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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Sunday, October 31, 2010

entry arrow8:30 AM | Excerpt from "The Kitchen Goddess of Dogpatch"

[a short story in progress]

For Wilfredo Pascual

It took Michael Concepcion a few days of vacillation before he decided to break the news to his mother that he was moving from his two-bedroom apartment in The Mission to a spacious loft, for half the price, in Dogpatch.

The reason, he told her in codes she could understand, was a perfect combination of savvy real estate and careful consideration for space for his growing reputation as an artist coming to terms with the wonderful fact of commissions fast coming his way. Real estate. Reputation. Commissions. The magic words. He watched her face brighten, and knew he was almost there.

“I need the big space for my paintings, Ma,” he said, “and I certainly cannot afford even an idea of that in the tiny hellholes that are the only available options in all of San Francisco.”

He calculated the weight of those words as well. The dramatic flair was something she could respond to—it was a genetic predisposition they both shared, the theatricality of things, a common arsenal of weapons they used to battle each other with. Still, he did not mention, with much carefulness, anything about moving in with Dan.

The voice at the other end of the line went silent for a pregnant span of five seconds, and Michael thought of his mother in the sunny, high-ceilinged living room in Inner Sunset she spent most of her afternoons in, after long lunches with kumares from back home, reading romance novels, or watching with disturbing avidity the shenanigans of noontime game shows in The Filipino Channel, or fretting about the fact that he never called on her anymore. Him, and his brother Carmelo who was in Nebraska.

“Is that the area near Sunnydale?” his mother finally asked in that teeny voice, which Michael recognized as the tone she reserved for both nervousness and astonishment. He knew how to tiptoe around that tone. It contained landmines.

“Yes, Ma, but not quite,” he said. “It’s just a little farther down Arleta. Not quite Sunnydale, but close.”

“Oh, good. But there’s nothing except old, dirty warehouses there,” she said, when in fact she meant this: “What would our relatives say?” He was dismayed to know that parts of him understood the skewed snobbishness of what she was probably imagining. She had been born in privilege, a sugar princess sprung from the old haciendas of Negros Island back in the Philippines—and life in America would become a mere continuation, if subtly reduced, of that privilege. When her late husband thought of migrating to America in 1965, she was thirty years old and demanded only two things: the place was going to be San Francisco, not New York or Boston or “barbaric Los Angeles where there are too many Filipinos,” and she was going to live in a Victorian house. That they were able to get one in the Avenues at a steal was a matter of sheer luck—something which never registered to her at all. It was par for the course of her charmed life.

The relatives, of course, especially those who would know the significations of the various neighborhoods of San Francisco—you lived for Pacific Heights, you avoided the Tenderloin—would probably not be able to grasp the idea of living in the wasteland of Dogpatch, an industrial part of San Francisco that was home to abandoned shipyards, rotting factories, and a towering sewage plant that was the landmark gracing Islais Creek. And for the most part, it was too easy to understand the discomfort: the landscape that existed after the AT&T Park in South Beach seemed alienating, all of it consisting of wide expanses of parking lots, streets lined with shuttered shops, and stretches of brick warehouses that have seen better days and have long since been abandoned. There were stories of horrible muggings, always involving poor Asian men.

What Michael could not explain to her was the gentrification the whole stretch seemed to be undergoing, that under all that rough exterior and old reputation, a growing community of artists—many of them his friends—had rooted in, started to call the place home. He fell in love at first sight with Building No. 8 off Wright Street, a former textile warehouse which still sported the roughness of the neglectful years—the grimy greenish wood, the signs over the metallic doors that read “Warning: Hazardous Materials Inside,” the dilapidated feel of the place. Not far off, in the next yard, there were piles of old cars crumpled on top of each other, a crane nearby.

“The place is fine,” he said, his reassurance measured. “The warehouses are now being converted to lofts—they are spacious and they look great. I took Danny once to the loft I’m thinking of renting. He seemed jealous, told me he wished he could live in one himself.” Danny was his cousin, and this was all a lie.

“Oh. Well, he can’t,” she said. “He’s already married, and he has that house near Tiburon. Why would a married man want to live in a loft?”

“I’ll invite you over for a visit one of these days, when I’ve settled down,” Michael said. And then: “Maybe you can even make dinner, break in the new kitchen?”

That was the final piece for a winning battle, the invitation for a feast she could make. Michael could imagine her now, at the other end of the line, tamping down a growing excitement. I bet she is already planning a menu in her head, he thought. This was proving much too easy.

His mother demurred, of course. This was part of the game, the last act. “Are you sure, dear?” she asked, her voice becoming teenier than usual.

“I’m sure, Ma,” Michael said.

“Dogpatch,” she finally said. “I kinda like that name. I like dogs. Do you have dogs now?”

[to be continued...]

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