Saturday, March 21, 2009

Yes, I DID Cut It Myself—Why?

Speaking of flak from motorists, this week I got some. I was on Fifth St. heading from Mission to Market. Near Mission, a guy in a pickup truck passed me in the other lane and yelled at me to get out of the way, even though he wasn’t behind me.

At Market, I stopped next to him at the light. As we both drove off, he shrieked, “Does ‘bike lane’ mean anything to you?” “Well,” I thought to myself, “As a matter of fact, it does, but there isn’t one on this street. What we DO have on this street, however, is a sign saying that cyclists are entitled to use the whole lane.”

In fact, I was probably right under that sign when he offered his first observation.

Using the whole lane, by the way, is permitted anywhere the road isn’t wide enough for motorists and cyclists to share, not just where there happens to be a sign, but it’s always a nice feeling to see an actual sign, per California Vehicle Code 21202, a number engraved on the brain of perhaps every California cyclist. Probably if you walked up to a California cyclist on his or her deathbed and said, “CVC,” he or she would answer with a last feeble whisper, “21202.”

I read a very helpful thing in an Al-Anon book this week. To paraphrase greatly, it said something like, “We don’t have to go around telling other people what to do or not do. Who knows what that person’s higher power has planned for that person?” (Note that this was after I plugged my ears on the bus.)

I’ve encountered that general idea many, many times, but for some reason, that way of putting it was helpful to me, though of course I also found a way quite soon to misuse it, when I saw a cyclist riding on the sidewalk and thought, with a slight but distinct feeling of anticipation, “There’s no need for me to correct that cyclist. Why, maybe his higher power has arranged for a safe to fall on him from an office building window. That’ll learn him not to ride on the sidewalk!”

(Again, I don't believe in a higher power of the conscious variety, but I find it useful to use the idea in some contexts. “Maybe that guy’s higher power is going to make a UPS truck back into him” sounds more realistic to me than “Maybe the universe is going to … ”)

So, I’m not quite sure that’s the feeling for my fellow man the anonymous author of the Al-Anon book wished me to have, but I’m sure there will be some positive fruits, as well.

Actually, here's one: When the guy in the pickup truck was shouting, I was able to think, “Oh, well, whatever. I don’t need to yell back. Perhaps his higher power has some lesson arranged for him that will come in time as a result of that behavior.”

I also thought that, given all the times I’ve offered unsolicited advice, my karmic debt probably requires me to receive three or four thousand unwanted pieces of advice with serenity, even if they’re yelled in a rude fashion. It’s not as if I didn’t employ that exact method myself more than once.

I’ve been letting my hair grow for the past year or so, and it had gotten long enough that I could put it in a ponytail, though it also tended to form a frizzy corona over my forehead, because it IS frizzy and allergies prevent me from using most products that could clamp it into place.

I went to see Stefano at MNKYTHMP a couple of weeks ago for a trim, though I was tempted even then to have it all cut off. After the trim, Stefano applied a very hot blow-dryer and, without a molecule of product, rendered it nearly straight. It looked very glamorous.

Stefano said I could probably get it to be approximately that way all the time, or something near to it, by having it relaxed or straightened or using this or that product. For a few days, I considered it, but the fact is, I don’t like the feeling of hair touching my neck or face, and it turns out that straight hair touches your face even more than frizzy hair does. It’s almost like it was REACHING for my face.

Frizzy hair or less frizzy, it would always have to be kept in a ponytail, and I know the chemicals involved in defrizzing would have caused problems, no matter what anyone says, so after I realized straight hair is no better to have a lot of than frizzy hair is, I used scissors to produce a cut that was rather spectacular in its way, quite tall on top, which I called “The Grover. I forgot to take a picture.

Then I went to see someone who actually knows how to cut hair to have it fixed, namely, Cara at her shop called biNk!, which is at 10 Guerrero. She’s very nice and very relaxed and mellow, and she did a nice job, meaning that it's SHORT. (As for the crisp wave, that's courtesy of my higher power.)

I could have gone to see Stefano, but his only appointment was quite early, and also I was scared to face him after desecrating his work of art, even though it’s my hair. As it was, word got back to him, and I got an email from him in which he asked evenly, “Did you cut your hair after I cut it?”

After that thing that happened to poor Natasha Richardson—how sad, and how horrible for her family—I decided to upgrade my own head protection. All she did was bump her head, and now she’s gone, and a bumped head can easily happen to someone balancing on two wheels.

I always wear a helmet when I ride my bike, but I’ve had a baseball cap underneath my current visor-less helmet to help keep rain off my glasses. This is not good, because it reduces the effectiveness of the helmet—it can make the helmet slide out of position just when it’s needed most—so I went to Freewheel yesterday and bought a new helmet with an attached visor.

For months, I've had another helmet with a visor in my closet to which I'd intended to attach a second visor to form an extra-long awning for rainy days. I'm now inspired to complete that project right away.

While I was at Freewheel, I had my brake pads replaced, which cost me $40. I know Dan would have charged me a lot less, but that’s another era that’s over. I can’t complain. I got a huge amount of underpriced labor when Dan was there.

Here’s one thing that’s still the same, at least: Nearly going over the handlebars the first time I apply the brakes after a brake adjustment. That always happens.

End of a (Long) Era

On Friday the Thirteenth, I was stopped at a red light on my bicycle on Market St. when another cyclist pulled up next to me—just a tad too close—and asked if I get flak from motorists for taking the lane. I told him I hardly ever do. He said he gets a lot, but he always does it anyway.

Then he zipped off to position himself in front of all the motorists waiting at the light, which might partly explain some of the flak he gets.

Later that day, I was in Rainbow selecting produce when a woman I’d never seen before told me she often sees me on my bike on Market St. when she is in her car. She noted with approval that I don’t dart in and out of traffic, and otherwise complimented my safe cycling! That absolutely made my day, and it was surely perfect timing: the exact opposite of flak on the very day the subject had arisen.

Last weekend Tom and I went to Sacramento for a birthday dinner for Chris, which was nice, though Eva was ill and unable to come downstairs, which left Sarah, I believe, largely in charge of all the tasks a beautiful sit-down dinner for ten or so involves. However, Sarah herself was having a dreadful bout of food poisoning, yet everything seemed just as always, which is to say it was perfect and gorgeous and delicious, so tremendous appreciation to Sarah for working so hard for us, and the other helpful behind-the-scenes cooking elves.

Among other things, Sarah made a salad dressing that was extra scrumptious: canola oil, a bit of water, white balsamic vinegar (she gets this at Trader Joe’s) and tons of pressed garlic.

Lately I’ve been making a tasty dressing out of red wine vinegar and Stonehouse’s garlic-infused olive oil, which is fantastic stuff and which Tom’s mother, Ann, introduced me to. There is a Stonehouse location at the Ferry Building (and one in the mall where Bloomingdale’s is), and if you bring a bottle back, they will refill it for $3 off. Before they do that, they sniff the bottle, which completely turns my stomach.

I’ve been having a certain amount of nausea off and on, and all kinds of things get to me that never used to, so I sent Stonehouse an email to see if this is something they absolutely have to do. I didn’t say, “I don’t want your employees’ boogers and/or nose hairs in my oil,” but I did liken it to having a stranger come up in a restaurant and put her or his nose one inch from something one was planning to eat: blech.

When I arrived at Stonehouse that day with my bottle and asked if we could skip the sniff test, the sole woman there asked, “Oh, did you just send us an email?” I said I had, and she said she had just answered it.

During our short interaction, she all but rolled her eyes and generally was barely civil, no more. When I left, she wished me a good day in a tone that clearly expressed that she hoped I would die of an aneurysm before I got back to work.

Well, I understand that. I understand that, these days, the customer is always wrong and that we have no role other than to produce a method of payment. We are not to ask questions, or want something to be different, or have opinions.

But I had to interrupt my brooding about that to take up a period of brooding about something even more serious: the closure of Stacey’s Bookstore. If you go to their website now, all you see is this:

San Francisco
Stacey's Bookstore

Is there a sadder sight than that of one’s favorite bookstore with nothing in it but bare shelves? There is not. I didn't go there after I knew it was going to close because I thought I’d prefer to remember it as it was than to see it during liquidation, but when I approached it that day, I decided to go in, after all, and it was a sorrowful sight indeed. I cried.

I guess they’re going to keep the doors open until every last fixture in the place is sold, but all the books and most of the employees are gone. I didn’t recognize the person at the cash register. He might have been a Stacey’s employee, but he also might have been from the liquidation company.

After I left, I “needed a moment,” as they say. Fortunately, See’s Candy is right across the street, a good place for a moment.

By the time I’d gotten back to work, I’d decided not to send an email lecturing Stonehouse for having a mean employee, and also not to say I wasn’t going to buy their oil anymore—I might not buy it at the Ferry Building, but there’s always the mall at Bloomingdale’s, so any mention of a boycott would have been a fib.

The email waiting in my inbox from Stonehouse was from “Patrick” and was perfectly friendly. It said they sniff the bottles to check for rancidity, but maybe, per my email, they should rethink that policy. In the meantime, I should just make sure the bottles I bring for refilling are clean and dry, and let the salesperson know that.

This was slightly confusing, since the mean woman at the Ferry Building had said she had answered my email: Is her name Patrick and she’s rude and condescending in person but utterly gracious via email, to the point of saying they might change their policy? I wrote back and thanked her/him politely and said I would make sure my bottles were clean and dry and that I hoped my requests to skip the sniff test would receive friendly responses, and left it at that.

The morning after Chris’s birthday dinner, Steve and Julie and Tom and I had brunch at Ann and Mac’s, also just as nice as ever (especially considering we had basically invited ourselves over).

Due to work on the train tracks, we had to take a bus from the train station in Sacramento to Suisun, and were seated right in front of a woman who yelled into her cell phone at top volume for half an hour straight. (I note that most people who do that kind of thing seem to do ALL the talking; it’s more delivering a monologue than conversing, as such.)

Then we got on the train, and then on another bus, in Emeryville. As we sat down on that bus, Tom said, “Here comes the cell phone woman,” a measure of the trauma he had suffered—he had had to just give up on reading and shut his magazine while the woman talked—because he usually refrains from remarks that are even that mildly pejorative, and even when the person is out of earshot, as this person was.

Whereas during the offending event I went ahead and put both fingers in my ears in full view of the woman, because I’m very childish: If she can force me to listen to a description of everyone who was at the event she just attended and in what ways, to her eye, they looked different from in the past, I can signal that I’m not enjoying it.

I consider this to be a step in the right direction from turning around and glaring at her, or asking her to lower her volume. But maybe someday I’ll be all grown up and sit there patiently and maturely, like Tom. Maybe someday I'll think, "Not for a million dollars would I risk hurting the feelings of this stranger, no matter how inconsiderate she may happen to be."

By the way, one time I was a bus with Tom, whose voice happens to be on the loud end of the spectrum, and someone turned around and told him to shut up, even though no cell phone was involved. Like, they just plain told him to stop talking.

End of a (Short) Era

I had meant to see my new therapist, Monica, twelve times and then consider if I thought things were trending in the right direction, but along about week seven or eight, it hit me that I’d fallen into a old and bad habit that was causing me a lot of misery: believing my thoughts.

It’s so easy to do, because they’re being thought by someone I completely trust—myself—and they come with an exciting full-color movie and stirring emotions. But almost none of them have to do with the present moment. Nearly all of them are about the past and future, which don’t exist, in that it’s ALWAYS NOW.

This is not to say it’s bad to plan (or save money) for “the future,” but there’s only ever one time: now.

So then I remembered, again, to identify thoughts as thoughts. I find it helpful to note them very explicitly, though some meditation teachers, such as Steve Hagen, say no comment is needed. For instance, “Having the thought that if I make the wrong decision about such-and-such, the entire rest of my life will be wrecked.”

Just noticing the thought is 90 percent of the whole thing. If nothing else, it means all of my thinking facility is no longer occupied in having the thought, because at least a little of my brain is now devoted to observation. But also, as a finishing touch, it gives me the opportunity to ask myself, “Are you SURE about that?”

I’ve been pretty devoted to my moment-by-moment noticing practice in recent weeks, and it has introduced a bit of spaciousness that is relieving, though also sometimes a bit disorienting: If things aren’t the way I thought they were, then how are they?

Oh, right, they’re like this: I’m sitting in front of my iMac, listening to Jonatha Brooke. I can feel my left foot on the floor, and my right, and my butt on the chair, and my fingertips on the keyboard.

I’d started therapy with a particular idea about what I wanted help with, but that idea soon faded away, and then I was just turning up weekly, as planned, with the vague idea that something was wrong with me, and if I sat in therapy long enough, it would get fixed: There MUST be something wrong with me; otherwise, why would I be in therapy?

Meditation teacher Howie Cohn often says that of all the wrong things our heads tell us, that there’s something wrong with us is the biggest lie of all.

I believe the mental model of therapy is that there’s some lurking demon that will finally be exorcised by a sufficient number of office visits and painful excavation. But I’m not sure that’s true. I think we’re affected by all sorts of things, by many things from our pasts, but I think the task of this moment is not to dredge anything up but just to see clearly.

As soon as I realized I was believing too many thoughts, I stopped going to therapy and haven’t missed it, though I did like this particular therapist a lot. I liked that she is smart and sees things clearly and also expresses herself with clarity. If I wanted to talk about some problem in particular, I’d certainly go see her, though if I had an update on a long-running saga, I’d go tell Deborah.

Monica handled my decision quite well, though she did offer that maybe there doesn’t have to be anything wrong with me for me to be in therapy. It’s always a bit awkward when someone is explaining why you need her expensive services; it’s hard not to suspect a self-serving aspect. (Which motive is certainly understandable. Of course a person who offers a service for money wants and needs to have clients, but it’s not good if that overrides in any way what is best for the service-receiver.)

I agree it would be nice to have someone listen to me chat about my life for an hour per week, but I’m not willing to pay for it. Doing that every week adds up. If therapy costs $125 a week, which it pretty much does these days, and you end up going 45 weeks of the year, that's $5625, which is net income, not gross. If you take home 50 percent of what you earn, as an example, that means $11,250 annual gross income is required for therapy alone.

That last conversation made me understand something about why I was so furious at Deborah so often: Every time I tried to leave therapy, she discouraged it, which enraged me, because I interpreted it to mean she thought there was something wrong with me, and I also suspected, slightly, that she was guarding her income stream. But now I think maybe she was just saying the same thing Monica said: that you can go to therapy without there being something “wrong” with you.

Maybe Deborah was trying to say she wanted me to have a comfortable, safe place where whatever I said would be received in a friendly way. It’s kind of sad that we had a hundred conversations about this that left me beside myself with irritation, whereas Monica presented it in an absolutely understandable fashion in thirty seconds.

It was extremely helpful, a time or two, to sit with a powerful feeling in Monica’s office and note how the feeling shifted moment by moment, and also realize, hey, I can do this!

I often note my physical sensations, anyway, but asking myself “What can I notice in this moment?” is a little different in effect from asking myself “What do I feel emotionally right now?” even though it all boils down to the same atoms moving around in the same way (I think).

Saturday, March 07, 2009

I’m Breaking with You, at Last

What my mother said when she found out I’d never seen Men in Black.

While I was in my Facebook-related funk, I made a point of chatting on the phone with Margaux, and Amy, and Lisa M., and Lisa and David, and maybe someone else I've forgotten about, and then I felt better. I said to Amy that maybe the difference between having a big social set and not is the difference between being 25 and 45(ish) and she said she thinks that’s true—that when she makes new friends now, it’s because they have a certain interest in common, such as running, and while they have a good time doing that, they don’t do anything other than that together.

That made me feel better; I felt connected in my disconnection, anyway. I think it did make a difference when Emily left at work, too. I didn’t chat with her every day, but she was always there nearby, and we talked often enough. Now we talk on the phone and that is quite nice, but it’s not the same as seeing her in person.

I finally finished my giant book on Henry Ford! It took more than two months, but now I know a lot o’ stuff about Henry Ford.

I also read David Sedaris’s When You Are Engulfed in Flames, which I’m afraid I didn’t like very much. It seemed to be a lot of his very early stuff, recycled. Now I’m reading Karin Muller’s Hitchhiking Vietnam. She is quite an adventurer and has a very vivid prose style.

I really enjoyed the story about Lesbian Nation and the Van Dykes in a recent New Yorker, and called Alix up to see if she’d ever met Lamar Van Dyke, who quite caught my imagination, and she said she had, many times. I was thrilled. The Van Dykes were a bunch of lesbian separatists who took to the road in a you-know-what; Lamar with her ex-, current and future girlfriends: “the lesbian Joseph Smith.” Lamar Van Dyke lives in Seattle now.

DVDs lately seen: Who Am I This Time? This came out more than 25 years ago and features a dewy Christopher Walken as a painfully shy hardware store employee who blossoms only when acting, ferociously, in community theater productions, and Susan Sarandon as the new girl in town who, unaccountably, falls in love with Christopher Walken’s character despite his obvious baggage. She cleverly finds a way to merge his onstage and offstage personas and wrings a proposal out of him by the end of the film.

In Suicide Kings, Christopher Walken plays a mobster who is kidnapped by a bunch of young men who hope to coerce him into finding out who snatched the sister of one of the young men.

I saw Sean Penn play surfer dude Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which I’d never seen before, the night before he won an Oscar for Milk. I thought it was marvelous that he seized the occasion to scold anti-gay protesters, and I loved it when he said, beaming, “You commie, homo-loving sons of guns.”

Here’s why the Bay Area is the best place to live: The best American actor lives here, and also the top metal band.

(I’m sorry to say that, shortly after the Academy Awards, I read an interview with Sean Penn in Rolling Stone in which the interviewer reported that he seemed to take pleasure in cutting cyclists off as they drove around Marin County for five hours. I’m crazy about Sean Penn, but hasn’t he heard of human-caused climate change and if he’s truly a lefty, shouldn’t he like cyclists?)

Tom and I saw two episodes of the Def Comedy Jam. I don’t think Tom cared for it much, but I liked it, especially Katt Williams roaring, “You’ve got to love your m*therf*cking life!” and taking young women to task for claiming that a man has damaged their self-esteem. He said you have to love yourself before anyone else will love you, and that there’s no such thing as someone else robbing you of self-esteem: “It’s called SELF-esteem.”

Speaking of which, on top of our climate problems, on top of our economy collapsing, on top of what’s happened to the imaginary money I used to have in stocks (to paraphrase something I saw in the New Yorker, it’s like a friend has died and the friend’s name was money), it is really depressing to watch Rihanna go back to Chris Brown, and to hear her father say he supports her in whatever she chooses. I’d like to hear her father say, “Over my dead body will she go back to him,” though of course it is her choice.

After Nicole Brown Simpson was murdered, I read an article about how O. J. had physically abused her and how her parents—this is so sad—had encouraged her to return to him. The author said that if a man assaults a woman and she doesn’t leave after the first time, he knows then that he can do anything he wants to her, including kill her. I fear for Rihanna.

I saw I Am Sam, in which Sean Penn plays, not always convincingly, a man with the mental capacity of a young child who is the single parent of a young girl he must try to win back after child protective services puts her in foster care. This is probably the least satisfying Sean Penn movie I’ve seen. He can play not so bright and enraged and slick and evil and gay and heartbroken and many things, but out-and-out developmentally disabled is perhaps too much of a stretch.

Also, the Michelle Pfeiffer character is almost a parody, which doesn’t help. And then there’s sort of a loose end with the agoraphobic neighbor. I’m also not really crazy about Dakota Fanning; so sue me.

I saw Megadeth’s video hits, which I actually did not like, though that’s one of my favorite bands. The videos were just too busy and didn’t feature the band themselves enough. I liked Alice in Chains' videos because they showed the band members a lot, and Metallica’s videos are mini-masterpieces, in my opinion.

Last but not least, this very evening I saw Telling Lies in America, about a young immigrant who has some painful learning experiences after he is taken in hand by Kevin Bacon, who does a very assured job of portraying a slick and nearly conscienceless radio deejay. A youngish Calista Flockhart is featured, as well as Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

I did some phone banking for the Bike Coalition one recent evening, meaning a last-ditch effort to get people to renew who have already received five lapsed-membership letters. The coordinator said the success rate for this endeavor is very low, and gave me just two membership forms, saying that if I got even one person to renew over the phone, that would be a good night. As it happened, I did get two people to renew in the course of the evening, but I think I’m going to rest on my slender laurels and retire from that particular form of service.

I finally found the right collar for Hammett, almost. There are lots of different kinds: ones that just buckle on and that’s that, ones that buckle on but have a short elastic section that will stretch a bit if needed, ones that attach using Velcro. The girl at the store said she would never use the kind with the elastic section again after coming home to find her cat hung up in the backyard and foaming at the mouth after what must have been a lengthy struggle to free itself; fortunately, it was still alive.

She said the only kind of collar she would use has a plastic fanny pack-type clip, with three prongs that fit into a second plastic piece. Sure enough, this comes apart quite easily. Unfortunately, I think the particular one I got was flea-infested, and the cute little mice sewed to it were soon shredded from Hammett scratching at it, but I think this is the way to go.

I’m going to get another one, with nothing sewed to it, and get the type of tag that rests flat against the collar, as opposed to dangling down. I’m paranoid about Hammett somehow getting out, and reading online that it’s rare for a cat without a collar to be reunited with its parent(s) has convinced me this is a necessity. He has a chip, but not everyone would think to have a cat scanned, or would have the means to do so. Also, when I adopted him, I signed a form agreeing to keep some means of identification attached to him.

This week I stayed home from work three days in a row with a cold. They were very nice days, though the cold itself got a bit wearisome, with lots of reading, and napping with Hammett, which is a very cozy and pleasant thing to do. He will stay under the covers snuggled against me for hours. Such a darling lovable cat.