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Entries in stephanie echeveste (4)

Friday
May102013

In Which We Used To Dread Going Home

The Breakdown

by STEPHANIE ECHEVESTE

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)

 

Thursday
May022013

In Which We Avoid Almost All Pain

Anticipation

by STEPHANIE ECHEVESTE

I'm So Excited
dir. Pedro Almodóvar
89 minutes

I got high at the dentist. They offered me laughing gas for $50 and I took it. Laying nearly parallel with the floor, a view of the embarcadero and bay bridge at my feet, I enjoyed an hour of bliss while they drilled away at my teeth to prevent future decay. After a few short and sharp pricks I avoided all pain and took in the narcotics through deep yoga breaths - in through the nose, out through the mouth. It wasn’t until later that I felt sore. My jaw ached and I couldn’t eat anything.

This is kind of what it was like to watch Almodóvar’s latest, I’m So Excited. It begins with opening credits done in a nostalgic-retro graphic design - slightly muted blue, purple, and orange texts with chunky graphics appear on the screen like paper cut outs while a Cumbia version Für Elise, by Los Destellos, plays in the background.

We first see León (Antonio Banderas) in Peninsula Flight crew attire bumbling and quickly abandoning the airplane’s landing gear when Jessica (Penélope Cruz) abruptly stops her golf cart spilling luggage all over Operario 2 (Coté Soler). Jessica is pregnant and in their excitement they all forget the landing gear.

Onboard Peninsula Flight 2549 where we meet the business class flight crew: Joserra (Javier Cámara) — the head crew member who is having an affair with the Pilot Alex (Antonio de la Torre), Fajas (Carlos Areces) — the fat, faithful one, and Ulloa (Raúl Arévalo) — the skinny, sassy one. They all have manicured facial hair and over-styled hairdos, obviously anal about their appearance, and each dressed in light blue uniforms with white and red trim on the pocket, sleeve, and collar, with thin black ties and black dress slacks. Fajas (Carlos Areces) and Ulloa (Raúl Arévalo) start moving their arms to indicate the typical flight instructions looking bored and emotionless, simply running through the motions, the opposite of flamboyant camp that they exhibit once they are under distress when they find out the plane has no way to safely land.

I’m So Excited is a silly depiction of soap opera characters forced to deal with their human flaws and failures because they are stuck in an airplane. The biggest failure is the technical one that keeps them circling Spain in search of an open ramp to land. The Air Crew tries to keep everyone calm by entertaining them with their own drama, by serving them Valencia cocktails drugged with mescaline, and by performing a melodramatic lip-synced version of The Pointer Sisters’ song "I’m So Excited" that nearly every passenger ignores. In the end everyone lands safely in a huge pond of foam. At one point nearly every main character has some big revelation about his or her life or sexuality.

The original Spanish title of I'm So Excited is Los Amantes Pasajeros, which has an appropriate double meaning since at one point every main character pretty much has sex. This is literally the climax, but it is so explicit it isn’t funny or interesting. The film is only bearable because I understand Spanish, and the extra layer of language kept me dazed and far from imminent disappointment until the film finished.

I laughed out loud many times, but mostly because I understood the Spanish and then I would read the English subtitles and understand why no one else was laughing. A lot of comedy is timing, and many of the jokes weren’t only lost in translation, but were too literal to be funny unless experienced at the right time in the right language. “¿Una llamada o una mamada?” is not funny in English, no matter how you translate it.

I’ve seen many Almodóvar films and the one main character (Spain!), which he has worked with over and over again is missing. There are only two sections that feature his native country. In one part, Ricardo Galán (Guillermo Toledo) calls from the plane to the ground presumably to tell his ex-lover, a suicidal artist Alba (Paz Vega), that he wants her back. The film follows the call to show us Alba (Paz Vega), who is somewhere in Spain, probably Madrid, wearing Galán’s clothes and about to jump off a bridge.

Alba answers the phone, but in a struggle to get safely back on the bridge she drops the phone and it falls into the bike basket of Galán’s penultimate lover Ruth (Blanca Suárez) who happens to be riding her bike under the same bridge at the same time. We watch Ruth watch Alba get taken off in an ambulance. Ruth then goes to gather Galán’s things from Alba’s apartment, which is covered floor to ceiling in frantic strokes of paint.

The second time we see Spain is right before the plane is about to land at the La Mancha airport. The camera panes the empty space showing us the most typical European airport. Both sections give extremely generic depictions, with no intricate details that register specifically as Spain, something Almodóvar’s set design normally does so well. If it wasn’t for a character tweeting ‘Me estoy desangrando vivo’ on an iPhone in the opening scene I would not have had any idea when the film was supposed to be set, either. This is shameful for any director, but especially for one that has built an entire career on being exquisitely temporal.

The costume design does help, but given that the majority of the film was set inside the business class cabin of an airplane, it simply was not enough. The one prop that did work in a strange way was the book Infante (José María Yazpik) was reading — Roberto Bolaño’s 2666. I have this book, in Spanish, on my nightstand, which made me think I was part of some inside joke. I would much rather be reading that book than watching the film, even it it has sex, drugs, beautiful women, and flamboyant gay men. Maybe this is what Almodóvar thinks people want. Maybe it is what he wants.

It’s a funny phenomenon when an auteur suddenly, or slowly, becomes just a regular film director. The thing that set his vision apart from our vision breaks down the closer the auteur gets to the mainstream. All commercial media must appeal to the masses, and all successful auteur’s eventually will be commercial filmmakers. I’m So Excited is simply an experiment in mainstream raunch comedy by a major player of La Movida. Maybe this is what Almodóvar has wanted to do all along but simply couldn’t be so blunt in the past. Yet it is precisely his explicit depiction that makes me totally uninterested. Sometimes tension is better than release.

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.

"Studio Audience" - Beacon (mp3)

"Late November" - Beacon (mp3)

 

Friday
Mar222013

In Which We Will Meet Someone Else

Men Like Him

by STEPHANIE ECHEVESTE

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)