Down By the Bay, Where the Watermelons Grow

Down By the Bay, Where the Watermelons Grow

There is so much I don’t like about trying to get pregnant. Like the acronyms… TTC (trying to conceive), BFM (big fat negative), DPO (days past ovulation). I don’t like how easy it is to fall down a fertility rabbit hole online. I searched “IUI tips” on Pinterest and suddenly my feed is full of syrupy sweet IVF prayers and affirmations. I label each one “no longer relevant” as quickly as I could. I googled “implantation bleeding” and struck message boards that spooked me with their born-again-ism.

I don’t like how ignored I feel by conception narratives. I read a book about fertility nutrition by a Brooklyn-progressive “farmer’s daughter” and the whole vibe was so willfully straight and white it seemed to be trying to offend. Like the author only valued mirror images of her slim, pale self. So much evangelizing about raw milk. A proclamation about how your pregnancy will bring out a primordial protectiveness in your man.

And I don’t like having my life tie-dyed with uncertainty. The indecision that rose within me after round one was foreign and excruciating. I woke up the next morning certain I’m made a terrible mistake. I imagined this child hammering a stake between me and my wife. We’d break up. I’d be left a single parent, but worse: without mi amor para siempre. I cried to my wife and she smoothed my hair. That would not happen.

Twenty-four more hours and I was certain I wanted to conceive. And back and forth, and back and forth, and back and forth.

I knew my expectation that the first time would work was unrealistic, but … #shepersisted. What was, days earlier, theoretical, seemed inevitable. But then I saw a tiny dot of blood in my underwear. My body flushed cold. I’d lost it. But what was “it” even? Probably nothing. It felt like something and that’s when the indecision began to abate. I was picking a team. I wanted this. I want this.

These two week waits are excruciating. I spend too much time and energy trying to decipher every physical sensation. Not knowing is the hardest thing for me to bear, so what a test this all has been. I can do nothing but wait. I’m riding shotgun in my own body. I’m shocked at how little I know about my own biology. I google “cervix” when I realize I don’t know exactly where it is, or what it looks like.

It’s that small? A baby is coming out of there?

Mine has scar tissue from the removal with an electric knife of abnormal cells. Maybe because of that scar tissue, during the second round, it took the nurse so long to ease the catheter filled with donor sperm through that my legs started to shake.

But she “advanced”. Sample in. She turned off the lights, tilted my hips and told me to think good thoughts for ten minutes.

I remembered a little song my family sang to babies in the pool during long summer afternoons. “Motor boat, motor boat, go so slow.”  You hold a little one by their swimmies and spin just slightly.” Motor boat, motor boat, go so fast.” You pick up the pace. “Motor boat, motor boat, step on the gas.” You spin them around with everything you have.

After my ten minutes were up. I met my wife in the waiting room and told her I’d pictured playing with our baby in the pool. “Aww,” she said and made a motion like she was dipping a baby’s feet in the water. I like the idea that we will play with our baby in my favorite of all elements.

I do like how witchy this is making me. The hippie I’ve always secretly wanted to take me over is beginning to emerge. My wife asked about activity on a credit card we rarely use and I had to admit I’d bought a pouch of crystals. I search “fertility altar” on the internet with surprising frequency. I made a mental note to ask my friend for the name of the acupuncturist she swears got her pregnant. I pick mint leaves from my little plant and brew tea with them in a beautiful, fecund, ceramic pot, because I’m trying to unwind with something other than gin and because I want to be intimate with what I can grow.

I feel lucky that I’m able to be on this journey. I’m healthy. We can afford the fees, for now anyway. I have a job that I can blow off for a few hours when it’s time to kick off my jeans at the lesbian-owned sperm bank ten minutes from our apartment. Two months is a long time, but it’s also only two months. One of my mother friends was trying for two years.

I’m wading into a stream running with life and time. I do not know when the current will take me or where we will go. But I’m drawn to the water, nevertheless.


sometimes I live in the country, sometimes I live in town, sometimes I take a great notion to jump in the river and drown

sometimes I live in the country, sometimes I live in town, sometimes I take a great notion to jump in the river and drown

It wasn’t the welcome we expected. It did become funny, but only after nothing bad happened.

My girlfriend and I flew to New York City on August 27, 2011. We took a red eye and and sleeping pills, but I barely closed my eyes the whole flight. We stumbled out of JFK and got struck dumb by the humidity, because we are weather weak Californians. Somehow we made it to our friend’s 4th story upper west side walk up and she suggested we take a walk to beat the jetlag. That’s when we saw them.

Block after block of boarded-up windows spray painted with warnings. Get out Irene! Stay away Irene! We don’t want you Irene! Irene is my girlfriend. Irene is also the hurricane that hit the city the next day. Huddled in our friend’s apartment, we listened to the storm. All that wind. All that rain. The next morning, the only thing in the kitchen was a bag of moldy Zabars bagels, so we went outside, not knowing what to expect. There were downed branches and gutters full of leaves, but not much else. At least not where we were. The feared destruction hadn’t come to pass. Irene had been kind.

And five years later, she married me.

In 2016, all the rightness and wrongness of the world whipped the planet in unceasing waves of tribulation. Cultural icons fell. Babies washed up on beaches. I held the hands of my love and we married each other, legally (!). My white country family and her brown city family hit the same dance floor. We ate tacos and ice cream, and, thank the lord, no one made a scene. In November, we voted as newlyweds and that night I was too distraught to drink. Which was a first. I cried and cried and cried. Irene started joking about getting deported, except I don’t think she was joking.

A few days later, I got my hair cut at the very queer salon that’s also a portal to a different reality. Once the lesbian next to me said apologetically, “don’t get me wrong, I love my parents,” and the lesbian painting my hair with dye said, “girl come on, we all love our parents, but this is a safe space, what did they do?” And all the truth came out. Jokes in rainbow shorthand cause a row of chairs to erupt in giggles in the reg. There’s always someone talking about tarot and someone talking about the Drag Race.

But when I walked in two days after the election, Folklore Salon was silent as the grave. Everyone was either puffy eyed or still crying. None of us knew what to say, so there were long hugs and brownie drop offs.

Six weeks later I was back. There was some crying, but there was a little bit of laughing too. Obama was still our President, he would be for a little longer and we were clinging to his last days. We talked about plans for the new year. I told the native Angeleno transguy shaving the back of my neck that Irene and I were thinking about maybe trying to get pregnant, but now I didn’t know. Same sex and multi-ethnic… I mean, was that wise? He laughed. “Actually I think that’s perfect. I think you two having a baby is like the most subversive thing you could do.”

In a few weeks, I’ll start peeing on sticks until one tells me I’m ovulating. And then we’ll drive to our local lesbian-owned sperm bank and try to make some magic. Before then, we need to pick a donor. Our baby will have half of my DNA, so the sunscreen industry will be safe for another several decades. But what about the other half? “It would be cool if we could find a donor that’s Mexican and native like me,” said my wife back when we thought our baby would be born under the full moon of a female president. There is a such an option at the ‘ol sperm bank, but neither of us has said out loud if that’s still what we want.

What about a last name? Do we give our little baby my good Irish name? Or my wife’s good Mexican one? How subversive do we get with this new tiny human?

Oprah says there are only two emotions: love and fear. I’m feeling both, in nearly equal measure, like a hurricane in my brain all day every day. It has made landfall. The destruction is here and this time it’s real.

My grandfather told me that my gay marriage, or “you gals’ whole situation” as he calls it, taught him that time marches forward and he can march forward with it. He’s 85 and doesn’t even walk very well, let alone march. So if he can do it, so can I. I can make brave choices. I can protect my family. I can go to the salon and talk about mercury in retrograde. I can make my own signs and softly sing Goodnight Irene

In five years, in ten, maybe all this tumult will feel pleasantly distant. Until then, I’m taking prenatal vitamins, starting secret Pinterest boards to save pictures of Danish modern cribs that my wife will never go for, and praying I’m doing the right thing for the tiny hands and tiny feet I hope will come into my life while we stand in the eye of all this wind and rain.

My Kingdom for a Public School

My Kingdom for a Public School

Public transportation is an incubator for observations and revelations. At least it is for me.

This morning on the train, I listened to Malcolm Gladwell’s latest Revisionist History podcast, the third in his series on higher education. Suddenly, I was able to articulate my passion for public school, using language I hadn’t had before. Thanks, Revisionist History.

Gladwell was talking about educational philanthropy, and comparing the societal worth of a $100 million donation to “a tiny, almost bankrupt school in South Jersey” to the multi-million dollar donations being handed out to elite American schools.

He set up a dichotomy between “weak link” games and “strong link” games. Soccer, he explained, is a weak link game. Mistakes are so costly, because scoring is so difficult, that a team is only as good as its weakest link. Basketball, on the other hand, is a strong link game. One superstar player can carry the whole team.

American society, says Gladwell, is a weak link game. It takes so many people working in concert to accomplish anything, that we need every link to hold its weight and do its best. So it would make sense, then, to give extra resources to strengthen the weakest links, or to institutions that have an influence over the greatest number of links. For example: the University of California, which Gladwell called “maybe the finest group of public universities in the world.”

Continue reading “My Kingdom for a Public School”

Can I Just Give You A Thousand Dollars?

Can I Just Give You A Thousand Dollars?

When time was ticking down to my brother’s wedding, and something threatened to go sideways, he’d say “can I just give you a thousand dollars?” That makes my brother sound reckless or douchey and he’s neither. He was a man beating a clock, hoping some Benjamins could keep trouble at bay.

There are 39 days until my own wedding and the temptation to start throwing money at problems is very real. What’s stopping me? You’d think it would be my bank account, but actually it’s my girlfriend.

I’ve delegated a few things to her that were driving me insane. Like table rentals. Why is it so hard for me to deal with table rentals? I do not know. But after weeks of procrastination, I asked if she could take that off my plate. She’s doing the smart thing … shopping around, getting estimates. And whenever she asks for my opinion, I ask if we can just give someone a thousand dollars.

Two people who deserve a thousand dollars are the cousin and aunt who threw me a completely fantastic bridal shower. I will admit, the concept of a “bridal shower” unnerved me a little, because one thing I’ve confronted (or maybe it’s confronted me) during this wedding planning process is the concept of femininity. I’ve never felt less feminine than when I was trying on wedding dresses or playing with veils. I asked my girlfriend the other day if she thinks of me as feminine, and she laughed out loud. “Uh, yes” was her official answer. I wear make-up everyday. I cook and I sew (and knit and crochet and scrapbook). I decorate our home. I love getting my nails done. So I can see why my girlfriend thought “am I feminine” was a weird thing for me to ask. But still, I don’t always think of myself as very feminine.

Out-of-place is what I worried I’d feel at my shower, because of this whole question of femininity, but I was in good hands with my aunt and cousin. The party started with a private cooking lesson where we learned to make eggs benedict, strawberry shortcake, roasted asparagus and crispy potatoes. Then we all sat down together and enjoyed our brunch. Brunch is the best IMHO, and for a time I worked as a pastry chef, so the concept of the party fit me perfectly. The cooking lesson was a great ice breaker and bonding activity, and the decorations were so freaking cute–from the gorgeous flowers to the hand-painted cooking utensils they gave as favors to the pictures of me and my girlfriend they’d made into a banner.

It was as full of love and thoughtfulness as it could possibly have been and I’m sad it’s over. For the last month or so, I’ve had three invitations on the fridge: Bridal Shower, Rehearsal Dinner, Wedding. Now one third of those momentous occasions has passed. The other two aren’t very far away and as often as I find myself thinking “can it please just be here already”, I know there’s going to be a period of let-down after the wedding.

In 2014, after a year of planning, my girlfriend and I went to the Europe and the UK for two weeks. It was our first international travel together and it was an incredible trip. We came back home full of memories, but after our bags were unpacked we both felt melancholy. This big thing that had taken so much time and attention had come and gone and we couldn’t go back to the beginning and do it again. It was over, and we were both caught off guard by how sad that made us. We started planning another trip to help pull us out of the funk.

But if we feel that same melancholy after the wedding, we can’t just start planning the next one. If I give you a thousand dollars, can you solve that problem for me?


Thankstaking By Train

Thankstaking By Train

This time tomorrow I will be on a train headed to my hometown with a personal container of wine that looks not unlike a juice box. By my side will be my girlfriend — technically my “fiancee,” although neither of us have taken to that term. It’s a weird word.

A year ago, a train trip from London to Edinburgh ended up being a true highlight of our three city tour. We were the only Americans in our train car, which was a nice change of pace. There are a lot of Americans in London. I kept wanting to have “an authentic experience,” only to have an American accent indecorously interrupt my fantasy of a place.

We were sipping gin and tonics in what seemed like an out-of-the-way restaurant near our AirBnB on our last night in London. We drank our drinks and watched London, damp with evening drizzle, pass by the restaurant’s big front window. It felt like “an authentic experience,” until the finance bro behind us opened his big mouth and filled the small space with abject Americanness.

So what a relief it was the following day to find ourselves chugging north in a train car surrounded by pleasant British accents. A couple in front of us told a friend about their daughter’s upcoming wedding. The two older ladies behind us were talking about – I don’t even remember, I was just so enchanted by the experience of having older British women chatting behind me while I sipped strong milky tea. The couple on the other side of our shared table were redecorating their old home in the most tasteful way possible (based on the samples they scrolled through on their iPad). Most of these people I eavesdropped on got off the train at York. I made a mental note to add York to my list of places I’d like to wander through one day.

With the train car now quiet, I looked out the window and watched the countryside pass. Suddenly, the sea came into view and the color palate of the whole scene was both muted and deep. It was all perfect windswept green hills and perfect blue water and perfect stone-colored villages with high church towers. Why don’t we take the train more often, I asked my girlfriend.

In the Spring we flew to Vancouver, B.C. and took the train to Portland, Oregon. It was another route along the sea, with more deep, dark grays than the UK trip, but just as sublime.

Tomorrow, we’ll again watch the Pacific Ocean out a train window. We board at Union Station and it’ll take about four hours to get to the unmanned platform in my hometown. It’s called the “Surf Station,” because it’s on Surf Beach. But when I was a kid, we called it “Sand Dollar Beach” because of how many Sand Dollars you could collect there.

It’s also a good place to get bitten by a shark, carried away by a rip tide or swallowed by dense fog. It’s not the kind of California beach you think of when you think “California beach.” Which for me, makes it all the more fun to exit the train there. It’s the kind of experience you can project your own story onto. You’re Anne Shirley arriving in Avonlea. Or a mysterious women starting a new life in a far-off Irish town. Or my girlfriend arriving in my hometown for her first major holiday with my family.

“When I think about it, the thing that makes me anxious is the WASPiness of it all,” my girlfriend told me last night. Me and my family are indeed white anglo-saxon protestants. “I was raised to be afraid of white people.”

Being an interracial couple is something we almost only think about as a pretext for punchlines. My girlfriend has started calling me her “white wife,” as in “I dunno, I’ll have to ask my *exasperated sigh* white wife.”

My girlfriend is half Mexican-American and half a federation of native people from America and Mexico. She asked if she could refer to the holiday as “Thankstaking” around my family, as a nod to her native heritage. I asked if I could refer to her as “an actual Indian” when we sit down to our Thanksgiving feast.

To the two of us, these are just jokes, but what makes the difference in our ethnic identities feel real to both of us is spending time around the other’s family. In my family, we aren’t blue bloods, but our holidays do tend toward the WASPy. There are pre-dinner cocktails and salmon mousse on crackers. There are flower arrangements, and ironed cloth napkins and post-dinner glasses of Scotch by the fire. I mean, we’re still small-town Californians, it’s not full on Ice Storm territory, but I know it’s going to be a foreign environment for my girlfriend. I hope it’s an experience she’ll enjoy or at least appreciate, but I get why she’s feeling tentative about the whole thing.

It’ll certainly be “an authentic experience.”