Sunday, May 18, 2008

Overeating: Usually But Not Absolutely Always Best

The mutual animosity was such on this most recent evening of grilling, I half-expected my building manager to pound on my door after her guests left, or to leave another mean note on my door, but she didn’t do either. I’m sure it did help a bit that Tom was there, too, though it would have been even better if I’d let him say what we wanted instead of me saying it.

The next morning, Saturday, I took the 70 (way better than the 80) via Marin City to Novato to visit my friend Carol Joy. Thoughts of grilling entered my mind over and over, which was fine: just something to note. “Thinking about grilling, thinking about grilling.”

I know (thanks to Al-Anon) that I can’t force a resolution to this problem, and that many aspects of it are out of my control. I also know that some ways of approaching things have a greater chance of success than others; unfortunately, I specialize in the latter. Fortunately, Tom has a natural grasp of the former—his emotional IQ is probably triple mine—so even though he probably won’t belabor the same points I would belabor—in fact, he probably won’t belabor anything as such—I am going to let him handle the next piece of communication, which will be with the landlord.

In sum, there was not a single thing I could do about the grilling problem while I was on the bus or in Marin City/Novato/Sausalito/San Rafael/Mill Valley/Tiburon/Belvedere, so I resolved to relax and enjoy myself, and I even resolved not to mention grilling to Carol Joy, since certain listeners, even those who may have given birth to me, are clearly sick of the topic. Can’t blame them. I didn’t quite succeed, but I made it until late Saturday night.

And I did indeed have a thoroughly good weekend, so grill you, griller. Carol Joy picked me up at the bus stop in Novato and took me to her house so I could drop my stuff off. Then we went to Sausalito and she treated me to a fabulous lunch at Paradise Bay. We sat by the big open windows and could have dropped our forks right into the water if we’d been so inclined. She told me some of her adventures living on houseboats long ago.

Then we went to a movie theater in San Rafael and saw How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer. I didn’t know much about it, but thought it might be a slick Hollywood film (not that I have a thing against those), but it was a slow-paced independent film that takes place in a nearly moribund town in the desert and makes the point that even the old, the fat, the grumpy and the limbless can love and be loved. Carol Joy and I both liked it.

She talked to her husband on her cell phone at some point and reported that he was shocked that we were planning to spend our day doing nothing but enjoying ourselves and not getting any exercise or doing anything worthwhile. She said she told him that we took a walk, but didn’t mention that it was just from the car door to the restaurant door.

Speaking of restaurants, after all that hard work watching the movie in the air-conditioned theater, it was time for dinner! We dined at Thai Smile in San Rafael, where I had a tasty version of pad see yew with tofu, and Thai iced coffee, and Carol Joy told me some stories about her trip to Thailand.

After a delectable dinner, what is better than an evening at the theater? We saw AlterTheater’s production of Hard Laughter, based on Anne Lamott’s novel, at The Wooden Duck, which is a furniture store in San Rafael. They set up folding chairs around three sides of a square, and overflow audience members just sit on the store’s furniture. We thought the ending was a bit anticlimactic, but the performances were quite good, and we enjoyed it overall.

Afterwards, we went back to Carol Joy’s and went to sleep. In the morning, we sat outside and watched the birds: red-headed woodpeckers, mourning doves, quail. Carol Joy said that soon after they moved in, she heard a rat-tat-tatting sound and couldn’t figure out what it was, and then she heard what sounded like Woody Woodpecker’s taunting little song, and then she realized the reason the cartoonists had made him sound like that, because that’s how woodpeckers really sound, though she said she has heard that call only a couple of times. We saw turkey vultures as we were leaving for our next entertainment, which was to drive around Belvedere, which you get to by going through Mill Valley and Tiburon first. Which is to say it’s not exactly on the freeway where just anybody could drive right by.

I had never heard of Belvedere until a month ago, but it’s apparently where James Hetfield lives. I told Carol Joy that if we happened to see him, I was going to throw the car door open and run over to him screaming, “I’m a huge fan! Oh, my god, this is the happiest day of my life!” Carol Joy joked that he would probably answer, “That is so sad.”

Belvedere is an island right next to Tiburon populated by the very rich. No commercial establishments allowed. I asked why people there are so rich, and Carol Joy said many of them are people whose families have money, people who have never had to work in their entire lives. It’s very densely built up, with tiny winding streets and houses right next to each other. It actually made me a little claustrophobic, and so, after weighing the various considerations, including my lack of a hundred million dollars, I have decided not to purchase there. We also didn’t see James Hetfield, but we did see an elderly gentleman to whom I waved a cheery wave. He looked at us like, “Who are you?” In some small places, people are quite friendly and will smile or wave at a stranger, but I guess not necessarily in small places full of the extremely wealthy.

We paused here and there to admire the views enjoyed by Belvederians, and they are very nice indeed. Also, Carol Joy said Belvedere has the best weather in the entire country: Bay Area weather minus fog. They see the fog drifting over the hills of other towns, but the fog does not assail them personally.

On to Tiburon for breakfast at the New Morning Café. A mean lady there deigned to pick up her purse when we wanted to share her bench, but didn’t look at us or otherwise acknowledge us. She was soon joined by a tiny girl who said to her, “Move over so we all can fit on the bench!” Just so, little girl.

While we were waiting for our names to be called, Carol Joy saw a guy having his picture taken with another guy and asked, “Is that Kirk Hammett?” It was not, but I believe it was actually Carlos Santana, who does live right around there.

When we were seated at a picnic table outdoors, I ordered three blueberry pancakes and plenty of extra butter, all of which I applied to the pancakes. I got full about two-thirds of the way through, but felt I couldn’t stop, since I had just been lecturing Carol Joy about the merits of overeating.

But then I thought, the cook doesn’t have any idea how hungry I was. My stomach is the only authority on how many blueberry pancakes I need, and I am sitting here forcing in blueberry pancakes so Carol Joy won’t be disappointed in my failure to overeat. And as soon as I saw that clearly, I effortlessly lowered my fork to the plate, and Carol Joy said, “If you're not going to finish that, I will,” and she did.

I said, “Your joints should be working very well afterwards, because I put an enormous amount of butter on those pancakes. If you’re not well lubricated, it’s not my fault.”

She said, “OK, that won’t be your fault, but if I have to have a triple bypass, that might be your fault.”

She took me back to the bus where I almost sat in the front seat, except that an old lady outside the bus tapped threateningly on the window with her cane and eyed the seat pointedly, so then I didn’t.

Wasn't that a lovely weekend?

Listen, You Son of a Griller …

When I got home from Eugene’s last Sunday evening, I saw there had been, pardon the expression, grilling while I was out, so I screwed up my nerve and went to talk to the neighbors about trying the electric charcoal starter. Fortunately, the wife answered the door and she was really very nice, as always, and said they’d be happy to try the electric starter and that the building manager had mentioned she might try one, too. I was delighted, because it had been in the back of my mind that if the neighbors liked the electric thing OK, I would need to find some way of suggesting it to the building manager, thus risking one of our usual unpleasant interactions.

We had a brief heat wave here this week. It was 97 degrees on Thursday and still very warm in the evening. I left more windows than usual open when I went to sleep and was awakened at 4:30 a.m. by a man yelling obscenities at a woman who now and then yelled back, but he clearly had the upper hand. It was a horrible way to wake up.

Thursday was Bike to Work Day. By chance, I found myself riding down Market St. with the supervisor from my district, who, disappointingly, blew through every red light he came to, trailing a herd of constituents who all did the same. I stopped by a press conference at City Hall to hear the executive director of the Bike Coalition, Leah Shahum, speak, along with the various supervisors who’d ridden their bikes to work, and then I went on to my own place of employment.

I arrived to find a motorcycle blocking four bike parking spaces, but fortunately that building manager and her assistant sprang into action instantly and made it vanish. They figured out whose it was, had him move it, and told him never to park there again.

After work, I went to volunteer at an energizer station outside Rainbow Grocery, which was a fantastic spot to get new Bike Coalition members by mentioning the ten percent discount Rainbow offers SFBC members who bike to their store. We recruited thirteen new activists, I think.

This past Friday night I saw that the building manager was getting ready to grill, which marks the fourth week in a row we’ve had grilling. “Grill” and “grilling” are pretty much swear words at this point, as far as I’m concerned. Peeking out the window, I saw that she had the electric starter I’d given the neighbors, and it looked like she also had the pictorial instructions I’d printed out for them. I was delighted, and when I still didn’t smell anything after 30 minutes or so, I concluded it had worked perfectly.

Then my apartment completely filled with smoke, about as bad as it’s ever been. Tom came down and said his place was even worse than mine, and that all the hallways smelled strongly of smoke. Neighbors in the front of the building, nowhere near the backyard, said their place was also full of smoke.

Tom and I had planned to watch a DVD that evening, and I wasn’t sure whether it would be better to have the windows open, in hopes the smoke would blow through, or closed, to try to keep it out. Tom said he thought we’d be better off, in this case, with the windows closed, so I closed them, and in about three minutes, it was stifling hot as well as smoky, so we had to give up on the DVD idea and just leave the building.

We went to a café and stayed there until it closed, at 10 p.m. Tom said, “I think it’s reached the point where I’m going to have to weigh in,” which was great, because the building manager has framed this as a case of a single crackpot (myself) whose complaints are absolutely beyond the pale. We returned home hoping the charcoal would no longer be burning, but it was still going.

I told Tom we would need to go down to the backyard and request that the charcoal be put out so we could go to sleep; the actual cooking portion of the program was long over, and the building manager and her three guests were just enjoying the fumes at that point. I’d told Tom he was in charge of doing the talking, so he walked outside and greeted the building manager, who didn’t see me—yet—and answered him in a friendly manner: “Hi, how are you?”

I should have kept my trap shut and let Tom say, “Fine, but you know, it’s pretty smoky inside. We were wondering …” But of course I interrupted and answered her question, saying, “Smoky is how we are.”

She instantly got angry and said, “Linda, I’ve done everything you’ve asked me to do.”

I said, “The entire building is full of smoke, and it’s really hot inside with all the windows closed to try to keep the smoke out.” She smiled in a most unpleasant way and shook her head, as if to express what an obvious loser I am (and that does seem to be the attitude of many grillers and smokers when ill effects to others are brought to their attention, according to my Internet research). Tom and I left, and she did put the charcoal out, and we retired to our respective apartments.

In the morning, I put on clothes that reeked of smoke and dried myself off after a shower using a towel that also reeked of smoke. This is not OK. I was hoping the electric charcoal starter would do the trick, but it didn’t. At all.

Fortunately, Tom said he is going to contact the landlord this time, and propose that we buy the building a propane grill. At this point, I would buy every last person in this building his or her own propane grill plus a handsome bookmark from the Levenger catalog if it would end the miserable experience of the charcoal grilling (particularly considering that it came on the heels of many, many lousy experiences with cigarette smoke).

If I thought it was just a horrible smell, I could probably deal with it, but I know it’s got yucky stuff in it that’s not good to breathe, plus there’s my little cat Hammett to think of. I can leave the building if it gets too bad, but he, practically speaking, can’t. Schlepping him from café to café in his box every time someone decides to grill is not really an option.

Uneasy Lies the Butt that Breaks the Throne

I am pleased to report that my caulking repair in the tub did hold perfectly. I was sure the thing was going to fall off the wall the next time I touched it, but it didn’t.

Wednesday a week and a half ago, I spent the evening, along with many other people, at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition office stuffing bags to be handed out on Bike to Work Day at the various “energizer stations.” The following night I went to a Bike Coalition outreach training, which provided useful tips for trying to build our ranks, plus specific info we would need for BTWD.

Friday morning of that week, I was ensconced on the throne thinking the profound thoughts for which I am known, such as “Why don’t I ever see Kirk Hammett drive by in his car?”, when there was an ominous cracking sound. Sure enough, my wooden toilet seat had split. My first thought was that I would just replace it myself, so I wouldn’t have to deal with my uncivil building manager or the landlord, but I couldn't get it off, so I had to email my landlord after all.

In the course of getting out my big screwdriver—it was in my tool box, which has my blender and the mother lode of cheese puffs on top of it; it’s also behind both bicycles—I knocked over one of my bikes, scaring Hammett terribly. That’s his least favorite sound, and it caused him to take cover underneath the blankets on the bed, where he was still often to be found by the middle of the following week.

I was going to ask the landlord to let me know when “the person” would be coming to replace the toilet seat so I could clean the bathroom prior to that. “When is the person coming to replace the toilet seat?” is but one of the excellent things you get to say when you’re a renter. (When you stop being a renter, there is no longer “the person” but only your own self to do that, plus everything else, plus pay for it.) Then I decided that if it was that important to me not to have anyone see it had been months since I'd cleaned the bathroom, I should just for goodness’ sake clean it, so I did. While I was doing this (all before leaving for work that morning), I knocked something off the windowsill which broke the sink’s porcelain cold water tap, a lovely item that had probably been in place for decades.

So then I had to email the landlord again to tell her I’d broken her vintage fixture. A few minutes later, Tom came over and got the toilet seat off with no problem; I hadn't noticed there was a nut
underneath. If I only had looked a little harder—the story of my life—I would not have had to mention it to the landlord at all, I would not have cleaned the bathroom unnecessarily, I would not have scared the bejesus out of Hammett and I would not have broken the tap.

My coworker Emily agreed on the phone a bit later that it did sound like there were some lessons to be drawn from this experience.

The landlord said she would send along a handle and that maybe Tom could put it on, since plumbers cost $150 an hour. That seemed reasonable, and Tom even offered to go get the part himself. But after four trips to the hardware store with no luck, it was starting to strike me as a bit much, even though Tom, being himself, would probably have gone back to the hardware store ten more times, so I emailed the landlord to say we weren’t having much luck, and she said she’d see what she could find.

On Friday night a bit over a week ago, I saw The New World. The music stood out as being not very good, but the movie was kind of clever in that it gave me an experience similar to the lead character's. In fact, I’m still kind of waiting for Colin Farrell to come back.

On Saturday, I sewed a shirt, except for the buttons, buttonholes and pocket. It took me about eleven hours, and I think it’s way too big, but it was a good learning experience, so I will go ahead and finish it. I finally figured out that part of the reason my sewing machine has so many problems is the use of bobbins that are the wrong size. Prior to that, I was thinking it was time for a new machine, but now maybe all I need to do is get the zigzag fixed. It won’t zigzag any more. It used to.

My new driver’s license arrived in the mail, much sooner than I’d expected. I was quite pleased with the photo. I think it looks better than the previous one, from ten years ago, in which I look unformed. “Like an egg,” offered my mother. Just so. It wasn’t just my imagination that the new photo is good, either; the first person to see it—a clerk at Rainbow—said, “Nice photo.”

Last Sunday, Mother’s Day, I sang my mother “Happy Mother’s Day” to the tune of “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy”: “Happy muh-huh-huther’s day-ay, happy happy mother’s day! Happy mother’s day, it’s mother’s day, ha-happy muh-huther’s day-ay …” The honoree attempted to interrupt this tribute at some point, thus jeopardizing her chances of a repeat performance next year—perhaps that was the point—but I sang on lustily.

After that I cooked lentil soup, and in the evening I went to Eugene’s.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Seeking Persons Like Myself in Every Particular for Rewarding Social Adventures

I had a very nice week at work back in my old cozy nook.

Thursday night my book club met for the second time, after which I decided not to continue with it, for two reasons. One is that one guy who came to both meetings is an incorrigible interrupter, who several times launched into something completely unrelated to what I was saying, as if it had been dead silent before he started talking. I noticed that by the end of both meetings, I was reluctant to say anything at all for fear I’d be interrupted.

The other reason is that my reading time is very limited, so I’d rather spend it on books I know I want to read. It was slightly frustrating to plow through 600 pages of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle while three library books of my own sat temptingly on the shelf. (I’m now reading David Chadwick’s memoir Thank You and OK!: An American Zen Failure in Japan.)

I could probably have found some way to deal with the interrupter, but since I also don’t want to spend the time reading other people’s picks, that’s that.

It was a good experiment, though. I did make sure to specify that the meetings were going to be in my own neighborhood, which was smart. If I do this again, I’ll also specify women over 40 only, and that we’re only going to read books that happen to be on my list. Which is to say I’m probably not going to do this again.

Friday afternoon I went to the DMV to renew my driver license. I made an appointment online beforehand and it was amazingly fast. I was in and out in less than 30 minutes, while those who hadn’t made appointments sat unmoving in plastic chairs as if they’d been rooted there for decades, which maybe they had.

Then I went to Freewheel to have the collar, or whatever you call it, that holds my seat post at a certain height switched out in favor of one I hope will work better; i.e., that will not allow the seat to gradually lose altitude until I feel like I'm riding a kiddie cycle. That evening, Lisa and David and I had a nice long chat on the phone and got all caught up.

Last weekend, I think on Sunday, the neighbor who grilled outside my kitchen door grilled out back, and did omit the lighter fluid, but still managed to fill my place with smoke for a couple of hours. It smelled like he had burned paper to get the charcoal going. “Oh, well,” I thought, “it does beat the use of lighter fluid, and it probably won’t happen very often.”

This is the neighbor who hadn’t spoken to me for some weeks or months. I had been hoping he’d thaw—his wife had said he gets mad easily, but also gets over things fast—but it appeared such was not to be, so I had accepted it might be a long time, or never.

So I was pleased and surprised when I saw him on the front porch yesterday as I left to go grocery shopping and he said, “Hello, Linda!” as if we had never been out of touch. Unfortunately, after I got home, I realized it was yet another grilling day, less than a week after the last occasion.

Fortunately, I was cooking, and so could stay in the kitchen, away from the smoke, for the couple of hours it took to abate, and I put Hammett in the bathroom and he didn’t freak out. He’s more unflappable now that he’s a teenager. He used to get very upset, meowing in a panicked way, when he was detained in that manner, however briefly.

I decided I would have to speak to the neighbors—thank goodness the husband is speaking to me again, just in time for Round 967 of the Fume Wars, though I hope this time it won’t feel like a war at all. I would certainly like to leave the landlord and building manager out of it, and just discuss with them what we could do to have less smoke.

I know nothing about grilling, so I went online to read about the chimney starter, an alternative to lighter fluid. It looks like it still requires newspaper, but then I happened upon mention of the electric charcoal starter, including one model that gets rave reviews at Amazon and is only $15.

I ordered my neighbors one and am going to present it as a belated wedding gift, along with the glowing reviews from Amazon and see if they’d be willing to give it a whirl. I think it was the burning newspaper that smelled rather than the charcoal itself.

Last night I saw Eastern Promises, which, though I like Viggo Mortensen very much, I did not see in the theater because it looked way too violent. But I have a friend who eschews violent movies who said she really liked it, so I got it from Netflix and then had to close my eyes practically the whole time plus put my fingers in my ears plus say, “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you!” (I wonder how the sound designer knew just what fingers being cut off sounds like. Yucko.)

In addition, much of the plot eluded me, though, as my friend said when I called her up this morning to say I could not believe that was her idea of a movie with a tolerable level of violence, maybe that’s because my eyes were closed so much of the time. But Viggo certainly is pretty, I will say that, and his kiss with Naomi Watts had more chemistry than just about any other movie kiss I’ve ever seen.

My OXO Good Grips Smooth Edge can opener has somewhat given up the ghost. It’s one of those newfangled can openers that doesn’t produce any sharp edges. After only a year or less, it’s hit or miss as to whether it will actually open the can or not, and it turns out this type of can opener, not just OXO’s, is notorious for this. There is no way to replace the blade; you just have to toss out the whole thing.

OXO offered to send me a new one, but I said haughtily that I’m an environmentalist and don’t want to toss a can opener into the landfill every year. Then I went online to see what the best kind of can opener is, and it’s apparently the old workhorse the Swing-A-Way, which looked mightily like my old-fangled can opener because that is indeed what I have.

I believe I removed that can opener from my parents’ house when I moved to California nearly 26 years ago, and it still works fine. I went ahead and ordered another one, anyway, when I was ordering the electric charcoal starter, in case my old one fails after the Big One, or in case I want to lend a can opener to a neighbor, and because I have sort of a compulsive online shopping thing underway. (It's kind of mortifying. I'm trying to rein it in.)

Today I was going to do the 73-mile loop of the Grizzly Peak century, but I stayed up too late last night watching the DVD and then had trouble falling asleep (not because of the DVD, I don’t think, but because nothing makes it impossible to fall asleep like particularly needing a good night’s sleep), so when the alarm went off at 5:50 a.m., I called Tom and said I was going to stay home.

I told him I’d still pay him for the ride registration and my half of the rental car, so it has been a rather expensive day of sitting in my chair reading with my little cat on my lap. How amazing that the division of cells should have resulted in Hammett. That one gloopy little first cell could have been anything. How lucky that it was the starter cell for a soft and pliant cat.

Oh! Today I also did a caulking project I’ve been putting off. In the tub, there are metal cups that fit around the hot and cold water taps, plus around the push-pull thing you use to turn the shower off or on. The center cup had come loose, and I had obtained some caulk to fix it. Today I finally gave it a whirl, and had much trouble until I thought of calling Tom’s brother, Dan, who by all accounts is a genius in this realm.

Fortunately, he was in his apartment in Sacramento and gave me three key pieces of advice that allowed me to finish the project readily. It looks just as good as the other two, and I hope will turn out to be secure and not fall off the wall next time I pull the thing out to start the shower.