Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Grinding to a Halt

On Saturday night Tom and I watched The End of Suburbia, a documentary about some of the mostly unpleasant ways our lives will change as oil becomes less and less available: many won’t be able to drive back and forth between their jobs and their homes, yet lots of suburbs lack services and businesses that would make it feasible for people to stop traveling to cities. Ultimately, said one commentator, the end of the era of cheap oil will reverse globalization: what we eat will need to be grown very near where we’re going to eat it, because we won’t be able to truck food hither and thither. And all of those goods that now come from China and other countries may no longer make it to our shores if there isn’t fuel for the tankers.

Over the weekend I was reading an interview in Tricycle with a professor in the East who observed that it doesn’t matter too much whether we use disposable diapers or not, or whether we choose paper or plastic bags at the supermarket. Those things don’t have huge effects, she said. What makes a big difference is our choices in regard to transportation and housing. Do we own a vast house that requires heating and cooling, and is it tens of miles from our job, so that we need a steady flow of gasoline to get back and forth? I suppose the ideal is not to own a car, and to live in an energy-efficient space that is close to one’s job. Where there is greater population density, mass transit systems are possible, whereas they are not so feasible in areas of suburban sprawl.

I tend to think I’m reasonably well-positioned, as I live in a densely populated area and get around by bicycle, but I’m sure I’m in for a lot of horrible surprises. There are many, many little things I take for granted: My electric toothbrush. Whitening toothpaste for sensitive teeth. Cat food. Tuna from Thailand. Chocolate from Venezuela. That when I turn the tap, water, even hot water, will come out.

(I picture myself a few decades from now saying to a child, “People used to have things called ‘sinks’ in their homes. The sinks had handles that you could turn, and then water would come out, right in your own house! You could have as much water to drink as you wanted, and you could actually fill a large tub with water that was hot and lie down in it, as a means of bathing. It wasn’t like now, where you stand in line once a month to take a shower at the public showerhouse, with all your neighbors watching. There was a place called Whole Foods, full of every kind of food you could think of, including a lot of kinds of food we no longer have today. You could walk in there anytime and buy meat, chicken, turkey, all kinds of fish, all kinds of cheese, bread, fruits, vegetables, dozens of kinds of cookies and pastries and candy and doughnuts, sauces, crackers, cereals, ice cream.”)

Tom observes that bike parts have risen appreciably in cost over the past year or so. When I went to Rainbow on Sunday, I expected the total to be about $40 (i.e., extremely little; last week I spent $160) because I was buying mostly vegetables. I was surprised when the total was more than $90! It seems a little bottle of vanilla extract now costs $13 or $14, and I had bought zucchini out of season, to the tune of $11. One thing I may do is start shopping at one of the many weekly farmers’ markets. My expensive zucchini was shipped from Mexico. Buying vegetables at the farmers’ market would support local farmers, ensure that produce isn’t transported as far, and also would keep me from unwittingly buying foods out of season.

I think my greatest trepidation about the post-Peak Oil era has to do with the possible behavior of my fellow Americans, most of whom are already, objectively speaking, the most privileged people ever to walk the earth, yet some of whom behave with extreme aggression in the most mundane of circumstances, as if they are unbearably put-upon:

Why do I have to wait one second for this pedestrian to finish crossing the street? Can’t that idiot see I need to go right now?” I always wonder just where they’re going that requires such a rush. I said to David C., “It’s as if they think they’ll get a million dollars if they get to the next red light two seconds sooner.” He said, “No, they’re afraid someone will take a million dollars from them if they don’t.” It’s possible that they’re rushing to a breakfast engagement with their favorite movie star, but probable that they’re just going to work or to the supermarket. And will they be in a good mood when they get there after working themselves into a Type-A rage en route? (I often think of Thich Nhat Hanh saying, to paraphrase, “If you don’t enjoy washing the dishes, you also aren’t going to enjoy having dessert once you’re done washing the dishes.”)

The other day I was on my bicycle at a red light, waiting to turn left onto Valencia from 19th St. A massive pickup truck pulled up behind me. I pointed to the left to indicate my intentions. I always do this again right before the light turns green, in case the driver behind me missed my first signal, since I don’t have a continuously blinking turn signal. When I made my second signal, the driver yelled out his window, “All right, all right!” Then, as we began moving, he added, “Why don’t you get out of the way?” (Any cyclist gets to hear this quite frequently. My explanation, which I never get to deliver, begins, “Well, it has to do with California Vehicle Code section 21202.” Once the legalities are out of the way, we might get into common courtesy and sharing the public resources; we might even mention the Golden Rule.) Finally, to make sure his general sentiments were clear, as he drove by, he added, “Bitch.”

Here we have someone who has a big, expensive vehicle that he presumably can afford to fill with gas. He’s driving it in one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in one of the loveliest cities in America. If he chooses, he can go to Whole Foods and stock up with food, or out to dinner, or to the movies, or to see a show, or, judging from his behavior, to visit his meth dealer. If he wants to take a nap, he can go to his apartment or house and get in his bed; he doesn’t have to build a shelter under a freeway overpass. If he wants a snack, it’s right there in his fridge. And he is enraged out of his mind because he has to wait .5 seconds for another legal user of the roadway to proceed before he can move his gas hog.

How will this person behave when there is no more gas to fill up his truck? When vanilla extract goes to $50 an ounce due to shipping costs, or isn’t available at all? When his house or apartment can’t be heated because there is no fuel, period?

I had an apocalyptic vision of having my bicycle stolen out from under me by one of these former SUV drivers when an SUV is nothing more than a large piece of immobile industrial art, or being mugged for my trusty old rubber raincoat, suddenly a hot commodity.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Weekend of Overachievement

So far the weekend is going well. I’d thought it was going to be one of those lost weekends where I spend the whole thing napping, but it began last night with a burst of accomplishment—plowing through my stack of unread periodicals—that ended in time to go to sleep by about 1 a.m., which meant there was ample time for Saturday to get off to a roaring start. I read two issues of Harper’s, one New Yorker, one Poets & Writers, and People (which I call The Journal of Popular Studies—I wouldn’t have any idea what anyone was talking about if I didn’t read it; actually, I mostly just look at the pictures). All I had left to read today in the way of periodicals was Tricycle.

Even after getting a full night’s sleep, I can easily sleep until 5 p.m. the next day, but today I got up at about 10 a.m. and did something or other. I can’t remember exactly what, but I do have the sense of having really been on top of things. I keep meaning to edit a longish piece about P., break it into shorter parts and put it here, but can’t quite get around to that. Oh, I know what I did this morning: I called My Best Friend, the pet store in the Castro, to see about getting 150 pounds of cat litter, but they are going out of business, which is a shame. I envisioned spending the rest of the weekend on the phone trying to find another source, only to find that the cat litter people had also gone out of business, but my very next call, to a pet store on 24th St., yielded the promise of the desired item, and then I felt great.

I also cut three old t-shirts into rags and figured out exactly how many stamps of various denominations I have to buy to make things come out more or less even now that the rates have changed; besides lots of 37-cent stamps, I also have some 34-cent stamps that belonged to my beloved, departed grandmother.

I talked to my mother briefly (my father was about ready to serve dinner) and did take a teensy nap and also talked to my friend Lisa. After my nap, I went to Freewheel to get the Marin and brought a bar of Venezuelan each for Dan and Eric. In a few minutes here, I’m going to go up to Tom’s and we’re going to watch The End of Suburbia.

Another thing I did earlier was meditate for an hour. For about three years, I meditated for an hour every single day, but recently I gave that up, as it was starting to feel like a chore. I decided instead to just meditate at least five minutes a day and leave it at that. (Before I started meditating for an hour a day, I asked my meditation teacher, Howie Cohn, what he would think of someone who meditated just five minutes a day for the rest of her life, as it seemed at the time that that’s all I was going to be able to do. His answer was wonderful: “I would think that person was very devoted to her spiritual practice.”)

I began sitting five minutes a day, and in no time, it grew to an hour a day. It turns out that it was a much bigger step to go from no regular practice to five minutes a day than it was to go from five minutes a day to an hour a day.

Today was the first time I’ve sat for an hour since formally swearing off. It was good. What I do lately is a bit of metta (lovingkindness) for myself, picturing myself sleeping at my friend Carol Joy’s, which I did recently, and it was very dark and quiet (unlike where I usually sleep) and Carol Joy was in the next room and there was a little lamp over the bed thoughtfully placed by Carol Joy or her husband, and right outside a nearby window was a beautiful orange tree. I picture myself there and say a set or two or three of metta phrases: May I be happy. May I be strong and healthy. May I be safe and protected. (May I be safe and protected on my bicycle.) May I live with ease.

It turns out that doing metta for myself is a really good way to generate friendly feelings toward others.

Then I do a bit of concentration practice, attending to the sensation of breath at my nostrils, and then I spend the rest of the time on mindfulness of my body: throat, chest, belly; or a full-body scan; or whatever calls my attention most.

I went to a concentration retreat last year and it was wonderful. For one thing, it generated more pleasant feelings than had my entire 14 years of vipassana practice put together. But I found subsequently that it's not a good idea to only do concentration practice, as for me it created a laserlike intensity that could easily get used to ill effect: when I was angry, I was really angry. And one of the teachers at the retreat, Steve Armstrong, who I thought was fantastic, observed that the point of doing concentration practice is not for it to be an end in itself, but to take the resulting steadiness of mind and use it for one's vipassana, or insight, practice, which is what actually ends suffering, specifically insight into impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and selflessness. That's why I spend most time on mindfulness for the purpose of insight rather than mindfulness for the purpose of concentration.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Sacramento, Peter Berlin, My Marine Friend

I had a very lovely weekend. Tom (aka The Big T.) and I went to Sacramento on the train, as we do several times a year, for a birthday dinner for his very wonderful nephew, Chris, who lives in New York. Going to Sacramento is one of my very favorite things to do. Tom’s entire family is extremely great and I am very lucky to know them. (I was trying to count once how many fantastic people I met because I met Tom; the list is quite long.) Tom’s sister-in-law, Eva, is a fabulous cook who makes spectacular feasts with lots of fresh veggies and fish and/or meat. In this case, she had been sick in bed for a week, and then got up and made a wondrous meal which began with an appetizer that had raw (or cooked via marination in lime juice) ahi tuna in a light coconut milk sauce with fresh green onion and tomato. Eva said this is something everyone eats in Tahiti, where she went on vacation last year. It was so good.

When I got home from Sacramento on Sunday afternoon, I made lentil-potato-tomato stew, and chocolate-chip cookies, including chocolate chips, which I usually omit. I think I don’t actually like chocolate-chip cookies. Next time I make them, maybe I’ll leave out the chocolate chips and the nuts, and if they still don’t seem good, I’ll stick with butter cookies with lemon frosting, which are always good.

A year or so ago, a bicycle I’d had for fifteen or more years got stolen from work. I went outside after work and there it wasn’t. (My friend Alix’s son Wolf, when he was quite young, once began a conversation by saying, “Know what I don’t think?”) Know what wasn’t there? My bike. I took a cab up to Freewheel on Valencia and bought a new U-lock and a new cable for locking up my other bike the next day, but when I got home and unpacked my new items, I’m sorry to say that my old locks were also in my pannier: They had not been on the bike! A physical therapist I was seeing then had asked me to do some stretches each time I got off my bike. That morning I had put my bike in its usual spot, conscientiously done my stretches, and then had gone into the building, leaving my beloved old Diamondback unlocked all day long.

After the sharp edge of loss had dulled somewhat I went and bought a Marin Novato, which I really sort of hate, probably mainly because it’s not my old steel clunker. I suspect it of wanting to kill me; it seems to lose its grip on the earth way more than any other bike I’ve ever had. I put some Continental Contact tires on it, and that did solve that problem, but also increased the rolling resistance by about 50 percent.

Now that the rainy season is ebbing away, I’ve bought some other tires that Eric at Freewheel likes (Panaracer Tservs). Those can be the summer tires and I’ll save the Contacts for winter. The Marin also needs a brake upgrade, and I broke a spoke, so that needs fixing and the rear wheel needs trueing. I called Dan at Freewheel to see if he could do all of this later this week. I like Dan because he is very calm and when you say what’s wrong with your bike, he says, “Oh, yes, I’ll fix that. That shouldn’t be a problem,” as opposed to something that makes me feel discouraged, anxious and irritable.

On Monday night I saw the documentary That Man: Peter Berlin at the Castro Theater. Peter Berlin was a gay sex icon in the Castro in the 1970s and the pictures of him from that era are extremely provocative. He is still alive and is interviewed in the documentary. At some point, Jean Paul Gaultier wanted to use him in advertisements and had someone give him a call. Peter Berlin answered the phone and said something like, “This is the maid. Peter Berlin will be away for eight months.” When his friends asked why on earth he didn’t want to model for Gaultier, Peter Berlin said, “Oh, then I’d have to call him back, and he’d have to call me back, and there would be all these things that would have to be done,” or words to that effect: Too much hassle.

As I walked home down 18th Street after the movie, I called P. to see if he’d ever met Peter Berlin. He said he did meet and talk to Peter Berlin about ten times downtown, and that he liked him.

The other day I went to say goodbye to my Marine friend, who is on his way back to Iraq for the third time since the war started. He’s looking forward to going back; he jokes that it’s safer than being in a corporate cubicle. Our friendship has cooled since he figured out I’m a far-left liberal, which I had assumed he assumed, just going by where I live, but there is still a flurry of communication now and then and I still care about him and wish him well. (And I still think he has extremely gorgeous green eyes and the most beautiful deep voice.) I went to one of the first anti-war demonstrations, which must have been in March of 2003 or thereabouts, but once the war actually started, I couldn’t bring myself to go to another, even though I knew I wasn’t demonstrating against the members of our military.

Knowing someone who was over there made me pay much closer attention—I always knew what time it was in Baghdad—and broadened my perspective, not to the extent of approving of war (and particularly not this “war”) but to the extent of realizing that every soldier or Marine is a human being with hopes, loves and fears, and also that there are many viewpoints in that group; I’m sure there are some people in the military who are just as anti-war as I am. I also was very touched by how openly my friend, who is as pro-war as you can be, shared his thoughts and feelings. We wrote and emailed often during his first tour there, and he sent me, upon request, a photo of himself in the desert which is still on my living room wall. I still have all of his letters and emails. I never told him that because of him I stopped demonstrating, because I didn’t want to mention that I’d been demonstrating. It would be kind of like saying, “Good news! I’ve decided to stop punching your mother.”

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Two Terrible Problems!

They’re not really so terrible, but I thought this would make a good blog entry title (though I’ll regret it when I really do have two terrible problems and have to pretend it’s one or three problems so I don’t use the same title again). It also makes a good email subject line.

(Or you can start emails with the phrase, “I insist!”, just to set the right tone immediately.)

First problem: Unwanted hairs! (Plus my mother says when you turn 50, you start growing a lot of unwanted hairs everywhere.)

Solution: My very friendly, well-traveled, talkative electrologist near Union Square. She is Japanese and very short and I enjoy my visits to her very much. We discuss all sorts of things while I’m lying on her table: recipes for tasty dishes, places she’s been to, if Angelina is moving too fast letting Brad adopt her kids so quickly. To make sure no unwanted hair is missed, I put a black dot next to each one with a Sharpie beforehand. Every time I catch sight of the dots, I’m startled: A pox upon me! My electrologist says she’s comfortable working on all areas of the body, but not if someone wants something she doesn’t think is natural, like if someone wants her pubic hair transformed into a tiny (vertical) stripe. Dancers sometimes want this. She writhed briefly to indicate the type of person who might want unnatural-looking pubic hair. Someone who wants her pubic hair shaped into a horizontal stripe is probably even less welcome.

Second problem: Drippy eyes. I’m going to be one of those old ladies with drippy eyes; right now I’m a medium-old lady with drippy eyes. (Plus I’ve noticed my jowls are starting, just barely starting, to sink into two clumps on either side of my mouth, which gives me a stern expression that I find very pleasing; a stern expression comes in handy more often than not. It will be good to have one permanently.)

My eye doctor of the year (I like to switch eye doctors every year, for excitement) said that my tear ducts might be blocked and in need of irrigation. When you have a tear duct irrigation, they use a little skinny sticklike thing to stretch out the entrance of your tear duct, which is in the inner corner of your eye on the bottom side, and then they stick a long needle down the duct. Then they squirt a bit of saline solution down the duct to make sure there’s no blockage. Basically, you’re sitting in the chair and someone sticks a needle in your eye and you can’t move a muscle, let alone scream and flop back and forth in terror. I had several of these, all but one performed by a woman who worked in the office, not my eye doctor himself. The woman seemed pretty no-nonsense and there were no untoward incidents, but I noticed that when the eye doctor himself had to do this, one day after we waited and waited for the woman but she was just too busy, he seemed rather tense and kept reminding me not to move. I figure he had had a mishap or two in the past. I wonder how many eyes you have to put out before you decide to leave the tear duct irrigations to someone else.

As it turned out, I don’t actually have drippy eyes, I have dry eyes, as the following year’s eye doctor told me. Because they’re dry, they get irritated easily, and then they drip. She prescribed some medication that didn’t help and finally she said just to take fish oil religiously every day, to lubricate my eyes from the inside out. It doesn’t seem to be helping, and I guess that’s that. I guess I’m going to start carrying a small dainty handkerchief with which to dab at my eyes, which will also draw the eye to my jowls, though if all goes well, they'll be visible without such artifice.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Mystery Unsolved

The rumbling continues as always, or what seems like always; it woke me up at 5:30 this morning. Alas, when I put my ear to the wall, I heard nothing coming from below in the way of music, so it must have been that my downstairs neighbor happened to be listening to music in the middle of the night that I was doing my rumbling research, which consisted of putting my ear to various surfaces within and without my apartment, but she evidently is not the cause of the part that’s always there. I heard the words “underground bunker” pass through my mind about 5:31 this morning and thought, “Uh oh.” I suppose it’s just some piece of residence-related equipment, and it’s probably been happening all of the seven years I’ve lived here, and I’m just tuned in to it now, and I can’t untune. At least now I can go back to trying to feel friendly toward it, whereas it’s hard for me to feel friendly toward something I think I might be able to control. (Lately I’m starting to think my list of what I may be able to control is optimistically long.)

I suppose now, when I’m complaining about noise, is as good a time as any to confess that I play the trumpet. But not after 10 p.m.! And not before noon on weekends. And, actually, I haven’t been playing it lately. Unfortunately, the older I get, the less comfortable I feel about inflicting this on my neighbors, plus I’m not in a band now. Many years ago I had a neighbor who came not to enjoy the sound of the trumpet and one night simply turned the power in my apartment off. I could hear his music playing, but I was in the dark. Turning off my electricity didn’t turn off the trumpet, but it did have a disorienting effect on the trumpet player. The same neighbor had covered all of his windows with Mylar, to stop people on ladder trucks from looking in at him, and he was often awake around the clock doing speed. Another time, he piled a bunch of wet garbage outside my apartment door. The landlord had tried without success to evict him, so after the garbage incident, I decided it was time for me to move.

I went then to live in another apartment in the Mission where I played the trumpet happily for 10 years—some neighbors kindly swore they enjoyed it—until a lesbian couple moved in above. It’s always nerve-wracking for a trumpeter to acquire a new neighbor: Will this be the one who can’t stand the trumpet? I didn’t worry when these two moved in, however, because the previous occupant had been a friend of theirs, who had surely alerted them to the occupancy of a musician below. I was therefore rather surprised when the blond-haired one came down about two weeks after moving in to ask me to stop playing. Soon they began jumping up and down every time I played; they could keep it up for an hour. It made my lights flicker, and also terrified me. (It sounds odd in retrospect, but it really did scare me to have this violent reaction going on every time I did the thing I loved most, which I had to do pretty much every day to be able to perform well.) The landlord went up and asked them to stop jumping up and down. “We’re dancing!” they said.

The neighbors and I talked several times and I compromised until my performances began to suffer ill effects; at one club I had such an off night that the bandleader decided we’d better skip my big solo that evening. I agreed to virtually everything the neighbors asked (why?), and still they jumped up and down. It was absolutely ghastly. After some months, the jumping began to wear them out—I hope it destroyed all four of their knees, and gave them unsightly tough skin on the bottoms of their feet—and they switched to bouncing a ball on their floor instead, every minute I was playing. The landlord went up and asked them to stop bouncing their ball. “We’re practicing our juggling!” they said.

Obviously they felt no compunction about lying, as on the day I played for a few minutes early in the day and for half an hour later in the day; they announced to the landlord that I had played “for seven hours straight!” Basically, they were enormous jerks and I hope they’re extremely unhappy, wherever they are now.

A shocking piece of information emerged just before I gave up and moved to a musician-friendly building: One of my favorite people on earth, Mr. Marilyn Bull, turned out to be acquainted with one member of this couple and told me that she came from Ann Arbor, Michigan—my very place of birth! I was horrified to hear that someone so awful could go around claiming my hometown as her own. And get this: She actually went to the same junior high school I went to, Tappan. I dug out my yearbook and, yep, there she was, one year behind me.

The moral of these stories is, I think, rather clear: people should not make noise that I find annoying, and they should not object when I make noise they find annoying.

(All right, I suppose the real moral is that the less you object to, the happier you’ll be, and also that I should have yelled “Fuck you morons!” at the ceiling and then played twice as long as I’d planned to.)

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Mystery Solved!

Last night I solved the mystery of the rumbling: It’s the stereo of my downstairs neighbor or her roommate, on at a very low volume some 36 hours a day. She has demonstrated an incapacity for civil discourse in the past, so I’m not sure where to go from here. Now that I know it’s being perpetrated by a conscious being and not random misery sent by the universe (“Turds from Satan,” as Paul Trupin used to say), it’s a lot harder to feel friendly toward. I suppose I could talk to the building manager, but the uncivil neighbor is the building manager.

I decoded successfully a couple of times lately, most thrillingly. “Decoding” is the term Overcoming Overeating uses for figuring out what is really meant by one’s critical thought about one’s body or what one ate. When I started OO about six and a half years ago, I immediately got that thoughts about my body were really about something else; unfortunately, it took me until about two weeks ago to figure out that thoughts about what I ate or how much I ate also are not to be taken at face value. I’m positive now that when I overeat and think, “I wish I hadn’t done that,” even though I’m not berating myself, I’m really trying to say I wish I hadn’t done something else, or that I’m bad for having done something else. I have failed to live up to my own standard in some way. And while the answer might end up being to try harder to live up to my own standard, more often the need is for self-forgiveness or re-examining the standard.

Carol Munter demonstrated decoding at the OO workshop some months ago. She asked us to share critical thoughts we’d had about our bodies. I said that the evening before, looking in the hotel mirror, I’d thought, “My belly sticks out. Oh, well, at least it doesn’t come to a point.” Carol said, “I should really make Linda do this, but this one is so obvious that I’ll go ahead: ‘I really stuck out in the group yesterday. Thank goodness I didn’t come entirely to the point.’”

My two recent decodings were also thoughts about my body. I was bending over and observed that the line of my inner thigh was ripply. This was actually a thought about the fear of being seen and possibly giving offense—a fear of making ripples. The other thought was that my face was too red: fear of my writing being read!

I was writing about P.’s housemate Lourdes yesterday. Another person who lives at P.’s is Ed, an incredibly cheery soul of about 90 who is often to be found on the front porch enjoying the afternoon sun. One day he told P. and me about the house where he used to live decades ago, who had what bedroom. That house is near where I live now, so I offered to take him on an outing to see it. Amazingly, when he and P. and I got there, there was someone on the street who remembered Ed from decades ago. We took photographs of Ed sitting on his old front steps and then went to the tennis courts near Valencia and 20th, where he used to play in his youth. He was thrilled to see part of his history come to life again, and told us, “You know, I used to live near here! Boy, I’d sure like to see the old place one more time.” I said, as gently as possible, “Actually, we were just there.” “We were?” he asked. And so, with P. moaning and groaning, off we went to have one more look at Ed’s old house.

The pictures from that day show Ed smiling hugely, while P. looks absolutely distraught. He never seems to enjoy our time together much, but is very anxious to make sure he’s going to get more of it. I suppose that makes sense to any addict. I think he had asked me, at the beginning of the excursion, “What are we going to do next week?” And when I said I wasn’t sure, or that I was going to be doing something else, it sent him into a panic that destroyed his afternoon. It seems like a waste, but of course it’s fundamentally the same as my own worries: Things are fine right now, but what if …

Friday, February 10, 2006

Rumbling Update and Lourdes

The rumbling is still underway. My therapist said I may have to “let it be in the background,” meaning, “Live with it.” And I didn’t hear from my friend at DPW, so, a la Tara Brach in her book Radical Acceptance, when I retired for the night, I pictured myself sitting on a park bench with the rumbling next to me. I even gave it a cutesy name, Mr. Rumbly, and I pictured myself throwing an arm around its shoulder: “It’s OK; you can be here.” And then I went to sleep.

I ran into The Big T. as I got home from work yesterday and proposed that we view a DVD in his apartment Saturday night, as we fairly often do, but he is planning to go to a bluegrass show in Noe Valley, so it looks like we’ll get together Friday night. He usually goes to the annual bluegrass festival in Golden Gate Park, but gave up inviting me after I said three years in a row, “As long as they don’t play any bluegrass music.”

The last two shows I went to were Korn and Megadeth, both at the Warfield. At the Megadeth show, I was seated in front of an enthusiastic fan who kept punching the air, his fist whistling past my ear. I had formed a solid disliking for him when he realized there was someone external to the demographic sitting in front of him and engaged me in conversation: “Do you like hard rock? That’s cool! Do you like Megadeth? That’s cool! My mother likes Megadeth, too! She’s very cool.” By the time the show started, we were best friends. He had his son, nine or ten years old, with him, who, like me, was about to see Dave Mustaine for the first time, and we were both terribly excited. It was a wonderful show, with songs from throughout the Megadeth discography, and the sound was nicely balanced; it was loud but it wasn’t an undifferentiated wall of murk.

I called P. after talking to The Big T. yesterday. I’m still not brimming with forgiveness, but I figure I can spare a few minutes a day on the phone. Also, I can’t swear off seeing him permanently, because then I would never see Lourdes again, a tiny Filipina woman about four feet tall who can barely walk who lives at P.’s house and who is a profane and unrepentant bully. I adore her. (When I ask P. how she is, he always says, “She’s on top,” meaning in the sexual sense.) P. once compared her looks to Napoleon’s and showed me a picture to prove his point; he was correct. She often spends hours screaming the same phrase over and over at the top of her lungs, and she insults people in the vilest terms, but she is also very funny.

Someone else’s visitor once chuckled at her and Lourdes glared at her and said darkly, “How loud you laugh me!”

She can say dreadful things, but changes allegiances quickly. One minute it’s, “P.’s your boyfriend? I’m happy for you, sorry for him!” The next, it’s, “He’s lucky. You’re not.”

If I don’t see her in the TV room or creeping up and down the hallways, I go tap on her door, which is usually closed, and she yells, “Who is it?” “Linda, P.’s friend.” Pause. “Open the door!” I open the door three inches, which is as far as it can be opened, because she pushes boxes up against it and then sits behind the boxes in her wheelchair. I say, “You have a good fortress here,” and she might back up a bit so the door can be opened farther, and then we have a nice long chat. She mimics her young relatives holding out their hands and pleading, “Give me money!” She reminisces about her life and is very curious about mine; she always asks me if I had lunch and where I live and how I’m going to get back there. She advises me to be careful when I’m walking home. I told her my boss is, like her, Filipino and she said, “Ah! Does he say, ‘Linda! Do this! Linda! Do that!’?” I assured her that he does. Not long ago, she said with grudging admiration, “You’re pretty tall. Seven feet?”

At a random moment, she might announce, “I don’t like you!” But when we part, she gingerly extends an index finger and I extend one of mine, and, grimacing, we touch fingertips. Then I walk away, and whatever the time of year, can hear her calling after me, “Happy holidays!”

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Some Things I Like: Venezuelan Chocolate, Kasper Hauser, David Lazarus, Naomi Wolf, and PRIMTER IS BROKE!!

Venezuelan chocolate, particularly El Rey. This was my conclusion after a couple of years of extensive taste-testing. I’m partial to the milk chocolate (41% cacao), though it comes in several strengths, including white chocolate. I get it at Rainbow in San Francisco. El Rey also has a website.

Kasper Hauser. They are an absolutely hilarious four-man sketch comedy group (“skit club”) whom I have seen six or seven times, most recently a couple of Saturday nights ago at the SF Sketchfest. Not to be missed. (I have met three of the four by the simple expedient of strolling about the Mission, which is kind of odd, though it occurred to me that maybe every single person in the Mission does something that someone else is aware of; whereas I said, “My god, it’s Rob of Kasper Hauser,” and thought nothing about the person walking behind him, if the right person had been with me at the bus stop, maybe she would have thought nothing of Rob of Kasper Hauser but observed of the guy behind him, “My god, it’s the lead singer of … ”)

David Lazarus. He is the San Francisco Chronicle’s wonderful crusading business columnist. He is always writing these columns--I read them at www.sfgate.com--that say, “This company is doing such-and-such horrible things to their customers,” which is great enough, but then he adds something like, “Oh, and the CEO also runs a secret torture prison in Ypsilanti, MI, and when he was a kid, he used to leave his dog chained to the garage instead of taking him for a walk.” He ferrets out everything. And then, two days later, sometimes he writes that Dianne Feinstein is sponsoring a bill to make whatever the company was doing illegal. That is to say, he is on the side of the average consumer, he is excellent at what he does, and he gets results. He’s one of my heroes.

Naomi Wolf. She is a genius. I just read, belatedly, her 1993 book Fire with Fire: The New Female Power and How It Will Change the 21st Century. It does sound drearily informative and PC, but it’s absolutely excellent. She discusses why so many people share the goals of feminism but don’t regard themselves as or call themselves feminists. It’s full of interesting tidbits, such as the fact that when employers want to discourage female applicants for a job, they simply advertise the same job again but with a higher salary. She discusses victim feminism versus power feminism—we already are a majority in this country, so it’s not a matter of asking for power but using it.

Since writing the above paragraph I have discovered that Fire with Fire is out of print, and also that everyone hates Naomi Wolf for being conventionally attractive and having a fabulous career and lots of money and having the nerve to address women’s issues when her life appears from the outside not to have been one of suffering. Well, I don’t care. She has the right to write about whatever she feels like, and I’m glad she has tons of money and a fabulous life (maybe not 100 percent fabulous; it looks like she got divorced last year—that can’t be so fabulous), and I think her books are excellent. Is the idea that if you look a certain way and have a certain amount of money, you have to keep your mouth shut? I think not. Onwards.

PRIMTER IS BROKE!! At www.fixyourownprinter.com, there is an FAQ section that includes this question: PRIMTER IS BROKE!! The answer to that “question” is that they’d like you to survey the information available on their site before contacting them directly. Whenever I think of that, I chuckle. It makes a good all-purpose exclamation of distress: PRIMTER IS BROKE!! (In the end, I just bought a new printer, which, when it roars into life, makes all the lights in my apartment flicker, which could possibly indicate a fire hazard. My landlord spent probably a small fortune proving that the wiring throughout the building was sound and also, rightly, scolded me for using 100-watt bulbs in 60-watt fixtures, so now I have bags of 100-watt bulbs stashed away and I can’t see anything. Between that and my disappearing vision, I look better every day. Unless I get one inch from the mirror, my skin appears to be youthfully flawless.)

A Dust-Up, Rumbling, Snot

It has been a rather trying week. I have been sick, and I had a huge dust-up with P., who has long been requested not to call me and not to get any of the nice ladies who work at his home to call me on his behalf. One of them did call me on Sunday, because they couldn’t find P., and that was totally fine.

I’ve been calling P. every day, just about, but didn’t happen to call him on Sunday afternoon. On Monday evening, I got a call from the same woman who called me on Sunday. When I heard her voice leaving a message, I picked up the phone, and then P. snatched the phone from her and said, “It wasn’t my fault Gloria called you on Sunday! I didn’t tell her to do it! Don’t be mad at me!” I was instantly irate—frankly, it also scared me just a little, as it gave me a teensy little taste of what it might be like to be stalked, an experience I am very grateful not to have had so far—and said it was fine that Gloria had called me on Sunday but that it was not fine that he was calling me right then, and I hung up on him. He called back immediately and left a hysterical message, and then another.

I called him back (with some misgivings, as I was remembering what Gavin de Becker wrote in his book The Gift of Fear about how if the stalker calls you 50 times and then you finally call him back, you’ve just shown him that 50 phone calls will achieve his desired result) and he said, “I’m doing the best I can! I didn’t know you weren’t mad about Gloria calling you! You didn’t call me on Sunday so I thought you were angry at me! Forgive me! Please don’t punish me!” I found out later that he certainly did know I wasn’t mad about Gloria calling me on Sunday because his sister told me that she told him so: “Linda was not mad about Gloria calling her. Should you call Linda? No! Should you have Gloria call Linda? No!”

But even without knowing he was lying to me, I was really ticked off that I can’t make this simple request and have it respected. I know he gets unbearably anxious and his head fills with ideas that he can’t shake loose, and I know he can’t help that, but it still makes me mad, and it also makes me mad to have him say, “Don’t punish me!” as if the problem is that I’m a hardened sadist with my foot on his neck and not that he has done something I very clearly asked him not to do.

OK, here’s another thing. When I went on the 21-day vipassana retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center a few years ago (and spent most of it obsessing about the long-haired guy who was sitting in front of me; I even picked up one or two of his silver hairs from the floor and took them to my room, but if I recall correctly, by the end of the retreat, I put them back), after a number of days, I became aware of a low-pitched rumbling that became more and more noticeable until it overwhelmed most other sensory inputs. It wasn’t there twenty-four hours a day, but when it was present, it was oppressive and unpleasant. It made my ears buzz.

Finally, I wrote a note to the teachers: Is there something making a low-pitched rumbling, or am I nuts? Jack Kornfield wrote back and said I wasn’t nuts; that there was a heat pump or something that was probably the culprit.

Well, that same thing has been happening at my apartment lately. For about five or six days now, there has been roughly the same phenomenon, and while it sometimes does let up in the afternoon, it has been going on all night, or at least, so I assume, given that it makes it very hard to go to sleep and wakes me up during the night; sometimes I'm then awake until the alarm goes off. I tried earplugs last night, but they actually made it worse because they wiped out any actual ambient noise, leaving just the vibration.

About midnight, I could tell that The Big T. was still awake in the apartment above me (that’s my tall, handsome, extremely nice ex-boyfriend) and called him to see if he noticed it, too. Of course he did not but offered two helpful suggestions: that it might be some piece of equipment running all night at the possibly aforementioned construction site—the project where, once it’s done, when I lie in my bed and look out the window, instead of looking at the sky, as formerly, I’ll probably be looking straight into the beady eyes of some new neighbor whose living room or bedroom has a clear line of sight into my apartment—or it might be a pump at the nearby city swimming pool.

I called the DPW inspector in charge of this project, who probably thinks I’m a complete lunatic, as I called early on to grumble about being awakened six mornings a week. Monday through Friday seems reasonable, as many people, including myself, have to get up for work, anyway, but Saturdays, too, seemed like going a bit too far. The inspector, a no-nonsense type, said I should be happy it wasn’t Sundays, as well, but she said she’d have a word with the workers, and things did improve noticeably.

A few weeks later I called to see if perhaps the blasting of the Irish national anthem, or whatever it was, at 7:30 a.m. sharp, could also be omitted from the program, and I never heard it again. So I have friendly feelings for this inspector, though they may not be mutual.

Haggard from lack of sleep and having a cold and fighting with P., I left her a message after I talked to The Big T.: “I’m hearing this terrible RUMBLING! It’s driving me CRAZY! I think there’s some sort of MACHINE under the earth? Or at your construction project? Running all night? Or, I don’t know, maybe it’s the POOL! Or George BUSH! Can you look into it and call me?” So far I haven’t heard from her.

I went to see my therapist and made that horrible noise that happens when you snort snot back into your head instead of daintily blowing it into a hanky. It was so satisfying (for me) that I informed her I’d be doing it throughout our session. (When I did a really horrible multi-phase one, I said, “That was the Deluxe.”) I said I was trying to snerf snot back into my brain. She asked why it was leaving my brain. I said I didn’t know; it was drifting out of its own accord. I said this habit, anyway, is salubrious; that instead of chafing one’s nose on a hanky and putting pressure on one’s sinuses, the snot ends up in your stomach, where it’s neutralized by juices. She said doubtfully but gamely, after a repetition of the appalling sound, “It does sound like some muscles are being worked.”

I showed her a picture of my adorable second-cousins-once-removed, Ben and Lucas. They are the children of my cousin, and will henceforth be known here as my nephews. I’ve been sending them $20 on their birthdays (in the hopes that they’ll come and care for me when I’m old and incapacitated, or either) and yesterday, for the first time, I got a thank-you card, from Ben. It said, “Thank you! I love you! Aunt Linda.” That absolutely delighted me. Plus there were three extremely darling photos enclosed, of Ben with his sweet little earnest face (he just turned nine) and Lucas with his blinding smile (he’s younger). I wrote back right away, even though I guess you don’t usually send a thank-you card for a thank-you card, and said I was tickled pink and hope to see them in June. Maybe I should scan those photos and put them here. I figure that if they called me Aunt Linda, a title I am quite pleased with, it’s OK for me to call them my nephews.

Funny to think that when I was nine, I had my first alcoholic binge, and would start smoking pot the following year. My cousin’s kids look WAY too young for anything like that.