've tried. Hell, I finally got this part of my web site up, and by the end of the month I was regularly using some little Java aps that I procrastinated writing throughout 2001.

I also started learning Spanish. In some ways it was an odd time to have started—I was making plans for moving to Holland later in the year, and the time I was living near San Francisco's Spanish-speaking Mission District had recently passed. Still, it was something I'd always wanted to do, and it was as good a month as any to start. The classes were tough at first—the teacher didn't seem to understand that, unlike my sole classmate, I had had almost no exposure to the language at all—but by the end of the month I was at least able to piece some sentences together. The classes were held at Centro Latino, a Spanish community centre in the same neighbourhood as cool establishments like the Sierra Club and Good Vibrations. By the end of the month I was almost able to put whole sentences together.

The Small World Brunch

[photo]
The Small World Brunch
[photo]
The map labelling game

The Small World Brunch was a success. Although we didn't get anywhere near the hoped-for 100 countries represented, the diversity among the participants was wonderful. From talking to the people I met there, I learned a few things about countries I hadn't really thought very much about, like Guatemala and Norway. I also talked to people places that I'd been thinking about a fair bit, like Afghanistan and Israel. I even made a contact that might help me out career-wise when I move to Holland later in the year.

[photo]
The flags I printed

Us organisers of the Brunch met weekly as the event approached, but my Spanish lessons forced me to turn up halfway through most of those meetings. To make up for this feeling of letting the side down, I decided to do the lion's share of printing flags. The idea was for participants to have a bunch of flag stickers for the country they were from, and stick them into the passports of everyone that chatted with them. Like all tasks, printing the flag stickers took much longer than I thought, so I was still yelling at my printer to hurry up as the event was starting. It didn't matter that I was late, though. The flags were well received, and everyone went home with passports full of stickers to show off how many foreigners they'd spoken to that morning. I do wish I'd started printing earlier, though, but unfortunately the night I was going to do it was marred by...

The Theft of my Bag

It never feels good to have things stolen, and the fact that my digital camera was in my backpack when it was stolen made it sting even more. (Don't expect to see many photos of my life over the next couple of months!) I feel like a bit of a whinger when I complain about it, though, because some twists of fate and the help of considerate people meant that I got everything else back, except for my compass, the bag itself, and a copy of The Australian Geographic—well, at least the thief has taste in periodicals!

What happened is this: I left my bag unattended for a minute or two in the office of Centro Latino, which is right at the back of a building through a maze of corridors. The thief apparently grabbed it and proceeded to an Indian restaurant about two blocks away, where he asked the waiter for a rubbish bag so he could go through "his" bag. A guy named Tom Godfrey, a complete stranger who I regard as a minor hero, noticed this. The thief went through my belongings and put the stuff he didn't want (which was most of it) in the plastic bag, and then left with both bags without even ordering. At that point, Tom's sense of something fishy going on caused him to follow the thief out of the restaurant. Sadly, by the time he got out, the thief was well around the corner, but he'd left the plastic bag behind. Tom found my contact details inside, and what happened next is pretty straightforward: he rang me, I arrived at his place with a bottle of wine as a thank-you gift, I collected the stuff that the thief had discarded, and I went up to Berkeley Police to report it.

My time at the Berkeley Cop Shop was an experience in itself. First, since it was after hours, I had to go to a poky side entrance and spend three minutes talking into an intercom before the door even opened. When I entered, I found myself amidst the cold and echoes of a florescent-lit corridor and was confused about which way to turn. Eventually I'd traversed enough beige-painted brick passages to find a lone brown plastic chair, so I sat and waited.

The vibes in that place were ugly! They were exactly the same as the vibes I felt at the back of the police station at Castle Hill, when I had to have my fingerprints taken for part of an American Immigration ritual. (Castle Hill a leafy young Sydney suburb near Baulkham Hills, where my parents live.) I felt like I could scoop the feelings of anger, remorse and intimidation off the walls with my hands and smear them on the shuttered counter in front of me. Then, out of nowhere, a voice boomed. "If you don't know why you're here then it means you're too drunk to be let go!" What the fuck? "When you can stand up," the intercom continued, "we'll talk about letting you out!" I knew the voice wasn't talking to me, but I asked it anyhow, just to be sure. There was no response, so I continued to sit though the damp silence.

After about twenty minutes I heard a door open, and a cop appeared from around a corner. He lead me to an interview room and had me tell him the whole story. He was polite enough and showed some compassion, but I could tell it was all just routine for him. I wondered if he'd be able to read his own writing as he scrawled the details into his note book... 6:55pm... San Pablo Avenue... silver and black bag... my estimation of the camera's value was about 300 bucks... I've got the serial number recorded at home (later I found that I didn't)... yes, Mr Godfrey said you could ring him. Then the nice policeman rang Mr Godfrey and recorded notes about the thief's ethnicity and approximate height next to the scribbles he made as he talked to me.

Maybe all these pieces will fit into some big police puzzle. Maybe the thief will make a mistake and get his arse hauled in, and the events of the night of the 24th of January will be added to a stack of charges laid against him. I sincerely doubt that the Berkeley Police are hot on his trail, though, and given the resources that they have, I don't blame them. It frustrates me that there are probably dozens of cops milling around the East Bay trying to do drug busts, because that's what they're being pushed into doing. I wish that the billions of dollars that governments waste on vainly attempting to curb these victimless crimes were spent on legitimate education for drug users, facilities for the world's adolescents to have a fun and affordable nights out without the need for drugs, and programs to give small-time drug dealers decent alternative ways to make a living. While they're at it, they could give America real education and welfare so fewer people would need to resort to crime to survive. Maybe then the police would have more time to help out an average bloke like me. Isn't that what I'm paying taxes for?

Other Emotional shit

In December, the little people that spend six months finalising divorces finished their hard work on M's and my case. I've always felt that a strong relationship is an institution all on its own, so the official end of our marriage, which to me was just a way for governments and insurance companies to stick our relationship into a pigeon hole, prompted few feelings for me. The letter that M wrote me a week or two later, on the other hand, most certainly did.

M's letter didn't leave me feeling all that upset; it was actually more of a relief. The e-mail she sent me at the beginning of last August already had me feeling bitter and betrayed, so I was preparing myself for the worst from the letter. Plenty of the things it said were upsetting, but they also confirmed some suspicions I've had for a long time, and it was nice to be able to stop wondering.

I won't go into detail here. Let's just say that the letter revealed some things that should've been revealed at least four years ago, before I left absolutely everything I knew and loved behind in Australia, to move to a small city that I didn't really like, just to be with her. M had apparently formed a rather twisted view of some of the events that occurred the late 1990s, and instead of discussing them with me then (which admittedly would not have been trivial), she chose to bottle them up and let them fester beneath her conscious. That explains why I felt so badly treated when I first moved here, and why I felt like her love for me was a lie.

As a result of the letter, this was an emotional and introverted month for me. When my mind wandered, I only thought of things that M had said and written, whether they were from her letter, the August e-mail, or in person after I moved in with her. Most of those thoughts were negative, and on the odd occasions that I thought of something positive she said or did, it made me sad because of how things have ended up. I had really hoped that, no matter what happened, we'd always at least be friends. I'm on excellent terms with everyone else who I've had a serious relationship with, so it's a fair thing to aim for.

Obviously, the negative things she had said and written about me and our relationship upset me. They were rarely fair, mostly based on fallacy, and often hypocritical. In some cases, though, I felt some satisfaction from the fact she may have had a point, and that my personal growth since that time meant that I would have done things differently today. If any of her valid, negative comments still hold true, I like to think that I would have realised it and started working on them. However, since I haven't been able to think about anything that matches that criteria, in some ways the letter left me feeling pretty happy with myself.

I kept close track of my thoughts. I recorded many of them in my new PDA and voice recorder, and started arranging them to make them easy for me to digest. I decided I would write my own letter to her some time, and my journal of thoughts and feelings would be a good reference. She recently said that she wanted to discuss these things in person, and I'm open to that, but since I express myself better in writing I think it's best to write her first. Besides, I'm tired of always doing things just because it's the way she wants them. I should have stopped that years ago.

By the end of the month, I was tired of thinking of the whole thing. I'd already spent years of my life processing the things that M has done and said, and in previous years that has caused me to be somewhat dysfunctional. I resented the fact that I'd been handed a new slew of things to process, and that they'd be nagging at the back of my mind for some time yet. Unlike the first year or two that I was here, however, this time I was close to people who loved me and understood me, so I was able to deal with my thoughts and emotions much more efficiently. I'm deeply grateful to Denise, the Tempest and Diospyros just for listening to me in the time I spent with them, and for caring and respecting me. I'm also grateful that I got to spend so much time with Hope...

Time With Hope

It goes without saying that Hope was one of the listening, caring and respecting people that I needed this month. She could relate to me particularly well because she still had some feelings of her own left over from the breakup of the quad that she and Sinboy were in. I might have spent nearly as much time listening to her as she did to me, and it felt good to do so.

Hope and I did more with our time together than have deep and meaningful conversations, though. When I got Martin Luther King Junior Day off work, we went to Monterey for the day. If you're ever in this part of the world, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a must-see! I particularly enjoyed being able to touch the kinds of sea creatures that I was scared of touching when I went snorkeling as a kid.

I took another day off the following week so I could spend an afternoon alone working through my thoughts, but I spent that morning hiking with Hope. There's a Volcanic Regional Preserve just a five-minute drive from my place, with vivid descriptions of what my neighbourhood was like at various points in prehistory, and rock and fossil samples to make it more believable.

Hope and I also decided to arrange a standing date. Since we're both poly people with hectic social lives, this makes sense, and now I can look forward to seeing her every Monday night, in addition to whatever we might plan most weekends.

Walking and Exploring

The hiking I did with Hope wasn't the only walking I did this month; I did a lot of walking alone as well. As usual, this was a good time for my mind to wander, but thoughts of M's letter gnawed at it for the best part of the month. Still, I love walking just for the sake of walking!

Early in the month I explored my new neighbourhood. There's a point just a block away from my home that has an absolutely amazing view of the whole city, a view that features the Richmond, San Mateo, Bay and Golden Gate Bridges and a spectacular outlook over the City itself. It rained on and off all month, so the air was clear from haze a lot of the time, which made the view even more breathtaking.

The depths of my thoughts bottomed out one night when I went on my own private pub crawl. I'd just seen Lara's latest show, The Lights, which was one of the most fantastic theatre experiences I've had. A live jazz band played background music throughout the show, and this added another dimension to the already excellent performance. I opted out of meeting Lara after the show, though, because I just didn't feel like being in a pub full of strangers, as nice as the show's cast and crew may be. I finished my drink and left the pub before Lara arrived, and wandered from that dodgy part of Folsom Street back to my old haunt, the Castro. Lucky 13's crowd was as mixed as ever that night. A white-haired stranger and I exchanged bitching stories about our respective exes, and a silent forty-something-year-old bull dyke sympathetically nodded her head from time to time. I would've hung out there for quite a bit longer, if it wasn't for the fact that BART stops running so bloody early.

By the time I had my last decent walk of the month, I found that my wandering mind had started dreaming about the future again, instead of fretting about the past. After a Sunday acupuncture appointment with Diospyros, I walked up the hill from the Mission to the Castro again, only this time I was sober. When I lived in the City, I'd do that walk regularly, and I'd often perch myself on one of the boulders at Corona Heights or sit under a tree at Buena Vista Park on the way. This time, however, I wanted to go somewhere where I could write this web page by the light of the afternoon sun, so I had to get west of all that. I was hoping to find a spot under the Sutro Tower but found no way to access the thing, so I ended up walking as far as Grand View Park on 14th Avenue. In 1995, I visited that park regularly because of its wonderful views of the Sunset District and because it is right across the road from where another UWS exchange student lived. My mind boggled as I thought of everything that had happened to me in the time since, and I look forward to exploring that time more thoroughly as I develop this part of my web site.

Miscellaneous Happenings

On New Years Day I had what will probably be my last date with Shelley for quite some time. She's become happily pregnant, and she and her primary partner have decided to stop dating other people. I'm sad that our dating relationship has ended, but I'm happy that she's happy and wish her all the best.

I went out to dinner with Sophie, a Scottish woman who I met in December when we were both confused about what time our acupuncture appointments started. As I approached our meeting spot, I found myself wondering whether or not this was a date. I'm still not sure, but considering she told me that she's starting to think that she's a lesbian, it probably wasn't. =) We continued the thought-provoking discussions about society and medicine that made me ask for her contact details in the first place, and by the end of the night I'd told her my coming out story as well. I hope to go out with her again some time.

[photo]
Briana's party

Briana had a party. There was no particular reason for it, but we decided at the last minute to make it Sinboy's birthday party, and I bought him an ice cream cake as a result.

Finally, my new PDA arrived early this month, a Handspring Visor Platinum. It has 8MB of memory, much more than the 1MB that my five-year-old Palm Pilot Pro has. When I paid for it in December, I felt I was getting a pretty good deal at around $300 because it was faster than the Visor Edge which was selling for about the same amount. Of course, by the time my PDA arrived, Handspring had reduced the price of the Visor Prism to that same amount, and it has a colour screen. Still, I'm happy with the purchase I made. It's faster and more reliable than my old PDA, and I can still use the old one and a GoType keyboard exclusively for writing these web pages when I'm out and about with time to kill.


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Mik Scheper, 19 February 2002
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