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Coming this fall from
Two Penny Press and Fearless Literary
At any given moment, the journey of a family is the sum of its stories. Kevin Fisher-Paulson is beloved throughout the San Francisco Bay area, and beyond, for the stories of family he has told as a weekly columnist for the San Francisco CHRONICLE.
While telling his stories, Kevin has stumbled over more than a few truths about foster care, gay marriage, interracial family, rescue dogs, and cupcakes. Many thousands of print readers in northern California, and thousands more digital readers around the world, are touched every week by those truths.
The stories of a cop and a dancer along the journey of raising two challenging boys in the outer, outer, outer Excelsior — that most mysterious edge of San Francisco — have drawn a loyal readership of interracial and adoptive families, families dealing with learning challenges and disabilities, gays and lesbians, and people who love San Francisco.
This November, a selection of those stories will be available as a book created in collaboration between Kevin's Two Penny Press and Fearless Literary. You can advance-order a signed copy for $16.00 with FREE shipping now (est. sales tax included. Copies ordered here will be delivered before the official publication date of Nov. 15.)
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Sometimes the detour is the journey.
My parents were called Hap and Nurse Vivian. Hap was short for Harold Aloysius Paulson and Nurse Vivian was the only nurse for about six blocks in South Ozone Park, so all the neighbors went to her if they needed an ear pierced or an ear stitched back on.
Parked in front of our row house was Pop’s red Chevrolet station wagon, the kind with the two big fins coming out the back. There was a hole in the floor on the passenger side, so Nurse Vivian never wore high heels. Once every six months or so, Hap loaded up his wife and three sons to drive the family to visit his in-laws in Johnstown. Because Hap hated maps, we never travelled the same way twice, sometimes stopping for fried tomatoes at the Bird-in-Hand, sometimes getting just plain lost. This was at night, and Nurse Vivian lost her patience around about the third back country road, at which point Hap said,“Vivian, I’m following the moon.”
One autumn, we had gotten as far as the Pennsylvania turnpike, and the old station wagon gave up her muffler.Wouldn’t start. The rain got heavy then, and Nurse Vivian cried, but Hap, he put his hand on her shoulder and said,“Vivian. The flat tires, the getting lost, the detours. They are all a part of the journey. Maybe even more important than the getting there.”
Nurse Vivian said a quick prayer, jumped out of the car, and stuck out her thumb. Turns out the driver was going to a house two blocks away from her sister. Turns out even hitchhiking was part of the journey.
In the next fifty years, I met a chorus boy named Brian, then in the Broadway production of La Cage Aux Folles.We fell in love, got married (illegally), ran away, had dogs, got children, got married again, and for the most part, have lived happily ever after. He continued his career, and I became a deputy sheriff, thus fulfilling the Western stereotype of the deputy and the dance hall girl.
We found a bungalow in the outer, outer, outer Excelsior, which had just enough backyard for our pack of rescue pekes. Sixteen years ago, in a story told in another book, we fostered medically fragile newborn triplets —one with a hernia, one with a broken arm, and the third with a hole in his heart and a colostomy.We nursed them to health, and about this time, Brian and I bought an actual car, a Saturn Vue we called the Griffin. Buses are well and good, but just try getting a three seat stroller onto the BART. The miles rolled by.
Around the ten thousand mile point, we lost the triplets to the idiocracy that is California’s foster care system. But then we met Zane. Zane was a “crack baby,” born addicted with a series of challenges. He did, however, have the most personality we’d ever seen in a ten month old. He chose us, moved in and once again I became Daddy, and Brian became Papa. Aidan, a boy with a completely different set of challenges, also chose us two years later.
Somewhere along the years, the Griffin got hit one too many times, and we found a lovely little Prius we call the Kipcap.
The journey has never been straightforward. We’ve driven the Kipcap across the bridge when the doctor feared Aidan had meningitis.We raced the Kipcap to Saint John’s School the day Aidan got his head stuck in a concrete staircase. The Kipcap rolled all the way to Davis for our crippled dog Bandit to have a chance to walk.
We’ve gotten lost many times along the way. The boys flushed magnets down the toilet and the sewer line broke. Zane got expelled from school. The dining room burnt down, but the kitchen table remained. And we figured out somewhen that just sitting at the table, holding hands, saying grace and eating spaghetti was the best rest stop we would ever find.
Along the way, I’ve told the story of this journey, and like the Canterbury Tales, I found pilgrims making the same trip, towards this mysterious place called family. And I learned that I had to look in the rear view mirror, to understand where we had been, before I could put the car in drive. Hap was right. Sometimes the detour is the journey. Nurse Vivian was right as well. Sometimes you got to stick your thumb out and ask for help.
Ever wonder what the deal was with the Flintstones’ car? Barnie and Fred would hold it up, and run and run, and all at once, the wheels would start spinning. And spinning. It’s either centrifugal or centripal force. Never quite got the physics part down. But if you start out at run, the wheels keep spinning. Call it magic. Call it physics. It works.
Zane is a big fan of The Simpsons, but long before Homer and Bart there were The Flintstones. These adventures of Fred and Barney first aired on September 30, 1960, in essence, the story of what would happen if the Honeymooners moved to the Paleolithic Era. What’s not to like in a TV show whose theme song ends with “have a gay old time”?
Back in Ozone Park, I had the Bedrock play set, and the day that Brother X threw Dino out of the red Chevrolet station wagon and onto Belt Parkway, I vowed that I would one day mention it in a newspaper column. You might think of me as Fred, but really I’m the short Barney-type and Brian always has Fred’s five o’clock shadow.
Whereas Fred always had a get-rich-quick scheme, Barney (as voiced by Mel Blanc) accepted life as it was. When the Rubbles found out they couldn’t conceive children, they adopted a boy named Bamm-Bamm, with great strength but little restraint, who had been previously raised by mastodons, making this truly a cross-species family. Then they took in a rescue Hopparoo named Hoppy who, unlike Baby Puss, never once locked them out of the house for the night.
For his mid-life crisis, Barney even became a cop.
Today’s trivia: the Flintstones was the first prime time television series to depict a married couple sleeping in the same bed.
Here’s what I loved: Barney and Fred, picking up the Footmobile, running as fast as they could, then jumping in. The wheels kept spinning despite any laws of friction or inertia, and the two buddies rolled away, sharing the tag line,“Yabba Dabba Doo!” This phrase cannot be translated from the Jurassic. It is an utterance intended to express euphoria, the pure joy of rolling down the highway for Brontoburgers or an Ann Margrock concert.
The wheels keep spinning. I’ve thought a lot about Barney, walking the floor late at night in his bungalow in the outer, outer, outer, outer Bedrock, trying to get Bamm-Bamm to sleep, worrying that the school district would misdiagnose his special needs child.
But Hoppy never knew that he was a crippled Hopparoo. Bamm-Bamm never knew that his strength might be mis-interpreted. True, he was sent away for nine episodes, but he came back. He and Pebbles trusted that the wheels on the Footmobile keep spinning, set in motion by their Fathers’ determination, kept in motion by either God or the Great Gazoo. They didn’t introduce the Great Gazoo as their deus ex machina until the last season. Voiced by Harvey Korman, he’d been banished from the planet Zetox, and because he was discovered by Barney and Fred he did good deeds for them (materializing bowling balls, freezing time, or speeding up the Footmobile)
although he was invisible to everyone else.
As an eight-year old, he influenced my developing theology, that despite whatever disasters happened, whether that be Zane getting lost or Aidan sticking a magnet down his foreskin, the wheels of the Kipcap, and the world, would keep spinning, guided by an invisible and benevolent power.
Long after the series ended (on April 1, 1966), the mythos continued in everything from the Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show, to Nintendo games, to the 1994 epic starring Rosie O’Donnell. It survives to this day in the form of Flintstones Vitamins. Cordova Market only carries two kinds of bread, but in the cereal aisle, it always stocks Fruity Pebbles. The owner Sid told me, “I never heard of pumpernickel, but I love Fred Flintstone.”
Okay, now let’s go to the outer, outer, outer, outer, outer Excelsior, which is located at 45 Berryessa Way in Hillsborough. You can see this 2700 square foot home driving north on 280. It was designed by William Nicholas in 1976 and made out of shotcrete sprayed over rebar, which had been framed over inflated aeronautical balloons. Painted orange and purple, it is known as the Flintstone house, and the current owner, Florence Fang, decorated the yard with dinosaur sculptures. Government in action: forget homelessness, crime and failing infrastructure. The town of Hillsborough has sued this woman for maintaining “a highly visible eyesore.”
You know which side the Fisher-Paulsons come down on. The Bedlam Bungalow is painted Batman Blue and instead of a lawn we have a rainbow flag. Lay off, Hillsborough. Let Florence Fang fly her freak Fred flag, just for the fun of it. No matter what, when we Fisher-Paulsons drive over the Doran Memorial Bridge, over the San Mateo Creek, we’ll salute it, and our wheels keep spinning. YABBA DABBA DOO!
In an imperfect world,
enjoy the perfect game.
The Excelsior Baseball Diamond is so small that little leaguers are discouraged from “swinging for the fences” lest they hit one of the cars parked on Madrid Street. Not that I need to worry about that with my ten-year-old son. Aidan plays baseball with the Saint John Eagles. He is what coaches call a “daisy picker.” Like other children with ADHD, Aidan loses interest sometime after the second pitch is thrown. But he can tell you about any raven flying overhead, and the Excelsior Baseball Diamond has an excellent sky to watch, bright blue in the center, with occasional Maxfield Parrish clouds skimming the horizon of the San Bruno Mountains.
While Aidan stands in the outfield staring at the La Precita murals, my twelve-year-old son Zane rides his skateboard to the basketball court to play pickup. Zane got himself expelled from parochial school last year, and so is not encumbered by the peer pressure of organized sports. One of those murals reads “Coming together through sports.” The Archbishop doesn’t know this, but in the San Francisco Youth Baseball League (SFYBL) there is no such thing as traditional marriage. But no gay marriage either. They don’t ask who’s the husband and who’s the wife. They don’t ask me who’s the deputy and who’s the dancer with Fresh Meat. No, the only question they ask of any couple is, “Who’s the coach?” and “Who brings snacks?”
I coach. (My husband Brian brings snacks.) When I grew up in South Ozone Park, my older brothers, when choosing sides for a stickball game on Sutter Avenue, always relegated me to not even home plate, but first base umpire. But here in San Francisco I coach baseball. Brian says that I coach because I’m the loud one. My style consists of yelling what the kids already know (“Hit the ball!” “Catch the ball!”) occasionally peppered with phrases I picked up from other coaches (“You’re on the bump next inning”) and gestures like slapping my thighs to say “Keep your knees bent in the infield.”
However, what I do best is stand there when a ten-year-old has struck out in the last inning, and let him cry on my shoulder. You would be surprised at how important this task is. But this is community. Every parent gets a position. Could be the woman with the hijab coaching third base. Could be a guy on the Board of Supervisors bringing granola bars.
The refreshment bringers have their own code, which they do not explain to the coaches, but this much I understand: bring lemonade for the hot afternoon games at Moscone Field and bring a flask for the early evening games at Miraloma. Took me a while to figure out which Dads had espresso in their Starbuck’s cups, and which ones had beer. And because this is community, no one loses.
On the Excelsior Baseball Diamond, my family is not unique. Yes, we have three “rescue” dogs who bark at the pitcher. Yes, we have two “rescue” sons, neither of whom pays attention to the game. And, yes, Brian insists that I am the“rescue” husband who tries to look useful. For the Fisher-Paulsons a good day consists of better than a D Minus on the test, and the Fire Department not being called in.
My oldest son is black and my youngest son is of mixed race, but in the San Francisco Youth Baseball League we never assume that the red-headed shortstop has a red-headed father.
This has been a rainy season in San Francisco, and for unknown reasons, the majority of the precipitation has occurred on Friday nights. Thus the first three games were cancelled. But on the fourth Saturday, the Eagles walked out onto the field at Madrid and Moscow, threw a few balls around and waited. And waited. The umpire arrived. The other team never did. I walked up to the head coach, a handsome Latino guy with enough enthusiasm for both of us, and said,“Do me a favor.Write Aidan down as pitcher.”
“Doesn’t matter. This is a forfeit.”
“Yeah, I know. But now I can say he pitched a perfect game.”
The Excelsior (Latin for “Ever Upward”) is a forgotten neighborhood, “the last working-class neighborhood in the city,” the one that Starbucks refuses to move to, that even Peet’s will not lay claim. You won’t find the history of the Excelsior Baseball Diamond on Wikipedia.
The Eagles strike out a lot. They walk the batters. They drop the ball. But San Francisco is a baseball town. Let San Jose have hockey. Let Santa Clara have football.We have the Giants. And even in the most remote neighborhood, on our secret baseball diamond, we have little girls who sometimes catch the ball. And little boys who sometimes hit the pitch. And it doesn’t matter who wins. It matters only that we have a few good moments on a sunny Saturday afternoon. And every once in a very long while, the game is perfect.
COPYRIGHT 2019 BY KEVIN FISHER-PAULSON. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Kevin Thaddeus Fisher-Paulson lives with his husband Brian, their two sons, and their four rescue dogs in San Francisco. When not writing, he works 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 previous 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. He is currently working on a book proposal on the subject of "creativity under pressure," to be represented to mainstream publishers by Fearless Literary.
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