Monday, October 22, 2012

Though He Does Have Fish Breath from Time to Time

As of last Sunday, Hammett had been with me for six years exactly. He’s a fantastic roommate. He never eats any of my food and doesn’t use the last of the shampoo. He doesn’t welsh on his share of the rent nor watch TV late at night. Out of all people and all cats, he’s my favorite, as I frequently tell him.

I did my cooking Sunday afternoon and then C. and I went to a benefit for the upcoming children’s poetry festival in El Salvador. The benefit was at the Sun Rise restaurant on 24th St. east of Mission, a neighborhood I had never ventured into before getting to know C. There was a reading of children’s stories, a showing of animated short films, and a raffle, at which I won two of the six or so items, though not the one I wanted: a giant book on reptiles and insects, in Spanish. My lucky streak was embarrassing, considering that I was a stranger to everyone there except C. (not to mention the only non-Hispanic). I was praying I wouldn’t win a third item.

Cake was served for someone’s birthday, brought around to us by a wee tyke, and when I said, “No, thank you,” the MC insisted I take it: given by the hand of a little girl! So then I said, “Thank you,” and took the cake, and then the MC insisted I also eat a little! Of course I didn’t eat any, but I did reconfigure it, causing C. to say, “Oh, you ate some.” I told him I hadn’t, and he extravagantly complimented my ability to make a piece of cake look like some of it has been eaten. I later asked C. if that’s a known thing, that you can’t refuse what a little girl offers, but he’d never heard of it.

Monday evening, after trying to get around to this for about nine weeks, I finally watched Kill the Irishman but ended up turning it off before it was done: too violent. For good measure, I purged my Netflix queue of everything that looked bloody.

Also that day I remembered about my mother and gave her a call. “What’s going on over there?” I inquired and she claimed nothing was going on. She’s in the beginning stages of building herself a new computer—she’s picking out the case—and she also, though not normally a fiction reader, acquired a book of short stories in which the first one was about zombies.

“About what?”

“Zombies. Z as in zebra, O as in orange, M as in Linda.”

“M as in Linda?” The ways of some are frankly inscrutable.

Tuesday evening I watched the second presidential debate with C. and Tom, and then C. and I took a pre-requested cab to Howie’s, which was starting 20 minutes late (unprecedented, as far as I know) so people could finish watching the debate and get over there. The debate was on in the cab, so we got to hear the last few minutes.

C. had called earlier in the day to ask what the ground rules for talking during the debate were, and I said that the Golden Rule should be applied, plus that anyone who talked during the debate would be sent to his or her room and also receive a spanking.

Thursday evening C. and I dined at Esperpento, where ill feeling arose over how to divide the various shared dishes, whether one should apply one’s preferred condiment to the entire expanse of the food on the communal serving, what kind of lout eats from the serving plate with his or her personal utensil, and so forth. Friday we were still, or again, speaking to each other and went to La Santaneca for dinner.

On Saturday I did my marketing at Rainbow and in the evening, C. and I went to Live Worms gallery in North Beach for an event celebrating Jennifer Barone’s new book. I enjoyed Lam Khong’s wonderful drawings. Several of C.’s poetry buddies were there and I got to meet one he speaks of often. We left before Jennifer’s actual reading began, and walked all the way to 111 Minna for an auction to benefit the Mission neighborhood newspaper El Tecolote. There was an entire room filled with the art of Lennie Mace, most of which is done in ballpoint pen, although you would never guess that. I fell in love with a dazzling piece called Winter Playground. It’s wildly fanciful and so beautifully rendered. Had it not been $16,000, I would have snapped it up.

Yesterday Tom and I went in a City CarShare car to Sacramento to visit Ann, who treated us to lunch from Boudin’s. We got caught up on all the news and helped Ann pack up the rest of Mac’s personal effects. I admired her ability to get rid of all of this stuff so relatively soon. I still have the personal effects of a cat who died six years ago.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Exercise, Once and For All

Two Fridays ago, I worked on the spreadsheet of the Roseville fellow until late into the evening, and this past week it dawned on me that he’d never sent me a note of thanks, but I concluded that maybe network guys don’t bother with those niceties (though I do; hmmph), and then that no news was good news.

Wednesday of this week, I got an email asking me to call him so we could “discuss.” Sure enough, he’d found a problem. Since the project had involved pulling data from 13 other workbooks and was an immense effort, my heart sank. We got on the phone and he pointed out what he was looking at, and sure enough, it was wrong, as I could plainly see. But then he looked again, and nope, it was right, as I could also plainly see, the lesson here being that spreadsheets are devious in the extreme.

In the end, it turned out that the stuff from just one of the 13 source workbooks was wrong, because the person who had made them all had assigned the columns differently in that one, which on the one hand was not my mistake, but on the other hand, it would have been good if I’d noticed it. Fortunately, the oddball workbook contained fewer than 10 rows, so the compilation was easily fixed via copying and pasting. What a relief! I could and would have redone the whole thing from scratch, but J. would have killed me for needing to take that time away from our work.

Wednesday evening, David L. from Howie’s and I had dinner at La Santaneca.

On Thursday, Tom and C. and I watched the debate between Biden and Ryan (who does indeed look a little like Eddie Munster) on my iMac. I must agree Biden’s demeanor wasn’t quite professional, but his being so decidedly on the attack made me feel a lot better after the debate between Obama and Romney.

At work on Friday, J. referred to something I might do “several weeks” from now, which was a relief—I guess they’re not firing me. I feel I’ve been behind the curve a lot, which perhaps is true at the start of any new job, but since this is only a four-month job, any time that isn’t productive seems particularly bad.

I had C. over in the evening for pasta puttanesca, and received many extravagant compliments: he couldn’t imagine anyone making anything better, I should open a restaurant, and so forth.

Yesterday I finally did something I’ve meant to do for years: go on a bike ride with Different Spokes, which is an LGBT and friends-of-LGBT cycling club in San Francisco. Tom joined me. We met the group at Peet’s Coffee & Tea on Market St. near Sanchez, about five minutes from our building by bike, which was very convenient—some had BARTed from the East Bay to be there.

The club members were extremely friendly, smiling and introducing themselves. Two men greeted their (male) friend by saying “Oh, good, you’re here! We were starting to think we douched for nothing,” the kind of ribald humor I’d been counting on this group to provide. The listing for the ride said there were 27-mile, 37-mile, and 57-mile options. I was planning to do the shortest. 

We took a scenic route to the Presidio, one that avoided the few steep blocks on Arguello, and we rode across the Golden Gate Bridge, down into Sausalito, out of Sausalito, and onto the bike path. The pace was definitely faster than I would kept alone, but on the other hand, I wouldn’t have been there at all on my own. At the end of the bike path, there was a choice between going “the short way” and “over the hill.” I joined the group going over the hill and I believe it to be the case that we passed a good deal of gorgeous scenery, but can’t say for sure, as I was mainly focused on not getting left miles behind the others.

We arrived in Tiburon and stopped for a leisurely lunch at a nice café with outdoor seating. One of the group that went the short way was clipped by another cyclist and sent flying. Her bike was a bit askew (Tom fixed it for her), but she herself was fortunately and somewhat miraculously not injured. Cyclists are animals. This fellow knew he hit her—he was yelling at her to get out of the way as he charged down the hill behind her. It seems to me that since he knew he was going to hit her, he should have refrained from doing so, and once he did knock her off her bike and possibly hurt her seriously, he should have stopped to assist, but instead he rode off.

After lunch, we went back to Sausalito and there I could have joined another person in taking the ferry back to town, but vanity caused me to keep on through town, up the hill to the bridge, back across the bridge, through the Presidio, and across San Francisco. “I never have to exercise again after this, right?” I asked Tom, but he didn’t think it worked that way. When we got home, Tom said (upon being asked for the fifth or sixth time that day) that we’d covered 50.21 miles.

That was a nice chunk of exertion, but I think next time I will actually take the ferry back and maybe even go the short way instead of over the hill. That would still be plenty of riding and I’m starting to think this weekend warrior way of doing things is going to cause some sort of injury sooner or later.

By the way, this was Different Spokes’ slow and social monthly ride! Given that, I’m never, ever going on any of their other rides, but I look forward to doing one of these again, which they do the second Saturday of every month.

In the evening, C. and I had dinner at Esperpento.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


This past Sunday I made beluga lentils and brown rice, and also pasta puttanesca with artichoke hearts. C. came to keep me company toward the end of the afternoon and then we had dinner at La Santaneca, where I’ve had to cut back on the fried plantains. Between those and the mineral sunblock, it was starting to look like the 1970s again around here, complexion-wise.

Monday evening, C. and I set off to go to Glide Memorial Church for Jana Drakka’s meditation group, but he suddenly became famished, so we returned to the Mission—we were already downtown when this happened—and went to La Santaneca again. I’d already had dinner, but of course I had a little something: a side order of casamiento, and two of their robust handmade tortillas.

I’m continuing to learn a lot of stuff at work, of necessity. Normally I avoid learning anything—it gives my brain an unpleasant warmish feeling—but now there’s no choice, and I’m finding I am enjoying having to be resourceful. So that is a benefit resulting from having gone somewhat beyond putting the best face on my skill set in the interview and possibly into the territory of outright mendacity, and though of course it’s unfair that they are paying me to learn this stuff, it is also true that my former job was not as an Excel master and I didn’t say it was. Nonetheless, it might be better to say “I have used that program a lot and am sure I can learn anything necessary” rather than “I’m an expert with that program.” If you’re not.

My former job carried considerably more responsibility and was much broader in scope, but here we are, and I’m glad to have this job, actually enjoying sifting through my spreadsheets, and getting a huge kick out of automating tasks, however modestly. It feels good to use my head for something other than preventing my crappy old hat from resting directly on my shoulders. (Even C., who dresses pretty much like a homeless person, has hinted that it could be time to look into an upgrade.)

Ezra Bayda says in his almost-latest book, Zen Heart: Simple Advice for Living with Mindfulness and Compassion, that three of our favorite “detours from reality” are blaming, analyzing and fixing. I think he’s onto something there. Watching my thoughts, I can see a veritable parade of these: “Such-and-such person has acted incorrectly! Why does he do it? Probably because of blah blah blah. Well, from now on, I’m going to … ” Right there, in the course of 30 seconds, all three.

One of the meditation groups I belong to is very large (Eugene Cash’s, a couple of hundred people or so) and has a fairly active email list which, over the past year, has featured note after note from a woman who has been unemployed and bordering on homelessness, close to having to sleep in her car. Some of her notes have included lines like, “And, yes, I know about Craigslist,” so I imagine people have responded to her privately, trying to direct her elsewhere, perhaps irritated and wishing she would just go away. I can’t guess how many places she must have slept these past many months, a few days here and a few weeks there.

Her requests have sometimes been hilariously specific, long lists of what she’d like to have. I never exactly wished she would go away (for one thing, I know and like her in person), but at times I found myself judging what she was asking for: do you really need high-speed Internet and a cat-free environment and quiet after such-and-such hour? Offering considerably less than market rate, are you really expecting to get all that? It sounds like you’re desperate—wouldn’t anything suffice at this point? In her shoes, I would probably say that even a basement or garage would do.

The months passed and the very specific requests kept coming, and then, lo and behold, she got a job, and her latest housing request mentioned that she will be signing a lease on a studio in a month! As I rejoiced over her job and her studio and marveled at her sheer endurance, I realized she had given us a gift (beyond just the chance to practice with annoyance, which is not exactly difficult to come by), and posted this to the list:

“I would like to say on a group level that, while I’m sure there are some who have thought, ‘Not this sangha member again!’, we humans being what we are, and some of us being of aversive temperaments (myself among them), well, getting to the point here, I have been dazzled at the way you say over and over so clearly what you need and want.

“I have learned from you, and I hope that if I ever get into the extraordinarily challenging situation you have faced for quite some time, I can do it as bravely and persistently as you have done it.

“I’m so glad about your job and your studio. I hope they both prove to be great (or good enough) for the long term.”

At Howie’s yesterday evening, the almost-homeless sangha member thanked me for my supportive email to the group and said it had had an unexpected positive effect: a woman of great means contacted her, mentioned my note, and somewhat grudgingly (I gathered) offered to meet the latest short-term housing need.

Sunday, October 07, 2012


Last Saturday, Tom and I took BART to Walnut Creek, had brunch at Hubcaps Diner downtown, and went to ride our bikes up and down the Iron Horse Trail. Tom rides a lot faster than I do, but I decided to try to keep up with him for once, and succeeded for about an hour and a half, riding pretty much at top capacity the entire time. It was hot out there, and there is no shade along the trail, so by the time we turned around to come back, I was close to expiring, and the 3 o’clock wind from the west was just starting, so I asked Tom if we could go on to Dublin BART instead of riding clear back to Walnut Creek BART, and he said that was fine. He’s nice.

Back at home, I had dinner with C. at Papalote.

Sunday was for cooking green split peas and quinoa.

On Monday evening C. came over to do some research on his upcoming trip to El Salvador for the children’s poetry festival.

Tuesday I heard a radio on at the worksite outside my living room windows, which project will have been underway for a year as of October 18, and called the fellow at the city who has been so great about making it stop ASAP (speaking of learning to live with things as they are). Once again, the radio stopped within minutes and then I overheard the workers saying something about having to make it through the day without music. They must have concluded it could not be done, because they turned the radio on again, and I called the guy at the city again, but then decided it was time to go do my own dirty work, and walked around the block.

There I found the owner himself and told him I don’t mind the construction noise, but that gratuitous noise arouses strong ill feelings. The foreman was also there and didn’t realize anyone had turned on a radio and strode off to silence it. Meanwhile, the owner gave me his cell number and that of the foreman. Tom (being of a reasonable temperament) doesn’t mind the radio, but is irritated by the power tools and construction noises themselves, so he’s had the harder time of it.

In the evening, I went to Howie’s.

On Wednesday I took a lovely bike ride to Golden Gate Park at lunchtime, and in the evening, Tom and I watched the first debate between Obama and Romney. I don’t see Obama often, but thought he looked markedly worse than the last time I did. I even wondered if he might be ill. Certainly he looked like he hadn’t slept the night before, while Romney appeared to be just back from a month at the spa. Romney sounded entirely reasonable, entirely like a good guy, and I kept waiting for Obama to point out that he’s not, but he didn’t! Romney very clearly won the debate, and if Obama ends up losing, that is probably why. And if Obama loses, I can probably forget about being able to buy an individual health insurance policy.

At work on Thursday, the helpful list guy gave me a great tutorial on the phone on how to use a research tool, and I wrote a Windows command line for-loop to do DNS lookups and print some text at the beginning of each new chunk of output, which was satisfying.

In the evening, it emerged that Lisa C. was in town for work, so we had dinner at Herbivore.

Friday was another dismal Excel day at work, as I’d received another massive data compilation project, from one of the fellows I met in Roseville. It was humbling to have to importune the Excel master yet again, though I felt better when he took a look and said I
d almost had it.

I felt very stressed out that day, and the earsplitting racket of the Blue Angels overhead made it definitely worse. At the end of the workday, I went to do laundry, and when I got home, I returned to my VLOOKUP task, because I didn’t want there to be anything left to do on Monday morning. It was 12:45 a.m. before I got to bed, making this a contender for world’s crappiest Friday evening, First World category. I know it was an incredibly great Friday evening by the standards of many. But by my standards, it was lousy.

I’m sorry this is the extremely boring blog now. Once the full-time telecommuter has told you about her dental floss, her cat and her spoons, there isn’t much else to say.

On Saturday I went to have my hair trimmed and was turned over by Max to a young lady shampoo artist who had extremely strong fingers and who scrubbed away with impressive vigor and endurance. I finally had to ask her to please stop. I returned to the haircutting chair and, just as I realized Max was nowhere in sight, the same young lady came to offer me a complimentary scalp massage while I waited. Her fingers were in top form after the limbering up they’d gotten during the shampoo, and it was somewhat painful; I politely asked her to cease these efforts, as well.

When Max finally came along, it was 35 minutes after our appointment time, which he didn’t mention. I (passively and aggressively) said, “I’m not sure if I still have time to do this,” which was only about twenty percent true, and he retaliated by cutting the very top of my coiffure off, which took him just ten minutes and set my hair growing back by four or six months. My hair now looks like a very tall flattop with random portions of a fright wig dangling from the edges. I in turn retaliated by tipping only ten percent, because I’m not brave enough not to tip at all.

That night, Gen and I had dinner at We Be Sushi and saw Looper, which is violent but which we both liked.