Saturday, December 29, 2007
This is the MUNI station that I arrive at. It's the M-line at SFSU. I do like the roof on it, kind of dragon-esque.
Across the street is the Health Education Department, right there in HHS. (Don't ask me what HHS means). So that's home base, but my classes aren't held in that building. This fall, the class was in "Science" (Don't ask me why it's called that). This Spring, it's in "Buisness". I love these building names, they are clear, direct, and utterly misleading.
Carl's Jr. is where I do most of my grading.
For some reason, the height of the counter is just perfect, and I can put in up to three hours at a stretch without torquing my back beyond repair.
And according to Zagat, they have the best fast food burger. I concur.
I get to see a lot of interesting stuff there.
One of my favorite overheard quotes was "Yeah, I was clean and sober once. One day I took a shower before my first drink."
Monday, December 24, 2007
When I went back to Providence around Thanksgiving, I lost the beautiful camera that David & Tim gave me for my trip over.
It took me a long time to get over that loss, but I finally went out and got a new camera that's similar, but not nearly as nice.
In the meantime, you can see how much my avocado trees have grown. They're now maybe 20cm or so, with full leaves!
My next gardening project is to try rooting eucalyptus trees of various sorts from clippings I grab while walking Tuna.
The rosemary bush is about the same as it was, about a meter high & wide.
A strange thing has happened since I moved here, though.
When I first arrived, everything smelled vibrant and alive, even though it was in the middle of the dry season. When I bought the rosemary plant, the strength of the beautiful smell it gave off was almost overwhelming.
For some reason, either I've gotten so used to the smells of the city that I don't even notice them, or the level of air pollution has so corrupted my olfactory sense that I just can't smell anything unless it is very strong.
The only exceptions are when I pass near eucalyptus trees, which still smell wonderful, just much less vibrantly. And also cigarettes and especially pot are very irritating. The stench of pot is so overwhelming and nasty as you walk by certain houses that I've learned to gulp a breath of fresh air before passing them.
Here's an obligatory shot of the tree at city hall, right around the corner.
It's pretty, eh?
Minor Health Scare
I debated whether or not to discuss this, because it feels a little too personal, but here goes. After I got back from Providence in November, I started getting itchy "down there". I tried washing thoroughly, which made it burn. As the days & weeks went by, it just got redder and more painful, but not itchy anymore because of the cleaning. One morning as I was soaking in the tub, I took a closer look, and I could swear I saw three pimple-like things on the base of the head of my penis, and I thought. "Great, I've got HPV."
So, I called my doctor to have it looked at, and got an "urgent" visit ten days hence. At least it was faster than my initial "urgent" visit when I first got here, which was about a month away.
At any rate, I started washing with a milder soap (thank you Dr. Bronner for your lovely almond soap), which seemed to help somewhat.
When I finally made it in to see the doctor, he took one look, barely even that, and pronounced that I in fact had a yeast infection. Yes, boys. A yeast infection. It's possible. With all the three letter acronyms and 19th century sounding afflictions out there, I had worked myself into quite a froth, and was naturally relieved.
He prescribed a cream, but my co-pay was over $35 for the stuff, so I just bought an over the counter remedy for $11. It's working, but slowly. I'm a patient guy, so I don't mind.
I think the reason my mind jumped so readily to HPV is that I've had HPV on my brain for a while now.
A vaccine for HPV is now available (I haven't seen the TV ads yet, but apparently they are inescapable for people who have a television), and I was hoping against hope that the same huge mistakes that they made rolling out the hepatitis B vaccine wouldn't be repeated.
Unfortunately, they've gone even farther away from an effective vaccination strategy, which infuriates me. Still, I thought my doctor, in a practice predominantly consisting of HIV patients, would be more understanding.
Alas, no. He told me in no uncertain terms that he would not give me the vaccine.
I said I understood that my insurance company wouldn't cover it, but that I would pay for it.
He said that he still wouldn't recommend it, because I'm not a girl under the age of 20. And that even if I did want him to give it to me (which I still did), the best he could do would be to give me a prescription (because they don't have the vaccine in the office), which I could then fill at one of three pharmacies in the city that carry the vaccine, bring it back to him, take another day off work, and pay another co-pay so that he could inject it into me. Why does it have to be so damn difficult?
The HBV vaccine story
Maybe I should back up.
In the late 1970's gay men volunteered to take part in studies of a new vaccine against hepatitis B virus. It took the better part of a decade to get the studies in full swing, because the medical establishment refused to believe that gay men would be reliable enough to do such a study in. Anyway, flash forward to dramatic evidence that the vaccine worked, and worked really well.
Now, you'd think that making the vaccine available for gay men and injecting drug users, among who the rates of infection were highest would be a priority.
The opposite occurred. Once the utility of gay men as test subjects was no longer required, they were virtually ignored. It became almost impossible for a gay man to get the hepatitis vaccine, even among those who were aware that they should get it. The myth of unreliability was one obstacle - doctors were reluctant to give the vaccine to someone who couldn't show up exactly 28 days later and 5 months to the day after that. Insurance was an obstacle - insurance companies refused to pay for the vaccine. When they did pay, they demanded documentation of an individual's "high risk" profile. Most health care providers didn't know that this was an option, or how to provide the documentation, for that matter. Many gay men weren't comfortable having their "high risk" documentation become a permanent marker in their insurance and medical files either. And, then the demand was low, so very few offices even carried the vaccine in stock, requiring elaborate planning to be done in those few cases where the vaccine was to be administered in a doctor's office.
The one place that it was relatively easy to get the vaccine was in a hospital. The one population that had a relatively easy time getting it was health care workers, in order to protect them from the hordes of gay men and injection drug users who threatened them on a daily basis with the potential for infection. But even gay men and injecting drug users who were lucky(?) enough to be hospital patients had a hard time getting the vaccine in hospitals, even though they had the vaccine in stock, because hospitals generally deal with serious and urgent issues, not repeat visits for vaccinations, which from their perspective should be the purview of community clinics.
The next group that started getting access to hepatitis B vaccines, nearly 15 years after they first became available was children and infants. The model for this was the vaccines against childhood illnesses that are routinely administered during infancy (even though hepatitis B is rarely a childhood disease). Finally, a broad population strategy for vaccinations against hepatitis B began, under the presumption that these infants would be coming back anyway for other vaccines and periodic examinations, so that the vaccine would be in sufficient demand for it to be stocked and available. But the population over 18 was still left out to dry.
Even adults with HIV were (and still are) unlikely to be protected against HBV. What's the sense in that?
Recently, gay men's health organizations have tried to increase vaccinations among gay men by 1) increasing demand by informing gay men of their need to get protected (a strategy that is very limited if we have nowhere to go to get the vaccine affordably), and 2) to increase accessibility of vaccines in venues that gay men are at, such as HIV clinics, and sex establishments (like AIDS Project RI's bathhouse vaccination project).
Efforts to get hepatitis vaccines into injection drug users are woefully inadequate, despite frequent contact with health care providers and opportunities to distribute vaccine at needle exchange venues or even in incarceration settings.
Still, the most successful potential strategy, of just lifting the insurance restriction on documenting "high risk" status, seems to have escaped serious consideration by anyone at this point.
OK, so that's a brief history of HBV vaccines.
What's wrong with the HPV strategy?
So, what's even worse about the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine strategy is that not only are adults left out of the potential pool of people to be protected, but so are boys of any age.
There is a big controversy over the vaccine, which is portrayed as a battle between common sense and the religious right. The main complaint of the religious right groups is that vaccinating young girls implies that one is preparing for them to become sexually active (I'm still having trouble with why that's a problem, but anyway...).
Nowhere in the debate are the issues that seem more important to me. Where are these girls getting HPV? If one followed the logic of the vaccination strategy of only vaccinating girls aged 9 to 13, you would think that HPV is predominantly spread through girl-on-girl action at sleepovers. Although I don't want to imply that this is inconsequential, it is obvious that the vast majority of girls with HPV get it from boys, and often older boys at that.
From a traditional public health perspective, the goal of a vaccination strategy is to achieve "herd immunity" a state in which such a large proportion of the population (say 80% or so) is immune, so that even when the virus gets introduced, it is so inefficiently spread that there is virtually no chance of a widespread outbreak, even among the people who aren't yet immune.
The HPV vaccination strategy has as it's goal making (at best) half the population immune, and not the half that is the primary source of infection, so it is doomed to fail from the get-go.
As a man who is at risk of getting HPV from other men, and who is at risk of giving it to other men, there are no options for me in this strategy.
My question is why didn't we learn from the spectacular failures of the HBV vaccination strategy? To some degree these failures are becoming less relevant with the march of time, as men who are dying from liver cancer and other impacts of HBV are slowly being replaced with a younger immune population. But that's such a defeatist perspective! Are not the lives of older gay men worth protecting?
How many decades of mushing around with the HPV vaccine will it take before we get a comprehensive and effective vaccination strategy?
Vaccination Policy Risks Making an Effective HIV Vaccine Impotent ...
Now here's the real kicker. The HIV vaccine, when we get finally get it, will be more expensive, and require more booster shots than any vaccine in history. My fear is that the failed vaccine policies of the past will be multiplied in magnitude when it comes time to actually deliver the HIV vaccine.
Money is pouring into HIV vaccine research (as well it should). Some great research has been done on whether gay men would tolerate three, six, ten, twenty shots, whether they think it would have a high priority in their lives, etc. But these aren't the great obstacles to getting a vaccine out into the population.
The real obstacles are:
1) ensuring that the vaccine is not recommended to select "at-risk" population(s).
2) ensuring that insurance coverage does not require documentation of risk status to cover payment of the vaccine.
We have a great opportunity to address these issues now, before the waters get muddied with the specifics of the vaccine when it becomes available.
If the vaccine is targeted to select groups, then availability of the vaccine will be limited to hospitals and a handful of clinics that have sufficient demand. Those are not the venues that most of the "at risk" populations go. Even when they do, they rarely say "Hey, I'm a big walking risk factor. Why don't you give me a vaccine?". But without that kind of self-deprecating self-advocacy, they won't get the vaccine, even in those settings where it is available.
So, please do us a favor, and stop targeting us. It doesn't work.
For a concrete example of how lifting the targeting of high risk populations has succeeded, look at my diatribe about HIV testing below.
Monday, November 12, 2007
The early reports were that a hundred some-odd gallons of fuel oil spilled out. Later, they revealed that about 58,000 gallons came out.
Apparently fuel oil is especially bad for wildlife, because unlike crude oil, it doesn't sink, and unlike diesel, it doesn't evaporate.
On Saturday, Tuna and I walked down to a part of the San Francisco shore that was "protected" by a barrier from the spill. These photos show you just how effective that protection was.
On a happier note, I'm going back to Rhode Island on Tuesday (arriving Wednesday morning), and trying to prepare myself for a little reverse culture shock, now that I've almost gotten acclimated to San Francisco.
Looking forward to catching up with friends (dinner on Saturday, OK everyone?), and getting some more work on my house done. It won't be ready to rent yet, but I'll be able to push it along a little.
Here's a more pleasant picture of Tuna making more friends at the Alamo Square dog park.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
I'm sorry I haven't been keeping up to date.
Last night, my friend Jenny invited me to a puppet party.
Mr. Bill here went to a therapy session, where he discovered he had an attachment disorder...
On Halloween, I went out with Mark and four other zombies.
I had a lot of fun acting like I was hungry for fresh brains.
I was convincing enough with my dragging shuffle and vacant stare that a lot of people actually cringed away in fear. The thing that surprised me though was how many guys wanted to hit on a zombie. Didn't see that coming!
October 27th there was a big "Bring Home the Troops" March that kicked off from City Hall. So Tuna and I went down to watch and lend a little support.
Paul and Sasha were kind enough to take Tuna and I to Crissy Field. We threw tennis balls in the ocean.
My "garden" is coming along nicely. You can see the various sages in the foreground, and the big rosemary bush on the back wall.
The avocado pits are really starting to take off now. There are little leaves forming!
Sunday, October 14, 2007
The training itself was a great opportunity to see old pals, and think about new work to collaborate on. I think I'm slowly building a reputation in the field. Of course, it would help a lot more if I would publish something, anything! It's all well and good to bring new ideas and perspectives to the field, but if nobody can read about it, it's not going to reach people.
Anyway, Susan Cochran presented a really neat overview of the field of health disparities affecting sexual minorities. I'm amazed at what she could accomplish in twenty minutes.
One thing that she pointed out that I'd like to follow up on is that a lot of the domestic violence research has concentrated on who experiences domestic violence, but not on the context in which it happens. So, even though sexual minorities tend to have high levels of having been beaten and assaulted in relationships, the simple fact is that the majority of that violence happens in heterosexual relationships. Susan summed it up beautifully "heterosexual relationships aren't good for homosexuals". So, where I'd like to take that further is to look at the broader social context that makes heterosexual relationships especially fraught with danger. I would imagine that these relationships are more likely to turn violent in areas where homophobia is an accepted cultural norm than in areas that are more liberated. This also ties into another analysis I've wanted to do for a while: my research showed that suicide rates were lower in areas where gay rights protections had been enacted, but really only for young white males in particular. I've long suspected that the homicide rates for women would be more affected by homophobia than suicide, particularly uxoricide, along the same reasoning that straight relationships are particularly dangerous for lesbians.
Another nice potential collaboration would be with Gary Gates, who has done work on the income gap between straight and gay men, using census information. He told me that when he looked at it in relation to whether states had gay rights protections, essentially all the gap (lower wages for gay men) happens in states without gay rights protections. (Makes sense). So we talked about a couple of ways to extend that analysis, using the measures I'd developed in my dissertation. I don't know much about the field of economics, but I do know about measuring normative heterosexuality, so it would be fun to branch out a bit, especially into an area with the potential to influence policy.
In order to catch my flight home, I would have had to leave about halfway through the meeting, but fortunately, my friend Daniel was also at the meeting, so he very kindly offered a bed for me to crash in, and I changed my flight to Saturday morning. I took the subway from Hollywood to the airport, and it was an interesting experience in terms of public transit. They've done an admirable job of trying to make a subway/rail system that is appealing to use, but it took over two hours to get to the airport! If the flight hadn't been delayed, I would have been stuck at the airport until the next one.
Paul and Sasha took great care of Tuna while I was gone. They went swimming in the ocean yesterday! Tuna has been wiped out since she came back home. I owe a great debt to Paul for his kindness. It has been great to get re-connected with him.
Well, off to do laundry, and read through my students' papers.
Friday, October 12, 2007
Occasionally, willing passers-by were eaten and turned into zombies with a plethora of fake blood and an outcry of moaning from the feeding zombies.
After taking a few photos, I retreated to a safe distance as the horde waddled off towards the subway.
I can only hope that the zombie manifestation has, by now, been contained. Hmmm, it kind of looks like the farmer zombie is sending a text message...
Thursday, October 11, 2007
We arrived in DC on the eve of the March on Washington in 1987, and walked around Dupont Circle.
Before long, I met a handsome blond named Bruce from Cincinnati, and I kissed a man for the first time in my life.
We kept kissing for another 8 hours or so, sitting in the back of a van that some people were driving around from one monument to another.
And my life changed forever. All in one rush, I came to realize that it would be possible to be gay and, well, gay in the 1920's sense of the word. And since I'm not a secretive person, I came out. I went through a bit of a militant phase, painting pink triangles on the back of my hands, talking about being gay with everyone. Including my family. That didn't go over so well at the time, but things have gotten much better since, and there has never been a moment of doubt about the love that binds our family together, even when things were at their most stressful.
20 YEARS LATER
Well, as I mentioned, I heard on the radio that it was National Coming Out Day. On my favorite morning radio show, the gay shock jocks Fernando and Greg, were asking if the day really means anything special, does anyone really pick this day to come out just because it's National Coming Out Day?
They asked for anyone to call in who wanted to come out on the radio. I decided to call in with my story, since I figured that coming out on the very first coming out day might be interesting enough. I didn't get on the radio, which looking back on it is best after all, but Greg chatted with me for quite a while about the whole situation. He was such a sweetheart, and has such a great voice, he's very expressive and natural, not butched up like most guys, and he's got a Texas twang rolling over the top of it. I've never understood the South, but the accents make me feel all gushy inside.
NOW THAT THE CLOSET'S GONE... WHAT'S THE NEW METAPHOR?
Above, I described my experience as "coming out", which is a term that refers simultaneously to "coming out" in the sense of a debutante, presenting oneself to the public as eligible, and "coming out" of the closet, a space where gay men hid like skeletons.
But really, I didn't "come out" except out of the fog I myself was in. It was never really a matter of hiding myself from others, it was only about hiding myself from myself, and others as a corollary.
These days, I'm quite convinced that the term "coming out" has lost all reference to its metaphorical roots. Now that being gay is seen as a possibility for pretty much anyone, there isn't really much difference between "coming out" and just plain old growing up. No longer is there nearly as much need to differentiate oneself from the norm, as being gay has become essentially part of the norm.
And now "closet" and "coming out" get applied to everything, usually things that have a twinge of scandal, but not always.
For many years, I've been describing college environments as post-closet, if not completely post-gay. I don't know what metaphors have stepped in in place of the closet and coming out, if any. Anyone have any ideas?
Friday, October 5, 2007
My new doctor (physician's assistant, actually) seems like a nice enough guy. Now that I've gotten my back pain under control, there really wasn't anything pressing to discuss, just getting a prescription for my anti-depressant medicine.
This will be the first time I get a 'routine' HIV test. I wouldn't have gotten one under normal circumstances, since there's no reason to be concerned (oh, and I wish there was!). But the CDC has come out with a new policy suggesting that everyone get an HIV test every once and a while on a routine basis.
After some initial hesitation, I have come around to strongly supporting that policy, so I would look a little hypocritical if I supported routine testing on the one hand, and didn't do it on the other.
In the late 1980's and 1990's, while I was active with ActUp/RI, we strongly opposed routine testing, mainly because it would be happening in doctor's offices, and we felt that that was one of the worst places to try to learn anything useful about HIV. Partly because most doctors at the time were extremely uninformed, but mostly because if you got a positive test, the results would be part of your medical record, which despite what it looks like is a very public set of documents for anyone with the slightest incliniation to find out more about you.
Having such a public record would also make you ineligible for health insurance at all. At the time, there was even a fairly widespread policy of denying any HIV-related care even for people with insurance, especially if they fit one of the 'classic' risk factors.
So we strongly advocated for people to get anonymous testing, at one of the specialized HIV testing sites, run either by the Health Department, or by a reputable non-profit agency.
I think that was definitely the right strategy at the time. But circumstances have changed. For one thing, it is not as devastating to learn that you have HIV these days. It's also not anywhere near as hard to find competent care. And also everyone, including doctors and the general public, has gotten much less paranoid and reactionary about people with HIV. And, although it is still legal, and common practice, to deny HIV+ individuals any health coverage at all, at least it is illegal to deny coverage to someone for HIV-related care once they are already insured. So at this point, it makes more sense to offer HIV testing as a routine part of care, while still maintaining the capacity to offer anonymous free HIV testing sites, especially for people who currently have no health insurance.
But here's the big difference in my shift in opinion. Selective testing for HIV just doesn't work. For the same reason that virtually every strategy designed to work only on a high risk population is inefficient, and often counter-productive.
In this case in particular, having a conversation about whether to get HIV testing used to be about having a sexual and drug use risk behaviors. Essentially, several hurdles that have very little to do with whether you should get an HIV test or not had to be surpassed - First, your doctor had to think you were "at risk", which is a strange way to think about someone you care about. Second, you yourself had to think (or be convinced) that you were "at risk". That's also not a fun state of mind to be in. That's probably why the best definition of "promiscuous" is "anyone who has more sex than me". Third, you had to set aside time in the doctor's visit to have that conversation. And these days, with 10 minute appointments, can you really afford to spend 5 talking about an issue that isn't on the top of your priority list?
The other thing that making a big deal out of HIV testing did was re-inforce the idea that having HIV was a dangerous thing, and makes you a bad person. After all, if only high risk people should be tested, that sets up the notion that the risk itself is essentially a disease.
With routine testing, the conversation about getting tested didn't make me defensive about whether I considered myself to be "at risk", that was a non-issue in the process.
EPIDEMIOLOGY CLASS TEST
Well, I gave my students the first mid-term on Tuesday, and my initial reaction on leafing through them was that it had been a bloodbath. Several hadn't put any answers down at all for large parts of the exam, and others had scribbled things that didn't make any sense at all. Only a handful really "got it". I was despondent the next day, because that meant that 1) I wasn't teaching well, 2) they just didn't prepare, and/or 3) the test was not fair, in that I didn't allow enough time to complete it. I had long chats with some of the important teachers in my life (Rachel, Dad, & Kate) about what to do. I think there's a degree of all three involved, so my strategy now is to cut back somewhat on the scope of the class to make sure we can get through everything, adjust the grading system so that if they bombed, they can learn from the error of not preparing, and recover without a significant "drag" from the first test, and to set up office hours. I've given them my email and cell phone, and encouraged them to call many times, but it hasn't worked. I'm hoping that having drop-in times will help people get over their hindrances about asking for help.
Anyway, a few days later, as I have begun grading them, I'm not nearly as pessimistic. There's a lot to be happy about in their performance, and a lot of the stuff that just looked like random scribblings before is starting to fall into place, there are aspects of it that I can give credit for, so I think they are going to do better overall than I initially thought. So, it's not necessarily even going to be a bad experience overall. But, I'm still going to implement those changes right away.
The Blue Angels were flying over the city today, which was very disconcerting. They were flying right on top of the buildings. Suddenly the sky would rip open, and you couldn't tell where it was coming from because everything was echoing off the buildings. I was downtown, and went home to see if I could head out to the Golden Gate Bridge, so I could at least see them. But by the time I got home, they were done, so no pictures, I'm afraid.
Monday, October 1, 2007
Leaving my apartment building on Market Street.
Walking through the Civic Center BART Station.
Paying the fare.
Going down the escalator.
Here comes the train!
Sitting down and doing some work (wearing earplugs to protect my ears from the screeching of the train wheels on its track).
Leaving the station at Berkeley.
And, ready to settle in for a day of work.
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Goodness gracious. Here is the kinkiest thing I saw at the Folsom Street Fair: a plane flying a banner with salutations from Jesus. Click on it to get a closer view.
Below, I've added a picture of a guy dancing in a cage suspended from a crane, in front of a Catholic church. The residents of the associated Catholic charities home were watching along with every one else. Now that's catholic with a little 'c'.
I also got connected with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, an advocacy group. I've had one of their stickers on my bike for at least 8 years. It says: THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE MOTORIZED.
The other day, while I was walking little Tuna home, I came across an event that apparently takes place once a month, on Friday just after rush hour. Thousands of people on bikes take over Market Street and keep going past City Hall. It went on and on and on, I'd say about six bikes across each lane, and it stretched out at least 15 blocks. I missed the head of the (parade?) so I don't really know. What I do know is I've got to get my tire fixed and replace the brakes. I'll be in the throng next month. I can't wait.
And a quick update on the Sisters. I met up with a bunch at Cafe Flore last night, and as I walked in, Sister Mabel Syrup said, "You're the guy with the blog." I'd never met her before, but apparently, she monitors the web for any mention, so she had happened to read it earlier that day & recognized me and Tuna.
Saturday, September 29, 2007
It's a real treat to watch it zip from one spot to another in an instant, then hold that position no matter what the wind is doing.
I also bought a three foot tall rosemary plant at the Farmer's Market last week. And I picked up two sage plants from the West Coast Green Building conference.
OPERA IN GIANTS STADIUM
I went to see the opera Samson and Delilah at Giants' Stadium last night, it was simulcast there from the opera downtown a block from where I live. I was super excited about the idea of opera for the masses, and also getting a chance to see the ball field (the only other time I've been to a baseball field was for the closing ceremonies of the Gay Games in New York in 1992). But, I'm afraid to say, opera just isn't for me. I've only heard it on the radio before, and I figured that having the live action would help make sense out of it.
But, the live action was deadly slow. There's only so much emotion you can display while belting out a song loud enough to overcome the orchestration. And the story line was soooo slow. I'm sure it's a great story, but it just couldn't hold my attention.
I also figured that seeing the sets and costumes would be pretty. And they were, but not anything novel or exciting. I guess it's tough to compete with television and movies, who have all the time in the world to set up and frame each shot.
That said, if they did it again, I'd go, because who knows? It might grow on me.
It's been up and down. I'm realizing just how much work it is to do it right. I'm really getting comfortable with the students, which is good. But now that I'm designing their first test, I'm realizing all the things I haven't taught, or stressed enough, to be able to ask them questions on it. So there are definitely some things I will do differently next semester. I've used all historical studies, but haven't really pushed them to see how well they understand what's going on in them. I guess I'll get a sense of how well I'm doing after grading the tests.
SAN FRANCISCO LOVE FEST
Right outside my window, as I write, the San Francisco Love Fest is going on. A parade of dance floats (clubbing music, not square dance) are coming down Market Street, and turning at the Public Library to head in to City Hall Plaza. So, there's a huge jumble of beats and people whistling and carrying on coming in through the window. I just love how many fun surprises there are in this city. Tuna and I will go down and check it out soon. She's always been a party animal.
FOLSOM STREET FAIR
And that's not all the festivities this weekend. There's also the Folsom Street Fair, a daytime raunchy gay and sexual fetish bazaar that happens a few blocks south of here. So, the city is filled with guys dressed (or undressed) in leather. A bunch were at the opera last night, of course! I'll go take a walk through and have my eyes opened. And Mark invited me to a party afterwards, which I'll go to. I mean, why not? Oh, and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are getting together with members of the order from other cities tonight beforehand, so I'll go meet up with them. I don't see myself becoming a Sister, but they are a super fun bunch of folks to hang out with.
DINNER WITH MICHAEL
Finally got together with Michael, had him over for dinner in my messy, tiny apartment. I was a little star star struck at first because he has written one of my favorite academic books, Smearing the Queer. But we had a really interesting conversation about a wide variety of topics, some about the role of social marketing in gay men's health, a fancy term for advertising campaigns about health, rather than about commercial products. Also about the role of the internet in promoting both sexual freedom and sexual health. He's built an interesting website called dotMEN to address some of those issues.
Anyway, I'm really looking forward to working with him more, and also getting more involved in the gay men's health work that's going on out here.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
I'm finally starting to feel like I've got friends out here - just starting, though!
Saw Fred on Monday or Tuesday & we went to a bar in the Mission that seemed like a fun crowd. Even the guy who asked us for coke three times without recognizing us from one time to the next!
Paul and I got together with our dogs on Thursday, and I scored a surplus chair from him that is super comfy. So, now that I've got two chairs in my studio apt, I can think about entertaining guests here. Still no table, but I'm not sure one would fit in here anyway.
My class on Tuesday wasn't a spectacular success. I got kind of cocky from how well the first two went, and I didn't keep control over the time, and wasn't able to give a decent lecture in the last 40 minutes, so I'm going to have to plan that out better for next week, as well as catch up from what I didn't get through last week. This teaching thing is fun, but it sure is hard work!
Now, here's the best part of the week! Novitiate Mary-Lee Onwards (of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence) invited me out to a little event in the Castro last night.
I guess some guy who thinks he's not gay anymore is trying to convince people there that they would be better off living in shame and denying themselves to a bizarre interpretation of Christian doctrine. And there are some other evangelicals out there too who aren't connected to the whole ex-gay scene, but just want to make themselves feel better by making us feel bad about the best parts of being gay - the freedom, the playfulness, heck, even the sex.
So, the Sisters decided to put together a little interference plan, and brought down black sheets to hang up around these people so that passers-by wouldn't be visually assaulted by them, and they performed a variety of ministrations to the crowd to keep the blessings rolling along.
It was a beautiful ceremony, very passionate, and equal parts serious and frivolous. One of my favorites was Sister Flora telling passers-by "No Bible-thumpers to see here, please go on having a great night!"
The theatrics and playfulness and singing went on for over two hours, and then we did our best to just ignore them and keep them from the people of the neighborhood. Once largely neutralized, Sister Simplicity urged us to move on ourselves, and we just left these bewildered hate-mongers alone to do their business. Hard to know if they were shaken by the experience, in large part because they were obviously on shaky ground even before the whole thing began.
I was so proud of Sister Simplicity (a former roommate from Providence) for pulling together such a beautiful ministry.
I didn't bring my camera, so no pictures. Maybe next time.
Monday, September 10, 2007
This morning, I was on and off the toilet for almost 2 hours, went through half of a soduku book waiting for something to happen. Finally, I got to the point where nothing more was going to come out, and so I got on with the rest of my day.
As I was walking down Market Street towards my new doctor's office, I saw smoke coming out of a demolition zone. People were running towards it. I had a better idea and kept walking away, holding my shirt over my nose to try to block out some of the nasty stench. Within seconds, fire trucks were zooming to the scene, so I just kept on going without looking back.
I got on the BART at a little before 11AM, and just as I got down into the station, a SWAT team came through, looking for a white plastic shopping bag. I wasn't sure whether to be alarmed, or relieved that they were on the case. I was shaken enough that I missed my train, and waited for the next one.
Then, while at work at Berkeley, someone came by ask if we'd heard about "the incident". We hadn't, but it turns out that one of the grad students took a step on the dark side, and was brandishing a hammer and threatening people. Who said being a student was an easy life?
Ah, life in the big city. I guess the funny part of it all is that if I hadn't written these things down today, I surely would have forgotten them by tomorrow. Despite all the wackiness involved in living in downtown San Francisco, it all feels relatively normal, and I feel safe.
I have my third class tomorrow, the first one involving any math (or as I like to call it, common sense with numbers), so hopefully that won't freak the kids out too badly. Last week, I forgot to print out my lecture notes, so I did my best from memory and the barely legible pen markings on a few scraps of paper. It went off without a hitch, of course.
There was one part where they were really struggling to get a concept about the 'social production of disease theory', but I wasn't the least bit concerned that they were having trouble getting it, because it took me a good three years or so before I got it down, maybe longer. I'll have to give them some encouragement though, because I think a lot of them left frustrated that they didn't have the answer.
So, as promised, here's "the picture" that everyone takes in San Francisco, at the park where Tuna and I go for walks (Alamo Square).
And here's a picture of some picture takers. So earnest, so cute!
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Each day, it doesn't seem like that much has happened, but looking back, it feels like ages ago.
Well, I had my first class at SFSU on Tuesday night, and I think it went very well. Things started out a bit rocky. I had spent the afternoon trying to get an ID so that I could access various campus services, an effort that so far has failed. At any rate, I was distracted by that and the pain in my back (more on that later), so I was a bit disoriented at first.
I introduced myself to each student who came into the classroom, and promptly forgot all their names. Every last one of them! Then I went through the enrollment to see who was there and who wasn't, and I still didn't latch onto their names at all. By the end of the class, I had maybe 3 of the 50 down.
After going through the syllabus (a deadly boring task, but one that must be done), we took a stretch break, and then the fun began. I asked them to get into groups of three people that they didn't know already, and asked them to write down on a piece of paper an answer to the question "In the broadest sense possible, what causes disease(s)?" and then give three specific examples. Then I asked them to compare notes within their groups and talk about whatever came up.
Within minutes, the room completely changed. From a row of mildly bored, even perturbed, faces sitting in rows all facing me, there was a riot of animated conversations. It worked!
I actually left the class for a few minutes to go get a drink of water. It was a great sound hearing the babbling of a dozen voices sharing and learning from one another. Brought a big smile to my face.
After that, I got them to come back to a more traditional setting, and we went through the room and discovered that with no formal training, they had already covered the main topics of epidemiology. The answers to the first question "What causes disease?" constitute epidemiologic theory. And we had begun to answer the crucial questions like "How do we know that X causes Y?", and "When should we trust scientists who say that X causes Y?" (causal theory and epistemology), which lead also into exploring various study designs, and beginning to thing about the role of bias and error in scientific investigation. So, in a half hour of barely structured conversation, they had laid out all the important principles that we'll spend the rest of the semester elaborating. I just put fancy words to what they already knew. That part was really fun.
Then, I wrapped up with a 10 minute lecture on who I am, my academic and professional background, and when the clock hit 6:55, released them like rockets off to various points around the city.
I was waiting for the MUNI M train to take me back home (it still doesn't feel right calling it that). A train came, but it was already packed with people, and with my back (more on that later) it was just going to be impossible to find a seat, at least a seat where I wasn't staring at three people's crotches. So, I waited for the next one, which seemed like an eternity, but was probably no more than 20 minutes. Anyway, good thing I waited, because at the next stop, a guy carrying a big box sat down next to me, and we just hit it off right away, he and his friend are Brazilian nursing students at SFSU, and we had the most pleasant conversation on the train. We talked about going out to one of the Brazilian restaurants in town, and I left my number, so we'll see what happens.
And speaking of my slowly burgeoning social life, I had dinner over at Paul's place (college roommate), which was a great deal of fun. We were going on non-stop for at least three hours. It was great to reconnect. And tonight, we're planning to get together again, at the Asian Art Museum across the street from my apartment (apartment, that sounds much more accurate than 'home').
So, my back.
Well, about eight years ago or so, I was biking home late at night, and when I started out across an intersection, a car raced through the red light, plowed through me, and sped off into the night. As it happens, there were several witnesses, but the car had had it's lights off, and nobody got the plate number. Anyway, my hip and elbow got banged up pretty good, and my hip has never fully healed from the accident (accident makes it sound unintentional, I wish there was a word in English that expressed the willfully reckless nature of the event).
As a result of having the hip injury, another injury has slowly evolved, involving the joint where the bottom of my spine connects to my hip. Normally, the ligaments in that joint have very little wiggle room, like laces on a hockey skate, but my joint has either loosened up somewhat, or gets inflamed for some reason, or something. Anyway, when this thing acts up, it is painful to sit. It is painful to stand. It is especially painful to walk, and it is painful to lie down. So relief comes in brief flashes that are hard to hold on to. The only things that don't hurt much are riding my bike, and lifting weights. Go figure!
Driving is no good for this injury, and neither is lifting lots of boxes. So, when I drove across country for 11 days, I took relatively high doses of naproxen sulfate, ibuprofen, and aspirin to hold things in check. That worked. I felt essentially no pain, and the swelling of the joint didn't have a chance to start up. But, because of all those drugs, I was not healing from minor bruises, and bruises were starting to show up on my body in places I didn't remember hitting anything. A considerable proportion of my body had a greenish cast. So, once the move was over, I went cold turkey off the pain killers. The bruises took a few days to go away, but in the meantime, the stresses and strains of moving began to catch up with me, and things got progressively worse, to the point that I started using a cane, taking frequent breaks at benches, grimacing and tearing up, etc. So on my second day at Berkeley, after walking from one office to another trying to get things set up here, I couldn't take any more, and found listings for a massage therapist. He gives a "Thai massage" which I'd never had before, but I was desperate to have anything, so I hobbled home, and then went over to his place. It was a very intense massage, and lasted almost two hours. It was at times painful for my back, but by the end, I was considerably relaxed, and actually felt well enough to stop at the supermarket to pick up some food to carry home on my bike.
In the week or so since, it has slowly gotten better, but there is still a ways to go. I'm trying to spend a lot of time stretching every morning, and I'm still trying to figure out how to access my health insurance through Berkeley, but no success with that, yet.
On the whole, despite the pain to my back, and the flood out of my wallet, I think it was the right move. Hearing those students babbling excitedly just made the whole thing worth it.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
The campus is gorgeous, and the air is fragrant, due to the lush plantings all over the place. It's really a pleasant atmosphere.
My classroom, HH206, is not so nice, a basement room (despite being on the second floor) with one tiny window in the back corner. But, at least it has a big chalkboard and whiteboard.
The book is in the bookstore, so that's good.
I will be sharing some desk space, so I'll be able to have some office hours there on campus. More likely, though, I'll be doing that sort of thing by phone and email.
Tuna and I went back to Alamo Square park, last night and again this morning, where she's slowly making friends. So far, she doesn't seem too excited about it one way or another, a sign that her 12 years are starting to catch up with her.
One interesting thing about the Alamo Square Park is that it is the site of the photograph that everyone takes when they visit San Francisco, a row of Victorian houses stepping downhill with the city behind them. Even tour buses stop there so that everyone can file out and take that picture.
I've been thinking about taking pictures of the people who are taking pictures of this classic scene. This morning, I really should have, because there were at least five clumps of people all trying to take it without getting in each other's ways, quite an intricate dance! The photographers were all facing the same way, and their subjects were all facing back at them, holding smiles. It was surreal.
I've included gratuitous shots of my apartment as it has unfolded so far, because some of you wanted to see it.
Today, the Korean parade went from City Hall down Market Street, so my apartment was filled with a joyous clashing of drums, gongs, and wind instruments.
Friday, August 17, 2007
I slept well the first night, the noise of the city below was stimulating, not annoying, as I feared it might be. It’s quite exhilarating, having the sounds of transit shuttling along below. And it makes for more relaxing viewing than television.
The last two days I spent mostly unpacking, putting things away, and hanging the travel maps I collected on the trip.
I did not sleep well last night, the bed is just too unforgiving, and I’ve only got one pillow, so fixing that is a high priority.
It is finally beginning to feel like home here, not home, really, but not like someone else’s space.
Last night, I was walking Tuna at
Today, I finally got Becca’s boxes out of my apartment, and back to her, got a load of laundry done, and waited for the cable guy to show up. This afternoon, I’m planning to take a quick trip down to SFSU and see if I can’t get some paperwork signed so I can get paid and also figure out how many students I will have next week!
I had the freight elevator reserved from 9 to noon, but I couldn’t get my key until 10. So, I loaded up the elevator with as much stuff as I could, and then went through the final paperwork. I got two full loads of stuff up in the elevator, but still had a lot of stuff left over.
So, at that point, I offloaded the rest into the back hallway, and returned the truck to Budget. Budget wanted to charge me for the broken window that had been so much of a pain during the ride over, as well as a scratch that the woman in
I moved the rest a little bit at a time up the regular elevator, until two pieces of furniture were left, my desk and the blue bureau. Fortunately, some of the guys doing renovations were kind enough to help me get them in and up, so I had everything in the apartment by about 5pm. Exhausted, I took a nap that lasted until morning.
Started the day continuing 101 south towards the bay area, and the road continued it’s odd patchwork of four-land divided and two-lane segments. At times the road drove in between redwoods, which were majestic. I stopped a few times to wander through the woods.
Things were going along smoothly, if not quickly, when all of a sudden, I felt something crawling in my pants. Instinctively, I tried to brush it away, and it instinctively stung me. So there I was careening down a mountain road with searing agony on my inner thigh. Fortunately, I was able to pull over safely, and waited until the shock of it subsided. At first, it felt like multiple bites, so I thought it might have been a spider, but when I got a chance to look things over, if was clear it was a single sting, probably a bee. But whatever it was was long gone by the time I got my pants off.
After a full day’s driving, I eventually wound down the road all the way to Marin, then over the Golden Gate bridge into
Had dinner with Rachel at Picante’s, a Mexican restaurant in
We went south on route 5, a fast road, with lots of traffic. The vegetation is totally foreign to me here, I feel like I’m a long way from home, which I guess I am. We passed over the Cascade mountains, took a quick dip in one of the mountain rivers, and ended up on the
We continued on south on 101, which alternates between a four lane divided highway and a two-lane twisty goat path climbing up the side of mountains. All along the road, especially farther south, there were pull-offs with incredible views of black sandy beaches with craggy rocks coming up from the water at unlikely angles. At one particularly nice spot, I waded into the water, with my socks still on, gawking around at all the scenery. I didn’t bother trying to take pictures, I could tell it just wouldn’t translate anyway.
Took a blackberry break by the side of the road. The blackberries are as big as tomatoes! (cherry tomatoes, but still). They taste good, but not as good as the ones in Vermont. Of course, I picked a half pound in under 10 minutes, which you could never do in Vermont. Refreshed, we continued down the coast.
Took a blackberry break by the side of the road. The blackberries are as big as tomatoes!
(cherry tomatoes, but still). They taste good, but not as good as the ones in Vermont. Of course, I picked a half pound in under 10 minutes, which you could never do in Vermont. Refreshed, we continued down the coast.
Picked up a nice traveler named Jerry in souther
Continued south through the redwoods, and bunked up for the night in Arcata, where there was only one room left, and a smoking room at that. Oh, well.
This time I was able to hear them a little bit, but I soon realized that the noise was drowned out by a pickup truck traveling on a dirt road about a mile away. I also experienced a choppy feeling to the wind after it passed through a bank of turbines, almost like a shuddering effect.
I then went to post yesterday’s account at the local library, and got chatting with the librarian. Apparently, this wind farm isn’t even a year old.
We continued on through
As we continued along the
The main road, 84, was getting pretty busy, and I pulled off onto a side road, 30 “the old
Met a very nice couple who had come there to camp out and watch the Perseid meteor shower, and I was tempted to stay, but we pressed on to an unremarkable Motel 6 in the unremarkable town of Troutsdale, just west of Portland.
I figure I’ll be in the Bay Area on Monday night, maybe Tuesday morning. We’ll see.
Friday, August 10, 2007
Refreshed, we continued on to Helena, battling a stiff headwind. Montana, I have to say, was something of a disappointment. Hot, dry, windy, and lousy road maintenance did their best to undermine the natural beauty of the place.
Helena was a cute city, though.
Finally, we passed into Idaho (and the Pacific time zone) through the Lolo pass. Lots of firefighters at the welcome center, because there are several fires in Montana at the moment. That’s another thing – the views in Montana aren’t what they should be, due to the blue cast of smoke over everything.
Anyway, once in Idaho, the scenery changed abruptly and for the better. Impossibly tall and spindly trees, with bristle patterns I hardly recognize.
After winding down through the mountains for a while, we came across the DeVoto Cedar Grove, a grove of cedars that look like they are at least several hundred, if not a thousand or more years old. Great strong trunks with no branches on the lower 50 feet or so, really impressive.
I stopped at a camp site, even though it was only 6pm local time, because it was just so beautiful, and I was tired. After two hours of tranquility, though, I decided to ruin it because I got antsy, and bundled everything back in the truck. An hour or two of pleasant driving gave way to a frantic search for a place to sleep, and finally I found a place in Kamiah at about 10:30 that would take me and Tuna. The room reeked of Chinese food delivery for some reason, but I quickly fell asleep nonetheless.
A few miles out of town, I saw a hill with a small outcrop of rock, and figured I’d try to find a dinosaur or something. Hey, a trilobite would be enough excitement for me. Well, no such luck, but the ground was littered with chunks of petrified wood. Most of the rocks were either petrified wood or flint. I picked up a few pieces to take with me.
Soon crossed into North Dakota, where there was some construction going on, but that was fine with me, there was so much to see out the windows. We stopped at a spot for lunch (and to recharge my camera battery) to read about the presence of an asbestos-like mineral that was being used for road gravel. That made me a little less sanguine about the road construction!
The landscape continued to morph, more of the pastel colors of sagebrush painting the hills and fields.
By the time we got to Montana, it was unpleasantly hot. The first town we came to was Baker, a tiny town with several casinos, and a rapacious gas station charging an exorbitant fee for gas to cross the next 82 miles until the next station. Well, after getting lured into the low prices of South Dakota, I figured that the slightly higher prices in North Dakota were a rip-off, and Montana had to be lower. Not at all. So folks, tank up in North Dakota if you’re heading west on 12!
Right away in Montana, the land got much hillier and much, much drier. We passed a parched 13 miles into Plevna, where I stopped hoping to find soda for sale. No such luck. But there was a post office, so I stopped in there to send calling cards back to my folks.
The woman behind the counter was pleasant until the fact I was going to San Francisco came up. A look of concern, some might say a scowl, came over her face, and she warned me that the city was “full of wickedness”, and encouraged me to join her into an enquiry as to why the Lord had brought me, on this day, to her. I thought it was for a stamp. She thought otherwise, and sternly advised me to follow the straight and narrow path.
Now I know San Francisco is full of wickedness. A lot of the wickedness doesn’t interest me, some annoys me, and some intrigues me. But the irony of getting a lecture about wickedness in a tiny town with a casino and bar (but no general store) and a huge billboard warning about the perils of meth addiction seemed somewhat incongruous.
The next 64 parched miles to Miles City made it clear that we were in an entirely different country now. One where preparation would serve us well just in case a tire blew out or something of that nature. The cars were getting far and few between, and they were all in a hurry. After tanking up on gas, wiper fluid, radiator fluid, water, and soda in Miles City, we struck out again, this time on 94, a relatively comfortable road. At Forsyth, we got off again to continue on 12 West, and I knew we were in trouble when the road sign said 70 miles to Roundup, and 120 to Harlowton. But we pressed on, through unbearable heat. Gorgeous country, the hills getting hillier, and the lovely pastels of the sagebrush being complemented by pick rocks in the hills, the yellow grass, and the sultry green of pines. The road was at times quite pleasant, at others a white knuckle ride over pavement that bucked and swerved underneath us.
After Harlowton, the hills and buttes started turning into mountains, but it was a gradual transition. We came across another wind farm outside Martinsdale at what seemed to be some sort of huge co-operative hive of gardening and self-sufficiency. Only one of the turbines was turning, but there were new foundations being built, too.
We passed into the Little Belt mountains, and more stunning scenery. As we crossed through the pass, though, a violent wind caught us, making the next 30 some-odd miles to White Sulfur Springs a tussle with a shifting headwind determined to push us off the road.
I had intended to push on to Helena, but decided to stop and stay at a nice hotel in White Sulfur Springs. One with a hot tub, and other amenities. Very pleasant.