Archive for July, 2002

Jul 29 2002

Blogging Course

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It seems that UC Berkeley, aka Miss Chelsea Clinton’s alma mater and widely considered to be one of the best schools in California, is planning on offering a blogging course this Fall. I found the fuss contained in the article somewhat amusing, especially the Altamont remark, but I find the whole idea that the purpose of blogs is to disseminate news and/or possibly replace newspapers laughable.

Maybe I need to take the course, but I think the point is to get a glimpse into other people’s lives and opinions. We are all naturally curious about each others’ lives, whether it’s celebrities in the tabloids or those weirdoes down the block, and I think that’s a big part of blogging’s appeal. Unless the course is designed to show people how to set up and maintain a blog, what’s the course for? And am I doing this right? After all, what could be more subjective than blogging?

It remind me of the Notorious Florence Incident.

In 1984, I was spending a few months in Italy with my father and little sister, recovering from heartbreak. This process was greatly speeded along by the attentions of the male natives. Blonde girls in Italy get lots of attention, and there’s nothing like getting flowers from complete strangers on the street and being told your arms are like alabaster to make you feel that your ex-boyfriend was a complete deludinoid. One day, my sister (who was 13) and I (22) were shopping in Florence, trying on sandals in an open-air market and having a great time, when she dropped this bomb into the conversation:

“I understand what the boy does in bed, but what does the girl do?”

This completely derailed my thoughts on whether the heel was too high on those mules, and I had no idea what to say. I mean, it’s not like you do A, then B, then C, and then you’re done, and I didn’t want to like scar for her life, you know? So I ended up saying something lame like “When the time comes, you’ll know what to do”. My sister dropped her shopping bags, put both her hands on hips, and said with the greatest disgust, “Well, I thought you’d tell me.”

I have to wonder: can this course really tell you what to do, any more than I could tell my sister? Can’t some things just be up to the individual?

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Jul 26 2002

Love/hate: Art Museums

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Love/hate for Friday, July 26, 2002
Art Museums

As long as I can remember, I have loved going to art galleries and museums. My father started taking me when I was quite small, and to this day I count a love of art as one of the best gifts he ever gave me.

I was about 10 years old the first time he took me to the National Gallery in Washington. I remember it very well, because the cherry trees were in blossom and it was impossibly beautiful, like being in a fairytale. On the same trip, we visited Monticello (I was already a huge Jefferson fan, and have found no reason to revise my opinion over the ensuing 30 years), which is one of the most beautiful houses in the world.

When my father retired back to his native England, I visited him at least once a year, and during these visits, one of our greatest pleasures was going to art exhibits together, both in the UK and on the Continent. We ventured as far as Russia, just to see the great collection in the Hermitage. We went every day for four days, but still didn’t see it all. In London, there were certain galleries we visited every year: The Tate, The National Gallery, The Courtauld, and The Queen’s Gallery.

I would still rate the US National Gallery as one of the greatest collections in the world, though I have a deeper affection for the National Gallery in London, whose collection is certainly as good as its American counterpart. The NG in London houses one of my all-time favorite paintings, by my all-time favorite painter, JMW Turner: Rain, Steam, and Speed: The Great Western Railway. Turner was Monet 50 years before Monet, who himself acknowledged his debt to Turner.

Which brings me to the Tate Gallery, which houses the Turner Bequest, the greatest collection of Turners in the world. Dad and I would visit our favorites and when our feet gave out, repair to the glorious Restaurant, decorated by Rex Whistler, for wonderful food and wine.

The Courtauld is housed in an elegant Georgian building in the heart of London. The star of the collection for me is the Impressionists, including Manet’s Bar at the Folies Berg&egraveres and Renoir’s painting of his radiant auburn-haired mistress dressed in white. If I could be painted by anyone, it would be Renoir, even though my father used to dismiss his portraits as “chocolate box.”

The Queen’s Gallery has changing exhibits from Her Majesty’s vast collection. If you are fortunate enough to be in London when Buckingham Palace is open to the public, do go if only to see the paintings. The most remarkable for me is one by Rembrandt of a woman called Agatha Bas, painted with her hand on the frame as if she could lean right out of the painting.

I guess if you develop a love for something as a child, it never leaves you. I used to feel like Frederick the Mouse on my trips to London, absorbing enough art and beauty to sustain me until the next time.

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Jul 25 2002

Animal etc.

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Dichotomy du jour: the guy running up California Street this morning (and I do mean up – it’s one of the steeper hills in the city) with a cigarette in his mouth Bogart-style. Even though I saw him do it, I can still hardly believe that anyone can run up that vertiginous hill while smoking. I walk up it every day on my way home and by the time I get to the crest of the hill where the Fairmont is, if I had anyone to talk to I’d sound as breathless as Marilyn Monroe.

One of the fun things about working in the Financial District is that it is a favored place for Guide Dogs for the Blind to train guide dogs. This morning, they were unloading the dogs from their van and it was so hard not to pet them, especially the happy little yellow Lab puppies! Can you imagine that being your whole job: training and playing with guide dogs? I’d pay them to be able to do that.

They reminded me of the time I was with my father and we were taking the train to Guildford, Surrey, together (travelling by train is surely the most pleasant possible mode of transport). Dad assisted an elderly blind lady into the train, accompanied by her guide dog. She told us that she was going to visit her former guide dog, who had gotten too old to be her service dog but now lives with an old friend of the lady’s in the country. The lady said she loved her new dog, but was still deeply attached to her old dog, who had served her for almost 15 years!

One of the animal charities John and I support is the wonderful animal sanctuary in Utah, Best Friends. They put out a monthly newsletter that is exceptionally entertaining, informative, and as they put it “all the good news about animals”. We support many animal charities, but I can’t bear to read the tales of cruelty, neglect, and abandonment. So the news from Best Friends is always especially welcome. This month’s issue had an article on a parrot owned by Winston Churchill. Churchill was my father’s hero since he was a a boy, not surprising since Dad grew up in London during WWII (when I visited Dad’s parents in the Silver Jubilee summer of 1977, Dad’s wartime picture of Churchill was still pasted to the wall in their bomb shelter). I wish I could share this story with him:

“The owner of a parrot who was taught to swear by Winston Churchill is claiming that the parrot is the oldest bird in Britain. Charlie, a blue and gold macaw, is reported to be 103.

He seems to be getting a bit cantankerous in his old age, but still manages to whistle away happily. Although he had two owners before Churchill, his colorful use of language is said to spring directly from the late Prime Minister.”

If I live to be 103, I fully expect to be cantankerous and using colorful language!

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Jul 23 2002

Country Weekend, Part II

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On Saturday morning, I read the local paper while drinking my coffee to see what was going on in town that day. But I got sidetracked by the police blotter, as always. The paper reports all arrests and so on, and though this may affect the concept of “innocent until proven guilty”, it does make for entertaining reading if it’s not about you:

X was charged with having unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. His victim is now his wife, though she was not at the time of the incident.

A German Shepherd with a hanky around its neck was roaming around in the bushes behind the McDonald’s fast food restaurant.

An otter was trying to cross the highway. The matter was referred to Fish and Game.

A woman called to report a large pig on her porch which wouldn’t leave.

There are no secrets when you live in a small town.

We went into Mendocino to do some shopping, both necessary and unnecessary. The latter included the ceramic studio, where a hilarious bench was covered with pink ceramic poodles, and a local craft fair, where everyone fawned over Jed the wonder dog.

On the way home, we stopped at Big River to swim and more importantly, so Jed could swim out and fetch the ball. Jed lives for the ball.

We had a barbecue that night, and about ten minutes before everything was ready, Jonathan’s pager went off. He’s a member of the local fire department, which is all volunteers. He went to answer a call reporting smoke down the road, but no fire could be found despite the best efforts of eight firemen searching the neighborhood. Such is the lot of a fireman.

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Jul 22 2002

Country Weekend, Part I

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And here’s the story.

A few years ago, I was coming home from visiting my brother and sister, and actually on the Golden Gate Bridge before I started looking for the $3 for the toll (you have to pay to get into the city, but not to leave it). Uh-oh. No money at all in my wallet. You would think I would have noticed when I spent my last dime, but apparently my thoughts were elsewhere, since this was the first time I had noticed my complete and utter brokeitude.

All the time I was waiting to get to the tollbooth, I wondered what would happen. When I finally got there, the bored County employee called the business office (located on the ocean side of the bridge) and gave them my license plate number, and told me to go over there and wrote them a check. So I did, feeling like a complete idiot.

I never forgot to have toll money again.

But I didn’t have to worry about the toll since I was heading out of the city on Friday. It was a very foggy day. So foggy that the towers of the bridge vanished into the mist, you couldn’t see Alcatraz, and you couldn’t tell where the water ended and the sky began. It was all grey and misty and dreamlike, except for a mystery spot of golden sunlight where a lone, white-sailed boat floated.

With the wonder of micro-climates, though, it was sunny across the bridge in Sausalito and close to 90 in Santa Rosa, where my brother picked me up. We drove through beautiful Anderson Valley – I love the look of the rolling, golden hills with the dark green live oaks making deep pools of shade – stopping as usual at Gowan’s, where we got corn, peaches, and cider. I’m always amused by their sign, “Please park OFF highway”, because you just know someone actually parked ON the highway, at least once.

When we got to Albion, the town my brother and sister live near, I noticed that the flag at the post office was at half-mast. Turned out that the owner of the Albion Grocery, known locally as “the Gro”, had died of cancer on Thursday and the flag was lowered in her honor. Her birthday had been two days before, and the store had closed and her many admirers brought the party to her in the hospice.

In happier small town news, a family of barn swallows have built a nest right over the door to the post office. The nest is now full of peeping, adorable babies!

And at my sister Megan’s house, the sun was shining and the garden was blooming.

That night, we had dinner at the wonderful Ledford House restaurant, just across the road from the Gro, to celebrate Megan’s new EMT job. Our friend Mark was bartending that night, and the owners of the restaurant are good friends of my brother’s and sister’s. It’s an elegant, yet comfortable place, and attracts locals as well as tourists. The sunset was spectacular, as was the food and wine. It was the perfect way to start the weekend.

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Jul 19 2002

Love/hate: Country living

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I’m off for a weekend in the country with my brother and sister, so no posting until I’m back. It’s not just the fact that I’m impatient with dial-up (though I am), but that it’s all about outside fun while I’m there in the summer. Swimming, playing with Jed (my brother’s wonder dog), hanging out in the hammock, stuff like that. In the meantime, here’s the love/hate of the week. Enjoy!

Love/hate for Friday, July 19, 2002
Country Living

Like Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor in Green Acres, John likes the country, and I like the city. John would like to sell our apartment and flee the madness of the city, but the thought of doing so fills me with horror.

For one thing, if we did, we could never, ever afford to move back here. And as for living in the country full-time…I like to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. I’m a city girl. I like the energy and excitement of the city, though of course it does have its annoyances. What doesn’t? San Francisco is big, but not too big, like London or New York. It’s blissfully tolerant and multi-cultural. The climate is perfect, as far as I’m concerned, rarely dipping below 40&deg or soaring above 80&deg. It is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Readers of this blog have undoubtedly noticed by now that I love this city as if it were a person, so why would I want to leave it, especially since the way back would be forever barred due to financial considerations?

I just can’t imagine living in such isolation, and with the accompanying hazards of country life. The way the outside refuses to stay outside, where it belongs, so you encounter unwelcome forms of animal life from insects on up to rats and raccoons in what should be the privacy of your home. Having to drive miles to go to the store. No theater, or art galleries, or museums, or home pizza delivery. In the case of where my brother and sister live, no garbage pick up, either. All too scary for a city girl! So I’ll enjoy my visits to the country, and breathe a sigh of relief when I cross the Golden Gate Bridge going south, and happily pay the $3 fee to enter the City (even if I have to write a check to do it, which I have. But that’s another story).

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Jul 18 2002

Vanity Fair

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My stepmother had her eyelashes permed. Despite being about as vain and silly as they come, I had never hard of this particular frivolity. Here’s how she describes the result: “My eyelashes look just like a baby doll – amazingly long black and curved.” Sounds kind of weird. I mean, does a girl really want to look like a baby doll? Or any kind of doll?

It reminded me of seeing a sign in the window of a salon recently for permanent make-up. According to the sign, you could have permanent eyeliner, eyebrow color, and lip color. The first thing I thought of was, do you really want only one lip color or eyeliner color for the rest of your life? I wear different lipsticks with different outfits, and though I rarely wear eyeliner, I don’t wear the same color when I do. Maybe you could put lipstick over the permanent color as you do over your natural lip color, though.

And how insecure would you have to be to have your face tattooed in a semblance of make-up? Seems like the kind of thing we find quaint and odd in back issues of National Geographic, doesn’t it? I can’t help but wonder how well it wears. Ordinary tattoos don’t usually look that great after 20 years or more.

I guess we all have our vanities. I have been semi-considering getting botox for the lines on my forehead. I have had them since I was 20 or so, and they are likely the result of lifting my eyebrows in disdain so often. They aren’t much worse than they have always been, but when a girl gets to be 40 she starts to worry about such things. My niece, who is half my age, tells me that botox is just the latest thing in a long line of stupid, dangerous beauty treatments, like people applying arsenic to their skin to whiten it in Elizabethan times, or putting belladonna drops in their eyes so they’d look big and black, or plucking their hairlines so their foreheads would look higher. While beauty standards have clearly changed in the past 400 years, the lure of a lineless youthful look is still hard to resist.

But perhaps it would be a slippery slope, and I’d become a cosmetic surgery junkie, just another California stereotype when we already have so many. I should take to heart my stepmother’s remark about a certain television star who was at the spa with her earlier this month and has had so much cosmetic surgery done that “without make-up, her face is positively grey.” Maybe she hasn’t heard about permanent make-up.

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Jul 16 2002

Line dynamics

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I will never understand line dynamics. Not the math kind, or the geometry kind, or the late unlamented dance craze now moldering wherever dance crazes du jour go before being recycled into yet another one, but why lines of people are the way they are.

When we were in line to get tickets for “Road to Perdition” on Saturday, there were only 4 or 5 people ahead of us in line, but it took nearly 15 minutes for us to get to the window, where we paid with exact change and were out of there in seconds. Why does it take other people 10 times as long to buy a movie ticket?

I have observed the same thing in post offices, grocery stores, and airports. In the post office, you wait in line while time seems to stop, as the people ahead of you mail large, untidily wrapped packages of what appear to be body parts to countries with unpronounceable names, and without the correct paperwork or actual money.

The use of actual money is so unusual in this country that I wonder if they aren’t going to do away with it altogether and just implant chips in our hands to access our bank accounts and credit cards. A couple of weeks ago, I let a guy go ahead of me in the express line at the grocery store, because he only had one item. He thanked me and said, “And I’m even going to pay cash.” I joked, “Isn’t that positively un-American?” His response: “I’m Canadian, so I think it’s OK.”

Honestly, though, non-Canadians seem to think nothing of writing checks for $5 or using their ATM card for amounts almost as small. And in the express line, too. If you know you’re going grocery shopping – and how many of us do so on an impulse? – get the money first. Or get it at the ATM with which nearly every store is equipped. Your fellow Americans will thank you. Or at least not openly glare at you while cursing you and generations of your family.

As for airports, even if I’m going to Europe for three weeks, I never have more than carry-on. Bring outfits you like, about 5, and mix and match, doing laundry where necessary. Wear the one good outfit, fit for going out to dinner or to the theater. Bonus: airline staff, on the ground and on the plane, tend to be nicer to you if you’re dressed well, even if you’re flying cattle class. By limiting your baggage to carry-on, it’s a faster check-in. I also always book my seat ahead, which not only makes sure I get what I want (my main goal in life), but also makes check-in faster. But even assuming you haven’t done these things, why does it seem to take so long for people to check in? I’m not talking post-9/11 security measures, I’m talking standing at the counter for 15 or 20 minutes before finally finishing the checking in process. What could possibly take so long? Enquiring minds want to know. Well, not really. I just don’t want you ahead of me in line.

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Jul 15 2002

Weekend at the Movies

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It was a weekend of genius.

On Saturday, we went to see Road to Perdition at the nearby Metro, one of the few remaining neighborhood theaters. We followed Kelly’s movie rules to the letter, and had a wonderful time.

Great cast (Tom Hanks, Paul Newman), great director (Sam Mendes, he of the clever and cutting “American Beauty”, which was written by the brilliant Alan Ball, creator of Six Feet Under), beautifully photographed (one scene in particular is shot with nothing less than poetry, yet it’s the most violent scene of the movie). Much has been made of whether the movie-going public is ready to see Hanks play a “bad guy”. His character does do some bad things, but he’s certainly not pure evil. His motivations are primarily loyalty and the safety and well-being of his family, not personal gain or evil for the hell of it. This story is really one of fathers and sons, whether they are born that way, or find each along the way.

I find it interesting that Mendes, an Englishman, is able to see into the American psyche, both past and present, with such incisiveness and clarity. Maybe you have to be somewhat removed to really be objective.

On Sunday, we attended an amazing event at the glorious Castro Theater, home of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

We saw a screening of Harold Lloyd’s hilarious film from 1924, Girl Shy. Not only was there a perfect new print from the Harold Lloyd Trust, the film was introduced by Lloyd’s granddaughter and prefaced with one of his family home movies, never before seen in public, and with sound! I was delighted to see that the speeches and the home movie were given in sign language at the same time.

Harold Lloyd was Jackie Chan 50 years before Jackie Chan. He did most of his own stunts, and suffered the consequences. Two fingers on his right hand were blown off in a stunt with a bomb which turned out to be a little too real, and he wore a prosthetic glove after that. In “Girl Shy”, he was knocked out cold during the chase scene by the heavy brass nozzle on the fire hose, and as soon as he regained consciousness, re-shot the scene. By the way, that scene inspired the chariot race in the 1925 version of “Ben-Hur”, directed by Fred Niblo. Niblo had Lloyd join him while filming the scene to give him tips!

It was wonderful to watch the movie accompanied by live music, as originally intended. Chris Elliott, the organist, had actually studied with the legendary Gaylord Carter, who had scored and accompanied Lloyd’s films himself. The audience was of all ages, and I think nearly every one of the 1,500 seats was occupied. The audience really contributed to the pleasure of the movie, laughing, clapping, booing, and having a wonderful time. I think Lloyd would have been pleased.

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Jul 13 2002

In the Bedroom

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I followed Gail’s recent recommendation and bought this book. Though I had seen (and very much enjoyed) the movie based on one of stories in the book, I didn’t even realize that it was based on a short story. Nor have I often read anything with the power and lyricism of these stories. There is incredible richness contained in this slim volume. Go and buy it, or get it from the library. And Gail is right: you won’t be the same. And that’s a good thing.

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Jul 12 2002

Love/hate: packrat-itis

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Love/hate for Friday, July 12, 2002
Packrat-itis

I seem to be having a hard time lately coming up with good titles. I must be in need of a creative consultant. I’m like this New Yorker cartoon.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. My philosophy is: if you haven’t looked at it, touched it, or thought about it in, say, three years, you don’t need it. The object in question should be given away, donated, recycled, or just plain thrown out. If the object is of a particularly negative emotional or unpleasant nature, you might even want to burn it, like the girls on “Friends” did with their ex-boyfriend mementoes.

This does not apply to sentimental articles like wedding albums, family photos, love letters, etc. Everything else: get rid of it if you don’t really need it. I agree with William Morris, who said, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” And also – though this is a little extreme, even for me: “I have never been in any rich man’s home that would not have looked the better for having a bonfire made of nine-tenths of all it held.”

When I was a poor college student, my girlfriends and I would get together once or twice a year. We’d go through our closets and bring with us the clothes that didn’t fit, were no longer fun, or had been mistakes. You know you have some clothes like that in your closet right now! And we’d trade. It was a lot of fun, and whatever was left over was given to Goodwill.

I think it’s liberating to get rid of things from the past that you don’t need or use, and it makes me happy to donate items to places like the very underfunded Humane Society near where my brother and sister live, knowing that it helps animals in need. You might be surprised to find that your local SPCA or Humane Society needs things as simple as newspapers and old towels.

So the next time you do your spring cleaning, think about what you can give away or recycle. Your house will look better, and you’ll feel better.

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Jul 11 2002

Candi’s kitten

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Yay, Candi has a kitten! Go read the story of how she met him and congratulate her. I’m so excited, you’d think it was my own kitten!

I think that anyone who says they don’t like cats just hasn’t met the right one. John said he didn’t like cats before he met my cat Buddy, who changed John’s mind about cats forever, and John was also the one who fell in love with Jo at first sight. If we had a bigger place to live, we’d have more cats. They bring so much joy and amusement to our lives. I love to watch them interact, too – they are their own little family, their own little tribe. We’re lucky that they found us.

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Jul 10 2002

Neighbors

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According to recent statistics, the population of San Francisco is pretty much evenly divided between women and men. I had expected that there was a severe, post-WWI type of male shortage since it appears that the hideous troll who lives in the apartment under ours actually has a girlfriend.

For the first time in the more than eight years we have lived there, this guy has finally been able to lure a woman (although admittedly one of the least attractive representatives of the species) to his apartment, which reeks of cheap cigars, mysterious, pungent food with unknown components, and is decorated with a Pepsi clock and other Pepsi memorabilia, since – you guessed it – the guy works for Pepsi. He even wears Pepsi shirts and caps with his carefully ironed jeans on the weekend.

This guy forms the lower shit layer of the sandwich we live in. He blasts his radio, either classical music, with all the commercials, or “soft rock” all weekend, and his TV during the week. Though he appears to be hearing impaired in the extreme, owing to the volume necessary for him to listen to the radio or watch TV, he is hyper-sensitive to any sound we make, including walking, and bitches endlessly to us, the building manager, and anyone else who will listen. He snores so loudly that I can hear it clearly as I get ready for work in the morning, and coughs so loud and long on a daily basis that I am always lightly surprised that he hasn’t actually expired, since it sounds as though he is at Death’s door. Possibly yet another of the unlovely side effects of all that cigar smoking. He looks through all the mail, investigates everyone coming in or out of the building, and had the tree on his deck brutally cut back so now the neighbor’s kitchen looks directly in our bedroom. Thanks, Mr. Pepsi.

The upper layer is a tiny woman who probably weighs 90 pounds soaking wet, yet stomps around like she weighs 300 pounds, actually causing earthquake-style shaking and quaking of objets d’art and books. So there is rarely any peace and quiet to be had chez nous, though that is obviously one of the hazards of apartment living. And our building is almost 80 years old, so it must be beyond belief to live in one of those modern boxes with paper walls. As Dorothy Parker said, with some truth, other people are hell. Particularly when they live above you and below you and you can’t call either your floor or ceiling your own.

But to get back to Mr. Downstairs, it amazes me that someone so devoid of personal charm (short, bald, surly, whining, appearing to be lightly greased at all times) has actually found someone willing to spend time with him. I guess there truly is someone for everyone. I will be interested to see how long she can take it.

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Jul 09 2002

Buddy’s birthday

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20 years ago today, I fell in love.

It was the best kind of love, since it was both unexpected and profound. And it still endures.

On this day, 20 years ago, I happened to be visiting my friend Alice when her cat gave birth. Though I knew her cat was expecting kittens, I had never thought about adopting one of them. But for some reason, which I still can’t explain, it was love at first sight when Buddy made his first appearance. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a newborn kitten, but they look very strange indeed, besides being covered with blood and goo, as any newborn animal is. Despite these aesthetic drawbacks, I fell in love with Buddy and never looked back.

Through the next 18 years, he was my constant companion and friend. We grew up together, and he was always there for me. As my father said of his beloved dog Jesse, “We knew each other for 14 years, and he never thought I was wrong.”

Three months before his 18th birthday, Buddy was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. His strong heart wouldn’t give up, though, so we had to get our vet to come to the apartment and release him from his pain. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I realized that I had been there for his first breath and his last, and that was a privilege. I am very lucky to have had such a friend for so long. So on this day, I am especially thankful that he came into my life, and that we had such a wonderful journey together.

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Jul 08 2002

Mechanics & Mustangs

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I think it’s a fairly well-known fact that mechanics of the male persuasion tend to pad their bills, overcharge, and/or flat out lie to their female clients. In the short time that I have owned a car, the only honest mechanic I have met is my brother.

Starting from my first personal encounter with a mechanic named Snake when my car broke down on one of the major artery roads through the city and had to be towed on a Sunday afternoon to Snake’s lair in the Haight on down, it hasn’t been good. It might be because I am a very silly girl who doesn’t know the first thing about cars, other than how to put in gas and change the oil (and I have been known to forget to screw the gas cap back on, too. Good thing it’s permanently affixed to the car with a sort of wire thing, so it doesn’t get lost completely). It might be because my car is a 1966 Mustang convertible, which can have strange effects on people, ranging from envy to the person who keyed the hood after it had a brand-new paint job to the uncontrollable urge to pass me when I’m driving it just to say they can. Or it might be a combination of such a fine ride being wasted on one so very ignorant. But for whatever reason, this has been my personal experience, and one I have heard from many other women, including smart, non-Mustang owning ones.

I was discussing this phenomenon with a screenwriter (for Paramount) at a party recently, and his theory is that men, including but not limited to mechanics, are actually afraid of women. In the wild, the frightened animal puffs himself up and tries to appear bigger than he really is to intimidate whatever is frightening him. The screenwriter thinks the mechanic’s bill padding is the same thing, translated into an urban (or suburban) setting. I think he gets points for creativity and charm on this one, but that’s it.

Any thoughts?

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Jul 05 2002

Love/hate: messy luxury food

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Love/hate for Friday, July 5, 2002:
Messy luxury food

I couldn’t come up with a good title for this one. Basically, it’s about those foods which are lot of mess and work for not that much food, such as lobsters, crab, and artichokes. Although I am not, as a rule, pro-mess, I am always pro-luxury, and perhaps that aspect cancels out the mess factor for me. But I do love the afore-mentioned shellfish and artichokes. Not to mention corn on the cob.

When I was a child, we spent our summers in Maine, where lobster was cheaper than hamburger, which is the way it should be. So I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know how to eat a lobster. The fact is, there is no elegant way to eat lobster, unless you’ve had it already Newburged or similar. You have to attack it with your bare hands in Henry VIII style, though unlike Henry, with the assistance of nutcracker or other instruments of destruction. Then it’s just dipping it in melted butter or lemon and it’s minutes of greasy, messy fun.

Crabs are possibly even more work than lobster, for almost certainly less reward, unless they are soft-shelled and then you can just eat the whole thing. I have to admit that the low crab reward does make it worthwhile to go somewhere like Swan Oyster Depot and get the insides without the outsides. That reminds me: one of the luxury foods I have never acquired a taste for is oysters. Too slimy. Too icky, no matter what you put on them. Also never developed a liking for caviar. It’s like fish-flavored Jell-O in my opinion.

It seems that most shellfish is a certain amount of work, but it’s fun work. Who doesn’t love fishing the mussels out of their shells and dipping them in marini&egravere sauce, especially when sitting at a bistro in Paris? Then you can mop up the remaining sauce with your remaining baguette.

In one of those e-mails that circumnavigate the globe more times than any explorer past or present would have dreamed possible, the arcane art of knowing how to eat an artichoke is listed as being a peculiarly Californian skill (my most arcane and least useful skill developed from years of living in San Francisco: a close to unerring ability to discern which sex a person is, no matter how s/he is dressed). Returning to the artichoke, however, I knew how to eat one long before moving here. Do you non-Californians know how to eat one if confronted by it in all its thistly glory? They are definitely worth the trouble in my opinion, but I don’t think John has ever eaten one.

One messy food we can both agree on, though: corn on the cob, especially eaten at an equally messy barbecue. While not luxurious in cost or rarity, it is in nostalgia value and simple pleasure. And that is priceless.

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Jul 04 2002

4th of July

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“I believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be celebrated by pomp and parade, with shows, games, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other.”

— John Adams, writing to his wife, Abigail, about the 4th of July

Well, Adams called that one. This day has been celebrated for more than 200 years, all over the country. This Independence Day is arguably the most emotional since WWII, the last time our nation was attacked. In the aftermath of 9/11, what struck me most was how we came together as a nation in the face of tragedy, united by our common love of this great country, like no other on earth. I was deeply moved by the display of flags in our neighborhood immediately following the disaster, and we have held fast to that spirit since that fateful day.

I know this country’s flaws, like my own, are neither small nor few. Yet I could never happily live anywhere else. I think you can love a country in the same way you love a person: knowing both the good and the bad, the strengths and the weaknesses, sharing the good times and the bad, your common, shared history uniting you and enabling you to walk together into the future, whatever it may hold.

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Jul 02 2002

Cat’s Birthday

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Am truly a retard. I just called my niece Cat to wish her a happy birthday, and apologized that her present was going to be late, since I’m sending it home with Cat’s Mom on Thursday. Cat then pointed out that if I really wanted her present to be a surprise, I shouldn’t have Shown and Told last week. Sometimes I forget that she reads this. OK, I’m a retard. No excuses. The Dunce Cap is mine. Good thing I have Cat and her premature wisdom. Half my age, twice as smart. Love you, sweetie!

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Jul 01 2002

Canada Day

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I really shouldn’t let Canada Day pass without good wishes. I realize that my life is full of wonderful Canadians, reformed and unrepentant alike.

My husband used to be Canadian until he became an American citizen several years ago. I stole him from Canada and imported him here…

…much as Shawn did with Kelly, one of my all-time favorite Canadians.

Another fab Can: Amber, one of the nicest people on the planet (well, Canadians are world-renowned for their niceness) and always a fun read.

And let’s not forget Babs, who so understands how much John misses his Canadian delicacies that she actually ships them all the way to California from the beautiful Maritimes. Quelle femme!

Not to mention:

The very talented Mike C. and his wonderful wife Jennifer of Toronto. Mike is an artist, but his greatest work to date is a collaboration with Jennifer: little Matthew, just over a year old. What babies should be, but so seldom are.

The one and only Raven, also of Toronto. Great friend, gifted musician, my other little brother. There’s no-one I’d rather go to the Real Jerk with, and his e-mails always brighten my day.

Mary-Lou, who has been one of my dearest friends since we were in high school. My only bridesmaid other than my sister. About-to-be famous author. Keeper of my darkest secrets and permanent party girl extraordinaire.

Richard, who wants to move back to Canada because it’s too cold in San Francisco. Who lures me out of my glass tower for lunch, and brings the food, too. Who has been my friend since high school, and who is always there for me. Who always makes me laugh and forgives me for not calling him back sooner.

Did I forget anyone? Happy Canada Day to all of you!

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