April again

In the late hours of the afternoon we lie on the rooftop drinking wine. This is good, and the skyline clear. On the horizon, beneath the sinking sun, the Pacific shimmers. It is April and the weather is impossible to top. We have spent the day in Berkeley playing ultimate, greatly to our liking, and come home to watch the evening settle, which it is taking hours to do.

Some part of us returns with the sun. From our window the next morning the leaves on the trees outside flutter and the clouds drift in bright sunlight. It is the rise of the year, April in the northern hemisphere, when the light truly begins to linger and the winter is forgot. Coming home from a month abroad I am surprised at the sunset’s seven pm start. While I was gone the clocks shifted, a change made stranger by my absence also for the corresponding November shift. China does not deal with time zones, let alone this odd springing ahead and falling behind.

Yet this joy at April is a hemisphere’s joy. A friend in Berlin who has made plans to leave all winter writes to say how much more alive the city seems with better weather, and how he could see another year there. I smile at this as he tells tales of a man who runs karaoke in the park, an unofficial act of organization and singing well-attended on sunny Saturdays. We live in good times, I think, and they are called April, soon May. Our spirits benefit from their repetition.

San Francisco does not winter like Tokyo, Boston, Shanghai or Ithaca, but the late evenings and bursts of mid-morning sunshine are welcoming. The gift of more light creates time after work to run and bicycle, to sit on the rooftop and to adventure. One evening we cook as the sun sets and then head downtown. Sia is playing, and the city feels alive with people as the street lights come on after eight. It is a week day and we are all out of doors again, every block filled with people lured by the warmth and the reminder of evening’s smells, sounds, and friends.

Sia is glorious, at home in her awkward presence and amazing voice, and we head back to our apartment past eleven. The last few blocks we walk slowly, aware of the neighborhood and in no rush to shelter.

On the rooftop on Sunday, our bodies sore and sunburned, she raises her glass to the Pacific as the sky begins to fade into shades of orange.

“It’s so beautiful here,” she says, reaching to include Marin and and the city spread around us.

It is so beautiful now, I think, lying on my back in agreement.

Like San Francisco and Berlin, the sun has come and woken us again.

Corporate confusion (choose your own adventure style)

Situation:

One evening a friend recommends a television show to you.  “It’s really funny,“ he says, and “you’d love it.”  The conversation continues, but the show comes up several more times.  Upon returning home you decide that it’s not that late and you’ll check it out.  You open your trusted laptop and type in hulu.com, and then the show’s name.  Boom, you’re in luck.  Click.  Now you’re excited, and your friend was very enthusiastic.  You scan the episode list.  Episode 12.  Episode 15.  Episode 19.  Episode 20.  Episode 17.  End.  Confused, you look around for more pages, or another link.  Nothing.  After a bit of reading you click on the “Availability” link.  The following text appears:

“We are able to post the last five episodes of Modern Family to air on TV. The episodes posted may vary based on ABC’s on-air schedule.”

This provides you with one point of information: ABC makes this show.  You go to ABC.com.  You are greeted by a horrible Netflix pop-up, and auto-play Flash ads.  Frustrated, you eventually find the show’s page.

You discover the same five episodes.

Do you:

A) Close both windows (and the pop-up) and go to bed

B) Go watch something else on Hulu that you already know

C) Trust your friend’s enthusiasm and google for a torrent or illegal stream of the show’s pilot

One of these options makes ABC view you as a criminal.  The other two result in you never seeing their product.

Childlike eyes

The sound of children playing does not change with their language. In Shaoxing last week, in San Francisco now, they scream and run in games I no longer get to play. Much of the nostalgia for childhood stems from that inability to join.  Easter egg hunts, bouncy castles, and no-touch-ground tag are forbidden pleasures. Hearing adults mourn the loss of youth, speed, and freedom I think that our desire is not just to escape current responsibilities but to return to a world where foursquare or tetherball were defining tests.

In fourth grade, at Waldorf school, the tetherball rankings went down into the thirties, with a complex system for challenging those above at morning break and recess, or before the busses after school. By sixth grade the scene had shifted and wall ball, played with a racquet ball against the school’s yellow rear, was the kingmaker.

In two thousand ten the children yell and run and I try to understand their games. Outside of the Shaoxing train station they play a strange version of freeze tag while I cart my suitcase up the low concrete stairs. The frozen child counts down and, if not re-touched, becomes the “it”, the chaser. In San Francisco they streak down the sidewalk, an aunt or family friend repeating one line over and over without using either of their names. “Do you see the sign,” she says of the red man blinking as they approach the intersection with eyes only on their race. Around the lamp post they spin and back again. I step aside, laughing. I am certain they do not see the sign. As they sprint back past her still warning form I wonder how long it would take them to join the Shaoxing game? Mere moments, probably. Children do not have the restraint that we do. And having it, we call it fear.

Could that be what we’re wanting, remembering youth so fondly? Not the game itself, but the lack of fear in challenging the eighth best tetherballer in school, a seventh grader, to a lunchtime battle? The lack of fear of injury, or humiliation. Indeed it’s opposite, eager acceptance, or perhaps total blindness to risk. Yet that is not true, and the humiliation of not scoring a point against an older student was well known. But the rewards for bravery were so tangible in the oral rankings every student knew.

This weekend I saw my cousin, six, on video chat. It was the first time she’d seen herself projected, or me. The first time she’d seen me at all in a year, more. Around her the adults watched, impressed by the technology.

“I found a bunny in an egg this morning,” she told me.

“Really?”

“It’s orange and fuzzy.”

“What’s it’s name?” I asked her as she raced off to find it.

Last year while he was bored at a reception I handed another boy my iPhone, which he’d never seen, a baseball game on the display. He grabbed it and sat down, experimenting with the tilt and tap controls. The timing took him several tries, but the understanding of what he needed to do barely a second. The context of my conversation with my cousin, or of the baseball game, mattered not at all. Were it in my power to place either of them amidst those Shaoxing children, or vice versa, would they be too stunned by context to absorb the games?

As I wandered Changsha’s back alleys last week, exploring half-abandoned railways, two girls playing some game of balance and chatter shouted at me, testing English words and my ability to respond. When I did so, in both English and Chinese, they turned away, back to their game. Their lack of surprise at my ability to speak Chinese, their entire manner of easy comprehension and acceptance shocked me because it seems globally so lacking in their elders. I think they would fit in well, those two girls in matching uniforms, at this street race in the Sunset. Indeed it is this comfort, this ease of exploration, pleasure at strange games, and quick acceptance of facts that I am often searching for with travel.

Perhaps it is not something that needs discovering, but remembering.

Title  from an Alphanumeric hoodie I once owned in Japan, whose tagline was “For adults with childlike eyes,” a classification I aspire to.