Surprise Surgery

Looks like I’ll be scarce around here for the next few days. My sister and her husband are in town, but it’s not to visit me (or not only). My brother-in-law had surgery on his back over Christmas of 2007, and it proved so popular that he’s having more done.

We knew there were problems, but we didn’t expect the surgeon to say he couldn’t understand why BIL could walk at all, and book him in for emergency surgery. So he’s in a nice private room in a San Francisco hospital, with a sweeping southern exposure and the complete inability to have a cigarette, which I’m sure he’s enjoying almost as much as the hospital food.

My sister is here with me, and I expect this weekend will be full of trips to the city and back, and hoping for the best. Keep us in your thoughts and prayers and whatever you believe in, ’cause we need all the help we can get.

Long Road Out of Eden

Tiny pic of my parents on their wedding day, December 5, 1959. Standing at the front door of Dad’s childhood home in Coulsdon, Surrey.

It was, of course, a beautiful cloudless day as I headed toward the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge yesterday. It is not lost on me that one has to pay for the privilege of leaving Oakland, either via that bridge or the Bay Bridge, yet one has to pay for the honor of entering San Francisco*. Leaving it is free, and it’s your loss.

As I drove the familiar route, past San Quentin**, sleeping vineyards, the oil refineries in Richmond, through the rolling hills of the Sonoma countryside, green despite the lack of rain, I imagined just keeping going up to my brother’s and sister’s. I rarely, if ever, go this way unless I’m going to see them, and for a moment, I thought, what if. My sister was finished her shifts that day and would be glad to see me…

But I knew I had to keep my appointment and be a grown-up, with all the horrors and lack of fun that entails.

I got to the storage half an hour before the appraiser was due, so I started going through some things before he got there. There was my American grandfather’s World War I uniform in his trunk; my mother’s wedding dress, which I had preserved a few years ago – you can see a tiny picture above – it is a gorgeous, heavy, ivory satin dress; a silhouette of my mother as a very young child; the beautiful watercolor of a Scottish stream my father bought for a shilling when he was 12 years old.

I had to walk away and take a moment to pull myself together before the appraiser appeared and I had to pretend to be a rational adult. I went to the window and looked out at the sunny day, wondering how my grandparents’ and parents’ lives had been distilled down to these few pieces in a place none of them had ever seen or known, to be looked over and assessed by strangers, who would never know their true worth lay in who had touched them, worn them, used them, loved them.

Rest assured that the items I mentioned, along with some others, will never be sold. But as I headed home, slower in the late afternoon traffic, my eyes filled with tears as I passed Frank Lloyd Wright’s Civic Center in Marin, the familiar and always beloved skyline of my beautiful San Francisco. Because the ghosts of the past were closer than usual.

*Once when returning to the City, I discovered that I didn’t have enough cash for the then $2 toll. The toll person told me to go to the office and radioed my license plate to the office. I was driving my 1966 Mustang convertible in those days, so was a little more noticeable than I am now in my humble Taurus. I wrote a check in the office, blushing with embarrassment. They cashed it immediately.
**My sister used to teach across the Bay from San Quentin. Her students thought it was a castle, and it does look like one a bit, especially in the fog. She never corrected this impression, though I can’t help but wonder why some of the best real estate in the Bay Area (Alcatraz and San Quentin) is devoted to prisons.

Appraisal Apprising

When I was thinking about resolutions for the new year, I knew one of them should be “Clean out Mom’s storage”, but I didn’t want to commit to it, since I was pretty sure I wouldn’t actually get around to it. And then I’d have to admit it to my adoring public, and you might adore me less. I just couldn’t take the risk.

It’s a pretty overwhelming job. It’s over an hour’s drive, and when you get there, it’s packed with things and stuff. Mom was a notorious pack rat, and when she got sick, we just stuffed her things in there, thinking she’d get better. When John and I separated, my stuff joined Mom’s, and it’s pretty much full to capacity. I couldn’t imagine how to even start sorting and disposing of it all, and the logistics just made my pretty little head swim, so I put it on indefinite hold. Hope it’s enjoying the Muzak.

I came across an appraiser/auctioneer who has had his own business for 40 years. He lives near the storage facility, and I went to meet him there today. He was a mover before he was an auctioneer, so he said he’d help me excavate and take away things that were worth selling.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been in this situation before, but here’s fun news: the items I had had appraised five years ago are not worth anywhere near the appraised value when I went to to sell them. Turns out that appraisals for insurance (replacement value) and appraisals for selling are two different things. Guess which one’s higher?

Why am I not surprised?

He’s interested in a lot of the furniture, though there are some items I can’t bear to sell. He took some today and we’ll meet up again at a later date so he can take more. Even after he does, there are about 900 boxes of books, etc. that I have no place for but don’t want to get rid of. Now who’s the pack rat?

In the Still of the Night

Bleah. Last night, I woke up at 2:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep until 6:30. I lay in bed reading The New Yorker and the New York Times* as the cats slept peacefully and cutely and I envied them. Kitties: what is your secret? Oh, yeah – having everything done for you and not a care in the world. Even the best of Gotham’s writing couldn’t completely banish the dark thoughts swirling around in my head at the bleakest part of the night.

What’s a girl to do? You can’t really have a medicinal brandy or sleeping pill at that hour, and I think we can all agree that homeopathic remedies are laughably ineffective in the face of hardcore insomnia. So I tried not to dwell on the many ickinesses the new year has already tossed in the laps of Self and loved ones. If 2009 doesn’t look out, I’m going to fire it. I was far too lenient with 2008, letting it go on in its vile ways much too long, and I have learned my lesson.

When my cell phone yanked me out of sleep an hour later, I was even more confused than I usually am. All day, I’ve felt like I had jet lag and everything has seemed slightly unreal. And surreal.

Life has simply required cocktails lately, so I think I’ll go fix one. I wish I had an umbrella to put in it. It’s the little things, you know.

*The Books section had such fabulous first editions for sale! Edith Wharton, Kay Thompson, EB White, Dr. Seuss…

Oakland Confidential

On Saturday, I went to orientation at the shelter where I spent my day of service last week (why does it seem so long ago?). I had such a good time there that I wanted to see what else I could do to help. It looks like I’ll be going twice a month to read to the children and keep them amused (!) while their mothers and staff meet. Unlike many such facilities, the residents have no curfew, have keys to the front door and their own rooms, and are involved in all discussions on running the place – hence the meetings.

During the orientation, it was made clear that we could not photograph the residents or discuss anything that happens there, due to confidentiality issues. Many of these women are trying not to be found and to put their old lives behind them, so volunteers have to make sure that they aren’t leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for the bad guys to follow to the door. So what happens there, stays there, much like Las Vegas.

It makes sense, and I’ll obviously respect their wishes, but I’m sorry that I won’t be able to share my adventures with you.

It’s funny, you know, because I’m not a kid person, but the kids really responded to me that day, and I don’t think it’s giving anything away to say that they were glad to see me again and hugs were exchanged. I’m looking forward to seeing them again and doing my bit to help out.

Food for Thought

While I was making egg salad today, it occurred to me that it was basically eggs with egg sauce. Also that it may be the only food which is ever served with, as it were, a sauce of itself. Not just egg salad (eggs being an important part of mayonnaise), but Hollandaise*, too, the most delightful part of any Eggs Benedict or Florentine. If you are a fan of Hollandaise and find yourself in the picturesque town of Fort Bragg, California, go to Egghead’s. Theirs is magically delicious. I love their freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice, too.

I make excellent egg salad, by the way. I’d tell you how, but I never measure anything when I make it. So you’ll just have to take my word for it.

As I sliced and diced, I pondered other culinary conundrums, such as why you always have to buy huge bunches of herbs, like a bridezilla’s bouquet. Wouldn’t it be great if you could buy just what you needed? I can almost never use them up and I always feel guilty, though at least I can put them in the green bin and know they’ll be composted. Maybe other herbs will grow in the leftover herb compost, completing the circle of life.

Another mystery is why the hothouse or English cucumbers always come in shrink wrap, whereas regular cucumbers don’t. Why do the English ones need condoms? I mean, they have their own skin, which should be protection enough. Shouldn’t it?

When you order a dish in a restaurant that has shrimp in it – say, for example, seafood fettucine – why does it always have the tail on? It’s an uncomfortable reminder that the shrimp in question was once swimming happily around, minding its own business, until someone yanked it out of the water and killed it so you could eat it. That makes me feel even guiltier than the composted herbs.

Apart from cruelty to small crustaceans, there is the problem of actually eating the shrimp. You can either pick it up and de-tail it, thereby getting sauce on your manicure, or you can cut it off with a knife, possibly missing out on some shrimpy goodness. It’s a problem, I tell you. At least for those with shrimpy minds.

And if you’ve been wondering what kind of wine to serve with your Cool Ranch Doritos or Krispy Kreme donut – and who hasn’t, really – here’s your answer. Enjoy in immoderation!

*Does “aise” secretly mean “egg-based” in French? Enquiring minds and unreformed linguistics majors want to know.

Local Heroes

Well, our local hero came home to a hero’s welcome today, though his speech was characteristically modest and short.

Remarkably, another local pilot also had to bring a crippled plane down on water. And if you thought the Hudson River was bad…try the middle of the Pacific Ocean, as night began to turn to day, more than 50 years ago. So much has changed in the way of computers and technology, but both these calm captains brought their craft down near a ship, which saved every single passenger and crew member, and both walked their sinking planes twice to make sure no-one in their charge had been left behind. You can (of course!) see the dramatic footage of Pan Am Flight 943’s rescue on YouTube.

Modest as both these men are, they deserve the applause. As my boss put it, “Sully will never be able to buy his own beer again.”

Raining Cats and Dogs

It’s raining a little more now than it was earlier today, and I was happy to see Henry curled up in his blanket on the couch when I closed the blinds for the evening. I wish he’d actually get under the blanket, but I guess having it at all is better than the way he spent the other winters before he had his faithful servant.

This morning, the air was just atomizing my face gently, like an Evian mister during a first class trip to France, when I ventured out to do some shopping. I didn’t realize how much I had overdone my mental provisions (the library) and physical ones (Safeway) until I started trudging up the hill towards home. My bags seemed to get heavier with every step, and the mile stretched before me. Was it getting darker? Would I be soaked to the skin before my arms fell off, or after?

As these gloomy thoughts drifted through my gloomy head, a man passed me with two dogs. I remarked on their beauty, which was considerable: one a long-legged lady, a grey and white Great Dane and the other a handsome lad, a black Lab/Shepherd mix. It turns out they are both rescue dogs, the female being fostered until a home can be found, and the male belongs to the man. We fell into a conversation, and he walked me most of the way home. My bags had magically become lighter along with the skies as all four of us walked companionably together. I hardly noticed them by the time we parted ways.

As I neared my house, I noticed a beautiful black cat sitting on a fence, gazing at me with huge, golden eyes. She stood (or sat) her ground (or fence) as I passed, telling her how lovely she was, though she clearly already knew this and accepted it as no more than her due.

It’s amazing how total strangers, human and animal, can really make your day. Even a rainy one.

Rainy Day

It’s a beautifully gloomy day today. I even had the lights on this morning. Normally, I hate the rain, and I really hate having lights on during the day – it seems so sordid and depressing. But with the record warm weather and what is supposed to be the rainiest month of the year nearly over, we need all the rain we can get.

Although it’s foggy and dark outside – I can hardly see the green freeway exit sign or the dramatic Mormon temple, high in the hills, which usually looks down on me with a certain severity – and the ground is wet enough to be mildly hazardous, it’s a slacker rain so far, just barely putting in an appearance.

If I ran things, I’d be wearing one of my many tiaras and the rain would occur after, say, 11:00 pm, when most of us are in bed or close to it, and it would rain in a soothing way, so you’d feel all cozy in bed with your feather pillows and your vintage whodunit. The rain would go away by 5:00 or 6:00 am, so your morning paper wouldn’t be wet and your commute as uncomplicated as possible. I’d be a benevolent ruler.

While waiting for the rain to get some work done out there, I looked through the refrigerator to see what needed to be used up (tomorrow is garbage day, so it’s a good day to consign inedible food to the benevolent embrace of the green bin). My father lived on the outskirts of London during WWII and endured rationing* through the war and for many long years afterwards, so he never wasted food if he could help it, and I’m the same way.

I made leftover rice into pudding (comfort food for a gloomy day), and leftover chicken breasts and green beans are being transformed into a delightful casserole, along with shallots, garlic, baby red potatoes, and tarragon I happened to have on hand. Dad would be proud.

*My father’s mother used to tell me the Story of the Eggs. She had endured months of powdered eggs during the war, and finally had the right number of stamps or whatever it was to go and get fresh eggs – one apiece for herself, her husband, and two children. She had great plans for those eggs. She took my father and aunt with her to get the precious eggs. On the way home, they were bombed, and as she lay beneath the bus with her two children at her side, she prayed, “Please, God, don’t break my eggs!” He didn’t.

Inauguration Day at Last!

Well, well. We got ourselves a new President.

I set the alarm last night with anticipation – I could hardly sleep, as if it were Christmas Eve and I were five years old again. Crawled out of bed in the early morning darkness. The kittens stayed in bed, not even bothering to bother me for breakfast. As I waited for the coffee to brew, I opened the blinds, revealing the beautiful day, which would be sunny as soon as the sun had its own coffee and got back to work.

As I watched the ceremonies in my rose-patterned PJs from the comfort of my couch (other than standing as requested for the oaths and the national anthem), I noticed that the streets were surprisingly hushed. There are a lot of windows in my living room, so I could easily see how few people and cars were out and about. The freeway even seemed quieter than usual. And once the ceremonies ended, things slowly went back to normal. It’s as if we were all holding our collective breaths until the great moment was past.

President Obama is greyer than he was at the beginning of the battle, and as he walked slowly to the podium, he seemed almost literally weighed down with the responsibilities on his shoulders. His handsome face was grave as he walked into the cold sunlight to greet his people and the beginning of a new era. His speech, of course, was breathtaking. He may be one of the greatest public speakers in recent memory. It always seems to me that he doesn’t use notes or a prompter, though I could be wrong about this. It was a speech at once realistic, stirring, and inspiring. I was deeply moved and proud.

Update: You can read the text here, or watch video of the oath – flub and all – and speech here.

I was glad the sun smiled on our new President and beautiful First Family. It seems a good omen, the dawn of a new day.

I wouldn’t be the frivolous Self you know and love if I didn’t mention how much I loved Michelle’s* outfit, down to the touches of the olive gloves and shoes. Wonderful color (lemongrass!), very stylish, a bit of a nod to that earlier White House style icon, Jacqueline Kennedy. Regal, yet playful. And I loved Jill Biden’s sexy black high heeled boots!

I’ve never been so aware of living history as I have been the past few months, and especially today, even in the days following 9/11. Though these are some of our darkest days as a country, they are also some of our most hopeful, as our new President leads us confidently forward into the future.

*I’ve been following Michelle’s looks for months at the Mrs. O website. I can’t wait to see what she wears at the Inaugural Ball

Day of Service

How could I not heed our near-President’s plea to join him and his family in a Day of Service to commemorate Dr. King’s 80th birthday? And I’m so glad I did.

I chose to lend what little skills I have to Oakland’s Elizabeth House, the culmination of one woman’s – one woman! – dream to help women and children who are homeless, victims of domestic violence, and otherwise in need of help. I was warmly greeted by the volunteer coordinator and the other volunteers, who included a sorority, a City employee, a couple of lawyers, and some high school students.

I spent some time with the high school kids, priming and painting the ceilings of two rooms, along with the tedious prep always involved. While the primer dried, I joined the others in the bright sunshine, weeding and removing drifts of leaves. We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day, but we managed to make it a little more beautiful. We filled 10 big paper Home Depot yard bags and had to resort to plastic garbage bags for the rest. I discovered that gingko trees drop fruit that becomes very spiky and surprising, especially when lurking under leaves. By the time I went back inside to finish painting, I was scratched and dirty and smelling of rosemary from taking leaves out of a bush’s fragrant branches.

When the painting was done, I went back into the sunshine to help mulch the flower beds. It looked so great when it was finished! We were joined by neighborhood kids and two of the children who live at the shelter. They had great fun raking and sweeping.

When I left, we all hugged each other and the youngest child, a little girl who more than lives up to her name of Vitality, asked me to pick her up so she could give me a kiss.

It was a wonderful day. Though I’m tired now and will definitely feel it tomorrow, I am filled with joy to have shared such a wonderful experience, to feel part of my community, and to have honored Dr. King and his message on the eve of one of the most important days in American history.

To a T

Kathleen, the belle of Motown, has gifted me with, among other things, the letter T. I have to write about 10 things I like that start with the designated letter. If you want to keep this going, and/or were too late to celebrate Delurking Day on January 12 (like I was), let me know in the comments or via email at speakall at earthlink dot net and I will bestow a letter on you. Cheaper than a knighthood, and you don’t have to dress up.

Tiara: Good thing you’re sitting down, since you will be amazed to learn that I always wanted one. Still do! I wish my mother had emotionally scarred me by entering me into premature beauty contests instead of the way she did. Then I’d have a showcase of sparkly coronets instead of a collection of neuroses. I’d almost certainly wear one every day, even when I was working or doing the dishes. Maybe especially then. As Marilyn Monroe put it so memorably in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: “I just love finding new places to wear diamonds!”

Toast: Who doesn’t love the smell (and taste) of hot, buttered toast? Not to mention cinnamon toast. Or French toast* with pure (not artificial) maple syrup? Or a toast to the occasion? What’s not to love?

Tiffany: What girl hasn’t longed for one of the distinctive blue boxes with the white bow? Can you think of Tiffany without thinking of Audrey Hepburn, so stylish and beautiful in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s (though I have always understood that it was incorrect to add the apostrophe “s”, since it is Tiffany & Company)? If you haven’t read the Capote original, do it. Do it now. I’ll wait. I’m waiting for a little blue box anyway.

Trips: The best were always with my father, who was pretty much the perfect travelling companion, planning all the details and unflappable, no matter what happened. Whereas I always hated getting there and back, but loved being somewhere new and different, or old and loved. I will never forget the many adventures we had together, in France, Italy, even Russia. I look back at buying wine from French growers; bats wheeling in the evening sky as we sat outside the château we were staying at; going three days in a row to visit the Hermitage, trying to take in its wonders; walking the quiet streets of San Gimignano after dinner in the soft autumn air; seeing Dad’s face light up when he met me at Heathrow, reaching across the barrier to enfold me in a hug.

Train: The only civilized way to travel. No metal detectors, no feel copping in the guise of security pat-downs, no need to do an awkward strip of clothes and shoes or drag one’s iBook out of its stylish case. No traffic jams, no terrifying take-offs or landings (some more terrifying than others), just scenery to admire and room to move around. Admittedly, not as gracious as it used to be, but you can still enjoy the grandeur of Grand Central Station (and its Oyster Bar). I love it that our next President took the train to Washington this weekend, following in the footsteps (or train tracks) of the great Mr. Lincoln.

Thanksgiving: The best day of the year. Gathered together with family, eating fabulous food and drinking wine (or my brother’s home-made cider) and remembering how lucky we are to have each other. There’s pie, too. And no shopping stress.

Toronto: I lived there for several years, and I have an enduring nostalgia and appreciation for it (not to mention the Leafs and the Jays). There is a neighborhood in Toronto to suit everyone. It has world-class shopping, restaurants (Dhaba and Pearl Harbourfront, I think I miss you most of all), and quality of life. While rivalling LA for urban sprawl and possibly air quality in the summer months, it is also a walking city with plenty of green spaces and good public transit (except, you know, when you’re waiting for it in the heat or cold). The people are wonderful: diverse, kind, creative. It’s like a flat San Francisco with extreme weather extremes.

Twain & Trollope: Can I put two (another T!) favorite, almost contemporaneous writers, into one? One comic, one serious, both witty. Both had ideas about social change and reflected them in their writings, which were prolific. Twain’s works need no introduction, but Trollope’s might. One of his works which is still very relevant today is The Way We Live Now. Fun fact: Trollope invented the pillar box!

Twins: Since you’re still sitting after the tiara entry, you will be in the perfect position to hear that I am, in fact, a Gemini. Gasp! My sister and I are 9 years and 9 days apart, which we think makes us some kind of twins. We are both such twins. She is the twin of my heart – the good twin. I think you know what that makes me!

Turner: Joseph Mallord William, to be precise. If you don’t know him, you should. He was an impressionist decades before Monet ever thought of it, working with light, shadow, and beauty. If you are ever in London and do not go to the Tate** to see some of his greatest paintings, or the National Gallery to see what is one of my favorites, Rain, Steam and Speed: The Great Western Railway, I’m sorry, but I just can’t be your friend anymore.

*Or “pain perdu” in actual French, which I think means “lost bread”.

**Bonus points for having lunch in the Tate’s excellent restaurant, with its exquisite mural by beautiful, doomed Rex Whistler. If I had gotten “W”, you would have gotten both Whistlers – Rex and James Abbott McNeil, of “Whistler’s Mother” fame (though I prefer his stunning Nocturnes). As it is, I almost put in “trompe l’oeil” for some of Rex’s most beautiful work, at Plas Newydd and Mottisfont Abbey. If you find yourself at Salisbury Cathedral, take the time to visit his crystal memorial crafted by his brother. You won’t be sorry – or forget it.

Splendid Shrimp

I’ve had a pretty inspired week as far as cooking goes. Though I live in a city of nearly half a million people, and my sister lives near a town of 400, we both have pretty much the same situation as far as take-out and delivery in our immediate vicinity: none. In her case, it’s literally none – the closest Domino’s, for example, is a 30 minute drive – and in my case, I could walk to the Domino’s, but I wouldn’t want to eat there. I have yet to discover any Chinese food or pizza anywhere nearby that is at all acceptable. So, like my sis, it’s pretty much make it yourself or resort to frozen, which is never as good.

It’s an endless battle between sloth and pickiness. I don’t eat beef and pork. My sister won’t eat fish or eggs. My brother is equally repulsed by mayonnaise and mustard. As a family, we may well be the pickiest in the entire US of A, though there are certain things we all agree on, such as the utter inedibility of tofu* and yogurt, and we’d have to be near death in a desert to even consider drinking milk.

So I have to be creative. The star of this week’s cooking show was definitely a recipe for grilled shrimp with charmoula sauce. I got the recipe from the LA Times while I was basking in the glories of Pasadena a couple of months ago, but only tried it this week (I’m sure the cooks among you, like me, have lots of untried recipes from newspapers and magazines – good for inspiration). I wish I hadn’t waited so long, because t was magically delicious. I’m already plotting what else I can have it with.

*Tofu advocates are always trying to convince me that it isn’t that bad. If you marinate it, barbecue it, fry it, etc., it’s fine! Which means “If you spend a lot of time removing every tofu-like quality, you may be able to choke it down after a week long fast.”

Sunny and Careless

It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood yet again. It’s beginning to make me a little nervous, frankly, as if I’m somehow going to get punished for wearing short sleeves and sandals in what should be the coldest and rainiest month in the year. When we get unusually nice weather, sooner or later people start shaking their heads and saying, “It’s earthquake weather”, even though as far as I know there has never been a correlation between nice weather and temblors. If there were, we wouldn’t still be here.

I also feel guilty thinking of my friends in the deep freeze lately, especially those without power on some of the coldest days (and nights!) of the year. Here’s hoping you see light and heat soon, and for the rest of the winter.

Possibly I was too caught up in the lovely weather to pay attention to what I was doing.

I strolled to the ATM to deposit my paycheck and then do some shopping. The ATM is oddly located in a laundromat. A casino I can see, but a laundromat? I took my card and had walked a few feet when a guy came after me with money in one hand and a German Shepherd in the other. This hardly ever happens to me, or you, either. Turns out I had put my card away, but left my money in the slot of the ATM. This guy, who could so easily have kept it until it was too late, chased after me to give it back. Remarkable, especially in these times, and I thanked him profusely. He said he hoped someone would do the same for him. He let me pet his dog, too.

It was a beautiful day.

By the Way

There isn’t usually live entertainment on the bus. When I’m not reading The New Yorker, looking out the window is usually amusing enough.

Going home from the gym, I wait near Lake Merritt, with many busy birds to watch. Canada: If you’re missing your geese, they’re right here.

The bus passes several amusingly named businesses: Fadz 2 Braidz, which is never open and has both its doors and windows barred, despite the “Open” sign in the windows and on the door; Immaculate Hair and Accessories, which has had two of its windows boarded up for months, just giving a glimpse of wigs in the remaining one; “This ‘Bud’s’ For You” (its actual punctuation), a now-vacated florist (owner in jail for badness of pun, perhaps?) and a tarot card emporium or shoe emporium – you decide. There are signs for both on the same window. Get your palm read while saving your soles? I may join Bud in pun jail for that one.

It also passes what I at first took to be a Mansion on the Hill, but on Googling (what did we ever do without it?) turned out to be an old folks’ home (what is the PC term for that?), and a slightly dilapidated one at that. The mansion is on a hill, and has suitably gothic wrought iron fence, some of which can barely contain enormous cacti, and it has its name spelled out in topiary: ALTENHEIM. I should have just let it be a mystery. Reality is never as good as fantasy.

What I find the most charming, though, is a certain garden. It’s across the road from what looks like a motel à la My Name Is Earl which has been converted to apartments. The garden itself is maybe a couple of feet wide and is right beside a freeway onramp, bathed all day in continual car exhaust. Yet it valiantly survives, complete with a scarecrow, a statue of a deer, and yes, a garden gnome. I am sure it belongs to someone in that apartment building, bringing some joy and beauty to his/her life. And anyone passing by.

School Bus

Of the many things you could say about Oakland (so completely not San Francisco; 5th most dangerous city in the country), “boring” isn’t one of them.

As I greenly boarded the bus today after a session at the gym, which is located beside scenic Lake Merritt, but is also a parking nightmare, I seemed to have interrupted a lecture already in progress. A guy with a broken leg lounged on the front seat, his cast propped up with his crutches. Beside him was a bag with a photo of George Bush taped to it, with the legend, “IMPEACH AND IMPRISON”.

He’d better hurry up.

Today’s lesson was history:

  • “Now, all you hear about is that Columbus. Columbus ain’t discovered America. Was Amerigo Vespucci! Ve-spucci!! That’s why we called “America”, fools. Amerigo Vespucci!”
  • “We sending Israel $10 million a day. Think what we could do in Oakland with just one day.” Pause. “Israel a murder state. Every day.” Reflectively: “Ten million dollars.”
  • “People don’t know this, but the second World Trade Center Tower fell first. Reason is, it got hit in the middle, and the first tower, it got hit on the shoulder. It’s like you get shot. You die faster, you get shot in the gut, than in the shoulder.”
  • “We trained Osama Bin Laden. You remember back in the 1970s, Russia invaded Afghanistan? The CIA went over and trained Osama Bin Laden, and he threw 150,000 Russians out of Afghanistan. That what he did. And that how he knows how to !@%@! with us. ‘Cause we done taught him how.”

Both my body and my mind got a workout today!

Suit Yourself

An email from a friend yesterday bemoaned the horrors of looking for a bathing suit for an upcoming trip to the sunny Caribbean. Is there a girl alive who hasn’t suffered the indignities of bad lighting and mirrors that magnify every flaw? Bathing suit shopping in its current form should be forbidden under the Geneva Convention.

If I ran a bathing suit store, here’s how it would work:

  1. Change all the sizes. If the bathing suit is really a size 12, for example, label it a 10. The shopper will try on her usual size, find it, to her delight, to be too big, and will be flooded with confidence, which is the ideal mindset for bikini shopping.
  2. The entrance to the store will have a silver tray full of individually wrapped (these could be multi-colored, and/or have the store’s logo on them) valium, together with one of those crystal jugs of water with cucumber and mint you get in spas to wash them down with. So calming! So relaxing! The vitamin V will take effect while the shopper browses the store and selects items to try on.
  3. At the entrance to the fitting rooms, there will be a little bar (maybe mirrored, or all glass) with an incredibly cute barman or two. Shoppers can then be armed with the cocktail of her choice before starting the trying trying on process. It’s like having the champagne before your plane takes off, when you really need it!
  4. The fitting rooms will be lit entirely by candlelight, which we all know is the most flattering light. There will be a little table for your drink, and a cushy velvet sofa, and soothing music in case your nerves aren’t quite calm enough (though they certainly should be). There will be a call button to summon the staff to take away the size 12 and bring you the faux size 10, and a satin robe to put on while you wait for the smaller items to be delivered. Also fashion and gossip magazines to leaf through idly as you sip your drink and ponder your mysterious, yet welcome, weight loss.
  5. The mirrors will be the most flattering possible. Maybe even a specially-designed funhouse one that makes you look thinner than you really are.
  6. There will be a car service, with a handsome chauffeur, to whisk you home with your purchases. A DUI would really kill your bikini buzz.
  7. It would be called Suit Yourself!

Warm Welcome

I had a conference call at 6:00 this morning, so I staggered out of bed in the early morning darkness. As I made coffee and tried to remember the dream I had so summarily been yanked out of by the alarm clock’s shrill voice, I noticed that the screen door of the porch was flapping maniacally in the wind.

When the call was over and it was light enough to see outside, I went out and discovered that it was warm but very windy, much as it was that day back in November. Most of my laundry had been blown off its hangers* on the porch, and the doormat was crumpled up like a used Kleenex. Henry was watching the leaves fly around in the wind with apparent distaste. I propped the screen door open with a cinderblock and it has stayed that way all day, though as I write, the front door just slammed shut, either from the wind blowing in the back door, or a poltergeist. I wonder if these warm, wild days are our version of the Santa Anas that blow through SoCal this time of year.

It ended up being a record-breaking warm day, which I enjoyed as I strolled to Farmer Joe in my t-shirt and sandals (don’t worry, there were other clothes in between). As I walked home with my fuchsia Chico bag full of Petrale sole, broccoli, and brown rice for dinner, I enjoyed the warmth of the sun on my face and thought, “Can it really be the middle of January?”

*I don’t have a clothesline, so I hang up the clothes and drape them over chairs on the porch until they’re dry. Mostly because I’m too miserly to use the dryer, but partly because clothes last longer that way. As my brother observed, when you clean out the lint trap, “That’s your clothes in there!” In addition to minimizing my PG&E bill, I have at long last discovered the solution to the mystery of the missing sock. You know, the one that somehow disappears during the laundry process. Since I stopped using the dryer, I haven’t lost a single sock. So it really is your clothes in there!