Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Euphoria at the Warfield

Hammett resting.

Last Sunday night, I went to the best concert I’ve ever been to in my life: Alice in Chains, my longtime favorite band, playing to a hall full of absolutely ecstatic fans at the Warfield in a sold-out show.

AIC have not performed together for 10 years. Their lead singer, Layne Staley, died of a drug overdose in 2002, so we thought we would never see them again.

The very brave William DuVall was there as lead singer, at moments sounding eerily like Layne and at other times not, which was fine. He seemed to have a slightly different sartorial vision from the rest of the band, in skintight spandex pants while the others were in jeans.

The audience danced and screamed. We were euphoric. We sang along. We’ve had to get by with just the CDs for a long time, so we know those songs very well. Before one song, Jerry Cantrell said, “We’d like for you to sing along. You’re invited,” which was sweet. I like every single Alice in Chains song, so the show was one peak moment after the other.

During it, I reflected that the only one of my favorite bands that I haven’t seen is Metallica, and that I probably never will see them, because they play larger venues that I, who hate crowds, would avoid.

AIC finished their set and left the stage. The audience carried on until they returned to play an encore. Jerry said, “We’d like to introduce our friend,” and JAMES HETFIELD OF METALLICA WALKED ONSTAGE and sang one of the encore songs.

I was thrilled out of my mind, as was the woman next to me, who, beaming, bumped me with her shoulder and shrieked, “What the fuck?” I departed in a daze of pleasure.

Earlier that day, there was an exciting incident in which Hammett unrolled and shredded 15 feet of toilet paper while I was busy in the kitchen. When I wadded it up and tried to flush it down the toilet, the toilet overflowed, soaking the vast amount of cat litter redistributed by Hammett onto the bathroom floor that I hadn’t gotten around to sweeping up.

“I’ll have to get the plunger,” I said to Hammett, whereupon I discovered I don’t own a plunger. Fortunately, Tom has one. It took an hour to restore order.

I was bemused that Hammett had made such a tremendous mess, but had to admit it was I who left the cat litter on the floor, not to mention I who tried to flush too much toilet paper down the toilet. Hammett merely unrolled a bit of toilet paper, which is, after all, his job.

I have finished A Widow’s Walk, in which Marian Fontana brings her husband, Dave, a firefighter who was killed on 9/11, vividly to life.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Traditional Italian Thanksgiving

On Thanksgiving, Tom and I drove to Sacramento with his mother, Ann, and her husband, Mac, arriving in due time (the traffic was horrible) at the home of Steve and Julie, Tom’s brother and his wife. Besides the aforementioned, Paul and Eva were there, and Scott and his son Spencer, who is six.

The last time I saw Spencer, he put his face approximately three inches from mine and pointed out the birthmarks on my forehead and eyelid by pressing his fingertip firmly on each one: “You have a red mark there, and there.”

Steve and Julie have converted their garage into what they call “the Tuscan carriage house.” The long dining table was set up there. Outside the Tuscan carriage house is a not-yet-addressed patch of bumpy yard they call “habitat.”

Ann reported to Steve that when Spencer, in the house, was told the other guests were “out there,” he peered out the window at the magnificent remodeling project that took much time and no doubt much money and asked, “You mean in the shed?” “Easy, tiger,” Steve murmured, though Spencer wasn’t present to register this admonishment.

After Julie’s wonderful dinner, several of us took a walk. Steve and Spencer played Frisbee. When the Frisbee sailed under a parked car, Steve called to Spencer, “That’s you, buddy.” And then, encouragingly, as he strolled on, “Keep ‘em coming.”

It was a very pleasant day indeed.

When I got home, I chatted with my mother on the phone for two hours and 45 minutes. We discussed computers, a perennial topic. My father has recently gotten a new Mac. My mother has been nagging me for some years to buy a new computer, but it was so traumatic the last time I did it, I’m planning to hold off until this one dies completely and I have to pay someone a thousand dollars to get my data off it. I can still remember the feeling of wanting to drop a brand-new computer out the window and see it smash into a thousand pieces on the sidewalk.

I told my mother that I could probably save a hundred dollars a month toward a new computer, and thus should be ready to make a purchase in two years or so, as my policy now is to buy such items only with funds left over in the miscellaneous category.

To prove I could buy a computer right this minute if I really felt like it, she asked how much money is allocated for miscellaneous expenses each month and what other financial categories I have, and I read them off: rent, food, utilities, hair-related. I embarked on a description of my current hairdo, but was interrupted: “Stop, I don’t want to hear this.” She said, “Stop cutting your hair and you could probably buy a computer in no time.” She added, “Definitely stop cutting it like that.”

My hair lately had come to look like a horrid little scraggly dog clinging to the top of my head. (I used to know a fellow with bushy hair who, after he cut it off, said he had begun to feel like the life-support system for a juniper bush.) Fortunately, Stefano at Vertical Clearance had an opening the day before Thanksgiving at 5 p.m. I told him, “There’s something horrible on my head. Please get it off.”

That night, when Hammett was licking my face in the middle of the night, he bit my earlobe slightly. I was startled and slightly dismayed, but realized he’d meant no harm. He’d never seen my earlobes before, buried as they were under all the hair, and he probably thought it was some type of escargot.

On Friday I went to see Shut Up & Sing, Barbara Kopple’s documentary about the Dixie Chicks, which was excellent. They are the band that got in so much trouble after their lead singer, Natalie Maines, said during a show in London that she was ashamed that President Bush is from Texas, her home state.

After the offending words were uttered, she began by apologizing and affirming her patriotism, but it was too late: their career was seriously affected. But instead of working harder to get back in the good graces of country music fans, they realized they had an opportunity to make whatever kind of music they felt like making, since country music radio stations weren’t playing their records, anyway, and they embarked on a liberating artistic journey. This film is wonderful, the Dixie Chicks are delightful, and like the concertgoer shown holding a homemade sign, I think Natalie Maines should be President.

On Saturday I went to see Borat (eh; one could have waited for the DVD) and The Science of Sleep, which I liked a lot. It was funny and haunting; the music was lovely; and the very expressive Gael Garcia Bernal was splendid, as always.

Sunday early afternoon I was going to go grocery shopping, but it was pouring rain, so I had a nice long chat with my friend Amy on the phone instead.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A Thorough Bath Courtesy of the Small Cat

Hammett seems to have decided that my lack of hygiene is reflecting poorly on him, and so he has been licking me with great determination, including several sessions during the wee hours each night. Undaunted by my being 31 times his size, he tackles a few square inches each time he has a few free moments.

The diarrhea he had in his first week after being adopted has cleared up, but he still tends to have soft poop pretty regularly, which means he leaves a little brown smear wherever he sits right afterwards. I’ve gotten in the habit of rushing into the bathroom to mop his butt off after he poops, just as I had to do for Thelonious in her final weeks.

He also had a very smelly butt for several weeks because his poop wasn’t firm enough to fully express his anal glands, so Dr. Gordon expressed his anal glands last week.

In the course of that, Hammett got a little scratch next to his eye, perhaps when they put a hood over his head to reduce injuries to the doctor or technician. Dr. Gordon gave him a kiss on the top of his head and murmured comforting phrases. His eye itself was fine, and in the next day or two, the scratch healed up, but just recently, it has opened up again and seems even larger than it was to begin with, a red gash. He may have scratched himself. We will see Dr. Gordon again later today. I’ve been putting a hot compress on it now and then and it’s improving.

This past Saturday I went to a qigong class at Quan Yin, which I was hoping would help a lately aching knee and back. It was quite strenuous and is probably not the right class for me. There is a class on Wednesday, reportedly more gentle, that I may try.

After qigong class, I embarked on a long-dreaded chore, visiting Bed Bath & Beyond to buy a new shower curtain and a couple of other items. I always feel overwhelmed in those large stores, plus it often takes me absolutely forever to make the smallest decision, and I start to feel overly warm and sort of desperate and woozy.

I vowed not to spend all day mulling over any one item, and was very pleased when it took only five seconds to pick out a shower curtain (clear, so I can see what’s going on in the outer world) and five more seconds to pick out a couple of pillowcases (organic cotton flannel).

I selected a new comforter cover, also not too difficult a decision because they had only one line that was cotton and reasonably affordable. I’m sure Hammett will put a million holes in it in no time, as he has the existing comforter cover.

However, after that, I got hopelessly bogged down in the pillow protector department and there was much opening and closing of the packages that could be opened and closed, and starting over at the beginning in case I overlooked the ultimate pillow protector, and almost falling for “Treated with ULTRA FRESH” before remembering that means “Dipped in chemicals,” and plentiful agonizing over the various features. Finally, a selection was made and I raced for the checkout before any other consideration could arise.

On to Trader Joe’s to see if they had anything I should be eating. I got some potato chips recommended by my mother (the ridged ones in the red bag) and they were superior: extremely greasy.

I had plans to see a play that evening, preceded by burritos at Mariachi’s, and vowed not to eat beforehand so I would be hungry for dinner, but then the little voice said, “Surely you’ll still be hungry if you test just one potato chip,” and thus it was that I ended up keeping Tom and David and Lisa and Terry and Nancy company as they ate at Mariachi’s, though that was a step in the right direction, because usually if I plan to have a burrito, I have a burrito, regardless.

Lisa, David, Tom and I went to Intersection after Mariachi’s and saw Hamlet: Blood in the Brain, a retelling of Hamlet set in Oakland in 1989. I enjoyed it, and I will always see anything Sean San Jose is in, though I’m starting to think nothing will ever surpass their production of Dave Eggers’ Sacrament!, which I saw thrice.

Sunday was cooking day.

I recently finished The First Desire, a novel by Nancy Reisman. It was a bit writerly for my taste: filled with details that are supposed to make people say the book was “finely observed,” but that don’t sound like anything I’ve ever observed and thus merely seem to bog down the story. Overall, not enough happened for the number of pages read.

Now I’m reading Marian Fontana’s A Widow’s Walk: A Memoir of 9/11, which is the opposite. Her husband, Dave, a firefighter, was not even supposed to be on duty on 9/11. It was their eighth wedding anniversary and the start of a one-month vacation for Dave, who was still at the firehouse that morning, most likely waiting for his tardy replacement to arrive, when the call came to go to the World Trade Center.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Tuxedo Cat Island Paradise

On Sunday, Tom and I took the train to Sacramento for a birthday dinner for him and his brother Dan. Here’s who was there: Paul, Eva, Tom, Dan, Julie, me, Melinda, Jim and Abby. Sarah was busy in San Francisco and Steve was home ill. It was wonderful, as always. We came home that same evening on the train.

It has come to my attention that Hammett is a tuxedo cat, which Thelonious was not. I found this out when the plumber came to exacerbate my bathroom sink drip and said to Hammett, “Hello, you tuxedo cat.” A tuxedo cat is black with white markings confined to its face, paws, throat or chest.

Along with having had the dream that Hammett escaped via the fire ladder, I keep waking up thinking I’ve forgotten to give him some important medication and now something horrible is going to happen.

For 20 years, I have been waking up thinking I’ve forgotten to take my medication or follow some other crucial health-related procedure, and it’s quite disorienting because the delusion pursues me into full wakefulness. It always takes a while to convince myself that I don’t take medication (leaving aside the question of whether I should).

Quite often I have thought that I will write down, for once and for all, what it is I’ve forgotten to do so I don’t forget it again, so I now have quite a collection of incomprehensible reminders, if I can even think of anything to write down at all, which often I can’t. It’s rather frustrating, though I’m glad it hasn’t leaked into the rest of my life (so far).

Several nights ago, I found myself sitting up in bed with the lights on saying to someone unseen, “Can you hear me?” Whoever it was didn’t answer, so I didn’t say what was on my mind, which I think was that we needed to give Hammett his medication.

My ex-therapist’s techniques had no effect whatsoever on what I call the “night thing”; we finally decided it was a general expression of anxiety. Obviously I am now anxious about something happening to Hammett, which makes it even clearer that the night thing, in its classical non-Hammett form, expresses some anxiety about my own well-being.

From time to time (read: every year) I’m invited to draft my own performance review at work. I always turn in a masterpiece of fulsome praise and credulity-stretching compliments: “The sun rises and sets over Linda.” “She saved us a million dollars this year.” “The snacks in her cubicle are better than anyone else’s,” this being quite true.

This is kind of a fun exercise, and then, in due time, I get to hear my boss read this all to me out loud, which he does, beaming, as if he had written every word himself. “Linda, here is your review: ‘The sun rises and sets over Linda.’” It makes us both happy.

This year, I can’t think of any new nice things to say about myself, true or otherwise, so I may have to fall back on reordering sentences: “The sun sets and rises over Linda.”

It’s going to be a shock to my system when a new boss actually writes the thing himself or herself next year. “What?! Where’s the part about the sun circling me like a hula hoop? What do you mean you’d ‘like to see Linda striving harder to reach her full potential’?”

We had a good rain earlier this week. I had vowed to ride my bike every day this rainy season and not to take the bus, but it was so nerve-wracking riding home in the dark, in the rain, barely able to see—that’s the thing, not being able to see because my glasses are covered with water—that I will probably end up on mass transit after all.

First, however, I will try the thing of putting a drop of dishwashing liquid on my lenses so the water, in theory, forms a sort of clear sheet instead of clinging to the surface in drops.

I stopped by Freewheel yesterday and asked them if they’d solved this problem yet. “No,” the glasses-wearing Dan said. “Take BART.”

The toughest decision of the year has been made: which wall calendars to get for home and work. One thing that makes it slightly easier is to make the exact same decision every time, though this still requires an hour in the calendar store.

As in November of 2005 and 2004, and having passed up a calendar full of tuxedo cats, I now have wall calendars called Tropical Islands and Island Paradise. This brings back happy memories of oohing and ahhing over the pictures in such a calendar with Frank, who is now in Dublin, and both liking the same picture most.

The handsomer of the two (Island Paradise) will stay at work, since I spend much more time looking at my wall calendar at work than at home. For one thing, the one at home is kind of too far away to see without my glasses on. “Is that a palm tree?”

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

All Right! Potluck!

I was working with someone this week via NetMeeting (an application that allows one to see and even control a PC in another geographical location) to test something in Unix. This person, who was extremely easygoing, had the habit of checking his email frequently, and while we were running commands in Unix, suddenly switched to Outlook and saw the announcement for his department’s Thanksgiving celebration.

“All right! Potluck!” he said, in the same tone I reserve for, “Wow, a dinner invitation from Christopher Walken!”

While we’re thinking of things to be happy about, all right!: Democrats take the House and the Senate, Nancy Pelosi is the first woman Speaker of the House, and Rumsfeld has stepped off, I mean, stepped down.

Not having cable, I get only two clear TV stations, one of which showed 90 minutes of Dancing with the Stars right in the middle of the election coverage, so I had to call my parents, who have cable, and contrive to keep them from hanging up on me for six hours. I also turned on my PC and tuned to, whose coverage was excellent.

Bush hardly seems upset about Rumsfeld, lending credence to my theory that he has secretly wanted to say goodbye to him for some time but was prevented by loyalty, blackmail, or a combination of both.

I just finished the biography The Fabulous Sylvester: The Legend, the Music, the 70s in San Francisco, which I enjoyed. I have a couple of his albums and am quite fond of them. When he was ill and soon to die, of AIDS, he could hear a crowd not far from his house yelling “Sylvester! Sylvester!” That's quite touching.

The book is full of colorful expressions like, “You’re on my last gay nerve.” I’ll have to try that on my coworkers. A couple of times a year, I like to say, at 4:59, “Well, it’s been great to be here—thanks for having me. In fact, I had such a good time, I might drop by again tomorrow.”

Or, “Watching you work has exhausted me. I’ll have to run along.”

I know a fellow who says, “Work fascinates me. I could watch it for hours.”

Hammett is doing great. He’s very cheery and full of energy. He is using his scratching post rather than scratching the upholstered chair, which makes me very happy, and when he’s not napping, he likes to chase balls around the apartment, look out the window, and catch and eat bugs. If I put my face near his, he licks my cheek solicitously. At night, now and then he likes to climb under the covers and nestle close to me. He also likes to climb between the slats of the Levolor blinds to get to the windowsill for 4 a.m. bird-watching, which makes an awful noise.

The scratching post came with a cheap little shiny green toy that I almost threw out, but then I decided to toss it to Hammett and see if he happened to like it, and it turns out it’s his favorite thing. He walks all over carrying it in his mouth. I’ve found it in his food dish a couple of times lately. He likes to toss his head to send it flying, and tear after it.

He also likes to carry a little toy mouse around by its tail now and then, which is slightly disturbing. The mouse was given to him by the SPCA, otherwise he wouldn’t have it, as I think it has some kind of real fur on it.

I recently received a card from my friend in L.A. in which she apologized for not responding sooner to an emailed communication of mine. I assured her yesterday via email that I hadn't taken offense because, frankly, my memory's too shot to remember who did what or didn’t. That is, I'm more than happy to take offense, but it has to be right in the moment when wrongdoing occurs; otherwise, the miscreant will have to do without.

Even as I feel happy about Hammett, I feel exceedingly unhappy about Thelonious. What bothers me most, lately, is that I never dream about her. When she was alive, I dreamed about her quite often—for instance, that we were in a canoe and I was paddling along with one arm and holding her with the other, keeping her safe.

After she died, I looked forward to dreaming about her, because if the dream was exceedingly vivid, as many are, it would be a chance to see her again for a few moments. Tom said maybe the reason I’m not dreaming about her is something good. Maybe I don’t dream about seeing her safely through the water because I already saw her safely out of this life.

Last night I dreamed about Hammett for the first time: That he had climbed down the fire escape ladder into the backyard and was nowhere to be seen.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Jury Escapee Buried in Cat Litter

I went downtown last Thursday to find I had been excused from jury duty. (Why they can’t tell you that on the phone, I don’t know.) I was handed a slip of paper to take to the jury room in the basement, where I encountered the same woman I’d given the third degree three days earlier about bicycle parking.

She processed my paperwork and I left, but after going ten steps, I went back and apologized for being grumpy about the bike parking. Her face lit up and she smiled and waved her hands as if to say there could be no thing in this world less needed than an apology from me. She said it was totally fine and wished me a nice day, making me very glad I took the few moments to do that. That must be a lousy job, dealing with an endless stream of disgruntled prospective jurors.

Every four or five weeks, when my name comes up on a list, I have a hideously stressful week at work, which of course was last week, the same week as jury duty. You might think one would do anything to get out of it, but because it’s so horrible, it’s extremely poor form not to show up, because then it gets dumped on someone else.

Really, the only acceptable excuse for not being present is if you yourself are dead, so after I was excused from jury duty, I hastened downtown to my cubicle and its soothing endless flow of emails to find that my boss had announced he has been promoted and that his last day with us will be in two weeks.

I’ve had this boss for almost three years, and though I didn’t have any pressing reason to make a major change, I had begun to fear my life might be exactly the same for the next 20 years, so it was kind of a relief to see this manifestation of impermanence.

When I came to this boss’s group, I was somewhat surly because I’m just naturally surly and also because I was leaving a group with a hundred people in it, where I had many, many friends, and coming to a team of about ten people who were deployed in three or four cities, with only a few of us here in San Francisco. I felt isolated in the new building for a long time.

I was also a little worried about expanding my customer base from 50 or 60 developers, whom I’d come to think of as my flock, to thousands of strangers, as I’m not really a natural customer service person. I was pleased to find that I was able to feel sympathetic about the problems of people I didn’t know and would never meet in person.

My boss took a little getting used to—I’m sure he’d say the same about me—but I came to appreciate the clarity he brings to all situations. His department is free of chaos and crisis. He also has a soft and kind heart. If there is a nice way to say something, he’ll say it that way.

He is also completely relentless when he decides to achieve something, in a polite and firm way, so he has been a tremendous advocate in our dealings with other groups. We love that about him. We smile with evil pleasure when one of us says, “I’m going to have them meet with the boss.”

Over the weekend, I finished The Red Carpet, a collection of stories by Lavanya Sankaran, who can write rings around Jhumpa Lahiri, even with a hit-and-miss approach to capitalizing proper nouns and even given that nearly every story fell apart at the end, lurching awkwardly to a stop. Sankaran’s characters are vivid and her stories draw you in immediately.

If I’m going to live 40 years, give or take, and there are 52 weeks per year (that part is certain, anyway), and if it takes me, on average, what with one thing and another, three weeks to read a book, there are only 693 books left! If there are a hundred books on my library list, that’s one seventh of all the books I will ever read. That’s why I feel no obligation to finish a book or magazine article that does not immediately grab me.

On Saturday I did my cooking and in the evening Tom and I watched Bend It Like Beckham, which I loved, especially Juliet Stevenson in the role of the mother of one of the main character’s teammates.

On Sunday I did the same thing as last Sunday: Took BART to Berkeley to meditate at the Shambhala Center, after which I had lunch with my meditation friend. Then we went to her house in Point Richmond so I could meet her current crop of dogs.

Hammett is doing well. He’s proving to be a top talent when it comes to transferring cat litter from the box to the bathroom floor. I see in retrospect that Thelonious (who I miss terribly) must not really have been trying.