Monday, June 30, 2008

A Trip to Santa Cruz

Friday after work, the same day I took my chair to Andrew Woodside Carter, I went to pick up a rental car. Then I had to go to the gas station and to Rainbow for groceries, and all of that, which would have taken maybe an hour on my bicycle (and, of course, I could have skipped the trip to the gas station), took three hours, in part because after I left the car rental place, I was nearly in the bay before I could change lanes or turn, traffic was so heavy.

On Saturday, after way too little sleep, I drove to Santa Cruz for a workshop with Carol Munter, who, with Jane Hirschmann, wrote Overcoming Overeating and When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies, and Robyn Posin. It was noticeably smokier down that way. I found the workshop very helpful, and enjoyed meeting the other participants.

One woman, an oil and gas lawyer from Houston, who travels for work to all kinds of exotic places, like Dubai, said her image of herself is fixed in an earlier era, so when she sees her husband, sometimes she thinks, “Oh, my god, there’s an old man.”

Because I don’t own a car, it is rare and a huge treat to drive on the freeway with Metallica rattling the windows. That was lovely.

I stayed Saturday night at Land of Medicine Buddha, a Tibetan Buddhist center you get to by driving for some miles into a redwood forest; the place is at the end of the road. The redwoods were beautiful, and I saw a skunk puttering about by the side of the road, but that kind of road gives me the creeps. It makes me feel like I’m in something.

We had a long break during the day on Saturday, during which I went into Santa Cruz for lunch at a taqueria on Pacific Ave., and to my lodging place to check in, so in the evening I just went straight to my room, which had two beds, a minuscule bathroom and of course no TV. I didn’t see a soul, and when it dawned on me that there was not another human being in earshot, I had a moment of panic. I like to be alone, but with millions of strangers right nearby

I got up and read the emergency procedures on the back of the door, and it said something about walking to the phone booth and calling one of the staff phone numbers. “Aha,” I said to myself. “If there are staff phone numbers, there must be staff.” I studied the map and realized the staff residence was not far from where I was (and also a hospice center).

It occurred to me that maybe somewhere nearby there were 50 people meditating whom I could join, so I went to the central area—I passed the staff building, which showed no sign of life—and found a hall where there were a whole bunch of women learning how to be “soul collage facilitators.”

I went on to the meditation hall, which, typical in Tibetan Buddhism, was beautifully decorated. I visited a Tibetan Buddhist center in Berkeley a couple of times a year or so ago, and its meditation room was absolutely gorgeous. The one at Land of Medicine Buddha had eight Medicine Buddha statues in a row at the front of the room, and other large statues, and photos of the Dalai Lama and other teachers, and hundreds of bowls of sparkling water, and lots of colorful bits of this and that. There wasn’t a soul about, but I went in and meditated for half an hour, and then all was well.

The workshop finished up the next day, and then I drove home again and returned the rental car.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Gino’s Legacy Threatened

I have disturbing news about Gino: He may not have been the first white musician on Soul Train, after all, or at least, this can’t be verified. Writes my associate: “David Bowie, Elton John, Gino, Daryl, Tower of Power, and Dennis Coffey have all been identified as the first white blah blah. Snopes is silent on the subject.”

I wrote Lisa C. that she really had to see his “One Night with You” video on YouTube, or at least the first half of it. Her review:

“I actually think the second half is better, where he's dancing like he's trying to dislodge a colony of oyster crabs that's embedded itself in the manly mat of hair ornamenting his sacral region.

“You can't really see his sacrum or the hair thereupon in the video; I'm extrapolating based on his other abundant follicular endowments. Just wanted to spare you the necessity of watching that video again to see if you can see what I'm talking about.”

Lisa is funny. However, there was no need to spare me the necessity of watching that video. I got a YouTube account just so I could mark it as a favorite. Why, sometimes I watch it while listening to a different Gino Vannelli song on the CD player.

As noted in the news, there are many forest fires burning here in Northern California. Along about the 23rd of June, the brief summary of weather conditions at, where it usually says “Sunny” or “Partly cloudy,” said “Smoke.”

Right around then, the seat of the venerable wooden chair I use as a desk chair cracked, signaled by an ominous noise as I leaned back in it. It has been very wobbly for years and Tom has been warning me that one day it will collapse and I’ll crack my head open.

Above (because I can't figure out how to put it right here) is a picture of me on this chair, or its identical sibling, in 1965. Perhaps one of my readers can tell me where this chair came from in the first place and what became of its sister

I was sorry the chair cracked because when I posted a note on Craigslist a while back seeking recommendations for people who can fix wooden things, I didn’t get a single response, so I figured I would have to call everyone in the furniture repair section of the Yellow Pages and that they would all say, “It’s made out of wood? No, we don’t deal with anything like that any more, but we’d be happy to sell you a seating system made out of space-age plastic with built-in urinal, apple corer and cigar humidor.”

But the very first person I called—Andrew Woodside Carter—said, “Sure, I can fix it.” I took the chair over there in a cab yesterday and found Andrew Woodside Carver to be a fresh-faced, appealing young (but not too young) guy who said he would glue my chair back together for $85. He wasn’t all that far from my place, either.

Afterwards, I walked to 15th and Mission in search of a cab, suspecting I’d have to wait for 30 minutes, have to call for one, or, god forbid, take the bus, but the second I got to the corner, there was an empty cab whose driver was as happy to see me as I was to see him. He said his previous fare had tried to bargain him down on the cost of a ride, and he’d had to say no.

Not only was this cab driver immediately available, he also happened to be outrageously good-looking (and happily married, from what I gleaned during the ride), and, to boot, a guitar teacher, which is something I’ve been looking for. He teaches at a music store here in San Francisco, and gave me his phone number so I can call about lessons.

When I got to work, I ordered a gig bag with backpack straps for my guitar so I can schlep it around by bicycle, which I suspect will be a sweaty and unwieldy operation.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Congratulations to Mily and Susan!

Today is their wedding day! I am delighted for them, and for all the other couples who have recently been able to marry, or who will marry soon. I read that lots of people are coming to San Francisco in advance of Gay Pride* day to get married. What a wonderful week of love and celebration it is.

I bet if you visit the Mily's Wonderful Photos link to the right and down a ways in a day or two, you'll see some very nice pictures of this tremendous event! Right now you can see the lovely corsage Mily's parents sent. That's so sweet.

*By which of course I mean the San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Celebration; in the early 1980s, we just called it Gay Day.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

All Gino, All the Time

Did I mention that Gino was the first white person to appear on Soul Train?

Or that I’M GOING TO VEGAS TO MEET GINO?! (If I can get the right kind of ticket.) I called Tom to invite him to come with me, and he said he watched that video and it was the stupidest thing he ever saw and not only was he not going to see Gino, he was in favor of posting the militia at the state border to make sure Gino never enters California. I had to sweeten the deal by proposing a side trip to the Hoover Dam. YEAH! GOING TO VEGAS TO SEE GINO!

Standing in the Light, Thank You, Todd, or God

Yesterday morning, I tried using agave nectar in place of maple syrup on pancakes and expected to be disappointed, but it was very good. If I didn’t have three-quarters of a bottle of maple syrup in the refrigerator, I would have gone ahead and used agave nectar on all the pancakes.

It wasn’t quite up to the job when it came to a cup of very strong black tea, however. The tea was generally sweet with two tablespoons of agave nectar in it (about the amount of sugar I usually use), but retained a bitter edge. I had to go ahead and add my usual amount of sugar, too. (Then it was sweet, all right.) Agave nectar has a lower glycemic index, by far, than other sweeteners, for those who are interested in such things. Supposedly you can use it in baking.

In the evening I watched The Air I Breathe, which was much more violent than I had expected. I wanted to see it because Kevin Bacon is in it, but the star attraction turned out to be Brendan Fraser, in the role of a brooding enforcer who can see the future.

Last Sunday evening, Eugene took questions, as he often does, and I had my hand raised so I could ask this question: How do you tell a “just a thought” from a “this would be good to do”? For instance, if I have the thought, “Maybe I should rob a bank,” it’s pretty easy to tell that’s a thought that shouldn’t be acted upon. (Of course, I haven’t ever had that thought spontaneously. Maybe it will prove to be more persuasive than I think when it happens.)

I believe that current conditions could not be otherwise, given the causes that came before, but I sometimes fear being too passive and failing to do something that actually would be a good thing to do and that I will or would regret not doing, such as move back to Ann Arbor.

I never got to ask my question, but as has happened before, Eugene's answer to someone else’s question answered mine: I realized I have framed the situation incorrectly.

“Should I move to Ann Arbor or not?” is the wrong question. “Why can’t I make this decision?” is even wronger. Here’s the right question: “Can I have compassion for myself in this situation of not being able to make a decision?”

I have ordered seven Todd Rundgren CDs from Amazon, and I bought one from iTunes that Amazon didn’t have: Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren. I knew there was at least one excellent Todd Rundgren song that isn’t on Anthology—“Hurting for You,” from Hermit of Mink Hollow—but wondered if it would turn out that once you have Anthology plus “Hurting for You,” you have all of Todd Rundgren’s good songs, but I listened to Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren today while I made Black Bean Ful from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant and was knocked out by several very beautiful songs. Todd Rundgren is a genius.

I think you could face any grievous experience life could offer if you have Todd Rundgren’s music. Anthology alone would probably do the trick. Todd understands, from the very bottom of his heart.

I just got back from Eugene’s Sunday night sitting group and hope it isn’t hubris or something to say I feel really, really, really good. If I ascend to heaven tonight, let the record reflect that my last night on earth was very, very happy. I hope it wears off before I give every cent I have to orphans in India. I feel that good.

I have two friends at Eugene’s whom I’ve known for a long time, probably since the early or mid-1990s, because they used to go to Howie’s sitting group, too. Quite some time ago, they started going to Eugene’s instead, and it’s been nice to see them there.

The male half of this couple is named David, and I have noticed more than once that I have had a particularly deep meditation when sitting next to him. Last week, I was sitting right behind them, and after we were done meditating, David noticed me and said, “Were you right behind us the whole time? No wonder my sit was so good.”

Tonight they were going to sit in front of me again, but this time I got up and sat next to them. I joked that we could see if our meditations were good, and if not, I’d try sitting behind them again next week, and if that proved to be better, the week after that, I’d stay home entirely.

It turned out my meditation tonight was incredible, as good as it gets outside an actual retreat. I didn’t mention that right afterwards, nor inquire how David’s had been—I thought it might sound a little weird to ask, “Was it as good for you as it was for me?”

Consequently, I was very ready to be powerfully rocked by everything Eugene said, and I was. He talked about how some of the Spirit Rock teachers spent time with Ajahn Sumedho this week. I don’t really think of myself as a Buddhist, even though I’ve been practicing Buddhist meditation since 1991, and I couldn’t have told you what lineage I belong to, or anything of that sort, though I do sort of think of Jack Kornfield as the spiritual father of all of us in the Bay Area, but tonight I found out, and suddenly it was meaningful to me, and suddenly I felt that I might like to be a Buddhist, though I hope I don’t go around saying, “Well, because I’m a Buddhist, blah blah blah.”

It’s funny how these joyous sorts of feelings, or feelings of devotion, are so naturally coupled with a strong sense of gratitude and a desire to share. I wished everyone in the room, everyone in the world, could be as happy as I was tonight. Some of the people in the room looked like they were that happy. It is really a great thing to meditate with a bunch of people. Hats off to Eugene for creating such a thriving community.

I think meditation in general has made me happier and happier as the years have passed, and turning my focus from vipassana to samatha practice has been a definite uptick, and using the technique of what Eugene calls “whole body breathing” has been the icing on the cake.

I attended Eugene’s daylong class on this at Spirit Rock a few months ago, and it has made a huge difference in my practice and in my life. This week a five-week class on this subject will begin; it will finish with another daylong, and all of this will be in San Francisco, fortunately. I am really looking forward to it. David’s wife is going to be in the class, too.

Eugene told us about a California wedding he attended this week, two artists, the wedding put on by all of their artist friends, and how a woman of perhaps 80 from the Midwest came up to him and said, “We didn’t have weddings like this when I got married,” but she recalled standing in a shaft of light during her own wedding; she said she could remember that numinous moment like it was yesterday. That made me cry, to think of that woman standing in that beam of light, and how she can still see it so clearly all these decades later.

Maybe everyone’s sitting was as great as mine, or maybe Eugene was really at the top of his game, because when the evening was over, the woman to my left said, “Wow, that was a really great talk. That was really satisfying!” And, as it happens, David, to my right, said his meditation, like mine, was incredible, so we decided we’ll sit together next week, just as an experiment, and agreed that if it’s no good, there won’t be any bitter recriminations. No swearing. Certainly no fisticuffs.

(If you don't meditate, I'm pretty sure you can get this exact same feeling by watching the YouTube video of Gino Vannelli singing "One Night with You.")

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Auto-Bathing Finally Underway and Goodbye to a Friend

It’s been very hot here this week, though I can’t give you exact figures, because on Friday, for instance, one website said it was 71, another said it was 80, and a third said it was a record-breaking 101 degrees. When I woke up this morning (not to mention when I went to sleep last night), it was very warm and I couldn’t think of anything I might enjoy doing other than walking two blocks to Vertical Clearance and having my head shaved down to the scalp, but staying in bed until it cools off didn’t seem feasible—it might be days—so I got up and called David and Lisa so David could say, “Neener neener,” or words to that effect, which seemed only fair. They’re enjoying a perfect 70-degree day in Seattle.

I went to Weather Underground and saw why the confusion may arise: They listed readings from 20 or so weather stations in San Francisco, and showed temperatures ranging from about 70 (at the beach) to 101 (in my neighborhood, always the warmest). That’s a 30-degree difference over seven miles!

The heat does start to feel a bit claustrophobic after a while (especially when you consider it’s probably going to get worse and worse until we all die of it, unless we die beforehand of thirst or starvation). I refuse to purchase an electric fan, but I’m making good use of some handheld ones.

Yesterday after work I joined some members of the Bike Coalition at the corner of 8th and Howard to offer free bells to passing cyclists; we did the installation right on the spot.

Hammett has finally, at the age of two, figured out that if he just has to lick a living creature, there is one always handy: himself. He used to smell a bit unshowered, and I had resigned myself to it, but now he’s springtime fresh. Because his fur is very short and not particularly abundant, he has yet to cough up a hairball, but I imagine he’ll start sooner or later.

The East Bay Municipal Utilities District is requiring its customers to reduce water usage by a certain percentage or face higher rates. This, as many have noted, is quite an unfair way of trying to reduce water use—if you’ve been wasting water like crazy all this time, you can easily meet the goal, while those who had already pared their water use down to the bone (so to speak) will have a much tougher time. They should just determine a number of gallons of water per person beyond which the rates will go up.

I myself have not particularly tried to conserve water because I figured the day would come when I would be forced to reduce my use by 15 or 25 percent, and I wanted to leave myself some swimming room. But I’ve decided to do better starting now, even if I suffer later, by taking a shower only every other day—I often do this, anyway, but now I can feel self-righteous about it—and by not flushing the toilet until necessary.

I have mentioned that I’ve been working on a proposal to install secure bike parking at my company’s locations, which are numerous and to be found in many states. I wrote this proposal a year ago and it has been more or less languishing since then, since we are following established procedures for getting things done in our large corporation. It has been frustrating at times, because installing bike racks seems like such a simple and obvious thing to do.

Fortunately, the proposal has made its way to various corners of the company, and we now have a proponent in the person of someone who works in communications. (She wrote in an email to several people this week that installing bike racks seems like a “no brainer,” bless her heart.) Meanwhile, individual locations are pushing for bike parking, and I found out this week that two buildings in San Francisco are adding ample bike parking soon, which was great news. At the rate we’re going, by the time the big boss says, “Yes, this proposal does appear to have all the t’s crossed and i’s dotted,” every last company location will already have bike parking, but that will be fine.

Recently I heard the Car Talk guys advise someone who called in with a car problem to ride his bicycle instead, and this morning they were discussing how it is now considered a “fashion faux pas” to drive a gas guzzler. Their hearts are in the right place.

I’m sorry to say that the friend I mentioned who left her house one day and ended up never returning to it, instead going to the hospital for a quintuple bypass, died this past Sunday. I extend my condolences to her children. Her daughter really, really didn’t want her mom to die and I really, really don’t want my mom (or dad) to die (ever), so I feel very bad for my friend’s daughter, who I think is younger than I am. I’m way too young to lose a parent, so my friend’s daughter is even more so.

Last and probably least, the news you’ve been waiting for, or, then again, not, of grilling. When I returned from Ann Arbor, Tom said there had not been any grilling while I was away, nor has there been any since. The last time the building manager grilled, on a very hot night, Tom and I had to leave the building entirely, and the whole place filled with smoke, even reaching the apartments in the front, one of which is occupied by the other griller and his kind wife.

Tom and I went down to ask the building manager to put the charcoal out and she and I ended up having an unpleasant interaction, but it can’t have escaped her notice that Tom was ready to say something about the grilling himself.

At that point, Tom was also ready to talk to the landlords about it, but then he decided to write the building manager directly and propose the use of a propane grill, and then he lost his enthusiasm for having this conversation, for which I can't really blame him.

Normally I would have pestered him until he did it, but he made a convincing case for a cooling-off period, and then I was away, and then there hadn’t been any grilling for a bit, and we decided to wait and see what happens.

And so far, nothing has happened. My theory is that the building manager talked to the other griller and his wife the next day and they gently said, “Yeah, our place did smell of smoke,” and that she finally figured out that if it’s bothering me plus Tom plus the other neighbors, maybe it’s not such a brilliant thing to do. (Though I’m sure she will never get to the point of thinking maybe she shouldn’t have sent a letter to everyone in the building saying I’m the only tenant who has this weird and unfathomable prejudice against smoke and fumes.)

Meanwhile, I also have the feeling that the nice wife said to her husband that she really didn’t feel comfortable grilling outside other people’s windows; she said to me once that she didn’t like to think they were bothering people. In any event, there has been no more grilling, and one day not long ago the neighbor went out and got his little grill and brought it back upstairs, and just a day or two ago, the building manager’s grill disappeared from the back yard.

It has been an interesting exercise for me in doing nothing, which is not what I normally do.

Just One Night with Gino

I have lately read Self-Made Man: One Woman’s Journey into Manhood and Back Again, by Norah Vincent. She successfully passed as a man in several settings, for instance, joining a bowling league that she attended for some time. She makes a convincing case that men suffer as much from gender roles as from women, or at least, that they do suffer, but she herself came across as kind of a jerk. She spoke very harshly at times to her female dates, but then was huffy when people weren’t super-polite to her. Her writing is not particularly good. She should have ceded a little control to an editor.

A Year Without “Made in China”: One Family’s True-Life Adventure in the Global Economy is Sara Bongiorni’s account of her family’s attempt to go a year without buying anything made in China, which revealed to them that everything is made in China. At times, they were reduced to hinting to family members that a certain made-in-China item would be a welcome birthday gift, since the ban did not extend to gifts.

In the end, it seemed to me she had done a good job of wringing an entire book out of relatively few experiences—she really did do a good job, in that the book was engaging throughout. Her husband came across as a particularly colorful character. Getting into the spirit of the thing, he took to wearing two different flip-flops (because sneakers come from China), and he wore them everywhere, to the author’s chagrin.

Peter Cameron’s novel Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You has a review on it that likens it to The Catcher in the Rye. That’s going quite a bit too far. It faded from memory as soon as I finished it.

Kate Atkinson’s Behind the Scenes at the Museum, on the other hand, is a gem. It starts out explaining the family relationships and at the end of the book, it was still doing that. I kept waiting for the real story to start, and it never did; well, there was some sort of mystery at the core of it, but not a hugely weighty mystery when compared to the hundreds of pages of family history. However, her writing is delightful, dry or droll by turns. I would recommend any book written by her.

She writes about a wedding where, when the person officiating asks if anyone has an objection, all eyes swing toward the groom, as they all know he is the likeliest person to object.

I just finished Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love, which was also extravagantly well reviewed. I didn’t think it was quite that good. It was extremely hard to picture anything she was talking about, and her main character has very insistent verbal tics; he uses “And yet” and “But” as complete sentences approximately once per paragraph. Probably once per book, or twice, would have been plenty.

This book does involve several mysteries, which were unraveled right at the end, when I was all discombobulated because you also find out (spoiler alert) right at the end that the main narrator has been unreliable all along. Not very satisfying, but there was a steady stream of imaginative flourishes that I liked.

I am really enjoying most of my new birthday CDs. The Blood, Sweat & Tears CD of the same name doesn’t have as many good songs on it as I remembered from my youth, but The Best of Gino Vannelli is absolutely excellent. I’m listening to it right this minute, while the sweat drips down my stomach. It’s got his hits on it, and several other songs I’d never heard but fell in love with right away.

I sent David and Lisa “One Night with You,” which I knew David in particular would hate; it’s at the exact other end of the musical spectrum from the Grateful Dead. He withheld comment, but Lisa tactfully wrote, “This indeed seems to capture the Zeitgeist [of the era] in all its irony-unimpeded glory.” For an extra thrill, you can go to YouTube and watch him singing it in a white suit and white knee-high boots.

Then there’s the Todd Rundgren Anthology (1968-1985), a best-of compilation full of great stuff, including well-known songs like “We Gotta Get You a Woman,” “Hello It’s Me,” and “I Saw the Light,” but also quite a number of unbelievably pretty ballads I’d never heard: “Wailing Wall,” “Sometimes I Don’t Know What to Feel,” “The Last Ride.” He really has a way with surprising, gorgeous chord changes. His music is often very touching. Anthology consists of two discs, and there are a few clunkers on the second, but the first is superb, and there’s some good stuff on the second, too.

“Open My Eyes” reminded me so much of The Who’s “I Can’t Explain” I suspected a rip-off—until I saw that the former came out in 1968 and the latter in 1971! So if there was a bit of borrowing, it wasn’t done by Todd Rundgren.

Seether’s Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces is a good solid metal album. You can tell they’ve put in their time listening to Metallica. My favorite song is “Waste.”

On the Three Days Grace CD of the same name, I particularly like “Just Like You” and “Born Like This.” In the liner notes, all three band members thank their female partners first, and in the notes for One-X, from three years later, which I haven’t heard a note of so far, they again thank the same three women first, plus a new band member starts by thanking his “best friend and wife." I thought that was nice.

A wonderful surprise has been the Foo Fighters’ Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace. They write some incredibly beautiful stuff. I hear a bit of Steely Dan in there, and the Internet agrees with me. "Let It Die," "Erase/Replace," and "Come Alive" are particularly gorgeous.

I probably never heard a note of their music before, because they probably didn’t play it on my hard-rock radio station. I have another Foo Fighters CD I’ll get to after this one sinks in. I have also ordered several more Todd Rundgren CDs and will probably end up getting the other Foo Fighters CDs. That’s my big indulgence, I guess: buying CDs (and also taking cabs).

Tonglen and Portobellos

The week after my birthday, I found myself feeling lonely at work. I missed Emily in particular, but I was also disliking being the only person in my group at my location. The person who sits next to me was out of town for a week. I made a point of going to the Bike Coalition’s volunteer night, which cheered me up, and then I also remembered about tonglen, which is Tibetan for “sending and taking” and is a remarkably effective way to deal with difficult feelings of all sorts.

To practice tonglen when you have a yucky emotion, you breathe in the feeling directly, feeling its heavy weight or vast cold emptiness or churning heat. You try to really experience it and feel the misery of it, and you also do this on behalf of everyone everywhere in the world. You breathe in the grief of the whole world, or the anger, or the fear, or the wretched feeling of longing, and then you breathe out and feel the tranquility and lightness of the out-breath, and wish that this affliction would be gone for all beings, including yourself: May all beings be free from fear. May all beings be happy and at peace.

I think this is a brilliant practice because it does so many things at once: It’s the opposite of running from the feeling, or of the kind of resistance that tends to prolong the agony. It reminds me that everyone is subject to the same difficulties I am: it’s not MY sorrow, it’s THE sorrow. It lends a purpose to my sufferings, even makes them seem a bit noble, or makes me feel a bit noble for dealing with them. (Though I imagine you can read all of Pema Chodron’s books and never read that doing tonglen is good if you want to feel noble.)

Doing tonglen gives me a chance to practice generosity: I want this good thing for everyone, not just me. Being generous is a mood lifter, and that moment of relief that comes with the out-breath and the good wishes reminds me that I might be going to live and that there still might be moments of pleasure or happiness that lie ahead.

Now the lonely feeling seems to have abated, and I’m kind of enjoying having the whole place—the whole city, really—to myself.

Tom and I have been watching episodes of the TV show Dark Angel on DVD, and for my birthday, he took me to see The Life Before Her Eyes. It was so emotionally intense, I could barely sit through it. It made me nearly queasy, but before I could apologize to Tom for having put him through it, he said he’d really enjoyed it and that he thought it was a good movie.

It’s about a high school shooting and focuses on two best friends, and the life of one of them as an adult, so it’s half flashbacks. The wonderful Evan Rachel Wood is in it. If you haven’t seen Pretty Persuasion yet, do that right away.

I must mention a documentary my parents and I saw: The Devil Came on Horseback, about Brian Steidle, a U.S. Marine who went to Darfur as an official military observer and ended up chronicling the dreadful events taking place there. He played a large role in bringing awareness of those events to America, in the form of a huge number of ghastly photographs. On top of everything else, once a Darfurian woman is raped, she is then often abandoned by her Muslim husband for having dishonored the family. It is a moving and distressing film, and we all learned quite a bit. Now I understand much better what’s going on there and why.

I also lately saw Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, about two brothers who get the remarkably good idea to rob their own parents’ jewelry store. It is sad, about the ways we enrage our family members and let each other down, yet how we never stop loving each other and wanting to be loved.

Lately I’ve been cooking one kind of grain per week—I’m rotating through a long list of them, trying new ones—and one pot of soup or beans. Since I make only one thing, it has to be tasty, so I’m mostly choosing from a list of five or six favorites. I bring a Thermos-brand vacuum bottle full of soup to work each day, along with crudités and apple slices, and for dinner I’ve often been having grains and steamed veggies with sautéed mushrooms and/or pine nuts and/or red peppers and/or water chestnuts or whatever. Because of all the different possible grains and veggies and things to sauté, it’s never quite the same twice, but it is always tasty and satisfying.

This week I had a mushroom extravaganza and had sautéed Portobello strips or shiitake every night I cooked dinner. (Then there was the dinner that consisted of two pints of Double Rainbow Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream, also very satisfying.)

I made the Dal recipe from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant last week, using red lentils, adding chopped tomatoes per one of the offered variations, and it was really good.

A Tuna Fish Singing Like a Monster

One of the things that happened on my recent trip home was that I was allowed to take my own baby book home, a blue hardcover volume covering the first two or three years of my life. It contains such quotes for the ages as, “I’m a tuna fish singing like a monster,” my answer to the question, “What are you?”

Presumably this is an item of, ahem, extreme sentimental value to my parents, but they are moving and have to make some decisions about what to keep.

I’m pleased to have my baby book, but I think it was also a small but potent reminder about my own mortality: if my parents are at the age where they could consider parting with my baby book, then that age is looming rapidly for me, too, as I’m only 20 or so years behind them. I’m breathing right down their necks, as it were.

So maybe it’s time for me to make some decisions of my own about what to retain, and certainly not to accumulate too many more sentimental items, perhaps based on these criteria:

Is it useful to me right now? (Example: My clothes.)

Or does it have a strong likelihood of being useful in the future? (Example: Hammers, wrenches, hacksaw, etc.)

Does it give me pleasure right now? (Gosh, where to begin? OK, my eye just fell on a Mason jar full of brightly wrapped chocolate eggs. And then there’s Hammett.)

Or does it have a strong likelihood of giving me pleasure in the future? (I rarely pick up my kaleidoscope, but when I do, I always enjoy it.)

Finally, does it have direct sentimental value?

My mother observed that perhaps she no longer needs to keep items merely because they once belonged to a loved one.

I probably take this to an extreme. I have coins once touched by some person I had a crush on for two weeks 30 years ago, wrapped up in little pieces of paper and so labeled: the Lisa Neidert Memorial Quarter. Until very recently, I had a shredded towel that once belonged to someone I was close to years ago.

I have items that belonged to my grandmother that I never laid eyes on until after she died. On the other end of the spectrum, I have her last bottle of perfume, half empty (oh, all right, half full) and the last blouse she ever put on of her own volition; it still smells faintly of her perfume. And I have her wedding ring. Maybe those three items and, I don’t know, 10 or 15 more are sufficient, considering that I have 40 years of happy memories and plenty of photos, as well.

Fortunately, I live in a studio, so my storage capacity is extremely limited, though even so, if I move something to a new spot, my memory is such now that I just have to live without it or hope I bump into by accident.

I lately resolved to part with a few things and let go of a non-working bike pump (yep) and also the keyboard that came with the iMac, giving them both away via Craigslist. I also gave the microwave David and Lisa gave me to Tom. It turned out I never use it, and he wanted it. At least it remained in the family.

When I told David and Lisa on the phone that I’d given the microwave away, David yelled, “Whaaaaaaaaat? This is an outrage!” Then Lisa reminded him that if there was a party who could reasonably have a sentimental attachment to that microwave, it was she, since it had originally come from her folks.

Happy Birdbath to Me

It was my birthday earlier this month and the Dow dropped nearly 400 points (my coworker and I keep a bit of an eye on this, she because she doesn’t want her portfolio to decline and me because I’m waiting for civilization to grind completely to a halt), but for me, it was a super day.

For one thing, I found out about a company my place of employment has a contract with for responsible disposal of computer hardware. You can go to this company’s website, describe your item or items—the person I talked to said they will come and pick up one computer cable, literally, though that probably wouldn’t be very environmentally friendly—and take it away to be inventoried.

If my company can use the thing elsewhere, great. If not, the disposal company will resell it, or recycle as much of it as possible. The particular group that arranges to have the hardware picked up gets billed, but my boss she considers it absolutely appropriate to incur this cost.

Also, a nice lady had ordered me some CDs from Amazon which arrived on that very day. How did that nice lady know just what I like? She got it exactly right, from the Gino Vannelli to the Seether to the Blood, Sweat & Tears to the Three Days Grace to the Todd Rundgren. Nice work, nice lady! I think she’s going to treat me to a few iTunes, too, such as “The Cheater,” by Bob Kuban and the In-Men and No Doubt’s “Hella Good” and Chris Whitley’s “Big Sky Country.”

Since I make a point of eating my favorite foods all the time and having a juicy stack of unread books ready to go and visiting my favorite restaurants regularly and there were two DVDs on the shelf I’d meant to watch for weeks, I couldn’t think of anything in particular to do for my birthday—Tom was out of town and David and Lisa are in Seattle—but remembered that I could use some new felt markers, so I went to FLAX and got a set of Pentel markers, and also several single markers.

As if that weren’t an obscene amount of riches already, that morning I was cycling along Valencia St. on my way to work when I heard a friendly “Hello” and there was Mily. What was she doing there? We may never know, because I’m far too polite to ask, but it was a nice surprise to see her.

That night, David and Lisa called me and we talked at length, which is always fun, though every time I commented on the lovely weather we enjoy here in San Francisco, which I did find occasion to mention several times, David shrieked, “F*ck YOU!” and Lisa had to remind him that the purpose of the call had been to wish me a happy birthday. She, of Southern California extraction, has adjusted to Seattle just fine, but David, originally of a colder clime, is still wrestling with it; we speculated that maybe there is a lifetime quota for gloomy days and David has already hit his.

Usually my parents call and sing “Happy Birthday,” but this year they didn’t. I didn’t assume any actual malice, but I still felt a little bereft. The next day, Saturday, I called my mother, who said she made some security adjustments to her computer I’d recommended, and now she was having to accept or reject a cookie every three seconds. I said, “I guess you were so angry about it that you didn’t want to sing me ‘Happy Birthday.’” (Yes, I am 46 years old.)

She said, with mock sympathy, “I suppose you didn’t have a happy birthday because we didn’t sing to you,” and explained that they’d thought of it early in the day, but had ended up forgetting.

Later in the conversation, she suddenly said, “Oh, all right,” and sang me a hilarious ultra-twanging version of “Happy Birthday” (“happy biiiirthday tew yewwww”) that would make Granny of the Beverly Hillbillies sound like an urban sophisticate in comparison.

And they had sent a card with a little something inside, and David and Lisa sent a very funny card, and they also sang, and a few other folks sent cards, and on the whole, it was a very happy birthday.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Oh, I Get It: She Meant His Own Vice President Might Assassinate Him

Yay, Obama has enough delegates. Should Hillary be his running mate? Are you $%!%&$# joking me? A couple of months ago, I would have said that by all means she should be his running mate, or he hers, on the theory that, between them, they would get nearly all the Democratic votes.

But that was before the “You should have seen me running from sniper fire in Bosnia,” the “No one’s going to vote for a black guy,” the “What if the black guy gets assassinated?”, and the “Per party rules, Michigan and Florida delegates shouldn’t be seated. Oh, wait …”

Then there was the stuff about how the superdelegates should choose based on how their constituents voted (when that favored Hillary), or then again, never mind that, they should choose the better (whiter) candidate, when THAT favored Hillary.

At some point, one of her people said something like, “It’s not a numbers game.” It’s not? What on earth else is it? To say, “I don’t care who voted for whom, I am the better candidate” is profoundly elitist.

Her campaign has been an enraging display of lying, racism, fear-mongering, failure to play fair, and divisiveness. I just don’t think I’d choose a running mate who had speculated in public about my being murdered.

Remarks by her supporters on have been disappointing, a lot of, “If Obama is the candidate, I’m voting for McCain.” Kinda like, “If you’re not for us, you’re for the terrorists.” She should be thoroughly ashamed of herself.

Grill you, Hillary.

I was in Michigan last week and talked to a couple of people who didn’t bother to vote in the primary because their preferred candidate (Obama) was not on the ballot, and who were severely ticked off when Hillary changed her mind about seating the Michigan delegates, as it seemed blatantly unfair.

But never mind that, I have news of my bathroom. I left for Michigan on Saturday, May 24. On the Thursday night just prior, the building manager pounded on my door while I was taking a shower to say that water was dripping into her apartment. I ended my shower as quickly as possible, leaving one and a half legs unshaven. The plumbers came the next day and were unable to re-create the problem.

I was afraid they would say they needed to tear my tub entirely out, meaning that I would have to cancel my trip, because I wouldn’t have wanted to leave Hammett alone in the apartment with that kind of work being done.

It was afternoon before I found out that the plumbers hadn’t found anything and I decided to cross my fingers and leave on my trip the next morning. Just about then, my work PC went absolutely haywire, with at least four different applications behaving extremely strangely. For instance, when I opened an email, the contents would immediately shrink down into minus 10 point type, making the email unreadable. When I typed “e” I got “wer,” and since my password has an “e” in it, I was unable to log back onto my PC after restarting it. Fortunately, it was 4:30 by then, so I just came home and packed for my trip.

To be on the safe side, I didn’t shower, so I did feel a bit grubby by the time I got to Detroit on Saturday, plus one and a half legs’ worth of hair was even longer.

I wore my new super-baggy pants to travel in, which earned me a full pat-down at the airport, where it did not escape the attention of a TSA worker that I could easily have a surface-to-air missile in each leg. She asked if I wanted a screen and I said that wouldn’t be necessary, but next time, I will definitely request the screen, as I feel having my chest patted down in front of 100 complete strangers provides a bit too much entertainment.

The first thing I did when I got to my parents’ house was to join my mother and sister in the vegetable garden for some weeding. It’s so nice just to be outside feeling the breeze and smelling the green things and the dirt. When I step out of my San Francisco apartment building, technically I’m outside, but there aren’t a lot of green things right nearby, though there is always the wind and the sun (or the fog or the rain).

Over the course of the week, I spent time with my parents and ate several of my father’s healthy and tasty dinners, and plenty of my mother’s homemade bread and oatmeal-raisin cookies, and we spent four evenings watching the Pistons play on TV, and we watched a few DVDs, and I had lunch twice with Amy, once at Seva and once at Café Zola, and I had lunch with my Uncle Rick, also at Café Zola, and my sister let me listen to her iPod for several hours, which caused me to have to buy eight CDs and the below-mentioned headphones as soon as I got home, plus I will have to buy a few songs on iTunes. Have to!

My mother lent me a pair of headphones to use with my sister’s iPod, little folding headphones, and I could not believe the massive bass sound. It sounded like I was sitting in front of a pair of enormous speakers. They were Sennheiser PX 100 Collapsible Headphones. In retrospect, I also realized they were remarkably comfortable. After years with the Walkman, my ears can take only 30 or 60 minutes with headphones on, but I probably had these Sennheiser earphones on for the better part of six hours without feeling even a twinge.

The last afternoon I was there, both my parents, my sister, my sister’s friend, my sister’s friend’s two nieces and I spent a few hours working on the front yard, which was again really enjoyable, and inspired renewed visions of myself in a little house and yard of my own in Michigan, though I don’t think I could live there without a car, and I would have to work at home. I appreciate that my boss is willing for me to work at home all the time, but I think I’d get lonely and isolated, and having a car would cost a fortune, and I’m sure I’d get less exercise. I like my car-free life.

But if the desire becomes overwhelming, I’m sure a perfectly lovely Michigan life could be crafted.