Thursday, December 31, 2009

Lay Off Detroit, Already

Christmas was absolutely splendid once again this year, perhaps the eleventh in a row I have celebrated with Tom’s family, bless their welcoming and kindly hearts. Tom and I took the train to Sacramento Christmas Eve, albeit different trains, since Tom missed the bus from the Ferry Building to Emeryville due to some last-minute shopping.

One thing he had wanted to do was pick up one of his bike frames from Steve Rex’s shop (where hang the photos of Tom’s brother Steve, if you happen to be there), and since he would now be arriving too late to do that, his brother Dan and I went and fetched it.

Tom expressed his gratitude later: “Thank you so much! Say, where’s my fork?” Oops. Even though I was there when he dropped off the frame and fork in the first place, I’d forgotten about the latter and so did the fellow at the shop. By chance, that person is someone I went to music school in San Francisco with, also a trumpet player.

We—Paul, Eva, Steve, Julie, Sarah, Josh, Ann, Mac, Chris, Dan, Tom and I—stuffed ourselves with appetizers and then again with Eva’s wonderful dinner, including Chris’s “man quiche,” followed by Sarah’s beautiful apple pie and Ann’s delectable pecan pie.

We talked and laughed and hung out and opened a veritable mountain of gifts. I got a book or two I am looking forward to reading, some good gadgets—Tom’s brother Paul has provided me with many excellent gadgets over the years; if you’ve lost count, Tom has three brothers—and a nutmeg grinder from Ann, which is enhancing my morning bowl of oatmeal.

Tom and I spent that night at Steve and Julie’s and in the morning, went back to Paul and Eva’s for stockings. Yet again, the various Santas were extremely generous. As we drove to Paul and Eva’s, Julie gave her mother in Michigan a call. I said from the backseat, “Tell your mother I say ‘Merry Christmas.’”

Then Steve said, “Tell your mother I wished her a merry Christmas before Linda did.” Of all the people at gatherings of Tom’s family and friends, Steve and I are most nearly the same age, just a couple of months apart. (Who is the wiser by those two months? I am, of course, though Steve likes to characterize it as being more elderly.) We would have made fine actual siblings, which does require some one-upmanship on occasion.

Later Julie said to her mother, “Linda and Steve wish you a merry Christmas.”

“I said it first,” Steve clarified (if out-and-out fibs can ever be said to clarify anything).

I said it first,” I averred.

“Whatever.” Steve from the driver’s seat.

The four of us spent Christmas Day afternoon at Ann and Mac’s, while other energetic members of the company headed east for skiing, and then Tom and I had a nice ride home on the train (the same train this time). One of us may or may not have eaten almost an entire small box of See’s truffles that she received for Christmas en route.

I gave my Uncle Rick a call the next day and he told me my cousin had been there for the holidays but had had to head back home on Christmas Day itself. She left the Detroit airport “an hour before the terrorist arrived.” I hadn’t heard about this terrorist, but was soon edified.

He was flying Northwest Airlines, which I always fly to Michigan, and basically—and I do take this personally—he was trying to blow up that water feature in the McNamara Terminal I like so much.

Also, like Detroit in general needed that kind of thing: thanks, creep.

I forgot to call my own mother and father in Michigan to wish them a merry Christmas: Merry Belated Christmas!

I forgot because Steve forgot to remind me, as he has every Christmas for a decade now, so you can see whose fault that was.

Tree Trees

Guess who had a lucid dream? My mother!

She was having a recurring dream, which caused her to become lucid—“I’ve seen this before”—and she also successfully practiced dream control! She said to herself, “If I’m dreaming, I ought to be able to do such-and-such,” and then immediately did it.

Lucid dreaming is no more a goal of hers than it is of my father’s, but, as she said, it’s in the air these days.

I also had a lucid dream quite recently, the morning of Christmas Day, in Steve and Julie’s luxurious Lucid Dreaming Guest Bed, 19 days after the previous one. Some house keys were behaving very strangely and I asked, “Why is all this weird stuff happening?” and answered myself, “Because I AM DREAMING!”

The period of knowing I was dreaming, before I woke up, was very brief. I’m starting to think I enjoyed some beginner’s luck when it came to prolonging lucidity and dream control, because recent periods of lucidity have been extremely short, though I am very confident about dream control itself. So far it has been as simple as saying, “I want such-and-such to happen.”

The two best-known methods of prolonging lucidity are to rub your dream hands together and to spin your dream body as if you’re trying to become dizzy. A time or two I have tried rubbing my hands together with absolutely no effect, and to date, I have not been able to remember to spin in any lucid dream. In the lucid dream that lasted the longest, one of the first things I did after confirming I was dreaming was to jump up and down for a while, another known prolonger of lucidity. Maybe that’s the best technique for me.

In this most recent lucid dream, I remembered to remain calm and observe my surroundings, which were patchy. What I could see—a person’s face, my own hands—was very clear, but there were holes in it. In straining to see, I opened my real eyes, and woke up. Rats. But great!

I also realized again that I was still not exactly following instructions. To recap, Stephen LaBerge’s classic MILD (Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreaming) technique calls for mentally replaying a dream you have just awoken from until you can easily remember it. Then you are to affirm something along the lines of “Next time I’m dreaming, I will recognize I’m dreaming,” and picture yourself back in the dream you just awoke from, but this time realizing you are dreaming.

I had decided it would be better to picture a previous actual lucid dream, to jog my unconscious’s memory of that event—no imagination required. I also thought it might boost its confidence to be able to remember an episode where it enjoyed success, but lately I have realized why it might be better to use the most recent dream, as LaBerge says: because it is entirely psychologically consonant with the rest of one’s life, circa now. Organic. All of a piece. Maybe it confuses one’s unconscious to be asked to focus on something that no longer has anything to do with anything.

I periodically review the list of things I want to do in lucid dreams, and quite a few of those things are turning up in non-lucid dreams. One item is to make friends with my grilling neighbors, and I have had very nice dreams about them, like one in which I told the man and his wife, “I sent you a Christmas card,” and they replied, “Oh, we sent you a Christmas card!” It makes me feel better even if the friendly things are happening only in dreams.

A recent Forum on KQED was about the antisocial aspects of wood smoke—it accounts for 40 percent of air pollution some days, and is hard on people with asthma and bronchitis. Also, trees don’t grow on trees, as it were. They had someone there from the something something barbecue association, so I hoped they might even get to the evils of charcoal grilling, but I had to wend my way toward my next engagement, alas.

I have a new hospice visitee, D., and will meet her for the first time on New Year’s Day. But I also got a call from B., who graduated from hospice and is now living elsewhere. I was delighted. I really like her so much. After B. left hospice, I called her daughter and said that if B. ever felt like calling me, she was more than welcome to do so, though I wouldn’t expect it. Then I hung up and hoped B.’s daughter didn’t think I was some sort of stalker, but when B. called yesterday, I could hear her daughter coaching her in the background, helping B. leave her message.

Why Don’t Yew

That’s the subject line of an email I sent my mother not long ago.

It continued: “Look into how we’d get Skype so we can see each other when we talk?”

She wrote back:

“I’ve put it on my to-do list (at the bottom).”

I keep forgetting to say that private traffic must now exit Market St. at either Eighth or Sixth by turning right. The city is so serious about this that they have had workers standing in those intersections every day for many weeks now insisting that private vehicles get off the main drag.

It is quite luxurious for us cyclists to have so few cars on Market St., though at first, I noticed that cab drivers seemed to be going all the faster, as if they were on some sort of law-free frontier. Cyclists were invited to send their feedback to the city, and I mentioned this along with my thanks, and maybe others did, too, because cab drivers seem to be back to their normal level of recklessness.

I had additional reason to be grateful for the reduced amount of traffic on Market St. when, in a bizarre four-day stretch of accident proneness, I foolishly rode over a round white lane marker in the rain (those evil devices known as Bott’s Dots; thanks, David) landing solidly on my left knee and giving the left side of my head a hearty thump as well.

(For the record, the night before that, I sliced my thumb while cutting bread. The day after my bike accident, I cut the top of my toe on a toilet seat. If you’d also like to do this, I can try to explain in a subsequent entry exactly how it happened. And when I opened the carton my new bike helmet came in—you should replace your bike helmet once it receives pretty much any type of impact, even if it looks fine—I got not one but two paper cuts.)

I lay on the ground for a while—and that’s why it’s good there is less traffic on Market St.—saying “Ow ow ow ow,” on account of my hapless knee, and the workmen I was going around in the first place eventually drifted over and, not going so far as to help me up, which might have implied some sort of liability, did ask if I thought I’d be able to get up.

After a bit, I could and did rise to my feet, and my bike was fine, and I was actually able to ride the rest of the way to work, but, with a headache having developed right away and the specter of poor Natasha Richardson hovering before me, I called my doctor’s office and they said to proceed to the emergency room and have my head scanned, which I did, and also had my abraded knee taped up. At the hospital, they said the side of the head, which is what I landed on, is the worst thing to bump because of some artery or something right there.

Needless to say (so I will be sure to say it), my head was encased in a helmet at the time of impact, and this is actually one of the best reasons for wearing a helmet. Not to be a Gloomy Gus, but if you really get clobbered by a motor vehicle, your helmet is not going to make much of a difference. But if you get very slightly bumped by a car, or have one of any number of minor mishaps that cause you to hit your head, with or without a fall per se, a helmet could make the entire difference between living and dying.

In sum, when you’re deciding whether or not to put your helmet on, think of Liam Neeson.

Final tally: Scraped knee, eight or nine bruises, and the embarrassment of having to admit to my first moving single-person bicycle accident. I would have said “first single-person bicycle accident,” period, but then I remembered the time I fell down a flight of cement stairs while carrying my bike. I’d put my helmet on before starting down the stairs and it helped then, too. I didn’t call my doctor that time. I was younger and less of a hypochondriac, and Natasha Richardson was still alive.

The brain scan showed that there was no internal bleeding and that everything that had been inside my head was still more or less there. Which is not to make any claims for the original quality or quantity of that substance.

They gave me 30 Vicodin and 30 Soma (muscle relaxants), thus suddenly increasing my popularity: “You can send Mommy some Vicodin,” suggested one email. Another, from a co-worker, contained just two words, the name of the internal mail system at our company. (My mother later discovered that Vicodin contains acetaminophen and retracted her request, which I imagine was not serious to begin with.)

I didn’t take any Vicodin—I’d had occasion to take one in the past, and it made me feel like I was being dragged underwater—but I did try a muscle relaxant, and immediately felt very stoned.

I happened to have a medical test a couple of days after the accident, and when Dr. M. called with the results—all was well—she said, “So, I see you had a bike accident! I hope you’re OK.” That was very nice, and slightly humiliating. Dr. M. really makes good use of the new computerized health records, as I discovered when I went for my annual exam and she mystified and dazzled me by saying, “I see your eye doctor told you to do such-and-such. Did you do it?”

Monday, December 21, 2009

How Does It Feel To Be Alive?

It has been quite chilly here lately, not so one would have to close the windows or anything, but my fingers feel kind of frozen when I’m cycling, so I got a pair of Pearl Izumi “Softshell Gloves” that I am very happy with. They are warm, but not bulky, and don’t interfere too much with operation of that crucial piece of equipment, the bicycle bell.

I dribbled something light colored down my at-home sweater not long ago, which meant it was time for its triennial dry cleaning. I had noticed a place on Valencia St. that does environmentally friendly cleaning, so I stopped there on my way to work one day to see what the hours are and so forth, and was surprised to see it was just one little room containing two banks of lockers, devoid of human life.

I took a flyer from the box by the door and studied up on the details. The place is called Laundry Locker, and they do indeed do environmentally friendly dry cleaning and regular laundry, but they don’t stand around waiting for you to hand them a garment. You create an account online, and then you go to any of about a million locations in San Francisco, put your thing in a locker, go online and regale them with the details of your laundry need, and then wait for an email (or text message on your phone) saying it’s done! Normally I stay away from this newfangled stuff, but I decided to give it a whirl, and it worked out very well. My sweater came back shredded and full of holes, just the way it was when I dropped it off, except clean.

I did attend the memorial gathering for my co-worker Chuck, at a location of the company I work for. There were maybe 25 people there, most very well known to me. Chuck’s widow was there, and two of their sons. It was about the saddest event I’ve ever been to. There were a couple of Employee Assistance people there to facilitate, and several photos of Chuck, and we sat in a circle, and anyone who was so moved could share a memory or thought. Most people didn’t, and there were many silent minutes, and a lot of red eyes and sniffling, but it was kind of nice just to sit there with so many familiar faces, quietly remembering Chuck together. The silence, as we held it together, didn’t seem particularly awkward. I introduced myself to his kids afterwards, and enjoyed talking to both of them, two smart young men.

Chuck was only 52 when he died! Several days later, I dreamed I saw him outdoors in front of a beautiful purplish mountain. He was dancing, spinning around, with a look of pure joy on his face.

Four days after my one and only visit to C., I got a call that she had passed away. I’m glad that worried and unquiet soul is at rest.

Saturday December 12 was the final day of my Establishing the Path of Practice class at the San Francisco Zen Center. We were there from nine a.m. until five p.m., and did a variety of rituals and exercises to recognize the ending/beginning. We also meditated in the zendo and had lunch together. Just before five p.m., we did a closing ceremony and each received a small gift and a document signed by all of the teachers, and then we did some group photos, and then I went outside and there was Mr. Bull lounging in the driver’s seat of a rented car with Metallica on the CD player, but not blasting since it was right in front of the Zen Center. It was a rather fine moment.

We picked up burritos (that Mr. Bull had pre-ordered) and headed down to San Jose, to the HP Pavilion, for the Metallica show. The place apparently seats 17,000 and was pretty much full, though not utterly sold out. That’s a lot of Metallica fans!

Mr. Bull mentioned that she prefers to store items in the trunk of the car prior to being at the event, so as not to attract thieves. She added casually that, no no, she wouldn’t mind being seen at the Metallica show with someone carrying a backpack; till then, it had not occurred to me there was anything bad about having a backpack, but I left it in the car, and indeed there was no one else there with a backpack. I said I supposed she didn’t want to be seen at the Metallica show with someone in a yellow raincoat, either, but she said I could be as square as I want to be (in so many words)—she said she’s old now and doesn’t care anymore.

We ate our burritos sitting in the backseat of the car in the parking lot. The line to get into HP Pavilion was unbelievably long, and people had already been filing in for an hour. I never saw any mention of opening bands, but there were two. I don’t know the name of the first one—we missed them—but the second was Machine Head. The people in line with us didn’t seem particular friendly, but they didn’t seem like out-and-out thugs, either; well, some probably were. There were a few children there, and people of our generation, some people with grey hair. I would say the average age was as high as 28 or 30. (Which is fine with me. I would have been happy if everyone there had been 80.)

We were fairly high up, since we didn’t decide to go until somewhat late in the game, but this is not to say we couldn’t hear. It was extremely loud, of course, and we both dispensed with our earplugs, since this was once in a lifetime. The stage was huge and James Hetfield, Rob Trujillo and Kirk Hammett (my cat Hammett’s namesake) kind of wandered from station to station; Lars Ulrich was of course detained at the drum kit. Kirk moves quite gracefully. He evidently keeps up with his yoga. We were probably 150 feet away from the stage, but it was still fantastic just to be separated from Kirk and James by nothing but air.

They had flames shooting out of boxes on stage at various moments and we were struck by the fact that the instant the flames appeared, we could feet the physical heat fairly intensely, despite being pretty far away from the stage. They played my favorite song from the new CD and the first song of theirs that Mr. Bull ever loved, and much else.

Quite a wonderful day and evening.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Winter Ride Home from Work

Please click on these to enlarge (you know, so you can see what they are). Captions pertain to the photo below.

I kept meaning to take a picture of this charming marina behind the ballpark in the summer, with light dancing on the water and all the pretty little boats shifting in the breeze.

Look! A spaceship has zeroed in on me.

That odd-shaped thing you can almost see in the middle of this picture, on the far side of the water, is the “grand chapiteau” of the Cirque du Soleil.

When I got to the Mission, what was still there? Yep—that spaceship! Somehow I made it inside without being sucked up in it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Leaves on Dorset St. in Ann Arbor and Cat at Birdbath

SorryI haven't learned the first thing about photo editing yet; otherwise, I would have cropped the below. You might have to click on it and view the larger version to see the actual cat.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Coming to Ypsi in 2010: Mr. Chicken

I’ve been trying to convince my mother to buy a Toto bidet so I can try it out when I’m visiting, but she pointed out that such a device gives you two points of failure: water and electricity. If either are out, you’re out of luck. And since my landlords won’t even do anything about the brown water that reliably gushes from my hot water taps or the window frames that are so warped, it’s pretty much all the same whether the windows are open or shut when it comes to a stiff breeze, I doubt they’re going to buy me an electric bidet. Oh, well. I’ve heard wonderful things about this item.

Last Thursday I was finally able to get to bed on time—8:20 p.m.—and in the morning, I recorded nine dreams. I also had a perfect Friday evening: I turned off the light by 8:19 p.m. and got a solid twelve (hours of sleep). On Saturday morning I did some chores, including preparing cards for Chuck’s widow and for my co-worker who is ill. I sent her my phone numbers in case she feels lonely. I think if I had a serious illness, the main thing I would want, besides not to die, would be to feel that I was loved and not alone.

Later I went to Rainbow on my bicycle for groceries. I spent the afternoon cooking, while listening to Load, Reload, and Death Magnetic to get in the proper frame of mind for next week. I’ve reached a turning point in life: I’m too feeble to cut the rind off a Hokkaido squash (for subsequent cubing and steaming). I considered asking Tom if he’d come down and do it for me, but then I just decided to bake the thing, and I should have switched to that method long ago. It is delicious.

Saturday evening, I watched the raucously entertaining Alpha Dog, which I cannot recommend due to violence and misogyny. I saw it because Emile Hirsch stars. He’s a wonderful actor, but this is not one of his strongest parts. The standout, surprisingly, was Justin Timberlake, who brought some complexity and depth to his role.

I’ve fallen a bit behind on my movie (and book) reviews, but can say these are the movies I’ve liked most lately: The Lookout and Mysterious Skin (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and Into the Wild and The Mudge Boy (Emile Hirsch). The latter is the story of a young man whose mother has recently died, leaving him alone with his aloof and angry father. His only friends, using the term loosely, are a bunch of beer-guzzling joyriding thugs. The sole living creature he has to love is a cherished pet chicken. This movie does not have a happy ending and is still with me a month later. I’m kind of worried about that kid, even though I know he doesn’t exist. Some kid like him exists.

As for books, I’ve read a whole pile of books on lucid dreaming, with the current selection being Conscious Dreaming, by Robert Moss. I’m also reading The Afterlife, by Donald Antrim, a memoir about his mother's death (I suspect the title refers to his own life once his mother was gone) and When the Iron Eagle Flies: Buddhism for the West, by Ayya Khema. She is extremely direct and extremely clear.

I sent my parents my proposed 2010 visit dates and my mother wrote back, “Whatever works best for you, Mr. Chicken.”

On Saturday night, I had a brief lucid dream. Asleep, I was thinking, “If I were dreaming, I could do such-and-such.” To establish whether I was dreaming or not, I looked at a piece of paper on the floor—these have an obliging way of turning up when needed—and saw the word “fun” written on the piece of paper. I looked away, looked back, and the word was gone: definitely dreaming!

I realized I have been misusing the Dream Views website. It has these main categories, among others: General Lucid Discussion, Attaining Lucidity, Dream Control, and Lucid Experiences. Since I’m just getting the hang of attaining lucidity, I often head for that section. This almost always inspires me to try some new technique, and that is a mistake, because one can only focus on so many things at once, and I end up with sort of the frenzied feeling of stabbing wildly in all directions.

I’ve quit visiting that section and am sticking with Dream Control and Lucid Experiences, where I can be inspired and learn about things to try when I’m lucid in a dream without dissipating the energy of my basic protocol.

On Sunday I went to see my new hospice visitee, C. I felt kind of a pang when I passed B.’s room and could see someone else was in there. C. has dementia and spent our hour taking my hand and then snatching her hand away, and looking worriedly into a pocket on the front of her gown. She said only three things, in a tiny voice: “I don’t know what to do,” “What should I do?” and “Help me.” She looked afraid, and at times angry.

I know some of her relatives died long ago under very adverse circumstances, perhaps including her own parents, and I suspect she may have some ghosts visiting now, at the end. I don’t know how long it’s been since she got to hold her own mother’s hand, but I tried to look at her the same way her mother perhaps looked at her when she was a tiny girl, decades ago, and to hold her hand as her mother would have.

I went from there to a home in St. Francis Wood where I met Tom for a piano recital, his mother, Ann, being one of the performers. It was a lovely afternoon and I really enjoyed hearing Ann play. I could not believe how much music she memorized: lots and lots. One of the other performers played a Haydn piece I can remember hearing my mother play in the 1960s.

After all the splendid music, we had refreshments. Our hostess was the teacher of all the performers, and her husband, a very sweet man, is my new good friend because he insisted that I eat many, many cookies.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Holiday Miracle: Two Kvetchless Weeks

I found out two or three days ago that a very sweet co-worker of mine has cancer, and the very next day, I learned that another co-worker, Chuck, died last week of stomach cancer. He cannot have been more than 55 or so, was happily married, with children, and was an extraordinarily dear person, one of the first people I met when I began at this company eleven years ago.

I went through a phase of wearing a certain kind of permanent press men’s shirt and one day saw he was wearing the same thing. “Nice shirt!” I enthused, and it became a joke between us. Once or twice, years after we’d gone on to work in different groups, I got an email from him with that as the subject line.

I met him by chance on the street several months ago and was relieved and delighted to note how healthy he looked after having received treatment for cancer in recent years. He looked fit and energetic, entirely alive and well, so it was a shock to be forwarded an email about a memorial gathering for him next week.

While I was crying quietly in my cube over this untimely and awfully sad loss, I got a call from someone at my company who has made vast contributions in support of bicycle commuting, truly an outstanding leader in this area.

I have been working on a project to install secure bike parking at company locations, in conjunction, until recently, with two partners. We had secured funding for three sites, and racks have now been installed at two of them. Then both of those people lost their jobs due to a reorganization, and I was and am on my own, which means the project has ground nearly to a halt.

I met with the aforementioned dynamic leader several weeks ago and we agreed that once I was done with the third site, we would meet again to start to figure out how I can try to duplicate in San Francisco his amazing accomplishments in the Midwest. Turns out that fellow has now lost his job, too. Sigh.

My meditation group met this week on Tuesday evening. We formed via the San Francisco Zen Center’s Establishing the Path of Practice class, which lasted all year, though I didn’t join until May. Our last official class meeting will be in a week or so, but our little group has decided to continue to meet every two weeks. We normally meditate for about 15 minutes, and then each person gets five or six uninterrupted minutes to check in on an assigned topic, and then we just chat. Once we no longer have assigned topics, we’re going to take turns choosing things for the group to read and discuss.

I signed up for EPP primarily because of the small group aspect, and it has turned out to be exactly what I had hoped. I have dharma friends! On top of that, I now feel at home at the Zen Center, where I had never set foot before, and got to meet and learn from a handful of top-notch teachers, including Paul Haller, the co-abbot of SFZC, whose honesty and openness have touched me on several occasions. We were presented with lots of interesting material, and had homework between sessions—things to think about and notice and practice—and monthly writing assignments. During the sessions, we did all sorts of things, including partner exercises, which I'm fond of, and we were introduced to koan practice. The entire thing has wildly exceeded my expectations.

Our small group has been meeting at the Zen Center, but after the class ends, we’re going to meet in the conference room at the office where one of us works, so we did that for the first time this week. I knew I’d be running early and asked our host if he could recommend a café. He directed me to La Boulange de Hayes, at Octavia and Hayes, a charming and tranquil spot.

I’m not a fan of hot chocolate, normally, but it was very chilly that evening, so I went ahead and ordered the traditional item, and of course got the large size, since it was only 40 cents more than the small and since more is by definition better than less, even if you don't like the thing to begin with.

One of our group happened to be there, and he, being a person of moderation, had gotten the small size, which came in a fairly diminutive teacup. Mine arrived in what J. later described to our group as a “tureen.” Oddly, it was about three times the size of the small, and it was also by far the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had.

I also count as a benefit of the EPP class D. setting me back on the proper path in regard to remaining still while meditating. I think it’s been only a couple of weeks since I resolved to do that, but I can really feel the difference already, which I notice at work in particular. Suddenly it seems relatively easy to be patient, and I even realized I’d gone a couple of weeks without complaining to my team lead about anything whatsoever (until today, anyway, when I saw that the on-call list has shrunk to five people, obviously my cue to mention that we used to be on call every ten weeks).

It felt like I passed a test when I spoke recently to a person who thoroughly irritated me on a past occasion. Even this time I could feel impatience arising, but then, before it became particularly pronounced, it ebbed away. This fellow commented that the day beforehand, he had thought he understood the matter at hand, but then the next day, he suddenly wasn’t sure. “I know the feeling,” I said, and a feeling of friendliness, even tenderness, overtook me. I vowed to myself to explain the thing 50 times in a row if necessary. Soon enough, I could tell he understood, and I hung up feeling good instead of guilty.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Red Streak and Water Feature at McNamara Terminal at Detroit Metro Airport

One great thing about this water feature is that in some phases, the water turns on and off quickly, so there are little disembodied curved pieces of water sailing through the air as if of their own volition. It's charming.

Upholding Tradition: Mexican Bean Salad and Rocky Horror

My visit to Ypsilanti was quite nice. I saw my parents, of course, and my sister, and Nigel the cat, plus the cat who came to drink from the bird bath out back. We ate and talked and watched lots of DVDs; my mother, ever the bad influence, tried to get me to stay up the entire night before my return flight watching movies. I lasted for three in a row.

At one point, all four of us were together in the living room, me on my mother’s laptop (chatting on Facebook; they have it in Ypsilanti, too), my sister on her BlackBerry and my parents on their cell phones. My sister observed, “This is just like being anywhere.”

I visited Amy one day in Chelsea and got to see her boys and have a fresh-baked chocolate muffin. I had lunch with the aforementioned person who struck me as being a glamorous older man at 18 (when I was 16). We had an enjoyable chat. I found it extremely difficult to mentally match him up with the person I knew 30 years ago, and actually now find it rather difficult to retrieve my memories from that era: he overwrote himself.

I got to see Amy a second time, this time with Sally, too, one of my closest friends when I was seven. We had lunch downtown and then went on a walking tour of our old neighborhood. My father said we could go through our old house, still in our hands for the time being, and we did that. I’ve said “goodbye” to this house five times at this point, and I can now do it without weeping and wailing. Oh, I take that back—I did have a good cry when I happened to drive within a block of it while on my way to downtown Ann Arbor. I dream about that place two or three times a week, and it just is weird literally to drive into a dreamscape.

Thanksgiving was a vegetarian feast. My father made vegan nut roast, stuffing, gravy, Mexican bean salad (this is traditional), chocolate chip cookies, and lemon cookies; the latter required making lemon jam the day beforehand, which takes several hours. My mother made cranberry-orange relish, another dessert, and delectable dinner rolls. We had sparkling pomegranate and blueberry juice to drink. The table is kind of small, so we put the food on a cart and on the nearby kitchen counter, and placed only one special centerpiece, something that perfectly evokes the spirit of the holiday, on the table: a stick of softened butter.

After dinner, we watched Rocky Horror Picture Show. I had never seen it, to my father’s delight; it’s fun to watch a favorite movie with someone who hasn’t yet had the pleasure. I absolutely could not believe my parents even like this movie, let alone that they have seen it three or four (now four or five) times. It just didn’t seem to me like it would be their kind of thing, but one does learn something new and astounding every now and then.

After it was over, we started again at the beginning, but with English subtitles turned on, and when my mother saw the word “groin,” she said, “Is THAT what this movie is about?”

My father told us that the lemon jam he makes is so powerful in flavor, only a quarter cup is needed for a whole recipe of lemon cookies. “Do I have that recipe?” I asked.

“No, and you’re not going to,” my mother grumbled, but of course the next day, I found it waiting for me on the counter; my father had printed it out.

On Saturday I was back at the airport, gazing at my beloved water feature in the McNamara terminal. I’d been taking acidophilus all week to combat the anti-digestion properties of the antibiotics, and my father had suggested that since I did happen to be flying first class (for the only time ever), maybe I could get the flight attendants to put it in the refrigerator on the plane for the trip home. This they were not particularly happy to do, in fact, but they did it.

Hammett was thrilled to see me, and I him. I came back Saturday so I could cook on Sunday. I made green split peas and buckwheat, washed fruit, rinsed spinach for salads, and chopped veggies. I’ve gotten in the habit of treating myself to some olives from Rainbow’s olive bar on cooking day.

I called B.’s daughter, whose mother “graduated” from hospice, to say how glad I am for them, and also that I will really miss seeing B. The volunteer coordinator says that if a patient is able to leave hospice and later returns, usually they try to send the same volunteer over to visit with the person, but I can hardly hope for that. As much as I will miss her, I hope I don’t see her again for a good long time. B. left me a voice mail on my home answering machine not long ago. I will save it and listen to that scratchy, dear voice now and then.

I have a new visitee, C., whom I will meet this weekend.

I had a strangely horrible day at work on Tuesday, self inflicted, a perfect example of the adage that no good deed goes unpunished. It’s terribly cynical to believe such a thing, but I sort of do. I set out to do someone a good turn and, three or so hours later, after every possible complication, was about ready to hurl myself out the window. The person I was “helping” was extremely nice about it and reminded me, with a relaxed chuckle, that he was getting paid by the hour, in which case I really did do him a nice favor. (Come to think of it, he should send me a box of chocolates.)

I recalled a thing I had read recently in a dharma context about trying to feel the space around the discomfort, so I tried it, though my initial thought was that it wasn’t really a physical experience; the entire universe seemed drenched in misery.

Starting with something I knew I could do, I asked myself: Can I feel my feet? My hands? My calves? My lower arms? My thighs? My upper arms? The top of my head? Certainly I could feel all of those things, and by the time I’d established that, which took no time at all, I felt I might live, which was a relief.

Purple Thing and Sparkles on Wall

Can Facebook Kill?

So my surgery on the Thursday before Thanksgiving went fine, and the following day, Friday, I spent preparing for my trip to Michigan on Saturday. Most of Friday was Packing, Phase One: chatting on Facebook.

As the afternoon began to wane, it seemed to be time to move on to Packing, Phase Two, which involves the actual placing of items into a suitcase. At that point, I was chatting with my old and dear friend D., whom I met in music school. He had recently lost two friends, both dead suddenly and far too young, and was feeling the effects of that. “DON’T DIE!!” he wrote me.

I told him that I would certainly die, but probably not during our chat. Then, while walking into the kitchen to get a glass of water as fortification for packing, I noticed a sharp pain issuing from my left arm, and pulled up my sweater sleeve to see an ominous red streak crawling up a vein. Ironic to think that if I’d remained online for 24 hours telling D. how I was not going to die while chatting, maybe I could have managed to die while chatting.

I called Dr. M., and then it occurred to me to call Tom, my tall handsome ex-boyfriend/best friend/upstairs neighbor. He’s a special ed teacher—when it comes to romance, I find it is best for me to stick to those in the helping professions: teachers, nurses, masseurs, etc.—and I thought he might have some sort of protocol established for the sighting of a red streak.

I could hear that Tom was chatting with a friend in town for the weekend and didn’t want to interrupt. On the other hand, wouldn’t it be a terrible shame if I died with helpful advice potentially so close at hand? I went ahead and called, but left a very low-key message, saying I sort of had sort of a first aid question, but it wasn’t anything urgent or anything.

Then Dr. M. called and agreed it sounded like the place where the I.V. had been put in was infected. She said she’d call Walgreens with a prescription for antibiotics and that I should also take an aspirin so I didn’t get a blood clot on the plane.

Just after we hung up, Tom, bless his heart, called me back and reminded me that his pal has some expertise in this area—should they come down and perform an examination? I said I’d talked to my doctor, so there was no need for that, though it was a very nice offer. The next thing I heard was the click of the phone as Tom hung up on me, and then a knock at my door.

The friend agreed that treatment was a good idea and suggested that they walk to Walgreens with me! How incredibly sweet of her that was. I insisted that they get on with their evening, and took a cab to Walgreens, where I felt first like a guy in a movie who’s been bitten by a snake and is waiting for the poison to reach his heart, and then like a junkie, as I tore the bag open right outside the store so I could take the first pill as soon as possible. I was worried that I would end up having to cancel my trip east.

At some point, I had given my mother a call to let her know what was going on and she was extremely concerned and immediately asked, “This isn’t something I’m going to catch, is it? You gotta look out for number one.”

In the morning, the streak was no better, but also no worse, and off I went to Michigan. After 47 years, I had finally accrued enough infrequent flyer miles for a single round-trip upgrade to first class. I found the people there strangely aloof. Try as I might to interest them in my little problems and opinions, they were wedded to their laptops, but I did appreciate the bigger space and the dual armrests between seats.

When we boarded, there was already a bottle of water at each seat, and the second we were seated, there was someone ready to bring further refreshments. Also, there was a little display showing if there was someone in the bathroom or not. But, on the whole, I think where I usually sit is OK: more chatting.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Tom at the Helm, World's Largest Floating Crane

Tom at the wheel of the City CarShare car we drove to Sacramento not long ago. He claims the below is the world's largest floating crane, and I'm not really in a position to contradict him.