Archive | April, 2011

Meeting my idol: Joyce Carol Oates

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My first exposure to Joyce Carol Oates was her novel, Because It Is Bitter, And Because It Is My Heart. I found the paperback in a cardboard box at a garage sale and found the title unlike anything I was reading at the time. I was twelve, so yes, Oates was very different from what I read at the time. (Christopher Pike, Sweet Valley High.)

I didn’t really understand Because It Is Bitter, And Because It Is My Heart. The book is about race and class tension between the whites and the blacks in the 1950s-1960s. At my age, in my protected little Chinese bubble, I didn’t get it.

What spoke to me, however, was the main character, Iris, and her tumultuous relationship with her mother. For the first time, I was reading about someone who felt like the outsider and felt like her mother didn’t love her – an experience I had thought was specific to me. Compare this with Sweet Valley High, where the Wakefield twins get into trouble but their parents are always there to bail them out; Because It Is Bitter, And Because It Is My Heart revolutionized my world.

And though I was twelve, I recognized good writing when I saw it. Oates is a true wordsmith, capable of sentences and paragraphs I would re-read repeatedly for the rhythm and cadence. Just the title alone, still now, takes my breath away. Ten words perfectly describing the agony and ache felt when you are all alone in the world.

Tonight, I was gifted with the opportunity to see Joyce Carol Oates. She appeared at Books Inc. in Opera Plaza, San Francisco, in a tucked away corner of the store invisible at first entrance. Of maybe ten rows of seats only four were left. By the time she stepped out and introduced her latest published work, a memoir titled A Widow’s Story, it was standing room only. She read excerpts of her book, stopping to comment and to explain when she felt it was necessary, providing insight into an experience I can only imagine and dread: dealing with the death of your long-time partner. The first excerpt focused on the cats she owned with her husband, Raymond Smith. Their eldest cat urinated on a copy of Smith’s death certificate. Despite the pain and the sorrow, Oates chuckled at the memory. She explained the memoir consisted of her journal written during his unexpected passing and aftermath and, because it was a journal, she didn’t feel as if she could revise it. Instead she had italicized passages commenting on the past.

Then she answered questions from the audience. They were mostly about the book (these people had obviously come well-prepared) and then one guy rudely demanding to know why Oates kept talking about her famous friends. A Widow’s Story has sections on Philip Roth, excerpts of emails to people such as Edmund White and Gloria Vanderbilt. Well, of course, Joyce Carol Oates has famous friends. Only so many famous writers exist in this country and they often run in the same social circles.

Those of us who had purchased a Joyce Carol Oates book that day from Books Inc. lined up, after the Q&A, for autographs and a brief moment in her magnificent presence.

I’m pretty sure I made a fool of myself, though the Husband says I was perfectly fine. Oates is, without exaggeration, my literary idol. The best compliment I’ve ever received, the one I hold closest to my heart, is one from a creative writing teacher who said a piece of mine reminded her of Oates. It’s like reaching the zenith of my writing career/life/experience/skill. But when I stepped up to her podium, came face to face with one of the greatest writers of the Twentieth Century, I stumbled over my words, was awkward, was embarrassed to tell her I am a writer when I don’t write anything like her, with her talent and skill.

But still, I am glad to have gone. Joyce Carol Oates is a legend. Tonight, I found out she is also human and funny and real. I stood in the presence of greatness and it has inspired me to do better.

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Burger Bar San Francisco: yum, yum, good!

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The view from Burger Bar SF

Burger Bar San Francisco is the third Burger Bar restaurant from famed Michelin star chef, Hubert Keller. Nestled in the middle of the Macy’s building off Union Square, you take an elevator up to the sixth floor and enter the front of the restaurant. True to its name, a good third of the space is devoted to a dark wood cocktail tables and a bar covered with flat screens showing the game of the moment. (College basketball, today.) The back has more dark wood in booths, four-tops, and chairs. The hostess was nice enough to seat us next to the window, and she was the first host I’ve ever had who made small talk while leading us to our table, instead of doing so silently.

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We started with an appetizer of fish and chips that came with a side of garlic fries. The fish were perfectly fried, not greasy or oily at all. Garlic fries were seasoned well; you could taste a bit of the garlic without chewing on any real chopped garlic and getting garlic breath.

The Husband ordered a Kobe burger (medium rare) with grilled onions, American cheese, and Jack cheese on a ciabatta bun with fries on the side. I got the Peppercorn Burger which is some sort of beef with peppercorns and a peppercorn cream sauce. Burger Bar gives you the opportunity to customize a burger (meat choices including Kobe, Angus, Buffalo) with a selection of toppings (including $30 for 1/3 pound of Black Truffles). My burger came with a side of sweet potato fries. (I just exclaimed, “Yum!” and gave the MacBook a thumbs up.)

I don’t know how the Husband’s burger was. He wouldn’t let me try it. Oh, I guess that means it was pretty good. He also got a milkshake. It was pretty much entirely ice cream with whipped cream and a cherry on top. (“Pretty much entirely ice cream” is a good thing.)

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My Peppercorn Burger was damn good. The medium rare beef was nice and pink on the inside, juicy and melt-in-your-mouth. The top of the beef patty was some sort of horseradish sauce with ground and whole black, pink, and white peppercorns. The peppercorn cream sauce had whole black peppercorns and was pretty much just cream. I’m not a chef – I don’t even cook – so I don’t know. But I didn’t taste much else but cream and peppercorns. Unfortunately, the Peppercorn Burger was too peppery for me. They could have laid off the peppercorns in the sauce or put half the amount they put on the beef patty. I could feel and taste the pepper right up in my sinuses, like a jalapeno pepper had just socked me in the nose. Beyond that, I shoved the burger in my mouth in a hurry because it was so damn good.

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The sweet potato fries were perfect. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and wonderfully sweet and sweet-potato-y.

We were stuffed after this. I wanted to try the Nutella Burger (donut, Nutella, scrumptiousness) but couldn’t even finish my fries. We actually took all the fries home in a box.

All in all, Burger Bar San Francisco gets four stars from me, out of five. It would have gotten five but I know of Pearl’s which has nearly the same quality of burger for half the price. Pearl’s is also in the Tenderloin and fast-food-like, but you know. You get what you pay for. I’m mainly focused on the nom nom nom and not so much the environment.

Would I go back to Burger Bar again? Sure. They have an excellent Lunch Special for $12, including a drink, which ends at 4 pm. This place would also be a good one for after-work drinks: they have a letter-sized page of beers, another page of wines, and a small selection of specialty cocktails – including alcoholic milkshakes and beer floats! I didn’t know that was possible – wouldn’t the ice cream and milk separate from the liquor? I don’t know.

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Day 93 Buddy is ridiculous

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He has three cushy beds with blankets and cushions but he chose the paper bags. It isn’t that he preferred the floor either – five feet away was his usual bed on the floor! Crazy cat.

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Day 92 Little Photo

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Little Photo is this fairly new camera app for Android. It has 30+ filters. They’re nothing new but this app stands out because it processes the photo so much faster than other apps. I know if I’m using a photo app, I probably have the time to wait but I get really bored in those 10 seconds or so.

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Day 92 Little Photo

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Little Photo is this fairly new camera app for Android. It has 30+ filters. They’re nothing new but this app stands out because it processes the photo so much faster than other apps. I know if I’m using a photo app, I probably have the time to wait but I get really bored in those 10 seconds or so.

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Day 91 Crazy bug bites

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I went shopping at Macy’s during lunch, came back to work, and my arm started itching. These gigantic bites came out of nowhere, swelled up so it actually hurt when I moved my arm. I’m writing this a couple days after the bites; they’re a bit less swollen now but still warm and big. Blech.

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Day 91 Crazy bug bites

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I went shopping at Macy’s during lunch, came back to work, and my arm started itching. These gigantic bites came out of nowhere, swelled up so it actually hurt when I moved my arm. I’m writing this a couple days after the bites; they’re a bit less swollen now but still warm and big. Blech.

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Day 90 Mondo Guerra

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Of Project Runway fame. He hosted Fashion Face-Off at Macy’s last night and I was there! I met him; it was exciting; I almost died. Pintucked (my fashion blog) will have a write-up with pictures soon.

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