Sunday, December 14, 2008


*What Would Angelina Jolie Do?

I’ve seen my dentist nine times lately, give or take, in the course of having a tooth crowned. Because the one crown I already had, from many years ago, looks really terrible—fortunately, it’s toward the back—I wanted to make sure the new crown, which is much closer to the front, would be pleasing to the eye.

My dentist (the same one I’ve had the entire time I’ve been in San Francisco; I’m very fond of him) assured me that since the new crown would be quite visible, aesthetics would be paramount, so I was quite chagrined to see that the new crown's color didn't match that of neighboring teeth particularly well and that it featured a faint gray line near my gums, which I knew would only get worse—it’s not like my gums cover more of my teeth with each passing year.

When you get a crown, they start by taking a mold of your teeth, and then reducing the tooth under treatment, in a matter of moments, to a horrid-looking little brown stump. A temporary crown is made on the spot to protect the stump's shrieking nerve endings while the real crown is constructed.

My temporary crown looked fantastic, so I stopped worrying about what the real crown would look like and was all the more surprised when it looked not so good. It turns out that the mold used to construct the temporary crown does not figure in the creation of the permanent item. Instead, they use a generic tooth for whichever position it is—front tooth, canine, molar.

I was hoping that maybe when I put my night guard in and clenched my teeth together as tightly as possible all night, as is my habit, it might push the crown up just enough to cover that line, but it turned out that I couldn’t put my night guard in at allit didn’t fit over the crown.

I made an appointment to have my night guard adjusted (in the end, we're having to make a whole new night guard), and then I got to wondering why Angelina Jolie doesn’t have gray lines near her gums. When I got to my dentist’s office, I asked, “If I were Angelina Jolie and my teeth absolutely had to look perfect and I had a million dollars to spend, what would they do?”

He said she would probably get an all-porcelain crown, which would look very nice, but not be all that durable. Mentioning Angelina Jolie must have impressed upon him how deadly serious I am about my teeth, and he said he’d send the crown back and try to get the color adjusted and the gray line fixed.

First he had to get it off again. It didn’t budge right away, so he softened up a sticky, squishy piece of sweetened gunk that mimics the kind of thing you’re not supposed to eat if you have crowns and had me bite down on it with the crowned tooth.

He said that when I snapped open my jaw, the crown would come off. I said, “Either that or it will pull the opposite tooth right out of my head.” He said that if the opposite tooth was also crowned, yes, it could be tricky, though if the opposite crown was permanently cemented down, the one with the temporary cement should be the one to come loose.

“Hopefully,” I said.

“Hopefully,” he agreed, with a merry laugh.

The tech redid my crown and it still didn't look great, so we started again from the ground up and now it looks perfect. The color is just right and there is no gray line at the gum line whatsoever. I would defy anyone to identify which tooth has the crown, at least until my gums recede further.

It looks so good, I think I'll probably have the rest of my teeth crowned.

Screw You, Orbitz, I’m Moving to Fallon, Nevada

I went to Michigan for Thanksgiving again this year. The weather was fairly gloomy all week and my back was killing me the first several evenings, thanks to Orbitz (I booked ten weeks in advance and cheerfully paid more than a month's rent to make sure I’d have an aisle seat; in the actual event, I was mashed into a window seat next to a fellow who actually touched my ribcage with his elbow more than once, not meaning any harm), but it was nice to see my parents and sister. We went through my father’s stash of Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comic books from the 1940s and 50s and divided them up.

Last year, by the time my parents got done preparing Thanksgiving dinner, nearly every possible flat surface was covered with dirty pots and utensils, even the washing machine in the back hall. I stayed up until about 3 a.m. washing the dishes so my father would walk into a perfectly clean kitchen the next morning.

I planned to do the same this year, but my father made a point of washing everything as he went along, so the kitchen was nearly sparkling clean when we sat down to our vegetarian Thanksgiving feast, and I know he did that so I wouldn’t wash dishes for hours, so thank you, Dad. He got up at 3 a.m. himself to make this all happen.

I have been lately enjoying going to iTunes and sampling different versions of jazz standards. I got Monica Mancini singing “When October Goes.” I’d never heard of her, but that was the one that gave me goose bumps, and then there’s Etta James singing “Tenderly”—wow! Gorgeous. I’m going to buy a couple of her CDs. She once weighed more than 400 pounds: awesome. She's still alive. I should send her a fan letter. I got the Al Hirt version of “Tenderly,” too. I like his jaunty trumpet playing.

I also got a few Jonatha Brooke songs, including two lovely things from The Works, her CD that uses Woody Guthrie’s lyrics, and I got Queensrÿche's "Revolution Calling."

My magical chiming clock has granted me the ability to start doing something I’ve long wanted to do but which seemed impossible: to get up before the moment of absolute necessity and meditate in the morning. I feel noticeably calmer during the day if I meditate first thing, and it’s great not to have yet another task waiting when my bed is calling to me in the evening; its murmured "Come back!" starts the moment I arise, and reaches a deafening volume by nighttime.

Now it's perfectly easy to get up at 6:30 a.m.
—thanks, clock!

Eugene Cash now and then puts out a stack of free books with the other literature at his Sunday night sitting group. I confess I kind of thought they would be worth what I paid for them—nothing—but I’ve been enjoying them. I just finished Meditations, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, which is a collection of dharma talks, and thought it was excellent and inspirational. You can download the whole thing at, along with lots of other stuff from this and other authors. I went there and printed out the four talks I liked most from this book so I can reread them without having the whole book lying around.

I have been to Eugene’s only a couple of times in the last several months, for whatever reason. The last time I was there, Jon Kabat-Zinn’s son, Will, was teaching. He started his dharma talk, after we meditated, by asking, “What’s happening now?” Then he was silent for several anxiety-producing moments. “What’s happening now?” he asked again. More silence. More anxiety. “And now?”

After a few minutes of this, the anxiety ebbed and it became very restful: Oh! That’s all there is to do, to notice what’s happening now. The peaceful effect of this lingered for days.

I am lately reading The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century, by Steven Watts. I was complaining to my mother about someone having bent my ear with something boring, and she asked, “Is that anything like your telling me something about Henry Ford every ten minutes?” “No,” I explained, “it’s nothing at all like that, because facts about Henry Ford are inherently interesting.”

For instance, did you know Henry Ford was dyslexic? Or how about this? “Socialists such as Vladimir Lenin admired Ford as one of the major contributors to twentieth-century revolution, and it was not unusual to see portraits of Ford and Lenin hanging side by side in Soviet factories.”

Or then: “He has gained a reputation, of course, as the American pioneer of industrial mass production, but a less appreciated role was, perhaps, even more critical. Coming to prominence amid the collapse of Victorian tradition with its values of self-discipline, thrift, and producerism, Ford popularized a new creed of consumer self-fulfillment. He was perhaps the first American businessman to realize that large-scale production depended on large-scale consumption.”

The Model T went into mass production in the fall of 1908, and in just one hundred years, with its descendents, wrecked what had been peacefully sitting here for 4.5 BILLION YEARS (give or take)! Doesn’t that boggle the mind? Not that I blame Henry Ford himself. If it hadn’t been him, it would have been someone else. I’m quite a fan of Bill Ford.

Nonetheless, the car polluted our air, water, soil and food; the oil to fuel it we now kill each other to possess. Automobiles made it so people could live far from their jobs—working in cities they don’t care about because they don’t live there, living in communities they likewise don’t care about because they spend so little time there, speeding daily through bland wastelands their eyes never consciously rest on.

Whereas it once was likely that you’d live with or near your extended family all your life, when it became standard for most folks to have a car, it was easy to say, “Screw you, I’m moving to Salt Lake City,” and never be seen again.

In sum, the car destroyed our natural environment, our landscape, our cities, our suburbs (after making possible their creation), and our family units. Without the car, we wouldn’t have the exact same chain businesses in town after town after charmless town.

Today Tom and Sarah made a run to Costco, dropping me off at Rainbow beforehand and picking me up afterwards. I made two-bean chili and listened to the second Nazz album, Todd Rundgren’s first band. The first Nazz album has a few nice moments; the second has considerably more. You can hear Todd becoming Todd. “Hello It’s Me,” one of his biggest hits, can be heard in its first incarnation on a Nazz album.

Tonight, conscientiously seeking to remain culturally literate, I watched High School Musical.

The elbow that got clobbered in my bike accident at the end of July has lately started to hurt again, so I went to see Jeff, who said adhesions had formed. He treated my elbow with the means at his disposal (acupuncture, moxibustion, a bit of massage), and then I went to see Jack, who agreed about the adhesions and worked on them, which was quite painful, but when I saw Jeff again last night, he said things were improving, and I agree.

Between them, those two can fix just about anything short of being backed over by a UPS truck.

You Say “Walkway,” I Say “Gap”

I did survive that bout of what I guess was food poisoning due to eating garlic in oil that had been left (by me) out of the refrigerator for a week. Live and learn.

And I did move back to the crappy cube, slightly improved by the addition of a filing cabinet to block the gap that leads to the next cube. One of the people who sits near me informed me that I needed to move this filing cabinet because it’s blocking a “walkway.”

I told him the Cube Lady had said to put it there, and that was the end of that. Don't even start with me on this.

As for the loud eating guy, he’s working from home two days a week, which does help. I think it's not actually when he eats per se; it's that when he eats hard candy or cough drops, he makes quite a tremendous slurping sound. A few days ago he was doing this, and I saw, with displeasure, that he had a whole bag of cough drops sitting on his desk.

But I had made up my mindI mean, what a ridiculous little problemto learn to live with it, so when he started up—and he has been known to do this for hours on end—I told myself, "It's just a sound." And then I told myself again, "It's just a sound."

And then I went over to him and said something like, "That’s the sound I'm talking about," and he said, "I'm having a cough drop," and I said, "Yes, I know you are. I can hear it. We can all hear it." And that was certainly extremely rude on my part. I mean, I wouldn't have said that to my grandmother, for instance, or my father.

(Of course, none of my relatives would ever make a sound like that to begin with.)

Then I got to thinking about the first of the Twelve Steps: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, and that our lives had become unmanageable, or something like that (today is my 29th sobriety birthday; you’d think the Twelve Steps would be etched, word for word, in my brain by now).

People in Alcoholics Anonymous use this to mean exactly what it says, people in Al-Anon use the exact same wording to express the inability to cure or control someone else’s problems with alcohol, and it can also be applied to pretty much anything: I’m powerless over slurping noises and I’m powerless over gril—all kinds of things.

Part of my problem is that the list of things I think I’m truly powerless over is extremely short. As I think I’ve said before, if it’s something I can achieve without the use of a firearm, then I’m not powerless over it, or so I have tended to think.

It seems to me that making a slurping sound is optional, not required or inevitable. Since it's an optional behavior on his part and it annoys me extremely, shouldn't he stop?

What I realized was that I'd better try to ACT AS IF I'm a person who's not bothered by this kind of thing, because I AM (actually) POWERLESS over his behavior, even if it seems like something I shouldn't be powerless over, because it is something he could easily stop doing.

I must admit that nagging him to change the behavior is not working. It's probably making him angry and upset, and it certainly is me.

So I have to pretend that this is something he is powerless to change, even though I really don’t think that. I have to pretend he has some disease that causes a revolting slurping noise.

A couple of days after I was thinking about this, I read something about the Serenity Prayer and how to interpret it. The Serenity Prayer is “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” I guess I’m sorely lacking in that last.

The person who was writing came to think of the things she could change as the things God would WANT her to change. I don’t believe in God, but that did strike me as a useful way to think about it. If there were a God, She probably wouldn’t direct me to pester my co-worker until we end up in a fistfight. She would probably say, “Here is a golden opportunity to practice being with things as they are.”

Not long after this, I realized that the other guy who sits across from me, the one who spends the first four hours of each day reading the newspaper from cover to cover, spends the latter four hours of each day looking at scantily clad young ladies online. It’s not pornography per se, but I feel quite sure is equally discouraged by company policy.

I’m not sure what to do about that, if anything. I do believe that is absolutely not appropriate for the workplace. Yet, if I put my mind to it, I should be able to avert my gaze from his monitor the 20 times per day that I pass by. It is a clue that I think it SHOULD NOT be happening. Many of my most grievous self-inflicted problems begin with the thought that this or that SHOULD NOT be happening.

Nonetheless, I may convey to him that he is not in a private location and that it would be nice if he saved the R-rated research for when he's not at work. I've only heard of three people being fired from the company I work for in the ten years I've worked there, one for frequenting sexually oriented websites, and another for making off-color remarks to women in his group (I met that guy; he followed me all the way to and into Walgreens one day, and commented on everything I was buying: "Mineral oil! Huh! What are you going to do with that?").

(I suppose you want to know about the third guy. I can't go into the details of that one, except to say I'm really sorry he's gone, because he was in my group and now I have a lot more work to do!)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

In the Interest of Full Disclosure

I need to clarify that one (or more) of my last posts was ridden with exaggerations, speculation and confounding conflations, as follows: The Cube Lady didn’t necessarily tell the other group to move their stuff immediately. I have no idea what she said to them, because I wasn’t there. She sent me an email saying she had asked them to move their stuff, that’s all. It just gave me pleasure to think of her saying, “Move this stuff immediately!” so I reported it accordingly. (Maybe she did say that.)

And I have no idea if she used her foot to draw a line showing them where my territory extends to, but she did do that when she and I were in the cube, so she COULD have done that with the other group. She may actually have, because they moved everything to the other side of that line. But who knows?

And the other group wasn’t necessarily not speaking to me. To be perfectly accurate, if I must, one person who is usually very friendly, but who is also moody, answered a question of mine with one syllable or two right after they had to move their stuff, so I’m pretty sure he was ticked off. And another person in that group who is also moody, as it happens, did a similar thing.

But the person who by rights should have been most annoyed was actually joking around with me today, and I think the two others will probably come around in due time, so it’s not as bad as reported. (My mother is smirking right now. That’s OK. I like for my mother to be able to enjoy a smirk or two at my expense.)

I made a salad dressing Lisa recommended a week or so ago, and left it sitting on the counter until yesterday. It seemed to me it shouldn’t require refrigeration, but maybe it did, since it had a bit of fresh garlic juice in it.

I had some yesterday and it was really wonderful, and I sent Lisa and David an email saying how much I liked it, and then about two minutes later (or 30 or 60 or maybe it was two hours, but I think it was actually pretty soon), I got a hideous pain in my stomach that persisted all night, segueing this morning into intermittent nausea.

I poured the rest of the salad dressing down the drain this morning, and when I opened the lid, there was a distinct uptick in abdominal distress, as if my body was saying, “That’s the stuff! That’s the stuff!” So I think maybe I should have refrigerated it.

I would have stayed in bed, BUT: I HAD to go to the dentist, for about the seventh time in the past two months, and it was really a particularly bad week for missing a day of work. I’m on call, I am extremely busy with other projects, AND I have to move to the other cube this week.

My KQED Perspective was slated to be on this morning, and I realized I would miss it myself, because I would be on the bus, which was kind of disappointing. I told Tom and he kindly lent me his Walkman, which has a radio in it.

What ended up happening was that I took a cab up to my dentist’s office, an extravagance to be sure, but I wanted to stay in bed until the last possible moment. The reception on Tom’s Walkman turned out to be poor, so I asked the cab driver if we could just sit outside the dental office for an extra ten minutes until my thing was on, and if he’d be kind enough to change the radio to 88.5, which he did, so I got to hear it.

(By the way, the cab driver looked like an Italian Mads Mikkelsen, so that was a particularly good cab driver to sit with for ten minutes. He had nice smile lines around his eyes, too.)

When I got to work, there was a nice note from Bert H. about it, and from Tom’s mother, Ann. That was very sweet.

I stayed at work for an hour or so, but then was overwhelmed with nausea again, so I came home and went back to bed and slept for eight hours. I have not had a single bite to eat today and have no appetite at all. This was my last vacation day for the year, so I hope I feel better tomorrow.

I could take an unpaid day off and wouldn’t mind doing that, but the movers are coming tomorrow, so I just have to get there.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Cube Lady Wins. (As We Knew All Along She Would.)

There might be too many capital letters in that title. I can’t figure it out. The King will tell me.

I don’t know if I’ve said that I’m very fond of my Zen Alarm Clock, which provides a peaceful awakening via a series of acoustic chimes (there’s actually a chime inside the thing, and a striker) that never get louder, but get progressively closer together until you turn it off. You can choose a louder or quieter volume to begin with, and you can make it quieter still by closing the lid.

This is almost a miracle: Only ONCE since I got this thing have I stayed in bed until 5 p.m., and that’s because it takes perfect advantage of a quality I have in abundance, which is laziness. There is no snooze button! To turn it off, you actually have to sit up, pick it up, open the lid, and push a button. Then, if you wished to snooze, you’d have to reset the alarm.

Well, who is going to do all that? By the time I got through resetting the alarm, I’d be wide awake, so it has become my habit just to get up when I turn the alarm off.

I’m sorry to say I have exhausted my appeals with the Cube Lady, and I have to move back to the bad cube at work next week. Part of the problem with that cube is that another group had placed their filing system and some other stuff in the back of it—it’s quite a long cube that terminates in a huge window (yes, I’m complaining about a cube with a huge window); evidently the other group felt that the bonus yardage was fair game, and every time they visited their stuff, they were basically standing behind me, which eroded privacy significantly.

Another problem: Again because of that extra length, there is a gap near the window end of the cube that allows passing into the cube beyond. Once or twice when I was sitting there before, someone came strolling through that gap; one person actually picked someone up that was on my desk and said, “Oh, you have one of these?” Good lord!

Basically, that cube is like wearing a too-small hospital gown and knowing people can see your bare butt (assuming that while you’re wearing this too-small gown, someone nearby is masticating energetically).

You might think I’d feel resentful of the Cube Lady, but my feelings about her are more complex—I’ve come to admire her no-nonsense style. When we were touring the new cube together, I asked if the gap could be plugged and she firmly said no, the company would not be paying for that, but she went on to suggest that I just get a second filing cabinet and put it front of the gap. Brilliant!

Not only that, she located one on the same floor and said to email the properties people and request that this filing cabinet be moved into my new cube.

Not only THAT, but she went and visited the other group and told them to get their stuff out of my cube immediately, and with her foot, drew a line to indicate that my territory goes all the way to the window, no ifs, ands or buts.

The other group, needless to say, moved their stuff and now none of them are speaking to me, but they’ll come around sooner or later, I imagine.

(Or perhaps not. I told Tom that I had to move back to the bad cube, but that I imagined I’d eventually get used to the sound of the guy eating. Tom said gently but with certainty that, no, he would not tend to think I would ever get used to it.)

On top of everything else, the new cube is currently being used as a computer graveyard. I was in such a good mood after the Cube Lady’s disciplining of the other group that I volunteered to place a request to have the stuff disposed of. To make a long story short, this ended with my losing my temper with someone I felt should come and get the stuff; he didn’t concur.

“OK, I’m going to put it in the hallway and forget about it,” I said, already mad.

It seemed a bit unfair that I have to move to a cube I don’t want to move to and on top of that, have to be personally responsible for boxing up a bunch of stuff I physically can’t lift and that I have nothing to do with.

The person I was talking to said, “You’re going to create big legal problems for the company! You could get in serious trouble! You’re doing something very wrong.” I mean, really.

“What is it that I’m doing? I’m sitting in my cube talking on the phone.”

“You’re doing—”

“I’m not doing anything. I’m sitting in my cube talking on the phone.”

“You’re going to—”

“Thanks very much. I’m afraid I have to be going now,” and then I hung up before I raised my voice (any further). That is: ugh.

That is: this whole cube thing absolutely has three sixes on it, but there’s nothing I can do.

As it turned out, the Cube Lady even came through in regard to the computer graveyard—she said that when the movers were there stealing the—I mean, moving the second filing cabinet from its present location (her idea, not mine), I should also have them dump the equipment in some other empty cube.

I like the idea of using the chewing sound as an opportunity for practice—what is this moment like, this moment with this chewing sound?—but I’m prepared to resort to noise-canceling headphones.

Work to Bike, Bike to Live, Live to Eat, and Eat at Work

A few things that happened before I went to Seattle:

I went back and edited my online review of Andrew Woodside Carter, the furniture guy. A couple of the things I’d written were nagging at me, so I took them out, so I wouldn’t have to worry about AWC coming to punch me out when he sees it. I’ve found a place where I may take the chair to be refinished, but the damage is bothering me much less now that it’s been that way for many weeks.

In other news, I received an email entitled, "Work to Eat, Eat to Live, Live to Bike, Bike to Work," which is a good slogan, almost as good as mine.

Before, after or about the same time, the guitar and I parted company. I was enjoying it, but I don’t miss it. I decided to stop when I got, for the second time, a savage pain in my left hand and wrist. It lasted for a week or ten days and was so bad one day I couldn’t ride my bike and had to take BART to work.

I’m sure that I could have found some way to play without pain, which probably would have required playing for five minutes and then taking a ten-minute break; i.e., it would have been a big pain in and of itself, and no doubt I would have ended up overdoing it at times and ended up in agony again, so I think I’ll just continue to be a listener rather than a player when it comes to the guitar.

Sharing the blessings of guitar music, I sent my mother an email entitled “MUYA,” apprising her that I was going to tell Amazon to send her the new Metallica CD, Death Magnetic, which I like very, very much.

She wrote back, “Wow, that's fabulous. Did you share the news with [your father]? No, he's not cc'd. Thank you in advance.”

I think this was a hint that my father might be not entirely pleased, or might even be dismayed, to find he’d become, through no fault of his own, co-owner of a Metallica CD. I sent my mother the Rolling Stone review of the CD so she could get in the mood before hearing it.

After she read the review, she asked, “What means ‘progged out?’”

Once again, I was glad I’d gotten a degree in pop music, rather than a lightweight subject such as science, math or engineering, so that I was able to explain that was no doubt a reference to progressive rock, or prog rock—think Pink Floyd, Yes, or King Crimson. My mother had a King Crimson album when I was a child. The cover art was very colorful.

In mid-October I went to see Carol Joy in Novato. I missed the bus because just as I got to the Golden Gate Transit stop, they closed the whole street because of an event at City Hall, so Carol Joy told me just to get to the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge and she’d pick me up there. She estimated it would take 15 minutes to cross the bridge.

I’ve never walked across the bridge before, though I’ve cycled over it many times. It takes an hour, for the record, but it was great. I saw the San Francisco Fire Department’s fire boat, the Phoenix, spraying big jets of water.

Carol Joy and I had Thai Food for lunch, then saw a couple of movies, including Blindness, which I thought was really good. It reminded me of It’s a Wonderful Life, in that it vividly brings home how precious the simplest things are: to have friends. To feel the rain on your face.

Late that evening, Carol Joy taught me a card game she used to play with her friends when she was a kid, which they called Sneaky Pete. We played until the early part of the wee hours, then slept, then played again, then had breakfast in Novato, then played again, and then I came home on the bus. Another perfect weekend with Carol Joy.

Some evening along in there, I was parking my bike at El Toro when along came a homeless person with a horrible wound on his foot oozing gooey fresh blood. This reminded me of a similar sight nearly 10 years ago downtown. I stopped and talked to that guy, whose name was Jeffrey and whose foot was covered with fresh blood.

He told me how he’d come to the city to be a chef and had met with bad luck. He said he was going to be moving back to his parents’ place soon, and he gave me their phone number. He told me how his parents missed him and were waiting for him to come back.

When we parted, after I gave him a bit of money, I also spontaneously gave him a rather long hug, probably the first and last time I will hug a homeless person, particularly one that filthy.

When I called the number he’d given me, an angry-sounding man said he’d never heard of a Jeffrey. Very sad.

So here was another fellow with a horrible bleeding foot. I offered to buy him a burrito and he gave me a very particular order: chicken, cheese, no rice or beans. He declined a soda, saying he was diabetic and had to be careful about his health.

When I came out with our burritos, he told me his name: Jeffrey. He was happy to have the burrito and reached to give me a hug, oddly enough, but I backed away and said I’d prefer he didn’t hug me. I felt kind of bad about it, but felt I was within my rights (especially since sometimes I don’t even like perfectly clean non-homeless people to hug me). He didn't seem offended.

Several days later, when I was locking up my bike at El Toro again, there was the same fellow, with the exact same wound, and I now am thinking there must be some way to approximate a ghastly wound like that even with limited means. Jeffrey didn’t say anything to me this time, but while I was standing there, a young couple rushed over, exclaiming over his foot.

So is Jeffrey of 2008 with a bloody foot the same person as Jeffrey of 2000 with a bloody foot?

Normally I do not use links here because I find them a bit dreary, but I will make an exception for this.

I LOVE this woman! She didn’t just say, “I think I’ll dress up like a cow,” nor did she say, “Reckon I’ll go chase children for a bit and then knock off,” nor was her vision for the day limited to peeing on her neighbor’s porch. Her expression is a bit inscrutable here, but it hints to me that her plans were even bigger than we know, and that she would have carried them out if she hadn’t been interrupted. I really like the cut of her jib.

A Very Fine Day on the Links

About a month ago, I attended a three-day League of American Bicyclists seminar in order to be certified as a League Cycling Instructor (LCI). Nearly half the class was the staff of the Presidio YMCA’s bike program, and what a cheery enthusiastic bunch of folks, mostly young, they are! I loved meeting them.

The class was held at the Letterman Gym in the Presidio, right across the street from George Lucas’s massive complex where they make the cool visual effects. We spent the weekend riding around and taking turns explaining to each other how to navigate upcoming hazards or traffic features, as maybe we will do for students one day, and practicing giving classroom presentations on assigned topics and providing instruction on emergency maneuvers like the instant turn and quick stop.

We basically spent the whole three days either teaching or watching our peers teach, and each time we got done presenting, we were evaluated by everyone in sight. It was a very good way to get an idea of what is effective or not, and I learned some things that will come in handy when I am serving as an instructor, though I don't know if I'm going to go so far as to get on my hands and knees and pretend to be a leg-chomping dog, though the person who did that definitely brought down the house and is also likely to be President of the Universe someday; what an amazingly radiant and vigorous person. (Rose is her name; watch out for her.)

The prerequisite class, Road I, was such a life-changing experience, I’d thought the three-day class would pile even more goodies on top of the ones I’d gotten already, but I must say it didn’t, though I certainly did learn some things. Fortunately, there was more great stuff coming; it just waited until today to show up.

At the end of the seminar, I was informed that I was now officially a League Cycling Instructor level three, and that if I want to advance to level four, when I'll be permitted to teach a class on my own, I have to do some teaching in conjunction with another LCI, and I also needed to “remediate” my instant turn, an emergency maneuver that, if properly executed, will allow you to stay next to, rather than crash into, a car that suddenly turns in front of you.

I knew that if I didn’t start that process right away, it would fall off the mental map completely, so I emailed one of the assistant teachers from my seminar, but we never ended up connecting, so when I ran into Diane S. last week at Rainbow, someone I have known and liked for about 25 years and an LCI herself, I blurted out that I needed help with the instant turn, and we arranged to meet this morning at Illinois and 16th St., where there is a whole block that is nicely paved and, at the moment, closed to traffic. It's also deserted, so no audience. Perfect spot for this enterprise.

Just before I left the house, I heard something on the radio about Woody Guthrie. Before I could rush over to the radio to turn it off—my finger was in the air, ready to stab the off button—quite a lovely piece of music began. It turned out to be Jonatha Brooke, who has released a CD of Guthrie’s surplus lyrics (he was very prolific) set to her original music. In moments, I was in tears, and I’m going to buy that CD, too, which is to say that not 24 hours after enjoying a form of Peruvian folk music, I enjoyed something that had to do with Woody Guthrie: What is happening to me?

(God only knows what I'll be enjoying next. Maybe even some of that "sunshine.")

As for the instant turn, I had figured I’d do a session with Diane, she’d tell me what to practice, I wouldn’t practice it, I’d meet with her again months later, she’d tell me to practice the same stuff, I wouldn’t practice it, and so forth; I figured that a year from now, I still wouldn’t have a decent instant turn, and would feel ashamed to boot for being such a slacker.

Well! In 45 minutes, Diane completely fixed my instant turn! She is a wonderful instructor. It was amazing and liberating. Honestly, I felt like, gosh, who knows what else I might be able to do, now that I can do this?! I’m positive it was the same feeling a person has when thinking “Maybe I’ll run for president” or “Maybe I’ll quit my job and be a full-time musician.” Why not? (Maybe I can! Especially if I TRY.)

To recap: To do an instant turn to the right, you flick your handlebars to the left, which starts a lean to the right. Then, almost immediately after doing the flick to the left, you turn your handlebars to the right, lean right, and, if all goes well, make an abrupt turn to the right.

Diane watched me do a couple and said my flick was good, but something was amiss with the follow-through. She had me do some figure 8s as tightly as possible, and after I did a few, she said they looked fine and noted that an instant turn doesn’t require turning any more sharply than that. Oh! That was encouraging news.

Then she asked how I felt when doing the follow-through, which is the crucial part when it comes to avoiding contact with the car. Did I enjoy it or did I feel scared? Well, of course, I felt scared, namely of falling down, particularly on my already injured elbow, though my fear while practicing the instant turn predates that guy hitting me.

She had me get off my bike for a moment and back away from it while holding the seat and handlebar, so that it leaned farther and farther over. She pointed out that the tires were not slipping in the least and that they still had traction, even though the bike was very far over—much farther than it ever will be when I’m on it, if all goes according to plan.

She also told me to keep my outer foot down. It seems to me that if you really have to execute this procedure, you’d have enough to think about without worrying about which foot is down, but I guessed it couldn’t hurt at least to practice it the right way, and, sure enough, having that foot down makes a vast difference in terms of confidence. It kind of makes you feel like you have something solid and stable to press against while you’re leaning the other way.

I also soon discovered that it felt very natural to have my left foot down (while turning right) but completely strange to have my right foot down (while turning left). In fact, putting that foot firmly down caused a stretch in the hip area that felt downright exotic.

Diane advised me to go ride up and down for a while in gentle S-curves while she worked with the one other student, and just feel the pleasure and flow of doing so. And it really was fun just to ride along swaying from side to side. Then I did more figure 8s, and then I showed Diane my instant turn again, and voila!

She said she would email my LCI seminar instructor, who is permanently my coach of record, though he lives in Portland, and tell him my instant turn is now shipshape.

So, a big pile of goodies indeed: a proper instant turn, a huge boost in confidence, much less fear of leaning over and tight turns, more ease, and a new sense of play and pleasure while riding. I practiced for another hour on my own, until my elbow started to ache, and then I rode home feeling like a bird aloft, swooping and arcing through the breeze.

Hope You Get Off in Time to Enjoy Some of this “Sunshine”

Here’s a post on everything that has happened since I went to Seattle; later I’ll say more about what happened prior to that.

First, I’m going to try to get up to Seattle about twice a year, now that I know how very excellent it is. (It also takes, like, no time to get there, all told: four hours. It takes me two hours to get to Carol Joy’s in Novato, 28.7 miles away.)

Some activities that have been proposed: visiting Victoria and Vancouver, going cross-country skiing, and taking to the water in a rowboat. David was saying maybe he’ll take a class, and then we three can go out in a rowboat on some future visit, “and you can row.”

I can row? I thought you were going to take a class,” I said.

Lisa explained, “The class teaches you how to get other people to row.”

“Right,” agreed David. “It’s basically a rowing management class.”

That reminded me of a time my mother made fudge that refused to fudge. My father cheered her up by saying that what she had studied back in her home economics days had actually been fudge theory.

Lisa, apropos of a conversation we had while I was there, sent me a link this past week to the Uptight Seattleite column, which runs in the Seattle Weekly. I came upon a column in the archives where a woman said she felt weird having someone else (you know, the Bag Boy) carry her groceries to her car for her.

The U.S. advised her to make friendly conversation with the fellow so it wouldn’t seem as if she thought he was of the lower classes. He writes: “A good line for this is, ‘Hope you get off in time to enjoy some of this sunshine!’ But—and this is very important—make sure this doesn't sound like some kind of inappropriate invitation. You might want to practice beforehand until you've achieved just the right tone of casualness.”

This past Friday night, I skipped watching a DVD so I could get up at a reasonable hour yesterday morning, which was one of those dazzling ultra-paradise days. Many days here are utterly gorgeous, and then there are some that are completely over the top, where everyone is in a happy daze; yesterday was one of those.

I made it to Rainbow soon after it opened, and came home to rinse fruit, chop veggies, and make black bean and tomato soup, and a barley-mushroom pilaf which is very nice reheated in olive oil and served with avocado slices.

While I was cooking, “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me” was on the radio, and they were on quite the roll. The host said, “Sarah Palin has reset the bar—and now we’re all playing limbo trying to get under it.”

The host referred to the Obama administration as the O-ministration, and started the show by saying something like, “We’re here in the Oval Office with two men, one of whom many people still feel is not quite ready to sit behind this desk. But he’ll be leaving in a couple of months.”

He also cited Obama’s post-election meeting with Bush as evidence of Obama’s stated willingness to meet with unstable leaders without preconditions.

So: many opportunities for comedy during the transition period, another wonderful thing about Obama being elected I hadn't even thought of.

When cooking was over, I met Eric G. for a stroll around Dolores Park. While we were walking, a woman who had briefly interviewed me at Rainbow for a radio piece she was doing about healthy eating recognized my voice—I would never have recognized her, so that was serendipitous—and told me that the segment will be on the radio next Wednesday, also the day my latest KQED Perspective will be on, as it happens; the other thing will be on KALW. I don’t think my radio goes there. I think it only goes to KQED.

Then I took the bus to the church at Van Ness and Sacramento to meet Sally N. for the second of three Messiaen-inspired recitals. Some of the pieces required a renewed resolution to pay attention every few seconds, as there was nothing one might call melody or harmony to hang one’s hat on. They were pure timbre, pitch and duration, but after sufficient effort to attend, the pieces became engaging, which is not the same thing as pleasant to the ear, but has its satisfactions.

None of these was by Messiaen himself. In the second half, there was a soprano. Normally I don’t like people to sing in classical or contemporary classical music; it’s like, “Can you stop singing? I’m trying to listen to music.” But this woman, Lara Bruckmann, truly sang like an angel, and had a lush, generous, expressive presence. I was swooning. It was as if she opened her mouth and molten gold effortlessly poured forth. I would definitely go across town to hear her sing again.

She sang some Gabriela Lena Frank (b. 1972), from Cuatro Canciones Andinas (Four Andean Songs), which was beautiful and melancholy, and then finally some actual Messiaen: excerpts from Harawi, which also draws on Peruvian folk music.

Normally when I hear mention of Peruvian folk music, or any kind of folk music (or bluegrass, for that matter, and also reggae or ska), I say,
I think I hear the dinner bell! and rush off, but both of these pieces were so great, I believe my fear of Andean folk music is utterly gone. The excerpts from Harawi were absolutely mesmerizing. I’m going to buy the whole thing.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

What’s the Meaning of These Incessant Phone Calls?

The person who most often does the morning traffic reports on KQED, a person with a very nice radio voice and manner, sometimes says, with a frisson of contempt, that traffic is slow due to “rubberneckers.”

I always want to say to him, “Excuse me, what do you do think you’re doing, albeit electronically and maybe thirdhand? Just because you’re in front of a computer looking at something sent from the helicopter THAT WOKE ME OUT OF A SOUND SLEEP at 6 a.m., that doesn’t make you better than anyone else.”

In fact, if I’m not mistaken, this person is on the air because he gets paid for it (though I should hasten to insert that I personally would be happy to be on the air for free), not for the beautiful, natural and very human love of knowing what the aitch eeeh double toothpicks is going on, like the in-person rubberneckers.

I’m fully on the side of those who do their rubbernecking firsthand, on an amateur basis. For one thing, I can't tell from my bed that they're doing it.

And what is the reason for this dreadful early morning cacophony? It’s to prevent some yuppie (or so I picture this person) from trying to make it to work without advance knowledge that traffic is slow on a given stretch of road. I say, let it be a surprise. Why does everyone have to know everything in advance?

I’ve been on bike rides with people who insist on announcing topographical features before you get to them. I even once dated someone who periodically confirmed that we had reached such-or-such a romantic milestone on schedule. (After six weeks, we broke up, on schedule.)

If you have to know what’s happening when it comes to something as routine and ever-present as traffic, go look at it with your own eyeballs.

Now, as to before the election, in fact, just last weekend, I flew to Seattle on Saturday to see the beloved faces of the King and El Capitan, Lisa being the King, of course, and had a very excellent time, slightly delayed by happening to arrive at the Sea-Tac airport during a security breach. I had to wait more than an hour (and Lisa and David therefore had to wait outside in their Zipcar) for the train that normally runs every two minutes, taking people from the two satellite terminals, which are islands in the sea of concrete, to the main terminal.

Could one just walk there? Could one even step outside at all, or was one basically trapped inside this building, resulting in a faint claustrophobia? No, no and yes.

As to the nature of the breach, someone, in this day and age, thought it would be a fine plan to try to run through the security checkpoint without being screened. This caused everything at the airport to grind to a halt, including the once-a-day flight to Tokyo, which couldn’t take off, domino effect, thousands of dollars per minute down the drain, people standing around having to listen to a woman regale a friend with her lines for a community theatrical production by bellowing them into her cell phone.

Finally I was outside in the rather dim afternoon light and there were David and Lisa! Just as I remembered them! Here’s everything we did: drove by Boeing, which takes a while, and saw actual strikers, had lunch at a Chinese vegetarian place, walked around the sculpture garden that is part of the Seattle Art Museum (there are witty things and there’s a huge Calder), saw various calm waters (there’s a lot of that in those parts), drove through downtown, saw where Lisa reports to work and where David reports to work (at my request, so I can picture them reporting to work), had dinner at their place—Lisa made us a yummy tomato-and-bean stew, served with bread and green salad; cupcakes for dessert—and watched Irina Palm, about a 50-year-old woman who goes to work in a sex emporium to get money for an operation her grandson needs.

I spent the night in a hotel not far away and on Sunday morning we had huevos rancheros, which were really, really good, at the 14 Carrot Café. Lisa happens to be an expert on credit card processing, at least relative to myself, and explained to us exactly how it works. I took notes. It was riveting, and I mean that very sincerely. Did you, for instance, know that it is not legal for a merchant to establish a limit beneath which he or she won’t accept a credit card for a transaction? I didn’t know that. I can see why they’d prefer to have that limit, but it’s actually disallowed.

After breakfast, we went to the Center for Wooden Boats, and strolled along the docks looking at the watercraft, and we went up to the top of the Space Needle—because the weather was more autumnal, we didn’t have to wait in line at all, and it wasn’t crowded at the top, though also not lonely.

Toward the end of our visit to the Space Needle, we discussed whether to take the Zipcar downtown or the monorail. Lisa stepped away briefly, and when she returned, she asked, “So, are we taking the monorail or driving downtown?”

David answered, after a shocked pause, “We’re going to the gift shop. Keep your priorities straight.”

In the gift shop, I invested in a diminutive blue Space Needle, and then we rode the monorail downtown and went to the Pike Place Market, where we visited Piroshky Piroshky and purchased fresh-baked items of impressive quality. Back near the Space Needle, we stopped by the International Fountain, half a metal globe which sends arcs of water through the air, and then I took the bus back to the airport, which takes 30 minutes and costs just $1.50.

At some point toward the end of this whirlwind trip, we were calculating how much time we had left to do things and realized that, what with one thing and another, it was just 15 minutes.

I said, “Next time I’ll stay longer.”

David replied, “Duh!”

“Did you just say ‘Duh’?”

“No! I said ‘Great!’”

The topic of Metallica came up, as it will, and David asked if I could hum a Metallica song that he would recognize. In fact, I think that might be a little bit difficult. I considered trying to hum “Enter Sandman” or “For Whom the Bell Tolls” or “Ain’t My Bitch,” and quickly decided not to risk such dignity as I still might have.

But I offered to make a CD containing some of my favorite Metallica tracks, and throw on some Megadeth and some Drowning Pool and what have you, and I think I will also put some of Todd Rundgren’s heartbreakingly beautiful ballads on there—why ever not?

I said it would be the most annoying CD they owned. “We won’t own it long,” Lisa reassured me.

(The title of this entry is what David and I vie to be the first to say when speaking to each other on the phone.)


In case you didn't get a good look at this. Obviously, this is very flattering, as Tom's brother Steve mentioned, but I also like how it makes my hair look like smoke and gives my living room/bedroom/dining room/office an otherworldly glow.

Me outside Piroshky Piroshky. In Seattle!

Lisa, David and me at the top of the Space Needle.

As Long as My Dinner Companion’s Nose Is on the Fritz, We’re Good

Now I’ll say what happened after Election Day: I worked for three days without the company of my co-worker who sits near me and has been following the election very closely, too, giving us plenty to talk about; I periodically apologized to the two guys who sit near us, who both claimed not to mind.

I had to work without her for three days because she took the rest of the week off for a self-designated Election Holiday; she figured she would need at least the first day to recuperate from staying up too late the night before. Now, that's self-care. (Or three days of PTO gone for good, depending on how you look at it.)

I was elated Tuesday evening and half of Wednesday. I have ordered 10 “Yes We DID!” buttons, yet to arrive. (So far I haven't received a call from Obama saying which cabinet position my campaign contribution is going to get me, though I did get a nice thank-you email signed "Barack." George never sent me an email. On the other hand, I never sent him $600, either. I was delighted to send Obama that amount.)

By Wednesday afternoon, the post-election crash was upon me, and by late afternoon, I was feeling so awful I was starting to wonder if I had food poisoning, but I think it was just indigestion from my S&M, I mean, S&S lunch: sushi (from Whole Foods) and a small container of Odwalla Superfood, a fruity green drink packed with algae or some such. One of these days I will learn that my stomach always gets upset when I introduce Superfood into it, and pairing it with sushi isn't exactly an improvement.

So instead of going to the Bike Coalition (it is henceforth going to be more of a struggle to get there, anyway, because my favorite person has stopped attending), I came home and went to bed early.

Thursday night was allocated to laundry, and last night I meant to do this:

5:00—Pick up book at library.
5:30—Get cat litter at Amore at 18th and Valencia.
6:00—Wash leftover dishes.
6:30—Have dinner.
8:30—Take a shower.
9:30—Watch a DVD.

Leaving a little leeway, I figured I’d be in bed by midnight, and therefore up by 9 a.m. today.

Here’s what actually happened:

5:00—Pick up book at library.
5:30—Get cat litter at Amore at 18th and Valencia.

So far, so good! Nice work! QBQ!

6:00—Work myself into a lather over annoying loud noise of helicopters immediately overhead; helicopter occupants are observing/reporting on pro-same-sex marriage demonstration making its way from Civic Center to the Castro. I’m one hundred percent for same-sex marriage, of course, but I get sick of having helicopters hover just outside, which happens extremely often for one reason or another; more on that later. I figure there will be three solid hours of being unable to hear myself think, but it turns out not to be quite that bad.

6:30—Phone rings. How annoying! I lift the receiver and gently replace it.
6:35—Phone rings. I lift the receiver and replace it firmly, and then consider: Should I turn off the ringer? But what if it's my mother, saying she’s fallen and can’t get up? Wouldn’t I want to know that? (Because once I turned the ringer off, it could literally be months before I got around to turning it on again; basically, once it was off, it would be off.)
6:40—Phone rings. I lift the receiver and slam it down; resist urge to yell “Can you stop?” into it first.
6:45—Receive email from my mother saying she’s having trouble reaching me on the phone; what’s going on?

6:50—Email exchange with my mother ensues. While sitting at my computer, I make the first really major mistake of the evening: I go to Audacity’s website to download the free recording software the very excellent Apple engineer recommended. Then I screw around with the installation; it doesn’t really take that long, but in the course of doing that—specifically, in the course of adding an icon for the new application to my desktop—I discover—oh, boy—that there is a chess game on my iMac!

I fire up a game, make a move, try to remember what those bland but powerful round pieces at the end, not pawns, are called. Before I can make a move on behalf of the opposing color, such a piece moves by itself! Hey! Does this computer seriously think it’s going to take me on in chess? Not only does it think that, it beats me handily, in moments. Why, I oughtta …

So: chess. I decide I can skip stretching and showering.

Another excellent discovery follows closely on the heels of the chess discovery: Photo Booth! This lets you take funny pictures of yourself using a variety of effects, including X-ray.

8:00—Try to figure out where Photo Booth is saving all the fab pictures I’m taking, and email the best one to a select group of associates: my mother, my father, Chris H., Tom, Steve, Ann, and David and Lisa. (I have added this particular photo to my Blogger profile. Finally, the right picture for that purpose.)

8:30—More chess. Ruing the day already ...

9:00—Wash dishes while eating hastily prepared but extremely delicious dinner standing up.

9:30—Jesus! I’ve got to start the DVD! Watch Grace Is Gone, about a man unable to tell his daughters their soldier mother has died in Iraq, instead taking them on a road trip to an amusement park. It was OK. The actors seemed uncomfortable—because they were good actors playing characters in discomfort. Very nice job—QBQ!—but kind of imparted tension and misery to the viewer, as well.

11:00—I guess more chess? It's kind of a blur. After awhile, I gave in and changed the settings so the computer would make lots more dumb moves. I Googled chess to help me remember the names of those pieces: rooks! And “knights,” not “horses.” I did once upon a time actually know how to play chess, no doubt thanks to my mother, who would have considered this essential, along with being familiar with Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky." 'Twas brillig!

Finally, at the computer’s dumbest setting, I can achieve a draw, as long as I move first. What does that mean, “draw”? It seems to me that I have won this game. Back to Google. Oh, I get it. Then I can actually win, if I move first. Then I can win even if the computer moves first. This is going to burn an unbelievable number of hours. Soon enough, it’s:

4 a.m.—Lights out. Definitely behind schedule at this point.

And there you have it. Crap, now it’s 2:30 p.m. already, which means I’m not going to do most of what I’d planned for today, so I’m in schedule triage mode again: I must get something posted, blogwise—done!—and I have to decide which restaurant to patronize for dinner so I can call Lisa M. back; I think she’s going to treat me to dinner, a belated birthday celebration (yes, I reached the august age of 46 five months ago).

I also have, besides this blog, a journal, where the top-secret most important and closest-to-my-heart stuff goes, but I never have time to add anything to it, other than notes. Later I go back and look at the notes and delete the ones I don't care about anymore. Sooner or later, every note falls into that category, if I wait long enough.

Which means everything I post on my blog would also fall into that category, and certainly sooner than the stuff for my never-updated journal, which is why I keep becoming ambivalent about the blog and stop posting anything. But then I think of something I'd sorta like to post, and the floodgate opens.

Which means that the most important stuff never gets written down anymore, only the stuff that's potentially for a general audience. That seems backwards, but whatever.

So, herewith a post or two, possibly more to come, and taking the long-anticipated shower would be nice, too. Wonder how good Lisa M.’s sniffer is. I’ll ask if she perchance has a clogged-up nose when I call her to discuss dinner.

President Obama. I said, PRESIDENT OBAMA!!!

So I guess we’ll just start semi-randomly working our way backwards here, starting with a call I made to Apple to find out how to get music from my tape deck into the iMac. The person I spoke to asked, “May I have your first name?”


“ ‘Linda’! Very excellent! How are you today?”

After I got done chuckling, I asked how he was.

“Good, good. I’m always very excellent,” he confided.

Every now and then, we get into a thing at work of offering extravagant compliments to each other for the smallest accomplishments. Emily sent a note this week saying she had taken ownership of a certain problem ticket, or something like that, which means nothing whatsoever has happened yet; it’s just an administrative move.

I wrote back, “I swear, nice work!”

Bill chimed in: “Nice work, ladies!!!!!!!!!!!! QBQ!”

That was so funny that I didn’t even bother to remind him that Emily and I don’t like to be addressed as “ladies.” “QBQ” is a reference to QBQ! The Question Behind the Question, a pop psychology work on customer service skills our manager had us read, followed by Our Iceberg Is Melting. Next week, we’re going to have small-group discussions on the latter, and take a test to make sure we’ve fully comprehended the principles.

Next, how about that PRESIDENT BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA?! Even though it was seemingly obvious and had been for some time that he would win, I got a little freaked out every time someone spoke of Obama being “a few points” ahead of McCain, and would hasten to to rest my eyes on their electoral vote projections, which were very heartening and turned out to be quite accurate.

I couldn’t quite see the people who helped Bush steal at least one election doing the same for McCain, but I was still hugely thrilled and relieved when, at the stroke of 8 p.m. Pacific Time this past Tuesday, when the polls in California closed, the TV station I was watching—the one with George Stephanopoulos; he’s so cute—called the election in favor of Obama.

Soon I could hear people rampaging on Valencia St., and went out to join them. People were honking their car horns, grinning and waving to those on the sidewalk and hanging out of their car windows, mostly passengers, but in one case, the driver himself. Hundreds of people appeared on the sidewalks and finally, unable to contain themselves, surged into the intersection at 19th and Valencia, blocking the street completely as they literally jumped for joy and waved their hands in the air and chanted in unison, “Yes, we can,” and “Obama,” and even “USA!” I’ve never heard a group of San Franciscans chant “USA” before, because that usually means, to many of us, the government that is doing something we strongly disagree with.

But on Election Day, it meant the country that voted in the smarter, steadier, more sober candidate—even if his middle name is HUSSEIN; honestly, I could see that having been a deal-breaker all on its own—thus making history.

The celebration, similar to those occurring in hundreds of places nationwide, I'm sure, continued for hours, ratcheting up a few notches when the marching band arrived, at midnight. I often hear this group outside, generally at 2 a.m. But if ever an occasion called for a brass band and booming big drums, this was it.

I submitted to KQED several weeks ago a Perspective on cycling, my third. The first said that it’s good to cycle. The second said it’s good to take the lane when you cycle, because it’s safest. This one says it’s good to STOP AT THE FREAKING RED LIGHTS when you cycle, and I had a nice anecdote to begin it with, and a little scar on my elbow to look at when my natural vehemence ebbed.

I received some suggestions for improving it, and then, after procrastinating for many, many weeks, I finally sent in a revised version. (I got a note back from Mark T., the Perspectives editor, saying, “I was wondering if you’d gone on a circumpolar bike ride.”)

I arranged to record it the morning after Election Day and was met at KQED by two African-American women at the front desk. I don’t like to assume anything about other people’s political preferences (though, as it happened, I did put my foot in my mouth not two hours later that same day, by making just such as assumption).

At the Bike Coalition’s volunteer nights, for instance, I never thought it was impossible that there could be a McCain supporter in the room, and I heard there was an incident at Eugene’s Sunday night meditation group when someone started to gripe about Sarah Palin, offending two McCain fans, who stomped out, understandably enough.

But these two seemed suspiciously cheery, so I ventured an “It’s a great day, huh?” and it turned out we all thought it was, for the same reason. One was wearing a t-shirt with a big picture of Obama on it. She said she figured that since she had been compelled to wear her union’s red t-shirt every Friday for some period of time, it ought to be OK for her to wear an Obama t-shirt on this one day. I would certainly think so.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Crawlin’, as Slow as Possible, in the Wind

This past Thursday evening, I had a guitar lesson with Bruno, the first in many weeks. I’ve been working on “Blowin’ in the Wind,” so Bruno suggested we play it together and set off at a rollicking tempo.

“Wait, wait,” I begged. “My tempo is 40.” (For a half note, but that's still pretty slow.)

“Does the metronome even go that low?” he asked incredulously, which made me laugh.

I enjoy playing the guitar once I get going, and the little snippets I’m writing are lovely, if I may say so myself, but the time I can spend on any given day is not very long, plus I keep missing days, or weeks, as my enthusiasm ebbs and flows.

For about ten years, I practiced the trumpet two and a half or three hours a day. People used to remark admiringly on my discipline, but the truth is that no discipline was required—it was an obsession and I wanted to do it every single one of those days.

The guitar, however, requires discipline, which is something I have very little of. But I haven’t given up completely because I believe that if I keep at it, it will prove to have been worthwhile.

Taking lessons has already really helped me in my composing. One thing I do, per Bruno, is have a “key of the week” (or “key of the two weeks” or “key of the month,” in my case) and find all instances of the first note of the scale on the lowest string of the guitar, then on the next string, and so forth, and then do the same with the second note of the scale, etc.

This has really helped me start to form a mental map of what had formerly been completely uncharted and seemingly incomprehensible terrain.

I was playing single notes the other day and it was reminding me very strongly of something: my childhood zither! From earliest memory, there were simple instruments around—a triangle, a drum, the zither—plus my mother’s piano. When I was three or four, I took a piano class at the YMCA, my mother’s doing, and eventually one kid or another in my family sang and/or played the piano, violin, cello, accordion, tenor saxophone, trumpet, guitar and bass guitar.

Thanks to those classes at the Y (that is, thanks to my mother), I never consciously had to learn to read music. It seems like something I always knew. I remember liking very much how the circles fit neatly between the lines, or bisected a line, and how some circles were solid and some weren’t. (I think I liked and like most of all a half-note that is between two lines.)

So I will keep at the guitar and, sick of being humiliated at lesson after lesson, I am going to focus my efforts on “Blowin’ in the Wind,” for now. I’ve written down all the possible chord transitions, and will practice those until I can switch a little faster.

Tom came over last night to watch the second-to-last Dark Angel DVD. (My very favorite episode was quite recently, the one with the mobsters and the woman who could bend people to her will just by looking into their eyes.)

Just before he arrived, I noticed a colossal spider near the top of the bathroom window. He seemed to wish to descend, but was having problems, and then he fell. I figured he’d landed on one of the towels below—he wasn’t on the floor—but when I looked up, there he still was: he was such a huge spider, he’d actually kicked some substantial piece of debris off the top of the window frame.

When Tom arrived, I told him, “We have a nature situation in the bathroom.”

Tom admired the spider’s ample proportions and asked, “Are you going to put him outside?”

“Actually, I was thinking that would be a satisfying project for you.”

I got the plastic container and sturdy piece of cardboard I use for these operations, and set up the ladder in the bathroom, and in no time, the spider was in the backyard.

I would actually have done this myself if Tom hadn’t been due for a visit—certainly I would done it rather than have to wonder when I’d wake up with the spider in my bed—but one instance of spider removal seemed like a fair trade for three quality hours of Dark Angel.

For approximately the past year, I’ve meant to go buy a new pair of running shoes (what in my youth we generically called “tennis shoes,” though probably none of them were actually tennis shoes; I still think of them as such). My current pair are partly mesh, which became filthy very early on, and in general, these shoes are absolutely dreadful looking, and I wear them every day, including to work.

I know they need to be replaced, but I can’t bring myself to do this chore. I meant to do it today, for what seems like the millionth time. I know exactly where I’d go—On the Run, in the Inner Sunset—and the whole thing would take probably two hours, not a big deal, but I just can’t do it.

I got up today at 11:45 a.m. and was still sleepy—yay—and as I reset the alarm to 12:45 p.m., I happily thought, “Well, no shoe shopping today, I guess!”

The next three weekends are spoken for, so shoe shopping is safely deferred until October 18, at least, and so it goes. This is exactly how “get a shade for the lamp by the bed” has come to be on my to-do list for 15 years or so.

My mother was lately suggesting I do something or other. I told her I absolutely was not going to do it, because if it were the kind of thing I could actually get done, I would also have bought a lamp shade long ago. “Ah, well, I guess you are your parents’ child,” she said, not without satisfaction.

This also marks a year since I promised David and Lisa I would send them a recording of a piano composition of mine. It’s on a cassette tape. I need it to be in the Mac so I can make an mp3. One of these years I’ll figure out how to do this (and then actually do it).

I’M Perimenopausal. YOU Suck It Up.

My post about perimenopause (quite understandably) inflamed the passions of one of my correspondents, who fired off an email with the subject line “GIRL, i hear you.”

She went on, except she had real "u"s where I have put asterisks:

same thing here.
mine isn't heavy - but I've started acupuncture just to tame my f*cking rage.
I am a mellow person by nature. Virtually no temper.
until now.
lord have f*cking mercy.
I was pulling out of the parking lot of at work - and had been distracted by a fellow in a wheelchair who kept standing up, etc.
I was looking both ways, and moving fwd, etc.
and these 2 women (pedestrians) step out in front of my car and I stop and wave them on
I am so not f*cking kidding you
I saw RED - red red RED!
and I had the strongest impulse to get out of my car and literally grab her by her f*cking swiveling neck and bash her head into the ground.
for real.
I'm 46 and it's just beginning.
My mom once told me that she asked my 75-year-old (at the time) grandmother when her hot flashes had stopped and my Grammy said: "I'LL LET YOU KNOW"


that's all
keep breathing

(End of email.)

My favorite part was the “f*cking swiveling neck.” I hope I never see anyone with that type of neck, or all bets are off.

Last Sunday I volunteered at the second occurrence of Sunday Streets, in which a long stretch of the Embarcadero is closed to automobiles so people can ride their bikes and stroll along the waterfront in peace and safety.

I was posted at one end of the Illinois St. bridge, at the north edge of the Bayview district, where I was in charge of making sure cyclists didn’t use the pedestrian path and vice versa. I saw a tiny little boy pedal furiously by on the world’s smallest tricycle. He had on a full helmet, not just a bike helmet, and was wearing a very serious expression. It was about the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.

In October, I am going to take the League of American Bicyclists’ three-day seminar which, if all goes well, will result in my being an LCI—League Cycling Instructor. While I was volunteering at Sunday Streets, by chance I met one of the people who will be teaching the seminar.

At the end of the retreat I just returned from, Phillip Moffitt encouraged us to have as many mindful moments as possible each day. He pointed out that most of us don’t spend most of our time on retreat, so if we aren’t mindful in our regular lives, when will we be? I’m reading his book Dancing with Life now—signed by the author!—and am getting a lot out of it.

It is often mentioned how the Buddha said “All life is suffering,” though in fact, he never said that at all; he said that suffering exists, meaning getting what we don’t want, not getting what we do want, aging, sickness, and death, among other things, but these aren’t the whole of life.

It’s easy (for me) to think suffering should not exist and that it’s something to try to ignore or push away (because it entails suffering!). Phillip writes, “I sometimes joke with my students that our modern interpretation of suffering is so distorted that for the Buddha to teach the Four Noble Truths today [the first of which is the truth of suffering] he would have to rename them ‘One Crummy Truth and Three Noble Truths’ or ‘The Horrible Truth of Suffering and Three Great Solutions.’” That cracked me up.

I have been trying for years to have as many mindful moments as possible, but was inspired anew by what Phillip said. I think I’ve managed to find plenty of ways to push away the truth of a given moment despite my conscious intention.

Phillip pointed out that one can sneak in a bit of walking meditation even at a harried workplace by making a mindful trip to the office supplies cabinet, and one is always assured of privacy in a bathroom stall.

Since then, I’ve been starting each morning with a few minutes of metta, or loving-kindness practice. I’m using four pretty standard metta phrases, plus three others I particularly like, and am finding it’s working pretty well to say the phrase for myself first—for instance, “May I be happy”—and then for all beings: “May all beings be happy,” after which I think of a handful of people, mixing benefactors, friends and difficult people all together: “Hammett, Carol Joy, [difficult person at work], my mother, my father, [Grilling Neighbor #1], [Grilling Neighbor #2].”

This way some of the friendly feelings it’s easy to feel for Hammett and Carol Joy sort of tide me over while I think of Mr. Rude Email at work, and likewise for my mother and father followed by my grilling neighbors.

The building manager generally ignores me when she sees me in the hallway, but was forced to speak to me when there was water dripping into her apartment. Then she went back to ignoring me. That was annoying (as so many things are): It seems to me that she should either always be civil, or never speak to me at all, but not mix and match as the mood takes her.

But then I thought: Well, why is that? And decided that there’s no particular reason she can’t be inconsistent. It’s out of my control, anyway.

Several days ago she greeted me and asked me to pass something on to Tom. She, like the rest of the world, was having trouble reaching him by phone and email.

A few days later, I saw her out front, and she said hello and, most surprisingly, added, “How are you doing?” I told her I was fine and asked how she was. I don’t want to attribute this to metta practice, but you never know. It also made me glad I hadn’t taken any further action in regard to the grilling, because I’m sure we wouldn’t have had that interaction if I had.

And, last, it made me feel kind of good about always keeping the door open with her. No matter the extent of our conflict, I have always been civil, which means she never has to be afraid I will pretend I don’t see her or hear her.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

I'M 68. YOU Suck It Up.

I can't wait until I'm 68 and can use this line uttered recently by my mother. (I believe we were discussing my dissatisfaction with having to call her on her cell phone, per her instruction not to use their landline, which is reserved for telemarketers.)

My Bad

A month or so on, my bike crash injuries are mostly healed, and I did drop off information on the urban bike skills class for the Jamie Foxx-looking guy, as promised. I’m usually horrible with faces (as well as names, not to mention anything else that requires the use of the memory, other than real or perceived injuries to myself), but he was easy to pick out again.

By way of a souvenir, I will have a small scar on my elbow—it looks like a smirking little mouth—plus one on my knee, and I’m still waiting for one bruise to fade, but my knee has stopped clicking, and I think everything is basically fine.

A couple of weeks after the crash, when I had some idea of what the expenses would amount to, I called the fellow who knocked me down, and asked him how he came to hit me. He said he doesn't think of that red light as being a place where cyclists need to stop, since it isn't a true four-way intersection, so he was just sailing along.

That was the only part of the conversation that was at all testy. He asked, "Did you notice no other cyclists were stopped?" and I answered, "The ones who obey the law stop. The light applies to us, too."

I realized he was suggesting it was my fault the crash occurred, or that he might even have felt he had suffered a wrong: "Why did this darn person stop right in front of me?" He, like me, received a variety of painful injuries. He said he was bruised so badly it was difficult for him to get out of bed.

I had planned to ask him to take the urban bike skills class (what the League of American Bicyclists calls Road I), which I highly recommend, and which is what made me so scrupulous about red lights, but he had already decided to do that. Before I even mentioned it, he said that he'd realized he needed to improve his habits, so he'd signed up for the class.

I said that I wanted to apologize again for my uncivil remarks; they were spontaneous, but I felt kind of bad about them afterwards. He said it was OK.

I listed my injuries, told him what I’d spent on fixing the bike and myself, and asked him to reimburse me for what it cost to fix my bicycle, which was $105.90. He thought for a moment and said he would do that, and in just a couple of days, his check arrived in the mail.

My mother asked if there is a way for cyclists to signal a stop, and loyally said that despite being 2500 miles away at the time of the incident, she was prepared to testify that I had windmilled my arms before applying my brakes.

One would think that cyclists would be watching what is in front of them pretty carefully out of self-interest, if nothing else. In a car, if you space out and hit something that isn't big enough to register as another motor vehicle, well, no big deal (for you). But on a bicycle, you can't hit much of anything at all without risking your own safety.

There is indeed a signal cyclists can use to indicate an imminent stop—fortunately, it does not require waving both arms—but one would hope not to have to employ it before stopping at a red light, for goodness’ sake.

Grimacing and Bearing It

At some point after the three-day mental rant on the subject of grilling wrapped up, I went on to consider the options in a more realistic manner, but will refrain from posting the details except to say that I decided simply to note each occasion of grilling and to put up with it for now, meaning that I will leave my main room or apartment when the need to breathe semi-clean air requires it.

Or, to put it another way, after a hundred hours of stewing and $200 worth of consultation with my mental health professional ($100 just before the Fourth of July and another $100 this week), I decided Tom was right. Though he was worked up enough to say he planned to talk to the landlord after the horrible night of grilling in May, he has since reverted to his original opinion that it doesn’t happen all that often, so we should grin and bear it.

We recently saw The Dark Knight. It was long and loud and dark indeed. Tom liked it more than I did. I think the main reason to see it is to take in Heath Ledger’s final and remarkable performance, therefore, it is necessary to see it.

We are into the second season of Dark Angel now, which is much sillier than the first, but we are committed fans and will see every minute of every episode.

After my retreat, I didn’t start practicing the guitar again until after Tom’s brother Paul let me play his electric guitar at top volume last weekend and hear the distorted sound I so adore. I’ve found that I have to turn my amp up pretty far to get that sound; this also produces a knock on the door in moments.

I knew I could turn the amp up and use headphones, but it’s bad enough not to be able to remember anything of a factual nature without also being deaf, so I haven’t done that. But Paul told me I can get an effects box that will produce distortion at a low volume, so now I’m practicing again, and have scheduled a lesson for next week. I’m writing little bits of music and maybe one day will turn them into whole songs and record them on the Mac. Maybe I’ll sing.

Today I got the new Metallica album, Death Magnetic, which I think is quite good—it’s certainly much, much better than St. Anger; I do wish Rob Trujillo was considerably louder—and in the evening Tom and I saw The Bank Job for a second time. I think Jason Statham bears a passing resemblance to Tom’s brother Steve, or vice versa (hi, Steve!).

The astute reader will have noticed that I have fought with virtually everyone I have encountered lately, though this is not to say my feelings, perceptions, or opinions were necessarily wrong, and today I decided that I will not survive perimenopause if I don’t make some changes. At the very least, I’ll be in jail, and I’m probably within 5000 angry thoughts of a stroke, so it’s back to basics: My feet. Can I feel them? Yes, there they are.

What am I thinking right now? And now? And now? “Thinking that I need to buy more cheese puffs. Thinking that this person is very irritating. Thinking what if there’s grilling soon? Thinking that I should have joined Metallica when they asked me the first time; oh, wait, I guess they never did do that.”

I find labeling thoughts very helpful. For at least a moment, I am seeing thoughts as thoughts rather than being lost in them and believing them. Observing what is passing through my mind gives me the chance to question it: Am I one hundred percent positive this person maliciously set out to damage my chair? Per Byron Katie, no, I can’t be positive of that. In fact, that’s almost certainly not the case. (The chair was without question damaged, but very likely this was not consciously intended by anyone: Whoever did it thought he was doing the right thing, for at least a moment.)

Saying yes to everything also helps a lot: Yes to grilling! Yes to my apartment being filled with smoke! Yes to whoever it was damaging my chair!

So much of the problem is thinking that things that ARE should not be. Saying yes to what is doesn’t mean one can’t choose to take some sort of action, but it does lessen the portion of misery that comes from struggling to negate reality.

Finding something I can feel grateful for, and there is always something, is also good.

Work, luckily, has been relatively peaceful. Someone called me at an inopportune moment this week, and I asked if I might call her back. After I hung up, I added, “Meaning after I finish these cheese puffs.”

My nearby coworker said, “I’m glad to hear you have your priorities straight.”

“Right,” I agreed. “The user will always be here, whereas these cheese puffs will expire in a matter of months.”