Monday, November 13, 2006

In Which I Get Trapped in a Bathroom and an Elaborate Rescue Ensues


"Girl" readers will recall that on Friday, Oct. 13, I stood up for my college roommate Vic at City Hall as she wed a fine young gent named John.

On Saturday, Vic and John held a party at their home to celebrate their marriage and invited such folks as me, Chebbles' Mama and a host of interesting, attractive and -- as we shall see here -- intrepid guests.

At some point during this evening of revelry, I felt the need to use the ladies' room. I located the empty facilities and, not wanting to be caught with my knickers down, locked the door and went about my business.

Everything was going smoothly until I got up to leave and tried to turn the lock in the old-fashioned door. It turned a tad, but the door wouldn't open. Several tries later, I realized that I had no option: As humiliating as it was going to be, I would have to knock on the bathroom door and call for help.

Usually, people are knocking on the bathroom door to get in; I would be knocking on the bathroom door to get out. I sucked up my pride and, fueled in small part by my mild claustrophobia, knocked on the door and yelled for Vic.

At first no one heard me over the voices and the music. And then, all of a sudden, I could hear a group gathering outside the door. "Sue's stuck in the bathroom!" someone cried. Vic's new husband called to me try the lock again. I did -- still not budging.

Useful suggestions began coming: "Check the medicine cabinet!" my date yelled, apparently suggesting that I might find some good drugs in there. "I did! Her Chanel makeup is gone! There's not even anything for me to DO in here."

Tools were obtained and before I knew it, John had the door knob out of its socket. This did nothing to affect the lock, however. It simply provided a peep hole through which the crowd could peer at the trapped quarry. (I thought it best at this point to stop picking my nose.)

Potential tools started being slipped underneath the crack in the door. John's driver's license, with which I was supposed to try to jimmy the lock. However, I was too distracted by his picture. "You have long hair!" I said, staring at it, transfixed.

A hammer and nails were promised, with the thought that I would try to remove the door hinges from the inside.

And then: A wallet-sized photograph of Chebbles. (I guess this was offered to give me something to live for?)

John's best friend, also named John, began shouting instructions on how I should mete out my extremities for the long wait. "Consume the tip of your left index finger," he yelled authoritatively. "Consume nothing more -- only the tip until midnight. Fill the bathtub with water ..."

C., my date, yelled, "Climb out the window." The window! Of course. I opened it up, hoisted myself over the sill, and looked down. Drat. Definite ankle-breaking height. (see above photo)

By the time I looked out again, a ladder had been procured and propped against the building. Within minutes, Vicky's John appeared at the window. I turned around again, and right behind him was the Other John, who immediately took the opportunity to use the facilities himself. Yet again I turned around, and here comes Chebbles' Mama, camera in hand, climbing into the bathroom, recording the event for posterity.

It was like the clowns climbing INTO the Volkswagen!

Next thing you know, handyman John has the door unlocked, and four people emerge from the bathroom.

One wonders if a girl will ever be invited to a party again. But here's the good news, Vic! I didn't go hide in the laundry basket! (OK, I did get into an argument with my date later and hid in the back yard til he came to find me, but that's another story ...)

Friday, November 03, 2006

Marilyn Monroe Wins Me Peanut Brittle

The winning entry:



(Note the "decorated" -- nay, not carved! -- pumpkin by my 4-year-old clown head.)

When I was a kid, we never carved pumpkins. We decorated them. I'm not sure if my mom didn't want to be bothered, or if she decided (wisely) that with six kids running around, knives would be best kept in the drawer.

I carved my first pumpkin my junior year in college. From that experience, I learned you need to angle the knife when you cut out the pop-top so it doesn't fall in. I also learned that if you leave it up on the TV too long, and you wonder in a few weeks what that stink-ass smell is filling up the dorm room, that you should look at the pumpkin first before rummaging around trying to find out what died, or blaming your roommate for the foul odor.

I've gotten pretty good with pumpkins, especially due to my old pottery tools and the now ever-present pumpkin-carving kits.

The office holds a pumpkin-carving contest each year, with five categories: Most representative of department; Most comical; Most original; Scariest; and What the hell is that?

This year, when the 15 pumpkins were laid out for the taking, there was one white one. I guess technically it was some sort of gourd and not a pumpkin. Thinking that starting off with a differently abled pumpkin would automatically give me a step-up, I spirited it off to my desk. Thereupon began my second-guessing: WHAT would I make out of a white pumpkin? And it seemed pretty hard, whereupon I enlisted everyone around me to come tap on my pumpkin and advise me whether I was being foolish, and whether I had chosen an uncarvable pumpkin.

The jury was split, but I went with my friend T., who said, "Come on, take a chance!"

At the flea market the Sunday before the Halloween-day contest, I picked up a curly-haired blond wig along with a pink fur neck wrap. On the way home Monday night, I stopped at Walgreen's and purchased some false eyelashes.

When I got home, I soon found that the naysayers had been right: Once I carved the pop-top (at an angle!), I discovered that the walls of the white pumpkin were about three times as thick as a traditional pumpkin. So I cleaned it out, popped back the top, and began to draw.

Thus my Marilyn Monroe pumpkin was created: Complete with false eyelashes, wig, fur stole, earrings. I sat it on a box draped with an old white slip and placed a fan beneath it, causing the slip to flutter a la Marilyn in "Seven Year Itch."

And I won the Most Original category!

The prizes were 1.5-pound boxes of See's Candy. I chose the peanut brittle. I am so afraid of what it will do to my diet, it is locked in my car trunk.

I won! I won!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Trying Not to Hate Rush Limbaugh

Whenever I see Michael J. Fox these days, my heart feels like someone has just given it a good swipe with steel wool. I recognize in his Parkinson's Disease-affected movements the same cruel symptoms that ravaged my mother.

Parkinson's robs people of their dignity.

Over the years, when I was in high school and then college, I watched as my mom progressively lost her ability to walk, write, feed herself, talk, and in the end, even swallow. Eventually bed-ridden, she developed a sore that became infected and had to be hospitalized. The doctors said she was on the brink of starvation because she had hardly been able to get anything into her system (and this with a visiting nurse treating her each day).

That would be her last hospitalization. One Saturday morning, a week before Christmas, she stopped breathing. After they revived her, she remained in a coma for three months.

Now comes Rush Limbaugh, ridiculing Fox's appearance on ads supporting stem cell research.

"He is exaggerating the effects of the disease," Limbaugh told listeners. "He's moving all around and shaking and it's purely an act."

"This is the only time I've ever seen Michael J. Fox portray any of the symptoms of the disease he has," Limbaugh said. "He can barely control himself."


Yes, he can barely control himself: That's the point. And let me tell you, without the money Fox is able to pour into all kinds of treatment, he wouldn't even be able to have pulled off what he did looking relatively normal.

Rush Limbaugh, sir, it is not in my nature to hate. But if ever you are diagnosed with Parkinson's or other degenerative disease, I'll ask you to please forgive me a brief smile.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

A Belated Apology to My High School Journalism Teacher

I awoke this morning at 8:37 (my favorite number, as 837 was the address of the house I grew up in) in my fantabulous new big-ass bed, to a clear, summer-like day that has to be seen to be believed, if you're familiar with the Richmond District.

Before leaving on what would be a 5-mile walk that would take me along the beach, through Golden Gate Park and to the neighborhood library where I would guiltily pay a $3.60 fine to get my books out of hock, I jumped online to make sure there was no breaking news that I would get my ass kicked for ignoring come Monday morning.

And there was a pleasant little surprise waiting for me: A very sweet note from my high school journalism teacher who, if he reads this, will now realize that I had a rather large crush on him back in the day.

I feel so honored when someone from my past seeks me out (excepting my former stalker and curent AA disciples who have rung me because they've reached Step 9). It makes time and life seem much more full and contextual -- even magical -- as opposed to a linear train track where, after we pass the stations, they fade into the distance.

It's shocking to me now to find that Mr. V is only five years older than I. Poor guy, a 21-year-old, good-looking man thrown into a school of 1,000 Catholic school girls. I and a handful of other classmates terrorized him.

Yes, I was an impertinent punk. And Mr. V, I aplogize.

I must confess, though, the sauciness has followed me and is bound to get me killed, fired or promoted one day.

A managing editor at the Wilmington, N.C., paper where I worked once told me tactfully: "There's a difference between being opinionated, and being ornery for ornery's sake."

Ha! Tell that to my current publisher. He walked by this week as I was filing expenses for the Atlanta trip and asked "What the hell were you doing in Atlanta?" "Fucking off," I replied.

Perhaps not the best way to treat a man who's had a reputation for keeping a gun in his desk back in Detroit.

Well, if he ever looks me up years from now, I'll apologize to him too. But not now -- I'm having too much fun.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Here's Looking at You, Kid

Mom and Dad had green eyes; so have my five older siblings. When I was a kid, I thought that was boring.

My best friend was a girl called Lori who lived across the street. Lori had brown eyes. That's what I wanted.

My mom told me that when I was older, my blue eyes would turn darker -- but they probably wouldn't be brown.

I remember being 5 or 6 and staring into my mom's full-length mirror on the back of my parents' bedroom door, looking at my eyes and watching for any fleck of color change.

Sometime after I stopped looking, my eyes did turn a darker bluish green. I always considered myself to have green eyes, but most people will say they're blue. That always made me mad. "What are you, an idiot?!" I'd think. "EVERYONE in my family has green eyes. Duh!"

An article I read in the Boston Globe today made me feel better about my eye color: Blue eyes are increasingly rare, it seems.

The article reads in part:

Once a hallmark of the boy and girl next door, blue eyes have become increasingly rare among American children. Immigration patterns, intermarriage, and genetics all play a part in their steady decline. While the drop-off has been a century in the making, the plunge in the past few decades has taken place at a remarkable rate.

About half of Americans born at the turn of the 20th century had blue eyes, according to a 2002 Loyola University study in Chicago. By mid-century that number had dropped to a third. Today only about one 1 of every 6 Americans
has blue eyes, said Mark Grant, the epidemiologist who conducted the study.

"Mark Grant," strangely enough, was the name of my first love -- a high school dropout, a smoker with wild red hair and blue eyes who, as it happens, always told me that he thought my eyes were beautiful.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Just Waiting on a Bed

Yesterday I went out for a long walk and ended up buying a bed.

I'm like that -- I get an idea into my head and I think about it and think about it, and then I'll find myself passing the appropriate outlet and -- boom. I think, well, now's as good a time as any. Let's do it.

The full mattress I have been sleeping on for the past 10 years was purchased lovingly, along with an antique rosewood frame, by my ex-husband to greet me upon my arrival in San Francisco.

But our apartment was small, and I had a perpetual bruise on my right thigh where I inevitably would hit the footboard as I rounded it.

I kept the bed after M. and I split, but it never seemed right. It really didn't seem right for anyone else but him to be in it with me. After I bought my place, I sold the frame to a sweet couple who had just moved here from Japan. The woman jumped up and down at the price: $25.

Lately, I've realized my mattress isn't that comfortable anymore. And, I'll admit, SOMEONE in this household had peed on it once or twice.

Since buying my place, I've set about trying to upgrade parts of my life to adult level. Buying a real bed, I thought, would be mature and therapeutic, not to mention symbolic.

So yesterday, as I took my 80-block walk (yes, you read that right; I'm not the old Stella), I found myself in front of Sleep Train on Geary. In I went, told salesman Dane what I wanted, and Bob's your Uncle (what the hell does that mean?), I am awaiting the delivery of a California king-size Simmons Beautyrest set with drawers built into the boxspring.

Yep, the biggest-ass bed I could find. I cleaned out my bedroom this morning in preparation.

Dane even threw in a magic mattress cover that doesn't allow liquid to reach the mattress. Take that, cats!

(As an aside, what's the deal with there being two king sizes -- Eastern and California? Ours is longer, either demonstrating that we grow 'em big out here -- or that we simply are more decadent.)

Saturday, October 14, 2006

In Which I Marry Off My College Roommate!

When I got married 10 years ago, my college roommate Vic wouldn't have missed it for the world (though she was caught on tape arriving late). Her words: "I wasn't gonna believe it til I saw it."

With similar sentiment in mind -- but much more confidence in the union -- I did my bit and married her off yesterday to a wonderful man named John.

We trundled off to City Hall, where I was the witness, and my ex-boyfriend the sheriff's deputy was overly gracious and served as ad-hoc cameraman, even getting us into the mayor's office for a photo op on his balcony.

Unfortunately for blog purposes, the only picture I have on my digital camera is the one I'm posting (the lovely bride is on the left. And notice my new Chanel sunglasses!)

Three cheers for Vic and John! Hip, hip hurrah! Hip, hip hurrah! Hip, hip hurrah!

(Now, we plan to send this pic back East and convince our friends we were lesbians the whole time and finally decided to tie the knot.)

Three cheers for me and Vic!

P.S. I might mention that her employer allowed her to change her status from single to married without so much as a sniff...

Thursday, October 12, 2006

I am Divorced, Really I am

The other day, my employer sent out an e-mail asking us all to update our personal info on the company site in the event of an emergency. Being the dutiful employee I am, I immediately set about navigating the intricacies of the online form, updating my phone number and my sister's information (she's getting my Pez collection when I die). Everything looked good.

Then I scrolled down to the bottom of my page and found some other personal items listed under the heading: "To edit this information, see your Human Resources Department."

While the phone number I had just updated had been simply one numeral off, the information at the bottom of the page was seven years off:

Marital status: Married
Spouse: MPR

I got a bit of a frustrated chuckle out of this, seeing as M. and I separated in 1999 and were officially divorced a year later.

Again, being the dutiful employee I am, I shot an e-mail to HR asking how to go about erasing this info. After all, I could just imagine me having a breakdown in the newsroom, perhaps fainting from not being able to eat lunch all day and my body failing to run on the fuel provided by three baby carrots.

"She's married!" someone would proclaim. "We've got to call her spouse!" And M. would answer the phone sleepily (why, I don't know, as I picture this scene happening around 5 p.m.) and yawn and say, "Well, I'm in bed with my girlfriend right now. I think maybe I have her new number around here somewhere ... you know, you can probably reach her at the newspaper ..."

(Not to mention the wrangling over the Pez collection that would ensue following my demise.)

So, today I received an e-mail from HR saying they would be happy to edit my information -- if I would provide them with a copy of my divorce papers.

WTF?

No one had ever asked me for my marriage certificate -- surely, a much prouder, happier occasion.

But here was HR, the same department that last year demanded I provide a copy of my dad's death certificate in order to get a day off for his funeral (that was a cheery moment). And now this?

I wrote back: "Are you serious? Don't you think I'd know if I were divorced?"

This prompted a phone call. "Hi! This is X from HR," a cheery voice said. "I got your e-mail. But I don't get it."

"I was joking," I said. "You really need me to show you the divorce decree? I'm not sure I even know where it is."

"Let me doublecheck the system," she said, and after a moment, "Yes, we still show you as married."

Sigh.

I can't help but liken my marriage to Rabbit's warren in Winnie-the-Pooh, which was oh, so easy for Pooh Bear to enter into and enjoy the honey -- but oh, so hard to pull himself out of.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Nose Hair, Madeleine Albright and Dandruff

I had to share. From today's Dear Abby:

DEAR ABBY: I have a question I cannot find the answer to. I have asked many people, including the chief of staff of the U.S. Army and Madeleine Albright. Nobody seems to know the answer.

I am 90 years old, and if I don't get an answer soon, it will be too late. My question is: Can nose hair get dandruff?
-- JOHN W. JOHNSON, CAPT., U.S. ARMY (RET.)

DEAR CAPT. JOHNSON: Not unless the nose has been "sniffing" dandruff.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

My Men Retreat

My ex-husband, M., is a senior editor at a local magazine.

My ex-boyfriend T., who has become a current suitor (recurrent suitor?), is an editor at said magazine's online counterpart.

Each business entity had been owned separately. Recently, they merged.

Each year, the print mag has a work retreat. Now, those will include the eds from the online side.

This means that T. and M. are spending three days together, beginning tomorrow, at a retreat down toward Santa Cruz.

I think this is priceless. My ex and my ex, going on a long weekend.

On an unrelated note, I want to give a big online kiss and thank you to my new friend who took me out to lunch at the Beach Chalet today. You know who you are! (And do you want to go on a retreat?)

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Postcard from Atlanta: Ted and Jane Send Their Best

A couple of editors treated me to lunch today at Ted Turner's Montana Grill (where I had my first bison burger!), and who should be on their way out? TT himself, with ex Jane Fonda. I love Jane Fonda. And her little dog, too.

As she started to walk out the door of the restaurant, she turned to Ted behind her and said, "Ooh, they were seen together!" As the joint was half-filled with journalists, I'm sure this tidbit will be making the rounds.

In other news, I lost my rental car. Last night when I got here, I was exhausted. And as you know, I have been going through rental cars like bad dates recently, so I didn't really notice what I was driving or where I had parked it in the labyrinthine garage by the Hilton.

When I went to find it this a.m., I couldn't. So I took a cab to the AJC, which turned out to be within walking distance anyway.

When I returned this evening, I decided I was going to scour that garage until I found the damn thing -- turns out it is a Chevrolet HHR.

Just as I was about to give up hope, I began retracing my steps from last night back through an elevator that isn't even used by the hotel; it's in the adjacent Sun Trust building. And voila! A woman in the elevator told me I wasn't crazy; that in fact, where I parked my car isn't findable from the hotel side. Whew.

Oh, and one more thing. The 25th Annual South East Clown Convention is in town. Somehow, I imagine them all arriving in the same VW. How terrifying do you think it is for me to walk around this city, knowing that at any moment I might be accosted in a dark alley by a balloon animal?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Ready or Not, Atlanta, Here I Come!

I'm sitting at a table in Perry's at San Francisco International Airport awaiting my flight to Atlanta, sipping some chardonnay. I love traveling -- you can basically slough off any responsibility by saying, "Oh, that's Wednesday? I'll be out of town. No, sorry, can't help you move this weekend, either."

Which is totally ridiculous when you think about it, as I've got a cell phone, a lap top with cool Verizon wireless card, access to my voicemail at work, etc. But shhhhh! This aura of being "unavailable" in our techno-world has a very short shelf life, so I'm going to enjoy it while I can.

And have I said how much I love hotels? I love hotels, especially when someone else is paying. I'll be at the Hilton, which has a roof lap track (destined to become a roof laugh track when people see me running), a pool and a fitness center. Hooray!

I'm really hoping to squeeze in a visit to the Margaret Mitchell house. Here's a piece of trivia: Do you know how she died? You'll never guess. She was hit by a cab. True story. I also hope to stop in at the old Oakland Cemetery, but we'll see.

Oh yeah, and then there's the REASON I'm in Atlanta, which is to visit the newspaper and observe how they do what I do to see if I can get any ideas.

OK, gotta sip up. Plane's here.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Who Is This Girl and Is She for Real? (God, I Hope So)

You may have noticed Stella hasn't been getting her groove online lately. Well, if you did, thank you.

I feel vaguely embarrassed about the reason, though I don't think I should be. You see, I've gone off the Paxil. (Hey, with mom dying, brother going to prison, husband leaving me, dad dying, cat dying, and siblings who won't speak to each other, I think I'm entitled to a bit of depression.)

The thing is, the withdrawal symptoms were incredibly cruel, and I am hoping that anyone who dabbles with this particular SSRI becomes educated about them. I thought I was crazy; I was enraged at everyone and everything, including myself; I had night sweats; I was constantly feverish; my skin tingled like I was being zapped by electrodes; my mind was muddled; I was dizzy; I couldn't finish thoughts; and I had the most disturbing dreams. All of this is par for the course, according to the research I did. Isn't that scary?

Then to top it off, I got the 48-hour flu on Friday. That's just how long it lasted, from my feverish self barfing outside my workplace til Saturday night when I woke up feeling groovy.

Through it all, I abandoned excess wine, all caffeine and began running. And you know what?

I FEEL FABULOUS.

I have lost weight, I have energy coming out the wazoo, I don't even want to be in bed at all (alone, at least).

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Me and My Minivan (Not That There's Anything Wrong With That)

Today I went from driving this ...


to driving this:

(Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Still, I'd like you to consider adding to the oxymorons of our world ("jumbo shrimp," "Dodge Ram," "friendly fire") the idea of a "minivan uprade."

First, there's nothing "mini" about a van. And if you're a single woman living in San Francisco, where space is at such a premium that someone literally got killed a few days ago in an argument over a parking spot, can you really consider it an "upgrade"?

Enterprise does.

You may be familiar with the injury sustained by my BMW Z3 convertible, whose driver-side door was backed into by a symphony-goer as it was sitting innocently, valet-parked, while I had a few drinks with my ex-husband a couple weeks ago. (Having a few drinks with my ex-husband strikes me as oxymoronic as well, or perhaps simply moronic?)

I took the car, christened "Zippy" by my friend V. from whom I bought it, into the auto body shop this morning, then walked a few blocks down to Enterprise to pick up a rental car.

There, I encountered a half-dozen people also waiting for cars, so I put my name in and told the manager I'd walk the few blocks to work and return on my way home.

I was getting ready to leave the office this afternoon when the call came: "Would it be OK if we upgraded you to a minivan?"

I laughed so hard I snorted. Actually, that's not all that rare, but still...

Several hours later, after navigating the mean streets of San Francisco, I am sitting here with a black Dodge Grand Caravan parked outside because it won't fit in my garage.

And tomorrow, I will drive it to work, feeling like I'm at the helm of a Muni bus, sitting high in my captain's chair and blasting music throughout the *two* empty back seats (and storage space!) -- music that minivan will remember from its youth but hasn't been able to enjoy for a while, with all the noisy kids it's had to chauffeur to soccer games.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

I'm Not Dead Yet! (But Where Is My Cane?)

A few things:

I spent today -- an unusually hot, clear, sunny day -- gardening in the back yard. There are few things more satisfying than making plants grow, I find.

I've learned to accept that I can't keep them all alive. Today's casualty was a small azalea bush I had planted when I first moved in, in honor of the azaleas my mom had planted all around the house where I grew up.


But you know what? This isn't Delaware. The azalea settled in to give it the old Blue Hen try, and even delivered a few promising buds. But in the end, the sandy soil and foggy air got the better of her, and she departed for that fragrant garden in the sky. Care of the Sunset Scavengers compost bin.

Another thing I've learned, however, is not to pronounce your plants dead at the scene too quickly.

My tomato plant, which appeared at first glance to have left for the heavenly farmers market, was hiding healthy vine behind dried brown leaves. Same with a small tree I thought had no chance, but is now bursting with new growth.

When it comes to plants, and perhaps even relationships, something that looks dead may just be waiting for some old-fashioned TLC.

On another subject, the following story was on the AP wire yesterday.

I don't know which is funnier, that the woman's name is E.Strogen, or that the AP reporter thinks phones were new and rare in the '60s.

Also notable is that the editor required the reporter to explain what "dialing" is. And this cat didn't do too great a job of it. A dial that "is moved with your finger" sounds more like a Ouija phone to me.

Finally, I strongly suspect that the granddaughters' "outrage" over the wasted $14k is more related to their interest in E.Strogen's will than her well-being. Maybe I should write her a letter suggesting she leave her estate to the phone company -- they've at least been paying attention to her for the past 42 years:

Widow Rented Rotary Phone for 42 Years

Canton, Ohio (AP) -- A widow rented a rotary dial telephone for 42 years, paying what her family calculates as more than $14,000 for a now outdated phone.

Ester Strogen, 82, of Canton, first leased two black rotary phones — the kind whose round dial is moved manually with your finger — in the 1960s. Back then, the technology was new and owning telephones was unaffordable for most people.

Until two months ago, Strogen was still paying AT&T to use the phones — $29.10 a month. Strogen's granddaughters, Melissa Howell and Barb Gordon, ended the arrangement when they discovered the bills.

"I'm outraged," Gordon said. "It made me so mad. It's ridiculous. If my own grandmother was doing it, how many other people are?"

New Jersey-based Lucent Technologies, a spinoff of AT&T that manages the residential leasing service, said customers were given the choice option to opt out of renting in 1985. The number of customers leasing phones dropped from 40 million nationwide to about 750,000 today, he said.

"We will continue to lease sets as long as there is a demand for them," Skalko said. Benefits of leasing include free replacements and the option of switching to newer models, he said. Gordon said she believes the majority of people leasing are elderly and may not realize they are paying thousands of dollars for a telephone.

Skalko said bills are clearly marked, and customers can quit their lease any time by returning their phones. Strogen says she's not a big fan of her new push-button phone. "I'd like to have my rotary back," she said. "I like that better."

Friday, September 15, 2006

'The Things You See When You Don't Have Your Gun'

I stole that quote from my brother, the one who recently dug up his dead dogs. Just FYI. He has nothing to do with this post.

I am so PMS today, and I am sorry to share that with you if you are the kind of person who gets all squeamish about women's issues. Deal. (Please.)

I am usually a pretty unflappable person. But for some reason, some things are really getting under my skin today. Namely:

1) The Gap's whoring of Audrey Hepburn to pimp their new (old) Skinny Black Pant in their commercials, and their advertisements of this fashion renaissance on the sides of Muni buses, the glimpses of which continue to remind me that while about four years ago, I was a perfect candidate for the Skinny Black Pant, I currently decidedly am not. I'm 39 for cripe's sake.

2) That the city of San Francisco has purchased new sidewalk-cleaning vehicles equipped with a feature that drives some of us at Fifth & Mission absolutely batty as it careens down the street with an incessant beep and recorded message reminding all the homeless people to get out of the way as it scrubs away the detritus of the city.

3) That my house happens to be THE spot at which the GPS system in the city's touristy GoCars announces, "At the stop sign, go straight, on Seal Rock Road" in five languages. OK, it's only one at a time but it is annoying as shit when you're trying to sleep on a Saturday morning. (I actually called them today, being in "rare form," and voiced my complaint. They told me to call on Monday when the illustrious inventor of the devil spawn cars returns. Oh, I will.)

4) My cat Stosh has taken to humping the purple couch pillow. Yes, even though he's neutered. I'll be trying to watch a show and he'll jump up, mount the pillow and go to town. Speaking of animal sex, you must check out the picture on Naynay's blog of exhibitionist squirrels. Truly disturbing.

As Joss Whedon used to end the Buffy the Vampire shows ... Grr! Arg!

P.S. As an aside, the Blogger spellchecker does not recognize the word "blog." Isn't that a hoot? It wants to change it to "bloc." Clearly, it's recovering from the Cold War neuroses of my own childhood.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Just a Girl, Sitting on a Dog House

Once, I had a dog.

He was very little. So was I.

He was a black dachshund named Stanley, and he wasn't really mine. He belonged to my brother.

I don't know how long we had him before he went to live on a farm (the dog, not my brother).

No, really, in this case (as I found out from big brother P. when we went back for my dad's final days last year), Stanley did go back from whence he had come.

On the back of this photo, my mother has written the year 1968, so I couldn't have been more than 1 when he came to live in our grassy back yard (the dog, not my brother).

If I have the story straight, P. bought Stanley using money from his paper route. Then he wasn't as responsible as my parents would have liked, so back Stanley went.

Strangely, I find Stanley often in my thoughts.

I post his picture now simply because I found it in one of my dad's old photo albums, and the same big brother P. has sweetly gifted me with a fine photo scanner for my birthday, and I can scan it in.

When my mom was alive, she told me that I would sit on top of Stanley's dog house for hours, talking and singing to him, and he appeared to pay attention. While Stanley was snippy with others (probably another reason my parents divested the family of him), he was unwaveringly gentle with me.

Without a word, my mom said, I would walk out the back door, through the screened-in porch, out to the dog house where I would scramble up and hold court.

My behavior as a girl reminds me of S., the girl who loves snails.

When her neighbors moved, they left behind an orange cat with a smushed-in face who was called Lucy until someone noticed it was a boy.

My friend T. -- her dad -- says S. will sit on their front porch for hours, cradling that cat like a baby and singing to it until she senses someone is watching.

But if T. moves out of her view, she resumes singing her 6-year-old's songs to a cat that no one wanted but her.

There Is Everything to Fear, Including Fear Itself

For the better part of my life, I have been a news reporter. Until I became an editor about six months ago, I most recently covered breaking news. Or, as my friends liked to call me, I was the Unfortunate Death Reporter.

People smushed by trains, buses, big-rigs; toddlers fallen down elevator shafts; decapitations; plane crashes; burned alive; you name it, I've written it. I use humor to distance myself from these victims, and to remain objective in my writing.

There have only been two times when I have cried over a story.

The first was when a lovely woman who lives in Merced went out for her morning walk with her best friend a few years ago and returned home to find that her ex-husband had shot to death her four children and then killed himself in her bedroom, holding the youngest girl to him.

I visited the mother a year after the crime and interviewed her in the home where she remained, because, she said, that's where they had made their memories. I used the bathroom outside of which her oldest daughter had surprised the ex-husband, where there was a hard-fought, bloody battle, and the girl got shot twice for her efforts.

I think of that woman a lot. And I think of what she told me at the time when I asked her how she could go on living, how was she to heal? She said that she had given herself a certain amount of time to regain some sense of pleasure in life, but she wouldn't reveal her deadline. If her life was still bleak when that time came, she said, she would end it. And, she said having that light at the end of the horror that was her life was a comfort to her.

The other time I cried was sitting in a darkened auditorium on the UC Berkeley campus shortly after Sept. 11 at Mark Bingham's memorial. He was killed when Flight 93 crashed in Shanksville; he has been one of the men credited with taking over the airplane from the hijackers.

This week, when Sept. 11 rolled around, I noticed how the city has changed since 9/11. There are no more flags. No more bumper stickers that read "God Bless America." And not enough viewers clicked on the 9/11 anniversary coverage on our Web site to place those stories even in the top 15. Readers were more interested in the death of Anna Nicole Smith's son.

And I started to think: what a laugh, that motto "We'll never forget." We've already forgotten.

Then I made my daily visits to my favorite blogs and found that many of you hadn't forgotten, and that heartened me. Of course, a lot of you are on the East Coast, and I think that makes a difference.

I remember my brother calling me that morning, telling me to turn on the TV, and the dawning realization that what had happened hadn't been an accident, and that there was more on the way. I called my friend Erica, who was crying. "Why are you crying?" I asked. "The people in those buildings," she said. It wasn't real yet, that those huge skyscrapers were filled with thousands of people.

Later in the day, the silence from the absence of airplanes in the sky became a noise itself.

I was the most scared I have been since I was a kid during the Cold War, and movies like The Day After fostered a consistent underlying feeling of doom. I remember dreams in which I would be walking home from the busstop in grade school and I would hear a noise, turn around and see a nuclear missile headed toward me, the sky already beginning to turn orange with the annihilation it carried onboard.

I called my father, who had served in World War II, and asked him if it was the end of the world. He assured me that it wasn't, and that it was the same fear people had felt when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

What 9/11 and the Merced multiple murders triggered in me was a fear that had no respite; a fear that the most mundane of life's pleasures or chores -- taking a walk with a friend or flying out to see your family -- could be cloaked harbingers of death.

Recently, we've had two "talkers" of crime stories here in S.F.: In one, a man went to a popular park not too far from where I live, where hang gliders enjoy their sport, and shot two people, one pointblank in the head, for no apparent reason. When his gun jammed, he pulled out another and killed himself. One of the other men died.

In another incident, a man went on a hit-and-run spree, starting across the bay where he killed a man with his SUV, then came to S.F., where he injured 19 people. One of them, a woman, is paralyzed from the neck down.

A fellow editor at a meeting voiced his fear that we no longer could feel safe anywhere, and what kind of a world is that in which to bring up kids? When a visit to a park, a walk down the street, could turn deadly at any time?

It's terrifying, but it has a flip side. I think of all the times that kind of thing hasn't happened. That no one has struck me on my bicycle, or mugged me while I hiked. Things go right more than they go wrong in my life.

The evil in the world defines the good. And there's more of that than I usually take into account -- and more than I think I, and my recovering Cold War childhood neuroses, even deserve.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Just a Girl (In-)Action Figure: Wine Glass, Cat and Bed Sold Separately

I love sleeping. An action figure of me would really be an inaction figure, with accessories sold separately: bed, couch, book, wine glass, cat.

Last night, in the middle of the night, I awoke at 2 a.m. and snuggled into my covers, savoring the darkness, the quiet and the prospect of *five* more hours to sleep. What bliss!

Then I heard it: the soothing, plaintive cry of a fog horn. Perfect.

I hate getting up in the morning, but the noises of the building and the street -- and the insistence of my cat Vesper -- lull me into awareness bit by bit.

Cars start motoring by beneath my window; birds call.

The neighbor across the hall, a cop on the night shift, returns home, closing the front metal gate behind him. The girl upstairs, who works downtown, leaves shortly after he returns; the garage door opens.

My cat Vesper jumps on the bed and starts pawing my arm or whatever appendage he can locate.

My alarm sounds with the song "You Sexy Thing" from the Me, Myself and I soundtrack.

Yeah, I really can't complain.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Of Life Before the Web, Snow Days and AM Radio

(This is me and big sis D., who's holding Marcus Aurelius the Cat. We had a big box of snow attire in the basement, and I had to wear two of everything [hats, mittens, pants]. Before putting on my gloves and boots, Mom would slip old Wonder Bread bags onto each arm and leg to keep me dry.)

There is something soothing about AM radio.

I woke up this morning with WNRK, 1260 AM, out of Newark, Del., on my mind.

Before I was school age, and then during the summer, the radio in the kitchen was tuned to WNRK from the time Mom got up in the morning until she served dinner.

It's how I followed the Patty Hearst saga, never realizing that one day I would work for her family. ("I don't understand," I'd say to my mother. "I thought she was kidnapped. Why are the police going after her?")

It's where I heard that John Lennon had been shot and killed, and that Elvis had died.

But WNRK offered more than just news.

In the winter, it was the divine emissary of God that informed me of when my school was closed for a Snow Day (a phrase that deserves to be presented with glowing gold angels and glittering snowflakes around it, but constricted by my medium, I had to settle for simply capitalizing it here). The hallowed Snow Day, sadly unknown to my friends who grew up on the West Coast, was a glorious thing.

Sometimes, when God was feeling especially whimsical and philanthropic, he would deliver the news to WNRK the night before, and instead of sitting at the dining room table the next morning, already dressed in my blue-and-gray plaid Catholic school jumper, waiting for the list of schools to be read, I would remain snugly under the covers in bed, savoring a whole day ahead of playing in the snow, eating chicken noodle soup for lunch, drinking hot cocoa and creating homemade snowcones. (Making these required a bit of forethought: You had to remember to put out a bowl when it started snowing to collect enough clean snow that later could be doused with vanilla extract. Yum.)

It was during these Snow Days that I would enjoy another feature of WNRK: The Mindbender. The host would present a riddle or historical question and announce which number caller with the right answer would win a prize (come to think of it, the prizes often consisted of Omaha steak delivered to your door, so maybe it was sponsored. I'm glad I wasn't this jaded then).

I would excitedly ponder the riddle, or if it was a historical question, zip downstairs to the den where our hulking encyclopedia and World Book collection lived. I called many times with the right answer, but was never the chosen caller.

My mom was more lucky.

There was another gimmick the radio station used to keep listeners tuned in all day: The Shop 'N Bag game (I wish I could remember its formal name), by which at regular intervals, the host would announce a dollar figure. Mom kept track of these figures in pencil, in her neat handwriting, on a slip of yellow legal paper folded in half lengthwise on the refrigerator.

Every once in a while, WNRK would call someone and ask them if they knew the amount. It was always something wonky, like $37.18, so you couldn't guess it. You either knew it or you didn't. If you did, you won a gift certificate in that amount to the Shop 'N Bag grocery store. If you didn't, the host increased the amount. My mom won that game several times.

Then there was the precursor to CraigsList and eBay: Swap Shop, from 2-3 p.m., during which my mom would lie down to take her nap while keeping her ear out for deals on bicycles, desks, cars, furniture and other items that neighbors wanted to buy, trade, give away or sell.

I like to remember my mom that way: Lying on Dad's bed (they had twin beds) with her hands beneath her butt (that keeps them warm, she said), dozing in and out of sleep as the callers and host of Swap Shop kept up a constant, low chatter, as I lay on my side in her bed, the radio in between on the night table, watching her, unaware of how fleeting and precious this companionship would be, just resting there waiting for the afternoon mindbender.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Someone Hit My Car: An Omen?

I let the valet park my BMW convertible Z3 and entered the restaurant, immediately recognizing the back of M.'s head, talking to an older couple at a table. He introduced me -- old friends of his parents. I wondered, what must they think of us? Not knowing that, not only did I know M.'s parents, they had been my in-laws, and M. had been my husband ... I wouldn't be surprised if they had thought: Nice couple.

I laughed a lot. He laughed a lot. I drank a martini and two glasses of chardonnay. He had some gin drink and two glasses of bourbon, on the rocks.

We caught each other up to date with news of friends and family. I looked at him and tried to remember a time when he was "mine." I couldn't.

We talked of his girlfriend and her kids. I felt little.

Then we parted, dedicated ourselves to a renewed friendship, and I waited for my car.

And waited.

The valet parker finally came to tell me that someone "had hit" my car in the parking lot. I crumpled the $2 tip I was going to give him and stuffed it into my purse. I followed him to the lot and took from him the slip of envelope onto which the woman who had "tapped" my car had written her phone number. I called her; no answer. I left a message.

I waited for the valet supervisor. Finally, both the valet parker and the supervisor came to the lot, and said they had no responsibility for the accident, which was a deep gash in the driver's side door. I asked for my valet fee back. They gave me the $10.

When I got into my car, noticing the changes in the vents and the a/c-heat, the woman returned my call. She was apologetic. I'll call her insurance company tomorow. Meanwhile, I opened my glove box, and my BMW zippered case of manual, insurance card, etc., was unzippered. And the expired license that I keep in my car "just in case" was gone.

Clearly, I shouldn't have been where I was tonight. And though I'm glad that I stuck my neck out there and returned home with it, I'm not ready to play in that world.

I like my own, thank you very much.

Waiting for "Happy" Hour


It's 5:24, and I'm supposed to meet The Ex at 6:30, but everyone is telling me to be late, so that's what I'm going to do. We're meeting at Absinthe, if anyone out there is local and feels like lurking. I'll be the tall, blond, long-haired woman with a form-fitting black turtleneck through which you can see a hint of black bra, a long black skirt with a slit up the side, cowboy boots and pink purse.

He'll be the one with the lazy eye.

We will look like Eastern European brother and sister.

My lovely friends and sister are being so protective of me. If he's an ass tonight, I have people who can't wait to exact their revenge. With them waiting in the wings, I feel kind of like the woman in the Verizon commercial, with the "network" of people skulking behind pillars and following her around as she goes about her day.

Tonight, I've got The Network.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

My Top 10 List or Men Who Make Me Purr

Before M. and I got married back in '96, at my suggestion we put together our "lists." (This would have been too crass of an exercise for him to introduce. The man was a gentleman.)

That is, what top 10 celebrities do you want to grandfather in to your union just on the happenstance you meet them some day and fall into bed and you don't want to have to say, "Hey! I can't do this! What am I thinking? I'm married."

I remember being peeved at his inclusion of Alicia Silverstone (did I say gentleman? She's a child! I cried. That's sick!)

I remember some of the men I had on my list: Tom Petty, Bill Pullman, any of the Baldwins, Martin Sheen or any of his sons ...

With the start of the fall TV season -- and so many cuties on TV! -- I decided it was time to rewrite my list. In no particular order, here are the lucky gents:

1. Colin Firth
2. Rick Springfield
3. Julian McMahon
4. John Cusack
5. (Richard Gere removed 10/21) in favor of Keanu Reeves
6. David Boreanaz
7. (Tim Robbins removed 9/7) in favor of Harry Connick Jr.
8. Alec Baldwin
9. (Martin Sheen removed 9/7) in favor of Hugh Grant
10. I can't decide between Mark Wahlberg and Matt Dillon. Help?

Those who didn't make the cut, but whom I wouldn't kick out of bed for eating crackers:
Richard Gere
Martin Sheen
Bill Clinton
John McCain (no, he's not gross! I like older men.)
Michael Keaton
John Corbett
Johnny Depp
Crispin Glover (I don't think he'd be able to spend the night. I wouldn't trust him with my eyes closed)
John Travolta
John Irving
Christian Bale
Tim Robbins

So pony up, who are your dream lovahs?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

What If People Purred? And Other Nonsense While Waiting for Nip/Tuck to Come On

My friend Shaken Mama and I have laughed in the past about the concept of people purring and not being able to help themselves, and the kind of trouble this autonomic reaction surely would get you in.

I was reminded of this recently when, for reasons too mundane to recount here, I came to be in possession of an organizational chart for my company that placed me ridiculously high in the ranks, especially factoring in the money I (don't) make, and that I'm, well, I'm just a girl in San Francisco. Come on, now.

There was only one level above me! Holy shit, I thought. I swear I almost purred.

I'd like to take the hypothetical a paw-step further, as inspired by my young cat Stosh.

Stosh gets so overcome with glee at the prospect of being fed in the morning, he can't control himself. While Vesper is waiting stoically, eyeing me warily from a strategic position near where I will place his bowl, Stosh romps with an imaginary toy or friend for a minute, and then collapses onto his back, rolling back and forth like some Biblical character that Jesus would have cured of the fits.

Recently, it's crossed my mind: What if humans not only purred, but succumbed to this behavior as well?

An imaginary office meeting:

Boss: "So, Stella, we need you to go to Chicago with Jim (dropdead gorgeous colleague for whom you've had the hots for years). And, uh, well, considering our budget, we were hoping you two wouldn't mind sharing a hotel room."

At which point Stella Haven collapses to the floor of the conference room, purring to beat the band, before bolting back to the newsroom and yowling like a cat in heat.

Surely, Tom Peters would think of a way to manage these instincts? One can only hope.

Meanwhile, I eagerly await tonight's premiere of Nip/Tuck, featuring my true-life obsession, Julian McMahon.


Purrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Monday, September 04, 2006

Why Can't We Be Friends? Why Can't We Be Friends ...

friend –noun
1. a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.
2. a person who gives assistance; patron; supporter: friends of the Boston Symphony.
3. a person who is on good terms with another; a person who is not hostile: Who goes there? Friend or foe?

My ex-husband e-mailed me to wish me a happy birthday. People ask me if we're friends, and if we keep in touch. It's not a simple question to answer.

I would say we are friendly, but up until recently, the idea of being friends with him hadn't crossed my mind as a possibility or a desire. As for keeping in touch, it's strange and sporadic. He e-mailed me when he wanted me to get him some reporter's notebooks. He didn't e-mail me when my father died. You see, the simple things are easy, you know what to say. In the second instance, he just didn't know what to say. I understand that now.

M. and I separated a little more than seven years ago. Add a few months to that, and you have the same amount of time we were together -- dating, breaking up, reuniting, engaging, marrying, divorcing. Maybe it takes being without someone the same amount of time you were with them in order to return to them in a different capacity.

I don't know.

Shortly after we broke up, he started dating L., a woman in his office. I've never been able to shake the idea that perhaps they hooked up before M. and I split. But I'll put that issue to the side for now, or my obsession with it will overtake this post and I'll get nowhere with the issue at hand.

The only reason I mention it is that she is divorced with three kids, and shortly after M. and I broke up, he said to me that he wished that someday he and I could be friends like L. and her ex are. I don't recall what dismissive reply I had to that, but it was akin to, "Only if it includes you letting me rip your heart out with my bare hands and force-feeding it to you, which I would tape so I could watch it again and again."

My reasoning had always been, here was someone who couldn't be trusted. (Did I mention I was his second wife?) He makes commitments and breaks them. How could I be friends with someone I didn't trust?

Recently, M. and I had been bandying about the idea of having a drink and catching up. In the e-mail he sent for my birthday, he said, "Let's get that drink before too long," so I offered some days. We settled tentatively on this Thursday. "I'm really looking forward to catching up with you," he wrote.

At the end of my first e-mail in that exchange, something compelled me to write, "I'd really like it if we could be friends." Then I realized that I meant it. He responded, "Yes, let's be friends."

All is fair in love and war, they say, and how could I blame him for leaving me if he didn't love me? Why would I want to be with a man who didn't love me?

After our break-up, I listened to this song a lot, "Baby, Don't You Break My Heart Slow," by Vonda Shepard, paying attention to the stanza:


I'd rather you be mean,
Than love and lie,
I'd rather hear the truth,
And have to say goodbye,
I'd rather take a blow,
At least then I would know,
But baby, don't you break my heart slow.


On the way home from what would be our last marriage therapy session, as we approached the toll booth for the Golden Gate Bridge, M. turned to me and said, "You're an old soul." I held back my tears and nodded, looking out the car window. I thought, I've survived my mother dying and my brother going to prison. There is no one in this world whom I can't live without.

I immediately wrote M. a check for half of all of our accounts, bought boxes from U-Haul and neatly packed and labeled his things, resisting the urge to tear up our wedding pictures and stuff pieces of them into all of his pants pockets. On the box holding his wedding tux, which he had purchased instead of rented because he is a fan of the opera and other fine things, I wrote, "Wedding tux: Clean and ready for re-use." I piled his things in the garage for him to pick up. It was I who filed for divorce.

I asked to keep three of his things: His old 35 mm camera, a red flannel shirt that his first wife had made him (I had developed an inexplicable attachment to that shirt, which I still wear. In my only conversation with first XW, who called me after our break-up, I think still looking for her own answers, she said she was happy that I had it), and the brown leather jacket M. was wearing when I first met him that I thought made him look so handsome. That, however, has since gone to Goodwill.

Seven years and countless tears, self-recriminations, therapy sessions, screwed-up relationships, dreams of revenge and more life-changing events later, I forgive him, if there is anything to forgive. And I thank him, for not breaking my heart slow, and for allowing me to fly on my own and become the person I am.

And I think just maybe, just maybe, I am ready to be his friend.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

I Dedicate This Post, to All the Boys I've Loved Before ...

Last night I dreamed about the man I consider to have been the first great love of my life: Rob, my college boyfriend. With him I learned love and happiness -- and jealousy and hurt.

I hope whatever force is behind this universe forgives me for what a shitty girlfriend I was. You name it, I did it. Roommates were involved. But he wasn't a saint either. Anyway.

I met him in January of my sophomore year, set up by my friend Vic, who was dating his roommate. When Rob and I discovered we shared a birthday, our bond was cemented: Clearly, we were meant to be.

Things were good for a long time -- too good, my deficient self-esteem told me. The first summer, I told him we should break up because I didn't deserve him. He wouldn't let me.

We drifted apart and back together again during senior year, and then he met another girl he would later marry. The last time I saw him was at my mother's funeral in 1990.

I've often thought of writing him a letter apologizing for all the crap I'd pulled, but friends agree that would be a selfish move.

In my dream last night, he and his family had moved to San Francisco, and for some reason invited me to visit. He had five really cute kids. During the visit, the wife became increasingly hostile toward me and, when I wanted to say goodbye to Rob, she wouldn't tell me where he was, so I left. But Rob followed me out and I led him away from their house and hugged him and kissed him and whispered in his ear, "I love you. I would do anything to be in your life again."

How many great loves are we allowed to fuck up, I wonder?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

To Mom and Dad on their 56th Wedding Anniversary



Fifty-six years ago today, my mom and dad were married. Sadly, they did not survive to see this day. I am posting some images to commemorate that fateful union, without which, I would not have seen the world ...

An invitation to the ceremony, at 9 a.m. My parents received a beautiful ceramic clock as a wedding present, and after it stopped working, my father set the time for 9 o'clock and sat it on the dining room hutch to remind him whenever he saw it.

Mom and Dad's baby pictures ...





And a picture of how I like to remember them together, Mom sitting outside, looking graceful, and my dad showing off his physique in his swim trunks (notice the plastic pool ID tag).

I miss you!

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Highlights of Turning 39 for the First Time

I say "for the first time," as I plan to follow Jack Benny's lead and remain 39 for the next 40 years...

Am I the only one who thinks that maybe, just maybe, something magical will happen on my birthday? Even though I know it's going to be just another day at work? Well, nothing did. But I had a pleasant birthday, with some particular highlights.

My old boyfriend Tony (the one who invented "Stella Haven") took me to Le Central for dinner on my birthday eve, followed by drinks at John's Grill, both old San Francisco establishments. Le Central has a booth in the front window where storied columnist Herb Caen, clothier Wilkes Bashford and former Mayor Wille Brown used to eat. John's Grill is notable for having been mentioned by Dashiell Hammett in The Maltese Falcon. (The bartender told me they used to sell faux falcons for $39.95, but no more.) Tony dropped a lot of dough and was very sweet about humoring me and my various neuroses, then packed me off in a pre-paid cab at the end of the night.

Thence, having to take the bus to work the following day, I found that someone had abandoned two boxes of kitchen stuff and plastic toys at the bus stop. I had just enough time before the bus came to salvage a big plastic red "S" with a picture of Snuffleupagus -- my favorite Sesame Street character -- on it.



When I got to work, the couple at the coffee shop downstairs treated me to my drink, and my friend Suzanne gifted me with a whimsical feathered ceramic shoe bank.



Another colleague (and old flame!) stepped up with a box of Godiva chocolates. My former boss, who last year forgot to wish my a Happy Birthday, this year also wouldn't give me the satisfaction of voicing the sentiment, but occasionally broke into whistling the song under his breath. (Love him.)

For lunch I gave in to one of my guilty food pleasures and got McDonald's, and I followed that feat up when I got home by having chardonnay and Haagen Dazs chocolate-chip-cookie-dough ice cream for dinner.

I talked for over an hour to my best friend from childhood, M., who also sang the Happy Birthday song into my work voicemail, followed by the question, "Are you crying now?" M. has two gorgeous kids, Lyrissa and Nicholas, a 17-month-old handful. "You know how parents will say, 'My kid was hanging from the chandelier?'" she asked me. "Well, the other day, I came downstairs, and Nicholas was hanging from the chandelier in the dining room."

Big brother P. called and sent new Colorado quarters for me and Shaken Mama (ironic, isn't it, to be receiving coins from a convicted bank robber?) and an audio birthday card that sounds a fire siren when you open it up to a picture of a cake with hundreds of candles on it. Big sis D. called. The other three siblings were MIA, which was expected but sad. But not sad enough to ruin my day.

And as their contribution, my two cats did not pee on anything, or throw up.

Ah, birthdays!

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Is It or Isn't It a Hotel?



Every morning on the way to work, I pass through a seedy part of the city called the Tenderloin. (It is said to have gotten its name from a time when cops were paid more to patrol its mean streets, affording them more lucre to buy better cuts of meat.) I believe I could take a route around it, but I feel that crossing through the area reminds me of my place in the community -- how fortunate I have been, and my responsibility not to forget those who are way down on their luck. Basically, just to remember there's another world out there that's not mine. Different viewpoints, different needs, different lives that make up this town, whether or not I like it.

It's home to trashy sidewalks with what looks like blankets strewn in doorways in the morning, but which are really homeless people sleeping; a black man who lost his legs who gets around on a skateboard; lost-looking people crossing against the light wearing slippers and sunken faces; cheap hookers; porn shops; drug dealers; and liquor stores.

More often than not, I drive by an ambulance or firetruck responding to a drunk or drugged-out person down. And residential hotels know as SROs -- or single room occupancy -- for which the downtrodden pay too much of the little they have to stay in a room usually infested with bed bugs, roaches and rodents.

Wow, I'm bringing you down, aren't I? Don't worry. They survive. And they are often laughing and calling to friends and smiling. It's not my kind of life, but it's a life.

Anyway, the only reason I mention it is that I get a kick out of this building I pass. It has "Herald Hotel" or "Hotel Herald" written all over it, and then, stenciled in the window, it says, "This is not a hotel. No vacancy."

It cracks me the hell up. What is it, then?

It's My Birthday, and I'll Cry If I Want To ...

It's official: I'm 39. I am told Jack Benny was 39 for many years ...

Although I know that if he could talk, my cat Vesper would have been the first person to wish me a Happy Birthday today, I must admit that the first real person was ... my dentist (in an e-mail).

Yes, so sad.

I'll let you know how the rest of the day goes!

Let's just hope no balloons or birthday songs are involved.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Nothing Good Can Come of Balloons, Part Deux

(NB: Belarus is my peeps!)

Kids Watch As Clown Is Crushed to Death
Associated Press

A hot-air balloon caught fire during a circus stunt, killing a clown acrobat as dozens of children watched, police said Tuesday.

The accident happened Monday night as the Royal Russian Circus was performing in Scariff, County Clare, a village in western Ireland. About 100 people were in the audience, most of them children. Police said the clown was a 26-year-old man from Belarus but didn't release his name.
Witnesses said the man, dressed in a clown outfit, was hanging from a cage suspended by ropes and a hot-air balloon inside the canvas tent. When the balloon exploded in flames, the cage fell on top of the man.

The man's wife, who was also part of the act, suffered a broken arm, police said.

"We were all sitting down and they were doing their act. They were up fairly high, but they were doing fine. Next thing, he was down on the ground," said audience member Hazel Harrington. She said many people in the audience initially thought the falling cage was part of the act.

About a half-dozen circuses, employing mostly Eastern European performers, tour Ireland each summer.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Men Like to Give Me Things, and More Birthday Thoughts

Men like to give me stuff.

Unfortunately, none of it is sugar-daddy quality -- no cars, pricey jewelry or glitzy pieds-a-terre.

It's more along the lines of sweet, eclectic tchotchkes: miniature frogs, small toys, an old kitchen timer, buttons (I collect them), Pez, cast-iron cowboy boot salt-and-pepper shakers, the previously mentioned Beatles White Album...

My friend Shaken Mama and I joke about this phenomenon, because even her husband (then a boyfriend) fell prey when they went to see Huey Lewis in Las Vegas and he insisted they buy me a T-shirt. (Thanks, Hub-D!)

Anyway, I'm not complaining, just leading up to what I really want to write about tonight, which is that in addition to gifting me these sweet items, some men tend to hang on to me.

There was the Fed Ex guy in Delaware to whom I was engaged for a short while. When I broke it off, he stalked me and we ended up in court, me getting a restraining order. Because I'm crazy nice (put the emphasis on whichever word you want), I still talk to him when he calls, but only because I'm 3,000 miles away. He's still unmarried, but no longer at Fed Ex. Now, he's a limo driver. And though it's been 15 years, he'll still end his voicemail with "Love you."

I'm the kind of person who talks to everyone, from janitor to publisher. I have an insatiable desire to know everything about everyone. My first inspiration in life was Harriet the Spy.

As a result of my candor, I think, some men -- generally the inappropriate ones -- get attached to me.

This is really a big lead-up to a small correspondence that pissed me off this morning.

When I was a college intern, I worked for someone who made what you might say was an indecent proposal. I was uncomfortable but planned to keep it to myself. Until the receptionist took matters into her own hands and reported it to Human Resources. The man was moved to another office, I felt like shit, and he was so manipulative that to this day I look back and think, "What happened?" and doubt myself.

A few years ago, he looked me up and found my e-mail address. The e-mails are always passive aggressive. He eerily remembers my birthday each year because I share it with his mother.

Though my birthday isn't until Thursday, I got his annual e-mail today.

Here's how it started out:

"You have officially reached middle age, based on life expectancies."

WHO, I ask you (unless they're your BEST friend and clearly joking), says that?

And more importantly, why do I care?

A Girl Cries, to the Delight of Siblings


Here is the photo promised yesterday.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Confessions of a Recovering Birthday Addict

No one has been able to crack the mystery of why I tear up when anyone sings Happy Birthday.

When I was little, I would cry every time the candles were lit, the lights dimmed and the song sung. It made no difference whether it was my birthday or someone else's. And I have no idea whether they were tears of fright or sadness.

Tomorrow I'm going to scan in one of the pictures my family has taken of me crying to the song. Judging by the candles on the cake, it was my sister's 10th birthday, which would make me 3.

My brother (the one who wants to dig up his dead dogs now) is pointing at me with a smirk on his face. My sister is smiling so hard her eyes are closed. I am holding my head in my hands, mouth awail, nestling into my brother, who I probably thought would give me comfort. (How naive!)

This penchant is completely at odds with my feelings about birthdays. I LOVE my birthday. Until our most recent union contract, we were able to take our birthdays off from work, and get paid for it! Now that's a cool perk.

It's not just my birthday -- if I find anyone at work is having a birthday, all day I'll be saying things like, "Guess who's having a birthdaaaaaaay?" in a truly annoying fashion.

Last year, when I was leaving work the day before my birthday, I said to my boss, "Now, tomorrow is my birthday, so don't forget to wish me happy birthday!" "I'll forget," he said. And he did.

This year, however, my attitude has inexplicably changed. Well, maybe not inexplicably -- I'll be turning 39, for one thing. And even though I've read that "60 is the new 40," which would have me turning 19, I'm bummed about it.

When TV talk show host Mike Douglas died recently (if you're saying to yourself right now, "I didn't know Michael Douglas died!" you're probably too young to be reading this blog), the question came up at our news meeting of how important a story it was. Everyone (and most of these folks are older than I) began shaking their heads dismissively. I couldn't help myself. "Oh, man!" I burst out. "I grew up with Mike Douglas! Him, Merv Griffin, Dinah Shore ..."

For the rest of the day, my colleagues kept calling me old (like I said, most of them are older than I, so I think they were enjoying a little bit of Schadenfreude at the thought of me hurtling toward my 40s.)

The other factor that I'm sure is at play is the estrangement of two brothers and a sister following my father's death.

The one in the picture below is not among them. This is a photo of us on my 6th birthday. (Don't you love the mumu? My Aunt Lib, the traveler in the family, had brought one back from Hawaii for each of us.) I'm sure this picture was staged after I had opened the gift, and I am displaying a typically goofy look. And D. is assuming the role she wouldn't be able to shake for the rest of her life: being my tireless, enthusiastic provider -- of gifts, of money, advice, support, love, etc. That was a good birthday -- just days before I would start first grade. It's all been downhill from there. (I'm kidding! I'm not that pathetic.)

P.S. Regardez les balons, preparing to pounce on my unsuspecting mumu-clad, bebraided, uneven-banged 6-year-old goofy self.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

A Girl Looking at Popo Looking at a Girl


I'm trying to effect an Escher-type photo here ...

A Love Letter to My Garbage Chute


Have you ever lived in an old house or apartment that had a medicine cabinet with a razor slot in the back? (Please don't be distracted by the unidentifiable and vaguely alien-like blob in this picture. This isn't my medicine cabinet, it's his. Courtesy of a Google search.)

I did. I had one in an old apartment in Wilmington, Del., and then in Boston. I don't remember how I realized what the slit was for. But when I found out, I was fascinated. The idea that someone would build a house and think it was a sustainable option to keep dropping razor blades into the wall astounds me. Wouldn't they someday fill the wall? And who would get them out? When they demolish old homes, do razor blades just come tumbling down?

And then the idea that no one ever thought razor technology would change, and that razor blades would be a staple forever in our homes ... or maybe that's why they thought it would be sustainable. "Someday, someone will invent disposable razors that won't use straight blades, so for now, we'll just drop them behind the wall."

Why didn't they design any disposals for anything else behind the wall?

Today, I am spoiled by living in a condo that was entirely remodeled before I moved in, so no more razor slot for me. But it's in a building that was constructed in 1958, and we do have an exciting feature: our garbage chute.

It's right outside my front door, to the left. (There's another on the second floor.) The remodelers painted it a nice bright silver.

Unlike with the razor slot of old, the garbage doesn't go into the wall for good; it drops into a big plastic garbage bin in the garage, which of course, someone (read: usually me) has to roll out on Sunday nights. But that doesn't diminish my joy of being able to step out, lift that magic door, and drop in my refuse (usually cat poo).

When I first moved in, I was speaking with one of the contractors who remodeled the building, and he was lamenting how small it was. (You can't tell its size in the pic; the opening is slightly smaller than the size of a small laptop computer.) He said he called the manufacturer in an attempt to at least replace the rusting door, but the company told him they don't make that size chute anymore, that they haven't made it since the '60s or '70s because they realized right away that it wasn't big enough for most customers' trash. They could even pinpoint what part of the city my building was in, judging by when San Francisco neighborhoods were constructed.

I was thrilled -- not only did we have a novelty, we had a novel novelty that no one else can get now, even if they try!

I said to him, it must be big enough for a regular trash bag, because I see them in the bin downstairs. No, the contractor said, your neighbors must be walking them down.

Not! My cute, sweet neighbor The Cop (we just call each other "Nabor") and I like to see exactly how big of a bag we can stuff into that hole. Sometimes I swing open my door when I hear him at the chute. "Oh no, you're not!" I'll say as he wrestles yet another improbably large bag of trash into the opening. And it always goes down.

Someday, we agree, something's going to get stuck in the chute. But won't it be fun to see how much stuff we'll have to throw down after it to get it unstuck? I can hardly wait.

Who knew garbage could be such fun? Since the garbage bin is right by our washer and dryer, it's also fun to wait for one of the four of us to do laundry and then throw things down to scare the crap out of them! Tee hee.

My Head Exploded, But Everything Has Been Cleaned Up Now

Tina Popo really shouldn't do things like this.

There I was on Friday at work, just an hour or so to go before I could blow out and join my friend Geri, who was celebrating her last day on the job before going back to school and changing careers. I'd been working fast and furious all day and thought I would take a break and surf over to some of my favorite blogs.

And even though Tino Popo is in the dog house because she's having an affair with MySpace (see, I'm not even going to link your page, you ho'!), leaving the rest of us sensitive lovahs with a cold space in the sheets where her ingenious blog entries used to be.... and even though she seems to be commenting more on Shaken Mama's blog than my own (I wish I'd never introduced you! I cried to S.M.) ... I gave in to my addiction and visited her.

A new entry! I settled into my office chair with glee. Popo was appreciating blogs! Since I whorishly stole most of my blog roll from Popo in the first place, I greedily began reading down, ready to rip her off again.

First came Love and Hatred. Check. Already got that, a very fine creation. (Here I gave myself a virtual pat on the back. I'm thinking like Popo now!)

But then, but then, (I'm still tearing up about it) my eyes read lower and saw ... JUST A GIRL IN SAN FRANCISCO! (Sorry for shouting, but at least I didn't ask you to help me clean up my exploded head.)

I am still 10 feet off the ground, like the balloons that you know terrify the crap out of me, or like the magic carpet I dreamed about last night that I couldn't get to go high enough or fast enough, no matter how I pointed my toes. Here's what the Popo said about ME:
I started reading this blog over the summer. Every time I visit, I love it more and more. This blog is why I love blogs. It's so well written and so entertaining, and so honest and so intriguing, and there's nothing about it I don't absolutely adore. And even though its author is in San Francisco, and despite the fact that I've never met Ms. Stella Haven, I feel like if we were ever to meet, we would be fast friends, and we would end up drinking too much wine, and she would say, "Oh, I shouldn't have another glass," and I would say "Oh, go on, have one, what's the big deal, life is short," and she would oblige, and the next thing you know we'd be throwing up over the edge of a curb somewhere in the Castro, but after we woke up the next morning and nursed our hangovers, we'd be glad we went for that seventh bottle of Cabernet (Oh, and Erica would come, too, because I'd need the whole package and I read their blogs in tandem, if that's possible) . I just know it.

Thank you, Popo! True Sensitive Love 4-Ever!

Erica's comment, before my head exploded was, "She's wrong. You would never say no to another glass of wine."

I heard nothing more, because my head then exploded, all over the newsroom, and I think maybe I'm fired because a little bit got in the publisher's eye.

Popo, warn a girl next time!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Girl Swallows 3-Foot Balloon

Can you guess how much this video bothers me?

Ixnay on the Alloonbays, Easeplay


There is no reason for balloon animals.

I don't know why, but they creep me out. I was reminded of this at work today when I walked through a department going from point A to point B and saw a woman holding, for no apparent reason, a pink balloon shaped into a heart with a blue balloon poodle humping one of the sides.

I hate watching performers make balloon animals. I cringe every time they start twisting, twisting, to make yet another improbable appendage, sure that at any moment, it's going to pop.

I cannot pop a balloon. I discovered this in fifth grade at a birthday party for a classmate named Heather. Heather's mother had put inside each balloon a slip of paper with a number on it, then blown them up. We were supposed to pop them, find the number, and the kid with the lucky number would win a prize. While my classmates clambered around in glee, joyfully sitting on their balloons, I poked at my yellow balloon tentatively, then tried to convince myself to let my whole weight sit on it. I couldn't. I was terrified and ashamed -- I'd been outed as a balloon-phobe! Heather's mom popped my balloon for me. I didn't win anything.

In fact, I don't like loud noises or sudden starts, even if I know they're coming. I had a big problem with the game Perfection. (This didn't stop my parents from enhancing the terror with the purchase of Superfection.) And you know those rubber figures on a spring stuck on a suction cup that you'd push down, and then after a minute they would pop up into the air? Yeah, you can imagine.

But my balloon issues don't end here. I also am deeply disturbed when I see a helium balloon floating up into the sky. Suddenly, I feel like I am that balloon, and my stomach gets queasy like I'm on a roller coaster, and I anthropomorphize the rising balloon and hear it saying, "Down! I want down! I'm afraid of heights! Where will this stop?"

And the poor thing floats farther and farther away, until it disappears from view. And I imagine it up there with the clouds, and with the airplanes, and then finally drifting up into outer space, looking at the Earth from afar and landing ... on Pluto, maybe.

It's Not You, Pluto, It's Us


I never liked science class. My experiments never seemed to turn out the way they were supposed to.

As an adult, every time I throw out moldy bread, I wonder: Exactly how is it that I couldn't grow mold on bread when I was trying to in Sr. Margaret St. Hugh's sixth-grade science class? That piece of Wonder bread was practically hermetically sealed, living in an enivornment akin to a tiny rain forest. And don't even get me started on dissecting that fetal pig in 10th grade.

There were two times when I actually "got" science: The first was when we had to order the colors we saw in the rainbow generated by a prism (I counted it a victory even though technically I ordered them backwards, starting with violet).

The other was when we learned about the nine planets. Nice, solid, round orbs with regal names. Not too many, not too few. Just right for a 12-year-old to get her mind around.

I remember how excited I was about my exhibit for the sixth-grade science fair. It was a model of the solar system, hung inside a large cardboard box that my mother had covered with deep blue contact paper. We'd bought nine styrofoam balls of varying size, and I got to paint them in neon colors. It was beautiful, if I do say so myself. I was convinced I was going to take home a ribbon.

I can still remember the sweaty smell of the church basement where all the exhibits were set up. (It doubled as our gym.)

Unfortunately for my solar system, there were these asswipe classmates of mine who had chosen the occasion to invent something or show how something's done. A target of my particular scorn was the boy who made a glass box with a button on it that you could push to create a visible electrical current. Whatever! You see where this is going. I got honorable mention. Yes, robbed.

Now today comes the news that poor little Pluto -- which, if you did the solar system by scale would end up in another room it's so far away -- is being deep-sixed. Downsized. Laid-off. Divorced. Kicked to the curb like a cheap Sixth Street crack ho'. Defrocked like a pervy priest.

Who ARE these people who get to decide what is and isn't a planet?

(You know teachers weren't involved, because they would have axed Uranus right off the bat. Uranus, by the way, happens to be the name of a street here in S.F. on which a friend of mine lives. The joke never seems to get old. "You know, I really hate it when kids are playing in the middle of Uranus. ... It's really hard to find parking on Uranus. ... Didn't Uranus used to be one-way?" She says the only way she'd ever move is if she found a house on nearby Beaver Street. That way, her housewarming invitation could read: "From Uranus to my Beaver. Come")

But I digress.

Poor Pluto goes around for millions of years calling himself a planet. And then just like that, it's time to get new business cards.

The schoolchildren of tomorrow will live in a different solar system than I -- and I'm already feeling old with my birthday coming up a week from today. (Do you like that subtle plug?)

Och, Pluto, I hardly knew ye.

You'll always be a planet in my heart.

Goodbye, Pluto. We'll always have sixth grade.

Monday, August 21, 2006

My Housewarming Party and the Mystery of the Spilled Kibble


Yesterday, my building mates and I threw our housewarming parties. At first I was horrified at the number of people we had invited, worried that a neighbor might call the cops. Then I realized that one of us IS a cop, and there would be cops there, so no worries!

I was relieved to wake up this morning not in a laundry basket, to find no one on my couch, my door locked and the cats accounted for.

What an adult I am -- I actually had a party that kids attended. Babycakes and her Shaken Mama
were there. My college roommate came and informed a stupefied crowd that she doesn't drink anymore! (Where do you get the will to live? I asked. And yes, that's a Rolling Rock here on the counter next to my computer. As they say, it's 5 o'clock somewhere.)

I did find one thing amiss, however. In my bedroom, where I had put the cats so I could keep the front door open without fear of them bolting, Stosh's bowl of dry food had been completely upended.

Several people had gone into the bedroom throughout the party to see the cats and meet the newcomer (Stosh), so at first I was hesitant to point a finger. After all, this really was just a misdemeanor, and likely a first-time offense for the culprit, as I run in a (mostly) law-abiding crowd.

Then I checked my digital camera, which I had given to Shaken Mama to photograph Babycakes with the cats, since they get on like a barn afire. (Vesper actually doesn't mind when she gnaws on his tail.)

In the first picture, notice the wine stopper, cleverly planted by B.C. before she reaches her hand to the bowl. The act clearly was premeditated -- she wanted to implicate a drunken partygoer. Cut to the second frame: Alas, I lack a time stamp, but I can assure you that it was taken after the first photo -- there's no way B.C. picked up every individual piece of kibble and replaced it in the bowl. (Note the hat, as well. Is it B.C.? Or another baby envious of how well B.C. dances disco who wanted to smear her name?)

And just whose pedicured toes gave witness to this deliberate act and wantonly walked away without reporting the crime, leaving behind two damning frames of photographic evidence??

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Of Noisy Cat Toys, 'Used' Fortune Cookies and Milk

My mind is rambling, so ramble with me, won't you?

If this weren't a free service, I would be really darn pissed that the photo uploader isn't working for me. Hrmph. So it's gonna be black and white today, folks. And, I'm afraid, rather segue-free.

1. I love milk. If I had to choose one cold, non-alcoholic drink for my stay on a desert island, it would be very cold, fat-free milk, with chocolate syrup on the side for when the mood struck. When I was a baby, my oldest sister once made the mistake of putting chocolate milk in my baby bottle. The taste stuck. I remember sitting on the end of my bed at night yelling for "Bubba Choc" (bottle of chocolate) until my need was sated. My friends and family continue to use the phrase "Bubba Choc" when I won't stop talking about something. For ex., Do you really think I did OK? Do you think so-and-so thought I was OK? Do you think I'm OK? I'm OK, aren't I? Yep, that's called Bubba-Chocking. (There's a difference between this and "Chuck E. Chees-ing," which my friend Erica has coined. That involves becoming so spastic about the idea of something that one's head threatens to pop off -- or a parent threatens to call off the birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese.)

2. I love that my cat Stosh, est. age 2-3 years, likes to play with cat toys. He's the first cat I've ever had who actually uses a cat toy in the manner instructed on the package. Vesper tends to tear open any catnip-filled toy, mainline the catnip and then toss the toy aside like roadkill. If I give him a little container of cat-grass, which undoubtedly will bear a sticker showing a cat delicately biting off just the tip of the grass and then walking away contentedly, he will lock his jaw around every possible blade and pull it out of its pot, strewing dirt everywhere. And then lose interest.

But I have hardwood floors. And Stosh's favorite toys at night are a) an oblong wooden container that had catnip in it until he pried off the top, which is MIA. Vesper hoovered-up the weed and Stosh continues to find the wooden toy in the middle of the night and start batting it around the floor. If I forget to put my glasses on before coming out to the living room, I am down on my knees, squinting, feeling my way around for the toy which -- you guessed it -- blends in with the hardwood floors.

The other two favorites are a ping pong ball that bounces delightfully around the house during daylight hours but becomes my nemesis after midnight.

Thirdly, a ping pong-like ball with sand or something inside it that makes noise. This one does not so much bounce as roll noisily about the house. This one was my own doing; it is one of a set of four I gave to my sister for her cat. She kindly brought one back for me when she visited.

3. I went to the Safeway on the way home from work, and I perused the aisles pretending I was a foreigner. The funny thing was, when I finally got to the checkout counter, I realized I'd forgotten something. "Where is the, em, cranberry ... em, the sauce? The cranberry sauce?" I asked the cashier. I had forgotten the word sauce for a minute! Then it took more brainteasing to remember the word "can." And suddenly I was saying "em," not the good American "um"? Good lord. English, woman! Stick with that!

4. As you know, I am having a party on Sunday. And no, I have not purchased any receptacles in which to hide.

Here's my question: For the past six months, I've been saving up the individually wrapped fortune cookies that come with my takeout Chinese food. Would it be too gauche to put them in a bowl at the party?? I swear, whenever I order a dish or two, the takeout place crams at least four cookies into the bag as if to say, "You piggy American! Don't you know that what you ordered could feed four people?" And while I'm on the subject, sayings like "Hard work without talent is a shame, but talent without hard work is a tragedy" is not a fortune, people.

5. Potsticker the potbellied pig has not been sighted in quite some time. Could it be that she has retired to the steamer in the sky?

Sigh.