Thursday, July 26, 2007

So I Don’t Have Gout! Is That So Wrong?

I got home yesterday and was met by Hammett at the door and thought, “Here’s a good thing that’s still here: this fantastic cat Hammett.” He’s such a delightful cat. Sometimes when I pick him up, he flails his hands in all directions, though I don’t detain him against his will. If he wants to be set down, I set him down. He still likes to lick me when he gets a chance, though he’s starting to lick himself now and then, too.

I’ve thought of three semi-painless ways to make new friends:

Answer ads for activity partners on Craigslist, look for one-time volunteer opportunities on Craigslist, and probably best of all, make it a point to get to Eugene Cash’s sitting group on Sunday evenings, which is certainly a bunch of like-minded souls.

Why, already I saw an ad on Craigslist that said, “Do You Have Gout?” Maybe that will be my new best friend! I hope he or she won’t reject me because I don’t have gout. If people really care about each other, they should be understanding about goutlessness.

Oh, turns out I was still looking at the Los Angeles Craigslist, where I went to post a question asking if John Stamos ever spent time in Ann Arbor, Michigan. When I was in kindergarten or thereabouts, I had a crush on a very cute olive-skinned boy (I would say “little boy,” but at the time, he seemed pretty much regular-sized) named John Stamos. I could easily imagine that this boy, who was only around for a semester or so, grew up to look like, and in fact be, John Stamos the actor, who is about my age.

However, I have never been able to find any mention of this online. Anything I see about John Stamos says he grew up in Southern California. Maybe some Los Angeleno will clear this up for once and for all.

I went up to visit Lucky the rat last night and found her in an unusually sociable mood. She was getting rather portly for a time, but now is smaller, no doubt due to her cancer. She used to not mind if you stroked the end of her tail if it was sticking out between the bars of her cage, but now she reels it in if you touch it.

It also used to be common for her to come out whenever there were people around, but lately she spends much more time huddled under a ramp in her cage, even if someone is talking to her, so it was a treat to have her want to visit, and a very good thing, since it was her last evening alive, probably.

I was having the fantasy that the vet will say, “Oh, she’s not in pain, and I’ll fix her scratched-up back with a one-time application of this stuff"—because I don’t think there is any way we could put medication on her ourselves—“and if she’s eating and drinking”—which she is, albeit losing weight—“she can go on for a time.” But I don’t think the vet will say that; I think Lucky will be euthanized this afternoon, and so I kept having to step into Tom’s bathroom and blow my nose and dab at my eyes.

I feel so sad about that little rat.

Tom asked if I really think he shouldn’t have another caged pet, which is a condition of my paying for Lucky’s euthanasia—the mice at the pet store are so cute! Indeed they are, but I think he wasn’t paying close enough attention to Lucky, or he would have seen sooner that she was growing tumors, and I think if a pet of his had a problem that required lots of medical care, as so many animals do when they get old, it might be impossible on his budget. I tried to say it kindly.

But there are other things I pester Tom about a lot, and in a much more critical way. He’s such a kind soul that people tend to hugely take advantage of him, which drives me berserk. Sometimes my mother says, “Don’t nag him!”, but that advice would be so impossible for me to take, it’s almost incomprehensible.

I could probably get it if she said, “Nag him 99 times a day, but stop before you get to a hundred!”

The fact is, it is a strain on our friendship for me to offer the same opinion or criticism over and over—even if he’d be way happier if he did what I said!—and what he does is well beyond my control. I can’t pester him into saying no to people who need to hear it once in a while any more than someone can talk an alcoholic into quitting drinking.

The alcoholic will quit when he or she is ready, which may be never, and Tom will say no when he’s ready, which may be never. And if he learned this skill, the first person he might say it to is me. That’s not such a good feeling.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Friends Go North on Vast Wave of Opportunity and Bliss

Now the truth can be revealed. Why so much crying this past weekend? Well, sometimes one just gets in that mood, and yes, that is often right before one gets one’s period, which is fine. The sloshing of hormones is a beautiful, natural thing! I read once that maybe these more intense feelings are, in fact, one’s true feelings and that’s how I like to think of it.

The Stevie Wonder album I just got, Signed Sealed & Delivered, has on it, besides the song I was looking for, a couple of incredibly lovely songs that I have listened to over and over. One is called “Gotta Have a Song,” which is about the power of music to heal heartbreak.

He sings that his wife used to be in the kitchen cooking for him all day, and he keeps rushing home to see if she might be there, but he knows she’s gone. That’s so sad!

But the overshadowing melancholy thing was the possible departure of our very best in-person buddies, David and Lisa, who were across town in their apartment mulling over a change of venue to Seattle, where David had been offered an excellent career opportunity.

David called this morning and said that after much soul-searching on both of their parts, they have decided to move to Seattle, and he has called his new employer to say he will take the job. I think that was absolutely the right decision (though I would also have thought it was the absolute right decision if they’d concluded they preferred to stay here; in other words, there was no way they could go wrong), and now that the decision has been made, I am excited for them.

Not to worry; Lisa’s current and also excellent job can be packed up and shipped to Seattle, too.

My dear friend Elea and her family are near Seattle; maybe the two couples will meet and like each other.

Of course, this basically puts my blog out of business, since a good portion of my in-person socializing is done with Tom and David and Lisa. We have also seen Ann and Mac a fair amount lately, and they are moving to Sacramento on Saturday! We’re utterly abandoned. Even our rat is leaving, to be with my grandmother and Thelonious in heaven. (Oops, going to cry again. Hold on.)

Now the trick is not to cling to the idea that maybe Lisa and David will come back some day. Maybe they will, but who knows? Maybe they will really like Seattle, which by all accounts is a great place.

I will be able to get to know it vicariously, and of course it is an easy place to visit from here, a short enough flight that one could go just for a weekend, so maybe I will get to know it in person, too, which will be great.

And of course we can talk on the phone and email just as we do now. I talked to David for an hour this morning and shortly after we hung up I had another thought and called back. I said into their machine while waiting for David to answer the phone, “I feel too much time has passed since we chatted”—it had been 20 minutes—and when we hung up a few minutes later, David said, “Don’t wait so long before calling next time.”

At some point in the past several days, I thought, “I’ll have to get out there and make some new in-person friends.” Then I considered how I met my current crop of best friends: in school, at work (particularly at a job that had great meaning to me), in AA. That is, by hanging around a group of like-minded people on a regular basis.

You’d think I would have made millions of friends via the Bike Coalition, which is a huge group of extremely great people, but the only friend I ever met that way was Tom (I think that’s how we met; I can’t remember exactly), who in turn introduced me to about 20 fantastic people, including David and Lisa.

Fortunately, I have several friends I could tell anything whatsoever to. Unfortunately, mighty few of them are physically available on a regular basis, this type of friendship being a casualty of our mobile society. There is a handy clump of them in Sonoma County, at least.

I don’t know if I’ll exert myself to make new in-person friends. That might require more hanging around groups that might produce friends than I have time for.

My friend Margaux and I have sort of been planning a spa weekend, which is not necessarily my kind of thing, though I ended up enjoying the two we’ve been on. Because I’m ambivalent about this activity, I’ve not been actively pestering her about our plans. Certainly this is no reflection on what I hope will be our lifelong friendship; we met in eighth grade. However, now that my circumstances have been so suddenly and severely reduced, I have just emailed her: “Hey, when’s our spa weekend???”

Lunch on the Water

This weekend Tom and I took the #70 Golden Gate Transit bus over to Mill Valley, where we picked up Ann and Mac’s car and drove to San Rafael to pick them up. Then we drove to Sausalito, where they treated us to lunch at the Spinnaker, which is right on the water, in fact, over the water. I think you can actually kayak right under it, and it’s a fine place to watch people sailing and motorboating by. It was a beautiful day.

Then we stopped by their apartment in Mill Valley to drop something off, and then we went back to their assisted-living place in San Rafael and hung out. Tom and I took turns catnapping on Ann’s bed, and then I sat in the hall reading with Mac, where it’s a bit cooler, though it wasn’t overly hot in their room.

At the end of the afternoon, we drove back to Mill Valley, dropped the car off, and took the bus back to S.F. Someone had left a ziplock bag of edamame behind in the bus stop. That’s what they have in Marin, whereas we prefer barf and beer cans in our bus stops here in the city.

We went then to the Embarcadero theater and saw Herzog’s Rescue Dawn, in which Christian Bale, whom I like very much, portrays Dieter Dengler, a U.S. Navy pilot who was shot down over Laos at the beginning of the Vietnam war and eventually escaped. True story, good movie.

Then we went to Buca di Beppo on Howard St. for Italian food. That is one of two restaurants my coworkers and I often patronize for going-away lunches and the like. The other is Henry’s Hunan on Natoma. Both are chains, though Henry’s has just four locations, all in San Francisco.

In both cases, after visiting a few times, I thought—and this appears to be a common trajectory —“Boy, what a grease pit,” and would think, “Ew,” when either was proposed. But after going to each five or more times, I became a fan of both, and now it’s like, “Yeah, Buca!” and, “Yeah, Henry’s!”

Tom was wowed by Buca’s enormous platters and the very busy décor, one vintage photo next to another. It actually was the first time I ever sat upstairs. When I’m there with coworkers, they always make us sit in the basement.

On Sunday I went to Rainbow and later made bean and corn salad, and butter cookies with lemon frosting, though my oven really misbehaved and I fear the cookies are on the raw side.

I have been missing my big salads, so I decided to try to find some salad dressing that doesn’t contain vinegar or lemon juice, and was surprised to see even ranch dressing has vinegar in it. I read all the labels and found a couple of dressings in which vinegar was far down the list of ingredients and was heading to my cart when I heard my mother’s voice as sure as if she was standing behind me: “For goodness’ sake, get what you like!” Meaning, whatever looks tasty that isn’t an out-and-out vinaigrette.

So I put back what I’d chosen and got some ranch dressing instead, and found it to be quite good, and hopefully low enough on vinegar.

My mother is opposed to eating something you don’t like just because it’s good for you. She says if something is good for you and you like it, then fine, but you should eat what you like to eat.

I have stopped being vegan because my lady acupuncturist (by which I don’t mean the default acupuncturist is male, just that I have both lady and gentleman acupuncturists) convinced me that I should eat butter instead of fake butter for health reasons.

In baking, the taste is the same, or close enough, at least to me, which is why I was using the fake stuff, to spare animals, but now I’m using the real stuff, because I think the fake stuff probably really isn’t good for your health. Well, you know, whatever you do, it’s wrong.

I finished Sigrid Nunez’s unputdownable novel The Last of Her Kind and am going to request her other novels from the library, excepting the one that imagines the life of Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s pet monkey.

I gave my parents a call on Sunday afternoon and while my father was talking, I became suddenly overwhelmed with the unbearable poignance of life and started to cry, silently. It was a weepy weekend; everything made me cry when I wasn’t actively engaged in dining or viewing: Lucky the rat, Stevie Wonder lyrics. When it was my turn to talk, I was busy crying, and my father asked, “Are you still there?”

A few minutes later, I was talking to my mother, who I have lately realized I rarely let finish a sentence. I have vowed to be a much better listener, so I was listening with complete attentiveness and, when I failed to interrupt her, she asked, “Are you still there?”

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Begone, Accursed Polystyrene Cups!

Whew, looks like I struck the right tone in my note about the smoke from the grilling. I got a nice reply thanking me for my flexibility and saying she’ll let us know before grilling and that she also has gathered some suggestions for reducing the smoke next time.

As mentioned, I have joined a Green Team at work, and have been thinking about two things in particular: ridding my floor of Polystyrene cups, at the modest end of the spectrum, and convincing all 100,000+ employees to ride their bikes to work, at the other.

My Green Team mentor has gone off to Eritrea to do good works. Before he left, he sent an email telling me to get the cups thing rolling.

There are several groups on my floor, and I had no idea what managers were involved, so I was kind of stumped as to how to go about this. I figured I would have to start by interviewing every second person to see whom he or she worked for, and then I’d have to approach managers who had never heard of me and try to convince them to do something: right.

There are two administrative assistants on this floor, one of whom is super-friendly. I’m sure she couldn’t tell you my name, but she always acts like seeing me is the best thing that has happened in her whole life. I think that’s a fine quality, and I don’t care if she’s being sincere or not—I think it’s OK not to be sincere if you can do a convincing impression of being sincere.

I told her I was working on a project to get rid of the Polystyrene cups, which are horrible for the environment. Sometimes I see someone snatch up a brand-new cup, put a quarter-inch of water in it, pour the water down his gullet, and toss the cup into the trash.

The administrative assistant was all for this, so this week I went to see what she thought of simply ceasing to order these cups, but she said, “I can’t make that decision,” and she told me who pays for all of the cups on this floor, just two managers.

So I then drafted an email asking the managers to consider doing away with these cups. I edited a PowerPoint presentation that had come my way about the money that can be saved by not using disposable items, and included that. I said I would schedule a meeting for next week, after they’d had time to look at the PowerPoint presentation.

I figured I would hear nothing back, and they would decline the meeting invite, and if I actually got to talk to them, they would say they weren’t comfortable depriving all of their team members of cups, and the whole thing would drag on for months, and I’d have to find time to brood about it when I already have my hands full brooding about the bike racks.

But what actually happened was that not 15 minutes after I sent my email, one of the two managers sent a directive saying the cups would be phased out, and a couple of minutes later, the other wrote, “Ditto,” and said he’d ordered mugs for his team members; the first manager said he’d ask his people to bring their own from home. No meeting needed!

The euthanasia of poor Lucky the rat is scheduled for this Thursday. I should say that even if we couldn’t pick her up, we were still fond of her, and I feel terrible about her current condition.

Tom always kept a supply of baby carrots for her, her favorite, and we talked to her and told her she was a good rat and a pretty girl. I think she knew we liked her, even though she would have been forced by instinct to bite us if we’d tried to pick her up.

She did manage to escape one time and proved to be quite a destructive force, chewing through, among other things, Tom’s iPod wire.

Her euthanasia will cost more than previously mentioned because she will need anesthesia in gas form because she can’t be handled. I will pay for it because I know it would be a lot for Tom, and because I did, after all, lobby for him to keep her as a pet after the snake didn’t eat her—twice—and maybe mainly because I feel like I’m her mom.

If your mom is the person who gives you carrots because she knows how much you like them and strokes your tiny fingers as they grasp the bars of your cage and tells you you’re a good rat, then I’m her mom, and so is Tom, so we must do what we can to help her out of the world painlessly.

Painless death at a pre-determined time is something rats can have that’s better than what humans can have, though I suppose there are a lot of a lot of things that are good about being a rat, like not having to be deployed to Iraq.

Friday, July 20, 2007


Behind my apartment is a small yard, maybe twenty-five feet by eighteen feet. The building manager prior to the current one turned it into a paradise, with lush lawn, beautiful roses, and a burbling fountain. Once she moved out, it declined rapidly and became sort of a jungle, albeit with the couple of rose bushes and a wonderful huge mass of bougainvillea with shimmering fuchsia blossoms.

A couple of weeks ago the building manager started clearing excess plant material out of the yard. When I saw her, I commented on the improvement. I mentioned how beautiful the bougainvillea is (was, as of this writing) and she said that it was kind of taking over, from which I gathered she meant to prune it.

The next time I looked out the window, I saw she had hacked every single blossom off the plant, leaving nothing but mutilated bare branches. She had done the same to the roses, which now are bare twigs eighteen inches long. It is mid-July, the weather is beautiful, and there is nothing to look at in the garden!

I pointed it out to Tom after he returned from the Death Ride last Sunday and he said, “I believe the term for that is ‘scorched earth.’ Gardening does not seem to be her forte.” I complained to my mother about this pruning job (since something very unpleasant would happen if I complained about it to the building manager, with whom I am getting along very well lately) and she agreed that one may find occasion to prune, but not, as a rule, while the prunee is in bloom.

Next I saw that the building manager was soaking the ground around the murdered bush, so I guess she means to tear it completely out. For a time, there were some blooms remaining on the other side of the fence, in the neighbors’ yard, but even those disappeared. The building manager must have gone over and said, “We have to cut this conniving bougainvillea off at the knees before it murders us in our sleep.”

Then we got a note saying she had been doing some work in the yard and was going to have some friends over to celebrate! Evidently these are the type of friends who like to look at hacked-off stubs rather than flowers.

Last night was celebration night. A fire was lit in a grill and a few folks came over with beer and hot dogs. It wasn’t particularly loud, but it was smoky beyond belief. My apartment was saturated, even with all the windows closed.

Hammett, the bedding and all the clothes in the closet ended up reeking of smoke. I had to wear a t-shirt to work today that smelled like it had survived a house fire.

As the manager and I are extremely prone to getting in fights, I wasn’t sure what approach to take; as we know, I'm incapable of the no-approach approach. In the end, I sent a brief note saying it had been pretty smoky and offering to try putting plastic over my windows next time.

Last night, I ended up going up to Tom’s, where conditions were slightly better, but where I also made a sad discovery: His pet rat, Lucky, so named because a snake declined to eat her not once but twice, has developed two sizeable tumors.

In addition, her back has open wounds on it from her scratching herself. Tom tried changing her bedding, but it didn’t seem to have helped, so I was just saying I thought it was time to take her to the vet when I noticed the tumors. I’m afraid poor Lucky is going to have to have a euthanasia experience, which I will pay for ($150, if you’d like to know).

Mission Pet Hospital does not treat small animals, but they referred me to an office that does. Someone there assured me that Lucky’s euthanasia will be painless. She asked if we preferred private cremation, so we could get her ashes back, but I said that since Lucky totally bites and therefore has never been held by either one of us, I thought we’d be OK with the group cremation.

We’ll be with her when she dies, if possible, albeit not within biting range. I can’t blame her for being a biter, after having nearly been snake cuisine twice.

I have finished psychologist Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness, which Tom gave me for my birthday. I didn’t think the writing was all that charming, as did others, but it has given me a lot to think about. Just in the two days since I finished it, I have seen several examples of things he mentions.

I received the Stevie Wonder album Signed Sealed & Delivered, and it turns out “Never Had a Dream Come True” is indeed the song I’ve been hearing in my head for so long. I was so happy, I cried.

I also received in the mail at work a garment whose box blew out of my bike bag on the way home! Now I’m going to have to order another one and I don’t even know if it’s the right thing.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The R Part, Somewhat Belatedly

I’ve been fretting again about the garage where I park my bicycle when I’m at work. To recap, when you enter the garage, there are bike racks to the right and to the left. On the right side, there is sufficient room to access any bike space, as long as the people who work in the garage are careful about leaving as much room as possible when they park a car in the car space nearest the rack.

To the left, there is not enough room, no matter how careful anyone is.

There are city laws that govern this: There is supposed to be five feet of open space behind the bicycles (not counting from the rack itself, but from the backs of the bicycles) and if this space is encroached on, a barrier of some sort is supposed to be constructed to guard that space, and there is a provision for a per-day fine to be levied until the problem is abated.

I have been parking in this garage for three or three and a half years, and I can’t tell you how many times I have mentally said the above to whichever building manager is currently in charge, and yet I have never actually said it until last week, because there’s little more I can say beyond that—I have few cards better than that one.

So I have relied on polite persistence—contacting the building manager (I’m on my fourth) and acquainting them with the issues, taking a look at the bike racks together, checking back with them.

There never has been enough access on the left side, but at some point, I decided not to worry about it, because it often wasn’t needed. But in the past several months, it has been needed almost every day. Sometimes the entire rack is occupied.

So I called the current building manager and I said I thought the time had come to fix the access for this rack. We had looked at it together months ago and she had said she had some ADA requirements to deal with and that she would tackle the bike access after that.

In time, the ADA work was completed, but nothing happened with the bike racks, so I called her again and reminded her that she had said she was going to do this and that I was wondering when that was going to happen, since the ADA work is now done.

I refreshed her memory as to the requirements, and then said casually, “As a point of reference, if the city were to see the racks, and I don’t know why they would, but if they did …” and I finally got to deliver my little spiel.

She said, “I’ll take care of it,” and I thanked her and we hung up. That was about a week ago. So far nothing has happened. I hope something does because I would like this multi-year process to be done, and I’m not sure where I’d go from here. (Well, I do have an idea or two: “Would it help if I sent you a copy of the law, to help the decision-makers understand why this change is necessary?”)

Last week Tom and I went to see trumpet player and composer Sarah Wilson at Intersection. I would actually classify her more as a composer than a trumpet player; I didn’t really like her trumpet playing very much, but her compositions are very accomplished. She has a wonderful sense of rhythm and of dissonance.

Her rhythm section, which included the joyful Scott Amendola on drums, was out of this world. I have heard his name for years, but had never heard him play before. He is a really fantastic drummer. I went up and complimented him and the bass player afterwards. He looked slightly nonplussed, and after reading about him online, I realized it’s probably because he was thinking, “Yes, of COURSE I’m a good drummer—I’m Scott Amendola!”

He has a group of his own performing at Intersection in October; I will be there.

I have finished Gimme Danger: The Story of Iggy Pop, by Joe Ambrose. It’s atrociously written, but there are some interesting tidbits. It consists mainly of a listing of the musicians for various sessions, tours and albums.

Over the weekend I went to see Ann and Mac in San Rafael; Tom was on the Death Ride. I took the bus to Mill Valley, and walked to Ann and Mac’s place to pick up their car. Then I picked up Ann and we went to see Ratatouille.

When we got in the car, I said I hadn’t been sure whether to use the D4 or the D3 gear, so I had used D4. She said D4 was correct, so I put it in D4 and stepped on the gas and we lurched forward and hit the slab of concrete that marked the front of the parking space. “Oops, forgot to do the ‘R’ part,” I said. That was her first experience of my driving, so that was a little embarrassing.

Friday, July 13, 2007

I Am, on the Whole, Stupendous

Last Saturday was quite overcast and cool. David and Lisa came over to meet Hammett, but, fearful, he hopped into the tub and refused to leave it, though they were able to peek in and see him there.

For some reason, Sir Dave didn’t faze Hammett, and I recall that Thelonious liked Sir Dave, too; neither cat liked/likes Tom, which is strange. Perhaps he’s just too big, with a voice to match. Maybe Hammett liked Sir Dave because there was just one of him. I’m sure he’ll warm up to his doting aunt and uncle in time.

We walked to 20th St. and Harrison to Café Gratitude, which serves raw vegan food. The dishes are named “I Am Thrilled,” “I Am Glorious,” “I Am Sensational,” and so forth. So when your wait person comes over and says, “What would you like?”, you get to say, “I am fabulous and I am insightful,” and she says, “You are fabulous and insightful!” and writes it down, which almost makes it worthwhile to pay $28 for a small slab of “lasagna” made out of zucchini and ground nuts, served cold, and a small sliver of pecan “pie” and modest scoop of “vanilla ice cream.” Almost but not quite, though everyone should go there once for the spectacular ambience.

Lisa and David said they liked the food, however, so if you are a fan of raw food, you’ll probably love Café Gratitude. I suspect their palates are considerably more refined than mine and that they weren’t asking themselves, “Where’s the half-pound of cheese?” after every bite, and that they weren’t secretly unhappy that nothing was drenched in sour cream.

At one point, a server came over and said quizzically, “You are powerful and you are sacred?” We said, “We are! But we didn’t order those items.”

I joked to Tom that afterwards we could go get a burrito, but in fact, we found ourselves strangely full and at least three of us noted that we had also drunk unusually large amounts of water. The food may be filling because it uses a lot of nuts.

On each table is a pad to be used with a game that is affixed to the table. Each sheet lists words you can use to construct your name for the game, a spirit word followed by a something-else word, to yield “The Divine Luscious” and so forth. I was “Great Heaps.” Tom was “Magical Gigantic.”

While we ate, we were saying “I am this [fabulous thing]” and “I am that [splendid quality],” in keeping with the menu. After we got the bill and put our $100 or so on the table, David noted Tom’s incredulous expression and joked, “Magical Gigantic is angry.”

Back at Tom’s place, he and I watched the DVD Mily made commemorating her and Susan’s trip this year to Yosemite. We caught a glimpse of their car, with a bumper sticker that says “Matriotic.”

I emailed her that I loved that, and she wrote back, “Cool! I'm so glad you liked it. We love matriotic! I keep expecting people to come alongside the car and high-five us or scream RIGHT ON SISTAH! But alas, we just look in the rearview and witness the puzzled looks. One neighbor asked if it had to do with matrimony.”

Tom has been buying songs from iTunes and has it all ready to go, so I used his PC—iTunes is not available for the venerable operating system on my PC—to buy 39 songs and later burn three CDs that have nothing on them but songs I love; what a wonderful thing!

I ran downstairs for my credit card and list of songs desired, which spans the period from a few months ago (Leviathan: “Scenic Solitude and Leprosy”) to twenty-five years ago (The Weather Girls: “It’s Raining Men”). Four of five songs whose names I’d written down after hearing them on Snakenet Metal Radio were available.

At some point during my downloading project, Tom turned on the TV. “Maybe you could do something quiet, like read a book,” I suggested.

“I’ve been reading all afternoon!” he protested.

“How long have I been here?”

“Four hours.”

All of this song-acquiring reminded me of a song whose melody has stuck in my head for thirty-five years, possibly by Stevie Wonder. It occurred to me that maybe I could go to Amazon and find it by listening to Stevie Wonder’s song clips from the era in question.

I looked up his massive discography and listed likely albums; there were nine of them. The first one was on Amazon, but there were no audio clips. The second one wasn’t on Amazon. The third was like the first. The fourth had audio clips, but the song wasn’t on it. Ditto the fifth.

On the sixth (Signed, Sealed and Delivered), I think I found it: “Never Had a Dream Come True.” Only a 30-second clip is there, but I’m pretty sure that’s the one. It was like finding the holy grail. iTunes didn't have it, so I have bought the whole album.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Sicko and Lefty

So, anyway, Sir Dave and I did see Sicko, which was great. You may visit Sir Dave’s website at SirDave dot com. I love when Michael Moore takes the little boats full of people to Guantanamo Bay and uses a bullhorn to request medical treatment for them. “We just want the same care you’re giving Al Qaeda!”

The movie is full of memorable moments—sad, outrageous and even a bit comical, thinking here of the fellow who throws his shoulder out fulfilling his lifelong ambition to cartwheel across Abbey Road where the famous picture of the Beatles was taken: “Ow, my shoulder!”

After the movie, Sir Dave said he was famished; was I? I said I was intending to go back to my neighborhood and have a burrito (followed, I didn't mention, by a six-hour nap). Sir Dave said he might just tag along, so he did. After burritos and garlic mushrooms at Pancho Villa, I turned north on Valencia St. to go home; Sir Dave said he might just walk with me a bit, so he did.

When we were nearly at my place, I invited him in to meet the Hammett (“Oh, he’s little,” said Sir Dave) and then subjected him to a variety of audio selections: Megadeth, the Beatles, Red Hot Chili Peppers, KT Tunstall, and some of Brent Weinbach’s off-color humor. Sir Dave departed at about 8:30 p.m. following his customary notice of departure: “I’m going to wend.”

Later I went up on the roof of my building to behold, through the unusually clear night, fireworks going off in four or five different places, plus all of the amateur productions. It was pretty spectacular, the best fireworks display I’d seen in years, maybe since my youth. I have fond memories of fireworks in Ann Arbor: being out with my family in the night, the smell of the dewy grass, the brilliant burning colors right overhead, the ear-splitting explosions and the white flashes

Some of the best fireworks this year were coming from very near at hand, in Dolores Park. Unfortunately, it turned out later that a young woman’s hand was seriously injured when some device exploded right next to her. In fact, she lost a finger, and she is a drummer.

Usually there are many things exploding through all of the Fourth of July night, but there seemed to be very few this year after 11 p.m. or so. I also expected leftover munitions to be detonated the following night, but I heard none.

My place of employment has sent me a new cell phone (a Nokia 2366i) which has two wonderful features: you can’t tell whether it’s on or not without picking it up and doing something to make the display light up, and it’s hard to tell when you have a new voice mail. With the previous phone, it was very obvious whether it was on or not and if you had a message or not. So this is a big step in the right direction.

I’ve been trying to find a good place to walk at lunch on weekdays. Yerba Buena Gardens is idyllic, but way too short a walk. Howard St. to the Embarcadero is nice for the water views, but slightly too populated. Folsom St. to the Embarcadero, just one block beyond Howard, is definitely free of people, but so much so as to be almost eerie. It has almost a wasteland feel, very romantic, but maybe not what you’re looking for every day.

One day this week I walked south on Third St. to the Embarcadero, and that was quite nice. It has nearly a small-town feel while going south (not going north, when you see downtown’s tall buildings) and affords tantalizing views of the Francis Lefty O'Doul Third Street Bridge, a venerable hunk of metal. I like things that are made of metal. By chance, that same evening, KQED was broadcasting a feature about this bridge.

Meditation is proceeding apace. Some days I do just five minutes, but if it's longer, it’s usually an hour, starting with a period of metta, then concentration practice using the breath, and then vipassana: letting go of the exclusive focus on the breath and noticing anything that is predominant.

I’m reading Ayya Khema’s book Who Is My Self?: A Guide to Buddhist Meditation, which oddly, is actually an exploration of the jhanas, which is somewhat of an advanced topic; I never expect to experience a jhana in my life. But it is excellent. She is a very good writer; so clear and so in command of her subject. I’m having to underline huge swaths of it.

One time when I was on a retreat and having a crush on a fellow retreatant, my teacher, Howie, advised, “Guard your sense doors.” I took that to mean not to look at the other person, but Ayya Khema says of course we will see and hear things all the time, and that to guard one’s sense doors means you see the guy, but don’t get off into “He’s cute” or “He’s on my nerves.”

Thursday, July 05, 2007


The Fourth of July has come and gone. I thought Hammett might be scared by all the explosions that occur in the Mission at this time of year, but after one particularly loud bang, I spotted him athwart a sunny patch of carpet in an attitude of extreme ennui, tail curled into a doughnut shape.

That day, Sir Dave and I went to the new movie theater in the mall where Bloomingdale’s is to see Sicko, Michael Moore’s film about the health-ravaging—I mean, health care system. I give the new theater two thumbs up: the auditoriums have extreme stadium seating so that the person in front of you would have to be eight feet tall in order to block your view, and the seats are comfortable and covered with some synthetic material that can easily be mopped off, as opposed to a woven material that gets stained with god knows what over the years.

Plus the toilets have old-fashioned handles and not the automatic flushing system. Naturally one has peed on the seat, as naturally one, with one’s severe case of OCD, is not going to sit down on most public toilet seats. However, the person of conscience, such as myself, will wish to make at least a token attempt to mop up the golden (or pale, depending on time elapsed since ingestion of vitamin B) droplets with a wad of toilet paper, so as not to offend the next visitor. With the automatic flushing system, one very much risks getting a faceful of toilet water and pee.

Not only does my online dictionary claim “faceful” is not a word, it actually returns a URL error. Well, I’m sticking with it.

In the past week, I have had one actual, physical collision with a complete stranger and one near-miss, from which I conclude that people, not excluding myself, are increasingly rude and clueless.

Case one: I am walking into Walgreens (using the wrong door, but whatever).

This happens to be the Walgreens on Kearny St., just north of Market. I sometimes go to two different Walgreens stores in one outing, because it just seems better to buy hand lotion at one Walgreens and Sonicare heads at another.

Anyway, I’m already inside the (wrong) door (I didn’t actually realize it was the wrong door until I was leaving the store later) when along comes a young lady (well, a young woman) and her small daughter. There is not quite room for two people to stand, or pass, side by side. Obviously I am not going to back out the door, but nor is the young woman going to stop proceeding toward the doorway, as evidenced by the fact that she does not stop, and next thing I know, we are actually physically in contact, at which point I say “Good lord,” in my best eighteenth-century manner, and somehow we get past each other.

Case two: I am walking along Third St., which turns into Kearny St. (hmm, maybe this is basically a problem with Third/Kearny St. itself), on a section of sidewalk which is quite narrow, outside a building housing luxury condominiums and a hotel. I am politely hewing to the right.

Along comes a young gentleman (well, a young man) steering adamantly to his left. Obviously I am not going to move to my left so that he may pass on the wrong side. However, he makes no sign of stopping, so when he is one inch from me, I stop walking and put my arm across my chest, palm out, so that he will not dent my very person.

At this, he does in fact go around me, and I say “Jesus!” in my best 1950s manner.

I should mention that even if I had been inclined to move to my left, I couldn’t have done so readily, as the sidewalk was packed.

I suppose the day is coming when one will have to leap entirely off the sidewalk into the gutter to accommodate the other party no matter what, or risk ending up in a pool of blood. On the other hand, I’ll bet this never happens to Lisa C.; I could admittedly be more yielding.

In any event, I now feel grateful if I can go one block without a fatal walking rage incident. Yay, I’m all the way to the corner and I’m not dead! I almost don’t want to leave the safety of my plush cubicle for my daily stroll anymore.

The other day, I was at Amazon considering which CDs and books I might like to buy with some funds that had been transmitted to me on or around my birthday. “Oh, right, I was thinking of getting this. And this!”

I noticed that with each passing moment of contemplating what was wanted, I felt physically worse. There was a subtle feeling of tightness, maybe queasiness, in my stomach. That was the palpable sensation of dukkha, of grasping, though I will enjoy the books and CDs (Def Leppard, Art Blakey, the Beatles, and KT Tunstall ) very much and of course am grateful to my kind benefactor.

An Outing to San Rafael and, Subsequently, Almond Cookies

Last Saturday morning, Tom and I went to San Rafael to visit his mother, Ann, and her husband, Mac, at the assisted-care place in which they have taken refuge for several weeks after a confluence of medical mishaps. It’s quite nice. It reminded me of a club where my grandmother once took me for lunch in Dearborn, Michigan.

We had lunch and did an errand or two and generally hung out. It was extremely pleasant. They are moving to Sacramento soon. It will be sad to have them farther away, but we go to Sacramento often, anyway, so we can just go even more often.

At the end of the afternoon, we came back to San Francisco and had Thai food for dinner and saw Live Free or Die Hard, with Bruce Willis, which was excellent. The crowd was large and enthusiastic.

Back at home, I made the mistake of turning on the computer to do a little something, and next thing I knew, it was two in the morning, as always. Here’s a problem: I can hear Snakenet Metal Radio online with no problems at home, but I can’t hear WRIF, a Detroit rock station, unless I’m at work, where either works fine, as proved by a brief test.

I meant to get up on Sunday at eleven a.m., but ended up hitting the snooze button until one p.m., and just then Lisa M. called, and we had a nice chat.

Thus it was nearly four p.m. before I left to go to Rainbow. I was going to get grated cheese to put on top of pasta and tomato sauce, but realized most of that stuff comes from Italy; the closest I could find was from Wisconsin, and that was in a plastic container, so I decided just to skip it. I’m buying less and less packaged food and still spending kind of a fortune, so I know prices must be rising precipitously.

Back at home, I made split pea and barley soup, using a recipe from my favorite cookbook, 366 Delicious Ways to Cook Rice, Beans and Grains. As always, the author tried to sneak a fat-free recipe past me, but as always, I remembered to pour 1/3 of a cup of olive oil into it. The recipe also called for a dried chipotle; I put in two. The result was pleasing.

I also made almond cookies: butter, flour, sugar, vanilla, almond flavoring, and finely ground almonds. The last time I used my mixer, to make the ill-fated “coconut” bread, it was emitting a terrible burning odor, so I wasn’t sure it was going to work again, but it did.

I’m continuing to sift through my filing cabinets looking for pieces of paper I may be able to live without. I came upon a note from Frances Mayes (Under the Tuscan Sun), who was one of my teachers in an undergraduate creative writing program at SFSU, in which she said that her directed writing section was full, but that she would make an exception for me if I wanted to work with her on a one-on-one basis. I didn’t do it; I can’t remember why. I felt slightly regretful seeing this evidence of missed opportunity. She also told me that she hoped I was going to go to graduate school. I didn’t.

But now I have this fantastic blog! What could Frances Mayes or graduate school have done for me? My dear friend Elea is in graduate school for writing right now; we met in that same undergraduate program, whose department head was poet Stan Rice, husband of novelist Anne Rice. When Elea is done with school, I’ll ask her if it was worth it.

I was able to part with several inches of “free writing” without rereading it. I gathered all of my own poems and recycled the extra copies of each. Maybe I’ll start putting them here, if there is enough space to avoid breaking lines in the wrong place, since this is probably the only way most of them will see the light of day, though I did come upon one that absolutely belongs in The New Yorker, if I can get the first three quarters of it whipped into shape. I imagine you’ll see it there in a couple of weeks.

It was kind of interesting to come upon the beginnings of various poems, a line or phrase from weeks or months before the poem was actually written.

A couple of weeks ago, I was flipping my new mattress over per the specified maintenance schedule and discovered that one of the big stitches that goes all the way through the mattress, helping to keep it flat, had burst.

Such defects will be fixed for ten years under the warranty, but the customer must pay for transportation to and from the factory, so I feared they were going to say that for $200, they’d come and get it, fix it and return it, and was very pleased when they said that’s something they can fix in my apartment. They ain’t done it yet.