Archive for January, 2003

Jan 31 2003

Love/hate: Umbrellas

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Love/hate for Friday, January 31, 2003:

It’s back! Finally! First love/hate of the year (barely made it in the first month of the year, but still). Did you miss it?

It seems only fitting in this winter of El Ni?o Lite to write about umbrellas. We have had a couple of pretty bad storms this winter, but as January comes to an end and the cherry tree outside my living room window begins to blossom, I will venture to say that this El Ni?o Lite year has been a positive joy compared to the badass El Ni?o of 1997-1998. That boy was the bully of the playground, pounding us mercilessly with rain every single day of February, not to mention kicking off the rainy season in September and not ending until May. Suicidal weather, my friends.

Though I hate the rain – and love a good drought – I love umbrellas. If you must endure the rain, and the northern California climate decrees that you must, you have to have an umbrella. Now I don’t carry it (no pun intended) to the extreme seen in Chinatown, where umbrellas and parasols ward off the sun’s rays and the rain’s drops equally. But after spending the time it takes to glamorize in the morning, from contacts to make-up to hair, I’m not having the effects ruined by rain. So I have to have an umbrella to shield all that labor from the rain, which wants to ruin my face the same way it ruins my mood. I can’t stop the latter, but I’m sure as hell going to stop the former if I possibly can.

Now, there are times when it’s so windy that your umbrella gets turned inside out and becomes completely useless, like me at math. But that’s no reason not to have one. After all, it’s an accessory, and a girl can never have too many. Make sure you get one of those really lightweight travel ones, so you don’t even notice. If you are only carrying around necessities, the way you should, the umbrella shouldn’t add too much weight and inconvenience to your daily luggage, be it handbag or backpack.

At least it only rains here in the winter, so you don’t have to carry an umbrella all the time, just in case, like condoms.

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Jan 29 2003

The unusual suspects

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We were all together last night chez Mom. Here’s the evidence!

From left to right: back row, John (with experimental and temporary beard whose days are numbered); my sister Megan; her husband, Rob; my sister Beth. Front row: me, Mom, my brother Jonathan.

Can you tell this doesn’t happen very often?

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Jan 28 2003

Break it up, kids!

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The following conversation took place while driving through Mom’s town, Petaluma, on Sunday:

Beth: Look, there’s a movie theater.

Me: There are no movie theaters in Petaluma.
(This is completely true. The closest one is in Santa Rosa).

Beth: But it’s right there. And there are names on the sign.

Me: It’s a club.

Beth: But there are names on the sign. “The Dead Kennedys.”

Me: The Dead Kennedys are a band. Like for 25 years.
(Granted, not the same since Jello Biafra left, and I still can’t believe they replaced him with that kid from The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.)

Beth: How on earth do you know that?!

Me: Because I live in the world.

Mom: Girls, stop it.

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Jan 26 2003

Super Sunday

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Instead of watching Superbowl Ninezillion and three yesterday, I decided to take my sister visiting from England and my Mom to Point Reyes National Seashore (and don’t you just love the whole idea of a national seashore?). This is so positively un-American that I may well be kicked out of the U.S. of A. by a newly revitalized Un-American Activities Committee, but I’m willing to take the risk instead of facing the boredom of football, though I realize that my fear of death could be alleviated if I could only live in football time, which is measured in eternities. 20 minutes left to play on the clock? Walk by the TV an hour later, and there’s 17 minutes left to play. So if my life expectancy in normal time is, say, 75 years, in football time I’d probably live to 300 or something. Just think of the possibilities.

Despite the allure of living in football time, watching it has no allure, so Sunday found us in the beautiful countryside instead of in front of the TV. We stopped at Rouge et Noir, where five generations of the same family have been making and selling cheese from their own cows in the same location in beautiful West Marin, and two generations of ours bought some of their best.

We stopped in the little town of Point Reyes Station (population 700 or so) for lunch at the Station House Caf&eacute, which was excEt. I couldn’t resist having my sister take this picture of me with Mom’s dog in front of a slightly modified “No Parking” sign. Please note that not only is the dog obeying the sign, she is also obeying my request for her to sit nice and have her picture taken.

And here’s the beach on a late January afternoon. Show me anything on TV that can match that.

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Jan 23 2003

Trip Part 2

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I was definitely not up to the sartorial challenge posed by Chicago in the dead of winter. I figured: it’s going to be really, really cold, so bring your warmest clothes, which I did (including cashmere socks, which turned out to be my best wardrobe idea on that trip). But I had reckoned without the super-heated interiors of Chicago buildings. Outside, my snuggly sweaters were perfect. Inside, I was sweating. Lesson learned: when visiting Chicago (or anywhere else that has real weather) in the middle of winter, or probably any time, come to think of it, dress in layers. Yes, it does mean that you’ll be stripping and dressing again with a frequency that would tire Gypsy Rose Lee herself, and to the detriment of your ‘do, but you’ll be more comfortable. As usual, it’s comfort vs. style.

There are no hair clips or hair spray on earth that can stand up to the wind in Chicago. You will look (and be) wind-swept, and you just have to hope it looks good on you. Also no lipstick or lip gloss, even MAC’s fabulous lipglass, can stop your lips from getting chapped.

For those who live in places where their weather treats them much like a TV dinner, going straight from the deep freeze to the oven and think they know all about the deep freeze: I’m telling you, that wind makes things cold, and not just to whiny San Franciscans. When I was in Chicago, the high was 19?F (or -7?C), but the wind chill made it 4?F, or -16?C, and I think even you hardy Canadians will have to admit that it’s cold. And that was the high.

No wonder I have never seen so many fur coats in my entire life. It was quite remarkable. Walking down the street, my whole face had the kind of brain freeze you get from eating ice cream too fast, and I had to wonder: if I lived in Chicago, would I overcome my principles and get one? What few principles I have are very, very bendy, and since going to the gym has made me realize that I could stand about .0001 seconds of torture (I’d tell them anything I knew and/or make it up as soon as the torture was even threatened, I’m pretty sure), maybe a week or a month of Chicago cold would send me to the fur salon. I hope not, though. But there are few options as warm as that. Down coats are warm, but make you look like the Michelin man, so forget it, especially after enduring all that gym torture. The last thing you want is to look fluffier. Once again, comfort vs. style.

I have never seen so many steak houses, either, so Chicago must be some kind of Slaughterhouse Central, what with the fur coats and the steak. And the size of the portions you get in the restaurants is positively epic. I was unable to eat everything at any meal I had there, no matter how great it was. Possibly Chicagoans need the fuel to withstand the cold. And anyway, it was fun to feel like I had a Victorian lady’s bird-like appetite, and the food was great.

Besides, look how pretty!

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Jan 22 2003

Trip Report Part 1

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There are just so many laws of physics that I really, really hate, even though I am the daughter of a scientist. Gravity springs to mind, at least as far as its effects on one’s shell as time progresses. Another one is for every action, there is a reaction, meaning: if you take an extra day off from work to play in Chicago, you will have to somehow make up all that work in the few days remaining in the self-shortened week.

So I got home on Monday night, went to work first thing on Tuesday morning, when even the sun, who couldn’t complain about jet lag, was still in bed. I worked like mad all day, went to the gym, went home and did all those domestic chores, including calling my mother, and now I’m back at work again, and I’m still not caught up or close to it. But I’m going to sneak a few minutes to tell you about my trip anyway. So there. Still the faux grown-up.

Chicago is a completely fabulous city. I believe that San Francisco, where I live, is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, so I know what I’m talking. Chicago is full of beautiful, beautiful buildings, both old and new. The trees lining the main streets were wrapped in tiny white lights, and with the effect of the wind, the movement and sparkle at night was spectacular. You have to know a carbon junkie like me would just love that effect.

The Art Institute is world class. The building is, of course, lovely – the walls around the grand main staircase are hung with architectural details rescued from destroyed Chicago buildings, including some by the great Wright himself – and so is the collection. It was wonderful to see some paintings I have loved for years in real life (Caillebotte’s Paris Street, Rainy Day; Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, among others), and the lighting was perfect. That doesn’t sound like much, but trust me, it’s essential. The lighting in the Hermitage, which also has a world-class collection, is so bad that you have to be a contortionist to get a good look at anything. But not in Chicago. It was pure pleasure. And how often does one get the chance to say that about anything?

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Jan 17 2003


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No news is good news, right? At least, I have noticed that if there’s bad news, someone’s going to make damned sure you hear about it, and without delay. So my lack of posting hasn’t been because of death or disaster, but because of the previously mentioned and time-consuming stultifying boredom of the conference.

To rewind: it was 66 degrees and sunny when I left San Francisco on Wednesday, and 19 degrees when I arrived in Chicago, which is really barely endurable. On the bright side, the flight was half an hour less than advertised, so yay.

Chicago is really pretty and has great energy, from what little I have seen of it so far. The hotel doors had signs on them saying “Please use other doors [the revolving ones] due to wind”, which kind of tells you all you need to know about that. The Windy City reputation is not undeserved. It snowed last night, and it was so windy that it was flying sideways. Really pretty, though, and from my window, I can see the lake, which appears to be partially frozen along the shoreline.

Meeting Kelly on Wednesday was the high point of the trip. We had such a great time talking that she ended up having to take a very late train home. She had chosen a fabulous Thai restaurant for dinner, Erawan, where we ate in traditional Thai style. The food was excEt, and beautifully presented – it was like eating art. Kelly took a picture of the gorgeous swan carved out of Japanese radish, complete with eyes and beak, which the garnish on on her entr&eacutee. You’ll have to see it to believe it. It was a wonderful evening.

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Jan 09 2003

Shit happens

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Note to self: multi-tasking, in the form of picking up two people’s worth of dry cleaning at the end of the dog’s afternoon walk – not the best idea you ever had. One arm fully occupied with clothes covered in plastic bags, both long and slide-y and also surprisingly heavy, the other trying vainly to control a dog composed of 35 pounds of solid muscle and .00002 ounces of brain, alternately sniffing endlessly, or pulling as hard as she can, while wearing a sweater that turns out to spontaneously unbutton itself when you have no free hand to re-button it…well, thank Les Cent Culottes that the bra I was wearing was really cute.

Only 4 more days, if I don’t count today (though there are still two walks to go) or the day Mom goes home with her menagerie, and I can’t bear to, so…4 more days…4 more days…

However, I have nothing to complain about compared to my brother.

Warning: viewer discretion advised. The following contains graphic scenes of grossness that should be found on John’s side of this blog. Yes, that scary. You have been warned.

Yesterday, my brother got the surprise of his life when he went out to the parking lot to repair his truck and suddenly discovered that he was up to his ankles in, well, shit. Our sister Megan is taking care of two of Mom’s dogs indefinitely, and they were apparently bored at home and had gone down the road to Jonathan’s place, where they proceeded to tear open his composting outhouse and scatter its uncomposted contents all over the place until interrupted by the very irate outhouse owner. You can imagine cleaning that mess up, and how popular Mom’s dogs are with him. Almost as popular as the one I’m looking after is with me.

I made the mistake of calling him while he was cleaning up and I don’t think I have ever heard him angrier. I was wise enough to hang up immediately and above all, not to say, “Shit happens.”

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Jan 08 2003

Gym update

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I know you’ve all been dying to know how My Slothfulness is faring at the gym, so I thought I’d give you an update.

Remember my distaste for communal showers? So very prison, or worse yet, gym class. Well, I don’t have communal showers to deal with, because when I’m done I just throw on my coat and walk the four blocks to my house, so I can have a bath like a civilized person, in peace and comfort, but the locker room is, well, communal. It’s a good thing that I’m so completely shameless, because we all change in one big area. No private dressing rooms. You could, I suppose, change in one of the stalls, but there are only three and they are tiny. Also, no-one else does, so it would probably be a violation of some unwritten locker room code, as well as making you look very prudish to a room full of girls cheerfully dressing and undressing.

And before you guys start thinking how cool that would be (and yeah, I had to mention prison, too, so I know y’all are thinking about those B grade Women in Chains movies from the 1950’s, and if you weren’t before, you are now), let me tell you that actual girls look nothing like girls in movies or skin mags. We aren’t airbrushed. We have cellulite, even the skinny ones. Gravity has affected us. However, I know that girls are far more critical of the female form than men are, and given the legendary status of National Geographic, in which gravity has really, really taken its toll, I feel confident in saying that pretty much any girl in any state of undress is OK with you guys. I hate to shatter any remaining illusions you may have, but in the 6 weeks or so that I’ve been frequenting the locker room, I have yet to encounter any pillow fights or smooching, or even arm wrestling. The movies are, as usual, much better than real life. Fiction is nearly always better than fact.

I have discovered that the Ramones are the perfect thing to listen to on the treadmill or that elliptical thing, which I do for half an hour after my trainer has spent an hour with me. There’s something so amusing about listening to songs with titles like “I Wanna Be Sedated” while practically running. And if walking/running in time to any given Ramones song doesn’t get you up to target heart rate, you must already be sedated.

I have discovered that jumping rope is not at all the same as it was when I was a kid. As a child, you can jump rope happily almost indefinitely, and as I recall, it was fun. Doing it for 5 minutes as an adult feels more like something devised by the Spanish Inquisition on a particularly bad day. As I suffered through it the first time, my trainer informed me that Jennifer Lopez does it for 4 hours a day. I shot back, “Well, she’s paid for her looks,” whereupon my trainer laughed and changed the subject.

My ability to make people confide in me hasn’t deserted me, either. Total strangers on planes and other confined public spaces have told me their problems, and I once had the nurse practitioner administering a Pap test to me tell me all about her boyfriend problems throughout the entire procedure (bonus: distracting). My trainer told me all about her boyfriend problems last week, and before we knew it, we had worked out for almost an hour and a half (also distracting and why people watch soap operas, movies, read, and listen to music while they’re at the gym). I should have my own talk show.

When I get out of there, it’s usually about 4:30, and the bus boys from La Folie are sitting on crates on the sidewalk, polishing silver for the evening, laughing and talking in Spanish, and they always say hi as I walk by.

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Jan 06 2003

The Bomb

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I have a confession to make.

The name of my site makes no francophone sense. You’d think that a noted Francophile like myself would know this, but non. Kim’s boyfriend David explained to me that “c’est la bombe”, like me, makes no sense, though it’s close in words and intent to two actual French expressions:

1. C’est une bombe, meaning “She’s a hottie”; and
2. C’est de la bombe, meaning something is cool.

Linguistics major that I am, and possessor of trivial mind that I am, I found it fascinating. And it doesn’t hurt that I can blame the mistake on John, who bought the domain name for me and who doesn’t really speak French, though he tries hard whenever we are there. In fact, he is less shy about it than I am, for reasons that I can’t fully understand.

And for those of you who subscribe to the widely-believed notion that the French are, as a nation, rude to tourists, I can only say that I have never, from my first visit to France more than 20 years ago to now, ever had that problem. Perfect strangers there have been as kind to me as Blanche Dubois could ever have wished for, and even cops have given me directions, one of them with his arm around me to better show me the map, which my father found unnecessary.

The first time John and I were in Paris together was in mid-April, and it was everything Paris in the spring should be. We were walking along the river, looking at the bouquinistes, when John went ahead of me to have a cigarette (France is the polar opposite of California in that smoking in public is tolerated and even encouraged). It was pretty crowded and we managed to lose each other in the crowd. After looking fruitlessly, I decided the best thing was to go back to the hotel, where he would surely find me.

But non. What John did after looking fruitlessly was to go the police, who pretty much laughed at him and suggested that I had obviously ditched him for some passing and irresistible French guy. An international incident very nearly ensued. John repaired to a nearby tabac*, where he was defeated by the intricacies of the French payphone and the phone book. However, a couple of students showed him how to find the hotel phone number and make the call, whereupon I answered the phone and burst into tears as soon as I haerd his voice.

By the time John had calmed me down, the students had vanished before he could say thanks. But merci anyway, both to the unknown students and to David. You’re the bomb!

PS: Julie pointed out the same thing in the post below! Guess it’s about time I learned something.

*Tabacs are very, very useful. You can not only, as the name implies, buy cigarettes there, you can also get the cards no pay phone works without; debit cards for parking meters; stamps; M&eacutetro tickets; gum and candy; lottery tickets; racing forms; and at some, displaying a red diamond, renew your car registration. Most have a caf&eacute/bar, so you can get a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, too. God, Paris is civilized!

5 responses so far

Jan 04 2003

Crime doesn’t pay

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I really don’t seem to be cut out for a life of crime. At least, crime doesn’t seem to pay for me, though it generally does seem to be one of the better-paying occupations for everyone else.

I thought I had successfully impersonated my stepmother earlier this week. It’s only fair to say right away that she asked me to impersonate her. I’ll try and make a long story short.

My stepmother has a bank account here. When she set it up, she used my Social Security number (being English, she doesn’t have one or need one). I realize that this is probably wrong in bankworld, though not technically illegal. The account has one of those ATM cards you can also use as a credit card. The card was either lost or stolen in the m?l?e of the post-Christmas sales in Oxford Street, and she sent me a fax with the account number and card number, asking if I could have it replaced. I took the fax to the bank, and they said my stepmother would have to call, since our accounts are separate.

But calling an American 800 number from England is not easy. I think you can do it by calling the operator and asking him/her to connect you to the 800 number, but it’s expensive and annoying. I called Margaret to tell her all this and to suggest that I call the bank’s 800 number and say I’m her and get the card replaced. So I did, and all seemed to go well. I congratulated myself on the (apparently) successful impersonation and for helping her out.

On New Year’s Eve, I tried to take some money out on my way to meet John at the movies, and my card was declined. I thought it might have something to do with the holidays and decided not to worry about it until after New Year’s, but as of yesterday, it was still not working, so I called the 800 line and was informed that the card had been cancelled at my request.

I explained that I had not requested this, and that clearly someone at the bank had made a mistake. They said that Margaret must have asked to have it done. Now, I knew perfectly well that she hadn’t, but I couldn’t tell them that. I did ask them if I had two accounts in my name and lost the card for one, would they cancel both and they said no. Essentially they refused to take any responsibility, and my card is cancelled and I have to wait for a new one, which is making me feel naked, and not in a good way. I actually had to go into the bank today and get money out the old-fashioned way! And I know better than to think the post office will be quick in getting the new card to me.

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Jan 03 2003

Blind Ambition

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Of all the problems I anticipated having while Mom’s dog was our non-paying holiday guest, the one that really is one is not one I even imagined (and how’s that for a convoluted sentence?).

I knew the endless walking in the endless rain would be an endless pain in the ass, and so it was. I knew that picking up dog poo from the rain-soaked street would also not be my favorite activity ever. I expected that the whiny loser who lives downstairs from us would bitch about her presence (he did; I apologized). I expected that she would scare passers-by and/or get into it with other dogs, and that also happened, though not to a lawsuit extent.

I was mostly worried that she would harass and even hurt our cats, not because she’s bad or mean, but because she is woefully untrained. I discovered that Mom’s approach to dogs is pretty much the same as it was to her kids: either yelling at you or hugging you, for no known reason and no possible prediction of which you’ll get. So you end up with someone who is, uh, challenging to live with (just ask John).

Taking all this into account, we decided that the best thing was to shut the cats in the bedroom while we were at work, giving the guests free reign. They all seemed to be getting along pretty well on the weekends when we were there to observe and police if necessary, so we decided to leave the bedroom door open while we were out for a couple of hours on New Year’s Day.

Big, as Ah-nuld would say, mistake.

We got home to discover the afore-mentioned and completely unanticipated problem. All cats were present and accounted for and unchewed, but the dog had chewed a big hole in the custom-made fabric blind in the bedroom, the one we had to get after the whiny loser downstairs “trimmed” the tree outside said bedroom window so that no fewer than seven windows had a stunning and unobstructed view into our bedroom. I’m shameless, but not that shameless, so we got one of those blinds that lower from the top, preserving our modesty while allowing us to enjoy what remained of the tree.

But now, there’s a huge peephole in the blind, which will have to be replaced ASAP. To be fair, we were aware that the dog had a penchant for blind-chewing, given that she had chewed the metal blinds in the living room the first week she was here. But those came with the apartment and I’m less worried about people looking into our living room than our bedroom, oddly enough. I figured I could just sell the twisted living room blinds on eBay as a sculpture by a hot young Southern California artist (which is sort of true) and see how much I could get for them.

Suzy’s new mantra: only ten days left. Only ten days left.

8 responses so far

Jan 02 2003

2003 Milestones

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Need something to look forward to (or celebrate) this new year? There’s something for everyone in this list of 2003 Milestones.

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Jan 01 2003

New Year

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As usual, we let the old year slip away and the new one arrive without fanfare, though I was awakened around midnight by fireworks and the howling accompaniment of our neighbor, unaffectionately known to us as Cap’n Chunk (due to his build and penchant for stomping as hard as he can up and down the stairs, shaking them like a 4.2 earthquake), and his maturity-challenged buddies. They were standing up on the roof whooping and hollering unintelligibly at the top of their voices. If I were the new year, I’d turn around and leave after a greeting like that.

When I walked the dog for the first time this year, there were far more people on the street than is usual at five in the morning, which was somewhat disconcerting. And since most of them had been drinking for many hours by then, they tended to want to engage me in incoherent conversation, despite my usual dog walking appearance (completely uncaffeinated; wearing glasses; tangled hair; long black coat buttoned up over bunny pajamas and shoes with no socks) and the fact that I was walking what could be considered a dangerous dog. There were parties still going on, and empty bottles in the streets, even though this is a very rich and snotty neighborhood.

In keeping with Amy’s suggestion, I have started to think about the things I’m planning to Do for Suzy this year. When I’m in Chicago for that stupid work conference, I’m going to stay a couple of extra days to visit the Art Institute and Frank Lloyd Wright’s house, and hopefully meet up with the one and only Kelly. I’m seriously considering going to the Impressionist Landscape exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston in the middle of March, too. I think that would be a good way to spend my father’s birthday (March 17). To quote Goethe: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.”

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