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?


Monday, August 14, 2006

No More Men or Really, I'm Not a Slut

When I lived in Boston and was broken up with my then-ex-boyfriend who went on to be my re-boyfriend, then my fiance, then my husband, then my ex-husband, I had a sign on my phone: a big red circle with a slash through his name. "Don't call!" it read. A lot of good, that.

Still, I think I need to make a new one, but including all men. I found this one on the Web.

Yes, yes, I'm the one who rambled on a few posts ago about how I don't need a man. I still maintain that I don't -- but isn't dating fun? I used to have fun dates. But fun dates just don't seem to be in the cards for me at the moment (you might say I'm playing with the Old Maids deck). The dates are all riddled with neuroses (hey, I'm not claiming to be an innocent party, either).

So, no "mens" for me anymore, as Tina Popo would say! Really! Except ...

Well, I'm having this party this weekend, and despite having gone over the invite list several times before I sent it out to make sure I hadn't invited too many of my romantic interests, past, present and futre, I think I did it again, Britney.

Vic, my college roommate, who also happens to be coming to the party, remembers all too well our crazy summer between junior and senior years. I had an internship at a newspaper and, as the new young thang, had no trouble finding lunch and dinner dates. I remember falling asleep in The Terminator one night because I had double-booked, as they say in Sex and the City, and made it home from the dinner date just in time to find my second date talking to my roommates.

That summer, Vic, Debbie and I threw a party. I invited all the men I liked, including the cute guy who sold us the keg at the liquor store.

I had strategically ensured that two men wouldn't be there: My college boyfriend from whom I was "taking a break" and Gary, a former fling who was still at ROTC camp and whose roommate I'd been casually dating that summer.

How did I know everyone would show up?

Gary had unexpectedly arrived home early from camp and showed up WITH his roommate Matt, whom I had been dating, though Gary didn't know this. (Don't worry, Gary was a player and didn't care when he found out, either.)

My college boyfriend came.

The keg boy came.

Cris, a guy from the paper on whom I had my eye and whom I ended up dating later (despite the fact that he showed up wearing tight white jeans) was there.

The straw that broke the camel's back, though, was Dennis, the former editor of our college newspaper, who had a crush on me.

I just couldn't face him.

What did I do?

I was college-educated! Schooled in crisis situations! Diplomatic, democratic, the master of all I surveyed! And need I add vastly mature?

I climbed into the laundry basket in the closet of my bedroom and shut the door. Unfortunately, the posse soon came looking for me, and the sliding door was thrown open with much gusto and the cameras started flashing.

I e-mailed Vicky this morning: "I tried to be careful, but I can't promise that I haven't invited too many romantic interests. Good news is, I can't fit into my current laundry basket."

Ever the supportive friend, she replied, "You might want to consider getting a larger basket for the party."

I do have to go to Target anyway after work to get the lawn torches ...

Sunday, August 13, 2006

A 7-Year-Old Girl Who Loves Snails

Not having children of my own, I live vicariously through my colleague T. at work, who has a delightfully funny 7-year-old girl at home.

One of the first stories he told me about Sarah was about how she was writing out her Christmas list for Santa last winter and called T. into her room. "How do you spell 'mansion?' " she asked. "Before I could read, I would have thought it was with a 'j,' but now I think it's with a 'ch,' " she said.

I had to really laugh recently, though, when it was learned that Sarah had developed a deep affection for snails. It was her third favorite animal, she told her father. No. 1 was the horse and No. 2 was the bald eagle.

She would hold snails in her hand, show them to her parents and her older sister, and decided to collect a few to keep in the back yard, where she fed them and gave them water. One morning she came inside to report to her father that she had "let them out for some exercise." "Exercise?" T. asked. "Well, I thought they could use some free time," she said.

The snails, being snails, didn't run away, but finally Sarah and T. decided it was probably best to let them return to their natural environment. Sarah hadn't gotten too attached to them. "I didn't want to name them," she said, "because I couldn't tell the difference between the boys and girls."

Actually, it turns out snails are hermaphrodites.

But I digress.

Recently, T. and his family spent some time in Lake Tahoe with their friends. One night, the girls came in and pleaded to be able to swim in the resort's pool. What the heck, T. thought, we're on vacation.

He was in the room with Sarah as the 7-year-old was changing into her bathing suit. As she did so, she was saying, "I'm so happy, I'm so happy! Thank you, Dad, thank you!" To which, T. said, "You're welcome."

Sarah looked at him with a frown and said, "I wasn't talking to you. I was talking to God. I call him Dad sometimes."

Said T.: "That really put me in my place."

My Brother and Simple Things

Among my acquaintances, I have the singular experience of being related to someone who has done time in federal prison. It was a sure conversation-sparker when I used to start sentences like, "My brother who's in prison says ..."

Thankfully, he's out now, and regardless of whether he did rob those banks, he's a good brother, and he is a constant reminder to me of how many things I take for granted. For example, I got an e-mail from him this morning that read in part, "Also, I have not been contacted by the DNA people."

How many people do you know have to worry about having their DNA sampled against their will? He's actually party to a potentially precedent-setting lawsuit regarding the matter. In short, after he went to prison, our obscure East Coast state enacted a law requiring all convicts to submit a DNA sample before their sentence could be considered complete.

Somehow, he served his time, paid restitution, finished his years of probation and received an official letter declaring his obligations met -- without ever having submitted a DNA sample.

His opinion is that the law shouldn't apply to him because it hadn't been on the books when he went to prison. Also, it constitutes unlawful search and seizure -- they have no reason to believe he's committed any other crimes.

And so it goes, and I get e-mails like the one above, and I am reminded that I am safe and sound in my home, and my DNA is locked up tight inside this body of mine, and if the doorbell rings it's going to be the takeout delivery guy, not someone who wants to make off with my DNA, thankyouverymuch.

He spent nearly seven years in prison, beginning in 1994. You don't realize how much changes in that time.

The internet took off, for example. DVDs arrived on the scene. Cell phones appeared. When he got out of the pen, it was like emerging from a time machine.

Now that he's completed his probation, his life is nearly back to normal, despite the beatings, stabbings and broken leg that took their toll.

He called me not too long ago, excited. "I can VOTE," he said. "I am going to SPIN this election! I'm going to VOTE!"

Not long after, he called my sister and left a message that he wanted to tell her what he had done that day for the first time. When she called him back, he said in the manner of a proud little boy who had hit a baseball for the first time. "I recycled!" he said.

Recycling is another concept that grew in popularity while he was "away at college" as he likes to put it. He doesn't have pickup recycling where he lives, and he had finally taken the time to seek out a recycling area.

One day at work he called me and left a message that he wanted to tell me about something exciting that had happened to him. I called back, and he said, "Guess what I got in the mail today?" I had no idea. "A summons for jury duty!" he cried. As you can imagine, when he filled out the enclosed questionaire and disclosed that he had been convicted of a crime, they sent him further correspondence saying, "Your request to be excused has been approved." He was crushed. "I didn't ASK to be excused," he said in another phone call. "I wanted to be on a jury!"

And so I am reminded that things I take for granted -- which I even consider inconveniences and annoying social responsibilities -- are actually privileges. And I try to adjust my attitude to remember the simple, silly things in life.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

These Are the People in My Neighborhood ...

One afternoon after I first moved in and I was helping my friend Ilene pack some of my moving boxes into her car for her impending move, I met one of my neighbors, who looked to be walking a black-and-white spotted dog.

On further inspection, however, Ilene whispered to me, "It's a pig!"

And it was. Lois, who was standing there with her pig on a leash, reading a book while her pig grazed on a small patch of grass out front, introduced us to her young female pet, whose name is Potsticker (that'll keep a potbellied pig in place!).

Lois informed me she also has birds and chinchillas at home -- all of whom love riding on Potsticker's back. (A true piggyback ride, that.)

Then the other day as I was arriving home from work, I saw a couple walking by with two dogs, one of which was the biggest dog I've ever seen in my life: a brownish black Newfoundland. He was so affectionate when I squatted down to pet him and his tiny companion that he nearly knocked me over.

But the crowning character of the neighborhood is Lazslow, a 79-year-old Hungarian immigrant whose parents and siblings, he says, were killed by the Nazis in WWII. He has been in the country for 50 years, living the past 32 of them in a rent-controlled apartment up the block. He looks like a thinner Santa Claus and he walks slowly and deliberately with his cane, which often is resting over his shoulder with a grocery bag tied to the end, hobo-style.

Lazslow is largely responsible for the bushes and trees planted around here. In particular, he is the caretaker of an eclectic little memorial park set into the hillside below the Veterans Hospital across the street.

When I first moved in early this year, the fountain was there, along with -- I think -- two of the cherubs. Off to the side is a plastic igloo inside which a neighborhood lady leaves food for the feral cats. (One morning when I drove by, a big fat racoon was gnoshing on the grub and shot me an insolent look as I passed.)

The sign is new. Under the header "Courage and Faith," it says that the monument is dedicated to all who have risked their lives so that we can live freely. (I'll have to copy down the exact text next time I go by.)

So. These are the people in my neighborhood, the people that I meet each day!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Day I Stumbled Upon a Nude Beach

Here's how it happened:

Since moving to Lands End, I have been inspired to do a lot of walking and hiking because of the spectacular trails and views around here. So after my weekend breakfast at Louis', I trotted off to the Coastal Trail. It was a gorgeous warm, sunny, clear day, and the Golden Gate bridge looked alluring in the distance.

I thought, maybe I'll take the hike farther today. Maybe I'll go to the GGB. Maybe I'll walk across it and down into Sausalito and then take a ferry back to the city...

I knew the Coastal Trail was supposed to lead to the GGB, but it's interrupted by some city streets. The streets go through Sea Cliff, one of the most rich neighborhoods in the city, where my boss lived when he was married to a movie star, so they are lined with gorgeous mansions, some of which are perched on the cliff over the ocean.

Then there's China Beach, and the Presidio, and a turn-in for the parking lot for Baker Beach. Though I knew the trail would deliver me to the GGB, I wasn't sure exactly which route to take. It was getting hot, and it was sunny, and I began thinking I'd change my plan and go to the beach instead. The waves, which I could spot between the houses, looked much weaker than they are at Ocean Beach, where people aren't supposed to swim because the rip current is so strong.

So I made the turn in and walked down to the beach, where I saw a sign pointing to the Coastal Trail. Apparently, at that point, it runs along the beach. I continued on.

I was eyeing some rock outcroppings at the end of the beach and wondering if I could climb over them and find a trail on which to keep going when a man walked out of the waves to my left and headed toward me -- his penis swaying back and forth as he walked.

Wow! I thought. This must be the nude beach I'd heard of! And sure enough, as I continued toward the rocks, I caught glimpses of several more bare behinds and swinging members.

Reaching the rocks, I found I could go no farther, so I took off my shoes and waded into the ocean. Then I found a spot on the beach and sat down to read the book I'd brought with me. (Lipstick Jungle by Candace Bushnell. I'm loving it.) Every so often I'd glance up and look around me, ass-essing the situation, you might say.

Not everyone was naked, but all of those who were were men. Then I remembered the other thing I'd heard about the nude beach rumored to exist in that area -- it's gay.

Drat. I had considered taking off my tank top, because the only other time I'd gone topless was in the Sierra Nevadas with my ex-husband, and it's an amazing, unfamiliar, freeing feeling. But seeing as I was at a gay nude beach, I figured that might be bad etiquette. So on it stayed, and I eventually closed my book, packed up my bag and walked back home.

Where I did take off my clothes and soak in a long, cool bath.

Nine miles! Yay.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Road Rouge or I Am a Creature of Habit

I am a creature of habit.

Perhaps I'm understating it. I am obsessive-compulsive about some things. Like, when I'm done with my washcloth in the shower, I have to fold it in half twice and with the tag-side in before I drape it over the faucet. Before I leave my apartment, I have to say goodbye to the cats and put one of them "in charge" of things. If I burp when I'm alone, I still excuse myself out loud. My couch sags to the left because that's where I have to sit, with a particular purple pillow. I put potato chips into my mouth whole so I don't drop crumbs from breaking off a bite.

You get the picture ("And she wonders why she's single?" ... I can hear you, you know! Rude.)

Predictably, I drive a certain way to work. Not just a certain route, a certain way on the route.

I stay in the left lane on Geary for a certain number of blocks, and then when I get closer to the Masonic overcrossing, I move to the right lane so that I'm not stuck taking a left turn up Franklin Street.

Today, however, I moved over to the right lane blocks before I usually do because there were buses in my regular lane. Once there, I thought, what the heck, I'll just stay here.

The problem was the car in front of me. A silver RAV4, to be specific, with a Cal license plate frame and a blue "Keep Tahoe clean" sticker on the back window.

I could glean all that detail, you see, because I found myself on the RAV's tail again and again as it unpredictably slowed down or sprinted off after a stoplight.

I began to dislike this person in front of me. For several blocks, my ire grew as the person's erratic driving caused me to brake again and again for seemingly no reason.

Then, as we approached Franklin Street, I saw it.

A mascara wand.

The female driver had the rearview mirror turned to her face and she was putting on her f-ing makeup.

A spear of hatred shot through me.

In my mind, putting on makeup while you're driving is reason to be voted off the island, to be fired, to be passed over for a promotion, to be excommunicated from the church, to be divorced.

I think the reason I hate that more than people eating/drinking/talking on the phone/otherwise being distracted is because all of those other things are unisex. But putting on makeup in the car gives female drivers a bad name.

When I told my tale to my friend John, he shared my angst, but not for the same reason. He had an even better one, that spoke to the core of my philosophy of life.

"We all walk in this world together," he said. "If someone's putting on makeup or talking on their cell phone, they need to understand that their actions affect other people."

I think that's important to remember. We all exist in this interconnected web of activity. We owe it to each other to pay attention to what's around us. It's more fun that way, anyhow.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

This Guy Dumped Me

OK, I'm being melodramatic. We had just one date.

A dear friend at work set us up. Two weeks ago on a Thursday night we met at the Caffe Trieste in North Beach. (Which was actually kind of a funny place for me, since an old boyfriend of mine practically lives there. Being the courteous ex-girlfriend, I e-mailed said ex, Tony, that I might be running into him, because last I heard, Tony was dating someone (30 years younger!) who hung out at the Trieste with him -- along with yet another of his old girlfriends. But it will take a full post to introduce Tony. Now, I will tell you only that he has fictionalized me, using the pseudonym Stella Haven. Oh, and that when he broke up with me once (we had a few breakups), he oddly gave me the Beatles' White Album on CD. Which I sold at a garage sale. Sorry, Tony).

Anyway, Tony was not there (he was on vacation, I later found out, AND the young chick has broken up with him again), Jim and I had some wine, ambled over to an Italian bistro with outdoor seating, talked, laughed and ended the evening with a cocktail at Vesuvio.

He's a very nice man: musical (played with John Lee Hooker etc.), intelligent, kind and with a great sense of humor. Wasn't sure about the sparks situation, but thought I'd go out to dinner with him again and give it another try.

There were some troubling signs, though: He's been married twice, is in a codependents' help group ("Oh, that's the one without sponsors, right? Because they just become enablers?" I asked.), Weight Watchers and -- I'm pretty sure he said -- AA (hello, wine?). He thought I was funny and, to all appearances, was quite taken with me and phoned me and e-mailed me several times since.

When he called the other night to ask me out for Saturday, I said sure. Then today, I get this e-mail. I'm not upset about it -- I think it's pretty funny, which is why I thought I'd share. I can't help but feel I sorta deserved a phone call, though, don't you? (It reminds me of when Burger broke up with Carrie from Sex and the City on a Post-It.) The re: line was "Saturday, etc."

Hi Suzanne,

My ex-girlfriend came over after weeks of not speaking to me, and informed me she no longer wishes to be my ex-girlfriend. After a long, furious talk, we decided to give it another try. So Saturday is probably not a good idea; I'm no good at being a scoundrel, though if I were going to be a scoundrel, I would certainly be one with you.

Be well in all things.


Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Lies, Lies, All Lies!

Yeah, this is another post about my childhood, so maybe it's time for you to switch over to TMZ or Go Fug Yourself or something. Nothing to see here ...

As I've said, I'm the (way) youngest of six kids, so by the time I rolled around, my siblings were old enough to be Up to No Good. I was a plaything, a psychology experiment, a body on which to practice high school wrestling moves or the fireman's carry.

One of my earliest memories is of my brothers and sisters telling me I was adopted, and that because I was born with a head of thick black hair, that I was a Korean War refugee (nevermind that I was born in '67, and that I look like all the rest of them).

My mother was in on it, too. Could I blame her? Here was a woman who had spent more than five years of her life pregnant, if you add us all together. She deserved to have some fun out of it.

She once told me that as a baby, I was late to sit up by myself (no doubt I was perfecting my stealth cower, trying to fly under the radar so no one would hoist me over their shoulder like a sack of potatoes). One afternoon she thought she would play a joke on my dad. She tied me in a sitting-up position to the back of my play pen and waited for him to get home from work. Ha ha ha, Mom! I can only imagine my bewilderent. Or not -- I came to expect these indignities early.

Lies I believed for a long time:

* Where does mustard come from? I asked my all-knowing brother. It's mined, he informed me.
* Where do hotdogs come from? They grow on trees in Philadelphia.
(Everyone in my family insisted this. It became part of our lore. So much so that one year on vacation with my sister and her kids, her teenage son David pondered the idea for a minute, and when we asked what he was thinking, he sheepishly said, "I thought they grew on bushes, not trees.")
* A monster lived in our neighbor's laundry-pole hole in their driveway. Said neighbor used to sing to me: "Suzy 'Belek ain't no good. Chop her up for kindlin' wood." (Yes, Stella Haven is a pseudonym.)

So much for my self esteem.

I do have fond memories, however, of sitting in my stroller and having my two sisters and their girlfriend fighting over who was going to get to push me around the block. How popular I felt!

Until last year, when they finally told me they were fighting because no one wanted to do it.

Synchronized Bathing or the Mummers Strut

I don't have kids, so please humor me and allow me to share some photos of my cats that at least I think are funny. Stosh (the gray and white one) is new to the household, and just getting Vesper to be in the same room with him is a high accomplishment. Imagine my glee when I looked over after feeding them tonight and found that they were on the same small kitchen mat within inches of each other, cleaning themselves in the exact same order. If you're familiar with Philly, you may recognize the early stages of a Mummers Strut brewing (which is how Vic and I walked through college graduation after receiving instructions from the university president in the mail on how to walk solemnly in honor of the occasion. Hell! We're Delaware Valley girls!)

My Sister=My Savior