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ANNOUNCING ADVANCE SALES OF
SECRETS OF THE BLUE BUNGALOW:
More True Tales of Family Life in the Outer, Outer, Outer, Outer Excelsior
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE COLUMNIST
For eight years, thousands of readers across San Francisco and beyond have laughed, cried, and felt inspired by the true, tender, and hilariously honest tales of a gay-parented, mixed-race, superheroic family growing up together in a Batman Blue bungalow... located somewhere in the outer, outer, outer, outer Excelsior neighborhood. Told every Wednesday by SF Chronicle columnist Kevin Fisher-Paulson, 65 of these evocative stories were first collected in a book entitled How We Keep Spinning...! , published in 2019 by Kevin's own Two Penny Press in collaboration with Fearless Literary.
Now, four years later, a second selection of 75 columns is heading into print (four samples appear below). To finance the production and publicity for this edition, Fearless Literary is managing an advance sale of copies signed by Kevin and shipped with free delivery as soon as they're off the press. By ordering early at advance prices you will help make this book happen, and thus become a part of the Fisher-Paulson legacy.
'SECRETS' will be available both as a trade paperback and in a Limited Edition hardcover. You can pay via PayPal (which accepts credit cards) or, if you're not keen on online payments, by check. We're aiming for a release of both editions by midsummer, and we all hope to have you come along for the ride! — D. Patrick Miller, founder and publisher, Fearless Literary.
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Kevin Thaddeus Fisher-Paulson lives with his husband Brian, their two sons, and their four rescue dogs in San Francisco. When not writing, he serves as Chief Deputy for the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department. He earned a degree in American Studies from the University of Notre Dame in 1980 and subsequently studied writing with Dorothy Allison, Jessica Hagedorn and Steve Abbott and has attended courses at the University of Iowa and the University of Oregon. His first book A SONG FOR LOST ANGELS was published by Fearless Books, and earned a Finalist status three times in two different independent publishing contests. It is now published under his own imprint, Two Penny Press. The first collection of Kevin's SF Chronicle columns, HOW WE KEEP SPINNING...! was published in collaboration with Fearless Literary in 2019.
SECRETS OF THE BLUE BUNGALOW:
Aquaman and a Shrivel of Critics
In the outer, outer, outer, outer Excelsior there is a Batman Blue bungalow. Its inhabitants, the Fisher-Paulsons, have been seen, on any day from Halloween to Pride Day, dressed as Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, Superman and even Middle-Aged Ninja Mutant Turtles. The girl next door dressed up as Wonder Woman just to go trick-or-treating with us. We named our dog Krypto, so it’s a sure bet that we see every superhero film to hit the theater.
Here’s how I really knew things had gone downhill last year. Opening weekend of The Avengers. Tickets for four at the Alamo. The previews rolled, the room grew dark and Zane didn’t show up. Now Zane might skip out on Thurgood Marshall High School. He might skip out on Most Holy Redeemer. He would definitely skip out on homework. But he would NEVER skip out on Black Panther.
Regular readers know that last summer, Zane went to a school in Texas where he could learn to use his powers for good. I think of it as the Hogwarts for Superheroes. But it’s hard on all of us. We only get to speak to him for ten minutes, twice a week, sometime on Monday and sometime on Friday, but we never know when.
Last week Aquaman came out. Aidan wanted me to take five of his classmates to see it. No matter how cynical a seventh grader is, he will always be enthusiastic for the Justice League. We drove to the mystical city of Daly, loaded up on popcorn and sour candy. The girl in the group ordered a latté, and Brian convinced them to sell him a wine. We found seats right in the middle.
This is not the theater column. The Chronicle has a fine shiver of art critics (Wake? Shoal? What is the collective noun for critics? Shrivel!) who comment on the cinema, and Peter Hartlaub has already written that “Aquaman swims in the shallow end.”
If I was writing the critique, I would say the flaw was in Kym Barrett’s costume design. If Green Arrow wears green, and Black Canary wears black then why would she put Aquaman in orange? Where’s the aqua? Wouldn’t that make him Tangerine Man? It has been my experience of the past two years that only supervillains come in orange.
My husband Brian ignored my outrage, insisting “We didn’t plunk down two hundred dollars to see Jason Mamoa’s costume. The whole point is for him to take his shirt off.”
Okay, you know how superhero films work. We got an archvillain, Ocean Master. We got the beautiful and clever heroine Mera, who does not need to be saved from anything other than her own sarcasm. We got an origin story (bitten by a radioactive goldfish). Plot complications ensued, leading to a threat to the surface world as we knew it.
More than two hours into the movie’s two hours and 23 minutes, just when Julie Andrews appeared, the darkest menace our hero had faced yet, my phone pulsed. Zane. From Texas. I spilled my kettle corn all over Brian as I rushed for the exit door.
“Dad, one of my peers wants to speak with you.”
An unknown person with a drawl said, “Mr. Paulson, we wanted you to know that Zane’s been a jerk for a long time, but this week something happened. He decided to take it all seriously. We really think he’s turned a corner.”
This is not a sports column either, but any Giants fan can tell you that you gotta turn three corners before you head home. Change with my sons is never symmetric. Two steps forward, three steps backward, a few steps to the side. But Zane had turned a corner.
Zane got back on the phone. “I love you, Dad. I’m sorry I missed Christmas. I’m sorry that I’m gonna miss the Talling of the Boys.” If you read the column last year, you know that every New Year’s morning, we eat our second round of cinnamon rolls, and then the boys stand in front of the bathroom door, and Brian puts a mark to see how tall they have grown. Last year Zane got close, but was still shorter than his old man.
“It’s okay, Zane. The kind of growth you’re doing can’t be measured in a doorway.”
“Thanks Dad, but I still miss you.”
“We’re coming to visit next month. We’ll make Groundhog Day the best holiday of the year.”
Got back into the theater, and the credits were rolling. I can only assume that the surface world was saved, and that Aquaman had found the mermaid of his dreams.
But don’t bother telling me the ending. Some days I don’t get to see endings, but I do get to see new beginnings.
First Strike by a Bowling Mother
Aidan attends St. John’s, a Catholic school in Glen Park. At 235 students, it’s not the smallest in the diocese, but still pretty much everyone is on a first name basis. Even so it keeps up tradition: there’s a nativity pageant every yuletide guaranteed to make the most cynical weep. There’s a pizza sports banquet every spring where even the kid who picked daisies on the soccer field gets a medal.
Sister Shirley has a touch of class, so once a year, she throws a Mother/Daughter tea. Now, you would think this was right down my lane: Darjeeling or Earl Grey, petit-fours, bone china, lace doilies, but if there’s one thing certain about Zane and Aidan, you don’t bring them to High Tea.
By the time that the Father/Daughter dance was announced, the boys, however, were both feeling a little left out.
As regular readers know, Zane currently attends Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, so only Aidan was home to react when the flyer came out for Mother/Son Bowling.
Either you are sympathetic to this column or you are not. That’s how writing works. Those on the Pro-Fisher-Paulson side are thinking, “Couldn’t they have a Gay Dad/Straight Son Competitive Ice Cream night, where all the gay parents at the school (that would be Brian and me) take their son to Mitchell’s to see whether Dad finishes his Irish Coffee Sundae before Aidan finishes his Avocado?”
But if you’re unsympathetic, consider the plight of little orphan Aidan. He didn’t pick the parents. He didn’t pick the parochial school. This was a lot easier at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, where two dads, a mixed-race family and a pack of rescue dogs was a cliché.
Miss Mirna is one of those organized mothers who manages a full-time job, a husband, a startup business, two sons, and still manages to be the class mother for the 7th grade and go on every field trip, from the art museum to the gold country. Her word is law. She sent me the following emojis: A bowling pin. A smiley face. Hands linked. Aidan translated: “Bowling Sunday night. You’re the mother.”
We sat at the dining room table, and Aidan laid it out. “The boys in the class have got you figured for father, ‘cause you do the coaching. The girls got you figured for mother, ‘cause you bake the cupcakes.”
“Kinda the same. Tho the ballet part does tip the scale.”
Between two and four million children have an LGBTQ2 parent so it’s not like Aidan’s situation is unique. But it’s a lot more rarified in a Catholic School. I’ve cited all the studies and Aidan still doesn’t believe that he’s got a better shot than average at turning out normal.
There’s an upside to having gay parents. In Kindergarten, when Max and Camille were still singing “The Wheels on the Bus,” my boys knew all the words to “I Will Survive.” But the downside is when it’s time for Mother/Son Bowling, someone’s gonna feel left out, and someone’s gonna feel like an impostor.
What does a father do? I drove him to Sea Bowl, and let him eat French Fries for dinner. And I took Papa along with me, because, really, he’s every bit as big a mother as I am. While I was throwing gutter balls, he was doing shots with the more carefree mothers.
This was the worst possible sport for me to have to prove my maternity. Back in Ozone Park, on the one and only sports team that Pop had ever forced me onto, I stumbled home with the trophy of “League’s Worst Bowler” with a season average of 29.
Miss Mirna had organized the event, and got only one complaint. A second grade Mom walked up to her, and said, “What’s he doing here? If we wanted the husbands along, we would have put that on the flyer.” Miss Mirna took a sip of her Chardonnay, her perfectly manicured fingers not once having entered a bowling ball that night: “Honey, Kevin may be a lot of things, but he is no woman’s husband. I’d go so far to say that he’s a lot more nurturing than some of us….”
Sometimes the universe cooperates. Every other mother on the team was over 100. I was at 59, on the very last frame. I did not throw the ball, so much as I shoved it down the alley, and a few seconds later, every damn pin went down. My first strike.
“And furthermore…” Miss Mirna took another sip, “he’s on my team.”
A Baking Family Does Medivnyk
A column is a story, and a story is a circle. The beginning is the end is the beginning, whether that story goes from the Excelsior to the Sunset or from Russia to Ukraine.
Many readers have asked how my son Aidan is doing in his new school, Compass High. The answer is that we have returned to bake sales.
One of the first pre-schools that my boys attended was out in the Avenues. Tanya, a Russian woman, ran it. My husband Brian found it, but we checked it out together, to see whether this woman was robust enough to handle both Fisher-Paulson boys. Tanya sized up Zane, then Aidan. Then me. She handed me a bowl of steaming kasha, a sweet nutty porridge, announcing, “We are fine.”
And, for many months, we were. The boys even learned a few Cyrillic letters. In August came Zane’s birthday, and the week before, Tanya handed me a list of items I would need to bring in to insure my good-parent status: streamers, balloons, a disposable camera, and cupcakes — not cake. “And the cupcakes,” she added sternly, “you do not shop Safeway. You make from scratch.”
I must have looked flabbergasted, because Tanya pressed on: “Look. There are two kinds of parents: bakery and baking. The bakery parents, they go to Noe Valley or Dianda’s and the cakes are bijou … what is the word? Precious? But the next day, their children do not remember.
“But you, I can tell. Your mother would have baked for you. You will do same. Your boys will remember that their kitchen smelled like vanilla and warm chocolate.”
She was right. Nurse Vivian was a baking mother, not a bakery mother. And a cooking mother.
Mrs. Roth, my sixth-grade teacher, hosted a French Fair. We memorized conjugations. We needlepointed a Parisian scene. We danced a pavanne. Mrs. Roth invited all the mothers to chef some haute cuisine, but Nurse Vivian was working swing watch at that PTA meeting, so she missed the easy signups of quiche and croque monsieur. So, she went down to the library and got a recipe for Crevettes en Gelee, which involved a gelatin mold of shrimp, tomatoes and chevre.
True story: Until that day, Nurse Vivian did not know that you could get cheese from a goat. I had to convince her not to substitute Velveeta. But she took the day off from work and cooked it, proudly presenting it to my beloved teacher, only to find out that Mrs. Roth kept kosher.
I did become a baking dad. Not all the cupcakes were perfect. But it’s hard to notice any imperfections when you cover them in frosting and sprinkles.
And the kitchen frequently smelled of cinnamon rolls and pumpkin pie. Cakes featuring Winnie the Pooh, Batman, Ben 10. Neither Zane nor Aidan will remember, but the year that Zane started kindergarten at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, the night before our (legal) wedding, I did not attend a bachelor party. Instead, I baked gingerbread persons to raise money for a field trip to the pumpkin patch.
And for eight years, every time the school at St. John’s raised money for trips with NatureBridge or to Coloma, I baked brownies. Then Brian would buy out the stock of field-trip pastries and hand them out to the unhoused in the neighborhood.
Riordan High never asked us for tarts or cookies, and maybe we should have taken that as a sign. There is something about a community that requires breaking (and baking) bread together.
So Brian and I were relieved and happy when Compass, this tiny school of fewer than 50 students, announced a bake sale to support World Central Kitchen’s (www.wck.org) relief effort in Ukraine.
There are some who would describe my husband as high-maintenance. Others would say diligent. But Brian spent several hours in research. He insisted that if the bake sale was to benefit the Ukraine, then the food must be Ukrainian. He settled on a medivnyk. Think: Bundt cake. Then think complicated: with parchment paper, dates, sour cream, orange zest and Zante currants. Brian drove to five stores looking for ingredients, and not even Canyon Market, emporium of the obscure, sold buckwheat honey.
So, to come full circle, the answer to “How is Aidan doing?” is this: He goes to Current Events class. I pick him up a little after three, and he gets in the car and talks about the siege of Kyiv. He asks me what we can do about it.
I tell him one family cannot change the world. We can only hope to change our corner of the Outer, Outer, Outer, Outer Excelsior. We can do this by baking medivnyk. Whether the circle is a Jell-O mold of shrimp or a honey funnel cake, the circle brings us home.
Tanya was right: We are not a bakery family. We are a baking family. And if something does not turn out well, we can always sprinkle it with powdered sugar.
We Are Who We Choose To Be
This week, Aidan’s decided he is Black.
He announced this at the family dinner table, as we served mashed potatoes, green beans and meat loaf. Aidan used to like my meat loaf, but everything changes.
Aidan’s Black now. Partly because he feels more comfortable in his skin at Compass High, whereas I think he felt that he needed to be White while he was at Riordan. Partly because of teenage rebellion. If my husband Brian and I were Black, I’m pretty sure he’d say he was white.
When he was little, he used to insist on his whiteness. One afternoon after kindergarten, he got into the front seat of the Griffin (our old family car) and announced, “Zane’s the only one who has to sit in the back of the car.” Aidan had missed the nuances on his kindergarten teacher’s lesson about Rosa Parks. It is one of the few times I’ve ever seen Zane cry.
Aidan's Black now. Partly, I hope, because he knows that although he and Zane have challenges, underneath it all, they are brothers.
This is one of those third-rail conversations. When we fostered Aidan back in 2006, the social worker had little information about his health or family history. He appeared vaguely Latinx, but in our family the exact definition didn’t matter.
Aidan’s Aunt Amanda is Jewish. His Uncle Ming is Asian. His Tita (Filipino for Aunt) Ann is, well, Filipina. So, we gave him the smorgasbord of culture, lighting the shabbat candles for the menorah on Hanukkah, and then again for the Kinara on Kwanzaa. He went straight from Dia de los Muertos through Lunar New Year and into Pride.
When we got to the race box on school applications, we wrote, “Your guess is as good as ours.” Only once. Brian stopped me after that.
But then our fairy godsister sent us a 23andMe DNA testing kit. It involved a lot of spitting, and a few surprises. Zane turned out to be three-quarters Sub-Saharan African, a little bit Native American and just a teensy bit Celtic. My husband Brian turned out to be a lot less French Canadian than he claimed. Me, I turned out to be the whitest person in my family, a distinction I take no pride in, other than to say a little bit of French sneaked into my gene pool when no one was looking.
Aidan is roughly half British Isles/half Sub-Saharan African.
Much of the talk about race in this column has been about Zane. Zane is Black and will always be seen as Black. He embraces the music and the language. But he pays the price. Deputies in Sonoma County treated him differently than they would treat a white teenager. From Zane we learned that Black Lives Matter.
But Aidan is in a strange space. Although he is not socially adept, he could navigate either world if he chose to. And this week, he did make a choice.
According to the U.S. Census, in 2010, the multiracial population was measured as nine million people. In 2020, it was counted as 33.8 million, a 266% increase, the fastest growing demographic.
This week, Aidan reminded me that we are who we choose to be.
There is more than one truth to each individual. We choose which of these truths to reveal. I am, in full disclosure, half leprechaun, one-quarter Viking and one-quarter whatever mystery genes Grandpa Wise brought to Johnstown, Penn. (some of which may have been French), but I present as Irish. Culturally I am Irish. We celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day but not Midsommar. We cook farl but not lutfisk.
Brian danced with Sean Dorsey Dance for a very long time, and he brought home an understanding about the challenges of the transgender community. I came to believe gender was a construct, and that each of us is who we are, not who we are assigned at birth. More importantly, each of us is who we become.
Race may also be a construct, but as a white man I can see the argument only through my own lens of privilege. I am blessed to be a part of a family that challenges my own perceptions.
For Aidan, he’s not “passing as black.” He is who he has decided to be.
Aidan’s Black now. This week at least. And this is what he taught me: Biracial lives matter.
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