Thursday, December 24, 2015

My Top 10 Favorite Black Sabbath Songs

There’s nothing I can add that hasn’t been said about this monumentally influential band. If heavy metal was personified as the United States, statues of Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Bill Ward would greet newcomers to this dark land. If heavy metal were incarnated as a landscape in Middle Earth, the Gates of Mordor would be engraved with towering sculptures of Black Sabbath. In other words: they’re a Big Fucking Deal. Just how important are they? James Hetfield got choked up when he spoke at Black Sabbath’s induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:

Sans the difficult upbringing, I can relate with Hetfield. If heavy metal and all its spawnings didn’t exist, I’m not sure I’d want to stick around. Maybe an old geezer version of me won’t agree, but that’s how my thirty-six-year-old self feels.

In honor of this band—and because I’m bored at work (No work and little play makes Juan bored, bored, bored)—here’s a list of my favorite ten Black Sabbath songs:

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Memoir Outtake: Thanksgiving

I stared out to the Quarry Lakes as the BART train rolled into Fremont. The small lakes shimmered in the sunlight. A majestic heron stood on a grassy bank. Up above, a V of Canadian geese appeared to fly to the sun. John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” played from my iPod. I picked it because I felt happy and sappy, heading home for Thanksgiving. The song packed an emotional wallop. We had history. Three years before, I had traveled through much of South America by bus. I remember riding through the countryside from Uruguay into Argentina listening to “My Favorite Things.” I stared out the window as these beautiful trees that graced the highway swooshed by. When Coltrane soloed during the song’s outro, I began to cry to myself. The melody he plays during that final verse is excruciatingly beautiful; it sounds like a eulogy, a call of profound gratitude as though Coltrane were ascending into the sun’s light, turning back and expressing through his saxophone: it was a good ride. Listening to him play, staring at that Argentinean countryside, I simply cried because I felt so fortunate to have the opportunity to travel, to see foreign lands, to feel such beauty.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Goo Goo G'joob!: My Top 10 Favorite Beatles Songs

About a month ago, my good friend Chris and I were strolling through Central Park. Since we're good boys, we made a pilgrimage to Strawberry Fields. Once we paid our respects to one of the greatest hippies ever, I mused that it would be difficult to whittle down my favorite Beatles songs to a top 10 list. A few days later, at a bar in Brooklyn, I told my homie and fellow blogsmith, Justin “Ticket to Ride!” Goldman about this thought I had. Two pints deep, copping a fluffy buzz, Justin did not hesitate to ask the bartender for a pen. “Let's do this right now,” he said, or something like that, and off we went. Within a few minutes, this is what we produced:

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Memoir Outtake: Baker Beach Bliss

photo by Juan Alvarado Valdivia, 2005

The city was scorching, afternoon temperatures reaching the upper seventies (which is considered hot in San Francisco any time of the year). Paola suggested a trip to Baker Beach. She was a sucker for the beach, which I always found endearing. I was still reeling from the horrendousness of her birthday three nights before. I gladly accepted her invitation. I was beyond grateful for it. In the four months we had been together, she had already been witness to three instances in which I drank myself to a state of oblivion. A significant part of me felt I didn’t deserve to have a tranquil afternoon at a beach with my forgiving girlfriend. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Shit I Learned in New York City

me took this picture!

Last week I spent an exhilarating, bedazzling week in New York City reuniting with friends. It was my third trip to one of the world’s greatest cities. (I would argue that it’s the only great metropolis in the United States.) I learned a few things while I was there:

What’s a Suicide drag?
My good friend Chris and I hunkered down at a gay bar in the West Village called Pieces. (We’re still unsure how it got its name.) Around two or three in the morning the karaoke deejay and our emcee—a tall, muscular, irreverent drag queen—announced that they would hold a “suicide drag.” For the next fifteen minutes or so, the deejay played a relentless medley of high-energy dance songs while the limber drag queen proceeded to dance up and down the entire bar as though she was born in three-inch heels. It was quite a performance.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Observations & Thoughts After Visiting Maui

Ka'anapali Beach, Maui

My sweetheart and I just returned from our first visit to Hawaii. Here's some thoughts and observations I generated from our trip halfway across the mighty Pacific.

How to Know You're in Hawaii
In my travels, I've always been interested in identifying landmarks, physical features or manmade structures that can tip me off as to where I am if I were an alien life form cruising on by. Here's some examples:

Los Angeles – an eight-lane highway or the Hollywood sign
Amsterdam – picturesque canals or a plethora of bicycles
Rio de Janiero – Sugarloaf Mountain or Christ the Redeemer
Bangkok – tuk tuks or short non-pervy-looking men saying “You want boomboom?” as you walk by.

Anyway, you get the picture.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

My 2015-2016 NFL season preview

Summer is fading out. A federal court ruled against Roger Goodell again. That means it’s time for you NFL fans to set aside, yet again, all the yucky moral apprehensions that come with being a devout fan—like rooting for a league with an inordinate amount of batterers, rapists, and jock asshole motherfuckers who are frequently in trouble with the law; a league managed by a commissioner who earns $44 million per year; a league managed by a bunch of self-serving cunts who have been trying their darndest to mask the full truth about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) since 2006—the degenerative brain disease that has ravaged the lives of former players such as Mike Webster and Junior Seau and Harvard MBA-educated hard-hitting safety, Dave Duerson, both of whom committed suicide by shooting themselves in the chest. (Dave Duerson’s suicide note read, and the caps and misspellings were in his writing: “MY MIND SLIPS. THOUGHTS GET CROSSED. CANNOT FIND MY WORDS. MAJOR GROWTH ON THE BACK OF SKULL ON LOWER LEFT SIDE. FEEL REALLY ALONE. THINKING OF OTHER NFL PLAYERS WITH BRAIN INJURIES. SOMETIMES, SIMPLE SPELLING BECOMES A CHORE, AND MY EYESITE GOES BLURY… . I THINK SOMETHING IS SERIOUSLY DAMAGED IN MY BRAIN, TOO.”) That’s right—it’s time for the NFL season to begin!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Memoir Outtake: When Did It Begin?

This is an early chapter I snipped from my book. In the end, I condensed nine pages to a few paragraphs.
Photo by Frankicello

When did I know that my body had a Life-threatening Disease in Residence?

My Long and Winding Road to Diagnosis began in June 2008, ten months before I was given The Bad News. I was at home, chatting in the hallway with my roommate, Adam, after a day at the office. I wore a sky-blue button-down shirt and gray slacks. While we conversed, I touched the area by my left clavicle. There was a lump. It seemed peculiar, though I never made a habit of touching that part of my body. I reached over to my right clavicle to see if I had a symmetrical lump.

I didn’t.

I made an appointment to see my doctor the following week.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Shit to Do During a Summer Internship in the San Francisco Bay Area

My employer hired a number of fellows and interns to work for us this summer. I was involved in hiring our two undergraduate interns, including one also named Juan who came out from Texas for a ten-week internship. Having grown up in the San Francisco Bay Area I felt a responsibility to make sure he squeezed all the juice out of his time here. This served as the inspiration for this post.

Like anyone, I have my own style. I roll in a particular way. Por ejemplo, when I’m traveling to an unfamiliar city or area I am far, far more likely to gravitate toward a seedy dive bar than some wine-tasting tour. Also, since I’m a restless human being (if I were a dog, my energy would likely match that of, say, an English Springer Spaniel) I like to keep on the move.

And so, here’s a list of activities to do in the San Francisco Bay Area—mostly centered around San Francisco and Oakland—that meets my personal stamp of approval.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Thoughts on Work, the Forty-hour Workweek and Work-Life Balance

At my office we have a large dry-erase board in the kitchen. We use it to ask questions for staff members to anonymously respond to. Recent samplings include: “If California could have a state meal, what would you include?”, “What are your favorite water-saving tips?” and “What was your first memory?” For the past week the question has been, “What are your strategies for maintaining a healthy balance in life between work, family …?”

I was the first to respond.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A Survivor's Celebration

Last night the Golden State Warriors defeated LeBron James and the Cavs to win the NBA Championship. As you may know, it’s Golden State’s first championship since 1975, Oakland’s first championship since another duo of brothers—The Bash Brothers—helped lead the A’s to a World Series victory in 1989. In 1989 I was ten years old. In 1975 I didn’t even exist; I may have existed as an idea, a dream, una esperanza para mis papas.

After the game, I joined my homies, Kevin and Joanne and a few of their friends as we walked to the 14th and Broadway intersection, a stone’s throw from City Hall. A mass of rowdy revelers, donning yellow and blue, had united there to celebrate our team’s victory. Downtown was joyous bedlam—a never-ending stream of vehicles honking and hollering as they coasted down Broadway and its adjoining streets, the sidewalks teeming with fans shouting back in a give and forth with the celebratory honking, a helicopter hovering high above. It was a swirl of exaltation. It was thirty-nine years in the making.

I cheered and shouted with my friends and the crowd gathered in the middle of the street. The streets echoed with chants of “WAAAAAAAARRRRRRRIIIIIUUUUUURRRRSSSS!” “Fuck LeBron!” and “M-V-P!” when one man held a blown-up drawing of Stephen Curry’s face sneering like he did after sinking a three near the end of Game 5. I used my voice recorder to capture these chants, these roars, these moments. I also snapped some pictures and video-recorded our celebration. With camera in hand, as I did a pan of the crowd, I stepped back and remembered that this moment might not have happened for me. (This happens every once in a while, especially when I’m seeing something beautiful, almost never for something mundane like biting into, say, a Whopper Jr.) If I had not received treatment, I might have been another lymphoma statistic. My life may have culminated to becoming a few handfuls of ash scattered up into the sky—in a redwood forest, up along the Salkantay Trail, or perhaps at the foot of El Misti. I’m not sure what my parents would have done with my remains.

Being reminded of all this made the celebration even sweeter. And that’s the thing about being fortunate to be a cancer survivor—that well of gratitude never ends until we’re dead. It never ends as long as we remember to remember. I lived long enough to see my team, the city I love so much, win a championship.

It was a beautiful night. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Memoir Outtake: Never Underestimate the Healing Power of a Super Soaker

Mariana and I sipped stiff cuba libres in our parents’ backyard. We stood beneath the patio roof as my brother-in-law, Rick, and my dad prepared the grill with lighter fluid and charcoal. The first drink I slurped down produced an immediate giddying effect. I’d slept for shit the night before which is why I thirsted for that caffeine-liquor kick. At some point, while we flashed the gab, Rick mentioned these Super Soakers he had in their car trunk. He bought them to shoot around with his four-year old nephew. He typically left the water guns in their garage but he figured I might want to have a showdown with him on a hot, summer afternoon in Fremont.

I said hell yeah.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Memoir Outtake: Beatling

Lafayette/Moraga Regional Trail
Here’s a transition I excised from a chapter titled “Made Me Nuclear.” This cut comes between a perilous nighttime bike ride I took on St. Mary’s Road without my front bike light and Charlie Lustman’s amazing musical, Made Me Nuclear, in San Pancho. This is the extended version with 302 words I later pared down to 180 words, which I ultimately cut (boohoohoo!):

Once I made it onto the flat part of the trail, whose fissures and bumps I was familiar with, I turned my iPod on. I rang my bicycle bell a couple of times and made a tooting sound while I scrolled through my songs. A righteous Beatles tune to sing along to was needed. I picked one of my all-time Lennon faves, “I Am the Walrus.” I had memorized the song since I was seventeen when I became enamored with John. (Lennon was one of my first heroes. For his songwriting genius; the fearlessness he demonstrated in playing from his heart no matter how vulnerable or dark his emotions were; his open-mindedness; his wit; his self-deprecating sarcasm; and his belief that celebrities should utilize their power for what he believed were righteous causes.) I sang aloud to the song. I went to these noise-making lengths because that part of the trail had deer. They hid amidst the thicket of bushes, behind the trees that lined the path. During the previous school year, I rode the trail one night and nearly hit a deer that darted in front of me. Since then, as a precautionary step that happened to be joyous for me (though assuredly abominable to hear if anyone were around), I often sung aloud while I cycled through those deer-populated areas. That way, they knew I was there and wouldn’t freak out and jump in front of me once they saw my shrouded figure and the curious white light on my steering handle as I hurtled down the path like a glowing phantasm. (This strategy seemed to work because I never had another deer-in-bicycle-headlight encounter.)

And so, I goo goo g’joobed and hello-goodbyed my way onto the residential streets of Lafayette, beatling away. I made it to the station on time.

These Are a Few of My Favorite Beings - My 25 Favorite Animals

Photo by rasputina2
From an early age I have always had deep affection and fascination for all the animals we share this world with. When I was in grade school my mom would take me and my sister to the Irvington Library to load up on books and video cassettes to nourish us. I used to gingerly walk out of the library with a stack of books and tapes tucked beneath my chin. Back then, I almost exclusively read books about dinosaurs, Ancient Egyptians, and animals—especially sharks and predatory animals like hawks and snakes. Over time—though my parents didn’t believe me—I read all the animal books from that tiny library that interested me. My earliest career aspirations included becoming a zoo veterinarian, marine biologist, or archaeologist.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Memoir Outtake: Cycling through the Shitstorm

Here's the first of my memoir outtakes I am going to post on this blog. Like deleted film scenes, I thought it’d be fun to show what didn’t make the cut. Hope you enjoy this outtake from a chapter now titled "The Freak Show":

During our therapy sessions, I used a lot of analogies to explain myself to Akhila, the attractive woman with curly brown hair whom I had chosen as my therapist. For example, one day I tore out of my home on Dolores Street to make it to our evening session on time. I had less than fifteen minutes to cycle to their office in Hayes Valley, which was almost two miles away. A few minutes into my ride, it began to hail. Bicyclists were pulling off of Valencia Street, ducking beneath awnings, huddling in doorways with other pedestrians who stared out to the street. The pavement was doting with pebbles of hail. They thunked off my helmet. A few of them hurt as they panged off my knuckles even though I was wearing cycling gloves. Shit, I said, waiting at a red light as I got pelted from the icy mini-meteor shower. Once the signal turned green, I squinted and lowered my head to protect my eyes. I pedaled on.

Cold and sweaty with pieces of hail lodged into my sweater, I stepped into Akhila’s private study. I closed the door behind me. With a smirk, I wiped the sweat on my forehead with a hand towel.

“Sorry I’m late. I got caught in that hailstorm,” I said, nodding toward the window.

I dropped my shoulder bag and helmet beside my chair. I took a seat opposite Akhila, then stared out the window at the dark gray sky. The hailstorm had passed. I couldn’t stop grinning. Akhila watched me with a curious grin. Perhaps she sensed all the energy bouncing inside me like billiard balls after a thundering break. I felt like I could run for miles.

I chortled.

“That’s how the past year of my life has been,” I said, placing the hand towel on my lap as I tried to reign myself in. I explained that it was my first ride in the hail, that other cyclists pulled off the road. I brought up chemotherapy. “If I wanted to live, I had no choice but to just lower my head and keep going and going through that shitstorm, just like the bike ride I had now.”

I held my head high like a boy who just completed his first multiplication table. I was pleased with myself—how simple yet perfect the analogy was. Akhila nodded as though she was saying “Right on.”

Friday, April 17, 2015

Clown Without Pity’s 2014-2015 NBA Playoff Predictions!

Oh boy oh boy oh boy, here we go: the NBA Playoffs! The playoff bracket has finally been set, and I breathed a big sigh of relief this past Wednesday because the Spurs did not land the #4 or #5 spot, which would have meant an encounter in the second round with my beloved Warriors. Did you see what I did there? I’m already assuming that the Warriors and Spurs will advance past the opening round! Okay, okay—I’ve got to slow down. Getting ahead of myself here.

Before I go into my round by round predictions, here’s a couple of executive summary-like thoughts:

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How to Obtain Permission to Reprint Lyrics for a Work of Literature

Music has been an integral rhythm in my life so no wonder that was reflected in my memoir. Early complete drafts of my manuscript were littered with musical references, including beaucoup song lyrics. From the beginning my classmates at Saint Mary’s warned me that it was costly to procure permission to reprint song lyrics. I never doubted that, but I also received conflicting information as far as what lyrics I could use for free. Unless my memory is fuzzy—which is entirely possible—I assumed, for the longest time, that I could use up to three lines of song lyrics before I would have to shell out any money to reprint them. Although I was unable to substantiate this in Getting Permission: How to License & Clear Copyrighted Materials Online & Off , or through Internet research, I continued to believe this.

Call it wishful thinking.

Now that my manuscript is being finalized—and after I found out how arduous it can be to attain reprint permission, and how expensive reprint fees can be—I decided it would be good to write an article discussing my experience. I also wanted to provide some tips that can help other writers interested in obtaining permission to reprint lyrics for their work. Also, I found several articles and message boards online that were useful but I didn’t find one article or page that housed all that information. I hope this post can provide that all-encompassing help.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Coping (or Why Do I Wake Up in the Morning?)

“We [human beings] are on a nice downward glide. I call it circling the drain. And the circles get smaller and smaller and faster and faster. And you watch the sink empty. Huish!”
–George Carlin, 2011

Why do I wake up in the morning
Nothing's changed since the day of my birth.
-Mike Muir from If I Don't Wake Up, 1988

Life is tough. Full of pain. Teeming with injustice. Coping is a life skill. As far as I know, our colleges don’t provide courses to help one cope with life in our modern world.

So how does one cope?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Drugs, Drugs, Drugs: My 13 Favorite Songs About Drugs

In his classic Relentless show, late comedian Bill Hicks said, “Drugs have done good things for us.... If you don't believe drugs have done good things for us, do me a favor then. Go home tonight. Take all your albums, your tapes and your CDs—and burn 'em. Because you know what, the musicians who made all that great music that's enhanced your lives throughout the years? Reeeeeeeeeeal fucking high on drugs.”

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Many Shades of Parting – My Favorite Breakup Songs

People are afraid of themselves, of their own reality; their feelings most of all. People talk about how great love is, but that's bullshit. Love hurts. Feelings are disturbing. People are taught that pain is evil and dangerous. How can they deal with love if they're afraid to feel? Pain is meant to wake us up. People try to hide their pain. But they're wrong. Pain is something to carry, like a radio. You feel your strength in the experience of pain. It's all in how you carry it. – Jim Morrison

Mi gran amigo and fellow blogscribe, Justin, told me he was writing a list of his favorite breakup songs for Valentine’s Day. I wanted in on the action. Life is full of pain, and what good is it keeping it to yourself? Plus, back when I lived in San Francisco, my Casa 909 household had an outstanding Valentine’s tradition that I still miss; we used to watch cheesy-gory horror flicks, get sauced on vino and heckle the moronic characters behind the television screen, especially when the killer was about to slay a couple of dumb teenagers in the throes of lovemaking. This was great for raucous laughter. Those were the coolest Valentine’s Days I’ve had so I thought this counter-lovey-dovey exercise could be fun, too.

Friday, January 30, 2015

What About Me? Clown Without Pity's 2015 Super Bowl Pick

A semi-significant part of the fun in following a sport is making predictions. It also happens to be conducive to shit-talking, which is fun.  Just ask Tom Brady.  Or Richard Sherman.

Since it’s the last game of this infamous NFL season, I figured I’d lay down my prediction for all ten of you who are going to read this before the big game. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

I’ve Been Looking for a Song That Feels Like You For Some Time – My Top 10 Jimi Hendrix songs

Let me start off with a story.

Two and a half years ago Mari and I were riding a shuttle back to Cusco. We had just visited Machu Picchu. Our tour guide, Simon Puma, must have asked about our impressions. I told him that I thought Machu Picchu would be the most epic place to hold a rock concert at night. I could imagine thundering power chords, pounding drums and resounding wails echoing off of Huayna Picchu, the wave of sound cascading about El Valle Sagrado de los Incas for a thousand nights. I didn’t tell all this to Simon, but I thought something like it. I did tell him that I thought it would be awesome to blast some Hendrix from Machu Picchu at night.

“¿Quien?” he asked.

“Hendrix,” I said. “Jimi Hendrix?” (though I gave his name Spanish inflection and pronounced it “Yimi.”) 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Clown Without Pity's 2015 Divisional Round Playoffs

Although I didn’t publish my predictions for the Wild Card Round, I will admit I didn’t do so well with my picks: a deflating 2-2. The two losses? I picked Pittsburgh and—get ready to laugh at my pisspoor predicting skills (or lack thereof): Cincinnati. I was smitten with making Pittsburgh my 2014-2015 Dark Horse to Make It To The Super Bowl but why did I ever pick Andy Dalton to win on the road in Indianapolis? And why are you reading this post?

I mention this futility because this week I’m going conservative. No bold upset picks from me! Sure, a road team is bound to pull off an upset, but numbers don’t lie and I will be more cautious about picking against recent playoff trends.

Onward we go: