Monday, July 31, 2006

Original Research

A story about Wikipedia in the most recent issue of the New Yorker says the site prohibits original research so as not to end up with reams of material on people’s pets.

After the dismal experience of giving Thelonious her first pill this time around, I decided to try the various pill-giving techniques I’d seen and read about online, and thought I’d dispense immediately with the ridiculous one shown in the video where the guy put his hand under his cat’s jaw and the cat’s mouth popped open for easy pill insertion.

So, on day two, I sat on my bed with Thelonious and petted her and spoke to her soothingly. I didn’t wrap her in the towel. I put my hand under her jaw and lifted her head. Her lips parted just slightly, I inserted the tip of the pill shooter, and—ping!—the pill shot down her throat. She didn’t even have to swallow. The whole thing (after the petting) took five seconds and was completely free of trauma. I couldn’t believe it. The same thing happened on day three. On day four, she was pawing at my hand a bit, but the pill still went down with relative ease.

She hasn’t vomited in days, her diarrhea hasn’t returned, and the Prednisone seems to have greatly improved her appetite. In fact, she looks much better after just a few days.

However, it’s a powerful drug with lots of potential side effects, and I am concerned about her taking it. I’m a little worried that it’s making her feel strange, that she’s thinking, “Goodness, I just don’t feel like myself lately.” When I see Dr. Press next, I’ll ask if we can try tapering off after awhile.

Friday evening, I got a call from my friend Amy, who has just moved to Bend, Oregon. We had a good long chat.

On Saturday I went to a couple of fabric stores in the Mission and to Freewheel, where I bought two more Jandd grocery bag panniers, which are really excellent. I’m going to put the two new ones in my closet and in ten years when I need them, I’ll have them, unlike what usually happens, which is that I can’t find a good replacement for the item that has fallen apart and I’m kicking myself for not getting another when I realized how excellent it was.

That’s what happened with my Nashbar Townies, which are similar bags that I used for years for grocery shopping. Then one of them finally gave way, and I ordered several more only to find that the quality had declined to the point that the bag could not be used for grocery shopping. It was way too flimsy, though it’s OK for day-to-day transporting of a backpack.

I then bought a Jandd grocery bag pannier that was extremely sturdy, but whose outer edge tended to droop down, making it so you couldn’t fill a brown paper grocery bag all the way to the top. The bag would get sort of cut in the middle—it developed an hourglass figure—and whatever was in the top half was in danger of falling out.

The latest incarnation of the Jandd grocery bag pannier solves that problem. The only itsy-bitsy thing it lacks is a Velcro loop near the top to put around a portion of the rack that the bag is attached to. With such a fastener, if you accidentally kick the bottom of the pannier while riding, you can’t dislodge it from where it's hooked on.

On Saturday evening, I watched three movies, one with Tom: Mr. & Mrs. Smith; The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio; and Blast from the Past. I wanted to see the latter because it has Christopher Walken in it, but my favorite of the three was The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio. What an extraordinary person and mother Evelyn Terry was, at least as portrayed in the movie. It was also visually pleasing and a reminder of the sexism of the 1960s—even the milkman feels free to lecture this mother of ten.

There was a very funny thing about playing Scrabble on my new favorite radio show, Prairie Home Companion, on Sunday, where a bad guy says, “Oh, looky here, I just happened to get seven letters that spell ‘zeppelin’: z-e-p-p-l-i-n.” The Garrison Keillor character challenges that, but it turns out “zepplin” is indeed in the bad guy’s dictionary. The bad guy gets nearly 200 points and G. Keillor loses his turn.

Then the bad guy says, “Oh, looky here, I just happened to get seven letters that spell ‘Cuisinart’: k-w-z-n-a-r-t,” and adds with satisfaction, “That’s good playin’.”

Sunday afternoon I made green split peas and buckwheat, and washed and chopped veggies for the coming week, and roasted potatoes and made a vegan version of Rice Krispies Treats, with Earth Balance instead of butter, Suzanne’s Ricemellow Creme instead of marshmallows (marshmallows contain gelatin, which is made of melted cow’s feet, or something equally disgusting), and Erewhon Crispy Brown Rice Cereal instead of you know what. The result was quite satisfactory—the initial impact on the tongue is just right, though the vegan version is a bit more crumbly than the cow-killing version, so the chewing experience is a bit different.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Soggy Pill and Vegan Marshmallows

I took Thelonious to the vet yesterday in a cab. She had lost one pound and five ounces since the beginning of June, so even though most of that is probably due to her ordeal with the antibiotics, Dr. Press recommended that she have an X-ray and ultrasound to rule out a large cancer.

I walked home and locked my door to keep any more cats from escaping. It was the first time in sixteen and a half years that I’d been in my apartment without her being there, except for maybe one other time when she had an ultrasound when I must have left her at the vet’s and come home to get my bicycle to ride to work.

I pretended she was gone for good and saw how every room had reminders of her: her food and water in the kitchen; her litter box in the bathroom; her stuffed-toy collection in the living room, along with the cat nest and the cardboard box she likes to sit in that once held ten reams of paper; the extra bags of cat litter in the closet.

In an hour, I walked back to retrieve her. The tests had ruled out any large cancer, leaving as likely possibilities irritable bowel syndrome or low-grade lymphoma. The only way to be sure is with a $1600 endoscopy, but, as it happens, the two conditions are treated almost the same way, anyway, so Dr. Press said to start Prednisone. The office visit and tests cost $440 (plus $10 for cabs). Good thing this didn’t happen during the era of working at nonprofits.

Her belly was wet with something or other and she smelled like a hospital patient, not bad, just not like herself. In the evening, I felt something rough on her stomach and thought maybe the wet fur had become stiff when it dried, but it turned out it was her bare belly with a little bit of soft stubble. It would be nice if they mentioned beforehand that they were going to shave her, just so the owner won’t be startled or in case the cat is about to be in a beauty contest.

I must now give her a pill each day. I’ve been reading about it online and saw this video where a guy gently tips his cat’s face up with a hand under the cat’s chin. He puts the pill in a pill shooter (see below) and touches the cat’s mouth with the rubber tip. The cat then obligingly opens its jaws gapingly wide and the owner pops the pill in. The whole thing takes five seconds. Obviously a doctored video.

At my place, I wrap Thelonious in a towel and grip her between my legs. I already have the pill in the pill shooter, which is a plastic tube with a plunger and a rubber tip which temporarily holds the pill. I grasp Thelonious’s head from the top and pull it back, worrying that I’m going to break her neck. She frantically frees her front feet from the towel and starts clawing in all directions. I rewrap her in the towel several times, getting more flustered and upset with each iteration.

There is yelling and swearing. I consider hiring someone to come over and do this task.

I wrap her very snugly in the towel, worried that I’m cutting off her air supply, as the towel goes right up to her neck, though it’s no tighter at her neck than anywhere else. I pull her head back with my left hand, using the tips of my fingers to part her jaws a bit, and try to work the tip of the pill shooter in at the side of her mouth with my right hand. She tries to chew the tips off my left fingers, though I’m sure not in a spirit of malice.

The tip of the pill shooter sort of goes in. I push the plunger and let go of her, hoping the pill went down. It didn’t—she spits it out on the floor. After a couple more tries, I flush the soggy pill down the toilet and go get another pill. This time I remember to hold her jaw closed after pressing down the plunger—worrying that I’m holding too tightly and hurting her—until she seems to have swallowed. Then I let go and examine her for signs of a broken neck and cry a little bit.

Last night was horrible, but presumably it will get easier and my technique will improve. I imagine I will now have to give her at least one pill every day for the rest of her life. I called the vet’s office this morning to see if it would be OK if I gave her a small fish treat after each pill, and they said that should be fine. (She eats prescription food and I didn’t want to interfere with her therapeutic regime.)

In other news, I think it would be very nice if Whole Foods would carry vegan marshmallows.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Lovely Firm Turd and Enrique’s Journey

I stopped giving Thelonious the Tylan on July 13, and also stopped the wet food, and figured her diarrhea would clear up, but it didn’t. After a lifetime of eating dry food, she suddenly decided she vastly preferred wet food (maybe it’s like the difference between broccoli and potato chips), so I had to start putting wet food out, along with her bowl of dry food, though I feared it was the wet food that was causing the diarrhea.

She has been eating very sparingly lately. She is almost not touching her dry food, and while now and then she will suddenly wolf down some wet food, many times I come home from work or wake up in the morning to see that she has not eaten any wet food whatsoever.

Therefore, nothing has been coming out of her other than pee, for days now. Last night I heard her scratching in the litter box and walked in to see a lovely, round, firm, perfectly shaped turd, for the first time in more than a month. I was so happy. If the diarrhea is gone for good, it must have been caused by the Tylan rather than the wet food, or maybe she just needed to get used to the wet food.

I gave up on Robert Frank’s Luxury Fever, which I could not get into, possibly because almost every single line was footnoted, and went on to Sonia Nazario’s Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Journey to Reunite with His Mother, which I couldn’t put down. It’s about a Honduran boy who travels by himself, in the most brutal and dangerous conditions, to try to find his mother in America. Mothers, often single parents, in Mexico and Central America leave their children behind to go to America to work, sending money home to ensure that their children are fed and educated. The parting is painful and the mothers intend to save up money and come back in a year or two, but most of the time, it ends up being many years. The children’s lives are improved by the money and gifts sent from America, but they miss their mothers desperately. To get to their mothers in America, they hop on trains where they are routinely beaten, robbed and raped. Many are killed or lose limbs; being robbed by the police is common, and there is the constant threat of being arrested and sent home.

Enrique makes eight attempts before he is successful. By the time he reaches his mother, they have been separated for 12 years. Alas, the reunion is not what either had hoped for, and this is often the case, as the parent and child barely know each other by the time they meet again. The child is enraged at having been left and rejects the mother’s attempts to tell him or her what to do, while the mother is acutely aware of everything she has missed and feels that her sacrifice and financial contribution are not being appreciated.

It’s a heartbreaking book and an amazing feat of reporting by Nazario, who actually went and rode on the trains herself, among other things, to get a firsthand experience.

Enrique leaves behind his girlfriend, who is pregnant with their daughter. The plan is for the girlfriend, Maria Elena, to join Enrique in America. By the time the daughter is three and a half, Enrique and Maria Elena have become quite distant, though he sends money and they talk on the phone now and then. Maria Elena has become, of course, very attached to her daughter and decides she can’t leave her. She tries to screw up the courage to tell Enrique she won’t be coming.

But in the end, Enrique persuades Maria Elena to join him. He says it will be the best thing, in the long run, for Jasmín. There is a photo of Maria Elena with Jasmín in the book; she is the most darling little girl. Enrique says they will save up money together in America and return to their daughter soon. Maria Elena can’t bear to tell Jasmín she is leaving. When Jasmín hears that the family is going to the bus terminal to drop her mother off, she insists on coming along. As the bus pulls out, Jasmín waves both her hands and yells over and over, “Adios, mami.”

Monday, July 24, 2006

A Happy Turn of Events

Not two minutes after I posted the below entry, my phone rang and it was the building manager for the bike-rack building. She was extremely gracious and apologized for the delay in returning my call. I told her what was on my mind and she was receptive, but said she was having trouble visualizing the setup, so I offered to meet her at the bike rack right away to look at it together.

When I got there, she was with one of the guys who works in the garage, who had, judging from the expression on his face, been telling her I was out of my mind. The building manager introduced herself and shook my hand. I seized the opportunity to extend my hand to the garage employee.

The employee said that the rack is rarely fully occupied, which is not true, though at that moment, there were only three bikes there out of a possible seven. There was a truck in the car space, but parked so as to leave plenty of room. I was glad it was there, as a visual aid. It would have been better if the bike rack had been crammed with bikes; not sure why it wasn't.

I showed her how, if the six outermost bike spaces are full and there is a vehicle parked right on the white lane, as was so often the case before I spoke to the nice lady last year, you can see the one remaining bike space but you can’t get to it.

The garage employee said that if they have to use that car space, they’re careful not to go beyond the line. But if there is a van parked right along the white line and you have the innermost bike space, once you put your bike bags on the bike, there is not enough room to get out.

The building manager didn’t like the idea of putting a cone in the car space permanently. I mentioned to her the city’s five-foot guideline, but I said that what we were looking at was perfect; if it was that way all the time, I’d be thrilled. She gave me her card and told me to get in touch if I need her help.

She asked how long I’d been in the building and I said I don’t actually work in the building, but in an office building half a block away. She may have been wondering why I park my bike in her garage when I don’t work in her building. In fact, if any car can park in a given garage, then so can any bike, legally speaking, at least here.

So that was a very fortunate development and now I don’t have to think about any of these fights anymore, at least for now!

Three Fights, Continued

The day after the motorcycle thing, I wrote this letter to the Chronicle:

“I have been noticing for many months that the Moscone Center seems to regard the bike lanes on Howard St. between Third and Fifth streets as overflow parking for buses, taxis and the like, and I have hoped that no cyclist would be injured or killed trying to navigate around these vehicles.

“That area is particularly dangerous because there are several lanes going in the same direction, so motorists tend to travel at a high rate of speed; it’s rather like a freeway.

“Yesterday, the bike lane was once again obstructed, and I was very nearly struck by a speeding motorcyclist as I attempted to navigate around the blockage.

“The Moscone Center should act to ensure that the bike lanes are clear at all times before someone is killed there.”

I cc’ed the supervisor for my district and the mayor, and then I forwarded my letter to the Moscone Center, with this added at the top:

“Dear Sir/Madam:

“Below is a letter I sent to the Chronicle this morning, FYI. It seems to me that with several car lanes going in one direction and just one bike lane, it would make more sense to block one of the car lanes (i.e., on the south side of the street) than to block the one and only bike lane.

“In addition, many times when the bike lane is full of parked vehicles, the paved area right outside the Moscone Center entrance on the north side of Howard between Third and Fourth streets is empty. I would suggest that that area be fully utilized before a decision is made to endanger the lives of cyclists by allowing parking in the bike lane.”

I also called the city’s bike program to ask for their help in getting better enforcement in the bike lanes and didn’t hear back, but that was perfectly OK, because I know they are overwhelmed with tasks and I also know for a fact that they are really nice because I’ve talked to them before.

Theoretically, I should also know that people at the Bike Coalition are really nice; maybe I was indignant because my email and follow-up call were to someone I haven’t ever met, so it was easier for me to think he was taking evil satisfaction in ignoring me.

Then I spent the first part of the weekend stewing about how all of these things were going to come out and feeling bad for being in so many fights.

I discussed the matter with Tom. In regard to the parking garage, he suggested I buy a junker bike and chain it to the car parked in the space nearest the bikes as a punishment. That didn’t seem entirely practical, but he did say one helpful thing, which was, “You’ve been successful in working these things out before.” This is true.

I also realized that while I had felt annoyed, I had not said or written anything that could be construed as fighting words. No harm whatsoever had been done.

While I was thinking that the parking garage building manager had intentionally not called me back and never meant to and that she was therefore a jerk and that she, acting like such a jerk, must therefore know that I thought she was a jerk, in fact the only thing that had happened was that I had left her a voice mail asking for a return call in regard to the garage. We were not actually in a fight.

I then stopped thinking about the whole thing for the rest of the weekend, for the most part. This morning I found myself thinking that all the things I don’t like to happen were going to keep happening and that I was going to be upset and it was going to cause a lot of stress. Then a rational voice intervened and said, “You are a smart and articulate person and you are also right: the bike lanes and the bike rack shouldn’t be blocked. I think you will be able to think of some constructive actions to take.”

This is true and I also can choose how to allocate my energy.

This morning I sent a letter to Bond Yee, the Executive Director of the Department of Parking & Traffic, asking for help with enforcement outside the Moscone Center and outside the Market St. hotel. I cc’ed the supervisor for the district the Moscone Center.

And with that, I’m going to put the buses outside the hotel on Market St. out of my mind. One can only do so much.

If I find the bike lanes outside the Moscone Center blocked, perhaps I will ride on the sidewalk, which I dislike doing, but it may be safer (for me) than going out into a car lane. If a police officer says, “Get off the sidewalk,” I will say that I would prefer to be in the bike lane, but as he or she can see, the bike lane is currently unavailable.

I will not contact the Bike Coalition again and when they send my renewal notice, I will assess my mood at that time and then send whatever amount of money matches it.

That leaves the bike rack where I park while I’m at work as the only priority. Today I have figured out who currently owns the building and I have a contact number for that company. I’ll keep you posted on that one.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Three Fights: The Prequel

Fight One: Late in 2004 I got a bee in my bonnet over the habit of the personnel in the garage where I park my bike of allowing cars to park so close to the bike rack that it made accessing some of the spaces difficult. One day I had to pick my bike up and clamber over other bikes, and I thought, “You know, one could fall down and break one’s knee doing this.” I spoke to the attendants; they were not exactly receptive. Fortunately, at the time, a friend was working in the city’s bike program and sent me a copy of the laws governing bike parking in garages, one of which requires five feet of open space behind the bikes.

One day I went to speak to the attendant again and found one of the garage managers with him. I showed the manager the problem and he said perhaps a sign could be erected asking drivers to leave the bikes plenty of room. He soon left his position, but the phone number he gave me led me to a woman who was extremely friendly and helpful. A few conversations later, they simply took that car space out of service by putting a cone in it, and that’s the way things stayed for the next year. End of problem, until recently.

Now and then, I noticed that the cone would be in place in the morning, but in the afternoon, the cone would be gone, and a small car would be in that space, as far from the bikes as possible. Not a problem. Then they stopped putting the cone out, but cars were not seen in the space in the morning. I asked the attendant a couple of weeks ago to be sure to put the cone out and he was friendly enough. Since then, the cones have disappeared completely and last Thursday, when I went to retrieve my bike, there was a big van in the space. I was able to get my bike out, but mostly because the bike next to mine was already gone.

I called up the nice lady, but alas, that number now goes to a different office, the management office for the building the garage is attached to. I left a message for the building manager but did not receive a call back, which annoyed me.

Fight Two: Cycling home, I go by the Moscone Center, where they hold conventions, and where the bike lanes are often blocked. Howard St. there is five nice wide lanes all going in the same direction, so cars tend to speed, so it’s not really a fun place to suddenly have to depart the bike lane.

One day last week, the bike lane was of course blocked, plus there was a large truck in the car lane next to the bike lane. While I was passing the truck, some moron on a motorcycle decided it would be a clever idea to speed between me and the truck, passing on my right. I had nearly cleared the truck by then and was returning, in a gradual arc, to the lane the truck was in. The motorcycle whizzed by with about three inches to spare. If I had been cutting back into the truck’s lane abruptly rather than gradually, I would possibly be dead right now.

Fight Three: On Market St. eastbound between Ninth and Eighth streets, there are some lovely new bike lanes which are often full of parked buses, no doubt associated with the hotel there, the Ramada Plaza, at 1231 Market. About a week and a half ago, I sent the Bike Coalition an email asking for their tips on getting the hotel not to block the bike lanes. I didn’t receive a response. Then the thing happened with the motorcyclist, so I called one of the same people I’d emailed at the Bike Coalition to ask again for crafty strategies regarding bike lanes. No response. So then I was irked at the Bike Coalition, as well as at the hotel, which I guess makes it four fights. One fight does tend to attract another fight. I have been a loyal supporter of theirs for years, and send a healthy sum of money to renew my membership each year, so it kind of bugs me not to be able to get a response that would probably take five minutes or less. I’m thinking the healthy sum may shrink to the minimum next year. Then I’ll probably hear from them: “Hey, did you forget to send your hundred dollars?”

To be fair, they do incredible work, and everyone should join and support the Bike Coalition, but I do hate being ignored. It makes me feel bad. Also, I always suspect the other party of taking pleasure in ignoring me.


The other night I got a phone message that began with a growled, “Baby!” It turned out to be my mother, trying to compensate for Arthur Penhallow, the WRIF DJ who was in The Upside of Anger, not having said his trademark word in the movie.

Thelonious is still barfing pretty regularly and still has diarrhea. I called her vet and we have an appointment this Thursday.

One pile of cat vomit ended up on my new bathroom rug last week. I used to have a perfectly good little pink bathroom rug which hid dirt reasonably well. The day must have come when I said, “I’m going to go get exactly the bathroom rug I’d like to have,” after which I bought a beautiful bright yellow rug made of cotton with a rubberized bottom. It was lovely, but it showed dirt like crazy. It needed washing again about two days after being laundered.

Back I went to get a rug in a more forgiving color. I bought an all-cotton rug—shag on one side, loops on the other—in an olive green that is the best dirt-hiding color of all. It seemed like a less substantial item than the rug with the rubberized backing, so I thought it would be easier to wash in that it wouldn’t cause the load to become unbalanced so often and make the washing machine come shuddering to a stop.

That turned out not to be true; once all the cotton got wet, it was actually heavier than the previous rug and it stopped the washing machine several times, with the usual horrible thumping and crashing. I forgot to mention that this rug was by far the most expensive of the three; it cost more than the other two put together, probably. So I was slightly bemused when it came out of the dryer looking like a fright wig.

I absolutely can’t stop eating these days, I mean really stuffing myself until I think something (like my stomach) will rupture. I know it will pass in time, and also that it is a way of telling myself that I think I did something wrong. “I shouldn’t have eaten X” isn’t about food at all; it means “I shouldn’t have done X,” but it’s not always clear what X is.

One thing that often helps, besides issuing myself a blanket amnesty for all actions, is to sit down and think about what tasty things I would like to eat in the upcoming week and then make all of those things. The more choices there are, the better. It’s nice to look in the cupboard and realize there are three kinds of cookies that are sitting untouched because I have way better homemade cookies, and chocolate, and frozen desserts, and hard peppermint candies, and Bumble Bars ... . Once upon a time, no kind of cookie was allowed in the house at all, ditto nuts, nut butter, sugar, bread, etc. Now everything is allowed.

This weekend I made bean and corn salad and I roasted potatoes and sweet potatoes and I made oatmeal-raisin cookies. Today (having forgotten I had a lunch date) I brought to work roasted potatoes and sweet potatoes, an apple, some bean and corn salad, and a peanut butter and tomato sandwich. In the end, I ate Hunan House Bean Curd at Henry’s Hunan.

Saturday evening Tom and I went to Berkeley for the Bay Area Comedy Festival, where we saw Big City Improv, Improv Slam Singing Contest, Ali Wong, and my favorites, Kasper Hauser. It was fun.

On Sunday we took the ferry to Sausalito for the second weekend in a row to have lunch with his mother, Ann, and her husband Mac, and Tom’s brother Steve, and his wife Julie. We went to The Spinnaker, which is right on the water and has huge wraparound windows; you aren’t outside, but you can watch boats going by constantly. There are some pretty fancy boats around there, plus people in kayaks, some of whom go right underneath the restaurant, which is on stilts.

Steve and Julie live in Sacramento and reported that it has been miserable, over a hundred degrees for eight or nine days in a row. It can get very hot there, but Steve said what has been unusual and unwelcome is that, while it’s usually dry, it is very humid now, and it’s not cooling down at night. He said one night at 10 p.m. it was still 96 degrees.

San Francisco is a good place to be in the global warming era, as it’s probably one of few places in the entire country where you can live without both heating and cooling. Tom and I enjoyed being on the ferry, sitting out front in the wind, which usually is pretty cold, but yesterday was just right.

Thelonious is virtually not eating. I keep telling her, “If you want to live, you have to eat.” Her little spine and hipbones seem to be more prominent every day.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Cat Acupuncture and Schema Work

I spoke to the cat acupuncturist yesterday. He seemed like a kind and gentle soul, but cat acupuncture is considerably more expensive than me acupuncture, and it sounded like he was thinking she would need treatment every week for quite some time. If she were five or ten years old, I might do it, but I think that, since she’s almost 19, I’m going to just keep taking her to her regular vet and otherwise let nature take its course. Acupuncture might have helped, or it might just have been unpleasant for her and cost a lot of money.

I currently find that I am unable to conjure up a fit of anxiety about my parents dying or about never living near them again. I feel quite free at the moment, like, “Maybe I’ll do this or maybe I’ll do that.” Maybe I’ll go on a Global Exchange reality tour to Iran.

While I was visiting them, I happened to be reading Tara Bennett-Goleman’s book Emotional Alchemy, which is about Buddhism plus emotional schemas—patterns such as fear of abandonment or deprivation or subjugation that result from our childhood experiences. I didn’t think I was going to like the book, but in retrospect (almost retrospect; I haven’t finished it yet), I think it actually triggered the intense experience of mourning that began toward the end of my visit. She says that just reading about schemas might have this effect.

I felt sad: not unusual. I felt worried: not unusual. I felt a bit panicked: not unusual. What was unusual was the immense, days-long outpouring of grief and my effort not to believe every thought that passed through my mind—really, just an effort to notice thoughts as thoughts.

Once that particular experience of grief had abated, there seemed to be many new options: I could move here or there or nowhere. I could visit Ann Arbor more often or not. Plus I must credit my parents’ making it clear that any of the above was fine. I think my mother probably actually wants me to move to Council Bluffs, IA, because she likes the name of the place, though if I’m going to move to a place just for its name, it would be Fallon, NV.

It occurs to me that to live in Ann Arbor might be to invite one long schema attack of the deprivation variety: Don’t you want me to come over today? What about today? What about today? What if I weed the garden and mow the lawn?

On the other hand, Ann Arbor might be a good choice if my main motivation is to live in a quiet, peaceful place full of liberals and with fantastic radio stations—much better than San Francisco’s, in fact. However, at the moment, I’m appreciating the weather here and my pleasant little apartment and the loved ones who are nearby.

I often get very wise counsel from Tom. When I ask him if I should get upset about a given thing, he always says, “No, you shouldn’t.” “But isn’t it going to give me lung cancer?” “Mmm, no, probably not.” So I asked him, “Isn’t it terrible that I live so far from my parents?” He replied serenely, “We’re a mobile society.” A lot of people don’t live near their parents. Of course, a lot of people move home because they’re homesick.

Besides the good fortune of happening to read the schemas book when I was visiting the very birthplace of my schemas, I’m starting to think there’s something magical (for me, anyway) about this blog. I have always kept a journal. I have many filing cabinet drawers full of my journal. There’s a good chance I can tell you what I was doing any day since April 22, 1976, so it’s not like I haven’t been thinking things over and putting them in words.

And it’s not like more than five people even read my blog, yet it seems like things are moving along faster since I started this. Quite often I feel rather self-conscious about it: This is probably really boring; everybody else’s blog isn’t about their every little feeling. But then I go take a look at a few blogs and see there’s a place in the world for mine. If other people can write whatever they’re moved to write, I can write what I’m moved to write.

I did, as threatened, stop going to therapy. If I have some sort of a crisis, I imagine I would go for one visit. I was frozen for so long by the idea that something bad would happen if I didn’t go regularly. Once I began to investigate further, it became clear that it was OK for me to choose and that things would be fine whether I went there or not.

I definitely didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t enjoy it for quite a number of years and also didn’t notice much change in the quality of my not liking it. I thought that not liking it meant I should go there, but I have changed my mind about that. Maybe I didn’t like it because I knew deep down that it was no longer helping, even if she helped me a whole lot once upon a time and will always be among the people who I know love me.

As I used to remind my therapist once a month, I believe what Karen Horney said: “Life itself still remains a very effective therapist.”

Monday, July 17, 2006

Milliseconds all was well before this horrible thing happened: 0

I’m working on a Perl script in Unix, just for practice, that moves all the files in the current directory to another directory which must be specified but doesn’t have to exist. I’m trying to give my log messages a folksy tone, as in the above.

I’ve just called San Francisco Veterinary Specialists, who offer acupuncture for cats, to see about treatment for Thelonious. (Yep, I went ahead and made that call within earshot of my coworkers. No one snickered, plus it’s 60 degrees out while it’s 110 everywhere else, two major perks of living in San Francisco.) She is back to just eating her dry food and she seems sanguine enough, but she is definitely skinnier than ever before. She’s reached that losing-weight-even-if-you-don’t-want-to time of life. Before my grandmother died, she lost a good deal of weight. Her illness wasn’t diagnosed until just weeks before she died, when she went to the emergency room not feeling well. I’ll bet that while she was losing weight because she had cancer, all her friends were saying, “Oh, Shirley, you look marvelous!”

Friday night I went to see my acupuncturist. On Saturday Tom and I took the ferry to Sausalito, where the weather was gorgeous, and saw Wordplay, which was absolutely delightful, with his mother and her husband. I laughed way more than at The Devil Wears Prada on Sunday with P. The latter really isn’t a comedy at all. Saturday night Tom and I saw The Upside of Anger on DVD, which I wanted to see because Arthur Penhallow, a DJ at my childhood rock station, WRIF, is in it, playing himself. He started at WRIF in 1971 and is still there today. I hoped he’d say “Baby!” in the movie, but he didn’t.

Over the weekend, I suddenly became a devotee of Prairie Home Companion. I was reading a review of the associated movie that said that while PHC seems to be a lighthearted thing, it actually is very dark, so I listened to it one day this weekend and found myself chuckling a time or two and appreciating G. Keillor’s intelligence. I guess I won’t sue him for harassment, after all. I could do without the unfunny jokes about women’s bodies. I don’t mean the jokes aren’t PC—they aren’t, but they also aren’t humorous. (Ditto Car Talk’s mother-in-law jokes.)

P. looks absolutely terrible. His sister said I would find he had lost weight, but while he didn’t look smaller to me, he does look frighteningly corpselike. His expression is absolutely blank, his mouth hangs open, his pupils are tiny pinpoints. He is visibly receding from this world. One wants to say, “Hello, are you in there?” He said almost nothing all day except, “After the movie, can I get a deli sandwich at Max’s?” I imagine his last words will be, “Can I get a burger at McDonald’s?” Or maybe, “I love you.”

His sister says he’s calling her less, and when I call him each weekend, the conversation is brief:

“How are you?”

“OK, I guess.”

“What did you do this week?”

“Not much.”

“Did you go to the center?”


“Was it fun?”

“Not really.”

“Did you go to the AA meeting?"


“Did you see T-bone?”


“Did you go with Jesse to meditate on Thursday?”


“Do you meditate at home sometimes on your own?”


“Is it calming?”


“Did Carol call you on Wednesday and Saturday?”


“How is everyone at the house?”

“They’re all fine.”

“Did anyone come or leave?” (That is, die.)


“How’s Lourdes?”

“She’s in charge.”

“Did Barbara take you out on Tuesday and Saturday?”


“What did you do?”

“We went shopping.”

“Did you get Reese’s peanut butter cups and chocolate pudding.”


“I swear, your social life is busier than mine is.”

Then there’s a long silence, and then he says, “I don’t have very much to say, I guess.” Then we both say, “I love you.”

There’s one resident of P.’s house who actually leaves the place under her own steam (to panhandle), so I brought her some free movie tickets someone gave me. I asked her roommate, “Is Marina here?” Kay said, “No, I don’t know anyone by that name.” “The woman who sleeps in your room?” “No, I don’t think I know anyone like that.”

I feel perkier now, and potato-chip consumption has slowed noticeably. For one thing, I had started to feel not just generally terrible, but immediately terrible. A bout of eating like that doesn’t worry me anymore. I know it will end. Three things usually happens before it ends: I notice that I have been angry lately and marvel at how overeating and anger so often are joined. I give myself permission to overeat forever. I think of some ways to take care of myself that aren’t food-related. Then usually I make an effort to eat from physical hunger at least once in a day, as the OO approach at its heart relies on re-establishing the connection between eating and physical hunger, after we’ve learned to eat for so many other reasons.

Lately I also find that there comes a time when I just don’t feel like feeling so lousy. I feel like feeling good, and part of that certainly rests on what I eat.

Definitely I don’t resolve never to eat another chip. I bought a couple of kinds of potato chips from Rainbow on Sunday and noticed how, unlike Ruffles, they actually taste like little slices of potato that have been fried.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Linda “Tantrum” Sloat

I wish my parents had thought to name me Tantrum. My mother did say once that she wished she had named me something more imposing than Linda, like King or Colonel, or even Chef. I was just reading about the outrageous Tribe 8, “the world’s greatest dyke-punk band.” I knew their drummer, Slade. Their bassist was named Lynn “Tantrum” Payne. I love that. “Tantrum, did you ever think of trying—oh, never mind! Never mind! What you were playing sounded great!”

When I was in The Peeps, at one rehearsal the bass player said to the singer, “Try busting a Phrygian scale right there.” There was a lethal pause before the singer said, “Why don’t you bust a Phrygian scale right there?” We knew she meant, “I feel abashed, as I have no idea what a Phrygian scale is.”

Thelonious is now gulping nonstop, her stomach is gurgling, she has awful diarrhea, she is barfing about four times as often as she did before we started the wet food (to mix the antibiotics into), and a couple of days ago, she quit eating, period. She seems to be getting smaller before my very eyes. After she left three meals utterly untouched, I had to give in and put out her regular food yesterday morning, which I guess means the experiment with the antibiotics is over.

I called her vet. The person who answered the phone said Dr. Press was camping with his family, having fun. I said, “What?! He’s having a good time while my cat is sick?” 

I was extremely annoyed the day before yesterday at work, both at the coworker I’m partnered with this week and also the vendor of the software I work on. Sometimes we have to call the vendor for help, and, naturally, sometimes we get someone good and sometimes we get someone who’s not so helpful. We joke that the latter type of engineer will attempt to delay the moment of truth by sending a long list of questions like, “What color is your PC? What side is your hair parted on? How long are your shoelaces? What did you eat for lunch before you got the error? How many slices of Tofurky were in your sandwich?” and so on. Then the person no doubt thinks, “That ought to keep them out of my hair for a while.”

I had to call the vendor this week about a problem and got a long email back from the assigned engineer saying, “Gee, it could be this. It could be that. Do this, this, this, this, this, this and this and let me know what happens.” Since the person with the problem had taken the step of complaining to our manager that we weren’t doing anything 30 seconds after reporting the problem, I emailed back and said I would like an engineer to meet with me and the user right away. I hasten to add that we get very few complaints like that, and particularly not when we haven’t even done or not done anything yet. 

Needless to say, I heard nothing back from the vendor until the next day, when I received a note assuring me they would do everything they could, besides actually calling me back. By then, the user had given up and found a workaround. I wrote the vendor and said that the user had found a way to proceed without using their product, so they could go ahead and close the ticket. It gave me a moment of evil satisfaction.

As for the coworker, he has frazzled several people’s nerves. It just happens to be my turn this week. Our team lead scheduled a phone meeting the other day for me, himself and the coworker. I mentioned a couple of things I had found exasperating, and the coworker got hysterical and started ranting. When my blood pressure hit the magic number—I don’t know what the number is, but there was no doubt it had been reached—I said gently, “I have to go now,” and pushed a button that brought instant relief, namely the release button on the phone.

Then I sent my team lead an email saying I was sorry to have departed so suddenly, but it seemed like the better alternative (unless they wanted to hear my rant). That was the last I heard of the matter—no news is good news—but the coworker suddenly became more responsive and has been on his best behavior since then.

I went home after work that day and considered eating a bag of Ruffles (I have cleansed the nearest stores of Natural Ruffles), but I didn’t want to enough to walk 30 feet to the corner store. I made do with what was on hand and then got in bed and sort of lay there. After an hour or so, it became clear I was not going to get out of bed, therefore I was not going to take a shower or wash the dishes or do anything else.

Then I remembered about saying yes to things as they are: Yes to lying in bed. Yes to having been angry at work. Yes to not having my dream career. Somehow Anna Quindlen, whom I don’t even know, ended up with it. After I said yes to a few things, I suddenly sprang out of bed and washed the dishes and took a shower, after all. 

Thelonious is quite happy to eat the canned food if it doesn’t have antibiotics in it, it turns out, but I’m tired of having my whole apartment speckled with dried-up dabs of cat diarrhea (“Aren’t you getting sick of all this poop? I am,” I said to her this morning), so I think she’s going to have to go back to her regular dry food. Maybe I’ll give her a little wet food each day to try to keep her weight up, plus I’ll of course eat plenty of junk food myself to try to keep my weight up.

Monday, July 10, 2006

A Well-Dressed Penis

Not long ago I noticed an entry in my money book for “penis dressing,” about $8. “What the hell was that?” I asked myself, and finally remembered going to Slim’s one fine evening to assist a friend of mine in performing, at a benefit for, her ribald political poem which has as its main prop a homemade penis (pink sock plus red papier-mâché head) which is inserted between a willing participant’s legs from behind so it appears the person has a large, quite animated penis that wears, by turns, a gold crown, a cowboy hat, a tie, a nurse’s hat, etc., and makes witty pronouncements.

Someone had to sit behind the black backdrop, keep the costumes organized and outfit the penis as needed; that was me. I must have taken a cab to or from Slim’s, hence the notation in my money book.

I got to reprise my role over this past weekend when we videotaped a performance of the poem. My friend had pressed her sister into service as the legs, and afterwards we went over and had dinner with their mother. The whole thing was a lot of fun. The videographer was a man who lives up north.

Besides that, I saw my acupuncturist on Friday night and did some cooking on Sunday. I made red lentils and buckwheat, and I washed tomatoes and nectarines and apples, and I chopped broccoli and baked sliced sweet potatoes. I talked to my friend Carol Joy on the phone and we made plans for a visit.

Tom was off at the Death Ride. He completed four passes (out of five) and stopped, as it happened, just before a huge thunderstorm started.

Thelonious started gulping again, alas. I’ve been so extra nice to her lately that she can’t make it through the night without petting and compliments on her beauty and general charm, so she is lately clambering onto my stomach in the wee hours and standing with her face a few inches from mine to see if it’s time for Cat Appreciation Hour yet.

I try to keep her apprised of anything cat-related in what I’m reading. “This poor man had to get rid of his cat,” I tell her. “No cat! How sad.”

I didn’t turn the computer on all weekend, which is always a pleasure, though I did find myself thinking about the script I’m writing at work. Usually I put off working on it until late afternoon—sometimes I put off working on it for weeks—but this morning practically the first thing I did was to start on it. That is to say, I went to Google and posted a really stupid question to the Perl beginners group.

My mother approves. She said recently, in her most tactful manner, that she’s not entirely sure I’ve put my brain to as much use over the years as I might have. I am lazy, to be sure. My mother always has tons of potential projects in mind. I think she feels bad because she doesn’t do all of them, but I think it’s amazing that she even wants to do this, that and the other, and in so many different realms: art, sewing, horticulture, home improvements, bird-watching, computers, languages, on and on. I like to think of things not to do, thus affording me more time for reading, sleeping and going to the movies.

I’m almost finished with Walden, which I confess has taken more effort than I might have hoped—partly because he’s fond of very long paragraphs: big, dense blocks of text—but lately I’m finding it more interesting and getting through more at a time. Certainly I agree with virtually everything he says. It’s also packed with pithy quotes. I was surprised to find out how much he was influenced by Eastern religions. Hmm, was Thoreau cute? According to Google, looks like not, though he looks smart! And, of course, being smart is the better part of being cute, so he probably was cute.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Water to Stone and Back Again

Yesterday I went to my weekly Al-Anon meeting, where I have not said anything since I was criticized for mentioning the Buddha, and even though the person was there who ventured that criticism, I went ahead and talked anyway, and was reasonably glad I did. This meeting is in a room attached to a really gorgeous old church that I like to walk through on my way to the meeting. The topic yesterday was fear versus faith, and the ebb and flow of faith.

After work yesterday, I picked up a book at the library (Luxury Fever: Why Money Fails to Satisfy In An Era of Excess, by Robert H. Frank), bought more canned cat food at Mission Pet Hospital, and then talked to my friend Dot on the phone. We used to live right across the street from each other, and after she moved to Santa Rosa many years ago, we continued to talk on the phone on a regular schedule, every three or four weeks, and when I got up that way, I would see her. She has been starting a business and we had to abandon regular phone dates, so yesterday was the first time we’d talked in months.

As for P., our current routine is that I call him once every weekend. Once in a while, I take him to a movie. In a couple of weeks, I’ll take him to the Johnny Depp pirate movie. He seems noticeably less anxious these days. He used to flip out if I said I would have to miss making a call to him, but when I told him I was going to Michigan and would probably not call him while I was there, that I might in fact miss two weekend calls, he said, “Oh, well, that’s life.” He has a buddy who has been taking him to a Buddhist gathering each week where they chant, which P. finds calming and sometimes even does on his own at home.

I was thinking I was not getting nearly enough antibiotics down Thelonious’s little hatch, but I got out a teaspoon and checked, and it looks like it might actually be the dosage Dr. Press suggested, which was a load off my mind. Today and yesterday I didn’t see her do the gulping that he thinks indicates nausea. I did see her do it two days ago and pretty much every day before that, so it’s probably too soon to be optimistic, but I am, anyway. Dr. Press is sounding like she should stay on the antibiotics for a good long time. If it clears up her intestinal problems, that would be fantastic.

I also got a call from my mother yesterday evening, who was trying to send me a massive Mike Malloy sound file. We had a nice chat. She was enthusiastic about the idea of me moving back to Ann Arbor, which warmed my heart, and she also agreed that we don’t have to live right near each other to like each other. Another option besides moving there would be to visit more than once a year, which is what I’ve been doing for many years. Why once a year? Dunno. Maybe it was originally a budget-related decision.

It’s funny, how one can be thinking one can’t stand something, that something has to be a certain way or life will be unbearable—generally this seems to require something or someone being some other way than it currently is—and this state of mind can persist for however long, half an hour or two weeks or ten years, and seem so solid, seem like the absolute truth, and then suddenly there is relief, a glimmer of light, the lovely feeling that, oh yes, it will be OK. I can indeed stand this. Everything will be fine. I don’t believe in God, but I call this grace. And then on top of that to have a friendly mother (not to mention a friendly father) who says it’s OK whichever thing I do—well, how lucky!

Another good thing is how a hard time always seems to be followed by a time where life seems very easy and free, just rolling along. The harder the hard time is, the more liberating the period that follows, it seems. Eventually, of course, what feels like a ball rolling effortlessly down a gentle slope on a sunny day, in a fresh breeze, maybe with the smell of new-cut grass all around, suddenly develops a flat spot: clunk, clunk, clunk. Then it hardens into a triangle: it does not roll and everything seems so hard.

Or like the feeling of water suddenly becoming stone. What makes it flow again? It seems to swing back and forth of its own accord, though one gets better at knowing what is helpful and what isn’t.

The smell of roasting vegetables I would have to put in the helpful category. I baked eggplant and onion last night, and red peppers. The smell may actually have been more wonderful than the finished product, but the project was worth it for that alone.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Bicycle Maintenance, Match Point and Junebug

Oh, before my mood went south on Saturday (I like the expression “went south” and I even more like “on the fritz”), I was in quite an energetic frame of mind (I’ve learned to hop out of bed the minute I feel it, because if I miss that moment, it often is followed by 10 hours of sound slumber) and put the Marin’s summer tires on and gave the locking skewer set another try—those things that hold your wheels on that are quick-release but that have a custom key so not just anyone can take them off.

I thought perhaps I hadn’t tried hard enough last time around, but it still seemed to me that the skewer for the back wheel was on by only a thread or two, and I still couldn’t see how I was going to adjust it, as the bolt for my fenders is right in the way.

I took the bike over to Freewheel and Carlos said, “I don’t think those things are going to work for your bike—the bolt for the fenders is right in the way.” He also said that shortly after he started selling these things, he stopped selling them. They installed them in the first place, so I’m a bit dismayed that they let me leave the store with something that was being held on by only two threads.

He said they have now a similar product from another company that should work fine on my bike, and indeed the new things provide the same security but are very easy to tighten and loosen with the custom key, and they didn’t have to be installed in a less-than-orthodox fashion. If these work out, which I imagine they will, coupled with a cable, that should be ample security, so now I don’t have to buy another bike.

I love deciding to buy something and then realizing I don’t need to, after all. Recently I had a very satisfying clothes-buying project, where I made a list of everything I’d like to have, which was pleasurable, and then I decided I didn’t really need any of it, which was even more pleasurable.

The movies I saw this weekend were Match Point and Junebug. I enjoyed Match Point, though I thought the male lead demonstrated poor character in killing his lover instead of killing his wife. Being a liar and making a pass at his best friend’s fiancée were bad enough, but killing in order to retain money and position rather than to retain a passionate love affair was particularly poor form.

As for Junebug, I didn’t think it was very good. I couldn’t figure out whether the moral was to love your family members even though they’re not perfect, or whether the director was saying to leave them behind as soon as possible and create the family of your choosing.

I'm lucky—I have both kinds of families, and if my worst problem is that they aren’t conveniently located in the same place, that’s a pretty luxurious problem. As Thoreau says, "The value of a man is not in his skin, that we should touch him." Also, "I have found that no exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another."

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Lost Weekend

Well, the whole thing wasn’t lost, but much of it was unaccounted for, with less showering and meditating than usual, and considerably more orange soda and Ruffles and soy frozen dessert, eventually superseded by the hard stuff, Ben & Jerry’s vanilla ice cream. Let me pause and recommend Natural Ruffles, which have less fat and are actually tastier than regular Ruffles. Plus the package informs you that Natural Ruffles are free of all kinds of horrible things you never had any idea were in regular Ruffles! They do stop short of eschewing GMOs, of course.

This weekend I was mainly extremely, extremely sad. I think I’ve arrived, via 20 years off and on of therapy and particularly, I think, via mindfulness practice, at the proverbial “core stuff,” which is the same as it always was: I want my mommy! Now I’m slapping my forehead, wondering what possessed me to leave my hometown in such haste, so I got out my journal and saw that I was in a relationship that was causing me much anguish, with constant breakups and getting-back-togethers. I saw that the time elapsed between it crossing my mind to move to California and getting in the car and driving off was two weeks! I was 20. That’s still my saddest memory, the moment I drove off. When I turned the corner from Vinewood onto Washtenaw, in the rearview mirror I could see my father standing in the middle of the street waving.

I wasn’t actually living at home when I left but with my good friend Chet, who had two small children. I was sleeping on a mattress in the living room on the shag carpeting. Due to the food dropped by the kids into the carpeting, we also had roaches. When we turned on the iron, they would clamber out of the steam holes. When I left, Chet said, “Remember, you can always come back.” I said, “You mean I don’t have to be macho?” “God, no, don’t do that,” he said.

The relationship woes continued after I got to San Francisco, just more expensive now that they were being conducted via long-distance. I found a place to live, with three lesbian law students. I worked as a temp. I met Alix and Dot. I took a class called Industrial Maintenance Mechanics and then went to work for PG&E as an apprentice in the substation construction department and then in the line construction department. I fell off a telephone pole. I got my own apartment. I got a degree in creative writing. My father supported me while I did that. There I met Elea. I got Thelonious the cat, most recently seen sitting by the radiator when I left for work this morning.

I went to work as the editor of a magazine for recovering alcoholics, still the best job I’ve ever had. There I met Lisa M. and Carol Joy. I drove and took the train back and forth across the country several times. I started playing the trumpet again and got a degree in music. I taught trumpet and played in all sorts of bands. I did PR for a statewide nonprofit that helps abused and neglected children. I joined the Bike Coalition. I met Tom and David and Lisa. The dot-com boom happened. I went looking for a technical job I could get without going back to school. I succeeded. Here I am.

A technical recruiter helped me rework my resume to get that first job, and then I met my Fairy Godmother, Ben, who has been an extremely kind and patient mentor for an amazingly long time. I have the job I have now because he decided to teach it to me years ago; as recently as Friday, he was helping me implement Log4perl in a Perl script.

Anyway, that’s more or less the story of my last 24 years, the framework of it. Of course there is much more that could be said but I must mention that on Saturday night, Tom and I went to see The Glass Menagerie at the Berkeley Rep. His mother had tickets she couldn’t use and kindly gave them to us. It was really wonderful. The actor who played the mother was particularly good. Looking through the program at intermission, I discovered why she was so good: because she was Rita Moreno! So that was a big treat.

Another pleasant thing that happened was going out to lunch on Monday with my coworker, Bill, who lives in Arizona and his girlfriend. I have been following the saga of their relationship for a year (“We had a fight!” “We got back together!” “We had a fight!”) and so was particularly interested to meet his girlfriend. I really liked her a lot, and our visit was very pleasant. Bill treated us to lunch at Henry’s Hunan and then we embarked on The Great Carrot Cake Caper, finally locating some in the Ferry Building.

After several quarts of orange soda and a bucket or so of tears (yes, I was also pre-menstrual; if actual menopause is going to be worse than this, I think it’s going to be too hard), I hauled my little TV out of the closet, walked around the corner, got a membership at the appropriately named Lost Weekend Video, and came home and watched two DVDs back to back, like everyone else in the world, for lord’s sake.