Life is a box. We live in one, we work in one, we drive in one, we stare at one, we type on one, we ship boxes in boxes to other destination boxes.
I’ve been contemplating all of the boxes I’ve lived in since I embarked on my adult journey from San Diego to San Francisco in 1980. I moved north and never looked back. My Mom followed me here after a horrible stint in Las Vegas leaving her lifeless. I beckoned her to come to the Bay.
I think I’ve moved more times and lived in more places than military personnel. I have staked my claim to a box all over the Bay Area, everywhere but across the Golden Gate Bridge to the north. I’ve lived in Berkeley, Oakland, Albany, El Cerrito, San Francisco, and San Jose (and yes, “I know the way”, Burt Bacharach.)
I’m almost 52 and have lived here since I was 17.5. This has been my home, my haven, and my hell depending on the decade and the moment. As I am about to embark on yet another move in San Francisco, I think that it’s time to reflect on the boxes I’ve been in. Tonight, after a quick jump across the Bay on BART to Berkeley to dine with some friends in the well-heeled Comal, along with a jaunt through Half-Priced Books after (because I simply cannot pass by a cool bookstore without going in and buying something), and a return trip to SF with 8 varnished and ready-to-frame, 12″ x 16″ art prints of Audrey Hepburn pinched between my fingers along with the original motion picture soundtrack of Love Story with Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw pictured on the front with one of the world’s worst and ill-thought, unreal platitudes gracing the cover “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” – OY; I stop in at a Mission liquor store to pick up some Bulleit Rye because I know the night is far from over for me. I’m going to sit in my box, type for a bit, and make some life decisions. I’m exchanging one box for another in less than 30 days and I’m ecstatic while at the same time reflective.
OK, so it’s the summer of 1980 and my Mom drives up with me from San Diego to Berkeley where she intends to see me off to college. We pull up outside of the dormitory that I’ve been assigned to on Durant St after an exhausting 9-hours on the road. A bedraggled man walks right up to my Mom’s open window: “Hey lady, you got a sandwich?” She looks at me and then flips her head in a 180 back to the dude: “No. I don’t. What kind of question is that?” It wasn’t the welcome committee she had hoped for her daughter’s leap from the safety of home.
Jump ahead 30-years to when Mom was first placed in a Skilled Nursing Facility in Oakland near my apartment, where she had to be tied to oxygen 24/7, which is why they wouldn’t let me bring her to my apt/box to die in peace with her daughter. The first day there, we were getting her all settled in the little shared room when we heard “La Llorona” calling out in the hallway. (I nicknamed the Latina woman in a PVC pipe makeshift walkabout that enabled her to scoot from room-to-room this name because she was a quite active member of the SNF.) She was yelling out something in Spanish when she made way into Mom’s room not 30-minutes after our arrival. “Por favor. Quiero carne. Tienes carne para mi?” My Mom looked at me exactly as she had 30 years prior in our car in Berkeley asking: “What did she say?” To which I responded translating for Mom: “She would like to know if we have any meat.” Mom’s eyes widened and asked, “Honey, have you brought me to ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’?” Mom and I loved movies and always had fun making movie puns whenever we could and tried to out-do each other. We both laughed so hard and I tried to eeek out a response to La Llorona who wasn’t in on the joke and I didn’t want her to feel bad that the two new blancas were laughing at her. So, I told her. “No, amiga. No tenemos carne aqui. Pero talvez la gente en el proxima cuarto lo tienen.” I pulled together my best Spanish from high school and college and she waved her hand in thanks and scooted out. My Mom said, “What did you just tell her, honey?” To which I responded, “I told her that we don’t have any meat here but maybe the people in the room next door have some.” My Mom cackled out a laugh, choking and laughing and we both cried with laughter for at least 15 more minutes.
Mom and I moved a few times in my childhood/adolescence. We went from LA (age 4 – 8) to Anaheim (age 8 – 11) to San Diego (12 – 17). We lived in two places in San Diego each behind the school I was attending to make it easy for me to “commute”. In Junior High, I lived across the street from the school, and when I started high school, Mom found an apartment right behind the high school. It was in San Diego that I found myself in a new found sense of myself. I was the new-kid-in-town but somehow decided that I had enough nerve to run for class president. I hadn’t even attended elementary school with any of these kids. I just jumped in and did it. My Mom and brother sat up with me one night painting posters “All the Way with Dana J”. I even had a motto. I never realized the connotation back then as it would be seen as it was later in life post 7th and 8th grade – a truly BAD slogan. haha. So, I became class President and I won the 8th grade spelling bee. I got to go on to the San Diego county finals where I totally blew it on an easy word thereby causing the embarrassment of my math teacher who told everyone in geometry that I lost on the word “adjacent”. In those spelling bees, you cannot make one mistake and go back so I started with A-J even though I KNEW it was A-D-J…argh.
Those boxes that we lived in were true-to-form cheap SoCal style apartment buildings with a POOL! And, I met my best friend Wendy Steward whose family ALSO moved from the building across the street from the Jr High School to the building behind the High School…SCORE! My best pal moved with me and her parents were the bomb and the coolest family I’ve ever known who took Mom and I into their treasure chest of family love. We all became fast friends in our first arrival to San Diego in 1974. Those boxes were just the best and I now know this in my life reflection. Once the end of high school hit – I was heading north and off to another adventure. I didn’t know any one else in my school who was heading off to Cal Berkeley, so it was to be another solo adventure where I met other lifelong pals and lived in dozens more boxes on that path.
The boxes, can I remember them all? There was the dorm on Durant which after two quarters turned into my first “room of two’s own” with my pal and soon-to-be first girlfriend, Christa, further up Durant Avenue just a couple of blocks. We moved into what would be my first apartment. I loved it because it was right around the corner from the cafe I worked at 20-hours-a-week, and right up the street from my other part-time, 20-hour-a-week job at Yogurt Park. I was taking classes full-time at Cal and working two part-time jobs which totaled one full-time job because Mom and I were not wealthy…not even close. Mom was proud and always worked, but nothing paid too well, so I was going to college on grants, scholarships, and working full-time. NO big deal as I made it work and it was that 17-18-19-year old work ethic ingrained in me then, that has made me the work-a-holic I am today. Shoot, I worked 20-hours-a-week all through my second half of high school too. When you’re a worker bee, you work because you dig it, and you work because you want the money it takes to buy things and have a better life. Some people can sit around and watch TV all day. Me? No way. I like to work and meet people and earn money.
This brings me to another thought I’ll have to blog about: the WORK BOXES. We all have had plenty of boxes we’ve worked in. I’ll have to focus on those in another chapter.
Some memories of the boxes: Berkeley – on Durant, then over to Dana Street where I had the only cool address ever: Dana Jacobsen on Dana Street near Parker Street. LOVED THAT. It’s also the box I lived in where my very best friend that I’ve ever had and still have to this day lived very close by and and it was the first house I lived in on my own as an adult (i.e. not an apartment).
OK, I’m tired. I’ve lived in too many boxes. There is so much more to tell. I will do so in another chapter/epidose ha! episode. And if this is all just too indulgent, please comment and let me know. You can say: “Enough about you already! Get back to your political thoughts about all of us!” I’ll oblige.