Tuesday, December 23, 2008
But she insisted. Finally the confusion was cleared up when she said, "When I said 'you,' I meant 'Bitch magazine.' I was using the royal we." The absolute inappropriateness of associating me (I've written five small articles for them) with Bitch (they've been in business 12 years) made me laugh. It was kind of fun to wear that hat for a split second, though. I became dizzy with freedom and immediately tried to think of some way to outrageously misrepresent them. My amagdyla failed me, though -- no crackpot scheme triggers.
However, the concept of the "royal we" started to get interesting. When you hear it so wildly misapplied (like when you're given credit for something with which you had nothing to do), you start to see how it pervades everything. We, as in Americans. Californians. Berkeley-ians. We as women, we as feminists.
I was in San Francisco when the 49ers won the championship for the third year in a row. Everyone was on the streets, celebrating. It was incredibly fun, super silly. Just by virtue of being in San Francisco, we all got to take credit for the win. Nothing is more random than sports team association (at least to my uneducated mind; sports fans may differ) but no royal we is quite as much fun when your team is winning.
Anyway, just made me think of how many prejudices could be eradicated if we all refused to use royal we. That's hard, though. I, for one, could no longer be the first to walk on the moon.
Friday, December 19, 2008
The dish scraper. It's a flat plastic squarish-shaped thing you use to scrape food off dishes that you're washing. During my two weeks of homelessness I reached for it a thousand times. My happiest unpacking moment was finding it again. It works on anything baked on and then it washes clean itself. No more icky cheese particles embedded in the scratchy part of your sponge.
The funny part of the dish scraper (besides how much I prize it) is that he only gave it to me because it came in a package of two. I saw it by his sink and asked what it was, and he told me I could have one. It's not like he set out to change my life or endear himself to me forever or anything.
And most boyfriend presents are like that. I mean, the stuff you remember later is always throwaway stuff like that. For instance, Josh got me a FasTrak application and made me fill it out. Every time I cross the Bay Bridge, I think a little thank you to Josh. (Who otherwise I would totally wish I'd never met.)
Same with friends and people you once worked with -- they change your life in tiny cool ways that don't seem important at the time. (Except the friend stuff keeps happening, and adds up way too fast to count.)
My last boyfriend also introduced me to Olivier Messiaen and countless other incredible composers. But it's the dish scraper that really got to me.
A friend set Sarah up with a guy who later met her at the mall. (I totally love the mall, btw. It's about so much more than shopping.) Sarah, never at a loss, quickly prepared a written test for him to complete. I begged for a printout, and I didn't even have to beg very hard.
It has the abstract painting series name: Dorkitude Test 1. She created spaces for the name, date, and period. Period. For a guy who is expected to complete this at the mall. And that's putting aside the dis inherent in asking him to enter his name, as though he's competing with throngs of other adolescent men. Her mom told me that he received a B plus.
The test features questions like "Pokemon?"
I don't even want to get into the right answer to that, let alone what counts for extra credit. The scary part is that my friend Lisa (who, each time she saw me after Thanksgiving, asked me if I had the test with me) managed to score well on most of the questions.
My favorite question, which I couldn't answer but which fully half my friends can, is:
What does nobody expect?
At least I knew the answer to life, the universe and everything.
Friday, October 17, 2008
This is a subject, btw, about which she couldn't care less. She humors me, though, and over the years has gotten better at describing each and every assignment, not forgetting to communicate her emotional reactions to each. I never fail to marvel at the bizarre range of assignments handed out to teenagers, with predictably haphazard educational results. Imagine teaching math by handing out a historical geometry problem one week, then a sample of linear algebra the next.
One month Rachel is reading a couple of Shakespearian sonnets, the next a story by Kafka, and then the next month I forget to ask her anything because I'm sidetracked by her little sister's report that she just finished Lucky by Alice Sebold.
Rachel told me she was assigned Harlem by Langston Hughes. One of my favorite poems from high school. "What happens to a dream deferred!" I yelled. "Yeah," she said. "Exactly."
She sounded oddly defensive. Slowly, deliberately (rare for Rachel, who usually delivers her opinions with the force of a half ton truck) she said, "Some people in the class thought that meant what happens when you're woken up in the middle of a dream."
I laughed. She didn't. But before I noticed that, I asked, "And did you make fun of those people?" Short silence. Then, "Um, no. Because we were given the poem with no background whatsoever. So you could intepret the poem that way."
"So, Rachel, did you interpret the poem that way?" Note my expert phrasing -- like a psychiatrist who is trained never to ask when these "delusions" began. She admitted that she had led her focus group in this interpretation. Not only that, she was mad at both the teacher and visiting poet, who both insisted that she was wrong.
Rachel was a tad annoyed with me as well. I apologized, but explained that...well, I couldn't actually come up with an explanation. Nobody had to tell me about the Harlem renaissance in order for me to just know that Hughes was discussing goal-type dreams, not sleepy-time ones. But A Raisin in the Sun was only 15 years old, and my generation was closer to the civil rights movement. Hers, I realized as we talked, is closer to a thousand varieties of sci fi and psychologically-focused TV shows and movies. But is that sufficient to explain how almost an entire class (it wasn't just Rachel!) of 16-year olds can believe that a historical poem was written about absolutely nothing?
Nothing. A whole poem about where your interrupted dream goes when you wake up. Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Does it sag like a heavy load? The real question is: how on earth did these people fail to realize that Hughes was talking about something more important than whatever comes to mind while you're stoned?
I later asked her about the nothingness of that interpretation. She even debated that! And pretty convincingly, I might add. She said it was a fascinating, amazing, interesting question. How do all those dreams end? Where do they go? What happens in your brain?
For a second I forgot all my "what's gone wrong with this generation?" sorrow and got caught up in that intellectual puzzle. But then I regained my dignity. For one thing, those kinds of dreams aren't "deferred," they just vanish. And for another thing, try being black in 1951.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
So far, it's way fun. I haven't read further than the English part of the basic (not the Subject) GRE, so all my observations are relegated to sentence completion, analogies, antonyms, and reading comprehension. Maybe when I move on to fractions I won't be as infatuated.
I'm struck by a couple of things: The first is how amazingly clever their test-taking strategies are. The second is how unnecessary strategy is if you have any type of schooltest vocabulary at all. Certain words will always, always be on a test, and they will always be defined certain ways. Catholic never means religion, always means eclectic. In the outside world, malinger means to pretend to be sick to get out of work. But in testland, it has to mean "pretend to be sick" or "get out of work." Not both, because that's too complicated.
Other words live for standardized tests and simply don't exist anywhere else. Mendicant means begging, not to be confused with mendacity, which means lying. Pugilist is a boxer; pugnacious just means argumentative. None of these are viable outside the test womb.
The thing is, I learned all that crazy vocab for the SAT. So, um, everyone else must have, too -- or just gotten a low SAT score. I mean, most people take the GRE about five years after they take the SAT. They really aren't going to learn words like obstreperous in college, because nobody talks that way. So whatever SAT score they got, that's their GRE score. If they're studying in college at all, they don't have time to learn all the useless stuff they'll need for the GRE. Making the GRE the weirdest test this side of high school.
I guess, from what everyone says, I expected it to be incredibly hard. Like qualitatively, as well as quantitatively, more difficult than the SAT. I don't know what I thought they were planning to test on -- my grasp of Deconstructionism or New Criticism. But my ability to understand two to four reading passages just doesn't seem...worth testing.
Not that I've taken so much as a single scored sample test, but hey, who says pride goeth before a fall? The one thing I'm sure of is that I'm not patient enough to employ the fantastic strategies outlined in my study book. Identify the parts of speech, eliminate terms that don't have opposites, memorize trigger words...each algorithm takes about six hours to execute. So much faster to simply, um, read.
Now, let's see if they have any workarounds for the quadratic equation.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
[17:57] janetm: My doctor hugged me.
[17:59] kevin_d: i've never been hugged by a doctor before
Kevin's response made me realize that I've never been hugged by a doctor before either. (I mean, not in any medical capacity -- friends and boyfriends don't count.) This morning when it happened, I thought it was sweet. But now I've had 12 hours for every possible implication to sink in, and I'm a little unsettled.
She hugged me right after ordering tests for a previously totally-unsuspected-by-me serious illness. Could the two incidents be connected somehow?
I'm overwhelmed by the old-timey experience of a doctor finding something wrong during a regular checkup. Even more retro, there was no special exam equipment involved -- she just touched me, I winced involuntarily, and before I knew it a lab tech was drawing blood from both arms and explaining to me how many different liver functions they needed vials for.
So. I was planning to blog all about my dormant fascination with "girls holding machine guns" porn, a subject I never before believed required a certain level of cheerfulness -- but now I'm not sure I'm in the mood. Still, there's nothing like post-apocalyptic porn to take your mind off your problems.
It was the Sarah Palin photo (photoshopped, in a bikini, holding a gun) that made me think about gun porn. Topless tanned women standing in the wilderness, wearing nothing but army pants and shooting machine guns at unpictured (hopefully man-made) targets. It's weird that even though it's such a standard porn image, no one seems to know what to call it. I've interrogated all my friends, male and female, and the reaction is the same across the board:
1. What is "gun" porn?
2. That does nothing for me.
Leading me to believe that gun porn needs a better brand name than I can think of, and that most people are insane (you know, or maybe I'm the one) not to be seduced by something so appallingly, shockingly, offensively sexy.
Bare breasts, people! Flexed biceps! Pine trees! Mad skills! It's so Sarah Connor. What's not to like? I tried several different search terms and came up with lots of sites dedicated to naked women with guns, but none of them quite got the aesthetic right. Don't even talk to me about handguns. You can't heave a handgun. And indoors? If civilization is still intact, then how irresponsible are you to risk gun-related accidents?
Plus, that bikini has nothing to do with armed warfare. You're fully clothed; it isn't even porn! Conversely, complete nudity means you really have nowhere to sit down. Pebbles and twigs are a big part of our dystopian bare-breasted future. Also, if you're not wearing your standard-issue army pants, what is there left to rip from your passionate, live-in-whatever-present-we-have-left body?
Gun porn is executed (little pun there) so badly that I guess I shouldn't be surprised at its unpopularity. However, the fact that no one I know -- and I know a lot of kinky people -- is at all interested in violent, threatening images interspersed with images of sexy chicks has made me wonder alternately, "what's wrong with me?" and "what other creepy thing are they into?"
I might have to wait until the next presidential election to find out.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
OK, I looked at the band website, a couple of videos and reviews of the music. So....
-hot, hot and did I say, smoking HOT
-his musical taste does not suck
-my porn film fantasy seems very workable
-he does not sound like a jerk or a fool
-video: he does not look silly (in fact, did I not say "hot")
-bandmate/former girl friend w/whom he still gets sweaty
-website: language skills and punctuation; photo still of cassette tape in the discography (much like tired 1990s stills of LPs or 45s. Did it used to be photos of Victrolas?)
-choice of Prince over Pavement (musical icons, not political/socio-economic ideologies)
possible tie breakers:
-his ability to pick amongst the vast minefield of white denim and emerge relatively unscathed
-his wearing of white denim
Are you serious? This is a seething, steaming heap of man-shaped lava with which to form all of your rock chick fantasies. If I were only so lucky.
Be there, aloha!
Whatever, my whole plan to swear off men (temporarily) has gone awry. The last vestige, which is that I don't quite care if anything works out or not, still remains. But I imagine that, too, will soon dissolve on contact. Anyway, potential imaginary men started appearing out of nowhere.
The first was a guy I met briefly at a party, then later found out could be the future love of my life. (This is based on my friend's scientific evaluation of his personality plus the fact that I like his glasses.) You'll start to understand the theoretical sense in which I use the term "boyfriend" when I explain that party guy, with whom I've spent 97 seconds, is the most physically incarnate of the group.
Second on the list is a guy who was described by two different friends as, "Weird. Boring. And geeky." followed by, "Hey, I think you'd really like him." He brings to the table (and remember, this is all in my mind) a dull stability that simultaneously repels and attracts me. Plans to get together with him were placed on indefinite hold when I found out that he frequents this hippie dance event at Ashkenaz. (I told a coworker, "This is sheer prejudice, but I imagine unhygenic old men using dance moves as an excuse to cop a feel." Her response was, "I've been to that event. Your description is spot on.")
The third came about when I decided that I should be offered more choices than dull hippie stability, and demanded that a male friend of mine find me a single guy from the literally hundreds he has access to daily. He accepted the challenge with the assertion, "Don't worry. We'll find you the keys to a shiny new Australia." It took me a few minutes to realize this was a reference to Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-Long Blog. Mr. Shiny doesn't even earn a "theoretical" rating -- he's still in the hypothesis stage. But although no particular instance of him yet exists, the possibility of an infinite number of instances -- each with his own unique characteristics -- is really reassuring.
This brings us to Rock Star. A couple of weeks ago my friend Eve decided that the cure for her work-induced depression was to surf CL for, first, men in her area and then second, for men in my area. (To be fair, I think she was trying to decide if the differential was worth moving back for.) That's how she found Rock Star, who sounded perfect for me.
She based this on two things:
1. He likes long walks. Because that's so unusual for men in personals ads.
2. He's 33, and likes older women. My guess is that's code for "I like sex" but I thought I'd humor Eve and reply.
Then that whole "I forgot to set forwarding from my alternate email account" thing happened, so for a while I thought he just didn't write back. Then the light bulb came on in my head, I checked my alternate email, and I found three messages from him. Three charming bland misspelled messages. The second contained the information that he was in a band. (Uhh, "Delete.")
The third contained a link to a youtube interview of him. I clicked, hoping to find comedic material to share with Eve, and there he was, all Cobain-looking and inarticulate. Then I clicked one of his music videos, which was eerily sexy and danceable and innocently playful all at the same time. The thing is, I wasn't sure who I was more attracted to, him or the girl singing next to him. Turns out she's his ex girlfriend.
After about a half hour of watching him play shirtless guitar, watching her writhe around him singing about sex, and then reading articles about how they are the best band in the Bay Area, I sent him my nerdiest photos with the message that we were from very different worlds. But apparently Rock Star has a quiet side. He still eagerly wants to meet.
Last night I told all this to my friend Wendy. Her reaction was, "This sounds like a prank. Or maybe an art project."
Maybe an art project. I'm beginning to think my friends are not...never mind.
Anyway, I sent Wendy off to youtube where she spent the next three hours alternately masturbating and calling back to tell me how I was obligated, on behalf of all womankind, to fuck this guy, art project or no. I was a little surprised, because normally Wendy is Man's Harshest Critic. But band boys are her weakness. I still idolize her for her makeout session with the guy from Counting Crows.
So for this week (while my new boyfriend is on tour) we're pondering the mystery of why a guy who can clearly have anyone he wants (hey, I read those girls' comments on Yelp) currently wants me. I'm guessing there's a serious personality flaw there somewhere. Thankfully, meaningless fictional sex makes personality flaws irrelevant.
Whatever, I'm grateful to him for reawakening the life-affirming playful sexual part of me. Because even if he never shows up for coffee, I still have all his videos.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
First, buy a food processor. They're tiny, they're easy to clean, and they're at Long's for $14.00. I went a little nuts on that part of the recipe and kinda pureed the onions -- hey, I've never processed food before. It's fun!
You also need a pressure cooker. I already had one ($10 on sale at Macy's, thank you very much) thanks to Melanie.
I know you're supposed to list ingredients in the order they're used, but I think a different logical grouping works better for this recipe.
1 bag frozen peas
2 chopped yellow potatoes
1 yellow onion
about the same amount ginger root
1/2 jalapeno pepper (or not)
5 cloves garlic
1 bunch cilantro
2 t cumin seeds
5 cardamom seeds
5 whole cloves
1 t curry
1 1/2 t tumeric
2 t coriander powder
2 t cumin powder
1 C water
3 T canola oil
1/2 - 1 t salt
Chop all this, then put in food processor until finely diced:
1 yellow onion
1/2 jalapeno pepper (or not)
5 cloves garlic
1/4 - 1/2 C ginger root
Put in the pressure cooker (no lid) until seeds pop a little:
3 T canola oil
2 t cumin seeds
5 cardamom seeds
5 whole cloves, and the onion mix. Cook until onions are translucent.
2 tomatoes, then puree in food processor. Add to onion mix.
1/2 t salt
1 t curry
1 1/2 t tumeric
2 t coriander powder
2 t cumin powder
Stir, then add:
1 c water
1 bag frozen peas
2 chopped yellow potatoes
Stir, put the top on the pressure cooker, and then cook on med heat for 20 minutes.
Add fresh cilantro to serve. (About a 1 bunch, but whatever looks right to you.)
I googled for aloo mutter recipes, and apparently no two are alike. But this one is easy and delicious and vegan, so there's really no need to look further. One subversive thing I did was to add garbanzo beans in order to make it a main dish instead of a side dish. (More protein.)
Postscript: Just ate my first rendition for dinner. A few glitches in the execution, but it was yummy.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
I hadn't yet graduated to looking at the names of the films (they're in Hindi anyway, so why bother?) or keeping track of the actors and directors (um, I don't do that for American films, I'm not about to start with people who don't even appear in the Enquirer). So I spent about a half hour trying to understand the Hindi lyrics to the film's mesmerizing theme song. I finally went to the song index in order to replay the song, and found, to my surprise, that the lyrics I was looking for were the song's title. I then googled the song's title and found -- hey, coincidence! -- the song was named after the film. Huh.
All right, so now I plan to look at the film titles first thing. For now, I can't get Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (translated as Something's Happening) out of my mind. There's a line spoken by Inara in Firefly, when she's describing the city she grew up in. "Pictures can't capture it." Corny as it sounds, that's how I feel about Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. I can't describe its charm; you have to see it.
Frivolous stuff first: OMG this movie is so sexy.
The lead, Shahrukh Khan (I can't help myself, he's been in two out of the three Bollywoods I've watched, I had to learn his name) meets two women in college. They both fall in love with him (sorta like half of India and, as of last week, me). He's best friends with one, falls in love with the other. So they dance around the Scottish countryside of all places (and no, the movie isn't set there) singing the aforementioned song. (The "something" that is happening is that they're all hot for each other.)
The thing is, when they sing the title lyrics, they each have a different way of shivering with excitement. Shahrukh has this rugged vulnerability about him, all dimples and smiles and bashful turns of the head. And I'll just fail at describing the exotic dance moves that had me reeling.
Okay, next: Saris! (Yes, we're still on "sexy.") At one point, Sharukh wins a one-on-one basketball challenge against Kajol by secretly yanking at her sari to make it come undone. Then, when he high-fives her after the win, he grins and yanks it again.
What woman is immune to that kind of assertive expert sex play? Seriously, I'm surprised the population of India hasn't overtaken that of China if this is how they do sex. But the sari scene that really got to me was when the wind caught Kajol 's scarf, and Shahrukh tried to avert his eyes from her bare belly.
Changing the subject from sex for a moment, this film was yet another tender mix of the funny and sad; yet another rumination on the nature of love. In the West, we just fall in love, we don't think about what love is. In Bollywood, people dance around and sing and philosophize about it.
Stuff I noticed, in no particular order:
Okay, I know India is a sexist society. I know that. But that sexism totally doesn't come across in Bollywood (and by "Bollywood," I mean the three movies I've seen). Women are equals; in school, in parenthood, in work, in education, in marriage. In this particular film, they can even be tomboys.
At one point in the film, Shahrukh says that his father taught him to bow to only three women. (Only three? In the US, we can't even nominate one for president.) They are his mother, his wife, and the goddess Durga. Imagine an American man talking about bowing to his mom, let alone God in feminine form.
And another thing. Men get to dress in pretty colors and dance down the aisle at their weddings. None of this stodgy wearing black and standing around waiting for the bride. I love that splash of femininity in a masculine body -- androgyny is so sexy. Shahrukh, who is not exactly my type, totally grew on me with all his flirtatious mannerisms.
But today I heard about Hrithik Roshan, so my loyalties may soon be divided.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
There were obstacles to overcome -- whereas I was always encouraging Sequoia to sneak a lick at Leela's toes, Mrs. Chandra was ever-vigilant for signs of any developing dingo/baby scenarios. My idea was to remove both baby and dog from the mix, and ask her to teach me to cook.
Melanie not only approved my plan, she immediately got busy implementing it. Mrs. Chandra was sitting at the dining room table with her head bent over some papers when we launched our attack. After being made aware of our intentions, she informed us that she'd be cooking dinner in 5 minutes and that I was welcome to watch.
I wandered into the kitchen, where tiny bowls of pre-chopped onions, garlic, and ginger were set out on the counter. This was going to be so, so cooking show. When Mrs. Chandra came in, I asked her about the papers she had been working on. Pay dirt: a Bollywood screenplay.
I was dimly aware that Vikram's mom was somehow involved in Bollywood films, but I didn't know she wrote screenplays. I asked her to tell me the plot while she cooked. Most people, when confronted with that kind of challenge, would mumble a few disclaimers and try (unsuccessfully, if I'm involved) to change the subject. But Vikram's mom rocked on.
She started with the star-crossed lovers... [plot description removed by censors] ... and that's where I say, "and that's the end?" Mrs. Chandra suppressed a laugh, shook her head, and said, "No, that's not the end." Then she spent the next 45 minutes weaving an incredibly complex and rich story, complete with dialogue, while at the same time concocting a delicious aloo mutter dinner. I alternated, "What's the English name of that spice?" with "And then what happened?"
Melanie later told me that Bollywood movies are three hours long. Which explains all the plot twists. The nature of the plot twists, however, was something you almost can't find in American film. Everything hinged on conversations. And not just conversations in which new information is revealed. Characters expounded upon different ways of looking at the same thing.
[Some more really interesting plot description removed by censors -- this is oh, so WWII foreign correspondent and all that.] ... and believe me, when Mrs. Chandra looked up from her pressure cooker, gazed into my eyes, and recited that line...well, there wasn't a dry eye in the kitchen.
Several dozen subplots later, and I'm fascinated by how romantic love and familial love are presented -- not as warring factions, but as extensions of each other. In the West, our parents couldn't be more annoying or expendable. In Bollywood, all kinds of love are different shades and expressions of the same thing. This makes the Romeo and Juliet plot far more interesting. For us, the lovers have no internal conflict -- their whole problem consists of climbing the trellis without getting caught. But Bollywood aches with anguishing dilemmas. Way, way more fun.
After Bollywood Chef, I did two things:
1. Decided that a reality cooking show in which contestants are required to tell a story as they prepare a dish is the best idea ever.
2. Rented some Bollywood movies.
I had nothing to go on but the Netflix 5-star ratings, so my first film was a hip, trendy comedy. Again with the thousand subplots, the "let's look at this situation another way" conversations, the importance of family...this time combined with the latest fashions and a bizarre take on U.S. culture. (Apparently, we're defined in large part by our black gospel music.)
It was great, and then suddenly it turned ugly. The hero is dying (heart trouble! again!) and gets the heroine to marry some other dude (what's with the "arranged love is always deeper" thing?) and suddenly everything is somber. We're fast-forwarded 20 years to listen to the heroine reminisce with her little sister about the dead guy. The upshot is that you always remember your first love. But the last lines are something about how most people become best friends with the person they marry, and how she was lucky enough to marry her best friend.
I'm so totally a proponent of arranged marriage now. Wendy had to remind me about the bride-burning thing.
This is an aside, but there was a great narrative technique in the film that I'm having trouble making sense of. At one point, the girl is talking to a friend about how much she loves the first guy. He's still alive at this point. The camera pans, and we see him in the background, listening. He's not actually there -- it was sort of, "if he could hear this, here's how he would react." Completely unnecessary, because we already know he's in love with her and has decided to find her a husband who has more than 27 minutes left to live.
And yet...it was an effective technique. It heightened the pathos of the scene. Here they are, both in love, but divided. If only they could express their love to each other! I'm a total sap for romantic stuff, but what freaked me out is how fast I understood the grammar. I've never even seen an effect anything like that, and it would be laughed out of Western films. And yet I got it immediately, no translation needed . How can something so crazy work so well?
Not sure how many 3-hour musicals it will take before I want to hire a hitman to blow up every Bollywood studio. But for now, I'm all about that tragi-comic passion.
Friday, July 11, 2008
Oops, wait, no that was a copy/paste from work. She actually said:
Your last post made me think of this:
Forty percent of urban driving is for trips that are under two miles. Easy bike-riding distance. If we can make biking safer and more pleasant, like it is in Amsterdam, we can seriously cut down on our dependence on foreign oil.I thought she was linking to some boring article that would take 6 pages to say what she said in 2 sentences. But no! Eve's too cool to link to anything that dull! In reality, it's a site that will map a two-mile circumference from your zip code, so you can magically see all the places you can easily bike or walk to.
I absolutely love this. Wendy and I are always talking about how misleadingly small Berkeley is. Wendy's infamous for driving "totaled" cars that quite often need to be pushed or towed to their destination. So she's an expert on the AAA 5-mile tow limit, which is almost impossible to exceed in Berkeley and North Oakland.
My friend Daan, who's all into triathlons and water polo and stuff, told me he had friends who trained for a marathon each Saturday. They had big trouble finding the requisite 13 miles or more to run. So on Saturdays, he'd see them all over town and on the trails, and even taking breaks at cafes...they popped up everywhere.
Amazing to think that people used to do nothing but walk here. I sometimes wish we could simulate our environment as it was pre-1849. When I'm in Temescal, I often think about the native Americans who were steam bathing there before Europeans showed up and set up the slightly unsavory Hot Tubs of Berkeley.
Anyway, this whole thing has inspired me to get a beater bike and see if Sequoia can successfully run alongside. Okay, maybe not "this whole thing" -- in particular, Michael inspired me when he said, "You should get a beater bike and see if Sequoia..."
I haven't owned a bike since my last one was stolen years ago. Fun fact: that happened after a party I went to in SF, where a friend of mine met her husband. Last week I was at her house, celebrating her husband's birthday, and ran into a guy I had met at that same party and briefly dated what seems like eons ago. He's still biking everywhere (and restoring creeks, and being in general an asset to society) -- and seeing him reminded me of how much I used to love cycling.
Clearly, the universe is telling me I need a Schwinn.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
He or she (not sure who bunnie is) does a bunch of math and produces a graph and everything, until you're bamboozled into thinking that bunnie is way more wise than anyone you've ever met. I was about to hand over all my worldly goods to the bunnie god until I read:
"There are some important policy implications of this. Relatively small MPG improvements in the most gas-hungry vehicles pay off greater than larger improvements in already efficient cars (hence, it does make sense to offer tax breaks for modest improvements in SUVs versus tax breaks for hybrids, which typically replace already gas-efficient sedans)."
I'm going to skip right over what hybrids "typically replace," despite the fact that bunnie doesn't bother to back up this statement. The whole concept of "replacing" a car only makes sense from the perspective of an individual owner, not from the point of view of the car. (Gettin' all Einsteinian on you there.)
A car has the same lifespan -- for example, about 30 years -- whether it's owned by one or one hundred people. So if someone replaces an SUV, that SUV is still out there, polluting at large, under the auspices of a different driver. Public policy (unless it's really radical and calls for the destruction of existing cars) can't control the old car you're "replacing." But the new car you buy will hang around for about 30 years, too. So do you encourage people to buy a new, slightly less inefficient SUV? Or a new, more efficient hybrid?
The answer depends on what people's buying patterns are. Gas mileage and price are two considerations, but there are lots of others: safety, size, utility, looks, penis size or lack thereof... so a price adjustment (via a tax break) has to outweigh a bunch of unrelated concerns.
For example, I could drive a bike if it weren't for my dog. But all that communing with nature we do requires copious CO2 emissions. If I were to buy a new car, I'd get the most fuel-efficient one I could afford that I could stuff my dog into. Are we still talking about tax breaks? Or are we now talking about how wide (or narrow) the selection of fuel-efficient cars is?
SUV drivers are always talking about things like safety, having a car mass that can outsmash your car mass, seeing over the less important cars, fitting their over-privileged IVF children into the back, and finding time to vote Republican. So it's true that science has yet to discover the tax break that would get them to switch over to a Prius.
Does that mean we should offer them a tax break for a slightly less obnoxious SUV? Or does it mean that we should offer a tax break for whatever level of fuel efficiency we want hanging around for the next 30 years, and let the car manufacturers figure out how to design that level into an SUV? (Maybe "let" is too passive a verb -- manufacturers can be offered incentives as well.)
If you really can't make the gas guzzlers much more efficient, then sure, maybe tax breaks are the way to go. Making that incentive hinge on which car you're replacing is a preposterous complicated paperwork mess, rife with opportunities to cheat. And only relevant if we want to make sure to encourage the people of the future to keep exchanging up, so that the gas guzzlers are slowly deprecated over time. (Due to consumer pressure on manufacturers to keep turning out more efficient, tax-break worthy cars -- so that each year the whole fleet is slightly better than the previous year.)
But you could make the amount of the tax break dependent on the fuel efficiency of the new car. For example, you could offer a tax break on SUV A (that gets 30 miles a gallon), a smaller one on SUV B (that gets 15 miles a gallon), and none on SUV C (that gets 10 miles a gallon).
Although...if buyers were educated that buying B instead of C saves them about 350 gallons a year, do we really need the tax breaks? Seems like all we'd need to do is point out that SUV B also comes with a Homer Simpson-sized beverage holder.
Monday, June 23, 2008
The conversation devolved into a discussion of the various merits, or lack thereof, of Nick Jonas vs. Joe Jonas, two movie "stars" I've never heard of. As usual, Rachel tried to patiently explain to Alice how far her judgment had erred. Alice defended her case by jumping up and down and yelling, "But Nick is so sexy!"
If you've ever tried to elicit information from kids, you'll understand why it took me 45 minutes to establish that Nick and Joe are brothers who together form a boy band (I learned later that there are actually three brothers, but the oldest, much like Merrill Osmond, isn't worth anyone's consideration). Nick (and I gathered, also Joe, although this wasn't immediately apparent) was in a Disney channel movie about, guess what, a boy band. Not their own boy band, mind you. A fictional one. (Which is why it took me a while to understand that they themselves are also a boy band,)
Alice's beloved was the main focus of our conversation. He was described alternately as having "sexy curly hair" and "the face of a dweeb" depending on which sister was talking. After about 20 minutes of this, Joe was introduced as the "cool, long-haired one" with chiseled features and a perpetual squint. Somewhere along the line I was told that I'd be more attracted to Nick, since I like geeks. The sting of the implied insult paled in comparison to the stark terror I felt envisioning myself attracted to any teenage boy whatsoever.
But my complete disinterest in underage boys was dismissed and my binding arbitration was demanded as the girls took their battle to the Internet. Before I knew it, I was staring at a screen-size photo of two overly-made-up boys who bore an eerie resemblance to both Donny Osmond and each other. It was true that Nick had curly hair. But I suspected their business manager had ordered Joe to get his chemically straightened in order to attract more segments of the teen girl demographic.
I was summarily booed down when I pronounced my verdict that the photos were of possibly the same person wearing different outfits. But when I mentioned that they both were wearing too much stage makeup, Rachel made the interesting confession that she loves eye shadow on men. (I guess that should've been obvious from her longstanding crush on Johnny Depp.)
Somewhere along the line I found out that the Jonas brothers are fundamentalist Christians who wear purity rings and sing about God, but both girls vowed not to let that interfere with their fantasy lives.
All this got me thinking. The way they took charge of their own fantasies was impressive -- add a little eye shadow here, remove a promise ring there -- these girls simply refused to accept the proffered "role model" relationship. Instead of reconsidering their beliefs to accommodate a cute boy, they reshaped the cute boy to accommodate their own idiosyncratic tastes.
Since the Jonas boys are bound to be in rehab long before Rachel and Alice finish college, it makes sense to just relegate them to the job of eye candy and leave their personalities outside the masturbation session. I'm just not sure I was as confident at their age. (Although I did manage to shove aside Donny's whole Mormon thing, so maybe I cooler than I thought. Says the woman who had a crush on Donny Osmond.)
I wanted to tell them about Mortified, a collection of teen diary excerpts I'm reading right now. There are lots of entries by girls involving imaginary sexcapades with Duran Duran or porn film scripts starring Christie Brinkley. And even real romances with real boys. I was struck by the difference between how people generally describe female sexuality and these incredibly private unbridled accounts of real sexual feelings.
But I couldn't talk about stuff like that with Rachel and Alice! Ironically, the stuff written by girls their age is way too steamy for girls their age. Random hookups, polyamory, verboten power fantasies -- it's all there, complete with designer underwear. Proving that real women -- even 12 year old girls -- are just as slutty and visually stimulated and insensitive to romance as men. Not since The Diary of Anne Frank have I read anything as unabashedly, charmingly, subversively sex-positive.
Which is why it's still underground.
Friday, June 20, 2008
"Can I ride my bike to work?"
"Is there traffic on the 24?"
And the best question ever…
"Will my dog get stolen?"
I had a question of my own. How does this woman get herself dressed in the morning? My responses to her, in order, were:
1. Check Google maps.
2. Depends on when you drive.
3. Take your meds.
This experience made me think about what types of questions annoy me. Like the preposterous dog question. Anything outrageously paranoid (except my own extremely cogent fears) bugs me. (Obviously, after talking to the freakshow I had to check the dog theft statistics - the chance of her dog being burgled is 000.1%. )
But the worst thing about the dog theft question is that answering it requires me to predict the future. I'm no risk assessment specialist. In fact, I have trouble even calculating simple cause-and-effect. I always think that nothing bad will ever happen, no matter how much I tempt fate. Shampoo my hair while talking on my cell phone? Electronics are notoriously hardy! Forget to water my plants for three weeks? Pour extra water on the shriveled leaves and watch them burst back into life like sea monkies!
The bike-to-work question is maddening for the dense mass of personal variables it presents. Does she have time? Does she mind busy streets? How far does she usually ride? Notice that she didn't ask for information upon which to base her decision. She asked me, a complete stranger, to simply make the decision for her.
I used to have a friend (emphasis on "used to") who asked questions like this all the time. She once borrowed some ibuprofen from me and asked, “How many should I take?”
I haven’t read an analgesic label since I was twelve, which is when I realized that you can pretty much take as few as you like or as many as you dare.
She also once asked me if she should wear a helmet skiing. Normally, I would say that wasn't necessary. But it was hard enough taking care of her when she had all her faculties. I seriously didn’t want to deal with her after a head injury.
I even hate the “Where’s the bathroom?” question in a restaurant. It’s in the back. Probably near, or possibly through, the kitchen. Or in chain restaurants like Chevy's, it’s by the telephones near the front entrance.
I mean, intuit, people!
Any question that requires me to put myself in someone's paranoid, indecisive, stranger-to-inductive-reasoning shoes makes me want to forcibly show the questioner how to create a flow chart.
That said, last week I asked Lisa how much curry to put in my curry.
Sunday, April 6, 2008
Last time I did this resulted in a coup for Wendy. I systematically stockpiled every single book on lesbianism I could find (including, So, You Want to Be a Lesbian) while she went about her way browsing the detective novels, blithely unaware. At the last minute before checkout, I dumped the lesbian books on the counter and asked the guy to put them on her card. (I'm almost always sans library card, for reasons too numerous to go into here.)
Predictably, I was several weeks late returning the books. Which meant that next time she went to the library, the sexy butch librarian who rules the Piedmont branch with an iron fist "spoke" to her about them. Sure, she had to pay fifty cents, but that's a small price for the patronage of such a powerful figure.
This time, though, it didn't work out so well. The librarian called across the room, "Is this your Goldie Hawn biography? Miss?" As Wendy frantically tried to figure out how to believably claim it was "for a friend."
It was all worth it for me, though, as I struggled to answer the question: how is Goldie not embarrassed about herself? For years I've wondered this. I see her on TV every now and then, saving elephants or telling us to recycle or talking about her screenplay in which a widow travels to India and is visited by the ghost of her dead husband. How can she not want to crawl into a hole in the ground? The sheer existence of Goldie in the world is a justification for hari kari.
And yet she continues. Nay, flourishes. I wanted to know her secret. Apparently it all boils down to being not all that bright. Still, I'm glad I read the book because she seems to be an incredibly loving person. (I thought that about Paula Abdul, too, because she was once nice to Wendy in line for the women's room at a restaurant -- and boy, was I wrong about her.) But Goldie (her actual, honest to gosh name) seems to be without snobbery or affectation.
She did have some cool things to say about success making you feel estranged from your family, and how success engenders jealousy and guilt -- all the stuff that people who change classes or cultures go through. Apparently nine years of analysis helped her deal. But besides that (not surprisingly, in retrospect) Goldie has very little to teach us.
Whatever, I still liked Foul Play.
Alice's explanation consisted of atoms walking down Telegraph Avenue and being spare-changed by other atoms who needed electrons. (How do they teach chemistry in other cities?) Then she started on covalent bonds and Group Zero and the second-to-last electron shell in transition metals until I was out of my depth.
I was freaking out that an 8th grader knew more chemistry than I did, until I remembered that my high school Science for Poets class focused on the metric system (all the vogue back then, when there still seemed to be a chance we'd convert) and the properties of light. In fact, my teacher was strongly against any attempt to memorize the Periodic table. I honestly think we would've been marked down for it.
Add to that that quarks weren't invented until I was seven, that I got my chem credits by reading Lavoisier at a liberal arts college, that I dropped out before I got to P Chem, and there you have it: an ignoramus. I suddenly had a magnitude more of sympathy for my mom, who never really learned division, decimals, or angles properly because she skipped fourth grade. When I was in high school she asked me what a 45-degree angle was. "People are always talking about it," she said. I used the kitchen clock to demonstrate, and she freaked out with excitement. 90 degrees! 60 degrees! Who knew?
Anyway, Alice has renewed my interest in basic chemistry. Which means I've been reading tons of crazy web explanations on the subject. Can I just say that I now have an inkling about why the U.S. lags in science? Even if I ignore the typos, I have to wade through incomprehensible grammar and meandering explanations.
Example: "When going about their natural lives, you will never (never say never because there may be an exception) find the inert gases bonded with other elements."
What the fuck does that mean? Is there a known exception or not? And since when is it okay to change the subject from "they" to "you" mid-sentence? Damn science geeks. And don't get me started on "Bronze was one of the first alloys crated by humans." Is anyone even proofreading?
But whatever, I'm fascinated by this whole carbon-14 thing. After I learn this stuff, I'm on to looking for a YouTube video of Nightmare on Puberty Street, which Rachel told me about in not at all enough detail.
Saturday, April 5, 2008
These excerpts are from this week only -- if I'd gone back two weeks, I'd have emails about hot naked handymen, webkinz hijinks, and God only knows what from Eve (whose coworker wears his 11 year old daughter's black velvet dress to work as a t-shirt).
Still, it's entertaining enough:
"I was thinking about installing an anchor in the ceiling, problem is, I'd need to take out the chandelier in the living room... I'm not sure it is really necessary, though. There are better environments for practicing this sort of stuff."
"i told you it's because the overall volume of oxygen exceeds that of hydrogen because the hydrogen molecules are a lot smaller than oxygen ones. are you bringing sequoia over on monday?"
"While in South Africa I re-outlined the serial killer story and I'm trying to complete it."
"Really, when you think about it, who has just one pair of shoes, or just one coat? And yet, we expect to get by on just one pair of glasses?"
"Another way to compute it is with the formula for the binomial coefficient of (7 choose 2) and then add 7. I probably shouldn't explain that formula in too much detail, but its the number of ways to choose K things from a set of N possibilities, without repeating any choice.
"I put Clio’s pills in with the meat in 4 bags for 4 mornings."
"Python? Python is a mishmash of design features from other languages, crammed together and poorly thought out. The syntax is obnoxious. The best one can say is that it interacts with C libraries well."
"Tell me about Goldie Hawn!! Is it the face lift? ;-)"
I wanted to send you a synopsis of what we did on our trip to Costa Rica...
The deal is that the iBOL (International Barcode of Life) people (Dan Janzen and Paul Hebert) want to team up with Google to see what they can do together (just want that is is yet to be determined). For further info on the iBOL see:
Dan and Paul have the very ambitious goal of wanting to barcode (sequencing of the mitochondrial DNA) every living organism on Earth."
"that is the coolest game ever!!!! i loved it!!!!!!!!!! i got 42 elements, then i resorted to my science book. (hehehe! i'm a cheater!!!!!!) thanks for sending the awesome game. a."
"I'm sitting in the Lazy Daisy Cafe in Notting Hill - Ella Fitzgerald is playing - and you flashed through my mind. Maybe it's because the Lazy Daisy is about as close to an East Bay cafe as you get in London. Maybe it's because I'm looking for a distraction from writing. Regardless, there you are in my head."
"81% in Poll Say Nation is Headed on the Wrong Track"
"Hi, Janet, So sorry, that last email should have been addressed to you and not Teresa!"
"On the train I mostly read a book about the Lindsay administration in New York, in part used as a lens with which to investigate the crisis of liberalism that occurred in the seventies and eighties. The raw details of the history were excellent, but the analysis was kind of moronic."
"I'm smiling, too. People at work think I have indigestion."
"given the following function, tell me what it does and how someone is supposed to use it:
def mystery_function(self, text1, text2):
pointermin = 0
pointermax = min(len(text1), len(text2))
pointermid = pointermax
pointerstart = 0
pointermin = pointermid
pointerstart = pointermin
pointermax = pointermid
pointermid = int((pointermax - pointermin) / 2 + pointermin)
"THANK GOD David Slimy Head Cook allowed them to take a scissors to that awful comb over. Thank you Jesus."
"Hilariously, this was forwarded by my brother from his friend Alex (closet cases) and was sent as a video attachment you must download and then view. I went to You Tube and did a search: Japanese two-second t-shirt folding
And speaking of efficient women vs not-so-much men, listen to this guy's tortuous explanation of the two-second method. Remind me, why are they still in charge of everything?
two-second t-shirt fold demonstrated thoroughly, slowly, and painfully in English"
Last but not least...
"You're perfectly normal, eh? Tell them to check the scans again."
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Then it goes on to where I'd live (in one of the Craftsman houses downtown, of course, where all the old trees are). Then where I'd hang out (the library, my computer, Tahiti on vacation with all the money I saved in mortgage payments). Then it starts to unravel...no place to buy organic produce, no place within walking or even biking distance, no moisture in the air, no restaurants that don't slather mayonnaise or beef broth on everything...and hardest to describe: no fucking scenery to look at.
The flatness and dullness of my hometown cannot be emphasized enough. In the part of town where my mom lives, all the housing developments are surrounded by beige brick walls. Driving to the store requires a vast trek down deserted, walled-off six-lane streets. The buildings are all one-story, and walking anywhere requires pretending you're playing a kid's game and taking giant steps. From most parts of town, you can see only the horizon's vanishing point (a feature I pondered over frequently as a child). From a few parts, you can glimpse mountains in the distance, but those only serve to remind you of the barrier between you and the outside world.
Inevitably, I lose the Lithium game. I once went to a carnival in France that had signs posted everywhere: "pas de perdue." No way to lose. The friend I was with didn't want to play any of the carnival games, so I kept pointing to the signs and pleading, "Pas de perdue!" The look on her face clearly said, "Don't you have carnival swindles in America?" or "How stupid are you?"
She patiently tried to explain that the signs meant the exact opposite of what they said, but by that time I had usually finished playing and was receiving my consolation "prize" of a plastic dinner ring or temporary tattoo. Anyway, the Lithium game is very pas de perdue. It morphs into, "How did I survive through high school without killing myself?" (Answer: sheer accident.) And then morphs again to "How can anyone stand to live here?" (Answer: to be discovered after they calculate the last digit of pi.)
I finally end up with the consolation prize of having left at age 18. But it costs way too many Euros.
The footage of Lubbock zoomed me back through a wormhole to Bakersfield, which I recently read described as "a dirty, flat town." Those places have so much empty and deserted space. Very metaphoric, that. Anyway, as I was experiencing that mindtrip into the vortex, I was also feeling the creeping realization that this girl, Shelby, was freaking out in an extremely familiar way.
Shelby was raised by religious Christian conservative Republicans. Who totally supported her work to get sex ed taught in the schools. But scene after scene, Shelby is asking her parents, her pastor, and the TV audience, "Am I still a good person?" "Would I be a better person if I were a Republican?" "How can I be a Christian and disagree with my pastor?" Then she routinely collapsed into tears.
Taking me straight back to being seventeen in the Andre's drive-in parking lot, discussing Bertrand Russell with my Jewish boyfriend, to whom I give all the credit for successfully deprogramming me.
I was thoroughly distracted from the film's subject matter by her struggle with the logical paradox: how can I disagree and still be right? None of this was coming from her parents, it was all her. Shelby's repeated nervous breakdowns was the best illustration I've seen of how painful it is to disassociate yourself from fundamentalist Christianity. Nothing to do with the people around you; everything to do with how it makes your brain implode.
This girl had been taught all her life that there is only one truth, one way, one right. How can there be more than one right answer? Her self-doubt had a gentleness and grace, though, a purity and sweetness, that I've never seen.
In one conversation with her pastor, she tells him she wants to reconcile her Christian beliefs with her convictions about birth control education. "Because some people are telling me that I'm going to hell." She's clearly uneasy, but he's at a loss to allay her fears. She says, "You'd think we would all agree." That when he says disingenuously, "Christianity is the most intolerant religion in the world." She softly says, "Yes. I can believe that." He goes on to say that sometimes, when he hears her speak, he hears tolerance. This worries him.
I was reminded of a book that came out about ten years ago, Hitler's Willing Executioners. It was a history of anti-semitism in pre-war Germany, and it described a period in which Jews were granted more civil rights and were invited into Christian society. The idea behind those reforms was that, if given the opportunity, Jews would renounce their religion and find Christ. When that didn't happen, Christian Germans got angry enough to participate in one of the world's largest genocides. Maybe that's an oversimplification, but the book was the only one I'd read on Nazi Germany that put the blame squarely on the shoulders of Christian intolerance -- which is where I had always thought it belonged. Hatred is in the fabric of fundamentalism, impossible to unweave.
Anyway, Shelby fails to get the school board to change its sex ed policy from "abstinence only," despite the fact that her small town has twice the national average of teen pregnancies and STDs. In an interesting twist, the head of the school board was later fired for sending emails (on company time) offering an employee $500 to have sex with him in his office during work hours.
God bless America.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
So I took the glasses off and started again the next morning when I got in my car. It was way cool, like putting on racing goggles. And I felt so impressed with myself, being honest about adhering to DMV guidelines and all that. My formerly horrified eye doctor would be proud. When he asked, "How are you driving?" I confessed that I memorize the eye chart with my right eye so that I can pretend to read it with my left. He said he didn't want to hear any more.
Driving down the street was like an acid trip. Or, er, how I imagine an acid trip would be. Everything is so beautiful! The colors are so bright! You can see individual blades of grass! That sign says One Way!
It was very cool. I'm just amazed that the rest of you walk through a world like this every day and never mention how exotic and gorgeous it is. I watched a bad movie last night and totally saw every detail.
Which sucked, because Jodie Foster wasn't naked once. Not even when she took a shower. I kid you not, she actually showered fully dressed. If you don't believe me, rent The Brave One. You, too, can witness the complete lack of chemistry a dyke musters up for her leading man. There is, however, a scene in which she saves a prostitute that's replete with a lot of gratuitous kissing and erotic hand holding. Sorta made up for stuff.
Anyway, the glasses instructions say you have to wash them once a day. Which makes sense now that I think about it, but makes me feel even sorrier for the kids who had to get glasses in third grade. Too much responsibility, too soon. A friend of mine once got in trouble because he accidentally lost his glasses in the refrigerator.
Knowing my record with cell phones, I'll find a way to top that.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Valentine's day is a great big love fest, and I'm down with that. There's just one part I can't stand: the diamond store commercials.
When I was a teenager, I wished John Wayne would die. I just didn't want to see his face on TV anymore. Same with Elvis, but that backfired on me. Since then I've learned that pop culture can never be completely cleansed of annoyances, but if I could disappear anything, diamond store commercials would be it.
First off, diamonds are ugly. I once visited a museum that had, in some darkened side room filled with glass cases, an amazing gem exhibit. Stones glistened from the centers of cracked-open rocks. I had been planning to leave the museum without even going into this room, but once inside I was so enchanted I never wanted to leave. Visual pleasure overload. Emeralds, sapphires...every imaginable color, liquid with depth and life.
I could see it if diamonds were the only gem in the world. But once you've seen rubies, how could you choose something that looks like a rhinestone you got out of a gumball machine?
Even if diamonds looked good, the kind that are advertised on the diamond store commercials would still suck. It's like they smashed them together in a particle accelerator and then spewed them onto a setting designed by a 9-year old girl. Or a 99-year old lady, whichever.
And all these stores are in the mall and carry products with prices that end in $99. Who mistakes this for romance?
Whatever, the women in the commercials are continually entranced by these godawful gifts. I always scrutinize their expressions for any sign of "I'm totally planning to exchange this" or "we're breaking up straightaway." I'm not sure where I got the idea that a commercial might introduce a plot twist that denigrates the advertised product, but hope knows no logic. However, if the diamond chicks feel any disappointment they're incredibly gracious about it. These women have really good manners.
This year one of the commercials debuted what I like to call the family group sex fantasy. It's where your birth family is overly involved in your romance. It seems to be a common fantasy, especially among religious groups. Like asking the girl's dad for permission to marry her or proposing to her in front of all her relatives, junk like that.
In this commercial, the guy get the girl's mom to give him her childhood jewelry box in order to give it back to her (complete with tacky diamond earrings inside) for Valentine's day. So the mom is a whole romance co-conspirator. A practice I cured my mom of after the fifth time she gave my college phone number out to yet another guy I knew in high school.
I mean, what if the chick in the commercial was about to break up with this guy? What if she thinks he's a dud? And she doesn't want to associate her childhood jewelry box with memories of him? What if he's a stalker and he uses her jewelry box to blackmail her into seeing him? (Okay, that last one's a stretch.)
Even if it's all cool, this gift forces her to think about her mom on Valentine's day. She knows she's going to have to call her the next day and describe the evening in detail. What could be less sexy?
Okay, and I haven't even gone into the slavery, racism, and De Beers cartel aspects to diamonds. (Probably should've mentioned those first, but as an avid consumer of chocolate, bananas, and tea I don't really have any moral authority here.) Add it all up and diamonds are a close second to giant teddy bears as earth's worst romantic present.
The only thing great about diamonds is the Marilyn Monroe song. Which, if you listen to the lyrics, is all about hawking the jewelry as soon as the boyfriend scrams.
Hmmm, maybe that's what the women in the commercials are thinking about.
Thursday, January 31, 2008
Several cuddles later, Lisa turned to me and said, "I get it. You're a crazy dog lady."
I totally don't want to face that about myself, but sometime in the past few years, that's what I've become. It started with scanning Craig's list for funny M4W ads I could use to taunt Eve. (Here's your new boyfriend.) Then finding one by a guy who referred to himself and his black labs as "our little crime-fighting trio." Then thinking, "Hmm, I could use some dog energy in my life. To balance all this kitty stuff." Before I knew it, I was discussing operant conditioning training techniques with my friends.
But that's not what this story is about. When Lisa said, "That's okay, I'm a crazy cat lady," I had a flashback to Berkeley in 1984. Catwoman. I'd forgotten about her.
Walking through Berkeley in the 80s, especially in the evenings, you would hear payphones plaintively ringing. You'd pass one, it might go silent. And then you'd hear another in the distance. Sometimes you'd hear four or five on one walk downtown. When I first moved here, I used to answer them. Thinking it was some wrong number and I'd be able to help. "Hello? Hello?" and then there'd be a click. I finally gave up, and pitied the people I saw who were still new enough to try answering.
One evening I saw a guy answer, and was stunned to hear him begin a conversation. Who was on the other end? Why hadn't they hung up on him? A few weeks later I was walking with a group of friends and friends-of-friends. We heard the phone ring, and one of them said, "Catwoman. We can't answer it, anyway. She only talks to men."
That explained the guy I saw! I asked a billion questions, and found out that Catwoman called the phones designated with the graffiti "Catwoman," which I had seen, but not thought about, a thousand times. This woman knew about her because her boyfriend had once answered the phone. And been treated to a lonely, desperate, flirting conversation.
Catwoman had been a part of the Berkeley landscape. Sitting in the vet's waiting room with Lisa, I suddenly wondered when she had dropped away, and whatever had happened to her. Payphones barely exist these days. And Catwoman is 20 years older now. Is she still crying out for attention? Does she use chatrooms and MORGs instead? She's no longer limited to Berkeley. Via the internet, the whole universe is open to her. Is she sated? Is she insatiable?
I miss her now. Those church bell rings of her phones.
Apparently the cure consisted of Lisa's small fortune, Melanie's babysitting skills (she took Sequoia to her house for the duration), my neighbors' fully-exploited soft hearts (they handled afternoon feedings and cleanup), and my own awesome nursing skills.
I can administer IVs now! And I'm an expert at dog pills, syringe feedings, sponge baths, and diarrhea management. I could totally be a WWII Red Cross nurse. But only if they put me in charge of the horses.
Next step is fattening the calf; he's still a walking skeleton. Then he gets ousted to a new home. In the meantime, I buy another dozen rolls of paper towels and bleach wipes. At least now his diarrhea is brown instead of red. And on that note...
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Last night, Lisa called me to say a stray puppy had climbed up her front porch and was now huddled shivering in her planter. Lisa has two cats. And no car. She called various friends who all hashed things out, and we settled on the plan where I come to get the dog and take him to the nighttime doggie-drop off at the shelter.
Another friend called her back before I got there. She nixed that plan -- apparently, the shelter's survival rate is worse than Auschwitz. Our new improved plan was that the dog come stay at my house until we got him all hooked up with a rescue society.
So last night -- not tonight, understand -- I was all proud about how much I've learned about dogs. I successfully introduced myself and Sequoia, I brought treats and a real leash and blankets. I read dog body language. I (correctly, as it turned out) guessed his age and could even reconstruct part of his past. We knew he had an owner because he had a collar (just a chain, no tags). But I figured out, from his total technical prowess in dealing with the couch, that he must've been allowed inside. Sequoia, in contrast, fell off both the couch and the bed on his first night at my house, never having encountered furniture before.
Before Lisa had called me, she created a makeshift leash out of a phone cord. Which led her and her friends to christen the puppy "Sprint." Sprint, a white pit bull with brown eyebrows, looks a little like an unborn calf. But in a cute way.
I was disgusted with myself by how fast I fell in love with Sprint, but there's nothing like a puppy to take your mind off your troubles. And he had this way of snuggling up to both me and Sequoia (who seemed to know Sprint needed him) that melted my heart. He was super skinny and shaking with cold. When we got to my house, he had diarrhea in the front garden (another good sign: he made an attempt at house training even when sick; sort of the doggie equivalent of finding the toilet before throwing up). He wouldn't eat, and he vomited a couple of times.
So whatever. He's scared and cold and he's been eating weird and he probably has worms. I'd take him to the vet on Saturday. Lisa said she'd pay for it. Tonight, when I came home from work, I found him still shivering, and still lazing about like a cat. That's when I started to suspect that I actually have no idea what I'm doing.
I web searched and worried and paced the floor for a couple of hours. Then Sprint managed to rouse himself to go get a drink of water. He walked into the bathroom (he's so potty trained) and blood poured out of his colon.
Okay, then I really knew I didn't know what I was doing.
I phoned Lisa, I texted Lisa (texting is actually difficult -- the phone tries to spell your words for you; I hadn't counted on that. I abandoned a Quixotic attempt at "emergency," struggled with an ill-fated "SOS"-- it resolves to "POP" -- before telling myself to think like a phone. That's how I came up with "help"). When I couldn't get ahold of Lisa, I called the others in our ring of dog rescuers. In the meantime, Wendy (whom I'd called first) was talking to Berkeley Emergency Vet and finding out what the hell this is.
Parvovirus. Which has to be treated with IVs and antibiotics and a bunch of other molecular biology sounding stuff, or there's an 80% chance of death from dehydration. Sprint and I (and Sequoia, who insisted on coming) spent three hours at the emergency vet before he was checked into the vet hospital. He was so lethargic he slipped off a chair at one point without even catching himself.
I called the vet before I took him there to ask how much treatment would cost. She said hundreds of dollars. I once had a cat who had stayed the night there, and it cost $500. I estimated that a bunch of people could chip in and come up with $500 for Sprint. Erin had already offered to help.
Turns out that one night costs $800, and he needs three nights. Or some complicated home treatment, or some combination. I chose option B (0ne night of hospital stay, no extra diagnostic tests, and then maybe we'll do home treatment after that to save money).
The whole time my brain was yelling at me, "How could it not occur to you that a stray dog could be seriously ill?" Of course we should've talked about that possibility, of course we should've taken him to the vet right away, and of course we should've figured out how much it was okay to spend.
And what was I doing exposing him to my dog? (Who is vaccinated against Parvo, so it's okay. But still.) I felt so idiotic. Here I was, all proud about how much I'd learned since I first asked the home visit lady if my puppy were likely to leap out the second story window and how do you keep them from jumping up onto tables? (Seriously. I was used to cats.) But everything I've learned is about dogs who have owners. Owners who vaccinate them against freaking third-world country apocalyptic black plague illnesses. I mean, what am I, a flipping civil war nurse?
I said goodnight to Sprint and his cute little calf fetus face, and drove home to face the carnage that was now my house. A friend of mine recently told me that there is a litmus test to love. The test is: how much you mind dealing with their shit. He was speaking of his cat, and literal shit. But the way he said it implied the test could work for humans, too, on a more abstract level.
Driving home, I wondered what Sprint's litmus test would show, or if it was even a valid test after all. I was pretty sure that no matter how much I loved a dog, I wasn't going to be able to clean up intestinal linings (as my vet oh so helpfully explained) with any degree of equanimity.
Before I'd left home, I'd thrown down a couple of white men's t-shirts to soak up the blood (take that, ex-boyfriend!) This proved to be a tactical error. When I got home my bathroom floor looked like the site of a gang war and smelled even worse. Snow on Mt. Diablo or no, I threw open both the front and back doors. A half an hour later, everything bleached and disinfected to within an inch of its life, I decided that it doesn't matter whether or not I love Sprint. I just don't think a puppy should go out that way.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
I was musing about that this morning and realizing that breakups always, always, always require you to throw out the baby with the bathwater. And your success at that (assuming the baby is not the demonic spawn of Rosemary) depends on how well you deal with loss. Some people, maybe most, are way better at dysfunctional unsatisfying relationships than they are at loss. I've experienced both, and I gotta say: it's a toss up.
On the other hand, if you do manage to end a go-nowhere romance, nothing quite compares with the friendship of an ex-boyfriend. He knows every single foible, he calls you on them, he forgives them, he makes fun of you for them. You have old jokes, old fights, you have memories that are particular and specific to you.
Through no fault of my own, I have enough dead ex-boyfriends that they could start their own band. (Long story, but the statistics of random chance prove me innocent.) One hot summer night, lying in bed on the tops of the covers with a (still alive, even now) guy I was dating, I noticed that his legs reminded me of one of those exes. Brown and strong. In that moment, I had a rush that there was no one alive but me with that particular memory. Or any of the years of private memories I'd shared with that boyfriend. When I died, those memories would be gone.
It felt very apocalyptic. I had a history teacher who lectured that the atomic bomb introduced humanity to the threat of not just death, but annihilation. For the first time, entire cities could be wiped out in an instant. Not just you, but everyone who had ever known you, every record of your existence. It changed the way people thought about life and about war.
So breaking up, walking away, never speaking again...it feels like my own private emotional version of Hiroshima. The nuclear capability you only use in case of dire emergency. (You know, or for testing on a bikini atoll somewhere.)
Except you totally do have to break up in order to get to the incredible lifelong friendship part. I used to volunteer at a shelter for victims of domestic violence. As part of our training, we learned the average number of times a person leaves and returns to an abusive relationship before permanently ending it. Nine. I've heard a similar number for how many times people quit smoking. If it takes that many times to leave stuff that noxious, I guess I shouldn't feel so bad that I hate ending relationships that are "almost, but not quite."
I think the trick is to develop some sort of relationship-ending method short of an atomic bomb. Economic sanctions?
Monday, January 21, 2008
It's not her fault. She was the chef at her friend's chi chi Los Angeles restaurant (where Jodie Foster burst in screaming at that Amish chick during their bad breakup), then later she worked at Spago. She knows stuff she doesn't even realize she knows, and talks in a language I only pretend to understand. She can tell the difference between a cookie sheet and jellyroll pan and God help you if you can't keep up.
I already knew she was going to freak that the pasta was boiling in a too-small pan, and that the temperature of the olive oil was getting dangerously high. I didn't dare add the garlic until the last minute because she's got a big thing about that imperceptible moment when "sweet" garlic turns to "burnt" garlic. I maneuvered my way around, deflecting criticism before it was deployed (skills my mom taught me, but not in a good way).
I did accidentally expose a vulnerability when I expressed mild surprise at one of her clever cooking techniques: taking the pasta off the stove as soon as it was done. However, she appeared to think I was just joking so I quickly breezed on to the next subject.
Still! She tripped me up at the rinse stage, when she asked if my pan was going to be big enough.
Wendy asks me how I feel about the size of my cookware (in relation to what I'm cooking) I'd say every 2 out of 3 times she visits me. I know this question well enough to realize that the answer is and always will be a resounding "No!" If it were up to Wendy, all cookware would be manufactured by giants and require wooden spoons the size of push brooms. Ironically, she has my largest pot on extended loan because I never use it and it's the only thing she can make black beans in.
I had in front of me a saute pan with a few shallots in a little oil. She had in front of her a colander full of pasta. What pan? Too small for what? Turns out that the Spago way (which she assumed had seeped into our collective unconscious) was to toss the pasta into the saute pan at the last minute. My pan wasn't going to stand up to that amount of pasta, so I had to use a less effective, decidedly ungraceful method. While she watched, groan.
It always amazes me how much I can learn from just five minutes under Wendy's observation. She's taught me how to roast bell peppers, which oil to use for Cha Han, what the name is of those weird little salads I make (structured) and about a billion other things. Even so, I still can't cook.
Because I have no common sense. For the past several days I've been announcing to all my friends that I'm going to make "this really cool mashed bean recipe I found on the web." Not a single person reacted with "yum." Even though I talked about white beans, sage, rosemary, garlic, and how great mashed potatoes are but wouldn't they be even better if they contained 9 grams of protein?
But no, they were steadfast that anything called mashed beans (I even reverted to Mollie Katzen's "Bean Heaven" name, but there was no fooling anyone) was not fated to turn out well. How are people so clear-sighted?
I spent a couple of hours tonight boiling and mincing and sprinkling and pureeing. When it was all done, I had a lump of mush that reeked of raw garlic. There was a brief hallucinatory moment when I considered giving small amounts to each friend as "bean dip." I came to when I pictured them in paroxysms of laughter.
So now I'm sitting here wondering. What goes with lumped mush?
Thursday, January 17, 2008
I was seriously wondering about my willpower before I added up the number of invitations I receive each week. A typical week is seven. The number can easily go up to twelve. The absolute minimum is four. And if I don't accept the minimum number of invitations, I don't see my friends. We have no backup plan. Even if I persuade them to take a walk with me (not an easy sell with my crowd), it's rarely instead of going out to eat. On the contrary, hikes just make us hungrier.
Last weekend a friend of mine, without warning, simply bought my lunch. I racked my brain but couldn't think of any reason for him to do that (Did I drive? Did I edit something? Did I pet-sit? Did I overpower him with my inordinate charm?) None of the usual free-lunch triggers fit the occasion, particularly that last one. Which means that now I'm obligated to take him to lunch soon. This is how lunch dates multiply. Like tribbles.
I have another friend (let's call her Lisa) who always, always offers to cook. And she's an incredible cook who can whip up a vegan meal and show me the online profiles of all the cute guys she's dating at the same time. Very cool, except she once made the fatal mistake of introducing me to the Ethiopian restaurant a brief walk from her house. So now I'm like a Pavlovian dog when it comes to dinner with Lisa. I can taste the spicy sweet potatoes as soon as she says "get together." Besides, I'm never going to figure out the knack of bringing wine. And I'm only going to cook dinner for friends once a year on Christmas. So how in the world do I pay her back? (More cafe dinners, that's how! I pay her back in tribbles!)
Even for the once-a-week let's-watch-trash-TV event at my house with Wendy, I'm too tired from work to put together a meal. Ordering takeout has become part of the weekly holiday tradition.
And this is not taking into account my own weaknesses, like going out by myself to read a novel at Filippo's or Jenny's. Or forgetting to eat breakfast or replenish my always-diminishing supply of bananas, thereby having to stop off at the deli. Plus! I'm not even dating anyone right now. Dating always adds two or three meals to the week.
Wendy, who reads financial websites the way I watch YouTube, sent me a link to a blog by a woman who budgeted herself out of debt in an amazingly short period of time (hint, hint?) The blog talks a lot about not going out to eat. Wendy said, "And can you believe her friends were really unsupportive of that?" Um, er, yes. Because how else do we all hang out? I can't even see the guys I work with unless I walk out with them for coffee.
When I was twelve, I went to England with my cousin who was undergoing an experimental treatment for cystic fibrosis. The treatment involved drinking these horrible thick gray beverages in place of meals. All meals. The thought was that starting at age twelve, she would never eat regular food again. Eventually, the beverages (which contained some sort of glucose-y simple sugar) induced type 2 diabetes. Which meant her teenage years were spent giving herself insulin shots on top of dying from an incurable disease.
Even if the experiment had not gone awry, I gotta wonder at the adults who considered this an acceptable treatment. How could they think that anyone could comply with such a program? My aunt's faculties (she's normally the most sensible woman I know) must've been overcome by grief at her impending loss. Otherwise, she never would've packed her child off to a foreign land for such an ordeal.
But because of all this, we talked a lot back then about the place food holds in social interactions. Food is always present, at every event from movies to ball games to cocktail parties. Food is what we all gather around now that campfires have been replaced by halogen bulbs. We spent the year I was twelve trying to figure out how to be together without food. We never really found a solution, and I still remember my relief when I heard that Betsy ended the treatment and could rejoin the party.
Okay, didn't mean to go off on such a bummer. The point is, it's really hard to avoid going out to eat unless you're Zarathustra or somebody like that. I've already suspended all solitary dining out for the duration of the war, but I can't put off my friends any more than I have already and still expect them to be around to listen to my diatribes about men and work and life.
The blog girl's workaround is to eat first, then order something like tea (cheaper than cappucinos) or water and a snack. Or take half of it home. I love the concept of workarounds, because abstinence definitely isn't working for me. Cheap restaurant meals are to budgets as free clinics are to unprotected sex.
Reminds me of The Shop Around the Corner, a depression-era Jimmy Stewart movie where Jimmy can't afford to marry the girl he loves. He asks a married-with-five-children co-worker how he manages. "And what about when friends come over for dinner? What about that?"
He replied, "If they're real friends, they'll come over after dinner."
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Such a cool expression! That he just made up on the spot to replace "man up"! (Or its copycat wanna-be counterpart "woman up.") Which brings me to why gender up is so brilliant. Those female-specific takeoffs on sexist slang (example: it takes ovaries) are like the 4th sequel to a B movie.
The absolute worst in the history of pseudo-feminist revisionist English? Ms. Pac-man. Parallelism dictates Pac-woman. But how cool if they were Pac-people? Then they might've even earned interesting first names, like Percy and Penelope. Mr. and Ms. Pac-person. Or even just Pacs! Penelope Pac. (Okay, now I'm insanely curious about the etymology of the word Pac.)
Ah! Just looked it up on Wikipedia. It's from a Japanese word that means the sound you make when you open and close your mouth. I had no idea Pac-man was Japanese, but that's because they changed the giveaway Manga-style graphics (you know, big eyes without epicanthal folds) before localizing to North America.
Even if it isn't sexist or pseudo-feminist, I'm annoyed by body part neo-slang. Like how an incredibly vivid description such as "pain in the neck" became "pain in the ass" in some insecurity-laden attempt at emphasis. Who ever actually feels ass pains? (That's not a real question, though. I don't want to know the answer.)
If we had all gendered up earlier, we would never have had to listen to Demi Moore tell the army to suck her dick. Which! By the way! Should never be used as an expression to demean or humiliate -- not if guys want women to want to do it.
Anyway, gender up has the wonderful connotation of maturity (whatever gender you are, it only fully blossoms when you're grown up) without regard to gender identity. No need to be specific about which chromosomes are involved, just that they're powerful and not afraid of anything.
On a terribly insignificant sidenote, Paul gendered up way before I did.