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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, we've released a second selection of 75 columns. (Read three samples below.) You can order the hardcover, paperback and digital editions at the links below, or place an order with your local bookstore. And mark your calendar for Kevin's appearances in the SF Bay area, starting in late summer and noted below as soon as each is confirmed...
ORDER THE HARDCOVER ($29.95), PAPERBACK ($17.95), or KINDLE ($8.95)
ORDER ANY DIGITAL FORMAT ($8.95)
SPEAKING EVENTS FOR
"SECRETS OF THE BLUE BUNGALOW"
featuring author Kevin Fisher-Paulson in person
Kevin works the capacity crowd at the launch reading of
SECRETS, Aug. 31 at Napa Bookmine
Kevin receives a standing ovation from an audience of 100+
at Book Passage, Corte Madera, Sept. 16
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 10 • 2:00 pm
Far Out Gallery
3004 Taraval @ 40th Ave, San Francisco 94116
SUNDAY, JANUARY 21 • 1:00 pm
California Writers Club - Berkeley
1955 Broadway, Oakland CA
$5 for CWC Members • $10 for non-members
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.
Little Orphan Aidan
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.”
Another Zenith of Our Nadir
This column almost didn’t get written.
I pride myself on being the Cal Ripken of Western Journalism, not having missed one deadline for 167 consecutive Wednesdays. What I lack in quality, I make up for in consistency.
This I get from my husband Brian, who hasn’t missed a performance in almost four decades as a professional dancer. I’ve watched him pirouette on a broken foot.
Back in the mid-1980s, however, just a few years into our illegal marriage, he did take a break from Terpsichore. He took a job off Broadway, with Playwrights Horizons, in the costume department.
At this time, the shop was busy working on period piece outfits for such shows as Sunday in the Park with George, Driving Miss Daisy and The Heidi Chronicles. Imagine if you will that you sewed a bustle that Bernadette Peters could step out of on stage.
This was a high-pressure environment. Brian sewed for two women, and he did a lot of the hand-stitching and pressing. But invariably they would come to opening night, Morgan Freeman’s chauffeur cap didn’t fit and Ginny would say, “We have reached the zenith of our nadir.”
Brian and I came to embrace the term. To us, it meant, this is the absolute worst part of the worst part, but it was also hopeful because, well, things couldn’t get any worse.
We’ve had a lot of zeniths in our almost 35-year relationship: The night the dining room in the Bedlam Blue Bungalow in the Outer, Outer, Outer, Outer Excelsior went up in flames, we stood in the ashes, mopping water up off the floor, Brian looked at me and nodded, “Yes, the zenith of our nadir.”
The afternoon we lost the triplets. The morning that Tim died of AIDS. The day that Zane went away.
Every disaster has an ending. All bleeding eventually stops.
Cataract comes from the Latin word cataracta which means “waterfall,” which in turn comes from the Greek word katarosso, which means to crash down. Early Persian physicians thought that these obstructions of the eyes were caused by too much humor flowing through the eyes, or as I see it, too many tears.
When the doctor diagnosed me with cataracts, I was all set to make this into Greek tragedy, but not the husband: “They have operations for that. This is like an oil change,” he said. “In and out in an hour.”
We told Aidan that night, and he asked how serious this was. Brian said, “Oh they’ve been doing this kind of surgery for decades now.” So, I looked it up. First known cataract surgery? 1748, by a French physician named Daviel.
Of course, nothing’s routine for the Fisher-Paulsons. Turns out my corneas are also damaged, so even the doctor said, “I have no idea what the outcome will be.”
Last Tuesday, I checked in to the eye surgery place on Post Street, and tried to act all calm as I signed off forms that would let a doctor slice my eyeball open with a laser.
A nice nurse named Mary Ann checked me in, and even though she claimed to be Catholic, she had no idea who Saint Lucy was, so I figured I was on my own.
There were eight other people getting cataract surgery at the time, and what with just lying there in a bed, I had nothing to do but listen to their nurses ask if they were ready for the surgery, but here comes the best part. They asked each their height and weight, and it turns out that, yes, I was the heaviest person in the building. When I weighed in at 181, the guy in the bed next to me said, “Wish I could borrow some of yours. They do the anesthesia according to how many pounds you are.”
Thanks to my relative immensity, I remember almost nothing of what happened after that. Brian picked me up, my seeing-eye dancer for the week. The left side of my face bandaged up, I went home and slept.
When I awoke, Brian told me all the restrictions the doctor had prescribed: I couldn’t shower, I couldn’t lift heavy weights, I couldn’t drink, I couldn’t complain about his driving.
The bandages were too thick for me to put on my glasses. So I couldn’t read with my remaining eye. Couldn’t watch television. Couldn’t type. Couldn’t shower. Couldn’t shave. Not an ounce of caffeine in my system. Itchy eyeball. But then, I looked at Brian with my one semi-working eye, and he nodded. The zenith of this particular nadir. Life would get better after this.
Until of course, next Tuesday, when we do the other eye.
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