Saturday, December 28, 2013

Bumper Cars

After work last Monday I walked to the AMC 1000 Van Ness theater—it took about 45 minutes—and saw Dallas Buyers Club, which was marvelous, plus there was literally only one person in the theater besides me, making it even better. Afterward, I walked back home again, stopping at the corner store to get some Kettle organic potato chips. A month or so ago, I told Joe that these existed—he already sold Kettle potato chips, but not the organic ones—and that I suspected they would be a popular item around here. On Monday I saw there was a nice big pile of them. I asked Joe if they are selling and he said, “Oh, yes, they are.” I think he’s forgotten it was my idea, since he didn’t thank me profusely for turning his business around, but I felt gratified at having made the suggestion.

In the afternoon on Christmas Eve, Tom and I drove to Sacramento in his co-worker’s car, in heavy traffic the whole way. It took three hours instead of two, but we arrived just in time for dinner. Present were Paul, Eva, Dan, Steve, Julie, Ann, me, Tom, Chris, Kristin, Sarah, Farid, Jim, Melinda, Abbie, and Dave. Amid the traditional holiday decorations, we enjoyed Eva’s wonderful dinner and later opened a mountain of gifts, followed by dessert. Tom and I spent the night at Ann’s, and Steve and Julie came over Christmas Day morning to join us for breakfast.

Before and during our drives there and back, I kept having this image of getting in a car crash on the freeway, which is not normally a preoccupation. On our way back, as we were on the San Francisco end of the Bay Bridge, I heard Tom say in an unusually panicked tone, “Oh, shit. Oh, shit,” and I looked through the windshield and saw cars just a bit in front and to the side of us careening wildly from side to side and a big cloud of smoke; there was an awful smell. A chain reaction was underway and I assumed that in the next two seconds, we would be in a crash, but fortunately nothing appeared directly in front of us and we rolled on. I asked Tom what happened and he said the driver of a Jeep was going too fast, not paying attention, and suddenly had to lock up the brakes (causing the smoke and bad smell), causing the car right in front of it suddenly to veer into the next lane, trying to avoid being hit.

The Jeep in question had a woman driver and a woman passenger and a bumper sticker that said something like “Hope the fetus you save is gay,” and when I turned to give them a stern look, I saw they didn’t look disturbed. In fact, they looked a little smiley, like, “Whoa, that was trippy!” Maybe they were drunk. They were ahead of us on Cesar Chavez and turned up toward Bernal Hill. I proposed to Tom that we follow them and beat them up, but he wasn’t in favor.

On Thursday, Tom and I walked back to the movie theater on Van Ness and saw American Hustle—excellent—and then walked home again, stopping at Sunflower to split an order of garlic noodles with tofu. Friday night we had dinner at Esperpento.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Some Occurrences that Have Occurred

Last Friday I rode my bike way across town in the morning for a mammogram and six-month visit to my surgeon. The mammogram was all clear and my surgeon said he doesn’t think there is an elevated risk of ovarian cancer, because there is no breast or ovarian cancer in my family, so my DCIS was not genetic but “random.” So he definitely is not in favor of a prophylactic oophorectomy.

I asked what they’re saying about intraoperative radiation treatment these days: have they decided it’s a good thing? Well, where you might have a 2.5% recurrence risk with external radiation treatment, with intraoperative, it’s 4%. However, the DCIS patient shouldn’t worry about this, because now they’re starting to think that less is more and that they shouldn’t do any kind of radiation treatment at all for it, just a lumpectomy. Wish they’d been thinking that two years ago, but glad that at least there was no course of external radiation.

Then there was another bicycle ride downtown to go to my department’s holiday luncheon, and then to Rainbow to get toothpaste, and then a walk to Wayne’s to drop off work shirts and pick up the prior week’s batch, and then laundry at the laundromat, and then dinner, and then finally all the things I usually do first thing in the morning: write, meditate, stretch, knee exercises … . Long day.

My company dedicates September to community service and my department in particular must have done 25 different events to raise money. During that month, the company will match any charitable contribution, so I gave $100 apiece to Black Girls Code and two charities in Detroit. Plus I worked at one of the fundraisers and bought raffle tickets for another. I figured I’d done my share, but then, very recently, one of the administrative assistants on our floor came around to see if we
d all used the 16 volunteer service hours we’re allotted each year, and my boss said something about this, too, so I got worried that it would affect my performance review and decided I’d better try to squeeze this in before the end of the year. I also made a mental note to address this prior to December 17 next year.

It was impossible to find 16 hours in San Francisco before December 31, but I signed up for a shift at Project Open Hand and accordingly went over there on Saturday morning. Since it was a Saturday, I didn’t get to use any of those official hours, but at least they can be entered on the company’s website that tracks volunteer service and by then, I’d also found out that my boss doesn’t really care if we use those 16 hours or not (though he himself did use them, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity).

I met five colleagues hitherto unknown to me and we packed dry cereal into plastic bags to give away at the Grocery Center and then did the same with various leafy greens. I was a bit dismayed when I saw the sugary cereal to be provided to clients, and was glad to see they were also giving away all the nice greens, but my fellow volunteers said it’s quite likely many recipients have no way to cook greens, and even if they do, doubtless a lot of them end up in the nearest trash bin. That’s probably true. It was pleasant to chat and work together. There was a certain amount of kvetching about the company, which was astounding to me. I guess having been laid off for a time has permanently altered my attitude: this is the best company on earth and I am beyond delighted to work for it. I love my job (truly).

After POH, I walked down to Ananda Fuara and had a bowl of dal and some naan and a pot of genmaicha (green tea with roasted brown rice in it). Their genmaicha is particularly good, so I asked where it comes from: San Francisco Herb Company. I have ordered some. After lunch, I took a quite enchanting walk clear back to the Mission. The air smelled good and a bunch of trees on Folsom St. were shedding little leaves in generous quantities right then, as if it were the end of autumn in the Midwest instead of Christmastime on the Pacific coast. I walked over to Modern Times to pick up some books. For a while, I was getting most reading material at the library, but now I’ve decided to be a patron of Modern Times, so it doesn’t go away, so I buy books new there, and give them away after reading them, to others or to the thrift store. I also give more books as gifts these days, and for Christmas, everyone is getting a book and/or a gift certificate.

Back at home, I talked to my mother on the phone, and then Lisa M. and I had dinner at Esperpento. Afterward, we came back to my place and listened to music and watched a few videos of Lisa doing improv.

Monday, December 23, 2013


A week ago Monday I went for my semi-annual teeth cleaning. My dentist, whom I love, has bought her own practice and will be moving there in January, so I brought along a goodbye card for my favorite front-desk agent, Jeannine. As I was leaving, she said mournfully, “I’m never going to see you again.” We parted with a big hug. She is a darling young lady.

As for my teeth, there is a situation of receding gums, though mostly in an area unseen by the casual observer. Unfortunately, I did this to myself using a Sonicare plus whitening toothpaste, all the time thinking I was practicing excellent dental hygiene. Daily habits are powerful, for good or ill. Now I’m worried some of those teeth will eventually fall out. My dentist said that if I don’t have bone loss, they won’t, but decided maybe I
d better see a gum doctor (periodontist), meaning I now have as many doctors for my teeth as for the whole rest of my body.

My whole body has a primary care provider, an ob/gyn, and a cancer surgeon. My teeth have a dentist, an endodontist (root canal guy), and a periodontist. I wonder why it’s “–dontist” and not “–dentist.” It would be easier to remember if you had your dentist, endodentist, and periodentist. Or, conversely, why is it “dentist” and not “dontist”?

On my walk one afternoon last week, I saw a boy of 11 or so wearing what at first looked like an AC*DC t-shirt, for the band, but it proved actually to say AD*HD.

When I got to Randall and San Jose that day, a tall, skinny crossing guard (African American, baggy tracksuit, 28ish, relaxed manner) was cheering on a woman who’d nearly reached my side of the street: “You’re almost there!” When the light turned green for me, I wasn’t sure what he’d do, because I’m 51 and was the only person in sight. Probably he wouldn’t assist me to cross the street (unless I look older than I think), but he asked encouragingly, “Ready?”


“Let’s do this,” he said with an air of meaning to get the job done if it killed him.

As we set off, I said, “It’s nice to have a safety guard and coach all in one.”

“I’m with you. I got you.”

On Thursday I went to see the periodontist. I liked him very much and we had an absolutely riveting discussion about dental hygiene. He did an exam, after which he said he doesn’t see any need for gum surgery (to try to build up the gums) now. He gave me a new set of dental hygiene practices. I asked if it would be fine never to use a Sonicare again and he said by all means—once everyone starting using a Sonicare or similar product, the amount of gum surgery he had to do increased substantially. In my hands, particular with whitening toothpaste, that thing was a lethal weapon. I don’t care about whitening, by the way, but liked how clean my teeth felt after I used it. But Dr. M. said that if you run your tongue over your teeth and say, “Mmm, how smooth and clean my teeth feel!”, you’ve probably done a little bit of damage to your enamel and/or gums.

He said to use a regular toothbrush, not with whitening toothpaste; to hold it with three fingers and the thumb, with the fingers gently curved as if holding a violin bow and the pinky not touching the brush; to gently move the brush in a pea-sized circle over each tooth where it meets the gum and to think of massaging the tooth rather than brushing it. He said it should take no longer than one minute to do all the teeth! This is about one second per tooth: 28 – 32 teeth, front and back. 

He gave me a toothbrush a colleague of his developed. He said there’s nothing hugely special about it (though his own ideas also went into it), but since he knows it so intimately, when I bring it back in 2.5 months, he’ll be able to tell if I did what he said or not. He said it should look exactly as it did when he gave it to me. Last but not least, when I asked for a second toothbrush for work, he declined to provide one, because I’m to do this only twice a day, morning and night. I’m positive my teeth are going to be uniformly brown by the time I see him again.

I tried the timed brushing that evening but it really, truly wasn’t long enough, and it was also stressful, which could probably lead to undue pressure. The next morning, I put one of my 11 timers—you just cannot have too many timers
on count-up mode and found I could brush my teeth in about 90 seconds, which is probably good enough. Maybe he tells people to brush for one minute total knowing they’ll cheat but that it will still be a lot better than what they were doing before.

Longtime readers of Bugwalk may recall that the manager of my apartment building and I used to get into many a quarrel over this, that and the other (actually, mainly over fumes, from either cigarette smoking or grilling), but we now get along so well that I was invited to her holiday party this year, along with everyone else in the building. I admit that part of my motive in going was to get a peek at her place, which is much larger than any other unit in the building, and which I hadn’t seen since the prior occupants lived there. That turned out to be a very good reason for attending, because her place is absolutely, completely beautiful—gorgeously painted and with carefully chosen furniture and art. For about 12 hours afterward, I felt I should undertake to do something similar in my place, but, fortunately, that ambition passed.

The other guests were an interesting and varied crowd. I easily found people to chat with, including a writer who lives in the building next door, and the building manager and I parted with a little hug.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Want to Watch Me Think About What to Have for Dinner?

Last Saturday evening, my meditation friend Lesley and I went to hear Joseph Goldstein speak at the church at Geary and Franklin, the occasion being the publication of his new book, Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening. I had planned to take a cab over there, but per my pedometer, decided to walk, first going by Modern Times to pick up a birthday present for Lesley (Joseph Goldstein’s book Insight Meditation, a marvelous collection of short essays).

Modern Times doesn’t do gift wrapping, but they provide paper and ribbons if you want to do it yourself. By the time I’d paid for the book and wrapped it, it was getting dark, and I was starting to wonder if it would be wise to walk all that way alone. I took the precaution of transferring my wallet and keys to my coat pockets in case I was mugged and my backpack was taken, but as I walked north on Harrison St., the most ominous thing I saw was a fancy butcher shop for the new type of neighbor. At 22nd and Harrison are the lofts that used to catch my eye when I was walking back from the hospital many nights last spring: absolutely enormous and hugely ostentatious, particularly in that mostly humble area.

When Harrison started to seem too deserted, I switched to Folsom and then to South Van Ness. I couldn’t quite picture how South Van Ness was going to connect to Van Ness, and indeed it got darker and emptier and creepier, and then voila! Market St., with a million lights and people.

Lesley and I both arrived early, so we got to sit in the very front row, near four other people from Howie’s group. Joseph gave a talk, and led us in a brief guided meditation, and then he answered questions. It was a tremendous pleasure to see him in person and hear his exceedingly lucid and helpful thoughts. He is a treasure.

He said that when he was in his 20s, in Asia, just learning to meditate, he was so enchanted by how you could use the mind to investigate the mind that he would invite his friends over to watch him meditate, though he said they didn’t necessarily always want to come back after the first time.

One woman asked how to work with her negative self-judgments and Joseph said that such judgments are only a problem if we believe them or if we try to get rid of them; what we resist gains strength. He advised remembering that such thoughts are not true, and we don’t have to identify with them: they are not I, me, or mine. They’re just thoughts, arising from past conditioning. We can accept that such a thought has arisen and investigate: what is it like to have this thought or this feeling? To be worried or full of self-hatred or judging ourselves or someone else? He described a period where he was wrestling with a particular emotion, often getting lost in long streams of thought. After observing closely, he was able to identify the precise thought that would initiate the whole train of unhelpful rumination, and once he was on the lookout for that thought, determined not to let it slip by, he no longer had to take the whole ride.

He advised periodically asking, “What is my attitude of mind?” and noticing what is motivating our speech or actions. Is there grasping or aversion? He reminded us that it is impossible to achieve liberation from suffering while there is greed or hatred in the mind.

Another person asked what he thought about mindfulness being so prevalent these days, and he said he thinks it’s great. What I understood him to be saying was that he thinks the more mindfulness the better, and that if it brings calm or relief or is helpful in dealing with pain or a medical condition, that is wonderful, but that it can do more than that, that it has the potential to liberate us from suffering completely. He said he used the word for the title of his book to “reclaim it for awakening,” I think were his words. A prominent blurb is from Jon Kabat-Zinn, which is a nice touch, since Kabat-Zinn is the originator of mindfulness-based stress reduction and therefore pretty much the father of the mindfulness movement. (His son, Will, is a marvelous Bay Area Buddhist teacher.)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Soupçon of Self-Control

Last Thursday, when I tried to send email from Entourage (Outlook for the Mac), I got an error I’ve seen before that has always proven to be intermittent, but by the next day, it was clear that outgoing mail had ground to a halt. There was no way around it: I was going to have to call AT&T (U-verse) and see if the SMTP server had changed or something.

I worked my way through their whole phone tree, gamely answering question after question, only to end up being offered a web page to go to, and I was instantly furious and kept declining the offer until I was transferred to a representative to whom I announced that I was already angry. He soothingly said he understood and that he’d be happy to assist, if I’d merely provide the four-digit code for my account. Huh? I have an email address associated with it, and a password for that, and an account number, but no four-digit code that I knew of, and none was present on my password list.

He said he couldn’t help without that code and I completely and absolutely lost my temper and yelled, “Then can you please just tell me if the SMTP server has changed or not? That’s all I want to know. Given that I pay $46 a month for Internet service that is crappy, is it possible that someone there could at least tell me if the SMTP server is still (whatever it was)?”

At that, he primly said, “Yes, that is still the SMTP server.”

“Fine, then the problem must be something else. I’ll do some Duck Ducking. Thank you and goodbye,” I said, more calmly. (Actually, in my frenzy, I slipped and said I’d do some “Googling,” but I meant Duck Ducking.)

It occurred to me that I should see if the aforementioned email address’s password was still good, so I tried to log into Yahoo using it, and didn’t succeed but also didn’t get an error message, so I did a password reset, and soon got an upbeat email (incoming email was working fine) assuring me that my password had been “updated,” but not saying what the new password was, and I hadn’t typed in any new password.

Ugh. Now I had two problems instead of one and had to call AT&T back. This time I just screamed, “No, no, no, no, no!” to the automated system until I was talking to an agent, but while waiting to be transferred to the agent, I made up my mind not to start by telling the agent that I was already angry, and in fact, I decided to stop being angry, as the feeling was not at all enjoyable. I explained the entire situation to a different fellow and he replied, “SMTP server?” as if he’d never heard of such a thing. I very nearly politely hung up then to try for a different person, but decided to give him a chance, and it turned out that he was very knowledgeable and gave me the information I needed to fix the problem.

First of all, the SMTP server had changed. But also, the web page the automated system would have tried to send me to in the first place would have explained that and told me what to do. The second agent sent me to that same page, where you can click a button to have your system automatically updated, but it also provides the manual instructions, so I did that, so I could make a note of what had changed; there were a couple of other things besides the new SMTP server.

I did that after we hung up. While we were still on the line, the agent helped me do a speed test to confirm that my download and upload speeds were within the acceptable range for the “elite” package, and they were, so it must be a miracle radio disappearance that causes my Internet radio to disconnect over and over on some days; it’s not the device itself because it works perfectly fine when playing mp3s.

The agent also helped me reset my password yet again so I’d know what it is. However, he was also interested in that four-digit code. I warmly and sincerely assured him that I have never had a four-digit code, but he asked if there’s any four-digit code I use for anything. He said, “It’s often the first four digits that come to mind,” so I tried my ATM PIN, and yep, that was it. I have now added that to my password list. That guy was awesome.

Oh, speaking of devices, I did call The Femur to see why my HD radio was not showing their artists and song titles, and it’s because their particular HD station plays one big chunk of audio over and over; it’s been doing that for a few years and no one ever bothered to add the metadata. This would have been nice for him to mention at the same time that he told me that HD radio would display artists and song titles, because that’s what caused me to go buy one, but he explained the problem so earnestly and in such detail that I couldn’t be mad. I could have returned the radio at that point, but I was too lazy. For a while, I thought I’d keep it and just listen to those two songs when they happened to come around, but it was yet another thing on my desktop (the wooden one) and the sound quality wasn’t tremendous, so I took it to the thrift store when I was decluttering.

After my walk last Friday (thank you, pedometer), Tom and I had dinner at Esperpento. I often have the grilled salmon, which I now realize is maybe more poached than grilled, because that night it was actually a bit brown and crispy around the edges; there was some minced garlic involved. It was so delicious. I also had roasted potatoes with brava sauce and a simple house salad that was also really good—very fresh and with a tasty, light vinaigrette.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Miracle Water Appearance

Earlier this week a co-worker named Geetha suggested lunch at Tlaloc, which is a wonderful Mexican place I’d not yet tried; its very near our office. Geetha was telling me over our nice lunch about the groups she belongs to: a musical group, a group that does service projects. Toward the end of our meal, she said warmly, “You should come over to my house!” I told her I would love to, and found myself thinking afterward, “So that’s how it’s done.” That’s how you fill a life with people and satisfying activities: by joining groups, being friendly, extending invitations. As the years pass and friends move away from San Francisco, these things sometimes seem elusive, so I appreciated the reminder that maybe it’s not that complicated.

We decided to have a monthly lunch and I sent an invitation to Geetha and to a couple of other people, including my pal Venkata. I haven’t been to lunch with him even once the whole year we’ve been working on the same floor, because he’s always so busy. He told me he sleeps four hours a night and his eyes feel like they
re “burning.” I feel very sorry for him, and chagrined that he is expected to do the work of three people. Also very grateful that Im not in that boat at the moment.

On Tuesday night, I went to Howie’s, and after I returned from the tea break, I noticed that the floor in front of my backpack was wet, and so was the bottom of my backpack, and parts of some things inside: my wallet and Carlos’s scarf. My hat, which was also inside the backpack, was soaked. I showed it to Charlie and another fellow. Where had all this moisture come from? I hadn’t had tea or a bottle of water in the backpack or anywhere nearby. The other fellow thought it over and said, “Maybe it was a miracle water appearance.” I think that
’s what it was!

Because one’s risk of ovarian cancer is heightened by having had breast cancer (that is, whatever caused breast cancer can also cause ovarian cancer), this week I had a pelvic ultrasound. My ob/gyn said we could do one every 18 months, just to check. I’m glad she was willing to do this, though I must say that when I had a hysterectomy two years ago, I was happy that I’d never again have to have an ultrasound. There’s nothing to the procedure itself, but you have to drink five glasses of water beforehand, after which riding a bicycle across town is somewhat of a chore.

I had an ultrasound maybe two months ago but neither ovary could be located. Once you have your uterus and Fallopian tubes extracted and the ovaries are not attached to anything, they strike out for parts unknown, gaily going wherever the wind blows them. My doctor said that if they couldn’t be found, that was good news, but I wanted to make one more attempt.

This time I skipped dinner the night before and breakfast the day of the test, to make sure no, uh, material would be blocking the view, but still neither ovary could be seen, and the technician explained that after menopause, the ovaries shrivel up, and convinced me that it was a good thing they couldn’t be found, because if they had big festoons of cancer hanging off them, they’d be found.

The last ultrasound cost about $1200, about $600 for the procedure itself, and even more for the “facility charge.” This kind of charge has started appearing on many medical bills the past few years, and it’s maddening: Talking to our doctor costs this much but standing in our building while you talk to our doctor costs this much. At the time of the first test, I had that much in the health account that my company puts some cash in each year and that I can earn dollars for by doing various activities, but this one is going to be pretty much out of pocket.

Perhaps to minimize both her doctor and facility charges, one thing Gretchen Rubin (author of The Happiness Project) did was get a pedometer so she could see if she was taking the 10,000 steps per day that supposedly confer fitness, although that number seems ridiculously arbitrary. That many steps would be nothing to a 25-year-old triathlete and impossible for an 80-year-old with a lung condition. I figured my long standard walk would more than suffice and was shocked when I found out (after my Omron MJ-112 arrived) that it’s only 7342 steps. It takes 75 minutes! Who has 102.152 minutes to spend walking around every day? (“Those women who carry the baskets of water on their heads,” explained Elea.)

Fortunately, this pedometer also counts each time a bicycle pedal is pushed down on as a step, which makes it easy to get to the magical number. I’m sure a pedal doesn’t equate to a step, but it’s close enough for me. I found some complicated schemes online for determining it exactly, using a heart rate monitor, but I’m not going to do that, for goodness’ sakes.

Going to work is better than working from home when it comes to steps, because the bathroom and kitchen at work are a hundred steps farther away than at home. I also considered that if I walked faster, maybe I could lengthen my standard stroll enough to hit the number without it taking an hour and 42 minutes, so yesterday evening I headed up Dolores St. at what seemed a vigorous pace. It was such a beautiful evening, crisp and cool, with a fresh smell in the air. I could definitely tell I was working harder than usual, or so it seemed, but when I got to the midway point and looked at my watch, it had taken me almost exactly as long as usual. There’s not much point in introducing a note of strain in order to cover ten blocks one minute faster, and I don’t want to spend any longer walking, so that’s that, but there is one thing of value that has come out of this, which is realizing that I must make a point of walking on Friday (when I often work from home and don’t get around to it) and Saturday (when I don’t walk because it’s Saturday).

Another thing I liked in Rubin’s book was the couple of reminders that what you do every day is more powerful than what you do once in a while. Even if it’s just a little thing, doing it every day is a tremendous force for good (if it’s a good thing to begin with, that is). This reminds me of years ago when I was despairing of getting a meditation practice off the ground and asked Howie what he would think of someone who meditated for five minutes a day for the rest of her life. He said very seriously and kindly, “I would think that person was very devoted to her spiritual practice.”

My father would claim this isn’t true, but he has always struck me as a steady practitioner of salubrious habits. Thank goodness I inherited that from him, ease and even pleasure in doing the same things every single day.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Citizen Stand-In

Last Monday, some protesters stopped a Google bus at Valencia St. and 24th. My first reaction was, “Excellent,” but I know out-and-out war in the Mission would not be good, though protesting and public actions can be part of bringing attention to an issue, the way that Critical Mass is part, but not all, of the pro-bicycling movement.

I was reading the comments on after work and was struck by an imbalance in tone that reminded me of the difference, generally speaking, between Democrats and Republicans. People on one side were saying things like, “We don’t want our city remade into a playground for the rich,” while some of the others were saying, “Don’t you whiny losers have jobs to go to?” I undoubtedly bring bias to this that I’m blind to, but it did seem that the pro-money crowd, if we can call them that, was much more likely to hurl insults and use vitriolic language.

Some of the comments boiled down to, “If I can afford something, who else’s business is it?” Quite so—if it weren’t for the racism and sexism that persist in our country, making it very likely that the person able to afford the luxurious dwelling and superb amenities is white and/or a man, and this effect trickles down from generation to generation. The children of the rich white man are more likely to end up studying at Harvard and having fancy careers than the children of the African American or Latino on public assistance. There are many exceptions on both sides, but they prove the rule.

The former should be grateful for their nice lives and enjoy them—it doesn’t help anyone not to enjoy what you have—but they should also demonstrate awareness that the deck was and remains stacked in their favor. Saying, “Boy, there’s a lot of haters of successful people out there. What’s wrong? The art degree didn’t work out for you?,” does not demonstrate that awareness. The demographics of the high-tech industry are a matter of record. It’s white and male.

The Google buses are symbolic of something well beyond Google itself, but they in particular use municipal bus stops without having paid any fees or made any formal arrangement with the city, and they evidently languish at the curb waiting for people to show up instead of stopping, picking up whoever might be there, and leaving. Tom has fumed over them many a time for blocking the bike lane on Valencia. Anyone else who parks illegally in a municipal bus stop is courting a nearly $300 ticket.

There are in fact other ways to get from San Francisco to Mountain View, such as Caltrain. The bus is an amenity for these workers and obviously the company has the right to offer it and the workers understandably wish to take advantage of it, though, as has been pointed out, if it weren’t offered, maybe the workers would live closer to their jobs, which would be the more environmentally friendly choice. Also, it would be great if the money and ingenuity of the tech companies and their employees went into improving mass transit for all, instead of simply abandoning it and setting up a much nicer parallel system that only certain people get to use.

Someone suggested that it would help if they lost the tinted windows—it’s like having a gated community rolling through the neighborhood. You know special and important people must be behind those windows, but you are not worthy of resting your eyeballs on them. But one commenter found that a horrifying idea. To paraphrase: “Goodness, no one wants to be stared as if they’re a zoo animal!” But as another commenter explained, people on the public buses can indeed be seen through the windows and they are not “zoo animals.” We refer to them as “citizens.”

Thursday, December 12, 2013


The items on my to-do list have been languishing there for so long because I can’t bear to spend Saturday, my one potentially free and utterly unscheduled day, on chores, but if I spend about three Saturdays that way, the whole list should be done, so besides having Ray over to deal with turntables last weekend, I did some mending that had been waiting for a while, and vacuumed, and started my Christmas cards. I hadn’t cried over Carlos in several weeks, but recounting his death in my holiday letter brought a flood of tears: it must really have happened if it’s in the holiday letter.

By the way, when Ray returned my initial phone call to him, he said, “This is, like, Ray?” From that, I knew I would like him, which I did.

I’m continuing to pick up some good tidbits from Rubin’s The Happiness Project, including one man’s advice that the best way to have a happy marriage is to leave at least three things unsaid each day. I tried it with Tom after dinner at Santaneca Saturday evening. I very often treat him when we go out to eat, which lately is almost every week, because it seems wrong to demand ten or fifteen dollars from someone who is a special ed teacher. I can afford to pay for both of us, and consider it my way of supporting special ed and thanking Tom. However, if he fails to verbally express gratitude, I tease, “Aren’t you going to thank me for that lovely dinner?”

This is the downside of being utterly correct. I will cheerfully wait for ten minutes while a pedestrian crosses the street in a crosswalk, but if the same pedestrian jaywalks in front of me, I’ll try to run him down.

But on Saturday, thinking of that sage advice, and remembering that the point of doing a good deed shouldn’t be to receive a thank-you (though Rubin mentions several times her motivating desire for “gold stars,” which I, like probably most of us, share), I decided not to say it. And then right before we parted in the hallway back in our apartment building, Tom thanked me for the lovely dinner. But that was a bonus; I already felt good about exercising some self-control.

For a while there, it seemed that I was feeling happy again, that I had survived the loss of Carlos, but over the weekend, it was as hard again as it had ever been. I found myself wishing that hopeless wish, “Please live again, please live again,” and thinking that nothing will ever really be fun henceforth. It’s lonely not to be able to say, “I miss you so much,” to the person I most want to say it to. He’s not here, including not being here to discuss the fact that he’s not here. If I could tell him, “I miss you so much,” what would he say? I can’t quite imagine what his exact words would be, but they would be placid and comforting.

After brooding for a while, some hours or days or weeks, I might remember that it wasn’t always fun with him. We triggered each other quite frequently, and along with all the pleasure and joy, there were a number of very difficult times. It is simply false to say,
If only Carlos were here, I'd always be happy.
Once I get to that point, and I’ve been around this loop any number of times in the past nine months, then I decide that maybe I actually am never going to recover from this and maybe I am going to be sad forever. Maybe I’m finished in some fundamental way. Maybe this is some sort of punishment for past misdeeds which I can expiate by gracious acceptance.

Finally, I arrive at: all right! All right! I’m going to be miserable for the rest of my life. So be it. I accept it.

And since I’m going to be miserable forever and I have graciously accepted it, expecting nothing more, I may as well turn my attention to discovering exactly what the experience of misery is. What is it? How does it behave? Is it always the same? Does it shift? What, precisely, does it feel like?

And that is the turning point, always. I arrived at that point Sunday night and lay in bed investigating my misery, and by Tuesday, I felt absolutely, perfectly happy again, and all the more so because I was dazzled by the sheer stunning fact of not feeling miserable. It did not in fact last forever! It passed—and so will this happiness, but right now there is utter well-being, and it is remarkable.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Ducks Unlimited

I’m reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project—I noticed its cheerful cover on the biography/autobiography shelf at Modern Times Bookstore—and for the first twenty pages or so, felt judgmental and superior: Doesn’t she know that obsessing about whether or not you’re happy is a very good way not to be happy? Doesn’t she know there is no such thing as achieving a permanent state of happiness? Wouldn’t most people on earth be thrilled out of their minds to be even in her pre-project situation, and so isn’t it kind of selfish to try to suck up even more happiness?

Though I was already appreciating the clarity of her prose, her program sounded highly perfectionistic and utterly exhausting. However, when I got to the part about getting rid of clutter, I suddenly was aflame. Someone tells her, “I never keep anything for sentimental reasons alone,” which made me think of the hefty percentage of my stuff that fits into that category, and the next day, I spent several hours going through things, asking myself of each item, “Why do I have this?”

I decided that I’d like to keep anything I use—meaning that it’s been used in the past two years—and anything that gives me pleasure, but that I needed to take a much closer look at the sentimental items (which can bring the opposite of pleasure). I went through kitchen cupboards, the hall closet, and the walk-in closet, including the electronics drawer, and came up with half a grocery bag of stuff to take to e-waste and about seven bags’ worth for the thrift store. I took pictures of a lot of mementos and discarded the actual items, going so far as to part with the toothbrush that Carlos was using at my place in his final weeks—I’m not kidding about being sentimental—and I took a picture of his frequently worn Ducks Unlimited sweatshirt and put it in one of the thrift store bags, but when I was all done, my efforts had been so successful that I decided I could store one little sweatshirt I'll never wear.

I still need to go through his papers and journals, my own photographs, and letters received over the decades. I fear that if I try to choose a representative few of the latter to keep, I’ll end up reading them all, which would be time down the drain, but I don’t think I can bring myself to discard them unreviewed, so it might be safer just to let them sit placidly in their bags and ancient green hard-shell suitcase.

The following day, I took all the thrift store stuff to the Community Thrift Store, the e-waste to Goodwill, and several pairs of glasses to Martin de Porres soup kitchen, where lunch service was underway. I also dropped off one of my small end tables at J&L for refinishing. The fellow there quoted me $175, so I decided not to do it—it’s an Ikea table that Frank gave me that probably cost $25 to begin with—but as I was walking back to the car, I decided that if I were to shop for a nicer end table, I’d probably spend $175, so I might as well spend that fixing the one I already have.

I also decided that this year (meaning next year), I will complete some tasks that have been on my list for a long time, such as preparing an advance health care directive and making a will. Having the end table refinished is on that list, and so was dealing with my turntables, so I arranged for Ray N. to come over yesterday and sort things out: should I have my old turntable fixed and get rid of the newer one, or should I have the newer one set up and sell the old one? For a while, I thought it would be a good idea to have a backup turntable, but I’m past that.

When Ray came over, he couldn’t get the new turntable to start at all, and discovered that it had no power cord attached, which was mystifying. It’s sitting right next to my computer and I had used it for a while before realizing I didn’t have it adjusted exactly right—why on earth would I have removed the power cord? Weird. As for where the power cord now was … oh, no—my trip the prior day to drop off e-waste!

I went to check my electronics drawer and was extremely relieved to see the power cord sitting right on top. I must have looked at it and said, “I wonder what this is,” and for some reason decided to keep it, whereas everything else of which I asked the same question was carted away. Thank goodness. After Ray adjusted the new turntable and we listened to a little Nirvana, Ray said he would definitely keep that one, and I gave him the old one to fix and sell plus $60 for schlepping across town and adjusting my turntable. Plus the manual for the old turntable, which, needless to say, I still had after 30 years.

The new turntable does sound fantastic. You don’t realize what you’re missing with mp3s until you hear a good old record. Very satisfying.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

House of Tea with a Flower in It

While I was in Ypsilanti, I read Ezra Bayda’s latest book Beyond Happiness: The Zen Way to True Contentment. He’s probably my favorite Buddhist writer because of his clarity in pointing us from our thoughts back to our actual, direct experience, which has the quality of shifting constantly—of being alive—whereas our ancient fears and stories can almost seem not subject to the law of impermanence. It’s rather wondrous how things transform when we put our attention in the right place: on what’s actually happening and not what we think is happening, or think about what’s happening.

He has some helpful things to say about when he was in his 20s and trying to decide what work to do. He writes, “[S]omeone I trusted told me to stop thinking about what to do; instead, whenever the anxiety arose, I was to stay fully present with the anxiety itself.” He says it was difficult, but he stuck with it for several weeks, and one day it became “crystal clear” to him that he should do a certain kind of work—something he had no experience with whatsoever, but he proceeded in that direction and it ended up being a satisfying decades-long career for him.

I found that appealing because it’s very difficult for me to make decisions, probably because my primary tools are thinking and more thinking, so that a certain course of action seems as entirely right one day as it seems wrong the next. This way of “making decisions” (few decisions actually get made) is based on fear and leaves out intuition and other emotions: When this seems most scary, I decide to do that, and when that seems most scary, I decide to do this.

In his meditation instructions, Bayda, who teaches at Zen Center San Diego, recommends sitting with our eyes open: “The reason the eyes are kept open is that it is too easy to enter a dreamy state with the eyes closed.” After starting to go to the S. F. Zen Center several years ago (I don't go often these days), I experimented with sitting with my eyes open, and soon gave it up, probably because I wanted my dreamy state back. After reading this book, I decided to give it another try and it’s proving to be great this time around.

It’s more difficult to get lost in thought for an extended period, and it makes the ebbing and flowing of alertness and drowsiness very clear. When I’m sitting there with my eyes open, using my body as an anchor of attention, I’m doing exactly what I’ll be trying to do the rest of the day, to be awake and present in my body, so it gives a nice feeling of alignment, of time put to very good use.

Tom and I took the train to Sacramento for Thanksgiving at Steve’s and Julie’s, with the usual congenial crowd, and that was very nice. We slept over at Ann’s, and Steve, Julie and Diane (Julie’s mother) came over for breakfast the next day. When I got up, I told Ann, “I think I need a hair of the dog that bit me. Could I please have six dinner rolls and half a stick of butter?”

On Sunday, Ann and Tom and I went to the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, preceded by lunch on Shattuck Ave. In The Pianist of Willesden Lane, Mona Golabek plays her own mother, whose parents perished in the Holocaust and who lived because her parents sent her off via the Kindertransport to England. The show consisted of Golabek telling her mother’s story in the first person and playing the piano, the latter gorgeously. Her dynamics are particularly masterful, the shifts in volume and pacing.

This past Tuesday, David and Lisa were in town from Seattle and we had made plans to have dinner at Chef Jia’s, but that favorite restaurant is no more, so they and Tirtza, Barry, Nancy, Terry, Peter, Tom and I had dinner next door at House of Nanking. Most of us ordered hot tea, which at Chef Jia’s was free or at a nominal charge and came in modest little cups, but at House of Nanking comes in large glass mugs, in each of which floats a golf ball of tea, which unfurls to form a tall flower. It’s also pre-sweetened. Lisa said when she saw the tea unfurling, she knew it was going to be expensive, and I had to chuckle when I later heard Barry examining the bill for his portion of the table: “Fifteen dollars for four cups of tea?” We went afterward to Café Greco.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013


When I said that everyone spends much of her time wanting what she doesn’t have and not wanting what she does have, I certainly didn’t mean everyone’s life is terrible. Our home, work and social lives may be quite satisfactory, and we may be grateful for many things every day. For instance, what good fortune to be sleeping indoors and not in a Dumpster behind Safeway, out in the cold and rain. How lucky!

But if we observe closely, there is rarely a moment when we are absolutely content with things exactly as they are. So often, we are worrying about the future—when we might get something we don’t want or lose something we do want—or planning, even if it’s just a modest little plan to turn on the radio or pick up our pen or make a cup of tea, and so we are not entirely at ease, but feel that everything will be just right once the radio is on, once the pen is in hand, once the tea is steaming before us. But of course then we’ll be on to the next small or large want. We are reaching, subtly, into the future so much of the time.

Fairly often, we get things arranged perfectly. We are lying on the couch with an engrossing book in our hands. All the chores are done and nothing whatsoever needs attention. Everything is just right, for as many as thirty seconds. Then we notice that some body part feels slightly uncomfortable, and we must make an adjustment to be comfortable again. Once again, complete satisfaction is (slightly) in the future.

At walk time one day last week, I went to pick up a Christmas gift at Modern Times Bookstore and found myself noticing details of buildings I’d overlooked before. I’d almost never set foot on that stretch of 24th St. before spending time with Carlos, so there is still much to be discovered. I noticed for the first time yesterday the building where El Tecolote is published, with a large version of its owl logo painted on the front. There’s such a profusion of visual art in that area, murals everywhere.

For part of the trip, I was walking behind a portly white man of 45 or so. Dressed in a handsome suit jacket and shiny loafers, he stood out. He had a bouncing, confident walk, and swung his arms widely from side to side with each step, expanding well into the space around him. I was walking behind him, disapproving, of course, of his Master of the Universe air, and so I could see the faces of the people walking toward him, and they all looked unhappy, irritated, or worried after they passed him. Probably they’d been the same before they saw him, but I imagined that to some, as to me, he symbolized the alarming changes underway, the lost businesses and homes and neighbors.

I wondered where he was off to and was still behind him when he slipped into the record store. Aha! I knew he was up to no good! Buying a record!

On my way back from the bookstore, I spotted for the first time a spiffy new featureless building just west of Folsom St. At first it was not clear what it was, but then I finally saw the small sign at one end: unique Mission condos, evidently just built and not yet occupied. Right in the absolute heart of that neighborhood, it was a dismal sight.

Eventually, I was back in front of my own building when came walking up the block a solidly built brown-skinned woman in a bright-colored flowing skirt. When she reached me, she paused, looked me over, and asked, “What country were you born in?”

“This one,” I said, pointing to the sidewalk.

“You were born in this country? What state were you born in?” and she began reeling off the names of the states in clumps: “Were you born in Texas, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico?” “No.” “Were you born in Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia?” After we established that I was born in Michigan, she asked what I do for a living and began naming professions: Was I an artist? A teacher? I told her where I work and she asked, “Are you an accountant?”

“I basically sit in front of a computer,” I said, and she asked, “Is that why you’re going blind?”

I agreed that is exactly why, and then she asked if I’m going back to Michigan for Christmas. I said I had just been there because my mother had surgery, and she asked if my mother has Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield. I said my mother is over 65, so she has Medicare.

She asked if I’m past 54 and if I was going to cook for Thanksgiving. I said I was going to the house of friends and they were going to cook. Finally she asked (and I suspect this had been her most pressing question all along), “Why are you standing here?” and I explained that I had seen my mail lady coming and thought I would just wait for her to deliver the mail to my building so I could take mine in with me, and the woman said, as she walked off, “That’s smart. People from Michigan are smart.”

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Last week I read that the price of the two-bedroom condos being built at 19th St. and Valencia is from $1.75 million to $2.3 million apiece, and that all have already been bought, in cash. I know that everything changes all the time and that this neighborhood is particularly subject to that. The latest shift began a number of years ago, when the first BMW appeared near my front door. I know that everyone on earth spends much of her time wanting what she doesn’t have and not wanting what she does have—that everyone has sorrows and struggles, losses and regrets, including those amply supplied with money and power. I even know that feeling resentful and judgmental reliably punishes only one person: me.

But I’m still having trouble with the idea of lots of affluent neighbors and who is having to disappear to make room for them. Construction is underway at 20th and Valencia, as well, and that will probably be a similar thing (plus, those people will patronize my personal bike shop!). There is also an enormous lot being developed on Mission St. itself, between 21st and 22nd.

In the past year, I’ve been working with a metta, or lovingkindness, practice inspired by my meditation teacher, Howie, who in his early days in San Francisco would silently offer good wishes to the strangers he saw around him: “May you be happy,” or even, “I love you.”

The first couple of times I tried it, I found it hard to stick with when I didn’t feel the expected outpouring of love, but then I decided that if I did this practice during a 30-minute walk and there was even one moment when I felt friendlier than if I hadn’t been doing the practice, it was worth it, and it is definitely the case that there’s always at least one split second of feeling friendlier.

I also realized that, even if I didn’t feel noticeably friendlier, it was still worthwhile because when my mind is busy thinking “May you be happy,” it’s not lost in the past or future. I feel calmer using my mind in this directed way even if I don’t feel kinder. It’s another way of staying engaged in the present moment.

I learned that it’s crucial to get a brief glimpse of the face of each person I send good wishes to, that it is very difficult to have any sense of connection without that, and that sometimes just seeing all these faces in their various states of happiness, anxiety, or earnestness can open my heart.

When I come upon someone doing something that pushes my buttons, I don’t force myself to send that person good wishes but instead temporarily switch to bare attention and noting what I see. For instance, “There is a person in a green shirt riding his bicycle on the sidewalk.” I’m not sending this person good wishes, but at least I’m not thinking, “These sidewalk bicycle riders should be sent to San Quentin immediately! Why can’t everyone be as courteous as me?” Bare attention and noting can be applied to my new neighbors: there is a building filling up with people with a lot of money.

Now, these are rich people moving into the neighborhood, but what if they were the first black neighbors? What if I were that bigot saying, “Oh, no, there are going to be black people here!” Or, “Oh, no, gay people are going to get married, just like us!”

Someone might rightly want to say to me, “It’s not going to hurt you to have black neighbors. You might discover that you like them! But at the worst, you can still do exactly what you did before, and enjoy everything you enjoyed before,” ditto with gay marriage, and the same is true of me and my rich neighbors. Yet there is the gut reaction, so here’s another plan: to send metta to the person who is actually suffering right now: myself. When I start to think about my new neighbors, I can instead think, “May I be happy.” This probably isn’t going to suddenly change my feelings or opinions, but will at least interrupt the pernicious train of thought and maybe calm the mind.

Here’s another thing: Relative to some, I am rich. Someone without a job or working two minimum-wage jobs might regard me as privileged and oblivious and therefore as loathsome. What would I say to that? I would say, “I’m not loathsome! I’m a good person! I give to charity, and to people asking for money on the street. I think about other people. I try to be kind. I worry about the bad things happening in the world.” Well, that’s exactly what my new neighbors would also (probably) say. If having more money than another person doesn’t make you bad—and it can’t, because I have more money than some—then my soon-to-be neighbors aren’t bad. If being aware of others and trying to do what good you can makes you a good person, then they are good, because that is (probably) true of them.

The reason I have (at the moment) a steady and satisfactory paycheck is that I work for a large corporation and I’m delighted this is the case. It’s not my ultimate passion to sit in a cube staring at a computer, but I’m not brave enough to fling caution to the winds and follow my heart
’s desire. I need X amount of money not to feel insecure, and this is the most obvious way for me to get it. Probably my new neighbors feel that they need X amount of money in order not to feel insecure, and their X just happens to be way more than my X. One might say, “You don’t need that much money,” but fear doesn't often readily yield to an application of common sense. Selfishness, at its root, is fear.

If (and this is hypothetical) my new neighbors have 500 times more money than I do because they’re 500 times more scared than I am, then they deserve my sympathy (though—ahem—maybe not as much as the Latino families who are going—where? Where are they going?). Also, probably some of these people did become rich by flinging caution to the winds and following their hearts. Let's not forget that. No doubt many of them are fabulous, dear, adventurous people.

Lately El Tecolote has featured many stories about the eviction crisis and the political action and protests that are underway. I never seem to find out about a protest until after it’s already happened, but I’m going to call Charlie today and find out how you get advance notice of a protest so I can stand with my neighbors who aren’t rich, while also endeavoring not to dislike those who are.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Bank of Google Ford Armani Super Costco Cloud

Very disagreeable day lately when I got a bee in my bonnet about Google. In the past year, this icky-looking man popped up there, petitioning to join my “Google Circle,” whatever that is, and adding me to his circle, so that quite often I bump into his picture when I’m doing something in Google, and it is highly irritating: who is this person and why do I have to see him all the time?

I looked for the instructions for getting out of someone’s group, but there aren’t any. Google feels it isn’t hurting me to be in his group, and so I’m stuck there forever, but I agree with the online commenter who observed, regarding this specifically, “If you don't want an association with somebody then it’s your right.” That is true, or should be.

Now that Google (which owns Blogger and YouTube and probably soon Ford and Bank of America) is starting to seem like some kind of malign force, taking things I like (my blog and looking stuff up) and things I don’t (the icky-looking man and the fact that every time I go to Google, an icon shows that I have an unread “notification,” but when I click on it, nothing happens) and mixing them all together as if with superglue, I decided it was time to get Google out of my life, as much as possible, by taking down my one YouTube video, and removing the (very nice!) photo of myself that I attached to my Google profile in a weak moment. The photo was taken three weeks before Carlos fell ill. I was utterly happy. I was walking with Lesley at Crissy Field. The sun was shining on my face and the bay was behind me.

Of course these simple tasks ended up being immensely frustrating. Typically, Google says something like, “If you want to do such-and-such, go here,” which is perfectly clear. Oh, good: the instructions are going to be right there! But when you get there, either there is no sign of the topic of interest or the instructions don’t match reality.

On some websites, the second you arrive, someone offers to engage you in a live chat. On others, if you make your way through their whole array of support-related offerings and are still stuck, an email form is provided or even a phone number, but not at Google. Their list of possible problems is short (like, “Do you have a painful goiter or do you wish to clean your low-flow showerhead? Neither of those? Oh, well, guess we can’t help!”) and you soon arrive at a dead end, where you get to fill out a form rating their “service,” at the bottom of which it says something like, “We’re sorry we’re unable to help you directly.” This means, “We’re way, way too massive to provide actual customer service, but that’s fine (with us).”

But this is overlooking the key point that we're not Google's customers. People who buy ads are their customers, and information pertaining to us is the product for sale: what we search for using Google, what YouTube videos we put up or watch, what we write in our blogs, the contents of our Gmails, and probably much, much else. People who place ads can probably telephone someone at Google anytime they want. 

When I went to remove my YouTube video (which is of me singing to my mother on Mother’s Day), I first had to attach my YouTube channel to my Google account, or something or other, and there was no way to proceed without doing that. I considered deleting my whole YouTube account, but that would have also removed my Google account, and, therefore, my blog. So I upgraded my channel and then it of course claimed my upgraded channel didn’t have any videos associated with it and I feared the video was permanently stuck in limbo, but eventually I got rid of it; can’t remember how.

You used to have your bicycle and your spatula and your radio and you could easily see what was where, and you could decide to throw out your spatula without damaging your radio, or you could give away your radio without causing your bicycle to have a flat tire, but now so much that we deal with every day is invisible and connected in ways we’re unaware of or that are exceedingly unhelpful. Why should deleting my YouTube account cause my blog to disappear? It shouldn’t, any more than moving my dictionary should cause me to run out of Lemonaise Light. But it’s all one big snarled rat's nest now.

The next project was to remove my photo from my Google profile, also not an easy task, and by then, I was bound and determined to get my blog out from under Google. I called Dotster, where my domain name is registered and bought three years of web hosting from them, but then discovered that Dotster gets very poor reviews for its web hosting services, and also, there’s not much point in moving my blog off Blogger, because Google, along with the NSA, has probably helped itself to every bit of data on my computer already, so what’s the point? It’s also one of those projects I would never actually get around to.

At some point, I was encouraging my parents to comment on my blog (so that anyone whatsoever would be commenting on my blog) and told my father that one way would be to have a Google account. He was reluctant to sign up for one, and at the time, though I wasn’t at all offended, I thought he was being too careful, that a Google account was entirely benign, but how right he was. A Google account eventually tries to suck your whole online life down its voracious maw.

I called Dotster back and was relieved to find I could cancel the web hosting order, but there was some sort of miscommunication and they thought I wanted to cancel my entire domain name, which I certainly didn’t. It was stressful, but I hadn’t forgotten what happened when I lost my temper with the phone company, so I kept calm. Also, there mostly isn’t anyone to lose my temper with these days. The only way I'm ever going to speak to anyone at Google, let alone lose my temper with him or her, is if I step out to Valencia St. and throw myself down in front of a moving Google bus.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Carlos in the Hospital

Wasn’t he darling? 

I actually am feeling much better. There was a turning point right around seven months, when I finally ran out of tears, mostly, or just started to be more used to this, and the joy of living once again decisively outweighed the sorrow of the enormous loss.

My mother has this photo on her laptop desktop and I can tell when she's looking at it because she smiles and waves at her computer.

(Click photo to enlarge)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Biggest

Friday night I went to Esperpento with Tom. I eat salmon (though I try not to think too much about it, because they are sentient creatures who don’t want to die any more than cows and pigs do), so seafood in general seems like fair game. Tom sometimes has a garlic shrimp dish that comes in a beautiful pool of greasy orange juice—he doesn’t mind if I sop up a little with a hunk of bread—and I decided to give that a try, but one of the shrimps still had its spindly little legs or whatever they are still attached, so I’m never ordering that again. Tom ate that one.

Yesterday morning I met Ann Marie at the Samovar Tea Lounge at Page and Laguna. Ann Marie is the recruiter who got me my job 15 years ago, and thus one of the top several benefactors of my entire life. We’ve taken a walk from time to time, but never on a weekend, so this was the first time I’d seen her in her non-work attire, and it was spectacular. Red and draping and with jeweled cowboy boots, and there was lace, and of course her mane of curly naturally blond hair, and her crystal clear bright blue eyes. She is gorgeous, and a delightful person who takes joy in many things. She was wearing a large ring with Tibetan lettering on it (“What does it say?” “Om mani padme hum? One of the oms”) and another ring that stuck straight out about two inches. It was all metal and looked like a flower balanced on top of a teacup balanced on something else.

For brunch, I had vegetable quiche with a salad and fruit and Ann Marie had the mini Moorish platter, with hummus and olives and eggplant, we split squash dumplings with sesame dipping sauce, and we both had tea. Then we walked over to Creativity Explored, which is a nonprofit that supports people with developmental disabilities to become working artists, and toured their huge working space / gallery. I heard a thing on KQED about them, how they spend a year learning all about something and making art based on that theme. The current theme is Day of the Dead, so there were lots of studies of skeletons and skulls. There were some wonderful things there. One artist had made a piece that was a love letter—I think it was from a man to a woman—saying things like, “You are lovely and you are wonderful and you are the tallest! And you are the biggest!” It was utterly charming.

Then we went next door to another shop that sells art, jewelry, books and periodicals, handmade clothes, and greeting cards. In there, a fellow—I gathered he was an artist—very flatteringly asked if he could take my picture. He liked the colors of my yellow cycling jacket and grey-blue homemade pants together (as do I). The proprietor said, “You should get one with her backpack, too,” (which is red), so he took another.

Then we walked to BART and Ann Marie went home to Berkeley and I went downtown for my final Alexander Technique lesson with Flora.

When I came out, three young fellows were hawking CDs and suggested I should acquire one. “What does it sound like?” I asked, and they enthusiastically explained that it’s “beats” but sounds like Miles Davis and would definitely “get the party started.” They were darling. The artist himself, who did all this on his computer, had beautiful green eyes. After about ten seconds, he decided just to give me the CD for free—the artist is known as Zodgilla and the CD is called Languid Pace—but I felt I should make a contribution, of $10, and they seemed thrilled. I realized that’s because they were thrilled—making a CD is thrilling, and being downtown trying to sell it is thrilling, and having someone give you actual money is thrilling.

I passed another band nearby whose sound system was being powered by a volunteer pedaling a modified bicycle.

At home, after listening to Languid Pace and finding it sophisticated and atmospheric, I meant to read and/or watch The Nun’s Story, but thought of another approach to figuring out what those two songs are: to save some alternative rock stations as favorites on my Internet radio (the beloved Squeezebox Boom) and hope that sooner or later, the songs turn up. Nearly everything on the Boom has the artist and song title displayed. So I spent about 90 minutes doing that, also saving some 60s, 70s, 80s, metal, and disco stations—disco rules—and after that, my right little finger was numb and tingling and, as of this writing, still is.

Maybe I should just give this HD radio away on Craigslist and forget about those songs.

Friday, November 15, 2013


I called The Femur today to find out if their HD2 station will ever be available via a live stream and the very helpful person I spoke to said he’s not sure. Some stations stream their HD2 stations and some don’t, and The Femur hasn’t decided about this yet. But he put my mind at ease on one point: he said that if I got an HD radio, I’d be able to select either the HD1 or HD2 station, given my location in San Francisco. Specifically, he said to tune the HD radio to the correct frequency and wait for a few seconds and I should find that I’m listening to the HD1 station (i.e., Zeppelin) and then I should be able to tune up one notch to the HD2 station. I decided I’d have to get an HD radio, namely an Insignia NS-HDRAD.

I asked if, once I had it, I’d be able to see the artists and song titles and he said I would.

This afternoon I took another City CarShare Toyota Yaris back to Bed Bath & Beyond to return a couple of pillows and was able to use the method described above to listen to The Femur’s HD2 station the whole time, driving extra carefully now that I have something to live for. 

Next I went to Best Buy to get the aforementioned radio and when I was nearly there, I heard one of those two songs again! And after I left Best Buy, I heard the other one. Possibly this station only plays ten songs, but if two of them are fantastic, I guess that’s fine.

I brought the radio home and fired it up—it’s quite small, just 8.25” long and 4.25” tall, with a telescoping antenna—and it tunes in the HD2 station perfectly, but it doesn’t display the artists and song titles for The Femur’s HD2 station, though I can see the artists and song titles for other local HD2 stations. So I am now sitting less than two feet from my HD radio, listening to my HD ratio, and still having to Duck Duck the lyrics, still without success! 

There are apps (like Shazam) that will listen to music through the air and display the metadata of interest, but they are for smart phones only and not available online. I draw the line at getting an entire phone to find those songs. Not only do I not have a desire to have a smart phone, I have a strong desire not to have one, so my next move will be to call The Femur back and beg them to start transmitting this information.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

He Are Nice Day Wednesday

At walk time yesterday, I went to Modern Times Bookstore Collective to pick up a Spanish grammar book I’d ordered, one of the several my parents have. I’m tired of limping along in the present tense. I also went to the Mission Cultural Center to look for a Día de los Muertos altar for Carlos that someone had told me was there.

There is a neighborhood nonprofit that has an annual memorial gathering to remember all who died in the past year. When a friend told me about it, he started by saying, “Carlos was there,” which startled me for a moment: he was? But after a split second had passed and I realized Carlos had not returned from the dead, I was mildly irritated. If our loved one can’t be touched, seen and heard, then he or she is not “here” in the way I use that word, though of course he or she is remembered and loved—here in memory, to be sure.

The Mission Cultural Center has a gallery upstairs, currently featuring Day of the Dead altars in an exhibit called La Llorona: Weeping for the Life and Death of the Mission District, where Latino families and Latino-owned businesses are disappearing one by one as tech workers rearrange the place to suit themselves, installing bland ugly banks of condos, dining establishments and other amenities at a steady pace. (The La Llorona exhibit is dedicated to five people, one of whom is Carlos.)

Whenever Tom and I spot something new being built in our neighborhood, one of us jokes, “God, I hope that’s going to be housing or a restaurant for rich people—I’m worried they’re going to run out.” San Francisco already has many neighborhoods catering to people with money, and increasingly few where brown and black faces are common; where arts organizations flourish, or at least exist; where there is a vibrant sense of community and culture. Does every neighborhood in the city have to look exactly the same?

So I had to chuckle over the altar that featured a Google bus made of cardboard and a picture of a grinning skeleton with a bright pink Lyft-style mustache affixed to it. And to tear up a little over another altar devoted to children who have died, featuring scuffed little shoes and toys. This one didn’t have to do with the Mission. These tech workers aren’t killing children. Yet.

But they are smiting people who dare to interrupt their congress with their smart phones.

Día de Los Muertos altars typically feature photos of the dead loved one and many bright decorations. More than one had a loaf of bread; this must be traditional. Items that symbolize the person’s interests are included: a pen, a pan and spatula, an empty liquor bottle. Personal artifacts might be included: a perfume bottle or a half-used lipstick.

On the ground floor of the Mission Cultural Center, in the lobby, were just two large altars, and one of those was Carlos’s, which must have been made by his friends Jorge and Holly. It featured the large display of photos from his memorial service some of Carlos’s frogs. He liked frogs, but I never had a chance to ask why. A pen and some musical accessories were included, to remind visitors that Carlos was a poet and musician.

Down 24th St., at Precita Eyes Mural Arts Center, the right front window was devoted to a couple who were married for many decades and died within two years of each other, the wife just this year, and the left front window displayed the photos of four or five neighborhood luminaries, with Carlos right in the center.

(Click photos to enlarge.)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Inside of My Head

Happy eleven twelve thirteen!

Last week I went to Ypsilanti so I could be with my mother in the hospital while she had a spot of joint-related elective surgery and for a few days afterward.

Her surgery, which took only about an hour, was Monday morning and she remained in the hospital until Thursday around noon. My father and I both slept over on Monday night, on chairs that folded out into sleeping apparatuses. The two chairs were wedged side by side in an alcove next to the room’s one large window. The next morning, my mother said it would be nice to open the shade, but I was still lying down, so I said, “I think it’s going to be hard to get to the pull cord without standing on my stomach,” and my father said, “I haven’t ruled that out.”

Another day, my mother said, “I could use a toothpick.”

My father stood up and happily said, “Well!”

“Not your metal one,” Mom added.

Dad extracted the item in question from his pants pocket and announced, “I have a home away from home in this cargo pocket!”

I slept over again on Tuesday night while my father went home for a more comfortable night’s sleep—only one of the hospital chairs had proved to be really suitable for sleeping on—and the reverse on Wednesday night. I would have been happy to stay over in the hospital a third time even if it hadn’t been the case that I was scared to sleep in a house by myself, but my father wanted to be with my mother and my mother thought it would be a character-building experience for me to face this fear.

It sounds stupid, but I’d never slept in a house by myself before. When I was a kid, my family was there, and then I lived with roommates for a couple of years, and for 30 years I’ve lived in apartment buildings, where someone else is almost certainly always in the building. Plus: Ypsilanti (no offense). I mean, there is the occasional home-invasion robbery in my parents’ neighborhood, plus plenty of regular robberies.

But, remarkably, I was still alive the next morning and didn’t even experience any anxiety to speak of. I went in the house, ate, watched a little Rachel Maddow, slept, woke up, and that was all there was to it, except for one discovery. My mother sometimes comments to herself as she comes upon something interesting in the news. Possibly the only time you’re talking to someone who really understands you is when you’re talking to yourself; I’ve fallen into the same habit.

There is a certain sound I’d for years thought was Mom remarking upon something to herself, but when I was alone in the house, I still heard it. Which means that Mom doesn’t talk to herself as much as I’d thought, and either that the house naturally makes a sound like my mother saying something in the next room or that the sound of my mother’s voice, barely discerned, is the same as the sound of the inside of my head.

My mother was a real trouper throughout and remained in pretty good spirits, except for one whole lousy day of feeling nauseous. She was able to rise to her feet, at least briefly, late on the day of the surgery. Her surgeon said it was the worst such joint he’d seen in 40 years of practicing medicine, which he evidently began doing when he was about eight, because he appeared to be in his 50s and bursting with robust good health.

The most exciting thing that happened was one evening as I was returning from the public restroom. As I neared my mother’s room, I could hear my name: “daughter,” as in “Where’s my daughter?” and “Where’s her daughter?” I walked in to find my mother drenched in blood, but not perturbed. She had fallen asleep and her IV, which often became wedged between the side of the bed and the railing, had gotten pulled out. There was blood all over her gown, on her arm and hand, and on the blanket and sheets, but no actual harm done.

(Except that they thought the IV might have come out due to an unauthorized attempt to get out of bed, which was entirely my fault—it’s a long story—and so they decided to install a bed alarm. I asked, “Is it going to go off every time she moves?” and they said it wouldn’t, but it pretty much did. However, they disconnected the alarm the next morning.)

Once my mother was back home, she was soon getting around remarkably well and the standard dose of pain medication at the standard intervals seemed to be doing the trick.

The weather was mostly cold and forbidding that week, extremely overcast, but the fall colors were lovely and the dramatic cloudy evenings were beautiful.

On Friday, my sister came over, and I also had a nice lunch with Amy at Seva. She just got married and she and her husband have bought a ten-acre place out in the country. And on Saturday Ginny and I had a pleasant brunch at Café Zola.

Saturday, November 02, 2013


I was walking along Mission St. the other day and saw a woman wearing a t-shirt with a big M on it, which at first I thought was the University of Michigan’s M, but it was an M for the Mission district, and for the first time in 30 years of living in this neighborhood, I realized how similar the sounds are, the name of the place where I spent my first 20 years and the place I’ve been ever since, except for that first obligatory year in the Haight Ashbury: They both start with “mish” and end with “un,” but one of them has an “ig” stuck in the middle of it.

When I left for work Thursday morning, Hammett made a break for the hallway, but was hustled unceremoniously back inside. When I got home later, I could tell from his expression that he remembered something untoward had occurred earlier, but also that he couldn’t remember what it was.

That evening, Lesley and I had dinner at Santaneca. It was Halloween, when I usually hide in my apartment from all the drunken revelers outside, so I was surprised to see who was actually thronging the streets about 6 p.m. on Halloween: many, many tiny princesses.

I sent Frank a birthday card and he emailed back, “Funny, I didn’t even realize it was my birthday up until the day before, when my mother said, ‘You have a big day tomorrow.’ I thought she was referring to my beloved Liverpool football team, and was enthusiastic that after 37 years she was finally taking an interest. Alas.”

On Friday, Tom’s girlfriend came to town—at last! It’s been several months. Over dinner at Esperpento, D. teased Tom: “Were you worried?” I interrupted to say, “I was worried! I can understand if you’re tired of Tom, but I was starting to think you were leaving me.” I told D. that I had conducted an investigation, asking Tom, “The last time you saw D., did everything seem fine? You always offer to pay for her overnight parking, right? You don’t?! If D. ever comes to visit again, offer to pay for her parking!”

But it was truly just a case of mismatched schedules and expensive kids, and it was delightful to be with good-natured D. again, and dinner was fantastic. That place is so wonderful, and so surprisingly inexpensive. Tom had grilled trout, I had grilled salmon, and D. had garlic shrimp, and we all had rice and potatoes, the latter with yummy brava sauce.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Don’t Tell Me That It’s Over

You probably know all about this already, but: HD radio! I recently used a City CarShare car to run an errand—I could probably lash four new pillows to my bicycle with an assortment of bungee cords, but in this era of life find myself disinclined to—and, as usual, had the radio in scan mode in order to hear everything at once. Then my ear fell on something so pleasing that I stopped scanning to hear the rest of this song that was both surpassingly excellent and yet constructed of such simple lyrics that it has proved impossible to find by Duck Ducking the words (what one does now instead of Googling; between our government and Google, it’s getting to be a tossup as to who is more intrusive and rapacious when it comes to personal information; once they officially join forces, it’s all over; and furthermore, the first time I see some freak in Google Glass anywhere other than on the sidewalk, or even on the sidewalk, I’m going to—well, I haven’t decided quite what yet, but something). Yes, I am aware that this blog where I share all this personal information, and which is tied inextricably to my IP address, is owned by Google.

Anyway, where was I? Right, so I heard this really fantastic song, and then a song by Queens of the Stone Age, who I’ve never heard on the radio before, and there were no commercials, but periodically a fellow would share that he’d been invited to create an awesome rock station, and then, within the same 20-minute period, a second song came on that was so good I pulled over to write down the lyrics, which were also not findable by Duck Duck Go, and yet the whole time the dial showed a station I will call (not wishing to end up involved in a time-consuming lawsuit) 666.6 The Femur, which I well know to be a classic rock station and thus loathsome to me.

There was a time when I loved Led Zeppelin. I bought every studio album they produced, and I still have all of them, not to mention a turntable to play them on and a spare turntable in case something happens to that one. (Though neither turntable works right now. It’s on my list.) Even into the 1990s I loved Led Zeppelin, and then one day, while listening to KSJO, I hit the Lifetime Led Zeppelin Limit. I don’t know how many songs it took, but once the LLZL arrived, that was that. Someday, when one of my turntables works, I might get out those albums and listen with pleasure to an obscure track or two, but the four songs that they play over and over and over on classic rock radio stations—my god! How can anyone stand it?

So I could not figure this out. It was The Femur, but definitely not The Femur. I noticed something at the right end of the dial that said 2/2. Then I turned a corner—I mean, I literally turned a corner, using the steering wheel of the CarShare car—and voila! Led Zeppelin, and I noticed the thing said 1/2 instead of 2/2.

What was this mysterious and magical 2/2 station? I came home in a state of dazed euphoria: two splendid new songs and a thrilling cornucopia of superb music pouring right out of the radio, but only when it said 2/2. The joyous sentiment ebbed slightly once it became clear I was not going to figure out what those songs were, but an absorbing research project was soon underway. The first step was to email The Femur to ask what that station is that has the same frequency as theirs but actually plays good music. Haven’t heard back.

Well, it turns out it was HD radio! A station operating via the traditional radio frequency can have up to three of these digital stations; the frequency is the same for all. The original station is considered to be HD1, and the first digital station is HD2, and so forth. All this additional capacity allows the freedom to experiment with expanded formats, additional artists, commercial-free programming, etc. You need an HD radio to hear them; some cars, such as the Toyota Yaris I was in, now have HD radios. Some HD stations are available via online streaming and some are not. The Femur’s is not, at least not yet. 

I decided to get an HD radio and, even if the sound quality wasn’t great (I was thinking of getting the one that costs $50 and not the one that costs—really—$7000), I’d be able to tell from the digital display the name of the song and the artist and then I could get the mp3 and hear it on my Logitech Squeezebox Boom. But then I remembered my vow not to acquire any further electronic devices I don’t strictly need. I already have, in a studio apartment, eight devices that can be used to listen to stuff, seven of which have no other purpose.

Also, once you have an HD radio, apparently if it can tune in the HD station, it plays that, but if it can’t, it plays the regular station. This was faintly worrisome, since I did hear both stations in the course of my short trip. Maybe one would come in near the fridge, but the other near the sink. I pictured myself walking about my kitchen: “Yeah, yeah, yeah! Wow! Ugh, Zeppelin! Yeah, yeah, yeah! Wow! Ugh, Zeppelin!”

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


I tried the bland diet for several days—eggs, yogurt, peanut butter, applesauce, white bread—and didn’t notice that the symptoms were better, plus, with the complete lack of fiber, intestinal activity screeched to a halt, if you catch my drift, so I decided to go back to my normal diet, but I also decided not to be an invalid.

This decision was per what I read lately in Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility, by Ellen Langer, who observes that when we receive a diagnosis, we tend to picture a monolithic and/or worsening state of affairs. We think, “Well, I have such-and-such condition, which means things are like this, and such-and-such is going to happen in time.” Maybe. But maybe not.

Instead, Langer advises noticing day to day what is actually occurring—being mindful. I hadn’t entirely committed to a diagnosis, mainly because I hadn’t been able to make up my mind whether I had gastroparesis or a brain tumor, but, whatever it was, I decided to notice day by day how it behaved, and also to entertain the idea that maybe this is just the new normal, and I soon felt better. There is still a moment of nausea here and there, but that could well be due to declining estrogen.

Langer also points out that, when it comes to colds, we say, “I had a cold, but it’s gone now,” whereas with cancer, we say, “My cancer is in remission,” suggesting it’s bound to come back. Why not say, “I had cancer, but it’s gone now”?

Before I leave the health segment, I will report that I fell down on Sunday, for no reason I am aware of. I was in the parking garage at my grocery store, Rainbow, standing on the cement floor alongside my bike. I was waiting to see if the woman at my preferred parking spot was coming or going, and then I became aware that I was falling down. It seemed to take five minutes. First my left elbow hit, then my left shoulder, and then my neck made a horrible noise, and then I was lying on the ground, tranquilly thinking over my new circumstances.

The woman turned around and picked my bicycle off me, and I wordlessly stuck out my hand and she took it and helped me up and I thanked her. She thought I might have tripped over the marker at the front of the nearest car parking space, and I hope she’s right, but her back was to me when it happened, and when I came out of the store later, it didn’t seem plausible that I had stumbled over that thing. It really was not near where I’d been standing, but I hope I’m wrong about that.

Anyway, it was very lucky in that I did not break any bones. I didn’t knock out any teeth. I didn’t hit my head. I didn’t impale my eyeball on a randomly placed spike. My left elbow and shoulder weren’t even bruised. Maybe I’m getting springier as I age! Yeah, I probably am! The inside of my right thigh is quite bruised due to the bike falling on it, and my neck was painfully stiff, but it's already easing up, and, best of all, I’m not paralyzed from the neck down.

So all is well, plus I discovered the excellent song “Nekrohaven” by Satyricon, and Korn, my former favorite band, after putting out about five CDs each of which was worse than the last, has put out a new CD that sounds like a combination of its two best CDs (Issues and Untouchables, in my opinion). It’s not as good as either, but it’s way better than the last five CDs.

This past weekend, Tom and I went to Open Studios on Saturday. I thought about Carlos a lot. Last year he and I headed out to do the same thing, but en route got so sick of each other that we decided to go our separate ways. But after five minutes, I realized it wasn’t going to be a fun day without him—it was a gorgeous, sunny afternoon—and when I found him, after fearing I wouldn’t be able to, he had come to the same conclusion and was walking toward where he thought I’d be. I can still remember how happy and relieved I felt when I saw his halo of white hair.

Then we (meaning Carlos and I) saw art, sat at a café chatting for quite a while, walked to 24th St. along Florida St., had dinner. I remember it all vividly. Lately there has been less grief. It’s been nearly eight months and I guess I’m finally getting used to him not being here. But I have been in this place before, where things seem OK, and then sorrow arises as piercing and weighty as if he’d just died. In all my dreams of him now, he’s still alive, but he’s ailing and disoriented and needs my help. (Except for one where he seemed perfectly fine and cheerful, but he consisted only of a disembodied head in a display case.)

Speaking of being disoriented, a friend of mine reported that someone, as yet unknown, all but drained her elderly mother’s bank account and also has diverted her Social Security checks, who knows how long ago? The bank is investigating. In addition, another relative, only too well known, sent her extremely problematic, borderline violent teenager to live with this elderly lady, and evidently to help himself to her cash on hand! My friend discovered this when her mother kept alluding to the young man in phone calls. My friend finally asked, “How often do you see him?” and her mother said, “Oh, every day—he lives here now!”

My friend, from several states away, got social services involved—the police removed the young man from the house—and now is trying to figure out which person or persons have been stealing from her mother. It’s most likely family members. It is utterly disgraceful that people take advantage of those who are helpless.

On Sunday, I made Deborah Madison’s Baked Spanish Rice, which is a substantial effort, but is marvelous served with bright green peas or avocado slices.

This week I’m hoping to finish a book recommended by my father, Ron Chernow’s nearly 800 pages but superb Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. Did you know his father was a bigamist and quack doctor? Did you know Rockefeller was an avid cyclist? Did you know he made his son wear his three older daughters’ hand-me-down dresses until he was eight years old? (Why waste money on new clothes when all those perfectly good frocks were on hand?) Did you know he started a school to teach freed women slaves to read? Did you know he funded Spelman College, the historically black institution of higher education, and also the University of Chicago? He made an astronomical amount of money by rapacious and at times brutal means (all the while thinking he was doing God's will), but he also gave away an astronomical amount of money and did some real good, including funding the first modern medical research.

Chernow is a marvelous writer. He has put some facts about Rockefeller and that period of history indelibly in mind, and I’m now planning to read all his other books. I’ve already acquired The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance.