Thursday, August 31, 2006

Nerd to the Rescue

At NERT class this week, we talked about triage and did a practice exercise. Here’s how you do triage, as I understand it: Start by announcing yourself, but don’t say “NERT,” because no one knows what that is, plus it sounds too much like “nerd.” Say something like, “Rescue team. We’re here to help you.”

Then say, “If you can hear my voice, walk toward me.” Anyone who complies is considered the “walking wounded” and can be assigned to do tasks such as applying pressure to someone else’s bleeding; those who can’t or don’t comply should be assessed for ability to breathe, bleeding, and symptoms of shock.

To see if someone is breathing, you can listen at his or her mouth and put your hand on his or her chest to check for motion. If there is no evidence of breathing, tilt the person’s chin up to open the airway and see if that does the trick. If not, try a second time. (“And if the person is a NERT instructor, wearing a white shirt and dark tie, give them a third chance,” said the NERT instructor.) If these attempts fail, the person is dead and does not require further immediate attention.

Next, check for bleeding and, if there is any, apply pressure. In an impalement situation, leave the impaling object where it is unless it’s interfering with breathing. (Blech.)

To check for shock, which can be fatal, see if the person is breathing more rapidly than 30 times per minute, or if, when you press on the person’s fingernail and let go, it takes more than two seconds for the color to return. If the person is wearing nail polish, you can do this test using the inside of the lower lip instead. Finally, see if the person can carry out a simple command like “Squeeze my hand.”

If any of these tests are failed, lay the person on his or her back and elevate his or her legs, to encourage blood to flow to the brain. This person needs medical treatment as soon as possible.

After snooping around my building looking at the utility shutoffs, I had a couple of questions, so I emailed the building manager and told her I was doing NERT, and got a very nice note back saying it was wonderful that I was doing this and offering help with access to this and that.

We have now had a string of very courteous, even pleasant, communications. It definitely beats fighting.

On the other hand, what is life without a wee bit of acrimony? I have been using the same email provider for some years and have been really happy with them. For a low monthly cost, I can have up to 50 email addresses and I never, but never, get any spam.

Until the past couple of weeks, when, alas, spam began to appear in my inbox. As it happens, they are rolling out new spam protection, free at first and then costing money. Well, two weeks ago, I would have said, “What do I need spam protection for?”

The timing is suspicious, plus, come to think of it, while I have one address I use on the Internet frequently (and even that one has not gotten spam until now), other email addresses are provided only to friends and family members, so I sent my email provider a bitterly worded accusation, which they ignored. Guilty conscience, I imagine.

I have acquired my global warming equipment, in the form of two fans (the kind you have to flap at yourself) purchased in Chinatown for less than seven dollars, one for home and one for work.

Thelonious’s appetite seems to be waning once again, plus she has been looking a little unsteady on her pins, particularly in back, and while I haven’t seen her fail to right herself, the other night she came close to falling.

I spoke to the vet who does home euthanasia. The cost is quite reasonable, not way more than it would cost to take her to the pet hospital. I don’t know if I will want her ashes back or not. I like the idea, but was reading online about people who skip this expense and make a donation to the animal shelter instead. I suppose I could do both, as saying goodbye to my favorite cat in all the world should be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

As of a certain moment last night, I owned 109 cans and jars of cat (or baby) food, plus five kinds of dry food. I brought home about 20 different kinds of canned Fancy Feast yesterday, but so far she doesn’t like it. So, on to baby food, which she liked tremendously, but which of course gave her horrible diarrhea. Ideally, you’re supposed to transition a cat to a new food over the course of ten days, but we don’t have that luxury now. I just have to put the new food down and hope she eats it.

I actually have not tried the last-resort cat food, AD. I fear at this point she won’t eat it: “That’s cat food. I don’t eat cat food.”

This morning she looked well and was very chipper.

Monday, August 28, 2006

British Invasion

A couple of weeks ago, I was going to have a tui na massage at Quan Yin on a Friday afternoon, but it got cancelled that same day, so I called my acupuncturist to see if he might still have an opening, and he did, so, for the first time, I rode my bike over there. I parked it outside the medical center at Divisadero and Sutter and then walked three blocks. That worked out fine, so I will probably ride my bike from now on, or at least until the rainy season.

He was extremely nice about Thelonious. He took my hand and listened to the whole story about what she eats and doesn’t eat, and then we had a discussion about the deaths of various loved ones.

I was hoping I hadn’t sounded unkind about the woman from my 12-Step meeting. I had made a rational calculation that a friendship probably wouldn’t work out; there was also a gut feeling of unease, but I didn’t want to go too far into the details.

I think it’s prudent to assume that eventually this will be seen by anyone who is mentioned, such as my boss and coworkers. (This, therefore, is quite unlike my ramblings in person, which are mainly about other people’s lamentable shortcomings.)

I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings in print (nor lose my job). I also don’t want any horse to wake up with my severed head in its bed, which is what would happen if I wrote about certain family members, so I write only about the two who have given their permission (and who may have forfeited their rights to privacy, anyway, by bringing me into this vale of tears).

On Saturday morning I took a Golden Gate Transit bus to Novato to visit Carol Joy. We sat at a café and had a nice, long chat and then we went to see Trust the Man, which was full of witty lines but neither of us cared what happened to any of the main characters, we agreed later.

Then we went to Whole Foods for lunch. I had an extremely tasty pasta salad with mozzarella in it (I’m a fair-weather vegan). We went to have her car washed and then she waited with me until the bus came. It was a very pleasant visit.

Back at home, I went to meet Lisa, David and Tom at Chef Jia’s on Kearny. We had dinner and went to the Metreon to see The Illusionist, which Lisa picked, and which was good. Then we had cake at Just Desserts.

Lisa and David said they were telling Lisa’s mom about Thelonious’s health problems, and she said, “Oh, I know all about that already--I read Linda’s blog.” I was dumbfounded and delighted. Hi, Lisa’s mother!

On Sunday I talked to my mother on the phone, and to P. and Lisa M. and Alix. One of P.’s sisters calls him twice a week on certain days, but he said this week she didn’t call either day. Once upon a time, he would have been frantic, sure that she no longer loved him or that a horrible mishap had occurred, but now he’s completely serene. I asked if he remembered when he used to get so concerned and why he’s so calm now. He said, “I don’t know; maybe my medicine.” I asked if he still tells himself, “My relationship with so-and-so was never lost,” and he said he still does.

I used to see pieces of paper in his room covered with stuff like this: TROPALWNLPLLPLBTYHP

The relationship of P. and Linda was never lost. P. loves Linda. P. loves Barbara. Thank you, higher power.

I got out of bed at 1 or so and ate two bags of potato chips and nine pieces of chocolate-covered almond toffee (i.e., all there was of the latter; the potato-chip trove is bottomless) and drank a bottle of Orangina, and then went back to bed for a nap, the predictable and generally desired result of an eating experience like that.

I slept until 4:30 off and on. I was thinking that I would not cook and would make do with burritos or sandwiches this week, but, as often happens, I suddenly realized that I did want fruits and veggies and grains and beans, so I sprang out of bed and went to Rainbow and then was up until 1 in the morning cooking.

I was supposed to take Thelonious to be weighed this morning but considered waiting until tomorrow. I got much less sleep than I need and I knew the news was going to be bad and I’d be in tears at work. But I decided just to get it over with and took her over there in a cab.

When the tech came to get her, she asked, “Is she still eating just tuna? How is she doing?” I was touched that they’d made a note in her chart about the tuna and that this person asked about it and her. She is in fact off the tuna, though I’ll try it again if needed.

And there was good news: She gained three ounces in the past two weeks! Guess I'll keep doing what I've been doing.

Overheard on the way to Whole Foods for cat food: Two boys of about 11 practicing their still-needing-some-work British accents: “Hello, laddie, I’m from London.” As I passed, I asked, “Are you guys from London?” and one of them answered, “Yes, we are.”

Friday, August 25, 2006

Innocent Cat Set Upon by Determined Paparazzi

I’ve started writing down everything I can remember about Thelonious so I can look at it after she’s gone and remember her in detail. Don’t worry, I won’t post it here; nor, because it’s usually boring to listen to other people’s dreams, will I tell you the details of the involved dream I had the night before last that featured Christopher Walken and Vince Vaughn, except to say that Vince was a very regular guy and chatted amiably, but Christopher Walken, I’m sorry to say, got dead drunk and passed out under the dining room table.

This week I had to launder my comforter cover because it had cat poop on it, and my mattress cover, for the same reason. A guy came into the laundry place with his dog, who came over and lay down on my foot and didn’t get up even when her owner was done with his laundry and walking out the door. I think she knew I was sad. It was rather comforting.

Thelonious had been eating, with pleasure, all seafood flavors of the vile-looking brand of cat food, and I was thinking that if she ate a couple of 3-ounce cans per day, she would be OK for a time.

But she seems to be slowing down already. The very minor upside will be that my kitchen will stop looking like some ghastly charnel house, all sad eyeballs and spiny backbones and silvery fish skin. I’ll try tuna again, and AD, and Fancy Feast (probably very poor quality, but reputed to be a cat favorite), and (human) baby food, and then I’m pretty much out of ideas.

Yesterday I bought 38 cans of cat food. In general, it seems like I've been buying a lot of stuff, though so far nothing really outrageous. Today I bought six rolls of masking tape, protective goggles, and a trowel.

If Thelonious does stop eating completely, I don’t know if that means it’s time to have her put to sleep, or if that’s nature taking its course and she can die on her own at home. I’ll ask Dr. Press on Monday. Maybe it depends on whether she seems to be unhappy or not. I’ll also ask him if Prednisone is our last reasonable resort.

I called Mission Pet Hospital and said I hoped it was premature, but I needed to know how much it costs to have a cat euthanized. It costs $145 if they dispose of the remains (via group cremation), and $245 for private cremation and having the remains returned to you. (“I’m glad you’re not crying,” said the nice person who answered my questions. I did that before and after the call.)

She also gave me the names of two vets who make house calls. I have a friend who had her cat put to sleep this way, and she said it was actually a positive experience. Though she isn’t Christian, as nor am I, she was comforted by the doctor saying a prayer for her cat, plus she said he was extremely kind.

Thelonious has been patient about having her picture taken. She’s the cat who knows how to deal with pesky paparazzi. I should end up with some nice pictures: “Here’s my cat with a neutral expression, sitting down. Oh, and here’s one of my cat with a neutral expression, sitting down.”

Here’s a weird thing: She seems to have stopped growing fur. For sixteen and a half years, I've been using masking tape to remove black fur from my bed and upholstered chair and whatever else she sits on, and suddenly there’s no need to do it. She can lie all night at the foot of my bed and leave virtually no evidence of having been there.

When she eats, I can see two stark white strips on her upper back, her pale skin showing through. I realized it’s where her shoulder blades are sticking out.

There is some good news in other realms: My coworker told me that she bought a Prius this week, and is going to sell her other car, and her partner is doing the same! I told her now she can email Al Gore and say, “OK, I did it—get off my back.” On top of that, she even brought a cloth towel to work, following my commendable example.

There was criticism lately of Al for exhorting us to change our ways while not living a maximally environmental lifestyle himself, what with multiple residences and not using the greenest form of energy, plus he probably flies six times a week. But maybe that’s his plan! If the rest of us tighten our belts a bit, he should be just fine.

In fact, I think Al G. will end up getting much deserved credit for his efforts in this area. An Inconvenient Truth may end up being a turning point. Maybe there is hope, though I think talk of alternative fuels for cars is mostly off track.

While part of the answer certainly is vehicles that are much more fuel-efficient, and for people to drive a whole lot less, we should be designing communities where jobs and housing and vegetable gardens are all right next to each other, so people don’t have to drive 50 miles to work.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A Gosh-Given Right Not to Explain, Even to Obfuscate

I’ve been reading online about having a pet die. One woman wrote that the moment their vet performed the lethal injection while she and her husband comforted their dog and tried not to upset their pet by becoming distraught was the moment they became worthy of their dog’s trust in them. That’s a nice way to look at it.

They’ll probably be able to hear me wailing clear down the block, Thelonious will be in a panic, Dr. Press will have to slap me. I’ll try not to do that.

One person told a terrible story of someone deliberately running down and killing her cat because her cat was black and it was Friday the 13th. Indeed, many of the adoptable cats at the SPCA are black.

I myself used to think grey or orange cats were cuter than black cats, but now I know that the best cats are black cats. Maybe from now on I will have only black cats, though I know that one day they will become one big blur in my mind (since right now fifty percent of everything I know is one big blur in my mind).

Another sad story was of someone’s little grey cat sitting by the side of the road waiting for her to come home and getting killed by a car.

As for getting another pet, some people rush out and do it right away and some can’t bear to for a time. Some swear off having another pet at all, though, as someone said, maybe the best tribute to a departed pet is to provide a home for a cat or dog that is sitting in a cage at the shelter. One person said getting two new cats right away gave her something to do besides feel sad.

In regard to the departed cat’s stuff, some people let a new pet use and enjoy it, while others retire it. Thelonious has lots of stuff, including five stuffed animals, a treasured piece of burlap about seven inches square (I guess that’s her tiny special blanket), several green earplugs, ping pong balls, and, the thing she went out and brought back on her own from the trash area, a wine bottle cork.

One thing I have to think about is when to have the fight with my building manager about getting another cat. Since I moved in, cats have been disallowed and only two units have cats, mine and hers. Fortunately, my lease says I can have a cat. To be on the safe side, I went to the San Francisco Tenants Union and had them verify this.

For all I know, Thelonious may hang on for months, and then I may not want to get another cat right away, anyway, in which case I can wait until the time comes, and notify the building manager as a courtesy (and also so she’ll recognize my new cat if she sees it in the hall, though, come to think of it, it might look much like Thelonious to the indifferent eye). Then she can tell me that cats aren’t allowed and I can tell her it’s in my lease and she can tell me it doesn’t make any difference, it’s the landlord’s rule, and so forth.

But another possible scenario is that Thelonious will be gone very soon and I will want to get another cat right away. (That sounds very casual, but I am by no means reconciled to her going. If it sounds at some given moment as if I think it might be bearable to lose her, it means I don’t really think it’s going to happen.)

I remember some 12-Step thing that said something like, “Try to hang in there and maybe tomorrow you’ll have more denial.”

I won’t want to be fighting with the building manager while I’m freshly bereaved, so maybe it would be prudent just to send her a note now and get it over with. On the other hand, that might be borrowing trouble.

I guess I won’t have the New Cat Fight today.

I think I mentioned the weird interaction I had with the woman from my 12 Step meeting, after which I decided not to pursue a friendship with her, on the theory that having an issue before we’ve even hung out once is not a good sign.

So when I see her, I say hello and leave it at that, and I didn’t return her last phone call weeks ago, so I figured that was that and was therefore displeased to receive a nearly three-minute message on my answering machine yesterday alerting me to the fact that she’s open to a deeper connection. I called the police right away and told them I have a stalker and to send help.

She said she assumes from my actions that I’m happy with the status quo, but if there is a possibility of something more, I should let her know, and if she doesn’t hear anything, she’ll assume I’m not interested. She will not hear from me (though I imagine it will be extra-awkward the next time I see her).

I have been in her shoes, and it isn’t fun, but in the end, everyone has the right to choose his or her companions, and the right to explain or not.

I Need My Tiny Special Blanket

“And I need my tricycle and my sled and both teddy bears and my alligator doll.” So says Frances in A Baby Sister for Frances, by Russell Hoban, when she is being tucked into bed by her parents.

I bought a copy of this charming children’s book at Stacey’s today, since, ahem, my mother declined to give me her lovely vintage edition when I was visiting in June. That’s OK. The only thing that’s different about this one is the colors on the cover, plus the paper is not quite the same. The words and pictures are all there.

I also bought cat food (of course), work gloves, a pry bar, little white plastic tips that go on the end of a door stop, and seven packages of 1/8” elastic for use in the waistline of baggy pants. The pry bar and work gloves are for my NERT homework.

I guess I hardly need to say that the food Thelonious likes the most, after the kind with bugs in it, Whole Foods had only one can of. I have a couple at home, though, and they said they’d have more tomorrow.

As for the door stop tips, some months ago, I noticed this white rubber thing on the floor and threw it out. Then I saw the denuded door stop and realized what it was. I guess I should have realized that my carpet wouldn't suddenly have sprouted a tiny rubber thimble.

I picked up prints at Walgreens, an entire roll of pictures of Thelonious taken with my Nikon FG and, if the picture was taken at night, speedlight. The ones without the flash are nicer-looking.

That FG has given me years of excellent service. It was a gift from my father some 20 years ago. He bought one for himself and my mother at probably the same time, but theirs died years ago. A couple of years ago, I thought mine had finally succumbed to old age, as well, but it turned out it just needed cleaning. Something rubber inside had sort of melted and gotten sticky.

My father also gave me a sturdy Bogen tripod, which I will probably use soon to make some cat-and-mom self-portraits. If I had a scanner, you could see them. That is, if I had a scanner and also had a PC with more than 31 Kb of storage space remaining, or if I got a burst of energy and installed more storage. But since it can take a year for me to choose a pair of socks, don’t hold your breath.

It drives my mother, who built her own PC, crazy that mine is eight years old. “Eight effing years!?” she emails me. I don’t like the thought of landfills piled up with PCs and Chinese workers getting cancer from all the deadly substances in computer equipment.

I like the idea of having an abacus and a cage full of homing pigeons.

Yesterday after work I looked around and found where the electricity for my unit is shut off (or turned on), the electrical shutoff for the whole building, the per-unit gas shutoffs and the main building gas shutoff. Everything was nicely labeled, and there is a wrench attached to the gas shutoff. I didn’t see the water shutoff, which might be in the basement.

I showed Tom all of this, and also showed him how the ladder on the fire escape works, which he had not taken a look at before. He realized there is a big object in his apartment in front of the window he’d need to climb out. We considered the various routes out of the building.

I’ve been eating absolutely everything it crosses my mind to eat, which is fine and which is, after all, a time-honored method of coping with crisis, but I guess I’d like to put a bit more attention on whether I’m actually hungry and what my stomach (as opposed to my mouth and brain) actually wants. It’s sometimes tricky to do that without it feeling like a diet, but I’m starting to feel kind of not well-cared-for.

I emailed the cat food people and told them about the bug, and they wrote back immediately and offered to send more bugs, but I told them that, being an environmentalist, I didn’t want to cause three ounces of cat food to be shipped halfway across the state, though I did appreciate their speedy response and the offer. I’ve already bought more of that food. What can I do? If the cat likes it, that’s that.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Mackerel with Potato Bugs

On Saturday I stayed in bed until noon or so and then went out to buy the day’s selection of cat food and a stack of plates to serve it on, so I don’t have to wash plates constantly. In the thrift store, I ran into Emma Victoria Glauthier, who was in The Censor. I told her I thought the play was incredible and that she was wonderful, and we had a brief friendly chat.

On Sunday, David and Lisa and I went to see the San Francisco Mime Troupe in a park in North Beach.

Much shopping lately for new kinds of cat food, serving cat food, scraping rejected cat food into my compost tub, washing cat-food plates, and emptying my compost tub into the building’s compost bin.

Tuna is not good for cats to eat, but for several days, it was the only thing Thelonious was enthusiastic about. I called the vet and they said if that’s all she’ll eat, then so be it, though they also recommended AD, which is specifically for cats who won’t eat.

Sunday night I was completely miserable, and then woke Monday to find Thelonious seeming just like her old self, frantically grabbing at the pulls for the blinds, which is a long-standing favorite hobby. I went to work thinking maybe she was feeling much better but came home to find she’d left a lot of tuna untouched.

I tried a new canned food then and new dry food, both of which she seemed to like. I’d also stopped at the vet’s and gotten a couple of cans of AD, but I think I’ll save that as a last resort.

I tried a food yesterday morning that was some fishy flavor, chunky style, and was mildly disturbed to see it contained recognizable fish parts with the skin on and whole shrimp. I suppose that’s good, but it was kind of disgusting-looking. She seemed to like it.

Last night I tried “mackerel in jelly,” which was even more disgusting. For one thing, it contained an entire potato bug, minus its little legs, which must not have survived the jellying process. Unfortunately, she liked it a lot.

As of last night, I owned 18 different kinds of cat food. Sometimes she really likes a certain kind of food, so then I rush back to the store to get more, only to find her ardor cooling two days later.

Last night I also went to my second NERT class, which covered the various places to turn water, electricity and gas on and off. We saw a film on structure fires and a live demo of various ways to put out fires.

Most people who are killed in fires die of smoke inhalation, not from being burned. Smoke rises and gradually sinks toward the floor as a room fills with smoke, so it’s safest to stay near the floor, crawling if necessary. Even in one’s own house, one can become completely disoriented in black smoke and not be able to find a doorway that is six feet away that one has walked through thousands of times. It’s good to plan two routes out of each room in advance. If you wet a rag and put it over your mouth and nose, you will breathe steam into your lungs, which is not good. Use a dry rag instead.

Before you go through a door, feel it to make sure it’s not hot—if it is, don’t open it—but do that with the back of your hand, not your palm, because a hand in pain will reflexively clutch, and you don’t want to clutch at something that is extremely hot.

Folding ladders you can hang from your windowsills aren’t very good, but in a pinch, they’re better than nothing. (They usually have nothing keeping them from hanging right next to the building’s outer surface, so when you climb down, you may have only the merest toehold.)

If you live in a building that, besides fire extinguishers in the common areas, has a folded hose attached to a water supply, that’s good, but if you pull part of the hose out and turn the water on, nothing is going to come out, because when the folds of the hose fill with water, it will become completely blocked. Therefore, even if you need only eight feet of hose, pull the entire hose out. The hose has to be fully extended for water to be able to get through it.

Oh, here’s kind of a cool thing: the rule of thumb. How far should you be from a hazardous materials release? Once you’ve made sure the wind is blowing the smoke or fumes away from you rather than toward you, get far enough away that if you hold your thumb out in front of your face at arm's length, you can block out any view of the incident.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Bill-Induced Boil Near Miss

After work on Tuesday, I went to the pet store at 18th and Valencia and bought a selection of canned cat foods and some dry Science Diet Sensitive Stomach, which my father says Nigel likes a lot.

I told the store employee I was planning to make Thelonious scrambled eggs with tuna and he said she’d refuse to eat anything else after that. We agreed that cats are constantly seeking to upgrade.

I obtained and mixed one egg with tuna and scrambled it, and, pretending it was for me, put it on the table. Since Thelonious always wants to eat whatever I’m eating, I thought it would probably be the high point of her entire life to get to finish this off, but in fact, she didn’t like it. I put out some plain tuna and she did eat all of that. The compost bin is filling up with spurned cat cuisine.

As I was arriving home from work the other day, I ran into my building manager’s roommate of several months.

“So I hear you had another problem,” he started.

I didn’t offer any definite response to this, as the “another” made it sound like the kind of thing where the next sentence could be, “Trouble-maker, eh?” or “What a complainer!”

But he went on to say that sometimes he’s in his bedroom and finds it filling with smoke, which he doesn’t like. (So the “another” must have referred to the dust-up with the other smoker a couple of months ago.) Finally, he looked out the window and saw cigarette butts on the ground and realized the neighbors to the north were using the shared space as an ashtray. (This is on the other side of the building from the trash area.)

We discussed the case of the smoking wedding guests and he said he figures they were probably drinking, which he also doesn’t like. Why, this guy dislikes everything! A person after my own heart.

He said if such a thing happens again, I should feel free to fetch him. He said, “I’m not the building manager or anything, but I’ll help out. I’m trying to say I’ve got your back.”

I gave Thelonious some of the new food selections, and found that she really liked Science Diet Savory Seafood.

At about 3 a.m., I was awakened by the sound of some sort of marine adventure, and went into the bathroom to see a colossal pile of food on my poor rug and a veritable sea of diarrhea in the litter box. My fault: I shouldn’t have let her eat a whole can of a brand-new food.

Several years ago I developed a skin allergy when a hair gel I’d been using changed formula. Since then, I’ve been unable to use any shampoo, conditioner or hair gel, even those for people with allergies. The only thing I can wash my hair with is Ivory bar soap.

Yesterday I went to have a patch test to find out what exactly I’m allergic to, not that it really matters, since evidently there is no product on earth made without it. I probably wouldn’t even be able to use Ivory soap if I hadn’t been using it all my life. I’d better write to them and tell them never to stop making it, so I don’t have to adopt a bald-type coiffure permanently.

The allergy doctor came in with three students trailing behind him and asked me some questions. It turned out that we were merely having the pre-testing conversation and that the actual testing will be at their earliest convenience, two months from now.

It involves three more appointments. They apply patches on Monday, evaluate on Wednesday, and re-evaluate on Friday, the latter being the only time the actual doctor will be present. You have to keep your back, where the patches are, dry from Monday until Friday. I’ve been known to miss a shower now and then, but not four days in a row.

I was almost hoping it would turn out that my insurance doesn’t cover this, but it evidently does. Each little square is treated as a separate test, so if it’s code 1234, the insurance company considers you to be having 120 code 1234s. I have been rather thorough in confirming that this is covered, as I could picture them sending me a bill for $50 times 120. Imagine how much itching that would have caused. It might have even caused a boil.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Lovely Neighbors and First NERT Class

It turns out that my neighbors weren’t even home when the ill-mannered bloke was smoking outside. They had gotten married that day and gone off to spend the night in a hotel, leaving their friends with the run of their place.

The building manager said they were horrified to find out what had happened and that they were going to speak to me about it. When I got home from work, I saw the male half of the couple outside. He said they had left something outside my door, which proved to be a bunch of flowers in a clear glass vase and a card addressed to “Sweet Linda” and signed, “Love, Pat and Jim,” or whatever their names may happen actually to be.

Evidently, getting married had put them in a very good mood indeed. I left them a note of congratulations and thanked them for their gracious response about the smoking. I said I hadn’t wanted to be in a fight with them. I’m glad I’m not. They really are lovely people.

I did a few things and went off to the first of six sessions of Neighborhood Emergency Response Training (NERT), which is provided by members of the fire department and, in this case, held at Bethel Christian Church at 24th and Valencia. I learned a tremendous amount. When I got home, I took my food processor off the top of the refrigerator.

Among other things, they said to make sure your bed is fifteen feet from any window, but if you can’t achieve that, having the blinds closed should stop much of the flying glass. They said to put a pair of shoes under your bed in a bag, so you don’t cut your feet to smithereens walking over to the closet to get your shoes or slippers.

They noted that one handy thing you can do with a big plastic bag is line your toilet with it. Once the water comes back on, you can just lift the bag and its contents out of the toilet and dispose of it.

Turning off the gas should not be a knee-jerk reaction after a big earthquake, as you may then wait two weeks for PG&E to turn it back on. Only do it if you smell gas or if you can see that something is mangled that’s likely to let gas escape into the air.

When a big earthquake starts, don’t try to run anywhere—you can’t outrun flying glass and debris. (A tall building can fling glass and debris to a distance one and a half times the height of the building, so a 20-story building can hurl sharp objects the distance of 30 stories.) Take cover under something and hold onto whatever it is, so your cover doesn’t migrate into the next room. If it’s just a chair, stick your head underneath it.

If you’re inside and there’s nothing under which to take cover, get near the wall. Most debris will end up in the middle of the room. If you’re outside, right next to a building is a good spot to be (unless it’s unreinforced brick). Don’t look up to see what’s happening, as there may be sharp things coming down.

If people are stampeding for a single exit, stand aside and let them go. Your chances of being injured are greater as part of a frantic crowd than if you exit calmly.

Panicking greatly increases your chances of injury or death. The one person who was killed on the Bay Bridge during the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 had already made it past the unsafe portion of the bridge. The terrified driver then made a U-turn and drove back the way he or she had come, only to plunge through a break in the bridge.

You can do NERT training, too, if you want; see link list.

Thelonious is basically not eating once again. She looks and feels so tiny and frail, though she doesn’t seem unhappy. This morning she even played with one of her toys. I’ve called her doctor to see if we should double the Prednisone, which had been mentioned, and I’m also thinking it’s time to abandon the healthy diet completely and let her eat whatever she feels like eating, even if it’s the cat equivalent of junk food or would cause/exacerbate other conditions, were she to live much longer. My parents concur.

So does Dr. Press, who just called. He didn’t sound wholeheartedly in favor of this, but he said to go ahead and try giving her Prednisone twice a day, and certainly to give up the therapeutic diet and feed her whatever she’ll eat.

After work, I’ll stop by the pet store and get a couple of other kinds of dry food, and some wet food that looks tasty, and I’ll go get some eggs and butter. Maybe she’d like a tuna omelet. Heck, maybe I'd like a tuna omelet, if tuna, eggs and butter weren't evil.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Steve Hagen Forgiven for Cow Picture

I recently finished Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake. I had found Interpreter of Maladies to be unsatisfyingly bloodless; there was literally only one good sentence in the whole thing. Amazingly, it won a Pulitzer prize.

Nonetheless, I decided to give her novel a whirl and have the exact same opinion of it as of her short story collection. It’s like a synopsis of a story rather than the story itself. However, you’ll probably never see a better author photo—she’s utterly gorgeous.

I don't know if it's entirely good for one's character to be utterly gorgeous plus win a Pulitzer prize for one's first mediocre literary effort, but I guess I won't worry about it. Thank goodness I don't have problems like that.

I finished Steve Hagen’s book Buddhism Plain and Simple, which I had an ill feeling toward most of the time I was reading it. We got off on the wrong foot with the business about the cow picture. It’s also exceedingly dry in tone and it often sounds like he’s trying to hide something rather than reveal it. He’ll say, “You just have to see what’s going on,” but doesn’t give a hint in what direction to aim your eyeballs. It therefore came across as smug or almost coy.

However, toward the end of it, I was finding it more and more helpful, and I think it may actually end up being one of the most useful dharma books I’ve ever read, so I’ve decided to read it again right away, which is something I’ve never done before.

There is a very clear discussion of the characteristic of no-self (anatta), which took me years to begin to understand. I might have gotten it sooner if I’d had a more cerebral teacher, but then, if my teacher were more cerebral, he might not be such a source of warmth and kindness, so it’s just as well.

I came to understand that there was no unchanging thing that I could correctly refer to as my self, if for no other reason than that everything is changing constantly. Even if a thing doesn’t look like it’s changing at all, its electrons are dancing about madly and it’s made mostly of space. I could see for myself that there was absolutely nothing besides the six senses (mental activity is tossed in) and their objects: eyes and what is seen, ears and what is heard, and so forth. Nowhere to be found is a self.

Therefore, there is no such thing as getting rid of your self. The task is to realize it wasn’t there to begin with. It’s constructed out of our thoughts that use the words “I,” “me,” or “mine”—that is, about 99 percent of our thoughts. When I say, “Hey, that’s my cake,” it certainly seems like there’s a me.

I understood how things are connected to other things, how I can’t have the mango in my bowl without the dirt and the sun and the water and the mango-pickers and the parents of the mango-pickers and the food and water that nourished the mango-pickers and the person who drove the truck and the person who invented the machine that produced the mango crate and the parents of that person and so on and so forth: one enormous web that includes every last thing there is.

Yet every time I read something like “No one was born and therefore no one will die,” I found it not to be very comforting. It seems like I was born, and it’s going to seem like I’m dying (assuming I’m not hit by a truck). Even though I know I won’t be here to be aware that I’m no longer ruminating, it still seems like a bummer: “No more LWA. What a tragedy!”

But where did I begin? When the sperm met the egg? Is there really a clear dividing line? For the sperm to encounter the egg, certain things had to happen inside the bodies of my parents, and my parents had to have been sheltered from the weather and nourished by food and water and the sun, and their parents had to have existed, and so on back to the beginning of time.

By the time I was done with the book, I had a strong sense of myself as just a stream flowing along, and everyone else the same, and in fact it being all one big stream, constantly changing. Seen that way, it seems extra-ridiculous to think, “If I could just have that …” There is no I, there is no that, and if, relatively speaking, I could get that, it wouldn’t remain as it is for more than a millionth of a second, so which that am I even talking about?

I also much more clearly understood the “never born, never dies” thing, but the kicker was one sentence where he observes that consciousness is merely the thing that (seemingly) breaks the whole into pieces. Described that way, it doesn’t seem like something to hang onto.

It’s just the thing that divides the world into cake (which I want) and smoking neighbors (which I don’t want) and my acupuncturist (whom I adore) and my shiftless coworker (whom I dislike), etc.

Of course, cake and coworker are concepts. In truth, there is just a sound, a sight, a thought. They come by themselves, flowing inevitably out of what came before, and they leave by themselves. The suffering is caused by the, “That’s cake and I won’t be happy unless I can have it” and the “That’s my rotten coworker and I won’t be happy until I don’t have to work with him anymore.” Misery comes from believing those thoughts, and is exacerbated by acting on them. Freedom comes from merely seeing the thought as a thought.

Steve Hagen’s prescription is to observe what’s happening (just like he said every two sentences throughout the book, after all) and to notice if the mind is inclining toward or away from something. There is nothing to do but see, and see some more. I don’t even have to say, “If I could just get my mind not to incline,” because that in itself is inclining. All I have to do is notice what’s happening.

When the thoughts are noticed, their relationship to suffering is also considerably more obvious, and it becomes easier and more natural not to pursue what causes unhappiness. No effort to reform is needed. As Steve Hagen probably says somewhere in his book, the only effort that is needed is the same effort that is needed not to put one’s hand on a hot stove.

A Trip to Sacramento and Shrinking Cat

On Sunday morning, after about five hours’ sleep, I ate the best mango I’ve ever had and then Tom and I left to take the train to Sacramento, where it was not overly hot, though it was kind of oven-like by the late afternoon, when we came home again. As always, we walked to BART, took BART to the Embarcadero, walked to the Amtrak station, bought tickets, took the bus to Emeryville and then got on the train.

We ran into Tom’s niece at the Amtrak station, on her way to the same event, and sat with her on the train, which was fun.

In Sacramento, Tom’s brother Paul picked us up and took us to Steve and Julie’s; the occasion was Paul and Steve’s birthdays. Here’s who was there, for my New York reader: Paul, Eva, Sarah, Steve, Julie, John Febbo (sp?), Dave Clark, Dan, Tom and I, and Melinda, Jim and Abby, the latter in a short red pleated skirt. Abby, who is the world’s cutest kid and who has been known to make some extremely witty remarks, spent much of the time reading. Jim joked that they were going to try to break the habit before it really takes hold.

The last time I saw John F., he described saying to his doctor that he was so however tall, or used to be that tall: “If you don’t believe me, check my online dating profile.”

When we sang happy birthday, people were saying “dear Paul and Steve” or “dear Steve and Paul.” Steve paused there and repeated loudly, to make sure everyone got the order right, “Steve and Paul—Steve and Paul.”

On the train coming back, Tom and I were seated across from a young feller who was reading The Princess Diaries. I’d recently heard the Kitchen Sisters on public radio explaining how to engage strangers in conversation, which I’m not bad at to begin with, and thought I’d try a technique or two. I thought of asking if he liked the book, but he might just say “Yes” or “No” and that would be the end of the conversation, so I said, “What do you think of that book so far?” and he said that he has a reading disorder and can’t remember anything he reads, and that it was the first book he’d ever read in his life (he is just starting ninth grade); he said he listens to books on tape.

We ended up having a riveting discussion all the way to Tom’s and my stop. He was exceedingly personable.

As mentioned, for years Thelonious ate dry food, but when she was taking antibiotics in the past several weeks, I had to give them to her in wet food, and after the antibiotics were done, she decided she was the kind of cat who ate only wet food, so her (that is, my) food bill went up dramatically.

Now she’s on Prednisone, which is a pill, and I’ve been giving her a fish treat after each one. She dislikes being given the pill, yet each day when I sit down on the bed with the pill shooter, she comes right over. She remembers that something exciting is going to happen; she just doesn’t seem to remember it’s something she doesn’t like until it’s underway.

After a week or so of the pills and the fish treats, I noticed she was eating less again and realized she was on the verge of deciding that, in fact, she’s the kind of cat who eats only fish treats, so I stopped giving her the treats, as it will not be good if she stops eating her real food. Fortunately, she didn’t seem particularly upset.

I took her to the vet today to be weighed. I was positive they were going to say she’d gained several ounces, or at the very least that she was holding steady. I couldn’t believe it when Dr. Press said she’d lost five more ounces, down to seven pounds and 10 ounces. Today was the first time Dr. Press mentioned the possibility that the treatment will fail.

If it does work, he said she would need to be Prednisone for the rest of her life. He said it’s not going to cure her condition, but can possibly control it. She doesn’t seem unhappy, so I’ll just keep giving her the Prednisone and I’ll take her to be weighed again in a couple of weeks.

Before I left for work, I watched her walk up to a plate of wet food, lick the surface of the food and walk away.

Three good things happened after I got to work: First, I found out that a mistake I’d made last week at work was completely fixable. Second, I got an entirely friendly response from the building manager saying she’d make sure the neighbors are aware it’s not OK to smoke in the trash area. Third, I got to go out to lunch at Buca di Beppo with a very congenial group and the corporate entity we all work for paid for it.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

A Big Pickle

Here’s a blog I think is very witty: I Blame the Patriarchy. A quote from her FAQ:

“I don’t mess with a blogroll because I read all the same liberal-ass blogs as everybody else. Also, blogrolls appear to raise awkward social issues which, as a spinster aunt attempting to lead a stress-free life of leisure, I prefer to avoid.”

Last week was very busy and stressful at work. By the end of Friday, I was quite looking forward to going to see my acupuncturist. It was extremely pleasant, as always.

On Saturday I walked to a pet store in Noe Valley to get 150 pounds of cat litter, which I brought home in a cab. Then I went to Rainbow and then I did my weekly cooking.

I had decided I had to see The Censor again, so Tom and I went on Saturday evening, and to Ananda Fuara beforehand for dinner. I’d warned him not to say “Ewww” out loud during the play, as I feared that’s what he would do when he saw the glistening turd, but it turned out I needn’t have worried; he didn’t turn a hair. As we were leaving, I realized why when he said he enjoyed the play but he didn’t get the part about the pickle.

You probably remember the brouhaha about the smoking neighbor and me getting in trouble with my building manager and all that. As it happens, since then that neighbor has become an absolutely model citizen (so it was all worth it, as far as I’m concerned). If she is smoking anywhere in the vicinity, it’s not detectable. I think she’s actually moved out and let a relative take her place, but Tom, who lives on the floor above mine, says he sees her.

Since then, I’ve had a couple of interactions with the building manager for other reasons, and they have been fine. Last week or so, she actually sent me an extremely kind note. I appreciate that we seem to be able to take each interaction as a fresh start.

A young couple moved onto my floor several months ago, really nice people. A couple of months ago, they let a friend step out their kitchen door into the trash area to smoke. Ten apartments have windows onto that area, so when someone smokes there, anyone whose windows are open will share in the experience, and probably even those whose windows aren’t open, as the two buildings in question are not exactly airtight.

I subsequently left them a note asking them to ask their guests to step out front to smoke. They didn’t respond and have never mentioned it, but have continued to be friendly, as always.

My last acrimonious discussion with the building manager, a couple of months ago, featured her saying she thought it was fine for people to smoke in the trash area. I said I thought not. She said, “We’ll just see about that,” or words to that effect, and then I never heard another word on the subject, so I concluded she had found out I was right.

Last weekend, I was in my kitchen and found it filling with smoke. I opened my kitchen door and there was a guest of the neighbors, smoking. I said, “Just checking to see where the smoke was coming from,” and she said she’d put it out. That suggested that the couple had decided to ignore my request.

When Tom and I got home from the play Saturday night, the young couple were having a party and people were smoking in that area. I opened my door and saw a fellow sitting on the stairs right outside my door, cigarette in hand. I told him it’s a no-smoking building and that he was filling my apartment with smoke. He was blatantly rude, swore at me and threw his cigarette at the building manager’s window.

I made ready to write a more strongly worded note to the neighbors, but then I remembered the ill effects of doing that last time, so I sent the building manager an email instead, which I dispatched with a certain amount of trepidation, given that our worst fights have started more or less that way.

It was 3 a.m. before I went to bed, as I spent much time composing a note to the neighbors and then the one to the building manager. I felt lousy when I got up the next day, and had the impending-doom feeling, too, as I was pretty sure I was going to get an unpleasant response. She might even say that she’d found out it was perfectly fine to smoke in that area.

It was helpful to notice I was feeling apprehensive and just let that be: a thought, a clutching in the stomach, so be it. Also, if 10 previous horrible emails haven’t killed me, probably the 11th wouldn’t, either.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Censor

Tonight, as mentioned, David, Lisa and I went to see Last Planet Theatre’s production of Anthony Neilson’s The Censor. (Tom was gone on a bike ride and probably wouldn’t have enjoyed this very much, anyway.)

Yesterday evening, I told David on the phone that Last Planet Theatre’s motto is “Difficult plays for difficult people.” He said, “Well, you’re difficult.” Just as I was going to agree, he graciously went on, “And I’m difficult, but what about Lisa?”

“Right, she’s not very difficult,” I said. “In fact, she’s about the least difficult person I’ve ever met.” David concurred. I actually now and then ask myself, “Would Lisa say such-and-such?” If I can’t picture her saying it, it’s probably not the right thing to say.

The program for the play quotes Neilson, the author of The Censor, as saying theater is “about putting people through something.” This certainly did. One couple walked out in the middle.

There are just three characters: a film censor, a woman pornographer, and the censor’s wife. And there are three extremely courageous actors to play them: John Andrew Stillions is The Censor, Erin Gilley is His Wife, and Emma Victoria Glauthier is Shirley Fontaine, the pornographer.

The pornographer has submitted a film of which 35 minutes will have to be cut for it to be approved, the censor tells her. Last Planet’s production of this play makes liberal use of pornographic films, projected on a transparent screen. Sometimes we just watch the films; sometimes the actors stand behind the screen and talk to us through the images.

The pornographer sets out to seduce the censor in the most direct way, undressing in his office. Meanwhile, the censor’s wife is having a series of affairs that she tells him all about. Her lovers are interested in meeting the censor to discuss the situation; they want to be friendly with him, not his enemy. The wife is frustrated that the censor doesn’t want to do this and accuses him of refusing to communicate.

The censor has a series of extremely provocative meetings with the pornographer; he assumes she is trying to seduce him so that he will write a favorable report about her movie. One day she asks him to have intercourse with her—she has brought a red blanket for this purpose, which she unfurls upon the floor, and a black beaded pillow—but he stuffily insists that for him, sex is about love, and that he is incapable of having sex where love isn’t present.

The pornographer asks the censor questions about her movie, helping him to think about what must underlie the seemingly straightforward images. She is an astute psychologist. Of one image of a sexual act, she asks something like, “Can’t you see that the man’s previous girlfriend was Asian?”

She realizes that the censor is in fact impotent and she figures out why (it has to do with his parents’ relationship). She figures out that he has a fantasy he dares not tell anyone and what that fantasy is, and then she makes that fantasy real—this is all done explicitly on stage—it involves a good-sized, glistening turd—sorry this blog mentions turds so often—and they have explosive sex.

The censor, naturally enough, falls in love with the pornographer and is distressed when it seems she’s going away. He says he still can’t see what underlies the images in her film. “You will,” she says.

Near the end, there is a scene where the censor’s wife is saying she wants him to meet her latest boyfriend. The censor is in tears—quite a lot of tears—over what is happening in his relationship with the pornographer. The wife tells him to calm down, that they’ll work it out. She assumes his distress is because of her affair.

At the very end, the censor is watching a pornographic film (as are we) and his face suddenly lights up: He finally sees what the pornographer meant him to see (at least, this is what I think she meant him to see)—that sex that touches the deepest, perhaps sacred places of desire is love, because for it to be that way, one person has to see the other, has to see into the other, has to see what is needed, and that seeing, that attention, is an act of love.

The wife, who is the official Sexual Person and Free Spirit, can’t see her husband at all. She doesn’t have the faintest idea what is going on with him or what he wants, and thus he is impotent in that relationship.

It’s only the pornographer who is able and willing to see the human being before her.

Just the Beginning

Friday after work I went to see my acupuncturist. I told him that Thelonious is on Prednisone and expected him to say, “That’s terrible stuff,” but after I added that I wasn’t sure it was going to do more than suppress symptoms, he said, “Comfort.” As for me, I told him I couldn’t think of any more symptoms and that I was there for general health and well-being. We chatted about earthquakes and drag racing (plus he put needles in me).

I came home afterwards, turned on my PC, and snatched up Steve Hagen’s book. I read the instructions for seeing the cow, and I saw the cow, but even then it wasn’t like a bolt of lightning. The next couple of times I looked at the picture, I still had to kind of work at it.

This morning I got up early and did a couple of little projects and then went over to the East Bay to shop for fabric for baggy pants. It’s been hard finding anything good in recent years, even at Britex (and if you do find anything at Britex, it’s really expensive). A coworker recommended Poppy in Berkeley, so I took BART over there.

At the stop before mine, a woman of about 55 with long grey hair, neatly dressed, got up to leave the train and as she passed me, she told me that I wasn’t making anyone laugh and that I was arrogant and obnoxious. Getting angrier and angrier, she spat that I was a stupid fool and that that was “just the beginning.”

I have many judgments about the people I see. I might think, “Good, get off the bus and take that boombox with you,” but I won’t voice a criticism to a stranger unless I am positive that, by any standards, the stranger has done something egregious that threatens me personally. Even then, I don’t call the person names (though I did once threaten to kill someone who gave every sign she was about to hit me with her car deliberately).

So this person must have felt I had so obviously transgressed that a scolding was necessary, and since I was pretty much just sitting there reading my New Yorker, I concluded that she was mentally ill, though her appearance (before she opened her mouth) didn’t hint at it.

I like to read the New Yorker’s long pieces of reportage, but my memory is such a sieve that one paragraph after I read a person’s name, I completely forget it, and so never have any idea who anyone is who is being discussed. I read the pieces anyway, assuming some stray fact or other will probably be retained, but it’s like wandering in a dreamscape, so I have just started circling all names when I first encounter them and that is helping tremendously. It helps me remember the name to begin with, and if all else fails, I can easily go back and see who the person was.

I walked from the BART station to Poppy and found a disappointingly small collection of cotton prints. Many of them were charming, but too big. I told a worker there that I was interested in small prints and she suggested Stonemountain and Daughter Fine Fabrics (yeah, that’s in Berkeley), which specializes in cloth for quilting. I was pretty sure I had been there before and found nothing, but since I was already in that general area, it seemed like it couldn’t hurt to go by there again.

I actually had not been there before and they have a vast collection of small prints. Nothing I actually completely loved, but I’m a bit desperate at this point, so I bought six pieces of cloth that I think will be good enough. It cost probably half what I would have spent at Britex, or less. One piece of cloth has large goldfish on it (not at all a small print). That’s going to make an eye-catching pair of pants.

I had lunch at a Thai restaurant and came home and took a short nap. I woke up to find Thelonious sitting right near me on the bed, looking at me. She doesn’t like sustained eye contact, so after I’d looked back at her for a moment or two, she looked away and affected to have spotted something very interesting over her left shoulder and then over her right shoulder. Then she stood up and hopped off the bed. I put my head back down and closed my eyes. The next time I opened my eyes, she was sitting in the same spot, looking at me.

I was going to take the bus downtown, but it got to be 13 minutes before I was supposed to be there with no sign of the 26 Valencia, so I took a cab instead and met Lisa and David at Ananda Fuara for dinner. Afterwards, we went to the latest Last Planet Theatre production, of Anthony Neilson’s The Censor, which I thought was incredible and the best Last Planet production I’ve seen.

After the play, I was sitting in the Civic Center Muni station when a man backed up to me and lifted his shirt, revealing a fresh abrasion and bruise on his back. He asked how bad it was. He said he had been mugged by several people upstairs who had taken a chain his father had given him more than 30 years ago. I told him he wasn’t bleeding and that I was sorry to hear about his father’s chain. I was sort of glad when he got on the next train, which wasn’t my train.

Friday, August 04, 2006

I Am So Happy!

I just Googled “steve hagen” cow picture and it led me to the blog of someone who posted an entry saying he was reading the same book, knew the picture was a cow, but couldn’t see it. That entry inspired ten comments (several saying, “Yeah, I can’t see the cow, either”), one of which explains how to see the cow! I can’t wait to get home and try it. Well, I can wait, but it will be a relief when I finally see that dad-blasted cow. I’ll bet that’s the last time Steve Hagen puts a picture in one of his books. I have learned from this experience: If I ever write a book, it won’t have any pictures in it besides a nice photo of myself at 14 in a leather editor's visor looking for Doritos in Amy's mother's kitchen cabinets.

By the way, the commenter who finally was able to see the cow first Googled pictures of cows. Let the record reflect that I tried this technique myself, though not with the book available.

August Solon

Thelonious is now eating like crazy and hasn’t vomited in a week. I know this is probably just Prednisone-related weight gain, but it’s great to see her looking better. Come to think of it, I don’t know if the Prednisone is meant to fix the underlying problem or if the entire goal is to suppress symptoms, including weight loss. I’ll have to ask Dr. Press.

Yesterday evening I finished Melissa Bank’s earlier novel, The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing, which I’m sorry to say is pretty awful. (On the other hand, the author photo is way better than the one for The Wonder Spot.) Clearly, she is improving by leaps and bounds, so I will certainly read her next novel, which I imagine will be fantastic.

I got an email from Sir Dave yesterday which said, in part:

“John Yoo, Berkeley's pride and joy, is the august solon who opined that ‘It would depend on why the president feels he needs to do that’ when asked if it would be legal for Bush to order a child's testicles crushed in order to force a parent to talk.

“I submit that if John Yoo thinks a measure is radical, it probably is.”

I heard John Yoo on KQED not long ago and was surprised to find that he sounds just like a regular person.

A coworker of mine was griping the other day about the same guy who inspired me to put my finger on my phone’s release button a few weeks ago. He was wondering how we’re going to let the managers know how terrible this guy is. I said no matter what group you work in, you’re always going to work with someone who is incompetent and that we shouldn’t torture our colleague.

“Why not?”

“Well, he is a human being.”

“Did you fall and hit your head?” asked my coworker, somewhat unflatteringly.

He explained that if I wanted my normal personality back, I would need to fall and hit my head again.

I’ve turned down the corner of the page with the picture of the “cow” in Steve Hagen’s book (in which he italicizes the word “see” every time he uses it) and have been checking now and then to see if I can see the cow. I meant not to read another word until I could see the cow, but I have to do something in between attempts, and it’s handier to read that same book than to pick up another book, so I’m reading it.

He discusses the three kinds of dukkha, the third one being the dukkha of being. I think that’s what Ezra Bayda is referring to when he discusses “the anxious quiver of being.” I think I experience it as a kind of claustrophobia: I’m trapped on this train that goes in only one direction, never stops, and ends with my death.

Steve Hagen says if you want an immediate glimpse of this third form of dukkha, you can ask yourself questions like “Why is there something instead of nothing?” I thought that was rather clever, because that question induces so much anxiety—really, the feeling that my mind is going to snap—that I have to say, “It’s impossible that anything is here, and yet here it is—the bookshelf, the bus, trees—and that’s all there is to it, and I’m not going to think about it any more.”

I’ve only really thought about it two or three times in my whole life because it gives my head a very unpleasant feeling and causes a general queasiness, or maybe more like a distinct fear in the pit of the stomach.

How was there ever nothing? Was something always here? How could it always have been here? It seems like it has always to have been here, because how could something come from absolutely nothing? Ooh, that’s a yucky feeling, to see the impossible all around you. Excuse me while I get a crisp brown rice cereal treat.

I’ve been thinking lately about how to give money to organizations anonymously. There are a lot of groups to which I’d like to send money, but I don’t want to see a lot of junk mail in my mailbox, from the entity I gave money to plus their ten best friends.

Over the past several months, I have written or called everyone who has sent me a piece of mail I didn’t want and asked them not to send another, and now almost every piece of mail I get is something I actually want. Several days of the week, I get no mail. I hate the thought of having to stop a hundred new sources of junk mail. It looks like USPS money orders might be the way to go.

However, maybe the average nonprofit wouldn’t bother to cash a small money order. I put a question on Craigslist about it and immediately got a note from someone indicating his or her willingness to receive my money (“I know this isn’t exactly what you were talking about, but …”).

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Well-Concealed Cow and Junk Food Reviews

I began reading Steve Hagen’s book Buddhism Plain and Simple last night, which is on the dry side. Early on, there is an image whose subject can’t be immediately identified. It sort of looks like a man lying down, but not definitely, but the author says that if you keep looking at the picture, it will become very obvious, beyond any doubt, what it is.

I looked for about 15 minutes. I turned the book this way and that, I squinted, I crossed my eyes. No clue. Finally, I had to go look at the answer: it’s a cow. I went back to the picture. For the life of me, I could not see a cow.

Frustrated, and despite the late hour, I went up and knocked on Tom’s door. He looked at the picture. He couldn’t tell what it was. I told him it was a cow. He couldn’t see a cow.

Fortunately, Steve Hagen has a website. I sent an email today begging for a cow-spotting clue. In the meantime, I put that book aside—I’m going to feel vaguely resentful until I see the cow—and started Gil Fronsdal’s The Issue at Hand, which is a collection of his transcribed dharma talks.

In non-dharma reading, I just finished Melissa Bank’s The Wonder Spot, which I loved, the first half more so than the second. In the second half she kept mentioning people I hadn’t heard of, and I wasn’t sure if it was just because I’d forgotten them already (entirely possible) or if it was a literary technique. Also, the first half contained long stretches of narrative, whole stories leading into other stories, whereas the second half was presented more as brief vignettes. The change of structure was a bit unsettling.

But I certainly recommend it, if only for the line where the mother says to do something with the dog and the little brother says, “Please don’t refer to Albert as ‘the dog.’”

I’m now reading Help: The Original Human Dilemma, by Garret Keizer, which is about how humans help each other or not.

When I was a teenager, I used to find it restful to open the refrigerator door and just stand there gazing into the depths, probably with my mouth hanging open, until my mother came along and said, “Close the refrigerator door.” (I told you I had a terrible childhood.)

The same soothing effect can be had, it turns out, in the cookies and candy aisle at Whole Foods. I like to go over there (not without mixed feelings: the place is full of yuppies!) and just look at all the items, and read some labels, and buy anything I haven’t tried before that looks like it might be good.

I tried a Goldie’s Premium Carob Bar yesterday and liked it, though some of its appeal comes from its not containing sugar or caffeine: healthy! I suspect I won’t want another after about the fourth one.

Country Choice Organic Sandwich Cremes Duplex are sandwich cookies with one vanilla side, one chocolate side and vanilla crème in the middle. (Both vanilla would be fine as far as I'm concerned.) The cookie part is not overly sweet, so they compensated with extremely sweet filling, which is also a bit too soft, so that the overall cookie is a bit too soft. Not bad, but I probably won’t buy them again, though they appear to be vegan.

Nature’s Path EnviroKids Organic Animal Cookies (vanilla flavor) are extremely terrible. They taste like chalk with a bit of cinnamon added. I suspect they added the cinnamon so the cookies wouldn’t taste like just plain chalk. I’m going to go so far as to throw these out (i.e., put them in the compost bin).

If something isn’t very good but it’s not terrible, it usually gets eaten fairly quickly: “Uh oh, these aren’t very good—I’d better finish them right away.” I suppose that’s the exact opposite of having a little bit of something that’s really good. I keep hoping to become the kind of person who prefers a simple piece of fruit for dessert, but so far I still prefer a whole package of passable sandwich cookies.

On to another Nature’s Path product, now with a bit of trepidation: Organic Lemon Poppy Signature Series Cookies. Same thing: chalk, this time with lemon flavoring and poppy seeds. I’m going to compost these, and then I suppose I’ll be kicking myself when we’re in the heart of the global-warming-caused famine: “If only I could have those Organic Lemon Poppy Signature Series Cookies back!”

New Morning Graham-Wiches in Honey Graham & Peanut Butter Crème flavor: good. We’ll have to see how they compare to some other peanut butter sandwich cookies I have at home, which are so good I've bought two packages of them lately.

Maybe I should just rename this whole blog Junk Food Review. It’s just like Vegan Lunch Box, if Mrs. Vegan Lunch Box were to eat packaged food full of grease and sugar all day, which she might well do if she aspires to be large and surly.