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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

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Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

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Entries in stephanie echeveste (3)


In Which We Used To Dread Going Home

The Breakdown


I can’t sleep. I don’t know if it is because of the cappuccino I had at Ritual around 5:30 p.m., because of the street noise outside my 24th street facing apartment, or because I had two major breakdowns on the phone with my father, neither of which was because of any serious event.

The first trigger occurred this morning. I was on the 47 heading west down Mission in SOMA, going from one sew shop to another. After getting on the bus I negotiated the pros and cons of sitting down, just like I would on any other day. The pros included being able to sit down for the ride, the cons included having to sit near people. Since we were all packed in there anyhow, I decided sitting was not really that different from standing and found two empty seats near a window. One for me, one for my bags. I sat with a sigh of relief. Shortly after, a man draped in various layers of stained clothes dragging two black garbage bags filled with week old compost, no doubt, asked if he could sit on my bag seat. I gave a chipper ‘sure!‘ and then tried to inch further and further towards the window, my own bags on top of my lap, as to inconspicuously not touch him. Eventually I gave up and stood between some other bag carrying people and held onto a dirty pole. I looked around and realized I was the only person on the bus that was not homeless, crazy, or both. Yet I was, like everyone else, non-white and carrying multiple bags.

The contents of my bags were as follows: my lunch, which I had prepared so I could eat at my desk and not spend money on an overpriced meal that I could not sit down to enjoy; my iPhone, which I needed so I could constantly check my e-mail and texts to coordinate things with our driver, answer various questions about seam allowances or pattern pieces, and see what nonsense was going on at our new trendy office space; my notebook, which gave me security even though I never actually had time to write in it; my headphones, which I normally used to block out the non-stop jack-hammering around the city that  started outside my front door at 7 a.m. and continued throughout my sew shop visits; then there were the samples: pants, jackets, whatever I needed to get looked at or dropped off...buttons, zippers, thread swatches, fabric, and other odd ball things that most people don’t think twice about because they are already wearing the final garment. I felt like a turtle that was going insane. I had all the makings of shelter and sustainment for no apparent reason.

I am only 26 years old. I have never been to war. I have a college degree. I’ve lived abroad. I speak more than one language. I live in the most beautiful city in America. What is going on?

I got off at the next stop because I kept teetering between one person that may or may not have pooped his pants and another person who probably had pooped his pants in the last 24 hours. I couldn’t breath. Now on foot, I started crying. Lukewarm tears streamed down my face, as if they had been sitting behind my tear ducts for weeks, already lost their luster. I thought my sunglasses concealed this until I turned my head to the left to see another crazy, homeless person with many bags ask, very sincerely, if I was ok. I said no, and kept walking.

I soon made it. The loading dock was empty, which made the concrete slope colder and more sterile than normal. One time I almost stepped on a dead rat. It was more intriguing than disgusting. I was mostly interested in how it had died because its carcass was kind of poked and then smeared, with blood drops extending about a foot out. It wasn’t there the next day. This day though, the floor was clear, save some dust bunnies as normal, and I walked up the four flights of stairs to my destination, stopping for a moment to ponder my favorite graffiti: ‘are we all truely inspired ?! JESUS IS a little chinese lady’, which had appeared in various stages over many months in multiple handwritings.

Silence, until I opened the unmarked door to a massive floor of sound. Siss burr clack clack sputter spurrrrr clop whirrrrr fai dee! The white noise of the shop blocked out all other thoughts. The floor was big and filled with random things, some was functional like the long cutting tables and working sewing machines, and some was just waste, like the clear plastic bags filled with trash piled from floor to ceiling and the broken unidentified machines wheeled into forgotten corners. I found some comfort in the familiarity of space; the placement of physical objects...half of them in constant movement, half of them stagnant. I go there nearly everyday. It’s nice to be around so many people that are not speaking English; so many foreign dialects that I will never be able to distinguish. I watched the women sewing pieces of things that I may have helped design. On a certain level, it all looked the same. I chatted them up a bit, all smiles because the reason I put myself through the chaos is so that I could be a part of something that provides work to a predominately female, Chinese population in San Francisco, instead of sending the work overseas. I value local production. I am part of that trend that gets a lot of press, but that is really a minority.

I am a minority. I don’t have a 401k, but I lie about it when I am asked if I have one by older people, who look at me like I am stupid, but also gush when I say I work at a start-up. I consider renting out my room as a viable source of income. Someone that works at Google, a man that studied computer science and will have lots of gorgeous, talented women to date in this city, would probably pay thousands of dollars a month for it. And feel lucky. He wouldn’t mind the street noise because he’d probably be out all day and night anyway.

The second trigger happened after I got home from German class. I was on the phone with my mom, who said she’d just spend four hours selling root beer floats and maybe made six dollars. It was some kind of fundraiser for my younger sister’s cheerleading competition. I asked to speak to my dad instead, because I didn’t want to be further disillusioned by the suburban reality of selling root beer floats as a viable source of income. I felt sick, but I started craving a root beer float anyway and wondered how much it would cost to order one online. People actually do that, here anyway.

The more I tried to justify to my dad the reasons why I needed to quit my job and move back home, the more confused I got. I started feeling spoiled, like a teenager that got everything but still wanted more. I realized I hadn’t lived in my hometown for ten years. I felt like I was giving up, but I also knew I was just growing up and re-prioritizing. I used to dread going home, but now I look forward to it and I dread coming back. I used to cringe at the thought of getting married and having a family, but now I actually wonder why I would do anything else. I blurted out loud, to my father — who has only ever wanted me to succeed and be self sufficient — that I fear I am the person that needs other people, that I need to go back (to school? somewhere!) because I can’t do anything else.

But I don’t have a normal job. And I have lots of people. And you can’t go back.

When I first moved to San Francisco, after leaving some club, I shared a cab with a random guy because there were very few and I just wanted to go home. He asked me if I wanted to play the "What Start-Up Do You Work For?" game. I couldn’t believe he was serious; I couldn’t believe that when I played, I won. My start-up had been written up in the Times on multiple occasions. I can’t even remember what his was.

Stephanie Echeveste is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in San Francisco. You can find her website here. She tumbls here and twitters here. She last wrote in these pages about I'm So Excited.

"This Is The Last Time" - The National (mp3)

"Graceless" - The National (mp3)



In Which We Will Meet Someone Else

Men Like Him


Dating in San Francisco is weird.

He said after he sipped his second sazerac, that I paid for, on our first date.

I replied, agreeing without really knowing why. Wondering how many other girls, or boys, or in-between unidentifieds he had dated before me. How many he would date after me.

We first met at a bar. It was during baseball season and we were winning and everyone was excited. He claimed I was eyeing him and I never corrected his assumption because I wasn’t actually eyeing him. I was eyeing this other guy standing near him, probably a friend of his, and debating whether or not this Javier Bardem look-a-like was gay. I then asked all my co-worker friends whether or not they thought he was gay. No one knew. No one really cared because from afar you can speculate, fantasize and then move on. No harm, no foul, no expectations, no disappointment. That is dating in San Francisco. Before I knew it I was no longer drunkenly speaking German to my boss, but instead to this other Chris, who had been lingering near Bardem but was now sitting next to me. And who also, I thought, could possibly be gay.

Years ago I’d fallen in love with an East German man when visiting Berlin, or maybe it happened over a period of months and subsequent visits, or it could have even happened years after that initial contact when I returned, yet again, and everything about us and how we are together came back. Rushed back like a flood. I slept in his bed, like I always had. He was now with someone else. We had both been with many other people. Yet, that first night back, I told him I thought I was in love with him. He didn’t really know what to do, given the circumstances, and I didn’t really know if I was actually in love with him anymore, or just remembered what I thought could have been love. I realized while I did love him as a person, I mostly loved everything about the way we were or could have been. The surreal times we spent together and the promise of more to come was what I was in love with: the untainted possibility of a future. The miscommunication and misplacement, due to our different native languages and cultures, that allowed everything in between to swell up into future perfects, instead of present or past mistakes.

This is how I first came to find I was even interested in the German language. So there I was years later, in San Francisco at this bar exchanging my number with Chris because he was a native German speaker and I thought we could have an intercambio (this is what I did to practice Spanish). I wasn’t interested in anything else. I was flattered he was clearly interested in me, but I was more excited about practicing my German skills with someone.

Later that evening my friend and I went to a burrito joint nearby and fate would have it that this Chris sat down next to us, with a woman. I had heard them speaking German, so when the woman sat next to me I introduced myself with the best of my ability, from my one semester of language class, and then stopped when I ran out of things I knew how to say. He tried to converse with my friend and I, but I, thinking he was on a date, acted uninterested. I was in fact terribly confused as I could not comprehend how this man could have asked for my number thirty minutes ago and now be sitting with someone else. I was disappointed as I decided he was never actually interested in me, then further annoyed at myself for thinking he would be interested in me, then mad at myself for questioning my ability to get asked out, then depressed that I have an ego that fluctuates so much. I realized that I may have convinced myself I didn’t care, but maybe I did, in fact, care and, disgusted at my inability to know my own feelings, I tried to eat my burrito in silence. We all went home and I ignored his text message because I still didn’t know how I felt, much less had the energy to decipher what he could possibly want.  

Later that weekend or week, I don’t remember, I ran into him again at the same bar where we had first met. He wondered why I didn’t answer him. I told him I did, because at some point between my crisis and our run in I think I did answer him. This is how we went out on our first date.

After our date, he walked me home and carried my bike up my stairs. I thought, wow, I actually like this person. I actually like a person. I liked how he told me I didn’t have to qualify that I might someday want kids, even as I continued to qualify it. He asked if I read, then apologized for asking such a stupid question when he realized of course I read. He intrigued me with his conversation and slight accent and admission to having been sick as a child. I felt like I knew enough about him to know that I’d want to see him again and be excited about him. That hope, thought, made me assume something would be off so I figured he would probably be a bad kisser. I almost hoped for it because that way we could be friends and no one would get hurt. My heart floated for a second and then dropped when, after our first kiss, I realized how much I enjoyed it and immediately thought shit, we are going to see each other again. On his way out I asked him if he was seeing anyone else and said if he was I didn’t want to see him again. He wasn’t, so we saw a lot of each other for a while. 

The first night sleeping at his place I dreamt that my best friend told me "Chris can never love you the way the way you need to be loved." I did not tell Chris about this dream. I may have told him all the other parts of the dream but I left out that one important part. I pretended I did not have that part of the dream and only shared it with the friend who had spoken the foreshadowing words. My friend told me that we dream to work out our worst fears. I tried to believe this, but I felt something creeping up inside me and I hoped it wasn’t my intuition. I kept going in this thing that Chris and I had talked about was mutual and exclusive and called dating. We were not boyfriend and girlfriend. This confused me but I didn’t say anything because I didn’t know my dream was correct at the time.

So fast forward through quite possibly one of the better dating experiences I’ve had as of late. He was consistent, punctual, sent sweet and frequent text messages, planned dates, paid for things enough times to make me feel like he was paying, but not enough to make me think we weren’t equal, did things with me that I enjoyed doing. He was not passionate. He did not talk about his feelings. He never told me I was special or beautiful or even that he liked me, simply and purely. Once I brought this up, the fact that he didn’t think I was unique, and he stared at me like a deer in headlights. He either had no idea what I was talking about, never has felt that way about anyone, or simply thought I was ridiculous for thinking he would feel that way about me. The fact that I thought this was what I wanted, that this was enough, is beyond me. I think I just thought this is what comes along with consistency, punctuality, planned dates, etc. I thought this is dating in San Francisco: you think it is too good to be true and then you realize it is, but you like everything else so you keep doing it.

Until he stopped me one night and said he didn’t know what to do with me. I was shocked he would speak about me like that - how his phrasing assumed so much agency on his behalf and none on mine; his utter selfishness in the situation. As if I were a dog that he was starting to love but then, when he got a great job offer in some other place and couldn’t bring me along, then he thought I don’t know what to do with you, dog. I was offended and scared, because I knew it was the beginning of the end of me being with someone I was quite possibly starting to love. Someone I would fantasize about and in my head, and, yes, make up dream possibilities of a future. A future I would always qualify by saying if it isn’t Chris it will be someone else like Chris. Dating Chris made me hopeful of dating someone else better than Chris, but the thought of not dating Chris, well that I had not had to deal with so I was simply happy in future Chris’ but never really contemplated the reality of having to end it with the current Chris in order to be with the future possibilities of other men like him, other men like him but better.

So when he said he didn’t know what he wanted, that he didn’t know what he wanted in a lot of things, I knew it was done, over. I knew I didn’t want to be with someone who didn’t know he wanted me, someone who didn’t know what he wanted in a lot of things, despite the fact that he had a great life with a great potential and a great mind and the possibility of a great girlfriend lying next to him (me). I knew that he either was simply not in love with me, or did not have the capacity for love, or was confused beyond return and that I was probably not going to be the girl to change that. I knew I could not wait around for this man who did not think I was special.

This is what I hear my straight, female friends talk about when we talk about dating in San Francisco. We are attractive and open and successful; creative and funny and smart; we know what we want and yet have not found men that simply know what they want. Or maybe we just think we know what we want and haven’t yet realized that we don’t actually know what we want. I know that I think I know and that I’ll know when I know, but I also know that knowing is what drives men that haven’t thought about what there is to know, away. My friends all tell me I will meet someone else, someone better for me, or they tell me I will meet lots of people all over the world, because I always meet people. But the very notion of lots of possible people is overwhelming. The very idea that there will be many more to come is exhausting. I would rather just fantasize about the future perfect that is not yet crossed and tainted then live through the grueling reality of dating, in San Francisco or anywhere. Because that’s what dating is no matter where you are - it is learning about what you want or think you want and in the end really just learning about yourself and all the things you still have not figured out or faced or simply accepted. 

Stephanie Echeveste is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in San Francisco. You can find her website here. She tumbls here and twitters here.

Photographs by the author.

"How Never (Original Mix)" - David Jach, Beatamines (mp3)


In Which We Get Loud So He Knows It Is Serious

photo by carrie schneider

In Character


I wear headphones tightly around my head, letting Jefferson Airplane explode, blocking out everything in a calm coolness, just to keep them from happening. Revelations can be scary and life-changing. Or they can be subtle and intriguing. Sometimes they are both.

I didn't change my seat; it just happened that he was sitting there to my right. Looking at me. Staring at me. Not in an earnest or creepy way, just looking intently at my face, at my features. I must have smiled because he suddenly started talking.

"Do you speak Spanish?" he said. I nodded, confused by the question but not worried enough to get up and move to the other side of the train car. I do speak Spanish, barely, so at first I just answered him in Spanish, but then he kept talking to me and I was too tired to listen and respond correctly. Instead I tried to locate my stop, held my purse and luggage tight as if to prove my security, but then quickly felt guilty in my solitude. He knows I am alone, I thought. He can tell by the way I am clenching my hands around the various straps, by the way I am staring straight ahead and trying to blend in, the way I am sitting on the edge of this subway seat without anyone else by my side.

"Where are you from?" he asked and I, having turned back to face straight ahead after I inadvertently smiled in his direction, turned to my right, then made a slight twist even further and asked "I'm sorry?" pointing my good ear, the left one, towards his mouth to better hear his voice. I don't know why I made the effort.

"Where are you from?" he repeated patiently, still staring intently, gently, at me. I thought about lying, but what difference did it make, I was leaving anyhow.

"San Francisco," I muttered, in a forced Spanish accent, suddenly conscious of his insistent gaze and, more embarrassingly, that my answer, judging by his facial expression, was incorrect, not the one he was looking for. I get this all the time. Most men I meet think I’m more exotic, more foreign, more interesting than I think I really am. And when – if– the men I fall in love with realize that I am actually that interesting, they get scared and run away.

My dental hygienist once told me my name wasn’t exotic enough for me. I asked him what kind of name would be exotic enough and he said Esmeralda. I thought about the Disney film featuring Esmeralda and felt unsettled. She is the one that I look most like, with her olive skin and her dark voluminous hair, her big bright eyes and her small stature. Her gypsy-ness. Is that what I am to people? They look at me and the only thing they can pull from popular media is a Disney character?

I am exotic-looking in that I am not white, nor am I easily identifiable. Every time I am on public transportation people ask me the ‘where are you from’ question. They don’t ask me because they want to know; they ask me because they want to confirm what they already think they know.

I am often claimed to be Indian, Brazilian, Persian, Middle Eastern, Columbian, or Italian. People have gotten angry at me for not submitting to their assumptions, saying things like “You are, you are from there! You have to be!”. They think they know where I came from, they think they’ve got my look all figured out.

He chuckled, and then said, through a big grin, "No, I mean where are you from?" He emphasized the word with a slight nod of his head as he said it.

"San Francisco," I said, with a bit more strength, clear American accent this time, trying to prevent the inevitable. He just looked deep into my eyes until he pulled out what he wanted to hear. Like a dirty little secret he already knew.

"Oh," I submitted, in an effort to end the exchange as quickly and painlessly as possible, "you mean, where are my ancestors from?" I supplied an easy path for a truthful response.

"Yes," he nodded, like a knowing sage, like a man who usually gets what he wants.

I paused for dramatic effect. "Mexico." This feels like a lie. I have only been to Mexico on vacation and service trips. I have no family there and don’t even know the areas of my ancestors.

photo by carrie schneider

The first time I went to Mexico was on vacation with a friend’s family of Mormons. I was one of many kids, but I was the only one whose passport the border patrol checked closely, both ways. The second time I went to Mexico, to a small island off of Cancun to clean the beaches and paint brightly colored murals at local schools, there were little girls constantly swarming around me. Braiding my hair, asking about my bathing suits and my lip gloss. I asked an advisor why they followed me around and he said clearly, “You are like their Barbie. You look like them, but you’re American. You have everything they want, but will never have: opportunity.”

I resumed looking at the tiny red dots, glowing brightly before they disappeared, swift and smooth, like our train car through the very places spelled out above each flare. Subways are like little spaceships, I thought, little tin cars riding through the galaxy. When will this end?

He didn't understand that I had ended the conversation, and instead asked me if I was married. I turned to him and said without expression, "No."

My stop was next and I impatiently sat, tensing up in anticipation of my escape. He asked for my phone number and I refused.

"Why?" he questioned, innocently.

"Because I live in San Francisco," was my lame response.

"So what," he said, "I'll call you, in San Fran, why not?"

I could not think of a good reason why not, so I just sat still and looked straight ahead, trying to force the red light to black out with my intense stare, more theatrically than faithfully. I thought about all the men that have asked me for my number. There have been many. Some have actually called. The ones I’ve dated are the ones I had to call first. Maybe this is a sign.

He asked me for a pen, so he could give me his number, and I said I didn't have one, even though I knew that I did. I always carry a pen in my purse, maybe subconsciously because I sometimes need it to write down the phone numbers of guys I meet who don’t insist on giving me their numbers.

I remember interning in college for an amazing woman who once told me that you should never propose to a man. She had proposed to her first husband; it did not end well. Only now do I fully understand what she meant. Don’t be the man in a relationship. Real men just cannot take it.

"I'm just a nice Jewish guy," he said and I figured he probably was. He asked me for my name and I lied. Generally, when lying about my name, I call myself Samantha. I use this name because it starts with the same letter as my real name and is approximately the same length; it is equally bland and doesn’t give anything away. It is also the same name as my favorite American Girl doll, whose books I read religiously. Though as a girl I was only given Josefina, the Hispanic one.

Of course, when I got off, he got off, I convinced myself that this must also be his stop, but I knew he was probably just following me. Despite my weak rebuff, he proceeded to carry my luggage down the four flights of stairs we had to take to get on the A, the only way I knew how to get to JFK. He was inescapable. He stopped on the platform when I stopped. I tried to believe that he must be going the same direction, to the airport, sans luggage.

And for a minute, or a fleeting moment rather, I thought about what would it be like to be married to this man. To softly kiss his yearning lips and rub his balding head. To have his children and come home to his embrace. It probably would feel the same as marrying any other man, give or take. Belonging to someone, being the wife of someone, being an adjunct member of a sanctioned ritual.

Out of habit, I pulled out my blackberry to check the time. His face lit up and he started to give me his number. I said, “Oh no no no.” Again he asked why not and I finally said what I should have said all along. "Because I don't want to talk to you."

I said it with a newfound confidence, loud enough for him to know I was serious and for people to turn and stare. His face melted of quick yet poignant contortions - first disappointment, then sadness, then anger. I just watched, standing my ground. I felt how I always do when I reject men, powerful and surprised at my power. Powerful because it is up to me to decide who I talk to and who I ignore, who I let into my life and who I tell to leave me alone. Not remorseful in the slightest, even if my declaration was long in coming. Even after I'd been handled, sought after, followed, fucked. Then, as quickly as it had begun, he disappeared into the crowded platform of strangers and I was left alone.

Stephanie Echeveste is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in San Francisco. This is her first appearance in these pages. She tumbls here and twitters here.  

Photos by Carrie Schneider. You can find her website here.

photo of the author by jason van horn