Friday, April 27, 2007

White Glove Smoking Man

Here’s me playing at the Blue Jay Café.

Last Friday night, Lisa C. and Ann (Tom’s mother) and I had dinner at Osha on Valencia (Thai food) and then to see Dan Hoyle’s wonderful one-man play Tings Dey Happen, about oil politics in Nigeria, based on his year as a Fulbright scholar there.

On Saturday I saw Fracture (in which Ryan Gosling plays a district attorney and Anthony Hopkins a would-be murderer), which I liked a lot, and later at home I saw two DVDs, movies I’d really wanted to see in the theater but missed: Dreamland, a coming-of-age tale set in a desert trailer park, and Opal Dream, about a young Australian girl whose two imaginary friends go missing.

I think Hammett and I are reaching a new level of mutual affection. He is championing my causes as his own, as when I saw him glaring out the window at someone who was smoking.

Last Sunday I made Two-Bean Chili with Bulgur, from 366 Delicious Ways to Cook Rice, Beans, and Grains, and Split Pea and Rice Soup from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant. The chili was really good; that cookbook is becoming my favorite. I also thawed some of the tomato sauce I made the previous week to try over pasta and it was wonderful. I liked the soup more than I liked the last split pea soup I made, but I guess my favorite recipe is in Laurel’s Kitchen.

While I was cooking, Hammett came gamboling into the kitchen with what turned out to be the corner of a picture that had been for years affixed to the wall with two push pins. I found one of the pins but could not find the other despite extensive efforts, including dumping out a bag of recycling and putting every single item back in piece by piece; I did this twice. I also moved the big chair away from the wall and looked underneath and behind it; ditto the bed. Nothing. Dr. Press said if my level of suspicion was high that Hammett had swallowed the pin, I should have him X-rayed.

Right before I went to sleep that night, I looked at Hammett for a time, trying to decide whether he looked like a cat who had a push pin inside him or not. Then I reached down to pick up my hand lotion and there was the pin.

The firm mattress is a major improvement over the gentle; not sure how I could have gotten this so wrong in the store, but I guess it’s not uncommon. I think we may finally have reached a satisfactory conclusion to the Bed Purchasing Travail. May you never have to buy a bed or any portion thereof, but if you do, I guess my advice is to go to Sleep Train and buy whichever Simmons seems most comfortable, as long as it’s not a pillow-top.

However, my hip and lower back still hurt after getting the firmer mattress, which I now realize is probably due to having fallen on my butt in the tub many months ago, so I decided it was time to seek a therapeutic massage person or something along those lines.

I gathered a few recommendations, including one from Mily, and this week went to see Jing Li, an acupuncturist who works in conjunction with a massage person. Apparently, the more virtuosic an acupuncturist is, the fewer needles she or he uses. For anyone who follows competitive acupuncture, she used precisely four needles, three of which were driven into my belly button. So she may be the supreme San Francisco acupuncture master. I didn’t feel a thing when she inserted them, but I also have natural anti-acupuncture padding in that area.

She told me to move around as much as possible while the needles were in, and afterward her associate came in and did fifteen minutes of massage in the area that hurts (my butt, in case you forgot; left side). I would say there was noticeable improvement after this. I have been able actually to feel a knot where the impact was, and it was smaller after this treatment.

This week my company held a green event in one of its buildings downtown, and I went over to staff a San Francisco Bicycle Coalition table. Afterwards, I agreed to be the Green Team site coordinator for my floor in my building, and I told the manager of the project that I have a particular interest in bike commuting as a company-wide initiative and was invited to work on that, which I will.

Then I went to the top floor of the building to see the view, which was very nice, and then to visit a friend who works on the 26th floor. Right across the street, far above the traffic, is what are apparently luxury condos, and as we watched, a man opened the door to his minuscule balcony to have a smoke. He was wearing a maroon and navy robe, and sporting a white glove on his right hand only. My friend says they see him all the time dressed exactly like that; they call him White Glove Smoking Man.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Corporation Possibly Not Entirely Evil

A couple of nights ago, I dragged my keyboard out of the closet so I could play a couple of tunes from the Real Book to see what they sound like with the accompanying chords.

Then I embarked on yet another vain attempt to find a place where I could have the keyboard out all the time. In the course of that, I was moving my bed around; though heavy, it actually slides quite readily on the smooth three-inch plastic legs the box spring sits on.

As I moved it, I heard an unmistakable ripping sound—sure enough, I had torn open the corner of the box spring, thanks to a little fixture that sticks out of the baseboard. I don’t think I ever damaged any mattress before (and I know I never damaged any box spring, because I never had one until now); naturally it would happen with this costly one, and only two weeks after buying it!

As for the firmer mattress, I received a call yesterday afternoon saying it was ready to be delivered. The delivery office opens at seven a.m. When the clock struck seven this morning, I called them and said it would be great if they could bring the mattress today first thing, around nine a.m., or last thing, around three p.m.

It arrived at 8:50, before I left for work, which was excellent service. Later I will sleep on it for the first time.

At work (which I don’t mention often here because I do not wish my relationship with my job to be severed before my lavish retirement begins in twenty years, give or take), we receive a newsletter now and then, the latest edition of which had a cover story on caring for the environment.

Some groups have been given re-usable coffee mugs, and the environment-unfriendly polystyrene cups near the tea and coffee removed. Battery-recycling is starting to be available, and probably every area has a means of recycling paper at this point. Motion-sensing light switches are being installed in company locations, which turn off after one minute without activity in the area, saving energy and money.

The story mentioned a fellow who is part of a “Green Team,” so I emailed him and said I’d like to join such a team, and I also emailed the people who put out the newsletter and asked them for a follow-up story on specific steps employees can take to help the environment.

I said I’d like to see the company provide secure bike parking at all locations and encourage employees to cycle to work where feasible, and I’d also like them not to send us little gifts made out of plastic, which is a huge waste. For instance, yearly we receive a plastic calendar/picture frame, which is a whole lot of plastic if all employees are getting them.

The Green Team fellow emailed me back and put me in touch with the Green Team leader for San Francisco, who happens to work in my building. I met with him yesterday, and was invited to join his group that is working on environment-related projects.

He said that via a website like TerraPass that provides a means of offsetting emissions via contributions to renewable-energy projects, he paid to offset his personal emissions, receiving a discount of 60 percent because he works for our company, which itself purchases a vast amount of renewable energy, thus earning very high marks from the Environmental Protection Agency. It was great to hear that my employer is doing something so constructive, and it’s encouraging that many companies are heading in the same direction now. (Thanks, Al!)

The Green Team leader also stopped driving his car to work and is sending the money saved to a small community in an African country, which happens to be where his family is from, so they can install solar panels to have electricity for the first time, and cease cutting down trees for energy.

Because of his vast efforts on behalf of this community, the company has given him three months off with pay so he can go to Africa and install solar panels! I immediately pictured myself in Africa installing solar panels, or somewhere doing something.

My own team lead encouraged me to look into this, since I can hardly be in Africa installing solar panels and in my cube complaining to my coworker about my mattress at the same time. Unless … “Say, doesn’t this dang village have web conferencing?”

The Green Team leader said he took his own two children to Africa, kids who have lived in pleasant circumstances in the United States all their lives, and on the second day, his son said, “I didn’t get to take a shower today.”

“Today! You might not get to take a shower for a week,” replied his father. “See that bucket? See that river? Go to the river, fill the bucket, and ask someone to pour the water over you.”

He left his children there for three months and when they returned home, they had learned the community’s language and their perspective had altered dramatically. Their father said they now refuse to waste the smallest thing.

It was an extremely inspiring conversation.

Today’s haiku:

Thirty-minute soak:
A tremendous luxury
not enjoyed by all.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Strap: A Tale of Loss and Longing

Saturday morning was grey and wet. Tom and I went to see Halle Berry and Bruce Willis in Perfect Stranger, which had some interesting plot twists.

We stopped by McRoskey on our way back for a little mattress-testing, which convinced me that I need to switch to a firmer mattress. I called Jason today and asked him to send it tout de suite. (For $350 more, but what is money to a person in my position?)

Tom and I parted after mattress-testing, he to visit his favorite taqueria and I to visit mine. I also went to Community Thrift Store to see if I could get my strap back, specifically the strap to my one-trumpet gig bag. Several weeks ago, in one of my frequent purges of extraneous physical material, I came upon it and tossed it into the bag: “A strap. Why do I need a strap?”

A couple of weeks later, I remembered why I needed it. Before I went into the store, I visited the receiving dock to see if they would have garbaged this item or if I should expect to find it in the store. The receiving guy said he would have priced it, so I went into the store, but it wasn’t there: snapped up already by some strap-starved stripling.

(“Strapling” appears no longer to be a word, at least as I was going to use it; how can this be?)

I went home and ate my tofu burrito with double extra avocado and took a nap. Then I tootled on the trumpet a little and Tom and I watched Half Nelson on DVD. Ryan Gosling did a very good job in the lead role. He’s a nice young man. He brought his mother and sister to the Academy Awards.

I liked when the drug dealer, with admiration, described the little girl as having said to the neighborhood boy who stole her bike, “Get your fat ass offa my bike or I’m gonna f*ck your fat ass up.”

“Did she do it?” asked the drug dealer’s girlfriend.

“She didn’t have to!” crowed the drug dealer.

This reminds me of my favorite sentence in the darkly (very darkly) humorous A Personal Matter: when the protagonist, a teacher, refers to his class as “an inscrutable enemy” a hundred strong.

On Sunday I made Eggplant Stew with Tomatoes, Peppers and Chickpeas, from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. It’s very good, and it’s pleasing to look at, with big chunks of vegetables.

And I made Mexican Black Beans from 366 Delicious Ways to Cook Rice, Beans, and Grains. This is also very good, served over either bulgur or buckwheat. It’s on the spicy side, containing two dried chipotles, one dried ancho pepper, two diced jalapeños, and a diced serrano pepper.

When it was nearly done, I took the chipotles out, removed the seeds, diced the peppers and put them back in. I meant to remove the ancho pepper at that point, too, but it had disintegrated and the only part that could be recovered intact was the stem; fortunately, the seeds, while faintly tough, are not too hot.

Last but not least, I made a vat of Provençal Tomato Sauce from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant, doubling the recipe and adding one and a quarter pounds of sautéed brown Crimini mushrooms and a bit of extra olive oil. The result is blood-red and out of this world. I froze it in one-serving portions.

When Tom came down to do his Sunday-evening taste-testing, he said he wasn’t quite sure about the pasta sauce and would need a second spoonful to be really sure. I returned his container of oats, which I had borrowed to make High-Fiber Health Dessert (melt a stick of butter and stir in lots of sugar, some oats and a couple of teaspoons of vanilla).

I have been enjoying so much High-Fiber Health Dessert, I had run out of oats. When I went to Rainbow Sunday morning, I bought lots of oats and refilled Tom’s container. He said he had to have that exact container back because it has the instructions on it.

After my burrito but before my nap, I had a bowl of High-Fiber Health Dessert (yes, one serving has one whole stick of butter in it), and prior to the movie, I obtained a pint of Ben & Jerry’s for my personal use while viewing. In addition, Tom had gotten us each a piece of chocolate cake at Safeway, so before I opened the Ben & Jerry’s, I told him who my health-insurance provider is, in case of coronary emergency.

When I was loading my groceries onto my bike at Rainbow, a fellow cyclist said, “That’s very impressive,” and that he had seen me in the store and thought the way I’d had my Jandd grocery bag panniers in my shopping cart was clever. All that unexpected appreciation was very pleasant.

Today’s haiku:

once-proud dried ancho
makes ultimate sacrifice
spicy beans please tongue

Friday, April 13, 2007

In Pursuit of Environmental Perfection

Next up: reducing water usage. I was reading that the Sierra snowpack is at 46 percent of normal, the fourth lowest level since 1919, when they started measuring, and that we may have mandatory restrictions on water usage later this year, with fines for those who don’t comply. Scofflaws may even have their water turned off.

My thoughts turned guiltily to my (almost-)daily 30-or-so-minute shower. I think the building manager disapproves of how long my showers are because now and then she says to someone doing work in my apartment, “I have to go take a shower, which will take me ONLY FIVE MINUTES, so I won’t be available for FIVE MINUTES, but then I’ll be around again after that. IN FIVE MINUTES!”

Once in a while, I have tried to reduce the length of my showers, but I can’t figure out how to do it. I mean, what body part am I not going to wash? I know some people take three- or five-minute showers, but I’m far from convinced they’re actually daisy-fresh.

A certain compulsive approach is probably part of the problem: Making sure the washcloth is thoroughly soaked, lathering it with soap three or four times in a row for a half-inch buildup, washing one foot: rub-a-dub-dub and a rub-a-dub-dub! Is it really clean? RUB-A-DUB-DUB AND A RUB-A-DUB-DUB! Then the other foot, after re-soaping the washcloth, of course.

I go through a bar of Ivory soap a week.

And then there’s the exfoliation phase, employing a nice firm brush. The last time I visited my parents, I found a suspiciously pliant back brush in my father’s shower. “I don’t understand how you remove a layer of skin with that,” I said later. The next time I took a shower, I saw he’d supplied a brand-new back brush, though he probably hadn’t planned to remove it from the cupboard for a year. That was very hospitable.

The other day, I finally started to use the little lever that turns the water off right at the showerhead. When you turn the water back on, it’s more or less at the same temperature. I used much, much less water—mainly just when actually rinsing—but was kind of chilly when it wasn’t running, so the next evening, I didn’t open the window all the way, and that was better.

Because the window wasn’t open so far, I could leave the door open; I’ve had to close it for the past six months to keep Hammett from hopping out the window, which means everything in the bathroom ends up dripping with condensation and the mirror takes ten minutes to unfog. But now, with less water running and the door open, there is no condensation, and the mirror doesn’t get fogged up and there’s no water on the floor near the tub to speak of. A win-win-win-win! Plus Hammett can come in now and then to see how things are going.

However, if they are going to do water rationing later this year, maybe it’s imprudent to implement this now, because I definitely won’t be able to reduce my water usage any farther after this, other than by flushing the toilet less. (Well, so I say now, but I’m sure there are things that could happen to change my perspective dramatically.)

A coworker suggested showering at a friend’s house to save water. Crafty!

Someone once told me, possibly joking, that when he writes any computer program, he includes a pause of however long, say, 20 seconds. Then, when someone inevitably says, “This is great, but can’t you make it run faster?”, he takes out the pause.

So maybe I should stick with my previous shower method and demonstrate a dramatic improvement when the rationing begins.

I have concluded that Hernerakkan (Scandinavian yellow split pea soup) is horrible and have been having pasta with tomato sauce for dinner this week, using sauce I made previously and froze. I mentioned this dish to Eva and she was enthusiastic, but she said the recipe she remembers does not have parsnips or turnips in it. I’m sure this would have been much better omitting those ingredients, and also if I’d mixed it up after pureeing. There were some spoonfuls that were pure parsnip or turnip: yucky.

Yesterday evening Tom helped me take my box spring back out of the closet. A week or so ago, I slept on the mattress on the box spring (softer) and woke up early in the morning with my back really bothering me. The next night, I put the mattress on the floor (harder) and it helped, suggesting I need a firmer mattress.

But two nights ago, I slept on the mattress on the floor (harder) and woke up needing a lot of stretching. Last night, I slept on the mattress on the box spring (softer) and needed a bit less stretching, suggesting I need a softer mattress, according to my genial McRoskey salesperson.

Tomorrow I will go test a step firmer and a step softer. Maybe the one I have is just right.

The Hammett will be one year old tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Emissions Offsetting and Moratorium on Lamination

Here is a good thing: Offsetting one’s personal emissions of carbon dioxide at the TerraPass website. Based on my monthly PG&E bill for gas and electricity of $13 or less, and my one annual flight from San Francisco to Detroit and back, it looks like I could emit with a cleaner conscience for a mere $40 a year. I am going to do this, plus add it to my annual task list.

My non-flight transportation-related emissions should be pretty low, but home-related emissions are unavoidable, and of course air travel emits.

Besides TerraPass, there is GoCarbonZero, where the estimate is that I could offset my emissions for $58.20 a year, also quite reasonable.

Next, on to greener cleaning products. I already use only Ecover and Seventh Generation products, plus Bon Ami for the tub and bathroom sink, which is a fine start, but according to Eartheasy, every single preparation I use (for the tub and sink, for the toilet, for the mirror) could be replaced by something simpler and no doubt cheaper, that I can probably obtain in bulk at Rainbow (think baking soda, white vinegar and borax). For ten percent off! (With Bike Coalition discount, assuming I remember to bring my Bike Coalition membership card and picture ID. That will be the hard part.)

The McRoskey mattress is still on the floor and I still think it’s too soft. Oddly, since I started sleeping on it, I am having one very vivid dream after the other, including a dream about a man riddled with tumors, including two or three bulging whitely on his chin, plus he had only one eye, large and in the middle of his forehead. I blame this on being in the middle of Kenzaburo Oë’s novel A Personal Matter, which my mother recommended.

Maybe all this dreaming indicates that I’m getting more deep sleep than I think, but the half-hour of stretching I have to do in the morning before I can leave the house is a contraindication.

The advice (of McRoskey) is to sleep on your new bed for two weeks before deciding to make a change, but since I sometimes have the mattress on the floor and sometimes on the box spring, I haven’t slept for two weeks straight on any one configuration.

I do have a nice new pen pal: a woman who has put a down payment on a McRoskey mattress but is not sure about having them deliver it after reading my posting on Craigslist seeking feedback from McRoskey owners. I haven’t gotten any, positive or negative, but did hear from three people who want to know what I think before they buy McRoskeys themselves.

When I most recently omitted the box spring, I stood it up against the wall and put the big chair against it to keep it from falling down. I covered it with a thickish blanket, but saw that evening that Hammett had clawed the blanket, the first time he’s substantially clawed anything other than his scratching post—something I very much wish to discourage—and had managed to make a mark or two on the box spring itself, though you’d hardly notice it if you didn’t know where to look.

While I was watching, he leapt on top of the box spring and reached up to seize the picture molding. Gosh, he’s a long cat. He decided not to hang from the picture molding, but looked speculatively at the metal fixture that once concealed the top of a set of drapes. He was clearly thinking about leaping on top of it.

I pictured him falling onto the lamp that lacks the lampshade and ending up in a pool of blood, and then I called Tom and asked if he’d help me stuff the box spring into the walk-in closet. With the little screw-on legs removed, it actually fit in there, but entering/exiting the closet is now kind of a production and I can forget about accessing my Alfred Hitchcock-edited collections of horror stories, or anything else on the west side of the closet, including the lamination materials.

About a month ago, someone destroyed the lock on the front door of our apartment building, but left without stealing anything, exiting through a different door. The other day, someone else came in and stole a bike that was, I believe, fastened to a railing in the third-floor hallway.

(Not to blame the victim, but I do kind of think people’s personal property doesn’t belong in shared space such as hallways. If your stuff doesn’t fit in your apartment, you might have too much stuff. This is the third time, at least, that the building has been broken into in about a year. The first time, the person was obviously after a bike visible in the lobby, and probably ditto a month ago, so such objects also serve as bait.)

There was no property damage this time. Ironically, the new extra-security plate on the front door prevents it from closing securely on its own every time, so the person probably just pushed the door open and walked in.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Vivaldi Weeping in His Grave

Ruminating lately about stage fright reminds me of the most terrifying performance of my life, fairly soon after I had started playing again as an adult. My esteemed teacher of that era, Lauraine Carpenter, now Principal Trumpet in the Toledo Symphony, had two promising students and thought it would be nice—right, nice for her!—if we played the Vivaldi Double Trumpet Concerto at a Community Women’s Orchestra concert.

(Two of my former trumpet teachers are in the Toledo Symphony; so is Mel Harsh, my very first trumpet teacher. I didn’t study with either of them in Toledo. I had a crush on Mel Harsh. He was handsome. He drove a little dark-green Pinto. He told me all the time to play more quietly.)

All too soon the dreaded moment arrived, and Dev and I rose from our seats. I had actually considered, briefly, breaking one of my own fingers with a hammer to avoid having to do it.

Disaster ensued immediately. Then a cold clarity set in: Is it too late to get out of this? Yes, unless the earth swallowed us that very second. In the end, we hit a good percentage of right notes, and the audience, which was in fact very warm and supportive, loved it and our teacher was happy and we were happy.

Afterwards, a friend who was there said, astonishingly, that she couldn’t tell I was scared! The only time I was more scared was in telephone-pole-climbing school when I worked for PG&E.

I guess the performer is most acutely aware of any fear, and of anything that goes wrong. If you don’t signal that something is amiss, a lot of people won’t notice. My friend Paul Trupin, who played guitar in Pray for Rain but who is now dead, once told me, “No matter what happens, I always act like, ‘I totally mastered that.’”

If something very obviously goes wrong but you keep going—if you think, “Oh, well,” instead of falling on the floor and crying—I think most people are understanding and even sympathetic.

In Eloise Ristad’s book A Soprano on Her Head: Right-Side-Up Reflections on Life and Other Performances, she says to observe the physical manifestations of nervousness and will them to increase. A hundred butterflies in the stomach? Go for two hundred.

Sooner or later the symptoms will reach an extreme and naturally abate, whereas resistance prolongs them.

Lauraine advised visualizing the performance beforehand over and over, to let the anxiety well up and pass many times, to kind of wring it all out in advance.

When I was in music school, John Clayton, the bassist and bandleader, came to do a master class. Someone asked about stage fright. As I recall, his answer was kind of harsh: “What are you doing thinking about yourself? That’s your ego.”

But, put more kindly, I think that’s exactly right.

The number-one most helpful thing for me is, right before starting, to hear the first phrase in my head and to take a big breath and just play the first note. Very often, the fear washes away immediately.

Yet, it can always happen that in the last split-second, the mean trumpet gremlin whispers urgently, “I think you’re going to miss the first—” SPLAT! So you never know. Plus some days the overall conditions aren’t favorable. Some days you just sound good and some days you don’t.

But assuming you don’t actually die, the worst that can happen is that the conductor/bandleader stops the performance and screams “Get off the stage and never come back!” Then you would just have to find some group to play with who’d never heard of you.

For years I’ve thought it was too bad that I feel I have to play so quietly in my current apartment, due to the presence of the building manager below. It seemed like it took a lot of the fun out of it. Then I saw someone’s remark online that being forced to play quietly in a similar situation had done great things for his tone and control, and since then it has been fine.

I also have had this idea that when I do jazz improvisation, it should be extremely exciting and I should sound like Dizzy Gillespie, with lots of high notes and fast runs, even though that’s not my favorite thing to listen to.

Before I played at the café a few weeks ago, I decided to try for beautiful and lyrical rather than exciting, and it felt much better.

Maybe the way I’m supposed to do things is the way I like to do them rather than the way I think someone else wants me to do them.

Writing is the same. For many years, I thought, “I should write a novel,” ignoring the fact that this would be a backbreaking strain, since I have zero ability in that area. I really just like to write about my life! Finally it dawned on me, oh, maybe I should just write about my life.

Monday, April 09, 2007

How I Got into a Fight Without Even Meaning To

First, some attention to the matter of whether anyone ever means to get into a fight. Maybe “meaning to” is going too far, but certainly one could say that in certain moods, one, at the very least, is not actively opposed to getting into a fight.

But I was one hundred innocent of evil intent or even willingness to spar when I was at Rainbow two weeks ago, where they have a policy of giving you five cents off for any container you bring from home for reuse, plus ten cents for a reused paper grocery bag.

I had brought along five containers with lids, two plastic bags (and my own twistems), and a paper grocery bag. The checkout guy rang up my five containers with lids, but didn’t enter the credits, so I started to say, “Besides those five containers, I have two plastic bags and a paper bag,” but right after I said, “Besides those five containers—” he interrupted, saying, “I can’t give you a bag credit for ten cents’ worth of salt!” Or however many cents it was; not many.

In all the years I have been shopping there, I have never had anyone object to giving any bag credit. After all, sometimes it’s ten cents’ worth of salt, but other times it’s twelve dollars' worth of organic green tea—which occupies about the same space as ten cents’ worth of salt, as it happens.

So I said in my most reasonable tone, “Don’t you think it kind of evens out over time? Like, sometimes the purchase is small, but other times it’s larger?”

He said their policy forbids giving the credit for such a small purchase. (Does that mean they will give me multiple credits for a single container if it’s a huge purchase? Doubtful.)

I said, “I’ve never seen it written like that.”

He said, “Well, it’s not written anywhere.”

Then he added, “All right! If you have to have your bag credit, I’ll give you your bag credit!” In fact, I hadn’t insisted on anything, though I do think he was rather obviously making things up as he went along, because he hates the bald.

As it happened, I needed some cash, so I could tip mattress bringers and takers the next day. I had swiped my card and pushed the “credit” button before asking about the cash back.

He said, “You can only get cash back with an ATM card.”

I said, “Oh, actually, this is an ATM card.” I use it like it’s a credit card, but it is in fact a debit card.

He laboriously canceled the transaction and I started over. He took a twenty and a five out of his cash drawer and then I said, “Could I trouble you for two tens and a five?” Then I think I saw actual steam coming out of his ears, at which I allowed my lips to curve upward in primal enjoyment of another’s (self-inflicted) misery; his back was to me. He handed me the bills without a further word, ditto my receipt.

He was obviously shrieking bad words inside his head.

I was somewhat indignant that he had turned this routine transaction into a big hassle, and stopped to mention it to the kind-faced lady with the brown eyes who has worked at the customer service counter forever.

She said, “Really? We give bag credits? I didn’t know that. Well, I guess he should probably just do it.” Rainbow is a co-op: no managers to complain to.

Then I found myself mentally drafting a letter to Rainbow to let them know what a jerk this guy is, how wrong he was: “I wasn’t aware that the bag credit was a reward for spending a lot of money at Rainbow—though I do spend a lot of money at Rainbow!—but rather thought it was meant as an incentive not to acquire a container that may ultimately be harmful to the environment. Are you suggesting that buying twelve dollars’ worth of organic green tea in a new container is bad but that buying ten cents’ worth of salt in a new container is just fine?”

I was much more worked up drafting my letter than I had been during the actual conversation. And then I realized that this activity was a form of auto-unpleasantness, and that it wasn’t like anyone was going to write me back and say, “You’re right; this guy is a big jerk. We’ve fired him.”

So then I just dropped the entire thing and that was that, and my menu practice for the next day was not to think of Rainbow at all, and I didn’t.

They also have been storing a lot of crap near the bike racks, which irks me, but after I was there most recently and the checkout lady told me about Bike Coalition members getting ten percent off their purchases every day, I was very glad I hadn’t complained about the bag credit guy or the disrespect to the bike racks.

They don’t hate us, they love us.

Bald as a Negg

When I wrote that $3400 going down the drain is not a crisis to any First World person, I didn’t mean to suggest that no one in the First World is poverty-stricken. Plenty of people are, many going hungry every day. They’re just probably not stupid enough to spend so much on a mattress.

Friday afternoon I saw the charming Stefano at Vertical Clearance. I smoothed the hair back at my temple to show him where it’s falling out.

“Are you stressed?” he asked, meaning, “Geeze, I see what you mean.”

But, as he mentions often, I have (used to have) very thick hair to begin with, so he added, “You’re going down—wherever you’re going—with a full head of hair, believe me.”

“Are you saying that when I reach the gates of hell, I’ll have a full head of hair?”

“That’s what I’m saying.”

On Saturday morning, my cheerful checkout person at Rainbow mentioned that they offer a ten percent discount to Bike Coalition members. At first I thought they were trying to console us for the fallout from the recent Critical Mass incident, but it turns out it’s been in effect for a while, every day, on everything.

I rushed home and laminated my membership card, which is going to save me $442 a year. Maybe gold-plating it would even be in order.

I made Hernerakkan (yellow split pea soup) from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant and Syrian Lentils in a Spicy Tomato Sauce from 366 Delicious Ways to Cook Rice, Beans, and Grains.

The former was OK. It has turnip and parsnip in it, which I am not fond of, though I was prepared to be surprised and delighted, which I was not, particularly.

The Syrian lentils are pretty good served over brown rice.

As mentioned, via Craigslist I had secured an opportunity to play at a church on Easter. The music director mentioned that the other trumpet player would play a descant part for one hymn—a melodic line that soars above the regular melody.

That was fine with me, as trying to hit them high notes in public is bad for my nerves.

The music director kindly sent us all copies of the music and explanatory notes which said that I would be playing all of the lead trumpet parts and the other trumpet player would be playing all of the second parts (with two trombones playing the tenor and bass parts), no doubt simply because he heard from me first.

I saw the note about the other trumpet player playing the descant, but then my eye fell on the news that I would be playing the descant on another hymn. My first impulse was to telephone the music director with an incoherent demurral, but I decided not to be a wimp.

On Sunday morning, the music director warned us that some of the congregants are very curious and said we shouldn’t be surprised if, while we were playing, one of them walked right up onstage and peered over the top of our music stands at our music.

Sure enough, as I was warming up in the room below the sanctuary, a fellow approached me and said, “How old are you? What’s your name? When are you going to be 45? How do you spell your first name? How do you spell your last name?” He wrote down the answers in a little notebook.

I finished warming up and said, “I guess I’m ready. Does it sound like I’m ready?”

“Yes you ready,” he said.

The next time I saw him, he announced, without looking at his notebook, “You were born on June 6, 1962.”

The musical selections went very well. I wasn’t nervous in the slightest, partly because, for most songs, we were all but drowned out by an organ, a piano, and the congregation singing. We did have a couple of brass-only features, which went fine. As for the descant, I did miss my high note, but out of lip exhaustion, as it was the fourth time through the hymn in a row, not nerves, and even Bruce, playing trombone immediately to my left, said later he hadn’t noticed.

The church’s program for the Easter service ends with “Our worship ends, our service begins.” The pastor’s name is listed; for ministers, it lists “All the people.”

The pastor concluded by saying, “People think this building is the church, but they are mistaken. The building is not the church. You are the church. You are the good news.”

When I got home, Tom and I took the train to Sacramento for an Easter dinner at Paul and Eva’s. Here’s who was there: Paul, Eva, Steve, Julie, Dan, Sarah, Sarah’s boyfriend Josh, Tom, me, Jim, Melinda, Abby, and next-door neighbor Ofer and his girlfriend, who is a well-known Pakistani singer, who contributed a yummy curried chicken dish.

Steve, riding his bike earlier in the day, had fractured his arm in an encounter with a dog. It hurt a lot, so he arrived a bit late and left a bit early.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Mattress Critique and Critical Mass

Last night I tried flipping the McRoskey over and it’s the same on both sides: a bit squishier at the foot and head, more solid toward the middle. My affable salesperson said, upon being telephoned, that the mattress’s edges are manufactured differently than the center, so I’m persuaded that this mattress is not defective.

Next I vacuumed the part of my living/dining/bedroom that wasn’t covered with a bed and covered it with a bed. First I hauled the upholstered chair over a bit, leaving just enough space by my desk to sit in my desk/dining chair and uncovering 16 cat toys Hammett was storing under the chair (literally 16); then I turned the bed so one long side was against the wall, and then I dragged the mattress off the box springs and put it next to the box springs, so now my whole main room looks like Hugh Hefner’s bedroom minus the feathers and spangles.

There is one little rectangle of visible carpet left, fortunately enough for stretching. Otherwise I’d have to do it in the vestibule, lying on the Thelonious Memorial Bloodstain.

My back did start to ache a bit after I got into bed, but I writhed around a bit to loosen it up, and ended up getting quite a decent night’s sleep. I wouldn’t say I felt comfortable as such, but after a couple of weeks, I might conclude that this mattress will be just fine. It might even be fine on the box springs; maybe that was just too big an initial adjustment.

Today I offered the blow-up mattress for sale on Craigslist. It appears I won’t need it, and I just know I wouldn’t have been able to get myself to pump the thing up. Yes, there has been a lot of purchasing of this and that lately.

I think it started with Christmas, when I got so much wonderful stuff, including some gift cards, which resulted in even more wonderful stuff arriving in the mail in January, and then, before I knew it, a day without a box of stuff arriving started to seem oddly lacking.

I vow to return to a closer examination of my purchasing habits.

I also am going to pay myself back for the bed purchase using any money left over in the food and miscellaneous categories on payday. Instead of considering that to be money I can use for whatever I feel like buying, I will send it to my friends at the mutual fund company and note the amount as a payment on my debt to myself.

Locals will have seen the coverage of the March 30 Critical Mass ride in which cyclists surrounded a van containing a suburban family and broke the back window of the van by hitting it with a bike. My first reaction was indignation on behalf of the family and sympathy for the terror they must have felt, but it now turns out that the driver may have driven recklessly into a cyclist, knocking him off his bike, just before the window was broken.

It sounds like the driver got scared in the crowd and panicked and overreacted, and like the cyclists were also probably scared—a van can seriously damage a cyclist—and certainly overreacted, as well.

This is horrible, but I must say it: I looked at a photo of the driver and her two daughters and felt much less sympathetic. The mother’s face is a belligerent mask, and the two daughter’s faces are frozen and angry—probably not from being scared out of their minds by cyclists. Probably from spending their whole lives with a parent who puts her foot on the gas of her van when there are human beings right in front of it and then describes the incident in terms that suggest prior conflict of a legal nature: “If that's what the person alleges,” she snaps, “it's ridiculous.” “Alleges”?

I guess I was expecting something more along the lines of, “Goodness, I would never do such a dangerous thing!”

Having said that, I have rarely participated in Critical Mass myself because the confrontational mood puts my stomach in a knot. I have no trouble believing that cyclists were screaming and that they damaged property. I also have no trouble believing the motorist’s actions were reckless and harmful.

As we know, cars kill an enormous number of people every year (not to mention that they are helping finish off the ecosystem that sustains human life). Cycling is a good thing. If Critical Mass were the only tactic of bike advocates, that would not be so good. Fortunately, it is not. The velorution advances by a huge variety of constructive means, as well (such as my stint volunteering at the bike “road-eo”).

I saw about 1100 comments on the subject at the Chronicle’s website, most anti-bike, but relatively free from acrimony—unlike any kind of dispute that turns on gender—perhaps because most cyclists have had occasion to drive a car, and most car drivers have had occasion to enjoy riding a bike.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A Wee Sprig of Victuals

Last night was my third night on the McRoskey mattress. I slept for several hours, and then woke up with my back killing me. Hmm, maybe it’s so comfortable that you sleep so soundly that you don’t change positions, and then your back hurts. Actually, there is definitely a pressure point at my hip when I first lie down on it, so I don’t know if it can claim it’s just way too comfortable. (I hate a mattress that’s always bragging about itself, anyway.)

In the early morning, I was tossing and turning, unable to find a comfortable position, let alone sleep, and finally gave up and lay on the floor until it was time to get up, which caused a brief yet deeply sincere bout of self-pity.

Not quite what I was envisioning when I spent (brace yourself) $3400. I guess that probably doesn’t sound that outrageous to a lot of people. It probably sounds like so much to me because I’ve never purchased box springs before, and had never spent more than $300 on a mattress prior to the Tempur-Pedic.

At about 7:30, I called Tom. He sounded a bit groggy when he answered. He’s on vacation this week. “Just wanted to make sure you didn’t miss any of your vacation!” I said. “Thanks,” he said. I ran my problem by him and he said maybe I should give it a couple of days, but if I’m sure I don’t like it, I should just sell it and start over.

My mother said the same thing, plus lamented that I could have bought a computer with that money. “You know, they have computers shaped like mattresses,” she said. “You could have put some foam on it and slept on it.”

She also said (she’s a far better Buddhist than I may ever be) that it’s only money, and it’s not like I scrimped and saved for fifteen years to be able to make this purchase. In point of fact, I can afford to completely throw away $3400, highly unappealing though that prospect is. She said for any person in the First World, this is not a crisis. She is correct.

Tom agreed to lend me his camping pad and sleeping bag again, plus I do have a blow-up bed and pump under my desk at work, though I have a sinking feeling about that, starting with the hour it will probably take me to inflate it. If I think my back hurts now …

I could have bought an electric pump for the blow-up bed, but I was thinking, as always, about the coming environmental apocalypse, after which there won’t be any electricity and I’ll be walking along with Hammett under one arm and my blow-up bed and pump under the other, looking for a sprig of something to eat.

Under no circumstances does McRoskey issue a refund, but they will do a one-time exchange of the mattress or box springs to a component of a different comfort level for an additional $350.

Their firm mattresses are pretty firm, so I would probably have to put a foam topper on it. The idea of giving them any more money is rather repellent at the moment—particularly if by spending $3800, I am able to simulate a floor-like surface, since I already had one for free: the floor!

This reminds me that for many years, I slept on about four inches of foam encased in fabric and placed on the floor and it was perfectly comfortable (to me). It did turn a little green on the bottom. Was that mold? It wasn’t three-dimensional.

But I suppose if I spent $4000 (including, now, the foam topper) and had a bed I was happy with for decades to come, it would be worth it.

But what if I spent the additional $350 and it was still totally uncomfortable, with or without foam?

I called my salesperson at McRoskey and described the unevenness of the mattress and he said it’s supposed to be uniform. He said to try flipping it over, and if that makes a difference, then there is likely something wrong with the mattress and they can send an inspector out to confirm this. If so, they would replace it.

I will also try putting the mattress on the floor. He said that if this is better, it suggests I need a firmer mattress, but I think it will suggest I need to leave the mattress on the floor and sell the box springs.

Meanwhile, my coworker has a roommate who has a Simmons Exceptionale. She sometimes has occasion to sleep on it and says it’s so fabulous, she’s thinking of getting one for herself, though she also claims to be terrified to purchase any mattress whatsoever after watching my experience, not to mention hearing about it at length every morning while she’s trying to get some work done.

I didn’t want to get a Simmons or Serta or any of those because of the toxic flame retardant, but I’m ready to rethink that now.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Maitake Tempura Orgy

On Monday of this week I stayed home from work to supervise the disappearance and appearance of mattresses. Sleep Train was going to come get the Tempur-Pedic between eight and noon. I asked them to make it as early as possible so I’d have time to wash the bedding before the McRoskey arrived.

Let the record reflect that they came at 12:15. During the period of waiting, I got most of my tax preparation done. I had to call my father and ask him one thing, and had to call the IRS about Form 8606, which seems to have a chicken-and-egg problem: Line 14 depends on lines 1 and 2; to get what goes on Line 2, you’re supposed to see Line 14.

The first year you use this form, you’re supposed to enter zero on a certain line, and then after that, not zero, presumably, but I saw that, to be on the safe side, I had entered zero three years in a row. There’s a line where it says to enter whatever you put on a certain line the year before, but that was the line where I put zero when I probably shouldn’t have.

My approach to taxes is to try to get an intuitive sense of what they’re getting at and write down what I think will achieve the objective. Consequently, for many years in a row, I have gotten a letter in June or so saying, “You forgot something. We owe you more money. Here’s a check.”

I decided I’d better tackle this Form 8606 in a more detailed way, but really couldn’t make any sense of the instructions, which is when I called the IRS. You will not believe what happened next: After a reasonable period of time on hold (fifteen or twenty minutes), someone came on the line and answered my question! That is, she told me what really goes on that line: zero.

For all I know, someone has told me this every year. This time I wrote it down.

Of course, while I was on hold, the cell phone rang, Sleep Train saying they were about to come for the Tempur-Pedic, which was wedged into the vestibule, because I didn’t want the delivery gentlemen clomping about on the carpet.

Just as I hung up the cell phone, I could hear the IRS lady’s voice coming from the real phone: “Anyone there?” Thank goodness she didn’t just hang up.

The Tempur-Pedic and its heinous chemical odor left and then I went out to wash my sheets in lavender-scented Ecover Laundry Wash.

I got everything done and was home again before the McRoskey items arrived. To the naked eyeball, the mattress looked like its head and foot were a tad lower than the middle, though maybe they put a bit of extra stuffing there because that’s where people’s butts are.

I lay down on it and sank into a deep sleep for the next couple of hours.

The next morning, my back didn’t feel great, but that could well have been due to the inevitable mattress-wrangling done by myself the day before. It also seems not to be one hundred percent uniform, in that you sink into it farther sitting some places more than others, not to use the “L” word: lumpy.

Let us pause for a moment while my mother enjoys a hearty laugh in Michigan.

Ah, it’s only money!

And any sense of non-uniformity is not noticeable when lying on it (nor does the bubble in my level show anything of interest), though there is a detectable pressure point at the hip. I called McRoskey and they said they advise sleeping on a new bed for two weeks before making any further decision, but if there really is a problem, they will address it, as I have spent a lot of money.

It will probably work out fine. I might end up putting a pad of some sort on it. It certainly smells nice!

Some things lately that have been extremely enjoyable: The Art Blakey CD with “Nica’s Dream” on it. Two Horace Silver CDs: Song for My Father and Horace-Scope.

I bought another Peter Lieberson CD that features the vocalizations of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, on his Rilke Songs. They are really splendid. I like them even more than I initially liked the Pablo Neruda poems, though I now listen to the latter most days of the week. I think I am on my way to being a true Peter Lieberson fan.

After the Rilke Songs is The Six Realms (of Buddhism; the hungry ghost realm and so forth), for amplified cello and orchestra. Hammett trotted out of the room the first time this started playing, and I also wasn’t sure I liked it, after having just heard the Rilke Songs, which are so great.

But the second time I put on The Six Realms, I was swooning with pleasure.

Then there was lunch today with Lisa C. at Medicine, in which we each got our very own side dish of maitake tempura. As Lisa said, “We could share, but why should we?”

More Olive Oil, Less Technology

I have just finished Eric Brende’s Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology, a account of his time living as part of a group he calls the “Minimites,” who avoid most forms of technology. One back-cover review praised the book in extravagant terms; the reviewer read it slowly, so as to savor it all the longer.

My opinion was the opposite. I thought the writing was unsatisfying and the author clueless, as when he says sexism is a myth because when a man goes into the kitchen where a woman, in her shapeless skin-concealing religion-mandated garment and floppy hat, is doing the women’s work of slicing potatoes, she’s allowed to tell him, “Please make the slices a bit thicker.”

He describes screaming at his wife for not having dinner on the table when he arrives home one late afternoon and happily announces that right after that, she got with the program and started cooking up a storm.

He did offer one insight I thought was worthwhile: That we assume manual labor is for morons because the machines we build to automate tasks do just one thing repeatedly, but if we choose not to use those machines, then in fact we must be quite ingenious and have much and varied knowledge at our disposal.

And of course, his aim of reducing his use of technology to the bare minimum is admirable.

On Saturday, I rode my bike through miles of seeming no-man’s-land—it was a bit eerie—to the opening of a children’s health center in the Bayview district, where I assisted at a bike “road-eo,” which teaches basic cycling skills such as stopping at stop signs, crossing railroad tracks safely, and glancing back over one’s shoulder while rolling forward.

I guided many tiny visitors around the loop over and over. I could tell that one little girl, seven years old, was on the verge of being able to ride by herself. We circled the course several times, but when I tried letting go of the bike, I could see she was going to fall over, and concluded it might be a while longer before she rode by herself.

Then she got going on a very gentle downward slope, and next thing I knew, she rode several feet on her own! It was thrilling. Her mother said, “We’ve been trying to get her to do this for a year!” She called the little girl’s father on her cell phone and announced, “Your daughter is riding a bike!”

Afterwards, I was rather exhausted and had a burrito from El Toro and took a nap.

When I got up, I took Hammett to the vet for a minor procedure. Then I had to wait an hour for a cab, with Hammett in his box beside me, and could hear a couple of the people who work there bantering in the back. One was saying, “Are you saying my dog isn’t cute?”

They decided I would cast the deciding vote and brought out a tiny round dog missing one eye (due to abuse by some human). I agreed with the dog’s owner that she is cute.

Poor Hammett was traumatized, a rigid little clump of cat, by the time he was finally freed from his carrier at home and rushed to hide behind the bathroom sink.

In the evening, Tom and I watched Little Miss Sunshine (spoiler coming up two sentences from now), the ending of which I absolutely loved. I laughed and cried at once. The spectacle of her family willingly making idiots of themselves in solidarity with her was very touching.

I am loving this thing of eating food; I should have started long ago. On Sunday, I made Pasta e Fagioli from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant (David C. assures me that when I say “fag-ee-OH-lee,” I have the pronunciation exactly right and I should hasten into the nearest Italian restaurant and ask for some just that way) and Smoky Black Bean and Tomato Soup from 366 Delicious Ways to Cook Rice, Beans, and Grains.

I used the largest dried chipotle pepper I had for the latter and the result is quite spicy. I’m glad I didn’t succumb to the impulse to use two peppers or it probably would have been inedible. Near the end of the cooking, I said to myself, “Wait a minute, what happened to the part where you sauté something or other in six tablespoons of oil?”

I squinted at the recipe anew and indeed, there was no mention of sautéing anything in oil, nor in fact any mention of oil in any amount, let alone butter. Ach: fat-free! I upended my olive oil bottle over the pot and the soup came out to be very, very good; the Pasta e Fagioli is good, too.

It appears the author of the bean and grain cookbook aspires to fat-free-ness, which is good, because she then has to find other ways to make everything flavorful by other means, so once I add plenty of oil, the results should be extra-yummy.